From My Front Porch

This is often the view from our front porch.  You can see our mare Stormy in her pasture (click pic to enlarge) with the neighbor's cattle right next to her on their side of the fence.  Stormy loves to hang out with her cow friends.  The babies really admire her.  Sometimes there are 5 or 6 calves staring at her through the fence.  I imagine they are thinking how beautiful she is, and they are hoping they will grow up to be as pretty as her.  :-)

We've been doing a lot of work on the house over the past year and a half.  This spring I've devoted time and energy to making our front porch more inviting.  I built a bed against the front foundation and planted some compact soft holly (no prickers!) and petunias.  I've planted three deck pots with a mixture of perennials and annuals: meadow sage, pink pincushion flower, curly parsley, dill, asparagus fern, lantana, trailing verbena, zinnia.  Many of these flowers are butterfly friendly, and I've already noticed quite a few winged beauties zipping around the front porch.

Soft Touch Compact Holly


Pink Mist Pincushion Flower

I bought two 8 ft roll-up blinds at Lowe's a few weeks ago.  We're hoping to get them installed on the front of the porch this weekend.  Since the porch faces west, we get blistering evening rays from the sun, and really can't even sit out there it's so hot!  We just got the glider at a very economical cost a few weeks ago. On the far side behind the wooden bench, hubby had a good idea ~ install some lattice and plant clematis.  I'm all for that... sounds like it would eventually be really pretty, and it would help shade the porch and protect from the north winds.  Last but certainly not least (just costs the most), new front doors.  And a few hummingbird feeders.  :-)

Next year we may paint the trim an even darker color....  we picked a darker color than the house, but once it was on the windows and door trim and beams, you can barely see the difference between shades.

Here's a pic of the porch last year, before we even painted the house.... 
If you click to enlarge, you can see how far it's come.... the foundation wasn't painted then, the paint on the front beams was peeling and we've also replaced that lovely bulb fixture by the door.  (I know what you're thinking ~ why would I want to get rid of such a special and lovely fixture when it's so apparent that lots of effort went into its selection?!  Lovely for the trash can, I say... you can see the new fixture in previous photos.)

I love our view, so much better than my previous city view~  it's so relaxing to sit a spell, and see who comes to visit...

barn swallows dive and swoop, performing their aerial acrobatics, butterflies flit around and stop to taste the flowers' nectar, mourning doves peck nearby and coo their lullabies while upland sandpipers land on fenceposts or swoop overhead with their distinctive cries.

pheasants are plentiful this spring... all day long and well into evening we hear the male's plaintive turkey-like cry and wing fluttering (which sounds like a small drum beating) as he tries to attract a female mate.

the mockingbird is always lurking somewhere nearby, and sometimes lands on a fencepost right in front of the porch, singing his copycat bird song.

meadowlarks are never in short supply.  An occasional scissor-tailed flycatcher will zip by.  The canada goose is always flying overhead, honking while they find their way from our neighbor's pond to our pond.  Sometimes we see a great blue heron fly away from our pond.

and the frog's chorus is abundant and very loud this year, not just at night but also during the day.

Several weeks ago I saw a a black-crowned night heron fly away from our pond; the week after that, I heard their distinctive cry and got close enough to the pond with a pair of binoculars to see a juvenile black-crowned night heron in a tree.

Then we have these fantastic prairie skies which add so much to the beauty of our resident wildlife!

Click to enlarge... that's a crescent moon at the top of this evening photo.

I'll be working a toll booth this weekend, except for Saturday.  AAA predicts traffic will be higher this holiday weekend than it was last year.  I'm believing that, because yesterday we had much heavier traffic than usual.  My schedule is 3-11 today, and I'll just bet it will be a fast-paced and crazy day!

So, what do YOU have planned for your long weekend??~

Micki Kohler Update

Update to the update: Micki is now home, and doing better. Her sister said she has recovered mentally about 95%, "it's like one day she came out of her stupor and picked up where she left off", but she does not remember the accident. Micki did, however, say that the accident couldn't have been the horse's fault, that he's a wonderful animal who would never do that without being spooked somehow. She is still experiencing pain from her physical injuries, which are holding her back somewhat, but her mom is there to help her and is her chauffeur when she needs to get somewhere.

Again, thanks to all for all the well wishes and financial support ~ 
it means the world to this family.

Micki is still in the hospital, and going through intensive therapy just so she can deal with daily life once she is back home. She is relearning the basic daily rituals that we take for granted... combing her hair, brushing her teeth, etc. Many times she does not recognize her boys when they come to visit her. The hospital put an alarm on her as she keeps trying to leave the premises, and yet she falls easily as she has no balance. The doctors believe she will recover, however, they have no idea how long it might take.

In the meantime, we can continue to pray for her and her family, and wish them all the best as she recovers. Thanks to all who donated to the family; just over $200 was collected through the Donate button in my sidebar. I'm leaving the button there for anyone who would still like to donate to the family. The healthcare bills for Micki will be staggering as she is spending WEEKS in the hospital.  The family is ever thankful for all who have helped them during this time of need.  Truly, words cannot express their gratitude.

If you missed the post about Micki's accident, please click here.

The benefit held by Vail Meadows Riding Center was May 15. They had a great turnout, and here are some pics taken by Micki's niece, Nicole:

Nicole with Micki's son Daniel

Micki's son Matthew, with his girl Jordan
(aren't they a cute couple?!)

Matthew making his dash out of the arena

Nicole and Micki's son Sebastian at the end of the day, exhausted

Springtime Giveaway Winner{s}

Our giveaway winner is............ Nezzy of Cow Patty Surprise!! Congrats, Nezzy!  Send me your address ( and I'll get the doll out later this week so your sweet grand-girls can take proper care of her.  :-)  

Now after I drew the winner of the giveaway, I had a thought.  Seems like so many of you wanted that danged ole bird book.  So I thought.... why not draw a 2nd name from amongst those who want the bird book?? Soooooo, our bird book winner is.......... Julie of Midlife Jobhunter!  Congrats Julie, I hope you enjoy your bird book as much as I'm enjoying my copy. (Send me your address!)

Starling mama in our backyard... see more pics on my photo blog

And if y'all haven't visited Nezzy's or Julie's blog, well, you totally need to stop by and say hi....  I'm jes sayin'.  They are BOTH seriously fantastic writers, and that's no bull.

I will be back soon this week.... I want to give y'all an update on Micki Kohler and the benefit that was held for her a week ago.  The benefit had a huge turnout, and I'll put up some photos for y'all to see.   Thanks to everyone who donated to help out Micki and her family, words cannot express the family's appreciation as they travel through this difficult period in their lives.

I'm a little scarce and harried right now because I finally .... HAVE A JOB! Yep, I'm now among the ranks of the employed after 1.5 years of job searching in Kansas.  What's that, you want to know what I'm doing?  Welllllll..... if you decide to travel through Kansas on I-35, you just might meet me at one of the southern toll booths.  Yessiree, I am now a toll booth collector for the Kansas Turnpike Authority.  I've been in training since last week, but I think they will throw me to the wolves just in time for the Memorial Day weekend, and you just know I'm going to be one hopping girl that weekend!!  I'm already eating less (can we all say YAY!!) so I'm hoping that a side benefit is that I'll lose about 20 pounds.  That would sure be a blessing.  :-)

Thanks to everyone who commented on my giveaway, and stay tuned for the next giveaway.  There's always a chance to win something fun here at Oz Girl's place.

Have a great week y'all!

Springtime Giveaway ~ Choose Your Prize!

 My lantana is blooming.... ain't she purty?

I've been wanting to throw a spring giveaway for awhile now... just haven't had the time, as usual!  So here it is, and I've decided to give the winner their choice of prizes.  

Peterson Field Guide to Birds of North America
I have two copies of this marvelous book, so I would love to share one with my readers.  Since I received my copy several months ago, I have identified quite a few birds around our parts, and I've even helped some blogger friends identify birds that they have photographed!  This is a great book, one I'm sure anyone who loves nature will enjoy and use as a reference for many years to come. Approx. Value: $17.95

My binoculars have become one of my closest friends in recent months... just the other night I saw a juvenile black-crowned night heron in a tree near our pond.  Their call is so distinctive that I had been wondering, what the heck is hanging out around our pond?  One evening I saw an adult fly away.  Click on the pic below to enlarge and see exactly what I'm talking about - it's the bird at the top of the page.

{Does that mean I'm getting old because I'm starting to enjoy bird watching??!!}

Bradford Exchange "Soft Elegance" Limited Edition Plates (includes all 4)
Or perhaps you're a kitteh lover!  I have a numbered series of plates from the Bradford Exchange (click on photos to enlarge).  These are part of a numbered and dated (1994/1995) limited edition and measure 8-1/4" each.  They are from my grandmother's estate, and are in mint condition ~ never hung or displayed, no chips, cracks, dings, NOTHING. As you can see, I also have the certificates for each plate.  If you're a plate collector, this is definitely something you'll love to add to your collection!   
Approx. Value: $29.95 per plate

Plate titles, from top left, clockwise: Alexandra in Amethysts, Emily in Emeralds, Tabitha on Taffeta, and Priscilla in Pearls.  They are all numbered on the back, with full descriptions and Bradex numbers.  These plates are for DISPLAY only and not to be used with food.

Lee Middleton "Best Friend Bear" Doll by Reva Schick
(Artist Studio series)
Lee was from Ohio, Springfield to be exact, and she started making dolls modeled after her two kids -- friends loved them and began to want their own, hence how her company got started.  I won't go deep into the history but it's really quite interesting.  She died suddenly in Jan 1997 (heart attack) and three artists were found to carry on her work.  This doll is by "Reva Schick" and part of the Artist Studio collection, the premium line of Lee Middleton dolls. She is numbered 2332 and signed by Reva Schick at the base of her skull; I do not have her original certificate, but she does have both her wrist tags.  She is also missing the small pink teddy bear that came with her. She measures 20" or so, and is weighted to feel like a real baby.  Approx. Value: $158.00

Since she's not porcelain, a little girl can actually play with this doll, so it's an ideal gift for a young daughter or a favorite granddaughter.  Or you can keep it safe on display with the hope that it will grow in value over the years as a collectible.

But she's adorable nonetheless, don't you agree?

The winner of my spring giveaway will be selected in a random drawing of commenter names by Tori... she loves to do this, and I think it's more fun than using the random generator.

The winner will have their choice of any of the above items.  I will email the winner, but I need to hear back within 24 hours or I will award the giveaway to another drawn name.  This giveaway is limited to U.S. residents, however, if you live abroad and are willing to pay shipping costs, then I will happily open it up to international residents.  :-)

So, just leave me a comment, tell me which prize you'd like to win, and you have until next weekend to enter.  If you want extra entries, just tweet or Facebook the giveaway and let me know.  But one comment is all it takes to get you into the giveaway!

We will draw a name on Sunday, May 23rd, and announce the winner no later than Monday, May 24th.

And a big thank you to all who come by to read my blog.  I love your comments and appreciate that you find my blog interesting to read!

Learning To Live Cheaply and Green-ly with Homemade Laundry Detergent

When I moved to Kansas almost 2 years ago, my love for our beautiful rural area caused me to think of ways to live more gently on the land and to leave less of a footprint, especially where chemicals are concerned.

{Word of warning: this blog post takes on a life of its own.  Translation:  it's long.}

I must admit I find myself on a roller coaster where "green" is concerned... one day I want to be more economical and more environmentally conscious, and other days I feel like it's too much effort. So I won't lie, it can be a struggle at times. Sometimes it's easier to revert to what appears to be easier. Honestly, if you really think about it, using prepackaged detergents and cleaners is not EASIER (and it's definitely NOT cheaper!), it is simply that we have become accustomed to buying many of our home cleaners "off the shelf", for the sake of perceived convenience. I believe that if we can adjust our habits, then those new habits will eventually become the "new" easy.  And we'll feel really good about it too.  A big bonus.

There is no shortage of recipes for all types of home cleaners on the internet.  But let's start with something simple.

Dear readers, I am going to give you a recipe to make your very own homemade laundry detergent.  I feel that this particular challenge is possibly one of the easiest first transitions to make.  And if you are saying "I don't think I'm inclined to make my own laundry detergent", well, then, I'll give you some tips later to save with what you ARE using.

First, the recipe:
• 4 cups of water
• 1/3 bar of cheap soap, grated
• 1/2 cup washing soda (not baking soda)
• 1/2 cup of Borax (20 Mule Team)
• 5-gallon bucket for mixing
• 3 gallons of water

Tips:  You can use Fels Naptha or any regular bar soap for the cheap soap.  Washing soda and borax can both be found in the laundry aisle at your grocery store.  {Usually.}  Except at Walmart in Kansas.  What the heck??!

First, mix the grated soap (I'll be using Lever, since we have a bunch of it) in a saucepan with 4 cups of water, and heat on low until the soap is completely dissolved. Add hot water/soap mixture to 3 gallons of water in the 5-gallon bucket, stir in the washing soda and Borax, and continue stirring until thickened. Let the mix sit for 24 hours, and voila! homemade laundry detergent.

Yep. That's it.  Simple, huh?

The savings?? You can save 90% of the cost of store-bought by making it yourself. Total cost per load? In the neighborhood of 2 cents. Store-bought detergent, depending on what you buy and where you buy it, can cost about 20 cents per load -- 10 times more.

I'm buying the washing soda and borax as soon as I can find it somewhere here in the land of Oz, so I will let y'all know what I think of homemade detergent once I've had the opportunity to mix my own and try it out.

Now, here's another novel idea that's been hashed out in the public biosphere:

Is detergent even necessary?

Seventh Generation's co-founder, Jeffrey Hollender, wonders why more people haven't stumbled upon laundry's big, dirty secret: "You don't even need soap to wash most loads," he says. "The agitation of washing machines often does the job on its own."

Wow!  Really, Jeffrey, he-who-heads-up-a-household-cleaner-company?  Are you totally serious??  I applaud you for even uttering this statement, when you obviously stand to profit from selling as much laundry detergent as you can!

As it turns out, something that may be even more effective than soap is agitation. Ancient people used rocks and rivers, but your modern washing machine can clean lightly soiled clothes by just pushing them around in water.

So when you think about the way our forefathers did laundry, it does make you wonder:  Is the laundry detergent industry a huge sham, just a way for others to profit from our ignorance?? One thing I can assure you: the powers-that-be are surely not unhappy when you use TOO much of your fancy-schmancy concentrated detergent.  Read this recent eye-opening article from the Wall Street Journal to learn more about The Great American Soap Overdose.

The blog Funny About Money decided to conduct experiments using only water in their washing machine.  Their final analysis?   "By and large, all of the freshly washed clothing came out with an odor: It smelled of clean water!"

If washing your clothes in plain ole water just doesn't float your scuzzy boat, nor do you really want to make your own detergent, here are some other good alternatives:
  • Use half the amount of detergent you normally use.  By and large, you will not see any difference at all - your clothes will be just as clean as when you use tons of detergent.
  • Try one of the new eco-friendly detergents on the market -- you'll use less, and be gentle on our environment at the same time.  
  • I highly recommend Method - only 4 squirts from the bottle for most normal loads! And it's high-powered, plant-based formula is made using 95% natural and renewable ingredients. It's readily biodegradable and non-toxic in use, for skin-friendly clean clothes.  I got my 10 oz. bottle of Fresh Air scent (smells extra good!!) at Lowe's for $7.99 - you can get a $2 off coupon at the Method website.  
  • Other eco-friendly detergents to try: Seventh Generation, greenworks by Clorox.

Costs for the above alternative detergents:
Method, 25 load size, $7.99/btl, 0.3196 cents per load
Seventh Generation, 99 load size, $19.99/btl, 0.2019 cents per load
greenworks* by Clorox, 60 load size, $7.97/btl, 0.1328 cents per load

*I think the greenworks was on sale at Lowe's, about $2.00 off.  I think... can't remember??? Regardless, it's still the cheapest of the bunch overall.

Ok, y'all, that's my two cents worth on laundry detergents.  There is tons more information out there on the big ole internet, if you need it.

I'm really getting into this self-sustainability gig, and it sure makes me feel good to reduce my reliance on Walmart and other big industrial giants.

If you've made your own detergent, or dishwashing detergent, or mayonnaise (yes, you can make your own mayo too!), then do tell me about it. I'd love to hear your story!


Update: I've been informed this was a land spout. Hey, it was still pretty scary!

What an incredible weather day we had yesterday!  I'll let the photos tell the story... but just a little background first.  

We live in Kansas one mile east of Interstate 35 and one mile north of the Oklahoma state line.  The overturned semi trucks on I-35 that you may have seen on the news?  That was within 5 miles of our home!  The hail in the photo below?  Tennis ball size when it came down.... we were standing on our covered front porch looking at the southwest weather coming toward us,  when all of a sudden from our north side came a flying ball of hail which scared the crap outta both of us!!!  So all the weather was coming from the southwest, while the large hail came from the north.  It was amazing!  We drove around after the storm passed by so we could assess any local damage, and also try to find the path of the tornado.

Click on any photo to enlarge!

This photo (above) is straight out of my camera, so the tornado, which is only one mile to our south, is hard to see against the light colored sky.

Here's the adjusted tornado photo, with the contrast pumped up and additional post-processing effects.  My son said it looks like a "Wizard of Oz" tornado.

The storm after it passed over us (above); it's now heading to the northeast, towards Arkansas City.

I tried to gather up what was left of some of the hail, but it had already melted quite a bit.

Here's part of the tornado path... it uprooted some of these hedgerow trees and tore down some barbed wire fence;  below is a close-up of the earth that was flung and wedged between the fenceposts.

Photos of the overturned semi trucks on Interstate 35, just miles from us, on our local TV station.

As far as what it felt like, it was scary and exciting all at the same time.  Right before the storm really hit us, the thunder was a continuous rolling sound, like a growl that never stopped.  I've only heard that kind of thunder once or twice before since I moved here.  It's a very eerie sound.  As the tornado passed to our south and the hail bounced in from the north, it was only a few seconds later that the storm really hit us.  The rain came down so ferociously that we had to run inside the house. Within just seconds, we couldn't even see out the windows.  I remarked that if a tornado was forming outside, we wouldn't even be able to see it.  Of course our satellite TV was already out of commission.  For the sake of being safe rather than sorry, I threw the dogs into our bedroom closet (poor Trixie!!) and then I jumped in with them for a few minutes.  Tom of course said he would continue to monitor the skies for a tornado, even though he couldn't see anything outside!

The weather today is predicted to be mild and sunny, but later tonight we will have more storms!! You just know I will always have my camera handy, and my goal going forward is to try to not be as EXCITABLE, to calm down, and get even more and better photos.

I uploaded several of my photos to very late last night, and was surprised to see several of them on the morning news.

Our next purchase is definitely going to be a video camera.  I would have loved to get some video of that hail coming down and flying all around us!  

It was one crazy day!!

The Time to Help Someone in Need

Life has a way of constantly reminding us that we have much to be thankful for, and that there is always someone more deserving of help than we ourselves could ever be... in that line of thought, I want to introduce my readers to Micki Kohler.

I have never met Micki ....she is the sister of a very, very good Ohio friend of mine. Micki is a horse lover, like myself and many of my readers, and just over a week ago, she was involved in a horrible, tragic accident.

Please take a minute to watch this very short (1:36) news video... your heart will swell as you learn a little bit more about Micki, and find out just how big HER heart is... my eyes well up with tears every single time I watch this video.

Now, what my heart is compelling me to do, right now, is to help Micki and her family, to the utmost of my ability. You see, I found out from Lisa, Micki's sister, that Micki's husband lost his job recently and they lost their insurance coverage on March 31st. And if you watched the video, you found out that she's the mom of 3 adoptive kids from Poland. Since Micki was riding a horse that someone had recently given her and not one of the therapeutic horses at the center, she's not eligible for worker's compensation coverage in this instance.

As my readers, you know I've been jobless for the past year or so... but I'm a firm believer in the small = big philosophy... that just means all those small donations ADD UP to something big.   I'm putting a "Donate" button in my sidebar so that anyone who wants to contribute a small amount to help Micki, can do so.  I'm starting it off with a $20 donation, and I'm pleading with my readers to donate whatever you can, even if it's only $5.00.  All too well do I know how difficult this economy has made our everyday lives.  Just remember.... every donation adds up to something BIG, not just in dollars, but in a heartfelt outpouring of care, compassion and support for Micki and her family. 

Vail Meadows (in Oregon, Ohio) is sponsoring a benefit auction for Micki on May 15... they are in need of silent auction items, so this is another way you can help. Go to Vail Meadows website and click on "Micki Kohler Benefit Saturday May 15" at the bottom of the web page, to find out more about the benefit.

So I'm appealing to you... pass it on. Let your blog readers know. Tweet it or Facebook it as loud as you can and as often as you can.

And from the bottom of my heart, I thank you. Every single one of you.