Monday, May 20, 2013
We picked peaches from our Desert Gold peach tree. This is a low chill tree that is the second tree to ripen in my garden in the spring (the first is the Dorsett Gold Apple, which will ripen in another 6 weeks or so. My other peach tree, an Early Elberta, ripens in late July).
I also harvested Swiss chard, green onions, sugar snap peas, bolted lettuce and bolted cilantro from the garden.
I made a skirt for Wren using a small bit of green fabric from my grandmother's stash that was just the right size, with thread from my grandmother, too.
I made minestrone soup, cranberry almond granola, museum pasta salad, stir fry, pasta salad, Asian-style dumplings with homemade wrappers (and Swiss chard instead of cabbage), bean burritos, peach salsa, Italian dressing, French Bread, biscuits, and wheat crackers.
I used pineapple juice from canned pineapple, whey, home-canned grape juice, and leftover syrup from canned peaches and pears to make popsicles.
My father-in-law gave us apricots from his tree. We ate several and then I made a batch of apricot-vanilla jam with them.
He also gave a book to my husband that my husband has been wanting for a long time (unbeknownst to my father-in-law!) My husband was delighted!
When we attended my sons' Pinewood Derby this week, we brought stove-popped popcorn for refreshments to share. Popcorn is always well-received and is a super inexpensive snack to bring to a large group gathering.
I watched a show on Hulu for free.
I received a pickup truck load of good dirt from a friend who ripped out her raised garden beds to make room for her rv. I put it in the front yard where the lemon trees will be, and it filled most of the front bed in front of the wall. That will save me about $600 in dirt.
We bought no food or toiletries this week. I have not bought any this month.
What did you do to save money last week?
Friday, May 17, 2013
|Before we started|
We are making progress on the front yard. We waited a long time for the HOA to approve everything, and once they did, we got started right away.
So far it's been a lot of moving dirt.
The tree and bushes were chopped up and taken to the dump in our trailer. I think I may have shouted for joy. Those bushes were 5 or 6 feet deep and over 3 feet tall.
That tree is 10 years old--that gives you an idea of how poor the soil is here. (Note to Las Vegas readers: if you don't replace the dirt, your trees and plants won't grow much at all. I have seen 5 -year-old fruit trees that never got bigger than they were in the pot at the nursery, because they needed good dirt in which to grow).
I shoveled and raked up the rocks, and removed them with a wheelbarrow to neighbors who needed new rocks in the spots where the rocks had "disappeared" in their yards.
My husband dug for water and started running water lines.
The photo above shows our dirt and caliche. The pipe is dirty, but it gives you a good idea of the color of our dirt here. Caliche is like concrete; when I bought the fruit trees for the back yard, the cashier at the local nursery asked me if I had already jackhammered my holes. She was not kidding. (We actually did hire someone to jackhammer a hole at the last house for a tree; it took 2 guys all day to dig that way; one with the jackhammer and one with the shovel. That is how hard the ground is here. Caliche is those rocks that you see. My brother-in-law had to dynamite to dig a basement, and it was so difficult that he only ended up building a basement under half of his house. Basements are very rare here.)
The good dirt on top is what good dirt should look like--black. Our dirt here is very alkaline as well; both the water and the dirt have an average ph of 8.2.
This is how the front has looked for weeks, except that the pile of junk on the left is twice as big now, since we ripped out the concrete walkway. You can see the tree root in that pile (it looks like a root-bound potted plant). That dirt is what came out of our front yard, and we've taken out more since then--and there is much more left to still take out. Thankfully, we've been able to borrow a friend's backhoe to do most of the digging. Also thankfully, my brother-in-law knows how to run a backhoe, so he has been the one using the backhoe.
However, my husband has been digging a lot of places for water and power lines by hand.
This was day one of starting to set forms for the concrete footers that go under the walls. We were hoping to avoid doing the upper wall, but if you look, you can see the concrete footer from the block wall that is our neighbor's house (it's his back wall; I think we're the only one in the neighborhood to have a block wall that divides the properties in our front yard. The HOA was really confused when I said there was a wall already in our front yard, until they came out and saw it). Our neighbor's house sits higher than ours, but the concrete footer slopes down. Because the footer is so high, once we dug, it was obvious that we needed a second wall.
This is a better shot of the footer that I took after we built the wall. You can see both original concrete footers, as well as where the previous dirt line in my front yard sloped down. All of my backyard has this, since these houses were built with concrete walls around each backyard. This is why I have stakes and wire mesh out about a foot from my walls in the backyard--I cannot get any closer to the wall.
This is the first day of setting forms from the other direction. Notice the water box in the front yard. Our neighborhood doesn't have sidewalks, so it sticks into our yard.
The day they came to pour concrete I had to cancel school. The children were too excited to do anything besides watch. The men are pouring the footers for the wall. My husband could have leveled the ground for us to set the blocks, but this was much easier for us and made it much faster to build the wall.
They also poured a 2 foot wide "sidewalk" at the front of the property. Technically it's not a sidewalk (which must be 3 feet wide by law). We wanted it so that when you park in front of our house, you have somewhere to step out (and so that you don't open your door into the plants). Plus, we wanted a sidewalk to the mailbox, which is right past the wall on the right. Also, when I need to work in the bed that is between the wall and the sidewalk, having a sidewalk means I don't have to kneel in the street, which is a huge deal to me! We textured the sidewalk to look like slate. That big blue mat you see is what they use to texture concrete (that's the backside). They spray it with a releasing spray so that it doesn't stick to the concrete. The spray smells just like bubble gum.
We also had them pour concrete by the front door (we took out the existing concrete there, and the center of the new concrete is also textured) and we had them pour a small amount of concrete in the back as well, between the existing patio and the raised bed (which we moved down earlier this year). The raised bed isn't very raised now! We took a lot of dirt from the pile in the driveway and put in on the side of the house to help level it for that concrete, and for future concrete that will be poured there some year in the future. Thanks to more digging, the pile in the front yard is just as big as it was before.
Once the concrete was set we could build the walls a few days later. My husband cut the block for the straight edges and the curved pieces, and I laid most of the walls (it took that long to cut the pieces that needed to be cut). We rented a cutter for the day from Home Depot.
The bricks stack together with a back lipped edge. We didn't have to use anything to hold them, but we decided to use Liquid Nails (which is a glue; the store recommended it). Winter and Cyrus put down the glue while I laid bricks. I call them bricks, but they are not actually bricks; they are not rectangular, either. They are tapered on either side.
My husband laid the capstone.
We decided to curve the upper wall, since the HOA rules state no walls can be over 24" tall, and this way neither wall is touching (so it isn't a higher wall). Not counting the footer, the wall is 21" high.
You can see the drain pipe that my husband put through the wall.
Silghtly covered in this picture by the black mixing tub is a block in the wall that has three holes in it, to allow for drainage from the back yard. The two or three days a year where it rains hard enough to have water flowing, it will come from the backyard (the concrete on that side of the house slopes into that drain area) and into my flower bed. My husband will pour a little concrete drain on top of the concrete wall footer to connect the hole and the drainpipe.
Since my friend gave us her old garden dirt from her garden yesterday (looking at the pile, she actually saved me about $600 in dirt), we filled the upper planter with it today. We also dug out between the sidewalk and the wall, down a foot deep in the middle, which is where I plan on planting bulbs (many of which need to planted 8" deep, plus they need room for roots). We put the rest of the dirt from her in that planter and it almost fills it up as well (I could use about 8 cubic feet more of dirt, so I will probably add manure in there with the dirt from her). The dirt covers the concrete so that you will just see the wall. It will be that way on the upper wall as well when we are done.
Also in this picture, you can see where my husband ran electrical for one of the two boxes that will be in that corner, for valves. The pipe sticking up in the front planter by the drainpipe is where we will attach the thick black flex line, and then we will plug our smaller 1/4" drip line into that.
In the upper planter I will be planting 3 dwarf Meyer lemon trees, and growing them as a hedge. They will be green year-round. They should grow to the top of the wall and possibly a little taller.
In the lower planter (which is only 2 1/2 feet wide), I will have 4 carpet rose bushes (they are low growing nad bloom often). I will plant zinnias in the back and vincas along the front edge) in the summer. In the fall I will plant bulbs in the middle of the planter: two heights of Iris (bloom in April), Oriental Lilies (bloom in May/June) and Paperwhites (they will bloom in November and December outside here). I will also plant seeds for white Larkspur, which are fall planted here but bloom in May. I will sow some German Chamomile seeds in there as well, which also bloom in May. During spring, summer, and fall, the planter will have hundreds of flowers.
The vincas will last until frost (sometime between mid-November and mid-December). I will be replacing them with white violas, which bloom here October through April/May. I am not sure if I'll try to start some indoors or if I'll just direct seed them and wait a little longer to have flowers. Most likely I will direct seed them after the vincas die.
The zinnias will also bloom until frost.
The larkspur, zinnias, chamomile, vincas, and violas may all reseed themselves (some will do so more readily than others, and I can collect seeds from the larkspur and the zinnias fairly simply). The bulbs should return each year (though I don't know for sure yet if the taller Iris will in this climate, but the others will for sure).
You can see my original plans here. (Note that I have changed what I am planting in the lower planter from that drawing).
The next thing to do is to get rid of the huge pile of dirt in my driveway. Fortunately, one of neighbors across the street wants it, so we can dump it over there in his backyard (his gate is wide enough for us to drive the backhoe over). Then we can start leveling so that forms can be set to pour more concrete in the front yard. After that it will be digging again, in the beds behind the wall and on either side of the walkway up to the front door, and putting in good dirt after that.
One of my neighbors came up to me when she was getting her mail today and told me that she thinks my wall is pretty. I told her it will be even prettier when there are 500 flowers blooming in front of it. I think she thought I was exaggerrating. . . .
The cutest thing today was when Elsa (my 3-year-old) came out to help. She put on a bicyle helmet (I don't know why; maybe as a hardhat?) and brought out a child-sized trowel, so that she could dig, too. I gave her a spot so that she could help us move the good dirt from the pile in the street to the planter. She smiled the whole time.
Labels: The Garden
Monday, May 13, 2013
|Swiss chard from the garden|
Last week, I made cranberry almond granola, bean burritos, Tuscan Tomato bread soup, lemon poppyseed muffins, French bread, chicken flavored rice, turnip gratin, Swiss chard soup, pasta salad, and Italian dressing.
I cooked a chicken and we had chicken for one meal, then I used some in creamy chicken enchiladas the next day. I boiled the bones and was able to get off more meat, and I used the meat and broth in barley soup.
I cooked a large batch of pinto beans and used them to make bean and chicken enchiladas
I took a free online newborn photography class on Creative Live.
I ordered our wall block for the front garden online from Lowe's. I went online and ordered it first through Ebates for 3% cash back. We were unable to get the block we wanted (that matched our existing block) because it is no longer sold in our city (in other areas you can still buy it!) We chose a new block, and it has been discontinued as well! However, the stores have some of that block left. They marked it down as a clearance a few days after we first looked at it, and we waited to buy, which saved us quite a bit.
When we were done building the walls, we had leftover block. My husband returned it to the store for a refund.
I harvested turnips, lettuce, basil, green onions, and Swiss chard from the garden. We had lots of salads. The lettuce is bolting, but I am picking it and we are eating it anyway.
My green onions are dropping seeds. They self-sow readily, giving me plenty of green onions that will be growing again soon. I also collected some seeds so that I would have extra, as I am considering growing some in the front garden. I have not bought green onions or seeds for them in 6 years, since mine continue to reseed themselves every year. They grow all year long here, and they do really well, so I am making an effort to use more green onions than bulb onions in my cooking.
I shortened the sleeves of a shirt that I bought on clearance for Elsa a few weeks ago. I bought 3 white shirts (one for each of the three youngest girls) for $2.50 each on clearance. I plan on shortening the other two into short sleeves this week for Wren and Ivory.
I updated my garage sale list and emailed it to a friend, who spends several months in another state. She likes to go garage sale shopping, and her own children are grown, so she looks for things that I need for my own family. I made sure to include needed items in the next two sizes for the oldest children.
I have not bought any food this month.
What did you do to save money last week?
Wednesday, May 8, 2013
|Mother's Day 2012|
I knew then that I was done paying for family pictures, or for any pictures of the children.
|My husband was telling my children jokes when he took this picture a few years ago (notice there are only 6 children in this picture), and my mom was making funny faces at the children as well.|
Everyone told me that the camera I was considering wasn't good enough. They said I needed a better camera with better this and better that. I thought that the camera I was looking at was going to do what I wanted, and that I didn't need a more expensive camera.
When the time came, my husband found an online Black Friday sale and ordered the camera for me. We also made sure to order a remote so that we could take family photos (my husband had an old tripod that worked with my camera).
Then I needed to know how to use the camera to achieve what I wanted. I started looking online. I started studying my favorite bloggers pictures like I had studied painting, looking to see what I liked and what "made" a shot.
Along the way, I found some great advice:
Shani's simple tips for photographing have made me think differently about where I stand when I photograph, and it's change the way I shoot. She also inspired me to take trampoline shots. My daughter's pose in the shot above was inspired by her daughter's trampoline poses.
Kristin Duke's Photography Tips have given me so much to think about. I've incorporated several of her ideas when photographing my family.
Wondering how to use the manual settings on your camera? Simple and easy: Nailing the Exposure
My favorite food blogger introduced me to a food photography class taught by Penny de los Santos on Creative Live. I was thrilled to be learning for free. Since then, I've watched a lot of Creative Live classes for free, and each has taught me something different. (Old classes can be purchased on their site). Tomorrow, Australian Creative Photographer of the Year Kelly Brown is teaching a free newborn photography class on Creative Live. It is three days long, from May 9-11. The class is free to watch while it is live; there is usually a replay right afterwards for those in different time zones. You can enroll here. (If you enroll they send you an email that links straight to the live feed, or you can just click over to Creative Live and watch on their live feed page). They also have an upcoming class on Fine Art Portraits.
For food photography, I studied my favorite bloggers like crazy.
I was thrilled when my other favorite food blogger did a basic explanation of food photography here. A few years later, she wrote a book about food photography entitled Plate to Pixel: Digital Food Photography & Styling. I checked the book out from the library, but by that point I was feeling like I had learned those things already from lots of study (especially of Helene's shots from her blog) and practice. (If you are new to food photography, I highly recommend her book!)
|Poppy from my garden two years ago. The poppies are just starting to bloom in my garden again this week!|
For those who are wondering what I'm using:
A Nikon D40. (There are newer cameras out there now with more features, like the Nikon D3100, which is what I would probably get if I were looking for a camera now, still on the "lower" end of a DSLR--and their regular price for that one at Amazon is what I spent for my D-40). I ordered mine with the kit lens, but eventually I was able to get a 50mm fixed lens (on sale, of course!) and I pretty much use that all of the time now.
I use a reflector that has been discontinued but is almost identical to this one.
One of the things I want to capture more is the everyday moments, like my oldest and my youngest reading a book together.
Happy Mother's Day! I enjoyed this Mother's Day video.
Take some family pictures this weekend, and/or ask your husband to take some pictures of you and your children. It's a Mother's Day tradition we've been doing for several years now, and I'm really glad we do it.
Saturday, May 4, 2013
I picked lettuce, Swiss chard, green onions, snow peas, strawberries, and chives from the garden this week. I made several green salads, and I made a fig vinaigrette dressing with home-canned fig jam.
I wasn't planning on grocery shopping this week, but I found out about some amazing deals on Monday.
I bought split (bone-in) chicken breasts at .49 a pound (a Monday only sale; the store sent out an email), and then used a $5 coupon (which came off twice on accident, and the cashier said it was okay, as it took it off the before special price) and $6 off in rewards from the store. (Almost all of which were bonus rewards for buying hams, turkeys with triple points in November and December, and for taking an online survey for the company). It ended up being $9.45 for fifty-one pounds of chicken.
Now I don't feel so bad about not getting all the turkeys that I usually get in November! We're eating chicken instead. The breasts are large--about 1 1/2 pounds each. I cooked some this week, and when I make them for us, I divide 2 breasts for 8 of us (Ivory is not yet eating meat). The rest have been frozen for me to use later this year.
I made fried chicken twice this week with this chicken. I cut the chicken up into smaller pieces before I fried it, so that it would be battered for everyone. I used flour that I seasoned and powdered milk for the liquid. When I fry chicken, I don't deep fry it; I just use 1/4" of oil in the bottom of the pan, and then I turn the chicken. It uses much less oil than deep frying, which cuts costs a lot.
I went to another store the same day, because my friend let me know that they had strawberries on an unadvertised special at .48 a pound! I bought a whole bunch, and we ate them throughout the week. I also made jam: 13 pints, 4 half pints, and 2 four-ounce jars. I already had pectin on hand (that I bought in the "bulk" container (which is about 2 1/2 boxes worth of pectin) and sugar. I made a low sugar variety because I prefer the consistency for topping yogurt. I would never have known this is a reader had not sent me two wonderful jars of raspberry jam from her garden last year; I had never had low-sugar jam before, and I loved the consistency for mixing with yogurt.
At the same store I bought 50 pounds of russet potatoes at .15 a pound, which should last us 2 weeks. My friend also told me that the store had tortillas 10 for $1.28, with a $1 off coupon on the package. When I got to the store, there were three packages left. I bought all three. We had burritos today.
I made ranch dressing, Greek yogurt, crepes, strawberry popsicles, strawberry walnut muffins (I added one cup of strawberries, as well as 1 cup of shredded carrots that I didn't want to waste, to this recipe), museum pasta salad, strawberry shortcake, and several green salads this week. I used leftover whey from making yogurt in my ranch dressing and in crepes. I used the last of a mayo that we didn't care for in making the ranch dressing, so as not to waste it.
I turned the a/c on on Sunday, as it was over 100ºF outside and quite hot inside. It cooled down to around 90º on Wednesday, so I was able to turn the a/c back off. It was warm again by this afternoon; I had the fans running, but it was 85º in the house with the a/c off. It was cooler outside, so I opened the front and back doors for a while to get a good cross breeze.
My husband fixed a water leak in our garden. Thankfully I caught it right away and it was only leaking for 40 minutes of watering time. I turned on all of the valves manually until he was able to get it fixed.
I cut a few more larkspur from the front yard before I had to pull them all for the front yard work. I put them in some water and put them on my bathroom counter to enjoy.
I cut roses from the garden for our table. They smell wonderful.
Since my sweet husband was busy doing manual labor for me for our front yard, I decided to cut the grass for him. I used the manual pushmower, so I didn't use any gas, and since the grass hadn't been mown for 2 weeks, I also burned a lot of calories. The previous owners left us the push mower.
I watched a show for free on Hulu.
I had an at-home date with my husband.
I gave Cyrus and Ezrom haircuts. My husband cut his own hair and I finished it up for him.
What did you do to save money this week?
Thursday, May 2, 2013
|Graham Thomas roses cut from my garden yesterday|
Mother's Day falls in May for at least three countries (the United States, France, and Italy) and probably many more. It's not the same day for any of those countries (as I learned as a missionary in France with both an Italian companion and a French companion during the month of May; we called home twice a year; once on Christmas and once on Mother's Day).
My favorite part about Mother's Day are the homemade cards that my children make. Of all of the drawings and pictures that they make for me, I think the Mother's Day ones are the most important ones. I keep them all in the top drawer in my nightstand.
However, I also have a role to play as a daughter. Here are some inexpensive homemade gift ideas that you can make (possibly even with things on hand) for your own mother (or yourself!):
Make earrings for .15 a pair.
Make this running stitch scarf.
Make a simple scarf from repurposed fabric.
Buy strawberries on sale and make some strawberry jam.
Any of the great Graphics Fairy images would be excellent for a simple zippered pouch, though I'm particularly enamored of the French post card image used here. If you're like me and own a black and white laser printer, you can use the the Citra Solv method to transfer one of her free black and white images to fabric for a gift.
Top off your gift with this homemade paper bow.