Thursday, November 29, 2012

Savoring the Last Flowers of Fall...

I know that the Christmas season is here, but taking advantage of the last few days of November, I wanted to share a few remaining flowers of fall.
Putting two favorites of mine together, flowers and now photography...I had fun messing around with filters and textures on these photos I managed to take in early November.  It's a snapshot like these that increase our appreciation for something as simple as Sweet Alyssum.  It gets its name from the amazing scent of this almost plain flower.  A picture can almost help you to "capture" its delicious aroma and revisit the summer again.  
Alyssum is a staple flower in my garden and pots.  It's not much by itself, but en masse creates a lovely snowscape that often helps to showcase a more flamboyant flower.   

What could be much sweeter than bringing in a beautiful bouquet to relish the remnants of a season past?  It's no rose but I love the personality of these marigolds.  Lively and robust, they are faithful in late fall to provide plenty of blooms for the last of the scavenging bees
and bug-free bouquets to appreciate more fully after the growing season.  Using a variety of filters and a texture courtesy of Kim Klassen, these marigolds are transformed into a real-life canvas.

One last photo to leave you with as we enter the world of poinsettias and pine...these pictures
will definitely inspire me when February/March come around.

What will you miss most about the fall?

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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Epson Salt: A Must-Have for Home and Garden

Epsom "Salt"...not really a salt at all but two minerals that our body actually uses and needs.  "Epsom salt is made up of magnesium and sulfate, which can help improve health in numerous ways. A lack of magnesium—which helps regulate the activity of more than 300 enzymes in the body—can contribute to high blood pressure, hyperactivity, heart problems and other health issues, doctors warn. Sulfate is essential for many biological processes, helping to flush toxins and helping form proteins in joints, brain tissue and mucin proteins."  - Epson Salt Council

Wow.  Pretty amazing for such a humble crystalline substance.  But this drugstore wonder is full of surprises.  It's great as a hair conditioner, sore achy muscles, and even as a garden fertilizer?! Yes, it's true...and there's even more...

When I was growing up, we had wood floors in our house.  The upstairs floorboards had a few rough spots in them but we being kids, didn't seem to notice.  Wood floors made a nice skating rink which we would skate on with socks.  One time though, I skated on some rough "ice" and promptly got a LARGE wood splinter in my foot.  Yuck.  I was horrified and did NOT want my parents to touch it.  The splinter itself was not willing to come out either, so in came the Epsom Salt.  Now, when you're a kid faced with a probing knife to extract a splinter, soaking your foot in some nice warm water was a perfect way to make me relax.  My parents loved me, but a spa experience was not what they had in mind, but rather a way to draw the splinter out of my skin and Epsom came through!  By the time my foot was done soaking, the splinter came out lickity-split (much to my surprise) and relatively pain-free.  So, Epsom salt saved the day and was my hero.  

As soon as I got married, I purchased my own carton (they sell it in bags now...way better idea!) and kept it for emergencies.  We seem to use it for any foot problems, probably because of my previous memory of it, but it does SO much more!  Even the carton I have only lists a few of its many uses.  Here's just a few: eliminates toxins by exfoliating and taking a bath in it - 2 cups in the tub, helps with athlete's feet and toe fungus (see, it likes feet), cleans bathroom tiles - use equal parts of Epsom with dish detergent to clean, is a fertilizer for houseplants and vegetables/flowers*, relieves constipation (!) and much more!!  I will admit my experience with it is limited to the sliver incident (which by the way, is another thing on the list it does) and foot complaints...but it did a great job in these areas.  However, after writing this post, I am going to be sprinkling my Epsom salt on all my houseplants!  

Here's another great bonus for Epsom can buy it at the drugstore.  No health stores, no fancy catalogs, no shipping charges; perfect.  I love the simplicity of these types of home remedies and garden helps.  After all, isn't that part of living simply?
So, if you don't have some Epsom Salt at home; run to the nearest Walgreen's, pick up a bag and "skate" on your wood floors with a smile on your face...ahhhh.

Have you used Epsom Salt before? How and why did you use it?

Here's a few great links to more information on Epsom Salt and how to use it:

Epsom Salt Council  
15 Unknown Uses for Epsom Salt at

*For houseplants: Sprinkle Epsom salt weekly once to nourish your houseplants, flowers and vegetables.

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Warm the mixture of equal amounts of conditioner and Epsom salt for 15 seconds. Apply this mixture through your hair from scalp to end; leave it for 15 minutes. Rinse with warm water; you can observe the natural glow in your hair.

Read more:
Warm the mixture of equal amounts of conditioner and Epsom salt for 15 seconds. Apply this mixture through your hair from scalp to end; leave it for 15 minutes. Rinse with warm water; you can observe the natural glow in your hair.

Read more:
Warm the mixture of equal amounts of conditioner and Epsom salt for 15 seconds. Apply this mixture through your hair from scalp to end; leave it for 15 minutes. Rinse with warm water; you can observe the natural glow in your hair.

Read more:

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Garden Review and Vegetable Thanksgiving...

November means more to us than just pumpkin pie, it means it's time to get the garden ready for winter and let it rest,  We haven't mastered gardening year round quite yet but hope next year to put in a small raised bed and plant kale there to get us through to at least December. I finally realized that I'm really not a lettuce fan (gasp!) and that I like greens so much more.  I think it's because greens are more nutrient dense and if I am going to eat greens, then I'm going for the greenest of greens.  So, in the meantime, we mulch our garden heavily with chopped leaves/grass and bales of straw.  Actually I'll let the straw decompose a bit and use it to mulch the paths next year.  

As you can tell, I use lots of pots to supplement our small garden space.  I also use them to plant a nice sized display of flowers for our front patio can see what they look like here.  I have used all of our flower beds for herbs and perennials, so pots are the perfect remedy for always blooming annuals...zinnias, geraniums, alyssum, vinca, marigolds and even a fun elephant ear.

I've also used the pots for herbs such as thyme, peppermints, spearmint, cilantro, rosemary, parsley, chives and calendula.  Peppers, including Mariachi's and Banana, also grow in these pots.  I've been growing tomatoes in them, but will keep them in the garden next year as they didn't produce very well.  The biggest drawback to pots are the fact that they need lots of watering if they are in full sun.  My herbs don't and I keep them in part shade and they are happy campers. A great reason to grow in pots is that you CAN move the pots around if the temps start to rise and the plants need a break.  I move smaller pots around quite a bit.

One great thing about blogging about my garden is that it forced me to keep a visual record of the garden for the growing season.  So it was fun putting together this collage of the seasons and to see it all at once.  To be a continuous gardener, you must be visionary and willing to make mistakes.  There's always next year to try out a new method or new vegetable.  The visionary part comes in when you get the soil ready like the soil in the spring photo and can already envision the fall photo in your mind.
 If this garden space looks small, that's because it really is.  But don't let small spaces fool you...with effective gardening, you can get lots of fresh vegetables to eat AND plenty to can, dry and freeze for winter use.

Case in point...these are just a sampling of the produce we got from the garden.  I was able to can 60 jars of whole still lots more for fresh eating and fresh marinara sauce.  Our beans and summer/winter squash came from our community garden plot; another option for those with small spaces.  This is our fourth year there and we've finally figured out what vegetables grow well there...tomatoes not being one.  However, the squash did well and the beans, so we'll concentrate on those vegetables.  We're going to try sweet potatoes there next year too as the soil is great for root crops. To see my favorite picks for this year's vegetables, click here.

Well, that's it for the garden 2012...I'll be reading up on some other blogger's great ideas for gardening over the winter while our soil rests and we rest!  SO thankful for all the great food we've gotten from a little's the gift that keeps on giving!

Do you garden or plan to soon?  

Linked to these amazing blog hops...Homestead Revival 
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Thursday, November 15, 2012

Reviewing My Favorite Tea Steepers for Loose Teas

My last post on Three Reasons to Buy Bulk Tea shared my warm and happy thoughts on loose leaf teas...but when purchasing teas whole leaf, it's easy to get a little overwhelmed at the idea of how to prepare them.  So I hope this post will help take some of the anxiety out of fixing them AND hopefully share some tea steepers that really do a pretty great job of brewing a great cup of tea.  My first foray into whole leaf teas took place many years ago as a newlywed eating at a local Chinese restaurant.  The first sip I had of the prepared tea the waiter brought to the table rocked my liquid was amazing.

Of course, I had to buy the tea for was too delicious to be true.  So, I asked the Chinese waiter what the name of the tea was and he answered me, but for the life of me I had no idea what he was saying.  Poor guy, I think I asked him to say it about three times before I let him get back to work.  I kept repeating the word that I thought he was saying, but I really had no idea.  
Now this Chinese restaurant had a little store attached and I promptly went over to it and looked for the tea.  I found a golden tin on the shelf labeled "Jasmine" and all of a sudden the waiter's voice echoed in my ear...I realized the tea was jasmine!! Yeah!  So, I bought my tin of amazing tea and took it home...well, it sat unused for a long time.  I couldn't figure out how to fix it and what to use and so on.  I am happy to say that my confusion didn't last too long and I soon accumulated a large collection of tea steepers.  Some gifts, some I bought, some I picked name it.  I went through them all and learned what worked for me and what didn't work.
And here's where my review begins:


First we have the tea steepers that come with punched out holes in them.  I have them in all sizes and shapes (except I curiously don't have the all too familiar egg-shaped tea ball!?)  These have been the most common ones I 've seen around at the grocery store or local Walmart.  I even found a few vintage ones (like the one in the front.)  Now, I have a problem with these steepers.  The first thing is that some of the steepers are ridiculously small.  This picture doesn't show them true to size, but trust me, many are very small.  A small tea steeper means it's difficult to get a decent cup of tea from them.  They're hard to fill and the leaves certainly don't circulate. 

This steeper is so small, but it's really cute and I'll admit - fun to look at!

My second reason for not liking them is that they let some of the tea leaves escape and that  means a cloudy cup of tea.  Not a drink spoiler but let's face bugs me.  I want my cup of tea "clean" as possible as that enables me to re-steep the leaves again.  So, I pretty much do not use any of these unless I have a large leaf tea that won't come out through the holes.  I still own these because my family, much less particular than I, will use them.

Not all mesh is made alike; look for a nice tight weave which limits the amount of escaping leaves.

Next we have the mesh tea steepers.  Now I am interested.  These make much more sense.  However, most of the ones I have are made to filter the tea leaves and not to steep them.  
Like the next two in the photos...

The one above swings so when you're done using it, it drips into its own little tray.  Clever.  

This is a classic English style... at least I've seen them used in BBC tv productions.  But the vintage ones had holes in theirs and not mesh.  These last two "steepers' are best used with a tea pot as you have to pour the tea from one container to the next.  I actually like these two a lot and have used them, but they're not ideal for a single cup of tea.

Now we come to modern days with this really cool tea stick.  I saw this in a coffee/tea magazine when we were managing a coffee house some years ago.  I wanted one really bad at the time.  My husband heard and promptly bought one for me for my birthday.  I won't say how much he paid for it but trust me it was A LOT.  My heart was touched and it really is the coolest steeper on the block.  It does a better job than the steepers with holes, but is not as good as the mesh.  I tend to use it for large leafed greens and it works fine.  You can see how you slide the punched holed cover to measure your tea, close it, steep and stir your tea with just this stick.  Pretty ingenious...just don't overfill.

Now we come this final steeper...the big "daddy" of them all.  I actually bought this one as a part of a set.  It came in a teapot which arrived broken.  I sent the teapot back but kept the steeper because it fit everything from a regular mug to a 32 oz. teapot! This steeper won my heart.  It's made of steel and no plastic parts (I don't care for plastic in steepers) and is perforated with micro holes so that not even the finest rooibos leaves escape.  Not too mention that it is large enough to allow the tea leaves to happily swim about imparting their delicious flavor to the water.  Three great reasons that make this the steeper I go to every time, whether for my teapot or mug.  It was also a reasonable price and you can find this one here (replacement infuser).

Okay, here are my top three steepers.  Actually the little teapot steeper is not very effective, but every tea collection should have one kitsch-y one... :)

There are also many types of disposable tea bags out there in case you don't want anything bulky to store.  You can find a bunch here.  I've bought and made my own tea bags before but have never used these particular ones.  They make sense that they would work, but I would rather stick with a more economical steeper as we drink many cups.  But these seem pretty practical too. 

I also found this one called the Tuffy Tea Steeper.

 It's collapsible so it's easy to store and made from food grade silicone.  Because this one has holes, I think this could work for larger leaf teas; maybe not rooibos so much.  It looks interesting though and tempting, but I am sticking with my large tea infuser for sure.

Okay, that's what I've found so far in my tea drinking journey...what's your favorite way to steep loose leaf tea?


 Linked to these blog parties... Lisa Leonard's Hello Mondays  
Clever Chicks Blog Hop Backyard Farming Connection
Homestead Barn Hop  Waste-Not, Want-Not Wednesdays
Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways 
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Friday, November 9, 2012

Fall-ing for A Covered Bridge...

  Out for lunch on a chilly fall day, my mom and I decided to drive the long way back home and drove by this local park and covered bridge. 
I think fall is the perfect time to visit historic places, something about the color of the leaves and general feel of the season that draws you a bit closer to history.  Even though the day was cloudy and drizzly, I managed to snap a few photos of our fall at its peak.  

Here are some wild aster flowers alongside the bridge... I love the beautiful blue color of its petals.  It's not a color you see often in plants, especially in the "wild."

Here's the bridge entrance on foot.  Wood never looked so good against all the golds and reds of the trees.

The bridge was built in 1868 with some repairs through the years...

You know I had to sneak in another flower picture somewhere.... :)

 This cantilevered walkway was added in 1992 during a large renovation on the bridge itself.  It beckons its visitors to come and take a walk...and I couldn't refuse the invite!


There's a park and picnic area along the shore to the left in this photo.  The bridge always attracts plenty of fisherman in the summer as well.

It's pretty amazing to be driving across a wooden really need to roll down the windows a bit to capture the sound of the boards creaking as you go across.

Coming out the other side; a burst of sunlight and beautiful fall foliage.

The whole drive around the bridge was full of lots of beautiful trees...ahhh; this is why we love autumn!

Where's your favorite place to visit in the fall? 


Sharing with these blog hops: Your Sunday Best 
Weekly Top Shot  Homestead Revival: Barn Hop   
Lisa Leonard's Hello Monday
Backyard Farming Connection  Take it From Me Wednesdays  
Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways
Wicked Good Wednesdays   Simple Lives Thursday  
Insta Friday

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Three Reasons Why to Buy Bulk Loose Tea.

When it comes to buying in bulk, it seems natural enough for coffee...but what about tea?  For some reason, it seems like a crazy purchase that makes no sense but I want to show you three great reasons you should consider buying your tea this way.  If you only ever drink a cup of tea every once in a while, then this is probably not for you.  However, if you enjoy drinking it hot or iced all year long like we do, then you'll want to read on to see why it's a great idea to buy lots of tea leaves and step away from the tea bag!

We drink all kinds of teas because they taste great, but also because they're nutritious and medicinal.  Green, white, oolong and black teas all come from Camellia Sinensis plant or bush.  They are all the same leaf but look and taste different based on the way they were dried and processed. White/green being the only non-processed leaf. They all contain antioxidants but green and white contain the most.  Green tea has been researched quite a bit in recent years and is found to be helpful in preventing cancer, stomach conditions, beneficial for the liver and skin (resource.)

Herbals, especially "rooibos" are also chock full of antioxidants as well as alpha-hydroxy and I drink this one for my skin on a daily basis. Rooibos comes from a plant in Africa, so even though it has the dark coloring of black tea, it actually is decaffinated and has no tannins.  No tannins = not bitter!  I have a "caffeine-sensitivity" so Rooibos gives me the benefits of green tea without the caffeine.

Of course, all this information makes them a great reason to drink more tea.  So, we drink these in place of sodas and sugared vitamin waters as they do so much more than just taste great. 

Now I still do have and use teabags, but our main teas I buy in bulk.  There's room for both in your tea locker (yes, I do have an actual painted locker I use for herbs and teas!) but buying your tea loose leaf and in larger quantities makes LOTS of sense.

  Okay, let's get  on to the reasons...

Reason #1: Taste!  Buying your tea loose leaf is going to naturally result in MUCH better tasting teas.  One reason is that the leaves are much larger and not broken down in order to fit into the bags.  Once a leaf has been broken in pieces, it begins to lose its essential oils which means it loses much of its flavor.  The first time I tasted bulk loose tea leaves that I had steeped myself, it was a tea experience epiphany! It's like comparing a value hamburger to a prime comparison.  Now, you can get a decent cup of tea from a bag sometimes, but it's never the same as with good quality loose leaf tea.  Cup after cup, I can tell the difference and tea has never been the same since I tasted it this way.  Quality wins, every time.

Reason #2: Value.  Yes, when you see how much a pound of tea costs, it's can be a bit of a shock.  It's almost always much more than a pound of coffee, however, I've found several places that sell great tea at a great price. (Check out Adagio Tea for Rooibos, Mountain Rose Herbs for Green)  I pay only 10 cents a cup for a pound of organic rooibos from Adagio Teas.  Plus, every purchase, review and post on Facebook gives me points towards 100 points for $10  coupon for my next order!  It's a great deal and I've been ordering from them for years. Plus they have the best shipping prices that I've found on the web.  A good gunpowder green tea can be purchased from Mountain Rose Herbs. Only $12 a pound!  Also, if you buy great quality tea, this means you'll end up with leaves that you can steep multiple times.  And that means more $$ for your buck. We usually steep twice and then drink the tea iced the next day. Yes, I know tea bags can be steeped again but we're talking about gourmet high quality tea that taste great.  It's a much better tasting tea,
  Can't drink a pound?  Consider putting in a fun packages and gifting some of it.  Or, find another tea addict, I mean, tea drinker and goes halvies with them.  I have quite a lot of tea here...there are four of us and we drink an assortment of herbals, greens and black tea and it doesn't go to waste!

Reason #3: It's Green!  That's right.  No more tea bags, strings and boxes to go into landfill.  I recycle my boxes and compost the paper tea bags, but they do take awhile to break down.  This also brings me to the new line of teas in the pyramid bags.  They put them in these bags so they don't have to break up the tea leaves and lose its flavor.  Great idea, however, these bags seem to be made of some kind of nylon material.  Definitely NOT going into my compost bin :(.  Now when I'm brewing loose leaf tea and I'm finished with my multiple steepings, I simply compost the tea leaves. Done.  I like this reason...while I do use some tea bags especially when I'm on the go, most of my steeping is done paper free.  

  Of course this all touches on what you steep your tea with and that will be for another post.  I have an assortment of tea steepers and I'll show you my favorites and why I like them.  There are some great products to steep with now and it's so easy to use them, you'll wonder why you didn't drink loose tea sooner!

Storage is premium for bulk loose tea.  But it's also simple.  They usually come in a foil bag with a zip closer.  I mostly keep them in these bags, in my tea locker (any pantry or cabinet away from light and moisture will do) or in any kind of air tight container. 

I have quite a few tea tins that I use and re-label to store new teas in as well.  I have one tin of Jasmine that I've stored for a good ten (yikes!) years and it still smells amazing whenever I open it.  Now, the teas should be used faster than that, but it does show you how proper storage can extend their lives!

I hope this inspires you to try bulk loose teas or to as least consider them.  If you've never tried quality tea, then well, this could be the time to drink will revolutionize your taste buds!!


What's your favorite tea? 

Are you a fan of tea?  You may want to check out these posts...Vintage Tea Room Fun
Tea Chat at the Open Door Coffee House  Mother's Day Tea Party

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Friday, November 2, 2012

A Fall Lunch in Amish Country

What is a perfect way to spend a mid fall day?  How about in Amish country?  And eating "home-style" cooking??  Perfect.  That was our destination on a recent Saturday (pre-Hurricane Sandy) and it really made autumn complete for us.  Our "boys" grew up visiting here in the summer and fall and for them it was THE definition of a great family day together.  We've been rather short on those lately between school and this was a great family get-a-way!
And where better for us to visit than Middlefield?  A nice sized Amish community about 40 miles south of us.  Rural, country and boasting "Mary Yoder's Amish Kitchen," it never disappoints.

A row of willow rockers are there to greet you...
We've been coming to this restaurant for over 20 years now and it's not only still the same great food, but they've expanded the gift shop so it's a one-stop shop for all your country needs.  They really feature local artisans, Amish and otherwise, so you'll find a little bit of everything...

These rockers are THE most comfortable chairs ever...(at least our guys think so!)

This sign says it all.  You know you've entered into a country dimension with the myriad amount of crafts, food and homespun.  It's an ecclectic mix where you're sure to find something to please.

Little circles of fabric look like flowers scattered in a field...

That turn into this fabulous Yo-You quilt...locally made of course!

And let's not forget the eats...that's the main attraction here.  It was Saturday so it was a hot buffet (including salad bar), all-you-can-eat, baked chicken, pot roast, green beans, carrots, real mashed potatoes, unbelievably delicious!  It feels like you're going to Grandma's house.  I think my mouth is watering...again! (Oh, and we finished this meal with their homemade Peanut Butter!)

Alas, my lack of photo skills for food pictures didn't quite capture how amazing this pot roast with noodles really was!!
If for some reason you're still hungry, then the gift shop offers lots of take home, home made foods.

 Couldn't resist these sweet harvest table decorations.  They would make a perfect Thanksgiving table...


It really was a great meal and a lots of fun together...on the way out, I couldn't help but take a picture of this pot of mums with only one flower escaping a fall frost.

Our day didn't end here fortunately.  We took our time visiting an Amish vegetable stand, stopping at a local cheese factory to pick up a pound of their own Colby-Jack Habanaro Cheese and finishing up in another little town at their general store.  Another really cute place to see and holding lots of memories for us all.

It really felt like autumn for us and good thing too because the hurricane really has left us feeling very winter-like, with most of the trees stripped of their leaves.  

Well, thanks for reading and sharing a part of our day. Sorry I have no peanut butter pie to offer you all, but if you ever have the chance to have a won't regret it!  Blessings!

What's your favorite fall memory? 

Like more autumn photos?  Check out Fall's Floral Postcards .

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