Wednesday, December 31, 2008

End of the Year

Christmas knitting: the ones I managed to photograph before I gave them away, anyway. I made my MIL a neckwarmer and wristwarmers in a beautiful handspun aran yarn she picked at the Local Yarn Store that did not get photographed, but trust me, they were awesome! Here are the wristwarmers I made for my sister to go with a thrifted coat that I bought at the Goodwill. I really wanted that coat. I loved it. Unfortunately, it was a couple of sizes too small, (Not that I didn't manage to button it over the girls and wear it a few times) and a petite (I just said that it had three quarter sleeves! Pathetic, I know). Anyway, I knew, I just knew it would fit my fabulous little sister perfectly. And it did. I'm really, really glad for her. And really, really sad for me. Aaaanyway, her wristwarmers:

Fetching, no? Well that just happens to be the name of the pattern!

Now, this.... THIS makes me super, duper happy! I made my mini me a sweater a la Elizabeth Zimmerman percentage system I've mentioned before. This is it, and I'm so happy with it. It fits her nicely with lots of room to grow and goes with most of her current wardrobe, which is largely shades of pink and purple.

Here's a close up of the yoke, which turned out beautifully, I thought.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Welcome Home

We're busy decorating for Christmas here. I felt that a new fresher color palette was called for in my home and so last year I bought a whole bunch of shatter proof ornaments for very, very little after Christmas. So, here's the tree:

Also, I wanted to show you a picture of my front door's wreath. I think it's so sweet. I love natural decorative elements, and am hoping for a few houseplants to warm up MY nest this year for Christmas.

On the needles: a pair of socks for Hubby, still working on the mulberry EZ sweater, and a pair of mittens for my second boy, who, sob, doesn't have any mittens, and could I please tie them inside his coat so he doesn't lose them anymore? I'm just not much enjoying the mitten knitting.

We're gearing up for St. Nicholas Day (December 6), which is when we do our stockings and do something for others anonymously. I love the Saint's Days and I'm not even Catholic or Orthodox. Spice cookies, eggnog, and the ubiquitous fruit and nuts, also a stuffed roast (to symbolise good things done unseen by others) are traditional for us. I sort of started new traditions in our family because I think traditions are wonderful, as long as the meaning behind them is made clear.

We're making paper snowflakes to hang EVERYWHERE, and busy wrapping and making and sending gifts. What are you all doing?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Piedmont Hunt

If you look way into the middle ground of this photo, you'll see some people on horseback. They're part of the Piedmont Hunt here in Fauquier and Loudoun Counties, and they're fox hunting. Oh, yeah, hounds, guy in red coat blowing a horn, and lots and lots of people in riding habits on beautiful horses jumping across our bucolic countryside. It's oh, so Jane Austen-ey. It's like they're wanting this to be the US version of the British countryside. That's fine with me, it's wonderful, picturesque, and they actually just chase the foxes, and try not to let the hounds kill them, since killing the fox would make it impossible to chase! This hunt was on Thanksgiving morning, and we had wanted to watch it leave from the farm down the road, but we all were just too tired to leave in the morning. To my surprise the Hunt Master (I think that's what he's called) appeared right in front of our house and blew his horn at the hounds, who were baying in the pasture behind our house. I was so excited I made my sister get out of the shower to come look, poor thing.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Big Plans

I remember planning my life out when I was a girl. My dreams changed, but I was very particular and specific about them, at least till I changed my mind. My eight year old daughter pronounced that she wants to have 13 children and fill up a 15 passenger van the other night at dinner. The next night she said that she wants to sew all the clothes for her family in "Prairie Style" and weave the cloth herself and spin all the yarn herself. I think she's been reading Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Pretty much she's saying she approves of my ideals and choices, but she's gonna do it all better than I do it. Well, good plan, as far as I'm concerned. I'd like to do it all better than me, too!

She's such a little even tempered thing, too! She probably could handle 13 kids no problem, she already mothers the youngest two children all the time. I have to forbid her to hold the baby during school because she'd much rather play with him than do math. I know she probably won't have 13 kids or weave all her family's fabric for clothing, but I'm proud that she understands what a privilege and honor it is to be a homemaker. She understands already how it is a hard job, but one that has scope for so much creativity and inventiveness, joy and challenge. It makes me proud to inspire her, cause she's gonna be quite a woman no matter what she becomes. I take pride in my roles as nurturer and inspirer, educator and nourisher, comforter and mentor. I know that the better I get at my job, the more I invest in the people in my life, and in the care of that which I've been granted, the more power my actions yield. The act of smiling in spite of the hard work, and even because of it, can inspire my girls to serve with joy, and to love being useful.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Ode to Orange

I've been a little in love with orange for a bit. It makes me happy, it looks really fetching with my favorite blue color, and it's a natural foil for my greens. Plus I happen to be one of those people who actually looks good in orange... so ha! I found this fabulous tea set at a garage sale for five dollars along with my harvest basket and a cute pair of froggy salt and pepper shakers. This is shot against the fabric I made my apron in. My orange, my blue, and oh, so beautiful to me.

And this is an after shot of my bathroom from grungy blog fame. My orange, my blue, and oh, so beautiful to me, too! I think it's an amazing shade, warm, wakeful, energizing, and perfect for my house and my family and my life. I still need to do the trim, I've been waiting till I could get the wall color up before I did the trim, which needs to be done really badly, as the previous painter did a not so thorough job of it.

Have a good day!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Some fun Stuff

I just heard about the book Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, which I so want for Christmas. It sounds amazing. I mean, I want to make all our bread, and have been toying with the idea of making my own sourdough starter, which I still plan to do, but the idea that you just mix a few ingredients, let it rise for two hours without kneading, stick it in the fridge and just get bread dough when you want it and form a loaf and bake it. I'm sorry, but that's just amazingly easy for homemade bread. I mean you never knead this stuff, you soak the flour which is good for digestion, and I imagine that I could eventually use this same idea with my sourdough starter.

Also, I spotted this today. Little knitted moccasins in super warm alpaca. All my kids want them for slippers, so now I have to figure out how to make them in multiple sizes, but look how cute they are! They're super easy, too. I could probably use them to teach my big girls to do shaping and knitting in the round, since they're motivated to have them for themselves. Fun! Like I need more projects, though. I have way too many, seriously, waaaay too many projects going.

Finally, for fun, one of my fun chicken pictures..... guess what???????

Chicken Butt

Sunday, November 16, 2008

New Job Title?

Wow. I really love this statement:

"Get Perspective:~Hold a sleeping babe in your arms, mouth agape and warm breath drifting, and stand before a map of this world. Which would you rather have? Paris, New York, Tokyo, London------or this flesh lying against yours, this one made in the image and likeness of the very Divine? This world is going to burn up, cinders for the universe….but your child is a soul without end, forever and ever existence. The world has pitifully, laughably little to offer in comparison to this holy opportunity to raise up a child." (Holy Experience)

Well, then. I have to change my job title. Not Stay at Home Mom, but what? Soul Tender, Life Giver, Teacher, Discipler, Missionary, Keeper of Hearts. Talk about some inspiration for not growing weary in doing good, talk about a redefinition of job description. How can I view myself as unemployed or merely a stay at home mom after reading that article? I can love my children passionately, cultivate them carefully, teach them diligently. My job has eternal significance. Go hug your kids, I'm going to hug mine.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Golden Gifts

Well, it's gotten cold here again after having a beautiful Indian Summer. Last night the water froze in the chicken coop, and, though you'd think we could have seen this coming and planned for it, we didn't and haven't. The house has managed to stay relatively warm, though I can see dollars flying out the windows every time the radiators start to warm up. I have taken pictures of a couple more projects that I thought you'd like to see. Or not, not that I care, I blog to brag, after all. I do it completely for my own gratification, and not as some service to society or belief that what I have to say is important. Which, by the way, raises the question of whether it's "redeeming the time" sufficiently to blog at all. I'll not address that question right now, though.

On to the show:

Linen Sweater in Reynolds Soft Linen, gift from Honorary Mom, on the occasion of my birthday, as well as these socks, pretty self striping yarn and Jaywalker sock pattern:

Toddler dress and blouse, improvised from leftover fabrics, so essentially free, except for the time required to sew. I'm planning a skirt to go with the blouse, as well. Or perhaps some blousy knickers, instead, that would be cute, in navy wool.

As for home life, the four year old boy fell on his face and bit through his lip today, it looks kind of scary, but, as I'm also nursing Dad, we're gonna keep it clean and keep an eye on the lip and leave it be. The house is kind of a disaster, SHOCKER! OK, it's so much of a disaster that I'm actually feeling like I WANT to clean it... so that's pretty bad. It's Veteran's Day, and though I wasn't planning a school holiday, with two invalids, I've declared a school holiday and we'll clean and play and read and snuggle and get better. I'm feeling thankful to all the men who laid their lives on the line in service to Liberty and our Constitution. Thank you Hubby, and Grandad, and PawPaw, and David, and Stuart and our myriad of cousins who have served or are serving this country now. What a debt of gratitude we owe you.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Busy, Busy Me

My projects at the moment:

I've been knitting socks in the Embossed Leaves pattern from Favorite Socks, in this beautiful mauvy berry smoothie Panda Silk. I don't know how durable they will be, but as they are meant to be rather dressy, perhaps that doesn't matter so much. It's really pretty shimmery, sproingy yarn... merino, bamboo, and silk, but slippery, I'd suggest bamboo or wood or something instead of slippery needles. I'm knitting a sweater for one of my girls in a mulberry hue, with a round Fair Isle Yoke, a la Elizabeth Zimmerman's Percentage System using various DK weight superwash wools. I'm also knitting wool vest/undershirts for my girls to keep them warm in our chilly, old house inspired by a pattern called a Child's Shetland Vest in Weldon's Practical Needlework Volume One. Stripes for the smaller girls out of a merino fingering weight wool, some alpaca, and some sock leftovers. For my oldest daughter I've chosen a pale grey fingering wool, with sky blue accents (Knit Picks Palette). These seem to be knitting up really fast on size 5 needles.

As for sewing, I'm making costumes for the Nutcracker my girls will be in. I initially volunteered to sew some and somehow became in charge of five or six dresses. Yeowch. Fortunately, the goal is durability, and not beautiful details, so I can put them together rather quickly. I'm using this pattern from Sense and Sensibility Patterns by Jennie Chancey. I love these because they are printed on nice thick paper and include all the sizes one could wish for and she even provides supplements for busty gals and online tutorials for altering the patterns. I would like to get more basic patterns in this sort of format, too, in the future. I love the Nutcracker. I just never get tired of the music or the magic or the yummy treats it is inspired by.....

In the kitchen, I used the book Fix, Freeze, Feast to make a very large batch of red sauce this morning, and used 12 cups of it to make the Classic Chili recipe, I cooked one quarter of the recipe for lunch today and froze the other three portions in gallon freezer bags for future meals. My husband really liked it, though I decided to add some cumin to the recipe for next time. I really have liked this book so far (unlike recipes from other Freezer Cooking books I've used) and find it a real time saver at the end of very tiring and productive days to have the main dish all put together, marinated, and ready to cook. Plus, it's inspiring me to make up my own recipes in larger amounts for freezing for later. Like my cornbread recipe, put into single recipe bags, like Melissa's Corn Bread Mix, or something... I wonder if I could locate sealable paper bags instead of plastic??? I'm so over plastic.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Handmade Holidays

Do any of you get this sick feeling when seeing all the Christmas advertising for gifts? I have wonderful visions of magical moments celebrating the birth of my Savior as an ideal, of family moments of joy, of storytelling, crafts, making cookies, and snuggling under little twinkle lights, and not many that involve oceans of wrapping paper. So, keeping in mind the ideals I envision, which have much more to do with relationships than stuff, I've been for many years making gifts for my family, usually useful gifts, but sometimes just stuff I've made. Have you all seen this? I think that the idea of not being such a consumer is great, and anyone who knows me at all is quite aware that I'd rather make it than buy it. But the idea of gifting something one of a kind and lovingly handmade makes me really happy. Even if I can't make everyone a present, I think that to buy handmade things and give them for gifts instead of spending my money on mass produced stuff would make the holidays really fun for me, and hopefully more personal and useful gifts.
My gift ideas are top secret, since people who receive them may look at my blog, but Sew Mama Sew will have a great many projects indexed throughout November for all the people you love. I've already found some perfect and unique gift ideas.

Another thing that really hit me the other day was the idea of bartering. An email from Sarah Brown inspired me and now I'm wondering if I could organize something like a co-op to trade things people have made, clothes the children have outgrown, toys and books and food and eggs and vegetables I've grown, all for bartering. I love the way the Browns are fostering community with the people around them, and I love their idea for modern village living with an emphasis on walking paths instead of roads (Simpler Times Village). And I love how they love kids! Me too, me too!

P.S. On our walk yesterday, I took this picture of this lovely little tree with these gorgeous scarlet oblong berries, but what kind of tree is it?

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Grey November

Well, it's been very autumnal here. Beautiful changing leaves, crisp air, overcast skies, with a few balmy days thrown in there that are perfect for working to clean up the yard and put it to bed for winter. This time of year, I always have the urge to make woolie warm things for my babies. I usually have way too many projects going and only the small ones get finished. In January last year, I started a grey Aran sweater intended for my oldest son. It's an Elizabeth Zimmerman pattern that lends itself to modification, but requires lots of math, counting, gauge swatches, and luck. Once I got through a few inches I realized that it was too narrow for a boy, so, instead of frogging the project and starting over, I decided to make it for my oldest daughter. I had done a lot of work on it and my daughter wasn't very excited about the idea because of the color. Against all these knitting obstacles, one can't help but lose some ground in morale. So I just put it away. Since then, I've been campaigning for more grey in my daughter's wardrobe. She has lovely grey eyes and grey brings out the pink in her little cheeks beautifully. Well, it worked! She now thinks grey is just perfect for her. Sooo, I finished the sweater. It involved steeking which was a new and scary thing for me, but it turned out fine. I was going to use teal buttons, which would have been smashing, but the pearl ones would go with more, or so says the Princess, and she is turning into quite the little stylista.

She pretty much adores this skirt. It's swirly and twirly and made of soft, warm, fuzzy flannel. No pattern for this skirt, I just cut and sewed and added a couple of ruffles and elastic waistband. She has a couple pairs of warm bloomers to wear underneath. One is a pair I made of dollar a yard flannel I bought at Walmart. The other are made from a grey wool sweater that shrunk in the wash. I cut and sewed and turned the sleeves into a pair of knitted bloomers that are soft and warm. I bought more fabric, too, for garments for the princess. A grey damask, a white cotton with silver and yellow print, and an oyster with blue and grey geometric floral for blouses.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Some of my Blog Inspiration

Another picture from the farm: this is in the wooded portion that has roads so muddy/rocky they are nigh impassable for much of the year. I had a hard time walking and still looking at the scenery without tripping on large rocks in the road, however.

Have you all seen these wonderful blogs? I read lots of them, but I'll confine my passing on of blogs to the scope of my own... Here are three that you may find interesting:

Yarnstorm This blog is really pretty and it deals with all things domestic, which is, of course, my own passion.

The Purl Bee An offshoot of Purl Soho, this is my all time favorite project blog... stitching of all different sorts is explored here with beautiful photos and fresh sensibility.

Confessions of a Counterfeit Farmgirl While this is almost the antithesis of my own blog, it's in a practically identical setting and the author is funny, pretty, and charming, not to mention a really nice lady. She just published her first book... it'll make you laugh, I guarantee.

Finally, a web site with lots of sustainable agriculture information: Journey to Forever

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Holiday Preparations

We love holidays, celebrations, and feasts at our house. Since Thanksgiving is only a few weeks away, we've been getting our menu together and inviting people to eat with us. We usually invite people who are away from family to feast and give thanks with us, since this holiday is all about family for so many. My dear sister is visiting, too, which I'm really, really excited about. She's wonderful and we've been calling each other consulting about what to make, and what do to while she's here. I plan to put her to work a lot... sorry, sis.

We plan on roast turkey... (shocker), and cornbread and sausage stuffing (shocker again). We always have pumpkin pie and apple pie, and this year my sis has requested blueberry cherry pie. So lots of pie. Rosemary roasted veggies, per hubby's request, and my husband always makes a fruit jelly or chutney, this year it's a cranberry pear chutney. We got a lot of recipes this year from the Better Homes and Gardens Holiday Recipes magazine. We usually have both mashed potatos and cheesy hash brown casserole and I make giblet gravy. And we usually ask guests to bring their favorite recipe to share. We eat early, a late lunch, then play games and sing, play/watch football (Cowboys, of course) and nosh all evening. I think this year, if it's not too cold, a hike is in order. Just talking about it makes me all excited!

Our First Egg!

Soooooo, guess what! We got our first egg. My 11 yo son was feeding and watering the chickens and letting them out for their day of foraging when he noticed one chicken didn't come out. He usually counts them as they come out of the coop, and since one didn't appear, he looked into the coop and saw one of our hens in the nesting boxes! He brought our four year old out after breakfast and they found one little brown egg in the nesting box! I know you all are just as excited as we are.

We've been working on some apple butter here. I love apple butter. I know not everyone appreciates the taste and the color is objectionable to some people, but to me, there's no beating good apple butter on some freshly baked bread. We don't have apple trees, but we went to a pumpkin patch on Sunday and bought a peck and a half of apples to make apple butter and an apple pie. No pictures of Apple Butter yet, but I have a picture of my pickles to share! They were my first attempt at pickles and they turned out pretty well. I mostly use pickles in recipes like potato salad and tuna salad, though occasionally I'll put one on a burger or something. The pickling spices made the pickles more complex than I'm accustomed to for eating out of hand, but they are really good in recipes.

Yum! On all accounts.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Mama's Day Out

Coming to you live from Panera Bread in Warrenton... I needed a vacation, bad... so my husband, wonderful, beautiful, generous man that he is offered to give me a whole day to do whatever I wanted now that the youngest is old enough to leave alone for a while. So, this morning, I took a walk on the farm, which I'm always wanting to do, but never actually doing. I took a few pictures, which I thought you'd perhaps enjoy.

Pretty, huh?!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Seize the Day

It's been over a month since my last post, and I know, if one wants to be famous is Blogworld, one has to post more often than that... but who wants to be famous? Then you become conspicuous, and you have no more private space to deal with heavy life lessons. And boy, life can get heavy. Mine does, every so often, due to conflict, misunderstandings, illness, worries, and disappointment. You pick up these burdens that dominate your life, your thoughts. Trouble seems to eclipse all the sunshine that life brings. On the other hand, I am struck by the transience, the ephemeral nature of joy, of beauty. That's why I wish I was better about having my camera always at the ready. Of course, its short duration is what makes joy and beauty so wonderful, so exquisite. Did you ever ponder the connection between temporary and temporal? I used to think temporal had a similar meaning to corporeal, or that its meaning was physical in nature, but it means that which is already passing away, that which is limited by time. Our temporal existence brings much bittersweet joy. A baby suckling at the breast soon passes away, the hazy days of summer always give way to the cool, crisp last hurrah of autumn, and we, all too soon, realize our bodies are just slowly breaking down day by day after those few years of prime adulthood, and we always wish we had spent more time just enjoying people we love before they left this world for the next.
Of course, as a mother of six, I see this every day. My youngest baby is just about to turn one. He's starting to learn to communicate with words and signs. He claps and signs that he's all done with his meal, he dances to a song when Mama sings, he practices standing alone without support. I feel proud of him, I cheer him on in his accomplishments, and I feel a sense of loss. These days pass soo quickly. I know, we women are sentimental, but truth be told, it's the very brevity of babyhood that makes it so precious. It's a really special feeling, to be another person's whole world, to be the primary source of sustenance, comfort, warmth, and joy, to be so very valuable to someone else is pretty amazing. And no matter how tired I am of nursing my 1 year old while he tries to do gymnastics on my lap while holding on to the “spigot” with his newly cut teeth, I know I'll feel sad when he's finally weaned.
That saying, “Seize the Day!”, is so applicable to making the most of brief moments. Whether it means getting the zucchini in the freezer before it gets tough, or stopping the daily routine long enough to pick the flowers while they're still blooming, or remembering that first time the baby grabs your finger in his little fist, to record the smells, and textures, and details of important, ephemeral moments. I realize more all the time that this day won't ever come again. I'll never again see this sunrise (especially if I never get up early enough to see it!) and my children will only grow older and harder to connect with tomorrow and the next day, and if I don't grab onto this moment and make the most of it, the opportunity to DO something with it will be gone. It's all already passing away.
Of course, tomorrow holds new possibility. There are always new projects to pursue, new people to meet and exchange ideas with, and there's always the wonderful prospect of learning something new tomorrow with my children. Tomorrow I get to start over, to make a fresh start. Tomorrow I have another opportunity to get up to see the sunrise and get the laundry done before lunch so that I can do crafts with my kids in the afternoon. Tomorrow I'll straighten the house and make a point to really appreciate the order I have wrought in the few minutes it manages to persist in the face of kid chaos. Tomorrow I'll have a whole slew of new moments to savor. Tomorrow I'll try to go pick those flowers and hang them to dry, and grab a canteloupe from my neighbor's garden (they offered, I don't mean to STEAL it!) and savor the sweet flavor of summer just a little longer. Tomorrow, I'll teach my kids how to stop and pay attention so that they can make a moment last a long, long time. It's all those moments that add up to “life abundant.

"I came that they may have life and have it abundantly." John 10:10

Sunday, August 10, 2008

So, we finally got our chickens. When I say finally, I mean that the long hoped for event has occurred after waiting, dreaming, fantasizing, pouring over the Murray McMurray catalog, etc. They are, to put it mildly, wonderful. Well, mostly. The day that they arrived, our neighbors rescued them from the Post Office for us. I don't know exactly what misunderstanding took place, but when we were sold the chickens, we were convinced that they would be delivered to our door. We were mistaken. They were shipped to our Post Office, where they languished, thirsty and cold, until our dear neighbor boy of eight years was at the Post Office with his father. He heard them peeping and asked about them, and, learning that they were ours, and being privy to our misconception that they would appear at our door magically, they brought them home to us! Oh, shortest of knights in shining armor, how I thank thee! I don't think they realize just how grateful I am about that! I have, in the misty, glowing, dreamland that is my imagination, heard them clucking for years, as I collect eggs in a basket wearing a colorful apron and sun bonnet while humming contentedly under blue skies. I'm nothing if not idealistic. I've checked out books on fanciful hen houses. I've subscribed to Backyard Poultry. I remember aching to live on a farm six years ago, when we lived in North Dakota and consciously putting that dream away in the Hope Chest of my heart so that I could command myself to be content with life as it was. I wasn't very successful, by the way.
Now, I have a flock of chicks who peep away in our backyard oh, so sweetly. They live, right now, in a chicken tractor that was given to us by some good friends who hobby farm with goats and chickens and gardening. We plan on leaving some chickens in there... the ones we plan to put in the freezer. The laying flock is getting their very own blue house later. We love to watch the chicks! They are endlessly entertaining. For example, as the sun goes down, they all pile into one corner of the tractor, trying to get the place on the “preferred” roost. They play king of the mountain until the sun goes down, then they all spread out and go to sleep. While they're playing their “game”, though, there's tons of squawking, jumping to the top of the pile, stepping on the heads of each other, and jockeying for position. It looks like corporate America! I picked some whitefly larvae off my cauliflower plants the other day and fed the chicks the little caterpillars right out of my hand. Well, technically, only one chick, who would grab two or three on the run, gobble them up, and be back for more before any of the other chicks knew what was going on! We love to just sit and watch them. Really. We pull our chairs up, open the lid and watch for hours (I knit, too)! Who needs a television?! I told my husband it looked like only the Cornish Rocks were growing and he said that they were growing, but I couldn't tell because I stare at them for hours every day! He's only slightly exaggerating. If I could, I'd just meander back and forth between the chickens and the garden all day long... and knit!
Speaking of Cornish Rocks... they are just the ugliest, nastiest, most disgustingest chicks. They're like freaks of nature... except they're not really natural, in my opinion. They've been bred and bred to grow big fast on as little grain as possible, which is great for a factory farm, I guess. They don't forage, they don't scratch, they don't do anything natural, except eat grain, poop, and breathe. They're kind of naked and pink and ugly and blech. With grain prices getting higher, and hence chicken feed getting more expensive, I think I may just buy dual purpose breeds for meat from now on instead of meat birds. They may take longer to get big, but they'll feed themselves on bugs and grass instead of only eating grain. The Cornish Rocks make me feel kind of queasy when I look at them, actually. One already died... and I'd not be sad if the rest accidentally got eaten by a raccoon or something. Course, maybe that'll make it easier (emotionally) to cut them up and make into chicken noodle soup or something.
Anyway, I ended up buying five Americauna pullets, five Buff Orphington pullets, five Cornish X Rocks, and ten straight run Barred Rocks. I'm not sure, but there are four or five birds that were not ordered by us that might be Buffs, too. We ordered 25 and got 30 birds. What kind are the extras? Are they pullets or cockerels? What's the difference between a pullet and a hen, anyway? Do any breeds of chickens lay speckled eggs, or do I have to get guineas for those? Questions for the ages.....

Technical Difficulties

I no longer have broadband! I, essentially, have super-slow, force me to be offline dial up. I can still upload essays, but not pictures. I have stuff to write about, but I wanted to put pics with my entries and I can't!!! Wahhhhh Hahhhhh! Here is my solution, and I know you'll all understand: I'll go ahead and post my essays, and then post the pics that go with them when I have access to broadband. So, you'll get pictures, but perhaps later.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Clothesline

“Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.”
Many of you will know what I mean when I say I want to be a Proverbs 31 woman. I want to have a clean house, organized closets, and a cheerful demeanor at all times. I want to make homemade bread, cheese, and dinner from my homegrown food all the time. I want to have a giant garden that meets all our vegetable needs, and even our fruit needs. I want to take good care of our resources that I've been given: be it money, time, or raw materials. I want to be a good correspondent, a good friend, mother, sister, wife, and citizen. There's more, of course, but this list makes me want to implode, so I assume you're not feeling too comfortable, either.
Baby steps, as Flylady would say. I often go back to that. I think about what small changes I could make that could have a big impact on all the things I care about. I've made pretty major changes in my homemaking that started with little steps and little money. It started about six years ago when I switched to cloth diapers. My third baby had very sensitive skin and I decided to try them to see if it helped her, and it did, with a bonus of fewer “blow-outs”. So, I bought a bunch of Chinese prefolds, some Bummi Whisper Pants and some diaper pins and went to it. I actually found a pleasant sense of rightness when I washed those diapers, folded them, and stacked them in her changing table. I wasn't filling landfills with disgusting chemicals and I pretty much recouped my investment after I used the diapers five times (that was accomplished in less than a month). Then I thought about all the extra detergent and water and electricity I was using to wash them. Buzzkill. I decided to invest about $20 on clothesline, pins, an apron to hold them, and started hanging laundry out to dry. Well, to my surprise, that was really fun! My breezy, grassy, apple blossomy backyard was a much more fun place to be than my basement laundry area! I trooped out, basket on my hip, apron around my waist, and children underfoot, cheerful and happy. The baby enjoyed the laundry waving over her head and the leaves against the sky and the outdoor air, the toddlers liked to get a chance to ask mom to push them on the swing, and I was happy just to get out of the house a minute! I pinned and sang and breathed in the clean fresh scent of those diapers and decided that this was downright fun!
My time outdoors benefited other aspects of my life, too. I discovered that running outside for a little bit gave me a chance to say hi to the neighbors, invite them to play or to have tea (did I mention my desire to be more hospitable?). My garden was receiving more attention because I'd pop over to check on it as I piled the baby into the empty basket to take inside (weight bearing exercise, anyone?). I started to spread out a quilt to read to the children while I was out there. We all were cheerful, outside, and I was motivated to do laundry, of all things! Then we moved and started paying our own utility bills. You may not believe me, but hanging laundry on a line also enabled me to exchange the money I paid on dryer electricity for money to be spent on air conditioning electricity. (Yes, yes, I know, they're not responsible, either!) My clothesline led me to change to vegetable based detergents instead of petroleum based ones, which I have decided is patriotism as it reduces our country's dependence on oil. It inspired me to buy a whole lot of tea towels and inexpensive wash cloths and to buy flannel and do a little sewing to replace bibs, paper towels, baby wipes, napkins, sponges and many other disposable things! I also decided to purchase a front load washer instead of a top loader when we had to get a new washer so I could use less water, electricity, and detergents doing all that laundry. Finally, it gave me an opportunity, that I perhaps otherwise would have missed: to see Cedar Waxwings passing apple blossoms one to another in the spring.
So, my laundry load was increased by all this cloth, but remember how I enjoy the process of washing and drying and folding it all when my surroundings are the glories of creation! Remember that folding squares and rectangles is one of a toddler's first jobs in our house, that when a family can work together joyfully, it fosters bonding and companionship and mutual respect more than any family movie night will, and that a homemaker who finds joy in her work can change the whole atmosphere of home. The little steps I made led to a large behavioral change that makes me feel as though my large family is being more responsible in it's use of resources, and I feel that I'm truly being a good steward of what I've been given in the laundry genre...
You might want to know if I think I've got that aspect of my life settled, but now I'm trying to take all this a step further and make rags then rugs out of my worn out napkins, diapers, and tea towels... then, after all that has been used to it's fullest, I'll put those worn out rugs into the compost heap and let them feed us! Top that, disposable society! Also, I'm hoping to put more of us in wool in the winter as it repels stains and requires less washing (though you cover it with things like bibs and aprons which do require washing) and helps keep us warmer so we don't use so much energy heating the house in the winter. Oh, and you can compost wool, too! I think this beats a disposable lifestyle hands down, and it's good for the soul, as any hard work that produces good results is.

Monday, June 2, 2008

A Little Inspiration

Don't you love this blue and white against the city skyline! I loved this little nook in Millennium Park!

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Saturday, May 31, 2008

Grow, Baby, Grow!

I can show you a picture of my gardens completely planted, but you know, it's not very interesting, because I mostly planted seeds! I just walk out there in the mornings to water them and tell them to,”Grow, grow, grow! Make my food!” Yes, I talk to plants, but only when no one over three years old is around!
I've planted tomatoes, basil, cilantro, peppers, zucchini, summer squash, cucumbers (a first for me!), carrots, lettuce, spinach, okra (another first), parsley, lemon balm, green beans, butternut squash, watermelon, and sweet corn. I'm trying the “three sisters” approach for the corn. Planting them with beans and squash. The idea is that the corn is a trellis for the beans to climb, and the squash provides shade for the roots of the corn. The beans do the nitrogen fixing for the corn, and the squash and beans growing together supposedly confuse pests... we'll see! It's the sort of companion planting that's been done for thousands of years by Native Americans... except I left out the dead fish under every corn seed, not having any fish at hand. Plus, in theory, all those roots and leaves help deter soil erosion which is a problem with corn. A benefit to raising your own food by hand instead of letting big farms with big machines do it, perhaps?
Gardening inspires a lot of the same emotions in me that having a new baby does. I murmur and pet and fuss over each emerging sprout like it's my new baby. Yeah, OK, that's kind of weird. But there's a lot of satisfaction and warm fuzzies that can be derived from “raising” stuff. Hard work resulting in a good harvest is very good for the soul. In the square foot gardening method, you prune your vining plants to one main stem, which is really hard to do, because you think: more stems, more food. Supposedly, pruning those stems to one, and weaving that one stem up and down a trellis allows you to get a lot more food from a lot less space. Then, when the season winds to a close, you cut off the end of that one stem and it's supposed to help the fruit to ripen in a timely manner. I've no experience with this, however, it's all stuff from books I've read, and probably confused in my mind! All this pruning reminds me of training children to behave well! One does a lot of nipping behavior in the bud, hoping it will help the child “bear better fruit” later. Of course, the raising of children takes much longer than tomatoes, so one must just have faith that those that have done it before know what they're talking about.
Grow, baby, grow! Make good fruit! Be healthy! Grow tall and strong! Be productive!
Gardeners and mothers have a lot in common.

A Zoo, Sort Of

I'm a bit mad at myself today. I'm back from Chicago (had a LOVELY time!), but just not in the groove. Too relaxed, perhaps? I've had these really great photo opportunities recently, and I just wasn't fast enough to get good pictures! We have some sort of bird's nest outside our back door, pasted up in a corner under our eaves. At first you could see Mama Bird building her nest on top of another, older one. Not too much later you could hear little peeps coming from it, as long as you didn't step out the door. They were very obedient little birds and were completely silent when they saw danger. A little later you could look at them peeking over the edge of the nest, waiting to be fed, quietly watching us go about our business. Yesterday, they were gone, and there was a black rat snake on the ground four feet long to entertain us instead. The four baby birds were in our front yard, lined up on a tree branch, getting their flying lessons, and just in time, for those black snakes are really good climbers. I know, I looked it up online! My daughter saw the snake, and we all ran out to look at it, while I was yelling at them to, “Go back inside till I figure out what kind of snake it is!” I Googled Black Snake and found a picture that looked just like the one we saw: a shiny black snake, all kinked up, perfectly still. My kids wanted to kill it. I decided not... we've found plenty of evidence of rodents and I decided a little bit of natural predation was a good thing. Later that day, we heard five gunshots come from the neighbor's hen house. I was disturbed at the gunshots. After all, any kind of killing disturbs a woman like me. The three neighbor men had found two black snakes munching their eggs, and, well, when it comes to food, a man must protect his interests above the serpent's, naturally. One day I believe the lion will lie down with the lamb, but not yet!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Dining In

Hello there, dear readers! I know, it's been awhile, but I know you'll all forgive me, knowing I've been moving and that all is in an uproar... The sewing stuff is still all in boxes, my summer clothes still have not been located, and I'm off on a mini vacation to visit my sister and some old friends in Missouri and Chicago with the baby. I thought I'd just pipe in with a few suggestions for this time of year. I know I've mentioned square foot gardening before, and I still think that is a wonderful way to start to do a little to make life more healthy for you and your neighbors. Perhaps you're not really ready for that... perhaps you can't afford it, or you think it's too late in the season, or you don't think you can find all the ingredients. So I have another suggestion! Make your own dinner. Make it from scratch. Make it from local, fresh, seasonal food if you possibly can, but if you can't or don't want to go to the trouble, just make something for yourself for dinner. I know, you're busy, you're really, really busy and it's just easier to pick up some fast food and eat it on the way home, or get some tuna helper and cook it all in a skillet. But really, it's not very good for you or your taste buds or the environment or small family farmers or your beloved neighbors near and far. I have a few suggestions, just in case you want to try.
Mary Jane Butters came up with the wonderful idea of a Bakeover, which you can try, I've never tried her mixes, but one can always make their own.
A Crockpot is a great investment... if you use it! Think of it as an investment, as you'll save lots of money in the future by putting it to good use.
Try a pot of soup... I love this carrot top soup for spring, it's hearty enough for supper with some bread, but not too heavy for warm weather, and cooking stove top is waaaaay cooler in the kitchen than cooking in the oven.
Even better, try the rubber chicken idea. Roast a chicken... if you work, do it on a day off, like Saturday. (If you have a big family, try more than one chicken!) Eat it with some mashed potatoes, or try some roasted potatoes with fresh parsley or carrot top greens sprinkled over the top. How about a spinach salad with hard boiled eggs and bacon dressing? Have you ever made gravy from scratch? Mmmmm, I'm getting hungry.
After dinner, when the dishes are clean, grab that chicken and pick it clean with your fingers... yeah, it's messy and greasy, but it can be fun if you're listening to a book on tape, or chatting with someone you enjoy spending time with. Try to get them to help you! Put all the leftover pieces of chicken in a glass bowl and put some foil over it and save it for dinner tomorrow night! Then put that bony carcass away in the fridge, too, or, if you have time, throw it into a big soup pot, cover it with water and simmer it for a looooong time. While it's simmering, play cards or another game with your loved one(s)... it's fun! Or, make some dessert, we always do that on Saturday night. Make some chicken broth (here's some more detailed directions). Use it for your carrot top soup a couple of days from now!
On Sunday afternoon, depending on how much chicken is left either make chicken salad (I like this one from Martha Stewart) or black bean quesadillas. These are easily made with a can of black beans, some tortillas, plum tomatoes, and some cheese, don't forget the cumin and garlic and maybe some green onions, if you like. Or add salsa, or sour cream, or make it soft tacos or burritos with rice, or whatever strikes your fancy. If you drink alcohol, grab a couple of cervezas and a lime and make it a little event! If not, make yourself some sun tea or limeade with maraschino cherries and make it an event, anyway! There's your Sunday night dinner.
On Monday, eat your soup for dinner with a really good loaf of bread that YOU like, though, if I were you I'd remember the saying, “the whiter the bread, the sooner you're dead!” Try to make some! If you live alone, go shopping for a second hand thermos and take that soup to work every day to eat for lunch!
Now you know why they call it rubber chicken, it stretches to at least 3 meals!
If you're really into saving money, keep track of what you spend on those meals and compare it to what you would have spent on eating out. Then use the extra money to go shopping at the antique or thrift store for an old tablecloth that you think would make a good apron cause we're gonna do that for the next project! Don't forget to warm up that sewing machine, or get yourself some sewing needles and a thimble that your middle finger of your sewing hand and some thread to match, or contrast nicely with, your project. And don't forget to get some really sharp scissors, or get yours sharpened... it makes the work so much more pleasurable!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

A Garden

Sooooo, here is a glimpse of me in all my glory and my beloved as we look over our garden. It looks little, huh? Well, we plan to have a garden that is approximately 4 times as big as we've ever attempted before and so, technically, it's ambitious! I love the concept of square foot gardening. I enjoy the sustainability of it, I think that if everyone would just start a little one we'd all be healthier and we could use the petroleum we save by not transporting food to lower gas prices! If we all saved compost for our square foot gardens we'd not have such overflowing landfills and dumps. I can't believe how matronly I look... normally I'd not wear that shirt, but I had to borrow something of Hubby's because I couldn't find any of my own clothes!

Warning!!! The following picture is NOT doing this "By Hand".

Our landlord saw my Hubby toiling away with the tiller and decided he needed some help... and boy did he help! He brought the industrial equipment to ease my husband's labor and we got a good look at what was under the grass. Beautiful loamy clay. It looked fertile and wondrously good for veggies! I think he was a little jealous, because he said HIS garden was full of rocks. Sorry... We had fun watching the progress he made, but I have to say, watching my Hubby sweat while doing manual labor is fun, too. I wanted to do the garden slightly differently. I'm afraid that all that green grass in the dirt will burn my seedlings. I hope I'm wrong and we get lots of yummy veggies out of those little plots of dirt!

Moving Day

You might wonder where I've been lately. I've been doing a little of this:

Fun, huh? Actually, though I couldn't find my camera to record it, a bunch of families came to help move and it was downright fun! Well, for me it was fun, I suspect for some people it was just hard. Thanks, friends! You know I'm there for you, too, any time you need me. See that desk? It weighs easily 500 pounds, but our friends hauled it to the farmhouse! I wish you could see pictures of kind, thoughtful men hauling giant bookcases through narrow doors. I honestly grieve to realize that I didn't record the young men ages 6-17 working like grown men to haul boxes up stairs! I only have this, taken once I found my camera...

I know this isn't a beautiful picture, but the house doesn't look particularly beautiful at the moment, it looks full of boxes and all a-jumble. My girlfriends helped me unpack my kitchen, so I could use it immediately, and they helped me decide where to put furniture when I had a question as to where things went. My girlfriends are the most thoughtful, friendliest, kindest, most wonderfullest girlfriends ever! Gush, gush, gush!
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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Finder's Keepers

Dogwood blossoms always remind me of my Grandmother. Years ago she owned this incredible antebellum home in Louisiana, Missouri. It had slave quarters in the basement, a "widow's walk" looking out over the Mississippi (so the lady of the house could stand and look at the river while she waited watching for her man to come home), and lots of nooks and crannies for a four year old to hide in. Hiding in crannies pops to mind since I distinctly remember my mother chasing me around the house while I was fleeing a spanking. (I painted my aunt's lamp with foundation! Do you remember that, Melanie?) She also had many dogwood trees on the property. I'll always remember her bringing me to one of the trees and telling me about how the centers of the flowers were a reminder of Christ's crown of thorns. The four white petals with their magenta marks symbolize his sinless hands and feet pierced and injured by the nails on the cross. I was only four, but I remember that talk and my sweet Grandmother's arms and voice sharing with me the joy of noticing the small things. My Grandmother was a role model for me in so many ways. I miss her terribly. There are beautiful dogwood trees all over Northern Virginia. I took this picture while I told my own four year old son my Grandmother's story this Easter season. You know, many people know very little of their Great Grandparents. I need to tell my children more stories of what a wonderful woman she was! The dogwood is the state flower of Virginia. Perhaps I'll plant a tree on the farm!

So, my friend Jen asked how we found this wonderful home to live in. Some of you may know that my husband and I have longed for a simpler life for a long time. We recently made a life change that made that more possible, though it involved greater risk for our family. My husband turned civilian, and made one small step toward becoming a gentleman farmer. We moved to Virginia and found that the countryside is beautiful, the people are interesting, the proximity to the Nation's Capitol is convenient, and a lot of our heroes either lived nearby or still do! We love it here! We'd love to purchase a little house in the country and raise chickens, but we already own a house in Colorado, so feel that to take on that kind of debt would be perhaps reckless in this economy. Still, we looked! I was looking for great deals in real estate that would tempt me to go ahead and throw caution to the wind and make me apply for another mortgage in spite of my fear of debt. I was browsing real estate in Fauquier County when I saw an ad for a farmhouse for rent on a 500 acre farm. I thought, "Well, it couldn't hurt to ask!" I contacted the advertiser, asked a few questions, told him we were a big family that home schooled and wanted to raise more of our own food. He invited us to visit and see if the situation suited both parties, so to speak. We went after church on Sunday and looked and looked and I fell in love! My husband was perhaps more skeptical, but I managed to convince him. It turns out he just didn't see what I saw. When we returned to sign the lease, he was excited, too! He was even more so after he went shopping at the local farm supply store and realized he was getting ready to buy chickens. He came home with a big grin on his face and I think a bit more content.

I'll write more about what I've learned about the area in another post. Before I do that, I wanted to see if you all wanted to help me name the house. I've decided it's a cottage, by the way. I know, I know, it's not mine to name, technically. But, still, as long as I love it as I do now, I must call it a name. Besides, it seems all the houses are named around there! So, I'm thinking something to do with joy, happiness, contentment, industriousness, husbandry, legacy. How about Contentment. Too pithy? Do you have any suggestions?

Friday, April 25, 2008


Yesterday, I spent over two hours cleaning a bathroom. Why, you say, would I do that? Well, the farmhouse's former tenants were three men who were working on a golf course by day and eating greasy food by night. Oh, and by the looks of it, they never cleaned the bathroom. Here's a picture of the tub after cleaning it...

it's not so bad! Now, when I clean, I usually start with the less toxic products and work my way up to the more toxic things. Yesterday I started with Green Works all purpose cleaner and a green scratcher (as I grew up calling those green abrasive pads) with a sponge on its back. I thought it was all rust stains and wouldn't come off, because I assumed that the bathroom had been cleaned some time in the past two years. Au contraire! These men thought that as long as only their feet touched the filth, it didn't count, I suppose! To my surprise, as I scrubbed and applied elbow grease liberally, the red gunk came off! I discovered that it was just an industrial layer of soap scum and red dirt! Well, at least the tub wasn't stained. I finished with Comet with bleach scrubbing powder. Toxic, yes, but effective! I still need to get a toothbrush and clean in corners and around fixtures, but it's miles better than this:

Et voila! A clean sparkling bathroom... sort of. Oh, bonus: I lost three pounds with all that scrubbing and sweating! No joke.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Dining Room

Well, the wall color is done in the Dining Room, and I think it turned out really well! I still have to paint the trim, but I can do that little by little, if I want to. Pictured here is the moldy corner. We washed it, scraped it, and primed it with Zinsser and then painted when it got dry. I've never primed the whole wall before when painting, but I think I may start doing it! The paint really covered better in here, I only used one gallon on the whole room! Plus, primer is cheaper than paint.

Kitchen Redo

Well, the floor still needs some scrubbing with a brush and a degreaser, I scrubbed about a third of the floor and just mopped the rest, as I was totally exhausted... but here it is!
I think those blue knobs are too cute. The floor, it turns out, is pale blue, so it looks perfect with the blue knobs.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

My Room

What's this? As my friend Joy mentioned, my readers had not yet seen any upstairs rooms in the farmhouse! Well here's a sneak peek at the Master not suite... just a bedroom, really. But it has four, again I say FOUR, closets! May I point out that is three more than I have now. Two are the sort you see in this pic, under the eaves, and long, but without much head room. As this house has no basement, this is where Christmas decorations, off season clothes, and hand me downs will go. Oh, I can't forget the boxes of baseball cards my husband lugs around, and the "memories" stuff, old letters, wedding dresses, yearbooks, etc., that we cart from house to house without a thought. Our kids may want to pilfer through this stuff after we die and before they throw it all out!

I was going to paper this in blue, but looked up how to paper and decided it was WAAAAAY too much trouble. Painting is much easier! I still need to get the carpet cleaned, but it's got a lot of potential!
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Saturday, April 12, 2008

Apron Trend?

Um, I may have discovered a new "thing" I enjoy. I've always enjoyed aprons. I really like vintage fabrics... and occasionally I actually ask for aprons when people ask what I'd like for a gift. Women used to wear aprons all the time. They cooked, did laundry, cleaned, and took care of children all day long. These are all very messy, dirty jobs. Women often don't really do these things all day anymore, so aprons are considered necessary, but not fun. I do this stuff all day, every day. My wardrobe will attest to it, too. I have dozens of t-shirts that have little grease spots, or food stains, or minuscule tears from their rough use. I need more aprons. I have decided! Today, in my time wasting portion of the day, when I surf the Internet for pretty things and stuff I like to do and which chickens I want to order, I found this cute little post on Oodles and oodles. I need to make one of those! I do have a clothespin apron, but I usually have little helpers and could use another to share. I can use the leftover bias tape from my Evangeline apron and my yards and yards of muslin and figure one out that's Melissa sized. Because, you know, I don't have enough to do!

Speaking of chickens. I'm ordering some, as soon as we get a PO Box in Upperville. I've decided to order Ameracaunas (well technically, I suppose, they'd be Easter Egg Chickens) and Cuckoo Marans, I think. But you know, I know very little about chickens. I've done a little research and found out that Americaunas have blue green tinted eggs... FUN! Cuckoo Marens have chocolate colored eggs, (rurality)as well as being really pretty birds, and being rare, gentle, and supposedly being a good dual purpose breed of chickens, meaning good for meat and eggs. I also heard that the hens can be broody, which means they will sit on their eggs and hatch a clutch, which has been either bred out of chickens or just not learned as so many eggs are hatched in incubators now.

Kitchen's first Coat

Well, here it is, first coat complete:

I really like the Lowe's paint, Valspar. It covers nicely, has little odor, and I think gives you a lot of bang for your buck.

Somebody's excited!

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