Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Pickling Day

This past Sunday was a day off for us. Our first day off, no work or other obligations, in several weeks. I'd really been looking forward to it, and had been planning to hit the beach with my family for some much-needed downtime.

Unfortunately, Mother Nature had other plans for us! Instead of a nice beach day, we had torrential downpours and thunderstorms. Not exactly beach weather.

Since I couldn't go to the beach, I decided to tackle some projects around the house, including working my way through some of the produce we picked up from the farm share on Friday. Since we got EIGHT cucumbers in our share, (and I had a few from the garden!) I decided it was time to make pickles!

Pickles are one of the absolute easiest things to can, ever. You can whip up a big batch in less than an hour. This time I made our favorite dill pickles, in both slices and spears. I also tried a new recipe: Pickled onions! (I also got a ton of onions from the farm) Those were pretty good, but at first taste just a little ~too~ tart for my liking, so I might have to work on that recipe a bit. I'll see how they are after they sit for a couple of weeks.

Although it was not the beach day I had planned, it turned out to be kind of nice to have time to catch up on those little tasks I haven't had time to get to lately. Though I WILL say that on our next day off, 15 days from now, I REALLY hope I get to the beach! I might even bring a jar of pickles for our picnic.
Homemade Pickles! Balsamic pickled onions, dill spears and dill slices

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Easiest Fancy Coffee EVER

You know how sometimes you discover a thing, and it's a small thing, but it just makes you SO HAPPY?! Well, this happened to me!

I LOVE coffee, but I am really terrible at making it. I've read how-to articles, I've talked to a former barista, and still, my coffee is mediocre at best. Because of this, I when I crave coffee I usually go out for one. But those coffees to go can really add up and put a dent in the wallet, , so that's not the best solution, either. Recently, someone told me about Trader Joe's cold brewed coffee concentrate, and I have to say this stuff is AWESOME. It's already brewed, so it's quick and perfectly delicious every time. 

It works great for just a regular ol' cup'o'joe, but sometimes I'm in the mood to treat myself to something special. My favorite special treat is a Mocha Latte. I start by pouring 1/4 cup of the coffee concentrate and 1/4 cup of water into my cup, then fill it up the rest of the way with unsweetened almond milk. Next I microwave it for two minutes, then I drizzle in a little bit of chocolate syrup. Total indulgence! In two minutes, flat. 

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Facing Fears and Getting Dirty

So, I'm still trying to catch my breath from the last couple of weeks... It's been a whirlwind of activity here. Two of the kids are involved in a theater camp, which is 5 days a week for 6 weeks, and I've been volunteering on weekends to help out with fundraising and set painting. We're nearing the deadline for submitting homeschool stuff (reports from last year, and education plans for next year) to the superintendent, so I've been working on that. We also had visiting family and overnight guests and other activities and adventures, and we're still running the daycare! Busybusybusy.

But I really wanted to tell you about one really cool thing that happened last week... The Dirty Girl Mud Run.  The Dirty Girl is a 3 mile "mud run" for women, which benefits the breast cancer charity, BrightPink. There are several reasons why I wanted to do this.

1. I really wanted to support this charity, and to run in memory of my cousin, Mary, who was taken from this earth too soon, after a fierce battle with breast cancer.

2. I just turned 43. I'm not getting any younger, and I've always wanted to try something like this. I've written here about my battles with trying to get fit, and I felt that this would be a good way to challenge myself a bit physically.

3. Also related to getting older... I (like most people) have a lot of mental hang ups which hold me back from doing things. I'm working on facing some of the fears I have, and trying to learn to push beyond my comfort zone. I felt this run would be a cool way to stretch and grow.

Now that it's over I can say that I'm very glad that I did it! It turned out to be WAY easier than I expected, physically. It's not a timed race, and the whole environment was very supportive. My goal was simply to get through all the obstacles without taking any of the detours. I had some great teammates with me... my two cousins (Mary's daughters) and a friend.

While I did not find the course to be too physically challenging, there were two obstacles that freaked me out a bit... one was going down a HUGE slide, into a pool of muddy water. I have OCD and a fear of germs, so I was a little weirded out that the mud would get up in my nose and mouth. I wasn't fearful of crawling through the mud, but splashing into it at high speed made me a little nervous. I was afraid of the lack of control, because going down a big, wet, slippery slide you are truly at the mercy of physics, and you just have to go with it. I don't do well when I feel out of control. I did it, though... and it was actually fun! The other scary obstacle was this mesh/net thing that was about 12 feet high that we had to climb up, over and down. I am terrified of heights, and although it really wasn't ~that~ high, by most standards, for me, it was! I don't even like ladders! I was VERY tempted to take the detour, but my team was cheering me on, and with my heart beating loudly in my ears, I somehow managed to get up and over without passing out. It felt great to get back to the bottom, but it felt even better to know that I faced a fear successfully.

I feel really great about this experience, and I want to continue to challenge myself personally and physically, while I still can! Next up, I will be participating in Mudderella in September. I have also made myself the promise to continue to do things that scare me just a little (Quitting my job has been a big one!) Life is short, and I want to live it with no regrets.

Our team, post-run. Muddy but happy!

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...


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:

Jars to hold buttons, embroidery floss, scissors, pins, etc.

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!)

UPDATE: January 2016: I got a new stool for this space! Picked it up at a local vintage shop, and I just LOVE it... much better height, and super cute, too... 

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."