Thursday, September 30, 2010

Making Stuff

I promise I have an excuse for neglecting my blog lately.

I've been making stuff. Lots of stuff. Cute stuff.

Stuff like this skirt for Chloe, who chose the fabric herself.

It tickles me to see how her fashion sense is developing, the fabrics and colors that catch her eye. She's insisted I sew nothing but skirts for her this winter. Since she's seven, and frequently forgets how to sit like a lady, they're going to be long skirts. Of course, long skirt patterns are hard to come by for little girls, so I made one up. The only long skirt/dress pattern I found looked positively homeschool.

Stuff like this capelet, also for Chloe, who chose the yarn for herself (nothing I ever would have picked, but she loves it.)

Pattern: Kiddie Capelet by Christine Buhagiar
Yarn: Loops & Threads Charisma
Needles: every size of circulars imaginable.
Alterations: None really - using the bulky yarn instead of worsted made this bigger than the original pattern, so it fits her nicely. Probably could've made it longer, but I was running out of yarn.

Stuff like this hat for myself, which was definitely not easier than it looks.

Yes, Chloe's modeling it. I tried fifteen times to take a picture of myself in the hat, but I'm not that smooth with the camera. I don't know how teenagers do all those self-shots they post on Facebook.

With 104 stitches, every single stitch cabled, it took a little longer than a hat normally takes. And why I chose the color purple, which sort of makes me want to gag, I really can't explain, except to say that I had the yarn in my stash and it needed to be used up.

Pattern: Koolhaas by Jared Flood
Yarn: Patons Merino in an obnoxious shade of purple
Needles: 6 and 8
No alterations, followed the pattern exactly, and it turned out great!

I also made another winter hat for my husband, who risks freezing to death in North Dakota this winter (where it has already snowed!) I didn't get a picture of it before he left again, but that's alright. It looks like every other hat I've ever made for him: simple, plain, utterly boring, and completely functional. I used the Hat Fit For a Boyfriend pattern by Stephanie Nicole, the same pattern I've used for the last three hats I've made for him. He seemed happy with it. I was tempted to add some stripes, but I fear that would've been far too exciting for his taste in wardrobe accessories, so it's just a plain not-quite-black. Love you, honey. Your sense of fashion suits me just fine. Except when I'm in the mood to be creative.

So that's what I've been up to. I spent an hour tonight cutting out the seventeen pattern pieces for Cora's Halloween costume. Yeah, that's gonna be a project that could keep me entertained for weeks.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Garden to Table Challenge - Week Six

Just a quick post to keep up with Wendy's Garden to Table challenge.

Camping for a week limits my garden-based meals, but I did come up with this one on an evening when I was starving and sick of Amy's Kitchen organic canned soups.

Sliced garden zucchini (from my mother's garden) sauteed (on a propane camp stove) in a simple salad dressing (olive oil, cider vinegar, a touch of brown mustard and some herbs), then tossed with diced cooked chicken breast and coarsely chopped garden tomatoes and heated through. Quick, yummy, and satisfying, especially when eaten outside on a cool night in the mountains.

If you're a gardener - or enjoy the fruits of someone else's garden - be sure to share your tasty meal ideas and recipes on Greenish Thumb's weekly challenge!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Adventures in Hunting Camp

A week at hunting camp is like a week of vacation. Especially in this:

the Army tent we borrowed from my dad. It doesn't look like much (it's particularly droopy, we put it up in the dark) but look inside.

See that, there, in the middle? The Holy Grail of fall camping - the wood stove. No matter how cold it got - and it was cold - we stayed cozy and warm.

And the amount of space it provided, compared to our usual tent, was fantastic. It was big enough that we could comfortably eat inside, or do school work without the wind blowing the papers away. If it rained we just lit a lantern and the girls colored or played on the ground happily.

On the nice days, we did lots of exploring and playing. What do Two Little Girls do at hunting camp in the mountains for a week?

They catch tiny frogs after a heavy rain.

They play with puppets that Mommy fashions out of sticks and leaves and grasses.

If you really work to stretch your imagination,
you'll realize this is supposed to be a rooster.

They collect rose hips to dry for tea.

They create "Critter Buffets" to set out and see if any critters would like to have a snack at night.

There was also a fair amount of school time, though not enough to take away from the fun and freedom of living in the outdoors for a week.

Our silly dog discovered how much fun it is to pretend to be a cow dog, chasing grazing cattle from our camp if ever they ventured too close, her whole body waggling with the excitement of it.

There was lots of Follow-the-Leader, singing songs, playing with toys around the big rocks of the fire pit. They didn't have any trouble staying entertained. None of us were ready to come home. I spent a good portion of my time just sitting around knitting and watching them play, baking in the sunshine and enjoying the time to relax.

There's a good chance this was our last camping trip for the year. It's getting chilly now, the days are getting shorter, and fall comes faster in the mountains than it does down here in the valley.

And no, we didn't come home with any meat this time. We were all a little bummed - he sure got close there toward the end, but we were really out of time. There's still a couple more seasons to try later in the fall though, so we're still hopeful.

And now? Back to our regularly scheduled programming... and I'll try to keep up with my blog a little better now that I've got internet access again!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

It sure is quiet in there...

A friend and I were discussing recently the pros and cons of tattling. She's of a mind that tattling is unnecessary and often irritating. While I do agree with that, I tend to think there are times tattling is useful.

For instance- if Big Sister had been home, she definitely would have tattled if she'd seen this in progress:

She would've come running right into the kitchen, where I was up to my elbows in tomatoes, peeling and slicing and canning, and she would've said, "Mom! Cora's covering her entire leg with lipstick!"

But Big Sister was not home, and so no one stopped her.

There are times that really, all you can do is laugh. Like when you've just scrubbed the bathroom from floor to ceiling, and two hours later it's tinted a greasy, really-hard-to-clean sort of pink.

Because you know, when one is covering their entire leg in lipstick, it's very hard to keep the lipstick only on the leg.

She had to climb up on the toilet...

To wash her hands in the sink.

Half an hour of scrubbing later and the bathroom is no longer pink. Sadly, I can't say the same for the child. Lipstick is hard to get off of porcelain. It's even harder to get off of skin.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Homeschool Humor

We went to the music store in the mall the other day. A well-meaning teenage employee came up and asked if she could help us find something. I asked her where the classical section was, and told her we were looking for Beethoven. She guided us in the right direction, pulled out a CD, looked at it, and said, "Oh, this is the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. You want something that's actually Beethoven playing it, don't you?"


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Tomato Pickin'

There's no denying it's a bad year for the nightshade family. Tomatoes and peppers are suffering something fierce, first because of a long, cool spring, and then searing temperatures well over 100 degrees. They're finally starting to even out, but we're just now starting to see a solid harvest of red tomatoes, and it usually starts in early August. Even with fourteen tomato plants in my garden, there's no way enough will turn red by first frost to get us through winter.

The solution? We went tomato picking! A dear friend found a U-pick tomato crop not far from here, and they sell them for $5.50 a half bushel. So we dragged our kids out to the tomato field and put 'em to work.

Of course, there was a really long break to snack on apples fresh from the tree...

And plenty of time just spent running through the fields playing tag and chasing bugs...

Okay, let's be honest - it was the Mommys who did all the work. But it's fun work!

My friend Katie. Isn't she adorable?

I can't think of any better way to spend my time than picking fresh vegetables and chatting with a good friend while the kids run contentedly around us.

Now to contend with the 50-60 pounds of tomatoes we brought home...

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Weekend Treasures

While I do try to avoid supporting the slavery of Chinese children in sweat shops, there are time that I enjoy shopping as much as the next girl. I just try to keep it more in line with my moral values.

I found some wonderful "treasures" this weekend. These are the most exciting of the lot, from an auction on Saturday:

Antique canning jars - paid $11 for all five of them. The two without lids will probably be filled with flowers, the other three I'll use for storing dry goods in the pantry. Because storing things in glass jars in my cupboards makes me happy every time I open them.

This one is especially neat to me, because it still has the sticker from the last time it was used in 1958:
And can I just say - bidding at auctions is thrilling. Seriously, it makes my heart race a little each time I bid. So much more fun than clearance shopping at the mall.

Other treasures from the auction include an old fashioned hand-crank meat grinder for $2.50 and a rustic looking woven basket for $1.

At a neighbor's yard sale I paid two dollars for a box of adorable little 1/2 pint canning jars (modern ones that I can still use for canning), a Kerr Home Canning and Freezing book circa 1970's, tea towels embroidered by his wife, one for each day of the week, and a kid's book of ABC's (also 1970's). I have a kind and generous neighbor to give me such a great deal on those treasures!

Overall, I'd say it was a satisfying weekend of "shopping".

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Garden to Table Challenge - Week Four

Have you ever scrubbed carrots? Not store-bought carrots, but ones pulled right out of the ground? Man, carrots are filthy vegetables. I only had to wash about ten pounds of them, but my hands are raw and sort of orange-tinted, my back aches from standing at the sink for so long, and well... ugh. Harvesting carrots = great fun. Washing carrots = not much fun at all.

Since I'm currently standing knee deep in carrots, my Garden to Table Challenge recipe this week is - you guessed it - a carrot recipe. This one is great as a side dish to an Asian entree, or just piled on top of basmati rice for a simple lunch.

Sesame-Ginger Carrots
1 lb carrots (fresh or frozen) sliced into coins
3 Tbsp. dried minced onion
2Tbsp. sesame seeds
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/8 tsp. pepper
4 Tbsp. butter
2 tsp. molasses

Saute the carrots, onion, sesame seeds, salt, ginger and pepper in butter for 4-5 minutes or until tender. Stir in molasses and serve.

Be sure to stop by Greenish Thumb for more links to this week's Garden to Table Challenge recipes!

I grew a bouquet...

Albeit, it's not as gorgeous as the bouquet my husband sent for our anniversary the other day, but I grew my own bouquet.

And that makes me happy.

Sunflowers are so cheerful, aren't they? I'm not normally one to bring cut flowers into the house, but we had so many of these, I couldn't resist just a few.

For a girl who really can't grow a flower to save her life, this is a pretty great feat!

Is anyone else growing bouquets this year? Have you seen the gorgeous bouquets available and Farmer's Market? Sunflowers, dahlias, and zinnias, oh my! Some day, maybe I'll be that cool.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Great Carrot Harvest

I finally gave in last night. I just couldn't wait any longer. I pulled out the rest of the carrots that were still in the ground from the three plantings I did this spring.

Oh, it was so satisfying. This was my first successful carrot crop. Pulling carrots out of the ground is downright fun.

After pulling them all out, we trimmed the tops, piled them in a dishpan, and weighed them - seventeen pounds exactly. I'm not sure how many I've already harvested this year, haven't added up the totals, but I think our total harvest for this year is near 30 pounds.

I'll be blanching and freezing the smallest carrots, and any that are broken or damaged. The larger ones will be stored in a container of sand in the basement with the beets and turnips. Well, and a few will be made into carrot cupcakes for little girls. :-)

This one weighed one-third of a pound - there were several of them.
When I planted them I knew they were a short and fat variety -
I guess I just didn't realize how fat!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Craft Class - Fall Decor

There is one thing I firmly believe about children's craft time: if you provide them with good quality materials, they will produce a good quality craft.

Once in awhile, I buy those silly foamie craft kits, but I try to keep our crafts a little more worthwhile. That usually means sharing my own craft supplies, and sometimes spending a little bit more at the craft store, but it's usually worth it, too.

Today's craft is a good example: wooden birdhouses, acrylic paint, silk leaves and flowers, and a hot glue gun.

They painted the birdhouses in fall colors of their choosing.

Then I taught them a new painting technique - splatter painting with old toothbrushes for an "antique" look.

We tacked on a bit of Spanish moss along the bottom, then I let them dig through my supply of leftover leaves and flowers. They pointed to where they wanted them, I did the hot gluing.

The result is pretty great, I think - especially for a three and seven year old!

My intent is to teach them now that there is no 'right' or 'wrong' when it comes to crafting. So many adults I know are afraid of doing something wrong, so they never create anything at all. I loved watching my oldest hold a flower this way and that, deciding where she thought it looked the best. These will be great decorations to keep setting out year after year.

And while they were working on their painting, I entertained myself by creating a new wreath for the front door:

I certainly don't claim to be a floral designer, but I enjoyed the opportunity to play with flowers, it's something I very rarely do.

A couple quick notes on cost: The birdhouses were clearanced and cost $2 and $3. All the other supplies I already had on hand. I'm pretty sure foamie kits cost more than that!
I was looking at wreaths in Hobby Lobby, and most were priced $50 or more. At $4 for the blank grapevine wreath, $12 for the flowers and stems, and some ribbon from my stash, I'm much happier with that price!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Ew. Just. Ew.

I distinctly remember the very worst assignment I ever received in grade school. In the sixth grade, every student was required to turn in a bug collection at the end of the year - the magnum opus of sixth grade science.

I was an over-achiever. (Clearly, not much has changed.) I couldn't receive a grade lower than an A. I did the work, but I still remember vividly the torture I endured. Anyone who knows me is aware of my ridiculous fear of bugs. I run, I scream, I stomp, I spray an entire can of bug spray at them. I've gotten better in the years since I've started gardening, but bugs are still definitely not my favorite thing.

Quite the opposite for my darling eldest daughter. "See Mom? Even someone who's afraid of bugs like you are can raise a kid who is courageous and brave!" Gee, thanks, kiddo.

It all started when our Really Cool Neighbor brought over a dead dragonfly he found while out hiking. We bought some foam core, some straight pins, and rustled up some "bug collecting gear" - a little jar of alcohol, a couple of pairs of tweezers, and a magnifying glass.

The process is simple - drown the bug in alcohol, then lay it out on the board and impale it with a straight pin. I hate bugs. I find this process somewhat appealing. It's the actually acquiring the bug part that's a little hard for me to face. Thankfully, I'm no longer in the sixth grade, and I can make my kid do it herself, like my mama made me.

The funny thing is, my kid's only in second grade, and she's doing this solely because she wants to.

This monster of a spider has been hanging out in the middle of my green beans for several days now. I've been afraid to pick beans, but not any more. My crazy kid just scooped him right into the alcohol, and he was dead as a doornail in seconds. I about screamed just watching her get him, though!

We found this yellow jacket already drowned in the wading pool - a prime spot for finding stinging insects that won't cause harm.

We'll be on the look out for more cool bugs now - fall seems to be a great time to find them. The nice thing about homeschool is that she doesn't have to be done when the school year is over, she can just keep on going with it as long as the creepy crawlies interest her.

And meanwhile, I'll try get creeped out at the thought of all the dead bugs on a shelf in my basement.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

On Preserving Tomatoes

There are about a gazillion ways to preserve tomatoes for winter. In the past, I've canned them whole, diced, crushed, as tomato sauce, pizza sauce, and salsa. I've also frozen them most of those ways.

Each option has it's ups and downs. Canning is fantastic because it doesn't require any freezer space, and you can stash jars just about anywhere. And if you happen to lose power, your canned goods won't mind. However, the process of canning - boiling tomatoes for nearly an hour - seriously depletes the nutritional value of the fruit. Freezing is just the opposite - it maintains nutritional integrity, but requires space in the freezer and electricity. I do a fair amount of both. I decided to freeze today's tomatoes, because quite frankly, it's too hot to have a ginormous pot of boiling water on my stove for a couple of hours.

Freezing tomatoes is a lot quicker than canning too - especially if you're lazy, like me. Here's a secret: you don't really have to peel tomatoes to freeze them, especially if you're dicing them. Yes, there will be tiny bits of tomato skins in whatever you're cooking, but they aren't really much of a problem.

When I freeze tomatoes, I just core them, cut out any bad spots, and dice them up. Then I freeze them in 2-cup portions in plastic bags. Each little baggie equals the same as a can of diced tomatoes.

(I realize freezing anything in plastic is probably not the healthiest option. But they fit so much nicer in the freezer this way - see?)

When it comes time to use them, you can just toss them into whatever you're fixing (thawed, usually). If you need tomato sauce, put the thawed tomatoes into the blender and whir until smooth. It took about half an hour for me to get these 10 cups into the freezer - totally worth it for the pleasure of vine-ripened organic tomatoes in the middle of winter!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Little Things from hunting camp

After my short-lived stint as a hunter's accomplice, I came back, packed up the girls, and we headed up the mountain to stay the rest of the week.

We always love camping, but this particular trip gave me some good opportunities to focus on the Little Things. Hunting camp is not fancy. There are no camp fires. There is no "camp-gourmet" food. There's not even a bathroom, just a little "potty seat" set over a hole back up behind the tent. In this case, because we got up there late in the weekend, our campsite didn't even have a tree. There are a lot of "nots" when it comes to hunting camp.

But it didn't matter at all - there was so much to enjoy.

It never fails to please me to watch my little girls jump out of the van as soon as it stops and tromp off into the brush to see what awaits them. I can almost guarantee both will have a large stick and a fistful of flowers within ten minutes of wherever we arrive. And that always makes me smile.

We are, of course, still "in school" when we're camping now.... which is kind of a joke. Have you ever tried getting a seven year old to focus on addition facts when she's surrounded by buzzing bees and pretty purple flowers? Right. But we did get in plenty of Nature Study, so it wasn't a total loss.

While Daddy was hunting most of the time, he did manage to squeeze in a few moments of quality time...

There are lots of things I didn't get pictures of - like picking wild huckleberries and choke cherries, seeing our first ermine, and discovering leeches in the creek we were wading in. Nope, not kidding. Ew. But none of them attached themselves to us, and once we found them, we quickly took our leave. Chloe would've kept playing - after all, Laura survived the leeches without much trouble in On The Banks of Plum Creek, so she wasn't too concerned. But I insisted. Because, well, ew.

And, since we're talking about Little Things, I should point out that this hunting trip wasn't a total loss...

It's also dove season. And he shot one. And one dove breast equals about one bite each for a family of four. But ya know what? It was really, really good. We sauteed it in a bit of oil over the camp stove, and it was so tender and had a pretty good flavor. Too bad it'd take sixteen of them to make one meal!

So, while we don't have an elk in the freezer (yet), we still enjoyed our time up on the mountain. He's still got another week to try again, when he gets back from North Dakota two weeks from now. If it's not too cold, we'll go up again, because we feel terrible leaving our Daddy up on the mountain all alone, and feel we should keep him company.