Bethlehem Supper: A Christmas Eve Tradition

Enjoy a taste of the real night before the Savior was born with this Bethlehem Supper. It is quick and easy to prepare, a boon for mom when things can otherwise be quite hectic. The simple foods are a refreshing taste change from the rich holiday foods. Eating what Joseph and Mary may have eaten transports us to a different time and experience, and keeps us more mindful of our Savior’s birth. It also makes a meaningful prelude to reading the chapter in Luke or re-enacting the nativity.

You can create a very simple supper or a more elaborate experience. Here’s some things we have done:

*Play instrumental folk music from Israel in the background.

*Dress up in robes and sandals, pretending you are travelers at an inn in Bethlehem.

*Set the scene with palm fronds, oil lamps, simple pottery or wooden dishes, small earthtone candles (no electric lights).

*Have guests wash their hands in a large bowl with a pitcher of water before eating.

*Sit on the floor on blankets or pillows and use a low table for the food. If you are very courageous or don’t have little ones, you can spread the tablecloth right on the floor.

At the time Jesus was born, the large meal of the day may have included wheat or barley bread, cheese, vegetables, fruits, beans, lentils and eggs. Fish or chicken was the most common meat. Beef and lamb were served only on special occasions (the fatted calf at the return of the prodigal son). Pork and seafoods such as crab, lobster or shrimp were forbidden. Food was boiled in a big pot seasoned with onions, garlic, cumin, coriander, mint, dill or mustard, and salt. Sweets included wild honey, dates and grapes. Food was eaten by dipping fingers into a common bowl.

Here are some menu ideas to choose from:

Flatbread
Hummus (recipe below)
Fish sticks
Goat cheese (called “feta”)
Olives
Raw veggie tray with dip
Cheese and cracker platter
Pomegranates
Braided Jewish bread
Grape juice or grapes
Tomato and cucumber salad
Soup
Dates and figs (can twist a few in gold tissue paper and put by each place setting as a treat)
Orange slices

Enjoy!

Make your own, try these easy recipes:

Hummus—Middle Eastern Sandwich Spread

2 cups cooked garbanzo beans, or 1 can (15 oz.) drained (reserve liquid)
1 tablespoon fresh parsley
1/2 small clove of garlic
Dash of freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon sesame seeds

Put all ingredients into a blender or food processor and blend until smooth, adding a bit of cooking liquid (or liquid from canned beans) if needed to make a thick dip. Spread on pita bread, crackers, or use as a dip for vegetables. Serves 8.

To make a Middle Eastern sandwich, open a half pita and spread hummus inside. Then add chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, onions if you like, and drizzle with yogurt and cumin. Very delicious, healthy and authentic.

Pita Bread

Easy to make, magical to watch puff up in the oven, and delicious to serve with hummus, above.

1 teaspoon yeast
1/2 cups warm water
1/2 teaspoon salt 1 1/2 cup white wheat flour or whole wheat)

Sesame seeds

Put warm water in a mixing bowl with yeast. Stir in salt and enough flour to make a stiff dough. This may be a bit more or less. Knead dough until smooth. Cover and let rise. Break off a walnut sized ball of dough and roll out on a floured surface until 1/4″ thickness, or pat them quite thin patty-cake style. When pita is formed, you may press it onto a plate of sesame seeds if you like. Lay gently on cookie sheet, without touching. To insure that they bubble up, forming a pocket, preheat hot oven before putting pitas in to bake. Bake at 450° for about 8 minutes. They should not brown or get crisp, but should still be soft. Makes 6 pitas.

(recipes from Hopkins’ Healthy Home Cooking)

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Make An Infinity Scarf in 7 Minutes!

 

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My daughter Julianna is expecting! A scarf is a great way to dress up maternity outfits.

Here’s a very simple project that you can make in 7 minutes! It would make a great gift. It is also fun to sew up a few to jazz up your clothes for the holidays.  We made ours by using fabric scraps, and also recycling an old skirt.  All you need is a piece of fabric approximately 36″ long by 20″ wide.  I say approximately because we used a scrap that was much wider on one end than the other, and it still worked fine.

If you plan on wearing it indoors to give color and spice to your clothes, one loop works great. It is lightweight and doesn’t get warm.  If you are going to wear your scarf with a coat or to keep warm, two loops is fun. Experiment with a piece of fabric, looping it around your neck until it looks good—then measure the length that works best on you.

Let’s do it!

1. Cut your fabric into an approximate rectangle that is 20″ wide.  It should be about 36″ long for a one-loop scarf for adults, and about 60″ to 70″ for a two-loop scarf. Don’t stress if the fabric piece is not even or perfect—it will still work out well!

2. Fold your fabric right sides together long-wise and stitch up the side, making a long tube with an open top and bottom.

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An “infinity” scarf is just a circle of fabric.

3. Reach into the tube, grasping the bottom edge and pull it through just until it lines up with the top raw edge of the tube, right sides together. Match the seam and pin.

4. Pin the raw edges together until you have pinned the entire circular raw edge of the tube together. Now stitch those raw edges together leaving a 3″ opening.

(If you get stumped on this last step, watch this tutorial video I found which shows this step very well, right at the 2:00 minute point in the video.)

5. Put your hand into the 3″ opening and pull the scarf through the opening, which will turn it right side out so the seams go to the inside.  Stitch the opening closed with a tiny zig-zag stitch close to the edge.

That’s it!  Put it on and feel fashionable!

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My daughter Emily made a longer scarf that can be looped around the neck twice.

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Happy Times…Again

 memory leaves

If happy times were sold in a store, we would pile our carts high, buying as many as we could possibly afford!  We enjoy the “good times” and we re-live them over and over again with the happy memories they provide.

This year for Thanksgiving, instead of writing down what we are thankful for to increase our gratitude, we decided to focus on our happy memories of this past year. Everybody has unhappy, scary or bad times.  And those can often be the most dominant memories.  We tend to focus on the car accident rather than the other 364 days of safe driving around incident-free.  Research has shown that whatever memories we choose to review, both in our minds and by retelling them to others, become most influential in our lives.  Memories tend to pop into our minds and it doesn’t always feel like a choice, but resisting the tendency to review bad memories can ease their trauma and their power to make us unhappy.

So, I asked my family to write down their happy memories of this past year on some paper leaves that we taped up to decorate for Thanksgiving. Sometimes it takes searching to remember the joy in our ordinary days. A beautiful sunset, a fun family campout, the raspberry bushes covered in sweet, sun-warmed gems, a visit to a neighbor, a little hike to see the brilliant autumn leaves,  an interesting book read…these pleasant things make life more joyful and beg to be celebrated with gratitude!

Don’t forget the relief of things that were most certain to happen but didn’t: they make happy memories too!

    • the potential speeding ticket that ended up just being a warning instead
    • the flu you didn’t catch even though everyone around you had it
    • the lost camera that turned up unexpectedly
    • the eyebrow-raising “A” on a test you thought you failed

Bad things that didn’t happen give us a big happy feeling too!

I got some interesting insights into my family members when I read their “leaves” and was sometimes surprised with what made a happy memories for each of them.  A carnival dunk tank experience I remembered with fright made a thrilling memory for my son. We all view life so differently. Knowing the little things that makes each other happy helps you to be able to orchestrate more happy times together.

Celebrate gratitude by choosing to focus on your happy memories!

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hot-fudge-sauceIt’s summer time, ice cream time…and even if you don’t like to eat sugar, you no doubt have enjoyed ice cream!  It’s part of being an American, isn’t it?

Here’s a great, tried-and-true recipe for hot fudge: the thick, creamy, milk-chocolate-delicious fudge sauce that cost $3.99 or more at the grocery store. This recipe makes nearly two jars in 5 minutes, really!

No high fructose corn syrup, no trans fats, no modified food starch!  Now…if I can just find a way to replace the sugar…

Hot Fudge Sauce

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/4 cup cocoa
  • 1/4 cup flour (whole wheat or white, either is fine)
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 large can (12 oz.) evaporated milk

Put all ingredients into a saucepan and whisk over low heat until well blended.  Turn up heat and boil for 1 minute, stirring occasionally. If you take it off the heat after about a minute, you will have the kind of Hershey’s type chocolate syrup that stirs easily  into milk.  Boil for approx. 3 minutes and you’ll have hot fudge sauce.  Boil for 4-5 minutes and you’ll have the thick kind of fudge that you have to spoon out of the jar.

Enjoy!

 

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A Nasty Word . . . and How to Cure Yourself

swept floorBUT: a nasty, nasty word.

Your English essay was really good, BUT you keep making that same mistake with commas.

You washed the car!  BUT why didn’t you vacuum inside?

Wow!  What an excellent report card!  BUT why this “C”?

So glad you swept the floor, BUT you missed a spot here.

“But” invalidates our praise and compliments.  It stings the eager listener, turning a smile into disappointment.

How to cure yourself:

Put a period on your praise. Once you start saying something nice—noticing someone’s effort—put a period in the sentence right before the “but” pops out.  Just stop.  Don’t say it.  Bite your tongue. If your family is used to hearing a negative ouch on the end of every compliment from you, they are going to look at you in wonder…waiting for you to finish your sentence.  It’s kinda fun to watch them and confused and quite happy that you’ve stopped just in the nick of time!

Write yourself a note. Parents feel compelled to make sure children learn all that they need to learn, including how to write an essay with proper comma placement.  Seeing the commas misplaced jogs your memory…”oh, I really need to teach her how to use commas correctly!” Difficult as it is, do not mention it.  Jot yourself a private note to work on commas another day, when this paper is out of her mind. Let the good English paper be her happy success today!

Stop doing it to yourself.  Upbeat treatment of others starts with how you treat yourself. I got a great idea to remodel my bathroom, so I thought up a theme,  bought new towels, and eagerly ripped the wallpaper border off.  Well, part of it…the part I could easily reach.  That was weeks ago. Maybe longer.  It is easy to look at it and say to myself, “I’m enthused to remodel my bathroom, BUT I sure can’t finish a project.”  I am going to reword that right here and now: “It’s amazing that I got this far, considering all that is going on in my life!  Bravo!”

I’m on a campaign to banish “but” from my vocabulary forever….I know it will make my loved ones happier!

 

 

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Teaching Against Entitlement

Whose responsibility is it that you are happy?

…healthy?

…educated?

…have friends?

…have money?

We live in a culture that has slid ever so gradually year-by-year into an entitlement mentality.  Even if you know better, it sneaks up on you. Try signing up for college…you’ll be bombarded with “get-it-free-from-the-government” programs. It seems no one realizes anymore that it is noble to pay for things you want with the money you earned!

I have a chart that hangs on a wall in my home:

It is my responsibility to create a meaningful life that I enjoy:

Spiritually

Physically

Socially

Mentally

Financially

Family Relationship-wise

From time to time, I print off copies of this chart to use as a goal brainstorm worksheet for a family meeting: “just choose one thing in each category that you want to do to improve your life and happiness”.  Thinking about how to make your own life better in each area helps reinforce the realization that “if it’s going to be, it’s up to me!” Which is the opposite of entitlement.

Freedom entails responsibility.  Each entitlement freebie we allow into our life costs us a little freedom. I think it is good training for kids to hear from their parents that there is no free lunch—that we should work for what we get. That is what it means to be a responsible adult in a free nation. Our happiness is our own responsibility.

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Basics for New Gardeners

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Summer Bliss!

If you are new to raising a garden, it can be overwhelming. I can remember going to the garden shop and feeling so bewildered at everything: zones, perennials or annuals,  when to plant, how far apart, what…?!

Now that I’ve gardened for half a century (!), I finally feel confident, and I still learn new things every summer. One of our readers asked for a basic “how-to for the newbie”, so here’s my attempt at summing it all up!

Plants or Seeds?

Seeds are the most economical way to go, plus you have the choice of so many more varieties. You can also reduce your need for buying seeds or plants every year by saving your own seeds.  You can use your own saved seed to plant directly in the ground or to start early indoors to produce plants you can transplant into the garden later.   It will say on the seed package if it is a heirloom or a hybrid. If it doesn’t say “hybrid”, it is a standard or heirloom and will produce seed true to the parent plant.

The bigger package of seeds you buy, the better deal you get.  You can even buy seed in bulk by weight at farm stores like IFA (Intermountain Farmer Association).  Department or hardware stores offer seeds along with onions sets (a dried-out looking bundle of baby onion plants),  garlic bulbs, bare root strawberries,  and potato starts (baby sized potatoes).

Buying plants in May/June is the easy (and costly) way to go and gives you several weeks of jumpstart on the season.  A 12″ tall tomato plant is going to give you tomatoes weeks before the seeds you plant in the garden.  If your season is short (where freezing weather stops in late May and comes again in September), you won’t even get ripe tomatoes or peppers if you don’t use plants that have been started indoors.

Here is a general rule for those who live in areas that freeze (thus giving them a shorter growing season):

Plant by seed:  all the cool weather crops  (listed below) plus squash, melons, beans.

Buy plants: tomatoes, peppers, eggplant—and broccoli and cabbage if you don’t get it in by early March— and melon or winter squash if you want a headstart and an earlier harvest.  Also buy onion sets and bareroot strawberry plants, rather than attempt to grow them by seed.

Here are a few good places to get heirloom seeds:

  • your local dollar store—they usually have seed packets in the spring for a cheap price like 4 for $1.00. Just because they are cheap doesn’t mean they aren’t great.  They grow. They are non-hybrid although they don’t say it. No fancy varieties, but you can usually get marigolds, Marketmore cucumbers (a non-hybrid variety), green onions, radishes, summer squash and other standard crops.
  • drug stores (Walgreen’s, Rite Aid, CVS, etc.)—have a cardboard stand with cheap seeds, usually all non-hybrid varieties.
  • Walmart—Walmart will have the same cheap seed packets as mentioned above, plus they have started a 50 cent seed packet line that gives you fewer seeds. This is a great way to get lots of variety without spending too much.
  • Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds—fabulous variety of  heirloom seeds!  Their catalog is full of color pictures that make your mouth water.  You’ll find everything you ever dreamed of growing.  http://www.rareseeds.com
  • Standard gardening companies such as Burpee, Gurney’s, Park Seeds, etc.  Just google “seeds” and you’ll find plenty.
  • Your local garden nursery.  Pricier usually, but I like supporting local business.
  • Neighbors!  This is the best resource, because the seeds are tried and true—have been grown in your own area and soil type and are usually free.  Can’t get better than that!

When to Plant

Squash blossoms

Squash blossoms

Cool crops should be planted when the ground thaws in early spring (which is March in Utah):

  • Sugar snap peas – Yum!
  • Regular peas - I don’t plant these, because they require shelling and I like the edible pod of the sugar snap peas eaten raw.
  • Snow peas - a flat pod used in Asian food
  • Cabbage – very prone to aphids and cabbage worm, but diatomaceous earth will solve that.  So sweet when grown in the garden, a very different product that the grocery store cabbage.
  • Carrots – a garden staple.  The seed must be kept wet for a week to germinate. If you plant this when the weather is warm and dry, lay a piece of cardboard, cloth, wood, whatever on top of it after planting and watering to trap the moisture. Leave in place for a week until the carrots germinate.
  • Cauliflower
  • Broccoli – cut the head off and your plant will produce more broccoli heads over and over all summer long
  • Brussel sprouts – so sweet and good when you grow your own!
  • Lettuce – plant leaf varieties, not Iceberg type (which is low in nutrition, cheap to buy in the grocery store, and difficult to grow if your summer gets hot).
  • Kale – high nutrition, not big on taste (in my opinion).  I chop it and add to everything:  stew, soup, casserole, scrambled eggs, lasagna, honestly everything.  I dry some in my food dehydrator and crumble it  and store it in spice bottle to add nutrition to whatever I’m cooking.  Buy the flat leaf variety as curly leaf kale is a safe haven for bugs that are hard to wash out.
  • Collards – I use this the same as kale.
  • Beets – Can use the young greens in salads, and the ball root for a sweet delicious veggie.  Don’t plant too many!  Can harvest when golf ball size up to softball!
  • Swiss Chard – Bright Lights has colorful stems: yellow, red, pink!  Use this fresh in salads, or shredded in casseroles or soups.
  • Spinach – we eat this mostly raw, plucking off outer leaves as it grows.  Bolts easily, not a summer crop.
  • Radish- Hailstone is my favorite, a sweet radish that grows into big white balls!
  • Cilantro – bolts easily in heat so plant early and enjoy that delicious flavor!  Essential for salsa or Thai cooking.
  • Parsley – very slow germination (weeks) and must keep soil moist while it germinates. Once you’ve got it growing,  it will overwinter and reseed itself generously. Choose the Italian flat variety as it is more flavorful and has no bug hideouts like the curly variety.
  • Green onions – a garden staple that I use from early spring until late fall
  • Oregano – super flavorful, and healthy too! Overwinters and comes up again in the spring.  Spreads easily, so put it off to the side of the garden.
  • Garlic – plant it in the fall and it will be up very early in the spring, and ready to harvest in June, when the tops grow curling “scapes” which are edible too.
  • Strawberries – can tolerate some shade, which is a plus for those garden areas that aren’t full sun.
  • Chives – easy to grow, delicious chopped in salads, stir fries, on baked potatoes, and more.  They flower with a beautiful lavender pompom blossoms the second year before reseeding themselves!

You can continue to plant many of these as the weather warms up, but lettuce will turn bitter and bolt, as will spinach.  Peas can’t take heat, so if you don’t get them in during the early spring, skip them.

Warm weather crops have to wait until the ground warms and all danger of frost is past:

  • Cucumber - There is a wide variety in the taste of cucumbers!  Pickling cucumbers are warty and are grown for pickle-making… not my favorite fresh. Lemon Cucumber is a round yellow-green cucumber that is delicious when picked the size of a lemon. Armenian cucumbers grow up to 18″ long and are light pale green with a mild taste. My favorite cucumbers are dark green, long, small seeded cucumbers. I plant some hybrid variety of cucumbers because they have improved the taste so much.  I just don’t get to save their seed.
  • Tomato – there are so many heirloom varieties!  I also plant many different types of big heirloom tomatoes and just one plant of a cherry or grape tomato for pick-and-eat in the garden.
  • Winter Squash – Butternut, Hubbard, Buttercup, Sweet Meat are all good varieties.  For me, nothing beats the taste of a ripe Hubbard. I especially like the Blue Hubbard.  These are huge squashes, so make room!
  • Summer Squash – Gotta have straight-neck yellow squash, and zucchini.  What would summer be without these filler foods?  Chop them up and put them in scrambled eggs, Asian food, soups, stews, casseroles, etc.
  • Melons – Crenshaw, Honeydew, Cantaloupe, Watermelon (Sugar Baby or other small varieties)—super delicious!
  • Beans – Blue Lake pole beans are my favorite. Bush beans ripen all at the same time for those who like to can (not me).  Pole beans make a vine that just keeps growing, keeps producing all summer long.
  • Peppers - I always plant jalapeno for our favorite Jalapeno Poppers dish, along with green and red bell peppers.
  • Eggplant - Black Beauty is the classic eggplant variety that I love. For fun, I grow FairyTale which is purple and white striped. This year I planted “Little Fingers”.  Chop and add to spaghetti sauce or make eggplants steaks, or ratatouille (a delicious mix of eggplants, tomatoes, peppers and onions).
  • Basil – A very tender herb (tender meaning it cannot take the slightest frost) that is highly flavorful. Summer wouldn’t be summer without pesto, spaghetti sauce or pizza flavored with basil.
  • Flowers - Tuck some marigolds, bachelor’s buttons, alyssum, cosmos and zinnias in your garden for lots of color!  It’s great to have a vase of flowers on your table all summer long.

Mulch

Growing up....on a fence! That is carpet between the rows, and black plastic under the planted area.

Growing up….on a fence! That is carpet between the rows, and black plastic under the planted area.

Any dirt that is not covered is going to grow something green and tenacious. Period. Mother Earth operates on a “no bare soil” policy. So only leave openings of dirt where you have a plant you desire growing.  Cover everything else up! That is the trick to enjoying gardening.  Who needs a big weeding job and a backache?  Weeds, being more vigorous than the plants you want to grow, will steal water and nutrients—plua shade and crowd our your crops. Some weeds produce as many as 70,000 seeds in a season.  You aren’t going to win! Never let a weed grow a seed head, and never expose dirt unless you are going to plant in it immediately!

“Mulch” is the name for anything you put down on the dirt that prevents essential sunlight from getting through.  Mulch can be black plastic, old carpet, cardboard, newspapers, wood, gravel, wood bark chips, thick autumn leaves, aluminum foil, dried grass clippings, pulled weeds before they form seeds, nut shells….you get the idea!  Even shade from seedlings will discourage weeds, so plant things close! The only “dirt” you see in my garden has something planted within an inch. All my pathways are covered with old carpet.  My long tomato and melon beds are covered in plastic, with little openings cut for the seed or plant.  I use red plastic for tomatoes, eggplant and peppers (which gives you 20% more yield), and black plastic for melons and squash. (I’ve just learned that green plastic makes melons ripen faster, so I am going to try buying a green plastic tablecloth from the dollar store to plant in.) I use mulch everywhere in my garden because I don’t enjoy pulling weeds. I enjoy growing plants for food and beauty!

Baby Peppers

Baby Peppers

Spacing

Plant your seeds 3 x as deep as the size of the seed.  So a big bean seed that is 1/3″ in thickness should be planted 1″ down.  A tiny speck of a seed like a carrot seed should barely be pressed into the soil.

Imagine the finished crop.  A carrot is about 1-2″ in diameter, so ideally, plant your seeds that far apart, so when you are ready to harvest, the carrots will barely touch each other. Of course, you will be pulling and eating carrots all summer long, from tiny carrots in early summer to big guys at the beginning of fall. Ready grown seedling plants are spaced the same way. Imagine the fully grown plant and space accordingly.

If you use square foot beds, instead of rows, you can plant about 8 carrots across by 8 carrots down, resulting in 64 carrots in one square foot of soil!

Transplanting

If you pay good money for plants at the garden shop, make sure you don’t kill them when you plant them in your garden.  The ideal transplanting weather is cloudy and cool.  Gently squeeze the plastic pot to loosen the soil and then tip it upside down gently easing the plant into your hand. Resist the urge to yank on its stem!  If your plant is root-bound (you see roots circling the outside of the soil),  you will have to gently scratch the side of the soil to rough up the roots so that they don’t continue to spiral around but instead send their roots out into your garden soil and thrive.  Melons and squashes do not like their roots disturbed at all, so go easy here. Slide the plant gently into the hole you have made, pressing to squeeze out any air pockets.  Make sure you keep the soil level that same as it was in the pot. Water thoroughly.

If it is a sunny day, set up some shade to help the plant adjust. You can set a lawn chair over the plant for a day or two. Create shade any way you can, but don’t leave a newly transplanted plant out in the broiling sun…that’s murder!  

Bugs

I don’t like to poison anything in the veggie garden, as I feel it contaminates the crops and gets into the soil, and I don’t want it in my body.  There is one natural “bug killer” that I use freely: diatomaceous earth.  It is healthy enough to be taken internally for humans (as a parasite cleanse) and it does the same damage to bugs in the garden.  The sharp diatoms in this naturally occurring earth will kill soft bodied bugs.  Sprinkle it on or around your plants when the soil and plants are dry, as water dissolves it.  You’ll have far fewer bugs to deal with!  Note: be careful not to inhale the dust, as it isn’t good for your lungs, but the powdery substance is 100% non-poisonous.

The other precaution I take is to have my chicken run surrounding my garden so the grasshoppers get eaten before they jump in!  If you have problems with grasshoppers, plant tobacco around the edge of your garden.  They love to eat it, and it poisons them!

You can also plant companion plants that deter bugs.  Marigolds are supposed to discourage bugs in  squash plants. Some people plant dill as a trapping plant, as aphids will go there instead of on your food crops.  I don’t like aphids anywhere, so I use diatomaceous earth.

Tomato horn worms, those devilish green-camouflaged worms that gobble up your tomato plants, can most effectively be hand picked—which is creepy but some kids like the job!  They are easiest to see in the cool of the day before they move into the center of the plant for shade.  Throw them to the chickens!

Watering

Basil, all ready to be made into yummy pesto!

Basil, all ready to be made into yummy pesto!

Leaves can “sunburn” when they are watered during the bright daylight.  The water droplets on the plants act as a magnifying glass and burn the leaves. The best time to water is early morning, at dusk or during the night. Better to leave the water on for two hours every few days than to stand and spray the plants with a hose for 15 minutes or so daily. That works for getting seeds wet, but not for growing plants. Even though everything looks wet after you sprinkle with a hose, dig down a few inches into the soil after watering and you’ll be surprised to find that it is very dry!  The soil needs to be wet down to the roots, so longer periods of slow watering is best.  Watering just the soil via a soaker hose or irrigation system of lines with emitters is the best choice.  Overhead sprinkling can work too, but squash can get mildew on their leaves if they are overhead watered.

Some crops (potatoes, melons) need a lot of water to give a good crop.  Don’t let them get too dry. The top of the soil is not a good indicator. Stick your finger down into the dirt to see what is really going on.

Fertilizer

I’m an organic gardener, so I don’t use chemicals.  I do gather fall leaves (yes, I snatch garbage bags full of leaves that people set out on their curb and haul them home in my van!) These get dug into my garden beds, adding chicken manure/straw from cleaning out the coop.  This decomposes while the garden lies dormant late fall through early spring, and is ready to plant.  If you don’t have chickens, you can take the easy route by adding some bags of aged steer manure to restore nutrients to your garden beds—they usually cost less than $2 a bag at Walmart.

Rows, Boxes, Beds?

I love to use Square Foot Garden 4′ x 4′ boxes for anything small: herbs, lettuce, spinach, onions, cilantro, peas, etc. I plant close together so a weed doesn’t stand a chance.  It is a beautiful thing to see those boxes full of green growing things!

For big sprawling plants like melons, cucumbers, squash, tomatoes or plants that prefer to have the ground heated up by black plastic—like eggplant and peppers,—I use 3 feet wide beds.  I cover this with plastic mulch, laying carpet between the beds to walk on.  Everything is neat and tidy, and I only water the beds, not a whole huge plot of dirt that can grow endless weeds.

Supporting Sprawling Plants

I grow everything up.  I live on 7 acres, so I am not pressed for space, but it is so much more efficient to plant in a small area that is weed-free, under mulch, and let the plants vine up a fence for support. It keeps the fruit off the ground, cleaner, and easier to access.  I grow tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, melons, squash, pole beans and snap peas along a wire fencing support.

Seed Saving

Easy and fun: save your own garden seeds!

Easy and fun: save your own garden seeds!

If you plant non-hybrid (heirloom) seeds, you can let one or two plants of each crop mature beyond the edible point for seed production.  For example, if you want a hundred radish seeds, let one or two radishes stay in the ground growing bigger and bigger and tougher and less edible. Eventually they will bolt, or send up a seed stalk, flower, and go to seed.  Radishes form bumpy pointed seed capsules that each contain multiple seeds. Wait until fall time, when they have dried and turned brown and pluck them from the plant. Lay the seed capsules on a cookie sheet out of the sun and let them finish drying completely. Break the capsules open and shake out the seeds. (If you wait too long in the garden, the seed capsules will dry and pop open, reseeding themselves, which is nice, but maybe they will drop seed on the pathway instead of the soil.) Label an envelope or ziplock baggie and store your seeds for next season.

Not all plants seed the first year.  Onions, carrots, parsley and others will overwinter and go to seed the second summer.    For details on this rewarding and money saving practice, I highly recommend the book, Saving Seeds.

What Else?

I know I left out about a million things, so if you have questions, feel free to ask them in the comment section of my blog, and I’ll answer them!

Happy Gardening!

Please leave a comment or ask your questions here.  Thanks!!!

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Organize Your Seeds

seed organizer
It’s that planting time of year that I love so much!  A couple of years ago, I decided to organize my seeds, and it sure has made spring gardening so pleasant.  I can see at a glance which seeds I need to buy, saving me from multiple duplicate purchases.  It also helps me remember to plant all of the vegetables and flowers we enjoy. Best of all, I don’t have seed packets strewn all over my laundry room anymore!

I used a box with dividers that held greeting cards, but any box will do.  I assigned new names to the tab dividers:  Tomatoes, Peppers, Greens, Lettuce, Squash, Melons, Root Veggies, Peas/Beans, Flowers, Herbs.

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I like to grow heirloom seeds (non-hybrid) and save seeds from them—which is really an easy process, and saves you lots of money on seeds. Once the seeds are well-dried in fall time, I put them in a little ziplock bag, label them and file them for next spring’s planting.

Just an easy idea I thought I’d share…

Enjoy gardening!

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10 Minutes to a Spit-Spot House!

jars

Ahhh…. order!

I am not a great housekeeper… like my dear mother was.  I love order, but something about 7 kids and homeschooling and living in the country (think dirt) sort of got me off track on the path to a clean house.  Yes, dishes and laundry and meals get done, but the general clutter seems to build and increase daily. Some people have the gift of being able to see useless things and discard them. I am not one of them.

Recently, my daughter Louisa and I have hit upon a winner of an idea that is really working!  We work on clutter control for just 10 minutes. Truly.  Just ten minutes a day.

Ten minutes is not enough to wear anyone out.  It is not even long enough to feel complain-y or resistant about.  10 minutes is, after all, just 10 minutes!

So, after breakfast, we are committed to 10 minutes. Every one of us…Dad included.  If you have a household of 4, that adds up to 40 minutes of good solid work each and every day.  In a household of 9….well, you can see the possibilities! Ten minutes may not seem like much when you are tackling a cluttered house but it is breathtakingly amazing what 10 daily minutes of effort looks like after a couple of weeks!

The first day, we really didn’t know where to start. So much had stacked up, so much was in need of getting rid of, organizing and cleaning. Really, decades of raising 7 kids can create a staggering accumulation of once much-needed and well-used stuff, from homeschool supplies to holiday decorations to kitchen utensils!  You know what I am talking about!

We set the stove timer for 10 minutes and just tried to do something.  We focused only on the main living areas: living room, dining room and kitchen.  Our goal? Clutter control. “Everybody just get in there and take what is yours and try to tidy up the place.”  We actually got Dad to haul the Christmas decoration boxes away! When the timer rang, we stopped. Not very impressive . . .  but it was a start.

Before too many days had passed, we realized that the clutter in our living areas was…uh, er, can it be?in control! Seriously.  So at our next 10 minute cleaning session, Louisa opened a kitchen cupboard and worked on the contents.  We are branching out to including other areas of the house too. A drawer can be cleaned out in just 10 minutes! Even if it is a drawer that hasn’t been tackled for years. Just leave in it what you really want and use often, and put the rest in a donation box…to be donated in the future.  If you are really missing something badly, you can go fish it out. If there are nostalgic items,  you can give other family members a chance to take a look through the box and claim them. Or you can gift them to a pioneer museum…hee hee.

The great thing is that this clean-it-out mentality starts to take over, and pretty soon Dad was cleaning off his dresser in his free time, and Louisa was tackling her bedroom closet.

Visitors to my home started remarking on how clean and organized everything looked.  This is a “first” in my personal history! Louisa provides the steady push to do it every day.  I provide the guidance on what to throw away and what to keep.  I have the easier job.

Order begets order.  When a counter is clear and clean, it is hard to set the mail down on it, for sure.  It gets easier to nip clutter before it ever stacks up again.

Just “ten minutes” is really working for us! Yay!

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Dispelling Gloom

(Written years ago, when my children were younger. It still works the same way!)

It was one of those days. The sun never came out. It was cloudy, cold and gray, with the foreboding of a storm. The baby was pulling at her ears and crying—sick again. The little ones squabbled over every imaginable injustice. Homeschool was far from “homey”. I was without a car, but with a long list of errands that had to be done. My scripture study and planning time had to be set aside, as the baby wouldn’t nap but wanted to be held. Laundry was backing up so badly that everyone was wondering if they’d have clean clothes tomorrow. I could go on, telling you my woes. Bleak, very bleak.

Things could have gone from bad to worse, but I had one of those rare experiences in which I saw in glaring reality that we create our own happiness by our attitude. As dinner time approached, I had even more to gripe about, but I put on some fun, lively music and involved the children in work. We cleaned up the living room, set the table, and did chores that had never been finished in the morning’s awful gloom. No one was smiling or eager…yet. But I sang along to the music and rallied the children to make a super dinner. We peeled apples and made an apple crisp. Then we dove into making casseroles. We set the table with fancy goblets. The children took turns rocking the baby in the midst of the busy preparations with the upbeat music playing.

By the time Daddy and my teenage boys came home from work late (… it always happens on those days!), the dining room was bright and full of delicious smells. Immediately they picked up on the happy spirit and willingly helped with the final meal preparations. We enjoyed being together and no one even complained that the dinner was over an hour late.

A small thing. How different it could have been! I felt I had plenty of reasons to complain. Most wives and mothers come to learn before too long that their attitude is contagious. I have often wanted to moan, “Can’t I just have a bad day without everyone else borrowing it?” It seems that the family members pick up on mother’s attitude and transfer it into their own personal feelings about the day. If I am overworked, my husband feels he has worked far too hard, too. If I am too tired to make dinner, every other member of my family seems to be exhausted! I can’t even sit down during chore time without finding myself surrounded by others who just need to “sit down a minute!” And so it is with having a happy countenance. It passes on to each child and to our husbands like wildfire. Even a conscious effort can’t prevent it from transferring!

The woman is the center of the home, just as the hub of a wheel. She cannot have a bad day without influencing the whole family. And just the same, her cheerfulness or enthusiasm spreads quickly through the family.

How long and how much effort does it take to turn and look your loved ones in the eye and smile when they come home? Such a little thing. How much energy does it take to for a moment look at their sweet faces and say something positive to your little ones? What a pittance of a price. What keeps us from doing these things? Preoccupation? Laziness? What?

Victor Hugo, in his novel, Toilers of the Sea, speaks of the heroine Deruchette: “Her presence lights the home; her approach is like a cheerful warmth; she passes by, and we are content; she stays awhile and we are happy. Is it not a thing of divine, to have a smile which, none know how, has the power to lighten the weight of that enormous chain that all the living in common drag behind them? Deruchette possessed this smile; we may say that this smile was Deruchette herself.”

Later, he philosophizes: “There is in this world no function more important than that of being charming—to shed joy around, to cast light upon dark days, to be the golden thread of our destiny and the very spirit of grace and harmony. Is not this to render a service?”

I believe there can be no more important job than to cast cheer on dark days, spreading sunshine, and lifting those who live with you, and who work with you. It seems a small thing, but those moments add to make up a lifetime, and an eternity. A happy attitude draws others like a magnet. They enjoy the feeling. They long to be around it. Mothers, we have the power to dispel gloom!  Let’s remember . . . let’s use it!

 

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