I heard it through the grapevine (wreath)…

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So yesterday, when I took you on a tour through my garden, I forgot to mention one of my “crops”:

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Wild grapes!!!  Of course, I didn’t know that they were wild when I asked permission to drape the vine over my neighbor’s fence.  I had hoped they would be the same concord grapes he’s nurturing just a few feet down.  It’s okay, though.  These grapes are small and sweet, but refreshing to pluck and nibble on when I’m out enjoying the yard.  The photo above was taken much earlier in the season.  They’re a deep purple now, but not much larger.

Aside from the grapes, though, the vines quickly enveloped the chain link fence that borders our yard.   In fact, they were even starting to grow up into one of my trees, and I was pretty sure they were killing off some of the limbs.  So, yes.  It was time for a little trim:

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But the point?  Thanks to a little something I found on Pinterest, I was able to turn my trimmings into, hopefully, some show stopping decor a little ways down the line.

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Of course, I should have done this a little earlier in the season, according to the tutorial, but I still feel pretty accomplished about my wreaths.  I actually made four of them, but the biggest one is my favorite.  They’re drying in the sun, right now.  I can’t wait until they’re totally brown and ready to decorate!

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Yes, this is a kid friendly craft.

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So that checks off the FUNNEST item on this weeks to do list.    It’s always good to get the funnest project out of the way first, right???

Have a great weekend!
-Mac-

My First Garden, 2014

I didn’t think I’d like to garden.  Two of my neighbors asked what I would plant in the 8×8 raised bed that was sitting on the property when we took possession last fall.  I thought I had my hands full enough with my boys.

Turns out, I really do love plants.

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Early June

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Mid July

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Currently–Mid September  I eventually had to tie my tomato vines to our clothesline, when my tiny tomato stakes failed me!

So far I’ve harvested about 60 tomatoes, 12 bell peppers, 2 yellow squash (I planted a bit too late in the season), 3 strawberries, a couple salads worth of lettuce, and several young onions were harvested early, due to my two year old entertaining himself by stomping on them.  I’ve planted spinach in their place now, so he’s started stomping on those young plants instead.

I’m still waiting on the remaining, unstomped spinach and a little patch of radishes.  Those two crops were started from seed, and something about actually seeing food happen from tiny seeds feels even more magical than an Apple Watch.  (Which would be crazy magical, right?)image_5image_9 image_7 image_14

Early in the season, I walked out to the garden and counted 21 green tomatoes on my vines.  I couldn’t believe, 21!  I would have laughed if I’d known that by mid September I would have picked 60 and used most of them in pots of Sunday chili.  I haven’t counted yet, but it looks like I have at least 60 more that are still waiting to ripen.  The first frost is usually in October.  I don’t know how many tomatoes will make it by then, but a very knowledgeable gardener told me to go ahead and take the green ones inside, tucked in cardboard boxes to ripen.  She claims to have enjoyed her own garden tomatoes through January that way.  I can’t wait to see if that will work for us!  I’ve given some of our produce away, but I’d also like to try preserving some more… hopefully with more success than last time.

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Can you count all 14 tomatoes in this picture?

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Speaking of preserving, right now I’m in the business of dehydrating herbs.  I preserved a little bit of my basil this way earlier, but what really excites me is dried lavender, lemon balm, stevia, and peppermint.  I’m loving loose leaf tea, and I can’t wait to play around with some home grown infusions this winter!image_3

Then there’s this volunteer taking over my deck.  Seriously, this thing must have 100 cherry tomatoes on it, but not a single one has ripened!  I wonder if it has to do with its shady location or the fact that I haven’t really pruned it the way I pruned the ones in my “real” garden.  No matter.  Give it time.  We have ways of making things ripen!

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So, what have I learned from this first garden?  It really doesn’t feel like I know a ton more!  I just put plants in the ground, followed the instructions that my mom gave me, took the advice of my neighbors (things like, “Hey, that thing you think is a strawberry plant is actually a weed!”), and maybe read a couple seed packets…  It blows my mind how really, God just makes things grow with so little effort.  I thought this little garden would take blood sweat and tears, but it’s really like a gift.  I put in a little weeding and watering, and nature gives back tremendous amounts of food and enjoyment for an 8×8 square!

Pinterest, though.  Searching Pinterest for different plants made it clear how to prune the “suckers” on my tomatoes, and how to do the things (I never actually got around to doing), that would have offered me a much more fruitful pepper harvest, (oops!) and where to put my peppermint so it wouldn’t take over uninvited.

Next year, I want to till up a larger plot in the back yard.  The 8×8 bed was difficult to maneuver, even with my stepping stone in the middle.  I never felt like I was able to reach all the plants that needed weeded or pruned, and I still didn’t come close to maximizing the space the way you usually would with square foot gardening.  Our yard is big, so I think it will make more sense for us to do traditional garden rows, but I still want to keep things small enough to be manageable.  There’s still time to plan, I guess.

I also bought a bunch of seeds on clearance this year.  Lots of flowers, which I think will be key.  I didn’t feel like I saw many bees in my backyard, so it’s time to lure them in!  (And make pretty bouquets for my dining table!)

Oh, and tomato cages.  Apparently, they exist for a reason.  Next year I’m getting some of those.

Hope you enjoyed the tour!
-Mac-

Mac had a Little Overcoat…

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The past week I’ve done a couple of those sewing projects that make a big impact but are really just thrifty no-brainers.

First, surely, surely, surely, I’m not the only woman that’s gotten on Pinterest a few times and decided I was done with any scarf that was not infinite.  For almost two years now, I’ve been trying to tie and tuck this scarf in just right so it would look like an infinity scarf, (even though it’s not), but I finally got around to stitching the ends together.

Instant infinity.

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Then there’s my coat.

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I love my coat.  It’s soft and green and made of down.  *sigh*  You can imagine how sad I was when the incident happened:

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Early March.  Suburban neighborhood.  Left sleeve.  Victim of assault by a thorny rose bush.

The worst part wasn’t the tear, which is pretty small.  It was the trail of white feathers that followed me for weeks.  In the house, in the car, up my nose.  One day, we were getting cell phones set up.  It took a while to set up a new account. The associate eventually had to ask for help from her manager.  I tried to keep a poker face when he snatched a feather from mid air and said, “Where did all these feathers come from?!”
“I don’t know!” she replied “But, I’ve been seeing them all morning!”

I love my coat, but rather than send it to the big Cleveland winter in the sky, I thought it best to amputate.

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My coat died a little bit, but was reincarnated as this fabulous vest!  Complete with new decorative stitching on the chest!  I was so thrilled not only by how great my new puffer vest turned out, but also how I managed to take the PERFECT selfie to show it off.  Seriously.  I never look this radiant in real life.

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I guess the moral of the story is, learn how to use your sewing machine.  At least a few basics.  Then don’t be afraid to try your skills on your stuff.  Sewing can be an expensive hobby for some, but if you’re scrappy, you can really save cash by putting some of the stuff you already own in stitch rehab.

And if you don’t have a machine, I recommend starting with a cheap Brother from Walmart.  (This is the one I’ve been using for the past three years!) It’s modern and intuitive and it works right out of the box.  Some folks like to use a vintage machine, or whatever their grandmother hands down to them.  Hang on to that machine, and get it set up later, but after seeing (and experiencing) some of the frustration that can come if your old machine wasn’t serviced and adjusted just right, (which, consequently, can cost as much as my Walmart machine) I just don’t think it’s best to learn on.  Don’t get me wrong, I want one of those big heavy metal machines, myself, some day, for heavy duty projects–but I sew fairly often, and on a pretty wide variety of projects, and my little Brother has never let me down.  I even got the matching serger for my birthday.  I LOVE them both.

So, go sew.  Sew, go, so…  Sew.
-Mac-

P.S. Today’s blog post title comes from this adorable children’s book.  Everything I needed to know about budget sewing techniques came from Joseph. ;-)

P.P.S. Just so you know, those aren’t affiliate links or anything.  Sometimes, I just feel all linky about the stuff!  You get it.

This week…

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“Make it public, make it happen,” right?

So, a few of the things I want to check off this week:

  • Do a two hour freezer cooking session.
  • Prep my upper cabinets for painting.
  • Log a week ahead on My Fitness Pal.
  • Get a toy rotation system back in place for the kids.
  • And the fun one: Try making grapevine wreaths on my back porch.

It’s Monday, funday!

-Mac-

So, I don’t know about you, but–SQUIRREL!!!

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“What is that beaver doing in our tree?”

When your five year old tells you there’s a beaver outside, you stop to see if he’s right.  He wasn’t.  But this little fella was certainly not behaving in a squirrel-like manner.  He was sitting there so chill!  I even had enough time to grab the nice camera, switch lenses, and sneak outside to get some glamor shots.

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“Hey, baby, what you looking at?!”

It was like he was posing for me!  Have you ever seen a squirrel look so relaxed?  I kind of wondered if maybe he was dying or something, but one small baby step closer and…

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Up and off!  Like a healthy squirrel should be.

Have a great weekend!

-Mac-

 

Teaching our 5 year old how to read.

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Both our kids have special needs.  It doesn’t define our family, but it does make an impact in a few ways.  One was the decision to wait an extra year to send our older son to kindergarten.  My heart ached as I watched my Facebook feed fill with happy pictures of his peers taking off a year ahead of him.  Doubt slipped in, and I wondered if we’d made the right decision.  My son is sharp as a tack academically, but this would be his third year of pre-k.

Last Wednesday, we were sitting around the dinner table, trying to think of productive non-video-game oriented activities for our son.  (You’re going to learn that we really have a love/hate thing with “screen time” at this house!)  Frankly, the kids were driving us up the wall.  My husband looked at me and said, simply, “He needs to know how to read.”  It was like the lightbulbs lit up–as if saying it out loud made us realize how profoundly true it was!  All the academic building blocks had already been put in place for our boy with two years of preschool.  His love for books and stories had always been strong.  His curiosity about how words work had made every car trip a spelling bee where my husband and I would answer hundreds of queries.  It just. made. sense.

So Thursday evening, when the questions came about iPads, cartoons, and video games, I whipped out the Hooked on Phonics app.  By the end of the night, he was reading this:

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I can’t even tell you the emotions that came from seeing my baby read sentences like that!  My husband literally hit his head on a wall when he heard my son deciphering the words.  When he was recapping his day before bed, my child said, so matter of factly, “Well, I learned how to read, today!”  Tonight, he sped right through a page that said, “Rams, pigs, cats, rats, and kids.  What a big, big gig!”  I mean, come on guys.  That’s a lot of different combinations and sounds for someone that had never read a single word a week ago.

I’m not an educator or an over-achiever, but seeing my son find the gift of reading has got to be one of the most rewarding projects, EVER!  As much as I’d worried about keeping him back a year, it’s partly because of that decision that he got to learn to read at home, and we got to be part of this process with him!  Just SO, so exciting!

Note: So, the Hooked on Phonics app is free, but every unit (there are 12) costs about $8.  I was very fortunate that I had previously downloaded the ($50) classroom edition for free when they were having a Teacher Appreciation Day promo.  (SO LUCKY!)  It comes with all the content and extra ebooks, plus ways to manage multiple students.  If you are hoping to teach a few members of your household at the same time, I would recommend that version.  The results we’re seeing are amazing, but I also like to think we just have amazing children.

;-)

If you are looking for similar deals on educational apps, I recommend following this blog.

-Mac-

Customizing our Power Wheels with Spray Paint!

Like I was saying last time, my oldest has been begging me to paint his Jeep blue all summer.  I was sure this would be a bear of a project.  I wasn’t even sure it was possible, but about two hours and half a can of spray paint later…

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I was so intimidated by this job.  I was sure it would be tedious to work around all the little details, and I didn’t know how we’d deal with all the decals that covered the toy.  I was delighted when I realized the decals Fisher Price provides peel right off!  It took us less than five minutes!  That evening we gave the Jeep a nice sudsy wash before we headed inside for the evening.  Today, was paint shopping day.  Off to Home Depot we went.  I asked an associate to show me what the best spray paint for plastic was.  They recommended this:

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These colors were in his top running…

They assured me primer would not be necessary.  I’ll try to update this post over time as I see how the paint job really holds up.  I was extremely pleased to see SEVERAL shades of light blue there for us to choose from.  My son eventually landed on this one:

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The store only had this color in a satin finish, but I’m so glad we ended up with it instead of a gloss.  The paint can told me to lightly sand glossy surfaces.  I thought I had the finest grit sandpaper, but some of these scratches still ended up showing through a little in the final product.  The satin finish makes it a lot less noticeable.

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Next we had to tape up the parts we didn’t want painted.  I knew I didn’t want to paint any of the interior, so I sort of taped an arbitrary line along the Jeep’s frame where I felt the interior and exterior should be separated.  I did not use tape on the roll bar and back seats at all, as it was just the right size to stretch my trash bag (lawn and leaf size) taut, leaving a clean paint line.  I imagined the front of the vehicle would be a little more tedious, but the car’s design really allowed me to just drape trash bags over most of the non-paint areas.  In case you try this at home, you will have to tape the bag around the windshield a bit more carefully than the back.  Overall, this process probably took me less than 30 minutes with my 5 year old “helping”.

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Now we were ready to paint!  I was very thankful to a friend in Home Depot who saw us shopping and explained strictly to my son that spray paint is toxic and dangerous to children.  He peacefully supervised from a few feet away while I went to work.

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It took about two coats.  Half of one $3.50 can of spray paint!  Talk about a budget makeover!  I distracted the kiddo with some screen time and as soon as the 20 minute mark had passed…

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I couldn’t believe how nice it turned out!!!  There are, of course, a few imperfections, but this is a kid’s toy.  I appreciated from the get-go that this project would be more about the bonding experience of us working on his car than about the end result.  But seriously.  The results were stinking GREAT!!!

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If this project HAD been more about the results, I would have waited at least an hour before letting him drive the thing, but it was just too exciting!  I couldn’t show the kiddos without letting them take their “new” Jeep out for a spin!  I’m very curious to see how the paint will hold up over time.  But at least I still have plenty of paint left over if we need a touch up here or there.  The kids were SO excited for the reveal.  Something as simple as a new color!

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If this paint holds up well, it makes my head spin with potential refreshes on plastic toys.  How many times have I been shopping for my boys at a garage sale, saw the perfect big wheel/wagon/scooter/play kitchen… but then I look closer and realize it’s all pink and purple!  What if it could be any crazy color?!  What if it didn’t even have to be a “kid” color?!  If I can spray paint a Jeep, then, heck!  The world is my oyster!

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Let me know if you try something like this out!  Like I said, I’ll try to update with a report on wear and tear, but right now, all I have to say is that was just SO much easier than I expected!

Happy Monday!
-Mac-