Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!

A Friday night Halloween works well, don't you think?

When my two brothers and I were growing up, apparently Halloween was not my mother's favorite holiday, although I was shocked when I learned this in my early twenties. When I think back, this explains the trusty paper bag costumes that Mom pulled out of the closet for my brother and me (I don't think the bags lasted to my younger brother) and dutifully taped up each year after a night of Halloweening.

[In my family, somehow Halloween became a verb--you go Halloweening and the people at your door are Halloweeners. How did this happen?]

I remember having the choice of an orange lion with a yellow mane or a green alligator. They were clever paper bags that would cover a child from head to knees with a hole for your face and holes for your arms. And large enough to wear a warm coat underneath. But no kick pleat, therefore the obligatory taping.

Fast forward to now--three kids age 8, 3 and 7 months. Dinnertime, darkness, excitement. Funny clothes, cold weather and flashlights.
Decorating involving scooping the guts and seeds from a large vegetable and cutting with sharp knives. I am beginning to know where my mother was coming from.
This is a tricky holiday with kids.
This holiday is a treat for kids.
You get to cut up a humongous vegetable and your mother doesn't even want you to eat it!
You get to collect and eat LOTS of candy that is normally not allowed:
You get to wear outfits are out of the ordinary and you might even get to draw on your face. What's not to love?

We hope all you Halloweeners had an excellent time Halloweening!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


Stick a fork in the growing season--it's done. We had a frost Sunday night and it was cold again last night. I hope we'll still have Swiss chard for a while since it doesn't mind the cold too much and I've covered it the past few nights.

I love the hoar frost on the plants in the morning. Have to be quick though--it doesn't linger in the early morning sun.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Working Hard or Hardly Working?

We've been working hard on house projects this fall, due in large part to the fact that John--no, MacGuyver--had a month off between his recent monumental job change. After 14 years at his former employer, he has embarked upon a career at a new company. They were so happy to have him that they sent a potted plant! He has now started at his new job and loves it.

But anyway, one of his projects during his "vacation" involved a large load of gravel, which showed up about day 5. I happened to be on a very important phone call when this truck showed up. It is hard to have a very important phone call when a ten ton truck is dumping in your driveway.

And when there is a large load of gravel in the driveway, one must get out one's digger to move it:

Yeah, it took a while....

Sunday, October 19, 2008

A Paris Egg Man

One of my favorite blogs, In the Kitchen and On the Road by cookbook author and chef Dorie Greenspan, the other day talked about getting extra-frais eggs from her egg man while she stays at her pied-a-terre in Paris. (Yes, she leads an interesting life)

It turns out the French classify eggs as extra-frais up to nine days after they are laid. My fridge is packed with extra-frais eggs because I'm the only one who eats eggs around here not baked in cakes or otherwise hidden. I give at least a dozen away per week, and I get nervous if I know I have "older" eggs that are getting on to be a week old.

Check out Dorie's post. You'll want to leave for Paris on the next flight.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

I Can See Clearly Now...

I've found the solution to cleaning windows--get new ones!!

Well, not really, because the new ones don't come in especially sparkly.
Let me explain.

When we moved in five years ago, the first house projects we tackled were the downstairs hallway and the two rooms off the hall--the living room and dining room. This included John completely replacing the older windows with new Pella windows. Very nice.

Each window took about 8 hours to completely rip out and install the new one, including fitting the siding around the window trim. This was such a big job that he then took a few years off from window replacement.

Well, he did install the big 7 foot triple window in our living room, but that was *just* one (BIG) window.

The upstairs windows were nearing the end of their useful lives. The muntins that divide the windows into panes were constantly falling out and breaking, the sills were rotting on some, and I never cleaned them because I knew we were going to get new ones. Well, if I knew it was going to be five years, I might have cleaned them in year 2. But don't hold me to that. Hindsight is 20/20, right?

Anyway, this summer we bit the bullet and ordered 7 new windows for upstairs. Five across the front and two on the side. And John --gasp!-- agreed that life would be smoother if we paid to have them installed. Painful, especially for him, but worth it to me that we wouldn't live in the Land of the Blue Tarp Over The Windows while he worked his way around to each window.

So last month, they came, they ripped out, and installed 7 weathertight, non-rotten, pristine new windows. All 7 in 8 hours! With three guys, of course.

The rooms were very open and airy with the windows out. It also was a beautiful, bright, clear, breezy day. The type of day that makes you think, "Hey, windows are over-rated. I like this breezy openness. Maybe we don't need windows!" Then I remembered that I don't like snow in my bedroom. Nor lots of bugs. And I hate 95 degrees and 95% humidity. And I really don't want to constantly worry about little people falling out of windows.

So I kept my bright ideas to myself.

But we (read: John) still have some interior trim to do. No way could the installers do that to John's specs.
Before (August, 2003):

After (September, 2008):

I've gotten used to the house without shutters, but it looks kind of bare. What do you think? Should we put some shutters back on?

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Garden Ghosts Ward Off Jack Frost

Booooooo.... Boooooooo..... BoooooOOooooOOOooo...

For the past two evenings our county has had a frost advisory, so each night I've dutifully covered the plants worth saving in the garden. It's not much, just the beans and swiss chard and a few tomato plants that I'm hoping the last few green tomatos will ripen on the vine.

Well, each morning I've pulled damp sheets off the plants and everything is still growing just fine. I guess my garden ghosts we're pretty intimidating! Only down to 34 degrees last night. And the zucchini plants are still going, can you believe it? There are a few small zucchinis on the plants but I think they need more warmth to get bigger. Maybe I'll pick them and put the plants "out of their misery" this weekend...

Let's take a tour of our fall garden. There are still a few things in bloom....
This is my Montauk Daisy with a late blooming Brown Eyed Susan mixed in. All the other Brown Eyed Susans are done, but for some reason this one was late to the party. That's ok with me! This is the third year for my Montauk Daisy. I trimmed it back last year at the end of June, but I must have clipped off most of the flowers because I didn't get much bloom.

I love the daisies in the fall and look forward to its Columbus Day weekend show, but it is a gangly plant and I have it in the front of the garden, so all summer I have to look at its gangliness. I would like to move it someplace, but I don't have a good place yet. Plus since I have less room than I think I do, and I always plant things too close, my irises (that's Clarence there, how could you NOT love a plant named Clarence?) have invaded the Montauk Daisy. It will take some surgery to separate them. I haven't had the heart this year.

These are my Tricyrtis (Toad Lilies). I have a few varieties, two plants have been doing well, and I don't remember what varieties they are. They like the moist shade among the hostas under the flowering cherry, and I look forward to their fall blooms. Aren't they interesting? Definitely different than mums!
There are even a few blooms still coming on my blue Endless Summer hydrangea and the white Annabelle hydrangeas I planted this year along the barn. I'm not ready for a frost yet. Are you?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Our Friendly Neighborhood Raptors

One day this summer I heard a slightly different sound from the chicken coop -- not necessarily an alarm sound, nor very loud, just different. I looked out the window to see this sitting on the gate:

I think it is a sharp-shinned hawk. Anyone have a definitive id?

Half the flock was cowering in the coop, half was in the fenced-in area cowering. These chickens aren't very smart, though. As soon as I came out the door, they all came running toward the fence, nearer to the gate WHERE THE HAWK WAS SITTING, happily clucking in anticipation of the treat they were expecting from me. Arrgh!! I waved and flapped my arms and yelled for the hawk to go away, which it did in it's own sweet time.

The other day I came down the stairs, looked out the window next to the front door, and saw this:

What, is he expecting a picnic? He flew away as soon as the flash on my camera went off. I didn't mean for the flash to fire, it was a cloudy day. Oops.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Coop Round Up

All winter we had the coop right out the back door in the yard. It was in a great spot to watch the goings on while standing at the kitchen sink. And it was a quick walk to get eggs, close it up at night and open it in the morning.

Plus, in January, it was right next to the ice skating rink. (Reason #623 why we don't have a manicured lawn.)

But we don't have a big yard, and the coop's position really ate up a good chunk of it. So this spring we moved it across the yard on the hill that marks the end of the yard and the beginning of the woods. There is a flat area that was an overgrown garden when we moved here and John used as a place for a metal storage shed, which he moved further up the hill and in the woods.

The chickens have more room to roam, have some shade from the trees, and have a great time scratching around in the hay we threw down. This photo is taken from our upstairs bathroom window, and it is one of life's simple pleasures to watch your chickens as you brush your teeth in the morning.

However, our original plan of having the coop like a "chicken tractor" that gets moved around the lawn hasn't panned out. It is cumbersome to move, the enclosed coop area isn't really big enough to keep six chickens happy, and they trash the lawn in about a day and a half. It takes much longer than that for the grass to come back. So the coop is parked.

But since the coop is on a hill, we had a problem with escapees. It took us a while to figure it out, but 3 chickens (are the others afraid of heights? Not as smart? Who knows!) consistently fluttered from the top of the retaining wall behind the coop to the roof, then walked down the roof and flew over the fence. Probably as close to soaring as a chicken will ever get.

We didn't mind it so much in the beginning, but chickens scratch indescriminately, and never throw the dirt where you would like it to go. If there is a sidewalk nearby, they will ALWAYS scratch dirt and mulch onto the sidewalk.

So after several attempts at baffles (see the orange tape in the photo above) to keep the chickens off the roof of the coop, we finally resorted to clipping the wing feathers of any escapees found in the grass. It seemed to work, and now that their feathers have grown back, they seem to have forgotten that it is possible to fly out. Good thing.