Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Almost the New Year

The time from Christmas to the first part of February is the time we take it easy. While everyone else is vacationing in the summer we are working at full speed, but this time of year we can slow down. This is a time to think and plan, design new works, plan new garden ideas. And start the seed ordering process. First of all we have to inventory what is left over from last year's seeds. I am in charge of flower seed so today I sat down and made a list of what was leftover and useable.
It's also a time to design new hats. Now that I am not in full production mode I can go slow, take things out, change my mind, try things that might not work. Above are two hats of a new line that I think will work out. They are sort of a cloche shape knit from my old favorite yarn, Chelsea Silk, and have knitted flowers like the felted hats. I'll have to see how they sell. But I like them a lot.
And one of my favorite activities, ordering new yarn. These are new colors for felted hats and another box is on its way. Yummm. I love yarn.

Saturday, December 27, 2008


Today is our 22nd wedding anniversary. We were married in this house with our kids and my sister present. I made the dress and Joel's shirt from Folkway patterns. I don't remember what the cake was like but it looks like chocolate. Funny, we don't usually remember our anniversary until several days have passed. Christmas was two days ago, Joel's birthday in three, then mine in a week and a granddaughter just before mine, the anniversary usually gets lost in the shuffle. This has not affected our marriage. But today for some reason we remembered. And I am celebrating by sharing this picture.

We did not get off the island for Christmas. It was just still too cold to leave the house and critters. But yesterday we went to Friday Harbor and picked up our two older girls and their families and brought them over here for a late Christmas celebration. Siri is coming in January.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas Tree

There's our Christmas tree. Our house is so tiny we always put it on the table and then eat sitting on the sofa for a couple of weeks. We have a set of tiny LED Christmas lights that take so little electricity and don't get even warm so we can leave them on all night long. I love getting up at night and seeing the tree lights. When I was a little girl my sister and I had our own little tree in our bedroom. Mom would put the lights on when we went to bed and then come turn them off after we'd gone to sleep. I always add the icicle strips as I like the way they catch the light. They add sparkle when you don't have really bright lights. I carefully take them all off the tree every year and put them in an envelope. The stuff is a bit of a pain as I find it hiding everywhere for weeks after Christmas, but I still love it.
The decorations have been collected for years, some bought on trips, some are gifts,
some made by local artists,
some made by children.

My birthday is the first week of January and my mother would leave our big tree up until then. We still do that.

Monday, December 22, 2008

And Still More Snow

We woke up to about a foot of snow this morning. This doesn't happen in this neck of the woods very often and we glory in it when it does. It is so beautiful. Last night we walked a couple of miles to a friend's house for dinner as we weren't sure we could get the truck out our 1/4 mile long driveway. It was snowing quite heavily as we came home and was silent except for a couple of great horned owls hooting in the woods.
We aren't going anywhere for Christmas. All of our family will try and get together later on when the snow has gone, maybe next week. Meanwhile we are just going to hunker down and cook a - from the farm - Christmas dinner just for us. We do need to get to town one of these days soon. If we can manage to get to the water there won't be any problem. That part of the trip isn't covered with snow. And we can walk uptown to the grocery store. Until then we will improvise with what we have. Joel will make fudge and a pie and I will cook a roast with potatoes, parsnips, onions and carrots from the garden. As long as we don't run out of cat food we'll be alright!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Cats Keeping Warm

Okay, I know the internet is floaded with cute cat pictures but I couldn't resist adding one more. Here are our cats keeping warm in front of the stove. Every once in a while we shove them over, gently, so we can sit down and put our toes up on the stove and warm them up. The grey one is Fang, the calico Sarah, the little orange one in front James III, and the orange and white guy in back is Chas.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Holly and Christmas Trees

Today we started hanging up Christmas decorations around the house and hung sprigs of holly over every door and window. Ever since we first read Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising where they put holly over the doors and windows before the solstice to keep out the dark, we have done it too.
And today we went out and cut our Christmas tree. There is a small grove of white, or grand firs in the woods just the right size for our tiny house. I love this one with a ball of snow on the top.
Out in the woods were bird tracks, sheep tracks and the tracks of one of our barn cats, probably Tuft, out exploring the snowy woods.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

More Snow

Just a few pictures of the farm in the snow. Above a bed of leeks.
Brussels Sprouts.
A Rufous Sided Towhee sheltering in the rosebush at the front door.

And German Honey Bars from my old Joy of Cooking for Christmas. These cookies need to be stored for at least a week to be soft enough to eat. So they are great to make ahead of time. They are a favorite holiday cookie. I don't dare forget to make them.

Sunday, December 14, 2008


It started snowing after dark last night and snowed and blowed all night. This morning there are several inches on the ground. It's hard to measure because it is light snow and blowing all over the place. I know we are sort of wimps as there are lots and lots of colder and snowier places in the world, but this doesn't happen all that often here. So it is always exciting and a bit of an adventure when it does.

Last night I wrapped a hot brick in a towel and put it in the bed. I woke up in the middle of the night with three heavy cats all on top of the spot where the brick was and no way I could get my toes down there.
We run a small fan from the house into the greenhouse where a lot of our harvested vegetables are stored and this makes the snow on the roof melt and creates wonderful icicles.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Hunkering Down

The wind is starting to howl, the temperature is slowly dropping as is the humidity and the barometer is rising as the cold arctic air blasts down upon us. We've been out putting row covers over normally hardy things like our purple sprouting broccoli and overwintering cauliflowers because we really don't know how hardy they are. We also hope that it will help a bit to keep the plants from drying out. In this kind of weather, the ground freezes and the wind with the low humidity keeps taking moisture out of the leaves. Sometimes plants die from drying out instead of from the cold. The wind is blowing so hard that it is hard to keep the covers on the plants. We haven't had cold as low as they are predicting since we started growing a serious market garden. We will learn a lot from this storm. These storms seem strange to a place like the Pacific Northwest where we are mainly known for being rainy. They are a little spooky as you watch them come in. I remember one year out mulching something. It was very quiet and all of a sudden I could hear the wind from the NE hitting the trees and then I looked down and ice crystals were forming in the ground under my feet. This kind of weather almost seems alive. It makes you understand old superstitions about weather gods.

So far no snow which would be a bit of help in protecting plants. But clouds are coming in now, it was sunny and clear this morning, so who knows.

Joel is out doing the last minute things, draining the water from the washing machine and bathtub on the back porch, wrapping an old sleeping bag around the top of the well, filling buckets with water, digging a bunch of root vegetables because even if they don't freeze it looks like the ground will still be frozen by market next weekend and if we dig them now we should have them to sell. I've filled the bird feeders and tomorrow will try to set up some sort of source of water for the wild birds after the pond freezes although I don't know how I am going to keep it open in the really low temperatures. I'll do my best.

We will put extra blankets on the beds, expect all the cats to show up as soon as the fire dies down a bit to huddle next to us, James under the covers, his preferred spot. I have lots of knitting yarn within easy reach so I won't be bored. A friend loaned us her set of The Blue Planet DVD so we can watch that on our laptop and drink hot chocolate in the evenings.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Battening Down the Hatches

Joel and I spent the day getting ready for a major Arctic Outbreak as the weather forecasters call it. This is a fierce outflow of very cold air that comes down the Fraser Canyon in British Columbia from the dark of the arctic and blasts right across the Strait of Georgia and hits us. The air is really, really cold as the sun isn't shining up there at this time of year and the cold of outer space seeps in in the absence of the sun. It is supposed to get down to the low teens (that's Fahrenheit) with a couple of days of high winds as well. We frequently get a week or two of this sort of weather most winters. We don't usually get snow with it unless we are right on the convergence zone between the warm moist air off the ocean and cold dry air off the land mass. It usually is just very dry and very cold. If we do get snow first then that really helps protect growing plants. Snow is a great mulch.
So Joel raked up the leaves under the birch tree, hauled a couple of loads of maple leaves from the side of the roads, and raked up a bunch of loose waste hay from the floor of the barn. We covered the dahlias and glads and carrots,
dug up the last of the potatoes, brought in a bunch of cabbages, and will dig the beets and pull the celery tomorrow. We have until tomorrow night before the cold hits. All of these vegetables and half a dozen boxes of apples and all the squash will be brought into the house for us to trip over until it warms up. There used to be a root cellar on this place but when we came here it had collapsed and wasn't restorable. It sure would be nice to have it now. When we were just gardening for ourselves it wasn't so much of an issue, but with the winter market we have a lot of produce out there in the garden. This is our 7th year of the winter market and we haven't had cold like this in those years. This could well put an end to much of our winter produce for this year.

So we will fill buckets with water for us and the livestock, bring in lots of firewood, get out the wool socks and the long johns and hunker down for the duration. Boats won't be going anywhere so we won't get mail for a few days or be able to go to town. At least the power won't go out and we will be warm. We have plenty of wood and food and warm clothes. We could be in a lot worse situation.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Wash Day

When I first moved to the island in 1972 with two small children I washed all our clothes for the first two years with a scrub board in a washtub. Hard work. But I have never managed to get a pair of blue jeans as clean as a scrub board can no matter what sort of machine or fancy detergent I've used since. Not that I am keen to go back to washing that way, but it is nice to know that I can if I have to. Since then I have hauled my laundry to town, used a great old ringer washer, and a few years ago bought a used washing machine for $10 at a flea market. We had been seriously considering buying one of those really energy efficient Fischer-Paykel machines until I tried to felt hats in a friend's. They don't have an agitator but rather suck the water through the clothes. It is supposed to be really easy on the clothes but it won't felt hats. I ran my hats through three loads with no noticeable change in them. Good information if you accidentally wash a wool sweater in one. But I realized that if I were going to get a washing machine it had to not only wash my clothes but felt my hats. This one is great. Something about the way it agitates, I can get the hats the size I want in just one load. I have used friend's machines and had to run the hats through several times. So I am quite happy with this machine. It sits on our back porch and the hot water for it is heated by coils that run through the cook stove. That is pretty energy efficient because every time we cook a meal or heat the house we are also heating water.
And then for the solar dryer. Dryers are one of the heaviest users of energy and the sun does such a great job for free. In the winter we hang the clothes inside and with the wood stove going they dry quickly. Both are solar heaters, one directly from the sun and the other stored sunlight in the wood.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Onions and Cats

Another winter market is coming up this Saturday. So we spent this evening boxing up squash and onions. I bagged up some of the special cipollini onions in one pound bags. I like to give these as Christmas presents and I hope I can convince a few customers that that is a good idea.
While we were doing that Chas decided to jump into an empty wastebasket. I couldn't resist taking a picture.

Golden Treasure tomatoes

Joel brought in another bowl of Golden Treasure tomatoes.
These are storage tomatoes that will supposedly keep for up to 3 months after harvest. This is our first year to grow them so we will see. The seed is available from Abundant Life Seeds