Monday, June 22, 2009

All The Things Flying Around Here ..

~Shannon, being an airplane outside after dinner at The Homeplace, in Catawba, VA~

Spring is always crazy. Or maybe life is just always crazy, I'm not quite sure. But now it is Summer, so I thought I would share a quick glimpse into our world, of the things that are buzzing about in our lives:
1) Thanks to recent rains, the garden is growing like crazy. Justin doesn't know it yet (he will within the hour though), but tonight's task it to get out and finish staking the tomatoes before the become a maze in the garden. The peppers aren't looking too hot (pardon the pun), I don't think they're too wild about the weather swings. We'll see how they go. A mysterious pumpkin plant has taken over the onion bed, so we're waiting to see what happens there. Of course, now we're several days into no rain & lots of heat, so we're seeing things wilt. Will have to water things this evening - thank you rain barrels!!! Must note though: the plants in the back garden, as well as the potatoes, have held up much better to lack of rain and high heat as opposed to areas where we didn't get deep mulch in. Ruth Stout was a wise woman!
2) The flowers are still blooming like crazy. I just looked out and noticed that we have orange daylilies blooming in the spot between the sidewalk and road. A friend has given us whatever she digs up and divides out of her daylily beds the last two years, which has enabled us to fill in some bare spots with fresh color.
3) Despite all concerns about Colony Collapse Disorder, we're again bursting with bees. They love our lavender bushes and, at any given time of day, you can find easily 20+ bees buzzing around. Now we're seeing them on more plants and flowers. If you plant them, they will come. --- For the record: since we've moved in here, we've yet to have anyone get stung, and our lavender bushes are on either side of the front walk!! You don't bother them, they don't bother you.
4) Learning to write - Shannon has been really practicing his handwriting lately. He's written his first letter to someone (a thank you letter) and has been signing cards, etc. Since he's so eager about writing, we're now looking into getting him a penpal. You remember ... before email, twittering (tweeting?), instant messages and so on. Real mail. Real letters. Handwritten.
5) Sports - Shannon has also taken part in his first taste of rec-league-esque sports. This spring he took something called "Great Beginnings" for both soccer and t-ball. The idea is that they teach the basics and fundamentals to the kids, as well as the parents; a parent must attend each "class" with the child and take part. The parents learn how to properly coach and teach, the kids get the basics without actually competing yet. It is for 4-6 year olds. Justin took Shannon, and I think they both had a blast. Tristan seems a little more into t-ball than Shannon, and Shannon still loves golf, so we'll let them see where they want to go with it all. Personally, I had a horrible experience growing up regarding sports and a parent who couldn't "properly" coach/teach. There are scars I'm still trying to deal with now that we're into sports for the boys. It has been trying, mostly because I'm determined to not let my traumas effect my children's experience in a negative way. It is all very weird trying to deal with.
6) NOI - Our first one! We've been getting helpful information and "tips", along with actual "samples" from lots of wonderful, wonderful people. We'll be submitting Shannon's first NOI here shortly. Though we know he could probably quite easily ace a kindergarten test now, there is still a lot of anxiety taking that first "official" step into homeschooling. We're certain in our decision, and in the reasons we've chosen this path, but it is still a new path in our lives so there is that natural anxiety.
7) Potty Training - Tristan is finally showing an interest! YAY!!! I wish we could still have him in cloth diapers, but with the heat and humidity he gets rashes too, too easily .. and that is in disposable ones. We learned about this the "hard way" the summer he turned 1. Wearing the cloth diapers the poor guy was covered in a horrible, constant rash. Red hair, sensitive skin, summer heat and humidity. It just didn't work for him. I only lament about the cloth diapers now because I know it would help him potty train sooner. But, he's getting there and has gone on the potty a couple of times now. Of course, it is when we're out and about (without a spare diaper) that, in the middle of a store, he'll decide to start screaming that he has to pee. Talk about Murphy's Law!
8) Removing Toxins - Ok, so that may be a little bit of a misnomer. I'm really bad about letting too many people get too close, letting them "too far in." I take things to heart, and then bruise pretty easily. So, I often have to go through periods of removing people who've become "toxic" from my life. I, ulitimately, probably have only myself to blame for it all. Right now I'm in the process of removing some of those toxins, and it especially heart-wrenching. Hopefully by next weekend things should start looking up, but until then, the days have been kinda long.
9) Fishing - I really didn't want to end this blog on a "negative" note, so here is a new family joy we've gotten into. For Father's Day this year we started a new family tradition of taking Daddy fishing. One day it will maybe be just a father-sons kind of thing, but for now Mommy has to go too in order to assure that everything remains harmonious. The boys have been given their own tackle-box (completely stocked!) by their Grandpa Barry, and have been very thrilled about it all. This is the first year we've taken them fishing. We took them to the Fishing Rodeo in May, went fishing while we were camping, and now down to the river on Father's Day. We didn't catch anything at the river this time, but we still had fun. Of course, one lesson we're still trying to teach the boys is: while you're fishing it isn't such a good idea to also attempt to skip stones &/or throw the largest rocks you can find into the river. They'll get it eventually, and until then hopefully they'll have fond memories of fishing.

~Shannon fishing along the Roanoke River in Salem, Va while Daddy watches and Tristan gathers rocks to throw into the water~

~Tristan fishing with Daddy along the Roanoke River in Salem, VA. Tristan had just been reeling in the line, but stopped and let Justin do it just before I snapped this photo~

Monday, June 15, 2009

Keeping Your Cool

Though the temperatures haven't been in the 90's around here recently, the weather has been sweltering none the less. In this corridor of the States, humidity reigns supreme. A quick trip outside will leave you sweating and soaked. Most people retreat into houses that have the AC cranked and the windows sealed tightly.
Everywhere I turn lately (or every webpage and email I open at least) there are articles about cutting back the AC and how that will help our environment as a whole, as well as our very own wallets. But ... what if you don't have AC at all?? Well, for starters, you don't have to worry about cutting it up a few degrees!
Now I must admit something here, and I really do hold this as being a VERY key element: our house was built in 1890. They didn't have AC back then, though I'm sure they had hot & humid summers. Our ceilings tend to be 10' tall, we have transoms (little tiny windows that open) above most doors inside the house, and now we have ceiling fans. The house is situated on the street so that the sun rises in front, sets in back, and the wind blows across the long front porch. They knew how to build houses WITH the environment back then. Work with it all rather than try to command that it bend to your absolute will.
Still, it does get pretty darn hot. So, what do we do? Well, first: fans are absolutely critical to life. We have ceiling fans with wide, tilted blades that actually move the air. For some reason, until recently it seems that it was ok to make ceiling fans with narrow blades that laid flat. Those don't move air ~ rather, on hot summer days, they tend to just mock you by circling above and not providing relief. Spending the $150 or so bucks for a good fan is definitely a worthwhile investment!! We also have window fans. Box style are our favorite - those bad boys blow, and in a good way. But, we also have a couple little window fans where the big boys simply wouldn't be appropriate (kitchen window). One key to successful window fans is knowing the temperatures! It has become almost a game around here: monitoring the outside temp and the inside temp. Once outside becomes hotter than in, the fans have to be turned around (usually physically) to blow air out. They can be turned to blow air in once outside is cooler than in. This took me a while to come to terms with, I must admit. Fans are supposed to blow a nice breeze on you and cool you down, that's how it goes, right?? Trust me, on a hot day, you'll be amazed by how much cooler your house can be by blowing air out.
I could go on now about planting trees and all that jazz, and it is important, but I'm guessing it is stuff you've already read. So, I'll just stick to something else: get out! Get your butt outside, preferrably in the shade! Pay attention to your surroundings, know where the sun rises and where it sets. Early on in the day, before the sun gets too high, we'll be out back playing on the deck or in the yard. In the evening, when the sun is on the back of the house, we'll be out front on the porch or in the front yard. Another bonus to this part of "keeping cool" - you get to be part of your neighborhood and community. Know a close-by park that has lots of shade trees, take the kiddos there during the right time of day, and get to know neighbors who are doing the same. Closed-up windows means closed-up neighborhoods. Remember when you were a kid and you were outside all the time, wasn't that more fun??
Second: take a cue from us Southerners - slow is good. We're not slow because we're lazy or dumb, we're slow because bustling around get's ya too darn hot. Our house is comfortable until we start acting like we've been drinking Red Bull or something, then it becomes hot. You wanna be crazy and silly - go outside (hear your mama's voice yet??). Chores around the house are best done (around here anyway) are best done in the morning before the sun heats the house up. Or, spread out over the course of the day, time taken to do them. No rush. Keep your cool.
Third: Eat seasonally. This sounds too simple to be true, but the majority of us now-a-days don't eat this way. We certainly don't grow our own or even eat locally grown, seasonal food. There is a reason it is called "winter squash" - if it is hot out, go for something that is more like "summer squash". Fruits are good. Salads are good. And, another cue taken from Southerners, BBQs and grillin' out RULES. I love to cook, but our kitchen catches the afternoon sun and heats up quick. Turning on the oven is something I dread. Grilling out in the evening is a perfect solution. Eating fish instead of beef or pork is another lighter choice for the season, and spending the day catching the fish is a great way to keep cool also. If you can't grill, take advantage of crock-pots and summer dishes that can be cooked in them. Check out for a yummy "Inside & Outside" Cheeseburger idea that is perfect for the grill.
So, there ya go. Some more tips on how to keep your cool over the summer. Oh yea, just in case you haven't thought about this one: dress appropriately! Wear cotton, linens, and light colors. Take advantage of sandals and barefeet. Don't wear jeans, if you gotta wear pants, refer back to that first sentence. Ladies, skirts catch breezes very nicely. If you have long hair, pull it up. And, if you're drinking, indulge in some Southern & Caribbean style cocktails. I'll even join you for one.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

What the Cluck ~ Chicken T-shirts!!!

Backyard chickens DO rock!!! You know they do!! And now, thanks to some wonderful artwork by Dreg from All Natural Me ~, you can help let other people know that they do too!!

We're now taking pre-orders for our 1st batch of shirts - only $15 a shirt (plus shipping). The short sleeve t-shirts are natural in color, with the artwork on the back of the shirts. They're a nice, heavyweight, 100% cotton shirt. You know I would've loved to have gone all-organic here, but we didn't want to make them too expensive ~ and cost is defintely a factor for us all in this economy!
The Sizes available from sm-xl. If you'd like a 2xl or 3xl please just let us know and we'll let you know the price.

Anyone interested, please drop me an email at:
Sorry, at this time, we can't take credit cards.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Roller-Coaster Spring

It's been a little while, my apologies. Spring is a roller-coaster for everyone I think. When the rain stops we make mad dashes out the door to try and get everything done and accomplished: both things we WANT to do and things we really NEED to do.
On top of that, our neighbor has started back up complaining about us. It is really quite laughable (you know, the complaint because we had a hay bale), but it is also quite emotionally draining. I'm a "why can't we all just get along and if you don't like it piss off" type of mama, but when someone is hell-bent on making your life miserable .. ESPECIALLY when all you're trying to do is live the green life, well, it can drain you.
But, on to the fun stuff:

There's the potato garden, in the process of getting some more straw put on it. We were blessed to be given all the potato seedlings from friends who had extra. They're coming up like mad and will be very grateful for the forecasted rain.

This is a shot of the Cascade Hop vine, reaching up into the sky, as it has already out-grown it's post (which is about 10' tall). We had planned to do a full hop garden this year, but much was needed to dog-proof it - which was the fatal flaw in last year's garden. Time and $$ never quite lined up. But we do have the Cascade back, now in it's 2nd year. And, as I always say, it's better to start with one small thing than not to start at all.

Here's a close-up of one the Cascade Hop Cones. These are the babies that we'll harvest and then put into our beer. If you've seen our brew-blog ( you'll know that brewing is a passion, one we intend to turn into a business in the near future. Growing our own for that is as important to us as it is for growing our own for our pantry.

Here's the back, main garden. Justin put up the picket fence this past weekend - it's been something we've wanted to do since Day 1, but again .. funds. As usual though, we never let that stop us from having a garden, but getting the picket fence in is definitely a proud moment!! You can see the tomatoes in the foreground. They're heirloom breeds from Victory Seeds: Cherokee Chocoalte and Sausage. We have the cherry tomato plants up front since they'll cross pollinate. Behind the tomatoes are the pepper plants: mainly red and yellow bells for now. We have more that need transplanting, more varieties. Next, going back, you can see the poles for the bean trellises. We have five different varieties of beans going: Mitla Black Tepary Bean (from Seeds of Change ~ certified organic), Boston Favorite Bean (Seed Savers Exchange), Hidatsa Red Bean (Seed Savers Exchange), Charlevoix Dark Red Kidney Bean (Seed Savers Exchange), and some Roma II Garden Bush that we picked up locally. Finally, in the very back of the garden, we have two Black Beauty Zucchini plants, and one Charleston Gray watermelon (that's in the far left corner of the photo, but you can't see it yet). We're REALLY excited to be adopting the Ruth Stout Method of gardening, and will let you know how it goes - so far so good though (aside from the complaint about the hay bale). All the junk behind the fence is now gone too. Yay!

The above three photos I took on June 1st. It is our cherry tree in the front yard, and this was our first time ever harvesting anything from it. That evening we collected 1lb. 4oz. of cherries. Standing out in the front yard, harvesting cherries, waving to neighbors and passers by .. it truly is a wonderful feeling.

Blue Cornflower, growing at the corner of the front fence, meeting with the gate.

Calendula, growing along the front gate as well. I do intend to harvest some of the flowers from this to use in my next batch of soap. Since these flowers run parralel to the road though, I may harvest from some growing in another bed, further away from the road.

And finally, Harvest Tallies:
Egg Tally For May = 112
Egg Tally For the Year = 491!
Garden Harvest (including strawberries from Scott's Farm & spring onions from the Farmer's Market)= 18 lbs 2 oz produce! YAY!! ~ we know it doesn't begin to Path to Freedom, or even other urban homesteads, but we're still very proud.