Monthly Archives: September 2014

cataloochee

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We spent one night of the past weekend camping in Cataloochee Valley in the Great Smokey Mountain National Park. I took the girls out of school and we got there by noon. Amazingly, I have only been the the GSMN Park once before–last year when we went for a few hours and it poured down rain the entire time. The kids loved it last year so I decided to take them back this year. Cataloochee Valley is only one hour from our house. That is crazy close! And this is our second time going there! I feel a little ashamed. But, to get into this valley, you have to drive for 8 miles on one of the windiest, narrowest dirt mountain roads I’ve been on. It is a little scary.

But, we got there. And, enjoyed a gorgeous day of elk watching (first elk any of us have ever seen), playing, and hiking. The kids were amazed with the elk, loved playing and exploring in the old buildings, and reluctantly hiked two miles to see one of the old homes left in the park. The buildings and a few cemeteries in the valley are what is left of a 1,200 person community that lived there 100 years ago. When the land became a National Park in the 1920s, the government paid landowners to leave. Some stayed out their lives in their homes, but nearly everyone had to leave. There is a reunion of the families from the valley every year.

The school house is my children’s favorite place, where we play “one room school” and I am the teacher, quizzing them on math, state capitals, and spelling. I love to visit the homes and imagine what each room was used for, who lived there, how they used their home, what they loved about their home and family, what they did everyday, what fun times they had, what troubled times they had.

The elk were the highlight of the trip and we got to go out right before sunset withe William (he came over after work). Lots of people park on the side of the narrow dirt road in the valley, quietly tailgating for hours with their chairs, drinks, and binoculars. We saw elk bugling, fighting, trying to mate, and grazing. But, I also enjoyed seeing so many people and families quietly enjoying the spectacle of nature. I kind of wish I had taken pictures of the tailgating, but I only tried to get the elk.

Gratitude for National Parks! Gratitude for the beauty and pleasure nature provides!

learning letters

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I am “homeschooling” Hythe this fall. The decision to fore-go traditional preschool came about due to a number of factors, but I was looking forward to trying out homeschooling with a preschooler where the pressure is low, what needs to be taught is pretty simple, and there can be lots of fun activities. So far, it has been fun. And, this craft has been one of the more fun letter learning activities. I got the idea from the Purlbee and ordered the wool felt from them as well (Hythe picked the colors). I decided not to sew and stuff the letters (i.e. make them 3-D), but to cut two of each letter so that we could make words (and our names) with the letters. Also, a sewing tip I learned from my grandmother is that you don’t need expensive or fancy fabric marking pens if you have a sliver of dry soap. It works great and washes off. The sliver you see in the top picture is actually my grandmother’s soap, found in the sewing kit I got with her old sewing machine.

Hythe mainly supervised the letter cutting, arranged them in order, and started solidifying his letter skills. I was impressed at how quickly he learned the letters as we did this project. That activity has also proved fun and Hythe is already learning to read simple words. I can see us using this resource a lot this year.

little man

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I know I have been posting a lot about our littlest one. But, he is so cute and funny and sweet. And, this only lasts for a very short time. Two year olds are my favorite–it is such a great age of silliness, cuddles, easy-to-handle (i.e. distract) temper tantrums, and innocence. Steven is talking more and more, quite has his own opinions and desires (“go to gro store”, “nola bar now”). He adores his brother and daddy and likes his sisters pretty well. He loves to swing (“high”), especially with brother. When he gets hurt (physically or feelings), he will turn to his sisters for hugs and comfort. It is very sweet to witness. He is getting more independent and wanting to help out. He even cleans out the dishwasher! At at party recently, he tried to open beers for everyone. As a side note, everything in a can is a “beer” to him–we walked down the soup aisle in the grocery store today and he kept saying “beer?, beer?, soup?”. He copies whatever Hythe is doing and Hythe puts up with it pretty well, rarely excluding him in games or whatever fun mischief he is up to. They are right now playing horrible tunes on the piano and laughing together. I am trying to cherish this time, with our last, enjoying the preciousness, breathing through the messes and tempers, and knowing it won’t last long.

garden update: into the fall

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We might have one more pumpkin in the field left to pick and a few winter squash.

Flowers are still producing well–and I enjoy getting down to pick them–nearly all zinnias this year. Such cheerful flowers.

We’ll probably pick the popcorn soon. Hythe is nearly desperate to do it and points out each time we are near the garden that “the corn is dead”.

The first turnips have been picked. Look at those greens–so many and so beautiful! I froze the greens to eat this winter, but I’m planning to cook the turnips tonight with bacon and onions.

Hythe got the first carrots out of the garden. Little baby ones, which he disdained after tasting. They are a little bitter at this point. But, it helps to thin those carrots a bit.

We are eating salads from the garden again (and still outside)! Lots of arugula and a little bit of leaf lettuce so far. I hope the rest of the lettuce I planted comes up. I put in a large row of an unknown lettuce seed (which I found at the bottom of my briefcase), but I am afraid the seed was not good. It has not come up.

The radishes are huge! They grew so fast with the wet warm weather. I’ve picked nearly all I planted and not knowing much else to do with a lot of large pretty radishes, I pickled them! These pickles are so delicious, especially with meat (especially BBQ pork), and they will last all winter in the refrigerator. Not only delicious, these pickles are beautiful, but they are a bit smelly (pungent-good smelly, but smelly). Recipe below.

Also, my ginger lilies are blooming. They don’t always make it here with our cold weather, but I’ve found a protected place for these with full sun and they are happy. The scent is heavenly! Plants, thanks to Nita (an almost-aunt) who is one of my gardener inspirations.

Recipe for Pickled Radishes (update):

Put in a jar:
3.5 cups sliced radishes
1 sweet onion, sliced
3 cloves garlic

Make brine and pour over radish mix:
1 cup rice wine vinegar
1 cup sugar
2 star anise
1 tsp coriander seed
1 bay leaf
3 tsp kosher salt

not your typical fashion show

Evva and I were models in a fashion show last week. It was Project Handmade (take off from Project Runway?) for the Local Cloth organization, which works to support the local fiber arts and textile economy and profession. It is a great organization and does a good job promoting local fiber and textile artists and businesses in the area in a great way. I was honored to be a part of the show–asked by a fiber-artist neighbor to model some of her co-creations. The outfits from the show were amazing–all juried, some high fashion, some outfits I would wear any day. I loved my dress and Evva’s dress, both beautifully dyed with local plants and sewed by a local seamstress. The show was so much fun, and I was in awe of the great artist represented–and also by the mutual support they provided for each other. I got inspired to do some cloths designs of my own!

Evva's hat and hand-beaded and dyed front
Evva’s hat and hand-beaded and dyed front
front (and back) of Evva's dress)
front (and back) of Evva’s dress — also she lost a tooth that morning!
Picture by Evva of my dress--while we were waiting backstage (lots of waiting for these type of shows)
Picture by Evva of my dress–while we were waiting backstage (lots of waiting)

my wild sweet boy

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This guy will hike off on his own (after dressing himself in his raincoat, boots, and a cap for extra measure), through a downpour, to get to his grandmother’s house. He will jump at the chance to “run away” with a sister who is sobbing over the unfairness of her world (what an adventure, he thinks, as he runs to get his bag packed).

He will also cuddle with his mama every morning after he wakes up. One of my favorite times of each day.

my first natural dyeing attempts

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Golden rod

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Marigold flowers and dye bath (below)

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I’ve been thinking about dyeing fabric (and yarn) for a few months now. I have some beautifully dyed fabrics and garments lately and heard interviews with great natural dyers. Natural dyes appeal to me, not just because I tend to avoid harsh chemicals and poisons for our health, but also because I am drawn to a muted color pallet. While I know that natural dyes are not non-toxic and can also make vibrant colors, most are safe and I knew I would be likely to turn out those muted colors (not being terribly fastidious). Also, we live in a great place for finding dye plants in nature–black walnuts, golden rod, etc.

So, when I found 12 skeins of undyed linen cotton blend yarn at a fiber yard sale a few weeks ago, I bought them, thinking they would be great for experimenting. There are many, many different ways (often conflicting with each other) to dye fiber depending on the fiber, color, mordant, and so on. First, I picked nearly all the heads off of my 5 marigold plants, which are blooming prolifically right now. I used alum and cream of tarter as my mordant, soaked the yarn in water, simmered it in the mordant, simmered the marigold leaves, and finally, soaked the yarn for 24 hours in the dye bath. At first, it looked yellowish brown, but once dried, was a pretty yellow. Then, I used black tea as a dye and mordant (tannic acid) and just simmered the yarn, then soaked it for 24 hours in the tea bath. It came out a very pretty muted brown. Finally, I used golden rod with iron as the mordant (rusty nails from the tool shed). This did not turn out as pretty as I thought it would. The yarn was very dull, not too different from un-dyed color, but a slight greenish color.

You can see all the colors below, with the undyed yarn, too. I think I am going to knit a striped throw to have for this couch.  Overall, I am pleased, and very excited to try some more dying. What to dye next? Right now, the golden rod and marigolds are still in full bloom and black walnuts are starting to fall. Should I find some fabric or yarn?

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black tea, goldenrod, marigold, un-dyed

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close up of marigold

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close up of black tea and golden rod

apple saucing

With the apple harvest coming in, I have been making apple sauce every few days. It is a staple all year in our house–for breakfast, as a snack, with lunch, a side at supper, and often as dessert. So, I can as much apple sauce as I can stand (was that a pun?). Here’s my technique.

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I cut around each side of the core. This is a little more wasteful than quartering and coring, but a heck of a lot faster. I know I could use the core to make jelly but I just have not been able to get around to it. These cores (and rotten spots and rotten wholes) all go into our compost which feeds our garden. All good apple pieces go in a large pot with some water or cider and I cook on low until the apples are all soft. Our apples are unsprayed so they have a lot of spots, but I don’t worry about spots, just worms and rotten places.

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Then, I . . . well, actually, Hythe . . . grinds them through this counter stand food mill. I love this food mill because I can put a whole gallon of cooked apples in and Hythe cranks them through with no problems. Hythe is my major apple sauce cranker and I would hate to do it without him.

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As Hythe cranks, I get the canner, lids, and jars ready and start filling. I cook in the canner for about 30 minutes. While the apple sauce boils away in the canner, I clean up all spilled and dripped apple sauce and all the equipment because I learned years ago that warm apple sauce acts like a natural cementing glue if not wiped up right away.

Then, they are done! Well worth the effort.

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And now, I’ve got another bushel to get through this week!