27 June 2011

We are Back!

Hi! We are back from our trip to Costa Rica and I am crazy busy working in the gardens. I am prepping some posts so there will be new blog posts pretty soon. I hope that you are enjoying time outside and making the most out of the warm weather. See you soon!

11 May 2011

A Trip to Costa Rica

Well, it looks like I am going to Costa Rica for a few weeks! My husband and I will be staying with friends. We will be staying in the area where we lived in 2009-2010. I am very much looking forward to seeing our friends and spending time on the mountain!  I will have little access to a computer so it will probably be the end of May before I post again. I hope that you each have a lovely month and that you are well and happy! See you later! Pura Vida!!

20 April 2011

Much Adieu About Mangos

When we lived on the farm in the mountains of Costa Rica, one of the many kind of fruit that grew on the farm was mango. To be more specific there were Mangas and Mangos...The mango is the male tree, the manga is the female. The mango tree produces quantities of small greenish yellow fruits that turn yellow orange when ripe. The manga is a much larger fruit full bodied and heavy. It starts out deep green and takes on a red blush as it matures. When completely ripe, the manga is mostly orangish yellow with spots of green and a beautiful red blush on one end. The trees are less prolific than the mango, but the fruit makes up for it in looks and taste!
On the farm there was a long lane that went from the farm house to the mountain top where we had our cabina, gardens and livestock. The lane was lined on the left with a small grove of manga trees and then at the mid point there was a dark deeply shaded area where the mature mango trees stood and cast their shade for some distance. During mango season the large mango trees would be filled with parrots of all sizes. When they made their circuit through the farm, the nomadic Howler monkeys would join them in the trees to feast on the small mangoes high up in the trees. The lane was the only passageway from the cabina to the farmhouse unless you wanted to try wading through the rain forest, but it was a messy, noisy passage if you happened to need to go under the mango trees while the parrots were eating their dinner! Pieces of mango, pits and poop, would rain from the trees. The cacophony of squawking parrots and howling monkeys could be heard all over the farm. It was something to behold!
Fortunately for us there were plenty of mangoes to go around and for some reason, neither the parrots nor the monkeys bothered the mangas.
Recently, I went to the local Harris Teeter grocery store. It tends to be on the high end as far as prices go but has great sales. I shop there for the sales, so this past week I went in for the store flyer so that I could plan my weeks "sale" shopping list. I saw large crates of mangoes stacked close to the door with the prices posted at 49 cents each. Normally the best price on mangoes is about $1 each so to get them for half that was a real deal! So I bought 20 of them and went happily home to work them up.
Not all of the mangoes were ripe enough to eat so they were set out in a bowl to decorate my counter with their multicolored loveliness until they were ready. I selected the ripe ones and put half of them out for eating, the rest I cut up and froze for future use.
I have discovered that the best way for me to get the fruit out of the skin is to stand it on its end and make a long slice close to the seed. Then I put the slice in my hand, mango skin to my palm and score a checker pattern through the fruit, without cutting through the skin underneath. Then I push the slice inside out and scrape the scored mango off the skin into a bowl. I repeat with the other side of the mango. This leaves a seed with some pulp on it and a small ring of skin and flesh around the outside of the seed. I take the small ring of skin off, squeeze the pulp off the skin into a separate freezer container and then strip the remaining pulp off the seed into the container as well. I then put the freezer container in the refrigerator's freezer and use it to add to smoothies. Since I stripped all the pulp from the seed and the skin there is very little wasted fruit. The seed and skin go in the compost bucket and the yummy mango pieces are eaten in a variety of ways. The simplest way is straight out of the bowl, (spoon optional...), but there are many other delicious ways to enjoy them.
This time I am preparing most of the mangoes for use as part of breakfast smoothies. I prepare them as I discussed previously only I place them on a freezer paper covered cookie sheet (glossy side up), with the juice and pulp I squeezed off the seed. Then I place the cookie sheet in the deep freeze for a couple of hours so that when I put them in the freezer bags they don't freeze into a solid mass that is difficult to work with at smoothie time. The individually frozen pieces can be taken out of the bag a handful at a time to be added to the blender with other frozen fruit. Add juice to make a frosty, thick, natural delight, that is great for breakfast starters or between meal snacks.
When the kids were small I used to take the same ingredients blend them up and pour the contents in the little popsicle forms, add a popsicle stick to each cup and freeze solid. With all fruit, no sugar, no artificial flavors or coloring, there was no reason the kids (and their friends...),couldn't help themselves to them whenever they wanted one, no permission needed.
For my birthday this past year my husband bought me an Excalibur dehydrator. I love it and use it all the time. Making fruit leathers is one of the really easy, tasty things that can be done with a dehydrator. So since the mangoes are plentiful right now I will be making some fruit leathers with mango. To make fruit leather you need a blender, a dehydrator and some silica sheets, (Excalibur sell a silica sheet that fits the trays in the dehydrator, other dehydrators have solid trays that serve the same purpose). Blend the fruit in the blender until smooth, then pour the blended fruit onto the sheet and spread out starting in the center and work to the edges. Try to distribute the mixture evenly so that the fruit leather dries uniformly. You can use a single fruit or a blend of different ones. Other things can be added, such as natural flavorings, spices, nuts or coconut. Just sprinkle on top of the fruit pulp after it is spread out on the sheet. Set the dehydrator on the temperature setting recommended by the dehydrator you are using and set the time for the minimum recommended. Keep a check on the progress as the leather starts to get tacky, so that you don't have crispy leathers. The finished product should be pliable but not sticky and should peel off the sheet in one piece. Be sure there are no wet places around the nuts or coconut if added. Once the correct consistency is achieved the fruit leather can be rolled into rolls lengthwise and then cut into desired lengths. I cut out pieces of plastic wax paper longer and wider than the fruit leather, lay the leather on the wax paper and then roll it up. Once in a roll I cut it to desired length and then wrap in plastic wrap. The wax paper keeps the fruit from sticking together and makes unrolling the leather to eat it easier, the plastic keeps it from drying out or sticking to other rolls. If you want to have rolls of fruit leather you can bite pieces off of, just skip the wax paper, roll the leather up in a tight roll and then wrap in plastic.
In Costa Rica, where they are as common as apples are in the USA, there are a great number of recipes for using mangoes in all stages of ripening. Green mangoes are used like apples to make pies, are seasoned with spices and cooked into chutneys, marinated in spices and vinegar to make pickles and more. Mango sorbet is also a healthful, delicious dessert, with no cooking and no sugar involved.
  Chose mangoes for fresh eating by gently squeezing them between your thumb and forefinger. If it feels hard to the touch, it is days away from ready. If there is a lot of give when you squeeze then it is probably past its prime but would be great for sorbet, mango bread, or smoothies. For eating as soon as you get it home from the store, the mango should give some when squeezed but not feel mushy, and have an overall orangey gold tone to the skin with a deeper red blush on one end. There will be a soft sweet mango aroma that is the final indication of a perfectly ripe mango. However you eat them, with a spoon in a bowl or peeled like a banana and eaten over the railing of the front porch, enjoy them and imagine the balmy breezes and pure rain that washes them as they are growing, maybe even add the sounds of parrots squawking and monkeys howling and you will have the worlds cheapest tropical vacation. Enjoy and don't forget the napkins!

10 April 2011

Springtime at Heart's Ease Cottage

Springtime at Heart's Ease Cottage means thousands of azalea blooms, spring veggies in the garden, fruit blossoms, bluebirds, and the emergence of the bull frog from the front garden "frog pond". Here is a photographic Springtime stroll through the cottage gardens.
Violas and Lemon Thyme
Granny Smith Apple Blossoms

Espalier Apple Tree
Blueberry Blossoms
Russian Red Mustard

This is our resident Bullfrog. He has lived in this little pond for many years.

I hope you enjoyed the walk and that you'll check back another day and see what we're up to! Until then, Shalom!

06 April 2011

It Is Spring After All

Misty morning at a nearby pasture.
  I have many things that I want to write about, the last part of my pantry keeping post, tips on how to get the most out of your grocery money, but today I just want to talk about how beautiful it is outside. This morning it was frosty and cold,  a mist rose from the grass when the sun hit it and the birds sprang to song as the morning light hit the trees. As I stood outside with the dog, he sniffed at the air, seemingly as distracted by the the awakening world as I was. It was going to be a lovely day.

  Today is Wednesday, so I have the house to myself. My son is at work, and my husband works in the office on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Since I was on my own a took the opportunity to do some things I don't often get to when others are home. I worked on my blog, prepared letters for mailing, and walked around the yard with my camera to catch the garden in it's p.j.'s. The tender leafed veggies always look their crispy best before the sun is warm and strong, so I strolled out and caught the pale early morning sunlight as it streamed through the espaliered fruit trees and struck the tips of the Russian red mustard.
I then made my way around the garden taking pictures of the progress of the  veggies we planted in the fall. Normally, we plant in August/ September for a November/ December harvest and let some of the beds rest the last of the deep cold is gone, the remaining beds will be tucked in with hoop houses and planted with veggies that don't mind some cold. This year, winter arrived early and we never got a fall harvest. The temps. stayed cold enough that the vegetables all decided to hunker down for the winter and waited for the warmer weather of early Spring to arrive before putting on growth. Now we have cabbages heading up, red mustard furling their large deeply crinkled leaves, and fava beans putting on masses of purple and white blossoms. The garlic is looking good with thick sturdy stems and the red and green romaine is ready to go to the salad bowl.
Jersey Wakefield Cabbages begin to head up.
Fava bean flowers

  Once the sun was up and the chill burned out of the air, I stood barefoot at the potting table and planted seeds for some of our warm weather vegetables. The cat came to see what she could help with and had to be dismissed when she almost pushed a watering can full diluted fish emulsion off the deck rail. She went off in a huff to sulk under the rose arbor, her tail twitching to show her displeasure. Today I started yellow pear tomatoes, artichokes, spinach and bell peppers. I fed the flats of Neon and Bright Lights swiss chard, and Detroit Beets. They are ready to go in the ground when I get a few minutes to pop them in. The breeze is blowing and the air is just cool enough to be refreshing. It reminds me of mornings on our mountain in Costa Rica.
   Several projects will demand my attention tomorrow, but for today I am going to enjoy a day without rain and play outside. Tomorrow it is back to work, it is spring after all and there is much to be done!

16 March 2011

Be Prepared

One of the ways that we have learned to "sway" when the economic winds blow,is to be prepared for hard times by putting up and putting by when times are good so that life goes on fairly normally even if our finances or life situations are in flux.
  My husband was a Boy Scout scoutmaster for many years, so the motto"Be Prepared" was frequently heard around our house. My maternal grandmother was also fond of the motto and her daily life was an expression of its practical application.The thin years of the depression and the challenges of raising four kids on a coal miner's salary taught her the prudence of preparation.
 From time to time throughout my childhood, my brother and I ended up living at my grandparent's house. At my grandmother's knee I learned that preparation was the secret to sustainable living. Much of daily life was spent trying to assure that there would be food on the table, not only for today, but for the future. There was a large garden that supplied a steady stream of fresh vegetables for the table and to fill rows of jars in the root cellar for the winter. My father and both my uncles hunted deer and game, which was canned in the pressure canner or smoked and dried. My grandmother's efforts to make sure there was food in the larder was a big help in keeping the family on even ground, no matter what their economic situation might be.
  Once I had a place where I could grow our food, I followed my grandmother's example. I gardened and made most of our food from scratch, I learned to can and made jellies and preserves from seasonal fruit. As time went by we had more growing space and I had more kitchen experience,  so I started to put up produce from the garden. But it wasn't until the 90's that I started seeing that some canned goods and frozen produce from the garden weren't enough, I needed to plan farther ahead.
  I read on the internet about the Mormon's practice of having a years supply of food on hand and started thinking about how we might be able to do something similar. The logistics of such an endeavor required serious consideration. In order to have a years worth of food on hand I would need to have storage space that I didn't have at the time, I would need to do some research on how to store the food so that it wouldn't be lost to bugs, moisture or rancidity. There was much to think about and careful planning would be necessary to see our goals met.
  I started out by just keeping track of what we purchased most at the grocery store. I kept all my grocery receipts together and then spent some quiet time with the receipts and a notebook, making lists of things that were consistantly purchased. Then to this I added what staples I knew that I regularly keep on hand; things like flour, salt, honey, sugar, oils, rice, coffee, and the like. With this step well documented I moved on to charting how often I used these items.
   I kept a composition notebook and pen in a drawer in the kitchen so that I could make note of the things I used as I used them. For example: Monday I made challah french toast for breakfast, I used eggs, milk, bread, nutmeg, cinnamon, mexican vanilla, Loran hazelnut syrup and spray on vegetable oil to make the french toast. At the table to dress the french toast, there was honey, maple syrup, peanut butter, and some home made jelly, plus coffee, tea and juice to drink. Each of the ingredients, the condiments and drinks were marked in my notebook. This went for each meal and snack for a week. During this time, if I used something up and had to replace it I made note of it. At the end of the week some patterns were beginning to emerge, but I still had a way to go before I could have a clear idea of what things I would store in my pantry.
  While I was gathering information I also started looking for places that I could store extra food supplies. Our house is by design compact, so most of our storage space is already in service. There were a couple of places where I could put items that weren't needed to be immediately available, but not enough room for what I was intending. We don't have a garage and there is no basement, just a small crawl space. The attic is out of the question since it is way too hot up there for food storage, so some creative thought would be necessary.
  I decided at that point the year of food idea needed to be taken on in increments. I would start with three months of staples and common daily use items and work from there. I should be able to store most of three months of food supply within the storage areas I had in the house. So I began Phase #1: Staples and basic daily use items for 3 months. I calculated how much of these staple and daily use items we would use in 3 months, example: spaghetti noodles would be used in some capacity probably twice a month so for a three month supply I would need 6 lbs. of organic pasta. *[ As a side note Traders Joes has the best organic semolina pasta I have found and it is cheaper than I can get it from my wholesale or Co-op sources.] When I went to the store with my list, I purchased what I needed for meals this payday and then if the item was *starred* as a 3 month supply item I would buy one for immediate use and one for stockpiling, (unless it was on sale then I might get two!). I really didn't end up spending more than my food budget even with the extra purchases, I just planned simplier meals that use less expensive ingredients or cut out the meat in a meal or two and it made up the difference, (at this point anyway...).
  Before long I was storing my extra staples in snap top storage containers under my bed. I keep a kitchen ledger as a record of my menu plans, shopping lists, and recipes I make up along the way, so I just started at the back and worked forward to keep track of what we had in our storage and where I put it. Before long under my bed was full so I moved on to my son's bed and then I cleaned out one of our homeschool cabinets that just had "stuff" in it...egg cartons and paper towel tubes we were going to use for projects, misc. art supplies that we really didn't use, last years unfinished school projects (what? you actaully finish all your school projects!? Please do tell how you manage!), and we expanded to that cabinet. In no time we had a stock pile of our family's basics: pasta, rice, honey, sugar, salt, flour, vanilla, yeast, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, bouillon, tea, coffee, these were just the foundational things that we always need to have on hand.
  Once I was satisfied that we had the basics under control I moved on to Phase Two, filling in the blanks with storable vegetables and proteins, seasonings and condiments that would finish out meals. This took a little more planning financially, so we started looking for areas of our budget where we could cut out some fat. We have lived pretty lean over the years so there wasn't much fat, especially when the kids were going through groceries and clothes like wild fire, but we found some extra that everyone agreed to give up in the entertainment budget. We played games instead of renting movies, packed lunches when we were out running errands so that if we got hungry we didn't spend on expensive fast food, cut out our "I'm too tired to cook" unplanned restaurant visits and cut down on the planned meals out. We also made granola instead of eating boxed cereal, consolidated trips out to save on gas...of course we did most of these things already to some degree, but during our stocking time we were just more diligent. That got us our three month stock of protein, veggies and fill-ins.
  At this point, we had been focused on building our pantry for 3-4 months. The kids were tired of staying home so much and I really needed to be able to say "I'm too tired to cook" on occasion, so we gave ourselves a break and added some fat back into the budget. It was very satisfying to all of us to see our food supplies grow and know that if things got tough, for at least three months we could live off of our pantry stock. Now the problem was just to keep our 3 month stock maintained and then plan for the next step. 
  I am going in to more detail than may seem necessary at the moment, but there is much to consider when taking on this project, so I figure more detail may be helpful to some. But for now I will end with the admonishment that on practically any budget you can put aside some food for a rainy day, it may take awhile but it gives such peace to see the fruits of your labor! The next time I write on this subject I will talk about the long game and what it takes to go from a three month supply of food to 6 then 12 and give you some tips and trick on making your grocery dollars go further.

09 March 2011

  Well, it looks like me getting away isn't going to happen right now. I could go and leave my family to handle all the things that we have going on right now, but I don't think that would be fair. We have been working hard to restore order to the gardens and to make repairs and improvements to our house, after our year in Costa Rica and there is still much to be done. Too much for me to feel peaceful about time away. Sigh.
  The weather is warming up and soon I will be able to spend lots of time outside in the sunshine with my hands in the soil. Gardening has alway been very healing to me so I hope that before long I am feeling like myself again.
  So, for now at least I am not taking time away. I'll do my traveling in my thoughts and dreams and take the opportunity to make some progress where I am. Thank you all for your thoughts and prayers, I have felt them.

28 February 2011

A Sabbatical

Dear friends,
  I can't tell you how much I enjoy writing my blogs, it is a priviledge to know that there are poeple out there who read what I write and that we are participating in each other's lives through letters, mailart and blog entries. I hope that what I am going to say next doesn't cause you to stop checking in on me, you all mean alot to me and getting to know you has been a great joy.
  The last two years have been really hard for my family, my husbands brain issues, a major move from the USA to Costa Rica and then back a year later due to health needs, reverse culture shock (trying to acclimate back to US living hasn't been easy), the death of my dad, and recently another life changing event... I can't seem to get on my feet real well before the next wave comes and knocks me down... I need to find my balance. I am thinking that I may just take some time away, go for a nice long visit to Costa Rica or to visit my long time friend Ketzy in Israel. My dear husband and son have given me their blessing and have assured me that they can hold down the fort while I am gone. Things are still up in the air, I don't really know what I will do, but I am going to put my focus on healing and regaining my sanity. I may be able to write in my blogs and I may not, it really depends on where I am and whether or not I have connectivity. But for now I am going to say that for the next little while I will be incommunicado via the internet. I can take pen and paper where ever I go so I will continue to write to my pen friends, the letters may come in plain envelopes instead of mailart, but I will continue to write.
  I hope that my sabbatical won't interupt my blogging for long, but if it does, please know that I am thinking about you all and that you are in my prayers. And if by chance you are the praying sort... put in a good word or two for me if you think about it! Hugs to you all and I'll be seeing you in the mail!

P.S. I will leave an update when I know exactly what I'm going to do.

09 February 2011

Keep it Simple

  For  30 of our 33 years together, my husband and I lived on one income. We were both in the Air Force, serving in the Philippines, when a trip to the doctor revealed that I didn't have the flu, but that I was pregnant.When we discovered that there was a baby coming, we decided that I would get out of the Air Force and stay at home with him. I remained on active duty until I was 8 1/2 months pregnant. During this time we practiced being on one income by putting all of my paycheck in savings and living on my husbands pay. Since we had military benefits that took care of medical bills and housing and groceries were cheap, the transition wasn't very hard.
 We did have to cut back on our travels, entertainment, and photographic equipment acquisitions but it wasn't a hardship.  We took advantage of the good weather and more comfortable night time temps. and walked a good deal in the evenings after work. We packed lunch rather than eat at the NCO club and spent time with friends at our house rather than going out. We hardly noticed that we were "cutting back". By the time our first son arrived, we had trimmed the fat out of our budget and had a nice sum saved for later.
  My husband also spent his off duty time finishing his degree through the military program that paid 90% of his tuition as long as he was on active duty while he was going to school. Once he had his degree we decided that he would not re-enlist in the military, but that upon completion of his enlistment, we would return to the States and look for work in the civilian sector. We lived on our savings until he found work, so it was a good thing that we thought ahead and put the money in the bank while I was still in the military.
  The next couple of years were much harder financially. We had gotten spoiled to the military life, the paid medical benefits, commissary,  the on base restaurants and theater that were much cheaper to got to than the civilian counterparts, uniforms that were supplied instead of having to buy a work wardrobe...the list went on and on. We literally had ten dollars per payday to spare when all the bills were paid. Ten dollars doesn't go very far towards the unexpected car repair or other unforeseeable event, so we had to watch carefully where we left ourselves exposed to the "unforeseen".  We used the bus instead of driving to avoid gas and car maintenance expenses, ate home cooked meals and wore more clothing rather than turning up the heat. I hand washed dishes and used the dishwasher as a drain board/storage area for clean dishes. We went to bed early,  and slept under goose down comforters so we could turn the heat off at night to reduce power consumption even further, this had the added side benefit of a healthier, hardier constitution, we were rarely sick. We didn't own a T.V. or stereo, so in the evenings we would all snuggle down under the comforter and read aloud for hours or work on a puzzle or hand made projects. We kept our daily life simple and found lots of  inexpensive ways of enjoying our free time. Life was sweet and we were happy.
  Over the years we have kind of made an art of living on a shoe string. Much of what we practiced during thin financial times we continued to apply even when we had more income. We came to understand that we were happier when we kept our lives grounded by our frugal practices. I am not attempting to say that we didn't struggle sometimes with our limits, or that things didn't happen that tipped the balance of our lives to the negative, but for the most part we were living well and contentedly within the boundaries of one income.
  In the present day, economically depressed time we live in, there is reason to consider how to simplify life and pare down expenses. Many households today are having to live on one income due loss of work, job shortages, or are struggling under the burden of debt, and the high cost of living. Learning to simplify life and to become more circumspect in spending practices, can help to reduce stress and bring more peace and contentment to daily life. If you are interested in learning more about how to live on less and still have a quality life, check out the side bar on the right side of the blog and click on the page titled Keep It Simple. It is a static page of  thoughts, ideas and tips for frugal living. I will be adding to it as I go along, so I will give you a heads up in the blog postings when I add new things to it. Next time... my thought will turn towards the old Boy Scout credo, "Be Prepared".

29 January 2011

Learning to Sway

  When we moved to Costa Rica in early 2009, the United States economy was in the throes of economic upheaval. The late 2008 stock market debacle and the subsequent bailouts were impacting on the middle class's investment portfolios and retirement security. The average person who put their trust in their corporate retirement plan and 401 K's were suddenly aware how vulnerable they were to the whims of the global economy.
  My husband retired in 2008 at the age of 51, with 30 years of service to local government. His annuity was coming from a fairly stable source, since it was state government that was writing the checks, so we weren't too worried. Then while we were living on the farm in the mountains of Costa Rica, we started hearing about state and local governments going bankrupt. The security of our retirement check became less certain. We weren't at all prepared for the possibility of losing our retirement check. Fortunately, we have to this point in January 2011, not had any issue with NC State government sending us our check, but it did cause us to look seriously at our contingency plans. 
  I am not going to talk about our income contingency plans here, but the whole idea of economic uncertainty does bring to mind some things that I would like to talk about. Our life choices have always revolved around sustainability and self reliance. We chose to live as close to nature as we could, to grow our food and gain knowledge and experience in as many aspects of homesteading as we could on our little piece of land. We lived frugally on one income, drove older "beater" cars, and had the long term goal of being debt free. When we moved to Costa Rica we added to our experience tool set by learning from the Ticos, how they manage to live good full lives on very little income.
  I was constantly amazed by "Ticonomics". Costa Rica has a large middle class, has an 85% literacy rate, and is one of the cleanest, "greenest" places I have had experience with. Of course, "middle class" and "literacy" are relative. A middle class Tico does not live like a middle class American, with two cars (or more), a house with a 30 year mortgage and disposable income to toss around on eating out and movies. Literacy doesn't mean you graduated high school, it means you can read, write and do functional math and have an 8th grade education. A middle class Tico has a small house of 600 to 1000 sq. ft. with no mortgage, no car for most families (in our area in the mountains anyway...), and has very little disposable income.
  The thing that is so amazing is that Ticos know how to sway with the economic winds. If the US economy is bad and tourism is down, there are fewer jobs available. When this happens, Ticos switch from a paying job to odd jobs and working the land to grow their food. When income is limited they cut back on things, use less electricity, stop using their cell phones (there are no 2 yr. phone plans in CR. you pay as you go), eat more basic foods and everyone pitches in to bring in what is needed to pay the bills. One of our friends has a family of 5 at home with the possibility of 4 other family members having to move in during hard times. The man of the house is a strong, hard working foreman for a construction crew. When he has work, he puts away for the thinner times when there is no construction work. When the job is over, while he waits for the next project to come up, he raises chickens for meat and sells them to "Gringos" and to businesses in town. He raises an amazing amount of food in very little space, has a calf tethered in the yard to cut the grass and grow out for meat, and milks an American's dairy cows for some cash and milk to bring home to his family. Their monthly income is often less than $300, but they are happy, busy, fed and have time to spend with friends and family.  
  I think the secret is that they are content to live simply. Meals are very simple, consisting of fresh fruits and vegetables in abundance, rice and black beans. Their homes are scrupulously clean and simply furnished. They expand their living space by building a deep veranda (covered porch) on their house where they spend most of their time. They go to bed shortly after dark and get up with the rooster. They can live on practically nothing. 
  The Tico is able to build a house with cash for the most part since they are not extensive structures and they keep utilities to a minimum. Living in the tropics where there is no need for central heat and good insulation means that the Tico doesn't have to have the same kind of investment in their house construction materials. A small house with one bathroom, tiny bedrooms and a kitchen is sufficient. The veranda is the living area where family and friends gather to chat, eat, and catch the evening breeze.
  The plaza is another extension of living space for social interaction. The plaza is the heart of the community, it is usually a soccer field that has benches and trees surrounding it. Everyone ends up there at one time or another, to talk about the day, catch up on news and let the kiddies run and play. There is always some kind of activity going on, an impromtu soccer match, teens walking in clusters laughing and whispering to each other, the elderly sit in their plastic chairs and watch the grandkids while parents have a few minutes of social time before bed. Life is lived as a village, not as isolated cells of immediate family as it is here in the States. Americans could benefit emotionally,  financially and socially from adopting a few of the basic tenants of Tico life. If we were less isolated, spent more time doing things outside, and were happy with simple pleasures, there would be less need to spend money and time going out.
  I really didn't mean to go on about Tico life, but I learned so much by having them as neighbors and friends, that it is hard not to wax philosophical about their way of life. What I really want to talk about is learning to sway, "Tico style", to the present economic winds. So in the next several blog posts I will be talking about what our family has learned about being economically flexible.

  Until next time, blessings and shalom to you all!

23 January 2011

Where We Are Now

Apple blossoms
   I am going to write one more establishing post to give some structure to my future posts, then I should be off and running. We spent 20 years working on our little spit of land, gardening organically, raising goats and chickens for milk, cheese, meat & eggs and building the garden's "bones". These "bones" included a fence around the perimeter of the vegetable garden made from espaliered fruit trees. Since we have very limited space, efficient use of growing space was important, so instead of having one or two large fruit trees, we have 10 laterally espaliered apple and pear trees that surround  and shelter our French Intensive raised vegetable beds.

Espaliered Granny Smith Apple

Shiro Plum

   Over the years we planted different soft fruits that would grow well in our soil as well as provide us with a succession of fresh fruit from late April through September. The last days of April brought us sweet juicy strawberries. We ate them fresh, made jam and froze them for use later, and when the strawberry production began to dwindle, it was about time for June blackberries as well as yellow and purple plums.

Blueberry Pie by the Fourth of July!

Then in July there were blueberries, red raspberries, and figs that would be available until mid August. Apples and pears would come a little later, but during the lull in our own fruit production, we would enjoy an abundance of fresh peaches that are grown in our area. We didn't plant our own peaches since they were available from local farmers and we just didn't have room for them in our garden. By the end of the season we have a larder loaded with jewel colored jars of preserves, jam and jellies and a freezer stocked with berries and peaches for smoothies during the off season.

  The vegetable garden has grown in scale and purpose over the years. When we were young and full of a novice's enthusiasm we planted a little of everything. As time went by and we learned more about what grew well in our area and what things we actually made use of, we refined our planting choices. At one point we had a tiny green house/potting shed at the back of the garden where we started our cool weather seedlings.  Since the potting shed wasn't heated we couldn't start warm weather crops in it, so we would start those under lights in the house. Later, we decided that the potting shed was sitting on prime real estate that could be used for more than starting seeds, so we just started all our seeds indoors under lights. We tore down the potting shed and used the space to extend the vegetable garden and to plant blueberries. Presently,
we have ten French Intensive raised beds three feet wide and twenty feet long. They are loamy and rich, and have very few perennial weeds.

Fresh produce from the garden

  We grow a large portion of our fresh vegetable supply during the summer. We eat, can, freeze and dehydrate the produce and when autumn rolls around, we pull up the spent plants, compost and manure the beds that we clear and plant them with fall crops. Often we still have fairly nice tomatoes until the days start to get short in late September, and our peppers will produce bountifully until mid November when a killing frost will claim what peppers we didn't get off the plants in time. The rest of the beds will have lettuce, greens, cabbage, root crops like beets and carrots, set onions and garlic, fava beans and chinese vegetables. If we have a mild winter we will harvest letttuce, greens and chinese vegetables all winter, and have an very early spring harvest of beets, carrots, cabbage and fava beans. The onions and garlic will come in later. If we start seeds for cool crops indoors in December we can squeeze in another round of cool weather crops before it gets too warm. Years like this year we will only get in two seasons, since we have had very cold weather and snow and ice that put the fall plantings in temporary holding pattern until the weather is a little more hospitable. They will perk back up in February and finish off strong for a March harvest. We will still have time to plant some things before we need the space for warm weather crops, but there will only be one round of cabbage and root crops.
Spring garden

  Much of our time this past summer was spent getting our gardens and trees back in shape after spending a year in Costa Rica. So this coming year will be a much better year in the garden. We tragically lost one of our mature standard plum trees while we were gone and I have to rip out my herb garden completely and start over since couching grass took it over in our absence. But for the most part we are back up to speed and ready to start the next cycle. I am looking forward to the coming year and all that will be going on in the gardens and around the homeplace. I also look forward to seeing you here and getting to know you. Leave me a comment or drop me an e-mail, I will be glad to make your acquaintance.  

20 January 2011

Getting Started

 There is so much to tell about our life on this little homestead, to get us to where we are today. I have struggled with how to go about doing that. We have homesteaded here for more than twenty years, much has gone into the developement of this place and much has happened to change the dynamics of what we are doing now.
  It is my desire to tell our story for several reasons, the one being that we carved out a functional homestead on an one acre of unyielding clay, how we did it might help someone else who dreams of  a homestead. We have produced much of our food, kept livestock, homeschooled children, and developed an asthetically pleasing, healthy environment for our family and other living creatures to enjoy. Many of the stories I want to tell you are in the past. When we were developing our place, growing food and raising kids, there wasn't much time for writing. I was lucky to keep a garden journal...
  Now things have become established, and the kids have grown up. We still garden and put up our food, I am diligent to keep our pantry stocked with goodness, so that whatever life throws at us, there will be something for us to eat. We still have one son living at home, and he works with us to keep things going, but the days of biology being conducted in the garden and projects with his education in mind are in the past. Now he is spending his daylight hours in an apprenticeship, learning a trade and preparing for his future. But what we did here worked. I believe that sharing what we did to create our "homestead", could be of use to those who have dreamed of doing the same but felt like it couldn't be done with whatever resources they have. I believe we also can share what we've done with those who are in the process of establishing their own homestead or who  like us, have been doing this awhile. I would like to make some new friends among those intrepid souls that have shared the dream of sustainable living, in the hopes that I will continuing to grow, learn and experience. I want to talk about our homestead, past, present and future and I want to encourage and inspire others to try their hand at a "simpler" life.
  Please drop in and make yourself at home...I love company!
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...