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Today I did something I’d never done before: I canned something.

It was a lot of hard work. There were a lot of panicky “OMG is this supposed to do that?!?!” moments, and a few times where I wished I could sprout another arm or four. But at the end of my experiment, I ended up with six quarts of beautiful, garden fresh green beans that I hope won’t give us all botulism. (Well, all of us except Wesley, who wouldn’t touch a green bean if his life depended on it.)

Heating in a massive stock pot

I followed instructions on this website, this website, from my canner manual, and from my mother-in-law. (By the way, the first website is a great one if you want to find pick-your-own farms in your area.) Consequently, I spent a lot of time running to my computer or flipping through the book. Sadly, neither the websites nor the manual gave me instructions on growing more limbs so I could do everything in a speedy manner, while everything was still hot.

Jars filled with beans.

The musical fruit

First lesson learned: Cut the beans smaller.

Second lesson learned: Boiling water is very hot.

Holding steady at 10 pounds!

It took forfreakingever to get to ten pounds of pressure. Finally it got there, and I processed for twenty-five minutes. Twenty-five minutes fraught with danger, where I kept screeching at the children to stay out of the kitchen in case the whole thing exploded.

But my canner is built like a tank. It’s an All-American, and will probably still be canning long after I’m gone.

Done!

Then more nail-biting after the jars came out of the canner. First I couldn’t get it open because it had created a vacuum. The manual suggested a screwdriver to pry it open, but also cautioned, “BE CAREFUL! YOU COULD TOTALLY SCREW IT UP FOREVER!!!” so I was nervous. I stuck a butter knife into a crack and pried gently and it popped right up.

More nerves. Had I put enough beans in? There were bubbles rising to the top. Is that normal? Is it supposed to do that? The second website reassured me that indeed, it was supposed to do that. And from their pictures, I saw that some of their jars had as much empty spaces as mine.

More screeching at the children to stay out of the kitchen, lest a jar explode. I’d just watched an episode of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman in which Grace, the cafe owner, has a jar explode in her face and it gets embedded in her cornea, so I wasn’t taking any chances.

Then came the thrill of a lifetime. I felt the way the first caveman who discovered fire must have felt.

“Ping!”

“Ping! Ping!”

“Ping!”

The lids of my jars started popping as they sealed themselves. I did a happy dance.

Victory is mine!

Ryan has had a very nice Father’s Day so far, and the day isn’t over.

His day started with a fishing trip with his dad and the kids. Although they didn’t come home with any fish, no one was crying or bleeding when they came in the door so I consider that a successful fishing trip. (And of course, it was a very successful morning for me since I got to sleep in. Yay!)

Then it was off to work…in our own yard, that is. Yes, I’m sorry. Another gardening post. Get used to it.

The beginnings of my pumpkin patch.

It’s a beautiful day outside. Fluffy white clouds, hot sunshine…and a new pumpkin patch. It’s just to the west of our garden, and will be the comfortable home to my fairytale pumpkins. Yup, that’s a real thing. I chose them because I loved their colors and the deep ridges, and I hear they make decent pies, too. And, let’s face it, they just looked so Harry Potter-ish I just couldn’t help myself.

Tomatos

 

Honeydew melons

I just loved the way that little curly-que looked.

Another luffa gourd shot

I told you I loved those curly vines! Ryan just informed me that they don’t start out curly. They stretch their vines out until they grab something, then they start to curl to pull themselves in closer to their support fences.

A jalepeno, soaking up the sun.

 

Blackberries, awaiting their new home.

These are the blackberry starts from my grandma. We don’t know if we’ll be living here long enough to enjoy any blackberries from them, but if we aren’t, surely someone will enjoy the fruits of our labor. We planted them along a fence behind our garden.

Go little buddy! Polinate, polinate, polinate!

Our wonky watering method

And, last but not least, our backwoods hillbilly way of watering our garden. The spigot on our house stopped working, so we stick a hose through a window and fill the sink (the pot is there to stop the hose from popping up) and through the magic of gravity, we watered our new blackberry starts. This is definitely klassy, no?

Lucky for Ryan, there is more planned for this day than a disapointing fishing trip and work in the garden. We may go swimming this afternoon, and this evening there will be a fantastic dinner, with grilled steaks, mashed potatoes and gravy, steamed green beans, salad, and for dessert, cherry crisp.

I spent several hours today working in my garden, and I feel like I accomplished a lot.

It still amazes me everytime I stick a tiny little seed in the ground and it sprouts and turns into food. I love nature!

Beautiful green beans!

Totally organic beans. Some of the leaves are getting a little eaten by something, but the beans are doing fantastically. (And don’t worry: one of my evening tasks was to weed the beans.)

Gourds, growing up a fence.

These are something I planted just for fun. They are luffa gourds. (AKA: loufa gourds.) Yeah, that’s right, loufas. As in the thing that you can scrub your body with instead of a sponge. Although they are edible, I grew them with the intention of drying them out and using them as sponges.

Close up of the luffa vines

I love the way their little vines wrap around the fence.

A storm rolling in over the garden.

I took this picture just to admire a wider view of my garden. The plants you see are (on the right, front to back) onions, potatoes, green beans, honeydew melons, popcorn, sweet corn, and (on the left, front to back) jalepenos, pimientos, chili peppers, tomatoes, green beans, kidney beans, anasazi beans, watermelon.

But after I took the picture I looked up and saw the sky.

Storm over the prairie

Then came the wind. It blew over a metal lawn chair and took a plastic bucket halfway across the yard. The temperature dropped twenty degrees. I ran inside and grabbed a laundry basket and ripped the clothes off the line, and Ryan dashed to roll up the car windows. And then, suddenly, out of nowhere…nothing happened. Two raindrops fell and then the wind stopped blowing and the sun came out and it got hot and humid again.

Gotta love Kansas weather!

So I went back out and weeded the beans. The kids played some game that Wesley made up about Mario and Luigi (his biggest current obsession) until he got too bossy and Alice declared that she wasn’t happy anymore.

Alice and her beans.

But green beans do make Alice happy, so all is well.

The day wasn’t over yet. Ryan spent a couple hours tilling in my grandma’s garden, and was paid with a bag of romaine lettuce, two jars of her amazing apple butter, and six blackberry bush starts. Definitely a fair barter!

We’re on a super tight budget these days, so we’re always looking for ways to save money. You can’t get much cheaper than free, so we’ve been on the lookout for all kinds of free food lately.

Our first source for “free” food is our garden. It’s not exactly free, since we paid for the seeds, and we’ve watered it once or twice. (Although the insane amount of rain we’ve had lately has taken care of that for awhile!) And of course, we’ve poured tons of labor into tilling, planting, and weeding. We’ve eaten a lot of fresh green beans recently, because it’s the only thing that’s producing so far. But man, are they ever good! Steamed green beans are Alice’s new favorite food, as long as they have plenty of parmesean cheese on them.

I can’t wait until the rest of our garden is producing! From the looks of things, it’s going to be fantastic.

Possibilities...

 

Green Hot Chili Pepper

Of course, there are even free-er sources of food than the sweat and labor of your own garden. Like…the sweat and labor of someone else’s garden.  Our dinner last night included green beans from our own garden, and spinach greens from Ryan’s cousin’s garden. Two whole bags full of fresh spinach greens for free. Not bad!

Dinner!

Ryan spent an hour picking cherries for his grandma and brought home a nice size bag of fresh cherries. I spent an hour pitting them, and they are currently in the freezer, awaiting their fate as a cherry crisp. (Can’t make cherry crisp until I make it to the store for whipped cream. Who can eat crisp without whipped cream?)

Thanks to my awesome aunt’s awesome mom, we also get all the farm fresh eggs we can eat, and they’ve given us some (butchered) chickens. Delicious!

So despite our super tight budget, we’re eating better than ever. You really can’t beat organic, garden fresh food. My mother-in-law handed me a squash the other day, and I’m sure there would be more where that came from…if I knew what to do with it! She suggested that I chop it up and put it in stir fry, or fry it up, southern style. I’ll probably go with the latter, even though frying it probably negates any health-benefits of fresh squash!

In the fall we pick up pecans from my mom’s yard, and my stepdad has blackberry bushes on his farm that we may take advantage of this summer.

This is the great thing about living in a rural area.  Even if you don’t grow it yourself, you can usually find someone else who does. I’m going to have a ton of watermelon this year, and I hope I can find someone who would like to trade me for blueberries!

The Little Green House has been seriously lacking in something, and it’s been bugging me lately. It took me awhile to figure out what it was, and it took a mention from some of my friends to help me realize what was missing: plants!

I had asked some on-line friends what I should do with my big bay window. All agreed that I needed curtains (which I’ve made and will show off soon!). Other than that, two suggestions were made, and I loved both.

Our living room

Our living room

The first suggestion was to fill the bay window with pillows and make it a window seat, an idea which I love love loved. Unfortunately though, the window is so high that idea was out, unless I planned to pole vault into it every time I wanted to have a seat.

The next suggestion was to fill the window with plants and greenery. Although I seriously loved this idea, the plant serial killer in me cringed at the thought of subjecting them to my care. I imagine ferns and daisies eyeing me with fear, as I walk towards them with my watering can. To them I probably look like Kathy Bates in Misery. Will I over water them? Under water? Or will I ignore them altogether as they wilt away to a dull brown?

But I’m going to give it a try. I probably won’t go all out, with a window full of plants, but surely I can handle two or three, right?

Even though I hadn’t been on a bicycle for (gulp) probably eight years, I hopped right on my new bike and took off. Like my dad would say, I rode like the wind. I guess it turns out that riding a bicycle is just like, erm, riding a bicycle. Hey! That’s where they get that saying.

Yup, I got a new bike. I couldn’t hold out for a good find at a garage sale. So instead, I bought a new one at a bike shop. I love it! (Picture of me on it coming soon!)

Today I even took two carbon emission-free trips to do a few errands. The first time I rode to the bakery and picked up a loaf of bread. (I stretched out the quarter mile trip to about a mile and a half because it was so fun.) Then this evening, I rode to the grocery store to pick up a few things for Ryan’s work lunches this weekend.

On the way back from the grocery store, I saw something that made me very sad. There was a small herd of cattle gathered near a fence at the side of the road. I was just chatting away with them (yeah, I’m weird, I know) when I noticed that one of them was chowing down on a plastic grocery bag. I stopped to try to coax it away from her, but as soon as I stopped the bike they took off running. So anyway, I just saw your cheeseburger eating a bag. How gross is that?

Out in the backyard, exciting things are happening. Our potato plants are growing nice and tall, and the corn, peas, and beans have all popped up. No sign of any carrots yet, and we’ve given up on the onions ever sprouting, so we’re going to go and buy some bulbs to plant.

And the willow house is budding out!!! This is super exciting for me. Once it gets a bit more impressive I’ll snap some pictures of it for the blog.

Back to the subject of bicycles, here is an inspiring page with pictures of Dutch people riding bikes. I love the pictures of all the women in heels and skirts, with kids piled all over their bikes looking extremely bored. It makes me feel good about my plan to pile my own children all over my bike and ride around town in flip-flops.

Our new lawn mower arrived this week. Somehow, it arrived in three separate shipments (mower, sharpening kit, and grass catcher) so way to go Amazon on the fuel efficiency thing there. (Where’s one of those eye-rolling smileys when you need one?) Worst of all, both the mailman and the UPS man rang our bell to give us our packages…during nap time. Ugh.

Once everyone had stopped crying from being woken up, we waited impatiently for Ryan to put the mower together. (He cried the most over being woken up, I think. It was his first nap in ages.) We went out back to give the mower a trial run. Sadly, the grass was still a bit too short to give it an accurate test, but we mowed down a few tufts of taller grass here and there. It worked really well! I was surprised by how easy it was to push, and the sound of the blades is much more pleasant to the ear than a motorized lawn mower.

Ryan was the first to test it out, and Wesley trotted behind him whining, “Wesley do it, Wesley do it!” I was just a few steps behind, begging for my turn, too. I think that is the first time I have ever asked to mow the yard. Anyway, it’s neat because in a few years, Wesley will be able to use it on his own, and I won’t have to worry about him getting his foot cut off like I would with a regular mower. It would take a lot of effort to manage to cut a limb off with this machine.

Once we had cut everything that could possibly be cut, we sat in the swing, enjoying the lovely day. Then I saw it.

After all my rants and raves about littering, about using reusable bags for grocery shopping, it is like a slap in the face. The fates must be laughing at me.

Because there is a plastic bag stuck in one of our trees, so far up it would be impossible to get down. That thing is going to be there until the end of time. Every time I look out my kitchen window, I will see it. It was really cute, though, when I complained to Ryan about it. Wesley said, “Wesley get it!” and ran down to the base of the tree, and proceeded to reach and jump as high as he could, trying to reach this bag.

That’s my little treehugger! 🙂

I’ve been trying to talk Ryan into selling our enormous riding lawnmower. We have a modest yard, and an even more modest garage, and the lawnmower is just entirely too big. mower

                 Scotts 20-Inch Push Reel Mower #2000-20

I’ve been eyeballing reel lawn mowers, you know, the kind you push.  I found this one at Amazon and I want it. For $140, we could get the mower, blade sharpening kit, and grass catcher. It even has free shipping!

But Ryan’s a big ol’ party pooper and says no. He even says no when I say that I’ll mow the yard. Mowing the yard is kinda his “thing” and he really enjoys doing it. I think it would be a lot more enjoyable for the whole family if we didn’t have to stay cooped up in the house, with Wesley pressed against the door crying to go out, whenever it’s time to mow.

Of course, the fact that the reel mower fits into my image of the perfect green home doesn’t hurt!

                                   wesleysroom-1010-wince.jpg

I’m so pleased with our backyard lately. First of all, the garden plot is ready to go. We’ve already planted potatoes and onions, and we’re now just waiting for the days to stay warm enough so that we can plant corn, carrots, beans, peas, and broccoli. We’re also going to put in a small plot for watermelons and cantaloupe.

It was amazing the number of rocks that we (okay, Ryan) pulled out of the garden. We (okay, Ryan) first turned the dirt over with shovels and removed about two wheelbarrows full of rocks from the earth. (Along with a few bricks, an old window weight, two rusty matchbox cars, and an enormous old broken pipe.)

 I had Alice on my back in the mei tai, and I was feeling pretty cool with my shovel. I felt like a Native American woman with my papoose on my back. But, um…wow, that’s hard work. Using a shovel and turning over scoops of dirt is hard enough as it is. Add an extra sixteen pounds on your back, a wiggling sixteen pounds at that, and it’s darn near impossible. Ryan told me what a big help I was, but he was totally lying. I was about as much help as Wesley, who was at one end of the garden, digging in the dirt with his spade, industriously filling and then dumping a bucket.

 Once Ryan’s mom and step-dad showed up with the tiller, it was a breeze. Well, it was a breeze for me, because I just stood on the side of the garden and watched. But the garden was all ready to go after just a few passes with the tiller.

 Ryan also put up a clothesline for me. I really wanted one of the old umbrella-style lines, which, as you can see, I got. I wanted this kind because it would take up less space in the yard, and also it looks totally retro cool. On the line is one day’s worth of diapers for two kids. (Amazing how much they can pee, huh?)

Hopefully, in a few more weeks we can plant the rest of the garden. And with any luck, we’ll be eating our own vegetables and fruit this summer!