Sunday, 30 October 2011

Screen Time Doesn't Count

Our days are so very full with my husband gone.   As you know, I've purposed to include some margin in each and every day which helps me cope with my 2 week shifts as a temporary single parent.   Yesterday was a great example of the benefits of margin....

After a late night on Friday (we hosted guests for supper), we all slept in (needed margin).  This meant a slightly stressful rush to get out the door Saturday for swimming lessons.  "Getting out the door" at our house means breakfast cooked and eaten, chickens let out, fed and watered, dog out, fed and watered, cats fed and watered, swim bags packed, lunch made and packed...  you get the idea.  We had exactly ONE hour to mobilize and accomplish that together.  It was tight, but we did it.  I took the time to prepare myself a coffee for the road (NECESSARY MARGIN!).

Megan's lifeguarding class is 2.5 hours, so we dropped her off first and I took Paige and Reece to buy a birthday gift for a friend whose birthday party is on Sunday.  I resisted the urge to run an additional errand as it would have swallowed up the margin that I desperately need.   We made it back to the pool for their lessons with time to spare (margin preserved).  I drank my coffee while watching the kids swim and had fun texting my husband who is working out of town.  It was a nice "visit" while he was on a coffee break (margin).

The kids each ate their packed lunch as they finished lessons and I purposely chose to drive everyone home after swimming in order to give us all a quiet hour before the rest of our busy afternoon unfolded (again, intentional margin carved out).  The kids ate a platter of fresh fruit and each took books to rest on their beds for quiet time.  I quickly tended to a few pressing chores and then sat to savour a hot cup of tea in peace (more margin).

Rejuvenated, we headed back into the city for an afternoon of kid fun!  Paige and Reece attended a Halloween craft/story program at the library while I returned our week's books and chose another bag full for the coming week.  I sat for the remaining 30 minutes in the library and read (more margin).

We then headed to a Halloween party hosted by the children's piano teacher.  They all got to play a spooky piece, decorate cookies, and play games.  I had volunteered to help the teacher out as I live too far away to go home and come back to pick the kids up (while not exactly restful, it was fun!).

On the way home, I drove Megan to her friend's house for a sleepover then brought Paige and Reece home for supper and bed.  The oldest 2 boys (men, really) were out at their respective activities and quiet descended upon the house as the dark of night took over.  I lit the fire, curled up with a book and the cat and EXHALED.  I read for 3 hours and revelled in the peaceful still of night....a truly restorative and restful evening after a busy day.

In my recent quest for margin in my days, I've learned that time online is NOT down time for me.  That activity doesn't relax me in the way that reading, sewing, or crafting does.  Something about sitting at the computer changes how the brain works - although it's reading, there's a certain stimulation involved that doesn't provide the same level of relaxation as sitting in front of the fire with a good book, a cozy blanket and a purring cat.

My quest for margin has surprised me in ways I could not have imagined.  I used to frequently sit at the computer for short bursts throughout the day to "relax" in between my chores and activities.  In the evenings, once the kids were in bed and my chores were done, I'd sit for longer periods in front of the screen.  I don't "do" social media (no criticism of those who do, it's just not for me).   To me, blog surfing is enjoyable, entertaining and educational as I learn so much from others, but relaxing????  No.  Not so much.

I've cut my screen time in half and I'm reading more.  I'm more relaxed and feeling way less stress.  I have "found" more time for crafting and sewing and other activities that I previously "had no time for".   I notice things that previously went by unnoticed....  My attention span is longer and I am not restlessly flitting from one activity to another.   I'm a better, more attentive parent.    All this benefit for cutting screen time in favour of carving out margin.

Best of all?  The richest reward of seeking margin is peace and quiet on the inside...

....something we all could use a little more of :)


Wednesday, 26 October 2011

So you might have heard...

...that we have a lot of these :)  

....which is a very good thing, until you try to store them :) 

We have carrots bursting out of both fridges, in the garage (in sand) and lots still in the ground.  Scarlet Nantes, Danvers, Chantenay...  so tender and sweet, so crisp and perfect!  

Snow is coming soon, so they must all be unearthed (which I was avoiding as I have nowhere left to put them).  Oh, what a dilemma...  

Thanks to a dear reader, I have solved the space problem!

Thanks, Regina for sharing how you dehydrate carrots - it's the perfect solution!

A full tray of peeled carrot slices dries up into this...

which fits nicely into these small ziplock bags

Each baggie hold the perfect amount to rehydrate in soups and stews.  Brilliant efficiency!

Since I dried this batch, I've heard from Regina that blanching them first is best.  All the subsequent batches were blanched prior to drying which apparently improves the flavour and as an added bonus, the slices take less time to dry if they have first been blanched.

I have yet to taste these carrots rehydrated... but I'll make a stew this weekend and let you know!  Thanks again, Regina :)

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

My Humble Assistant

I found this wire basket kicking around the house not doing much of anything useful, so I put it to good use last week as my sink assistant.  I love it! 

I hang my kitchen wiping cloth from it and I finally have a decent place to dry my washed food storage bags.  I re-use zipper close plastic bags and foodsaver bags as long as they haven't had raw meat or something really messy in them.  After washing, it was always a pain to have the bags hanging from my cupboard door handles, as they were always falling off.  They dried well upside down over the tap but as we use the water 5 bazillion times/day, the bags were always in the way and forever tossed to the side where they stayed wet and in the way on the counter.   This basket is perfect to keep them open, elevated and upside down.  I also hang my spray bottle of homemade Nellymary's Citrus Cleaner so it's really handy when I need it.

As I've said many times before, I view my kitchen a working room so I prefer my tools to be within reach.  I love the look of clean uncluttered spaces, but I much prefer living and working in a kitchen where things are at my fingertips when I need them.   I also LOVE that by re-purposing something I already owned, I was able to make my kitchen more functional without spending a penny :)

Sunday, 23 October 2011

A Week of Margin Means....

a whole book read - bliss!

attending a (favourite) author's talk at the library

a clean and (mostly) organized craft/sewing desk

5 months of filing caught up

time to teach my 8 year old to cross stitch (with a new condition $.79 thrift store stitchery kit!)

a dinner theatre evening out with my husband, our son and his fiancee

cuddles with the cat and my kids in front of the fireplace

a hot shower each morning with the drain plugged to soak my feet in epsom salt water scented with essential oils

2 trips to the library just because the kids asked to go.... again :)

pacing myself with harvest  (slow and steady wins the race)

an extra visit with my Grandmother

time to call a few friends that I've neglected in recent months...

time to think

time to rest

time to breathe and do nothing...

I'm rejuvenated, but not fully...  one week won't make up for a whole summer of neglect.

I've learned my lesson, oh yes indeed....  

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

More On Finding Margin...

"Why of course you can paint your pumpkins now!" I replied with great aplomb...  they all paused and looked at each other out of the corners of their eyes, not knowing if I was serious (it's been a seriously hard week and they had been asking for days on end to do it and I kept saying "no, we've got too many things to do first!")  Ouch.  Major creativity drain....

When my twinkly eyes showed my earnest enthusiasm, the children scurried to get paints, aprons, water and art mats (pronto).  

To nurture MY creative side, I whisked away the canning supplies (it was TIME) and I made a pie.  All I've done in the kitchen for WEEKS is canning and preserving and I'm oh so weary of it.  I was craving a yummy, gooey apple something so I pulled out this book

and made this..... oh it was good!

 This fantastic old cookbook was a wonderful thrift store find a few months ago.  It's actually a really interesting read as the author grew up Mennonite and peppered the book with stories and memories... a very enjoyable read and the recipes are excellent.  I've wanted to get cracking and make some serious dishes from this book but kept "back burner simmering" the desire as I gardened and canned.  Enough!

And then.... I went to my 2 favourite places.  Alone :)  The library for peace and inspiration and the thrift shop for fun.  I found just that in this little darling...

This vintage tablecloth is made of high quality linen and it feels so incredible!  The shadowing you see on it isn't there in person... it's in pristine condition and will make a wonderful addition to my collection of vintage tablecloths.  A treat for me, oh yes, but I'm also inspired to return to our fall and winter daily routine of afternoon tea (with Grandma's fancy china!).

Next up was my closet.  I ripped everything out of it.  Every Single Thing.  I had diligently put the children's fall and winter clothes out a while back and made sure that their closets were ready for the coming season, but true to my usual ways, I neglected to do the same for me.  I was struggling to dress each day and it was more than time to take care of my needs.  I craved a tidy, clean, colourful organized closet and boy howdy, I got it!

I purged like a madwoman and it feels so good to pare down.  I kept only what I love and WEAR, laundered it all, and neatly organized my entire closet by color.  Such a gift to myself to be able to open my closet each morning and find clean, fresh smelling clothes that fit, look good and coordinate well.  There is space to breathe and space to see what I have to wear (such a great start to the day!).

I ended up with a bag of clothes to freecycle (they were picked up in an hour!) and a bag of clothes for re-purposing/upcycling.  I predict many an interesting sewing project in the near future....

....but you'll have to stay tuned for that :)

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Margin = Balance

Balancing daily responsibilities is (hands down) the most challenging task for me.  Every single day the list of things to do is FAR longer than the available hours in which to accomplish it all.  Simple arithmetic tells me that I'm always going to be living in the red. Not very inspiring, is it?

Balancing the needs of my family and the list of chores with our "homestead vision" is not an easy task.  Hitting that "sweet spot", when it's all perfectly in tune and balanced is rare but SO good when we get it right.  It's what keeps me moving forward, working to mould our days into something beautiful and balanced.

I have learned that my own sense of balance (and happiness) is attained when I have MARGIN, not when I have everything ticked off on my to do list.  Think about this for a minute...

Margin = Balance

REALLY think about that....


Margin means that there is EXTRA.  It means that you aren't living by the seat of your pants and it means that you have enough:


I'm in short supply of those things after the week we have had, so to balance out the equation, I'm on a quest this week for what I'm missing...

Stay tuned!

Friday, 14 October 2011

2011 Garden Flops

As we wind down the garden in preparation for winter, I'm thinking about what didn't perform in the garden this year.  Corn, corn and ah...  let's see.... CORN.  Pride cometh before a fall....  remember how great it all looked just a short time ago?

Overall, we had a very productive growing season in spite of a TERRIBLE start (weather wise).  We planted the main garden late due to a very cold early spring (complete with heavy Spring snowfall), and just when the snow melted, the rains came.  Torrential, heavy rain for the entire month of June literally flooded the garden (as in seeds floating on TOP of the soil).  

July was cool and completely lacking in our usual scorching temperatures that typically send the garden into overdrive.  August was our summer!   But.... alas, we left for an impromptu holiday in August, just when I needed to be watching the garden closely.   The timing couldn't be helped ~ we had the opportunity, so we took it and decided to pay whatever garden price we needed to in order to get "back home" for some family time.  It was the right decision :)

All things considered, we did okay...  having the corn flop isn't the end of the world.  Disappointing, yes, but not earth shattering.  We planted 2 varieties of non-GMO, heritage corn  (Bi-Color and Country Gentleman).  Sadly, the latter just didn't germinate well - my guess is that only 15% of it broke ground.  I cut my losses and planted a second sowing of peas in that location so I guess you could say that I made lemonade out of lemons.  Peas are good, too :)

I'm sure that our lacklustre corn harvest has more to do with the timing of our impromtu holiday than the actual corn itself... (us leaving town JUST when the heat came and the plot of Bi-color needed to be heavily watered and watched daily for picking readiness).  The actual net harvest of corn (had we picked it at the right time) wasn't spectacular in quantity for the space it took up, so I'm not sure that I'll plant corn again.   I'm certain that there is good reason why we don't see much corn growing here...  I just don't think our growing season is long enough.   

Our other distinct flop was my attempt at growing a second crop of brassicas.  A girls can try, right?  We had a fabulous first harvest thanks to my row covers (to keep the dreaded cabbage moth off the plants), so I boldly forged ahead to sow again.  I figured that the frost protection from the row cover just might net us another late fall harvest as long as the snow stayed away.  Wrong.  Once again, we left town right when those wee plants needed water.  They dry "cooked" under this row cover while we vacationed.

All in all, things could have been much worse....  we harvested enough of almost everything (except corn and brassicas) to last us into early Spring.  My goal was to grow enough to get us past Christmas (which was how far we got on stored veggies last year).  A girl can't complain about that!

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Stocking and Organizing a Working Kitchen

Because I view my kitchen as a work room (much like a shop would be to a woodworker), I prefer to leave my tools out where I can see them and reach them.  I like things to be EXACTLY where I need them WHEN I need them.  I cook many times each day and my hands are often covered in flour, pastry, or some such thing, so it's much cleaner to just touch the one tool that I need rather than rustle through a drawer with mucky hands.  Imagine if a woodworker had every tool that was used daily packed up in toolboxes and drawers.  Rustling through various drawers all over the room every time a tool is needed wastes precious time.  Although the workshop might LOOK clean and tidy, if it isn't easy and efficient to work in, it's going to waste time and hinder the craftsman.

If you haven't already, I'd encourage you to set your kitchen up into work zones with efficiency in mind.  For example:

* cutting boards and knives near the sink for easy vegetable washing/cutting/composting of trimmings

* pots and pans between the sink and stove for easy filling (water, veggies, etc.)

* colander and strainers kept next to the sink where straining/draining foods occur.  Plastics kept between stove and sink because leftover food destined for the fridge comes from pots on the stove which then head directly into the sink after emptying into containers.

* hot beverage station near the sink for ease in making coffee and tea, etc.  All supplies for any hot beverage (mugs, coffee, tea, sugar, honey, etc) kept in ONE cupboard right next the sink and above the coffeemaker and kettle (and close to the fridge and therefore cream)

* baking ingredients kept in one place where baking happens.  Keep measuring cups, spoons and any other items needed for baking in this ONE location to eliminate steps.  I find that I can whip up any baked good in just a few short minutes because everything I need (bowls, baking spices, baking soda and powder, salt, chocolate chips, sugar, etc.) is literally at my fingertips in large deep drawers at my island.

*  grains and bread making supplies kept near where your mixer sits on a counter - again - no steps to add ingredients.

* spices for savoury dishes kept in an upper cupboard next to the stove - again no steps because we tend to add them into foods while they are on the stove.

* the toaster kept next to the stove for easy toast and eggs in the mornings.  Bread and butter kept in the cupboard immediately above means that I can cook breakfast without leaving my "post" for a single thing :)

* dishes and cutlery kept between the dishwasher (if you have one) and the table.  This makes unloading the dishwasher a snap and setting the table a breeze plus nobody needs to walk through the busy work area (sink, stove, fridge) to get the necessary things for setting the table during the critical last few minutes of cooking supper.

* linens (dishcloths and tea towels) are kept right next to the sink - no fumbling for a clean towel with a wet dish in your hands.

These examples are just that - examples.  This method works exceptionally well for me and it makes my work in the kitchen much easier and infinitely more efficient and enjoyable.  Efficiency saves me time and energy (both frequently in rather short supply around here)  :)

Don't be afraid to radically change how your kitchen is set up.  Free yourself from what you've always done and try something new!   See if you can challenge yourself to set your own kitchen up in a way that saves you precious time and energy...  think about the tasks that you do in your kitchen and set your workspace up to facilitate your work and the kind of food preparation that you do.

A few things to keep in mind...

* assign value to the spaces in your kitchen.  Cupboards and drawers near hot spots like sinks and stoves are what I call "valuable real estate".  I would never dream of storing something there that I only use weekly or monthly.  Things that see daily use get to live in the best real estate in my kitchen.   Infrequently used items are stored in more out of the way places such as over the fridge or in the corner cupboard.

* Once you get your layout tweaked and you are happy with it, label the inside of your drawers and cupboards with their contents.  While some view this as really over the top, it is a huge help for us.  I no longer hear "Mom, where does the peeler go? or Mom, where's the cheese grater?"  Everyone knows EXACTLY where to put and find things without my help which means much more independence in the kitchen for my family members.  This is a VERY GOOD thing, my friends...

Monday, 10 October 2011


 Thanksgiving Day dawned pink, orange and purple.  More beautiful skies could not be found anywhere but here, I'm certain...  Temperatures are incredibly mild for mid October (short sleeves and capris?!).... we are giving thanks for that and of course, our abundant harvest.

We started our Monday as always...  a little art, classical music, hot cocoa and discussion about the (aptly) chosen virtue of the week ~THANKFULNESS.

Happy Thanksgiving to my fellow Canadians!

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Gardens Don't Keep

Gardens wait for no man.  It doesn't much matter that I'm tired of gardening and want to be sewing :)  The last of the vegetables are ready to be harvested, so everything is grinding to a halt and food is rolling into the house in record quantities!  We are digging 50-60 pounds of carrots each day ~ it seems we've hardly made a dent!  The rows just don't stop. We top the carrots in the garden, hose the major dirt off outside, scrub and rinse in the kitchen sink, sort and bag, then pop the bags into the basement fridge.  I've got room for another day's harvest in there but the rest will have to go into sand in the garage for the winter.  I hear it's an effective method to keep them all winter but time will tell that story.

 The last of the tomatoes were pulled from their tired vines today and hauled inside.  Such color and tangy, sweet taste.  Tiger Stripe and Taxi Yellow were the last ones standing this year.

The last of the onions (approximately 50lbs) are basking in the sunshine under the eaves on the sunny side of the house to cure for a few days before they join the 40lbs already stored.  I've been saving mesh bags to hold them and they are working well to suspend the onions in the cool dark corner of the garage.

We haven't even touched the potatoes yet, and frankly, I'm a little scared to!  We must have at least 500lbs of potatoes to unearth.  What an incredible and fortunate "problem" to have - so much food!  We've shared quite a lot of veggies already and I suspect that we will have an abundance to share once again...

What to do with all those gorgeous root veggies that we are harvesting?  A splash of locally grown, organic cold pressed canola oil from Mighty Trio Organics a sprinkle of seasoning and a slow roast yields the MOST incredible flavour...

I pull the pan out half way through roasting to turn and thoroughly mix the veggies for even cooking and to re-distribute the oil and juices from the bottom of the pan.

Carrots, potatoes, onions and beets all just dug from our warm soil...  absolutely fresh, 100% organic simple fall food at it's best.  Fancy, no - but delicious, YES!

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Holy Big Carrots Bat Man!


Apparently, our carrots were rather happy this year.... we're pleased that they did well in spite of not thinning them as diligently as I'd hoped to.  We planted the seeds, thinned and weeded just once or twice and totally ignored them for the rest of the growing season.   Carrots are so easy to grow and have such a satisfying end result.

The shorter carrots are Chantenay - a French heritage carrot grown by the original settlers/homesteaders here in Canada.  They were extremely valuable to these early Canadians as they grew well in heavy soil (being short and stocky in stature).  The longer ones are are Scarlet Nantes, I think - I've totally forgotten what I planted, and my markers were all mixed up due my little ones "helping" in the garden :)

In spite of our carrots being very large this year, they are sweet, juicy and oh so tender - we've been peeling and cutting them up for the fridge to have on hand as easy snacks for the week and we can't stop munching on them - so delicious and juicy!

The chickens were "helping" me harvest today - fighting over the worms I dug up with the carrots...   totally in the way, but hilariously funny...  comic relief for a tired gardener :)

This 5 gallon bucket represents about 1/50th of what is left to harvest...  oh, my aching back.... it's going to be a long weekend, lol.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Sewing and Knitting Inspiration

I lucked out yesterday at the second hand store and found a box full of old trim and lace for $1.70!   It's all gorgeous and so incredibly well made - nothing like what you find in stores today.  I'm on cloud 9 to have found it :)

As well, I found 5 pair of knitting needles for $.49 cents/pair.  I have only one size at home as I'm a new knitter, but I have lofty plans for this winter!  I'm set on improving my skills and my ability to follow a pattern.  Right now, I feel very mechanical when I knit - it isn't the slightest bit relaxing for me just yet - I find it very stressful and my shoulders are always way up high around my ears, lol.  In time, I'm sure I'll relax once I get the hang of it...

Also, I purchased was this roll of cotton jersey fabric in a bright pink color - perfect for making some pajamas for Paige.  $3.99 was a good price given that there's enough fabric for 2 pair if I lay the pattern out carefully.

This 100% cotton sheet also made it's way home with me for 99 cents.   It's a very thick cotton with a high thread count and it looks as if it has never been used.  I couldn't buy yardage of high quality cotton in the stores for what I paid for this sheet and I'm sure I can use the fabric for all sorts of things - an apron, some napkins, perhaps a nightie for Paige with some of that lovely trim... the possibilities are endless.

I love finding items at the thrift store that I can repurpose into other things.  I ran out of time to look further, but I spied some good quality men's brushed cotton and cotton sateen dress shirts that were gorgeous - I could easily see those cut up into usable pieces of fabric for napkins, etc...  I must get back there!

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

A Well Seasoned Pan

Ahh....  cast iron ~ either you love it or you hate it.  I'm in the love it club, but only once it's seasoned well.  If you haven't tried cooking with cast iron, I encourage you to give it a go - once you get the hang of it its really easy.  The trick is to use a little fat to cook in and allow it to heat up slowly.  Be patient and don't try to cook your food right after turning on the burner.  Start cooking your food only once the pan is at the correct temperature (when the butter is foaming).  A little moisture helps, too - for instance, when frying over easy eggs, I often add just a little water before flipping.

I actually leave this stack of cast iron frypans on the back of my stovetop which might drive the average person crazy, but not me!  I use those pans every day, so having them at my fingertips makes cooking that much easier.  I can easily grab a pan and get cooking without bending over to haul them out of cupboards (cast iron is heavy!).  I view my kitchen as a working one, not a showpiece, so leaving things out that I use every day doesn't bother me in the slightest :)

A well seasoned cast iron pan looks a bit glossy and should resemble patent leather.   The secret to building this up on a pan is to NOT scrub it off with soap!  If my pan is only slightly dirty, I'll just wipe it out ~ that's all it needs.  When it's truly dirty, I soak it in warm water for a while and scrub it out easily with a brush.  Drying it is key!  Leaving a cast iron pan wet will lead to rusting and that is NOT good for the finish.   After I've used water to clean a cast iron pan, I give it a very light rub with a bit of fat/oil to keep the patina glossy.  

These muffin tins were a wedding shower gift 22 years ago from my Grandmother (along with her recipe for Yorkshire Pudding).  They are seasoned nicely (blackened) and as a result, have a natural non-stick surface.  All those years of of baking yorkshire puddings in them have done the trick nicely.  I do still oil them lightly before cooking in them, but they are fantastic - food just pops right out.  

I'd much rather have an old seasoned pan than a new one.  In fact, the two small cast iron pans pictured above were bought second hand at our local thrift shop for less than $5.00 for the both of them.  A great score as they are worth much more to me pre-seasoned than in new condition.  

If you don't already cook in cast iron, have a look at your local goodwill/second hand shops to see if you can source some nice seasoned cast iron - you'll be glad you did! 

Monday, 3 October 2011

Pulling Up My Boot Straps

Our 4 day weekend with Kelly home was bliss!  Lots of snuggles and cuddles (cat included!),

canning homegrown stewed tomatoes,

baking Daddy's favourite old fashioned hot milk cake,

cooking beef short ribs for a hearty fall meal,

pulling out beloved woolens from their summer of rest,

enjoying homegrown tomatoes in sandwiches made from our freshly baked bread (so yum!), watching movies, swimming, playing, crafting and resting... the ultimate restorative weekend!

Until..... the dreaded Goodbye :(  After some long snuggles (and a river of tears) we ever so gingerly eased our way into the predictable evening routine.  A hot supper and dishes...  (there's a strangely solid comfort in that)...  extra gentle bedtime routines, a quiet story, warm beds and the first of fourteen "tuck ins" minus 2 strong arms and a bristly chin.

And so it goes as I pull up my boot straps and get on with the business of keeping my family and home in one piece (or as close to that as I can muster) for the next 2 weeks.

Wish me luck, will you?

Sunday, 2 October 2011

I Caved In And Tried It

Baking soda and water for hair washing.
Vinegar, water and rosemary essential oil for rinsing. 
Handmade soap on the right (which I've used for hair washing and like).
All natural - no harsh chemicals to irritate my (sensitive) skin. 
Ultra frugal.

The jury is out!   I'll post back soon with results...