Sunday, July 31, 2011

Paisley in Wonderland

Yesterday we attended a birthday party for the most beautiful child ever born:  Miss Paisley Grace is turning one!  Her parents put together an absolutely beautiful and thoughtful party.  The theme was “Alice in Wonderland”, and it truly was wondrous!
Although they had a lot of help setting up (Jeromy’s family can move so fast it made me feel like I was standing still at times), Alice’s – I mean Paisley’s – parents did all of the prep work, from concept to execution.  Mandy made scads of paper “pinwheel-flowers” for the tables and a pretty good number of tissue paper pom-pom things.  Mandy and Jeromy also scoured the area thrifts stores, buying them out of mismatched tea cups and saucers for all of the place settings.  The tea cups were filled with little bags of chocolates and became the party favors for the adults.  For the kids there were little headbands with white rabbit ears, crayons, and an “Alice in Wonderland” coloring book.  I loved the photo tree with pictures of our girl taken over the last year.  There were quotes from “Alice in Wonderland” on the tables, and guests were encouraged to wear their craziest hats.  From invitations to decorations, it was all things Wonderland.
Here’s a peek at the décor:

And there was some food, too:

Paisley was dressed in a petti-romper – blue, just like Alice, to be sure!  (Although she looked a little like Miss Kittie from the old western, “Gunsmoke”, if you ask me.  Just sayin’):

She had a great time with her Grump-Pa while waiting for the festivities to begin:

There were lots of gifts to open.  Good thing her Dad was there to help her:

And of course, you must have cake:

I didn’t know how much I could love someone until I had my children.  And I was totally unprepared for how much I would love a grandchild until Miss Paisley Grace came along (that little stink pot!).  And now, I can’t believe it!  My baby has a baby who is turning one year old!

Why it seems just like yesterday that Paisley’s mother was turning one, celebrating with her grandmother and mother:

My, oh my!  How the time does fly!  I’m feeling a little more like the White Rabbit every day!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

A Favorite Party Recipe

I attended a birthday party for the most beautiful child ever born today (more about that coming in a future post), and once again I was asked to bring my old standby, the “cheese ball”.  Actually, I have made this thing for all sorts of occasions, and it is so easy it’s almost embarrassing because people like it so much they think I slaved away or something.  I thought I would share my recipe with you.

“Party Time” Cheese Ball!
2 packages of cream cheese
1 8-ounce package of shredded cheddar cheese
1 package of Hidden Valley Ranch dip mix
Chopped pecans

Let the cream cheese sit out and soften for about 15 minutes or so.  Then mix the cream cheese, cheddar cheese, and dip mix together (stirring with a fork or spoon until thoroughly mixed).  Form into a ball and then roll the ball in chopped pecans.  Store in a covered container in the refrigerator until ready to serve.  So stinking easy!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Baked Chicken

As everyone in the country knows (except maybe those lucky enough to live in Seattle), it’s been hot!  I must say that when I hear the reporters squawking about it on the news, I find myself thinking, “That’s not a story – that’s just summer in Texas.”
I was hoping this year would be a little milder, but no such luck.  Our yard has certainly suffered.  Even though we have been diligent about watering, everything in our yard has struggled.  Our garden burned up to the point that we just tilled it up:
We are ready to give up summer vegetable gardening altogether and just try our hand at fall gardening.  Hopefully that will work for us.
Suffering even worse than our yard are our poor girls, Opal and Ruby.  I go out to check on them every chance that I get, hoping that I won’t find baked chicken.  At least they’ve been able to move into their new digs.  You may remember the “temporary” shelter that we made for them:

Robert did not build the new “chicken palace” from scratch.  We had a storage shed that had a greenhouse on the back of it that had fallen into disrepair.  He decided to do a three-for-one and fix up the shed and the greenhouse, making it one part storage shed, one part greenhouse, and one part chicken coop.  He replaced half of the clear roofing on the greenhouse with some colored roofing and placed a reflective tarp on the part of the roof that still has light coming through for good measure.  We don’t want them to roast!

The green part is the coop and the cream-and-brown part is a storage shed.  He also has another storage shed that he built (but we can talk about his hoarding tendencies some other time):

He made me a potting bench and placed it just outside the door.  I’ve always wanted a potting bench on which to stack my hoard!

He made a covered run directly behind the coop:

And he made a covered run that runs beside the coop:

Here is a picture taken from just inside the front door:

I was concerned about having too many things (such as cords and miscellaneous junk) that they could get into, and I nagged him a little (okay, a LOT) about it, but Robert reassured me that they would be safe.  Sure enough, so far they have no interest in anything but the floor, their food, their boxes, and their water.
He made a covered compartment in which to store some of his classic car parts:

He also made a little door for them (which can be closed up at night).  This little door allows them to enter the run whenever they wish:

Now, here’s where it really gets interesting.  I have been running a variety of fans in various locations in order to keep our girls from being totally miserable.  Robert (who was an engineer at heart before he ever went to school) decided to make a home-made swamp cooler.  It is made from two 5-gallon buckets, some tubing, plastic mesh, a water circulation pump, and an old blower from our fireplace (which he had hidden among his hoard in Storage Shed #2):

I don’t know how he did it, but this thing actually blows REALLY COOL air.  He put a metal hose on the vent so that we can direct the air to whatever area the girls seem to be hanging out.
He also mounted some kind of exhaust contraption near the top of the coop, designed to carry the really hot air that collects in the top of the coop to the outside:

We do all that we can to keep them from roasting (short of bringing them in the house – my preference).  Still, the girls say that nothing beats strutting and clucking in the yard, eating my blueberry and raspberry bushes:

May you and your feathered and furry friends survive this summer heat!

Sunday, July 17, 2011


I see a squirrel... I see a squirrel... I SEE A SQUIRREL!

Where did it go?

I see you are sitting in the chair...Does that mean you are ready to cuddle?

Lolee...Just how many plants do you need?

Friday, July 1, 2011

Stands, Cans, and a Brand New Plan

I have been working on a food storage plan for a while now (half-heartedly, anyway).  There are many reasons that people undertake a food storage program.  If you are a Latter-Day Saint, then you know that your church leaders have been encouraging and counseling members to do so for many, many years.  Some people get into food storage as protection from economic or natural disaster.  (Sometimes the economic disaster is personal.  Most of the people I know who actually have lived off of their food storage did so after one or more family members lost a job.   All of them have said that not having to worry about feeding the family helped a lot!)  Some people use it as a hedge against inflation.  Some people simply like having a large supply of the basics on hand because for those who do a lot of “home” cooking, it makes it very convenient.  Some of us get into food storage for a combination of the above reasons.
My original approach to food storage was to simply store A LOT of the foods that we use on a regular basis.  I soon accumulated an incredible amount of cans, and keeping them rotated and organized was quite a chore.  This is when I originally became acquainted with a company called “Shelf Reliance”.   They sell a wonderful food rotation system.  I was able to catch them when they were having a sale and order the size and configuration that was perfect for my needs.  It has become my very favorite item in my kitchen (even better than my polka-dot bake ware):

It’s very simple to use; you load the new cans in the top of the row and take cans from the bottom of the row.  That way you are always using the oldest food first, saving you from having tons of stuff expire because it got pushed to the back of the shelf:

The company offers other sizes and configurations, including small, single-row units that will fit on your existing kitchen shelves.  The one I got just happened to be the one that was perfect for all the stuff that I had (plus, it holds around 400 cans!).
For my staples, I frequently went to the LDS cannery near me.  If you want rice, flour, powdered milk, etc., their prices are really good (as long as you don’t mind canning it yourself).   In just a few trips, I was able to add lots of #10 cans to my stash!
I also have been trying to learn to garden – my dream is to someday live in the country and grow a lot of our own food.  We even bought a dehydrator so that we could have the option of dehydrating all of the wonderful things that we would be reaping from our garden.  There’s just one little catch:  I just can’t seem to get the hang of the whole gardening thing.  Granted, each year is a little better than the last, but there is still much to be desired.  (I have chronicled this whole sad affair in my gardening/emergency preparedness/food storage blog called “The Gan-Green Thumb”.   I must say that I read many wonderful blogs with interest and amazement, and I find so much inspiration there.  For example, just the other day I was so very impressed (and just a tad envious) when I read about the harvest of blue berries that the maven from “Bee Haven Acres” enjoyed from her 100(!) bushes (to see for yourself, click here).
To make matters worse, in addition to my poor gardening skills, we live in the city, on a typical city lot…eighty-percent of which is totally shaded by two huge oak trees in the front and two huge oak trees in the back. Even though I am not going to give up on gardening (I will conquer!), I know that if we are going to live off of what we grow any time soon, I think we will be pretty hungry.  Therefore, I recently decided to really get with the food storage program.  After taking inventory, I found myself thinking, “I sure hope we like beans and rice and apple chips”.  Yep.  Variety was not abundant in that pantry.  Well, if I can’t grow it and the LDS cannery doesn’t have it, I was just going to have to find another source to get a better variety of food into my storage program.
I will tell you that there are other companies that offer food storage products, but I remembered the “Shelf Reliance” company and decided to check them out.  To supplement the items that I already had, they feature a whole line of freeze-dried fruits, berries, vegetables, dairy, and other products.  Did you know that there is such a thing as powdered eggs and powdered sour cream?  Yep, there is!  You can also buy a #10 can of the powdered cheese that is similar to that found in macaroni-and-cheese dinners (although a lot of people like to sprinkle it on their popcorn for some cheesy goodness).  One unique feature of “Shelf Reliance” is that if you buy at one of their home parties (or through an independent consultant), you are able to not only purchase the #10 can size, but you may also buy a size called the “pantry can”.  About three pantry cans fill a #10 can and it is perfect for smaller families or those with limited space, or to use as a “try me” size for an item with which you are unfamiliar or unsure.
Even more exciting for me was the Shelf Reliance automatic home delivery plan called the “Q”.  There is a feature on their website that will help you figure out how much food storage you need for your family based on the number of adults and children, plus their desired daily caloric intake.  Or, if you know what you want, you can go through yourself and make a list of items that you want in your food storage plan.  It will then ask you for a dollar amount that you want to set as your monthly budget, and using that budget, it will pull from the items that you have listed in your plan and set up automatic monthly shipments.  It is my own understanding about the following points:   The minimum dollar amount for your budget has to be enough to cover whatever is the most expensive item on your plan.  Another thing that you really have to consider is that once you commit to set up a plan, you are committed for at least three months.  After that, you are free to suspend shipments or leave the plan.  Also, once you commit to a monthly budget/dollar amount, you are not able to change the amount during the first 3-month trial period (although after that, it can be adjusted).  However, you are free to adjust which products you want with each shipment if you do not like the order of items the plan has set up for you.  Once you are set up on the plan, you will receive a shipment automatically each month.
Therefore, this is something to not commit to lightly, but I was ready!  I was so tired of saying each month, “I really need to order some butter powder and vegetables or something this month,” only to have the end of the month sneak up on me with no food storage ordered.  This plan was made for me!  I will always budget for something for which I am committed, and sometimes I just need a little kick in the tail to get me going.  I am so excited to have a plan and actually be working each month toward my goal!
In fact, I am so taken with this food storage program and the “Thrive” line of food products that I just signed up as an independent consultant.  If you would like to learn more about Shelf Reliance, you can visit my personal website (click here).  Also, I love teaching others about food storage and emergency preparedness, so if you are interested but not sure where to start, feel free to contact me with any questions you may have!
Have a wonderful week!