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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!