Maple Syrup Season!

After some strange, strange winter weather, temperatures have begun to moderate a bit here in the heartland and it appears maple syrup season has arrived! I’m so excited, y’all! It’s been a few years since we put much time and effort into syrup, so that just makes the prospect of fresh, warm maple syrup even more enthralling! Though I try to avoid the sweet stuff, homemade maple syrup tastes amazing, especially on a stack of Scottish oatcakes, swirled into some cocoa or drizzled on a sweet tater. Beyond tasting amazing, it’s a simple way of producing your own, all-natural sweetener with little to no investment and no specialized knowledge required! If you can drill a hole and boil water, you can make your own maple syrup!

Now in late fall, I gave you a complete tutorial on making maple syrup, so consider this post a gentle reminder to watch your weather. If you’re in the northern hemisphere, it’s about that time! Remember you’re watching for stretches of weather with daytime temperatures above 32 degrees and nighttime temperatures that drop into the 20s. Sunny days are an absolute plus, but the sap will flow even if it’s overcast or rainy.

For best results, you should tap your trees on the south/southeast face to take advantage of the sunshine. The quicker the trunk warms, the quicker the sap will run. At least that’s what I’ve been told by those who claim to know! Drill the hole at a slight incline, tap the spile into place and then hang your bucket or attach your dropline. If you have gnarly, multi-trunked monsters like this old maple, you can tap each trunk (with a minimum 12 inch diameter) at least once. If it’s a real giant, you can place a spile at 1 ft. intervals around the tree.

The amount of sap collected each day will vary according to the temperatures and the amount of sunlight, but on a very good day, you can collect a couple gallons of sap per spile. Remember it takes 40-50 gallons of sap to make a gallon of finished syrup, so don’t get impatient. Let the sap flow. As sap is a natural product, it can and will spoil, so keep your collected sap in a cold, dark place or if the weather cooperates, a snow bank is ideal. (If you’re wondering, spoiled sap turns cloudy and sometimes has an off smell or slimy appearance.)

Once you’ve collected a goodly amount of sap, you begin the cooking down process. You HAVE to do this step outdoors because of the amount of moisture you have to evaporate; it WILL steam the wallpaper or border right off your walls! A crockpot in a garage or a propane turkey fryer are both good options, though you have to keep a close eye on the sap as it burns easily. This year, we’re trying something a little different with a homemade-ugly evaporator made out of an old fuel oil tank. Shallow, stainless steel chaffing pans will sit across a ledge on the top of the tank and in theory, we should have a functional evaporator. Many thanks to my darling husband and his wicked awesome welding skills.

I’ll have more pictures for you later this week as we begin the boiling down process. There are a few tricks that I’ve learned along the way that prospective maple sugarers may find helpful! Till then, my sweet, sweet friends!

Seed Starting 101

As we talked about Monday, cold weather gardening season is fast approaching and it’s nearly time to start those semi-hardy seeds indoors.  It’s not a difficult task really; I dove into seed starting when Petunia was a toddler and with few exceptions, have had great success.  I have learned a few lessons the hard way, though, and I want to share them with you to save YOU the frustrations!

My Sweet Petunia, age 3, watering the seedlings!

Necessary Equipment

If you’ve shopped the seed catalogs, you’ll quickly notice that you can spend a boatload of money on equipment before you sprout the first seed….but that is totally unnecessary!  People have been starting seeds for thousands of years without the advantages of elaborate equipment.   It honestly doesn’t take much to start seedlings; at minimum you need a good loamy potting mixture, a container with some sort of drainage and heat/light.  That’s it.  How you go about it is entirely up to you and over the years, I’ve tried some pretty unique ideas to save money on starting seedlings.

  • Containers can be anything that will hold soil and allow the excess water to drain.  Egg cartons work great, provided they’re the foamy variety.  (The cardboard cartons dissolve into mush after a couple of waterings.)   Poke holes in the bottom of each cup and set the egg carton onto a cookie sheet to allow drainage.
  • Warming the soil can be achieved in many different ways.  You can set your sown seeds over a heating vent, on top of the fridge, near a woodstove or, what I found effective, was to sit them on top of the trunklines in the furnace room.  It provided consistent, gentle warmth to help the seeds sprout quickly.   Last year, however, I took the plunge and purchased a grow mat and had great success with it.
  • Light, especially warm light, is crucial.  A shop light with grow bulbs work just fine, as will a south/southwest-facing window.
  • Quality potting mix is a must.  You need a light, loamy mix of peat, compost and perlite to allow the delicate seedlings to sprout.  Don’t go dig up some garden dirt; you’ll end up with rotten, moldy seeds.

Planting Tips

Now that you’ve collected your necessary items, let me share a few tips to help ensure your experience is a success!

  • Be sure to read the seed packaging carefully.  Different seeds have different requirements.  Some need a bit of light to sprout, some prefer to be covered and exclude light.  Familiarize yourself with your varieties before you begin dropping seeds willy-nilly!

  •  Light, loamy potting mix is initially resistant to absorbing water, so fill up your containers with pottin mix and water it well, allowing the soil to become saturated BEFORE you sow your seeds.  If you don’t, you can easily wash out your seed.
  • Plant more seeds than you think you’ll need because life happens.  Occasionally you’ll purchase seed stock with poor germination rates.  Sometimes you forget to water.  Sometimes your children are a little TOO eager and overwater.  I try to plant at least 50% more than I anticipate needing.  You can always find someone to share extra seedlings with!
  • Label each container with popsicle sticks, masking tape or whatever you have laying around!  Don’t trust your memory on this one!

  • Cover your containers to form a “greenhouse” to encourage germination.  A simple piece of plastic wrap can make all the difference!
  • Keep the potting mix slightly damp while you anxiously wait for those first seeds to sprout.  A few spritzes from a spray bottle each day will provide enough moisture initially, especially if you use plastic to create a “greenhouse”.
  • After the seedlings have developed their first set of “true leaves” (see picture!) and have a bit of height and size on them, you can allow the soil to dry out between waterings.  I don’t mean parched and cracked, just dry.  Many species of veggies can’t stand to have their feet wet 24/7, so watch the soil carefully and water accordingly.

  • Thin them out.  This is painful, I know, but for the biggest, most productive plants, you have to thin out the competition.  As the seedlings grow larger and develop 2 sets of true leaves, pull out the smaller, less hardy plants.  Your garden will thank you.

So that’s about the long and short of seed starting.  Remember you need quality potting mix, something to contain the mix and a source of heat/light.  If you can come up with some combination of those 3-4 things, you can easily and successfully start your own seedlings year after year and save a boatload of money!

Have you ever tried starting your own seeds before?

 

5 Tips For Planning Your Cool Season Garden

 

 

I know it’s only mid-January, but I’m already thinking about my garden!  And believe it or not, it’s not too early to begin purchasing seed and starting seedlings for those early, cold weather crops.  Personally, I love cold weather crops.  In our region, you can often begin planting as early as mid-March and have a mature crop by mid-to-late April.  After a long cold winter of canned or store-bought veggies, nothing tastes as amazing as those first harvests of leafy greens or radishes.

Cold season gardening DOES have it’s own set of rules though.  Unlike warm season gardening, when you can plunk any variety of corn or tomato into the ground and get an easy harvest, cold season gardening needs just a little more legwork.

Here are a few steps to get you started on a cold season garden!

  1. Know your zone.  One of your first steps, before you even begin to buy seeds, is to figure out your zone.  There are certain varieties of crops that will thrive anywhere…but you have to know which variety is suited to your particular region!  You can ask around or go to this USDA zone map to establish your zone.  When you shop seed catalogs, you’ll be able to confidently purchase seed that will thrive in your area instead of guessing and hoping!
  2. Know your frost dates.  The frost dates are approximate dates of the first and last killing frosts in your area.  My goal, when I plant cold season crops each year, is to plant a variety that can mature and be pulled up before the spring frost date.  That allows for successive plantings from March through October and an overall larger harvest.  The Old Farmer’s Almanac has a great online calculator to help you determine your frost date.
  3. Know your crops. Root crops and leafy greens are perfect for most any cold weather garden.  Radishes, green onions, loose leaf lettuce, carrots, beets, spinach and broccoli all thrive in the cooler temperatures and some, kale for instance, taste sweeter after a light frost.
  4. Know your planting requirements.  While all the aforementioned crops thrive in cool temperatures, they may have different planting requirements.  Beets, radishes and loose leaf lettuce can be direct-sown straight into the cool, plowed earth and sprout in just days.  Crops such as broccoli, kale and cauliflower need to be started indoors several weeks in advance in order to thrive.    A basic heating mat will give your seedlings the jumpstart they need to move out to the garden in early spring.
  5. Know when to pull them.  This is a hard step for me!  I hate to pull up beautiful thriving plants….but….as the days grow longer and the temperatures warmer, those lovely plants are going to turn bitter and tough quick.  The crop may look gorgeous and healthy, but will lose its flavor and go to seed mighty quickly.  Be ruthless.  Leave a few plants to collect the seed and compost the remnants.

Not sure what to plant?

Here are some great hardy/semi-hardy plants that will survive in cold/cool weather:

  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Collards
  • English peas
  • Kale
  • Kohlrabi
  • Leeks
  • Mustard greens
  • Parsley
  • Radish
  • Spinach
  • Turnip
  • Beets
  • Carrot
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Chinese cabbage
  • Endive
  • Irish potatoes
  • Lettuce and gourmet salad greens
  • Radicchio
  • Rutabaga
  • Salsify
  • Swiss chard

If you’ve never planted a cool season garden, let me encourage you to try one.    As a rule, the plants are easy to grow,  weeding is typically minimal, there are few (to no!) bugs and you won’t be out there sweating your heiney off like you will in July and August!  Win!  If you HAVE tried your hand at cool season crops, what are your perennial favorites?

 

 

Creating A Landing Zone

Well, we’re 3 weeks into the new year and while many New Year’s resolutions have already fallen to the wayside, we’re moving forward in our resolve to minimize, declutter and organize the home.   Over Christmas break (and the following 2 weeks of inclement weather), we were able to clear 2 areas that have become real “hot spots” in our house:  an odd-shaped area behind the rear staircase that became a dumping ground and a chair that collected all the lunch totes, coats, gloves, mittens and purses at the end of the day.

I wish I had a “before” picture that shows the odd space behind the stairs, but I was just too embarrassed to show it!  When I say hot mess, I mean HOT MESS.  Tools, boots, baskets, outdoor lawn cushions, empty boxes…anything that didn’t have a permanent home ended up in that space.  It was the first thing you saw when you come in at the end of the day and the last thing in the morning, which was a downer to say the least!  At 30 inches wide and 8 feet long, it was too narrow for a closet, shelves or bench.  It was just 20 sf of wasted space…till last week when we created a much-needed and long overdue landing zone.

We purchased about 12 feet of pine 1X6 and put our Sweet Petunia to work painting it in an antique white to match the wood work.  My darling husband and son mounted the boards at the 6 foot mark and then hung these awesome coat hooks that we found on Amazon.  We really like these because the wide, blunt hooks won’t poke holes or stretch out sweaters or nylon jackets.  Plus they’re crisp and clean looking and made in America.  Win!

After the woodwork and hooks were hung, we used the 30 inch wide rear of the space for a bit of storage.  A slightly-altered wire shoe rack with a waterproof mat underneath catches all the muck from snowy boots and the top shelf allows a spot for lunchboxes and purses.  A hanging basket for keys and one for gloves finished the area.

Nearly finished with the landing zone!!

We’ve still got some work to do before it’s finished, but it’s progress.  I’d like to add some pretty trim at the top of the boards that resemble the surrounding woodwork and possibly hang a few interesting farmhouse items overtop.  Maybe some of the old tools we found in the barn or a handmade sign?

I cannot tell you the difference it’s made at the rear of the house having a landing zone!  No more coats thrown on random furniture.  No more lunchboxes left on the kitchen counter or mucky boots puddling in the floor!  And my very, very favorite part:  no more “MOM!!!  I CAN’T FIND MY GLOVES!” every single morning as we get ready for school!  Be still my heart, that’s the best part!!  In addition to having everything in its spot, reducing the visual clutter in the surrounding rooms has done so much for my mood!  There’s nothing as disheartening as visual clutter in my mind!

If you’re struggling with the same mess we struggled with, there are a million different options on Pinterest for creating a landing zone in any kind of space:  custom built-ins for deep spaces, clever, corner zones using upcycled cabinets,  narrow, child-height zones for backpacks.   There’s an idea for any kind of space once you identify the area and the goal for the area!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I know we can’t be the only family who struggles with the everyday stuff!  Tell me how you’ve manage to beat the coat/boot/purse clutter!

 

 

The Necessity of Close Community – Revisited

We had a tragedy in our community last week.  A vibrant, lively 7-year old-died in a shocking accident and our little village is reeling.  Parents aren’t supposed to bury their babies and when it happens, there are simply no words.

This morning, the local elementary held a crisis intervention and the one thing that I took away was the comment that someone has to be in place to “heal the healers”.   The speaker told of the blessing upon our village, that ours is such a tight-knit community there will always be someone there to support those who are  hurting.

But not everyone is blessed in that way.

In November, we talked about the importance of being engaged with your community; of being the familiar face and hands willing to serve in times of need.  This tragedy is a clarion call for me and I once again urge you to get plugged in with your village/township/city.  Life is so short and fragile, and at some point in that life, we’re all going to be beggars desperate for bread.  Be the person who shows the beggar where to find it.  Be the one who “heals the healer”.

Blessings upon you and yours

Andrea

 

 

Don’t Organize. Minimalize.

 

 

 

Right now, I know you’re being inundated via Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Amazon, Ebay and a hundred other entities with ideas and products for getting organized after the holidays.

Friends, I’m not going to be that voice.

I’m going to be the voice of reality and sanity and tell you that organizing doesn’t work.  If organizing worked, we’d all be organized, having all made the very same resolution back in 2013 to “get organized” and as a result, Hoarders wouldn’t exist as a reality TV program.

With few exceptions, organization isn’t the problem.  The problem is we have too much stuff.

One of the reasons our grandmothers always had neat and tidy homes, were always ready to receive visitors, and were rarely up to their eyeballs in debt:  they owned less stuff.  In my mind, I can walk through my great grandmother’s 4 room house on Rt 5 in Ashland, Kentucky and tell you where each of her things were located…because there were so few things.  Dusting wasn’t an issue.  Maintenance wasn’t an issue.  Clutter wasn’t an issue.  Compare and contrast that to today where we make more money, have more stuff, are far less content and far more overwhelmed than even a generation ago.  Crazy, isn’t it?

Last spring, I became tired of the stuff and began moving hard and fast toward minimalism.  The difference was immediate and amazing.  We had free time because there was less to do.  Personally, I was far less anxious, perhaps because my eyes had places to rest. Cleaning was far simpler.  And here’s the thing I didn’t expect: it greatly impacted our finances.  We tended to think twice about a purchase because we didn’t want to clutter up the house with something we’d turn around and throw away.  We still have a long way to go; books, clothing and sentimental items seem to be our collective nemeses here, but I’m finding we’re far more content to live with far less and it makes me quite anxious to live with far less still.

Let me dispel a few myths for you.

Minimalism is NOT:

  • Punishment.  There’s nothing punitive in getting rid of stuff we don’t need.
  • Misery.  There’s also nothing disheartening about it though admittedly, you may have to face up to a few emotions that perhaps you hadn’t dealt with.
  • Stark.  There is nothing barren, dreary, desolate or cheerless about getting rid of junk cluttering up your living space. It showcases the things you love!
  • Boring.  Minimalism doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy life.  It means you won’t have clutter preventing you from enjoying life.

Here’s the funny thing:  once you begin to declutter your living space, the desire to minimalize will begin to extend to other areas of your life.  Your job.  Your relationships.  Your goals.  Your media life. I love this quote from Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life

Minimalism is the thing that gets us past the things so we can make room for life’s most important things–which actually aren’t things at all.

Doesn’t that just sum up what most of us really want out of life?  That’s why our grandparents were so content with so little.  And perhaps that’s why we are so stressed out with so much.

Baby Steps Toward Minimalism

Minimalism isn’t an all or nothing prospect.  It also doesn’t happen overnight.  It took us a lifetime to accumulate the clutter and develop the bad habits; it’s going to take a while to undo them, but here are a few steps to get you on the way.

  1. Remove duplicates.  You don’t need 15 winter hats or  4 “I Love Vegas” mugs.  If you have multiples, purge 1 (or 12).  Sell it, donate it, junk it, whatever.
  2. Throw away broken items.  That sounds like a gimme, but I’ll totally confess to hanging onto things I intended to mend and it just never happens.  Probably WON’T happen.  Junk it.
  3. Break it down into bite-size jobs.  Don’t tackle the entire office in one afternoon.  How about just the books?  Or just one cabinet?  Accomplish that single task, pat yourself on the back for a job well done and move on.
  4. If you’re like me and you like seeing a completed checklist on paper, go to Pinterest for a printable declutter checklist.  There are zone-based, monthly-based, number-based…I’m sure you’ll find a checklist that will help keep you motivated.
  5. Find a collector/dealer/website that will be glad to take your things.  I had a cedar chest full of mid-century items from my grandmother’s first husband who was killed in Korea.  His burial flag, for instance. I was thrilled beyond words to find a military museum who wanted to display it in their Korean War memorial.  The cedar chest was emptied and a 19 yo soldier was remembered again. Win.
  6. Don’t get hung up on perceived value.  The fact you paid $179 for an item back in 1967 means nothing in this economy and culture.  If it doesn’t bring you joy, be rid of it, regardless of how much you paid for it.

I hope those baby steps will get your started in the right direction, if you’re resolved to never organize again!  My simple decluttering goal for 2018 is to get rid of 2018 items; just 5 things a day.  Do you have goal?

New Year’s Peas & Greens

Good morning, friends!  I hope this post finds you rested, relaxed and recuperated after a long holiday season.  With just one more “event” to go before a return to normal life, I’d like to share a couple of my favorite traditional New Year’s dishes.

Greens are a staple side-dish on our table year ’round, as they’re low carb, high in fiber, full of vitamins and utterly delish!  On New Year’s, however, they take center stage, along with a big dish of limas or a piquant salad of marinated black-eyed peas.   Beyond being amazingly delicious, a meal of pork, greens and peas is supposed to bring you luck for the following year.  I can’t vouch for the verity of that tradition, but I don’t mind giving it a try each year!

While the cooking time may vary, the procedure for making a steaming pot of greens is about the same, no matter the variety you choose.

  • First, buy more than you think you’ll need.  What may seem like an extraordinary amount of raw greens will cook down to fit in a small bowl.
  • Greens need to be soaked in a deep sink full of cold water to allow the sand to rinse off.  Most likely your greens were grown in sandy soil and if you don’t soak and rinse them really well, you’ll end up with grit in your teeth!
  • Fold the leaf in half lengthwise and cut away the thick, coarse stem on the back of the leaves.  You don’t have to do this, but I really dislike the fibrous bites of stem from tougher greens like collards.
  • Allow plenty of cooking water/broth.  Some greens can be quite bitter, so plenty of cooking water will let the bitterness cook out…and the resulting pot liquor is absolutely delicious!

Ingredients for Classic Southern Greens

1-2 Tablespoons olive oil

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 clove of (minced) garlic

4 cups chicken broth (add additional as needed)

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 large turkey leg or ham hock

2# collards, mustard, turnip greens or kale, well-cleaned and chopped

salt & pepper

vinegar or hot sauce, to taste

Instructions

In a large pot, cook onions in the olive oil till tender.  Stir in garlic and cook till fragrant.  Add chicken broth, smoked meat and pepper flakes, bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer for 30 minutes.  Remove the turkey leg or ham hock, allow to cool then pick the meat off the bone and return to the pot of broth.  Add the greens to the pot a handful at a time so they can wilt down in the hot broth.  When all the greens are wilted, cover and simmer for approximately 20-30 minutes for kale or mustard, an hour for collards, or till they reach the desired texture.  Stir occasionally.  Season to taste with salt and pepper, then serve with vinegar or hot sauce.  For my vegan and vegetarian friends out there, simply omit the chicken broth and turkey/ham and replace with vegetable broth and a bit of adobo sauce for that wonderful smoky flavor.   

Okay, moving on to my favorite black-eyed pea recipe…black-eyed pea salad!  I know it sounds strange, but I’ve never developed a taste for a big old pot-full of black-eyed peas.  Any other pot of beans or peas, yes, but black-eyed peas, no.  I was introduced to this dish at a friend’s restaurant in Beaufort, SC and was instantly hooked!  It’s spicy, savory, filling and makes a great main dish during crazy hot weather.  It’s also a perfect spin on the dish that’s traditionally served for “good luck” on New Year’s Day.  Here’s all you need…

Ingredients for Black-Eyed Pea Salad

1 large tomato, diced

1 medium red onion, finely chopped

1 small red bell pepper, finely chopped

1 jalapeno, finely chopped

2-15oz cans of black eyed peas

1/4 cup white wine vinegar

1/4 cup olive oil

1 Tablespoon of Dijon mustard

salt & pepper to taste

Instructions

Combine the tomato, onions, peppers and peas in a largish container with a tight-fitting lid.  In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, oil and Dijon mustard.  Pour the oil and vinegar mixture over the chopped veggies and peas and combine gently.  Cover tightly and place in the fridge for at least 8 hours or overnight, then salt and pepper to taste.  *I personally double the marinade because I love it so much!  But that’s just me.

Alongside your beans and peas, serve a thick slab of buttery cornbread (not the sweet stuff!) and finish the meal with a slice of lemony pound cake or traditional banana pudding.  That’s good eats, I don’t care who you are!

Till next time, best wishes for a prosperous New Year from my family to yours.

 

 

The Forgotten Practice of Self-Care

 

Good Monday morning, friends!  I hope you had an amazing weekend and you’re primed and ready for the new week!  I’ve got to confess that this girl is feeling a little bit stressed.  Between the extra hours at work, the impending holiday and family commitments, I’m noticing a difference in my person.  My sleep is off, my diet is off, my mood is way off, much to the dismay of the people who have to live with me!  Whenever I neglect myself, my mind, body and emotions suffer, so with that in mind, I thought we would talk about old-fashioned self-care.

No one has to tell you that modern life is stressful, but I think we as a culture take a demented pride in abusing ourselves.  We pride ourselves in the number of hours we put in at the office, how little sleep we get, how many meals we eat on the go, how much coffee we drink to make up for lack of sleep, how much wine we drink to try to relax in order to sleep.  The lack of rest and proper nutrition weakens our immune systems so when we get sick, we get sick, but like the troopers we are, we push through the illness, further taxing our immune systems.  We’ve created these dreadful cycles of exhaustion, illness, stress and anxiety…because we consider it weakness or foolishness to care for ourselves.  So we push harder.

It’s crazy!

Let me tell you, friends, you’re worth taking care of.  I hate sounding like a L’Oreal commercial, but you are worth it.  My Faith tells me that we are fearfully and wonderfully made, a creation so amazing that the Creator Himself declared us very good, better than all other creation and loved with an everlasting love.  If only we saw that worth in ourselves and took care of ourselves as we should!  As we’re in the midst of what may be our most stressful season of the year, how about we discover some simple ways to care for our minds, bodies and emotions?

Our grannies were experts at self-care though they wouldn’t have labeled it as such.  They just knew what their minds and bodies needed to function at their best and that’s a lost practice in our culture.   We relegate it to old wives tales and lore instead of researching the wisdom behind it.

As it’s a broad, broad topic, let’s find easy ideas for self care during the dark winter months.

Drink warm drinks– There’s a reason our mamas and grannies gave us warm milk on restless nights—-it’s a sure-fire cure for most of what ails us!  With winter upon us, I make sure my kids have a hot cup of  something each morning and night.  Tea, cider, cocoa, broth, soup, something.  Not only is it comforting to our spirits, it warms our bodies and keeps us warm for hours.  It’s no different than warming a Thermos or tea pot before we add hot drinks.  Warm the inside and everything will feel warmer!  Hot fluids also hydrate quickly, create inhospitable conditions for viruses and soothe irritated throats and noses.

Dress warmly– I know this sounds like a gimme, but people don’t dress appropriately in cold weather.  We’re more concerned about being fashionable than toasty!  But here’s what I’ve noticed: even though I’m healthy overall, when I get cold, I ache.  My bones and muscles just ache!  Anxiety is exacerbated.  Productivity goes downhill.  Mood worsens.  Typically, my diet suffers because I turn to junk food for quick heat and energy.  There’s nothing we can do about the weather, but we can bundle up in natural fibers, dress in multiple layers, wear fluffy socks, slippers, robes, woolen coats and whatever it takes to stay cozy.  Dont laugh, but in the dead of winter, its not unusual to find me in 4-5 layers of clothing.  Camisole + tee + long sleeved shirt + sweater + Sherpa vest.  And you can expect to see me in Uggs til the spring thaw.  Do what you have to do to stay snuggly, my friends, and save the fashion statements for summertime.

Eat hearty meals– Now hear me, I’m not telling you to gorge yourself on indulgent holiday foods, but winter calls for heavier meals, whatever that looks like in your house.  In winter, we need the extra (beneficial) fats and perhaps a few extra carbs to keep our bodies warm so keep that soup pot full of hot brothy soups, make a big batch of stew or a big cheesy casserole for dinner  (and leftovers for lunches).  For breakfast, a pot of cheesy grits or oatmeal topped with dried fruit will warm your innards and satisfy you much longer than a cold bowl of cereal.

Sleep– Allow yourself as much sleep as you need.  If that means an afternoon nap or turning in at 8:30, do it!  Turn your bedroom into a sanctuary and treat winter as a season of rest and recuperation.   Nest with soft cotton sheets, a thick downy comforter, a handmade quilt, a heated mattress pad….whatever it takes to make it a place of comfort.   Now one caveat: be mindful that the need for extra sleep can be a symptom of SAD, thyroid disfunction and a myriad of other disorders.  If the need for sleep becomes excessive and you never feel quite rested, regardless of the amount of sleep you receive,  it’s time to talk to your PCP.

Take care of your skin– Winter in extreme northern and extreme southern climates tends to wreak havoc on our skin, so treat your skin with care!  Warm baths and showers followed by carrier oils or body butters are the way to go to prevent dry skin, chaffing, chapping and itchiness.  This skin has to last a lifetime,  so don’t be embarrassed to baby it!  During periods of outdoor activity, be sure to protect the delicate skin on your face and hands from windburn with a heavy balm or butter.

Be still– Apart from sleeping, there’s no shame in using this season to just be still.  To take a rest from the busy-ness of spring, summer and fall to simply be.  To read, daydream, write letters, watch movies, crochet a hat, snuggle with your spouse under a fluffy blanket or spend an afternoon drawing with your child in front of the fireplace. Plan a time each day to just be still.

Get outside – Admittedly, outdoor activities are not my favorite in the wintertime,  but I do make an effort to go outside with my children to play in the snow when it’s not crazy-cold.  We fill the bird feeders, walk behind the barn to see if the pond is frozen, move firewood or look for signs of deer in the trees around the milkhouse.  On particularly warm days, we may take a walk down the road.  Believe me when I say there’s nothing like a warm fireplace and steaming mug of cocoa after a busy day outdoors.

As I said, these are just a few suggestions as this topic is a mile wide and twice as deep.  Self-care is going to look different for everyone depending on climate and season of life, but we’re all worth the time and efforts to take care of ourselves!  These are a few of my favorites; what are your favorite self-care tips?

Looking Ahead

Hello friends!  Whoo, what a month it’s been already!  I don’t know about you and your family, but here at Legacy Home and Apiary, we are counting down the days til the holiday break!  With Christmas plays, band concerts, shopping, baking, parties, village festivals and dinners, the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas leave us feeling a little breathless. After our vacation begins on the 19th, we restrict our activities to lounging in our jammies, playing board games, baking cookies and hanging out in front of the fireplace watching Christmas movies.  I consider it a very necessary, modern-day hibernation.   

After the excitement of Christmas is over, we tend to spend the remainder of our break planning for the year ahead.  We organize our agendas, schedule appointments, prioritize our household projects, order seeds for the spring garden and my favorite: research the skills we want to learn the following year.  Each year, I encourage the children (and myself as well!) to learn a new skill or hobby and each year, the children never fail to amaze me with their choices.  Some years, it’s practical and utilitarian; other years it’s pure enjoyment.  Angus’s interests have ranged from coding to tinkering on small engines in the barn; Petunia, from bird watching to learning to use kitchen knives.  Learning has never been a burden for them, as they get to choose the topic and I’m just pleased that they get to enjoy a wide array of experiences while they’re young.  My hope is that they’ll develop a joy of learning that will last them for the rest of their lives.  

I’m pretty excited about the year ahead as both kids have expressed a desire to learn beekeeping.  It’s not the MOST practical of skills, but it’s something they could use in adulthood, perhaps as passive income but more likely to benefit their garden.  What I’m most excited about, though, is our 2018 family project:  

We fell into an amazing deal on a mechanically-sound 1979 CJ5 to restore for a family vehicle.  I know nothing about basic mechanics and it’s something I’ve always regretted, so hopefully this will be an opportunity for the kids and me to learn at the same time!  Perhaps by the end of 2018, I’ll be able to fix flat tires and do my own oil changes!  Ha!  But our main goal with this restoration: Angus has shown a real interest in mechanics and engineering, and I’m praying that this restoration may spark a desire that could be developed into a career.  He’s only 13 and I’m sure he’ll change his mind a hundred times between now and adulthood,  but it’s never too early to begin encouraging the thought process, right?  

I know it’s early to begin thinking about 2018, but what’s your thoughts on the new year?  Any fun planning in the works?

Bringing The Outdoors In

There’s nothing I love more than bringing the outdoors in to decorate my old farmhouse.  Though it’s a favorite practice all year long, with freshly cut daffodils in April and treasures from the coast during summertime, Thanksgiving and Christmas are when those natural elements seem to really shine.  Personally, I love reading old books that describe how our great-grannies decorated for Christmas.  It’s so easy to visualize the older brothers cutting down a fresh pine tree while the younger siblings gathered holly, ivy, pinecones, acorns and local, seasonal items to decorate the mantles, windows, doors and tabletops.

I’m sure it’s the romantic in me, but I love to do the same; to bring nature indoors for the holiday season.  Admittedly, it’s not always practical, but with some clever planning, it can be beautiful, frugal and totally cozy.

Here are some ideas that my family incorporates into our Christmas décor.

Pine boughs- This is a total gimme, but you have so many options here!  You can purchase inexpensive live garland at most grocery and hardware stores or a cheap tree to butcher for decorating…but I encourage you to scrounge, my friends!  Look to your landscaping for branches that need trimmed back or forage (with permission) from a local lot.  You can also find freebie trimmings at most local tree lots for free.  These boughs look beautiful tucked into artificial greenery, tied carefully around candles, draped on mantles and light fixtures or turned into a simple swag for your door.  Of course, you need to be cautious around flames!

Pine cones – Each year when my children were young, we’d visit the local cemetery and gather baskets of pinecones to decorate the house with.  To kill off the bugs and get them to open up, simply pop them on a cookie sheet in a warm oven (200) for an hour or so, then stash them in baskets, add them to the mantle, hang them from the tree, create a pinecone wreath, a bird feeder or sprinkle with a cinnamony Holiday Essential Oil Blend to healthfully fragrance your home.

Acorns, Buckeyes, Gum Tree balls, Rose Hips – These simple, natural elements look beautiful strung on wire!  Incorporate them into your garland on your stairway, hang them on the Christmas tree, add them to a basket or lantern on your table, toss them onto your mantle, fragrance them with essential oil and sit them around the doorways to greet your visitors!  Most of these can be found in any wooded area, just ask for permission before you begin gathering!

Hedge Apples -I love to see baskets of hedge apples sitting around during fall and winter!  Also called Osage oranges and horse apples, these funky-looking, inedible fruits have a fresh, slightly citrusy scent and are rumored to keep spiders away.  I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I love the bright shock of lime green and the funky texture that hedge apples offer to décor.

Magnolia Leaves – Don’t laugh, but when we visited some friends in South Carolina this summer, I was sure to bring home a HUGE bag of fallen Magnolia leaves to decorate with.  (I’m sure their neighbors shook their heads and declared I wasn’t from around those parts lol)  Plan A was a pine and magnolia wreath….plan B involved wiring them into ‘picks’ and tucking them into the stairway garland and Christmas tree.  I love the warm, cinnamon brown shades of the leaves among the evergreen!  And just seeing the leaves remind me of good friends and downtime in the Lowcountry.  Sigh.

But don’t stop there!  Any natural elements that you find beautiful can be incorporated into your décor!  I love to add pheasant feathers, antlers, cotton stems, dried citrus slices, broom corn, cinnamon sticks and Spanish moss to my decorating theme, but look to your own region, travels and experiences to find unique items that will delight your family.  Tell me how YOU bring nature indoors for the holidays…..