Friday, September 12, 2014

Harvesting Walnuts

We recently moved to a new house, as mentioned in my last blog entry, and in the backyard is a large black walnut tree.  As a warning, if you have a walnut tree in your yard, don't put anything underneath it because it WILL stain it.  My husband warned me of this, and although we thought the toy was far enough from the tree, as you can see, it clearly wasn't.

Even though the walnut tree has proved to be somewhat of an inconvenience when it comes to the layout of toys in the backyard, I thought I should make the most of the tree, and attempt to harvest some of the nuts.  

Step one of harvesting walnuts is collecting the nuts.  My daughter LOVED this part.  Even if you aren't going to harvest the nuts, just collecting them can be a fun activity.  Most of the walnuts we found were completely enclosed with the green shell, but some were partially exposed.  We weren't 100% sure if those were okay or if they were old, so we trashed most of them just to be safe, but as we get more comfortable with the process, we might start including them in our keep pile.

For the next steps, I googled and watched some YouTube videos for tips.  The first couple of videos said to peel the nuts, wash them, and let them dry two weeks out in the sun.  I also asked friends for tips, and they told me there is no need to wash them, just peel them and lay them in the sun for a few days, and then begin to crack them open.  Another person had an even easier approach to just collect the walnuts, leave them in the green peel, and hang them to dry in a cool dry place for two months.  The nice thing with the different techniques is that you can pick the one that works best for your schedule and walnut demand.

We decided to go ahead and peel the green shell off of the nuts the same day we collected them.  In all of the videos, the people easily peeled off the green shell.  However, when I tried to peel them, it was not very easy.  And, even though I wore gloves, the walnut juice still leaked through the gloves and stained my fingers.  After watching me struggle for a bit, my husband came up with an idea.  To quickly peel the walnuts, he placed all of the walnuts in a bucket with some water and used a paint mixer attached to a drill and stirred the walnuts in the bucket.  The peels came right off!

Once the nuts were clean, I hung them up in a cheesecloth outside in the sun.  My husband poured out the peels and liquid in a spot in the yard that had a bunch of weeds growing since the walnuts have a natural herbicide in them.  Friends recommended hanging them in an onion bag, but I didn't have one on hand, so we will see how the cheesecloth works.

In two weeks, we will take the nuts down and attempt to crack them... well, maybe not quite in two weeks, we will see how our schedule works out... but more to come!  The biggest hurdle right now will be to remember to bring them inside if it rains and to keep the squirrels away!

What are your tips for collecting and storing walnuts?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The 'Cook then Prep' Dinner Routine

My family recently moved to a new state, which means there is a new school, a new office, and most importantly, a new schedule.  For the first few weeks, I did not feel guilty about ordering carryout for dinner.  However, now that we have settled in to our new place, and almost everything is unpacked, I'm starting to think it is time to prepare more meals at home and begin a regular routine.

Now, what will that regular dinner routine be?  We have tried the 'once a month cooking' approach, which for my family loosely translates into me being sore on Monday from standing on my feet all weekend in the kitchen cooking.  We did save a TON of money, and it was convenient to have meals ready throughout the week, however, my husband and I both gained about 5 pounds each since so many of the freeze ahead meals ended up being cream based casseroles, pot pies, and starchy dishes.

Another approach is the 30 minute meal... no, 20 minute meal... no, 15 minute meal! This method has also worked well over the years.  After work, enter the kitchen and prepare a dinner in the amount of time it takes to watch your favorite cooking show.  However, that is IF you have the ingredients on hand.  Plus, when we walk in the door, I can't head straight to the kitchen to start cooking; the dog needs to go outside, the cat needs fed, the bird needs fresh water, etc., and by then by that time my daughter is usually hungry for a snack.  Plus, relaxing a bit before putting on the apron usually sounds like a good idea.  However, there is not much time to 'veg' in between getting home from work/school and when the clock says it is time to start the nighttime ritual.

So, after trying a few different dinnertime approaches, we have decided to try a third avenue.  We are going to try to 'cook then prep' each night.  This may not be a 'thing', but it works pretty well for us.  Basically, after walking in the door, and throwing something in the oven that one of us made the night before, there is time to prep something for the next night.  Genius!  We get to eat right away, and we don't have to allocate large chunks of time for cooking, prepping, and shopping.  Plus, we still save money by preparing meals at home.  Prepping meals the night before also makes it easier to incorporate fresh fruits and vegetables, which leads to healthier meals.

Okay, so enough jibber jabbers - for some reason, I signed up to bring snacks to my daughter's daycare, so I have about 2-dozen apples to slice.  I also need to figure out what meal I'm going to prep tonight for dinner tomorrow.  By the way, the best part of this for me is that I don't have to have a full week's meal plan; I just need to be thinking a day ahead.

What are your favorite meals that could be prepped the night before?

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Miniature Crochet Heart Pattern

I found a cute little crochet heart pattern on, but I needed an even smaller heart for a project I was working on, so I took the pattern and modified it a bit to make it miniaturized.  I took the pattern for the Small Heart from PlanetJune, and I substituted double crochets for triple crochets and I substituted single crochets for double crochets.  I used a size 3 (size D) to achieve this miniature heart that measures about 1.25''.  Any additional ideas on what to do with these little hearts?  I hope to post what I did with mine soon!

Vet School Widow: Miniature Crochet Heart Pattern

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Whale Silhouette Wall Hanging from Vintage Buttons

I was at a garage sale a few months ago and purchased a Mason jar full of vintage buttons for a few dollars.  I didn't have a particular plan for them, but buttons are always good to have on hand.  Plus, they provide tons of activity time for my daughter.  In one swift motion, she will dump the entire contents of the jar onto the coffee table and begin sorting, stacking, and counting.  Last night while she was playing with the buttons, I noticed there were quite a few of the white and clear buttons in all different sizes, and so I decided to make some button art with them.

After my daughter went to bed, I dumped the buttons out on the coffee table.  The sound from each button hitting the table reminded me of all the times my daughter had done the same thing so many times before.   I moved the buttons around in different shapes, and the white whale appeared.  I pulled out some blue fabric that I bought about 10 years ago when I was going to learn to sew, and it became the perfect background for a white whale swimming in the big blue ocean.  My husband found a piece of scrap wood, and I procured the Elmer's glue and scissors, and I was ready to begin.

Vet School Widow | Whale Silhouette Wall Hanging from Vintage Buttons - Button Art for Toddler Room DIY
Collecting supplies to complete a DIY project for a toddler's room.

I glued the fabric to the wood by applying glue to the back and to the sides of the wood.  Then I cut out a whale shape out of the same type of fabric to glue the buttons to just in case I made a mistake.  I glued on the first layer of buttons and then glued the whale to the wood.  Next, I glued on the second layer of buttons, and let it dry overnight.  I was worried when my daughter woke up she would want to know where all her buttons went, but she said she liked her new whale for her room (although, she still doesn't believe me it is a whale...what do you think?)

Vet School Widow | Whale Silhouette Wall Hanging from Vintage Buttons - Button Art for Toddler Room DIY
Whale silhouette wall hanging made from vintage buttons.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Heart Shaped Crayons for Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day is quickly approaching.  Even though I haven't figured out what my daughter will be handing out to her classmates this year, I figured I would write about last year's Valentine's handouts.  My daughter and her friends were 1 1/2 at the time, so crayons are an appropriate handout at that age.  To up the cute factor, I decided to make heart shaped crayons by melting crayons into heart shaped molds.  I didn't want to cut up a bunch of brand new crayons, so I asked a woman at work whose kids were a little older to see if she had an old box of broken crayons.  Bingo!

Vet School Widow: Crayon Shaped Hearts for Valentine's Dayv

I took off the wrappers, cut them up with a knife, and organized them by color and brand.  I found the different brands melted at different temperatures (might be a good experiment to do with an older kid), so it seemed to work best when using just the Crayola brand crayons.

The only other thing I needed was a heart shaped mold.  I looked all over, but I couldn't find anything that would work, and didn't want to order one online.  The Dollar General store had heart shaped ice cube trays for $1, so I decided to try them.  To avoid a potential mess in the oven, I placed the mold in an oven safe pan; just in case the mold did melt, I didn't want to spend the rest of the day cleaning up melted plastic and crayon wax off of my oven!  Luckily, keeping the oven at a low temperature kept the ice cube tray from melting.  The tray did get a little warped, but it kept it's shape long enough to make the amount of heart crayons needed for the class. I washed the ice cube tray with soap and water afterward, but it still got pretty destroyed.  This year I was out shopping and found a silicone baking pan that would work much better, so I went ahead and bought it just in case I wanted to do this again in the future.

Vet School Widow: Crayon Shaped Hearts for Valentine's Day

Pull the molds out of the oven as soon as the crayons are melted.  Once the crayons are cooled, you can pop them out of the molds and admire your new heart shaped crayons.

 Vet School Widow: Crayon Shaped Hearts for Valentine's Day

To finish them up, I bagged the new crayons up into little treat bags and tied Valentine's cards from Hobby Lobby around them that looked like a page from a coloring book.  It would also be cute (and probably cheaper) to make your own tag.

Vet School Widow: Crayon Shaped Hearts for Valentine's Day | Tags to go with heart shaped crayons

I set one aside because I thought it looked like a globe, so it was a special one just for dad!

Vet School Widow: Crayon Shaped Hearts for Valentine's Day | Heart Shaped Crayon that looks like the world

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Crochet Coffee Sleeves

One of my friends had asked for some help to read a crochet pattern for this cute little coffee sleeve.  We hadn't managed to find a time to get together, so what better time to work on it then this evening during the Super Bowl.  I'm not much of a sports fan in general, so I wasn't really planning on watching the game, but given the events of the night, there wasn't much to watch anyway from what I could tell, so it worked out well for us.

Vet School Widow: Crochet Coffee Sleeves

A coffee sleeve was also a perfect project for me to work on since I recently gave up soda (or pop, depending on what part of the country you are from.)  But because I gave up soda, I have replaced it with coffee, so a coffee sleeve will come in handy.

It really is a simple little pattern, and we both finished ours in no time at all.  We lost track of what row we were in, and at one point my friend had started to work in the wrong part of the stitch, but really, once she put the buttons on, it looked like she meant to do it that way.  I thought they turned out great, and I plan on using mine first thing in the morning.  

Vet School Widow: Crochet Coffee Sleeves

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Small Pickings from Mom's Purse - 10 Minute Toddler Activites

I was going back through my pictures, and I came across some from Memorial Day weekend that I thought I would share. We had been on a car ride, and wanted to stretch our legs and grab some lunch. Apparently everyone else on the road had the same idea, because the Maid-Rite was packed.  After ordering our lunch and finding an empty booth, we took a look around the waiting room and noticed not many customers had their food, yet, so we figured we might as well get comfortable.

Knowing that my daughter was not going to be patient when it came to waiting for her french fries, I had to think fast.  Searching through my purse I was coming up short on toddler activities.  I did have a label from a skein of yarn as well as some stickers that were part of a junk mail packet requesting donations.  These might be strange things to have in a purse, but I can explain.  One of the women I work with always brings me stickers from the direct mail packages that she receives and I had the yarn label to remind myself what color yarn I needed to finish my current crochet project.  Both reasonable explanations, right?

Nevertheless, we were both thankful for the finds from my purse.  What 2-year old doesn't love stickers, and the yarn label was a perfect canvas.  My daughter went right to work on her masterpiece.  These two small items saved both of our sanities in the busy restaurant.  It took about 30 minutes for us to get our lunch, and this activity kept her busy for almost the whole time.  We were actually able to enjoy our time together even with the unexpected delay.

Vet School Widow:  Small Pickings from Mom's Purse - 10 Minute Toddler Activites
Carefully removing each sticker.

Vet School Widow:  Small Pickings from Mom's Purse - 10 Minute Toddler Activites
Applying each sticker to her canvas.

Vet School Widow:  Small Pickings from Mom's Purse - 10 Minute Toddler Activites
A work in progress.