The Snap Pea Circus is in Town; Cucumbers in a Cage

Hello, friends! I’m sitting at my kitchen table, seeing how cloudy it is outside and occasionally stepping out to see how warm and humid it is. This past week was pretty brutal. The temps were in the 90’s and very humid. The sun baked all of the soaking wet dirt to a concrete-like hardness. Prior to last week, we’d been having high 70’s to low 80’s temps and rain almost every day or two. The sudden introduction to summer was a real shocker.

My pea plants, which were doing okay because of the nice cool weather were growing quite well. I put several bamboo poles up and strung cheap, brightly colored yarn between the poles, making a double-pass on the rows, so I could pinch the plants between the yarn and hold them upright. Peas are a cool-weather plant. The sudden thrust into summer practically broke their spirits. They were planted rather late, due to the weather and hubby’s work commitments. Then, the first planting of peas just…disappeared. Nothing grew, so we had to re-plant. Anyway, we finally have them growing, and flowering, but now we need to get them out of the direct sun and the heat. Thus, I broke out the brightly-colored party tablecloths I bought at the Dollar Tree. Remember when I used them to protect my fruit trees from that late frost in April? Well, I folded them neatly and stored them, in case they were needed again…and they were.

Pea plants and their trellises
Pea plants and their trellises
Homemade trellis for my pea plants
Homemade trellis for my pea plants

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I simply laid the bright tablecloths over the tops of the bamboo stakes and clothespinned them onto the poles.

 

pea plants with a sun canopy
pea plants with a sun canopy.

Looks like the circus is in town, doesn’t it?

The canopy is open at both ends that the wind is coming from, to allow a cooling breeze to pass under, yet keeps the peas out of the direct sun. I have it all the way to the ground on the western side, yet mostly open on the eastern side, to allow air flow.

Canopies are only partially open on the eastern side, as the sun is directly overhead.
Canopies are only partially open on the eastern side, as the sun is directly overhead.
Canopies are clothespinned on, so if it gets too windy, or a storm blows in, they can be quickly removed.
Canopies are clothespinned on, so if it gets too windy, or a storm blows in, they can be quickly removed.
open on the eastern side of the "tent"
open on the eastern side of the “tent”
Inside is still very well-lighted, but it's a diffused light
Inside is still very well-lighted, but it’s a diffused light
Plants look grateful to be out of the intense 90 degree sun
Plants look grateful to be out of the intense 90 degree sun

The tents allow for air flow, and light, yet not so much light as to burn the plants. I put the tent up over them around 10am, when the sun starts warming up. I let some of the dew that landed the night before, evaporate, prior to putting the canopy over them. The canopy stays up until about 4pm, when the sun is on the other side of the house and the peas are out of the direct light. On cloudy days, I leave the canopy off, of course.

Speaking of circus, my hubby and I planted a bunch of cucumbers. The plants have started to really spread, but I had promised him that if he let me plant cucumbers, I will keep them corralled. I had no idea how I would do it, but I figured I’ll figure something out…and I did.

My husband and I had those simple safety gates…you know the kind you put up in a doorway, then lower a ratchet-type bar in the center and the ends then tighten to block off the door? Well, my son at the age of two learned how to get through them, so we had to get a permanent gate; the type that attach to the wall. Since both of my kiddies have outgrown the gate, I needed something to do with them, as they were taking up space and getting in the way of everything.

Last week, I pulled the gates out of the garage, separated each section and turned the gate sideways. The gate had vertical bars, so I turned it sideways, creating horizontal bars and zip-tied the corners.

Come see the ferocious garden-choking cucumbers in a cage.
Come see the ferocious garden-choking cucumbers in a cage.

I zip-tied three of the corners and left the fourth corner open and used a piece of aluminum wire, which I twisted into an “S-” shape to use as a latch.

My cucumber cage's latch
My cucumber cage’s latch

The latch makes it easier to get in and out of the cage, to help the leaves latch onto the sides of the cage, or to pick the cucumbers, when it is time.

Happy cucumbers.
Happy cucumbers.

Any type of old safety gate can be used, or even if you have an old crib, which is no longer being used, or maybe a wire bed frame. Just make sure it is put up, so it will be stable. If it falls when someone leans on it, then it isn’t safe for the plants or your family. You wouldn’t want a member of your family nearby picking fruits and veggies for dinner and bumping into it, only to have the whole frame collapse on them.

I am already looking for seeds to use for next year. I found a seed company that is dedicated to non-GMO seeds and plants. They specialize in heirloom seeds, certified organic seeds; they sell poultry as well. The shipping, if you order over $20 worth is free; they stand behind their products and it’s a small family-run business. (No, I am not being paid by them to endorse their products. I do, however, strongly encourage you to look at their huge seed catalog, online.) The Sand Hill Preservation Center catalog has over 1600 rare and genetic seeds that you just won’t find at Wal-Mart or Rural King. I personally like the heirloom produce better. The taste of an heirloom tomato is strong and sweet. The taste hasn’t been bred out of them, in order to last longer on the vine, or to be a brighter color. The online website is http://www.sandhillpreservation.com. I’ve had to call a few times and they are always very friendly and answer any question I have about my garden. I strongly encourage you, before buying your seeds from a chain store and getting seeds that may have been genetically modified, you try some of Sand Hill’s seeds. Many of the seeds are cheaper than Burpee’s and you get more seeds. Get a few friends to get in with you. You’ll save on shipping, you can trade seeds and maybe try some seeds you wouldn’t have known existed. Best of all, you are supporting a family-run company.

Have you held a door for someone today? Maybe waved someone through at a four-way stop? Did you wait patiently while an elderly person slowly wheeled their wagon up to the check-out counter, rather than race past them? Have you started to recycle, if you didn’t do so already? Maybe take your neighbor’s trashcan out on trash day, when they forgot? Read a book aloud to your child? Have you sat down outside with your child for a picnic lunch and just watched to clouds roll by? Maybe as a surprise, serve just watermelon and other fruit for a nice summer dinner? Buy a few burgers and a drink from the dollar menu at McDonalds and hand the sack lunch to a homeless person on the street? Make a person smile today, because tomorrow is not guaranteed. Help someone today, for you never know if you may be the one in need in the future.

Until next time, my friends, I wish you all peace and happiness and a happy harvest!

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Gardening to save money Pt 2 (potatoes)

Hello, my friends! I hope you all are well. Hopefully most of us have seen a bit of green in our yard. Yesterday as I was raking, I saw a glimpse of yellow; it was a crocus that had bloomed. I have three that have bloomed, so SPRING IS HERE!! Sure, a winter storm is expected on Sunday, with snow and freezing rain, but I am not concerned. My plants are coming back to life!

First crocus of the year!
First crocus of the year!

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My tulips
My tulips

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I am moving a huge pile of leaves we had in the front yard, to our backyard garden. As I’d mentioned in an earlier posting, we “borrowed” the leaves from several neighbors (with their permission) and had a huge pile in the front for the kids (YumYum, Beaker and my hubby) to play around in. Nothing says “autumn” like a pile of leaves to jump in. Since we had the leaves from three different yards AND ours…well, that’s a lot of leaves. The leaves were crunched up as everyone played in them, then winter and the snow further crunched and composted them, so now I am getting these wet, decaying leaves to cover the garden area with. When we rototill the area, the leaves will be rototilled under the ground. Anyway, I’ve been preparing my list of possible veggies to grow and I’ve been asking hubby if we can grow potatoes. “No, they take up too much room and you can never find all of them. They also eat all of the nutrients.” Fine. No potatoes in the garden. However, what about in a cat food bag?

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cat food bags are woven strips of plastic...very strong.
cat food bags are woven strips of plastic…very strong.

I recently read that potatoes do suck a great deal of nutrients from the ground, and are prone to some diseases, like brown scab. Once you get some types of diseases in the ground, you may as well have salted the area, since you can never grow stuff there again. I would love to grow potatoes, but I am not willing to sacrifice my garden for them. Therefore, I am going to grow them in the plastic bags from my cat food.

I buy the large bags of cat food for my critters. The plastic bags are woven plastic strips…very strong. Now I have read how you can use black trash bags to grow potatoes in, but I think the bags would split open from the weight of the dirt; sticks poking it, etc. I know I have a hard time running to the trashcan outside with a large garbage bag. Also, it seems wasteful to me, to use up plastic garbage bags for this. If you have a pet or a friend who has a pet, ask for their empty plastic food bags. Burlap sacks can be used, feed bags, or any type of sack you have on hand. No sack? If you can get your hands on a few old tires, I have read you can use those. Lay the tire flat on the ground and fill the center with dirt and mulch. Put your seed potatoes in the center and cover. As the potato plant grows, you add another tire on top. Fill it with dirt and more seed potatoes. Keep going until they are four tires high. A word of caution: Numerous online forums state to use your potatoes from the grocery store that have sprouted eyes. I wouldn’t, personally, since those will often be infected with brown scab. Just go get seed potatoes from your store.

How to do it in a cat food bag? Well, first with a sharp pair of scissors, poke numerous holes in the bottom of the bag and about 1/3 of the way up the sides. Not a lot of holes and not huge ones; just to help with drainage. Next, bring the empty bag to the area you plan to grow them at. Do this first, so you don’t fill the bag up, then have to drag it to the area you plan to grow it. Add about six to eight inches of soil and some compost at the bottom of the bag. If using a 22 pound bag, use no more than 3 pieces of seed potato. That’s right…not ten or fifteen as some sites I’ve read stated. Potatoes are greedy little buggers. They will suck the nutrition from other potatoes, to feed themselves. If you get over-ambitious and plant 15 potato pieces in one 30-gallon garbage bag, as I’ve read stated on one particular site, then you will wind up with a handful of potatoes that are the size of a large marble. Just save your large feed bags, and plant two or maybe three PIECES per bag. Roll the bag down, about halfway. Put the dirt and compost in. Lay your seed potato on the six inches of dirt, the side with the most “eyes” or longest “eyes” facing up and gently cover with dirt, for a few inches. Water, but don’t make them soggy. As the plant grows, add more dirt and compost to cover most of the green plant, but leave an inch aboveground. Unroll the bag and continue to fill the bag until you reach about two inches from the top of the bag. Let the plant grow, flower and die off.After the plant itself has died off, dig up the potato, by cutting the sides of the bag and permit the potatoes to dry for a day.

I really want to try this. Several sites have said that potatoes can grow in just straw…no dirt, just straw. Since we have so many dry leaves, I’m going to attempt this with some organic potatoes in my cat food bags. Since beans fix nitrogen in the soil and potatoes drain the soil of nitrogen, I was trying to see if I could plant beans on top of the potato bag, but since the potato has to keep being buried, so it will branch out and create more potatoes, the bean plant would be buried. Bummer.

I will keep you all posted on how this turns out. I am new to much of this gardening, beyond growing tomatoes. On Long Island, where I grew up, many of our dads had a small crop of tomato plants growing in the backyard. Not a lot…maybe three or four plants. Just enough for making sandwiches with or a salad. Here, in Illinois, we are using a garden to offset our grocery bill and summer entertainment for the kids. If I am still unemployed throughout the summer, my kids won’t be attending summer camp, because we cannot afford it, but also, I’ll be home! Why send them away for someone else to watch them? The kids are very psyched up to have such a large garden and are looking rather closely in the grocery stores for vegetables they may like to grow for ourselves. This garden is turning into a learning opportunity for the kids, as well as myself and hubby. This also is bringing us closer, as we all work together, knowing we need each other’s help if we are to get this all done. My son is talking about making sandwiches and selling them with the jams I plan to make with the fruit from our fruit trees and from a local “pick-your-own” farm.

I have enclosed a link for a garden in a bucket, which I found. It looks easy enough and small enough, that even if you just have a fire escape, you can grow veggies for your salad. We have several cat litter buckets, which once the litter is used up, my kids store their blocks or toys in. To discover they can grow their own garden in…well, now that’s pretty nifty. Next week is spring break for my son. We will be gathering our materials then.

Do you have any ideas for small gardens? My family and I don’t spray for bugs, because my son, YumYum and I like to just pick the fruit (or veggie) wipe it off, pick off any bugs and eat it. For slug control (this may sound gross, but the kids loved it) I gave my son a cup. I picked several slugs off my iris plants and placed them into my cup and then poured beer over them to drown them. He and his little sister then carried their cups to me, as they picked the slugs off, and I put them into my cup. We did this each morning before they left for daycare and I went to work. It kept them busy for the last 20 minutes before we left; helped reduce the slug population and they learned about insect control without using dangerous chemicals. I also crushed my eggshells and threw them into the garden. The slugs don’t like to crawl over the eggshells and the birds ate the slugs and eggshells. We did that most of last summer, since the early mornings were so damp, the slugs were really multiplying. Such fun things my kids and I do for cheap entertainment!

Don’t let today pass by without doing something to bring hope to another person’s life. Give a dollar to the donation can at your local gas station; buy a pizza and ask that they deliver it to your local police station or fire station. Buy a dozen doughnuts or bagels and send it to your child’s school office. On a night that you aren’t busy with work, stop by your local library and read aloud a few popular children’s books and record it. Send the recording to your local children’s hospital for children. Buy a bag of dog or cat food and donate it to your local animal shelter. Short on funds? Then volunteer to be a socializer for the animals at the shelter. You get to play with the pets, walk them, feed them, cuddle with them and you don’t have to pay a dime for it. Spend a weekend volunteering at your local food pantry. Donate blood. Donate a smile. Give someone a reason to smile today. Until we meet again, my family and friends, I wish you peace.

Starting seeds cheaply

Good morning friends! I am trying to find a post I made and published accidentally before it was finished; then I finished the post and somehow it was deleted. Not cool, Mr. Computer. Not cool at all!

Oh well. Tuesday here in southern Illinois was gorgeous. Really, really nice. Blue sky, temps in the mid-70’s and my little Beaker at my side. She stayed home from daycare, because she had a fever two days before and wasn’t sleeping well, because she was so congested. So for two days, she was my shadow. I know it’s a bit early to be starting seeds for the garden, but I’m hoping to get everything ready, so at the first hint of warmth, the seeds will have a head start on growing. Since the woodstove will be retired (hopefully) for the season, Beaker and I grabbed a bunch of the toilet paper tubes we had reserved for making DIY starter logs. (If you are curious about that, I put the link here for you: https://mommyjen365.wordpress.com/2014/02/20/diy-starter-logs-for-fireplaces-and-woodstoves/   ) So armed with our seed packets, tubes, roll of toilet paper, cardboard egg cartons and potting soil, we were ready.

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First, poke a hole in the bottom of each egg holder. Use a sharp pencil, or the pointed end of the scissors or a knife. Not a huge hole; just enough to aid water in draining and to help the roots expand easier. Separate the lid of the carton from the bottom. Put a few tablespoons of potting soil into each egg cup and shake it gently to level the dirt.

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For the toilet paper tubes, cut each one in half, so you have two short tubes.

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A large leaf can also be used in the tube. The idea is to make it easy for the growing plant to push through the bottom of the biodegradable tube.
A large leaf can also be used in the tube. The idea is to make it easy for the growing plant to push through the bottom of the biodegradable tube.

Take a single square of toilet paper and poke it into the tube, so it acts like a plug. Don’t wad it up; just lay the single square over the top of the tube opening, and gently use your finger to push it into the tube. You can also use a large leaf or a few pliable smaller leaves. Hold the tube in your palm with the toilet paper plug against your palm on the bottom and gently spoon soil into the tube, leaving approximately a half-inch space from the top.

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Put the tube into a sturdy container, standing up. I used the plastic containers I’ve saved from when I buy chopped meat. I wash it out thoroughly, scrape the clear plastic wrap from the top and use them for my garden. They are sturdy and free. Fill each tube, standing them up, so they support each other in the container. After filling with dirt, be careful when you transfer it to the container, from your hand, so the “plug” doesn’t fall out and your dirt spills out. Don’t pack the dirt in the tube, either. Just spoon it in, give a shake while supporting the bottom, and spoon in more soil.

Dollar store "under the bed" storage container is now a cheap, portable greenhouse.
Dollar store “under the bed” storage container is now a cheap, portable greenhouse.

I needed a greenhouse, but no way can we afford it, so at the dollar store I found a zip-up “under the bed” storage container for storing blankets or other junk. The item is collapsible, the sides and bottom are a cheap fiber, so excess water can drain out. The top is made of clear plastic. It’s perfect to use as a cheap, portable greenhouse. I used a few pots that were tall enough to hold the plastic off of the egg crates, in the corners.

I then put the seeds into the individual egg holders and toilet paper tubes. This year I am attempting to grow Roma tomatoes; Brandywine Pink tomatoes; jalapeno peppers; sweet peppers and mixed peppers. These all need individual containers, so I use the egg carton container bottoms and toilet paper tubes for these. In the lids, I cover it with potting soil (if the openings are large, you can lay a single square of toilet paper over the openings and cover it with dirt. Then scatter the seeds that you can use a flat for, like marigold seeds. Once you have your seeds planted the correct depth, and lightly covered with soil, support the bottom and press out any air pockets. On the end of the carton, make sure you write what the seeds are, date planted and approximate days until maturity. When I cut apart the lid from the bottom of the carton, I leave the tabs on, which are used to secure the carton shut. I write on the tab the information I need.

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Afterwards, use a garden house set to “mist” and give those seeds a good watering. Don’t dump water on it, because those seeds will just float up to the service and float off. Use a good heavy mist and water the containers. Wait a few minutes and mist heavily again. Wait a few minutes, which is giving the soil a chance to drink in the water and mist a third time.

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Once the seeds are nicely watered, zip up the top of the “greenhouse.” It’s handy to slide a board or several sturdy large pieces of cardboard underneath the entire greenhouse, after zipping it closed, to hold it steady as you transport it to the place you want it at. NOTE: If using cardboard, Don’t have the cardboard striations all going in the same direction. This means, alternate the striations. Use two or three pieces and alternate the direction, so they don’t all fold on each other, together. Supporting the bottom, carefully bring the greenhouse to the area you are using. Ensure it gets plenty of sun and is sheltered from wind and cold.

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Water the plants, with the hose set on mist, at least twice a day. Since the greenhouse is made of fiber, water will not collect in the bottom of it, and turn moldy or rot the seeds. The seedlings will emerge from the top, but the edges of the tube will protect the newly emerged seedlings from the top of the greenhouse.

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When the seedlings are ready to be planted in the soil, dig a hole slightly larger than the tube and plant the whole tube into the soil. (Do not plant the plastic container that you had the tubes standing in, of course.) The cardboard will disintegrate. The egg carton cups can be cut or pulled apart, to create a separate biodegradable pot, for each seedling. Again, just dig a hole and plant the entire egg cup. The cardboard will help protect the roots from the colder soil and will add nutrients to the soil. The flats can be planted as is; just dig a shallow trench and place the egg carton lid into the trench. After planting your seedlings, water them thoroughly, and protect them from any extreme temperatures. If a sudden frost should be possible, cut open several large, black garbage bags, place short stakes in the garden so the plastic doesn’t lay directly on the seedlings and break their delicate stems, and lay the garbage bag over the seedlings. Anchor the edges, so a breeze doesn’t blow the plastic back.

Congratulations, you have your garden ready for almost pennies!!!  You are using stuff from around the house that would normally go into the trash or recycling. The Jiffy cardboard pots cost about $4 for a dozen and then you have to pay more if you want the plastic “greenhouse.” For two dozen little pots, with the greenhouse, I’ve seen them selling for over $17. The ones we just made are free. You can buy a huge 20 pound bag of Miracle Gro potting soil for $4. The dollar store greenhouse fits more flower pots and can be hosed down, dried on the clothesline and stored for next year.

I’m looking at the junk mail we get and wondering if I can tear up the paper, soak it in water with added nutrients so it becomes a slimy mess, and then using small terra-cotta pots as a mold, “paper-mache” the pots with the slimy newspaper and let it dry, This way I am re-using newspaper and other paper and turning it into a biodegradable pot for larger plants that will go into the ground. Interesting thought…I will try this when we have a bunch of paper saved up; of course I will let you know if this was a great idea or a failure.

Smile at the bus driver when you get on board the bus. Give your little one an extra hug before they leave the house. Pack a surprise treat for your loved one, in their briefcase. Hold the door for the person behind you. Text or better yet, call a friend and just say hi. Wave to your mailperson; donate an old bedspread or comforter to the animal shelter. We all have problems and times we don’t want to smile or be happy. Try and be positive for the person next to you. We are all a gigantic family on this planet. Be good to one another. Until we meet next time, I wish you peace and happiness. Peace!!

DIY coffee starter kits or logs

Good morning my friends! Today I woke up to the wonderful sound of thunder and rain pounding on my bedroom window. What a glorious sound! Spring is coming, people. The days are growing just a bit longer, the temperatures aren’t dipping quite as low (thank goodness for that; our wood pile is nearly gone); we aren’t needing to wear quite as many scarves, hats and gloves as we were a few weeks ago. The trees are beginning to get buds (I purchased several fruit trees and planted them last year. I looked at them a few days ago and saw tiny leaf buds at the end of them. This was a rough winter for many of us…I don’t know when was the last time I greeted Spring with such joy.

Well, as close as Spring is, it’s not quite here yet. This means some of us will still need to use our fireplaces, wood stoves or even fire pits. With the Springtime weather comes a lot of rain and wet logs. I mentioned yesterday how you can use some old candle wax to start a fire easily. Today, I’m going to talk about making coffee ground starter kits, suing materials you would normally just toss out. This is a fun project to do with the kids on rainy days. I wouldn’t have them near the grease or wax when it’s melted, but even little ones can help use a spoon to pack the coffee grounds. Enough teasing you…let’s get this project started!!

DIY Coffee Log or Starter Kit

materials needed:

old, used coffee grounds (you can even use the filter it was used with, for a wick) You can either use ones that you have saved, or stop by your local coffee shop, like Starbucks or Panera Bread Company. Just ask for the used coffee grounds; they are more than happy to give the used ones away. You’ll need about 4-6 cups of grounds.

wax leftover from candles (or use fresh candles, broken crayons, Gulf wax for canning etc) You’ll need about a 8 oz of wax to make one log. If you do not have wax, used cooking grease will work just as well. It does not need to be melted for as long, however, in the oven.

a few tablespoons of corn syrup, or molasses or maple syrup (this is to help bind the material together.)

An old bread loaf pan, or other oven-safe baking pan; preferably in the shape of a loaf, for the mold. A cake pan can be used as well, if you do not have a loaf pan handy. It just needs to be about an inch or more, deep. If you do not have a bread loaf pan, then you can use large soup cans or a large metal coffee can.

First, spread the used coffee grounds on a cookie sheet with raised edges; take the wax and chop it into large chunks. Put the wax into an oven safe pan to melt. You can use old soup cans to melt the wax in as well, or a metal oven-safe mixing bowl. Drizzle the syrup or molasses onto the wax. If using grease, just pile the grease into a deep oven-safe bowl or oven-safe dish.

Place the coffee grounds and the wax into an oven. Turn the oven to about 150-200 deg F and let the grounds dry out thoroughly. Stir the grounds every once in a while. It will take about 30-45 min for the grounds to dry, depending on how wet they were when you first put them into the oven. If using grease, you want it at the point it just starts to melt, not at the bubbling stage. If using grease, put the bowl into the oven at the last five or so minutes, before you take the dried coffee grounds out.

When the wax is completely melted, stir the syrup and wax mixture. Use a metal spoon, not a plastic one, since the plastic one will melt. Add about a half-cup of coffee grounds to the wax mixture and stir. Keep adding the grounds and stirring until the grounds are completely incorporated. It may bubble a bit, but that is the moisture in the coffee grounds reacting to the hot syrup. Scoop the grounds-wax mixture into the pan using a large metal spoon until the pan is about half-way full. Fold the dried, used filters in half and pack the grounds around it, so that a piece of the filter remains visible. Several of the filters can be used for this. These are your wicks. Keep adding the grounds-wax mixture to the loaf pan. When the pan is nearly full, using the back of your spoon, pack the coffee grounds into the pan, so there are no air gaps. You can also use a piece of waxed paper to lay over the top and using the heel of your hand, pack the grounds into the loaf pan, making sure to pack the corners. Once the coffee mixture is good and packed, let the pan sit out  for 24 hours or at least overnight.

After the grounds have set, using a plastic spatula, scrape the edges of the loaf pan to separate the “log” from the pan. You may have to put a dishcloth underneath it and bang it on the counter a few times to encourage the “log” to release it’s grip. Once it is free, you can use it in your fireplace or wood stove. Put some smaller logs around it, light the coffee filter wicks and enjoy! It may not last for two or so hours, but it’s enough to help get a fire started and start drying out the wood you put into the fireplace.

For a DIT starter kit, you will need:

wax (like leftover scraps of candles, crayons about 3 oz of wax is needed, or the equivalent of around 24 crayons) or a few ounces of used cooking grease.

used coffee grounds (about 2 cups)

a few tablespoons of corn syrup, maple syrup or molasses (as a binding agent)

a cardboard egg carton (if none is handy, you can use a muffin tin with paper muffin cups. You can also use custard cups and use the filter as the paper cup holder.

First, spread the coffee grounds on a cookie sheet with edges, just as you would to make a log. In an oven-safe baking dish, or a metal soup can, drizzle the corn syrup over the wax. Place the grounds and the wax into the oven and heat the oven to about 200 deg F for about 35-40 min, stirring the grounds occasionally. If using grease, put the grease and syrup into a deep oven-safe mixing bowl or deep oven-safe pan and put into the oven to melt for the last five minutes, until you remove the grounds from the oven. You don’t want the grease bubbling, just at the point it starts to liquify.

Once the wax is melted and the grounds are dry, mix the coffee grounds with the wax-syrup (or grease-syrup) mixture. Fold the dried coffee filter in half and then again in half. Put the lower part of the folder coffee filter into the first egg-holder of the carton and using a metal spoon, pack the grounds around the filter, keeping the top part exposed. The coffee filter edges are the wick.

coffee filter fire starter

If you are using a muffin tin and paper cups, or the coffee filter itself to contain the grounds, do not fill the cup up all of the way. Other items I have used:

empty cardboard toilet paper tubes which I’d cut in half, so they are short tubes. Stand the tubes up in a muffin tin, or pack them tightly into a cake pan, so they are all standing. Put a small wad of newspaper into each tube and push it down. This will act as a plug on one end. Fill the toilet paper tubes up with the coffee ground-wax mixture, packing the mixture down. Do not fill it all of the way, so the edge of the cardboard tube will act like a wick.

If you use the cardboard egg carton, fill each compartment of the egg carton, packing down the grounds-wax mixture. Allow the grounds mixture to dry overnight.

When a fire is needed, you can break off one of the egg carton plugs, or use a muffin cup or toilet paper roll. Light the coffee filter wick (or edge of the paper or cardboard roll) and place into your fire pit (or fire place, wood stove, campfire, etc.) You may need to use two or three plugs. Add the branches as needed, until you have a fire going.

So now you have it! A way that items that are normally going into our landfill (or composting, as I usually do) are being used further. THAT’S being frugal. My husband says he likes to “pinch a penny until Abe Lincoln screams for mercy,” and that is exactly what we do here in this house. Even throw-away items are recycled (and sometimes our recyclables are recycled, lol.)

So, now that I showed you a few ways to save money by using the “trash” you have around your house, tomorrow we can look at how we can start to organize our house, our mind and our finances. Don’t worry, it’s not as bad as it sounds. You know why? We are going to get each other through each day, TOGETHER. You are not alone in this world. Even when you feel like you have nowhere to turn, there is a way out of the dark tunnel. It won’t be night-time forever. The sun will come up…don’t you want to see the sun rise? Even if you can’t find a smile for yourself, find one to give to another…they may have one they can lend you. Tell the lady behind you she can go ahead of you on the line at the grocery store. Give your significant other an extra big kiss, before bed tonight. If your other half is deployed or working late or traveling, then jot a few kind words down on a Post-It note to give to them when they return, or in the next care package you send them. Check with a local underprivileged elementary school and see if you can donate a few boxes of crayons and construction paper, which you can pick up cheaply, at the dollar store. When sitting at a four-way stop, wave to the cars around you to go ahead of you. Walk around the house and grab 5 items you haven’t used in the past month, put them into a bag and drop off at your local Goodwill. Get five articles of clothing you haven’t worn in 6 months, or your children no longer like or fit and donate it. Call or text someone and just say, “I was thinking of you today.” Locate three happy news stories and send them to people who you think need a smile. Put on some music that makes you tap your feet, thump your desk and shimmy in your seat. We will get through our rough times together. We all live and breathe under the same sun, moon and stars, big and small, great and tall. Until next time, dear friends…PEACE!!

DIY starter logs for fireplaces and woodstoves

Good morning, friends! I hope you all are doing well. I am loving this weather, today. My old Marine room-mate Eve called it, “a postcard from Spring.” (Don’t you LOVE that? She’s a professional writer, so she has an awesome way with words.) The temps today are high of 52 deg. Tomorrow has a 90% chance of thunderstorms and high of 61 deg. (My cousin, Joey, laughs because in all my Facebook posts, at least once a day, I do a full weather report. Maybe in a former life, I was a meteorologist. 🙂 ) Anyway, this weekend the temps are supposed to drop to below freezing again with snow and freezing rain. Bummer. That means the wood stove has to be fired up again.

My hubby, is amazing when it comes to starting a fire in the wood stove. I swear, the man can start a roaring fire with one match and a bunch of wet logs. On the other hand, I can have several dry branches, 15 newspapers, a flamethrower and I’ll still wind up yelling up the stairs and asking Don for help. In fact, when he knows I’m going to attempt to light a fire, he starts hanging chicken and hunks of beef around the room and calling friends saying, “Hey, anyone want a smoked chicken? Smoked beef? Jen’s lighting a fire, so everything should be fully smoked in about 30 minutes.” He also calls our local fire department and informs them the huge amount of black smoke coming from our house ISN’T a fire, but “just my wife attempting to build one,” then he issues gas masks to the kids as they sit back and laugh, while I keep wadding up newspapers and attempting to start the fire. Many times, as I sit there, choking and gasping I remember a story my English teacher had us read in ninth grade by Jack London, “To Build a Fire.” That story haunts me at odd times, not just when I’m struggling to light the fireplace. It’s about a man who is alone on the Yukon and how in -75 degree weather, he struggles to build a fire to save his life. Like all of Jack London’s stories, it’s excellent.

Anyway, I was telling a friend last year, about how I needed to find a store that was selling the Duraflame starter logs, since most of the local stores were sold out, due to the nasty weather. He replied, “Why? Just make them yourself. I do, every year. It’s easy.” Then he explained how to do it. This is a project that you can do a bit of, as you go along, throughout the year, or you can make them on a rainy day with the kids helping.

DIY Starter Logs

empty toilet paper rolls, or empty paper towel rolls

the ends of candle wax (after the wick has burned down, there is always about a tablespoon or so of wax at the bottom of the container)

lint from your dryer (FINALLY, a use for lint. Preferably lint from only natural materials, like cotton. I don’t use the dryer much, so we don’t have a lot of lint. The reason i say to use only natural materials like cotton is, nylon and polyester, although do not give off much lint, when burned can create carcinogens.) or newspaper ripped into pieces. I have also used dirty tissues, junk mail, cardboard boxes from food items, old schoolwork from the kids. You don’t even need this, you can just fold up the toilet paper rolls and stuff them inside one another.

starter log 2Here is my tub of toilet paper tubes and other items that are originally rolled around a cardboard tube (like waxed paper; aluminum foil, etc.) I have an empty tissue box that I keep scraps of candles in, chunks of wax from crayons that have been broken so far down and I haven’t the patience to make new crayons from them (yep, I’ll tell you more about that in another post) wax from cheese (like the Bonnie Bell and Baby Bell cheese) etc.

starter log 1If you don’t have any lint, or really shredded dishcloths (yes, even my shredded dishcloths are used for something) will work, used tissues, junk mail, scraps of paper, newspaper that you shredded into easier, smaller pieces (about 12 inches across, is good). If you lack all of that, you can roll up another tube as I did here and stuff it inside another tube.

I usually save all my tubes throughout the year and stuff them all inside one another, as they are collected. It helps save space, since I may save up close to a hundred over the course of spring through autumn. Then, when it starts to get chilly out and we will be lighting the stove soon, I pull the rolls out from one another and start packing them with stuff.

starter log 5If you tear up a newspaper, or junk mail, etc, wad it up gently, and stuff it into the center of the cardboard roll. The wax that is left over from candles I will scrape up or if it was a pillar candle, break it into hunks and put a good chunk inside the cardboard roll. Continue to stuff newspaper, or raggedy dishcloths into it. Once it is full, let a small piece stick out, like a tail.

starter log 1Keep adding paper, or dryer lint or raggedy material into the rolls and adding a chunk of wax with each one, until they are all full.

starter log 6starter log 3If I have to melt the wax to get it out of the glass container it was in, I will usually dunk the end of the roll into the melted wax, after it is stuffed. The melted wax dries and hardens and kind of locks the material inside the tube. Make sure if you melt the wax, DO NOT put the glass container into the microwave. Many times the candles have tiny metal prongs at the bottom to hold the wick. NOT a good idea to microwave metal. Using a spoon, scrape the wax out of the original container, so you can have a good look, then using the double boiler method, melt the wax.

Once you have your tubes ready, just prepare the logs as you would, normally. But put one of these amongst the logs. Then, light the tail that is sticking out. You may need two or three of these to assist in starting a fire. Those starter logs that cost almost $10 for about 20 of them are just sawdust and warm wax, that is compressed into a shape. The ones we are making are literally free. Each of the items you are putting into this project is actually an item you would throw away (or recycle.) The cardboard lights easily. The wax melts and helps to hold the flame so it burns longer and thus will ignite the branches and logs easier.

Like several of my posts, this is an item you need to save up for…but not money-wise. Like the suet, which is grease which you would be normally throwing away, stale peanuts, eggshells…all items you normally would throw away, now becomes a winter treat for birds, these starter logs can help you start a fire on those cold nights. Tomorrow, I will show another way for starting a fire, but you’ll have to finish your morning coffee and scrambled eggs, first. (hint, hint.)

Remember to follow me as we journey together in our quest for finding ways to live off the grid, live frugal, turn leftovers into new-overs, organize our lives and our homes.

What have you done to help another person out, today? Perhaps put a quarter into someone’s dryer, at the laundromat, when you see it has stopped turning. Give the paid-for wagon at Aldi to another person, and not ask for a quarter in return. Take a walk at lunchtime and smell the fresh air and notice the clouds. Buy a soda for a co-worker and leave it on their desk in the morning, before they come to work. Bring in a canister of coffee for the coffee pool. Give an extra two or three dollars tip to a waitress. Tell a veteran, “Thank you for serving.” Pull over and give right of way for a funeral procession, or an ambulance, taking a moment of silence for the victim. Buy a few cans of cat or dog food at the supermarket and drop it off at your local animal shelter. Stop by for an hour at a nursing home. Even if you don’t know anyone there, some of them would be so grateful for a visitor, since their own families rarely visit. Better yet, bring your child. Some of the elderly miss their own grandchildren and they can pretend your child is their grandchild. It would make them so happy. Make a simple, easy to heat meal and pack it in freezer-safe containers and bring it to a new mom. These little things can mean so much to another. Have you made another person smile? What was the reason YOU woke up this morning? Until we meet again, my friends, remember we are all living and breathing under the same sun, moon and stars. Be kind to each other, big and small, great and tall. Peace!

DIY stain fighter for grease stains

Good morning, friends! I am sitting in my usual spot at the kitchen nook and watching the birds and squirrels go nuts over my suet muffins. My son, YumYum ran outside about an hour ago to check on the mail (he’s off school today, since it’s a holiday) and came in to announce, “Mommy! It’s RAINING!’ Raining? Like, real rain, not snow? Is it possible? Yes!! I was so happy, I ran downstairs to start a load of laundry so it can wash and I can relax and watch the rain for a while.

When I pulled the clothes out of the dryer, which Don had washed last night, I discovered my hubby hadn’t checked the pockets of the laundry he had thrown into the washing machine. My daughter, Beaker, who is only 3 and loves carrying around Chapstick (she pretends it’s lipstick) had a tube in her pocket and it had melted all over my husband’s work shirts and pants. Grrrrrrr…

I have several options for these stained clothes:

1) throw them out. (Nope, I hate throwing away clothes, so that option is out.)

2) donate the clothes (I don’t mind donating clothes, but only if it’s because they no longer fit or cannot be re-purposed for another reason. Such as dungarees with shredded knees, can be patched up or cut down to make shorts.?

3) wear them and act surprised when someone points out the stain (“Wow! Look at that! That stain wasn’t on my shoulder when I put this shirt on this morning. I must have brushed up against something.”) Problem is, this can only work once.

4) Figure out how to get the stain out. Being a major penny-pincher, I guess that was truly, my only option. So…I got out my top-secret grease-stain fighters.

grease stain fighter

Yep, baking soda and a toothbrush. I put a dishcloth or piece of an old cut-up towel down and put the stained area directly over the towel. Try not to have anything else between them, so the grease doesn’t just transfer to another area. I sprinkled about a tablespoon or two over the grease stain (try and do this on a sink counter or a table. It can get messy) and using the toothbrush, I scrubbed the daylights out of the baking soda. You want to scrub the baking soda INTO the stain. As the baking soda absorbs the grease, it will begin to bead up, rather than be powdery. Shake the beaded up baking soda into your sink (it won’t damage the pipes or your garbage disposal), sprinkle another tablespoon on and scrub again. Keep doing this, until the baking soda no longer beads up. If you use any type of stain-fighter, like Shout! or stain-stick, use it now and let the item sit for a few minutes. If you do not have a stain-fighter, just put the stained item into the washing machine with regular detergent and wash as usual.

The stain should be almost completely gone. It may take a second round of baking soda and scrubbing before the stain is entirely gone. Cornstarch will also work, if you do not have any baking soda. The idea is to put a drying material onto the grease stain. The drying material draws the grease away from the stain and locks it into itself. I’ve heard mixed results with using dish-washing liquid on the stain, like Dawn or Palmolive. Some have told me it worked great for them; others haven’t had any success. I don’t know if it depends on how long the stain has been on the item of clothing, or if it depends on the type of material the article of clothing is (cotton, polyester, silk, mix etc

So far, I have had good results. The stains on my husband’s dress shirts for work are now stain-free. Next time you find your clothing covered with oil stains, either from cooking, or checking the oil in your car, or forgetting lip balm in your pocket and this happens, try it and let me know how it worked for you!

Remember that today you woke up for a reason. Do something good for another person or creature today. Throw the stale ends of your bread out for the birds; hold a door open for another person; if you see someone struggling to carry an item, jump in and help. Don’t walk away when someone is in need of help. Smile at someone and compliment them on an item of their clothes, or their smile, or their eyes. Call someone you haven’t spoken to in a while. Send an email or even better, a hand-written note and just say, “I was thinking of you today.” Pay the toll for the car behind you. Bring your neighbor’s newspaper from their front lawn, to their front porch. Let the person behind you in the checkout line with only a few items go ahead of you. Smile an encouraging smile at a young mom who looks overwhelmed with her crying kids and tell her, “It gets better. Really, it will.” You never know what impact you will make on another person and that small deed.

Until next time, my friends, love each other no matter how small or how tall. We all live and breathe under the same sun, moon and stars. Peace!

DIY bird suet

Good morning, friends! This morning in Illinois, it’s a balmy 30 degrees outside. I am used to working outside, so to me, this is t-shirt and shorts weather. I ran outside to go feed a few stray cats that come over each morning and stood on the porch in my t-shirt and relished in the thought that spring will be here soon…I hope. Well, within 15 minutes of putting out two bowls of Purina cat chow, the starlings and grackles found the bowls and were freaking out and fighting over the food. Apparently their suet feeder was empty again (the other one is still MIA; apparently a raccoon decided to make a five-finger discount and run off with the whole darn suet cage.) Anyway, I buy the cages at the dollar store and make my own suet so it’s not a big deal. This past Christmas, my son, YumYum, hubby and I also made pine cone bird feeders for our feathered friends. Today’s post will give you directions about how to feed your friends, which gives the family some free entertainment and lots of laughs, as well as it can be educational, as you try and identify all the birds that arrive at your feeding station.

DIY suet for birds

about a gallon of grease, lard, Crisco, etc. I usually save all the grease from the year from my cooking. I let it cool down in the pan after I remove the main parts of my food (little stuck-on bits of food are fine, since it will all be going into a freezer.) After your grease from making hamburgers, bacon, grease from chicken soup, making pot roast etc cools, I use a spatula and scrape it all into an old plastic peanut butter container. If you have an old Crisco container, or an old coffee container, that will work fine as well. Throughout the year, as you cook, just scrape the cooled grease into the container. Keep it in the freezer, so it doesn’t spoil. If you don’t have an excess of grease, then just use Crisco.

about a cup of cornmeal

optional: a few tablespoons of peanut butter

stale peanuts or sunflower seeds

leftover crumbs of cereal (you know the crumbs at the bottom of the Trix, corn flakes, Rice Krispies, etc bags as well as any loose cereal rolling around between the box and the bag.

A few cups of bird seed (doesn’t need to be high quality bird seed, just ensure it is pesticide free. (Not all bird seeds are pesticide-free; Scotts Miracle-Gro was fined $12.5 million for illegally applying insecticides to its bird seed. The insecticides are toxic to birds. http://www.audubonmagazine.org/articles/blog/pesticides-bird-seed-scotts-miracle-gro-fined-125-million.) I use Wagoner’s Four Season Wild Bird Food. It can be ordered from Amazon $11.98 for a 20 pound bag, and if you are an Amazon Prime member, shipping is free. However, you can use any kind you want, I just ask that you skip the seed you find at the dollar store. They are full of red millet, which is a throw-away seed for many birds and probably treated with an insecticide to prevent boll weevils during storage.

Any leftover cooked vegetables or even thawed frozen veggies (have any peas or corn that is freezer burned? Leftover macaroni or spaghetti that was found in the back of the fridge and you’re not sure how long it’s been there? As long as there is no mold on the food. So as you find leftover cooked rice, baked potatoes, dried out pieces of hard cheese, like Swiss, muenster, Colby, etc. Do not use soft cheese such as cream cheese or brie.) Chop the veggies, or pasta up into small pieces. If it has sauce, such as Alfredo or tomato sauce, rinse them them off, before chopping up the pasta or veggies.

optional: Washed and crushed eggshells (yes, this sounds weird, but any eggs that I use, I will smash the eggshells up in a strainer with small holes and rinse the eggshells off. Do not use soap!! Just rinse with warm water and mash the shells up with your hands. After they are washed, spread them out on a cookie sheet and put into a warmed oven (heat the oven to 200 deg for about 5 minutes, then turn off the oven. Put the eggshells in the warmed oven, and let them dry for about 12 hours. If you don’t have time to dry them, then that’s fine also. The eggshells add much-needed calcium to the birds for strong eggs. In the springtime, I grind up all my eggshells and toss them into the garden. Not only will the birds eat them, they are a natural deterrent to slugs and snails, because the eggshells have sharp edges, which will cut open the soft gastropods’ bodies and they will dry out.

about a cup of plain uncooked oatmeal; rolled oats or steel oats are fine. Cooked oatmeal will also work. I often scrape the bits leftover from my kids’ oatmeal bowl into my grease can and re-freeze it.

optional: dried fruit, such as raisins, prunes, Craisins, dried apple pieces, etc. I often take the apple cores from apples I cut up for me kids, chop them up, seeds and all and toss them into the freezer in small baggies or add directly to my container of grease.

optional: about 4 T or more of cayenne pepper or hot pepper flakes (birds are not bothered by the cayenne pepper or chili powder flakes, as long as it is actually mixed up in the suet and not sprinkled on top of bird seed. The cayenne pepper is to deter squirrels and other rodents. If you don’t mind tossing the crazy antics of squirrels, you don’t need to add the cayenne.)

First, heat a large pot of water to almost boiling. This is to heat the grease up slightly by placing the container it was stored in, into the large pot of very hot water. Do not put the pot of hot water with the grease container on the stove. Let the grease melt until it is almost a slurry. You don’t need it to be completely melted…just until it is the consistency of peanut butter. Scrape the grease out and put it into a large bowl. Add the peanut butter and stir to mix. Add the cayenne pepper and mix thoroughly. Then add the birdseed, rolled oats, peanuts or sunflower seeds, dried fruit and crushed egg shells. If the temperature outside for the next several days will be below freezing, you can add the mixed, thawed veggies, rice or pasta. Once it is all mixed up, scrape the suet mixture into a cookie tin or even an ice cube tray. I prefer using a silicone muffin tray, since it’s easier for me to pull my suet muffins out. Put the suet muffins into the freezer for at least 12 hours. After frozen, remove your suet muffins and add to your suet cage. If you don’t have a suet cage, you can smear the soft mixture onto pine cones which you have already tied a long piece of yarn to, then pile the suet-smeared pine cones into a 5 gallon bucket with a lid. I do the pine cones in the winter, when snow is expected. I put the filled bucket, with the lid on tightly and store outside on my porch. After the snow stops, I will remove the lid and tie the pine cones up in the trees for the birds. If you don’t have cages or pine cones, you can also save the netting to the bags of potatoes or onions. Cut the top of the net bag and remove your produce. Find a container that will fit the open net bag. Put the net bag inside the container and open it up. Take the top part and wrap it around the top of the container, using a rubber band to secure it.

onion netbag suet mommy blog

Ensure the container has a wide-mouth at the top, so it’s easy to remove. Then lay the container on it’s side, so the net bag is laying against the container and scrape some of your suet into the bag. Do not overfill it. After a few spoonfuls, you may need to put the net bag into the freezer to stiffen the mixture up some. Add more grease until the bag is full, re-freezing it as needed, so the suet doesn’t dribble through the net bag. Tie off the top and hang outside on a strong branch. The birds will love you for this; it’s cheap (since you are using basically leftovers and stuff normally thrown into the garbage, with exception of buying the birdseed, it’s practically free) and you are helping others who are are also struggling to feed themselves.

This may sound like a lot of work, but it actually goes together pretty fast. Most of the time is actually hands-off, because it is in the freezer. Do not make this when the temperatures are expected to be over 45 degrees, since the suet will melt and possible go rancid. Don’t make more than can be consumed in about four or five days, unless the temps remain below freezing or you keep extra in your freezer. This is a nice rainy-day or snow day project for you and your kids to do. I try to keep my old Crisco containers (they don’t even need to be washed free of the grease, since you are only adding more, and as the family uses up cereal, or I find one tablespoon of food saved in the refrigerator which I find and question when it was put put in the fridge, I add it to the Crisco container in the freezer. The items don’t even to be added separately. If you add bits and pieces through out the year, you can just thaw it out in the double boiler method until it is a slurry and just spoon it directly into your muffin tins and re-freeze. If you use metal tins, to easily remove your suet muffins, take the frozen tin and submerge the bottom part into a pan of hot water. Do not get the tops wet. Just heat the tin part until the suet muffins or suet cubes (if using an old ice cube tray) until they are easy to remove.

Remember to do a good deed for another today. A simple gesture like telling a military person, “Thank you for serving,” regardless if you believe in the war or not. Dropping your spare change into a collection container for stray animals at the gas station. Collecting old blankets or towels and dropping them off at a local animal shelter. Even stopping at the dollar store and purchasing two or three cans of wet cat food and leaving them at the adoption desk that PetSmart and PetCo. have every weekend. There are always others that have it worse than you. By doing a little something to brighten up another’s day, you make this world a happier place. Even go the the dollar store and buy a bottle of shampoo or a few bars of soap and leave them at your local food pantry. Have some soap a relative gave you at Christmas or birthday that you don’t like the scent of? If they are unopened, drop them off at the food pantry. Even if you don’t like it, someone else may love it. We all need a helping hand and it gives us such a good feeling knowing we are helping another person, feathered or furry critter a helping hand. Have you made someone smile today?