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Artsy Kids: Paper Chains for Christmas

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Since Christmas is right around the corner, I thought I would share some of our family Christmas fun with you.  I always try to let my children do plenty of crafts and baking around the holidays.  I’ve tried to pass down Christmas traditions and create new ones with my family.  We make ornaments, cookies, and gingerbread houses.  We watch Christmas movies, read Christmas stories, and sing Christmas carols.  We enjoy playing with our Lego City Advent Calender.  And we even adopted an Elf on the Shelf last year to add to the fun.  We have trees in just about every room in our house.  We always decorate the “big” tree together.  We put on a cute little Christmas play at our church every year.  We spend time with family, drink hot chocolate, cuddle by the fire, and eat lots of popcorn.  We always dress in our Christmas pjs and read Twas The Night Before Christmas on Christmas Eve.  And, we always have a pancake breakfast on Christmas morning.  This list could go on and on…we really love Christmas in this house!

So, I will be posting different crafts, goodies, books, trees, traditions, and so on that I enjoy with my family every day this week.  I just love spreading that Christmas cheer.

A few days ago, my kids made paper chains to hang in their rooms.  These are so easy and fun to make.  People have been making these for years and hanging them around the house and on trees.  My mom used to make them with her siblings when she was a little girl.  I made them when I was a little girl.  And now, my children are making them.  Traditions!  Here are the steps to make your own paper chains.

Paper Chains for Christmas

Materials:

construction paper

scissors

glue

Directions:

1.  Using scissors, cut construction paper into strips that are somewhat even in length and width.

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2.  Glue the ends of the first strip together to form a loop.  Hold together until glue dries.

3.  Place the second strip of paper through the first loop.  Glue this one together to form a loop.

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4.  Keep connecting loops until your chain is the length you want it.

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5.  Hang your paper chain from the walls, ceiling, tree, chandelier…wherever you want it!

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I hope you enjoy this Christmas craft of ours!  What crafts do you do with your family at Christmas?

Dinosaurs at The Clay Center

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Have I mentioned that I love The Clay Center?  Well, I do!  And my kids do, too!  We love Earth City, Health Royale, and the Gizmo Factory.  We love visiting the art gallery, the planetarium, and watching a film on the giant screen.  And, we love the ever-changing Mylan Explore-atory.

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Currently in the Mylan Explore-atory is a wonderful exhibit called “Be The Dinosaur”.  The Clay Center pulled out all the stops on this one!

Be the Dinosaur fuses state-of-the-art video game technology with traditional paleontology exhibits that feature full-size dinosaur bones, a paleontology field station, a Safari Jeep and much more. Thanks to highly interactive simulator pods, guests can “become” an actual living, breathing dinosaur within a virtual Cretaceous Era ecosystem. Younger guests can take part in our Dino Dig, where everyone leaves with a dino-mite prize! The exhibit will also feature dinosaur artifacts and activities exploring dino defenses, size, colors and lifestyles.”- The Clay Center Website.

I enjoy all the exhibits that come to the Explore-atory, but I must say this has been my favorite.

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My kids especially loved the Safari Jeep.

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Who doesn’t love digging for dinosaur fossils?

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In this little box, you can dig up toy dinosaurs…and you even get to keep one!  My kids are big fans of plastic animals, especially dinosaurs.

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Build your own dino scene at this station.

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My, would you look at that footprint!

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We had a blast at the Dino-Morphs station where you can build a dinosaur using the pieces provided.

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We had a little too much fun putting the dinos together the wrong way.  Have you ever seen a dinosaur with a head on the front and backside?

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No dinosaur exhibit would be complete without a giant dinosaur head.

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By visiting all the stations in this exhibit, you learn about dinosaurs, paleontologists, fossils, extinction, and many other interesting facts.  You also get tips for how to play the Be The Dinosaur video game situated in the center of the room.

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This was my favorite part of the exhibit.  What can I say?  I’m a video game fan!

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My kids and hubby enjoyed it, too.  And they learned enough about dinosaur survival that they were able to keep their dinos alive for the whole game…Congratulations!  You Survived The Cretateous Era!

We really enjoyed playing at this exhibit, and can’t wait for the next exhibit “Brain Teasers 2” coming in January.  After becoming dinosaurs, we took time to play at the rest of the exhibits, and no trip to The Clay Center would be complete without a visit to our favorite…Earth City!

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Look!  It’s all decked out for Christmas!

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Oh, the hours we’ve spent in this room!  My kids could stay here forever.

I love days spent at The Clay Center…we’ll be back very soon!

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Here’s a little Christmas cheer for you.  May all my lovely bloggers out there have a very merry Christmas!

Yellow (Summer) Squash Casserole

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Yes, I realize that summer squash is easier to find and of better quality in the summer, but this recipe is a family favorite for the holidays.  I acquired this recipe several years ago from a very sweet lady who I admired very much.  It was a favorite in her family, too.  When I first made this for my husband’s family, they were a bit skeptical, most of them are not squash lovers, but they were willing to try it, and now they ask me to make it for almost every holiday dinner!  It is so super good!  And who doesn’t love a casserole?  I hope you will enjoy this as much as my family and I do!

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Yellow (Summer) Squash Casserole

Ingredients:

6 cups very thinly sliced squash

1 small onion, very thinly sliced

1 can cream of chicken soup

1 cup sour cream

1 cup grated carrots

1 stick salted butter, melted

1 box chicken flavored Stove Top Stuffing Mix

Directions:

1.  Cook the squash and onion in salted boiling water for 5 minutes and drain.

2.  In a large bowl, mix the soup, sour cream, and grated carrots together.  Add the squash and onion to the mix.

3.  Mix the butter with the stuffing in a separate bowl.  I usually add a couple of tablespoons of water to make the stuffing a little more moist, but if you want yours crispier, leave it as is…the choice is yours!

4.  Pour the squash mix into a 9×13 casserole dish.  Top with the stuffing mix.  Bake at 350F for 35-40 minutes.

5.  Enjoy!  Make sure to share it with your friends and family…they will thank you for it!

Chocolate Pretzel Fudge

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I recently made this fudge for Thanksgiving, and it was wonderful!  I love to bake and make desserts, but I have never made fudge before.  This recipe was so easy that a kid could do it…seriously, I think I’m going to let my kids in on the fun next time.  All you have to do is melt a few ingredients, toss in some pretzels, chill and cut, and you have some really yummy fudge.  If you like chocolate covered pretzels, which I really do, you will love this fudge!  It would be perfect to make for the holidays.  Who doesn’t want something easy to make and totally delicious to serve up at Christmas dinner?  Hope you enjoy this fudge as much as I did!

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Chocolate Pretzel Fudge

Ingredients:

12 oz. bag milk chocolate chips (I’m a Nestle Toll House girl)

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

1 can sweetened condensed milk

2 Tablespoons milk

1 cup broken pretzel pieces

extra pretzels for top

Directions:

Melt all the ingredients, except the pretzels in a saucepan over medium heat.  Stir frequently.  Remove from heat when chocolate is melted and smooth.  Stir in the pretzel pieces.  Pour into a foil lines 8×8 baking pan (you’ll thank me for this when you are cutting the fudge later).  Press whole pretzels on top of the fudge and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.  Lick the pan while you wait for the fudge to harden (you’ll also thank me for this when you’re making yum, yum noises).  Remove from foil and cut into squares.  Serve at your party and be a hero.

It’s as simple as that…hope you enjoy!

And if you’re feeling really frisky, you could dip some pretzels in white chocolate to serve with the fudge.  Double the fun!

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Butternut Squash Soup with Cinnamon Sugar Croutons

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Well, I’ve had an extended vacation from my blog…much, much longer than planned.  I’ve really missed writing, but it seems that life gets busier each year.  I can’t promise steady blog posts, but I will try not to take 6 months off again…haha!

I promised my facebook friends that I would post this recipe, so that’s just what I’ll do.  This soup is so wonderfully perfect for this time of year.  It’s so creamy, and savory, and sweet, and just super yummy!  I hope you’ll like it as much as I do.  Here goes…

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Creamy Butternut Squash Soup with Cinnamon Sugar Croutons

The Soup…

Ingredients:

2 Tbsp. vegetable oil

1 large butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into about 1 inch cubes

1 large onion, diced

1 Tbsp. butter

Big pinch of sugar

2 large garlic cloves, sliced

1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 tsp. ground ginger

3 cups chicken broth

1- 1 1/2 cups milk

Directions:

Heat oil in large pot over medium-high heat.  Add squash and onion.  Saute, stirring occasionally, until vegetables begin to brown, 7-8 minutes.  Add butter, sugar, and garlic.  Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are a rich caramel color, about 10 minutes longer.

Add spices and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Add broth and bring to a simmer.  Reduce heat to low and simmer, partially covered, until vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes.

Now, use an immersion blender, if you have one, and puree your soup.  If you don’t have one, and most people don’t, transfer to a blender and puree in batches until very smooth.

Return to pot and add enough milk to thin soup to desired consistency.  Heat through.  Ladle into bowls and top with croutons.  Enjoy!

The Croutons…

Ingredients:

1 small loaf sour dough bread

1 stick of butter (more or less)

Sugar

Cinnamon

Directions:

Cut loaf of bread into cubes.  These can be as big or as small as you like your croutons.  Place in a large bowl.

Melt butter and pour over bread cubes.  Stir to coat evenly.

Now comes the fun part.  Add as little, OR AS MUCH, sugar and cinnamon to your buttery bread as you want!  Stir to make sure each croutons is covered.  Yummy!

Place bread cubes on a large cookie sheet in a single layer.  Bake at 400F for about 15 minutes.

Put a good handful of these delicious Cinnamon Sugar Croutons on top of your Butternut Squash Soup and dig in!

Long Time Gone

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Wow!  Has it really been that long since my last blog post?!?  Life in summer is so very busy with gardening and swimming and playing and housework and schooling and church and travel and treehouse building and…you get the idea!  Add my husband’s vasectomy reversal to the list, and things get all kinds of crazy!

Yes, we have two beautiful children who are 7 and 8, and we thought we were content with that, but God had other plans for us.  So, if it is his will, we will be adding to our happy little family of four.  Excited and nervous…are we crazy?!?

So, to make a long story short, I will be blogging, but there may be gaps in my posts.  I have so much to talk about…summer schooling stories, recipes to share, gardening tips to tell, and life events to gush about, but I can’t seem to find enough time in the day.  Stick with me, guys, I’ll work on those time management skills!

Hope you are enjoying your summer as much as I am!

Happy Birthday To You!

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Yesterday, we celebrated my little girl’s 7th birthday.  I am still a bit in shock.  I just can’t believe she is 7 already.  It seems like such a short time ago I was holding this beautiful little baby in my arms.  She’s still my baby, though, and will always be!

So, as is tradition in our family, my little miss got a pancake breakfast…complete with 7 candles.  She went with a slightly more traditional approach than her brother did on his birthday.  She wanted her pancakes topped with butter, maple syrup, powdered sugar, and a big squirt of whipped cream.  Yummy!

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And, of course, we sang “Happy Birthday” to the birthday girl…

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Make a wish and blow out the candles!

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The whole day revolved around my little girl.  She got to play the games she wanted, watch the shows she wanted, and pick the meals she wanted.  It’s nice to be pampered, especially on your birthday.

For lunch, my little sweetie chose a pasta dish I just recently “created”.  It’s a yummy cold pasta with Italian dressing, fresh tomatoes, Parmesan and Mozzarella cheeses, and fresh from the garden parsley and basil.  So very delicious and one of my daughter’s new favorite dishes.

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After class, we took a swim in our pool.  This was the first swim of the year, so it was a special treat for my little girl’s big day.  The water was perfect and the kid’s had a blast splashing around…and so did their momma and daddy!

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My little girl was also in charge of deciding what we would all eat for dinner.  And what did she choose for her birthday dinner?  Oh, just Chicken Tikka Masala!  You know, a typical dish for a 7 year old to choose…NOT!  I’m so proud of both of my kiddos for not being picky and (almost) always willing to try new things.  This dish has been a favorite in our family for years.  And my daughter was not disappointed with her choice, both she and her brother devoured dinner!

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We had a wonderful, fun-filled day, celebrating my little girl’s 7th (boo-hoo) birthday!  Now, on to planning for her party this weekend.  I will be a very, very busy momma for the next 2 days, and my sweet little angel is worth every single minute of it.  I am so blessed!  Happy Birthday to you, my sweet girl!

Beans And Greens…A Country Staple

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I hope all of you enjoyed your Memorial Day weekend as much as I did.  It’s wonderful to spend time with family while honoring and remembering the ones who have served our country and died for our right to be free.  We live in such a great nation with so many freedoms we take for granted on a daily basis.  I am proud to be an American and so proud of all those who serve and have served our country, including many of my own family members.

Although the recipe I am going to post has nothing to do with Memorial Day, I needed to take a moment to show thanks for those who have served and the freedoms we enjoy because of them.

Now, on to the delicious country dinner of beans and greens, which I’m quite certain any service man or woman would love!  This dinner is one of my favorites, right up at the top with meatloaf.  There is nothing like good ole country, stick to your ribs, beans and greens.  And no dinner of beans and greens would be complete without corn muffins to sop up the soup at the end of your meal.  I always dice up some onion to put in my beans, and for some reason, I always serve slices of cheddar cheese with beans.  And, for goodness sake, make sure you throw some of the ham hock in your dish of beans.  The whole combination of beans, greens, corn muffins, ham hock, onions, and cheese just seems to be perfect.  Hope you enjoy!

Beans and Greens…A Country Staple

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Pinto Beans

Ingredients:

1 pound dry pinto beans

1 ham hock

salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:

1.  Place dry beans in a pot and cover with 6 to 8 cups of water.  (Make sure to check your beans for little rocks before you start cooking.)  Bring beans to a boil for 2 minutes and then remove from heat.  Allow them to soak for 1 hour.

2.  Now, you can either drain the water from the beans and rinse them, or not.  I know that every recipe I’ve ever read tells you to drain and rinse.  This soak and rinse method is supposed to make the beans cause less “uncomfortableness” after you eat them.  (You all know what I’m talking about!) I’ve never noticed any difference in soaked and rinsed beans and soaked and non-rinsed beans.  So, I just soak my beans to cut down on cook time, but do not rinse.  I think it takes away a lot of the flavor of the beans to rinse them, but the choice is up to you.

3.  Add the ham hock and salt and pepper to the pot.  Cook the beans low and slow, stirring often, for about 4 hours.  Always make sure the beans are covered with water, at least 2 inches above the beans.  Cooking the beans slowly, and on low heat, makes for a richer soup and keeps the beans from busting.

Collard Greens

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These greens came straight from our box garden.  There’s nothing like eating fresh greens and knowing what goes in them and where they came from.  Since I garden organically, I know that absolutely no pesticides touched my greens.  And they are so very yummy!

Ingredients:

1 bunch of fresh (or frozen) collard greens

2 cups water

4 Tbsp. butter

1 ham hock (from pinto beans)

1 Tbsp. sugar

salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:

1.  Separate the stems from the leaves and throw the stems away.  Wash leaves in cold water.

2.  In a large skillet, combine water, butter, ham hock (just steal the one in your beans), sugar, and salt and pepper.  Bring to a boil and add the collard greens.  Simmer over medium heat for about 1 hour, or until tender.

Corn Muffins

Ingredients:

Shortening

1 large egg

1 1/2 cups buttermilk

1/4 cup vegetable oil

2 cups Buttermilk Self-Rising Corn Meal Mix

Directions:

1.  Heat oven to 450F.  Place 1 small spoonful of shortening (I use Crisco) in the bottom of 12 muffin cups.

2.  Stir eggs, milk, oil, and corn meal in a bowl until smooth.  Batter should be creamy and pourable, so if it’s too thick, just add a little more milk.

3.  Put the muffin pan in the oven for about 5 minutes, or until shortening is hot.  Fill cups about 2/3 full with the batter (I use an ice cream scoop to fill my muffin pans, makes less mess), and bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown.

For The Birds: Rescue Mission

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Yesterday, while spending some time outside with my kiddos, we encountered a little bird acting very strangely.  It was trying to fly, but was unable to.  It was also unable to stand upright and kept falling backwards.  I was immediately concerned that this bird might have a broken wing or leg, but upon inspection of the wings and feet, I found that they seemed to be fine.  I am not a vet or an expert, but the bird seemed to be moving its wings without problems, and was able to grip with its claws and move its legs.  So why was this little bird unable to stand or fly?

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I put the bird, which I believe was a Wood Thrush, on a soft towel in a box with air holes.  The box was actually a Build-A-Bear box my son found for me to use.  So sweet of him to donate his box.  I called the Wildlife Rehabilitators who referred me to a vet in Charleston who cares for wild animals.  I drove over an hour to take this bird to the vet.  I had a bit of a let down when they just took the bird to the back without me.  I guess I thought I would get to go back to see what was wrong with it, even though it wasn’t really a pet.  I didn’t even get to say goodbye.  The receptionist couldn’t give me any information about what she thought might be wrong with this little bird and told me to call later when the vet had a chance to look at it.  The bird, if it could be healed, would be released from that location, not coming back home with me to be released where I found it.  So, I left, with no answers and no bird.

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As soon as I got home, I called the vet’s office and was told that the bird had neurological issues and was euthanized.  No other answers, no other explanation.  I was very sad to hear this.  Such a beautiful bird that will never fly again.  I’m guessing this bird fell from its tree or flew into a window, as many birds do.  I know this isn’t the first time a bird has suffered from neurological issues, and I know putting it to sleep was more humane than allowing it to suffer and starve to death, but I still keep wondering if there was something more I could have done for it.

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So, today I am mourning for a wild bird that wasn’t even my pet, but was just in my care for one short day.  I’ll always remember the way it looked up at me with such curiosity and trust.  I hope it at least felt some safety and love for those last few hours of its life.  And I pray there is a heaven for animals so this beautiful little birdie can fly and be whole once again.

In The Garden

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I promised a garden post yesterday, but got a little sidetracked trying to rescue a little birdie. (More on this in a later post.)

So today, I am finally blogging about my garden.  I love time spent in my garden…  working in the soil with my hands, pulling weeds while I sing to my plants, and finally, eating all the yummy fruits, herbs, and veggies that grow.  My husband and kiddos also love working in the garden with me and enjoying the rewards for their labor.  I think there is something very therapeutic about working in the garden, whether you grow flowers or edibles, or both.  Everyone should have a garden!

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I have landscaped around my entire house with trees, shrubs, vines, perennials, and annuals.  I love walking out every day and seeing the beautiful growth and vibrant colors.  Since I also spend time bird watching, all these trees, shrubs, and flowers have provided a welcome haven for the little birdies and attract more of them for me to enjoy.

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For my edible garden, I decided to build garden boxes.  Much of the soil around our house is fill dirt or red clay, and even though I was able to amend the soil for my landscaping, I didn’t want to fight with it every year for my garden.  With my garden boxes, I’m able to till the dirt every spring with a hand rake without having to break my back.  It sure makes gardening more enjoyable!

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I have four garden boxes, and this provides more than enough food for my family to enjoy in the spring, summer, and fall, plus canned food for the winter.This is my greens box.  I grew collard greens, kale, romaine, and spinach this spring.  I just put down summer crisp lettuce seeds.  Must have greens all season!  I love my greens!

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I have chives, garlic, onion, and leeks in this box.  These are my cooking staples.  I cook with garlic and onion almost every day.  And chives have so many uses…even the blooms are edible, and pretty, too.

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I just put my tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers in the ground.  We’ve had a very cool spring, so I didn’t want to risk putting them in early and being hit with frost.  I have 6 different types of tomato plants including Better Boy, Roma, and Cherry tomatoes.  I plant red and green pepper, and slicing and pickling cucumber.  I always make sure to can plenty of crushed tomato to use in the winter, and lots and lots of pickles.  I love pickles!

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Although this garden box looks empty, there is a lot of work going on beneath the soil.  This box will be full of corn and beans soon.  I have 3 different varieties of corn, bush beans, and pole beans.  With boxes, you can plant the corn closer together, which helps with pollination, producing a better crop.  So even though I won’t have a large crop, those ears will be full and yummy.

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I also added a few garden pots this year for my herbs.  I have an Italian herb pot with Rosemary, Oregano, Italian Parsley, and Sweet Basil.  All the makings for any Italian dish.  I also have a pot for my Mexican meals.  I put Cilantro, Jalapeno Pepper, and a small container Tomato in this pot.  I see some yummy salsa in my future!

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I am also experimenting with carrots and squash in pots.  I found this idea on Pinterest, and decided to give it a try.  So far, they look good…we’ll see how it turns out.

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All these wonderful herbs and veggies will make for some very yummy food and some very yummy recipes for me to post on my blog!  Here is a sneak peek of my next blog post.  It’s gonna be a southern dinner you won’t want to miss.  This meal has cooked collard greens, and they are delicious.  Here is a picture of the greens just added to the skillet, wilting around a big chunk of ham hock.  Oh, they’re good!

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