Thursday, September 22, 2011

The babies are up!

I'm like a proud momma with a newborn! My babies have popped their heads up and are growing! Of course, I'm talking about my baby plants in my new Square Foot Gardens! I currently have three 4 x 4 gardens. If all goes well, my son will be building more boxes this spring.

I have broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, tomatoes, rosemary, cilantro, cucumbers, sweet peas, bush beans, lettuce, green onions and some very beautiful mums. I still have some open spaces in my garden. I will be planting more broccoli, beans and lettuce in a few more weeks to spread out the harvest. This is all a new concept for me. I'm so used to planting everything at one time that having empty squares sorta is bothering me. I'll get over it. On a positive note, my dog has lost her appetite for the garden soil. I wish I could say how it happened, but unfortunately, I have no clue. I hope we don't have to go through this drama again in spring!

Bush Beans - Garden 1

My bellpepper, jalapeno, patio tomatoes, basil, oregano, rosemary and banana peppers are leftover from my spring garden. They have all found their second wind in the cooling temperatures. Some blessed rain has finally fallen!

Here is a peek at my babies. Keep in mind, they have a lot of growing to do.

sweet peas - Garden 3

Garden 1 - mums, lettuce, cilantro, bush beans, cauliflower, rosemary, cabbage, broccoli

Garden 2 - Broccoli, Cauliflower, lettuce, green onions, cabbage, tomato (cherry)

Garden 3 - with two lattices - green onions, cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, sweet peas, tomatoes, cucumber, lettuce.
OK - we figured out too late that two lattices probably wasn't a good idea (you can't reach the plants in the corner - duh). We will move one of the lattices to another box in the spring. Live and learn.

baby lettuce - Garden 1

Beautiful fall mums in my favorite flower color

baby cucumber plant - a work of art!

Fall is here!

Welcome fall! Everything about it makes me smile. The hummingbirds are here, the colors are great, and the weather is wonderful. 
It's only natural that I would want to bring a little of that indoors. While hummingbirds aren't keen on living indoors, bringing the fall colors inside is doable!

Look who came to perch in my chandelier?

Fall Tablescape
Fall Mantlepiece

Closeup on the mantlepiece

Monday, September 19, 2011

Homeschooling Newbie Friends - Gotta love 'em!

There is nothing like having a friend that is new to homeschooling to make you question a few things. It cracks me up every time. You old timers know what I mean...

"Well have you heard of this curriculum?" Uh no, I haven't looked at new curriculum in 10 years. I found what works and I'm sticking to it. If they invented a new curriculum that you could strap to your head and instantaneously acquire the knowledge I would never know.

"What kind of test scores are your kids getting on their general yearly testing?" What general yearly testing? There is no such thing in Texas. And the usual followup "Well, how do you know they are learning?" Because they are smarter than me and a box of rocks.

I also love how excited they are starting on the dot at 8:00 with the pledge of allegiance followed promptly by a phone call to me (who is still searching bleary eyed for a coffee cup). Any curriculum questions you ask this early will be answered with incoherent answers. Sorry dear friend.

Oh, and the eternal "Socialization" question. Let's all sigh together. *SIGH*  I've put together a list of websites and good articles that address this and just forward it on. It all boils down to "Seriously, have you been to the mall lately?"

I guess dear friend I've become comfortable after this many years of home educating my kids. The proof is in the pudding. They are wonderful, smart, handsome, articulate boys. Have I missed something in their education? Yes, they have not memorized the Gettysburg address. Will they survive? Yup.

I cheer you on my newbie friend. I've been in your shoes. I was the one asking curriculum questions at 8:00 a.m. to another bleary eyed homeschool mom. Lord bless her! I raise my cup of coffee to you this morning!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Adventures in the Garden - Creature Edition (warning - more poop references)

OK - brace yourself. I'm going to get all "homeschool-y" on you.

What is this creature? mmm hmmm, you think you know don't you.

the scary possum
I wasn't fast enough with the camera to capture our visitor, but this is what was in our back yard a few nights ago.
 This is not a "Possum". (Putting on my teacher glasses) "The correct name for this noctural animal is 'Opposum'". What was he doing in my backyard? The poor thing was probably hunting for water. Texas has had an extreme drought this year. It is the worst drought on record. My bird bath probably seemed like an oasis.

Their ability to survive and adapt to awful conditions makes opposums amazing creatures in my book. In our Apologia science studies last year we got to learn a little about them. I didn't know the extent to which they play "possum". When scared, their body becomes stiff as if in rigor mortis, they emit a foul odor similar to that of a decaying body and foam comes out of their mouth. They are able to stay like this for long periods of time.

They are not related to rats. They are marsupials (they have a pouch for their babies). They have a high level of immunity are not known to carry rabies or other diseases. In fact they are more resistant to rabies than any other mammal. It does not hang by its tail (despite what Disney says).

The opposum diet is quite revolting. They eat anything rotten, bugs, rats, over-ripe fruit, worms and dog poop. Our backyard was a banquet!

Speaking of poop... that's how we knew he was visiting. We found a little "evidence" on our back porch. I guessed an opposum or racoon based on the tracks in my garden (although it didn't eat anything). We turned on the porch light that night to see eyes gazing at us from the top of the fence. A little research found an easy method to discourage nightly visits. We just kept our porch light on for three nights in a row and it hasn't come back since. Here are some more safe methods of discouraging opposum visits. They are effective pest eliminators and mighty fine santiation workers. However, I don't want tracks through my garden!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Adventures in the Garden - Fall 2011 Edition

What is the big mystery of life? Why are we here? Where did we come from? No, it is "Why does my dog eat our garden soil?"

I'm trying a new experiment this fall. Everything we thought about gardening has been turned on its head after reading the book on "Squarefoot Gardening". We are trying it out this fall to see if the hype is true. However, our beginnings have been wrought with mystery and turmoil. (insert scary music here) Read on.

My son lovingly slaved away in record-breaking Texas heat to build me three of the most beautiful garden boxes ever constructed. (ummmm, yes, it is going in his High School transcript, thank you very much) Isn't he so handsome working so hard? Some girl will be very blessed to have such a multi-talented husband. But I digress.

We called around and drove distances to get the precious vermiculite for our boxes. It is part of a super amazing mix that contains 1/3 vermiculite, 1/3 peat moss, 1/3 compost. The compost has to be a mixture of 5 different composts (we found 2 kinds of cow poop, chicken poop, worm poop, and some other organic compost mixture. We never did find mushroom. Apparently we are compost deprived in this part of Houston. Who would have thunk it?) 

the amazing mixture!

look at these beautiful boxes!
cooking up the mixture
We put together the mixture in the yard. We poured the correct amounts on the tarp and lifted the ends to mix it up. I'm sure we were a source of great entertainment for our neighbors looking on. 

My dh mixing the soil in a tarp
We poured it in the boxes.

We planted a few seeds and plants.

The dog decided the poop trifecta mixture was too good to be true. Apparently cayenne pepper sprinkled on the soil as a deterrent only makes it more appetizing.

The dog pooped out poop mixed with vermiculite. (no pictures. Your welcome.)

We built some very cool trellises. The boys (and my husband) were threatened to within an inch of their lives if they used the nets as soccer nets. An inch I tell you. They were sorely disappointed. 

The dog continued to go out at various times during the day for snacks. I can never catch her in the act!

We planted some more. You are supposed to plant like every two weeks to have a constant supply of fresh veggies and not a huge rush of too much.

Doggy footprints and chunks of soil missing. Yelling at the dog. More cayenne pepper (why do I continue to do something that clearly isn't working?)

I started my own compost to supplement our sorely lacking supply here in Houston. And its free. And it is in a very neat bin and not the open pile my husband tried to start and fed every rat in the tri-county area. And I wrote instructions on the lid of the compost heap so my husband doesn't throw bones, meat or citrus peels in it.  And I'm kind of a control freak/nerd because I wrote too many instructions on the lid in permanent marker. Click the picture below to get a clear picture of my mental state. Stop laughing.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Take advantage of your house servants

I've talked in the past about the efficiency strategy of touching things once. Another way I boost my productivity is to think about how to make use of time most effectively by utilizing technology. Now I'm not advocating going out and purchasing a bunch of new items. What I am suggesting is making use of what you currently own to its utmost. It's like hiring a bunch of household help for free! Here are some examples of using technology to save time:

I start the washing machine before unloading the dishwasher (or other task) so that it can be working while I am working.

One of my favorite things is the timer on my washing machine. I own an LG washer that has a "delay start" feature. When you are shopping for a new washer, look for this feature. I prize it above all other features. It means you can load the washing machine before you go to bed and have it start at 5:00 a.m. so that your freshly washed clothing is ready to go into the dryer when you awake. Your servant has worked while you slept. 

I make good use of my crock pot. It can work while I do other things (including sleeping - see the theme here?).

I love my bread maker. It is working away making fresh bread while I go about my other work. It can even work while I am away from home. I also utilize it to make gifts. That's right! There isn't a better gift than a loaf of fresh bread!

Fold your clothes while they are still warm in the dryer. Take advantage of the fact that they are wrinkle free. More laundry tips here.

Make good use of your electronic calendar either on your phone, computer or other device. Use the alarm feature to remind you of appointments and birthdays. I have a Palm which does the job just fine. It isn't the latest gadget (I bought it used on Ebay), but I use it to its fullest. Don't forget to back it up because if it gets lost, so are you.

I love, love, love the shopping list software called SplashShopper. You can download it to your portable device (iPhone, Android, Blackberry, iPad...) or computer. I use it to make my grocery list and keep track of the latest prices. It is an inexpensive program I use every day. It also comes with a travel list to help me remember what to pack.

Take a shower at night and let your hair dry overnight. Now, this isn't making use of technology, but it still is a good time saver strategy (and keeps your sheets cleaner). All you curly headed girls will disagree here!

I'm sure there are many more tips, but these are my top few. How do you use technology to make life easier for you?

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Chewy Ginger Cookies are a Favorite in any Season

I love these easy cookies! They are chewy, spicy and the stuff dreams are made of. This crowd pleaser comes from the Better Homes & Garden cookbook. They make 120 regular sized cookies (which is a ridiculous amount). They freeze very well so I will make a batch and freeze most of them. When I have company expected, I can pull a some out to defrost a few hours before they arrive. They will think you baked all morning!

Chewy Ginger Cookies (called "Giant Ginger Cookies" in the cookbook)
4-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons baking soda
1-1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 cups shortening
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup molasses (I sometimes substitute 1/4 cup honey and 1/4 cup real maple syrup)
3/4 cup sugar (Use Sugar in the Raw)
Preheat oven to 350. In a medium bowl stir together flour, ginger, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, and salt; set aside. In a large mixing bowl beat shortening with an electric mixer on low speed for 30 seconds. Add the 2 cups sugar. Beat until combined, scraping sides of bowl occasionally. Beat in eggs and molasses until combined. Beat in as much of the flour mixture as you can with the mixer. Stir in any remaining flour mixture.

Shape dough into 1-inch balls. (I use a melon baller to get the exact same cookies) Roll balls in the 3/4 cup sugar. Place 1-1/2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet (I use parchment paper). Bake for 8 to 9 minutes or until bottoms are lightly browned and tops are puffed (do not overbake). Cool on cookie sheet 1 minute. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool.

Makes about 120 cookies (freezes well)


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