garden re-do

I used to dream of having a beautiful vegetable garden, and going outside to pick herbs before dinner—but as a child, my parents were both way too busy to bother with our yard, so we mostly had grass, weeds, and daisies. A decade or so of total neglect later, and we usually don’t call it a yard anymore—it’s the jungle. 😉

Last summer I decided to do something about it. I had nothing to do except read before my PhD program started, and I though a nice way to thank my parents for having me home rent-free would be to re-do their yard. I’m not sure they thought it a very nice gift at the time, since it involved way too many trips to Home Depot and gardening centers, but now they’re actually quite happy to have a better looking front yard!

This is what I started with:

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Yeah, that was once a garden bed. You can see I meant “a decade of neglect” quite literally. 😉

I recruited my sister and we dug up both this bed and the other front one by hand, just to get rid of as much of the grass and weeds as we could (we did save those irises). One of the hard parts of re-building a garden for my parents is trying to make one that allows them to do the absolute minimum of work, while still appealing to their taste. Because of that, I decided to add a small retaining wall, which I thought would define the borders of the garden better and make it more obvious when grass encroached.

This is the finished (if very new) garden:

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Look, you can see our absurdly hardy azalea again! 😉 I found some rocks in the back garden-jungle (which I will be tackling this summer…) and used them to take up some space. I cut the bed a bit short and added a row of herb pots along the side, which my parents both loved. Most herbs don’t survive our WI winters anyway, and I thought this way they would be both more identifiable and more manageable—no mint going out of control. My mom is already looking forward to replacing them this spring. 🙂

The garden looks a bit sparse in this picture, but once I get back in town, I’ll see which of those perennials survived and plant some more to liven things up! I’m excited to finish the rest of it, hence sharing this post. 🙂 And if anyone has any tips for a beginning gardener, let me know!

patchwork chair cushions

I said I had more plans for my kitchen—here’s the next addition. 🙂 I decided to cut down on my fabric scrap collection by making some scrappy patchwork chair cushions. I’ve only finished the first one right now, but it turned out very cute.

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I apologize for the random plant in the background—I’m procrastinating studying for finals by redoing my whole gardening set up, so pots and plants are currently all over my kitchen.

Doesn’t the cushion look cute though? I’m not a big fan of those serious foam cushions, but I did want this to have a bit of padding, so I used 3 layers of 1/4″ loft batting and then tied it rather than quilting. All of it is pieced and sewn by hand, but it wasn’t so bad, as most of it is just squares.

Let me know what you think!

homemade lunch!

Ever since my undergraduate, when I had to schedule back-to-back rehearsals through what felt like every single lunch, I’ve had terrible habits when it comes to eating at normal times. But with finals coming up, I figured it was time to try yet another attempt at reform—and it’s actually somewhat working! This time around I’ve been making homemade lunches the days that I’m gone through the afternoon, and it’s been rather fun. I thought I’d share with you my two most recent ones. 🙂

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It’s too much work to put together a super fancy lunch, so both are rather simple. This one is just rice, egg, stewed beans, and grated vegetable pickles. I have a rice cooker, which I love, and I just set the timer so that my rice starts cooking in the morning and is ready when I wake up. Since everything else is made before, it means that I can put this together in 10 minutes!

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And here is basically the same lunch! I’m vegetarian, and I almost never buy vegan meat substitutes, so I took advantage of having fake hotdogs around to try out one of those cute hotdog octopi. 🙂 The main filler is roasted golden and red beets in cider vinegar, and I put vinegar vegetables again on the rice. I’m slightly paranoid about food going bad at room temperature, so I try to follow good food storage practices, which includes using seasonings like vinegar. Good thing I like it a lot, I guess?

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I’m working on an embroidered bag for my lunchbox, but until then I just tie it up in a napkin. These are plaid flannel ones I made for my first apartment, and they’ve held up well!

I’m really enjoying making these lunches though. It not only gives me something to look forward to during the day, but I’ve also found that I’m far more motivated to get up in the morning if I fear my rice might go to waste. 🙂

crochet coasters

I went home for Easter, and while at my parent’s house, my mom asked me if I could make her some replacement doilies for her bedside table—maybe in black, or a very dark blue. Uh, what? While I’m sure there are some very nice doilies in those colors, I knew they’d look terrible on her dark wooden table. It turns out she was trying to avoid the constant coffee stains that show up on lighter color doilies, so we compromised.

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Isn’t that teal much nicer than navy? It’s a bit more green in person than in the pictures, and though light enough to still stain, I’m hoping the mercerized cotton yarn  I used will hold up well to any requisite cleaning.

 

tea sandwiches

When I’m at my parents for the summer, one of my favorite social activities is throwing fancy tea parties with my sister for our friends. I am not the best baker, but out of the two of us, I usually end up in charge of the menu and cooking. This role has greatly endeared tea sandwiches to me—after a day spent cooking fancy desserts, throwing together two or three sandwich types is a very nice respite.

The first image is of a party I made where one of the guests was gluten-free, hence the large variety of meringue-based treats. That one was especially tricky to put together!

However, while I don’t often make desserts for myself—shortbread or berries with cream is usually the extent—I find tea sandwiches a nice way to make something quick and easy that still feels like a treat. This week I made them extra special by buying some pumpernickel bread (I usually bake all my own bread).

I think tea sandwiches feel special because you can put the focus on one or two nicer ingredients and really enjoy them. I frequently cut or substitute ingredients to save money or use up leftovers, so buying something “extra” is an easy way to treat myself. For these sandwiches, for instance, I actually bought green onions, a lemon, and some nice local radishes. For the radish sandwich, I diced green onions and added them with some lemon juice to butter. For the other, I made curried egg salad. You can’t see it in the picture, but I also used the lemon to make a vinaigrette for the radish greens—instant salad!

They may be simple, but they were delicious! 🙂 Anyone have any other simple meals they enjoy making as special treats?

finished lily-of-the-valley pincushion!

I finished my pincushion! It turned out super cute. I went with a Rifle & Co. print fabric for the back, and also used it to make a covered button.

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I really like how the embroidery turned out. I found it a little difficult to steel myself to cover up parts of it, since although it didn’t take that long to do, it still was work. But the end result was totally worth it.

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You can see some of the lily disappearing into the seam. 🙂 I really loved this fabric too, I mean most of rifle & co’s prints are great, but the blue-heavy floral made an excellent contrast to the gray & white of the embroidered linen. I only got 1/2 a yard before, but I may have to order some more! Or if anyone knows of simmilar fabrics to recommend…? 

wall quilt & garland

One of the less fun things about being a grad student is the lack of money. This is especially a problem, if like me, you tend to prefer handmade furniture and oil paintings (I know, I know). My dad is a very good woodworker, and has so far indulged me in the desire for very nice furniture, but I’ve had to be a bit more economical with art and decorations. I decided to combine my desire for less-blank walls with my desire to improve my quilting skills, so I’ve been making wall quilts! They’re not exactly my favorite pastoral oils, but they are very cute. 🙂

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This is my first finished one—I made it to hang in my kitchen. I thought that the redwork embroidery looked a bit vintage, and the teacup of course makes it very suitable. I didn’t do a very complicated block, since this was for practice, but I did make sure the cat fabric formed a nice border. I think my hand-quilting has improved somewhat—the stitches are getting a bit more even!

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Once it was done, I thought the wall still looked too blank, so I added a little crochet garland. The stars are very simple, only two rounds, so it went quite fast. I used scraps leftover from the cotton I use for my dishcloths, which luckily I’ve made in a nice variety of blue shades.

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Overall, I’m very happy with this simple decorating! I still have a few more things I’d like to make for my kitchen, and then onto the next room. 😉