Saturday, February 21, 2015

New Adventures!

So it's been a while since I've blogged here, but with VERY good reason... I've been using the time I would normally Blog to research and learn about two new adventures we're planning for this coming spring. This year I made a vow (one of my"New Year's Intentions" for this year) to stop waiting for "someday" to do the things I want to do, because, unfortunately, sometimes "someday" never comes. So, I'm making these things a priority, and making them happen now.

I am taking our little Suburban Homestead to the next level. Later this month, we're going to tap our maple trees and do our own Maple Sugaring, and when the weather warms up more, around April or May, we're going to start our very first beehive! These are two things I've always wanted to try, but just never really had the time.

Our Maple Sugaring Supplies have arrived!
Spiles, tubing and food-grade buckets. 
So how am I learning about this stuff? Well, maple sugaring has been pretty easy for us, as we've been on many educational tours at several maple farms, plus our neighbors have been sugaring for years, and we have learned a lot from them. I've also been studying up by reading books and watching YouTube videos on the subject.

Some beekeeping books
Beekeeping is quite a bit more complicated! I did sign up for a beekeeping course at a local Beekeeper's Association, but unfortunately the class filled up quickly, and I did not get a spot. I'm not giving up, though! I spend an hour or so each day reading beekeeping books I've gotten our of the library, as well as reading beekeeping forums and watching videos online. I'm lucky to know several local beekeepers, so I definitely have many mentors available, which also helps!

So that's what I've been up to. It's been nice to have something positive to focus on, while we continue to be bombarded with SNOW and absurdly frigid temperatures here in the Northeast. It's really been ridiculous... unlike anything I've experienced before. It's a bit overwhelming and discouraging, to say the least.

The end is in sight, however... according to the extended forecast, we're expected to start having warmer temps next weekend, which means it will be a good time to tap our maple trees and start waiting for the sap to flow! Of course, I will be documenting our progress here, so come back again, if you'd like to find out how it's going!

Sunday, February 8, 2015

"Garlic Bread" Crust Pizza

It's been AGES since I've done a "Pizza Post" but last night's pizza was so yummy (if I do say so myself!) that I felt it needed to be shared.

Like many of my favorite recipes, this one started out as a mistake. I had planned on making a pizza with pesto and sundried tomatoes, because pesto and sundried tomatoes are the best combination ever. But when I went to my freezer to get some pesto, I realized our winter supply was all gone. Boo. I wasn't really in the mood for sauce, since I REALLY had nice, garlicky pesto on my mind. So it was time to improvise! I minced up several cloves of garlic, along with some herbs and a little bit of salt and plenty of olive oil. I spread it all over my stretched out crust, much like one would do for garlic bread. So essentially the crust of this pizza was garlic bread. And yes, it was as delicious as it sounds like it would be.

Here's how it came together:

The dough... spread with a mixture of olive oil,
minced garlic, herbs and a pinch of salt. 

A layer of "Cheese" (I used Daiya shreds, but if you're not
vegan you can use regular mozzerella cheese)

Red onion, red pepper, spinach and sundried tomatoes
(I sauteed the peppers and onions first, and wilted the spinach)

Another layer of "cheese"

Finished pizza... so good! 

Friday, February 6, 2015

Thoughts on Laundry...

There are certain things in this life that are constant. The sun will always rise in the east and set in the west, you have to pay taxes, and there will always be LAUNDRY.

We all have laundry to do, and it’s never ~really~ done. This used to be something that really stressed me out. I hated that there was never an end… it just kept coming. I’d empty the hampers, and the next morning they’d be filling up again. But over the years I’ve learned to make peace with laundry. I’ve figured out laundry routines that make this task more manageable and less stressful. At this point in my life, I actually don’t even mind doing laundry that much. Crazy? Not really. Here’s how I’ve simplified my laundry routines.

1.       I changed my attitude about laundry. There is no way around doing laundry, unless you can afford to have someone else do it for you (which I can’t) so at some point I figured I might as well try to look for something positive in doing laundry. It’s nice to have closets and drawers filled with fresh, clean, neatly folded and hung laundry. Doing laundry for my family means that we’ll all have those nice clean clothes when we need them, and we won’t be scrambling around the house looking for a pair of clean socks.

2.       I stay on top of it. When you go days without doing laundry, you end up with giant mountains of dirty clothes, which just feels completely overwhelming, and ends up taking forever to do. I find it so much easier to do a little bit of laundry every day, rather than let it pile up. Most days, I only have two loads to do, sometimes three. I try to get the first load in first thing in the morning, so it can be going while I’m cleaning up breakfast and getting started on the day.

3.       I finish, everyday. I like to finish things. It gives me a sense of accomplishment to check things off my “to do” list. With laundry, that can be tricky, but with only a couple of loads to do each day, it’s actually doable to see each day’s laundry through to completion. I make sure that every evening before I go to bed, the last load of wash for that day is finished and folded.

4.       I have a plan for “extra” laundry. When it’s time to wash bedding and stuff, it can add significantly to the amount of laundry to be done. To keep it from getting overwhelming, I stagger the days I change the sheets on the beds. This only adds a load or two onto my regular wash for the day, so it’s totally manageable.

5.       I made my laundry area a nicer place to be. Recently, I spruced up my laundry area, and it’s now it’s much cleaner and prettier. While I still don’t exactly love doing laundry, having a nicer space to be in while I’m washing and folding DOES make a big difference in my attitude.

This past week we had a plumbing issue, which left me unable to do laundry for several days. As I slogged my way through the backlog of dirty clothes, I was thinking about how I have come to take my laundry routines for granted. Not being able to use our washer for a few days was certainly quite inconvenient, but it could have been worse. Since my laundry was all caught up when the issue occurred, I only had to deal with laundry from the days the washer was out of commission. It would have been much worse if I already had a backlog when the things went on the fritz. In just two days, I managed to have everything caught up.

*NOTE:  I realize that not everyone has a washer and dryer at home, and I’m VERY grateful that I do, as that has not always been the case.  It wasn’t such a big deal when I was a single person, but there was a time when I had a 6-year-old, a five-year-old and a two-year-old, and NO washer and dryer for several months. That was a pretty miserable experience.  Let me tell you, schlepping laundry for a family of five to a laundromat with three little ones twice a week is no easy feat. That experience definitely made me appreciate how easy I have it now! To those of you who are doing laundry for a family at the Laundromat, I bow to you, because that is HARD. Blessings to you! 

Monday, February 2, 2015

Indoor Garden, Update!

Our backyard, this morning. Much more
snow has fallen since this was taken!
Would you believe we're having ANOTHER snow day today? We've already gotten about a foot of snow so far, and it's still falling. This is on top of the nearly two feet we got last week! While I always enjoy a day off from our regularly scheduled life, all this snow ~is~ getting a bit tedious. The worst part is that there's no place to put it! The snowbanks are so high! I will admit, that while might be inconvenient, it is very pretty.

So back in the fall, I talked about starting up an indoor garden.  Since we're home with the snow day, it seemed a good time to post an update on how this project was going. We have several places around the house where we're "Gardening" this winter. The main indoor garden area is in the basement:
Our basement "Garden"... potatoes, greens, peppers
(and some gardening supplies)

It's not pretty, but it works! We've got potatoes, greens, and peppers growing down here, at the moment.The grow light is the key to this whole setup. We tried growing potatoes once before. They sprouted fine, but the potatoes were teeny-tiny. I have heard that you do need good light to get good potatoes, so hopefully this year's crop will be better, now that we have the grow light.
Potato Shoots!
Arugula sprouts! We've been growing some nice
baby greens for salads: arugula and spinach.

In addition to the basement garden, we've also got a few things growing upstairs in the kitchen. On our big kitchen windowsill, we've had a potted herb garden, however that one has been a struggle, as the cats keep digging them up. I can't even take a photo of those right now, because currently all the pots are empty. Boo.

But then we also have this:
Did you know that you can re-grow scallions? Next time you pick up some scallions at the market,
try this: Cut off the green parts for your cooking, like you normally would. But don't throw away the root part! Place them roots down in a small jar, with about a half inch of water. In just a few days, they'll start sprouting up! You can just keep cutting off the tops, and they'll keep growing. How cool is that?! 

Since we've still got a good two months before I can even think about growing anything outside, I'm thinking about adding a few more things to our indoor garden. Since the scallions did so well, I'm thinking of trying leeks. I'm also thinking of trying some indoor carrots. As always, I'll post progress as it happens!

Meanwhile... stay warm and dry, friends! 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Snow Days...

Here in the northeastern United States, we have been in the grips of a "Historic Snowstorm." My town got nearly two feet of snow, and other towns in the area got close to three feet! This storm has been terribly inconvenient for lots of people, and my thoughts and prayers are definitely with those without adequate resources to handle such a weather event. I do hope that everyone weathers this storm safely.

However... I have to say that this storm has been a real treat for my family. I have really loved being "snowed in" for a couple of days. It's been like a mini-vacation, having all of our classes and activities cancelled, and having The Man home from work. Our calendar has been VERY full this month, with lots going on, and I've been craving some time at home to just chill out together. This storm has given me my wish! Aside from shoveling and basic home maintenance (cooking, laundry, dishes, etc) we've been taking it easy, enjoying "quality time" together. We've spent hours snuggling under blankets with books, we baked cookies and made soup, and we watched movies. I've done lots of knitting, and the kids have built elaborate things out of legos.

One of our visiting cardinals... isn't he handsome?
One of my favorite snow-day activities has been watching the birds feast at our feeders, which we made sure were well-stocked before the storm began. We have feeders right outside my office window, which gives us a great view of all our beautiful neighborhood birds. Our most common visitors are chickadees, sparrows, tufted titmouses, hairy woodpeckers, juncos and white-breasted nuthatches. But we got a special treat yesterday, when four cardinals came to feast at our feeders... first two beautiful males, then later we saw two lovely females. I managed to snap a photo or two, thought it was difficult to get good pictures through the window.

Tomorrow it's back to "business as usual"... we'll wake up with the alarm, pack lunches, head out to work, appointments, classes and errands. But I feel refreshed from our days off, and ready to get back to our normal routines.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Room Reveal: Laundry Area, Before and After!

Apparently, last weekend was a pretty big deal for football types. Since The Man of the House had football-related plans for much of the weekend, I decided it was the perfect time for me to tackle one of the many long-overdue home projects I've been meaning to get to. So while The Man was occupied yelling obscenities at the TV, I decided to redo our dreadful and dreary basement laundry area.

The laundry area of our home was pretty much the most depressing place in the world to be... dark, ugly, miserable. It's in the unfinished part of our basement, which is VERY unfinished. The walls are a hodge-podge of various scraps of paneling, with glimpses of stone foundation and insulation here and there. There are tangles of wires and pipes everywhere. It's really awful. Just about a year ago, my old washer died, and I replaced it with a beautiful new matching washer and dryer... first matching set I've ever had! I really wanted to make the space a little more worthy of such a nice new washer and dryer, and I wanted to make it a nicer space to be in while I'm washing, drying and folding all those clothes.

I've been giving out "sneak peeks" of this project on Instagram, but now it's time for the big reveal! So here we go... here is the Before (taken in the midst of a day of laundry, no tidying up for the picture! This is the "real deal," embarrassing as it may be:

Awful. Not at all a nice place to do laundry! 

And... After!

Still an ugly basement, but much improved, no? I fixed up the walls by
putting up some white pegboard. To hide the ugly electrical boxes over the
washer, I put up a curtain. Now I can pretend that behind the curtain is a
bright, sunny window. (if I pretend really hard!)

There wasn't much to do about the ugly concrete floor without spending
a ton of money, but I do think this bright cheery rug helps a bit.
 It's also much nicer to stand on than the cold floor.

The shelf over the dryer holds my laundry soap, a cup for pocket change, a
jar of OxiClean for stains, and a crocheted basket for my dryer balls. 

Wool dryer balls... a green alternative to chemically dryer sheets.

Bins for clean, folded laundry, ready to be put away.

A basket for odd socks looking for their mates, and a little tin pail for
 "Lost and Found" (all the legos, rocks, marbles, earbuds and stuff left in pockets) 

It's not perfect, but for $100 and a weekend of work, it's an OK little "facelift" for the space. Anything to make laundry a little more pleasant, right? ;)

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Another Meal Planning Idea: Dinner Bins

One conversation that comes up over and over again among my friends and I is how to get healthy dinners on the table every night when we're really busy. This is something that so many of us struggle with. We want to eat well, but after a long busy day, spending an hour or more making a healthy meal just isn't practical, especially when the kids are "staaaarving!" and you've gotta get them out the door to dance class or whatever. I've talked about ways to make it easier before (see this post) but I'm always on the lookout for any extra help I can find in this area.

Several months ago, while browsing meal planning ideas on Pinterest, I came across quite a few pins about using storage bins and baskets to organize ingredients for meals. This seemed like a great idea to me, because although I plan my menus in advance, and shop with a list, many times I'd go to make dinner and I'd find I'd forgotten to buy one critical ingredient. Or worse... that someone had eaten some of the ingredients I needed for that meal.This was particularly annoying when we were pressed for time, and I'd suddenly have to switch gears and come up with something else last minute.

Filling up the bins...
Most of the pins I saw showed the baskets or bins being used in the pantry (which looks totally adorable, especially pretty baskets with cute labels!) but since most of our meal ingredients are fresh produce, I have mine in the fridge.We are very lucky to have a second fridge in the basement, which is where I store my bins, as they take up too much space in our main fridge. On Friday or Saturday, when I do my grocery shopping for the week, I spend and hour or two chopping up veggies and putting the ingredients for each night's meal in the bins. Every night when it's time to make dinner, I just bring up that night's bin and start cooking. For the most part, this system has been working out really well for me. One small regret: I wish I had gotten bigger bins. The ones I got are big enough to hold all the veggies we need for our meals, but it might be nice to be able to toss in the pantry items as well, such as pasta, rice, beans, etc.  I'm sure the system will evolve over time, but as of now, it has made dinnertime much less challenging for me.
Our Dinner Bins, all filled up for the week. There is no
 "Friday" bin, because that is our Leftover Night.