Jun 252013

My daughter loves to make art. I’m pretty confident that not a day has gone by since the first time she picked up a crayon that she hasn’t drawn, colored or painted something. She also has a bit of a tendency to want to save every little drawing, which means we end up with piles and piles (reams) of paper around the house. What we’ve done since preschool is to save everything in boxes or bins for the year and then sort through it at the end of the school year, which makes it a bit easier to deal with but still leaves us with the dilemma of what to do with the artwork that makes it into the ‘save’ pile. Plus, having a whole bin worth of space means she’s tempted to put most everything into that save pile, whereas knowing we were making a book helped her to recycle some of the less important pieces.

This year I made homemade books out of the assorted drawings and paintings from the year. It was a very quick and easy project – it took much longer to round up the paper and sort through it than it did to bind the books. To make it even easier on myself I only used art that was standard letter-sized (or a bit larger for the covers) so that I didn’t have to trim it to fit, but you could make larger books if you had a lot of bigger paper, or crop it down.

I gathered up a stack of artwork, squared it all up so it was in a neat pile and stapled it once in the middle of the left side, very near the edge of the paper (I did this to keep the sheets together while I lined up the covers). Then I added a front and back cover and stapled it at the top and bottom and near the middle again. For some of the books I used her art for the covers and for some I used construction paper. I finished the books with a strip of washi tape covering the staples as a binding.

Now, I know some people like to scan their kids’ art and make photo books out of it, and I think that’s a cool idea but we would have volumes of photo books of art by now, and that’s not practical for our family. Plus, this way allows my daughter to curate her own art so that she can keep as much of it as she wants, and as she grows we can even re-evaluate it to keep a smaller sample in a new book. We’re both pleased with the way these turned out and I’m glad to finally have a system in place to corral all the paper!

I’m sharing this post at some of these great link parties – check ’em out!

Fabric Bags for a Moving Up Ceremony

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Jun 202013

My daughter’s teacher is kind of amazing. I’m so grateful that we had her this year! She started the year under difficult circumstances (long-term sub) and has done a really stellar job with the class. The year’s finally wrapping up this week, and as part of the class moving up ceremony she’s giving out these fabric bags, filled with some sort of surprise. My project was to write each child’s name on the bags and then they were able to decorate them in school today. I was a bit dismayed to find out I had to use puffy fabric paint for the names, since puffy paint is really not my craft forte. I was also bummed to see that I only had two spare bags in case of mess-ups, but luckily I didn’t need to use them. I can’t wait to see how the kids decorated their bags, and what’s inside them!

Jun 172013
Of course after I took this picture I added five more things to the list.

Happy Monday y’all! I’ve got a busy week ahead so I sat down this morning to write out a to-do list (no fancy printable to-do list for me – its the back of a junk-mail envelope because c’mon) and it’s long. Holy cow is it long. It’s the last week of school which means there’s end of the year things to do, and beginning of summer things to do, and we’re heading right into the midst of birthday party season so that means gifts to buy . . . plus the usual household chores. I think I might have felt better before it was all written down.

Jun 132013

I planted a bougainvillaea last week in one of our patio planter boxes, and it needed something to climb and wind around. I also wanted something in that area that would help replace the look of the fig tree and fill up some of the vertical space and big expanse of the shed wall. The space behind the plant is quite small so it requires a narrow trellis or ladder and since I’d generally rather make something than buy it I decided a homemade rustic ladder would look nice.

As I’ve mentioned before we have a grove of black bamboo in our backyard that benefits from an occasional thinning. That means I’ve got quite a stack of long bamboo canes laying around ready to be used (I’ve got to thin it again so if anyone in the area wants bamboo for a project or for staking things in the garden, let me know). I found two thick long canes to use as the legs of the ladder, and laid them out on the ground. I just eyeballed the length and the spacing – since I was going for a rustic look I wasn’t concerned about it being perfect.

Next I took another cane of bamboo and laid it across the legs for the first rung. I marked where the cut should be and then sawed off the length with a pruning saw.

I put a bead of wood glue under each end of the rung on the ladder legs, and then tied the rung tightly with garden twine.

I continued up the ladder, spacing the rungs more or less evenly and gluing and tying them as I went. When I was done I put a bit of glue over each knot to help hold it in place, and when the glue was dry I trimmed the ends of the twine close to the knots.

Once everything was dry and the ladder was in place against the wall I added more glue to each joint for extra strength. This ladder wasn’t designed to hold up anything more than the branches of a plant, so it doesn’t need to be all that secure – I just want to keep it together if the twine starts to decay in a year or two.

I can imagine doing this again for other areas of the house – how about a skinnier ladder in the living room for a magazine rack?

I’m sharing this post at some of these great link parties – check ’em out!

Caramelized Onion and Mushroom Pizza with Trader Joe’s Herb Pizza Crust

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Jun 112013

You have to try this – herbed pizza dough topped with caramelized onions and sauteed mushrooms. Wow was it good, and so simple to put together too. I cooked the sliced yellow onions over medium heat in a cast iron skillet until they were soft, sweet and deeply browned. Meanwhile I sauteed the sliced mushrooms (I used shittake and crimini mushrooms) in olive oil until they were soft and browned as well. The dough I used was Trader Joe’s refrigerated herb pizza dough – I rolled it out into a rough rectangle shape and spread a very thin layer of greek yogurt on top to give a little tartness to the pie – then topped it with the onions and mushrooms and baked it for about 12 minutes at 450 degrees. So so good!

We ate the pizza alongside steamed artichokes and it seemed like such an elegant meal for very little actually cooking. As for the kid report: One loves artichokes but had to be coaxed to try the pizza while the other ate up the pizza and had to be coaxed to try the artichoke (which he said was a monster). They ended up eating and enjoying both things by the end of dinner, so another successful meal at our house.

I’m sharing this post at some of these great link parties – check ’em out!

Needing to Find Some Motivation

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Jun 102013

Do you ever just feel lazy and unmotivated? Man do I have a case of the lazies lately. It’s not that I can’t think of anything to do, it’s that I can’t bring myself to do anything. I’ve been crazy busy with the end of school for the kids so I think that has something to do with it – sometimes when I’ve got down time I just want to zone out in front of the TV or with a good book (speaking of good books, I read a great one recently: The Favored Daughter by Fawzi Koofi. This woman is amazing – she’s had an incredibly hard life in Afghanistan. Now she’s the speaker of parliament there and running for president in 2014. Reading this book certainly put my little problems into perspective).   (Disclosure: The book link above is an affiliate link and if you happen to make a purchase through it I’ll receive a small percentage  – at no cost to you!)

I’m trying to think of ways to jump start my creativity again. I’m going to put together summer journals for my kids that combine road trip journals with field journals, so I did a small watercolor map of our beach trip this summer. I scanned it and I’ll print one out for each journal and paste it in.

OK, the map is not quite to scale, obviously.

I did also manage to put together the flower arrangement at the top of this post, and isn’t it so happy-looking? It makes me smile just looking at it. Otherwise I’ve been puttering around the house but not doing anything much of consequence.

Do you have any advice to get unstuck and get busy?

Easy Apple Blueberry Crisp

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Jun 072013

I ended up with an excess of apples in the house the other day and made Apple Blueberry Crisps to use some of them up. I mixed up apples, blueberries and vanilla and topped it off with an oatmeal crumble. So good! Ok, here’s the deal: Fruit crisps/cobblers are so easy to make it’s almost criminal. You don’t even need a recipe – seriously. Here’s how it goes:

Choose which fruit to use. Firmer fruits work better, so think apples, pears, peaches, plums. Berries are delicious in crisps too, but add some firm fruits as well for better texture. Cut your fruit into bite sized pieces – you need enough to fill whatever container you’re using to bake the crisps. You could use a pie plate, a cake pan, a baking dish or individual ramekins. Add some flavoring; think cinnamon, vanilla or almond extract, bourbon, rum or other liqueurs. Sweeten the fruit with sugar or honey, not too much, about 1/4 cup and adjust it for how sweet the fruit is naturally. Add a spoonful of cornstarch, mix it all up and pour the fruit and juices into your baking dish.

For the topping mix up some uncooked oats, a bit of flour, some brown sugar, a pinch of salt and a few chunks of butter. Crumble the butter into the other ingredients until its into little pieces and evenly combined, then dump the whole mix on top of the fruit in the baking dish and bake it at 350 degrees until the fruit is soft and bubbly and the topping is browned.

That’s it! No measuring, no fuss, just a yummy fruit dessert.

I’m sharing this post at some of these great link parties – check ’em out!

Tomato Plants are in the Ground!

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Jun 052013

Well I finally got my tomato plants in the ground – it’s probably super late for most of the country but just fine for the northwest. I actually plant them in planters because the least shady spot in our yard is up against the side of the house so they sit on a gravel strip with a nice southern exposure.  I planted a roma, a supersweet 100 cherry tomato, and ‘champion’ which seems like a slicing tomato. I also put in a few jalapeno peppers and pot of sugar snap peas.

The big project of the day was pulling the fig tree out of the planter box next to our patio – we always loved to eat the figs at the end of summer until last year, when we happened to notice the rats enjoying the figs too. That pretty much ended our enjoyment of the figs, so the tree had to go. There happen to be a lot of other plants in that planter I wanted to save, so I had to dig and cut out the fig just around the bottom of the trunk and then pull out as many roots as I could. I had to cut through a few of the roots with a pruning saw they were so thick. Look at this thing!

I planted a bougainvillaea in the fig’s spot, which will look nice against the shed wall and will complement the Mediterranean herbs that are growing there now (rosemary, lavender, marjoram and sage). It normally won’t overwinter here, but I’ve got it in a little microclimate so I’m hopeful. I still need to fashion some sort of lattice or ladder it to climb.

I also had a fuchsia to pot up so I planted it in an old watering can that belonged to my grandfather. I think it’ll look really great once the fuchsia starts to flower and droop over a bit.

Finally, here’s a peony that’s just bloomed – beautiful isn’t it?

I hope you’re all enjoying your June gardens! What’s blooming in your yard?

Peppers and Onions with a Plancha on a Grill

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Jun 032013

Yum, we had pork loin chops on the grill tonight and I cooked up a batch of peppers and onions to go with them. I read in a magazine recently (Sunset maybe?) about cooking steaks on a plancha on a grill (a plancha is a heavy cast iron griddle) and as I was getting the coals ready I remembered we had a plancha stuck in a cupboard somewhere around here so I pulled it out and dusted it off.

Peppers, onions pork and the plancha – before and after

It’s so nice to cook outside and if I can cook more of the meal outside it’s even better. I let the plancha heat up over the coals, put a bit of oil on it and then dumped a whole pile of peppers and onions on top. They didn’t need any precise cooking time – just an occasional stir as the chops cooked and by the end they were soft and caramalized and smokey and delicious. Alongside the grilled pork and a scoop of white rice they were excellent. I’m already dreaming up what else I’ll cook on the plancha this spring and summer.

I’m sharing this post at some of these great link parties – check ’em out!