Sunday, July 31, 2011

From this to That.....

     I've decided to start a new series on my blog because sometimes you just want to see the before and after photos! This week's From this to That highlights our backyard transformation thus far. It's taken us seven years of living in our space to find a configuration and style that fits our families needs.

From this.... to That

     We've added a picnic bench for casual entertaining, three huge raised planter beds with shade structures, a retaining wall to break up the yard, apple and nectarine trees as well as rock as a substitute for grass. There's still a lot to be done but our garden is definitely a source of pride for us. Even with an awkward space there is room for everything we wanted. I hope this inspires others to get out and make some changes in their own less than ideal shaped yards. 

Our lower yard.... 
From This to That
We took another tight space and created a walk in chicken run that followed the lines of the lower yard. The space now gives us storage, room for our six girls and a walking path around the back of the run for egg collection! 

Saturday, July 30, 2011

New beginnings......

     Today I am officially switching over from my old blog to this new blog. I am excited to roll up my sleeves and get started on some new projects to share with my blog followers. I have a studio that I'll be turning into a craft room, more gardening projects including an expanded growing area, and many more budget DIY projects that I think you'll enjoy. I hope you'll give me a follow over here at my new blog site so I can continue to enjoy your comments and feedback.

     Today I'm enjoying some quiet time at home, sketching out some garden plans and researching plants for next spring's garden. Have you already started thinking about next year's garden? I want to yield more produce over a longer range of time. This year was a beginning and I have so much more to learn but I'm excited to keep going! Won't you join me?

Monday, July 25, 2011

The fruits of my labor... literally!

     This has been an exciting week. Not only are we getting a consistent three eggs a day, but our vegetable garden is really starting to flourish. I've counted over 15 squash getting bigger by the day. Our tomatoes are starting to blush and it won't be long until we are eating those. The eggplant, which I was sure was a gonner, is showing it's first purple pellet like vegetable and I'm sure now that we will get at least one good eggplant.

     All of this great productivity has led me to want to work even harder next year. I've already started receiving seed catalogs and going through them looking for the ideal varieties for our home. We are turning over a new plot and adding additional spaces for veggies in the front yard as well to accommodate my growing love of gardening. Any surplus of vegetables, as has been the case with the eggs, can be gifted to very accepting neighbors.

     What are your favorite varieties of vegetables to grow? Do you have a seed catalog you prefer? Do you still to organic non GMO seeds or plant a variety? I have been mixing things up, taking notes (though I need to take better ones) and evaluating what our family could use more/less of. Next season we will be two steps ahead of where we were this year as we already have a our starting equipment and raised beds. However, the research work is ongoing.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Deep breath in... slow breath out.....

     It's one thing to blog about slowing down, and yet another to follow my own advice. I have to constantly remind myself that chores do not have to be completed in a single day, that the garden can go a day without an hour of care and that sometimes, just sometimes, sitting and doing absolutely nothing is absolutely imperative. Today is one of those days that my plan of action is to have little action.

     It's funny that raising chickens has brought our family to enjoy more quiet time. Sure, there are chores that come with the hens, but there is also a lot of joy, conversation, and evening spent outside laughing at the antics of our six new female friends. Our little family will gather on the back porch and watch as Ethel inevitably begs to be picked up and brought up onto the porch, as Mabel squawks her disapproval at.... well, at everything, as little Dorothy and little Harriet fly up onto the gate separating them from the big girls and then can't figure out how to get back. The chickens are giving us more relaxation time.

     Today my son and I will gather eggs after we hear the egg song, we'll picnic outside so the dogs can roam and we can observe the inhabitants of our backyard. Together we'll refill bird feeders and talk about the things growing in our garden. My son is learning so much right now that any time spent outside is a teaching opportunity. Rather than tend to the garden, weeding and watering we'll work on observing and talking. It's hard sometimes to put off chores for a day for playing and meandering but every once in a while it's exactly what we need before another busy week.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Moxie is back from "vacation".....

     Every once in a while we kennel our guide dog puppy at the guide dog facility. This gets them used to being there, used to the routine and staff, and gives them an opportunity to spend time away from home. This also gives us, as the puppy raiser, a break from training and bringing our puppy with us wherever we go. Moxie was gone for four days and we just brought him home today.

     I can tell you that Moxie was certainly glad to be home. He came in and greeted our two other dogs, went potty outside and he's been asleep on the tile floor the rest of the day. It seems having a new roommate, all the water play, a bath and vet visit have pooped him out. Next month he'll be scheduled for his twelve month evaluation so we'll try to schedule one more kennel stay before that.

Moxie with the L.A. skyline

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The chicken run building continues.....

     This weekend we got the welded wire mesh and hardware cloth up on the walk in run. In addition we completed the roof. Okay, the "we" is mostly my husband but I did help when and where I was able. The roof is made up of 2"x4" beams and vinyl lattice which provides shade. We're really happy with how things are coming alone. Here is a progress picture...

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Observing without distraction.....

     Have you ever noticed how distracted people are these days? In stores, restaurants and walking down the street you are more likely to see someone talking on their phone than not. Passersby bump into each other, let doors shut on the person behind them and even talk on the phone when checking out in a store. It's not just phones either. In coffee shops folks are networking on ipads and texting, while watching the latest youtube and listening to their ipods. Yep, people are pretty darn distracted.

     Today my husband left his Blackberry at home. He dropped me off for a doctor's appointment and I let him keep my phone in case I needed to reach him. After my appointment I found that I had time to sit and really observe people. My hands weren't furiously texting my test results to concerned friends and family. Without my Blackberry to distract me I found myself people watching. Remember people watching? What I found was that with the cell phone absent I was more human.

     I smiled at each person who passed me and made eye contact. I said good morning to a few elderly people coming in for who knows what kind of tests or news. I made silly faces at a sad child being pushed out in a wheelchair. I wouldn't have had any of these moments if I'd had my cell phone. More importantly, the people around me wouldn't have had those experiences either. The power of a simple smile, a nod and a hello, the hospitality of eye contact may have brightened someone's otherwise dark day. I know my day was brightened. I think I'll leave the cell phone in my bag a little more often.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Tips for antiquing and thrifting......

1930 Seth Thomas- paid $35
     I could easily be an antique dealer full time, and have often considering doing just that because I adore antiquing so much and never tire of it. For now though I've kept this as a hobby, picking up a few pieces to sell every now and then and keeping many items for myself. I love the thrill of going to an antique store or a flea market for the first time. You never know what you'll find!

     I was asked by a couple friends what my tips for antiquing would be. How in the world do I manage to find such bargains that turn out to be valuable. I decided to assemble a small list to help out my fellow antique hunters:

1. Always buy what you love, what you'd use and what you find appealing. Chances are you may get stuck with it. It doesn't matter if the item is valuable or not if you don't want it or can't use it. By buying something you personally value the actual value doesn't matter as much. Remember, you win some, you lose some.

2. Do your research! Read all the information you can find about items you are interested in collecting. Personally, I read information about a wide variety of items because antiques in general fascinate me. Follow blogs, look through the current Kovel's Price Guide (my personal favorite), check out books from the library, attend auctions and look at sold listings on Ebay. The more you know, the easier it is to spot a fake!

3. Ask questions, listen to dealers and be open to learn! One of the best ways to learn is by listening to others. Antique dealers at flea markets often have a wealth of information and are only too happy to help you learn more. At The Rose Bowl Flea Market in Pasadena CA many booths are geared toward one specific area of collecting. These are great booths for exploring the wide range of say McCoy Pottery or antique weapons while asking questions and gathering information. This can also be a great place to purchase an intro piece in an area of collecting you'd like to break into!

4. Go with your gut! Many times I'll pick up an item and remember a small piece of information I've read, notice a signature that seems familiar and just plain feel that an item may be valuable. If your gut is telling you to give it a go, and you can stand to spend the asking price, sometimes you just need to take the risk! The more you've been doing this the more risks you'll take successfully!

     The online communities of Twitter, Ebay and the blogosphere can help you identify pieces you have that may or may not be of value. When you have questions don't be afraid to ask a friend for help in identifying a name or mark. The important thing is to have fun, to collect things that have personal meaning to you and to value the history of a piece you've picked up. Who knows, you may just find a treasure!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

There's always a chicken adventure.....

Talking about me?
     Here I was feeling sorry for Mabel, our Delaware. She hadn't laid an egg in two days. She was squawking up a storm and I worried she might be sick. I brought the girls extra treats (strawberry tops, grapes, veggies, etc.) and made sure Mabel got a good share of them. I picked up poor Mabel and gave her lots of extra attention. I checked her feathers and crop and um, back end, to make sure all was in order.

     In typical Mabel fashion, she was off doing her own thing. I found Mabel had decided her coop wasn't good enough for her egg laying and she had created her own nest. If this has been any of our other girls I would have been surprised. However, Mabel is the instigator, the lead chick, and a royal pain in the patut. Her eggs were promptly removed and I gave her a good scolding. Little does she know her free ranging days are numbered.

Mess with me and I'll hide your food
     The walk in run is nearing completion. This week I worked on a couple coats of stain, though I spared you a blog post about the boring world of stain, wipe down, repeat. In a couple days we'll be adding the two types of wire and working on the roof. I think our chicken yard is going to be really nice and I'm excited to share it with others. First order of business though will be locking Princess Mabel in and making sure my breakfast is where it should be!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Super easy tortilla chips.....

     Sometimes a girl needs a good tortilla chip. Since we often have corn tortillas in the house I started looking up different ways of making my own chips. I wasn't keen on frying anything in oil so I knew I wanted something oven baked. Here are some simple steps to get you started. Feel free to add any kind of ingredients to experiment!

Pile 5-6 corn tortillas together and cut with a pizza cutter.
Spread them out on a baking sheet
Baste with a touch of olive oil
Add spices like garlic powder, salt (season salt is a treat), parmesan, chili powder or other.
Bake on 400 degrees for 8 minutes (give or take)

Voila, a delicious homemade tortilla chip that you didn't have to run out to the store for. You can find variations of this recipe all over the web. This is merely what worked for us.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Restaurant bans children.......

     Recently I saw an article on Yahoo in which a Monroeville, PA restaurant has banned children under six from eating in their establishment. I'm sure this could turn into a hot button issue among my group of mom and dad friends and I thought I'd share my two cents on the subject. I can absolutely agree! Some restaurants are not a place for children, and as with so many other rules, laws and restrictions the masses get punished by the few.

     What few am I speaking of you may ask? The parents who sit by, continuing to dine while their children run around the restaurant, who let their child cry, scream and throw a tantrum in the middle of a busy dinner hour because it would be inconvenient for mom or dad to take said child outside. These parents are the reason imposing dining restrictions makes some sense. You see, I can't stand those kids or those parents either.

     While I thought my opinions would change when I had my own son I find quite the opposite as happened. My own son behaves in restaurants. If he throws a fit, and who's child hasn't, he is promptly removed from the restaurant until he's under control and ready to return to the table. This behavior doesn't only negatively impact you, but every other patron around you who is paying for their meal. Is is unfair that you should remove your child? Not really. My husband and I have had to get a meal or two to go. And you'd be surprised how quickly a child learns that this behavior is to their detriment. I can't even tell you the last time my son has thrown a fit in a restaurant. Our son has learned the joy of eating out and is rewarded with that privilege by his good behavior.

     As a patron and parent I would still go to a business with a child ban. I would simply enlist a sitter. Quality adult time is always appreciated. There will never be shortage of restaurants and businesses that DO cater to children. So, in short, I applaud a restaurant that is willing to take a stand and side with the adults on this one. After all, everyone deserves a little peace and quiet sometimes!

And so it begins- the walk in chicken run project

The materials
     My husband and I purchased our first three chickens early this year. I think we were immediately hooked. Once the three girls started laying we were really really hooked. Now we have a flock of six ladies (Mabel, Maude, Ethel, Gertrude, Harriet and Dorothy) who occupy two Eglu Go houses. What more could they need? Well, we decided a secure and predator proof walk in run would be the perfect garden project.

Eglu Go cutouts
     This weekend we got to work on the run and completed framing. The run follows the unusual shape of our lower yard, allowing for a walkway around the outside, and has cutouts for our two Eglu Go houses. Each wall had to be completed to different specifications as no two are exactly the same. Thankfully my husband has more DIY skills than he likes to admit. What started as an idea in my head was easily translated (shows how well he knows me) to actual plans.
The run framing completed

     So, this was our first weekend. Next weekend we'll begin to add the welded wire mesh up top and hardware cloth on the bottom. Eventually the Eglus will sit outside the run on suspended tables so we can access the outside for eggs. There will be a chicken lookout tower and many decorative elements. If you'd like to follow the progress simple click "Join this Site" at the right.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

A garden update......

Early Girl
     This season has provided me with many lessons. Don't plant too early or you'll be planting again, seeds started outdoors can be even better growers than those started indoors, and chickens will lay when they darn well please! I'm finally starting to see some garden goodies besides the three eggs a day I'm now receiving.

Better Boy Tomato
     The Early Girl tomato is really going crazy. I've counted at least seven or eight tomatoes ripening on the vine and each is bigger than a golf ball already. The tomatoes are really enjoying the shade structures which is also keeping them hidden from the birds. The Better Boy tomato is proving to be quite the boy. It is slower to mature, though it was quicker to grow. I don't have nearly as many tomatoes coming in, but they will come in sooner or later. Typical boys!
The girls

     The squash are really going crazy. I have a
mixture of those I planted from seeds and a couple organic varieties I purchased from a local nursery. All of them are doing well. Today I counted 11 or so squash growing of all different varieties. Those are only the ones I counted and I'm sure, as I've heard from other gardeners, that I'll have more squash than I'll need when it's time to harvest them. The apple trees, especially the Yellow Delicious, are really producing too. Overall the garden is started to show the fruits of our labor quite literally!

Friday, July 8, 2011


     Being relatively new to chickens I wasn't sure what to expect in the noise level department. After the first few months of quiet days I figured I was off the hook. However, soon came the egg song, and now the girls are just chatty. Chickens are a bit louder than I had previously anticipated which often has me running outside and scattering treats just to quiet them. Of course, we're allowed to have chickens here, but we're the only ones on our street, and possibly our side of the neighborhood who have any.

Mabel- the squawker
     Tomorrow I'll be heading over to the coffee shop to ask the owner what she does about chickens noise. Lately the coffee shop owner has been my go to gal for chicken raising information. In the meantime our culprit Mabel is getting the best of me. She is getting fattened up with treats and probably learning a few things about manipulation. The funny thing is, I wonder if chicken noises are a bit like babies crying. Is it always louder when it's your chicken? Does anyone actually hear our chickens or is it just me?

     These are the days when I wish for more land. Residential backyards are great as there is less maintenance, but oh the freedom of land ownership. Hopefully the new walk in run will be finished soon and the chickens will quiet down with age. In the meantime we're getting three eggs a day (more than we can eat) and enjoying the quirky antics of our girls.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Dodger dogs and guide dogs.....

     What do the two have in common? Well, the manager of the Dodgers is a supporter of Guide Dogs of America. We were very excited to be invited to a game last night, along with many of our fellow puppy raisers. The guide dog puppies in training got to come too. The day was hot and the drive was long. Being a black labrador can be a bit of a bummer in summer but Moxie managed to put in quite a good performance.

     In addition to sitting quietly in the stands throughout the game, Moxie also had to navigate steep steps, go through security check in, deal with lots of people and animal distractions and NOT eat anything on the ground. Okay, so Moxie didn't exactly pass the very last portion and had a bit of popcorn, but hey, he's ten months and still learning. Moxie did well with having other dogs around and pretty much spent the game under our seats where it was a little cooler.

Add caption
     We made a couple stops along the way to the game as we live so far away. Moxie had the opportunity to relieve in a few new places, visit my mother in law's dog and also visit some friends of ours. Needless to say, Moxie was the last dog awake in our house this morning. We are currently watching a friend's dog, making our house four dogs strong. Ouch!

Monday, July 4, 2011

"I'm proud to be an American...."

"where at least I know I'm free. And I won't forget the men who died who gave that right to me."

     Today we celebrate our Independence Day, our freedom to choose the religion we follow, our freedom to raise our children as we see fit. We live in a country so great others come here to seek those freedoms which we have been born to. Others before us have fought to make this nation great and I will never forget why it is we are celebrating on this day.

    I'm sharing a video that brings out my patriotism. I think you will appreciate the Capraesque quality of this history lesson!

Happy 4th of July!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Lucky finds......

     This morning I decided to go to the salvage yard before it got too hot. It was a spur of the moment decision, as many of my decisions are, and it proved to be a good one! Sitting right by the entrance to the yard was this amazing antique spiral leg table. Like many items at the salvage yard this is a bit unloved and neglected but in rather good shape for it's age. Someone has painted it a pale greenish yellow which has aged over time quite nicely and is definitely not done recently, which is even better.

     Once I got the little table home and unloaded it I heard a rattle in the drawer. Inside was the cutest little metal whistle, a bunch of vintage wrapping paper scraps and a wood pencil. I feel as though I've found treasure. After this baby has the nails removed from the legs and is re-glued and put back together it will be as good as new. I'll probably change out the knobs to something from Anthropologie as a finishing touch.

     At just $6 this table is a true diamond in the rough! I'll post pictures when the new knobs are on. What is funny is that I didn't even search out the rest of the yard, which I should have. I took my score and ran on home. Sometimes finding one treasure is enough to satisfy even this salvage sister!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Squash Blossom Soup.....

Raised bed of squash
     If you, like me, are growing squash in your garden you are probably seeing a lot of squash blossoms right now. When I've told a few friends and neighbors that squash blossoms can be eaten I've been given a weird look. Suddenly I've turned into Eco Girl- woman of gardening mystery. Seriously though, squash blossoms are quite edible and delicious. I've enjoyed a few in salads already but a soup might also be nice. So here is a little recipe I thought I'd share. If you aren't growing your own squash blossoms ask at your local farmer's market.

Squash blossoms
4 cups of squash blossoms
1 onion, sliced
1/4 stick butter
1 or 2 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups chicken broth
1 cup half and half
Salt and pepper to taste
Grated Parmesan Cheese for the top

1. Add butter to large saucepan. Add onions and saute on medium heat for five minutes. Add broth, garlic and simmer. Add squash blossoms last and simmer for an additional five minutes.

2. Transfer soup to food processor and puree until smooth. Strain soup back into saucepan. Pour in the half and half and bring to a boil. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot or chilled with grated Parmesan Cheese on top! 

Egg Watch 2011 Continues.....

     It's 6:30 am. I walk out the back door in my pajamas hoping nobody else is up at this hour. My hair is askew, I'm braless and my eyes are only half mass as I've had no coffee. I creep down to the chicken yard and eagerly unlatch the gate. From the coop I hear the sounds of chicken chatter as the girls, undoubtedly, discuss what they will forage for today. I pop the door open and usher the girls out. Then I go around back to do an egg check. I anxiously peek inside and..... no eggs.

     Maude, my Barred Rock, is thus far my only laying hen. However, she lays an egg at 10:30 each day and this ain't no brunch house ladies. I hang my head in chicken mama shame and leave the chicken yard. I no longer care if the neighbors see me in my pajamas. I'm deflated, knowing that it's Special K for breakfast again. Ugh! While it's great to get an egg a day I'm excited all over again at the prospect of more. I'm sure society is to blame for my desire of having more, but we'll just stick to chickens for today.

     This is the thing about raising chickens, ever day is truly an adventure. Chickens have funny personalities. You get to see their antics each day, do egg checks each day and watch them mow each other over for some Ramen noodles. As Egg Watch 2011 continues we are continuing work on the upgraded chicken yard. I can't wait to show it off when it's finished!