Wednesday, May 25, 2011

How Does My Garden Grow?

Why, very well, thank you very much!  In fact, it is really coming along swimmingly.  This is a photo of my butternut squash plant and the baby squash forming behind the squash blossom.  The length of the squash here was about one inch long and about as thick as my pinky finger. 

As one new to the joys of gardening, this being only the second year of trying to grow vegetables, there is something really magical about seeing things grow.  It is akin to the wonder of watching your children grow and reach different milestones in their lives.  Last year, I got my garden going a little too late, and the only thing that grew were the Chinese bitter melon that only I like to eat.  Texas gets very hot quick, so we have to get the plants in the ground early in the spring to get them established so they can tolerate the heat.  The tomato plants last year did not do JACK. I planted them too late and even though it is a heat loving plant, it just was too hot and I did not get A. Single. Damn. Tomato.

Anyways, here is the same plant only about a week later:

Here, the squash has grown to about 3 inches long and has plumped up some.  The photo does not do it justice.  It is so shiny and very pretty with its' pale green vertical stripes.  I saved the seeds last fall from a store bought squash.  I planted six seeds, which is probably too much, now that I see how the plants are growing.  The vines are starting to fill out and there are numerous babies on each of them.  I think I'm going to have a bumper crop if the critters stay away. <knock wood>

The beds are filling out.  I realized, being the novice that I am, that I needed to do something about the paths.  The weeds keep growing almost over the beds, and I'm always ever cautious of the snakes (yes, we have some on occasion).  This winter, we plan on cutting down at least two diseased trees in our yard. At that time, I am planning on renting a wood chipper so I can then recycle the wood chips to use as a mulch cover for the paths to keep the weeds under control.  But until then, I have to deal with the tall weeds in the paths that the lawn mower can't get to.

One thing I noticed since getting the large tires in the yard is how much I like them.  Yes, they are ugly to look at but I really don't care about that.  This backyard is not visible from the street or prying eyes of neighbors looking in, so aesthetics is not that important.  What I like about them is the fact that the plants are elevated almost twice as high as the those in the wooden raised beds.  That makes for easy weeding and harvesting.  It is very easy on the knees if all you have to do to is bend down instead of kneeling by the bed.  (I guess I'm not as young as I think I am. . .) 

The other day, I gathered the first of the tomatoes and jalapenos and made some homemade pico de gallo.  I chopped up the tomatoes, jalapenos, a bit of onions and tossed all that with a bit of salt and a splash of lime juice from a bottle.  Let the flavors meld for a bit in the refrigerator, and voila!

The. Best. Damn. Pico. De. Gallo. EVER!  It was divine with some tortilla chips. My husband and I made a light lunch with just that. 

All of the tomatoes I used were sort of funky looking, and I think if my garden was a commercial operation, they never would have made it to the store.  But they tasted better than the ones from the store, and it really made me realize how much waste there must be in a commercial farming operation that can only sell perfect looking vegetables to the grocery stores. Food for thought, literally.

How does YOUR garden grow?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Almost There

The flower bed I started working on last weekend is almost done! I had to purchase additional resin edging to keep the dirt in place so it will not drain out through the cracks in the decorative rock "wall."  It was backbreaking work bringing in the dirt to fill the bed, one bucket at a time from the backyard because I don't have a wheelbarrow yet.  I mixed in some horse manure for good measure and planted three flats of impatiens I purchased at the nursery that was on clearance.  I probably will buy a few more flats to fill in the rest of the bed, or some perennials, I have not decided yet.  But it is wonderful to see some color in this corner of the yard. 

It has been very dry in Texas, we only had one rainfall in close to two months where I live.  The rest of the state is doing a lot worse.  You can see that the lawn is looking pretty sad as a result.  That is my next project when I have the energy.  Thinking of a cottage garden here eventually so my husband and I will have something to look at when we are relaxing on the front porch.  That project will have to wait for the time being, as it is getting almost too hot to do any work outside.  I was soaked when I got done filling the bed with dirt yesterday.

As I was watering my potted plants that I keep by the front door, I saw this little guy:

Amazing how the lily leaves can support his hefty figure!  Just kidding.  (Reminds me of the GEICO gecko though.)

I can't wait for the lilys to bloom, the stalks with the buds on it has been growing for some time.  I'm expecting then to bloom any day now.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Gardening Update

My vegetables in the garden is coming along, some faster than others.  I am fortunate that I can plant the seeds and seedlings in the ground a lot earlier than some other people as technically, I live in the sub-tropics.  Most of the plants here were planted in early March through early April.

The first of my produce from the garden:

I was at a loss on what to do with such a small amount of green beans.  I steamed them for about 5 minutes and served them alongside the grape tomatoes as an appetizer with some wasabi mayonnaise.

I had been planning to buy a persimmon tree at the nursery, and when I went over, the fruit trees were on sale @ 50% off. I purchased a peach tree also and planted them both in the side yard where we are in the process of creating a fruit orchard.  We have a bit more space, so I may go get a couple more trees next payday. The trees are hard to see in the photo as they are not much more than sticks with leaves.  I wonder how many years until they start producing? There is a Japanese saying that says, "peaches and chestnuts in three years, and persimmons in eight." I don't know how old these trees are, so it will have to be a surprise.

The pear tree in our backyard has fruit growing on it.  The tree was (I'm assuming) planted by the former owners. We are going on our 4th year in this house, and this is the first year this tree has borne any fruit.  I think the fertilizing spikes we have put into the ground the last two years are finally having an effect on the tree.  It will be wonderful to harvest the pears when they are ripe, and it will be a good opportunity for me to learn the can home grown produce.

I never grew anything prior to last year, and this is all new to me.  I must say that I am quite enjoying seeing things grow.  The butternut squash I planted from a seed from a store bought squash and saved the seeds from is even blooming and growing baby squash.  Same with the acorn squash.  It is really quite wonderful.  If only the critters will stay out of the beds.  I think the squirrels are using my beds to hide stuff in, as I often see small holes dug up in the dirt.

Friday, May 13, 2011

And I Thought Big Brother Was Watching Me. . .

OK. So I have a wee bit of conspiracy theorist in me. . . When my last silly post on Louis Vuitton disappeared from my little ol' blog overnight, I was mighty suspicious.  Does Google have some kind of thought police that removes posts criticizing advertisers in any way? Did I offend the higher powers that be who had some sort of vested interest in Louis Vuitton?  I don't trust Google to begin with, and my mind was conjuring up the many ways I might have violated some sort of blog posting policy (who reads the fine print, anyway??).   

So I was wrong.  Just a minor hiccup at Blogger when they were doing routine maintenance (or so they say. . .). 

But seriously, sometimes all this tech stuff really creeps me out.  Especially when you know that every post is analyzed to the n-th degree by some computer algorithm to maximize Google profits.  I was reading a Facebook post by a friend just yesterday and she was noticing how the ads on her homepage kept changing with every comment she made. After a while, she started throwing words out there, and the ads just kept keeping pace with whatever she said.  SCARY.  It's a little too much like that Tom Cruise movie from a while back who's name eludes me, where advertisements on walls and billboards greeted him by name as he was walking past, trying to lure him into buying "stuff." 

All this, of course is aimed at consumerism and commercial consumption.  Don't get me wrong. I am a firm believer in Capitalism and the free market system, but when reality starts mimicking fiction from only a short while ago, it really makes one pause to think about it all.

The fact of the matter is that, increasingly, we are losing our freedoms on many fronts.  Even while blogs we can create for free from the comfort of our homes in our pajamas give us all a platform to spout off whatever we care to throw out there, we must be mindful that all of this is recorded for perpetuity.   Once it is "out there" we can't take it back.  And it may, in some way, come back to bite us someday. 


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

My Louis Vuitton "Habit"

I had to go to the sporting goods store today to get my husband some new ear plugs for his swim workout.  As long as I was there, I might as well pop into the Goodwill thrift store nearby!  I found a Martha Stewart book for 99 cents and was checking out, when I noticed three mint looking Louis Vuitton bags behind the counter.  I asked to see them, and while I was convinced that they were the genuine article, I passed them by.

Why, you ask? Well, for one thing, my pet peeve recently has been that thrift stores in general are getting awfully proud of thier merchandise.  Yes, I realize it's for charity and a good cause, but recent pricing is bordering on retail levels.  For crying out loud, all the items were FREE!  Hellooooooooooo???

The bags were $39.99, $79.99 and $99.99 respectively.  For a split second, I toyed with the idea of buying one of them and putting it up on eBay, but what if it's a big flop?  The cheapest bag was in the best shape, but I was somewhat amazed at how cheaply made they all seemed to me. I just did not want to take the chance that I would have wasted the money. So I left the bags at the store.

You might say, if they looked cheap, surely it was a knock off? I'm convinced they were not, because all the purses had the LV logo on all of the hardware and "Louis Vuitton, made in France" leather label inside.  One of them even had a serial number on it.  My theory is that if it was a knock off, the manufacturer would not go through all that trouble.  It just is not worth the investment for them to do all that if they were just trying to make a quick buck.

Back in the day, when I was much, much younger, I desperately wanted one (or two or more) of these bags.  But even in my insane youth, I was not crazy enough to spend a king's ransom for one lousy bag.  So I never got one, until I purchased the three in the photo.  This is the extent of my Louis Vuitton "habit."

The largest one was purchased at a garage sale for a whopping $3.00.  Compared to the ones I saw today at Goodwill, this one was made when Louis Vuitton was synonymous with quality.  The leather handles have a rich patina from use by the previous owner, and I get a big kick every time I use it, which is not often.  But, I know I have the satisfaction of other people noticing that I own one, and the secret satisfaction of knowing how much it actually cost.  Hey, it cost less than coffee from Starbucks!

The white one was purchased about 3 years ago at Goodwill for around $3.00.  Funny thing is, it was in the "valuable goods" case at the store, but the price was not so valuable.  I purchased it not to use, but to eventually gift it to one of my husband's nieces when they are old enough.  Same for the other brown bag wich was about $1.50, no kidding! I purchased it last year at my local Goodwill.  I have not yet decided if I will gift it, but I'm probably going to use it as a make up bag when my current one falls apart, because it is just the right size for that.

Now, I have no clue how much these things retail for.  I thought, at most, $100?  I have a high school friend in Japan who has the Louis Vuitton account for a market research firm in Tokyo.  When I posted a photo of the two smaller bags on my Facebook account and wondered how much they were if new, she told me quite a bit.  She mentioned that an iPod case was going for over $300!  Insanity, I tell you!  I'm sure glad my "habit" cost less than lunch at McDonalds!

Do you have a "habit"?

If It's Not NEW, It's EWWW!

For other people, perhaps, but not me. (A shout out to the Thrifty Chicks blog, where I lifted the above phrase.)  I've been loving to thrift shop ever since I discovered them.  My only regret was not discovering them earlier than I did.  I shudder to think about how much money I wasted shopping retail in my youth.  By the time my first son was born, I wised up.  Most of his baby clothes and through his toddler years to about five were all purchaed at thrift stores.  Beyond that, boys are so tough on clothes, especially pants, that I had to resort to retail sales items.  But I figure I saved a small fortune regardless.

But most mothers are not like me.  They want the best for their progeny, and will spare no funds.  If it's not new, it's ewww!  Seriously.  Even my late mother-in-law, God rest her soul, looked upon me with disapproval when we let it slip that her grandsons were dressed in second hand clothes from the thrift stores.  You see, she was a product of the Depression Era and lived through some hard times in her youth.  It did not matter that her father was one of the very few who never got laid off because he was a deputy sheriff and a big wig in the small town where she grew up.  Anything that was previously used, to her, was garbage. 

In her mind, even true, honest to goodness antique furniture that a well-to-do person would willingly pay thousands, if not tens of thousands for at auction at Christie's or Sotheby's was rubbish.  So she just never understood why we would pay several hundred dollars to buy a piece of antique furniture, because it was somebody's cast off any way she looked at it, regardless of the fine craftsmanship you just cannot get in brand new furniture.  When we told her it was part investment, since we knew when time came for us to sell the antique, we could probably recoup the purchase cost, she just shook her head as if she thought we were crazy.  She was content to buy a cheaply made set of furniture from Sam's Club that was "Made in China."

On a grander scale, this was the case in McAllen, Texas, in the Rio Grande Valley where my younger son was born and where we lived for two years.  Now, this is a part of Texas that is very poor and where there is a very high percentage of people living in the lowest of low socio-economic level.  Yet, there was a building boom the whole time we lived there, and from what I understand, nothing has changed in the 15 or so years since we lived there.  In McAllen and the nearby suburbs, big, brand new single story houses with soaring ceilings were all the rage.  And the operative word was "NEW."  The market was so strange in that previously occupied houses had a hard time selling compared to new construction. People wanted houses that no hands had touched except those of the workmen that built it. 

The weirdest part of the whole equation was that McAllen and the entire Rio Grande Valley had no major industry except for citrus and other agriculture, but nothing you could get really rich off of.  That is, except for the underground "industry" of dope smuggling across the Mexico border.  McAllen just did not have enough jobs to justify all of the nonstop construction.  So did that mean that the neighbor next door was involved in the "industry" somehow?  I never found out.  Rumor had it that a high school in Starr County near McAllen received an anonymous cash donation to build a school gymnasium upon the condition that it had to be built in the shape of a marijuana leaf, and it was.  But I digress.

The point I was trying to make is that "used" is not a bad thing. Not at all.  In fact, even my mother-in-law knew that, though she didn't realize it.  She left her diamond rings to her granddaughters in her will.  If "used" was truly that bad, she wouldn't have, right? 

; )

(Almost) Free Pasta

Ronzoni pasta was on sale at Kroger for 50 cents each if you purchased 10 participating items in the store. Although I generally don't use coupons, I found out about their "$1 off of two boxes" coupons. I printed out the coupons at, and had enough coupons for 16 free boxes. I had to buy 4 more to get the sales price, so I paid $2.00 for 20 packages, or 10 cents each! That's what I'm talking about!

I think deals like this makes me want to reevaluate my aversion to coupons.  I normally don't use coupons because, 1) I don't get the Sunday paper, 2) I don't buy that many processed foods, and 3) I am too lazy to try to find deals like this.  BUT, free is free, and if the stores and the manufacturers are having deals like this in these hard times, I think I better start paying attention!  A big "thank you" shout out has to go to the "Deals To Meals" blog I follow, where I found out about this.  Though the sale was over yesterday, you can still go online to print the coupons, which are good through June 9th. I would say one dollar off of two boxes is still a good deal! Hopefully the sales will continue through next week!  You can only print each coupon twice, but I have two computers in the house, so I got double that amount.  If you have access to more computers, then hurray for you!

BUT, as with most things in life, you get a break on one thing, and then get socked in another.  At the last dental appointment, our dentist informed us that both our sons better get thier wisdom teeth pulled because they are coming in and will screw up thier orthodontic work in progress. He recommended that it be done this summer.  My older son started complaining that his mouth was hurting two days ago, and is scheduled for the oral surgery tomorrow.  Out of pocket costs for us (with insurance) will be $1300+. Ouch!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

I'm Pooped!

Hello. Just a short post today. I should have taken a "before" photo, but I forgot. I guess you can call this the "during" shot.  This bed by the tree was VERY overgrown. I had some plants there that's been there since we moved in that looked like some sort of iris, but the dang things have never bloomed. I just got tired of looking at them without the flowers. The bed was also overgrown by weeds and downright ugly to look at.  This area is in plan view when my husband and I sit on the front porch, so I'm going to see if I can plant something, ANYTHING, that will bloom, preferably a perennial so I don't have to mess with it year in, year out.  I want color! That's the minimal requirement.

The rock enclosure is a recent project by "moi" with some stones left over from the previous owners' landscaping project, so it cost nothing, as was the black weed barrier that you can see a smidge.  I plan on filling the bed with the soil we had delivered for the vegetable beds and the horse manure so whatever I end up planting will have a good chance of surviving. 

But right now, I'm pooped, so I'm off to shower to cool down!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Cheap Thrills

I have seen this not-so-little guy hanging out in our backyard three times in the past week, always right before dusk. I know it's not exactly a good picture, but I just so happened to have my phone with me when I took this photo from inside the house. Since I always see him (or her, how does one tell?) on the fence or on top of the shed, I suspect his roost/nest must be close by. My husband and sons think it's a hawk, and I agree, but I couldn't figure out what kind, although I looked through the field guide we have in the house.

Goes to show you don't have to spend any money to be entertained. We have two large undeveloped tracts of land on two sides of our neighborhood as well as a state park on the other side of one of those tracts, so we do get our share of wildlife around here. Certainly a far cry from what I was used to growing up in Tokyo, Japan, which was nothing more than an asphalt jungle. I do miss it sometimes, but glad I don't live there anymore. The most I saw of wildlife back then were some sparrows, crows and pigeons.

Yesterday, I was at a loss as to what to make for dinner, so I threw some chicken bones I had in the freezer from past chicken dinners with some water and boiled that for a while until the broth turned a beige, murky color. I then strained the bones and other bits, added about 4 diced carrots, 2 stalks of celery, an onion and a bell pepper with some chicken bouillon granules and let all that simmer until the carrots were cooked through. In the meantime, I took out a pound of ground pork from a pig our neighbour raised but we shared the cost of upkeep and mixed in an egg, some grated Parmesan and tamale flour (my husband is on a low carb diet right now so can't use bread crumbs). I made little meatballs with that and dropped them into the soup to cook. My version of Italian Wedding Soup.  I know it needed some greens, but the rest of the family won't eat it if I had put any in there.  Everything was already on hand, and it was cheap. Best of all, everyone seemed to enjoy it, even the picky eaters of the family who shall remain anonymous... I wonder if the hawk would eat any of it if I put some outside?

You might enjoy taking a look at a live feed of nesting eagle chicks @ This morning, they were off the air but there are links to when the chicks hatched. My son told me about this site which he viewed with his class at high school live. He said while they were watching, the mother bird brought back a fish and the father bird brought back a rabbit for the chicks to eat.  Free fun is everywhere, if you care to find it!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Manager's Special

Had to make a run to Kroger last night to get cash for my son to buy tickets to an upcoming dance (remember I said children are NOT frugal?).  While there, I went up and down the aisles looking only for items marked down worth buying, and the above photo is most of what I came home with.  Three packages of Nolan Ryan's ground chuck (hormone and preservative free) marked down to $3.92 a package (about half off the per/pound price). Five packages of Ball pickle mix, from $0.94 cents to $0.59.  A tray of cinnamon rolls marked down to $2.19 (day old bakery is always 50% off). Four rolls of discontinued deodorant, priced at $1.30 each (sorry, the boys grabbed two as soon as I got home). And, two jars of Kim Chee at $1.99 a pop (regularly $4.99 each).

In addition, I purchased an off-season box of six 4-hour Duraflame logs for $6.00 (regularly $15.99), and 3 more boxes of Kroger brand 2-hour logs for $2.59 each (regularly also $15.99, go figure).  I had already put them away in the garage, sorry for the mess.  These logs are quite a savings, and we will surely use them once it gets cold again on its' own, or as starter logs for the fire wood we plan to buy this summer to prepare for winter (the wood is cheaper when not in season).

I was glad to find the Kim Chee, as I have not purchased any in a LONG time.  As with a lot of things I like to eat, it's something the rest of the family will not touch with a ten-foot pole, LOL. So I do feel bad spending five bucks just to please my cravings, aside from the fact that I think at that price point, it is waaaay overpriced.  I felt $1.99 was acceptable.  The reason they were on "special" was because the lids were starting to bulge out, I suspect.  I think those of you who don't eat the stuff would have been very disturbed to see me open it and then proceed to eat some this morning. You see, Kim Chee is fermented cabbage pickled with a ton of cayenne pepper, and the stuff continues to ferment in the bottle after packaging.  When I opened the lid, I heard a fizzing sound as the gas inside was freed from confinement.  Upon taking the lid completely off, there was a lot of bubbling going on!  Anyone not used to this would think the stuff had botulism and promptly thrown it out! I LOVE the stuff!

BUT, even with the substantial savings, the receipt was still over $40.00! I hate to go shopping.  You have to fork over so much money to buy so little. . .

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Garden Update

The new (old) tires have all been planted.  The 5 we found along the side of the road also had horse manure mixed in while they were being filled with dirt.  It will be interesting to see how the plants in those beds compare to the beds in which I used commercial fertilizer in.

The peas are sprouting:

The eggplants (aubergines) are starting to bloom:

But I'm quite not getting why there is such a discrepancy in the growth rate of the Golden Beans in this bed.  Notice it gets taller on the left side of the photo? The beans are all from one bag of seeds, planted in the same bed, with the same soil and gets the same amount of sunlight. As far as I can tell, the bed is level.  Anyone have any clue?