May 26, 2016

The True Meaning of Modesty

Growing up, I don't recall anyone using the word "modesty." Sure, there was the Sunday school teacher who took me aside and gently suggested that the lace-up bodice of my beloved thrift store Gunne Sax dress tended to come loose, revealing a wee bit of bosom. ("You're getting older now, and have to think about these things," she said.) But nobody explained why I should care if said bosom showed.

I grew up performing in theater - a profession where true modesty tends to be ignored. As a teen, I became a pro, but before then, I often performed in community productions where there was very little dressing room space. It wasn't unusual for me to have to strip down to undies in the wings - and though my mother had me wear teddies in such situations, I really never considered why.

Even as an adult, modesty didn't much enter my thoughts. I recall the crew of one musical I was performing in jokingly giving me an award for "best cleavage." Looking back at photos of that show, I can see how the folks in the lighting booth must have found it difficult to look at anything but my cleavage.

It really wasn't until I began having children that the topic of modesty even crossed my mind. So, unlike a lot of Christian bloggers talking about modesty, I have a bit of an unique background in this area; I've gone from someone who never thought about it at all, to someone who's gradually learned its importance.

As has been mentioned by many writers, the trouble with the modesty discussion is that it tends toward legalism. In fact, I see many Christian women who were raised with strict rules about modesty rejecting all teaching about modesty because modesty was used as a control device in their childhood households.

To be sure, we should never become like the subjected women of some other religions. As Christians, we are free. Nobody should use our looks, what we eat, what we drink, etc., to control us.

However, as Christians we are also called to wisdom. As Galatians 5: 12 - 14 says:
"You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'”
There's no doubt we are visual creatures and that what we see can cause us to sin. Although many women reject the idea that females are responsible for men's thoughts, as Proverbs 31 women, we must not think as the world does; we must not put ourselves above anyone else - including men who may sin because of our short skirt or low-cut blouse. Because if we love one another, we cannot be a stumbling block for each other. As Romans 14: 13-15 says:
"Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister...If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died."
Or, as the ESV version says (emphasis mine):

"It is good not anything that causes your brother to stumble."

So as I teach my children (both my boy and girl) about modesty, I focus on the basics. I started when they were toddlers, with conversations that began like this: "God wants you to keep your private parts private. They are called 'private' because they are for you, your doctor - and someday, when you're married - your husband to see."

But we don't just focus on our bodies - because the root of modesty isn't how we dress, but how we think and feel

The definition of modesty isn't "long skirts" or "not wearing low cut blouses." The actual definition of modesty is being free from vanity, pretentiousness, and a general attitude of "look at me!" The jist of the most famous Bible verses on modesty are nicely summed up in 1 Timothy 2:9: We should not wear (or do) things in order to draw attention to ourselves.

So modesty is all about the heart. (Isn't that just like God?)

Therefore, our conversations often sound like this:

"Are you feeling humble? Or are you feeling vain, wanting others to notice you?"

"Are you putting yourself above others by acting this way? What would Jesus say about that?"

And yes, even:

"If you wear that skirt and bend over, will your undies show? Or will onlookers expect that your undies will show? Will that draw attention to you?"

"Are those pants so tight, your private parts are obvious? Will that draw attention your way? What does Jesus say about that?"

"Why are you so worried about how you're dressed? Are you feeling pretentious? Or humble?"

It comes down to this: The modesty issue does not have to be complicated if we simply know the definition of modesty, and recall that God calls us to serve and love others.

May 24, 2016

How to Repel Mosquoitoes Naturally

We hope we are soon moving to beautiful acreage - where mosquitoes are more prevalent than they are where we currently live. I really don't love the idea of spraying my family with DEET on a daily basis, so I've been researching some more gentle, natural ways to deter mosquitoes from biting us.

I have not yet tried any of these remedies (because we haven't moved yet), so the information I'm sharing here is strictly from researching trusted herbal sites, university pages, and the like. Experiment with me, and please let me know what works for you!

Plants that Repel Mosquitoes

In my research, I found many sources that claimed simply having these plants growing in your yard would repel mosquitoes. I am skeptical. It's believed these plants work by having a strong scent - a scent that covers up the smell of you to mosquitoes passing by. But most of these plants have a far stronger scent when the leaves are crushed (which is why they work in homemade mosquito sprays; more on that later.).

Nevertheless, I think it's probably worth placing these plants in areas where you are most likely to be troubled by mosquitoes - like a picnic table or grill. Just know that these plants will all work far better when crushed and rubbed on your skin. (But do use common sense; before you cover your whole body, it's a great idea to rub a little over a small area of your body and wait to see if you have any type of reaction.)

Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)
This is an easy to grow herb that has many medicinal uses, too. It likes sun or part shade, and can grow to 2 feet high. Like most herbs, it can take over the garden if left to it's own devices, so I recommend putting it in pots. Zones 4 -9. Learn more here.
Lemon balm. (Courtesy JoJan and Wikimedia Commons.)
Catnip (Nepeta faassenii)
In  a 2010 study by the Iowa State University Department of Entomology, scientists discovered that oil from catnip is 10 times more effective than DEET in repelling mosquitoes. This is another easy to grow herb that needs to be potted or it will take over your garden. Use with caution if you have one or more cats. Not only will kitties eat and roll in this plant, but it acts as a hard drug for them and, much like LSD, will give them flashbacks. Zones 4 - 8. Learn more here.
Catnip. (Courtesy of Kurt Stüber and Wikimedia Commons.)
Pyrethrum (Tinacetum cinerariifolium)
Pyrethrum is said to be excellent not just for repelling mosquitoes, but also many other insects, including aphids, bed bugs, leaf hoppers, cabbage worms, spider mites, and ticks. Zones 3 - 7. Learn more here.
Peppermint (Mentha x piperita)
Another easy to grow herb that should be potted, but which is thought excellent at keeping mosquitoes at bay. It grows in full sun or part shade and can get up to 18 inches high. Zones 3 - 7. Learn more here.
Peppermint. (Courtesy of
French Marigold (Tagetes patula)
French marigolds contain pyrethrum, which is used in many natural commercial insect repellents. Marigolds are very easy to grow, and gardeners often plant them near vegetables to repel aphids, too. Zones 1 - 10. Learn more here.
French Marigold. (Courtesy of Joydeep and Wikimedia Commons.)
Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
Lavender is an attractive herb with some medicinal uses. It's also said to repel mosquitoes. There are about a gazillion different types of lavender, so choose one that has a strong scent and fits your growing requirements. Zones 4- 9. Learn more here.

Lavender. (Courtesy of
Basil (Ocimum americanum)
This herb is best known for it's important role in the kitchen, but it also acts as a mosquito repellent. Zones 4 and up. Learn more here.
Basil (Courtesy of
Garlic (Allium sativum)
Eating garlic may repel mosquitoes - but only if you eat enormous quantities. However, the plants themselves are said to keep mosquitoes at bay - and garlic is not only a healthy addition to your diet, but medicinal, too. Zones 3 - 9. Learn more here.
Garlic. (Courtesy of
Floss Flower (Ageratum)
This pretty flowering plant grows between 6 and 20 inches tall, depending upon the variety. Choose a variety with a strong scent. Zones 3 - 9. Learn more here.
Floss Flower. (Courtesy of Thomas R Machnitzki and Wikimedia Commons.)
Rosemary (rosmarinus officinalis) 
Rosemary is an excellent cooking herb, has medicinal properties, and is said to repel mosquitoes. It loves a warm spot and will grow up to 5 feet tall. Zones 6 to 10. Learn more here.
Rosemary. (Courtesy of H. Zell and Wikimedia Commons.)
Snowbrush (Ceonothus velutinus)
This shrub grows up to 10 feet high in full sun or part shade. Zones 3 - 10. Learn more here.
Snowbush. (Courtesy of Walter Siegmund and Wikimedia Commons.)
Pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium)
entha pulegium

Read more at Gardening Know How: Growing Pennyroyal: How To Grow Pennyroyal Herb
Mentha pulegium),

Read more at Gardening Know How: Growing Pennyroyal: How To Grow Pennyroyal Herb
Mentha pulegium)

Read more at Gardening Know How: Growing Pennyroyal: How To Grow Pennyroyal Herb
Mentha pulegium)

Read more at Gardening Know How: Growing Pennyroyal: How To Grow Pennyroyal Herb
This old timey flower is a great ground cover, and is said to repel mosquitoes while attracting butterflies. It's also medicinal. Zones 5 - 9. Learn more here.
Lemon Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
Some people say any thyme will repel mosquitoes; others say only lemon thyme will. Regardless, thyme is an easy to grow herb that I recommend putting in pots so it doesn't spread. Thyme is also an excellent kitchen herb, and medicinal. Zones 4 -11. Learn more here.
Lemon Verbena (Aloysia triphylla)
Another excellent kitchen and medicinal herb said to repel mosquitoes. Zones 9 - 10. Learn more here.
Lemon Verbena. (Courtesy of H. Zell and Wikimedia Commons.)
Citronella (Cymbopogon nardus)
Most likely you've heard of this plant, because it's the main ingredient in many mosquito repelling products sold in stores. Yet despite citronella's reputation, some people who've tried growing the plant to repel mosquitoes say citronella doesn't work at all, even when the strong-scented leaves are crushed. I include it here because plenty of others disagree. Citronella grows to be about 5 feet tall, but can be grown in containers, as well as directly in the soil. Zones 9 - 11. Learn more here.
Citronella. (Courtesy James Steakley and Wikimedia Commons.)

DIY Natural Mosquito Repellent Sprays

I've looked at a lot of homemade mosquito sprays, but these three (or variations on them) appear to be the most effective.

Four Thieves Herbal Mosquito Repellent Recipe

Place 2 quarts of apple cider vinegar in a glass jar. Add 12 tablespoons of The Bulk Herb Store's Vinegar of the Four Thieves mixture. Put the lid on the jar and store in a cool, dark location, shaking once a day. After 2 weeks, strain, reserving the liquid. Pour the liquid into a clean jar; crush a few cloves of garlic and add to the jar. Allow to soak for 3 days in a cool, dark location, then strain again, reserving the liquid. Store in the refrigerator. Shake before every use.

Herbal Mosquito Repellent Recipe

Coarsely chop mosquito repelling herbs like lemon balm, catnip, lemon verbena, and lavender. (See the list of plants, above, for more ideas on what you could include.) Chop enough to fill a glass jar. Pour rubbing alcohol, witch hazel, or vodka over the herbs, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Place a lid on the jar and put it in a sunny location for 2 weeks, shaking the jar every day. Strain, reserving the liquid. Pour liquid into a spray bottle. Shake before every use.

Essential Oil Mosquito Repellent Recipe

Fill a spray bottle 3/4 full with either witch hazel, rubbing alcohol, or vodka. Add the following essential oils:
  • 10 drops mint
  • 10 drops citronella
  • 5 drops rosemary
  • 5 drops eucalyptus
  • 5 drops lavender
  • 5 drops cloves
Add distilled water until the bottle is full. Shake before every use. (If desired, you can experiment with the essential oils of other plants mentioned above.)

Homemade Mosquito Trap

This DIY trap is all over the internet. All you need is a 2 liter plastic bottle, 1 cup brown sugar, 1 cup warm water, and 1 teaspoon of active dry yeast. See the complete instructions over at DIY & Crafts.

Title image courtesy of icools.

I am not a doctor, nor should anything on this website ( be considered medical advice. The FDA requires me to say that products mentioned, linked to, or displayed on this website are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The information on this web site is designed for general informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for qualified medical advice or care. There are no assurances of the information being fit or suited to your medical needs, and to the maximum extent allow by law disclaim any and all warranties and liabilities related to your use of any of the information obtained from the website. Your use of this website does not constitute a doctor-patient relationship. No information on this website should be considered complete, nor should it be used as a substitute for a visit to, consultation with, or the advice of a physician or other qualified health care provider.  

May 21, 2016

Weekend Links

The Endicott pear tree. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
In which I share my favorite posts from this blog's Facebook page

 * Dock is a common weed that can act as first aid for stings, rashes, and burns. Learn how to use it here.

* Milk thistle is good for your liver. Learn more here.

* How one woman cured herself of reoccurring strep throat - naturally.

* Americans' junk food habits begin in toddlerhood...and often are disguised as health food (like sugary yogurt).

* Why it's so difficult for farmer's to source organic feed. This is just another reason grass fed is best.

* Chives are a super easy to grow food that look pretty in the garden, require little care, and will save you a lot of money.

* If you have access to fee limbs, hugelkulter is supposed to be an excellent way to create awesome soil for growing food.

* The United States' oldest fruit tree is still bearing fruit. 

* Some sunscreen ingredients are linked to skin cancer. Check out this list of the safest sunscreens for your family.

Oldies But Goodies:

* Got garlic scapes? Here's what to do with them. 
* Not sure how many veggies to plant for your family? Check this out! 
* Save a bundle by using the amount of laundry detergent you really need.


May 19, 2016

Starting a Vegetable Garden on a Budget

This post contains affiliate links. All opinions are my own. Please see FCC disclosure for full information.

 Years ago, I remember talking with a friend about growing vegetables. "I read The $64 Tomato and now I'm scared to start a garden!" she said. I'd never heard of this book, so next time I was at the library, I checked it out. Oh my goodness! Now I knew why my friend was afraid to start gardening! The author of The $64 Tomato spent ginormous amounts on his garden, and after figuring out his costs, yes, indeed, his tomatoes cost his $64 a piece. Crazy! But let me assure you, friends, this is not the norm! Most people save money when they grow their own food. For example, the last time I figured how much our vegetable garden produced, I learned we saved a minimum of $1,492.89 over buying our veggies at a grocery store.And I wasn't doing anything extraordinary.

Here's how I recommend starting a garden without breaking the bank

Save on Raised Beds
Raised bed gardens don't have to be expensive. (Courtesy

There are advantages to raised beds - namely, the soil in them gets warmer more quickly in the spring and stays warmer in the fall, which increases yields. They can also be a solution to problems with poor soil - if you fill them with great dirt. But there's no reason you need to spend a fortune buying or making raised beds.

You could go without, just layering organic matter on top of the soil in a method called lasagna gardening. Or you can use old fashioned berms - a method I've used successfully for years, and which is basically raised beds without any structure holding the dirt in place.

Other ideas include building raised beds from found materials (like free pallets - make sure they are the safe kind, rocks found in your yard, excess building materials like bricks, etc.) You can even use logs to create raised beds.

It's easy - and not expensive - to build great garden soil.
Save on Garden Soil

I do understand the desire to start your garden right away. When I began growing food in earnest at our current suburban home, I spent a couple hundred dollars to bring in soil to create berms. Even with that expense, I saved some money on our food bill. But the soil wasn't terrific (which is often the case when you buy garden soil in bulk), and maybe you don't have enough money laying around to purchase soil. (I think I was actually fortunate the soil didn't contain traces of Round Up. That seems to happen fairly often, and makes the soil deadly for any plant.)

So, begin at the beginning. Test your soil first; you can buy inexpensive soil test kits at gardening centers. (I've successfully used Leaf Luster brand's kit.) Follow the kit's instructions on how to amend your soil using organic matter. Or, if your soil seems really terrible and you can't truck in dirt, consider lasagna gardening (also called sheet mulching). As soon as the top layers are composted (rotted through), you can begin planting.

Assuming your soil isn't the depleted clay I was dealing with when I first began homesteading, you can also plant directly in the dirt, amending with good organic matter as you go. Start a compost pile. Use grass clippings as mulch. In the fall, shred fallen leaves and add them to your garden bed. Dig trenches in the soil, near plants, and place vegetable and fruit leavings in them. And if you have livestock like chickens, rabbits, goats, etc., be sure to compost their manure and add it to the garden soil. Pretty soon, you'll have soil so good, money can't buy it.

It's a good idea to start with inexpensive garden tools. (Courtesy of
Save on Gardening Tools

Confession: I have cheap gardening tools. I do want to upgrade to more durable tools, but right now I can't. And if you're just starting out in gardening, I actually recommend you don't buy expensive tools. For one thing, you have no idea what type of tools you need or like best! So don't be afraid to buy less expensive tools right now.

Which brings me to the subject of tillers. Every spring, I see people all over Facebook and Craigslist, desperately seeking someone to till their garden. But you don't need a tiller.

There's a whole gardening philosophy that says tilling is really bad for the soil. It disrupts the good bugs n the dirt, ruins top soil, brings up weed seeds, and just plain makes you - and your plants - work harder. So, you see, there's no need to spend oodles on a tiller.

It's easy - and much cheaper - to start plants from seed. (Courtesy
Save on Plants

Don't buy seedlings; they are too expensive. Plus, the plants will be at least somewhat stunted when you change their environment and plant them in your garden. (And especially don't buy starts at big box stores, since there is no way to know if thwinter sowing, or planting seeds in "mini greenhouses" made from re-purposed plastic containers, like the lidded bins salad greens often come in. For more on seed starting, check out my ebook Starting Seeds, which gives step by step information. (And is only 99 cents!)
ose plants will thrive - or not -  in your garden.) Instead, start plants from seed. You can do it - really. The easiest method for beginners is

If you have a friend who gardens, you might also consider a seed exchange. For example, if you don't use all of the seeds in a seed packet, offer them to your friend - and in turn, she will give you some of her extra seeds.

You might also try cuttings, especially of tomato plants. You can buy one or two tomato plants (or maybe a friend will let you take cuttings), snip off a branch, pop it in the soil, and viola! You'll soon have a new tomato plant.

As your skill increases, you can consider saving your own seed, too.

Above all, though, be realistic about what you can grow. Make sure it will thrive in your gardening zone and in the conditions in your garden. (Don't expect tomatoes to produce abundantly in part shade, for example.) And when you're just starting out, keep your garden small. As your skill increases, you can add extra beds to your garden.

Save by Going Organic

Some methods of watering are more economical than others. (Courtesy of
Buying chemical fertilizers and pesticides is expensive. Plus, it's not great for the soil, the water table, or your health. The happy thing is, growing organic is a lot less expensive because it's mostly about building the soil up so your plants thrive. See "Save on Garden Soil," above, for cheap, easy ways to do this.

Save on Water

Irrigation can seriously increase the cost of your garden, but there are several things you can do to reduce watering costs. First, mulch your garden, to help keep moisture in the soil. (Use an organic mulch, like bark or straw and the mulch does double duty, decomposing and helping to improve your soil.)

Second, water only when necessary. (If you insert a finger into the soil and it feels dry two inches down, it's time to water.)

Third, don't use a sprinkler system, which throws water where it won't help your plants grow; instead, use a soaker hose or hand water at the base of plants.

May 17, 2016

Oma's Delish Rhubarb Cake Recipe

This post contains affiliate links. All opinions are my own. Please see FCC disclosure for full information.

 A single rhubarb plant produces more rhubarb than the average family can eat in strawberry rhubarb pies. In fact, my green-stemmed rhubarb is so prolific, last year I gave away tons of rhubarb, canned plenty of rhubarb pie filling, canned rhubarb jam, canned rhubarb concentrate - and still had plenty to pop into the freezer.

Of course, (Lord willing) we are moving soon, so it makes sense for me to empty the freezer as much as possible. But, (Lord willing!) we are moving soon, and I've packed all but my most essential kitchen gear. And apparently when I was packing, I didn't think casserole or cake dishes were essential. But...last weekend I wanted to use up some of my frozen rhubarb and make a totally delish rhubarb cake to take over to my in-laws. (And there was also that casserole I bought all the ingredients for a week ago, only to discover I didn't have anything to bake it in...and, well frankly, it seems like a casserole dish is essential in my kitchen.) My solution was to hit a thrift store and pick up a baking dish on the cheap.

And then I whipped up this very easy, totally amazing, yummy rhubarb cake.

Again a reminder: My rhubarb has stalks that stay mostly green when ripe. They taste the same as red rhubarb - but this cake would be much prettier with red rhubarb stalks. With either red or green-type rhubarb, though, I'm sure this is a special treat you're going to want to try.

(Incidentally, this is not my Oma's recipe. This is actually I recipe I saw in Allrecipes magazine a few years back.)

(Oh and P.S. I'm not thrilled with my photos of this cake. But, (Lord willing!!) we are moving soon, and currently all my lighting and props are packed.)

Oma's Delish Rhubarb Cake Recipe

Coconut oil or butter
1 1/4 cups + 1 cup granulated cane sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 cups + 1/4 cup all purpose, unbleached flour (plus more for dusting)
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup sour cream
3 cups diced rhubarb (If frozen, allow to thaw slightly before dicing, then thaw fully before proceeding)
1/4 cup butter, at room temperature
Ground cinnamon

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9 x 13 in. baking dish with coconut oil or butter. Lightly flour. (Not sure how to grease and flour a pan? Click here!)
Grease and lightly flour the pan. (Thrift store purchase not required.)
2. In a large mixing bowl, stir together 1 1/4 cups sugar, baking soda, salt, and 2 cups flour. Stir in the eggs and sour cream, mixing until smooth. Fold in the rhubarb.
Fold in the rhubarb.
3. Pour the batter into the prepared baking dish. With a spatula (or the back of a spoon), spread evenly.

4. In a small mixing bowl, stir together the butter and remaining 1 cup sugar until well blended. Stir in 1/4 cup flour and stir until the mixture is crumbly and all the flour is incorporated into the mixture.
Stir together the streusal topping.
5. Using your hands, spread the sugar mixture over the top of the batter.
Sprinkle streusel over the top of the cake batter.
Lightly dust the top of the cake with cinnamon. Bake in the preheated oven for about 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.

Related Posts:

Canning Strawberry Rhubarb Pie Filling
Ridiculously Tasty Rhubarb Recipes

May 14, 2016

Weekend Links

In which I share my favorite posts from this blog's Facebook page

Prayer Request: My father is suffering from a serious lung issue, but they are having a terrible time diagnosing it. His samples are currently at the Mayo Clinic, but in the meantime, they put him on oxygen and told him that's probably permanent. He's also had leukemia for about 21 years, and his medicine is no longer keeping it in check. They're having an awful time finding another medicine that doesn't make him deathly ill. If you think of it, please pray for my dad's health - and that he will be saved. Thank you so much.

* According to this article, summer squash is the best ingredient for smoothies....this is hard for me to imagine, but it would be a great way to use up a large squash harvest! Just be sure to use either homegrown squash or organic store bought squash. Conventionally grown, store bought summer squash is usually GMO.

* Do you have rhubarb in your garden or farmer's market yet? Check out some great rhubarb recipes, including my favorites, canned strawberry rhubarb pie, strawberry rhubarb jam, and Oma's Rhubarb Cake.

* Beetroot powder is a wonderful natural food coloring agent, a healthy addition to almost any meal or smoothie, and may work to relieve certain health issues. But it's kind of expensive to buy. Here's how to make your own.

* Some practical, helpful ideas on creating an herbal first aid kit.  

* How (and Why) to make Wild Violet Syrup

* How to Kill Poison Ivy - in 5 Steps. 

Oldies But Goodies:

* How We Homeschool on a Shoestring Budget
* Are you throwing away food unnecessarily? Learn what the dates on food actually mean.
* Battling Mom Guilt 
* 10 Expensive Food Habits that are Killing Your Budget 
* Boost Your Child's Feelings of Self Worth

May 12, 2016

Finally, Really just 15 minutes a day!

Most days, I'm bored.

In a matter of weeks, I went from feeling I could never possibly get caught up on all my housework - that my house would never be totally clean and I just needed to embrace that fact while I have children living in the house - to feeling I don't have enough housework to do. And that, believe it or not, has led to boredom.*

How on earth did I come to this point? A house sale. It took months to weed through our belongings, send tons of boxes to a local charity thrift store, and pack up most of the other things we wanted to keep. But by the time our house went on the market, we had only essentials laying around: Our beds, the kitchen table and chairs, just enough kitchenware to get by, the homeschool materials we'd need in the next few months, and a handful of toys for the kids. I'd scrubbed the house literally from top to bottom. It sparkled.

And then I began a simple, daily cleaning routine. (You can read the details of the routine here.) After breakfast, every single morning, I made sure I did a few basic tasks, like making the beds and taking out the trash. Zip, zip, zip! and in 10 to 15 minutes, the house was spotless again. I actually began enjoying my cleaning routine - and that was certainly a first.

Now that our house sale is pending (for the second time), I've relaxed the routine a bit, but our house is still quite clean. And it takes so little time to maintain it! Who knew?

So here's what I think is the secret to my easy cleaning routine:

1. Lack of clutter. Our house is pretty much empty, which makes clean up a breeze! Obviously, under normal circumstances we'll have more things in our house - but now that I've experienced how much stuff can inhibit a tidy house, you can bet I'll be more selective about bringing things into our new house.

2. Lack of toys. Even if my 7 year old goes into his room and gets all his toys out, it isn't a huge deal to have him pick up. So once we move, I have a choice. I can start rotating toys (allowing out only, say, a box at a time and putting the rest in storage) or I can simply get rid of most of the toys.

3. Cleaning every day but the Sabbath. When it only takes 10 minutes, though, this is no big deal! And I love the almost instant gratification of having a tidy house each morning.

4. See a mess? Clean it! When the house is already clean, I'm more likely to clean as I go. Who wants a tidy house...but a sink full of dishes? Not me.

The Trick to Getting There

Just a few days ago, a friend of mine mentioned that her elderly father-in-law (who lives when her) disapproves of her messy housekeeping. She discounted this as a 1950s attitude and implied that a wife and mom who works outside of the home can't ever have a truly tidy house.

It's true I don't work outside the home, but I do think that if my friend could just get rid of a lot of stuff, even she would find housekeeping easier. (15 minutes a day, friends!) The trick, of course, is to find time and energy to purge.

I've tried to purge many times, only to become discouraged because while I was tidying one area of the house, another part became a bigger mess, due to other family members. My best advice is just to keep at it. Be ruthless. Give yourself a deadline to meet.

Because it's truly amazing how much more peaceful your home will be when it's de-cluttered and finally, really clean.

 * Normally, I would fill my spare time with gardening, extra homeschool projects, sewing or needlework, and a million other things. But right now, I have to leave the garden as is for the buyers, and all my "toys" (like the sewing machine - and even my books) are packed. I guess I need to write more blog posts!

May 10, 2016

Newbie Vegetable Gardening Mistakes - and How to Avoid Them

Anyone who grows veggies was once a newbie - and as beginners, all of us made mistakes. But you don't have to make the most common vegetable garden mistakes if you follow these simple guidelines.

Mistake # 1. 
Not Prepping the Soil.

When I was a kid, I helped my dad with our large vegetable garden, but when I married and tried to start a veggie garden all on my own, I made a big mistake: I had no idea that my hard, clay soil was totally unsuitable to gardening! My veggies did grow, but they sure didn't thrive. Trust me: Ignoring your soil can make a huge difference between vegetables that produce abundantly and vegetables that seem stunted.

So before you do anything else, prep your soil properly. This means getting rid of any grass, weeds, and rocks; testing the garden soil; and amending the soil with organic matter. To learn the details of how to do all these things, click here.

An expert's large garden along a canal in Amiens, France. (Courtesy of Vassil.)
Mistake #2. Starting Too Big.

If you've never gardened before, don't make your first garden a huge one. Time and time again, I've seen newbie gardeners loose interest this way. They just get too overwhelmed, and soon weeds are everywhere and vegetables are on the ground, rotting.

Instead, start with a small patch. As your skills as a veggie gardener grow, expand your garden. It's a lot less frustrating and wasteful!

Mistake #3. Not Paying Attention to Sunlight.

Another common newbie gardening error is not putting the garden in "full sunlight." Yes, there are some edibles that will grow in part shade, but almost all of them are far more productive in full sun.

What exactly is "full sun?" Six hours a day of complete sunlight. In an ideal world, those 6 hours are morning sun, since hotter afternoon sun will wither and dry out plants more quickly. To learn how to figure out how much sunlight your proposed gardening area gets, click here.

Mistake #4. Not Choosing the Right Plants.

If you buy your seeds from a catalog, you'll be tempted by all sorts of plants that just aren't suitable for your climate. All gardeners have been tempted! But if you want a productive garden, you need to focus on seeds and plants that are well suited to your climate.

Plants that grow well in one region may not grow well in another. (Courtesy of Mark Ahsmann.)
First, you need to know your USDA gardening zone. You can easily learn that information at the USDA website. Whatever number the USDA assigns to your area is the gardening zone number you need to look for in seed catalogs and plant tags. Click here for more information on understanding your local gardening climate.

I also recommend that you find a local seed company, if possible. Seeds grown in your area are quite simply most likely to thrive in your garden. If you can't find a local seed company, look for a business that grows seeds in a climate similar to yours.

Mistake #5. Planting Too Early.

Every gardener wants to start his or her garden as soon as the sun comes out in the early spring. But this is a great way to kill plants. Instead, learn you first frost date, and don't plant any veggies before that time. Here's a handy site listing first and last frost dates for the U.S. 

Of course, if you winter sow your seeds, you don't need to worry; you can plant your seedlings out in the garden as soon as they are the right size.

A well mulched potato patch. (Courtesy
Mistake #6. Not Mulching.

Mulch not only prevents the garden from being overrun by weeds, it adds valuable organic matter to the soil, boosting it's fertility, and lowers the need for watering. Examples of organic mulch include straw, wood chips, grass clippings, leaves, and compost. (The latter is most often dug into the soil, but it can also be used on top of the soil, as a mulch.)

Don't allow the mulch to touch plant stems (because this will make them susceptible to disease). Fine mulch (like compost or grass clippings), should be about 2 - 3 inches thick. Mulch with bigger pieces (like bark or straw) can be applied up to 4 inches thick.

Mistake #7. Over Watering and Fertilizing.

Plants will rot and become susceptible to disease when over-watered or -fertilized. Instead, test the soil before watering by sticking a finger about a two inches down into it. If the soil feels dry there, water deeply. Always water in the mornings. (Evening watering may lead to excess dampness and therefore disease; afternoon watering results in too much moisture loss).
Too much water actually damages plants.

If you decide to fertilize your plants, choose an organic fertilizer, and carefully follow the manufacturer's instructions. If you make your own fertilizer (learn how here), I recommend fertilizing once or twice over the entire season. If your soil is well prepped with organic matter, you may not need fertilizer at all.

Mistake #8. Not Harvesting.

Strange as it might at first seem, a lot of inexperienced vegetable gardeners hesitate to harvest their edibles. In fact, a few years ago, I called this the #1 biggest mistake gardeners make. For example, maybe a few beans seem ready, but not enough to feed your family of four - so you let those beans sit on the vine. However, not only will those beans likely go to waste, but when you don't harvest veggies when they are ready to be picked, it sends a signal to the plant that it's time to stop growing. The plant slows production and will eventually go to seed, becoming useless for food.

Instead, harvest even small amounts of edibles when they are ready. (They make great snacks!) Not sure when the food is ready for picking? Click here for advice.

Mistake #9. Not Strolling Through the Garden.

When it's growing season, I grab my morning tea and wander around the garden, just looking. This may seem like a waste of time, but I assure you it's not. By strolling through the garden and observing, you can catch many problems in their early stage - when they are still easy to manage. For example, you may notice something is beginning to munch on one of your lettuce's leaves. This gives you time to research what it might be causing the damage - and act before the critter eats your entire crop.

These daily wanderings also help prevent food waste. Sometimes you can be in the garden one day and all the tomatoes are green, and the next time you see them, a few days later, they are rotting. But that's not gonna happen if you take the time to wander through and enjoy your garden.

Perhaps best of all, daily strolls through the garden are good for you. Study after study (and plenty of good old fashioned experience) shows that gardening makes gardeners healthier. Some of the positive affects are from eating better and getting more exercise, but a good portion of it is simply the peaceful, relaxing experience of being around plants. Take the time to enjoy!