Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Sweet Annie

Sweet Annie (Artemisia annua), otherwise known as sweet sagewort, sweet woodworm, annual mugwort, annual wormwood, and Chinese wormwood, is a deliciously fragrant dried flower you should know about. It is most commonly used in dried flower arrangements and wreaths, but also has some medicinal uses due to high levels of antioxidants and flavonoids. I had experience making decorated bird houses in Girl Scouts at our local Cedarbrook Herb Farm, and later growing and harvesting it when I worked there in college, and that aroma just stuck with me. For some reason, I had a really difficult time tracking it down at local nurseries to grow in my own garden until I finally realized I could just search and order seeds online. Sometimes I forget about all the modern miracles of the the web.

I ordered the seeds from an Etsy shop called Crows Nest Primitive that offered free shipping in a regular envelope, and they germinated very successfully in my glass window greenhouse. This plant is very aptly named. All throughout the summer, every time I would brush by the Sweet Annie on the walkway by the garden, the smell was a real treat.

I test-harvested two bundles already and the house smelled amazing while they were drying, so I am looking forward to harvesting and drying more in the next week. Not to mention all the crafty things I can make with it this winter.

For a little more reading, here's a great article I came across: Annie, Sweet Annie

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

September Happenings Around the Homestead

Fall is a time of change, and as is often the case with change, with it comes good things. As the days get shorter and the nights get colder, trees are ripe with fruit, vegetables are ready to harvest, and wild fruits are ready for the picking.  Gathering it all up can be a lot of work, but it's a fair price to pay for enjoying all the season has to offer. As we head into this busy time on a modern homestead, and in a household with a teacher starting a new school year, I wanted to give a few updates on what's happening this September around the homestead.

Looking around our place, most of the apples, plums and Asian pears have been harvested. The late season Ozette potatoes will be next, and then it will be time to plant garlic. There is probably some weeding I should be doing in the garden, but with a lot of other things on my plate, that can wait. 

One of our biggest changes is having these two start their first day as Freshman at our local high school last week. I watched them walk off down our driveway for their first school bus ride since Kindergarten, and only managed to get this blurry photo before they disappeared around the corner, off on their new adventure. After years of a long commute to the Waldorf School in town, this is a huge change for us. Now that my work is 100% telecommuting from home, and I don't have to drive into town for school, I am looking forward to spending a whole lot more time on our homestead. Granted, I'm busy working so I have to wait until evenings and weekends to actually do homesteading things, but I can still enjoy just being here. My highlight so far was being able to have freshly baked pumpkin oat bars ready for my kids when they got off the bus on their first day of school and ask them about how it all went.

Another change around here is that we finally finished our farmhouse back porch. It took over a year from the time we tore the old rotten one down, but it was totally worth it. I wanted to go for the Victorian farmhouse feel with turned balusters and scrolled brackets, and I think the whole thing really gave the 70's era addition to our 1940's farmhouse some character and vintage flair.  

After a little thrift store scouring, I finally have my back porch rocking chairs for banjo picking in my old age. Life goals realized. I even found a rocking ottoman. Who knew that was actually a thing.

Now everyone has a good spot to put up their feet and rest, which you really need at the end of the day around here.

With the repurposed brick patio project finished, Corey added another woodshed so we would have a stash close to the house. It holds about a cord, and is very conveniently located next to the campfire pit and the back door. We now have three woodsheds, but you really never can have too much firewood.

We also finally finished the arbor at the end of the sidewalk that went to nowhere. Now it feels like an entrance into our yard.

I had some extra turned balusters I had found at a salvaged building supply store when I was searching for deck railing, so we turned them into the top of the arbor to tie in with the Victorian farmhouse theme. I got a really fragrant white honeysuckle training up over it, and by next summer it should be a great hummingbird hangout.

When we have not been busy finishing big homestead projects, we have been harvesting things and putting them up. This year we picked A LOT of apples at our friend's orchard, and made some mighty fine applesauce and many gallons of hard cider.

Usually we do a few different batches with various yeasts and one with ginger, and this year I decided to play around with different herbal flavors like fennel, hawthorne and juniper berries. We also made a small batch with blackberry added that turned out to be delicious. 

We canned a lot of dilly beans, bread and butter pickles, peaches, jams, and jellies. I could probably have canned more things, but hit a point of canning burnout.

We also canned enough corn relish to feed a small army. We like to use it as a side dish, in place of salsa in a lot of meals, and as a zesty addition to salads.

This September is shaping up to be a golden time on the homestead, and I am trying to remember to take a minute out of the busy days to sit back and appreciate it in the midst of everything going on around me.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Keep Your Face to the Sunshine

“Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see the shadows. 

It's what the sunflowers do.” 

~Helen Keller

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Girard Ridge Lookout Tower

There is no room with a view that can top a fire lookout tower. We have quite a few of them around Oregon available for rent through the Forest Service that I have enjoyed over the years, but I had never visited one in another state. When we started planning our trip down to Yosemite, we found one in California that seemed like a good stopping point for the drive back. I had never really explored the Mt. Shasta area at all, and this seemed like a good introduction. My Mountain Man found one not far off of I5 near Shasta and the Castle Crags, and booked it for our adventure. This was shaping up to be an epic family vacation.

After all our fun in Yosemite backpacking and camping, it was nice knowing we had these accommodations waiting for us down the road. By this point in our trip had been on the road for some long days, and the lookout being only 7.5 miles off the freeway was a huge convenience. I will note that it was a steep 7.5 miles, but nothing unusual for a forest service road up to a lookout tower. We arrived at sunset, ready to be out of the car and cooking some dinner (this was definitely the recurring theme of our trip) and were immediately blown away by the amazing views of the Castle Crags and Mt. Shasta.

This was a more basic lookout with no cooking amenities or lights, but we happily sat out on the picnic table while the stars came out, and enjoyed beans and rice bowls made with a combo of leftover dehydrated goods and some fresh groceries we had picked up along our drive at the Sacramento Food Co-op. It's always fun to visit other co-ops when you're traveling through, and fresh guacamole will change your life after a couple days of backpacking meals. Seriously.

We woke up in the morning to Mt. Shasta turning pink and purple with the sunrise. 

Really what it comes down to as far as these lookout towers go, is going to sleep and waking up to these views. 

I could say more, but I think the views speak for themselves.

Here is a little bit of info on this fire lookout tower:

Monday, August 15, 2016

Backpacking Ostrander Lake

When visiting National Parks, I have found that spending some time in the backcountry is the way to go for many reasons. Having heard all kinds of things about Yosemite's crowds and campgrounds you need to reserve a year or more ahead,  I planned our time in the park around backpacking. Even though I made the backcountry reservation several months ahead, things were already pretty filled up for a weekend in July, but we got our second choice, Ostrander Lake. 

The hike was about 6 miles with the elevation gain mostly in the last half, so we got our bear canisters from the ranger station and hit the trail after lunch. The first three miles were easy, with a very flat trail winding through wildflower meadows, and went by before we knew it. The last three, not quite so much. My 14-year-olds were troopers and with some water and Powerade breaks, made the whole thing look like cake. I, on the other hand, had my first experience with altitude sickness. After backpacking my entire life, 8600 feet got the best of me, but I still made it and that 6 miles felt like way more of an accomplishment than it would have otherwise!

One of the things I am most proud of as a parent is raising a couple of hardy backpackers. There was a definite stage of complaining on every hike we did between age 8 and 13, but we've made it over that mountain so to speak, and these two really know how to enjoy themselves in the backcountry. I think it will serve them well in their adult lives.

The elevation gain offered some spectacular views along the way of Half Dome and the peaks of Yosemite. Words can't even touch how impressive it was, and it *almost* helped me forget about my struggles with the elevation!

Not only were the views along the trail amazing, the view at the end of the trail was equally amazing. When arrived at Ostrander lake just before sunset, and managed to find a great campsite at the far edge of the backpacker camping area. We were surprised to learn that campfires were allowed in designated fire pits, so we cooked up our backpacking burritos and enjoyed the fire before turning in for the night.

We pretty much spent the next day swimming, exploring and just hanging out.

There were all these great boulders just perfect for sitting on and enjoying life. Sometimes that's just what you need.

My adventurous mountain man decided to climb up to the ridge above the lake to see the views and my daughter was up for the scramble. My son and I were loving the lake too much and just stayed there hanging out for a while.

It was a really good feeling to just put my feet up and relax.

From our backcountry campsite at Ostrander Lake, we really got to experience Yosemite in a little more depth than we would have from the car and a paved campsite. We enjoyed some peace and quiet, amazing sunsets, scenic views and appreciated it just a little bit more because we had to work hard to get there. Our backcountry reservation allowed us to stay the night before and the night after in backpacker camping areas around the park, so we were able to take in the rest of the sights we wanted to see like Glacier Point and the Yosemite Valley when we hiked out, and stay the night in Tuolumne meadows without the hassle of a campground reservation farther ahead than I could really plan for. It couldn't have worked out more perfectly.

Here's a little more info about the Ostrander Lake hike:

Friday, August 12, 2016

A Flower's Roots

The fairest thing in nature, a flower, still has its roots in earth and manure. D. H. Lawrence
Read more at:
"The fairest thing in nature, a flower, still has its roots in earth and manure."

~D.H. Lawrence

The fairest thing in nature, a flower, still has its roots in earth and manure. D. H. Lawrence
Read more at:
The fairest thing in nature, a flower, still has its roots in earth and manure. D. H. Lawrence
Read more at:
The fairest thing in nature, a flower, still has its roots in earth and manure. D. H. Lawrence
Read more at:

"Deep in their roots, all flowers keep the light."

~Theodore Roethke

"All things must come to the soul from its roots, from where it is planted."

~St. Teresa of Avila

"Wear a crown of flowers on your head, let it's roots reach your heart."