Wednesday, September 07, 2016

September Food Preservation Notes

  • Tomato products: salsa, ketchup, paste, puree
  • Other canned goals: tomatillo salsa, watermelon rind pickles, apple sauce
  • Drying: greens, celery, zucchini, apple slices, apple leather
  • Fermenting: pickles (done for the season), sauerkraut 
  • Food processor (!!!)
  • Food mill 
  • Chef's knife, bread knife (so perfect for tomatoes), paring knife
  • Prepped-ahead meals (beef heart sandwich meat, lentil soup, ratatouille)
  • Epsom salts (for recovery) (me!)


In years past, I have chopped almost everything by hand - but this year I feel like I've Discovered My Food Processor. (The one I've had for a decade.) (Yeah.)  I've used it for big chopping jobs in the past, mostly for salsa, but this year I've been using the slicing attachment with no reserve.

(It is almost like I felt like I was betraying the art of hand-chopping?) (Very strange aversion.) I honestly think it might be because I didn't like cleaning the food processor when I was done.

But this year?  I am LOVING it.  The cabbage is shredded into such pretty cuts.  The dehydrator is loaded in no-time flat. The fellas line up to help shove zucchini into the chute and are actually, truly  helpful in the process.  Apples are going to be a breeze. It is totally saving my life right now.  Everything is easier.

 Paste | Watermelon Rind Pickles | Ketchup

Another difference from years' past: I have a honed game plan.  I am not writhing in the attempt to wrap my mind around the tomato table. I have a well-laid plan and know how to accomplish it.

First off, our family eats a lot of salsa and ketchup.  Check.

Secondly, everyone loves tomato soup in the winter. (The puree.)  Check.

Thirdly, tomato paste deepens the flavor of so many dishes.  Check.

I love tomatillo salsa. I love having scads of dried vegetables at my fingertips all winter long. I L-O-V-E sauerkraut and we eat it at almost every meal. Check. Check. Check.

I am so pleased.

But of course, this involves a serious time commitment.  I spent three 12-hour days in the kitchen over Labor Day weekend; Blaine took Tuesday off too, which was an 8-hour day.

On Monday morning I woke up so sore - my forearms were fatigued, legs and feet sore, just generally exhausted.  In serious need of recovery after the last two days in the kitchen. (With two more to go.)

I took a time-out for an epsom salt bath: forty minutes with Boards of Canada. (One of Blaine's current faves.)  It felt so good to stare and let the music unlock my thoughts.  And I couldn't believe it, but the epsom salts did the job.  My body felt rejuvenated and I felt ready to tackle the day.

Note to self: keep epsom salts in the house from now on.

 The fellas with our two biggest watermelon this year --
Tom Watson: 26 lbs | Orange Glow: 22 lbs

19.5 years this November | 16 years last month | Love him

Blaine.  Old Leroy.  He ran the household and kept kids under wraps all four days.  He gathered ingredients, picked tomatoes, played badminton, administered baths, worked in the garden, and prepped for my ill-timed Friends of the Library Sanding Party. (Tuesday night!) (New children's shelving for the library.)  What a man.

And finally, I do not want to remiss the fact that my youngest is now three years old.  Such a huge change.  My time in the kitchen is so much more focused and lengthy.  I am noticing the difference in a big way. (But just think of all the sweet baby breaks, nursing, nuzzling, in the past.) (Sigh.)

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Where was I...

Oh yes.  It has been summer.

A few words.
  • Visited Western WA for most of July
  • Drove there and back (would do it again)
  • Working toward starting doula work
  • Garden feasting
  • Dehydrating everything
  • Watermelons galore this year
  • Smitten with that man of mine
  • Planning next school year
  • Enjoying cool mornings and warm afternoons
  • On the Banks of Plum Creek every night with the fellas 

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Miscellanous notes on holistic cat care

Of all the things.  Cat care has been all but ignored in the last 10 years in our household, but there have been several recent bumps in the road that have required urgent and directed care for our aging felines.

I found my way with the help of the book Dr. Pitcairn's Complete Guide to Natural Health for Cats and Dogs.


Our poor kitty Tootsie (14) almost died from worms 18 months ago.  Her coat was ragged, eyes, dull, she was skeletal-thin, and she did nothing but sleep on a heap on a basement rug.  We just thought she was "getting old", but a friend noticed her and keyed us in: parasites.  We realized how badly she was infested when she puked up a worm just weeks later.

We had already started the conventional route, feeling like we needed to take action ASAP and not knowing what else to do. (It had been YEARS since we'd paid any attention to the health of our cats.)  It helped a little, but as we were warned, getting rid of intestinal worms is very hard.  The same friend pointed us in the direction of diatomaceous earth; and after we started putting a small amount of DE on wet cat food each day, slowly but surely, she regained her health and went back to her normal, glossy self.


Our gentle old dame Bay (15) had gotten to the point of stinking so terribly that no one wanted to be around her.  Her eyes were dull, her coat was raggedy and dull, and she hid and slept most of the day.  She had sores around her mouth that would not heal, no matter how they were tended.  They hurt her so badly she stopped cleaning herself and her coat turned lumpy and matted.

I knew without a doubt that it was the food that was causing it.  Dried kibble?  Complete garbage.  Wet cat food is no different, it is just a moist version of the dried stuff.  I have made cat food in the past and had been feeling guilty about it for years, but felt swamped with young children and managing a household.  The cats seemed "okay".  But the time had come.  There was no doubt it was the food causing the problem.

And after I started making it...?  Her sores starting healing within a few days.  She was completely recovered, looking and smelling better in a matter of days and weeks.  Her stench wasn't a not-cleaning-herself smell.  It was a toxic smell.  There is no other way to describe it.  And now..?  She smells like a normal cat. Of course.

CORNEAL ABRASION. Eyebright and Apricot Kernel Oil.

Poor Bay.  Just last week she was scratched full across the eye by an outside cat, with a tear in her cornea that went across three-fourths of her eyeball.  It looked terribly painful.

I tried to get at it every day, keeping it clean with a mild saltwater solution and the application of eyebright drops, but it wasn't healing as quickly as we would have wanted.  I finally found the time to apply a just a few drops of apricot kernel oil and within a day it looked so much better.  Of course I was kicking myself. Why didn't I do it sooner?? (Mother of four!) (Weeding season!) (Three gardens!) The suggestion was to use almond oil or cod liver oil, but I opted for the apricot kernel and it worked just as well.

* * * * * *

Hopefully we can keep our cat trouble, chronic or crisis, to a minimum from this point forward, but I know that I will be able to deal with most potential issues at home.

Out of everything, the deep nutrition from their homemade food is going to be the most important to keep them healthy going forward.  I will never, and I mean NEVER, go back to dry cat food.  With a decade of cooking experience under my belt, homemade cat food is a cinch.  I make a double-batch every couple of weeks, freeze it in pint canning jars, and voila - lunch.

As a surprising side-benefit, the cost is same or less than the bagged/wet cat food we were buying.  It is better all around.

Friday, June 10, 2016

More shifting

It has been 90 degrees F for the last two days, which prompted me to finallllly start the seasonal clothing shift and get the boys' summer clothes out.  Until now, they've been making do with a pair of shorts and a few t-shirts.

First I stowed all the clean snowsuits that were waiting for me.  Then I pulled out the 5T for Jamie and the size 7 for Truen.  Easy.

Then I spotted the 18-24 months on the towering clothing storage shelf and thought, "That's it. Taking up space."  Enough.  But when I pulled it out and started sorting?  A river of tears. I couldn't help it. It had to come out.

Both Diego and Truen were very tender and concerned with me when the found me crying. Their sweetness.  I choked out my explanation as I spotted the little maroon 12-18 month sweatpants that Truen wore when he was 2 because it was the only thing that fit his tiny little frame.

Ah. How can it be?

I haven't gone through baby clothes yet, nor the toddler clothes.  But it just doesn't make sense to take up precious storage space.  I've been telling myself that I will sort through them, keeping the precious outfits, but passing the rest to a friend in our homeschool co-op who has a 2yo and newborn baby boys. (Her older kids are girls.)

Honestly, giving them to someone I know has been a big comfort to me in the process of even thinking about it.  I felt that comfort as I started the actual sorting. As I sifted, I found myself making two stacks: one for the friend, one for my SIL.  The second stack contained the pieces that I couldn't bear to part with and/or hold oodles of nostalgia for a particular babe.  Each stack was about the same size.

Then Eliah woke up and needed to snuggle.  I still need to pull down the 3T for Yiya and sort through the miscellaneous Big Stuff for Diego.  He's the ice plow: I have to "break on through to the other side" every year for him; then store it in nice, neat boxes marked "9" or "10" for future reference. I even have it bagged within the boxes marked "5T Summer" or "8 Winter" for my convenience.

I'm so sthmart. (So why does it take me to the middle of June??) (Good question.)

We are lucky - we have many, many hand-me-downs from cousins. So most of Diego's clothes are just a matter of sorting and identifying what fits. The rest are thrifted.  I've found that pants generally last two boys before the knees are totally blasted (sometimes one boy), so I still need to fill in here and there.

But yes: another shift away from the baby years. It hurts. I've thought it will be easier to let go of  clothes as they get bigger, but we shall see.

Friday, June 03, 2016

Rambling pictoral update

 Truen snuggling with this year's goslings.
Sadly, they all vanished one sunny Saturday morning.
We are almost positive it was coyotes.

 Our pigeon, Mr. Squealy.
Diego caught a fledgling pigeon this spring.
This was pre-haircut for Jamie and before Squealy learned how to fly.
He still likes to land on our heads.
Seriously. Pigeons: The best.

 The North Garden. (Three of 'em now.)
It is nestled in our front four acres, currently planted in oats.
Blaine was prepping the onion bed.
We planted, and I'm not kidding, 1,800 onions. 
It was insane. Twenty-four rows, approx. 75 onions in each row.
Garlic is on the right, melons and squash will be to the left of the onion bed.
Qualifications for North Garden admittance: deer will not eat it.

 Our patchwork quilt of a house this spring.
We had to re-roof it last summer due to a leaky roof. (Eegads.)
 We chose tin instead of shingles for a long-lasting investment.
We are very pleased with the end result: cozy, attractive, more cohesive.
(This picture is from the beginning of May.)

Have I talked about the native planting along our driveway?
The old stems and seed heads are so lovely when it rains --
they turn red and have a sweet, floral grassy fragrance.
A prairie planting was perfect for this gravelly weed-infested patch of ground.
It is thriving were lawn grass could not. (And we don't have to mow it!)
In the summer, it is loaded with flowers and the birds and bugs love it. 
Beautiful year-round. And an extremely functional snowfence.

One of our three Prairie Fire crabapples.
The wind affects everything on the rolling prairies --
See how it is growing bending toward the north? 
The south wind blows hard.

Diego is in braces now . . .
Or more specifically, "utility arches".
Phase two of widening his palate.

All our boys will need a palate expander.
Jamie has the most severe crossbite of the four.
See how his top teeth are inside his bottom teeth...? Not good.
And isn't he just the sweetest?  I am really enjoying his little 5yo self.
I gave him his summer buzz a few weeks ago.

 But this fella?  We just can't cut the curls.
I've been putting it in a top-pony in recent weeks.
In this pic he wanted to "climb the tree" by our chicken coop,
but was very concerned once he got up there.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

He's a honey man

This is what Jamie said this morning as he was scraping out the bottom of an almost-empty honey jar that he had pulled off the counter.  I told him it was fine, but that I'd like him to ask me next time.

His response: "I'm a honey man. I just love honey!"

He's five years old and as cute as ever.

****  ****  ****  ****

I have a hard time comprehending where I am at in life.

Done having babies.
Four boys.
Youngest almost three years old.
On the brink of adolescence.
No more babies.

It's confusing.  I don't know how to feel about it.  Most of the time I feel settled, not feeling the mournful sense of "being done"; but it is a roller coaster.  It is almost a sense of loss, to know that I will never mother a newborn again, that my own babies are growing and moving quickly toward leaving fat bellies and sweet morning breath far behind.

But I can hold babies without feeling desperate.  I can hold them and hand them back and it feels right.  It is just such a strange place to be.

****  ****  ****  **** 

Our vacuum finally bit the dust this spring after the plastic turning mechanism broke.  We bought it the year we were married with absolutely no research and lucked out.  We just got the replacement last week.  It's good, a definite improvement: lighter, better suction, more convenient.  This morning while we snuggled, Diego wondered when the new vacuum would need to be replaced. 

"Well," I said, "I don't think you'll have to worry about it. The last one lasted sixteen years."  Sixteen years!  I am old enough to have had a vacuum for sixteen years.  It boggled my mind for a brief moment.

****  ****  ****  **** 

Diego found a baby pigeon last month.  He knocked down what he thought was an "old nest" (or so he said) and caught it easily.  It was fully feathered, but wasn't yet able to fly and still had a bit of baby fluff poking through.

Blaine, who evidently harbors a secret affection and fascination for birds, forgot himself and bought a bird cage immediately. (Ha!) (It totally cracks me up.) And now we have a pet pigeon.  Mr. Squealy. Within a half-hour of having him, he was hopping back up on Diego's lap when he set him down.  He went unnamed for a couple of weeks, but finally developed the name Mr. Squealy for the gentle baby-squeals and flapping he does when you feed him or go to pull him out of the cage.  We've read that baby pigeons are sometimes called "squeakers" for this very behavior trait.  Think baby birds' excitement when mama bird comes back to the nest with a fat worm.

Who knew pigeons were so wonderful?!  Seriously, he is the best.  Gentle, quiet, tame, so pleasant to have around.  He rides around on Diego's shoulder, indoors or outdoors.  He hangs out with us outside and has flown off short distances, but always returns.  His poop is usually dry enough that it just rolls off your back. (Though we've had plenty of turd-shirts too.)

He may yet fly away and that's okay.  But for now, we are all enjoying our pigeon interlude.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016


Have I really not posted in almost three weeks?  Good grief.  This calls for a good old fashioned list post.
  • My daily wake-up time hovers around 5:00 AM.  I don't use an alarm clock, I simply tell myself that I want to wake up at that time.  If/when I wake in the night, I look at the clock and tell myself, "three more hours", "one more hour" and so on.  I get myself out of bed by remembering it is the only time for quiet contemplation that I have.
  • Bedtime is fairly consistent: in bed by 9:30 PM, drifting by 10:00 PM.
  • We still all go to bed at the same time and sleep in the same room.  It is a double-edged sword in some ways, but more weighted on the side of Good.  It definitely keeps me accountable to be in bed earlier, and I love the lights-out conversations with the boys.  I sing to them every night.  When we're in bed early enough, I read to them. Any kind of night-time troubles are handled by boys whispering, "Mama...?" and I'm not bringing anyone back to bed all night long.
  • The downsides: no evening solitude, the only quiet evening conversation between Blaine and I occurs if/when the television is on.  Ah well.  It is the path we have chosen.
 Grackle Patrol
  • Spring! It has been such a relief to send the boys OUTSIDE to play for more than 30 minutes.  I am so, so thankful for spring.  Things were starting to get a bit stir-crazy in these parts.
  • The fellas spent a couple of days in the trees on bird patrol, pounding plastic buckets to bits and denting metal containers with Great-Grandma S.'s old croquet mallets, making a wonderfully booming racket.  The grackles had just arrived back for the season and congregate in great numbers in the grove around our house.  It would go from loud, raucous chattering to silence and the sweeping flap of hundreds of wings as the buckets were pounded.
  • The last couple of days have been misty, moisty mornings, when cloudy was the weather, and just delightful.  I made sure we were done with our schoolwork in record time this morning just to get outside and enjoy the dampness.

 Yessir Grok and Spiderman

 Eliah looking out the eye-hole of the Spidey Costume
  • The boys went through quite a spell of dress-up this winter.  Jamie mostly, wearing his crocodile suit most days for what felt like weeks.  It was the cutest thing.  He cycled through other costumes as well - dragon, Spiderman, frog, cow, etc. - but always came back to the "croc-a-aisle" as Eliah calls it.
  • In recent days, Jamie has been very interested in hauling around his bunny family - my big, white bunny from childhood, everyone's favorite Bunny Rabbit Smudge, and the little brown bunny in green overalls.
  • This has inspired Eliah, who has been tending his menagerie of teddy bear, ant-eater, snail, croc-a-aisle, and batHe sleeps with them every night and when he wakes up in the morning, his hands are full of stuffed animals plus his water bottle.  Every morning.
  • Yiya calls soldiers "Yessirs".

Freaky Friday
  • And this is what romped down the stairs one morning before lunch after things had been a leeeeetle quiet for a while.  The Pig Bros. in two of my reserved vintage dresses.
  • I finally cleared out my vintage dress collection last spring, after realizing that I had had enough.  I just can't keep all this stuff.  Blaine might as well have hooted and hollered and said, "'bout time!" 
  • I've been reading more and more poetry of late.  It really, really hits the spot.  It spurs so much thought and emotion.  I loved the atmosphere it creates.  The literary power it holds.  I am amazed by it.  
  • I am almost done with Dakota by Kathleen Norris (I've been reading it since June) (ala Mother Culture) and at one point in the book I thought to myself, "She could have said this so much more succinctly in a poem...."
 The most amazing carrot ever
  • We are almost finished with our second term in school.  Huge successes have been the establishment of Circle Time, regular Picture Study, Folk Songs, our first foray into formal Math Lessons, Habit Training, weekly pencil drawings, establishing Reading Practice, afternoon athletic practices, and a more established routine.  This is a real homeschool, where in past years it felt more like practice.  We are catching our groove.  It feels great.
  •  In the Room for Improvement category: keeping Littles under wraps and maintaining the self-discipline to keep a steady routine day in and day out (me).  I feel like I've made strides in both areas.
  • So we have had A LOT of wins this year.  I am so pleased.
  • A funny related side-story: I keep crying while reading Abigail Adams: Witness to a Revolution by Natalie Bober.  The difficulties that the Adams family endured, the intensity of the build-up to revolution, the political unrest, the strain . . . all I can say is "Wow . . . I just never knew".  There is something about a narrative account of history that leaves text books in the dust.  Dead and dry and parched.  
  • The boys are quite concerned as I choke up, working on either regaining my composure or squeaking out the words, and pat my back or give me hugs.  Diego tries unsuccessfully to comfort me by saying, "It's just a book". (Riiight.) The tender-hearted things. I told them this morning that I don't mind crying about it at all - it is helpful to understand people and life better.  
  • If anything, I've come to a much greater understanding of the origins of our nation.  How young we truly are, what amazing principles it was founded on, the irony of the birth of a nation combined with the demise of many other nations, the fact the war and squabbles are the neverending story of humanity.  And so on.  I am amazed.
  • Truen is reminding me that my "five minutes" are up.  
  • Time for a popcorn snack.