Wednesday, December 17, 2014

An Indoor Winter Wonderland

When the weather turns cold and the trees are bare outside, people through the centuries have been bringing greenery indoors to deck the halls.  In milder climates (like this part of Oregon), we don't often have snow around the Holidays, so sprucing up the inside of our house adds a lot to the festivities. Holiday decorating has been a favorite pastime of mine since childhood, and I always admired the wreaths and garlands in the stores, so do-it-yourself greenery was a fun project to add to the yearly traditions. It's also a wonderful time to showcase craft projects we've made throughout our lives. My favorite ornaments are the ones my kids made in grade school and a couple I made when I was younger. The act of decorating in itself is a deeply nourishing artistic expression, and something we can look forward to as a way to acknowledge the changing of the seasons.

Right around the time we put up our tree, I use the branches trimmed off the bottom and sprigs of holly to make a wreath for our front door and a centerpiece for our table. It's a fairly simple project, requiring only a metal wreath form and florist's wire. I like to tuck in lichens and mosses, and one of these years hope to grow and add some dried flowers. I love being greeted by the cheerful sight of our wreath every time we come home.

It's also nice to set sprigs of evergreen branches and holly around candles to decorate windowsills and other spots around the house. That doesn't even require any other craft materials and is an easy decoration when you don't have a lot of time.

Mistletoe grows all around the Willamette Valley as a parasite on oak trees, and often breaks off and falls to the ground in the wind. I have a couple favorite trees around town where I look underneath and gather a few sprigs to hang above doorways in our house.

Every year we hang up the paper window stars we made when the kids were younger from white kite paper to look like snowflakes. They have held up pretty well over the years, but at some point it will be fun to make more.

My son always gets into the Holiday spirit with great enthusiasm and an endless supply of project ideas. This year he was inspired by a science project in school to make borax crystal ornaments. We made a borax solution in a bucket and suspended pipe cleaner shapes for 24 hours until the crystals formed. They turned out looking just like ice crystals, and will make some great gifts.

Our seasons table is looking very wintry these days with Queen Winter, The Polar Bear King, a snowy owl and crystals on some white silks. 

Corey's mom sent us a special holiday package this year with this hand-sewn table runner. I added a doily and some vintage candle holders I found at the thrift store and created a festive centerpiece for the dining room table.

She also sent these clever cloth napkins that fold up like Christmas trees and some fun personalized place mats that look like Holiday postcards.

There was a set of handmade stockings for our family to match the one she made Corey many years ago...

And the little wooden family he helped her make when he was growing up. It's fun having these sentimental decorations from childhood to put out every year.

Although we may not have much of a winter wonderland going on outside here, that alright because we can still go hiking and pick wild mushrooms on 58 degree afternoons. We can create our own winter wonderland inside our home, and the fun of that pastime will never grow old.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Winter Mushrooms

We went out for a hike to enjoy the sunny winter day, and came back with some fun fungus finds. Not only did we get to appreciate the tranquility of the mossy woods, but thanks to the mild weather, we managed to fill our basket with chanterelles, hedgehog mushrooms, and white matsutakes. It was one of my more diverse mushroom hunting hauls, and in the middle of December to boot!

The hedgehog (sweet tooth) mushrooms are a nice winter treat around here after the chanterelles are gone. They're usually very tiny, but you can usually find enough to make some good breakfast scrambles and soups. We were fortunate to find some unusually large ones peeking out from under a log, and they made up an entire breakfast all on their own.

I apologize for the blurry photo, but I wanted to convey the size of these monster hedgehogs. 
My, what big teeth they have!

Not only did we come home with all the delicious specimens we foraged, but a friend at work gave us a good sized cauliflower mushroom, which is my very favorite. With the CSA done for the year and the greens in our garden narrowed down to kale, collards and chard, it's a real treat to have fresh harvested food and an accomplished feeling to bring home such a delicious part of our dinner.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A Homegrown Tree

Last Sunday, like so many other families, we set out to find our Holiday tree. What was most exciting about this is how short a distance we had to travel to find it. At the top of our 7 acres of land, someone at some point planted a little forest of mixed Douglas-fir and true fir, and many are just the right height for bringing indoors. Last year we cut our first tree for this homestead on a snowy day with sleds in tow. This year it was nearly 50 degrees and we picked a few chanterelles along the way. What can I say... life in Oregon is dynamic.

We hiked up the hill on our trail we just spruced up, and spent a little time looking around the young forest at the top of our property until we found just the right fir tree. One of the barn cats even followed along to offer help and moral support.

Corey felled our chosen tree in no time and we figured since we were already up there and cutting things down was the activity of the day, we might as well take out some invasive species that were due for removal. We cleared a patch of Scotch broom for a future burn pile, making it a very productive day all around.

We also had some invasive young holly trees that needed removing, so I cut down one with lots of bright red berries and harvested the sprigs for wreaths and greenery.

My son was glad to use the loppers and helped prune some extra boughs for making wreaths.

It was a good feeling to know we harvested all our own Holiday greens from our own land.

Corey carried our tree down the trail and through the woods, with the rest of us laden down with boughs and holly, and we proceeded to deck the halls and drink hot chocolate.

With a home grown tree lighting up the living room, handmade wreaths on the front door and table, and wildcrafted mistletoe sprigs hanging from the ceiling, it's feeling very festive around our homestead. Now comes the fun of wrapping gifts and waiting for some snow.

We hope you are all enjoying some winter festivities as well!

Monday, December 8, 2014

Trail Work

When the weather turns cold, and things slow down, it's time to bust out the really fun projects! With the garden put to bed for the winter and the woodsheds filled, we could finally turn our attention to some trail work. Most of our property is forestland accessible only by trail, and between downed trees from last year's wind storm and a couple of slide areas, it was getting pretty inaccessible. There also wasn't much of a clear trailhead out of our yard, and a seasonal ditch in the way. We decided to start by building a footbridge and see where it would lead us.

We salvaged some old power line posts that had fallen over in their state of disuse, and used them as well as some other lumber we found in one of the sheds. It took a while to remove and work around all the rusty, old hardware from the posts, but the result was a sturdy footbridge that cost us 0 dollars. You can't beat that price for a homestead project!

From there we began pruning back ivy and leveling out the trail with a shovel. There was a nice flat area along our ditch with a clear understory that seemed like a good route, so we followed the path of least resistance. This also made the kids' hammock spots more easily accessible, which was an added benefit. It's a popular spot for lounging and reading on hot summer days.

Here the hillside became steep and overgrown, but by digging in some stairs, and cutting back a lot of brush, we were able to tie in to the existing trail going up through the woods. 

To our pleasant surprise, we discovered a flat little knoll up in the trees that looks out over our yard and garden area. We immediately recognized an ideal relaxing spot, in need of a couple of our Adirondack chairs.

From this point on the trail was fairly well established, and mostly in need of some weedeating and chainsaw work on a windfall tree.

We gave the trail a test run with the kids over the weekend. 

And the cats decided to follow along and inspect our work. They are always there to help.

With views of the McKenzie River peeking through the trees and golden chanterelles peeking out among the ferns, there are a lot of exciting sights to see along the way. I feel very fortunate to have this trail on our land, especially since it leads to miles and miles of BLM and timber land to explore.

Now, when I look around our yard, I see the results of all our hard work, a trailhead promising adventures in the woods, and a pair of chairs inviting us to sit, relax and enjoy the view.

I see a lot of dreams coming true around here!

Friday, November 28, 2014

Snow Turkeys

In honor of the family gathering, my son made a fine looking family of snow turkeys.

I've heard it said that birds of a feather flock together, and this must be true, because I saw a few other snow turkeys hanging around out there having fun...

Monday, November 24, 2014


November is a time of finishing up the last of the harvest, taking stock of what we have grown, storing away the fruits of our labors for the year ahead, appreciating what is abundant in our lives and spending time with family and friends. I have been enjoying seeing a full root cellar with baskets of potatoes, onions, pumpkins, and squash; braids of garlic hanging from the ceiling; jars of canned goods lining the shelves and bottles of homemade cider to enjoy. Gourds and pumpkins fill baskets and display themselves beautifully on counter tops. Firewood fills the woodsheds and the stack on the back porch is always piled high. A cornucopia sits in the middle of our table on a quilted runner my mother made, filled with gourds from our garden and found objects from nature. This ancient symbol heralds back to Greek and Roman mythology, reminding us to observe and appreciate abundance around us in all forms.

Family, and being surrounded by people we love is a form of abundance. It's not always easy to gather a family together from near and far to share a meal, and with us living the farthest away it's not always easy to get there, but when everyone from Great Grandparents to babies in high chairs are all sitting around one table, we have something very important.

Whether you are celebrating traditional Thanksgiving, getting together with friends over the holiday weekend, or observing what's going on in the seasons, it's a fine time to think about abundance and what our cornucopia holds.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Little Sadie and The Sundance Kitten

This past week we were happy to welcome two new members of our homestead. Meet Little Sadie and The Sundance Kitten. They are a rowdy pair of dilute calico sisters who take their job of house mouse patrol very seriously. A shelter had adopted them out as small kittens to an elderly couple, but when the husband recently passed they went back to the shelter and were in need of a new home. Since Della Mae the house cat disappeared in August, the house had been feeling very empty of cats and full of mice, so this was a perfect arrangement for everyone involved. They already took out a mouse within the first few days of being here and discovered the best spot to curl up in our house, right in front of the woodstove.

Here's to rowdy cat shenanigans and no more mice!