Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Shade tree

As part of the Deluxe Gardening Package, we got our choice of a shade tree (locust, maple or Bradford pear) and installation.  Since I hate Bradford pears and I'm allergic to maple trees, the locust was the obvious choice.  We put it in a corner of the backyard.  The tree was donated to the event from Collegiate Landscape

Here are some photos from the installation:

I am really thrilled that the tree is so big to begin with--it must be 12' tall!  The landscapers had it delivered and installed in no time. And bonus: they mulched it. 

After the installation, I had the Little Guy and Little Miss pose by the tree.  My plan is to take this same picture once or twice a year for our family records to document how much the kids and the tree are growing.

Of course, with this much cuteness, I might be taking this picture every week. 

Monday, May 30, 2011

Manda Monday--The Auction

My garden dreams are finally coming true because of the one person in our house who couldn't care less about gardening.  No, not Barley, but The Big Guy.  Even though gardening is not his thing, he understood that I have to plant a garden this summer or my heart would explode.  And that's why he outbid a certified millionaire to get my dream garden started. 

Let me back up:  Those of you who have been here for a while know that I am a fundraiser.  This profession includes creating, planning and coordinating formal and fun events.  In April, my organization held an awesome "Under the Big Top" fundraiser that included a live and silent auction, with over 200 prizes to be won. 

One of the live auction items included a shade tree and installation, a rain barrel, and 10 members of the school's football team to do yard work for three hours.  Obviously, I had my eye on that prize ever since the items were donated and paired together.  And The Big Guy knew this.  "Oh, what I could get done with a 10-man crew for three hours!" I'm sure I said that at least once a day in the weeks leading up to the event.

So at the event, I'm working and The Big Guy is along for the ride, alternately helping out when needed and having fun when possible.  The silent auction comes and goes, and The Big Guy is outbid on every single item he went for.  Then, it's time for the live auction.  I'm on the main stage floor with the auctioneer on the elevated stage behind me, keeping track of all bids and the winners.  We come to the "Deluxe Gardening Package."  There are several bidders at first. As the price climbs, bidder after bidder begins dropping out until there are only two people left.  One, of to my left, is The Big Guy.  And the other bidder, directly in front of me, is a Very Wealthy Philanthropist. 

Now keep in mind that at the TMI Household, we do not have deep pockets. Some weeks, it feels like the only thing in our pockets is lint.  Very Wealthy Philanthropist obviously has deep pockets.  And it became quite apparent that he wanted to win this auction prize as much as The Big Guy did. 

The bidding went back and forth several times between these two, while I was positioned front and center to the audience.  As soon as I realized who The Big Guy was bidding against, I almost passed out.  I knew we couldn't afford to go as high as Very Wealthy Philanthropist could, and I also knew that The Big Guy was not going to give up on this package.  Right at the time I shot The Big Guy my best "STOP BIDDING RIGHT THIS INSTANT BECAUSE WE CAN'T GO ANY HIGHER" look (while trying to keep my composure in front of 350 people), a miracle happened.  Very Wealthy Philanthropist stopped bidding, and The Big Guy was the clear winner. 

And that's the exact moment when the garden of my dreams stopped being a dream, and started becoming reality...all because The Big Guy stuck to his guns.

Here's the rain barrel, donated to the auction by the Conservation Foundation:

Tomorrow, I'll share the shade tree installation with you, followed by a detailed account of what happened before and during the epic morning of yard work with the football team.  The transformation that has taken place in my front and back yards is totally and completely awesome. 

Thanks, Big Guy.  xoxo

Friday, May 27, 2011

Cookies and classes!

I'm approaching 100 "likes" on The Martha Initiative facebook page, and I'm thrilled!  Thanks to everyone for all of the facebook love.  And in anticipation of reaching that magical number, I've decided to celebrate.  

Here's the deal:  when I reach 100 "likes" I'm going to draw a name at random and one lucky facebook fan is going to get two dozen custom decorated sugar cookies. 

I'll draw a name next week at this time (Friday, June 3 at 12:00pm) provided I have at least 100 fans.  Are you not a fan?  Don't worry, you can be!  Just head on over to The Martha Initiative on facebook and click "Like." 


As we move into the summer months, I'd like to remind everyone in the Fox Valley area about my upcoming community education classes at Waubonsee Community College:

Online Social Networking for Beginners at the downtown Aurora campus
Tuesdays, June 7-28 from 7:30-9:00pm

XTreme Couponing at the Plano campus
Tuesdays, July 5-12 from 7:30-9:00pm

Live Well. Spend Less! at the Sugar Grove campus
Mondays, July 18-August 1 from 7:30-9:00pm

Thanks a bunch, and have a safe and fun holiday weekend!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

My garden plans for 2011

Last year, I worked up a set of garden plans and I had every intention of turning those plans into reality last year. It didn't happen.

It is, however, happening this year.  For reals, yo.

In fact, here are the plans:

This shows just the backyard, which is where all the fruit trees and vegetable are going to be planted.  We'll make a gardening area around most of the perimeter (next to the fence) 18" wide on the sides and 24" wide in the back.  If my math is correct, and it's probably not, this gives me 42 square feet of gardening space. 

I was so excited about this garden that I jumped the gun and bought seedlings in the beginning of May.  They're doing quite nicely on my kitchen counter (check out those tomato plants!) but I know they really want to be outside.  Soon, my darlings, soon!

Already, cucumbers are beginning to appear.

For this year's garden, I bought 10 tomato plants (varieties include Roma, beefsteak and cherry), 3 pepper plants, 2 cucumbers and 1 zucchini. Then I got really crazy and picked up a watermelon and cantaloupe seedling. I'm not sure how well those will do in my garden, but I'm willing to give it a shot. If they do well this year, then I'll bring them back next year.  In addition to the seedlings, I bought a packet of pole beans, as well as some bamboo stakes to make bean teepees. And bonus! I got 8 pumpkin seedlings from Aunt KB (hi, KB!) which will go in the back and the front of the house.

It's not too early to plan for Halloween, right?

And even though these aren't yet in the ground, I'm already planning for next year's garden.  I'd like to include strawberries, peas, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, greens and squash.  I might even try my hand at potatoes. 

First things first, though:  I have to get these plants into the ground!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Martha Monday--Gardening

As I've mentioned before, the way I most want to be like Martha (and the way in which I fall short the most) is in gardening. Martha has amazing vegetable, herb and flower gardens (and her orchards!) and I have always wanted that for my home. 

Seriously, though, who looks like that when they garden?  I am a sticky, dirty, sweaty mess when I'm doing yard work.  Oh wait, Martha has a staff who takes care of her gardens for her.  My bad, I forgot!

Here's Martha's vegetable garden at her home in New York:

Obviously, my home doesn't sit on hundreds of acres of land, nor do I have the energy and time to build and maintain a garden of this size, so my vegetable garden will be much smaller and easier to manage.  And I'm proud to report that for all my years of planning and dreaming about my own vegetable garden, this year it's finally happening! 

The past few weeks, and especially this past weekend, the work on my dream garden has begun.  I'll share pictures and information with you in the coming days.  For all of us wanting to garden on a large or small scale, there are plenty of tips and tricks found on Martha's website in the Home & Garden section.  

Friday, May 20, 2011

Cute baby shower favors

Some people hate the idea of giving, or getting, favors at baby and wedding showers.  And sometimes, I agree with this crowd.  After all, who needs another plastic trinket that will only collect dust? 

But, done correctly, I think favors can be a sweet and thoughtful touch at the end of the event.  Favors don't have to be complicated or expensive (nor should they be) to impress the guests or the guest of honor.  Something simple that fits within the theme of the shower will work just fine.

For example:  for the sock monkey shower, we filled 6oz. baby food jars with candy that fit the theme of the event.

As you can see, we had pink, yellow and brown jelly beans to fit with our shower decor colors, candy pacifiers and bananas to match the sock monkey theme.  The jars were decorated with fun pink/yellow/brown/beige patterned papers.  They were a real hit with the shower guests!

The hostess of the Alphabet Soup baby shower also used 6oz. baby food jars for the favors.  They were filled with (what else?!) pastel M&M candies.  Pastel colors because it was a gender-neutral shower, and the M&Ms to go along with the alphabet theme. 

She alternated pink and blue ribbon around the jars; again, this was a nod of respect to the couple's decision to be surprised by the sex of the baby.  As with the sock monkey shower, the favors were a huge hit. After all, who doesn't want a cute jar of candy to take home?

Seriously, if you find someone who does NOT want to take a small jar of candy home from a baby shower, please let me know.  I will start them on sugar therapy immediately.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Nursery bedding inspiration

Last month, I got to act as a baby shower consultant.  A consultant...doesn't that sound fancy?  Actually, a family member was hosting a shower for a friend and needed some ideas.  The shower had to be gender neutral, and the parents-to-be had no preferences for any particular theme.  Since I didn't know the couple, I had to get creative.  How could I pick a theme I knew they'd like? 

The answer came to me in a flash:  the nursery decor!  The couple had registered for the Alphabet Soup line from Cocalo.  When I heard the name of the bedding, the idea for the cake and cookies immediately came to me.  I was familiar with the line, as The Big Guy and I had considered it when we were planning for our baby's nursery

I took my inspiration for the cake and cookies directly from the rug of the nursery set. Here's the rug:

And here are the cookies I made for the Alphabet Soup baby shower:

The top of the cake says "Showers of Wishes" in Scrabble-style*.  The stripes along the side of the cake (two chocolate layers) are meant to mimic the border of the rug/comforter/valance/etc. of the bedding set. 

I was a bit worried about the stripes, but as soon as I brought the cake in, and without knowing where I had gotten my inspiration from, one of the shower guests immediately exclaimed that the stripes on the cake looked just like the ones on the bedding...had I planned that?  Why yes, yes I did!

A cute touch to this shower was that the host made vegetable alphabet soup for the guests.  Isn't that darling?  And yes, I'll take complete credit for that idea, thankyouverymuch.

I was so happy to have a helping hand in a shower that I didn't actually have to host. It's nice to be the consultant on occasion.

*The Scrabble-style wording is related to another shower game that I really like, but it only works if the parents-to-be haven't decided, or revealed, the baby's name.  Simply set out a Scrabble board, and have guests use the letters to come up with potential names for the baby.  The results are both neat and hilarious.  It's a fun game and a great icebreaker for parties where not a lot of the guests know each other.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Manda Monday--Choosing a shower theme

In the May issue of Martha Stewart Living, they feature a great book-themed baby shower.  That theme is highlighted throughout the event, from invitations to menu items.  Choosing a theme for a shower isn't absolutely necessary, but I find that it makes the party a heck of a lot more fun.

With the sock monkey baby shower, the theme was actually requested by the Mommy-to-be.  She is crazy about sock monkeys, the nursery would be decorated with sock monkeys, and many items on the registry were sock monkey related, so of course that became the theme for the party.  We were able to incorporate that theme throughout the shower, from the invitation, to the cake and cookies, to the decorations and favors

Of course, as a hostess/host you usually have to come up with the theme yourself.  When choosing a theme for a baby shower, ask yourself the following questions:
  • Will the parents-to-be like this?
  • Will the guests enjoy the theme?
  • Can the theme be incorporated into the shower in many ways?
  • Is this something that I can have fun with?
Four years ago, I hosted a baby shower for my sister.  She had wanted the sex of the baby to be a surprise, so I went with a Rubber Ducky theme for the shower.  It was totally gender-neutral and a great symbol of childhood.  Here's how I incorporated the theme throughout the shower:
  • Invitations featured rubber duckies
  • The cake was a blue background with white buttercream bubbles.  One top was a real rubber duck with the words "Bubbling over with joy".
  • The sweets table featured cupcakes with rubber duck liners and pink, blue, yellow and green duck candy.
  • Prizes for the games were travel-size bath gels and lotions from Bath & Body Works.
  • Favors were homemade bath salts with instructions for use.  Guests got to choose from Honey-Almond and Eucalyptus.
  • Yellow streamers and pictures of yellow rubber ducks served as decorations.
  • Fun touch: I put two small rubber duckies in the punch bowl!
The possibilities for baby shower themes (or for any party) are endless, so have fun with it!  And if you need an idea for a baby shower, let me know...I have plenty to spare!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Baby shower favors and games

To enhance Ellyn's sock monkey baby shower, we (the four hostesses) added touches of sock monkey wherever we could.  This included the favors:

We filled 6oz. baby food jars with candy, including jelly beans that coordinated with the shower colors, candy bananas and chocolate baby-themed candies made from Wilton candy molds

Even the top of the favors went with the theme:  Thanks a bunch!

Shower guests played my favorite baby shower game:  Name That Baby Food.  Jars/containers are numbered, and by just looking at the color, players must guess what food it is.  Fun!

Ellyn is way into card-making, so we incorporated a similar craft for the guests: we made an advice album/scrapbook for the mommy-to-be.  Near the present-opening area, we provided a variety of cardstock, stamps and ink pads for guests.  They stamped and decorated a card with their advice for Ellyn, and we put them in a photo album for her.  My favorite piece of advice from one of the guests was "Keep ninjas away from your baby.  Babies don't like ninjas." 

Seriously, why didn't someone tell me that right before I had my kids?  I have my babies around ninjas all the time, and both the kids and the ninjas seem uneasy with this arrangement.  I always wondered why, and now I know. I guess it's time to find new Friday night babysitters.

Just a month or so after the shower, Ava arrived.  Isn't she adorable?

Welcome to the world, baby Ava!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Sock monkey baby shower

Way back in January, three friends and I hosted a baby shower for our dear friend Ellyn who had requested a sock monkey theme. Ellyn loves sock monkeys, and the nursery would be decorated in sock monkeys, so we were happy to oblige.  Very talented Monica designed the invitation, which included this adorable guy:

I used him as the star of the cake.  The cake is frosted banana bars. The pink icing background is cream cheese frosting, but the monkey and writing are buttercream.   And the sock monkey's tail didn't disappear--it's just wrapped around the side of the cake.  No sock monkeys were harmed in the making of this cake!

I made banana sugar cookies to accompany the cake.  And by 'banana sugar cookies,' I mean they were regular sugar cut-out cookies decorated to look like bananas.  They didn't actually taste like bananas. 

But now that I'm thinking of it, banana-flavored sugar cookies would have been pretty awesome.  I have yet to see a banana sugar cookie recipe, so I guess it's up to me to invent one.

If you need me, I'll be in my kitchen trying to blend bananas and sugar cookie dough in delicious harmony.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Martha Monday--Martha is a grandmother!

Martha Stewart became a grandmother earlier this year after daughter Alexis's surrogate gave birth to baby Jude. Here's what she had to say yesterday on her facebook page:

"This year is very special for me. My daughter, Alexis, has become a mother for the first time, and as a result I am a grandmama for the first time. It is hard to believe that I am now the senior woman in our family of three living generations and I am thrilled. Happy Mother's Day to every mother who has nurtured and cared for her own offspring and good luck to all of you who will soon be mothers. It's a good thing!"

With this news, and with so many friends and family members enjoying (or at least expecting) their own little bundles of joy, I have babies on the brain.  In the coming days I'll be sharing with you two baby showers I worked on recently, so get ready for some fun cookies and cakes coming your way. 

In the meantime, if you are hosting a baby shower or just need some party inspiration, check out MarthaStewart.com for baby shower themes, etiquette, favors and decorations

I hope everyone had a lovely Mother's Day!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Gifts for grandmas

This year, I'm having the Little Guy make Mother's Day gifts for the three grandmothers.  If this goes well, I hope to have him, and eventually Little Miss, make all family gifts for birthdays, holidays and special occasions throughout the year.  And when our family and friends are thrilled with their gifts from the kiddos, we'll open our own TMI Etsy shop and craft our way to two fully paid college educations, all before they reach middle school.

The Little Guy is painting clay pots, which we will fill with potted Gerbera daisies from Lowe's.  I wish I had thought of this project in February, then we could have grown herbs from seed rather than buying blooms at the store.  Oh well, there's always next year for that.

As far as painting projects for three-year-olds go, this went really well. The Little Guy was focused and there wasn't much mess. 

Little Miss looked rather bored and bummed to be left out of the craft project, so I gave her a purple crayon and a piece of paper so she could create her own Mother's Day masterpiece. 

Then, I left the room for one minute (it's not often I get to use the restroom without an audience, and I wasn't about to let this opportunity pass by!) and you can guess what happened:  Little Miss tossed the paper on the floor and proceeded to color her high chair tray.

When she got tired of coloring her high chair tray, she simply chewed on the crayon until she had purple teeth.   

It may be a while before that TMI Etsy store is up and running.  Happy Mother's Day!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Labels and dates

During the most recent expedition to my basement for a sorting/organizing/purging session, I did something I should have done long ago...I labelled boxes. 

Yep, that's right: a Martha-Stewart-wannabe had not been labelling boxes in her own basement.  The horror!

And why hadn't I been labelling boxes?  Because I always think I will remember what is in them.  And do I ever remember?  No.  No, I do not.

As a result, I go through the same boxes again and again when I am looking for things. And each time, the angel on my right shoulder says "You should really label these boxes."  To which the devil on my left shoulder replies "Nah! You'll totally remember what is in each and every single box.  All 300 of them!"

And guess which one I believe every time?  Well, no more. I finally labelled boxes after I was done sorting and organizing the contents. Take a look:

Not only did I label the boxes with the contents, but I also included the date I labelled them. Now I know when this box of photo albums was sorted, and I can move on with my life. 

The little devil on my left shoulder has been stunned into silence.  I'm enjoying the quiet.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Lemon pound cake

In the May issue of Everyday Food, there is an entire spread devoted to pound cakes.  Mmmmm...pound cake. Now I like a good pound cake, but I had never baked one for fear it was too complicated.  It turns out that pound cakes are really quite simple to make, and seeing the ingredients and directions in print was all the inspiration I needed to tackle one.

The first step is to cream the butter and sugar together for eight full minutes.  This is the reason industrial-strength mixers (in kitchen sizes!) were invented.

I took my flavor cue from the Everyday Food spread with their citrus-glazed pound cake which called for orange zest/juice and lemon zest/juice in the cake batter and the icing glaze.  I was all out of orange juice and oranges, so I used only lemon juice and zest.

However, this makes absolutely no sense to me because I had to go to the store for the lemon. Why didn't I pick up an orange while I was there?  Sometimes, I have no idea what is going on in my own life.  Sigh.

Along with being the first time I baked a pound cake, it was also the first time I ever zested anything. Obviously, this was a big day for me.

The massive amount of butter in the cake makes it really moist. In fact, it kept bubbling around the perimeter.  This made me think that the cake wasn't done, and I ended up over baking it. 

Note to self: the next time you bake a pound cake, ignore the butter bubbles and take the cake out after 65 minutes. 

This was a really great, and easy, dessert.  Make the lemon version, or check out the May issue of Everyday Food to see more variations.  Enjoy!