Simple Autumn Decor

I absolutely adore this time of year. Autumn is my favorite season, and September is the sweet spot of the whole calendar. The cool desert mornings and starlit nights, warm days, hints of wood smoke, changing leaves, and the colorful harvest all culminate into a beautiful time of year that inspires and settles my spirit. I want to infuse the colors and the feeling of Fall into my wardrobe, my meals, and throughout my house.

The colors of Autumn trees inspire my color palette most of the year, with rich golds, reds, and bright oranges. Mums and throw pillows add these easily to any room.

A simple, faux leaf garland added to each room- over the bed frame, or across the piano- adds a touch of autumn whimsy.

A simple Pyrex bowl of found goodies becomes a charming still life. Here I used pine cones, cedar, and faux leaves. (If you have more deciduous trees than I, feel free to add in real leaves!)

A black cat always adds a nice touch to autumn decor!

Of course, being Pumpkin Hollow Farm, it is probably obvious that we love pumpkins in this family! Jack be little, Princess, Lumina, or Warty, they all make a lovely display. I hope the new owners of my last house are enjoying their pumpkins, this year we buy, but next year the front of the house will be swarming with many types of pumpkins.

Admiring colorful mums, picking up beautiful leaves, decorating with pumpkins, enjoying a glass of wine, making an apple pie; however you celebrate the season, may it bring you great joy and inspiration!

Célébration de L’Automne en Famille (celebration of fall with family)

Creating La Belle Vie

It is the beginning of autumn harvest season! This is our family’s favorite time of year. Our farm is aptly named Pumpkin Hollow Farm (we will have this new place looking like a farm in no time). So, when our children came for the weekend we wanted to do something really fun. We looked up local attractions but ended up at two nearby farms to pick apples, blackberries, and choose early pumpkins. Everyone had a wonderful time and it was the highlight of our weekend together.

Doug and I went around our village the night before the children arrived to scout out which farms we should go to. We ended up talking to one of the farmers for quite some time. The couple retired, they bought land here with apple trees on it, and a U-Pick farm was born.

The first farm we all ventured to looks to be a…

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Preserving Food- Dehydrating

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Remember last year I had a lovely young woman live with us during the summer?  Annie helped me out immensely and we have missed her since she has moved.  She and her long time boyfriend (my daughter, Emily’s fiance’s brother) are expecting their second little one in a few months, a baby girl named Alice.  They are moving to California after Emily and Reed’s wedding.  She came to visit me yesterday, which was such a treat.  We talked about how easy the gardening will be there and how nice for them to be near her family.  We recalled how she moved in a week from now a year ago and how she had just missed the mulberries.  We grabbed quart jars to head out and harvest but the weather had another idea, as the clouds opened and poured down heavy, nourishing rain.  We came inside and started the cheese instead.  I will be out there right after I finish this post getting those delicious mulberries!  Today I am making juice to can.

One of the main things to remember about being a homesteader is that you have to act quickly.  You have to be ready to drop everything and harvest all those berries, or eat all the lettuce before it bolts, or get a windfall preserved before it all goes bad.  There are many ways to preserve produce, including canning, freezing, and dehydrating.

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I highly recommend you get an Excalibur dehydrator.  They are top of the line, work forever, consistent work horses on the farm.  When we lost everything four years ago, I sold mine for $50.  Oy, the lament!  I must get a new one soon.

I have tried air drying.  Old fashioned, effective.  The ants love it when I air dry produce.  I placed peach halves dipped in lemon juice and water (so they don’t brown) onto screens laid across an indoor clothes drying rack and placed it outside.  The ants just scampered themselves right up the legs.  I sprinkled cinnamon on the apples after dipping them in the lemon juice/water mixture.  Ants love cinnamon.

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Last year I lined cookie sheets with tomato halves and put them in the oven at the lowest setting.  They turned real crispy but not all the way dehydrated.  I put them all in olive oil in the fridge for sun dried tomatoes, but they are not the same consistency as when I used a proper dehydrator.

There are plenty of trays in a dehydrator and an amazing motor in the Excalibur.  It allows you to choose the temperature you desire.  In one of our old homesteads, I didn’t have a lot of counter space so the dehydrator sat out on the front porch humming for weeks at a time churning out tomatoes, apples, peaches, dried onions, and anything else I could think of!

You can dehydrate any vegetable and simply throw by the handful into soups or grind into seasonings.  Tomatoes and mushrooms can be rehydrated in a cup of hot water.  Dehydrated foods take up less space and are convenient.  My husband loves dried fruit.  I can never get it to the consistency of the store (because they use a preservatives) so mine are more chewy and act more like bubble gum.  Delicious to chew on until you can swallow it.  You can leave fruits still moist, just pop in the refrigerator or freezer.  Any moisture will make them mold.  You an also make jerky.

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Variety is the key to a successful homestead.  Lots of different fruits and vegetables and different ways to preserve them keep winter suppers interesting, delicious, and oh so nutritious!  While you are canning, blanching and freezing, and harvesting, the dehydrator just hums in the background doing its part on the homestead.

 

Samhain and the Owls

The owls returned this morning.  Two owls bantering back and forth outside our bedroom window in the early morning hours.  If you know me quite well, or if you have read my memoir (The Making of a Medicine Woman; the Memoirs of Bird Woman), then you know that that is quite fateful for us.  My spirit animals only arrive when there is a profound shift in our life occurring or about to occur.  Our moves, my shop closing, and many other events were heralded by my guardian messenger.  I smiled and pulled the covers up closer as my half feral kitten licked my hair as a sign of love.  I felt in that moment profoundly grateful.

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It is Samhain.

Pronounced sow-wen, Samhain is the last agricultural holiday of the year.  Tomorrow is New Year in the old ways.  Samhain is the third harvest festival and one that is near and dear to many souls across many continents over many thousands of years.  From those celebrating Day of the Dead to those Scottish farmers lighting candles in their cottages, this time of year is bittersweet and filled with love and great memories.

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The sky grows dark earlier now and the harvest is in.  The air grows colder and the fireplace is lit.  The veil is quite thin and the things you think are coincidental are not.  Our ancestors, our beloveds, our friends and family that crossed over this year make their way visiting.  Cupboard doors creak and electronics have a mind of their own.  But it is not a scary time.  It is a time of comfort and remembrance, and most of all, gratitude.

For those lives that have touched us over the years and the people and animals that walk our journey with us for a time, we are grateful.  So tonight, put out a few chairs around the fire for the weary souls and light a candle in the west window so they can find their way.  Know that in your life, you are not alone.  There are spirits and messengers and an entire universe opening and closing doors, sending hope, arranging meetings, and helping you maneuver this lovely path called life.  So put out some old photographs, light a few candles, pour a glass of wine, take a deep breath, and know that all is well.

Happy Samhain

Actually Moving and the Garden that Keeps Giving

20171025_14592720171025_150124In many ways I haven’t actually “moved” to Pueblo.  Perhaps because out of all the places I have lived Elbert county was the first place that ever felt like home to us.  Slowly, slowly I am moving to Pueblo.  We have been here nine months now.  I changed my bank last week.  I do my shopping here now.  I go to Elizabeth to work my shop just once a week.  I work from home and am rewarded with many new customers that seek me out here.  I still greatly love my old town and I pine for the country but I am gradually moving here.  The garden is helping me do so.

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Garlic planted for fall. The bok choi keeps coming back!

I am not sure that I could go back to gardening at 6500 feet.  Yesterday two more overflowing baskets of produce came into the kitchen.  It is late October and the gardens in Elbert county have been sleeping for awhile now.  In my gardens there is more…more vegetables to be harvested, another month’s worth at least.  I am astounded and thrilled at the farming conditions in this valley.  The soil that has not even been amended has produced the most flavorful and prolific crops I have ever grown.  I am smitten.  The weather here is heavenly.20171025_150112

20171025_15010420171025_150011I am extremely proud of what we have accomplished on this little homestead in just nine months time.  It will be beautiful seeing what it all looks like as months turn to years and years turn to decades.

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This is also the first time in two decades that we have a mailbox in front of our house.  If you would like to exchange letters you can write me at Mrs. Katie Sanders, 1901 Brown Ave, Pueblo, 81004.

The Autumn Gardens (Spring and Fall Crops and the Great Harvest)

20170929_121332Fall crops grow beautifully and swiftly in their haphazard rows.

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The spring crops that I painstakingly place inches apart in the early cool of spring take awhile to germinate in the cold and then go to seed when summer decides to come on strong.  When those very same seeds are planted in  late July or early August they germinate quickly from the warm soil, ample water and light.  Then the nights become brisk and they soak up the cooling temperatures and thrive, which is why they are called cold crops!

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Of course I have all the energy in the world in April.  By then I have been dreaming of my garden for many months and am ridiculously excited to break ground.  By late summer we are getting tired of weeding and daily waterings and bugs so fall crops look more like mosaic puzzles than long tidy rows of food.

I had one bed pretty clear from the spring crops so I roughed it up with the hoe and planted-or rather, kind of threw in- a bunch of seeds.  Carrots, spinach, lettuce, peas, cabbage, and radishes came up with the colors of early spring with no help from me.  I forgot to water the seeds several times.  And yet they surprised me with their delicious arrival.

There are still tomatoes and other delicious summer crops in the garden.  The weather speaks of a freeze coming Monday.

Seeds and plants want to grow.  They are hard wired to do so.  As an experiment when the flea beetles came to town to chow down the cruciferous crops, I left a few of the broccoli and others to see what would happen.  I think we will have broccoli cheese soup tonight.  This garden has been a lovely experiment this year, one I allowed myself to do being in a new climate and a new place with un-amended soil.  Amazing.  Plants never fail to thrill me.  I think I will have radishes for breakfast.

Farmgirl Gardening Series Week 12

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Every year’s garden is different. As soon as you think you have it figured out, the next year throws you for a loop.  This is why becoming a professional farmer can cause severe anxiety issues.  There is no control.  Over anything!  Here in our three community garden plots we are simply trying to feed ourselves for the summer.  And we are eating delicious food.  This year we may not see pumpkins (which is crazy to me, my farm was called Pumpkin Hollow Farm, for crying out loud!) but we will see for the first time ever sweet potatoes.  We have had lots of rain for Colorado and it shows.  So for starting with a plot that had sand and ant hills, with little amending to the soil, and two tons of hail thrown in, I’d say we’re looking pretty good this year.

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In season now are peas.  Glorious purple snow peas and crunchy snap peas.  A few thick pods of English peas are ready but I do believe that I am missing several vines of English peas.  The rabbit seems to know nothing of it.

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The collard greens are prolific and delicious young.  Crisp them in the oven with the snow and snap peas, some garlic, salt, and a good drizzle of olive oil for a farm to table side.  The tomatoes are setting on their vines as well.  Yesterday I did have a hankering for fried green tomatoes but they aren’t quite that big yet!

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The cabbages are growing their heads.  Now, there is a fine line in the high plains of Colorado, one week you could have happily growing cabbage and the next little black bugs will be sent by Mother Nature to take them out since they aren’t ready yet.  The clean up crew.  So, sometimes you can just harvest as is, without the finished head.  Chiffonade the leaves and stir fry.  With the snow and snap peas, of course!

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Some of the potatoes have flowered and some are yet to flower.  Potato flowers are amazingly beautiful.  They always surprise me in their lovely understated elegance.  I let the mustard, radish, and arugula plants go to seed.  I enjoy their flowers and they may reseed themselves, which is always a nice treat.

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The herbs have been prolific.  Waving California poppies, knee high cilantro in bloom, morning glories grasping for the trellis, volunteer borage with its star-like blooms.  Chamomile and its glorious scent, the first head of Calendula, roses.

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Lots of fresh lettuces, baby carrots, greens, young onions, and herbs await.  I am better after an hour in the garden.  My medicine.  Watching the water crystals from the sprayer bounce off the leaves of the great sunflowers, watching birds flit by, a lady bug lands on a nearby leaf.  I am in my element in a garden, wherever it may be.

Friday Farmgirl Gardening Series Week 10 (erosion, hail, hoppers, and hope)

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And this, my dear friends, is one reason we do not rototill!  With the crazy summer storms we have been getting an inch of sandy thick topsoil from the neighboring gardens slid onto my plants and pathways.

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My novel takes place in the 1930’s and through my grandparents’ stories and books I am learning about the dust bowl.  Something we were never taught in school and something that could so easily happen again as we deliberately and repeatedly deplete our soils of nutrients instead of building on top of the soil.  Soil does not like to be barren!

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“Oh hail” is my new cuss word.  Grasshoppers are my nemesis.

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Yet, each day the soil and my plants call to me.  I find my respite and peace with fingernails caked with dirt, birds flitting by, and despite everything, the harvest.  Plants want to grow.  Spinach, baby kale, baby collards, arugula, lettuce, and nearing the end of radish days fills my basket.

I thin a few carrots and beets each day.  It is the most loathsome job in the garden I know.  I think that I will just put two fingers down for two inches, pick everything in between, but goodness, those seedlings are everywhere.  Which direction do I go?  Two inches this way?  Then I take out that nice tall one…It is rather stressful but it must be done, for carrots one or two inches in girth feed folks a lot better than two millimeters in girth.  The kids need room to grow.

Next year, I think, you shall find me at the end of the winter months at a table with a glass of wine and opera blaring carefully dotting each seed with glue and placing them strategically two inches apart on long strips of toilet paper.  Though that sounds dreadful to my “do six things at a time” mind, listening to Andrea Bocelli and dotting seeds with glue sounds a lot more fun than the mass killings I am attempting to complete in my garden.

This week I will be laying more mulch and making everything tidy.  We’ll see what there is to harvest.  We’ll start planning our fall crops.  We’ll listen to birds, get a sun tan, and plan up new recipes inspired by the garden.

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My balcony garden is doing amazing, may I add.  Just goes to show that the best gardens have a roof!

Grandmother Moon and Mercury

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I went to a ceremony yesterday.  A beautiful woman led the smudging and prayers in Cherokee as we welcomed Grandmother moon.  Over fifty women of different colors (and a few men) and backgrounds banged on drums and shook rattles and sang.  It was an empowering group.

I didn’t fully understand what Mercury in Retrograde meant but I found out what it meant for those around me and myself.  Life changes, extreme life changes, deaths, perceived failures, loss, new paths…

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Eva explained that now is the time to start focusing only on the positive.  All things that did not serve us have fallen away.  We are waking at this time in full female energy.  The Super Moon means that the moon was closest to the earth than it will be all year.  An embrace, Eva said.  The lunar eclipse.  Venus glowing brightly in the east in a haze of dawn color.  The Cherokee harvest moon.

From here on out we get stronger.  We get wiser.  We see our bountiful blessings and we are filled with gratitude.  In this ceremony we prayed to release one thing and replace it with something better.  I traded poverty for prosperity.  I traded our family’s hardships this year for strength and love.  I traded lack of inspiration for wisdom and joy.  What a beautiful way to bring in Autumn.

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I always teach my students, as I was taught, to place their medicines in the full moon each month.  The moon’s cycles have a profound effect on us down here on earth.  Women’s menses, the ocean tides, biodynamic farming, and many other things are influenced by the waxing and waning of the moon. All of my medicines glowed like stars from the balcony hanging onto the Grandmother moon’s rays.  As she turned red and dark then light and embracing, the power of the moon made the medicines match the frequency of our own bodies.  A fascinating fact.

During this harvest season and through the feminine power of Grandmother moon and Venus in the east, I wish you prosperity, peace, love, strength, and child-like joy.

Lughnasadh and the County Fair

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Lughnasadh (loon-ah-sah) is one of the Gaelic harvest festivals of old.  The word is from old Irish text and is a Pagan holiday celebrating the first of the harvests.  A harvest festival is always a welcome holiday in this farmgirl’s mind!  Tonight is also a full moon and I can just imagine my grandmothers of old times dancing under the moon celebrating the harvest of grains and other summer bounties.

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I study all religions and see the similarities in all of them, the same God with different names, the same holidays, many customs “borrowed” by other faiths, and the joy in all of the different ways to honor the great Creator.  Paganism was not a religion pre-Christianity since everyone from childhood was brought up with great respect for Mother Nature and the holidays were based on the agricultural calendar.  Paganism reminds me greatly of the Native American ways of worship a continent away.  The Christians use many of the same elements and traditions as the early Pagans.  I was always brought up thinking that Pagans were Atheists, this is not so apparently.  I love the various celebrations.

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Did you know that the local county fairs were originally the celebration of Lughnasadh?  The first harvest festival, showing off goods and livestock, morphed into what we now know as the county fair.

There I am on the Swingers, again 11 years old!

There I am on the Swingers, again 11 years old!

The ride that bankrupted Grammie and Papa!

The ride that bankrupted Grammie and Papa!

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This year’s county fair was more fun than ever with rides and a two year old who loved everything from the young people competing with their horses to the motorcycle ride she would not get off of until we were completely broke from buying tickets!

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Our friends at the annual Dutch oven cookoff.

Our friends at the annual Dutch oven cook-off.

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So tonight, the holiday brings with it a bright full moon, a promise of more crops, and a sense of peace.  The traditional way of late is to enjoy a beer (grains) and a bit of bread (or pizza?) and celebrate and have gratitude for the harvest.  And maybe a little dancing in the moonlight is in order!