Tea Time Confessions

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Alright, I’ll just come out with it:  I found some weird herb growing out by the side of our garage, and I’ve been brewing it and drinking it to help me get to sleep at night.  It also might be giving me these really vivid dreams…

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Lemon balm tea, friends.  It’s totally a thing.  Unless it isn’t.

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I was first introduced to the herb this spring when I noticed it growing up out of a sidewalk crack behind my house.  Is that spearmint?  I plucked it for further examination, but it didn’t have a minty smell.  I crushed some leaves and it smelled like lemons!  What?!  It was kind of growing invasively, but I delighted in the fragrance of fresh lemon that filled the air when I hit it with the weed whip.  It wasn’t until browsing gardening boards on Pinterest that I saw its beautiful leaves springing from a lovely pot labeled “Lemon Balm”!  Hooray!  I had an abundance of a useful herb!  But just how useful?

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This member of the mint family is known as a powerful antiviral that’s used to aid sleep, calm ADHD, heal cold sores, relieve stress, heal dementia, repel mosquitos, attract bees, and make you hear colors.  Maybe I was kidding about that last one.  But you shouldn’t use too much of it or maybe any of it if you have certain health conditions, and some of the studies on it are way more conclusive than others.  So, just don’t be a weirdo hippie about it, like I am.  Do your research.

You can use it in salads, cook with it, bake with it, or do what I do!  Let’s make really yummy tea!

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You can use a generous handful of fresh leaves, or a heaping teaspoon per cup of crushed dried leaves.  (You can buy it on Amazon.  Told you this is totally a thing.)  Boil some water, poor it over, and let it steep for five minutes.

I have this fancy tea maker, but I know Alton Brown just makes his loose tea in a french press.

I have this fancy tea maker, but I know Alton Brown just makes his loose tea in a French press.

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Mmmm.  My new favorite beverage!  Sweeten with honey, and you’ve got a soothing, but fresh cup.  How does it taste?  Even my husband says, “Not bad!”  It smells like lemons but it’s not sour tasting at all.  Just maybe a bit minty I guess?!  You’ll just have to try it.  I really love it.

-Mac-

On reupholstering my dining chairs…

After just about a year in our new home, I’m finally getting around to a few of those updates that I was just too overwhelmed to tackle early on.  First up, our dining table chairs!

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I can’t tell you about our dining set without telling you that my parents are totally rad.  After pinning several chrome dining sets on Pinterest, I started to show my mom a few I was thinking of buying off Craigslist.  “You can do better than that,” my mom said, but I didn’t believe her until she showed up at our house with this beauty they found in a barn sale.

Of course, it wasn’t quite as pretty to start.  The chairs were upholstered in yellow cracking vinyl that had been gloriously patched with grey duct tape.  Obviously we’d want to reupholster them, so on one of their visits up, my mom and I made it our mission.

The hardest part was probably taking the old vinyl off.  The second hardest part was deciding what color the new vinyl should be.  We went to Jo-Ann Fabrics, and I chose a safe color.  (I’m glad I played it safe, and you’ll see why, later.)  I do kind of wonder if I shouldn’t have selected a heavier weight vinyl.  My two year old has already done some damage to the new upholstery, but if Stitch wasn’t living with us, it would probably wear just fine.

We bought 5 yards which turned out to be WAY more than we needed.  If I do this again, I definitely won’t go with more than one yard per chair.  Maybe even less.

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Here’s a (glamourous) shot of the underside.  My nephew gave me some of this wonderful chrome polish, which really made the set shine, but, as you can see, I didn’t worry about hitting the underside too hard.  I’ll probably go over it again later.

Everything is stapled, even the piping.  We started with a special cord from the fabric store that was made for upholstery piping, but it was kind of pricey, and I ran out after the first two chairs.  I went to Dollar Tree and bought a thin plastic rope for the rest of the project.  You seriously cannot tell the difference between the two.  I’m not sure I would recommend it for your couch cushions or something like that, but for this?  Perfect!

Also, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of my hair dryer to this project!  The heat is how we were able to staple the vinyl to the chairs with minimal puckering or folding.  DO NOT ATTEMPT THIS KIND OF PROJECT WITHOUT A HAIRDRYER SET TO HOT!

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If there’s one part I’m not totally satisfied with, it’s the back.  You can see, I had a few unexpected lumps and bumps along the way with this, and I didn’t expect those decorative tacks to be so tricky to hammer in.  (There’s got to be a trick to those tacks!)  I realize now why the original upholstery had that back piece of vinyl wrapped around a perfectly shaped piece of cardboard.

Also, we had to be incredibly aware of where holes were drilled, so we’d actually be able to reassemble the chairs once they had been recovered!  I promise you, that sounds way simpler than it actually was.

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All, in all, not too shabby, and the set has a perfect footprint in our eat-in kitchen!  Next up?  Cabinets!  But don’t expect to see those for another couple weeks! ;-)

-Mac-

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-