The morrow was a bright September morn;
The earth was beautiful as if new-born;
There was that nameless splendor everywhere
That wild exhilaration in the air.

~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

After a break from this for quite a while, I’m going to post an Independence Days update as I used to do on my former blog, The Zahn Zone. Sharon over at Casaubon’s Book is the originator of these posts and she put one of her own up the other day, at this link here…I didn’t do much gardening this summer because I didn’t feel well (sometime I’ll write about my surgery for hyperparthyroidism, but not yet…all went well).  I’m feeling much better now, more energy and ability to get things done, so I am able to do more just in time for harvest.  Yay!

This summer George did most of the garden work in our own yard.  We still have the four 4×4′ square foot gardening-style beds in the front yard, and a larger garden in the back yard.  Things are growing well out there.  We have green beans coming, cabbage ripening until the first frost when it will taste better to harvest, potatoes waiting until we dig them up, and peppers and tomatoes slowly ripening.  It’s been a cold summer, and our yard is not the sunniest so we don’t do so well with tomatoes.  And that’s one reason we also participated in two community gardens this summer–one at our church, Bethlehem Lutheran, and another just a few blocks away at St. Cloud State University.

So here are the Independence Days categories and what we’ve been working on.  I have no idea what Independence Days week we’re in, but I know we’re into the second year of this.  Time to start keeping track again!…

Plant something:  Nothing new has been planted this week, but we should get some lettuce seeds in the ground.  It’s been such a cool summer the kale and greens have kept right on growing when we only cut off stalks and don’t pull them up by the roots, so we still have some cool-season crops coming without a new planting.

Harvest something:  George filled a 5-gallon bucket with tomatoes from our church’s garden last night.  We have put them in the freezer, washed and in zip-loc baggies until we can get to making sauce (which will be AFTER our house is on the home tour on Sept. 12).  We also harvest green beans, carrots, tomatoes and peppers, herbs and beets from our garden as needed for meals, and every day this summer my little Tristar strawberry patch has yielded enough berries for each of us to have a small bowlful.  I harvested several quarts of grapes from our own grape vine and so far have made a couple batches of jelly, but there’s more to be made.  Maybe today…Oh, and we’ve had basil, zucchini, a watermelon and cucumbers from the University garden lately.  I also picked eight little apples off a neighbor’s tree, with his permission (thanks John!), to share with the kids.  They are yummy!  And of course, we harvest eggs from our four hens every day.  (Thanks, ladies!)

Preserve something:  With the 6 packed cups of basil leaves we got from the Univ. garden, I made pesto with one cup of pine nuts that have been waiting in my freezer forever, some garlic and olive oil.  I froze this in 4 oz. mason jars, with a 1/2 inch of headspace and a thin layer of olive oil on top.  The headspace prevents too much expansion and therefore glass breakage, and the layer of olive oil is supposed to keep the basil from turning black in the freezer.  As I said, the tomatoes got washed and had bad spots cut off and were stuck in zip-loc bags and into the freezer until we have harvested all of them and have time to make and can big batches of sauce and salsa.  We got enough cucumbers from the church garden to make refrigerator pickles, which are going fast even though they can last in the fridge all winter!  Oh, and the grape jelly which is added now to the gooseberry and raspberry jams I’ve already made this year.  There are also some beet pickles on our shelves, which George and his mom made back in July when she visited and I was recovering from my surgery.

Waste not:  George got a new composter built from scrap pallets I picked up earlier this summer.  We have a black “city compost” unit-thingy, but we wanted a double bin system that the chickens could walk in and out of to scratch around, eat and poop and generally help keep the compost going.  So now we have that, right back by the chicken coop.  Does this mean we have “country compost” now?  Chickens and pallets…

Want not:  Well, I’ll tell you the truth, after the bills have been paid this week (which included Rose’s choir tuition) we have a total of $77 to buy gas and groceries with.  Yes, 77 dollars for the next two weeks!  This stinks, but we’ll make it.  In large part because of the stocked pantry I have amassed over the last couple of years.  And the mentality of stocking up on things when they’re on sale.  And the home and community gardens we participate in.  We have all the produce we need.  We have flour to make breads and scones and cookies and oats to make granola.  We have tortillas and bottles of grapeseed oil and lots of canned and dry beans from buying club bulk purchases made in months past.  The main things I’ve had to buy are following, and yes I broke down and shopped at Wal-Mart last night because I need just for now to stretch the dollar as far as possible…

butter–2 lbs. at $1.92 each
cheddar cheese (have mozzarella in the freezer luckily)–2 lbs. for $5.98
Saltines and graham crackers for snacks (I couldve gone w/out this, I know)–2 boxes Saltines for $1.12 each and 1 box grahams for $2.50
toilet paper–12 rolls for $6.24 (we could use cloth like Crunchy does, but we don’t!)

Those were the Wal-mart purchases.  I still need lunch meats, which I usually buy nitrate-free but that’s more expensive so this week I’m going to Target where I have Target coupons (printed online) for $1 off Hillshire Farms meats.  It’ll have to do, and the kids love this junk anyway…with school starting next week I need lunch meat.  I also need laundry detergent, and after finding the borax/washing soda/grated castille soap homemade solution made our clothes grimy after a while, I’m back to using store-bought stuff.  I’ll either go to our scratch and dent store and see what they have cheap, or K-Mart which has double coupons this week and I have a Tide coupon (I’ll get Tide free and clear because I can’t do perfumes).  I’m getting all the coupon and savings information lately from online sites Money Saving Mom and Frugal Girls!.  They are great, though in all honesty I try to buy local, organic stuff much of the time, and/or store brands, all of which don’t usually have coupons.  But when money’s tight, as it will continue to be for much of this winter as we pay down debt and save for both an emergency fund (to avoid any more debt) and a hoped-for trip to England next summer, I do make compromises to get my kids (and us) fed, so it’s store brands and coupon items when they’re the cheapest option.

I’m so glad we can depend on, number one, the garden and community garden produce and, number two, our freezer and pantry for when times are tight.  I’m sure others out there are in a similar boat at times and could really be helped by having these things set up.

Eat the Food:  Despite a lack of grocery money at present, boy do we eat well.  Summer squash sauteed in olive oil, steamed green beans just out of the garden served with only butter and salt and pepper, watermelon just off the vine, diced tomatoes and pesto in pasta, carrots just out of the garden, and the sweetest, juiciest, reddest strawberries picked daily from the front yard 4×4′ bed.  Milk from our local farm is just $3 a gallon when we make the drive out there, and from that I usually make 2 quarts of yogurt.  Eggs are “free”, of course, just for feeding the chickens two cups of food per day, which costs pennies.

Build Community Food Systems: I started a blog this summer for my city’s community gardens, The St. Cloud Community Gardens Network.  Next summer I will do a lot more with it, I promise!  George has done more of the garden work in the two gardens we help in, but I’ve done a little when I had the energy (and yes, I’m amazed how much more energy I have now, one month post-surgery!), and we plan to do more next year.  I attended some meetings of our network, and a local foods dinner in August.  I hope to help with a canning class in September.  We are so grateful for those who’ve started these gardens, and they’ve been a huge benefit to us already!  We’ve met some great people through them, as well.  Community gardens are about more than just the food.  We’ve shopped at farmer’s markets when we needed to, and we’re delighted that almost every day of the week now, there is a farmer’s market taking place somewhere in our small city or its surrounding towns.

If you want to read more of what others are doing for the (food) Independence Days challenge, head on over to Sharon’s post and read not only her post but also the comments section.

I won a blog giveaway!  I can’t believe it.  My prize arrived in the mail yesterday, the Blogging for Bliss book by Tara Frey.  I really enjoyed browsing this book at Barnes and Noble a couple of weeks ago, and so was overjoyed when April Cornell (the woman herself! isn’t that exciting? I’ve long admired her designs in women’s and girl’s clothing and housewares) emailed me to say I’d won the prize from her blog giveaway.

april cornell book prize 002

I’m so delighted to have Blogging for Bliss on my book shelf now.  It even came all wrapped up in this pretty bow.  Thank you, April Cornell!

We’re off to the Bluegrass Festival this weekend.  In fact, we’re already there.  Sort of.  This morning we went to set up camp, but then Elijah and I had to come back into town so he could go to Cartooning class from 1 to 4 this afternoon.  We’ll be doing the same thing again tomorrow afternoon, coming back into St. Cloud for his Paramount Arts Center class (we have the best arts in St. Cloud!).  But other than that, we’re relaxin’, jammin’, dancin’ and just plain enjoyin’ a weekend of Old-time and Bluegrass music.  Last year, I wrote about the Minnesota old-Time and bluegrass music festival here on The Zahn Zone.

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Before I leave, I thought I’d post a few photos of what we’ve been up to this summer, besides painting and working on the house that is.  I’ve been away from blogging too long, I know!

stopping to smell the roses

stopping to smell the roses

George and I celebrated our 14th anniversary in June.

in the White Garden

in the White Garden

We had our simplest celebration ever–our favorite pizza and a stroll through the gorgeous Clemens Garden in St. Cloud.  It was really nice.

practicing before the show, the man himself

practicing before the show, the man himself

The whole family sat in the hot sun all day to see Garrison Keillor and his Prairie Home Companion Radio Show live in Avon, Minnesota on the 4th of July.  It was pretty good fun.

Anne's Outdoor Market in St. Joe

Anne's Outdoor Market in St. Joe

I’ve sold vintage aprons and some other old stuff a few times at this flea market.

fuzzy...I mean, that's the photo, not the horse's name

fuzzy...I mean, that's the photo, not the horse's name

The kids learned to groom and ride horses at horse camp at Hillcrest Stable.

horses, WW09, etc 012We went to an SCA camping event in Boscobel, Wisconsin–Warriors and Warlords! (for Elijah’s sake…)

horses, WW09, etc 037My mother and father-in-law came for a few days, from Virginia.

they're a little crazy!

they're a little crazy!

They had stopped in Chicago on the way and got these glasses for the kids.

Rose, Grandpa, Grandma and Eli

Rose, Grandpa, Grandma and Eli

We visited the White Garden with them, too.  Everyone has to go to the Gardens in St. Cloud!

July 032And then we took them to Duluth, to wave at the boats with us.

adirondack 001Now that it’s August, I’m hoping to do a lot of the above…

Another Minnesota blogger, ArtsyMama, is hosting a blogging party today in honor of Tara Frey’s new book, Blogging For Bliss.  I found ArtsyMama, in fact, by reading through this great new book the other day at Barnes and Noble.  I’ve never been part of a blog party before this, but I decided to join in the fun today!  Since I’ve been so busy (who hasn’t, right?) and really neglecting my blog this summer, I thought I’d use the party as a way to “jump-start” a new chapter of blogging–one in which I’ll hopefully post more regularly again.  Life around our house is starting to calm down a bit so I have no excuses anymore!

bloggingforblissbutton

So let’s join the party in progress…Here’s what Kari over at ArtsyMama has to say about Tara’s book Blogging for Bliss:

“In the book, Tara brings together “creative bloggers” of all types- art blogs, quilting blogs, sewing blogs, vintage ephemera blogs, and more. She empowers the newbie to give it a try and dig deep where “you’ll find your voice, and learn how to connect with others around the world.” Tara also goes through the nuts and bolts of how to create a blog, how to make it beautiful, how to get traffic to your little corner of the blog-o-sphere, and even the ever-important etiquette. The book also features over 50 inspiring blogs in a “Meet the Blogger” section at the end of each chapter.”

blogging for bliss book cover

She’s also giving away a free copy of the book so be sure and stop over at her blog today (just click on the title, ArtsyMama), leave a comment, and maybe you will win it!  I really enjoyed browsing through it the other day at the bookstore and hope to buy it at some point soon.  As ArtsyMama stated, all kinds of creative bloggers are featured in the book and I got the most out of reading about them, their stories and reasons for blogging.

Besides finding Kari at ArtsyMama, which I was excited about because she lives kinda near me, it’s been fun to find new blogs like Tongue In Cheek, over at which an American in France, Corey Amara, is right now taking us on her motorcycle journey through the mountains of France, on to Prague–my favorite city in the whole world–and today she’s in Budapest.  What a treat to see her photos and hear the stories of her trip!

The blog world is fun, in general.  It’s addicting.  It’s enlightening.  Sometimes it can be comforting, or challenging, and it’s never dull.  I started blogging just as a personal journal, then opened it up to friends and family, and then over at my original blogs, The Zahn Zone and Herbalist Lisa Zahn, I found I was getting a lot of readers and had conflicting emotions about it.  Mostly, I was delighted that people were actually reading what I had to say.  I’ve made so many friends this way, and so many connections around the world.  I think about my readers all the time, and love to follow them on their blogs.  Some of them I worry about, or rejoice with, or am marveled by.

I love all the people I’ve met through blogging.  Yet at times having readers can feel overwhelming, too.  And sometimes I get embarrassed over revealing “too much” of myself.  On The Zahn Zone I sometimes got political, and/or afraid, and in hindsight I didn’t really feel good about that.  It’s out there, it’s okay, but I started Lisa Zahn Writes in order to get away from some of that.  My favorite blogs are ones that might challenge me, but more so they inspire me.  I’m not sure that Lisa Zahn Writes is or will be an inspirational or challenging place, but I wanted to start over and think harder before I “put pen to paper”–which seems like an old-fashioned euphimism now–and publish it for all the world to see.

Because if you do blog, the world can and will find you!  Especially if you “blog network”, reading and commenting on other blogs and linking back to yours.  It’s considered good manners–something Tara Frey talks about in Blogging For Bliss–to visit the blogs of those who visit you.  So that’s where this whole amazing network gets going, and it can be so much fun!

I blog for the fun of it, for the networking–generally with other women, moms, like me–and also for the practice of it.  I have discovered a love of taking pictures, trying to find the right angle and lighting and making something that others will look at and think is lovely.  (Because I love to look at the lovely photos on other blogs.)  I love the practice of writing each day, and thinking up things to share.  I love noticing my daily life more in order to blog about it.  I also like to put up recipes and ideas that worked out for me in case they help others.

Basically, I like to share with others what I have found interesting and inspiring myself.  I also, simply, blog to let far-away family and friends know what we’re up to.  We’ve had an interesting couple of years, expanding the garden and the pantry, acquiring hens to raise in our urban backyard, working on the house, homeschooling and sending one child back to school and you know, life is never dull when you have kids around and projects to do.

I also blog because I’m starting to write more as a freelancer and this is a place people can see how and what I write about.  It clarifies for me what I’m interested in writing about.  And it gets me writing most days.  That is good practice.

I’m not sure how many readers I have out there yet, since I’ve been away.  But for those who’ve stopped by as part of the party, welcome!  And for my long-time loyal readers, thanks!  It’s been part of my bliss, blogging.

homemade raspberry and gooseberry jams

homemade raspberry and gooseberry jams

Yesterday my dear husband made two types of jam–gooseberry and raspberry.  I tried both on my toast this morning (Ezekiel 7 Sprouted Grain bread–I’m finding my tummy doesn’t get so bloated when I eat sprouted wheat as opposed to white or whole wheat).  And both jams were oh, so yummy I don’t know which one I liked best!  I’ll have to keep taste testing I guess…

Here’s the easy-peasy recipe for Gooseberry Jam using Sure-Jell pectin:

5 and 1/2 cups prepared gooseberries (which is 2 and 1/2 quarts of picked fruit; remove stems and blossoms)
1 box of Sure-Jell pectin (I’ve stopped using the low sugar variety b/c it doesn’t preserve the jam as well and what’s a few more cups of sugar to a recipe anyway!)
1/2 teaspoon butter or margarine
7 cups sugar

our gooseberry bush--watch out, one is all you need for loads of fruit!

our gooseberry bush--watch out, one is all you need for loads of fruit!

From here, just follow the instructions for making a cooked jam on your Sure-Jell (or other commercial pectin) package.  George water-bath canned the jars for however long is required for jam–10 or 20 minutes I think.  I’m not at home to ask him!  But, it should all be in your instructions.

A few things I’ve learned about making jam in the last few years:

Low sugar jams don’t keep as long.  They will not look as good in color and their texture is more mushy.  This is especially true with strawberry jam, which gets really pale and mushy this way.  Since I’m only using a teaspoon or two of jam at a time and since sugar has only 10 calories per teaspoon, I figure it’s still a pretty low-calorie, low sugar food to have in my diet.  I’m not bothering with low sugar pectin and recipes anymore, even though to use more sugar than fruit as in some of these recipes seems a little outrageous!

It is not worth it to “save” a step and not water-bath can your jams.  Many old-timers have said not to bother with this step, that you can just pack hot jam into hot sterilized jars, put on a sterilized lid and ring and your jam will seal.  Well, in too many cases the lid does not get a good seal and then you’ll find moldy jam sitting in your pantry a few months down the road.  I get really depressed when all that work and all that yummy fresh local fruit turned into jam has to get thrown out!  Do yourself a favor and can your jam.  It’s really not hard, and it doesn’t need to be processed in the canner for a long time at all.

Jams make wonderful Christmas and hostess gifts, so you can never have too much!

Just a brief update–I had a parathyroid removal surgery for my (former) hyperparathyroidism at Mayo Clinic last week.  It all happened so quickly down in Rochester, Minnesota and then my husband’s parents came to visit from Virginia over the long weekend, and now I’m just trying to recover and get my brain to think straight…

I’m missing the blogging and the blog world and can’t wait to be back.  I hope someone’s still reading!

There are still two or three details to finish, but for the most part the kitchen is done.  I can finally share a few photos with you. 

kitchen 007

The above is my favorite shot.  Here’s a “before” picture–look how busy and dark it was!

kitchen wallpaper teardown 016

We actually can’t believe how much brighter the kitchen is right now.  I didn’t think this little room on the northwest corner of the house could even BE bright, but it is.  The paint makes such a difference.

kitchen 005

The framed print is an original by my daughter, Rose.  It’s a bike she drew last year (age 9) for an art class, and I have wanted to frame and hang it ever since.  I thought it fit the “french country” theme of the kitchen quite well.  I got the clock for $1.99 at Kohl’s.  The lower plate is “Wicker Dale” by Spode and was given to us by my Grandma as a wedding gift–14 years later I finally have it hanging!  The top plate is Royal China’s “Willow Ware”, and I’m always on the lookout for more of those.  The wall needs a little something more, don’t you think?  I’m working on it.

Here’s another “before”:

kitchen wallpaper teardown 019

…during the teardown.  Here’s an “after” shot of that same corner:

kitchen 002

This “total kitchen makeover” cost less than $200!  Here’s the breakdown:

3 gallons Behr paint (Ultra Pure White and a custom khaki color) and a brush: $84
1 can “hammered brown” spray paint: $7 (for door and drawer pulls)
tile and supplies: $50
clock: $1.99
frame and mat: $9
a bunch of white canisters from Goodwill: $15
the perfect oak table at Goodwill: $20 (priceless, really–it was exactly what I wanted, when I wanted it!)

Everything else I either had, or was given, or scrounged for free.  Of course, a lot of elbow grease went into this, too, but we don’t pay ourselves!

I wasn’t sure I’d like the dark handles on the white doors, but now I think it looks pretty good.  We really didn’t have the money to buy all new hardware, and because there’s a little plastic thing-y on the hinges, we couldn’t paint them at all.  So by spray painting the door and drawer pulls with the hammered brown Rustoleum paint, we have managed to match the hinges well enough and get rid of the hideous greenish brass 70s look that they’d sported before.

I’d really like new countertops (either maple butcher block or darker wood) and a new sink and faucet.  Money is too tight for now, however, so I’ll keep dreamin’.   

This week, we’ve started on our bedroom painting.  Wish us luck!  We’re exhausted already…

When the heat like a mist veil floats,
And poppies flame in the rye,
And the silver note in the streamlet’s throat
Has softened almost to a sigh.
It is July.

~Susan Hartley Swett (1860–1907)

Stopping by my neglected blog to say, this project is never.ending! 

kitchen painting 003

Will it be done on Monday?  Ummmm…….life intervenes.  But hopefully!

kitchen painting 004

We did take a day off on Wednesday, our 14th Anniversary.  I’ll share photos of that when I’m on my other computer!

We’re liking the colors, the brightness, the ceiling with no stain-y hole in it.  I’m getting excited.

(edited to add:  of course, now the old “neutral” countertops look horrible!  Doesn’t one thing always lead to another?  Probably not this year, though.  Maybe I’ll paint them.)

The kitchen painting, tiling and ceiling repair was dealt a major setback last week when George got the flu.  He did a little work each day, but progressively felt worse as the week went on.  Finally, he took a few days to rest and repair his health–after much advice to do so!

So today, he was ready to sand the ceiling patch and the cabinets.  He is a perfectionist even when it comes to taping off the cabinets with newspaper.  We’ll see how much that helped keep the dust out when we take the paper off later…

carefully taping off cabinets with newspaper

carefully taping off cabinets with newspaper

Tonight and tomorrow, we grout the tile and prime everything.  And then we paint!  Here’s George looking extremely dusty, after 5 or 6 hours of sanding.

what a mess!  (yeah, the room too)

what a mess! (yeah, the room too)

He does clean up pretty nicely!  Stay tuned for the final results–by next Monday for sure.

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