Independence Days Challenge Update #1

I won't usually publish ID updates here, but I did want to remind everyone who wants to participate that this is going on - please feel free to jump in, post updates at your blog, on facebook or in the comments of the update threads (posted on Fridays) at In the meantime, here's the first one:

The weather of our discontent continues - weirdly warm for upstate NY in winter, plants and animals blooming or returning too early. The pussywillows have catkins, my elderberries have green buds, the daffodils are up and we saw a red-winged blackbird yesterday - all of which are signs of late-Marchness in upstate NY, here at the beginning of February. Mud season, usually a month from March to April, has been going on steadily since the hurricanes back in August.

That said, even when you know it is a sign of wrongness, it is hard not to appreciate less wood burned, easier barn access and more days outside for the critters. The goats, unconcerned about climate change, do appreciate all the opportunities to follow me around and get in my way - everyone needs a dozen does to help them carry firewood (help here is defined as "stand in front of me and refuse to move, stick your face in the wood bin to check for any snacks left lying around, untie my shoelaces and then nibble my coat buttons), hay or water (tripping me while I'm doing the water is the little one's favorite game).

The calves and our buck goat who gave us four cryptorchid babies this year went to the butcher on Tuesday, so we were able to open up the fence and move the remaining couple of bucks down the hill with the does. The poultry (ducks and chickens) will move up to the barn that held the calves and bucks, for several reasons - first to get them further away from the house where they have been flying over the fence and trashing my perennials, and also because that gives us more space down the hill for goats. Moving everything around is a bit of pain, but well worth it. So was the baby beef operation we did this year - we are hoping to do more next year, since this was so successful. We are also debating buying a heifer calf to be raised up as a milker as well.

Real seed starting (rather than the little bit of desultory stuff) commenced this week - early tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, flower and herbs that need a long season got started this week, along with some more things that require stratification. I also took geranium cuttings for spring as well - both brightly colored red, white and pink, and lemon and rose scented.

I'm still pruning fruit trees, which I should have done earlier in the winter - normally early February isn't too late, but this isn't a normal winter. The goats and the rabbits have eagerly devoured our offerings.

We had the first winter litter of rabbits when Marigold, one of our does kindled with 9 beautiful babies - this is the first time we've crossed our American Blues with the Cinnamons, and I'm anxious to see what color combinations we get, and also whether the Blue's faster rate of growth gets transmitted.

A kind reader sent me a box of cloth diapers from her children (THANK YOU) and I'm expecting a few more, so I took the time to sort out what I'd saved from my own kids - it turns out that there was more than I thought that survived my children (and a lot of it had come from a friend of my mother's with twins, so more than my four) including some wool diaper soakers and a few precious wool covers - my favorites. I may knit a few other covers as well - but I'm glad to be able to cloth diaper again.

The foster stash is in increasingly good shape - which is a huge relief. The main issue for me, given where we live, our one-vehicle situation, our ongoing schedules and Eric's work schedule is that I may have to go four or five days before I can go shopping for children's clothing, and yet the kids have to be dressed - and for visits or trips to synagogue, dressed fairly nicely. I think I can now do that for just about all sizes, which is a huge relief - after all, no one either wants, in a house full of 7-10 overstimulated kids to either take all the children to a store or worse, be the one stays home with them alone while the other goes shopping - this gives me the time and space to get everyone settled without dragging kids out all the time.

We've managed to do almost all the major reorganization of the house, except for the garage (which will by necessity be done next week since we have to clean out the freezer in said garage to put the beef from butchering in). We've now got the door between the kitchen and dining room gated, so that we can use the wood cookstove while foster kids are at our place (previously we tried to gate around it, but really can't cook on it that way, so had just been only using the other stove). There is still cleaning, sorting and organizing in small places yet, but we're WAY ahead of what we've been. I suspect it will all go to pot when we finally get a large sibling group placement that stays, but at least we start ahead.

I haven't done much on building up my pantry - actually, sort of the opposite, as we've been rearranging it, I've been working on us eating down some things. Still, the time to build on this will come.

Skill-wise, the main thing I've been working on is figuring out whether couponing is worthwhile for us. I've never bothered much since we purchase so few things at the supermarket. Foster care, however, has changed some of that - besides the desire to sometimes offer familiar foods and snacks as kids transition to our home (we can work on food issues gradually, but comfort is the most important thing initially), we also now need more things like toothbrushes and toilet paper - and need toiletries that can go home or on to other placements with kids. I'm still not totally clear on whether this is worth doing for us generally - while using the occasional good coupon is always nice, serious couponing and sale shopping requires a. more driving (in some cases, Eric goes past some of the stores coming from work some days) and often the best savings are found in buying the smallest sizes, which increases net packaging. Still, I'm playing with running the numbers and seeing what we can make work for us within the bounds of our general environmental priorities.

Best of all, we began the week with a lovely celebration of Tu'Bshevat, the Jewish New Year of the Trees. We ate fabulous things - including Key Lime pie (with limes brought back by a friend from a FL trip), Black Forest Cake (from cherries frozen over the summer by another friend), Banana Cream pie (from totally non-local bananas) and apricot-applesauce. It was wretched and delicious excess, and a lovely time was had by all. I celebrated the actual day by planting the seeds of some quinces and apples gone mushy to stratify. It may be too late (I planted others in the fall) but hope springs eternal, which is kind of the point.

Ok, official results:

Plant something - Tomatoes, Peppers, Eggplant, Hawthorn, Quince and Witch Hazel, Coneflowers, Galliarda, Geraniums, Eryngium, Echinops, Basil, Dianthus, Alyssum, Parsley.

Harvest something: Eggs, Milk, Beef and Chevon. Also fruit tree prunings for bunnies and goaties.

Preserve something: Nope. Should can some applesauce from the soft apples, though.

Waste Not: All the sorting out and organizing have been great - the kids are thrilled with the exciting "new" things we find in the back of the attic or in boxes, and we've managed to give away a lot of good stuff. Otherwise the usual composting and feeding wastes to various critters.

Want Not: I can't take credit for the cloth diapers, but they were awesome! I am totally out of peanut butter (our dumpster diving friend and our foster son's WIC had us stocked for what seemed like eternity), so I need to add that. I also will need to buy apples pretty soon - my kids eat 5 - 7 apples a day, and we use them in cooking, but this year's supply didn't keep as well as usual due to the warm temperatures. We will buy a few bushels from the local coop.

Eat the food - Nothing really new. We are eating the small hen turkeys we bought from a friend (we didn't do turkeys this past year for reasons that were really stupid ;-)) - at 13-14 lbs, they make two meals for a family of six straight and the one large pot of laotian chicken soup (basically chicken soup seasoned with lots of citrus juice and soy sauce and a bit of brown sugar, ginger, garlic and ciles until it is salty, hot, sweet and sour, and then with added onions, canned pineapple (if we have it), and I usually stir brown rice in. With a few extra ingredients, one chicken is 4-6 meals, depending on size and how many people are home. The apple-apricot sauce was also really fabulous - a bunch of apples, some dried apricots (about 5-1 proportions), a little apple cider and a splash of vanilla. You can add sugar if you want, but it doesn't need it. A hand blender, food mill or food processer all work equally well at smoothing it out if you want. Just cook until the apricots are very soft and the apples are applesaucy.

Build community food systems: Not a thing

Skill up: Aforementioned coupon research. That's about it.

How about you? You can report here or just stick in a link to your blog!


More like this

Plant something: Tomatoes, peppers, pie pumpkins and summer squash

Harvest something: Basil & thyme for spaghetti sauce, some peas and a few cherry tomatoes from last year's plants

Preserve something: I bought a half-flat of local strawberries ($5!) at the flea market last weekend and made strawberry jam, strawberry white chocolate vanilla jam, and strawberry syrup. Blanched and froze peas I harvested and some peppers I also got a the market.

Waste not: fed the strawberry tops to the worms, working with my in-laws on a recycling system that works for us (their company recycles all kinds of things, but it all has to be sorted before they will accept it-I am working on setting up bins for each type of material that our 3 sub-families can all use) Also researching how to make biodiesel from trap grease for the in-laws' business

Want not: I am also out of peanut butter and I refuse to pay $10 a jar. I learned how to make my own, now to go get the peanuts! I bought several sewing patterns to make renaissance costumes for my ebay store. I also bought several pair of secondhand jeans for my son in the next 2 sizes he will wear.

Eat the food: Made homemade yellow rice last week. Eating the strawberry jam fast!

Not sure if I'm going to fully blog this, so here we go!

Plant something: Nope.

Harvest something: Nope.

Preserve something: Plan on making onion marmelade... and have been intending to make applesauce, but haven't yet.

Waste Not: Finally made veg. stock with all my freezer scraps! About 120 oz worth.

Want Not: Don't need to buy more cane, as my studio teacher will be gifting some to me. Yay!

Eat the food: Using my happy sourdough starter and made a new bread, using honey, dried cranberries, dried milk and two flours (all of which I store in bulk).

Build community food systems: Nope.

Skill up: I've been working on actually tasting what I'm cooking, and am getting better at spicing dishes. And I successfully sliced onions super thinly last Sunday to fry during the game.

"the daffodils are up and we saw a red-winged blackbird yesterday - all of which are signs of late-Marchness in upstate NY, "

Ok, that's REALLY scary. You will NOT be happy to know that out here in MN; we're getting set to go back below zero for a day or so. The potential impact on fruit buds is really not good. It's possible our cold will be hitting you in a couple days. Hope we all sneak through this weirdness.

Hi all,

Sharon, you are amazing! I am just starting to gear up for the a lot of "holes".

Plant something: Started some wintersown jugs of spinach, microgreens, perennials and herbs, potted up and pruned houseplants that were looking bedraggled.

Harvest something: The chux that we invested in at my son's house are laying again...yay! A few sprigs of herbs here and there for cooking.

Preserve something: Does elderberry syrup count? It flies out to all I have gotten "hooked" and we add it to our tea and water. Also have brewed a 5-gallon batch of elderberry beer. It's been racked to a carboy awaiting bottling.

Waste not: Recycled and repaired a bunch of stuff this week...we tend to let it accumulate until one of us can't stand it anymore...then have a work session.

Eat the food: Sweet potatoes and regular Yukon gold (left the potatoes in the ground this year...seems to be working well. We don't have a storage place that is cool and humid enough for them.

Build community food security: Have taught my daughter in law to bake the bread and froze the pizza dough. She is giving bread to her relatives and may well be starting a trend. Not sure if that counts...but I am excited by it!

Skill up: Had a wonderful teacher on Ayurveda at the herb school I am attending in the morning Tuesday, then in the afternoon we had a session on "sweet and sour"...
herbed vinegars, elixirs, oxymels and honeys...already have made some of them.

All in all, I am impressed at how much this actually is...I tend to deprecate my efforts and see the things on the list that haven't been done.

Thanks, Sharon, for helping us see that a little here and a little there can really add up!



By Gail Griffith (not verified) on 10 Feb 2012 #permalink

I love reading the ID updates - very inspiring even when I'm paralyzed by inactivity ;-)

Your Laotian chicken soup sounds wonderful - can you give a bit more detail?

We don't eat many things that have coupons, either. I've been doing several things to use them without spending too much time. My parents and a couple neighbors save their inserts for me - I save them without cutting with the date written in the corner. I follow a couple bloggers who live in my shopping area - they post the best coupon/sale match-ups for the stores where I can shop. If it's a product I want, I stock up on it with the saved coupons. If I don't have coupons, at least I'm stocking up when the item is on sale.

If you are thinking of a dairy heifer, I bought a bred Irish Dexter last spring, she had a heifer, and I milked for 8 months. I am happy with the breed, which is also triple purpose, meat-milk-muscle (they can be used as draft animals). They are small, easy to handle, and fun! The American Dexter Cattle Association has a great website.