Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Sara Jane: Gardening

The best fertilizer is the shadow of the gardener
                                            - Chinese Proverb

Well, Memorial Day finally came and went and I think by now we all know what that means....gardening time!  Here in Oregon, we have been busy getting our beds ready with mulch and tilling.  Yesterday, my hubby came home early from work to help me put my herb/salad garden in. After 2 years of removing thousands of bulbs (I kid you not!), we finally got the ground clear enough to plant MY garden.

Just a few of the lovely bulbs from our yard.
Before we started planting, we looked and looked for inexpensive wine barrels in which we could plant the salad goodies (i.e. snap peas, radishes, beets, leeks, and lemon cucumbers).  We finally found some at our local Bi-Mart.  The best deal we've seen yet on them.  Next, we began getting the soil ready by tilling it. We also added steer manure this year. 

We took some of the herbs from our larger garden and transplanted them to this smaller, side garden.  Below are some pictures of how it looks.  I am hopeful that in a few months, there will be no dirt showing.  We planted lavender, two varieties of mint, lots of cilantro and parsley, a beautiful purple basil, two varieties of sage, celery, marjoram, lots of lettuce and a few other herbs that I can't think of right now.

This picture is before we added the manure.  Now the dirt is a dark brown color...much prettier :)
If you're wondering, the trees are dwarf nectarine and peach.  They were planted last year.

The older kids loved helping dig in the soil.  Bea, on the other hand, just wanted to sit in the plant box and eat chips.  To each his/her own!

 Over the weekend, Abraham began to prepare the larger garden, too.  There, we have five raised boxes, a large compost area, the chickens, and many, many raspberries.  Here he is attempting to pull out all the new raspberry shoots.  The fruit is already heavy on the little stocks.  When the berries are ripe, we will have 3 full months of harvesting bowls and bowls each day.

This photos was from last year.  My oldest's favorite past time is to pick and eat the delicious berries!

Now that I have shown you my little piece of heaven, I thought I would share with you some valuable tips I have been given over the years.

1.  Don't plant what you won't eat.  

I can't stand turnips.  I have tried them several different ways and every time I do, I wish I hadn't tried them again...same with sweet potatoes.  Soooo, we don't plant those.  Easy as that.

I'm not saying you shouldn't try new things but maybe taste them from your local market BEFORE you spend hours and hours caring for them.  One of the greatest things about having our garden is when my kids go and sit next to the kale and snack on it.  I LOVE it.   They look to the garden as their food source.

Our front  yard is lined, on one side, with blueberries and strawberries.  Such a yummy treat in the summer.

2.  Treat for slugs and snails early.

Our first year of gardening at our current home, we had a BEAUTIFUL garden.  We, however, didn't realize that we had an entire city of snails in our backyard.  HUNDREDS!  Very few of our cucumbers and peppers survived that  year.  The next year, I became a bit more wise.  I used Corey's Snail/Slug bate but there are countless other ways you can get rid of them.  There are many organic products that work well and are not harmful to wildlife.  One of the cheapest and easiest methods is to use crushed oyster shell.  Another way....chickens.  My chickens LOVE snails.  They fight over them.  So, my kids will go into the backyard, harvest a bucket full of snails (I know...gross!) and feed them to either my chickens or my parent's chickens.  There you go!

The beautiful garden that the snails enjoyed.

3.  Remember your local food bank and neighbors!

I remember many summer evenings, as a child, when, after dinner, my dad would load up our little wagon and take produce to all of our neighbors.  As I look back, it was a valuable lesson that not only should we not waste food but that we should always serve those around us.  It is easy when you have your own garden to simply throw away excess food.  You didn't pay for it, after all.  However, I think that we should look at gardening as a way of helping others.  I know when we plant our 15 tomato plants that we will not be able to use all of them.  But, I also know that I have LOTS of friends and family who love tomatoes.  We follow the same principle with our excess eggs from our chickens.  

So, maybe if you have a little extra room in your garden, plant a row just to give away.  You may really end up helping someone who needs it!

4.  Make it a family affair.

I have found that our family works really well together when we're outside, especially in the garden.  There is something special about everyone working together to create something.  Our summer meals, where we go pick our dinner from the garden, or made dessert using the berries from around our yard, are my favorite.  Everyone picks their favorite food and life is pleasant and peaceful.

Make a garden for your children in which they can dig and watch their own things grow.  Pick a hardy plant, like pumpkins, or peas and make it THEIRS.  Let them have ownership and take responsibility for it.

 5.  Plant vegetables/fruit that are local to your area.

 Don't waste the time and money planting vegetables that don't grow well in your area.  I found this cool site through Purdue University which tells you what is recommended for your region and what is not.

The Willamette Valley, where I live, is known for its grapes.  So, when we moved into our home, and saw two small grape vines (which the previous owners continually cut back), we knew we wanted to let them go wild.  And wild they are.  I LOVE them. They are directly out my front window and have created the perfect screen.  Now, people passing by can no longer see directly into my house and I have a lovely view looking out.  

Happy gardening!

Sara Jane

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Allison: "Gardening" according to Allison

Hello again!  If I can get my drooling under control after seeing Lisa's amazing zucchini bread, I'll start my post.  Okay... I'm good.

As Lisa mentioned, this week we're gardening!!  She also mentioned that my parents have an amazing garden.  I have always loved our backyard, but especially during Spring and Summer.  I have taken many pictures over the years of its beauty, and love the serenity that can be found there.  Since I can remember, we've had a HUGE vegetable garden.  I have many memories of weeding and watching my parents care for this space.  After a few years, they converted a large portion of this area into a flower garden.  I appreciate the time and energy that my parents have put into making their yard a place of beauty.

Courtesy of Melissa Gallo

But like Lisa confessed, I did not get this gardening gene passed on to me either.  I seem to kill everything living that enters my home.  I can look up right now and see a Mother's Day plant that has been struggling for its life near the sink, and fear for the survival of the orchid plant my husband gave me the same day.  It's okay... I accept this flaw about myself.  That being said, I thought my take on this week's theme was a little sneaky, and is probably considered cheating.  So be it.

A few years ago, I found these adorable little fabric flowers online.  I had seen them on multiple sites, but had never seen a tutorial on how to assemble them.  I figured it out, and thought I'd pass that process on to all of you.  The flower pictured is actually from a baby shower I organized last year, and only shows the four-petaled version.  I will be making a flower with five petals.  The process is so easy.  Here is what you'll need:

The basic supplies include: scissors, scrap fabric, marker/pen, yo-yo maker (optional), needle and thread and stuffing (which I forgot in the picture, but is VERY important).

If you'd like to put your flower in a pot (as pictured above), you'll need floral moss, tape and styrofoam (I found all of those at The Dollar Tree), wooden dowels (the size depends on the size flower you make), and a pot (not pictured).

These can be as basic or as complex as you want to make them.  I almost always go for basic.  Here are the steps:

Step #1- Trace 5 circles from one fabric type (for each petal), and 1 circle from a contrasting fabric (for the center of the flower).

Step #2a- If using a yo-yo maker, skip step one and cut around yo-yo maker and begin stitching.  Otherwise, begin a basic basting stitch around the edge of the circle.

Step #2b- This is how your fabric should look after stitching around the edge.

Step #3- Insert enough stuffing to cause a little resistance when thread is pulled tight.  Secure thread by stitching through the center multiple times.  Tie a knot to complete petal.

Step #4- Thread the five petals together by stitching through the middle of each ball.

Step #5- I'm a big fan of the glue gun, so I glued the middle ball to the 5 petals.  It can also be stitched in.  Cover a 1/8" wooden dowel by placing a small amount of glue on the tip, and wrapping floral tape from top to bottom (securing with more hot glue).  Finally, secure the dowel to the flower by gluing the tip and inserting it between two petals.

That's it!  Pretty easy, right?  I've also made larger flowers and used a 1/4" dowel (found these at Joann's).  I love mixing smaller flowers with bigger flowers in the same pot.  So fun!

I hope you've enjoyed my type of gardening.  Can't wait to see what Sara has in store for us tomorrow!  She actually knows how to keep plants alive.  See you next week!!


Monday, May 28, 2012

Lisa: Gardening

So the theme this week is gardening which I stink at. I’ve been trying to think of anything I could post about gardening. My parents are both terrific gardeners and have a fabulous vegetable garden, flower garden, fruit trees, berry bushes and more. Their yard is a beautiful lush paradise which I love and my children now love, as well. You’d think with that kind of upbringing I’d have more talent and a beautiful garden myself. I don’t. But part of that isn’t my fault. We have these beauties to keep us company.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I love the deer and occasional elk that we see on our property but they sure make gardening a challenge! I know there are plants that the deer won’t eat but the ones I want seem to also be the ones they want! We attempted a vegetable garden a couple of times but the deer nipped away at everything so that our produce seems to be very slim! Luckily for us, they’d miss some of the zucchini because of the large leaves (I think that was why, at least!). So I am tweaking the theme to fit my post. Gardening!!Zucchini!!
I have many recipes for this wonderful vegetable. A lot of them involve the grill for some savory dishes but one that I remember from growing up is a chocolate zucchini cake that my mom would make. It was so good and you couldn’t taste the zucchini which I liked since my childish palate couldn’t stand vegetables! I don’t have permission to give out this recipe from my mom (really, I didn’t even ask!) but I did concoct a chocolate zucchini bread which I think is fantastic and similar to her cake!! The key to this is the chocolate chips so don’t skimp!
Chocolate Zucchini Bread
3 cups flour
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon ground cloves
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
2 cups shredded zucchini
½ cup oil
¼ cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup buttermilk
1 bag of milk chocolate chips, divided
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a bowl, combine the flour, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cloves. Set aside. In another bowl, mix the sugar, eggs, zucchini, oil, cocoa powder, vanilla, and buttermilk. Add the flour mixture and stir till just combined. Set aside 1 cup of the chocolate chips. Stir the rest of the chocolate chips into the batter. Pour the batter into 2 greased loaf pans. Sprinkle reserved chocolate chips evenly over the two loaves. Bake for 55 minutes. Let cool before slicing! Delicious!
Here are some of the unfortunate runners up in my attempt to make some thing for this post!
On the left was a zucchini cake with feta which was delicious but a little too doughy. In the middle is a lemon zucchini cookie that was really good and that my teenage boy ate quite a few of. Maybe with some tweaking she'll make it! And on the left is a zucchini brownie which just didn't cut it. I had high hope for them all. So sad, so sad!
What are your favorite zucchini creations?

Friday, May 25, 2012

Shauna: Ice Cream Social

photos from

Summer and ice cream go together like Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe.  They were made for each other.  They two are the quintessential team of summer vacation.  I got an ice cream attachment for my Kitchenaid for Mom's Day (!!) and we also own a waffle cone maker (I know, it's amazing).  So you can image I've been going a little crazy with ice cream recipes.  So far I've made vanilla bean, strawberry, and french vanilla M&M.  I'm hoping to try this chocolate peanut butter ice cream below for our Sunday dessert.


What is your favorite homemade ice cream recipe? 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Katrina: Summer Bucket List

I attended a Stake Relief Society activity for our church a couple weeks ago and was shown this awesome idea:  A Summer Bucket List

Growing up, one of my favorite things to do in the summer was go camping, and go to the beach, and run through the sprinkler, and eat popsicles, and go to the park, and play basketball in our street, or baseball, and have a BBQ.  Oh wait, that's more than one thing...

Well, with this "summer bucket list" it gives us a chance to write down all those fun things we want to do, even new activities we want to try, in a cute, simple way.  Here's how we put one together (you could do one lots of different ways).

 We bought a plastic planting bucket.  The clothespins are a must, you will see, soon.  Then, because I do not own a cricket to make fancy letters or anything, and I didn't want to attempt it myself, I bought these foam sticker letters and some foam sticker stars.

I decorated the bucket with the help of my children.

They worked hard on it!

Here is the finished product!  What to do with the clothespins: Have the family get together to decide on some activities they want to do during summer.  Then write an activity on each clothespin.  During the summer, when you actually do the activity, put the clothespin in the bucket!

Happy almost summer!


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Sara Jane: Bird Feeders

Summer hasn't quite kicked in here in the Willamette Valley.  This week it has rained more and harder than I've seen in a long time.  Don't get me wrong....I LOVE the rain...I really do.  It's just that I haven't had much inspiration when it comes to summer.

When we moved into our little home a few years ago, the yard was COVERED in beautiful flowers, bird baths, and all the cutesy yard ornaments you might expect from an older couple.  Since we've moved in, however, a few things have happened:  (1) like I have mentioned before, I sorta stink at gardening so most of the beautiful flowers had to go and were replaced with plants (mostly herbs) that were a little less upkeep; (2) we downsized to ONE bird bath.  The others found their way to my parent's home or were re-purposed; and (3) ALL the little trinkets around the yard have either been broken by my busy babies or thrown away by their tired mother.

There was, however, one part of the yard I adored....4 birdhouses that are placed neatly around the backyard.

This picture is completely unretouched.  Yes, that is why I live in Oregon.  BEA-U-TI-FUL!

Today, while I was outside playing in the mud with my babies, I noticed, again, the many, many birds around my home.  They always make me smile.  They actually live in the pleasant little houses and each morning we get to wake up to their lovely songs.  Their houses are good for two reasons....Eating and Sleeping.  Since their wood houses are too high for me to reach, I thought I would make some bird feeders to stick around our yard so the sweet little birds stay nearby.

Here we go.  What you will need:

1.  First, I prepared my milk jug by cleaning it and letting it dry.  Next, I drew a circle around where I wanted my lovely daughter to cut.

2.  Next, I had my daughter (with my assistance) cut the hole out.  After she was done cutting, I went back around it to make sure it was fairly smooth.  I definitely wouldn't want to hurt the little bird's fee.

3.  I next tied my twine to the top of the jug making sure it would not slip off.  Wire may be used for this part, too.

4.  Next, I filled the jug with bird seed (I bought the inexpensive bag from Walmart.  I am pretty sure birds aren't too picky about what they eat.).  Then I tied it securely to my apple tree.

After finishing my lovely milk jug bird feeder, I came across an old glass light globe that was in our house when we moved in.  I planned on taking it to Goodwill but not anymore.

Using steps 3 and 4, this light fixture....

became this lovely bird feeder.

I hope our feathered friends will enjoy the little treats we have added to our yard.

If you're up for making a treat for the little humans around your house, here is a yummy looking popsicle that I will definitely be trying if it ever decides to warm up around here.


Sara Jane

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Allison: Water Fun + Cool Treats = Summer

Welcome to another week!  Last week's theme was so fun!  A big "thank you" to all of those that took the time to comment about our blog!  We're so glad to know it's being enjoyed.  I know we're having fun, if nothing else.  :)

This week's theme was a little harder for me to relate to.  I'm no longer teaching full-time, and don't have any school-aged children, so being creative with the theme "summer kick-off" was a little tough.  Plus, I live in Arizona, where the temperature has been in the hundreds for multiple days now.  While others are waiting for it to warm up, I'm looking for a single cloud in the sky to give relief from the heat.  AND don't forget that I'm 6 months pregnant... better planning next time.
Sara, Gordon (Katrina's husband) and me.  I look adopted.

So instead, I thought to myself, "Self... what does summer mean to you?".  Growing up in Oregon, summer meant a few things: humid days, living in our bathing suits, playing on the slip 'n slide in the backyard, sneaking otter pops from the freezer in the garage, riding bikes in the cul-de-sac, and sleeping under the stars on the back deck.  So many good memories with my family!  For this week's post, I'll draw inspiration from two of those memories listed above.

Back to the pregnancy thing... I CRAVE cold things when I'm pregnant.  I joke that my first daughter is half milkshake, because I think I had at least one a day while pregnant with her (hence the crazy weight gain).  This pregnancy, I've tried to be a little more conscious of my sugar intake.  So I thought I'd share a low-fat, low-sugar version of this cool treat.

I found the Skinny Oreo Cookies and Cream Milkshake here.  Their picture turned out way better than mine, so I'm borrowing it.  Any excuse to buy Oreos...

The recipe was so easy to put together, and tasted great!  I didn't even feel guilty drinking it.  We don't have anything but almond milk and whole milk in my house, so I substituted with almond milk.  It's unsweetened, taking even more sugar out of the shake.  "I" was a big fan of this too...definitely a treat we'll have again!

Finally, I think that summer is synonymous with water fun.  The other day I had my first experience with an essential Arizona summer activity: the splash pad.  There are a bunch around here, but I'd never tried one.  But now that I have a kid who LOVES to be outside, I had the motivation I needed.

But there's another reason that we'll probably be visiting a splash pad again in the near future.  This is what happened for 2 1/2 hours after we got home from our water fun:

But I realize that splash pads aren't everywhere.  So I looked on trusty Pinterest, and found a couple of fun ideas that I'll probably try.

We all know that water balloons are fun.  But they take a lot of work, and then you have to clean up all those little balloon pieces.  I love the idea of sponge balls!  A great tutorial can be found here.

Next, I LOVE this sprinkler idea using only a soda bottle and $5 male to male adapter (that according to Pinterest can be found at Lowe's.  There was no actual link from the picture).  Hang it from a tree for tons of outdoor fun.  Brilliant!

I hope the rest of you enjoy moderate weather, while we sweat to death here in AZ.  But the end of the summer means a new baby in our household, so I'll enjoy the time I have with little "I" and my husband until then.  Have a great week!!


Sunday, May 20, 2012

Lisa: Summer Activity Board and Cool Summer Sleeping Bag!!

Summer Kick Off!!!

This week our theme is a great way for me to start thinking about all the upcoming summer and the fun that it can be!!  One thing my husband and I have found to help motivate our children and to help organize our summer is a Summer Activity Board!  We let the kids think of activities and places they'd like to go near our home that are reasonable (we did have to nix the deep sea diving off their list!).  We then have them write their ideas on a poster board and keep it up where we can all see it.  Throughout the summer, we make plans to do an activity whenever we can and whenever chores are done.  It helps to make sure our summer doesn't pass us by without us getting anything done!

One of the children didn't get the idea that this was summer activities!  The ice fishing might have to wait till next winter!!

So my craft for this week is for a summer style sleeping bag made out of one twin sheet and a pillowcase.  With our summer comes a lot of family camping trips, sleepovers, summer camps, and sleeping out under the stars. All of which need a sleeping bag.  We have sleeping bags for each of the children but sometimes it is just too hot to sleep in them!  I have an old flat sheet that lost it's matching fitted sheet so I thought, why not?  A sleeping bag made out of a sheet would be so much better!  It is really a simple project and very good way to use your old bedding!  I was slightly embarrassed at how plain my sheet was so I went to Walmart and got a twin flat sheet for only $5!  Not bad! 

 I also purchased a matching pillowcase at 2 for $5. 

1 pillowcase
1 twin sheet (for children or larger for taller people!)

1) Fold sheet in half lengthwise with the inside out and cut to desired width.  Hem raw edge.
2) Sew up the newly hemmed edge and one of the ends.
3) Attach pillow case to the center of the unsewn end. 
4) Turn right side out and you're done!

I did go a step further, though, and changed the opening of my pillowcase so that I can just fold up the sleeping bag and keep it in the pillowcase when not in use.  To do this, I opened the seam on one side of the pillowcase.  Then I hemmed that newly exposed edge.  Next I cut off the cuff of the pillowcase and sewed that end shut.  Finally, I just attach the pillowcase to the sheet (like in step 4 above).    

Very simple and easy to put together but I think it will be really useful!  It would also make a great sleeping bag liner!  Here it is all folded up.

Kind of cute, isn't it?!I thought about putting straps on it so it could double as an overnight bag but I don't like the idea of long cords near my baby's neck at night!!  Call me crazy!  And of course, my other sweet children wanted what their sister got so I used what I had on hand to make them something.  First up, the cute IKEA fleece throw turned summer sleeping bag for my perpetually cold baby.

Super cute and perfect for her little self!!  Then of course, for daddy's little boy:

Go Cougars!  This is just made from two fleece panels that fabric stores sell.  We've had these floating around the house for awhile now.  Finally they have a purpose!

 Perfect!!  How are you and yours kicking off summer?