Tuesday, June 28, 2011


I've been quite the bookworm this summer.  I've read a bunch of good books, both fiction and non-fiction.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett
This was a fabulous book.  Set in Mississippi in the mid-60s, The Help looks at life for African-American maids and their relationships with the people they serve.  It is told from multiple points of view, which can only serve to help the story along.

The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs
This non-fiction book is about a man in New York who decides to follow as many of the biblical rules as possible.  He is very open-minded and respectful of every aspect of Judeo-Christian religion that he details.  I read it after *B* swore I'd like it.  I loved it.

We Are All Welcome Here by Elizabeth Berg
Elizabeth Berg has been a recent obsession of mine.  I've never been one to read authors who are very prolific.  But I read Home Safe, then I read Open House, and now I look for Berg's books wherever I can.  This one is based off of a true story of a woman who had polio while 9 months pregnant.  She and her nurse raise the girl up despite the mother's near-total paralysis.

The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey
Mrs. Mordecai recommended Dave Ramsey and I am SO thankful I read this book.  His "baby steps" are common sense, but brilliant.  I'll be going in to this in depth in the future.

Shadow Tag by Louise Erdrich
I had read Love Medicine by Erdrich in the past, so I was intrigued by this book.  Its Native American themes are much more subtle than in Love Medicine.  I read it on the plane to Oklahoma.  It was fantastic.  A woman discovers that her husband is reading her diary, so she manipulates him through her entries and chronicles the incidents in a second diary.

 Gap Creek by Robert Morgan
This book makes me think of Laura Ingalls Wilder books, but for grown ups.  After dealing with tragedy in her family life, a young woman enters into marriage and faces struggle after struggle.  It was a very satisfying book.
The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure
Since I was on a kick, and because my hold request came through, I've started reading a non-fiction book about the real Laura Ingalls Wilder.  I'm not far in because homework got in the way, but I'm hoping to finish very soon.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Around the US in 15 Days

Since school let out at the beginning of June, I have been running non-stop.  First, I flew to Oklahoma and spent a week in the southern Oklahoma/northern Texas region.  Being the genius I am, I left my camera at home for that whole week, so *B* has my pictures on his camera.  They'll go up when I get a hold of that card.

A day and a half after flying home from Oklahoma, *B*, my mom, and I went with my in-laws and family friends to Shenandoah.  We go kayaking there the same weekend every year, and I love it.

My mom and I rafted up to get a good picture of the two of us before starting out.

 We couldn't believe that we saw a great blue heron on the river.

 Cows are a common sight near the banks.

 *B* loves investigating the fallen trees on the sides of the river.

 I saw this huge painted turtle on a downed tree.  He (she?) was about the size of a dinner plate.

These ducklings were in the middle of the river with no momma in sight.

 *B* is taking a breather while enjoying the view.

Just like last year, I went straight from Shenandoah to a conference in Tennessee.  I'm learning to use the TI-Nspire, which is an awesome calculator that can do some serious data manipulation and calculation.

AND it's in color!  We're hoping to be able to use them in our school perhaps as soon as this upcoming school year.  Very cool.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Water Kefir Review

I've been researching a ton of water kefir recipes trying to make something we like.  I finally found a good one at Nourished Kitchen.  But there were still a bunch of variables that I couldn't nail down.  I made a batch I'm happy with, so I'm getting it written down for myself, as well as possibly helping you out. 

Water kefir grains
1/2 cup Demerara sugar
Organic raisins
1/2 organic lemon
Ginger root, peeled and thinly sliced

Boil 2 quarts of water and add the sugar.  Stir until dissolved.  When the mixture cools, pour it into a 2 quart mason jar.  Add the kefir grains, the lemon, a slice of ginger, and 3 tablespoons of raisins.  Cover with an airtight lid.  Let sit for three days (72 hours).  I know that it's getting close to ready when it's not too sweet and the raisins have started to float.

Use a plastic spoon to scoop the raisins and lemon off the top of the jar.  I put these in the compost - it's got to be good for them.  Then, strain the liquid through a mesh cloth into Grolsch-style bottles so that the cloth catches the grains.  Leave room in the top of the bottle to keep from exploding.  Let the bottles sit out for two days (48 hours).  This will give the kefir water carbonation.

Put the bottles in the fridge to chill and enjoy :o)

I have been reading about using an eggshell in the kefir to give the grains minerals to work with, but I have not yet tried it.  This will be my next project.  *B* has taught me through his beer brewing experiments that the best way to find out what you like is by writing down all the details of each brew and adjusting as necessary.  As I find new and interesting soda recipes and methods, I'll post them.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Toxic Debt

I'm having a really hard time paying down debt.  Whether it be good things (my best friend's wedding) or bad things (mold in our walls), things seem to crop up and get in the way.  Last New Year's, the only debt we had was my car, our school loans, and *B*'s small credit card.  Now, we've added my card, our joint card, and a mortgage.  It's really getting out of hand.

I've heard a lot about Dave Ramsey lately.  In his plan, you snowball the amounts you can pay off by getting rid of the smallest amount of debt first, then putting that payment toward the next smallest amount.  Conventional wisdom (and mathematical sense) tells us that we should pay largest interest rate to smallest.  I think that we're going to go half way between the two - if the amounts are within a few hundred dollars, the higher interest rate goes first.

I'm doing my best to find ways to be frugal and put away money.  We have a bad habit of going out for food when neither of us feel like cooking.  My job this summer will be to cook every day and use the food we do have to the best of our ability.  That means no produce going to waste and always finishing off the leftovers.

Any other tips for frugality, savings, and debt repayment are more than welcome.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Taking Charge

I have three days of work left for the school year.  If I don't get a running start to the summer, nothing gets done.  So for the last few weeks, I've been super busy so that I keep up steam when I have nothing else to do.

In what appears to be an annual tradition, *B* and I went to see Prairie Home Companion at Wolf Trap.  We took an adult picnic complete with wine, crudites, and cheese.  The show was great, the day was beautiful, and we had a great time. 

 The garden has been a point of stress for me.  For about a month, I threw my hands up and left it alone.  Now, it's coming along well.

 My mom made us a hanging strawberry planter.  It's not enough to feed anyone person at a sitting, but it's nice to be able to pick berries every day.

 Our potatoes may or may not make it through the season.  They seem to by dying off now, and they haven't even flowered yet.

 Indian false strawberries have taken over our yard.  Despite the name, they taste like nothing.  Absolutely nothing.

 Our raspberries are doing SO well that we even have a few berries on them!

 We planted snow peas everywhere.  They are doing so well.

 These snow peas had been eaten to the ground by the rabbits.  We put up more fencing, and they popped right up.

 We'll have more peas than we know what to do with!

 Even our lettuce is doing well.

 We were taught this trick at a gardening seminar this spring.  We fill up a holy milk jug rather than watering the plants directly.  It seems to help a bit.  We'll see at the end of the summer how well it works.

 This is one of only two rhubarb plants that made it through germination.  I'm excited for this new experiment!

We planted San Marzano tomatoes to make sauce this year.  We'll see what comes of it.  Last year, I got 2/3 cup of tomato sauce out of all of our plants.

Apparently our compost was not very hot when we tossed things in there.  We have tomato plants in one side.

In the other side of the compost, we have melons (I think).  We're going to try transplanting when they get a little stronger.

The plants even made it into our new herb bed.  We have thyme, basil, cumin, German chamomile, melons and tomatoes.  Go figure.

 Our asparagus came back and we planted two more beds.  The ferns are about 4 feet tall.  My only lament is that we won't be able to take it with us when we move in a few years.

*B* had to have his nasturtiums this year.  That boy loves his nasturtiums!  We also planted some purple ones, but they're tiny still.

  We had a small harvest of peas for the day, but it's enough for the two of us to split.

In our front yard, we have a huge bed of strawberries that I neglected to photograph.  I had a record harvest this year.  I'm estimating about two pounds of strawberries, and they're only about half picked!


Recently, *B* has moved from winemaking to cider and beer brewing.  At the moment, we have a gallon of mead, two gallons of apple cider, and three gallons of red ale fermenting in our basement.  It's truly been an interesting experience.

Not to be outdone, I have been doing some fermenting of my own.  I discovered water kefir a few months ago and became hooked.  Our organic market only has a limited supply, so I broke down and bought the grains online.  I soaked them the past few days to rehydrate them, and am now working on our first batch!

On the left are the soaked grains.  The demerrara sugar makes the mixture brown.  On the right is sugar water.
I added a slice of ginger, some raisins, and a half of a lemon.
It'll stay sealed for two more days, then I can bottle it.  Supposedly, it'll become carbonated at that point.

In a future post, I'll show the results from my water kefir as well as *B*'s projects.


The left side of our sink has been squirting water everywhere.  We couldn't understand what was going on, so we put a bucket under the sink and stopped using that side.  Today, I got fed up and explored further.

 If you look hard, it looks like someone went at it with a saws-all.  There's a huge gash in the locknut.

For the immediate time being, I fixed it up nicely with plumber's tape and a layer of duct tape.  I'm hoping to brush up my plumbing skills so that I can replace the locknut all by myself soon.


And that's been my last few weeks.  We've had a ton of parties - baby introductions, Memorial Day, and end of school year get-togethers.  We have a wedding this weekend, and my best friend's wedding in two weeks.  We'll be traveling to Oklahoma the second week of June, so I'm very excited.  I've been before, but *B* hasn't.  It'll be a new adventure all around.