Monday, May 13, 2013

More Garden Fun

I think something already nibbled on my newly planted raspberry bushes. All the new growth is missing, and they now look like dead sticks. Not to be deterred, my awesome husband and I used this past Saturday to erect a fence around the berry patch, after I added another blueberry and a blackberry to the plot.

From the left, it's blackberry, two blueberries, and two raspberries. (And in case you ever thought it was a good idea to use the side of your house to hold up a slab of granite, the ugly, discolored wall behind our garden stands as a testament to why not!)

While I was waiting on him to get back with the fence supplies, I planted two blue hydrangeas in front of the house. I might have to see about adjusting the soil pH. Not that I don't like pink flowers, but we had blue hydrangeas on our wedding cake, and my husband and I both love them in blue!

 And, I finally made use of the hanging strawberry planter my friend gave me almost a year ago!

I only used the holes on one side, since my flat had six plants. If they do well, I plan to fill more next year.

Still waiting, so I moved on to the roses. Last year, we planted three, with the bough of a cherry tree erected in the center for them to climb, and to put cute little signs on. We still haven't gotten around to making the signs, and I've been asked if it's a dead tree. Yeah; pretty embarrassing. We had better make those signs! Two of the rose bushes died, leaving only one, so I got two more to keep the lonely yellow rose bush company. I also cleared the ground first this time, and my husband got home in time to help with the weed barrier, planting, and mulching. Our sweet retired neighbor came over to chat while we worked and offered us some of his irises, so we may be planting more flowers soon!

My husband wanted to add the boot, and we're planning to edge it with some decorative rock whenever my husband is up to lugging them over from a defunct garden area. It's hard to tell from the picture, but the area is a rounded triangle shape. The new roses will be soft pink in the front and a beautiful creamsicle orange color on the right. We both remembered planting yellow where the more mature plant is, so hopefully we're remembering correctly. If not, I suppose we'll get a surprise!

I found a Bradford Pear at Aldi for only $10 a couple weeks ago, and it's finally starting to sprout some new growth!

My husband watering the new tree with two of our kids watching. Usually he sprays them, but the weather wasn't warm enough here on Saturday!

I wore out several fingertips on my gardening gloves, and noticed that fruit trees were 50% off while I was buying replacements on Sunday. My husband and I had been talking about peach, plum, and pear trees, but we hadn't found peach under $50 til then. I was in the van, and needed more mulch, too, so I went home and got the truck. God must have wanted us to have this peach tree, because it was the last one on the $16 pallet!

My girls were disappointed that I didn't get a pear tree, too, but we have a sweet neighbor lady who has one, and she shares with us. I can't think of a more fun walk than delivering fresh peaches to all our neighbors!

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

My Future Berry Patch

Due to a fiasco with the city over water drainage, we haven't been able to plant our garden this year. It's really had me bummed out, but if we plow and plant, and then the city brings in heavy equipment to reshape the surface of our yard, the garden, which lies right inside the gate, would be ruined.

I have such fond memories of visiting my grandma's house in St. Louis and playing in the wide open back yard. It was terraced to level out the downward slope to the rear of the property, and a garden grew on the lowest part of the yard. I remember thinking how beautiful it looked. But the best part was the strawberry patch, alongside the back of the house, right outside the door. Grandma used to let us pick and eat as many ripe, sweet, red strawberries as we wanted. The berries growing along the house really stuck with me.

So, with our garden on hiatus and all this beautiful weather, I got a tree and some berry bushes. My husband helped me plant the tree, a Bradford Pear, in the front yard, and then I had to pick a place to put a berry patch. The obvious choice, to me, was a strip of unused ground along the back of the house. But the ground is all hard packed clay and rock, so I had to dig out all that stuff and replace it with rich, dark, fertilized soil from the garden.

Here's the patch of ground I picked (with the future bathroom vanity in the back). My girls were so sad to see the dandelions go!

First I cleared it off so I had and idea of where to dig.

It may look small, but this trench just about did me in! That really is some tough clay. Even though we had a good rain just two days ago, I had to dig down almost two feet before I started seeing water.

It's hard to tell how deep the hole is from a photo. It's about five feet long, two feet wide, and nearly two feet deep.

Then I hauled about four wheel barrel's full of garden soil over and filled it back up. Remember how the clay was so dry, with water far beneath the surface? When I started moving the garden soil, my first shovelful revealed water. It was heavy, but so much easier to dig than the clay!

They don't look like much now, but the guy on the left is a blueberry, and the two on the right are raspberries. Can you see the major difference between the soils? I hadn't even watered yet when I took this picture.

When I was all set to plant them, a friend of mine stopped by, read the container, and told me I need two blueberry plants to produce fruit. So stay tuned for an updated photo, including another blueberry plant of a different variety for pollination, blackberries, and strawberries. And maybe even some blue hydrangeas, too.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Finally! Functional Drawers

Have you ever started on something and then had to put it on hold for whatever reason? That's the story of my life.

Finishing projects is becoming more important to me since I no longer have time to play around with unimportant ones.

When I decided to build my own drawer dividers, I had no idea that it would take me five months from when I started drawing the plans until I finished the final drawer. A big part of the delay had to do with the availability of materials. I was working with a very limited budget, so I reused door trim that I bought at the Habitat for Humanity Re-Store. It took a while to find plain pieces that were only sanded as opposed to fancy, mitered trim. That was the only difficult part!

Organization is a big must in my house, or I can't find anything. Take my kitchen drawers, for example:

Even though this drawer has a childproof latch, the knife handles frequently slide down within reach of little hands... And I worried the baby could reach in and grab one...

This was actually the first one I finished, and the drawer that inspired the entire project. I am happy to say that it works just as well today as it did back in January when I finished it.

Keeping the twisty ties and clothes pins separate from the baggies and foil was the main objective with this drawer.

The results are pure bliss.

I took this photo when quite a bit of silverware was in the dishwasher. The space that hold smaller forks looks unusually empty. A family of 6 uses a LOT of flatware each day, and my little plastic divider has not been adequate for years. Notice also the piles of children's forks and spoons and baby spoons which have nothing stopping them from moving freely within the drawer. *headache*

Now I can keep all the silverware in the drawer at the same time and it doesn't ever get mixed up!! I have to say that this is my very, very favorite. My girls agree :)

This is my drawer for stuff that won't sit in a canister on the counter. It looks pretty nice, but with 4 kids and my husband all closing it in a hurry, things quickly become jumbled and makes it difficult for me to reach in and grab something as I'm cooking... like the measuring spoons, which regularly wind up all over the drawer..

So I designed the dividers to provide the easiest access to the objects I most frequently need and stow the less often used items in the back sections.

The last two pictured are also removable in case I ever decide to change the layout. I did have to glue the dividers to the sides of the drawers with the knives and baggies.

Gorilla glue is some amazing stuff! I also used a skil saw to cut the door trim to the proper lengths and hand sanded the cut ends smooth. Each divider set was cut out and glued together in such a short time that I am confident I could have made all four in one afternoon if the materials hadn't been hard to find.

The trim pieces were less than a dollar each and I bought four total. One was enough for the first two, two were needed for the third, and one for the fourth.

Now I get a great sense of satisfaction every time I open a kitchen drawer.

Friday, April 20, 2012

How I began updating my girls' bathroom

A couple months ago, my daughters were getting ready for bed while I fed my son. Everything was quiet after a bit and I thought everyone had gone to bed. My husband and I were watching TV when we heard an enormous crash followed by a child's cries. We looked at each other in alarm and raced to see what had happened. My sweet Olivia was walking into the bathroom when the mirror fell off the wall. Thankfully, she sustained only minor scratches which I cleaned up while my husband took care of the mirror shards.

Since then, no mirror has hung in the bathroom. Not long after the Big Scary Falling Mirror, we found a dresser mirror at the Habitat for Humanity Re-Store for $15. Since it had nothing on the back to hang it up, it sat in the garage. And there was another issue. The bathroom is green. It's a nice, minty, cheerful color that isn't offensive or particularly noteworthy. The mirror is purple. It's not just purple, it's two different colors of purple with an odd shell decoration. I didn't want to hang the two-tone purple mirror in the minty green bathroom without changing one or both.

I got tired of having no mirror in the bathroom. So I obsessively and futilely checked the oops paint section at Home Depot every time I went anywhere near enough to stop in. I measured and marked the mirror and the wall in preparation to hang it. In order to get my husband more involved, I left the mirror in the hallway outside the bathroom door.

Then my husband went with a group of guys from Rock Brook Church and spent last weekend playing with chainsaws to benefit Woodland Acres Bible Camp. As soon as he was gone, I noticed the mirror was in our bedroom, leaning on the front of my dresser. I moved it to block his dresser instead, since he wouldn't need to access it until he came home. He wasn't happy to see it when he got home.

I love my husband and I don't want a mirror to come between us. That is why, today, I went to Westlake and bought a mirror mounting kit for $4.

Maybe the sight of the green and purple together will motivate me to finally move the bathroom project to the top of the to-do list.

Hideous, isn't it? Of course, my girls absolutely adore it.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

3 Ingredient Laundry Detergent

For a while now I have been disgruntled at my discount laundry soap. I have to pre-treat everything or nothing comes clean.

Then I started hearing friends talk about making their own laundry detergent.

Since I was running low, I decided that instead of buying more substandard laundry soap, I would buy the ingredients and make some myself.

Google helped me find quite a few recipes, and I picked what I liked from several different ideas to come up with this :)

It only took 10 minutes, start to finish!

I was skeptical at the complete lack of soapy bubbles in my washer, but the clothes are so clean and fresh!!!

First thing was assembling the ingredients, and I was kind of worried since various sites warned that they were unavailable locally. How pleasantly surprised I was to see all three ingredients, in my local store, on the same shelf, right in a row!

a bar of Fels-Naptha soap
a box of Borax
A box of Arm & Hammer Washing Soda (this is different from Baking Soda and will yield different results!)

Step 1: grate 1/3 of the bar of soap into a cooking pot. I didn't mind grating the soap like I thought I would; it was actually kind of fun and the soap went through the grater much more smoothly than most cheeses!

Step 2: add 6 cups hot water and heat til soap melts
(This is the part that takes the longest. I confess; I am impatient.)

Step 3: Stir in 1 cup each of Borax and Washing Soda. Stir until dissolved and remove from heat.

Step 4: Now get the container you're going to use to store the laundry detergent (should be 2 gallon size) and add 4 cups of hot water. Dump in the soap from the cooking pot and stir.

Step 5: Add another gallon and 6 cups of cold water; stir.

Several recipes suggested allowing it to set 24 hours and said that it would gel. Mine sat almost 24 hours before I used it, and it has never fully gelled, so don't worry if your results vary. It works!!

And the best part? I spent around $6 TOTAL for ALL the ingredients... and only used 1/3 of the soap and 1 cup of powder from each box. I'm not great at math, but I'm thinking this can't cost me more than $0.05 per load of laundry using 1/2 cup per load.

Laundry is so much more fun now!

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Who is Tom Ka Gai?

Turns out Tom isn't a he; he's an it! A delicious Thai soup!

I first tried Tom at a friend's house. She called and wanted to know if I wanted to have lunch with her and Tom Cockeyed. I said sure, not knowing that Tom was lunch and not an oddly-named third wheel. Since our first meeting, Tom and I have spend many a meal in each other's company.

Think coconut and spices... Think chicken soup... and then combine those two thought together (it's a little weird the first time, but go with it!) and you have one of my all time favorite soups.

Start by chopping up a couple chicken breasts. I like them pretty small so I can have some chicken in every bite.

Toss it in a soup pot with a few tbsp of oil or butter and saute til it turns white.

Add the rest of the magic and cook it for a very short time (it will seem longer when the scents begin to tantalize).

Don't my girls look so happy to skip their processed lunch meat today??

In case you're wondering, they love it; they're just reluctant to accept any deviation from our normal lunch routine.

Once the coconut milk, fish sauce, lime juice, and spices are added, it looks like this:

Don't be alarmed when the turmeric turns the pearly white coconut milk yellow. It may not as pretty, but it's definitely more tasty.

Next chop some green onions for garnish. It's good to have something to do with your hands so you don't try to taste it a few hundred times while it simmers.

I also had some wheat Italian bread that I had baked the day before and it went beautifully with the soup.


It. Is. So. Good.

Tom Ka Gai (Thai Coconut Chicken Soup)

3/4 lb boneless, skinless chicken breast
3 Tbsp oil or butter
2 (14 oz) cans coconut milk
2 c water
2 Tbsp minced fresh ginger or 2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 c Fish sauce
1/4 c lime juice
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
2 thinly sliced green onions

Cut chicken into thin strips and saute in oil or butter for 2 to 3 min or until chicken turns white.

Add coconut milk and water; bring to a boil. Reduce heat. Add ginger, fish sauce, lime juice, cayenne pepper,  and turmeric. Simmer until the chicken is done, 10 to 15 min.

Sprinkle with green onions and serve steaming hot.


Thursday, January 12, 2012

Homemade Nutella Pop Tarts

A few days ago I saw a post on Pinterest that caught my eye from Bake Me More

Even though I personally don't care for pop tarts, the idea of creating a healthy version of something so highly attractive to children captivated me.

So, this morning, using Nutella and a basic pie crust recipe altered to add nutrition, I created something that received a thumbs-up from all three of my girls.


I wanted them to look as much like the cardboard sugar overload as possible and hide some healthy stuff like whole wheat flour and flax, too.


I also added a simple icing and colorful sprinkles (since I couldn't find my chocolate ones.)


Intrigued? They're pretty simple, too!

For the pastry dough

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
3 Tbsp ground flax seed + wheat flour to equal 1 cup
1/4 cup shortening
1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
3 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
6 Tbsp ice water

Stir together dry ingredients. Add butter and shortening; cut in with pastry blender til the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add ice water 2 Tbsp at a time til dough will roll into a ball. Wrap tightly and refrigerate 20 minutes or longer.

Roll out dough on floured surface. Cut into desired size; two per tart. Spread desired filling on dough, leaving 1/2" border all the way around.


Top each tart with a second pastry and crimp the edges using water to seal.


Bake at 400F for 8 minutes


Optional: Icing

1 cup confectioners sugar
2-3 Tbsp milk

Stir milk into sugar until it forms a thick paste. Spread on cooled tarts and top with sprinkles, if desired.


I was going to try a few with almond butter and top with sliced almonds but my girls were so excited about the Nutella that I forgot. You could also try sugar free jam or peanut butter! I would love to see more creative variations of these.

My 7-year-old likes it.


My 6-yr-old agrees.


Even my ultra-picky 3-year-old who rarely eats anything likes it!

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