What to do with Green Tomatoes

We have a bumper crop of green tomatoes this year.  They were the only crop I managed to plant in a sunny spot, against an east-facing wall, and they grew like mad.  The romas destroyed their flimsy wire cages, they were so heavy with fruit.  The yellow pear and sweet 100’s made little grape-clusters of fruit, and the Early Girls made gorgeous round fruits.  We just didn’t have enough sun to ripen more than one or two of the slicers, and about 10 cherry tomatoes a day.

With the start of Fall, we’ve had lots of rain and cloudy weather.  If it weren’t for the rain, I’d leave the fruit on the vine to ripen as long as possible (until the first frost) but they’re so wet that anything that ripens just splits wide open, and fruit is starting to develop brown patches of rot.  The plants in the back, with weed cloth, are doing better because the water is mostly getting shunted away, but there’s not enough sun to ever ripen the fruit back there.

I’ve given away 2 big grocery sacks of fruit (I’d guess about 13 pounds each) to people planning on canning chutney and other sauces, and a few little sacks to folks who wanted some for their next stir fry.  I go out every other day or so and pull off any fruit with a hint of color, to let it ripen on my counter.  But the plants look terrible, with droopy, browning branches.  Definitely the end of the season!

We made this green tomato and potato curry last week, and it was good.  I don’t care for the garam masala in my cupboard, so next time I’d use my own curry paste, and would take care to mash ALL the tomatoes because the texture was a little weird.  But stir-frying these is definitely an option!  I’ll probably throw some, cubed, in the freezer for dinners this winter.

I have a “pickled green tomatoes” recipe I want to try out, from the Ball canning book, but I’m trying to think…if I made those pickles, would anybody eat them?  Seems like I should be able to find a recipe for salsa verde that uses green tomatoes, too.  Their flavor and texture is so similar to tomatillos, seems like that would be a great use for them!

What else would you do with green tomatoes?

Helping Small Children Re-Set

My experience as a mother has shown time and time again that kids need to be centered in the home.  They need home to be a nurturing and warming place, with a steady daily rhythm and predictable rules and outcomes.  Of course, there are always circumstances that dictate this can’t be the case every day of their lives- there is a world out there, and our families are participating in it!  In my family that means we’re gone a good portion of each Sunday to church and then to a large family dinner.  We’ve enrolled the kids in a small music class one morning a week.  We like to visit with friends and cousins when they’re available.

The trick is knowing what your children can handle!  In our family, Breakfast, Circle Time, Nap Time, Dinner Time, and Bed Time  are constants in our home’s rhythm and if these are kept we’re much more successful in having happy outings with other children and to other places.  However, if we’re in recovery mode, I’ve had to learn how to help my children re-set themselves and find peace.

Sunday found us at church for almost 5 hours, between needing to arrive early for an extra service, our own service going over time, and then a few meetings afterwards.  We followed that up with a family dinner at my sister’s house, and getting the kids to bed nearly an hour late.  I knew Monday would be rough.  Oh dear- rough seems like such a trite word when your youngest spends almost an hour of the night time crying in pain from lactose issues and lack of sleep, both children spend most of the day picking fights with each other and falling on the floor in crying tantrums.  Instead of quietly playing like they normally do during the hour I teach piano lessons, they used the contents of their beans-and-beads sensory box as exceptionally loud confetti.  That was Day One of our Recovery Period.

Tuesday was Day Two of recovery period.  We had no outside commitments.  We had play time, school time, meal time, snack time, gardening time, lunch time…and multiple screaming, throw down, lay down tantrums.  We had nap time.  We had more tantrums and fights.  Finally, we took a walk.  A very, very long walk.  My oldest brought her “nature bag” and I told her she could find one beautiful rock, and anything else she found that reminded her of Fall, to start our Fall nature table.

We stopped at the creek to watch the duck and throw in as many leaves as we could find.
Our neighborhood creek

We said hello to all the dogs we met.  We stopped at the beach to dig and wade.


We were gone for hours, and finally we had peace in our home again.  If I had taken them for a walk first thing Monday morning, would it have done the same thing for them?  No, I don’t think so.  They would have just carried their bickering along.  But once we re-established the rhythm, and kept our boundaries, they were ready to take in something outside of themselves and lose themselves in it.

Budgeting 101: How to Plan When You’re Cutting it Close

You don’t have to raise your hand….but I’m pretty sure most people have, at some point in their lives, been in financial crisis.  When you’re at the point where technically you make enough in a month to cover all expenses, but you cross your fingers and toes that your income will hit the bank account BEFORE your expenses do.

Remember that?

Alright, THAT is what we’re planning for in this post.  If you have $10,000 in the bank account, and $2,000 of expenses hitting in the month, this level of planning is completely beyond what you should be worrying about.  The one exception I could think of is if you keep your money in one account, and pay bills from another, and need to make sure that you’re transferring the correct amount to the “bill paying” account in time for the cash to clear before the bills do.

(I worked with a girl once who, I swear, spent hours on the phone every week talking with her bank trying to get cash from one account to another in time to not overdraft.  She had it down to the penny and down to the day, it seemed.)

What you’re going to do is make a very, very simple Excel spreadsheet.  If you don’t have Excel (or a similar spreadsheet program) you can sign up for Google Docs online, and use their spreadsheet maker.  It’s limited in function, but will meet your needs admirably AND be viewable/editable by your spouse, etc.

Open a new spreadsheet, and save it.  Make it something clever, like “Budget Spreadsheet.”

In line one, column A write “Date.”  Column B, write “Income”.  Column C, write “Expense.”  Column D, write “Total.”

In line two, column A, write today’s date.  In column D write your current bank account total.

Now, click once on cell A2 (column A, line two) so that the cell is selected (outlined in bold black lines.  Yes, I know I’m being simplistic- if you don’t need this level of detail, just bear with us!)  Hover your cursor over the bottom right corner of the cell until it becomes a plus sign, click and hold, and drag your cursor down the page.  You should see the date increasing in the subsequent cells.  If you’re in Excel, it will be smart enough to know from just one date.  If you’re in another program, you might have to write today’s date AND then tomorrow’s date in the cell below, select both cells by hitting shift+down arrow, and then dragging from the bottom right corner so that the program knows you want a continuation of that same date pattern, rather than just copying down the date in the first cell.  Drag as far as you want- I like to go 3 or 4 months, or up to a year.

In cell D3, type this formula (without the quote marks!)  “=D2+B3-C3”  What you’ve just said is “take yesterdays balance, and add today’s income and expenses.”  The “equals” sign shows the program that you want this to be a formula.  A plus sign is also a way to show you want it to be an equation.  Hit enter to leave that cell, then click on it once to select.  Hover your cursor over the bottom right corner, and click and hold, then drag down until you reach the last line you dragged a date to.  Each subsequent cell will now pick up the total from the day above it, and add/subtract the current day’s income and expense.

OK?  I promise, this is about 3 minutes worth of work- it just takes a lot of words!

All that’s left is to type in all known expenses and incomes, on the appropriate days.  I use column E to write a short description of the income and expense.  For example, if the September 20th line has income AND expense, the cell in column E might say “piano income/utilities.”   I know when I expect to visit the bank to deposit all my piano tuition checks, so I’ll enter that information for every month.  I know when to expect my husband to bring home a pay check, so I’ll enter that in all the months.  I know when my mortgage, credit card bill, health insurance, church tithing, and utilities are all due, so I’ll input those for all the months with estimates of what they’ll be.  Some are easy, because they’re constant (like health insurance and mortgage.)  Others are subjective (like utilities and tithing), and I’ll put in my best estimate.

This kind of budget does not allow for padding and extras- if an unforeseen expense comes up, you’ll have to add it in, and watch your future balances.  The point here is to put in all the income and expenses you know of, and then scan column D.  Does it ever go negative?  That means on the day the expense in that line clears, you don’t have enough cash.  Bummer.

BUT, now you know, and you can try your best to do something about it.  Can you make a little extra cash before then?  Can you be a bit more frugal and lower some expenses?  Check the bill due date, and see if it’s possible to pay it closer to the due date if you’ll have the cash by then?  Budgets are all about knowing and planning, even when the news isn’t good.

Does column D stay positive?  If it’s close to zero, watch out!  If it never gets close to zero…congratulations.  You have a balanced budget, now please be careful with it.  🙂

What Five Yards of Good Dirt Looks Like

Moving the dirt

See that?  Five yards of compost and sand and other good stuff.  (I believe the butter knife we found in there falls outside of the realm of “Other Good Stuff” though.  They SAID it was screened….)  We brought in five yards of “vegetable garden mix” dirt to fill in our yard and garden boxes- it wasn’t quite enough, and we’ll get another five yards to hopefully finish this part of the task.  BUT, 2 guys with shovels and 2 guys with wheelbarrows decimated that pile in 1 hour flat.  (Thanks for coming to help Wonder Daddy, Dad and Beastly Brothers!)  That’s less time than it took my husband to hose off the driveway and all the tools!  Pretty cool, if you ask me!

I don’t know how this price compares to other local companies, but it seemed more than fair: 5 yards delivered, for $200.  Not bad at all.  It’s actually from the local company that composts the county’s yard waste (and we can put our food scraps in the yard waste bin.)  We certainly could have gone with a cheaper dirt mix, but I intend to grow food in the majority of our yard, either as a de-facto garden spot or as sneaky ornamentals, and how much easier is it to simply get the best dirt possible?  Much easier.  Definitely worth the price.

*One beef with this dirt: I don’t know what they were composting, but it smells like steer manure, and swarms of flies settled over the yard which presumably were inside the dirt pile to begin with.  They’re not big flies, more like midges or fruit flies.  That smell, and the flies, had better be gone in a day or two!*

Sometimes I feel ridiculous for sending away most of my compostable food, when the tumbling composter is full and the worms can’t eat as much as I produce in the kitchen.  But you know….this company does an awful good job of composting, and perhaps $200 is a good price to pay for not needing to devote a huge chunk of my yard to a high-maintenance compost pile?  That’s not to say I don’t compost, because I currently have a worm bin, a tumbling composter, and 2 separate piles of weeds and straw, plus a sod pile, all cooking away.  But…there’s an awful lot of stinky food, prickly blackberries, full-of-seeds weeds, and woody branches I just send away instead of trying to take care of them myself.

Yard Update: Building the Garden

The front yard is taking shape!

So far we’ve:

  • moved out loads of dirt (I’d guess 10 or 20 yards)
  • taken out and re-poured the driveway, patios, and walkway
  • taken out and re-built the front porch
  • taken out retaining wall and rebuilt in a new location
  • Tilled clay soil under future garden beds (drat it all, we’d have done more but the machine broke)
  • Transplanted the fig tree into a large hole filled with good dirt

This week we hired someone to dig out a large trench along the top of the retaining wall, and brought in 5 yards of dirt to fill it in, to get ready for planting.  We also built two garden boxes, with supplies ready to build two more.

garden boxes in progress

cutting lumber for garden boxes

We’ll get five more yards of dirt to finish filling in the garden boxes and the trench, build the other two boxes, and then it’s just fluff work!  We have bags of steer manure to work into a stretch of plantable land that’s still too much clay composition for my liking, but an afternoon with a rototiller will take care of that.  I’ll get on top of planting this week, and see what can be done.  I know it’s way too late for most things to start from seed, but I can definitely get garlics in the ground this year still, and will see if the nurseries still have starts I could plant (broccoli, kale, spinach, etc.)  The tomatoes will be pulled up in about a month I’d guess- they’re still going gangbusters.   Yes, yes- it’s been an AWFUL year for gardening all over Washington state, but in my five years of gardening I’ve never managed to have a tomato plant set and bear fruit, beyond a mealy tomato or two.  Our yellow plum are doing especially well, and the sweet 100’s.  We’ve harvested just 2 or 3 “early girl” tomatoes, and just 1 roma.  The roma are so thick and heavy with fruit, but I just don’t think we’ll get enough sun to ripen them.  I’ll be looking for ideas to use up lots of green tomatoes!  We made a green tomato curry this past week, but I didn’t care for the flavors.  With a little tweaking, it has some potential!

I know I say this every year, especially since we’ve moved into this house, but seriously: Next year, we will have a big garden.  Because NEXT year, I will be planting in the sunshine for the first time ever!  (Our backyard is so bad, it took 5 months for my kale to get 12 inches tall, and by then so many bugs had found it, it was useless for eating.  At least our compost pile is doing well this year!)

Home Schooling is more than School at Home

OK.  I’m crossing my fingers that I got enough sleep last night to write this without sounding…preachy…self-righteous….you know, all that icky stuff.  (Our youngest daughter is lactose intolerant, and loves to help clear the table.  I suspect she chugged her cousin’s milk Sunday night while helping him clear his dishes.  Last night was the first night she slept solidly since then.)

We started our very own Kindergarten-at-home this week with our oldest daughter.  We chose to do this at home for lots and LOTS of reasons.

  • She is already reading exceptionally well.  As in, 3rd grade level.  Getting behind academically is not an issue for her.
  • I can’t find a compelling reason TO enroll her in public school right now
  • It’s TONS of fun.  Why send her off to school to read stories and sing songs when we can do it here, and have fun as a family?
  • I have a lot of things I want her to learn this year.
  • Simply put, it’s the Right Decision for her, for right now.  And really, that’s all the reason I need 🙂

As I’ve prepared for this year, I’ve been heavily influenced by the Waldorf methods.  Developed by Richard Steiner, some of them are a little wacky to me (hello reincarnation and astral beings) but out of all the methods I’ve read about, it’s the one most focused on the child and the family as a whole.  I really, REALLY like that.  I like that it develops in the child a sensitivity to the world around themselves, and an appreciation for nature and all the beauty in this green earth.  I like the idea of life, home, and the seasons have rhythms that we can join and appreciate.  If some people who practice these methods of education get perhaps a tad carried away in the imaginative side, well….I suppose there are worse things you could do that convince your children that flower fairies are actively engaged in the garden every night.  Right?

(Background: There’s a belief that we all live in 7-year cycles.  The first seven years of life should be lived in a “dream-like” state, free from distractions like too many facts and too many words.  Toys should be natural materials, and minimally detailed.  Stories should be told, acted out, and enjoyed often…but not read to or by the child.  Scientific processes are DEFINITELY out of the picture until later.  Given that we are all individuals, some people are more fanatical about this than others.  I follow my daughter’s lead and curiosity- if she wants to know why stars shine, I certainly tell her the truth.  I’m really not fully “Waldorf” at all 🙂  But then, so many Waldorf instructors or families I’ve found online freely acknowledge that we should use what resonates with us, and leave the rest behind.  So perhaps I’m perfectly Waldorf 🙂

I posted on Facebook this morning that I was pretty stoked about the day’s “Daily Activity.”

Quite possibly my favorite day of the week! Today’s big school activity is…CLEANING! Kids are stripping their sheets, and just started the dishwasher for me 🙂 They’ll wash the windows while I vacuum….am I plain evil, or an evil genius? Yes.

Quite a few friends wrote to in say things like “yay!  Child labor!”  or “Yay!  You’re a rock star!”  An aunt wrote in to say

“What does doing chores have to do with school?”

I think that’s just the point.  While most took my elation to mean “Hooray!  Kids are cleaning my house for fun!” (and believe me, that IS a fabulous feeling) for me this is so much of why we’ve chosen to home school this year.  I don’t want to simply recreate “school” at home, with desks and shiny new pencils and worksheets.  While we certainly intend to do all of that this year, I want my kids to be fully involved in the home, and to be cognisant of the work that goes on to maintain a home, grateful for what we have, and to develop a desire in them to be part of something bigger than themselves and to really immerse them in the rhythm of our home.  THAT is why I consider myself heavily influenced by Waldorf methods, with all their talk of rhythms, and all of their intentions of almost zero sit-down academic work in the kindergarten year but rather a year full of exploration and wonder and stories and imagination and being immersed in and internalizing the rhythm of what goes on around them.  I see our Wednesdays not as chore day, but as an integral part of our curriculum for the year and for life.

This is what I told her:

“Aunt- Every day we have “circle time” with songs, scriptures, and stories. Each day of the school week is assigned a special activity- Baking Day, Craft Day, Cleaning Day, Painting Day, and Music Day. The activities and stories and songs all tie together to whatever theme we’re working on, which are in turn based on the season of the year we’re in (holidays, planting, harvesting, etc.) We bring in skills to the activities, like penmanship, spelling, math, story telling, etc. Since this is our very first week, we’re just establishing the rhythm, and I want to make sure that our home is not forgotten in the rhythm that we set up. :)”

Yes, yes.  I know.  I am now three days into a nine-month-long (at least) project.  I’m positively ebullient, none of us are bored or tired (well…except right now.  Today was L.O.N.G) but you know, we’re pretty excited to do school at home.