One thing that came with our house was a really small side yard.  A space about 5 feet across that is a “buffer” between our house and our neighbor’s property line. Useless space in most cases.  But my wife had a dream…a dream of an Alice garden occupying this space.  That’s a garden with an Alice in Wonderland theme.  So for her birthday I decided that I’d fulfill her wish.

For this Alice Garden, we needed to start with a base…the base being checker boarded paving stones…alternating white and red.  That would fill the main area of the side yard. There was also this smaller little “cubby” part that continued to the end of the wall. For that our plan was to lay gravel…two types. White for the edges, and then a path of river rock, ending in a little door.  We measured the space, found that we could do 4 blocks wide and 13 blocks long…and a little line of red stones off to the side.  So off to Home Depot we went.  After we bought the basics, we drove them home (the car almost a low rider due to the weight) and set to work.


It started out like this…which as you can see, isn’t much. You can see why most would consider this a useless space.  Small, over grown….littered with bits of gravel and pieces of junk metal.  Like some bad back alley.  I had my work cut out for me.

So I donned my work gloves, grabbed our little red wagon, and started by pulling weeds and grabbing the larger pieces of wood and rocks.


I then used a shovel to till the ground and start leveling it out.  I unearthed all sorts of crap….chicken wire…chicken wire embedded in cement…old crumbly cement, a few dozen rusty nails….all sorts of broken toys, tin cans, lids, broken light bulbs, batteries, and other random things.  I grabbed our wide tooth metal rake to smooth out the dirt, and comb out any more large debris…which there was a lot of.  More than a few wagon loads.


This is just a bit of the progress I made. When I dug out the last bit of the “cubby,” I uncovered  large chunks of cement, and had to pull out many small trees and shrubs that had deep roots, because they were never removed, just constantly trimmed back.


OK…once I pulled out all of that stuff, I had a pretty nice area to work with.


OK, time to start laying down the blocks:


I had to constantly shift dirt around….push some away, add some in other spots, in order to make the blocks all even.


There…the main blocks are all laid in.  Whew…that took a lot of effort and concentration. A lot LONGER  and harder than it was for you to look at that last picture, read this, and look at the next one.

Now I was exhausted…I needed to take a rest. So my wife and kids took over.  Sam and Justice laid in the longer blocks on the side, and finished up the paved area.




Then came the gravel…all the girls helped with that.


Add a couple decorations to the entrance…pink flamingo and a welcoming plant holder…Image

Can’t forget the White Rabbit…

photo 7


Add a small bistro set…

photo 6


And violá! The Alice Garden is complete!

photo 5


In just a couple days, and a lot of work, we converted useless space into a functional, and darn pretty, place to hang out. All for under $200.



Green Eggs, No Ham

Green Eggs, No Ham

Have you checked out our food blog?  This was the first blog the kids encouraged me to start years ago, when they noticed that a) I love to cook, and b) I am forever photographing our food and telling people about it.  I realized recently that I haven’t been posting there as much as I used to, so I decided that I will try to remember to post recipes there, and link to them here.  So, if you want to know what we’re eating, or your looking for some interesting meatless options, check it out.  


Jammin’ ~ by Sam

As always happens at about this time of year, about a week ago, I realized that the school year was swiftly coming to a close, and I was going to have to come up with teacher gifts.  We don’t always give end of the year teacher gifts, but I try to, when I can.   I know how hard teachers work, and I just think it’s a nice way to let them know we appreciate them.  And this year was special.  We had one kid graduating from middle school, and another graduating from 5th grade.  The 5th grader was graduating from the same elementary school at which we had been parents for 12 consecutive years.  It seemed like an especially good year to remember our teachers.

Usually, at the holidays, I send baked goods because I happen to be making them, anyway.  At the end of the year, however, I usually find myself harried, and I end up buying small Starbucks gift cards and calling it a day.  However, since Justice had 7 teachers this year, Hallie had six, and Kaia had one, that added up to a lot of teacher gifts.  I hate to be miserly, but I was trying to think of some way to give nice gifts and not break the bank.

I had recently gotten a good deal on raspberries and blueberries, and was planning to make jam, so I got this idea.  What is I gave each teacher one jar of jam?  That would be a nice, personal gift, something they would probably enjoy, and, since I was planning on making jam, anyway, it wouldn’t really be any extra trouble.  After I had made the raspberry jam, I did some math.  If I got as many jars of blueberry as I did of raspberry, I would have just enough for each teacher…and none for us.  Well, that didn’t sound like a very good idea.  So, I decided I needed one more variety.  Marmalade!  I had always wanted to make marmalade!  Ah…but, that recipe takes a couple of days, and, about this time, Kaia and Shane got really, really sick, and I had to find a way to make more jam real quick, and still take care of sick people.  I looked through my Ball Blue Book, and found a recipe for Quick Grape Jelly, using bottled grape juice, sugar and pectin.  It seemed simple enough, and it was!  Not only was it simple, but it was delicious.  In fact, it was my favourite recipe I had tried since I started canning.  Everyone who tried it loved it.  I think Justice and Hallie ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch and dinner for a couple of days.

Here’s a picture of my beautiful grape jelly:

So then I got to thinking.  If I could make grape jelly with bottled juice, could I make other jellies with bottled juice?  Apple, perhaps?  I did some searching on the internet.  Some people said, “yes;” others said, “no.”  In the end, I decided I had nothing to lose but the cost of a bottle of juice.  I picked up a bottle of organic apple juice at fresh & easy.  I think it cost $4.69.  After reading through a couple of different recipes online, I decided to see if I could work out one that would work for us.  In fact, it turned out so well that now I am not sure which I like better, apple or grape.  Luckily, it is really quick and easy to make, so I can make sure we always have plenty.  Here is the recipe I came up with:

Simple Apple Jelly

5 cups organic 100% apple juice

6.5 TBS Ball Classic Pectin

5.5 cups organic sugar


In a large saucepot, whisk together pectin and 1 cup of juice until thoroughly combined (no lumps).  Whisk in remaining juice . (It may help to do this a cup at a time.)

Add sugar, one cup at a time, whisking until dissolved.

Bring to a rolling boil, stirring occasionally to prevent clumping of pectin.

Boil hard, stirring constantly, for 1 minute.

Remove from heat and perform spoon test or plate test* to determine if your jelly will set to the consistency you prefer.  If it is not thick enough, whisk in more pectin (I would add no more than 1/2 TBS at a time), bring to a boil, boil for one minute, and test again.

Ladle in to clean, hot half pint jars.  Top with 2-piece canning lids (lid and ring), and process 10 minutes in a boiling water canner.**

Turn off heat, remove lid,  and let stand for 5 minutes, then carefully remove jars using a jar lifter and place on a heat proof surface.  Do not tighten rings.  Allow jars to rest undisturbed for 12-24 hours.

* Please consult your canning book or a reliable online source to learn how to perform the spoon and plate tests.  I am having trouble sharing links, but will try to add one later.

** Please refer to your canner manual or another reliable source (I find Ball’s Blue Book indispensable) for complete canning instructions.

It was so pretty while it was cooking that I couldn’t resist taking pictures.


Isn’t that a gorgeous colour?

There was a little more than I had half-pint jars for, so I put the leftover bit in a pint-sized jar and put it right in the fridge for our immediate use:


And here it is all nicely processed and ready to give:


I have a LOT of jam pictures, because I had a lot of fun making jam, but I will just share one last one here, of all the jars, labelled and ready to package up with freshly made biscuits.


I am pleased to say the teachers all liked their gifts, and there was plenty left over for us (though kids gobbled up the remaining biscuits pretty quickly).

If it IS broke… ~ by Sam

Chances are, at some point in your life, you have heard someone say, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”  That makes perfect sense, right?  Well, if that makes sense, then it naturally follows that, if it is broke, you probably should fix it.  

Shane and I are staunch proponents of this plan.  We don’t tend to believe that things are disposable or need to be replaced, until we have gone to great lengths to prove that they cannot be saved.  Well…or if fixing them will cost substantially more than replacing them.  Sometimes, in that case, you just gotta do what ya gotta do.  But, hey, a lot of broken things can be repaired, and we are determined to repair them, when we can.

Like this afternoon, when I was mowing the front lawn, and I ran over a spool of garden tape that had been left in the lawn.  (Garden tape is this stuff: )  It was one of those moments when you see the inevitable disaster unfolding, and all you can do is watch.  I heard the noise, I saw the spool fly through the air and watched as every last bit of tape unwound form the spool and wound itself around the blades of the lawnmower.  I mean, I turned off the damned thing as soon as I heard the noise, but it was just too late.  It happened so quickly that is was just over by the time I realized it had started.  So, I turned over the lawnmower (after unplugging it, of course ~ oh, unplugging, because we have an electric lawnmower) and assessed the situation.  Well, most of the stuff was wound around the blades, so I untangled and unwound as much as I could, but then there was still some stuck up inside the lawnmower, so I cut away all of the stuff I had managed to unwind, leaving smaller tails to work with.  No dice.  It just was not going to budge.  At this point, it looked like this:Image

Then, I got the ratchet set and got to work.

It was pretty simple, really.  I removed one nut (it was on super-tight, so thank goodness for ratchets), and then I carefully removed parts, being sure to take pictures as I went, and to lay them in order on the ground, so I would know how to put them back on.  


It’s hard to see here, but the tape had gotten pulled and wrapped very tightly in one area.  I tried to get a closer pic, but I am not sure you can tell in this one, either:


You can kind of see it, if you look closely.  It’s the part that looks a little skinnier and lighter green.

Anyway, I very carefully unwound the tape, then I carefully reassembled the lawnmower.  In this next pic, you can see all the tape that was still stuck in the lawnmower when I took it apart.  I had already unwound about 10 times this much fro the blades.  


Ugh.  What a waste!  But, at least I got it fixed, and was able to finish mowing the lawn.  

So, I mowed the front lawn and cleared some huge weeds from the side of the house.  Then, I set the jasmine I had bought to go under Hallie and Kaia’s windows on that side of the house, unwound the soaker hose that I thought would be a good watering solution, since that side of the house has no irrigation, hooked up the new garden hose I picked up for the front yard, watered the plants that needed watering, did  some weeding, and, eventually, mowed about half of the backyard, too.

Shane came out and planted the jasmine for me and set of one piece of lattice (we will need more ~ I should check freecycle), and buried the soaker hose in that area.  In the rose bed, I just kind of wound the soaker hose around the base of each plant. Shane said he may bury it, but, according to the package, it can be used above ground or buried.  

A soaker hose, in case you don’t know, is a hose that is porous all over (kind of like a sponge), so the water sort of sweats out all along the hose, instead of just coming out the end.  This is super convenient in flower beds.  You can install a soaker hose, and then, when it is time to water, instead of having to stand there and move from plant to plant, you just let the water seep in to the ground for a while, then come back later and turn it off.  Here’s what it looks like in action: 


And, last but not least, here’s a pic of our tiny little jasmine.  


These ones are Star Jasmine, rather than the Pink Jasmine we have on the other side of the house.  I decided it would be nice to have two different varieties.


It’s curtains for you, Cat! ~ by Sam

We have cats.  Three cats, to be precise.  We didn’t mean to have three cats, but they found us, , and now we are their pet people.  If you don’t have cats, this probably sounds insane to you, but, trust me, we are their pets, and not the other way around.

With cats, come litterboxes.  Ours have always shared one, and, in that regard, we are lucky.  If they each insisted on having a private litterbox, there would be litterboxes all over the house.  Luckily, we are able to confine it to a single, small space.  Now, the problem is no one really wants to hang out around a litterbox, so it’s nice to be able to hide it away somewhere.  A littlerbox being what it is, the bathroom seems like a logical place for it, but we have always had small bathrooms, so we have had to be creative.  There’s not a lot of free floor space in our bathroom, so we got creative and sacrificed the cabinet under the sink.  At first, we just removed the doors, and tried to hang a curtain there, but that wasn’t working so well.  There was litter all over the floor in front of the sink all the time, even though we swept it up all the time.  So, we decided to put the doors on again, and Shane cut a hole out on the side of the cabinet.  He even went to the trouble to echo the shape of the detail on the cabinet doors.  It gave the cats easy access and confined litter spillover to a smaller area off to the side.  That was…okay.  I mean, it was a great improvement over having the litterbox just sitting out in the middle of the room.  However, with litterboxes come…well…odors.  We all try to be pretty good about keeping it scooped and changing the litter regularly, but, you know, it’s a litterbox.  Having it tucked away helps minimize the odor, but I had really aways planned to hang a curtain over the opening, not only to contain the inevitable stench, but to hide it away from view and to give them a little more privacy, too.  (Cats actually do like their privacy.)  In fact, we already had a curtain.  The last house had a convenient little cubby that was perfect for the littlerbox and supplies (liners, scoop, litter, etc.), and I had made a little curtain to hang across it.  That space was one of the few perfect things about that tiny house, in fact.

Anyway, I had the curtain, made from a cute piece of cat-themed fabric I had found in a remnant bin, I had the litterbox tucked away where it belongs, all I needed was a curtain rod and a little time to install it and hem the curtain to the appropriate size.  This morning, I did it.

Here’s how it has looked since Shane cut the doorway:


(You can see that I didn’t think to take a picture until I had already started to install the curtain rod.)

Here’s how it looks now:


And here is a detail shot of the fabric:Image


Someday, I would like to add a small shelf right above the curtain rod.  I think it would help us organize and de-clutter our counter space (remember, we lost all that under sink storage when we sacrificed it in order to give the litterbox a place of its own), and I am hopeful that it might actually help contain some of that inevitable odor, as well.  For now, this will work.