Monday, December 21, 2009

Green Holidays

This year the holiday was a bit greener. I've been trying to use less wrapping paper. Sure it is pretty but it is used once, maybe twice and then it goes into the recycle bin or worse the landfill. I've been meaning to make some reusable fabric gift bags but haven't seemed to be able to find the time.

This year I came across an article on "furoshiki", a Japanese style gift wrapping. This simple and beautiful form of gift wrapping uses fabric to wrap presents. The fabric can be single or two sided, a specially made piece or a scarf or bandanna. The article ( was complete with a YouTube video and a link for a wrapping guide posted by the Japanese government ( It seemed too simple not to try. For the kids Hanukkah presents I wrapped 5 of the 8 nights gifts in dark colored bandannas. The kids didn't even blink. They still recognized a present when they see one and were able to get them open to see what surprises were within. We also reused a few gift bags too for the larger gifts.

We might not be up to a carbon neutral holiday but every little bit to make it greener is a good change.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Juice Box Straws

I love the Rubbermaid juice boxes. They add a nice flexibility for the kids of juices I pack for the kids and they reduce the waist of buying juice in juice boxes. But hate that it is so hard to clean the straw out. I have discovered that a nicely soaped up skewer will nicely clean out the inside of the straws. So simple and something many of us already have handy.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Shawl "Pin"

I have just received a beautiful shawl, which is perfect for keeping my shoulders warm and looking business like. The problem was all of my shawl pins are very dated and I do not mean in a good “vintage” way. Therefore had a dilemma of how to keep the shawl in place as I went about my day. I found a quick solution, which looked nice and worked well, my hair scrunchie. A basic black fabric scrunchie wrapped around the ends of the medium weight woven fabric worked very well. I plan to get a fancier beaded scrunchie to see if it will work as well and look a bit dressier. Having a multifunctional piece in the jewelry box makes organization and packing to travel much easier. It also fits the reduce part of the overall recycling plan J

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Flock Party: Final Fleecing

I will sheepishly admit there is just one more Shaun the Sheep item to write about.

Before the party, I spent some time with the kids. No cable TV. No Wii. Just the three of us and a big quiet lake. It was a wonderful long weekend. It was a great opportunity to show the kids some of the things I grew up with. One of the things I shared with them was my Mom's shape board. Mom made us felt boards and many shapes to move around and just be creative. We did have some Colorform kits but mom's was best. I gave each of the kids a full size sheet of felt. They both asked many questions to figure out what I was doing. Then I started to cut out shapes. Squares, triangles, circles, trapezoids, hexagons, and any others I could using my single quilting guide and things left in the kitchen cabinets. They thought it was great. They made all sorts of pictures from the shapes.

They were happy and entertained and I was getting bored. I did not want to just keep cutting shapes. I wanted to make something too. I pulled out a copy of Shaun the Sheep and started to cut free hand a sheep's head, then a set of ears and eyes out of a piece of glittery black felt. The scraps were trimmed up and added to the kids shapes. I arranged the sheep parts on a piece of white felt. By then I had the kids' attention again. After saying, I was thinking of making a pillow. I was told I needed to make two. I cut out a second set and they were packed up to be brought home with us. A month later after the party they were finally stitched together and stuffed.They are being loved to death. I might need to make another pair out of a more durable fabric.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Flock Party: Take Homes

Shaun the Sheep website has a lot of coloring pages and other activities. I took advantage of these wonderful items for the kids to take home and hopefully fall in love with Shaun and the flock as much as my kids have. Each birthday bag had print outs of the coloring pages and directions on how to make a bobble Shaun from recycled yogurt cups and a Shaun note holder. The goodie bags also had a small stuffed sheep for them to play with. The kids also had their flying disc creations to take home.

I had printed out mask from the site for the kids to make at the party but we didn’t use them this time. I’m holding onto the print outs for the next flock gathering.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Flock Party: Carnival Toss

Shaun the Sheep has an episode where the flock goes to a carnival. In the episode Shaun is left behind to cover for the missing sheep while Blitzer tries to find and bring back the flock. While at the carnival the sheep play the bottle game – throw a ball to knock down the bottles. I decided we could have our own version of this game. If you want the show the field has the farmer’s junk pile which the sheep managed to salvage things to make whatever Shaun dreams up. So for our version of the game we saved some of our own junk. I saved several cat litter containers (14 pound size). I had purchased bean bag for a different game.

We stacked the containers in pyramids of three on top of picnic tables and gave each child several bean bags. They took turns trying to knock down the stacks. A brave parent volunteered to fetch bean bags and re stack one of the pyramids and we tried to keep up with the overly enthusiastic kids. They loved the game!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Flock Party: Sleeping Bag Races

Shaun the Sheep has a camping episode. In the episode one of the sheep crawls into a sleeping bag to check it out and gets stuck. For awhile she jumps around before her back legs tear through so she can walk again. This was my inspiration for our Sheepish Sleeping Bag Races – sack races.

Sack races can be done with old feed bags or store bought bags made just for them. I found sacks for sack races at Oriental Trading Co. They had several kinds but I decided to get the 6 smaller kids sacks with handles and ‘racing’ numbers.

The day of the party had light rain right up to when the party started. I was concerned about doing sack races on the potentially slippery grass. Luckily the volley ball game ended well before we were ready to do sack races. The sand provided a fantastic surface for hopping kids. It dried more quickly then the grass and made for a softer landing as they scurried (or flopped) from one end to the other.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Flock Party: Frisbee

Shaun the Sheep can be seen playing catch with Blitzer (the dog). The two playing Frisbee is the opening scene for Blitzer’s love story.

I found design your own flying disc at Oriental Trading Co. When I was shopping for the party they were priced $13/24 but if you bought 3 or more the price went down to $8. At those prices I ordered 3 pack. That’s 6 dozen flying disc. I experimented with a poster paint marker which was suppose to work on plastic and Sharpie permanent markers. The markers worked better. They do smear a little and can rub off but it was far better then the paint option. If you scuff up the plastic it will adhere better, but who wants to scuff up 72 flying disc. I purchased 3 colorful packages of thick and thin tipped markers and tossed in the markers we used for the cup coloring. We handed out flying disc to all of the kids and encouraged the parents to do one for themselves too. The art work was amazing. All of the kids young and old seemed to really enjoy the activity. Some finished quickly and took their disc for test flights. Others used them to dig in the nearby volley ball court. They were having such a good time I didn’t interrupt .

The samples shown were done by my little ones and their big sister.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Flock Party: Flocking The Hall

Shaun the Sheep has a full flock to watch over. The flock was going to be turned into decorations for the party. I made the mum, baby Timmy and an anonymous sheep.

The white corrugated plastic I salvaged was perfect for making sheep. I pealed off the film with the conference information to get a clean white surface. If I planned carefully I could get a one sheep out of each poster board. The head I cut free hand and colored with Sharpie permanent markers. I drew random lines, squiggles, and spirals in black and gray crayon and markers to add depth to their wool. The head is attached to the front body piece with sticky Velcro squares. I used a metal kabob skewer to punch small holes on either side of where their ‘necks’ are so I could loop twine through and tie them to the shelter’s post or a near by tree.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Flock Party: Shirley Toss

If you have seen Shaun the Sheep you know you are not likely going to be tossing Shirley. She’s just too big. BUT you can toss things into her wool. In several episodes things get thrown or fall into Shirley’s wool and in the ‘goat’ episode the goat and Shaun go right trough her. These were the inspiration for the Shirley’s Toss.

I made a small model out of paper to and started to think about how I could make it work. I initially thought of using cardboard but beanbags would destroy cardboard. I decided pingpong balls would be an option.I was still trying to decide between recycling cardboard boxes or cut the shapes out of wood. I came across some white corrugated plastic and decided it would be more earth friendly and easier for me to manage.

I salvaged white corrugated plastic which was used for conference signs. I pealed off the film with the conference information to get a clean white surface. I used 3 sheet s: the head, front & back.I found that kitchen scissors worked fairly well. The head I cut free hand and colored with Sharpie permanent markers. I cut the front and back separately and free hand trying to get the fluffy curvy look of a sheep. I used a glass as a patter to cut circles in the front pieces. I used a small bowl to cut one in the center of the front and the back pieces (straight through). The head is attached to the front body piece with sticky Velcro squares. I used a metal kabob skewer to punch small holes to attached the front and back pieces. The top edge is attached with 1 inch ring binder rings which act as a hinge. On the sides there is a place for twine to keep it from opening up too wide. Shirley looked a little 'flat' so I used black and gray crayons and markers to draw random swirls and squiggles to look like curly wool. I found neon pingpong (table tennis) balls at Oriental Trading Co.

The game is adorable but the day of our party was too windy to actually play it. I’m tucking it away to bring out at the next party.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Flock Party: Shirley’s Wool

In Shaun the Sheep’s flock there is one very large sheep called Shirley. She is so big she is often pushed from place to place. She has been used as a trampoline and the bottom of sheep pyrimids. Her wool is like a magnet for stuff. It is amazing the things they find when they go searching in her wool. Shirley’s Wool inspired several kids’ games for our Flock Party.

I purchased a bag of Poly-fill stuffing from the local craft store and a bag of 50 assorted small party favors from Oriental Trading Co. I used my Excess Baggage Tote by Baggallini to hold my “wool”. Any bucket or bag which won’t easily tear will do. I used about 1/3 of the Poly-fill stuffing. You could also use real wool or cotton, scraps of yarn, or even fabric in place of the stuffing. If you use wool you may want to make sure none of the participants have a wool allergy. I pulled small pieces of the stuffing apart and stretched it before putting it into the bag. Then I added the bag of party favors. Mixing the stuffing and toys together stretched the stuffing out more and tangled the toys so they all didn’t just sit on the bottom of the bag.

As the party wrapped down I pulled out the bag of Shirley's Wool and let the kids reach in to pull out a toy. They were told not to peek but there was definite peeking and even some toy trading, but that was okay. They had lots of fun trying to find what was hidden in the ‘wool’.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Flock Party: It's in the Can

My family spent many summer vacations at the National Seashore. One of the signs we saw at many of the historical sites, parks and beaches said "Leave only footprints and take only pictures". As a kid I loved the idea of leaving no trace so no one could tell if you were there. The idea to tread light and to leave place as nice or nicer then the way you find it is just the right thing to do.

This idea was the reason for taking trash bags to the park for the party. It is so gross and inconsiderate to leave overflowing trash cans at a park. I knew out pizza boxes alone would overwhelm the one trash can in out reserved shelter. By having bags with us we were able to bag up all of the pizza boxes and leave the can for all of the messy little things.

The park didn't have containers for recycling so we brought our own. I picked up two Bungalow Trash Caches (collapsible trash bin). These are very sturdy containers which go "from flat to all that", really. It has snaps to hold the trash bag in place, washable and reuse able. At nearly $40 at the Container Store these are definitely an investment for this party and future gatherings. I had hoped to use one for recycling (paper, plastic, and glass) and one for compost. After some farther thinking I decided against collecting compost. The vegan chili is fully compostable as is the breads, but... I don't compost bread out of concerns of attracting rats, opossums, or other nasties. The neighbors have accepted the compost bin but I have been trying hard to keep it "neighborly" even in our hot muggy summers. I also had purchased regular paper plates and bowls. Both had a thin plastic coating. Not the best for compost. After this batch is used up I'll be looking for reasonably priced compostable bowls, plates, and cups. The bins worked very well for collecting our recyclables. They were sturdy enough to hold up to the windy damp day and to carry everything back home for our weekly pick up.

I like having things which are multi functional. I was able to re-purpose one of the trash caches. It is sturdy enough to hold our yoga mats and small rugs. The remaining one fits in the center and could be used as a divider if I find we need his and her sides.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Flock Party: Drinks

During the planning of our Flock Party we had to decide if we wanted individual cans and bottles for drinks or large 2 liter bottles and cups. We decided there would be less waste if we went with cups. We chose caffeine free child and adult friendly drinks such as 7Up, Orange Crush, root beer, and lemon aid. We also had 2 gallon containers of water available too.

Then there were the cups. We have several friends who make sure there are markers next to the stack of cups so everyone can write their name on their cups. Since this was a kids party I wanted to make the same idea a bit more kid friendly. Many of our younger guest can't write their names, yet. I purchased paper cups and Sharpie markers. Then I did a bit of recycling. I get tons of mailing labels each year with beautiful pictures in the margins. I never use most of the labels I get. I have been neatly cutting off the beautiful designs and using them for kid reward stickers and for craft projects. I had a small stack nearly 2 inches high. The kids and some of the adults seemed to have a great time decorating their cups with their own artwork or/and the stickers.

By the time they were done decorating their cups pizza arrived. Those who had run off to the play ground were able to pick theirs out from the others for their lunch time drinks. We weren't able to reuse the cups for the latter cupcake break because the wind was blowing them around too much. We needed fresh cups. In spite of the craft project not reducing the number of cups we used I definitely would do it again. The guest had fun and if the wind had cooperated we would have saved a tree.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Flock Party: Cake

Since our Flock Party was also the celebration of 2 birthdays we needed to have cake. I decided that cupcakes might be a bit more work to bake but much easier to serve at the park. I let each of the kids pick a cake mix. They chose strawberry and white confetti mixes. I decided we needed to have chocolate too. Each mix made 24 cupcakes. My Sistema 5 litter Clip-it containers held 24 cupcakes with some room to spare.

I was contemplating how I was going to get 6 dozen frosted cupcakes to the park without making a mess. I had an inspiration from another party. The weekend before we were at a party where one of the crafts was decorating your own cake. This super mom baked a small cake for each of the kids to decorate. The boys had cars and the girls had cakes with doll bodies to decorate. She mixed different color frostings. She put out bowls and made bags of each color for the kids to frost their cakes. Then there were various bowls of cake decorating sprinkles and candies. Each of the kids got to take their creations home with them. Then she baked a birthday cake for the party.

I would let everyone decorate their own cupcakes. Everyone was able to choose the flavor cupcake they wanted and then was able to put as much or little frosting as they wanted. The kids cheered and some of the parents looked horrified and dove in to help supervise. I purchased several cans of cupcake frosting and used the tubes of cake decorating gel I already had. Add in a few large sprinkles and oh what edible messes did they make. KISS: To keep things simple we only put one tip on each can of frosting and passed out the cans. The kids never knew there were options of different tips and didn't miss them.


I did mention that I had a few guest who could not eat gluten. I made a batch of Gluten Free Pantry Spice Cake cupcakes. I ran the oven for 15 minutes at 500 degrees after baking all of the other cupcakes to burn off any stray gluten. Then I baked the cupcakes in new disposable aluminum cupcake trays. I'll reuse the trays. I washed them and wrapped them in a plastic bag to keep them separate from the others. I'm not this sensitive to wheat but some others are. These guest were given the opportunity to ice their cupcakes before the others so the tips of the can wouldn't be exposed to the wheat cupcakes before hand.

The gluten-free cupcakes were definately appreciated. None of them made it back to my home. It is a good thing I had stashed a few in the frig before heading to the park.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Flock Party: Lunch

Our Flock Party menu was determined by convince, allergies and... What do sheep like?

I chose the menu keeping in mind I was inviting young children, vegetarians, several people with food restrictions and others who might have religious food restrictions too. I wanted to avoid all nut products and wanted to have choices which did not contain gluten. I decided to stick with a vegetarian menu. Some of the items would include eggs or dairy but there would be alternatives in case any one had problems with those items.

According to Shaun the Sheep (, sheep love pizza and apples. In one episode of Shaun the Sheep the flock watch the farm get pizza delivered to the farm and decide to get their own. The episode is about how they get to town to bring pizza back to the farm for the flock. We decided that ordering cheese pizza would be a nice covenant food to feed our flock. We called ahead to make sure the local pizza shops would deliver to the park.

But for those who have wheat, gluten or dairy allergies or intolerances pizza just wouldn't do. So to supplement the cheese pizza I made a homemade vegan chili. (KISS Vegan Chili recipe below.) I had a chafing dish to keep the chili warm but the wind was blowing enough there was no chance to keep the Sterno can lit. I kept half of the chili warm in a recycled Styrofoam cooler in the van and one tucked in a bucket surrounded by party favors. Since lunch was one of the first things we did the chili was still plenty warm for the guest.

In another episode the flock take on the naughty pigs to have fresh crisp juicy apples. Another healthy simple food to serve. We purchased 3 varieties of apples to serve. Our guest didn't have to take on naughty pigs but were able to choose between gala, Macintosh, and red delicious apples.

KISS Vegan Chili
(Keep it simple :)

2 - 16oz cans of each (drained & rinsed)
Pink kidney beans
Dark kidney beans
Garbanzo beans (chick peas)
1 -16oz black beans (drained & rinsed)
2- 28oz crushed tomatoes
1 tsp ground cunim seed
2 tbl ground red pepper (or/& crushed red pepper seeds or chopped jalapeƱo peppers to taste)
1/2 tsp Salt
1 tsp black ground pepper
1 med sweet onion, chopped
1 small green pepper, chopped
1 tsp garlic
1 tbl sugar

Place all ingredients in a large pot or slow cooker. Choose a cooking time: 1) Low flame or setting for 12 hours. 2) Med for 6 hours. 3) Boil for 20 min then simmer for 30 min

She did WHAT? (Explanations):

I used canned corn to avoid wheat but frozen can be used. Some frozen foods spray the inside of the plastic bags with a plant based product which has traces of wheat/gluten. This stuff keeps the contents from sticking to the bag, but it can make some people very sick.

I used canned beans for convenience but an equal amount of soaked dry beans can be used.

Adjust spices according to how fresh or how "strong" they are. Herbs and spices dry out with age and can loose their potency. You may also adjust according to you taste. If I have guest I often make it on the milder side and serve hot pepper slices or hot sauce on the side. Guest can always add "heat". If it is too hot it may be a problem for some.

Cumin seed is often uses in bean recipes. It is added because it has natural anti-gas properties.

I add a little sugar to many of my recipes which use tomatoes. Tomatoes can be sweet or a bit on the acidic side. A little sugar can bring out the sweetness of the tomatoes and be a nice contrast to the hot spices. If your tomatoes are already sweet leave the sugar out. If they are very acidic add a little more sugar.

All of these ingredients can be eaten as is. Cooking is more for the blending of flavors. Like most stews they always seem to taste better when they cook longer.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Flock Party

Life has been a bit crazy. It's time to get back to the keyboard. :)

I've been planning a Flock Party for the past few months. What is a Flock Party? Glad you asked. It is a party for friends and family. It is a play on a block party. Ours was to celebrate family, friends and 2 little ones making it to their next birthday. Luckily the birthday kids didn't mind sharing the day. They know and play with each other friends. It also made it a bit easier to invite the the whole family. So the party invites went to family, the kids friends and their immediate family.

Several of the guest were allergic our cats and our home is small so I needed an alternate party place. After a bit of research I chose a wonderful county park with restrooms (flush toilets), picnic shelter, and a nice location. Since small children were attending having flush toilets and places for hand washing were an essential. I hoped we wouldn't need the shelter but since it was rain or shine I wanted to be prepared. It rained over night and through setting up so it worked out for the best. We had dry tables. No I won't reveal the name of the park, but I will tell you a bit of research and planing can make a big difference.

Our Flock Party also had a bit of a sheepish theme. We love Shaun the Sheep ( Many of the things we did were inspired by episodes of the show. Over the next few days I'll share some of the recipes, crafts, and activities we did at our Flock Party.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Peanut Butter Raisin Chews

My grandmother and mom studied child development and nutrition in college and our meals and snacks reflected their knowledge, skill, and wisdom.Wee had treats in moderation and often those treats were healthy. One of the ones I remember fondly is mom’s Peanut Butter Raisin Chews. These slightly sweet confections are quite tasty and healthy.

Peanut Butter Raisin Chews

½ cup peanut butter (if crunch style, a little more)

2/3 cup no-fat dry milk solids

1/3 cup corn syrup or molasses

½ cup confectioner’s or granulated sugar

½ cup raisins

Mix all ingredients together.

Roll into balls

Chill in refrigerator

Makes about 2 dozen

Tip: Measure out the dry ingredients first. You can then use the same measuring cup to measure out the wet ingredients.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Trashy to Classy

I just moved our trash center from a hard to get to place to one that is handier to the back door. The move has left a sightly dirt patch which will need to be seeded this fall. The new location is more convent to the back door and is a spot that appears to only allow weeds to grow (wild strawberries, garlic mustard, and moss). Even though the spot is handier I didn’t want the same unsightly dirt patch to appear in the new location.

I decided to make the new trash patio nearly twice the size of the current trash containers to allow for extra bags and cans. I dug out the weeds and some of the dirt to below the grade of the grass and the crawl space access. Leveled it was nearly 2” below grade.

I back filled the whole with three 50 pound bags of paver sand.

Then came the hard part, moving the stones. I dragged the largest piece of flagstone (slate) from the pile in front of the house to the back of the house with the family’s little metal red wagon (they get to play with it and I get I to haul heavy stuff). The one stone covered over half of the area I was working with. The other smalles stones were much easier to bring around to work into the oversize puzzle. I used another 25 pounds of sand to leveled the stones and fill in the cracks. I used 2 bricks to hold the crawl space cover in place and allow for easier removal for access.

In one afternoon I took a potential eyesore to a spot that looks neat and tidy.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Tomato Stakes, Blight, and Anticipation...

The first year I had my garden I used tomato cages to prop up my plants. They worked but they are hard to store and easily get twisted if you hit a stone or something while installing them. They are also a bit cumbersome to put around a plant if you wait too long. In spite of my best efforts I usually broke off multiple leaves.

Last year I used Velcro plant ties to tie my tomatoes to the movable fencing in my garden. It worked very well, maybe too well. Not only did the fencing hold the tomato plants security in place it also provided seating for the squirrels to dine on my tomatoes.

This year the fencing was occupied by peas when I planted my tomatoes. The fencing was also in the same bed as the tomatoes were last year. I truly believe in crop rotation. It is better for the soil and the plants. Rotation is becoming even more important here in the northeast since late blight is on the rise. It can devastate tomato and potato crops. Think Irish potato famine. Mike McGrath recommends a compost tea sprayed on in the morning as a preventative precaution. The over all recommendation is to removing any affected plants double bagged and trashed it. There is also a call to report any blight to your local exchange so they can track the disease. This is nasty stuff in the plant world. (Tomato/potato disease warning: late blight is here! )

With that said, this year’s tomatoes were grown from seed and are located in a different raised bed to help decrease the chances of infection. I’m staking them to keep them off the ground to help… and as painful as it is I’m taking out one or two to keep good air flow around them. On a recent cable segment by Merrifield Garden Center I heard a recommendation for a Rainbow Tomato Spirals for tomato plants. I was skeptical if a single metal pole would work. I picked up a few to see. They were easy to install. I was able to gently guide the plants around the spiral. I was able to do ti without breaking any leaves off and they are surprisingly sturdy. I have occasionally have to cokes the new growth to continue up the spiral with very little effort.

Now I just wait for that tasty summer treat of fresh vine ripen tomatoes right out of the garden.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Garden Walkway Begins

The clutter in the driveway is starting to get to me. I really need to clear out the last of the flagstone to free up some space and make it look a bit more presentable. I had held onto the leftovers from the front walk way for a garden path between the raised beds. I had also hoped to use some of the stone for under the trash cans to decrease the potential muddy mess when it rains.

I worked on the garden path between the raised beds first. As I dug out the foundation for the flagstone I decided I really need to redo the center raised bed at the same time. It rearranges project orders but it was in the plans. I started by digging out a 4-5 foot long section of the old walkway. The garden weed cloth did little to stop the weeds. Two types of grass grow right through it and many things just grew on top of it. I’m tossing the weeds into the compost, sifting out the remains of the weed cloth to toss in the trash, pulling out the big rocks (fist size), and all of the dirt and old multch is being set aside for a new raised bed. The old bed edging was removed and the edges trimmed to fit the new garden wall retaining stones. After leveling the dirt, I added three bags of sand were spread out across the bottom. The garden stones were carefully set in place. To be honest I didn’t use a level, I did it by look and feel. After the section of retaining wall was done I sorted through pieces of flagstone for the walkway. After a lot of rock lifting, sand shifting, stomping and jiggling I think I got it. I even worked in one of the pieces of rock I dug into the walkway. It had a nice smooth side and fit the space wonderfully. I used two pieces of the old garden edging bricks to separate the portion I finished and the part yet to get done. If the stones weren’t there a summer rain storm could wash out the sand and require repairs before it was even finished.

I finished a small section. Hopefully I can do this bit by bit and have it still work out well. I’m going to need another pallet of stone but it keeps me busy and out of other trouble along with increasing the appeal and value of the house so I guess it is worth it.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Sand Box

The kids’ recently got a new sand box. I was hoping to give them a constructive play space to dig so they would be less likely to keep digging up my freshly planted seeds and such in the garden. I managed to find a nice size sand box with a very attractive design which would blend in with the yard while still being a lot of fun for the kids.

Once I had the new Step2 Naturally Playful Sandbox home I had to find a good place for it in the yard. As I pulled the big brown box out of the van I realized it was going to be one more thing to mow around. I have been trying so hard to decrease the number o things I need to mow around. I tested it next to the slide on their swing set but I was afraid it would be too tempting for them to jump into the sandbox instead of sliding down the slide. Then I noticed it was about the right size to fit under the fort portion of the swing set. It is a perfect fit. It has a little space around it to allow access to the swing set for reapplying water sealer. The fort provides some protection from the weather which should help the sand box last longer. It provides some shade for the kids while they play. AND I don’t have one more thing to mow around. They love it and have been spending a lot of time in it.

I’m happy to say the box came with a lid. I have explained to the kids that some wild animals like to use sandboxes like cat litter boxes and we need to keep the lid on. They have been very good to keep the lid on when they haven’t been playing in it. They even announced that the lid will keep dirt and leaves out of their new sandbox. They have been very happy to play in the sandbox instead of digging in my garden but they still expect to be called if I find any earth worms or interesting bugs while working in the garden.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Rose of Sharon

When we first moved into our home we could barely see the neighbor’s house through the hedge. Actually ‘hedge’ isn’t the right term. It was an over grown combination of 50+ year old trees, bushes, bulbs, and vines. Over the past 3 years I’ve done some trimming but it barely kept up with the grown of this mini jungle. It was time to tame the beast. I went in armed with a pair of pruners and a small handsaw. Over the month of June and into July I have cut down all but 3 of the 15-20’ high Rose of Sharon, pulled vines and trimmed the remaining bushes waist high. I stacked two piles of Rose of Sharon branches 5 feet high along with 25 bags filled with leaves, twigs, and weeds.I’ve sacrificed the fast growing Rose of Sharon hoping the other bushes will now fill out and will still allow some light in for the white azaleas, day lilies, lily of the valley, and other plants that have been struggling for light and water to thrive.

The project isn’t done. The Rose of Sharon is doing its best to come back from their wood stump remains. I’ve tried scoring the tops and painting on herbicide but they are determined. I’ve been cutting off the green leaves as they reappear. My next attempt to kill them off will be splitting each of the stumps with a small hatchet to encourage natural micros and rotting process to kill them off. I really rather not use more herbicide. I don’t want to risk hurting the remaining plants, my kids, or any wildlife.

I left 3 of the Rose of Sharon plants because they are nice bushes when maintained. According to all of my web surfing they can be trimmed to be more tree- like and looking around the neighborhood I found several beautiful ones that have been. Out of the three I have saved I hope to see how they do with more light and space and choose one to trim for a more beautiful and controllable shape. I’m holding off trimming the three for a few weeks since they are starting to bloom. The kids and I really enjoy their big trumpet shaped purple blossoms.

I’m happy to say after 6 weeks of slowly taming the ‘hedge’ the neighbor said it looks better then it has in any of the 30 years they have lived there. So I have a better looking property line and happy neighbors. It is definitely a win-win.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Natural Sponges

I started to consider growing luffa after reading an article in the Sierra Club blog. The blog had a link to a web post about growing your own luffa sponges called How to Make (and grow) a Luffa .It sounded simple enough so I planted a few at the base of the old maple tree near the garden. I’m hoping I can train the vines to climb up the tree. The spot I picked seems to be a bit dry for the plants but they are putting up a good effort. The surviving 6 plants are currently are less than 2 feet tall/long and I’m trying to train them to climb up the tree.

The kids are currently concerned that I’m grown another ‘strange’ vegetable for them to eat. Even though luffa is edible we won’t be eating them. I plan on letting the fruits mature and try to process them to make home grown sponges. I believe the kids might have lots of fun squishing the fleshy parts out to make the sponges. I’m hoping to have at least a few for the kids to make some for themselves but if the plants take off and are fruitful we may have nice holiday gifts to share with family and friends.

Look for a posting in the fall for the next stages of this gardening experiment.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Airline Water

I have heard warnings not to drink the water from the holding tanks in commercial airplanes. I’m not sure what procedures are currently followed for cleaning, treating, and filling the holding tanks. Over all water in air planes or even remote parks which is provided through holding tanks is acceptable to becoming contaminated. Tanks that are used heavily don’t have the same risk as tanks that may just sit. Anything which drops into the tank such as bacteria, plankton, etc has time to grow and can make you quite sick. If you are camping it is safest to sanitize your water and if you are on a plane, pack it.

On a recent trip I also I tried to reduce waste and take a water bottle with me. I took an empty 20-oz Rubbermaid bottle in my carry-on. I cleared security and then filled it from a water fountain in the waiting area. I purchased a 1 liter bottle of water at one of the concessions before boarding. I was able to use the larger bottle to refill the smaller bottle which was easier to drink from and keep in the pocket in font of me. The Rubbermaid bottle also had markings to measure the amount of water so I could mix in an instant drink packet if I wanted something other than just water. It worked out very well. If I had had a layover I could refill both. On my return flight I purchased another large water bottle after clearing security for my return trip. I was able to use the 20-oz bottle throughout my trip reducing the amount of cups and bottles I might have elsewised used.

Related Post: Airplane Food

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

DEEP Indian Vegan Lunch

At a local international grocery store I came across several DEEP Indian Gourmet vegetarian frozen meals which did not list any gluten or wheat ingredients. The allergy information does state it is manufactured in a facility which does process wheat. I picked up the Chhole (chick-peas simmered with onions and peppers) and Navratian Korma (vegetables and cashew nuts) to try. Each box served 2. The first one I tried was the Navratian Korma. I heated it in the microwave and divided between 2 dishes and added a wild rice and brown rice pilaf. It made 2 very filling and tasty lunches to have at work. The Chhole I popped out of the plastic try it came in to cut it in have with a sharp knife. I then placed each half in a dish with some rice and placed it in my insulated lunch bag. The frozen food helped keep the contents cool and was softened to heat up more quickly for lunch. It worked very well and was delicious. Both dishes were nicely seasoned in a rich sauce. It had enough bite or heat to be interesting but not enough to leave me speechless. I would definitely get both again.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Toilet Troubles

Well it was nice while it lasted. Last November I blogged about getting a self-closing toilet seat. We really liked our Bemis® Whisper Close™ toilet seat but it didn’t hold up well. The seat and the lid were still in good shape when it went out to the trash but the hinges were gone. Over the past 2 months it slowly died. The lid went from gently closing it self to needing to be pushed closed. The silver color on the hinges was pealing off. The bolts to hold it to the toilet haven’t been holding for at least 3 months. There have been 2 young kids sliding on and off but it still wasn’t staying tight and was getting worse with time. The other day I heard a scream from the bathroom, "MOM! I REALLY need you!”, one of the bolts came out and the seat pivoted when my son lifted the lid. It was time for it to go and it was less then a year old.

The kids and I went shopping for a replacement. I told them they could help me choose a new seat. I looked at the options and told them they could chose between the Bemis® Whisper Close™ toilet seat and the Bemis® toilet seat with a little seat for the kids. After much debate and explaining we were getting a white round one and not the other pretty shapes and colors my son made a decision. We had to the dual seat one because it had one to fit him and one to fit little sister. Hooray decision made. We brought it home and it was installed shortly after. The kids have been careful not to let the lid slam. They are each enjoying a seat that fits them. My daughter is enjoying not having to use a separate one. I’m just hoping this one last longer then the 7-8 months its predecessor.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

A/C Curb Appeal

I'm learning to take before and after pictures. I find that some projects progress so slowly or turn out differently then planned that the full appreciation of the improvements can be lost in the process or over time. Usually I try to take the before and after pictures from the same spot but there are times the angle needs to be changed to show the extent of the change. Luckily I remembered to take pictures before I started this week's project.

This week's project was a small one but should blossom. The area by the air conditioner is visible from the street and is not a pretty site. It has a northern exposure and is partially shaded by the house and a large silver maple. There is a large window just above the space. I decided to get a new hydrangea to put in the space. My existing hydrangea (pictured above) on the other side of the house is a beautiful blue but I don't know if the color is from the soil or is a hybrid. I went to Merrifield Garden Center to see what they had in stock and ask a few questions. After describing the area and my desire for low maintance plants their helpful staff helped me pick a Hydrangea mac. 'Nikko Blue'. The Nikko Blue is bred to get big round blue blossoms and about 4 feet. It will get 4' in diameter so I can give it space away from the wall and the air conditioner. It will get to be about 4' high so its blue blossoms will be visible from inside but won't block the view. I added a few ferns from under a very over grown bush in the yard. Then finished the bed with some new red brick Techno blocks and wallah! A beautiful new low maintance flower bed that should fill out to give the neighbors a better view and a beautiful foliage and flowers for those inside.