The 9×3 Donation Plan

We are really big on donating when ever we can – it helps those in need and it prevents good, usable items from ending up in a landfill. From outgrown clothes and toys, to furniture and household goods that we upgrade or no longer have a use for, pretty much everything is fair game.

As an avid yard saler myself though, I still wanted to be able to hold a yard sale each summer, to offset the costs of vacation or Christmas. So then it occurred to me – we can easily do both, and by default kind of already do. For nine months out of the year, we donate things we don’t need. Then for the three summer months, we save them up for an end-of-summer yard sale – problem solved! We do set aside a few items in the other months if they have a high resale value, like children’s furniture, but for the most part the 9×3 rule works pretty well at our house – if you’ve struggled with balancing charitable donations with making a little extra pocket cash, this may be a solution that works for you as well.

Fair Season

Ah yes, fair season is upon us. Carnival rides, elephant ears, corn dogs, and of course – the home economics competitions. After spending the majority of my life in Chicago (where Cook county does not run a county fair) I am finally living in a county that does. So after years and years of wanting to enter my food in the fair to compete for the coveted blue ribbon, I finally have my chance!

I decided to enter three things this year that have been winners in our household for many seasons – my crumb coffee cake, my pumpkin butter pumpkin bread and blueberry pie.

I’ve got the pumpkin butter cooking down in the crock pot at the moment, but I am procrastinating firing up the oven to do any actual baking as yet – it’s 80 degrees and humid here. I was outside earlier to mulch the vegetable beds with straw, and it was brutal. So I think I’ll wait until the sun goes down before firing it up. But today is the day for baking, hot temps or no – everything needs to be dropped off on Tuesday and the fair starts Wednesday!

The Handmade Outfit

I have been studying up on garment construction and proper tailoring techniques, as it’s a goal of mine to start sewing my own clothes. As much as I have lofty aspirations to wear fancy skirts and dresses every day, the reality is that I’m very much a pants, tank and cardigan kind of woman. And that’s okay – I’m past the age where I’m going to fight my real style and follow the crowd. But that doesn’t mean I have to be frumpy and yuck every day. So, I’ve selected three patterns I’d like to start with.

For pants, I’ve had my eye on the Clover slacks by Colette for years. They can be made in ankle length or capri, but I think my first pair will be capri, since those are great for warmer weather –

Colette Clover

For a top to go with it, a simple camisole fits the bill. This pattern is part of the Great British Sewing Bee series published by The Telegraph newspaper in the UK –

Camisole

And finally – though I’m not sure how well this would pair with the slacks and camisole – a hat. The Rosabelle cloche hat happens to be a free pattern by Wendy Talene on the Sew Mama Sew site, and will be perfect for fall –

Rosabelle hat

I still need to choose fabrics for the pants and hat, but I’ve got a few cottons chosen for the camisole –

fabric

The print on the left is “Snowbird” Laundry Basket Quilts for Moda. I’m not sure what the one on the right is called, but I got them both at my favorite local haberdashery, Material Girl. I have three yards of the Snowbird, which is more than enough for a camisole, but I only have a quarter of a yard of the pink print, since that was all they had left at the time and I couldn’t pass it up. I’m fairly certain I cannot make an appropriate top out a that little fabric, so I’ll probably stretch it by doing a contrasting pink solid band along the bottom.

So.. onward to the breach!

A Quick Kitchen Transformation

Great ideas come straight out of the blue sometimes. This past week on vacation, while lounging in a chair lakeside while Little Man played on the beach, a solution to our horrible cabinet over the peninsula just popped into my head. It had a couple of problems – every time we opened the right side door, it banged into the (ugly-still-need-to-replace-the-shades) pendant lights, and the top two shelves were just an avalanche of poorly organized storage containers and lids.  And about a third of my cookbooks didn’t fit (due to my poor decision to use the cabinet for other stuff) and it was really annoying not to have my cookbooks easily visible, so I could reference what I wanted without too much trouble.

The solution? Just take the doors off! Presto chango, open shelving that solves every one of the previous issues before mentioned. It took me all of five minutes to remove the doors and move the storage containers to another spot (the drawers where some of the left-out cookbooks had been living in). I’m not sure drawers are ultimately the most convenient spot for those, but I’m thrilled with the new storage solution for the cookbooks. I forgot to take a before picture of the mess it was, but the after picture is one I’m pretty happy about –

cookbooks

Hopefully this fall the walls will be painted a jadeite green, the cabinets will be painted an almond color, and the hardware will be switched out. And the pendant lamp shades will be swapped for mason jars. And two long term upgrades will be butcher block counters with a new sink, and a subway tile back splash. So – slowly but surely our kitchen will be just the space we’ve always wanted.

Garden Progress

It’s been a weird season for the garden – we’ve had a lot of rain this year, at weird times. Just coordinating time to work out there and get everything in between the day job and the weather was difficult. But things are beginning to come along nicely, if we did lose a few things along the way. We got the raspberry canes into the back planting bed behind the garage way too late. They’ve never really fully colored up and sprouted new growth, so I’m counting that as a total loss. Same thing for the strawberries. And we never did plant the potato patch, and we only ended up doing a third of the seeds we bought last winter.

But that’s okay – it’s our first year in the house, so there will be more seasons, god willing, in which to get things “right”. Plus, I keep reminding myself that we had to spend significant time and effort actually creating the infrastructure of our vegetable gardens, and we won’t need to reinvent the wheel on that next year. So we can plan, and dive right into the planting.

Quite a few things have worked out though. The orchard hedgerow is growing nicely, and we haven’t have lost any trees, despite some skepticism that the persimmons were essentially dead by the time we planted them. They have all branches and leafed out and seem to be doing well. The blueberry bushes are growing nicely, but they’re crowed in between huge daylilies and the sandbox – we just had to get them in somewhere before they shared the same fate as the raspberries. They will need to be relocated at some point. In the vegetable patch, we have green tomatoes and peppers starting to fruit. The cabbage is tiny and doesn’t seem to want to grow, but we do have some Jacob’s Cattle beans. I’m actually conflicted about the beans – I’ve read and heard that they more you pick, the more they produce, but I was hoping to let them dry on the plant so I could harvest dried beans. So further research needs to occur on that one.

We also have cucumbers, squash, watermelon and pumpkins. They’re all growing decently (though not wildly) except for the pumpkins, which apparently have a growth rate that is slower than pouring molasses. So we’ll see if those amount to anything at all before the season is out.

The real rock stars of this year’s garden are the herb pots on the deck – they are all growing prolifically. I love to go out there and run my hands through them and inhale their amazing scents. The trick will be, as it always is, keeping them alive when we bring them indoors in a few months to overwinter.

So things are growing, but I do need to do a soil test. I have the kit just sitting in a kitchen drawer, which isn’t much helping us understand what our garden needs. We’ve done one application of fertilizer spikes and one of compost tea this season, which seemed to provide the proper encouragement. Our compost pile is still in it’s infancy, and we’ve made some mistakes with it (like tossing in a bunch of evergreen shrub clippings) so we need to get it sorted through and fixed up. We did purchase a compost starter mix to jump start things, but first we have to pull out of all of the verboten things, and I must admit it’s a task I’ve been seriously procrastinating on. But we do need to take care of it, especially as the goal next year is try not purchase any supplemental garden amendments that we can produce ourselves, compost being one.

And we have a day lily problem. They are everywhere on our property. Don’t get me wrong, they’re pretty and I like them alright, but they just get huge and are currently in prime real estate where I’d prefer to have edibles. The blueberry situation is the major case in point. But I think I have a solution for this brewing in my mind. Eventually in the front yard we’d like to have a picket fence, set back from the sidewalk by a foot or two so we can have planting beds on both the inside and the outside of the fence. On the outside, I absolutely want to plant a mixture of things, like snapdragons and spring bulbs. But on the inside – what about moving all of the day lilies? We’ve got more than enough to divide them up and almost do the entire perimeter of the front yard. Then we can still enjoy them, and it would also cut back on the amount of grass we have to tend to in the front, while still leaving a large area for Little Man to play in. And then that frees up the back planting bed near the sandbox and garage to give the blueberries proper room, and put in a proper strawberry bed next season. It may just work.

New Mag Happiness!

For a bookworm like me, magazines can be hard to justify. Usually at five bucks a pop now, it’s not the $1.50 mad money buy at the grocery store like it was when we were kids. And they certainly don’t have the depth of a book – so when you do the math (especially if you’re keen on buying used books or Kindle deals) spending cash on something that’s going to take an hour to read almost seems silly.

But… I do have a soft spot for magazines. Big, giant “news magazine” websites utterly overwhelm me, and with the exception of some of the PBS formats, I avoid news television like the plague – I find it highly sensationalist and low on unbiased content delivery. Magazines may not directly address those issues (and let’s face it – there’s always an agenda – I just want to know who it belongs to) but they do offer something the web and tv can’t offer people like me (the content fatigued). They provide easily digestible information, over a breadth of topics that I wouldn’t normally encounter in my daily navigation through information, in an area that already speaks to my interest. A tidy solution to a very first world problem.

So obviously I kind of feel like a kid in a candy store (or if you were nerdish kid like me, a kid in a bookstore) when a new magazine that speaks to me and isn’t frivolous trash hits the market. I bet it’s killing you that I haven’t mentioned the name yet. I think a little suspense adds to the thrill. Just kidding. It’s Rodale’s Organic Life magazine. It’s a new/old favorite – it was previously known as Organic Gardening, which many of you have likely read. I thumbed through a few issues back in the day, but it never quite made it onto my subscription list, which is reserved for the elite publications – currently I only pay for Saveur (and even then I wait anxiously in the fall for the $5 per year subscription sale on DiscountMags and buy multiple years at the lowest rate – see how economical I am with these things!?). I get a few other B-list mags with rewards points (love RecycleBank for this) like This Old House and Cooking Light. But I try to keep my magazine reading habit under control, because even good things must have limits. But I’m happy to report I’ve got another reliable read on the elite list.

I am loving Organic Life so far, with the two issues they have out (and full disclosure – I did receive them gratis to review). I feel like I need to read and own them all. In addition to gardening, which is still covered in detail, they’ve expanded the content to really encompass the larger lifestyle that gardeners enjoy – cooking, living lightly and economically on the Earth, and appropriate forays into home decor and management, as well as health/beauty/fashion, where it fits in. And they’ve managed to do this without diluting the central message of an organic, well-centered lifestyle. It’s just a natural expansion of where organic gardening leaves off when the produce gets grown and picked, and just becomes a life, lived organically. And I absolutely love the “almanac” section printed on brown paper tucked in the back, with helpful hints and tips for gardening and home management, like the almanacs of yore. If you’re economical about the amount of paper you keep at home and don’t plan to reserve the whole magazines in your library, it’s very easy to tear out the almanac for easy reference.

For the most part, I love the beautiful photographs and the layout. I only have two complaints – some of the text in the sidebars and shorter articles is very tiny and a bit hard to read, and I have pretty average eyesight for a middle-aged lady (Somehow I crossed the bridge to middle-aged mama recently, and that’s the first time I’ve written it out – whew, over that hump! I think I’m okay. I’m glad to have made it here.) At any rate, I really found some of those difficult to get through. The only other “didn’t love it” thing came from the commuter perspective – I usually read magazines on crowded commuter trains to and from work, and some of the sidebars were in thin inch-and-a-half wide paragraphs on the inside margin closest to the spine, in order to showcase the photograph. For those of you that aren’t public transit commuters, this is annoying because one bit of proper etiquette when you’re riding shoulder to shoulder (literally) with thousands of other people on a train or bus is you stay compact to your own space, so you ought to fold back your magazine (or newspaper, or whatever) to single page width so it’s not in someone else’s face and you’re not elbowing them every time you turn a page. So narrow inside margin text isn’t so hot with that. Other than that – it was just the right ratio of long article to sidebars to recipes to photos, and there wasn’t so much advertising in it that I got annoyed or felt like it was a sales pitch in disguise.

I think one of the reasons I like it so much and it’s Saveur-level straight out of the gate is that they landed none other than James Oseland, who is the former Editor-in-Chief of Saveur (and they have all the luck landing genius editors – both Oseland’s predecessor and replacement have also been great). So Rodale got a really good deal in getting such a great Editor at the helm. I have high hopes for it, and am already anxiously awaiting the next issue in my mailbox. It sure makes a two-hour one-way commute tolerable!

Bug Bites & Sun Burns – Summer Home Remedies

Time by the fire pit, watching fireflies, endless hours working on the garden on the quest for the perfect tomato – these are the hallmarks of summer; the things we spend day after winter day dreaming of. We have a selective memory in the dark days of winter. Those halycon summer days are bright and calm and pain-free. There are no bug bites or sun burns in the memories stored away in our minds.

But of course, in the real world, there are. This year is no exception. It’s been rainy and wet here in the midwest, so the mosquitoes and no-see-ums are out in full force. They are a downright nuisance. And when the sun does come out, we’re so unprepared for it that we forget the sunscreen when we head out to enjoy it. Bug bites and sun burns – summer.

So, once you’re hiding out indoors bitten beyond belief and the color of a lobster, what do you do? Of course, I try to think of natural home remedies to give a little relief, and these remedies frequently mean essential oils in our house. I’ve been building a nice library of reference books thanks to the fine folks at Robert Rose Inc. who have been kind enough to send me several excellent volumes for review. The tome I’ve reached for recently to alleviate our summer ailments has been The Complete Aromatherapy & Essential Oil Handbook For Everyday Wellness by Nerys Purchon and Lora Cantele.

It’s a comprehensive encyclopedia of essential oils and how to use them in aromatherapy and topical applications, including both the treatment of specific ailments (listed by type), personal care preparations (like shampoos and soaps), home cleaning recipes and massage blends. But of course in the Remedies section in Part 2, I made a beeline to – you got it – bug bites and sunburns.

The Insect Bite Paste (page 168) is a preparation some of us may remember from our childhoods – I know I certainly do. It’s simply baking soda, a little filtered water, and a drop of lavender essential oil mixed together to form a paste. You can then apply it to the affected skin to help soothe the itchiness and discomfort. I like to use well chilled ingredients when using a paste like this, as that adds to the soothing affect.

For sunburn, lavender is the star again. On page 314, a suggested topical application for sunburn relief is to mix a little aloe vera gel with lavender essential oil, and apply a thin film to the burnt skin. If you have an aloe plant, you can just cut off one of the leaves, slit it open and scrape out the gel – it’s such an easy plant to grow. They thrive in a pot in a sunny window and have minimal water requirements. There’s really no reason not to have one. But a commercial aloe vera gel will do – just be sure to purchase one that is pure aloe vera. Many store-bought gels have added alcohol (not good on burnt skin!), preservatives and fragrances – the last things you want on delicate, injured skin. And of course, well-chilled ingredients make the preparation even more soothing.

So – when summer gets the best of you, consider turning toward a home remedy to find some relief. And I would highly recommend grabbing this book if you need some guidance on recipes to use – for a variety of things.