Friday, October 28, 2011

Our Christmas card

I love the large volume of mail we receive at Christmas. It's so much fun to see pictures and read updates on friends and family near and far! We always send some kind of greeting, but we have not faithfully sent out traditional cards. A couple of years we've sent a holiday letter via email. But this year when I saw that Shutterfly was generously offering 25 free cards to bloggers, I had to jump on the opportunity.

Boy, did I have a hard time choosing a design, though. There are nearly a thousand options to pick from! I decided to narrow it down considerably by searching only the religious Christmas cards, as I prefer to share our faith in this way, instead of a more general holiday message. I ended up choosing the "Rejoice Rejoice" design. Maybe I'll show you a peek closer to Christmas. =)

I look forward to seeing how our cards turned out when they arrive in a week or two. I've ordered a photo book from Shutterfly in the past and was very pleased with the quality, so I hope the same for our Christmas cards.

So, what about you? Do you send a card every year? And if so, do you write a letter, put together a holiday card, or what?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Our community garden

I've mentioned a couple of times that we are part of a community garden, and recently a couple people asked me to share more about it, so I wanted to do so here in case others were interested.

Our community garden was started by a local church that had a large and empty parcel of land just past their parking lot. As church members brainstormed ideas for how best to use the land, this idea was one many people were excited about.

The garden was perfect timing for us because it started three summers ago when we moved into this house. If you've been reading long enough, you may remember that we had a garden in our former yard, but here we have too much shade, and we're on a corner lot without a backyard. (We have a sizable front and side yards, but the layout of our house is such that our garage is behind the house.) The community garden is located just a few blocks from our house, so it is very convenient. If it was further away, we would be less thrilled with this option.

The details have changed a bit since we first joined, so I'll just share the current set-up. Each plot is 20x20 feet. Because we don't need that much space, we've actually shared the plot with another family every year. It works out great, and we split the modest $20 fee. (That fee includes tilling and water supply!)

Gardeners are each assigned a specific staked-out plot, and everyone has access to a shared tool shed. Eric and the kids do pretty much all of the gardening itself, and they almost always see others working at the same time, giving it the community feel that was intended. It is not uncommon for gardeners to share both advice and extra produce with one another. This year, we brought home dozens of beautiful zinnias, some jalapenos, a cantaloupe and a couple cucumbers. Eric has often asked more experienced gardeners for advice in planting and harvesting--what a helpful resource!

Yet another benefit is that the garden offers three huge wooden compost bins. We certainly do our part contributing! I fill gallon ice cream buckets with peels and scraps, and my crew takes the bucket every time they go to the garden--about three times a week.

I've mentioned another positive of the garden, which is that they have planted a few crops to be shared among the members. This past year, we were allowed to take as much rhubarb and raspberries as we wanted, and we definitely took advantage of that. Garden committee members recently planted several fruit trees, and in the future, what they produce will also be shared.

Last time I mentioned the community garden on my blog, one person commented that they observe a lot of waste in their local community garden. Eric definitely notices that here, too, but our garden has tried to counter that problem by 1) having a shelf against the tool shed where gardeners can leave surplus produce, and 2) committee members monitor plots to make sure they're being tended. Garden members are also encouraged to share extra produce with local nursing homes. It seems to be working, though of course not everyone holds up their end of the bargain.

If you have additional questions about the garden, please let me know. We have greatly benefited from this arrangement!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Frugal Fall Feast

I get really excited about meals that are healthy, thrifty and delicious. But I get even more excited when, in addition, a meal uses lots of ingredients we have on hand from our garden.

I don't think I've mentioned it (I've had a few other things on my mind!), but our garden has produced a BOUNTIFUL harvest this year--more than ever before! Carrots, onions, tomatoes, green peppers, green beans, basil and potatoes galore. It's been fun to share much of the abundance with others. Over the weekend, Eric and the kids pulled our wagon to the community garden (which I will post more on soon, as requested) and loaded it up with so much produce, that they started handing it out on the way home. Neighbors were thrilled, Eric and the kids had a blast, and I was delighted, too. (I'm the only one who eats tomatoes at our house, and I haven't been very motivated to can them for that main reason.)

Anyway, back to the meal. I recently saw this new product at the grocery store, and I noticed a recipe on the back that included onion, green pepper, garlic and basil--all of which we have from our garden. Sign me up! Since it's chicken sausage, I ate a few pieces, but I really prefer many of my meals vegetarian, so I left most of it for my carnivorous boys.

I had so much fun making this meal, knowing that it was healthy, thrifty, and nearly all of it was locally grown from our own garden! I served the sausage skillet alongside sauteed carrots, which we've had a ton of. One entire crisper drawer in our fridge is crammed full with these orange beauties, with more to come, and we've been eating them regularly!

A package of the sausages was on sale for $2.99, and I used just two of the four, slicing them thin. With a couple other minor ingredients added in, the cost for our supper was less than $2 for all 4 of us--just 50 cents a serving, plus we had leftovers. Pardon my excitement, but I think that rocks! (I confess to feeling a little smug when I see people raving about dinners that are just $5 a serving, or something similar. It's not that I have it all figured out--it's just that I love the game of it!)

So, there's the story of our Frugal Fall Feast. If you have any winning carrot recipes, please send them my way. I'd welcome some variety!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Mail call!

My kids received a fun surprise last week. My mom sent two self-addressed and stamped postcards, along with a note. As you can see from the instructions, the kids were supposed to draw a picture and then write their names. Then all we had to do was drop the cards in the mail!

Hopefully, my parents will enjoy receiving the colored cards as much as we enjoyed getting and filling the blank ones.

Just wanted to share this creative idea for others whose families are far away!

And speaking of creativity, my sister-in-law just started her own business of making super-cute hair accessories for little girls. Check it out here!
She's offering free shipping until the 26th, so this is the perfect time to browse.

Note: Nathan has been practicing writing his name, but it's still pretty rough. The above was written with my help guiding his hand.


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Birthdays!

Thanks for all your sweet messages regarding our big news. I loved reading all the comments, and Katie went the extra mile by writing me a Mad Gab of her own!

Speaking of *birth*days, September and October are big months in our family. We have seven, and that only includes our parents, siblings, and a niece. We also have several birthdays of aunts and close friends during that time, so there are lots of cards and phone calls!

Last week, we celebrated two special birthdays in our home. Eric's birthday was over the weekend, and I made several of his favorite foods: apple pancakes, pasties*, and Scotcheroos. (If you look closely at the links, you can see I make these same things every year for his birthday! Why reinvent the wheel?)

A dear friend blessed us by watching Nathan and Natalie so we could head out of town for dinner and a hockey game. Good times!We also celebrated the birthday of Cristina, an exchange student from Eastern Europe who is studying at our local college. We are her host family, which means not that we provide lodging, but that we provide a home for her in other ways: laundry, meals and support. Here she is posing with her cake. It took her over three hours to make this beauty!
Do you have a concentrated stretch of birthdays in your family?

*This is not the recipe I use, but it's similar. I use only ground beef, and I make mine as one large potpie, served with gravy or ketchup.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Mad Gab

I'm guessing many of you have played the game Mad Gab before. You read aloud the words written, and even though it looks like gibberish, if you keep repeating it, you will hear a special message:

Wee our ax peck tin bay bee numb berth read.




Anybody get it right? "We are expecting baby number three!"

We've actually had several weeks of uncertainty with this pregnancy, and we are so grateful that things now appear stable. I'm due in mid-April, and we hope to find out the gender as we've done the other two times. I like being able to plan accordingly with the room, name, clothes, etc!

We told the kids a couple of weeks ago, and Nathan didn't believe us at first. His initial reaction? "What in the world?!" =)

The first trimester is another reason I've not written much these past couple of months. I've been so tired, and there has been a lot going on. I do hope to post more regularly now, but we'll see!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Good times

Things continue to be quite busy, but I wanted to share a few pictures from the last couple of weeks.
Eric took Nathan on his first camping trip. Both guys loved it!

This is one of my favorite recent photos. It's a joy to watch these two playing nicely together.

I was blessed to have 3 friends stay with us for a weekend as we celebrated our 10-year college reunion. Thanks for coming, ladies!

We've been having gorgeous, warm weather, and I am soaking it up while I can. Have a good week!