May 052016
 

A productive past couple of days has left me feeling accomplished and very tired.  It has also left me feeling very behind and lacking.

I have been finishing up the inside of the house, in preparation for new carpet being installed on Friday.  I have finally finished removing wall paper, priming, and painting two coats on walls, as well as priming and painting (2 coats) on the ceilings.  Old carpet and padding has been pulled. Floors have been swept.  Closets cleaned out.

So why is it that I am feeling behind?  Because my yard is covered in weeds.  Look at it! It is horrible.:

yard weeds collage

They are everywhere I look.  The kids only help by “blowing on the pretty white flowers”, not realizing how much I hate those pretty white flowers.  My mowing seems to only help for a day or two, then over night everything comes back stronger than ever. Or so it seems.

Then it rains. It all grows bigger and bigger, laughing at me, while I have been whittling time away on inside work.  All hope is gone, I may as well throw in the towel now and not even try gardening this year!

(throwing in the towel)

I decided to walk around the yard, snapping pictures of all the ways I am failing as a gardener. See, I wanted to show you exactly how bad things had gotten. The proof is not in short supply.

By the time I had completed my trip around the yard, I found more that I was expecting.

spring flower collage

See, my focus had been distracted to the one part of the yard that received the most impact from our house work during the past two years.  It is the place where a 6+ foot deep trench had been dug and the dirt piled up, where trucks had been driving, where trees had been cut down, where wood chips had been piled since late last spring, and where almost no grass is growing.  My focus had been on this part of the yard.  Even though this small part was small in comparison to the whole, it is what my attention went to every time I pulled into our yard or looked out a window.

Meanwhile, in other section of the yard, flowers were blooming and growing.  Places that in years past held no flowers or were struggling, were now showing signs of thriving.  Color was showing up everywhere, pushing out the brown and mud of winter.

Isn’t this often how we view our gardens and life?  We worry and focus on the small part we are working on, forgetting to look around, forgetting to look at those places we improved upon in the past.

There will always be bare spots, weeds, lackluster parts of our garden.  And life.  People, including ourselves, live up or down down to our expectations of them.  If all you expect are weeds, then that is what you will find.  You will find yourself too tired to go do battle to take back your yard.  Other things will call out to you which seem to have a higher likelihood of success.  You will throw in the towel before you have even started.

However, if you can look at your garden and find all the things going right, or the potential for things going right, then that is what you will see.  You will find you have more energy to make it like you want it.  The rainy days will not seem so forlorn, but instead will be watering your flowers, making them ready to bloom brighter when the sun comes out.

Don’t believe me?  Take a look again at the pictures above.  Can you tell which part of the yard I feel better about, the part I have higher hopes for?  Hint: it is not the one with the “pretty white flowers” that my kids like.  The part I feel better about I am more likely to spend time in, working to make it even better.

Yes, I am talking about gardening, though the analogy works very well for life.  A conversation with a friend this week reminded me of that very point.  I proceeded to tell her about all the ways I am failing (persistent weeds), all the things going wrong (quick growing weed), and all the ways I should have done better (deep rooted weeds).  She then proceeded to encourage me (spreading flower seeds) and remind me of where our family has come from in the past (those perennial flowers planted several seasons ago that are now stronger and flowering more).  I was reminded to stop looking over at my neighbor’s life (“The grass is always greener…”) and focus on mine.

Sometimes, our garden really is shabby.  That is when you choose a corner to start improving upon, pulling weeds and planting things you enjoy.  Other times, it is only your perspective, looking at the areas still in progress.  You forget to turn and see the things you have added to make your garden your own.  Do not get so focused on the seed that your forget to see the flower.

 

Apr 032016
 

seeds beginning 2014 garden season

One idea to reduce your grocery bill that I commonly hear, after coupons and shopping sales and eating left overs, is to plant a garden.  While they are correct in a garden can be cheaper than going to the grocery store to buy the same items, it doesn’t mean gardening is always cheap.  It can easily cost a pretty penny, especially if you are just starting out.  Planning ahead and being aware of what you are spending, what you need and having realistic goals can save you quite a bit over a season, or 2 or 5.

Gardening can be done with very little money.  It can. However, it takes time and effort.

Mar 282016
 

2 snowy seats and table

Recently I shared 3 projects I would love to make for my garden from wood pallets.  While searching for idea, I came across a few more that would work great for the yard.  These are also projects in which I can involve the kids. 

How about this great porch swing, but turned into a tree swing? I know the perfect limb ….

A shelf to tuck in along a porch corner? Sold. Finding furniture I can leave out rain or shine, or snow, is hard to find. The screened in section of our porch is usually protected, but still is prone to moisture and lots of wind.  There is a section of wall perfect for a shelving unit. It would be a great place to store outside toys, games, and items for entertaining. A much better idea than the low table we currently have which has become a dumping ground.  This is also a project that could be worked on at any point in the year.

I am really liking the idea of this Ottoman for the porch. It would fulfil various needs as time arose – storage for toys or cushions, an extra seat, IR an ottoman. There is the slight detail that this is made from a crate instead if a pallet, but it is a great idea to go from.

Mar 242016
 

I am a big proponent of using what I have, sometimes so much so my husband has to remind me that I can actually spend money.

When it comes to wood pallets, I see so much potential in something most people throw away.  Here are a few of my favorite ideas.

This would be perfect for my narrow, East facing bed. It is under the overhang of my garden anyway.  For that matter, I might even make two for its South facing front. It would look gorgeous filled with flowers.

We have a bare side of our house, the exterior new garage wall. A few of these with cascading flowers would give a bit of height, be easy to mow around and not look so short along a tall wall. Maybe even mixed with some vertical planters above.

Even better, by our side door which is on a small brick pad. Oiy!  So many ideas, so little time!

Or this, with a board added as a bench. I could sit outside and watch the kids play.

Well, I think I have added 3 relatively good projects to my already long list of things to do.  Honestly, though, does your garden/yard list ever get completed? Yeah, mine neither.

Mar 032016
 

jars of crushed tomatoes 4

Canning during the spring season is not what usually comes to mind when I think of filling the pantry with beautiful results of gardening labor. However, that is where I am starting this year.

Goal #1 Use up all my current canned goods. After taking a canning hiatus last year, I find myself still with an abundance of filled jars.  Some I have no worries about them being used up soon (beets), others I know are going to take more deliberate planning (green tomato pie filling).

Why not plan to use them throughout the year? Some, like beets, I will. Others, though, have a 2013 date on them. While still good, their quality is in decline; they need to be used soon.

The corn has found a home in a cornbread recipe. The plan is to make muffins and freeze them.

The crushed tomatoes will be used in chili.  I was surprised to find howcmanybof these we actually used.  If they are still hanging around I will puree them to use while cooking rice.

The tomato sauce, my earliest try at spaghetti sauce, is runny and unflavored.  It is currently being used when I cook rice, and will continue to be used as such.

The pickled beets will be eaten as sides. After not having beets for years, I went a bit overboard while canning. Turns out that we do not eat a quart twice a week all tear long.  I may start using these to make Harvard beets some meals.

The pearbutter will be dumped unless there is a redeeming recipe somewhere. It would have turned out okay except it needed more sugar. Lots more sugar.

The other jams I will continue to open and use. The only store bought jam we have is apricot jam, which my husband likes but of which I have none.

With our maple syrup supply running low, placing a jar of fruit syrup in the fridge next to the maple syrup would go a long way toward helping me remember we have them. These were failed jelly and jam attempts.

I also have a few loners hanging out in the pantry -a jar of relish, some peppers, a tomato soup combination – these will be moved next to similar items and added to the meal preparations.  Our next pizza meal will have banana peppers on it. Yum!

Farm Market Swap 2015 collage

Goal #2 Try some no garden related canning recipes. Last fall, my friend shared a jar of Thai Dipping Sauce she had canned. It was delicious and required no fresh garden products. It is one example of a canning recipe that can be done any time of the year.

Tubs and crate of canning jars

Goal #3 Gather and sort all empty canning jars. When filled it is easy to keep similar sized jars together. As jars get emptied, though, I find there is a glitch in my method. Most are in bins and boxes, but enough are in bags, on my work bench and next to toys on shelves in the basement to get the feeling of being surrounded by wayward jars.

How do you approach the start of the next canning season if you still have jars of goods left over from past years?  Any particular recipes you use?

Jan 282016
 

mailbox mail

It is that time of year again.  Garden catalogs are beginning to show up in the mail box.  Soon it will be time to get my seeds out to start for this upcoming year’s garden.

With the break in gardening last year I am sure that several of my saved seeds are too old to use with good results in this upcoming year.  At times I can take the chance with older seeds, not requiring a high germination rate.  Other times I need to know that most of what I plant will come up; that is where I find myself this year.

Several catalogs have already found their way to my mail box and are awaiting previewing.  The tough choice ahead is to now narrow down the choices as my garden only has so much room, and I only have so much time, to grow all the potential beauties.

I have updated the Garden Catalogs page, containing over 30 different gardening catalogs you can request. Some are specialty catalogs (ex: heirloom) or focused on a particular part of the country.  Some are catalogs you can request through the mail, while others are online only.

If your favorite catalog is not on the list, let me know and I will look into adding it.

Happy Shopping!

Jan 142016
 

produce auction collage

This post in part of a series about produce auctions across the USA.  While this is not a comprehensive list, I have tried to include auctions about which I can find information.  If you know of any others, feel free to leave a note in the comments section.

While the weather is turning down right frigid in various parts of the country, before you know it Spring will be knocking at your door. While you are looking through your seed catalogs and planning out your new garden’s beginnings, try adding in a bit of fun and adventure – check out a local produce auction. In the Spring, you may find plants as well as fresh spring vegetables.  Some of the auctions start in April others will hold off till May.

Wakarusa Produce Auction  Open 3 days a week: Monday 1 p.m., Wednesday 11 a.m., Friday 11 a.m.  From their website:

“We are open from the last week in April to the end of October. We auction produce grown in Elkhart County by local farmers. “

 

Adams County Flower & Produce Auction LLC – from their website:

Opening for business in July 2004, our purpose is to sell high quality produce grown by local farmers specifically for wholesale buyers such as stores, roadside stands, farm markets, distribution companies, etc. Located in Northern Indiana, auctions are held April thru October EVERY TUESDAY & THURSDAY AT 10:00 AM, with specialty auction dates for Hay, Straw and Firewood.

 Wayne County Produce Auction – located in Williamsburg, Indiana.  According to an article written in 2013 on Amish365.com , “The auction is open every Monday, Wednesday and Friday through Oct. 19. The only exceptions are Oct. 3 and 10. The auction opens at 1 p.m. Mondays and 10 a.m. Wednesdays and Fridays.”

 

Rockville Produce Auction is located in Rockville, Indiana.  A Midwest Living article shares the following information:

“The auction schedule varies, but generally sales are held May through October, at 2 p.m. Mondays and 10 a.m. Wednesdays and Fridays. (Call ahead to confirm.) If you’re planning to bid, buy a number in the front office ($10 per season) before joining the action.”

Daviess County Produce Auctionlocated at 5667 N County Road 900 E, Montgomery, Indiana begins their auctions in mid-April and end in October.  The year starts off with items you can use to decorate your yard, as well as plants for the garden.  As the year continues you will be able to find in season vegetables and fruits.  Their phone number is 812-486-2445.  Sales begin at 1 p.m. on Mondays, 9 a.m. on Wednesdays and Fridays.

Dec 292015
 

first 2013 produce stand

This past year was harder than I had anticipated.  Though I will further explore that statement later, I want to talk about one aspect in particular relating to this past year – the street-side produce stand.

Since 2009 I have put a small stand out in front of the house.  It started with extra produce which was more than I could give away at church.  The idea was to charge less than Small Town Grocery, who is expensive and has a poor selection,  but enough to cover my gardening costs.  I was not in it to get rich.

Over time I have come to realize how much my neighbors appreciate the close availability of fresh produce.  The working mom across the street would send her kids over for peppers to make with supper.  The assisted living residents would stop by for a tomato or a hanging basket of begonias, as those were one of the few plants able to grow in the limited light of their apartments. Someone canning and needing just a few more tomatoes knew were to stop. The family with only a few dollars to spend on fresh produce could make their money go further.  The neighbor across the street bought me out of bedding plants to complete her yard work.  The mail carrier needing a few things, but no time to run into the store after work.  As time went on, I began to get a feel for the community, realizing what a blessing this was for people.  That is one thing I would remember when I needed the extra energy to keep it going.

(Side note: my husband recently shared with me that at least one person stopped and bought from the stand assuming we needed the money. “Why else would someone do it?”, they reasoned. )

cart of produce auction hay tomato apples

The stand was started before we became foster parents, before the loss of my husband’s father, before the loss of someone close to me to suicide, and before other trials in our lives. It was one of the things I would do to keep my sanity in times of otherwise emotional chaos.

Over time, my friendship with my neighbor grew due to the time we spent on gardening related activities, including running this stand together.  Without her, I am not sure I could have seen it through that first summer with George and Jack.  The following year she had some major medical issues that kept her from gardening at all, let alone helping with the stand. I was able to pick up things and still help her family have some of the fresh produce they had now grown used to during the summers.

processing tomatoes for spaghetti sauce dinning room table

Having the produce stand has also resulted in some unintended opportunities.  It has allowed my neighbor-friend to realize another area of need outside of our community that provides better income on a more consistent basis, during the summers, with not a lot of extra effort.  I too have begun noticing other areas of opportunity and have had the confidence to try them.

When this past Spring was approaching I knew I had to say “no” to more things in my life due to new priorities.  It was going to be for a season, but it was still hard to accept. The produce stand had become so second nature I was not sure I could stop. It had become a part of who I was. “My house is the one with the produce stand out front,” was often how I explained to people where I lived. It had also started taking up more of my time and mental energy.

My biggest worry was how to share this with my neighbor-friend. My second thought was for those who had relied on the stand as a source of affordable fresh produce.

When I shared my conclusion with my friend, her reaction was a sense of relief. Not at all the reaction I was expecting.  She too had been trying to figure out the words to use to say that she could not do the produce stand this year.  Her family responsibilities were going to be increasing, taking up more of her time. We both had been worried about letting the other down when in reality it was not the right season for either of us.

large white pumpkin at stand

As Spring turned into Summer I had several people ask about the produce stand. While they were disappointed, I assured them it would be for a season, not permanent.

It was the right decision. As Summer went along, it was very obvious I could not have done it all. I did not want to do it all.  While we missed the extra cash flow, it was not something we were relying upon to make ends meet.

I did not even need it as a source of extra produce to preserve, as that was something else to which I had said “no”. It helped that I had canned a lot of extra the past 2 years, enough to see us through on several different items.

What started out as an act of desperation when I had begun to feel overwhelmed, ended up being a very healthy thing. It allowed me to step back, re-evaluate if this was something I wanted to keep doing, to spend my time on, or something I needed to let someone else take over. (Several other gardeners had begun doing the same thing in the last year or two.)

Farmer's Market Stand

While I see myself picking it back up this coming summer, I also see myself setting boundaries.  We had both begun feeling as if we had to put the stand out, not because we had extra produce but because people expected it to be there. It was becoming more of a burden than a blessing.

Having the extra time this past year has allowed flexibility in deciding what was best for our family at this time.  Even that has changed several times as various needs have come and gone.

While I wish I could say, “This is what is going to happen, this is what is going to work for us in the upcoming 12 (unforseen) months”, I know better.  Forget about His laughing at my presumptions, I would do it for Him.

So, for now, I see that this past year was only “for a season”. Whether my forecast is accurate or not remains to be seen. I now know that I can let go and still be Me, that my identity is tied to more that something I happen to be doing at this time, even if it is something I greatly enjoy doing. This is a lesson I seem to have needed reminding of yet again.

 

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Dec 032015
 

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After a week’s break from painting, I’m back at it.  I think Jack and I were both tired of being apart for so long. Solution?  I set up a video watching station in the closet. 🙂

This actually kills several birds with one stone. 1. I get to preview the videos, to make sure they are still in good shape, before passing them along to someone else.  2. Jack and I are within conversation distance. 3. It does not use up our limited bandwidth. 4. I can make sure he is watching something appropriate. 5. He can do some school work in this setting later.

As for that last one, I think he is tired of the light school schedule I have been giving him – Reading Eggs, Mathseeds, Wild Krats/Super Why/Leap Frog/Mighty Machines videos, and puzzels.  He mentioned it this morning, so we’ll start getting back into the full swing g if things soon.

I called the electrician today, saying we would be ready for them next week.  All the painting won’t be done, but enough that they can come finish their work.

There is still a small pile of woodchips and 3-4 buckets of coffee grounds that need to go on the garden beds. Well, after I clear off the old plants from this past year.

We are expecting warmer weather next week. Once I have the ceilings painted, I am going to take a day to put the garden to bed for the winter.  This step has never been done so late in the year before. On a positive note, it isn’t planting season yet.

Little by little things are getting back to where I want them around the house. There is still a long way to go, but by Spring I hope to be able to focus more on gardening again.  I’m even getting excited about starting seeds, an activity whose idea only produced a feeling of dread and inadequacy last year.

Are you beginning to think of next year’s garden, or still recuperating from this past season?

Sep 162015
 

birds eye view of garden june 2015(This post was started in June)

Saying “no” is not easy.  We grow so accustomed to our lives that it feels like there are things we just can not live without, or rather things that would not function if we were not involved.  We can not imagine not doing XYZ, because we have always done it.  Saying “no” means stepping back and taking an honest look at life, yourself and the assumptions you have made.

Things are better now than they were this past Fall/Winter, but they are still tough.  I can feel the stress start to creep in, the feeling of things being on the verge of crumbling in one big mess.  I take a deep breath and remember to just do the next thing, not to try to fix or do everything right now.

I told my MOPS group that I could not volunteer again for the upcoming year.  I loved helping in this group, but knew that my home, my kids, and my true calling came first.  Also, I was much better at getting to know new moms one-on-one, rather than as a leader.  I volunteered on the Steering Committee because I knew that I could do the job, not because it was really where I shine.  It was time for someone else to have the opportunity to step up.

I had to tell Olaf’s parents that I could not continue to watch him over the summer.  This was a bit easier, as they had more options with school being out to find other arrangements.  He still comes over some, but not several times a week.  We’ll see what the new school year brings, but I think I am going to have to continue to say “no” to this one.  With Jack being home school and beginning 1st grade, I am looking to set more of a routine than I did last semester.  Watching another kid for several morning a week really sort of limits what we can do.  This was one “no” that made me really sad, as I was doing it because I knew it was helping out a friend, not because of the money.  Jack and Olaf also get along really well and I know they miss seeing each other.

Unlike the past 8 years, I started no garden plants at home. Zilch. I was trying to keep the house above freezing.  Getting the basement picked up enough to start plants was not exactly high on the list.  I gave myself grace to buy plants this year.  You know what?  I still somehow ended up with:

  • over 10 tomato plants
  • 26 pepper plants
  • 80 onion sets
  • tons of radishes
  • 3 cabbage plants (though I don’t think they will do anything)
  • Zinnias and marigolds
  • several handfuls of green bean plants
  • a zucchini plant
  • 3 unknown vine-ing plants
  • 4 or 5 cucumbers
  • and berry bushes/plants of various varieties.

I will say that I think it worked out okay this year.

school year 2015 2016 collage

Fast forward 3 months and I am in a slightly better place.  There are still a lot of things I have stopped doing, for now, but have picked back up a few.  I am also weighing whether I want to begin doing some things again in a few months when life calms down even more, hopefully.

As it turns out, Olaf does come two half days a week.  He goes to preschool in the mornings, so Jack and I are able to get his school work done before Olaf comes.  Usually.  Sometimes we are finishing as they are walking in the door.

The house remodel/work is nearing completion.  Not fully there, but oh so close.  My husband is finally able to see what I saw in my mind when we started this adventure.  The finishing touches on the drywall should be completed next week.  Then painting, finishing electrical work and install light fixtures, install a small HVAC system for the  new room, flooring, and finally trim and doors.  Yes, I know it is still not an extremely short list, but it is all quick stuff and some can be done simultaneously.

I have continued to say “no” to the produce stand.  A few people have asked me if I was planning to do it, to which I reply, “I have thought it was time to begin it several times lately, but was reminded that it was not time just yet.”  I was doing yard work outside today when someone stopped by looking for a particular item.  I did not have what she was looking for but told her I would see if I could find someone who did.  Seems roma tomatoes were not very popular to plant with gardeners in our are this year.  In talking with her, though, I mentioned I had hot peppers (that were planted to have something in that spot besides weeds) if she wanted them.  I would give them to her just so they could be used and not wasted.  And that, Dear Readers, is the extent of me ‘selling’ produce.

I also have not canned up any items.  There have been several bags of tomato soup added to the freezer, but nothing canned.  Thanks to previous years’ efforts I am still well stocked on most items and should be able to make it through to the next canning year.  I did relent and purchase commercially made spaghetti sauce.  I think pizza sauce will be the next thing I run out of and have to go buy.

There are more areas in life which have been affected by this attitude, the feeling that I have more say in my life.  It is a nice feeling to have when the expectations of others begin to feel more important than what you know is best for your family.  It is a nice feeling to have, to be able to clear things off your plate so you have room to enjoy the what is left.

nature center lounge

When my blog took an unexpected vacation, thanks to an error in a line of code, I was left examining the roll blogging plays in my life.  I felt a loss of the memories I have shared on here these past few years, ones that I have not journaled about.  This blog was begun at a point when taking time to hand write daily events seemed too overwhelming. It also provided a mental break for me, challenging me to keep growing while also being able to share a love of mine.  Was I ready to give it up at the drop of a hat?  Should I give it up?  Why not?  What if I did?  What creative outlet could I use instead, which would be realistic at this time?

These are questions I ask myself from time to time, but never faced with such a high likelihood of it actually happening.  This time, the questions felt very real, not just something out of the air to think through and debate.  I would rather have been thinking through which library books to get for Jack, new methods to help George get the next math step, or any other of the many decisions I could have been doing at that point.  These questions, however uncomfortable I felt thinking through them, had to be examined.  I was not willing to just keep going because that is what I have been doing for the past few years.

The thankfulness and relief I felt when the customer service representative told me the code had been fixed and that all should be back to the way it was, answered for me all the questions I had been asking myself.  It was a much different feeling from the relief I felt when I realized I would not have to be staying up for a few hours several evenings one week canning spaghetti sauce.

As I continue through the next few months, finishing up the work on the house, settling in to a home school routine, and going through daily life I am going to continue evaluating things as they come up.  It is so easy to let little things get added to your plate.  Before you know it, you have no room for the things you really want.