Garden wrap-up from Illinois

Sarah in Illinois has shared periodic updates about her vegetable garden over the summer. Now it’s time for her final report, also known as the medal ceremony.

For the third year in a row I would like to sum up how well our garden produced. Unfortunately overall our garden did poorly. While I was complaining about this to Steve he said that some years are just like that, you can do everything correctly but weather doesn’t always cooperate.

As I have in years past 2016 and 2017, I’ll rank my results in the style of the Olympics.

Gold Medal Winners

Kale – Our Kale did wonderfully this year. My step-daughter and I love kale chips and we made a few batches and could have made plenty more.

Broccoli – Steve was in question whether 8 broccoli plants were too many. The answer was no. We had so much fresh broccoli and as much as we eat, we could have used a few more plants. Side note: our favorite way to eat it is coated in olive oil and seasoning and grilled.

Tomatillos – After two years of nothing, I finally got a very productive tomatillo plant. I did learn to make salsa verde and have decided that tomatillos will now be a staple in our garden.

Sunflowers – I didn’t plant any this year for some reason but it worked out because we had several volunteers!

Silver Medal Winners

Tomatoes – Our tomatoes acted so strangely this year. They flowered and came on quickly, then they stayed green for much much longer than normal. Then they flowered again and produced red tomatoes. Not our best year for them, but we still had plenty fresh from the garden.

Green Peppers – After planting about 12 plants, I figured we would have more peppers than we could use. But honestly, we really didn’t have that many. Then when I finally found peppers on the plants they were really soft and past being ripe.

Jalapenos – I was able to gather just a couple jalapenos this year. Much different than the overabundance last year.

Cucumbers – Somehow I only planted pickling cucumbers this year, even after specifically buying different varieties. This is the first year we did not grow our vines up a fence. I would like to bring that back next year.

Bronze Medal Winners

Sugar Snap Peas – I think I picked less than a dozen pods. But stay tuned for a fall planting post from me in the future.

Potatoes – We were able to dig up two messes of potatoes. One was used for fried potatoes and one was used to potato salad for a family get-together.

Blueberries – This is literally all that I picked, but the bushes are new and I have high hopes for next year.

Radishes – I picked a few, but only a few.

DNF “Did Not Finish (produce)”

Brussel Sprouts – I think the area of the garden that these were planted stayed too wet all year. The plants looked okay but they did not produce any heads at all.

Carrots – Nothing. Not even a sprout.

Cherry trees – Ugh! Deer enjoyed my cherry trees. So much so that both trees died. That should be a post on it’s own. I will have to formulate a new plan and buy new trees in the spring.

Cauliflower – The plants looked nice and green but did not produce a single head.

Zucchini – Nothing came up at all.

Expecting to have all gold medals winners is unreasonable but I really would like to not have anything in the DNF category. I’m making notes and hope that next year is even more successful.

How did your garden do this year? Anyone else feel like this year was worse than normal?

I feel like our entire garden was DNF this year, Sarah (#blamethebaby). So I take solace from your results! (And you have my sympathies.) I’m hoping we might yet find some potatoes in amongst the weeds.

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How to make hidden bookends

A love of reading is something I’m working hard to instill in Ellie. As she amasses more and more books, we’re already running out of space on the bookshelf in her nursery. You saw in my post last week that I relocated part of her collection to the top of the dresser in the little nook.

Wood tray on a white dresser

I didn’t want chunky bookends taking up space on the dresser. We have enough going on here already and didn’t need more clutter. But the books needed some help to stay upright. I had an idea to make invisible bookends.

I was inspired by these basic metal bookends that you see at the library.

Metal bookend

So I swung into a local store that specializes in materials for exteriors (siding, flashing, soffit, trough) and picked up some step flashing (picked up being literal since the man working the counter gave the pieces to me for free). Step flashing is small L-shaped pieces of metal typically used around chimneys. You could likely do this project with regular aluminum that you bend into an L yourself, but I liked skipping that step with the flashing.

Step flashing

This project uses just one piece of flashing and one tool, snips. Super simple.

Step flashing with snips

Once at home, I used the very technical technique of holding a book up to the flashing to determine where to cut it.

How to make a hidden bookend

I used snips to cut the aluminum roughly in half. I got two bookends out of one piece of flashing with a little piece of metal left over. (This was another mama-daughter project–appropriate since it’s her room.)

Making bookends while wearing the baby

One end of the L tucks inside the cover of the book, and the other tail rests under the books. The weight of the books stabilizes the bookend and holds everything in place.

Hidden metal bookend

Hidden metal bookend

Obviously, these Beatrix Potter books are small and light. I tested the bookends with some larger books–another well-loved collection that Ellie and I will be reading soon–and everything stayed steady.

How to make a hidden bookend

Sometimes bookends are an opportunity to make a style statement. Other times you want to keep things quiet and simple–or save space on your bookshelf. That’s a time for invisible bookends.

How to make hidden bookends

What’s your bookend style? Do you have a spot where you could use hidden bookends? What were some of your kids’ favourite series to read? What DIY projects do you do with your children?

The power of trays

Styling the top of a little dresser

I’ve never known what to do with the top of the little dresser in the nook in Ellie’s room. The dresser itself is still filled with Mama and Daddy things–tools, notepaper, stamps. Initially the top held only the lamp my grandfather made for my childhood bedroom. But like most flat surfaces, the rest of the top has attracted… stuff.

I needed a way to corral the stuff. At the thrift store, I found a shallow wooden tray. I didn’t love the colour, so I sanded it down to bare wood. (This is how we DIY around here these days.)

Sanding while Ellie supervises

After the sanding, the tray looked a bit dough bowl-esque, which I loved. But I could still see the red undertones in the wood. I picked a stain (Puritan Pine) that I hoped had gold undertones. The colour wasn’t quite what I was looking for, so I slapped on a layer of grey to tone it down a wee bit.

In the nursery, we have a bunch of wood tones: golden wood floors and side table, neutral unfinished wood frames on the pictures and shadowbox, grey stain on the dresser. My slapdash approach turned out to be a pretty close match to the dresser.

Wood tray on the wood dresser

The best part of it all is that now I have a spot to stash stuff–the power of trays. The tray holds Ellie’s sunglasses, a footprint we made when she was just two months old (!), nail clippers and an acorn that her Daddy picked up for her at a picnic–and soon enough she’ll be picking up her own bits and bobs.

Wood tray in the nursery

The tray, combined with some overcrowding on Ellie’s bookshelf, was a catalyst to finally style the top of the dresser. I added her collection of Beatrix Potter books and now I’m really happy with how the dresser looks and works (although I do wish the figurines shelf was a titch higher). I’ll be sharing how those books magically stand upright in an upcoming post.

Wood tray on a white dresser

The tray is simple and small, but it’s very functional. And it looks nice too.

Any other tray fans out there? Who else has issues with flat surfaces? What bits and bobs do your kids collect?

Wildflower watching

Sarah in Illinois has a good reminder today to stop and smell the flowers.

As I drive to and from work every day, my mind tends to wander. Most of the time I am thinking about what chores I need to do, how my day at work went or what I have scheduled next in my planner. However, lately I am trying to slow down a bit and enjoy my commute.

Compared to most people, I am guessing my commute is relatively short. My work is 12 miles from my house but only 4 miles is highway. So 8 miles is rural back roads where there is plenty of beautiful scenery to look at.

My eye was drawn last week to this bunch of purple flowers:

I decided that one day I was going to stop and gather some for a bouquet for the house. But when I stopped I couldn’t believe how many butterflies and bees were all over it.

I just couldn’t bring myself to take some of their food. I decided they needed it more than I did and I would just enjoy it from afar.

Symphyotrichum novae-angliae (New England aster)

Then I really started paying attention to other wildflowers along my drive.

Rudbeckia laciniata

I was so pleasantly surprised to see the roadsides are full of color.

Symphyotrichum ericoides

Giant Goldenrod Solidago gigantea

Erigeron strigosus

So here is a mini challenge for you this week: On your drive to work or school or wherever you may be headed, look around (safely, of course paying attention to the road is the most important thing) and tell us what you see that maybe you haven’t before. It may not be wildflowers but I bet there is something beautiful to report back here to us.

Sidenote: I did my best to identify these plants, but if anyone believes I have incorrectly labeled one feel free to correct me!

Thanks for the challenge, Sarah. We’ve been seeing herons, which is very special for us. They represent my Dad for me, and make us feel peace, hope and love. I think heron season is likely over now for the winter, but they’ve been so helpful to us through the last few months.

Thanksgiving

Ellie holding a red leaf against the blue sky

Hello everyone. Happy Monday. Today is a special Monday for my fellow Canadians and me. It’s Thanksgiving, so I’m taking a moment to reflect on all of the things I am grateful for. Thank you all for reading and following along with our lives.

Today, I am especially thankful for…

My husband, my daughter, my dog and my cat. You are all the best, and I’m amazed that I’m so lucky to have all of you in my life.

My Mom, my sisters and brothers. Tough times bring us closer together.

My Dad. Herons and monarchs and other signs that tell us he’s still with us.

Matt’s family, our extended families, my friends. To feel so loved and supported is amazing.

This special farm that we get to call home.

Skilled and caring doctors, nurses and midwives. Modern medical science.

Mexican food. Italian food. Seafood. Dark chocolate. Dill pickle chips. Really, all food.

A hot shower, a good night’s sleep (never take that for granted) and lazy mornings.

Writing and how it helps me to process my thoughts, make a living and document our lives.

Whatever you are doing today I hope that you have a wonderful day.

Tomatillo harvest and salsa verde

Sarah has been trying for the past few years to grow tomatillos in her garden in Illinois. This year, she finally has a success story–and a recipe–to share.

I have had an ongoing battle with trying to produce tomatillos.

Two years ago I planted seeds directly into the garden and nothing broke through the ground.

Last year, I grew one beautiful plant, but I was not aware that tomatillos need two separate plants for cross-pollination.

This year I tried one more time. I made sure to plant several seeds and two came up. They grew very close together so they looked like one plant but I made very sure that there were two separate plants growing. I marked it clearly so no one accidentally clipped it with the tiller. And I waited.

The plants looked so healthy and the telltale little lanterns started sprouting from almost every branch. This is exactly what I ended up with last year but the difference is, this year I could feel little spheres filling out inside the lanterns.

I knew they were ready when they burst trough the husks.

As soon as I had a few ready I knew I wanted to make tomatillo salsa (sometimes called salsa verde). (See Sarah’s post on how she made her harvest basket.)

I found this recipe for Tomatillo Salsa Verde. This author suggests a few different ways to either roast, boil or broil the tomatillos. I chose to broil them following her steps.

I then combined all of the ingredients in my food processor.

In my first batch I used lemon juice instead of lime only because we didn’t have any on hand. The second time I used lime juice like the recipe suggested. Honestly, I really preferred the lemon juice version but both were great.

Even though the garden overall has been disappointing this year, I feel accomplished by finally having a successful tomatillo harvest. They will become a staple in my garden planning from now on.

Anyone have experience with tomatillos? Or maybe a preferred recipe to use them with?

I have zero experience with tomatillos, whether growing, cooking or eating them. I wouldn’t mind trying though. Wanna send some of that salsa my way, Sarah?

Fall colour inspiration – Navy & green

Audubon print of a heron in my bedroom

Call it fall. Call it time for some changes. Call it Friday night on Instagram. Whatever it was, three pictures in one scroll had me thinking about adding some olive accents to our navy blue bedroom.

I still love the Hale Navy colour that we painted on the walls–and so does the rest of the world apparently, as the Hale Navy trend is still going strong.

I’ve not made many changes to the room since our One Room Challenge Reveal. I feel like a touch of olive would freshen things up–and would be timely for fall.

The bedding would be the easiest. New sheets. New comforter or shams. But what about an upholstered headboard? Velvet and tufted like that first photo from barlow reid? Hmmm… might be a bit more than I’m looking to tackle right now… but tempting.

(BTW, the new season of the ORC starts this week. You can follow all of the action on www.oneroomchallenge.com.)

What colour combos are you liking these days? Do the seasons inspire anyone else to redecorate? How long do you live with a “done” room until you feel the need to do it again?

Odds & sods

Do you guys like the round-up/links/personal posts that so many bloggers do on Fridays? I enjoy them. They usually have a few links that are interesting to me, and they give me some insight into the person behind the blog.

The Odds & Sods posts that I do every so often are kind of my version of these types of posts (odds and sods was a phrase my paternal grandmother used instead of saying odds and ends).

I’m thinking about making O&S a little more regular. Not every week, but maybe at the end of every month. What do you think? Is this something you’re interested in?

I’m going to put one out there today. Please share any feedback you have.

The Fall 2018 Canadian Bloggers Home Tour happened a couple of weeks ago. I love seeing bloggers come together and supporting each other. Plus, I am proud of the talent, diversity and creativity from my fellow Canadians. I encourage you to check out all the homes on the tour. Here are some stand-outs:

  • I love the style of Vin’yet Etc’s living room, and even more I love her hummingbird and the connection to her mom. We see so many signs that my Dad is still with us, so this resonates with me so much.
  • Beautiful neutrals, blue-green glass, flowers and one of my favourite foods (charcuterie) from So Much Better With Age.
  • Thalita from The Learner Observer is someone I connected with a looooong time ago. I’ve loved seeing how she’s built her career, her family and her lovely home. Thalita also published a real life (didn’t even put her bra away) tour.

In other home and real estate news, Justin Bieber is apparently going to be our neighbour. (What does it say about me that I didn’t recognize him in the twitter pics? And I misspelled his name when I first typed it? #notabelieber)

Ellie eating food for the first time

Ellie turned 7 months old yesterday. She’s been eating food for about a month now. She quickly began devouring her meals–and decimating my baby food stash. We’re still in the basic puree stage, but we’re looking ahead to more complex meals (and a time where dinner does not end up in her nose). Do you make your own baby food? What are your baby’s favourite foods? Do you have any good recipes to share?

  • Once Upon A Farm (with Jennifer Garner) has an interesting business model: they make organic baby food, but they also publish the recipes in case you want to make it yourself.
  • I’ve saved recipes for month of baby food–although I feel like my girl may go through this in less than a month.

Apparently I’m in a feminist kind of mood right now.

My writing elsewhere:

I hope you all have a good week. We’re wrapping up September with a date night for Daddy and Mama, hopefully a trip to the swimming pool (a test run before Ellie starts swimming lessons next month) and a very special family project that I’ve been wanting to do for years.

What’s on tap for you?

Off our rockers #DIYfail

Ikea Strandmon wingchair review

Last week I sang the praises of Ikea’s Strandmon wing chair. However, there is one shortcoming we encountered with this chair that I didn’t talk about.

(To be fair, the shortcoming is more a result of a DIY we attempted rather than the fault of the chair itself.)

When I was planning the nursery, I knew I wanted the Ikea Strandmon. I also really wanted it to be a rocking chair.

I saw a tutorial converting the Strandmon to a rocker and it seemed really straightforward, so I thought it would definitely be something we could handle.

The biggest obstacle was sourcing the rockers. I was skeptical of the rockers that were available online. I wasn’t sure that the dimensions or the curve would be right for our chair. And I of course didn’t like the prices.

I contacted a local specialty wood store that does custom orders and got a quote from them. They wanted about $300. Not at all unreasonable given the work involved, but they also wanted me to supply a pattern. Figuring out the arc was my main stumbling block. I wanted someone to do that for me! If I was making my own pattern, I might as well make my own rockers.

The Strandmon is a large chair, so I knew I needed big rockers. My parents have a large rocking chair, so my Mom and I turned it on its side and traced the rockers. Then I went back to my specialty wood store and bought a beautiful (and heavy and expensive) piece of red oak.

Drawing a rocking chair pattern

I traced my pattern and carefully cut the rockers on my Dad’s bandsaw (I wish I have a photo of this as I was quite pregnant at the time). Then I brought them home and sanded the heck out of them. They came out so, so well. Perfectly smooth. Great curve. I was so proud that my plan was working.

Pregnant lady sanding

Then Matt and I tested them. We were trying to figure out where to drill the holes to affix the Strandmon onto the rockers. So we set the chair on the rockers. And the chair tipped right over. The weight of the back was too much for the rockers and the chair became super unstable.

We tried again and again to find a spot where the Strandmon could balance. We eventually found a point where the chair would sit on the rockers without toppling over. But it was still really tipped. I couldn’t imagine how I would maneuver myself into the chair while holding a baby.

I was super disappointed, but it was also pretty funny to see how crooked I made the chair (please note how crooked this photo is, which actually makes the chair look straighter than it is).

Adding rockers to a wing chair

I spent a couple of weeks trying to come up with a solution. I considered cutting Strandmon’s legs to shift the balance somehow. I had a plan to adjust my rocker pattern to decrease the curve. I was going to do a pair of test rockers out of cheap wood before going to buy more oak. But in the end, I tucked the rockers and their pattern under the bookshelf in Ellie’s room and tried to forget about them.

Now, after nearly seven months of many, many hours spent in Strandmon, I pretty much have forgotten about the rockers. The rocker-less Strandmon has been working well as my nursing chair, and I’m honestly not missing the motion.

Ikea Strandmon wingchair review

What kind of chair do you have in your nursery? Anyone else going rockerless? Make me feel better, would you? Share your own #DIYfail in the comments.

Renovation regrets in Illinois

One of my former bosses used the phrase “even better if.” As in, “We just finished this big project, and it went really well. But what are our even-better-ifs?” It was a great way of looking positively at areas for improvement.

Last week I posted one of my renovation regrets and asked other people to share theirs. Sarah in Illinois immediately thought of one at her house. But instead of calling it a regret, I’m going to call it an even-better-if. Because she and her husband Steve did make lots of improvements to their kitchen. There’s just one little spot that could be even better.

Early when Steve and I first started dating he made the decision to renovate his kitchen. Both of us worked on expanding his small galley kitchen into an existing dining room. We removed a wall, relocated all plumbing and electrical and more than doubled the counter area.

However, it wasn’t until we were really using the newly expanded kitchen that we realized we had a design flaw.

We made a small walkway to enter and exit the kitchen and although this is plenty large enough to walk in and out, we did not realize until much later that this opening was the prime “hanging out” spot. There is always someone standing at this opening.

This is the ideal section of counter top to do meal prep because it is so close to the refrigerator. If you need to enter or exit the kitchen or reach the refrigerator, you will have no choice but to squeeze by someone standing right in that spot.

We have considered re-configuring the kitchen but since we laid all of the floor tile in the room around the cabinets, this is a much much larger project than we want to tackle at this time.

This is an instance where we really should have lived and worked in the space before making final decisions. We learned our lesson and hope we have fewer renovation regrets in the future.

Argh. I’m sure that’s frustrating, Sarah. Matt gets super bugged when people are in his way when he’s cooking. Most of the family has learned to steer clear! Hopefully you can enjoy the other fixes that you did make. More counter space is always good.