Fleeting Fall

The leaves seem to already be falling to the ground, and I feel like I’ve barely had the chance to enjoy them shifting from green to yellow to orange to red on the trees. What’s the deal, fall?

We’ve been in the throes of fall cleanup around here. A few weekends ago, the chickens got their coop and run deep clean. Last weekend, I dug the sweet potatoes and put more of the garden to rest.

There’s always so much excitement to see what’s buried under the soil on sweet potato digging day:
20141004. Sweet potato digging day!

And then? Sometimes, this happens. Yup. That is the entirety of our sweet potato “crop” this year.
20141004. Sweet potatoes... And this is all we got, folks.

Sad trombone.
20141004. A rather lackluster sweet potato year.

Still left to do: planting the garlic, cutting back the perennials in the back, and cutting back our newer/smaller perennials up front. Then the snow can fly.
20141004. Putting the garden to bed for the winter.

This weekend? This weekend, I took care of most of the older perennials in the front yard. We usually leave the coneflower all winter for the birds and other little critters, but we were a little distracted this summer and didn’t do much in the way of staking them as they grew. The end result was a bunch of beautiful, wild, crazy flowers laying across the lawn and each other. So… they had to go.

I feel like we should be doing “fall stuff” with Willem – taking him on hay rides and to pumpkin patches and little kid costume parades. But really? At this point, those things would be more for us than him, and he’s just not terribly keen on big crowds. He had such a great time playing on his blanket in the sun this morning, watching me hack away at the bushes of false blue indigo, butterfly weed, and coneflower. So instead of pictures of Willem with pumpkins, we’ll have pictures of Willem on my Grandma Farm’s colorful quilt in the front yard.

20141012. Fall cleaning of the front yard and play time.

20141012. Fall cleaning of the front yard and play time.

20141012. Fall cleaning of the front yard and play time.

Can you also tell our latest exciting development? Willem now has two bottom teeth coming in! His gummy smile is a thing of the past. Sniff…
20141012. Fall cleaning of the front yard and play time.

I must say, though, I can’t wait until he’s old enough to snuggle up on the couch with us and watch a movie or go play at Conner Prairie or the Children’s Museum or really have a blast watching the Christmas train display at the Eiteljorg Museum. Don’t grow up too fast, kid… but when you do, we’ll have some awesome stuff to do.

20141012. Fall cleaning of the front yard and play time.

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Baby Spiders and Chicken Poop

This morning, well before I was sufficiently caffeinated to take on the day, I accomplished one of our big fall chores: deep cleaning the chicken coop and run.

20140920. The biannual massive coop cleaning.Chickens, you ask? We have chickens? Oh, right! We DO have chickens. What with all the all-baby-all-the-time lately, I can understand how you forgot about our five backyard dwellers and purveyors of fine eggs.

20140920. Boo dust bathing.

Raggedy, molting, super-layer Boo.

The girls are still alive and kicking, although I realized the other day they are starting to get a little, well, OLD. At least in terms of productive layers. We’ve had no problem with egg shortages yet, but the girls were born spring/summer of 2012. Two and a half years old, all of them!

20140920. Little Red and Dino Puppy, temporarily friends.

The only time Little Red willingly gets this close to Dino Puppy, who is a total bully.

Here are a selection of sentences I uttered to my husband before 10 am. Some weekends are just… like this:

  • “I have chicken poop all over me.”
  • “There’s some oregano in the front walk.”
  • “Don’t forget about the baby spiders.”
  • “There are three mosquitoes on Willem’s head.”
  • “I didn’t really scrub it. I just powerwashed it and poured vinegar all over.”

Speaking of babies (did someone mention babies?), Willem is now seven months old!
20140918. Seven months.

And he’s going to be a little lamb for his first Halloween:
20140915. Little lambie's first Halloween costume.P.S. I almost forgot about the baby spiders! Upon removing the wheelbarrow from its hanger on the wall, I discovered two sweet spider eggs hanging out, one of which had hatched. Hundreds of baby spiders smaller than poppy seeds were moving oh so silently around their little web. And by “sweet” spider eggs, I mean “terrifying.” And by “silently,” I mean “with great malevolance.” Spiders? I love them in theory, but not so much in practice. Or hatching in my garage.

No Tuber Left Behind

So hey… we just got back from our honeymoon in Jamaica! I was very good about not shouting it from the rooftops (or, more accurately, my computer keypad) that we would be out of town. You know, that whole thing about it being bad to tell the whole world you’re not at home. I can’t tell you how difficult that was, given that I can’t keep a secret to save my life AND I was way overly excited about this particular vacation.

20131028. Amazing storm clouds.

So there you have it: last Sunday, we left for a resort just west of Ocho Rios, spent the week lying on the beach and floating in the ocean, and returned late last night. JAMAICA!

20131028. Chris and his thematic reading matter.

20131028. Virgin pina colada and a good book.

20131028. Crab friend.

20131029. Ocean floating.

20131031. Bob Marley's home when he was a wee babe.

On Thursday, we took a trip into the mountains and countryside to see Bob Marley’s first home and final resting place, and on the way there, we were surprised to learn that 90 percent of the residents of that particular area are farmers.

20131031. 90 percent of the residents in this area are farmers.

The landscape on the way up to Nine Miles.

Additionally, the area’s sole water source is rainfall. This means everyone had not just a rain barrel, but a rain cistern outside the house (along with some very creative guttering systems to get the water from the corrugated metal roofs of some of the houses to the cisterns). There were also large open limestone rock catchment systems scattered throughout the area.

20131031. Limestone rainwater catchment system.

The limestone rainwater catchment system at Mt. Zion.

Being interested in that whole farming thing, my eyes immediately keyed into the fields scattered on hillsides or lower in the valleys. I began seeing squash vines trailing across the red soil, banana trees (I think), cabbage heads cropping up on stonier slopes… and these strange rows upon rows of tall poles, growing thick with what looked like sweet potato vines.

I asked our guide, Ros-shacka, and he confirmed: they were YAMS! He seemed shocked that we could grow sweet potatoes in Indiana, and we chatted for a moment about growing seasons.

20131031. The view from Mt. Zion.

Farms and gardens were tucked in everywhere on these hills.

This was also the swift kick in the behind I needed to get our own yams out of the ground upon our return. November in Indiana also means garlic cloves need to get into the soil. So as our northern diffused November sun slowly warmed the changing leaves above me this morning and with my trusty knit cap snug over my ears, I began the special chore of gently working through soft dirt for those bright red, gem-like tubers.

20131102. Sweet potatoes (or did I plant yams?).

Assembling the only tools needed for the task of digging sweet potatoes (not pictured: hands).

20131102. Sweet potatoes (or did I plant yams?).

This year, I started growing our slips early – like, JANUARY.

20130113. Starting the sweet potato slips.

In January…

201305117. Remember that time I worried the sweet potatoes wouldn't grow?

By May, we had amazing growth. Ready for the ground!

Last year was our first year growing sweet potatoes, and so we planted the slips in June, much later than we really should have. So our haul this year is at least double what it was last October. I love the mystery of underground crops, digging through the soil, not really knowing what you’re going to find. Treasures!

20131102. Sweet potatoes (or did I plant yams?).

Dinner tonight is definitely going to feature roasted, mashed sweet potatoes! Or were they yams? No matter.

A Year Later: Checking in on That Whole “Life Plan” Thing

I’ve never really been one to have what you might call a “plan” for my life. I cringe at the “where do you want to be in five years” question, so popular among motivational speakers and prospective employers. The only grand vision I have ever had of my life is to have it be a happy and fulfilling one. What does that actually look like? Well, that’s a moving target, always shifting, which I like to think keeps things interesting.

20131020. Our fall garden, half deconstructed.

Our fall garden – beginning to harvest and prune and clean up.

With that in mind, though, I realized recently that I did set a new “life plan” for myself, just a smidge over a year ago. It is amazing to me to see what has come of that one simple proclamation in such a short amount of time.

20131020. Little Red amongst the leaves.

Little Red amongst the leaves in the chicken run.

From September 22, 2012:

However, a new life plan has manifested itself as of late, and I think it’s a damn good one. My new plan is to offer whatever services I can (aka whore myself out) to all the people I think are doing super-fantastic things in this town until one of them either hires me or adopts me… OR I learn enough that I decide I can move forward with my own thing. At the very least, I will meet people who I think are doing awesome things, learn a ton from them, and maybe, just maybe, make something out of it. At the worst? Well, I don’t really think there’s a downside, to be honest.

So yeah – new life plan: surround myself with awesome people, doing awesome things that I want to be doing, too. Seems simple, right? How did it take me so long to get here?

20131020. Birdie, totally tuckered.

Our exceedingly cuddly animals continue being exceedingly sweet.

So where am I today? Things are different and wonderful and surprising and awesome. I’m getting to create and make and grow for myself, my friends, and organizations I believe in and want to be a part of. I have a husband and a dog and a baby on the way. I am really excited for the future and to see where me and my little family are a year from now.

20131020. Prolific peppers.

The year of the prolific pepper.

In short, exciting things are happening, and they all stem back to that simple decision to just reach out and do something. I love it when positive actions receive smashingly positive results. It doesn’t always happen – at least, not to this extent – but man, is it ever cool when it does.

20131020. Fall basil.

Even the basil is ready for fall and new things to come.

 

She’s a Bird…

Since my good friend, Sarah, introduced this song to us over Memorial Day Weekend, I can’t tell you how many times we’ve sung it to our own little Bird Dog. The Everly Brothers, “Bird Dog.”

The other song we sing to her ALL. THE. TIME.

You’re welcome. Other things that are going on:

  • Pants that fit me a week ago no longer do. I’m 21 weeks today, and I’m told the baby is now the size of the world’s largest gummy bear (not the WEIGHT, thank goodness, just the length/size).
  • I’m about to do a little closet cleaning/demolition/priming work today as part of Massive Closet Upgrade of 2013.
  • My office is quickly becoming half-office, half-nursery with cloth diapers, books, and knitted owls falling off the shelves.
  • And I’m finally getting to spend more time on Fall Creek Gardens stuff, harvesting the fruit of our labors! On Monday, we harvested about 30 pounds of produce for the Mid-North Food Pantry, and on Friday I harvested another 20 pounds of kale, chard, spicy mixed greens, and bok choy.

20131004. 20 pounds of greens from Fall Creek Gardens for the Mid-North Food Pantry.

Happy Saturday, everyone!

Give Me Sweater Season, or Give Me Death!

Scarf and sweater season is upon us! Apples! Crunchy leaves! Crisply scented air! Cold mornings! Slippers and favorite sweatshirts!

Fall and I? We get along. I understand how to dress myself in cooler temperatures. I don’t sweat every time I leave my house. Fall means snuggling and cozy fires and Harry Potter marathons and rediscovering my favorite handknit sweaters and scarves.

To celebrate the cooler temperatures and one week of wedded bliss, Chris and I made our annual trek out to Anderson Orchard this morning, and it was wonderful. It’s hard to believe just a week ago, I was trying not to sweat through my wedding dress in near 90-degree temperatures, waiting to walk down the wood chip mulch aisle.

20130914. Anderson Orchard.

When we first started dating, we came here and picked a 1/2 bushel – I remember how we both had apples rolling around the bottom shelves of our respective apartment fridges for weeks and weeks. We’ve not missed a visit each fall since; I suppose that’s what the beginning of a tradition looks like.

20130914. Anderson Orchard.

I also had a realization the other day – the apple sauce I canned from these apples today may very well be among the first solid foods our baby eats next summer and fall (assuming Chris and I don’t eat it all first, which is entirely possible). Still… totally wild, right?

20130914. Apples and peaches.

Getting My Fall Planting On

Confession: I’ve never planted a fall garden before. I’ve always wanted to do a fall garden, but something about the dog days of summer – you know, mid-90s, suddenly no rain in the forecast, and air that sticks to the back of your neck and the insides of your elbows the second your walk out the door – has always made it difficult for me to even think about planting new seedlings.

Also, isn’t there something so cozy and wonderful about spring garden planning? Curled up on the couch with your seed catalogs and your spring dreams, watching the snowflakes skitter shakily past just outside the window? Let me tell you, there is nothing cozy about our current weather patterns.

But I digress. This year, I am planting my first fall garden over at Fall Creek Gardens! We got seeds in the ground two weekends ago and a batch of seedlings in last weekend (right before it got too hot and dry for words, of course, but the little buggers are hanging on).

20130824. Fall Creek Gardens' Stone Soup Kitchen Garden beds.

So what’s on the fall garden menu? Let me tell you:

  • Kale (2 kinds)
  • Beets (2 kinds)
  • Chard
  • Collards
  • Turnips
  • Parsnips
  • Radishes (2 kinds)
  • Carrots (2 kinds)
  • Okra (we’ll see if it grows into the fall or not!)
  • Lettuce
  • Mesclun mix

20130824. Fall Creek Gardens' Stone Soup Kitchen Garden beds.

20130824. Fall Creek Gardens' Stone Soup Kitchen Garden beds.

20130824. Fall Creek Gardens' Stone Soup Kitchen Garden beds.
20130824. Fall Creek Gardens' sunflower mural.

There’s Apples in the Trees, Let’s Take All that We Need

With some fantastic rains, temperatures solidly back in the double digits, and evenings dropping down to the 70s and even 60s, suddenly life is flowing back into everything. The garden, the grass, the chickens, and, yes, even me.

I’m starting to think wistfully of my scarf and cardigan collection, of jeans and chilly mornings wandering the last days of the farmers’ market with a steaming mug of coffee in my hands. I’m fantasizing about these things, really. While I hate to wish away time, I am quite content to get lost in daydreams that include the smells of crunchy leaves, wood smoke, and wool sweaters.

With these daydreams in mind, Chris and I ignored the fact that the temperature would get up to 91 degrees last Saturday and braved the beautiful orchards of Anderson Orchards, just west of Indianapolis.

20120825. Anderson Orchard.

20120825. Anderson Orchard. Right about when Chris was saying, "This is the dorkiest thing ever."

I have had visions of making more apple sauce than I know what to do with since last fall when we left the orchard with over 20 pounds of apples. I made jar upon jar of apple sauce and the best apple butter I’ve ever had (with a few apple crisps thrown in for good measure and to keep me going through all that canning), and we still ran out fairly early in the winter.

20120825. Anderson Orchard.

Chris’ new favorite joke: “What’s the favorite dessert of gang members? APPLE CRIPS.”

20120825. We picked a peck.

A peck of apples: 12 pounds, to be exact. We came home with TWO of these.

Fast forward to tonight and round two of apple processing. I got through 3/4 of one bag last Saturday. First, I busted out the trusty apple peeler/corer/slicer tool of utter MAGIC my parents gave me for Christmas last year.

Then, I peeled. Oh, how I peeled. I peeled like there would never be an end to the apples I had to peel, like peeling was my new purpose in life. And it was good.

20120830. More apple sauce.

My apple sauce recipe calls for water and apples – that’s it. The step by step: peel and core six pounds of apples. Throw into large stock pot with 1.5 cups of water. Boil for 30-40 minutes, stirring often, until the apples are broken down and fluffy-awesome. In the meantime, prep your water bath canning getup. Blend the liquid-magma-hot apples to your desired consistency in a blender, return to stock pot, and simmer gently another five minutes. Ladle into hot jars with 1/2″ headspace, then process in water bath canner for 15 minutes. Let sit for five minutes in the water bath canner, then remove to a cutting board for 12 hours. Label/store and/or guzzle said apple sauce straight from the jar.

Other signs of life and of impending fall: drying Northern Sea Oats grass seed to plant along the back of the house.
20120825. Drying Northern Sea Oats seeds to plant in the backyard.

Worm feasts of turnip and carrot greens.
20120825. Snacks for worms.

Baseball-sized turnips!
20120825. TURNIPS.

Sunflower parties.
Happy.

So far, we’re up to 10 jars of apple sauce. I think another trip to the orchard is in order to do up apple butter. Apple butter or bust! Apple butter til we puke!