Wednesday, June 30, 2010

How to make a covered wagon

Well, Daily Vacation Bible School is finished.  I survived!

We had a great week with all of the children.  I taught the 3-4 year olds and our church used the SBC curriculum (Southern Baptist).  It was called Saddleridge Ranch and had a western theme. 

I don't like to spend the church's money on decorations for one week, so I made my own. 

Here's how I made a covered wagon for my little kiddos to pull around the classroom.

First I took my children's old red wagon and dusted off the cobwebs.  Then hubs found a piece of wire garden fencing.  I actually used this piece for my garden peas to grow up.  Hubs bent it to form a curve and then attached it to the wagon.

The ends of the fencing were used to attach it to the wooden rails of the wagon.  We simply poked them through the rails and then bent them up.

Then, I topped the whole thing with an old twin top sheet that I folded in half.  I wrapped the sheet around the ends of the fencing and used safety pins to pin it to the underside of the fencing.

Now that DVBS is over, I've washed the sheet and put it back in the drawer, put the fencing back in the garden, and stored the wagon back in the garage with all of our outdoor toys in it. 

This would be a fun project to add a bit of Americana to your 4th of July party!  The kids would love it.


Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Etsy Shop Additions and Improvised Dress Forms

I have finally gotten the chance to add some new items to my Etsy shop.  I made them over a month ago but lots of family and church obligations kept me from taking the time I needed to photograph them and get them into the shop.

Also, since my apron model is getting married and moving out soon, I invested in some dress forms to model the items.  I went to a store that sells new and used store fixtures and purchased a half-size women's dress form and a child's plastic form that is made to hang on a hook.  I really wanted a set of beautiful vintage forms, but the price was too steep for my coin purse.  So, being the Tidy Brown Wren that I am, I improvised. 

I removed the short stand from the women's form and set it on top of a tall plant stand I've had for a while.  Fortunately, one of my dresses fit the form perfectly.

For the child's form , I removed the hanger from the top and attached a bracket to the legs. Then I attached the bracket to the bottom of a small table I found in the trash. I'm thinking I'll paint the table legs black to match the form.

So for around $50.00 I have two dress forms. The vintage set I wanted was $450.00. I still need to find a little black dress for the child's form.  This tank top of mine just isn't doing the job.

So this morning I got to play at being a photo stylist and photographer.  I'll admit that I felt really weird dressing and undressing the dress forms on my front porch.  I'm glad my neighbors can't see what I'm doing. 

Here's the result of all of my hard work:

Monday, June 28, 2010

Monday Motivation: Kitchen cabinets refreshed

I'm taking care of a few indoor projects this week as the triple Hs (hazy, hot, humid) have arrived here in southeast Virginia. 

This week I'm taking care of all of my cabinets.  Actually, I'm cleaning them inside and out but that may be too much for you to handle if your children are underfoot or your schedule is busy.

So, onto the cabinets. . .

1. Use a cleaning product designed for your particular type of cabinet.
     a.  Wood doors - use Murphy's oil soap and a soft rag.  Mix the soap per package directions with water and wash down the doors.  Don't use too much water.
     b.  Laminate - use dishwashing detergent (I like Dawn as a degreaser) in water and use a soft rag.  If stubborn dirt persists around the knobs you can use a Mr. Clean magic sponge. 

2.  After washing, use a dry cloth to dry the doors.

3.  If your wood cabinets are not protected with a finish, use Liquid Gold  to restore them to a beautiful shine.
     * I recently did a staging consultation with a client who had wood cabinets in her 30 year old home.  She has treated her solid wood cabinets with Liquid Gold every year for 30 years and they look brand new.  Now she has a very nice selling feature in her home that only cost her pennies and a little bit of elbow grease once a year.

4.  If your cabinets are a little bit worse for the wear, you can touch them up with paint or stain markers to cover scratches and marks.  The stain markers are sold in the stain dept. at Lowes and Home Depot.  I've used leftover paint to touch up scratches on painted cabinets and even laminate cabinets (making a custom paint with my craft acrylic paint). 

5.  If your cabinets need a makeover but you don't want to paint them, you might try changing out the knobs.  When we moved into our current home I knew immediately that I would change the knobs on the kitchen cabinets.  There were white knobs on the wood doors and, to me, it looked like polka-dots.  By changing the knobs to a simple bronze knob, the kitchen had better flow.  I was able to buy a "builder's pack" at Home Depot for around $11.00 which had enough knobs for my kitchen and laundry room with one knob left over.

So, there you have it.  Clean cabinet doors and if you're adventurous, clean cabinets.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Compost upgrade

I finally replaced my old system for collecting kitchen scraps for my compost pile.

I spent a fun date day with my youngest daughter (who's getting married in October).  We shopped and thrifted to our hearts content.

We visited a World Market about an hour from our home to see what kind of treasures we could find. 

This is what I came home with:

I have seen these compost buckets in catalogs for $25-$30 dollars.  I paid $14.99 for mine. 

It fits nicely under my kitchen sink next to the produce wash I use.  It's cute enough to stay on the counter but I just don't have the room to keep it there. 

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Eating safe produce

When my daughter visited last week from Boston, she noticed all of the changes I had made in food purchases since she last visited.  She was wondering if buying organic really makes a difference. 

YES, it does.

The Environmental Working Group  points out that if we eat the daily 5 servings of some fruits and vegetables (not organic) we could be consuming 10 pesticides a day.  Yikes! 

They put together a handy printout that you can keep with your grocery list when you are shopping for your produce.  It lists what produce is OK to buy that are not organic.  It also lists the top Dirty Dozen that you should avoid unless it is organic.  This will help you save money since organic produce is usually a bit more expensive than non-organic.

As with other foods, be sure to read the packages carefully.  Some packages claim to include organic ingredients, but that doesn't mean it is entirely organic.

Also, I've been finding that some at my local farmer's market, some farmers aren't selling their own produce - they're buying it from a distributor.  That's why I was finding produce there that wasn't in season yet.  Always ask about where the food came from and how it was grown.  Don't assume anything.

I was happily buying produce from my neighboring farmer who has an "honor system" cart at the end his driveway.  Every week, I would take my market basket and walk down to his cart and buy a few things - that is until the day a pineapple showed up on the cart - really?  Pineapples growing in Virginia?  That was my first clue that I wasn't buying what I thought I was buying.  He had been growing some produce but purchasing other stuff wholesale and reselling it.  Since then, I've found a different "local" farmer who is really local.

I'm finding that the only way I can be 100% sure of my food's safety is to grow it myself.  I wish I was a better farmer - I'm a slow learner, but I'm making some progress.

These are the things I've been learning about in the last 2 weeks.  I just wanted to share them with you.  Do some research for yourself and learn about what you are putting into your body.  You really will be surprised.

photo from this source

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Wrensday: Gardenia heaven

As if the flowers weren't enough, God gives us a heavenly aroma to enjoy.

I bought 2 gardenia bushes at Home Depot 2 years ago and planted them in our butterfly garden courtyard.  They are called a daisy gardenia.  The flowers are very simple but the aroma. . . ahhh. . . the aroma is divine.  It makes you stop in your tracks.

As the flower fades the color turns from white to a beautiful antique ivory.  The best part about these babies?  They will rebloom (just not as profusely) off and on throughout the Summer.  Sigh. . . .

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Tower of Trays

I hope your family enjoyed a Happy Father's Day.  We were able to have a nice dinner with many family members.  It's always a blessing to have several generations under one roof at the same time.  Even if some of the members are only visible through Skype.

Since the dads in our family prefer things to be more casual, we decided to have pork BBQ, coleslaw, watermelon, and rainbow sherbet.  It sure made things easy for me.  I didn't even have to set the table.  I simply placed plates, napkins, and utensils on our wooden trays and stacked them at one end of the buffet table. 

I bought these trays from Michaels several years ago.  They are frequently on sale 2/$5.00.  I stained them with a poly stain and now store them in my laundry room for easy access. 

This system works well for us when we have a large group.  This lets our guests take their meal out on the front screened porch or out on the back deck.  On Sunday, with the heat index measuring 110 degrees, we all stayed inside and enjoyed the air conditioning. 

Monday, June 21, 2010

Monday Motivation: Caring for your Cutting Board

As a kitchen tool that gets daily use, a good cutting board is worth the chunk of money you plunked down to buy it.  To get your money's worth it's best to take good care of this kitchen helper before  it gets ruined.

Wooden cutting boards are preferred by many cooks because they protect your knives and a large one is heavy enough to not slip around while you're cutting.  They also create a more pleasant sound when being cut on (versus ceramic or hard plastic) and will last forever.

With wooden cutting boards you need to sanitize the board as well as protect it.  To wash it you can wash it by hand with a scrub brush and dish washing liquid with very hot water.  Rinse and then air dry.  To sanitize it, scrub with salt and a half of a lemon.  Rinse with hot water and air dry standing on end. 
Don't ever wash a wooden cutting board in the dishwasher or let it sit and soak in the sink. 

To protect the board, coat it with oil whenever the surface starts to fade in color or look "thirsty".  There are cooks who say to only use mineral oil but I'm a little wary of using mineral oil on a cooking surface.  I prefer to use olive oil or coconut oil making sure oil is well absorbed before I store the board in the cupboard.  In the past, cooks were told to not use cooking oil because it could go rancid.  Newer boards that are used and washed regularly won't have a chance to go rancid.  You can decide what will work best for your kitchen.  Rory from Tools are for Women Too has a good post about protecting a cutting board.  He also makes nice boards that you can buy.

Plastic cutting boards are popular because they are so cheap to buy and come in many colors.  I think of them as being a short term solution because they get cut up quickly and will need to be discarded.  They are handy to pack in a picnic basket or for occasional use.  They can be washed in the dishwasher and need no protection.

I guess I should also mention ceramic/glass cutting boards even though I don't like them at all.  I can't stand to cut on them because of the awful sound that is made when the knife is cutting on the surface.  To me it's like fingernails on a chalkboard.  Yikes!  I also found out that they can be especially dulling to your knives.

Finally, even with sanitizing, you should have different cutting boards for different types of foods.  I have one board that is only for raw meat.  I wrote "Raw Meat" on the end of the board with permanent marker.  My other board is used for veggies and then I have another one that is for bread.

I'm having to activate the Word Verification Mode for a little while as I'm having a real problem with some spammers (yucky, mean spammers).  I'm so sorry for the inconvenience - please bear with me.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Plant markers

I've been busy planting flowers in my gardens.  My goal is to have decent looking gardens for my daughter's October wedding in our backyard.

I planted some Dahlia bulbs and I needed a way to mark them until they are big enough to not be mistaken for a weed.  *Sometimes my family helps me weed and they've helpfully pulled out real plants instead of weeds.  Oops!

Because the other perennials are rather tall,  I needed a much taller marker than the typical small tags you can buy.  I grabbed a few mini clay pots and topped some plant stakes with them.  Then I wrote on the pot with a wax marker. 

This marker is labeled "Vemeer" so I will know what color the Dahlia will be.

It looks like I'm not the only one who likes the  pots.  This little dragonfly likes the tall perch I've provided for him.

These markers have held up pretty well.  We've had some bad Summer storms blow through and none of them blew over or showed any fading.  The plant stakes will stay in place to support the top heavy Dahlias when they bloom. 

I'm linking to:

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Make ahead Tortellini Salad

We enjoy most Summer meals on our screened porch.  We all enjoy eating this salad with salmon.  I like serving this during the Summer because I can make it ahead of time and also, it takes the place of several side dishes because of its blend of veggies and pasta.

This dressing recipe is also great by itself on other types of salads or as a marinade on chicken or fish.

Make ahead Tortellini Salad                serves 10

1 package (9 ounces) refrigerated cheese tortellini (you can also use dried)
1 package (9 ounces) refrigerated spinach tortellini (you can also use dried)
1 pound green beans, trimmed (you can use frozen or fresh - don't use canned)
1 small green onion, sliced
1/2 cup sliced olives
1 tomato, diced or 1 cup of grape tomatoes

1/2 cup olive oil
1 tsp. minced garlic
1 Tbl. balsamic vinegar (I use organic)
2 Tbl. apple cider vinegar (I use organic)
1/2 tsp. dried basil
1/4 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper

Boil tortellini in a large pot of salted water as directed on package.  Add green beans during the last 3 minutes.

Meanwhile, mix dressing ingredients together in a large bowl, whisking until fully blended.

Add onion, olives, and tomato.

When tortellini and beans are done, drain and plunge into a bowl of ice water.  Drain well and add to bowl with dressing. 

Mix well, cover, and refrigerate for several hours.  Remove from fridge 30 minutes before serving.

I'm linking this recipe to:
The Grocery Cart Challenge

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Wrensday: Snacking from the garden

My oldest grandson has discovered something he likes more than candy. 

Fresh May peas, eaten directly from the pod.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Mason Jar Soap Dispenser

A few months ago I was inspired by a project on Heather Bullard's blog about making a hand soap dispenser out of a canning jar.  I've been on the lookout for a blue jar with a zinc lid like hers, but haven't come across anything of the sort.  Please stop by Heather's blog - you'll love it!  Please don't compare my soap dispenser with her's - there's really no comparison - her's rocks!

Since necessity is the mother of invention,  I had to go ahead with the project this week - even without the zinc lidded blue jar.  Sigh. . .

Let me set the stage for ya.  I was cooking dinner with my 7 month old grandson sitting in the high chair in the kitchen.  The 3 year old grandson is playing in the sprinkler with Papa (Hubs).  I go to wash my hands at the kitchen sink and I'm out of liquid soap.  I look under the sink and realize the refill bottle is gone.  (what happens under the sink when we're not looking? )   I get the baby out of the highchair and trudge upstairs to get some soap from under the bathroom sink.  The only thing I can find is a bottle of foaming soap in it's own dispenser that I had gotten as a teacher gift.  I don't like to use the dispensers that advertise the store they came from if ya know what I mean.  I grabbed the bottle and went downstairs.  

I just couldn't put the bottle, as is, on the sink.  I had to "fix" it.  Then I remembered Heather's idea.  So I grabbed an empty canning jar from the cabinet, an empty milk jug from the recycling bin, and a pair of scissors from the drawer. 

First, I traced the lid of the canning jar onto the side of the milk jug.  Then I cut it out.  I'm sorry I don't have pics for you - remember, there's a 7 month old in this story.  

I removed the pump from the soap dispenser and trimmed it down to fit the shorter canning jar.  Then I cut a whole in the center of the new lid (from the milk carton) making it just big enough for the pump to slide onto. 

Next, I slid the pump onto the new lid, filled the jar with the new soap, and screwed everything together with the screw band from the jar.  Then I gave it a try and it worked! 

I like using a foaming soap.  When it's time to refill this baby, I'll just use my regular jug of refill soap and use a 6:1 water to soap mix to make a foaming soap.  This will help my soap last longer.  I love being frugal!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Monday Motivation: Tackle a Bathroom

I'm glad to be back from my little Bloggin' break.  I had a wonderful time taking care of my two grandsons - exhausting but wonderful.  Now I must clean homemade playdough out of my fingernails, clean up my patio doors, and get back to work.

I spent a lot of time in the bathroom this past week while bathing little bodies and wiping little bottoms.  It made me realize that I have a bit of Spring/Summer cleaning to do in this little room. 

It's much easier to clean a bathroom that is streamlined and purged of unnecessary items.

Let's get started:

1.  Remove all cloth items and wash them (towels, curtains, shower curtains, rugs etc.)

2.  Take items out of each cabinet and/or drawer. 

3.  Wipe out cabinets and drawers.

4.  Throw away items no longer needed.  If you find items that belong in other rooms, place them in a pile by the door to put away later.

5.  Replace items, grouping like items together.  Use containers, if desirable, to corral items together.

6.  I like to place sample size items together in a small make-up bag so it's handy when I'm ready to travel.

7.  Take everything off counters and wipe down well.  Try to find a place for every item in a cabinet or drawer.  It's much more likely you will clean your counters regularly when you don't have to move too much to do it.

8.  Clean inside of windows and window sill.  Wipe down blinds too after giving them a quick vacuum.

9.  Clean mirror with window cleaner or Sparkle cleaner.  Don't spray directly onto the mirror.  Spray onto a rag (microfiber is my favorite) and then wipe the mirror.

10.  Scrub tub/shower.  Wipe the top of the shower curtain rod (you won't believe how dirty it gets).  If your bathroom has wall tile, wipe it down as well.  A window cleaner works well or just make up some Sparkle cleaner

11.  Clean toilet bowl with toilet brush.  Wipe down the rest of the toilet, inside and out - front and back. 

12.  Empty trash.  Wash out trash can. 

13.  Vacuum floor and baseboards.  Wash floor.

14.  Replace clean towels, rugs, and curtains.

Whew!  Tired yet?  Remember that the less you have to clean around, the better.

Monday, June 7, 2010

A New Way of Eating

I'm enjoying learning a new way of eating . . . and cooking.  I'm just taking baby steps right now but I've already noticed a difference in my health.

You see, when I got married 29 years ago I didn't know how to cook.  That was good. . . and bad.  The good was that I didn't have any of the unhealthy skills under my belt like deep frying and boiling vegetables to death.  The bad news was that I learned to cook the most "popular" way at the time which was "light" cooking.  I thought I was eating an extremely healthy diet because I was eating low fat foods, light salad dressings, diet drinks, and skinless chicken. 

Well, now many years later, I've learned that whole, real foods are what my body really needs.  Foods without chemicals, preservatives, or artificial anything.  Even better are fresh foods, locally grown.

I was first inspired to begin this journey by my cousin, Jo-Lynne, who authors Musings of a Housewife and several other blogs.  She blogged about her journey to healthier eating for herself and her family.  She has made great strides in changing out unhealthy for healthy.  Jo-Lynne is sort of a jump in with both feet kind of girl and I'm a stick my big toe in the water to test it kind of girl which would explain my lagging behind in the journey so far.

So far these are the changes I've made:

Replaced:                         With:

~margarine                         ~real butter
~skim milk                         ~whole organic milk
~boxed cereal                    ~homemade granola
~bottled salad dressing      ~homemade salad dressing
~honey wheat bread           ~homemade wheat bread
~store bought eggs             ~free range organic eggs
~Campbells soup               ~homemade soup
~canned tomatoes              ~home grown/roasted then frozen
~canned beef/chicken
   stock                               ~homemade stock from organic beef and chicken
~sweet tea with sugar        ~sweet tea with honey
~hybrid veggies grown
  with chemicals                ~heirloom veggies grown in my backyard
~white rice                        ~brown rice
~white pasta                      ~whole wheat pasta
~vegetable oil                   ~organic olive oil and organic coconut oil
~microwave popcorn        ~old fashioned popcorn cooked on the stove in coconut oil
~table salt                         ~kosher salt and sea salt
~canned beans                  ~dried beans soaked and cooked
~canned veggies               ~fresh or frozen veggies (organic when possible)

I've probably made a few other changes but I can't think of any more right now.  I know I have a lot more to learn but I find it easier to take "small bites" at a time. 

My last doctor's visit showed that my kidney function had actually increased (which is a miracle).  I believe that God can cure me and He can use healthy foods to do it if he wants to.  Even if I still have to have a kidney transplant I know that this healthy eating is helping to me feel the best I can.  My nephrology doctor says I am his only patient who comes in for a monthly visit saying " I feel great!".  I am quite anemic due to the disease but I don't feel the effects too much because I am not depriving my body of the nutrients it needs.

An added bonus is that even with buying organic (usually more expensive) foods I am still saving $100 dollars or more a month.  Additionally, I have lost 4 pounds by eating full fat foods.  Who knew?

I'm not preaching to anyone about what they eat.  I'm just sharing what works for me and my family.  What changes, if any, have you made to your family's food lately?  Any ideas of things I should try?

Friday, June 4, 2010

Baby bloggin break

Something has grabbed my attention and won't let go. . .

My grandsons are here for a week so my blogging time will be a little sporadic.  I'll be chasing this little chunky monkey around.

(. . . and also vacuuming my carpet)

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Wrensday: multipurpose plants

I love adding color around our yard with potted plants.  Because I'm on a tight gardening budget I have to get creative with what I have.

I have a nice window box on my deck railing (that I put a faux rust finish on) that I needed to fill.

I added Stella D'oro daylillies to the box to add height.  They are usually planted directly in the garden but I like to use them in containers too.  They'll bloom all Summer and eventually spread so much I'll have to divide them.  No problem; that means more plants for me.

I filled this very large pot with a an ornamental grass I found growing in our side yard.  I wasn't sure what it would do or how large it would grow, but hey, I didn't have anything to lose. 

Do you pot up any plants that are usually found in the garden?  Let me know! 

Happy Gardening!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Turning of the Quilts

As I climbed the stairs this morning I glanced over to my quilt rack on the landing and remembered that it's time to "turn the quilts". 

Yes, the twice a year turning of the quilts is a tradition in my home. 

Really, it's not a holiday, just a bit of housekeeping.

I don't have a linen closet so I store my quilts on a quilt rack in the hall. 

Twice a year I refold them to relieve the stress of the folds on the fabric of the quilts.

During the winter months I have the quilts folded into halves or fourths, darker side out.

During the warmer months, I fold the quilts into thirds and display the lighter side (usually the back side) of the quilt.

The striped quilt you see above is really the cotton ticking backing of the crazy  quilt in the first pic.  My great, great  grandmother made the quilt in the early 1900's for my grandparents. 

 The quilt has traveled around the world (thanks to the U.S. Army) and kept many family members warm.

  I discovered the quilt at Grandma's house in the 1980's and asked if I could have it.  Grandma couldn't understand why a young married woman would want such an old beat up blanket.  I guess I didn't inherit my sentimental side from her!