May 072018
 

There is a lot of “new” happening over here this growing season – new zone, new yard, new routines, new plant selections, new places to shop…you get the idea.  Among all the newness there are still some constants which help it all flow smoother.

One of the things I have learn while gardening in various ways over the years is that raised beds are my friends.  I do not need a tiller to break up the soil each year, weeds are greatly reduced, and I can grow more in a small space than I could traditionally.

From past experience I knew that an 8 foot by 4 foot bed would be a great place to start.  Large enough to plant several things, but not too big to become overwhelming.  Having paid attention to the sunlight over the past year, I knew where in the yard would get full sun through all seasons, and which areas were in full or partial shade from late fall through late spring.  As none of our neighbors have backyard trees to create shade, that was not something I had to contend with.

A few other factors to take into account when deciding on placement were: location to a watering source, distance from fire ring, discharge from rain gutters, and allowing room for the kids to play.  I did not want to be carrying heavy buckets of water across the yard all summer or trying to wrangle several lengths of garden hose.  I also needed it to be far enough away from our fire ring to not interfere if we happen to be outside after dark.  The rain gutters discharge a lot of water during a rain event, even a small one.  If the garden was too close the soil would be eroded away.

After settling on where to place the garden bed and carrying the materials to that spot I actually had to move the location over a foot or two.  Why?  The yard had a slight slope around the edges to it to aide in storm-water run off.  What is normally a good thing (good drainage) becomes a not so ideal situation when you are trying to build a level raised bed.  Moving the bed over meant it would be level, thereby saving me the effort of having to dig it down on one side or raise it up on the other.

My previous garden beds were made out of wood planks screwed together to create squares or rectangles.  While this method was more economical it meant more time in constructing the beds, as well as painting or staining the boards to ensure a longer life.  It also made it a lot more difficult to extend the beds as my gardening adventures grew.

I liked the look of raised beds made of decorative stones, but the budget would not permit it at this time.  I also felt like that beds were more permanent in nature.  At this time I was not ready to commit to a location long term.

Concrete blocks were more economical than decorative border stones, flexible enough to change or move if desired, did not require constructing a frame, and allowed me the option to plant in the open spots of the blocks.  While I did not prefer the look of the blocks, the other factors won out.

In two days time I had a bed created in my back yard.  A few days later it was planted and seems to be doing well.  After two years of not having a vegetable garden, it is nice to be able to look forward to produce from one’s own backyard.

Something to keep in mind when planning on using concrete blocks is their weight.  Not only the weight of the finished product, but also the weight in your transportation of choice.  I was able to fit 27 blocks in my car without overloading it.  20 of the blocks were for the raised bed, one block high.  7 of the blocks were being used in a flower bed located in a different part of the yard.

At the time of picking up the blocks I also grabbed a bag of peat moss, two bags of top soil, and a bag of perlite (meant to get vermiculite but didn’t want to make an extra trip to exchange bags). A 50 lb bag of manure, 4 more bags of top soil, and 2 large bags of compost were added to it later.  As I replant and fertilize more dirt will be added.  I will also need to pick up a few bags to finish filling in the open holes of the blocks around the border.

Once home I gathered up cardboard boxes which had been accumulating in our garage.  These I laid out in a rough rectangle shape.  Where possible I created multiple layers of cardboard, which will kill the grass underneath before breaking down in the soil.

After the first corner was located where I wanted it, I began the place the blocks in a line, measuring from the privacy fence to double check its alignment.  Due to the size of the blocks the planting area was not exactly 8 feet by 4 feet, but it is really close.  Add in the extra planting squares and I am happy with the result.

After the blocks were squared up as much as possible, the bags of peat moss, soil, and compost were added and mixed in place.  This may not be the “correct” way to do it, but without a wheel barrel it was an acceptable alternative.  It also created less work than mixing the ingredients on a tarp before adding to the bed.

The soil was watered, allowing me to check for levelness of the new soils and to help the contents settle before planting.

The bed is now ready to be planted!

 

May 032018
 

These past few weeks have been full of various activities around the house and adventures away from home.  Here are a few snapshots of what has been going on. Much to my surprise and delight, my amaryllis is blooming. This lovely flower was a gift from a friend.  However, it was one which I could not set out to bloom the first year I had it, so it was placed in a cool, dark basement.  Then we moved, and it had to winter another year being stored in a cool, dark place.  Tip: this is not a recommended gardening technique.

As I was unpacking and organizing the house this past fall I decided to put it out by the front door in hopes that the location would encourage it to begin growing.  Within a few weeks of placing it outside and watering it, I noticed green beginning to appear.  Both bulbs put on a hardy set of leaves for a few months.  After a time the leaves began to yellow and die away.  I was a bit disappointed, but not surprised by the lack of flowers. With a lack of a place to store it, I left it outside though not a lot of watering was taking place. (Apparently I did something right without knowing it.)

One morning, I noticed green appearing once again!  Regular watering began immediately.  This time an additional shoot appeared after a few weeks – it was a flower stem!

Our front porch has now been graced with this beauty for the past week or so.  It brings a smile to my face every time I see it.

This beauty (in the eye of the beholder) was on the neighbor’s curb.  While it is not the perfect pallet for what I have planned, there were a few factors which made it perfect in my eye. Most importantly the fact that it was two houses away and free.

It is now a work in progress, hopefully to be completed by the end of this week as I already have plants to put in it.

With a warming of weather I realized it was getting close to being late for putting in a garden.  I was not wanting the look of concrete blocks, however the benefits – mobility, long life, no having to cut and drill, outweighed the negatives – not exactly the look I was heading towards.

After seeing a friend’s beds built with these even my husband mentioned I should try it.  Guess he was not bothered by the look. So I took the plunge and bought them one day.  I knew that if I only took the first step, the rest would fall into place quickly.  I already have the cardboard, from moving boxes, and experience of having done this before in Small Town.

The construction of this has progressed enough for plants to be added in today or tomorrow.  I will share more on it later.

While picking up blocks for the larger raised bed, I decided to adjust a design detail on the new smaller side bed.  The blocks along the fence had been more of the decorative type.  The problem with this was two-fold – they were too short and they were more expensive.  Why have nice looking blocks there when no one would see them?  Not only are the concrete blocks taller, but I can also plant inside the previously open squares.

I also added a painted pot from one of the kids.  The likelihood of a toad finding it to make a toad house is fairly small, but you never know.

Another aspect of gardening I have been researching is the addition of fruit plants and/or plants to create a living screen along our back fence.  After asking opinions of other local gardeners, browsing online garden supply stores, and reading up on our state’s extension website I thought I had it narrowed down to my final choices.

A trip to a local nursery with Jack one day showed me that I was not happy with the final choices.  Even more so, I did not want to pay a few hundred dollars for something I was not completely sold on.  Back to the drawing board I went.

One thing was for sure, I wanted a fig tree.  The other fruit trees are more prone to issues due to the humidity of our location.  Figs, however, do better and will give us about two crops a year.  I also hope to start new plants off this one using cuttings.  The gift that keeps on giving, I hope.

These past month has also found me working on other goals – saving money, establishing better homemaking routines, getting back into the flow of schooling, and decluttering.

On the saving money front, I chose a store where I do not regularly shop and worked on finding ways to save there.  It took a lot more time than I thought, but I am getting the hang of it.  Something I came to realize, though, was that my attitude was not in the right place while learning.  Instead of being in a place of thanks giving for the time and resources to learn, I began to have an attitude of lack. 

I began to feel as if I failed if I did not get this deal or that. To nip this lie in the bud, I stopped paying attention to the deals at this store for a couple weeks.  When a big sale came up I was able to take advantage to save a lot of money by stocking up on some essentials for our home, not worring about the other deals I missed.  When I had to thought of, “Maybe I should go check out the other store near us, they may have other inventory”, I gave myself a talking to and found a better use of my time to bless my family.

January tends to be the hard month school wise.  After the holidays it is hard to get the motivation back to get work done.  While January was unusual, it was March which really did us in.  For whatever reason, we just could not find our groove again.  April found us taking advantage of more out-of-home activities as we are getting to know particular local families who also are active in several of the groups we frequent.  A few other groups have also appeared on our radar…we really are blessed with the opportunities, ones we were wishing for in Small Town but could not find.  We are all appreciating the opportunities to make new friends.  Now the challenge is to find a balance between “learning” and “socializing”.  Good thing several of the groups fill both needs.

As for decluttering, there are still a few boxes of items to unpack from our move.  While I am not in a rush to unpack them without knowing where the items will go, I have been going through other things to clear out items we no longer need, want, or which are in a condition to warrant being thrown away.  I was able to pass along several bags of clothes to other families of boys, as well as contribute to the yard sale of a local youth group.

The common thread to these things is: routine.  Having a routine for school makes it more likely to get started.  Having  a routine to plan weekly meals makes it more likely to not rush at dinner time.  Having a routine for picking up the house makes it more likely I am not spending all my time picking up, but can actually focus on cleaning, fixing, or clearing out.

After trying a few different things I have found a few thing which have stuck.  Using those as framework for the rest of the system we are slowly expanding.  For me that currently looks something like this:

  • Laundry – Monday=mine and my husbands, Tuesday=George, Wednesday=Jack, Thursday=household and random other pieces
  • Meals – Sunday=spaghetti for lunch, leftovers for supper, Thursday=supper with small group, Friday=supper is pizza and movie, Saturday=lunch is meat, potatoes, and another vegetable with a nice dessert, supper is lighter such as sandwiches.  Nothing fancy, but it is a good framework.
  • A daily evening pickup of the house. Not perfect, but something is better than nothing.  This was happening right before bed, but then everyone was worked up. I changed it to happen right after supper and before a family activity which involves some sort of treat/dessert.  It worked much better last night.
  • Bedtime routines have simplified and been written out.  This was written down such that “Boy A” does X then Y, while “Boy B” does Y then X.  Seems clarifying that they shouldn’t be in the bathroom at the same time was needed to help reduce the amount of rough housing and to decrease the time it took to brush teeth.
  • The robo vaccum is run twice a week, at least – on Sunday while we are at church, and Wednesday during the day.  Other times as needed, but at least I know the floor will be picked up and swept twice a week. Now for mopping…

There is a lot going on over here, a lot of new or different things.  However, I am beginning to feel a better balance about things…all in time for summer break to be looming on the horizon, of course.

My overall goal for the garden this year is to work on getting big things established, to keep the longer distant time-wise goals in mind.  With an idea of where I want to end up, each step of the way is in that direction, even if it seems like I am skipping here and there around the place.

How has the spring been finding you?  What is one of your goals for the year and what have you done to work toward achieving it?

Mar 202018
 

This post may contain affiliate links.  

The ultimate goal of this blog is to pass along information in hopes of inspiring your love of the out-of-doors or encouraging you to try something new.  If I can help save you from making some of the same mistakes I have, keep a few extra dollars in your pocket, help you grow personally, introduce you to a new book, or offer you some laughs, I think we could all call it a good day.

I will be the first to admit that I do not know everything there is to know about gardening or nature.  {gasp} Shocking, I know!  Alas, it is true.  Thankfully there are others who know more about this area or that, who have tried this method or the other, or whose goals are different than the ones I may prioritize.  Put together we form a pretty solid source of knowledge.

To add a bit more excitement to the mix, I have compiled a sampling of giveaways, contests, and free items available this month.

If you have a small space or are looking to simplify, I would encourage you to check out Three Dogs In A Garden’s review of The Less Is More Garden: Big Ideas for Designing Your Small Yard by Susan Morrison.  “Because this book will go to a winner through the mail, we will have to limit entry to readers in Canada and the USA.  The draw will remain open until Saturday, March 31st.”Stuck inside due to snow or rain?  Then this would be a great time to complete some crafts.  Sara, at My Impressions, shows how you can use the Simon Says Stamp April Card Kit: Beautiful Day!  She also has a set to give away.  A winner will be chosen March 26th!

AZ Plant Lady reviewed The Colorful Dry Garden over at Ramblings From A Desert Garden.  If you garden in the same sort of climate, this books looks to be a helpful one to add visual interest in a challenging environment.  She is also giving away a copy of this book on March 22, so head over to read the review and enter to get your own copy.

Pepper Joe has a variety of ways to receive or win free hot pepper seeds.

Feb 222018
 

I was compensated for this post. This post also contains affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links.

When I first heard that Easter was on April 1st, I thought for sure someone was trying to pull an early April Fool’s joke.  Turns out I was wrong and they were right – Easter is on April 1st this year!

As if to continue the odd joke, it is the middle of February and our weather currently feels like spring.  Never before have I felt so far behind so early.  Goodness Golly, it is the middle of February!  While it is a warmer winter/spring than what is normal, and we may still get a freeze, it is a good reminder that Spring is on our doorstep.

I have been doing better at getting ahead of things this year.  While the pre-planning for Valentines Day this year did not happen as I had hoped it would, I did hit the after-holiday sales and am set for next year’s gifts, treat bags, and cards all at 50-75% off!!!

To keep the ball rolling, I decided to tackle a few other ideas and get a step up on Easter decorating.  We are not huge Easter Bunny fans, so no Easter Egg Trees like I had growing up.  Instead our decorations will focus on the Christian aspect of the Easter celebration – Jesus’ crucifixion (Good Friday) and resurrection  from the tomb (Easter).

The decorations this year will fulfill two roles – a garden craft and an update of a front door wreath that really should have been tackled a few years back. Looking to keep our budget small and incorporate several items we already had, I made my plans then loaded up the kids and headed to the local Dollar Tree.

The Front Door Wreath

When we were moving a year ago, there were items I had to decide whether to take or pass along.  This wreath was one items that I hemmed and hawed about for a few minutes.  It was an item I had picked up second hand years ago. By this point in its life, the accessories has seen better days – they were looking faded, dusty, and fairly droopy.  However, the wreath itself was in good shape, a nice big twig wreath.  So, it made the move with the intent to update it once we were here.

When I decided to add a seasonally themed wreath to the door, this sorely outdated wreath came to mind, “If I take off the current accessories and add new ones, the whole wreath will look brand new.”  That is just what I did.

After a quick stop at the Dollar Tree, I found a sign to use.  It was large enough not to get lost from a distance and simple enough to read as one goes my the house.  I then chose flowers along a complimentary color scheme.  Too many colors would have made it look busy and lacking.

Then the hard messy part began – clearing off all the old accessories (ivy, fake flowers, ribbons, etc.).

The ribbons were fairly easy to remove, as they were stuck in between the sticks of the wreath with short metal spikes.  The greenery, however, was harder.  The flowers were hot glued on and the ivy was tied on with small bits of wire.  A little muscle and an old pair of scissors made short work of getting down to the base.

I could now see what I had to work with, thankful I did not throw this out last year.

To make the most of the two flower bunches I had, I removed each flower stem from the group.  There is wire in the middle of each plastic stem, though not too thick so a pair of scissors and slow firm clips easily separated them.  Now I could mix them up and weave them in place as I wished.

I tried a few ways of arranging the flowers before choosing one method.  A ribbon was even added at one point, so see if something further was needed.  By taking pictures, I was easily able to compare various looks and see the overall effect from further away. (These photos were taken with utility in mind, not aesthetics for posting online.)

After looking, and asking opinions, I decided to nix the ribbon and keep it simple.  If the ribbon had been wire trimmed then perhaps it would have worked.  As it was, this was a bit of very floppy ribbon from my craft supplies and was not laying right.

I think the over all reinvention of this wreath was a success.  I love how it goes with the color of my door and has a fresh clean look to it.  All for only $3! Easter At Dollar Tree – Everything Is Just $1

note: I am aware it is hanging crooked and it is driving me crazy.  I tried to fix it at that time, but had to head inside to make supper.  I did straighten it some this morning, but need to go back out and do a better job of getting it all hanging correctly.  Right now I am happy to have it hanging and not still sitting in the attic and on my to-do list.

Resurrection Garden

While at the Dollar Tree getting supplies for the wreath above, I also picked up a few supplies I needed to finish making a resurrection garden.  This is an idea I saw online and thought would be a great reminder to have at home, to bring our thinking back to what we are celebrating. Contrary to what the kids may think, the main focus of Easter (for us) is not eating chocolate Easter bunnies and finding brightly colored eggs around the yard.  Sorry, kids.

I already had an extra pot, but needed to pick up: soil, a small clay pot, stones, and grass seed.  3 of those 4 things were to be found at the Dollar Tree.  A few dollars more were spent on a small bag of seed from a big box store nearby.

 

The supplies for this project included:

*I have yet to acquire these items, but am on the look out for them.

The time to put this together was less than 5 minutes, though it will take several days for the grass to sprout and begin growing.

First, due to the depth of my pot, I added soil to the bottom.  Not wanting to have to cut a pot in half, as I had seen other tutorials do, I turned the pot on its side and partially buried it in the soil.

I then covered the back of the clay pot and the back half of the larger pot with extra soil, making a mound.

The smaller clay pot is set off-center, allowing me to make a trail out of the pebbles leading up the mound. Once I find some small sticks I will add 3 crosses to the top of the ‘hill’.

Lastly, I sprinkled grass seed on the soil and moistened it with a spray bottle.  Each day I will moisten it again and should see grass appearing in about a week’s time.

This will make a great visual aid in telling the Easter story, as well as a reminder of why we are celebrating the season.

There you have it, two fairly quick, budget-friendly Easter decorations for your garden.  This last one would be especially great to bring some green to your home if you are in the midst of a dreary winter and are antsy for something to grow.

What are some of the ways you are decorating this year?  Share in the comments below, I would love to hear about or see what you have been working on.

 

Feb 102018
 

This post contains affiliate links.

January seems to have the reputation for being the slower month.  Coming off almost two months full of celebrating holidays, I can see why.  However, that was not the case for me this year.  Instead, January ended up being a fairly physically restful, emotionally eventful, finding our groove month.

February…I can not say the same for so far.  Yes it has only been 10 days, but that is 1/3 of the month already!  That 1/3 has included getting sick, rain, rain, and rain.  Come on!  Rain is grey and makes mud.  At least snow is white and reflects the light to make it seem bright. Alas, rain it is.  A great reminder for why I am saving my earning from Swagbucks to use towards purchasing our first rain barrel.  Our back yard is muddy. Sticky, clay muddy mud which stains.  Yuck times 10.

I actually have enough points on Swagbucks earned, as well as other bits of earnings added to PayPal, to purchase a rain barrel.  After reading reviews, I decided to buy a larger one to accommodate what I know is a large volume of storm runoff from the roof.  This means I have to earn a bit more before purchasing the size and style I want.  I think it will pay off in savings of frustration by avoiding a smaller barrel which would fill too quickly.

Today I went to a local nursery to hear a talk about growing fruit.  The attendance was great, the setting had plenty of room, and the speakers were knowledgeable workers who had been doing this for a number of year.  The one down side?  The rain. Yes, rain. Again.  The class was inside a greenhouse, which was a very appropriate and accommodating setting.  However, greenhouses are built to grow plants, not be acoustically quiet.  The roof acted like a hug drum, make it very difficult to hear the speaker.  As long as I could see the lips of the speaker I was fine.  However, the talked ended about 40 minutes early and turned into a Q&A session around a table, looking at various products, and handouts.

In the end, I am glad I went.  They are holding future talks which I plan on attending.  Hopefully the rain will stay away.

One of the points I took away, and which I fully agree with, is to choose one or two new things a year.  Learn all you can about them, then try/grow/implement it.  Do not say, “I want to have bees”, go buy them, then get a book from the library or contact the local honey club to learn what you need to do.  By that point it is too late.  You will be spending the rest of the season playing catch up, or be the owner of dead bees.  The same can be said for growing a new vegetable, a fruit tree, trying a new gardening method, trying to attract butterflies…you get the point.  Take the time to read and do research, it will pay off leaps and bounds.

Oh, and take time to research prices as well.  That rain barrel I said I needed to save more for…seems it is back in stock in the color that is at a lower price.  While looking for the picture above, I saw a different store had restocked it.  Another lesson, if you are not set on color or store, make sure you look at all the options.  I will save $10-$20 by not being particular about the color, and another $6 by using discounted gift cards redeemed for a different store.  At this lower price, I will be able to purchase this item sooner than I anticipated.

 

Why go through the ‘trouble’ of a rain barrel?  This is where Grow Your Cents comes in to play.  By spending some upfront costs or time on a container to catch free water, I will not need to pay the local utility for the same amount of water to use in the yard or garden.  Last year we did not have a lot of watering needs, though I see that increasing in years ahead.  Why not collect the water that would otherwise run to the street and down the storm drain?  Or, in my parents case, which would run down the driveway and into the creek?

With increase non-porous surfaces, storm water runoff issues are increasing.  Whether it be pollution, swollen ditches and streams, or lack of ability to be reabsorbed into the soil, these issues are not going away.  Not only will we save on water usage, but will also be able to slow down the water and allow more of it to be added back into the local soils rather the the local storm drain.
Want an extra boost to your budget in February??

If you haven’t tried Swagbucks before, you can get a bonus $3 for signing up as my referral this month. Swagbucks is a rewards site where you earn points (called SB) for things you’re probably doing online already, like searching, watching videos, discovering deals, and taking surveys. Then you take those points and exchange them for gift cards to places like Amazon, Starbucks, Walmart, Target, or PayPal cash.

When you sign up through me this month, you can earn a $3 bonus! Here’s how:

1. Sign up using this link

2. Earn 300 SB total before 3/1/18. You’ll get a $3 (300 SB) bonus for it!

3. If you want even more bonuses, you’ll get a $10 (1000 SB rebate) bonus for making your first shop purchase! That’s in addition to the SB you earn for every dollar you spend.

That’s it. It’s super easy, and Swagbucks is for real. If you are not sure, reread the post above. 😉

 

Tip to earn more: One thing I have been doing since the beginning of the year, is participating in a Facebook group for other people using Swagbucks.  This has saved me time on finding deals, figuring out which things work, being alerted to how to make opportunities work better for me, and see what is not working.  This has resulted in higher earnings for me, as well as trying different activities I have otherwise avoided.  This is something to keep in mind if you have tried this before, but found it too hard or confusing.  Or perhaps you want to try it, but are overwhelmed with the options of ways to earn.

Remember, you will not get rich from this, but you can earn enough for a rain barrel…or two.

 

Feb 042018
 

Have you heard?  Sugar maples (Acer saccharum) may be one of those things which go the way of the American chestnut tree – “When I was a kid, they were everywhere.  Forest ecosystems were based around them.  Now… well, they are so rare their locations are kept secret to keep them safe.”

At least, that is what a paper published in Ecology concludes may be one outcome in the future.  Looking at various studies and research done over 20 years, they combined factors to extrapolate the effect on the trees.  While the trees’ growth would benefit from certain factor changes, others may lead to them basically dying of thirst.

It remains to be seen if this is another the-sky-is-falling scenario, or if it will actually play out this way.  After all, the authors did say this would be a result of “growing under the considerably drier conditions characteristic of our most extreme climatic scenario”.

The Canadian Journal of Forestry published a research paper which highlighted just how tough it is to be a natural sugar maple seedling in New Hampshire.  From their study areas only 3.4% over 7 years.  “Location, location, location” seemed to be an important factor in their survival.

This, my Readers, is why trees put out so many seeds each year, they are hoping for just one to survive.  It is a tough world out there.

Jan 242018
 

This post contains affiliate links.

What an interesting month this has been.  Part of me is shocked, when looking at the calendar, to find next week will bring about a new month.  Where did the time go?  It feels as if nothing has happened, while also a lot has happened.

This past week found me finally at a place I thought I would be a few weeks ago – in a routine which I hoped would bring some sameness to our days and weeks, allowing for a balance in various areas of life.  Why didn’t it happen sooner?  Well, apparently when you live in a place with no public snow removal equipment (a.k.a. snow plows and salt trucks) even an inch or so of snow can throw life for everyone out of kilter.  Add to that snow which melts then freezes again, then melts and freezes again…especially on roads which are not flat…well, let’s just say life shut down for a few days. (FYI: the picture above was from when we lived in Small Town. I am pretty sure people here would think the world was ending if they woke up to this bundle of fun white stuff.)

Not only were things like grocery shopping and extracurricular events affected, but also “snow days” from public school and work. With extra people in the house, it was very difficult to convince Jack our home school did not have a snow day.  We had taken enough days off due to moving, sicknesses, and doctor’s appointments this year that we needed to keep going if I wanted to stay on track at all.

It was also hard to overcome the feeling of still being on vacation and winter break.  It didn’t help that we were coming off of three weeks of a break, visiting friends and family, only to have a federal holiday and then three or four “snow days”.

Not all has been disruptive, several good things have also taken place, namely, my husband began a job with a new company.  We knew this was coming, obviously, though it meant again a subtle change in routine of the household, in good ways thankfully.  It was one of those blessings which came from a less than desirable experience.  While all is not roses and rainbows, things are going well and we keep being reminded of the good of this situation.

Blog wise, I am thrilled to have a computer to use again.  For the past month plus, I have had to type up posts and edit pictures on my phone.  In December our desktop made its last final funny noise and refused to start up again.  Purchasing a new computer at that time was not in the plan, so we didn’t.  Instead, we waited to see what it was that we really wanted or needed, checked out several options, and finally decided on something once we had returned in January. Knowing it was an intentional decision to wait, I chose not to complain about the situation or whine about it, choosing instead to make the most of my new reality.  This led to me finding a few new short cuts on my phone to make the process easier.  However, let me just say, it is much easier to type out posts on a keyboard rather than with one finger on a small phone screen and I am  thrilled to be able to create a post without causing pain in my hand from finger strain. 🙂

We are also experiencing an increased involvement with our church, as well as looking at becoming involved in another (non-church) ministry.  These are both things which would have been difficult to do while living in Small Town.  Again, another reminder of how this move was beneficial, even with all the bumps along the way.

Through it all, I am sticking with the “keep it simple” motto.  None of the aforementioned events were things we added in addition to a full schedule.  I have enjoyed not feeling “busy” and plan to work at keeping it that way.  It is time we started adding things back into our lives, especially those which encourage us to grow and  bless others.  This is what I see this upcoming year holding – finding more of what we would like to give our time and energy to, while keeping things family focused.

We’ll see how it turns out. 🙂

Another thing I am so glad we agreed to years ago, was setting a budget for Christmas spending.  Over the years it has taken on different looks – some times it is using only the rewards from our credit card to purchase gifts, other times it meant using gift cards and cash earned through Swagbucks, while other times it involved homemade items, using store reward points or credits, or even choosing to gift experiences or family gifts rather than individual presents.  No matter the form, the one thing which remained consistent was that we do not go into debt to give gifts.

The best way I have found to do this is to plan ahead.  Already I have several gifts purchased or started for this upcoming Christmas season.  As well, I was able to purchase items for birthdays and other occasions during after Christmas sales.  While this added extra spending to our budget at the end of the year, when I would rather have been saving it, I knew what my spending limit was, did not go outside it, and kept to my list.  I also knew I would be doing this and planned (ahead) accordingly.

By planning ahead I not only save about 50%, spread the spending out over 12 months instead of 1, and enable me to relax during the end of the year months, but I also do not spend the first 6 months of the new year paying off last year’s purchases.

If you find yourself in the other situation, paying off for months what you spent previously, I would greatly encourage you to spend some time today or this week looking at how you can change your spending this year.  You can still give great gifts without overspending.

My gardening goal for this year is to set a foundation for future gardening years.  While I plan on having some produce this year, my larger focus is on getting a framework in place.  The first step in doing so was to begin composting.  I was able to redeem Swagbuck points, called SB, in order to purchase a compost tumbler online.  Not only did I pay no money out of pocket and was able to have it shipped to my house, but I also earned SB back on the purchase by clicking through Swagbuck’s website to make the purchase.

Up next is a rain barrel, to help dry out a certain part of our yard which remained wet all of last year.  So far I am half way to my earning goal for this particular item, using Swagbucks as well as another source or two of side income.

After a rain barrel, fruit trees and vines will be on the list.  These will need to be planted in the Spring, so I will watch for various deals from garden companies, as well as calling local green houses.

Once these four parts of the garden are started I hope to begin working on some of the smaller aspects.  Who knows, bees might even make an appearance this year. Though if that were to happen it would need to happen quickly as March seems to be the time to get new hives started in this area.


Looking to begin shopping for the next holiday season or to start your Spring shopping? The online rewards site Swagbucks has a smart and fun way for you to earn and save when you spend. Swagbucks helps supplement the cost of gardening and other household purchases.  While the main way I earn SB is by watching online videos (which I have running as I sit and type up this post) and taking surveys, I also do earn some SB via online shopping. So far this year I have earned 3,262 SB back, either from online shopping or rebates from in-store shopping.  Not bad for the few extra seconds it takes to click through Swagbuck’s website!

Swagbucks is hosting another round of Shopping Swago! What is SWAGO you ask? It’s a bingo-inspired promotion run by Swagbucks, a website that rewards you with points (called SB) for completing everyday online activities. You can redeem those SB for free gift cards. If you’ve never used Swagbucks, participating in SWAGO is a great introduction to the site and an easy way to earn a good amount of points quickly.

Click here to get started!

Here’s what you need to know to get your 300 SB Bonus (and don’t worry, you don’t have to make a purchase to complete a pattern):

  • Go to the Swag page and make sure you hit “Join” otherwise you won’t get credit for completing the action items. Each square on your Swago Board will contain an action item to complete.
  • Once you complete the action item in a particular square the square will change color signifying the action item is complete.
  • You have a limited amount of time to mark off as many squares as possible so use your time wisely.
  • Be mindful of the patterns and their corresponding bonuses located on the right of your Swago Board. The patterns will vary in difficulty and bonus value – up to 300 SB – enough for your first $3 gift card.
  • Once you’ve achieved a pattern the corresponding “Submit” button will light up. You can have multiple patterns available for submission, however, you can only submit ONE pattern so choose wisely.
  • The game ends Friday, January 26th at 12pm PDT/3pm EDT. So make sure to hit “Submit” on the pattern you wish to submit. If you don’t hit “Submit” before the game ends you won’t receive your SB bonus.Also, if you sign up through me this month, you’ll get a $10 rebate when you make your first purchase via Swagbucks Shopping! You can activate it in the “Swag Ups” area of “My Account”
Jan 072018
 

This post contains affiliate links.

“The third time is charm!”

As the upcoming gardening season planning commences, I hold out hope that this saying continues to ring true.

This will be my third garden in as many states. The prior two looked vastly different from each other, though taught me a lot about gardening. I have come to find I do better in a raised bed garden, fertilizing naturally with compost or lasagna gardening, and with some perennials included.

As I look at my mostly blank slate of a yard my brain is bombarded with plans, ideas, and to-do lists.  So much to do – if I took time to relearn some of the past lessons, the yard would take over a decade to get close to what I want. However, if I do it all at once it would cost a pretty penny. I may afraid at that point to change anything, knowing how much it cost to put in.

This thinking started this past summer/fall as I mowed the grass. I would picture various plants, structures, etc. in different locations. I would work through pros and cons of said decisions. I would “try out” different garden strategies for various micro climates around our yard (about 0.25 acres).  I noted changes and challenges in the yard as seasons progressed. I also took time to see how our neighbors used their yards.

With all these thoughts in my head, I began to eliminate ideas, morph others to fit together, prioritize desires, and realize how we are living in our current home.  I came to the realization that I need to plan for future results (fruit, flower beds, arbor/swing support) while addressing some current, foundational needs (vegetable garden beds, compost, etc). Having an end goal in mind meant I could begin planning for now and later, allowing myself room to grow and add in the future.

Compost

One of the biggest lessons I learn from my Small Town garden was the importance of compost. Three ways I tried composting there were: vermiculture, composting in place/lasagna gardening, and an open compost pile.

My pile never got hot enough to fully compost, most breaking down of materials was due to time and insect/worm activity.

My bout with vermiculture led to my love and awe of worms. However I had trouble keeping their bed dry enough and free from castings. I finally added them to my raised beds, which gave much better results. Between the worms and a loose form of lasagna gardening, including addition of coffee grounds, I began to see improvement in my plants.

With the new garden there were a few things to keep in mind which would reqire a few changes in how I composted:

  • We no longer have 5 or 6 mature deciduous trees in our yard, dropping copious amounts of leaves every fall.
  • Fire ants. These little guys live loose soil and will come back to the same places over and over. I really do not want a colony of them living in a compost pile.
  • Bugs, as in insects, as in mosquitos. With warmer weather comes warmer winters. Fewer freezing temps mean less opportunity to kill off overwintering insects. Mosquitos need very little water to breed. I do not want to inadvertently create small pools of standing water around a compost pile. Nor attract gnats and flies.
  • Our neighbors are closer. Even if I wanted to put a compost pile at the back of our yard,  it would be at the side of our neighbor’s house. They spend a fair amount of time outside and would not appreciate extra smells or bugs.
  • I need compost. This year preferably. With new plants and beds being planned I can not wait years for compost. Nor do I want to go spend $$$ on bags of compost and sail from the store. One of the reasons I garden is to save money, not spend it.

With these thoughts in mind I searched for solutions, finally alighting on a compost tumbler.

With an enclosed container, insects and bugs should be at minimum. I would not have to turn the pile with a shovel, instead turning the container when I add items, or several times a week.  Fire ants would be unlikely to climb in. Results will be faster coming, perhaps as soon as a few weeks.

While I could have built a compost bin from free materials, it would have taken more time (to build and find the items, as well as turn the pile) and still have presented some of the challenges.  I believe a traditional compost pile or bin is beneficial, I no longer believe it is the answer for every situation.

Starting back in November, I began to save up my Swagbucks points, called SB.

By using my time to complete activities online rather than looking for materials, I saved effort, gas, and frustration (from listening to kids complain). I was able to watch videos while doing laundry and/or homeschooling, complete surveys while waiting for kids to fall asleep, and search for answers online, all while earning cents. It is amazing how the cents can grow.

At the beginning half of January I had earned enough to redeem my points for PayPal gift cards. With the money in PayPal I clicked through the Swagbucks website to purchase the tumbler via online shopping.  In this way I am able to earn back, in SB, a portion of what I spent. (Note: I did not purchase from Amazon, though I could have. If I was buying from Amazon I would have redeemed from Amazon gift cards instead of PayPal.)

I was able to take advantage of free shipping and save a trip to the store for pick-up.

Utilizing homemade compost via a tumbler should pay off in the first year or two, depending on how consistent I am in adding to the tumbler and mixing.  Not only am I reusing parts of food I had  already paid for, but also creating a product I need but no longer have to  purchase. This product will in turn help other plants grown, giving better results.

What a great way to Grow Your Cents!

If you haven’t tried Swagbucks before, you can get a bonus $3 for signing up as my referral during January. Swagbucks is a rewards site where you earn points (called SB) for things you’re probably doing online already, like searching, watching videos, discovering deals, and taking surveys. Then you take those points and exchange them for gift cards to places like Amazon, Starbucks, Walmart, Target, or PayPal cash.

When you sign up through me this month, you can earn a $3 bonus! Here’s how:

1. Sign up using this link

2. Earn 300 SB total before 2/1/18. You’ll get a $3 (300 SB) bonus for it!

3. If you want even more bonuses, you’ll get a $10 (1000 SB rebate) bonus for making your first shop purchase! That’s in addition to the SB you earn for every dollar you spend.

That’s it. It’s super easy.

Jan 052018
 

This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for helping support this blog.

Bird feeders are an easy addition to any garden or balcony. They do not take up much space and can match any style you currently have going on.

Do not be discouraged if you do not get immediate results, it may take some time for our avian friends to find the new food source. Once they do, though, you will have regular visitors.

Whether you are considering a craft for kids, need a gift ASAP, are on a budget, or are wanting something different for your garden, here is a quick bird feeder you can make. The actual crafting time is mere minutes, or seconds in one case, though the glue may take longer to cure. (Mine was dry enough to move in about 2 hours, but took 24-48 hours to fully cure.)

Here is another bird feeder to use your creativity with, or follow along with some of the examples below if you are feeling a bit creatively challenged today.

BIRD FEEDER #2 – cup and saucer

Cost: $0-$8

Materials needed: tea or coffee cup, saucer or small plate, E6000 glue, chain or other hanging material, acetone, cotton swab

Step 1

Gather your materials. This can be random pieces from around your house, yard sale or thrift store finds, or even items from the Dollar Tree.

Keep in mind how they look together. My first try at this was purely a trial run with items from a thrift store. As I was short on time and had input from one of the kids, proportions were not necessarily top of the list of things to consider. Colors and price were the important things. Mainly colors. 🙂

Step 2

Clean the pieces. Glue sticks better if there is not a layer of dust in the way.

If there is a sticker, gum residue, or marker on any of your pieces, a cotton swab dipped in acetone (nail polish remover) makes quick work of removal.

Step 3

Decide how you want the pieces arranged. Use your imagination, try a few different ways. Keep in mind how you want to hang or mount your feeder – does the weight need to be centered, will it sit such that it needs to not top over, or any other needs?

Step 4

Glue pieces together. Use a strong glue which can endure the outside elements. I have had luck with E6000, though there are others you can use.

E6000 holds better than super glue (which does not stick to ceramics), though does not set up as quickly. Where super glue sticks within a few seconds, E6000 takes an hour or two to set, and 24-48 hours to cure. This can be a good thing, if you make a mistake, or a challenge, if you need to keep pieces in place while the glue dries.

(Several craft projects using E6000 have been outside in 0 degree weather and are holding up just fine. The two problems I had were in cases where not enough glue was used.)

Step 5

Decide how you want to hang your feeder. One of my feeders was light enough for me to use an old metal necklace. (This is the one I did not use enough glue on. The chain came off a few weeks after I hung it up.)

For yet another we hung it by the cup’s handle from a shepherds hook.

The majority of feeders were fitted with a smaller-linked chain. (A package purchased from the local hardware store.) While I did not measure them out, they ended up being about 9-12 inches long.

After some trial I also learned that crossing one chain over another, on the underside of the feeder, meant the glue does not hold well at all; it was too bulky.  I ended up separating the chain so I could glue the ends together at a common meeting point. A pair of pliers were used to open a link, slide it off its neighbor, then close the link up again. (See the photos above.)

An ‘S’ link was added at the top, where all the chain ends meet. Not only did this hold everything together, but also makes it easier to hang from a branch or other support.

Note: This step was done a few hours after the first ones, so pairs could be turned over and handled with little worry.

Step 6

Find a place to hang your feeder and fill with appropriate seed…or leftover, un-popped popcorn because your bird loving kid was too excited to wait for a trip to the store.

 

I would love to see your creations if you try this DIY project. Share a picture below and let us know how it went.