I’m growing an invasive plant species of PA in my garden, are you?

Butterfly Bush - on the Invasive "Watch" list for PA

One of the brochures I picked up at the PA Farm Show discussed invasive plant species in PA and I was suprised to find a few of the plants I was growing in my yard on the list of situational invasives.  Specifically we have English Ivy and Periwinkle.

Invasive plants are those which are not native to the area but have been introduced either directly by planting or indirectly by seed spreading and are agressively spreading into areas and threatening the native ecosystems.

The brochure I have was put out by DCNR and you can see their information online here. This listing is somewhat different and does not include situationally invasive plants.  They are right out there with the rest of them.  This list also includes a watch list which includes one of my favorite plants – the butterfly bush.

Free upcycled cat toys – check your milk or water gallon containers

Ronnie goes green

This is our cat Ronnie.   On his paw you can see his favorite cat toy – the ring from a gallon water bottle.

Ronnie knows how important it is to be good to the earth and he wants to do his part to help the environment.  So instead of asking us to buy him new cat toys made in China and packaged in plastic, he upcycles the tabs from our gallon milk and water bottles into toys.  As soon as someone drops one on the floor he’s off batting it around the living room.

Way to go Ronnie!

Need a highlighter? Check your kid’s room.

Crayons = World's Best Highlighters

Forget those expensive drylighters, the highlighting ink for fountain pens and even the el-cheapo highlighter pens from the office supply store.  Find yourself a box of crayons – the 64 size is great – and you will have many, many colors to choose from for highlighting text.

Advantages of using crayons are:

  1. no ink to spill
  2. no bleeding through thin pages
  3. no drying time
  4. no smell
  5. cheap
  6. long lasting
  7. no plastic barrel to throw away
  8. can be purchased anywhere
  9. you probably already have some at home
  10. once they get too short you can melt them into new crayons or use them to make candles

Downsides to using crayons

  1. your kids will steal them
  2. your coworkers/fellow students may begin to wonder if you also watch Sesame Street

Now somebody is probably going to say, “But they are made from petroleum so that makes them bad.”  Maybe. Depends on your viewpoint PLUS there are a lot of non-paraffin wax crayons out there these days.  Mother Nature Network has a great article on the environmental issues surrounding crayons here.

We live in PA less than a few hours drive from Easton where Crayola makes their crayons (with solar power now) so I am biased. I admit it.

Plus, did you know crayons are gluten-free?  Yep, according to that MNN article the glue made to hold on the labels is cornstarch based.  Who knew?

Birthday post – quilting workbook

Quilting Workbook

Today is my birthday… I’m not saying how many, but there have been a lot more than I ever thought there would be.

No matter how old you are, one of the keys to living a sustainable life is learning how to sew.  Sewing is a basic skill every man, woman and child should have in their skill set.  A basic straight stitch with only a needle and thread can sew a buttonhole, make a quilt and patch a pair of pants.  A few more tools and skills and you can make practically anything out of fabric you might need around the house plus make a few extra dollars with the skill as well.

Part of sustainable living is making things last as long as possible or making something new out of something old that might otherwise be thrown out.  Quilting is an art and a science that can be used to take advantage of worn out cloth household items from sheets to clothes to towels so it is definitely part of a sustainable lifestyle.  Quilts are is a sandwich of fabric and they are truly easy to make.  (If you steer clear of all the bells and whistles and fancy patterns out there.)

I made my first quilt in 1987.  It was inevitable.  My mother quilted, my grandmother quilted and my great-grandmother quilted.  So far none of my children are interested, but the two youngest can’t really talk yet so there is still hope we’ll have a fifth generation take it up.

Everyone in my family has quilted for both utilitarian and artistic reasons.  I am much less the artist and much more the person who loves a warm bed in the winter.  My mother is an artist as was my grandmother.  Though their quilts are plenty warm, they are also beautiful.

The picture below is of a Christmas present I received from my mother in 2010.  She made me a beautiful white quilt from her mother’s embroidered pieces.  Grandma died a few years back and Mom kept pillowcases, doilies and a lot of other things she had made.  They are our heritage and, sadly, represent a dying art.

Embroidered Quilt

A few nights ago I was patching diapers to try to get a few more weeks of them and I ran across my quilting workbook.  Back in 1987 I bought a spiral notebook with gridded pages so I could draft my quilts and keep track of my patterns and all of that.  Well, it turned into a lot more than that.  What I have are fabric swatches from the quilts, pictures of the people they were made for holding the quilts, receipts for the fabric and all of that kind of stuff.  (Yes, I used to buy all new fabric for quilts.  Now I try to source fabric in ways that reuse other things or purchase salvaged fabric at yard sales and thrift stores.)

The book came in very handy when one of the people I made a crib quilt for came back to me for a matching single bed size quilt.  Her granddaughter was so attached to her crib quilt that she refused to move to a big bed until it had a big quilt just like the small one.  A few years had passed and boy was I happy to have the pictures, design and fabric swatches to go by.  The quilt I’m speaking of is the Teddy Bear quilt pictured at the bottom of this post.  I couldn’t give the same bears, but I did get pretty close.  Last I heard that little girl is happily sleeping in her big bed.

Below are some pictures of my quilting workbook.  People sell books like this that you fill in and others have online software to track these types of things, but I don’t like having someone else plan my pages for me.  Plus I spent 1.99 for that notebook when I bought it and 20 years later it is still going strong.

So what is the point of this post on my birthday?  Well, revisiting those memories reminds me that all these birthdays have amounted to something – lots of happy people who have received quilts from me.

Swatches and Designs

Color Coded design for my first quilt in 1987

Teddy Bear Quilt Design and Photo

Homemade Iced Tea with just water, sugar and tea

Every time I go to the store I see people filling their carts with gallons of iced tea.  I personally don’t understand the reason people will pay over $2 a gallon for artificial flavors and sweeteners when you can make a much better tea at home in 7 minutes.

So stop paying for the fake stuff and make the real stuff at home.  You’ll never have to run to the store for bottled tea again.

The recipe can be varied to add more or less sugar, more or less tea bags or to use herbal or other teas.  Sometimes Scott mixes tea bags for a custom drink, sometimes he’ll add quite a bit more sugar for a southern style brew and sometimes he leaves the sugar out for our diabetic friends.  (Though I imagine you could use Splenda if you have to.) Other times we’ll add fruit juice or honey as well.  It just depends on what you like.  This recipe is Gluten Free.

Homemade Iced Tea – makes 1/2 gallon

  • 1/3 C sugar
  • 4-5 tea bags (we use Salada tea, store brand tea, Tetley tea etc.)
  • 1/2 gallon water
  1. Place two cups of water and sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil.
  2. Boil water/sugar mixture for 2 minutes. Watch carefully so it does not boil over.
  3. Remove from heat and add tea bags.
  4. Steep for 5 minutes.
  5. Remove tea bags and compost.
  6. Pour concentrated tea into bottle (glass is best.)
  7. Add remaining water to make a half gallon.
  8. Refrigerate and enjoy!

It’s Valentine’s Day – that means a Whitman’s Sampler to me

I have always enjoyed a Whitman’s Sampler more than a heart shaped box of chocolate.  I love the yellow box, the “stitched writing” on the box and the treasure map to figure out the pieces of candy.

You know what else is great?  It’s all American Made.

Yep, unlike Hershey who is offshoring (sort of…) to Mexico, Whitman’s Samplers are made in the US from box to candy.  And that is something to be proud of.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Recycling food packages for gardening use – tea boxes, yogurt containers and more

Tea box outside

We make a lot of iced tea at our house and I just emptied a Salada tea box this week. When I took a look at the box I thought “Hmm, this would make a great seed starting box.”

The box is square and has 4 dividers. My mind says to fill it up with dirt, divide the sections and use it to start larger seeds that are easy to place. Or perhaps tomato seeds or peppers. The box will degrade and the inks are most likely not safe to use in the garden so it would be a temporary home only, but it still would give me another place to plant seeds this spring and judging from how we didn’t stick to our plan to not order seeds, space it going to be at a premium.

Tea box inside

If you are looking for seed starting space, look to your trash before you go and buy trays and pots.  Here are some of the things we use as seed starting locations:

  • egg cartons (the two part plastic ones like Egglands Best Cage Free make great mini greenhouses, I’ll post on that later)
  • yogurt containers – wash well and put holes in the bottom or cut up for plant markers
  • cans – watch for sharp edges and put holes in the bottom
  • large and small plastic bottles – cut tops off to make mini greenhouses, plant in the round bottom section
  • milk jugs – clear ones work best for greenhouses, but white ones can be cut off to use the bottom as a planter.  The top (with the lid off) makes a good funnel.  With the lid on it makes a good scoop for birdseed or other dry goods.  Also can be cut up for plant markers.
  • formula containers – the plastic ones, put holes in the bottom
  • salad containers – great mini greenhouses
  • aluminum trays – great to put under plants when watering.  I’ve also used them as flats to sow seeds in a pinch.
  • old cookie sheets, baking trays, etc – again great for watering trays or planting
  • large plastic containers of any type – wash well, fill with 1 inch of vermiculite in the bottom with seed starting mix on top, don’t overwater.  Cover with plastic wrap for greenhouse.
  • popsicle sticks – use as plant markers though ours have all rotted and molded up quickly, even with good washing
  • jars, bottles etc – use for vases for flowers or for rooting cuttings, jars are good for saving seeds

Gluten Free Bisquick pizza crust – some people will love it, like me

We have finally been able to find Gluten Free Bisquick at our local stores… pricey at around $4 for a small box which gluten free folks are used to.  Be warned that some recipes use nearly the whole box so buy 2 when you find them so you can try more than one recipe.

The first recipe we made, and the only one so far, has been the pizza dough recipe.  Scott has made it a couple times now – including adding herbs into the crust – and our whole family has eaten it, even the teenager who avoids GF like the plague. 

The crust is not like pizza crust though, not chewy and doughy or thin and crispy.  It is more like a pastry crust I had a pizza on at some point – I think it was a deep dish pizza.  It is “flaky” which really equals “dry” but you have to oil the pan you bake it on so it has a fatty kind of mouth feel similar to a croissant. And it gets brown which I love. Some won’t.

Scott, our master pizza maker, says to follow the directions exactly when making it and make sure you allow it to brown.  It does reheat well in the microwave or the oven and the crust does not get any browner.  We use DelGrosso’s pasta sauce as the sauce and an Italian cheese blend and sandwich pepperoni (the big ones!)

Tonight we just had some take-out pizza from the local shop which was gummy and greasy and I was envying Scott his crisp, brown, flaky pizza.  Not often I envy a gluten-free product, but this is one I actually asked for a few nights ago – I had a taste for it.

We’ll have to try the biscuits next.

Homemade Suet Cakes – from leftovers

We love feeding birds at our house.  Our back deck is right outside our patio window in the dining room and the kids enjoy having breakfast while watching the squirrels and birds eat theirs.

Since we have quite a few woodpeckers – and the pesky squirrels – we go through a lot of suet cakes.  We got a great deal on them and were given some as Christmas gifts, but we’ve also learned to make our own.  It was easy to make a cake and the birds loved it.

You need three things to make a homemade suet cake:

  1. the plastic holder from a storebought cake (usually square and plastic)
  2. saved fat from your kitchen
  3. birdseed, nuts, etc to add to the fat

To make a suet cake you need to start saving fat from bacon, sausages, hamburger – whatever.  We saved it all in a mason jar and kept that jar in the freezer until we had enough.  Here’s  a picture of the full jar – not very attractive.

Frozen Fat Jar

When the jar was full I melted it in the microwave slowly.  A saucepan would be less messy I think.  I let the fat cool until it was starting to turn solid again and then mixed it in a glass bowl with our birdseed mixture and a spatula.  I spooned this mixture into the plastic mold I had saved from our last suet cake and put it in the freezer to harden.  You can see it in the picture below. The next morning I popped out the cake and put it in our suet feeder.

Homemade Suet Cake

A few things to note about this quick and easy project:

  • A pint jar plus about 1/2 cup birdseed filled this mold to the top.
  • Birds don’t taste things and won’t mind if you have taco seasoning in your fat.  :-)
  • Bacon fat is pretty soft even when frozen, so using a mix with beef holds up better.
  • If you live in a place where the temps are not near or below freezing, or you are making suet in the springtime, your suet cake may not stay solid and may turn rancid.  Better to save that fat for the following winter and use a commercially available all weather suet like this one at Amazon: