Stinky October Weather

It’s hot. 

If the temperature gauge on my minivan is to be believed, it’s 93 degrees in my driveway.  That’s WAY too hot for October in Virginia.

I want my sweatshirt weather back!  Waaaaah.

I’ve been waiting for the cooler weather to really stick so I can finish cleaning out the garden.  So far, not happening.  But on the up side, my tomatoes are going gangbusters.  Kind of makes me feel bad for wanting to rip them out.  It’s like they know.

I also have a bunch of garlic I want to plant.  But it’s too warm!  You’re supposed to plant garlic cloves in the fall “after the first light frost.”  Well at this rate, I’ll be planting them at Christmas.

But you know who LOVES the warm fall weather?  Stink bugs. 

Don’t have stink bugs where you live?  Consider yourself lucky.  They are as yummy as they sound.  Here’s a picture.

stinkbug1

They are about the size of a nickel and look like little brown tanks.  They fly, but they don’t bite or sting.

Why are they called “stink bugs,” you ask?  Because they give off a lovely smell when you squash them.  It doesn’t particularly bother me, but my kids say it is the most disgusting thing ever.  Maybe I just haven’t gotten a full dose yet. 

These things have invaded the Mid-Atlantic by the millions.  This time of year, they are literally everywhere.  I can’t work in the yard without being pelted by them.  They literally fly into my head.  And I learned the hard way not to drive with the windows down right now.

They’ve turn my screened in porch into that scene from “Amityville Horror” – the one where Rod Steiger as the priest gets stuck in the bedroom where the windows fill w/flies.  (If you’re under 40, look it up.)  Anywhoooo . . .

stinkbug2

What makes these things worse than most annoying insects is that they want to LIVE in your HOUSE.  They are little opportunists.  They wait for you to open a door & then fly in behind you.  Or they squeeze themselves through the very tiny spaces between your window screen and the frame.  Then they look for places to hide for the winter.

Here’s one in what seems to be one of their favorite places – inside my honeycomb blinds.  Try explaining that to your clean-freak mother.

stinkbug3

So I’m REALLY ready for the real fall weather to return.  It would be my favorite season . . . if it weren’t followed by winter . . . when I’ll be complaining about how cold it is.

Advertisements

Perspective

So I think I might have mentioned how I never really liked or learned to cook until recently.

I always used to say I didn’t know how to cook.  Hubby would correct me and say “you know how to cook, you just choose not to.”  Okay, that’s partially true.  Sort of.  Sure, I could make “normal” stuff – cereal, sandwiches, heating a can of soup. 

That’s not really cooking. 

I could also scramble eggs, bake potatoes, and grill pretty much any kind of meat.

Okay, we’re getting closer.

I guess I could follow a recipe, but I never really did it.  Maybe on holidays.  It wasn’t that I was intimidated.  It just didn’t interest me.  I’d take one look at the instructions, and if it had more than 5 ingredients, or involved continuous stirring for hours on end . . . nope.  Plus I pretty much never had the right ingredients or equipment required.  I still don’t own a spring form pan or a double boiler.

apple pecan bread

Reminds me of a bit comedian Richard Jenny (RIP) once did about gourmet cooking:

“Today we’re going to make a massively complicated dish using ingredients you don’t have, utensils you can’t afford, in a kitchen bigger than your whole F-ing apartment!”

That pretty much summed up how I felt about anything to do with scratch food prep.

Why am I telling you this? 

Perspective.

If you are sitting there saying, yep that’s me, and there is no way I’ll ever be able to can my own veggies or make bread from scratch . . . well, I’m here to tell you – IT CAN BE DONE!  If you want to do it.  I’m a perfect example.

pasta pom

I saw a quote recently that resonated with me:  “You can learn new things at any time in your life if you’re willing to be a beginner.”

Too often, once we get to a certain age (ahem), we are afraid of feeling stupid.  We don’t want to appear like we don’t know how to do something.  We don’t want to fail.

So what!  A year ago, I could barely boil water (that’s only a slight exaggeration).  But so far in 2013, I’ve made homemade strawberry jam and homemade bread, I’ve learned how to water-bath can, and I’ve started cooking real meals.  Are all of the things I try a success?  Nope.  Are some of the recipes duds?  Yep.  But that’s okay.  That’s how I learn.

And if I can do it, anyone can. 

And it’s not just cooking.  There are tons of things I want to learn more about!  Gardening, first-aid, quilting, firearms, chickens & goats & bees – oh my!

Find a friend you can learn from. Take a class. Watch some YouTube videos. Read some blogs! That’s what I do when I want to learn something new. 

I’m definitely a beginner.  But I’m willing to be one.  Are you?

Putting the Garden to Bed

Even though it’s going to be 80 degrees here today, temperatures are going to plummet this weekend, with overnight low’s in the 40’s.  Fall is beginning to exert itself!

One of the chores I need to do is to begin putting the garden to bed for the winter.  I still have produce out there that needs to be harvested – tomatoes and beans, mostly.  I pulled up the carrots and sweet potatoes about a week ago.  I’ll bring everything in (even the green tomatoes – as long as they have ANY color on them, they will continue to ripen) and yank up the plants.  I don’t compost them in case of pests and disease, so out to the curb they go (in a landscape bag, of course).

This is a BEFORE shot.

before

After I clean it out, I need to get the soil ready for next year.  Yes, now! 

I plan to plant a cover crop, probably annual rye grass.  A cover crop will grow and cover your soil, then turn brown at frost.  Cover crops have many benefits – they help reduce erosion of your soil, help reduce weeds, and they return nutrients to your soil.  Instead of removing or harvesting, you simply turn the cover crop under like any other amendment. 

In addition to that, I need to put a layer of shredded leaves for additional nutrition and weed control.  Leaves are another great soil amendment.  Around here, though, I only have one or two trees that have started to drop their leaves.  I’ll mulch those up with the mower and empty the entire bag on top of the garden beds.  It will be a few more weeks until our leaves really begin to fall in earnest.  Anything I don’t need immediately goes into the compost pile.  I might even steal (kidding, sort of) some of the neighbors’ bagged up leaves.  They’re like gold – don’t let them go to waste!

I’ll also take some time to improve any paths and fencing or other areas that didn’t work so well for me this year.  And I want to dig a new bed or two for some additional things I want to grow.  I know I’ll have my hands full with seedlings in the spring, so it’s best to get as much maintenance as possible done now.

I’ll post an AFTER shot once it is all done.

Apples!

Late summer/early fall is apple season!  We are obviously able to buy apples at the store year round, but nothing beats an apple picked right off the tree.  My favorites are the Ginger Gold, and they are everywhere right now.  In fact, my friend Po brought me an entire bushel for my birthday last week.  Yay!

Since I couldn’t get to them for several days, I made sure I checked the box regularly and removed any soft or spoiling apples.  There’s a definite truth to the saying “one bad apple spoils the bunch!”

apples

We ate many of them fresh throughout the week, and my extended family even took a handful or two when they stopped by.  Yet I still had quite a large box of apples that I needed to preserve before they went bad.

I opted for a combination of methods.  Since my family is not a big fan of applesauce, I decided to skip that in favor of baking and dehydrating.  I chopped up the ones that were starting to “turn” or had a bad spot or two on them and used the pieces in muffins and breads.  These items I can easily make in bulk and freeze for future consumption.

apple bread

Dehydrating is very easy, but it does take time – many hours per batch to fully dry.  The good thing is that it’s one of those set it and forget it kind of things.   While the dehydrator is running, you can move on to other chores, even leave the house.  Not too many cooking tasks I can say that about.

If you’ve never dehydrated anything before, apples are the perfect thing to start with.  I did!  You’ll need some equipment, obviously, and dehydrators aren’t cheap ($200+).  But they are SO versatile.  You can use them to dry fruits, veggies, herbs, meats, even sauces (making “leather” – think fruit roll up).  And the food that you dehydrate stores for a long, long time, especially if you use a food saver to do it.

A dehydrator is not a complicated machine.  It’s basically a big box w/mesh shelves and a fan that circulates hot air.  That’s it.  Mine has two knobs – (1) a temperature setting for how hot the air gets, and (2) a timer.  Easy peasy.

The first step is slicing your apples.  I use a handy little tool called – oddly enough – an apple peeler/corer/slicer.  Except in this case, I don’t peel them.  The skins are the best part!  Here is what it looks like with an apple loaded and ready to go.  It sticks to my counter via the suction cup at the bottom.

apple deh1

These tools normally cost around $20.  I think Pampered Chef sells one, but I’m guessing any cooking store does, too.  You can probably even find one at the thrift stores (if you knew what you were looking at!).  I actually found mine at the local grocery store.  They were on clearance, a STEAL at $5 each, so I bought six!  Talk about a back-up for your back-up.

In front of the apple is a small circular blade.  When you turn the handle, the apple gets pushed through and it slices and cores it at the same time (it would peel, too, if I hadn’t pulled back the peeler).  Be sure to have a bowl ready to catch the drippings and any pieces that fall off.  I also highly recommend paper towels (several) underneath.  Peeling apples is quite a sticky, messy process!

apple deh2

Here is what it looks like midway through:

apple deh3

And the finish product, pulled off its core:

apple deh4

Don’t worry if yours doesn’t come out like this.  Mine don’t always.  It depends on how soft the apple is and how fast I’m turning it.  Sometimes the pieces just FLY off onto the counter, lol.  That’s okay!  Just use them anyway.  If nice, firm uniform slices are important to you, the best apples to use are Granny Smith. They seem to come out perfect every time.

Then I just take a knife and cut the stack in half.

apple deh5

Place the pieces in a single layer on the dehydrator sheet:

apple deh6

Sprinkle with a little cinnamon (optional, but it definitely only needs a little), and put the shelf inside the machine.  Repeat until all shelves are filled.  It takes around 15 large apples to fill mine.  A full dehydrator makes four fully-packed quart jars (plus a few extra pieces I tossed to the dog).

Here is the dehydrator all loaded and ready to go:

apple deh8

Dehydrating time varies depending on what you are drying and how thick the pieces are.  These apples slices will take about 9 hours.  If I had timed it right, I could get another batch in before bedtime, but I think I’ll be too tired to cut up more apples and clean my kitchen again at 11pm tonight!  Oh well, there’s always tomorrow.  And there are always more apples!

9/11 – Never Forget

That awful day.

If you’re at least 20-25 years old, you probably know exactly where you were, what you were doing, maybe even what you were wearing the moment you saw.  The moment you knew.  I sure do.

I was 4 months pregnant with my son.  Standing in the family room, talking on the phone with a friend.  Wearing a white t-shirt and maternity jeans.  The Today Show was on the television.  And I watched live, as the planes hit one by one.  I listened as Katie Couric struggled to make sense of the senseless.  I called my husband.  He was already at work.  Back then, at a company in Arlington, just across the Potomac River from the Pentagon.  Little did we know.

Hormonal to begin with, I could not stop crying.  My daughter, then two-and-a-half, only knew mommy cried.  A lot.  I asked my husband to come home.  He said he’d try.  We hung up.  Then plane #3 hit the Pentagon.  He called me back immediately.  Said he could see the smoke from his office.  He was leaving right then.

Another plane crashed in Pennsylvania, though we weren’t sure, at first, if it was connected.  Everyone in the Washington metro area was evacuating to the suburbs.  We have three major airports here – Dulles, Reagan National, and BWI.  And we all wondered what would be next.

Rumors abounded of other attacks.  A plane headed towards the US Capitol.   An attack at the FAA facility in my own town.  All false, thankfully.  Cell phones were down.  I had no way to get in touch with my husband.  It took him SIX hours to drive the 45 miles to home.  It was mid-afternoon before he finally walked through our door.  One of the longest days of my life.

In the days and years since, we’ve seen the constant refrain Never Forget.  I always wondered why those words – surely we WOULD never forget?  Surely we COULD never forget?  Right?

Yet here we are, twelve years later.  And our government (both sides) is attempting to align itself with the very people who did this to us.  I guess someone, with more foresight than I, saw this day coming long ago.  And adopted that slogan.  Never Forget.

I always struggle with how to remember.  What to DO.  How to honor those people who were lost that day.  Anything I might do seems inconsequential.  Or inadequate.  But then I’m reminded, as I often am, of a quote from LOTR.  It is one of the my favorite moments from FOTR.  And I share it with you now.  Today.  In honor of them.

gandalf

My Little Corner

I just got back from an extended overseas vacation w/my family.  Wow, is there a lot of catch-up work to do in the yard.  I am disappointed in the weather this year because it wasn’t hot enough for a bumper tomato crop, but I guess that was actually a good thing considering I just missed a huge chunk of the season.  Gotta think positive, right?

Until the time is right for our family to move somewhere with more room, I’m making the best of my little suburban yard.  You can do the same.  I only have a 1/3-acre lot, most of it fenced back yard.  I am bound by HOA covenants as to what I can and can’t do, but sometimes I push the limits. 

We back up to common area, so I don’t really have to worry about irritating a lot of other people.  Luckily, my neighbors on either side have lived here as long as I have (16+ years) and are awesome.  They benefit from my garden, as well!

I’ve tried to make my little corner of the world beautiful as well as practical.  And I try to make it attractive to birds and bees.  Here are a few pictures.  All the work you see here, I’ve done myself, typically BY myself.  Enjoy!

100_2101

Forsythia in bloom.

 

IMG_6881

Daddy bluebird.

 

hostas

Hostas & Hydrangeas.

 

IMG_7138

Visitor on my butterfly bush.

 

basil

Potted basil.

 

IMG_6883

Guarding his box.

 

crepe myrtle

Crepe myrtle in bloom.

 

peonies

Peony bed in bud.

 

iris

Bearded iris.

 

IMG_4232 (2)

Hummingbird!

 

cucs2

Cucs going nuts!

 

robin eggs

Robin’s nest.

 

onions

Onions flopped & ready to pull.

 

IMG_6627

Red-tailed hawk.

 

blueberry patch

Newly planted blueberry patch (& marigolds).

Domestic Priorities

For the moment, I live in the suburbs.

The two families on either side of me are the original owners and have lived along side us for 15 years or more. We get along great, although we are all very different from each other. One is an older couple from the hills of Kentucky, with one college-age daughter and five cars that they periodically park on their lawn. The others are born & bred New Jersey with three kids in their late teens, all still living at home.

I was asking my NJ neighbor to keep an eye on the house while we’re on vacation later this month. Along with getting the mail and papers, I told her she could take whatever she wanted from my garden because it was just going to rot on the vine (taking a big vacation in August was NOT my idea, and I will do everything I can to avoid that in the future!).

Then I happened to mention about all my cucumbers and that I was going to try to make some pickles before we went away. She chuckled and waved me off and said, “Don’t be telling me about all your domestic stuff. I was born without that gene. I don’t have time for all that.”

Ummm . . . ok.

I thought about her comment the rest of the day.

As little as two years ago, I felt the same way. I was involved in so many things outside my home that I didn’t have much time for the inside. And I was among those people who are basically unprepared to take care of themselves and their family for any significant length of time without help. I didn’t know it, though.

I never had more than a few days worth of food in my house. Nor any stash of paper, cleaning, or other supplies. (Yes, I, too, ran to the store for milk, bread and toilet paper along with everyone else prior to a snowstorm.) And I didn’t like to cook either – didn’t even really think it was necessary with all the grocery stores and restaurants within a 10-mile radius of my house. I certainly had no CLUE about dehydrating, canning or preserving food for long-term storage. And while I knew how to garden, I didn’t have time for it – at least I thought I didn’t.

Not only did I not have many “domestic” skills, I had no interest in learning them. Yes, back then I was exhausted and busy with small children and a husband that worked too much, but I was also too wrapped up in things that didn’t matter.

Many of the homestead blogs I follow are written by women with children. YOUNG children . . . whom they homeschool in addition to all else they do around the home. Now THAT’s someone who “doesn’t have time.” I have no idea how they do all that they do. I guess they never sleep. Maybe they have help?

I still have a spouse that works too much and so, for the moment, I’m leading the way in new skill-building. Translation – I pretty much do everything myself (unless I need to draft him as heavy labor). But I don’t have super young children anymore either (mine are 11 & 14). They can occupy themselves, feed themselves, and HELP me when I need it.

My neighbor’s comment really resonated with me. And in a way, it made me feel good. I NEVER thought anyone would call me “domestic.” I used to be where she is. But I’ve come a long way in a short amount of time. I realize I do have time to pursue the knowledge and skills for truly taking care of my family. And I’m making it a priority.