Putting up Plums

Ripe Santa Rosa Plums

Ripe Santa Rosa Plums

Just picked plums

Scoring Plums

Plums

Food Mill Plums
The Santa Rosa plums came ripe within the last two weeks. Looking into my canning notes, we hadn’t yet preserved anything this growing season(!), but the plums changed all that. We sat down the other Sunday to do our first batch of jam. I picked with gusto, I carried them into the house with gusto but as soon as I sat down to put the task to hand, all the wind was knocked out of my sails. Our plums are delicious but they are hidden behind a very bitter skin. I started peeling with a knife, but the knife was dull (a solveable problem, I know). Then I tried scoring the bottom, like tomatoes, and dunking them into hot water to let the skins separate from the meat of the fruit. It looked like it would work, but it didn’t. In fact it totally backfired. Not only did the skins not fully loosen, but by placing the bitter skinned plums in the boiling water, the bitterness soaked right through the fruit, making the whole batch bitter. Argh! Scott sharpened the knives and we sat down and hand peeled…for hours!

Then inspiration hit and for our second batch, we picked them, let them sit on the counter a few days to truly ripen and sent them through the food mill. Problem solved! Not only that, but after the fruit passes through the food mill, it’s smooth and thick enough that it only took a minute or two on the stove to let the sugar dissolve and then into trays to become handmade fruit roll ups. Hardly any hot cooking involved! Food mill, where have you been all of my life?

First entry into the 2014 Canning Log: 6-half pints of plum jam & 4 sheets of fruit rolls ups.

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Filed under fruit trees, preserving

Cucumber Abundance

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Apparently the cucumbers are more than happy in their new bed. We’ve been getting inundated with them for the past week or so and luckily I don’t think it’s going to stop anytime soon. It feels good to get a good, abundant harvest again. So many other priorities rudely interfered with our usual spring garden routines this year that we’ve been feeling weak in the whole growing department. But look, we have cucumbers. It’s a start.

We planted about five or six different kinds. I’d carefully explain which each variety is, but those tags are buried deep beneath those tangled vines. That will have to wait for another time. Needless to say, they are all good and I’m so enjoying eating them. And infusing them into gin for martinis. There’s that too.

We’ve been thinking about doing a big fall garden this year. Last year I read You Can Farm by Joel Salatin. It was a motivating, inspiring, quick reading book. But one thing is said is that if you want to be a farmer, you have to tell your kids that time consuming extracurricular activities are out, especially baseball. Now that I lived through two boys on two different Little League teams during one spring season, I can see what he meant. If you want to focus on building your land up as a profitable, you can’t waste those hours doing things that aren’t building up the farm. However, we are not intending to be farmers, but a family who lives in the country with a big garden. I want my kids to be able to play sports if they are driven to do so. But man, that did put a giant big kink in our spring garden habits, as I’ve mentioned before. Well that and deck building and business trip taking (to Norway none the less!). Luckily we live where we do and we can grow a lush garden in fall too. And so, this weekend after a hectic spring and a free, though busy summer, we’ve allotted to getting the beds ready. Wish us luck!

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Filed under just picked

Milking Sheep

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A few weeks back my sheep tending neighbor and I were letting our children play around her farm. We started talking about the merits of raising goats versus sheep. Now that the wee one is getting older, the thought of adding in some animals to our property is seeming more possible. Still a far off hope, but still much more do-able, at least in my mind. Sensing my interest, Cindy asked if maybe I wouldn’t want to share in her East Friesian sheep-keeping by learning how to milk them. Sign us up!, I said and a few mornings later my middle son and I were riding our bikes down the street to learn how to milk sheep.

An enjoyable hour later, we rode back down the street with a gallon of sheep’s milk and a bit of chevre culture and rennant. Fresh sheep milk, if you are as curious as I was, tastes quite similar to cows milk. We all enjoyed the taste. It quickly however, thanks to this recipe, became fresh chévre. Delicious! What an incredible experience, and hopefully not our last.

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Filed under in the kitchen

How the Summer of Freedom is Going

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This summer, so far, has been one of my favorites. This is one of the first summers in years when either I haven’t been pregnant or having to run continuously after very small children. The wee one, at 3 and a half, is old enough to join her big brothers through their activities, which leaves us all a little bit more room for freedom. Sometime in mid-June we discovered a mother quail sitting on her clutch of eggs between the lavender row. One early morning my oldest son saw two quail parents walk through our front yard with a trail of teeny tiny babies. As soon as they got dressed, the kids went to check on the nest and indeed they had hatched!
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Art and drawing have been constants. Our two tables look like this nearly constantly. At Amy Karol’s suggestion, I bought this fantastic art book to help give them direction when they need it. Which hasn’t been too often, they are usually quite self motivated when it comes to drawing, however it’s a handy book to keep in my back pocket for when they are ‘so bored!’.
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Flower arranging, soccer card organization, and drawing fishing lures have been favorite activities.
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The other month, Sunset magazine, came out with an issue containing their 25 best recipes of all time and I’m on a quest to try all of them. This Dutch Baby was, easy, and a big hit with the kids.
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It’s no surprise that since the quail nest finding, searching out other bird nests has become near obsession. Taking pictures of them has become a ‘big thing’, along with many calls from me to ‘not get too close!’ and ‘don’t touch anything near the nest!’.

Though keeping all three kids at home is far from peaceful (they’ve also been perfecting the art & craft of bickering), the absence of having to drive them all over town and pack them lunches has calmed all of us down considerably. Close friends have commented to me on their visits that I look more relaxed and even my most high spirited son seems calmer than they’ve ever seen him. Keep it coming Summer of Freedom, keep it coming.

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Filed under Life in Sonoma

Gardening Minimalists

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This year we are gardening minimalists. At least compared to our previous gardening efforts. You’ve heard me talk about how we had a busy winter/spring enough times. The visual proof is a garden about a third the size of our typical summer garden. But we have all the essentials. Tomatoes & peppers, a few squash, plenty of herbs. And our galvanized bins full of cucumbers and lettuce. We’ve stuck a few melon seeds in the ground to see what will happen.
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We put our drainage pipes back in between the tomatoes. We went three years without doing that and we know now that for us, adding the drainage pipes produces a much nicer tomato plant. While we use drip lines for regular watering, being able to stick the hose down those pipes once a week or so, and water really deeply makes a world of difference.
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It’s easy to beat ourselves up for not getting it all done as large-scale as in previous years, but we’re slowly learning to be easier on ourselves. We bought almost all our plants this year, no time for starting from seeds. And besides all that, it’s a drought year, so we’re even more justified with staying ‘small’ this growing season. We are loving growing in these raised galvanized tanks. There have been a few mutterings about wouldn’t it be dreamy to get another 8 of them and just grow as much as we can in them. I don’t know if that would really happen, but we are enjoying the two we have immensely. The way they are positioned, the sun hits them just right so they are much more photogenic, you’ll be seeing a lot of them. So we hope you like them too.
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How’s your garden doing this year?

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Filed under state of the garden

the summer of freedom

deck steps scabiosas potting table coneflower & nicotana lettuce shadeAnd so it’s summer time for us. School ended late last week. Starting up in mid May and extending all the way until the final half hour that they get out of school in mid June, I have this background of anxiety that builds up…’what am I going to do with these kiddos all summer?’ Last year I really needlessly worried about it, yet once summer began we fell into a pretty good lazy, relaxing rhythm. I was even sad to see us jump back to the school routine once September began. This May, when I started to feel that anxiety creep back I tried my best to calm myself. I stocked up a little stack of new books and activities in the back closet and a list of summertime activities to turn to if things get desperate, but other than that, this summer I’ve named the Summer of Freedom. This article from a blog I read frequently was running all over facebook a few weeks back and it totally hit home. An old fashioned summer, it argues, isn’t about specifically catching fireflies or flying kites or eating popsicles, it’s about Freedom. About kids being in charge of their own time table, about diving into whatever interests them. It’s a great article, you should read it if you have a minute.

How can you give your child a good old-fashioned summer like we used to have?

It’s not about fireflies or picnics or homemade kites. It’s about freedom.

Leave them alone.

Let them be in charge of their own time.

Let them have their own ideas.

Give them big, sprawling blocks of unscheduled time. Give them whole days, whole weeks.

Let them dig into whatever interests them and do whatever they want with it.

- See more at: http://www.project-based-homeschooling.com/camp-creek-blog/intellectual-benefits-real-old-fashioned-summer#sthash.YnWeC43K.dpuf

How can you give your child a good old-fashioned summer like we used to have?

It’s not about fireflies or picnics or homemade kites. It’s about freedom.

Leave them alone.

Let them be in charge of their own time.

Let them have their own ideas.

Give them big, sprawling blocks of unscheduled time. Give them whole days, whole weeks.

Let them dig into whatever interests them and do whatever they want with it.

- See more at: http://www.project-based-homeschooling.com/camp-creek-blog/intellectual-benefits-real-old-fashioned-summer#sthash.YnWeC43K.dpuf

How can you give your child a good old-fashioned summer like we used to have?

It’s not about fireflies or picnics or homemade kites. It’s about freedom.

Leave them alone.

Let them be in charge of their own time.

Let them have their own ideas.

Give them big, sprawling blocks of unscheduled time. Give them whole days, whole weeks.

Let them dig into whatever interests them and do whatever they want with it.

- See more at: http://www.project-based-homeschooling.com/camp-creek-blog/intellectual-benefits-real-old-fashioned-summer#sthash.YnWeC43K.dpuf

How can you give your child a good old-fashioned summer like we used to have?

It’s not about fireflies or picnics or homemade kites. It’s about freedom.

Leave them alone.

Let them be in charge of their own time.

Let them have their own ideas.

Give them big, sprawling blocks of unscheduled time. Give them whole days, whole weeks.

Let them dig into whatever interests them and do whatever they want with it.

- See more at: http://www.project-based-homeschooling.com/camp-creek-blog/intellectual-benefits-real-old-fashioned-summer#sthash.YnWeC43K.dpuf

How can you give your child a good old-fashioned summer like we used to have?

It’s not about fireflies or picnics or homemade kites. It’s about freedom.

Leave them alone.

Let them be in charge of their own time.

Let them have their own ideas.

Give them big, sprawling blocks of unscheduled time. Give them whole days, whole weeks.

Let them dig into whatever interests them and do whatever they want with it.

- See more at: http://www.project-based-homeschooling.com/camp-creek-blog/intellectual-benefits-real-old-fashioned-summer#sthash.YnWeC43K.dpuf

We ran all over this town during spring, with two in separate baseball teams, one in ballet and all three in school with different dismissal times. Schedules ran tight, tension ran even higher. We’re tired, our poor car is tired. My oldest, who loves baseball, turned to me one day in the car and said, “I can’t wait until baseball is over, because we never get to go home and play afterschool.” Well now baseball is over and so is school and as far as I can see, we have little to nothing scheduled on our calendars. Find yourself again, children. Enjoy & have fun.

(do you see? we have deck steps and shade, just in time for summer!)

 

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Filed under Life in Sonoma

Hurried Life & Slow Blossoms

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There is some quote I keep seeing popping up on Pinterest that says something about how at the end of your life you should end up battered and torn with make up smeared, or something to that effect. Have you seen it? I understand the sentiment, you know live life to the fullest, squeeze every last drop out of it. But after living a weekend where quite literally my clothes have become battered and torn and my make up is visually smeared, a few new gray hairs have popped up, I’d like to offer balance to that quote. There is such thing as squeezing too much life out of a weekend. I guess it’s the culmination of the end of school approaching and the end of baseball and active, social, sports oriented boys that has produced a weekend that was planned down to the very last half hour.

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We’re tired, I can’t remember the last time I pushed a button on the washing machine, we are seriously out of food…couldn’t even squeeze out a meager dinner, and there is possibly nothing in our drawers and cabinets because I swear its spread all over our floors and tables. We’re out of balance and I long for a few hours to reset our house and get us all back to ‘normal’. That said, we saw our oldest hit his last triple in this baseball season, our middle run his first running race (our second for the oldest), we talked and drank wine with friends until way past bedtime, celebrated a young friend going another year around the sun, and watched energy filled neighborhood kids perfect a limeaid recipe. Oh, and we painted and painted and sealed our new deck project (more to come).

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It’s a full, full life these days, which makes the moments when I can go outside and watch the changing flowers blossom all that much sweeter.
In opposition to a hurried lifestyle, I’ve been slowly tending to these hollyhocks for well over a year now. Back when I was obsessed with dying yarn with plant materials to make my fair isle sweater, I searched for plants that would yield something other than browns and yellows. In Harvesting Color, Rebecca Burgess showed that niger hollyhocks give a pretty mint green to blue color, so immediately I picked up a packet of seeds from Baker Creek. Hollyhocks, being bi-annuals take their sweet time growing and blooming, so these missed being in my sweater. But I can always think of new plans for a knitting project. I grew about six different plants and they are finally blooming!

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I have them drying in bowls on my desk waiting for activities to slow down, for summer to bring on long, hot, lazy boring days so that I can watch the alchemy that happens when you transform garden blossom to dye. Have a good week friends.

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Filed under flowers