Saturday, November 10, 2012

First Snow

I got all my fall prep work done just in the nick of time!  Yesterday we got our first snow of the season.  I just had to share all the beautiful pictures I took this morning.  It is a deep freeze for us after being in the 60's last week.  It was only 20 this morning and isn't supposed to get out of the 30's today.  Brrrr!!!  I hope everyone is staying nice and warm today.

Getting Ready for Winter

I know it's been awhile since I've posted here so I thought I'd better catch up on all the goings on.  It's been a steady push trying to get ready for winter.  Lot's of clean up, putting tools away from summer and generally shifting gears from warm weather pursuits to cold.  Time to drain the gas out of the lawn mower, move the fiber racks into the wood shed for the winter, and finally take down the plastic on the greenhouse.

Lots of activities in the kitchen as well getting the last of the canning finished for the season.  Blackberry Jam, stewed tomatoes and applesauce.  I have to admit that I love seeing the jars all lined up in the pantry each year.  A nice finish to a long gardening season.

The greenhouse plastic removal had been on hold waiting for the rain to quit.  We had such a long, hot dry spell but when it started raining, well, it just kept it up day after day.....great for the fire danger as hunting season began but not so good for doing outside chores.  My son, Adryon and his wife Kimberlee came over to help with the plastic removal which is a big chore.

 All done for this year - but we were all soaked to the knees!  Grandson Aydon was soaked to his armpits from playing in the grass!  Now it can snow......

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Hay Day 2012

I am always excited to get my hay in for the winter.  We have had unseasonable warm weather this year so it doesn't feel like September except in the early morning hours when we have been in the 30's.

As soon as the truck backed into the barn all the sheep lined up to check out this new red what ever it is that is sticking out of their home!  They thought they had seen it before but then, you never know with these things so we will just view it from afar - just in case. 

Gotta Love the way these young high school guys can just throw those bales around with ease.  Larry always hires the nicest kids.

Thanks for growing such fantastic hay, Larry!  I hope you will enjoy your bread.  See you next year - that is if the world doesn't end in December.....

Hey - you never know.....I think I'll hedge my bets just like the sheep.  If it all goes to smash, will they let YOU in?  I'm honing my unusual skill about you?

Baking Rye Bread

I started the day baking a nice big loaf of Caraway Rye Bread as a gift for Larry Kiewert my favorite hay farmer.  A good, honest hay farmer is worth his weight in gold as far as I am concerned so an extra special bit of appreciation is in order!

Caraway Rye Bread

1 1/2 cups warm water              1/2 cup dark molasses      1 beaten egg for glaze
1/4 cup melted butter                 1 Tablespoon dry yeast
1 Tablespoon salt                       2 cups dark rye flour
3 3/4 cups unbleached bread flour  (the kind I use is from Montana hard red wheat)

Place yeast in a 1 cup pyrex measuring cup, add 1/4 tsp. sugar and 1/3 c. warm water and set aside to proof.  I place it in a small bowl of very warm water if it's chilly in the house.

In a large mixing bowl mix warm water, molasses and butter.  Add proofed yeast mixture and stir to dissolve yeast.  Add salt and rye flour and mix well.  Add caraway seed and 3 cups of the unbleached flour.  Mix until all the flour is well blended.  Knead in the 3/4 cups of flour a little at a time until you have a soft but not sticky dough.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until it is smooth but still tender.  Don't over knead or it will make the bread tough.  Place dough in greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap or a damp tea towel and let rise until double.

Spray your work surface with non stick spray (such as Pam) or lightly oil  and turn out doubled dough.  Gently (do not deflate the dough) pinch any large bubbles.  Fold in the ends and sides to make a large loaf.  Place loaf on greased cookie sheet.  Slash several times with a serrated knife.  Beat a raw egg with a fork, add 2 tsp water and blend.  Brush egg glaze on loaf.  Let rise 20 min.   Place in oven.  Turn oven to 375 and bake for 30 minutes.  Bread is done when it sounds hollow when tapped.  Remove from pan and let cool covered with a tea towel.  Makes 1 large loaf

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Fiber Dying - Painting Colors Everywhere

I spent yesterday playing with color.  The first superwash roving I call  "Sunset".  It is similar to a colorway that I did last year that produced the spun yarn pictured on the right.  The colors may seem garish in the fiber before it is spun but will blend into something totally different when spun.

This one is three colors of blue.  It makes a medium to dark yarn when spun.  The picture below shows what it looks like when it's dry.

Then I dyed some Silver colored Shetland from my ewe, Velvet.  The first color is Mountain Aqua.  The picture on the left shows it wet in the dye pot and on the right after it dried.

I so enjoy playing with color.  It's so exciting to see how it looks once it's carded and spun.  Colors pop out that you never expect.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

First Transparent Apple Harvest

Today I am so excited!  After 5 years of waiting, I was finally able to harvest my first Yellow Transparent Apples!  I used to be able to get them from the you- pick orchards when we first came here.  But like many varieties of our produce, these were phased out in favor of the Lodi Apple that had a longer shelf life.  Then even the Lodi was phased out in favor of Jonagold or Early Gold apples.  I have to say here that I liked none of the other apples for applesauce like the Transparent.  They may not have a very long shelf life but they make the BEST applesauce of all in my opinion.  An heirloom apple that cooks down into perfect applesauce with no pureeing necessary and a tart under flavor - yum!
Some of my first adventures in canning were with this humble  apple.  We were living in a tiny, one room log cabin with a wood cook stove that made the interior almost unbearable in the summer when we had to burn the stove to heat hot water for a shower.  So I did my canning in the front yard on an old wood cook stove that my cousin had found in a miners shack in the desert in Nevada and had hauled up and given to my Dad when he was setting out to build the cabin when he retired.  It was definitely a no frills model, with six holes and a water jacket sitting on concrete blocks.

I would sit on an old camp chair and hand peel each apple with an old potato peeler and slice and core each apple and float it in a bucket of lightly salted water to keep them from turning brown.  The yellow jackets would swarm - so much sweetness and moisture to attract them in their end of summer frenzy.  My daughter - just a year old at the time,  took great pleasure playing with the apple slices in the bucket, poking them with her little fingers and giggling as they would pop up again to the surface.  Such adventures we had!  Amazing how the smell of a box of apples can bring it all just flooding back like it was just yesterday.....

So today I climbed up the ladder and picked.  I got about 22 pounds - not bad for a trees first shot at producing fruit.  At least I don't have to can with the yellow jackets anymore but sometimes, I miss that old cook stove.  It now resides in a homesteaders museum.  Heirloom apples....YUM!!!


Friday, August 17, 2012

Dying and Wool Washing Adventures

Wee One

I know it's been awhile since I last posted here but that's how it goes in the busy season.  It may be still in the 90's outside but the angle of the sun is already transitioning into fall like patterns.  When the angle of the sun shifts, I always feel like I need to hurry up and get anything done that needs to be taken care of outside.  So I have been picking and washing fleeces like a crazy woman.  As of today I am half way there.  Three down and three to go.  Picking and washing isn't my favorite part - I prefer to get on to the fun part which is the dying.  So.....I kicked myself in the behind and got an early start this morning and got "Wee One's" fleece washed and spread on the rack to dry.

So I figured after all that stinky hot work I deserved to reward myself with the part I really enjoy.  Even though it was later in the day than I'd usually begin a hand painting dye job I weighed out a goodly amount of Merino Superwash top and had it soaking while I finished up the last batch of Wee One's fleece.  By the time I had it rinsed and spread on the rack, I was already visualizing what colors I'd paint with today.  Since I had been listening to a version of a Prince song performed by Michael Hedges, I figured that purple would be the order of the day.  So here it is.....Purple Rain.

It's been a long day.....this gal is ready for a cuppa tea and put my feet up!  Here's to hoping that it gets completely dry by the time it gets dark!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Wand Weaving & Lavender Harvest Continues

wands drying on my chandelier
Yes - I am still in the throes of harvesting Lavender.  I am a little more than half finished with the cutting from the field.  It's beginning to become difficult to find a place to put all of this bounty to dry.  I usually cut the flowers in the late afternoon to insure that they are not damp so they will dry well.  Then I spend the evening weaving the wands.  So far I've woven about 20 wands.  With the cooler and wetter weather we had this spring and early summer there sadly won't be as many wands this year as many of the stems are short this year.

Once all the flowers are harvested and dried, then I will remove the dried buds from the stems and then sift out any impurities and I will have plenty of dried lavender to fill my sachets with.  It's always non-stop around here in the summertime.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Pick Me! Pick Me!

Roddy before Shearing
Today was the first in a long line of fleece picking days.  I finally got a day without too much wind and I was able to start skirting and picking fleeces in preparation to getting them washed and dyed before the summer is over.  Let's face it, some years are easier than others and for those of you that don't know sheep up close and personal, let's just suffice it to say that if there is a thistle, burr, pine needle, or pile of pitch that can be rubbed up against, laid down in or rolled in - sheep will find it.  I am convinced they do it just to mess with us - they look so well - sheepish when confronted with scolding over this very subject!  I personally think they are very smug about the whole thing - but then again, my particular small flock are a bunch of bonafied characters!

Roddy's Fleece on the picking rack

Wonderful long staple length of the fiber

Of course because I am getting a late start on this job, these fleeces are pretty bad as far as vegetation goes.  It took me about 4 hours to pick through this one.  I always start with Roddy's fleece because he is my favorite of the lot.  I have a special affinity for him as he is the one who wants nose kisses every day and lots of ear and neck scratching.  Let's face it though, picking fleeces is stinky and greasy and although I don't find the smell bad, many folks do.  It's always best if the only one I associate with after such a chore is the sheep and then, even the aloof ones that tolerate me at best, will come up for scratches seeing how I smell so darn good....just one of the gang!  Now that my sheep duties are complete for the day, it's on to the Lavender patch for some more Lavender harvesting.  I have to admit, that smells a little bit better than Roddy!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Lavender Harvest Begins

I harvested my first basket of Lavender flowers last evening after the sun finally moved off and I could stand to be out there.  I have a big patch of Lavender - around 40 or so mature plants and  several smaller ones that I set last August.  I try to expand by at least a few plants every year.  The smell is so heady that it is almost over powering in this extreme heat.  Another few days, and I will be able to cut the long stemmed varieties and begin weaving my Lavender wands.

This batch will be stripped of it's leaves, and made into bundles and hung on wires in my craft room to dry.  Once they are dry, they will be stripped from their stems, sifted many times to remove any leaf or stem particles and then the dried buds will be stored in gallon glass jars, ready for sachet making or adding to soaps.  Like everything on the homestead, it takes time, effort and patience.  When it's almost 100 degrees out it takes self-discipline too - I don't know how many times I have to kick myself in the butt to get out there and get started.  But the funny thing about that - once I get started, it flows along and I enjoy the work.  Doing the task at hand is less difficult than talking myself into it!  Now I'm off to get those bundles made and hung up.....time's a wasting and produce waits for no one.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Strawberry Love

It's been awhile since I posted here.  I am in the throes of my busy season.  We had such a late start to summer with all the chilly damp weather.  Normally I would be finished with the strawberry harvest but I am still plugging away at it.  This is week 2 and to be honest, my legs aren't one bit happy about all that "bent" work for hours at a time.  It also doesn't help that all of a sudden we are having a heat wave following all of that rather cool weather so I haven't really had time to acclimate to the warmer temps.  I have been averaging about 15 lbs. every day but the berries are smaller this year too since we didn't have the sunshine they needed at the proper time.

I love the sweet smell of strawberries when I am picking.  There is no substitute for the real thing.  I have never smelled anything that was supposed to be strawberry scented that even remotely comes close to the way they actually smell.  The taste is so wonderful when they are warm from the garden and so juicy that your hands turn red from handling them.

Yesterday was my first round of Jam making.  A good ten hours on my feet - the house damp from the steam from the hot water canner as I processed the jars.  I love seeing the lovely dark red goodness shimmer in the line of jars cooling on the folded towel on the counter.

  Strawberries are always the first canning of the season for me and I still find it so exciting even after 30+ years of doing it every summer.  I have my own traditions as I prepare to begin this task - I ask a silent blessing on this endeavor and then load the stereo up with Joni Mitchell CD's - the early ones like Ladies of the Canyon, Blue, For the Roses, and my favorite, Miles of Aisles.  The tunes help to make for light work and remind me of my younger days as a Hippie when I would dream of having the homesteading life that I was lucky enough to eventually create for myself.

  There is a part of me that comes alive as each piece of fruit passes through my hands.  I am the quality control.  I decide which berries are perfect enough to put in my sugary brew and which ones will go to the chickens.  I wonder as I work, how many lifetimes I have done this dance?  How many times have I marveled at the beauty of how the berry grows, the artful designs that present differently in each berry as it's cut.  I think of how lucky I am to know such goodness that can't be bought in a store.

I feel so much Gratitude that I am so blessed to experience the grace of knowing my food - investing it with loving care and knowing that nothing that is imbued with that kind of energy could ever do me or my family harm.  Strawberry Love....

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Of Skunks and Gratitude

Let me introduce you to my dog Shadow aka "Barkey" since he has to have a discussion over everything!  For those of you who are not familiar with where I live and how I live, let's just suffice it to say that I live in the country and with that reality comes a certain amount of interaction with Wild Life which can also make life seem quite wild and crazy from time to time!

Over the past three years, Barkey has had a love/hate relationship with (you guessed it) Skunks.  Now friends, I don't know how many of you have been in the path of a full -on Skunk discharge but for those who have never had the experience, it's not a great thing to be in the vicinity of.  It's not a smell that goes away any time soon either.  It lingers.....for days, sometimes depending on it's ferocity, weeks!

Well, last night around 10:30 pm, I had my dog outside by the front of the house and I caught a faint whiff of the little bugger and I called my dog, grabbed his collar, opened the front door and shoved him inside thinking as the full scent developed in the air that I had dodged the bullet this time - whew!  I came inside behind him and the house just reeked of SKUNK.....and for those of you that have never experience it, it hangs in the air inside the house for hours.  Even if the dog didn't get hit.  So, I, in my silly trusting way, Thanked God that he didn't come in with a face dripping yellow like last time.  The smell was so strong in the house that after awhile, I went over and started sniffing the dog.

Now, the dog is looking at me like I am nuts...(why is the crazy woman sniffing me) and I ran my hands over his head (sniff the hands - no skunk) ok - it's just in the air - double whew!  So I proceed to go to bed.  Now, Barkey sleeps on the bed with me.  We jump in - smell not too bad (still just hanging in the air - right?  fingers and toes crossed that this is the case)  All is well, until the dog decided to turn around and face his tail end towards me......Eewe.....!!!  Remember, dog was in retreat when Skunk let loose.  Okay - at this juncture, I am about ready to cry - not again, please not again.  Then what should I hear....the rumble of thunder in the distance...Okay, things really aren't looking too hopeful at this point since my big brave guard dog shakes like a leaf and tries to climb into my lap whenever thunder makes an appearance.  If I am in bed, it gets even worse as he tries to climb between my head and the wall, sprawling his hairy smelliness on my stack of wonderful down pillows.

I leap out of bed - of course scared out of his wits dog follows (I refuse to ruin my wonderful down pillows with that....stench) so I run out into the hall with scared dog right on my heels.  Down the stairs in the dark, flip on the light.....sit in my chair, silence.  I sit there for awhile, still silence.  Dog is laying there looking at me with his head cocked to one side, his lips kind of curled in a rather (sheepish) smirk.  By this time, my patience is wearing a bit thin - after all, now it's like 1:30 am and I have been awake since like, 5:30 am.  At this point, I listen for thunder again - silence.  I look at the dog.  "Well, Butt Head (that's what I call him when my patience has run thin) - You are on your own.....I'm going to bed, alone.  You will just have to deal with it!"  And friends, that's precisely what I did - I put up the baby gate at the top of the stairs,shut the bedroom door & climbed into my bed (after opening the window & removing the bed spread).  I slept the sleep of the weary and fed up - it was heaven.

Okay - how does one find Gratitude in a Skunk attack (actually it was just fall out - not an actual nose on butt interaction) - and that is where I am sincerely GRATEFUL!!!!  This morning, when I got up, the downstairs smelled a lot better - just a faint lingering odor of eau de Skunk.  The dog - well he survived the night without any more undue panic (again MUCH gratitude on my part).  Now comes the fun part, getting rid of the scent - or at least making it more livable.  This is the recipe that a friend gave me a couple of years ago after the very first interaction which was a face to butt encounter of not just one but 2 dogs that actually were dripping yellow.  (We won't go there ever again I hope...)

Skunk Deodorizer solution

1 large bottle Hydrogen Peroxide
1/4 cup baking soda
2 tsp. Dawn Dish soap  (this cuts the oil in the skunk discharge and helps remove it)

Mix this together in a bucket (it will foam up when mixed)

Using an old rag (you will wish to throw it out) - wash the effected areas of your dog.  Let stand for 10 min. (have fun with that one....a good lead attached to a good post helps - believe me!)
Rinse the solution off the dog.

This is the best solution I have found - far superior to the old "tomato juice" in the shower routine of years past.  (Let me add that there is nothing like having a freshly skunked dog greet you in the outhouse first thing in the morning as had happened when we were first building this place many moons ago....followed closely behind with faces full of porcupine quills - we definitely won't go there!)

As of this writing, a significantly better smelling albeit damp Barkey is laying by my feet as I write down my tale of Gratitude I am off to remove my wet clothes and take my bath.  Have a great Sunday everyone!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

There Is No Place Like Home

Here it is almost the middle of June and I still have plants in the grow room!  Normally I have everything moved out by the first and today, I finally (despite the rainy weather) moved out the first few tomato plants.  I have cucumber plants that are huge with 5 inch cukes on them already still in their pots and the tomato plants have finally taken off in the last week to planting size. Everything started so slowly this year for some reason. I had planned to do all of this last week but you know how that goes...well, life happens and our plans don't always work out the way we think they will!

 Plants in the grow room ready for the greenhouse

Last week I spent with my 4 grandchildren while their mom had to be in the hospital.  All is well with Mom as of this writing, no worries in that regard.  I just have to say here that I know without a shadow of a doubt why we have our kids while we are young.  My mommy muscles are rusty and I don't translate toddler speak as well as I used to.  I also have to admit that being in town 4 days running was very draining as I am so used to my quiet, homestead existence.  I did get to enjoy my grandson's preschool graduation which was fun - complete with construction paper mortarboard hats with curly ribbon tassels.  I must add here though that I absolutely will not miss the sound of children's television programming - ever.

There is nothing like a stint in town to make me relish this place all the more.  I love walking out the front door and having the sheep calling out to me - baa baa (hey you - we wouldn't mind some more hay....) or just listening to the wind blow through the trees or the rain pounding on the metal roof and the clanging of my big wind chime on the upstairs porch as the thunder storms roll through.  Then of course there is the added pleasure of listening to my music while I work in the garden, extra loud due to the outdoor speakers that my kids got me for Christmas a few years ago.  A little Led Zeppelin, some Janis Joplin - summertime music.  The other benefit of living in the sticks.  As Dorothy learned - There is no place like home!!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Spring Rain & Cookie Baking

Volunteer Forget Me Nots
It was a long weekend here trying to get things working and ready for the spring planting.  Every year there is new issues to deal with with the sprinkler system.  I don't think there has ever been a year where some parts don't have to be replaced and this year was no exception.  Fortunately most of the system runs along the fences so there is no digging involved.  That is with the exception of the run that has to cross the driveway and lo and behold it decided to break this year so this year digging was involved with the repairs.  So on Saturday we got the line dug up and repaired.  All is well right?  Well....I put in a new digital sprinkler controller last spring and (you guessed it) it decided to wig out and isn't working.  It's one of those dicey things where it's on then it's not then it's on again.  Of course it's a week or so off of warranty.  The one it replaced lasted 15 years....To say the next cliche that comes to mind would smack too much of turning into my mother so I will let you fill in that blank!

Today it's raining.  I'm glad as my legs are protesting after my digging grass out of the garden rows yesterday.  I was trying to hurry so I could get my lettuce seeds planted as this round of wet cool weather moved in for the week.  It rained so hard that I lost my satellite dish for TV so what does one do then?  Why bake of course!  So today I decided to bake one of my favorite cookies - Scottish Oatmeal Shortbread Cookies.  Easy, rich and oh so good with a hot cuppa tea as the rain pours down.

Scottish Oatmeal Shortbread Cookies

1 cup butter (no substitutes)             1/2 c. dark brown sugar - firmly packed
1 tsp. vanilla extract                           1/2 tsp. maple extract
1/2 tsp salt                                            1 3/4 c. unbleached flour
3/4 c. old fashioned oats                    3/4 c. finely chopped walnuts
course sanding sugar (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray  2, 8-inch round cake pans with no stick spray (I use Pam).
Cream together the butter, sugar, salt and extracts.  Add the flour, oats and nuts.  Divide dough in half and press evenly into the two pans.  Score the dough into 8 wedges for breaking after it is baked.  Sprinkle with course sanding sugar and lightly press into the dough.  Bake 25 - 30 minutes until lightly browned.

Cool in pan for 10 min.  Remove carefully to keep from breaking.  Cool completely.  Gently break along scored lines.  Store in an air tight container.