Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Spring Ornamental Grass Preparation

I am one of those people who does not trim my ornamental grass back in the fall, I would much rather leave it in the yard throughout the winter to enjoy seeing it during snow storms rattle back and forth.

Now that it is spring, there is a good chance many of you have already trimmed the dead grass down close to the ground in order to allow the new growth a place to come in and get sun light. I would venture a guess to say it is getting close to the last chance for trimming back the old grass because soon you are going to have the new spring growth that you do not want to cut.

Worst case scenario-you have to trim your ornamental grass higher off the ground so that you don't damage the new growth, but allow the old to be reduced as much as possible.

Luckily, if you can't even do that, one year not cutting back the old stuff will not likely kill your grass-but it certainly is not optimal.

I have even had luck just pulling the old grass strands out one by one and since they had been dead so long they usually just pulled right up. The difficult part of this option is that I have several ornamental grasses that are all a food in diameter or more! So that is a lot of extra work that could certainly have been avoided.

Tips for quick and efficient grass cutting:

-Use tape or a zip tie to hold the grass together in a bundle before you start cutting it. This makes the clean up into a lawn bag much faster and easier.

-electric hedge clippers work well to cut straight through it quickly and easily.

-hand pruners will work, but often times the grass will bend rather than cut from the blade. It takes a skilled hand and an exact angle to cut it rather than crush and bend it.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Happy Birthday Sara Stepford!!!

The Stepford Sister's would like to wish a very special Happy Birthday to our very own, Sara Stepford!!!

We hope you celebrate with your family and have a great day :-) We of course had to include a birthday wish with coca-cola involved because every time we see merchandise we remember her bedroom from our high school years, where many hours were spent!

Stephanie and Jairica Stepford

Dividing Hostas and other Perenials this Spring

It is nearing the end of the time frame that you have to divide and replant perennials! This I divided and replanted my plants in the last week of April. It gave me enough time to see the shoots of the leaves and how big the plant was.

If you wait too much longer you will have warmer weather to deal with that can be damaging to your plant, and the longer you wait the more likely you are to damage the leaves from dividing, transferring, and replanting.

I love perennials because it is a cost that you pay for one time and it comes back year after year. More times than not, a perennial also means lower maintenance and often little to no watering throughout the entire summer.

Specifically in my yard I have hostas and sedums that grow over time and are able to be divided without harming the plant. With only investing in a few plants, you are able to fill in a large area in a matter of a few years. I got lucky and got most of my original hostas from family members who had existing strong plants, so it also helps to know the hardiness of them when possible.

Seedums are another favorite plant of mine. These are slower to grow than hostas. In the late summer they get a really pretty purple flower on the top, but the foliage looks nice in the spring, early summer, then late fall and winter after the flower is gone.

Just make sure when you are transplanting your plants, you dig a hole deep enough to set the entire dug up plant and roots in, and make it wide enough that it will fit with space around it. You will want to fill in the gaps with soil then lightly pack it into the ground. I usually use my foot to stomp the transplanted piece into the ground. Plant before anticipated rain or make sure you water the area if there is no upcoming rain!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Early Garden Planting

I have never planted a garden as early as the last week of April, but I decided to take a chance that it wasn't too early and get all of my planting done for the entire summer. I went to a local hardware store that has an outdoor section with plants and vegetables etc.

They had their 1 quart perennials and annuals 4 for $10, and their herbs and vegetable plants 5 for $10. I purchased some tomatoes and pepper plants to put in my garden. After over planting last year and the tomato plants competing for sun after they grew taller, I have learned that less might be more!

I have always had the worst luck with trying to start my garden from seed. In my case, with such a small garden to plant to begin with, it is the same price or cheaper to purchase my plants already germinated and a few inches tall. This helps me avoid the task of growing them indoors, waiting to see which ones don't die, then remembering to water them, then risking them getting shocked when transitioning to the outdoor weather. Purchasing my plants already looking strong works well for me and there is a lot less chance the plant will die.

My hope with this early planting is that the roots will take a firm hold to the ground earlier and allow the plant to actually start growing earlier in the season than they did last year. I am also going to fertilize them more frequently because last year my pepper plants only yielded a few peppers apiece, and they were small at that.

Another great perk to planting this early: it isn't hot outside and the soil is usually pretty easy to move since there is a fair amount of rain in the spring. It also helps you avoid having to water you plants after planting in them in the ground-just plant the day before you expect rain!

Remember, spring plants are still delicate, so you will want to wait a week or two before you consider fertilizing them because they are already getting acclimated to weather changes outside and their roots are just being exposed to new conditions as well. It is best to wait so that you don't shock your plant with too many changes at once.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Proper Lawn Care During Spring

I have always had the tendency to want to cut my grass shorter during the spring because it grows so fast and the shorter it gets cut the longer you can get away with mowing.

Well, now that we have a lawn chemical service, we regularly receive lawn-care newsletters about what we should be doing to our lawn to keep it at its optimal health and appearance.

One thing that is important early spring during the active growing season of the grass is to leave it at around 3 to 3 1/2 inches tall. That is because cutting it any shorter will 1. allow weeds to be able to take root and grow much easier because the seed has a shorter distance to dirt and 2. when cut too short your grass is being depleted of its nutrition.

If you have a problem with weeds often, think about the height of your grass when you mow it. If you have taller grass the weed will be competing for sun and nutrition, this competition is a good thing because far fewer weeds are going to actually survive long enough to be a problem.

Another thing important for lawn health is mowing with a sharp blade. If you have a dull mower blade it is going to be hacking at your grass to cut it rather than just going clear through each blade. When grass is hacked, it is sometimes just getting laid over rather than cut down.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Arbor Day!

 Happy Arbor day!

Here are some fun ways to celebrate Arbor Day!

Plant a tree! Planting trees helps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, cleans pollution, secures soil in place to prevent erosion, and provides homes for a lot of biodiversity.

Dress in environmental colors for the day; greens and browns, think "tree"! Wear badges if you have them that carry pithy summaries of your environmental views.

Try making up a simple natural orange vinegar and water counter cleaner. You don't necessarily have to give up your heavy-duty cleaners--just try using them when you really need to disinfect, rather than simply clean.

Take a hike! Go out there and enjoy nature and talk a walk through the woods. You can make it a family event like Stephanie's family did in her post here, or enjoy the solitude of communing with nature. Another great idea to get the kids involved is to go geocaching!

Make a craft! This is especially good if you can used recycled materials. Try one of our Arbor Day craft ideas found here.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Quick Read: Homemade Orange Vinegar Cleaner

Shannon and I filled a mason jar with Clementine peels and white vinegar. Once the jar was full we boiled the mixture for a couple minutes, let it cool, and strained the liquid into this spray bottle.

Viola! Homemade natural cleaner!

It actually works really well, I just wish it didn't smell so much like vinegar...adding some water helps with this, but I keep mine pretty strong, I don't like to water things down too much.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Drinking water while pregnant

Aim for eight 8-ounce glasses per day (64 fluid ounces) of fluid, plus one 8-ounce cup for each hour of light activity. Milk, juice, decaffeinated drinks, and caffeinated drinks all contain plenty of water and "count" toward your fluid intake.

Keep in mind that juice and sweetened drinks also provide a lot of extra calories (most of which are sugar which I have been studying all the adverse effects of lately), so don't rely on them too much.

Also try to keep your caffeinated drinks to a minimum and refer to my post on caffeine for more information on that.

Why is drinking water so important?  Water facilitates the absorption of essential nutrients into the cells and transports vitamins, trace elements, minerals, and hormones to the blood cells. It's those nutrient-rich blood cells that reach the placenta and ultimately your baby. And don't forget, you're not just eating and drinking for two, you're also expelling waste for two. Water  dissolves the waste products and helps flush them from your body.

Don't cut down on your water and other fluid intake because you're afraid of retaining water, either. Oddly enough, the more fluids you drink during pregnancy, the less your body retains. So if your feet and ankles are swollen, drinking more water actually helps decrease that. Drinking water also helps regulate your body's internal cooling system which all pregnant ladies know is necessary (I am currently in a thin house dress and still too warm). Plus plenty of water can help with exhaustion and headaches so feel free to develop a drinking problem.

Another thing to note is an interesting discovery I made. Not only is it important to space your water intake throughout the day (because it is possible to drink too much at once, flood your system, and feel painfully bloated), but it also matters what vehicle you use to transport the water to your mouth. I like to drink from water bottles. I have several of them which I refill as needed. They are great for keeping cat hair from drifting into my beverage, or dust particles, or anything else that makes me dump my cup and refill it. More importantly though, I was using them as a way to track how much I drank throughout the day.

While house sitting for my aunt and uncle for a week I found that I wasn't feeling bloated nearly at all. I didn't understand this since none of my eating habits changed all that much and the ones that did change weren't necessarily better (I ate a lot of cheese). After coming back home, it was only a day before my bloating was back. I couldn't understand it and vocalized my frustration to Shannon who decided that my bloating issue wasn't just regular bloating associated with pregnancy, but something that could be potentially reduced if he could only figure out how....and he did! He had already warned me that drinking from a straw causes you to swallow more air with every drink and could cause bloating, but he now discovered that bottles had the same effect. The whole time I was house sitting I had been drinking from a glass (I was not going to cart 10 water bottles around with me so I left them at home). Eureka! Now I have started pouring my bottles into glasses (and avoiding cat hair whenever possible) and I can still measure my intake, but the bloat is gone. Pregnancy without the bloat, who would have thought?!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Tree and Leaf Crafts

Yesterday was Earth day, and the 26th is Arbor Day, so we Stepford Sisters wanted to throw out some cool craft ideas to celebrate these holidays!

Leaf crafts

1. Fun DIY Leaf Canvas from Inspiraciok
2. Leaf Painting from Kleas
3. Aluminum Foil Leaves from Mom it Forward
4. Hammer Leaf Print from Build/Make/Craft/Bake

Tree Crafts

1. Cork Painting by the Picky Apple
2. TP Tree in Bloom from Creative Jewish Mom
3. Stick Play Scene from the Violet Hours
4. Hand print Seasonal Trees from Pinterest

Happy Crafting!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Hocking Hills, Ohio = Hidden Joys! Get out there and celebrate Earth Day!

We took a trip to the Hocking Hills region of Ohio early this April and had a great time. There are many areas that everyone knows of there-but I really find joy in the more hidden places. My absolute favorite spot of the entire area is on the 1/2 mile hike to Rose Lake. There is a part in the forest that changes completely what type of trees are growing. It is a small section relative to the area, but it changes to more coniferous trees and the smell of pine needles on the ground is just serene and so peaceful.

Our trip included my four favorite people and my two favorite dogs: here are some of my favorite photos from the trip! And no, they don't do the area any justice.

My two mini dachshund's wanted to run the entire way including uphill on the way back. All the fresh air and sun shine made for a sleepy drive home!

 I love that my step-daughters are able to have fun and be happy with the dogs!

 My favorite view of the day: watching the entire family with dogs walking along at their own pace enjoying the entire experience :-)

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Adding Fruits and Veggies to your Grilled Cheese

I love grilled cheese. Once, while visiting Stephanie Stepford while we were in High School, I ate four of them at her house. I have never done this again, but I enjoyed every bite that day and I was a skinny kid so it didn't catch up to me until after I turned 18.

While I limit myself to only one now, I do still love grilled cheese. Somehow though, it never occurred to me that it can be enhanced. There are so many great things you can add to a grilled cheese to boost its health benefits and have a little fun with it. Sure I switched to whole grains and started using real cheese instead of American, but there is so much more you can do!

One particularly creative example is shared in our post about the brie, dark chocolate, strawberry grilled cheeses the sisters all made together for lunch. Those were pretty out there testing the boundaries of grilled cheese, and were delicious!

You can add just about anything to a grilled cheese, these are some of the suggestions that make me salivate just to think about.

Artichoke, Spinach, Asparagus, Corn, Green Onions, Avocado, Bacon, Pesto, Portabella Mushrooms, Wine, Tomato, Lobster, and Grilled Chicken.

I also found some pretty cool recipes for some other interesting grilled cheese ideas.

French Onion Soup 

Jalapeno Popper

Mac and Cheese

Hawaiian Pizza

Loaded Nacho

Pear and Gouda


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