Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Holidays and living a frugal life...

First off, let me apologize for how long it has been since I have written anything here... sometimes life just gets in the way!

Today finds me thinking about the holiday season, and the very commercial way that it continues to evolve.  It amazed me that I could find Christmas things in the stores at the beginning of October this year.  Now, this is certainly not a new phenomenon, but it perplexes me nonetheless.  I am not a religious person, and Christmas to me signifies the time to remember and appreciate family, and anyone else that has put a bright spot in my life that year.  With two young children in the house, we do the tree and the gifts, of course, but I always try to show them that there is more to Christmas than those pretty packages hiding amongst the foliage. 

My son, who is turning 7 in a few weeks, always wants the latest "it" toy.  But half the time, he doesn't really even know what it is or what it does.  Am I bad mother because I sometimes say no, we are not buying it, you don't need it?  Quite the opposite, in my opinion.  I want my children to learn that things are simply material objects, and they usually won't make any difference in the grand scheme of things.

This week, a friend of mine put out a call to help a struggling family that she had met.  They had absolutely nothing.  A single mom, with 2 children close to the same age as my own, she is working long hours for little money, and couldn't hardly afford food for her children, let alone give them a "commercial-grade" Christmas like so many of us take for granted.  They had only a few cans of soup in the cupboard, and some blankets on the floor to sleep on.  I donated some things, including a crib for the little ones, and many others poured donations in as well.  Because these people understand the giving vs. receiving philosophy, this family is going to have an amazing Christmas, even though they don't know a single one of us!

My son and I had a long talk about this, about why we gave and what it means to both us, and this family.  He is learning that the reason I don't want Christmas gifts every year, and that I usually don't give many, is because I am content with what I have and don't think my relationships are based on what others can do for me, but how they make me feel about myself.  When I give a home-made gift, even if it cost very little, it is a personal thank you to the recipient, something that took thought and preparation.  I refuse to go spend money on "stuff".  We practiced "No Spending on Black Friday", like we do every year.  I am proud to say that my children are learning that money doesn't make things better, in the long run, and that they are going to grow up understanding that even though we don't have everything, they have so much more than most, simply because we choose to look at things a little differently.

What lessons do you try to teach your children this time of year?  Do you fall into the commercial Christmas trap, or are you trying to show them that there is a better way?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Homemade Laundry Soap

I just made up another batch of my homemade laundry soap.  I bought my original supplies over a year ago, and still have enough for at least 6 more batches!  This stuff is amazing, and I love the fact that I haven't spent ANY money on laundry soap this past year! 

Here's a link to my original post, with the recipe, if you're interested in trying it for yourself!

Snow on the horizon...

Looking out my window this morning, I can't help but notice the snow that is slowly creeping its way down the mountains.  Although the last few days of rain and cloud cover have produced some warmer fall temperatures, there is no denying that winter is knocking at the front door.  Its time to finish up the garden, clean up the yard, and make any repairs to the house that have been pushed to the back burner.  Its the time for baked squash, yummy fall soups, and the family favorite around here, pot roast with roasted root vegetables.

I have mostly stopped eating red meat, as I find that it sits in my stomach like a rock for far too long, but I'm not going to deny the rest of my family the option.  I just make myself something different on the days I make roast for the rest of my family.  Do you make more than one meal at night, to satisfy the different tastes at the dinner table?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Emergencies, and why we aren't as prepared as we think we are...

This weekend was a big eye opener for my family and I.  Friday night we lost power, due to the unusually high winds sending an unusually high number of trees into the power lines.  No big deal, right?  We've weathered lots of power outages before!  They never last more than a few hours, and we have lots of candles and blankets.

Saturday morning came, and we were still without power.  Hmm.  We don't own a generator.  The 6 year old keeps forgetting to NOT flush the toilet, and now we have no water.  Should we try to find a generator?  Nah, the power will surely be back on in a few hours!

Saturday night, still no power.  DON"T OPEN THE FREEZER!!!  I have hundreds of dollars worth of food in the freezer, and if it thaws out, we're in trouble.  And its getting really cold in here.  Its 36 degrees outside.

Sunday morning, still no power.  The house is very cold, and everything in the refrigerator is spoiled, including all the green beans I just harvested from the garden and hadn't had a chance to process yet.  Husband decided that we have to get a generator NOW.  Off to town we go, and had to look at 6 stores to find one.  Imagine that, we weren't the only ones who decided we should get one!  $800.00 later, we're on our way home, sure that the power will be on now that we spent all that money.  Thank God we aren't burdened by credit cards any longer and had money in savings to pay cash.

What the Hell?!  Now its SNOWING!!!

Back at home, the power still isn't on, so we get the generator running, and get the fridge, freezer and furnace plugged in by running extension cords through the kitchen window..  No well pump, as we aren't wired to switch it easily to generator power.  If it was colder out, the well lines would all be frozen by now.  We all took baby-wipe baths and snuggled in to watch a movie on the little TV that we plugged into the generator.  If we hadn't gotten the generator, the freezers would be thawing by now. 

We ran the generator all night last night.  At 5:15 the alarm went off.  Time for Rob to get ready for work.  UGH.  But then, a flash and a buzz, and on came the power!  Yahoo!!!  It was off for a total of 60 hours.  If we hadn't left early Sunday to get the generator, they would have been all sold out and we would have been out of luck.

Top 5 things I learned from this ordeal...

1. Canning my produce, and even as much meat as I can, is a very good idea.  The freezer is not a dependable food storage solution.

2. This is ALASKA.  You need backup power.  Dependable back up power.  And you need the house wired for that backup power.

3. Kids get scared when the power goes off, even if they say they are fine.

4. Have emergency funds.  Since we don't have credit cards (thank God) we would have been in a much worse situation if we had no way to buy the generator and emergency food and fuel.

5. I want a woodstove.  You can heat with it AND cook with it.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

First frost, but still harvesting!

It officially frosted here for the first time last night.  There was a very thin sheet of ice on the windshield this morning, and the temp read 33.8 when I woke up.  Realizing that I still had green beans to pick, I made my way out to the garden as soon as the sun warmed things up a bit, expecting the worst.  I was delighted to find most of the green beans still in pristine condition!  I pulled each plant, one by one, and picked all the beans off, setting the bare plant to the side.  I plan on letting the plants wither a bit, then I will chop them up and till them back into the soil to provide some added nourishment to next years squash plants.  I picked about 3 quarts of green beans in all!  And as an added bonus, I got about 30 small tomatoes that were still thriving as well (green, of course).

I still have 2 large cabbages to pick, a few brussels sprouts, and lots of kale and turnip greens.  They all do fine with a little frost, so I will hold off a bit longer for them.

So, how do I feel about the success of this years garden?  Over all, things went very well!  I will grow more green beans next year for sure, and lots of summer squash, although the squash will NOT be under plastic.  It just got too humid, especially with all the rain we had, and the mold ruined what could have been a bumper crop.  Tomatoes and cucumbers will be back in the greenhouse next year, where they belong.  I will grow fewer cabbages, lots more broccoli and turnips, and plenty of spinach and kale.  I will NOT be growing brussels sprouts next year, or eggplant.  I think I will try artichokes as my experimental crop, and potatoes are on the list as well.

Are you still harvesting from your garden?  What has been your biggest success/failure this year?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

You know its fall when...

The pumpkins have arrived at the grocery store!  I got so excited when I walked into the produce section today, and of course I had to take one home!  Tonight's dinner is featuring roasted pumpkin, eggplant and brussels sprouts.  This stuff is so good I can't begin to describe it here.  The sweetness of the pumpkin goes so beautifully with the eggplant, and roasted brussels sprouts will complement almost anything!  I LOVE fall time!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Great Day in the Garden!

I plopped Lily in the stroller today, determined to get some vegetables out of the garden before the first frost, which I anticipate to be any day. 

None of the tomatoes were red, but I picked them anyway, as one frost will destroy them, and they ripen quite nicely on the counter top anyway.  

 There were many more cucumbers than I expected, even several hiding amongst the tomatoes!  

 And the greenbeans, ah, the greenbeans...  I got a ton, and left a ton, figuring that I will probably get one more harvest out of them.

I also have 3 more cabbages to harvest, as well as turnip greens and lots of kale.  The brussels sprouts are very small, and don't expect much of a return on them, but we will at least get a few!  The chard is growing now, which is interesting, since it didn't grow an inch all summer!  The peas are ready to harvest again too, which I will do in a few days.  All in all, I would say that this garden has been rather successful, considering it is only year 1.  Next year will be that much better!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Sustainable Aloha!

I just got back from a weekend trip to Maui, and one of the things that really struck me was the attitude of the businesses there.  There were recycling bins everywhere, and people really seemed to understand the importance of naturals and organics.  The shops had large organic food sections, and sustainability was a common theme on things such as t-shirts and bags, and other touristy type stuff.  I can't help but think that if the businesses around here would follow the same path, we would see more of a change in attitude of the locals here too.  Its so much easier to live this way when you aren't constantly battling the opposite message!  Hawaii has got it right, folks.  Be it for health, wellness, concern over the planet, or just because you feel this is the way we were meant to live, give yourself some little daily reminders, around the house or work, or even in the car!  If you see it often, it will come more naturally!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Harvest in full swing!

Despite the month long cold/wet spell we had, my garden is providing surprisingly well for me.  Yesterday I harvested 3 more quarts of snap peas, which I steam blanched and put in the freezer.  I got several summer squashes as well.  I decided to go ahead and pull up all the squash plants, as I was still fighting the gray mold issue, although the ones I harvested today were ok.  After I pulled the squash vines, to my GREAT surprise, I pulled out a cucumber hiding in the back that is as big as my forearm!  Holy Moly, where did that thing come from?!  There are LOTS of other cucumbers as well which are looking healthy and delicious.

The eggplant is very close to opening its first buds, which I assume means I WON"T be getting any actual eggplants this year again.  I'll let them keep growing until the frost kills them anyway, because the blossoms are quite lovely.  The tomatoes are growing like crazy, but I have no red ones yet.  They will probably have to be brought inside to ripen... no worries there.

I officially ate my first green beans yesterday as well.  They are growing FAST!  I will have to pick the first batch this week for sure, and probably a second by next week.  Dilly Beans here we come!  I'll be freezing as many as I can get my hands on as well.

The Brussels Sprouts are sprouting, the cabbages are almost ready to split, and the Broccoli is seeding, attracting all sorts of beautiful insects to its blossoms.  I pulled most of the lettuce as it is finally going to seed, and the Kale is looking awesome!  I'll wait until after the first frost to process that.

I don't think I'll get any turnips out of the second batch, but it looks like there will be plenty of greens to harvest yet.

I'm sitting here this morning, watching the fog which was a thick as pea soup slowly burn off and make way for what appears to be some sunshine!  I might even get a load of clothes out on the laundry line today!  Fall is most definitely in the air... I can feel it and smell it.  Almost time to turn on the heater!

Monday, August 23, 2010


So, its been a while since I posted anything.  The last month was rainy, dreary and cold, and I simply lost my motivation to post.  The garden was soggy, definitely not picture worthy, and the growth was pretty much on hold.  The last few days of sunshine, however, have made all the difference!  I have HUNDREDS of little green beans, the brussels sprouts are forming, and the tomatoes, squash and cucumbers are producing again!  I'm about ready to harvest another round of peas to go in the freezer also.  The flowers on the porch are looking pitiful, so I will be pulling them in the next few weeks.  Time to start the fall time chores!

Monday, August 2, 2010

The garden is growing again!

These last few days of no rain have been great for the garden.  Temps have been in the mid 70s here, and the sun has been popping in and out.  I officially harvested my first cucumber of the year (but forgot to take a picture, as I was so excited to eat it!)  And the green beans are finally blooming!!!  I'm going to actually get some this year!  Also, although the plants are obviously stunted, with most leaves being about the size of a quarter, the nasturtiums are getting ready to bloom!

Here's to a beautiful August!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Basic Quiche Recipe

Quiche with Broccoli, Onions, Squash and Squash Blossoms

I love this recipe because it is so versatile, and very easy.  You can use your favorite crust recipe, or just buy the frozen ones at your local grocery store.  The vegetables are completely interchangeable, just use whatever you have on hand... I promise it will be delicious!


1 pie crust
2 cups mixed diced vegetables
1 tbsp olive oil
2 eggs
3/4 cup milk
1/3 cup shredded cheese

Preheat oven to 400 F, with oven rack in center.

Saute vegetables and olive oil until cooked but not too soft.

Spread cooked vegetables evenly into bottom of pie crust.

Whisk eggs and milk until combined.

*very important secret step!!!
Open oven, pull oven rack partially out, and place pie crust with vegetables on the rack.  Pour egg/milk mixture into crust. (This keeps the filling from spilling between the counter and the oven rack!  Pretty smart, eh?)

Sprinkle shredded cheese evenly over surface of quiche.

Add squash blossoms decoratively to the top, if using.

Bake for 35 - 45 minutes
(*be sure to keep an eye on the crust for browning)

Quiche is done when an inserted knife comes out clean, or just moist.

Let cool for about 5 minutes, then serve and enjoy.  (Its delicious cold too!)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Thanks for the inspiration!

My friend Faith over at 98% Organic In Alaska inspired my breakfast this morning...

Garden Quiche
(Onions, Broccoli, Yellow Crookneck Squash and Squash Blossoms, all from the garden)

I have been looking for a way to use the squash blossoms for a while now, since I usually just hear of them stuffed and fried, which didn't seem quite so appetizing to me.  They have a nice, delicate flavor, which went well with the sharp cheddar I used.  Thanks Faith!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Rain, Rain, Go Away

I had to pick and toss 4 zucchinis into the compost pile this morning.  It has been so wet that they started developing some major gray mold and rot.  I think I got it before it affected the whole plant, or the other plants in the hothouse.  This rain is really starting to get depressing!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Damn Cats!

One collar down, one to go.  UGH.

1st Cabbage Harvest!

Today we harvested our first cabbage!  Once Robert got over the fact that I harvested the first broccoli ("don't cut it, I want to see how big it will get!  Hunny, we have to cut it or it will just go to seed and then we won't be able to EAT it!") he decided that we needed to have corned beef and cabbage tonight!

Its bigger than his head!  And the first thing he asked is, "can I eat a leaf now?"  (Proud Mom Bragging)

Its like a jungle in the hothouse now!

And finally I can show off a few more of my flowers!  The rose bush is blooming...

And remember the old raised beds that I turned into wildflower gardens?  Take a look!...

What are you harvesting right now?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

1st Broccoli Harvest

I'm so excited to harvest my first head of Broccoli today.  Again, this is a first ever, not just first this year! 

I made sure to leave the side shoots untouched so that they can continue to grow.  This will be a chicken and broccoli stir-fry, and most of the rest will go in the freezer once it is harvested.  I think I need to grow much more next year, as I can see that this won't last long.  My son is drooling over the raw flower as I type! 

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Rhubarb/Red Currant Preserves


Willow Garden Tour 2010

*Warning, long post, but lots of good pictures!

I attended the Willow Garden Tour yesterday, and it was fabulous!  The weather cooperated ALL DAY!  I couldn't believe it!  It was very obvious that many people put a lot of effort into this event, and it was well worth it.  And this was the 25th anniversary of this tour, which made it a little special!

There were 6 amazing gardens on the tour, so I will divide the pictures up that way and make it a little easier to follow along.  I just wish I could post all the photos I took, but there were WAY to many for that. 

Don't forget to click on the photos to get a better look!

Garden #1-
Jim and Kathy Huston Gardens (Alaskan Host B&B)

Hands down, the best part of this garden was the water feature, but there was lots to enjoy.  The wildflowers edged the lawn beautifully, and there was lots of wildlife (both real - swans and a muskrat, and not so real - geese and the moose).  This was a comfortable spot, with lots of beautiful rock incorporated throughout.

Garden #2-
William and Kathy Mailer Gardens

I loved this garden from the minute I walked up to it.  They had TONS of Columbine and Delphinium, which are two of my favorites.  This was a garden in which you could wander aimlessly for a very long time, although I found myself stopping every 2 or 3 steps to just look around.  So much to take in!  There were nice touches of garden art throughout, without being gaudy.  This garden had FANTASTIC TEXTURE!!

Garden #3-
George Murphy and Dorothea Taylor's Gardens

Honestly, the first thing that struck me at this stop was the beautiful log home.  And the dark slate everywhere.  The slate was used for the house, the paths and the walls, and provided a nice dark background for all the color.  You could really tell that this is an older garden.  Plants have really made their own way.  Very natural and unmanicured, peaceful and wandering.  There are Forget-Me-Nots woven amongst most everything and they really added a nice, whimsical Alaskan touch.  I got the sense of a "tamed" meadow.

Garden #4-
Jerry Freeley's Vegetable Garden

This garden was awesome, although the pictures don't really do it any justice.  Different from all the others as this was strictly a vegetable garden.  Not ornamental at all, yet still beautiful in its own right.  There were tons of huge Rhubarb plants, and the veggies looked amazing!  I was surprised that he had all his tomatoes and cucumbers right out there in the ground, with no cover or protection of any sort, and they looked fine!  Mr. Freeley uses only compost and lime in his garden, no chemicals.  One day I hope my vegetable garden is this big!

Garden #5-
Albino Hare Garden & Gallery

This was a fantastically whimsical garden.  Toys and trinkets were a big feature here.  It had a very cottage garden feel with lots of bent willow adorning the beds.  There were several upside-down trees used in creative ways, lending it a very playful tone as well, almost like a fairy land!  The gallery had some great pieces for sale, and it fit well in the garden setting.

Garden #6-
Les Brake's Coyote Garden

The last garden on the tour and well worth the wait.  This garden felt big and small at the same time.  Lots of large trees and old growth really made you realize that you were in the middle of a big, old forest.  There were vegetables worked into the borders, and lots of volume to the plantings.  Beautiful structures everywhere went well with the large trees, giving some size to the garden which couldn't be achieved with plants alone.  This garden had tons of flowers, but they weren't the predominant sight by any means.  There were tons of big ferns, beautiful moss, and lots of leaf color and pattern.  It was very peaceful here.

For those who weren't able to make it this year, be sure to make time next year.  It was well worth it and gave me LOTS of ideas for my own spaces!