Monday, September 29, 2014

Monsoon Season, When Will it End?

We got rained out again at the farm on Saturday.  I don't think I've ever been caught in that much rain before. In the five seconds it took to run to the truck and find my hat, I was completely soaked to the skin.  Ethan resorted to making a rain shelter for Clothilde on his back out of old oat bags:

She stayed mostly dry, even though we were soaking wet.  But wet doesn't even begin to describe it.   Not even soaking wet.  Sopping, maybe.  The lightening stayed several miles away, but it was scary when it flashed overhead and I would count the seconds until the earth-shaking boom.

Ethan and Clothilde had taken a long nap on Saturday afternoon, so we didn't get out to do the chores until late.  We couldn't just wait the storm out in the truck because it was starting to get dark.  It didn't really start to rain until after I was done milking Matilda and went to get the goats, running barefoot through standing water and jumping over blackberry bushes because it was so wet my shoes wouldn't stay on.  The goats didn't want to come out from under their tree and took a lot of coaxing (and yelling through the driving rain).

 It was one of those miserable why-are-we-doing-this days when we were so glad to stop battling the elements and retreat.  Where is our dry fall season?  I'm sure the pastures and garden were very happy for it at least.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Unexpected Babies

For months now I've been watching the hind-parts of the sows and cows and wondering if they looked pregnant or not, or hoping that Mama Bee really isn't just that fat.  We've all been hoping to go out one day and see new babies.

Well, an unexpected thing happened this week.  There were some new babies!

Ms. Gophey had babies!

Ms. Gophey is a gopher tortoise (Rose named her) who lives in the spot we call The Fairy Pathway.  One year it had the most beautiful flowers growing there.  Because of an oak thicket and the orchard fence, her burrow is right next to what became the path.

The first time I saw her I was wandering what was to become the first grazing line with the goats.  Ms. Gophey did not like the goats, who were curious as to who she was.  She hissed at us and hurried into her burrow.  We didn't see her for a long time after that.  I think she probably moved into another burrow.  The stupid puppy dug her burrow out (and made her paws bleed in the process) a couple of years ago.  This made it so the burrow was right in the path.  I didn't think she would move back after that.

This year we've been seeing her quite a bit, especially if we are out in the afternoon.  She always hisses and scuttles down her burrow as fast as possible when she sees us.  Often we can see her just inside the tunnel while we walk by. 

So we were so pleased to see that she had three babies.  They were the tiniest, cutest tortoises I've ever seen.  We checked on them the next day and it seemed they got safely away to make their own burrows.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Winter Garden Begins

The fall starts are all safely in the ground and growing, and now it has been time to turn our attention to the winter garden.  The Asian greens I'd started were ready to go in the ground.  This week I planted the bekana, tatsoi, pak choy and Chinese cabbage.  I direct-seeded turnips, a dwarf snap pea that shouldn't need trellising and daikon radishes - all things that don't mind the shifting cool/hot season of fall down here.  Next in line are my kale, collard and kolhrabi starts in a week or so.  I even have a few cabbage, broccoli and cauliflowers that will need planted.

This fall I started seeds at 2-week intervals to find the best time to start everything.  The Asian greens can definitely be started as early as August, but everything else needed the cooler weather of September.  I think the cabbage would have done better, but a storm of mysterious caterpillars ate most of my little plants.  I'm thinking we should build a screen hoop house to start them in next year.  On the positive side, I've never before had starts that were nice enough to attract caterpillars!

This year I didn't wait for the rabbits to enjoy the greens - I went ahead and swathed everything in deer netting to protect it.  The rabbit issue alone thwarted last year's winter garden!

 I had wanted to build at least five beds on this side of October, and five more for the early spring garden.  One was ready to plant, one just needs hay and the others are in various stages of being built.

 They do look untidy in the process!  Soon it will look like a garden again.  We are running the little chicken coop tractor with our remaining five layers along to help with the over-your-head weeds.  It really helps clear the weeds and fertilizes in the process.  I wish I'd thought of it last year!  The weeds (ahem, dog fennel - I mean you!) just get so woody and unmanageable. 

In the wild remains of the summer garden the cassava is beginning to tower.  And soon it will be time to dig the sweet potatoes.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

In the Kitchen: Chevre Stuffed Peppers

This is a version of Chili Rellenos with a home-grown twist.  Home-grown because I used home made chevre cheese to stuff them instead of the oft-called for hard cheese, and they are not the usual kind of pepper.  These were big beautiful Napoleon sweet peppers from the garden.  (The cornmeal was "boughten" cornmeal this time, but some day it might be a 100% home-grown dish.)

They turned out to be beautiful, flavorful, delicious and perfectly-crispy-fried-brown.  They were so good Ethan made himself almost ill by eating way too many at once.

I should add:  Store-bought chevre is shockingly expensive, and I wouldn't dream of making this recipe with that kind of chevre.  I make cheese from a gallon of our goats' milk about every two days, so we have chevre with everything right now.  We've got pounds of the stuff.  I've been trying to come up with creative ways to get everyone to eat more of it.  Please substitute whatever convenient soft cheese you have on hand if you do not make chevre - kefir cheese, clabber cheese, fromage blanc or strained yogurt cheese would be wonderful as well.  Just be sure to salt it to taste so it won't be bland.


15-20 long sweet peppers, very fresh

3 pastured eggs, separated

1-1 1/2 cups chevre or other fresh cheese (I hesitate to give an amount, because it sort of depends on the size and shape of the peppers).

2 dashes of sea salt

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

3 Tablespoons corn flour, and more for dusting

1.  Flame the peppers, either by scorching them in the oven under the broiler, or by setting them over the flame of a gas stove until they are patchy with black roasty spots.  I skewer them and roast them on the stove top.  Allow to cool.  Slice off the top of the pepper and scoop out seeds.  (this is where I differ from other chili rellenos recipes - you really can't stuff the soft cheese in through the side of the pepper very easily).

2. Stuff with cheese.  Lay them on a dish and sprinkle with corn flour.

3.  Separate eggs.  Mix in a dash of salt, the baking powder and the 3 tablespoons of corn flour with the yolks.  Beat the whites with another dash of sea salt until they make stiff peaks and mix into the yolk mixture.  It makes a very fluffy batter.

4.  Dip the stuffed peppers in the batter and fry until golden and crispy in home-rendered lard.  You can drain them on paper towels if you like. (I have a prejudice against this, but it might make them less oily).

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Persimmon Picking

The cool weather from the weekend has worn off.  It was back to hot and sticky (92F yesterday), but it was overcast and some little sprinkling showers helped.  We stopped by a persimmon orchard on the way to the farm yesterday afternoon and picked a bunch of persimmons.  We've gotten some from our trees this year, but they are just so good.  They are the closest thing to candy we eat around here, and so much better, too.  Sugary sweet and almost a taste of caramel.  It was so fun to wander through the beautiful, laden trees finding ripe ones.

There were a lot of green ones hanging on the trees, but a few were the proper glowing orange.  We picked some that were close to being ripe to ripen in bowls of rice at home.  I was impressed with how many varieties were planted.  There were some very large and very strange ones that were split into fingers at the ends.  We found a few non-astringent ones.

The orchard was owned by a man who I bought fruit trees from years ago.  I was surprised that he still remembered me.  He noticed our family had grown and helped us get the long-handled clippers and baskets.  He also ended up giving us a little discount and insisting we take even more persimmons for free.

Not only did we return home with bags full of delicious fruit, it was also a wonderful time.

Monday, September 22, 2014


This weekend the weather was perfect.  It was warm but not hot and the air felt pleasantly dry, like a humid day in Southern California, or like Pennsylvania in July.  It did not seem like Florida at all.  For the first time since summer really began, we went out and had a major work weekend at the farm.  It was so encouraging.  I've been really getting on to myself about how lazy I've felt.  There is so much to do to get ready for fall.  On weekdays we'd try to get out there early to have time for extra work and then we'd get rained out.  Saturday morning would roll around and I would feel like I couldn't move until the afternoon, and then we'd get rained out.  It's been a little frustrating.

So this weekend was blissful.  It's amazing what a change in temperature can do to one's morale.  It was still very warm, but not so warm that when I was working in the garden in the very middle of the day I didn't get lightheaded and feel like I was getting heat stroke as I'd had happen this past summer.

The cows, goats and pigs were all near where we worked all day.  Often I would pause for a moment to wipe sweat out of my eyes and catch sight of the cows leisurely chewing cud in the shade, or the goats luxuriating in the soft, cool leaf litter and watching me toil with a look that said, "Why how entertaining that person is," in their eyes.

We stopped by the horse boarding place and picked up some manure for the garden - something we've been meaning to do for a month now.  We have all five beds built, but not completely manured and hayed yet.

The fall/winter garden has finally begun, and the Pak Choy, Bekana, Napa cabbage, and Tatsoi have been planted.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Terror of the Terrace

We have an elderly lady neighbor in town who has lived next door for about two years exactly.  I remember just when Ms. Penny moved in because it was right after Clothilde was born, and she had some kind of sawing/noisy lawn work/construction going on a few feet from our bedroom window from barely daylight until dusk for months.

It also freaked me out when she first moved in because she came over and threatened to call the city on our wildlife landscape and Mirin's carving projects strewn along the driveway.  We had a one-week-old baby at the time.  In the end she turned out to be fairly harmless - nice even.  She's given my children stuffed animals and religious booklets, and even passed along the occasional HFCS and chemical-laced Publix carrot cake that we in turn passed along to someone else who doesn't mind that sort of thing.  We bring her Christmas cookies and hot cross buns for Easter and we sing carols at her house for the holidays.  I tried giving her some cucumbers from the garden this year, but that seemed to confuse her too much.  She kept asking how she should cook them.

She is only in her early seventies, although she seems older in some ways than Ethan's Grandmother who is 96.  Her life revolves around the mail and trash pick-up.  Every so often she comes over and asks me when the mail will be here.  It annoys her that it is never at a specific time.  We can always smell her perfume coming before we see her - once even around the opposite side of the house.  She relies on Ethan to move her recycling bins and trash to the curb every Wednesday.  The trash is never picked up before 5 pm, but if Ethan hasn't gotten it out by 7:30am, she calls.  If we ignore her calls, she comes over and hammers on the door like the police.

Yesterday Ethan and I were up before 8:00.

"It's past 7:30," I reminded him.  "You'd better get Ms. Penny's trash out before she calls and wakes everyone up or beats down the door."

He groaned and then laughed and went to get dressed.  Seconds after he was out the door and I could hear our trash being dragged to the curb, the phone rang.  I was busy with laundry and didn't get it in time.  Someone (the 2-year-old) had turned the answering machine up to full volume.

"Hello," Ms. Penny's voice thundered down the hall.  "It's Penny from next door, dear.  I was just wondering if there was something wrong with Mr. Ethan?  He hasn't gotten my trash and recycling out yet."

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Norse Poetry Problem

The Christopherous curriculum we are using this year offers several Norse-inspired poems to memorize.  Mirin loves memorizing dramatic, inspiring poems, even long-winded ones like Robert Louis Stevenson's "Heather Ale" poem.

But the poems provided were just not what I thought he would like.  There was one about Thor and Loki that seemed to be the most likely, but doesn't have a really strong beautiful rhythm.  After scouring all of our poetry books and doing several fruitless Internet searches, I at last stumbled on a wonderful site of Norse mythology and poetry called Odin's Gift.

Not only does it have translated versions of real ancient Norse poems, it also has an extensive collection of all kinds of inspired modern poetry and songs with recordings and sheet music so you can hear how they are sung and learn them if you wish.

Homeschooling is going very well so far.  I think the summer was properly boring, and now they are all glad for something to focus on!  I also planned more elaborate circle times.  Last year it was just a short seasonal poem and the year before I skipped it entirely because it seemed like too much.  But I've found that it helps focus everyone's attention and gets everyone together.  I can say a hundred times, "Let's do our lessons now," and be completely ignored, but if I stand up and start reciting "Little Golden Leaves," they rush over and join in.

Our circle starts with a seasonal poem.  Then we do a little with French.  Right now we are learning body parts, counting and animals.  Rose is working on learning all the letter sounds for first grade, so next I recite a wonderful alphabet rhyme I learned as a child that begins "A was an archer who shot at a frog, B was a butcher who had a great dog...."
It has wonderful and often funny images that go in rhymed couplets.  Next we sing a song about Thor I found on the Odin's Gift site.  It is set to a tune I already knew, and it is proving to be very popular.  Mirin was singing it to himself all day yesterday!  Then we do a little writing warm-up with bean bags and end with tongue twisters and speech exercises.  That is the circle for this language block.  It will shift with the seasons and what we are studying for the Main Lesson.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Nature Finds: Unexpected Reptiles and Swarms

Two very different snakes presented themselves recently.  This little guy was hiding under some old rotting wooden pallets we were moving.  We weren't sure what kind of snake he was, only he didn't look like the poisonous kind.  I thought maybe he was a small rat snake.

This monster was a coachwhip snake that Ethan uncovered when he was moving the goat's electric netting fence.  They are very, very fast and don't worry - not a dangerous snake.  It was huge.  There was an 8-ft section of pipe it slithered to hide in, and almost didn't fit.  We like them, because they are not poisonous and they must do some damage to the rodent population.

Another interesting thing we nearly stumbled on - we were helping Mirin make a map of the farm for homeschool - was a swarming harvester ant nest.  It had three holes along the path, all swarming with ants.  The big queens looked like wasps and were flying away.  I almost ran into them and thought they were flies at first.  The drones were smaller and more slender.  Mirin was really excited because he has had an interest in harvester ants recently.  Between the three holes we could kind of get an idea of how large their nest was - at least about five or six feet across.

This was just a huge grasshopper eating sumac berries.  Sumac berry lemonade is very popular around here these days!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Double Digits

Mirin turned 10 yesterday!  We're into the double digits now, and that seems impossible.  There are so many September birthdays in our family!  On Wednesday we're celebrating with my brother, and later in the month is my mother-in-law's birthday.

We had a simple celebration with just family at home.  One of the highlights was receiving two Magic the Gathering decks from his uncle.  By the end of the day Rose was requesting when her birthday was going to be.  After dinner she had what Ethan started calling OSAD, or "Other Sibling Attention Disorder," and was in tears.  I realized it must be very difficult for her with both other siblings having birthdays within one week.  (She only has a month to wait for hers, but that's like forever when you're six).

This is our first "real" week of back-to-homeschool.  The past two weeks we were just getting into a rhythm again after the hectic summer.  The children kept asking me for more to do.  We'll see how it turns out now.  Today we begin with a story about the letters for first grade called "The Prince's Adventure."  For fourth grade we start Norse Mythology, tricky Celtic knot Form Drawing, math practice and macramé. 

Have a great start to your week!

Friday, September 12, 2014

{this moment}

A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week.  A simple, special, extraordinary moment.

Joining in with Soulemama today!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Fall Garden

I wish I had more pictures today, but the truth is that it has been extremely rainy  again this past week.  On Tuesday we got two inches of rain in a single afternoon!  In two days we had gotten five inches.

The garden seems to be coming back to life a little now that the nights have been cooling off.  The peppers are producing again.  I found some blister beetles eating my eggplant, and the plants look happier now that they have been removed.  There was also an unpleasant discovery of squash bugs among the pumpkins, but it doesn't seem to be slowing them down much.

Most of the corn has been harvested at this point.  I did a germination test and we got a 99% germination rate!

The fall starts I planted seem to really appreciate the rain.  The test is to see if we have enough warm days left in the year for them to mature.  The first frost is unpredictable, often it's 80 degrees out and humid at Christmas, but occasionally we'll have a chilly October, too.  It makes it hard to plan Halloween costumes.  I remember from my childhood one year being a woodland elf in a little leaf skirt and short-sleeved tunic and freezing.  I also remember being an old fashioned ghost with lots of draping white cloth and pouring sweat.

The most vibrant thing in the garden right now is the yuca (or cassava or manioc, which ever name you prefer), which is becoming very tall and thinking about flowering.  I have three whole rows of it this year.  I started last year with just two stalks from a friend.  We've gotten stalks before, but for various reasons they always dried out before we planted them.  I grew five plants last year from the two stalks, and this year we had so many!

That's it for the garden right now.  I'm still working on cleaning up the summer beds.  The winter starts look nearly ready to transplant. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Turning Two - and a birth story

Today my baby turns two!  (Well, technically not yet, since she was born at 11:10am and it's only 10:11 right now!)

Yes, two years ago Clothilde was born on the couch in the living room.  I had really worried that she would be born on Mirin's birthday (the 14th) or on September 11th.  It's seems silly to worry so much about that now.  There was an eclipse in August that year, and I had really been rooting for that date.  My friend's baby was actually born that night, and I was so jealous!  My back hurt, and it was hard to sleep because false labor kept me up.  Every night I thought, "This is it.  The baby will be here in the morning."  Then I'd end up falling asleep and waking up disappointed.

The night before, I didn't believe I was really in labor.  I had gotten my hopes up so many times.  I felt like I was never going to have this baby.  But I didn't fall asleep that night.  I got up and knew it was for real.  The family slept through while I labored and cleaned my house and made myself snacks.  Ethan woke up for work around 7:30.  He saw me on the couch and said, "Well, see you this afternoon.  I've got to go to work now.  What's wrong?"

"Oh nothing," I replied.  "I've just been in labor all night."

"Huhh???"  His expression was priceless.  Then the children woke up and were slightly terrified about the whole thing.  Mirin had a little panic attack that the midwives weren't there yet.  I told him they're fairly useless at that point, but it didn't calm him down much.  They played in the living room and around me while I labored between the couch and the shower.  We didn't call the midwives because I wanted just my family then.  I was determined to have a land-baby this time.  My other two births were water births.  I just wanted to see what it was like.

I drew on my midwifery training to check myself, so we called the midwives when I was at 8cm. I figured that would give them about an hour.  They said they would drift over to check on me.  Then my water broke and things really sped up and we called to say they should probably hurry a little.  My wonderful midwife Jess came in with her own 4-month-old baby just as little Clothilde was threatening to be born.  I've never seen anyone rip open a taped-shut cardboard box like she did when she was trying to get into the birth kit.

The first thing Clothilde did was cough, cry for a second, and nurse.  She nursed and nursed while everyone hovered around and cleaned my house again.  I couldn't feel her breathing, but she kept nursing, so I knew she was okay.  The midwives kept checking her pulse and taking her Apgar scores.  They were really impressed.

So that was how she came into this world, ready for anything!

I've made a peach cheesecake (with our Snow Queen peaches from the orchard that I froze - I will post the recipe soon!).  Tonight the family will all gather to celebrate our wild, beautiful Clothilde Angelina.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Littlest Milkmaid

Back in July, Rose suddenly decided to start helping milk the goats.  She has wanted to help milk in the past, but our cow Matilda is not friendly enough.

She started by helping bring them down from the pasture.  During black cherry season it was quite a task to convince them to stop gobbling up fallen cherries under every tree on the way down.

One day she helped milk Firefly.  The next day she also helped with Cricket.  Her hands, unused to milking, got tired quickly.  I would take over when that happened.  I thought that certainly she would lose interest and go off to play, but she hasn't.  She took a break for a few days when Firefly accidentally kicked her in the face - a hazard of the job.  But then she was back.

She milks the close side of all the goats we are currently milking - May, Firefly and Cricket.  Her hands have grown stronger and stronger, and now she can milk out the whole side without my help.

She also helps put rolled barley and the mineral mix in the milking stand.  I let the goats in and they jump right up and start gobbling.  I hold the jar we collect the milk it.  If she needs to rest, I take over and milk the other side.  She insists that she gets to milk the one side out completely.  We sit, just the two of us (well, three, right Cricket?) and chat.  It's becoming our evening ritual that we both look forward to.

Monday, September 8, 2014

First Week

Rose went to her very first audition for the Nutcracker over the weekend.  When Clothilde saw Rose getting dressed, she insisted on also being dressed up in Rose's old leotard and tights.

This past week was our first week back to homeschool.  I was feeling nervous about it, but it really took me by surprise.  We've had a difficult summer.  Lots of bickering and fighting with the children made everything feel so stressful.  I was sure our first week would be a struggle.

To my great surprise, both children were thrilled to be back to homeschooling.  I guess they really were bored over the summer.  We ripped through everything I had planned and Rose complained that I wasn't doing enough school with her!

We are working on Geography for fourth grade, so obviously a little introduction to Area and Perimeter is necessary.  We read Sir Cumference and the Isle of Immeter, which everyone loved,  and Sir Cumference and the Viking's Map.  We made first a map of the living room by measuring everything out, and then a map of our street.  Mirin even penciled in details like his friend across the street playing basketball. 

We got out Number Sense and Nonsense on Thursday.  I thought they would both enjoy this book when I first read it over the summer, but it turns out Rose is too young for it.  She was deeply bored, but Mirin liked the questions about odds and evens that we were working on.

For science this year we are working with Earth, Air, Water, Fire by Walter Kraul.  It is a wonderful practical handbook of all sorts of playful activities involving the forces of earth, air, water and fire.  On Friday we did a water surface tension game with waxed paper.  I dropped water drops on it and the children had straws.  I gave them suggestions like blowing all the drops into one big drop, and then seeing how many little drops can be created.  Then we had a water-drop race.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Moving Along's that time of the year when more and more hints of fall start to creep in.  The pastures are green and tall but the grass has declined in the cooler, drier weather.  Matilda's milk quantity is going down.  We've been turning to the goats' milk, which I usually like to make into cheese.

We do have four other dairy cows, but we have relied on Matilda only this past year.  This was all because I took several months off of the farm after Clothilde was born.  I knew we should have had them bred back, but I was too absorbed with the new baby to care very much, and for those few months it became Ethan's farm.  Most of the animals survived his care, but getting the cows bred was on the bottom of the list.

Last summer/fall when I started to get involved again, we tried.  We felt like dealing with a bull after the awful time we had trying to get Richard the bull back in the trailer so he'd stop eating all our hay was out of our reach this time.  So I ordered semen from a sexy bull named Branched Oak Balladeer Bruno and we started trying to have them AI'd.  Not by us, of course.  We had to call the AI guy to come out with a nitrogen tank as soon as we saw the girls mounting each other.

But it wasn't as easy as we thought it would be.  It meant someone had to get up super early and drive out there to meet the AI guy (usually Ethan.  There would be a riot in the morning if I had.  Everyone - specifically the children - expects me there always in the mornings).  Then the cow who had looked likely the evening before had to be coaxed into the head gate.  This is WAY more difficult than it sounds, especially if the cow is Isla.  She is a real pain.  Once she jumped over the fence and almost ripped it down so she wouldn't have to get in the head gate, despite the tempting dish of rolled barley.

One of the times we tried to bring her down to be AI'd, the AI guy watched us chase her around as she kicked her heels up and shook her horns viciously at us.  After about five minutes I went to tell him that we were hoping she would calm down and we could catch her, but he made it clear that the last thing he wanted to do was put on an arm-length glove and get anywhere near that crazy beast.  I really couldn't blame him.

Once the summer got going, they stopped doing their mounting behavior, and it is impossible to tell if they are in heat.  Not only that, but they aren't likely to "take" in the middle of July anyway.  So I gave up and tried not to feel too crushed about it.  I had thought AI would be so easy, and never-mind that ordering the straws and making arrangements with the AI guy had led to some of the most awkward phone conversations of my life with ultra-conservative country gentlemen about semen and cows mounting each other and such.

We ended up putting a weaning ring on our little bull Explorer and seeing if he could do anything where we failed.  We had had him separated up until then, because he drank all of Matilda's milk.

Now that the milk is going down, I am wishing that we had another cow milking.  I've been spending more time watching the cows' back ends while they graze and wondering if they look jiggly or not (signs of pregnancy).  I stare at their udders and wonder if they look swollen until I have a headache.  We need to have them palpated to really check, which means calling the AI guy again and trying to run them through the head gate.  It is one of those things we do call someone else in for.  I don't mind cleaning chickens, but I draw the line at the arm-length glove.  Especially if it also involves Isla.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Squash of the Living Dead

Remember how I had ripped out a bunch of the squash plants to make room for a new fall planting?  The plants were yellowing and withering up, and I didn't expect them to live another week anyway.  When I tore them out, I left the  plants in the path, expecting them to turn into organic matter.  But a week later they put out a flush of new growth and look healthier than before.

They're even setting new fruit.  I guess that's the creepy thing about adventitious roots.  There were groans from the family and some too-much-squash jokes.

Other than zombie squash, there's not much fruiting.  A handful of peppers and eggplant now and then.  There's a huge basil bush that's taller than I am.  I have to be careful not to be swallowed by it when I walk through the path there.

There are some flowers still.  The marigolds are still pretty.

And I dare say my butterfly garden at the front was a success this year.  There are drifts of butterflies all over the flowers.  I saw a new species hanging around recently - checkered skippers. 

AND....the orchard has surprised us with some persimmons this year!  The first one we picked weeks ago.  We couldn't remember if they were the non-astringent ones we had planted, or the astringent ones that have to be soft and mushy before they are edible.  The variety was 'Fu Yu."  We should have looked it up.

Ethan argued that they had the right shape to be the non-astringent ones, and it's true.  They sure do look like the non-astringent ones.  So we took the first one home and tried to eat it.  Awful!

We joked that Fu Yu sounds a lot like "Fool You," and left the rest of them alone.  Last night I checked the tree again and picked five.  One was the perfect glowing orange and had some bird damage.  The other four I will set in a bowl of rice to ripen.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Yarn Along: Picot Vests

I've been working on two vests for the girls with picot borders.  It's a simple pattern that I've designed, and hopefully can share here when I've got all the details worked out.  It also involves translating my chicken scratch notations into a readable pattern - so it might take awhile!

This is the first time I've knitted anything with Lorna's Laces yarn.  I went for the "Shephard Worsted" weight.  It's soft and the colors are beautiful.  Rose picked out the 'Clara's Garden', because it is pink and she has a friend named Clara.  We picked out 'Lorna's Purple Mustang' for Clothilde, because it seemed to suit her. The yarn is gorgeous, but it arrived smelling like someone's stinky shampoo or lotion.  It might be from the yarn store I ordered it from.  It was giving me a headache at first, but it's had all week to outgas and has improved immensely.

That aside, it has been really fun to knit with variegated yarn again.  Even the long, boring body part was fun to knit because I couldn't wait to see what the pattern would turn out like.  Clothilde's has a dark purple swirl along the body, and cool purple stripes at the top where I worked the rows back and forth instead of in the round.

Unfortunately I can't show it off yet because I lost my last tapestry needle and I haven't woven the ends in, so they are all over and look raggedy.  Rose's vest is taking a little longer to knit, being larger and all.  I'm almost ready to divide for the sleeves, which will be exciting in a knitting-kind-of-way.  (Ethan doesn't understand how that kind of thing can be exciting, but then his eyes glaze over if I start talking about knitting.)

In the way of reading I am still making my way through the Teenage Liberation Handbook, which I have really enjoyed.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Nature Finds: Vicious Cardinal

 This adolescent male cardinal was caught between the two layers of chicken wire we had on the orchard gate to keep the rabbits out.  Ethan rescued it - and instead of saying thanks, it bit him, hard!


It was worse to handle than the charioteer spider he found on the ground, although you wouldn't think so to look at him.  This guy had fallen off the web.  Ethan let go before he took a bite.

 A gopher tortoise neighbor paid us a little visit - and scaled up the shamefully ugly pile of cardboard waiting to be de-taped and put down as mulch in the garden beds.  He almost fell from way up there and had to be rescued.

He (it was a he) stuck around a little and had some watermelon with us.  I just love these little creatures.  They have such wise eyes.  Mirin pointed out that they are like little hobbits - they live in holes and can get to be over a hundred years old.  Recently all the gopher tortoises on the farm began trimming the paths in front of their burrows.  Getting tidied up for fall? 

 This  was a strange cricket we found on a rotting branch.  It had huge antennae, and I was wondering if it was a cave cricket.

And a warning about the next photo - it shows the inside of a chicken gizzard.  If that doesn't agree with you, you might not want to see it!

We put the last 21 chickens in the freezer on Sunday.  When Ethan peeled the gizzards, he found some interesting bits of bugs they had been eating.  It looked like a rhinoceros beetle, but identification was difficult.  The shiny black speck on the edge of the gizzard is the beetle's head.  All the shiny black bits are beetle parts.  We also found stones and plum stones.  They haven't been by the plums in weeks, so they must have held on to them for quite awhile!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Sumac Berries for Clo

The first sumac berries are ripe, and so we've been enjoying the first batches of sumac berry lemonade.  Here's what might pass for a recipe:

Gather sumac berries when they are ripe and red (the stickier they are, the better).  Next you have to agitate them in water to get the sour stickiness off (that's what makes the lemonade).  For years we swooshed them around with a wooden spoon in a gallon jar, but we have since found that putting them in the standing mixer for five minutes works really well, and we can strain the milk while it's going.

Then we strain it and sweeten it with a little honey.  Tart and refreshing!