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.

Dec 272017
 

mason jars

After spending all the time canning produce from your garden or elsewhere, the last thing you want to happen is to have jar go bad and not realize it till you “smell something funky” when you go to your pantry.

Take a few minutes to look over the jars you have.

Are they all still sealed?

Do any need to be wiped down?  If so, do it now before you forget.

If any have gone bad, dump the contents and sanitize the jars.  Check for chips before storing them till they are needed again.

Dec 232017
 

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.)


BIRD FEEDER #1 – cup and spoon

Cost: $0 – $8

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

This feeder has a lot of room for creativity. The general jist is to provide a container to hold seed or other food, as well as a perch.

I chose coffee mugs which appealed to my vintage mood at the time, as well as spoons with designs on the handles.  These are fairly arbitrary details in the grand scheme of bird feeders. One thing I would keep in mind is the size of bird – if you are wanting chickadees, I would pass on using a large handled serving spoon.

When it comes to putting you spoon and cup together, again you have freedom in the details. Due to my spoons and cups, I chose to glue them at the back end (the bottom) of the cup. I tried placing them further out, but realized the handles hung at an odd angle.

  1. Find the center point by holding the handle of the cup with two fingers, putting the spoon in so it sits like you want it.
  2. Paying attention to where the spoon makes contact with the cup, remove the spoon, place a drop of glue at each contact point.
  3. Reinsert the spoon, double checking you placed the glue appropriately.
  4. Set the cup off to the side to dry.

I found a few things to help keep the cup at the correct angle, so the spoon is not lifted up by it’s handle being lower than the bottom of the cup.

Once the glue is firm enough to handle, or completely cured, add a chain or rope by which to hang your bird feeder.

Note: I initially glued my chain in place, but had trouble with the chain constantly sliding, not enough glue staying in place, and the resulting angle. In the end my chain came off, over a week later, due to insufficient glue holding it in place.

Find a place to hang your feeder and fill with appropriate seed…or leftover 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.

Dec 212017
 

Looking for a quick craft to add interest and color to your garden? How about a gift without spending a lot of money? Glass Garden Flowers, also known as plate flowers, are the perfect fit!

Materials needed:

  • tube e6000 glue
  • acetone
  • cotton swab
  • various plates, saucers, cups, candle holders, lids, condiment dishes, etc.
  • PVC elbow pieces, conduit connectors, bud vases, etc. for back
  • paper towel
  • sheet/drop cloth – not mandatory, but will make clean up easier
  • Pipe or rebar, to act as a “stem”

Step 1

Gather various ceramic or glass pieces. Plastic ones work, too, but may not hold up in cold weather. I picked up an assortment while at a thrift store. Turned out to be “50% off everything” day. The pieces I picked up ranged in price from $0.25-$1. I could have spent more, but was looking to make several without spending a lot out-of-pocket.

Step 2

Clean pieces. To get glue, residual stickers, and marker off, use a cotton swab dipped in acetone. (You can pick up a bottle of finger nail polish remover and cotton swabs from the Dollar Tree if you do not have any.) I find it easier to pour a bit into the lid and wet the swabs from there.

Dry thoroughly.

Step 3

Pair pieces together to get the look you want. Play around with the arrangements. Not all combinations looked like I thought they would, while others surprisingly worked.

Once you get them arranged like you want, take a picture if you plan on moving them. 😉

Step 4

Glue pieces together. Working with one group at a time, deconstruct the stack. Working from the bottom up, glue pieces together.

Step 5

Glue connector on the back. After letting the pieces dry enough not to move, flip the stack over and glue a connector piece on the back.

There are many various ways to do this. I tried three – using a bud vase, using conduit connectors and using PVC pipe elbows. Each has their benefits and drawbacks.

Bud vases – can be found cheaply and often in abundance. However, if the vase is too big, the flower will “dropped” on the support post. These also add weight.

Conduit connectors – cost a bit more (around $0.40 each in a pack of 5), are stocked at local hardware stores, and lighter in weight than vases.

One potential downside I noticed is the open side pointing up. This means rain can go down your support pipe, if it also happens to be hollow. If you live in a cold region this may result in snow, ice, or freezing of precipitation in this area. A solution would be to glue a coin or small metal piece on top of these.

PVC elbows – light weight, cost me around $0.40 each, found commonly at local hardware stores (or leftover from a DIY project), easy to attach, and snug fit to post. Not sure how these hold up in cold weather, as I have not tested them.

One lesson I did learn, thankfully before the glue cured completely, was to place the metal connectors far enough back from the edge of the plates so the posts can actually fit into them. Be aware of the lip along the bottom of the plate!

Step 6

Create, install, and attach to a support stem. This can be a variety of items, anything which is strong enough to support the weight of the flower. Some use rebar, conduit pipes, or other metal structures. PVC pipe is too flexible to use and would potentially break under the weight and deteriorate from being exposed to the weather.

If your flower is small enough, you may be able to use copper pipe.  I love the color these add, though it is more expensive and was too flexible for the weight I was working with.

I cut my poles to 2.5 ft, pounded them into the ground about 6 inches (till they felt secure), then placed the flowers on top. While I did not use rebar the help support the flowers, I believe I will do so in the Spring, due to the kind of soil we have. Inserting a foot or foot and a half into the ground, then sliding the “stem” over it would be an even sturdier option in my garden.

Enjoy!

Dec 102017
 

 

Regular turning of your compost pile is one of those garden jobs that often is forgotten.  Turning your pile over does several things:

  1. Mixes the new items you have added to your pile with your older items.
  2. Allows air to get to items that may previously have not had it.
  3. Discourages pesky insects (gnats, flies, mosquitoes, etc.) from gathering and laying eggs by covering food scraps not yet decomposed. This is only an issue if your pile is near where people will be, and therefore they will be pesky.
  4. Speeds up the decomposition of your pile.  In other words, you will have compost that you can use faster.  (This is my favorite reason.)

If you are in a cooler climate, or just a down right cold area, you may have to wait till a warmer day. This is especially true if your pile is under snow or otherwise unable to be worked.

Nov 272017
 

mason jars

After spending all the time canning produce from your garden or elsewhere, the last thing you want to happen is to have jar go bad and not realize it till you “smell something funky” when you go to your pantry.

Take a few minutes to look over the jars you have.

Are they all still sealed?

Do any need to be wiped down?  If so, do it now before you forget.

If any have gone bad, dump the contents and sanitize the jars.  Check for chips before storing them till they are needed again.

Nov 102017
 

 

Regular turning of your compost pile is one of those garden jobs that often is forgotten.  Turning your pile over does several things:

  1. Mixes the new items you have added to your pile with your older items.
  2. Allows air to get to items that may previously have not had it.
  3. Discourages pesky insects (gnats, flies, mosquitoes, etc.) from gathering and laying eggs by covering food scraps not yet decomposed. This is only an issue if your pile is near where people will be, and therefore they will be pesky.
  4. Speeds up the decomposition of your pile.  In other words, you will have compost that you can use faster.  (This is my favorite reason.)

If you are in a cooler climate, or just a down right cold area, you may have to wait till a warmer day. This is especially true if your pile is under snow or otherwise unable to be worked.