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Most of the time, when Thanksgiving rolls around, I remember my father’s yearly ‘what I’m thankful for’ speech, which used to be served up between the turkey and the mashed potatoes, as I recall. Every year, it was the same and certainly I never thought about it. My father was not a particularly emotional guy, nor was he prone to fits of psychological analysis. But looking back, what he said was the most important thing.

“We’re all here.”

Now, he didn’t mean ‘here’ in the physical sense, because there were parts of the fam who were hundreds if not thousands of miles away. What he meant was that we’d gotten through another year and we hadn’t lost anyone. No one had died or disappeared; we were all still in touch with one another, in some way, shape or form (and this was before Skype, for goodness sake).

What a blessing it is when you can roll that sentence around in your head – ‘we’re all here.’

In 2002, my dad died and in 2006, my mom died, after a horrible last year battling cardiac disease, dementia, a broken hip and a world spiraling vastly down and out of control. So, we weren’t ‘all here’ again for a while.

And then my two eldest got married and started families of their own. One of them is far, far away and we don’t get to physically see them very often, though Skype is a big part of our lives now. And the others are actually close by and we share them with the in-laws (the way all families must where married kids are concerned). But today, I thought about my dad and smiled because we’re now at that stage where I can say to myself, “things are good; we’re all here.”

For this one moment, everyone is safe. Everyone is in good shape healthwise. Everyone has a place to live and food to eat, jobs, heat in the house, a decent car, time to dream a bit and have a bit of fun. Perfection? Perhaps not but actually extremely good. Feeling lucky – touch wood.

Dad – we’re all good. We’re all here.

Hope you all had a lovely, love-filled Thanksgiving today.

Thoughts on Bunkbeds

cut pieces The DH and I took on a project this fall to built bunkbeds for the grandkiddos to use when they spend the night with us. The youngest is now out of a crib, so it was, we felt, a good time to rearrange things in the guest room (cough, deal with the fabric stash, cough), recapture some space and do something that the little ones would enjoy. So, I went to the internet and found a set of plans for modular bunks.

The big difference between these and other plans is this: Instead of building two twin beds that get hitched together at the headboard and footboard and if you take them apart, are still two twin beds, these plans make four giant ‘ladders’ which are then either screwed together or bolted together to make the bunks. Then you put in the mattress supports and the mattresses and voila. If you no longer want bunks, or you are only using them on a temporary basis, then you can unscrew the corners and store the four ‘ladders’ and so on. (more…)

End of the season?

novgarden2 And a good, good day to everyone, wherever you are. This has been a very busy week in the garden for the DH and your Aunty. Not for choice necessarily, but sometimes you have to get things done before the weather gets colder, or rainier or something else (yes, what is on that kale is SNOW – it was 27 degrees F this morning. I think we can safely say that winter is coming).

The big job that had to be taken care of was the arrival of the replacement fruit trees. Yes. Replacement. Not addition. Replacement, as in ‘Dear Sir, the fruit trees x.y.z etc. that I ordered from you did not grow. As a matter of fact, they died. Toes up. Kicked the bucket. Gone to meet their maker. Please send replacements. Respectfully…” It happens, and if you don’t know this first thing in the spring (which most people don’t because you are waiting, hopefully, that the damned things will leaf out and oh, joy!!

Only these ones did not. (more…)

We interrupt this blog for a civics message

0307-IraqElec3_full_600 If you live in the USA, this Tuesday, November 4th is Election Day. (If you don’t live in the USA, then your election system is totally different and you can go and make yourself a cup of tea or something perhaps stronger while I harangue everyone else)

Why am I bothering to get up on my soapbox at this point?

Well, if you have been following the news, there are states where legislatures, dominated by a certain political party, have decided to put into place rules for voting now that frankly are preventing people from voting. People who are US citizens, but who are young. People who are US citizens, but who are female. People who are citizens but who are elderly. People who are US citizens but whose skin is perhaps a different color or they are perhaps speaking a different language at home.

This is wrong. Thousands upon thousands of people in the United States have marched, fought, been incarcerated and died to get the right to vote, to have a voice, and to have their opinions heard and counted. It took women in the US for example, seventy years to get the right to vote (and frankly, it’s all tied up with the movement to outlaw selling of alcohol in this country, but I’m not going to go into that here).

And there are people in power in this country who frankly would much rather that you…just…don’t..bother to vote on Tuesday. They’d rather discourage you from voting.

Because if you don’t vote, then that is one less voice saying, “I don’t agree with you; I think you are wrong.”

voting lineSo, go and vote on Tuesday. Make the time to vote. If you’ve got little kids you care for at home, then frankly, take them to vote with you. Let them SEE the process. Let them SEE you vote. That is important, that they know that you voted. If you see neighbors or friends tomorrow, ask them, “You’re going to go vote, right? I’m going to vote. It’s important.” Because people sometimes need that little encouragement to take the time, on the way to work, or the store or whatever, to go and cast their votes. Local races are important – sometimes the most important ones because local and state races effect you more at the local level than national races do.

So, make the time to go and vote. A lot of people are going to vote this year because they are concerned that if they don’t vote, this might have been the last chance they ever got to vote. So, there might be long lines (a good reason to go first thing in the morning, BEFORE you have that cup of coffee, eh?) and you don’t want to get left out.

Vote as if your life and the lives of your neighbors and friends and your kids and their kids and your grandkids depended on it.

Because, in truth, it actually will.

Peace, people.
(images courtesy of The Christian Science Monitor, AP/Lynn Sladsky)

Do this now – get those cracks!

windowframe In the photo, what you are seeing is the light of day, streaming through the crack between one of the windows in the basement at Chez Siberia, and its frame. Then, underneath the frame itself, you see a line – that’s the seam between the frame and the concrete foundation.

As far as energy is concerned, I may as well just open the window this winter and let the let all the cold in. We will not discuss why we are, all of a sudden, paying some attention to the windows in our basement. Like everyone else, it’s ‘down there’ and we don’t think about them much. For anyone who has a furnace in the basement, however, it might be a really good idea to check (and it’s easy enough – just do what I did, go down to the basement during the day, keep the lights in the basement off and check around the edges of the windows – if you see light from outside, then you have a leak going on there.

So. What to do now? It’s October!!!

Well, first thing is that it’s not that cold yet – as a matter of fact, here in the eastern half of the US, next week, it’s going to be positively balmy. Any temperatures over 55 degrees F. and you are good to go to seal up those cracks with silicone caulk, spray foam (the cans with the little pipette tube at the end are great to get the foam EXACTLY where you want it, rope caulk and the like. ‘

The first question you need to ask yourself is this: Do we EVERY open these windows? EVER? OK, so if your basements floods every spring and you need to get fresh air inside to dry things out, you might need to open the windows, but a lot of people do NOT ever open their basement windows. They are merely there to provide some ambient light. If you open the windows (or only certain windows), then use rope caulk like this. You just split the roll into the little ropes and press them, a piece at a time, around the seam around the window frame. Then, in the spring if you need to open that window, you are good to go; just pull out the rope.

However, if you only need to open one or perhaps two windows in your basement, I’d advise a) using rope caulk on those and then sealing up the rest with caulk or spray foam. First, examine the windows themselves. Are there loose panes of glass and so on? Well, the best method is to take out the window and repair the caulking around the glass panes. That will require you to chip or scrape out the old caulking (and you may break a pane, which is…a pain), and then putting in NEW caulking. Or, you could take the lazy person’s route and get a couple of pieces of plexiglass sized to cover the window, screw those in and the window panes are sealed. Then shut the window firmly (you might need a shim or some other stuffing to get it to hold tightly in the frame) and seal around where the window meets the frame with spray foam or silicone caulk.

And what about that seam between the frame of the window and the foundation – Ditto. Seal that baby up with caulk or foam. Remember: even if you do everything upstairs from first floor to the roof to keep the warm air in and the cold air out, if you have not sealed up the seam between the foundation and the sill in the basement, you may as well just leave those windows open all winter long. Wastes a lot of energy AND it makes the floors on the first floor feel very cold.

Until next time…

Plants I can recommend: Chrysanthemum ‘Sheffield Pink’

chrysanth1 For years (shoot, for DECADES), your Aunty Toby has been trying to find a chrysanthemum which not only claimed to be hardy but also really WAS hardy and did not go ‘toes up’ after a tough winter.

A couple of years ago, I went to a local Cooperative Extension plant sale and frankly, because the price on the pot was ridiculously cheap, I picked up this thing that claimed it was a ‘hardy pink chrysanthemum.

Dang, if that was not the complete truth. Any chrysanthemum which can deal with a) my rather negligent style of gardening and b) our unbelieveably crazy winters (some winters it is very dry; some winters we get 100″ of snow; some winters it’s relatively warm – that is, no temperatures lower than about 5 degrees F – and then some winters where we get -20 degrees F a LOT), and still come back year after year and blossom gets the ‘Aunt Toby Siberian Seal of Approval’ for sure.

chrysanth3This is it. No question. It does seem to take a bit to get going in the spring and everything above the ground will be dead when the snow disappears. Just cut it back to about 1″ above the ground and it will take off. The flower buds start appearing mid- to late September (here at Chez Siberia, which is Zone 3), open up in early October and keep right on going until we get a massive killer frost. We have had several weeks of tremendous frosts down to 27 degrees F, but no big killer yet. The plants do spread a big but are not too crazy invasive. In full blossom, the plant will be about 18″-24″ high.

chrysanth2Another reason to recommend this plant is this: Because it blossoms so late – and can hold onto its blossoms through frosts, at this point, it’s the only thing in blossom here. All the wild plants in the fields surrounding us have been blasted by the frosts, so the bees have nothing to eat. Check out the photo at the top again – that plant is covered in bees. I counted at least three different sorts of bees on it today plus other winged insects. At this point in the year, if the weather has not closed down for the winter, the insects have nothing to eat, so this plant is a real boom to them.

I did a quick and dirty search on the internet on this and all sorts of nurseries carry this plant – this coming spring, please think seriously about adding it to your garden.

How to make an apple pie

pie11 Your dear old Aunty realizes that this might sound a bit silly, but there are people in the world who have never made an apple pie and who dearly would like the experience of making one. And at this time of the year (at least in cooler parts of the world), the availability of apples is pretty much at its height. (more…)

How to get the most out of taking workshops

tabledone It’s not a secret to anyone, I think, that I love taking workshops. Learning new stuff is something that I dearly love to do. But over the years, I’ve come to realize that there are really several different sorts of workshops and of course people have all different sorts of reasons why they are taking them. Here are a few important things to remember when researching workshops to learn something specific. My most recent workshop was in woodworking but I think these are worthwhile when you are looking for any sort of workshop.

1. Be honest with yourself. (more…)

Oh, save me! Save me!

tomatoscoverd2So, here we are, chugging into prime tomato ripening season (a little behind here at Chez Siberia, but the total numbers of tomatoes are excellent) and the National Weather Service is predicting temperatures in the 40s.

Which means that at our house, depending on the wind, if any, fog…if any and so forth, it could actually be in the low 40s or even (shudder) the 30s.

Not that I’m concerned about a frost or a freeze. Not yet (even though everyone out there in weather land is predicting a Polar Vortex(tm) to hit in the last half of September). But even in the low 40s, that would shock the tomatoes. Perish the thought that we should ever have stressed tomatoes at Chez Siberia.

What to do…oh, what to do?

Well, as we have discussed several times before here, there is this stuff called ‘row cover’ which I positively dote on in terms of plant protection. Most people think of using this in the early spring as a piece of insurance, but with the heavier types, you can add up to 5 degrees of frost protection to plants, so even at this time of the year, if things are looking a bit dicey, this is something you can use, especially if you use the method we did this year, which was to put up woven wire fencing, reinforced with fence posts (we used metal ones that we used to use in the pasture, but your mileage may vary depending on how permanent an infrastructure you want to get involved in), with the tomatoes planted close to the fencing and tied up to the fencing as the plants took off.

tomatoscoveredAs you can see, with this sort of arrangement, you can run the row cover on the long edge (it comes in various widths so frankly, as long as you don’t have a whole row of corn to protect or sunflowers, this will work) down the row, wrap it around one end and as long as your piece is long enough, you can take it down the other side of the fencing – in our case, we had tomato plants on both sides of the fencing. This is a huge improvement over trying to cover up tomato plants on stakes or cages. I’ve been debating with the DH over the benefits of growing the tomatoes like this and even he admits that there are no ‘cons’ in this arrangement other than what we’ll have to do at the end of the season in terms of cutting off the string, taking down the plants and ripping them up and moving the fencing and fence posts (we will be moving the entire affair down to the other end of the garden to the last bed before the rhubarb as a rotation.

tomatoscovered3So, we ran the row cover around both sides of the row of tomato plants. So far, so good. But you do want to seal it up, somehow. Check this out – laundry (pegs) clothespins over the row cover, folded over the fencing and neatening up the ends of the row cover so that not a speck of chilly air can hit those green tomatoes overnight Tomorrow morning, depending on the temperature, we’ll just unclip the pegs, pull off the row cover and let the tomatoes soak up as much sunlight and warmth as they can.

Why thank you; I knew you’d like the idea, too.
Bon appetit!!

Please note: I would not use plastic or old sheets to do this – we find plastic lays right on top of the plants and can stick with a frost, so we don’t use plastic. If you don’t have row cover – the best place to get it (and they ship super-fast) is Gardener Supply

OK, so you’ve got a garden – what are you going to do with it?

tomatopasta1OK, so here we are, at what, for us here at Chez Siberia, is well on the way to the prime production time out there in the garden. And frankly, even though we’ve been doing this for (ahem) 35 years, we, too get the shakes when we look out there (and our garden is not that big, truly, folks) and see all that stuff that has somehow been produced through seeds, sun, and water.

It’s humbling, truly. (more…)

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