Monday, December 7, 2009

Winter in the Rockies

I'm scared to death of winter in the Rockies. Sure they get snow, ice and slush just as much as anyone else (well the northern half of the country anyway.) Right now we're sitting pretty with about 2 inches of snow with another storm blustering its way in. I am content to stay at home or even to go out and run a few errands. But if we have to leave town I seriously reconsider if its snowing. See, what I'm afraid of is the canyons. We've got one nearby called "Sardine Canyon" - a term dubbed by the locals. I don't even know what the official name is, but its earned its nickname fairly well. Sardine Canyon doesn't necessarily have steep cliffs on either side, but it is narrow, curvy, with wide open spaces (perfect for drifting snow and forming ice) Luckily its only 7 miles long.

It is amazing that in such a short stretch from the valley and into the canyon you climb to a new elevation worthy of a different weather forecast. Seriously. It can be raining in the valley and snowing in the canyon. The highway through the canyon is especially dangerous in the winter. Imagine high roads with steep drop offs and no guard rails whatsoever with blinding snow and lots of ice, black and otherwise. The county has specially designated snowplows that run back and forth over that treacherous stretch. There have been numerous accidents over the years that have shut down the canyon completely. So much so, that they finally put in a median to keep cars from sliding over into the oncoming traffic. I dread this canyon. It's one of maybe three ways out of this valley to go south and it's the most direct. Not to mention the most terrifying.

Maybe I exaggerate out of my own paranoia. (Okay, so we don't have chains yet for our current car. That may be part of it. 4-wheel drive is small comfort.) I'd still rather be at home shoveling the huge driveway or nursing a child with the flu. I'd rather be doing almost anything else besides driving through that crazy canyon in the winter.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Photo Surprise

I am just overwhelmingly surprised! Awhile back I had a photo published in the magazine Mother Earth News. Then, in the next issue I was just as surprised to see another one of my photos! I thought, "What luck!" and was just really pleased. And then in the mail I received a package informing me that they had picked a third photo of mine. (These are all in the CU readers' photos section of the magazine.) I was totally shocked! Of course I'm flattered and pleased. It feels good to know photos you took to reflect your love of nature are appreciated by others.

The Turkey is Dead

Well, awhile back I wrote about this pair of turkeys that nonchalantly crossed a busy highway on the crosswalk and disappeared. I've seen them again. A couple of times, actually. The latest I saw both was when trying to cross the road at the treadmill factory and half block from the river. The cars honked and swerved and the turkeys finally stuck to the sidewalk until they could cross. Turkeys on a sidewalk? Seriously, these birds are suburbanized.

Anyway, today was sad. I was driving myself and my son home from an errand and turned south on that same highway with the crosswalk. There on the side of the road not a 1/4 mile from the river lay a jumble of feathers. Turkey feathers. One poor bird had finally been branded as roadkill. What a sad way to go for such a proud, carefree bird. He wasn't even a Thanksgiving dinner where there were people sitting around admiring him and enjoying and appreciating his gift of life. I suppose that's just the fate that wildlife are forced to pay for encroaching development of civilization. I hope his mate will have a better fate.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Wandering Homestead

Well, in just about 2 months we'll be packing up and moving out east to Maryland. I'm not kidding when I call this a wandering homestead. I've moved over 25 times in my life. It's not something I like to do, but just one of those things that life throws at you - and I didn't even grow up in a military family. Luckily, skills and talents are portable, you know?

I'll admit I had a really hard time transplanting to Utah. Being born and raised in Indiana, I'm a midwestern girl through and through (though I do really like the ocean). Mountains were a totally new thing to me, especially these big, bare, dry mountains here in the Rockies. Over the years I have grown to really appreciate the beauties of the west, however alien they seemed to me at first.

I have really missed humidity and green - two things in abundance in Maryland. Where I live in Utah it's actually quite green compared to the rest of the state. When my husband and I took a trip out to Maryland for job-related stuff we were blown away. I had totally forgotten how green it actually is out there! The seemingly never ending expanse of trees and forest filled me with excitement and joy like I was coming home, but my poor husband who is used to sharp, craggy mountains and being able to see for miles in a valley was a little put out. I hope he'll learn to love it like I do. I keep reminding him that we'll be in the Appalachians! Woohoo! He wasn't too comforted. They're like little bumps compared to his western Rockies. Aaah, well. It'll be a new adventure for both of us.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Sled Dogs Galore

So, this morning I headed over to my old professor's house to meet her sled dogs and ask her about sledding. Sue's property was everything I could wish for in a place to create a homestead on. (And it's for sale! Too bad we're moving in two months.) She had a beautiful old craftsman-style home with a gorgeous, golden tree that was shedding in the front yard, and the back room had this incredible view of the mountains and her well-treed backyard.

We headed straight outside to meet the dogs. I could tell she was excited to share with me. In fact, later she told me all sled dog owners love talking about their dogs. We came up to a small paddock of good-sized fenced-in runs each with one or two dogs in it. The dogs were, of course, very excited to see us and leaped and yelped for attention. They weren't quite what I was expecting. Of course, they were very dog-like, but I was expecting the typical Siberians or malamutes. It turns out that most of Sue's dogs were ones that were retired and that she had rescued or adopted. And they were all Alaskan huskies. This was a new breed to me, but they were still so beautiful!

The first dog we met was all white and a sweetheart. We went into a few of the pens to scratch ears and rub down backs. Sue introduced me to them all, and made special note of the dogs that took her through the Iditarod. I had no idea that she had completed that race! (Which is something like 1100 miles long. Wow. Now that is a fun time.)

We then headed to a much larger fenced in run that had a pack of at least 6 dogs altogether. Some of these had also run the Iditarod with her. It was wonderful to hear each dog's story and amazing that she could tell them all apart! One dog was absolutely huge and looked like he had a little greyhound in him. (not all were pure breed)

Last she took me into the shop building where she housed her 3 sleds, harnesses and food for the dogs along with everything else sled dog related. She even had a special truck that was made for transporting the dogs in their own separate compartments. I could tell she'd been doing this for quite a few years and she just loved it. In fact, she'll be moving back to Alaska at the end of the year and her face lit up at the thought of being able to train her dogs, taking off from her yard as opposed to here in Utah where she has to transport the dogs just to get to a good running trail.

Aaah, it was a good time and I learned a lot. I don't think I'll ever do races. Well, maybe short ones. But the thought of having working animals that will pack and pull for you and to help you enjoy the outdoors and their company... that's what gets me excited. We're moving to Maryland soon, and I even found a website for someone out there that races their dogs. So, you can be sure I'll be paying them a visit! It'll be something really fun to look forward to in a new and different place.

Sue pointed me to this great website to learn more about sledding, races, and even finding dogs for sale or free! Sled Dog Central

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Adventures in Homemade Mittens

At one of the last farmer's markets there was a booth where they were selling recycled wool sweater mittens. Each pair was colorful, unique, and lined with warm fleece. They were $15 a pop, so I didn't buy any. I was determined, however, to make my own. It was a great idea!

So, the other day I went to the thrift store and casually combed through the women's sweaters and SCORE! The first wool sweater I happened upon was actually a pretty dark green with pink, blue, and white stripes. (I was expecting to come across the most hideous sweater on the planet, but I sure lucked out!) Needless to say, I bought it.

And my mitten-making adventure began. I wanted to line them with fleece, and not wanting to go out and buy any fleece, I cannibalized an old Old Navy fleece scarf. (We have a lot of scarves lying around. My husband used this black scarf a lot, but I consoled him that the exact scarf duplicate in red stripes would be just as warm.) So, using a website and Jenna's idea from Made From Scratch I set to work.

Actually cutting the sweater had me sweating. It was a beautiful sweater and I didn't want to waste a thread, especially with a dumb mistake like making them too small. It was about five minutes before I could make the first cut. But I did it! The cut-out mittens looked pretty promising.

Now, I've sewed a lot in my life (mostly historical dresses), but that doesn't mean you'll never make mistakes. My fleece linings didn't work out because the wool outer mitten was just the right size. I didn't make them big enough to fit a lining. And, on top of that, the fleece lining is too tight. Dang it. Wasted scarf. (Sorry, honey.) But the plain wool mittens fit just right and are beautiful and warm. I'll have to test them on a cold windy day to see if I need to make another pair that's bigger with lining. Thank goodness I have a lot of sweater left!

Here are my step-by-step pictures to my winter mitten-making:

After tracing around my hand and adding seam allowance, I cut out my paper pattern and then cut out the fleece.

Next I cut (nervously) cut out the wool.

Looking good so far!

Hey, what do you know? It fits like a glove!

Don't they make a beautiful pair?

This is the way to go, folks. Custom fit gloves - no elastic in the band needed to make it fit and you can pick the wool you like, recycling a sweater in the process. A great all-around project if you ask me!

I think the next pair I'll make them a little more roomy in the finger area, but I am sure feeling pretty darn proud of myself! Wouldn't you?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


I got a great idea from Whistling Wind Farm's blog. They have a checklist of all the things they want for their homestead. One of my faults is that I am always wanting new things or wanting to try out new hobbies, so my wish lists are always so long! The good thing about lists is that instead of buying the thing I want right out, I just put it on my list and if it's a true want I will remember. If it's not a true want, I'll forget about it or even eventually take it off my list. Lists are my budget lifesaver. Now if I visited the Lehman's website and perused my wishlist of homesteading books on, my homesteading checklist would triple in size. Which would be completely embarrassing.

So, anyway, I put my list on the side bar of my blog to remind myself of my goals and things that are important in working toward my homesteading goals. Try it out and make a list yourself! You might be surprised how much you already have accomplished. As I made my list I realized how much I already do have: like a sewing machine, a pressure cooker and canning supplies and a few good gardening tools.

Monday, October 19, 2009


Just take a look at that face!

I want a dog. Really bad. And a cat. But mostly right now, I want a dog. My husband doesn't really understand this. My whole life I grew up with an array of animals: cats, birds, fish, gerbils, guinea pigs, even a ferret. Then, for one blissful year, we lived in the backwoods - it was really the sticks - and we watched the landlord's two big fluffy dogs. I'm not sure what kind they were, but they were beautiful. It was fun to watch them scampering through the woods, barking at the squirrels who surprisingly barked right back. That was the only time we ever had dogs. And they weren't even ours.

About a month ago, my sister and I went to a Scottish festival. There was some random booth there of someone trying to sell their border collie pups. My sister and I cuddled with the puppies, snuggling into their downy black and white fur. I have never seen such adorable, heartstring-pulling puppies in my life. How I wanted to bring one home! I might have, if it wasn't forbidden by our rental contract. Someday.

My dream dog is a Siberian Husky. Or an Alaskan Malamute. Both are incredibly beautiful. And I've always wanted to try out mushing. I'd name my first pup Edison. I think if there was a soul dog match for me, it would be a sled dog. At least I think so. I've never really considered myself a dog person, but is that just because I've only grown up with cats?

I just remembered that my geology professor in my last semester of school mentioned she raced sled dogs. It was amusing to picture her mushing dogs when she was teaching us about natural disasters. She's lived in Alaska, so I guess I shouldn't have been surprised.

Also, in this burst of gun-ho, I just found out that the county where I live has a mushers association! Who knew? I was too shy to ask as a student, but now that I've graduated, I felt better about e-mailing my professor to see if I could come meet her dogs. This is a huge step for me. I've never done anything toward my dream of having a sled dog. Well, I'm going to check this out and see if I'm cut out for a life with canines. Not necessarily right now, but in a few years when we've got a patch of land. I'm stoked.

Turkeys and Roadkill

Since moving to the southwest side of town where it is more rural, I've noticed this random pair of wild turkeys that live close to the protected river trail which borders the main highway. I have occasionally see them poking about on the corner at the stoplight (which actually has a nice crosswalk considering it's a highway.)

A few weeks ago I saw one of the pair wandering around at the corner and my mind instantly said "Mmm! Thanksgiving dinner!" I laughed to myself, but then became a little worried as the wild gobbler was really close to the traffic and I was concerned it would quickly become roadkill. Indeed it was a miracle the turkeys weren't already a pile of feathers and fluff on the side of the road.

Then not too long ago I saw both turkeys hanging out at the corner once again. They seemed to be waiting for something. The light turned green for cross traffic and those turkeys promptly began strutting across the street at the crosswalk! I was amazed! Smart turkeys? Who knew? Apparently their sojourn at the corner with blazing traffic night and day had made them street-wise. In fact, I had to wait to turn left until they made it safely across the crosswalk to the other side. I haven't seen them since.

Living in suburbia most of my life, I have still felt I was always a country girl at heart. I love being in nature enough to be able to smell it engulfing me every day. However, I have been mildly surprised by how much nature still startles me - certain evidence that I am still really a suburban girl.

For instance - my son and I were taking our usual walk past our outskirt homesteads (most especially to visit the farm dog). Along the way I have been astonished by how much roadkill we encounter. And strangely, it is roadkill of only one kind: snakes! It is not very pleasant to cruise by, pushing the stroller where the roadkill is at our very feet - squished serpentine shapes laid flat by careless passing cars. What's even more strange is that I counted six dead snakes in a single 100 foot stretch! I didn't point them out to my son, but he noticed anyway and seemed unfazed when I told him it was a dead snake. We even found a dead, unsquished one which was much more interesting in its 3-D form, pristine and round as if the snake had stretched out for a nap. All this squished snake business has been a reminder to me that when I have my farm/homestead at last we will be dealing with the death of animals a lot more often.

Monday, October 5, 2009


It's a success! I have made my first ever successful mozzarella cheese!! You have no idea the amount of relief I feel; and exhilaration! The cheese tastes so delicious and I made it all myself. I'd have to say the difference was the milk. This time I used a local dairy's milk sold at the grocery store (the dairy is in a city about 80 miles away) and I think that because it is so close the milk hasn't had that drastic of a past in heating and cooling as longer range milk has.
Another thing that led to my success was patience and heating the milk curds longer than the recipe said - like 4 times longer. I had to do it because the curds weren't separating from the whey, but eventually it turned out beautifully! I found great help from this website. The pictures are very enlightening. Also, that website doesn't say how much salt to add, but I found 1/2 tsp. added the right amount of saltiness.

I think I'm making pizza tonight...

Sunday, October 4, 2009

It's All Over Folks

Well, it's all over. The growing season is done - for my container garden at least. We had two nights of freeze in a row and it shriveled up my jalapeño plants and killed my tomatoes. My kale just keeps on truckin'. I need to bring my herbs in before the cold kills them. September 30th was like a magic day. It went from warm to freezing and it's stayed cold ever since. I guess I'll never get used to how the fall comes in northern Utah. I guess it's on account of the high elevation. Not that I'm complaining. I am so excited that fall is here!!

Right now I've got two sugar pumpkins baking in the oven. It's my first attempt at baking pumpkins since 2005. Back then I had to add water to get the pumpkin to be smooth enough and I had no idea what I was doing and it was a disaster. I think one of the most important skills to learn for homesteading is that if you don't succeed the first time, don't be afraid to try again.
To prove that to myself I not only have those little pumpkins baking, I also have a gallon of local milk sitting in my fridge waiting to be turned into mozzarella. This will be my 3rd attempt. I am determined to have a successful mozzarella! No more ricotta, people! I'll let you know how it turns out.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Getting Things Done

Canned salsa?........ Check
Canned pasta sauce?......... Check
Laundry drying in the sun?........ Check
Cleaned the toilets?
Washed the sinks?
Swept the floors?
Finished the dishes?
Mopped?............ Uuuuuhhhhhhhhhhhh...

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

This Is A Test

Yesterday morning as I stood at the sink with a vegetable scrubber in one hand and a large, garden-fresh tomato in the other, the radio tuned to NPR and my son playing in the living room, I realized I was being tested. I was surrounded by counterfuls of 50 muddy tomatoes, a bag of dirty twisted carrots, a dozen dull red beets, a few bunches of concord grapes, a quart jar each of grape and black currant juice, and a few remaining canning jars, already depleted by my apple butter stint. All this produce equaled one thing: harvest time. Was I up to the task?

I have longed for and dreamed of having my own garden, my own land, my own piece of earth to work how I please. And a small bite of that reality was sitting on my counters. No, I don't have that piece of land to call my own and no, I didn't even have that big garden. But, through the graciousness of relatives and friends, I have been able to take part in the blessings of their harvest by turning their produce into food for my family with some extra to share with friends. It has been difficult to stay on top of the abundance. I am ashamed to say that there has been some waste. I guess I never realized how much planning it takes to use everything you have - to use the thrift factor too. If I had a very large garden, I think at this point in my life I would be completely overwhelmed.

I think we live in a culture that always has to have the new and to have it now. I find it so easy to be sucked into the consuming culture when all I really desperately want is to slow down and use the blessings and talents I've been given to create a simple, comfortable home for my family. And here was the reality on a very small scale. If I really do make that second batch of salsa, can the grape and black currant jellies, juice the carrots, and pickle the beets, will I have passed the test? I think so. Homesteading isn't necessarily being on that homestead at the end of the road, it's having little successes along the way. Little steps at a time that get me toward that goal, and steps that also help me enjoy myself along the way. When I do get to that dream spot of land, I'll have already honed the skills that will make my homesteading dream a success.


A picture I took in October 2007.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Apple Butter - the Essence of Fall

So, almost three weeks have passed since I canned the pickles. I know you're supposed to let them sit for like 2 months, but I figured I was safe testing the pickle chips. I took them over to a friend's house so we could share in my triumph (or failure!). Luckily, they tasted amazingly delicious! While they weren't crunchy, the flavor was great. Whew! That recipe is a keeper.

Yesterday I made apple butter with the three varieties of apples I collected. Making the apple butter brought back so many memories! The last time I made apple butter was when I was 16 or 17 and we lived in our dream house (rental)- a large ranch with green, red, and cream plaid carpet with matching couches (yeah, for real!), a full finished basement, a Hoosier in the kitchen, a wood burning stove, a town with amazingly delicious tap water, a huge backyard next to the baseball diamond and three apple trees. Man, I loved that house. The apple trees were a huge bonus. I made soooo much apple butter, but those jars didn't last very long. We polished off a jar a day, literally.

Over the years and with a very particular idea of what it should taste like, I became an apple butter snob. Apple butter just needs to be a certain way. It shouldn't be too thick, but not runny either - a happy medium. It needs a creamy texture, a beautiful deep golden brown color, and when it hits your tongue, your mouth is enveloped in a warmth of spices even if it's refrigerator cold.

My favorite way to eat apple butter is on peanut butter toast with just the right ratio of each type of butter. For those of you unfortunates that have never heard of or tasted apple butter you need to try it. Unlike the name suggests, it doesn't have butter in it at all - hooray for fat free! Apple butter is more like a condensed apple sauce with sugar, cinnamon, allspice, and cloves. It is so divine and I think it's the perfect way to preserve that apple harvest! Apple butter locks in those sweet, heady apple scents and when you taste it, it's like taking a bite out of autumn. I hope you take the opportunity to try it. Breathe in the scent... Aaaaah. This is where it's at, folks. The simple things that make life so delicious.

For the recipe, see my cooking blog HERE.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Other People's Harvests

As my harvest has been sporradic and lacking I have been reaping the rewards of other people's harvests. We got free peaches and apples from my in-laws, a large bag of cheap apples from the farmer's market as well as a bag of apricots, and 3 huge zucchini from a neighbor. When it comes to the peaches and apricots, I can't bring myself to make jam. We just don't eat a lot of jam, so why have it sitting around for 5 years? So, I've been trying to come up with more creative ways to use this abundance of produce.

Since I couldn't think of what to do with the peaches and apricots before they went bad, I froze them. The zucchini I plan on drying. And after a week of the apples sitting on my counter and racking my brain, it suddenly hit me that I haven't made apple butter in years and I've been craving a good apple butter! If you've never tried apple butter, go to the store and at least buy a jar. (But don't buy Smuckers! They have no idea what apple butter is supposed to taste like.) It is so spicy and divine! Maybe it's a mid-west thing because anyone I've asked out here in the west has no idea what the heck apple butter is.

I might get creative and make some apricot butter too. Mmmm. That sounds really good. Here's to abundant harvests!

Friday, September 11, 2009

A few thoughts

I successfully canned some salsa the day after the cucumbers. I would have prefered to rest. This pregnancy has been exhausting, but I muscled through and finished the salsa because I didn't want my tomatoes to go bad. I really liked how the salsa turned out, but I'm not sure about cumin in the recipe. It's a weird flavor to me for salsa, so I might leave it out next time to see how it tastes.

Drying laundry by clothes rack has been wonderful and not the pain I thought it might be. I finally got another one this month and having two means I can do, at the most, two loads of laundry in a day. We also have a good length of fence which works wonders for the bigger and heavier things. We have had to use the dryer only twice since getting the racks and one evening I realized I had left wet laundry in the washer. Since the sun had almost set I was afraid I would have to dry the clothes in the dryer, but then realized I could just let them dry on the racks in the living room. It worked great!

One unexpected side affect from using a clothes rack is that I have this delicious sense of peace when I put the clothes on the rack and glance out my window to see them drying in the sun. There's just something so silent and satisfying about it and I don't miss the dryer at all. I really was not expecting this feeling, but I think deep down, I have been craving the need to slow down and to appreciate the little things in life like the sun drying the clothes my family wears. It's something so simple but it's amazing the difference that it has made in my life.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

My Latest Canning Adventure

I guess when I get an idea in my head, I don't think about whether I can actually do it or not or if it's feasible or if I have the time or resources. I'm just one determined person! Well, when I went to the farmer's market, one farmer was selling pickling cucumbers 10 for $1. How could I pass that up? I bought $1 worth, but realized that wasn't enough, so the next weekend I bought another $2 worth.

So, I had 30 cucumbers and I was determined to pickle them. Never mind that I had never made pickles in my life. Never mind that I was out of canning jars. Never mind that when I finally got everything I needed all together it was 7 o'clock at night! I got my toddler in bed, and despite my exhaustion from the day I made those darn pickles. In fact, I made mostly chips with only two jars of whole pickles. And don't they just look beautiful? There is something so amazingly satisfying about seeing the rows of freshly canned produce that we'll be able to enjoy weeks and months down the road. I sure hope they taste good!

My next project - salsa. (I just got 2 bags of tomatoes from a relative and we eat a lot of salsa around here.)

Monday, August 24, 2009

Chicken & Sheep

I took this amusing picture at an historical village. Maybe it's amusing because I'm not that familiar with the habits of sheep or chickens, but it's still pretty darn cute!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Drying & Stuff

It's official! I am saving electricity!! After seeing our atrocious electric bill for last month (blasted, but wonderful A/C!) I decided to do something drastic. Yes, I turned off our A/C at least some of the time, but I also don't know why I haven't done this before - I bought a clothes drying rack. Now I can dry my laundry in the sun! WOOOO! And it's completely free, free, free, that amazing sun is.

Of course this does mean that I have to rearrange how and when I do my laundry and I'll probably have to buy one or two more racks, but what an awesome investement, don't you think??? One obstacle to clothes drying: I don't like the smell of sun-dried clothes. Call me crazy, but I think it smells weird. And your clothing comes out stiff. However, I heard of this trick. Sun dry your clothes and then toss them into the dryer for 5 minutes (with a dryer sheet if you so desire) and PRESTO! Soft laundry without the hours of electricity burning away. Genius!

Here is a picture of some of my garden bounty. See those tomatoes back there? I grew those!!! (Ignore the avacados. I have no idea how those got onto my counter... but they sure made an amazing guacamole!)

Sunday, August 16, 2009

What the Zukes!

So, I was one of the lucky ones to be given some huge zucchini from a friend's garden. I didn't grow any this year, so I was actually excited to get some! Well, after the excitement wore off, those three big dudes sat on my kitchen counter until I could figure out what to do with them. I didn't want to freeze them since we'll be moving soon and that would be a waste or I'd be a 2nd generation giver (heh heh). And right now I'm not that into stir-fry. So... what else do you do with zucchini? I cracked open my Ball Blue Book of Preserving because I was sure it would tell me something I could do with zukes and I was right! It said I could dehydrate them. Wow. Why hadn't I thought of that? It's brilliant! Dehydrated stuff takes a miniscule amount of space to store and they're fast and easy to use. And if the electricity goes out they don't go bad like frozen stuff.

So, I busted out my hand-me-down dehydrator from the '70s, cleaned it out and sliced up those zuke daddies. My dehydrator has about 6 or 7 shelves and it took 2 1/2 of my zucchinis (plus a couple of Bloody Butcher tomatoes)! And I really think I'll be able to fit all the dried chips into one quart mason jar. AMAZING!!!

I love this article in Mother Earth News about drying food. It got me really excited about drying food because usually canning stuff is the star of the preservation show. I am amazed at what you can dehydrate and the fact that you can do it all in the sun (indoors or out!) is even more awesome! I'm really paranoid about running my dehydrator at night (risk of fire???) so it's taking longer than it probably has to, and I'm not too fond of how much electricity it's taking, but I am excited about my proactive streak and not letting the zucchini go to waste. :-)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Why Old Time

I found this video from Cold Antler Farm. It looks really fabulous. I'd love to see it. I've grown up with the drive to make my own music - taught myself the piano and the harmonica and a little fife. I'd love to learn one of those mountain instruments like dulcimer, fiddle or banjo. It just feels a little harder and more complicated as a mom and wife. I should have no excuses though. I need some of my old childhood gumption back and just do it! (Did you know that I used to practice the piano 3 hours a day just because I loved it so much? Man, that is drive for you - and someone with oodles of time!)

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

August Harvest

Hooray for harvesting tomatoes! Biting into a sun-warmed tomato that was seconds picked from the branch is divine! The flavors are so sweet, so complex, it's like stepping into a completely different world of taste that you never knew you were missing. I really don't see how I could ever eat those awful, tasteless store bought tomatoes ever again. I don't know if I'll have a big enough harvest to do much canning, but I do want to make at least a small batch of homemade salsa. Mmmm!

For awhile I had a resident grasshopper in my little garden. He loved hiding amongst the cool sugar snap pea foliage and my lettuce (which is still going strong!). I didn't see that he did much harm, so I left him alone. Then we went out of town and a sweet neighbor watered my plants for me. When I came back and went over to thank her, she proceeded to tell me how she found a huge grasshopper in my plants. Grasshoppers completely freak her out, so she took a big rock and dropped it on the little guy, smashing him. I'll have to admit that I'm going to miss that green hopper, but I suppose it's for the best. I had wondered if he was the culprit for ruining my first ripe Brandywine tomato...

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Daily Rythm

The heads of wheat have turned gold in the fields, the days are scorching hot, and last night I had a dream about helping a sheep give birth to twin lambs. I know I want to have my own little farm one day, but I hadn't planned on having sheep for quite some time. It really was a very strange dream... See, my husband (who is very wonderful!) needs to be convinced one step at a time. Oh, he thinks me canning is great, was a little skeptical of my container garden (the initial cost and all) but is now proud of me, and I keep telling him that I can't wait to have chickens. And cats. And ducks. (I'm starting with the small animals.) He cringes when I talk about those, but I'm being persistant!

I'm reading a homesteading memoir right now called A Small Farm in Maine. I am only three chapters into it, but I have been surprised at how sensitive, honest, and insightful the author has been in her memoir about homesteading. She really helps you realize that homesteaders start with so little knowledge and it's building on that knowledge - one skill at a time, one season at a time. It feels like such a slow process! I read a lot of gardening books as a teenager and I thought I knew a lot about gardening - that is until I started doing it myself. Man, what a difference!

I've also realized with my little garden this year that homesteading has to be apart of you. Each step you take, each element that you add to your tiny patch of dirt is something that you have to add to yourself so that it becomes apart of you and apart of your daily rythm; like the habit of watering your garden. When my pregnancy started making me sick I forgot about my garden for two days. My poor tomatoes were keeled over screaming for water by the time I remembered. I was so scared that I was going to lose them, but lucky for me they bounced back really well. This also taught me another thing - that I am completely responsible.

So, I think for now, that it's a good thing that I'm only taking care of plants at this point. I feel the garden slowly becoming apart of the rythm of my day. And when the time comes for chickens, ducks, and cats, taking care of them will become apart of that daily rythm too. I can't wait!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Small and Large Harvests

So, I finally got to harvest some peas! (About 3 handfuls. Woo!) I'm so glad I planted sugar snap peas because you can just eat them right off the vine and they're crunchy and sweet. Oh! They were so good. I just had them on a salad for lunch too. My Bloody Butcher tomatoes are loving their homemade self-watering bucket. I've noticed that the roots have grown down into the water resevoir. I wonder if that's a good thing... The plant seems to be really, really happy. There are about five or six large clusters of tomatoes. I am really excited! All my tomatoes except one have tomatoes on them. The Brandywines are getting huge! So, a tomato harvest will be coming soon. My goal: to have enough to can some salsa and maybe make some spaghetti sauce. Mmmm! Homemade is the best!

As for the large harvest: my wonderful friend Clair has a cherry tree and was begging people to come pick some because she hated to see any go to waste. Of course I didn't mind at all! I don't know how big a bushel of cherries is, but I think I picked about 2. I canned cherry pie filling and cherry preserves. It took me 2 weeks. (I haven't been feeling well since I'm 9 weeks pregnant!) I still had some left to can and yesterday I bit the bullet, clenched my teeth through the nausea and canned the last of the preserves. Right now I never want to see a cherry again! haha! But I have lots of little jars to give away and enough cherry preserves and pie filling to last us quite awhile. I think in all I canned.... about 3 dozen half pints of preserves and 1 dozen quarts of pie filling. So - Thank you Clair!!!! But really. I don't want to see cherries again for awhile. I saw people selling them at the farmer's market and nearly lost my breakfast. haha!

Thursday, July 2, 2009


Halleluia! I have peas. It seems that they just appeared overnight. It's a good thing our cool weather has been holding out for so long. My cool weather plants are still pretty happy and now I have some hope of a pea harvest, even if it's a small one. :-) I also looked this morning and saw a few jalapeno peppers coming in. That is really exciting! My yellow pear has also sprouted three baby pear-shaped tomatoes. I hope I get to harvest some of this stuff before we move.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Garden Update

Herbs, Peas, Lettuce (harvested), Tomatoes & Kale

So, it's been nice not to have to water my container garden very much, what with the crazy amount of rain we've been receiving. It's really making me wish we had a rain barrel. I really think it would be half-way full by now.

Anyway, I have a total of 5 tomatoes growing (finally!), I've harvested lettuce twice - once being an emergency harvest after the hail, and I've gathered some of my purple kale for a yummy kale, onion, and bean sauted salad. The purple is so pretty in a dish! Strangely, my peas have finally flowered, so who knows if my sugar snap peas will ever arrive. At long last, I transplanted 2 of my tomato plants into bigger containers (a.k.a. large plastic buckets with holes drilled in the bottom).

I had one bucket left over and got a little ambitious... And now I have a compost! I have no idea what the heck I'm doing, but I always feel so sad throwing away perfectly good kitchen scraps and grass clippings that I don't use as a mulch cover for my plants. So, I drilled one hole in the bottom of the plastic bucket, chucked in some old dirt, grass clippings and some fruit skins, etc and voila! Compost. I am really excited! I have no clue if it will work. I'll probably have to abandon the noxious mess when we move, but at least I'm trying!

And as soon as I get some more dirt I'll add it and then go buy some earthworms at the store. Unless it rains again and I can pick them up off the sidewalk somewhere. Does anyone know if you have worms in your compost that you don't put a cover on it? I don't want to bake them, but I don't want to attract flies either. I guess I'll find out. Yipee!

2 Brandywines sharing a tub

A Brandywine tomato!

Bloody Butcher Tomato plant and my Miracle Jalapenos
(doesn't "Bloody Butcher" sound awesome for a tomato name??)

Monday, June 22, 2009


I finally made some homemade butter thanks to a very descriptive and simple blog post from The Mobile Home Woman. I went over to a friend's so that we could make it together. My cream was about a month over the expiration date, but it hadn't gone bad yet. So, I decided to use it.
We discovered really quickly that it was indeed important to have the cream at a little cooler than room temperature because the butter just would not come while it was really cold. My friend, Clair, had read the instructions more closely and had warmed her cream in the microwave and her butter came really quickly. So, I warmed mine up a tad and it worked like a charm! We used a spoon and our fingers to wash the butter and I think using fingers got more of the buttermilk out. I added salt to mine, folding it in really well on a plate and pouring off the extra water as it came out. This really helped a lot.
Now, I don't know if it was because my cream was really aged, but my butter had a wonderful flavor - nothing like the store-bought stuff. You should give it a try. I spread this butter on a slice of homemade bread and there's nothing like it in the world!

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Storm

It's been pretty rainy and cool here in Cache Valley. I am a huge fan of this! However, I've never had a small starter garden in pots before and the last storm that howled through did not treat my little plants very nicely. With the thunder and rain came pea to marble-sized hail. Earlier that day I had harvested some of my butter crunch lettuce. But after the storm, my last two heads were completely thrashed (a great before and after!), my once-wimpy tomato plants were quite wounded as well - limbs sliced off, holes punched through leaves or slightly shredded. My Miracle Jalapeno plants weren't too badly hurt - they're living up to their names. And the peas just look like they layed down for a nap. Strangely, I'm not too saddened by all this destruction. I think the plants will survive. (Though one of my Brandywines keeps aborting its flowers and I don't know why!....) But we are moving soon to where ever my husband's job will take us. If it's long distance, I seriously doubt that I'll be able to take any plants with me. I will miss my purple sage!
Here are some pictures right after the hail had stopped, but with the rain still coming down.

Our yard covered with hail.

My garden after the hail.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Cheese and Milk Ramblings

So, I made some cheese for the first time. In fact I tried it twice. I was going for mozzarella, but both times the cheese would just not"glue" together, turning into the stringy, creamy, taffy-like mozzarella it's supposed to be. I followed two different recipes and both times I got ricotta; a very yummy ricotta, but still it wasn't mozz. I think it was the milk. I've read that dairies sometimes pasturize milk at the higher end temperatures which kills a lot of the proteins that make the cheese. I thought organic milk would be a good option, but it turns out that the big chain organic milk is ultra-pasturized which means it is pasturized extra long so that it can be shipped long distances without being refrigerated. In essence - it's shelf stable milk. No wonder it has that special taste...
The best milk to use for making cheese is raw milk which you can then, in turn, pasturize yourself at the lowest of the temperatures for pasturizing. Finding the raw milk is the hard part. It all boils down to bacteria. Because of Utah state laws, farmers who sell raw milk have to keep it hush-hush so they don't get in trouble. Does anyone else see the silliness in all this? If someone wants raw milk, why can't they be allowed to buy it from the farmer without anyone getting in trouble? People eat produce from the store that they don't wash. Think of the risk there, and yet there are no laws about that. (I guess they can't do everything for us, and that's a good thing.) Anyway, raw milk is not a dangerous chemical or addictive drug. Pasturization is good, I think, but if we don't want it pasturized, why can't we buy it the way we want? I'm sure there's more to this issue than I realize, but I just want to make cheese, darn it!
Man, where's that milk cow in my backyard when I need it?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A Not So New Way to Recycle

Recycling is a word that makes you feel great or guilty. The word is pushed on us, calling for us to take responsibility for our actions and for our planet. Some people don't care and don't bother. Other people are obsessed. But most people, I think, are an odd mix inbetween - half-heartedly recycling, doing it enough to make themselves feel good without having it become an inconvenience. It's an interesting dance of balance about what you believe and feel comfortable doing and what society expects of you.

What do you think of when you think about recycling? Big blue bins waiting on the curb stocked full of washed out cans and cardboard boxes? How about washing out plastic ziploc bags to reuse them... Am I the only one that does that? It's a pain but so worth it. We save tons of money! Well, anyway, those are two way of recycling, but today I'm here to remind you of another way to recycle - reusing. Yes, washing out plastic bags is one way of reusing. Have you ever shopped at a thrift store or an antique store? Well, then you've reused! I don't think there's anything more fun than finding a sweet deal at a yard sale or a thrift store. Heck, yesterday I went a little crazy because I was feeling the bug. At the thrift store I found: handcranked metal meat grinder - $3, cast iron frying pan in good condition - $5, a heavy duty tub with a lid - $4, a very nice metal pastry blender - 50 cents! Then, at the antique shop I found: a set of 3 cheese graters that my mom used when I was growing up (they ROCK!) - $12 for all 3 (it would cost that much for a new plastic one), and a vintage, beautiful, pale yellow ceramic serving bowl - $9 (marked down from $21!)

As fun as finding all that was, my ultimate reusing feat (heck, they really just call it thriftiness) was reusing an old, despised laundry basket. This is what I did with it:

I cut holes in the bottom for drainage with a jigsaw. Then, I taped a plastic grocery bag to two sides (kind of as an experiment) and the other two sides I covered front and back with clear packing tape.

Then I filled it with dirt! It was the perfect, shallow planter for my lettuce. And it makes me giggle that I can see the dirt through the clear packing tape. :-)

It's a little silly, but I'm pretty proud that I thought to do this with the basket. See, thriftiness is a learned skill. My mom was excellent at it and she learned that from her mother. I used to be pretty good at it, but with a lot of moving around and school I lost touch with my inner creativity and imagination. It feels good to stretch it a bit!

Let me know ways that you have found to reuse things or any amazing finds you've had at the thrift store, antique store, or yard sale. I'd love to hear about them!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Garden, Market and More

Beautiful Local Eggs

Speaking of eating locally... You know how "people" say that it is better for people to eat what is local healthwise because they should eat what grows naturally in their climate? Well, I think there's good points to that, but I don't necessarily want to give up pineapple just yet. Anyway, something weird happened to me when we moved to Cache Valley. I think we had been living here for a month when I started to crave raspberries. Really bad. Okay, so I was pregnant at the time, but it was a different type of craving. It was a deep, subconscious need that was completely mystifying! When I learned that raspberries are a huge crop in this region, it just blew my mind. How did my body know that?? I had never craved raspberries before in my life, and here I was tuning into what was grown naturally in Cache Valley. Strange...

Okay. So, I was getting sick of babysitting my poor little weakling tomato plants by bringing them inside at night. A few nights ago I had had it. I yelled at them through the screen door "If you don't make it through the night, then you don't deserve to survive!" I was pretty darn resolved. Then later, I heard it raining hard and gasped, "My tomatoes!" I ran to the back door where they sat there huddled against the wind and the cold rain. Actually, the wind wasn't that bad - the tomatoes were staked well. And the rain wasn't that hard. It was actually pretty gentle. So I said, "Heck with you boogers. Tough it out!" and walked away. And they've trucked along. There's even a sign of a flower bud on one. I guess you never can tell how much gumption a plant's got until you let it alone for awhile. Pictures of my garden:

Wimpy tomatoes. At least they're green, even if they're a little sunburned.

My two proud Brandywines. Can you tell which one came from the nursery? (Look for the one with the macho stem.) The container is a tub from the thrift store that came without a lid - how perfect for plants!

This jalapeno plant survived a 36º F night and survived like a champ! I call it the Miracle Jalapeno. He has since been joined by 2 others...

My beautiful Purple Kale that I couldn't resist adopting from the nursery.

My happy herb garden. Left to right: Rosemary, Purple Sage (I love this plant!) and Cinnamon Basil (oooh! Fancy!)

Farmers' Market Spoils: Oregano, Butter Crunch lettuce plants, spinach, eggs (aren't they beautiful??) and goat milk soap - Forest Glade scent, mmmmm..... :-)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Cache Valley & Eating Local

Beautiful Cache Valley, Utah

I am really interested with the concept of eating locally. I try to imagine myself stocking our shelves and our fridge with nothing but what was grown or raised locally - local meat, cheese, milk, eggs, produce, etc. I try to imagine myself living without bananas or fresh pineapple. (Does canned pineapple count?) I try to imagine also eating what was only in season and what we lay up in store for the winter. Could I do it? Could I really eat locally? I like to think I could, but I know it will take one step at a time to conquer that mountain of changing habits.

Which brings me to my experience today. I was getting together a package to send to my family out in Indiana. I was trying to get a lot of holidays and special occasions covered in one box. And I wanted to get them something special. I like getting food because it doesn't sit around gathering dust (at least that's the hope), and it gives a lot of pleasure. So, I thought, "Hey. I'm going to get my step-mom some of our local raw honey from Cox Honeyland and some cinnamon basil seeds from our locally-owned gardening store." (Well, I thought that in so many words...) I continued on that line of thought and ended up getting my dad and brother some coffee beans from our local coffee roasting company Caffe Ibis (organic, shade grown, and fair trade!). I felt bad that my little brother wasn't getting anything, so I headed over to our local candy factory, Bluebird Candy, and got him some yummy chocolates.

As I was packing up the box I was struck with the realization that I was sending them gifts that were 100% supporting local Cache Valley companies. I then got this overwhelming sense of satisfaction and happiness. I felt like I was so integrated into my community that I could support the companies in that way and also have wonderful unique gifts to send to my family that they couldn't buy anywhere else but here. It may not sound that big of a deal, but to me it was huge.

I actually feel really lucky living here in Cache Valley. We have a local cheese factory, candy factory, local grass-fed beef ranches, local eggs, local honey made from local flowers by beautiful bees, gorgeous huge raspberry farms, multitudes of fruit trees like apricot, peach, apple, etc. and the list goes on! I guess I've taken all of this for granted the entire 3 years I've lived here and now that my husband is looking for a job with no possibilities of staying here in Cache Valley, I am tremendously sad at the thought of leaving! What will I do without the cornucopia of local offerings? It's hard to believe another place will have so much to offer. So, to compensate, I'm stocking up on the honey. :-) And I'm going out to Bear Lake for their famous raspberry shakes in a few weeks. Mmmm. My mouth is watering. Live it up in Cache Valley while I can!!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Farmers' Market Begins!

Today the clouds look like carded wool. The sun is shining and the breeze is cool - a perfect Spring day for the start of the local farmers' market. I love going to the farmers' market, even when I don't buy anything. Like today.

My husband, son, and I got to the park where the market is held a half hour after it started. It was already packed and bustling! I shouldn't have been surprised, but the business made me smile. I think it's so great rubbing elbows with neighbors and fellow Cache Valley residents. And it's grown so much since last year! Buying something from the market always gives me an immense sense of satisfaction. I think it's knowing that someone that lives down the road made the cheese that I bought or spun the wool and knit the shawl that I admired - that buying something there is like buying a piece of my community and I become even more connected than I was before.

But, alas, this time I had forgotten to bring cash! We slowly meandered between the stalls past goat soap, hardy seedlings, 6-packs of hodge-podge colored eggs, fresh crackling bread, and various homemade crafts, and yet I couldn't buy a single thing! We didn't stay too long, but it was good to just feel the companiable vibe in the air, to hear the noisy, happy chatter, to smell the fried onions and perfumed soaps in the air and to feel the sun on our heads.

Even if I had had cash, I don't know if I could have justified buying anything, though. Our fridge at home is overstocked with wilting kale, yellowing broccoli, year-old dates (they haven't gone bad yet!), multitudes of miniscule postions of leftovers, and a variety of store-bought breads. My whole fridge fills me with guilt. Not because it's dirty (I actually cleaned it a month ago), but because I know that I want to learn to eat seasonably, to eat the bread I know how to make but don't, to be so organized that my menu recycles and uses leftovers in clever ways, to be using our food storage so that we don't buy as much at the store, to really cut back on packaged foods (like pasta which I'm confident that I could make), etc., etc., etc!

I long to join a CSA (we're job hunting after just graduating from school so that's not possible), and to know the story behind the food that we eat. Aaah, so many goals and so many frustrations. I tell myself that when we move and are settled, that it will be different. Maybe it will be, maybe it won't. I just need to remind myself to do what I can right now and be content until improvements can realistically be made. And the next time we go to the farmers' market you better believe that I won't forget my money! (And that I'll have an empty fridge.)

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Learning to Listen

This morning was beautiful. My two-year old son, Tommy, and I went for a walk to enjoy the spring weather. As we started off, we encountered a cheeky bird that sang proudly from a telephone wire. I have no idea what type of bird he was. He was nearly the size of a robin, with a black throat, creamy lemon breast and a brown back. His song was beautiful and chipper. We paused to watch him throat his wild calls. In that moment I realized that I was listening - a skill I knew how to do in my younger, more carefree days, but had somehow forgotten. I needed to relearn how. So we set off again and I was determined that I would not only listen, but that I would also see.
Our neighborhood borders the country, sharing a long, straight road that disappears into the purple, white-capped mountains. I decided to head down this road to check on what I like to call our "local homesteads" and to see what they were up to.
The first house was white and sprawling, a small leafing tree sheltering the doorstep. A mini trailer-looking house serves as a chicken coop. We could hear invisible chickens clucking and roosters crowing. The house sits on about an acre and it seems devoted to the chickens with good fences protecting them from the road.
The next house is a large two-story brick and stone farm house with a long porch. Their skinny strip of garden next to the road has been tilled, waiting for the plants that will soon be growing there. Their man-made pool has its waterfall running, creating the false sense of a trickling brook nearby. It's a pleasant sound. On their lawn sits rusting old farm machinery from antique times and a ramshackle barn shelters a red tractor that's seen better days. Their buttermilk lab stares at us from behind the fence. We pause and wave 'Hello.' The melancholy dog sits and stares. He looks like he needs a good rub on the head, but we continue on.
At this point, the countryside opens up to green fields and plowed black cropland. Horses lounge lazily in the golden sun and we roll up to a small pen of cows. We stop and exchange glances with a warm, brown cow. Birds dart in and out of the pen. They remind me of sandpipers with shorter beaks. I still don't know my Utah birds and I suddenly become homesick for the bluejays and cardinals of the midwest. A large, spotted steer rumbles with a bored "moo" and we smile. The cool breeze brings us the smell of sweet grass, hay and manure. It sounds strange, but the perfume makes me giddy.
Our way back faces into the sun. Clouds drift across the blue sky like shreds of silk. Everywhere trees are blooming their rosy milk blossoms and tart green leaves. I slow my pace and soak it all in. Today, I am happy. I need to watch and listen more often.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Starting Out

I suppose for anyone that wants to start homesteading, they need to just - start. I grew up feeding off the Reader's Digest book Back to Basics and inheriting my mother's love of the land. My first homesteading effort involved a two-leafed maple tree and three carrots all grown in my bedroom. Sadly, my efforts were a failure, mostly because I didn't understand the need for a little patience and a lot of fertilizer.

From there I moved on to growing parsley outside, teaching myself to bake, and learning to play the harmonica. All this before I turned 16.

My family then moved to a wonderful, magical home with a wood stove, a Hoosier, black walnuts and apple trees. I learned the art of apple butter - divinity from heaven! And while life has thrown me a lot of moves and changes I keep trying to learn and understand what homesteading is all about and what it means to me.

And while I haven't gotten my farm acreage yet with a garden, chickens, sheep, and some cats, homesteading is taking one step at a time, learning one skill at a time and loving the journey.
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