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Mammoth Pumpkins, Hugelkultur, and a Bit of Knitting (for fun)

Posted by mrssmythe on November 15, 2017 in Crafting, Garden, Seasons, Week in Review |

It’s traditional here in New England (and probably lots of other places as well) to set out a pumpkin or two on the porch steps in celebration of autumn.

Historic Deerfield, though, takes it a step further. During a walk there with my sister, we saw plenty of porches just loaded with pumpkins. Some of the pumpkins were massive! It was amazing. I imagine Historic Deerfield’s Christmas decorating is noteworthy as well, and I’ll have to make a point of checking it out, firsthand, some time after Thanksgiving.

Right now, though, we’re a bit behind the curve on the holidays. It wasn’t until this week that Ginger finally got around to carving her pumpkin.

This was the first year she managed the job solo, and here’s the result:

So cute!

We were out of tea lights, so I used a bayberry candle from Old Sturbridge Village to illuminate it, which gave the whole lighting-of-the-jack-o’-lantern a historic/Old New England-y feel. It reminded me of Tasha Tudor children’s book, Pumpkin Moonshine.

Rain kept me indoors most of this past week. As a result, I started chipping away at my stash of Lion Brand Bonbon yarn. Here you see some of the cotton Bonbons in a bowl. They’re just the right size for Christmas ornament crafting.

And, when the weather was dry, I was working on my latest gardening project:

a Hugelkultur bed (or the start of one). This German gardening method has been popping up in a lot of the books I’ve been reading lately, so I thought I’d give it a try.  The next step will be to cover the wood with soil, grass clippings, and leaves. Then, it sits over the winter. Come spring, it should be ready to plant. I’m thinking pumpkins might be a good first crop.

And, finally, I dug out pieces of the sweater I knitted in September and October. I’d put them away for my sister’s visit…then forgot about them completely! They need to be blocked before being sewn together, so that’s what I’m doing now. Everything looks to be the right size, so I’m hoping the finished product will be a good fit. (That hasn’t always been the case for my sweaters).

If all goes as planned, the sweater will be done in time to wear for Thanksgiving. Wouldn’t that be nice? We’ll see how it goes.

From the dining room table, with a box of Kleenex and a cup of coffee close by (I have a bit of a cold),

Mrs. Smythe

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4

Fall Fun – and a Sister’s Visit

Posted by mrssmythe on November 5, 2017 in Baking, Chickens, Crafting, Critters, Family, Garden, Seasons, Week in Review |

First off, I want to share this fun photo of CPT A, working on his computer in the backyard with the dogs.

Since this was taken, we’ve lost all of those colorful leaves in the back woods. A wild storm came through on Halloween and knocked everything down. Much of our town was without power for days afterward.

It was good that we weren’t without power. My sister was visiting at the time.

Here she is at the dining room table with the girls during one of the many card games that went on the week she was here.

We always have such a great time when she visits. I should have more photos to share, but honestly, I was having so much fun, I didn’t think to stop and take any.

I did manage to take a few shots of our visit to the Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory. Here’s Ginger, with a butterfly that just crawled onto her hand. (Ginger was a butterfly magnet and had this happen several times during our visit.)

And here are the girls with a member of the Magic Wings staff and a reptile friend. Magic Wings has a variety of creatures in addition to the butterflies. It’s a fun place to visit.

Our overnight temperatures still haven’t gone low enough for a hard freeze. We keep having close calls, and each time, I dash out the night before to harvest the remaining zinnias flowers…only to have everything survive and look fine the following morning.

I’ve enjoyed the colorful bouquets very much, though, and it’s strengthened my resolve to have more zinnias in the yard for cutting next year.

We finally cut open the lone watermelon we managed to grow this year. It was pretty tiny.

It didn’t taste terrible, but it wasn’t that great, either, so I divided it up among the chickens, and they enjoyed it very much.

More tasty were the rice crispy pumpkin treats Ginger made for coffee hour at church.

These were so easy to make – just rice crispy treats with a little food coloring and a Tootsie Roll stuck on top. They disappeared fast. If you’re interested, you can find the recipe HERE.

As the foliage in the yard thins, we’re finding surprises. One of them was this chrysalis – long vacated – hanging in the ferns beside the front porch.

It hung literally a foot from my rocking chair all summer, and I never knew it was there. I wonder what other things I missed.

The girls didn’t trick-or-treat this past week, but they did attend a party at our church dressed as Pikachu (Ginger) and Professor Willow (Pepper).

As you can see, Pepper is in a cast right now – the result of a bicycle accident some weeks back. She’s on the mend though and doing very well, thankfully.

In knitting news, I’m at work on a new scarf. The pattern I’m using is the Lion Brand Aurora Scarf.

The pattern calls for two colorways of yarn. At first I tried to stick with just one color – and a very bright one at that. In the end, though, I picked out another skein to help break up the brights and make the scarf more sophisticated looking. It’s a subtle difference, but I’m really pleased with the result.

And, finally, in hopes of making CPT A a batch of candied almonds for his birthday, I tried a recipe I found on Pinterest. The instructions have you cook the almonds in a ton of sugar, some cinnamon, and an egg white in a crockpot over the course of four hours.

At the end, you have this…

…something more akin to almond brittle than candied almonds. While these tasted good, they weren’t exactly what I was aiming for. If anyone has a better recipe for candied almonds, please, feel free to share!

Well, that brings you up to date. Hope you’re enjoying a cozy afternoon today like I am. Time to make some tea!

From the dining room table, amazed at how dark it is already at just three in the afternoon (the downside of Daylight Savings Time),

Mrs. Smythe

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6

Milkweed, Bees, Caterpillars…and a Dryer Repair

Posted by mrssmythe on October 16, 2017 in Critters, Garden, Seasons, Week in Review |

It certainly feels like Fall today. And, we have our first freeze predicted for tonight.

Meanwhile, the Milkweed has gone to seed…

Have you ever seen these? They’re amazing. I’d never seen pods this big. They were in a nearby neighborhood where I often walk while Ginger has her music lesson.

Milkweed is such an interesting plant. (But then, aren’t all plants interesting?) It’s been used medicinally, as well as for things like pillow stuffing, clothing insulation, and cradle lining. Fascinating stuff.

Meanwhile, I continue to spot caterpillars around the yard. Here is a Hickory Tussock Caterpillar.

I’m glad I didn’t try to pick it up. It’s supposed to be irritating to the skin.

And, this one didn’t even give me a chance to pick him up. He was too fast.

It’s always fun to spot Wooly Bear Caterpillars.

According to this guy, we have a mild winter ahead with a cold end – not at all what we’ve been hearing in the news or from Farmer’s Almanac. Scientists, of course, pooh-pooh the Wooly Bear prediction method anyway (you can read more about that HERE) but it would be fun if it were true…and I do think animals often sense things that are coming far better than we do.

The herbs in the herb garden have mostly finished for the season. Some, like the Lemon Verbena, are still in flower and play host to what bees remain.

Also current hangouts for the bees – the Zinnias…

and the Clematis.

The little salvia annuals I picked up at the garden center in late July have finally gotten around to blooming.

I’m so glad. I wasn’t sure they were going to get a chance before it froze. I’ve been grateful for their spots of jaunty color along the front walk where things have been rather bare since the Bleeding Heart called it quits for the season.

And, not garden related, but certainly noteworthy…CPT A fixed my dryer!

Here you see the heating coil doing what it is supposed to do (but hadn’t been doing for the past three weeks). CPT A had to order several rounds of parts and ended up replacing some other bits that looked worn, too, but in the end he managed to save our dryer and get everything back up and running for about $15. He’s definitely my hero this week!

In the meantime, I’ve been hanging everything to dry on lines in the basement. Surprisingly, I’ve been much better at keeping up with the laundry without the dryer. I think it was knowing nothing could be washed last minute. It forced me to be more attentive. The girls grumbled a bit about the rough towels (terry cloth really does feel better fresh out of the dryer), but otherwise, we managed quite well, and I think I’m going to try and line dry on a regular basis now. I kind of liked hanging everything up with clothespins. I felt happily industrious, and I’ve always liked the way clothes look hanging on a line. I can’t explain it. I know it sounds weird. You’ll have to make allowances for me.

From the dining room table, getting ready to head into the kitchen to check on a loaf of Anadama Bread (a new recipe from an old cook book),

Mrs. Smythe

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Breakfast with the Chickens…and other odds and ends

Posted by mrssmythe on October 3, 2017 in Chickens, Critters, Garden, Week in Review |

Some mornings, it’s still nice enough for CPT A and I to pop out onto the patio and drink our coffee while watching the chickens. It’s good for the chickens. It’s good for us.

This week, though, the chickens were extra friendly.

Everest jumped onto my lawn chair.

(I was so startled, I almost spilled coffee all over myself).

Meanwhile, Speckles showed interest in my my flip flops…

dragging one off to investigate further.

Have you ever seen a chicken carrying a flip flop? It’s not at all the sort of thing you expect to see.

After the chickens finished harassing us, they moved to the back step, confident Pepper would be along shortly to feed them.

Sometimes we bring Kipper out with us in the morning. He’s the dog we most trust with the chickens. He shows very little interest in them.

He’s more interested in CPT A’s coffee.

Fine weather this week encouraged me to take extra walks. Here’s a photo from a stroll I took around the suburban neighborhood where Ginger takes her music lessons:

I’ve driven by this area plenty of times and had no idea that just a few feet down a little, hidden path, was a nature area with walking trails. Magical.

The bees are still at work. Right now, wild asters seem to be their food of choice.

And, I continue to be on the lookout for caterpillars. Here’s one I found near the driveway this week:

The coleus are finally blooming. (Note the dog hair. There’s even dog hair on my plants!)

And Ginger’s succulent garden continues to thrive. Pretty soon we’ll need to bring it in for the winter.

The ornamental grasses really shine this time of year. Here are some we have in one of the front garden beds.

And, to close, I’ll leave you with one last shot of the chickens. This was taken the evening we came back from the Big E (our regional fair). After a full day of walking and crowds, it was so nice to sit down in the back yard with a cup of tea and a book…and the chickens.

From the dining room table, hoping your day is filled with equally delightful and satisfying moments,

Mrs. Smythe

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8

Chickens, a Hawk, and the Hatching of a Monarch

Posted by mrssmythe on September 28, 2017 in Chickens, Crafting, Critters, Garden, Seasons, Week in Review |

At last…Fall.

For our chickens, this has meant rapidly decreasing daylight, molting, and – as a result – lower egg production. I actually had to buy eggs at the store this week – something I haven’t had to do in over a year!

Another challenge these days – hawks.

Hawks are commonplace in our area, and we still aren’t comfortable letting the chickens free range unsupervised. So, to get the chickens out of their run as much as possible, I try and read or knit in the back yard where I can keep an eye on things. CPT A and I drink our morning coffee on the patio, too. That gives the chickens some additional time out of their run in the mornings. I don’t know if we’ll be hardy enough to continue this sort of thing in December, but, for now, it’s buying the chickens some freedom.

Returning to backyard knitting – here’s my latest project:

It’s going to be a cardigan. I hope to finish it in time to wear before the holiday season. I’m optimistic as the yarn is thick, and the pieces are knitting up quickly.

The most exciting news this week is the hatching of the monarch butterfly. (Do you say “hatched” with a butterfly?)

One morning, I checked on the chrysalis and noticed it had turned black.

Later that day, when I checked again, I saw this!

Now, at this point, I should have sat down on the lawn and just watched. But, thinking the process was going to take a while, I finished walking the dogs. Twenty minutes later, when I returned to the bush, the monarch was gone.

I was so disappointed. I had no idea everything would happen so fast. I expected, at least, to find the monarch somewhere in the garden, sunning itself, getting used to its new wings. But no. No monarch anywhere.

If I ever get another chance to see a butterfly emerge from its chrysalis, you can bet I will put everything on hold, sit down, and watch the process start to finish. Lesson learned.

On a side note, this whole experience has encouraged me to plant more things that will attract butterflies.

Elsewhere in the garden, the flowering quince has managed one last crimson blossom – a sort of farewell to the growing season.

Isn’t it lovely?

And, finally, a picture Pepper took this evening from the car.

A coyote! In the middle of town!

Pepper reports it was a sleek, healthy looking creature, and CPT A says it was the prettiest coyote he’s ever seen. I’m just happy it lives well away from our chickens.

From the dining room table, glad we haven’t taken the A/C units out of the windows yet (It was in the 90’s here today!),

Mrs. Smythe

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