Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Fragile Little Elf

Like most kids,  mine love their elf in the shelf.  The girls understand they can't touch her or play with her,  but Ronan just doesn't care.  He knows he's not allowed,  but does anyway.  That's why this happened:

Do you think this will get it into his head?  No,  I didn't think so either.  But at least this way I don't have to come up with new creative ways to pose or elf! 

Monday, August 31, 2015

2 Fast and Easy Minecraft Projects

So my daughter chose a Minecraft theme for her 7th birthday party!  It was pretty exciting, except that there's no Minecraft party goods in stores (not that I have found anyway).  So I made a few projects at home.  They were so easy, fast, and inexpensive! Can't beat that.

I started with the Steve head.  I made this the morning of the party, and it took less than 30 minutes!  Unfortunately, I didn't think to get any in progress photo's for you, but really -- I think it's pretty obvious when you look at the finished product.  Then literally 5 minutes before kids were set to arrive, I said to my husband "we don't have any games!  Maybe I should make a 'pin the tail on the pig' game and we could use the Steve head as a blind fold?"  He looked at me like I was crazy.  I knew he was thinking 'you have 5 minutes... it'll never happen.'  But I already had it in my mind how I could very quickly make this pig, and in less than 5 minutes! 

So I did.  And below you'll see a quick and dirty explanation of how I went about making these projects so you can do them too!

Steve Head:
1. Start with any box that is roughly square, I used an old box from baby wipes
2. Use full sheets of brown to cover sides of box.  You can use any adhesive you like. (If you prefer only one face, cover 3 sides)
3. Stack several sheets of black construction paper and cut them into squares that are roughly 1/6 the width of your box.  It's better to err on the side of too large because you can always overlap them;  too small and you'll have gaps between your squares, or you'll need to add an extra and they won't line up.
4. Following the pictures above, use 6 squares of black across the top of the face, then one on each side of the face just below the top row.  Then to create the mouth use 3 squares, centered on the bottom, and a half square above each side of the mouth. 
5. (optional) follow step 4 on opposite side of box to create another face. 
6. Create the eyes using a square of white, with a half square of black placed on top and position on face.
7. Use a small square to make the nose.  I did not have a good color for this, so I simply cut a square of brown packaging tape and stuck it on for the nose.
8. Cover the entire top of the box with the black squares (and back of head if you chose not to create the optional second face)
9. Following the second picture above, apply 2 full rows of black squares along top of box, then continue down center until you reach the bottom of the box (or for one face, continue down 2/3 of box, leaving brown exposed next to face).

Pin The Tail on The Pig:
1. Start with a large sheet of paper, foam board, cardboard, etc.  I didn't have a single large sheet, so I used invisible tape to piece together two sheets of 11x17 printer paper.
2. Place a full sheet of pink construction paper for the pigs body.  It should be slightly to the bottom right of center.  Perfection is NOT necessary! Leave a space un-stuck for the legs to go under.
3. Use 4 rectangles of pink for the pigs legs and place them under the body as pictured above.
4. Cut a square of pink paper about 6"x6" and place as shown for head.
5. Cut a square of red paper about 2"x2" for the nose and place on face.  (Optional: cut a few smaller squares and place on pigs back for freckles)
6. Using black and white paper, create eyes as shown above that are slightly wider than they are tall and place on face.
7. For tail: cut a long strip, about 2" wide of pink.  Cut a long strip about 1/2" wide of red.  Using invisible tape, tape them together as pictured blow.  Then cut along dotted lines (about 1/2" thick) to create tails.
And you're done!  Have each kid write their name on their piggy tail and affix a small piece of tape to it.  Spin 'em around a few times, and see who gets the closets.  Enjoy the laughter the ensues.
Happy Minerafting,

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Planting and Maintaining Tomatoes

The absolute minimum you need to do when planting using biodegradable cups is to remove the bottom.  Even though these cups are designed to biodegrade quickly, it still takes months, and will prevent the roots of your plants from expanding into the surrounding soil.  Just gently tear off the bottom, and loosen the roots.

Though many say it is not necessary to remove the remainder of the biodegradable material, I always peel as much off as comes off easily.  Sometimes the roots have begun to penetrate this layer and only small portions come off, but sometimes (as shown above) the entire casing will fall away when gently pulled on.  Again, just lightly loosen the outside roots. Then, simply plant in hole even with surrounding soil.
A few weeks after transplanting you'll need to start to sucker (or prune) your tomatoes.  You  may think that the more vines your plants grow the better, but this isn't the case.  Most tomato plants will continue to grow their vines through the entire summer.  All those vines take a lot of water and energy to maintain, and that's water and energy that won't be put into producing fruit!!

When 'suckers' form, so named because they suck production away from the fruit, begin plucking them off.  You can use small scissors, or just pinch them with your fingernails.  You'll know the suckers because they'll be small vine sprouts that form in the 'armpit' of the main stalk and auxiliary stems.

Be very careful though, because early blossoms and often look like these suckers and if you remove those as well you'll end up with a bare tomato plant!

As you can see highlighted in purple above, the suckers come directly out of the 'armpit' and have leaves exactly like the rest of the plant.  The tomato buds highlighted in orange, while close, do not come out of the armpit, and have small teardrop shaped buds. 
While it's best to remove the suckers early, do so ONLY if you're confident you can discern the difference between the suckers and the buds.  Otherwise, play it safe, and wait a week or two and the difference will be more noticeable.
Happy Gardening,

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Laundry Detergent

I've been using homemade laundry detergent for over a year now.  AND I LOVE IT!  It cleans just as well as the fancy brands, and it's only fractions of the cost. 

The ingredient list:
1 Bar Fels Naptha Laundry Soap
1 Cup Borax
1 Cup Washing Soda
5 gallon bucket

How To:
Grate the Fels Naptha with a cheese grater into a saucepan and add water until the soap is just covered.  Bring to a low simmer and allow to simmer, stirring frequently, until soap is completely dissolved; about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, fill a 5 gallon bucket about 1/4 - 1/3 with hot tap water and add 1 Cup Borax and 1 Cup Washing Soda and stir for a few minutes. 

When soap is completely dissolved, add to bucket and stir vigorously until mixture is smooth.  (Tip:  If you have the option, you can use a power drill and paint/cement mixer to make quick work of this part).  After the mixture is smooth, fill the bucket with hot tap water and mix again until smooth; it will go much faster this time. 

Allow the bucket to sit overnight to cool.  Mix one final time and divide into jugs if desired.  The mixture will need mixed periodically to prevent it from congealing.  (Tip:  I use my old laundry soap jugs and only fill about 3/4 full so there's room to shake it up before each load of laundry).

The Cost:
Fels Naptha..........................................$1.50
Washing Soda
                                               Total:    $2.48/5gallons

Talk about saving some serious money!  A 5 gallon bucket lasts my family of 5 for about 3 months.  In that same 3 month period I could easily spend $30-50 on laundry soap (or more) depending on the brand.  I love this stuff, and I hope you do to.


Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Starting Tomato Seeds

Tomatoes like to be started indoors 6-8 weeks before being transplanted outside.  Here in northern Ohio, we can begin plating in our gardens sometime between May 1st and May 15th, depending on expected frost for the season.  That means I usually sow my seeds in mid-March.  It's tricky, because if you plant your seeds too early, your plants will grow too large before you can transplant and you cannot provide enough sunlight for them to thrive, but plant too late, and your harvest season is significantly cut short if there happens to be early frost.  For that reason, I usually do 2 plantings, about 2 weeks apart, and choose those that are largest and heartiest at planting time.

You can start your seeds many ways but there are two preferences for me.  Above, I've started them directly into disposable plastic cups.  Start by filling them about half full with potting soil then sprinkle in 2-4 seeds and cover lightly with more soil.  Keep the soil moist, but not soggy.  When they first sprout they'll grow two long smooth leaves, just as the second set of leaves sprout (after about 2 weeks, as shown above) add more soil until it's just below the first set of leaves.  Your tomatoes will then stay in these cups for several more weeks until ready for transplant!

These seeds I started using my alternate method.  I first planted them in just a tiny bit of soil in an egg carton.  Just as the previous method, once they started sprouting their second set of leaves, they were ready for more soil, so I transplanted them into biodegradable cups.  Fill the cup half full, then simply use a spoon to scoop out your tiny seedling from the egg carton (soil and all) and place them in your biodegradable cups.  Add more soil until it's almost to the bottom of the first set of leaves.  Another couple weeks and they'll look like the plants pictured above.  Notice how the first set of smooth leaves are starting to turn yellow/brown and fall off?  That's normal!

Whichever method you chose to start your seeds, once they're about 6-10 inches tall, they're ready to be planted outside!  As you can see above, your plants will have formed several sets of large leaves, and they will range in color from deep almost purplish green, to a bright lively green.  If you've only planted mass market seeds, you're likely to see only the bright green leaves, but I have found the heirloom seeds I've been saving over the years come in a much greater variety of color. 
Check back soon for some tips for hardening and transplanting your tomatoes outdoors.  And also, some helpful advice for getting your plants to produce the highest yield possible, since that's what all this works been for after all!
Happy growing,

Monday, April 6, 2015

Freezing Asparagus

When I was able to score 15 pounds of asparagus for $14, you know I was thrilled! 
This is the time of year when asparagus is harvested, so it's fresh and delicious.  It's only harvestable for a few weeks though, and outside of this short period, its extremely expensive.  So, I buy up a years supply, and freeze it at home!

First, trim your asparagus.  Some people prefer to bend and snap it, but I feel like that wastes more than necessary, so I just trim it past the dry, woody part.  Usually an inch or two, but it depends on the age of the asparagus stalk when harvested.

Then you need to partially cook the asparagus.  You can blanch it in boiling water a few minutes, but in my opinion it really leeches all the flavor and nutrition from the asparagus.  Instead, I place mine in a glass baking pan and cover with plastic then microwave for about 3 minutes for a medium to thick stalk. You'll notice they get very vividly green after just a couple minutes in the microwave.

After that, simply let them dry and cool on a dry dish towel, or paper towel if you prefer.

Last, place them in your preferred storage container and freeze quickly (avoid stacking them until fully frozen or it could take as much as several days for them to fully freeze).  Of course, a vacuum sealer would be ideal, but I have not made that commitment yet, so I use Ziploc style freezer bags.  If your stalks are shorter, they'll likely fit in a Quart size bag.  Mine were just a touch too long, so I froze 2 pounds in a gallon size bag, and left a small gap between each pound so I can easily remove one pound while keeping the other frozen for future use.  This comes in VERY handy for many frozen items.
Oh, and make sure to label and date your bags before filling!
Happy freezing,