Tuesday, 30 April 2013

First Spring Harvest


There is fresh snow on the ground, and the wind feels like ice.  Yet today, I harvested from my garden.  the chives were about 2 to 4 inches long, and just right to add to the chicken soup I have simmering on the stove.  As I dashed outside to cut these, I noticed my garlic chives are coming up too.

Last year, I was not a very good gardener.  I didn't weed nearly as much as I should have, and several of my flower beds went wild.  One is nearly full of grass among clumps of clay, and another has been overtaken by wild snapdragons.  I'm determined to get them under control this year!  If only the weather would let me spend more time outside.  Warmer days are coming soon.  I don't have major plans to add things to the garden, but I've compiled a list of things I'd like to do this year.

  1. Take care of the front yard grass (to reduce weeds, etc).  It was downright disgraceful at times last year.
  2. Completely plant and mulch the island bed in the front yard.  I'm sure any accomplished gardeners in the neighbourhood take one look at it and know that I have no clue what I'm doing.  That's the one with the snapdragons.
  3. Dig out the grass in the backyard bed, and add landscape fabric and mulch around the shrubs, hostas, feather grass, and lilies that currently inhabit it.
  4. Plant another blueberry bush if necessary (I've been told that if I only have one, it won't make fruit...is that true?)
  5. Replant annual herbs and tomatoes.
  6. Dig out dead lilacs that have never flowered anyway.  Maybe plant something else in that corner.
  7. Weed and mulch rose garden (I call it a rose garden, but really, it's just three rose bushes in a little half-moon-shaped bed.)
This year I get to help my husband's grandma with her planting.  She has an amazing garden.  Perhaps I'll learn some things from her.

What's on your outdoor to-do list this year?

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Rescued


Last night. Driving on the highway with my daughter in the back seat.  Suddenly, I had a hard time keeping the van from swerving.  At first I thought it was the strong winds we'd been having that day (that flipped over a semi on another highway).  But then the "tire reset" warning turned on (which is a common occurrence for our van since the tire pressure fluctuates with the weather).  I pulled over, thinking I could pump up the tires and/or call my husband, who was also driving home from the same place at the same time.

Turns out, I did not have my cell phone.  And I did not have the air pump (plugs into the lighter...best anti-damsel-in-distress invention ever!)  And a thunderstorm had been threatening all evening.  Before I could even realise the extent of my plight, my knight in shining armour (aka, husband in a dusty Dodge) pulled up behind me.  With the air pump.

Lucky me.  TWO tires were flat.

Friday, 26 April 2013

Pin-tertaining

After a good year or two of never having anyone over for dinner except close family, we invited some friends over tonight.  My van was in the shop all day so I couldn't go anywhere.  So I had to come up with a menu using what I have.

Lucky for me, my friend was bringing an avocado tomato bacon pasta salad. (and what a salad! So delicious!)
Creamy Bacon Tomato and Avocado Pasta Salad
photo source
I had some pork tenderloin in the freezer, the only kind of meat we had enough of.  It's too bad my barbecue isn't quite working, because it's best when grilled.  I looked through my Food board on Pinterest and found a slow-cooker recipe I could adapt for the oven.  My slow-cooker is tiny, and I didn't have enough time for that anyway.  I added some coconut rice and cucumber spears to the menu, and the meal was set!

Brown Sugar and Balsamic Glazed Pork Loin
photo source
One of the things I always forget to plan for when we have company is dessert.  I was determined not to forget about that this time.  I found, buried on my Pinterest board, a recipe for Lemon Bliss Cake.  I had pinned it ages ago, and once even bought lemons in order to make it.  At that time I realised I didn't have a bundt pan.  Later I bought a bundt pan, but forgot about the recipe until now.  It just so happened that I had a lemon and a half in the fridge.  It was meant to be.
Recipe photo
photo source

The cake turned out beautifully, in spite of having the shop call to tell me my van was ready half-way through the cake baking time.  I barely had enough time to finish baking and glazing the cake, take the shuttle to the dealership, drive home, finish cleaning up, and cook supper.  I was just putting on my lipstick when our guests arrived.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Do Something! Update (The Red Lipstick Edition)


I don't really feel like I've had much to post about this past week or so.  Everything is so small on its own, and not really worth a post of its own.  So here's a run-down of what I've been doing:

1. My husband turns 32 today.  I was an awful wife and forgot to wish him happy birthday this morning as he was leaving for work.  In my defense, I was still mostly asleep.  Then I had the kids call him while we were heading to the grocery store, but couldn't talk myself because I was driving.  So he called me at 2:30 with a well-deserved guilt trip.  I, who believe feeling special on birthdays is IMPORTANT, failed to make the most important person in my life feel special on his birthday.  I hope I can make it up to him when he gets home from work

2. This is day three of Red Lipstick Week!  So far it is going well.  Sunday I paired my red lips with a pretty yellow shirt, brown dress pants, and flats.  Monday was cleaning day, so I wore yoga pants and a stained t-shirt.  I also had an unplanned but definitely welcome visitor in the morning and didn't leave myself enough time to change before picking up my daughter from school.  So I threw on a denim jacket and a scarf to dress it up a little.  Tuesday was jeans, Chucks, and a t-shirt...but it's a blinged-out t-shirt, so I thought the red lipstick worked well.

photo credit: my 5-year-old.

photo credit: my tripod and timer

3. I'm working on a How to Design an Apron (Without a Pattern) tutorial...who knows when I will get it finished.

4. I've been keeping up with my housekeeping routines for the most part.  Sunday was a bit chaotic (because I started sewing the aprons on the weekend), but I was able to catch up a bit on Monday.  Even to washing my dishes at 9:45 pm after returning home from bible study and putting the kids to bed.  It's so much nicer to wake up to a clean-ish kitchen than one full of dirty dishes!  It took me less than 10 minutes to wash, dry, and put away.

5. After about two years of excessive use, I figured it was about time to polish up my faithful favourite boots.  I used mink oil and they look almost new. (Before on the right, After on the left).


6. As seen by the yellow, patched walls in one of the above photos, I am preparing to paint our master bedroom and closet.  Probably while wearing red lipstick.


pleated poppy

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Red Lipstick Week


As I've said before, I love my red lipstick.  But I've been too chicken to wear it.  So I set myself a challenge.  I am going to wear my red lipstick every single day this week, no matter where I'm going or what I'm doing.  My husband isn't particularly pleased since he says it's too bright.  I must admit that It will take some getting used to for me too.  I'd love it if you would join me for Red Lipstick Week!  It doesn't even have to be red.  Is there something you've been wanting to wear on your lips (or your face, like coloured eye-shadow) that you've been too afraid to try?  If so, do it this week!  Blog about it, and send me the link.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Hunting the Housekeeping Fairies

housekeeping, cleaning, flylady,

I grew up in a house full of stuff.  In the 10.5 years of my marriage, I have been battling my history with stuff. I've been more successful some years than others.  Part of that battle has been trying and failing to figure out how to keep my house clean.  I did ok before I had kids, doing most of the cleaning on Saturday mornings.  But of course kids throw everything out the window (sometimes literally).  When we had our last house staged for selling, I think I burned myself out keeping it spotless every day.  Once it sold and the packing started, I let every kind of cleaning routine go, and haven't yet figured out how to start again.

So in one of my attempts to get organised as a mom and housewife was to make a household binder.  The moms' group I attend had a craft day to decorate and put together household binders.  This is the one I made (the "leather" is brown kraft paper, elmers glue, and wood stain).  It worked well as a calender and to-do list for a while, but then I just stopped using it.

This winter was a really unproductive time for me.  I suspect that I'm sometimes a little depressed.  But what do I know about that? Recently a friend of mine has started following FlyLady's housekeeping system, which is based on habits and routines.  Once established, these routines almost make for a self-cleaning house.  Since it's always better to have a friend for support and encouragement, I decided to give FlyLady another try.  The last time I tried I was working full-time doing shift-work, so I didn't really make it work.

So over the past week and a half, I've been slowly picking up good habits.  I started with making my bed each morning.  It seems to work.  The bed in our undecorated bedroom isn't exactly pretty, but it still looks better than a messed-up jumble of sheets and blankets.  Then, following my friend's example, I added drying and putting away my dishes after supper each night.  I almost always wash them anyway, but would just let them air dry.  On Sunday night I was visiting with my mother-in-law and didn't put the dishes away.  First thing Monday morning, I wished I had!  It is so much easier to start the day when the kitchen sink is empty and clean and shiny!

The purpose of all this habit-making is so that I can choose how my life runs and how I feel about it all.  I'm sick of feeling guilty about my housekeeping.  And not doing fun things because I really need to stay home and clean...and then not getting much done after all.  I want most days to follow a routine so I just do what needs to be done without procrastinating.  This will give me more freedom to do fun things with the kids, and get other projects, writing, and editing done instead of the constant halfhearted cleaning.

Caring for my home should be a joy.  It should be homemaking, not just house cleaning.  So my next step was to create my ideal daily routines.  Many of the things in my routines are things I already do, but I wanted to set a specific time and order to each item.  For example, I decided that my intention to sweep after supper each night wasn't working, because after washing (and now drying) the dishes, I didn't feel like sweeping.  Now I aim to sweep after lunch instead.

Obviously my routines are not rigid, and I don't plan to beat myself up if I miss something.  I revamped my household binder into something closer to FlyLady's Control Journal.  Instead of being mainly for a calendar, it's now mainly for housekeeping.  I use my iPod calendar most of the time anyway.  Each routine is in a plastic page protector so I can use my trusty red dry-erase marker to cross things off as I complete them.  I've always loved lists and crossing things off is cathartic.

Of course, being me, I had to make it all pretty with nice fonts and cover pages.

housekeeping, printable, free, cleaning, organization, organizing

Would you be interested in a printable download of these sheets?

I couldn't resist including some shots from my weekend as a little PS:

clouds, rain, snow, cloudy, drive
gorgeous clouds promising rain (but unfortunately not delivering)

family, mother-in-law, kids, play, fun
"Nanny" playing cars with the kids.  I love how excited they get for her visits

cusinart, pot, crusty bread, cast-iron
An early birthday gift...now I can make Simply So Good's crusty bread properly!

From Dream To Reality

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Five Years of To a Pretty Life

Wow, it's been five years since my first official post on To a Pretty Life. I don't really know what to say!  How about a comparison of life then vs life now?

Lets start with the weather:

Then:

  • Wife of one
  • Mama of one
  • Lived in a townhouse with a tiny but cute backyard and almost no front yard
  • Decorated in gold and red for the living room, with a bright turquoise kitchen.
  • Dabbled in all kinds of crafting, DIY, and sewing endeavours.
  • Afraid of writing, or of failure in writing, which amounts to the same thing.  So I didn't write.


Now:


Thanks to all my readers, who make this blogging thing worthwhile.  I couldn't do it without you!

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Introducing Nikki the Nikon

Nikon Coolpix p510 Camera


Ok, so no, I haven't really named my new camera.  Its name is not Nikki.  Although my son, whom I often call Nicky, has recently named our minivan "Mortimer". Lucky for me, it does not go "bang, bang, rattle ding bang" all day like its namesake.

When we found out that we couldn't replace our defunct xD card for our old camera, it didn't take long for us (ok, me) to decide that it was time to get a new camera.  Our old one had served us well, even after I dropped it in the playground sand, but after 5 or 6 years it was time for a new one.  I had the Nikon Coolpix p510 on my wish list after reading reviews and comparisons of similar cameras last fall.

I'm still learning (I have yet to actually read the manual), but it has been so much fun so far.  I have not yet pulled it out in public.  It's a bit more obvious than our last camera.

Favourite features so far:

  • The strap and lens cap make me feel so professional! (my 5-year-old has already perfected her "mom, the lens cap is still on" tone that makes her sound like a teenager)
  • large hand grip to help me keep it out of the sand this time
  • tilt-able viewing screen
  • option to use the small viewfinder instead (perfect for bright sunshine)
  • the 16GB memory card allows me to take 1900+ pictures...it seems endless compared to the old 1GB xD card.
Now I just need to find the time to sit down and read the manual.  I can't wait 'til I figure this all out.  Now if only the world would hurry up and look green and spring-ish so I have something to take pictures of.

What kind of camera do you use, and what are your favourite things about it?


I'm really looking forward to using the 42x zoom, especially on the cross-continent road trip we're planning for this summer. (to do this week: get passport pictures!)

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Do Something! - Week One Update

First things first: The winner of the 2 Red Hens Studio Rooster Bag is...
Christan!

productivity, flylady, shiny sink

I started my day yesterday with grand plans.  I was going to bake some bread, shine my sink a la FlyLady, get all the laundry done, and have supper ready for my husband and kids before I had to the leave the house for a meeting.  My mother-in-law is coming to visit this weekend, and I wanted to be On The Ball for once.  And I wanted to make up for being rather unproductive last week.

I got things going the night before, choosing a delicious overnight-rising bread recipe and mixing everything together for two loaves.  First thing in the morning, after getting my 5-year-old sent off to kindergarten, I gathered all the laundry, sorted it, and filled up the sink to soak with hot water and bleach.  Everything was going well.  The kids were even playing nicely, and when I decided my niece needed a quick morning nap she went to sleep with no problem, giving me an opportunity for a shower before kindergarten pick up time.

The trouble started when we got back to the house.  I have no idea why, but I was cranky (ok, so I have an idea...the reason happens about once a month).  I got the kids some lunch and turned on the oven to preheat for the bread.  I then forgot about it, knowing the oven would beep once it was heated.  An hour or so later, after the kids were all finally napping, I happened to glance over at the oven.  The preheat light was still on.  And the loaves of bread had risen and were starting to fall over.  I spent the rest of the afternoon trying to figure out what the problem was, while worrying about what I was going to do with all this now-useless bread dough.  Turns out I think the bake element is broken.  The broil element still worked so I attempted baking one of the loaves on low broil, turning it upside down once the top was starting to brown a little too much.  It worked sort of.  The other loaf was too far gone and I made no attempt to save it.


So that was my messed up day.  Still, I managed to finish shining my sink!  It looked beautiful.  For about 5 minutes.  I think sink shining is best done at the end of the day so you can wake up to a fresh clean kitchen.


One of the few productive things I did last week was making homemade from scratch chicken noodle soup.  This is probably the third time I've attempted it in my life and the only time it was successful.  The kids ate it with absolutely no complaining.  It was so good!  In fact, I want to buy another rotisserie chicken to make it again this week.


I let my daughter make the garlic biscuits.  She was so proud of herself.  Biscuits are a great learn-to-bake recipe.  I promised my son that he gets to help next time.


What have you been doing this month?  Are you feeling productive?  Anyone know if Lowes sells oven elements?  I'd rather go there than have to find an appliance repair store.

Monday, 8 April 2013

I'm in Love with White Walls


In spite of my initial fears, I'm discovering that everything looks good against white walls.  I finally got around to painting our stairwell, complete with it's 16-foot ceiling.  I managed it with a combination of a roller extension and a ladder.  And choosing wall paint the same colour as the ceiling helped too.  If a 12-foot-tall person were to visit my house and inspect that upper corner, I'm sure it looks awful. But from way down here at my not-quite-5-foot-4-inch height, it looks great.


I looked through my collection of wall stuff and removed everything with black frames.  I wanted a warmer look for this particular gallery wall.  The black frames will go in our bedroom if I ever get around to painting the walls in there.  The remaining mix is a bit ecclectic, containing:

  • two of our engagement photos, 
  • two mirrors (the pine-framed one was from my parents' wedding in 1979), 
  • one painting done by me, 
  • one painting that we paid way too much for at Home Sense, 
  • a sepia-toned sailboat photo that we found at a garage sale,
  • a tiny print of old buildings along a canal, 
  • a wooden plaque that I made during the first year of our marriage: Est. August 10, 2002.
  • a large antique frame, 
  • and two other empty wooden frames that I rescued from a neighbour who was going to throw them out.  Even at age 15 I knew they were worth saving.



What do you think of white walls? (PS: there are only a few more hours to enter the 2 Red Hens Rooster Bag giveaway!)


Three Mango Seeds

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Currently Reading...Inspired You

Inspired You Marian Parsons Miss Mustard Seed

Lucky me, I recently won a book in a draw by Apple Box Boutique.  Miss Mustard Seed's (Marian Parson's) Inspired You.  I've been slowly reading through it and it is beautiful.  It very well may be my next book review. Thanks Leanne!

In the meantime, have you entered the 2 Red Hens giveaway?  You have 'til Tuesday to get your entries in.  I hope you're all enjoying a sunny day like I am (although I'd enjoy a full-on spring downpour even more, of course).


Tuesday, 2 April 2013

2 Red Hens Studio: Review and Giveaway




Today I get to review two items from 2 Red Hens Studio.  Except for the book reviews I've done, this is the first time anyone has offered me free product to review.  So I had no idea that I was allowed to pick my own item!  And I didn't want to be greedy.  I mentioned I liked the Coop Carry-All Bag or the Mama's Makeup Bag.  Lucky me, they sent me both!  Of course I forgot to specify the colour, but I love the Grey Damask they sent.  Now, on to the reviews!


Ok, as a diaper bag, this bag is huge!  I'm not a big-bag type of person.  Even my diaper bag, when I used one, was just a tote bag, and I downsized to a purse as soon as possible.  That said, the bag isn't bulky.  It is fairly narrow, only about 5 or 6 inches deep.


I loaded up the bag and used it as a purse/diaper bag over the past week in order to give a well-rounded review.  It was easy to carry, not sitting too high or dangling too low.  If I were to use it as a diaper bag, I'd want to add a cross-body shoulder strap too it.  There's nothing worse than loading up with baby paraphernalia (plus baby!), trudging halfway to your destination only to have your bag slip off your shoulder.  With the d-ring strap attachments, and removable straps, switching to a cross-body strap would be so easy.  It just would be nice if the bag came with one.  I suppose one could unhook one side of each of the existing straps and clip them together to make one long strap, but my guess is it wouldn't be very comfortable.  The website calls them "convertible stroller straps".


The bag, being a diaper bag, comes with a cute extra-long changing mat.  Now, a changing mat is a changing mat, and there isn't room for much innovation.  But this particular one has a button and elastic closure to keep it needly folded.  The mat I used for my kids was forever coming unfolded in my bag and when I pulled it out one-handed I'd often dump out a bunch of other things too.  That won't be a problem with this one.  Not only does it have the button, but it also has its own pocket on the outside of the bag to make the mat easy to grab.


Now that I've treated the bag as a diaper bag, I'll address the reason I chose it.  I needed a cute overnight bag (for which I don't want a cross-body shoulder strap).  Until now I've been using a dollar-store tote bag (which shall now be demoted to beach bag) or a mini-suitcase (which was often too small).  I haven't yet had a chance to use it as an overnight bag, but I'm looking forward to it.


Oh my word, this bag is full of pockets!  I've never seen this many pockets in a diaper bag before  My full-size water bottle fits in the bottle holders (although it does stick out the zipper), and the bag is big enough to fit my laptop, which means I can also use it for those rare (oh-so-rare) occasions that I work away from the house.

Oh boy.  This is going to be a long post.



As for the makeup bag, the very best thing about it is that it stands up on it's own.  Gone are the days of accidentally dumping my makeup into the sink or the garbage can.  The size is good too, although it is a little tall.  This makes it a little harder for me to quickly choose which eye-shadow I need.  That may just be because I have five colours of the same brand.  Maybe I should downsize a little.


Both bags are very well made.  The seams are strong, and there are no loose threads.  The fabric is durable and wipe-able   A couple of friends did mention that they'd like it better if the diaper bag could be thrown in the washing machine.

Giveaway

Rooster Diaper Bag
in Grey Damask

2 Red Hens has offered a Rooster Diaper Bag as a giveaway on To a Pretty Life.  The Rooster bag is smaller than the Coop, and great for every day carting around once you don't need to carry the 12 outfit changes and 15 diapers required by a newborn.

Product Details:

  • Interior zipper pocket, bottle holder, and 2 elastic pockets
  • Convertible stroller straps
  • Attached key fob
  • Magnetic snap and button closure for easy access
  • Choose from five vintage-inspired patterns:  
    • Peacock Mum, Owl Dots, Grey Damask, Pink Lemonade, and Chevron Stripes
  • Extra-long polka dot changing pad included


Enter below for your chance to win!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclaimer:  While 2 Red Hens Studio did provide me with free product to review, I have received no other compensation for this post.  All opinions stated are my own.  All images are my own except for the Rooster Diaper Bag.