Nov 222016
 

This post contains affiliate links to some ideas I thought you might enjoy.  

Originally posted in October of 2013, this post is an interesting look back in time, to see what my younger self was thinking and how things turned out.  For what it is worth:

  • we ended up with way too many beets that year, which lasted into the next, and the next …
  • the stairway no longer turns that direction and my concern over the poor condition of the walls ended up being a moot point
  • the wallpaper, well, lets just say I wanted to have words with the someone who decided to put up said wall paper.  It took many, many, late nights and early mornings to get it down
  • date nights never did get figured out
  • my husband is now graduated with his Master’s degree
  • and change still is not easy.

As we start the week of Thanksgiving, take some time to think back to changes which have happened either recently or in the past few years.  Were there people there to help you through it?  Drop them a note to share how you appreciate the effort they made.

Have you been able to help someone else through a season of change?  Is there someone whom you could bless with a meal, child care, a cup of warm beverage, or even by simply visiting and letting them talk?

Knowing you are not alone when it feels like everything around you is swirling can be a great help to get you grounded and back on the rails.

handful of money

Change is never an easy thing to face.  Even more so when you know a change is in the future but aren’t quite sure what it will look like.

At the beginning of the year I felt like I really needed to replenish our pantry supplies at home.  The need seemed unwarranted.  There was no reason why I felt this need.  Now, I think I knew that changes were coming and this was my way of having some control.

I focused on the pantry first, as that is something we use daily.  To start, I compared recipes of common dishes to how often we used them.  I then multiplied the amount of ingredients needed by the number of time we would eat that dish.  For example, tangy black bean soup uses 1-15 oz can of diced tomatoes per batch.  If I were to substitute crushed tomatoes for diced, then I would need 1 pint per batch.  We make this recipe about once per month = 1  pint x 12 = 12 pints of crushed tomatoes needed.

Once that recipe was done, I worked through others.  The point was not to obtain an exact number, but a rough estimate.

22 quarts canned beets

After having the list for set up, I turned to other areas.  Clothing for example.  One child went through three sizes in shoes within almost as many months last winter.  I had to go buy new shoes because I couldn’t find them fast enough to cloth the kid.  That is something I don’t want to do again.

Before the garage sale season started, I sorted through their clothes to see what was needed in which sizes.  I made a list that looked something like this:

Size 7

Good t-shirts  __  __  __

Dress pants __

PJ set __

Shorts __ __ __ __ __

I did a list for each size.  The “___” stands for the number I needed of that item.  As I found something to fit that category in that size, I put a check mark on the blank.  The list stayed in my wallet all summer and made garage sale shopping so much easier as I knew exactly what I was looking for.  Several times it was tempting to leave the list for that really nice looking Size 7 pair of jeans.  Then I would refer to the list, see that I had enough (otherwise it would have been on the list) and remind myself to move on..

My goal for clothing wasn’t to have extensive wardrobes for each size.  It as to have enough so that if a growing spurt caught me by surprise again, there would be a few outfits to fit said child until I could go do more shopping.

clearance finds clothes 2

While my life and house are by no means perfect in these areas, I feel we are on track.  We are for sure in a better place than this time last year.  I’ve also achieved or exceeded several of my yearly goals in this area and am on my way to achieving the rest.  While this makes me feel better – we have a cushion – I still don’t know what it will look like.

As it turns out, preparing wasn’t such a bad idea.  In the past few months I have finally started to see why it is that things needed to be in order.

So what are the changes ahead of us?

  • Husband going back to school for a graduate degree (He will keep working and go to night classes.)
  • Finalization of adoption of foster kids – this has been underway for a long time and I’m just ready for it to be over.  It will still take a few months.

Only two changes?  Yes, only two.  However, they will both affect our lives in large ways.  With my husband going to classes a few nights a week, and studying after bedtimes the other nights, the limited time during the day the kids have to see Dad will be decreased even more.  Meaning that weekends will be more important.  Date nights will also have to become routine, to help us stay connected and on the same page.  It also means that I will play a larger role on those night when my husband isn’t home.  I’m thinking of actually adding something to our schedules those nights to help them not notice his absence as much.  At least at first as change can be hard for them.

The finalization of the adoption would actually give our schedule more room.  We would no longer have visits with case workers or other required visits every month.  There won’t be paperwork to fill our or additional rules to follow.  We can just … be.  Be a family.  Be on our own schedule.  Be able to travel without having to tell the world. Be _______.  I want to be able to enjoy that time by not having as many responsibilities.  If that is possible.

We are also planning on keeping our foster care license open after the adoption, though we aren’t sure if we will be ready to add more children to our home at that time.  It takes a lot of energy and brings a lot of change.  Not always bad things, but it is better not to be caught off guard if you do decide to say “Yes” to one of the calls.  My husband will also be starting classes and studying in the evenings.  We’ll have to see how life is going at that time.

stairway walls spackled

I am also planning to remove wall paper and paint a room in our house, as well as a stairway.  This will be my winter project – something you can do even if it is snowing outside.  Last year it was the bathroom, this year the bedroom.  Again, it would be nice to have suppers in the freezer rather than  having to stop and make something every day/night.

Changes are a part of life.  Some seasons have more than others.  Some changes are harder to handle, while others are welcomed easily.  In the end, none of us really know what the future holds.  We can only do our best today and trust God to take care of the rest.

How do you handle change in life?  Do you internalize it or find a way to let our the emotions connected to it?  

 

Oct 262016
 

amending-soil

Cleaning out your garden shed is often on gardener’s spring cleaning list.  For this gardener, though, it is an item that gets done at whatever part of the year provides the time and motivation.  As I have been cleaning out items in the house, transitioning that motivation to the garden shed, and counting it as ‘outside time’, was a natural transition.

Part of what needed cleared out was the portable fire pit, specifically the ashes.  As it was sitting directly in front of the shed door, it was one of the first things tackled.  Cold ashes from  our occasional small backyard fires are normally added to the compost pile.

Over the year(s), the soil in these boxes breaks down, compacts, and/or settles.  For whatever reason, usually a combination, adding extra soil, compost, and mulch yearly is a routine part of their upkeep.  Taking a page from Lasagna Gardening, I added it directly to the bed it was intended for, which also happens to grow directly under a row of overhanging everygreens.  At this time, the only plants growing were a row of mature tomatoes at the back.  It was easy to work around these.

As long as I was adding the ashes, why not add sand as well?  The sand in the sandbox needed to be removed and the soil in the boxes needed to have some larger particles added to them to help balance out the compaction I have noted taking place.  Into the garden bed they went.

Once I made my way into the shed, discarding broken pots, discarding pots I thought I would eventually use but found myself 3 year later staring at them, discarding cans of stain left over from the previous owners, discarding broken toys full of triggers for great memories, and made enough noise to send the spiders into hiding, I came to the half-filled bag of peat moss.  Can you guess where it ended up?  That is right, into the garden bed it went.

As I was about to get my hands good and dirty, a distraction came up.  It seems the natural consequence I was waiting for had taken place – one of the boys was hurt in their loudly wild stick swinging chilverously brave sword fighting.  While I tried to reassure them that no blood was flowing and therefore I was not needed.

“See the garden, boys? Mama finally gets to play in the dirt and does not need to do mom things right now.”

They did not agree.

It seemed that only Mom’s knowledgeable hands could fix the horrors of what brother had done.  My question to them was, “do you think it wise to keep swinging sticks at each other?”  I received the appropriate answers, knowing the lesson would stick for all of 5.4 seconds … so I left out the bottle of liquid bandage.

scrached-child-cheek

Back in the garden, knowing the kids had moved on to something as equally smart as rapidly swinging long sticks at each other, I made quick work of mixing together the three ingredients, top dressing the soil and smoothing it all out.  In the spring, these will get mixed into the soil during planting time.

As Autumn begins to wind down, mulched leaves and other items may still be added to the top of this bed.  Doing these activities now will create a bed ready to be planted in come spring.  The soil will have had time to incorporate nutrients, items will have begun to break down, and if all goes well, the soil structure in this particular bed will have improved.

Working in small spaces can sometimes feel over loaded with limitations.  However, it also has a host of benefits, such as being able to tailor actions on a small scale, addressing the needs of a particular bed rather than applying an action to the whole garden.  Lasagna gardening has been a life saver for me on more than one occasion.  The ease it provides, while also encouraging a natural approach to your garden, quickly made it one aspect of gardening I have continued to follow over the years.

soil-amendments-mixed

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Oct 072016
 

city-garden-open-space-before-planting-spring

When I first saw this garden, in its wintertime bareness, I would imagine all the different ways it could be planted and decorated. Then I began to feel like a failure for not being able to do the same in my garden.

circular-garden-in-summer-bloom-2

Later I visited the same gardens. They were taking shape, colors were starting to appear, and the feeling was less of emptiness.

circular-flower-garden-in-summer-bloom

I also realized several things:

  • There are people who are hired full time to take care of these grounds. This is not solely a hobby.
  • There is more than ONE person taking care of these gardens.
  • The same pattern is used year to year. No need to reinvent the wheel each year.
  • Annuals are used, not perennials or bulbs.
  • There is a greenhouse used to grow all of these annuals. I would have to either build a greenhouse, spending months to grow these, or else pay retail.
  • This particular garden is larger than my yard. I could not replicate it if I tried.

Reminding myself of these things when the gardening doubts begin to creep in has helped me keep a more balanced view, to not judge myself so harshly. I am also able to enjoy the gardens more, appreciating all the effort others put in so I can sit and enjoy them. No weeding required.

Sep 012016
 

processing tomatoesHave you noticed a lack of canning posts this year?  If not, I sure have.  I have also noticed the lack of variety in our home canned items in the pantry, the abundance of empty jars sitting around, and the amount of other items left over from past canning seasons.

The jam and jelly making marathon 3 years ago meant we are still eating blackberry jam, tomato marmalade, and apple jelly syrup (the jelly did not set).  Thanks to the Farm Market Swap last year, we do have some variety in the house.

Due to the demands of life we right now, spending hours canning produce and taking care of a large garden were things I had to admit I could not do this year.  What I did do were the basics, things we would really have missed if they were not present.  These are also things that happen to make my life easier.  Namely – cherry tomatoes, a few regular tomato plants, pearl onions for stews this winter, pizza sauce, and crushed tomatoes.  If there is anything else we really need, like spaghetti sauce, I can easily order a few jars online if I really did not want to go to the store.  At this point, it is worth if for me to accept that option.

The blackberry bushes and strawberry beds are at a point where not a lot of attention is needed.  This is a nice stage, as I can reap the fruits of my labor without spending a lot of labor doing so.  What I was not going to do with these fruits, was to make jams. (see paragraph above)  Instead we ate them fresh as they came on and I did not feel guilty about it one bit.

In mid summer, I was presented with the opportunity to can tomatoes.  My garden had not started to produce enough, but a local farmer/gardener had grown some in a greenhouse and theirs were ready.  As it turns out, they were a bit green still, but I was not going to look a gift horse in the mouth.  I knew that if I did not take advantage of this opportunity at this moment, there would be no canning done during the normal growing season.

tomato canning goals 2016

I sat down, making a list of my pantry desires.  As it turns out, we really do not eat a quart of beets a week.  At this rate I can safely say it is more like a quart every 3 weeks.  Not looking to make that mistake again, I added in the desired, realistic amount.

First up, diced tomatoes.  I had not canned these before, only crushed, but hoped diced would be just as easy and a nicer texture in some of our meals this winter.  After all, the diced tomatoes at the grocery store came out looking so nice this past winter. diced tomatoes collage

Um, yeah, I am not the grocery store.  :) They will taste the same, but not exactly like I hoped they would look.  Perhaps if the tomatoes had been more mature it would have worked out better.

We like the taste of roasted tomatoes in the new tomato soup recipe we have been using.  Made it the other day with candy onions and the taste was even better.  Thought it was so good I would try it with pizza sauce.  It changes the first steps a bit, though that is not too hard of a change.

Using pickyourown.org‘s recipe I adjusted the steps to incorporate roasting the tomatoes.  Before placing the tomatoes on the pans to roast (make sure you line it well with foil or else you will be getting new pans out of this process), I squeezed out all the extra juice I could.  This was collected in bowls and pans for use later if needed.

roasted tomatoes collage

Since roasting takes at least an hour, after many batches the house was smelling very yummy.

Using the roasted tomatoes, I proceeded with the recipe, adding back in any extra liquid needed.  As it turned out, I added back in most of what I had squeezed out.  The roasting process had removed a fair amount from the tomatoes themselves, so there really was less liquid than when I started the whole process.

Without the need to cook down the recipe, I was able to greatly reduce the amount of stop top cooking time.  It sort of made up for the late night I had finishing up the last batch roasting in the oven.

pizza sauce collage

In the images above, I got a bit zealous filling the jars.  The jar in the top right corner is too full.  If I tried to place this in the pressure canner, it would never seal.  Removing a table spoon or two (lower left photo above) put it exactly where it needed to be.  A quick wiping of the jar lid and it was ready to go.

What I have not shown you is the canning of crushed tomatoes.  I was tempted to can up more pizza sauce.  However, at the end of the light night of roasting, I nixed that idea and moved on to crushed tomatoes.

Right now though, I think I will go use some of the above pizza sauce and make lunch.  That sounds really good today.

 

This post contains affiliate links.

Jun 042016
 

2016 Garden Update

Several changes have taken place around the garden and yard this week.  Most were due to a domino effect.

For starters, I can now pull into my own side of a garage, a first in almost a decade.  It gets even better.  I can pull into my own side of a garage using a garage door opener AND without having to drive through mud.  Yes, folks, the driveway width now matches up with the garage we have.

This little update was supposed to happen a few weeks ago.  However, the guy doing it had to delay things a few days while the underground utilities were marked.  Then it came to be planting time.  Where I am, nothing much takes precedent over planting  time if you are a farmer, a family member of a farmer, a friend of a farmer who can drive equipment, or any in any way associated with the farming community.  So we waited.

A call on Tuesday morning changed all that.  By supper time I was able to pull into my garage without having to drive through the ever present mud puddle.  I also no longer needed to use the fairly redneck style of a ramp setup I had in place to get my car over the several inches difference between the ground level and the garage floor.  Oh the issues you run into when updating old parts of a house.

While planning the extension of the driveway, I asked if he would be willing to leave the dirt on site.  Turns out that little question fill a need we both had – I needed just a bit more dirt in low places along the garage and he needed somewhere for the dirt to go.  By keeping it onsite the job also was a bit cheaper and was faster to complete.

With the dirt spread and rain in the forecast, the next morning I knew what my focus would be – spreading grass seed.  This satisfied something my husband has been wanting me to address – the weeds in the yard along the side of the garage.  This is the place where a very deep trench was dug to put in the foundation for the garage part of the house.  With a deep trench comes a lot of dirt to move.  This had been piled along the edge of the trench, thereby killing any grass that had been there.  Over the past few months, the weeds have taken over.

driveway dirt collage

Having the dirt from the driveway spread out in this area meant that I did not need to spend time loosening up the dirt and filling in depressions.  Rain meant that I did not need to spend time every day watering the seed.  So, while it is not the best time of the year to plant grass seed, it was the time I had available unless I wanted to wait several months and let weeds take over.

With grass seed spread, I moved on to getting ride of several buckets of wood chips sitting by the shed.  These were added to the shade garden at the front of the house.

After dumping the buckets I decided to take “a few minutes” to address some issues in this bed – mulch needing spread out, weeds and tree sprouts removed, sticks picked up and stepping stone laid back out.  Amazing how “a few minutes” to finish a gardening task never takes just those few minutes.

With the driveway installed, I no longer worried about leaving the spray painted marks from the utilities.  However, when I went to mow the grass, I found out that my weed eater no longer seems to be working.  Flashbacks of The Great Replacement washed over me.  After a breath or two I calmed down and moved on.  Hand pulling weeds in the worst areas would not be the end of the world.  Also, our edger will take care of the ones along the curb.  A new weed-eater will be in our near future.  These are the things of life that I never envisioned being a part of being an adult.  Sort of like property taxes and insurance.

Time was saved not using the weed-eater, so I spent it instead spraying the weeds that have popped up in the driveway.  I used to pull these by hand, not liking to use chemicals for every little problem I come across.  I may still do so, but wanted to see if I could save time right now by using a spray and perhaps save time later by them not coming back as quickly.

This is a point where my husband and I disagree.  He is all for spraying.  I want to see if I can find other solutions.  It may have to do with our backgrounds, or with various studying/reading I have done over the years, or maybe the difference in how we view our time.  Either way, we have finally come to an unspoken agreement – as long as I do not complain about it, ask him to do it, or leave it so it starts looking really bad, he does not care one way or the other.  Some areas I have succeeded in, others (like the violets in the yard) I have failed at.  I guess we are not all perfect. 😉

blackberry bushes bloom

In other parts of the garden, the onion sets planted last week have sprouted, little tomatoes are beginning to appear and the blackberries are blooming.  The radish seeds have begun sprouting.

My strawberries also have slugs.  Once the rain stops I will try putting a trap out for them.  I did not think they were too bad till I saw The Big Guy.  He was so fat and slimy, he would have covered the finger nail on my pinky finger.  That was the point where I resolved to do something about it, these were not just one or two little guys doing the damage.

strawberry grub collage

I also went gung-ho on trimming up a fairy rose bushes that are in the middle of a side yard.  They have really needed trimming, not exactly a job I jump for joy at though due to all the thorns.  Last month I did a poor job of beginning the trimming, in hope that new side canes would form where I wanted them before I cut off more of the canes where I did not want them.  In the end it only looked bad.  So, I jumped in … well, not literally. Remember, thorns.

rose bush thorns

I did a more aggressive trim this week, also removing a lot of virginia creeper and hackberry sprouts that had been hiding among the canes.  Once it was all cleaned out it looked much better.  Emptier, but better.  A few days later I noticed the roses blooming, so apparently my trim job did not shock it too much. We will see if I think the same thing come the end of summer.

 

 

 

May 132016
 

green strawberries plants

If you agree with the saying, “A watched pot never boils”, you should try staring at strawberries.  So many green ones that I am bursting with anticipation.  I can not wait till they start turning red.  Hopefully I can get to them before the other bugs do.

Spring of last year revealed that several of my strawberry plants had died. I filled in the open spaces with radishes in hope of helping keep out weeds. The strawberry plants came back fine this year, along with some self-sown radishes from plants I had left in the garden over winter.  Any runners produced this year will be used to fill in a section, thereby creating a section for Year 1 plants, a section for Year 2 plants, a section for Year 3 plants, and a section for Year 4 plants.  Any of the existing plants in the Year 2,3, and 4 spaces will be left.  After Year 4, the plants in Year 1 will be removed and the process begun all over again.  This will help keep the strawberry patch stocked with young plants, as older ones do not produce as many berries.

The thought of picking a bowl full of berries to eat with pancakes sounds so delicious right now.  So much so, I am pretty sure there will be none left from my patch to make jam.

May 052016
 

A productive past couple of days has left me feeling accomplished and very tired.  It has also left me feeling very behind and lacking.

I have been finishing up the inside of the house, in preparation for new carpet being installed on Friday.  I have finally finished removing wall paper, priming, and painting two coats on walls, as well as priming and painting (2 coats) on the ceilings.  Old carpet and padding has been pulled. Floors have been swept.  Closets cleaned out.

So why is it that I am feeling behind?  Because my yard is covered in weeds.  Look at it! It is horrible.:

yard weeds collage

They are everywhere I look.  The kids only help by “blowing on the pretty white flowers”, not realizing how much I hate those pretty white flowers.  My mowing seems to only help for a day or two, then over night everything comes back stronger than ever. Or so it seems.

Then it rains. It all grows bigger and bigger, laughing at me, while I have been whittling time away on inside work.  All hope is gone, I may as well throw in the towel now and not even try gardening this year!

(throwing in the towel)

I decided to walk around the yard, snapping pictures of all the ways I am failing as a gardener. See, I wanted to show you exactly how bad things had gotten. The proof is not in short supply.

By the time I had completed my trip around the yard, I found more that I was expecting.

spring flower collage

See, my focus had been distracted to the one part of the yard that received the most impact from our house work during the past two years.  It is the place where a 6+ foot deep trench had been dug and the dirt piled up, where trucks had been driving, where trees had been cut down, where wood chips had been piled since late last spring, and where almost no grass is growing.  My focus had been on this part of the yard.  Even though this small part was small in comparison to the whole, it is what my attention went to every time I pulled into our yard or looked out a window.

Meanwhile, in other section of the yard, flowers were blooming and growing.  Places that in years past held no flowers or were struggling, were now showing signs of thriving.  Color was showing up everywhere, pushing out the brown and mud of winter.

Isn’t this often how we view our gardens and life?  We worry and focus on the small part we are working on, forgetting to look around, forgetting to look at those places we improved upon in the past.

There will always be bare spots, weeds, lackluster parts of our garden.  And life.  People, including ourselves, live up or down down to our expectations of them.  If all you expect are weeds, then that is what you will find.  You will find yourself too tired to go do battle to take back your yard.  Other things will call out to you which seem to have a higher likelihood of success.  You will throw in the towel before you have even started.

However, if you can look at your garden and find all the things going right, or the potential for things going right, then that is what you will see.  You will find you have more energy to make it like you want it.  The rainy days will not seem so forlorn, but instead will be watering your flowers, making them ready to bloom brighter when the sun comes out.

Don’t believe me?  Take a look again at the pictures above.  Can you tell which part of the yard I feel better about, the part I have higher hopes for?  Hint: it is not the one with the “pretty white flowers” that my kids like.  The part I feel better about I am more likely to spend time in, working to make it even better.

Yes, I am talking about gardening, though the analogy works very well for life.  A conversation with a friend this week reminded me of that very point.  I proceeded to tell her about all the ways I am failing (persistent weeds), all the things going wrong (quick growing weed), and all the ways I should have done better (deep rooted weeds).  She then proceeded to encourage me (spreading flower seeds) and remind me of where our family has come from in the past (those perennial flowers planted several seasons ago that are now stronger and flowering more).  I was reminded to stop looking over at my neighbor’s life (“The grass is always greener…”) and focus on mine.

Sometimes, our garden really is shabby.  That is when you choose a corner to start improving upon, pulling weeds and planting things you enjoy.  Other times, it is only your perspective, looking at the areas still in progress.  You forget to turn and see the things you have added to make your garden your own.  Do not get so focused on the seed that your forget to see the flower.

 

Apr 032016
 

seeds beginning 2014 garden season

One idea to reduce your grocery bill that I commonly hear, after coupons and shopping sales and eating left overs, is to plant a garden.  While they are correct in a garden can be cheaper than going to the grocery store to buy the same items, it doesn’t mean gardening is always cheap.  It can easily cost a pretty penny, especially if you are just starting out.  Planning ahead and being aware of what you are spending, what you need and having realistic goals can save you quite a bit over a season, or 2 or 5.

Gardening can be done with very little money.  It can. However, it takes time and effort.

Mar 282016
 

2 snowy seats and table

Recently I shared 3 projects I would love to make for my garden from wood pallets.  While searching for idea, I came across a few more that would work great for the yard.  These are also projects in which I can involve the kids. 

How about this great porch swing, but turned into a tree swing? I know the perfect limb ….

A shelf to tuck in along a porch corner? Sold. Finding furniture I can leave out rain or shine, or snow, is hard to find. The screened in section of our porch is usually protected, but still is prone to moisture and lots of wind.  There is a section of wall perfect for a shelving unit. It would be a great place to store outside toys, games, and items for entertaining. A much better idea than the low table we currently have which has become a dumping ground.  This is also a project that could be worked on at any point in the year.

I am really liking the idea of this Ottoman for the porch. It would fulfil various needs as time arose – storage for toys or cushions, an extra seat, IR an ottoman. There is the slight detail that this is made from a crate instead if a pallet, but it is a great idea to go from.

Mar 242016
 

I am a big proponent of using what I have, sometimes so much so my husband has to remind me that I can actually spend money.

When it comes to wood pallets, I see so much potential in something most people throw away.  Here are a few of my favorite ideas.

This would be perfect for my narrow, East facing bed. It is under the overhang of my garden anyway.  For that matter, I might even make two for its South facing front. It would look gorgeous filled with flowers.

We have a bare side of our house, the exterior new garage wall. A few of these with cascading flowers would give a bit of height, be easy to mow around and not look so short along a tall wall. Maybe even mixed with some vertical planters above.

Even better, by our side door which is on a small brick pad. Oiy!  So many ideas, so little time!

Or this, with a board added as a bench. I could sit outside and watch the kids play.

Well, I think I have added 3 relatively good projects to my already long list of things to do.  Honestly, though, does your garden/yard list ever get completed? Yeah, mine neither.