High Hopes for a Fruitful Summer

Our plum tree has blossomed and if every flower turns into a plum — well, let’s just say I’ll be happier than Little Jack Horner!

Tiny little bees were buzzing around the tree all day yesterday, pollinating away. Keeping my fingers crossed that the unpredictable Michigan weather doesn’t blast us one last time with winter’s rage.

For now, enjoying the beauty of spring, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

 

She’s Not A Bird Dog — She’s A Bird Monitor!

One of my favorite things about spring is filling the bird feeders. I know that it would probably make more sense to fill the bird feeders during winter when the birds are far less likely to have an abundance of food, but for selfish reasons I typically only feed them in the spring.

Spring is when I have time to sit and enjoy watching the birds at the feeder. There are feeders set up along the back of our house so that no matter where I’m sitting, whether it’s in the kitchen nook, the dining room, or at my desk in the great room, I have a view of a bird feeder. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly the birds find the feeders even after months of them being empty. It takes less than an hour before the first sparrow visits.

Besides myself enjoying all the activity at the bird feeders, Bell enjoys it just as much. She will sit at the back door staring at the birds flying from feeder to feeder for hours. If it’s warm enough and I put her cushion out on the chair, she will sit there even longer.

One thing about Bell though, she is not a bird dog…she is a bird monitor. She lets me know when there are birds at the feeders, but has never tried to catch them. Just by the position of her ears, she tells me when there are or aren’t birds at the feeder.

If her ears are down, this means there aren’t any visitors. But when her ears go half way up, ahhh, then you know there’s activity.

Ears are getting perky – definitely activity at the bird feeder.

Bell has never chased any of the birds in our yard. In fact she’ll walk by the bird feeder and quite often the birds won’t even leave. She will walk within two feet of them, and they just keep on feeding.

When I fill the feeders, birds are not the only visitors we receive. Unfortunately there is an abundance of squirrels in our neighborhood and the minute those feeders are filled, the squirrels are determined to get their share. To their utter disappointment, however, Bell will have none of that. You see, as much as Bell is a bird monitor, she is even more so of a squirrel evictor.

When her ears perk up as high as her ears perk

and she stands on her hind legs to look out the door

This is when you know a squirrel is nearby. She runs to the sliding door and chases those squirrels out of our yard.

This goes on all day long. I have seen as many as three squirrels at one time in our little plum tree trying to get into the bird feeder, but the minute Bell bounds out the door, they scatter. Bell especially likes it when she traps a squirrel in the tree. She will pace around the tree, run up and down the patio, and try her hardest to climb up the tree trunk for however long it takes that squirrel to get up enough nerve to bolt out of the tree and over into the security of our neighbors fenced-in yard. One morning Hubby and I watched her happily keep a squirrel captive in the tree for 45 minutes before she finally walked far enough away from the tree for the squirrel to make its escape. She certainly slept good that afternoon.

This squirrel escaped to our neighbors roof and sat there growling at Bell for the longest…

Bell definitely has a job! She doesn’t bother the birds, but is sure to chase away those pesky squirrels. The fact that she’s a bird monitor rather than a bird dog is something I am truly – Simply Grateful for!

All clear – Just Bell and the birds!


6-Month Hiatus

It’s been a long while! Six months and a day since my last post here at Simply Grateful Housewife and even now writing is not going to again be part of my normal routine.

So much has happened in the past 6 months, but not a day has gone by that I haven’t thought about blogging. I have piles of recipes and post ideas ready for the writing, but time just escapes me. When Hubby retired ten months ago I never dreamed that so many things that filled my days would suddenly become things of the past. It’s not that I don’t want to do them anymore, but for the moment I don’t NEED them as I used to.

Blogging used to be more of an escape for me. It filled in the long hours I spent alone — or at least without the company of my Hubby. Seeing him 16 hours a week for nearly two years and not much more than that for the twenty or so years prior to that, I was always looking for things to fill my time. Crafting, scrapbooking, writing, journaling, cooking, canning, blogging, and then gardening were just a few of the things I took up. Through the years I got burned out doing several of them, but the last batch of time-fillers I had chosen are still high on my list of things I want to do, it’s just that now isn’t their time.

Now my days are spent enjoying the company of a husband that I never truly got to know. It’s amazing how I could have been married to this person for 24 years  and am just now beginning to really know him.  Spending 24/7 with him for ten months is bound to give you a bit more insight into a person.

For better or worse! Hubby has brought this up many times and always concludes it with, “We’ve did the worse part for the past 23 years, so how about trying for the better part now!” Sounds like a plan.

We’ve taken day trips, seen parts of Michigan that we’ve never seen, done things we’ve never done, and spent days just sitting together doing absolutely nothing and yet we’re not bored. At first I thought I’d want to do all the things I thought I was missing out on. Now I’m just happy to spend a quiet morning with him sitting in front of the computer drinking coffee and me putzing around the house. Just having him home is enough to fulfill me.

This too shall pass!

Maybe.

I’m not going to expect this honeymoon phase to last forever and I can’t say honestly that there haven’t been days when he’s gotten on my nerves and I have to run up to the store to escape, but when I think back about all the time we lost and will never get back, I think I’ll take being with him rather than without him.

I’m always surprised to see how many visitors I receive each day on my blog and want to thank all of you for stopping by. I know as Hubby and I get more used to being together I’ll be able to return to blogging and do look forward to it. I miss the blogging but at the same time I don’t want to take time to do something so completely selfish — not now. Eventually the day will come when I’ll be able to split my time between “making up for lost time with Hubby” and doing the things that I enjoy doing by myself, but for now the only thing I want to fill my time is Hubby. That being said, who’s to say that day won’t come next week or even tomorrow?

At the moment Hubby is sitting in the office, in front of the computer, drinking coffee. I’m sitting on the couch, with Bell between my legs sleeping, and blogging. Not a bad way to spend the evening, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

 

Gardening Stops and Starts

I can’t decide if I take one step forward and two steps back, two steps forward and one step back, or if I’m just running in place. For everything that goes right in the garden, there is at least one thing that goes wrong.

Yet, I love it. I absolutely love being in the garden, tending to the plants, figuring out how to fix problems, and especially picking all the veggies!

Yesterday I picked our first cucumber. It was perfect.

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Grace and I split it and ate it like we hadn’t eaten in weeks. There is nothing like the taste of freshly picked, home-grown vegetables.

Last year I harvested about 200 cucumbers from the A-frame which was far less than the 300+ I’d gotten the year before. I moved the A-frame to a new location this year in hopes of returning to the 300+ again, but at the moment it doesn’t appear I have too many female flowers on the vines.

I’ll keep checking and pollinate when the bees aren’t so we can get as many as possible. Last year, practically every cucumber went into jars of pickles. This year I’d like to have a few more to enjoy fresh.

Other than the cucumber, I haven’t harvested anything else recently. Rather I’ve been dealing with slugs in my fruit trees and splitting tomato plants. Check out these posts at Simply Grateful Gardener for more information: Tomato Plant Woes – Splitting Down the Middle and The Cherry Slug.

It’s raining cats and dogs outside right now, filling the rain barrels and watering the garden. Tomorrow I’ll harvest the rest of the first crop of peas, possibly the remaining first crop of beets, and maybe I’ll even find another cucumber. Oh, and yeah I do have some blight to deal with in the tomato garden…the bad with the good, and still I am — Simply Grateful.

Surest Way To Make Sure It Doesn’t Rain

Over a month ago Hubby and I embarked on a rainwater harvesting expansion project in order to help cut the amount of household water that would be needed to maintain my garden. At the time I felt rushed to get the project up and running so as to get the most savings possible out of this new endeavor.

Last year our rain barrel supplied me with hundreds of gallons of water, thus saving us lots of money on water bills. My hope was to eventually have so many rain barrels full of water that I wouldn’t need to use the house water at all. A huge hope, but one can certainly dream.

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Hubby wanted to keep things a bit more realistic in our expansion and we compromised from my suggestion of 10 barrels to 5. I don’t know that this is really a compromise though because eventually, if things work out the way I think they will, Hubby will see things my way and we’ll be up to 10 in no time.

For two days we worked on the project, leveling, cutting, measuring (hopefully not in this order), and piecing together garbage can to garbage can. Although we had a few mis-drillings, which resulted in those cans becoming the “Compost” bins, in the end we ended up with 5 ready-for-rain rain barrels. For more information, check out my post at Simply Grateful Gardening Rainwater Harvesting.

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Then we waited.

And waited.

And waited.

And waited.

June came and went with not so much as enough rain to make a dent in one of the rain barrels, let alone five of them. I began to wonder if I’d jinxed us getting any rain at all by putting in so many rain barrels.

Then came July and again we waited.

And waited.

And waited for seven days. Then, last night it finally happened.

IT RAINED!

For joy, for joy, we have been blessed!

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Yep, this morning I woke to five completely full rain barrels, a rain drenched garden, and inspiration to begin collecting more garbage cans for… “just in case!”

Happiness is a rain barrel full of water and a garden NOT in need of watering (that’s what I call security), and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

What to do with those beets!

Planting beets has become somewhat of a tradition here at our house. For the past three years now I have enjoyed success with growing beets and because of this it was only natural that I would plant them again this year. The trouble with this is the pantry is already full of canned and pickled beets. Not that they’ll go bad or anything, but there is only so much space in the pantry and beets have taken up their allotment.

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Yesterdays Beet Harvest

In the past I’ve done four things with the beets we’ve harvested from the garden:

  1. Pickled Beets
  2. Canned Beets
  3. Beet Jelly
  4. And the last is Beet-Horseradish Relish which I made last year for the first time.

I posted the recipe for the Beet-Horseradish Relish on Simply Grateful Canning if you’d like to check it out.

Besides making the relish I also decided to try and make the most of the beet greens. We aren’t too big on eating a big variety of greens around here, but when I read I could freeze them and use them to make stock I figured what’s the worst thing that could happen? I’d end up throwing out a batch of stock if it didn’t taste good. The only precaution I read was that the beet greens would probably turn the stock reddish or brownish depending on what kind of stock you were making. No worries, I can deal with that and if it gives the stock another dimension of flavor, well that’s just an added bonus on top of the added nutrients.

The process for freezing beet greens is posted on Simply Grateful Canning Making The Most Of Your Beets, if you’re interested.

I plan on planting another crop in August for the fall. Why? I’m not really sure, but when I’ve had as difficult a time in the garden as I have had this year, I need a little gardening success. I might can them or perhaps I’ll just give them to the neighbors. Either way they won’t go to waste, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Does anyone have other ideas for canning or using beets?

Planning Ahead Pays Off

Back in March when it was too cold to garden and Hubby had just begun his experiment in retirement, I spent three days in the kitchen (while Hubby was settling in to his new spot in the office) canning bags of beans I’d accumulated from grocery store sales. I canned pinto, Great Northern, navy, and new to my bean canning roster — Garbanzo beans (chickpeas). I think in the end I ended up with somewhere around 70 jars (varying sizes) of beans.

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For months now I have enjoyed using these beans in various recipes and can’t say enough about how nice it is to use home-canned beans right from the pantry whenever I want. I’ve especially enjoyed making Hummus with the garbanzo beans.

Today I made a batch of baked beans. It’s actually the second batch I’ve made this year, but although I took pictures of the first batch I neither did a post nor did I seem to find it necessary to save the recipe. I know we liked it, but I can’t cry over spilt milk. So this morning I spent several hours reviewing recipes, choosing ingredients, and then making a batch of quick, saucy beans.

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For the entire story and recipe check out my latest post at Simply Grateful Cooking for Saucy Homemade Baked Beans. These turned out excellent. It’s funny though, when I look back at the pictures of the ingredients I used for the first batch of beans I made, they look very different from the ones I used this time. I wouldn’t be surprised if I decide to continue my experiment with baked beans because there is always room for improvement.

Losing my first recipe could be considered a bad thing, but at least I found another one that everyone liked and got to experiment with some different ingredients, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Look What I Did!

For the past few days I have been working on completing a garden project that I am very excited about. I built a fence around my garden.

I know, this might not be the most exciting news in the world, but boy am I excited about it. Not only does it look so much nicer than the sagging, flimsy chicken wire I staked around the garden last year, but I made it all by myself!

What do you think?

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It’s made from PVC pipe and connectors, the same flimsy chicken wire that was around the garden last year, and a ton of zip ties. And, wait for it, I even made a gate for it! Never underestimate the power of a woman who wants a nice looking fence around her garden!

This was really a cinch to build. It took more time that it should have only because of the exhausting heat I’ve had to contend with for the past week. Actually, if the weather had been more cooperative, I probably could have finished it in a day or two. As it was, it took a bit longer.

Plus, it cost only about $50. I swear the chicken wire alone for my 16′ x 32′ garden would probably be half that, but I got mine at a garage sale and from a little neighborly garbage picking.

If you’d like to read how I made this, check out my post at Simply Grateful Gardener for Building A Garden Fence With PVC Pipe. Maybe next I’ll make a new A-frame for the cucumbers and then a smaller one for the zucchini. The possibilities are endless.

Finally, something in the garden going right, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

The Gardening Gods Have Blessed Me With — Clouds!

Clouds. Think of the cooling shadows of summer which benevolent Nature spreads over her darling forests and gardens – summer shadows of wonderful depth and brilliancy like the wings of a mother bird over her young.

~ John Muir

Clouds! Yes there are finally clouds in the sky and judging from horizon there are many more are on the way.

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Free! Free I say. I can finally step outside and breathe in the hot, fresh air of an early taste of summer. Let no more the confines of these four walls hold me captive.

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Reprieve! My garden was given a reprieve from the scorching rays of the sun, granting my plants a fighting chance at surviving the elements in what can be a hard, cold world (hard, hot world in this case).

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I will never again take for granted the luxury of a shadow stretching across the afternoon sky or the cool breeze that always seems to follow.

Thank you dear Gardening Gods, I am grateful for your gift, and as always — Simply Grateful.

Addiction

I have a problem.

There, I’ve said it. Now, isn’t that supposed to be the first step, half the battle, or count for something anyway?

Yes, I have a problem, an addiction really, and I didn’t realize it until just recently. I had an idea that perhaps there might be a small issue, but actually, now that I have faced the facts, I realize this is far more serious than I ever allowed myself to believe.

Sure I put up a good front, not letting on that lurking just below the surface, behind closed doors, heck even under the mattress that there was a secret I couldn’t bear to reveal to anyone. Not even myself.

Most of the time I keep it in check. Out of necessity really. I mean, addictions can be very expensive. Yet, where there’s a will, there’s a way, and somehow I find a way more often than I should.

Now, I’m not discounting that there are many addictions out there far more worthy of attention than mine. This is by no means meant to poke fun at such a thing. But in a way I think everyone has an addiction of some sort be it to sugar, television, smart phones, working out, or even gardening or say cooking (yeah, I’m definitely borderline when it comes to those last two).

My addiction isn’t serious in the sense that I could hurt myself or others, unless of course I find myself somehow trapped under the fruits of my addiction or Hubby finds out and tries to perhaps “help” me, in which case, YES, he could get hurt. For the most part though, the only consequences of my weakness are a lighter checkbook and the continuing shrinkage of space available to enable me. Although I don’t think there could ever not be enough room for just one more…

So, here it goes…without further procrastination…there’s no time like the present to fess up…it’s time to be brave and acknowledge one of my many shortcomings in life…

I am addicted to…of course to many of you out there this will probably come as no great surprise and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this and many of you share this same affliction…

Where was I?

Oh yeah, I am addicted to —

COOKBOOKS!

I know, I know. This isn’t the end of the world. Things could be worse. But if you only knew how many cookbooks I really have and how I never think I have too many. Sure I have those few gems proudly displayed on my baker’s rack in the kitchen, and a few sparsely placed about the house for show, but if you were to sneak a peek into the cabinets in my dining room or open any of the many binders hidden among the books on every bookshelf in the house, you’d find cookbook after cookbook after cookbook after personally compiled cookbook. And this is after I vowed to scale down and get rid of my collection.

Actually I’ve down scaled my collection twice thus far in my lifetime. The first time was after Hubby and I were married. I’d collected hundreds of cookbooks prior to our marriage with the good intentions of using each and every one of them until my fingers bled. Throw in a new house, two kids, home schooling, part-time jobs, and life in general, and cookbooks became the least of my concern. So at a garage sale I sold off more than 3/4 of my collection, keeping only those I truly used or just couldn’t part with.

Then, as the kids got older I began volunteering at our local library for their used book sales. What a little piece of heaven that was. Not only did this enable my cookbook addiction like never before, but I also acquired a passion for children’s books (here I managed to collect more than 5,000 children’s books), mysteries (who knew there were so many mystery series that included recipes), and Christmas books (everything from decorating ideas to cooking to traditions from around the world). In all, over the course of ten or so years I managed to fill our house and every bookshelf in it with more than 8,000 books.

When the kids graduated from home schooling and began schools outside the home, I began downsizing my children’s book collection. I donated more than 1/2 of them to an elementary school and then sold the rest to a book dealer for practically nothing. The Christmas books too have nearly completely been donated back to the library. I have only two bookshelves of children’s books and one of Christmas books in the basement. All of the mystery novels have been donated to local charities, except for a few that have recipes in them I don’t want to just copy and stick in a binder.

The cookbooks…well, this is another matter. While I did go through and scan recipes out of nearly 1/3 of them and then donate them to St. Vincent last year, there are still lots of cookbooks I just can’t seem to part with. And to make matters worse, a good friend of mine introduced me to America’s Test Kitchen and now I am addicted to their cookbooks, their website, and even on occasion their shows. (Thanks Suzanne!) So far I have bought five of their books off Amazon, found two at the library book sale, and have three or four in my cart on Amazon for whenever I get the money to buy them.

For me a cookbook is not just a collection of recipes. I read them like books and because of this, I prefer cookbooks that share the history behind the recipe, the theory that makes the recipe work, or any personal insight an author is willing to share. I can’t tell you how satisfying it is to read where a recipe originated, what ingredients were tried and then changed because they just didn’t work well, or how someone’s great-great-grandmother brought the recipe over from England when she came here with her husband seeking a better life. Danielle Steele, James Patterson, and J. K. Rowling have nothing on Mark Bittman, Julia Child, and Christopher Kimball.

Addiction, obsession, or quirky hobby — whatever you want to call it, for me cookbooks are it. There have been many other addictions through the years, but none have held on so long or so strong and I do believe this is one that is going to stay. It does go in spurts. Especially if someone happens to entice me with say watching an episode or two of America’s Test Kitchen (which opened up a whole can of worms — America’s Test Kitchen, Cook’s Country, Cook’s Illustrated) or perhaps sharing a movie with me (Julie & Julia – which led to a near obsession with Julia Child!), then all bets are off. (Again, thanks Suzanne!)

Anyway, I just had to get this off my chest. I’m really in a hurry now because I just got a delivery from the mailman. He has a box of three brand new cookbooks I got on sale and the evening is young, I’ve got a hot cup of caffeinated coffee, and Hubby is working in the office — and for this I am — Simply Grateful.