Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Garden chickens

Chickens are just the goofiest things. I've been letting them in my garden ever since I pulled my tomato plants, and it's quickly become their favorite place. Lots of grubs and worms hiding under that maple leaf mulch, and lots of cabbage worms to discover, and tasty asparagus berries to pluck. I regret that I can't let them in during other parts of the year, but first, their scratching would decimate my early spring seedlings, then they would eat the raspberries, and then they would eat the tomatoes. In the late fall garden, with everything sturdy and well-established or else on its way out, the chickens can scratch to their hearts' content. 

They talk to me, a lot. June, the out-of-focus yellow one in the top photo, is the most gregarious, following me around at times, acting like I've been put on this earth expressly for her to follow and extort food from. She chases Pete, too. Barrels after him, head down, velociraptor-style. He does not care for this behavior, but we find it quite amusing.

Yesterday we got five eggs. FIVE. The thanks we get for having a big garden full of treats. Omelettes for everyone!

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Monday, October 28, 2013

Costume party fun

As you might guess, we had a costume party to attend this weekend. Every year there's a theme, and this year it was Witches, which was, really, perfect. Easy for those who just want to wear a pointy hat, but broad enough to inspire creativity.

I had so much fun putting our costumes together. I can't even tell you. This is the first time, in 30 Halloweens, that I have dressed up as something scary-- true story-- and I really did not expect to enjoy it as thoroughly as I did. I did some joy riding around Ithaca last weekend, hitting thrift stores and weird little shops in general, absolutely scoring: a slinky black dress for $6, witchy little boots for $5, fabulous Gothic earrings (which you can't see, unfortunately) for $8, and black lace gloves-- the only thing I bought new, and the most expensive, at $14. (And they had a giant gaping hole in one of the seams. No one makes quality items anymore, do they?)

But the best part was putting on our faces. I don't spend a lot of time on makeup, generally, and I don't know much about it, either, so it was nice to go BIG here, and know that any slipups would be forgiven in the kitschy spirit of Halloween fun.

Of course, the party was pretty swell, too. 

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Friday, October 25, 2013


My father-in-law was here this week to install fish scale in the front gable. It took not very long at all, and it looks oh, so.... so.... nice. Like, hello, you fancy little thing! Oh my!

Of course, you have to squint around the missing planks above the porch, and the unpainted planks above the porch and on the left, there, and the fact that the gable itself is unpainted, too... well, do a little squinting, ok? Patrick has two gig-free weekends, this and next, (unprecedented!) and resolutely we will finish up the bits and bobs the house requires before wintertime descends. Storm windows will fit into place. Siding will be painted. All will be wrapped up. 

All will be good. Happy Friday!

P.S. After much deliberation (lots of consultations with Patrick as Del tugged impatiently at his leash), we've decided to paint the fish scale an in-between green-blue-gray color, adding a fourth color, and a whole other level of sophistication (I think) to the exterior. I can't wait to get it up there.

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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Garden eating: October

It's almost November, friends, and we have yet to eat butternut squash. We have still been eating tomatoes. And lots and lots of greens, and potatoes. It's like, soup, potato something with egg, pasta or pizza, soup, something in a casserole, shower, rinse, repeat. I sent Patrick to the store last night to "stock up," planning to skip the grocery store next week, and he came home with a $22.83 receipt. Raisins, flour, lemons, a block of tempeh, white vinegar, and baking powder. Wow. 

The past few years I've been finding myself wading deeper and deeper into a weird (and satisfying) historical twilight zone. Like, the way people shopped Back in the Day, when everyone still had a garden and a smokehouse and a root cellar. Remember the Little House books? "Pa went to town and came home with flour, sugar, salt, and coffee, and a bag of rock candy..." Maybe they'd buy a tin of oysters and some crackers at Christmastime. That's it. And ever since I read those books at age 12 or whatever, I've craved that kind of self-reliance. In the words of Liz Lemon, I want to go to there.

Then somehow the way we eat as a country got subverted by the purveyors of TV dinners and frozen pizza and GoGurt and fast food, and our food system fell apart. I don't know why it's so important to me to create my own personal food system, one that rises and thrives and blooms and is harvested twenty steps from the kitchen door, but it feels patriotic. It feels like the most important, and most nourishing thing I can do for myself and my family and my community and my country.

Is that weird? 

I don't know. I read somewhere that growing your own food is like printing your own money, and it feels that way sometimes. So thrillingly anarchic. 

I know it's delicious. This week we ate:
  • Veggie burgers topped with tomato, bread and butter pickles, and cheese, plus sauteed Swiss chard on the side.
  • Smoky greens and beans soup with potatoes (viva smoked paprika!)
  • Baked Swiss chard: cooked rice topped with torn chard, capers, raisins, roasted red peppers, walnuts, and mozzarella cheese
  • Boiled potatoes topped with Caesar kale slaw and a poached egg
  • Pizza with pesto and fresh tomatoes, and roasted broccoli on the side

Holy greens, batman. Tonight, we're going to get a freeze, and the Swiss chard will be No More, but not before I harvest and freeze every last little leaf. And the bok choy too. I harvested the celery and put it in the cellar, in wet sand, which I've never tried before, and I figure, if it doesn't work, then I'll launch a major stock-making initiative in a month, before the celery is totally mush, and salvage it somewhat that way. Next year I am growing celery root, which will keep really well, mark my words.

Oh growing and eating. It teaches me so much.

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Monday, October 21, 2013

Escape, and return

It was an Ithaca weekend.

There is always something wonderful about Ithaca weekends.

This might have a little something to do with the wonderfulness. 

But it's also about sharing life stories and catching up and reading children's books at midnight after swilling bourbon (my friend would correct this and tell you he never swills). It's about yammering, mainly. Good conversations, nostalgic, intelligent conversations. This year there were conversations on couches and barstools and in a greenhouse and while spackling drywall in a 400 square foot cabin with no electricity. I met up with my parents Saturday night, to celebrate their (40th!) anniversary eve at their favorite Mexican place. And then I took them out for cupcakes.

It's a magical town, that Ithaca. Now, with a few hard freezes on tap this week, I am feeling ready to hunker down and make soup and bread and more soup and more bread.

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Friday, October 18, 2013


At first I was like, "oh, I should take pictures of the house."

So I was like... ah....

And oh...


We should feed him a stick!

We should lay on the grass taking pictures of him eating the stick!

So that's exactly what I did. And Del hijacked my house photoshoot, just like that. 

Happy Friday, friends!

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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The end of tomato season

Well, the glory train had to end sometime. I pulled my 34 tomato plants yesterday, coiling the (very much still-growing) vines like spent Christmas lights in a pile on the grass. The end of the week is bringing us mid-fifties weather, and if it doesn't frost by Monday I'll be surprised. Figuring it'd be more pleasant to pull tomato vines in mid-afternoon sunshine than sniveling rain, I sucked it up and powered through the job.

It was a job, dismantling the supports and stowing them, harvesting every last reddening tomato (and plenty of green ones, too) and starting a final pot of sauce on the stove. So bittersweet, the end of tomato season. This year, we were absolutely rolling in tomatoes for two solid months, and that is a rarity. Such a nice treat.

Now, to harvest and freeze broccoli, shell the very last of the beans, pull winter squash vines, plant garlic, and... do more mulching... and then this here garden will be really ready for the cold months. Wow. What a year.

What a dog.

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Monday, October 14, 2013


Saturday was 71, sunny, and I was free as a bird. I had heard tell of a great cidering to be taking place that afternoon, and so I quickly set about learning the deets, and making plans. Our friends Norm and Michele and their daughter Maya live on the hill just outside the village, and they are good inventive homesteader-DIYers like ourselves. Over several years (and four iterations) Norm has invented this amazing bicycle-powered apple grinder, for the purpose of converting apples into mash, from which the cider is pressed. 

When someone you know has a bicycle-powered apple grinder, you find out when and where and you show up.

Norm offered to come down early to help me shake our (loaded) apple tree that is perhaps as old as the house. Then our neighbors Zena and Simone wandered over, and together we emptied three other trees nearby. Traipsing through a tangled field of dead goldenrod trailing empty feed sacks felt like those wild foraging missions I would take on as a child, with zeal, encouraging (bossing) my dubious friends to help me in digging spring beauty bulbs, or cattail roots, or picking elderberries. The zeal is still there, but I kept my bossing mostly to myself.

Mid-afternoon, we and a few other families converged on the scene. Everyone brought apples from their trees. It was poetic-- everyone brought something truly from their land, something free and wild and flavored with the particular flavors of everyone's native ground. (This is the kind of thing that really sets me off, in a good way.)

In addition to apples, I brought Del. Michele spread out cinnamon sugar popovers and molasses cookies. We all took a cup from a big bowl of cups, and as the cider started to flow we dipped and drank. The taste changed as different bags of apples were pressed. 

Del wooed everyone, as is his way. I think he was angling for a cookie.

I don't know what the final cider tally was, but we pressed probably somewhere close to 50 gallons of cider in not very much time at all. We all milled around, dumping apples into the hopper, and checking to see if the mash bucket was full, and dumping the mash, and pressing the mash, and of course riding the Ciderator, the fabulously effective apple grinder.

There are those who love the theater, or the beach, or a luxurious meal out (and I love all of those things too, in their time). But my main inspiring happy-place is right here, at the intersection of invention and self-sufficiency and FOOD, watching manpower (and womanpower) and harvest and ingenuity become something delicious and amazing and so totally humble. By the people, for the people, not to get too carried away.

And it is really damn good cider.

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Friday, October 11, 2013

Really upon us

Fall is really upon us. You can see the difference in the photos above-- look at the big tree in the middle of the frame. Picture one was two weeks ago. Wow.

I'm pretty much savoring the changes. I'm doing a little bit of raking each day, a little bit of house painting, a little bit of dumping fallen apples into the chicken yard (delight!). A little bit of time here and there basking or frolicking or both with Pete and Del.

My very extraordinarily lovely and late-blooming windflower, new this year, courtesy of my mother-in-law, makes a showing. I planted two pieces of this, one on either side of the shed door. The shed is slated to be painted the same color as the house, and I get almost giddy imagining how delightful these windflowers will look against that rich teal. It's the little things.

I'm in the midst of a pretty big work transition right now, winding down some old gigs and sizing up some new ones, which is simultaneously exciting (self-direction! choices! the world is my oyster!) and terrifying (oh HI, lack of regular paycheck). It will all work out over time, hopefully before the dead of winter is upon us. In the meantime, I'm keeping my nose to the grindstone when I'm not outside making tracks.

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Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Fall garden

I cannot believe we have not had a frost yet. I cannot believe I still have tomatoes, almost halfway through October. (See last year's October garden, for reference.) 

They are winding down, surely, but I'm still managing to make a big pot of sauce each week. I fill my big pot and let it simmer for about 24 hours, throwing in the seasonings only at the very end. Oh, it steams up all the windows, and makes a mess of the kitchen, but isn't that what tomato season is for? I think so.

Out in the garden, it is that sweet overlap of tomato season with roots and greens season. 

I really enjoyed growing calendula this year, for the first time. It's supposed to self-seed, but I helped it out by crumbling up some of the seed heads along the borders. I've said it before and I'll say it again, pretty, well-mannered flowers will always have a place in my vegetable garden. I cut and dried quite a lot of the flowerheads, too, to use in lotions and potions and bath salts. Calendula is fabulous stuff for skincare.

Inside, I've been shelling the very last of the beans, and making my final end-of-season garden notes, and slowly, slowly, starting to imagine next year. 2013 was truly a stellar garden year-- thanks in large part to the highly cooperative weather-- and I am so grateful to have been here for it. I have a feeling I might be looking back on this year's garden with some nostalgic gleam in my eye... 

Or maybe not. So many things, so many systems here have only just begun to work. I've tilled in two entire autumns' worth of fallen leaves, plus compost and horse manure, and I mulched heavily, heavily with mowed grass all summer. I have made a significant dent in improving the heavy clay soil of this place, but next year, it'll be even better...

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Monday, October 7, 2013


The thing about being a band wife is, sometimes he's gone and life is bland and tedious. But then, sometimes, he comes home, and life is fun and AWESOME! So it was this weekend. It had been almost two weeks with zipzilchzero weekend chill time for the two of us, and though I can suck it up like the best of them, eventually the lack of fun time starts to wear.

This weekend, Patrick had a Friday night gig, that's it! So we slept in Saturday morning, got up, waited for the grass to dry so P could mow, then we loaded up the Del and got the hell out of Dodge.

It was a humid and brooding afternoon, really odd for October in upstate, but we weren't about to complain. We headed to Cherry Valley, home of one of the most awesome old cemeteries ever, and one of the best and most fun Mexican restaurants ever, but on our way we stopped at Betty and Wilbur Davis State Park. 

The leaves were at their peak, and the woods were so pretty. 

Quickly, the sun began to set.

And just as quickly, the mist began to rise...

...which meant that, fifteen minutes later when we arrived at aforementioned spectacular cemetery in Cherry Valley, the scene was just right for a haunted photo shoot. I'm not especially in love with Halloween kitsch, but this kind of spooky I can dig. There are graves here from the Cherry Valley Massacre, when 14 soldiers and 30 civilians were killed by a mixed force of British, Loyalists, and Indians... 

Then we ate our Mexican food and drank our margaritas, and headed homeward...

Sunday I raked and cooked and harvested 20 pounds of parsnips and Patrick worked on patching the siding around the front porch roof. And then we drank a couple of beers and frolicked with Del. And had pizza for dinner. It was perfect. 

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Friday, October 4, 2013

Hello, pretty house

Consider this an official "Look, Ma!" It's been about two weeks of near-constant work out here (constant except for weekends and a sweet visit from Jen) and I'm proud to say I have something to show for it. It is amaaaazing what a difference paint makes, and the more I spread that tealy goodness across the front, the more I love it. 

I could only reach about two-thirds of the front with the man lift in its current position, so my goal was to get that side completely done before moving the lift forward six feet or so to finish the other side of the front. I still need to scrape my sloppy yellow paint off the window panes, and of course replace some siding over the porch (there was rot) AND oh yeah, we need to deal with the complete lack of siding in the very peak of the gable. 

THAT was a fun surprise. I started tearing off the aluminum up there, and, SURPRISE! Nothing was under there. Just barn-ish wood with BIG gaps between the planks and a ventilation hole into our attic. Eagerly, we are spinning a silk purse out of that particular sow's ear-- we have ordered fish scale siding (the scalloped stuff) to address the missing pieces. That will look pretty awesome, we're thinking. 

Two-ish weeks ago:

Since we bought this place, I've made a goofy habit of saying "Hello, pretty house" as we turn into our driveway. It's really starting to look that way, now, from the outside.  

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