Monday, March 30, 2009

Shopping with a Cause

I find shopping to be a lot of fun, except of course when I have to find something with only short notice and it becomes a chore. Just browsing, however, looking for that "special something" is relaxing and even rewarding in some cases. I was visiting one of my favorite websites (listed on this page), the Kindred Spirits Animal Sanctuary, when I noticed something new that appealed to both the animal lover and the shopper in me. An organization called Twin Willows Ranch has decided to create a number of one-of-a-kind quilts and donate the proceeds to some animal care groups in New Mexico. The quilts are beautiful and have been crafted from vintage fabrics. Some are completely stitched by hand. Roberta Vigil and Deborah Archuleta are the artists behind these beautiful quilts.

If you are ever looking for a unique gift, be sure and go on-line shopping at the animal rescue website, or any of their sister sites that also support important charities. I noticed that the animal rescue site currently has a number of unique yard and garden items available such as yard flags, indoor and outdoor mats, and plant stakes, and many are on sale. Also available are apparel, jewelry, and pet items. When you click on an item for more information you are also told how many bowls of food or vaccinations are made possible by your purchase. Many of the items also benefit craftsmen in third world countries who depend upon the sale of their goods for their livelihood. Shipping and handling is reasonable, too.

Why just shop when you can shop and help others at the same time? Be sure to take a look when you can.

Saturday, March 28, 2009


Even though there is a chance of snow tomorrow, it has been looking and feeling like spring for the past several days. Daffodils are blooming, and the daylilies and iris are really growing. The rhubarb is starting to peek through the ground and of course the weeds are already greening up and growing!

This past week I discovered a nice stand of French tarragon that survived winter in my back door herb bed, and was happy to see that the chives are starting to emerge in the large herb garden adjacent to the vegetable garden. They still have some growing to do before I will start to harvest the green spears, but it won't be long. Right now they are kind of curly and close to the ground, but soon they'll stand upright and be about 11 or 12" tall. This dependable herb is very easy to grow. You can start chives from seeds or buy a small plant at the nursery. Chives are a perennial and also self seed, so your harvest will grow each year without much effort. Use chives to add a delicious touch to many different dishes. A member of the allium family, chives have a mild onion flavor. Most people are familiar with sour cream and chives on baked potatoes, but chives can be used to give a tasty flavor to many other dishes such as vegetables, salads, soups. I really like them on cooked carrots. Stir a tablespoon or two of chopped chives into a softened stick of butter and you have a quick, tasty, and attractive herb butter. Stir in a clove of minced garlic and spread on a split loaf of French bread for a most excellent garlic bread.

I am especially anxious to harvest some of the clover-like purple chive blossoms that will appear later in the spring. Chive blossoms are delicious sprinkled in salads, but I like to use them to make herbal vinegar. I use a regular mason jar and fill it at least 1/3 full with chive blossoms. Next I pour in white vinegar, cover the jar with some plastic wrap, and set it in the windowsill to be warmed by the sun. Within a few hours the vinegar starts to turn a beautiful rosy color and the color intensifies as the vinegar steeps in the sun. After 7-10 days, and the blossoms have faded, I strain the vinegar through a coffee filter into clean, sterilized bottles. You can buy decorative bottles in any kitchen store, or look for them at secondhand shops. I have even found some pretty bottles at the recycle center. Wash the bottles thoroughly, rinse, and sterilize by pouring in boiling water. Let the bottles drip dry. Make sure the bottles are completely dry before using a funnel to fill the decorative bottles with vinegar because any water will cause the vinegar to cloud. If you like, you can add a sprig or two of herbs for decoration, but chive vinegar is so pretty I usually don't bother. Use the stopper that came with your bottle, or plug the bottle with a cork. Don't use a metal lid because these will corrode. Substitute chive vinegar for plain vinegar in salad dressings, sprinkle a bit on green beans, or add a tablespoon or so to cooked greens such as spinach, chard, or beet or turnip greens. Delicious!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Something to Look Forward To

My husband and I recently enjoyed two really special weekends. The first was a two night get away at a quaint country inn in the southern part of the state. The very next weekend we had an awesome time at an Eagle's concert in Indianapolis. Needless to say, we looked forward to both of these events for several weeks. It got us to reflecting on what a wonderful thing it is to have something special to look forward to. Of course, most of us look forward to things all the time without giving it much thought. All winter long I look forward to spring. During the workday I look forward to going home, and all week I look forward to the weekend. We look forward to seeing our daughters, and we look forward to holidays. All of these things help us stay optimistic and get us through the day. My girlfriends and I have often talked about how important it is to have gal pal events to look forward to. Whether as simple as a girl's night out dinner, or something more elaborate like a road trip to a fall festival, we really look forward to these events. So why not take this concept a step further? Why not make it a point to always have something special to anticipate? I suppose we have just been so caught up by our responsibilities that we've simply neglected to take the time to plan for fun. In fact, I have remarked more than once that it seems like we've forgotten HOW to have fun. When our girls were in school a lot of our "fun" was planned for us with sporting events, 4-H, county fair projects, and choir and band concerts. Now it is up to us. I've decided to take some advice I've heard on TV and "Just do it." If we don't take charge of putting fun in our lives, who will? I am going to set some time aside this weekend and plan some road trips and weekend jaunts for the upcoming weeks. After all, planning is half the fun, and I'm having fun already, just thinking about it.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Getting Serious about Gardening

It is March 22nd and the weather this weekend has been fabulous. I am trying hard to remind myself that we could still get snow, but it feels like spring. I have been getting serious about taking care of some gardening projects, despite the fact I've been struggling with fatigue and some days have almost zero energy. Fortunately, I am finding that getting outside in the warm, fresh air, or even doing inside gardening, such as starting seeds, gives me a real boost. I now have basil and cabbage seeds up and in the basement under the grow lights. Tomatoes have been started in peat pots and are awaiting germination on the heat mat. It is so hard to wait for those first sprouts! Outside, I have planted a few peas 'Tall Telephone' with a ring of pink radishes further out around the pea trellis. I quickly installed some plastic poultry fencing around the planting to keep nibbling rabbits away.

There was a spot in the garden between two raised beds where I had unfortunately allowed the lawn to move in as I lacked the energy to keep up such a large garden. But now that I have extra garden boxes to fit in the garden and once again need the space, we decided to burn off the grass and weeds and lay down mulch. I think I'll use part of this area to plant some of the larger tomatoes that will go in the ground instead of in a garden box. Since they'll be growing at the edge of the garden I'll still be able to pick the ripe fruit even if the garden is too wet to walk through. My last project of the day was to rake out and weed the raised bed where I'll plant the lettuce seed. I must have hauled 4 or 5 cart loads of dried weeds, sticks, and old plant material I didn't get cleaned out of the garden last fall, into the wooded area where I dump organic waste. The old brush acts as a mulch and helps keep down the invasive garlic mustard that is trying to take hold. I still have two additional raised beds to clean out, but that won't take very long. I'll use one for onions and cilantro. I'm not sure what will go in the other one. Maybe I'll use it for parsley and basil.

Other signs of spring I spotted were the daylilies and irises really starting to show, some grape hyacinths in bloom, the French Sorrel peaking up through the mulch, and some of the lilacs starting to bud. The rhubarb is even starting to come up, even though it doesn't look like much yet! This was a perfect weekend to get serious about gardening. It was a real pleasure working outside in mild temperatures under a warm sun without high humidity or insects buzzing about. If I could, I'd put in an order for several more weekends just like this one.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Mist

I just couldn't resist posting these pictures I snapped of fog rolling in across the fields. It looks like something out of a Steven King novel. Unfortunately, it is still sprinkling, and a bit too chilly to stay out snapping photos for very long.

We couldn't figure out why the moon is showing in the photo above, but not in the one below which was taken just seconds later. Then we realized the "moon" is actually a drop of water. Cool!

A few more signs

What else is there to write about today but the signs of spring? There have been so many signs lately, mostly showing up all at once. The most obvious at the moment is the rain. It is raining now, as it has most of the day, and most of the weekend. In fact, it has rained so much that we once again have lakefront property. Well, the lake is actually a flooded cornfield, but it looks pretty, and the migratory birds think of it as a lake, so for a few days we have a lake. Here is the view from our front porch today.

I was also happy to see the first crocus blooming by our back door. They are a cheery yellow--my favorite. The daffodils are starting to swell and forms buds, and the iris are even starting to send up their pointy leaves. Oh, I love, love, love this time of year.

The only seeds I have started so far are Sweet Basil. The seeds germinated quickly thanks to the heated germination mat I use. The tiny plants are now growing under lights on the plant stand. One more week and I'll start the tomato seeds. Most of my other seeds can be planted directly outside.

I'll leave you today with one more picture of the floodwaters. This is a farm field adjacent to the river. Well, today it is the river. I have dozens of pictures of flooded fields and roads from past seasons. There is something fascinating about water, especially when it takes hold where we feel it doesn't belong. However, I have been told that much of Indiana used to be swamp and wetlands, so perhaps we are being reminded of what our land would like to be, and may be again one day.