13 February 2017

Getting into a gardening frame of mind

Temperatures are warming up, 20 degrees above 0 on Monday instead of the 20 degrees below 0 that we had all weekend. Heatwave! Kind of. We were laughing a little ruefully today about being so accustomed to cold weather that temperatures that are still below freezing feel nice and warm.

While I know intellectually that planting weather is still a long way off, this warming trend set me thinking about our garden for the coming summer. I'm in the middle of a grocery budgeting course right now, which has had me looking critically at everything we spend on food as it is, and I've come to the unfortunate conclusions that I really do already make a lot more things from scratch than most people do, and we really don't buy a lot of expensive or unnecessary food items, so we'll have to take some more dramatic steps to cinch our food spending. One of those steps is going to be planting a big enough vegetable garden that we can put up more food for next winter than we did this year.

We moved to this house at the beginning of August, so we really haven't seen a summer here yet. That lack of knowledge is niggling at me as I try to make plans for planting: where should we put which vegetables? What are the cold spots, the places where we'll still have snow and frozen ground well into May? What will the sun be like in different spots around the yard as the summer progresses?I guess this will be something of a trial year for us.

The original owners planted a large bed of perennial flowers (day lilies, irises, trolius, columbine, peonies, delphiniums) wrapping around the east and south sides of our house, and the owner between them and us allowed the plants to pretty much run riot, so we have some very well-established plants out there; I spent more than a week cleaning out the bed this fall. That collection happens to include most of my favorite flowers, and I'm sure it's gorgeous come midsummer, but... I'm kind of thinking of tearing them all out and filling the bed with beans and broccoli and spinach and other edibles. Is that terrible? I do feel kind of terrible for even thinking of doing it. Beauty is important! But not as important as food, if it comes down to one or the other, and I'm having trouble justifying the idea of leaving the best garden-area that's currently available filled with flowers and trying to find other spots to stick our vegetables around the yard.

Some things can't go there; I'm concerned that planting root vegetables right up next to the house might be unwise, possibly encouraging voles to tunnel there. Our tomatoes went wild on the deck last year -- we moved them in their half-barrel planters, and despite losing at least a third of the green tomatoes that were on the vine in the moving process, the plants had more than doubled their loads by harvest time. Since they liked it so much, we're putting them back on the deck!

The current hazy, tentative plan has us putting in beans, peas, spinach, komatsuna, broccoli, and summer squash in the border bed; carrots, salad turnips, and tomatoes in barrels on the deck; herbs in little pots all over, until I find a spot for a permanent herb garden; and potatoes in the two old raised beds that the previous owner regretfully informed me would have to be moved, because they stay cold longer than other areas and don't get as much sun. We're not moving them this year, so we shall see what happens there! At least they're raised, so the soil will warm faster than the ground around it, and I started a compost pile when we moved in last summer so there might be some halfway-decent humus that I can add to the beds to help the potatoes out a little.

I had so much fun paging through seed catalogs, and I love the idea of starting everything from seed, but we're just not set up for that at this point. Our growing season is so short here! You can't plant in the ground before late May, and the harvest had better be ready by early September or you risk a hard frost, so many longer-growing crops have to be started under grow lights indoors in February or March. Maybe some day we'll be able to have a setup like that. For now, I had to split our list into plants I'll have to get from the farmer's market or a nursery (broccoli, tomatoes, squash, seed potatoes, herbs) and those I'll be able to seed directly into the ground (everything else). If we can find some, we'd also like to transplant some rhubarb and start a patch of that for ourselves; I grew up adding rhubarb to pies, jams, kuchens, cakes, pretty much every kind of sweet thing that came out of our kitchen, and I'd love to pass that on to our kids.

If you garden, what do you grow? How does where you live affect the type of things that you can plant? I know that Alaska is different, but I've never actually tried to garden anywhere else, so I'd be interested to hear about what some of the differences are.

12 February 2017

Nothing important

I think about blogging almost every day, believe it or not. I should write again... I miss writing... I miss communicating with other adults... but I don't have anything worth saying, anything important to tell anyone.

The kids and I stay home most days. I get a chance to talk on the phone to one of my sisters or a friend maybe once a month, twice if I'm lucky; the kids seem magnetically attracted to the phone, so it's often not even worth trying to call anyone, since I'll hardly be able to hear them over the ukulele-player hanging on my ankles and the toddler who stuck her hand in her yogurt for the fifteenth time and is distressed all over again that it's sticky. I'm busy all day, every day, it seems like... but it's nothing worth writing about. Laundry, dishes, cooking, homeschooling. It's so everyday. And I love my life, really I do! Even if it gets lonely sometimes. But at the end of the day, when I finally have a chance to open the computer, it seems like there's never anything interesting enough to share.

But the more I think about it, these are important things. Feeding my family, cleaning up, teaching our children, hauling wood and building fires to warm the house: important, all of them. Somewhere along the line, in my thinking about blogging, I've confused the ideas of "exciting" and "worthwhile." We don't have a super exciting life right now. Thank heaven! I like my well-ordered stay-at-home routines, like knowing that I won't be bundling kids into and out of the car and running errands and going places all week long. Give me a loaf of bread rising next to the woodstove and train tracks covering the living room floor over an exciting afternoon in town any day.

So I'm going to make an effort, again, to come back to blogging more frequently. Not waiting until I have something exciting to relate or we've made something particularly interesting and Pinterest-worthy, but instead trying to focus on sharing bits of the everyday, important, worthwhile, maybe a little bit boring days that I'm so grateful to have right now. Life won't be like this forever, and someday, I'm going to want to remember this time.

06 January 2017

On the last day of Christmas...

Happy Epiphany! Today I thought we were having a fancy pull-out-the-china dinner with friends to celebrate the magi's arrival, but I have a toddler with the stomach flu instead. C'est la parenthood. She's not completely miserable, and no one else has it yet, so how about I take advantage of not making a big meal this afternoon to do a little Christmas/year-end recap?


Matt and Little Bear picked a beautiful white spruce this year! Strong, straight branches, even spacing, and a spread of more than 6'... It's one of the best I've ever seen. The menfolk went out tree-hunting on the Fourth Sunday of Advent, and we got the lights and angel on that evening, but then we waited until the following morning for the kids to help me hang the ornaments. Little Bear was very helpful; Kit was very protective of whatever ornaments she picked up, and suspicious of our strange desire to hang them on a tree. She has done a wonderful job of not trying to touch the tree since we finished decorating it, though!

By a fluke of calendaring, Christmas Day wound up being the day that we were supposed to try Kit with cow's milk dairy again. She had been doing fine with A2 milk for two weeks—did I ever write about the technical protein stuff? I don't think so. Maybe another day—anyway, we were due to test and see whether she could handle regular cow's milk again, so I told my mom not to worry about trying to make dairy-free versions of things for Christmas dinner, Kit and I would eat what everyone else ate and we'd see what happened. And she's outgrown her casein allergy! It appears that she's still somewhat sensitive, in that she has some trouble if she's had a lot of it at once, so for now we are letting her (and me!) have baked items with dairy in them, small amounts of cheese, as much yogurt as either of us wants, but we're not having straight milk (which is relatively rare in our house anyway).


"Mouth!" she informed me brightly, when I caught her with my lip gloss.

Little Bear won a Christmas coloring contest hosted by ABCatholic.com, and they sent him this nativity playset! The kids have been having so much fun with it ever since it got here, and I'm very impressed with the quality and detail of the plastic figurines. Kit is constantly putting the baby Jesus in the manger on the coffee table, running over to hug me and exclaim "Baby Jesus! Sleeping! Coffee table!" and running back over to readjust him so she can come tell me again. 


Little Bear's winning coloring page:


Christmas Eve the kids and I were busy baking stöllen and crescent rolls, and were very grateful for the woodstove's help making all of the dough rise. Little Bear was very helpful, rolling out the dough for both and helping me shape the crescent rolls.


I have no actual Christmas Day pictures, because as you've doubtless noticed, all of the photos my phone takes are blurry... Something to do with the autofocus, which is a warranty repair, but we bought this one used so there's no warranty. So Matt took the Christmas morning photos, and they're still on his phone. We did have a lovely day, though; we attended the children's vigil Mass on Christmas Eve, and on Christmas morning the kids slept until nearly 8 o'clock! We spent the morning at home, then went to my parents' house midday for dinner and presents there, and were back home in time for Kit to take a late nap. Peaceful: it was a peaceful Christmas.

Ha! Now I remember why it wasn't entirely peaceful: our furnace stopped working as we were heading out the door to Christmas Eve Mass! There wasn't anything we could do about it until the day after Christmas, since we didn't want to pay holiday call-out fees, but the woodstove kept the upstairs warm just fine and we plugged in electric heaters in the garage and downstairs so that we didn't have pipes freezing on us. (That happened the week before; didn't need to deal with that twice!) The repairman who came out Monday was great, though; he taught Matt a lot about how our particular furnace works, and what Matt can try on his own next time this happens.

We were bracing for a big storm a couple of days after Christmas, up to 18" of snow and 55 mph wind gusts, and I suppose that we did get both of those things, but we never lost power like we'd expected to. Folks near us did, and in a similar storm last winter people in this area were without power for a full week, but we only saw the lights flicker a couple of times. We did have an awful lot of snow to clear, and Matt did a heroic amount of the shoveling and snow blowing himself, since Kit and I both had quite the headcolds. Fortunately Matt had more than a week off work for Christmas/New Years (yay, working for a school!), so he was home when we got all of the ridiculous snow.


And I couldn't very well wrap up this Christmas season without mentioning music; our house has been full of it these past twelve days! Instead of toys, we gave each kid an instrument this year—a ukulele for Little Bear, and a pentatonic scale of chimes laid out hammer dulcimer-style for Kit (and the whole family). Little Bear is playing it in the photo with the Christmas tree. I am happy that they're both so excited about making music, especially Little Bear, but goodness the house has been getting loud these days! We've almost mastered the "no music while Mom is on the phone" rule, and Little Bear is doing a pretty good job of remembering not to play while anyone is sleeping, so I can handle it the rest of the time.

Well, instead of a fancy dinner tonight, the non-stomach-bugged members of the family shared a super vegetable pizza that Matt and Little Bear picked up in town. Mmm, pizza with cheese on it for the first time in more than a year! We laughed that it was still appropriate for Epiphany, because they had to travel a long way to get it and bring it home. Though if we had the ability to get Middle Eastern takeout in town, that would have been even better!

13 December 2016

St Lucy Buns {dairy-free}

A year ago, I was still coming to grips with Kit being allergic to casein. Our traditional Advent and Christmas baking is chock full of butter, milk, cream cheese, sour cream... and because I was feeling overwhelmed, and most of the few Christmas treats that I did try to adapt to be dairy-free turned out poorly, I more or less stopped trying.

Well, we're still dairy-free around here, but with a year's experience in baking without butter et al, I am ready to tackle all the Christmas things! Well, most of them. The ones that are supposed to taste like butter can wait another year.

I was sad to miss out on St Lucy Buns last year, but with milk, butter, AND sour cream, there was no way I was going to attempt to muddle through them. I was still a little bit nervous last night, waiting and hoping they'd turn out as my dough oh-so-slowly rose, but they are perfect. Light, tender, melt-in-your-mouth rich... Mmmm. :-) So glad to be able to celebrate St Lucy's feast day with these treats from my Nordic roots!



St Lucy Buns/Lussekatter {dairy-free}

3/4 cup milk of choice (I used almondmilk)
pinch of saffron threads
1 teaspoon + 1/4 cup white sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons yeast
3 1/2 to 4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons nondairy "butter" (I used Earth Balance soy-free)
1/4 cup nondairy plain yogurt (I used coconutmilk yogurt)
2 large eggs + 1 for egg wash
raisins

Combine milk, saffron, and 1 teaspoon sugar. Heat to 115 degrees F, and stir to dissolve sugar. Stir in yeast and set in a warm place until foamy, 5 to 10 minutes.


In a mixing bowl, whisk together the remaining sugar, 3 1/2 cups flour, and salt. Make a well in the middle and add the milk mixture, 2 eggs, diced "butter", and yogurt. Combine thoroughly. Knead dough, adding flour a tablespoon at a time as needed until dough is still tacky but doesn't stick all over your hands when you touch it. Shape into a ball and set in a bowl, covered with plastic wrap, to rise.

When dough has doubled, divide into 12 equal balls. Roll into snakes and shape into tight Ss. Lay out on a parchment-lined sheet pan and cover with plastic wrap to rise until doubled, about half an hour. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.


Beat an egg and brush over the Ss. Stick raisins into S curls. Bake 9 to 10 minutes, turning pan 180 degrees after 4 minutes. Remove from parchment to a wire rack to cool. Enjoy!


Notes:
If you aren't dairy-free, the recipe works equally well with cow's milk, butter, and plain yogurt or sour cream.
Coconut oil works in place of the fake butter, but only use 3.5 tablespoons instead of 4.

06 December 2016

Happy feast of St Nicholas!

Today we were hit with my first taste of the "Christmas crazies," with the kids excited far beyond my expectations over the appearance of two playmobil guys and a handful of chocolate gold coins in their shoes. Kit couldn't even eat the chocolate (I couldn't find any that were dairy-free), and she was still just as giddy as her big brother!

We had a fun day, though, and I'm pretty confident (hopeful?) that everyone will be a little calmer tomorrow. We read Mary's Little Donkey this morning, our first Christmas-related book of the year; I hadn't planned on pulling any Christmas books out until Gaudete Sunday, but this one is more about the friendship between Mary and the animals, and then the journey to Bethlehem, rather than focusing most of the storytelling on Christmas Day itself, so it seemed appropriate for Advent. I wish we had a good picture book about St. Nicholas, though; we don't have any stories about him at all, so I told the kids his legend in the car on the way home from the grocery store this morning, but if anyone has any suggestions I'd love to find something to read to them next year!

Who knew that Playmobil made a St Nicholas figure? I found a two-pack at our local toy store of St Nicholas and an angel, which the kids had so. much. fun. playing with today. Kit kept taking "Nichonah"s miter off and bringing it to me to "fix? fix?" Late yesterday evening I got sucked into the time-wasting vortex of exploring Playmobil offerings on Amazon, curious as to whether they had other religious-themed models, and discovered that they actually made a set of St Martin and a beggar, with his horse and his sword and the cloak to cut in half and everything! But apparently it was a very limited release in Germany in 2006, and you can't find any on the internet anywhere anymore. Oh well. The kids are more than happy with what they have!

Our vinyl Shining Light St Nicholas doll, a gift several years ago from my mother-in-law's friend, also made his annual appearance today: I didn't have anything for the adult shoes, but Little Bear was sure that we needed to set our shoes out last night too, so he showed up in Matt's shoe and the informational card about him was in mine this morning. Kit was very happy that there were two "Nichonah"s, dancing them around together, and even carried the Shining Light version with her for her nap. Both St Nicholas's and the angel will hang around, probably popping in and out of nativity scenes, through Epiphany.

I'm not terribly "arts-n-crafts-y," but my sister sent me instructions for candy cane crosiers about a month ago, and I'd been looking forward to trying them for the feast of St Nicholas ever since. After Kit woke up from her nap, she and Little Bear helped me remember how hard it is to unwrap candy canes without breaking them... We finally had enough come out in one piece, though, and they turned out so well! The soft-not-quite-melted candy was hot, though--shocking, I know--so Little Bear couldn't actually help me shape the crosiers, and I was blowing on my fingertips for a while after doing each one. Maybe by next year I'll think of a way that he can help at least a little bit.



How did you celebrate St Nicholas' day?

26 November 2016

A list of lists

After talking about my tendency to organize—possibly over-organize—earlier this week, I have a list for you! A list of lists, actually. It's just about Advent in most of the world by now, though we have several hours left here; whether you're hurrying to finish up Christmas shopping before settling into Advent or just beginning to think about gifts, here are a bunch of ideas compiled by a few of my favorite bloggers. Some even have coupon codes available, so check them out!

Round Up of Homemade Holiday Gifts from Whole Parenting Family

Kathryn's Favorite Things: A Religious Shopping Guide from Team Whitaker

Catholics on Etsy! and Catholics on Etsy, Part 2! from Simcha Fisher

The 2016 Carrots Christmas Gift Guide from Carrots for Michaelmas

And apparently The Catholic Wife will have a two-part Catholic gift guide coming up here as well, so check her page starting December 1 for that!


Wishing you a wonderful (and organized!) start to your Advent.

19 November 2016

Organizing

The new liturgical year begins next Sunday, the new calendar year a month later; especially with everything that's going on over the next month-plus, it's a logical time to be thinking about schedules, planners, and the like. Kelly Mantoan of This Ain't The Lyceum had a great post this past week on finding the planner that's right for you individually, and it set me thinking about my own organization system. I'm very much a "list person," to the point that it's pretty much guaranteed that before the middle of this week, I'll have written out a list of the lists that I need to make to organize these busy weeks leading up to Christmas.

So my approach definitely won't be for everyone! It's working well for me at this point, though, so I wanted to share in case it might help someone else.

First, there's the planner. I use the Catholic Daily Planner to keep track of feast days, birthdays and anniversaries, appointments, and anything scheduled to happen at a set time. Every weekend, I go through and plan the supper menu for the coming week, jotting that down in the margins of each day and making notes where needed of things that have to start thawing a day early, be pre-cooked, etc.


Then there's the lesson plan book. Preschool doesn't require all that much lesson-planning, but since we are using individual books and not an all-in-one curriculum, I do go through each weekend and write out what we'll be doing each day in handwriting, religion, math and reading, plus any extras (science, geography, history, art...) At this stage, I'm not writing in times for each subject, lunch only happening after X is done, etc, because he's just 4; it's great that he wants to do school and he's learning so much, but I still firmly believe that at this age, laying a foundation of enjoying school is more important than getting through as much material as possible. We do get through everything written down almost every day, but if he's busy helping me with laundry or baking and we don't get around to finishing, I don't mind moving lessons around to other days and/or condensing them, especially since I know he's capable of doing more than I assign per day.


And the most-used organizer of my week: the list book! It's just a thick 8"x10" college-ruled notebook, big enough to hold a lot of words per page, but not too big to put in my purse. Daily and running to-do lists, lists of errands, the grocery list, the aforementioned list of lists... I'd be lost without it, that's for sure.


-------

What do you use to keep yourself organized?