Friday, June 28, 2013

A Crisis with the Rainwater Collection System!

We had a crisis with our rain barrel yesterday. Well, that is not really accurate. A better description would be: Molly had a crisis with the rain barrel downspout yesterday. I was working in the garden on the other side of the house. Molly comes running over to me, crying. I look at her strangely, because she never does that. So I stop to pet her and talk to her. She warmly takes the affection but when I stop, she starts crying again.  So, this time I ask her what she wants and she runs to the other side of the yard. Like a good mother, I follow her. She jumps up on the rain barrel (just her front legs - she is pretty big) and starts clawing at the downspout. 

Once I get her out of the way, I can hear that she isn't the only one crying. There is some kind of critter in the downspout making moaning noises! When I take the down spout out of the rain barrel, the thing climbs higher, still crying. Molly is running around silly at my feet so I knew I just couldn't leave the downspout hanging, hoping whatever was in there would run out. So, I go get the ladder and climb up to disconnect the downspout from the gutter. (Molly is still clawing at the bottom of the downspout while I am off getting the ladder.) As soon as I disconnect it, I drop it to the ground and a chipmunk runs out, across the yard, up onto the wood pile and over the fence into the neighbors yard.

Now, this isn't just any chipmunk. This is THE chipmunk.  The one and only chipmunk that has been eating all my peanut seeds, strawberries and more recently, tomatoes! He was big and fat too! Much bigger than the last time I saw him. How he got in there I don't know!  Did he fall in from the roof? He didn't look injured when he ran across the yard. A better question would be, why could he not get out the same way he got in? 

Well, I reassembled everything and put the downspout back up. But, I had one problem. Between Molly clawing at the end of the downspout, and the movements of the pipe, (it is flexible plastic), by the time I got it back into its original shape, a lot of the paint popped right off the thing! It looks ugly! BAD ugly! I took a picture this morning.

It still doesn't look too bad from the front yard, hardly any paint came off the top. I haven't decided if I am going to repaint it or not. I don't want to do it. Another paint job will classify this as a project that requires too much maintenance. However, if someone complains, I will need to take it down and redo it. I may look again for some white tubing, even if I need to special order it. 

I know one thing, if it happens again, I am going to let that chipmunk drown.

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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Saving Seeds from Bi-Annuals

Saving seeds from plants that only flower every two years is not the same as saving seeds from squash, tomatoes, or peppers. First, it is a long wait! Second, lots can go wrong in two years! So, I always feel fortunate when one of these plants flowers. It means the seeds are not far away!

I have two plants this year that are in flower, a carrot and onion. I planted this carrot in a batch in the Fall of 2011. Somehow it got outside of the raised bed and got stuck between the raised bed and the the neighbor's fence. I tried to dig it out in January of 2012 when I harvested the rest of the carrots but it would not budge! (The space between the raised bed and the fence is about two inches so I didn't have a lot of room to dig!) Anyway, I left it there. Last summer the top got a bit bigger with some additional leaves. It stayed that way until about three weeks ago. I noticed the leaves making stems and getting taller. It was at about 18 inches then.  Since I was busy with work, I hadn't been outside to monitor it, until a few days ago. WOW! The greens on the carrot are almost as tall as me! It has beautiful flowers - here is a picture.

The picture is a bit dark because I took it at 9:00 p.m. without a flash. The tallest flower comes up to my chin! I can't wait to gather these seeds!

I am also anticipating gathering seeds from onions. I grew this onion from seed three years ago. It wasn't big enough to eat last year so I decided to save it for seeds. It overwintered in my kitchen pantry in a paper bag. I planted it this year in mid-March. This picture was also taken at 9:00 pm so it is a bit dark as well.

Can you imagine not having fresh seeds available at the store every year? Even though I don't purchase seeds every year, I am glad they are there in case something happens to my plants. Here in the 21st century,  I have the ability to start over with fresh seeds should something go wrong. Think of your great-grandparents, if they wanted seeds, they had to save them from plants they grew themselves. Seeds were expensive to purchase, if they were available at all. If your seed crop failed, you didn't get any! I am sure it was complete disappointment when the plants they were depending on died before they got to harvest seeds.

I can state this with certainty because I was also attempting to save seeds from parsley. The plant looked beautiful about a month ago - the flowers were just about to bloom. Today it is dead! No seeds from parsley this year!  The plant didn't die a natural death, it had help! All the new parsley I planted this year are now dead too!! I found them all yesterday. I grew them all from seeds, so I was very disappointed. 

However, as Scarlett O'Hara said, "Tomorrow is another day!" So, off I shall go - to the store to purchase some new parsley plants!

Friday, June 21, 2013

How Are You Coming Along on Your Frugal Journey?

All of us have ups and downs on our frugal journey, so the goal should be to continue looking for ways to spend less. Sometimes moving ahead is just a tiny step that saves a few pennies here and there and sometime it is a lifestyle change that creates a giant leap forward and saves a lot!

If you haven't experienced either in a while, may I suggest you try again! I found a blog post that talks about some common reasons your frugal journey may not be working for you right now. 

The topics spoke about in this blog post are not new ideas. Still,  it is always good to step back and remind yourself what your frugal goal is and refresh your commitment to this lifestyle.

One of the wonderful things a new day brings is the chance to start over! If you haven't been very frugal lately, tomorrow morning wake up to a renewed commitment to living frugally.

Or, better yet, do it today!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Big Event: The Trek!

Wow! Was it hot on the Trek! Well, that is what you get in June in the southeast! It was still a lot of fun. The actual Trek route had to be modified a bit because the river was too high to cross safely with the handcarts. Instead of crossing the river with a full handcart, the families got the option of taking the handcart across the river empty. Some families did. Other, just decided to go in the water to cool off!

Here are some pictures.

This picture was from the first night of the Trek. The families just left Nauvoo, but haven't really started the long walk yet. You can see some of the 5 gallon buckets each person got to hold all their belongings, as well as the fact that all teenagers are a bit messy!

Almost all of the journey was uphill or downhill! This is a picture of one of the few sections that was flat!  This picture was taken near the start of the journey on the first day.

Some sections were quite muddy! It took some planning to figure out how to get the carts through the mud.

There was also a steep uphill section that was a 'women's only' pull. This was to represent the time when all the men left the train to go fight in the Mexican-American war (1846 - 1847).  The only way the women (and children) made it was for all to stop and help wagon by wagon through the difficult sections. It really was a miracle that those women made it across the plains by themselves! This time period is known as 'The Mormon Battalion'. Here is a picture of our girls starting off at the bottom of the hill.

Here is the biscuit stop. We came out on the trail to handout the biscuits. In this picture, you can see a bit of my blue dress in the middle of the group.

Here is the river crossing. This picture was taken standing at the top of a hill. You can see the kids below getting ready to go into the water.

Just a few more pictures...

All I can say is it was such an amazing experience! This is something that you can read about in history books but honestly, the history books can't really put into words all the trials and hardships our ancestors had as they crossed this country. The only way to truly get even a small taste of what it was like, is to go yourself!

I feel very blessed to have had just a small part in such a wonderful experience! I know I will never forget it!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Welcome to Nauvoo, 1846!

It was the first day of the Trek and I was in Nauvoo! We recreated the entire town! The Trek families were divided into groups and every 30 minutes we did a round robin so all the families got to visit all the stops. We had speakers at each stop to talk a bit about what would happen there in a typical day. There was a gunsmith shop, blacksmith shop, wagon shop, bakery, mail office, general store, schoolhouse, personal homes, and even a jail! 

We recreated Carthage jail. Carthage is a small town about 20 mile southeast of Nauvoo. The prophet Joseph Smith was murdered in this jail in 1844. The 'actors' in the jail told this story. The entire day was a mix of history lessons about what life was like in 1846, as well as a stop in the bakery to gather food supplies and a trip to the wagon shop to pick up their handcarts! It was super fun!

I didn't get many pictures of the hussle and bussle of the day because I was busy! Most of the day I was in the general store with my quilt - teaching the kids how to tie it. The day was over before I knew it! I didn't even get to visit the gunsmith or blacksmith shop! (They were outdoors and had fires going.)

I did manage to take a few pictures before everyone arrived in 'town'. So here is a snapshot of what it looked like:

A corner of the schoolhouse.

 A corner of the general store.

In this picture of the bakery, I am looking out of the ordering window. The families came to the window to order their food supplies. (Everything was rationed, but they did get a few choices in what they wanted to eat.) There were also 'bakery displays' located around the room.

The bakery.

The post office.

The schoolhouse. 

In this picture of the general store, you can see my pink quilt sitting in the middle of the room.  That is where I was stationed. The tables in the back were for each family to have a practical exercise in gathering clothing and supplies from around the room. Once they picked what they thought was necessary for the trip, the items were weighted. The families were allowed 17 pounds per adult and 10 pounds per child. It was an eye opening exercise to show how very little the pioneers got to take with them. If their handcart weighed too much, they would not survive the grueling trip to Salt Lake City! (This wasn't their real clothing for the 3-day Trek -  just a history lesson. Each person got a list of what to bring with them beforehand. However, they were not allowed to bring anything that was not on the list! Everything they brought on the Trek had to fit in a 5 gallon bucket!)

The general store.

Overall, it was a wonderful day! Everyone had lots of fun and learned a bit about what life was like in 1846 before the pioneers left Nauvoo.

I am soooo glad I got to participate!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Cooking with Food Storage: Pioneer Biscuits

My deepest apologies for not posting in a week - I have been so busy with work and the rest of the Trek preparations. I did manage to make my apron after all, and the four loaves of bread. I finished all the quilt preparations as well. Now it is onto the Trek!

In the meantime, I thought I would show you how to make the biscuits we are baking for everyone on the Trek. We experimented quite a few times to make sure we got something everyone would love and would be quick and easy to make. This post is the recipe we decided on.

We used a premade mix that is available at the big box stores.

There is a biscuit recipe on the back of the box, and that is the reference point we started with. However, we modified it to save prep time.  The recipe on the box is really simple:

3 cups biscuit mix
1 cup milk

The directions state to moisten the mix and then roll it out and use a biscuit cutter to make the biscuits. We decided to turn this mix into drop biscuits. No rolling pins or biscuit cutters needed. So we changed the ingredients as follows:

3 cups biscuit mix
1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups milk

Now we didn't use fresh milk from the store. We mainly used powdered milk (along with some ultra pasteurized milk that was about to expire). We reconstituted it before measuring  (normally, I just add the powder to the dry mix and then use water.) The reason I give a range for the milk is because we were looking for a certain consistency, and sometimes the batter only needed 1 1/4 cups milk and sometimes it needed 1 1/2 cups. With that in mind, lets make some biscuits! 

All the pictures below were taken at the house of my biscuit making partner. She doesn't have a four legged one standing in the kitchen, getting in the way trying to help!

Start with 3 cups of mix. Then add the milk. I only added 1 1/4 cups at first and then added the extra 1/4 cup if it was needed.

Mix it in quickly, however, don't over mix it. It can make the biscuits tough if you over mix it. To make drop biscuits, you need a dough that is more moist. It should have a 'sticky' look to it and not be a typical biscuit dough. Here is a picture of mine.

Drop the dough by a large spoon to make the size you want. We were looking for big biscuits - about 3 inches round. I dropped the dough in a circle that was about 2 1/2 inches round. The extra moisture in the dough made them spread to 3 inches. Be sure to place on a greased cookie sheet. I used Pam. Here is what they should look like.

Then I added a bit of shredded cheddar cheese to the top.

Bake them at 450 degrees for 11 minutes. When they come out of the oven, they should look like this.

We decided to make some honey butter to spread on them. No measuring involved here. We used softened butter and mixed it with honey to taste. We will cut them in half and butter them for the groups because they don't have time to stop and butter their own. We will serve them in big wicker baskets and let each person take what they want. Here is the final result.

Of course, we sampled all of our testing! They were delicious!!

Friday, June 7, 2013

Walking in Your Ancestor's Shoes: A Trek Update

Well, it is coming down to the wire here and I still have a lot to do before Trek starts! Last Sunday at Church, they passed around a new roster asking for additional baked goods to go into the bakery in Nauvoo. This is part of the food the families will take with them on the Trek. I signed up to bake four loaves of whole wheat bread. I am going to use the recipe I got from my friend Chef Tess' web site. I have made that recipe many times before and featured it on this blog, last year. If you are interested, you can see that recipe here.

Normally, making bread is no big deal to me. I bake bread a lot. However, I was handed a new tight deadline at work on Wednesday and now I am wondering how I am going to get it all done! I think I am going to use the magic of electricity and bake the bread this weekend and then put them in the freezer. While I normally would not use electricity to make or keep bread (mine sits on the counter most of the time), when work overwhelms, sometimes you just don't have a choice! These four loaves of bread are in addition to the 200 biscuits I must make and the quilt I am donating. 

The lady who is helping me make the biscuits suggested we make many of them ahead of time and freeze them as well. I will spend some time today making some of the biscuits. (I'll post about how we make the biscuits next week.)  I will probably make the bread tomorrow.

Now for the quilt. I don't have an updated picture, but I did manage to finish the top, sew together the backing I wanted, and select the batting. I have not sandwiched them all together yet. I expect to complete that tomorrow night.

I have made the most progress on my dress. Here is a picture.

It still isn't finished but I did try it on for a fit. The fabric is a bit thin, but it was only $2.00 a yard at the big box store. I wasn't going to spend a fortune on a dress! Most of the women walking west didn't have any money for new clothes so I wasn't going to spend a lot either. It still needs a zipper in the back and hems at the bottom and on the sleeves. The neck isn't finished either but I am still unsure what I want to do. The pattern calls for a high collar and I don't know if I want that since I will be outside in the heat for 2 days. I have some extra eyelet lace so I may just use that for an edging. I haven't started on the bonnet yet. I may not get to the apron.

Between working on my new project at work and working on my all of my Trek chores, I expect it to be a very busy weekend!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Garden Update

I didn't really plan to make a garden update so soon after my last one, but a lot has happen in my garden since last week, so I thought I would tell you about it.

First, is to mentioned that it rained. While this isn't an event in itself, this is the first rain since I installed my rainwater collection system. It wasn't a big rain storm, no thunder or lightening. It rained hard for a few minutes and then slow and steady for about an hour. Well, the rain barrel is completely filled! So much so, that water spilled out the overflow valve! Wow, my 55 gallon drum is too small to do the job!! It usually rains a lot harder here in the summer. I am going to attach a hose to the overflow valve to move the runoff to a part of my garden. Today, I will order a second barrel to hook up to the overflow valve. Let me also make the comment that this rain barrel is hooked to the smallest section of roof line on my house. Now I know why people who harvest rainwater from their entire roof alway bury a huge tank underground in the back yard. The amount of water you can collect this way is unbelievable!

Next, I harvested the garlic and some of the carrots. The garlic is decent sized but not as big as I would have like. Ditto on the carrots. The carrots averaged about 3 - 4 inches long. A little small for me. However, since we had such a cold spring and then it turned hot (well, not hot for me but hot for carrots) I guess I shouldn't complain about the size. Instead, I should be thankful that we got a harvest at all. Besides, they are in part of the garden where the average sun is only about 6 hours a day. If I want bigger garlic and carrots, they are going to need to be planted somewhere else with more sun! There are about 25 garlic bulbs total and I don't know how many carrots (I didn't count them.) Here is a picture of a handful of each.

Third, my husband and I did something unusual for the garden this past weekend. It was time to net the strawberries and blueberries to keep the creatures from eating them. The past years, I just draped the netting over the plants. However, I must tell you that I have always found this practice to lead to less than satisfactory results. The bird netting gets caught on the berries and we always lose a lot when we go to remove the netting to pick some. I would estimate that we lose about a quart of blueberries and a half quart of strawberries each year. 

Well, no more! This year we installed a series of pvc pipes to keep the netting off of the berries. We were discussing this earlier in the year and my husband mentioned that what we really need were camo net supports. (My apologies to anyone who has never been in the service and doesn't know what camo supports are.) While camo supports are available at Army/Navy surplus stores, they are too expensive to purchase. Instead, my husband went to the home improvement store and got some pvc pipe and we made some net supports. They aren't pretty but they are working beautifully. Even better, you can't see them from the road so my neighborhood association won't be asking me to take them down.  For just a few dollars worth of pipe, we got functional (if not very pretty) supports! Here is a picture.

The ones over the blueberries can come down about mid July. The ones over the strawberries, will stay there until November. You may be able to notice some of the rocks I used to hold down the netting so the birds will not fly under it. I will admit the birds love the new 'perches' sitting over the blueberries. Even with the netting draped over them, every morning I noticed a bird 'meet up' happening on them. It never crossed our minds that the birds would love sitting on them. If I have the camera out some morning  I will try to get a picture of all of them.  They look similar to the way you see birds sitting on telephone wires. I do so hope they don't poop all over the blueberries! If they do, then I may have to break down and purchase the cammo net supports after all!

Lastly, I repotted the tobacco. While repotting this year, I lost a lot of the tender root system from the old pots. Much more than I was comfortable with. So, to allow them time to recover, they are in shade half the day. This will set them back a bit, but hopefully in a few weeks I can move them to the front yard to plant in the ground. I will probably lose a few leaves while they recover, but I don't anticipate any problems once they get their 'feet' back. This variety is a different one from last year. This year, I planted wild tobacco. It is more potent than cultivated varieties, but doesn't grow as big. I also have some of the cultivated variety called 'one sucker' in my front yard. It self-sowed itself in the same place I had it growing last year. Once it gets bigger, I will take a picture of it. Here is a picture of the baby wild tobacco. 

Next up on the chore list is to replant the peanuts that the chipmunk ate and cover them so they will germinate! Then, I will need to add some compost to the raised beds and get the squash and green beans planted.

A gardener's work is never done!