Escape from Cherry Fest

We’re in the midst of the National Cherry Festival here in Traverse City and while I love my annual corn dog (check!) and ferris wheel ride (and elephant ear, ahem) just like the next fair-goer, the traffic and craze and dust and heat and cheese factor of it all gets to me after a few days. The girls and I were in need of a quick escape from it and I remembered there were some hosta gardens about twenty minutes away I’d heard about. People have been telling me about them for several years now, but I hadn’t made it a priority to go see them. And although it wasn’t on my summer list, it’s one of the best times I’ve had this summer.

Cedar Hedge Gardens (no hosta in the name at all!) is really a private home with four acres of Japanese-style gardens for wandering, chimes for listening, gongs for banging and ponds for gazing. It was just what we needed: calm, serene, beautiful. I wanted to take a really long, cool nap under the big trees with the elephantine hosta leaves to shade me. Aaaah.

the tree

For most of the past seven years of marriage, Chris and I have decorated our Norfolk Island pine tree with origami balloon-covered Christmas lights. Chris has been making origami balloon-covered lights for (at least) several decades. So yeah, it’s somewhat of a tradition. This is not one of those new, hipster, DIY projects. This is old school, baby! And now we’ve passed the tradition on to our little birdies. Wren has enjoyed “starting up Merry Christmas!!!” by replacing the balloons that get too smashed in the box and those that are necessitated by a growing tree and a new strand of lights.

Fun fact: apparently having a Norfolk Island pine tree as your Christmas tree is considered “green,” as seen in several magazines lately, but for us, it’s mostly just practical and cheap. Where would we even put a Christmas tree with such a huge tree already living in the house? A couple years when we decided to cut down a $10 Charlie Brown-esque Christmas tree outside of Empire, I swear Norfolk (as we call him) was depressed about it. What’s wrong with me, he wilted. Sniff, sniff. So here’s Norfolk, proud in all his Christmas splendour! Isn’t he handsome?

Designs from the Shed: upcycled feed bags

My mother-in-law gifted me with one of her original, upcycled feed bags this summer and it quickly became my favorite, always-packed beach tote. Aren’t these cool? She makes them out of old animal feed bags, like this one for bird seed, or for horses, goats, bunnies, etc. They have a woven polypropylene (think: durable, easy to clean) exterior and she lines them with vintage fabrics and adds thoughtful details like the bright green rim with yellow ric-rac. Fun!

Here are a few more details…

At this time Judy only takes custom orders for the bags. She will make you a bag based on colors/style/feed bag designs that you like. Contact her through the Designs from the Shed Facebook page.

 

 

the jungle

It doesn’t seem to matter what I do OR neglect to do. My garden seems to turn into a jungle, a tangled mess of green stuff. Last year, I overplanted two small beds. This year, we expanded the garden to take up half the back yard and I actually followed the directions on spacing the seeds and starts that I bought. I only bought four tiny tomato plants, but I’ve lost count of how many we actually have growing now in the garden because at least a couple dozen have sprouted from last year’s compost that we mixed into the soil.

And it’s not just a tomato jungle. See that pumpkin plant? I did not intentionally plant it either, but it’s taken over the south half of the garden. You have to be careful when standing near the garden that its curly tendrils don’t quickly wrap their sticky, prickly selves around your limbs. We have to keep retraining the pumpkin plant to stay in the garden or else it would probably spread across the lawn and happily find its way to the hammock twenty feet away. Crazy stuff! And the weeds? Sigh. They’re back. But you knew that would happen, right?

While the heat wave of 2011 has not mixed well with my psyche and growing belly (and butt), the garden seems to be absolutely thrilled. So at least one of us is happy with it.

How’s your garden growing this year, lovelies? What have you been able to harvest where you live?

the new line

My sister-in-law, Emily, gave us an outdoor drying rack late last summer and we’ve finally found the perfect home for it. Confession! Although I really wanted one, I’ve never really used one so let’s just say I’m still learning. Further proof that I’m a complete dork: I actually Googled “how to hang clothes on a line” because there is probably a correct way to efficiently do it, right? Sure enough, 55,600,000 results popped up. This actually made me feel a bit better about my dork status. A bit.

Fun facts I ran across in Cyberspace about line drying:

  • According to the NYT, clotheslines are banned or restricted by many of the roughly 300,000 homeowners’ associations that set rules for some 60 million people. Yikes, Big Brother, yikes.
  • Most households can save more than $25 off their monthly electric bill. Nice!
  • You can reduce the full lifecycle climate change impact of your jeans by up to 50 percent by line drying and washing them in cold water.

More fun facts and reasons to line dry can be found here.

I think clothes on a line are just beautiful and I’d like to see more of it. But not your dirty old stained underwear, thank you very much. What are your thoughts on drying clothes on a line? Do you have a method or routine you follow? I’d like to know!

 

 

 

 

Wren’s Play Kitchen!

I’m very excited to share this project with you, lovelies! I spotted the (ugly-as-sin) nightstand in a nearby alley well over a year ago with heartfelt intentions to make it over into a play kitchen for the little birdie that very day. I saw other DIY play kitchens like this by Vintage Songbird and this one by Vicki Howell made from old nightstands and was inspired to make one for Wren.

Chris snagged it for me, dragged it home and then it lived in our basement, awaiting a transformation. It waited and waited. What a patient nightstand! It was going to be a 1st birthday gift, then it was going to be a Christmas gift, and now (finally!) a 2nd birthday gift. Yahoo!

Here are some images and a few notes on the process…

First I hauled the nightstand outside and sanded everything down so the paint would adhere better then the real work began on making the piece of junk great alley find look like a kitchen.

Everything AND the kitchen sink. I found an old metal dog bowl at Goodwill for $.99: perfect for a little sink and perfect for the wallet too. Chris cut out the hole for me after I tried and failed to do it myself.  Meanwhile I sawed off the front of one of the drawers and discarded the other pieces. Then I spray-painted the wood pieces for the burners, knobs and faucet. The faucet is just an upside-down “J” that I saw on other play kitchens.

Then I painted the whole nightstand with about three coats of white paint. I hand-painted the burner coils with a Sharpie paint pen. Then glued them on to the cooktop area with some handy Gorilla Glue. That stuff rocks! I also screwed on a little coat hook on the side for a hot pad and oven mitt (on clearance at Michael’s for $.99, yesssss).

Next up, the backsplash. I painted the backsplash tiles orange, white and green. These are just simple $.29 wood craft tiles that were easy to adhere with the glue to the plywood board we attached to the back of the kitchen. I still want to add a shelf to the back of it because it looks a bit naked, but I haven’t done that yet.

I don’t have photos of the entire process because it was LATE the night before Wren’s birthday and it caused a near-divorce situation as I begged Chris to help me with “just a few quick things,” which of course turned into more than a few things. He was already really tired from installing our new fence, working all day and then I threw him his list, which included installing the hinges, installing the little cabinet magnet so the “oven door” would more easily stay closed, screwing on the handle, screwing on the knobs so they turned (washers!) and screwing on the faucet. Meanwhile I sewed the little curtains and fed them on a dowel, touched up paint and tried to stay out of harm’s way… Let’s just say it wasn’t a very pretty scene.

BUT. I think it was all worth it when the little birdie came down in the morning to greet her new kitchen. The funny thing is that she just got right to work, like she knew exactly what to do. Grabbed the tea pot, filled it up with water and served it up. Put the oven mitt on and checked on the pizza in the oven!

Day two and the party continues! Apparently, popcorn is a popular thing to cook…

Thankfully the little birdie loves her new kitchen and we’re proud of it too. The irony is that Wren’s kitchen is the best part of the entire kitchen. Case in point, Wren has an oven. Our oven hasn’t even made it into the kitchen yet! We’re still using our old one in the basement. Yeah, that’s convenient. Ahem. This project has inspired me to tackle the REAL kitchen, but where to begin?!

What kind of projects are you tackling these days, lovelies? What has inspired you to get moving on them? Do you need a deadline too? Ahh, to be only human.

for the love of compost

Trudging through deep snow to dump some egg shells, vegetable scraps and coffee grounds into the compost bin seems like an awfully silly activity when the needle hovers under freezing. But it pains me to throw vegetable scraps in the garbage even when I know it’s too cold for them to break down in the bin. So I ignore my brain and listen to my heart, which is fueled on hope. Depositing the rotting remains is a hopeful task, unlike sweeping the floor or cleaning the dishes. Hopeless drudgery. As soon as I finish, they need to be done again. And then again. And again. Sigh. I am trying to work on my attitude toward cleaning, but I’m not making much progress, can you tell? But! Taking care of the compost? A bit of work now for a luscious garden later. So worth it, don’t you think?

A pile of stinky garbage to some and the ingredients for something fantastic to another. There is beauty in these remains, no?

on green

I’m really excited about this: my entry into Goodwill’s Reinvention Convention! In exchange for a $20 donation to Goodwill this past summer, I received certificates to spend at our local Goodwill store on whatever I wanted. Like a mini shopping spree with the idea in mind that I would upcycle my finds into something. What fun! And it’s all for a good cause. The finished pieces will be on display this coming Friday, October 8 at a gallery in downtown Traverse City. Everything is for sale and all the sales benefit Goodwill. Isn’t this cool? And here’s where you come in, dear readers. You get to vote for the winner! The catch is that each vote costs $1 and you can vote as many times as you like. Yes, that’s right, it’s a popularity contest. Sort of. Another fun thing is that you can vote online here. Now! When you vote online, the minimum donation is $10 (10 votes) so vote early and vote often. Please and thank you!

So here’s what I did. I bought a bunch of old t-shirts and then cut them up. Then for about two months I stared at the pile of them, not exactly sure what I would do with them. As you can see, Wren was a big help. Eventually I decided to create an abstract meditation on the color green. Chris thinks the piece (almost finished!) reminds him of an aerial view of fields, which wasn’t my intention, but I can see that. What do you think? I’m going to deliver the finished piece this week. Yahoo!

So when you go online to vote (please and thank you), click on the picture of the pile of t-shirts, which is on the first page of the artists. I think when you hover over the photo, my name (Ashlea Walter) shows up. I believe you can vote through this coming weekend and if you happen to be in Traverse City, come on downtown and check it out!

Can’t wait to see what everyone has done with their stuff. I will take photos of the pieces on Friday night and show you some of my favorites… woot woot!

Have you voted yet?