Gardening, Home and Family

Clearing the weeds

It has returned.  The attack of the weeds has begun again!  My herb garden is becoming over-run, so I have begun my nightly routine of 10-15 minutes of pulling what doesn’t belong.  (If I do any more than that at one time, my fibromyalgia flares and I am out of the game.)  Then I looked in my lawn and realized that the entire summer may be spent with a trowel and digger in hand!  Where to start?

Here is what I decided:

  • Begin with what can hurt me or the someone else.  Utah has these wonders called goat heads.  They resemble the caltrops used in the warfare to make a horse go lame, except they are small, wooden, and stick into feet about 1/8 of an inch.  OUCH!  There are also thistles with spikes, and other stickers of various shapes and sizes.  I have no mercy on any of them.
  • Move on to the vines which aren’t as much a threat to me but will choke my plants.  Bindweed looks similar to a miniature morning glory, but isn’t as pretty or as helpful.  Morning glory has large, gorgeous flowers which follow the sun and climb so that you can plant it and create your own privacy fence or trellis wall.  Lovely!  Bindweed, on the other hand, creeps along the ground, up the fences, and across everything in sight.  It sends out roots that cover the same area underground.  The only truly effective way to eradicate it is by hand-pulling it every time you see any.  AUGH!  No mercy here either.
  • Pull whatever else is there which shouldn’t be.  There are indigenous plants which pop up here and there.  One tug and out they come.  No big deal.  Just not invited into my lawn or garden.

What am I learning as I pull, tug, dig, and yank?  My life is also full of weeds.  Some aren’t necessarily dangerous; they just get in my way if I let them.  Others choke out the things I would prefer to have in my life instead.  They are the time and/or energy wasters.  I just need to be vigilant to keep them at bay or I will find everything I intended to grow and flourish is buried under something much less desirable.  Then there are those things which can really damage me or those I love.  Anger, worry, judging, selfishness, and vitriol can become so encompassing I lose sight of the beauty and grandure which surrounds me.  If I am not careful, they will steal my peace of mind, and make having a grateful heart near to impossible.  People are fallible, me included.  My garden grows as I accept them for who they are and what they have to share.  I grow as I share and accept and love.

Maybe as I weed this year, I can clear more ground than what is outside my window.

Cooking, Finances, Gardening, Home and Family, Homemaking, Organization, Parenting

Learning life’s grammar

(Just a note- this post is awfully close to a rant.)

I looked up the word “grammar” in the dictionary recently, and one of the definitions is the “basic or beginning principles of a subject.”  It is generally paired with language, but everything in life has a grammar to learn.  With that definition in mind, I started thinking about the following:

  • Life is based on eternal, unchanging rules. We will be happier when we serve, smile, and learn to love people.  There are absolutes.  Dishonesty is wrong.  End of story.  Giving of yourself brings blessings to you ten-fold.  Family is the basic unit of society and deserves the best we can give it.  God is good.  Talk to Him.  He will help!
  • Parenting is a challenge.  Your children are NOT simply blank slates to write on at your will. Take time and read about how children grow, and what is reasonable to expect.  Personalities differ.  Learn about them.  Everyone has their own set of gifts and challenges.  Go to those who seem to know what they are doing, and learn from them.  Being a parent is so much more fun when you aren’t trying to “reinvent the wheel” and you can relax a bit!
  • Learn how to get organized.  Read books.  Search online.  Talk with people.  Chaos is unnecessary and makes everything harder.  Things don’t have to be in cute, designer, matching containers where everything color-co-ordinates!  Just learn how to put things together, and have a system that makes sense to you.  When you learn the basics of how to organize your space, time, and resources, you can move through life more smoothly.
  • Everyone needs to learn how to cook.  Not just how to read a recipe (although that is a good thing too), but why what happens in the kitchen happens.  Most whole grains cook up similarly.  Which are exchangeable?  A white sauce, gravies, and many other pan sauces start with a roux. What about a “skeleton recipe” for muffins, bread, soups, or casseroles?  When you know the basics of what is involved, you can mix-and-match what you have to make something new.  Which foods can you freeze and want to eat again when they are thawed?  We won’t all be gourmet chefs but we can all learn how to feed ourselves and our families without poisoning someone, or depending on pre-made, processed food.
  • Cleaning can be much simpler and cheaper if you understand which cleaners can be used for multiple applications, and which cannot.  We use an all-purpose organic cleaner, vinegar, citrus, shampoo, baking/washing soda, and peppermint oil to clean.  Just a few things will leave my house looking great and smelling fresh.
  • You get one body in this life.  What are the basic rules of health and nutrition to keep it running smoothly?  How much sleep does your body need?  How are your eating habits?  Is exercise a foreign concept?  Health challenges come to everyone but we can choose to make the best of whatever comes our way.
  • Keep a budget.  Know the basic rules of finances and make them your friends.  We have to learn to live with them.  Remember: $3 income – $2 expenses= happiness; $5 income -$6 expenses= misery.
  • Growing your own food is a boon to your health and your budget…unless you buy all the newest gadgets, pay for premium seed in the tiny packets, and haven’t learned when, where, and how to put things in the ground.  You can grow your own starts but if you plant them outside too soon, you’ll need to grow your own starts twice.  Some plants don’t handle the cold well.  Others need to go in before the threat of frost is past.  Peas and spinach prefer cool weather, and will bolt or die off in the heat.  You don’t need the latest and greatest of everything to begin; just borrow a couple of books from the library, find out how things work best in your area, and start digging!
  • Don’t try to teach your children advanced skills without building a foundation.  If they don’t know their times tables, algebra will be frustrating!  In that same light, they need to learn how to compromise and problem-solve before you send them out into the workplace to get a job, or go to college.

There is so much “grammar” we never learned at school.  Today is a great day to start!

Cooking, Gardening, Home and Family, Homemaking, Organization

The right tools for the job

This evening, I was in the kitchen cooking dinner and happened to look around at the beehive of activity at my house.  I had both ovens going with food for dinner.  I was using various pans and Pyrex dishes for meal prep.  There was the immersion blender for mixing milk, and the spoons made of various materials for stainless steel and non-stick pans.  After we eat, the dishes will go into the dishwasher to get clean.

My husband and son-in-law were outside with the weed-whacker, mower, and tiller in use as they cleaned up the lawn, and prepped three grow-boxes for the corn and beans to be planted tonight.  Three loads of laundry are on the clothesline drying.

Downstairs were the washer and dryer helping me complete the days laundry.  (I don’t hang underwear, socks, towels, or wash cloths on the line.)  My daughter is teaching her five boys.  Some academics.  Some cleaning skills.  And sorting as she goes.

None of this would be possible without the correct tools for the job.  No tiller would mean a full day of amending and mixing soils before we can plant.  No immersion blender could result in lumpy milk.  Doing laundry with modern appliances just doesn’t bear thinking about at all.  And without the ability to plan and the correct supplies, raising and teaching children is tough!

We don’t have the “ideal” world of years gone by in which to rear a family, but we don’t have to go plow the “back forty” with a horse and plow either.  I will take the 21st century anytime!  I will use my curriculum, my scriptures, and lots of time talking with the young ones as I use the wonderful tools at my disposal!  We are so blessed!

Cooking, Finances, Homemaking

What’s for dinner?

One of the hardest tasks in any given week for me is meal planning.  Most of our meals require scratch cooking and so thought is required.  This would be easier if cost were no object.  Steak, salmon, etc. are quick, simple, and yummy, but the budget calls for more time thinking and a bit more creativity.  So we plan.

What’s for dinner tonight?  Pinto beans cooked in ham stock (home-bottled), rice (with a bit of the same stock), corn bread, apple slices, veggie strips, and, if I can locate it in the freezer, a bit of ham.  Cost?  Pennies.  But it is one of our families favorite meals.

What else is on tap in the coming days?

Leftover turkey (the freezer again) with homemade gravy, mashed potatoes (an easy way to use up the final bit of last autumn’s harvest),  garden corn and peas (love that freezer!), and some kind of bread with apple butter (home bottled).

Homemade fish sticks for fish tacos.  Served with tortillas, shredded lettuce and cabbage, tomatoes, cucumber, taco sauce, sour cream, and just a bit of grated cheese.

Baked ziti (using home bottled tomatoes), salad, and bread.  Another favorite!

Sandwiches with crock-pot beef (save the broth when the meat is done, add a bit of soup base, and you have au jus for dipping), and fresh veg.

One night will be a “fend for yourself” dinner.  That’s the night we pull all the leftovers out of the fridge, and each assemble a plate from whatever is there.  Sometime lots of one or two things; sometimes just bits of this and that.  This meal often happens the night before I do the big monthly shop.  It is a great way to use up some left-overs, make room in the refrigerator, and it reminds me what I need to use creatively in the next day or so.

We generally plan our meals a week-ish in advance.  Planning any further ahead doesn’t seem to work at our house.  Food is something that connects with our emotions as well as feeds our bodies, so often we adjust to accommodate what we “feel like eating.”  I work off of the Pantry Principle, so the cupboards are stocked with most of what I need at any given time.  I shop for sales and mark-downs in order to replenish what we use.  (My favorite books for learning about the Pantry Principle are Beating the High Cost of Eating by Barbara Salsbury, and The Complete Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyzyn.)

Other favorite meals include spaghetti and meatballs (with homemade sauce), enchilladas, salads, grilled cheese or quesadillas with fruit (and soup if it is cold), tuna casserole, chili, bbq chicken sandwiches, alfredo pasta with chicken, sloppy joes, meatloaf, and meal-in-ones (bread dough rolled as if for cinnamon rolls and filled with meat and a bunch of cheese.  YUM!).  Whatever meal we are serving includes lots of fruit and/or vegetables-sometimes fresh, sometimes bottled- so that out entire family develops the habit of eating more than just a protein and a starch.

The menus change with the seasons.  Spring is the time for strawberry shortcake, and clearing the cellar to make room for the up-coming growing season’s harvest.  In a few months, we’ll eat more things utilizing fresh garden produce and less meat.  In the middle of winter, we eat more meat and/or homemade soups with less fresh veg.  It is the most economical way to feed the family, and ensures that we are eating things when they are at the peak of the season for the best flavor.  The best of both worlds!

What’s for dinner at your house?



Finances, Home and Family, Organization

Look at things differently!

“The true economy of housekeeping is gathering up the fragments so nothing is lost.”  Mrs. Lydia Childs  The American Frugal Housewife

One of the challenges of the 21st century is the seeming need for two incomes and the ever-increasing need for there to be a full-time parent in the home. This challenge can be met; it just requires some careful budgeting and a willingness to look at things a bit differently.

One strategy we used to stretch what we had was to live by the adage:

Use it up. Wear it out.
Make it do or do without.

There are so many items we regularly toss into the garbage/recycling which could meet some of our needs if we look more closely at them.  Consider the following:

  • Cereal bag liners are made from restaurant grade wax paper.  Anything you would use wax paper (or sometimes plastic wrap) is free in your cereal box.
  • The bottom 2 inches of a milk jug makes a handy plunger saucer.  When it needs replacing, you can easily find another one!
  • Old calendars often have artwork that can be framed (second-hand frames, of course) and mounted in your home.
  • Shoe boxes make great storage for pictures, and your children’s treasures.
  • Old cotton t-shirts make some of the best cleaning rags you will ever find.
  • You can make magazine holders from cereal boxes.
  • Yard sale season is almost upon us.  Start your list, pray about it, and off you go!
  • Second hand sweaters can be unraveled for yarn if you knit.
  • Save a nice pair of jeans or two and a couple shirts for each child to wear in public.  They don’t need a closet full of new clothes.  Just a few to look presentable in as you are out and about.  They can wear their favorite, old, possibly holey clothes at home.. Change out of public wear when you get back from errands, etc.
  • Cheap shampoo makes some of the best bathroom cleaner.  It is made to cut through the oil in our hair, so bathtub rings, tacky sinks, and even ring-around-the-collar is no match!  Add baking or washing soda if you want something a tad more abrasive.
  • Want to redecorate?  Remove everything from a room or two.  Reintroduce things to new places.  Group like items as you decorate to make focal points.  You can get a new room or two without spending a dime.
  • Open-ended toys are often the best.  Wooden blocks (look for a shop or cabinet maker locally.  They make have scraps you can use to create your own set).  Legos.  Dolls (make your own clothes, furniture, etc.).  Balls and other sports equipment.  Child-friendly cleaning and cooking tools.
  • Apple and orange boxes from your local grocery make great storage boxed for your children clothes that are too small (and waiting for the next child), or too big (and waiting for them to grow).
  • Go to the park, or local nature walk area for lunch.  Take a picnic you all helped create.  Have a great day as a family without entrance fees, or expensive souvenirs.  Take lots of pictures!
  • Visit a second-hand store to purchase board games and puzzles.  Use them for fun family nights.  Pop some popcorn, make a batch of cookies, or some hot chocolate, and enjoy time with each other.  Invite your children’s friends, and get to know them as well.  No electronics needed!
  • Books are great things to find second-hand.  Great information, stories, and craft ideas for pennies on the dollar.  Cook books for your scratch cooking adventures.  Enjoy!
  • Gather perennials starts from friends to landscape your yard.  If you offer to help with yard work, you can often glean great plants for free.
  • Use cardboard egg cartons for planting your tender vegetable starts.  Each cup hold one of two seeds.  By the time they are big enough to plant outside, the egg carton cups come apart easily.
  • Plant those things which give back.  Fruit trees, berry bushes, grape vines, etc. are fun to use for landscaping, change with each season, and feed your family.  Win!
  • Reuse old headboards, ladders, and such for decorative trellising.  They are sturdy, add visual interest, and it keeps them out of the landfill.
  • Keep things clean.  Order and organization helps you make better use of what you have, and can make staying home a more pleasant alternative to shopping.  If your kitchen is clean, you are more likely to be able to cook in it.  If your family room is orderly, it invites people to use it.  This is a co-operative effort for the entire family.
  • Learning about interior decorating, the up-coming fashions, make-up and hair, and other creative outlets gives you the ability to save money without feeling as though you are decades behind everyone else.  Find what you love, and use it!

There are thousands of ways to reuse things, or find them at a discount so that you don’t need to go purchase new at high prices.  Second-hand shopping and yard sales can provide great finds for cheap.  Google thrift, tightwad, reuse, or cheap for a lifetime of ideas of ways to save money, and still provide what your family needs.  Make saving money a family adventure rather than feeling deprived because of your budget.  Attitude and creativity make all the difference!

Some of my favorite books on this subject are:

The Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyzyn

Living More With Less by Doris Longacre

Money Secrets of the Amish by Lorilee Craker

A Simple Choice by Deborah Taylor-Hough

Beating the High Cost of Eating by Barbara Salsbury

How to Survive Without a Salary by Charles Long

Gardening, Home and Family, Homeschooling

Gardening and life lessons

The garden is one of my favorite class rooms. Beyond the obvious botanical lessons, the opportunities for learning and understanding some great life lessons are right before you!

Reminding the grandkids that we will harvest what we plant is a yearly ritual that seems to get sillier as time goes by.

Grandma, “Hey, M, this corn seed will give us some great melons, don’t you think?!”

M, giggling, “No.  But the corn will be really good!”

Grandma, “Are you sure?  Does that mean we can predict what is going to happen by what we do?”

M, “Yeah.  That is how it works.”

Grandma, “Okay.  I guess we’d better be careful what habits we plant!”

At six and seven years old, I know they only understand part of the conversation, but it is a life lesson that will stick with them.

Teaching about the importance of consistency and follow-through is so easily done with plants.  If you don’t weed, water, or tend to things as needed FOR THE WHOLE SEASON, you won’t reap what you took time to sow.  Stopping half way through or trying to play a frantic game of catch-up in August is no way to get good results!

As learn about the needs of different types of plants, you can increase your yield.  Peas need cool weather.  Melons need consistent watering.  Peppers and hot peppers need to not cross-pollinate!  People are much the same way.  If you take the time to understand how they “tick”, you will often get much better results!  Sometimes they need to be fussed over.  Some prefer alone time.  Some thrive in the lime light.  Others want to be in the background helping others shine.  Help your children see the differences and appreciate them!

One of the most difficult life lessons for just about anyone to learn is best illustrated by gardeners.  Dung is a necessary part of life.  It helps plants grow.  It adds vital nutrients to the soil.  And it invites the worms to come and break up the hard places so that roots can grow down deeper into the soil.  Our challenges are the same way.  We all have times when we have to deal with things we would like to avoid, but the growth that comes from making the best of what we are dealt creates a person who has more to give.

And the lessons go on….

Happy gardening!

Finances, Gardening

Favorite gardening books

We are finally getting a taste of spring!  Warmer days, cool nights, sunshine, and buds on the tips of trees.  Time to think about the garden!

In our home, we sit down and talk about what each person would like to eat, preserve, or try during the coming growing season.  Once we have our list made, and our garden planned and drawn on graph paper, it is time to inventory our seeds and decide what new thing we will be trying.  Some years we try a new variety of vegetable.  Some years we experiment with a different growing method.  But each year many things remain the same.  We always plant peas, and corn, and tomatoes, and cucumbers.  We always work as a family.  The weeds always seem to get a bit beyond us by late August.  And we always eat well!

The amount of food that is produced from just a few seeds can be worth some thought!  We have a large garden plot and plant around two dozen different kinds of veg, but even if you have just a bit of space, you can eat well with a few tomatoes plants, one cucumber, some lettuce, a squash, and a couple pepper plants. You can even share a packet of seeds with a friend or neighbor, and split the cost if you only need a small amount.

Not sure how or where to start?  Here are some of my favorite books.  They cover a variety of options for gardening.  Enjoy!

1001 Hints & Tips for Your Garden published by Reader’s Digest

The 12-Month Gardener  by Jeff Ashton

Carrots Love Tomatoes and Roses Love Garlic by Louise Riotte

Great Garden Companions by Sally Jean Cunningham

Gardening When It Counts by Steve Solomon

Garden Smarts by Shelley Goldbloom

The Organic Gardener’s Handbook of Natural Insect and Disease Control by Barbara W. Ellis and Fern Marshall Bradley

Seed to Seed: Seed Saving and Growing Techniques for Vegetable Gardens    Suzanne Ashworth

Crops in Pots by Bob Purnell