Fixing the Rain Barrel

Last fall as a wedding gift, someone bought us a rain barrel we were registered for.  I knew it would come in handy during the gardening season, and be a cost-efficient way to water the plants on the deck.  Now, I’ve seen tons of pictures where people hook up their hoses to the rain barrel and water their grass/plants that way.  See…

Well don’t be fooled.  It seems the only way to make this happen is to have a pump installed in the barrel to pump the water out, because no matter how high you raise the rain barrel, you won’t get enough force to actually run the water any distance through a hose.  We tried making that happen with this contraption…
 It failed.  So we moved the barrel back to the side of the house where it would collect water from the roof runoff.  From here I can water all the plants on the deck using a watering can instead of trying to run a hose off the barrel and water the garden out back.  But there was still a problem.  With the barrel sitting on the ground, there isn’t enough room to fit a watering can under the spout.  So, we needed to raise it up.  Here’s where we’ve had our barrel sitting collecting rain water that spills from the roof (notice we don’t have any gutters around the house).
June30-rain barrel (5)
Actually, let’s rewind for a second.  I thought maybe if we just attach a short hose to the spigot maybe we could still fill a watering can without needing to build a stand.  But no go.  Unless I kept the can tilted, the water stopped running when the hose level got above the spigot.  That was useless.
With some canine assistance, we got to work building a stand.  First we went to Lowe’s and bought 2 cinder blocks (which would hold most of the weight of the barrel) and 16 decorative cement blocks (ya know, for decorative purposes).  Next we leveled out our area.

Pretty level, huh?  Then we placed our decorative blocks around the cinder blocks in a semi-circle, and then unfortunately realized we were a couple of blocks short.  Another quick run to Lowe’s and we were good.  We laid the first layer down, and then the second layer staggered on top like brickwork.  Then we just had to chisel off 2 blocks on the edges to fit against the deck.  I thought maybe a screwdriver would help make more precise cuts, but in the end a good whack with the hammer turned out to work better.  Yes, it was slightly less accurate, but we Greg made it work.

 

We loaded the rain barrel onto the stand, and then filled in the open areas around the cinder blocks with pea gravel.  And again, we were a little short on pea gravel.  A 3rd bag would top us off. So we’ll add that later.  3 trips to Lowe’s in 1 day is just too much!

We didn’t want to rain barrel to hang right off the edge, so we cut the 4ft leader hose I had bought down to just a few inches so it fits right into the watering can.  Ta-da!  I’m so happy how it turned out.  I think it looks great!!  Oh, and did I mention it’s a blazing 103 degrees F outside today!!  Boy do we need some rain to break this heat wave and to refill our rain barrel!

Garden updates

Last week I got out in the garden to tackle some weeds that had started taking over the fence.  See what I mean…

You couldn’t even see the garden! So. Many. Vines.  And unfortunately, that area where they are all growing is actually wire fencing that goes along the inside and higher than the wood fencing.  And those nasty vines went in and out, in and out of all the wiring.  Let’s just say getting those vines off the fence took quite a while!!  A few hours into the process, I had this mess…

And thankfully the other side wasn’t as bad.  So by the end of the day, we finally had a clean garden again…

And here’s how all the veggies are doing lately.  First of all, the cucumber vines are either dying off cause it’s the end of their season, or this dang heat wave is just taking them out.  The tomato plants out there are filled with green tomatoes, and we just keep waiting for them to ripen up!  We’ve picked about 4 green peppers so far (and made meatloaf!)  The strawberries are doing nothing!  Maybe next year.  The cherry tomatoes on the deck are exploding with goodies!  We pick at least 6-8 cherry tomatoes every couple of days.  We actually had enough to fill a salad the other night! And the pear tree is filled with pears just waiting to be picked (but not quite yet!).

 But the most exciting part of the garden these days is the melon side.  WE FINALLY HAVE MELONS!!  I’m gonna be honest.  I was a little skeptical whether we could actually grow watermelons and canteloup.  And then the other day (after tackling all the de-weeding as mentioned above), I noticed this tiny little guy!

And then (it just keep getting more exciting!!), this week I did a little more digging around in the vines and I found all these little melons growing…

 
 

Can you believe it!?  And as you can see, the grape vines are doing pretty well also.  So what’s my next project?  Well, we have about 30 cucumbers in the fridge, so I’ve been pinning a few pickle recipes on Pinterest.  So I may be trying my hand at canning in the near future.  Gosh, I wish my dear Nana was still alive.  She could teach me so much about all this!  I hate that she passed away just as I was getting to this stage of my life.  She used to do so much canning, and boy could she make some awesome pears and apples!  Oh if only I had her by my side to teach me all of this. 

Until next time!

Next up, Salmon!

We’ve been on a fish kick lately, and I must say, I’ve been surprised at my taste buds.  They are approving!  So when I was at Costco not too long ago, I stocked up on more tilapia and also decided to grab some salmon to add to the mix.  A few nights ago we gave it a shot.  And I have to give a shout out to my chef husband.  When we were dating, I pretty much did 99% of all the home-cooking between the 2 of us.  Now, I’d say it’s more 80/20, and Greg is the primary chef in our kitchen.  I love to whip up staples that I’ve been cooking for a while like meatloaf, pot roast, green bean casserole, hashbrown casserole…but when it comes to new stuff, I like to let Greg take the lead.  He usually scopes out some options on allrecipes.com, and then we go with it!

And our salmon recipe was a huge hit. So yummy!

Ingredients: 
    – 2 salmon fillets
    – 2 tablespoon butter, melted
    – 2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice 
    – 1 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley
    – 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
    – 2 tablespoon olive oil
    – salt and pepper to taste

 Directions:
     Preheat oven to 350 degrees FWhisk together the butter, lemon juice, parsley, garlic powder, salt, and pepper. Dip the salmon into the sauce so the flesh side is coated, and set on a plate.  Heat the olive oil in an ovenproof skillet (iron skillet) over medium-high heat. When the oil begins to smoke, gently add the salmon, placing it skin side up into the skillet.  The hot oil will go a bit crazy when the salmon hits it, so be careful! Cook until seared and golden brown, about 1 minute.
    Place the skillet into the preheated oven and cook until the salmon flakes easily with a fork, 10 to 12 minutes.

We made garlic mashed potatoes and salad to go with it. IT WAS SO GOOD 🙂  We ate it too quick to even snap a picture of it!

 

Tilapia for dinner

Greg and I have recently discovered a new favorite meal.  I was doing some shopping at Costco a while back and saw tilapia filets and knew we needed to mix things up with all the chicken and beef we eat at our house. And we’ve actually found 2 ways to cook it that we both like.  So here they are:

Lemon Garlic Tilapia
Ingredients:
      – 4 tilapia fillets
      – 3 tablespoons lemon juice
      – 1 tablespoon butter, melted
      – 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
      – 1 teaspoon dried parsley flakes
      – pepper to taste
 (We just use 2 fillets and roughly estimate half the rest of the ingredients.)

Directions:
     Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Spray a baking dish with non-stick spray.  Rinse fillets in cool water, pat dry with a paper towel and place into the baking dish.  Pour lemon juice over fillets, then drizzle butter on top. Sprinkle with garlic, parsley, and pepper.  Bake for 30 mins until fish is white and cuts easily with a fork.

 So simple!  To go with it we make pasta with EVOO, minced garlic, butter, parsley, basil and lemon pepper.  Greg just throws things in, no measurements really.

And here’s our other go-to recipe for tilapia:


Broiled Tilapia Parmesean
Ingredients: 

     – 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese

     – 1/4 cup butter, softened
     – 3 tablespoons mayonnaise
     – 2 tablespoons lemon juice
     – 1/4 teaspoon dried basil
     – 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
     – 1/8 teaspoon onion powder
     – 1/8 teaspoon celery salt
     – 2 pounds tilapia fillets
Directions:
     Preheat your oven’s broiler. Line a pan with aluminum foil. In a small bowl, mix together the Parmesan cheese, butter, mayonnaise and lemon juice. Season with dried basil, pepper, onion powder and celery salt. Mix well and set aside.
     Arrange fillets in a single layer on the prepared pan. Broil a few inches from the heat for 2 to 3 minutes. Flip the fillets over and broil for a couple more minutes. Remove the fillets from the oven and cover them with the Parmesan cheese mixture on the top side. Broil for 2 more minutes or until the topping is browned and fish flakes easily with a fork. Be careful not to over cook the fish.

Nana’s house

Well, we survived the estate sale at my Nana’s house last weekend.  This September will be 3 years since she passed away, and we are finally getting her house cleaned out and doing some slight renovations/updating so that Katie and Chuck can move in.  The house actually sat for a whole year without anything being done.  Her furniture and everything were left just as she had it.  To some degree, it was hard to do anything for the first several months (especially since her death came somewhat so suddenly).  She fell and fractured her hip in May 2009.  She recovered from that for the most part, but then in July we found out there was some internal bleeding in her leg (as a result of the hip complications).  She went into the hospital in July, and things just went downhill from there.  She stopped eating, started becoming confused and lost a lot of her energy.  Lab work kept coming back unusual….and in the end, the doctors suspected she might have developed some sort of bone cancer.  The hardest part was realizing she wasn’t going to get any better, and the only chance of her getting better was going through rounds of chemo and radiation, neither of which she was strong enough for (nor would have ever wanted to go through).  She loved her family dearly, and was the rock of the family, but the true love of her life was waiting for her in Heaven…yes, Christ, but also, my dear Granddaddy.  I wholeheartedly believe that although she loved her family and life here, ever since he died in 1996(?), she itched to be reunited with him again one day.

But, like I was saying. We didn’t do anything with the house for a year.  Then, one of my dearest and oldest friends was in need of a new place to live with her husband, little boy and baby girl on the way.  So, we quickly packed up the whole house, moved all the furniture to the basement and they lived there for about a year and a half.  Then this spring, my sister and brother-in-law decided they would move into the house when Chuck finished his last semester at Alabama.  So my friends moved out, and the past 2 months have been spent bringing all my grandparents stuff back upstairs and unpacking as much as possible so we could have a huge estate sale.  My mom did some major research on antiques and collectibles that my grandparents owned.  And there were SO MANY boxes of household items to unpack, organize, and price.  It took weeks to prep for the sale.  We ended up doing it for 2 days, Friday and Saturday, and I’m so glad it’s done now!  All the money from selling my grandparents items will go into an estate fund that will be used to do the updates and renovations on the home.  Some of the bigger projects include putting hardwoods in the kitchen and family room (which were carpet and linoleum), staining all the existing and new hardwoods throughout the house, laying tile in the foyer and bathrooms, and giving the kitchen cabinets a facelift with some fresh paint.  I’m really excited to see all these updates in the next few weeks.  It’s such a great house, and I’m so glad we are keeping it in the family.  I can’t imagine selling it to someone else to live in.  My granddaddy built the house in the 50’s, and they moved into it when my mom was a baby.  So, my mom and aunt grew up in that house, all us grandkids have celebrated MANY MANY holidays in that house, and there are so many wonderful memories within those walls.  I can’t wait to see what the future holds there!

Crock Pot that Pot Roast!

Last week I wanted to make pot roast for dinner, and although I’ve made it before and posted that recipe (which you can find here), I wanted to try another one just to mix things up.  I actually combined 2 recipes and sorta used them as guidelines. Since we have a gas stove, I didn’t want to cook it over the stove-top all day (wouldn’t that be a nice gas bill next month!?).  Instead, a crock-pot was the answer.  And the great thing about crock-pots, obviously, is once I got everything together and into the pot, it just cooked all day long.  And when I got home, dinner was ready 🙂  So here goes…

Ingredients:
2-4 lbs chuck roast (I think mine was roughly 2 lbs, and it fed 4 people)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (maybe about 1/4 cup)
Salt and pepper
32 oz. beef broth (or stock)
(1) 6-ounce can tomato paste
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
2 teaspoons paprika
3 teaspoons allspice (I didn’t have allspice, so I substituted cinnamon)
1 large yellow onion, cut into quarters (or smaller)
baby carrots, as desired
red potatoes, as desired (cut into quarters)
1 clove garlic (or more if desired)

 Directions:
First, salt and pepper your roast and don’t skimp!  I used sea salt, but I’m sure regular salt is just fine.  Pour some EVOO into your pan over high heat on the stove.  You want to sear the edges of your roast. This helps seal in some of the yummy flavor.  So once your oil heats up (just a few minutes), carefully place your roast in the pan.  Be careful not to drop it in!  That hot oil could splash out, and it is HOT!  Sear all the edges for approx 5 mins, just until golden brown.

Once it seared, I set it aside and made my marinade for the crock pot. First, I poured the beef stock, balsamic vinegar, honey and tomato paste into the crock pot and stirred it together.  Then, I added the paprika, cinnamon, garlic and some salt and pepper to taste.  **I substituted cinnamon for allspice, and I did it with a 1:1 proportion.  If you use cinnamon, I would use a little bit less.  The mixture smelled strongly of cinnamon every time I lifted the lid of the crock-pot, but luckily it didn’t absorb into the meat and veggies as much as I feared it had.  But still, next time I’ll do a little less.**

Here’s my marinade ready for the roast!

All that’s left is tossing in the meat and veggies.  My roast wasn’t huge, but if you have a smaller crock-pot or larger roast, you want to load in half your veggies, then your roast, then the other half of the veggies.  The roast needs to be at least 3/4 submerged into the marinade.  If it’s not, just add more beef broth (or water).  Then cook either on high for a few hours (maybe 3-4) or low for several hours (7-8).  I did a mix.  I cooked it on high for almost 3 hours, then turned it to low for another 3.  Just do what feels right 😉

Then invite your friends over and enjoy your dinner 🙂  We asked our sweet neighbors Tyler and Anna (and their precious baby Griffin) to join us.  We sure do love having these guys right next door!

OH! and another advantage to this meal is it’s full of compost materials!  All of this went into the compost bin 🙂

Mr. and Mrs. Chesley Vague

Dana and Chesley tied the knot on Saturday, June 2nd.  The whole wedding was picture perfect!  It was a beautiful garden wedding at the groom’s family home and thanks to a nice thunderstorm Thursday night, the weather was a cool 75 degrees.  It was such a unique wedding day.  We started the morning with a 1030 ceremony followed by a brunch reception in the backyard.  Then a family friend of the Vagues hosted all the wedding party to their home on the lake for the afternoon.  And if that wasn’t enough fun, after our time at the lake, we all went back to the groom’s home for a fun evening reception party!

We woke up bright and early, 630am to be exact.  We had to be at the Vague’s home at 730 to start getting ready.  Thankfully, Chesley’s sisters Amie and Lillie greeted us with some mimosas!  And as we finished getting ready, the guys started arriving for their pictures. Dana and Chesley didn’t see each other before the ceremony, so we did most group pictures after the ceremony.  It was actually kinda nice because we had plenty of time before the ceremony without feeling rushed all morning.

 Here are some other newlyweds…Leah and John.  And my wedding party escort, Ike!
 It was such a wonderful day!!  I loved hanging out with these girls all weekend
Dana and Chesley with their new extended families…
and this guy was looking handsome
 and I could not get enough of the flower arrangements everywhere!
 I’m so glad I could be a part of Dana and Chesley’s special day!!  Wishing them all the happiness in the world!  

Dana and Chesley’s wedding weekend begins

Last weekend we celebrated our last wedding of the season!!  We had 6 weddings this spring, and Dana and Chesley finished us off at #6!  These two actually met and knew each other when we were all in school at Samford University (unlike the rest of us, who didn’t know any of these boys during our times at Samford).  Dana and Chesley had some art classes together and both graduated in Graphic Design.  A few years later they reconnected, and through them I met Greg and Leah met John.  And now we are all married, and the circle is complete 🙂

The weekend kicked off Friday morning with Dana’s bridesmaids luncheon at Oscar’s at the Birmingham Museum of Art.  All her bridesmaids, her mother and mother-in-law, sister-in-laws and grandmothers where able to make it.

 the bridesmaids (minus Lauren, who had already left)
 Dana and the Vague ladies (her almost in-laws!)
 Friday evening we all met at the Vague home for rehearsal and then dinner followed at Musgrove Country Club.  And of course you can always count on us girls to have fun just killing time…


We got a sneak preview of what to expect Saturday morning when we walked into the foyer/living room.  There were flowers EVERYWHERE!!  So many beautiful pink, white, and blue garden flowers.  And Saturday’s decor did NOT disappoint.  Dana is so creative and the whole atmosphere reflected that.

After dinner all of us bridesmaids slept at a home hosted by some Jasper friends of the Vagues.  We had an early morning awaiting us, so we pretty much did the basics…painted toes, ironed dresses, then went on to bed!

Composting

I really want to blog about the big wedding weekend we were a part of for Dana and Chesley last weekend, but I know that’s going to be a lengthy post with lots of pictures, and I’m a little whipped from work the past 2 days. Soooo, I’m going to do a quick post about composting!  I started composting almost 2 years ago, and it is so easy!  I always knew compost was really good for plants, so I really got into it when I started gardening last summer.  Growing up we always had a pile in the backyard where all our grass clippings got dumped, and if you dug into the bottom of that pile you would find rich, moist, composted soil that was GREAT for potting plants.  But, you can also use a container to create a portable compost bin.  And when you use a container you have more flexibility in what you add to your compost (like food items from the kitchen).  Unless you want the neighborhood dogs and racoons digging into your compost pile in the backyard when you toss in those orange peels and egg shells, you’ll need a container.

I don’t have pictures of the process (since I did it so long ago), but I can walk you through it with these simple steps.  You’ll need:

  • plastic garbage bin/large tupperware-type storage tub WITH A LID!
  • a drill
  • leaves, grass clippings, dirt,kitchen compost and a little water

I went to Walmart and bought a black plastic garbage bin.  Your bin needs to be able to warm up easily to help the breakdown process, so I chose black plastic which would heat well in the sun.  Drill a few holes in the bottom of your bin to allow water to drain out and a few holes on top to allow some rainwater to drain into your bin.  Also, the holes allow for air circulation which is important to the composting process. Here is our compost bin (on the right) next to our rain barrel (on the left).

You can see the holes drilled at random on the lid.  The large center hole was already part of the lid when I bought it.

You want to fill the bottom 1/4 of the bin with dry leaves or pine-straw.  Then add another layer of dirt and grass clippings (avoid weeds though!).  I like to take my old winter flower pots of dried out dirt and dump them in to recycle the dirt.  In a few weeks that dirt will be good as new again full of nutrients.  If you see any worms out in your garden throw a few of them into the compost bin. They will really get the process going!!  But, if not, don’t worry….it won’t take long for bugs and worms to get into your bin and do their job breaking down the contents.

As for the final layer of your compost, you want to add biodegradable items from your kitchen and home.  There are so many things that can be composted!  Our components are usually made up of egg shells, fruit and veggie peels, old salad/lettuce and dryer lint, but there are literally TONS of things you can compost.  See the list below for recommendations.  Here’s our compost from a few weeks ago.  I just keep a little garbage bin in the cabinet under the kitchen sink and dump all the contents into our compost bin outside when it gets full (or starts to smell!).

Then you just add these items to your compost bin and mix them in well.  You will also want to sprinkle a tad bit of water to your compost layers initially to moisten the contents and make sure you stir it up!  Air circulation is important for the breakdown process. So if you aren’t regularly adding items to your bin (and mixing each time), you’ll still want to mix up your compost at least every other week to ensure things are breaking down well.

 

Like I said, the breakdown process works best in moist warm conditions.  If you’re mixture becomes too dry, add a bit of water.  Place your bin in the sun so it can “bake.”  Your compost should never have a foul smell to it.  If your bin begins to smell, it may be getting TOO moist or TOO hot.  Move it under an eve of the house where rain won’t drain in as easily and it can dry out a little.  You can place it in a shadier spot as well to help.  Your compost will still break down in cooler temps (even throughout the winter months), it just does so at a slower rate.

So here’s just a few wonderful things you can add to your compost bin. Happy Composting!

Wood chips
Hay
Old spices
Pine needles
Leaves
Matches (paper or wood)
Grass clippings
Potato peelings
Hair clippings
Stale bread
Coffee grounds
Wood ashes
Sawdust
Tea bags and grounds
Egg shells
Houseplant trimmings
Old pasta
Tree bark
Flower petals
Pumpkin seeds
Expired flower arrangements
Stale potato chips
Nut shells
Electric razor trimmings
Shrimp shells
Onion skins
Watermelon rinds
Peanut shells
Bread crusts
Cooked rice
Banana peels
Wooden toothpicks
Stale breakfast cereal
Pencil shavings
Fruit salad
Tossed salad
Burned toast
Fish bones
Produce trimmings from grocery store

Dana’s bachelorette weekend

Yesterday another two of our closest friends got married on what could possibly have been the most beautiful wedding day ever!  But, before I tell you all about that, I want to share about our ladies weekend at the beach for our bride-to-be. Last weekend we headed down to Orange Beach, AL for a few days relaxing in the sun by the pool, lots of yummy food, and good times with a great group of girls.  It was Memorial Day weekend, so that extra day put the cherry on top of our little getaway.  It was pretty crowded, but we staked out our spots by the lazy river each morning and went to some fun local seafood spots for lunches and dinner.  All in all, it was a great weekend and a great way to relax and prepare for the wedding weekend to come 🙂 
 Dana, Laura, Abby and Leah soaking up some sun by the lazy river

Saturday night we all went to the Oyster Bar, which was delicious!  And of course we have to eat at Doc’s when we go to Orange Beach.

 Dana and Amie (Chesley’s sister) at Oyster Bar…. and me and Abby at Doc’s