Wednesday
Sep272017

Future Building Projects

I am not always in the loop when it comes to building projects. The husband has a tendency to plan everything in his head and then just act on whatever decision he has made. His nickname for me is the Architectural Review Committee. I know that sometimes he doesn't want to have to run things by said committee because the committee may hold up construction due to an inability to visualize what exactly is supposed to happen. There have been occasions—the chicken coop, for example—when I had no idea we were building something until I saw lines of orange spray paint on the ground. He has gotten savvier about maximizing his chances of getting things through the ARC, however. Now he either draws me a picture or he stakes everything out and walks me through exactly what he wants to do. 

We have been wanting to build another garage for a while. He has a lot of concrete forms and other equipment that has to live outside because there isn't room in the existing garage for it. That's fine during the summer but kind of a hassle when he needs to go to work and has to shovel 14" of snow off everything, first. 

We discussed what kind of building would make sense and where on the property it would make the most sense to put it. There is a separate septic and electrical hookup over where a trailer used to stand; it was the 14' x 70' single-wide that we lived in for a few years until we built the house. Building the garage over there makes it easy to take advantage of that existing infrastucture. It would also make it easy for him to get equipment moved in and out of the garage. 

I have my own reasons for wanting another garage. The existing garage has a section on the side that would make a perfect workshop for all my sewing machines but it is currently full of concrete equipment. Work on the new garage has been slow to get started, however. The husband—and, for that matter, all the subs we need to help us with this project—is busier than a one-armed paperhanger. He has gotten as far as staking it out:

Maybe it'll get built this winter, although we have been saying that for a couple of years now. He threatened to turn off his phone yesterday. This is the time of year when everyone realizes that it's going to snow soon and he gets inundated with calls from people who want to get their foundations poured before it's too late. It happens this way every year, without fail. 

Sunday
Sep242017

Chickens, Potatoes, and a Farewell to Margaret

We worked pretty hard yesterday. Both of us were up and getting ready for butchering as soon as the sun came up. The husband retrieved the tarp, the chicken plucker, and the propane heater and pot out of the storage shed and got them set up. I worked inside cleaning and bleaching the sinks and the various implements. Our pastor, Jeryl, and his son-in-law Mitch came down around 8 a.m. with a crate containing five ducks, then left to go get the chickens from a lady down the road. Tera dropped off three hens in a dog crate; she was planning to help us, but at the last minute, her daughter had to attend a funeral so Tera was watching her grandsons. I told her it was no big deal for us to do her chickens, too—if we're going to set everything up, it just makes sense to do as many birds as we can. 

This was the first time we had had Mitch working with us us. He mostly helped with the plucking. We have the chicken plucker that was built by my friend Frieda's father many years ago. It still works really well and it beats plucking them by hand. Jeryl does all the eviscerating. Nobody likes that job but he is good at it so he usually does it. 

I had never butchered ducks before. They are harder than chickens. The feathers don't come out as easily. It was good that we did them first, because the chickens seemed easy by comparison. I would never describe butchering day as fun, but it's necessary, and after the first few minutes, you just get into the zone and do what you have to do. It took us about an hour and a half to do five ducks and about 15 chickens. It took about another 45 minutes to clean up, and then Jeryl and Mitch headed home. I'll meet up with Tera some time this week and give her her chickens, which we put in the freezers. 

After lunch, the husband and I went out to attack the potato patch. We were in the thick of it, digging up potatoes, when I commented to him that we really needed Ali's little guy to come over and help us, because he is much closer to the ground than we are. About five minutes later, I got a text from her asking if we were home. The two of them came over and the little guy was happy as a pig in mud to pick all of the "tatoes" up and put them in the wheelbarrow. I loved that he gave us a little running commentary as he worked, too. He is pretty verbal for his age. I am sure it is because Ali constantly talks to him and reads to him. She is a very relaxed mom and that's lovely to see. He is allowed to run and climb and play in the dirt and do all the things that little kids should be doing. And apparently he really loves to come over to Auntie Janet's house because we have all that yummy food in the garden and chickens and pigs and construction equipment. 

We dug up about half the potatoes. We'll get the rest this week. It's supposed to be lovely and sunny and in the low 70s. I am sewing this afternoon. 

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Today was Margaret's last day at church. We had a farewell luncheon for her. Twila said that she was hoping all week that Sunday wouldn't get here and then we wouldn't have to say goodbye to Margaret. That's kind of how we all felt. We will all miss her terribly. She is such an important part of all of us. I asked her if I could get a picture of her in front of the quilt we made for the Ritzville sale. It's hanging up in our fellowship hall until next week when it goes to the sale:

Godspeed, Margaret, and happy quilting when you get to Indiana. 

Friday
Sep222017

Tomatoes and Carrots

I made chicken soup today and needed some carrots, so I went out to the garden and dug them all up. We got some nice carrots, just not very many of them (maybe two dozen?):

I'll have to swing by Glacier Produce next week and see if they have some bags of carrots. My canned carrots all got used up last winter and I need more. 

The tomatoes have been nice and toasty under their tarps and concrete blankets, and they are still producing. I brought in two five-gallon buckets to ripen in the house (with the last of the grapes on top):

I don't think we have ever had a year where the tomatoes all ripened on the vine. Some do, but it seems like I end up bringing the vast majority inside. Susan told me once that it has to do with the overnight temperatures. It may be hot during the day, but out overnight temps just don't stay high enough to make the plants happy.

The Oregon Star is my go-to paste tomato. It's what I call an "ugly duckling" tomato because the fruit is usually misshapen with weird indentations, but the plants produce big, heavy tomatoes. I have had a few that were so big that they topped a pound. For a single tomato. I've done Amish Paste, San Marzano, and Romas in the past and none of them ever produced on the level that these Oregon Star tomatoes do. They are going into sauce so I don't really care what they look like. My other favorite is Cherokee Purple. Those plants also produce freakishly large tomatoes. They are, bar none, my favorite eating tomato, sliced up with a bit of salt sprinkled on them. They are a bit tricky to grow; they are ripe when the bottoms are a light burgundy with green-striped shoulders. If you let them get completely red, they will be overripe and mushy. 

This year, we also did Siberia and Glacier. We have done them before but the husband wanted to try them one more time. I don't think they are worth the effort. You would think that names like "Siberia" and "Glacier" mean that they would be great for our climate, but the plants struggled. Although they produced a fair bit of fruit, the tomatoes were hardly larger than a golf ball. I think that we will stick to Oregon Star and Cherokee Purple. Maybe we'll add a different variety next year. Last year we did Indian Stripe and those were good, too. They are pretty similar to the Cherokee Purple. 

Gardeners seem to fall into one of two categories: those who like to experiment with different varieties and those who stick to the tried and true. I am in the latter camp. I want varieties that I know will produce well for us, year after year, so when I find something I like, that's what we grow. It may be boring, but at least I won't starve to death experimenting with something exotic. 

This cool snap is supposed to break soon and the weather is supposed to get back up near normal, in the high 60s and low 70s. I think we'll let the tomatoes go through next weekend and that will be it. I am close to having enough in the freezer for sauce. 

All in all, it wasn't a bad season considering everything we had to deal with. And soon I will get a six-month break to do nothing but sew with my free time. I can hardly wait. 

Wednesday
Sep202017

Some Sewing

September has turned out to be busier than I expected. I knew there would be canning to do—that's a given—but I also have this Ukranian history class on Tuesdays and applesauce-making last Wednesday and a meeting tonight. As a rule, I try not to schedule things in the evening, especially things in town. It just makes for very long days.  Twila and I are enjoying the Ukranian history class, though. I am kicking around the idea of taking the Ukranian language class that this same teacher is offering next month. I am curious to see how close the Ukranian language is to Slovak (of which, admittedly, I don't know a lot). 

After having spent eight solid hours in the kitchen on Saturday, I decided that my Sunday afternoon would be devoted to sewing. I am trying to get some UFOs (unfinished objects) also known as PHDs (projects half done) finished and off the deck. I have been asked to be part of a blog tour for a purse designer in November. I am familiar with blog tours from my work as a knitting designer, but this is the first one I will have participated in on the other side. I will be making one of the designer's current bag designs and then blogging about it.

And that's all you get to know until the blog tour starts and my post goes live. It's a secret project until then. It may only take me a weekend to make the bag I have chosen. However, I might want to make more than one if I decide to do a different size, add modifications, etc., so I do not want to wait until the last minute. 

I finished up a stack of pillowcases to take to Spokane on the next trip:

I am in the process of sewing together the second iteration of the Sunday Morning Quilt from the book by the same name. I have been looking closely at this quilt as I put it together and it is obvious that I have such strong leanings toward bright saturated colors that even when I set out to make a low-volume/low-contrast quilt, those brighter pastels sneak their way in. Oh well. It's still a lovely quilt. I've got four or five tops that I need to get basted together and quilted. 

And I worked on a tote bag for DD#1 until I hit an impasse Sunday night. She asked for a bag and found a very pretty home dec fabric that she absolutely loved, but it's a bit heavier than what is called for in the pattern. I couldn't use the body fabric for the handles, so I had to wait until yesterday when I went to town and was able to stop at Jo-Anns and find something suitable. I have mixed feelings about this bag. I have a picture in my head of what I want to make her but no tote bag pattern exists that matches exactly what I am envisioning. (This seems to be a recurring theme with my sewing.) This particular pattern was the closest I could get. I am going to make it as written and then see if it lends itself to the kinds of modifications I think it needs. I have plenty of this same fabric to make a second bag. Then again, she may like this first version just fine. 

The boom truck is out on a job so I can't really work on the control box cover quite yet. Also, I need to swap out the Necchi BV for that Singer 31-20 industrial and play around with that machine a bit. 

As you can see, some sewing is happening. It's not really enough to satisfy me, but I'll take what I can get. It's more than I had a couple of months ago. 

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I've been inventorying the home-canned goods in the pantry. I try to keep a two-year supply of food on hand in case of crop failures. For example, all of the 2015 tomato sauce has been used up and we have gone through about half of the 2016 vintage. After five years of canning on a consistent basis, I know about how much I need to put up every year. I think I did 50 quarts of tomato sauce last year, so to have about half of that left is on target. I use a quart a week, give or take. I also have to factor in what I put up for the kids. They used all the pint jars of sauce last year so I will need to do more of those. I also moved all of the older stuff to the front of the shelves.  

The pigs are scheduled to go to the processor on October 30. All the tomatoes will have to be out of the freezers by then so we have space for pork. This Saturday, our pastor and his son-in-law are supposed to come down here for a chicken-processing day. He helps us out every year when we do ours, and last week, he asked if we could help them do theirs. We have a very efficient setup and we've done this for a number of years so we are used to working together. The three of us can do about two dozen chickens in just a couple of hours. I am not sure if we're going to do any of our chickens or not; I need to consult with the husband about that. If we had stuck to our usual schedule, we would have done the Leghorns last spring. We only have eight left (out of the original 20—most died from natural causes) and the ones that are left are still laying. The problem is that we aren't going to have room in the freezer for pork and chickens. I need to think on this a bit more. (We will be having chicken soup this week just to help clear out freezer space.)

Sunday
Sep172017

A Food Commentary

I don't have an abundance of food pictures, but I do have quite a bit to say about the food in Europe. It was phenomenal. I spent almost two solid weeks not having to cook, and that's huge right there. Additionally, it was all fresh and, I suspect, mostly local. It was also not poisoned with Roundup/glyphosate, whose use is illegal in Europe, nor was I eating food with genes from other organisms spliced into it because GMOs are also banned in Europe. High fructose corn syrup isn't used there, either. (I actually drank a Coca-Cola that tasted like I remember it tasting from my youth.) It should come as no surprise then, that we saw very few overweight or unhealthy-looking people on our travels. I ate way more food than I usually do and by the end of the trip, my pants were too loose. Some of that, I am sure, was due to all the walking we did, but I am convinced that my body greatly appreciated all the truly wholesome food I was feeding it. And the husband and I eat a much healthier diet here at home than most people, so that's saying something. 

I remembered from being in Spain five years ago that I really didn't have a lot of trouble eating wheat products in Europe. I started slowly in Italy, though—first with bread, then with pizza and pasta. A bowl of pasta or a sandwich here at home will immediately make my stomach bloat. It will also cause joint pains in my hips and knees, probably from inflammation. I had none of those reactions to the pasta and pizza I ate in Italy. Eating half of a 13" pizza didn't make me feel like I had swallowed a balloon. My joints never hurt. It was liberating, but at the same time, it was infuriating. I should not have to work as hard as I do here in the US to avoid putting poisons into my body when I eat. I personally believe that glyphosate is one of the biggest evils perpetrated on the American public. I think people are starting to figure out exactly how much damage it has done to our food system and our bodies but it may take another couple of decades for the full extent of the damage to make itself known. And high fructose corn syrup—or corn sugar, or whatever deceitful name they have come up with for it recently—isn't any better. 

[I picked up a package of Jovial Einkorn wheat flour the other day at the natural food store. It is labeled as a nonhybridized wheat, a product of Italy. I am trying not to get my hopes up, but if I can find a form of wheat similar to what they use in Italy, perhaps I can have a real pizza once in a while or some foccaccia bread dipped in olive oil before dinner. I am also avoiding domestic wines as I have seen some reports lately that they are all contaminated with glyphosate, too.]

I feel like I spend an inordinate amount of my time trying to keep the government and its corporate farming cronies out of my life and that makes me grumpy. 

Our breakfasts consisted of buffet tables laden with plates of thinly-sliced hams and other meats, a variety of cheese (mozzarella to start the day!), pastries, and eggs—either scrambled delicately or cooked to order. I indulged in flaky croissants smeared with Nutella, all of it washed down with coffee.

Lunch was often a pizza split with DD#2. This is the one we had at Golden View, overlooking the Ponte Vecchio. Best pizza of my life, bar none:

The crust was stuffed with ricotta cheese. These pizzas were light and delicate, so different from the heavy, doughy pizzas here in the US. 

I had the most wonderful pasta for dinner one night, also at Golden View:

Clearly homemade, each of those pasta rosettes had a shrimp inside and they were topped with a marvelous clam sauce. I used a piece of bread to wipe the bowl, it was that good. 

Wild boar is a delicacy in Florence and—much like the hams we saw hanging in shops in Rome—there was a lot of wild boar on display in the shops in Florence:

I did not order any wild boar dishes for dinner. I was curious as to what it might taste like, but I have a pretty significant problem with "boar taint"—being able to taste the testosterone in pork and wild game—and I didn't want to order a wild boar dish and not be able to eat it. 

DD#2 had a very interesting dish for lunch in Munich. I cannot for the life of me remember the name of it (and we had to Google it at the table before she ordered it), but it was basically a dough with meat and cabbage and spices layered inside and topped with fried onion. I had a taste and it was delicious:

We had dinner one night and lunch the following day at two Bavarian restaurants in Munich, and then my mother, my sister, and I decided we had had enough of Bavarian food (me especially, because I cook a lot of pork, sausages, potatoes, sauerkraut, etc. here at home for the husband, whose last name is Schuster and who seems to be genetically programmed for that kind of heavy food). We ate at an Italian restaurant on our last night in Munich. 

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Back here at the farm, food preservation is in full swing. We made 12 gallons of applesauce at church the other night to serve at our fair trade festival in November. My friend Susan provides all the apples (a variety called Summer Rambo) for the applesauce, and she brought along a couple of crates of Duchess of Oldenburgs that needed to get used up. I brought one crate home with the intention of making apple pie filling. I did that a couple of years ago with apples from that same tree. The Duchess apples are a thin-skinned variety similar to Lodi or Yellow Transparent, and they don't have to be peeled. Susan warned me that they were a bit past their prime. Being an early variety, they get picked mid-August or so and don't keep well. She was going to make more applesauce with them. I spent a fair bit of time yesterday morning doing a cost-benefit analysis of using them to make a batch of pie filling because they required a lot of trimming of bad spots. I wasn't sure that it was a good use of my time, especially given all the other things that are competing for my attention right now. In the end, I am glad I went ahead. A few hours of work yielded 11 quarts of apple pie filling:

The husband picked the rest of the corn and shucked it for me, and I got that blanched, cut off the cobs, and put into the freezer for soups this winter. He also picked tomatoes. We have a squirrel—the regular kind, not a ground squirrel—who seems to think that we planted tomatoes especially for him. He eats one bite out of a tomato and then moves on to the next one. We are picking anything that has even a tiny bit of red on it and bringing it into the house to ripen instead of leaving them out in the garden for the squirrel to damage. It means that I have tomatoes on every flat surface of my kitchen, but that's okay. Every few days I sort through and put the ripe ones in bags in the freezer. We were under a frost warning last night so the husband and I put tarps and concrete blankets over the tomatoes. We usually can keep them going until the end of September that way. 

I'll have pumpkins to can soon, although they can stay in the cool basement for a few weeks until I get to them. Except for the tomatoes, the garden is mostly done for this year. I still feel like we just didn't keep up with it as well as we have in previous years, but we have plenty of food put aside and that's the important thing. 

Margaret brought over some boxes of canning jars. She is getting ready to move to Indiana in a couple of weeks and is trying to get her house cleaned out. I was very grateful that she offered them to me. They will get used. She also brought me something special:

I was sorting through my UFOs a couple of months ago and ran across the leftover blocks from the Crosses and Losses quilt that she and I made for the Ritzville sale a couple of years ago. I sewed four of them together, put a border on them, then asked her if she would quilt it for me. We made quite a few wallhangings for Mennonite Disaster Service (they give them to homeowners whose houses have been MDS projects), but I was being selfish and wanted something that she and I had done together that I could keep for myself. I love this. It is very Amish-looking and that is precisely what I wanted. It's hanging over our kitchen table. I had a red and green wallhanging there and just replaced it with this one. (The green on the walls is a bit deeper than it appears here—it's a Sherwin-Williams color called Pesto.) 

We are all going to miss Margaret very much. She is such an important part of our church community and her absence will be felt very keenly.