Monday, February 23, 2015

Places to go with Kids in Lafayette, Louisiana

I work with elementary-aged, at risk kids at a non-profit organization. We have a six-week day camp that costs them $25 per kid (total, not per day...), so you can imagine how creative we have to be to stretch the budget to make a memorable and amazing summer at the same time. When looking at the lists of "things to do in Lafayette" I am sometimes astounded at the prices. So here is a list of really cheap (or free) and fun things to do and places to go with a group (or a few) kids in Lafayette or within reasonable driving distance- just in time for summer planning fun! This list is great for groups, but also for moms who want to keep their kids engaged throughout the summer without breaking the bank.

They are numbered only because I like numbers- there is no special order.

For One or More Kids- This section is for all the moms out there!

1. Lafayette Science Museum and Planetarium- Lafayette
Our group rate came out to $1 per person. Can't. Beat. That. Most of the time the kids tire quickly of a museum, but we could have easily spent over two hours there. They have great interactive exhibits upstairs that the kids will love as well as a planetarium show.

2. Louisiana Old State Capitol- Baton Rouge
The Old State Capitol is free to tour and looks like a castle. My kids wanted to know when we would meet Cinderella :) It is a beautiful place to look around and they have a Louisiana history museum inside as well as a video, etc. There is also a beautiful lawn to eat a picnic lunch under the oak trees! The building is beautiful and it is completely free. They have a 3-D video experience available about the history of the building for $3 per ticket that I highly recommend. This is not your boring history film- be ready for a few fun surprises!

3. U.S.S. Kidd- Baton Rouge
Of you have a group of 20 or more the cost is only $4 per person to tour this battleship. However, right now they have the first Sunday of every month themed and the entrance is free! The kids LOVED it! It is like a huge metal playground. They crawled all over everything and couldn't possibly break anything even if they tried. The moveable metal turret guns were a favorite. We could have spent all day there, except there is no air conditioning, so go early before it gets hot. Metal ship + high temperatures = miserably baking. They also have a museum inside (with air conditioning) that is a must see so you can cool off on your way out.

4. Nature Station- Lafayette
All 4th graders take a field trip here, so make sure you take your kids before they hit 4th grade, that way the repeat trip will be on someone else's watch :) I have actually never been since I don't want to duplicate a trip for our older kids, but I have heard good things! They have hiking trails, presentations for groups, a kayak launch, etc. If your child is really into nature, they also have a young naturalists club.

5. Lafayette City Parks- Lafayette
Swimming! If you aren't a part of a gym that has a pool, then the city pools post their schedules at the end of May, and it only costs $1 per visit. Earl J. Chris in an indoor pool for rainy days and Girard Park is usually empty (plus they have a pond where you can feed the dicks, a great playground, and frisbee golf course). Different pools are open on different days and times, so be sure to check the schedule with the city.

6. Ira Nelson Horticultural Center and Gardens- Lafayette
Most people have never heard of this place and pass by it every day! You can tour the greenhouse and gardens used by UL students to do plant and agricultural research for free. I'm not sure how big of a group you need to tour, but we didn't even take the tour and had a blast. We had our kids do a scavenger hunt to find certain flowers, vegetables, and other things in nature, and spent the whole afternoon exploring. They also have a childrens garden with themed beds and trivia questions for the kids to interact with.

7. Lake Martin and Cypress Island- Breaux Bridge
This is another great place for a scavenger hunt. They have a drive through the swamp where you can see alligators along the edge of the road (sometimes even in the road!) If you go in the spring you can see all of the birds nesting, which is pretty amazing. They also have a wooden plank walking tail over the swamp water so you can see the cypress tress, turtles, and egrets close up. They also have swamp boat tours from the dock, and that is the only part that costs anything at all!

8. Tabasco Factory Tour- Avery Island
This one is a bit of a drive, so I won't be taking my whole group anytime soon, but for a family trip it is perfect. The tour of the factory where you see how they make the pepper sauce is free as well as the gift shop, which has free samples of some crazy Tabasco products like Tabasco ice cream and Tabasco Coke. There are also some cool gardens that you can tour, but the price on that is $8 adult/ $5 child. This falls outside of our budget, but if it fits yours, it is a great way to spend the day.

9. FoodNet- Lafayette
A great way to spend time is giving back! Food Net is a great place to take kids because they can help pack the food boxes, sort canned goods and more! Call in advance to see when they can use an extra set of hands and teach your kids about helping others while having a great time. They also now have a FoodNet community garden that they may need help at. If you want your kids to learn about growing their own food, this is a great way to do it while helping others.

10. Movie Theater- Lafayette
The Grand movie theater usually shows already released movies during the day with special rates for kids (like $3 a piece). They put their schedule out as summer gets closer, so be sure to check it out. With the price of regular tickets, this is the only way I'll see the inside of a theater!

11. Public Library- Lafayette
Be sure to look at the public library's schedule of events. They always have TONS of free stuff going on for all age groups!

12. Local Fire Station
Bake cookies and deliver them to the fire station If you let them know in advance and there aren't any fires, you may get to see the fire truck or have an impromptu tour of the fire station.

13. Louisiana State Museum (Baton Rouge)
This museum is amazing! It is full of awesome stuff that will amaze the kids, and best of all it is free! It has a great visual and hands on exhibits including full size steamboats, combines, and mardi gras floats.

14. Cultural Activities
South Louisiana has a ton of cultural activities- so much so that I won't even try to list them all. However, there is always a festival, parade, or local event to attend if you keep an eye out!

15. Downtown Lafayette
I am just going to roll all of these activities up into one. Downtown Lafayette has a lot of family friendly activities include Movies in the Parc, Artwalk, and more. Some of these activities are on a regular basis and others are special events, so keep an eye on the calendar!

16. Be Creative
Take the kids to places they have never seen before. We took our kids to tour a bank once, and they were more impressed with the escalators and windows from the top of the tall building than the bank tour itself. Try going to the airport to watch planes take off and land. Pick fruit or vegetables at a local farm. Explore new areas of the city. There is always something new to see, and kids find the smallest things absolutely fascinating!

For Groups Only- Great for class or church trips

1. Great Harvest Bread Co. Tour and Bread Making- Lafayette
Great Harvest gives an awesome lesson on how bread is made, tour of their bread making facility, and let the kids make their very own bread creations complete with chef hats! Such a great experience for the kids!

2. Police Station Tour- Lafayette
The police station gives tours of the facility to the kids, and it can be a real eye-opener. The kids will get to see armored vehicles, drug dog training in action, drink driver testing, the police training facility and more. It is a great place to take a group for free.

3. KLFY TV-10 News Station Tour- Lafayette
A news station tour is great for the kids! Getting to play in front of a green screen was the highlight by far, but you also get to play on the news sets, see the behind the scenes of the filming and editing process, and sometimes meet some familiar faces from the news.

4. Bank Tour
Check at different places to see is you can schedule a bank tour. Our kids loved seeing the inside of a vault and will never forget seeing over $100,000 in cash! They got to see how the drive through worked with the tubes sending money in and out, etc. This is a great follow-up trip after talking about money or finances.

I know there are LOTS more, and I'm sure I will add to this later as I remember more. What else do you love to do with kids around Lafayette, LA on a budget???

Pressure Canning The BEST Spaghetti Meat Sauce

I believe that my mother's spaghetti sauce recipe is the BEST in the whole world. It was my favorite food growing up, and when I was first learning to cook on my own in college I thought mine would never turn out as good as hers. When it did, I was thrilled! Now it is also one of DH's favorite dishes year round. I have tried to freeze some on several occasions so that I can pull it out when I have a spaghetti craving, but it nevers turns out even close to the same (I really don't recommend it). So naturally, my mom's spaghetti sauce was the first recipe that I tried out in my new pressure canner! It turned out beautifully!

What you need:
1 lb. ground beef
2 cups onion
12 oz. tomato paste
8 oz. tomato sauce
4 cups water
3 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
2 tsp. dried parsley
2 tsp. dried basil
2 bay leaves
2 tbsp. brown sugar

Cook the ground beef and onion until all pink is gone. Add all of the other ingredients, stirring well together. Cook on low for 45 minutes. 

Prepare your pressure canner and jars. Fill the jars with hot sauce mixture leaving 1 inch of headspace at the top. Cook in the pressure canner for 90 minutes with the pressure required for your altitude (10 lbs. pressure for 1,000 ft. or less).

This recipe is in increments of 1 lb. of ground beef. When I 4x the recipe it is just enough to make 7 quart jars of sauce, which exactly fills my pressure canner. Multiply the recipe by whatever number you need to make or can.

Now you can serve delicious, homemade spaghetti sauce with just a twist of a lid any time you have the urge! What an easy way for a quick homemade meal when you just don't have the time :)

Monday, February 16, 2015

How to Keep Mosquitoes from Breeding in Your Rain Barrel

We live in South Louisiana. I am convinced that sometimes it is humid enough here for mosquitoes to breed in the air! Ok, so it may not be that bad, but they definitely don't need much water to multiply quickly. We use several rain barrels around the yard for refilling the watering systems for the rabbits and chickens as well as watering our fruit trees and vegetable garden. While there are many fancy (and expensive) rain barrels that have mesh on top to keep mosquitoes out (and I'm not convinced that always works), we use mostly old trash cans with open tops to collect and redistribute water. This creates a huge problem for mosquito breeding! 

Thankfully we found a simple and inexpensive solution that has worked AMAZING! This will set your bank account back by around 10 cents. That's right, less than a quarter! Go to your local pet store and buy a goldfish or two and drop them in your rain barrel. The fish will eat all of the mosquito larvae, taking care of the mosquito problem as well as feeding the fish. We have had our fish in the rain barrels for over a year now. We have never fed them, and they have lived through even the coldest temperatures when the rain barrels were completely frozen over! If you want to get even cheaper, you can always catch some minnows and put them in there, just be careful that you don't scoop them out when you are getting water- they blend in a lot better than goldfish do!

Saturday, February 7, 2015

How to Train Chickens to BE QUIET!

Most backyard chickens will spend their days quietly pecking away at grass and bugs, sleeping under a shady bush, and quietly incorporating themselves seamlessly into the regular routine in even a highly suburban area. But every now and then you get a chicken that will NOT be quiet. Some can even be considered SCREAMERS! The white chicken in the picture above, Snow, was definitely a screamer.

If you have one of these, you know what I'm talking about. What is that ungodly creature yelling at the top of its lungs outside my window so early in the morning???? Forget fresh eggs for breakfast- I'll just eat the chicken!

And I know that if she is driving me crazy, then the neighbors must be thinking of ways to murder me in my sleep! You must decide- deal with the noise or get rid of the chicken. Thankfully, before I decided to send away the culprit, I found a simple solution that worked beautifully...train the chicken to be quiet. 

If you have ever trained a dog, it is very similar, and all you need for quiet, well-behaved backyard chickens is water! Fill a spray bottle with water and every time the chicken starts to scream, tell it to stop and spray it with the water. It will quickly learn which behavior is causing the undesired spraying, and stop! 

I know, there are some chickens who are bent on disobedience. They are strong willed, and a spray bottle won't even ruffle their feathers. Don't be discouraged- you are stronger than the chicken. All you need with a strong willed chicken is a couple of hours and a garden hose! Every time the yelling starts, spray the hose at the chicken (resist the urge to put it on the jet setting, this is for instructional purposes only). This has worked with even my most rambunctious chickens. When I am out watering the garden anyway, it is a great time for training. An hour at the most is all you will need. Now chickens do have a short term memory, so you may have to have a refresher course every now and then, but you don't have to live with a SCREAMER!

Do you have any screamers? If so, how do you deal with them?

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Delicious Rabbit Breakfast Sausages

Yes, we raise meat rabbits. And I will confidently stand by our many reasons for doing so. I have always found our rabbit meat lean and delicious, and then this week I discovered a new and amazing way to enjoy it- breakfast sausage!!!! It is so so so so so good! It's a good thing it's lean...

Here's how to make your own!

- 1 rabbit deboned and ground (prepping the rabbit is by far the most time consuming part if you are starting from a whole rabbit, but so worth it!)
- 2 tsp. salt
- 1 1/2 tsp. sage
- 1 tsp. pepper
- 3/4 tsp. nutmeg
- 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
- 1-2 granny smith apples, peeled and finely chopped
- vegetable oil

Mix the ground meat with the spices (the next five ingredients) and refrigerate overnight to let all of the meat soak up that awesome spice flavor! 

The next morning chop and add the apple. Form the meat into 3 inch in diameter patties and cook in a skillet with a little vegetable oil for about 5 minutes on each side until browned to your taste. My husband likes a quick but hearty breakfast, so we made a triple batch and froze the extra to be reheated in the microwave. This idea turned out awesome! Now we have a bug country breakfast every morning before work without making a mess in the kitchen.

This recipe may seem to have some strange ingredients (nutmeg, cinnamon, and apples?), but trust me, they are DElicious! Not dry at all, full of flavor, and so much healthier than sausages made from other meats. One more reason I love, love, love our rabbits!

P.S. If you are wondering why the scrambled eggs in the picture above are so orange (almost the same color as the orange juice), that's the beauty of free range chicken eggs! So much nutrition packed into those dark orange yolks! And yes, that is a buttermilk biscuit with homemade apple butter :) 
Don't worry, that recipe will come soon...

Monday, February 2, 2015

10 Tips for Starting Seeds Indoors

I have tried starting seeds inside, outside, in the greenhouse, in six packs, in 4 inch pots, in peat pots, spray watering, hand watering, flood trays, grow lights, windowsill, potting soil, seed starter, store bought seed, catalogue seed, saved seed, and every plant you can imagine. Here is what I have learned about what matters and what doesn't.

1. Get the right light
Lighting is the MOST IMPORTANT factor to get right. You don't need to spend money on fancy grow lights specifically for plants, but you do need to get an abundant amount of light directly over your seedlings. After trying lots of different things, what I find works the best for a budget is to get shop lights from the hardware store at $12 a piece and use the daylight fluorescent bulbs in them. Suspend the lights from chains so that they hang only an inch or two above the tops of the plants and incrementally raise them as the plants grow. A sunny windowsill of well lighted area that isn't specifically designed for starting seeds will still grow plants, but the difference is HUGE! If you spend any time and money on starting seeds, get this right!

2. Dirt cheap
Getting the right soil is important...sometimes. I don't mean to be confusing, but I have found that some seeds need true seed starting mix while others get along fine or even better in regular potting soil. For seed starting mix I use the $5/ bag Jiffy Organic seed starter and it works great. For potting soil I use the $1/bag generic from the local garden center. So which seeds get which dirt? Most small seeds need the starter soil to keep them from drying out in order to germinate, while larger seeds need potting soil so that they don't get too much moisture and rot in the dirt before germinating. Here is how I break down the common seeds: In seed starter mix- peppers, tomatoes, most herbs, eggplant, spinach, lettuce, greens, etc. In potting soil- peas, beans, cucumbers, cantaloupe, watermelon, squash, okra, artichoke, etc.

3. Water from the bottom
What is the best way to water seeds? Watering from the top can water log seeds, dislodge them while first germinating, or spread diseases. While some people spend lots of time misting their seeds to gently water them, it is much easier and more beneficial for the plants to water from below. In order to do this, place all of the seed containers in a tray that has a lip at least half an inch high. You can use special seed starting trays or, like I do, use plastic serving trays or cookie sheets from the dollar store. Pour water into the tray and let the soil soak the water up to the roots from the bottom. Not only does this keep the leaves dry and disease free and not disturb the seeds in the soil, but it also encourages strong root growth by directing the roots to grow deep into the pots rather than that staying at the surface.

4. Add liquid sunshine
What kind of water is best for seeds? Using tap water is okay, but not best since it has added minerals and is purified. Well water can very hard and have too many hard minerals in it. The best water to give your new seedlings is rain water. You can collect it in a rain barrel or just set a 5 gallon bucket at the eave of the house to collect it. This isn't a huge deal breaker at all, but if you want the optimum conditions for the seedlings, give them liquid sunshine!

5. Temperature
Different seeds require different temperatures to germinate. Most seeds will germinate at the comfortable temperature that you keep your home (65F-73F). There are some seeds that prefer warmer temperatures, specifically eggplant and peppers. These like to germinate at 80F. If you keep them at regular room temperature, some will still germinate, but if you are planning on a bumper crop of peppers, you may consider getting a heating pad for the peppers seeds.

6. Seeds are seeds
I have bought very expensive seeds and very cheap seeds, and I have found that all seeds do the same thing- they grow into plants. Unless you are looking for a rare or specific variety of plant, I suggest getting the least expensive seeds you can get your hands on. I personally prefer heirloom varieties so that I can save my own seed from strong plants to replant the following year. SOme of my favorite places to get seed is (all heirloom, non-GMO seeds for $1 per packet) and the dollar store (their packets are just $.25/each!). Finding cheaper seeds or saving your own really cuts down on the cost per plant to start your own vegetable transplants.

7. A container is just a container
What do I put the plants in? Whatever you want! The container doesn't make that much of a difference on its growth, but there are some considerations. If you are using flood trays to water, don't fold your own containers out of newspaper because they won't hold up. A few container options include paper egg cartons, cups with holes in the bottom, old plastic 6 packs or 4 inch pots, peat pots, etc. The possibilities are endless so buy something new or recycle something you already have!

8. Give them some leg room
Some plants like lettuce can be put into tiny containers like the 32 plants per tray, while other plants like tomatoes need more space. If you put them in a container too small, you will have to transplant several times before putting them out into the garden. My container of choice are reused 6 packs from last season's annual flowers. I disinfect them to get rid of any possible disease, and reuse them time and again. I will only have to transplant my tomatoes one time into 4 inch pots before putting them right into the garden.

9. When to begin
When to start your seeds inside is dependent on several factors. Base all of your start dates based on the average last frost date for your area. Check for your zone and that will determine your last frost date. Then, research each seed type from there. Some plants are long growing and will need to be started as early as 8-10 weeks before the last frost date. Do your research and get the timing right because you don't want to start your plants so early that they are huge when you put them in the ground, but you also want to get in enough growth to make starting them indoors worth your time.

10. Making the jump outside
You have given your plants such a controlled and wonderful environment for growing that they have now become spoiled rotten! In order to get them ready to go outside into the real world of temperature, light, and water variations they will need to be "hardened off". In order to do this, set the plants out in a shady spot for a few hours each day once the weather warms up. Slowly keep them outside longer, exposing them to more and more direct sunlight over the course of a week or two. Then your plants will be ready to put in the garden. Once you put them in the ground, be sure to give them a long deep watering to get them all tucked in.

I hope these tips help you have the most successful vegetable this year yet!