Preparing for winter...
It's like magic -- each year as the days start getting shorter and the leaves start turning, it's like a switch is flipped internally and I suddenly have to start preparing for the cold weather to come. I love winter, but have to admit that I start getting antsy for spring come late February/early March. (Joan Baez has a song in which the refrain goes "can we live through February?" and I completely empathize with it, every year. It's amazing how the shortest month can seem like the longest!) I've been mentally stocking up on projects all summer long, and it's finally time to start making plans for them. Luckily NearSea's getting ready for winter too, and I think much of my winter craftiness will be inspired by some items we've just gotten in stock.
I have a huge pile of mending (possibly something to do with two kids who spend huge parts of each day outside), and need to get my sewing machine serviced before I get started. I've also been saving up patterns, and need to make sure I have fabric for each planned item. (I'm in the midst of adding quite a few new knits, both printed and not, so keep your eyes open for them within the next week. We're also expecting new organic wools by December, and our natural silk charmeuse within a couple of weeks. Finally!)
We just received some incredibly luscious organic alpaca yarn, and I'm determined to make something with it this winter. It may be as simple as using it for doll hair or teaching the kids to finger-knit, or as complex as a scarf (that is, unfortunately, the current limit of my knitting abilities), but I'll be doing something with this yarn as the days get shorter and I have more time to sit there, telling stories to my children and keeping my hands busy. I always feel connected to my pioneer ancestors on evenings like that! (I'll be adding the yarn to the website this next week too; I'm still working on the pictures.)
Someone just told me that if we're not ready for the holidays by now we should give up all hope and concentrate on next year instead; I'm not willing to surrender just yet, but my family does need to get in high gear making both things and plans. It'll all be a bit easier, though, because NearSea is starting to carry beautiful organic alpaca/llama items, ranging from socks for children to so, so soft shawls (ruanas) for adults. I wore one of the ruanas every day for the two weeks of our trip (it was much colder than we had planned) and it kept me cozywarm while taking up hardly any room. So I suspect several people on my list will be getting alpaca goodies this year. The only problem, of course, is that it sets the bar really high for next year! (Yes, these too will be added to the site in the very near future; I'm writing just as fast as I can... :)
I've also been working to get my kitchen and pantry in order for winter; we don't often end up trapped in our house, thanks to New Mexico's fairly mild winters, but it does happen on occasion. One of the many benefits of being off-the-grid is that we don't lose power during big storms, but we still need to have food for the family. As long as we're warm and well-fed, being stuck atop the mesa is an adventure instead of a disaster! I'm a bit behind my usual schedule, but there's a bit about my kitchen preparations in the extended entry...
My parents have always had amazing gardens: my mom grows huge fields of garlic and a wonderful variety of vegetables that we all appreciate her sharing, and my dad performs amazing feats in Washington's fertile soil. (He has grapes, and six different fruit trees, and an incredibly fertile garden patch -- and grass! We don't have much grass in New Mexico, so it's always a surprise to visit him and see how green everything is!) I, however, am proof that gardening ability is not genetic; it is entirely possible that I am the worst gardener in the Western Hemisphere. Every year I have to try, though, just in case my thumb's turned green over the winter. Surprisingly, this year I managed to get twelve tomatoes on my 6 plants (but bear in mind that this was a year of bumper crops for everyone else around here). I figure everyone has their strengths and someday I might admit that gardening is NOT one of mine. But until then, I'll keep trying. Because who knows, next year I might manage to get twenty tomatoes! (I do, thankfully, manage to grow herbs, lemongrass, and the like quite well -- who knew?) Failing any garden magic, I haunt the farmer's market, looking for foods that will last the winter. I can, dry, freeze, and store everything possible. Or at least everything I have time and motivation to can!
This fall has been far too busy for me; my children have been sick and we took a two-week-long trip, which pretty much used up all my free time, and NearSea's been gratifyingly busy which means I've had very little free time to have used up anyway. Nevertheless, I can't let an autumn pass by without at least making an attempt at preparing for winter. So here's my current, not-very-impressive statistics:
23 pints of peach salsa
18.5 pints of peach syrup
3.5 pints of peach butter
7 quarts of cold-packed peach slices
8.5 pints of quick bread-and-butter pickles
watermelon rind pickles in progress (my grandmother was reminiscing about these a few weeks ago, so we know they'll at least make good presents...)
The energy-efficent freezer we finally found that would work with our solar setup arrived damaged, so we've done very little freezing because our current, refrigerator-top freezer is beyond full. It's reached the point where you have to open it veeeeery carefully and close quickly, lest goodies fall out and crack. Nevertheless, we do have 9.5 pounds of roasted, peeled, and chopped green chiles -- that's what's left after processing two bushels, and ending up with very tingly hands!
A nice batch of peach slices, dried in our hanging solar dehydrator
We have a nice selection of various types of winter squash. They'll last for aeons, and are so tasty! I also use squash puree when making things for my kids; it blends in quite nicely in sweet breads, pancakes, etc, and adds extra nutrition and antioxidants.
Our chickens should start laying eggs soon, yay! Once the birds are laying I'll feel much more prepared for a snowstorm.
I'm preparing a nice big co-op order, as many of our staples have run out -- beans (pinto, black, AND soy are all low), rice, oatmeal, flour, etc.
We're stocking up on chicken and dog food too, just in case we're snowed, iced, or mudded in at any point this winter.
We've reserved our Thanksgiving turkey, from a local supplier that has the tastiest organic poultry, grass-fed and well-treated. (Pollo Real, for you Santa Fe folks.)
(Just as a side note, all the foodstuffs referenced above are organic; that's probably obvious, but I figured I should probably mention it.)