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Monday, August 17, 2015


Hello dear friends!  Sorry about the delay in posting.  In spite of it being the quintessential summer's day with blue skies and a gentle wind, the internet kept skipping in and out.  After reentering my passwords  several times, I became frustrated with the whole thing and just gave up.  Technology is a thorn in my side.

So here's a bouquet of brown-eyed-Susans as an apology.


I think sometimes it may seem that I romanticize my life.  To be sure, not everything is always rosy as some may think.  For instance,  in the past couple of months  we have spent over one-third of our yearly income on unexpected repairs.  When we retired, we thought we would mitigate these costs by buying a top-of-the-line new furnace and a new car, but fortune had other ideas, and the furnace required a major repair when it was hit by a power surge and the car is a lemon that requires the wheel bearings to be replaced  every few months.  Our savings are dwindling quickly.  Fortunately we had a savings account set up for the unexpected.  Just didn't expect so much "unexpected"  all at once! Ha! So for us, gardening and canning is not just a nice little hobby, it's the insurance that keeps the wolves from the door.  But I'm not complaining, in spite of it all, I'd rather live like this than have a big fat paycheck.  There is such serenity and delight in each new day, it surely offsets any inconveniences that we may encounter from lack of funds.

So I thought I'd show you what a typical day for us entails.  Ran awoke early and dug the remainder of the potato patch before the heat became too unbearable. 
We ended up with about 150 pounds of potatoes this year.  Not bad for a small plot.  Then the potatoes were sorted through and washed, the smallish ones and those that were pierced by the fork were set aside to be canned another day.

I had a quick wash up and made the trip to the post office.  When I returned I had  this
and this
waiting for me to can.  The tomatoes are producing about a bushel a day now.  Today I started canning at 9:30 AM and didn't finish until 6:30 PM.  At the end of the day we had 15 pints of chili and 16 jars of ketchup canned up. Yesterday I canned 8 pints of spaghetti sauce.

A whole tableful of food.  By the way, those orange things in the graniteware bowl are Turkish eggplants.  Aren't they pretty?

While the chili was in the pressure canner, Ran washed and seeded the peppers and I diced them.  I have a new device called a Vidalia  Chop Wizard, that is a tiki-tacky seen-on-TV device, but it really makes it a quick chore to dice up veggies for canning; can't wait to use it for relish.  The peppers went into the dehydrator.

While I was busy in the kitchen, Ran took advantage of the hot and windy day to wash some more of our heavier rugs.  It felt like a clothes dryer outside so they dried fast.
By 7:00 PM we finally sat down to a meal of corn on the cob (the first of the season from our garden) and fresh tomatoes.  No finer meal could be served to a king.

In between the busyness,  I stepped outside to feel the breeze and to observe the little Ruby Crowned Kinglet  that has taken over the back yard.  She really does rule the roost.  We all tip-toe around her lest she get annoyed and flee.  For such a teeny tiny bird, she has such bravery ; she gets right up to the stray cats and squawks to keep them away from her nest.  Such a courageous little mother!    And that is a typical August day for two pauper retirees. Perfect!


We are drying raspberry and sage leaves.  When combined and made into a tea they make a good astringent  for sore throats and  gums.  I never get canker sores but it probably works for them also.


Whenever I go to garage sales, I always pick up quirky little things to re-purpose.  This is a wind chime that I call "An Ode to Wm. Rogers Silverplate" :
All the pieces were picked up for  a quarter or less, except for the teapot, which I bought for a few dollars at an estate sale (it had a dent).  The crystals were from an old chandelier and I used some beads from a broken necklace and some old earrings.  I need to find a better place to hang it, somewhere that catches the sun.  It's  really big, about five feet tall.  I used fishing line to tie it all together.  It's very snickety as we like to call off-beat quirky things.  Snickety is my style.  Too-cheerful  and conventional things make me uncomfortable! I don't even like certain flowers because they are too perfect looking.


Lest you think we are dull boys with all work and no play, on Friday we ventured out on the annual garage sale trail that runs along the coast of Lake Huron.   We found mostly practical things, like knitting needles in sizes I didn't have, an awl for Ran's leather working, and a extra extra large black wool coat that I plan on making into a Maggie Bonanomi-type quilt this winter.  Most of our finds cost under a dollar; our one big splurge being this tin wahstub that cost $20:
 It has such a pretty shape. I love beautiful tools.  You should see my gardening tools that I've amassed over the years.  My motto is, "beauty costs the same as ugly when thrifting".  It just feels better to use a vintage trowel with a beautifully turned wooden handle rather than a plastic one.  It's those type of little things that make everyday magical.


We packed a lunch to bring along while out on our "hunt".  I wanted to have bring some peach cobbler along but didn't want to deal with forks and dishes, so I came up with this recipe for Peach Cobbler Bars, using a crumble recipe and my peach cobbler filling.

Peach Cobbler Bars

Peach Filling

3 C. peaches, peeled and diced
1/2 C. sugar
1/4 C. brown sugar
1/4 C. cornstarch
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
pinch of nutmeg


1 1/2 C. flour
1/2 C.sugar
1/2 tsp. baking powder
a pinch of salt and nutmeg
1/2 C, butter, softened
1 egg

Combine the filling ingredients and set aside.
Combine the dry ingredients  for the crumble.
Cut in the butter until soft crumbs form.  Stir in the egg.
Pat half of the cobbler mixture into a lightly greased  8" pan.
Top with the peach mixture.
Crumble the rest of the cobbler mixture over the top of the peaches.
Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes or until the cobbler starts to turn a light brown and the peaches begin to bubble.

Harvested the rest of the potatoes and broccoli.
Harvested peppers, tomatoes, and corn.
Dried peppers, raspberry leaves and sage.
Made a wind chime from "found" objects.
Canned 8 pints of spaghetti sauce, 15 pints of chili, and 16 jars of ketchup.
Bought some tools at garage sales.
Brought our own brown bag lunch on our roadtrip.
Washed more rugs, the washtub method way.
Ate almost exclusively from the garden.
Hung the laundry on the line.
Started knitting a scarf from my yarn stash.

Well that's it for this week.  Hope you all have the loveliest week ahead of you filled with joy and delight!



There will be a delay in posting this week, perhaps tomorrow.  The internet has been on the fritz all day.   Hopefully it will stay on long enough to get this posted!  Have a happy!

Sunday, August 9, 2015


Hello dear friends!  Can you believe we are already one week into August?  Hope this week has been a cooler one for you.  We finally are having some nice temperatures.  If you close your eyes and face north, you can almost imagine it is autumn.


This time of year is a busy one at Sweet Briar Cottage.  This week I canned 13 pints of beans, 20 quarter-pints of jalapenos,  7 half-pints of maple-vanilla-peach jam and 8 quarts of peaches.

There's nothing like jars of peaches in the pantry to say "home".  By the way, I saw a jar of  Amish canned peaches in the store the other day - $6!  I'd have to be pretty desperate for a jar of peaches  to pay that price!  Altogether, my peaches cost about $1.50 a quart, and they are all-organic and  non-gmo.  That's why it's good to learn to can.

We also started a crock of sauerkraut.  The directions for making it are here.  We didn't grow our own cabbage because we can buy a ten pound head for $1.40 at a local vegetable stand.  Two heads are all the cabbage we need and it costs about the same as a packet of seeds.  Takes up less space in the garden also.  Which reminds me, someone asked why I don't raise chickens.  Our village  has an ordinance against it, but it just isn't cost effective for us.  By the time you buy the feed and house a small flock, and they don't lay too much during our harsh winters, those eggs are getting expensive.  It helps that I can buy free-range  ones just outside of the village limits for $2 a dozen.  We use less than a dozen a month.  You always have to weigh the benefits when being thrifty. Of course, chickens do give the place atmosphere, so if they ever change the ordinance, neighbor Tom has offered to split the costs with us.


In the garden, we are harvesting our first tomatoes!   If you have ever tasted an heirloom variety picked fresh from the garden, still warm from the sun, you will understand why the tomato is a fruit and not a vegetable.  So wonderful!   So sweet! Every year I fret over them.  Will they ripen before the first frost?   This has been such a strange year; we are already digging potatoes, but the corn is still puny and I'm not sure  the pumpkins will ripen this year before a heavy frost.  I don't ever remember things growing so tall, either.  The hollyhocks have to be at least ten feet tall, and the sunflowers too.  The lilies come up to my shoulders and we have to beat back the black-eyed Susans.  On the other hand the corn is floundering and the Concord grapes are just hard little green pebbles.  Gardening!   It's always feast or famine, that's why it's so important to preserve what you can; you never know when you'll get more!


 We save most of the seeds from our garden, as many are rare heirloom varieties.  It helps keep the costs of gardening down.  This week we are collecting the seeds from our tomatoes.  Each year we select the earliest, most perfect, sweetest,  meatiest ones; traits we are trying to breed into them   The textbook way to save tomato seeds is to cut open the tomato, scoop out the seeds, place in a jar of water, stirring a couple times a day, let the pulp ferment at room temperature for a couple day, the seeds drop to the bottom, pour off the pulp, repeat this procedure until the seeds are clean, spread the seeds on a paper towel to dry.  However, I've found it is easier to put the seeds in a fine mesh sieve and wash the pulp off under running cold water, then just plop the seeds onto a porcelain plate to dry, scrape them off the plate when they are dry and store.

Our dear friend, Mary, gave us a bunch of ferns from her garden.
Which we planted on the north side of our shed.  An instant garden!   Georgie likes to pretend he is an ancient canine, living in the wild among them.
Silly dog!  But I do understand, every time I can, sew or light an oil lamp; I feel an ancient pull connecting me to my ancestors.  It gives me peace.  One of the best things you can do for your soul, is to turn off all the technology and reconnect to the earth and the natural rhythms of life.  There's scientific proof that WiFi and electrical lines interfere with a good nights sleep and others that having your bare feet touch the bare earth is beneficial to your health.  Who knows?  Maybe we all need to return to our primeval  roots.

"Walking, I am listening to a deeper way. Suddenly all my ancestors are behind me. Be still they say. Watch and listen.  You are the result of the love of thousands."
~ Linda Hogan, Native American Writer~


One old-fashioned thing we are doing this week, is cleaning  all our room-sized rugs.  Just like the old washerwomen  of days past, we fill tubs (modern-day storage bins work also) with soapy water, throw in the rugs and stomp on them with our feet, like we are making wine.  In another tub, we rinse them.  Then we lay them over clothes lines, bushes and this make-do (two sawhorses and the garden table) for our very heavy braided wool rug.

A few days in the hot sun, and they are dry.  You'd burn out the motor of your washing machine with these old rugs , they are so heavy, and for what it costs to dry clean them, you might as well throw them out and begin anew.  Make sure you use cold water so the dyes do not bleed.  You have to make hay while the sun shines!  So much to do in summer.


One thing we don't do during the summer, is to spend a lot of time in the kitchen.  One of our favorite summertime meals is  Panzanella,  or Italian tomato and bread salad.  Most of the ingredients can be found right in the garden, so it's thrifty too.  And it's vegan!


1/2 C. olive oil
two cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/4 tsp. ground red pepper
1 loaf of a hard crusty bread (like French) cut into cubes
5 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp. black pepper
4 lbs. ripe tomatoes, cut into 1" cubes
2 C. chopped bell peppers
1 small red onion
1 C. basil leaves, torn into pieces

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Whisk together 3 tbsp. olive oil, 1 clove garlic, salt, paprika, and red pepper.  Toss bread cubes in mixture.
Spread cubes evenly on a cookie sheet. Bake 20-25 minutes, stirring halfway through, or until cubes are crisp.  Let cool.
In a large bowl, whisk together vinegar, remaining 5 tbsp. olive oil, remaining clove of garlic and black pepper.
Add remaining ingredients.  Add bread cubes.  Toss to coat. Serve immediately.

BTW, check the reduced-for quick-sale  shelf of your grocer's bakery for good, cheap bread for this salad.  Since you are toasting it, it doesn't need to be fresh.

Pure bliss!

Most of our meals this week have consisted of freshly dug potatoes, (either roasted or boiled and served with fresh dill and a dab of butter) just picked tomatoes, green beans from the garden and some berries for dessert.  Life is good!


The recent storm has gifted us with some treasures.  There were lots of branches to be gathered for firewood and smaller ones that I am collecting for a Colonial-style stick fence for our garden,  If a person put some effort into it, I'm sure they could gather enough wood to see them through several weeks of heating the house by woodstove.

Another windfall were these plums.
A branch must have broken off the neighbor's tree during the storm and they didn't bother to pick the fruit off the branch before hauling it to the street.  All in all, there were about three pounds of fruit, free for the picking.  Not a blemish on them!  Should make several jars of plum butter. 


I've been seeing a lot of these knitted ruched scarves on Pinterest lately (don't you just love Pinterest?) and I wanted to knit one up.  I found the pattern  in this knitting book  on loan from the library. I used an inexpensive Lion Brand wool in mustard and the pattern really knitted up quickly.  Hint:  I really dislike casting on large amount of stitches (this pattern was over 300) I count and recount but the numbers always come out different each time.  I found that if I place a marker every 50 stitches, it is easier to count the cast-ons. 
"To me a lady is not frilly, flouncy, flippant, frivolous, or fluff-brained, but she is gentle, she is gracious, she is godly, and she is giving.  You and I have the gift of femininity ....the more womanly we are, the more manly men will be and the more God is glorified.  Be women, be only women, be real women in obedience to God."
~Elisabeth Elliot~

My son and daughter-in-law brought the grandbabies for a visit.  That's a picture of son Erik and grandson Felix above, eating ice cream at our favorite parlor, a Victorian general store.  We also spent some time at the beach.  A fun activity for grandparents to play with the grandchildren is buried treasure.  Bring a couple handfuls of change  along.  Encourage the grandkids to look for buried treasure by digging in the sand.  Every once in a while, distract them from the digging and throw some of the change in the hole.  The little ones get quite a kick out of it.  We used to do this with granddaughter Tatianna, but now she is too big to fall for the trick.  Only works for the little ones.  Enjoy them while you can, they grow up so quickly!


Canned peaches, jam, jalapenos and beans.

Saved tomato, hollyhock, spinach, dill and mustard green seeds.

Collected windfall branches and plums.

Harvested tomatoes, summer squash, peppers, beans and herbs from the garden.

Washed our area rugs rather than dry-cleaning them.

Knitted a scarf from a free pattern.

Got more free compost from the village.

Monday, August 3, 2015


Hello dear friends!   Hope you had a pleasant week!  First, I'd like to thank you all for your kind encouragement  in my last post.  I truly do appreciate it.  Just want to let you know that it meant a lot to me.


I had just finished canning potatoes and Ran had just bottled the last of his strawberry-rhubarb wine when the skies got as dark as coal..  Within minutes the electricity went out.  I swear they have a switch at the electrical plant and as soon as we have a storm, they cut the main switch. Anyway, to make a long story short, we were without electricity for the past eighteen hours, which I loved, but others, such as Jamie, were not as thrilled.  It's amazing what you can get done without the distraction of the internet and phones.  Almost completed a scarf I was knitting.  Hopefully it turned out nice, knitting by kerosene lamps, while very quaint and romantic, does have its drawbacks.  But the main lesson to be drawn from this, is be prepared.  Keep some flashlights handy, and have the makings for something to eat that doesn't require heating.  Oh!  And a deck of cards is always nice.  Beats twiddling your thumbs.


This week I canned green beans, pickled peppers (good on sandwiches) and potatoes.  I want to encourage everyone to can, particularly pressure canning.  It's nothing to fear.  It won't explode like in the movies, they have release valves on them.  If you follow the directions precisely, you won't get food poisoning.  I like the  All-American pressure canner because it doesn't have a gasket and they are very well built.  I believe that pressure canning is easier than making jams and pickles in a boiling water bath.   Jams are so fussy with all that skimming of foam and the jelling is sometimes iffy.  But  most vegetables have just to be cleaned, placed in a sterilized jar with a little salt, boiling water poured over them and sealed.  Not a lot of fuss at all.  The general directions for pressure canning are:

Step 1:  Fill the canner with the amount of water required in the manual. (Different canners vary)
Step 2:  Fill the canner with the jars of prepared food.
Step 3:  Put the lid on, tightening the screws alternately.
Step 4:  Vent the steam for 10 minutes.
Step 5: Place the weight on the vent.
Step 6:  Begin timing the process once the weight begins to rock and rattle and the pressure gauge registers 10 pounds (might need 15 pounds of pressure if you live in higher elevations)
Step 7: Adjust the heat so the pressure keeps steady.  All canners have a sweet spot for this.  On my stove it is the 6 mark on the knob.
Step 8:  When you have processed the jars for the time required, remove the canner from the heat.
Step 9:  Allow the pressure to return to zero pounds of pressure. Remove the weight from the vent.
Step 10:  Unscrew the nuts alternately. Open the canner lid away from your face.  Remove the jars.

Sometimes I wish I had a Youtube channel to demonstrate how easy it is, but I'm sure there are already plenty out there.  Use your computer to learn new skills, whether it be canning, knitting,, or how to play the guitar, there's wonderful videos out there.


My New Dawn roses have come back from the dead!

This spring I had to prune them back almost to the ground, after the second dreadful winter in a row. I didn't have much hope for them.  But they are coming back with a vengeance.  Only they are training themselves to grow on the south side of the privet, where they will be protected from the wind off the lake.  They are telling me, "None of this training us up the trellis business, Miss!"   One of the secrets to a bountiful flower garden is to take a  laissez-faire  approach to gardening.  Just let the flowers be what they want to be; if the roses are happier climbing up the bushes, so be it!  If hollyhocks reseed themselves in the iris patch, let them be.  You'd be surprised at the unexpected beauty that will come your way.  But then I am a fan of cottage gardens, those formal ones hold little interest to me.  I call it the Disney effect, when they try to make designs with different colored flowers and have so many annuals.  I like a more natural approach.


This past week we did our light summer pruning.  This is just a light pruning as opposed to the heavier winter/early spring pruning.  The goal is to trim away any weak or broken branches or any branches that cross over each other. You want to prune any densely  limbed younger trees to allow light to reach the inner branches.  This creates sturdier fruiting branches in younger trees. In mature trees trees this  improves fruit size.  Also the  more sparsely branched trees improves the air circulation, reducing the risk of fungus.  Remember this is supposed to be just a little trimming not a  haircut; leave the serious branch removal for the dormant season.


This week there were festivals galore in our area.  We attended the Pointe Aux Barques lighthouse  150th anniversary.

 There were storytellers, musicians, food tents, vendors and you could climb to the top of the tower.
There even was a very small Civil War re-enactment.
My point being, that every area has sources of entertainment.   You don't have to spend bales of money taking your children to those amusement parks, which shall remain unnamed, to give your children  happy memories.  It's a sad commentary on today's society that people equate spending money with having a good time.  When my grown children get together and reminisce about happy times, they speak of camping, or reading under the tree, or the time we stayed up all night watching the meteor shower (BTW, the next meteor shower is the Perseids shower on August 12th).  Never once do the mention the expensive trip we took one summer when we had a windfall.  As an adult, I actually prefer armchair travel, as many times I have traveled to places that looked so enticing in the brochures only to be disappointed.  As Emily Dickinson said,"There is no frigate like a book to take us to lands away ..."  And the advantage is that I can time travel, too!  I have some lovely books on New England by Samuel Chamberlain, that I can imagine myself right into, a world sadly, that is no more.


I read a lot of blogs on thrift, and one thing that strikes me is how many write about buying things.  Sure they got a great discount on whatever it was they were buying, but the still spent money. An old-fashioned concept that you don't hear very often these days is the easiest way to save money is not to spend any.  Of course it doesn't make for a very interesting blog; we didn't drive anywhere so we didn't buy gas, we didn't eat out, we didn't use any coupons because we didn't buy anything, etc.


This week I gathered some mullien leaves to dry. The Foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains Blog has a great post on it.  Also gathering raspberry leaves and sage for medicinal purposes.  I'll write more about that later, as I'm in a crunch for time, as I have to get ready to go to the dentist. 


Canned green beans, potaoes and peppers.

Grated and froze summer squash.

Harvested brocolli, summer squash, potatoes, onions, pepper and green beans.

Collected the seeds from hollyhocks and mustard greens.

Gathered and dried mullien  and raspberry leaves.

Bottled up some strawberry-rhubarb wine.

 Began knitting a scarf from the yarn stash.

Bartered some work for a bag of oats.

Got a truckload of compost for free from the village.

Sorry for the abbreviated post this week. Between the electricity going out and the stupid dentist appointment, time is short.  Will try to make it up to you next week!  Have a lovely week!