Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Handmade Holidays Part III--Superhero Masks

On a whim, I made superhero masks for the kids for Christmas gifts. Boy is a big fan of The Incredibles, a super-hero family who all have secret powers and wear masks when saving people. Andrew will act out scenes of the movie as we watch it, very cute.

They are made of felt, and the applique is hand stitched on. The head strap is a piece of black elastic cord that held boy's Christmas boots together at the store.

Girl has hearts on her mask, and she is not too happy about wearing it...

Boy got lighting bolts on his mask, and he loves it.

He kept on wearing it, even at breakfast later.

I made a template of the shape of the mask on folded copy paper (to get a perfect match left to right)

I tested the size and eye hole placement as I went.

I then pinned the template onto a folded piece of black felt and cut carefully along the edges of the template.

Cutting the eyes was the trickiest part, I ended up folding the half mask in half again lenght wise and cutting a slit, then opening the mask up to widen the eye slit.

I cut the applique pieces out of yellow felt, doubled so they would match perfectly and hand stitched around the edges of the applique with yellow sewing thread.

Here is the super hero in fireman boots with McQueen PJ's, how is that for mixing up the idols?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Twelve Days of Christmas--Yard Work Style

If I write this properly, it could possibly be sung to the tune of "Twelve Days of Christmas"

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me...
1 load of pea gravel,
a 55 gallon barrel of manure,
a years worth of compost,
four bales of hay,
5 pickup truck-loads of mulch,

12 nasty gruuuubbbs

okay, so I got bored with this somewhere in the middle of my song.

Very nice December weather has been upon us (after our hard freezes in the first week of December) and we have made the most of it. On Dec 19-20th we were able to get 5 truckloads of mulch from a friend who had a landscapers dump truck pour a full load of mulch in their driveway. The mulch is great, mostly palm sized or smaller pieces with lots of leaves (live oak and cedar) and only a few large branch sections.

Load 1 went to the new buddliea bed in the back yard as well as along the front edge of the garden. Load 2 went to the new flower beds in the front yard, load 3 went to the garden, loads 4 and 5 mostly went to the crepe myrtle bed--which is really just an annoying section of mostly bare dirt next to our driveway. My hope is to reclaim the mulch from there to build my path in the garden after it is tilled. I am very excited to get so much free mulch. Generally, a truck load of mulch seems like a boon to me but now I have 5 loads to play with, wonderful!

I also cleaned out the fall garden. All but the artichoke and collard greens has frozen to the ground and was ripped out. We emptied a 55 gallon drum of horse and chicken manure (hauled in from my in-laws farm) across the garden. We also dumped the compost bin.

The compost did great this year. The bottom 1/2 of the bin was dark, rich, beautiful compost. The top half still had some clearly identifiable food stuff in it. I made an effort to turn the compost this year, at least for the first part of the year, and I think that made a big difference. One big mistake I made was to put whole eggs in the compost without breaking them first. I hit one with my shovel when spreading the manure and I had to leave the garden for a few minutes. Generally, I'm a pretty tough person smell-wise. I can handle dog, cat, child, poop or vomit without batting an eye (gee, the things moms brag about!) but this rotten egg was horrible. Next time I'll know better. I also found that my hubby's habit of stacking cracked egg shells into one another keeps them from breaking down. Really, egg shells were pretty much the only identifiable portion of the finished compost. Quite a success.

The load of pea gravel is for a surprise Christmas gift for the kids. But, we only needed 1/3 of a cubic yard, but the rock yard wanted me to pay for a full yard... so I told them to just load it all up, if they were going to make me pay for it. So the pea gravel is also going to line our utility area behind the garage. This is where the bees live, and also a real junk collecting place for all of the random outdoor bits that don't belong in the garage.

So there we go, the 12 days of Christmas, garden style (my favorite). On the 12th day of Christmas, my true love is going to be tilling the garden... he just does not know it yet!

Home-Made Holidays--Hats!

This year we went the (cheap) no, (easy) definitely no, lets say 'homemade' route for most of our Christmas gifts.

I have made dozens of baby hats during my down time over the summer and fall season. Pretty much everyone with a baby or kid in our life got a hat for Christmas. The hat pattern is a hand written (and long since memorized) one from my Aunt. It starts with about an inch of 2x2 ribbing then stockinette stitch for a few inches then decreases with k2tog every (8, 7, 6, 5 etc) stitches. I'll write it out better later in another post. The hats started out simple one color jobs, then I got fancy with an owl cable pattern, then I started adding stripes, then even started adding color work. The pattern is easy enough that I can bang one out in about 2 hours of dedicated knitting time. Car rides, jury duty, oil changes, doctor visits, plane trips... all prime knitting time for these easy gifts.

Here is boy modeling one of the cabled owl hats

Here are some friends of our modeling their Christmas hats--and headbands. I realized the day before gift time that two hats were not going to happen, so the girls got head bands. I think it is better that way, they have beautiful hair and a hat would only hide it.

Over 14 hats have been gifted so far! I guess I need to develop a 'handmade by Sandra" label for them. Possibly with washing instructions, since kids tend to be messy.

Teal owl hat--Laura
Dark Blue Owl hat --Asa
grey, white, purple --Bradley
grey, white, purple stripe Ryder
Purple horse hat -- Camden
pink seed stitch band -- Kelsely
purple 2x2 ribbing band --Raelyn
Cranberry with white heart -- Maddy
grey, white, cranberry -- Brett
Green owl hat -- Carter
White with blue snowflake -- baby Brooks
Grey owl hat -- Tyler
Pink snowflake hat -- Angela
Pale pink owl with rhinestone eyes -- Lily
Pale pink tie up earwarmer -- Grandma Hannah
Purple tie up earwarmer -- Candye

Lily's pale pink owl hat with rhinestone eyes

Here is the gift list that I remember... my plan is to maybe next year make matching mittens or scarves for the kids. Hmm, that is if the hat will still fit next year and has not been lost. I know my kids have lost hats already. In fact, I 'found' one of my own hand knit hats in the church parking lot more than a week after boy dropped it.

I guess the hat maddness started back in August with this attempt at a hunting hat for my hubby.

"Lucky Deer Hat"

This hat never made it off the needles, it was waaay too big and ended up frogged and reknit twice before I gave up on it entirely. Knitting for hubby is impossible for me for some reason. I actually made him another hat for his trip to London and it ended up not quite right for him. A little too short and 'not full enough" so it was regifted to someone with a small head.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Fall Garden Review-December

Garden and December are two words that don't' really belong in the same sentence, but here we are: December 1st and we have not yet had a freeze, or even a frost in north Texas. I realized in November that I have pepper plants that are older than my daughter! And here is a picture of those beauties now...

Here is another view of the fall (and almost winter) garden. This time from inside the garden.

The arbor is absolutely covered with Hyacinth beans, the bush beans have produced over 10 pounds of beans this fall, the peppers are still going strong, and the fall planted squash has give us about a dozen zucchini, crook neck and banana squash. Other things that have not done as well are the tomatoes, my poor poor fall tomatoes have not produced a single ripe tomato, mostly because the only batch that was about to ripen got trampled by the dog, darn it.

Oops, more cute baby pictures

baby in a bucket, how cute!

More garden friends, an anole on a roll of fencing behind the garage

Here is hubby and the baby showing off how great my hyacinth beans are doing

I also have a bunch of volunteer potatoes and the trial plant I dug had about 5 golf ball sized potatoes on it. My sweet potatoes look great, but I have not tired digging any of them yet. I plan to let them stay in the ground as long as possible before harvesting.

This week it is forecast that we will have our first real freeze, and possibly some freezing precipitation. Nothing like a coating of ice to finish off the garden for the year. As hard as it is to say it, I'm ready! By now, I usually have room for my peas and beet plants, but I can't bear to rip out the summer veggies that are still producing so well.

Doe a Deer, a Yummy Deer--Processing Part II

Hubby brought home two does from his second hunting expedition this fall. The meat comes home from the lease neatly quartered and on ice in coolers--hubby takes care of that part, and maybe he'll write on that in detail at some point (lets call it deer processing part 1). For about a week we leave the meat in the coolers in our garage. Every day or so we change out the ice and water to let the meat bleed out and loose the gamey taste that is usually associated with venison.

After the bleed out period (usually 1-2 weeks) we then cut the meat off of the bones and cube it into 1 to 2 inch chunks. After 6 years of hunting, we have a pretty good system for pre-processing the meat. First we put the kids to bed--which is the only way to get quiet hours in our house. Hubby cuts large chunks of meat from the bones and then passes them to me for detailed cleaning (removing hard fat, gristle, silver skin, etc) and then I cube, weigh, and bag the meat for the freezer. We use 1 gallon zip top bags, which I fill to about 5 lbs each, press out all the extra air, and flatten the bag as best as possible before stacking neatly in the freezer.

This year, our time was really limited, so we invited some friends over and had a de-boning party on Saturday night. Once you get over the gore factor, it is actually kind of a fun way to spend an evening, chatting and cutting.

I think hubby mentioned that the does field dresssed at 60 or 70 lbs each (that means no guts and skin on). When we were done and all the meat was cleaned and baged, we had 55 lbs of meat in the freezer, hooray!

This kind hands on approach really makes me appreciate the meals we eat. From forest to table the meat never leaves our possession. It is treated humanely, it is cleaned and processed with no hormones or chemicals, and our efforts result in a clear and direct reward--food. I am much more thankful for the meat than I ever was when it was purchased from Wal-Mart on a Styrofoam tray.

For a brief period in high school, I was actually a vegetarian because I 'loved' animals too much to eat them. I had seen some PETA flier and decided to give up meat. Like so many things of the teenage years, that phase passed pretty quickly. I really struggled with the fact that my hubby (then boyfriend) was going hunting and the first time he shot a deer, I was sad. Then we got a freezer full of meat from that deer and it started to make more sense to me. The first time I went out to the deer lease, I was really nervous. I expected a bunch of boasting, gun toting, trigger happy guys, but instead what I saw was very responsible, reverent, safety conscious men who were truly thankful for the deer they were able to take. I am well aware that not all hunting leases may be like this (my pre-conceived notions had to come from somewhere), but I have been at the lease dozens of times and each experience is the same.

Now if you really want to get me worked up... Just be one of those people who-- while cramming a cheeseburger into her mouth-- states "I could never eat venison because I just LOVE animals too much"... me too sweetie, they are delicious!

Bye Bye Bees

The sad news is that our first venture into beekeeping was not a sucess. On a routine check of the hive in November, the boys found that there was no honey and no brood stored by the bees, which means there was no way for them to survive the winter. Brood is baby bees, and some honey would be needed by the colony to survive the winter.

All was not lost though, we were able to move our hive to a friends house where they will be incorporated into one of his hives.

We are guessing that the queen was either damaged or killed during the transport to our house back in August. Or maybe she was just not a good queen. Or who knows. The bees hung around the hive and our yard, but just were not able to put up as much honey as they would need to sustain themselves over the winter.

This was it for comb made by the bees, poor things. Uusally a frame like this would be covered with honey comb or brood, and there are 8 frames in a bee box, which should all be covered too. So this is really a very very small amount.

Despite having to bail out the colony, this was a successful experiment in several ways. Most importantly that I found that I really loved having bees in the yard, they did not eat the children, only one guest got stung (but he had his hands all the way into the hive), and my garden did amazingly well from all of the extra pollination that was going on.

This spring we have registered to take a bee class (both hubby and I) and the boys plan to trap several more swarms to get us going again in the spring.

I"m sad our first colony was not successful, but I'm really glad for the experience and I"m looking forward to beekeeping in the new year.

Here is the littlest beekeeper... not really, he was just trying on the hat, just like daddy!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Pounds of Peppers

Today I picked 8.5 pounds of peppers from the garden. That is many more than my small garden basket could hold.

So I had to use a laundry basket to get them all in the house--now that must be a sign of a successful harvest!

No pictures, but over about 2 hours I washed, cored, seeded, and sliced the peppers. Lucky for me, I remembered to wear gloves. Not so lucky for me, one of the glove fingers ripped open and I did not replace it. After steeping in capscacium for 2 hours, my hands are on fire!

The good news is that I have 7 pounds of prepared peppers ready for pickling as soon as hubby gets home and can help me.

I am thinking these will be surprise pickled peppers because about 10% of them are burning hot. I could feel it burn my eyes and lungs just from the air around the pepper as it was sliced. Most were sweet, but some were hot. Should make for a fun mix in the jars!

October 29, 2009

Finally, I see some evidence that we have a bee hive in our yard. The bees totally ignore all of my blooming landscape plants but were swarming the weeds!

Here is the garden in late October. The Hyacinth bean over the trellis did half way well, only the right side really grew great. I did not take the time this year to tend to the vine and make sure it grew over the top. This is what happens when it is allowed to just go crazy. If I don't go to the garden enough, the vines have a way of closing off the entrance and I have had to cut my way through the arbor.

The squash did not do so great this fall. Probably because right after they were planted, we replaced the fence and the garden got trampled repeatidly.

Here are a few small yellow squash. They are about the size of my thumb.

The peppers are doing great!

Mint has spread to 10x its original size (it was a 4" pot size in April).

Stevia has bloomed, but remained fairly short.

The pineapple sage is so pretty when it blooms, too bad bees can't see red!

Hill of Beans

With all the rain we have had this fall, I have not been able to get out into hte garden much. Yesterday, a rare sunny day, I decided the beans probably needed picking.

Boy did they ever! My quick stroll to the garden turned into 30 minutes of bean picking. The beans overflowed the basket I had brought. It totaled 6.5 pounds of beans, hooray!

I washed the beans by filling the sink with cool water and letting them float.

I then cut the ends off and sliced into 1-2 inch sections.

I blanched the beans in a large pot of boiling water for 3 minutes, then 3 minutes in an ice water bath before bagging, labeling and freezing. I found that about six hand fulls fills a 1 quart freezer bag perfectly.

I did four batches of beans and ended up with 3.5 quarts of frozen beans.

-Beans were tri-color bush bean mix from NorthHaven gardens
-the purple beans were very hard to see growing against the black soil
-only 4 beans were bug eaten out of the whole batch of 6.5 lbs
-the purple beans turn green when blanched.
-I found it easiest to work in batches of about 8 beans when cutting
-I had to drain the excess water out of the bags before sealing and freezing

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Less Lawn, Less Water... action 1

On Satuday, September 19th, I took Calloway's nursery at their word and returned some dead shrubs from our landscape. Despite a rather gruff greeting when I walked up with a cart full of dead bushes, they were super nice about refunding my money and even gave me MORE than I paid for most of the plants. I'm not sure why they did this, but I think it had something to do with the fact that my receipts were over 3 years old and they had a totally new register system now. Either way, I expected to get about $50 bucks back and I ended up getting $125 back!! Woo Hoo! Definitely worth the gruff welcome.

It was in their favor because I promptly spent $75 of that refund money on new plants. On the sale rack they had 4 3-gallon sized pots of White Buddliea, 5 3-gallon pots of Coral Honeysuckle, a 1-gallon purple buddlia, and 3 1-gallon Sedge (new one to me) all for the great deal of 75% off. Even after my shopping spree, Calloways still had to credit $50 back to my card. Very nice.

Hubby conveniently had an allergy attack so I ended up planting all of this all by myself. Poor me. I also had the 'great' idea of running up to the soil store and buying a cubic yard of landscape mix (ie, one very full truck load of dirt). I pretty much slept and dug all weekend. I have bruises on my feet from the shovel. My typing is terrible because my hands are sore. But, it looks great and falls well into our plan of.... less lawn, less water. These are all drought tolerant plants and should exist well with just normal rainfall once established. Plus, they are all bee friendly plants. The only drawback (as hubby pointed out) is that none of them are edible. Too bad guess I need to buy more edible plants next time.

Fall Garden Update--September

As I write this, it is not a 'real' September in Texas at all. It is 61 degrees and raining... what?!? Nonsense you say, it is supposed to be 40 degrees hotter and you are supposed to be whining about not getting any rain for the past decade or so (I do whine about the lack of rain a lot). Have we been magically transported to some other (less miserably hot) part of the world? No, just a really odd weather pattern for Texas. We've had cooler temps, regular drenching rains, it is craziness.

The garden is going bonkers with this boon of great weather. The beans I planted on Aug 9th (check that date) are up and vining and a few have bloomed. I'm not sure why they are vining, they are supposed to be bush varieties.

Here they are on Aug 31st, before the rains came

The peppers have enjoyed a second bloom and fruiting period They are mostly still small, but considering they have never been watered by me, that is acceptable.

And the tomatoes... the miserable, scrawny, ugly fall tomatoes... two of the three are dead. Victims of the hot early August weather and the tomato horn worm attack. One is struggling along. I don't expect to eat any fall tomatoes this year. The mess behind the plant is because we replaced our fence and I have yet to get in and replace the pavers along the fence row.

The sweet potatoes are doing pretty well. I can't tell if there are any actual potatoes on there, but the vine is pretty.

The Okra has produced well, for only having 5 plants. My problem is I always get out there the day AFTER they are ready to be picked and I end up with woody yucky okra. Here are some tender too-young-to-pick yet okra. I can almost guarantee by the time I turn around they will be woody and past their prime. Perhaps next year I'll plant more okra and then I can harvest daily instead of always missing it by a day.

The garlic chives are so pretty, they bloomed and look great. The onion chives are gone, I can't even see where the plant was.

While my update says September, the photos were all taken on August 31st.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Less lawn, less water...

Hubby and I have been batting back and forth on the idea of ripping out the lawn. I hate to waste water to keep it happy and healthy and the lawn has really suffered the last few years. Hubby hates to mow and that is motivation enough for him.

I can't imagine we will get rid of the whole lawn, our suburban Dallas neighborhood is very traditional in the "house, lawn, sidewalk, accent tree, and flagpole" styling. There are a few homes on our block--maybe 2 or 3 out of 40 homes--that have non-grass front yards. They have heavily shaded yards and creeping jasmine ground cover with a few accent shrubs. They look okay, but not great. City code allows for non-grass yards as long as there is no bare dirt (must be covered with mulch) or dead plants.

Our plan now is to just start increasing the size of the landscaping in the yard and slowly decreasing the lawn size. This will have the benefit of no big giant expensive change all at once, and also give us time to see if we really like the idea once it is in practice. This will also give me more places to plant bee-friendly flowers and plants, and maybe some more edibles for the humans too.

My google research wanderings and notes are below.


Lantana, acacia redonlens (?), creeping rosemary (good for bees in early spring)
Mexican bush sage
trumpet creeper (already got it!)
Bird of Paradise (Caesalpinia gilliesii or Poinciana pulcherrima)--a neighbor has this and it looks amazing. The one I saw at Home Depot was covered with bees.
Fig tree (need two for pollination)
Pomegranate (MIL has one and it has done very well)

Welcome Bees!

Hubby and a friend captured a swarm of bees in Collin County on September 4th. The swarm had settled into a play house and the owners put out a plea on Craig's list to help evict the bees. Our guys used a modified shop vac and two industrial trash cans to extract the bees. The bees had only been in place for a few days, but in that time they had started to build a small palm sized comb and the queen was laying eggs.

Hubby arrived home late that night grinning ear to ear, stinking like smoke, and holding a humming cardboard box... our bee adventure has begun.

Saturday morning we put together some bee hives parts borrowed from a bee-keeping friend. As hubby worked to reassemble the broken frames, the humming from the box in the garage got louder and louder.
Then a few bees started to escape and buzz around. Hubby finally got the box all put together and set up behind our garage.

He put on his borrowed bee hat and gloves and used a squirt bottle full of sugar water to spray down the bees in the box. He then tapped the box hard (to knock all the bees to the bottom of the box) then dumped the buzzing mass into the waiting hive. He plugged up the exit with a kitchen towel so they would not take off right away.

After about an hour, we pulled the kitchen towel and the bees seemed happy enough. They have not swarmed and left our hive, so I guess they are happy. In the first 3 days they sucked down the entire quart sized jar of sugar water from the feeder. Since then, they have barely touched the replacement sugar water. I'm not sure if I got the concentration wrong or if they just prefer to get 'real' food from the flowers in our neighborhood--this is our big hope