Getting Ready for Christmas

On the Saturday after Thanksgiving, we put up our Christmas tree and decorated the house for the holidays, like we do each year. And then time sped up and BAM! – it’s practically Christmas Day already. Where does the time go? It’s been so much fun having a toddler in the house for Christmas, that can run around and talk about everything under the sun. I think I’m having more fun watching him have fun than I am actually doing it myself.

Decorating the house was a great day. We went into the city to pick out our tree at Gethsemane Garden Center and had a great time. We put on some holiday music, got a fire going in the fireplace (oh yes, we did!) and really enjoyed spending the day together. And for dinner, we ate the last of the Thanksgiving turkey in turkey noodle casserole (basically like tuna noodle casserole, but I season it with herbs de provence – so good!)

Another day we went downtown and went to Christkindlmarket for our annual visit. We had brats, pretzels, Viennese almonds and gluwine (aka glogg, aka mulled wine). We walked around and checked out the stalls and enjoyed the holiday atmosphere. And we picked up our annual blown-glass ornament, though this year we opted for two small ones instead of one large one, per Little Man’s request – he picked out a tractor and a firetruck. And we picked up our annual bag of Nuremberg gingerbread. That stuff is so addicting, and I’ve been rationing that bag to all of us for about two weeks now!

We’ve also baked cookies (snickerdoodles and iced sugar cookies so far) and we plan to do more. We need to make another batch of snickerdoodles as well as Russian tea cakes, soft ginger drop cookies and spritz. If I manage to be super mom, a batch of rosettes. And we’ve been driving around every day when I get picked up from the train to look at the Christmas lights. That’s been a nice little random surprise about suburbia – nearly everyone decorates the outside of their houses at here. All of the Christmas shopping is done; we just need to pick up a few things for our Christmas Day meal when we do our regular grocery shopping this week.

And I have been working on a neat Christmas decorating project (that I intended to blog about), but I’m not sure I’ll finish it in time. Though now that I’ve mentioned it here, it’s kind of unfair if I don’t share, right? So I’ll try to wrap it up and finish it this weekend – it’s quick and can be done in a few hours (provided you are not a lazy procrastinator like me).

So, that’s been life at Apartment Farm lately. Hope everyone is having a great holiday season as well!

Getting Stuff Done – Well, That’s The Plan

Last weekend’s complete relaxation (doing nothing, at all) was great. But there are a lot of things I kind of wish I had gotten done. Good thing there’s another weekend starting!

I’ve got to do something about plants. For whatever reason (though not neglect this time!) my second batch of seeds refused to sprout at all too. Not a single one. I suspect our cold, damp spring wasn’t helpful. I thought starting them in the furnace closet would fix the situation, but no. Not one single seedling. Not one to admit defeat, I’m moving on to Plan C. I’ll just buy some transplants from Gethsemane. It won’t be as affordable as starting my own, and I won’t get exactly the varieties I wanted, but at least I’ll still be able to have home-grown produce this summer. Sometimes you just have to take the trade off.

Bread. I’ve been meaning to bake some more bread lately. My husband will certainly want a traditional loaf, but I’m also thinking about focaccia again – sun dried tomato and rosemary focaccia to be specific. So I plan to start a couple batches on the rise first thing tomorrow morning.

I also want to think about planning out my next few food projects. In three weeks, I’m going to show my book club ladies how to cure bacon, so I’ve got to write out an instruction sheet for that. I’ve also been wanting to work with a whole duck – confiting the legs, rendering the fat, preparing the roasted breasts and making stock from the carcass. I’m going to research technique this weekend so that next weekend (after payday gives me the extra oomph I need to purchase said duck) I’m all ready to go.

There’s a whole lot else that needs to be done as well, but I’ll keep my list (and expectations) realistic. 🙂

Christmas is Coming!

I love Christmas. It’s glittery, sparkly, and warm. You get to spend time indoors with tea or cocoa or spiced wine and tasty baked goods and share it all with the people you love. And it’s so fun to make or choose the perfect gift for people that deserve something special.

As per our usual tradition, we got our Christmas tree from Gethsemane Garden Center on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. This year, we had Grandpa Olsen join us. The day was crisp and cold and sunny – a perfect winter day. Gethsemane was bustling with other families on their Christmas tree mission, but it wasn’t so swamped that it was impossible to get around. After much deliberation, we chose a five foot Fraser fir. I think this is the second year in a row we’ve gotten a Fraser Fir. In my opinion, you just can’t beat the color, fragrance and lasting ability of them.

In addition to the tree, we also wanted some greenery for the back deck. We selected two bunches of pine boughs for the window box, as well as some branches of wintergreen. We also got an 18 inch round boxwood wreath.

We laid the pine boughs and some of the wintergreen into the window box, securing them down with landscape pins. In the planter in front of our bedroom window where we have the dwarf creeping juniper dwarf blue spruce planted, we also laid some of the pine boughs down in front where a few gourds were previously. We also stuck a few wintergreen branches vertically in back for a little height. For the wreath, I wound a glittery red ribbon around it and we hung it on the back door. And I had intended to post pictures, but we forgot about taking them while it was still daylight and now we’ll have to wait until the next weekend since it gets dark at four o’clock. (I really do intend to start posting photos here again!)

While the tree was opening up, I put around all my Christmas tchotchkes – nutcrackers, candles, figurines and such. I hung the stockings in their place of honor on our bookcases. And then trimmed our tree with colored lights and our ever-growing collection of hand-blown and vintage Shiny Brite ornaments. The house is looking quite festive!

I also got started on some of my Christmas crafting – I’ve got fabric pieces cut for four gifts, and have to cut fabric for another four gifts in the next week, so everything is all ready to sew up at once. I also started crocheting another gift, and will be taking my crochet tote on the train this week in order to get a few things done during the commute. Let the games begin!

Attack of the Squirrels!

Up until very recently, my only experience with garden pests has been one nasty outbreak of spider mites on a trio of sweet pepper plants and the occasional interaction with fruit flies. I’d read about the woes of outdoor gardeners, lamenting about losing half their crop to deer or squirrels, aphids and other four-legged marauders and creepy crawlies. But I didn’t really get it; in fact, I often wondered what all the fuss was about. I mean, I live in a giant city. We certainly don’t have deer. And how much damage can one little squirrel do?

A lot, evidently! We’ve been in our new apartment for just over a month now, and the plants just love being outdoors. The bay tree and rosemary were the only permanent plants to made the transition from the old apartment and being outdoors has just made them flourish. I was worried about them since they hadn’t been “hardened” to outdoor living, but you’d never know it by looking at them. They become even more lush, more green and more robust. And more tasty apparently.

I thought I was losing my mind when I noticed bite marks on the bay leaves. But then I knew it was a squirrel when it started digging little holes in the dirt and would sit on the power lines chirping at us whenever we were outside, as though we were invading it’s territory. But that was okay; it was just a few nibbles, and just a few holes in the dirt.

But then The Gourd Incident occurred. Sunday afternoon after the family came by to visit Gethsemane Garden Center, we spent a few hours getting everything planted. We filled a window box on the deck railing and tucked in a few gourds. After the family departed for the day, we spent some time sitting at the bistro table and enjoying our handiwork. Then we went inside for the evening to make dinner. After we had dinner in the oven (honey-chardonnay turkey drumsticks with bread stuffing and mashed potatoes), husband looked out the bedroom window and noticed something wrong. There was dirt all over the railing and one of the gourds was out of it’s spot in the window box, sitting on the rail. So we went outside and what did we discover? Not two hours after getting everything planted, that little bugger of a squirrel had a little snack of one of the gourds! It either didn’t care for lettuce, beets and bok choi, or else it got full on half the gourd it decided to taste. Husband sprinkled cayenne pepper in the planter, while letting out a few choice curses, so hopefully that’s the end of the squirrel buffet.

But now I’m scheming on the scheming squirrels. They are not cuddly, cute little creatures at all! I will no longer be defending their honor amongst the vermin-hating crowd. Squirrels are now Garden Enemy Number One. If they’re enthusiastic about bay leaves and gourds, they’re going to go nuts about my spring planting. I intend to be ready. I’m dreaming of full net-cages, chicken wire surrounds and repellent sprays. I’ve got big plans for fruits and veggies next season and my goal is to best the squirrels so I can actually eat what I plant, so I’m taking suggestions and advice!

The Fall Garden

It’s never to late to plant. This weekend the family came out for our semi-annual trip to Gethsemane Garden Center, and we loaded up with things for our little deck. And we chose a perfect weekend for it – not only was the weather warm and sunny, but Gethsemane was highly motivated to move the last of this season’s glazed pottery pots and planters.

We got some serious deals for two-thirds off the original price. We came home with two large square green-glazed planters that are perfect for the bay tree and rosemary that needed to be potted up. We also got a wire window box that Jeremy’s grandpa purchased for us. And to round out the pots on the deck, we were also given a wood planter with a shelf underneath handmade by grandpa – it’s got lovely finials on the corners and heart cutouts in the box, and the workmanship is just gorgeous.

We also loaded up on plants. We picked out a bamboo plant for the bedroom (and it ended up being the only plant we were allowed to pay for ourselves – Jeremy’s mom generously picking up the tab for the rest) which we potted into the round glazed pot that the bay tree used to live in. For the wooden planter, we got two creeping junipers and two dwarf blue spruces. We tucked the earth box right into the planter and put the junipers on either side of the spruces, with a mini pumpkin tucked in front. When winter sets in, we’re going to add some red dogwood branches and white lights.

And we went pretty crazy with the window box – there are two small burgundy mums, about ten lettuces, two baby bok chois, and three beets. We also tucked in some gourds. It’s looking full and beautiful. I also put my handkerchief ghosts in along the front, so it’s very autumnal. I’m looking forward to a few fall salads, if the blasted squirrels don’t eat them all – but that’s another story (or rather, another post). We also overzealously got two small yellow mums which we couldn’t fit in, so we planted one in a red tin bucket that I had laying around, and the other we tucked into a white planter painted with garden flowers that belonged to Jeremy’s late grandmother. We put both of those and some more mini pumpkins on the etagere. And since we bought so many lettuces, we received two chive plants for free – they’re a little worse for wear, but I plan to nurse them back to robustness in the kitchen window (partly because the neighbor cat Maybe discovered them instantly and apparently thinks chives are delicious). We planted them in the round green glazed pot that the rosemary was previously living in.

So, we’ve the full window box on the deck rail in front of the bistro set and underneath the white lantern and ghost lights. Opposite it along the brick wall of the building is the etagere and next to that in front of our bedroom window is the planter box with the evergreens. The green pots with the rosemary and bay tree are flanking the planter box, but we’ll have to bring them in before long for the season – I think they’ll just fit in the kitchen windowsill. On the other side of the etagere under the bathroom window are the two metal cans that store the potting soil and miscellaneous garden supplies. And that’s the whole deck, in a nutshell (I know, I really need to post some pictures, and I will – we ran out of daylight today to take any that would be any good).

I’m hoping the mums and things last for another month or so, but when those go we’ll lay in some evergreen boughs and holly branches and maybe some red dogwood branches. And of course I’d like to do an evergreen garland around the decking as well, but I might be getting ahead of myself a bit. At any rate, we’ve got some nice plantings out for autumn – no need to wait for spring to put in a little greenery!