Thursday, August 29, 2013


Babies are so wonderfully cute! We found a small nest of baby bunnies about a week ago while we were headed out on a walk. Their eyes were not yet ready to open then, but they were just the most adorable.

It's a good thing babies are so cute, otherwise, most of us would perish, wouldn't we? Babies are designed cute and harmless.

I've also been dead-heading my sunflowers and putting them on the table on my back patio only to be gifted by the arrival of several mated pairs of American Finches ... the males a beautiful golden color with black wings. The females are much more toned down. I have had 4 separate males here all battling for the right to eat at the table and bring their mates in. Mostly, I have 2 pairs. I finally put some heads down in the rock border surrounding the patio, thereby giving more birds a chance to eat.

I've also seen two cardinal males upon occasion. I think the sunflower seeds bring them in as well. I am going to start putting sunflower heads back for the winter. I am going to sort them by black, purple and white into separate bags so that I can put them out over the winter.

I've also lately seen a hummingbird at my sunflowers amongst the assorted bees and wasps. I cherish each bee I see since we seem to be having troubles with bees. If I could maintain it, I would put a beehive in the yard, but I fear not being able to keep up with it's maintenance.

Watching the birds gives me endless amount of amusement during supper preparations, since they are right out my kitchen window. Keeping the seeds on the patio allows me to clean up after the birds without worry of all kinds of other weeds growing up. (My DH sprayer the rock border with weed killer several times a year).

I am so totally enjoying all the wildlife to watch. Right now during the heat, though, all I'm really seeing are the finches. They put on a riot of a show. I've also got my garden going full ahead with banana peppers, patty pan squash and nibbles of cherry tomatoes. I have a few plum tomatoes, but not enough to be more than a lunch salad. I also have two regular peppers, but they never got on strong enough in their pots to make serious peppers.

Next year, I will have three 2by4 garden beds that I need to assemble, fill with soil and have ready for next year. I am thinking 3 beds are a good start along with pots. I will build 4 more beds for the following year and I think that along with pots should more than keep me busy. I also have separate sections of the yard I want to landscape along with replacing the nasty plastic landscape border for our rock edges. I have never figured out why anyone would choose plastic landscape edge by choice, but I have to admit, if you want to quickly edge something it is super easy.

On the other hand, it looks really cheesy. So, I want to replace ours with some kind of stone or brick border that keeps the stones in places while allowing my Steve to mow quickly along it's edges without having to resort to nasty weed killer sprays. The weed killer almost always sprays beyond what you want killed leaving dead grass or yard perennials in it's path.

Since this is our first year in this house, I've really only worked at landscaping a small portion and to keeping such landscape without a certain space making mowing a really easy job. I've told him, if it is in a landscape bed it's a plant, if it's not, it's a weed! Mow it down! This really makes it so much easier for him to deal with. I am also going to take the curves from the landscape that was here, out. Why make "more" work? Seems silly to me. I want clean lines that make it easy for the mower to follow. 

This leaves me huge amounts of space to landscape, especially where we've taken out dead plant material. I will be working in a space next year that I am using for a potted plant garden this year. I already have one of the shrubs to go in the space that I'm nursing along to make sure it will survive.

I have a double Rose of Sharon in purple shades at my old house in Spring Valley. This shrub shoots off seeds and babies at a rate that allows me to give babies to anyone who'd like. Sometimes the new shrub features singles, but mostly gives off double flowered blooms in shades of purple. I have two seedlings to transplant here that I put in a bucket to be sure they would survive. I will transplant them shortly, once hot weather has passed, into their new home.

I am also planning to purchase winter cover for this shrub as well as two roses I planted last Mother's day. Some plants need winter support. I am hoping to move a few more Iris yet and some various snippets of hosta plants before I sell that house. I have beautiful antique purple iris that smell awesome. I also found some yellow ones at the house that really just went gangbusters once I showed them some love.

Hostas are my favorites, though. I have tried to grow a few blue ones that I've not had success with, but I have a nice group of Patriots and Gold Drops that have done very well. I also have the basic green with the large leaves and the smaller pointed leaves. Those always grow like crazy in decent soil. I've tried to grow Mouse Ears, but, maybe didn't get it into the ground soon enough. I'll try some more species Hostas again once I get a more settled garden.

Hostas are beautiful mixed in with daylillies or other perennials, but also just as borders by themselves or mixed in with Coral Bells. I also have several perennial herbs I would like to establish in a regular kitchen garden. So much to do!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

I promised ...

A recipe today for my daughter Josie.

Last week when she was staying with us we made homemade pizzas from the dough up. They came out so well there were barely any leftovers, and any that where didn't make it until lunch!

This is not a recipe I made I designed myself. The recipe comes from Cook's Country, the April/May 2013 issue. I finally was able to read it all the way through. This is a supper easy pizza that doesn't take a lot of time and it could be adjusted to be started the day before to be finished the next day for those of you with busy schedules.

You start by making a yeast dough and letting it rise until doubled. Once it's reached this point, you could refrigerate it overnight to bake the next day. On the next day, roll out to fill a sheet pan, pushing it with your fingers to get it into all the corners (oh, let it come to room temp, first, please!).

Once you've got this baby rolled out on your sheet pan, cover it with a nice, clean kitchen towel and let it rise briefly ... about 20 minutes.

While dough is finishing rising, make the sauce and adjust your oven so the rack is in the lowest portion of the oven. The sauce is very easy and takes only a couple minutes to cook. A plus, you can add or leave out things you don't like.

Now, with your sauce done and your toppings assembled spring your pizza with grated Parmesan and make little indentations all over the pizza. Bake this for 7 to 10 minutes, just until the parm starts to melt. Pull it out and spoon sauce over pizza, covering to within 1-inch of the border. I am not fond of lots of crust, so I brush out as far as I could.

Bake the crust 7 to 10 minutes more until sauce is deep red and steaming. Now add your toppings and your cheese and bake about 12 minutes more. Let rest 5 minutes before cutting. You know that is the hardest part, waiting to cut the pizza! Who ever waits? I'd love to know.

This makes a lot of pizza. 2 sheet pans filled up 2 teenagers, 1 hungry husband and myself. And, I did not get ANY pictures! I seriously need to make this again so I can take pictures of the whole process.

Sheet Pan Pizza
1 3/4 cups warm water (110 degrees)
1/2 cup plus 1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp sugar
5 cups flour
4 1/2 tsp instant or rapid rise yeast
2 teaspoons salt

1 Tbsp olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
2 Tbsp tomato paste
1 28-oz. can crushed tomatoes
3 oz. Parmesan Cheese, grated (1 1/2 cups)
12 oz. mozzarella cheese, shredded (3 cups)
2 Tbsp chopped fresh Basil

Grease large bowl. Combine water, 1/4 cup olive oil and sugar in 2 cup liquid measuring cup. Using stand mixer fitted with dough hook, mix flour, yeast and salt on low until combined. Increase speed to medium and add water mixture, and knead until dough is uniform in texture, about 3 minutes. Transfer dough to prepared bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until doubled (1 to 1 1/2 hours).

Evenly coat rimmed baking sheet with 1/4 cup oil. On lightly floured work surface, use rolling pin to roll dough into 16 by 12 inch rectangle. Transfer dough to prepared sheet and stretch dough to cover sheet, pressing dough into corners. Brush dough evenly with 1 Tbsp oil and cover with plastic wrap. Set in warm spot (not oven) until slightly risen, about 20 minutes)

Sauce and toppings:
Heat oil in large saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Cook garlic, oregano and pepper flakes until fragrant (this is blooming the flavors), about 30 seconds. Stir in tomato past and cook until just beginning to brown, about 2 minutes. Add tomatoes and simmer until reduced to 3 cups, about 10 minutes. Off heat, season with salt to taste.

Move oven rack to lowest position and heat oven to 450 degrees F. Remove plastic and sprinkle dough with 1 cup Parmesan and bake until cheese begins to melt.  Remove sheet from oven and spoon sauce over pizza leaving 1 inch border (but you don't have to). Bake until sauce is deep red and steaming, 7 to 10 minutes.

Spring mozzarella and remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan evenly over sauce. Now is the time to add what ever toppings your little heart desires. You know mine was covered, edge-to-edge, with cheese! Bake pizza about 12 minutes, then remove and let sit 5 minutes before cutting. Sprinkle with basil and serve!

We used green onion brat slices, green olives, black olives, vidalia onion, green and red pepper and anything else we could lay our hands on.

Now to work on that organization process I've started. I'm ready for a couple more shelves, which means a trip to Spring Valley with the *big boy* (Stevie's red truck). I just won't get everything I want to bring down in my Pup (my HHR). A bit frustrating as that truck takes 2x as much gas, guaranteed! And, to me it feels like I'm driving a bus!


Monday, August 12, 2013

High School to College

It feels like forever since I've been able to write a blog post. I like to write in the morning while it's still quiet, but something about having more than 2 of my 4 children around makes my house too noisy!

But, I still have plenty of pictures! Small side-track ... above is an American Finch male. Isn't he gorgeous? I wanted to put something beautiful in here before my school rants. I so apologize. I cannot be the only person who finds these things to be pesky problems.

Back to the first thought ... 

Josie and I have been touring area colleges in anticipation of next fall. Josie will graduate June 2014. She's very excited about the prospect of going on to college. To say we've been bombarded with college information ... oh wow! She did finally decide on her major and then immediately decided two would be better. What it really is breaking down to right now is can she do any cooking in the dorm and what kind of work options are available. This, of course, is after we've determined they have the courses to support the double major. We'll see who the winner is come May for financial aide packages.

Meanwhile, I've been going to the high schools and registering a senior and a sophomore to return to school. Both schools automatically assume you are a) been local for years and b) completely healthy. The reason I say that is, for Josie's school, Sterling High School, their registration was poorly marked to it's location in a large high school building and had NO handicap parking of any sort. Then, these kind people threaded you around a good 1/3 of the school leaving you well away from wherever you were parked!

I cannot say Jacob's school was much better. First, he is a special education student. We live in the ROWVA district, but he goes to Knoxville High School. To be even more confusing, ROWVA registered 7/25 (which I did not know), while Knoxville was 8/8. Now for the real confusion. Knoxville sent me a letter about 2 days after ROWVA's registration telling me to register him there, but ROWVA didn't know what to do with me when I showed up to do so. They sent me to Knoxville. Knoxville had their registration at a junior high that I had no clue where it was (I now have a map of Knoxville ... I only go there for school things). I get to the junior high only to find they have no schedule for him ... can I go back to the high school? Only to find the special education schedules aren't ready. I hope he's registered for school. Let's not talk about their handicap parking accommodations either.

I am failing to understand why it must be so complicated to register a child for high school. Why must you wander through large parts of the building? Or even wander at all? Why not use a gym for whichever school is largest and do everything in one place, CLEARLY marked? And, make parking places near the door clearly marked for handicap individuals?

And, why can we not have a basic list of supplies for high schoolers at this registration? Surely most teachers have taught this class before? By the time classes start, sales for supplies are well over and you end up paying full price or higher for this "special" supply item that the child seems to end up not using. Yes, call me confused for this.

I can at least say that ROWVA's handicap parking makes better sense than Sterling's or Knoxville's. At least it's near the door you need. And, give college's credit, they have handicap parking all over the place (though sometimes it's frustrating to find if they also have construction ... laugh). And, if you remember to tell them beforehand, really try to make touring the campus easy. 

So, while summer has been full of one child or another needing me to help them with something, soon it will be quiet with at least 3 of them off to one school or another. And, hopefully, the one not in school will be on a better schedule as well. Now to enjoy another cup of coffee and clean out my email box, then, maybe, enjoy a little sewing.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

College Top

Fabric doesn't just call my name, it leaps at me begging, kicking and screaming to come home. To say I have a fabric stash is like saying the Smithsonian is a small collection. This said, what did I do? Buy more fabric!

What else could I do? It was literally crying to be made into a top to match my summery blue pants!

Soft blue ruffles, perfect for a summer top. One yard was more than enough for this easy summer top. I found the pattern online. It works for shorter tops, tunic tops, short dresses or even a maxi. I decided tunic length was perfect for me, although the yard would have made the perfect length short dress.

I made this top for touring Augustana College with my daughter Josie. Looks like I picked right as the sun is shining and the sky is almost the same color as my shirt.

To make your own version just follow these steps.

First, measure from the middle of the back of your neck down your shoulder to where you'd like your sleeve to end. This is the width of each panel of your shirt.

Measure from the top of your shoulder down your body to were you'd like your top to end (or do it the way I did, cut it the length of your fabric piece and then trim it when you're ready to hem). This is the length of your rectangles.

Cut 4 rectangles total. Start by sewing two rectangles together at one of the short sides. Repeat this with the second set of rectangles. Pin the rectangles together lengthwise measuring down from the shoulder seam for the front and back necklines. Put pins at each of these spots.

Sew the front and back seams together between the pins, then hem your neckline. I usually add a hanger strap at the shoulder seam at this point.

Now decide how wide to leave your sleeve openings. Mine were about 10 inches. Easier, try your shirt on and mark one opening where it feels comfortable. Transfer this marking to the other side of the shirt and sew both side seams. If it's easier to hem the sleeves before sewing the seams, now is the time, otherwise hem them after.

Now, try your top on and double check the length. You may decide you want it shorter or you might want to taper more under the arms. Depending upon what look you are going for and what type of fabric, you may chose not to do hems, just leave them raw.

Now for the best part of an easy shirt! Wear it!!! This is the second of these I've made. I already have fabric for another and am considering cutting some rectangles to make 3/4 length sleeves. And, then to make another maxi, a dress and several more tops!!

It's easier to write about it than to remember to take photos every step of the way, but when I make the next top, I'll take photos and edit them into this post.