Monday, April 28, 2014

Year One Down



Well, on Friday, I wrapped up finals week and my first year of nursing.  This year has been a whirlwind of early (4 am!) mornings, challenging skills to learn, and far more med cards than I ever thought possible.  I loved every second of it!

Now that break is here, it's time to get stuff done.

Today, I set the seedlings out on the back deck to begin the hardening off process.  We'll still be in danger of frost for another 5 or 6 weeks, but I'm hoping to get some cloches rigged up before then.  The seed potatoes have been sliced into 3-eye chunks and are scabbing over on the deck as well.  This step is important to protect them from simply rotting away in the soil, which has totally happened to me before.  At some point over the early spring/late winter... neighborhood kids cut down my sapling apple trees with steak knives (which I found in my yard).  I'm devastated, to say the least, but the one "stump" has sprouted buds this week.  It will never be a strong tree, but I'm hoping it can be used to either feed bees or pollinate another apple tree.

The fan I was using to circulate air in the dining room seedling central died and I thought I could get by without it... big mistake.  I've lost half of my peppers to damp rot (all of the hot ones).  I've planted more seeds, and the remainder are enjoying a slightly breezy day on the deck.

I also broke the hose... Well, one of the hoses.  It, however, is the hose that reaches the raised beds, so a new hose is also on the list.

There IS good news.  The peas and garlic are up.  The strawberries are doing well.  Hon Tsai Tai, spinach, basil, cilantro, beets, and carrots have all been planted (and some are sprouted).  I finally sanded down the little Moroccan side table I picked up at the antique mall last February.  I have a few options as to how it'll be painted, but I'm leaning toward something that'll look good on the front porch.  I've also figured out how to add my Instagram feed to the blog.  I took the girls to the creek for a photo shoot, and I'm planning on doing something with the results either in the entry or in the dining room.  Haven't decided, but I'm leaning toward the entry.

Oh, I did manage to finalize the front door's new color, and that'll be in the works soon.

It hasn't been ALL work and no play... I finished a book that I had started over winter break.


Saturday, April 19, 2014

And So It Grows

As you may or may not know, I live in the northwest corner of Pennsylvania.  Due to our proximity to the Great Lakes, we have rapid weather changes.  In fact, last week we experienced temperatures as high as 80*F (26C) and as low as 16*F (-8C)... in a 30-hour timeframe.  Due to such fluctuating temperatures, you can imagine how difficult it is to get a garden in place.

Our first average frost-free "safe" day doesn't occur until the very end of May, and our first average killing frost date is mid-September.  It makes for a very short growing season.

So, what's an avid gardener to do?  Start seeds inside!

There are quite a lot of benefits to growing your own plants from seed.  First of all, the sheer abundance of variety trumps anything you can get at a big box store or even at a landscaping center.  You can find varieties that are collected by small mom-and-pop seed companies who are passionate about revitalizing nearly extinct seeds.  You can grow the same melons that Thomas Jefferson grew at Monticello, or tomatoes whose seeds were brought to the U.S. by a singular immigrant nearly 100 years ago.  Much of the produce sold at the grocery stores today have been grown simply for their ability to withstand shipping stress.  When you grow your own vegetables and fruit from seed, you can grow solely for flavor.  Everyone knows a vine-ripened tomato tastes worlds better than anything you can get from the produce aisle in the dead of winter.
 
just one page of lettuces at High Mowing Seeds!
Seed packets have a wealth of growing information on the back

I've waxed poetic about my favorite seed companies before.  I like to stick to small companies that have a commitment to selling seeds that aren't genetically engineered or genetically modified, who sign the Safe Seed Pledge, and who refrain from doing business with Big Ag giants like Monsanto, Archer Daniels Midland, Seminis (now a subsidiary of Monsanto), or ConAgra.  That said, I love the folks at High Mowing Seeds, Filaree Garlic Farm, and Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.  I've been ordering from these three companies for a few years, and I've had consistently excellent germination results... not to mention that their customer service is truly excellent.

Just some seeds I'm growing this year... purple carrots, anyone?
If you have never started seeds before, I would advise you start small.  Get a couple of varieties that are suited for your growing zone and grow something that is easy that you really like.  If you like green beans, I would highly suggest starting out with those.  They are nearly foolproof, yield beans all summer, and can be grown outdoors or in a container on a sunny balcony.  You can up the ante with cherry tomatoes and zucchini.  Easy, prolific, and delicious!  Heat-loving plants like peppers and melons are a bit more finicky, and require higher temperatures to germinate (or sprout).  If you do grow them, you might benefit from investing in a heat mat specifically designed for growing seeds.  Lastly, seedlings need about 16 hours of sunlight daily, and I solve this issue with a couple of shop lights that I picked up from Home Depot for about $15 each.  Plant light bulbs run about the same price, so for about $30 you can start enough seeds to fill your garden.  My current light bulbs have been going strong for 3 years now, so it really is an investment that'll pay off in the long run.

Here are some of my "babies" that have just sprouted:

A cabbage plant (purple rim) that Evie brought home from school mixed in with New England Pie pumpkins and Obus melon

Toma Verde tomatillos, H-19 Little Leaf Cucumber, Crimson Sprinter tomatoes

All Red and German Butterball potatoes

King of the North sweet bell pepper, Magnum Orange habanero, Ring O Fire cayenne, Little Tam Jalapeno peppers

Nutterbutter winter squash and Baby Blue Hubbard winter squash

Heritage and Latham raspberry canes (didn't start these from seed)

Amish Paste tomatoes

As you can see, you can use just about anything to start seeds in.  I have peat pots, yogurt containers, and half-gallon milk containers.  I do buy an organic seed starting soil mix to start seeds in, and as they grow, I fertilize them lightly with a tiny bit of Neptune's Harvest organic fertilizer that I just mix with water and add to a spray bottle.  For pest control (like the fungus gnats that killed last year's strawberry plants), I use sticky traps.  Sticky traps are SUPER sticky, so you want to make sure not to touch the sticky part, and keep it away from kids and pets.

In other news, it is finally finals week.  Six more days before I can start working on the house again!

Disclaimer:  I am in no way affiliated with any of the seed companies mentioned here... I just love them.  While I do have an Amazon storefront, none of the links provided are affiliated with the 1868Pleasant Amazon Store.  

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Curb Uh... Peel

It is no secret (to my neighborhood at least) that the front of my house has definitely seen better days.  While the main exterior of the house is a solid tan, the front steps have been painted brown, seemingly to match the... dirt?  Maybe so as not to clash with the yellowish brick that is the sidewalk.  Or... something.  The entry to the front porch is painted burgundy (really, that's all the paint can says:  "burgundy") but it is definitely a bright, purple/magenta version of burgundy.  Perhaps "faded wine stain burgundy" would've been a more accurate name, but I don't name these things.  When you get into the front porch, you're accosted by the sea green hue of the wainscoting.  Here's what we're dealing with:

The door to the entry lost some screws, and the metal has rubbed at the front door

This door has seen better days.  It looks so sad.

The hardware has been changed too many times, and not replaced in some spots.
Paint chips anyone?

Ick.

Magenta!  I love the door handle here, but it's just decorative at this point

Interior porch.  The rain hits this side of the porch all the time, and the paint has peeled away

bottom of the windows where the caulk has flaked off


None of it looks good.  I've hated it all since I purchased the house, but so many other things needed to be done that this item of business has been lingering at the bottom of the list for a few years.  Until now: The serious lack of curb appeal is highlighted by peeling paint, cracked and missing caulk around the windows, and just plain hideousness.  It looks about as bad as it can possibly be, in my opinion.

This summer's project is to bring sexy back to the front of my house.  I present the following to-do list:

  • Paint!  (and of course, the prep that goes along with painting)  I can't currently afford to paint the entire exterior (so, the solid tan stays, even though that is peeling slightly) but I can get rid of the burgundy/sea green/brown tragedy that is the color scheme of the front porch.
  • Caulk the windows and repair screens where needed.
  • Remove the dead foliage growth from last year, and apply organic weed control, barrier, and mulching.  Sadly, this means all flowers and flowering plants will have to go until the very invasive moonflower and bishop's weed dies off completely... which will likely take a couple of years.  
  • Repair or replace door hardware.  While they're old, they're temperamental.  One slight depression of a button means that the front door locks... and I don't have a skeleton key to open it.  I'm not going to mention just how I open it, but it takes at least 15 minutes to MacGyver.
  • Remove and replace the rotting wood retaining wall and replace with landscaping bricks. 
  • Remove tile house numbers and replace with something modern.
  • If I can swing it financially, replace the exterior lights on either side of the front door.
  • Transform front porch into proper sleeping porch.

I still have a week and a half of classes, but as soon as that is over, it's time to start scraping, sanding, and priming.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

I really, really want it to be spring.

Is anyone else in a funk?  Tired of freezing your hind end off and not a lick of green to be found?

I'm right there with you.

A couple of weeks ago, we had temperatures plunge into the well-below-zero region and the water supply line to my washing machine froze.  I ran to Home Depot and picked up a heating cable and some insulation tubes in order to remedy that situation.  Of course, I forgot the heat-safe tape, so by the time I got everything installed we had a 40-degree day and the pipes thawed on their own.  A major lesson I learned in this case was to open the heating cable instructions in the parking lot (after I made my purchase) to find out if I had all of the components necessary to install the cable in the first place.  I also kept the faucets open at a trickle, and kept the washer on so that when things did thaw, there wouldn't be a buildup in pressure.

I did get outside on that 40 degree day to plant garlic in my frozen raised beds.  I simply laid garlic cloves on the frozen soil and covered it with about 4 inches of topsoil that I stocked up on at the end of summer.
German Butterball & Rose Finn Apple fingerlings
I placed my order of organic seed potatoes from High Mowing Seeds already, and those will arrive in April sometime.  I'm sticking with the All Red and German Butterball that I planted last year.  I didn't get a good harvest from the All Red, but that was due to a lot of rain and not enough sun.  I'm skipping the fingerlings this year for the simple fact that they're a bit out of my price range and we didn't get a high yield from them last year.

I'm pretty happy with the fact that my Brown Turkey fig has suddenly gone wild and is sprouting leaves like mad.  I brought it in before our last frost and all of its leaves promptly fell off.  It didn't look like it was going to make it.  I added some azomite and greensand to the soil, watered it a couple of times and left it under the grow lights.  Apparently, that did the trick and I'm hoping to maybe have a figlet at some point.  Fingers crossed.

Next month will usher in seed starting on a larger scale, most notably getting the onion seeds sprouted and I'm going to try my hand at growing them inside, in a container like this:
from Auntie Dogma's Garden Spot
That is pretty fricking amazing if I do say so myself.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Mama was a Rolling... Oat. A Collection of Oatmeal Mixes

What do you mean, where have I been?  I went back to university to become a nurse.


Social life, remodeling life... anything besides basic cleaning, making sure kids are fed, clean, and clothed has taken a remote back seat to reading, reading, reading, clinical, endless exams, and oh... reading.  I read more now than when I was in law school, and I read so much there that I devised a system for reading while in the shower.

I wish I were kidding about that.

Anyway... I'm on winter break and that means I get to chill out and relax prepare for next semester like a manic squirrel that has 3 weeks to prepare for hibernation.  I've been cleaning, putting away the summer clothes (don't judge!), and cooking like a mad woman because I know that I simply will not have time to do much more than reheat dinner from Monday through Friday (and that one weekend where I have a clinical rotation).  I just need to be able to wake up in that dazed fog that only people who get to sleep for 4 hours a night understand, and microwave some oatmeal for my kids' breakfast.

that's a lot of oatmeal

Instead of frantically stocking up on instant oatmeal packets when they happen to be on sale 4 for $10, I ran out one day because I hadn't had time to go grocery shopping.  I had a lowly canister of rolled oats, some dried apple bits, spices, and sugar in the pantry, so I whipped up my own apple oatmeal mix that morning.  It was SO much better than those overly sweet mushy packets of oatmeal.  I decided then and there to make my own oatmeal mixes, and the kids sometimes ask for oatmeal for dinner.  The stuff is fantastic, and with a couple of "special ingredients" (namely, PB2, freeze dried fruits, and powdered milk)*.  I tend to have those "special ingredients" in my pantry, but feel free to use dehydrated fruits or regular peanut butter and liquid milk if that's what you have on hand.  I need something I can just dump into a bowl and nuke, because it is generally 4:30 a.m. when the kids have breakfast on clinical days, and pre-caffeinated me is NOT awake at 4:30 a.m.

Things you'll need before you start your oatmeal mix-making frenzy:

  • Containers:  You can use gallon sized storage bags, glass jars, plastic cereal containers, empty coffee cans, whatever.  As long as it can be sealed and shaken without spilling your oaty contents all over the counter, you're good.
  • A ginormous bowl:  The chocolate peanut butter oatmeal recipe has 9 cups of oats in it, and that's before you start adding the other ingredients.  You need a big bowl to contain that sort of chaos.
  • A sifter:  This is pretty much necessary only for the chocolate peanut butter oatmeal, because no one wants to bite into a bitter nugget of unsweetened cocoa (as an aside, doing so will definitely wake you up).
If you're going to make all of the mixes at once, you'll need 2 of the large canisters of old-fashioned rolled oats, which weigh a little over 2 pounds each.  They retail in my area for $3 each, which is roughly the price of one 12-packet box of flavored oatmeal.

Pantry items:  granulated sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, Chinese Five Spice, ground cloves, ground ginger, ground allspice, ground nutmeg (or a bottle of apple pie spices to replace the last 4 mentioned), raisins, dried/freeze dried fruit slices or dices (apples, berries), cocoa powder, powdered milk, PB2 powdered peanut butter (or regular peanut butter)

make your pantry work for you

All of these recipes require simple, but thorough, mixing.  Since the ingredients do settle to the bottom of the container, it will be necessary to shake the container before you scoop the oatmeal into bowls to be cooked.  I usually flip it upside down, give it a shake, and everything gets redistributed well.   
The cooking instructions for each recipe is also the same:  1/3 cup of oatmeal mix to 1/2 cup of water, stir and microwave in a microwave-safe bowl for 4 minutes.  Allow to stand for 5-10 minutes, stir, and enjoy.  When this comes out of the micro, it is HOT.  Use oven mitts if your bowls get hot, and don't eat it until it has had a chance to cool to a safe temperature.  Common sense, but in a rush, I've done it and burned the heck out of my mouth.  

APPLE PIE OATMEAL MIX

2 cups freeze dried apple dices, or crushed freeze dried apple slices, or chopped dehydrated apples
2 Tbsp cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp Chinese Five Spice (this gives it a lovely star anise kick... optional if you can't find it)
OR if using apple pie spice, 1 Tbsp + 1 tsp apple pie spice in addition to the 2 Tbsp cinnamon
5 cups rolled oats
1 cup packed brown sugar (light or dark... I use whatever I have on hand)

Measure 1/3 cup of oatmeal mix to 1/2 cup of water in a microwave-safe bowl, microwave for 4 minutes (900 watt).  Allow to stand for 5-10 minutes, stir, and enjoy.  When this comes out of the micro, it is HOT.  Use oven mitts if your bowls get hot, and don't eat it until it has had a chance to cool to a safe temperature.

________________________________________________________________________

RAISINS & SPICE OATMEAL MIX

5 cups rolled oats
1 cup raisins
2 Tbsp cinnamon
3/4 cup packed brown sugar

Measure 1/3 cup of oatmeal mix to 1/2 cup of water in a microwave-safe bowl, microwave for 4 minutes (900 watt).  Allow to stand for 5-10 minutes, stir, and enjoy.  When this comes out of the micro, it is HOT.  Use oven mitts if your bowls get hot, and don't eat it until it has had a chance to cool to a safe temperature.
________________________________________________________________________

BERRIES & CREAM OATMEAL MIX

6 cups rolled oats
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup powdered milk
1-1/2 cups freeze dried berries or a blend of freeze dried and dehydrated berries (freeze dried berries taste closer to actual berries than the dehydrated sort, which are more like raisins).  I use 2-3 packets of a freeze-dried mixed berry blend

Measure 1/3 cup of oatmeal mix to 1/2 cup of water in a microwave-safe bowl, microwave for 4 minutes (900 watt).  Allow to stand for 5-10 minutes, stir, and enjoy.  When this comes out of the micro, it is HOT.  Use oven mitts if your bowls get hot, and don't eat it until it has had a chance to cool to a safe temperature.
________________________________________________________________________

CHOCOLATE PEANUT BUTTER OATMEAL MIX

9 cups rolled oats
1 cup powdered milk
2 cups PB2 (a 6.8 oz container is about 2 cups)
1-1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 cup cocoa powder, sifted (dutched or regular)

Measure 1/3 cup of oatmeal mix to 1/2 cup of water in a microwave-safe bowl, microwave for 4 minutes (900 watt).  Allow to stand for 5-10 minutes, stir, and enjoy.  When this comes out of the micro, it is HOT.  Use oven mitts if your bowls get hot, and don't eat it until it has had a chance to cool to a safe temperature.
________________________________________________________________________

Enjoy!

*contains affiliates

Monday, May 27, 2013

Here and There

The desk/console is taking more time than originally planned.  Sadly, the veneer appliques on the lower drawers crumbled when I attempted to gently remove them, so they're gone.  I'm considering other appliques, but the design on the top panel is in nearly perfect condition, and finding a similarly-styled match is not an easy chore.  Apparently, the trend in wood applique is very baroque, full of acanthus leaves, flourishes, and flowers.  I don't think it'd work with the lines of the desk, so, it might just be plain Jane.

I pulled out all of the tiny finishing nails from the bottom drawers, and right now, they look like this:


Below the veneer, there were a lot of gouges in the wood, some were old, and some were caused by yours truly.  I filled them in with wood filler, and I'm still in the process of sanding them down.  It should be finished by the end of this week, so a reveal will definitely be in order.  I'm still debating on spray painting the aged brass pulls that the desk came with, or swapping them out for glass knobs.  Once the desk is painted, I'll have to see what I like best.

Right now, several projects are on deck.  The front porch looks like a warehouse!  I picked up a standing jewelry armoire at a tag sale for $10.  It is broken where the leg connects to the base, but it is an easy fix.  It will, of course be painted, and my oldest kidlet will have a place for her growing accessory collection. 


I also picked up a twin bed frame from the same tag sale (also $10), which will eventually be used in the front porch.  

I need to get a support replaced and a new screw for one of the center legs.

Lastly, is a lovely little table that was one of the last gifts I received from my dad before he died.  We saw it at the antique mall, and he gave it to me for my birthday.  It needs to be sanded down, because the top surface was stripped at some point, and then my daughter spilled Kool-Aid on it.  The full profile is in the above photo, behind the bed frame.  

styling courtesy of Liz, the 12-year-old kidlet

I haven't decided where the table is going to go.  It is likely I'll use it on the front porch, since I usually work out there when the weather is nice.  

For the next few weeks, though, my project schedule is full.  Unless, of course, I find something fabulous curbside.  I definitely can't resist a free rehab project!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Curbside Score!

Since I usually hit the local thrift store (and grocery store) on Friday, I made a list and set off to pick up some jalapenos and cilantro for tomorrow night's steak taco dinner.  I also got some more tomatillos so I could make some green salsa with avocado.  Both are definite favorites in my house, and I simply cannot wait to see the look on my kids' faces when they find out the menu.  There will also be tres leches cake for dessert, because I'm hoping to entice my friend Cynthia over to join us, as a thank you for yesterday's handychick adventures, which I'll write about next week.

So, there I was, scooting down the road to go to the grocery store, and I spied a child's desk on the curb.  I had no place to park and hitting the brakes was out of the question due to the line of cars behind me.  There was a sign on it, but the wind had flipped it over.  I decided to wait until I was on my way back from shopping to check out the desk.



Happily, it was still there, and I pulled up on the curb and put on my flashers, since that side of the street is a no parking zone.  I flipped the sign to read, FREE!  It was free, and more importantly, it was MINE.  I popped the back door up, tossed it in the car, and off I went.

There is some serious damage to the veneer on the desk, but since it is mostly lifted off, and since I'm planning to paint it, I'm just going to finish removing it from the desk surface.


The side of the desk could likely handle some wood filler and sanding.  Overall, it's a gorgeous little piece, and I can't wait to get it finished up!

I took the pictures on my front porch, which is also slated for a major overhaul this summer.  Ignore the chipping paint and missing caulking around the windows.  It'll all be prettied up soon, too.  All I need to find now is a child's desk chair, if I choose to have the kids actually use it as a desk.  I'm thinking it might be a good size for a hall table.  We'll have to see.
 
Blogging tips