Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Seven Things I Learned This Year (or ways in which I'm growing up)

Stuff I learned this year that moved me along the path to growing up…. (cue my daughter singing her favorite song – I won’t grow up….)

1. My kids respond better to direct orders than guilt.

I entered the kitchen and surveyed the mess. Two of the three guilty party were present on laptops at the counter. Dramatically I lamented, “I wonder what time the maid is coming to clean up these dishes….” 

Loud sigh from one child and eye roll from the other. Spying the open container of cereal, I smiled and said brightly, “I guess it’s good this cereal has been left open since breakfast, now it can be good and stale, just the way I like it.” I shoved the box back in the cabinet and slammed it closed.

My oldest child, the wise one, yanked the ear buds out, looked at me and said, “You know, if you want me to do something you should just ask.”

All manner of sarcastic retort clamored to be allowed out, but I calmly looked at him and said, “Oh, really?”

“Yeah, it would be better if you just said what you wanted instead of laying all this guilt on us.”

My daughter joined the conversation at this point and added an icy, “Yeah.”

“So, you’re telling me that if I simply ask you to do something, you’re going to do it?” (It was all I could do to point out 18 years of evidence to the contrary.)

“Yeah,” he says. I looked to my daughter, who shrugged.

“Okay…..can you please put away your dishes from this morning?”

“Sure.”

Remarkably, both children got up and cleaned up the mess they had left.

I’ve tried to keep his words in mind these past months and miraculously there has been some compliance. I suppose, what he was really asking was that I treat him like the adult he has become and not wield my passive-aggressive weapons of self-esteem destruction.  It takes a lot of years for these kids to teach me how to parent.

Friday, December 19, 2014

SALT vs the common cold (or how to kick a cold in three easy steps!)

Salt. Maybe you think you know salt. Great on steak and popcorn and cookies batter has no flavor without it. Come winter, salt is great for melting ice. Other than that? Yup, it’s easier to float in salt water. I hear a lot of negative talk about salt in terms of health, but most of that is hype. In fact, no less than Scientific American debunked the myth in this excellent article from 2011. So let’s all stop hating on salt. We need it and this week it’s my hero.

Why? Well, friends let me tell you a tale…

Three days before my BOOK SIGNING AND CELEBRATION, I came down with my first cold in years. Great, right? Here I am peddling a book about how you can be healthier and I would be a sniffling mess come Saturday. This was bad.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Finally - Lavash Crackers!

So ages ago, I promised I would post about the incredible Lavash Crackers I created. I know you’ve been saying to yourself, “When the heck is she going to post about those Lavash Crackers? What is up with that? She said she would post the recipe! Unreliable bloggess!” (Or maybe not.)

At any rate, below are the pictures and recipe for these amazing, melt in your mouth, uber crackers. I’ve always called them Lavish Crackers which is what they are – lavish, but the correct term is Lavash. These crackers originate in Armenia. I was inspired to learn to make them myself because I pay nearly an arm and a leg (where does that saying come from – was there a time when you could sell your arm and leg for big money?) for them at my favorite deli where I go to buy coconut gouda (I kid you not – it is heaven in a cheese).

Here is my annotated recipe (with pictures!) adapted from one I found in Organic Gardening magazine.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Mornings: From Chaos to Calm (you can do it!)

Lately, our mornings have been getting out of hand. I crawl out of bed on the third snooze, pull on as many clothes as I can manage (my husband waits for the fourth snooze to get up and build fires in the woodstoves that heat our house) and put a pot of oatmeal on the stove for the kids. I then begin the CHORE of waking them all up. In the process, I am many times growled at and threatened. Trying not to take it personally (they’re teenagers), I generally throw in a load of laundry, locate my sneakers and my contacts and head out for a run. Then while running, I worry that one of them didn’t get up and I’ll return not only to a kitchen with oatmeal dripping down the stove and dishes abandoned on the table, but a child still snoozing oblivious to the beginning of another glorious day.

As I clean up the debris left from three obvious dashes out the door in my absence, I lament that our mornings have come to this. I fret that my middle child will find it hard to concentrate, once again having left without time to make lunch. I worry that the fact that no one brushed their teeth this morning (or any morning of late) means they will all end up with cavities and bad breath. I sigh when I find homework (due today!) abandoned on the kitchen table next to the jar of raisins. After that, I move on to berating myself for allowing my children to become such slobs in the first place and me for being so selfish that I leave for a run without making sure they are ready for their day.

One morning this week, as I turned yet another lap at the park (I couldn’t run my normal route due to the gauntlet of hunters dotting the trees surrounding our roads -it's hunting season in York County this week), I decided that it was time for a change. Our mornings need to be more intentional (to borrow a phrase from a soon-to-be bestselling book).

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Giving the Sweet Potato it's Due

We harvested out sweet potatoes over a month ago, laying them out on my workbench to “cure” and then storing them in our “root cellar”. There are a LOT of sweet potatoes in there. Maybe more than enough.

I made sweet potato fries (my favorite way to eat sweet potatoes), roasted sweet potatoes, and sweet potato chips, but there are generally a limited number of customers in my family when it comes to sweet potatoes. Most everybody will eat the fries, but after that the audience drops substantially to about two. This is a sadness because I’m a big fan of sweet potatoes. In fact, I’m a superfan of this superfood. But I know someone who is more like a KING of sweet potatoes than a mere fan, like me. So, dear readers, let me introduce you to Mr. Jack.

Jack is a retired professor of Towson State University and runs the pool where my children have grown up. He not only makes careful use of the TIME OUT chair and teaches killer water aerobics, he also created and hosts the Pennsylvania Sweet Potato Festival (with the help of his amazing wife Bev). Jack knows more about sweet potatoes than anyone in my world, so rather than write a sub-par post on the beauty of the sweet potato (which I’ve done before), I interviewed Jack!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Why Food isn't Food Anymore.....

Here's a helpful infographic that underscores plenty of my previous posts. (And yes, I'm cheating a little this week but the book is sooooo close to ready!) Food Fillers
Source: Healthcare-Management-Degree.net

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Create a Professional Kitchen (even if you're an amateur)

Once upon a time, I organized our kitchen. I threw out things we never used and sorted the useful items into the prime drawers. I gathered all the spices, donated the duplicates, and lined up the jars with the labels facing outwards. I matched up all the plastic containers and tossed anything without a matching lid. I cleared the counters of erroneous items that had come to reside there by default. I even took down every piece of children’s art on the fridge. The entire kitchen looked ready for show. Because it was. The house was for sale. Why is it we never really clean out clutter or make our spaces truly tidy until we’re either expecting the Queen or putting the house up for sale? Don’t we deserve to live in such pristine places, too?

This week the topic for my evening class was “Clearing Clutter and Cleaning” and in honor of that I began emptying drawers and scouring my kitchen for wasted stuff and wasted space. This is not a job done in one morning. This is a job that takes determination, a large trash can, and several extra boxes for donations and indecision. Let me share my 10-step Kitchen plan with you!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

All Things Halloween

So.... I'm feeling guilty about a second week with no post! I have a really great excuse....I'm editing my book, Live Intentionally, based on this blog and my workshops. Fingers crossed and butt in chair, it'll be available by Thanksgiving.

If you want to know when it's available and how YOU can get your own copy, subscribe to my e-mail list through my website  CaraWrites.com.

In the meantime, here are a few posts-gone-by that'll get your through this Halloween week.

Want to know how to cook a pumpkin or need a recipe for spicy pumpkin seeds?? Click here.

Wondering if pumpkin is a super food? You betcha, click here.


Stressing out over Halloween costumes and candy? Been there, click here.


Does Halloween start the sugar overload that goes on through Christmas right on up to Valentine's day? Need some inspiration to kick the sugar habit? Click here.


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

It's Time to Plant the Garlic....

It’s Garlic time!! I know last year when I blogged about garlic you said – “Next year, I’m planting garlic!” (Maybe you didn’t say it out loud, but I’m sure your subconscious was screaming it!) 

So, this is the year to do it. Yes, I know garlic is pretty cheap at the grocery store, but….have you ever tasted fresh garlic? If you’re buying it at the store than the answer to that question is NO! If you’re a garlic lover, I promise that once you taste the difference you’ll be planting it by the gardenful.

But this year, if you’ve never grown garlic before, you can start small. Just buy one extra head of garlic. (This will produce 4-20 garlic plants depending on the size of the bulb.) You can either buy it at the store (yawn) or you can buy heirloom garlic from some of the companies that sell it like Landreth Seeds. If you’re a local-yokel, don’t miss Landreth’s Heirloom bulb sale THIS SATURDAY in New Freedom at their old location. They’ll have gorgeous rare heirloom bulbs and dozens of varieties of heirloom garlic!

Garlic is a bulb, so it’s as simple to grow as a tulip. You could even grow it in your flower beds. Those of you who live in neighborhoods with rules about gardens, can plant garlic and pretend it’s a daffodil that never bloomed! Here’s how easy it is to grow garlic.

Now, when ordering your garlic you’ll need to choose between –

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Does Fluoride do More Harm Than Good?


I don’t want to alarm you, but – FLOURIDE IS NOT NECESSARILY A GOOD THING! Okay, for years I’ve kind of dismissed the crazy-hippie people who harp about the dangers of fluoride. Every now and again I’d catch a whiff of legitimacy to their arguments and I’d buy a tube or two of non-fluoridated toothpaste. But the kids grumbled about the taste of the natural toothpastes and after weighing the brushing-with-fluoride vs not-brushing-at-all dilemma, I’d throw a tube of Colgate in my cart.

When our doctor discovered we were on well-water, he immediately said we should fill a fluoride prescription for the kids. I filled the prescription, but the following week we visited the dentist. When I asked him if the kids should be on fluoride pills since we had well water, he rattled on about how there might be fluoride naturally occurring in our well water and the supplements weren’t critical. He didn’t say there was any danger in taking them, but he did say, “They probably don’t need to take them every day.” For the past ten years, he has been noncommittal, neither telling us to take them nor warning us against them. In fact, he never brings up fluoride pills unless I do. I think MDs have a phobia of contradicting each other. I never did give the kids those fluoride pills (and none of them have a cavity yet, (KNOCK ON WOOD).

But today I read a study from Harvard (HARVARD!) that says that yes, indeedy, fluoride has been identified as one of the neurotoxins that are causing the rise in autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and other cognitive disorders. Neurotoxins are chemicals that are dangerous to the developing brain. The Harvard study named twelve culprits. A few of the chemicals on the list seemed vaguely familiar, but FLOURIDE I know. If you want to read the summary in the Lancet, here it is.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Free Flowers!

I’ve waited an entire year to tell you this!! (Mostly that’s because I had to first be sure it worked before spreading it all over the internet.)

YOU can make flowers from flowers!

Never again do you have to spend your hard-earned money on big expensive pots of blooming annual flowers! True! If you have just one beautiful blooming annual beginning to sag in a pot on your porch right now, you’re good to go!

Don’t believe me? Okay here’s what I started with – a New Guinea impatiens I paid $20 for through one of the kids’ fundraisers. It bloomed beautifully all summer, but you can see here it’s getting long in the tooth by last October (that’s 2013!).


 Now, here’s that same New Guinea impatiens this summer:

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Is the Chicken You Eat Carrying Too Much Water Weight?

Does your chicken carry a lot of water weight?

Anyone who has ever been on a serious diet knows the meaning of water weight. It’s the weight you lose that first week or two after you’ve restricted your regular eating to baby carrots with dip and low-sodium chicken broth. Five pounds in a week! You can get the same results after a few days of the stomach bug. It’s just water and it soon returns. Water weighs a lot. I can attest to this every winter when I forget to drain the hose and end up hauling five gallon buckets of water from the pump to the barn.

So what does water weight have to do with chicken? Let me tell you.

If you’ve ever priced organically grown, grass-fed chicken you’ve probably been a little frightened by the sticker price. It is expensive. Plus it’s a little on the scrawny side, too. The first time I brought home a $30 chicken, my husband took one look at it and asked if we were having Cornish hens for dinner. I purchased this chicken at the farmer’s market from Lynn, whose farm I have visited where she regaled me with stories of her early days of raising hundreds of chickens and turkeys on their wooded property as a single mom to the horror of her teenage son. This chicken looked perfectly fine to me, but it certainly wasn’t plump and pink and perfect like the meat that stretches the plastic at the grocery store.

Want to know why? 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Saving Money on Organic Food (Deals, Discounts, and Delivery)

I recently ran across an article on the Internet entitled, How to Eat Organic on a Budget. Since this is the tag line for my Homemade Life workshop, I clicked on over. This article listed 75 ways to save money while eating organically, most of which I already do and a few that caused me to chuckle (get a couple of chickens and hatch your own eggs - really that's all there is to it? and skip the Starbucks -duh). It also listed sites where you could find discount coupons and deals on organic products. I was excited – this is useful information! So I spent the better part of an afternoon exploring these sites. And I learned two things –

If you spend two hours tracking down a coupon for 50 cents off a product, you probably haven’t really saved anything.

Most sites that make big promises are either for products you’ve never heard of and have no need for, or are full of dated information and expired coupons, but plenty of advertising.

And here’s the thing about coupons – they’re only useful if you were planning to buy that product anyway. Otherwise they’ve done exactly what the company had hoped when they hired that fancy advertising genius – they’ve tricked you in to buying their product.

A few of the sites did actually garner real coupons on products you might actually find in your grocery store. Now, I make no promises that your grocery store accepts these coupons. The world of coupons is lost on me mostly because coupons are for processed food – organic or otherwise, and I avoid processed food – organic or otherwise- as a rule of thumb.

All of that said, I will share with you the sites that looked promising because I know I’m an oddity and most people have no choice but to buy processed food (or starve) so I’d rather you bought organic processed food if you must buy processed food at all.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Live Intentionally

NOTE: This is an introductory chapter explaining my working title for my forthcoming book based on this blog. After WAY too much agonizing, I finally decided that my blog is about much more than eating. It's also about more than organic living. It's about living intentionally. So, that's the title (for now) - Live Intentionally. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this chapter. The manuscript goes to beta readers this Friday! 


What Does an Intentional Life Look Like?

An Intentional Life is a life that is authentic. It’s real. It can be trusted.  It means not just healthier eating, but knowing your food – where it came from, how it was prepared, and what it can do for you. It’s also enjoying that food and taking pride in the care you’ve taken in selecting or creating it.
It’s feeling good about how you spend your time and how your children spend their time. It’s taking care of your body and teaching your children to do the same. It’s exploring your own creativity and ability and not being a stand-by passenger in this life. 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Are YOU a Camel, too?

Note: This is a chapter taken from my new book based on this Blog! I am still in the editing phases so if you notice a typo or grammatical slip-up, I’d appreciate the heads up. Also, if there is anything here that is cause for alarm or confusion, point it out. If you loved it, hated it, or think you know a better way – tell me that, too. You can do this by posting in the comments or by shooting me an e-mail at cara.achterberg@rocketmail.com.

Drink More Water (Plus a bonus Soapbox Sermon on Plastic!)

Drink more water. I know you’ve heard that before. I think I’m part camel because I'm able to go nearly all day without a drink. But I’m trying to do better.
Here’s just a few of the things water does for you (if you drink enough): increases energy level, reduces joint/back pain, prevents headaches, aids in digestion and prevents constipation, ensures proper circulation, increases metabolism and regulates appetites, and keeps us alive (we can live a month without food, but only a week without water).
Recently I read Stiff by Mary Roach. In Stiff, Roach investigates what happens to our bodies once we die. The book considers all the possibilities from donating your body to science to becoming human compost. It sounds gruesome, but it was a really fun read. This book taught me two valuable lessons.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Guess What!

Guess what Dear Readers??!! I’m writing a book! (Okay, if you know me very well, you know I’m always writing a book, but this is different!) This book is based on this blog! I’ve finally wrestled all (okay some) of the information down into a manageable format and I’m getting mighty close to having it ready for my Beta Readers. (Note: If you’re local and you’d like to be a Beta Reader for me, shoot me an e-mail.)

What’s a Beta Reader you ask? I didn’t know myself the first time I stumbled across the term since the only Betas I know wind up floating dead in my youngest son’s fish bowl a few months after we buy them. Well, a Beta Reader is a person who agrees to read a book when an author has done all she can do with it but before she’s taken the next step to actually publishing it. Beta Readers must be brave and, more importantly, have time on their hands. They read for content and flow and accuracy. They make notes and offer feedback about the scope, format, and content of the book. Some Beta Readers (but not all) catch grammar mistakes and typos. Basically, they tell the author what they like and don’t like about the book. They give an opinion on what works and what doesn’t.

There’s no pay offered (since most authors have no money), but there is extreme gratitude offered. In my case this gratitude will come in the form of homemade applesauce, fresh eggs (if my new girls ever start laying), a free copy of the book when it’s published, and probably some lovely wine and snacks during the final focus group.

I’m hoping to have my manuscript ready for Beta Readers by September 12. That’s a completely unrealistic goal, but I’m setting it anyway. I like a good challenge (as you’ll discover if you read my new book!). That said, I must take a breather from this blog. But don’t despair Dear Reader because while I may be taking a breather from creating new content, I will be posting a chapter from the book each week. That way you can be a virtual Beta Reader. And, if you’re so inclined, you can offer your own edits, thoughts, etc. You can post them in the comment section for all the world to see, or if you’d rather, you can e-mail them to me directly. I’ll post a link to do this at the end of each chapter, along with a few questions to get your editing juices going. Look for the first post this Wednesday!

Want to be one of my Beta Readers? Live nearby? (this is required so that I can ply you with wine at our final focus group) Let me know and I'll send you all the juicy details!
cara.achterberg@rocketmail.com




Thursday, August 14, 2014

My Quest for the Perfect Pickle

Pickles have always been my nemesis. The first year I learned to can, I put up nearly 15 quarts of pickles. They were “bread and butter” pickles which makes absolutely no sense to me because why would pickles be associated with bread and butter? Once upon a time did people eat butter and pickle sandwiches? All that aside, bread and butter is not sweet and sweet is what these pickles were, plus mealy and more of a brown color than green. I worried with every bite that they’d gone bad. I had a new baby at the time and like most new parents I was stricken with a paranoia that everything was out to kill me or my babe. So I placed the jars in a neat row above the bulkhead in my kitchen and they stayed there for nearly five years until we moved. They looked really nice up there and people often commented on how clever and quaint I was to can pickles. Luckily, no one ever asked to taste those pickles.

In our tiny kitchen at our next house there was no bulkhead so when I finally came across the jars (packed by the movers three to a box with insane amounts of paper and bubble wrap), I promptly opened them up and dumped their contents in the compost bin.

I took another shot at pickles a few years later and created beautiful dill pickles that were so bitter they left an aftertaste that didn’t go away until hours after I’d dumped the last jar in the compost. The next year I tried a new recipe and the pickles turned a completely unappetizing watery brown color which was fine since they had no taste at all. So the next year I went out and bought a kit. (Yes, they do make pickle kits.) The pickles looked gorgeous, but once again they were mealy and super sweet. I didn’t dump those jars and pulled them out on occasion to make egg salad, but they certainly weren’t the pickles I’d been dreaming of. (Yes, some people do dream of perfect pickles.) I’m fairly sure I still have one of those jars in the back of my cabinet.

I moved on to sun pickles, refrigerator dills, and sweet pickles marinated in an old fashioned crock to mediocre results. A few years ago I tried using the recipe out of the Ball Jar cookbook which is my go-to cookbook for all my canning adventures. The pickles turned out so salty they became a family joke. My oldest son was about 14 at the time which is just the right age to eat something for the sole purpose of freaking out the people around you. He ate several to prove he could, but then decided he liked them. “They’re so bad, they’re actually kind of addictive,” he said. I decided he had a salt deficiency and finally hung up my pickle hat. (No, there is no such thing as a pickle hat.) I was really good at applesauce, salsa, pizza sauce, pepper jelly, and tomato-basil soup. Who needs homemade pickles?

My decision to quit pickle-making was affirmed when I discovered the pickle stand at Eastern Market. Oh, those pickles! Sweet-hot, Garlic-dill, Jalapeño, so many wonderful crispy delicious pickles! Never mind that they cost $8 a quart and I had to drive nearly 30 minutes to reach the stand which was only open on Fridays. Problem solved.

And then this summer a new pickle stand opened at Central Market, the market I frequent weekly. Lancaster Pickles makes delicious, fresh pickles and gives free samples. The owners were friendly and fun to talk to. One day while making my purchase of fresh garlic-dills and Sweet horseradish chips, I shared my pickle problem with them. I told them of my salty, bitter, mushy attempts. Kate, one of the owners (and a serious pickle master. And Yes, there are such things as pickle masters.) asked me a few questions and then gave me a five minute tutorial on how to make crispy, delicious pickles.

I hurried home, picked my cucumber vines clean and set to work. And guess what! YES! Finally – crispy, delicious, perfect pickles! Now, before I share the secret with all of you, you must promise me that you’ll stop by the Lancaster Pickle stand at Central Market. Say hi to Kate – she is my hero.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Excuses, excuses.....

It’s Friday and I still haven’t written my post for this week. Here’s why…

My tomatoes have been stricken by the blight…..


And then I found this nasty guy (girl) covered in eggs ready to eat what’s left of them.
 So I’m canning as fast as I possibly can.


The Japanese beetles haven’t let up….


Even though the Assasin bugs are out in force. 
(Assasin bugs might look nasty but they are one of your best allies in the war on Japanese beetles.)

The cucumbers are growing prolifically and I’ve finally found a way to make crisp pickles after nearly 20 years of trying! (Hoping to post about that next week!)
This morning I found this Siamese cucumber.


Everything seems to be ready at once in the garden. The potatoes are ready to come out of the ground.


The carrots should have come out a few weeks ago!


And I have more beans than I know what to do with.


So please forgive me for being a slacker blogger. If your garden is anything like mine, you don’t have time to be reading my silly blog anyway! 

Friday, August 1, 2014

CAMP ACHTERBERG: Day Five

Today’s camp was a compromise. First we went for a hike and a picnic around Lake Redman and then we went to the movies, and finished with a hilarious game of ping pong (in which the camp director was pinged and ponged as she sat nearby writing this). See? Everybody gets what they want. 

I must confess that I'd hoped for more participation and more nature in our week, but I'm learning that as my kids get older, they find spending time with Mom and the natural world less magical and more of an ordeal they must endure if they want a ride to their friend's house. I know we are incredibly lucky to live on our beautiful hillside, but sometimes I think my kids take this privilege for granted. For instance, we have three horses that spend most of their days as lawn ornaments because my children have no interest in riding. Yet, thousands of kids squander every birthday wish and falling star hoping for a horse of their own. I worry that until my kids no longer have constant access to woods and fresh air and animals they won’t appreciate what they have. But maybe that’s the way it’s always been.

Enough parental angst, back to camp. 

Thursday, July 31, 2014

CAMP ACHTERBERG: Day Four

Camp got off to a rough start today with a total lack of camper enthusiasm (except our senior camper who is always game for my adventures). The start of the day was delayed to allow for extra laying around doing nothing time, yet still we encountered resistance. We chose our activities in the hopes of coaxing the girl camper out of her lair, but she admirably resisted our efforts in favor of completing her summer course work (how can a mother argue with that?). After a long yes-I’m-coming, no-I’m-not agony, my two most faithful campers got on board and we set off for the Central Market in downtown York.

We snagged an excellent parking spot with 47 minutes left on the meter and considered that a good omen. Our first stop was Cherie Anne’s Designs where we purchased refreshing smoothies and iced tea and visited with some of my favorite downtown personalities. Next we stopped in Kimman’s gift shop after spotting an amazing $589 cooler that looked like a VW Bus. The price tags were much too rich for us, but we enjoyed reading the clever signs – “Inside every old person is a young person wondering what the hell happened.”

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

CAMP ACHTERBERG: Day Three!

We were up and out early for our big day at camp. Today’s schedule lured in two more resident campers despite the fact that revelry sounded before noon. We set off for the city of Baltimore at 9:30am. While I had hoped for lively conversation en route, three out of four campers were otherwise occupied with ear buds and/or books. Undeterred, my most faithful camper kept me entertained and helped navigate.

One of the reasons I love the Walters Art Gallery is that it’s free. The other reason is that I always find a parking place right out front – and today was no exception. There was even 47 minutes left on the meter! As we entered the museum I challenged the campers to find the weirdest thing and the funniest thing in the museum. One brother immediately tagged the other and said, “Found it!” Too early for that kind of humor apparently.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

CAMP ACHTERBERG: Day Two!

Today’s camp started with wild raspberry picking! The camper who grumbled the most about the adventure actually beat all the other campers up the hill to the raspberry patch on the side of the neighbor’s soybean field and out-ate the rest of us. I’d had plans to scout out some other local raspberries, but yesterday on our way home from geocaching we spied a group of Amish teenagers combing our road for berries. Alas, we had to be satisfied with our small find.

We spent the rest of the morning continuing work on our craft projects. Some campers have begun additional projects and late this afternoon the craft table caught the eye of a camper who has ignored all our other activities.

After lunch a new camper joined us for a stream hike/swim/wade/run/splash/slip! One of our older campers tagged along on shore and captured much of the action. Here's a picture play-by-play -

Monday, July 28, 2014

CAMP ACHTERBERG: Day One!

Day one began with one excited camper up early and one not-so-enthusiastic camper who only perked up mildly after French toast with blueberry syrup. The other potential campers could not be roused from their bunks. The camp director was undeterred. We packed a delicious lunch and headed off on our first morning of camp- geocaching! (If you’re unfamiliar with geocaching, click here.)

Our first cache was a bust. The navigation led us to a small cemetery. The cache appeared to have been hidden near a maintenance shed directly under a fresh load of dirt and rocks that were presumably delivered this week.

Disappointed but not discouraged, we set off on cache #2 which was also to be found in a cemetery.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

CAMP ACHTERBERG! (Do-it-Yourself-Day-Camp)


It’s CAMP ACHTERBERG week! I’ll be updating the blog on a daily basis with pictures and stories of our adventures.

Just in case you don’t know, Camp Achterberg happens for one week every summer. It began back when my kids were relatively young (3, 6 and 9) and I realized that I couldn’t afford to send my kids to more than one week of camp without seriously endangering the family budget. And without camp my children might DRIVE ME NUTS. When I looked at what many of the camps were doing, I thought – “Hey, we don’t need a camp to do that, we can do that!”

Over the years, Camp Achterberg has included streamhikes, special foods, visits with animals, museum tours, factory tours, berry picking, movie watching, swimming, campfires, hiking, and even crafts. Most days are spent outdoors, but we always have a rainy day plan (movies, used book store, arts & crafts, cooking, museums, board games). Camp activities change every year. I’m excited about a few new activities this year like kayaking!

Some of the activities do come with a price tag, but I figure I’m saving so much on camp fees I can afford to spend a little this week. In year’s past I bought special craft supplies and maybe a little too much ice cream. This year’s camp includes a trip to a mega book store, so I’m sure my rubber arm will be twisted into buying a few books. We also have a museum visit scheduled, at least two lunches out, plus we’ll have to rent our kayaks. Even with those expenses, I know this camp is the best bargain in town.

My kids are older now and the only guaranteed camper is my youngest who is 12. As it happens, we have a special guest camper this week – my mother-in-law, “Nana.” The older two kids have the option to join in Camp Achterberg on the days it appeals, and to provide a little incentive, I’m restricting the wifi during camp hours. We shall see what happens.

Follow along with us on the blog this week or, better yet, create your own camp and share your adventures, too! Haven’t your kids seen enough Netflix and logged enough computer time for the summer? It’s time to get your inner-camp director on.



Thursday, July 17, 2014

Homemade Chicken Nuggets and Breaded Mozarella Sticks! Yes, You Can!

Just what is in a chicken nugget? A lot more than chicken that’s for sure. Recently I made the colossal mistake of taking a child with me to the grocery store. Somehow I allowed myself to be talked into not only a box of frozen chicken nuggets, but another of frozen mozzarella sticks. When we arrived home with our loot, both boxes were gone within the hour and two of my children were asking, “Why can’t you buy these all the time?” They were not happy with my lengthy answer that included reciting the ingredients list on the side of the nugget box.

Contrary to popular local lore, I am not the meanest mom in the world. I did feel a twinge of guilt when I looked into their sad faces. Not enough guilt to land those nuggets in my shopping cart again, but enough guilt to launch a search for a recipe for homemade chicken nuggets that actually tasted like the nuggets of their affection but was also good for them. This inspired me to search further and find a recipe for mozzarella sticks (The greasy, breaded kind my kids order at restaurants and fill up on before their meal arrives, not the plain kind that come in those wrappers that require reading glasses and non-guitar-playing fingernails to open.).

I located two excellent recipes on the website Weelicious and with a few modifications I’m happy with the version I whipped up last night to the delight of my diners! The coolest part is that I was able to make triple batches and freeze the extra nuggets and cheesesticks for future meals that the kids can fix themselves.

Want to know how I did it? Here you go –

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Under Seige from Japanese Beetles

Japanese beetles are killing me. Well, actually, they’re not killing me, but they are killing many lives that I hold dear. 

The cherry tree that survived the attack of rust two years ago that killed the other cherry trees is covered in skeletalized leaves. The nectarine tree is covered in beetles boring into the fruit and causing them to shrivel and ooze juice. The grapes are putting up a valiant fight, growing new shiney lime green leaves to replace the ones destroyed by the beetles only to lose those new leaves within days. 

Even the asparagus is covered in the nasty creatures. I’ve never seen them go after asparagus before and if they kill mine I just may hang up my shovel and go buy a condominium. What is there to do?

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

What Is Our Tipping Point?

What does it take to make us believe? This is a question I ponder on many levels, in many areas of my life. What makes us believe something we read or see or hear? Why are we skeptical of one statement and not another? Is it a gut thing? Or a heart thing? I think maybe it’s a trust thing.

I need to trust the source from which the information comes. I don’t trust Fox News, pretty much any politician, the check-out clerk at Wal-Mart, or the passionate volunteer on the phone. I don’t trust the crazy right-wing driven blogs or the looney-tunes left-wing e-newsletter. In fact, most times I don’t trust information I’m given until I’ve poked and prodded and tested it myself.

We have an electric fence in our horse pasture. I tell all the kids who visit that it will shock them, but there are always those who must find out first hand.I remember touching fences myself when I was a child. I’d lay a long piece of grass to the wire and listen close. I’d hear that little zzzzpt and know that, yup, it’s hot.

Eight years ago, when my youngest child developed an autoimmune disorder seemingly out of the blue, my world shifted. My heart cracked wide open and my beliefs about what was safe and good and healthy all became suspect. Life seemed more fragile. Almost overnight I saw the world and our food supply in a completely new way. I didn’t trust anything that came in a package or out a drive-thru window. My motivation grew out of a desperation and pain that was all new to me. I would do anything to heal my child. I entertained all manner of wacko experts and obscure studies and stifled my skeptical soul. But sometimes the information I gathered made sense.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Gardening is For Risk Takers

Gardening has made me more of a risk-taker. Don’t laugh; I’m serious. When I moved into my first home after college, I immediately set off for the local hardware store and bought a flat of impatiens. I planted them in a neat row outside my little house trailer (again, serious). Having grown up in the woods, I knew these particular flowers would grow in the shade provided by the maple tree that sheltered my home. I spaced them exactly as the tag instructed and smiled all summer every time I came home and saw the happy pattern of pink- purple – orange – pink – purple – orange. For the next few years I planted more impatiens and when I moved to a sunnier locale, I planted petunias. I walked past the complicated perennials in their big pots with their big price tags. I didn’t have the budget for that – and what if I killed them as I had every house plant I’d ever offered shelter to? As a gardener, I played it safe.

When my husband and I bought our first house it came with a long gardening history. A huge established perennial bed loaded with coreopsis, iris, dame’s rocket, lily of the valley, coneflowers, and peonies filled the foundation of the old carriage house just outside my kitchen door.  A 60 foot long asparagus bed and tidily contained raspberry patch grew along the edges of the property, along with gooseberries (?) and justaberries (???), strawberries, black raspberries, rhubarb, blackberries, and seven fruit trees! My gardening education took a steep curve upward. Sadly, I must report in the first year alone we killed the peach tree, tilled under the weed-infested strawberries, and could only stare in confusion at the gooseberries and justaberries – what do you do with those?
Our Carriage House Foundation Garden (circa 1996)


My greatest gardening goal was simply not to kill anything else. And we did get better. I learned to freeze and can almost everything we grew.  I even planted more perennials and started an overly ambitious vegetable garden which mostly fed the deer and rabbits. And then I got pregnant and handed my garden over to the weeds and my husband.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

(Almost) Screen Free Vacation

We’re taking a vacation next week! It will be a whole week with no animals to feed, no gardens to worry over, no grass to mow, no screens to dull our minds! Or mostly no screens.

When I was a kid we spent two weeks at the beach every summer. I loved those weeks. We rose with the sun, surf-fished endlessly, played in the water, and lay on the sand reading. We always arrived at the shore with a stack of books we’d selected the week before when Mom took us to the Bookateria, a local used book store that let you trade in old paperbacks for credit. We each got to fill a grocery bag full of books for our vacation. I loved the possibilities of those books and the long days and quiet evenings spent turning the pages. Some nights we played Hearts, Parcheesi, Risk, or Rack-O. We basked in our parents’ undivided attention. On afternoons when the sun burned too hot for the beach, we’d tramp across the dunes to Newman’s Shell Shop and spend hours studying the shells sold by the pound and savoring the air conditioning before picking out that year’s hermit crabs.  Some nights we’d hunt ghost crabs and study the stars. Other nights Dad would build a bonfire on the beach and we’d fish through the tide change. We’d come home from vacation just in time to start back to school with our coolers full of fish, our skin bronzed, and our books crackling from the sand still left between the pages.

The one thing that was never a part of our beach vacations was a television. Amazingly, every cottage we rented was without one! After I grew up, my mom confessed that each summer when we pulled in to our rented cottage, Dad would demand that we all help him untie the car top carrier and stow the beach chairs and buckets under the house while Mom would hurry in, locate the TV, unplug it and hide it in the Master bedroom closet where it would stay for the duration of the vacation. Pretty clever, my parents.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Teepee is Ready to Go!

The teepee is up! I know you were not aware of my Native American roots, but that’s only because I have none. The teepee is for my beans. It’s always the most impressive feature in my garden, causing people to ooo and awe over my gardening prowess. But really, it’s no big deal. You can build one, too.

The teepee costs nothing and can be assembled in a half hour or less, depending on your available resources. All you need is a few sticks – three long, three medium – and a bunch of twine. Baling twine, which is littered in most every nook and crevice of my barn, works best. After this winter, sticks are everywhere. If you haven’t got a pile in the back of your yard, stop by a park, woods, etc., and grab a few off the ground. I promise no one will mind. If you’re local and need sticks – c’mon over. We picked up fifteen pick-up truck loads of fallen branches after this winter’s ice storm. (You can grab some free baling twine while you’re here.)
Once you have your sticks and twine assembled, choose a relatively level spot that gets plenty of sun.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Bring on the Fat! (Really!)


When my youngest son was first diagnosed with alopecia areata, we desperately sought answers. All the traditional doctors at the esteemed hospitals told us there was nothing we could do. I refused to believe that and sought alternative treatments. This led us to a doc in Lancaster who practiced what I’ll call ‘wellness medicine.’ He doesn’t have a sign and he isn’t in the book, but through combing the internet, autoimmune message boards, and facebook, we found him.

We waited nearly six months for our appointment. It was pouring rain on the day that Ian and I set out for his office. We found it deep in the heart of the city of Lancaster in a basement of an unmarked old house. I was anxious, but committed to seeing it through so we waited in a damp, dimly lit room for over thirty minutes. The only literature available to read consisted of hippie newsletters full of information on making your own kefir, recipes for bulgur (what?), CSA’s, organic farms, and endless rants against the corrupt food system controlled by our even more corrupt government.

When the doctor appeared, he was a friendly bear of a man and Ian took to him immediately. He talked to us extensively about what Ian currently ate, looked in his mouth, felt his glands, scraped his skin, and took a saliva test. Then he overwhelmed my mind with his talk about how upside down our government’s nutritional standards are. He said Ian needed more animal fats and salt in his diet. He prescribed homeopathic remedies like butter capsules and vitamins he had specifically developed for kids in today’s American food culture. While Ian munched on a piece of beef jerky from the jar on his desk, I frantically wrote down everything he said about raw milk, grass-fed meat, full-fat cheeses, and bacon grease.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Sugar Addict

Is sugar addictive? Scientists and dieticians have debated this question, but most of us know the truth. Indeed it is. Powerfully so. The National Institutes of Health quietly agrees also, although they didn’t take out an ad on the front page of the New York Times to announce it.

Here’s what I know – If I eat one handful of M&M’s, I’m going to want another handful so badly that I’ll steal it out of my kid’s Halloween stash if I have to.  But when I stop eating white sugar for longer than a few days, I no longer crave it. There have been three Cadbury crème eggs (my biggest weakness in terms of hideously-bad-for-you-but-OMG-deliciousness) sitting on the top of my dresser since Easter morning. Usually my hubby is much trickier in hiding my eggs, but he had just returned that morning at 1am from a week of digging foundations by hand in rural Honduras in 100 degree heat. Instead of finding my Cadbury eggs in my sock drawer or inside my pillowcase, they were unceremoniously dumped on top of my dresser, Happy Easter. I think he gets points for even managing to produce them in light of his previous week. At any rate, those eggs are still sitting there over two weeks later. I haven’t even touched them because I know that the moment I do, I’ll eat all three. I stare at them every day, but don’t remove them. It’s like the cigarette in Augustus’ mouth in The Fault in Our Stars – I look at the killing thing every day to gain power over it.

Breaking the sugar habit is tough for all of us. Nearly everything edible you buy has added sugar. Check out any bread, yogurt, condiment, cracker, spaghetti sauce, prepared food, even hot dogs – high fructuous corn syrup or sugar is an added ingredient. It’s very difficult to avoid sugar.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Put It All on the Line (Literally)

Monday morning on my run, I noticed a new clothesline at a neighbor’s house. It’s one of those single pole types with multiple rows of lines filling a metal frame. Shirts on hangers hung neatly from each row and waved in the breeze. I didn’t stop to be certain, but my casual in-flight count was 24 shirts! That’s a lot for such a small set up.

At our house we have a single line with pulleys on both ends. One pulley is attached to a pole on our deck and the other is atop a long metal pole secured in the ground with cement. Because our line runs down hill, the pole is extra tall.

It’s surprising to me that more of my neighbor’s don’t utilize a clothesline. A dryer is one of the biggest energy hogs in the house. Our electric bill goes down by half in the summer thanks to solar powered hot water and the clothesline. I resisted the line for too many years thinking it would be too time consuming, too labor-intensive, too ugly.

Now when I drive up my driveway and see the clothes blowing in the breeze, it makes me smile. And I look forward to the five minutes I spend each morning hanging clothes out. It’s my time to listen to the birds, take in the sunshine, and be left alone. No one ever offers to help hang out the laundry (except my father-in-law’s wife who understands the sacred space created by clotheslines).

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Lovely Unnecessary Lawns

I’ve been thinking a lot about grass. My horses also (presumably) think a lot about it. They’re disappointed so far this year because our pasture grass has not truly begun to grow yet. Another frost this morning is just adding to our very late, very cold spring. I stand at the fence and study the grass and worry about it. The grass is the main food source for my critters all summer. Our winter hay ran out early because we had two solid months of snow-covered ground. My hay guy and neighbor keeps bringing me what he can, but it is increasingly less attractive as he digs deep into the recesses of his barn for hay baled nearly a year ago. I toss out a few flakes and the horses sniff it before walking up the hill in search of better food, only to return soon after to pick through the hay. When you’re hungry you’ll eat almost anything.

My husband and two of my kids returned late Saturday night (actually early Sunday morning) from a work project in Honduras. They were helping to build homes for the homeless in a remote village in the mountains where prosperity is judged by whether or not you have any chickens. I asked my son how the food was during their 9 day stay and he said, “I’ve learned to be a lot less picky about my food.”

The horses are figuring this out too while we wait for the grass to grow. I sent a soil sample off to Penn State for analysis and found out that my pasture soil has a perfect ph, plenty of nitrogen, but is low in phosphorus.  This will require a custom blend of fertilizer which is probably more money than I’m willing to throw at this problem. This led to some research on fertilizers.

Did you know that Americans use 90 million pounds of fertilizers and 78 million pounds of pesticides on their lawns each year? And nobody is even depending on that grass for survival. In light of the stories and pictures from my kids’ experience in Honduras, that seems grossly excessive. Those fertilizers do make the grass bright green, but they also contaminate rivers and streams and eventually drinking water. There is a creek at the bottom of my hill and every time it rains we watch as a steady torrent of water runs from our pasture, down our driveway, across the road to the stream below. If I were to apply the fertilizer I’m considering, how much of it would land in Deer Creek? And is it really worth it?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

What's Hiding in Those Eggs?

Easter is only a few days away. In previous years, I’d be prepared. This year, despite its late date, it snuck up on me. Considering there was snow falling from the sky last night (enough, already!), it’s been hard to get in the mood. Yesterday, and again this morning, my youngest, most subtle child, said, “I hope the Easter bunny’s figured out what he’s going to put in the eggs this year.” This child knows me. He’s also a snooper and has probably noticed the lack of stashed treats.

It’s hard to bring myself to buy crappy candy. Yes, I know, this is what Easter’s all about. Candy is part of the deal. Still, it grates on my soul. Tomorrow I will drag myself up to the Wolfgang Candy outlet in York and buy the obligatory sweet stuff. At least I’ll be supporting a local company.

One year, when I was more ambitious, I actually made organic homemade chocolate covered cream eggs. Who was that woman and where did she go?

Every year I try to think of other things to stuff the plastic eggs with beyond sugar drenched, food-dye laden, artificially flavored lumps (because really people, that’s what this is).

Now, don’t take me for a scrooge. I’m all about Easter. I love watching the kids hunt for eggs. I love surprising them with a few nice things in their Easter baskets. I just wish I had something better to offer them in their eggs.

My older kids are always looking for a handout, so money is an obvious option. I’ll fill a few eggs with cold hard cash. But what else fits in that tiny egg? I turned to the internet for ideas.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Garden Remodel and Mint Invasion

The peas are in the ground! Finally! I don’t know that I’ve ever planted them this late. (the picture of the planted peas was just dirt, so I took a picture of crocuses instead.)  This year’s garden is going to be a haphazard affair, it seems. We’ve got a construction project going which has forced me to relocate my strawberries, another chore I took care of this weekend. They wouldn’t all fit in the temporary bed I prepared for them, so some of them went in pallets. I’ve never tried this, but am hoping it works.

The driveway is being expanded and repaved- a project that has been overdue for at least ten years. New terraces and swales are being cut into our hillside to fix drainage issues. In the end, I’ll have two new huge garden beds! Well, since I’m losing one (the strawberries) in the process, it’s only a net gain of one bed. But as long as I’m still sending the garden to lawn ratio up, that’s all that matters.

This is the garden that's going -(I built that wall myself ten years ago by the way)

I’m a little nervous about one aspect of the garden remodel. In the bed where the strawberries used to reside there is mint. And when I say there is mint, I mean the entire bed is overrun, underrun, completely overtaken by mint. The strawberries have generally been able to hold their own in the battle for control, but the mint has always been on the winning end and I have to ally myself with the strawberries by mid summer and ruthlessly pull out any and all mint I can find. That still leaves plenty by fall when I cut it and dry it to make mint tea. My concern is this – when the old bed is bulldozed and the new beds are terraced into the same hillside, will the mint be EVERYWHERE?

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

DIY Organic Spice Mixes

Cooking is all about spices. This I’ve learned. If you’ve ever watched professional chefs work, you’ll notice they add spices, and particularly salt, by the handful, not the teaspoonful. I like a lot of spices. I want to taste my food.

When we turned over our organic leaf, I struggled to find organic versions of the spice mixes I’d become dependent on for seasoning taco meat, spaghetti sauce, pizza, seafood, and steak. It was hard to give up McCormick’s Montreal Steak Seasoning (the secret ingredient in my husband’s famous burgers) and who wants steamed shrimp without Old Bay seasoning?

Most commercial spice mixes contain MSG, plus all kinds of preservatives that most people would not even consider food. For instance, Old El Paso taco mix contains silicon dioxide which is the same thing found in those little packets that say “do not eat” in your shoe boxes. It also features ethoxquin which is a preservative AND a pesticide. If you google ethoxquin you’ll find a huge controversy swarming around its use in dog food. Apparently dog owners don’t want their pets eating pesticide! Well, I don’t really want my kids eating pesticides either.

Organic versions of popular spice mixes are silly expensive and not always easy to find. And there’s no need to – you can make your own!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

PARENT BEWARE: Your dry cleaning, toys, pretty lawn, and even your tap water may be poisoning your child's mind

Are toys, dry cleaning, and pretty lawns dangerous to your kids? Maybe, maybe not, but the evidence is certainly mounting.

According to a recent Harvard study, common chemicals in your house can wreak havoc on your child’s brain development. These toxic chemicals may be responsible for neurodevelopmental problems such as autism, ADHD, and dyslexia, but they may also be the culprit behind harder to pin down problems like slower development, lower math scores, hyperactivity, poor motor skills, aggressive behaviors, or just simply brains that never realize their potential.

The study is not conclusive, but there is plenty of evidence connecting neurodevelopmental issues and toxic chemicals found in dry cleaning, flame retardants (used on furniture, toys, and clothing), pesticides commonly sprayed on lawns, and even tap water.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Fat Kids Are Not Healthy or Happy: A Prescription for Parents

As a formerly fat kid, I feel somewhat qualified to address this issue: Childhood Obesity. I’ve kind of ducked and dodged the touchy issue on this blog, mentioning it in passing but never really facing it head on. Well, here goes.

I remember being dragged to the doctor as a chubby 8-year-old and being told I needed to eat more carrots and melba toast and less orange soda and cheese puffs. I felt guilty for every bite I put in my mouth after that. I look back on photos from those years and I certainly was chunky, but I wasn’t “obese.” Still, from the moment I stepped on that scale at the doctor’s office and he frowned, I only ever thought of myself again as fat. Even after I lost those pounds as a teenager, I never lost those pounds in my mind. I’m still conscious of every bite I take and I still judge myself by it. So trust me when I say I’m sensitive about this issue and my heart aches for kids who face it. I know it will color their lives.

Childhood obesity is complicated. It’s not about putting kids on a diet and it’s not about getting them active. Those are two strategies that will put a temporary bandaid on a lifelong sickness.

What we have to do is teach kids to live healthy and care about their bodies. As parents there is much we can do to set them up for success. But it will take time, effort, and a willingness to set an example. Most heavy kids have at least one parent who has, or is, struggling with their own weight. If it’s hard for us, how much harder is it for our kids?

Here’s what you’re up against –

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Start Some Seeds - Bring on Spring!

Here’s the view out my window:



So you can understand why it’s hard to imagine Spring will ever come, which makes it equally hard to start my seedlings.  Still, I have faith that someday the snow will be gone (not this week apparently since more is forecast for tomorrow).

I’ve written about starting seedlings in the past, but thought I’d toss out an updated version.

Need a reason to start your seeds yourself instead of buying already sprung plants from Home Depot?
Reason #1 – Much better selection and you can plant weird tomatoes, rare hot peppers, and expensive flowers.
Reason #2 – Sometimes those cute little already-blooming- awkwardly-on-their-tiny-stems specimens bring not only an instant garden, but some years (think 2 years ago) - the blight. A nasty early blight wiped out entire tomato crops on the east coast several years ago and its origins were traced to seedlings from Wal-Mart and Home Depot.
Reason #3 – It will give you great personal satisfaction, save you money, and make spring come sooner (that’s my own personal philosophy).

First things first. You need some stellar seeds.

 I buy mine from Pinetree Seeds and Landreth Seeds. Both sources have no GMO seeds and sell a huge selection of heirloom and organically grown seeds. If you order online, your seeds will arrive in a few days. Don’t jump the gun and buy those mass-marketed seeds at Wal-Mart. Don’t do it.

Next you need a container system and the right growing medium. In a normal year (as opposed to the Ice-age we are experiencing this year), I mix compost, vermiculite, and perlite as a growing medium to start seeds. This year my compost bin’s access door is still snowed in,
 so I’m opting for peat moss and vermiculite with the full knowledge that I’ll have to feed these babies some organic fertilizer once they’re up and at ‘em.

I use clean, empty yogurt containers 
with a few holes drilled in the bottom
 (You could use a box knife but since my hubby has more tools than Tim the Toolman, I have a drill bit just for this purpose!).

I’ve heard of people using egg shells as containers for seed starting. This sounds very organic and earth-friendly, but las with so many other things that sound great in theory, like cross-country road trips with the kids, it could be a disaster. Half an egg shell doesn’t seem like enough space to grow a real seedling, and how do you keep them from falling over? I decided to kind-of try this method this year. I’m starting some seeds in an egg carton. It’s biodegradable and I should be able to plant them  directly in the garden. I am skeptical of whether the plants will grow large enough to transplant well, but we shall see.
 (I’ll update you in May. Notice I only planted flowers – veggie seeds are too important to use for test purposes.)

It’s important to wet the planting medium thoroughly. A day or two before I'm ready to plant the seeds, I dowse each container until water comes out the bottom. I want this dirt wet all the way through. This might be a great project to do while you’re waiting for your seeds to arrive.

Before I put the seeds in, I write the name of the plant on a popsicle stick and place it in the container. I scatter 2-3 seeds on the dirt and cover it with the appropriate amount of growing medium. Your seed packet will tell you this, but it’s basically the same depth as the seed is tall, so that’s not very deep. Tomatoes will get ¼ inch or so, onions nearly no covering.

Next, I place these containers in a plastic under-the-bed box or show box, so that I can water them from the bottom once they sprout.

After the seeds are planted, I wet them with a spray bottle. You need to water gently at this point or your seeds will be washed in to the corners or too deep in the dirt to ever find their way out. Pick up a few empty spray bottles at the hardware store. These bottles are cheap. I try to keep an extra one on hand because you get what you pay for (they break/jam/refuse to work easily).

Place your seeds in a warm place under lights. (Actually for most seeds you don’t need the lights until they’ve sprouted.) We have a growing space with lights on a timer. You don’t need those special expensive grow lights. Really. An ordinary old fluorescent bulb or a warm sunny window will also work (although if you use a window remember to turn your pots regularly and expect a slightly slower growth rate).


Wallah – you’ve done it. Your garden is started!