Sunday, May 31, 2009

School's out for summer!

This was our first week of summer, which may explain why I haven't posted anything. On the one hand, I feel a bit bored and lost because Sedona and I used to snuggle and read books for the majority of every morning and now she's more interested in chasing around big sister. On the other hand, the house is amazingly more difficult to keep clean with TWO kids and a stressed out dog around all day. Just the dog hair is ridiculous. It's a cruel twist of fate that kids get out of school at the same time dogs are normally shedding anyway. Rather than snoozing away the morning, poor Angel (who's an 11 year old lab) finds it necessary to move from place to place, trying to find a spot that's both quiet and hidden from sticky fingers. Every time she gets up, I swear she leaves half her coat behind. I completely filled up the vacuum cleaner Friday and again today. Surely the cure to male pattern baldness lies in my dog's amazing ability to seemingly regrow her entire coat overnight. Then there are the crumbs. Because my children never stop moving, they also never stop eating. I'm seriously considering a "snacks may only be eaten outside" rule.

And, of course, there is my oldest's bitter disappointment that it is summer time at all. Every single day this week, we have had an emotional tantrum because she wanted to do workbooks, or do MORE workbooks, or go buy some workbooks. I have limited her to a few workbook pages and reading one primer story each day. Some days we have a fun activity to go along with the "seat work" or a little science experiment to do. Some of her favorites:
  • She read "The Little Red Hen" and then we baked bread together while talking about where flour comes from
  • She read "The Gingerbread Boy" and then we baked gingerbread men and women
  • We made frost: mix 2 cups of ice and 1/2 cup salt in a stainless steel bowl and cover with saran wrap. Let sit 10 minutes and record observations. Frost will form on the outside of the bowl. Have fun explaining to a 4 year old that the ice did not move through the bowl, rather the water vapor in the air around us condensed and then froze on the bowl because it was so cold.
  • We made gloop: mix 4oz white liquid glue and 1/2 cup water. In a separate container, mix 1/8 cup (2 tbsp) water and 1/2 tsp borax. Pour the borax mixture into the glue and stir, stir, stir. It will start to clump up. Continue stirring, until it's mostly clumped, then knead with your hands and let the kids play with it. It's a rubbery/bouncy consistency and doesn't stick to your hands at all. If you have older kids, you can explain the process to them--the borax polymerizes the glue.
  • We made...ummmm....not sure what it's called: Mix 1/2 cup cornstarch and 1/2 cup baking soda. Mix in 1/4 cup water. This one is messy and we did it on the driveway---if you move fast, it will act like a solid, move slow and it will act like a liquid. Stab it with a spoon and you won't get anywhere, slowly move the spoon and it oozes right in. Pour it out on a cookie sheet and pick some up to roll into a ball. Set the ball on your palm, and it turns right back to liquid. Fun way to introduce the concepts of states of matter.
We are also doing a couple of reading programs. Our local library has a great summer reading program going on. The kids can do the reading themselves, or if they're too little, the parents can read to them. They keep a log and get several prizes throughout the summer. There are lots of fun activities going on in conjunction with this. And if you have a Half Price Books near you, they are also doing a summer reading program.

Monday, May 25, 2009

How does your garden grow?

Sierra finished pre-school this week. Her teacher does a little end of year party for everyone and she had a blast and is very excited to be starting Kindergarten in the fall.

We took her out for pancakes in the morning

Here she is getting her surprises from Ms. Lydia.

Then I made the mistake of letting her know I had a list of fun "summer school" activities to do (she's upset we aren't putting her in school for the summer this year). I've got three months of activities planned and I'm sure she'd get through it all in one week if I let her. I did break down and go ahead and do the volcano activity:




Her other big accomplishment this week is learning to ride her bike without training wheels!! We had been talking about getting her a new, bigger bike and by coincidence, one of our neighbors put a bigger girl's bike out on the curb for trash day! We had to replace one tire, but it was cheaper than a whole new bike! Starting on Tuesday, Josh took her up and down the street a few times every night. By Saturday, she had it down! She still can't start and stop completely on her own, but she's getting there! We're trying to figure out how to upload clips from our video camera to the computer, but need to find a different cable. In the meantime, I have a short clip from the regular camera (hard to tell, but he's not holding her at all, just ready to catch her just in case):


And lastly, some updated garden pictures:

Carrots, a few onions and nasturtiums:
Green Beans and Cucumbers climbing their archways:
A few different squashes:
Peppers and Okra just getting started:
Tomato plants:

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Potatoes



To limit the spread of Early Blight to the tomatoes, I decided to pull all the potatoes this weekend. Also, I haven't seen evidence of blight on the potatoes, just the leaves, so I figured it was better to get them out now. Had we left them longer, we would have gotten more, but I think we did well anyway. We planted 12 pounds of seed potato and got 41.5 pounds back. Next year, I only want to plant Red La Sota potatoes--they gave us a MUCH higher yield (over 4 times what we planted, as opposed to barely 2 times what we planted on the White Kennebecs), and seem much more resistant to the blight.

For pest and disease control, I have been spraying everything with neem oil about once a month and spot treating where necessary once week. It has made a big big difference in pest control and I believe it's helping with the blight and powdery mildew too. I have gone out and cut diseased leaves off the tomato plants and removed them from the garden, but I haven't had to do as much of that as I usually do. We got a really really heavy rain yesterday, so it'll be interesting to see what sort of fungal problems crop up this week (the rain makes it all splash up from the soil).

Also an olla update: I give them two thumbs up and want to add more to the garden. The upside is that the plants in the olla bed are doing just as well, if not better than the other plants. The bed with the ollas has not been watered since the seedlings were transplanted and got established. I add water to them every day or every other day and find I end up using about 2 gallons of water over 6 ollas each time---this keeps twelve 3-4 foot tomato plants happy in 85-90 degree weather. It also greatly decreases the weeds in the bed. I'm only finding I need to pull weeds immediately around the ollas. The downsides are it's not fun to reach between the plants to fill them (I don't like the smell of tomato leaves) and occasionally I find spiders under the lids when I raise them. I don't have any good data or anything, but I'd say these save a significant amount of water, which also decreases the amount of rain water storage we need. I would like to have "real", larger ollas, but I'm not convinced the benefits of that outweigh the huge difference in cost.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Potato Soup

We had another homegrown meal today. I made bread bowls and potato soup..yum!!

On the bread bowls, I used this recipe from AllRecipes.com. The only change I made was I only split the dough into 4 portions, not 8, to get decent sized bowls and I didn't do the egg wash. On the soup, I started out with a recipe from The Best Recipe (awesome cook book, highly recommend it to anyone learning how to cook because they explain WHY they tell you to do certain things). I made a few changes though, so here's what I actually ended up doing:

2-3 tbsp olive oil
2 small onions, diced (from the garden)
3 pounds red la sota potatoes, peeled and diced (from the garden)
4 cups vegetable broth
2 cups whole milk
toppings

1. Saute onions until translucent. Add potatoes and very briefly saute
2. Add vegetable broth and bring to a boil
3. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until potatoes are very tender
4. Ladel portions into food processor (I have a kitchen aid, a blender would also work) and process until smooth
5. Stir in milk and simmer until heated through
6. Fill bread bowls and top with shredded cheese, bacon and chives


Was listening to our local gardening show on the radio this afternoon. I didn't hear much of it, but the part I did catch let me know that we are primed for lots of early blight and powdery mildew this year. joy. Like it's not bad enough in a normal year. We have been spraying neem oil and have had great success in cutting down on pest problems. Hopefully this keeps the early blight and powdery mildew in check as well (since we've already seen a little of both). TennZen also did a great post today about making your own insecticidal soap. Very cheap to make your own and will work great on pests. You can use left over soap to make your own clothes detergent. I didn't go that route because it hasn't helped me with powdery mildew at all in the past and I didn't feel like I had time to "play around" before getting everything under control this year.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Harvest News


We've been able to harvest some things from the garden. Rather than pulling everything at once, we are trying to eat out of the garden when possible, so we've been (for instance) pulling one potato plant and leaving the rest to continue growing. The exception is the onions, which have had to be pulled sooner than expected (either because they started to bloom or because the tops fell over on their own), but there are still plenty of those in the ground as well. Current harvest totals (starting from the first of April):

10.5 pounds onions
3 pounds potatoes
1/4 pound green peas
5 pounds of strawberries (not including ones we threw straight to the chickens as a treat)
4 peaches
about 10 carrots

Unfortunately, the peas were hit with powdery mildew. They handled the last of the winter weather well and were very tasty, so we'll be a little more serious about growing them next year (they were an experiment this year). The potatoes are currently giving about 1/2 pound per plant, but the longer they stay in the ground, the more that number increases. There are about 70-75 plants still out there. The strawberries are still blooming and covered in berries. There are plenty of onions and carrots still in the garden. One peach tree has given up all its peaches now (some to the squirrels...) and the other has set fruit and I suspect will be giving us peaches in June. The pear tree that bloomed is doing well and the pears are getting bigger. Beans, tomatoes and peppers have all set fruit. The chickens are giving us 4-5 eggs per day.

Monday, May 11, 2009

I Scream for Ice Cream

I decided to make ice cream yesterday and got a little creative with the flavoring:

Pina Colada Ice Cream
This was to fill a full size ice cream freezer, easy to scale down for smaller freezers

2 cans coconut milk
4.5 cups whole milk
2 cups sugar
1 cup shredded coconut (optional...I liked it, Sierra didn't)
1 small can crushed pineapple (I drained it)
1 tsp coconut flavoring (again, optional)
1 tsp vanilla
about 1.5 cups milk---to bring volume up to fill line (I used evaporated milk because it's slightly thicker and sweeter than regular milk and I had it on hand)

Mix all ingredients and freeze according to machine directions. Once soft set, spoon into containers and freeze for 2-3 hours before serving. Very, Very yummy.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Customer Service

Sierra is amazingly astute about the importance of customer service. I'm beginning to think that on her days off from school, she should be a trainer for a certain nation-wide fast food chain. Yesterday she was playing "restaurant" and I over hear her saying, "There you go Sir. You have a nice day!" When I told her it was naptime, she turned back to her game and said, "I'll be right with you, I have to go take a nap real quick".

We had another run-in with McD's recently and Sierra reminded me yet again that they just aren't very nice and we should eat somewhere else (believe me, we only go there about once every 2 months as it is since the last incident). This time around, I wrote a letter and got one back basically saying, "We'll be right on that". Yeah, sure they will. I have the distinct impression that since this location was locally owned and I was from out of town, they just didn't care. You'd think someone higher up would clue in that I don't care who owns what, I associate McDonald's with McDonald's, not a specific local owner. I've worked in retail. It's not fun. Sometimes you run into rude customers. By and large though, people are nice if you're nice to them. More importantly, I always had the very clear understanding that my level of service determined the number of customers, which determined whether I had a job or not. I can't figure out why that knowledge is lacking in the McDonald's chain.

(Oh, and for the record, yes, I write letters to complain, but I also write letters to compliment excellent customer service)

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

That's just peachy

I found out Monday that this weekend is Mother's day. Last fall I had started a quilt that I intended to give my mom for Christmas. It didn't get finished, so I figured it would be a handy Mother's Day gift. Fast forward to Monday when I realized I hadn't touched the thing since Christmas and had 2 days to finish (since I was seeing my mom today). I did it! I have a serious love/hate relationship with the Flynn Quilt Frame. I absolutely despise setting up the stupid thing and every time I contemplate it, I just about convince myself it'd be easier to just hand quilt. But then I manage to get a quilt completely quilted in 2 (crib size) to 10 (queen size) hours, and I'm in love again. I also have a love/hate relationship with invisible thread. I like the "forgiveness factor"...I'm new to machine quilting and this covers up my mistakes while I'm learning, but it can be a major pain to work with. While I finished binding the quilt this morning, Sedona did this:


At first she was crying that I wasn't playing with her, and then she got quiet. Any mom knows that quiet is a BAD thing. Quiet is not the universe giving you a reprieve, it's your child finding something SO interesting that it must be forbidden. Sedona got out three boxes of cereal. The raisin bran was the most fun, I suppose. In her defense, she did this right next to my sewing table and I let her--I figured a happy baby that let me finish my project was worth a box of cereal. She pulled handfuls out of the box, threw them on the floor, picked out the raisins and yelled "Ree Ree!!" until I said, "yes, raisin", then she ate them. Periodically, she stood up and did a happy dance on the bran flakes. Took two minutes to sweep up when I was done sewing. Well worth it.

And yesterday, we enjoyed our first homegrown peach. My wonderful husband is a serious peach fiend and could focus on nothing besides eating that fresh picked peach, so I have no pictures. I must say though that I am not a big fan of peaches and I relished my share (we split it in fourths) and wished there were more. It was fantastic!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Another Homemade Meal

Well, I'm just not a photographer, what can I say?


Second homemade meal of the year. This is a "spanish tortilla". They're sort of like an omelet and Josh got hooked on them when he had a business trip to Spain a few years ago, so they've been a staple around here ever since. The eggs are from our chickens, the potatoes and onions are from the garden and the tomato was purchased at the farmer's market on Saturday. We did throw store bought cheese on top, but overall, quite the homemade meal!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Homemade Meal




We had our first "from the garden" meal of the year today. We used chicken we raised and peas, potatoes and rosemary straight from the garden. Served with apple juice we made and canned last fall. It was a "Chicken Vesuvio" recipe from Cook's Country Magazine, and the pictures don't do it justice--it was delicious!!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Updates

Just a general update post:

Sedona: She was feeling better the day after we started antibiotics with her. Her temp dropped to 97.5 and stayed there for several days. She was much happier, but still fussier than normal and really clingy. Her culture came back negative. Since the in-office u/a was positive for both nitrites AND white blood cells (not one or the other), it's not likely that was a false positive. That means the negative culture probably indicates either a viral UTI, or a bacterial source that isn't screened for in the standard urine culture (both pretty uncommon). We're finishing out the antibiotic and seeing what happens. In the past few days, her temp has been creeping up and she's around 99.5 all day now. I'm worried it's the infection coming back (or perhaps antibiotic killing off weaker bacteria and stronger ones starting to proliferate), but we'll continue waiting it out unless she gets a true fever.

Sierra: Sierra is getting all sorts of grown up. She is doing 1st grade math and 1st-2nd grade reading. Our latest "problem" is getting a book from the library and her reading the whole thing by herself before we even get home. She still only reads out loud, but she no longer says the sounds of the letters (i.e. cuh-ah-tuh), just says the word. She is fast enough now to read signs as we're driving past. She does want to be even faster and tends to guess at the word based on the first sound (i.e. saying "brook" instead of "breaking"), but when you tell her to go back and sound it out, she has no problem getting it right. She is an amazing big sister. She and Sedona play together all the time and get along really well. Most of the time, Sierra even handles the toddler tantrums better than many grown-ups I know.

Garden: The garden is growing by leaps and bounds. We've had LOTS of rain recently---too much, really. Since we have raised beds, the garden's loving it though. There are plenty of peas ready to pick. If you pull off a pod and open it, Sedona grabs all the peas and pops them in her mouth, then screams for more. She LOVES them. Planning to make a chicken/potato/pea dish tomorrow. We are getting about 1/2 pound of strawberries every day now. The berries are bigger than they were at first and the plants are still blooming like crazy. Tomato plants are blooming, but I haven't seen fruit yet. Bean and southern pea plants along with squash and melons have noticeable growth everyday, but no blooms yet. The peaches are starting to ripen on one tree, and the tree that bloomed later has set fruit (too much...I will have to pick a lot off this weekend). The egg laying chickens are back up to full production and we're eating plenty of angel food cake (12 egg whites per recipe) to "keep up"

Swine flu: I still think there's not reason to panic about swine flu right now, but totally unfair to call all the news "hype". We aren't locking ourselves in the house, but we are watching what the CDC and WHO have to say and washing our hands. Being in Texas and all, there are quite a few school closures in our area, but no one at Sierra's little school is sick and there hasn't been any talk of the university shutting down. Saw an interesting story today about the model runs for the "worst case scenario"----keep in mind, anything you read about worst case scenario assumes no interventions. These school closures and stockpiles of anti-virals and all that are enacted precisely to avoid the worst case scenario. Also interesting that I'm only seeing reports of what the model says 4 weeks from now, what about after that? It would be reasonable to expect it to peter out for the summer and possibly come back with a vengeance next flu season; or, it could keep going, and it would be reasonable to expect the number to increase exponentially. Of course, this model is looking only at the movement of people as far as I can tell, which means you're ignoring the scientific side of things---mutating viruses getting more or less virulent makes a big difference in the actual impact. At any rate, they showed Texas, California and Florida as being the hardest hit (which makes sense). Since that includes us, I figure it's only prudent to take "common sense measures". Like I said in my earlier post, I would be avoiding indoor playgrounds during cold and flu season when I'm hearing of a lot of sick people, and unless something changes, I view this in the same regard.

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