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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Thanks, Mom!

My mother has a gift for landscaping.  She just seems to know what flowers would look perfect in any given place.  I can appreciate flowers by themselves, but when I try to plant them or group them artfully, the end result just looks confused.  My mother, however, can work magic.  But she doesn't know it.  She says she "just puts things in the ground," yet year after year her yard looks amazing.

For example, all these bulbs were planted by my mother.  Don't they look stunning?

Tulip, daffodil, and other bulb flowers.

So I have learned that if my mom suggests I plant something, I should do it!

Last weekend, while she and my step-father were visiting, I sought advice from my mom on our herb garden.  I had already planned to dig out part of the lawn in front of the house for our herbs, but wasn't sure what would look best.  My mom had a great idea to make a swoopy, wide bed that would curve partly around the house.  I made her draw it out for me.

Yesterday I started edging the design, but I didn't get far.  Not because it was hard, but because my lovely husband decided it would be much easier if he tilled.  Well, if you insist!

One other fact about my mom - she is addicted to our local greenhouse.  We went just to "look" and ended up with a flat of primroses and some houseplants.

Primroses.  They smell like honeysuckle
 I had never seen primroses before, but was immediately hooked.  I have already gone back to the greenhouse twice so that I had enough to edge the new herb bed.

And here is the finished bed: 

Thanks, Mom!
 I have already planted Lavender, a Flowering Almond, and a Jacks Camelia.  Now I just need to wait for our herbs to grow big enough to transplant.  Soon the bed will be filled with flowers, rosemary, thyme, sage, and oregano.

We also hung the kids' birdhouses.  Now it is truly a family garden.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Week 12 - Project 11 - Grocery Tote

We had company this weekend and had a great time.  However, I didn't let that distract me.  I finally managed to get my weekly project done.   This week I continued my using-plastic-grocery-bags-is-bad-for-ME kick.  So to go along with my produce bags (week 10), I made grocery totes out of some curtains my mother gave me.

Yes, that is gold lamme!

I liked this project (found on the Wisdom of the Moon blog), but I am not sure I love it.  Yet.  It certainly sewed up fast.  I cut three bags in 5 minutes, and sewed one in 20 minutes.  Honestly, making the handles and trimming the thread took the most time!  I can probably get 8 more bags out of one curtain, which is fairly awesome.  And these are self-lined, since the curtains also had lining.  And I have 3 more curtains (all gold)!

I just need to see how they do with real groceries.  Real  ones, not these plastic ones the kids lent me.

Project 12 coming soon...

Thursday, March 24, 2011


Have you ever wondered if it is really necessary to separate your seedlings once they start sprouting?  You know, how it says to plant the seeds 1 inch apart, but then thin them out to 6 inches apart.  Does it really matter?

Why, yes, yes it does.

I found these at the garden I tend at the local university.  That is about 6 carrots that continued to fight for the same 2 inches of ground.  Some high school students had been given a plot and they never came back to tend their veggies. 

High school students + garden = mutant carrots.  

You have been warned.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Week 11 - Didn't Happen

I failed to do a project in week 11.  I claim gloomy, distracting weather; work out-related injury (or extreme soreness); grumpiness; gardening; and the need to get a lingering sock project off my needles as my excuses.  And March Madness, can't forget that.  (Go Tar Heels!)

I did plant 150-200 onion sets and two types of peas.  And I started seeds for my brassicas (brussel sprouts, broccoli, and cabbage), herbs, and tomatoes.

And we started two more batches of beer.  Still working on the socks, though.

But all is not lost.  I will just have to do two projects next week.  Which is actually doable.  I think.  If I start tomorrow.

Geez, Jen, that is a lot of justifying.  I guess I feel guilty for letting myself down.  sigh.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Flowers and a Song

The 5-year-old sang me a seranade.

It was very sincere.

And the flowers bloomed.

They are lovely.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

March Garden

March is half over and we need to start getting things in the ground.  Which means that we have to prepare the ground to be more than a sinking mud hole.  I randomly discovered in Family Handyman magazine that a great way to help clay soil is to add crushed shale or other fine rocks back into it.  Apparently this helps aerate the soil and allow the plants to get their roots moving.  Sounds good to me, and our local greenhouse sells exactly that.  (Go figure that they would know what to do with red clay.  I should have asked last fall!)

So today we put together the raised bed (the 5-year-old and I did this), and filled it with top soil and composted manure.

Then we added a soil improver (rocks) and leaf compost to the established beds and tilled it in.  I think we are going to need more.  At least two beds seem more clay than anything.

And now the garden is starting to look fertile. 

Gotta love the dirty work!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Week Ten- Produce Bags

This week's project requires some back story.  I do all the grocery shopping in my family and each week I find myself disgusted with the amount of plastic that comes home with me.  Before the move, I always used reusable cloth bags for my shopping.  Our local grocery store clerks in our new town are not supportive of that, but to hell with them.  Next week the bags are coming back out.

That said, I never solved the problem of all the plastic produce bags I need for all our fruits and veggies!  I tried bringing them back every week and using them until they ripped or got nasty, but that tended to be hit or miss.  So lately I have been looking at reusable bag options for produce.  I have seen net bags, knit bags, and vinyl bags, but recently I found the solution I love.  Sheer bags made from curtains.

I love this project!  It cost me exactly nothing and is the essence of reusing materials on hand.  The sheer curtains were given to me by my mother, and one curtain made NINE bags!  It was also an amazingly quick project.  Nine bags, an hour and half of work!  Wowza!

Next week's project is related to this one.  So if you liked this, stay tuned.  If not, bear with me.  The quirky, less practical projects are coming.

Five Best (recent) Reads

Another blogger (Forever Young (Adult)) asked what your five best, recent reads are, and I thought I would put up my list.  This has been a year of heavy reading for me.  Recent move, no cable, and no job means that I have made a lot of time to read.  No complaints here!

So here are the five I liked best from the last twelve months:

Who Fears Death, by Nnedi Okorafor.  I loved this one when I got an ARC for Library Journal (my review is towards the bottom).  It is beautiful, moving, and thought-provoking.

Nation, by Terry Pratchet.  I admit this was a reread for me, and in light of the terrible earthquake/tsunami in Japan, I will probably reread it again this week.  This is not your standard Terry Pratchett.

Skipping a Beat, by Sarah Pekkanen.  I reviewed this for a contest, here, and it has grown in my estimation the longer I have had to think about it.

The Passage, by Justin Cronin.  This one was surprisingly riveting.  But it ended so abruptly that I had to rush to the internet to find out if it was part of a series.  Thankfully there will be a few more to round it out and I cannot wait.  Plus vampire-zombies.  Awesome.

Maybe This Time, by Jennifer Cruisie.  I LOVED this book.  And not just because it is based on Turn of the Screw, by Henry James (a favorite).  She nailed it.  In fact this was one of those few that as soon as I finished it, I opened it back to the beginning and started again.  Just to seal it in my mind.  Hmm, may need to reread this one, too.

Wow, just looking at that list makes me happy.  And I would happily revisit all of these, so I think that is recommendation enough.

So what are your fab five from the last twelve months?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Our First Beer

I gave my husband a beer making kit for Christmas this year.   He gave me a cheese making kit.  It was a kit-tastic Christmas.  I have already chronicled my beginning cheesemaking (misses), but I kept forgetting to talk about the beer!  (Beer will do that to you, I guess.)

So I am here to rectify that lapse!  We found beer making to be surprisingly easy (when you use a kit!)  So if you have never made your own beer, here is what we did:

First you boil the grains together for about an hour.  Our house smelled so delicious that even the kids came running, asking what I was making for dinner.  If only the would do that when I actually cook barley.

Then you strain the grains and are left with only liquid.  This is when you start to add the hops, etc.  My husband did this part, so it is kind of a blur.

Once you have added all the ingredients and boiled it, then you have to cool the liquid rapidly.

The sink works well for this step.  After cooling, we straind the liquid into a glass jug and added the yeast.

At this point all the happy little yeast get to work and the juice starts jumping.  So you have to have a way to let the gasses escape while maintaining a clean environment.  For the first day or two you use a long, sterile tube that ends in a cup of sterile water.  

It looks cool and science experimenty.  Then, once the gasses have slowed down, you remove the tube and add a bubble trap.  It sits like this for a good while.

At this point, the process becomes hazy to me.  At some point you put this in a dark place.  Then you bottle the liquid, taking care to leave as much of the "pellet" (that sandy particulate stuff at the bottom, behind).  We used clean Grolsch bottles for our first batch, but we have been saving bottles for a while and finally bought a capper.  Our next batch will be in regular, brown bottles.

Then your beer ferments in the bottle for another 2 weeks.  I distinctly remember the 2 weeks!

Then, finally, you can chill and drink the beer!

I liked the IPA.  It was a richer flavor than what you can buy in the store, and it was definitely stronger!  I am looking forward to the Honey Sage Seasonal,

which is cooking on our counter right now!  (Look, we had so much, we had to start a mason jar for the extra!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Week Nine - Purse

I am so in love with this week's project! 

The design comes from Sew4Home, though it is slightly adapted to my needs.  (I didn't have enough fill to make it sturdy to the top, but I like the floppiness of my edge.)

This is a nice, narrow bag, with a cute, punky feel.

It has two, cute pockets inside.  And the pink is deep and saturated.  Just the way I like it.

I like the look of this project, and the usefulness.  I also learned a few new techniques, and got to know my sewing machine better.  We are developing a nice relationship.

And I definitely could not have done this project without the cutting mat you see behind the bag.  My mother-in-law sent it to me as a surprise, and it has been amazingly helpful.  Thanks, Kathy!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Starting Seeds

I started seeds for our garden this week.  This will be an ongoing process as seeds need to be started at different times, relative to the last frost.  I am not sure I knew that before this year.  Because I really, really, desperately want this year's garden to be a success, I made sure to read every seed packet I have.  That was a lot of reading!  (45 packets, or so.)  Then I organized all the packets based on when I need to start them indoors or straight in the ground.

You would not believe how much better I felt after this bit of organization.

This week I started all the peppers and one packet of rosemary.

I made tags to go with each, too.

I managed to find plain starter greenhouses for the seeds.  It took forever to find them at the home improvement store, even with 3 people helping.  But we got it done, and I am sure we can reuse these next year, too, so it was a good investment.

Add a little seed starter soil to give them an added boost, and off we go.

Now last year I complained about how I can never seem to get seeds in the right depth.  This time, I aimed for perfection.  So I actually measured 1/4 inch on a toothpick and marked it with a pen.  The toothpick made the perfect digger for the tiny seed holes.  

I think I have done all I can to make sure these seeds sprout.  They are now in a warm-ish place (nowhere in this house is warm), and I can tell but the condensation that there is some residual heat in their little greenhouse.

Next week, tomatoes and melons go in another starter greenhouse!