Sunday, July 29, 2012


I've always loved making things - when I was a little girl my mom instilled in me the belief that I could make anything on my own. Whether we were eating dinner at a restaurant or shopping at the mall, she would look at something we were admiring and say "well, we could make that!" She would then excitedly spell out all the materials we would need, where we could get them, and how we could make an even better version of whatever it was. Of course, we rarely actually reproduced anything, but it was fun thinking about the possibilities.

When my oldest son was born I suddenly found myself a stay-at-home mom with no mommy friends to keep me company, and no garden yet to keep me busy. Desperate for something to do with my brain other than worry about napping schedules, I turned to "making" as my therapy. Combining my extremely limited sewing skills with my mom's old rattle-trap sewing machine, I cranked out a few baby quilts after my son was asleep for the night. After I had a few made and determined that they would not fall to pieces upon being washed, I gathered all my remaining courage and started an etsy shop. It was wonderful! Not only did I get to make things, but people began to buy them from me, which gave me the excuse (and money) to make even more things! For six years I spent all my spare time making pretty little things to sell in my shop and it was absolutely delightful.

At the start of this summer I realized that it was time to put my little shop to rest. Now that I have two boys and a flock of chickens to attend to, not to mention the ever-needful garden, as well as a whole gaggle of super fun mommy friends, PTA meetings, Bible study, soccer practices, doctor appointments, oh, and a husband to pay attention to, I've realized that my life is full, full, full. I no longer require the therapy of running a one-woman sweat shop. And, to be quite frank, I am ready to make some things for myself. I don't know if I've done much of that at all since having kids, and the idea seems downright luxurious.

I finished up two knitted cowls that I began making two years ago. I got the pattern from Tickled Pink Knits on etsy - if you are looking for some beautiful knitting patterns, that is the place to go. Finishing up projects motivates me to... start new projects, so I was off to the yarn shop yesterday afternoon stocking up for my next idea.
The other project I finished was this bag. It's actually more of a large zippered pouch. When I was in Ashland, OR a few weeks ago for a family reunion, I happened upon a fabric shop with a bin labeled "fancy remnants." Oh boy, was that an exercise in self restraint! Beautiful Japanese imports, linens, fabrics that I have only ever read about right there to be touched and bought for 1 cent per square inch. How fun! For some strange reason (I don't usually care for black) I was drawn to this Lecien scooter print (I think it's linen?) and the rest of the fabric followed. I'm so happy it turned into a bag for little ol' me, and even happier that I did it without one glitch - very outside of my normal creative process.

Tomorrow I leave for a short road trip with nobody but the hubby (hooray!) and my new knitting project (hooray again!). All the important things (kids, livestock, garden) have been left in various capable hands, so between calling to check that everything is going ok (yes, I'm one of those worriers) I will have lots of time to spend with my favorite guy and to make stuff. Have a happy Monday!

Friday, July 27, 2012

The cherry (tomato) on top

The garden has been good to me today. My weekly meal planning somehow skipped the logistics of this day, and a hurried morning getting ready for a beach trip, an entire day away from home, and a homecoming much later than my usual dinner-cooking time made for some creative meals. Sauteed zucchini for breakfast (the boys had eggs with toast; they aren't that hard core), cucumber and cherry tomatoes on my lunch-time salad, and a bushel of blackberries to go with our grilled cheese sandwiches at dinner. Simple, fresh, delicious. We are all cozy and clean - too tired to even feel guilty about all the chores that didn't get done. The chickens are scratching around in the yard and our pre-pubescent rooster is practicing his crowing. It's a cheerful end to the work week - tomorrow we'll jump into the work-weekend. But that's the fun work: weeding, amending soil, washing out chicken water tubs, playing with baby chicks, daydreaming about what to plant for fall. Have a wonderful weekend!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Mini Harvest

Last year I read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver and was totally inspired to grow all my family's vegetables on our own land. You should definitely read the book - it is non fiction written like fiction and is super entertaining. Plus it will make you more excited about gardening that you have ever been in your life. Anyways, this year I set out to grow at least 5 times more vegetables than I did last year. But in spite of the fact that I planted tons more seeds than I normally do, my 30% success rate has held fast, and we are left with a decent garden that is producing only about one third of the vegetables we eat. Oh well.
I have never been a natural gardener - I am one of those people who can't even keep house plants alive. But I have learned over the last 11 years, particularly in the area of fending off pests. Up here on the hill we have to protect every crop from every side. I grow all vegetables in raised beds with gopher wire on the bottoms, then cover them with bird netting over the top. This keeps pretty much everything except bugs out of the crops and has helped things survive a bit better. But I can't for the life of me get carrots to grow. This year, despite planting literally hundreds of carrot seeds, I grew 5. These three we ate yesterday, and I'm leaving the remaining two in the ground to get super big so I don't feel so cheated. I'll be trying for carrots again in the fall.
This is our first mini harvest: in addition to the carrots, there were a zucchini, a little crook neck squash, and two purple beans which miraculously grew on a bush that had every single leaf munched off by snails. We ate this stuff in a flash, and I was left wishing I had planted a bigger garden. All this just fuels my plans for fall, and I've been going through seed packets getting things ready and hovering over my current plants wondering how to make them grow faster or if I should pull them out in favor of more promising fall items. I guess this impatience isn't a good quality in a gardener. The tomatoes are the one thing helping me bide my time - every day I go outside I see that a few more of them are approaching ripeness, and I remember my husband's salsa, and I decide to let the poor garden work on its own schedule.
In case you have a harvest more plentiful than mine, I thought I'd share a favorite recipe of ours - this is a nice make-ahead dinner idea that my kids love, always a bonus when you are using up extra veggies.

1 cup dry quinoa, rinsed
1/2 cup olive oil
juice of 2 lemons
1/2 red onion, finely diced
hand full of fresh basil, chopped
diced tomato
diced avocado
whatever other fresh veggies you have on hand, chopped

1.) Cook the quinoa according to package directions, and put in the fridge to cool down while you cut up all your veggies.

2.) Whisk together the lemon juice and olive oil, the pour over quinoa and mix well.

3.) Stir in all the veggies, mix well. Season the salad with salt to taste.

4.) Serve as is, or in lettuce cups (I just use big leaves of butter lettuce, but any lettuce will do as long as it is large-leafed) or with chilled grilled chicken.


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Prehistoric Activities

These are our favorite toys lately - we are totally going for the "all-I-had-to-play-with-when-I-was-a-kid-were-a-stick-and-a-rock" type of summer. We have to thank Aunt Cindy for this one. For some reason, tying a stick to the end of a big feather makes the whole thing much more exciting. I've even taken to carrying around one of these when the boys are otherwise occupied - something about the way the feather catches even the slightest breeze is really entertaining. The boys have been calling the biggest feather an owl feather because of our latest owl sightings, though I think it is actually a wild turkey feather. The "owl feather" has become somewhat of a celebrity at our house. If it isn't clutched in the hands of my 3 year old, I am sure to hear desperate cries of "where's mine owl fedder???" until he locates it. I had a really hard time convincing him that the owl fedder couldn't take a bath with him. Yes, owls are water-proof. No, they don't die in the rain. No, you still can't take it in the tub.
We also made ice cream yesterday - the ol' shake-it-by-hand method. It was super easy and very quick; a really good kid activity when you want to do something that isn't too messy and doesn't take a long time. Just put 1/2 cup cream or whole milk into a ziplock bag with 1 tablespoon of sugar and 1 teaspoon of vanilla. Zip it up, then put that bag into a larger gallon-sized ziplock bag that has 6 tablespoons of salt and 2 cups of ice in it. Zip up the second bag, go outside, and shake it for about 5 minutes. Ta-da! And when you're done everything can just go in the garbage can. That's my type of activity!
Our chickens are always around for our various outside adventures - we can hear the click click of their toenails trailing behind us on the driveway as we head out. They are hoping for scratch and usually get bored as soon as they realize we haven't come out to feed them. This time one of our Buff Brahmas was very interested in our ice-cream making endeavors. Something about all the bag shaking was enough to distract her from her bug-eating long enough for a few good pictures. Isn't she cute? If you're ever in the market for chickens and want some that will be gentle and make great pets, Buff Brahmas are the way to go. I'll yak your heads off about chickens some other time, though.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


As unsettling as it is to have a barn owl crash into your window in the middle of the night, claws scrabbling for a foothold like some sort of dinosaur trying to break in, you can't help but feel kind of sorry for it the next day when you see it fast asleep on a neighboring windowsill. Poor little owl - you had a rough night. Circling my house screeching your war cry and trying multiple times to fly into the house must have really taken it out of you. I bet you are exhausted. I can't imagine how you must feel.

PS. This is actually a (huge) baby barn owl - the family is nesting in my dad's attic and it seems the youngsters are now old enough to leave the nest at night. This little guy was so tired that he didn't even fly back to his nest in the morning - just perched on the windowsill below the nest and went to bed.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Apricot harvest

This afternoon I happened to have time to both go to the bathroom AND look at myself in the mirror while washing my hands (fellow moms know what I mean) and noticed that my shirt was on inside-out. *sigh* I wonder if the people at the grocery store and bank noticed? Last night I made apricot jam. The kids and I picked a huge bag full a few days ago, and those things do NOT keep for long. By the time I started cutting them up about half had gone moldy. But I had more than enough for the 5 cups I needed. My dad has 2 apricot trees on this property and they are very sporadic producers (I think that is because he is a very sporadic pruner, but I could be wrong). We've had no fruit at all for the last two summers, but this year the trees made tons of gigantic delicious apricots - enough for the blue jays, wasps, AND all of us.
I used a packet of Sure-Gel that I had left-over from last year's jam making, but if you are going to make jam and you can find it, I highly recommend using Pamona's Pectin. It doesn't rely on sugar to make the jam set up, so you use about a third of the normal amount of sugar. This batch I made required 7 cups of sugar. SEVEN CUPS!!! And if you use less the jam won't set - you'll be left with jars of drooly sticky fruit sludge, which will be very disappointing. If I'd had some Pamona's on hand I think it would have asked for 3 cups.
This morning I woke up to 10 jars of jam on the kitchen table in the morning sunlight. They are the most beautiful color! I think this is my favorite color of jam... probably plum is my favorite flavor. The boys weren't quite as enamored with the color of our jam as me ... they were too busy discussing the rules of "whip tag," ie. does it count if you whip someone in the head as long as you do it softly, etc.
Making jam is so satisfying - keeping that home-grown fruit from going to waste by turning it into something that will last a whole year. I still have a bit of jam left from last year, so we're going to have to hurry up and eat a lot of toast or something. Or maybe give it away, or trade it for tomatoes since the dog keeps burying dead squirrels under my tomato plants. The non-jammed apricots are in the food dehydrator. I've never made dried apricots before, but one of the farmers nearby lays hundreds of them outside in the sun on screens every summer, so I figure it is a pretty fool-proof process (famous last words, I know). I'll keep you posted on how those turn out.

Sunday, July 22, 2012


It's July: time to start planning your fall garden! Last year was the first time in 11 years I successfully grew a fall "garden." One bed of kale and another of rainbow chard, which overwintered nicely since it didn't get very cold at all. Fall gardens are tricky for me, because here in California the weather is VERY hot during the time you are supposed to plant your fall crops. "Late summer" might be August, but it stays pretty warm until around early to mid November, which is way too late to put fall garden seeds in the dirt. This means you have to start your seeds indoors, where the temperature is more controlled. At my house, this means that every available surface near sunlight must be covered with ugly dirt-filled containers in order to sprout seeds. Last year I started cabbage, brussels sprouts, and celery seeds in red solo cups, per my brother's recommendation. He said that the larger cups (with a hole punched in the bottom for drainage) allow for better root growth and a sturdier plant when it is time to plant out the seedlings. What he didn't think about, and what I soon realized, is that red solo cups clash dreadfully with the rest of my interior decor. I hated those red cups, and they were everywhere I looked. I began to hate the spindly little seedlings inside of them. It was because of them that my house was now not only too small, but ugly as well. I began to neglect them. More and more time passed between waterings, and when I did water them I muttered bad things to them under my breath. They began to do poorly, which, of course, made them more ugly, and I eventually whisked them off of every windowsill into the garbage can. I didn't even feel bad about it. Stupid ugly red cups. Maybe you are beginning to wonder why you are reading a blog about somebody who can murder baby plants because their containers clash with her couch. I'm actually kind of wondering why I'm telling you this. I guess my point is that THIS year I am trying again. Kale and chard seeds will go directly into the ground like they did last year, and hopefully thrive. I've also started cabbages inside. This time I rummaged around in the shed and found a bunch of discarded orange and green flower pots - yes, orange and green match my kitchen. Today two of the little seedlings poked up. I love them. If I can find more pots I will try again for celery. I'm really hoping for a good fall garden because we eat tons of vegetables all year round. Do you plant a fall garden? I obviously need any tips you can give me. What are your favorite fall crops to grow? I'd love to hear all about it.

Friday, July 20, 2012

An informal introduction

Last night my dad came over with his usual deliveries of our mail (we share a mailbox) and the update on his garden. He has three baby zucchinis, one bell pepper, and japanese beetles in his sunflowers. After we commiserated over garden pests and exchanged rumored home-remedies, talk turned to my great-grandparents' farm. I have heard my dad's stories about his grandpa's farm too many times to count, but this is one of the stories that I don't ever get tired of. He told about how Grandpa had two sows and raised piglets every year - two to keep and the rest for market. How Grandma milked their one diary cow every day and ended up with several gallons of milk, which she would let separate in a huge glass milk jug. After skimming the cream off the top and using the milk for baking, she would churn the cream into butter every Friday. They had one acre devoted to their vegetable garden, which provided all the fresh food they needed. The surplus Grandma took to the local market, along with any extra eggs, and she traded these for dry goods such as flour, sugar, coffee, and yeast. Every day Grandma would watch two hours of soap operas while she either cleaned fruit from the orchard for canning, or (depending on the season) shelled peas. Thanks to her devotion to General Hospital, they always had canned fruits and pickled vegetables to eat through the winter when the fresh varieties weren't available.
My dad explained that his grandparents were referred to as "General Farmers," folks farming the land without any one particular crop. Folks living off the land, dabbling in a little bit of everything they might need or want to raise on their own.
This time as I listened to my dad tell the same old story and my mind filled with happy images of my ancestors using their creativity and determination to survive, something clicked in my mind: This is in my blood! Maybe this is why I have always preferred to make something rather than buy it. Perhaps this explains that thrilling feeling I have when picking green beans from the garden, and my need to grow MORE next time. It is possible that my Great-Grandparents are, in part, responsible for the fact that I, a city-raised girl who wouldn't miss a haircut or eyebrow appointment for the world, am living with my husband and two kids in an 800 square foot house on 3 acres of land, doing my best to raise chickens, turn compost, and grow as much of our produce as I possibly can. This has not been a graceful transition, this morphing from a clean-finger-nailed, well-groomed lady to a slightly grubby farmish mom. But I am enjoying the adventure of it all, and hoping to share some of that adventure with you.