Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The (almost free) Garden Path

Sometimes things bug me to such an extent that I jump into a project with a force that neither lack of funds nor lack of experience will prevent. That was the case with my garden path.
The troubling issue was my unlovely, arrow-straight sidewalk that spans the distance from the driveway to the front porch steps. It seemed that no amount of plantings, and there were many, would soften the edges. And, if that were not enough, there was actually a "view" just beyond the abrupt end of the sidewalk. We have a lovely Cypress pond visible only a few feet from where the sidewalk ended.I wished for a concrete extension but couldn't afford it, which turned out to be a good thing. Behind the garage a pile of left-over bricks had been ignored for some 20 years. Discovering them when we bought the house had been one of my great excitements but I had not come up with an idea for their use...not until the thought of extending the sidewalk. There weren't enough for a solid brick walk but certainly enough for an edging so I set about step one with no idea at all what step two might be.Having carefully laid an outline, I couldn't bring myself to take the bricks up again in order to set them properly in mortar. Instead, I came up with the idea of troweling a trench on either side of the bricks, pouring in dry concrete mix and watering it in with the garden hose. After three years, it seems to have worked wonderfully well.Leveling the path as I went, unfortunately, raised it above ground level at the end. Fortunately, the old concrete picnic table, left to us by the previous owners, sat upon pedestals that had crumbled almost to dust leaving me with two usable benches but no table. The bench tops made perfect steps at the end of the path. The bench bases were fitted with wooden tops so seating was salvaged and the path came to a suitable conclusion.The only actual money spent on the path was for two bags of concrete and several buckets of pea gravel...less than $40 total. I had compacted the sand below the path and watered sand into the gravel, making it firm and reasonably solid under foot.And as long as I was in the yard with the shovel, and not wanting the new path to wash away, I thought to dig a "dry creek bed" to channel the hard rains that gush from the porch roof valley. That required another $15 in gravel. I chose a different and cheaper type.OK, so then I got carried away. The question was how and where to stop the gray gravel of the creek bed when it reached the lawn. Well, the previous owners had circled a Dogwood tree with four of those scalloped, concrete, 1/4 circle edgings. Since scallops are not my cup of tea, I had removed them and didn't one of them call out to me to become a little bridge? Used as support and topped with bricks, it gave a reasonable stopping point to the creek bed.The remaining bricks formed a somewhat whimsical broken wall allowing me to define the line between the front yard and the expanse to the pond.
Thoroughly carried away with the project by this time, I cleared an area in which I intended to plant lush, tropical vegetation, completely forgetting that I had no money for such frivolity.
Believe it or not, Yard Sale plants, cuttings from around my yard and end-of-season sales have filled the space and my country home in the woods is feeling more like Florida every day.
Which brings me to today's project...not that something bugs me so much as it is calling to me...a little something that could be done and therefore must be done. Here's a hint: Goodbye little brick broken wall. Goodbye little brick pillar...and Oh, how I wish for spring! I'll keep you posted.

Friday, January 14, 2011

My Fickle Heart

As 2010 passed into the History books and 2011 rushed in with sunshine and plans for my new garden spot, with a sense of euphoria, I proclaimed to anyone who would listen that I expected this new year to be one of the very best. I imagined smiles on every face and troubles melting "like candy drops". That lasted for less than a week. Then the temperatures plunged. Ugh! After the coldest December in Florida's recorded history, January determined not to be outdone. Temperatures in the 20's, night after night, after night until our entire pond was completely frozen over.
Mind you, I'm from Alaska where we anxiously wait for the lakes and rivers to freeze enough to drive on and across and to spin our trucks in great circles on the ice...but in FLORIDA? My heart was sinking and I found that happy, hopeful new year feeling slipping away.
What are the birds to do?
My birdbaths are frozen solid. The birdhouses are anything but welcoming. Even the squirrels refuse to leave the comfort of their nests and scurry about until high noon.
And at noon, I still found frost on the shaded ground.
But today, frowning (and shivering) as I walked through my frozen yard with the camera documenting the fact that spring was unlikely to come at all, I happened to look up. BUDS! I could hardly believe my eyes. The Dogwood trees are budding.
Even after six weeks of the most incredible cold and killing frosts, these promises of spring appeared almost magically. Suddenly I had hope again. Suddenly I was ashamed of my gloom. And just as suddenly I remembered the often repeated words of my mother, "When you are feeling down...look up".
Now, if I can just keep remembering that throughout this whole year, it might actually be as glorious as I thought it would.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

2010 Recap

With 74 posts to the blog in 2010, only four short of 1 1/2 per week, I didn't do as well as I had hoped but better than I thought. Accumulating extra cash by not spending as much as we have come to believe we need to, remains the focus of this blog. One of the best ways I know is cutting the grocery bill while eating even better at home. Under the Label "Cooking: Recipes & Methods", there were 24 actual recipes, 5 entries about home canning and 1 genuinely cost-cutting trick to saving both money and time.

16 posts dealt with "Holidays & Special Occasions" touching lightly on Easter, going in depth into Independence Day and returning to the inexpensive but memory-making basics of Thanksgiving and Christmas.

"General Thrift" (5), "Trash to Treasure" (4), and "Gardening" (6) centered around things that were going on in my own world. But the six part series on "Preparedness" was a genuine labor and worth visiting, if you haven't, and revisiting even if you have.

Some of the things I intended to do, I didn't. This year, I have no intentions at all. I found that I posted 13 entries under the label "Just Chatting" and with a few exceptions, enjoyed doing those most of all. That leads me to believe that I might become even chattier (is that a word?) this year.

For better or worse, I'll be here...Still Finding Cash...time...hope...and happiness. Hope you will, too.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Sweet Potato Salad

The next time you're serving ham, give this a try. It's a great "make ahead" dish.
  • 2 lbs sweet potatoes or yams, peeled, diced, cooked in salted water until tender, drained & cooled
  • 1/2 cup Sweet Onion, chopped fine
  • 4 Green Onions, sliced thin
  • 1 Red Bell Pepper, seeded & chopped
  • 1/2 cup Mayonnaise
  • 2 Tbsp Orange Juice or 1Tbsp Orange Juice Concentrate
  • 1 Tbsp Paprika
  • 1 tsp Curry Powder
Mix all together. Chill 2 hours or overnight.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Shish Ka-Bab - oh so easy!

Soak wooden skewers in water for at least 20 minutes so they won't burn.

INGREDIENTS (Makes 30 ka-babs)

  • 1 pkg pork tenderloin
  • 2 lbs sirloin tip or top round steaks
  • 1 fresh pineapple
  • 3 green bell peppers
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 2 bags boiling onions
  • 2 packages button mushrooms
  • 2 lg cans whole potatoes
  • Cherry tomatoes (optional)

Cut pork and beef into 1 1/2" square pieces
Marinate beef for tenderness
Boil onions (with skins on) until almost tender
(let cool, cut off ends and peel)
Cut pineapple & peppers in 1 1/2" squares
Cut any oversize potatoes in half

Skewer in the following order:
Green pepper - beef - onion - mushroom - red pepper - potato - pineapple - pork - green pepper. Brush with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt & pepper.

Cook over hot grill or 2" under broiler for 7 minutes, turn and cook 5 minutes more. (If using cherry tomatoes, add to the skewer tip when the skewer is turned.)