Garden 2013

It’s amazing how productive you can be when your son wakes you up at 6:30 a.m. We’d planned to spend the morning getting raised beds built for our backyard, and because we were up so early, they were done by 10 a.m. (and we even had pancakes for breakfast for getting our DIY on, too)! We planned to have two plots in the community garden this summer, but realized that even though the community garden is only four blocks away, we just weren’t making the effort to get over there every day and BAM the weeds have taken over our two plots. So instead of stressing about it all summer, I’ve given my plots up so someone on the waiting list who really wants them can have them, and we put in some raised beds in the backyard instead. Much easier to just dash out the door and tend to the plants in the backyard than have to pack up the Peanut, get toys for him, a blanket, etc. to go to the community garden (any other moms notice how getting ready to go anywhere with kids takes about four times as long?).

We decided to put the raised beds around the shed because the shed walls will continue to give off heat from the day even after the sun goes down, and in a place like Montana, we’ll take that season-extending radiant heat for sure.

Shed beforeI bought eight 2×8-foot untreated cedar boards to build the beds (cedar is somewhat rot resistant). We used frame anchors and galvanized nails to put the boards together; the boards we cut in 4-foot and 2-foot lengths to make 2×4-foot beds.

When you lack a sawhorse, improvise.

When you lack a sawhorse, improvise.

Peanut sat on a blanket in the grass playing with toys, newspaper, and tools (got to start those little DIYers young, you know).

Peanut in grass

He also reminded us to do things properly and use the level!

Peanut with level

So by 10 a.m. we had five raised beds (though a friend just surprised us with a bunch more plants — one of the tomatoes he gave us is already 4 feet tall! — so we may need to built another one or two). We put layers of wet newspaper down on top of the grass to kill it (and because newspaper is biodegradable while a lot of weed fabric is not). We filled them with locally made potting soil (organic mix of compost, vermaculite, and perlite) and got to planting seeds!

Raised beds 2I planted two kinds of basil, spinach, red chard, carrots, bush beans, peas, onion sets, and zucchini. We’ll plant tomatoes and garlic tomorrow, and noodle on building a couple more beds or just buying some planters for the other plants.

Raised beds 1After the raised beds were finished, my husband planted to raspberry canes another friend gave us along the fence, where they can keep our neighbor’s lovely lilac bushes company. We still need to mulch them and put some river rocks around the raspberry cane bed, but we’re looking forward to enjoying ripe red berries soon!

Raspberry canesAll in all, a very productive day. I don’t have anywhere near the space I had to garden last year when we lived out in the country (heavy sigh), but on the other hand, I am much more busy this summer with Peanut and the brewery, so I think in the end it’s actually a blessing. We are going to put river rocks around the raised beds as well for decoration (and for when we move… we’re definitely taking our raised beds with us, and since the grass will be dead beneath them, we want to ring the area in stones so it looks like a nice garden bed for whoever lives in this house next).

I am looking forward to enjoying the garden this summer, and am especially excited to involve the Peanut this year. What are you growing your garden? Is it a raised bed garden like mine, or do you have acres at your fingertips?

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Project DIY: Dresser

This week, after trolling Craigslist for a while, I found a $50 antique dresser for sale. I snapped up the dresser and THE SAME DAY sold my old armoire for $75, which was a nice piece of furniture but was also a hand-me-down and just wasn’t my style. So here’s some photos of the dresser. Consider these the “before” shots. I’m planning to sand the dresser, re-stain it a different color, and also line the drawers with some nice paper (using Mod Podge like the last post). My goal is to make it something I will like for a while, but also something I can pass on to my kiddo once my husband and I can actually shell out the clams to buy a matching bedroom set (oh, some day!). So it has to be something I like, but also something not too feminine. The only thing I dislike about the dresser is the diamond accents on the sides. Unfortunately them suckers are GLUED on like that sort of thing is never going out of style. So I need to figure out how to pop them off without ruining the veneer. Any suggestions anybody?

But enough yakking. Here’s the “before” dresser. Stayed tuned for the “after”!

My favorite part of the dresser so far is being able to put by jewelry box and some nice decorative things on top. Couldn’t do that very easily with my armoire because it was so tall.

Brightening my morning, or, fancy labeling of coffee canisters so I don’t drink caffeinated coffee on accident and consequently our son is awake for hours

That might be the world’s longest blog title. Breastfeeding moms out there, I’m sure you understand.

Anyway, this was a quick little project I did to make sure my husband and I don’t confuse our different coffees since the beans are kept in identical canisters. I drink decaf, both because I’m breastfeeding and also because caffeine does weird things to me that don’t bear mentioning on this blog. My husband, the lucky b@stard, drinks caffeinated like a normal person. I suppose the perk for me is that when I absolutely need some caffeine, it actually works!

First I chose two fun papers I had in my stash for the lid tops. I meant for the purple one to go on my canister and the yellow on my husband’s so we could associate the sunny yellow lid with caffeine and the moody, purple lid with decaf, but it turns out the canister lids are not interchangeable between the jars. So until we both run out of coffee and can swap the jars, it’s the opposite for now: my decaf has the yellow lid and Shawn’s the purple.

I traced the circles with a coffee mug. Then I used Mod Podge, which is glorious stuff, to affix the paper circles to the jars. I painted the Mod Podge on the lid, not the paper, with a foam brush (which I quickly rinsed well so I can use it again) After affixing the paper to the lids, I painted over the top of the paper, too, so that if the lids get splashed (they reside near the sink), it won’t ruin the paper. I won’t be scrubbing the lids in the sink any time soon, but at least I can wipe them down and not worry about ruining the paper.

And here’s the finished product!

This was a five-minute project, but it was worth it! It’s the little things in life, you know.

Recent projects: Pear bib

My son needed a new bib. Why? He only had one! It’s a blue and yellow cloth bib that says “Li’l Swede” on it and I wore it when I was a baby. He did have another bib, a plastic camouflage one that a relative gave us, but the plastic/velcro was irritating the back of Jonathan’s neck so we’re trying to use that bib only when traveling (it’s much easier to clean than the cloth bibs). Just like when I made my own makeup bag, I decided that instead of buying something, it would be much more fun to make something myself. An embroidery book I have, Embroidery Companion by Alicia Paulson, had a pattern and design.

I bought just a little blue gingham, which I tried to buy it at the local quilt store, but apparently most places don’t carry gingham anymore. Too old-fashioned. So I had to go to the dreaded Joann’s instead. I avoid Joann’s as much as I can because the fabric that store carries is low quality and because there are never enough people working there so if you need any assistance at all, such as having fabric cut, it takes forever to track some harried employee down. Anyway, I bought blue and red gingham and some pre-quilted cotton fabric for backing. I feel more confident about the gingham from Joann’s because gingham by its definition is woven instead of printed, making it hold up better.

I’m planning to embroider an ear of corn on the red gingham (for our little Cornhusker fan! Go Big Red!), which I’ll be making up myself. But to get started I used the pattern in the book for a pear.

It was a quick cross stitch project. It only took me three days of working on it here and there. Putting the bib together was a cinch and took about 45 minutes. I simply sewed the embroidered gingham square to the pre-quilted cotton, cut out the bib shape, then sewed bias tape around the entire thing. Easy!

And here’s my cutie boy modeling his new bib:

I had so much fun working on this bib, after I complete the ear of corn bib, I’m planning to make a few for friends who are having babies. Aren’t quick little projects like this fun? What are you working on right now?

Recent projects: Crib bumpers

I recently completed a couple of projects I’ve been meaning to do for a while now. I made bumpers for Jonathan’s crib, and also a bib (which I will share in the next post).

I decided to make the bumpers myself after reading this blog post and doing some research on what nice bumpers were likely to cost. For about a quarter of what I would pay to purchase the bumpers, I made my own. They’re not that great, but they’re better than nothing! And we needed something, because our son has a penchant for sticking his feet through the bars of his crib (and consequently his fat little legs get stuck and then he screams bloody murder), and he also scoots around in his sleep so much he kept banging his head against the bars of the crib. Waking up in the middle of the night to a screaming baby is not OK at this point.

I used some fabric I already had on hand (my fabric stockpile has gotten a bit out of hand, and I’m trying to use what I have before buying more… though I did buy gingham for the bib, but more on that in my next post), but picked up some navy blue piping for decoration, navy blue ribbon for the ties, and foam for stiff padding.

After the tedious measuring and fabric cutting stage (every project I do, I swear I hate measuring and cutting just a little bit more), I pinned together the fabric, piping and ribbon. I placed the ribbon at even intervals so there are ties on the ends and in the middle. I did, of course, run out of ribbon at the end, so I have one bumper with five ties on the top and one with four ties, but my baby sure isn’t going to notice something like that. It’s important if you’re making something like this yourself that the ribbon lays INSIDE the fabric, as shown below, as you pin, not the outside, or you’ll end up with the ribbon on the wrong side of the fabric. Though maybe I’m the only person who has to think that sort of thing through. I also use the same color pin (green in this case) to denote where the ribbon was so I sewed extra carefully in those spots. Anybody else give themselves visual clues like that?

I sewed the top (with the piping) and the two sides before inserting the foam and sewing the foam in. I probably should have used buttons instead so I could remove the foam to wash the bumper fabric, but I decided to live on the wild side (a.k.a. I didn’t want to learn how to sew buttons this time around) and sew the foam in. Down the road I’ll inevitably have to wash the bumpers and when I do I’ll plan to wash them on a cold, gentle setting. And keep my fingers crossed. I left about an inch on all sides of the fabric to account not only for seams but also for the width of the foam.

Here are the finished bumpers on Jonathan’s crib:

You can see the top of the crib bumper is actually a pale blue. The one on the bottom matches it. I didn’t have enough of either the pale blue or striped fabric to complete all four bumpers, but I thought the two fabrics went well together and the navy ties and piping help them match. Also, I think these bumpers are neutral enough for a baby girl’s crib in the future (no, I am not prego).

I’m happy to report our days of stuck feet and bumped heads are over. Our little peanut seems to sleeping better at night. Mission accomplished!

 

 

 

Decorating the nursery: A lesson in appreciating what I have

Note to self: Stop looking at pictures of nurseries online. It only upsets you. You can’t paint the walls, you don’t have gorgeous (and ridiculously expensive) furniture and the tiny room also doubles as a guest bedroom (with an already full-to-bursting closet). Stop coveting the giant, beautiful nurseries of folks who obviously have loads of dough. Focus on making this little space beautiful in your own way. And in the end, remember that your baby isn’t even going to notice any of it.

The above has become a bit of a mantra for me. I’m as much of a sucker for the beautiful magazine spreads of nurseries in Pottery Barn as the next pregnant woman (and we’re a little bit nuts, if you hadn’t noticed from your interactions with pregnant women). So even though this is completely a first-world problem (I mean, c’mon, my child will have his own room, which is heated in the winter, and all the modern amenities of life in the developed world), it’s still a buzz-kill to look at those lovely photos and then look at what I’ve got to work with. So mornings like this one, I need to hop off the self-pity train and focus on what really matters (which includes not going into debt!).

I’ve got an 8×10 bedroom. The walls are white (at least that means blank slate and they’re not some hideous maroon or something). There is a closet (but it’s full of storage). Nearly half the room is taken up by our guest bed. I’ve got a small three-drawer white dresser that was my father’s when he was a child. It’s sturdy, even if it could use a coat of paint (and it’s officially winter in Montana, so it’s unlikely to be getting that coat of paint until, oh, June, unless someone would like to let me borrow their garage and a belt sander). The window lets in loads of light.

I’ve got small pictures I’ve collected over the years that I’ve framed, such as a block print of a kingfisher from England, a picture of Highland cows from Scotland and a picture of a steam engine, also from Scotland. I have a framed painting by my grandmother of a barn in a mountain scene. I have a framed print of a yellow lab (little boys are made of puppy dog tails after all…). I have a small print of leafy seadragons (they’re pretty much the coolest animal ever — look ’em up) from the Monterey Bay Aquarium that gives my husband and I no end of delight. We have a couple extra frames from our wedding that we look forward to filling with baby pictures.

I’m making the mobile for above the crib myself. I found a darling pattern online and I’m nearly finished (though I’ve been nearly finished for a month now… time to truly finish it!). I sewed a bunch of little birds that have one fabric for their backs and heads, and another fabric for their stomachs. They will perch on some sticks we picked up near the headwaters of the Missouri. We’ll hang the entire contraption from the ceiling with fishing wire (rated to far stronger than it needs to be because I’m paranoid). I may also wrap ribbon around the fishing wire to spruce it up a bit. Undecided on that bit. It’s things like this when I need to ask myself: What would I look back on and say I enjoyed more? Hours spent scouring websites for the perfect above-crib mobile, or the hours I spent making one myself? As a friend of mine eloquently put it: Babies know love, not brand names and price tags.

We’ve hit a snag on the crib, however. We bought the crib and crib mattress at a garage sale this summer for $40. Unfortunately, the crib did not come with hardware and I stupidly did not get the woman’s phone number to contact her about whether or not she ever uncovered the parts (she was moving). So, we’re a bit bamboozled at how the crib goes together on closer inspection (we figured it would just take furniture screws… how naive). I’ve e-mailed the manufacturer to see if we can order parts, but the crib is probably 10 years old and who knows if the company still makes those parts. Frustrating, and possibly $40 down the drain (though I suppose we could sell what we have on Craigslist to someone who can figure out the assembly). If we can’t get hardware or create our own system with the help of a local hardware store (and it needs to be a good system… I’m not putting my baby in a jerry-rigged crib), it appears I can find another crib for pretty cheap at Target. I breezed through the local maternity store today (you know me and supporting all things local), and well, Target undercuts that store by $400 on cribs. And at this time in my life, that’s going to win out.

Otherwise, things are coming together. I have a great collection of picture books started (mostly from my childhood, and some I’ve recently picked up), and a couple of stuffed animals, too. I also have my baby blanket (well, the third incarnation or so), and a beautiful locally made bamboo blanket (it never loses its fuzzy texture even after lots of washing). I’m sure gifts from my baby shower will round things out. Fingers crossed the cloth diaper package works out! My mother-in-law has sent us a number of outfits (we are set on 0-3 months!). We have a hiking backpack that we plan to get a lot of use out of in the coming summers.

Instead of focusing on how much more beautiful the nursery could be, I’m going to focus on what still needs to be done, all of which is easily completed. Here’s my list (am I missing anything?):

  • Find hardware for and assemble crib, or purchase and assemble new one
  • Finish mobile, hang
  • Hang pictures
  • Launder bedding, blankets, towels, diapers
  • Set up rocking chair (second-hand from my step-mother, but in perfectly serviceable condition)
  • Assemble changing table, get changing supplies ready
  • Find curtains to block out light during daytime naps, hang
  • Acclimate kitties to baby things (no cats in cribs!)

I’ll be sure to post pictures as we get things checked off the list! Oh, and here’s something else to be grateful for: Both my husband and I have an entire month off (last two weeks of December, first two weeks of January) to prep the nursery and enjoy being together, just us.

So, since this is the month of Thanksgiving, it’s time for me to be thankful for what I have, not covetous of what I do not (and frankly do not need). Having less stuff means less stuff to store and less stuff to move. This little boy will be provided for and loved.  And that’s what really matters.

Finishing the projects I’ve begun: It’s harder than it seems!

In our second bedroom (which is ever so slowly becoming a nursery for our baby boy… speaking of baby boy, Oct. 23, which happens to be my first anniversary, we’re T-minus three months!), I have a shelf in our closet piled with fabric and yarn and quilting books and embroidery hoops. Also on those shelves are at least four unfinished projects. And it’s time to start ticking those projects off my list! I’ve got two quilts in various states of done-ness and I’m pondering attempting to sell the finished products. Which I have my doubts about because I’d ideally like $700 each for them. Sounds like a lot, I know, but in each quilt is, oh, $250-$300 worth of fabric, plus the many, many hours I’ve put into the quilts. So folks, frankly, that’s what they’re worth. Maybe I’ll put them up on Etsy and see what happens. Wouldn’t mind the extra money in my pocket, though!

But anyway, two other projects I’ve been working on because they’ve been moved up in priority is a mobile for above the crib and a pillowcase that I will take to the hospital with me. The mobile, which features little stuffed fabric birds perched on sticks, is about halfway done. I’ve got six of the planned eight birds sewn, waiting for stuffing. I need to go stick hunting (yay excuse for a hike! not that I need an excuse…), and then assemble the mobile. It’s going to be bright and lovely and I’m really excited about it. Especially since we can’t paint the room, the colors will help the room feel more like home for our little one.

And I’m proud to report that the pillowcase is done!

Yesterday I spent the afternoon at a friend’s house sewing my fabric together. She was working on a darling trick-or-treat bag for her niece (it looks like a piece of candy corn! so cute!). Needless to say she is a much more competent and much faster sewer than I (and I have major sewing machine envy!), but I completed my pillowcase project. As I said, I plan to take it to the hospital with me when our son is born. I’ve heard from other friends who’ve had children that many of the photos taken of our little family will feature the pillowcase in the background. Plus the pillowcase will add some color and life to what will no doubt be an otherwise pretty sterile, boring environment.

The body of the pillowcase is a plum color with a floral print. The accent is green and the cuff is a pretty teal. And I think it’s lovely! I’m totally into the personalized pillowcases, even if they don’t match the sheets (though luckily, in my case, the pillowcase actually coordinates quite nicely!)

Alas, the pillow project has spurred another project: a pillowcase for my husband. Luckily he’s not big on lurking around fabric stores like I am so maybe if we can avoid being in a fabric store together in the near future, I can focus on finishing all my other projects instead of starting a pillowcase for him with fabric he’ll pick out.

Next project to finish is a quilted stained-glass Christmas tree advent calendar wall hanging. I took a class with my sewing friend and while her tree wall hanging thingy is about ten seconds from complete, mine it woefully just a bunch of fabric scraps pinned together. So that’s next! And hopefully in time for the Christmas season.

Sitting pretty

Several weeks I ago, I picked up four chairs at a consignment store for a reasonable price. The catch: the chairs were in pretty rough condition, having likely never had any love. The stain was chipped and wearing off, and the cushions (that’s a misnomer — the chair seats have no real cushion) have seen far better days. But the chairs have nice curves and beautiful carved roses on the back rest.

So this weekend I refurbished one of the four. The other three will follow, likely one chair at a time. First, I sanded the remaining stain (there wasn’t much) off the chair. I used 150-grit sandpaper and because the stain was in such shabby shape, sanding was a breeze. After sanding, I wiped away the excess dirt and grime with a wet rag.

Since the chairs haven’t been well-cared for, I applied several coats of wood conditioner to moisturize the wood. I used MinWax. Although the pre-stain wood conditioner says it works best when followed with stain, I didn’t have any trouble following with paint.

After the conditioner dried (it’s quick — only ten or fifteen minutes, and less with such dry wood), I applied two coats of latex primer. I did this to ensure the stain won’t bleed through the paint. I allowed the primer to dry for several hours. It was an absolutely beautiful day for painting the chair. The sky was a brilliant blue, it was warm with a slight breeze and hummingbirds zipped past the porch, their wings buzzing madly.

Finally, I painted the chair with Martha Stewart’s Sunken Pool paint. It’s a lovely aqua blue. To make sure the rose design was still visible — a friend commented that if I painted in all the cracks and crevices the design might fade into the rest of the chair — I purposely applied the paint sloppily, allowing the primer and wood to show through. The design has taken on a distressed, antique look. Again, I let the paint dry for several hours.

I have to say, it was painful putting back on the ratty old cushion. The beauty of the body of the chair amplifies just how terrible the cushion really is. Anyway, I plan to add foam and recover the cushion in a pretty fabric. When I get to that (it may take me a while to re-do the rest of the chairs since the one took all day), I’ll make sure to post an update.

A little bit DIY

This is the set of drawers formerly known as the Lincoln Log drawers. I found them hideous. After taking quite a beating in a house full of college boys, I declared to Shawn that we were going to give the drawers a makeover. And boy are we glad we did. We removed the Lincoln Log handles, painted the drawers, stained the top and added new pulls.

Plus the project was an excuse to break out the belt sander. OK, borrow and break out the belt sander. As the saying goes, you don’t need a boat, you need friends with boats. You don’t need a belt sander, just friends with belt sanders. So Shawn sanded the larger surfaces with the belt sander and I followed with 150 grit sandpaper. After sanding, I applied wood conditioner to the top and then stained with MinWax English Chestnut. I primed the drawers and then painted them with a semi-gloss white paint (three coats). The project took about five hours, not including drying time.

Gorgeous! We’re proud that we re-made a set of sturdy drawers rather than going out and trying to buy something. We spent less than $25 on this transformation.