Early April 2015 Garden Update

SeedlingsGod has answered my prayers today for rain. Although looking outside, I am debating if it is rain or really slushy snow. It is so wonderful to not have to water today. That is the biggest downfall of living in the desert, there is never enough water it seems. This year is even more nerve wracking, since we only got snow for Christmas, and maybe a few other times, but certainly not enough to pull us out of the drought we were in last year, despite all the wonderful autumn rain. One thing is for sure, though, you become an expert at the weather when you are a gardener.

So, while we are blessed with rain on this beautifully, cloudy day, I am focused on my indoor gardening. I have started my summer seeds, to be planted outside in roughly one month from today. Planted six days ago, my seedling tray now contains 10 Marketmore cucumbers, 7 Noir De Carmes cantaloupe, 1 Crimson Sweet watermelon, some German Queen tomatoes (I couldn’t tell how many were pushing up through the dirt), 1 Stupice tomato, 3 Sun Sugar tomatoes, 3 Paul Robeson tomatoes, 4 Sungold Select II tomatoes, 1 Tondo Scuro Di Piacenza zucchini (an heirloom eight ball zucchini), 1 Connecticut Field pumpkin, 1 cilantro, and 41 Green Mountain Multiplier onions. I am just imagining all the food I can get with that alone, but there is more I am still waiting on: Dark Green zucchini, Spaghetti squash, Jack Be Little pumpkins, and I am hoping for more watermelon.

Outside, my Tom Thumb peas are doing well, and my Swiss chard has sprouted. The strawberries are in bloom, and produced many new starts, which I moved to an empty area. I still need to finish weeding them. It’s slow going, since the majority of the weeds are mint and grass, two of the most difficult weeds you could ever have in an area. I bought seed potatoes at my favorite nursery yesterday, Yukon gold, a red variety, and a blue variety. The box for them is cleared, and simply needs to be loosened and compost added to it. And, finally, all of the carrots have been harvested from last year. They are so tasty, and digging them out of Mel’s mix has got to be the most fun thing you can do with your children in the garden. Imagine playing in a sandbox filled with dirt and carrots, instead of sand, and then being able to feed the carrot tops to the chickens, because they love them.

Improving a Bad Day

It’s amazing how doing something you actually care about can improve your mood so drastically. Today was such a downer of a day for me. I had no desire to do anything, but wanted so badly to be productive, so I broke out my timer method, which goes something like rest for 10 minutes, clean for 15, repeat until motivated. I never actually hit motivated, though my house is cleaner than it was before, barely. I hit such a low, that while my husband was getting Cute Stuff to sleep on his lunch break, I was napping. Now there’s nothing wrong with napping, sometimes it’s necessary, but my night time sleep hasn’t been too bad lately, and it just wasn’t something I wanted to do today.

So, when my husband and I had to switch off getting Cute Stuff to sleep so he could go back to work, I sat there, cuddling my baby, thinking about how in the world I could improve my day. I certainly had no desire to fall into a week of despair just because of one bad day. (I do that sometimes.) Then I remembered a blog I had stumbled across sometime last month, while in one of my weeks of despair. Laying in bed, completely miserable, I googled, “I’m sad. Make it stop.” The first entry was Alison Gresik’s blog about walking depression in creatives. She specifically is an author, so it was right up my alley.

Using the What Kind of Creative Are You? Quiz, I realized that I am the Dutiful creative, which means that I try to get everything I’m supposed to done before I do my creative things. As a mother, I can tell you, this means that I never get to do my creative things. When I first read all of this, I decided to do at least one creative thing a day before I started all the other things I was required to do. It worked great, but then life happened, and I became caught up in serving everyone else again, so I found myself completely bummed with life today, as my list included lame stuff like laundry and dishes. Yuck! Who wants to do that?

So, while snuggling Cute Stuff, I pondered over and over about what I could possibly have enough energy to do that would be creative enough to pull me out of this bad day. I thought to my 101 Goals, and decided that writing notes to friends would be a good one, and I would get the satisfaction of working on my goals. And here, you see the fruits of this depression killing technique I have stumbled across. After writing only four notes to people I love, I am able to crank out a 450 word prose about the remedy to my bad day. I’d say it worked pretty well.

Postcrossing 2014

Last year I join Postcrossing, which is an online community of people all around the world that send postcards to each other. We reach out to each other through snail mail, and you can kind of get a sense of how things are going in the rest of the world, without having to get super depressed from the news. For instance, cards to and from Ukraine take forever, while cards to Germany only take a week. You learn things like how to pronounce Belarus (bĕl′ə-ro͞os′), and that Taiwan is part of the Republic of China, but Hong Kong is not. And then you get to learn about people. Most of them speak more languages than I ever will, even if I ever manage to learn Spanish. There are so many people that speak English very well, and then a few who fake it so they can keep doing Postcrossing.

Last year, I got a lot of cards that I love, and I’ve been wanting to show them off on my blog.

Taiwan TrainThis is my favorite card for 2014. I love the
red train with the pink cherry blossoms.

russiaAnd this card from Russia comes in at a
close second. It was my favorite of the
year until I got the one from Taiwan.

legos

Coolest card goes to this card from Legoland
in Germany. It’s called “Miniland,” and
is a tiny little city made out of legos.

building

This is the Romanesque St. Nicholas Rotunda
in Cieszyn, Poland. This is one of the most
popular cards I have received. I think it would
be so much fun to visit it one day.

Martin Luther churchI really enjoy getting postcards of churches.
Especially from Europe, where they are
ancient. The first card is the church where
Doctor Martin Luther posted his thesis, which
I find totally fascinating. The second card is a
Taize church or sorts. Taize is in France, and
is a community where Christian’s congregate
to pray and sing together.

Palm Trees and SnowThis card is just fun for me. I enjoy seeing
the people, but really what I’m fascinated
by is the palm trees with snow covered mountains
in the background. Marrakech is in Morocco.

ChristmasAnd, in the spirit of snow, I received this card
from the Ukraine just in time for Christmas.
It was perfect to add to my wall of Christmas cards.

fall leavesI love the colors of this card from Taiwan.

pearsAnd, this card reminds me of my
grandmother for some reason.

The last three cards are all from China. I think they’re pretty great.

Chinese flowersI love the simplicity of this card. The Chinese
translates into, “Can’t forget the happiness
in the mountain while sitting alone.”

Chinese Food mapMap cards are awesome. This one is a Chinese
food map. I can’t even tell what most of the
foods are, but it looks fun.

Chinese rainbow lg

And, finally, this card is about the size of two postcards stuck together. It was such a treat to receive such a large card. I find the view fascinating as well.

Hope you enjoyed my postcards as much as I did. Postcrossing is a great way to connect with the world. Sometimes you find someone on a different continent that you connect with instantly. From there you can be pen pals, or just enjoy having met someone like you through mail.

President’s Day Gardening

On President’s Day, as I was finishing lunch, I looked out the window and saw snow! We’ve had practically nothing since Christmas, and now on the day I was finally ready to work in my garden, it decided to snow? I ran outside as fast as I could, determined to get some work done before it got too cold. Half way through, the flurries stopped, and it was just cold. The first step to getting a garden ready is cleaning up from last year. My chickens did most of that for me, when we let them loose on the garden during the winter, but there was a pumpkin vine they didn’t touch and a bunch of those giant prickle weeds, so I grabbed a huge garbage bag and started filling it up. Then I made my way to my smaller boxes and started cleaning those up. They were mostly full of some sort of grassy weed, as I had harvested everything from all but one box last year.

Chickens digging through the grassy weed.

Chickens digging through the grassy weed.

Delicious winter carrots.

Delicious winter carrots.

The box that still has food in it is full of carrots, because they over winter beautifully, and since this winter was so mild, I didn’t even have to cover them. I cleared out the grassy weed from this box as well, and fed all of the weed to my chickens. I figure it’s some sort of annoying grain, which chicken’s love, and they’ve been enjoying digging through it. I, also, suspect that this weed helped to insulate my carrots when the temperatures did get cold. So, this weed and I don’t have too bad of relationship, especially considering how easy grass is to pull out of Mel’s Mix.

Thistle. These are all over my yard, even in my grass.

Thistle. These are all over my yard, even in my grass.

This weed and I, however, have a very complex relationship. Thistles are considered a noxious weed, which means it’s attempting to take over the planet. No, really it means harmful, poisonous, or very unpleasant. In this case, all three, though it is only mildly poisonous. When they bloom, they’re deathly beautiful, but they kill to even lightly brush up against. Don’t wear flip flops around these things. I’ve been collecting any of the dead flowers I can find, in a probably futile attempt to prevent them from growing in my garden. They’re so hard to get rid of that even digging them out doesn’t stop them from coming back. Once I had a thistle so big that a colony of ants made it their home. That was gross.

Clean garden box and large garden pot, ready to be planted

Clean garden box and large garden pot, ready to be planted

After a quick, though not thorough, clean up, I devoted my energy to one box. My chickens used it as a place to dust bathe in, so there was lots of chicken manure and feathers strewn about it. I left them there and hoed them in, while breaking up the Mel’s Mix to make it nice and soft for this year. The dirt was thawed completely, and I wonder if it even froze this year. After about fifteen minutes, the box was ready, except for needing a little compost for added nutrients. I don’t know if my compost pile even did anything this winter, because there wasn’t any snow to insulate it while it rotted. I’ll be checking the bottom of the pile later this week to see if I need to buy some compost or not, and then, I’ll be planting Tom Thumb Peas. I’m very excited to eat them. Combined in a stir fry with the carrots planted last year, it’ll be delicious.

72 Hour Kits

72 hr kitsI finally got our 72-hour kits finished last April after years of trying to accomplish this goal. I have been scouring Pinterest for ideas on how to make these. I read the Red Cross’ guidelines for the first 72 hours after an emergency occurs. I even found calorie recommendations for men and women at different ages. And then, realizing that I was never going to get it exactly the way I wanted it, I broke down and bought two 2-person 72 hour kits from Thrive Life (used to be Shelf Reliance).

These kits comes with enough supplies for two people, a small amount of water, packaged so that it lasts for five years, and two 3600 Kcal bars, which also last five years. There are four basic kits, each in a nice plastic bag. There is the hygiene kit, to which I added baby shampoo, a travel brush and mirror, Q-tips, and travel deodorant. I, also, took the sanitary pads out of my husband’s pack and put them in mine. To the first aid kit, I added fun band aids for the kids, sunscreen, aloe vera gel, and chap stick. I don’t know why these kits didn’t come with sunscreen. That seems like a pretty logical thing to put in a 72-hour kit, but a travel size was cheap enough, so it wasn’t that big of a deal. I, also, moved the first aid kit to one of the front pockets on the backpack for quick access, and to make more room for food in the backpack. The survival kit, as I call it, comes with some basic stuff to help you get through some of the crazier things that can happen in an emergency. I didn’t add anything to this kit. And the warmth kit, is all about staying dry and warm. I added more hand warmers and an emergency blanket. There is, also, a very nice wind up flashlight. It’s the best one I’ve ever seen. As well as a large water bladder, water purification tablets, and an emergency preparedness guidebook. I added some tissue and plastic bags to the outside pockets.

For clothing, I added two pairs of socks, two pairs of underwear, an extra shirt, and extra pants for the girls. For entertainment, I added small coloring and sticker kits, extra crayons, puzzles, glow sticks, a slinky, a jumpy frog, a maze, a note pad, a magnifying glass, and dominoes. Most of that came from the dollar store. I made backpacks for the girls, which contain the toys, their clothes, and the half of the food that is for snacks. For food, since the girls will probably not eat the calorie bars, and my husband will need more calories than the kits came with, I added dark chocolate acai bites, dark chocolate pomegranate bites, M&Ms, Reese’s pieces, fruit leather, applesauce, raisins, slim jims, and beef jerky. For lunch and dinner we have tuna salad, chicken salad, and BBQ chicken salad.

72 Food

One thing to keep in mind is that things expire. All of the food expires eventually, so we made sure to get food that would last at least six months. Last night, since it’s been six months, we took out all the food that will expire before next April. Today we’re munching on applesauce packets, fruit leathers, and slim jims, because they haven’t gone bad yet. I’m going to buy replacements for them that may or may not be the same thing, but I will keep calories and food type in mind. The calorie bars will need to be replaced in five years, as well as the tiny bit of water. The deodorant and sunscreen will need to be replaced eventually. Clothes needs to be updated as children grow… and adults, too. Because my girls are so close in age, I actually just gave the younger one the oldest’s clothes and found some new clothes for the oldest. It was super simple, which is the best way to manage these kits. Entertainment needs to be kept age appropriate as well. We’re adding a few books this time.

Keeping on top of these kits has many benefits. The best, I think, is that you get to change your mind about what’s in them. I have decided that the slim jims are disgusting, so for myself, I’m going to try to find some other kind of protein that will last at least six months. Eventually we’re going to test the calories bars to see if my husband can even handle eating them, but until then, I’m adding antiacids and Digestzen, so that he can cope in an emergency. My kids will actually fit in the clothes in their packs, probably for another year. And, finally, when new family members arrive, you are reminded to make them a kit as well. I have a whole new kit to make for a baby, which hopefully won’t cost too much.

Here’s a quick list of what I’m putting in his backpack for those who need an infant 72 hour kit list, and then I’ll be off.

1 small can of formula
3 bottles of Smart Water
1 bottle
15 size 3 diapers
travel wipes
diaper rash cream
3 size 9mo PJs (Just a guess as to how big he’ll be in six months. I’m going to the DI for these.)
3 size 9mo onsies
jacket
blanket
3 purees (Put as much as you think your baby will be eating in six months.)
toys
mylicon
tylenol

Good luck! Don’t over think this. The important part is that you have something in an emergency, not that it’s absolutely perfect. Also, keep the kids packs light, as you will probably be the one carrying them, and the kids, and your packs. Again good luck, may we never need to use these.

Wonders – The New Piano Guys CD

Wonders

The new CD. Also, be amazed that we still own a working Walkman. It’s ten years old.

First thing’s first. If you live in Utah, buy this from The Piano Guys website in the morning, using the cheapest shipping, and you will receive it the next day. At least that’s what happened for me. I was totally surprised, and so glad that I decided to do that instead of driving through two cities to the closest Barnes and Noble. Plus, I got the free “Thank You” album for buying before the 12th. It’s a bunch of songs from the individual artists before they became The Piano Guys.

Now on to the review. This is an all around great album. The songs go great together, and it’s relaxing and fun to listen to. I had quite a time picking my favorite song. At first I was thinking Kung Fu Piano: Cello Ascends. Then I heard Because of You and became quite torn as to which I liked better. And then Pictures at an Exhibition came on, and I haven’t been able to stop listening to it long enough to listen to the other two so I can describe them to you. Hold on. I think I can drag myself away for a bit. Kung Fu Piano: Cello Ascends is a classic TPG song. It’s on par with Michael Meets Mozart, which is the reason I fell in love with these guys in the first place. Because of You is lighthearted and fun to dance to. It sounds like a combination of all the songs they’ve ever done, while still definitely being its own song.

Now back to Pictures at an Exhibition. It starts off with a quiet intro, that emphasizes the off beat, and immediately breaks into the beautiful Mussorgsky themes. It slowly builds into a full texture of epic celloness emanating from everywhere. Then augments the themes with grandeur, and finishes off with one last, beautiful statement of the main theme. I’m sure my classical training has something to do with why I picked this as my favorite. Mussorgsky is a Romantic composer (roughly the 1800s), which is my favorite musical era. The Romantic Era was the pinnacle moment for the piano, as it had finally evolved into the instrument we know today. This song represents my life at the moment, simple, but sometimes intense and a bit stressful, and through it all, I still love living it.

The other song that brought a smile to my face was Summer Jam. This is obviously composed mainly by Jon Schmidt. It is percussive and contains many of his favorite embellishments, and it is written in his typical rondo-like form. It was so wonderful to hear the style that I grew up learning to play and listened to all the time in this song. I have been wondering if he would ever write anymore the way he used to.

The one song that was just kind of sad was the Vivaldi/Let It Go combination. I didn’t feel like the two really meshed together well. Despite that, my girls still have fun singing with it whenever it comes on, and I enjoy pointing out to them the Vivaldi parts, where “you can tell because the cello is going nuts.” I really enjoyed studying Vivaldi at school. He was a fantastic composer for string instruments, but I don’t connect him with Frozen when I watch or listen to it.

Magnet Craft

The other day, I actually found the time to do some crafting with my girls. I  gathered the supplies over time, and then they just sat in my craft room forever, waiting to be used. Then, magically one day, the house was clean and I still had energy, so I piled the kitchen table high with flowers and sparkles and colors, and my girls and I went to town making fun magnets. This is what we came up with, and that is my husband’s programming on the fridge. We use it as a white board, which is totally awesome.

image

We have been in serious need of magnets since we got married. Why don’t people give these as gifts? They’re absolutely necessary. I got the round magnets at Hobby Lobby. They’re strong, which is nice, because they can hold up a few pieces of paper, which most magnets that you just buy at the store can’t. We started off by putting stickers on the magnets and then hot gluing a flat marble over them. Many of those have already broken, so if you have little kids, I don’t suggest doing those. Then we glued some sparkly fuzzies on and then some bright neon fuzzies. Finally we made flower magnets, which you basically make the same way you would make a headband clip, only you glue it to the magnet instead of the clip. Everything took less than an hour to make, so we had a lot of fun, but didn’t get worn out.

Purple Potatoes

The girls and I harvested the potatoes from our garden just a few days ago. This year, I planted red, Yukon gold, and purple potatoes. Like the purple carrots, purple potatoes also contain the antioxidant anthocyanin, making them extra healthy and pretty.

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The only reason I bothered to gather them was so I could cook the most delicious stew ever. Seriously, this is the best stew I have ever eaten. I leaned the recipe from my mom. When I got married, my husband help improve it with his phenomenal tastebuds. Then with my constant search for nutritional knowledge, this has become a truly fantastic, super nutritious meal that goes wonderfully with buttered toast. (Did I talk it up enough? I’m only being slightly facetious.)

The recipe goes something like this.

1 lb. stew beef
1 onion, diced
1/2 lb. baby carrots or large carrots, chopped
5-6 potatoes, cut in 1/2″ cubes
2 – 15 oz. cans tomato sauce
Water
2 C. chicken stock

Brown stew meat in a soup pot. Salt and pepper. Add onion, carrots, potatoes, and tomato sauce to pot. Fill both cans with water and add to pot, 30 oz. total. Add chicken stock. Cook over medium heat until boiling, about 30 minutes. Then reduce heat to medium-low and cook for 3-4 hours or until potatoes are falling apart. Stir occasionally.

Rainbow Carrots

I finally feel ready to get back into writing after having a baby, but with the amount of time I must commit to my kids, husband, and house, I’ve decided to start off small, almost journalesque with my posts. Today, I am super excited about what we had for lunch. I explained how I do lunch here, which is how I did it today. Sprouts had a sale on organic rainbow carrots, so I bought a bag and cut them into carrot sticks. The orange were orange, and the yellow were yellow, but I was pleasantly surprised that the purple were yellow on the inside. The girls thought it was super fun to have colorful carrots as well. Along with the carrots, I served a delicious Jonathan apple, with its soft texture and slightly tart flavor, my baked fries, and chicken nuggets. Sometimes I just have to go easy on myself, and the girls will always eat them.

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Carrots have always been a favorite of mine. They are loaded with beta carotene, which is great for eye and immune health, and they are super tasty. Long ago, I watched a Magic School Bus episode where Arnold’s skin turned orange, because he was eating some carrot snack. That was from the beta carotene, but I’m still skeptical about whether that can really happen or not, because I consume high quantities of beta carotene when I’m sick, and my skin stays the same. When carrots are left in the ground over the winter, they become sweeter. I haven’t done this myself yet, but the leader of the garden club in my neighborhood has, and I got to eat some. They’re amazing.
Knowing that different colors in food indicate different nutrients, I decided to figure out what else was in the purple and yellow carrots. Apparently the purple pigment comes from anthocyanin, which is an antioxidant that is, also, in blueberries. Yellow carrots are very similar to orange carrots. They contain xanthophylls and lutene, which are both similar to beta carotene.
And, if you were completely fascinated with those big words as I was, then I think you will find this article interesting.
Carrot Colors

Lunchtime

For the longest time, feeding kids lunch has eluded me. Once they got past the baby food and formula, and into the real stuff, I had no idea what to do for lunch. Breakfast and dinner were just fine, but lunch was impossible. Sandwiches simply aren’t an option for the toddler/preschool age, because they don’t understand why you would stack everything just so and then they can’t balance everything between the bread anyway. Even a simple tuna sandwich would be taken apart, the tuna eaten, and then the bread. For the longest time, I made soup, because it’s delicious and easy, but that was still too messy to continue for long. Then the raw foods craze came out, and I figured it out.

Chicken TendersOur lunches now consist of either chicken tenders or left overs and tons of raw fruit and vegetables. Protein and carbs, it’s a perfect meal for the middle of the day. I cook the chicken tenders in olive oil, so there is a bit of fat, but we get the majority of our fat from breakfast and dinner. (If you don’t know yet, I believe that saturated fat is good for you, and that olive oil is good in small amounts as well.…And actually I think everybody’s body is different so there is no one diet that will work for all.)

So, this is how lunchtime goes for us now. Starting around noon, I heat about a tablespoon of olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Then I add 3-4 frozen chicken tenders (Costco has the best.) After about five minutes, I flip them over and season the partially cooked side with Emeril’s Original Essence. It’s a fantastic spice blend that has become a staple in our household. Five minutes later, I flip them over again and season the newly cooked side. Then I flip them 1-2 more times until they are completely cooked. When the chicken is done, or very close, I get out a plate and pack it with fruits and vegies that are cut up or prepared in such a way that they make easy finger food for my kids. For example, baby carrots just go straight on the plate, grapes are washed and left on the vine, oranges are peeled and pulled apart, bananas and cucumbers are peeled and sliced into discs, and apples are cut into slices.

Fruit and Vegie PlateThen I stick the fruit and vegie plate between my girls, give them each a chicken tender, and we say a prayer on the food. Yes, I make them exercise self-control to not touch the food while we pray. It’s only 30 seconds max, and they handle it just fine. As soon as we’re done praying, they eagerly load their own plates up with whatever looks good to them. There are a few rules that they are required to follow. First, they must have one bite that they swallow of everything on the fruit and vegie plate. Second, they must have at least one more bite, beyond what they have already had, of chicken before they go for seconds from the fruit and vegie plate. They were resistant to these rules at first, but I stood my ground and stick to my word. If they have had one bite of a food and decided they don’t like it this time around, then I don’t make them eat any more of it. When they are finished, I have them clear their plates off the table, but leave the fruit and vegie plate out with whatever is left over for them to snack on whenever they want. Around dinner time, I give whatever is left over after snacking to our chickens, who devour the rest of it.

Sometimes I pick one color as the theme of the plate, and other times I try to make a rainbow of colors. When I first started, almost everything I put out were fruits and vegetables that they were already used to, but over time, I have been trying to expand their palates by trying a new fruit or vegie every so often. In the past I have done strawberries, raspberries, watermelon, cantaloupe, apples, pears, grapes, bananas, oranges, clementines, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, and black olives. This week, I was able to buy more fruits and vegies than normal, so we have cucumbers, yellow cherry tomatoes, sweet peppers, and pineapple to try. When I put the sweet peppers out, the girls we very excited to try them, because they’re actually the ones who picked them out. As it turns out, that’s the one food they only took one bite of. Unfortunately for them, I have a whole bag of them, so they’re going to have to take one bite of them every day this week. Maybe I’ll give them some salad dressing to help with the taste. The cucumbers were devoured so fast that I almost didn’t get any for myself.