Coming Full Circle…

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When I was a little girl living in Hawaii my parents sent my brother and I on an airplane, alone, to spend summers with my grandparents in Northern Minnesota.  I dreaded those summer getaways… all I could think of was spending my summer with “old” people, out in the middle of nowhere, with absolutely nothing to do.  It was time spent in the garden, stealing apples from old man Marco’s apple tree, dirt road rides in search of wild critters, hanging out at the lake diving for clams, and walking down the street to the corner store to buy penny candy.  Oh, and, yes, going to the annual polka festival.  A night out to eat was to the local Bonanza, where all I longed for was the lollipop at the end of my meal.

To top it all off, I was somehow taught, led to believe, that growing your own food or buying local was embarrassing, going beneath yourself.  I vividly remember my grandfather coming home one day with local strawberries.  All I could do was laugh at the thought that Minnesota strawberries were so much better than a strawberry from elsewhere (like I was some expert that strawberries from a tropical island were so much better).   I also remember being so critical over a fireworks show in town, thinking how could such a local celebration be so much better than seeing one in a huge city like New York City?

As I write this blog I am amazed at how much I disliked those times.  How could I not have appreciated and enjoyed all that I did, and learned?  It’s so sad.

Here I am today living in a simple home, with a few acres, out in the country in Maine.  The life I have today is actually is no different than my grandparents.  Gardens, fruit trees, fishing, hunting, buying local, and supporting community efforts.  I have come full circle.  Everything old is new again.  The passion I have for this lifestyle, for me and for my family is deep.  It is important to myself and to my husband.  Shouldn’t our kids know that locally grown food is so much better than food grown thousands miles away?  Shouldn’t our kids know the importance of where our food comes from?  Shouldn’t our kids know basic outdoor skills?  Shouldn’t our kids experience green trees and fresh air?

I wish I could go back in time and enjoy my Minnesota visits more.  I wish I could tell my grandparents how much those visits influenced who and where I am today.  I only hope that both are looking down at me from above smiling… and, of course, shouting, “I told so”‘!

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You would think that with  my husband home I’d be able to get a lot more done with the the extra hands.  No such luck.  However, I am happy to report my husband took on a couple of projects this past week.  He busted out his muscles and did quite a bit for us!  Thank you, deary (insert belly rub)!

The weather was great this weekend.  The kids spent both days outside, ALL day.  One of the things I love about our little homestead is that the kids can go outside and literally play to their hearts content.  They can bike up and down the road with no worries.  They can trek in to the woods and explore.  This weekend they set up a plank headed towards the pond so they can put some chairs out and, as my daughter says, “chill”.  The best part of the weekend… all of our neighbor kids were out four wheeling together.  Everyone had so much fun!

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I have a love/hate relationship with my brother-in-law.  He is extremely free spirited and will show up at our house on a whim.  I hate that.  My kids love him to pieces, and there isn’t anything he wouldn’t do for my kids.  I love that.  So, I accept his quirkiness and feed him a ton of food every time he shows up for a visit.

A few months ago, while my husband was away at sea, he shows up to the house.  As he is playing WWF with the kids my daughter’s bed breaks.  She has been sleeping on a bed held up by a few old books.  This week my husband made a bed frame for my daughter out of pallets.  Some may think it’s a bit cheesy, but she loves it!  He put black lights under the slats that creates a glow in the dark effect at night for her.

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Speaking of pallets… we have a bunch of them.  A trip to a box store proved pay dirt.  We’ll be making a potato bin as well as a lettuce/herb garden.  I’ll be sure to post pictures once they are built.

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The tree house flooring is near completion.  The kids are quite eager to finally get their bean bags inside.  My daughter created the first sign for the tree house.  I hope that in a couple more weeks all will be done and the kids can spend countless hours hiding away.  I am hoping for this tree house to be the ultimate reading room for them!

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My reading was very poor this week.  I’m trying really hard to finish a book I had been so excited to read.  Unfortunately, my progress has been slow.  I am bound and determined to finish it this week though!

A couple of weeks ago I read “I Funny: A Middle School Story” by James Patterson (yes, the same James Patterson that writes thrillers – he also writes children’s books).  It was a quick read about a boy, Jamie Grimm, who wants to become the world’s greatest stand-up comedian.  Jamie has a lot of personal obstacles but keeps a wonderful sense of humor.  He decides to enter a contest called The Planet’s Funniest Kid Comic.  I found myself cheering Jamie on the whole way.  He is an extremely likable boy who is amazingly strong.  Not only was this book clever and funny, it was heartwarming.

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This Week’s Project Download…

Good morning all!  A day late but… I hope everyone had a very Happy Easter!

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This year I lost my daughter to the Easter Bunny tradition.  Although it was sad I was happy she could help mom and dad, and shop for goodies for her little brother and baby sister.  Of course, she got to pick out her own basket goodies as well, which worked out well in her favor.  I always add toothbrushes and toothpaste in the kids baskets.  It never hurts to remind my little ones about the importance of dental hygiene!

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This year I also added books.  My daughter got “Middle School:  My Brother is a Big, Fat Liar” and my son got his very first Magic Tree House book, “Dinosaurs Before Dark”.  Unlike his artistic sister my son is very factual.  Both are very excited to start reading their books!

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This week was more of a planning project week.  It’s finally warming up enough where we could open the tree house back up.  We still need to put down some simple wood flooring and finish the roofing.  Right now it looks like the tree house will have a metal roof, which will end up being a lot nicer than the roof we have on our house!

The kids love it.

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Our veggies are finally starting to sprout.  We can’t wait to finally put them in the ground!

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This past week I read “Anya’s Ghost”.  I found out about this book from my daughter’s teacher who has a blog of her own, The Late Bloomer’s Book Blog.

This was my first time reading a graphic novel and I must say the graphics are excellent.  It is a novel for young teens, especially girls.  The story is quick and speaks about social anxiety, body image, friendship, and ghostbusting.  The main character, Anya, smokes which I did not like at all.  But, all in all, it was a a quick read and was a good graphic novel to read.

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Mucking it Up in Mud Season…

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When I first moved to the New England 14 years ago I had never set foot on the East Coast.  Yet I had this odd fascination with the East Coast lifestyle.  Somehow that lifestyle seemed much more fitting to me.  Living a majority of my life overseas in Japan, I was also fortunate to live in places like California, Guam and Hawaii.  Pretty awesome, right?  Even with those wonderful opportunities I missed something… I never truly experienced  the change of seasons.   So when I met my husband I was lucky to discover he was from Maine… which eventually led us “home” to raise our family on our beautiful mini-homestead.

Spring is a tricky time in Northern New England.  Yes, spring officially starts in March, although you really don’t reap the warmer temperature benefits until much later.  But, in all honesty, there never really is a true spring up here.  It’s mud season.  This is when all the snow and ice melts. Sometimes it rains. Sometimes it snows. More often, we get a wintery mix and erratic swings in climate. Nature is at its most capricious.

Just looking out my door I can see the soft ground peeking through the melting snow.  It’s soft, it’s squishy… it’s mud.  And at this homestead it means a lot of dirt dragging in the house.  Not only from my kids, but the dog and, worst of all, my husband (sorry, honey, but it’s true).  Mud season also means it’s time to put up those heavy winter coats and break out the spring weather wear.  Fleeces for chilly mornings and evenings, rain coats for the slushy mess, and muck boots to trek out in to the yard or, as in my kids case, just play.

Mud season is probably the most dreaded season of the year.  Yes, even more dreaded than winter.  However, it’s the price of living in Maine. Our winter brings fresh snow and bright blue skies; autumn has the most glorious foliage and summer, with moderate heat and low humidity, is perfection. Spring does not really kick in until May, and then everything blooms at once. I love living in a place with all the seasons, even if I’m counting the days to daffodils and tulips.

When I think about it mud season is not all bad. There are no crowds. Days are getting longer. Shovels rest while snow piles shrink. Empty beaches are beautifully surreal. The sidewalks around town are finally clear of ice.  We’ve been hibernating all winter so throw on a pair of your mud boots and enjoy the outdoors!

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This post was featured at the Homestead Barn Hop.

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Happy Maple Syrup Sunday!

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In Maine we celebrate Maple Syrup Sunday on the second to the last Sunday in March.  Did you know that Maine is the second largest producer of maple syrup in the U.S.?

Here are some other interesting factoids:

– It takes 40 gallons of sugar maple sap to make one gallon of pure Maine Maple Syrup.

– It takes freezing cold nights and warm sunny days with temperatures in the 40’s and up before the sap will run.

– It takes approximately 40 years for a sugar maple tree to reach tapping size.

Our home has once again taken on the challenge of tapping our own trees.  Each year is a bust for us when it comes time to make syrup.  But I am determined to one day get it right, without having to spend thousands of dollars on industrial equipment.  We shall see what the next couple of weeks bring.  Hopefully it will be some syrup… even if it’s just a small pint!

I didn’t get much done project wise.  I think I needed some down time after all the stress from the Pinewood Derby.  I also needed a couple of days to get this house in order before my husband came home.  His patrol is finally over and the kids and I will have some time with him before he takes off yet again in another month.

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One thing husband and I did was start some cool weather crops down in the basement.  Using grow lights we (or should I say he) planted cabbage, brussel sprouts, onions, peas and beans.   We are so excited to finally get the garden started this year.  We have so many ideas and plans.  I hope to have an over abundance of crops.  Enough to share with our friends and neighbors!

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I love knitting, although I love yarn more.  I wish I had more time to knit and learn more knitting techniques.

Last summer, when I found out I was having another baby girl, I began knitting a blanket.  Here we are over 8 months later and the blanket is no where near finished.  I’ve promised myself that this darn blanket is going to be finished by the time summer arrives.  That should give me more than enough time… right?  Let’s hope so!  Or else Baby Girl will end up using this blanket as a towel cloth instead!

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This week I read “Touch Blue” by Cynthia Lord.  The story takes place in Maine so, of course, I had to enjoy the book.  I always love how authors depict Maine and New England in general.  It’s so refreshing and peaceful.  I can literally smell the ocean air and feel the sand gritting between my toes.  It’s fantastic.  In “Touch Blue” families volunteer as foster parents to meet minimum state requirements to keep their school open on the island where they live.  The story focuses on 11-year old Tess and her new, older, foster brother Aaron, a veteran of the foster care system.  I particularly like how each chapter begins with a superstition.  My favorite is Chapter 16, ‘If you write your wish beneath the stamp on a letter, the letter will carry the wish with it.”

How Does Your Garden Grow?

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Down with the groundhog I say!

Today is the first day of Spring and up here in the Northeast there is no sign of it… anywhere!  Instead, Mother Winter continues to drop snowflake upon snowflake.  If I’m not mistaken Punxsutawney Phil did say, “And so ye faithful, there is no shadow to see, an early Spring for you and me.”  You were surely mistaken… you… you… you rodent!

Okay, so let’s just pretend Spring is upon us.  We can now start planning and planting seeds for the garden!

In the past our homestead has done a combination of starting seeds indoors and directly planting in the ground from plants purchased at our local garden store.  This year we’re taking a bigger step and starting all of our seeds indoors using grow lights.  It’s probably a good idea we’re doing this since warmer weather is no where in sight.

My favorite part of garden planning is deciding what to grow.  We always do the standard… tomatoes, peppers, radishes, beans, peas, beets, lettuce, cucumbers, spinach, carrots.  We take a further step and also grow potatoes, eggplant, zucchini, squash, kale, swiss chard, pie pumpkins and edamame (soybeans).  In addition, I always like to pick a couple of ‘testers’ crops.  Two years ago I tried okra and got three.  I consider that a success since the okra was forced to grow up here in Maine.  Last year I took a stab at a few artichokes.  No luck.  However, I hear artichokes are perennials, but also hear they can’t survive winter.  We shall see what happens.   I also have tried bok choy, brussel sprouts, broccoli, and hot peppers.

This year I’ve decided on three ‘testers’… sweet potatoes, peanuts and banana peppers.  It is always fun to try out something new in the garden.  Who says you must stick to standard crops you find in the grocery store?  Even if you don’t know what kohlrabi is, or have no idea what to do with bok choy, watching them grow is almost as enjoyable as cooking and eating it.  You can always give them to your neighbor.  Or, better yet, you might find a recipe and a new found love!

If you’re not quite ready to try an unusual crop consider the commonly grown vegetables that come in an array of colors and varieties that you can’t find in the store.  How cool is it to pull up purple carrots?  Blue potatoes?  Zebra tomatoes?

Carpe diem fellow gardeners!  Carpe diem!

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This post was featured at the Homestead Barn Hop.

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It was another whirlwind week here on the homestead.  And this morning it was tough programming the kids to wake up earlier than normal because of daylight savings time.

I am proud to say that the derby car is complete!  Just in time for the races this coming weekend.  Just some minor sanding and paint touch ups.

I’ll have a special blog post on this project and my many lessons learned.

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I didn’t have time to do many projects this week (I’ll get to that in a minute).  I was able to make a peppermint citrus scrub though.  It is extremely easy to make.  You can use sugar or salt, both will gently exfoliate the skin.  The cooling sensation of the peppermint oil helps soothe itchiness, and the coconut oil (or another other oil you choose to use) moisturizes.  I like the citrus because it is very invigorating and immediately wakes you up and has a wonderful clean, spring/summer scent.  We definitely need that up here in Northern New England!

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Here’s how to make the scrub:

  • 1 cup granulated white sugar or salt.   (I personally buy the cheap stuff since I won’t be eating it)
  • 1/3 cup coconut oil .  You can substitute olive oil, almond oil, apricot oil, avocado oil, or even use a combination.  
  • 2-4 Tablespoons orange zest.  You can also use lemon or grapefruit zest, it’s really your preference.
  • 2 Tablespoons vegetable glycerin.  I’ve read it’s optional, but it does add extra moisturizing properties.  
  • 10 drops peppermint essential oil.
  • 10-15 drops orange essential oil, or any other citrus of your choice.   

Instructions:

Mix sugar, oil, zest, and vegetable glycerin together. Depending on what type of oil you use, you may need to add more or less to get the proper consistency. Make sure there is enough oil to make the sugar stick together, but not so much that it is floating on top.

Gradually add in the essential oils until you’ve reached the desired scent. It may take more or less, depending on the type of oils you use.

Store your sugar scrub in a glass container.  I put mine up on the kitchen window sill.  The great thing is that this scrub also makes an awesome gift, especially in the summer when we’re all out in the garden getting our hands dirty!   Just rub a small amount of the scrub on your hands or body and rinse with warm water.  

Honestly the sky is the limit on this scrub.  You can add any scent and oil you choose.  I think my next one will involve lavender and rosemary.  

This week I really had to focus on my daughter and her school work.  I was so nervous about her learning and study habits.  Thankfully, everything turned out just fine.  I just need to ensure I stay on top of her and encourage her.  She has been reading “My Life as a Book” so I read it as well.  I must say this has been of my favorite books she’s brought home so far!  Maybe it’s because the main character reminds me of a cross between her and her devious brother!

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The kids enjoyed a wonderful few days with dad as he made a quick visit home (thus the lack of projects I could complete – there was too much excitement at home).  Unfortunately, the visit was short lived and he’s out patrolling our waters again.  It’s only for a few weeks and he’ll finally be back home for a decent amount of time.  Just in time to get the garden going!

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