Wood Floor Inlay & Garden Planning

While the rest of the country is running straight to summer, our little corner of the PNW is having a much colder winter than usual. Cold and wet to be more specific. Even this morning I saw snowflakes as I was waiting for the bus. I want to get out in the garden but it is just not quite the season here yet.

This weekend Matt finished laying the wood floor inlay around the fireplace and built ins…such an accomplishment and it looks A-MAY-ZING! We can now move on to the next area of the house, and will come back for final painting of the mantle and trim when it is warm enough to open windows. And for good measure, a cute photo of me and the baby bump checking on daddy’s progress.

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I spent my weekend dreaming of the garden and working on a crop rotation plan. We are starting to hone in on the crops we like to grow that we actually use…which is not always obvious when you start. Spinach for example? We did not reach for it. Bush beans were prolific but we preferred the climbing romano beans so bush beans are out. Matt does not like beets. All the learning that goes into a maturing garden! This year we are focusing more on sweet corn, tomatoes, squash, kale and beans. Those are our staples and I want to optimize our soil and production with lessons from crop rotation.

I am still refining this model in Excel, but here is the basic idea that I am working from. First box is last year’s garden, with the second box one option for this year. For some scale, our garden is 45×60 feet and has been divided roughly into quadrants.

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Native Hedging: Pacific Wax Myrtle

Last summer our neighbors to the south underwent a massive yard overhaul. Unfortunately, it resulted in us loosing a lot of our privacy…grrr.

Since then, Matt and I have considered fencing, shrubs, evergreens and every other kind of hedge/barrier/privacy screen possible.

After calling some nurserys and doing some online digging we found the ideal plant for us: pacific wax myrtle. This native plant is deer resistant, hardy, evergreen, and grows FAST…exactly what we wanted! However, it is hard to find. We called nursery after nursery, looked online, everything was not in stock. Our island nursery said it had been over a year since they could get any in because they are in such low supply.

Then finally, I found a supplier. Local guy, super friendly, and he set aside twenty, 1 gallon pots for us. I loaded them up in the mini (this poor car gets a workout!) and took them back to the island. Since they have been in pots, they needed some trimming this first season to encourage bushing out.

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We planted them along the property line and are so excited for them to grow up and bush out over the next few years!

Adventures in Canning: Italian Prune Plum Jam

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Last weekend we brought home a huge box of fresh picked Italian plums. This weekend I decided to try my hand at canning plum jam. Result? Awesome.

I initially decided that I did not need nearly as many plums as I had, and gave them away to two women in the community. It seriously made my day to share this bounty. The downside…I gave away more than I wanted! I quickly learned that plums do not go NEARLY as far once they are jammed and canned as one would expect. Rookie error. Luckily we found two other sources of plums on the island so another batch will be happening this week.

I learned so tips for this jam, including macerating cut plums overnight and a different low sugar pectin. Both gleaned from this recipe. The resulting product in the BEST jam ever! I recommend these extra steps. We ate our first batch (the frothy skimmings) with fresh homemade bread in the backyard with guests that afternoon. Perfect summer treat we will enjoy for months to come.

Italian Prune Plum Jam

Makes 5 pint jars of jam

Start with:
8 lbs plums (pitted, quartered with skins on)
3 lbs sugar
mix together and macerate overnight in the fridge in glass bowl. the mixture should be soupy and sugar melted with plum juice.
Pour sugar/plum mixture into pot, and cook until fruit is soft. Smash hot fruit through china cap or food mill to remove skins.
Return to pot and add:
2Tbs Pomona universal pectin (seriously the best kind. Go find it now)
2 Tbs calcium water (mix found in pectin box)
1/2 cup lemon juice
Cook until thick and bubbly. Skim off froth (save this in a pyrex container to eat right away, not pretty but still yummy!)
Ladle into hot, sterilized jars and process 20 minutes per water bath instructions.

House Renovation Updates

What makes it a remodel vs a renovation? I was thinking of that in the middle of drafting this post.

Well, whatever it is, we are in the middle of it! This weekend we really hit some major strides and milestones. I unpacked all the plastic sheeting in the kitchen…that has been up since we took the wall down in February! We decided that there were enough steps between now and actually demoing the backsplash and counters that we could use our stove and hood for a while. Major horray for not cooking on a hot plate for awhile!

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We are also making huge changes in the living room. Matt has the fireplace (new hearth, mantle) framed out and covered in plywood. Brick veneer has been selected and is on order. We ordered sample tile for the kitchen and are narrowing it down. The table saw from the Tool Library has been working hard in the driveway and Matt is getting lots of practice. Next up: cabinets and cubbies for the kitchen! And a new light, and, and and…the list goes on!

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Two thirds of our potatoes are harvested, garlic is curing in the laundry room, bush beans are coming in by the handful and the Spanish beans are less than a week away from first harvest. Kale is going bonkers but areas are plagued by powdery mildew (boo!), and zucchini has been rolling in for breakfast, dinner and chocolate chip zucchini bread. Raspberries are a daily treat. And we have so many sweet peas for bouquets everywhere. We are in harvest time and it feels amazing.

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While the rest of the country is facing a massive heat wave, the temps this year have been much lower and wetter. It is a welcome break from last summer. The grass is even still green!

And we are working on a name for our little farm. A few names have come up, but we are trying really hard to make it just right.

Happy July…we are already counting down the days till fall vacations arrive! Better get moving on these house projects…or renovations whatever they are called.

Memorial Day Goals

Memorial Day snuck up on me this year. What? Three day weekend? I will gladly take one of those!

The weekend looks wet and cool, then next week promises sunshine and warmer night temperatures…perfect for my garden goal of tucking in 50+ tomato plants! This year I saved seeds from our three favorite varieties (Old German, Milano and Sun Sugar) and every single seed I planted has now grown into a beautiful strong plant. We transport them from the deck to the living room every day and they are now ready to plant outside. I plan to tear out the last of the chard and kale plants (all are bolted…perfect for chicken treats and harvesting seed!), put down a thick layer of compost and broadfork it all in.

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We also have a massive pile (if you can even call it a pile…more of a mountain) of sticks and branches that need to be chipped. If we can get the chipper started that would be a great thing to tackle this weekend. Some of the larger sticks may get repurposed thanks to this inspiring fence idea.

Matt is finishing up the hardwood floors in the expanded kitchen and then it will be on to finish coating the drywall, adding texture and building cabinets. Time to pick up the tool library table saw!

This three day weekend is going to fly.

Fundamental Orchardist

When Matt and I got married, I learned that my new last name meant “orchardist” in French. How cool is that?

Even cooler, I have been bit by the orchard bug and am embracing this title as part of my identity. Earlier this spring we placed our first fruit tree order. A few apples, a pear, mulberry and peach. Somewhat unique varieties but our choices were made though quite virgin eyes.

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Planting these trees brought me more joy that I could have fathomed they would. I grew up with my dad’s collection of fruit trees, but was never that interested. Now I am hooked. Last week three more trees joined out orchard and I am counting down the days until we (someday) buy the land next door and have more space to plant. I have a list of old, rare heirloom apple trees that I want to plant and eat.

So far on our homestead we have:

Apple:

  • Spartan
  • Northern Spy
  • Honeycrisp
  • Enterprise

 

Pear:

  • Ubileen
  • Red Sensation Bartlett

 

Peach:

  • Reliance

 

 

Aligning Priorities: YNAB Review

Three years ago when buying our house and property, we had a wish list of what it would have; ideally:

  • 5-10 acres
  • 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms
  • house that needed work but not MAJOR work
  • good sunshine to garden
  • sustainable distance for commuting to the city (ie: North end of the island)
  • house with character
  • smaller to medium sized
  • and most importantly, something we could afford and ultimately support on just one income

This final criteria ended up being our #1 priority, which in turn meant we had to sacrifice some other ideal aspects. All in all we bought a great little house that we do love, and for the past 17 months, we have been owning it on one income. Not a small feat in the greater Seattle area.

We were fortunate to not carry any student debt, and our single car is paid off. On top of that, both Matt and I had always been good savers. In our single days we both had saved up for a house and that significantly helped with our down payment.

Matt has always left the “money business” to me. I do our taxes, pay the bills, organize savings and retirement accounts. Honestly I enjoy all of it except the retirement piece. I would rather just let someone else handle it but struggle with the right balance of engagement and dealing with fees (a topic for another day). For savings, I had put together an elaborate structure of 10+ savings accounts that my weekly paycheck would automatically fund: house, travel, medical, emergency, car etc. Whether it was $5 or $100, it was a “self funding” system that helped us save.

While these buckets of money were helpful for saving, they were not very useful when it came to spending. Since we do use credit cards (but never carry a balance) I was always shuffling money around between accounts and sometime ran into problems. I knew I was “borrowing” funds without really replacing them when bills came around, but always felt like it was still ok.

This spring I read some reviews of a new approach called YNAB (You Need A Budget) and was intrigued to try it. My thrifty side hates paying extra for things so paying for a software program was not really something I was jazzed about. After all, I had some free tracking software through my credit union that I liked, and did diligently track every dollar we had spent. It was useful and I could see where our money was going.

But it did not give me a clear picture of where our money WOULD GO in the future. I watched some webinars and read a bunch about YNAB and decided to give it a go. Couldn’t hurt right?

First off, it was hard to learn a new system. I did not find it all that intuitive and felt like the program was not step-by-step enough for what I was looking for in HOW to consolidate my accounts. It was a leap of faith and a bunch of emails to tech support before I finally consolidated my savings accounts into just savings and checking and really started to use the budget.

What do I think?

#1: it has forced me to be more honest with our spending. I realize that I have been “behind” our credit spending and although we carry no balance, I do shuffle money monthly more than I thought, so our “automatic savings” was not a true picture of what we were saving. It was saved, then transferred to cover expenses. Ie: very short term saving that was not really meeting our needs.

#2: I did not have clear savings goals or spending goals in the past. At the end of the month I would report to Matt, hey we spent less on food this month! Go us! But that really was not helpful. What is more helpful is saying hey, we are in the middle of a massive remodel and need to make sure that $5,500 of those “house “ dollars are available for refinishing our floors (our only hired out portion of this job). It always sounded like those dollars where there in that savings account, but they were mixed in with everything else so they tended to slide around and probably were being “counted” towards multiple things (like the random $20-$50 Home Depot runs…those add up!) With YNAB I have $5,500 for hardwood floors and the rest of the house budget is in a different category. All the same dollars are there but they have jobs in the future so are not to be touched….unless we specify it! It is pretty empowering…and eye opening. Sometimes you learn you have more than you thought, other times it is actually less. But now we KNOW.

#3: I need more practice. 5 weeks in and I am still honestly trying to reconcile where dollars REALLY are, and what they are REALLY needing to do. YNAB support has been so helpful in helping me untangle what I thought was a pretty clear system I had going. Really, my general buckets were not very helpful at directing what our dollars needed to do for us.

#4: bottom line: I like YNAB. I am not loving it yet but that is likely because I am still adjusting. The credit card syncing has taken some serious brain power to get straight for me. Thank goodness for responsive email help! I do greatly appreciate how flexible the system is, and how it is just clear. It is a serious wake-up call on not tricking myself. It is very honest, very real, and VERY helpful.

Now those long term goals? Buying the property next door? Future kids college funds? They have a line item and will actually be goals that we can work towards, and the dollars won’t be shuffled to cover hardwood floors.

You can sign up for a free trial yourself at their website.