31 October 2010

Blood suckers

Both of my children were blood suckers for Halloween this year, one very scary vampira

and one itty bitty spider (with a binky!)

Savannah filled her bag halfway this year. With Daddy out of the country, and Mommy on her own, we did an abbreviated form of trick-or-treating this year. William was quite the wild spider, running all over our neighbor's houses (playing with their calculators, climbing their chairs, harassing their dogs, opening their kitchen drawers, the usual boy stuff just in other people's houses) after he ate some M&Ms. Fortunately, he doesn't know how to open candy so he just tries to bite into the shiny wrappers, which doesn't yield any sugar. Mommy can't wait for Daddy to take over the trick-or-treating again next year.

Happy Halloween!

28 October 2010

Play time

For my birthday I wanted to get something special for the kids. I opted for this:

 I really like it! It's strong enough to hold 1,200 pounds, so Kev and I can climb on the geometric dome too and with a 10 foot diameter, there's more than enough room for all of us.

 Little William has to be especially creative while playing since he can't climb it yet himself. He has fun trying though. He runs under and through the dome and swings by his arms from the lower bars like a monkey.

It's a challenge for Savannah who is learning more agility and balance. The first day she fell from the top right on her back but we had piled 8-10 inches of mulch beneath it, so it was like falling on a soft bed. Fortunately, she hasn't fallen since and everyday that it hasn't rained, we've run outside to climb.

17 October 2010

Office bookshelf

I'm embarrassed to say that since we've moved into this house, our office area has been a mess. This is partly because we moved from a house with a 16' x 12' office with a 12' built-in floor to ceiling bookcase, full closet, and his and hers desks and filing cabinets. Now we share a small desk in a tiny space that is shaped like a triangle and not an equilateral or isosceles triangle, but an irregular scalene one. For an extra challenge with two "real walls" and the third open to the stair banister. But enough of the excuses, here's a before and after photo of the mess.

We painted the office walls a while back when my mother was visiting. Paint is always the first requirement for renovating a room here. The desk is against the top landing, with the printer adjacent to it, the window wall has one small bookcase holding a jumble of supplies and there are boxes of files, paper and other electronics stacked against the long wall - in short a disorganized mess! I had the idea a while back that a single long bookcase could solve the problem. My husband was a disbeliever. Over a two-week period I had the chance to sneak out to the garage during nap times to start building this thing. Because of my lumber diet (our beater of a farm truck didn't pass inspection and I don't have another way of transporting lumber at the moment), I had to use what was available to me. I had a piece of 3/4" thick plywood in the barn that I'd only cut the corner off of to make my potting bench. So I got to work with my early Mother's Day gift and built this.

Here's the new bookcase built from plywood and framed in pine 1"x 2"s.
I generally followed the plans from Ana White's website, Knockoff Wood for Grace's bookshelf. My shelf is sized for the space though and the materials I had on hand so the dimensions are about 60" wide by 32" tall. The cubes on the bottom are 15" x 15" x 13" deep.

Here it is all filled up with office supplies and ah- organized.
Because of the small space of the office, even with my widest angle lens, I couldn't fit the whole shelf and wall organizers in the photo. Above the wall is a file organizer on the left, a cork board in the center and a white board on the right. And yes, that is an outlet in the middle of the wall six feet high. The whole office has oddly placed outlets like that one.

Here's the window wall with the new curtains I sewed to match those on the stairwells. Perhaps you'll notice two more oddly placed outlets to the right of the window. At least the view from the window is great.

I'm very excited about having an organized space again with all of my files at my finger tips. Really I have to thank Ana White for showing me how easy it is to build solutions to all my problems. Thanks Ana!

11 October 2010

Garlic planting

It's time to plant garlic. This year for my zone, October 12th was announced as the perfect day for planting cloves. Alas, I am not a perfectionist so I had to plant mine on the 10th when my husband was home to help keep the kids at the raspberry patch while I dug in the compost pile. Why the exact timing? So there is enough time to let the roots settle and grow but not for the shoots to break the soil surface before the first frost.

Filled with compost with room for a mulch layer. My raised beds are about 2' deep by 6' long. Plans for raised bed can be found here on Ana White's site.

I am planting garlic in the first raised bed I built. (When I can acquire more lumber, I plan to build at least four more raised beds, most to be filled with food, but my daughter will have her own for whatever strikes her fancy. My beds are 2' by 6', using 4 2x6s. This way, all the lumber you purchase is used.) I used a rake and hoe to loosen the soil beneath this bed, then dragged it into place. I placed 3 inches of composted hay in the bottom of this planter, then 6 inches of compost, which compacted the hay. Within a week I plan to stake two corners of the raised bed, but I haven't had the time to cut the stakes yet.

My garlic cloves should remain toasty enough this winter under their blanket of pine needles.
I planted 17 garlic cloves evenly spaced in the raised bed about 7" apart. I'm trying a California softneck variety this year. I pushed each clove 1 inch below the soil surface then sprinkled an additional generous inch of compost on top.  Because garlic is a spring crop that overwinters, it likes a good coat of mulch. Leaf mulches are the most popular for garlic but we don't have a system for mulching leaves. One popular method of making a leaf mulch is to fill a rubber trash can with raked leaves and then insert your weed whacker (like an immersion blender) and give them a good chopping. One day I plan to do that, but for now I simply raked some of the needles from our big white pine and mulched with a generous 4 inches. I know that pine needles are acidic but my organic gardening books tout it as an excellent mulch for most things because it breaks down so slowly. The waxy coating on the needles helps the soil beneath it retain moisture while the needles themselves do not absorb much moisture. They do a great job of keeping down weeds and I happen to like the look of them. Pine needles make a good blanket for winter crops like garlic so I'm testing this all out and keeping my fingers crossed for some delicious spring garlic.

Uh, oh! Didn't count on the appeal for local wildlife to climb in! Better add a layer of chicken wire across the top.
As long as I can keep critters out of my raised beds I hope for some delicious home grown spring garlic. I hope to count 17 sets of scapes curling out of their winter dormancy come May or June. I use garlic scapes in soups, potatoes and omelets. I place them in a vase to enjoy their wild green beauty and pluck them out at will. My children prefer the quick access because they like to nibble on them. My favorite website for garlic planting information in cooler zones is Boundary Garlic Farm.

Garlic scapes in a Ball jar awaiting their fate.

01 October 2010


For two weekends we've been stacking wood in the barn. Kevin splits the wood from trees that have fallen in bad weather or from age and then stacks them behind the barn to dry for a year. This year he's helped two other people remove large trees from their yards for next year's wood. I know that I do a lot of things many women wouldn't do but one thing I don't touch is the chainsaw. That is completely my husband's forte. I get to do the lion's share of wood stacking though.

Here it is stacked inside the barn, three rows deep stacked six feet high. The long rows are about 20 feet long and the short row is about 16 feet long.

When stacking wood I always discover the critters whose lives are intertwined with it. There are snake skins, from those who enjoy the protective coolness of the wood pile and perhaps enjoy rubbing against the rough bark. There are wasps who build their paper nests like Japanese lanterns, colorful fungi, and sometimes, near the bottom of the pile, there are bright orange newts crawling in the damp grass and soil. Today I discovered a nest of mice, one mother and her five babies, all nursing with their eyes closed.

Mother mouse peeks out at me.
My instinct is not to disturb any creature, especially one nursing its babies. But, they are mice and there's little room for sympathy on a farm. Mice get into the barn and burrow their way into the tractor's motor, dragging insulation and other nesting materials with them. They eat through the wiring. They chew through the boxes we store in our garage leaving holes in our things and their droppings behind, and they carry Lyme disease. Kevin scolded me for not killing them and I see his perspective, but I find myself asking whether a pink wriggly baby that hasn't yet opened its eyes to the world is a worthy opponent. It only craves the warmth and milk of its mother.

Two of the babies with eyes shut.
Once upon a time I worked in a laboratory where it was my job to breed a mutant strain of mouse, and to sometimes cull the babies the day they were born for tissue cultures, which I also performed. I used dry ice so the death was painless, and the purpose of my work was to learn more about muscular dystrophy treatments, but still, it's never escaped me that all those lives were in my hands.

Today though, I couldn't do it. I'll let Kevin make his own decision about the nest but my mothering instincts are too strong to destroy this home.