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.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy 4th of July Charlie Brown

I was wondering how to pass on the wonder and celebration of the 4th of July to the kids. I grew up going to Grandma's and seeing the whole family at Kuka Lake. It was a wonderful holiday frozen in time. A quaint country road lined with small summer homes with flags waving and banners draped on white picket fences. Long gravel driveways down to rustic lake beaches and wooden docks. The family would spend the day fishing, sailing an swimming. Aunts and uncles would teach the kids how to skip stones, spit watermelon seeds, and card games. Family photos and stories would get passed around after dinner until bedtime. If we were lucky there was a bomb fire for toasting marshmallows and making s'mores . On the 4th of July evening all the docks had flares set out. The lake was circled with red flickering lights. It was a timeless picture perfect family gathering. My grandparents are now great grandparents and having a harder time hosting big family gatherings in their small home so the gatherings ended a few years ago and now I'm just not sure what to do over the holiday weekend to fill the void.

This year the kids and I hung out at home. They splashed in the blow up pool while I worked in the garden. I wanted to make it a little more meaning full yet still simple. I came across a DVD I thought might help me accomplish just that. I found a Peanuts Classic This is America Charlie Brown. It is a collection of 8 patriotic Peanuts animated stories about the founding and development of the United States. For me the DVD was a moment to remember watching Charlie Brown specials as a child and the simpler times and family gatherings. For the kids it was something new and interesting to watch. They hadn't seen any of the Charlie Brown cartoons before. They really enjoyed it. They mentioned they had learned parts of some of the episodes at preschool. We only had time for 3 for 'quiet time' and they begged to see the rest for their next 'quiet time'. They were definately a hit and I'm hoping to make the DVD apart of our patritic holidays.

Thursday, July 2, 2009


Perogies ( ) are wonderful little dumplings I had occasional growing up. Wonderful little pockets of pasta were filled with a blend of potato, cheese, and onion. There were boiled then fried with a little butter and sauted onion. Oh, were they good and something I hadn’t had for years because of my wheat allergy.

I was making a stop at MOM’s Organic Market ( ) and I stopped short in the aisle. I found a gluten-free perogi. The kids were amazed at my excitement in a frozen food aisle so I had to explain that I hadn’t had one since I was diagnosed with a wheat allergy and missed them. I placed a bag in the cart and two other customers who overheard me and came over to get themselves a bag, too. All three of us were from the same region of the northeast and had fond childhood memories of perogies.

I’m glad to say none of use should have been disappointed when we cooked up treasure. I had discovered Contes Pasta pergoi, a wheat-free gluten-free perogi made by Contes Past Company Inc, that is absolutely wonderful. The pasta cooked up quite nicely. It didn’t break apart at all while boiling. The filling was a very nice blend of potato, cheese, and onion. I just boiled them and put a little butter on them when they were served and they were divine.

Luckily I found traditional wheat perogies at Trader Joe’s which had with a potato cheese filling for the kids. They were less expensive and the kids just have quite learned an appreciation for onion, yet. It was their first time having perogies and declared I was ‘allowed’ to pack them for their school lunches. Yeah, we have success. The kids like perogies and I found ones I can enjoy every wheat-free nibble.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Mischievous Wildlife

To reduce what my family sends out with the trash I will separate out all of the recyclables the county picks up (glass, plastic, metal, paper, etc) and compost all of my vegetable, fruit and other non meat, oil or carbohydrate (pasta, bread, ec) waste. I also put out the cereal, old nuts and dried fruit, partially eaten peanut butter sandwiches, and a few other similar half-eaten and mutilated foods for the birds and the squirrels that are brave enough to challenge the crows for a portion. Okay so some of that is equivalent to wildlife junk food but it is better then sending it to the land fill and I do supply them with a steady supplement of black oil sunflower seeds and suite blocks.

I have an old soup take out container with a lid that I keep on the counter to hold the ‘critter treats’ until morning so I am less likely to attract animals that might cause more problems, aka mice, raccoons, fox, or worse opossums. Yes, these critters are native to the area and have a right to be in the neighborhood but they tend to be more destructive and ‘nastier (especially the opossums) then the critters that feed in the daylight. The mushed fish sticks that got tossed out under the feeder were obviously nibbled on by mice (probably deer mice) which is okay but I really rather not make them think they can come any closer to the house. During the day it was the crows that flew off with the remains of the fish sticks.

Last night I was exhausted and I tossed a quarter of a warm leftover cheese sandwich from one of the kids' lunches (just cheese and bread) out for the critters. Evidently none of the daytime critters found it before the sun set. I really should have put it in the critter container. This morning it was gone. I went about my normal routine and I did my usual morning check of the kids little pool to scoop bugs and stuff out and I found this strange milky white substance at the bottom of the pool that had gathered in the center and a little floating off to the side. I tried to get it out with the strainer abut it just slid through. After a little more poking and thinking….

The neighborhood raccoon found the cheese sandwich and washed it off in the pool! That ‘stuff’ was the dissolved bread. Mystery solved. We just need to get the stuff out of the 500 gallon pool and remember not to put food stuff out at night.