Archive for January, 2010

Confessions of a Vegetable Garden

January 30, 2010

I had the best intentions this year, really I did.  I meant to follow, to the letter, all the gardening advice I was spewing forth regarding how to close down the garden for the winter.

“Be sure to clean out all your beds that you’re not planting winter crops in and cover with a mulch or cover crop.”

“In order for next season’s berries to yield a good crop, it’s crucial that you prune away the dead stalks.”

“Don’t allow weeds to germinate and spread their seeds throughout your garden.  A friend once told me that if a weed reseeds itself, you’ll be weeding from that one plant for 7 years.”

“It’s imperative that you pull your crop plants at the end of the season, especially if it still has produce on it.  If you don’t, there’s a higher potential for the spread of disease and the re-seeding of that particular plant come spring.”

“Once the plant has reseeded, like basil, be sure to get rid of the stems.  If you take the time to tidy up your garden in the fall, you’ll be one step ahead come spring.  It’s so much more invigorating to start with a clean slate than to start the spring season by cleaning up last year’s mess.”

“And really folks, be sure you have time to put the plants in the ground when you purchase them.  Otherwise, you’re wasting money and you’ll be frustrated every time you see that poor pathetic plant trying desperately to survive by sending roots through the little teeny holes in the bottom of the plastic containers.”

Hmmm – what is that adage??  “Go ahead and take my advice cuz right now, I’m not using it.”


John C Campbell Folk School

January 27, 2010

This last weekend was one of my dreams come true!  I went to the John C Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, NC. for a class in woodturning.  It was everything I’d hoped it would be and more – and those are the best kind of dreams come true!

The hardest part about this blog is knowing where to start in sharing all that happened.  Adjectives are good – wonderful, intense, fun, tiresome, exhilarating, filthy, quiet, cold, fulfilling, funny, introspective, and that’s just the beginning!  I went with a friend and that just added to the charm of the weekend because we now have memories to share and reminisce over.  Mention a certain name and there will be eye-rolling and laughter from both of us!

This school is like camp for adults who want to learn a new craft or skill.  Some come to hone their skills and excel to the next level.  But the bottom line is, there is an energy of excitement from all who attend, like little kids going into their favorite toy store!

The teachers are phenomenal and the school’s reputation has been built on the skill of the teachers and their ability to communicate with the students.  I was truly amazed at the projects people accomplished in just one weekend.  Let me show you…

On Sunday, the last day, we were asked to bring our “creations” to the Field House.  They were displayed around the room by classes and we all walked around and “oo’ed and aw’ed” at what had been done in so little time.  These are pictures from some of the classes that were held this past weekend.

This was from the Book Art Class.

The book’s pages are made out of mica.

The books were beautiful and so unique.  I’d read the description of the class and never imagined what these books would look like finished.

This is the Pottery Class…


They also built a kiln – that’s the big object in the back of the table.

Basket Weaving – some of the people in this class had never done basketry before!

Blacksmithing… this was my first choice but the class was full.  You have to sign up well in advance for Blacksmithing!

They had a Clogging Class and you could tell they had a ton of fun in this class!  One of the ladies in our dorm room flew down from NH to attend this class.  They performed a routine for the rest of the school.

These were the musicians for the class – there was great music all weekend long.  You were never sure where it might be coming from – the lodge, the rooms, the classes – it was great!

This is the Woodturning Class!  And, I might add – most of the class had never turned on a lathe before – must have made the instructors incredibly nervous 🙂

This is our class…except I’m not in the picture cuz I was taking the picture!

The Class was estrogen heavy – a bit unusual for woodturning.  Our instructors handled it all very well.

Okay, so let me walk you through the process of turning a bowl.  You do realize this explanation is really for me so in case I ever get to work on a lathe again, I can refer back to these notes!

This is where it all begins…

Each piece of wood has a grain pattern which shows up on the bowl.  With an experienced eye, you can get some idea of how the bowl will look.  I definitely wasn’t there yet – I just wanted to know if the wood smelled good!

Kim Blatt, our instructor, measured the log so he could chainsaw 11″ sections for 11″ bowls.

Ahhh!  The chainsaw!

The sections of log were carried closer to the shop where they were cut in half.

Next, we used a template to draw an 11″ circle on the wood.  I think this wood is Maple.

The guy in this picture is Marty – he was the other instructor for our class.

He used a Bandsaw to cut the edges of the wood.  Only the instructors were allowed to use this machine – it was understandable!

So that block of wood from the previous picture is held onto the lathe with a “chuck.”  The machine spins the wood at considerable speed and long handled tools with sharp ends are used to shave the wood while it’s turning.  Every now and then, a chuck would give way and this huge chunk of wood would go flying across the room.  It was a bit unsettling!  The guy in the bay across from me lost his several times and my nerves were shot!  Every time I heard that “certain” noise, I felt like running for cover.

The outside of the bowl is turned first.  The piece of wood is then turned around, and the inside of the bowl is done.

The piece of metal in the picture that runs perpendicular to the bowl is called the tool rest.  It helps to keep the tool steady since you’re shaving the wood in the opposite direction it’s spinning.  Another caution – don’t ever let the tool “catch”  in the wood otherwise it too goes flying and gouges the wood in the process.

The outside of this bowl is almost finished.  We were required to wear the face shields and I was so grateful for them.  Shavings and sawdust are flying everywhere!  And to add to the “mess”, the wood we were turning was very wet and the centrifugal force from spinning caused the water to sling everywhere!   …made the sawdust stick even better to us.

Notice the tool in her hand – the left hand is guiding and holding down the sharp end for shaving the wood, the right hand guides the tool’s direction.

These are some of the shavings that gathered on the floor.  The other shavings were strewn across my working area and on me!  That first night, I found sawdust in my ears!

The instructors were so patient with those of us who were beginner beginners.

Here, Kim’s showing me how to finish off the bottom of the bowl.

This is my first bowl!  I must confess, I had quite a bit of help – mostly, they fixed my mistakes!  Remember that “gouging” that could happen??  Well, I did that several times on this bowl.

However, by my third bowl, I had hardly any help at all.  A great sense of accomplishment!

Ya like the outfit???  I figured out that an oxford shirt worn backwards kept most of the shaving from flying into the front of my shirt.

Those that were more advanced in their skill, gave a try at turning a “natural edged” bowl.  The bark is left on the outer top edge of the bowl.  I love these bowls.  Often the bark goes flying off the wood the thinner you make the walls of the bowl.

Uniformity in thickness is a goal for making bowls.  We had calipers to use but “touch and feel” is better.

Because the wood was so wet, these bowls will have to dry for a few months and you hope and pray they don’t crack in the drying process.  I was told to use Walnut oil on the wood to help with preserving the wood.  I covered them liberally with the oil…

I love how the oil brings out the grain of the wood.  My kids were so excited that we’ll have more serving bowls for the table.

I’ve packed up the bowls with the shavings stuffed in each one.  They’ll sit in the paper bag for 2 months and should be dry at the end of that time.

So there you have it –  my weekend at the John C Campbell Folk School.  Needless to say, I’m going to start saving for another weekend – or maybe a week the next time!

I loved this “room” on the grounds…the trees surrounding the gate are grafted and growing into a “wall” of sorts.  The stone walkway leads to the handcrafted gate which opens to the meadow…

…I opened the gate and stood there feeling the expanse of the moment, so grateful for the opportunity to be at the folk school, to expand my horizon through the people I met and the new skills I acquired.

Life often leads us down many different paths, some by choice, some by uncontrollable circumstances.  And yet, it is our decision, our choice, to stand behind a locked gate or, by finding that courage within, to fling open the gate and embrace the wonder, the unknown, and beauty of life and all it hands us.

It sure was a great weekend!

the Gift of Making a Memory

January 22, 2010

Every Christmas, I face the challenge of making that particular Christmas unique.  Last year, I encouraged the kids to make their gifts for one another and to see how creative they could get,  spending the least amount of money.  It definitely was a memorable Christmas!  The laughs we had over the stories of creating gifts made my sides hurt.  Even this year we reminisced about last year’s gifts.  Just to give you an idea of how creative my children are…Michael made soap hearts for the girls.  He did a great job but when they hardened and we took them out of the molds, they looked more like “behinds” than hearts!  These were a favorite 🙂

Victoria made name plates for the horses for Megan.  When she told the process she went through to actually accomplished the task, I had tears rolling down my cheeks from laughing so hard.  Tori is amazing when it comes to baking and editing video but when it comes to arts and crafts – well, let’s just say she’s a bit challenged.  The signs still hang in the barn and they bring a smile to my face every time I look at them.

Another thing I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older, gifts don’t always have to be tangible.  We’ve gotten to the point where we will ask, “Do you want a gift or do you want a memory?”  I find myself wanting memories more often than a gift.  The “warm and fuzzies”  last a lot longer, especially if there are pictures to look at later.

After wracking my brain for ideas, I stumbled across a pottery studio in downtown Athens, Good Dirt.  I called and scheduled a time for the whole family to learn how to use a pottery wheel.

We had our own, very patient, instructor who kindly walked us through the steps of using the wheel again and again… and again!

Our family also met the minimum for a class size so we had the studio to ourselves.

We laughed and encouraged one another for the whole 2 hours we were at the studio.

Our persistence paid off and each of us walked away with a piece of completed pottery.

I loved that this was a “first” for the kids, something they had never tried before.  We all learned so much- about clay, pressure, the idea of “spinning”, glaze, firing, etc.

After our creations were finished on the wheel, we took them to a table where we painted them with glaze.

The studio fired them for us…

…and I picked them up after a week or so.

The excitement of seeing our finished creations was like Christmas morning all over again!

We all have our own piece of pottery as a “memory” of this fun family day.

We agreed that  this is something we definitely want to do again – even Dave!

New Year’s Resolutions

January 20, 2010

I’m a firm believer in writing up resolutions for the New Year.  I figure if I do even one day of the intended goal, I’m further ahead than if I hadn’t set the goal at all.

I’m sure there are many who would fault my logic but hey, it works for me!

Now, it’s one thing if I write my goals in my journal and work on them… or not.   The point is, if they’re in my journal, no one else knows about them.  But I’ve become a blogger and I’ve made the decision to allow others to see what’s going on, especially when it comes to homesteading.

So, for better or worse, for higher accountability or just more material for you to chuckle over, I’ve decided to share some of my goals with you for this year of 2010.

But instead of listing them – how ’bout I just share them in story form… this way you can see I’m actually making some progress.

The other night, I was getting ready for class in the morning.  One of my goals for this year is trying to get to appointments or events on time, or maybe even a little early [this seems a bit of a stretch but hey, why not shoot for the stars?]  I ironed my shirt, laid out my clothes, put all my books and “stuff” together in my book bag, wrote up my shopping list, made lunch for me and my friend [we were meeting for lunch after class], put my wallet and book bag on the table, and even did the little things I was going to put off till the morning – like running to the basement for crackers that I needed for the lunch.

The next morning I was up on time and did my morning chores before I woke the kids.  I’d promised a friend I would call in the morning and we talked longer than I had planned…sort of threw off the agenda for the morning.  I didn’t get to work out {running  5Ks with my children- first one in March} or study my notes.  However, one of my other goals for 2010 is to make people more important than my “to-do” list. That time with my friend was more important than working out so I was okay – I had accomplished another goal and I made it to class on time!

After class, my friend and I ate lunch together.  I brought celery sticks, carrot sticks, cucumber slices, hummus, cheese slices, and gluten-free crackers.  She brought the orange [all the ones at my house had been eaten!].  I want to continue to eat healthier, especially trying to keep white sugar and flour out of my diet.

Dave was out of town and I still hadn’t done the shopping for the week.  My kids had been home by themselves while I was at class and lunch.  I called them to see if they wanted to go shopping with me and I would take them out to dinner.  Even though I was very tired and the shopping would have been MUCH faster if I’d gone by myself – this afforded me quality time with my wonderful kids.  Another – making a conscious effort to spend quality time with my children. I get so caught up in the farm and all that has to happen here that I find myself at the end of a day and I’ve hardly said hi to them.  Not this year!

So now I’ve done it!   I just made myself accountable for some of my goals – but I’m okay with that, not as scary as I thought.  By the way – I learned years ago to give myself some slack while trying to incorporate new goals into my life.  I always give myself till the end of January to work out all the kinks- makes life better for everyone around me and tremendously lessens the “failure factor.”

Anyone else care to share???  Oh, come on in…the water’s fine!

Not Your Typical “Ladies’ Day Out”!

January 18, 2010

I have never thought of myself as normal.  In fact, to my closest friends, I often refer to myself as “odd”, “weird”, “marches to the beat of a different drummer”, “swimming upstream while everyone else is swimming downstream”…  You get the idea.

So beware if I should call you and say something like,”Hey, you wanna come over and hang out today…and maybe do somethin’ fun?!”  It will not be “normal” fun, it will be completely different!

On Friday, I had planned to butcher my meat chickens and to start culling the old hens in the hen house.  Leigh and Ruth got that call I just mentioned.  The best part??  They were willing to join me in a fun-filled day of butchering 🙂

Okay, so maybe I had previously mentioned the fact that I butchered my own chickens and they both wanted to learn.  Even still, a lot of times people “say” they want to learn but when I call they have something “to do” and “maybe later.”

Not so with these gals!

They were both quick learners…

I butchered the first chicken to show them how it’s done and then they were on their own!

I’m a firm believer that the best learning happens when you “do”, just jump in and get your hands dirty…

Of course, I was working right alongside them and answered questions and re-demonstrated the parts that were a little more difficult.

In spite of the activity – we did all the “normal” girly things…laughed together, told stories, shared dreams and struggles, talked about our families.  It’s just our hands were a little messy, that’s all.

And just because we were butchering chickens doesn’t mean that we dismissed the finer things of life…

I pulled out my special china teacups and we stopped our work to enjoy a cup of tea!

You see, all work and no tea makes farm girls…unrefined!

Tea and butchering just strengthen that bond of friendship, and makes for interesting conversation when you’re with other friends.

And we certainly didn’t want to be selfish with our experience.

Our younger girls are in training…

And as soon as they perfect their skill…

They too can enjoy a good cup of tea with the older girls!

Kind of like a rite of passage for chicken butchering!

“Feed the birds, toppins a bag…”

January 15, 2010

I realize I should have written “tuppence” a bag but somehow the nostalgia is lost because we all sing, “toppins a bag.” 🙂

This song always runs through my mind when I sit at my desk and find myself distracted by all the wild birds flitting among the tree tops outside my window.  All kinds of birds – BlueJays, Cardinals, Mourning Doves, Tufted Titmouse, Sparrows, Juncos, Chickadees…one big community at the feeders!

Bird watching started when I was young.  My mom always had feeders outside our windows and I remember as a child sitting and watching the birds in the winter.  With snow for a white background, the birds were very vivid!

I carried on the tradition of feeding the wild birds, especially for my own kiddos.  I’ve enjoyed being in different parts of the country and getting to know the various birds.  I will admit, I very much missed the Cardinal when we lived on the west coast.  They also don’t have the Blue Jay , instead it’s the Stellar Jay – same type of personality!

As a homesteader, my love of these wild birds has grown beyond the fascination of just watching…

These birds have become my partners in farming and homeschooling.

I feed during the winter months so they will stick around during the summer months and raise their young.

Do you know how many bugs one bird will eat??  Well, I don’t remember the exact number, but I do know it’s a lot!

Our science lessons often involve birds in the spring – life cycles, nesting habits, bug consumption…

And the best part?  It’s all free!

Okay, maybe not all free.  I’ve yet to calculate how much money I spend on feed in the winter 🙂  Thankfully my husband hasn’t asked.

But it’s so worth it for what I receive back!

Best part about bird watching, it doesn’t matter where you live, country or city, there are birds to be fed.

And in the winter, the birds are really grateful.

I realize I’ve added another responsibility to my chore list, well, really, my son’s chore list.  But the extra work in the winter is so worth the joy, education, and bug control we receive all year round.

I highly recommend this hobby!

But I Do Like the City – It’s Just…

January 12, 2010

I love the country more!!

My dad was a pilot for American Airlines when I was growing up so we always lived close to the cities –  New York City when we lived in Connecticut and Boston when we lived in New Hampshire.

After Dave and I were married, I worked in downtown Seattle in a highrise and we lived in an apartment on the outskirts of the city.  Then we moved to Los Angeles…

And then back to Seattle to buy a house in a sub-division in a bedroom community of the city.  Our last stop, before coming to the east coast, was a town in between San Francisco and Monterey.

Our closest city now – Atlanta!

I do like all that the cities have to offer…

I enjoy being transported to another time and place while watching a show at the theatre; closing my eyes and being surrounded by the magnificent sounds of an orchestra.

The awe of man-made structures; the stories of ages past told in the old buildings and museums.

The people and cultures that are the rhythm of each city; the bustle of traffic; the night-life, sounds and smells…

And the restaurants!  A menagerie of the world’s tastes brought to one place – the city.

Yes, I have a great appreciation for the city and all that belongs to a city…

But at the end of my visit, when all my senses have been taxed to their limit…

Please take me back to the country where I can breathe!

Where I can touch the warmth of the soil, listen to the melody of the birds and the wind through the trees, and taste the simple goodness of vegetables from my own garden.

I do like the city…it’s just, I LOVE the country!

The Wonder of Winter

January 8, 2010

I’ve already begun to hear the stirrings within my own household.  As soon as the white lights and garland were taken from the mantle; the ornaments were put in their boxes and the pine tree removed from the upstairs;  the last remaining remnants of the Christmas season tucked under the house, it begins…

“How soon till Spring gets here?”  “I wish we could work in the garden today.”

“When will the days be warmer?”  “I can’t wait to eat a tomato from the garden again.”

I know Molly would love it if there was a little more daily activity outside during the winter months.  She lives to work and the work load is a lot less this time of year.

It’s not that I don’t want to join her, it’s just that I’m finally beginning to understand an age-old truth.  There is a profound reason for Winter…

Winter brings a peaceful stillness, longer nights for much needed rest from Spring, Summer, and Fall… a quietness, a moment to breathe deeply and long.

All my seeds that are waiting for Spring have been tucked away under mulch.  The leaves from the trees are gone… the trees too have settled into the winter months.

And my animals have grown their beautiful winter coats.

When the stark beauty of Winter blows across my farm…

I am afforded the time to marvel and wonder how it is that a land so barren and cold and seemingly lifeless…

will come alive in a few short weeks, soaking in the warmth of sunshine, performing the miracle of life before my eyes.

It is during Winter that I begin to understand “child-like” faith…

…believing that this season is a season that too will pass, taking along with it the joys and hardships associated only with Winter.

And so, as each Winter day closes, moving me closer to Spring, I take a solitary walk to enjoy the wonder of Winter.

Winter is my time of respite, my time to slow down and recharge.

The anticipated work of Spring will come soon enough…


but until then, I will sit by the warmth of the fire, dream from my window seat, and create new gardens on paper at the kitchen table while I sip my tea.

When the last of the chill winds blow by and the sun sets on this season of Winter…

And the new green sprouts of Spring begin to poke their heads through the soil, beckoning me to come out and play…

I will be ready…and refreshed.

Family Hike – Watson Mill State Park

January 6, 2010

When my children were young, I would spend a good bit of time trying to figure out what activities I could do with all of them.  The cost of the activity also had to be considered since we were in our “poor” stage.

I’ve always loved the outdoors and one day it dawned on me that hiking through the woods was very inexpensive and would appeal to all ages!  My girlfriend, Jan, and I decided to try hiking with the kids.  It was a great experience, the kids loved it, and we hiked all summer long!  And of course, living in the Pacific Northwest, with Mt. Ranier  in our backyard, we were afforded with many trail options.

We really hadn’t done any hiking since moving to GA and once again I was trying to figure out some activities to do with the family over the holiday season.  I decided to make hiking boots a gift for everyone and planned a family day of hiking.  We made the decision to start off easy since everyone would be breaking in new shoes.  Watson Mill State Park had gentle trails and a ton of photo opportunities for all those in my family who take pictures.  The day was perfect and we had a great time romping through the woods, singing and talking.

Watson Mill is known for the wooden covered bridge.

This is tradition.  We always take a picture with the sign at the trail head.  Certainly makes it easier for documenting where we were after the hike!

And we’re off – no computers, no cell-phones, no distractions other than the beauty of nature.

And of course, we need to have the “hike pose.”

After one of the trails, we all ate lunch.  A simple fare – apples and oranges, nuts, granola bars, meat and cheese with crackers and water.

One of the aspects of hiking which I love, is the time we have to just be with one another.  I love watching everyone pair up to chat and after a while, the pairs switch and new conversations start.  There are no time constraints in the woods, just the freedom to be.

“Look, I see my shadow!”

My wonderful children!  With so many, hiking gives me the chance to talk with each one individually and catch up on their lives and listen to their dreams.

I don’t care how old they get, they always play “how far can you get your feet in the water without actually getting them wet?”

Every playground provides an excellent photo op!

Michael and I decided to venture into the wooden bridge – the wood inside smelled so good!

“Hmmmm, I do believe that’s water below…”

I love wood- the touch of it, the smell of it, the intricacy of the grain.

This is the calm side of the covered bridge…

And this is the other side!  The water was moving fast this day.

“On your mark get set, GO!”  Michael kept trying to figure out how deep the water was and if jumping in was a safe possibility – not on this day of course, it was a little chilly!

This was a “blind shot.”   I put my camera below this ledge to see what was there.  Looks like a meeting place for faeries to me!

Once we got to the river, everyone with cameras went their separate ways…

I love watching the different positions they all get into to try and get creative shots.

Dave had a great time playing with his camera…

Megan got a new camera for Christmas…

This one is mine – both the child and the photo!

Okay – so maybe I was a little nervous with this position.  But I’m learning not to say anything 🙂

This photo seems to say it all for me…there is a big beautiful world, full of mystery, out there waiting to be discovered, one step at a time – and for my family, one photo at a time!