I’m Back!

This has been a very busy year for us ( me especially) and it will take us the rest of the year to get back on track. I have let my blog go dormant out of necessity and my own sanity. For about the first half of the year I was working 6 days a week, then 5 days a week, now I’m working part-time. Now, I can breath, rest and get back to writing. My goal now is 1 post per week published on Tuesday morning.

We have broccoli, cauliflower and multiplying onions in the garden and we are redoing our beds. We are also planning on chickens next year, but more about that in a future post. We’ve also had a fence put up around our garden. No, not because of deer, but because of our veggie loving dog, Max. It’s a good thing he’s cute . . .

 

 

The Best Plans

Sometimes our best plans go awry, I had good intentions of working on my blog, but my two part-times jobs along with some health issues have left me really worn out. Now that my health issues are being treated,  I hope I will have more energy to get back to the blog.  But working 45 hours a week with one day off to do household chores and try and get a little rest time in is wearing me thin.  If I sound like I’m complaining I’m not. I’m grateful to be employed. But I am also tired.

Fruit Update

We’ve been into the fruit, I finally decided to look and see how much we had left. I counted two gallon bags of blueberries we picked at the in-laws, two quarts of strawberries (after we ate one) and three bags of blackberries. Honestly, that was more than I expected. We eat  a lot of our produce before it ever gets into the house.

Veggies

I still have half of a gallon bag of onions. I just put the onions through my food processor to chop them up into big pieces and pull out what I need as I cook. I also put our bell peppers through my food processor.  We’ve already bought bell pepper plants and tomato plants, but we will have to wait a bit to plant. We are having a fence built around our garden to keep our dogs out. And we are about to have a
couple of cold nights. Right now, we just want to keep the plants alive until we can get them into our beds.

Trying tomatoes . . . again

I’m going to try Husky Cherry Tomato plants in big pots and see how they do. Roma tomato plants do well in our raised beds, but we haven’t been able to grow any other large varieties since our first year here (we’re in our fourth planting season.) So this year, we are concentrating on tomatoes.

I would like to be able to can enough to keep us until next summer. That has always been my goal to have enough of each of our crops to take us from one season until harvest of the following season. I don’t even mind throwing out old produce, it just goes back into the compost bin to enrich our beds.

Perennials

I used two of our beds last year and planted various perennials to attract bees and butterflies it looks like they are doing well. Our crazy weather has some of my plants very confused. We have had several days int the low 70* and tomorrow night it is suppose to get down below freezing. Hopefully soon we we find out what season we are actually in because we gone through three in as many days.

Four of my rose bushes are doing very well. They are covered in bright green leaves. My other rose is very persnickety about the weather, it does like it when it gets real hot or cold. It looks awful right now, but it’s still early so there’s time.

Hiatus

On a Break

I’ve been taking a break from Create a Simple Life, but I will be back soon with posts on how our garden produced this past year, what I put up for the season and what our plans are for next season. Right now, we are trying not to float away. We are getting rain every two-three days. Our raised beds and property in general are a muddy mess.

Berry Harvest

Last winter was very mild and our berries (blackberries, raspberries and strawberries) didn’t produce real well. We are hoping for colder temps to make sure our berries get enough chill-hours this winter. My plan is to start making jam from our own berries, but I will have to wait on Mother Nature to set my plan into motion. Right  now, all of my berries are buried in my freezer. It never fails  around February, I start craving fruit. If nothing else I can thaw them out and just eat them. That’s what my sneaky daughter did last year and I didn’t get any so I hid them better in the freezer this year.

Our Furry Family Members

Max on his favorite blanket.
Max on his favorite blanket.

Our dogs Max, Lelu and Ayla are a bit stir-crazy being stuck indoors. Max absolutely hates to be wet; he also get cold easy. Lelu could care less about the water, she just doesn’t want Max to steal her spot on the couch. Ayla is our nine month-old black lab who loves water anywhere she can find it. She is tall, gangly and clumsy. She bumps into everything or just walks right over the top of things like Lelu, who is a corgi mix. Ayla will be starting obedience school soon, she’s a big strong girl, but has a sweet disposition and will make a great dog once we can channel her energy into something productive.

I was thinking of building an agility course. Our raised beds take up only about 1/10th of our acre, that still leaves us room to expand the garden or add fun things for dogs to do. We are going to have to fence in our gardens before planting season because Ayla and possible our neighbor’s dog have completely shredded our irrigation lines. The other dog problem we have is that Max LOVES vegetables especially bell peppers and tomatoes. He will eat them right off the plant whether they are ripe or not. More often than not he damages the plant in the process; so while most people have deer eating their gardens in our case its dogs. It’s a good thing we love our dogs!

Creating a Meal Plan Part Two

 

THE NEW YOU (1)

 

I wrote a post about the three benefits of meal planning you can read it here. When I asked my daughter and husband what they wanted to eat for supper, they were NOT helpful. So  I created a simple 30-day dinner plan to help me with making dinner time less stressful. I only included dinners because I am home during the week and for my daughter and I breakfast and lunch usually consist of some leftovers or sandwiches.

Meal Planning: 30-day Meal Plan

The easiest way to do this is to create a two-week plan and then double it. That means during the month you would only eat the exact same meal twice. I made the meal plan pretty generic so that specific meals can be added depending on your family’s preference. Right now, we are not eating as much because it’s late summer and temperatures are still reaching into the upper 90’s.

On Monday I decided on casseroles, they can be put together the night before Monday night supper much quicker. Especially if your family has activities after work and school. The following Monday I have Mexican night on my plan and so on rotating through the month.

My plan looks like this, this is only for two weeks but if you alternate it for four weeks you will only eat the same meal twice in the same month. I have found this plan to be easy and it helps me with meal-time stress.

1-Month Meal Plan

Week 1

  • Monday – Casserole
  • Tuesday-Pasta dish (spaghetti)
  • Wednesday-  Egg Dish
    (breakfast burritos, scrambled eggs etc.)
  • Thursday-Meat and potatoes
  • Friday-Leftovers
  • Saturday-Pizza
  • Sunday- Leftovers

    Week 2

  • Monday-Tex-Mex night
  • Tuesday- Pasta dish (anything but spaghetti)
  • Wednesday-Rice Dish (Stir-Fry, rice fried meat, etc.)
  • Thursday-BBQ meat (or use favorite marinade)
  • Friday-Leftovers
  • Saturday-Pizza
  • Sunday-Leftovers

Meal Planning for My Sanity

Creating a meal plan can be complex covering breakfast, lunch and dinner or relatively simple like my dinner only plan. You have to decide what is right for your family taking into consideration their likes and activities. I homeschool my daughter, we tend to do activities during the day while my husband is at work. Your children may have week or afternoon activities. There is no one size fits all for a meal plan. This works for my family and I hope it gets your creative juices flowing as an example for your family.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three Benefits of Meal Planning

Three Benefits of Meal Planning

3 Reason to meal Plan (2)Does the inevitable “What’s for dinner?” stress you out. While I don’t have a strict meal planning system because I am home during the week, I do have a mental list of easy to prepare meals. I usually give my family two options.  I will also take requests for the next night’s dinner from my daughter. That works well at our house as we have a well-stocked freezer, but what about actually sitting down and creating a meal plan for two-three weeks or even and entire month? Sound daunting? It does to me.

Creating a 30 Day Meal Plan: Why it’s a Good Idea

The first benefit of creating a meal plan is cutting  down on meal fatigue. You know the eyeball roll and the “not that again” sigh. But I too get to the point where I run out of ideas (and energy) to fix something different. So the thought of sitting down when I’m not hungry or too tired and planning it all out is appealing.

Most nights we have some sort of meat and a side dish. This gets boring quick. I try to throw in pasta dishes and breakfast dishes for supper to break it up. But even that gets old.

The second benefit of meal planning is healthier meals. I could add to our list is to make two side-dishes instead of one. I can’t think of a single side dish that we all like. My husband and I love mushrooms, but I have to sneak them into spaghetti sauce to get my daughter to eat them. I like beans my husband doesn’t and the list goes on and on.

The third benefit is not having to wonder is you have all of the ingredients to make a particular dish. Grocery shopping would include all the ingredients to make one-two weeks worth of meals at a time. Which would save running to the store for that one thing that you ran out of.

Creating a 30 Day Meal Plan: Getting Started

What I really need to do is to sit down with my husband, daughter and my three-ringed binder of recipes and brain storm dinner ideas for two weeks’ worth of no repeat meals. That means in a month we would only eat the exact same thing twice. That sounds like a great plan. Tonight, instead of asking how was your day, ask your family what would you like to eat for the next two weeks? Generate a list of 14 meals (breakfast, lunch and or just dinners) that could serve as the basis for your meal plan. I will do the same with my family and in another post I will share with you what we came up with.

Five Things to Consider When Buying Land

 

Five Things to Consider When Buying LandWe live on an acre of  land in central Arkansas, US.  But only about 1/10 of that acre is actually used for our raised bed gardens. The rest is just lawn with various flower beds. It’s a myth that a person has to have a lot of land to garden. You just need to make good use of the are that you have. If you are in the process of looking for another piece of land here are a few things to consider.

Five Things to Consider When Buying Land for a Garden

  1. How much sun does the property get? Most vegetables need full sun or at least 6 hours of sun light per day.
  2. How is the drainage of the property?  If you plan on putting some or all of your garden in the ground, drainage could be an issue. Our land has a high water table and floods easily. We have raspberries and black berries in the ground, but the rest of our garden plants are in raised beds.
  3.  If there is a house on the property, where is it in relation to the garden? You don’t want to walk a mile to get to your garden spot. Our garden is directly behind our house. I like this because no one can see it from the road. I just walk onto the deck and out the gate, pick what I need, then go back inside.
  4. If the property in in a urban area is gardening even allowed? States are changing their laws so check with local ordinances before you buy.
  5. Does the land need a lot of prep work to be ready for a garden? Will trees or brush need to be cleared from the land? Do you have the equipment? Will you have to hire someone?

Even if you are looking at a city lot all of these considerations–the amount of sun,  how well does it drains, and is gardening even allowed on the property–should be considered before you buy.

Five Things I learned From a 26 Hour Power Outage

Five things I learned from a 26 hour Power outage

Power Outage

July 14th, we had a storm with 40-60 mile per hour winds that seemed to come out of nowhere; it caught us, our neighbors and the power company completely off guard. We lost our power from about 5 p.m. on the 14th until 9 p.m. the following night. While I’m usually prepared for events like these, I was scrambling around to find lights.

The first lesson I learned from this storm was that while my oil lamp puts out a lot of light, it also puts out an equal measure of heat. I would have enjoyed this in the winter, however June was VERY hot this year with most days in the triple digits.

There were trees down all over our neighborhood. I looked out my kitchen window to see our neighbor escorting people through his field to get around a large tree that was across the road. The tree was temporarily piled on the edge of our property; bright and early the next morning our neighbors were out cleaning it up.

I cooked pork chops that I had previously thawed on the side burner of our gas grill. It was so hot I didn’t really enjoy the food, but I hadn’t used the side burner on our gas grill. It passed the test with great results.

5 things I learned from a power outage:

  1. Check on your neighbors, make sure they are alright. It maybe beneficial to have everyone in one home to combine emergency supplies, depending on how long the power is out. We got our power back on before our next door neighbor, so we loaned him our generator and a small air conditioning ( A/C) unit. He has a wife and two small girls under six years old.
  2. Keep extra batteries for all your emergency lights. Pick two months of the year to change batteries, I use January and June. Don’t forget to replace the batteries if they are used for an emergency. Our lights use either AA or AAA batteries, keeping the battery sizes to just two types just makes it easier.
  3. When you are doing update projects in your home make certain emergency lights are put back where they were. I was painting and failed to put our wall mounted lights  back up.
  4. Keep extra movies (preferable ones no one has seen), board games and print books etc. for everyone in your family. Most of our movies are digital, I had to look hard for disks to play on the laptop.
  5. DO NOT wait to buy a generator. We have a small propane generator that we bought two years ago. It will run our deep freezer or an A/C unit, but not both. Needless to say,  I plugged the freezer in first. It will also run a lamp, fans and a laptop for movies. They kept us occupied through the heat, I waited to turn on the A/C until about 3 pm, and our house was about 90* F.

Power outages: A Simpler Life Style

I want to be a self sufficient as possible. I also want to my material possessions to be at a minimum.  These two concepts are not at odds, but are amiable friends. Keeping non-essential items gives us the space to have emergency supplies. If some are integrated into the home (such as the battery operated lights I have mounted in various places) they are just a part of my home’s decor. Preparing for a power outage is best done when the weather is good, NOT when a storm is looming. Don’t be caught off guard like we were, storms can happen at any time.

 

Home Office Update on a Budget

Does your home office need an update here are some ideas to help you stay within your budget.

Does your home office need an update here are some ideas to help you stay within your budget.

“Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”  ~William Morris

Home Office Update: On a budget

The first step with any home office update is to reduce the clutter. I wrote a post about decluttering my house about this time last year. You can read it here. Decluttering is a process. I work on it everyday. Sometimes, I have to revisit areas I have already cleaned in order to reduce things further.

We went through all the books sorting them, getting rid of the ones we didn’t want, and grouping the series together to make them easier to find. Between my two printers are two cardboard magazine holders. One actually has magazines in it that I’m keeping for a winter project. The other contains printer paper.

Home Office Update: Use What You Have

I’ve done some rearranging in my home office to make the space more organized for my writing  and my daughter’s homeschooling. My last class for my B.A is online and my daughter does her homeschooling through Discovery K12.

We need a well organized home office for our studies. We moved a small dresser from my daughter’s room into my office to make space in her room for a desk. I also moved a desk into my office that was serving as our kitchen table, until we replaced it with an actual kitchen table.

My husband and I recently traded desk chairs because mine was too large to fit under my desk. It worked great. Not all updates require a lot of money, sometimes it just takes a creative mind to see things in a new way.

Home office update: Working with Things that Can’t be Moved

There are two things in my office we can’t move, the deep freezer and the 125 gallon fish tank. There is no where else in the house we can put them. How many people have a home office with fish tank that large? I am so blessed.

My desk is large and has ample drawer space, maybe too much. Empty drawers are not a bad thing, what is frustrating is not being able to find that one item you’re looking for. More space just means more areas to put things.

Rearranging furniture allowed me to see what I already had, it saved us money and kept unnecessary items out of the house. I did buy a new rug for $30, which I thought was a good price. It’s larger, thicker and softer than the previous rug I had. It’s a solid beige and makes my office seem larger.

Remodeling a room doesn’t have to be costly,  I spent $35 ($30 on a rug and $5 on a large framed water color.) It just takes a creative eye to see the possibilities. I have learned from my other updates that taking things out to discover what really needs to be in a room is a great way to start. And if something like my freezer and fish tank can’t be moved, we just work around them.

It’s back to school time

cone-flower-196699_1280
Purple Coneflower

I have one more class to finish before I can graduate with my B.A in Professional and Technical Writing. My daughter will be restarting sixth grade. Why restarting? My summer class and  health issues got in the way of our school time, so I decided that we would start again about the time public schools begin.

One of the great things about homeschooling is we can make adjustments to our schedule as we go. My math class is online and starts on Wednesday the 17th. I plan to start my daughter on her studies  that Monday. We are already going to bed earlier and trying to get back into a busier schedule, which is difficult because it is in the high 90’s to over 100 degrees here.

I HATE summer.

For most of the month of June I had a migraine; concerned, I went back and had medical tests, everything came back normal. Life happens and it can be stressful. I am making it a point to be more active. I started a butterfly garden today with five cone flower plants. They look really bad right now. Our lab puppy Ayla, jumped right into the middle of the bed and sat on one of my plants. BAD GIRL.

The bed is 4 foot by 4 foot in an area that can be added onto later. I planted Cheyenne Spirit Coneflower, which starts out with  white flowers then they turn to orange and Double Scoop Mandarin Coneflower which has red flowers. I will post pictures once they get rooted and start growing. Right now, all we are doing is watering and waiting for cooler weather. Chuck planted some more cucumbers and we will be planting Blue Lake beans soon as well.

Life lessons from Homeschooling

Homeschool

We are in the final stretch of another homeschool year and I have learned a few life lessons from our 2 year adventure. My daughter is 11 and will be going into sixth grade, she will be completely finished with her 5th grade lessons by about April or so. Then we will take week or off and start on her next round of lessons. We don’t completely stop for more than a week at a time, I think she looses too much without the constant reinforcement and review of her subjects. Whether I am tying a math lesson into a cooking lesson or we are buying groceries, tying it all together through life lessons makes abstract concepts more concrete and easier for her to remember.

Our Homeschool Day

Our usual routine is to do math everyday. I just want her to make steady progress on her other subjects. If she is close to finishing a book, I will encourage her to do a few more lessons to get that subject finished up. She works about 2 hours per day on her studies. I allow her up to a 30 minute break after math. When she gets done she is usually stressed and mentally worn. The short break lets her go outside or have a snack and recharge, while not being so long she doesn’t want to get back to her lessons.

There is no one size fits all schedule for homeschooling kids.  It has taken me awhile to just relax and not stress myself if she doesn’t get started until 10. Who decided school had to start at the crack of dawn anyway? The important thing is that we get through her lessons.

We all have our own morning routines, my daughter likes to start her day with snuggling  with our dogs on the couch. I like to start my day with lots of coffee. No problem . . . unless I need to go to town. I like to get my errands done early. So we compromise on those days. I will “excuse” from her other subjects and tie them into our trip somehow. As long as math is done every day, I am a happy mom.

Heading out for the school of hard knocks.

Life lessons aren’t just for kids, sometimes I need to be reminded of them as well. While I have deadlines for my college coursework, I don’t want to put that kind of stress on my daughter. It’s not necessary at her age or grade level. I need to remind myself to breathe, no one is criticizing me about what time we finish, except myself.