Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Have You Ever Made a Gingerbread House?

My goodness it is super fun! I am going to start gathering my supplies to make one next week. What do you need? Your imagination is the limit on how you can decorate yours! In these three blog posts from a few years back, I take you through the steps on how to make one from scratch!

Make the cookie pieces ahead and plan a Saturday or a day off from school to decorate it with your kids!

Have fun!

Make Your Own Gingerbread House, Part I
Make Your Own Gingerbread House, Part II
Make Your Own Gingerbread House, Part III

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Colder Weather is Coming! Completing Some Pre-Winter Gardening Chores.

I had some chores to do out back and decided to take one of the warm days we had last week to accomplish my end-of-the-year gardening tasks.

It was 75 (23 c) degrees outside late last week and I needed to change the water in our hot tub (I despise doing this in the cold weather and today it is only going to be 61 (16 c) degrees!!! I am glad I did it last week.) While I was waiting for the hot tub to drain, I decided to pick some of the last summer squash (I got 12!) and also wanted to take cuttings from one of my plants that grew too big.

This plant is a frangipani. I got it at the outdoor market in New Orleans 2 weeks before Hurricane Katrina hit there in 2005. It took 11 years to get this big. It is over 6 feet (1.8 m) tall! I no longer have room for it in the house. (It must come inside for the winter where I live.) Time to take cuttings to save for next spring.

Taking cuttings is so easy! Just cut off a piece. I used a hand held saw.

These will stay in the grass until the white milky sap stops running. I am going to leave them there overnight. That is it! Store them in a cool dry place until next spring! (The leaves will drop off as the pieces go dormant.) Then, in the spring, I will replant them to start growing all over again!

FYI - if you live in a sub-tropical climate, they can can be planted outside in your landscaping.

Another pre-winter chore I do every year is to prune the apple trees and grapes. To me, the apple trees are easier than the grapes. As you can see in the first picture posted above, my grapes grow on a trellis. It is quite challenging to figure out which vine to cut! I use the power of prayer to help me decide which of the pieces needs to go!

Here is one of my pruned apple tree. You can see, the pieces I removed are piled in the front of the picture (along with the princess!). I will cut them into smaller pieces and save for kindling for the fire place - they will not be used until next winter - they need a while to dry out. Apple wood makes great soap so I will be saving the ashes from the fireplace! 

Pruning is necessary to make sure that branches do not rub on each other. (That invites diseases.) It also helps the tree to maximize the number of apples you get each year. Pruned trees produce more apples. The last thing I need to do is spray with dormant oil. I will do that when all the leaves fall for the year and the trees are truly dormant. That may not happen until mid December.

The hot tub was draining slowly so while I waited, I also decided to plant a few more bushes in one of the new landscaping areas I created this summer. This area has some encore azaleas (they bloom in the fall as well as the spring) and razzleberri chinense flowering bushes. These things grow 4 to 6 feet tall (1.2 to 1.8 m). They will be perfect to screen the view of the fence! I plan to mulch them tomorrow.

I also harvested some of the carrots and put up my mini greenhouse on one of the raised beds that is growing additional carrots, spinach and peas. This should produce all winter long!

Friday, November 18, 2016

Happy Birthday to My Princess!

It seems to me that I just brought her home last year! But alas, I took this picture almost 11 years ago! It was her first night at our home and she kept me up all night. She finally fell asleep at 9:00 am the next day and I snapped this picture.

My husband and I have had some wonderful times with Molly! She is the best dog we have ever had. We did something different with this one, we followed the guidance from Cesar Millan, (the Dog Whisperer). I have two of his books and am a fan of his TV show. It made a huge difference in Molly's behavior! (as compared to the other dogs we had in the past.) She is the sweetest girl, does what I tell her to do and likes to play jokes on us!

Sometimes I scratch my head at her antics!

I don't think we even had her a month when she climbed up on her daddy (OK, I helped her get up on the couch) and fell asleep.

Happy Birthday to 'the baby'!  We have had almost 11 great years together! I am hoping for many, many more!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Do you have an Emergency Car Kit?

For the past month, over in the featured post, I have featured articles about how to create & update an emergency car kit. Since winter is coming, I wanted to mention one last time how important it is to have a kit in your car. Take it from me, you will use it!

Just last week, I had a situation that required me to dig into my emergency car kit. I wouldn't call what happened 'an emergency' situation, but a situation none the less. My car kit came to the rescue!

Anyone who lives where it snows regularly, should definitely have one. What would happen if you got stuck in your car in the snow? Do you have snacks for the kids? Do you have warm blankets? Do you have any food for the dog? (I do not have food for my princess, but I make sure there are snacks that don't have chocolate in them that she could eat if it became necessary. I do carry water for her.) 

Do you have extra towels and hand wipes in case you are stuck in the rain or mud? My husband and I had a tire blow out on I-75 in North Florida once. It happened just after a hurricane, and the ground was very muddy. Our truck tires weight over 100 lbs each. It takes two people to change a tire. (Well when you are older, it sure does!) My husband and I were both covered in mud by the time we were done. The towels, hand wipes and a change of clothes were very necessary that day!

You don't need to go out an purchase new items to fill your kit. Mine features old blankets, old towels (some people may consider them rags), and old clothes that may be stained or have a spot or two of paint on them.

If you are creating an emergency car kit from scratch and need some ideas on what to put in it, check out the featured post on the left. However, tailor your emergency car kit to your family and your family's needs. My kit won't look like yours - and that is OK. I am not using your kit - you are. 

If you get stuck somewhere this winter, you will sure be glad you have it!

Friday, November 11, 2016

Happy Veteran's Day!

Veteran's Day isn't about a day off from work or sales at the store. 

In the words of Lee Greenwood:

And I am proud to be an American
Where at least I know I'm free
And I won't forget the men who died 
Who gave that right to me

And I'll gladly stand up
Next to you and defend her still today
Cause there ain't no doubt I love this land

I thank all my fellow veterans for their service.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Harvesting Your Own Loofah Sponges

This is the first year I have grown loofah sponges. I have no idea why I haven't done it before, it was so incredibly easy! Really! All I did was plant them in a plastic pot full of potting soil and put the pot in the mulch next to my fence. (I tried planting directly in the soil, but they didn't like my clay soil.) Here is a picture of some gourds left to harvest.

I think I watered them twice all summer - and we had a hot, dry summer! The only time I touched the plant is when it tried to climb the side of my house. I wanted it to stay on the fence so I pulled it off the house and used a twisty tie to secure it to the fence. I literately did nothing else! I planted three seeds and was blessed with 15 gourds that will make a lot of beautiful sponges! In reading about these sponges, I believe if I payed a bit more attention to them I would have gotten even more gourds. Still, if I can plant it and forget it, and still get 15, I consider it a win! Since it was so easy, I think I will plant more next year!

Fall is here and even though the temperature is still in the low 80's, it is time to start harvesting the sponges. I started with the first few gourds the plants produced. They were starting to yellow and dry out, exactly what you want when harvesting the sponge. 

I read that some people wait until the gourd is completely dry before harvesting. In my opinion, that will make it harder to peel. They are supposed to be easier to peel when still slightly moist. When you slightly squeeze it, you should be able to feel that the outer skin has separated from the sponge. Squeeze a bit harder and you will feel a 'gap' before you feel the sponge. 

Here is a picture of the second one I harvested. The first thing you need to do is to press your nail into the skin to create an opening to start the peel. (As you can see, Molly wanted to help!)

Then just peel the skin off. It does have a bit of a slimy feel to it - that is sap. 

Next, shake all the seeds out of it. I just slapped mine against the patio for the first two, but later on I switched to using a bucket (it is faster - just hit the sponge back and forth against the sides of the bucket.)

Now, it is time to clean it to remove the sap. I washed mine in a bucket with some soap, rinsed well and then let it dry in the sun.

You can find videos on the internet that say to soak the sponge in a bleach solution to get it white. I didn't do that - the sun works just fine! In this picture you can see the first one that dried in the sun (on the left) and the second one that I just finished washing (on the right).

I trimmed off the ends of the first sponge to provide some shape, and to size it for using in the shower. Some of the larger sponges that will be harvested next, I will cut up and use to make soap scrubbies for Christmas gifts! 

Stay tuned for that post later in the month!

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

'Treating' Poinsettia plants, Part 2

It has been one month since I sent my Poinsettia plants to 'treatment' to turn them red for Christmas. I thought I would provide an update on how they are doing. (If you want to read the original post, you can see that here.)

Some are doing quite well and others need more time in the darkness. It takes a few days to remember to consistently open the blinds in the morning and then shut them (as well as the door to the room) at night. I have been so busy in the garden that for the first two weeks, my application of their 'treatment' was spotty to say the least! I ended up putting a note on my refrigerator to remind myself both in the morning and at night. It has worked, and the last two weeks of the month I was much more consistent with the 'treatment'.

So this is what my plants look like now. These two plants are older. (This isn't their first time at the rodeo.) They 'get' what they are supposed to do; so (for me) older plants are always much easier to turn.

These three are baby plants from 4 inch pots last Christmas. I re-potted them this summer and they grew like weeds! It is their first time 'turning' in a home environment. They are still confused and don't quite understand what they are supposed to do (yet).

I am sure by November 15th or so, they too will start to turn red!