what if your garden fails?

I have been asking myself that lately.  What happens if you can't grow anything?  I think back to what people had to go through back in the day, before all the technology and resources that we have today, and I can't imagine it.  What if I couldn't grow any tomatoes this year (I can't by the way), what would I do?  If I had no winter squash (I don't) what would I do?  Well, back then, I guess I would have to rely on whatever I could have grown, maybe sacrifice a milk cow, maybe try and figure out something to trade with a neighbor (who may be twenty miles - or more - away).  It would have been difficult.

Luckily, we have a few more options these days.  And I am extremely thankful for that.  We have had a dismal year on vegetables in my garden.  Granted, I haven't been gardening as though our livelihood depended on it, but I'm not sure it would have made a difference.  I wasn't able to grow any lettuce, my winter squash/summer squash/cucumbers were all killed by pests.  My tomatoes were all stunted by extreme amounts of rain in June.  It has been a hard year.  Luckily I do have a few things that have done well, mainly carrots, peppers and jalapenos.

What should you do if your year has been as bad as mine?

Look for a co-op to buy from:

You may not have a co-op in your area, but you also might!  We just recently got one in my area.  It is an amazing thing for our little city.  We are able to go online each week and look at all the products available, order what we want, and then pick it up the next Friday.  The order window is only open for a couple of days, and we do certainly pay a premium for the ability to order online and pick up fresh produce a week later.  For instance this week I was able to order 20 pounds of organic peaches and 3 pounds of green beans (among other things), which is about all I can probably manage in a day.  I am going to take the time to turn the peaches into salsa and BBQ sauce, freeze the green beans, and it will be one less thing I need to worry about, and I will be putting something away for the winter.

Go to a Farmers' Market:

It seems like farmers' markets are definitely on the rise.  I know that they aren't available in all areas, but, if you look, you might be surprised at what you find.  You can go to the website Local Harvest and find out if there is one in your area.  If not, perhaps you have seen a farm stand on your way to work, or on a Sunday drive through the country.  You can talk to these farmers and buy extra from them in order to preserve for the winter, often at a discount.  It is a great way to meet the people that grow your food, and know the practices that they keep in regards to their farms.  Plus, it is also a great place to meet like minded people!  And they may have ideas on where you can buy some extra cucumbers to turn into pickles.

Buy a winter and/or summer CSA share:

A CSA share is a great way to make sure you have a source of food in the summer, as well as the winter.  We have been getting a winter pantry CSA for the past several years.  It is one of the best things for us.  We don't have a root cellar, and I am not sure I could figure out how to preserve food other than canning or freezing - hopefully at some point I will figure it out, but it hasn't happened yet.  This way, we are able to go to a great farm every other week during the winter to pick up a large batch of root veggies/frozen veggies/canned goods; it really is a great setup!

We didn't have a summer CSA share this year, and I am regretting it every week that I go and spend more than I would have paying up front for our farm fresh veggies.  But, if you are lucky enough to have a summer CSA, they often will give you extra produce when it is available.  Yes, we would frequently get several zucchini and have the option of picking up extra from the "free" baskets.  Grating these and throwing them in the freezer in 2 cup portions is great for preparing most zucchini bread recipes, or to easily throw in a stir fry or soup.

What are some ways that you are able to preserve food for the winter when your garden fails?  Or maybe your failures are not as large as mine.  If not, what is your secret?  Do you have a certain trick for meeting a high demand of preservation if you haven't planted enough of a specific vegetable?

I am linking up with the Barn Hop and Rural Thursday

what i am eating #2

I love cooking and eating, and I especially love looking at pictures of food!  If you love food as much as I do, please add your food pictures/recipes/food related posts to the linky below.  All you have to do is link back to this blog post from your blog.  I look forward to seeing what everyone else is eating this week!

Summer eating, to me, is all about fresh vegetables.  I love to be able to find what I want to have for lunch or dinner out in my garden, or from the farmers' market.  It is a joy to be able to eat something fresh.  Perhaps I love food a little too much!

My peppers have been growing really well, so I frequently feature them in meals, typically salads.  Yesterday, however, I was able to pick my first zucchini.  If you have been reading my blog this summer at all, you will realize what a big deal that is.  But, if you haven't been reading, the short story is that all of my summer squash, winter squash, and cucumber plants were killed by squash bugs.  I have one lone zucchini plant left, which I planted in a pot as a last resort.  I would like to say that it is doing quite well, and I wish that I had planted more in pots!

Since I had this one zucchini, I decided to make a quick saute for lunch yesterday.  Super simple, and most of it was from my back yard!  Slice half an onion, 2 small green peppers, 1 zucchini, chop a few cloves of garlic.  Saute in coconut oil (or evoo), add salt and pepper and a little red pepper flake if you like spice like I do, and then you are done.  It was absolutely delicious, and I enjoyed every bite.  The fact that the zucchini/peppers/garlic came from my yard?  Awesome :-)  If I had tomatoes on hand, I would have thrown those in the mix as well.  You can also add crushed canned tomatoes and some basil and you have a very quick sauce to put over pasta, yum!

What are you eating this week?  Please link up below!

yarn along

Last week I was so happy to read about other people thinking about Christmas knitting!  And then over at Simple Kids, Kara Fleck talked about how she wanted to get started on the handmades for her kids for Christmas.  I thought I was good to go, Christmas, here we come!  Then I sat down to make my lists...and nothing happened.  Not one blasted idea came to mind.

Of course, I have the hats that I do every year.  I always plan on those being a Christmas gift...and they are, I even wrap them up to open on Christmas morning.  Although, they typically have been wearing said hats for about 6 weeks before Christmas...hmmm.  But, after that, I am at a total loss.

Typically around this time I have a whole host of ideas, and a folder full of Christmas planning, but not this year.  And I'm not sure why.  I think last Christmas I was completely burned out.  I tried hard to make everyone's presents instead of buying.  It gave me a lot of stress I probably didn't need, but I really do enjoy giving handmade gifts!

So, what now?  Well, I need some ideas.  And I am hoping to find some today at the Holiday Kids Gift Craft-along.  And also of course from the yarn along today!  I would love some suggestions for kids gifts, as well as what you give to extended family during the holiday season.

As far as what I am knitting.  I am still knitting a scarf for my mother's helper.  I got quite a ways in last week using the yarn that I originally selected, just to spot a different yarn that I wanted to use instead...so I started it over again.  Still a dark purple, but this is more textured, and I thought it would be a nice yarn to use for a scarf.  I'm actually thinking that I will use this same type of yarn for a hat for Emma.  It is really soft, and she loves purple - which is why I think I have so much purple in my stash of yarn!

And on the reading front?  I have been reading a lot of romance novels of late.  Some that I have enjoyed recently are Gabriel's Inferno, Gabriel's Rapture, and Slammed.  I think that I am just trying to find stuff with a nice and neat happy ending, especially with all the news that I listen to and read throughout the week.  Sometimes I think that I should just shut the news off entirely, be completely oblivious to what is going on outside my own little world...but my constant need for information always seems to sneak back in.

Well, I think I have covered enough topics in one post!  My never-ending stream of consciousness!  Of course, linking up with the yarn along!

sorry no post today...

Last night we took care of the rooster.  It was a hard evening.  Surprisingly, the kids were fine.  I guess when I told them that eventually we would have to kill the chickens to get new ones, they just got it.  Now I am hoping that we can at least wait until the hens are done laying eggs to deal with that again!  Will be back tomorrow for the awesome yarn along!

the rooster dilemma...

Yeah, so that chicken we thought was a rooster - but were not entirely sure?  Definitely a rooster.  We learned that at about 5am last Wednesday.  I guess I thought that it would take longer for it to be an issue.  I mean, the guy is just 12 weeks old.  Doesn't that seem kind of young to start strutting around and crowing like a crazy rooster?

And actually, the crowing doesn't really bother me.  I am up before it starts, and for some reason he didn't start crowing until 6:30am this weekend...well after a neighbor's dog had already woken everyone up in the neighborhood :-)  I spoke to my neighbors and they haven't heard him, and don't really care if he starts crowing, so that is nice.  I am hoping some of the people further away from us (because his crow DEFINITELY carries) won't call the city and report us.  Having someone come here for "code violations" would never be a good thing.

The problem that I am having with the rooster right now?  Well, he is trying to be a rooster, in all his rooster ways.  He is scaring the crap out of the ladies.  When he starts stalking them, strutting his stuff, they start screaming and running all around the chicken run to get away from the guy.  They have tried several times to run through the chicken wire...and now I know why they keep flying over the fence...to get away from him.

Yesterday we separated the rooster from the ladies.  He was outside the fence, they were inside.  For some reason I thought that would be the best thing to do.  Of course he stayed right at the fence the whole day watching the girls longingly.  And I felt bad for him.

So onto the dilemma.  What should we do with this poor guy?  I have called//facebooked just about everyone I know to see if they know anyone looking for a rooster.  But, let's be honest, no one really wants a rooster.  Even such a pretty guy as this one.  He is too small to butcher I think.  I'm not sure it would be worth the cost and stress of bringing him to someone.  I wasn't prepared to do it myself, although maybe I should have been.  I'm not even sure I can catch him though...the hens...yes, they practically jump up into Emma's arms.

We have thought about driving him out of the city to the little town next door and looking for a place that has chickens...then just hoping for the best.  We have also thought about just leaving him out of the coop and letting whatever happens, happen.  I know - that is definitely not the nicest way.  But, there it is.

I guess I thought it would be easier.  When we have to get new chicks in a couple years, I knew we would butcher and fill our freezer with the ladies.  Now, of course, I feel bad for the rooster.  He has had a short life, and he seemed so sad to not be with the other chickens yesterday.  He was one of the four easter eggers we got, the other three seem lost, and I just all around feel bad.  Perhaps this is why I got egg laying chickens instead of meat birds :-)

So what should I do?  Do I pay to have him butchered for no meat?  Do I let him go out in the wild (hey, we have wild in Maine ;-)), knowing nature will not be kind?  Do I drop him off at a farm, and speed away before anyone sees us?  These are the questions I am asking myself today!

*I figure I should clarify that I wouldn't actually drop off the rooster at an unsuspecting farm :-)  Don't worry, we will most likely donate him to someone for their freezer, not sure I want him in ours :-)

I'm linking up at the Barn Hop

what i am eating #1

I love cooking and eating, and I especially love looking at pictures of food!  If you love food as much as I do, please add your food pictures/recipes/food related posts to the linky below.  All you have to do is link back to this blog post from your blog.  I look forward to seeing what everyone else is eating this week!

I am loving fresh veggies right now!  And who says a salad has to include lettuce?  One of my favorite go to meals/snacks/sides right now is above.  My green peppers are growing so well, why not feature it in a dish.

To make:

thinly slice green pepper and sweet onion, chop tomatoes, add a little salt a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and some good balsamic vinegar, done!  I also added some greek olives and jalapenos that I had in my fridge, it gave it a little extra kick - yum!

What's going on in your kitchen?

I am linking to Your Green Resource

mother's helper yarn along

I have hired a mother's helper for the summer.  A lovely girl comes to my home twice a week for a couple hours and plays with the kids while I do *something else*.  It is probably the most wonderful thing I have done for myself in years.  It is allowing me to do some projects that aren't as easily done with a 4 and almost 2 year old running around.  Of course, I am still doing a lot of laundry and cooking, but it is uninterrupted laundry and cooking!

So for this week's yarn along, I decided to start a scarf to say thank you at the end of the summer.  Yes, I am paying her, but I thought this would be a nice gift to show her how much I appreciate the time she is here.  But, do 8th graders even like scarfs?  I have no idea.  I know that she loves purple, so I am hoping for the best!  And also that it will make her want to come back around Christmas when I am almost inevitably overwhelmed with all the projects I have on my to do list.

I also finished Jack's winter hat.  I really like how it turned out.  I started one for Emma, but it wasn't turning out the way I wanted, so I frogged it and decided on the scarf to occupy my time instead.  It is a pretty pattern of garter stitch and lace insert.  I am really enjoying the ease of this pattern too, it is just a multiple of 2 stitches, very cool :-)

As for reading this week, I'm not really reading anything different.  We are still reading Persuasion, one chapter at a time.  I'm really enjoying it, and the kids still seem to be as well, so we keep pushing on.  Matt is reading 11/22/63: A Novel, which he says is the best book he has read in a long time.  I think it is suspense, I don't think it is the typical scare the crap out of you book that he writes.  I love that Stephen King lives in Maine, but honestly I have never been able to read any of his books.  I might give this one a try though, since Matt says it is so good.

Joining in with Ginny for her yarn along this week.

Classical Conversations

I have mentioned before that we plan to school all year.  I must say it doesn't feel like we have been "doing school" the past several weeks, but we have!  We have mainly set aside any book learning (besides my regular reading to the kids) and instead have moved mostly to outside learning.  We are all spending a lot of time in the garden, playing with the chickens, learning about weeds that are good, and those that we want to get rid of.  And an awful lot about squash bugs.  This more relaxed approach has given me some time to do more research into the direction we would like to head in the fall.

I have read a lot about Classical Conversations the past couple of years, and I have always been interested.  There has never been a group in my area, which actually is ok because Emma has just turned 4 in May, and that is when they can start this program.  However, this fall there will be a group in my area, and we decided to jump on board.

Classical Conversations follows the classical approach to homeschooling, which in essence is following the Trivium; grammar stage, logic stage, rhetoric stage.  The reasons this program appealed to me?  Well, it is only one morning each week.  During that class time, the parent is involved in the class, the kids complete various exercises in all the major subject areas - history/geography, timeline, science, art, music, english, latin, math, and Bible memory.  They also participate in presentations each week (a total weakness of mine), and do extensive memorization.  This year they will be completing Cycle I, which will tie in nicely with the same history we are covering in Emma's core program from Sonlight.  

I'm not going to lie, a major reason we are enrolling in this class is to get to know other homeschooling families in the area.

We are just starting our homeschooling journey.  And as of now, we don't know anyone else that homeschools in the area.  I know some other homeschooling families, but they are of people that are around my age...certainly not Emma's age...or Jack for that matter.  I am hoping that this helps to get me into a group of like minded people.  We shall see!  I have some very unique views on life :-)  And I figure a little memorization is good for everyone.  The fact that I can keep Jack in the class with me while Emma learns, that is a huge plus!

Do your kids take any outside classes?  Are you enrolled in Classical Conversations?  Do you like it?  Do you have a core group of homeschoolers in your area, or are you going it alone?

I am linking up at the hip homeschool hop today!

good garden happenings

Well, clearly last week I put all of my annoyances against squash bugs out there for the world to see.  I think that my diligence on getting the eggs as well as the adults, well it has helped immensely.  Although I am not sure that I will get any mature fruit from these winter squash plants this year.  I am thinking of laying down black plastic and replacing all of my soil next year ;-)  Regardless, I'm very excited to see what is happening in my garden now.  For the most part, nothing is edible but, it still makes me happy to look at!

I am able to take a couple green peppers each week, and my jalapenos are getting to be a good size.  I am thinking about freezing them for when it comes time to make salsa.  Can you freeze whole jalapenos?  Do you have to cook them first?  I think that I received a bag of frozen chili peppers from my winter CSA a couple years ago, so I think it is a possibility.  I would like to make sure that I use as much of my own veg as possible, it is a pride thing I think, when it comes to my salsa :-)

My second planting of green beans seem to be coming right along.  Unfortunately I don't have as many plants as seeds that I planted, but to see those little green beans, at least something is growing!  I still think that green beans are one of my favorite things to grow and preserve.  It is so easy to freeze these.  I know a lot of people don't like to freeze things because of energy concerns, or the possibility of a power outage.  I guess I should have some of those concerns, but as long as I can make it into the winter (which typically starts in October), I should have no problems.

I have a TON of green tomatoes on my plants right now, and that makes me so happy.  What doesn't make me as happy is the fact that I only planted 2 slicing tomato plants (brandywine).   I know I had planned to go back and buy more seedlings at some point...unfortunately that did not happen, and I know that my tomato loving family is going to have a hard time with only 2 plants...especially since those two plants are seriously struggling.  I think I need some sort of fertilizer.  The rain has done a number on most of my plants this year.

Lastly, I have these awesome sugar baby watermelon growing.  It is the first year that I have actually had fruit growing from the plant, which we plant every year.  Emma has a thing for watermelon.  I don't know if it is because of the name of the plant, or if she just loves watermelon that much.  So does anyone want to place a bet on whether or not these will actually produce fruit we can eat?  I have to say that they have tripled in size over night, I think due to the extremely hot humid weather.  Not nearly as hot as the rest of the country, but 90's is hot in Maine!

Linking up to Ginny's Saturday Garden Journal the Barn Hop and Rural Thursday.

yarn along

Jack's hat is coming along nicely.  I think I am just about ready to start the decreases.  It may be that this hat will be big enough for several winters, so I might need to come up with a new pattern next year!  Emma saw me knitting Jack's hat and immediately requested one of her own.  We have to make a run to the yarn store though, because I don't think I have enough yarn leftover from her sweater to make the hat.  Plus, she likes to pick the yarn out herself.

I'm starting to think about Christmas gifts since it is July and all!  I need to be more on the ball.  I always start early, and then end up slowing down in the fall, only to have a huge rush after Thanksgiving to get everything done.  Wouldn't it be nice to have everything done before Thanksgiving so that I could actually enjoy the Christmas season instead of rushing around like a crazy person?  It's not just me, right?

In the book department, I finished 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess.  I really enjoyed the entire book.  There were parts of her writing that rubbed me the wrong way, but they were few.  And they were far outweighed by some seriously heavy emotional and spiritual breakthroughs.  One of the moments that stuck out to me was when she went to a service at a different church than her own.  The speaker was talking about how the homeless have so many problems with their feet and legs because the shoes that they get are the old shoes given to good will, or taken from a trash can, and what they really needed were good quality shoes.  Then every person in the church ended up bringing their shoes to the front of the church, and they all left barefoot. It really amazed me because we take such small things as shoes for granted, how much more do we have?  And how much do we complain or think to ourselves "oh, if only I had x."  Perhaps it is just me, but it was a real wake up call.  What is really needed that I hang onto?  Although I don't think I would want to go through the challenge of 7, it was very interesting and made me think about things I hadn't considered before.

I started reading Persuasion to the kids before rest time.  Is it wrong of me to read such books to them when they are still so young?  I can't figure it out.  But, they are quiet and listen, so I go for it.  Of course I can't read these types of books all the time to them, but before rest time everyone seems to be happy and content for me to sit and read whatever I choose, and I choose some incredibly random books for a 4 year old and 23 month old to listen to :-)  I read this book back in college for a women's lit class, but haven't picked it up since, so it is almost like I am reading it for the first time again, and I love that.

I'm trying to read through the Bible again.  I have done it several times since college, but I typically start with the Old Testament, and read right straight through.  However, this time I decided to start in Matthew.  I am always surprised at what I learn reading the Bible straight through.  It isn't like a Bible study, where you pick a section or a chapter, you really get the full scope and context when you read entire books at a time.  It also always brings up so many questions for me.  How nice it will be when I can have those questions answered!

Looking forward to seeing what everyone else is doing this week over at the yarn along!

Do you want to do it all?

I certainly do.  What does your all include?  Mine means making meals from scratch, homeschooling my littles, trying to produce enough food on our little quarter acre for at least one season of the year, paying off student loans, reading reading and more reading.  I would love to take a holistic health class, learn more about using herbs as healers.  There are so many things I want to dive into learning now, I wish I had this drive when I was in college :-)  My all list is never ending.

How do you prioritize when you feel like everything is important?  I'm not going to have some in depth answer for you, because I have no idea.  I am slowly trying to work at each piece a little at a time.  I guess that is all I can hope for.  I don't quite understand why it seems so difficult now to do what people always did hundreds of years ago.  What is different now?

Well, everything is different.  There are a lot more distractions.  I'm sure that the amount of time I take to check my e-mail throughout the day would be enough time for me to at least knead a couple loaves of bread and cook beans for the week.  I can certainly sit down and read a book during the kids rest time, or after everyone is asleep (which I frequently do - who really needs to sleep when there is a good book to be read?!).

I think part of the problem is the lack of community now.  Not that I am good about community.  Our little neighborhood has a great group of people, but I am such an introvert, I prefer to keep to myself.  I want my privacy and to not feel like I am in a box - which I sometimes do.  I can't go outside without the neighbors making conversation.  Some call that nice, I just want to go weed in my pajamas without having to talk to someone!

Community is an integral part of life though, you can't do everything yourself.  I think that sometimes I hope that I can, but I know it is impossible.  But way back when, family was your community.  Everyone lived close together, you didn't have to worry about traveling out of state to see your very cool sisters-in-law, they just lived two houses over.  I think that when you have family around, it is easier.  You aren't as concerned about making some sort of impression, you just are, and your family just accepts you.  Well, I'm sure they don't always accept you, but my family seems to still be talking to me even though I am the crazy one :-)

I think when your family isn't around and you then have to rely on neighbors, and your community, well, it is difficult to put yourself out there.  Fear of rejection.  Fear of funny looks.  Fear of people talking behind your back.  Yes, it is all there, at least for me!  How do I balance the fear and the need for community?  I would love suggestions.  I guess you just need to start, then everything else comes along.

I see our neighbors, who dug up about a third of an acre last fall and then turned again in early spring.  He planned to plant a huge garden.  Then there was a death in the family, and he has only planted about 12 tomato plants in that entire space.  Why didn't I offer to throw some seeds in the ground.  Obviously I couldn't have planted the entire space - I can barely weed my 20x20 garden :-)  But, it would have been something.  Maybe I would have had a bit more space to plant some things that I can't plant in my small space, and could have given the neighbor half of the produce.  When we need help building something, or trying to get wood from the lumber yard into our little yaris, maybe we could trade some time helping another neighbor with his shed in return for use of his truck for 30 minutes.

I will continue to plug along though.  Trying to manage my time better so that I can fit in all that I want.  Perhaps I will sleep a little bit less...ok a lot less...and really work on these things.  It is taking that first step that is difficult for me.  Do you want to do it all?  Do you try to?  How is your community?

I'm linking up at the Hip Homeschool Hop

i hate squash bugs

I like to think I am a pretty laid back person when it comes to my garden. I frequently let weeds overtake the place, I don't spray chemicals, I mainly hope for the best. But, the squash bugs this year are seriously killing me. I have had to get rid of 3 of my 4 winter squash plants. Not a happy camper about that. Not to mention my cucumbers are just about dead due to the lovely combination of cucumber beetles and squash bugs.

Oh there they are!  In all their glory.  Everyday I seem to pull off at least 20 of these suckers.  My favorite part is how they just like to get their groove on with no care in the world that people are watching.  That one at the bottom was also connected to the other two...until he noticed me coming and quickly scampered away.  Perhaps he is new to the party and is still a little shy.  The other two, however, stayed connected as I flicked them into a cup and stayed together right until the bitter end as I drowned them.  Apparently it is the way to go though!  Most of the squash bugs I have killed have gone this way :-)

I am still quite hopeful that squash will actually grow.  We will have to see what happens of course!  Even if I can get one, I will be happy.  These plants were planted by seed, into a hill, during my very short growing season.  After I planted them, we were hit with about 2 weeks straight of rain.  The plant seems to be growing, but I don't think there will be enough time for the squash to fully mature.  Perhaps our growing season will be extended, and we will have a very late frost date this year!

My sweet bell peppers are doing exceptionally well.  I don't think I have ever been able to pick sweet peppers the second week in July before...maybe I have, but I don't think so.  These I planted in an earth box.  I really can't say enough good things about them.  The only drawback I see is that you have to purchase the box, and then you have to make sure you have the potting soil to fill them.  It tends to get a little expensive.  But, considering I don't have to weed these, I have never had anything die in them, and they produce relatively well, I keep going with it.  I plan to pick the larger peppers this week to *hopefully* encourage more growth for the rest of the plants.

My tomatoes are doing just OK.  There are a few green tomatoes, and a lot of flowers, but the plants are seriously stunted.  I think that the extended rain, followed by extended dry really isn't working for them.  I have had to clip a lot of the branches that have turned yellow, and it pains me to do so.  I am hoping they will bounce back.  It is by no means the end of tomato season, in fact, it is still extremely early to have tomatoes at all, but I am counting on these tomatoes to provide me a large amount of canned goods for the winter.  I already know I will most likely need to buy more tomatoes from the farm I typically buy bulk canning tomatoes from, but it would be nice to grow enough myself.  Maybe someday!

I have planted green beans 3 times since the summer has started.  These are the first plants to actually start growing.  I don't know if it is because of the location that I am planting them, or if it is because every time I plant something it rains and rains and rains for days on end.  I think green beans are my favorite vegetable to freeze.  I feel like it doesn't really affect the taste, and that makes me happy.  Plus, they are super easy to throw into stir fries and fried rice, yum!

I am happy with how the garden is doing, although it isn't doing as well as I had hoped.  I'm sure that eventually I will get to a place where I will have enough time to dedicate to weeding, and also have enough knowledge as to what plants to plant together, and which to plant away from each other.  I also have beets growing quite well, lettuce, my garlic is doing great, and I have pulled a couple carrots to make sure they really are growing purple carrots, and they are.  I guess if I have learned anything, it is that organic farming is difficult.  I hope to make a lot of changes for next year, but they are things I can't do until the fall.  So until then, I will continue to hope for the best, and work on the things that I know how to get right.

How is your garden growing these days?  Any bugs that are giving you incredible amounts of trouble?  I have to say that the dish soap/water mixture works really well on squash bugs, but every day I seem to kill all of them, just to have a new batch come the next day.  Oh, and my chickens aren't as pleased about them as I thought they would be...perhaps it is the smell - yuck!

I am linking up at the barn hop!  Can't wait to see what everyone else is up to!

Home Binders - Part Five

This is an ongoing series about home binders, and how they can work for you and your family.  You can find my previous posts below.

Part One         Part Two
Part Three     Part Four

Menu planning is extremely important if you are trying to keep a budget.  And since most of the people I talk to are on a budget, I figured talking about it being a part of my home binder would be important.

I have talked about meal planning before.  Just like planning your day, making a menu for the week - or meal plan - can be done a variety of ways.  Mine is a two step process for the most part.  The first step is to make a list of meals that my family likes, and that have ingredients I typically have on hand.  I came up with a list of about 30-35 meals that are pretty easy to make, and can have different things switched out, depending on what is in my pantry.

I am not great with recipes.  I like to make things my own.  Plus, it is easier for me to just throw things together, rather than measure out a bunch of different ingredients.  I know that a lot of people can't do this, but I feel like I make my meals basic enough that anyone could do it.  Of course this means that I do not make elaborate gourmet meals every day.  And the fact that I try to make everything from scratch really does not allow me the time to make super fancy meals!

The second step is to go through my list of meals at the beginning of the week, and to also look at what I have on hand in order to make a grocery list.  A lot of my meals are centered around beans and rice.  Whether it be the traditional black beans and rice dish; spanish rice beside sauteed veggies; baked beans; refried beans and rice with salad.  Depending on the spices you use, you can have the same old beans and rice a variety of ways all week.  Of course, if you aren't vegetarian, you could add any meat that you like.

Once I have a handle on what is available in my pantry (and freezer) I will pick a few meals for the week.  I haven't mastered the art of making one meal for 4 people.  Instead, I typically make a meal, and it is enough for us to have for two dinners and most likely a lunch - and sometimes enough to put some in the freezer.  I use a lot of frozen veggies.  I find them very easy to throw into a stir fry, to saute, to just heat up and pair with the rest of the meal; and they are extremely economical.  Plus, frozen veggies are picked at the peak of freshness and then frozen.

After I pick my meals, I just write them down on either a sticky note and put it at the front of my binder, or I will put it on a piece of loose leaf paper if I am trying to plan more than dinner.  Then each day I simply write whatever meal I want in my daily planner sheet for the day.

It isn't the most deliberate form of meal planning out there, but I have found that if I list out every single meal for the week, I don't stick to it.  I end up having too much food at the end of the week.  Not that that is a big problem, but I prefer to use up all the fresh produce we have, and keep things simple.  Food is expensive and I don't want to waste it.

I also try to cook things in bulk once every couple of weeks.  It makes it easier to throw meals together in a short amount of time.  You can find out more about my cooking beans in bulk here.  Overall, it has worked for me to meal plan this way.  I also have a folder in my binder that holds pictures and recipes of meals that I would like to make, or if I am looking for some creative inspiration in the kitchen.  I love cooking, but I prefer to keep it simple.

How do you meal plan?  Do you end up with a lot of leftovers?  Do you try out a lot of new recipes each week, or do you mainly stick to the same recipes time and time again?

i love knitting hats!

There is something about knitting with 4 needles that is so fun for me!  Not that I am knitting the most difficult pattern in the world, but regardless it is fun.  Jack's hat is coming along nicely.  I think I am about half done with it.  I want to make sure that it is a little longer, because I find the kids like to fold up the front of the hat. It is a simple k3 p2 rib until the decreases.  And surprisingly, I have learned that doing decreases on a hat are not entirely hard.  Once I actually understood the process it made it very easy.  Can I explain it to you, faithful readers?  No, I cannot :-)

I haven't figured out what kind of yarn I will use for Emma's hat this year.  I'm thinking perhaps that I will use the same yarn as I used to knit her sweater.  I really like the green blue color, and find that it matches most of the clothes that she has.

The flowers are from Matt for our anniversary.  We had calla lilies at our wedding.  I love them.  And of course the red roses were a nice touch :-)  There is something about having fresh flowers in your home.  I am looking forward to the days that we can have potted plants around the house.  That will be a little while though, considering the kids like to climb up on the table/counters/back of the couch, really anything that is off the ground, so I am slightly concerned that if I had a potted plant on the floor, they would be in it.  I clean enough crumbs off the floor, I can't add dirt right now too!

As for the book that I am reading, well I did end up pulling out those history books I was talking about last week, but I haven't read them yet.  They are sitting right next to me actually!  Instead, I had seen the book 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess on another blog and decided to purchase it.  It is really interesting so far.  The premise is that the author realized she had too much excess in certain areas of her life, so over 7 months she took 7 areas of her life and reduced them to 7 "things."  The first month was food, so she chose 7 foods that she could eat for the month.  She had a council of friends that helped advise her, and with the food she was allowed salt, pepper and a bit of olive oil.  No other spices.  The next chapter is clothes, so she picks 7 items of clothing to wear for the month.  It is written in journal form, and really interesting so far.  What would it be like to limit ourselves, instead of taking as much as we want, and far more than we actually need?

I am joining Ginny in her yarn along today!


Yesterday was Matt's and my 7 year wedding anniversary.  Today marks 13 years of us being together as a couple.  It is kind of crazy to think that we have been together that long, but we have!  I am very thankful for my husband.  He is opposite me in many ways, calm while I am high strung, laid back when I need everything scheduled to the minute.  We balance each other amazingly well.  I'm lucky to have found him so early in life.  Happy Anniversary Matt!  I love you!

i'm growing weeds for a living...

We have had quite a bit of rain over the past week and a half.  Unfortunately, the weeds are outgrowing all the veggies...by a lot.  I thought I would have time to get the garden weeded this weekend.  Of course it didn't happen.  Matt is still perfecting the chicken coop, or maybe I should call it a chicken chalet!  It is going to be nicer than our house once it is finished.  At least I am learning that he is fully capable of building a house for us at some point!

My garden is producing some excellent veg for us right now.  I have been picking mustard greens for my salads, bok choy and swiss chard for my stir fries, as well as all the peas my kids can eat.  I always want to have enough peas to freeze for the winter, but it never works out.  And to be honest, I much prefer raw peas, shelled straight from the garden.  It seems like a waste to try and save them for the winter, they just don't taste as good.  Plus, my kids prefer them raw.  In fact, when I cook frozen peas, they typically turn up their noses.  Perhaps they have been spoiled from the fresh peas...

Out of my 5 winter squash hills, it appears that one is without squash bug and cucumber beetle damage.  I'm not entirely sure how that has happened, but I am happy that at least one of my hills has survived.  The others are still alive, but seriously stunted, and I am not sure they will recover with our short growing season.  On the plus side, I have found that my chickens LOVE to eat squash bugs.  I have been flicking them into a jar, and the putting them in the chicken coop, where they are immediately devoured by my chickens.  Have I mentioned lately how much I love them?

It is a good thing that I love them so much.  Why?  Because when I went to check on my potted plants (mainly peppers and tomatoes) I noticed that some of the small peppers had been pecked, and I actually watched one of the chickens eating all the tomato flowers...I'm trying to come up with a solution to that.  I haven't figured anything out yet.  We don't have our pots in a fenced area...or our garden...or our chickens for that matter.  We are kind of letting everything be as close to natural as possible.  For the most part the chickens leave the garden alone, and the potted veggies.  There is one that really enjoys pecking though...We are planning on eventually having some chicken wire enclose the chicks, but they seem so happy roaming freely around our very small .25 acres of land, I don't have the heart to fence them in.  In fact, I am even learning to love what we suspect is a rooster.  He helps to corral the girls into the hen house at the end of the day, and I will be sad to see him go because he is very good with the kids.  Maybe I am wrong, and he is actually a she, and that would make me happy!  But, I don't think we are mistaken.

It has been extremely satisfying to be able to go outside and gather small amounts of veg for our day to day eating.  The peas for snacks, the greens for our salads or stir fries.  I typically only grow the typical summer veggies like tomatoes/peppers/cucumbers/summer squash.  I am learning a lot about what we like, and that my kids will try anything that they plant and/or pick from the garden.  My carrots are doing extremely well.  I have gotten impatient and pulled a couple just to see if they are, in fact, producing purple carrots.  They are, and Emma is extremely excited to have those as a snack someday soon.

This week I will be pulling the rest of the peas and some of the greens, hopefully planting more carrots and more greens for later in the summer.  Maybe some slicing cucumbers and more summer squash if I can find seedlings for them.  I have no clue if it is too late to plant some of those things for later in the summer...maybe I will attempt it just to see, since I already have seeds.

I am linking up to the Barn Hop and Ginny's Saturday Garden Journal!

Don't forget to enter my giveaway for The Journeys of John and Julia here.  It is a great book!