Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Beekeeping with TMI

Yesterday, I blogged about Martha's beekeeping. Inspired by Martha and as a lover of all things bees, I went to a seminar at my local community college titled "Beekeeping for Fun and Profit."  Perhaps I could become a beekeeper like Martha....hmmmmmmmm.

Dr. Ed Bell of Belfry Bees and Honey is a beekeeper in the Fox Valley area and extremely knowledgeable about bees and honey production. 

Dr. Bell has several apiaries in the area and harvests the honey and beeswax for sale in local markets.

This is what the inside of a "super" looks like.  The bees build their honeycomb within each frame, which is used to grow larvae and store honey.

Here's another look at the frames:
Once the honeycomb is full of honey, Dr. Bell takes the frame out and puts it into a "honey spinner."  It works similarly to a salad spinner:  the force of gravity pulls the honey out of the honeycomb, and it pools in the bottom of the barrel.  It is drained through the spigot and strained to remove any bee bits.

Note: "honey spinner" is probably not the correct term, but that's what I'm calling it.  That's just how I roll.

Honey actually comes in a variety of colors.  Every jar here is honey, and the color depends on what types of pollen the bees collect. 

Dr. Bell brought a ton of equipment and examples to the seminar.  Here, we have a variety of smokers used to calm the bees.  A papery wasp hive is on the left (many people confuse wasp hives with bee hives) and the dense honeycomb produced by bees is on the right. 

I was thrilled to see that Dr. Bell had brought favors for all the attendees: we each got a small brick of beeswax to take home with us.  He melted and molded the honeycomb himself. 

The seminar was very informative with lots of pictures, equipment and a great starting packet for those interested in becoming a beekeeper.  (You can sign up for Dr. Bell's enewsletter here.)  Now that I'm armed with all this great information, I have a much better understanding of what it takes to become a beekeeper.  Just think of what I could do with all that honey!

The Big Guy has put his foot down about having a hive on our property, though, so my next move is to figure out where I can stash one nearby.  Hmmmmm.....

Monday, June 28, 2010

Martha Monday--Beekeeping

Martha has several beehives on her property.  Her blog posts about maintaining the hives and the health of her bee colonies are really quite fascinating. 

This is Martha in her bee garb:

I've always liked bees (so industrious!) and honey (so tasty!).  In fact, the theme of my kitchen is bees and beehives--I'll share pictures of my favorite bee decorations on Friday.  In the interest of becoming more like Martha, I recently attended a beekeeping seminar taught by local beekeeper and entrepreneur Dr. Ed. Bell.  

No matter where you are in the U.S., all healthy honeybees should be producing honey by this time. If you get the chance, support your local beekeepers by buying honey and beeswax products. 

In the meantime, check out this recipe for Martha's Honey Cake with Carmelized Pears. This would be a great recipe to try with local honey.  Yum!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Sand trap

For Mother's Day this year, I got a wheelbarrow. Don't worry ladies, I asked for one!
While purchasing the wheelbarrow, we got the Little Guy some garden tools in his size.  This serves two purposes: 1. he has something to use when we're working outdoors, and 2. slave labor in the event that he actually gets any work done. We got some new shovels for the adults in the TMI household, too.

And what are those shovels for, you ask?  What a great question! Why those shovels are so, in the event that we have the time/energy to work outside, we can begin ridding our backyard of this monstrous sand pit:

Isn't it disgusting?  The previous owners has an above-ground pool, which they took with them.  Now, we have a sand pit, and the tarp/burlap seperating the sand from the dirt below is disintegrating letting all kinds of weeds grow there.  It needs to come out and soon.  Hence, the wheelbarrow and shovels.  Getting this pit out of the backyard is the one thing I really, really want to accomplish this summer.  Wish us luck!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

My garden plans

Just like Martha has a neat rendering of her property, I'm making one for the TMI estate. However, Martha's map is based on what is there, mine depicts what I want in the space.  Take a look:
At first, my plans were messy. I was just jotting down ideas and making notes.  And drawing vegetable gardens, then crossing them out to move them elsewhere. Thank goodness this work only occurred on paper!

Finally I wised up, got out the plat of survey for the property and traced it. This became the basis of my garden plans.

You can see I've got plans for a deck, vegetable garden, fruit trees, compost bins and rain barrels strategically located around the house.  I haven't drawn in the flower beds, which I plan to put around the perimeter of the house and fence. 

Now, I just have to decide on a fence company and then get started on this backyard oasis.  I sure could use Martha's 5+ member landscaping crew right about now.  Martha, if you can spare those guys, please send them over!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Martha Monday--Cantitoe Corners

Martha regularly posts pictures of her New York farm on her blog, and she describes Cantitoe Corners in great detail.  One day, I decided to use Google Earth to try to find her property. 

I swear I'm not stalking Martha...I just needed a fun mental diversion that morning.

So, based on the pictures and descriptions, I picked a starting point in Bedford, NY and three hours later I found her property!  Don't be alarmed: the find was not due to my eagle eyes or superior stalking skills.  Instead, while looking for clues on Martha's blog, I stumbled across this post which practically gives the address of her property.  After reading it, I found the estate without a problem. 

Now that I know where she lives, this should make sending birthday cards to Martha much easier!
And this got me to thinking: based on my blog posts, could someone find my house? Please let me know if you are a perfect stranger and/or crazy stalker who has figured out where I live.  I'd like to be prepared.

Happy Monday, everyone!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Saint Martha

My friend Shannon finds the coolest things. Take a look at the garden/plant dec she got me.

Look closer...see what it says?

How about now?

Yeah, that's what I'm talking about.  I need all the help I can get!

Thanks, Shannon! :)

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The subdivision sale is here again!

Last year at this time, I blogged about our subdivision-wide yard sale where I found some great things at great prices, including a copy of Martha Stewart's Handmade Christmas. Score!

Now, it's that time of year again...when all my neighbors open up their garages, set up some tables and set out their old clothes, yard equipment, household items and the ever-popular "miscellaneous" for your perusing and purchasing pleasure.  It's the Lindens Spring Fling!

DATES: Friday, June 18; Saturday, June 19; and Sunday, June 20

TIME: 8am to 3pm (I think it only goes to noon on June 20, though)

LOCATION: The Lindens (Aurora, IL) subdivision is just west of Orchard Road, between Prairie Avenue and Jericho Road. You can access the subdivision from Orchard Road (southbound lanes only) and Jericho Road (both directions).

View the area map.
NOTE:  Maps of the houses participating will be available at both entrances to the subdivision.  Please drive slowly and watch for kids, as there is a large park in the middle of the subdivision and a TON of kids.
So come on out and enjoy the sale!  And if you see a sleep-deprived woman pushing a stroller around the sale early Saturday morning snatching up anything related to Martha Stewart, that's me.  Feel free to stop by and say hello. :)

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Easy banana cream pie

When it gets hot in the spring and summer, I face a dilemma: I want dessert, but I don't want to turn on the oven (at least for very long).  What to do, what to do?

Enter my easy banana cream pie. 

Start with a ready made crust (gasp, I know! Just work with me, okay?). This one required a quick 10 minutes in the oven, but you can just as easily use a no-bake graham cracker crust.

After the crust cooled, I lined it with sliced bananas. 

Top this with banana cream pie pudding (use the small box for one pie).  See where the 'easy' comes from?

Top this layer with fresh whipped cream (the one cup carton works nicely here).  I like to add a bit of sugar and vanilla to my whipping cream before beating the heck out of it.

Spread the whipped cream layer on, top with more sliced bananas, and throw it in the fridge for a few hours.

Best if served the same day. Enjoy!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Martha Monday--Home Depot vs. Lowe's

Recently, Martha Stewart introduced a new line of paint available only at Home Depot stores.  This latest product lines joins a wide variety of other merchandise sold there, including outdoor furniture, rugs, cleaning products and organization solutions.

Sigh. I'm not pleased with this...I'm not a big Home Depot fan.  I prefer Lowe's.

In past years, the TMI household shopped at Home Depot quite a bit not because we were huge fans of the chain, but because of the proximity of the store to our home and the wide range of products they offered. The customer service has never impressed us. 

Since we've moved to Aurora, we now have options:  the Home Depot and Lowe's are the same distance from our house. In fact, the two stores are right across the street from each other.  Product-wise, they both offer pretty much the same type and quality of stuff.  The stores are also pretty comparable price-wise.  However, the customer service at Lowe's is a gazillion times better than at Home Depot, at least in my neck of the woods. 

At Home Depot, the employees practically run away from customers and when you do catch one to ask a question, they say it's "not their department" and shuffle off to find someone else who will be equally adept at avoiding you.  At Lowe's, the employees are knowledgeable, friendly and eager to help. 

Example:  last March, we had a ceiling fan installed in the family room.  Our family room is large (20' x 20') and almost as tall.  Being creatures of habit, we went to Home Depot to shop for a fan.  After an excrutiating time of waiting for a salesperson in the fan/light department, we finally found one guy who seemed confident in his knowledge of the product. We picked a fan and asked the salesperson if we needed to buy an extension rod to distance the fan from the ceiling. 

"No need for that," the salesguy explained.  "It's included in the package."  He assured us that everything we needed was there, and all we had to do was install it.  Long story short: we did need an extender, which I didn't find out until the electrician was in my house to install the thing.  I had to run out in the freezing cold with my toddler to Home Depot, leaving a complete stranger alone in my house with my possessions and my dog, only to discover that Home Depot DIDN'T KEEP EXTENSION RODS IN STOCK.  I ran across the street to Lowe's, where they not only had extention rods in stock but the two salesmen took the time to match the color and get me all the parts I needed.  They were so helpful and very nice.

Of course, I'm leaving out the part of the story where the ceiling fan light cover had to be ordered, which the Home Depot people said they would take care of and have it shipped to our house, only to have it delayed for weeks because at first no one ordered it, then they said we hadn't paid for it, even though we had a receipt saying we did, and then it was shipped to the store instead of our house, and no one bothered to call us to let us know where it was.  This experience was so bad that we made a conscious choice to buy the foyer chandelier at Lowe's. 

Since that unfortunate incident last March, I've avoided the Home Depot. Sure, I stop in now and then for a particular sale item, but my major home improvement purchases have all been at Lowe's.  I'm greeted as I walk in the door, employees will walk with me to find the items I need rather than just pointing in the general direction and wishing me luck, and they are all knowledgeable within their departments.  

Martha, please, reconsider your store partners.  Give Lowe's a try.  And after you've made that switch, we can talk about moving your crafts line from Michael's to JoAnn Fabrics.  Trust me, Martha...it will be a very good thing.  

Thursday, June 10, 2010

My purchases (so far!)

As promised, here are the pictures of what I bought at this year's Wilton tent sale.

In the above picture you can see my new oven liner, mixing bowls with lids (I bought a set of these at my first trip to the tent sale, and I've been looking for another set ever since), fancy cake stand, treat bags, decorating bag holder, meringue powder, candles, standing mixer scraper and cookie cutters.

The cookie cutters are a margarita glass, music note, airplane and racecar. 
I also stocked up on cupcake liners.

I got a little carried away with the mini-cupcake liners, and had no idea that I grabbed a package of 350.  What am I going to do with all those?  Time to start baking, I guess...

I also picked up vanilla extract, clear vanilla extract, a cookie scoop, white candy melts and an ocean-themed lollipop mold. 

It was a fun trip!  I wonder what next year will bring.  More importantly, I wonder if I can sneak in another trip to the sale before it ends on June 22. 

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

My trip to the Wilton Tent Sale

To refresh your memory, here's my trip to last year's sale along with what I bought in 2009.

I look forward to the Wilton tent sale like kids look forward to Christmas.  This year, my friend Shannon met me there, marking my seventh year at the sale and her first. 

There were plenty of carts to go around this year.  Exciting!

Last year, the sale threw me for a loop by featuring a ton of craft stuff, and a lot of Martha Stewart Craft items.  In the years before last, there was hardly any crafty stuff--the focus was solidly on Wilton and not their other brand names.  No problemo for me, though, because I love Martha Stewart and MS stuff.

So I went to the sale this year expecting to stock up on scrapbooking and craft supplies only to find that the pendulum had swung back in the other direction.  There was some MS Crafts stuff, but not the amount or type that I was expecting.

Here's a picture of the sale:

Do you need some parchment paper? Because Wilton has some for you.

Another thing I noticed was that there was hardly any holiday stuff. In the past, the tent sale has been fully stocked with all kinds of food craft items for Christmas, Halloween, Easter, etc. This year, the abundant items seemed to be from their character shop

Here, Shannon waits in line with her purchases: 

Doesn't she look happy?  See, the Wilton tent sale is just like Christmas.

Tomorrow, I'll show you what I purchased.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Martha Monday--A crafty vacation

Martha collaborates with a lot of companies to get her brand out there, and one of her latest collaborations has me tickled pink!  It's Martha Stewart Crafts Studio at Beaches Resorts!

Isn't that awesome?! Beaches Resorts has been on my radar as a vacation destination for a while now that I have kids--they are family-friendly with great activites that feature Sesame Street characters.  But now that they have a MS Crafts Studio...move over, kids! Mama has plans and they don't involve tea time with Big Bird. 

Actually, I don't know yet if they'll have tea time with Big Bird, but they do have baking time with Cookie Monster, which I would totally do.  And if they do offer tea time with Big Bird, I'd like to do that, too.

The five MS Crafts classes they'll offer at Beaches Resorts are: Fun with Glitter, Stencil Fashions, Scrapbooking, Punch and Stencil Fashions, and Make Your Own Postcard.  Love it!

This addition to Beaches Resorts has moved the destination to my #1 pick for our first big vacation as a family of four.  I'm thinking next summer, when BabyGirl is one and can handle a beach setting.  I'll start packing my bags now...

Friday, June 4, 2010

Food presentation

Many, many moons ago, I wrote about a great dinner we had with friends Amy and Patrick.  They had us over again for Memorial Day, and per their usual, everything was fantastic.  They always go all out for dinner guests, and that includes amazing food presentation. 

Take a look:

Even the way they set the table is impressive! At the TMI household, you're lucky if you get real plates and matching silverware.  At Amy and Patrick's, you get a seperate fruit bowl, cloth placemats, a ramekin for dipping sauce and fancy plates!

They even take care to set the Little Guy's place with something special. For this dinner, he got a fish plate for his fruit and a Sesame Street sippy cup.  Amy and Patrick think of everything!  Isn't that sweet?

Food is king when it comes to preparing dinner for guests, but Amy and Patrick remind me that presentation is queen, and just as important as the great meal they always serve. 

Thanks for dinner, Amy and Patrick! It looked, and tasted, absolutely great! :)

Thursday, June 3, 2010

A bit of blogkeeping

Hello, everyone!  I just have a few blogkeeping items...

1. I made a few slight changes to the blog design. Nothing too drastic, just a small change of color and font. Unless Martha wants to see more drastic changes--do you, Martha?  Just drop me a note, okay? Anything for you, Martha!

Because Martha Stewart emails me all the time.  Riiiiiigggggggghhhhhhhtttttt.

2.  I've added some new blogs to the TMI blog lists.  Before the majority of blogs I had listed were in the frugal shopping vein--if you are into couponing and saving money, check them out!  Now, I've listed some new blogs that I am getting into.  These new additions are all about baking, crafting and baking crafts.  Good times!

3.  We have some new followers here at TMI--thanks for joining me!  Publicly, that is.  It's good for my self-esteem.  For all you lurkers out there, and Google analytics tells me I have quite a few, feel free to come out of the lurking closet.  ;)  Of course, this is 100% for my benefit. 

Again, it's a self-esteem thing.

4.  Finally, I want to hear from you! What kinds of things do you want me to write about on TMI? Any topics you'd like to see covered, or covered more in-depth?  For example, I can go on and on about my self-esteem issues, love of all things Martha, and baking, but if you'd like to see more gardening or home improvement, please let me know. 

Thanks for sticking with me!  I heart you all bigtime!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Wilton tent sale 2010

Last year, I regaled you with my stories of the Wilton tent sale.  It's that wonderful time of year when the Wilton company, headquarted in Woodridge, Illinois, sets up a massive tent in their parking lot and sells off a lot of their inventory at discounts of 50% or more.  The Wilton umbrella covers a lot of other brands, including the Martha Stewart Crafts line found at Michaels.  Last year, they had a TON of MS Crafts stuff.

That high-pitched noise you just heard was me squealing with joy. 

Here's a glimpse of last year's tent sale:

My plans this year are to grab supplies for the Little Guy's third birthday in the fall, Baby Girl's first birthday next winter, and scrapbooking supplies for Baby Girl. 

If you like baking, food arts, crafting or just a great deal, then you should check out the Wilton tent sale.  It's June 4 through the 22, and you can find the details here.  Happy shopping!