Wednesday, November 30, 2011


I had lots of ideas about posting today -- a story about the first time I rode a motor scooter, a pictorial tour of the vegetables Eric wishes I wouldn't grow, something cute the puppy or the kids did. . . But then I discovered something very cool that my new camera does. (Maybe I should read the manual, no?) And now I'm going to share it with you. Enjoy.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Quiet productivity

Yesterday afternoon quiet -- all three older kids at practice (have I mentioned how much I love Frisbee?) and dim light throughout the house. Someone had gotten up very early.

So had someone else.

I used the quiet moments and some of the things I had lying about the house and the instructions from Kendra and experimented with our own lotion.

For a little while I thought it wasn't going to work, as the pint jar I was using was terribly full, the water only came up to the middle of the jar, and therefore the wax kept hardening along the top of the jar, but it finally came together.

It's firm, more like a cream than a lotion, but it smells wonderfully of honey. I may try to make more for gifts, although I had hoped to dip candles with the rendered wax. If I go through the rest of the comb carefully over the next couple of weeks, and use Lisa's method of wax rendering, maybe there will be enough for both.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Both coming and going

 It's never "done" outside, right? Not only that I could make things look a little better or work a little more efficiently, it's just that with a living system, there is no "done." One thing could come to an end, but the circle of life rolls right on, over and over and over. Bane and boon to me, and a good thing to remember when I have an overdeveloped sense of my own importance. Some day, I'm going to be compost, too.

Lettuce seeds are finally, finally poking up. This is terribly blurry, but it's repeating all over a bed. The lettuces I planted from transplants are ready enough to eat tonight, once I figure out what to have for dinner.


The nursery-planted onions are also looking pretty nice, despite being used as a bed by Taz on sunny days. Will the dogs never cease their garden depredations? I hope someday to start enough cipollini from seed to grow jars of pickled baby onions. A girl (or future compost) has to dream, right?

From what I read, asparagus is supposed to be cut back when it dies for the winter. It's my great hope that that yellowing is presaging the winter die-back, because our seasons sometimes trick plants into acting strangely. The Anna apple behind the asparagus, for instance, is putting out a last two or so apples.

Even though it was chilly and overcast when I was out there, a few intrepid bees were flying. I couldn't catch enough with the still camera and didn't even think to use the video! I counted four distinct pollen colors -- bright white (one bee was almost completely covered with white pollen, in addition to her pollen baskets), red, and pale and strong yellow. I hope things are okay in the hives. Unless I see drastic and obvious problems, they're pretty much on their own until spring.

If this predator had been inside the hive, for instance, it would have indicated a weakening of the defense system. I watched for a good while and didn't see anything to lead to the conclusion that the yellow jacket was not scavenging among the dead bees out front. Every hive has some, and it's easy meat. Yellow jackets, the jackals of the skies. . .

Elsewhere, everywhere I looked, seeds I had not planted were leaping into growth. Some were welcomed, like this ruby chard. I don't like it enough really to plant it -- but it's nice enough, and edible, and I'll eat small leaves in salads and stuff the big ones, so up it grows, right by a snow pea.


I'm beginning to believe that some of the missed Italian shelling beans will actually get to produce a green bean or two before it gets too cold. I'd never, ever plant beans in September, but here you go!


Volunteer tomatoes, on the other hand, are going to be pulled no matter what the season.The little kale next to the onion gets to live until I want to eat it.


We're still enjoying the fruits of some of the volunteers. A Kubocha squash I didn't plant under the apple tree nevertheless just came out of the oven, soft and ready to puree for soup (yay for bacon trimmings to fry up) and the heavily cut-back kale is still roaring along. Since the tiny volunteer Red Russians among the onions are yet babies, these make a nice stopgap.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Dealing with sprawl

 One of the things I'm vowing to do differently next year is deal with the tomatoes in a neater, more contained way. I've done the 6x6" wire fencing approach, and that works okay. I tried to stake them this year, and that apparently takes much more effort than I put in. I don't know which approach I'll use next year -- maybe a combination, depending on the type of tomato and whether I mean to pick them a bunch at a time (like paste tomatoes) or singly (like slicing).

No matter which support system I choose, it's going to succeed or not depending on how much effort I put into it, I suspect. Things like proper spacing, clipping blighted leaves, and nipping back overwhelming growth for better air circulation actually count if healthy tomatoes with a neater aspect are desired.

I do know I won't allow any volunteers next year, as they turned out to be mostly uninspired cherry tomatoes. I'm not certain I'll grow cherries, at all. Sungolds are nice, but a little goes a long way, for me. I'm really a cooked tomato kind of gal, caprese salad notwithstanding.

As I was searching for those links, I was surprised to see that I'd put these tomatoes out in April. Can it really be that we have over seven months of tomato growth? Wild. I do grow, however, heartily sick of them, especially when they look as neglected as mine did.

So yesterday was the last day for tomatoes. Ellie and I pulled all the vines (she pulled when my elbow began complaining) and picked through the plants for any leftover tomatoes.

There were a lot:

They got divided into three piles: green, to go to my friend Vera to make into pickles (we ate this year's jar at Thanksgiving and maybe I ate a lot last night while I was doing dishes); a pile of red-maybe-will-ripen-on-the-window for sauce; and a pile of "yuck!" for the chickens.

This guy made me yell out loud, but the chickens will appreciate a tasty snack.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Getting ready

 Don't know about you, but lists rule my life. They help me and hopefully the rest of my family know what's expected. Of course, I can't resist joking on public lists.

Sarafina was so agog at my bad jokes that she took a picture, which launched today's post.

Of course, having a list and expecting everyone to help doesn't magically make children into cooperative little beings. I went downstairs to see how the basement picking up was going. There were some items picked up, but not necessarily in a way to make the room cleaner.

They insisted he wanted to do this. I assume it's true.+
The last bits of Halloween decoration were just hanging around. I certainly couldn't reach them, but that's why we have tall family members. One, two, three, and she did a wonderful job.

With a lot of help from Kevin, Eric, and eventually the children, the list went red. There were even jobs not on the original list which got done (I'm looking at you, front edges of mulch!)

Finally, an overview of the garden. Previous winters actually looked almost as bad, which is reassuring to me. At least a lot of the trash and failing plants are out now, after the work-fest of this week. It's time to pull the tomatoes, and hope that the seeded beds will sprout, rather than be eaten all by birds. And Taz -- well, she's still finding her way in and thinks the back left onion bed is a Very Good place to rest. We may have to up the fence security.


Right now, though, the turkey is in the oven, the last of the morning's four pies is resting on a rack (apple is going in as we're eating today), and I'm taking a quiet moment to sit with Eric in front of a football game. I woke the three younger ones up this morning, asking, "What are you thankful for?" and in a quick rat-a-tat-tat, got "Food!" "Family" "Shelter!"

Those seemed like wonderful places to start, indeed. I am truly grateful.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Maybe I could get a cow with these

The Fagioli Pavoni ("Peacock beans") grew from a handful of seed beans brought back from a burlap sack in Lucca to a couple of quart jars. Each bean is well over an inch long, and they are pretty tasty. Next year, I'm going to plant the whole bunch that I have left, if I don't eat everything I haven't set aside. And then I'll keep better records of pounds per square foot.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Slow food, slow puppies

This is for those who don't want to see an endless stream of gardening posts.

The dogs spend lots of time romping around, there are slow moments. But even in sleepy mode, these two play. Taz now weighs 30 pounds and is coming along nicely, although still very much a puppy. I love both the lazy ear nibbles and the cackling cameraperson.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Still kicking

Can we all just agree that I think about blogging more than I actually blog? On the rare moments I'm in the yard (panic-stricken, lately, generally-speaking), I think about blogging. And why I don't have my camera with me. When I'm doing something with the kids, I think about blogging -- even if I have my camera. When I'm cooking or making shopping lists, I think about blogging.

I think about friends whose blogs have better pictures or nicer layouts than mine. I think about people who post more frequently. I think about all the blogs I wish I were reading and commenting on.

Think, think, think.

But precious little, you know, blogging. Mostly, if I sit down at the computer lately, I feel as though I should be working. This current crop of students is a challenge, and I'm just pleased that I'm halfway through a course.

And generally, this bloglessness is a good barometer of my entire approach to life for the past. . . fourteen months? I'm just not running as smoothly as I am wont to. Feels like sugar in my gas tank, a stuck cylinder, or jogging, veeeery slowly, through cold molasses.

But every once in a while things kind of get better. And I have faith that this is merely a transformative, sort of chrysalid, phase, rather than the New, 100% More Sluglike Me!

One thing that might be still going well, or at least keeping the whole enterprise from tanking, is that I retain some competencies. I may not have the mental energy to accomplish much, but my hands still remember how to do some things. And for that, along with some other things, I'm really grateful.

Competence, even in only a few areas, is still competence. As my children have all suddenly increased their eating - winter? Simultaneous growth spurts? Innate evil? - I'm reacting by baking twice a week, and paying more attention to filling meals.

So I don't only make challah and bread on Tuesday,

I make foccacia and bread on Monday too. Dinners are. . . bigger.

And tonight, after a day that saw me up early, fishing with Tor and Cat, driving Tor to a practice for his Parkour performance, taking the dogs for a walk with the oldest girl, racing back to watch the performance, then taking all the kids out for a photo shoot, I made calzone to use the rest of the lovely sausage I got from our local butcher. Assembly-line style made it easy for Tor to be enticed in to put them together. As we rolled dough and heaped-up filling, then took turns pleating the edges together, I realized that my hands were perfectly at home.

Roll, pat, fill, tweak, over and over. I could stand back and let him do it and give pointers, but only because I knew that I was in the groove with it. I may not make the money I wish I did or have the impact on the world that I'd like to, but I can throw together some serious handmade baking. That has to count for something, no?

That one was one of the "low-filling" ones, with too much dough to filling. Sarafina's (below) was hot, although I don't remember why she was laughing so hard.

By tomorrow I have more work to finish and I never did get that yearbook schedule worked out to email to the parents who are just as overwhelmed with it as I am, but I will, or at least I will do some of it. And tonight Eric will read to me and I'll fall asleep listening to the rain and then it will start again. I'll try to focus harder on the areas that I'm really good at (easy with a food-centric holiday coming up) and overlook the areas that make me feel inept.