Monday, July 14, 2014

Super Easy DIY Memo Board

As part of my new sewing space, I really wanted an "inspiration board"... a place where I could pin up pictures of things I'd like to make. Since I was trying create my sewing space without spending any money, I had to make a board from stuff I already had around the house. I dug into my various art and craft supplies and pulled together a canvas, some funky vintage fabric, some ribbon, some buttons and some thumbtacks.

Here's how it went together: 

Cut a piece of the fabric so that it's a few inches bigger than the canvas
 on all sides. Lay the canvas face down on the fabric.

Wrap the fabric around the canvas snuggly, and secure in place with tacks.
Be careful to make the corners nice and neat. 

Next, lay strips of ribbon onto your wrapped canvas in whatever configuration
you like. I did mine in squares, but you can do diamonds or strips or whatever
you like. Secure the ribbons to the back with tacks. 
Once the ribbons are secure where you want them, sew
buttons where the ribbons intersect. 


Saturday, July 12, 2014

DIY Sewing Spot: The Big Reveal!

 For the last week I have been spending my spare time working on the project I told you about last post... turning a closet into a sewing spot! I am REALLY happy with how it turned out. Ladybug is pretty excited, too... she loves to sew, and is definitely way better at it than I am. I can't wait to see what kind of creations she makes in our new space.

Are you ready to see what it looks like? OK... Here we go...

The closet before...


I had a few goals for this project: One, to turn ill-used space into a functional space. Two, to finally get our sewing out of storage, so we can actually make stuff. Three, to accomplish the first two goals without spending any money.

I think I did very well on the first two goals, and I nearly accomplished the third. I ended up spending $7 on a package of labels for the boxes. Other than that, everything I used was stuff I already had in the house.

Here is a closer look:
Mason jars, to store buttons, embroidery floss and scissors. Also,
a little mason jar pincushion.

Old crates, to store fabric and patterns, and a
basket for sewing books

More storage: Bins of stuffing and batting, and a
basket of fuzzy fleece fabric.
Old spice rack, turned thread holder

An "Inspiration Board" made from vintage fabric (DIY How-to coming soon!)

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Sneak peak: New Project!

I am a big DIY kind of person. I get a huge amount of personal satisfaction when I can recycle old stuff into new, and create something useful where once there was none. These little projects come about in many different ways. Sometimes, we'll find an old object (like this old desk and this old window) which inspires us, or sometimes we'll have an issue that needs a solution, and we have to get creative to solve it.

My current project is a combination of these two things! First of all, I've been itching for a place to sew for YEARS. Currently, the only place to set up my sewing machine is on the kitchen table, which isn't so practical in our house, since our table is in constant use. This is most definitely not a problem of an urgent nature or anything, but having a little sewing spot would definitely make me happy. This desire for a sewing area jumped to the front of my mind a couple of weeks ago, when we were driving down the street and saw a vintage sewing machine table on the side of the road, with a big "FREE" sign on it. I had no idea where I'd put it, or if I could do the necessary repairs on it, but I knew I had to have it! So into the back of the van it went. It's now been sitting in various places around the house, while I figure out where it's going to live.

I finally decided that I'm going to turn an underused closet in our basement TV room into a mini-sewing room! Here are some "before" pics:
The basement TV room. The brown curtain on the right is the closet.
The view of the other side of the room.
Inside the closet.

The sewing machine "inspiration piece."
I'm hoping to get this finished up this weekend, and will post "after" pics as soon as it's finished. 

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Yard Project: Under Tree Shade Gardens

Here at the Homestead, we are very lucky to have a nice outdoor space. We have a side yard where we have our veggie garden area, and then we have a patio which overlooks our back yard. While we really love our yard, it is not without it's challenges. First of all, it's VERY shady most of the day, which makes it hard to grow much, and it has a downward slope, so when it rains everything washes down to the bottom of the yard, making a muddy mess. We also have had a lot of erosion over the years, which was particularly noticeable around the base of our two maple trees. We tried filling in the area with more soil and mulching it, but that didn't do much. When it rained, all the mulch just washed down the yard, making a huge mess. Not pretty, and not really good for the trees, either.

So we came up with another idea... we decided to try to plant some shade-loving plants around the trees, to hold the soil in place. We picked out a few shade plants, and set to work.

BEFORE (sort of... more "during" actually) 

AFTER: The hostas we just moved from other parts of our property, and the
other plants we picked up at Home Depot. I'm hoping these plants will fill out a bit
more, but it's a good start! We also re-seeded the grass again, and pruned up the trees
 to let in just a bit more sun, to help things grow and to brighten up the yard a little. 
AFTER: The view looking in the other direction, to our other tree, which also
has a new shade garden. Still working on the grass, which is still a bit patchy.

This is just one of many outdoor projects we've been working on this season. Last year we were busy renovating our kitchen, so the outside of the house got totally neglected. We're trying to make up for that this summer! So far we've stained and sealed the porch, made a new seating area on the patio, and spruced up all our garden areas. There is still room for improvement, though we are really enjoying the results of our efforts so far.

Next post, I will be sharing a delicious summer time recipe to enjoy while sitting in the yard... Dairy-free, all-natural strawberry-banana "ice cream."

Monday, June 30, 2014

21-Day Eat Clean Challenge Wrap Up!

So, yesterday was Day 21 of the 21-Day Eat Clean Challenge we did on Facebook. What a great experience! It was nice to chat with people about what clean eating means to them, and to share ways to fit clean eating into real life.

Many of the people doing this challenge were learning to Eat Clean for the first time, or were trying to get "back on the wagon" after maybe not eating very well for a while. The Challenge was sort of a "kick start" to forming some healthy food habits. But now that the 21 days are up... where do we go from here?

I think it's really important to address how to turn clean eating into a lifestyle, realistically. This is will be different for every person, of course, just as what defines "Clean Eating" varies. But the important thing to remember is that it doesn't have to be "all or nothing." For me, there are certain things I never eat (artificial colors and flavors, chemical additives, GMOs, HFCS, animal products) things I eat on rare occasions (sugar) things I enjoy once or twice a week (flour, wine) and then things I eat daily (pretty much everything else) This is a balance that works for me, because in real life there are birthday parties where you might want a piece of cake or celebratory dinners where you might want a glass or two of wine. And that sort of thing can definitely fit into a clean-eating lifestyle. As long as you're making good choices and feeding your body the very best stuff most of the time, the occasional treat won't hurt, in my opinion.

I'm really grateful to all who have participated in the challenge, and who have been kind enough to share their difficulties and triumphs with me. It's been a wonderful experience for me, and I hope it was positive for you, too. I look forward to applying some of the insight you've given me as I continue to work on my book, The 21-Day Eat Clean Challenge, which will (hopefully!) debut this fall. More info will be posted here on the blog, as it happens.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

All Natural, No Sugar Strawberry Jam

I really love making jam. It's such an old-fashioned, fun thing to do, and it's surprisingly easy. I make one kind of jam or another throughout the spring, summer and fall, as different fruits come into season. I start with strawberry and strawberry rhubarb, move on to blueberry, then peach, then, in the fall apple butter. This stocks up our pantry quite nicely, so that I never have to buy jam or jelly at the store. I know it's been at least 3 years since we've bought any, which is saying something if you had any idea the huge amounts of PB&Js my kids eat.

After my last post I've had a few requests for my recipe for no-sugar-added strawberry jam. I am more than happy to share it! This recipe makes about four 8 oz jars. You can double it, but I find it comes out best if you make it in small batches. If you've never canned anything before, don't worry! It's easier than you think! Here are some canning basics, before we get started:

You will need some basic canning equipment, to get started. You'll need a big canning pot (or any very large pot, in a pinch) a jar grabber, lid wand and canning jars with lids and rings. Make sure the lids are new... NEVER reuse lids for canning, as old lids may not seal properly. You can reuse jars and rings. Before you can, wash and sterilize your jars, lids and rings (I just put mine in the dishwasher) then put them in your canning pot filled with water. Bring to a simmer, then turn down to low to keep the jars warm while you make your jam.

Now, onto the jam!

All-Natural, No Sugar Strawberry Jam

4 cups of strawberries, washed and hulled
2/3 cup apple or white grape juice
Squeeze of lemon juice
3 Tbsp no sugar pectin

Dump the strawberries into a pot. I usually use a 6 quart pot, which seems big, but the jam will bubble up a lot, and a deeper pot prevents splatters. Use a potato masher to smoosh up the berries. This is a fun job for the kids. Once all the berries are smashed up well, stir in the remaining ingredients. Put over high heat and stir often until it gets to a full boil. Make sure you don't forget to stir, or it will stick and burn on the bottom. When it's really boiling really good and hard (so hard that when you stir it it's still bubbling like crazy) then check the time and let boil for one full minute. Remove from heat, and get your jars and lids out onto a towel. Next, use a funnel and a ladle to fill your jars to 1/4 inch from the top. Wipe any jam from the rim, then put the lids on and fasten the rings. Next, put the jars of jelly into the canning pot, making sure they're covered by at least and inch of water. Cover and boil for 10 minutes. Carefully remove with your jar grabber and let cool, undisturbed, on a tea towel on the counter overnight.

When the jars are sealed properly, the lid should not flex when you press it. If you happen to end up with one that didn't seal, just pop it in the fridge and use it within a week or two. Properly sealed jars of jam can be kept in the pantry for up to a year.

Another cool thing... I pretty much use this same recipe for most jams I make, substituting whatever berry is in season at the time. Try it with raspberries, black berries, blueberries, or a combination.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Strawberry Season! (And a Recipe for Frozen Fruit Pops!)

It's strawberry season! Last week we went strawberry picking at a local farm, then this past weekend we went to a "Strawberry Festival" at another farm. This means we have been pretty much buried in strawberries recently, which is not a terrible problem to have, in my opinion.

So what are we doing with all these strawberries? WELL... lots of them have just been eaten as is, fresh, sweet and juicy. Some were frozen, to enjoy in smoothies and such later on. Some were made into a batch of strawberry jam, some into a batch of strawberry-rhubarb jam, and the rest were made into deeee-licious frozen fruit pops, which happen to be one of our favorite summer treats.

Seriously, these frozen fruit pops are so refreshing as a sweet summer treat, and they are completely and totally natural and healthy in every way. They are made from fruit. Just fruit. No added sugar or sweetener of any kind. Here is the super-easy recipe (it's barely even a recipe, it's so easy!)

Strawberry-Banana Frozen Fruit Pops

3 cups of strawberries, washed and hulled
1 large or two small bananas, broken into chunks.

In a blender, puree fruit until fairly smooth. Pour into popsicle molds. Freeze.