Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Granola Compromise Togetherness

My husband's favorite breakfast is yogurt (Stonyfield) and granola. But... the granola has to be doctored up. You have to add more nuts and more raisins and other dried fruits. Maybe peanut butter, maybe coconut, maybe not. His grocery store alternatives (Kashi, etc.) tend to be very pricey in my non-cereal loving opinion. I like the most generic store brand “cheerios” or maybe an occasional “grape nut” alternative. So I have tried to make granola to save money. Some granola has been great, some not so. It is always an adventure.

I use a recipe I found on-line called Megan's granola. It is a very nice basic granola. This was after trying several of my own and variations of “Diet for a Small Planet” and similar kinds. My husband was not impressed. Turns out that if he can't have his “Kashi” types, then he wants a granola that is loaded with oil and brown sugar. Under that healthy exterior lurks a junk food enthusiast. He wants a healthy core (oats) slathered in unhealthy tasty add-ons.

So I have settled for a compromise stance. I put healthy things in, but I put in PLENTY of brown sugar and oil. My must have additions to granola are peanuts and cornmeal. I love the taste of both of those added to the mix. I compromise on price (it isn't as cheap as I could make it if he stayed out of the picture). He lets me add some of the things I want but in limited quantities. The real upside is that he has started helping me make the granola. For the last batch he shelled a bowl of pecans that we gathered at a friend's house. The batch before that he sliced up dates and apricots. He likes to keep an eye on the preparations to make sure that plenty of the things he likes get in there. It is nice to have company while I mix up the stuff. Life lessons learned... compromise looks like granola with peanuts and pecans.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Winter palette, perennials and subtlety

As a gardener I am ready, ready, ready for springtime, annuals and gardens. But as an art appreciator, I enjoy the subtlety of late winter colors, especially in the perennials, shrubs, and trees that have hung on through the cold. The characteristic colors are mainly divided between early, early reds and later bright yellows and whites. I especially enjoy the interplay of dark reds, browns and grays.

My heucheras haven't done that well. I am afraid that I may have lost several of them. I won't know for a while, but I think the spot is too wet for them. The ones that have survived are showing great late winter, early spring color. Perennials often retain color and put out early growth here where I live and it helps me anticipate March and April and summer to follow.

The nandinas also develop an intense dark red before they begin sprouting their new season green growth. A few of these really brighten up a flower bed. And the maples are one of my favorites. I watch for the sap rising in the stems along the lake. One February day I look closely and the twigs and branches are red. I missed it this year, so I was surprised to look up at my workplace and see the trees already flowering.

Subtlety by definition is something easily missed. That is one of the things that makes it so enjoyable. It sneaks up on us, and gives our mind and senses time to engage and be in the moment. A lot of life isn't like that. All kinds of things happen and " smack us up the side of the head".  Subtlety is an invitation to engage our senses and savor life.


Saturday, February 25, 2012

Craft Night and Creativity

I have more project ideas in my head than could be completed in several lives, however I suffer from lack of focus and too many options. So some friends and I started a weekly craft night. If someone can't come each week, it is no big deal. I fix a simple, cheap meal and they bring additions and we get together at my house. I host it because I don't have to drive to their homes and drag my craft supplies with me. Cooking is no big deal, I make it cheap and simple. Baked potatoes, beans, salad- easy simple stuff. Sometimes we sit at the kitchen table. Often, after we eat, we go to the “craft room”, a small office/bedroom that has been re-purposed since the kids moved out.
In this incredibly crowed space we work on our respective projects. We don't all do the same thing, although seeing someone else make something has certainly inspired me to attempt some of their things. We listen to Pandora, look up artworks and galleries on the Internet, watch You Tube how-tos and talk about whatever. My friends are a creative lot and each one inspires me and at least once a week I know I will be making progress on gifts or things to sell in my flea market space.
Etsy and Pinterest have both capitalized on this approach. Craft night is a simple format. It is a good community builder and a more in-depth way to get to know people. It is cheap entertainment, productive work, and a great learning environment. Furthermore, in a few weeks I know I will actually finish one of those projects I've been dreaming about. Give it a try.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Low tech solar collector

During the winter I have been working on a cold frame type structure that I could use to hold plants through the winter and harden off seedlings. I also want to use it to hurry up growth of my entrance planters at my gardening job. So after searching the Internet for a while I found a passive solar unit that uses recycled two liter bottles. I have a stack of shower doors that I was able to bring home from a remodel. I have also gotten two hot water heaters that were being replaced. A plan began to take shape.

Currently I am working on building the solar collector tray. Essentially it is a shallow wooden box. I have ½ inch black tubing threaded through a long sleeve of plastic two liter bottles that have the bottoms cut out. The neck of a bottle slips into the cut out base of the next bottle to form a chambered sleeve . That long row of bottles and tubing is laid into the tray. Then the shower doors are laid on top and attached and the whole box is tilted toward the sun at the correct angle (more or less) for our latitude. Here's what it looks like-

The first thermometer shows the temperature on a piece of black plastic outside the box and the center picture is inside the box.  There is a difference of about thirty degrees F after just about five minutes.
The last picture shows the poor thermometer after I closed the box up and took a thirty minute lunch break! The thing blew up! I guess the solar collection part works anyway.
Big thanks to Barbara, Terry, Shannon, and everyone else who provided two liter bottles!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Possum love

Deck possums

Possums are a fact of life at our house. Our deck is their playground. Unattended cat-food or compost is serve-yourself style. We have definitely had a love-hate relationship with them. But as grand kids and their friends have come along they are viewed more kindly here. Their entertainment value outweighs the negatives. And, no matter how many of them get hit by cars, there seems to be an unrelenting stream of replacements willing to hike up the tree alongside the deck and jump over to explore. They are fairly willing to be photographed but reluctant to look me in the eye, or phone as the case may be. I am glad we have them, they are worth the annoyance, although my husband doesn't necessarily agree.
One of the ladies I knew who lived in the senior apartments I managed, had three pet possums when she was a young girl in Tennessee. She named them Ennie, Meenie, and Minie and kept them in her dresser drawer. She raised them until they could fend for themselves then released them near a creek in the woods.

This morning a raccoon was on the deck but they are fast movers. I probably won't ever get a good picture of one of them. Oh well, I will just learn to appreciate the opossum in its slow- moving, beady- eyed glory.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Handmade soap and bath therapy

Here is a picture of the newest batch of soap curing. It has a nice floral scent with a little grapefruit included and the bar is a pale blue-green color. It still has about a month to harden before it is ready to use. This is my second batch and I am pleased. It is a much bigger batch and I am using my clearance vegetable oil so the actual cost is really thrifty! Handmade soap retails for around $4.00 for a four ounce bar, and is worth every penny in my opinion. I have always loved the luxury of a hot bath with soap and bath salts that smell really good. Bubbles are okay but the smell and feel are the big thing.

Good handmade soap is usually great for your skin. The glycerin and extra oils stay in the soap (they are often removed from commercial soaps) and there isn't anything in there that I didn't put in there. That is a good thing to know if you have allergies or sensitive skin.

Soap takes a long time to make, around four to six weeks to completely cure and harden but bath salts are a more instant gratification. You can mix a batch up and use it as soon as you're done. It is a great way to use up recycled jars. I spray paint the top and decorate it however I like. Makes nice gifts to whip up for your bath-loving friends.

If I've spent a long day in the garden or greenhouse I tend to myself with a little hydrosoapsoaktherapy and a good book (on my Kindle of course).

SueAlienCreations Facebook
SueAlienCreations Etsy 

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Edible Seed Packaging

I am enjoying my pumpkins and winter squash. I like decorating with them and they boost my gardening morale when I glance over at their earthy colors. I really love cooking with them. I am sending these two to the neighbor. He wants some winter squash seed and I will have extra. He is a truck driver who developed a first-time lovely organic garden in his front yard. He is fortunate to have the weekends to work on it.

My other trucker friend is only home a few days a month and it must be very frustrating. It makes it hard to have much of a garden. This spring we are working together. I will be trying to help care for his gardening interests and he is helping out in a lot of ways- hauling compost, chicken litter, and mulch on a borrowed trailer. It should be a great garden with pictures following as soon as the temps warm up a little more. He has also generously ordered lots of seeds that he wants to try out and I will be starting them in the greenhouse as soon as they arrive. Can't wait!
For cheap thrills there is nothing like peering at a seed tray or peat cups to see if the seeds are up yet. Makes late winter bearable for me

Friday, February 17, 2012

Raw Material and Dumpsters

I have been recycling cardboard from my work. If I notice when the delivery truck comes in I try to get between the boxes and the dumpster. I keep some boxes to use for packing and transporting. I use some of the boxes for organizing things, and I cut some of them up for raw materials and take the others to the recycling drop-off. I am amazed at the sheer volume that is used and discarded.

I have also become aware of the amount of glass that is almost never recycled. It is incredible. Apparently unless there is a profitable alternative or a disposal cost, many local businesses and institutions aren't interested in doing anything except tossing these things in the dumpster.

I've been researching glass recycling on-line, and there is equipment to turn glass into the equivalent of sand, a rather basic raw material. The machine costs from about $10,000 to $40,000. Not something I can just ask for at Christmas, but a municipality or county could purchase. And someone will, as soon as it benefits them personally enough. Ah, the old self-centric at work.
Wouldn't it be nice to start a co-op to buy one. We could develop some jobs and make the world a little better, or just use the profits for ourselves (and other worthy causes) and still make the world a little better, and create and enlarge fewer landfills.

The days get longer

Tomatoes in the greenhouse

Now that the Winter Solstice has passed, my body can tell that the days are lengthening. My outlook subtly improves and I start to think about gardens and starting seeds. One of the “old timey” things that I miss is the appearance of seed catalogs in the mail. From a pre-reading age I can remember being fascinated by all the beautiful flowers and luscious fruit and vegetable pictures.

Now as I try to become “greener” I shop for seed on-line, but it isn't the same. Maybe it's just that my computer station isn't as comfortable as possible, but there is no comparison to holding that catalog in my hand and a cup of hot coffee in the other and curling up in my favorite easy chair and making innumerable lists of all the things I would like to grow. But soon my hand-held device will replace this laptop and I can return to my easy chair.

Without fail, the companies I ordered from sent good products. The only problems I ever had were out of stock popular seeds and the tendency to ship plants later than I wanted for my Southern location. It is more important here to get things started early to take advantage of spring rains and cooler temps before the burning days of August arrive to punish gardens and flower beds.