Falling into Autumn

You know you are busy when you can’t even stop to write about it, and that’s what happened to me over the last 4 months.  It’s been the good kind of busy, but I do miss having time to think.

Somehow, summer evaporated without a trace while I wasn’t looking.  I am typing this from my kitchen table where just this morning I was drinking coffee to the background hum of the heater under the sink.  It has warmed up since then, but it still feels like winter is arriving quickly.

The garden got away from me this year – I did manage to harvest some cucumbers, tomatoes and squash, but between rain, humidity and my time away, most of it went to waste, which was a shame. The few squash I did grow were monsters though, and today one will become butternut squash and garlic lasagna, as well as some bacon squash bites for a squash-themed dinner next door later on.

The garden got most of the way finished this year, but in just a couple rainy weeks while I was traveling, the butternut squash vines grew to 35+ feet long, obscuring most of the garden under the leaves and blossoms, and only now can I pull out the dying vines and finish the fence and the garden beds.  I’m hoping it’s not too cold over the next few weekends while I work.

 

 

I did get a lot of pesto made and frozen, canned some salsa verde, and today I am blanching and freezing kale and broccoli from our CSA for winter eating.

Peppers and Tomatillos 2018

Blanching kale and broccoli is simple – drop kale leaves, minus the stems into boiling water for 2 minutes.  Cool and dry on towels.  Add to baggies and pop into the freezer for soups, smoothies or stir-fries. Broccoli, same 2 minutes, same process.  You can blanch a large batch of veggies in just a few minutes, so it’s a perfect activity when you are busy.  The kale stems leftover are great snacks for our bunnies, Clover and Marshmallow.

 

But mostly it’s been work, and starting to figure out how to integrate Sithean’s future resident, Eli the Artist, into our lives.  The house as it is will work for 4 for a while, but as wonderful as it is it’s also not a big space, so I hired an architect to help us figure out how we might make the space work for us in the long haul. We’re a ways away from the work, but getting it all lined up while we settle in this winter is a fun project for the whole family.

I love garden season, but I’m excited for fall, the holidays, winter, and a little peace and quiet here and there.  While the pace of life isn’t going to slow down completely, It’s always a little relaxing when I’ve closed the book on outdoor maintenance for the season, and I can focus my attention inward.

Happy Fall.

 

Summer Progress (and Pesto)

Back in the days of the Tudors in England, and even before that, Royalty often left their courts in the summertime to go on ‘progress’, or tours of their kingdoms.  These days, many of us go on summer vacation, the modern day equivalent, dragging our household, coolers, and pets with us.  It’s kind of the same, although less to avoid The Plague and Sweating Sickness, and more to go to the beach or the mountains.

I can’t believe it’s been nearly 2 months.  Since I took a breath, honestly.  Summer was just kicking off the last time I blogged, and now it’s nearly over.  I knew I was going to be busy, but I didn’t quite imagine the level of busy I would be.  In just two months though, I did a few things:

  • Started a consulting company with 2 business partners and started working for our first client, which involves every-other-week travel on my part
  • Finished renovating the guest room and welcomed Helene, our favorite intern ever as a summer resident
  • Spent an all-to brief weekend in Florida
  • Spent significant time on other commitments – more on that later
  • Juggled the needs and schedules of kids, animals, plants and yard with more or less success

When I write, it doesn’t sound like a lot, but it sure took up my days and evenings.

The garden is still patiently waiting to be finished.  I got the 10 yards of dirt handled, and then another 6 were delivered, which are still waiting patiently to be spread.  That will wait another week, but I hope to be done by Labor Day.  I planted tomatoes, dill, basil, cucumbers, watermelons and squash, and the combination of rain, benign neglect,  and compost means it has turned into an un-navigable jungle.  Next year it will be finished, and only need to be planted and staked.

Our CSA, that we split with our neighbors has kept us in fresh veggies where the garden couldn’t.  This week was the first batch of canning tomatoes, and I look forward to getting those preserved for winter.  I’ve managed to blanch and freeze broccoli, and begin to make and freeze a house favorite – pesto.

Next week the kids and I head out to the mountains for a long-planned breather.  We have a routine on this vacation  – rest, hiking, a couple small, local amusement park, maybe a float down the river or some zip lining.  Back to school shopping.  It’s our week to enjoy each other and some downtime.

And then back to life, dirt moving, weeding and pesto-making.  Pesto is simple, delicious, and a tiny container can cost $8 or $10 for the good stuff.  Make batches of your own using my recipe, based on the NY Times basic pesto recipe here, but with a few updates:

Rachael’s Pesto to eat and preserve:

1 cup olive oil
1/3 cup pine nuts
4 cloves garlic
1 cup grated parmesan
1 tablespoon lemon juice or fresh squeezed lemon
1/4 tsp salt or to taste
4 cups basil leaves

Process all in a blender or food processor until very smooth.  This should give you plenty for dinner and enough to preserve for 3 more meals.  When you pull it out of the freezer in January and open the lid, it will smell like summer.

 

 

What Not To Do

Just as the garden project hit critical in the ‘we have to finish this so we can plant wearesolateohmygoodness’ way, a few other things happened.

I took my individual consulting practice to a new level by starting a consulting firm with 2 amazing partners.  Simultaneously, I accepted a  role with a client that is more like a full-time job, and entails some fairly regular travel.   I began to ramp up for my new role while doing all the work that starting a new company entails, and spending every spare moment trying to jam in garden building, finishing my guest room for our summer intern to stay in, and trying to cram in every kind of appointment and time with my children under the sun before my schedule got compressed.

What that led to was 4 of the busiest weeks I’ve ever had, with days going far into the night.  By the time I got on the plane last Monday afternoon, I was ready to drop.  I got back Friday night and was up at the crack of dawn, back at it.

I do this periodically – or maybe life does this, not sure –  cramming every kind of life change, crisis and work demand into a tiny window of time.  I’m not sure why I don’t spread these things out, but I don’t seem to remember from incidence to incidence that it’s really not ‘she who dies with the most checks on her to-do list wins‘.  Maybe you can relate.

Even though I manage to juggle a lot, the thing I am still learning is what to let go.  There was a time where I thought everything, everything had to be cooked from scratch.  I’ve learned the merits of a bag of Trader Joe’s Orange Chicken and some pre-cut vegetables for dinner.   Same for acknowledging that once a year I will clean out my bedroom closet, and then it will slowly degrade until I can get to it again.  No one died when I caved on Pringles.  I can’t do it all alone.  Today I was supposed to have the dirt in the garden spread so I could get another truckload.  The reality is that the pile is halved, there’s 3 garden beds built and planted, and yes, it’s getting done but so is my job, my kids, the animals, the laundry, grocery shopping, cooking….

It’s SO easy to get consumed in life and forget to see the forest for the trees.  Relationships.  Time reading with the kids.  I like to think I have my priorities straight, but I often choose the ‘to-do’ instead of the ‘just be’.

I think we’re all a little like that, to a degree.  I have no words of wisdom on the matter, just that sometimes it’s worth letting the projects go to take silly selfies.

K and I_Home

Garden Dreams Part 4

I had hoped this would be my final installment of my series on building a garden, but of course it isn’t.  Melissa and I have been cranking on the fence, and making great progress, but the magnitude of this project, and our mutual schedules mean we need more time.   The funny thing is that it’s totally ok.  I want to be done, and the plants need to go in the ground, but right now we are both so busy that being stressed about what isn’t done isn’t going to do anything but steal joy away from what we have accomplished, which is a ton.  All of the 8′ fence sections are built, and we have 5 more and a gate to put on.

The garden ended up being 40’x18′, smaller than originally planned, but not by much.
Darn that fence is level

Because I have some work travel coming up, and some of the plants were no longer thriving in their temporary pots, today we stopped construction, and I went to work on building some of the brick beds and planted.   Melissa went off to do some weeding and I immersed myself in measuring, bringing wheelbarrows full of bricks over, and planting.  After a few hours, I had some help from Sithean’s newest resident, H, an Environmental Studies intern staying with us for the summer so she can be close to her summer internship.  She didn’t have to like gardening, or volunteer to help, but both happened.

I built 2 5×5 garden beds today.  On 3 sides are 20″ paths, which will eventually be covered in mulch.  On the fourth side, at the front of the garden, the path is closer to 3′ wide to accomodate Hollyhocks and other fence-climbing plants.  The measuring tape is my best friend these days, keeping my rows of bricks straight and with even distances.

Each bed will eventually be framed internally into smaller squares, but for this year, putting the larger beds in place is what can get done.  Once they were framed out on 3 sides, I added about 3″ of compost on top of the dirt.

5x5 bed

Then we planted.  Today, dill, basil, pickling cucumbers, ‘Livingston’s Best’ tomatoes and begonias went into the beds.

I don’t know that I would have chosen to plant as I build, but I’m still pretty satisfied with the result.

First Planted Beds

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Garden Dreams Part 3

The Peonies are in full bloom, and that means summer is coming, faster than I am ready for.  The air smells like floral perfume, it is green everywhere, and the garden…is still not done.

 

But this weekend was a marathon of effort, and it will be finished and planted in a week.  We started with an auger rental.  Last year, we dug post holes for the temporary garden with a manual post digger, and between rocks and time, barely were able to sink the posts deep enough to stay up.  This year we brought in the heavy machinery.

Auger.jpg

It still required 2 guys to help us in order to get all the post holes dug.  Thankfully my ex and Melissa’s husband were willing and more than able.

They also helped us measure, and remeasure to ensure we were going to be level and the posts would go in evenly.  We never would have gotten as far as we did without them, especially when we hit a buried stone wall, halfway through augering holes.

Yesterday, Melissa and I continued our assembly line prefab and build approach, and cranked out 5 sections in the ground before we had to stop for the day.


We chose a method of 8′ garden sections made out of 1″x5″ pre-primed pine boards, flanked by the big splurge of 8′ cedar posts.  Each section is pre-assembled and then attached, with chicken wire stapled on.  Melissa and I worked as a team to prefabricate, level each post and get it installed while the smallish people did other, equally important things:

Connor being cozy.jpg

In the end, we built a full side and part of the front and back of the garden.  We got faster as the day went on, it stayed level, which is an achievement in and of itself, and by the end of the day, we had gotten pretty darn good at fencing.  I can’t say it’s a skill we’ll have much use for going forward, but it’s a good skill to have.

Breakfast Monsters

Mornings here are the busiest part of the day, typically.  From the moment I wake up to the time I get the kids to school, I only sit down if I can find a few minutes to wolf down some food myself.  There’s lunches to be packed, breakfast to be made, kids to get dressed and out the door, animals to feed and water, and plants that need a drink.

Even weekend mornings are busy until the point when I get breakfast into everyone, at which point we start to take a breath. I cook more on weekends, frequently pancakes, bacon and fruit, although blueberry muffins and waffles periodically show up on the menu.

Pancakes.jpg

I like to take the time to make breakfast for the kids, but the leftover pancakes also go right into the freezer to be warmed for weekday breakfasts.  It’s a quick, easy way to get something homemade into the kids when you have no time.

For me, breakfast has become coffee and smoothies.  I had for years had an egg and yogurt in the mornings.  It’s better not to have to think about food first thing than have huge variety – I can go a long time without getting bored of my breakfast, so long as there’s coffee. And I was always the person, when faced with smoothie options, that replied “I prefer to chew my food, thanks”.  But even the worst cynics can be converted.

I switched to smoothies because I realized I wasn’t quite getting in enough fruits and veggies throughout the day, I needed a new vehicle for my yogurt, and I needed to add some nutritional supplements such as Spirulina, Maca, flaxseed, and a superfood protein powder that has wheatgrass and other goodies.   So I started making what I call my Green Monster Smoothies.  In goes all those things, but also in it goes bananas, blueberries, strawberries, yogurt,  a handful of spinach or super greens, a spoonful of peanut butter and some milk (coconut water or almond/soy milk would work just as well).  I’m finding it keeps me full longer, I’m definitely upping my fruit and veggie intake, and I don’t have to eat all those things individually throughout the day.  And here’s the thing – it tastes really, really good.

And I mean so good I’m sad when it’s gone and I have to wait for the next day.  Which for a ‘no-smoothie as meal’ person, is a pretty solid endorsement.

Smoothie prep

I make enough for 2 smoothies in my $40 sale blender (no, you don’t need a wildly expensive one) so I only have to put in the effort once every other day, and I store the rest in a mason jar in the fridge for the next morning.

Smoothies

I hate to say I’m a convert, but I just might be.  I still like to chew my food, but Green Monster – it’s what’s for breakfast.

Green Monster Smoothies:
1 scoop protein powder – I prefer to use a superfood variety
1/2 tsp Spirulina powder
1 tsp Maca (similar to ginseng and it tastes very good)
2 tablespoons flaxseed
1 banana
handful of blueberries
handful of spinach or other greens
5-6 strawberries
1 cup plain or flavored yogurt
1 tablespoon peanut butter
1 -2 cups of milk or milk alternative, depending on how thick you want it

Whir.  Eat.  Be happy.

Making Home – Sithean By Design

About 4 years ago, I went from a 2500 square foot house to a tiny apartment, with very few possessions carried with me.  I effectively started over, needing even dishes and forks, along with beds, a couch and almost everything else.  I have always loved putting together found objects, antiques, yard sale finds and hand me downs and making design from them, so it was a little disorienting to have to choose how to fill my new little place all at once.  Fun too, but more of a challenge than I thought it would be.  “What do I like?” was a question that ran through my head, over and over, on everything from plates to bedding.  What I like was of course limited by budget and practicality, but it had been over a decade since I had made those kinds of choices alone, and it was harder than I thought it would be.

When we moved here, I had a little time to start to think about what I like, and I found myself influenced by the house itself.  Built in 1850 as servant’s quarters, the house itself is not very big, and while largely modern, still carries with it a sense of stepping back in time.  The rooms are comfortably sized, but still somewhat delicate-seeming.   I decided to let the house dictate the design as much as my own taste, and the smallish people weigh in too.  Eventually some things from my previous life came back here, but each time I touch a space here, it is tailored to the house itself.  In doing so, I found myself drawn to smaller, more delicate pieces than I might have, and a touch of the fey everywhere – birds, vines and even some magic, all the while covering for the fact that shelves and closets are sadly lacking.

I add and change a little at a time, as budget, time and inspiration allows.  I don’t want it all done at once.  Making an old home beautiful again doesn’t need to cost a fortune either, it can be done slowly, a small touch at a time.

The first room to be changed was the dining room.   One of the Moms did all the work, and it is all beautiful as a result.  It is waiting for me to make valances from some bolts of fabric I found at a yard sale, hopefully by Christmas.

Dining Room

The red ceiling was my daughter’s idea, based on a picture she saw.  The table had been a hand-me-down from my older sister, and the only furniture I’ve added is the bird etagere, which goes with my antique dishes, a favorite find.

china.jpg

Bird Etagere

Pretty and practical, the etagere holds things that I didn’t have a good spot for, but loved too much to get rid of.

The landing for the stairway was a large blank wall.  Up went a wallpaper mural which makes me smile every time I see it, a touch of watercolor whimsy.  At about $125 for the custom-fit paper, it was a deal, and if I ever tire of it, off it comes.  But I won’t.

Wall Mural

My son’s room was next.  The supreme act of maternal love is letting your child pick their room color, but in this case I happen to love the bright orange for his small angled room under the eaves.  His room is loosely designed around the world of Peter Pan, with a mural of the Lost Boys tree house, and the Jolly Roger as a light fixture hanging from the ceiling.  His bed is shape like a cabin, with canvas window and door coverings that roll down for playing fort.

An oddly shaped corner of my room has been turned into a desk/vanity area, a perfect resting spot for books we are reading before bed, and Kiera Dolly, my daughter’s most prized possession.  The mirror is an antique meant for a fireplace mantel.  The vanity table top opens up to a secret mirrored compartment, where I often find things the smallish people have hidden.

Resting Spot for Kiera Dolly

In the living room, a corner cabinet, found and refinished in grey and blue chalk paint, has been added for more shelving space.   I grouped things that are generally blue and white, from the tea set made by my great aunt to another teapot, found for $2 at a yard sale. along with a lone ginkgo leaf saved from our time in Florida.

Throughout the house are tiny framed prints of Cicely Mary Barker’s Flower Fairies – gorgeous antique pictures of ancient flowers and trees. . Each print costs little, and they add touches of color to various corners.  When I find frames and more prints, I add them, a little at a time so as not to clutter the space.

I’m working on the guest room now, tying in birds, flowers and watercolor designs, and my daughter’s room will follow that.  There’s so much to do, but that’s the fun of it.   Just a little paint, a few spots to put things, and a touch of whimsy make me happy to be here every day.  There’s lots of stores, TV shows and websites that will make you believe that renovations are all-or-nothing, but sometimes little modifications – color, placement, style, are all that you need to make your space just a bit more homelike.