February 2012: In Between

Happy Leap Day! I love leap day, it’s just kind of cool to have a day that only happens once ever four years, feels weirdly magical. And it’s a good excuse to celebrate a small thing.

Anyway, the February wrap-up: February is such an ‘in between’ month. It’s usually cold and dreary and brings on the beginnings of that undeniable yen for warm weather, gardening and the Cape. Thank goodness it’s short and sweet! We managed to make the most out of Feb, though, and it got me looking forward to Spring. I’m ready for March. Like they say, “In like a lion, out like a lamb,”  and I’m ready for lamb season.

The month started with a sweet Valentine’s day. Beautiful flowers from the hubs, and some champagne on the in-progress bar cart when I got home from work.

I couldn’t deny gardening season any longer and tried my hand at re-growing spent scallions and drying papaya seeds. We’ll see how that germination goes. Scallions were a success!

We took lots of walks around town, and the water in the Delaware was so low we could stroll out onto the wing dam.

And finally, a few sprinklings from the month:

1. Baby Marcus and his mama (My sister, Alanna) sent me this adorbs pic of them being silly.

2. Oatsie cuddled up with his bff dog the stuffed animal.

3. Mike and I went to a Trenton Titans hockey game. Surprisingly few fights!

4. I got some new specs from warbyparker.com. I highly recommend them if you need new glasses, affordable and they do a one-for-one, like Toms shoes.

5. And last, but not least, I got an internship for next year!! Of course, I had to have a little celebration :).

Not bad for an in between month!

Now to business, March’s Monthly Goal:

Start P90X! Mike and I did the program before our wedding in August (it’s intense, but TOTALLY worth it), and, well…it’s time to do it again, if you catch my drift. Thinking about doing and actually doing it are two totally different things, however, and this month we WILL start it. Bring it on, Tony Horton!

As for February’s monthly goal, mission accomplished. I now have a pic of my mug gracing the webpage of Folksy Home. Enjoy ;)

A Taste of My Own Medicine

Do you ever spend 20 minutes doing something and then think, why the heck didn’t I do this before?? Yeah, that just happened to me with my medicine cabinet. Nothing groundbreaking, just another (and the last :( ) Organize-a-Thon inspired clean up.

I started with this (Oooooo, you get to see in our medicine cabinet. Shhhhh!):

Emptied it all out:

And put it back in:

How much better is that?

To keep everything easy to find, I labeled the tops of the smaller bottles and the sides of some of the boxes so I don’t have to go rifling for something in particular and curse the things are cascading out as I get to the back of the cabinet.

Again, why didn’t I do this before?!

Thank you, Love and Renovations, for starting the Organize-a-Thon. My house, and my sanity are better for it!

A Spicy Rack

…no, not that kind of rack! Get your mind out of the gutter ;). After putting the website overhaul on hold until I actually know what I’m doing, I was itching to get away from the ol’ LCD. I didn’t have any particular project in mind, but after rifling around the basement for a bit, I found some more of the crates I used in the under-the-sink-re-do and it clicked that we could use an update for our spice rack. We were using some re-purposed Ikea picture shelves that I installed the week we moved in. Of course, I didn’t take a new pic of them before I took them down, so here’s an old pic from when they were first put up:

Simple, and pretty functional. However, there was a tendency for the jars to fall forward  and off the shelf, which was no fun with a pot of boiling water on the stove. Funny enough, when I brought the crates upstairs Folksy Husband said that he was just thinking that morning how we needed to do something about the spice shelves. Serendipity! Love when that happens.

So I got to work measuring, marking and leveling. All pretty straight forward stuff. One tip I do want to share though, which FH taught me, is how to measure the diameter of the pilot hole you want for a particular screw. You really want the pilot hole to be as close, without going over (like the Price is Right!) to the diameter of the screw you’ll use. An easy way to measure this is by holding the shank of your screw and the un-threaded half of the drill bit next to each other. You want the screw’s threads to just peek out on either side of the bit. Like this:

Guaranteed good pilot holes!

After the dust settled, we had a new spice rack!

Now that we’ve made a spice rack change, that frame and the microwave stand are sticking out like a sore thumb to me. Hmm…future projects perhaps?

Glitchy

I had this genius idea to update the look of the blog by moving to another blogging platform that allows for a bit more personalization. I started yesterday morning, and this is where I am today: right back where I started. Sorry if you visited the site at some point in the mean time and said to yourself, “What the what?!”

I honestly spent 20 good hours trying to figure out how to code/use css/not pull every single one of my eyebrow hairs out between yesterday and today, and I’ve finally thrown up my hands and decided to do a little more research before I delve in again. This is what I looked like after the marathon upgrade attempt:

utterly defeated. I still eventually want to move to the wordpress.org platform, but because I don’t know how to, ahem, do anything in it…it’ll be a while longer until I make the move. Unless a web design angel wants to give me a hand ;).

Anyways, I’ll be back to regularly scheduled programming on Monday (with some awesome stuff!) For now, I’m going to get myself a drink and not look at the computer screen for a few hours.

Hope you’re having a great weekend!

Fancy’s Blueberry Banana Pie

My dad and his partner, Liz, lost their precious, sweet dog last week. She was 16. Fancy, a toy poodle, was given to them by a friend who could no longer care for her years ago, and she fit in with the family from the get-go. In her later years, she became a therapy dog, working with my Dad at his practice. She even came to our wedding in New Hampshire!

My dad and Fancy at our wedding. (Liz is in the blue dress on the right!)

My dad and Liz are understandably devastated (as are we); she was the only kid left living at home!

So how does this tie in? Liz has been making this absolutely delicious pie, aka my favorite pie EVER, for special occasions as long as I can remember, and sent me the recipe a while back so I could make it on my own. I’ve been meaning to make it, and this past weekend I finally felt like I needed to make it. For Fancy.

This pie was always just called ‘blueberry banana pie,’ but I propose that it should now be called Fancy’s Blueberry Banana Pie. It’s soft and sweet, but not sickeningly sweet, just like her :). Also, it’s the most amazing pie and she was an amazing dog, although she shared that title with our Oats ;).

It’s ridiculously easy to make, the antithesis of an apple pie. You start with these ingredients:

  • 4 oz cream cheese
  • 1-2 bananas
  • graham cracker pie cruse
  • can of blueberry pie filling
  • 6 oz of whipped cream (I whipped my own from heavy cream)
  • 1/4 cup sugar

That’s it!

First, slice the bananas

and line the bottom of the crust with them.

Then, whip your cream, if you’re making your own.

If you’re using the pre-made version, move right on to mixing the cream cheese and the sugar together. I used my stand mixer, but you can use a hand-held one, too. After they’re thoroughly creamed together, fold in the whipped cream.

Plop it on the bananas.

Spread it out.

Cover with blueberry pie filling and refrigerate for 2 hours or longer!

How easy is that?? I swear there’s nothing in life that gives you a bigger reward for less work. It’s insane. I could eat the whole damn thing in a  single sitting. Trust me and try it, you won’t be sorry! Fancy’s Blueberry Banana Pie is out of this world. Miss you, girl!

If heaven were a place on Earth…

…it would be the Four Season Farm in Harborside, Maine. This place has captivated me over the past three days since I read about it in this month’s issue of Martha Stewart Living magazine. The article includes the most gorgeous photographs of a lush organic home garden, including perennials, annuals, edibles and orchard fruit, hedged by forest and dotted with chickens. The home on the property is equally organic, and echoes the natural setting of the homestead. Guys, this is where I want to live when I grow up.

I wish I could scan and post the photos from the feature, but alas, copyright laws prevent it. Do yourself a favor and get the magazine. I can’t find the exact photos online, so here is a taste to give you an idea…

There’s so much more…a stonewall-lined edible garden, the chickens running around, the most quaint sun-warmed green house ever. It’s incredible and it’s exactly the style of garden I adore.

How’s that for a little Monday escape?

(all photos from http://www.fourseasonsfarm.com)

Getting Real: Cleaning the Tub

Happy Friday! This past weekend, Folksy Husband got fed up with our tub and dropped everything to clean it. I can’t blame him, it was reeeeeeally bad. So bad I can’t believe I’m even showing this on the interwebs. I mean, I periodically disinfect it, but really, it still looked, um…grungy? nasty? filthy? And that’s putting it nicely.

Yeah, bad, right?

After drying it out, he removed the hardware (look what was lurking behind there! ewww!) and soaked it in some vinegar to remove the calcium.

The caulking where the tub meets the tile clearly needed to be replaced, it was so badly stained it couldn’t be salvaged. He broke out the paint scraper and peeled it off.

After the bad stuff was gone, he replaced it using some while silicone caulking we already had

and put the clean hardware back.

Now we’re moving in the right direction! The next step was that no good, very bad, awful (name that kid’s book) grunge on the bottom. Chemical cleaners we had on hand were not doing the job, so, geniusly, in my humble opinion, Mike sand papered it. It worked like. a. charm. He took 320 grit paper (very fine) and gently worked off the bad. He also touched up chips in the tub with some Rustoleum Enamel Paint. Amazing!  Look at her now!

Now I can sit down in the shower without being grossed out. Not that I do that or anything. How do you clean your tub?

(All work and pictures by the husband. Love him!)

A Craft Box Overhaul

Whoa. Can you believe this:

was lurking under this?

Those are craft supplies and sewing notions, piled high in a big wooden crate. I picked up this box for $18 years ago at the Brimfield Antique Show in Massachusetts. When we moved to PA it became the purse stand and craft catch-all, but it only did one of those jobs well. The craft supplies needed an overhaul, clearly.

So, with the catalyst that is Love & Renovations’ Organize-a-Thon, the craft abyss got a makeover. I decided making a shelf insert would be the most effective solution, so after taking measurements, Mike and I headed to Home Depot to pick up the lumber. One 2x12x12 board later (we had one cut made in the store, so it would fit in the car), I got to work:

I measured out and marked the board to fit a configuration I liked (that’s my plan on that piece of paper), then took the board to the miter saw, and got to cutting.

Because this was a 12” wide board, the 10” miter saw wouldn’t do the job with one cut. We improvised and cut one width, flipped the board, matched up the laser to the cut (love that laser!), and cut the other half of the width. Since the shelves were going to be hidden in the box, I wasn’t too finicky about perfection (not that I ever am, ha).

After all the cuts were made, it was time to lay out that bad boy:

When the configuration was finalized, I busted out the beloved Kreg Jig and made some pocket holes to connect the boards at the T-junctions. If you’re not familiar with the Kreg Jig, its the ultimate in joinery. I honestly did not even know that was a word until this little kit came into our lives (thank you Auntie Mary & Will for the wedding gift!!), but yeah, it is basically the ultimate in joining boards, or joinery. I really can’t believe that’s a word. Anyways, check it out:

It’s so ridiculously quick and easy, especially when you’re not worried about perfection. For the junctions where I couldn’t get the drill to fit, Mike toenailed in some screws from the back, just so it would stay together. I forgot to take pics of this. Bummer city.

But yeah, once the the shelves were assembled, in they went!

Once they were in there, I cursed myself a little for buying the board that was $5 cheaper, but double the thickness. Half the box is filled with wood! Oh well, thank goodness all the stuff fit, or I’d REALLY be cursing a blue streak. (See what I mean by not obsessing about perfection? The whole thing is listing port. Ha, what’s better than a little boat humor on a Thursday?)

So after organizing my junk stuff, and thinning the fabric scrap collection, back in it went.

Ahhhh, much better! Now maybe I won’t avoid glue gun use at all costs for fear of ‘the box.’ Darn, I love organizing!

3 Steps to Garden Prep

After a weekend of snow flurries and frigid temperatures, I’m talking gardens. Nothing like keeping you looking ahead, right?

Today, I want to outline my ‘3 Steps to Garden Prep’. These are a couple of things you can do (and I’m about to do) before the temperatures rise and soils thaw.

1. Check your USDA Planting Zone: I’m a 6b! What are you?

The USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map breaks the US into ‘zones’ based on average minimum winter temperatures. Enter your zip code on this website to find out yours. Why does this matter? Because many plants can only survive the winter down to certain temperatures. That is, even though a plant may survive a New England frost, it may not be able to live through an Alaskan winter! Most plant catalogs and nursery plants are labeled as to which zones they are hardy within, letting you know the coldest and warmest climates a species can live year round. This is especially important for expensive species you want to keep going, such as large bushes and trees, but can also be important for edibles that need certain temperature ranges to induce the growth cycle (like artichoke and garlic, for instance). So, find your zone and commit it to memory. It will come in handy!

2. Sun map!: Find your inner cartographer

Plants need sun, everyone knows that, but do you know where the sun is in your garden? Now, if you have a wide open space to plant your goodies, you can disregard this step and consider me jealous of you. If you’re like me and have a maze of deciduous trees, shrubs and neighbor’s houses blocking parts of your garden from the sun at any given part of the day, you’re gonna want to map out which patches get full sun, partial shade, part sun, and shade (and when, i.e. afternoon/morning). What you map out isn’t going to be a steadfast rule for your plants (I, for instance, have little to no full sun areas of the garden, but still manage to get some production from full sun plants such as cucumbers and other veggies), but it will help in your plan to figure out what should go where. I have made a sun map for my garden in the past, but with the snowstorm in October breaking trees like toothpicks around here (and hopefully clearing the way for more sun on my patch! Hello, silver lining!), I need to make an updated version. This website gives a great tutorial.

3. Seed Starting Calendar: You gotta plan for those good times!

Making a seed starting calendar is integral for those of us wanting to start long-growing-season-annuals (like hot peppers!) from seed even though we live in an area with a short growing season. It is also helpful in planning earlier harvests (starting tomatoes indoors will give you fruit much earlier than if you plant the seed right in the ground when the soil is warm enough outdoors). The seed starting calendar uses your region’s average last frost date (the last day temperatures usually drop to freezing at the end of the winter/spring) to calculate the day you should sow the seed and the day you should plant outdoors. I know I’m explaining this poorly, but download the excel file here and you’ll get what I mean. They also have a .pdf that explains the math, if you want to calculate the dates for a plant not listed on the chart. To find your last frost date, go here and use the closest city to you. (My last frost date is around May 9th, less than 3 months away!) Plug in your frost date on the excel sheet and viola! You’ll have sowing and transplanting dates. Then you can start counting down the days until it’s time to turn on those grow lights (not that I do that or anything).

So there ya go, a few tidbits to tide you over until it’s time to get some dirt under our nails. What are you doing to prepare for the gardening season?

Cabinet Organization: Check!

This week Love and Renovations put out a call to arms in the form of an Organize-a-Thon. The challenge involves organizing one area of your home each week left in February and then either post or e-mail her about it. A kind of support group for getting organized. I thought to myself, ‘I could use this!’

So, here we are on week 1, and I have shiny, clean kitchen cabinets. Score!!

Now, I know this not the before and after that TV shows are made of, but for me, and especially Folksy Husband it’s a nice step up. He nearly refused to ever go into the pots and pans shelf because he hated the deafening clanking that went on trying to get something, and forget about the tupperware shelf. When emptying the dishwasher he’d just leave the tuppers on the counter because of the potential plastic avalanche when putting them away.

Here’s a closer look at the bottom cabinet. These are un-tampered with befores, people. I’m gettin’ real:

Muuuuch better.  My process started with emptying the cabinets of everything but the food and coffee mugs. Oats helped.

Funny story, see those red-striped popcorn containers in the center of the photo above? Mike and I won them on a mystery theater train ride. All the passengers’ names were in a hat, and the MC happened to ask each of us to pick a name out. I picked Mike’s and he picked mine! Everyone on the train thought it was rigged! Good stuff. They went the way of the yard sale.

Anywho, I separated out the things that was yard-sale-bound and got to work putting stuff back. Very exciting. It was mostly trial and error, and I think the biggest help was the added space from getting rid of the unneeded. Oats did a little scouting work and gave me the all clear:

Here are a few post-organization snaps:

No more excuses to not put away tupperware!

Small electrics within an arm’s reach.

The other horror I tackled was the top shelf of the middle cabinets that is filled with baking goods. Here are the contents before: lots of plastic bags, which are not exactly organization-friendly.

After putting most dry goods in other containers like mason jars and swing-top jars that were hidden in the bottom cabinets before (using stuff and making space, double bonus!) this is what I was working with:

And the baking goods back in their place:

So, now Folksy Husband has no excuse to not put tupperware away, I don’t get hives thinking about what could be hidden in there. Win-win!

Next week, it’s gonna be a craft-cabinet extravaganza. I’m a little nervous.

(p.s. Bar Cart is coming along, and this weekend is Bar-Cart-a-Palooza oh-twelve. Mike is really getting into tricking it out. There were mid-day brain storming texts, that’s all I’m gonna say. ;) )