Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The robin nest in out flowering crabapple tree fell apart over the winter. I was disappointed because I'd really enjoyed seeing the robin family raise their families.

Then one day last week, I spied a handsome Mr. Robin building a cozy nest in a small hanging flower holder on the fence outside our back door. Yay, even more convenient baby bird watching.

Mama bird is sitting on her nest now. She wasn't there when I went past a bit ago, so I took the chance to sneak this photo.

Planting tally so far: 1 fruit cocktail tree, 6 elderberry bushes, and 4 lilac bushes. We healed in the four nut trees and the three pawpaw trees for now, since we're planning for them to go around our new shed when it's built.  I also measured out and marked the places for the 11 dwarf fruit trees for the orchard area.

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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Knitting Break

With all the gardening posts lately, you'd think I'm spending all my time outside. I have been spending lots of time outside, but I've also managed to get some knitting done. I mean, I can't give up watching Dancing with the Stars and Lost! And tv watching means knitting.  Well, generally it does, if my hands don't hurt. The warmer temps have helped that quite a bit, and I was inspired by this pretty pretty yarn I picked out at Hancock Fabrics for my birthday last week.

This yarn is a mix of wool, bamboo, and nylon. It's really soft and makes those soft gray and purple stripes. I've been glad to make some progress on a project, because it seems like I don't finish things too much anymore! I don't really know why that is, but I'm hoping to change that and accomplish some finishing soon.

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Monday, March 29, 2010

Guess What We'll Be Doing This Week

A while back, Ben and I put together a mongo-huge order from Burgess. We ordered apple trees, cherry tree, butternut trees, peach trees, lilacs, plum trees, willow trees, almond trees, pussy willows, pear trees, elderberry bushes! The list just goes on and on...

And guess what came in the mail today?

I guess we ordered so many trees that they're coming in trilogy form. We got two of the three shipments today. I do hope the last comes tomorrow!

The picture shows a couple of the fun freebies they throw into the orders. I just love the vintage retro colors and graphics of these seed packets.

So, I'm pretty sure what I'll be doing all this week. How about you guys?

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Thursday, March 25, 2010

A New Raised Bed for Spring Planting

Our soil here is very heavy, very clay-ey, and pretty low lying compared to the fields and houses around us.  This makes it a challenge to grow carrots, and other root veggies, since they prefered ground that they can really stretch out in and grow straight.  It's also really difficult to plant spring crops, because the garden doesn't usually dry out enough to be worked until June or so, and because spring is pretty brief here, it's much too hot for things like lettuces, spinach, peas, broccoli, and cabbages and cauliflower.

One solution I devised last year was the lettuce patch I built last summer and fall near the deck of our house.  This is a very protected area that warms up more quickly than the rest of the yard and is really well draining because the grade of the yard has been built up considerably for the house.  This worked very well for lettuces, because their roots are relatively shallow, but it's not suitable for onions or carrots since they earth beneath the lasagna bed is still pretty hard packed, and they wouldn't be able to grow much deeper than the three inches or so that we built up there last year.

I knew that a good choice for the spring plantings would be raised beds, but was unsure about being able to build any this year.
Then I found this beauty at Sam's Club last weekend.  This is a Greenland Gardener Raised Bed Kit and it's 84"X42" and 8" deep.  It was $40 and a great solution to our raised bed problems.  I figured out that it would cost just about as much to build a raised bed from wood, but this one slides together beautifully and came in a box that was very easy to transport.  Not having a truck is a big obstacle when building things, since lumber just will not fit in our car.  We were able to bring home two of these plus all the groceries and a trunk load of topsoil, manure and humus.

I laid the first one out on Tuesday, using lots of cardboard and newspaper as weed barrier, and the bags from the soild around the edges to become weed barrier for the paths.  For now, I laid flakes of straw over the plastic to keep it in place and make it look nice, but eventually we'll use shredded bark or wood chips for the paths in this area.  This whole bed used 18 40 lb bags.
I decided since raised bed gardening is all new to me, I'd try something else that's new to me as well, and use a Square Foot Gardening type of planting layout.  I found a lot of guidance from this site, which is an awesome gardening site, square foot or not, and laid out my grid.
Another small advatage of this product is that it came with these little clips in case two are being stacked together.  We're not stacking them, but the clips were perfect for holding my guide twine and then I could just unclip them and move them to the next side, and they were easily adjusted for the correct square proportions.
I planted cabbage starts in the middle four squares with radishes and carrots along the lines and yellow, purple, and white onion sets along the outsides.  The onions are slightly crowded, but we love eating young onions as green onions, so they'll be thinned as they grow and we'll leave enough room for the maturing ones when they're larger.  The two squares on the ends are planted in buttercrunch lettuce and bloomsdale spinach.

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Monday, March 22, 2010

Making Beeswax Container Candles

To make container candles out of beeswax, you'll need basic candle making supplies, like a double boiler and pouring pot as shown in the previous post, glass containers, wicking, wick clips, and some clothepins, toothpicks or sewing pins.

Containers for candles need to be heat resistant.  A good choice is to save and reuse containers from older candles.  I used votive glasses that my mom had saved after she'd burned the candles.  Mason jars are another heat resistant choice, and are very cute.  Half-pints, and 4oz sizes are ideal.
You'll also need beeswax and paraffin.  Beeswax has a relatively high melting point.  This makes it ideal for tapers, which generally will be almost dripless, because the outer sides of the wax stay solid longer than the center by the wick, containing the melted wax.  In a container, on the other hand, there is a bigger surface area and more of it stays unmelted, causing the flame to burn right down the center of the candle, leaving a lot of the sides behind.

Paraffin has a relatively low melting point, and so mixing the two kinds of waxes can solve this problem.  I used a 50/50 mix, which you'll see lower down may have been a bit high on the beeswax.

Oh, and I woundn't buy the paraffin in the candlemaking supplies of the craft store; it's much cheaper in the canning supplies of a grocery or country store.  I got my Gulf Wax at Rural King, right along the canning jars and rings and lids.  They put it there because the old-timers still insist that it's okay to use it to seal jams and jellies, but that's another topic.  Just making you aware, a pound of paraffin wax doesn't really cost $8-$12 like it would at Michaels.  Gulf wax is between $2 and $4 for a pound.  :)
Prepare the containers by running the appropriate wicking (just check the labels, it will say right on it what size candle and type of wax it's best suited for) into a wick clip, securing it with pliers, cutting it to length and then sticking the wick clip to the center bottom with Tacky Wax.

I used a wick that was naked, and also tried a few with wick that I'd "primed" by dipping it in wax and letting it harden.  I haven't really seen a difference in the way they burn yet.
To keep the wicks straight and upright, I used toothpicks that I'd poked right through the wick, so they'd sit across the top of the container.  I think that pins might be more appropriate for this, especially long pins like corsage pins, since they'd pierce the wick better and leave less of a hole in the braid of it.  For thicker wicks or larger diameter containers, clothespins will work well.  If a wick isn't thick enough for the clothespin to grasp, a pin can be put through the wick to keep it from fall through the space in the clothespin.  Unbent paper clips, tying wicks to pencils, and just using two knives or chopsticks laid across the container are all choices for this.
Container candles are pretty simple to make, since after the wicks are prepared, all you have to do is pour the wax into the container, making sure to pour it over the wick as you do so.  Make sure to leave a little extra room at the top, and a bit of wax as well, since wax will sink and crack as it cools and hardens, making topping off a necessity.  To top off the candles, just wait until the they have finished hardening at the top and sinking, then pour a layer of wax on top to fill the divet and any cracks.  This will produce a smooth flat topped candle surface.
As you can see, the candles I made the other day do burn down the middle a bit more than commercial candles.  This is because my beeswax to paraffin ratio was 50/50.  I think that perhaps a ratio of 1to2 might be more appropriate for containers.
I left my candle wax plain, without any added colors or scents because the natural golden color is so beautiful.  The beeswax also has a lovely natural scent that's like hot honey and sweet pollen, but is very subtle in small candles like these are.  I may try some cinnamon scent in the next batch, since I think that would really compliment the natural honey aroma.

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Friday, March 19, 2010

Straining Beeswax

First you'll need a giant block of wax from your awesomest beekeeping friends.  My awesome beekeeping friends are Waibels.  This wax is from their Pinconning bees.  Be ready with something strong to break it into pieces.  As you can tell from the picture I posted yesterday I had to resort to the giant screwdriver and the mallet.  But it certainly got the job done.

You'll also need a double boiler.  If you have a real double boiler that's devoted to crafting, that would be awesome.  I don't, so this is my compromise.  The cookie cutters keep the pouring pot off the direct heat.  That's important, because wax has a combustion point, and if you get it too hot, it'll burst into flame.  To be safe, have some baking soda on hand in case of fire.  Wax fires are like grease fires, in that they'll spread if you through water on them.

The pouring pot sits on the cookie cutters with water about a third to halfway up the sides.  I got my pour pot at a thrift store.  I don't know what it's for originally but it works great for wax melting, since it's tall and has two handles and a good spout.  They sell nice melting pots at Michael's in the soapmaking and candle aisle.  Those are not too expensive, especially if you have one of those 50% off coupons.

It's definately worth having some dedicated crafting things for a job like this.  The wax can get messy, and it's not too easy to get all the way off of things.  The pot that holds the water as the bottom of the double boiler will end up getting some wax it it too.  It's not as hard to get clean, since it's just a little bit.  All it takes is to warm up the pot to melt the residue, and wipe it out with paper towels.  Make sure to dump the water outside, just in case there's a lot of wax in it, so the drain doesn't get plugged up.

I set up my strainer by pinning a bunch of layers of cheesecloth to the top of a sawed off orange juice carton.

After the wax is all melted, I just poured it through the cheesecloth.  Mr. Waibel strains the wax before it goes in the big blocks.  If it hadn't been strained once already, there'd probably have been more bees and things in it.

Make sure to pour the wax over newspaper, but never over the sink.  I also put the carton in this old pan to make sure that if it leaked, there'd be some containment for that mess.  I had two cartons full of wax after melting and straining it all.

After the wax hardens, it's easy to just tear the carton right off of it.  I used my bench scrape to cut it into one lb chunks before it got rock solid.  That was a little messy, since it was still pretty sticky inside.  Also, make sure it's not liquid in the middle still.  That would be a mess!

Here is my cut up wax.  The one with the big scoop out of it is because I didn't get it cut quite in half, and I had to move wax from one block to the other block to get them both to weigh a pound.

ETA: It also makes the house smell wonderful!  Like honey, sweetness, pollen, and my formative teenage years bottling honey with Julie!

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Thursday, March 18, 2010


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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

I have to admit, I actually put these laces in my shoes weeks ago.  I have such a weakness for clovers and green. It's no wonder St. Patrick's Day is one of my favorites.

Enjoy your corned beef and soda bread and potatoes today!

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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

My Chives, Alive-O

I'm calling it. I know the calendar doesn't say so, but I think it is most definately Spring.

I'm thrilled to see my chives, not only because they're green and herald warm weather, but because they're one of my favorite foods.

Hurry up and grow little chives, so I can eat you!

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Monday, March 15, 2010

A Ruckus in the Chicken House

Last night, from a dead sleep, we were woken by cackling.  Those who have chickens know that they don't move two steps after dark, and very rarely make any noise at all at night.  We both bolted out of bed, exclaiming, "what? what?"  My first thought was that something was trying to get into the coop, disturbing the hens.

I was yelling, "Turn on the light and scare it away as I tripped my way to the switch, and Ben threw the big rubber boots on with his jammies and rushed out the door, me handing him my trusty dog chasing baseball bat that sit right against the jamb on the way.  Halfway across the deck, he turned and came back for the flashlight.

I stopped to put on some pants with my night shirt and find my shoes, then headed out to help him.  I plugged in the light in the coop and held the flashlight for him while he inspected the ladies.

In the end, we have no idea what happened at all.  If there was a predator, I'd suppose all the noise we made inside the house scared it off before we even turned the corner.  I'm sure it was loud, since the coop is parked directly below our bedroom windows for the winter.

Ben had forgotten to close their door last night, and Matilda was outside of the pen on the wind break straw bales when he found her.  He thinks she might have gotten out last evening and couldn't get back in, so slept on the straw.  But I can't think why Big Mama would have been sounding the alarm in the middle of the night if that were the case.  I wonder if maybe something might have been carrying Matilda off, and dropped her when Big Mama called and we made so much noise.  Ben said she looked pretty settled down on the bale, but I imagine that's what a chicken does in the dark and when threatened, hunkers down and tries to look flat and nonexistent.

Sorry the story doesn't have much of a climax, but it does have a happy ending.  All seven of the chickie chicks are doing fine today, with not a mark on them, wandering around and trying to convince me that they need me to give them a loaf of bread to soothe them.

They got celery leaves and cucumber peelings instead.

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Thursday, March 11, 2010

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Chickens Video

I've gone over into video blogging! Here are the chickens in a video taken with my new phone and then posted directly to YouTube with it as well. Sorry about the wind noises. It's a beautiful sunny and windy Spring day today.

They seem cramped in the video but their run is way long, they were just gathered right by me in case I dropped bread or something. Matilda is the white araucana, and Brunhilda is the really shiny dark brown one next to her. The others are interchangable, lol.

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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Gooey Butter Cake

I've been enjoying browsing around Chickens in the Road lately and yesterday I came across this post about Gooey Butter Cake.  And since I'm a St. Louis transplant and the very words "gooey butter cake" called out to me, I figured it would be a good time to try it out.
It had a very promising start, with a flour, sugar, butter crust.  I love crust.
And the batter was lovely, rich and very creamy.

Maybe the problem was that I over cooked it a bit.  But it was still plenty jiggly in the center when I took it out.  I was supposed to dust it with powdered sugar, but I forgot.  Could that have been the problem?
That crust did add a nice little texture though, and that was good.

I found out yesterday, I just don't really like gooey butter cake.  Maybe I did something wrong, but it's not a cake I'd cross the stree for.  I thought it had a very raw flour taste too it, and it was weird eating such a gooey cake, like eating something under-cooked.

It did have its good points.  It's super sweet, and I like that in a dessert, and like I said, the texture the crust adds is really good.  A sort of a contrasting crunch to all that sweet goo.

So maybe I won't make a good St. Louis-ian after all.

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Monday, March 08, 2010

From My New Phone

I turned in my credit and got a new phone yesterday. It was a pretty good deal, since there's a rebate and we get aa corporate partnership deal through Ben's job, so I ended up getting a Samsung Moment for free. BUT, I hate change, and it's definately taking some getting used to.

So far it's been fun to play around with the apps and the internet is fast and looks great on it, but I can't decide if the actual telephone functions are good. I have to figure out if I can set up any speed dials and whatnot.

So, even though the old phone didn't work right anymore and would buzz for no reason and quit working at all for an hour or two at a time, I kinda miss how comfortable it was. And even though this one is supposedly super awesome and was free, I'm feeling like there's going to have to be some getting to know you time... but maybe I'll fall in love.

I'm already loving how easy it is to blog and use the internet with it.

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Friday, March 05, 2010

Some Thoughts

It's good to be King of the Food Mountain.
We saw these cows outside of Clare, MI on our way to visit our favorite Amish shops there.  I made my mom turn the car around so I could take pictures.  They just cracked me up, these cows.
Here's Adam with his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle themed cake.  This was the day before his surprise party, on his actual birthday.  I planned the cake so that he could have it that night, but I could still use it at the big party too, since I didn't have the time to do two fancy decorated cakes, and, of course, I couldn't have served a cut cake at a party.  I used blue, red, orange, and purple colored sugars to sprinkle the green frosted cupcakes to follow the Ninja Turtle design.  The cake stand is one that I picked up after Halloween in the clearance sales.  It was originally skull themed, but I just made the topper from printed out pictures and a six inch cake round to make it a Turtle cake stand.

It is such a beautiful day here!  It feels like Spring, and there are birds singing.  I went out without my coat to put the trash to the road this morning, and I wasn't even a bit cold.  Sure, I wouldn't go for a walk in shorts or anything, but it's Spring-like enough for me.

Tomorrow, we garden!  We're going to be planting our cool weather crops tomorrow, the peas, and lettuces, spinach, broccoli, kohlrabi.  I can't wait for Snap Peas!  Yum.  I have a great idea concerning the pea trellising, but I want to get it set up and take some pictures first, so I can explain it better.

I've been really enjoying using my Motivated Moms chore schedule calendar.  (That's not an affiliate link, I just really like the product.)  I'd really recommend it to anyone needing a little help getting organized and staying on top of all the different cleaning projects keeping house can entail.  It gives you a small list of tasks every day (3-7) that you should complete.  You don't have to worry about doing more than that, because all the different little things come up eventually.  For instance, today the list instructed me to clean the computer screens and the mouse for each, sweep the porch, work on a craft or hobby, change the sheets, change the hand towels in the bathrooms, change the dishcloth and towel in the kitchen and do a quick pick up of each room.  I bought the option that has space for other things to be added as well, for my regular to do list, like putting the trash to the road, dehydrating oranges, visiting the neighbor, and planning the grocery lists.

It's not really like me to follow something like this on blind faith, without needing to see the big picture first, but realy, it's working pretty well, and makes sense.  The more controlling part of me thinks I should have been able to just make something like this myself, and shouldn't need someone else to tell me.  But, honestly, why re-invent the wheel?  If it's already there, put together on a schedule that works, do I really need to go though the trouble of making my own.  Plus, they include things I'd be sure to forget.  Like yesterday, I washed our combs and hairbrushes and clean the light fixture in the laundry room.  These are both things that I don't think I would have written down if I'd tried to make this schedule myself.

I should get back to my cleaning.  I'm almost done, and then I'm going to sit and do the meal planning and shopping lists.  I know one thing that's definately going to the top of my shopping list today, a new pillow!  I have a very bad stiff neck again, and can't turn my head.  It's really bugging me that this keeps happening.  I'm sure it'll feel better tomorrow though, after a night on my new pillow.

Have a great weekend everyone!

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Thursday, March 04, 2010

Preparing Kitchen Fat for Making Soap

I've been working on cleaning a batch of leftover hamburger and bacon grease to use it for soap making.  Here's one of my recent articles about the experience.  Links to the sites where I found instructions are included with the article.  Enjoy!

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Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Soap Making for the First Time Article

I've recently had some different crafting articles published on AC.  Here is is my take on my soap making experience in January.

My First Time Soap Making

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Good to Be Home

Wow, we had an awesome time in MI!  One of the big things that was planned was a surprise party for my little brother, Adam.  Of course, I couldn't post about it, because then he'd have known!  We pulled it off without a hitch, mostly because of his lovely girlfriend, Becky and his fun friends, who decorated, invited and planned, leaving only the food and cake to myself and my other siblings.

Ben had a very nice 30th birthday, and I was very excited to give him his presents.  I got him some t-shirts from The Onion that he's been wanting, and a heart rate monitor/mp3 player for working out.  I think he liked it very much, and he's really looking foward to trying it out.

I went with my Mother-in-Law on Monday afternoon to her Zumba class.  It was super fun!  I kept right up, and impressed them all by being in step most of the time.  Of course, it is Zumba Gold, so maybe that's not really worth the bragging. ;)

We shopped at a number of different Amish stores and stocked up on some fun kitchen gadgets and supplies.  I'm planning a separate post with all of that stuff sometime next week.

Today, I've got so much to unpack!  I love it when we drive to MI, because then we have room to bring home all the fun things we get, and all the stuff our moms are always sending along with us.

I'm definately feeling recharged and ready to get moving on some of my bigger homemaking projects.  I'm getting much more organized with my cleaning, have fun supplies to start making more soap and lip balm and things, feel very ready to get a jump on the garden, and am working hard on food storage, and nutrition.

Things are picking up for my online work as well.  I recently received advertising credit with both adwords from Google, and Facebook Ads, and I'm having fun doing a little advertising for my blog, seeing where all the visitors are coming from.  I made another sale of a Cafepress t-shirt over the weekend.  I'm so geeked about that!!  I recently applied and was chosen for Associated Content's Featured Contributor program, and am a Crafting Featured Contributor.  This gives me a higher payment than usual for some of my articles, and can also open up some new opportunities with assignments.  I already have my articles for my March assignments chosen and outlined.

So, this is definately a post to bookmark and come back to when I'm feeling discouraged!  It's good to have things looking up and feeling very optimistic again.  Last fall was difficult in a lot of different ways, and the winter was much better, though seemed more like a calm holding pattern than anything energetic.  Seems like Spring is bring me some energy and ambition too!

The link in this post is an Amazon Associates link.  If you click on it and then buy anything, I'll get a small commision.

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