Saturday, November 21, 2020

Garden Recap 2020

What worked:

  • Tomatoes - we have canned over 40 quarts, 15 salsa and 10+ sauce and juice pints 
  • Tomatillos - we've canned a few 1/2 pints, maybe 4 or 5 jars, these came in late so I've also got several freezer batches of Salsa Verde
  • Jalapenos - we have 4-5 pickled pints and 2 quarts of fermented probiotic jalapenos
  • Green Bell Peppers - we had enough for one large pan of stuffed peppers and the rest we diced and froze for later
  • Anaheim Pepper - only one plant grew and we used it for the Salsa Verde
  • Pinto Beans - we got just over a pound
  • Black Beans - about two cups of beans, so far, I still have some waiting to be shelled
  • Zucchini - outstanding, we had fresh zucs from June - August
  • Purple Sweet Potatoes - outstanding crop this year, we didn't weigh it but was 3 boxes spread evenly
  • Marigolds - they got huge and attracted bees
What didn't work:
  • White potatoes were small and the taste was not my preference, they seemed very earthy if that makes any sense
  • Strawberries - the purple sweet potatoes took over their space and when I tried to transplant them they died
  • Butternut Squash - came out very tiny and dense, a nearby farmer said we didn't get enough rain and too much sun.  Last year we got too much rain and didn't have a good local crop.  I guess these are pretty finicky on their rain balance. 
  • Poblano Peppers - never grew
  • Squash from our compost bin - it took up a huge amount of space but never generated any squash, the flowers would grow and fall off, something happened that made it not get to the next stage.  I didn't see very many bugs so I'm not sure what caused this.
  • Next year we want to try some container sweet potatoes of new varieties.  I was inspired by my friends videos on You Tube and all the types they grow.  You can see his videos here:
  • We learned it was completely not necessary to start beans inside, they do perfectly fine when planted straight into the ground.  That's good to know because they were tall and unwieldy to take in and out during the hardening process.  
  • I heard it's best to use a heating mat for peppers so I'll try that next year if I can find one.  They were impossible to find this year.
  • We tied up our tomato plants with stakes and twine, it worked for two rows, the third row we waited too long and they got extremely messy and hard to walk through.  I want to emphasize how important it is to have neat rows for picking tomatoes later in season so the vines don't get trampled when little ones are helping and tomatoes are not falling down in the ground area for easy access to critters.  
  • We didn't trim our tomatoes at the base and they got rather heavy near the bottom, I'd like to be more vigilant on this next year.
  • We plan to cut back on the number of crops in our 16 x 16' garden area, we will probably narrow it down to Pinto's, Tomatoes, and Purple Sweet Potatoes.  The strawberries and white potatoes didn't do well so I think we had too many things in there.  

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

From Phase 4 to 1 in two weeks!

On October 29th it was reported we'd be entering Phase 4 the Monday after Thanksgiving.  This week we got the news Maryland is going back to Phase 1 due to a recent spike in Covid 19 cases.

In our church, three people went to the hospital today and at least 1/3 of the congregation is reporting some variation of illness, including my mom - who we believe has a cold and we call her every day to check on her.  I stopped by today with a plant and she was pretty chipper, I'm really hoping it's just a cold.

Our kids school, which is supported by the church, closed on Monday due to a case that was made known at the end of last school week.  

So going back to Phase 1 seems like a rather logical step to me.  I'm just in shock that it happened so fast, in our state and local community.  I'm guessing Halloween and the election may have been contributing factors.  

My kids are panicked about getting enough books.  I'm off work tomorrow so we are hitting the library when they open to stock up, if they open.  The last time Maryland went to Phase 1 they closed faster than you can say quarantine!  I'm not even kidding, Phase one was announced in March and they closed at noon that day!  

The world is falling apart and all my kids care about is having enough books.  I guess I know what we need for our future apocalypse shelter - books, lots of books!  

Meanwhile, I'll be stress baking, praying and checking my phone constantly for updates.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Mango Coffee Cake with Streusel topping

Mango Coffee Cake
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 mango diced
Streusel Topping
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup butter, cold and cut into small pieces
Pre-heat the oven to 350 and grease your coffee cake pan with shortening or non-stick cooking spray.

Step 1 - dice one mango

Step 2 - 

Mix flour and butter together and using a dough blender, cut the butter into the flour until it is crumbly.  Next add the remaining dry ingredients.  Next mix wet in ingredients in a separate smaller bowl.  Combine wet and dry with a hand mixer or kitchen aid, or mix by hand if you choose.  The last step is to add the mango and this should mixed by hand so they do not get smashed.  Finally, spoon the batter until the prepared coffee cake pan.

Step 3 - 

Blend the streusel mix with the dough blender.  You can use the same dough blender that was used earlier.  Once the mixture is crumbly, spread evenly over the coffee cake.  I use a spoon to shake it over the batter.  It should look like this when finished.

Bake for 50 - 55 minutes.  Insert a knife to test if it's cooked through, if the knife comes out clean then it is done.  Serve warm or at room temperature.  

My oldest daughter is a huge Mango fan so this was really well received.  

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Why I did not renew our Prime Membership

This year I've been on a campaign to cut unnecessary spending as much as possible.  I've been a Prime member for many years and like most recurring expenses, it continued because it was convenient to order online and receive items two days later.  There was also the idea that Amazon was cheaper and originally they were!  

This year I noticed packages were not coming in two days and more importantly, Walmart and Target have been price matching or beating Amazon so why wait two or more days for packages?  

What about the other services Amazon offers?  Their Prime selection of new content is mostly rated R with sexual content I don't want to watch or language I don't want to listen to so after a series of disappointing shows, I had no reason to keep Prime for their new content offerings.  

I canceled Prime in July and since then I have realized I could still order with free shipping as long as I spend $35.  Walmart does the same thing for Pick Up orders so I'm used to this.  It may take 5-7 days to get an item but if I order it on Prime, it's because it's a unique item I can't easily find elsewhere and I'm willing to wait for it.  

Wednesday, September 09, 2020

Grocery Store Pick Up Rated

Walmart - 4 stars out of 5

I've been using it for almost a year, here's the pros and cons:


* The minimum buy is $35 and I can usually hit that twice a month.  Our primary grocery shopping is at Aldi and I use the Walmart pick up for anything I can't buy at Aldi or want name brands such as Old El Paso Enchilada sauce, Starbucks espresso beans, brand name cereals, Great Value Garlic Bread, Jalapeno Cheddar sausages, brand name chips and the occasional soda, and Walmart has a much better ice cream selection.

* You can also ask for things like school supplies, toys, bedding and containers.  I think you can order anything in the store but I mostly stick with groceries with a few others thrown in.  I've even ordered deli meat but it has to be one pound increment to start.  That's fine, we can go through a pound of deli meat in one week.  

* They are super professional and hard workers at our local Walmart.  The first couple of times I wanted to give them a hug because they were so warm and friendly.  If I only had this when my babies were in car seats!  


* Sometimes an item is available on the app but when you get to pick up they either don't have it or will offer a substitute.  Usually they will send an email so you can be aware before going.  At the beginning of Covid-19 it was so prevalent that I stopped using pick up for awhile.

* If an item isn't available like a toy, and you were shopping in the store you could get something else.  The one time I tried this it was for a birthday party and it was really inconvenient to have to then go into the store when I wasn't planning on it so I've ultimately avoided items that can cause greater stress by just getting food that is not urgently needed that day.  

* The app doesn't track our vehicle correctly so when we get there the system shows we are still in transit, that can cause delays.  I hope they get this fixed soon.

Target - 4 out of 5


* There doesn't appear to be a minimum requirement for pick up order.  I've ordered just under $20, then I placed an order that was half pick up and half delivery for items not in store.  

* You can go any time in 3 days from order placement and just let them know you are coming through the app. This super beats Walmart because they require you to schedule almost a day in advance, during the early days of Covid-19 it might be a three day wait.  I really love scheduling it whenever I happen to be in the area within the time frame.

* They are really strict about no touch.  My first visit I didn't know and the girl was new so she handed me the bag, the next time I was told they must put it in the car.  Then I have to reach around to grab the bag and make sure everything is there but safety is important.


* In my last order, I purchased 8 bags of masks for the kids.  Out of the 8, six items had a message that masks were resized for better fit.  The two that did not have the message did not fit well.  Those are the two going back!  I kinda wish the person picking them out had thought to only give me the ones with the message to be consistent but that's the kind of detail I might bring to a shopping trip and that's one small thing you give up when asking a total stranger to do your shopping for you.  

Lowes - 5 out of 5

There doesn't appear to be a limit for pick up.  I ordered a $10 chair and it was fine.

They have the same policy as Target, order and tell them you are coming through the app.  I've been there twice now and each time it went smoothly.  The first time a guy was stationed outside and as soon as we pulled up he came right over and then went to get my item.  The second time I waited 15 minutes for a guy to show up but he did come out with my items.  It was a longer wait than normal but it was Labor Day so I won't ding them a star for that.

Aldi - 1 out of 5

Aldi, uses Instacart for pick up and they charge a hefty mark up for their efforts.  I realized this because I memorize prices and while putting items into the online cart I noticed ground meat was $3.85 and I last paid $3.39.  That's a 20% mark up!  I quickly discarded the cart and went there in person.  Aldi's in store prices are great, and this might be helpful to someone who cannot do their own shopping but I'm not willing to pay a mark up.  The sad thing is on their website they advertise free pick up and I think that's hugely misleading.  

Revised back to school plan

The first day went well enough, I kept Violette home and she did two hours of work where I would initiate a subject and then give her a page to work on while I worked my job.  Then I had an unexpected conference call in the morning and had to send her off to play her phone for an hour and a half.  Later that day when I picked up the others, I talked to the principal and learned she was less concerned about student spacing than I originally assumed.  Later in the afternoon my cousin came over to finish the lessons and we both realized if she could be squeezed into the classroom it would be better.  So today all four kids went to school!  The only problems we are having is school runs from 8:30 - 1pm and the kids are starving when I pick them up.  I've sent snacks but it's not enough so I might just prepare lunch right before I pick them up so they can eat when they get home.  It's either that or I pack lunches and let them stay with their dad until he's ready to leave at 3pm.  

I have to say today was unbelievably peaceful from 8 - 1pm.  I think it's the longest span I've been alone since they were sent home mid-March!  

Friday, September 04, 2020

Our Back to School Plan for 2020/21

The kids were sent home from spring break through the end of their 2019/2020 school year.  We did well, but in hindsight it's because the teachers gave less work, cut out entire subjects and the kids had the benefit of being in school for three quarters of the school year so they were used to the curriculum.  We were told our kids were outstanding students.  They did their school work while I worked full time.  Mike was home more often and could help with questions.  

For the fall semester, Mike will be working at the school from 8:30 - 3 or 4pm.  The school has two plans - distance learners and in-school learners.  The classrooms are small for some grades so there is a limit to how many students can squeeze into a classroom and be positioned six feet apart.  We decided early on to keep ours home, after all they did so well in the spring, and many parents were desperate to get their kids back in school.

This week I met with the teachers to pick up books and go through all the subjects they would be learning.  After reviewing the 7th grade workload I panicked and asked the teacher if there was space for mine to switch to in-school, thankfully she said yes.  My oldest freaks out when she can't hear instructions clearly, or can't figure out what to do next and I can just see myself having to sit next to her and teach along with the teacher, while at home on a lap-top, and the laptops haven't even been delivered yet, so she'd be home on our terribly old laptop that everyone hates.  So the new plan is for her to go for a few weeks until the computers come in, and if she feels comfortable enough to work from home she can switch.  I have a very strong feeling she will continue going to school.

My 2nd child is in 6th grade and I'm more familiar with his work load, but I'd rather put him in school for at least two weeks so he can get used to the curriculum and then he can come home.

My 3rd child is in 3rd grade and her class is too full for her to attend so I'm trying to make it seem really cool and awesome that she gets to stay home with me.  My cousin is the teacher and I have a huge comfort level with her so I'm very confident this will work out fine.

My youngest is in Kindergarten this year and her teacher said if we can teach her to read she can stay home, I can't do that and work full time.  She also is very determined to go back to school so she's going!

If my 2nd decides to stay home in two weeks, then I'll have two home and two in school.  I'll be driving in to get them every day at 12:45pm but we live 10 minutes from the school so it's fine.

One school mom is bringing her two kids over on Thursday's to watch so she can maintain her full time job.  

It's going to be an interesting year!

I plan to get up at 5am to work for 1.5 hours, then help get half the family off to school, get the remaining kids started on their school work, then back to work.  It's a good thing I thrive with a busy schedule, also a very good thing that I don't have any trips for the foreseeable future.  

I also plan to work on meals this weekend so there is less meal time prep on school days.

Wednesday, September 02, 2020

Rebuilding the Camper

 Last year we noticed water damage at the front of the camper.  Mike ripped out part of the floor and rebuilt it but he knew there was more damage to the front panel and so we made plans to rebuild after school let out.  School finished the 2nd week of June, and I think we started working on the camper the weekend of the 20th.  It took a month to remove the front cover, strip it down to the metal frame, and rebuild the front end.  We finished on July 19th.  Here are the progression photos:

The first image is after we rebuilt the inside panel.

In this image you can see the partial ceiling rebuilt.

This shows some of the insulation added to sandwich between inside layer and outside layer.

In this image, the girls are helping clean the front panel.  We wanted to remove the glue along the edges.

I loved the finished wooden look, but we had to put the cover back on to keep it water proof.

We didn't put in the cabinets so there is a gap at the roof line, we can fix this later when we have time to install the cabinets.

And here she is, put back together!

I didn't show the roof, but it was black with dirt.  While Mike did the rebuild, I got on the roof and cleaned it with a scrub brush.  Then put a special tape over the holes and painted white RubberFlexx over the entire roof.  Our goal is to waterproof the camper as much as possible.  I think I'll put another coat on in the fall before we cover it for winter.  

At this point we've put more time and money into this then what we'd ever get from re-selling it.  This is our first camper and we didn't catch the water damage before we bought it.  That's okay, we like it and we've made it our own.  Next thing I want to work on is the interior curtains and textiles throughout.  We also really want to re-paint the exterior panels and get rid of all the branding.  I'm really looking forward to continued customization!!  It's hard work, but we enjoy the end result.