Tuesday, June 29, 2010

You know I'm a sucker for butterflies!

You have to admit, it's a beauty! It was getting a drink at the pond. The kids and I were mesmerized!

The carnage...

The culprits!

First it was the hornworm, but he died. Problem solved. Then it was the stink bugs. I'm still battling those little bastards, but what do you do with a couple of peckish birds?!? And it's not like I'd mind so much if they just ate off of one tomato at a time, but these little peckers take a stab at EVERY single tomato that gets close to being red! I'm now having to harvest them when they are barely orange and let them ripen in the window. Kind of detracts from the whole "vine-ripened" thing! From what I'm reading online, it seems as though most birds don't normally go for tomatoes and such unless it is HOT and water is scarce. So my options are:
1. Net my tomatoes, but they could still probably peck through the netting.
2. Buy a scary, plastic owl, which will probably work for the cardinal, but mockingbirds are just too stinkin' smart for their own good and will laugh at my owl!
3. Buy a freakin' birdbath!

Big Daddy asked me last night, "Isn't it cheaper to buy tomatoes at the store than spend all of this damn money on birdbaths and shit?" I suppose he's got a point! :(

A Table Fit for a Princess!

This past week, my little girlie turned 4! We spent the entire week celebrating her birthday, it was great! We went out for burgers, played Putt-Putt, had milkshakes and of course threw an AWESOME pirate party complete with bouncy castle, cake pops and sprinklers under the trampoline! Amidst all of this craziness though, I had a very, important task. She needed a new table and chairs for her room. She is to an age where dress up and tea parties are just a way of life! When my neighbor moved, she left me a set of 4 little chairs, but no table. I was on the search, but no luck! All I could find was cheesy plastic tables or $80-100 solid wood tables! I just wanted a small, functional table that could be refinished, nothing fancy and nothing expensive. I posted on Craigslist and Freecycle with no luck. As a last ditch effort, I posted on my homeschool list and lo and behold, I got an email! I should have known from the beginning to post there! Homeschoolers are generous beyond belief and when they are done with something they want it gone, PRONTO! So I was off to Pflugerville to pick up a little table! It was a very LOUD table, but it was a really sweet shape and my brain was going a mile a minute as to what I was going to do with it.

Here's what I started with...

I sanded the crap out of the table and all 4 chairs! Boy that was fun! ;-p

Primer was applied to all pieces. I had to use an oil based primer because I couldn't determine whether the previous paint on the chairs or the table was latex or enamal AND the table has a metal edging piece. And just as an FYI, primer STINKS (literally).

Then it was time to paint! I chose a light lavender for the top, darker purple for the legs and a nice aqua blue for the chairs. In case you're wondering, the color scheme came from her new quilt set! She has decided to leave the pink in the past and progress to purple! Sadly, I neglected to photograph this particular step! It was cute, but I needed to tie the blue chairs in with the purple table, so it was off to Hobby Lobby to find some do-able stencils. I'm not great with stencils so I needed to keep it SIMPLE. I found the perfect set with flowers and butterflies (which coincidentally are found on the new quilt!) So after a couple of test runs on paper, I took it to the table and chairs. Here is the finished product! It's only a smidge different from the original!


So for a little over $40 and few days of hard work, my little Piggy has an original table fit for the princess that she is! And in case you were wondering, she LOVES it!

Monday, June 28, 2010

My own little "jam" session!

Here's the deal, I LOVE homemade jam! I am also LAZY! Who has time for full-blown canning and preserving? And in my case, a big enough kitchen!?! But I REALLY want fresh jam, especially when strawberries abound in the markets! As usual, I hit the internet looking for recipes. I will be the first to say that Martha Stewart annoys the crap out of me, BUT in this instance, she pulled through for me! I found a recipe for Quick Strawberry Jam and talk about EASY!!! It takes 10 minutes and has 3 ingredients! That is MY kinda recipe! Now this is not the type of jam you can toss in a jar and store in your pantry for a year, this is fresh jam that must be refrigerated and eaten within 2 weeks, but as seriously yummy as this stuff is, you won't have a problem doing that! I personally enjoy it on fresh-from-the-oven bread! Mmmmmm!

What's on the Menu? Fairytale Eggplant!

So here they are in all of their glory, all whopping 4 inches of them! Aren't they just the cutest little things you ever did see?!?! I just want to pinch them they're so cute! Well for about the last week or two I have been picking at least 2 a day, but since they are so small, I had to save up awhile in order to make a decent-sized dish. I finally managed to harvest enough to do something with, but then I was like, how do I cook these adorable little eggplants? The search was on! I can tell you, there aren't a lot of eggplant recipes out there that don't involve the big fat black beauty eggplants and lots of breading or oil! But finally I stumbled across a lovely blog called "Figs with Bri" where she actually had some recipes for this particular variety of eggplant! Woo-hoo! I tried her Thai-inspired meal of red curry with a side of fairytale eggplant. It looked lovely and I was intrigued, so I tried it out! Here was my finished product, not as pretty as her dish, but tasty nonetheless! I personally made my curry with chicken and I left out the jalapeno from the eggplant so the Monkey Bunch would actually eat it! I also peeled my eggplants as I hear that eggplant skins can cause digestive upset and that's the LAST thing anyone needs in my house! But I have to say, the eggplant was tender, tasty and absolutely not bitter! I'm not a fan of the black beauty eggplants, but I'd eat these sweet little dudes any day of the week!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Now that's what I'm talkin' about!

Picked yesterday morning...

Eaten for dinner!

And yes, it was as juicy and luscious as it looks! I'm thinkin' I LOVE summer!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Here we go again!

I went out to beetle around in the garden this morning. Black-eyed peas--lookin' good, okra and corn--gettin' tall, tomatoes full of juicy fruit, ripe for picking, then I saw it...


Lots and lots of it! And where there is bright, green poo, there is usually a LARGE caterpillar responsible for it. So I looked up and what did I see?

Yep, that would be a GINORMO tomato hornworm, aka Five-Spotted Hawkmoth, aka Manduca sexta. The reason I know this, is I have done this before! In the summer of 2008 we made the "Journey with Ernie"! As usual, I suck at killing things. And honestly, even though the caterpillar is a menace to my garden, the moth is beautiful! Have I mentioned I have two kids that LOVE caterpillars? So where is this beast now? Yep, on my dining room table in a little container, denuding all of the tomato leaves I have picked for him and pooping up a storm. And in case you think I'm kidding... This is only after about 4 hours in the container! Seriously, hornworms are nothing but eating, pooping machines! And because this little beast is such a ravenous boar, he has been lovingly named "Pig" by the Piglet! So now I have "Pig" along with a black swallowtail chrysalid and 5 other black swallowtail caterpillars. They are all eating me out of house and home! And yes, you can just refer to our place as "The Bug House"!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

I finally got all my ducks in a row!

Took the kids to the duck pond today and just couldn't resist posting this pic!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Red River Gorge--Sky Bridge

And so the adventure continues! As you may remember we had driven through Nada Tunnel into the Red River Gorge. We made a stop at the Gladie Historic Site and had a lovely, leisurely picnic. Then we were back on the windy roads to discover Sky Bridge! We had intended to see Natural Bridge as well on a different day, but as you will discover later, copious amounts of rain put the nix on that! But for this day, the sky was blue and the breezes were fair! And we were even on the right road!

We parked, packed up water, kids and dog and headed down the trail!

Before long I came across one of my favorite things to photograph... a dead tree! I know, it seems morbid but the skeleton of an old, majestic tree is just so cool! Every single one I have photographed has been beyond distinct, its shape seems to tell its story.

This is the top of Skybridge.
You have to walk over this in order to get to a place where you can see the bridge formation from underneath. Can you say, "Look Ma, no rails?!?" And yes, it was enough of a drop on either side to make you splat like a watermelon if you fell! It was a little daunting with an obstinate 3 y.o. and a nosy dog, but thankfully we all made it across without becoming buzzard bait!

The rock formations that you followed to get to the bridge were impressive!

And so was this nest! I don't know what kind of bird it belonged to, but I'm pretty sure it was a BIG one!

Then we were rewarded with the awesome view of Sky Bridge! I LOVE natural arches!

It is so incredible to think of how this thing was formed and how many thousands of years it took! Just AWESOME! Can I get a "Hell yeah!" for Mother Nature? We messed around in the rock formations, played with some doodle bugs and the kids found a nice area of soft, chalky sand where they managed to get most superbly dirty!
And Nigel was just happy to take a break!
Then it was time to head out. I came across yet another amazing tree... Isn't that thing gorgeous?

By the time we made it over the bridge again, a certain little Piggy was too pooped to pop, so I had to pack her little arse back to the parking lot. She did pretty good though and I was happy to give her a lift!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Nothing says summer like...


It was hot, it was Memorial Day and it was time to try out the ice cream maker that I was given last year! I debated on flavors. Should I just try vanilla? The recipe called for bananas and that would be yummy. The Piglet is a chocolate fan! But after perusing the fridge it became apparent that this batch was going to be strawberry, which ironically happens to be MY favorite flavor anyway! ;) The recipe is awesome, no cooking and it's ready in about a 1/2 hour! So here is the basic recipe (it's SO easy!), so experiment and enjoy!

4 eggs
2 cups sugar
1 12-oz can of evaporated milk
1 pint of Half and Half
2 tbsp. of vanilla
Add fruit as desired. I added a cup or so of strawberries that I ran through the food processor. You mix these ingredients well with a whisk.
Then you pour it all into the container of the ice cream maker. You fill this container almost to the top with WHOLE milk, it took almost a 1/2 a gallon for mine. Drop in the paddle, close the lid, drop the container into the bucket,
and as I found out later... turn the motor on THEN add ice and rock salt! Otherwise, if you add the ice first then turn on the motor, the ice gets stuck around it and the motor does nothing but whine! Anyway, make sure the ice cream container is spinning away in the bucket of ice and rock salt and let it go for about a half hour. My machine is nice, it automatically turns off at that time. So I checked it, tasted it of course and determined it was done! The finished product was well worth the effort! Not bad, right?!?! And there was absolutely NO high fructose corn syrup or cellulose gum or guar gum or salt or food coloring! I love making things from scratch!


Unfortunately I have to start with some bad news... Crazy Cat died. He hung himself upside down and proceeded to turn completely black and soggy, like a little bag of ink (ICK)! At first I thought the discoloration was part of the process, but then BIG CAT did this--
This happened within a 24-hour period of time. It just stopped on a branch, attached a piece of silk to itself (if you look closely you can see it), leaned back a little and within 24 hours went from caterpillar to chrysalid! So amazingly cool. Now we play the waiting game! We still have Little Cat cruising around in there, eating ravenously and last night we discovered Puny Cat another teeny, tiny one! I just have caterpillars taking over my house!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

And the transformation begins...

Well for two weeks I have been feeding ravenous "parsley worm" caterpillars. Sadly, one of them died, but the other three have successfully denuded 4 parsley transplants!

I have really been hoping that they would just do their thing because I can't afford to keep buying transplants for them! Well, my wish has been granted! Two of the three remaining caterpillars seem to be starting their transformation. Fat Cat, the largest of the three, has climbed up a stalk, leaned back and produced some sort of silk that is holding it into place. It still looks just like a caterpillar though. This isn't the best pic in the world, but it's hard to take them in the enclosure.

But Crazy Cat, the medium caterpillar, has done something weird. It's grabbed ahold of a stalk with one foot and is now hanging upside down. And honestly, it looks kind of gross! I am hoping it didn't just keel over and die! But I thought this with my tomato hornworm a couple of years ago because they look like they are dying when they are turning into a chrysalid. So hopefully this little guy is alright.

You'll notice the orange things coming out of it's head? Those are what produce the nasty stench when you spook them!

Little Cat is still cruising around and eating parsley. I hope he will follow suit soon. Keep your fingers crossed that each of these little guys make a successful transformation into some sort of beautiful swallowtail butterfly! I will post more pics of the different stages.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Summer Garden 2010--Full tilt!

Well things are really taking off in my little garden this year! Hooray! The eggplants are going crazy already!

The corn is about 6-8" tall and the green beans are climbing like crazy!

The black-eyed peas are doing great and the okra isn't as big as I was hoping by now, but they're doing OK. I did have to pull one up due to aphid infestion (stinkin' aphids!) And I need to hurry up and get something for the green beans in the back to climb or they or going to get into trouble!

The zucchini and squash all perished (stinkin' squash borers!!!) It really does seem that there is just no cure for the little bastards so I am officially DONE with cucurbits! No more wasting time and energy on squash, melons, or cucumbers. I know when I have been beaten and I surrender! So, in their place, I am planting a late crop of corn and Mammoth sunflowers! And I may see if there is something I can plant in between the corn.

On to better news though, the Tomato Wilt Tragedy of 2009 is not showing signs of resurgence. My cherry tomatoes are doing well, I'm picking around 5 a day. I have had to start picking them a bit early though due to a mischievous mocking bird that likes to come and take ONE peck out of all the red, ripe tomatoes! So I've been picking them a little orange and letting them ripen in the kitchen window. All four of my plants have fruit on them at this time, but so far, the over-achiever is my Solar Flare vine. This thing has approximately 20 big, fat, tomatoes hangin'! It is such a wonderful sight after witnessing the deterioration and death of all my vines last year and I will be so happy to partake of this beautiful vine's bounty!