Herb garden

On the south side of the house is a garden with a few herbs (mostly lemon balm) and a ton of weeds.  The garden was already there when we moved into the house and at first I couldn’t figure out what its purpose. Yet, eventually last summer I realized that it had some herbs in it and that it must have been a herb garden.  Once I realized this, I became obsessed with reclaiming the land and revitalizing the herb garden.  I knew it would take a lot of work, but I loved the idea of fresh herbs for cooking.

With the idea of a herb garden in mind, last fall I found some irregularly shaped paving stones in the rubbish pile on the other side of our property (where the previous owner would dump stuff from his landscaping jobs).  Later, when  James was out on his tractor, he was a sweetheart and picked through them and brought the best ones over and dumped them by the garden.

Another one of my plans for the garden was to edge the garden (along the house and the ugly concrete retaining wall) with pampas grass, a tall decorative grass.  Luckily, one of my dad’s friends has more than enough pampas grass in his yard and offered to let me dig up as much as I wanted.  Thus a few weeks ago, my mom and I headed over there one morning and dug up two big tubs of grass for my garden.  Once I got it home, James helped me get it planted and then even laid the paving stones along the edge of the garden.

A few days ago I spent almost three hours out in the herb garden cleaning it out (i.e., weeding, weeding, and more weeding!) and laying the rest of the paving stones through the garden to create a path.  With all of this work done, I was officially ready to buy some herbs and start planting!

Friday after work, James and I stopped by a local nursery and I bought 34 herbs!!  These included cilantro, lemon thyme, tricolor sage, purple sage, st. johns wort, lavender, rosemary, hot and spicy oregano, greek oregano, regular oregano, chamomile cinnamon basil, sweet basil, regular basil, chocolate mint, orange mint, and ginger mint! Combined with the lemon balm, chives, and dill already in the garden, I felt like I had a great start for my herb garden.

Saturday morning I headed to the herb garden with my new herbs and spent the next 5 hours hard at work! I ended up needing to dig up more lemon balm (like two full cart loads) and spent a lot of time trying to figure out the perfect layout for my herbs.  By the time I was finished, the garden was officially a real herb garden!!

View of the finished herb garden from east and the west

The path through the herb garden winds it’s way through from the yard to the pool.  The path also allows me to reach the herbs in the middle of the garden, so that way I don’t have to traipse through the garden to harvest my herbs!

A few of the herbs in the garden!

My goal has been accomplished! The herb garden is a real herb garden, not just a patch of weeds with a few herbs! Now I just get to sit back (and weed) and wait until I an start harvesting my herbs!

 

Curve ball

In the last few months, I’ve been really working hard to be healthier.  I’ve been walking at least 2 miles a day, doing other strength and toning exercises, eating healthy, and watching my calorie intake.  The initial purpose for all of this was to help my body recover from the miscarriage and to get it back in shape to try again, but I also wanted to feel physically feel better.  At first it was really hard, but I saw some progress early on that helped keep me motivated.

Unfortunately after about a month or so into my new routine I hit a metaphoric wall.  I wasn’t losing any more weight and wasn’t getting rid of the tummy I’d gained from being pregnant.  Frustrated, I increased the exercise I was doing and cut my calories even more than before.  Yet with all this work, I’ve seen no progress at all and instead I’m tired all the time and cranky.  Also, my body had not cycled back through after the miscarriage, so I’ve been doubly frustrated because how could I get pregnant again if my body isn’t cooperating?  It took us a year to get pregnant last time and I’ve started to wonder if it is going to take us even longer this time.

Luckily, we have plans to visit a fertility specialist on May 5th.  We scheduled the appointment right after the miscarriage to check to see if I have PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome) and if that was the cause of some of my problems.  Yet, this past week I’ve just been beyond frustrated with my body.  It’s been almost eight weeks since the miscarriage and my body hasn’t reset itself and has been blocking all of my attempts to lose weight!

With this frustration in mind and the growing list of issues with my body, I thought I’d take a pregnancy test just to prove to myself how messed up my body really was.  So, tonight when we got home from dinner out with one of my college friends and her husband, I went to my bathroom, took the test, and no so patiently waited for my negative results.

Instead what I got was this…

Yep, it's TWO lines!

What the heck? Are you kidding?  I thought I must be crazy, but then the pieces started to fit together:  the inability to lose weight, not losing my tummy from the earlier pregnancy, being tired all the time, being irritable, the lack of a menstrual cycle. Holy cow, I just might actually be pregnant again!

Shaking I went into our bedroom and asked James if I could talk to him before he headed downstairs to read his book (the end of the month was less than two days away and he hadn’t yet finished his book for April).  He said sure and asked what I wanted. I shakily showed him the pregnancy test and started crying.  He looked at it and deadpan said, I don’t think the second line is dark enough.  I then laughed because he was going back to when we got pregnant the first time and his inability to believe that a faint second line really does mean pregnant. We then hugged, I cried more, and we talked about the strange turn of events.

James said he’d been wondering if I was pregnant (and of course he was right), but was worried because the doctor we saw during the miscarriage said I should go through two-three menstrual cycles before trying again.  I was scared as well because I wanted this pregnancy and our baby so bad, it just seemed impossible that I was really pregnant again.  I was also scared about wanting this baby so bad and then having another miscarriage.  With so many things that could go wrong or be wrong, or even the possibility of the pregnancy test being wrong, we decided to go ahead with the visit to the fertility doctor to see what she had to say.

All I know is that it’s going to be a long six days until we go to the doctor!

**Side note: This post wasn’t released until after we started telling people about the pregnancy**

Easter 2011

Thursday after work we headed to Kewanee for a few days.  We hadn’t been to visit my parents since January, so with it being Easter weekend and us having Friday off from work,  it seemed the perfect time for a visit.

Our original plan was to go to Matthiessen State Park Friday morning, but the weather was not cooperating and it was windy and rainy.  To keep us busy, my mom decided to let James and I open our Easter basket (gift bag).  I got an amazing dragonfly journal and umbrella, but James really got a really great gift.  He got a $25 gift card for the iTunes store! On the gift card was a note telling him  it was so he could get Farmer Smurf for our Smurf game! We quickly put the gift card to good use and got Farmer Smurf, Hefty Smurf, Smurfette, and a number of other fun accessories.

Deciding what to buy next on the Smurf game!

Playing the Smurf game with the extra Smurfs was a lot of fun, but I thought it might be even more fun if we were able to get some Spa treatments as well since we couldn’t do anything outside.  I called one of the local Spa’s and was able to get James a facial and massage, me a massage, and Mom also ended up scheduling a facial! Our relaxing treatments were just what we needed and made for great day.

Friday night after an amazing meal, Mom and I got everything out to dunk and decorate cakeballs. We had rolled them out the previous Monday night in anticipation of going to a family brunch on Saturday morning.

At first we thought we’d each dunk and decorate the cakeballs, but that really didn’t work that well! After a couple of funny looking cakeballs and a lot of laughs, we ended up breaking up the job. One of us dunked and one of us decorated!

Dunking and decorating the cakeballs!

Once we got our rhythm down on who was doing what, we really got going and were able to get the cakeballs done in no time at all!  The bright spring colors really made the cakeballs look quite yummy!

Easter Cakeballs! Decorated and ready to go!

Saturday morning, before heading to brunch, mom and I went out to dig up some Pampas Grass.  Pampas Grass is a tall decorative grass that’s really nice for landscaping.  We’ve already got some around the yard, but along my herb garden there is an ugly concrete retaining world and I thought the Pampas would be great to camouflage it.  Luckily, one of my Dad’s friends has more than enough Pampas Grass around his yard and gave us free reign to dig up as much as we wanted!

Digging Pampas Grass. It was not easy to get out!!

Digging the Pampas Grass was not that easy,  so we ended up sliding underneath it along the side of the road and then cutting the back and sides to get it out. We really had to put a lot of effort into it and got quite a work out! Afterward we got cleaned up and headed to brunch in Elmwood, IL.

Brunch was an enjoyable time because there were family members from all over! We had some visiting from Michigan, Iowa, Missouri, and Kansas, as well as the two newly engaged couples!  It was great to see everyone and enjoy a yummy cholesterol (and calorie) filled meal!

Enjoying the nice weather outside!

After brunch James and I headed home to plant the Pampas Grass (from that morning) and the fruit trees we’d picked up the previous weekend.

James was amazing and got out the tiller and tilled up the ground along the concrete barrier wall and the side of the house to make it easier for me to plant the Pampas Grass.  He also started laying some of the stones along the edge of the herb garden as well!

Herb Garden after planting the Pampas Grass (top right picture) and laying out some of the stone edging!

Once we finished with the Pampas grass, it was onto the fruit trees.  It seemed like we took longer to decide where to plant them than it took to actually plant them, but the planting part was pretty time consuming.  We broke up the job so James dug the hole and tilled up the dirt and then I filled the dirt with some peat moss and actually planted the tree.

The fruit trees all planted!

We planted the tress in three rows that already had trees in them, but were spaced far enough apart for the new trees to grow.  The first row (closest to the creek) are the apple trees (Haralson & Yellow Delicious), then the cherry (Bing & Black Tartarian), and last the peach (Alberta & Red Haven).  Hopefully they’ll do well in their new home and produce a lot of fruit in the coming years!

Sunday, Easter morning, I decided to go out and walk around the yard.  It had been a few days since I’d been able to check the yard and I knew the crab apples were getting ready to explode with hot pink blossoms!

Love all the color on this Easter morning!

I know I’ve had a lot of spring blossom/flower pictures on the blog, but the cold drab dreary winter really hit me hard this winter and I’ve really been loving the color and nature life out in the yard!

For Easter lunch, we met up with Gene and Alice at the Red Apple in Sullivan, IL.  Originally James and I were going to stop at Rural King on our way, but when we decided not to, we ended up getting to Sullivan 30 minutes early.  To burn a little time, we decided to browse through the local Pamida.  I’d never been to a Pamida before, so it was a new and interesting experience for me.  Pamida is kind of a mix between Dollar General and K-Mart, and had some pretty cool stuff.  I ended up getting two short sleeve shirts (in two of my favorite colors) and a new cooler that I absolutely love!  The cooler is shorter than a normal sized cooler and has a flat top that you can use to stack stuff on!  I can’t wait to try it on vacation this year!!

Once I was finished shopping at Pamida, we headed to the Red Apple and got there right before Gene and Alice.  Alice looked a little tired, but overall seemed to be doing pretty well considering her health scares from the previous week.  Overall it was a good meal and we had a nice time catching up and chatting.

Afterward we headed home and James went to work on the computer and I snuggled down for an afternoon nap.  What a nice way to end the long Easter weekend!

Allerton Park

Monday morning, mom and I headed to Allerton Park to do a little walking.  Mom use to go there all the time when she lived in Champaign and was also there last fall with her sisters, but I hadn’t been since I was 6-7 years old.  It’s actually a little crazy that I haven’t been there for so long because it is literally right down the road from where we live!

As the crow flies it's only about 8 miles from Argenta to Allerton!

We started by coming around the south side of Allerton and as we were crossing a bridge along the park we saw a forest of Bluebells that we just had to stop and check out!

The forest floor was carpeted with bluebells!

We then meandered around the east side of the park, stopping to check out the old entrance that’s now closed due to a bridge being out, before actually entering the park from the main entrance on the north side.

After parking, we headed to the double-decker gazebo and the Fu Dog Garden!  The Fu Dog Garden is actually the only thing I remember from my first (and only) visit to Allerton about 25 years ago!

Fu Dog Garden Allerton

The fu dogs were fun to look at and we meandered through the garden and down the path towards the Goldfish Pond.  We didn’t see any goldfish in the pond, but along the path there were tons of spring flowers that carpeted the forest floor with color!

Spring wildflowers in bloom!

The path we were on led back to the main Allerton house and the parking lot, so we decided to stop by the car and drop off our jackets.  On our way past the house we were walking up some stone steps and right along our path was a dime.  Dimes have special meaning for my Mom and I, so it was pretty cool to find one during our “girls day out.”

Once we dropped off our jackets, we headed along the different paths and gardens towards the sunken garden. Along the way we came across a number of stone statues.  Some of which were funny looking and some that were awe inspiring!

Checking out the stone statues at Allerton!

Once we got to the Sunken Gardens, we had a good time playing around with the echoing effect.  In fact, we were able to go to opposite ends and talk normally and still hear each other!

Sunken Garden at Allerton... See Mom way off on the other side?

We decided not walk the extra 4 plus miles to the Sun Singer sculpture and back, so we headed back to the parking lot through the open field and along the lake.  When we got back to the car we drove down and around the Sun Singer before heading out of the park.

Walking around Allerton

After leaving Allerton, we headed to Champaign to enjoy a Mexican lunch followed by a stop at our new favorite gardening store, Prairie Gardens.  Prairie Gardens has a huge selection of fresh plants and vegetables, as well as silk flowers, vases, furniture, home decorating items, and much much more! Even though I could have spent a fortune there, I held back and only picked up two cilantro and two lemon verbena.  Mom was even better and only got two cilantro and a few packets of bluebells (one of which she then shared with me!).

With a full day under our belt, we decided a quick trip to the bookstore and an iced coffee was in order before heading home.  Even though we love our Kindles, there’s nothing like the smell of books and it’s nice to browse through them to see what’s new.

Once we got home, we decided to go out and do some planting.  I’d already picked up a butterfly bush and two lilacs that needed planting, and Mom brought me some peonies that needed to get in the ground.  Our planting turned into weeding and two hours later, we finally made it back to the house.  It was a full day of activity, but it was relaxing and we had a great time!

April visit

Sunday morning Mom came down to spend a few days with us.  She hadn’t been to visit since my birthday in February, so she was definitely due for a visit!  Luckily,  she also brought my dad’s truck. We’d been wanting to get some decent sized fruit trees, but without a truck we really didn’t have any way to get them home.  Thus we took advantage of having access to a truck and took a trip to Rural King to pick out some trees!

James had done his research (surprise surprise, right?) and had a list of the types of fruit trees that could pollinate each other.  Some people might not realize that a number of fruit trees aren’t self-pollinating and require another tree of the same fruit and pollination group (but different type) to pollinate it.  Because of this, we ended up with two different types of Apple (Yellow Delicious & Haralson) , Cherry (Bing & Black tartarian), and Peach (Alberta & Red Haven) trees.  I also couldn’t help myself and picked up a few more grape plants and a butterfly bush.

We got home and unloaded the trees, but the ground was too wet to plant anything.  Yet, it wasn’t too wet to do some work around the yard, so James got on the tractor do do some mowing and I took mom on a tour around the yard.  She’d never seen the yard in the spring, so I had a great time showing her all the flowers and blossoms around the yard.

Some of the blooming trees and plants around the yard!

Mom also hadn’t seen the pond since it had filled up, so we walked out to the pond to check it out and see if we could find any frogs! Mom was pretty good at spotting them and I managed to get a few good pictures.

Check out the frogs! Do you see all three in the left picture?

Smurfs

In my quest to put my new work iPad through its educational paces, I not only downloaded a few productivity and education specific apps, but also a select few games.  If some of you remember, in my quest for a PhD I did some research on the educational uses of games.  Games can be amazingly educational, regardless of whether it was their intended purpose or not.  They can teach collaboration, critical thinking, reasoning, strategy, as well as math skills!

One of the games I downloaded in order to assess its educational applications, as well as the overall usability of the iPad, was The Smurfs’ Village.  Whether or not I also downloaded this game because Smurfs was my favorite cartoon when I was growing up is a moot point.  Whether I downloaded this game because I was interested to learn more about the controversy surrounding children buying Smurf Berries with real money using their parents iTunes account is also negligible.

The premise of The Smurfs’ Villiage is that the village was destroyed and the Smurfs need to rebuild it.  You start the game with Papa Smurf and one mushroom house.  To rebuild the village you have to grow crops, perform various tasks, and play games to earn gold coins and experience points.  The gold coins allow you to buy all sorts of things you need to rebuild the village.  The experience points allow you to move up to different levels.  When you go up a level, you gain access to new things for your village and earn Smurf Berries.

The critical thinking and math skills for this game come to play when you try to figure out the best way to earn gold coins and experience points.  Growing different types of crops will earn you different amounts of these things, but they also cost different amounts of gold coins and take different amounts of time to harvest.  Thus you have to figure out how much time you can dedicate to harvesting crops (if you don’t harvest the crops in time, they’ll die) and given that amount of time, which crops are the best to grow.

James saw me playing Smurfs and started asking questions about what I was doing and how things worked.  Once I started explaining the math and strategy side of things, he started to get interested and one thing turned into another and now instead of it being “my” game, it’s OUR game!

James monitoring the game while working on the computer!

We’re now splitting up the game by who’s best a a certain task (I’m better at baking and he’s better at potion making), collaborating on what to plant and buy, and splitting up the job of harvesting crops and replanting.  All of these things are done while thinking critically (and mathematically) about the best way to progress in the game and collect the most gold coins.  It’s actually been a lot of fun sharing the game; much more than me playing it by myself! It’s also been pretty cute to see James get interested in this type of game… even though I know he’s in it purely for the strategy and math!

Our Smurf village as of Level 16

Unfortunately, a lot of the really cool stuff that would help us advance in the game (like Farmer Smurf!!) costs Smurf Berries.  You gain a couple of Smurf Berries each time you go up a level, but otherwise the only way to get Smurf Berries is to spend REAL money, which we’re just not willing to do!

Berry bushes

Ok, so I’ve become *slightly* obsessed with not only replenishing the berry bushes from last year (we had to tear them out to make room for the new barn), but expanding our berry garden to epic proportions!  So far I’ve stockpiled a good number of raspberry, blackberry, blueberry, grapes, and strawberries.  Now I just need to wait for the ground to dry out enough to get them planted!

My stockpile of berry bushes all ready to plant!

Frogs

What’s that I hear?

Sunday James was out working in the yard and all the way from the new garden (and with his radio headphones on) was able to hear bull frogs in the pond.  This was crazy because I was out at the pond Saturday afternoon and there definitely weren’t any frogs!  The only thing I can think of is that after I left Saturday afternoon a few must have found the pond and then started calling to their buddies to come join them!

James and I counted more than ten frogs and it was really cool to see them puff up their chests before releasing their “deep bass jug-a-rum” call.  I later found online that their call can be heard over half a mile!

Frogs frogs everywhere!!

While I played around taking pictures of the frogs, James was busy pulling tree limbs out of the pond.  At the end of last year James decided to dump a bunch of trees that had been pulled out to build the barn into the pond.  His idea was good in theory…  First of all he wanted to get the trees away from the beavers who had been scavenging them for their dams.  Second, he thought the trees would be good for the pond and add some substance to it once it was filled.

Unfortunately, the the number and size of the limbs weren’t appropriate (even though appreciated by the frogs) for the pond and at least some of them needed to come out.  Even more unfortunately, the pond filled before we could get some of the limbs out and now we can’t reach all of them unless one of us (cough… James) wades into the pond.  So, at least for now, James has come up with a great way of reaching some of the limbs to pull them out.  He pulls the tractor up so the bucket is over the edge of the pond and then sits on the bucket as he hooks the chain around the tree.

James pulling a log out of the pond.

James did a great job getting a number of the tree limbs out of the pond and I was quite impressed that he never ended up in the pond!

Getting a big stump out of the pond!

By mid-afternoon he’d gotten all of the limbs he could reach out of the pond and decided to call it quits for the day.  The few that were left weren’t too bad in the pond and are greatly appreciated by the frogs that I hope decided to stick around!

Blossoms

This weekend the trees finally started to show the spring weather!  The crabapples in the front yard were exploding with blossoms and were absolutely beautiful!

Crabapple blossoms... who knew a "crabapple" could be this pretty!

The Magnolia bushes in the front yard also decided to show their colors and were in full bloom by the end of the weekend! I loved watching the buds form and then slowly develop into the full blown blossoms! Mother nature at her best!

Love this Magnolia!

I also walked around the the rest of the yard and checked out the view from both sides of the creek.  James kept busy (and got a pretty good sunburn) mowing the yard.

Wedding album

Ok, so it’s almost 21 months after the fact, but our wedding albums are FINALLY done! 🙂

I really don’t have any excuse as to why it took so long to get them done except, (1) right after the wedding things were crazy, (2) then we moved into the new house so things were even crazier, and (3) in the summer the yard and garden took up pretty much all of our free time.  So, now that I’ve made my excuses, let’s get to the main event!

Originally I thought we’d just have a small simple wedding album, so before the wedding I bought a elegant white 200 picture photo album that only held 4X6 sized pictures.  Yet, after seeing the amazing pictures from the wedding, I got the scrapbook bug and decided to make a big pretty album of our best pictures. Unfortunately I’d never actually scrapbooked before, so I had no supplies and no idea how to really get started (thus I never started!).

Finally last November  (16 months after the wedding) I decided to actually put together our wedding album.  I started by researching how to scrapbook and what I would need.  Then I went through all of our wedding pictures (~1000!) and printed off the ones I wanted to use.  And finally I went to Hobby Lobby with a 10% off coupon and bought an album, paper, and supplies.  With everything all ready, I was ready to get started!

James and I were spending the weekend in Kewanee visiting my parents and Ty (who had come up to hunt), so I confidently thought I’d be able to start and finish the album while we were there.  Little did I know, but scrapbooking is a process and once you get started it can take about four times as long as you expect, especially for a beginner!  Once I got started, I realized pictures I thought would work really didn’t and pictures I didn’t think I wanted actually would be best!  After a full weekend of scrapbooking, I had a good start on the album, but it was no where near finished.  Thus, I had to pack everything up and take it home.  Which is where the process broke down yet again. Once I got home, I just couldn’t get motivated to pull everything out and finish.  Thus the scrapbook and supplies sat all packed up next to my desk until mid March (i.e., four months after starting!).

Two weeks ago I once again decided it was crazy to not have our wedding album done, so I cleared off the dining room table and pulled out all of the scrapbook stuff and got back to work!

Taking over the dinning room table!

It was hard to get back into it at first, but once I got going it was a lot of fun and I really enjoyed seeing the fruits of my labor! It felt like quite an accomplishment as I finished a page and slid it into it’s protective clear covering in the album! In fact, I got so into working on the album that I ended up deciding to add the honeymoon pictures to the end of the wedding album!  I rationalized that technically the honeymoon was just an extension of the wedding and since I waited so long to do the wedding album, maybe this would kind of make up for it by doing extra!

Thus I went back through the process of going through and printing off honeymoon pictures and picking up some extra paper for the additional pages.  This extra caused me to delay the finishing of the album because I once again realized that I didn’t have all of the pictures I really needed for the different pages and had to make a couple of trips out for more pictures and extra supplies!  Yet, all my hard work paid off and I finished the honeymoon pages!!

Honeymoon album pages all laid out, but not in order yet!

With a little help from James I was able to get the honeymoon pages added to the wedding ones to FINISH our scrapbook wedding album!

It felt great to finally have the wedding album done, but as I started to clean up the mess I realized I still had a LOT of good wedding pictures left from the wedding photographer (~400 or so).  It seemed sad to let them go to waste when I still had the pretty white 200 picture photo album, so I decided to go through the leftover pictures and pick the best 200 to display in this additional wedding album!

There were so many really good pictures left that it was hard to pick the top 200, so I sorted the pictures out by chronological order and topic on the living room floor.  Seeing the pictures this way really helped and I was eventually able to pick my favorites and get them inserted into the album!

The finished extra wedding album!

Thus, we’ve now gone from no wedding albums to TWO wedding albums that I’m very happy with.  The scrapbook album really highlights the best pictures and our (my) personal style, while the white album provides a place for the extra pictures that would have otherwise gotten packed away to never see the light of day.

The finished wedding albums!