Close to the Dirt, Far From Normal

Confession ( or rather, Stating the Obvious): I’ve been lax about finishing that pesky “About” page. I haven’t yet organized my blog roll. And there are a couple of reader awards that I was delighted to receive, but less enthusiastic about writing the acceptance notes. I intended to participate in at least one WordPress writing challenge per week, and haven’t been consistent.

If the rest of the things on my To Do List received such blatant prompting as the ones I’ve been getting for my blogging, I would be a super-achiever, with a spotless home, flourishing seedlings, and a productive studio. Also, my abdominal muscles would ripple as I accomplished all these things with grace and serenity.

Truly, I do not always arrange the day's harvest in such an artistic manner.

Truly, I do not always arrange the day’s harvest in such an artistic manner.

But the universe today, via the WordPress elves, has asked me to share Six unusual things about myself. Acceptance of the Beautiful Blogger Award requires sharing Seven unusual things about myself. I’m not going to wait for the postman to request Eight items before handing over the mail. I get the message.

The No-Acre Homestead is firmly planted in middle suburbia. On 1/10 of an acre, we have our house, driveway, walkway, two sheds, deck, and patio. And in the spaces in between, we grow as much of our own produce as we can. Year-round, and camouflaged to conform to the community covenants.

The pride of the Homestead is our compost. We add all of our kitchen scraps. Even the dairy and meat. The rule of thumb is to keep those last items out, but we have a secret ally in composting. To our delight, last year we welcomed our first visit of the Black Soldier Fly. Their young, the less-attractively-named Compost Maggot, will eat Anything. I never thought I would love a maggot. But now I think to save some fat or fish heads for them when I am cooking, much the same way I save special tidbits for our other pets.

Do not look away!  There is a hidden beauty in this pile of kitchen waste.  Compost maggots!

Do not look away! There is a hidden beauty in this pile of kitchen waste. Compost maggots!

My favorite scent is clean, rich soil. In fact, that’s the smell of true compost, and the reason that we have been able to have such a huge pile of “garbage” piled between neighboring townhouses. Healthy compost smells good. I don’t think our neighbors even realize that our kitchen waste is piled just a few feet from their deck.

I’m a total convert to raised bed planting. Container gardening works for our tiny nooks and crannies, but the raised beds, made of recycled plastic and filled with our homemade compost, are almost magically productive. I’ve been able to harvest herbs and greens all winter, with pathetically little effort on my part. In fact, by all rights, that parsley should have smothered under the ice-covered plastic sheeting. Due to health issues, I never got around to making cold frames, so things just piled up.

Raised beds and good compost create a productive garden in a tiny space.

Raised beds and good compost create a productive garden in a tiny space.

Health issues aside, no matter how rough I feel, I always wear lipgloss. Even if i am still wearing the sweatshirt I slept in, that spot of color goes on. No matter how busy I am, the lipstick gets reapplied. No matter how dirty I get in the garden, my lips look glamorous. Is that the artist in me, seeking to create a spot of beauty? Or am I channelling my Grandma, who “dressed for work” in a 1950s era department store every day of her life, despite changing styles and her retirement many decades earlier?

As I look out the window just now, I am happy to see the garbage truck come by. And the recycling truck. Every week, I am again grateful for them. I’ve lived in rural areas where I had to haul my own trash ( although some neighbors stored it, or burned it). I’ve lived in cities where the negotiations to dispose of trash were convoluted and expensive. So it may be a bit strange that trash trucks make me happy, but I’ve got my reasons. You’d think that after a couple of decades of living in this County that I’d be over the whole curbside waste perk, but it still delights me.

So there you have it, folks. Another little smidgen of sharing on my part. Eventually, I’ll have enough to write that “About” page without too much effort. And of course, I’ll be wearing gloss on my lips, and have dirt on my hands.


Award process: step 1,share 7 things about myself. Check. Step 2, post the Award image. Check. Step 3, nominate more blogs…check back later on today! The pup needs her walk Right Now!


Filed under General, Our No-Acre Homestead

Recycled Kisses

I feel privileged that I was there to see this moment. Jake, a recently rescued black Lab mix, partially blind and skittish, is learning to trust his new owner. Little is known of his history, except that he was found wandering in the woods, injured and starving.  It was obvious his experiences with humans were not pleasant.  Yet over the past few months, Jake  has learned that he is safe, again or at last. When I witnessed this scene, he was slowly allowing himself to be vulnerable, good eye hidden and head nuzzled into his owner’s shoulder. No reward was promised, other than a kiss, and someone to lean on.


The resilience of dogs continues to amaze me. A being with such willingness to trust, despite a history that would cement fear into a human heart, must truly be physical proof of unconditional love. The interactions between animals and their loving owners melts my heart.  And it breaks my heart to learn of an animal being deliberately hurt, or cast away, at the whim of a human.

Jake was adopted through a local Lab rescue. Our own pup came through Akita rescue. There are probably lonely dogs and cats in shelters close to you, full of love and kisses and looking for someone to share them with. Please consider opening your home and your heart to an animal in need.

Is there an animal rescue that you support?  Please feel free to post it in the Comments below!

I’m wishing everyone at least one moment of unconditional love today.

This post was inspired both by a wonderful encounter I had with a fellow Free-cycler and by the WordPress Weekly photo challenge. More interpretations to the assignment “Kiss” can be found below.   

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. weekly photo challenge : kiss | Time To Be Inspired
  2. Weekly Photo Challenge: Kiss « MaanKind
  3. Weekly Photo Challenge – Kiss « The Urge To Wander
  4. Weekly Photo Challenge: Kiss « Lagottocattleya
  5. Weekly Photo Challlenge: KISS « The Adventures of Iñigo Boy
  6. Weekly Photo Challenge: Kiss | En snögummas tankar om livet
  7. Weekly Photo Challenge: Kiss | rfljenksy – Practicing Simplicity
  8. Weekly Photo Challenge: Kiss | Pilot Fish
  9. Weekly Photo Challenge: Kiss | The Blog Farm – A Growing Blog Community
  10. The sun kissed the earth | breathofgreenair
  11. Weekly Photo Challenge: Kiss | mothergrogan
  12. Celebrity News & Alerts | Google Alert – KISS
  13. Weekly Photo Challenge: Kiss « Last Train to QVille
  14. kiss « yi-ching lin photography
  15. Weekly Photo Challenge: KISS « Life&Ink
  16. Weekly Photo Challenge: Kiss | Notes from Africa
  17. Weekly Photo Challenge: Kiss | Mike Hardisty Photography
  18. Weekly Photo Challenge: Kiss | My Thoughts like Balloons
  19. Weekly Photo Challenge: Kiss | My Sardinian Life
  20. Weekly Photo Challenge: Kiss | My Caymanian Life
  21. Kiss Me! A WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge! « Life in the Foothills
  22. Weekly Photo Challenge: Kiss | Drama Queen Under the Sun
  23. Penguin Pecks (Pic de Jour) | piran café
  24. Weekly Photo Challenge : Kissing clouds | SABAS LOG
  25. Weekly Photo Challenge: Kiss back in Time « What’s (in) the picture?



Filed under General, Repurpose This, Wish You Were Here

Walk and Wonder

The pup and I sometimes explore other neighborhoods. This was on the edge of a nearby park. What do you think is going on here? This Underwood typewriter was in lovely condition. And just perched there, on the curb, between parking lot and playground.

20130215-192108.jpgSo mysterious.


Filed under General, Wish You Were Here

Why I Love FreeCycle

We (as Back Creek Design) renovate two to three neglected properties each year. Sometimes we find that the houses have been completely stripped.  Not only appliances, but plumbing, wiring, and architectural details have been ripped out without regard to preserving the remaining structure.

Sometimes the houses are full beyond belief with the accumulation of a lifetime.  Or more than a lifetime…it seems like more properties we find these days have been havens for hoarders, who have passed on and left the comfort of their possessions.

In either case, stripped or crammed, or even in that rare condition of ‘broom-swept clean’, we find things that we don’t need, can’t use, and which have no resale value.


Sample portfolios of roofing and siding material. (photo courtesy of Back Creek Design)

I usually can find a treasure or two for our own home or garden.  I’ve gotten some great mixing bowls, flower pots, and even an unopened bottle of premium tequila by sifting through debris.  But I try hard not to accumulate clutter. (Yes, it’s a very hard challenge!)  We donate what we can to Habitat for Humanity, but often the condition or quantity of the debris is not worth their limited shelf space.


Just a few squares each of three sizes of ceramic tile. (photo courtesy of Back Creek Design)

We in Anne Arundel County are so fortunate to have curbside trash, bulk trash, and recycling pickup included in our County budget.  So sometimes it is almost too easy to toss things out. And yet, I hate to throw things in the dump.  (There are three county landfills in AACo.  That’s a lot of trash!) That’s just shifting the junk from one location to another.  Out of sight, but not beyond my responsibility.


A few square feet of tile in a discontinued color. Useful, but too small for any of our needs. (photo courtesy of Back Creek Design)

As we renovate each property, we accumulate odds and ends of material.  I’ve saved the scraps in our shed over the years, with the intention of using them ‘in the next house’.  But invariably, there’s no place for that tile, or the color of the paint won’t work with the existing woodwork, or….

And so the shed becomes full, as well as the back of my car, and the back porch, with samples, scraps, and good intentions, as we work through each project.

Thank goodness for FreeCycle.

I try to join a group nearest to each project to keep driving to a minimum.  Staying local, besides keeping things out of the landfill, is part of the FreeCycle philosophy.   Anne Arundel County is fortunate to have many active locations.  I usually gravitate towards Annapolis or Severna Park.  But Odenton and Glen Burnie are also hopping.  There are lots of crafty, thrifty, and creative people in this part of the world.  Have you seen my ‘Repurpose This’ series?  Stuff gets snapped up through FreeCycle for uses that I would never have imagined.  Sometimes the number of responses for this ‘junk’ gets overwhelming.  Thank goodness I can keep up a steady stream of empty CBRC coffee cans!


This pile of ‘garbage’ is just a portion of what was re-homed through FreeCycle in one afternoon. You can see the sought-after CBRC coffee cans in the lower right. (photo courtesy of Back Creek Design)

All the items pictured here were picked up, quickly, in one afternoon by fellow FreeCyclers.  And there were more things that I didn’t think to take pictures of.  Just read the great ways that these are going to be reused…

The ceramic tile is going to be used in a mother-daughter project.  All the scraps are in the same color family, so they are going to mix and match them to make a custom mosaic backsplash for their kitchen.  Mom promises to share pictures when they are done.  Love it!


There are probably a half-dozen different patterns of tile in this pile. Creativity and patience will turn these scraps into a gorgeous backsplash. (photo courtesy of Back Creek Design)

The coffee cans went to two places.  A garden club is going to make a project based on the “Garden Edition” post.  I am so happy!  And an art teacher in the local elementary school will be using some cans as storage for supplies.

The portfolios of roofing and vinyl siding samples will be torn down to use as craft supplies…final project as yet undetermined.  Whatever it is, it will last for a long time…there’s a 20-year warranty on that material.  A really good reason to keep it out of the landfill!

Do you have a Freecycle near you?  Did you know that you can request free items, as well as post offers?  I have met people who have patiently completed an entire renovation project with material and furnishings entirely from FreeCycle.

What a wonderful way to be part of the community.



Filed under General, Repurpose This, Wish You Were Here

The Creek in Winter

It was bitterly cold when the pup and I set out this morning.


A skin of ice clung to the edge of the creek.


The pup, of course, was still interested in taking a dip.

This did not happen.

I spent several long seconds being snubbed.


A few yards inland, and the marsh mud was frozen solid.


We climbed up an observation tower to see above the Phragmites.


The higher we climbed, the more blue sky we could see.


Warm weather was creeping towards us.


Back home, the earth was softening in the sunshine.


Pink and yellow emerge from  brown and grey.

20130210-135214.jpgAnother morning,

another walk,

another season has begun.


Filed under General, Wish You Were Here

Somewhat Weekly Recipe: Homemade Chicken Stock

Okay, my input here is not much of a recipe, but I was inspired to share it by something I read on one of my favorite blogs this morning. This time of year, it seems we go through bone stock as fast as I can make it. I use bones leftover from roast chicken dinners and grilled hot wings to make our stock, but Nicole at Cauldrons and Cupcakes has streamlined the process of turning chicken into chicken vegetable soup. What a great smell to come home to! Stock or soup simmering away is one of my favorite memories of walking into my grandparents’ kitchen. They always had something in progress on the stove.


Bone stock in progress. Mostly chicken bones, with a few turkey bones in the center. I tossed in some bay leaves, first time ever, because I had just a handful that wouldn’t fit in the storage jar. The smell is home-sweet-home.

I use a slow cooker here, and add a few tablespoons of vinegar to filtered water and the contents of the ‘bone bag’ from the freezer. I set the cooker to ‘low’, and let it go for a day, or until the bones are soft enough to crumble when pinched. I add water if the level gets low, or if we start scooping out broth before the bones have given their all. When all the minerals have been extracted from the bones, I strain the stock into freezer jars, and dump the bones into the compost. Sometimes I add them to the pets’ food for a treat.

You’ll notice that I don’t add any seasoning when making my bone stock (the picture from today’s batch is a once-in-a-lifetime occurance, based on a storage crisis) That’s because unseasoned stock can be used in a wide variety of ways, and each application will have its own seasoning needs.

Good food requires good ingredients.  Pastured chicken makes the best soup! (photo courtesy of Mother Earth News)

Good food requires good ingredients. Pastured chicken makes the best soup! (photo courtesy of Mother Earth News)

The basic bone stock can be used as the base for a great chicken soup, just like Nicole’s recipe.We also use the stock instead of water when we make rice, for extra richness and minerals. We mix it in the pets’ meals to boost the nutrition for our picky eaters. And if we feel like we’re ‘coming down with something’, I stir in hot pepper, ground ginger, garlic, apple cider vinegar and a whipped egg to make a germ-defying hot and sour soup. The stock stores wonderfully in the freezer in the wide mouth jars with the plastic lids…just thaw gently before you need to use it.

Although the recipe takes a long time, it is not very labor-intensive. Most of the time is spent waiting for the stove or slow-cooker to slowly extract the important nutrients and minerals from the bones. It’s a great project to start one day with plans to enjoy the results on the next several days. Coming home after a long and cold day and knowing that there is a hot meal waiting for you is incredibly satisfying!

Chicken soup is almost magical in its health-giving properties, so indulge yourself, and enjoy the flavor of home.

2013-01-23 10.46.07

Gorgeous goodness in a bowl of homemade chicken vegetable soup. (photo courtesy of Cauldrons and Cupcakes)

Update: part of the inspiration for this post also came from a WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge, wherein we were instructed to use a photograph to illustrate the word “Home”.  For me, of course, Home is tied to Food.  For other unique interpretations, take a look at some of the other entries, below.  (Most people have far superior photography skills than me, so the pictures are actually nice to look at)

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  1. Weekly Photo Challenge: Home | West Coast Kayaker
  2. Weekly Photo Challenge: Home « Jill’s Well
  3. Weekly Photo Challenge: Home | rarasaur
  4. Homeless! | بيسان
  5. Weekly Photo Challenge: Home | Lucid Gypsy
  6. Weekly Photo Challenge: Home of God | My.Vivid.Visions
  7. Weekly Photo Challenge: Home | The Polar Panda
  8. WP Weekly Photo Challenge: Home « Jag gör världen vackrare
  9. weekly photo challenge : home | bodhisattvaintraining
  10. Weekly Photo Challenge: Home « Sasieology
  11. Weekly Photo Challenge: Home | Chronicles of Illusions
  12. Weekly Photo Challenge: Home | En snögummas tankar om livet
  13. Gamlebyen Skole « Cardinal Guzman
  14. Weekly Photo Challenge: Home « Efrata Denny Saputra Yunus
  15. Weekly Photo Challenge: Home « britten
  16. Weekly Photo Challenge: Home | Life with a Neurotic Cat
  17. Weekly Photo Challenge: Home of Lotus | My.Vivid.Visions
  18. Home is where the heart is « I solemnly swear i am upto no good!
  19. Weekly Photo Challenge: Home « cumakatakata
  20. Weekly Photo Challenge: Home « cumafotofoto
  21. Weekly Photo Challenge – Home | breathofgreenair
  22. Weekly Photo Challenge: Home | Meg Travels
  23. weekly photo challenge : home | Time To Be Inspired
  24. Weekly Photo Challenge: Home! « ranDom muZings
  25. Weekly Photo Challenge: Home | The Evolution of X


Filed under Eating in Season, General

Repurpose This: Brass Courting Candleholder

Want proof that this mechanical oddity is a candleholder? Just take a look at all the melted wax coiled on the saucer.


Such an interesting device. Besides a candleholder, what could you make of it?

Courting candles were used in earlier times as curfew devices. When a suitor came to call, a girl’s parents pulled the taper up through the clamp and lit the wick. When the candle burned down to the metal, it would go out, and the date was officially over.

I don’t have any examples for repurposing it. But I can imagine it working as a holder for a taper candle, or a single flower. It’s clamp and spring design make it perfect for post-industrial decor. Could it work as a unique incense burner?

If you are clever with candle making yourself, perhaps you could fashion another coiled candle and return it to its original use.


A courting candle in all it’s original glory ( photo courtesy of the Sundance Catalog)

I’m always interested in our ideas, so brainstorm away! Let me know if you’d
like to pick it up in the Annapolis area. I’ll post it on FreeCycle as well.


Filed under General, Repurpose This

Somewhat Weekly Recipe: Smashed Sunchokes

Every so often, we get a vegetable from the CSA that is a little daunting to use.  I’ve been perplexed by Romanesco, celery root, and black radish at first.  There have been vegetables that I’ve been just overwhelmed with when the season and conditions were so perfect for them that they produced in abundance. (See anything I wrote about squash last year, but also I usually get fed up with lettuce and any baby greens by the middle of May)  But even those things were either stored or grated into stir-fries or stews or salads so that nothing went to waste.  The only vegetable that consistently stumped me was the sunchoke.

The knobby, wrinkled oddity that is the Sunchoke.

The knobby, wrinkled oddity that is the sunchoke.

For some reason, when I’ve researched recipes for the sunchoke (also known as Jerusalem Artichoke) I found only old-style techniques that involved peeling it, which was frustrating and wasted lots of the vegetable because of all the deep crevices.  And the recipes were either bland (boiling it and serving with salt and pepper) or seemed intent on disguising its mild flavor completely (gratin and hot sauce). The time and effort just didn’t seem worth the result.  It wasn’t until this week that I learned that peeling is optional (!) which made me far more patient with experimenting with its unique and delicate flavor.  The result is a side dish that’s as comforting as a bowl of creamy mashed potatoes, but with less work, more fiber, and less calories.  I think I’ve found a new vegetable to love…finally.

Smashed Sunchokes

  • Clean equal-ish  amounts of sunchokes and potatoes.  Leave the skins on :) You may need to cube the potatoes if they are large…the pieces of potatoes and sunchokes should be roughly the same size.
A bowl of cleaned sunchokes, skin-on.

A bowl of cleaned sunchokes, skin-on.

  • Fill a large pot with water, salted if you wish, and get those tubers boiling.  Keep them going until fork-tender, then drain.
About the same amount of potatoes, cleaned and skin-on.  Did you know most of the nutrients in potatoes are just under the skin?

About the same amount of potatoes, cleaned and skin-on. Did you know most of the nutrients in potatoes are just under the skin?

  • Put the empty pot back on a low burner.  Toss in some real butter and swizzle around the bottom of the pot.  Then dump the veggies back in, and smash with an old-fashioned potato masher.  The idea is to soften everything into comfort-food consistency, but still have lumps.  Why?  Well, the peels and the sunchokes will not get as smooth as the potatoes.  Don’t even try.  Go for lumps, and celebrate them.  Salt and pepper to taste, and serve warm.
Like so much comfort food, this bowl of Smashed Sunchokes is not particulary pretty.  But your tummy will think they're beautiful.

Like so much comfort food, this bowl of Smashed Sunchokes is not particularly pretty. But your tummy will think they’re beautiful.

I am really happy that I have finally made peace with the sunchoke, as it’s practically the definition of eating locally and seasonally in Anne Arundel County.  They were being cultivated by the Native Americans when the first explorers came here.  The plants, which look like very tall, multi-stemmed sunflowers, grow prolifically in our climate.  They are perennial, so they will come back year after year, with little work on the gardener’s part.  And they are easy to store…just  leave them in the ground until you are hungry!  They will keep until mid-February, when they start to sprout.  Or store them at home however you store your potatoes.  Fresh vegetables all winter long…and no canning or peeling required!

Please share any recipes that you have for sunchokes.  I’m eager to expand my recipe base for these slightly lemon-y, slightly potato-y, low carb vegetable.




Filed under Eating in Season, General

From “Cauldrons and Cupcakes”, Happy Groundhog Day!

According to Nicole at “Cauldrons and Cupcakes“, the energy shift that marks the start of 2013 actually begins on February 2 this year. Quite an auspicious day, as in this part of the world, we officially start looking for signs of Spring. And 2013 promises to be a turning point for the better, according to Nicole’s projections for us all: “This year you are being empowered to make your life work, and for it to look more like the life you dream for yourself.”
Good stuff!


Keeping warm at a Groundhog Day celebration early this morning in Pennsylvania. (photo courtesy of The Daily News)

Update: once again, after I posted this, I received the Daily Prompt from WordPresswith a cue to ‘write a post connecting  a global issue to a personal one’.  Global= energy shift, local= Groundhog Day celebrations, and personal=Happy Birthday to me!  How’s that for a slam-dunk on the assignment?


Filed under General, Our No-Acre Homestead