Sunday, May 31, 2009

Weeding (or grass is taking over my garden!)

My garden is hitting it's stride. Onions are growing well, beans coming up, potato's getting huge.

Oh, but there's an issue. My seedlings/plants are doing well, and so is the grass and weeds. Please stop growing!!

We put this garden in last spring, tilling up all the grass, adding soil and amendments to it before planting. And the grass and weeds still took over. To be fair, I tend to be a lazy gardener, not such a fan of weeding. And I REFUSE to use chemicals in my garden, which means it's hard labor or nothing.

This spring, I tilled it twice before planting, and have been far more faithful in dragging myself out there to weed. But the grass is creeping in and trying to reclaim the space. PLEASE STOP GROWING! I was hoping, against hope, that because of the tilling and work last year, that there wouldn't be as many weeds. No such luck.

So, if anyone out there has children that need to be punished, send 'em my way and I'll have them weed the garden. Or maybe I'll find an excuse to force my kids to do it (but I'm afraid they would "weed" all my good plants out if I did that). I'm praying for a miracle to kill those weeds, but I think my solution will be just doing it myself. shucks!

Wheelhouse project is almost done

I am super excited about how this is turning out. The filter is finally working well, helping to clear out the algae and take care of all the "waste" from the ducks.

As you can see, hubby has been super busy working on this for the past few days. (Ah, nothing like being up at 10pm with drop-lights, passing tools in the dark....) Check out how cool the front looks with that "reclaimed wood". We had thought about painting it a different color, but the red is kinda growing on us. The shingles above the waterwheel are cedar, and will weather to a lovely silver color in the next few years.

All that is left now is completing the roofing on the top, installing gutters, and completing the other two sides. Hubb's is making a storage space to the left to park our mower in. We are all about making it all work for us. Oh, almost forgot, we are also installing a "window" in that left side that is a mirror. Just to give it character. We are still discussing whether or not to install a copula and weather vane on the top, so please leave your opinion on that matter.

The ducks, the lovely ducks are ripping out all that grass I planted last week. Eating it. Funny, I did research on the subject, and the article I read said that they wouldn't bother this type of grass. Guess my ducks haven't read that article. Plus, they are burrowing into the dirt and making cute little divots around the pond. I was trying to figure out how those smooth, round holes were appearing....and then I had the "ah-ha" moment. Dur. Still, I don't care. I love sitting on the deck watching them float in the yard and talk amongst themselves. It makes me smile and soothes my soul.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Waterwheel project--reusing and reducing waste

As you can see from my old photo's, hubby is working on a water wheel house for our pond. (Ah, I love a HANDY man!) We had purchased all the lumber for the project on Monday, which is when I got my weight-lifting exercise unloading all of it!

Hubby was talking with the neighbor yesterday, who has been doing a total remodel of the house next door to us. They have basically stripped the house to the bones and rebuilt it. They are getting ready to do a dump run, saw what hubby has going on, and offered us their cast-off siding for FREE. Now, folks, this is lap siding, solid fir, that is over 75 years old....and the back of it is in PRIMO condition. It is beautiful wood siding (make me drool!) that they were doing to just throw in the dump. I am so thrilled and excited to have authentic, farmhouse siding on our water wheel. Sure, the outside of the boards are weathered, but so what? It will add wonderful character to the project, plus we have rescued all that wood from just....sitting at the dump.

He also is giving us his left-over roofing shingles (worth $70) and some PVC pipe that we are using for a gutter system. We are going to collect the rain run-off and redirect it to the pond to help make up for evaporation and animal drinking.

Thank you Lord for a huge blessing of free lumber. And beautiful lumber it is! Now we get to return all that extra wood for cash to use on other projects (aannddd there is my weight-lifting exercise for THIS weekend!).

Plus, our OTHER neighbor is moving out of the rental house next door, and has close to a half a cord of firewood that he doesn't want, so we got that for free as well, to use in our fire pit. That was a good hours worth of work for the skinny-teenboy living here to do. (He wanted to earn a guitar want that hun? you work for it!)

This kind of stuff makes me happy on two levels. Number one: I am cheap. I need to save money where I can so that we can get by every month. Number two: I am eco-conscious. I want to re-use things wherever I can, so that we cut down less trees and have less stuff in the dump. It's a double win!

Solar Ovens

This is the solar oven my 8Th grade son made for his science class. Boy, oh boy, he didn't do it the easy way!

Solar ovens come in various shapes, there are simpler shapes, and more difficult ones (like the one he chose, of course!). It is a way to direct the light of the sun onto a specific spot so that it heats up and you can cook on it. Most solar ovens can get around 250 degrees and can get as high as 400 degrees.

It took us four days to make, using scraps around the house. (I do glass fusing as a hobby, so I had spare mirror around, and hubby had the wood scraps plus some caulk to hold it together). Most the other students made theirs with tin-foil to reflect the light (which would have been WAY easier, I must say!).

He took it to school to test the heat out this morning. We had it outside before school, it was about 65 outside, and it got up to about 140 degrees within 10 minutes. So, that's not too shabby! The class goal is to get the oven's hot enough to bake a cookie within 25 minutes. I am PRAYING that his caulking holds, and that he gets the cookie baked. He, on the other hand, wants to break the school record of having the hottest solar oven! Good to have a goal, sweetie.

I hope it works!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Summertime treats.....

The weather has really warmed up around here. Plus, all those commercials from McD's about their new iced coffees. Oh, it makes me crave them something FIERCE.

My solution? Make my own iced coffee at home! I have a pitcher that I refrigerate all my "leftover" coffee, or I will make extra and put it in the fridge. So, get a large drinking glass, coat the bottom with a few tablespoons of chocolate syrup (like for ice cream or chocolate milk--1.50 a container on sale!). I then add about half of the glass full of cold coffee, and stir the chocolate into the coffee. Top that with skim milk, and add a final tablespoon or so of sugar-free flavored syrup (like Torani's). Give it a quick stir, and it's good to go. Add some ice to it if you are heading outside.

It's yummy, economical, and fairly guilt-free with the skim milk and sugar-free syrup. So much better for you than the mystery mix from McD's.

For a frappichinno, freeze some coffee into ice cubes. When ready to make your treat, toss some coffee cubes into the blender along with a scoop of ice cream, and some skim milk. Add your sweetener (like chocolate syrup, coffee creamer, or sugar-free syrup). Blend together and taste. Add more or less of any of the ingredients to get the consistency and flavor that you like. Some days, I like a strong coffee flavor, and will have 2/3 of the drink be coffee, other days, I want a fru-fru drink and will have more ice cream or sweetener to it.

For the kids, you can make guilt-free "icee's" by making fruit juice concentrate (only dilute half of what the directions say) and then make into ice cubes. When ready to make into icee's, toss 'em into the blender, add some fresh fruit to compliment it if you like, or try some 7-up. Blend and taste. For a smoothie, do the same fruit juice cubes with some milk or yogurt and add fresh fruit.

Enjoy on a hot day!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Save money in groceries and how to deal with what you bought

I was writing up my shopping list, going thru the ad's as I do every week, and I noticed it was a HUGE week to buy meat. (Odd, I would have figured on better sales for the holiday, but I was wrong!) So then I said to myself, well....I know what to do with all that extra meat! But it occurred to me that some of you might not be on to all my tricks and tips. So, I will share them with you.

Number one: watch the sales. This week, hamburger is on sale for 1.49 a pound, and pork chops are the same. Even roasts are 1.59. It's a great time to stock up on that stuff for summer. I'll give hints below on how to make it work.

Number two: coupons really do work. Clip those coupons on Sunday, look on-line for printable coupons, and sign up for those special store cards. They will mail you extra coupons, plus combo those coupons to some sales, and you can save over 50% in your grocery budget. Remember--even those splurge foods, comfort items (like pizza and ice cream) can be gotten at a great deal. Don't avoid them simply because it isn't part of your "good food" budget. If you KNOW you will be purchasing them in the upcoming for a bbq, or instead of eating out, you may as well get a good deal on them! No, I don't like using my grocery budget money for ice cream and chips, but I also know if I don't get SOME treats, my family will mutiny or sneak behind my back and buy it anyways. The sound of the ice cream truck?? Yeah, just go to the freezer and grab a goody that you bought for a steal!

Number three: some tricks and ways to save take extra time. Sure, I can grab a bag of baby carrots for a buck fifty, or I can get TWO pounds of carrots for 99 cents. Give me 10 minutes to peel and cut them into sticks, toss 'em in the fridge, and there's a healthy snack for the kids. Also, I can feed the peelings to the dogs or ducks for a treat, dry them out to feed to the chinchilla, or compost them in the garden. Practically NO WASTE at all.

Alright, so for the meat tips. I am going to be buying in bulk this week, probably coming away with about 15 pounds of meat. What to do with it all?

First, I portion out the hamburger into meal-sized amounts (whatever is reasonable for your family). Usually, I cut it down to around 3/4 of a pound a meal for us...heaven's knows we don't NEED all the meat! I put each meal amount of burger into *sandwich* bags, squeeze all the air out, and seal, then flatten them (makes it more stack able in the freezer). Once I have several bags of this, I place them into a gallon *freezer* bag, squeeze the air out, and seal. Label with the date and what it is. (This means I can reuse the more expensive freezer bag since it hasn't been in contact with meat, plus it gives added protection against freezer burn, and is convenient to have in one place--I grab one large bag of hamburger and am good for several meals from my fridge freezer) I also make up hamburger patties at this time---form them, put them on a cookie sheet, freeze them solid, and then place them into a freezer bag, and label them.

For the pork chops, I will also individually freeze some of them. Just like the patties, place them in a single layer on a cookie sheet, freeze solid, then place into a labeled freezer bag. Then, just pull out however many you need at the time you are cooking. Another thing to do is marinate them in a freezer bag (do several in one bag, add whatever marinade your family likes) and freeze it. When ready to use, cut the bag off of the meat, and cook in a crock pot, or in the oven.

For roasts, I just place the meat, still in it's wrapper, into another freezer bag, and label the bag with the date.

The important thing is to try to get ALL the air out of the bag to reduce any freezer burn. Also, be sure to rotate your frozen stock, using the oldest stuff first. I am still using meat that I froze this way last September, and there is no sign of freezer burn on mine.

It is a huge blessing to be able to buy meat in bulk and set it aside. That way when prices go up (and you know they will in the next few months!), you can rest easy knowing that you have a good supply set aside for your family in your freezer.

Happy shopping!!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day weekend's been such a wonderful weekend. Good weather, time to relax outside. Couldn't ask for better weather.

I've been rather lazy this weekend, up until today. I got out into the garden, did a bunch of weeding, and put down the soaker hose for our watering needs. My sweetie has it set up on a timer, so it automatically comes on about 6am every morning. It was nice to check out the garden, whine about the weeds, and see how well things are growing.

I also rigged a pulley system for the duck feeder, so that I can raise the feeder out of reach when the ducks are out of their house. Like me, they are lazy, and will hang near the easy food unless I remove it. Come on, guys! Go out and eat some bugs, please (but stay away from my petunias)! It will also gets it away from my dogs (who will sneak in and eat the grain. Who knew?).

I also bought some ornamental grass plants for around the new pond. I am a sneaky person (or cheap, as my kids would say). I bought gallon size plants, and then carefully split them into smaller plants, teasing them apart and carefully cutting the roots. You can do this with some grasses, daylilies, and other plants....any thing to make the money go farther! We have been living at this home for over 10 years and I have no plans of moving, so I can afford to be patient and see the plants fill out over the next few years.

Hubby is working on the pump house to go behind the water wheel. Whoo, boy, it has made him cranky. Just one more step in our long-range plans for our backyard. One step at a time.

The ducks finally discovered the larger pond yesterday. They were so excited when they finally all got settled in the pond. When I went to put them in their house at 10pm last night, all four of them were still swimming in the pond. Come on, guys---parties over, time for bed! And my petunias are no longer safe from them.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Sunfilled laundry

Welcome back! Today I am gonna give some tips on hanging your laundry outside.

First, consult the daily weather report. I live in the wet Pacific Northwest, and we get random rain showers, even if the morning is dry. So it is worth it to check how the whole day is going to be. If there is rain in the afternoon, gosh darn, I can't do laundry that day. *tsk* Maybe tomorrow.

Second, it is best to start it in the morning. If the weather isn't very hot (upper 70's and up), it could take the majority of the day for laundry to dry (especially jeans). So I typically start by mid-morning. If you forget and do it in the afternoon, it is still worth doing. When you take the laundry down, set aside any damp items, and toss 'em in the dryer for a finishing dry. You still will have a much shorter cycle and save a bunch of energy.

Also, before washing, be aware that line drying will make your things more stiff than a dryer would. Now, you can use some liquid fabric softener to help that, or add some apple cider vinegar to the softener cycle of the wash (I have friends who do this, I have never tried it personally). Or, you can toss dry items into the dryer on the fluff cycle. This will use very little energy (since there is no heat), but will fluff those items up. You can also add some tennis balls or prickly dryer balls to assist in fluffing it up. Me personally? I just shift my perspective. It's not "stiff", my clothes are "crisp" when I put them on, and they soften quickly on the body. For those crunchy towels, think of it as a way to exfoliate after your bath! Maybe you will start a trend.

Okay, so you have a laundry basket full of clothes, and you are walking outside. Try to make sure you are in full sun, away from any trees that hang OVER the lines. Because, our friends, the birds, will have more fun targeting your clean clothes than they do a freshly washed car.

As I hang my clothes, I work on separating them into "people" groups. Each person's items get hung in one area, so that when I take the clothes off the line, I immediately fold them, and they are already sorted. (It's not laziness, it's efficiency!) I try to hand the "unmentionables" toward the middle, and the larger stuff to the one needs to see my families underwear, even if it IS the backyard.

Alrighty, t-shirts should be hung from the bottom, so the shoulders don't show the pinch points from the clothes pins. Jeans and casual pants can be hung from the waist band (I take this moment to STRETCH the wasteband out a little to be forgiving for that first buttoning), but dressier pants should be hung from the hems. Take a moment and snap them out hard to reduce any wrinkles, match up the seams in each leg and hang one leg on one line, the other let on the other line. You can also run your hands down the leg to smooth out any wrinkles and encourage that pleat line in the front of the leg to fall right. For dress shirts, or flannel shirts, I hang them from the bottom as well, the two outside seams, then the middle placket where the buttons are, smoothing that out so it lays flat (if you are tidy, you might even be able to get away with not ironing later...of course, I loathe ironing, and each person is responsible for their own in my house. So, this step is all that happens for me!). Socks I match into pairs at this time.

And now, just sit back and let the sun do the work!

Remember to take down the laundry at dusk (if not earlier). If you leave it overnight (and I have!), it will get dew-soaked and need a few hours the next day to dry.

So....why even bother with all of this? The best reason is I love the smell of crisp laundry. I love how my sheets and pillowcases and comforter smells when they have been dried outside. Also, the sun will help keep whites whiter without using any bleach. (Reminder--a good reason not to leave clothes out on the line for days. The sun will fade any colors over time!) And then there is energy savings. Sure, it may not be a lot for a single load, but do three loads at a time, once or twice a week, combine that over a month, and the savings add up.

Help the planet, help your pocketbook, and try line drying today!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Hot weather cooking, or cooking for the lazy

Looking at the weather forecast, it is supposed to be HOT this weekend. Good for the garden, good for the animals, not so great for those of us stuck in the kitchen. Plus, it's a holiday weekend, and I don't want to be stuck in the kitchen.

Time for a preventive strike. My solution to this problem? Make up some salads and throw 'em in the fridge. I made a nice Greek salad last night (tons of veggies), this morning, before it gets too hot, I am making two types of potato salad, a macaroni salad, egg salad, and a bacon pea salad. Why so many? Can you tell my family is picky? The more choices, the more likely they won't get too tired of any one of them. For my family, it's better to make two different types in smaller amounts, than one big one. It doesn't take a huge amount of additional time, and you are already working with most the same ingredients.

This way, when the kids come in and say they are starved, I can tell them to have some salad, plus throw a hot dog in the microwave, and there's a meal! No mom-guilt.

I'll even shoot a great recipe your way! My lovely mother-in-law taught me this recipe, and it's super yummy.

German Potato Salad

A few pounds of potato's, boiled, peeled and cubed
One yellow onion
One pound of bacon
Mayonnaise (cannot be Miracle Whip)
Salt and pepper to taste

Make up the potato's. While they are cooking, Fry up the bacon. Work in smaller batches, pouring off grease as needed (I save the grease for other cooking). Do not disturb the browning's! Once all the bacon is crispy, pour off nearly all of the excess grease, and cool the pan slightly. While the pan is cooling, break the bacon into smaller pieces, and dice the onion. While the bacon pan is still slightly warm, add a cup or more of mayo to the pan. Stir firmly to scrape off all the browning's off the bottom of the pan, making sure the browning's are well incorporated to the mayo.
Combine the potato's, onion and bacon in a large bowl. Taste the dressing, add salt and pepper to taste (remember that the bacon is smoky and salty, but that the potato's will absorb a lot of salt. So it needs to be to taste.), and carefully fold in the dressing over the potato mixture.

Place in the fridge, and let stand for a few hours (a day is better!) before eating.


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

My garden!

This is my garden for this year. I have potato's (it's my first try at that), they have been hilled once. Lettuce is next, starting to fill in. Then the bean plants. Nine different tomato plants, four pepper plants, one basil, plus onions and peas.

The spring time is so exciting for us gardeners. I typically start thinking about what to plant in the late winter. Mentally going over what grew well, what we eat a lot of, and what just isn't worth the effort. (For me, that is corn. Takes up too much space, and I can buy it from a roadside stand for a decent price.) I start musing about what I want to try different this year, add more of, what we ran out of during the winter.

Then, tilling the garden. Mixing in compost, pulling out weeds and grass. Noticing the fat worms in the garden, worrying about any grubs and slugs. Itching to get seeds in the dirt.

April finally hits, and I can plant the peas and lettuce. So exciting! I am not a huge fan of lettuce, but it feeds my need for instant gratification. It grows quickly, and I can usually make a nice salad by mid-May. I love going out and inspecting the plot, to see if the seeds are coming up or not, how much damage the slugs are doing, if I should re-plant more seeds.

Then, the tomato plants hit the garden stores. Oh, trying to have some restraint! I know that late April is too cold for tomato plants in my area. Try to wait until May.

Early May, going to the stores and picking out the tomato's, peppers, and other plants. How many plants to get, and what type? Roma's are small, but fairly prolific. Beefsteaks just don't produce as much as I wish. I LOVE cherry tomato's, but there always seems to be too many of them, and they aren't so great for canning. But I would rather have an over-abundance of tiny tomato's than just one or two huge ones. Hmmmm....early producers (my tomato's usually don't ripen until my birthday, mid-August. It always seems like it takes too long), or prolific plants? After that, on to peppers. Now, my pepper plants never do extremely well, but hope springs eternal! There is a joy in watching them grow, counting the blooms, and seeing how many actually bear fruit.

Now it is mid-May, and I am optimistic that this year will be a good one. My peas are sad, very sad, and I have even replanted them. The peas in pots on my deck are doing much better than the ones in the ground. I need to get about 15 pounds of peas to get us through the winter. 30 pounds would be better (but that is WAY too optimistic!). My first try at potato's seem to be doing well. I can't wait for new potato's, peas and white sauce....just like Momma used to make in the early summer.

Ahhh.....I love gardening!

Monday, May 18, 2009

And then there was

one. *sigh* I lost one of the new babies this morning. I thought that one of them looked sorta puny last night, the other duckling was cuddled up close to it. This morning, the poor dear couldn't even hold it's head up.

I tried all the recommended things, some honey water, some fresh greens. No good. Prayer. Nope. (Well, sometimes the answer is "no", even if we ask with a fervent heart)

I know that I did all the right things. Trying to make the poor baby as comfortable as possible. It just wasn't meant to be.

I took the other ducky outside with me (since the weather was so warm and sunny) and had the carrier down where the other ducks would be around it. It was so cute, the baby would peep, and the other ducks would come up and inspect him. They would sit close to the carrier, making him part of their flock. (I call the duckie "him" because he reminds me of Houdini in how he keeps trying to escape the carrier! His name has been changed to Houdini.) I love how the ducks all try to flock together and include him as much as possible.

Another new thing! The older ducklings FINALLY discovered that we have a pond. Hooray, no more schlepping out fresh water bowls for them to drink from all the time. I am not sure how they missed the ponds all this time (especially when we kept putting them INTO the water), but they sure were avoiding them for the longest time. Hubby said that they were playing in the water this evening (I only saw them drinking from them, and I was plenty happy about just that), eating the pond plants and splashing all over. There goes the neighborhood!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Animal Welfare or my ark is growing

My good friend calls it "animal welfare". It's when you have animals for no good purpose, other than the enjoyment you get from them. At my house...oh, goodness, all of our animals are on welfare! We have the four dogs (semi-watch dogs, really, just company), the cat (who has NO good purpose!), a chinchilla, two the four ducklings that will be giving us eggs come late fall.

Oh, my bad, I mean we have SIX ducklings. Uh-huh...two new enrollee's on the gravy train that is my yard. Our runner ducks are a month old now, and just got booted to the great outdoors. Today, after church, one family had two tiny ducklings that lost their momma, who needs a new home. So, we graciously and willingly agreed to host the lil' buggers. They will be mystery ducks, we have no idea what type they are.

They come to us named! We have "Duck" and "Duckie". Should be fun to see what they grow up to look like!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Welcome to my world!

Hello, dear readers! This is my first attempt at blogging, so I pray you forgive any errors.

I am hoping to show you a glimpse into my life, to see how I do what I do (as weird as it all is!) and show my triumphs and my failures. It's the failures that help us grow, so I must be growing a lot!

At this time, we have graduated our ducklings to the outdoors. Hooray, I have my bedroom back, no more duck smell. Our "babies" are a month old, and growing like weeds. It's funny, they each have such personalities. Spicy, our largest female, is the dominate one. She looks out for all the others. We named her after my mother, "Spicy Grandma", or Spicy for short. (Also known as "speecy-spicey meatballs"). If I leave the ducks outside alone, she will look around after me. When I return outside, she will run up close, all the others following close behind, and stop just a few feet short of me.

Blackie and Mario are far more reserved. They are the guys of the group. Blackie was a bully toward our littlest baby, Chatty Cathy (Chatty for short). Chatty came to us a week later than the others, and Blackie thought it was his job to pick on her for over a week. Thankfully, Blackie has stopped that, and Chatty has been accepted into the flock.

Our garden is growing rapidly (thank you Lord!). I have hilled up our potato's twice now, and the lettuce should be ready for picking in another week or so. My peas have been way too fussy this year, most of them not coming up. Odd, that. I have always had good luck with them in the past! I planted a few of them into pots along our deck, and those are very happy campers. Why would they be growing well in pots, but not in the garden?

Ah well. I am still praying that the rest of the plants do well and grow fully.

Thanks for reading my little post into my world. I'll let you know how the ducklings fair in the next few weeks and how my garden grows.