Thursday, August 30, 2012

What is it with bees and pools?

I wish somebody would please explain to me why it is that I have literally hundreds of honey bees at my pool every day?  We have a beekeeper about 1/4 of a mile from our house and apparently their favorite watering hole is our pool.  I've heard that its the chlorine.  At first, the kids were terrified of being stung.  However, after explaining that honey bees are generally very unlikely to sting unless threatened, they've gotten used to them.  Haley even goes so far as to let them land on her hand!  Their favorite landing spot is my float.  You can generally find around 25 bees on it at any given time.

Having them so close and in such great numbers does allow us to study them.  We have enjoyed many days sitting really still in the pool watching a bee slurp up pool water.  Unfortunately, some of the bees fall in and drown.  I do my best to rescue as many as I can, but inevitably I miss a few.  Why all this talk of bees...maybe because we haven't done much else of interest over the past few days.  Here's a closeup of one of our "pool bees".  Cool huh?

P.S.  Haley says to be sure to look for the hair on her eyeball.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Garden Fun with Loofahs!

We've had a raised bed garden in our backyard for several years now.  Earlier this spring we had several varieties of lettuce, a few strawberry plants, and 4 tomato plants.  One of our dogs seemed to think the garden soil was the very best place in our entire yard to sleep.  He ruined two of the tomato plants, dug up my spinach and lettuce, and basically ruined the garden.  So, I finally convinced my husband to build a fence around the garden to keep him out.  At this point it was late in the season, and we only had two tomato plants and one strawberry plant left.  So, I decided to just do something for fun in the garden this year.  When I was a child, my German grandmother had loofah vines growing on a fence in her backyard.  I have vivid memories of picking the loofahs, taking them home, and using the loofah sponges in the bath.  In discussing loofahs with friends lately, I'm amazed at how few people seem to know what I'm talking about.  Surely you've seen or used a loofah at some point in your life?

We ordered seeds online and in just a few weeks we had vines growing up our fence.  It took quite some time, but we finally were rewarded with big yellow flowers about two weeks ago.  Kinda pretty, aren't they?

So we've watched and waited to see our first loofah gourd appear.  On Monday I finally found one!  In looking more closely, we actually have about four loofahs already.  They are growing like crazy and get bigger every day.

We have enjoyed watching the vines twist and climb on anything and everything around.  Good thing the birds are done with the house for the season...I think the loofah vine is going to overtake it soon!

As I mentioned earlier, we also have two tomato plants that survived the dog.  Nobody in our family actually eats tomatoes except my husband.  We just grow them for fun.  We haven't had much luck with them this year though.  Could be because the kids keep picking the green ones before they're ripe.  While I was out admiring our loofah gourds this week I found this interesting looking caterpillar on one of the tomato plants.  In looking closer, it seems he had a friend with him, as there were actually two on one of the plants.

After taking his picture and showing the kids, we scoured our Field Guide to Butterflies to figure out what he was.  Turns out he's not exactly considered a good type of caterpillar.  He's a tomato hornworm.  They are actually garden pests.  He and his buddy will most likely devour every green leaf on the tomato.  Oh least somebody will enjoy them.  They don't even turn into a pretty butterfly.  They end up as a somewhat nondescript moth.  Bummer...

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Making Muscadine Jelly

Before you get the wrong idea, I'm not exactly known for my domestic skills.  However, when we bought our house many years ago, we were blessed to have a rather large muscadine vine right in our backyard.  It has grown progressively bigger and bigger each year.

Two years ago I had the bright idea to make muscadine jelly.  That's about as far as I got...thinking about it.  So, this year after watching the muscadine's once again turn from tiny green berries into large, plump dark purple grapes, and smelling them day after day from pretty much anywhere in my back yard, I decided to finally give it my best.  Saturday morning, Glen, the boys and I went out and picked as many of the ripened grapes as we could find.  For some reason Haley had no interest whatsoever in our muscadine project.

We ended up with about 3 1/2 pounds of muscadines.  There are still tons of them on the vine that aren't quite ripe yet. Here's our haul all nice and clean and ready to be turned into jelly.

Adam and Ryan wanted to do all the mashing themselves.  Ryan got to do more because Adam accidentally squished a grape too hard, spewing boiling hot grape juice on his finger.  Can I just say that my house smelled heavenly while these babies were cooking.  While the boys were stirring and mashing, I was sterilizing jars and lids.

Here's what you get after cooking and squishing for about 15 minutes or so.  The boys decided it looked like barf.  Nice...  Regardless, we strained the mucadines through a sieve to remove the skins and seeds, and ended up with a nice juice that looked and smelled similar to grape juice.

Next it was back on the stove for more cooking, adding the sugar and pectin, and finally, putting the finished jelly into jars.  We ended up with 8 jars total.  You should have seen the boys licking the pan and spoons.  YUMMY!!  Can you guess what we had for breakfast Sunday morning?

 If you'd like to try this yourself, I highly recommend it.  It wasn't all that difficult and the finished product is really good.  My jelly isn't as jelled as a commercial jelly, but very similar to all the other homemade jellies I've eaten.  Search the internet for recipes and you're sure to find plenty of inspiration.   Best of all, this jelly takes only 3 basic ingredients...the muscadine juice, sugar and pectin. 

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Busy Days...

Well, if you've read my blog for any time at all, you'll have realized that keeping up with posting is not my strong suit.  Lately we've been so busy trying to keep up with our new school year, chores, a busy home business, and a multitude of other things that I simply haven't taken the time.  However, here's a run down and pictures to update you on what we've been up to.

First, we've been enjoying the beautiful warm weather to do some fun family stuff.  Daddy's favorite past time is fishing, and seeing as the rest of us just don't find it near as exciting, we rarely all go together.  However, we've found a spot where we can all have fun...Camp Columbus!  We joined earlier in the summer and have enjoyed swimming, fishing, having picnics, and studying nature together.  Here's how we spent Father's Day this year.

We've also fostered 7 kittens over the summer for a local animal rescue center that we volunteer at.  It was a great experience and my kids loved watching the kittens grow up.  We finally got them all back to the shelter and the kids got their bathroom back.  Is there anything sweeter than adorable fuzzy kittens?

The kids were all froglets in a local theater production of Honk, the musical version of The Ugly Duckling.  It was lots of fun and they all did great.  Then we used our Read to Succeed tickets and spent a fun filled day at Six Flags theme park.  Adam was brave and rode his first coaster.  He and I rode Mindbender together.  The look on his face was priceless!  He was so scared, but he did it and says he'll go again next year.  We've also been enjoying the hummingbirds that visit our feeder throughout the day.  They are so fun to watch!  I had to be patient, but I got some good close up shots of one of the girls.

 There was also the kids birthday party to get through.  We had postponed Haley's from June, and the boys missed there's in July, so in early August we finally got to it.  No idea why I thought having all three kid's friends here at the same time was a good idea.  We had a house full of kids!  They had fun though, and that's what counts.  I was lazy this year and just made cupcakes rather than themed cakes.

  We've also been busy doing some home improvements.  We finally got a new roof this week.  I'm so thrilled!!  Sad that I get so excited as something as basic and necessary as a roof, but I really do.  If you'd seen what it looked like before, you might understand.  Here's our new improved roof.  Isn't it pretty?  So that's pretty much the highlights of our summer to date.  What have you been up to?