Wednesday, April 29, 2009

100% Cotton

Week of April 19 through 25

The Husband and I celebrated our second wedding anniversary this week. As trite and cliched as it sounds, it is hard to believe that another year has passed.

The year since our first anniversary has been an exciting year for us. We bought and moved into our first house this year. The Husband is going to want to be technical about this (engineers, sheesh) and technically we moved into our house right before our first anniversary. April 2008 was a big month for us, and everything mushed together in my brain. We definitely made our house a home this year, so I'm going to count that. In July we travelled to Chicago with my parents for a fun vaction on the Magnificent Mile. We survived Hurricane Ike in August with no damage to our house, but were without power for three weeks. In October, The Husband earned a promotion that meant a little less international travel for him and a lot more responsibility. We hosted our families for Christmas for the first time in December. Then, in January, we celebrated The Husband's parents' 30th wedding anniversary at Disney World on a jam-packed whirlwind trip. In February, we skiied Colorado with some friends. I need a nap.

The Husband returned from his business trip just in time to celebrate this year together. He prepared a delicious anniversary dinner for us. Steak with blue cheese sauce, fresh baby green salad with homemade dressing and celery root mashed potatoes. Delectable. We drank the same wines that we had at our wedding reception and caught up with each other over our romantic dinner for two. Are you gagging at the adorableness yet?

Because the second anniversary gift is traditionally cotton, I set the table with cotton linens and used a cluster of cotton bolls as the centerpiece. I also wrapped The Husband's gifts in cotton chambray and tied cotton bolls into the bows. I think I just threw up in my mouth a little, because I am just too precious.

After our wonderful dinner, The Husband and I opened cards and gifts from our family, and then exchanged our gifts to each other. I gave The Husband 100% cotton terry shop towels and a stacked dado set for his table saw. I am expecting many home improvement projects to commence with these new tools. The Husband is expecting to purchase many more tools to go with these new tools. Somehow the desire to buy new tools is fueled by having just bought a new tool. I think tool manufacturers include a special testosterone activator inside each tool case that turns DIYers into tool addicts. They call it crack. And then you have to buy crack filler, a spackle knife, sandpaper and paint to fix the problem.

The Husband gave me a "clean cotton" scented candle (he's too cute!) and a new cotton quilt* for our bed.

Did I mention that we ate cake? We had cake. It was good cake. REALLY good cake. I recommend cake to anyone. For anything. I ordered an anniversary cake from the same fantastically gifted woman who made our wedding cake. It was divine, and the perfect ending to a perfect anniversary celebration.

*I have no picture of the beautiful quilt from the Husband because I was distracted by CAKE.

Around Our House Next Week: Lots of cleaning and a little sewing, maybe some closet shelf installation (please hubby please?!)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

First Fruits of Our Labor

Week of April 12 through 18

This has been a very exciting week in our garden. Our plants have made little baby fruit! I was so happy to see the tiny tomatoes and itty-bitty squash that I momentarily forgot about my aversion to all things squash related. I continue to be amazed by the growth of our garden. Over the course of only three days the plants produced these little fruit-lings. It is truly miraculous!

I am also astounded by the resilience of our plants. A few weeks ago, when the weather was not cooperating with our gardening efforts, I thought that my herb sprouts had been murdered by a freak hail storm. After their senseless demise, I continued to water the entire tray of herbs (mostly because the spray from the hose is impossible to control) and this week, I noticed brand new chive and rosemary sprouts coming up in my herb garden. (They're hard to see, but the teensy sprouts are on the far right.)

Our citrus trees are also thriving, and the lone lemon The Husband left on our lemon tree continues to grow larger. Before he left, The Husband scolded me for touching his prized lemon. Apparently, touching it could cause it to fall off of the tree. But it is so cute! And I look with my eyes and my hands!

We have been very fortunate in the past few weeks to receive a good number of April showers. The steady rainfall has been enormously beneficial to our garden, and to our water bill. It rained most of Easter Sunday, which was great for the plants, but not so great for The Husband, who had to sit on the runway for two hours before the weather cleared enough for his plane to take off. I know he will be happy to come home from his business trip and see the progress the garden has made in his absence.

Around Our House Next Week: The Husband Comes Home and The Cotton Anniversary

Thursday, April 16, 2009

That's The Spirit!

Week of April 4 through 11

I received my first sewing machine for Christmas when I was six. It was a child-sized Singer that sewed a chain stitch, and it was my mom's when she was a little girl. I tried to make an apron from a panel pattern, and I got so discouraged when it didn't go together perfectly, that I quit half-way through. Even as a child I was a fuss-bucket.

My mom didn't give up on teaching me how to sew. Bless her heart, I would get so frustrated when she was trying to teach me a technique, it's a wonder she could stand to be in the same room with me. I wanted everything to be impeccable the first time I put it together, and when it wasn't, I became impatient with the whole process. (Hard to believe, right?) Life is difficult when one is meticulous and impatient at the same time, and I handled this conflict in my disposition with as much grace as a drunk girl applying mascara. While riding a mechanical bull.

I would whine and complain about every single step. Pin, iron, clip, pin, iron, clip - it was all so tedious - the pinning! the sewing! the breathing! Eventually, my mom managed to convince me that the pinning! and the sewing! and the clipping! were all necessary steps that actually made the garment come out neatly at the end instead of time-wasters concocted by evil pattern manufacturers to torture restless children who were learning to sew. That was when my love affair with sewing began - when I finally forgave the pattern zealots for their cruel inside-joke.

I have recently become obsessed with fashioning apparel. Like over-the-top, check-out-sewing-blogs-every-day kind of obsessed. I have periodically been captivated by almost every facet of sewing. Right after I was given my embroidery machine, I really enjoyed embellishing purchased things and making table linens and other home decor items. Now, I have a renewed interest in making clothes from a pattern.

Most recently, I made a Game Day Dress for my sister-in-law. Game Day Dresses are the new big thing to wear on campus at A&M - to football games and other Aggie events. She mentioned to me some time ago that she would like to have one, and since she just earned her Aggie Ring, I thought that a dress with a little Aggie Spirit would be the perfect congratulatory gift.

I seriously wish I had thought of the Game Day Dress when I was in school. The idea is so simple! The bodice and skirt are made from screen printed t-shirts. So comfy, so cute and so many options.

Photo Credit: Scott Johnsgard

I was having trouble envisioning how to cut the t-shirt so that it provided enough coverage and support, so I looked online for a pattern similar to the style of dress my sister-in-law wanted. I found a great open-source pattern at Burda Style that I knew I would be able to easily alter. And alter I did. The original skirt only measured 17 inches long! I guess it was designed for toddlers wishing to emulate Kim Kardashian.

I made the bodice of the Game Day Dress from a 2XL t-shirt (the larger size allowed me to center the emblem). The skirt is made from stretch jersey. I added almost a foot in length to the skirt, and at the last minute I decided the dress needed a ruffle. Those toddlers are so jealous.

During my seamstress training, my mom and I identified an incontrovertible curse surrounding projects that we undertake. During the course of any given project, we will either step on a pin or burn ourselves with the iron - or both if the project is especially bedeviled. That, and every project, no matter how small, will take at least four hours and three trips to the store. This project was no different. The curse lives, and it extends itself through marriage. The Husband and I went to four different stores to find just the right t-shirt and the perfect shade of green jersey knit. Then, while reaching for some pins, I ran my wrist across the hot iron.

I am so glad that my mom didn't give up on me when I had such a bad attitude about learning to sew. Through all of the arguments over who should thread the needle, and all of the laughing fits over wonky stitching I learned a skill that continues to provide me with hours of enjoyment. It is rewarding and creative and calming. My mom and I formed a bond because she shared her talent with me. And I have the burn scars to prove it.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

With Silver Bells and Cockle Shells

Week of April 5 through 11

Our garden is thriving! Everything is growing steadily and becoming so lush.

We've seen even more tomato blooms appear this week, so it won't be long now before we see some tomatoes. The tomato plants seem to like their expertly crafted cages - and Gizmo likes the tomatoes. At least she's laying in the garden instead of pooping in it. The cats seem to think we built them a 6x6 foot litter box, just because we love them that much.

Growing up, my dad always planted 5 or 6 squash plants, and each plant would produce at least six squash. We would eat squash for weeks. Squash casserole, squash pancakes, squash stir fry, buttered squash - you name it, my mom could add squash to it. I don't dislike squash, but I don't like it enough to include it in every meal. I was excited to see the first squash blossom this week, but that bloom also gave me a sense of foreboding about what my diet will consist of when it turns into a big yellow crookneck. And I don't know how to make squash cupcakes.

My grandparents have a huge garden with an entire row dedicated to blackberries. When we would go to visit, we would spend hours in the hot sun, amongst the fire ants, picking buckets of berries. Well, picking and eating. Pick one, eat three, because we couldn't resist them right off the vine - plump and delicious with just the right combination of tart and sweet. They were black gold, and we always wanted to hoard as many as we could in the freezer so we could have blackberry pie all year round. When we decided that we wanted blackberries in our garden, I knew that the plants had to come from my grandparent's garden. My dad cut some canes from their plants, and while The Parents were here for Easter weekend, he planted them for us in our backyard. (I put him to work again, trimming our trees and pruning our azaleas, he's never going to want to come visit if he has to work for his room and board!) We won't get any berries this year, but they will definitely be worth the wait.

The herbs are also coming along. I'm dreaming of the day when I can make a caprese salad with basil and tomatoes from my own garden. All I need is a cow to milk so I can make some mozzarella. Maybe next year.

Around Our House next week: While the Husband's Away The Wife Will Play (in the craft room!)

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Husband's Busy Weekend

Man it's been a while since I posted here! I have to commend the wife for being much more on top of things around here than I have. Since I'll soon be leaving for a 2 week project in Mexico, I a) needed to get around to posting my thoughts before fleeing the country for 2 weeks and b) wanted to talk about everything that has gone on around the house as I prepared to leave.

Last weekend began with a long list of things to accomplish prior to leaving for Mexico. Number 1 on the list was putting out my late spring application of fertilizer along with some fungicide to treat the lawn. We have several spots that have started yellowing and weakening, showing signs of a Take-All patch infection in the lawn. It's pretty hard to treat, but hopefully the fungicide will help keep it at bay. In light of this, I opted for an organic fertilizer this year because synthetic fertilizers tend to inhibit the beneficial fungi and bacterium in the soil that can help fight off Take-All patch. But man does that stuff smell!!! The fertilizer is comprised of kelp meal, humates, pasteurized poultry manure (hence the slight odor), molasses, and greensand. Our yard smelled like a chicken farm for a few days to say the least, but hopefully it will help green up the lawn and improve the organic matter in our soil.

The next big task on the list was planting the avocado tree. With all danger of frost in our area past (except for that 40° night this week, it's April for goodness sake), it was time to put the tree in the ground. It proved to be no easy task to say the least. Our soil is made up of such thick clay, you can't just dig a hole, plop the tree in, and cover it back up. I started out digging a hole 3' in diameter and about 12” deep. All of the soil I had removed from the hole was placed onto sheets of plywood so it could be easily mixed with some soil amendments. Were I to plant the tree using the existing soil, its roots would not be able to penetrate the clay. On the other hand, if I planted it with nice, fluffy soil, it would spread through the nice soil, and again get stopped once it reached the clay. It would be kind of like planting it in a clay bowl in the ground. So, the plan is to use the existing soil, add some higher quality planting soil with organic matter (in this case, citrus mix I purchased with the tree), and some sand to promote drainage in the area. This will give the tree an area that it can grow in and acclimate to our soil conditions, and hopefully grow into a great big avocado machine.

Finishing the hole and mixing the soil...

...laying the first layer of dirt and putting the tree in place... it off with a little mulch, and voila, a lean, green, avocado machine!

The last big task for the weekend was to build cages for our tomatoes. We wanted something a little nicer looking than your standard wire cage, so these are built out of wood. Lowe's actually had these bundles of six tomato stakes that were pretty cheap, so I grabbed an armful and proceeded to chop them up and nail them together to form the cages. A few hours (and one errant nail to the thumb) later, we now have three sturdy cages capable of supporting our thriving tomato crop. Well, mostly thriving. The two Celebrity's are coming up nice and strong. My heirloom tomato, an Anna Russian, got a late start after its top was broken on the drive home from the garden center, but it is finally starting to catch up. By the time I return from my trip, things should be growing up nicely.

Yes, there is a tomato on the left, it's just a little behind.

And finally, something a bit interesting to leave you with. It was getting kind of late by the time I had chance to finish up, when I noticed something strange. It turns out at all of the beans seem to go to “sleep” at night, with their leaves folding down as the sun goes down. I had never witnessed this before, and had to snap a picture. Then it was time to go celebrate the end of a hard day's work. That's all for now, see you in a few weeks!

Sleepy little beans.

What a way to end the day!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Hopping Down The Bunny Trail

Week of March 29 through April 4

I always look forward to decorating for Easter, or for anything really, and this year was no exception. I haven't decorated for the Easter holiday in three years. Two years ago, rabbits and eggs didn't seem as important as packing for our wedding in Hawaii. Last year, around the bunny holiday, I was hosting a bachelorette party for a friend, we were closing on our house, and then we were moving. Pulling decorations out of a box, while packing the rest of our stuff into boxes didn't make much sense. Since I had forgotten what most of my Easter trinkets looked like, everything I unpacked was a surprise, which made decorating even more fun this year.

Some surprises, however, were not pleasant. I was particularly dismayed by some of the decorations I thought were cute three years ago. A stuffed rabbit on a spring sprayed with glitter was not one of my most savvy purchases. Plastic eggs strung on twinkle lights don't really create Easter ambiance, either. In my defense, these particular atrocities were purchased in college, when I had no money, and apparently no taste. Cheap and cute are mutually exclusive. There's no excuse for the cutout foam rabbits I bought this year, though. And those are glittered, too.

I've found that holiday decorating in this house is a bit of a challenge. Easter was especially bothersome because our color palette doesn't coordinate well with pastels. Combine the color issues and the tacky junk I found in my (fastidiously labeled) Easter box, and I was ready to give up and decorate for Christmas instead.

One decoration that made the cut was my tin bunny door decoration. He was a bit small on his own, so I revamped his style by tying him to a wreath and adding an egg garland. I'm not entirely happy about the bow - but I have promised myself not to buy any more ribbon until my entire collection can fit into one drawer in my craft room. One very large drawer. Yellow will have to do. For now.

Three papier-mache eggs from Germany (via Williams Sonoma) sit on our coffee table in our living room. These were a post-Easter sale find from last year. They arrived at our old house in the midst of moving and, in the hubbub of packing, I never opened the box. I was delighted when I finally opened them this week and remembered why I liked them so much. Easter decorations in deep colors are hard to come by. And my German heritage makes me a sucker for anything from the "home land."

My small collection of vintage children's books about bunnies sits on our secretary desk in the living room. The book on top is marked $.39 and is filled with the most precious illustrations. The Peter Rabbit book underneath is my oldest; circa 1932.

I found this bowl at an antiques store after Christmas filled with discarded glittered ornaments. (It has been established that I am a sucker for anything covered in glitter.) I am always scouring post-holiday sales for decorations that have been passed over, and when I find the perfect thing, I pounce, regardless of the time of year. Though this bowl lacks the all-important glitter element, I love the vintage look. My parents brought us the tiny bunny couple from Vienna, and their little baskets are filled with real reeds.

Our kitchen table is home to rabbits under glass. The exhibit illustrates the human condition. This art installment will be on display through the end of April. I don't really get art. (Actually, I put all of my stuffed bunnies in my apothecary jar to carry them downstairs, and then liked how it looked.)

The most important part of our Easter decoration is, of course, the dining room table, where our family will share Easter dinner together. I used our Easter tree as the centerpiece, covered with old and new Easter ornaments. On the table, on either side of the tree, are the beginnings of my vintage Easter toy collection. I know there are lots of vintage Easter basket goodies out there, just waiting to be found.

The table is set with an assortment of dishes and glassware. I love to mix-and-match place settings to create an eclectic table, so I used a combination of polka dotted and striped dishes, along with my china and accent plates. The flatware is my silver; originally my great-grandmother's handed down to my grandmother (Tata) and then given to me on my 21st birthday. The glassware is a combination of hand-painted balloon wineglasses and paper thin crystal. The crystal glasses were also given to me by my Tata, and the delicate etching matches the rosepoint pattern of the silver. This will be the first time I have used these glasses since receiving them as a wedding gift.

Hippity Hoppity Easter's on its way! We are so excited to be hosting Easter at our house this year. The Husband has to leave on Sunday for a business trip to Mexico, so we will be having Easter dinner on Saturday with all of the family. Our house is in between my parents and The Husband's parents, so we like to host as many get-togethers as we can here in the middle. Lots of room for family was one of the reasons we bought this house, after all. Having our family over to our house also means I get to plan a party, try new recipes and get out all of my fun dishes for entertaining. The meticulous planner in me loves it. All of my favorite things together: family, food and fancy dishes! Happy Easter!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Eggs-ellent Progress

Week of March 29 through April 4

After four weeks of nail-bitingly slow, almost imperceptible growth, my tiny egg plants have finally bloomed! I doubted that the little sprouts would ever grow into the flowering plants that the egg packaging promised. (My issues with plant patience aside, that packaging has been known to lie.) But then, in the last few days of March, the eggs exploded with growth, almost if they knew about their Easter deadline.

April Fools!

The thread-like sprouts in the eggs were growing nowhere fast. I hadn't seen any further development in the last two weeks so I gave up on them, cute as they were. Instead of waiting for a flower that may never have come, I planted each egg with a nicely established, grown-by-someone-with-patience, flowering plant, and left the discarded seeds and filler to their own devices in a small pot in the backyard. I will be happy to claim my "Seedling Nurturer of the Year" award as soon as the trophy cup is ready. As long as I'm not required to grow anything in it.

The eggs could not be persuaded into blooming, no matter how much I babied them. The tomato plants, on the other hand, have literally blossomed in the last week, without much coaxing from us. The age old argument of Nature vs. Nurture wages on.

Our garden continues to flourish, and recently we've noticed quite a few bees buzzing around our little plot. All of the plants have added new leaves, and I noticed what looked like the beginnings of buds on the bell peppers.

When we transplanted our herbs from their peat pellets to the larger soil squares I wasn't sure which tiny sprout was which because they all looked the same. In the last week, I have watched as the baby leaves have grown into more recognizable herb leaf shapes. Now, by process of elimination, I can definitively say that the few tiny chive and rosemary sprouts that we transplanted were fatalities of The Freak Hailstorm of 2009. Our parsley and basil have bounced back from their hail beating, and seem to be thriving despite the adversity of losing their closest friends.

This week we added a new plant to our growing botanical repertoire. The Husband is a total sucker for coupons (and commercials on the radio, for that matter... and gardening) so when we received a 20% off coupon to our local garden center it was nearly impossible to keep him from leaving a trail of drool from our front door to the nursery. We decided on a hot red camellia because it is the only flowering plant that will thrive in the shade of our front porch, and we're running out of places to put new plants. It should bloom red in the fall, to match our front door.

Around Our House Next Week: Dressmaking and Easter dinner