Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Heron's Nesting

Audubon Societies print of Great Blue Heron

We've had a lot of activity lately from these visitors, a nesting pair of Great Blue Herons.  We've watched as the male searches for just the right branch in our trees to break off and carry away.

The Heron in our pine breaking off a smaller branch

Two Sand Hill Cranes in our yard eating and the Heron on the right in among the trees looking for fallen branches.

Or among the already fallen ones on the ground.

After watching many fly overs,  I finally spotted where exactly the pair are building their nest.  It's 3/4 of the way up one of the very tall pines on a small island in the lake behind us.  These pines are over 100 feet tall, so they are up at 80 + feet and have a good view of the lake and food sources below.

Early morning with the steam rising off the lake the Heron flies over on his way for more sticks

Returning to the nest with a stick

The trees on the island with the nest WAY UP THERE!

I was able to zoom in on the pair and their nest

It's been fun and fascinating watching them pick the branches and build this large nest as they prepare for their family.  We are hoping that all goes well and we'll be able to see some little herons in the near future!!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Sprouting Beans and Science Project

We are beginning to plan for our Spring garden so as part of this I decided to combine our plant plans with a science project. Lauren's science lessons have been covering plants from their beginnings as seeds and on to the plant or tree those seeds will become.

I have some heirloom seeds that we had tried planting in our garden in California, but none came up, so I thought these would be the perfect ones to use in our experiments. The first are Cranberry Beans.

These are a pretty variety of pinto bean.  We wet a piece of paper towel and placed it in a small baggie.  It took a little over a week before the first appearance of a sprout began.  Then within days they were large enough to plant.

We placed them in smaller pots on the front patio to protect them since it's still cool outside.  Watching us the whole time was our friendly anole that lives on the plants I have on this patio and keeps the bugs down.

Beans initially in the pots
Growth 3 weeks later

Our curious anole who watches us closely as we care for plants out front. It's a funny little lizard.

The next beans took a couple weeks more to sprout as they have a thick shell.  I was a little worried they might rot or mold first, but they finally sprouted and like the cranberry beans these known as the Mortgage Lifter began to grow quickly and like the cranberry beans were soon ready for planting.  These beans are a Native American bean with no name I can find other than this Mortgage Lifter that according to the story attached to it got it's name from a man who during the depression was able to pay off his mortgage growing and selling these beans.  True?  I don't know, but it makes for an interesting story.

Size of these beans

This is a large bean with a mild flavor and meaty texture for cooking.  I've set up a link for a source for both of these beans here:  Mortgage Lifter Beans  We'll probably have to transplant our bean starters to larger pots before it will be time to get them in the garden as they are almost a 8" to a foot tall now, but I'm thrilled we were able to start these plants and I'm hoping for success in actually growing and garnering beans to eat and store from these.  Will do a follow up post as we make more garden progress this year.

Beans in the bag

A week after planting the beans have already made this progress.

The girls loved seeing the results of the beans sprouting in the clear bags where they could watch the progress.  Will have to try this with other seeds we have had trouble starting or would like to see the difference in the size of the sprouts compared to these beans.  It's served as a useful exercise to start difficult heirloom seeds and fun science project.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Dual Celebration

Today is Kevin's birthday, and while the day is just beginning and the celebration for him hasn't started we still wish him a very happy birthday.  The kids are looking forward to making it a happy one for dad!!

Yesterday was Valentine's Day and a day that for many means celebrating the love of your life with candy, flowers and a special evening out.  It's not that I'm not romantic, but I have never really been into this day as a "must do" celebration.  I generally will pick up small chocolates for Kevin and kids and that's about the extent of it.  Kevin got me a book set on CD that I've wanted so it was special enough for me!!!

As a kid in school we used to bring a bag of valentine cards to hand out to our friends.  The teacher would have us bring for the whole class and we'd set up a bag we'd decorated on the front of our desks to act as our mailbox, then go around handing out the cards and candy to our classmates.

As homeschoolers this is something our kids don't really get to join in.  The odd craft and the candy from me is about the only acknowledgement of the day they are used to.  So when the girls ballet teacher suggested they have a valentine exchange at the end of their class they were both very excited.  I bought the cards they chose, Disney Princess Valentines.  They filled them out, and then we had some Hershey Chocolates to go with the cards, so to hold these I made decorative paper cones.  This would have been a better idea if I hadn't waited until the day of the event to rush to do this!!!!  Still, they turned out and served their purpose.

The Valentine's in the box all set to hand out

Some of the Valentine's

Hannah and Lauren were so excited.  They had the ballet class where they are now learning their Easter dance they'll be performing, and then once the class ended the exchange began.  Both ran around handing out their cards and happily received the cards and treats extended to them.

The girls in their class learning their new dance parts

Time for the exchange

Lauren and Hannah handing out their Valentine's

Lauren proudly showing off one of her valentines.

This little experience that brought such delight made the effort worthwhile and I'm so glad their teacher Katie Beth suggested they do this.  So a Happy Belated Valentine's Day, and today we'll be enjoying our celebration of Kevin's birthday.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Zaycon Chicken Order

I learned about this company back when we were in California, but hadn't ordered from them before since they didn't have a drop off point that was close to us until just before we moved.  I was still on there email list when we arrived in Florida so a few months ago when I got a notice of their chicken on sale I clicked the location list and found they delivered to a church just a couple of miles away.

Their method of operation.

Zaycon has a whole Youtube video that describes their method of operation.  They work directly with farms and don't go through the processing, package and distribution middlemen, so they can provide their no-hormone or additive free meats at a cost that is better than on sale market costs.  You also buy in bulk, in this offer it was 40 lbs of boneless, skinless, full butterfly cut chicken breast with rib meat at $1.89 lb.

I initially ordered two boxes, or 80 lbs.  Then a couple weeks before the delivery date I ordered a third box for a grand total of 120 lbs of chicken breasts.  In anticipation of my delivery I cleared out two shelves in the freezer.  I received email notices and texts days prior to delivery and on the day of delivery, reminding me to pick up my order.  Your pick up time is listed and Kevin and I drove over to the local Alliance Church and there in the parking lot was the Zaycon truck.  There were two vehicles in front of us and we watched them load up their orders, then it was our turn.  They were very friendly and confirmed our order, set a plastic piece on the truck floor and loaded in our 3 boxes of chicken and we were off.

Pulling up next to their truck.  I forgot to take pictures as they were loading.

So this is how they set you up, then you're on your way.

Once home I opened the first box to find a large blue plastic bag with smaller blue bags full of chicken.  I used the freezer ziploc bags I had to fill the chicken in for freezer storage.  Truthfully, this was the part I hadn't anticipated and worried I didn't have enough bags (only 12 left in my cupboard), but fortunately I made them very full with Kevin's help and we had one to spare when the process was through.   I even had some space left in the freezer.

Each waxed box has the big blue bag, then the smaller blue bags inside loaded with chicken.

Freezer loaded up - still room for my next order of bacon and sausage : )

So, to give this chicken a try I made Chicken Cordon Bleu last night for dinner and it got rave reviews from the family.   I was so impressed by the quality of this product, that I went on their order site and placed an order for sausage and bacon to be delivered next month!!!  They have other products like beef, fresh fruit, no-hormone milk, and a few others, but they only deliver to areas that they have suppliers to fill these orders with.  If you are located in an area they service I can say that from this experience and the quality of the chicken, I would recommend them.

If you want to check them out you can link up here and as they let me know if you order through this link that credits my account and I earn a $1 off my next order.  That was a pleasant surprise to learn about, as I hadn't intended on my blog being an advertisement, just happened to be a happy customer  : )
Zaycon link.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Learning Something New

In an effort to keep things fresh and to continue learning something new, I began experimenting with my new camera to enhance the pictures and perspectives of people, places and things I was photographing.  For Christmas Kevin got me Photoshop, but I haven't yet loaded it on my computer.  I did start using some online free editors like PicMonkey and BeFunky to play around with photos and get a feel for what different styles of picture editing might look like.  Baby steps right now, but you have to start somewhere!
I started with a photo of Nala and after editing put together the first of my collages:

Then played with the shot of Kevin with his Tiara from the day we met Teresa's family at Disney and we all wore our Tiara's to celebrate Teresa's life.

Next, a shot I took of the girl's getting their ballet slippers on before class.  Had lots of fun with this and all the possibilities of colors and textures.

This effect called "underpainting" was my favorite
Finally, I wanted to see what I could do with a landscape shot.  So I took the photo of our boat by the lake out back and began seeing what I could do to change the look of this.

Original photo of boat and background.

Same photo with enhanced colors
Collection of subtle effects made

Collection playing with colors, "poster effect" and diffusing styles.

This one is called "watercolor" and designed to create that very look.

This is "yesteryear" and creates the look of old postcards
So, here are some first efforts, what do you think?  You have to start somewhere, and I know in time I'll be able to really become familiar with these and better at knowing how to use them.