Friday, September 30, 2011

Not to freak you out or anything...

...but there are only 31 days left until Halloween...

...55 days until Thanksgiving...

...and 86 days until Christmas


Have a great weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Seasonal sharpening

This is what Martha would call a "gentle reminder" we say goodbye to gardens and hello to crunchy leaves, have your gardening implements sharpened before you put them away for the season. 

Lawn mower blades, pruning shears, hedge clippers and more can all be sharpened now so you'll be ready to tackle lawn and garden chores immediately in the spring.  And, if you find that you need new gardening tools, now is a good time to shop for sales and get a great bargain.  The more you know!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Martha Monday--A new season!

Today marks the beginning of a new season of The Martha Stewart Show. My TiVo is set...all I need is some down time and a nice stiff drink so I can enjoy my Martha time!

Here's what she has planned for this week:

Season Premiere: Tricks of the Trade--Monday September 26
Martha's Summer Finds--Tuesday September 27
The Harvest Show with Emeril Lagasse --Wednesday September 28
The Ultimate Birthday Party--Thursday September 29

And have you entered the Ultimate Fan Contest?  The contest ends tonight, so enter now if you haven't already!

Happy Martha-watching!  Watching like a fan watches, not like a stalker watches. Because otherwise that's just creepy.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Garden love

Summer is over according to the calendar, but for me it ended on Labor Day Weekend when I brought in all the produce from the garden and put the my garden to sleep.  All of the plants (except for the pumpkin vine) were pulled out and tossed in the compost bin.

I wanted to become a gardener this summer, and I did.  Here's what I learned along the way:

There is no such thing as too many tomato plants, or too many tomatoes.  Well, there might be, but not at my house. Twelve plants kept us eating delicious tomatoes all summer long, and I've made several batches of marinara sauce with the surplus.  Next summer, I'll put in at least 12 plants, but I'll be sure to include more cherry and Roma varieties, and leave the beefsteaks out (those didn't perform well for me). 

Horn worms might be one of the most disgusting things on the planet. Seriously.  I was not prepared for horn worms or cucumber beetles (had a horrible infestation of those) but next year I will be ready!

Sharing a garden with children is a rewarding experience.  The Little Guy helped me plant the green beans from seed and water the plants, both kids helped put things in the compost bin, and Little Miss helped me harvest.  Of course, she occasionally picked still-green tomatoes off the vine and tossed them in the compost bin, but that's how it goes sometimes.  Sharing this experience with my kids this summer was amazing. It was a lot of fun to explore each day and see what was appearing or ripening, and enjoy--literally!--the fruits of our labors.

Zucchini grows fast.  Holy crap, does zucchini grow fast. I'll plant at least two zucchini next year, if only to be twice as fascinated by it's speedy growth rate.  Goodness knows I don't actually need any more zucchini than what I had this summer, but that's what neighbors are for, right?

The satisfaction that comes from eating produce I've grown is immeasurable. I've made tons of delicious cakes and beautiful cookies, but I don't think I've ever been so pleased as when my family started eating the cucumbers and tomatoes from the garden. Plus, it feels good to know where our food is coming from. 

Weeding is by far the most time-consuming task in the garden.  I only weeded a few times this summer, but those times lasted an entire weekend each.  It was brutal, and certainly not how I want to spend my precious summer weekends.  Spending hours harvesting or tending, I don't mind. But hours spent weeding is just not fun.  I don't want to spray weed-killer in the garden, so my solution for next year will be to spread layers of newspaper around my plants to discourage weeds. 

Fruits and veggies ripen on their own schedule, not mine.  This was a hard lesson to learn.  Tomatoes took too long, and cucumbers were too fast.  If only they would cooperate with me!  Garden produce can be so stubborn.  Next year, I'll be ready for those fast cucumbers and make some into pickles. As for the tomatoes, I suppose I just need to be more patient.

There is absolutely nothing on earth like a homegrown tomato.  It would be easy to say that homegrown tomatoes just taste better, but that doesn't even begin to describe the astounding difference in taste, texture, feel and smell between a store-bought and homegrown tomato.  Now that I've had the luxury of true tomatoes all summer, I'll dread going to the store for a 'fresh' tomato this winter. Homegrown tomatoes = heaven. Store-bought tomatoes = cardboard.  End of discussion.

Planning a garden is almost as fun as growing a garden. I've been planning this garden for years and while it was great to see it finally come to fruition, I have to admit that I started planning next year's garden back in June, before I had harvested anything.  By June, I could see what was doing well and what I had the space for next year.  Also, by then I had fallen so in love with gardening that I knew I had to do it again next summer, and the summer after that, and the summer after that. 

My plans for GARDEN 2012 are extensive. I hope to expand my repertoire from seven types of plants to 30, and plant two permanent perennial gardens to attract butterflies and bees. I want to put in a semi-permanent strawberry patch (most strawberry patches last for three years) and a permanent asparagus patch (those can last for over 20 years) as well as experiment with corn, squash, broccoli, cauliflower, eggplant and potatoes.  These plans will keep me going during the dark days of Midwest winter.

Isn't that amazing? In the course of a season I went from total garden newbie to full-blown garden fanatic.  From now on, the summer of 2011 will be referred to as "The Summer Amanda Finally Learned How to Garden."  Better yet, it should be known as "The Summer Amanda Fell in Love with Gardening." Because that's exactly what happened.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Tree time

Back in May, we planted six dwarf fruit trees in the backyard. It's been exciting to see them leaf out and grow this summer.  If all goes well, we should have fruit in 2-3 years. 

Here's the Little Guy next to a peach tree when it was planted:

And here are the peach trees now, over four months later:

Here, the Little Guy "poses" next to the Starkrimson Red Delicious apple tree. This tree, like most of the others, is now even with the top of the fence making it five feet high.  Five feet tall for a tree might seem small, but the dwarf-size is considered fully grown at eight feet. We're over halfway there!

Remember that Girls Night Out event I went to at Spring Bluff Nursery?  I used my 50% off coupon to get the Skyline honeylocust tree I had my eye on, and they installed it two weeks ago.  While it looks close to the house, the tree is actually 19 feet away and is sort of in what could be considered the central part of the yard (without being smack in the middle of the backyard).   It's as tall as the second story of the house, which makes me really happy. In a few years, this tree should provide some nice shade for the backyard and the house without interfering with the fruit trees or my perimeter garden.  

This tree joins the honeylocust the Big Guy won for me in the spring.  I think that as far as shade trees go, we're good in the back yard.  Perhaps years from now, when my gardening days are over, a third shade tree can be planted, but for now I'm quite happy with the two honeylocust trees.  May they grow strong and quick to shade our house and portions of our backyard!

I'm not done with fruit trees, though.  As I've mentioned before, I'll plant two more dwarf apple trees in the spring: Honeycrisp and Winesap.  In three years I hope to be swimming in apples.  I can hardly wait!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Honey honey

Did you know that September is National Honey Month?  I'm a big fan of honey, buying local and bees, so this is right up my alley. Honey is my preferred topping for toast, and since I'm also a big fan of toast, I go through a lot of honey.

This summer I was able to get my hands on several kinds of local honey.  I purchased this honey, from Lorence's Honey Bee Haven of Aurora, at Soup to Nuts in Geneva.  I'm almost to the end of the one pound jar, and believe it or not, I plowed through that in less than two months. THAT'S HOW MUCH I LOVE HONEY.

Next up is honey from the Cook-DuPage Beekeeping Association. This is a recent purchase so it's not open yet, but I'm looking forward to it!

Finally, I have a jar and bottle from my favorite beekeeper Dr. Ed Bell of Belfry Bees Honey. I purchased both at the West Galena farmers market here in Aurora.  Note to self: stop by there tomorrow and pick up some more!

This 2.5 pounds of honey is enough to last me through February, I hope.  And the great thing about honey is that it never goes bad, so stocking up can really pay off.  Since the Big Guy won't let me have a beehive, I consider myself very fortunate to have so many suppliers of local honey in the area. 

Celebrate National Honey Month by trying honey on toast or using it to sweeten up your favorite recipes. Find a local honey supplier here.  Happy honey-ing!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Manda Monday--Pinterest

Have you heard of Pinterest?  It's a great (free!) online program that works like a virtual bulletin board. Whenever you see something amazing online, whether it's an image, product, recipe or whatever, you can 'pin it' onto your board for future reference.  The location of the original info is saved, so if you pin a recipe for example, the picture and your comment stay on your board along with the web address for easy reference later.

The lovely Dora from Waubonsee Community College introduced me to Pinterest--"you'll love it!" she said-- and now I'm obsessed!  Any spare moment I have lately has been devoted to finding and pinning all the great ideas on the web that I want to save and refer to later.   You can make as many bulletin boards and pin as many things as you like. You can follow other people's boards for ideas, and people can follow your boards as well.

The Little Guy's birthday is next month and we're having a dinosaur-theme party. I've been using Pinterest to keep track of all the cool dino-party ideas I'm finding online:

I have boards for Halloween, kids' activities and crafts, recipes I want to try and more.  You can follow me on Pinterest here and see what I'm up to. 

Are you on Pinterest?  If you find lots of inspiration and cool ideas online that you want to save, then this application could be quite useful for you.  Happy pinning!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Found functional space

Sometimes, space is at a premium, and functional space is even harder to find. Sometimes, you have to create your own space.  Space with function.  Space with a purpose.   Last week, we did just that.

On the second floor we had a stretch of bare wall space between the kids' bedrooms and the bathroom.  That space was begging for a function so I gave it one: it's now the hoodie capital of the house. 

The Big Guy hung six hooks: three sports ball hooks for the Little Guy and three flowers for Little Miss. They are at the perfect height for little hands to grab a jacket and go.

My hope is that even though this area is not by an outside door, the kids' hoodies and tote bags will make their way here at the end of each day.  That way, when we are rushing out the door in the morning, tote bags and jackets are right there.  The kids can find what they need, grab and go. 

It is also my hope that this will help teach responsibility and underscore the importance of putting things back where they belong.  It's a very important space!

For now, the map is there just for kicks.  But later, once I allow them to venture out on their own and maybe even cross the street without me, they'll check this map to plan their trip.  Because the world is a very big space. 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Easy caprese salad

Caprese salad is such a summer delight...fresh tomatoes and basil, olive oil, mozzarella.  Delish!  And with only five ingredients, it's a cinch to make.  Here's the official TMI-Amanda-Grant way to do it:

1. Realize that BUNCO is that very evening, and you need a quick dish.  Bonus points if there is a TON of ripe tomatoes sitting on the counter at home.  Decide on Caprese salad and buy a block of mozzarella cheese on the way home from work.

2.   Upon arriving home, try to ignore the complaints and complexities of any small people in the house.  This might be the only chance for a Girls Night Out--no need to blow it by pandering to the children.

3.   Don't worry about making a clean work space; instead, just shove things off to the side.

4. Dice up several ripe tomatoes, and then dice up a few more.  Let everyone share in the bounty of the garden.  Bonus! This increases bragging rights later on.

5. Dice up the block of mozzarella cheese.  Ruminate over why the block was purchased instead of the cheese balls in juice. Remember that the Big Guy still needs to be picked up at the train station and stop pondering the merits of different forms of mozzarella cheese.  Throw the cheese in with the tomatoes.

6. Liberally sprinkle extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar over the tomatoes and cheese.

7.  Add some fresh basil leaves.  Bonus! More bragging rights since the basil is from the indoor herb garden.  Consider taking a photography class so pictures turn out better than this.

8. Stir everything together so the olive oil and vinegar are coating everything.

9. Realize that OMG THE TRAIN IS ARRIVING IN 5 MINUTES AND IT TAKES 15 MINUTES TO GET TO THE TRAIN STATION, so stop taking close-up pictures of this amazing concoction.

10. Put the caprese salad in the fridge for a bit, and then take it to BUNCO and bask in all the compliments.

Of course, that's just how I make my caprese salad.  You can leave out the frantic pace, unruly children, messy kitchen and racing to the train station if you like. It's just a matter of preference.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Painting the master bathroom

Over Labor Day, the Big Guy and I got a HUGE task crossed off the household to-do list: we painted the master bathroom. I've wanted to do this ever since we moved in.  It was painted an ugly brown-green-baby poop color (including the ceiling) and it made the room incredibly dark. More importantly, it was making me a bit nauseous.  It had to go!




Isn't that a huge improvement?  The main bathroom is Softer Tan and the water closet is Shagreen. Both colors are from Sherwin Williams.  Softer Tan was not my first choice for this room, but I had to stick with a neutral color to coordinate with all the tile work and counter tops.   I hope to have artwork up by the end of the week, which will bring in some brighter colors.

Phew! One room down, and only four more to go by October 8.  

Monday, September 12, 2011

Martha Monday--September To Do's

Martha has a planning calender tool on her website (I've mentioned this before), but did you know you can also see her To Do list for the month?

Go ahead and take a look at that calendar. It's blissfully empty--Martha has a few things going on, but not much. I can only assume that this is not her actual calender. We all know that she's busy working, managing her farm and other properties, gearing up for a new season of The Martha Stewart Show, travelling and more. Quite frankly, I feel a little cheated.  I want to know Martha is busy running around like a madwoman, because that's exactly what I've been doing lately.   Knowing she is busy with life, work, family, etc. and making it all work would give me encouragement and motivation I need to keep pace with my own life, work, family and more.

Fall is a busy time filled with lots of birthdays and fun activities.  The Little Guy's birthday is next month, and there's A LOT of work I want to get done around the house before then.  Basically, we've lived here for almost three years and there are many rooms I don't consider to be finished--master bedroom, guest room, family room, living room, etc.  In fact, until September, only three rooms have been finished: Little Guy's room (see here and here), Little Miss's room and their bathroom.  I'm really sick of living in rooms I'm not happy with, and that has to change.  And I want it all done before Little Guy's fourth birthday.

Because there is nothing like a huge looming deadline to make me kick it into gear.

Here's what I have planned for September 1--October 8:

Paint the master bathroom (The Big Guy and I actually did this over Labor Day weekend--I'll be posting pictures soon!)
Hang artwork in the bathroom
Paint master bedroom and hang artwork
Paint guest room, hang artwork and display shelves/hooks
Get storm door for front entry
Paint the front door
Paint the half bathroom and hang artwork
Paint the family room
Finish art display project for living room

And those are just my "home improvement" to-do's.  I'm not including other stuff, like putting the garden to bed for the winter and basic household maintenance.  It's going to be a busy few weeks, but I am looking forward to it. The happiness I get from a finished task and great-looking room far outweighs the struggle it took to get the job done.  I'm already looking forward to enjoying these made-over rooms.

What do you have planned for this fall?  If you have nothing going on, feel free to come hang out at the TMI household. I might have something you can do. ;)

Friday, September 9, 2011

Summer FAIL

Summer is officially over and part of me is really sad. I had lots of goals this summer; the biggest and best goal--having fun with my kids--was definitely accomplished. Goal #2--become a real gardener--can also be checked off my list.  But Goal #3--get caught up on the kids' scrapbooks and photo albums--completely and totally fell by the wayside.  Thus the sadness.  TMI GOAL FAIL.

For a while, I really almost totally was ready to tackle this project. I had ordered a bunch of pictures through Snapfish at the beginning of the summer with the best of intentions to work on the photo albums. Then, as tends to happen with small children around, Little Miss got into the envelopes of pictures and mixed them all up.  Pictures were everyone and disorganization reigned.  LITTLE MISS FAIL.

Obviously, that quasi-disaster set me back a little bit.  By mid-summer, the picture jumble was driving me mad and I couldn't take it anymore.  I spread everything out on the office floor and spent an entire morning sorting through 200+ pictures.  I organized them by month, but to get the months right, I had to compare groups of pictures with the digital versions on my computer. 

It was a long and tedious process, though I did enjoy the stroll down memory lane.

Now, all pictures are sorted by month and tucked inside a storage bin drawer.  Where they sit.  And wait. As you can see from the month labels, I am exactly two years behind on the photo albums.  AMANDA FAIL.

Summer was a busy time, and all things considered, I am choosing to be happy about what I did accomplish rather than be unhappy about what I didn't.  After all, making happy memories with your kids trumps getting caught up on photo albums and scrapbooks any time.  But, the anal-retentive Martha Stewart wanna-be in me is hanging her head in shame over this fail.  PERSPECTIVE FAIL.

Now that we're in fall, I know there's no way I'll be touching these pictures anytime soon--the Little Guy's birthday and Halloween are just around the corner, and I have a ton of home improvements planned between now and then.  Still, if I just try a bit harder to channel my inner Martha, buckle down and learn to live on three hours of sleep each night, I might be able to get this done by working on bits here and there.  That's a good strategy, right?