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Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Best

You know what I like about not being employed? Yes, spending time with the kids, the dogs, etc.  Becoming a domestic goddess.  Of course.  Getting to know my new community, going to the gym. Yes yes yes.  No.

What I love about not being employed are naps

I love sleeping.  I have wonderful, vivid, lucid dreams.  I love feeling all warm and snuggled in.  I love that little frisson of worry that I will oversleep and forget to do something important.  It hasn't happened yet, so it is still a delicious tension.  I love knowing that grown-ups shouldn't take naps.

I especially love sneaky, Lying Naps.  Unintended pun aside, lying naps are the ones you don't mean to take - at least if anyone asked.  The "I will just close my eyes and pretend to nap until the child falls asleep" kinds of naps.  Nevermind that he is all hyped-up on peanut butter and jelly and hasn't napped in months.  This time you can convince youreself that he really will go right to sleep if you just rest your eyes for a minute (in his twin bed, under his Transformers comforter.) 

Later you can just say, "wow, I guess I really needed a rest!" 

The Lying Naps are the best.

Transformers TransGear Twin Comforter

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

That's My Boy

OK, I am breaking one of my first statements about this blog.  This entry is about the children.  Well, child.  The four-year-old, and my constant companion.

See, what you need to know about the child is that he is an original.  The genuine article.  A blond haired, blue eyed, dimpled, number one, first class, grade-A, fruit loop.  

I sense you need an example. 

Imagine, if you will, a frustrated mother telling her child for the umpteenth time that he needs to finish up in the bathroom.  It is a poop-or-get-off-the-pot situation.  Mother suspects that the child is procrastinating because after he is done in the bathroom it is bedtime.

Now fast forward about 5 minutes.

After calling again to my little man to finish up, I heard him crying.  I was not overly worried, since I suspected that this was some minor thing, a stalling technique.  Still I went in to check.

There he was, my darling four-year-old, pants-less and holding his head.  

And he said this to me:

"I bumped my head on the stupid toilet."  [Sniff. Sniff.]  Then he gave me a big grin.  "I was trying to smell my butt!"

That's my boy!


Friday, October 22, 2010

Pumpkin Season

Fall is my favorite season on the East Coast.  The weather is lovely.  The insects start to go away.  And there are pumpkins.  If you have known me for any length of time, you may be aware that I love pumpkin pie.  You may not be aware that I actually love all things pumpkin!  Whenever pumpkin juice was mentioned in the Harry Potter books, I drooled.  I imagined it tasted like liquid pumpkin pie.  Pumpkin soup, ditto.

And pumpkin pie is the best, most wonderful creation ever.

I like to make my own pie, so that I don't have to wait for Thanksgiving to have some.  Usually I just use Libby's canned pumpkin, but I have been known to start at the source with a pie pumpkin (a sugar pumpkin to some.)

Now I know you have all carved jack-o-lanterns at Halloween.  It is fun, and relatively painless.  But have you ever tried to cut a pie pumpkin?  Whole different kettle of fish.  Or seeds.  Whatever, you understand.

Pie pumpkins are tough, like gourds.  (Like bear, for all your Christopher Moore fans out there.)  It is hard to get started.  I tried using a knife and began to worry that I would dull all my knives.  So I got creative.

Yes, that is a chisel and a mallet.  It didn't work so well.  As you can see, the pumpkin grabbed the chisel and didn't let go.  Visions of missing fingers danced in my head.  And I didn't get very far, either.

So, like all good librarians, I decided to do some research.  Like most researchers, I waited until I had started the project.  Like most Americans, I went to the internet.  And found something wonderful.  A play-by-play account of how to cut a pie pumpkin!  Thank you, kitchn!

What I found was that you need to use a sharp knife, and cut down the pumpkin, with the ridges.  Innovative!

Wiggle. if necessary.

Continue around the bottom.

And then pull it apart with your hands when you reach the stem.


Now, being a forward-thinking sort of lady, and knowing my immense capacity for pie, I realized that one little pumpkin may not satisfy for long.  And if I was going to go to all this trouble for one pumpkin, why not do three?

One pie needs a cup and a half of cooked pumpkin.  One pumpkin gives a little more than that.  So three pumpkins might make four pies.  No waste.

The pies are now in the oven, where they will cook for an hour at 350.  Then I will scoop them out, allow it to cool, and bag up individual pie's worth of pumpkin and freeze.  Yay!

The seeds aren't going to waste, though, don't you worry!

These delicious, slimy buggers are going to be washed and separated from their slimy, orange, stringy bits.  Then I will save a handful of the seeds to plant next spring, and will season and bake the rest.  But that is a post for another day.

One final thought, if you try the "creative" way first, don't forget to wash the chisel and put it away before your spouse comes home!

Three pumpkins yield enough innards for 5 pies.  Whoopee!  But they take longer to cook.  A problem I should have anticipated, but at least I had to time to stick them back in the oven.

And, yes, I am going to go get more pumpkins.  This was too easy.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


Ladies and Gentlemen, we are gathered today to bear sad witness to the untimely death of the first homestead garden.  This garden, for which we all felt a hopeful affection, had a rough start.  Through unbearable heat, torrential rain, sudden frosts, and unforgiving grasshoppers, the garden struggled to find root.  Bravely, and repeatedly, it attempted to rebound from the harshness of existence.  We all felt anticipation and hope in and for its future.

But nature giveth, and nature taketh away. 

Ladies and gentlemen, the garden's valiant struggle came to an early end last week when sudden and torrential rain buried the sproutlings in new mud.  And so, today we must pay our respects. 

Garden, you will be missed. 

But we must also look toward the future.  For though we mourn the loss of those young, brave seedlings, we must learn the lessons of their short lives.  We, who are left behind, must move forward into a future that, though it may seem impossible to envision today, does include vibrant, lush, and productive gardens.

And so, let me say this to our dearly departed, We will learn the lessons you taught us, oh first homestead garden.  Your struggles will not be in vain.  Thank you, for your bravery.

Now go forth, ladies and gentlemen, not with sadness, but with hope and plans for the future.

Now someone get me some 2x4s, topsoil, and compost.  I need to make some raised beds!

Thursday, October 14, 2010


I'm being committed.  No, wait, that's not right.  I am committing to the process, and to the homestead.  That sounds better.  (Though I sometimes wonder if the idea of creating a real homestead will leave me in a straight jacket.)

This week I turned down a very good job opportunity and both the decision, and its implications have been weighing on me. 

When we decided to move, I had fully intended to continue working full time.  I like my career.  I am good at being a librarian, and it gives me satisfaction.  I am ambitious.  However, as the move date approached and no job nibbles occurred, it became clear that we needed a Plan B. 

After doing some major budget work and making some unusual concessions, we realized that Plan B, AKA me staying home with the kiddos, was feasible.  But that is what it was: Plan B.  Plan B meant no daycare, one family car, no cable, and other lifestyle cuts.  Nothing we couldn't handle.  Plan A was always a continuation of my career.

After three months staying home and making it work (and having fun), I finally applied for a job I thought I would enjoy.  After an interview that left me a little skeptical, I had a job offer in hand and a big decision to make.

If I accepted the offer, it would mean 40+ hours of work per week, including some nights and weekends; kids in daycare and after school care; a car payment (likely a small one, but still...); and no more me-time.  All of which is completely normal for most Americans, and was completely normal for us, four months ago.

If I didn't accept the offer, it meant continuing life as we have established it: pinching pennies, chauffeuring the family, and putting my career on hold.  But that would have been an easy decision if it had been a horrible interview, or if the salary wasn't near enough, or if the people gave me the willies.  As it stood, the interview was OK, the salary was OK, and the people seemed nice. 

It was a very even balance.  I was conflicted.

After consulting with some great friends, my husband, and my conscience, I was still surprised to hear myself gently decline the offer.  It is harder than you might think to choose fun.  It doesn't mesh with my idea of the responsible adult!  But I realized that nothing short of my dream job would tear me away from days at home managing the homestead, playing with the dogs, and bonding with my children.

I think I made the right decision.  I might need some reminders, but I got a glimpse of what it means for this life to be my choice, instead of just Plan B.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A Can-Do Attitude

One of my most favorite homesteady (yes, it is a word.  I made it up!) activities is preserving foods.  Home canning!  And when I don't sustain an injury, it is wonderful.  But we will talk about that later.

This weekend I mysteriously came into possession of a lot of green tomatoes.  A lot.

So I went in search of recipes.  See, canning is a very specialized process.  You can't just throw things into a jar, can them and assume that all will be well.  That is just courting botulism!  You have to take into account acidity, and density, and a whole bunch of other science ideas that are beyond my desire to understand.  So I always (well, usually) go to the experts.  A wonderful resource is the National Center for Home Food Preservation (guess what they do!)  They have wonderful recipes and solid advice.

Recipes in hand, the husband and I made Green Tomato Relish, and Green Tomato Salsa.  Here is a brief tour in pictures:

The tomatoes

Peppers, Onions and Garlic

Combining Ingredients

Filling the jars

Sterilizing the lids and getting ready to boil

That was the relish.  I don't have pictures from the husband's 7 1/2 pints of salsa, nor my 15 pints of chunky salsa from today.  But you get the idea.

And here is the final product:

30 jars of green tomato goodness.  Yum!

No Pain, No Gain
As I alluded to above, canning isn't always pain-free.  Early this year, I sustained a 3rd degree burn when I dripped about a tablespoon of boiling water into my sock as I was removing jars from the canner.  Today, I almost did it again, and now have a mild scald on my pinkie toe.  Both times I was wearing sneakers.  Next time, I think I will wear my wellies.  Maybe then I will be protected.

Unfortunately, that wasn't the only injury today.  I am having a week, let me tell you.

For my salsa, I had to chop up jalapenos.  Now, I normally avoid dealing with hot peppers.  I can eat them in some food, but I never, ever cut them.  But I needed them, so I thought, "what the hell."

And found out.  The hell is that I now have capsacian burns under several of my finger nails, and I can't seem to get the oils off my fingers.  I have used soap and water, alcohol, milk, and olive oil.  All recommended by experts.  All I can think is that my nails sucked the oils in.  Sheesh.  I hope I don't need to scratch my face!

On the bright side, the salsa looks great and all the jars sealed.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

And Now For Something Completely Different

You know, it wasn't supposed to be all about the garden.  So, in honor of that lovely realization, I would like to talk about something completely different.

One of my keep-Jen-busy-so-she-doesn't-go-insane plans was to switch to a mostly homemade lifestyle once I didn't work.  I already cook almost all our meals from scratch, so the homemade changes I want to make are more extreme than just not going out to eat and buying fewer preprocessed meals.

One of my lovely sisters is a very accomplished baker and she has inspired me to work on my bread baking skills. (I am sure I have mentioned this before.)  My hope is that I can transition away from store-bought bread completely.

It sounds so simple.  Just bake bread.  Yay.  But the kids are totally NOT into it.  They like dinner bread fine, but sandwich bread is turning out to be very, very difficult.

I no longer question why "the greatest thing since sliced bread" is still a well-used phrase.  Perfectly made, perfectly sliced sandwich bread is a myth!  A myth, I tells ya!

Not giving up, though.  I just need lots more practice.  So tonight I made sweet potato bread.

Oh, and a dozen muffins.  Because healthy breakfasts are still an issue, too.

(One that would be easier solved if I could manage to wake up before 6:30 am.  It used to be so easy.  Now I'd just rather sleep in.)

Monday, October 4, 2010

It's not ironic, but...

What is the word that people mean when they misuse ironic?  (Alanis Morrisette, I am talking to you!)  You know, when the mildly irritating, less-than-positive, almost opposite of what you wanted stuff keeps happening and you feel like you should laugh?  Even if it isn't exactly funny?

My vocabulary fails me.

Well, whatever that word is, that is how I am trying to view the garden at this point.  I think the garden gods are laughing at me, or at least enjoying my discomfort.  Perhaps they are trying to teach me a lesson about assuming that I could just move to the country and jump straight in.  You be the judge.

As you know, I have been beginning to despair about the garden being at all productive.  Then the weather shifted, and things started looking up. 

We have some carrots poking through!  Even after the lady at the garden shop said "nobody" grows carrots around here.

And I have witnessed a broccoli, if only one

But I have been most excited about cabbage.

We have not one, but three visible cabbage plants coming up.  I started to get excited.  I started to dream about crocks of sauerkraut fermenting.

And then the dogs got out of the house and came to find me.

Kind of an amazing shot, don't you think.  Jake's foot misses the many square feet of unproductive ground and hits one of the only three cabbage I have.  Amazing.  Or divine intervention to knock me down a peg.

 It may survive; I found it clinging to the edge of the hole.  I am choosing to hope.

And I have seen deer prints through the kale patch, and a distinct lack of kale.

"It's a little bit ironic, dotcha think?"  Well, no, but since I can't remember the correct word, that will have to do.

To change the subject

Just for kicks.  (heh heh.  Kicks.  Punny.)  I learned that even having dedicated sneakers for the garden was messy. 

So I bought some wellies.

Stylish, dontcha think?

Saturday, October 2, 2010


I know I said "tomorrow" three days ago, but today is a tomorrow, if not the tomorrow I had originally indicated.  So, I didn't lie.  Better late than never, right?  Well, we'll see.

I just finished a marathon read of Jennifer Crusie's new book Maybe This Time.  It was wonderful, as expected, and had some very, very funny conversations between the characters.  In one such, the hippy-dippy mother tries to warn her daughter off a man by talking astrology.  Specifically, she calls him, a Capricorn, a "Sea Goat."  When I finished the giggling fit over that, it reminded me of goats, and my lagging blog.  So, here we are.

When we were deciding if moving to this small town was the right decision for us, my husband played dirty and brought up goats.  See, the man pays attention.  He knew that if he started talking livestock, I would jump on board.  And I did.  In fact, we made sure that any house we bought would not have any livestock zoning restrictions. Our master plan was to first get the garden going (update on that to follow), then get chickens (still in the plan), then goats.

But why goats?  Well, there are lots of arguments in favor:

  • Milk!  Comparable to cow's milk; less likely to bother the lactose intolerant; excellent for cheeses; very reliable
  • Meat!  Again, same idea as with cows, and very good for more ethnic cooking.
  • Entertainment!  Thought by some to be smarter than dogs, goats are a challenge and fun to watch.
  • Easy to find!  Our area has lots of goat farms; dairy goats, predominantly.  So starting a small herd would be easy.  They also cost less, per animal, than cows.
  • Space! They don't need as much acreage per goat as cows.
  • Eating! Goats will eat poison ivy!  My husband is very allergic, so this is a major plus.

But I am starting to do actual research, and am coming up against some cons.

  • Fencing - Since they are smart, easily bored, and excellent climbers, you need excellent fencing for goats.  Some farms even double-fence, with a perimeter fence, and then inner paddocks.
  • Care
    • Goats generally have horns, but you rarely see goats with horns on farms.  Why?  Because the farmers de-bud them.  Essentially they burn them off on young kids, and cauterize the stump.  Sounds cruel, but the book lists this as the least cruel alternative.
    • Goats area also related to deer, and have similar hooves.  Which, apparently, means that you have to trim their hooves regularly.
  • Eating habits - the folklore says that goats will eat anything.  While they will generally try anything, they are very picky eaters.  Unfortunately, that goes for pasture, too.  From what I read in the book Raising Dairy Goats, much like the deer to which they are related, goats are not grazers.  They look up for their food.  Which means trees and ivy are their preferences.   Which also meas lots of supplemental feed.
I am glad to be able to do the research, because I don't want to rush into animal care without being well informed, but it does get me a bit down.  While goats would physically fit on our land, they would be a lot more work than expected.

So, folks, the three livestock options I am considering are cows, sheep, and goats.  I really should have my husband guest in here to do a point-counterpoint, but I'm not.  Maybe I can do side-by-side comparison someday soon.  Not tomorrow.

Garden Update
After two days of solid rain (thanks TS Nicole), I was convinced that our little elephants would have washed away.  I wasn't completely wrong, but there is still hope.  I have seen a few cabbage!  I am so stoked at the idea of cabbage.  So far, it doesn't look like enough to do a batch of sauerkraut, but I am just going to keep hoping.

The turnips are still going gangbusters.  We had better develop a liking for turnips soon!

Still no sign of the carrots or beets, so those are probably a loss.  The kale, chard, broccoli and spinach have all gone missing.  So I may need a contract out on those grasshoppers.  I am trying to chalk it up to a learning experience.

However, I just had an epiphany.  If I have some unused window sheers, they may work to keep out the grasshoppers.  Hmm.  It is an idea.

Garlic should arrive next week.  Look for a post on that, too.

Sorry for the long post.  Guess I should really post every day!  Until tomorrow...