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Monday, July 27, 2020

Garden Update

Hello dear friends!  I hope  this post finds you well.  As we come to the end of July, I like to sit and back and take stock of how my garden is fairing.  I won't write that it's a strange year weatherwise, looking back, I've noticed that I write that every year. Ha!  But we did have any unusually cold start to Spring and it seems quite a long period of drought and heat.  But as with life, you have to take the bad with the good.

It was not a good year for some of our early Spring crops, such as broccoli and cauliflower.  The plants got big  but they never really formed a nice large head.  We got enough little offshoots of the broccoli for a few meals and a couple containers for the freezer, but not as much as we were hoping for.  The cauliflower was a complete lost. And we only got a few meals of asparagus, it was looking kind of sad, so we picked sparingly  to let the plants strengthen.. We are going to plant more slips this Fall and really give the plot a good dose of compost.    However, we probably got more peas then we ever have  before.  But I think we can chalk that up to not having little grandsons around to pick and eat them fresh from the garden. I'd rather have had the grandsons than the peas.  Maybe next year.  Our cabbage was beautiful.  Looked just like a Beatrix Potter illustration and we have more for making sauerkraut in the Fall.

We've been gathering raspberries these past few weeks. Again, with the heat and drought they are not in their usual abundance, but since they have such a long harvest time, I'm confident that we'll have enough to makes up several quarts of juice.  I've already made jelly.  We just pick them and freeze them until we have enough.  The blackberries, on the other hand, are going like gangbusters. I cannot understand why one berry does well and the other doesn't, just one of those garden "unexplainables".  Cherries were phenomenal!  Even the birds couldn't keep up with them.  Rarely do they leave us enough to do something with, but this year I was able to can eight jars of cherry preserves.  We will treasure them come Winter.  And I'm so excited that my beloved Rhode Island Greening apple tree is finally going to produce enough apples to make a pie!   I've been coaxing and pampering it for almost a decade and it's finally come through.  And the Wolf River is loaded.  All the neighbors will be receiving a bushel this year.

We are just beginning to pick our green beans.  The deer and rabbit ate them down to the nubs several times, so we are grateful for any we get.  Fortunately we had some many last year that I still have plenty of jars in the pantry.  Always can extra, you never know when you're going to have a bad year. We've  had our first tomato.  Over the years we've been selecting the fastest ripening and prettiest tomato to save the seeds from.  I think mid-July is the earliest yet.  Thanks to Ran's persistent and consistent water none have blossom end rot.  That is good news, I have lots of plans for those tomatoes.  Happy day, when we can make a tomato sandwich. And the peppers are loving this weather.  It seems peppers always do well.

On one of the cooler days, Ran and Jamie dug the first row of our red potatoes.  The vines are drying up and dying back because it is so dry, but it looks like we  will have plenty, around forty pounds from one row and we have several rows to dig.  We had high hope for the  keeper onions, they started out so well, still got a nice crop, but they weren't as large as they initially looked.  But still nothing to complain about.  We've yet to dig the sweet onions, but so far they look picture perfect.

Our back plot is dedicated to pumpkins, zucchinis, cucumbers and all things viney.  Look for many pumpkin recipes this Fall. Ha!  There's also a lovely vine growing in the compost bin and another by some elderberry bushes I planted.  I've had enough of cucumbers, thank you.  I feel that I've canned enough pickles and relish to supply the county.  I told Ran he can let the vine grow to give some to Anna, our neighbor, but as far as I'm concerned I'll be glad to not set my eye on another one for a while.  And zucchinis, well, they are doing what zucchinis do.  If you feel you have a brown thumb, just plant yourself a zucchini.  A neighbor up the street sets out a table with free vegetables by her driveway, and no one is even interested in take them anymore.

Well, I hope that my garden update will be an encouragement to you novice gardeners.  Even with almost one-hundred years of gardening experience between the two of us (boy does that ever make me feel old), we still have failures.  You just have to keep plugging away at it because that day you taste the first tomato from the garden or have a meal of the fresh potatoes and dill from the garden, makes all that lugging hoses and being bent over a hoe, so worth it. So, how does your garden grow?

Monday, July 20, 2020


Hello dear friends!  Yesterday we had a storm and our electricity went out so I'm a day behind on everything, but I wanted to share this picture of comet NeoWise that our son, Scott, took while he was visiting us this past week.  This was taken at the harbor a few blocks from our house.  It was so large you could see it with the naked eye, even I could without my glasses, and I'm as blind as a bat! Stargazing is one of those simple pleasures that a family can do for free.  Unfortunately, as you can see by this picture which taken around midnight,  the sun is just beginning to fall beyond the horizon, so you have to be quite a night owl to be a stargazer  in these parts during the summer.  I'll write a longer post soon, but I wanted to get this out to you all.  Isn't it encouraging to know that the world is still a beautiful place, in spite of all the ugliness and fear that's out there?  Choose beauty.

Sunday, July 12, 2020


Hello dear friends!  Hope you all are doing well.  We're still spending a good portion of our days watering, trying to keep our garden alive.  My! It's been hot!  But the today we finally had a break from the heat and are having the Picture-perfect summer day.  So many flowers are blooming right now.
This is a garden on the south side of our home.  It's a true cottage garden, in that every plant is either something that someone has given us, or a volunteer plant growing elsewhere in the yard.  It's been thrown together with no forethought on what "goes" but just planted by sticking whatever we found,  wherever there was an empty space.  And you no what?  It's one of the prettiest gardens  that ever existed.  (Sometimes I wish I were a better photographer so I could capture the true beauty of this place, but it is what it is, and if people desire an "artful" blog, I'm afraid they will have to go elsewhere.)  Oh!  And the birds do their part also. Many of the flowers have been reseeded courtesy of the birds. I'm a firm believer in not coddling  plants and letting them live where they want to, no hybrid roses for me!

Here's an area of the yard we will be working on this fall:

This is the back quarter of our property where our apple trees grow.  We plan to plant "something" to make this area completely secluded and have a little sitting area. Even on the hottest days, this shady area is cool.  We've already earmarked some ferns and hostas to go back here.  Any ideas?   I'd love your input. This year we decided not to mow the grass back here and there's all sorts of wildflowers  and herbs growing;   Fleabane, Self-heal, Queen Anne's Lace, Wild Lettuce, Mullein  and Red Clover to name a few.  It's so enjoyable to learn of all the herbs and their many uses. You are never too old to learn something new!


This recipe is something new I learned  last year.  For years I've looked at this recipe in one of Mary Mason Campbell's recipe books and ignored it because it seemed too "ordinary".  But last year I had such a glut of summer squashes that I was willing to try anything to use some up. Hence, this recipe, which has become a staple summer meal for us:

 Casserole of Summer Squash

2 tbs. olive oil
2 lbs. summer squash washed and cut into cubes (I use a mixture of summer squash, zucchini and eggplant)
1 white onion, chopped
3 large tomatoes, chopped
2 tsp. pepper
1 tbsp. salt (scant)
2 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. dry mustard
1 tbsp. oregano
1 C. breadcrumbs
1 C. cheddar cheese
2 tbsp. butter

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Parboil the squash for 5 minutes, Drain.
Put the oil in a 3quart casserole. Put in vegetables.
Mix together dry ingredients and half the cheese. Spread over top of the vegetables.
Dot with butter.
Cover and bake 50 minutes. Uncover and scatter the remaining cheese over top.  Return to oven until the cheese is melted.

Isn't it colorful?  We substituted some cheese crackers for the breadcrumbs, just because we had some and they needed using up.  Makes it even more colorful.  Happy days when the garden starts producing!

And look! Canning season has begun! One commenter expressed skepticism that I truly canned as much as what I said I did, but this is just the result of one day's canning session, and my true canning season doesn't really begin until the beans and the tomatoes ripen.  Then it's not unusual for me to can 30 jars a day.  Anyway, I know I should let these comments pass, but it does get tiresome some times. 

And speaking of gardens, with all this dry hot weather, now is the time to be drying your herbs in your car. Something I wrote about way  back in 2012.  Good advice never goes out of style.

This was a dandy year for cherries.  Usually the birds have them eaten before they are ready to be picked, but this year there were even  too many  for them!  I ended up with a dozen jars of cherry preserves.  We will treasure those!  And we had enough cucumbers for a dozen jars of relish. We go through a lot of relish. There'll be more on the way, not to mention pickles.  And I got an amazing deal at WalMart.  They must be getting rid of a brand because they had cans and cans of corn and beans on the sale rack. The expiration date on the cans was 2023 so it wasn't because they were expiring.  Anyway, I bought two  six pound cans of corn for $1.50 each (that's 25 cents/lb!). So I recanned the corn into smaller pint jars.  We never have any luck with corn, between the deer and the raccoons, it just isn't worth our while to grow.  And what they don't eat, the crows will finish off.  Oh! speaking of deer, we spotted twin fawns standing in the street in front of our house.  Gosh, they're cute, but such pests! They know they have it made, with a stream and grazing land behind our house, and apple orchards and our garden, plus the fact that there's no hunting in the village, I'd say they are the smartest little deer!


During  the "big lockdown" I took up sewing again.  I haven't done any for years, and it was fun to rediscover the craft.  But not being able to avail myself to any stores, I had to "make-do" with what I had.  Using an old linen tablecloth and substituting some woolen goods for the interfacing I fashioned this old-timey vest.  It has a cute peplum in the back.
Sorry about how awful these pictures are.  I am not a model and the one thing I hate most in the world is having my picture taken.  The photographer gets one chance with me and that's what I go with. ANd I wouldn't know where to begin with photoshopping.  It must be tiresome to be a model, or one of those influencers you see on Instagram.  And I hadn't given any thought about how stupid this vest would look with a t-shirt, (I just put it on to take the picture). Or how I had the back all twisted about. Or that maybe the back would look smoother if I hadn't had a big bulky belt on underneath it.  Oh well!  You get the picture.  

Currently I'm knitting a shawl from some yarn that I picked up at the local thrift shop for 50 cents a skein.  It's just a simple shawl, but the variegated yarn intrigued me. It 's not the best yarn, but I'm not a yarn snob and the entire project will cost me $1.  Not like I'm giving it as a gift or anything, just something to do. Truly a mindless project for the times I'm monitoring the pressure canner.  

Well, the world keeps getting crazier, but life is as good as you care to make it.  I hope you all have a glorious week ahead of you. And that's this week at the old Zempel boarding house.


Monday, July 6, 2020

It's Not What you Don't Have

It's not what you don't have, it's what you do with what you do have.
~Kitty Bartholomew~

Hello dear friends!  Today I thought I'd take you on a little tour of  the outside of my home.  About fifteen years ago my husband bought Sweetbriar cottage for me.   At the time I was really suffering badly from asthma and he had noticed how my health always improved when I was visiting family by the lake in Michigan. At the turn of the century wealthy families from Chicago kept homes along the western side of the Michigan shoreline for this very reason.  We were on a very tight budget, not being a wealthy family from Chicago 😄.  The grand  total for the 15 year mortgage, including property taxes and home-owner's insurance was $432 a month, which was less than the many car loans back then.  (We applied any "found" money to the mortgage and paid it off in five years) As you can imagine, we had to make a lot of compromises to our "dream" at that price.  This house was ugly.  Here's a picture to prove it:
Not exactly anyone's dream house is it?  But there was something about this little house that spoke to me.  I call it the "magical" light.  The way the sunlight hits the walls and makes it glow throughout the day.  It also helped that this little hovel was located within a cute little village and only a few blocks from lake Huron.  

The very first thing we did was replace the front door with Dutch door that I had purchased at an estate sale years ago for $45 and had been dragging around from with us from house to house, waiting for the perfect spot for it.  The next thing we did was replace the ugly drafty windows.  Windows are so important to the looks of a house.  We bought replacement windows one or two at a time as we could afford them (we had children in college at the time). As soon as Spring arrived I started planting roses.  As a child I always dreamed of living in a rose covered cottage.

These roses were grown from a slip that I took from an overgrown hedge located at the edge of the property. Ran made the trellises.   I also planted lots of delphiniums and hollyhocks  that we started from seeds.  I think that tall flowers give a place a sense of whimsy.
When we first looked at this house, it was in the middle of the Winter and we were not dressed properly to go out and explore the yard.  I asked the realtor how  big was the backyard and she gestured that it ended somewhere around "that tree".  Which I understood to mean a  honeysuckle bush that was about 60 feet out.  Imagine my delight when I later discovered that the backyard was actually 300 feet deep.  The size of an average football field!  However, it was completely devoid of any trees, bushes or plants of any kind except for the honeysuckle bush (I still haven't figured out what tree she was talking about).  It barely had grass!   One side of the yard faced the back of a lumberyard. So we planted pine trees along the entire perimeter of the back yard.  They were barely more than twigs when we planted them a decade ago, but now they are well  over twelve feet tall and give us all the privacy we could want.  I say "we" planted but it was I that planted all 100 of them, as the weather was so terrible when they arrived via the mail ($1 a tree) that Ran was unable to commute here to help, so I planted them in the middle of major rainstorm.  I thought I'd never dry out after that day, but it sure made digging the holes easy.  And it must have been good planting weather because they all survived!   
In true Jane fashion, there's a story to the picket fence that is a major feature of our backyard.  We always wanted that proverbial "white picket fence" but couldn't find any real wooden pickets.  I hate  plastic fencing.  One day we stopped in a garage sale and a man had a huge stack of them.  I thought I'd buy only one bundle and make some little accents, but the price kept coming down for the more I'd buy, so I ended up getting enough for this fence and maybe  for another someday for $25!  The green color came about because it was on the sale bin at the local hardware store.  I can't imagine it being white now, the green has become sort of a signature.  

Another signature of our backyard is my beehive. We waited all day at an auction for the item we wanted to come up and when it finally did, there were few bidders so the auctioneer threw a bunch of things in a pile and the bee boxes were included in the item we wanted (a Hitchcock chair) so I got the chair and the boxes and several other things for $1.  Well, we couldn't just throw them out could we? So Ran built a little roof for them and we now  have a beehive. 

The main focus of our backyard is food production.  And everyone that has read this blog knows we have a huge vegetable garden.  It's important to us that it looks neat and orderly like Farmer MacGregor's garden in  Peter Rabbit.  

Beyond the little shed that Ran and Jamie built, we have fruit trees planted.  This year we decided that instead having grass back there , we'd start filling it in with ferns and whatever planting we can get for free or on really reduced prices at the end of the gardening year to make a sort of woodland back there.  Under the apple trees it is so pleasant during the hottest days of summer, we will make some sort of sitting area.  There's always projects.  

After the boys had finished college, we finally could afford to reside the house in the gray shakes it has now. I had to fight the contractor every step of the way because what I envisioned wasn't done, you know? Boy! He thought I was crazy when I wanted to rip off that ugly little covered porch on the front of the house.  But now, when the the roses are in bloom and little Sweetbriar is looking all cute and fairytale-esque, strangers stop and take pictures of our house.  Can't tell you how many times I've had to duck out of the way of a photographer. And people that are remodeling stop by to consult me.  This little house has launched at least a dozen other little gray shake cottages.  Kind of amazing seeing where this house had started out.

We had planned to put a deck on the south side of our house, but when we had a contractor come out he discovered that all that was holding up our enclosed porch was lathing strips!  Yikes.  So we pulled off the entire thing and had an open porch there for several years, but when Ran retired we discovered we needed more room, so we had the porched enclosed again.  It was a wonderful opportunity to use some diamond-paned leaded windows installed  that I had been dragging around from house to house for years.  One of my most favorite things about this house  is this bow-front window on the porch.
The way it distorts the light and the way the roses grow around it is pure fantasy.  It makes me happy every time I look at it.  Unfortunately, our porch is usually full of junk.  But some day!

So that it's the story of how a a lot of inspiration, very little money and a lot of elbow grease can make a dream come true.    

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Fourth of July

Hello dear friends!  Sorry for my absence, I've been struggling with what to write and how to say it these past few months.  There is so much I would like to say but think it is best left unsaid.  But I wanted to acknowledge this very special holiday, Independence Day! I'm a proud card-carrying member of the DAR, a descendent of the original 3%ers. My family has literally shed its blood for the freedoms we enjoy.  I had written a long tome but erased it and will let Ben say it for me:

Those who give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither safety nor liberty.
~Benjamin Franklin~

BTW, one dear reader suggested I post a home tour, which I will be happy to oblige, but it will be a while as Summer is my busy season and the house is in constant chaos with canning, guests and harvesting.  It doesn't help that we are going through a drought period and most of our days are spent watering our massive garden.  But I will have a tour as soon as we I possibly can.  I hope you all have a lovely Fourth of July and spend some time reflecting upon all the sacrifices that were given to make us free!


Sunday, May 24, 2020

Memorial Day

Happy Memorial Day dear friends!  Can you believe that we have already reached the end of May?  It seems that you wait for spring to arrive and it feels like it will never get here, then one day, ta-da! it's Spring!

Tomorrow is Memorial Day here in the States and I want to take this opportunity to thank all who are serving or have served.  On Memorial Day, my thoughts always go to my father, who served in World War II.  He never talked of his time in the war except to jokingly recall of the incident when his ship was torpedoed and he volunteered to don diving equipment and go down in the deep ocean waters to weld a make-do repair back on.  He always joked that he was the only one too stupid (his words, not mine) to know any better.  It wasn't until after he died that I discovered all the heroic things he did in the war.  Lately, I've been pondering what he would think of all the goings-on that have been happening lately.  I have a feeling I'd be bailing him out of jail a lot. Ha!  Makes me sort of glad that he's not here to see what a mess we've made of of the freedoms he fought so valiantly to defend.  But mostly, I think of all the things I'd like to share with him.  I know he'd love our little cottage and would be thrilled to be able to go fishing with Ran.  Whenever he visited I was always sure to bake him something special.  He could eat half  of one of my pies in one sitting!  I learned to bake at an early age and one of my duties was to bake goodies for his lunch pail. So in his honor, I made a strawberry-rhubarb pie.
Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie

1 C. sugar
1/4 C. flour
3/4 tsp. nutmeg
3 eggs, beaten
2 C. strawberries, sliced
2. C. rhubarb, diced
1 9" pie shell 
1/2 C. flour
1/4 C. sugar
1/3 C. butter, softened

Combine first four ingredients.  Fold in the strawberries and rhubarb. Put into the pie shell.
Combine the streusel ingredients until crumbly.  Sprinkle over top.
Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes then turn down the oven to 350 degrees and bake an additional 40 minutes. 

This year everyone decided that the like rhubarb, so I'm making sure to can some up.  

How to Can Rhubarb

Wash stalks and cut into 1/2" pieces. removing any strings or tough pieces (young springtime stalks are the best) In a large pot add 1/2 C sugar for every quart of rhubarb.  Let stand covered, until juice appears. Heat gently to boiling.  Immediately pack into hot jars. leaving a 1/2 inch headspace.  Remove air bubbles.  Wipe rims and adjust lids. Process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes for pints or quarts

We are also beginning to harvest the first of our asparagus.  Here's a quick recipe for a simple  little casserole:

Asparagus Casserole

1 1.2 lb. fresh asparagus, boiled until tender
1/4 C. butter
1C. cracker crumbs (we like our homemade ones made from cauliflower flour)
1/2 C. toasted almonds (optional but good)
1 can cream of mushroom soup (or 1C, of the white sauce, I write frequently about)
4 rashers bacon, fried and crumbled

Combine butter and cracker crumbs.  Pat half into a 8 inch buttered pan. Combine almonds, asparagus, and the soup. Pour over the cracker crust.  Sprinkle the remaining crumbs on top, then sprinkle the bacon over that.  Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until hot and bubbly.


Memorial Day weekend is when we plant our garden.  It's slow going this year because the back  plots are very wet.  We are hoping and praying that the potatoes that we planted earlier in the season are not rotting in the ground. Such is the trials of a gardener!  That's why it's important to reserve some of your canned goods for the next season, you just never know when a crop will fail.  It looks like our poor peach tree didn't survive the winter.  It was such a dependable little tree, it certainly lived up to its name "Reliance",  it's going to be sad to cut it down.  I'm glad I  canned so many peach preserves last year!  

While Ran is busy putting in the vegetable garden, I've been busy getting the flowerbeds weeded.  Sometimes I regret the folly of planting so many flowers.  If I had to do it all over again, I think I'd just plant huge banks of tiger lilies, but oh well! I have the flowers now, so weeding will just be part of my life until, I'm too old to do it. On the other hand, one of the most enjoyable garden tasks is planning  the urns plantings.  This year I found some unusual plants called "toothache plant".  Some might think that are rather ugly ducklings but they reminded me of the flowers in crewel embroidery.
And you can see from this picture, I love my crewel embroidery!
Sorry about the dark picture, it's just a foggy, pussy-willow-gray kind of a day today.

Finding Time

After a very long winter,  it seems that springtime arrives and so do so many chores.  It's easy for all those little things that need to be done fall by the wayside. I've found that if you make a list and just make an effort to cross three of them off each day, things don't pile up.  For me one of the "chores" this week was to defrost and can all the bacon that was in the freezer.  Canning bacon is one of those "guerilla " methods of canning that isn't "Ball Blue Book approved", but something I've been doing for years, so I won't explain how to do it.  When I pulled all the bacon out, I told Ran that now we had room for all the fish he will catch, "so get out there and catch some".  It was less than an hour later that our neighbor, Ed, dropped off several pounds of frozen cod that came from his sister's restaurant. She has been closed down because of you-know-what and needed to get rid of stuff before it goes bad.  The Lord works in mysterious ways! He also gave us several dozen eggs.  What a blessing to have nice neighbors!

I also use the checking-off-the- list method for cleaning up the pantry.  Each week I take five ingredients that are unusual (why did I buy that?) and are reaching their expiration date and challenge myself to use them up.  It results in some strange meals sometimes, but we also discover a lot of new and fun flavors.  Keeps things interesting. Since I had just purchased a couple dozen eggs before Ed gave us several more, I tried pickling them this week.  The guys love them!  Who knew?

This is also the time of the year that we take our remaining onions and dehydrate them.  We never waste anything and I hate buying onions.  We use this dried onions from May until September, when we harvest our next crop.  I also fill in with chives, Egyptian Walking onions,  and spring's green onions.  We also dried all our  remaining garlic and ground it into garlic powder.  What a smelly undertaking that is!

Well, I guess I've rambled on here long enough.  I hope that you all have a lovely weekend ahead and  again, thank you veterans and those serving presently.  So that's it for another week at the old Zempel boarding house!


Thursday, May 21, 2020

But for the Grace of God, Go I

I suppose by now most of you have heard of the dams breaking and the flooding in Midland and Sanford Michigan.  Please keep those folks in your prayers.  All four of my sons were born there, we had our first home there and started out life there.  In 1986 we went through a one-hundred year flood while living there.  I remember that it was such a stressful time.  I was heavily pregnant with my son Jamie and I remember the hospital parking lot at the delivery room being flooded and a guy in a row boat paddling past.   I also remember feeling all alone, as though the rest of the world was out enjoying themselves, not even giving our sufferings a second thought.  So my heart goes out to all that lost homes or have just lost hope. 
 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.

Isaiah 43:2

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Anyone Can Learn to be Thrifty

Hello dear friends!  I hope you are enjoying this Mother's Day.  Here's a bouquet of daffodils for you!
Ran is making me a gluten-free pizza in honor of the day.  To be honest, I don't much care for these sort of holidays and would just as soon ignore it completely, but I'll take pizza any day!
I'm not a fan of "special" days designated to honor people. Every day should be a day to honor those you love, just as every day should be a day of thanksgiving, a reminder of the resurrection and His birth.   And that is all I'm going to say on the subject


Many people say to me that I am lucky to have been born with thrifty parents to learn from, this is the furthest thing from the truth.  My parents, having been young during the Great Depression, wanted nothing to do with thrift in their adulthood.  They spent their money as soon as the got it.  My mother bought new furniture for the living room every two years, my dad bought a new car probably every three years.  I remember that  my mother always redecorated her bathroom every season and would throw out all the towels and buy new ones in a seasonal color scheme.  Even as a small child I thought that was a bit wasteful.  When my father died, he was in debt.  So, no, I didn't learn about being thrifty from my parents.  But for some reason, even as a small child, I could see that this way of spending was not the way I wanted to live.  Some day perhaps I will tell you the story of when I was a child (maybe five or six) the Holy Spirit ?, my inner conscience?, my gut?, whatever it was, pulled my ear and said "pay attention"  upon seeing a TV program that was made about serious subjects that would be considered too disturbing for children. Anyway, from that day forward I was fascinated by how people lived through hard times.  When my friends were reading Misty and Flikka and dreaming of ponies and living in castles with a prince, I was reading the Moffats, Little House on the Prairie and other titles I have long forgotten, taking note of the meals (potato pancakes and applesauce) the ways they made do, the ways the entertained themselves without  toys, etc.  I was a weird little kid! I eventually graduated to A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, The Diary of Anne Frank and autobiographies  and biographies of people in poverty,  Then moved on to history books.  

Although my father wasn't thrifty by a long shot, he did love history and I spent many an hour listening to him discuss world events with his friends, relating them to past history.  One of the subjects that made my ears prick up was when he discussed the inflation in Germany after the first world war.  I also had an amazing history teacher in high school, Mrs. Peck, who has lived through many of the major historical events in history, including both world wars, the depression and  the dust bowl.  She didn't  teach the class from our textbooks, she would just get up in front of the class and start telling us stories of her life.  For her, it wasn't important to memorize dates and facts, it was important to learn the causes of events.  That is why I am so passionate (some say too passionate) about what is happening in the world today.  I've seen this cycle in history before and the outcome is not good. Bless Mrs. Peck!  

I'd say I have a PHD in thrift, having studied it  for over half a century. And you can too.  I once heard an interview of a president (I think it was Truman) say that the best way to learn history is by reading the biographies and journals of those that have lived it.  And the best way to learn thrift is by reading and listening to those that have lived through difficult times. We live in a wonderful age, when you can go to YouTube and find old interviews of depression era people. There's wonderful programs like BBC's The War Farm and Tales of the Green Valley.  Watch them and take notes.  Use YouTube for some good instead of for entertainment. You can even learn how to sew and can from some of the videos. Talk to the old folks,  in these days of not valuing our elderly,  which is shameful, you will find a font of wisdom. One of my biggest regrets is that I hadn't paid more attention to the stories an old family friend, Jack Ransom, told of his life at the turn of the last century in Cross Village Michigan.  He lived among  Native Americans and learned many of their herbal remedies. How I wish I had written them down! 

And never stop learning.  We've been watching old episodes of The Amazing Race, and I garnered some tidbits from the Babushkas in Russia this week about how they plant their potatoes that I might implement this week, depending upon our horrible weather.  Just like a magpie, gather a bit of knowledge there and bit here, discard the useless and build up your own treasure of wisdom.


With so much to be done, and so much of it had to be done manually, you'd think people were scurrying around like squirrels in a peanut field back in the pre-industrialization , but no, people took time to enjoy what they had, a lesson I have discovered recently.  I'm sewing a vest, but not being able to avail myself of a fabric store,  I'm learning to make-do and many ways.  I'll write more about it when the project is finished, but the entire time I've been working on the vest, I keep thinking about how the pioneer women didn't have a lot of things and sewing a dress or a blouse was an exciting event for them.  They didn't rush through the project to get it over with but took time to enjoy the process as it was a rare occasion. How they lovingly cut the pieces of their patchwork quilts from the fabric scraps, thinking of the warmth it would give a loved one in the cold, taking their time to construct them as material became available. So many of the hobbies we do are done in a hurry; quilt in a day, weekend knits, no-rise bread, etc. .  I love to knit and people are always asking me "aren't you finished yet? ".  But I only like to knit when I want to knit, seldom am I happy with a project that must be finished on a deadline.  Taking time to do a proper job, something you will be proud to put your name to, may be an old-fashioned conceit, but what joy it is to make something well-crafted. We have too many things. We have too many cheaply made things.  Enjoying  fine craftsmanship is one of the lessons from the past.

The other lesson from the past I've been thinking about this week is " eat what you grow, grow what you eat". It's been a cold spring so far, we had snow on Friday and Saturday, so we are taking our good old time about getting our plants started.  We are expanding our garden so we've had many discussions about what should be planted.  One of the main lessons you  must learn when you garden is to only grow things that you eat.  No use taking up valuable garden space to grow  radishes or eggplant if you only care to eat those once a year. (I'm talking to myself here).  And the other part is to use what you grow.  One of the first things I planted when we bought Sweet Briar Cottage  was two rhubarb plants.  I love rhubarb, not for the flavor, but because it makes you feel like a "real" gardener to see those big beautiful plants pushing themselves up through the snow in March.  But to be honest, two bushes of rhubarb is a lot of rhubarb.  I hate wasting it, but most of my neighbors do not know what  to do with it and it makes me shudder, every time I see it going to waste.  So this year I'm making a concerted effort to use as much of it as I can.  So far I've made stewed rhubarb (now there's something old-fashioned) that we stir into yogurt and oatmeal, canned eight pints of strawberry-rhubarb pie filling (from last year's frozen strawberries)
This will be used to make jam tarts throughout the winter.  I don't really need to make any jams or jellies this year, but perhaps I'll make some and just push eggs and toast for meals.  I also made this Rhubarb Custard Pie:
It's not the prettiest, because I don't have  red stalked rhubarb, but pale greenish ones.  I've often thought of digging up those plants and planting the prettier, redder  plants, however, these plants have been faithful throughout droughts and bitter cold, so I feel they should be rewarded by allowing them to have a long life.  Here's the recipe if you want it (trust me it's tastier than it looks)

Rhubarb Custard Pie

3 C. diced rhubarb
1/2 C. sugar 
2 tbsp. cornstarch
1 egg
1/2 C, cane or corn syrup
1 tbsp. butter, softened
1 pie crust

Put the rhubarb into the pie crust.  Combine the sugar and cornstarch in a bowl.  Add the egg and beat well.  stir in the cane syrup and the egg.  Beat well.  Pour over the rhubarb.  Bake at 450  degrees for 15 minutes.  Turn down the oven and bake at 350 degrees for 40m  minutes or until the rhubarb is tender.

A note on recipes:

I keep a binder with all of my garden recipes.  I start with the first fruits of the season. rhubarb and asparagus. and  continue on as things ripen in the garden, ending with squash and pumpkin recipes.  This makes it easy for me to come up with ideas for whatever is being harvested.  I just merely have to turn to that section and I have an entire collection of ideas for uses for the said fruit or vegetable. Keeping your own recipe books are so important.  Can't tell you how many times I have turned to an old "receipt" book that I made during our lean years.  As a matter of fact, one of our sayings around here when the budget is tight is to say "time to return to the old receipt book". 

Well, that's all for this week at the old Zempel boarding house!  I hope you all have the loveliest week ahead! Oh!  Before I go, I wanted to tell you that I've been enjoying this blog, A Word Fitly Spoken ... Proverbs  25:1.  It is filled with lovely words of encouragement.  Thought you might enjoy it.


Monday, May 4, 2020

Foraging and Weekly Happenings

Hello dear friends!  How are you this lovely Spring day?  We had a few days of warm(er) weather so I've been enjoying some outdoor activities.  It was so nice to go outside without having to put on my big bulky, my name for my down-filled winter coat.  Rejoice in the little things! It was warm enough for the dandelions to pop out.


Dandelions must be the easiest to recognize and most abundant food to forage that ever existed.  When foraging, make sure to pick only in areas you know that haven't been sprayed with herbicides or fertilizers or where pets like to do their business.  This year we tried something different, dandelion fritters:

They were quite good, although a little piddley to make"

Dandelion Fritters

1/2 C, flour
1/2 C. cornmeal
1 tsp. your favorite seasoning (we used Cajun)
1 egg
2 tbsp. milk
the heads of clean dandelions

Combine the dry ingredients in one bowl.  Whip together the egg and milk. dip the heads in the egg mixture then into the flour/cornmeal mixture.  Fry in hot oil until the coating is browned.  Salt and pepper to taste.

We also had dandelion salad with this using some of the dandelion leaves and some of our lettuce that we are growing in our cold frames:

This recipe is just your basic wilted lettuce salad but with dandelion leaves in lieu of lettuce, you can use spinach too.

Wilted Lettuce

a few rashers of bacon
2 tbsp. cider vinegar
2 tsp. sugar

Fry the bacon until crisp. Drain off all but a tablespoon of the bacon grease.  Add the vinegar and sugar to the frying pan along with the bacon grease.  Stir until  the sugar is dissolved.  Put the lettuce into the hot frying pan and spoon the grease over the top, until the lettuce begins to wilt,  Sprinkle the bacon over top.  Serve immediately.

This was a doubly foraged meal for us as the vinegar I used was made from some foraged crab  apples.  Spring is a wonderful time to forage.  We went out morel mushroom hunting Sunday afternoon, or as we call it "a nice stroll in the woods". We rarely find any.  And when I think of the grocery bags full that we used to pick as children. Ah! The good old days!

There's also lambs quarters and purslane to be found at this time of the year. And our friend Jason told us his young son made dandelion chips (like kale chips).  Pretty clever!  Caleb is parsimonious person in training. You're never going to hear me complain about free food.  It's like money  in the bank!


Ran and Jamie swept our chimney.  That saves us about $150 and a lot of frustration, because dealing with independent small business people around here, particularly in anything that is home-related is like banging your head against the wall a lot of  the time.  Anyway,  somehow, the chimney brush came off  midway up the chimney.  Thoughts of how embarrassing it was going to be to call the chimney sweep  to have him retrieve the brush quickly popped into my head.  So I was standing there fretting , when Ran turned to me and said "You standing there worrying isn't helping anything." Ha!  So true!  How many times have I stayed up all night worrying about things, only to have nothing come of the problem?  How many times has what I worried about came to fruition only to discover that I could handle it and it wasn't nearly as bad as I had imagined?  And yes, it is true, worrying never helped anything. So whatever situation you are going through right now, don't worry, instead put on your thinking cap and come up with a solution.

I've had many discussion with family and friends over the past few weeks about what may or may not happen to the economy.  Some experts say we'll be in the next depression soon, others say we'll bounce back. Some say there will be food shortages, some say not.  I don't know and I'm through trying to make any predictions.  But I do know that putting aside some things has never hurt anyone.  Remember when everyone was predicting a major catastrophe for Y2K?  I didn't really believe the hype, but I bought a big bag of pinto beans, just in case.  Nothing ever happened, but we used the beans anyway.  It certainly didn't hurt.  And that's the beauty of prepping, if nothing comes of whatever the headlines of the day are, you still can use the food.  So to that end, when I went grocery shopping this week, I took notice that there was very little meat on stock at Aldis and what they had they were limiting to two packages a person., so I went to a smaller independent grocer and purchased some pork and canned it up.  I also noticed that  our Mennonite butcher's (he raises, butchers, and sell his own meat) parking lot was full.  Usually, we are the only people in his store. Let's just say he doesn't normally do such high volume business. All this to say in my long-winded way, "what would it hurt?" to stock up a little?

We order our firewood this past week.  Our local supplier is a very nice  man and always quickly fills our order and is very generous.  We order 10 cords but he always brings between 13-15 cords.  And never charges extra! As a matter of fact, he gave us a discount because we are loyal customers.  Makes a person happy to support a small businessman like that.  If only they all could be so dependable!   So Ran and Jamie spent the week splitting and stacking wood.  Ran splits wood, with an axe ( no log splitter for him), like he was thirty years old.  All this fresh garden produce must be doing his body good, because he'll turn 63 in a couple of weeks.  My thirty-something year old son, says Ran can run circles around him. Just goes to show you, that yes, good organic produce and plenty of it, plus regular exercise keeps you young.  We never think about our age, occasionally we will overhear someone state theirs and we'll look at each other and say, "That old person over there, is younger than us!" Ha!  We never realized that we had gotten old, been too busy I guess.  So anyway, we are ready for winter, although spring has barely arrived.  Up here we only have two seasons, winter and getting ready for winter.  Tonight it is supposed to snow. Ugh! But I guess it just makes the warm days sweeter. And I hope that you have a sweet days ahead of you!


Sunday, April 26, 2020

An Old-Fashioned Sweet Briar Journal

Hello dear friends!  Happy last Sunday in April!  Today I thought I'd show you some of the things that we've been doing around here for the last couple of months and some garden talk, kitchen talk and all those things that this blog is known for. So here it goes!


Friday it finally warmed up enough for me to get out and do some weeding.  Ran has been tilling and planting for the past month.  Since we weren't able to buy seeds locally when we needed to get them started, we relied on what we could find, what we purchased last year and what we saved.  In the end, it probably saved us quite a bit of money because many plants that we normally buy, such as; broccoli, cauliflower, celery and leeks we started from seed. Those free sample packets the seed companies sent us with our orders really came in handy!  We used last years potatoes for seed, which is fine.  The only thing we weren't able to buy was onion sets because the vegetable market we buy them from is closed.  Ran is very particular about his onions and always hand-picks them from the bin.  It must be a good strategy because last year's  crop has lasted us until just last week.  Those were some nice onions!  Anyway, we did manage to find some onion sets in the garden decor area of a dollar store.  They've been planted and are sending out little green shoots, so hopefully they will be nice wintering onions.  BTW, I'd like to acknowledge Rhonda of If You Do Stuff, Stuff Gets Done for her very kind  offer to send me whatever I needed for my garden and also for all her support and encouragement  over the last couple weeks.  Getting to "meet"  people like Rhonda is one of the main reasons I blog, so if you haven't visited her blog yet, wander over there and say "hi"!   On another note, our governor has now allowed garden centers to reopen!  She crumbled under all the pressure, so there is an example of protesting, accomplishing something. She also opened up bike repair shops and golf courses (although you must walk the course and not ride a golf cart (?!), and I won't say anything more political here but leave you to draw your own conclusions.

The plot I was weeding is a good example of  the old proverb "a job worth doing, is worth doing well".  This plot was just put together in a slap-dash method to get some plants in the ground before the frost.  That was years ago and since then, I must have clocked hundred of hours weeding out all the purslane and binderweed and still pulling grass clumps from it to this day.  On the other hand,  the first plot I painstakingly hand dug, took the time to shake all the grass from the clumps, turned by a spade and hand tilled every square inch of, rarely needs to have much attention.  Just a quick hoeing.  So that is why I always tell novice gardeners to start small and do it it right the first time.  Your back will thank you in end!

Is it possible to love a plant?
This herb plant has been with me since I started herb gardening almost forty years ago.  Slips of it have been carried as I moved three times.  It has sired many plants that were the start of many friends' and acquaintance's gardens. It has been a loyal friend to me and I almost love it like a pet.  Last year, after a particularly brutal  winter, I thought I had lost it and was just sick about it, but I cut it almost back to the ground and gave it extra attention and it has come back bigger and better than ever.  I'm not one of those mother earth, new-agey  sort of people, but I do love this sage plant!  After all, we've weathered almost a half century together and that is more than I can say for a lot of people!


You know the old saying "make do our do without"?  Well, my home is the ultimate "make-do".  Several times we've seriously considered selling it because it is just too small.  But as always, we realize that the problem isn't that the house is too small, it's that we have too much stuff!  One of the problems has been that it is a very old house and storage is a major problem.  Everyone that has read this blog for any amount of time, knows that I can about five-hundred to six-hundred jars of food a year.  When we first moved here, I made a back bedroom into a walk-in pantry, but one winter  a storm knocked out our electricity for five very long and very cold days.  It was then that I decided that a woodstove was a must.  Sadly the only place to put it that didn't have the chimney going up through the middle of a room or in front of a window or doorway was the corner of my lovely pantry.  And heat and canned goods don't play well together so that was the end of my dream pantry.  We tried putting long shelves on the upstairs landing.  But this is a very old house, built long before indoor plumbing, central heating or building codes, and I worried about all that weight on the joists and expected the whole thing to coming crashing through the ceiling any day.  In the fall when the shelves were at full capacity, I think I could hear the poor joists groaning.  So we finally came up with our final  and I think best solution.  Our living room is square and the doorway into it is about one foot from the wall. I could never figure out how to arrange furniture because the natural pathway is right along that wall so any furniture placed along there was always getting bumped into or moved. That is when we came up with idea to make a huge cupboard along that entire wall  built to the ceiling.  It would only take a foot of floor space and that wall was pretty useless anyway.  If it was made of nice paneling and painted, we could still hang artwork on the doors.  So Ran and Jamie built me the mother-of-all- mother cupboards this winter.
It can easily hold all my canning jars.  And because we live in a cold climate, we love that it makes the living room  even cozier.  Plus I don't have to worry about my poor joists because the downstairs one are actual tree trunks spaced about twelve inches apart notched into a sill that is made back in the days of virgin forests.  In other words, you could probably sit two elephants on the floor over there and the floor wouldn't sag a bit. As some of you might remember this was the wall that held all of Ran's guitars.  They have now been moved to where the old canning cupboard on the landing was.
We are forever moving things around to make this home work.  It was a cheap little house and it will probably never have any real value except to us, but of all the homes I've lived in, this is the one that has made me the happiest.  It really is an artistic expression of us; all  of the furniture is either made by Ran or things we picked up second hand and remade,  the artwork on the walls is our own or something that has a personal meaning to us, the things that make it a home are things that have memories. For instance, I think of my knitting as artwork, so up on the landing, I use an old orchard ladder to display some of my handknit shawls.
And I like to have skeins of yarn, old embroidery hoops, my little doll sized quilts hanging here and there.  Just so people know that a craftsperson and a musician live here.


We've been basically shut in since November, almost all our neighbors and friends went south for the winter and is was so blustery we didn't travel much, so I had plenty of time to knit.  Over the past several months I've knitted, three shawls, two pairs of mittens, a hat, a Estonian style scarf, a Miss Marple scarf, a pillow, two pairs of socks, and the back and left side of a vest for Ran (this year's Christmas present) and various littles.  Here's a picture of the edging of one of the shawls:
I love the fern-like edge.  This was a quick knit and the pattern comes from Knitpicks, I believe the book was titled Under 100.  The project I'm currently working on is Spring Bloom Mitts and the free pattern can be found here.
One thing that I realized during all this shut-in time is that I need to be prepared with more sewing supplies.  When or if my local Ben Franklin reopens, I intend on laying-in a good supply of things such as sewing machine needles, snaps and fasteners, various sizes of elastic, etc.   Last week I had a bit of  a frustrating day when I wanted to sew something, broke my sewing machine needle, didn't have another one. And that was after I had to unwind a bobbin by hand because I didn't have a spare one.  So then I decided to  hand sew one of the snood-type headcoverings that I like, but couldn't find any elastic. A very long time ago I read a book about a women that had lived in either the Ukraine of Albania, I can't remember which, during WWII and afterward the Soviet occupation.  She said that the one thing she did was sew clothes for children because, hard times or not, children do outgrow their clothes.  And I had also heard many stories growing up about the Depression and how people had so few clothes, so I have been collecting nice pieces of fabric whenever I find them at garage sales and thrift stores, for "just in case".  But I never thought about zippers, snaps, bobbins, etc.  So I'll be on a mission, once the stores reopen!


You hanging in there?  Ha!  We've been endeavoring to clean out our freezer in anticipation of the new gardening and fishing season.  We had a ham in there bought during the holidays at something like 68 cents a pound, and plenty of bacon because our oldest son raises his own hogs and gives us a cooler full of meat for Christmas.  We used to buy a holiday ham sausage from a Polish butcher at Easter time, but he had gone out of business long ago so we decided to make our own, all we had to buy was a inexpensive pork butt roast ($1.18/ lb.).  As the pork was the most expensive ingredient, this sausage cost us less than a dollar a pound.  And it is so good!  

Ham Sausage

4 lbs. pork
3 lbs. ham
1 lb. bacon
1 tbsp. sage
2 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. cayenne pepper
2  tsp. thyme
4 tbsp. brown sugar
1 tbsp. onion powder
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tbsp. dry mustard

Combine all the seasoning in a small bowl.  Cut the meat in chunks that fit into your meat grinder.  Toss the seasoning with the meat.  Grind through the meat grinder.  Form into patties and thoroughly cook to temperature for pork.

I brown my sausage and can it, which make it easy for me to get breakfast on the table, but this sausage can be frozen either cooked or uncooked.  (The obvious things a person must write these days!)

If you haven't ever tried making your own sausages, you might want to give it a try.  It's almost always cheaper than those tubes of it you get at  the grocers.  And you control what is goes into it.  No pig snouts, no msg, no artificial colorings or flavors.  You can often find meat grinders at estate sales and thrift stores. It's a pretty fun thing to try out old  heirloom recipes of varieties that you can no longer buy.  So give it a try! Maybe you'll invent the next hot dog!

So that's about it from the old Zempel boarding house.  Hope you have a wonderful week.  Now get out there and be thrifty!


Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Well, This is Embarassing

Hello dear friends!  Well ,this is embarrassing.  How many times have I stopped and started this blog?  I'm pretty sure some of you are fed up with it.  Each time I do, I get less and less readership, not that t it's important to me, as this blog  has never been a vehicle to make money, push products or become popular.  And I bet that there's others out there that think I'm just doing this for attention. I assure you,  I'm not.  I never realized that there were people out there that actually enjoyed  my long-winded posts.  A lot of them are just random thoughts, that  can't even be labeled .  But since I decided to go private, I've heard from more people than my "followers" (hate that term) number would indicate I had.  I have to say, there's some pretty clever folks out there when it comes to tracking down where to contact me.  Did some of you work for the FBI? Ha!

I didn't stop this blog because of the hurtful comments, although I must admit it was quite a kick in the stomach to open a "friend's" blog and read a post about what a hateful negative person I was to write about quotes from politicians and Bible verses.  And the people that tout the mainstream media's line about those that protest against this quarantine " not caring about people".  When they wish death upon me or my family because I'm killing people by not falling in lockstep with the agenda, well, what can you say about such a "caring"  person?

But here's the truth about why I stopped blogging;  I don't like me when I respond to these people.  Due to my childhood experiences, that I've hinted at here and there,  when people criticize me and threaten me, my natural reaction is to cut them down a peg or two.  Even though  I know it's a defense mechanism, I just can't seem to stop myself.  I've prayed over it, I've analyzed it,  but the flesh is weak.  It is the trait I most despise in myself. I know that I need to follow the example of Jesus and turn the other cheek but I am so  so weak.   The only solution I can come up with is to not have this outlet to protect myself from my  own inner demon.  I didn't want to keep the blog open because  eventually, someone will leave a comment  and convince me to have another go at it.  I just didn't want to be persuaded anymore because it would just set me up for another failure.

But then people started contacting me  about how could they be included in the private blog and I thought perhaps some had hurt feelings because they felt they were being excluded.  As the person that has spent much of her life "looking through the window" at parties and such, while being left out, that is the very last thing on earth I wanted  to make anyone feel.

So here's the scoop.  I'm going to keep this blog open so those of you that want to access it can.  I may or may not write posts, don't know.  But I want the negative Nellies to know, I'm through arguing with you.  You want to write something negative, it will be deleted.  If you want to use this blog as  a  platform for your views you'll have to find it  somewhere else.  I've heard all my life, that you should be respectful of other people's views, and I look at the world around us, and wonder if that is true?  Right? There are some things in life that I don't think we should just respectfully agree to disagree with.. I'm not the greatest Biblical scholar, but I do recall that Jesus did throw the moneychangers out of the temple. I don't want to hear your views on why abortions are a right, your new-age philosophy of   "many paths to Heaven", and that we should give up our Constitutional rights for the sake of public health.   I can't argue you out of your views, and you sure can't make any argument  that will convince me otherwise.  I cannot pat you on the head and say "thank you for your view".  Why? Because these things are important. If you don't like what I stand for, by all means, feel free to not read, because I'm at the point of life, whether or not if someone "likes" me is of little concern.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Just A Note

Starting Sunday, this blog will be private, so if you want any information off of it, you'll need to make copies. It has become too stressful for me and if I can't be genuine without fear of backlash, I do not want to do it any longer.

Victory Gardening

Hello dear friends!  I've been reading that people are starting their own gardens.  One of the silver linings of all this business that is going on, is that people are becoming aware that they need to be more self-sufficient.  Hurray!  About time!  We've always had a vegetable garden and small orchard ever since we bought our first home in 1981.  I can't even fathom how much money it has saved us, plus I truly believe that it has contributed to our good health as we go into our senior years.  One of the helpful little booklets I found  for backyard (now called urban) gardeners is a little booklet put out by Stark Bros. Nursery during World War II. Here's a diagram of a small garden that anyone with even a small amount of gumption can tackle:

Sorry if the picture is a little small, you'll have to click on it if you want to see it in a larger image.  From the text:

The dimensions of this garden are 30 X 50, but it will be easy for you to adapt it to your own  small back yard dimensions. Keep in mind of the importance of growing the more expensive items such as fruits.  Here it also important that you combine food production with ornamental beauty.  In these times, when you plant a tree for ornamental uses or shade, it should be a fruit tree or fruit bearing vine.  

Now here's something that I've heard umpteenth times, "I'd love to have a garden like you, but I can't grow anything".  All the while I'm looking at their yard filled with flowers and shrubs.  If you can grow flowers, you can grow a vegetable.  If you can grow a flowering crab for ornamentation, you can grow a fruit tree.  As I've said many times, "Do you mean can't or won't?"

Here's a diagram of a little larger garden, that I particularly like:
And here's one for a half-acre plot that is common sized plot in many suburbs:
Some of the common mistakes that new gardeners make is to be too ambitious. The get someone to plow up a huge plot and find that by mid-July it's filled with weeds.  Proper plot preparation is key to success.  You need to till and work the soil until it's in pulverized condition.  You need to pull out all the grass clumps.  If you don't prepare your plots, you are just giving yourself more work and discouragement with weeding as the garden grows. That is why it is important to start small.

Another mistake I see is that new gardeners buy too many seeds.  A packet of seeds goes a long way.  They also start everything inside.  You need to read the back of the seeds packets.  Some vegetables, such as radishes, lettuces, peas , etc. are sowed directly outside before the last frost.  Some are sowed outside after frost, such as carrots, beans, corn, etc. About the only seeds we start inside are tomatoes, peppers, cauliflower and broccolis.  Here and here are two posts that Ran wrote on how to start seeds. We live in zone 4 (know your zone) and now is the time to start your indoor seeds.  Which leads me to the next point for my fellow Michigan gardeners.  Spoiler: I'm going to talk politics now, so you "sensitive"  types can stop reading:

Dear fellow Michiganders, as you well know, our lovely governor has prohibited the buying of seeds or plants and has ordered  mail order companies not to ship to our state. There is no other word for this but tyranny.  We must resist by civil disobedience.  Now. more than ever we must grow a garden in defiance.  Three ways to get around this absolutely ridiculous and illogical  edict is to trade seeds with neighbors, and ask friends and families from other states to send them to you.  A third way I've found,  is that seeds can be found in the produce section of smaller grocery stores.  (We should be supporting these smaller stores anyway.  Do not support WalMart and  Amazon, that Whitmer wants you to support. She probably has stock in them). I am so proud of my fellow Michiganders for protesting the governor.  We are showing the rest of the country how to stand up to tyranny.  Now get out there and start a garden and show Whitmer we refuse to lie down!