Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Projects, Projects

We've been busy around here preparing for the upcoming hurricane season. After having the windows replaced, I went on to have our annual tree trimming taken care of. When you live in a hurricane prone region it's important to have trees pruned yearly by a trained arborist so they don't FALL ON YOUR HOUSE!!!

In 2005 one of our trees survived hurricane Wilma but sustained a lot of damage. (Our two live oaks and several palms went through the storm beautifully.) This particular tree is a "junk" tree that grows really fast but doesn't do well in storms so it wasn't a surprise. The tree guys came out and removed the damaged branches and started shaping it again, but for a while it looked like something out of Dr. Seuss! I still chuckle when I think about it, and I think about it quite a bit since the tree is directly outside our computer room window. (I'm looking at it now- it forms a lovely, leafy background around my computer monitor.) It grows so quickly that it was back to looking like a real tree in very short order. It did the annual leaf shedding a few weeks ago and the new leaves were filling in within a week; good thing since the tree really cuts the glare from the afternoon sun when I'm trying to work on my computer. Thank you, tree! I love you even if you are junky.

My project for today was to inventory our freezers (we have one refrigerator inside and one in our garage) so we can use up as much frozen food as possible. I like to run light for hurricane season, which starts in June, so that it's not such a big deal if we lose power for an extended period of time. Plus both freezers are jam packed full which is frustrating when I bring groceries home. While I was taking inventory I also cleaned, cleaned, cleaned. The inside freezer wasn't too bad but the entire garage refrigerator was disgusting; blech. I only keep drinks, mostly bottled water, in the garage refrigerator so I've ignored the yuck for a long time. I made The Eldest clean it out a few months ago but she did a.... less than thorough job, shall we say. I went a little more in depth. I pulled out the drawers and bottom shelf and brought them in to clean in the sink, then scrubbed everything else that wouldn't come out. That refrigerator looks brand sparkling new! My back, not so much, but hey, the job's done now.

Unfortunately the freezers are both still packed, even though I threw out some things that were so old I couldn't remember buying them, but now I know what's in them so I won't over buy things we already have. Like frozen pineapple chunks. We have 9 bags of frozen pineapple chunks. I like pineapple chunks, they are yummy in smoothies, but 9 bags are a little much. Just means I'll have to use them all up; smoothies, anyone??

Friday, April 22, 2011

Bag It: The Movie and Earth Day Resolutions

PBS is running a series of environmental/green programming for Earth Day. I was watching a few days ago and caught Bag It: the Movie, a documentary about all the plastic we use. All the free plastic that is really costing us all big time. They will air the movie again on my local PBS station; they might be showing it on yours, too, and if they are I strongly advise watching it. You have to know these things!!

The movie has led me to my Earth Day Resolution for 2011. I've been taking my own bags to the grocery for years now, I even use my own bags at other types of stores as well, but I am going to go it one better this year. I am going to take my own produce bags and bulk item jars, too. Apparently some stores that sell bulk items will let you weigh your container before filling it, then deduct that weight at the register. I can take my own jars for the fresh peanut butter my son loves. (They have machines to grind the peanuts at two stores we frequent.) I can take the containers I dump my raisins and organic popcorn and walnuts into as soon as I get home; saves me a step so it's all good.

We are also getting ready for hurricane season. I spoke with our tree trimmer and he's given us an estimate. His guys will be out next week to give our trees their annual pruning, which helps them weather any storms that may come our way. It's important to have them trimmed properly; I won't let anyone but this guy trim my trees. He's a trained arborist and even teaches classes for professional licensing. He's a natural born teacher, too. I always feel like I've learned a lot when he gets done walking around with me as he's working out the estimate. He fusses at me EVERY YEAR for not having proper tree rings around some of my trees, and every year I promise to do better. (I think I need to add that to my Earth Day Resolutions; I need to take proper care of my trees!) He also fusses about trees that are planted too deeply. When planting a tree you have to see the flare at the base of the trunk before it goes into the dirt. If you see straight trunk all the way into the ground you are seeing a tree that will not live out a full life span. The roots need to be able to take in oxygen and they can't do that if they are completely buried.

To wrap up, see Bag It, make your Earth Day Resolutions, and make sure you don't bury any trees you may plant too deeply.

Happy Earth Day!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Family Management

I've never been one to successfully use chore charts. Oh, I try, but I don't have the persistence to follow through and make them work. I think I've finally, finally hit on one that might be different. I made up a "Family Meals Kaper Chart" that assigns cooking duty for all of our lunches and dinners to different members of the family. (Thanks to Girl Scouts for teaching me about Kaper Charts, which is another way to say chore chart, but more fun.) Lunches are mostly handled by DH, like always. He likes to cook and he's pretty good at it. He eats lunch at home with us so it's worked out that he cooks it, too.

That leaves dinners. I enjoy cooking but with the fibromyalgia I find it physically difficult. I'm not good at standing, kills my back and feet, but that's what you have to do a lot of to cook. (I can walk OK, I do that every day for exercise, but standing is painful.) To really cook, there's a lot of standing to prep ingredients, standing while stirring, etc. Plus dinner is at the end of the day when my energy is basically done, so it's a hard meal to put together. Enter the Kaper Chart, which assigns two dinners per week to The Eldest and two dinners per week to Martha Jr. DH handles Saturday night and I get the two nights that are left.

So far, dinners have been really, really late (even by our night owl standards) but really, really good since both girls can cook...mostly. The Eldest is turning out to be quite adventurous in the kitchen! Tonight she made a stir fry (sans soy) with egg, veggies, peanuts, Chinese noodles (baked, not fried) and a sauce she invented served in lettuce wraps that was out of this world.

Sometimes things don't work out. Martha Jr. wanted desperately to make falafels (from the recipe I linked a few days ago) and fried pickles, of all things. I tried to gently dissuade her (it was the end of a long day and both dishes are labor intensive) but she was not to be deterred. Even though we didn't have a recipe for the pickles and had never made them before, she still wanted to make them just like the ones we get at fairs. It was a disaster! The falafels didn't work out, they didn't want to stick together for her and would NOT get brown, and the pickles... I don't even have words. That wasn't the disaster part, though, I mean, you just throw a pizza in the oven and call it a night so the food wasn't a big deal. The disaster was how upset she got about it. She broke my heart! She was so looking forward to her falafels and fried pickle dinner, and when neither of them turned out she was devastated. I was useless; I wanted to get in there and help her but I was so wiped out I just couldn't. (That long day thing.) She's so used to success whenever she tries something that it's difficult for her to cope with failure so I think this was a good lesson for her in the long run, but it sure was hard that night.

The one disaster and the timing issues aside, I am liking this new division of labor. It's good for my girls to learn responsibility and develop their cooking skills at the same time. They have even worked together on a couple of meals so they are developing teamwork skills too. The Wild Child is a little jealous; he wants to cook but he's still young yet. (I told him he can take over The Eldest's nights when she goes off to college.) I am able to recharge a little bit while they cook so I can tackle a few more chores after dinner. Win all the way around- I think this is one chore chart that will be around for a long, long time.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Garden Pictures

At long last, here are some pictures of my gardens.

This is the planting bed in front of my house. We have a circular drive and this is tucked into the landscaped half circle that's in front of it. All of the plants are supposed to attract butterflies. And they're P's! Purple pansies and purple petunias. (And a few other plants, but the pansies are the stars.)

Tomatoes!! We planted a few other vegetables that didn't do well but the tomatoes took off. I've never been able to grow them in the past but that all changed, thanks to the seedlings from two of my very good friends.

Milkweed plants. We have a few caterpillars on them now and three chrysalids in the area. (That we've been able to find; there may be more tucked around in little secret butterfly hidey-holes.)

The three chrysalids. The picture of the one on my watering can isn't great but you can make it out if you look in the shadowy part.

Martha Jr. and I are worried about this one clinging to a post. It looks a little malformed.

I love my butterflies! What started out as an educational, limited term project for the kids has turned into one of my favorite hobbies. I started with just planting milkweed but that has expanded into planting flowers for nectar for the butterflies in areas of my yard that I previously neglected. It's good for the butterflies and looks lovely to boot- how many hobbies can you say that about!


I made falafels last night for dinner that were just as good as the ones at the street fairs. I changed the recipe a bit- we didn't have time for them to sit in the refrigerator (didn't notice that part when I was planning dinner) so I added a couple of tablespoons of extra flour and cooked them right away. I also forgot the garlic while everything was in the food processor (I was tired, OK?) so I threw in some garlic powder and stirred it in right before I made the patties. We had them on pita bread with a quick.... tzadziki.. (spelling?) sauce made with plain yogurt, diced cucumber, cumin, and dill. We also added lettuce, tomato, and some diced scallions. YUM-O.

PS: DH made the tza... yogurt sauce. He looked up several recipes on-line then made his own by throwing together Greek yogurt with some diced cucumber, seasoned with dill, cumin, and a touch of paprika. (He says he'll leave out the paprika next time, but I think it was great just the way it was.)

Thursday, April 7, 2011

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Our various gardening projects are coming along nicely. After watching 4 Monarch butterflies emerge from their chrysalids successfully, we have 5 more caterpillars on our milkweed. My flowers in our front planting bed are looking lovely- it's the best grouping of flowers I've managed to put together in that bed so far. Our veggie garden has produced a ton of cherry tomatoes. Not much else, but lots and lots of tomatoes. We have watermelon and pumpkin seedlings; so far, so good on those, but who knows if we'll actually get fruit out of them?

The kids and I are experimental gardeners- we just throw seeds in the ground and see what comes up! Our latest experiments are seedlings we bought at Home Depot. The kids spotted some fruit producing plants and begged me to buy them, so I did. We got a fig tree (it's about a foot tall so we won't get any figs from it for a while, if it survives) and DH put it in the ground for me over the weekend. We also have pomegranate, blueberry, blackberry, and raspberry. Oh, and of course strawberry, but it's too late in the season for anything to come of that. I don't think we'll get anything much out of the other berry plants either since we're pretty far south, but we'll see.

Our worm bin is up and running, sort of. We bought worms; I haven't poked around too much to check on them since they apparently don't like to be disturbed. I know we're doing something wrong, though since we have a ton of fruit flies. (We keep the worm bin outside on our covered back patio so the flies won't get in the house but some of them have anyway, drat it all.) I checked on the problem solving guide where we found the instructions for the bin to see if I can do anything about the flies and it is fixable. I'm going to add more soil, covering the food scraps that are currently in there, and change out the newspaper bedding to see if that helps.

The worm bin led to a 4-H speech for The Wild Child. We attended our 4-H County Events last weekend where each of the kids had to present a short speech. The Wild Child demonstrated "How to Build a Worm Bin", Martha, Jr. also gave a demonstration on how to make a chevron pattern out of yarn, and The Eldest spoke about how to use a grid for art. They all did really well, if I do say so myself, and Martha Jr. walked away with a blue ribbon AND a fancy purple ribbon! She's also advancing to regional competition; she is tickled pink. I'm tickled pink that regionals are NOT on the same day as her piano recital a week later!

This is our first year in 4-H. I tried to sign the kids up previously but for whatever reason I just couldn't swing it. This year we went to their open house and found an old friend running a club; we signed up immediately. There is a big emphasis on parliamentary procedure and public speaking which I really like, so 4-H offers different benefits from Girl Scouts. It's not all agriculture and sewing, which is a common image people have of 4-H. They also offer a heavy dose of science; the first project we participated in with our club was science related. I hate that I didn't find this group earlier so that The Eldest could have participated longer, but oh, well. We'll be involved from here on out with the younger ones, for sure, and I think they'll get a lot out of it. Martha Jr. even found a friend in the club- she took ballet classes very briefly a few years ago and one of the girls that she especially liked from her class is in 4-H. They have a lot in common so I'm happy that they have rediscovered each other.

That's all for now- my gardens are calling me!