Sunday, January 10, 2016

Dark Days; Bright Spirits


Here in Fairbanks our daylight hours consist of shades of gray. If we venture into town, drive along the ridge line or on a south slope during the late morning or early afternoon we may be blessed with a glimpse of the sun skimming mountains to the south. The good news is that the darkest days are behind us and we are gaining several minutes a day, which is noticeable. I was surprised to see how high (or rather than it hadn't already set) the sun was the other day at 2:30 p.m.

Despite the grayness outdoors, we fill our home with lots of light in the form of watercolor and beeswax lanterns everywhere. Ice luminaries clutter the front porch, to be lit on special occasions or when expecting company.

I tend to make it through these dark days with high spirits. I am certain that the amount of time we spend outdoors from spring to fall and our seasonal homesteading lifestyle contributes significantly to how content we are to come indoors and craft, read, rest, cook, play games and make the most of our dark days.

This year we are have even more to occupy our thoughts and time. I looked at the calendar the other day and realized we are down to eight weeks until my due date. And Avery came two weeks early - and six weeks is coming fast! Thankfully there isn't really much that needs done, other than fitting in as much school as possible, scheduling friend visits and fun things for the kids, knitting last minute baby projects and going on bouts of cleansing frenzies. I wish it was more realistic for me to take a sponge to every surface in the house. I have a mad urge to eliminate all dust from the house.


Otherwise, the carseat just arrived in the mail and is currently in the car, until we all load up and see how crowded we are. I've washed and sorted newborn diapers, diaper covers and clothes from bigger baby clothes, and they are stored where they cannot get hairy or dusty. I am going to enjoy these quiet  mellow days as much as possible - gray or not. As I know our world is about to flip upside down as we know it. I am savoring every moment of this final pregnancy; every little move and shift that calls me back to her presence. Here are some pictures from our last couple weeks.



Wool angel that I made with locally grown and spun mohair, from Becky's Angora goat named Opal. (the hair is the Mohair - and I adore it).


The kids and I made lots of Birch Bark heart pockets this year. I love that they are a traditional Scandinavian Christmas tree ornament. And I love that Noah was able to make them. Avery made some that weren't pockets, but flat pieces that were easier for her to weave together.



Dustin and I just celebrated SIXTEEN years together! Which just blows my mind. I picked the picture that I looked best in (sorry hon, :)
We actually took the kids out with us to eat and celebrate because they are that enjoyable to eat out with! And we figured relaxed eating out with kids is about to come to an end.


Here is a cardigan that I totally messed up on but I wasn't going to redo it. It is incredibly soft. I knit it with a Specialty Blue Sky Alpaca. The yarn is the first yarn I bought after finding out that we were expecting. I picked up wood buttons while we were in Maine.


I stopped in to check on my root crops the other day. So, here is a picture of some of my vegetables that I grew this summer and didn't have room to store at my place. I am so proud of our harvest, especially the carrots- they are big, crisp and sweet and storing wonderfully. 


And there you have it; gray days filled with indoor and inner light and love.

Monday, November 30, 2015

The last morning of November

All is right with my world for a few more minutes. The house is quiet and I'm sitting in my favorite place looking out at the dawn as well as our just decorated Christmas tree. However, I can hear the children stirring and Noah has some sort of flu bug; fever, head and body aches and sore throat. So the day will probably prove to be trying in the ways that days with sick needy children are, and yet, as much as I had planned and looked forward to a week full of school and crafting, I think a day of laying around by the tree and reading and knitting and babying my kids, won't be all that bad either.

Usually I can't think past Thanksgiving and find myself scrambling a couple days into December to get ready for advent. This year, I was determined not to get a late start on Advent, so I picked up a few Christmas books and a new calendar in advance. Then Dustin surprised us with an early tree. He likes to get rid of the tree as soon as possible after Christmas, whereas I enjoy looking at it as long as possible. So, I guess this is our compromise. I get to enjoy it earlier in the season. I've spent the past three days at home, cooking and cleaning and decorating for the season; which is why all is right with my world despite having potentially two sick kids.

I want to point out that there is now an email subscription gadget at the top right of the blog, so you can subscribe and get a heads up when there are new posts.

Also, for all you photographers out there, I could use a bit of camera advice. As you well know, I do not take very good pictures. It's all about content as opposed to quality. This is due in part to both the quality of my camera in addition to not making it a priority to learn the camera that I have. Taking pictures during our Alaskan winter months poses low light challenges. When I look back over our pictures of the last several years, especially baby pictures of the kids, I sure wish we had budgeted for a nicer camera. I have spent the last week googling low light point and shoots and comparing lens aperture and other details that influence the ability of cameras to take good low light photos. I've been reading camera reviews and watching camera videos and looking at pictures and we are getting down to some serious decision making. The camera at the top of my list right now is the Sony Cyber Shot DSC rx100 ii. It is an almost pocket size point and shoot. I like that it can shoot ten frames per second and that it has wifi for uploading capabilities. Most novices feel that it takes great pictures even on the auto setting. I have read a few conflicting reviews on how well it does in low light settings. Most say it does great in low light settings, but the pictures shared are night time still shots and not indoor pictures of moving children. I am not looking necessarily to take professional quality pictures, but I would like to take clear crisp pictures of my kids decorating the tree or opening presents and for them to not have to freeze like statues to try and get a clear shot. I have also looked at the 3rd version of this camera and it sounds like it has the capabilities to take even better low light pictures, but I don't know how big a difference are between the two cameras, and if it is significantly better enough to warrant the extra two hundred dollar difference.

My two questions are 1. Is this camera going to take the pics I want or is this asking too much of a point and shoot and do I want to give up the small convenient size and get a DSLR? 3. Is this camera more than I need and is there a less expensive camera that will do as well or better in low light? Well, any advice anyone can give me would be much appreciated. I've been reading reviews all week and may be more confused than ever at the mixed opinions. Bonus points for whoever leaves a comment noticing the higher quality photos that should be coming sometime soon!


Best wishes to you all as we enter the dark days of winter!













More fall vacation pictures

 Avery standing in front of my grandparents house with Contention Cove in the background.

 Grampa giving a geology lesson to the kids on the two types of rocks found in the area; Ellsworth schist and granite.


 Noah and his Paw Paw, lowering a crab trap into the water.


 Dustin teaching the kids and his niece and nephew how to eat blue crab that we caught earlier in the day.







All in all, a pretty great mini escape from winter.

Two posts ago I wrote about my love for Maine. And while I can almost and maybe even really picture myself there, truly I am an Alaskan girl at heart and have yet to be content anywhere else. So, just to set the record straight, we are very content to be living in Fairbanks and have no plans to move. If we ever were to move out of Alaska, it would have to be a northern state where there is still cold and snow, but lots of sun. Maine feels like it is just about as far away as can be, but I do love the combination of a northern climate mixed with sea air, old buildings, family history and the ability to grow and buy more locally produced foods.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Carroll Homestead pictures


Here are pictures of the Carroll homestead I wrote about in my previous post. It was built by my great, great, great, great grandfather; John Carroll built it in 1825 and continued to make improvements on the homestead over the following years. The Mountain House, as it is called, is on Dog Mountain, on Mt. Desert island, off the coast of Maine.
 


The Mountain house was given to Acadia National Park by a family member, in 1979. Not only is it still used in the summers for family reunions, but it is also opened to the public occasionally for viewing, and for school field trips and other educational purposes.  

 Avery standing in front of the kitchen hearth.



 Kitchen work area. The table and chairs, in the center of the room, were covered.

 A picture of the wash area in the pantry. You can just barely see the hook hanging from the ceiling that meat was hung from.

Fireplace in the parlor. The parlor was part of an addition that was added on in 1850.


 Wood pegs in the roof rafters.

 Kids in the precarious upstairs attic.


Outside entrance to the root cellar, where a winter's worth of fire wood was stored, as well as the year's supply of apples, potatoes and other root crops. On the other side of the house was a smaller stone room where the eggs and dairy were kept.
 

Stone stairs leading up to the outside entrance. John Carroll had been apprenticed to a mason as a young man growing up in Ireland. I think this stone cellar is just beautiful. Over the coming generations, most of the Carroll men were masons, doing much of the stone work required around the island. John Carroll's only son, Jacob Carroll; however, went to see for many years and eventually was captain and part owner of a ship. When he retired from the sea, he too, took up masonry.
 


A picture with my grandma; Judy Carroll (daughter of Phillip Carroll, one of the last children to be born in the Mt. house), and my grandpa, Joe Stockbridge, whose family was from Ellsworth, a nearby town on the mainland.

Noah, in front of the south side of the house, by the roots cellar. When I was Noah's age, I could see the ocean from where Noah is now standing. But this time, I couldn't see it from the attic window.

I hope some of you have enjoyed this glimpse into the past.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Family Vacation and Carroll family history

Well, geez I've missed you guys! I have a couple good excuses for not posting for two months. First my computer broke and it took six weeks for the shop to get around to looking at it. (Somehow during that time and since, we have gone from a one computer household to three laptops- so this should never happen again!) Second I don't know how it happened exactly, but now I don't have the photo shop (on any one of the three laptops) that allows me to downsize and crop pictures, so that they are small enough to post- so no pictures till my husband sits down with the computer and fixes it for me. Then we just took a lovely vacation and I can't wait to tell you all about it!


First we flew from Fairbanks all the way to Portland Maine, and then drove to my grandparents home, which is on Contention cove between Surry and Ellsworth; two small towns near Mt. Desert Island (think Bar Harbor). My grandparents were both born and raised in Maine, as were their parents, and their parents before them. They relocated to Oregon long enough to raise four children and then they moved back to Maine and built a home in the same location that my grampa's parents had lived since the mid nineteen hundreds. This is the second time we have traveled to Maine with our children, both times in early November, and both visits we have experienced warmer than usual temperatures. We were blessed with sixties and seventies, sun, oak leaves and hazelnuts and laden apple trees everywhere. I absolutely adore Maine. Due to the balance of seasons, the climate/growing conditions, real people, old houses, history, rural living, the woods,ocean and wild life; it is one of the few places that I think I could move to. The main drawback being it's distance from all our friends and family.

One of the clinchers for me, as far as whether we could fit in, was a trip to the Blue Hill farmer's market, where, I visited with a woman selling fresh and aged goat cheese; who not only raises goats, but is a potter (an occupation I hope to take up again someday), and her son was home schooled and also went to the Waldorf school up the road. When I hear Waldorf school; I equate that with knowing that there are like minded families with similar values and lifestyles - which, is so important when considering locations one could transplant to. As I stood in the midst of this small quaint farmer's market; admiring the products available; local maple syrup, heirloom apples and cider from wild apples, vegetables and charcuterie, and as equally important the back to our roots vendors, I looked around and wanted to shout, "I've found my tribe! You could be my people!" As I selected beets, parsnips, shallots, winter squash and salad greens to turn into dinner that night, I was just bursting with contentment and wanting to meet everyone and see their farms. I was also reminded of how much more relaxed the regulations are in Maine for making and selling your own fresh and aged cheese and cured meats, which is so much more difficult to do here - legally.

The highlight of our trip (for me and probably me only) was a guided trip inside the Carroll Family homestead on Mt. Desert Island. A generous park ranger had told my grandparents if they ever had family in town that wanted to see inside, he would show us inside the homestead, which is usually only opened for family reunions and special occasions, and he held true to his word. Let me back up a bit, The Carroll family homestead was built by my great, great, great, great grandpa; John Carroll, who moved into it with his wife and their young family in 1825. He had immigrated from Ireland in 1790. It was eventually passed on to his son, Jacob Carroll and then his son, another John Carroll, who moved out of it with his wife and family in 1917. Eventually it was given to Acadia national park and has been cared for by the park service. To this day visitors and school classes visit the homestead to get a glimpse of what rural Maine life was like. The homestead began witha 21x25 foot dwelling, with a root celar and attic.There was a hand dug well, a kitchen garden, larger vegetable fields, hay fields, a barn and a well. There were usually chickens, sheep, a milk cow or two and a horse. In 1880, they recorded seven acres of tilled land, twenty acres of pasture and meadow and fifty three acres of forest. There were paths down to the ocean as well as a view of the ocean from the yard - which is no longer there as the trees have grown up.

I have grown up fascinated by the Carroll homestead and have visited on a few occassions, but have never been there when the house was open. On this occassion, we got venture down into the root celar, as well as the main floor and even into the attic, precarious with it's rotting boards and spider webs. As you can imagine, I turned this into a homeschooling activity for the kids, with the help of a book that was written about the homestead, called Four Generations in Maine, a  Carroll homestead school curriculum written for Maine classrooms, as well as a video taken of my great, great aunt and uncle speaking about life on the homestead. By the end of it all, my kids had their fill of this part of their family history - I on the other hand, can not get enough! Back to my roots, indeed!

Well, after a delightful week with my grandparents, we flew to Florida to visit with my husband's family. We were blessed with another week of warm sunny weather, seventies and eighties and humid! We divided our days between the pool, the beach and the docks, where my husband and son enthusiastically caught blue crabs to take home and eat, while Avery played on the playground with her cousins and I stared at the water entranced by the non stop wave on manitees and dolphins that passed by. We took the week of any indoor learning field trips and just spent as much time in the sun and outdoors as our skin would allow. Getting out early and coming in during the middle of the day to rest before heading back out.

After two weeks of travelling we are happy to be home. It is a winter wonderland here, all frosty and white. I am content to be home and going into winter. I want to do more crafting and baking than is possible in the next five weeks, so it is time to get organized and prioritize. I look forward to sharing pictures of our crafting and advent preparations with you! Happy baking and cooking and giving thanks week to you and yours!!



Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Broccoli, Cabbage into Sauerkraut and Local Sweet Corn

 Broccoli SIDE SHOOTS!

In my last post I shared a picture of some large broccoli heads. They are Fiesta Broccoli heads and while I've grown this variety multiple summers, I'm sure these are the biggest heads I've ever grown. Well above are the side shoots from the same plants, and they just keep comming!

I'm noticing a general trend in my garden this year and that is that my vegetables are bigger and producing more than they ever have before. I'd like to think that it is all the composted goat manure I've been adding each year. But in truth, the one thing I did differently this year than in past years is that I bought 2oo lb. of AK fish bone meal at 25$ a bag (which was a score and why I did it) and I spread that fish meal in every row before I planted this year. And that, is what I think has made all the difference.

I have a romantic notion of having a biodynamic farm; where all the nutrients come from our homestead and are produced by the animals we raise or by cover crops. On a biodynamic farm you don't buy soil ammendments, no fish meal, no kelp, rock phosphate or greensand, all weighing a ton and costing an arm and a leg for the shipping of it. I would like to think that composted goat manure, chicken manure and other poultry manure in addition to our garden and household compost would be enough. But what I am slowly realizing is that neither the clay rocky ground that is our reality, nor the peat mix we bought by the truckload and dumped on top of our clay rocky bed have the necessary minerals and nutrients in it, even with animal manure added. The soil is still deficient. The manure adds nitrogen. Over the years I've noticed phosphorous missing the most. Onions and garlic don't bulb up well and my peas don't produce well, unless I add bone meal which is high in phosphorous. Last fall I added bone meal to my small garlic bed and to the pea rows. Unfortunately I hadn't decided where to plant onions. As a result, my peas are doing great. I have three and a half gallon bags of shelled sweet peas in the freezer. I also harvested good sized garlic bulbs. But my onions are small and I'm wishing I'd bought another bag of bone meal when I'd planted them this spring.

We left town for six days to get away and do some fun things with the kids in Southern Alaska. I tried so hard to stay on top of the garden, especially the peas and zucchini up until the day we left. Yet we still came home to splitting cabbages, woody peas and monster zucchini.

Avery made sauerkraut. I thought she was just going to help me but she ended up doing it all. With the help of the food processor she shredded it, added salt and tossed it, and despite her mother telling her she probably didn't have the strength to pack it firmly enough, she went ahead and did just that.






I've been thinking: where else do gardeners harvest and shell peas at the same time the sweet corn is ready to pick, the tomatoes and pepper are ripening and just about everything from zucchini and broccoli to cucumbers and onions are done and need harvested within the space of a month??! While I'm not complaining, harvest season is really and truly crazy here. I have shelled so many peas in the last couple weeks that my right thumb nail is separating from the skin and I had to figure out a different way to shell peas than rely on my right thumb yesterday. I'm picking raspberries, cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, zucchini, fava beans, broccoli and romanesco every two to three days and trying to deal with them all. Next on the list, the basil needs pureed with olive oil and frozen because there is still plenty of dried from last year. I need to start blanching and freezing kale not because it's in danger of being nipped by frost, but rather there is just so much of it I'll feel good to put a dent in a few rows.

Low down areas could be expecting a frost any clear night now. Thankfully we usually have till early September before the squash, tomatoes and cucumbers take a hit here. However, I notice that with the cooler temperatures we are starting to get, more and more sixty degree days than seventy degree days, the tomatoes are about to be at the point where they ripen faster indoors than out, and the squash are beginning to stay about the same size. So, I'm guessing my heat lovers only have another week or two tops in the garden before they need to come in for safety.

Another dilemma I'm facing is that we have been storing our root crops in a friend's root cellar. But their root cellar is not usually cool enough until late September. So, I can't really get a jump start on harvesting any of the root crops which are already plenty big enough, because I have no where to put them. My second fridge is full of cabbages that were splitting. 

Which brings me to my most recent epiphany; which is that considering that I love to eat fresh vegetables and would prefer to be doing so year round for health and taste, rather than eating them canned, frozen, dried, pickled or fermented (with a few exceptions), and given that we basically have an abundance of fresh vegetables for just a few months, I'm living in the wrong climate!
Ergh.

Well, despite already feeling overwhelmed by the garden, I still couldn't resist when a friend of mine was having a u pick sweet corn day at his farm. So the kids and I stopped in and picked 27 (someone miscounted- we were going for 25) ears of Yukon Chief sweet corn. It was a splurge and a treat. We grilled most of it and ate it on the cob or in fresh veggie salads. I realized after buying this sweet corn that my own is almost ready to pick and felt kind of silly for paying for corn when I had my own. But, how often do you get to walk through a corn field in Fairbanks Alaska?! And my own corn plot is very small.





If the garden dries out and I'm able to hack through the weeds to reveal the vegetables, I'll share some pictures of the garden in my next post. Happy Harvesting!

Friday, July 31, 2015

Salmon Processing and Garden Vegetables

I'm enjoying another foggy morning. Foggy mornings are not very common here, but do have them more often in August and September, something having to do with the cooler temperatures we get this time of year. Foggy mornings remind me of childhood vacations on the coast of Maine. My mother's family is from Mt. Desert Island in Maine. We would fly all the way from Oregon to Maine every few years to visit my great grandmother, great aunts and my mother's godmother. I remember eating breakfast in my great grandma's kitchen when I was eight, and looking out at the thick fog. And that same week taking walks to the harbor and exploring the coastline in the fog. 

Then on the complete flip side, fog also reminds me of vacationing on the Oregon coast in the winter, of which I also have fond memories; getting away from the snow and cold of Eastern Oregon and camping in the rain on the coast, off season, and having the coast and campgrounds mostly to ourselves.

Well, I am using the foggy morning to catch up with you guys. I have some pictures of salmon processing and some garden veggies that have made it to the kitchen, to share with you while I procrastinate tackling my pantry which is on my morning list of things to do. 

Dustin took his annual trip to the Chitina river a couple weeks ago with his good luck fishing buddy. This year the limit was greater than in past years. Head of household qualifies for 25 salmon and then ten additional fish for each family member. So, we could have gotten 55. He came home with  45, I think. We gave some away that first day to close family and friends which took us down to 36 which is a good number for us. We will eat it all and probably have none left next early summer to have to deal with. 

Dustin leaves the heads in Chitina and brings back just about everything else, including the eggs. We freeze the eggs and feed them to the chickens throughout the year for protein. This year he taught the kids to scrap the back meat off. Most people don't know about back meat and just throw it away. We pack it into jars, press saran wrap on the top, leave clearance for expanding and freeze it. Then we use the jars for salmon cakes and salmon chowder. I believe we had about 8 pint jars of back meat that the kids scraped off.

This year I was dealing with early pregnancy on salmon processing day, so Dustin and the kids did most the work. I even took a two and a half hour nap during the middle. We put about five whole fish in the freezer. They keep the best that way and have the least freezer burn when we pull them out in January to eat. The rest we vacuum sealed with the meat facing together. We will try and eat all those packages before mid winter. We brined and smoked the rest. I froze one large batch of salmon jerky - extra dry smoked salmon - for easy, not too messy snacking. Then canned three flats of smoked salmon for salmon and crackers, salmon goat cheese spread and smoked salmon salad. 

Avery scraping back meat.

 Smoked salmon canning morning.


 This is our second or maybe third year noticing these little worms. I don't know anyone else who has even noticed them. And I wonder if it because most people I know are freezing their salmon and then pulling it out to smoke later. Or when they eat their salmon fresh, they mistake the worms for ligaments or other things. But, these worms gross me out. I looked them up last year and can't remember what they are called, but I think the salmon get them from sea mammals while they are in the ocean. Supposedly these worms need a salt water mammal host, so thankfully, we shouldn't suffice. I have noticed these worms dried out on the top of the smoked salmon. This year was the first time seeing a worm that had survived the smoking process. This worm pictured above, was actually wriggling around for at least an hour while I cut up salmon. It makes me a little concerned about eating the smoke salmon fresh before canning it. Likewise, about eating salmon lightly cooked off the grill. Freezing the fish first, would be the obvious answer for those who are concerned about the worms. I haven't spoken about these worms in front of my kids. I don't want to give them a reason to not want to eat their fresh salmon.

 We had two of our "old" goats back for about three weeks. Denali and Ember came back for a visit while their owners were on summer vacation. I enjoyed having them back. I did not necessarily enjoy milking them twice a day. Man, that's a lot of work. I've never been a big fan of milking twice a day, even if you do get twice as much milk out of your animals. I'm a morning person. I turn into a pumpkin after dinner. While I had these girls, I had my two weeks of nausea and I was super sleepy. I was trying to milk them close to twelve hours apart, but then we had soccer games and practices at various times three nights a week. So, I tried. And they did well for me. Denali gave us about eight pounds of milk a day. She is a two year old second freshener. Ember gave about five to six pounds a day and is a one year old first freshener. I did enjoy the abundance of milk and managed to get a good amount of chevre and milk in the freezer.

 First straw flower picking. I really need to learn how to make wreaths with them while they are fresh and pliable.

A fraction of my third and final carrot thinning :) 

 Hullo lovelies. Gosh, I really just want to eat all our broccoli fresh. But when I let the heads get this big and then pick them at once, that isn't really an option. So, I blanched and vacuum sealed some for winter soup. I like frozen broccoli pureed in soup form and that is about it.

 I don't know if you can tell from the picture, but these cabbages are approaching basketball size.

 And this would be at least a three meal cauliflower head - for our family anyways. Yesterday I made a white bean, kale, parmesan soup with about a quarter of this head. Next, I think I'll make a Aloo Gobi with Indian spices and potatoes. Then maybe steamed with cheddar cheese sauce. 

And now, I must motivate and get on with my morning duties.