3 Toddler Activities with Craft Supplies

It amazes me how children learn. I know I’ve heard it a hundred times about how children are sponges just soaking up everything around them. I didn’t know how true that was until I had a child of my own. It’s seriously crazy how true that statement is. Kids ARE sponges. My son has picked up on so many words, phrases, and ideas just by listening to everyone around him.

But I think the most learning takes place during playtime. Play is so important for a child’s development, and learning activities are a great way to combine learning and play into one by introducing new concepts to your child in a fun way. They don’t have to be anything fancy or expensive. They just have to be fun! And craft supplies are always fun, right?

About a year ago, I decided to take W to the hobby store and just go a little crazy. I don’t believe we had a lot of crafty items around at that point that he could use, so I decided it was time to stock up. We picked out some construction paper, markers, crayons, and chalk. And then I let W pick out some things that he thought looked interesting. He was particularly drawn to a big bag of pom poms and a bag of colorful feathers, both of which we brought home.

I think those craft supplies have been one of the best purchases I’ve ever made. We’ve spent countless hours since then drawing and crafting. Although we’ve mostly used those supplies for making pictures to hang on the fridge, a few of those items have come in useful for learning activities. I find a lot of great ideas for learning activities on Pinterest, including the pipe cleaner and colander activity below. But many of the fun things we do together just occur to me while we’re playing. Below are three of my favorite activities that W and I have done together over the last year – all with craft supplies.

  1. Pipe Cleaner Sculpture – I love this activity. It’s so simple, and cleanup is easy. All that’s needed is a basic colander/strainer from the kitchen and a bag of inexpensive pipe cleaners. The activity itself is pretty straightforward, just insert both ends of a pipe cleaner into the holes of the colander to make a loop. Repeat with more pipe cleaners until you have a colorful sculpture of sorts.This activity is great for developing fine motor skills. It’s also an opportunity for your child to be creative since there really is no right or wrong way to do it. They can make the “sculpture” however they want. Concepts that can be learned with this activity include:
  • Colors – State what color pipe cleaner you have as you insert it. Ask your child, “can you hand me the red one” while pointing to a red pipe cleaner, and so on.
  • Texture – Encourage your child to feel the pipe cleaner in their hands and talk with them about how soft and fuzzy it is.
  • Sharing – This activity is great for demonstrating to your child how to take turns. Let him/her insert a pipe cleaner, and then insert one yourself.

2. Pom Pom Sorting – For this activity, all you need is pom poms in assorted colors and a few different containers that can be matched to the colors of the pom poms. I used some of W’s plastic bowls of which we have several different colors. But I have also used food container lids and measuring cups.

I would suggest starting with just 2 or 3 colors at first if sorting is a new concept for your child. W started with just 3 colors, but he has sorted as many as 8 colors at once. This activity can also be done with other items besides pom poms. Before I purchased the bag of pom poms, I just selected a group of some of W’s smaller toys like blocks, legos, and letter magnets for him to sort. As long as the colors are similar enough to the containers you choose, that should work just as well. Other concepts you can introduce with this activity include:

  • Counting – Once your child has finished sorting, count the number of pom poms in each bowl.
  • Cleaning up – After your child is finished sorting, have them help you return all the pom poms to the bag or other container.

Pom Pom Sorting

3. Dirty Dinosaurs! – This is one of those activities that we happened across one day while just having some play time outside on the porch. W and I thought it would be fun to color his dinosaurs with sidewalk chalk. Then we decided that, of course, they need a bath! And that’s pretty much all there is to it! All you need is some chalk, some small dinosaurs (or other small figurines/toys), and a container to hold some water. The only thing to really consider is to just make sure that the toys you choose are made of a material that can be drawn on with the chalk. Smooth plastic surfaces will not work well for this activity. This activity is also great for working on the following concepts:

  • Colors – Name the colors of the dinosaurs/toys before coloring them, and then decide which color chalk to color them with.
  • Identification – This only really works if the toys you select are something that you know how to identify, of course. Dinosaurs and animals are both something that would be good to practice identifying with this activity.
  • Texture – Encourage your child to feel the difference between the surfaces of the chalk and the toys. Ask them what they think about how the water feels on their hands. Dip some of the chalk in the water and talk about how it’s changed now that it’s wet.

All of these activities are appropriate for toddler and pre-school age children. My son was between 2 and 3 years old the first time we tried all of these ideas.

Happy playing!!

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Summer 2017 Adventures: NC Zoo

If you grew up in the Triad of North Carolina, you’ve probably been to the North Carolina Zoo more times than you can count. I grew up just 20 minutes down the road from this attraction, and I’m pretty sure I visited at least once every year from Kindergarten to 9th grade. It was one of those field trips that was easy to arrange and reasonably inexpensive being that it was only a short drive down the road. After visiting so often as a kid, I felt like I had seen everything that the zoo has to offer.

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Flamingos outside the aviary – one of the exhibits I always looked forward to seeing.

The thing about having a child of your own, though, is that it makes all that is familiar seem like something totally new. Going anywhere with W, even if I’ve been there a hundred times, feels like a brand new adventure. I suddenly find myself nostalgic for all the places I visited as a child and wanting to take W everywhere!

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One of the coolest exhibits that the zoo has to offer is the underwater viewing of the arctic seals. These sea creatures look so majestic swimming by the glass. I think W would have stayed in this spot for an hour if we had let him!

He visited the NC Zoo for the first time around his second birthday. He enjoyed it then, but he wasn’t really old enough to fully understand what exactly it was that we were doing. And I doubt seriously that he has any memories of that trip. He has since been back twice; once in November, 2016 and then again this summer.

We’ve had fun every time we’ve been, but this last time was particularly memorable for W. He knew what animals he wanted to see before he got there. He walked the whole time and got to climb over all the statues placed along the walkways. We visited the elephants, giraffes, zebras, baboons, lemurs, rhinos, crocodiles, polar bear, seals, puffins, and the aviary. The aviary is and always has been my favorite exhibit at the zoo. The variety of birds is incredible, and it feels like you’re in the middle of a rain forest when you’re walking through.

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Viewing the birds in the R. J. Reynolds Forest Aviary. 

The part of the trip that W was most excited about was riding the Dino Bus to see the animatronic dinosaurs that the zoo currently has on display. This attraction requires the purchase of a separate ticket which includes two separate bus rides to view a total of 8 dinosaurs. I’m not sure if this is a permanent addition or only a temporary exhibit. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t all that impressed with the ride. It pretty much sounds like exactly what it is; a short ride with a quick view of some fake dinosaurs. But W, being the dinosaur-obsessed 3-year-old that he is, absolutely loved it! We ended up only taking one half of the tour to see a Brachiosaurus, Edmontonia, Tyrannosaurus Rex, and a Dilophosaurus. Wyatt loved the T-Rex of course – definitely was the most impressive of the four dinosaurs that we saw.

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The T-Rex was our favorite dinosaur on the ride. He looks pretty realistic, doesn’t he?

Other adventures that W has taken this spring/summer include a trip to the NC beaches at Oak Island, Lazy 5 Ranch in Moorseville, Greensboro Science Center, and a few fishing trips to some local fishing holes.

We’ve had a great summer so far! What about you? What adventures has your family been on this summer?

 

August Gardening Update

Our gardening season is coming to close. We’ve reached that point in the year where it’s hotter and dryer and keeping the garden watered is a daily chore. So this is usually when we just quit watering and allow nature to take it’s course. Whatever we end up with at this point is fine with us. Then we’ll pull it all up and turn the ground over before it starts getting cold.

I’m sure there are many people out there who push through the heat and keep their gardens going. And many people are probably planting their fall gardens right now. Maybe one year we’ll do the same. But we’re satisfied with what we’ve gotten so far despite the fact that we only really had success with the tomatoes.

Our squash plants were totally decimated by an invasion of squash bugs (see below). I tried my best to control the pests (without giving into using insecticides), but my efforts were unsuccessful. We only ended up with a few decent squash which we cooked immediately, and that was the end of it. 

Usually I find squash bug eggs on the leaves, but they can be deposited on stems as well. You can see a few squash bugs in this photo – one just above and to the left of the egg mass. This plant was too far gone to save, so I pulled it up. The same fate eventually met the rest of the squash.

Our green beans also didn’t turn out like we were hoping. We managed two decent pickings off of them, but the beans didn’t cook well. We will be trying a different variety next year. My mom offered to bring back a bushel from the farmers market in Asheville this weekend, so I still have plans to can a few quarts of green beans.

We only planted two cucumber plants, one of which did very well. We ate the cucumbers fresh as they came in. We didn’t plan on making any pickles, because none of us really like pickles that much. The plant is still producing at this point, so we’ll probably get a few more cucumbers before the season is over.

Now for better news, the tomato plants were highly productive this year, particularly the cherry tomatoes and the Cherokee Purples. I’ve been using the cherry tomatoes in our salads, and drying the rest of them with the dehydrator. All the other tomatoes have gone into making canned tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, and salsa – one canning of each so far. And the plants continue to produce despite the fact that we have quit watering them, so we may end up canning one more batch of tomato sauce before the season is over. Overall, I’m please with how everything turned out.

Diced tomatoes – 4 quarts and 4 pints.

It’s also been a great year for the fruit trees and grapevines that grow in our back yard. These were planted by my grandfather many years ago. It’s been several years since the pear and apple trees have produced any fruit worth eating. But this year, the pear trees have done exceptionally well. We spent an entire afternoon knocking all the pears out of the trees and ended up with probably a couple hundred pounds worth of fruit. We’ve just begun to start canning and haven’t even started to make a dent in the stockpile of pears in our kitchen. It seems like we’ll be canning for weeks!

8 pints so far. Many, many more to go.

There are three grapevines in our yard; one concord and two muscadine. The concord grapes have looked better this year than they have in several years. This morning, I made four pints of grape jelly. I plan to make at least one other batch with the grapes that remain on the vine. The muscadines haven’t produced much at all, but they are also in need of some severe pruning. Project for the winter? I think so!

I love the color of the finished product. Concord grapes make the best jelly!

Canning is still not something of which I would claim to be am expert . My husband and I are learning together, which is the best part about the whole process.  I don’t mind canning on my own. But I think one of the reasons I enjoy canning so much is because I enjoyed learning from my parents. Jelly reminds me of making candy apple jelly with my mom at Christmas. Canning green beans always brings a memory to mind of my dad showing me how he added the salt on top of the beans before closing the jar. And I have countless memories of my parents canning their very own “soup mix” that would complete a pot of vegetable beef soup every winter.

Canning feels like home. It makes me feel grounded and industrious. I know we’re doing a good thing as a family and really taking advantage of all the hard work we put into the garden for the last three months. And now that we’re composting, all the peels and leftovers from the canning process can still be useful in next year’s garden.

Perfect compost material right here.

I’m a little sad that our gardening season has come to a close. Maybe next year we’ll consider extending it out and having a fall garden. Pumpkins possibly? Lettuce and cauliflower… maybe. Already the ideas are spinning in my mind. 

As far as canning goes however, we are nowhere near finished. Future plans include more pears, pear honey, pear butter, apple butter, more tomato sauce, more concord grape jelly, and green beans.

What are you canning this year? Any cool recipes to suggest? Check back in for a canning update in a few weeks.

 

 

Our DIY Composter

Composting is seriously the coolest thing ever. Okay, it’s really not. It’s all just dirt in the end.

Still, being able to take a bunch of “waste” and turn it into something useful is pretty cool and no small accomplishment. Admittedly, nature does most of the work. But we do provide the ingredients.

My husband and I have been wanting to start composting for a long time. We kind of have off and on over the last few years. But we’ve never really incorporated it into our daily routine or made it a priority.

And I’ve always felt guilty about that. Throwing away banana peels and other scraps felt like committing a crime against nature. I mean, we have a garden. A garden needs nutrients. And compost is a great resource of nutrients for a garden. So really, it’s something that we SHOULD have been making a priority all along.

I told my husband at the beginning of the summer that one project I really wanted to accomplish this summer was setting up a compost pile. At the time, I was just thinking about designating a section in the yard that we could dig a big whole and just throw scraps in the ground. Even if we didn’t end up giving it the attention that compost really needs, at least our kitchen scraps wouldn’t be ending up in a landfill where they wouldn’t benefit us at all.

But J surprised me the other day when he decided to make use of a large plastic drum that had previously been used to store laying feed for our chickens. He set it up so that we can rotate it on some wheels in order to turn the compost over as needed.

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W helping J with the wheels. As you can see, we’re using an old piece of plywood that’s probably been lying around for some time.

Naturally, W was enthusiastic to help his Daddy – usually is anytime there are power tools involved. Together they screwed the wheels onto the wooden base. J cut out a small section on the side of the drum to act as the door and reattached it with zip ties. He then drilled small holes all over the drum to allow some air in, although the door itself doesn’t shut perfectly and allows plenty of air in as well.

And W has been eagerly adding scraps to the new composter every day since. He is always quick to point out how stinky it is, too. And I just say, “well, it’s supposed to be.”

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W adding some carrot scraps to the composter. The drum is sitting on top of the wheels which allow it to be rotated.

So far the design is working pretty well. We’re able to easily rotate the bin back and forth to turn the compost. There’s a lock on the door that keeps it shut to hungry animals. But we have decided that the design will need some adjusting in the future. We may end up making another one. This one is filling up pretty fast.

I plan on painting it in the near future simply to make it more aesthetically pleasing. A big blue barrel next to the flower beds isn’t exactly pleasing to the eye. But that’s not a priority or anything. It’s usefulness is far more important than it’s attractiveness.

So what are we composting?

Mostly fruit and vegetable scraps, old breads, coffee filters and grounds, grass cuttings, eggshells, and paper products. We even throw in the wood shavings from the chicken coop when we clean it out. There are so many other things that can be included like twigs, leaves and pinecones, newspapers, textiles made of natural fibers, and dryer lint. Basically anything organic. No meats or bones or oils.

How are we doing it?

It’s important to turn the compost over regularly. We do this at least once a week. If we’re going to throw in any kind of whole fruit or vegetable, we make sure to cut it up in small pieces first. This keeps produce from sprouting in the compost bin. And it also allows for faster composting as bigger pieces take longer to break down.

And we try to keep in mind that the compost needs a good balance of wet and dry ingredients, about 50% wet and 50% dry. Wet or “green” ingredients would be items like the fruit/veggie scraps. Dry or “brown” ingredients would be wood shavings and paper items. It’s not quite as simple as that, but you get the idea. Adding small amounts of water to the compost is also sometimes necessary if the compost seems too dry.

We plan on using our compost for amending the soil in our garden. I suppose that’s probably what most people use it for. If there’s something else it could be used for, I’d be interested to hear about.

I’d also be interested to hear what kind of items you include in your compost. What composting set-ups have worked for you? Share your thoughts!

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Little Man’s Chickens: 3 Month Update

The baby chicks moved out!

And technically, I can’t call them “baby” chicks anymore. They’re pretty close to full-size chickens, although we’re still probably a couple months out from finding some extra eggs in the coop. I’ve read that smaller breeds tend to lay a bit earlier, but it’s usually around 6 months when the layers start producing.

And I’m definitely looking forward to that point. We currently have only three hens that are laying, and only two lay almost everyday. Just in the last couple months, we lost two chickens from our original brood of six. Wyan, our Black Australorp, died of a prolapse that we were unable to reverse. And Buttercup, a Buff Orpington, was dragged off by something (possibly a fox?) and never to be seen again. So we are a little short on egg layers right now.

But the “baby” chicks are doing well! They’ve officially been moved into the coop with the other chickens. Only one has a name so far – Mo – the Crested Cream Legbar. We kept referring to her as “the one with the mohawk,” which was then shortened to “mohawk,” and then – well, yeah, you get it.

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Mo is probably my favorite as far as appearances go. Her coloring is beautiful, and the lovely little crest of feathers on her head really makes her stand out from the rest.

All of the chicks have grown into their own look. Even though we had two each of the Splash Marans and Copper Marans, each individual is easily distinguished by his/her coloring. Their personalities are all different as well. The two Copper Marans tend to stick together like two peas in a pod. Mo is definitely the most curious of the group – was always the first to try and jump out of the brooder.

Of the two Splash Marans, one turned out more gray, and one turned out more white with black spots. We’re pretty sure that both of these are males, but still not 100% sure about that. They both have the look of roosters for sure. The gray one tends to be more active and harder to catch, and he has taken to trying to crow in the mornings, hence our belief that he is a rooster. The white one is just an outright lazy chicken. Perhaps he’s already agreed to let the other rooster be at the top of the pecking order and is just going to kick back and enjoy life. Or perhaps he is actually a she and just a lazy chicken. We shall see. All of the chickens seem very docile at this point. None of them seem to mind being picked up and held, which is awesome.

Before we moved them into the big coop with the other chickens, we let them spend their days in our older coop, which is all chicken wire on the bottom half. This allowed the older chickens to become familiar with the young ones without the risk of them pecking at each other. After only a couple days, the older chickens seemed to like being around the young ones and were spending a lot of time hanging out around the coop. One of our Easter Eggers, Lady, actually managed to jump in there with them one day when they were still smaller. She seemed almost motherly with them.

So things are going quite well. The “babies” were allowed to free range for the first time yesterday. We are going to continue limiting their time in the open yard to just a couple hours a day. I don’t think they are quite ready to start venturing all over the neighborhood like the older chickens do.

For the last couple years, our chickens have been allowed to free range around our entire yard and even into our neighbor’s yard. (Our neighbor does not mind, btw – actually loves our chickens and was very upset when her favorite one – Wyan – died a few weeks ago.)

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First night free ranging around the yard.  They are sticking close together, as you can see.

Buttercup was not the first chicken to be dragged away by some hungry animal, though – lost two other hens and a rooster that way. So we have decided that we will be fencing in a large area of the yard just for the chickens. We don’t want to lose any more chickens to the belly of some predator, especially the younger ones that we’ve just invested a lot of time and money into. We hope to set up something that we’ll be able to move from one area of the yard to another. Ideally the chickens will always have access to fresh sections of grass at all times. This is not easily accomplished, though. It’s amazing how quickly a couple chickens can pick clean an entire area of grass if they’re confined to it.

For now, the chickens will continue to roam all over the place. And the “baby” chicks will be able to do that, too, at least for a time.

Keep checking in for more chicken updates! To learn more about raising chickens, check out some of the links in this post – resources that I’ve used for myself since becoming a chicken mom. (No, I have not been asked or offered money to include these links. They are just good resources I’ve come across and wanted to share.)

Thanks for reading!

Classic Chicken Pie

I think we all have that favorite dish – that favorite meal that just epitomizes comfort food for us. One of my favorite dishes as a kid was my mom’s chicken pie – just a simple dish with no pizzazz or anything – basically just a warm, buttery crust over chicken – no vegetables or anything. I was always excited to hear that we were having chicken pie for dinner.

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Chicken, cream of celery, and prepared bouillon mixed together. Ready for the crust.

My husband is now the one who gets excited when I tell him we’re having chicken pie. It’s definitely one of his favorites. And Little Man loves it, too.

The best thing about this recipe is how simple it is. The ingredient list is short. It’s super easy to bring together. And the cooking time isn’t too long. To make it a real southern meal, serve with southern-style green beans and mashed potatoes.

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The batter has been poured and spread out. Ready for the oven.

The other awesome thing about this chicken pie is that it makes great leftovers. Anyone that knows me knows how much I hate leftovers. I usually just try to avoid having any. But this chicken pie always heats up nicely in the microwave the next day for a quick lunch. I usually try to take some with me to work.

Give it a try, and let me know what you think!

Classic Easy Crust Chicken Pie

1 lb. chicken tenders, cooked
1 can cream of celery
1 cup chicken bouillon
1 stick unsalted butter
1 cup milk
1 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper

  1. Preheat oven to 425 F.
  2. Cut cooked chicken tenders into small pieces, or shred the chicken by hand. Spread evenly in an 8 inch round cake pan or 8×8 inch square cake pan. (For easier clean up, cover the pan in foil before adding the chicken.)
  3. In a bowl, mix together the cream of celery and prepared bouillon. Pour over chicken and incorporate ingredients together making sure the chicken is still evenly distributed.
  4. In a mixing bowl, whisk the flour, salt, pepper, and baking powder together.
  5. Add the melted butter and milk to the flour mixture. Stir until just combined. Batter will be thick and possibly lumpy, but should still be pourable.
  6. Carefully pour the batter over the chicken mixture in the pan. I usually start pouring on one side and then slowly move around the whole pan using the scraper to guide the batter where I want it to fall.
  7. If any areas of chicken still remain uncovered by the batter, use the scraper to carefully spread the batter over those areas. Be careful not to push any of the batter down into the chicken mixture.
  8. Bake the pie in the oven for 35 to 45 minutes. It’s done when the crust has turned a golden brown – should be able to see the chicken mixture bubbling up around the outermost edge of the pan.
  9. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.

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June Gardening Update

It’s officially summer now in North Carolina. The longest day of the year has come and gone – the beginning of the true heat and humidity that makes living in the South such a sweaty experience, especially if you’re doing any gardening outside.

But with the heat comes the harvest. The squash and the cucumbers. The tomatoes. The canning. Summer has become my favorite time of the year simply because of the food. It seems like just about everyone around here has a garden they love to talk about, and usually they like to share their harvest with others. Almost everyone in my family has a garden of their own and sends vegetables our way as they come in. We share our vegetables with others in our family who don’t have gardens of their own. The summer months bring everyone together in that way. And there’s nothing better than throwing some fresh vegetables from your own garden on the grill for dinner.

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Tomato plants are healthy, but obviously we need to do some weeding. 

 

I’m pleased to report that our garden is doing rather well this year. The weather has been decent – plenty of rain, but enough sunshine to keep the garden from rotting. For the first few weeks, our plants didn’t seem to want to grow. It took the tomatoes and squash a while to establish their roots and begin growing upward. Our squash and cucumber plants continue to be small, but they seem healthy and are producing some. And the green beans are quickly taking over their trellis.

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First row of green beans.

I think the reason our garden took a while to establish is because we didn’t loosen up the soil enough. We turned the dirt over twice before planting. But the second time, instead of borrowing my dad’s much more efficient tiller, we used another tiller that doesn’t do the job quite as well. I think the roots had some compact soil to deal with, and it took them a while to work their way down. But now that they have, I’m quite impressed with how everything is progressing.

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Cucumber plants are just growing on the ground – no trellis or anything. Top left corner – you can see a pretty decent-sized cucumber almost ready to be picked.

We’ve done only minimal fertilizing. Definitely could do a bit more weeding. I think my husband and I tend to be lazy gardeners. Now that everything is growing well, we don’t tend to spend much time out in the garden other than to gather the vegetables as they come in. Of course, we check on it often to make sure we haven’t been invaded with squash bugs or some other pest.

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Tiny squash on a tiny squash plant. 

Hopefully, we won’t have too much of a problem with deer eating the tomatoes this year. This has definitely been a problem in the past. I believe the only solution really is to fence in the garden. Fencing it in would also keep our pesky chickens out – worst offenders sometimes for devouring our tomatoes. But putting up a fence sounds like a lot of work. So for now, we’re just crossing our fingers that all vegetable thieves will stay out, or at least minimize their indulgence.

Yeah, right. I’m sure the garden gods are laughing at me right now.

My next gardening update will be around the time that it’s time to start canning. Canning…  is a lot of work. It’s one of those tasks I look forward to every year, but I sort of dread it at the same time. It’s a long process and can be tedious, but the end result is so worth it. If you’re interested in doing some canning yourself, be sure to check back in another month or two. I’ll be canning tomato sauce that I use in soup recipes. I’ll also, with the help of my husband, be canning some green beans with a pressure canner.

Thanks for reading! Share your gardening stories with me. How is your garden shaping up this year? Did you plant anything new and exciting?