Wednesday, August 31

my mac died...

sorry i haven't been posting the last week. my mac died... well, actually its logic board died, & i had to send it off to be replaced. with it went alllll my pictures. so, it's going to be at least a week before i get it back & share with y'all all the cool things we've been up to.

i may try to post about some of the most recent stuff we've done via shaun's laptop. stay tuned -- i'll be back blogging as soon as i can!


Saturday, August 20

garden series: the bounty

we're having a great year for our garden! we lost most of our zucchini & cucumber plants to various pests [which you can read about in last week's post]. but overall, we're having several bumper crops -- especially eggplant, pepperoncini, & tomatoes.

i thought i would share some pictures of things we've harvested at various times.

[green beans]

 our first harvest of green beans yielded over 4 pounds! i'll do a post next week on how to freeze them properly.

[jalapenos, peppers, eggplant, & squash]

 we've harvested 6 eggplant so far, & there are more than that ripening outside! i have a couple of favorite eggplant recipes on the casteel cafe, & i've been researching new ones the past couple of days. but there are too many to eat right now before they go bad. so, i've experimented with freezing these as well & what they're good for once thawed. i'll share that next week, too.

[tomatoes from shaun's dad -- not sure of the variety]

we've had a few tomatoes so far. these we diced for taco night - yum! and i made my shrimp greek salad with some cherry tomatoes i harvested from the garden. we have a large crop of cherry tomatoes, romas, & big boys coming, & i'm going to have to can these suckers!

[cherry tomatoes]

[green beans, pepperoncinis, jalapenos]

our second crop of green beans, & i think we'll squeeze out one more harvest before the end of the season.

this is the first major harvest of pepperoncinis. i had already picked enough to practice refrigerator canning, but i'm going to need to for-real can these. i'll have another couple of harvests of pepperoncinis also this big. can we see lots of greek salad in our future?!

this is also the first major harvest of jalapenos. i picked a couple to make salsa for taco night, & they are potent! i don't want to can these because i prefer the fresher taste for salsa. i think i'm going to try freezing them & seeing how they do. here's hoping!
[last week] dealing with pests
[next week] canning & freezing

Thursday, August 18

color dilemma

so, i shared with ya'll a couple of weeks ago about how we're planning to paint the casa yellow...

[paint samples]

but lately, we've been having second thoughts. i started realizing that because of the way our house is designed, the siding & brick split the house in half, & the yellow side risks being a bit stark while the brick side risks looking bland. everyone asks us if the left side is an addition, but it's not. it's original to the house & to the plans. who knows why they did siding for the den & garage part?!

so, i found a website that lets you superimpose colors onto your own photo. [i know you can do that in photoshop, but i have yet to buy it for my mac, & i hate working on shaun's teeny laptop!] the website is valspar at lowe's virtual painter. it wasn't super high quality, but i found it very useful for my needs.

you can only save one picture & are limited in how much "paint" you can add to it, & you can't save the picture outside of the program. however, thanks to my handy-dandy mac feature that let's me do screen captures, i have several options to share with you.

starting with the yellow, i think we would like it with the brick & black trim, but we wouldn't like the half-&-half feeling...

someone suggested to me choosing a color that was similar to the mortar used with the brick. i wasn't a fan of the idea [mainly because i don't like neutral colors much, & i thought it would look drab next to the white garage doors]. as suspected, i don't like it.

 i started thinking about how our house has barn-like features: the roof line, the doorway shapes for the front porch & the garage doors, the vertical siding... so maybe an earthy red would look nice. i also thought it would be a bold color -- which i like! -- yet still similar enough to the brick that it might not give such a divisive feel to our half-&-half house. i'm kinda liking this option!

i also picked some more terra cotta shades, which is similar to our front doors. it also looks okay, but i'm not loving this quite as much.

just for kicks, i thought i'd check out a grayish-brown. you know, like an old weathered barn. nope, definitely not!

what do you think?! do you have any favorites to share with me? any other colors you'd like to suggest?


Wednesday, August 17

landscaping the yard... a little

apparently, ms. jean, the woman who lived here the 40 years before that, had a gorgeous yard with shrubs around the house, hydrangeas, & flowers of every color. i love hearing our neighbors across the street describe it for me. but i've never had the benefit of seeing any of it because the people who owned the casa right before us stripped the yard of all landscaping. [if i could just get my hands on them...]

so, we started with a blank slate. with lots of rocks.

we do have the most amazing old trees! our next door neighbor wanted to buy our silver maple that is right next to his fence so he could chop it down. we politely declined. one neighbor across the street is less than fond of all our silver maples, too, because the helicopter seed pods blow into his yard in the fall, & he is meticulous about his grass! still, we're keeping the trees.

landscaping is one of those expensive, lifelong projects. we have to do it a little bit at a time. i thought i'd share with you what we've done so far. we've done the most so far this spring & summer.

[front flower bed -2010]

this is the one thing we accomplished last year - creating the flower bed between the two silver maples in the front & planting some sparse greenery. we love the new bed & now have a hard time imagining the yard without it.

this year, shaun planted more lilies in the front bed & some on the east side of the house [by the hill].

 [front flower bed - 2011]

we'd like to fill in with tulips & daffodils, too. we need some height variation, too, but i'm not sure what we'll do long-term in this bed. it's really hard to plant things in this area because these maples are notorious for shallow roots & huge ones at that!

[east wall of the house]

long-term we'd like to plant shrubs around the house,  but we haven't decided what kind yet. these lilies are here temporarily, & we're also not sure where they'll end up. but look at the gorgeous colors!


all of our lilies were free, either brought back from illinois or from local friends. can't beat that deal!

we did a few things in the back this year:


 shaun wanted to move the firepit back a little & make it smaller. it used to be so big, you had to sit with your feet in the circle to reach the fire for toasting marshmallows. that small twig in the foreground, the one with the blue ribbon tied to it, that's our cherry tree.

it's more than just a twig now. it's a twig with leaves!

[back yard - fire pit & baby trees]

that's the cherry tree on the far left. the one on the far right is an apricot tree. they've grown really well this year. we look forward to when they're tall enough to spread some shade over this area & make a nice picnic area next to the fire pit.

we also started our butterfly garden!

[butterfly garden]

we want to add more flowering plants to this corner, plus a japanese maple or other miniature tree. we plan to erect a swing & lay a stone path, too. that birdbath was made by my uncle, & will make it's way off to one side or the other of this corner garden.

immediately to the left, along our neighbor's beautiful fence, are our black raspberry plants. i am so excited about these! we took plugs from the bushes at shaun's parents' farm. one of my favorite things at the farm is picking black raspberries, so i can't wait until these start producing fruit. it will be a couple of years...

[black raspberry vines]

it's not much, but we're making progress at least. like i said, landscaping is an expensive, lifelong project!   

i'll leave you with one last picture. it's not something we planted, but it's my favorite tree in our whole yard:

[crab apple tree - taken in the spring]


Monday, August 15

menu plan monday

it's not nearly as an exciting week food-wise around the casa. i'm working through a new book about eating healthfully called cinch!, & it's been interesting so far. i'm not sure i see eye-to-eye regarding everything in the book, but overall, it's really sound principles. so this week, most of my meals come out of the book's recipes. any that don't come out of the book, i'm modifying to fit the cinch! strategy. it's pretty easy really, & i've already noticed a difference in the way i feel.

i am looking forward to using fresh veggies from the garden to make meals this week, like the beautiful eggplant i need to pick for wednesday & zucchini for baking bread!

monday - spinach salad with raspberries, hard boiled egg, almonds, & balsamic vinaigrette
tuesday - tacos, chips & salsa [some of the teens are coming over for dinner!]
wednesday - eggplant subs 
thursday - ricotta penne primavera
friday - y.u.m. [yesterdays' uneaten meals]
saturday - shrimp creole
sunday - out [traveling]

baking - zucchini bread

i'm glad i recalled my goal to bake weekly because last week, i baked these beauties:

and yes, they were every bit as delicious as they look!

Saturday, August 13

garden series: dealing with pests

[disclaimer] all of this info is from shaun because he's the one who takes care of this around the casa. he grew up on a farm & works in agriculture, so he's pretty knowledgeable & reliable. any inaccuracy in this information is probably due to my misinterpretation of what he's shared with me! 

whenever you have plants that you care about, you'll naturally have pests of various kinds. a garden is no exception.

i don't know what kind of pests you have to deal with because each state & region are different, but in indiana, in our yard, we mainly have problems from squash vine borers, bean leaf beetle, flea beetles, japanese beetles, & those cute fluffy-tailed deer. some of these can wreak havoc on a garden & destroy your crop if you don't take any action.

squash vine borer

[squash vine borer egg groups -- taken in casteel garden, august 2011]

[squash vine borer adults -- courtesy of jeffrey hahn & university of minnesota]

[squash vine borer larva -- courtesy of]

squash vine borer has been the pest we struggle with the most here in indiana & even back in north carolina. they are vicious when it comes to our zucchini plants, but they can also attack cucumber, pumpkin, & of course, squash. 

this is also the pest we [shaun] know the least about how to deal with. [we welcome any tips from ya'll!!!] but so far, we have found that insecticide is not the most effective method. two things that we have tried that are more effective are:

[one] cut off any sections of foliage that have the egg groupings. you can see on the picture above that the eggs are always in little colonies, so it would be easy to snip off that portion & leave the majority of the leaf in tact.

[two] once you have a larva in the base of the vine [as seen in the picture above], you can cut/pry it out of the stem. then, you can bury that portion of the stem to protect it from disease, & hopefully it will sprout new roots & the plant will survive. we've been able to do this successfully before, but this year we didn't catch it until it was too late, & we lost two zucchini plants.

flea beetle

[flea beetle on eggplant leaf -- casteel           [close up of flea beetle -- courtesy
garden, august 2011]                                   of utah state university]

this is the second most difficult pest we've had to contend with this year. it mainly attacked our eggplant. we generally don't like to use insecticides, but we're of the mind that sometimes it's necessary. however, we use them sparingly. [shaun's only used insecticide this year maybe three to four times for any & all plants in the garden.] in this case:

[one] shaun applied insecticide to all of the eggplant once he noticed the leaves riddled with holes. 

[two] he only applied additional chemical to any individual plants that seemed to be struggling [like the ones closest to the house because they're smaller]. 

he only did this at the beginning until our plants became well-established. now, there are still flea beetles all over, & you see the above picture with the damaged leaf, but now the plants are big enough & there are plenty of leaves to be able to "absorb" the damage. 

the insecticides he uses are malathion & seven dust [please always use as directed by the manufacturers]. both can be found at your local gardening store. he alternates which one he uses, as needed, to prevent build-up on any one particular chemical & to prevent the pests from becoming resistant. 

it is important to know that if you choose to use an insecticide to wait at least one week before harvesting any crop & to wash it thoroughly once picked. 

again, we use these sparingly & only if it's necessary to save the plant.

bean leaf beetle

[bean leaf beetle on green bean plants -- casteel garden, august 2011]

the bean leaf beetle is a nuisance, but it generally doesn't cause any problems beyond making your bean plants less than pretty. shaun decided not to treat these plants at all, even though you can see how much damage they've done to the foliage. it hasn't hurt our green bean crop in the least!

if you do have a particularly bad infestation, malathion & seven dust are effective.

japanese beetle

[courtesy of the arbor doctors]

i don't have any pictures from our garden of these because the heat has driven them away. but we did have problems with them earlier in the summer. they were all over most of our plants, but they nearly killed the basil & our two new fruit trees. these were the only ones shaun sprayed in order to save the plants. since then, they have been a minimal nuisance & now they seem to be gone. 

deer & rabbit

last year, the deer ate all our tomato plants down to the ground, & we didn't get a single tomato from the 8-12 plants we had. they also ate all of my hostas to the ground. frustrating, to say the least.

we actually like the fact that we live in the city & still have deer in our neighborhood & in our yard. it's really cool! but we'd prefer they eat things like the apples off our neighbors tree [he's okay with that!] rather than our tomatoes & hostas.

we planned on building a fence around the garden this year, but since we got a late start, shaun's just been using a store-bought deer & rabbit repellant [basically liquified egg solids -- stinks to high heaven!], & it's been super effective.

i hope this helps any of you home gardeners. and like i said, if anyone has other suggestions on how to deal with these pests, especially the squash vine borer, we'd love to hear it!

in the meantime, happy gardening!
[last week] garden series: our 2011 layout
[next week] garden series: the bountiful harvest

Friday, August 12

organized home calendar

this is a project on my organizational projects 2011 list. yep, it's august, & i'm just now getting around to the home calendar...

shaun & i live decently busy lives for two people with no children. shaun's job has seasons of frequent traveling, & since i work with teens, i have lots of sports events & concerts to keep track of. keeping each other informed of what's going on & coming up can be a challenge sometimes. not to mention staying on top of everything casa-related!

so, we have a calendar system in the office. it's dry erase, which i love because it doesn't waste the paper of a traditional calendar. we've used this same calendar for several years now, & it's still as good as new. for easy viewing, all of our activities are color-coded -- i luv me some color-coded!

[our home calendar]

[scrabble tiles for month labels]

i love playing scrabble, & i love repurposing scrabble tiles as decor. i bought several extra scrabble games at garage sales just for the tiles! i used them as place cards for thanksgiving dinner last year, & as food labels for our game night coffeehouse in april [someday i'll have to blog about all the parties i throw here at the casa].

in the office, our color palette is the spring green of the walls, a pale turquoise, & black. we have mixed in brushed silver, the color & textures of burlap & brown kraft paper, & golden yellow. the scrabble tiles go great with the brown burlap & brown kraft paper that we use throughout [more pictures of the office updates to come soon].

 i'm not as consistent about keeping the calendar as up-to-date as i'd like. i just now put up august, & i erased june to do it! granted, we were gone for much of july, but still.

not keeping up with the calendar boils down to two issues:

[one] i forget to renew it each month. [solution] i added a reminder to the first of each month on my iphone dayplanner app, & i have it repeat every month.

[two] the office is such a mess that we rarely use the office in the way it's intended & therefore the calendar isn't as helpful as it could be in keeping us well-informed & organized. [solution] we need to get the rest of the office straight! one project at time, starting with the calendar. next step: filing all the papers on the desk into the file boxes! [i'll post about that next week.]

as flylady would say, baby steps!

Wednesday, August 10

our new mailbox

way back in the spring, our old mailbox post rotted through at the base, & we came home one day to find it laying on the ground. i guess it's time for a new mailbox!

we thought we might buy a new one, but we really like the sign that hangs above with our address on it. then, we thought we might just buy a new post to attach to the old mailbox & hanging sign. but turns out you can't buy posts already made that extend tall enough past the mailbox for us to attach our address sign. so, we decided to just build our own!

again, i don't have any pictures of the process... back in the spring, we weren't in blog-writing mode, & so we got out of the habit of documenting everything via camera. but the finished product is still worth blogging!

isn't it lovely?! shaun built the new post out of cedar, & i adore the color! of course, it will weather to a grayish-brown over time, but that's part of the charm.

when he picked up a load of mulch for the yard, he decided to fork some around the mailbox to cover the old post. turns out this is the third mailbox for the casa. the original had been planted in a concrete foundation [just to the right of the current mailbox], & the last one was a few feet to the left. shaun put the new one just between them.

we placed a few of our huge, plentiful rocks around the perimeter [we wanted to go all the way around, but since the circumference of the circle is so large, the rocks by the road would interfere with our postman delivering our mail], & we planted marigolds this year.

simple, yet beautiful. and just perfect for us & the casa!

Monday, August 8

menu plan monday

i was looking back through older blog posts this year, & i had forgotten about my goal to bake weekly! i do love to bake, & i've been craving baked goods -- especially cupcakes -- lately. i've got lots of new recipes that i want to try to pick from for this week!

and don't forget to check out the recipes on my cooking blog!

[chickpea fritters & tzatziki]

monday - gazpacho, chickpea fritters, & tzatziki
tuesday - caesar salad spaghetti
wednesday - @ the state fair!
thursday - shrimp greek salad
friday - eggplant subs
saturday - girls' night out [bring chips & salsa, cupcakes -- see below]
sunday - y.u.m.

baking - cherry limeade cupcakes

[source & recipe: annie's eats]

y.u.m. = yesterdays' uneaten meals