Wednesday, May 30, 2012

We have a sign!

I've mentioned before how when we lived in The Big City, we had the coolest neighbors anyone could ever hope for. And now that we've moved away, we're still blessed to call them our friends, though we don't live so close. While we were visiting The Coolest Neighbors in the World one day during Trash Heap Week, I noticed they had this fantastic headboard out by the curb.

I knew it was a treasure. Weathered, worn, and full of character... it just needed a new life. I insisted that my husband put it, along with it's matching footboard, into the back of the truck. And then it sat in our garage for a month while I contemplated exactly what I wanted to do with it.

Somewhere along the line, I ran into this post by Funky Junk Interiors on Pinterest, laying out how to make an 'old' sign. Perfect.

I suppose this makes our farm name really official now. Kind of exciting, eh?

I won't go into detail about how I made it (cooler bloggers have already been there and done that,) except to say that ironing freezer paper stencils onto painted wood didn't turn out to be as great of an idea as I thought it would be. (Hey, it works on fabric. Which is apparently very different than wood. Who woulda thought?) I used a color called "spa blue" for the undercoat, and "cranberry wine" for the top. I wasn't sure until it was completely finished that I would love it, but I do.

Feel free to come visit us. Now that we have a sign, you'll know when you've arrived!

Weeds, Bugs, Snot... and a little bit of spinach.

I did a lot of daydreaming about our garden here when we first moved in. It involved lush, gorgeous plants, rich, nearly-black soil, and no weeds or bugs to speak of.

I'm not sure what I was thinking.

A little bit of mountain-gardening reality: we grow everything bigger up here. Except plants that produce vegetables.

The weeds are amazing. Their roots run a foot or more deep into the ground, they grow at a rate of six inches per day, and they spread like wild fire. And they're not just normal weeds, either - each one is dangerous in it's own way. There are goat-heads, which produce nasty thorns with spikes sharp enough to pop a tire, there are thistles that manage to prick me even through leather gloves, and there is something out there - I've yet to identify it - that causes an itchy red rash if it touches skin.

And then there are all the bugs! I always sort of thought the first year or two gardening in a new place, you got a 'bye' from the bugs. You know, because they hadn't found all your delectable goodies yet. But no, apparently that's just a rule in the city. These bugs know what they're looking for. Cabbage worms, flea beetles, japanese beetles, cutworms, ants so adept at climbing that they can make it inside of muck boots in no time at all. You name it, we seem to have it. And in addition to the bugs that are enjoying the feast I have planted for them, there are the flying, stinging variety too. I've never seen wasps as big as the ones we have up here. As big as the one that stung me in the armpit last week. (Yes, the armpit. It takes a certain amount of talent to get stung in the armpit. Clearly, I'm one talented lady.)

I'm not sure why I thought it would be, but the soil here is no different from our soil in The Big City - thick clay that turns to snot every time you water, then turns to cement when it dries out. Neither snot nor cement are considered ideal planting mediums for seeds, and sprouting is random and sparse. This also means tilling is a heckuva job for The Man of My Dreams, because sadly, using a jackhammer isn't an option when trying to turn over dirt for a vegetable garden. He's managed to get three beds worked up, and I'm afraid that might be it this year. So I've got something like 750 square feet of garden beds to work with right now. Early in the season I was disappointed at this.

In fact, The Man of My Dreams (who is the most logical, realistic man I've ever met) told me, "I think you need to start small." Hmph, I thought, start small? Phooey. I want all 10,000 square feet tilled this year, and I'm gonna plant every last inch of it, darnit! But once again, he's been proven right. Spending an hour out in the garden every evening, I'm barely keeping up with the bindweed that's climbing my onions, the alfalfa that refuses to grow in our pasture but is quite prolific in the garden, and all the dangerous plants threatening to fill my garden soil with pokey, prickly bits if I don't get them pulled right now.

At some point, I was starting to feel a little down about all of this. Okay, no, that's an understatement. I declared, "I am a gardening failure. We will never again eat fresh vegetables. Gardening in the mountains is impossible, and I am giving up."

But them I remembered: even in my little 300 square foot garden in The Big City, it took three or four years for the soil and I to get to know each other and build a real relationship and be able to work together. And the soil in The Tiny Little Town doesn't care how well I knew the soil back in the city, it expects me to start from scratch, introduce myself, and we will slowly get to know each other. That's how soil is. It likes to take things slow.

So I'm letting it go. I'll plant things. Some will come up, some won't. I'll give the soil as much enrichment as I can (which is easy to do with farm animals that produce inordinate amounts of poo.) We'll eat some fresh veggies, and what I can't grow, I can buy. (I like to pretend there is no grocery store to run to when we are hungry. It makes me feel more like a pioneer. But there is, and this year I'm grateful for it.) We may not have freezers full of blanched and frozen garden veggies to feast on all winter, but that's just gonna have to be okay.

I'll learn a lot this year. I'll make notes on how to do things differently next year. I'll fight the weeds and maybe have fewer to contend with in the future. We'll harvest what we can. And I won't stress, because this garden is simply not going to be as lush and beautiful as my garden in the city... at least, not yet.

 And if nothing else, at least we will have spinach.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Dancin' Under the Stars

Fact: Small town fun is way better than Big City fun.

Well, if you have the right state of mind, anyway. In the short time we've lived here, we've done more fun things together as a family than we did in the years we lived in the Big City. It's safer, the people are friendlier, and everything just feels a little more wholesome.

This holiday weekend, after the rodeo was over, there was a dance at the rodeo grounds. The band set up a stage on a flat bed trailer, a dance floor made with plywood covered pallets, and a makeshift party was had, right there next to the arena while the calves mooed from their pens and folks finished putting their horses into trailers.

If you've never had the opportunity to dance under the stars, you're missing out. There's something really special about it.

It doesn't matter that the dance floor is a little bumpy and scratchy, that the only real lighting is from Christmas lights strung along the trailer. What mattered was seeing my husband dance with my Littlest One...

And seeing my biggest one getting her farm girl groove on with a little cowboy...

 And enjoying the fact that we live in a place where there are such fun things to do. Country folks really do know how to have a good time! 

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Garden to Table Challenge: Venison Fiorentinis

"Girls, I'll be right back, gonna run out to the garden to get some food for dinner."

Oh man, I was starting to feel like I might never have the pleasure of uttering those words again. But alas, the time has finally come - we are starting to harvest little bits here and there, and the satisfaction of providing fresh vegetables for ourselves has returned. :::contented sigh::: Granted it's mostly spinach, and spinach isn't my favorite food, but right now, it tastes lovely!

And this means.... I finally have another post for the Garden to Table Challenge!

I have a deep, heartfelt love for hors d'ouevres and appetizers. I will happily read appetizer recipes in cook books, mark them and add them to my to-make list... and then realize we have no social life and I really have no reason to make fancy hors d'ouevres in real life. And then I decided there was no good reason not to be making them every so often for my family, just because they're good and we like them. Every so often, I'll make a plate of some kind of appetizer and serve it alongside baked potatoes or rice or salad. No one has complained yet, so I'm gonna keep doing it.

Tonight's dinner was just that - Venison Fiorentinis. The original recipe, which I changed quite a bit, came from The Colorado Farmer's Market Cookbook, one I suggest for anyone wanting to cook with fresh fruits and vegetables (and you don't have to be from Colorado to enjoy it.)

Venison Fiorentinis
1 lb venison steaks
4 cups fresh spinach
1/2 C grated parmesan cheese (the real stuff, not the powdery stuff.)
15 sheets phyllo dough
olive oil

Step one: fry the steaks in a bit of olive oil until medium rare. This takes about 8 minutes, turning once. Remove from pan and let cool a bit.

Step two: Chop the spinach into 1/2 inch bits. Toss it into a bowl with the parmesan cheese. Chop the steaks into tiny bits and mix those in as well. Season it with salt, pepper and garlic powder. This is your filling.

Step three: Fold a phyllo sheet in thirds, then cut this rectangle in half. You'll have two squares. Brush them with olive oil, then put a spoonful of filling on each square, fold it in half to make a triangle. Fill a baking sheet with these, then bake them at 400 degrees for 8 minutes or so, til the dough is golden.

No joke, these little things are pretty incredible. They even convince little girls to eat spinach without the slightest complaint. And as far as sinful appetizers go... well, there are more sinful things. If course, they're so little and cute that you don't feel guilty having "just one more"... several times.

If you don't have any venison steaks in your freezer, you could use regular beef steaks and they'd be just as amazing, I'm pretty certain.

I've never purchased or used phyllo dough before (I've lived a sheltered life.) It thrilled me more than it should have. As I was devouring these amazing bits of goodness, I was fantasizing about all the different things a girl could wrap in phyllo dough. The possibilities are endless. Go forth, my friends, and start wrapping things in phyllo. You will not be disappointed. Especially if it involves venison and cheese.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Root Cellar

As far as root cellars go, ours is pretty un-creepy. It's not a scary dungeon built into the ground or anything - it's in the far corner of our basement and is neatly painted white (which makes it easier to see all of the spiders.) It's built with sturdy shelves and even bins for root vegetables. The temperature remains a steady 50-ish degrees year round. Honestly, it's about the nicest root cellar a budding farm girl could hope for.

And, as with many places around the farm, it was filled with "treasures" left behind from the old folks that built the place. It only took an hour of digging and vacuuming and throwing away boxes full of trash to get it all straightened up and be able to take inventory.

There are hundreds of canning jars here, all shapes and sizes. There are even hundreds of rings and some boxes of lids. Now all I need to do is grow enough food and find enough time to make good use of it all.

My meager stores that remain from last year's canning season barely take up one shelf... it doesn't look like nearly as much as it did in the old house, with just the one shelving unit to store preserved goods on.

Two walls aren't shelved... there's plenty of space to experiment with wine- and beer-making, vinegar and cider making, and any other fermenting I decide to attempt in the future.... when I'm feeling a little less overwhelmed!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Making Friends With the Barn Cats

When we moved in, we were informed that we would be inheriting some barn cats. We weren't quite sure how many... at first we thought it was three, and then we realized there were at least two pairs of "twins" when we'd see them both at the food bowl at the same time. The girls have watched them from the window each day, and have given them all names, though they have never let us get anywhere near them.

But then we found their hiding spot: the hay loft. So we started bringing them bits of hot dogs, scraps of meat from dinner, and other goodies. What better way to make friends with half-wild barn cats?

This is Buff. He's the most friendly, to the point where he now even lets us pet him (and even asks us to sometimes.)

These two are Sally and Batman. They aren't quite so friendly, but will at least accept bits of food as long as it's tossed toward them from a distance.

Hiding somewhere below floor level, near the wall, are two fluffy cats. One is Grandma Kitty, and I can't recall the other's name right now. They won't let us anywhere near them, even if we come bearing gifts.

It's a good lesson in patience for the girls, standing completely still and waiting until their new friends come out of hiding. They're learning to move slowly and carefully, something neither of them is terribly good at.

*Please pardon the mess that is our hay loft. It's all stuff left behind by the previous owners, and we haven't made it out that far to clean up yet. It certainly is a treasure trove though: an ancient old wagon, all in pieces; an old rocking chair, a chest of drawers,an upholstered foot stool, a kitchen table and six chairs; even an old boat hanging from the rafters. Some day I'll find the time to go through it all, and refinish things one by one to add to the decor inside. Until then, the cats have a lovely furnished hay loft in which to spend their days.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Old-fashioned Fun

In a world that rarely involves television, computer games, or other electronics, kids are sometimes forced to find their own fun, the kind of fun that involves being outside, running and laughing and getting plenty of fresh air. 

And sometimes, kids realize that kind of fun is probably better, anyway.

Where we were putting in a perennial flower bed, there was an old, dilapidated barrel laying on the ground nearly in pieces. The metal barrel rings, paired with a bamboo stake from the garden, provided plenty of fun as well as an impromptu history lesson. 

Even I got in on the action for a bit, and wow is that harder than I expected! Chloe did great running it up and down the driveway though, with some practice. Watching them do this makes me wonder why kids ever gave up this old game.

Monday, May 7, 2012

A update: It's spring!

Yikes, I haven't blogged in forever. I blame it on our internet service. We have satellite internet here in the Tiny Little Town, and I haven't experienced internet service this painfully slow since dial-up. And to top that off, apparently they have an "upload limit". Once you've uploaded as much as they deem appropriate, they start sending nasty-grams to your email telling you they're going to slow your service even more until you back off the uploads. Essentially what they're saying is, "Crazy woman, you take too many darn pictures." We have a file back-up program that automatically uploads all of the pictures I take to an online server in case of some awful computer crash. (I've lost pictures before. It hurts.) So when I take, say, 60 pictures every day, those all get uploaded. And yeah, our internet service seems to think that's excessive. Anyway, so I'm not allowed to post pictures on my blog or Facebook for awhile, 'til our usage goes down. Lame. The up side is that with terrible internet service, I don't get online much anymore. It frees up a whole lot of time to do other, more productive things.

But anyway.

It's been crazy busy up here at our little farm, with spring in full swing and all kinds of things to learn. The irrigation water started up a couple of weeks ago, and that means we get to learn to irrigate. I have to say, I really find it to be a pleasant task. Remember building dams in creeks when you were younger? It's the same concept, only now they call it 'work'. Walking through soggy hayfields by my husband's side, checking water levels and setting dams and trying not to step in old cow patties - it's a good life. I was thinking to myself one night as I was walking down to where we were working, "Some girls go to the gym and walk treadmills for exercise. I get to tromp through a hay field instead," and was feeling very blessed. We got the pond filled yesterday and started sprinklers on the lawn. It's a lot more work to keep a lawn green up here, and I'm not sure how well we'll succeed, but we can at least try.

The turkeys have grown enough that they spent their first night in the coop last night. It's amazing how fast turkeys grow. I'm still trying hard not to fall in love with them. More curious birds I've never seen. They don't mind being picked up and held, and their little "pip!" noise is utterly adorable. The roosters are escaping the brooder now, and the hens will be soon. Two more rooms to shovel out in the chicken house, and they should be almost ready for their own rooms, too. I should say, for all the utterly pleasant work there is to do on this farm, shoveling years' worth of chicken manure from a chicken barn doesn't make it high on that list. I'm not sure the barn was ever cleaned out, and there is a solid four inches of hard-packed, ten year old chicken poo on the floor in each room. The trick, I learned, is to spray it down with a hose first. Then you get to shovel soggy chicken muck, which is actually more pleasant than the dry, dusty equivalent. But only slightly. And you should know, in case you're ever in a place where you are shoveling chicken muck, that once wetted down it becomes something similar to snot. If you step wrong, you will slip, and you will find yourself landing on your rear end in said soggy chicken muck. Don't wear your good jeans.Trust me.

The garden is coming along ever soooo  slowly. One more month and we should be frost free (but only maybe.) The tomatoes are eight inches tall in the nursery and are more than ready to planted in the ground, if only it would warm up. Planted out so far are peas, lettuce, spinach, kale, broccoli, cabbage, leeks, onions, chard, radishes, beets, and a handful of different herbs and salad greens. Everything is up and growing, though at a snail's pace. When we lived in town, I'd harvest spinach and peas the beginning of May, but not here. Patience truly is a virtue in the gardening world, I suppose. I also completely underestimated the power of bindweed up here in the mountains. We had a bit of it in town, but nothing I couldn't handle. Here, you can hoe it all up one day, and go out the next day and it's all back. I imagine this will be the fight of my life. Anyone with suggestions on how to get rid of bindweed, please do let me know. I'm not enjoying it.

The girls are busy each and every day, doing a multitude of things they find to do around here. Chloe finished her standardized test and so we are taking summer break now. Of course, summer break still involves math, English, and literature. But we're done with that by 9 a.m., leaving our days free for just living, and learning while we do it. Whether it's picking snakes out of the ditch, or catching water skippers from the pond, or chasing the puppy through the hay field, they are getting plenty of sunshine and exercise. I haven't heard "I'm bored" in weeks now, and I imagine I won't until we've been snowed in this winter.

So there's quick update. When the internet service decides I've waited long enough, I'll post more pictures again. I've got some good ones. In the meantime, I hope you are all well. :o)