The garden is coming together!

I’ve had such fun seeing how much garden I can fit into this tiny back yard of ours!  (The answer: quite a bit)  I now have a total of 6 raspberry canes, 5 tomato plants, four peppers, four strawberry plants (Julianna had to have strawberries!), three cilantro plants, two cucumbers, and one watermelon plant.  Oh, and mint.  I have two tiny baby mint plants.  See?

Mint

Instead of planting everything together, I chose to spread things out. I love the idea of fruit and flowers growing all together. Here you can see my cilantro in with my flowers.

CilantroIt is doing so well it is threatening to take over the containers.  Guess it’s already time to chop some up and do some guacamole.

Geraniums

I’m not quite sure how the part-sunny places in the yard will do for the tomatoes, so I decided to try them out in a few different places.

Here’s the bed against the house– it gets tons of morning sun, but is shaded by 2 PM or so. I put a couple strawberries in this bed along with tomatoes and flowers.  Hoping I don’t kill the azalea in the middle.

BigTomatoesI majorly splurged on the two big tomato plants in this bed.  Bought HUGE ones in April, which is why I already have half a dozen or so green tomatoes.  My dollar/tomato ratio is terrible at this point, but I’m hoping good yields all summer will eventually justify that $15/plant (eek) cost.  Maybe.

 

Tomatoes

Since this bed against the house doesn’t have sprinklers in it, I added a soaker hose on a timer.  For a couple minutes John and I were puzzling over what to do with the bit of soaker hose that was hanging over the concrete next to the spigot, not really wanting a big puddle there.  But then we thought to put the pet water dish under it. Now the cats and dog get a fresh refill twice a day.  The dog loves it, and runs to get a fresh drink each time she hears it turn on.

water

And just in case you’re wondering about the writing on the wall in that previous photo, here’s a shot of my husband’s latest project– a shed addition built onto the side of the house.  He is a woodworker and since we’ve moved in has had tarps covering his woodworking materials, since there’s not enough garage space to house it all.  No more– all that wood is safely under cover now, and he has a good place to work on projects as well.  He is looking forward to the arrival of the siding so it will start looking like part of the house instead of an add-on.

shop

This week he also built the little fence you see in the photo, to separate the ‘working’ part of the yard from the entertaining space.  It also gives us a place to put the dog when we’re entertaining, so she won’t continually have her nose four inches from guests’ plates, begging for bites of their burgers.  I am planning on whitewashing that new bit of fence so that it will match the gate.  (Do you remember that gate from our old house?  We couldn’t stand to leave it.)

I think the plant below is called a spirea.  I am excited to see all the buds that mean flowers are coming soon!

Flowers

On the south end of the yard (the far end in this photo– you can’t really see it in this photo, but it’s there) I planted bamboo, intermixed with more strawberries.

Yard

The tall fence next to it give it continual shade, which I am hoping will help the bamboo thrive.  The variety I chose is called Fargesia rufa, which is a clumping type which means it is less invasive than some other types, and is supposedly an evergreen in Idaho.  I am excited to see how it will do.  Hopefully I won’t kill it.

Then here are some photos of the main portion of my garden.  I’ve sheltered it against the fence behind the firepit area so that pets and kids are less likely to run through it.

Watermelon

Here’s the east ‘leg’ of it, with freshly planted tomatoes and sweet peppers.  I opted to give cages even to the peppers, since our cats tend to lie down in fresh plantings.

TomatoesPeppers

As you can see, I am doing landscape fabric and bark to decrease the weeding time.  This first year I’ve spend a fair bit of time establishing all these new beds, but I am trying to lay it all out so that it will be reasonably easy care all summer long.  Love, love, love the fact that this yard has in-ground sprinklers.  A simple thing to most people, but something that we didn’t have at our other place, and when I hear those sprinklers go on, I can’t help but smile.  Ahhhhhh…..

Here’s one last shot of the garden.  This is the north side of the yard.  It gets sun almost all day long, and here I’ve planted a watermelon, a jalapeno, two tomatoes and two cucumbers.  Once again, I protected almost everything that’s small with tomato racks or bamboo stakes– our cats just love to lounge wherever I’ve just been working.

Here I’ve also planted a few flowers and a pampas that is supposed to get 10 feet tall.  (Eeek!)  If it really gets that big it may overwhelm the space.  But I am hoping for a nice sheltered feeling to the firepit area.  I will try to update you later in the summer when things have had awhile to grow!

TinyGarden

Food that protects your skin from sun

Playing in the sun

Most of my kids are dark skinned enough that they rarely burn, and usually I’m not outside long enough to worry about burning.  But when we go camping, or go to the water park like we did yesterday, I do break out the sunscreen for some additional skin protection.  But to be honest, the more I read about sunscreen, the less thrilled with it I become. (See the articles I linked to at the bottom of this post).  Of course it’s wise to keep sun exposure moderate, and to wear a cover-up when you need to be out more than an hour or so.  I wore a t-shirt and shorts over my swimsuit much of the day yesterday. But did you know there are also foods you can eat to increase your body’s ability to fight skin damage? Here are some highlights from a bunch of different articles that I read recently.

  • Foods such as salmon and supplements such as fish oil load you up with Vitamin D and omega-three fatty acids that help your skin fight sun damage. A specific type of omega-3 fatty acid called eicosapentaenoic acid (or EPA) may help prevent sunburn and decrease DNA damage in the skin.  It is also good to consume mineral rich foods from both plant and animal sources. Bone broths and organ meats like liver are particularly balanced in trace minerals.
  • The polyphenols in green tea may help stop sunburn.  You can drink it or put it directly on your skin.
  • Eating tomatoes and watermelon every day will give you lycopene which has been shown to protect against sun damage. A suggested serving is 3 tablespoons of tomato paste per day, which will give you about 16 mg of lycopene.
  • Work on adding healthy saturated fat to your diet, such as coconut oil and butter. These foods nourish and help regenerate skin cells and protect against sun damage.  Rubbing coconut oil into your skin both before and after sun exposure can speed healing and decrease skin damage. Not only does coconut oil block about 20% of the sun’s rays, it also releases powerful antioxidants into the skin.
  • Carrots, red peppers, mangos, melons, apricots, and sweet potatoes all contain beta-carotene, an antioxidant that may help prevent sunburn.  This hypothesis was tested by folks eating five servings a day for 10 weeks-  a higher dose than most folks could manage, I suspect. But it makes sense to add even some of these foods to your diet.
  • Citrus fruit contains vitamin C, which repairs damage done to cells by UV rays. Vitamin C works best with Vitamin E, and even a single dose before you go out in the sun can offer some protection.
  • Good news! Grapes, blueberries and red wine contain proanthocyanidins and resveratrol which have been shown to protect from sun damage.
  • And the best news of all is that chocolate contains flavenoids–  antioxidants that help protect the skin!

It’s also good to keep in mind that avoiding foods that cause inflammation (vegetable oils, sugar, and processed foods) will give all the above healthy foods the very best chance at helping you be healthier.

 

Additional reading about sunscreen & sun exposure

A study about sunscreen and melanoma

How a common sunscreen ingredient reacts to sun

A dermatologist who’s not afraid of the sun

Why you might want to steer clear of sunscreens containing oxybenzone

Buzzing around here

Look what we spotted in the tree above our swimming pool this morning! Anybody know a beekeper in the Treasure Valley area who might be interested in taking them off our hands?

Bees

the down side of naming calves

This spring we brought home 5 adorable bottle calves.  They had names the very first day, which I kinda thought might go by the wayside.  Except they didn’t.  We bottle fed them for 6 weeks and got to know their faces and their personalities.  Mo had an underbite.  Moola had the longest eye lashes. Frank, my personal favorite, was pale blonde with a perfect dishy Jersey face. Lou was the beefiest. Tiny, later known as T, was a serious complainer and he liked to suck on the other one’s ears.  He was also Julianna’s favorite.Baby Calves

After a few months Mo and Moola ended up going to live at my dad’s house.  Julianna was okay with it because they weren’t her very favorites.  The other three spent the rest of the summer grazing the pasture at our house.  The girls brought them garden rejects from the house so often that they’d come to the gate when the garage door opened.  And when we went for a walk, they’d follow us hopefully down the fence line.

Now that it’s fall, the pasture is beginning to look lean, and we’re thinking about winter.  The plan all along had been to sell two of our three and keep one.  We also need hay, so when we saw that a friend had hay for sale and wanted a calf, we arranged for a trade.  Since T is Julianna’s favorite, and the big boys are hoping to make some cash from selling Lou, my favorite, Frank, went off to my friend’s house in exchange for a ton of hay.

T (in front) and FrankI stayed inside while they were loading him into the trailer.  Julianna and Em watched sadly. They were glad to still have two calves here for now.  We were all glad he was going to a friend’s house, and John consoled the girls by saying we’d stop by to visit one of these days, and bring him a pumpkin to eat.  But I think we’re all pushing away the thought of next year, when we’re going to have to face the fact that these guys weren’t bought to be pets.

Sigh.

Next time we really shouldn’t name them.

How to freeze corn

Corn (1)Every fall we devote a few hours to freezing some of our abundant corn crop.  It’s a fairly simple project, but after three people in two days asked me how we do this, I thought it might be worth offering a brief tutorial here.

Start by husking the corn and removing all the silks.   My kids have discovered that rubbing a dry washcloth gently on each ear assists greatly in removing the pesky silk. Then the corn needs to be blanched.  Fill the biggest pot you own about 3/4 full of water, and let the water come to a rolling boil.  Once the water is boiling,  set as many ears of corn in the pot as can be submerged, and let it cook for 3-5 minutes.  Remove the corn from the pot.

At this point the official wisdom is to immediately plunge the corn in ice water for a minute or two, to stop the cooking process.  If you only have a moderate amount of corn, no problem.  But we tend to have such ridiculous amounts to process that I run out of ice quickly, and frankly, I don’t see any problem with the corn continuing to cook for a few more minutes.   So I simply set the hot corn on the counter on a nice absorbent bath towel, and let it cool.

Corn (2)

Once it is cool enough to handle, slice the kernels off the cobs.   You can use a special doohicky if you have one, but I find that a nice sharp knife works quite well. About 6 passes of the knife down the length of the corn cob, rotating the cob a little with each pass, does a great job of removing the kernels.  You want to go deep enough to get most of the kernel, but not so deep as to cut into the sharp membrane kernel-holders stuff deep in the cob– you know, that stuff that gets stuck between your teeth if you bite too deeply into an ear of corn.

I find that it works well to cut the corn onto a cookie sheet or casserole dish, because the lip of the dish keeps the corn contained. Another option is to set each ear on the center post of a bundt pan so that the cut kernels of corn fall into the pan.  Once you have a good heap of corn cut, you can transfer it to whatever storage containers you’ll be using.

CornThink about what constitutes a reasonable amount of corn for one meal for your family.  The year I chose to use gallon size ziplocks, I regretted it.  Packaging was easy, but the quantity was just too much to use in one meal.  This year I froze some corn in 3-cup plastic containers, and the rest in sandwich size zip-top bags that hold about 2 cups of corn.   I’ll need to thaw a couple bags for a side dish for a meal for my family, or maybe just one bagful if I want to add corn to a winter soup.

Once the corn is packaged, with as much air removed from each package as possible, simply put the bags or boxes in the freezer.  You’re ready to enjoy late-summer corn goodness all year round!

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Our cucumber kid (plus a grocery update for August)

Our little Ranger is going to be a big brother any day now– we’re so excited! When Erika asks him where the baby is, he alternately pats Erika’s tummy and his own tummy– could be he’s not quite grasping the concept. 🙂  But it will be really neat to see him with the new baby. His cousin Ascher is adjusting quite nicely to his little sister.  He calls her ‘Ona’ (short for Wilona) and is good at gently patting her head.

Here’s what Ranger did when we handed him a cucumber from our garden.  Do we have another cucumber lover?

Looks tasty!

 

Ack!  My tongue!

Maybe not.

 

Cucumber variety: Armenian (despite the expression on his face, it’s almost never bitter)

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And if you’re wondering about our August grocery spending, we ended up at $635. Not as fabulous as I’d hoped– I gave in to a few more impulse purchases at the grocery store than I really needed to. Coconut coffee flavoring– come to mama! And watermelon, lots of watermelon.  We won’t be eating it in December. I also spotted a few meat sales that I really needed to grab while they were there– $1.88/lb ground beef is HARD to find these days! But considering that money fed 8 people for a month, and included several Sunday dinners for a crowd of 14 or more, that’s not bad. I’m going to try to stay in the $600 range for September too. I’ll keep you posted.

How did your August go?

Healthy ways to fight the flu

Napping

For years when my kids have the flu, I’ve treated it with a few hours of rest for the tummy, then a bit of Sprite.  If that stays down, we then we try some dry toast, maybe with a little more Sprite.  If the bug seems long-lived, we’ve occasionally bought Gatorade to help restore the electrolyte balance.  Thankfully kids usually heal quickly.

But with my increased interest in healthy food, I’ve become more and more uncomfortable giving sick kids drinks laden with sugar and food coloring.  (Did you know that sugar suppresses immune function in your body?) Recently I did a little online research and discovered some healthier options to try when kids are not feeling their best. (Please use good judgement and consult with your doctor regarding any illness that lasts longer than a day or two, especially in a child younger than age 2.)

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Homemade pedialyte is incredibly easy to make.

 

Homemade Pedialyte

Mix together:

  • 1 quart water
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

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Coconut water  is another easy alternative to pedialyte.  It naturally contains all sorts of good electrolytes.

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B.R.A.T.

Don’t forget the power of the BRAT diet to help settle tummies plagued with diarrhea.

B-Bananas

R- Rice

A- Applesauce

T- Toast

For added power, season the applesauce with cinnamon– cinnamon fights all sorts of bacteria, including e. coli.  And spread the toast with a little coconut oil, because coconut oil also has antibiotic effects.

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Here’s a smoothie that combines most of the above ingredients into a tummy-soothing treat.

Tummy-Healthy Smoothies

 

  • 3/4 cup of rice milk 
  • 1/2 frozen banana
  • 1/2 tsp of cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp of raw, local honey
  • 1/2 tsp of coconut oil 

Combine everything except the coconut oil in a blender.  Then melt the coconut oil and add to the mixture slowly while blending.

 

Also be sure to read this great article by Healthy Jasmine.  That’s where I got several of these ideas.  Do you have other healthy ideas for dealing with kiddos who have to flu?  I’d love to hear about them. 

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Four healthy-eating bloggers I enjoy

Gorgeous veggies at a market in Chile

I was raised by a momma who routinely fed us things like raw milk, homemade bread and yogurt, liver and granola. And my dad gardened and had beehives in our back yard. Truthfully, I wasn’t always a fan of my parents’ healthy-eating practices as a kid– the liver just about finished me off, and I really loved Cap’n Crunch.  But in college I found nutrition class interesting enough that I wondered briefly about becoming a nutritionist myself.

John and I have always gardened, which automatically boosted our family nutrition, even during the years that I served lots and lots of pasta.  Lately I’ve been reading lots more about nutrition, am getting more healthy fats in our diet, and am gradually edging towards paleo-style eating.  A true paleo diet is basically plants and meat, with no grains.  I aim for lots of plants, eggs, and meat, with just a dab of rice, barley, or non-wheat bread here and there.  My family still does wheat, but I’m trying to make it a smaller portion of their diet.

Here are some of the healthy-eating bloggers I’ve found most helpful and most inspirational lately.

Healthy Home Economist —  Here’s a good article about the safety of raw milk.

The Spunky Coconut  –These banana coconut pancakes look lovely.

Wellness Mama — Here’s a recipe for carrot ginger soup I’m looking forward to trying.

Nourished and Nurtured— I also have it on my list to try this blueberry custard cake recipe.

What healthy-food bloggers do you enjoy?

 

 

Note to self on raising calves

When entering the calf pen, do not wear flip flops, even if you imagine only a brief sojourn therein.  Five calves will assume you are the bearer of everything good, and will come thundering happily over and proceed to trample your delicate little tootsies in search of their bottles.  And skin will be lost and pain will be felt– yes, even though the little ones dancing on you are only 50-pound babies.   Also, their feet will be dirty.  And your husband will come in and chuckle at his city-girl wife, and he will tell you that James Herriot would be laughing even more.   And then you will go inside and wash your scuffed-up feet.  And your lesson will be learned.

Good thing they’re cute.

You want me to go where?

  She's pleased that the calf halter matches her nail polish

Stubborn one

In which I feed my kids fast food twice in one day

Saturday, 7 AM– Get self and 4 kids up.  The kids had two Missoula Children’s Theater performances that day, but before their 10AM drop-off we had a few things to do.

8AM — Arrive at Bountiful Baskets pickup site and wait in line for 20 minutes to get my fruit and veggie basket, which that day also included 8 lbs of lovely strawberries.  Most of the kids sat in the van and waited since it was COLD in line, but my 10yo daughter snuggled with me and chatted while we waited.

8:30 AM — Hit McDonalds for breakfast with the kids, a fact which disturbed one very health-conscious son.  Gave him a banana from the Bountiful Basket.

8:45 — Stop at Winco to buy a lunch for same health-conscious son who’d sadly forgotten the lunch he’d packed for the day.

9AM — Drive to the next town to pick up dog from the vet.  She’d scared me the day before by acting very ill, and had spent the night at the vet getting a barium swallow and x-rays.  They hadn’t managed to figure out what distressed her, but said she’d probably eaten something that she shouldn’t have.  Grand total: $280.

9:30 AM– Stop at Walmart and Walgreens so kids could hunt for a specific candy bar that they knew the Missoula Children’s Theater piano player enjoyed.  He’s volunteered with Missoula for many years, and knows many of our kids now.  We weren’t successful finding the ‘right’ kind of candy bar–Idaho Spuds are apparently getting hard to find–so the kids substituted some other candy bar, and got one for each of the Missoula directors too.

9:45– Drop Missoula kids off, and the dog and I continue on home.

10:10– Arrive at home, where I make a cheesy hash brown casserole and a jello.  We were preparing to have John’s family over to our house on Sunday after church for a late- Easter celebration.  The two teens who hadn’t wanted to do Missoula this year helped me set up tables and figure out how to seat 27 people.  We ended up fitting 19 at two big tables strung together in the dining room, and 8 kids upstairs in the family room.

12:00 John and the two teens leave to go to a friend’s dairy to pick up five newborn calves.  For quite a few years we’ve raised calves for beef, but we’ve always bought them when they were at least a couple months old.  This year my dad finally managed to talk us into getting bottle babies.  He thought it would be a fun project for the kids, and a good way to make the cow project a little more affordable.  After much discussion we decided to get five calves.  Two will go to my dad’s pasture to raise once they’re big enough.  Two will be for us to raise.  And the final calf will be for our teen sons to sell.  Since they are the ones officially in charge of this calf project, they’ll get to keep the cash from the fifth calf as their pay.

1:10– Just as I am ready to leave to watch the first performance of the Missoula play (it’s Blackbeard this year ), John and the kids drive up with the calves.  I peek into the trailer to see much tiny adorableness.  Jersey calves have got to be the cutest cows on earth.  They weighed maybe 50 pounds each and had all been born within the past few days.Calves

1:20– John and the two teenagers start getting the calves unloaded and I leave to go to the first showing of the play.  When I’m almost there, I realize I’m really hungry, and stop at Fred Meyers for some sushi, some of which I gobble down before running in to meet my parents and sit down for the show.  Erika, Israel and 1yo Ranger also attended.

2:00– Time for Blackbeard! Here are our girls hamming it up.  Our 15 year old son was one of the assistant directors backstage, something he really enjoys.  The kids all did a good job and I was proud of them.

 

3:30 PM– After the first play we had less than two hours before we had to be back for the 6PM show.  The kids and I ran to exchange a shirt at JCPenneys and then at 4:00 headed for Pizza Hut where we’d arranged to meet John and the other kids for an early dinner before we all went to the second show.  John and the teenagers who’d helped with the calves showed us pictures they’d taken, and our 15yo daughter told us all their names.

The actors had to be back at the Civic Center at 5, so after I dropped them off, I ran to Fred Meyers once again, this time hunting for something fun and affordable to use as a table runner down the center of our Easter table tomorrow.  I ended up with pansies and a roll of bright orange floral contact paper.  I decided to combine that with yellow candles, clearanced Easter candy  (an unexpected plus of our late Easter celebration) some bright tangerines, and orange and red sweet peppers that we’d gotten in our Bountiful Basket that day.  Eclectic but fun.

6:00 — The evening play was attended by the rest of the kids’ adult siblings, as well as cousins and their other grandma.  A good time was had by all. Afterwards our college-age sons, who have many fond memories of being in Missoula plays themselves, helped take down the set and stuff it into the little red truck, then did a little dancing on the empty stage with their little sisters.  Obviously all that homeschooling made them shy and self-conscious. 😉  Such fun that our little girls have big brothers to play with!

Little sisters and big brothers

 8PM– When we were done visiting with friends and family after the play, we headed home to see if the new calves had settled down enough to be interested in food.  At one point there were 9 of us all crammed into a 12×9 foot space in the barn along with 5 calves.  The calves didn’t seem too adept at eating from bottles and we certainly weren’t good at feeding them.  But by the end of an hour or so, we’d managed to get most of the milk into the calves.  We all trooped inside to shower and change out of mucked-up clothes.

Josh feeding one baby

 

Zeytuna, John and me all feeding calves

 10PM– Since I didn’t want to be setting tables after church tomorrow, the bigger girls and I laid everything out while John read the little girls bedtime stories, and the teenage boys helped with a few other last-minute cleanups.  At last everything was all set up for our party.  The day was done. (Whew.)  I’ll share pictures from our Easter party and more of our baby calves soon!