Thursday, August 1, 2019

Still worth it?

A quart of hard work ruined.

Even if you don't do much homesteading, gardening or farming, there are times in your life when you have to ask yourself if whatever you're doing around your home is still worth the work or not. If you have raised kids and eventually move on to that Empty Nest stage of your life, you usually have to re-examine everything you are doing -- how you're cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, and even vacationing -- because while you weren't watching, your life moved onto its next phase somehow, and it all needs re-evaluation.

This is where I've been with canning the last few years. This morning, a quart jar of relish broke inside the canner, which happens sometimes (the newer quart Mason jars are usually only good for about five years before this happens), but which was very frustrating, as it represented several hours of hard work, come to naught.

Is it still worth it?

Too bad it took a quart of ruined relish for me to start pondering whether or not I actually still need that much relish stored up in the pantry. Like most people, I tend to just keep doing the same things I've always done until it becomes impractical for some reason, and then I start re-thinking whether it's needed or not. 

So after cleaning up the canner and thinking about things, I've decided that, for the time being, I'm still saying yes to canning. BUT, it's a modified yes. If it's something I can put up in pint jars, like strawberry jam, apple pie filling, blackberry syrup, etc. it's definitely worth it. Pickle relish is also still worth it -- in smaller jars. But quarts of things? Not really what is practical or needed anymore for our household of two, broken jars or not. 

So in thinking of ideas I can use to supplement our pantry in other homegrown ways, one thought I had was starting to make my own mayonnaise. I've got the eggs, and if I'm not tethered to a water bath canner filled with quarts of tomatoes all summer long, I also have the time. One other thing I've already started doing is switching our dog over to completely homemade dog food and treats, which I've wanted to do for a long time. But I'm pretty sure I can find other things that will make us more eco-friendly and healthy plus save us money if I re-order my thinking just a bit.

I'll still keep those quart jars around, though, as they're such brilliant multi-purpose containers, holding everything from flowers to leftovers to frozen broth. So the quart jars I have left will get a break from the literal pressure of canning, and I catch a break, too, in terms of workload. Less pressure on all of us. 

That's a win for everyone, I'd say.

Mason jars -- still the Swiss Army knife of household living, even without the canning.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Fried Squash Blossoms

To me, fried squash blossoms are what homesteaders would have if they held carnivals or fairs featuring homestead "junk food." They are basically blossoms stuffed with a few different types of cheeses (feta, cream and parmesean in this case), plus a few herbs (thyme, parsley, sage) mixed in, prepped and fried in olive oil and served with the dipping sauce of your choice (I do a half yogurt/half sour cream sauce with sumac, lemon and garlic). 

Despite having all natural ingredients, they are still not quite the healthiest food you could have, I'm certain. Like anything that's cheesy and fried, enough of them could probably clog up the old arteries quite nicely. Luckily they are the very essence of seasonal food, so your window of temptation is relatively brief.

And they are beyond delicious. Picking the blossoms for this even has the unintended consequence of slowing down your zucchini harvest, which, if you're like me, may be a good thing since with even just one plant we are overrun with zukes. 

So pick on and fry on, friends. Summer only comes but once a year, after all, and before you know it the season will be over, these blossoms will be gone, and you will have to wait another year before you can indulge again.

Stuffed and ready.

I use a coating of egg followed by a whole wheat flour/breadcrumb mix.

Mmm. Almost there...

Perfection on a summer afternoon. 

Friday, July 26, 2019

Days of Bounty -- Summer Pictorial

It's high summer here in the Willamette Valley, and on our little homestead it's officially The Summer of Let's Just Buy It Now Since The House/Land Needs It. This will, inevitably, be followed by The Winter of Regret and Frugality. 

I'm not sure why we tend to hemorrhage money after, literally, making one of the biggest purchases of our lives, but it always seems to happen when we buy a home, and not just to us -- to everyone I know. (If it doesn't happen to you please just keep your smug mouth shut at this point so as not to humiliate the rest of us with your wise ways.)

Read on to see some of what we've been up to!

I'm so excited that we have wild chamomile growing on the property. I'm harvesting and storing seeds (dessicant is a great way to keep seeds dry when storing) to encourage them to grow in some more planned places next year!

A bounty of cucumbers, but I miss my Paso Robles apron farm sink. What's the saying, "you don't know what you got 'till it's gone?" Yup.

What girls don't love a nice salad for lunch?

Pumpkin plants are massive, actual pumpkins not so much (yet).

I have more than enough cucumber to keep us in dill relish for the next year.

Big Ag built this pretty garden gate between the vegetables and the henhouse. I'm still figuring out what I want to hang on it.

Soon this little, un-waterproof chicken house will become a storage shed and a larger, sturdier coop will go in its place. The wood on the ground is the form for the concrete of the big henhouse. Chickens do need lots of indoor space in places where it rains a lot, so this is really needed.

This is the old property owner's dog house, which was sitting on the small slab of concrete the little coop is currently sitting on. I'm going to re-purpose it by adding doors and turning it into some kind of storage...chicken food, cedar shavings, skulls of my enemies, etc.  (kidding on that last one, honest.)

Sunny days mean solar cooking! This is a mushroom bread pudding I made this afternoon.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

All the little things

It's been a year of big things but a summer of little things. Little things are, after all, what ultimately makes the world go 'round, whether for good or bad. A magical day is usually comprised of a bunch of good little things. The Roman Empire fell because of a series of bad ones.

Around the homestead we are finally in the swing of growing, picking, and prettying up outside, and touching up, refining, and replacing inside. I'm in the process of painting all the trim upstairs white, which means a little bit of painting, every day. And I've also been refinishing the oak trim downstairs, removing old water damage on the sills, and re-sealing with stain and polyurethane clear coat. Every day there is some little thing inside this house that's improved upon. Or outside. And that feels good. Because even if it takes 1,000 little improvements, once they're all done it will add up to the house looking great -- one big win for us. 

I don't know about you, but I actually enjoy a series of little tasks so much more than one large one. If I can spend my days doing 11 completely different things -- outside for this, inside for that, I'm generally pretty happy. In high school, I was a sprinter, never having been any good at distances. Perhaps it's the same principle. Put forth a little burst of energy for one thing, rest, then move on to the next thing. 

Here's a little of what we've been up to around here:

There's always laundry, but no rain means drying outside.

pumpkin dog biscuits


Cukes, zukes and tomatoes coming along nicely. Big Ag did a fantastic job on these raised beds, and the hay bales in the back will be planted soon, too!
Goodbye oak trim. Hello crisp white paint. Wall painting next!

Speaking of painting....exterior house painting coming in September!

A country bouquet to brighten up the house.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Renting vs. Owning

So what are your feelings on the rent-versus-own dilemma? With home prices steeply rising before leveling off at the end of last summer, as well as higher interest rates, many people who could own are now opting to just rent instead, indefinitely. 

Home ownership does, after all, come with a lot of surprise costs (you often don't realize something like a stove or an HVAC system is failing until it falls over dead). There's also a lot of regular maintenance, which coincidentally, did not get done on this current house and which allowed us to knock thousands off the asking price, meaning you can pay for it now, or pay for it later -- your choice.  But you will pay. 

Renting, on the other hand, provides a lot of freedom from responsibility but very little security; you can be asked to vacate your home in 30 days by your landlord, for a variety of very legal and valid reasons which have nothing whatsoever with the fact that you've been a great tenant. 

Living in and renting a company house for a year, we debated renting versus owning a lot. I was actually pretty happy renting since we had room for the chickens and raised beds and the freedom to do pretty much whatever we wanted with the place, but Big Ag hated renting. He wanted a place he could own outright. So he never really settled in there, despite having his dream barn/shop. What I didn't realize is that I hadn't really settled in, either. 

I know this because now that we're homeowners again, things feel completely different. I can't tell you why, but it just feels more like home. The things you laugh at in your rental, like outdated fixtures, you check the budget on in your owned home to see if you can afford to change them. It's like dating versus marriage. There are marriage deal-breakers that we all probably think are amusing and interesting in someone we're having coffee with, like having a pet python or finding out they painted all their bedroom walls black. But is that person marriage material? Oh hell no.

What's funny for me is the amount of old household habits that have come back now that we're in our own place again. I just made a batch of soap last week, we have two new raised beds installed, all ready to go for vegetables this summer, and I planted one of the raised beds over the leach field with sunflowers, hollyhocks, gladiolas, peonies, and zinnias. I've also been working on the front yard landscaping, just adding a few plants I miss from California and which also grow great here in Oregon, like rosemary, English lavender,  and Russian sage.

I had four raised beds in the rental that I never used, and plenty of chances to make soap if I'd wanted to. So why didn't I? Probably because of some subconscious feeling that I just didn't want to do things that would make me feel committed to settling in there. Coffee was fine. Marriage was out of the question.  

Perhaps it really does matter whose name is on the title deed. There may be a deeper level of settling into a place that only comes when you know it's yours -- when no one can ask you politely (or otherwise) to leave. 

And I'm sure "settling in" means different things to different people, but settling in is definitely what we do when we're home. 

And we are home.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Slow but steady progress

We knew when we bought this house that our road to making it something we loved was going to be a long one. I don't think there was a single thing we gazed upon our first couple of weeks here that we did not want to change -- everything from ceiling paint to walls to trim to carpet to a remodeled kitchen, to exterior colors. That's a daunting feeling, which is a fancy way of saying sometimes it made me feel hopeless. But the key to overcoming that is action, and so every day we chip away a little bit at the chore list and try and take time to enjoy the progress. I will have to start taking more "before" pictures so the real impact of the "before and after" transformations can be seen. 

Some things will have to wait until we have the financial resources to make them happen, like the kitchen expansion/remodel, and exterior painting. But a coat of interior paint costs very little in comparison to either of those things, so I've been focusing my energies on that, as well as adding a bit to the landscaping (which was already about 90 percent complete and done well when we moved in, amen and hallelujah to that) and making the front porch a bit more welcoming. Our totally-out-of-place-in-a-farmhouse vaulted entryway needed something added to it, too. It's amazing what some accessorizing can do for a room, and I don't think there's a single room in our house (including ceilings) I will not be visiting with a paintbrush and/or some tchotchkes very soon. 

Come on up and sit down, even though heaven knows I'd love to get rid of this whole blue motif and go with a nice warm gray. Patience.

Coming soon....a new farmhouse chandelier. Be gone, brass monstrosity from 1996! In the meantime, enjoy some colored fish bottles and random farm decor.

I love clean, bright trim to a point of being neurotic about it. I literally re-paint baseboards once a year, so this freshly painted window trim is thrilling me. Help.

I also decided that the oak trim on the doors, windows and closets has to go, starting with the bedrooms on the second floor.  I've only done one window so far, but the difference is astonishing. 

One other funny side note is that there were some areas of the house which just weren't working. Namely, the entryway which runs directly into the stairs. Upon doing some research, I learned that this is actually terrible in terms of the feng shui of the house, or energy flow. I moved a painting, added some inviting candles, plus a nice round wine barrel and lamp to help the "energy" flow into the rest of the downstairs rooms, drawing focus away from the front stairs. I think it worked. I'm not big into the fortune-telling aspects of feng shui, but I do believe in having good flow from room to room, and some feng shui remedies address just that. So sign me up. I'm a believer.

Round shapes are supposed to invite energy flow in small, boxy spaces like this one, according to what I call Feng Shui and what Big Ag refers to as "Furniture Astrology." 

In unrelated news, we also visited the local iris gardens and I bought about 10 bulbs to put into the ground this fall, in an assortment of gorgeous colors.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

For every problem, there is a solution

The solution to a smoke alarm that keeps going off intermittently, even when it's been turned off and removed from the ceiling but has a sealed battery (and a mind of its own)?

About five very satisfying whacks with a hammer. 

For every problem there is a solution.