Getting Ready for Winter at Home

I find that I am ready for each season as it comes.  Halloween is over, and I was ready to say goodbye to it.  Bats, scary crows, owl candle holders and rubber spiders are already packed away, and more restrained Thanksgiving decor reigns.

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I love getting cozy in the fall, and our weather has finally turned chilly.  Hats and mittens have been brought up to the mudroom, and beach towels, sunscreen, and bug spray packed away.

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Fires in the fireplace are such a big part of winter here.  It feels like such a luxury and yet it is an economy.  Just like homemade bread and flowers from the garden.  But with that dry, radiating, wonderful heat, comes a lot of work beforehand.

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I will help stack this, but Matt does all the work splitting.

The fireplace gloves and kindling have been brought out.

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I am on the hunt for the perfect dark olive green velvet to make pillow covers for our living room throw pillows, just something to make it a little more warm and cozy.  All of our throws and quilts have been washed and folded neatly by the couch for chilly mornings before the fire gets going again.

The view is changing out the windows and off the deck.

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The tea drawer has been organized.  I need to get a tea kettle.  Going to ask my parents for a copper (coated) one for Christmas.  I love the coziness they add to a kitchen, and I am tired of boiling water in a pot for my tea like some kind of lunatic.

And we still haven’t had our first frost, so I am still picking sunflowers and tomatoes.

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My parents are coming over for dinner tonight and I am making panini with ham, cheese, and caramelized onions.  We’ll have chicken tortilla soup on the side and pumpkin sheet cake with cream cheese frosting for dessert.

Stay cozy!

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Planning a vegetable garden that makes sense

For years, and I mean years, I planted vegetable gardens that were complete nonsense.  I would look through seed catalogs, choose far too many plants, plant them too close together, and have tiny harvests of a million different vegetables.  Also I lived in the suburbs where there was too much shade and no bees.  Also I had my husband build raised beds, purchase soil, and generally spend so much on my hobby that there was no way I could come out ahead, even had I planned my garden well.

So it is now fall, the ending of gardening season, with nothing to dream of but next year.  I have improved in my planning a lot, but still find that this time of year is the best for planning.  What did I need more of? What was timed poorly?  How was my spacing and my aisle widths?  What did I end up giving away because there was too much?  And what varieties have earned a spot for next year?

So in the spirit of planning, here are some things to keep in mind.

  1.  Look at your grocery lists, not the seed catalog.

Plant what you eat.  Sounds obvious.  It is not.  Why are are there so many sample plans with rows of turnips and rutabagas? Why?  I am proud if you if you really eat these things, but if you don’t, please do not plant them.  I am tempted every year by beautiful summer squash, but… I think it is gross.  So does my family.  Same goes for Lima beans and sweet potatoes.  I remember once reading a book where a character makes a salad with beets on top and all the other characters like it.  I planted beets, we ate one, it was okay.  The others languished.  Look at what you pay for at the store! (For us this means lettuce, onions, garlic, celery, carrots, tomatoes, extra tomatoes for canning, bell peppers, jalapeños, extra peppers for canning, sugar snap beans, green beans, corn, cucumbers, extra cucumber for pickles, spinach, cilantro, basil, and a lot of watermelon.  We buy our potatoes because they do not do well in our humidity and I have nowhere suitable to store a years supply.)

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     2. Plant enough of one thing to be self sufficient in it for the season.

This might means reducing the number of varieties in order to get a usable amount of one thing.  What will you do with twenty green beans a week?  Nothing.  Plant enough so that you do not buy any green beans for the season and you eat them as a side dish regularly.  For us this means a thirty foot row, half planted late April and half planted late June.   If you just want tomatoes for fresh eating, two or three plants should be plenty.   Some things will need to be planted in succession to avoid being unusable.  In the spring and fall, I plant small amounts of lettuce and spinach in trays every week.  They are something that I want a little of, bit by bit.  What would I do with thirty heads of romaine, all ready to eat in one day?  Pay careful attention to how much, and when, each plant will produce.  Plant enough so that you aren’t buying it at all; plant at the right time so you are actually eating it.

 

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3. Obey the seed packet

It truly tells you all you need to know.  Most gardening books have a first half of generic advice that boils down to “fertilize and weed your garden”, and then a second half with information of specific varieties.  The second half reads like pages of seed packets.  There  is so much information on those little envelopes, and you really should listen to it!  The most important thing is how far apart to plant your seeds and how to thin so that they have enough room to reach their full potential.  Planting things too close does NOT result in more to harvest.  EVER.  If the seed company, whose motivation is to have you use a lot of seeds, wants to you to space them 12 inches apart, trust me that 12 inches is the absolute minimum distance they should be.  Too much competition for water and nutrients will hurt all of them and you will wonder why nothing is turning out.  Take a ruler with you to the garden.  Also do not plant them 12 inches apart to start with, thinking you can skip thinning.  No.  Part of thinning is that you are selecting the strongest plants.  Just do what the packet says!

4.  Work in the garden every day

Water and plant in the mornings.  Weed and harvest in the afternoons.  Don’t touch it when it’s wet with dew or rain.  Just stay out of it.  If something is growing too slowly, feed it with some granular fertilizer worked in around the plant and then watered in.  Set yourself a schedule for weeding, one row every three days, or 100 weeds a day, or whatever you can see yourself sticking to.  It needs constant attention, but only a few minutes a day.  Take your older children to help you.  They can snack as they go.  Just get out there and keep an eye on things.

 

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5.  Make it beautiful

Keep things in nice tidy rows with wide and comfortable aisles.  Make it so that it were visible from the road, you would slow down and gaze at it in longing.  Plant flowers that will beautify your home and the garden itself.  If there is room for beautiful pumpkins, plant them.  (Keep your herbs out of there, by the way, and put them in containers or a separate herb garden.  Their variety makes things look messy, and it is nice to have them somewhere else, right outside your door.) Let your garden be a source of pride.  It will draw you to it by being pretty and you will love keeping it up.  Keep it as weed free as you can so that you feel accomplished, not defeated, when you see it.

 

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Lazy Garden Days

As summer winds down, Matt and Maddie are on a cross country road trip with Matt’s dad, so it is just me and the two littles.  Camilla’s favorite foods are yogurt and pasta, so without any big dinners to make we have had a lot of free time.

After church on Sunday I got her a new bag of play sand to cheer her up, and we enjoyed a nice sunny afternoon outside.  From now on I will make it a priority to have Sunday dinner prepped ahead of time so I can enjoy the afternoons too.

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She is easy to please.

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So sad to think we are buying school supplies this Thursday.

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Laughing as the cat stalks the chickens.  It has no desire to actually eat them, just watch them flap.

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Alas, they are doing a terrible job of guarding the garden.

 

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The poor tomatoes are self destructing anyway, which I am okay with.  No bushels of tomatoes waiting to be canned and stressing me out.

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(What even is this disease?)

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Still plenty of tomatoes for two tomato sandwiches a day.  That plus two Chobani flips per day is keeping me alive.

Our July planted carrots seem to be doing ok, we will start a new planting on Saturday for mid fall carrots.  Lately the grocery store ones have just been gross.

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Not sure what I did wrong with my celosia, or “the brain plant” as Maddie calls it, but it never really had stems long enough for cutting.  It is just gorgeous though, and I will do more next year.

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(Red velvet cake variety, from Burpee.  The seeds were slow to germinate but the color is beautiful.)

Any corn that is past its prime when it gets picked is tossed to the chickens.  A terrible idea, as they now think the garden is a living food land for them.  I am begging for a fence in the spring.

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Moving inside, all the laundry got caught up with on Monday (seven loads, and yes I still do one load a day as a daily chore, I just do extra on Mondays to stay ahead of it.)  Laundry day also means the laundry room itself gets cleaned.  Windows are cleaned, mudroom bench cleaned and organized, machines wiped down, etc.

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(Isn’t it funny how something can look so tidy in person and terrible in a photo?)

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And a sweet, sweet baby, growing too fast.

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Almost Summer, and Bread Machine Coffee Cake

 

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This recipe has a lot of steps, but not too much hands on time.  There are separate sets of ingredients for the dough, the cinnamon topping, and the glaze.

Moravian Sugar Cake Recipe, From Bread Machine Magic

The dough:

Instant Potato Flakes 1/3 cup

Water 5/8 cup

Butter 1/3 cup

Sugar 1/3 cup

Salt 1/2 teaspoon

Vanilla 1/2 teaspoon

AP flour, 2 cups

Yeast 2 teaspoons

Add all ingredients to bread machine on dough cycle.  When cycle is complete, stretch and press the dough into a greased 9×13 pan.

Allow the dough to proof in a warm oven until doubled (about 45 minutes).

Meanwhile, make the topping.

Combine:

2/3 cup brown sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

Once the dough has proofed, gently punch indentations in it with your finger, and sprinkle the cinnamon sugar topping on.

Then, drizzle on 1/3 cup melted butter

Bake at 350 for 25 minutes.

Remove and allow to cool in pan.

For the icing:

Combine 1/2 cup powdered sugar and 3 teaspoons milk.

Drizzle over cooled cake.  Serve out of the pan.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

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Last night I found our sweet little cat, Figaro, dead by the door to our barn.  He came with the property when we bought it three years ago, wandering over one day and staying.  I have no idea how old he was.  He slept on our porch every night, even when it was cold out and we would leave the barn open for him.  He was good at catching mice, chipmunks, and rabbits, and will be missed very much.

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Our girls loved him, especially Maddie, who would tell him about her day at school when she came home.

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He had a small injury to his neck.  Matt thinks maybe an eagle got him and then dropped him after realizing he was not something he wanted to eat.  We do have huge bald eagles that perch on our oaks and look around.  Poor little guy.

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I buried him as soon as I found him, by a row of pine trees, and surrounded his grave with little rocks.

In the spring we will get some kittens and train them to go into the barn at night.  We need them for rodent control, and will need the promise of something happy to cheer up the girls.

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Farm Cat


Cold

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Another early morning, and absolutely freezing.  The wind chill is 3, which is very unusual for us.  We had about two or three inches of snow on Saturday morning, so the kids have a school delay today.  It seems ridiculous but I can barely get down our driveway on foot, so I understand.

I have kitchen towels and rags soaking in hot water and oxi-clean.  Monday is my day to menu plan, grocery shop, and change the sheets on our bed.  I am planning on making another batch of laundry soap.  I have been spending a lot on Tide and Persil and I just don’t feel that the results are worth it.  I have done homemade detergent in the past and never thought it was great on stains, but I am pretreating a lot now as it is, so might as well save the money.

Looking forward to spring and starting to plan the garden.  I start tomatoes and peppers inside in early March, so it is early.