Sunday, December 28, 2008

...and a Merry Christmas to all!

I hope everyone had a very Merry Christmas! We had a lovely day and a nice dinner...what more could a person ask for? We were busier at work last week, and this week will be busy too. My nephew is coming down on Wednesday with his mom and grandmother for a few days. He's seven and both he and Emily are super-excited - they haven't seen each other since August when we were in Tennessee on vacation. They are going to Chuck E. Cheese's one day and probably to the beach too; who knows what other fun things we'll find to do while he's here.

As 2008 comes to a close, I have been thinking about the past year a lot. It has gone by so very quickly! I have heard that from a lot of people too, more so than in years past. Since life in general is not so good for a lot of people, maybe we just think it went by fast because we want to move forward and hopefully have a better 2009! I don't know the reason, but the New Year is upon us. I am trying to work through some personal dilemas that are proving more difficult than I thought they were going to's emotionally draining at times, but I am doing my best to focus on the positive. Please send any good thoughts, mojo, etc. you may have my way when you have a spare minute, I need all the help I can get!

My little garden that could is doing well. Three varieties of cucumbers and three varieties of tomatoes have sprouted and are looking very good; and my mesclun & peas are thriving. I think I am going to have enough plants to share with a few people, which will put a smile on their face and mine. I am going to order some pots from to transplant my herbs into. I have about 30 "plantlets" each of chives, basil, cilantro and parsley. I may be able to sell some for a little extra money; that would be nice and come in handy too - there are several new essential oils and other nifty items that I am wanting to order for my soapmaking. Soapmaking is a lot of fun, but the price of supplies has risen quite a but over the last 12-18 months, just like almost everything else. Keep on keepin' on I say - what else can you do?

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Pre-Christmas musings.

This past week flew by...before I knew it, it was Thursday night. I had to bake cookies and make a small meat & cheese tray for Emily's class party on Friday. These things always take longer than you think they will and I was up until about 1:00 getting everything ready. Thank goodness it wasn't too terribly busy at work Friday and the day turned out to be a pretty nice one in several ways so my tiredness didn't get the best of me. Most of today was spent cleaning the house and doing a little laundry (my least favorite chore ever), then the spouse and I went Christmas shopping late this afternoon. We didn't have a lot on the list this year and the kids are fine with that. They realize that Dad's layoff has made things a little more difficult, and we all know that the holidays aren't really for presents don't we? Our annual Christmas package from my mom arrived at work Friday, and it has some really lovely handmade things in it. I promise I didn't peek - she always leaves a few unwrapped and they are so pretty! I will take pictures of the goods and share those with you on Monday.

Tomorrow I am going to wrap and label some soap, and maybe re-read my sewing maching manual so I can remember how to thread the thing correctly. I currently do not sew well at all and really want to become better at it. I want to learn how to make altered clothing...I think it's quite cool. I don't know when I will fit that in my schedule, but I am determined to find a little time somewhere. :)
I hope everyone has a wonderful and joyous Christmas (or any other holiday that you may celebrate). Don't stress, and remember - we can all breathe on Friday!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

A busy weekend and some pictures to share.

Sunday is never a day of rest for me. There is always too much to do around the house to get ready for the upcoming week of work and school plus do the things I want to do, like play in the dirt and make soap. Saturdays are somewhat busy too, but a lot of that time is spent running around town. I did make a batch of hot-process soap Saturday morning before I went and checked out a craft show with my 8 year old daughter. I had considered having a booth at this one but when the husband got laid off I decided against it. I think I made a good decision because there weren't a lot of people there. There were some very lovely things at the booths - lots of handmade jewelry, felted purses, repurposed furniture that was just gorgeous and another local soapmaker. I love talking to other soapmakers; and while yes, there is competition because we are making the same thing, we are each unique in our methods, recipes, etc. We chatted about 15 minutes and I bought a bar of her soap. It smells really great and I can't wait to try it tomorrow. After the show we went to Jo-Ann's and shopped for a bit of crafty stuff...I did have my trusty 50% off coupon and spent less than $10. :) A stop at the library was next on the agenda then we were homeward bound.

Today was garden day. My deck box full of mesclun was getting crowded, so I thinned it out by transplanting some of the seedlings into bigger pots and harvesting quite a bit of the greens. They are safely tucked in a dishtowel in my fridge awaiting the salad bowl tomorrow night. I also transplanted some basil, cilantro and chive seedlings; I think I am going to have a great crop from these three. I also sowed some more seeds, and although I am a bit late in the season I know I can have a nice harvest in a few months. Italian parsley, tomato and cucumber seeds were the choices today. The tomato varieties are Manalucie, West Virginia Hillbilly and St. Pierre. Lemon, Burpee Picklebush and Poinsett 76 cucumber seeds are also settling into their new home (also known as a Jiffy Greenhouse). I hung two paper lanterns on the lanai to go with our new (to us) patio furniture we got Friday. It's kind of homey out there now and I really like it. I juiced the remaining Meyer lemons and put almost a quart of juice in the freezer. A little laundry and a little housework are always on the to-do list on seems like it's never done.

I'm going to play checkers with Emily and watch the Survivor finale, then it's time to start all over again tomorrow morning. I'm posting pictures of some soaps I recently made plus some pictures from Thanksgiving at my aunt and uncle's farm. One of them is of a fox squirrel that comes right up on their porch - Aunt Delta feeds it (shhh, don't tell anyone!); and the rest are pictures of her roses, which I absolutely love.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

A visit to our farmers market.

I went to our local farmers market today for the first time this season. I am not in love with this market, even though I had a booth there with my soaps three seasons ago. I did "fair" with my sales; the market customers just weren't used to handmade soap and never really warmed up to it...that is why I don't have a booth there anymore.

The market has a good number of vendors this year but some of them are pretty out of place in my opinion. For example, there is a lady selling Avon, another vendor selling several different brands of flip-flops and sandals, a real estate agent, and few others that wouldn't be allowed in a "traditional" market. "Oh well", I mused to myself as I set out to find some truly homegrown veggies for our table this week. One of my favorite vendors is still at the market; his name is Jeff and he owns Venus Veggies. He and his family grow lots of delicious things - all sorts of lettuces, greens, radishes, herbs and other vegetables. I bought organically grown white radishes, red radishes, butternut squash and acorn squash. I also bought a nice bunch of arugula, a head of romaine lettuce and Boston bibb lettuce. He has some lovely herb plants including pineapple sage, orange mint, bay and allspice trees. I didn't get any of his plants today, but some of them are calling my name and may come home with me next Saturday. At another booth I got fresh "Peaches and Cream" corn, very large plum tomatoes (I've never seen any this big at the grocery store), cucumbers and big, round "cherry" tomatoes. These are the ones that are packaged in the hard plastic containers in the produce section and are sort of expensive; down here they are called Campari tomatoes (that may be the brand) and they are four dollars for about twelve tomatoes. I got three pints for three dollars which was an excellent price. They may have blackberries next Saturday - I will be there bright and early to see if they do.

Tomorrow for Sunday dinner we are having chicken, corn on the cob with cayenne lime butter, salad and I'm not sure what else, but I do know it will be delicious! Do you have a farmers market where you live? Do you shop there? I would love to hear about yours!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Our Fickle Florida Weather.

We have a saying here in Florida about the weather - "if you don't like it, stick around for fifteen minutes and it will change." That is so very true! Earlier this month I was worried about my lettuce and pea seedlings getting too hot and wilting on forward to now - we have had some pretty chilly (for Southwest Florida) nights the past ten or eleven days and I have been bringing the seedlings in on the lanai. Two nights ago I covered them with sheets; I know the little leaves were shivering. :-) They are troopers so far, not a one of them has met their demise as of this writing.

We had a great Thanksgiving yesterday traveling to my aunt and uncle's farm to enjoy what is always a wonderful spread of food and visit with family. My uncle took the kids (and some adults) on a hayride around the property, they all had a blast. A black fox squirrel came up on the porch to see everyone then jumped down in the yard and waited on my aunt to take it some food. He just stood there on his hind legs munching on his tasty treat...about 5:00 the deer came out of the woods and into the pasture, there were about 6-8 of them and they were pretty. We weren't very close to them but we had binoculars so we saw them a lot better. Two resident sand cranes were close to the front gate and there were all sorts of birds flitting about. It is so much fun to go up there; it reminds me of my youth when we would go to my grandma and grandpa's farm, which was also in Arcadia. As I've heard on the Disney Channel, "good times, good times." Tomorrow is a soapmaking and gardening day, I'm calling it a mini-marathon. If I'm not back in three days, please send out a search party :)

Monday, November 10, 2008

And we have sprouts!

My seeds have sprouted! Seeing the tiny little green leaves emerge from the soil always makes me happy because I know that with love and care they will provide a delicious harvest in the coming weeks. I can't wait to cut some fresh lettuce leaves and make a salad. It will be a while before the cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers are ready, so I must be patient. We are supposed to have temperatures in the mid 80's this week, I'll have to make sure the lettuce stays in the shade after about 10:00 a.m. I think it will be fine if it's out of the midday heat.

We transplanted some young citrus trees about a week ago - a Meyer lemon, a key lime and a calamondin tree. They aren't looking too spiffy at the moment but I hope they will all adjust to their new home soon. I am going to do some reading on our state's ag extension site and see if there's anything I can do to help them. Some of you might be asking "what the heck is a calamondin?" Well, I'll tell you - it looks like a baby orange or tangerine that has ripened and it has a tangy, sour flavor that I just love! They are small, about 1-2 inches in diameter. I discovered them when I was about 8 years old; my great aunt had a tree outside her back door at her house in West Palm Beach (Florida, of course), and my grandfather (her brother) had a nice tree on his farm in Arcadia. A hard freeze in the early 80's killed Grandpa's tree; we both had high hopes that it would recover but it wasn't meant to be. Calamondins make delicious jelly, if I can find enough this year I plan on making several pints. I may give some of them away as gifts, but most of the jars will happily take up residence in my cupboard waiting to be spread on a warm piece of toast or partnering with creamy peanut butter for a Saturday afternoon sandwich.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

I'm back after a long break and it's time to get growing.

My blog has been on hiatus the past several months. Actually, I guess I have been on hiatus from posting on my blog. Poor neglected thing, I am determined to give it the time and attention it needs. So starting today I'm clearing out the dust and cobwebs...let there be a new post at Heart of the Garden!

The weather here in Southwest Florida has started to cool off a bit. It's a tad early this year, but we had temperatures in the upper 40's last week at night. The weather has been so glorious that we have had our windows open for a whole week; I am looking for a substantial decrease in the amount of our next electric bill. We sowed some seeds today and transplanted several plants that we brought from our other house (we moved across town in August). We have a Meyer lemon tree in our backyard and the lemons are ripening now - they are absolutely delicious and taste nothing like the little lemons that you buy at the grocery store. A wedge in a glass of sweet tea is something to savor! I plan on planting several different varieties of tomatoes, peppers and beans this year. It worries me that the United States' food supply is not as safe as it should be, and the cost of produce continues to increase while the quality of our food decreases. I am on a mission to grow as much food for my family as I can; and to buy the rest from local or regional small farmers. There's not a lot of those around here anymore, but you can find them if you look hard enough. Today I sowed mesclun, snap pea and radish seeds in a long plastic "deck planter". Cilantro, chives, Genovese basil and Italian frying peppers are on tomorrow's agenda, and some tomatoes if I can get to them. I am gardening in large containers to help with pest and weed control - our bugs here in Florida are very hardy and determined critters so we have to be diligent in our efforts to keep them from getting to the harvest before we do. I hope you'll join me here in blogland as I begin my 2008-2009 gardening adventure, it's going to be a lot of fun!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

School's out in two weeks.

Our school gardening season is coming to an end next week. We have been busy the last few weeks harvesting, pruning, deadheading and collecting seeds. For Mother's Day I printed seed packet templates and the children assembled & decorated them. We filled them with marigold seeds that we saved from our flowers, nasturtiums, chives and cosmos. Mrs. McCormick ordered some cute flower pots from Oriental Trading Company that are in two parts - the kids decorated them and we put the seed packet along with a small bag of potting mix inside. I got very favorable reports that they were well received by all Mommies! Last week we had a sampling of green bell pepper, yellow onions, "Gypsy" sweet pepper (an elongated yellow sweet pepper - it's delicious) and nasturtium leaves with a bit of ranch dressing on the side. My daughter who is somewhat of a particular eater decided that she liked ranch dressing and the peppers were "okay".

When we went out Thursday to garden, it appeared that some bugs had decided to pay us a visit - our zucchini and gourd plants were not doing well and we pulled the zucchini out of the container. Next week we will harvest the rest of the onions. I will bring some other ingredients and we are going to have our "Junior Iron Chef" competition. I'll let you know what culinary creations we enjoy!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

The garden is growing!

I am happy to report that the second grade garden is doing very well! We have harvested tomatoes and basil, and the zucchini are growing like mad. Marigolds, lamb's ears, nasturtiums, peppermint, green beans, peas, onions, gourds and pumpkins are thriving. The children have tried nasturtium leaves and this past Thursday they tried some of the flower petals - I'm proud to report that we aren't spraying with synthetic pesticides or herbicides. We have only sprayed once with a spray that is made from plant extracts from I have used this in my garden at home and it works very well. All of the plants are in containers -five gallon buckets, a window box and a plastic barrel cut in half. Ours is white and has a thick wall for a barrel, probably close to 1/4 inch. My husband's uncle grows all his vegetables in barrels and they do really well. You can usually find them for free; ours were given to us by a neighbor. Just make sure you wash them really well before you use them and drill drainage holes in the bottom. We used a jigsaw to cut them in half, it worked like a charm. If you have pests in your soil like we do here in Florida, large containers are a great way to grow a vegetable garden.

Every week after we are finished with our outdoor gardening the children write a few sentences and draw pictures for the class garden journal about what we did that day. It is interesting to see what they all do. We are on Spring Break this week, so we won't be gardening. We made waterers from water bottles and two liter soda bottles so the plants won't dry out while we are gone. The rain we are having (unusual for April) can only help too. For Mother's Day, we are going to make seed packets and decorate a clay pot. I think it will be a special gift and the kids are all excited about it. Happy gardening everyone!