Banana Upside Down Muffins

Sunday, December 25, 2011

I decided to make Banana Upside Down Muffins (recipe here) for a late afternoon Christmas snack. 

They came out pretty tasty.  I sort of wish I would have cooked the topping a bit more, and also that my bananas were more toward overripe than under.  But, all in all pretty darn good.

Some recent crafting

Saturday, December 17, 2011

This is a wallet I made for a "scrap happy" swap.  The outside is scrap fabrics sewn together, and inside are bigger pieces of the fabrics to make a zip pouch, cash pocket, and credit card pockets.  This was a ton of work (and re-work) as I tried to figure out the assembly just from looking at pictures.  The pictures I took myself were sort of blurry, so I'm using the ones my partner posted when she received the items.

This one is a needle book.  I'd sewn several scrappy strips together and used different stitch techniques.  Inside is a piece of white felt to put needles in.

Here are some of the hearts I made to swap with others.

This one I made some time ago, it is a sugar skull mug rug:

This little guy I just made a few weeks ago for a "Christmas / winter ninni" swap
 These are pins I made, the one on the left is scrap fabric, the one on the right is made from felt.
 Another item from the scrap happy swap, a mug rug:

And another mug rug I made for the ninni themed swap (can you tell I've been on a mug rug kick lately?  I'd love to have more myself... :)  It would be so fun to have one for every holiday.

Love this.

A Prayer for the World

Let the rain come and wash away the ancient grudges,
the bitter hatreds held and nurtured over generations.
Let the rain wash away the memory of the hurt, the neglect.
Then let the sun come out and fill the sky with rainbows.
Let the warmth of the sun heal us wherever we are broken.
Let it burn away the fog so that we can see each other clearly,
So that we can see beyond labels, beyond accents, gender or skin color.
Let the warmth and brightness of the sun melt our selfishness,
So that we can share the joys and feel the sorrow of our neighbors.
And let the light of the sun be so strong that we will see all
people as our neighbors.
Let the earth, nourished by rain, bring forth flowers to
surround us with beauty.
And let the mountains teach our hearts to reach upward to heaven.

- Rabbi Harold S. Kushner

Unfinished Business

Friday, December 9, 2011

I have a confession to make.  I am not a 'real' Hokie.  And by that I mean, I have not attended Virginia Polytechnic University in Blacksburg, Virginia.  My love for this school and this town formed when I adopted them both as my own.  First the school, when I married a Hokie in 2002 (John Baute, class of '94), and then the town, when I moved to Blacksburg in 2008.  I am confident that I could not love them one iota more than I do today, even had I been born in the town and attended every level of higher education at the school.

But there is this nagging feeling in the back of my head.  The knowledge that I am not "on the books" as one of theirs, to the extent that they have become one of mine.  I believe I now know the feeling of Pinocchio, wanting to become a real boy.  There is always a perceived risk, otherwise...  I am not 'real' in their eyes.

To be clear, I did attend a school of higher learning and earn my Bachelor's degree.  There is no unfinished business in this regard.  Except... Wanting to become a 'real' Hokie.  To be on the books forever more as a Hokie.  To experience all that the great institution has to offer by learning there.  To create my own classroom memories, find my own inspiring professors, and absorb MORE of the spirit and energy that is the Hokie Nation. 

Unfinished business.


Saturday, November 26, 2011

I realized that I haven't been posting anything that shows the crafting I've been doing, and wanted to give an update.  The shot above is a super easy and quick Halloween apron I made for a swap.  I used this tutorial.

Next up are a couple of Monsters with mouths made from the pattern here.  My partner is a huge Star Wars fan, so I made Yoda and an Ewok.

For an earlier 'Monster' swap where we all used the same pattern, I had a partner that loved Tim Burton and specifically Edward Scissorhands, so I made an Edward monster...

I've done a lot of other stuff since these, but wanted to show a few of the things I've been having some fun with in the past few months!!  I love


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

My dear friend Lisa shared this with me, and I think it is just beautiful and wanted to share it with you (and save it for myself for later).

Listening to Autumn

Autumn is slipping through summer’s branches
                and I am listening.
I am listening to the dying
                flowing forth from autumn’s being.
I am listening to the life
                hidden in the dying.

I am listening.

I am listening to the trees taking off their lush green garments.
I am listening to the trees turning, turning, ever turning.
I am listening to the burning bush of autumn.
I am listening to the falling of this season.

I am listening.

I am listening to the song of transformation,
to the wisdom of the season,
to the losses and the grieving,
to the turning loose and letting go.
I am listening to the surrender of autumn.

I am listening.

I am listening to the music of the forest’s undergrowth,
to the crunch of leaves beneath my feet,
to the miracle of crumbling leaves becoming earth again.
I am listening to the beauty and fragility of aging.

I am listening.

I am listening to the wheel of the year turning,
to the cycle of the seasons,
to the call for harmony and balance.
I am listening to the circle of life.

I am listening.

I am listening to days growing shorter,
to the air turning crisp and cool,
to the slow waning of light,
to the stars that shine in cold, dark nights.
I am listening to the growing harvest moon.

I am listening.

I am listening to happy harvest cries,
to hearts overflowing with thanksgiving,
to tables laden with gifts from the earth,
to baskets overflowing with fruit,
I am listening to the bountiful gift of autumn.

I am listening.

I am listening to a call for inner growth,
to my need to let go of material possessions,
to my need to reach out for invisible gifts.
I am listening to a call for transformation.

I am listening.

I am listening to the death of old ways.
I am listening to the life force turning inward.
I am listening to the renewal of the earth.

I am listening.

I am listening to summer
handing over to autumn.
I am listening to the poetry of autumn.

I am listening.

~ Macrina Wiederkehr


Friday, November 18, 2011

Ok, I am way behind!
I am going to skip any forced date associations and just list some stuff that I've been thank*full for lately.
- Hokie Football, Logan Thomas and the whole amazing team
- Seeing family and friends that we haven't seen in a long time (Dad Baute, our marvelous friends Teague and Crystal)
- The Master Gardener program, and the Junior Master Gardener program which I was lucky enough to get to volunteer with this year (JMG will start up again in February)
- My Dad's ability to keep pushing himself - he has recovered from initially being almost completely immobile, to walking with a walker, to walking with a cane, and now just walking.  My heart is so glad.

And, finally...  One thing I am especially excited about is that I am putting together a giving plan for 2012.  This is the first time I have done it and I couldn't be more enthusiastic.  In the past I have happily supported numerous charities in a haphazard way, donating as a the whim hits me, often reactive to one plea or another.  It  occurred to me that I'm overlooking some that I'd like to support simply because they haven't made a recent plea.  So, for 2012 I'm making a list of 12 charities and will make a "planned" donation each month.  I can still do the haphazard stuff if an organization I didn't include in my list of 12 seems compelling, but I will make sure that I'm supporting the 12 charities I choose in the coming year.  I am super blessed to have the means to be able to give.


Monday, November 14, 2011

November 8
Aren't we all so blessed to have such great technology?  I mean, think about how far we've come.  I posted something the other day remembering back to typing on carbon copies on a typewriter.  What a miserable experience that was...  Each typo there in triplicate forevermore.  I spend hours each day staring at a computer - a mixed blessing, maybe, but I think a blessing nonetheless.  We don't need to buy the Encyclopedia Brittanica any more; all the information you could ever ask for is available at our fingertips at any time.  I'm super thankful for that.

November 9
I am thankful for sharp cheddar cheese.  A deep and abiding love of cheese is something I share with my Dad (inherited from?).  He sent me a giant round thing of cheese from Figi's - three or five pounds or something.  I cut it into huge chunks and froze some of them.  I think the cheese arrived on Tuesday... As of Friday I'd finished one of the huge chunks....  <3

November 11
Today I am grateful for, the swappers there and the organized craft swaps.  This site really brought my creativity back into my life in a fun way.  The craft swaps are short turn around and a huge variety of options, so it is really fun for me as someone that is very fickle and likes to context switch.  I can work in paper one day and fibers the next.  I can sew, then make salt dough, then papercraft, and all of it for a fun cause of making something fun for craft partners.

November 13
Dar Williams in concert at the Lyric theater.  A great husband, and a new WOW group to play with.  Grateful for a great day!


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

November 7
I would like to give thanks for an awesome community of coworkers, an awesome job and a phenomenal company.  I got together over lunch with some of my coworkers today to do NaNoWriMo sprints (where one person provides a prompt and everyone writes), and I was able to get another 1000 words closer to my goal as a result.  The people I am surrounded by care about each other, and I have many mentors I can turn to at any time (and am thankful in some small occasion when I can return the favor).  I share an awesome, vibrant community with incredible people.  I am so very lucky.

November 8

On this day I am extraordinarily thankful for my right to vote.  My dear friend Lisa shared a song (a poem, really) by Ani DiFranco about feminism as she gave thanks for the suffrage ladies, and as I think back on them and all those who came before and fought for the rights we enjoy today, and I'd like to share it with you.

 Grand Canyon
By Ani DiFranco

I love my country
By which I mean, I am indebted joyfully
To all the people throughout its history
Who have fought the government to make right

Where so many cunning sons and daughters
Our foremothers and forefathers
Came singing through slaughter
Came through hell and high water

So that we could stand here
And behold breathlessly the sight
How a raging river of tears
Cut a grand canyon of light

Yes, I've been so many places
Flown through vast empty spaces
With stewardesses whose hands
Look much older than their faces

I've tossed so many napkins
Into that big hole in the sky
Been at the bottom of the Atlantic
Seething in a two-ply

Looking up through all that water
And the fishes swimming by
And I don't always feel lucky
But I'm smart enough to try

Cuz humility has buoyancy
And above us only sky

So I lean in
Breathe deeper that brutal burning smell
That surrounds the smoldering wreckage
That I've come to love so well

Yes, color me stunned and dazzled
By all the red white and blue flashing lights
In the American intersection
Where black crashed head on with white

Comes a melody, comes a rhythm
A particular resonance
That is us and only us
Comes a screaming ambulance
A hand that you can trust
Laid steady on your chest
Working for the better good
(Which is good at its best)

And too, bearing witness
Like a woman bears a child...
With all her might

Born of the greatest pain
Into a grand canyon of light

I mean, no song has gone unsung here
And this joint is strung crazy tight
And people been raising up their voices
Since it just ain't been right

With all the righteous rage
And all the bitter spite
That will accompany us out
Of this long night

That will grab us by the hand
When we are ready to take flight
Seat back and tray table
In the upright and locked position
Shocked to tears by each new vision
Of all that my ancestors have done

Like, say, the women who gave their lives
So that I could have one

People, we are standing at ground zero
Of the feminist revolution
Yeah, it was an inside job
Stoic and sly
One we're supposed to forget

And downplay and deny
But I think the time is nothing
If not nigh
To let the truth out

Coolest f-word ever deserves a fucking shout!
I mean
Why can't all decent men and women
Call themselves feminists?

Out of respect
For those who fought for this
I mean, look around
We have this

Yes, I love my country
By which I mean I am indebted joyfully
To all the people throughout its history
Who have fought the government to make right

Where so many cunning sons and daughters
Our foremothers and forefathers

Came singing through slaughter
Came through hell and high water

So that we could stand here
And behold breathlessly the sight
How a raging river of tears
Is cutting a grand canyon of light


Monday, November 7, 2011

I could proceed to run down what feels like an obligatory list of extended relatives, friends, and loved ones, but I am not going to do that. This is about the things I am truly grateful for as they occur to me, or whatever makes the biggest impact of a particular day. If you want a shout out, feel free to try to make my day. :) A few more days' catch up:

November 4th

I have to give thanks for the blessing that is the animals and pets in my life. Every day I wake up happy (ok, so sometimes at 3am maybe not so much, but in general!) and every night I go to sleep knowing that there is a living thing that looks to me as their world. I am their provider and they love me unconditionally. Pets are a blessing to me.

November 5th
I would like to express my extreme gratitude for my friends. I got to spend time on this day in Atlanta with my inner circle of friends and I love being around them and I love the energy we share whenever I get to spend time with them.

November 6th
I am thankful for Mac and Cheese, and Oven Roasted Vegetables. Seriously. I made the oven roasted veggies last night (recipe later, SOOOO GOOD) and tonight John is making good old Kraft Mac 'n Cheese to have with them. I'd rather have homemade M&C, but without the ingredients and an hour to kill, Kraft will definitely do. I am thankful for having the means to obtain and make these lovely items. If you think that this one is superfluous or don't believe that you should be thankful for food, ask the people in Africa. Sign this petition with me if you are grateful to be fed.

I am ALSO grateful for my work friends, specifically the Racker Writers group that got together to do writing sprints for NaNoWriMo over our lunch today. 1000 more words = all win! Every thousand words gets me another step closer to the 50k that are needed to "win" NaNoWriMo.

NaNoWriMo Word Count du Jour

Friday, November 4, 2011

Word count, per MS Word, as of yesterday (11/03/11): 3,119

Only 46,881 words to go.

Did I mention I'm traveling to Atlanta this weekend (14 hours of driving)? And I have a lot to do tonight to get ready for my quick trip.


Thursday, November 3, 2011

I am totally stealing this idea from someone else - listing something you are thankful for each day in the month of November. I need to catch up, so today will be THREE things I am thankful for.

For November 1, I would like to start out with saying I am thankful to have gotten so close to my Dad, and that his battle with Multiple Myeloma seems to be going well. I have come to truly appreciate how lucky I am to still get to have him in my life.

For November 2: My heart is full as I give thanks for my husband John. He is my lover, my rock, my cheerleader, and my closest friend. I've been so fortunate to have enjoyed ten adventurous years with him so far, and can't wait to spend many more. He is a grace on my existance.

For November 3: I am grateful for my sister. She and I are like two sides of a coin - I think I am hard and she is soft (neither of those being particularly "good" or "bad", just different with their own prices and benefits). Externally I think we may seem totally different, but we are so interwoven and alike. I have and will always learn from her.

I am so Thank*Full. What are you thankful for?


Ok, so it is November, and the annual occasion of "NaNoWriMo," a.k.a. National Novel Writing Month. During the month of November, writers around the world sign up for NaNoWriMo and try to write 50,000 words before the end of the month.

I recently joined a group on our internal Chatter site (like Facebook, but internal to my company) for Writers and some of the folks there were talking about doing it. I've always fancied myself a writer and love this idea, so I decided to go along for the ride.

We're on Day 3 of the challenge and I thought I'd jump over here to do a quick update. Isn't it funny -- now I'm worried about "wasting" my words over here, versus putting them to my "novel." C'est la vie.

My friend Debbie Talley gave a great tip (which I didn't follow, but still think is a great idea) that last year she wrote out 30+ index cards with writing prompts, prior to Nov. 1st. If I had a plot in mind going in, I definitely would have done that.

So, anyway, the big news of this post is to let you know about a tool I found that I'm loving - it is called Write Or Die. You put in your target word count, and amount of time, set a few other options and away you go! It has a tracking bar at the top to show how you're doing on your word count, and another for your time. If you stop typing for more than a second or two the screen starts to fade over to a bright red color, and after about :10 an annoying sound (of your choice!) begins. I chose the 'bad violins' (or something like that, is what the sound is called), and BOY does it work! I HAD to start typing just to make that noise stop!! I set a goal of 1000 words in 1/2 hour (there is a twitter hashtag you can follow for others attempting to do this - #30min1k), and according to WOD I met it! (OK, the disclaimer is that the 1012 that WOD said I got only showed as 940 on Word, but still - 940 words in 32 minutes - I think that's great!).

You can also follow @nanowordsprints on twitter for word sprint suggestions (which I haven't found too helpful, personally).

Anyhoo - just checking in. Now to leave you with, hopefully, a smile... I had a silly idea this morning for a gimmicky novel about the future, where the English language has evolved (devolved) to the point that common phrases were converted to their TXT equivalents. Here's a sample:

"Well, teeteewhyell, got a meeting."
"OK, teeteeeffenn - just elmeekay if you can catch lunch later."

That's about it. Teeteewhyell!!

Crafting stuff lately

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

I realized I was looking for "one" place to post some crafting updates, and none of the first places that came to mind 'worked' for what I was looking for (Facebook, G+, Twitter...). Then I remembered my BLOG! Perfect!

Just a little crafting update, I've been doing a lot more lately and I've not posted anything up here.

We'll start with Halloween, an 'upcycled' cameo that I found on sale for $2.50 at Michaels...

Cameo before:

Cameo after:

Missing Garden Journal

Thursday, September 15, 2011

So I will post here until I can find it!

Planted today in the left side beds:

Bed 1 (closest to house): Hardneck Garlic "Music"

Beds 2 & 3: Hardneck Garlic "Belarus"

Bed 4: Softneck Garlic "Red Koch"

All from Green Mountain Garlic.

The myth of stability

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Interesting messages coming up in my life right now. I'm trying to learn (become?) the lesson of balance. A blog I read said "Balance isn’t steady-state. Balance is constant movement, constant change."; this rings so true to me.

It reminded me of a time when I was very young. I was riding in the back seat of the car, and I had one of those replica toy dashboards, steering wheel and all, set up in front of me (maybe I was imagining it, steering wheel and all; I don't recall). It was an "ah-ha" moment... I was pretending to drive and realized: I always pretend driving is just holding on to the wheel, keeping your hands in one position, but I looked up and there was my Dad, driving... Making thousands of tiny course corrections, constantly shifting slightly left, now right... Driving isn't just holding onto the wheel to go straight, it is a series of millions of micro movements to adjust to the environment around you.

Maintaining balance isn't about being in some smooth flow... It is about adapting, overcoming, passing over bumps with grace. It is the tree that bends in a strong wind. It is the recognition that chaos, too, is a key component of what we call balance. These are all spokes on a continuously turning wheel... I imagine it to be a bit like the log rolling competition in a lumberjack contest. Be flexible. Expect the unexpected.

Romantic comedies are tragic, aren't they?

Saturday, August 13, 2011

And, frankly, depressing. They lack the bitterness under the tongue of real life. As a youngster I was consumed by the romance of romance, stories of love and strife, painted with an extravagant wash of drama. In these tales the story was almost always this: the man would first battle his own nature and then, in the end, fight for the woman. A woman, I might mention, that is inevitably a shallow and vapid figure, all-consumed by her unrequited passion.

It starts when The Man enters the picture and steals all of The Woman's meaning and purpose. In the middle, the story revolves around her pining away with longing and suffering, often while he's off gallivanting around with another woman (either in reality or perception). Finally, The (primary) Woman winds up being swept off of her feet by a Grand Gesture, just when she is at the brink of crossing the chasm into bitter spinsterhood (or {gasp!} into the arms of the Wrong Man!).

There is a lot that appeals about the classic romance - the desire to be worthy of being fought for, the primeval need to know that the Male of the species will battle another for your hand, the Grand Romantic Gesture that shows you how meaningful you are (not to mention the excitement and drama of all of this, and the martyrdom of suffering in between!).

And then you look at real life... Love is grand, but my experience of romance has never matched up to this (and, would I *really* want it to?). Romance, in the end, to be sustained, takes work, can become routine, requires compromise, and is rarely so dramatic. Many days of "chop wood, carry water" pass between romantic moments. You find the true, deep abiding love when you find yourself looking up and realizing how fortunate you are to be looking into the eyes of your partner across the table. It is a quiet, subtle thing, this love - but don't mistake it.

Sometimes, though... A Grand Gesture is ok too. ;)

Texas morning

Sunday, August 7, 2011

It's early; I am at the kitchen sink awaiting the final chorus of the coffee machine. In the corner of my eye I see what appears to be the tail end of a young black cat walking by against the sliding door of a house with no cats. As I turn to look she slips from view. I follow her onto the back porch (no cat in sight), and find a hummingbird sipping from the fire bush, flower after flower. The bird hums up into the air, inspects me briefly, and flies away.

Multiple Myeloma

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

On the plane, a tall, angular black woman makes her way down the aisle. Her knobbed elbows form a sharp bracket around her body. Two hats are stacked atop her dreadlocked hair, and small thick-framed glasses perch above a small gold nose ring. A loose scarf is wrapped around her shoulders. I imagine her to be a voodoo woman, and myself falling to my knees to beg her to help my father. She arrives at my aisle and asks if the seat next to me is hers ("is that 5A?") of course, it is. She removes the hats and the magic is gone, we are just strangers flying toward our separate futures.


Dad is sitting up in his chair and out of it. He got a "level 4" dose of morphine this morning for the pain. He looks out the window at the clouds and sees a dragon. I'm not sure whether to be glad or not, when I see it too (I am).


Up the hall a high sound comes... "Oh, the insane laughter again," Dad says, "at least, I hope it's laughter...". But I've registered the sound; someone is sobbing, their voice carrying a broken heart out to the world in progressively louder and more violent high-pitched sobs. The 8th floor is full of pain, sorrow, and death. Oncology, floor 8.


"It's amazing how life gets broken down into little pieces sometimes." "How so?" "Oh, you know, here I am in my chair, looking out the window, worried about my back pain and all the little things, things that nobody else gives a damn about."


My father's bed faces a large window, but the view from the bed is back toward the other parts of the hospital. Looking out you see the center part of the building that has the big "Methodist Hospital" sign. It is the window without a view. Each day we move him to the recliner, where he can look out and see the sky. I worked late tonight, and arrive at the hospital at just before 7. Dad is so tired, his eyes blink closed every few minutes, and I can see that it's been another long, hard day. I ask Han (his wife) if he's done all of his shoulder work, the exercises prescribed by the physical therapist to happen three times a day. "Two times," she says. He has to do one more round, five types of exercises. He does the first three types and rests, drifting out. A few minutes go by and I convince him we must do the hardest ones - a movement where I support his arm and raise it up. This is the most painful, and the more he tries to use his muscles the more it hurts - he is supposed to relax his arm completely. It is a challenge; he always wants to be in control and is terrified we will let his arm drop and cause excruciating pain. This time he is so tired, his arm is heavy but I can still feel his muscles competing to carry the weight. I remind him again to relax: "Move your head from side to side, relax your neck." "Let your shoulders drop." He does a bit.

I see the pain etched on his face, so I try to distract him. "The clouds were amazing today. They were the big puffy rain clouds, you know the kind? The edges were so sharp they looked like they had been drawn up in the sky. It was so beautiful - the tops were lit up from the sun, the bottoms gray and heavy with rain, and in between it was this incredible peach color." My heart breaks as his eyes flutter open and he lifts his head, looking out to try to see them through the window without a view.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

I have tried to imagine a world in which I did not care and place myself in it...

Power*Full 2011

My theme for 2011: powerful. I have come to see that this is not only owning (being responsible for) power I have, but also seeking and seizing (responsibly) all of the power that is available to me.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

I’m posting this to enter a contest offered by Dish Network at Aiming Low! I want to win the Google TV!


Thursday, May 26, 2011

I've been in San Antonio, TX for business this week. It's a happy coincidence that my company's headquarters are in SAT, as are my father and my sister, brother-in-law, and two nephews.

I went to dinner with Dad, Sis, and stepmom last night - what a great evening. We started talking about family and history, and sis and I were asking Dad about growing up during the depression. His father (grandpa) used to run a coal yard. Dad has black tattooed scars on his knees from playing on piles of coal as a child and skinning his knees. He was sure to specify - "it was hard coal - which isn't as bad for the environment as the soft coal they're using now." In those days folks used the coal to heat their houses (up north / in Pennsylvania).

Dad talked about how his father kept delivering the coal to people even when they couldn't pay... And eventually he didn't have a coal yard any more, and was as broke as all of his customers. I saw a tear in my Dad's eyes (a very rare sight indeed!!)... He remembered his father and mother, years later when they had money again, trying to track down the milkman to pay him back for the milk.

Find out about your history, people! Ask questions! Appreciate the sacrifices, the joy, the hardship and the success of the long chain of people that led to your two feet being planted on this earth today. Don't let it slip away unnoticed. My mom died 12 years ago... I only wish I could talk to her about her story.

I love my Dad SO MUCH. I'm so grateful for every meal I get to share with him. I'm blessed.

He's having some health problems now; I appreciate any form of positive energy you may care to send our (his) way. Thanks for reading.

Meatless Monday - Super Easy Enchilada Casserole

Monday, May 2, 2011

I'd planned on making a stir fry for dinner but realized when I got home that I'd forgotten to get tofu, so that got scratched. Instead I threw together a super easy enchilada casserole. I wasn't planning to do a Meatless Monday post going in, so there's no photographic evidence, but here's a quick recap. You could probably just use whatever taco-like ingredients you have on hand and be OK.

1 can crushed tomatoes (all "cans" are what, 12, 14 ounces? You know, a standard can.)
1 can black beans
1 can vegetarian refried beans
1 can corn
corn tortillas (I think I used 12 or so)
1 medium onion
1/2 green bell pepper
1 package taco seasoning
1/2 package sliced mushrooms (the kind you get in the vegetable section) - I used baby bellas
shredded cheese
enchilada sauce of your choice - I used one (15? 16? oz) jar

Pour the crushed tomatoes into your casserole pan (I used a 13 x 9 pyrex dish). Spread around fairly evenly. Put down one layer of corn tortillas, not overlapping much except where the rounds meet - it's OK for there to be little spaces between where 4 tortillas meet up.

Dice the onion and green pepper, and cut the sliced mushrooms into smaller pieces if you want (mine were annoyingly thick). Saute the onions, pepper and mushroom until nicely cooked (I'm assuming you've done this part before and know the routine, cook onions some, then add green pepper & cook some, then add mushroom).

Rinse the black beans and distribute them onto the tortillas. Follow with the corn, spoonfuls of the refried beans, a light sprinkle of taco seasoning, and the cooked veggies. For the taco seasoning, I used less than 1/2 the package total, and sprinkled it on (very lightly) once after the canned ingredients and once after adding the veggies. Chop the cilantro and distribute it on top of the other ingredients. Distribute a small amount of shredded cheese, followed by 1/2 of the enchilada sauce across the entire surface.

Put another layer of corn tortillas on top and top it off with the remaining enchilada sauce and a thin layer of cheese.

Cook in a 400 degree oven for 30 minutes, and enjoy!

Bee update

Sunday, May 1, 2011

We got to fully open and examine the hives for the first time yesterday since we installed the bees. We were able to check and make sure that the queen had been released a few days ago, but today was the first real look to see what was going on, removing each of the frames in our 8-frame deep boxes.

Hive # 1 (the westerly hive, to your left looking up the hill) has seemed much weaker than the other. There's always less activity there and it just didn't seem to be thriving in the way that Hive # 2 is. Hive # 2 is always "buzzing" with activity, and Hive # 1 usually has about 1/3 the amount of action.

We'd worried a bit that we might have released Hive 1's queen accidentally when we were taking out the bee delivery box and queen cage, so we opened up that box first (with quite a bit of apprehension about what we might find). We were so happy to discover that the bees had built out two of the black plasticell frames and gotten a start on another two, and there were eggs and larvae already in development (meaning we still had a queen!). Shortly thereafter, we actually saw her majesty herself on the frame. It was a very exciting moment! (I think she's somewhere in this shot:)

We inspected both hives and, interestingly, both seemed to be about on a par as far as rate of development. I think Hive 1 has less bees overall but their progress is very close to Hive 2. Both hive-top feeders were completely dry, so we made a point to fill them both up so that the bees would have food and support to continue building, until such time as they have their own reserves.

Before we got out there, I was a bit apprehensive and nervous about fully opening and looking at the frames in the hives, but once we did I realized how much I love it and how exciting it is! I could just watch the bees all day - they are amazing creatures.

Here's a great shot (if I do say so myself) of John inspecting one of the frames:

And one of me, grinning like a fool just after we'd seen the queen:

Morel Season!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Went on a quick morel hunt this morning with a small amount of success...!

Wildflower walk and bee update

Saturday, April 23, 2011

I went on a wildflower walk this morning with Dr. Holly Scoggins. It was offered through the fantastic local Hahn Horticulture Garden, where I've been spending a lot of time lately in pursuit of my Master Gardener certification.

It was a wonderful walk through a secluded and little-known area protected by the Nature Conservancy. I took a lot of pictures and did my best to capture all of the right names for everything - you can check it out in my Picasa Web Album.

Beekeeping Update:

We opened up the hives today to check and make sure the queen had been released. While Tuesday (the day we installed the bees) went really well and we felt like experts, today reminded us that we're novices and will probably continue to have a lot to learn for years to come.

Both hives had built burr comb between the top feeder and the lower deep (we had a medium super in between so that we could place the bee delivery box and the queen's box in between). We knocked off the burr comb on both hives and took out the bee delivery box, the (now empty) queen box, and took off the medium super body. There was a huge amount of activity as we worked with the hive, and John got his first sting from a bee that went up his pant leg. It was a bit more intimidating than the first day!

At one point I saw a larger bee with a shiny body which I thought might be the queen on one of the pieces of burr comb... A lot of panic ensued and as I tried to "shoo" the bees into the frames with my bee brush, the bees that were there took flight. I was sure that I'd lost the queen. At this point I now realize it was probably just a drone, but it was a grim moment in our beekeeping so far! At the end of the day we realized that the bees will probably be just fine - in spite of us.

Our very own bee movie

Friday, April 22, 2011

Finally got a few minutes to edit down the video of our bee installation (on YouTube) and wanted to share. It's still a bit long (just a hair under 8 minutes), but you get to see us bumble around (ha! get it? bumble?) first and then install the bees for both hives. Enjoy!

Update: Although the info I saw from YouTube said that the video would be available in the US, it appears some folks have had trouble opening it, so I built out a new copy (*sigh*). I had tried to include a version with the awesome music of Muddy Waters' Honeybee (which, interestingly enough, you can find several versions of already on YouTube, including this one), but I had to do it with no added music to resolve the issue.

Pics - Above: the queen in her chariot, er... cage. Below: John and Kyle with one of the packages of bees.

Tips and tricks against the Tomato Hornworm

Sunday, April 17, 2011

I posted recently about garlic spray, which can be used to control pests as well as disease such as late blight. One pest that I am in search of a good solution for is the tomato hornworm (Manduca quinquemaculata).

Tomato hornworms are closely related to (and sometimes confused with) the tobacco hornworm (Manduca sexta).

One natural control for these pests is the Braconid Wasp, which lays its parasitic eggs on the back of the hornworm. These eggs then eventually kill that hornworm by eating it from the inside out (uhm, yuck)... The moral of the story is, if you see a caterpillar that looks like this, it is a host for an insect that will kill the caterpillar's brethren (not to mention, he's about to be wasp larvae kibble), so you might want to leave him there.

There's a great publication on minimum chemical gardening available from the Virginia Cooperative Extension's website. It includes tips such as tilling, crop rotation, etc... Very good general low-chemical-use information!

I read that you can use naturally occurring Bacillus Thuringiensis (BT) to kill the tomato and tobacco hornworm, and this might be the easiest route. I looked to see if BT is bad for bees (since this will be one of my primary concerns!) and found somewhat mixed information. I don't think I'll be doing much with BT in my garden, especially not in the first year of trying to get my hives established.

For my own garden, I'm going to stick to the "find and pluck (and SMUSH!)" tactic. I've read that the best times to find the hornworms are early morning and evening, they'll be more active on the plant at this time. During the heat of the day they'll hide under the leaves. You can follow their poop (which from what I hear looks like little hand grenades!) or the destruction to try to find them if all else fails.

Good luck with this year's pests, and happy gardening! Let me know if you have any tried-and-true tricks to share!!

Garden season is ON!

Great weekend working outdoors. I love it! Yesterday was insane weather; we started out with severe thunderstorms in the morning, which blew through by early afternoon and were followed by sun and crazy wind gusts to 30+ knots.

The apiary (thankfully still empty at this time) blew over, which sent John and I out in search of wind break plants to put nearby, and straps to strap down the apiary until the plants grow in. We get some really incredible wind here in the New River Valley.

As a result, we installed two white False Spirea, intended to be a wind break for the apiary, hopefully in the very near future. Their leaves are gorgeous! While at Lowe's I saw that they had azaleas on sale for $2.50 each, so I picked up three Hershey Red to put in the front bed, which we installed today.

My friend Laurie asked me about a recipe for garlic spray, and I noticed a great recipe in one of my favorite books that I thought I'd share.

Garlic Spray
Excerpt from Carrots Love Tomatoes by Louise Riotte:

"Take 3-4 ounces of chopped garlic bulbs and soak in 2 tablespoons of mineral oil for a day. Add one pint of water in which one teaspoon of fish emulsion has been dissolved. Stir well. Strain the liquid and store in a glass or china container, as it reacts with metals. Dilute this, starting with one part to 20 parts of water, and use as a spray against your worst insect pests."
I've used a simpler form of garlic spray (garlic olive oil + a small amount of dish soap + water) to treat late blight with good success (unfortunately, that year we were getting unheard of amounts of rainfall, and you have to reapply the mix each time to control the blight as it will get washed off).

And now, for pictures!

Here we go... Here are the two False Spirea out by the apiary (taken down for the moment due to continued high winds):

One of the Josee Lilacs (I'll spare you the other photo, I don't think the other one is going to make it):

A shot of the tiny azalea bushes, barely visible in the shade in the mulched tree area to the right - a tiny shot of pink between the tree in the foreground and the tree by the driveway further up:

A better shot of the azaleas:

John's got some hop rhizomes going in the mulched area going down the side of the house in this picture:

The three Siberian Irises I planted (did I forget to mention those?) that I got free from a kind Master Gardener who was dividing hers and shared with the class (Azaleas in the background):

Does anybody know what this plant is? It's another freebie from the kind Master Gardener Mickey. It is super fragrant and supposedly shade loving and spreading.

We also have a BUNCH of these coming up from seed all over my garden beds. I've been trying like crazy to get them out. What are they?!

I spy, with my little eye, a few Ga Southern & Southern Giant Curled Mustard I direct seeded--along with a few of those PESKY WEEDS (see above):

Indoors, still growing, the tomatoes are getting big! And I've got another month or so to go before they get planted out.

I'm about to plant some of these in a ceramic pot together, which is why I was looking at Carrots Love Tomatoes earlier. I have no idea which to combine that would grow well and look nice together! Oh well, I guess I'll look up info online and wing it. H- are Herbs for culinary use and T- are Herbs for teamaking. I can't wait to start harvesting some of these and making my own teas!

I suppose I'll close with this shot of my garden, waiting for the warmth to come, and the last frost date to pass. You can see the potato box in this shot, one of the reasons I'm throwing it in to close out my post.

Thanks for sticking with me!! Happy Spring!

Garden and Apiary Update - PICTURES!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Finally some of the long-awaited pictures! This post will be brief in words, but will give you a better visual on what's going on around the old humble homestead.

Charles and the (empty until next Tuesday) apiary, by our back fence:

Looking back at the house (that's John on the back deck way down there, between the windows and the double doors; our six raised garden beds are to the right):

Tiny leek shoots and cabbage (collards?!). For some reason the "auto" setting on my Nikon washed all of these pics out, so I had to mess with the settings to get anything to show up... Sorry! Learning about how to fix that is something on the "to-do" list, when (if?) some of my other activities slow down!

Those tiny green twigs amongst all the mulch are the Josee reblooming lilacs:

This incredibly unflattering picture (after a long day of gardening) is proof that I did, in fact, try to learn how to fillet a fish:

The final meal - the fish fillets (give or take a little!!!*) with some of the mashed potatoes left over from the Shepherd's Pie (I'd made the whole bag of potatoes up versus saving a few that would start to grow in the pantry), and some garlic steamed broccoli:
This fish has the lovely and romantic name of Loup de Mer, or Wolf of the Sea, also known as Seabass. We compared it's final flavor to Tilapia - this could very well have been poor technique on my part... By the time I finally got done filleting that (those! there were two) poor sucker(s), and having gardened all day, I wasn't feeling terribly creative to go looking for complicated recipes. I wound up sauteing it with onions, butter and lemon juice.

* I'm pretty sure that, while what I was attempting was to fillet the fish, I actually just butchered it. I think we own some pretty decent and sharp knives, but none of ours could get through the thick and slick fish skin without a sawing motion, which I think is probably, combined with my inexperience and lack of overall technique, the kiss of death for a good fillet.

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