Sunday, December 10, 2017

Plant Journal: Planted in 2017

When I bought my land (two years ago) I had made a goal to keep some sort of detailed journal of the things I plant at The Shack. Here we are, snow on the ground, and I've only documented one planting - my fig.  

I know that it is important to document what you planted and when. For many reasons. My primary reason for tracking my plants (both planted and wish-list plants) is because there are certain plants I love but then cannot recall the variety name. It is very difficult to find a specific variety if you cannot recall the exact name.

2017 is coming to an end. In this post I am going to document at least a bit about each plant I can recall having planted this year. This will likely be a "living document" and change as I find the photos and plant tags that I have scattered hither and yon. I hope to make more detailed individual posts about each plant later.

I did learn a lesson in 2017 - Protect EVERYTHING from the deer. Or try too. They are voracious eaters. They clearly view my yard as a dessert buffet. And what they didn't eat, the bucks are now using as rubs - peeling the bark from my trees. Except for the Pawpaws. Thus far, they continue to leave the Pawpaws alone. Thank goodness for that.

2017 Plantings at The Shack

Dwarf Alberta Spruce - Technically, I planted this in 2016. December 30, 2016 to be exact. This miniature evergreen had been my Christmas tree at the apartment in Baltimore. It survived the holidays and the trip up to The Shack.  I planted it in my "yard" with the plan that when I remodel/rebuild The Shack, this little tree can be my outdoor Christmas tree in the years to come.

Pawpaws - Sunflower

I purchased two Sunflower Pawpaw trees from Sun Nurseries. I bought the smallest plants I could and they lived on my apartment balcony before being moved up to the land.  The moving of them was rough on them - due to my clumsiness in moving such "large" plants in the small Jeep.  However, they are planted, the deer do, in fact, leave them alone, and they have not died where planted.

Pawpaws - Seedlings - Mango and Sunflower

I'm a little bit afraid to mention the seedlings. They are still very young and vulnerable to my non-green thumb. I had been trying to start my own Pawpaws from seed and after several attempts it seemed to be a hopeless adventure. Then suddenly this summer, in the very HOT part of the summer, I noticed that one of the seeds had started to sprout. (Honestly, I noticed when I was dumping the soil from the container back into my big soil bucket. I had given up again!).  Two Mango and one Sunflower pawpaw starts are here in the apartment - hopefully to be planted at The Shack next year.

Persimmon - Nikita's Gift

I planted the persimmon tree from Sun Nurseries the same day I planted the Pawpaws. It's branches were smaller so the actual trip in the Jeep was less traumatic for it. However, the deer stripped it of leaves the first night I planted it. Also, I didn't get this poor little tree into the ground straight. It has a significant lean. And then this fall, the bucks have clearly been using it for a rub. Poor thing. 

Mystery Japanese Maple

I have a thing about a Japanese Maple. Not all of them. Not even most of them. Just a particular Japanese Maple. I want the one that is in a friend's parent's yard. It is BEAUTIFUL and transitions from greens, to a rainbow of oranges and yellows, to a deep red through the year. I want that one. I have been searching for years to find the name of this particular tree. Do you have any idea how many different Japanese Maple trees there are? TOO MANY! And I forgot to mention that their particular tree doesn't seem to make/drop many (if any) helicopter seeds.

Finally, this year, (at a Wal-Mart of all places) I found a Japanese Maple that is very similar.  I planted it on the land and it seemed to be doing very well. However, the bucks have rubbed it.  

And guess what? I can't find what I did with the tag, so at this moment, I cannot tell you what type of Japanese maple this is. Hopefully, the tag is at The Shack in the pile of plant tags I have there.

Fig - Olympian

I planted a fig plant based on friends who love figs and who told me that I will love figs.  I planted it in the "flower garden" near the lilac and the rose. I did manage to journal about the fig already so I won't talk much about it here.  I will say that the deer have left it alone so far. 


The kind people who know I stalk their Japanese Maple have given me a crooked Seuss-like Holly seedling from their yard. I love it! I have planted it just inside the edge of my woods. Hoping it will someday attract birds that I can watch from my deck.

2015 - 2016 Plantings at The Shack

My very first attempts to plant things at The Shack began with an attempt to start a rustic "flower bed" of sorts. I chose a lilac and a rose to reflect two of my childhood favorites. I immediately learned that gardening at The Shack begins with a pick ax and hard work. But I successfully planted these two plants. And miraculously, they have survived.

rustic flower garden 2016 - lilac on the left and rose on the right


I chose a purple lilac from Sun Nurseries. Lilacs were part of my earliest memories. I caged it as soon as I caged the rose. So far, the Lilac is doing great.

Rose - Granny Grimmetts

Years ago I lived in a home that had an unruly but amazing rose bush in the side yard. The scent was so strong and wonderful that I looked forward to the blooms each year. I had no idea what type of rose that was. As soon as I bought my land, I began looking for that type of rose to plant in my yard. 

It has been impossible to find that particular rose. But I did find a wonderful place to purchase roses. The Antique Rose Emporium provided some patient answers to my questions about that elusive rose from my past. And I ordered this Granny Grimmetts rose from them.

As soon as I planted the rose, without protection, the deer stripped it immediately. I put a cage around it, and insects stripped the new leaves that grew. I was certain that rose had died. But it came up the next year. And it came up this year. I am hoping to find a way to nurture a rose or two on my land.

Assorted bulbs, perennials, and annuals 

I have planted assorted spring bulbs, perennial flowers, and annuals in my "flower bed". None - with the exception of annual marigolds - seem to have fared well. Likely, most of them have become snacks for the deer and squirrels.

This lovely marigold did great in that spot. The marigold showed no sign of pests, diseases, or deer damage.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Treasures: Tied Fleece Blankets for the Dogs

Tiny handmade tied fleece blanket for my tiny dog Daisy
During a recent trip to a local fabric store, I saw some fleece remnants at deep discount prices. I have always wanted to try to make a tied fleece blanket but previously never followed through. I was afraid to spend the money on materials without feeling like I knew what I was doing. But when I saw these remnants, I felt brave and I purchased the two small pieces of fleece and brought them home to try.

I thought if I begin with the plan of making very small blankets for the dog crates, I won't feel badly if this project turns out ugly and the dogs would still have new blankets. This decreased the intimidation factor of trying something new. Besides, the thought of making dog blankets using a paw print on one side and a cat print on the other side just tickled me. I HAD to try.

How to Make Tied Fleece Blankets

There are many video and written tutorials on the internet about making tied fleece blankets. By looking at a variety of these tutorials, I had decided I wanted to tie my knots in a certain way and I wanted to cut the corners off of the blanket in order to make tying at the corners easier.

With those two decisions made, I began.

Good thing this first blanket is teeny tiny, for my little dog Daisy, because I did make some mistakes. I did not account for the "print" at the very edge of the fleece material. And it clearly shows in the finished project. I think it is distracting and ugly. Fortunately, Daisy can't read. And is probably colorblind. So that turns out to be a good learning opportunity for me - instead of disaster. Also, when I measured to cut out my corner squares, I didn't account for the width of the tape measure. As a result, I ended up with some 4" fringe and some 4 1/2" fringe. I had intended on fringe that was 1" x 4" - before the knot.  The 1" x 4" fringe was incredibly difficult for me to tie (with the knot I had chosen) with my bare hands.

I began using a heavy chopstick to help tied the knots. The chopstick helped me to adjust the knots and grip the material - making more uniform knots. In the future, I will make either longer or thinner strips of fringe for easier tying. Maybe both thinner and longer.

Materials Needed to Make Tied Fleece Blankets

  • Two pieces of fleece (I chose contrasting prints)
  • A sharp pair of scissors - I love Fiskars
  • A tape measure or yardstick
  • Optional - chopstick (a crochet hook may have worked)
  • Optional - masking tape (for marking the edges to help ensure measurements)

Caution: I have a very small apartment, so I laid the project out on the floor for cutting. With carpet, that was a risky move. Take great care if you make the same choice or you will likely give your carpet a haircut. I highly recommend doing the cutting on a flat, hard surface.

  1. Lay out the two layers flat and smooth - one on top of the other - "right" sides facing out
  2. Measure for the corners - cutting out the corners (measure twice, cut once! Something I neglected to do)
  3. Carefully measure and moved down each side, cutting for the thickness of each fringe
  4. Begin tying the knots - Beginning with the fringe directly next to each now missing corner. That results in two tied fringe pieces on each side; anchoring the pieces together as they were initially placed together
  5. Continue tying the knots until the blanket is complete
That is all there is to it! As I tied the knots, I used the chopstick to adjust them to make them more uniform. And I frequently checked that the material was still lying flat together and hadn't shifted or puckered much.  Please scroll down for the photographs of the steps.

Daisy's finished blanket is approximately 20" x 20" (fringe included) - a similar size of her dog bed. 

Willy - trying to claim the blanket as his own
while I am trying to tie knots
This was a fun project. I am feeling more confident with making tied blankets. After I make a blanket for Willy (as clearly he wants one of his own!) I plan to move on to those adorable "kits" that are printed with cute patterns and make some blankets for the grandbabies.

If you have been considering trying tied fleece blankets, I encourage you to give it a try. Remember to scroll down for the step-by-step photos.

*This article may contain affiliate links. If you shop via one of the affiliate links, I may earn a small commission - at no additional cost to you. I am very appreciative of every reader who visits my articles. Thank you. 

Tied Fleece Blanket Making: Step-by-step in photos


Sunday, November 26, 2017

"Done in a Day" Crocheted Blanket Review

Simply Soft crochet yarn by Caron
I love to crochet. But I usually am only in the mood to crochet during the cooler months. And I'm somewhere between a beginner and an intermediate. Patterns with a variety of stitches or changes in the rows confuse me. These factors often limit the projects I can crochet. However, I've found an easy and pretty crocheted pattern called "Done in a Day" as found on Dabbles & Babbles. I am so excited about this treasure that I have to share it with you (and put it here so I don't loose track of it!).

"Done in a Day" Crochet Baby Blanket

My only criticism is that "Done in a Day" is a misnomer. At least it is for a beginner like me. It certainly is not going to be a project I finish in a day. A weekend. Or even a week. Perhaps advanced crocheters can do this in a day. I can't. Granted, the author is using a bulky weight yarn and I am not (I am using the Caron Simply Soft shown in the photo above). But still. I wouldn't have it done in a day. You might, though.

EVERYTHING else about this pattern is awesome!

I used different yarn and a different gauge hook to suit my needs. Fortunately, the pattern begins with a chain in the amount of stitches divisible by 2. The author's pattern started with 66 stitches. Mine - with a smaller hook and yarn - started with a chain of 122 stitches.

The pattern continues with directions for three rows. Yes, only THREE rows that are repeated until the length of the item is obtained. How easy is that?

Easy enough for me!

Double crochet (dc) is a stitch that comes to me intuitively. It is a stitch that adds length more quickly than some other stitches. This project is row after row of double crochet. And the subtle "pattern" comes from the placement of the stitches. The two double crochet stitches are grouped in the top of the "V" formed by the two double crochet stitches in the row below. Make a "V" and skip a space, make a "V" and skip a space. Easy.

A portion of the pattern directions:
Chain 66 (made in multiples of 2 if you'd like to adjust size)
Row 1: 2dc in the 4th ch from the hook, *skip 1 ch, 2dc in the next ch*, repeat across entire row ending with a dc in the last ch. turn
Row 2: Ch 3. Skip the first dc and dc twice into the space between the next group of 2 dcs. *Go to the next group of 2 dc's and dc twice into the space between*, repeat until the end of the row ending with a dc in the last dc
Row 3: Repeat row 2. Bind off and weave in ends.

The Dabbles & Babbles finished blanket measures 32" x 32". Mine will finish to be a couple of inches longer and wider. 

CLICK HERE - for Done in a Day crochet pattern by Dabbles & Babbles
I am very excited about my progress with this project and can't wait to start more throws in a variety of colors. My next project will be one for myself -- in Bernat Blanket Yarn.

If you are looking for an easy and beautiful pattern, check out this one. Add your personal touch by choosing a variety of colors and/or weights of yarn. 

*This article may contain affiliate links. If you shop via one of the affiliate links, I may earn a small commission - at no additional cost to you. I am very appreciative of every reader who visits my articles. Thank you. 

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Shack Tour: Before

Welcome to The Shack. I have decided to challenge myself and learn how to take videos of my land and upload them to platforms such as YouTube. I realize that most 8 year olds would ask, "What's there to learn?" But the technological advances beyond the most very basic photograph editing do not come easy to me. 

Currently, I don't have any particular homesteading skills or talents to video and share. But I do have my country-living, retirement dream in progress and I would like to document the before, during, and after. 

My Off-Grid and Debt-Free Retirement Dream

In 2015 I had quite a year. Too many things were going on to list here. But one of those things is important for this post - I bought 4 acres in West Virginia and started dreaming of retiring there as soon as possible. Preferably, debt-free and self-sufficient.

Two years later, I'm moving slightly away from the idea of replacing the existing rickety hunting cabin with an completely off-grid small home. But that is still to be determined.

Currently, The Shack (that rickety hunting cabin) is off-grid. And I go camping there as often as possible in order to escape the hustle and bustle of living near Baltimore and to plan for life on that West Virginia Ridge.

I do know that I plan to build a small home. Use solar for power and passive solar for heating. And I hope to grow as much of my own food as possible.

Two weekends past, I spent the weekend there. I like cool weather camping. I love keeping warm with that wonderful wood stove.

This is a partial and brief tour of the inside:

This is a tour of the "yard" portion of the land. 

The previous owners left behind the old shed (it is not an outhouse - although it looks like it) along with probably two truckloads of things that need to go to the dump. I have been slowly but surely trying to do some removal of poison ivy and invasive weeds. While planting a few fruit trees, and starting a "flower garden".  

There is much to do. And even more to learn. Thank you for coming along on this journey with me.

*This article may contain affiliate links. If you shop via one of the affiliate links, I may earn a small commission - at no additional cost to you. I am very appreciative of every reader who visits my articles. Thank you. 

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Naturally Made Soaps by Angela

I have found a new treasure - a bar of handmade soap by Angela. Good soaps are important to me. I look forward to long, relaxing soaks in the tub and handmade soaps are a splurge item for me. I search for soaps that moisturize my skin and smell great. I am thrilled with my Orange Spice soap from Naturally Made by Angela. I have to spread the word about these wonderful bars of soaps made by a woman on her homestead.

Naturally Made by Angela

I became aware of Angela through some online homesteading groups. People in those groups share their stories about gardening, chickens, cooking, canning, and living a more natural life. There is much to share with Angela's story. One part of her story is that she makes natural soaps. 

I ordered the Orange Spice bar based on the knowledge that she uses pure essential oils. When the soap arrived in the mail, in an envelope with a simple brown paper label around the bar of soap, I immediately fell in love with the scent. I couldn't stop sniffing it. I wanted to immediately go take a long soak in the tub but I waited so that I could take photos of this simple, pretty bar of soap.

A beautiful bar of Orange Spice soap

Yesterday, I took a long soak and used this bar of soap. I loved it while using it in the tub - it was so creamy and smelled so good. Then I woke up still feeling the moisturizing effects this morning! You see, I judge the moisturizing ability of soaps with my elbows.  If I get out of the tub and my elbows are immediately rough again, the soap is no good. I had this disappointing experience with a bar of soap I purchased recently. No good. A good bar of soap, in my opinion, is one that makes my elbows softer for at least a few hours after my bath. This Orange Spice soap by Angela has my elbows still feeling softer the next day! 

To find her soaps online, check out her facebook page Naturally Made by Angela.

Angela - An Inspiration

Angela inspires me. She lives with her family in the country. They garden, raise chickens, and share that part of their lives on videos (youtube and patreon). People who know me are aware that my goal is to move to my land and  retire with a garden and chickens - living a simple life. Angela inspires me to keep moving toward my country living dreams. 

Angela's country living abilities are not the only things about her that inspire me. Or that her children appear happy, confident, and excited to show-and-tell their favorite chicken. That inspires me too, but that's not all. You see, Angela has survived multiple brain aneurysms and surgeries to repair those aneurysms. Despite these terrifying (to me, if not to her) health emergencies, Angela continues on. I don't know how. I'd ball up into a wimpy, complaining puddle of worthlessness if I was faced with what she's been faced with. But not Angela. 

On Angela's facebook, you can read that her health slowed her soap production at one point. In some of her videos, she gives information about her health and updates about her surgeries. But outside of that, I would not know that she has had these experiences. I've experienced Angela as a kind and gentle person who encourages others. I can't recall a time I've seen her complain or be mean. And, as a person who suffers migraines and struggles to get out of bed many days, she inspires me most by facing the health challenges she's faced with such a good attitude.

Thank you Angela for the amazing Orange Spice soap and for the inspiration to keep moving forward. 

*This article may contain affiliate links. If you shop via one of the affiliate links, I may earn a small commission - at no additional cost to you. I am very appreciative of every reader who visits my articles. Thank you. 

Related Links:

In case you missed the link above, you can order Naturally Made by Angela soaps by messaging her through her facebook page.

I follow several homesteading groups. My favorite by far are Appalachia's Homestead with Patara groups. These groups are where I came to know about Angela as well as many others who share their skills and knowledge. This is the link to the free group but there is also a premium members group. 

My regular readers are aware that I love soaps. I've previously written about two of my favorite goat's milk soaps.  I have also written about the reasons I rely on Dr. Bronner's castile peppermint soap - which includes some migraine relief. 

And here is a peek at one of my favorite video personalities! Angela has wisely chosen to share the majority of videos with her children on her patreon page - of which I am not yet a member. However, I've seen her children in videos and live streams. Their happiness is infectious and they always make me smile. In this video, Winston is helping with the chicken chores. 

Saturday, October 7, 2017

The Carroll County Farm Fresh Store

Visiting Carroll County Farm Fresh.
I recently found a local fresh food treasure that is worth writing about. In my search for Pawpaws, I received information about a store that carried them. I immediately entered the address into my phone's map app and high-tailed it to Carroll County Farm Fresh. Not only did I find Pawpaws, I found a treasure trove of organic vegetables, fruits, meats, eggs, and milk. I also found the best customer service I've experienced in a very long time. It is refreshing to find someone who is working with passion about their product.

Carroll County Farm Fresh, Baltimore County, Maryland

I cannot confirm if the store is located in Eldersburg or Sykesville, Maryland. My map app, road signs, and subsequently the internet seemed to use the town names almost interchangeably. And I'm not familiar enough with the area to know where one town ends and the other begins. Despite not being very familiar with the area, the store was incredibly easy to find.

I do know that the address is clearly: 2808 Liberty Road. The store was easy to access at the corner of Oakland Mills Road and Liberty Road. A turn at the light from Liberty onto Oakland Mills and an immediate turn into the roomy parking lot. 

Andrew greeted me with happy helpfulness and without hovering or high-pressure sales techniques. He did offer a complimentary fresh-squeezed orange juice. The orange juice was delicious.

I was thrilled to find that they did indeed have pawpaws. HUGE Shenandoah pawpaws from Deep Run Orchard. Woohoo! That made my day. After all, I've become a huge pawpaw fan since my first pawpaw taste test.

Pawpaws and fresh-baked Pawpaw Bread

Other customers came and went as I decided I had to take some photos to share with my readers. 

Andrew explained that this is their family business. And many of their items come from small local farms and businesses. For more information you can find Carroll County Farm Fresh on their website and on their facebook page.

I wish I had taken notes on the variety of products and farm names. Just a few of the other farm names and items I noted were:

  • Baugher's (apple cider)
  • [be] essential (goatsmilk and vegan soaps)
  • Cherry Glen (goat cheese)
  • Deep Run Farms (pawpaws and tomatoes)
  • Serene Lavender Farms (jams and teas)
  • Thelma's Homestead (goatsmilk soaps)
  • Whispering Breeze Farm (cow cheese)

Once Upon A Crumb

There are also baked goods available. If you know me, you can imagine how ecstatic I was to find loaves of fresh-baked Pawpaw bread. Of course I bought one. It was divine! It was a fresh, rich, cinnamon bread (reminded me of a coffee cake) full of pawpaw flavor. 

The breads were baked by Once Upon A Crumb. If you liked fresh baked goods, you MUST try one of their items. 

If you want fresh organic fruits and vegetables, meats raised on small local farms, fresh milk and eggs without the increased preservatives the stores are boasting about ("fresher longer" ads), and variety of other products and customer service, you would be glad to visit Carroll County Farm Fresh.  The store was clean, fresh, and I really wanted to purchase one of each item. 

Words are not adequate so I will just end with a few of the photos I snapped. 

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Reviewing the Anker Portable Solar Power Charger

The ease of portability with the Anker PowerPort.
I have found a treasure that is not so very expensive but is worth it's weight in gold if you need to charge your cell phone and have no way of doing so. The Anker 21 watt PowerPort is portable, small, and powerful.  If you go camping, hiking, or if you want to be prepared for power outages at home, you may like this solar charger as much as I do.

The Anker 21 watt PowerPort Solar Charger

This little charger can be kept in the seat pocket of your car, in a hiking backpack, your bug out bag, or many other small storage spaces. The four sections of the gadget fold up like a pamphlet. The velcro holds it closed.  When folded it measures only 11" x 6".  When fully opened it measures only 26" x 11".

When opened, you access the pocket with the USB port. The PowerPort has two ports so you can charge two items at a time. The PowerPort comes with one charging cord. I could charge my Kindle and my cell phone at the same time.

As soon as you open the Anker PowerPort Charger, you can immediately see if the item is collecting sun via the indicator light. 

Anker PowerPort with 2 USB ports, indicator light, and cord included

As soon as I received my Anker, I took it out to the balcony to give it a try.  It was an extremely sunny day. Even so, the charger charged my phone far more quickly than I expected. I've never timed it, but I believe it takes longer to charge when it's charging in the Jeep up at the Shack! I know it seems like forever when I am waiting to bed but I want a full charge on the phone for overnight.

4:54 pm - Charging at 62%

6:02 pm  - Charging at 81%

The Many Uses of the Anker PowerPort Solar Charger

I bought this on the recommendation by a friend who has owned his for a year or more.  He uses his for camping, hunting, and traveling. He charges his items while in the woods or while in the truck without putting strain on the truck battery. He has not had a single complaint with his Anker. 

I bought mine for hiking and camping purposes as well as power outages that occur in the neighborhood where my metro apartment is located. I will also take mine with me when I travel to the Shack. Even though I have a large solar panel and inverter there, I need to replace the donated batteries (which are expensive). So in the meantime, I can use the Anker to charge my phone (rather than take my phone out to the Jeep in the dark and the wilderness and charge it there). 

I did see some questions on Amazon and I want to make it clear... this is not an inverter. You cannot charge items with "plugs" with this. You can only charge things that can charge with a USB cord. That includes phones, kindles, and tablets. Maybe some cameras. If you item plugs in with the cord that fits into the hole shown in the photo above, you can use this mini-solar panel to charge your items. 

I occasionally lose power in my apartment for most of day due to things such as traffic accidents hitting power poles and those big power boxes. We have also lost power here due to ice storms and blizzards. Finally, with the recent news of the damage caused by hurricanes, I made sure I am more prepared with the Anker PowerPort Solar charger. 

*This article may contain affiliate links. If you shop via one of the affiliate links, I may earn a small commission - at no additional cost to you. I am very appreciative of every reader who visits my articles. Thank you. 

Related Link:

I also depend on headlamps for lighting at the Shack, while camping, hiking, and during emergencies. You can read my review of headlamps here. If you've ever suddenly been in the dark and needed lighting you are aware of the importance of light. Read about my choice for hands-free lighting.