Archive for July, 2011

Midsummer is one of the best times of the gardening year.  The big work of putting in the garden is over, the veggies are established, the annuals are blooming, and it is time to enjoy the fruits of our labours.

Although the bulk of the work is done, a little bit of daily maintenance will keep your garden growing well for the rest of the season.

I try to take a walk through the gardens at least once a day.  For one, it’s fun to watch things grow and change as the days go by.  But it is also spreads maintenance tasks out and helps to catch any problems early on.  Here is what I do:

  • check all of the plants for possible disease/pest damage that might need intervention (yesterday I removed a family of green caterpillars from the strawberry plants and continued my attack on the cucumber beetles with the insecticidal soap.)
  • take note of any fruit or veggies that are ready for harvest, or that might be ready for harvest in the next few days (and maybe take some time to munch on a few while you are out there.)
  • trim flower stalks from plants like basil, so the plant puts its energy back into creating wonderful, aromatic, leaves
  • remove spent blooms from annuals
  • pull out weeds (this is an endless task, but if you do a little every day, it seems more manageable.  A hoe is a wonderful tool for weeding in big veggie gardens.)
  • if it has been sunny and dry for a few days, water the vegetable garden and potted plants
  • take time to smell the flowers, rub the herb leaves against your fingers to take in the scent, and just enjoy being in the garden


Do you have something else to add to the list?  Please share in the comments!

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Why I Love Living in a Small Town

Even 8 years after leaving the city for this little province that I love, I am still amazed by things like this:

This is the main highway out of town, at a time that would be considered “rush hour” (with gridlock traffic for miles) back home.

And just in case you thought we don’t have any traffic…

What do you love about where you live?

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Yesterday, hubby and I were treated to a garden tour in a nearby town.  Although the heat was stifling, we had a great day visiting some beautiful gardens and chatting with other gardeners.  It was really neat to see what other people had done with their gardens, what types of plants they grow, and how they had landscaped their yards.

Although all the gardens were beautiful, we came away with a much stronger sense in what we love in a garden, and what we don’t. 

I didn’t take pictures in every garden, but there were a few where I just couldn’t help myself.

The first garden we visited was full of beautiful roses (which I love but we don’t personally grow.)

The last garden we visited boasted the only vegetable garden of the day (and hubby especially was excited to see it!)  as well as a hobby gardener who on occasion sells his stock to nurseries.  Check out the rows of flowers!


So, in keeping with the garden tour fun, here is a tour of my garden, as it looks today.

We begin in the front, which is a mix of perennials and annuals in a variety of colours.  I am not picky with this garden.  Sedums, Pinks, and Iris make up the bulk of the perennials and the annuals were planted two weeks ago chosen from whatever was left at the garden centre!

This part of the front garden, however, is a favourite.  Delicate Astilbe and a variety of Hosta are thriving this year due to some additional deer protection in our front yard.  I saw some beautiful red and pink Astilbe yesterday that I hope to add in among the white. 

In the back, our large vegetable garden is filling out.

There big plants in front are potatoes, all in bloom.

Our first pepper.

Lettuce, chard, and a second attempt at Kale.

The first of the peas.

The first of the beans.

Red beets and squash.

Thriving Northern Delight tomato plants.

Onions and carrots, oh my!

Our mixed herb, tomato, and flower garden leading the way to the shed.

Coriander grows around this deer deterrent.

 Borage is about to bloom.

And the lilies are on display.

Certainly not a large garden compared to those we visited yesterday, but it keeps us busy! 🙂 

Want to be a part of the garden tour?  Create your own blog post and link to it in the comments, or add your photos or blog link to our Facebook page.  Can’t wait to see what’s growing in your garden!

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Taking Time

I am the first to admit that I like to be busy.   As wild and crazy as life can be, I am the one who most often chooses to make it wilder and crazier.  I do this almost without thinking about it, as I pile my already full “plate” with more projects, new hobbies, and a long list of “shoulds.”  (Kind of like the way your eyes get bigger than your stomach as you pile your plate high with amazing food from the buffet table or potluck.)  Although in moments of being overwhelmed by a huge “to do” list, I sometimes forget that I had a choice in the matter. 

But choice I do have, and in the midst of my many self-induced (and very exciting!) projects, I am also making a conscious effort to take time.

Time to read a book.

Time to visit with family.

Time to meet with friends.

Time to listen.

Time to rest.

Time to leave the projects half-done to sit with a good cup of tea in front of a fire and chat with my husband. 



And as much as I am in the habit of saying “yes” to so many projects, I am also in the habit of saying “no” to so many other good things which don’t quite seems as “productive” to my task-oriented mind.  When friends ask to spend time together, the projects and due dates always seem more pressing and besides, there will be other times to get together, right?


But sometimes those next times just don’t come.


So I am practicing saying “yes” more often. 


Yes to going out to dinner with friends.


Yes to visiting.


Yes to get-togethers.


Yes to just “hanging out.”


And although the projects still exert a strong pull, somehow I know, deep down, that these moments spent with others add up to much more than any other goal or achievement. 


It doesn’t mean I am giving up on my dreams and goals and aspirations.  And it certainly doesn’t mean I am going to give up being “busy.”  (What on earth would I do if I didn’t have 10 projects on the go???)  It just means, that when the question of how to spend my time today comes up, I will try to base my answer on what is most important, and that may not always be that new project I’ve just begun.

My brain may have it backwards, but my heart knows what is right.

In the midst of all the busyness of life, what are you taking time for this summer?

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Summer days are upon us, and although I am still up to my knees in non-fiction titles to read, I also like to take some time for fiction reading.   When I was a kid, summer was the time I would get to go to the library, take out a huge stack of books, spend a whole week reading, and then head back for more.  I still like to take huge stacks of books from the library, but I don’t read through them quite as fast as those carefree summers when I had nothing else to do. 

One of the problems I have with great fiction books is that I have a really hard time putting them down once I get started.  This means that many things are left undone, or I am up to the wee hours of the morning, trying to keep my eyelids open so I can find out what happens next!   My summer hours are much more relaxed, and a perfect time to get engrossed in a book. 

Here are some of my current favourites:

Jerk, California  by Jonathan Friesen 

This book was such a great read!  I tore through it in 2 days.  I actually read this book in April, during a community event where everyone in the town where I work reads the same book, and then the author comes for a series of book related events at the end of the month.  We were lucky enough to have Jonathan Friesen come visit our school, and although I did not get to meet him, the students and teachers who did had nothing but wonderful things to say.   This book was well received by everyone that I spoke to, and I know the local high school students, who were all given a copy of the book to read,  commented on how hard it was to stop reading and were found reading the book in between classes (and sometimes during class….)    It was easy to read, but a compelling story.  I will definitely be checking out more books from this author!   

The Summer Kitchen  by Lisa Wingate

I picked this book up at our local library sale.  I don’t often buy fiction books (because I’ll be the first to admit that I’m picky about what I read) but this one caught my attention as Lisa was compared to Richard Paul Evans, whose books I have really enjoyed.  I am really glad that I took the chance on this one.  This is the kind of book where you become attached to the characters and become as interested in their welfare as if they were flesh and blood.   And although it would never make it into my “top 10 books” list, it was still an enjoyable read and I will definitely be looking for more from this author as well. 

Teach With Your Heart by Erin Gruwell

Here is a book that just might make it onto my top ten list.  And I apologize, because it actually isn’t fiction.  Having never seen the movie and with only a vague idea of the story behind the Freedom Writers, I became totally engrossed in this book from page one.  I read it on a recent airplane flight, and I must say it seemed like one of the fastest flights I have ever been on (and half the book seemed to just disappear over that time.)   I know it speaks to me because I am a teacher, and I have a huge respect for the time and dedication Erin puts into her class.  But above all, she is also a wonderful storyteller, and once again you get sucked into the book and forget that a world exists around you.  I appreciate the candidness and the truthfulness in what she writes, and am both inspired and humbled by her story.  What a great responsibility we have as teachers.

Now it’s your turn.  What are you currently reading?

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How are your gardens coming along?  I am away from mine this week, but when I left the vegetable garden was coming along well (despite an attack of cabbage worms along with our cucumber beetles) and I had just finished getting all of the annuals into the flower gardens.  When I return I hope to be greeted by lots of flowers (and hopefully not too many weeds!) 

This will be my last post in the herb garden series.  These final three are the last that I have grown for at least a year, although I have included a list at the end of what we are experimenting with this year.  As always, if you have any herb tips to share, or if you grow an herb I haven’t included in this series, please let us know in the comments!


In the garden: I grew lovage for the first time last year in a pot on our sunny deck.   This year I planted it directly into the vegetable garden, in a section that receives partial shade, as it prefers.  Although it is a perennial, it will be grown as an annual in its current location as we like to rotate our veggie crops each year.  I have not attempted to grow lovage indoors, and with its rather tall size, I probably won’t attempt it any time soon!

In the kitchen: lovage is similar to celery in taste and the leaves can be used anywhere you would use celery – salads, sauces, soups, stews, etc. 


In the garden:   This perennial has grown extremely well in my partial-shade garden.  I am not sure which variety I grow, although it is a small variety (about 1 ft tall.)  Although I have never brought mine indoors, I have read that these smaller varieties grow very well in pots with a little sun each day.

In the Kitchen:  lavender isn’t often used for eating (although I have had lavender tea before) but the dried leaves and flowers make beautiful potpourri, sachets, or sleep pillows.


In the Garden: Mint is a vigorous perennial that will easily take over your whole garden!  It grows very well in pots (which is how I grow mine) although I have read that you can also sink a pot down into the earth if you would like to grow it in your garden yet keep it confined.  My plants also do well overwintering indoors, although they do tend to get “leggy” due to lack of light.

In the Kitchen:  Mint makes a wonderful tea, and pairs brilliantly with fruit in a wide variety of dishes.  My grandmother used to make her own mint jelly (most often served with lamb, although eaten with other dishes as well).  I also like mint water, mint ice cream, and want to try my hand at making my own mint extract for baking. 

New Herbs in the Garden

One of the things I enjoy most about gardening is trying out new plants.  This year I have added sorrel, chervil, catnip, and borage to the herb garden. 

What herbs are growing in your garden?  Which ones do you want to try?

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My Favourite Sewing Sites

Don’t you love it when you find a great new website or blog?  I am constantly amazed at the wealth of information and resources available on the internet and blown away by the generosity of those who spend hours putting together tutorials to share with the world.

And when you’ve found something awesome, what better to do than to share it with someone else?

Here are some of my favourites (some new, some old).  If you have favourites that aren’t listed, please share them in the comments!

CAUTION: visiting the following blogs and websites might make you want to run to the nearest sewing machine and sew until you drop!

For inspiration and tutorials

Sew, Mama, Sew blog – the first sewing blog I ever subscribed to and still one of my absolute favourites.  The forum is also a great place to ask questions and chat with other sewers. 

Make it and Love it – I don’t know how Ashley manages to create so many amazing tutorials, but she does, on what seems to be an almost daily basis.  Watch out – time spent reading this blog can make your “to sew” pile increase exponentially.

Sew Much Ado – another amazing amount of tutorials and a linky party every Wednesday by another talented seamstress (remember Ruby Lou?)

Grosgrain – I only recently discovered this one, but I know I will be back again and again.  On the top of my list are some of the dresses listed under “a frock by Friday” (you’ll find it on the sidebar.)  A free dress pattern followed by five days of sew-a-long how-tos – amazing, right? 

For Patterns

Sew Fun!  If you’ve been around awhile, you will already know how much I love these patterns.  Some of them have recently been released in PDF format for easy access.

Pattern Rescue – a really fun site where you can buy, sell, and trade vintage patterns, as well as find missing pieces to older patterns you might own.  On the recycle page you can pick up patterns for free, you just pay for the shipping.

Pattern Review –  there is a lot on this site I haven’t explored, but the best thing it has to offer (as far as I’m concerned) is reviews of hundreds of patterns!  I visit this site A LOT when I am thinking of purchasing a new pattern, and always find the reviews and photos helpful.  (You will find the link to the reviews on the left side, under sewing reviews.)

For Free Patterns

I know that sounds too good to be true, but lots of fabric designers share free patterns on their sites.

Amy Butler – click on “free patterns” to see all that this amazing lady has to offer.  Many of her quilts have been on my “to make” list for a long time.

Anna Maria Horner – I am a regular reader of Anna’s blog for a number of reasons (oh, the eye candy!), but she also has a number of beautiful patterns for her readers. 

Moda Bake Shop – another place I could spend hours just looking.  “Stuffed Stuff” is one of my favourites – oh so cute! 

So now that you know where I spend my online time, where do you spend yours?  Do you have any great sewing sites to share?

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We have had some hot weather here over the last few days.  And on a steamy hot day, what better for cooling and refreshing than a cold glass of water? 

But somehow, water can seem a little ordinary.  But add some cucumber and lemon and a handful of garden-fresh herbs, and you’ve got something a little special, but just as thirst-quenching.  Make it in a glass pitcher, and you’ve got something pretty to grace your picnic table.

Refreshing Cucumber and Lemon Herb-Infused Water

  • a piece of cucumber
  • a lemon
  • a handful of herbs (I like mint or lemonbalm or a combination of the two)


Slice the cucumber into rounds and place in the bottom of your pitcher.

Cut the lemon in quarters and gently squeeze to release the juice as you place it on top of the cucumber.

Finally, gently squish the herb leaves in the palm of your hand to release their fragrance and flavour and place in the pitcher.

Fill the pitcher with cold water and ice and let steep for at least an hour before serving.

We often fill our pitcher up with water a second time and leave it in the fridge for the next day with results that are just as refreshing.


How are you keeping cool on these hot summer days?

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We have been very lucky with our gardens the past few years that we have not had a lot of trouble with insects on our favourite crops.

Not so this year.

Not too long after they sprouted, the leaves of our squash, cucumber, and zucchini plants started to get holes in their leaves.  I must admit that, at the time, I was too busy trying to get all the gardens cleaned out and planted that I didn’t think much of it at the time. 

But yesterday, while I was weeding, I discovered that our plants were looking pretty poor, and also that they were covered in these little yellow and black striped bugs.

A little Google detective work led me to discover that our garden has been attacked by the aptly named cucumber beetle.  They will eat the leaves, flowers,  and fruit of the plants, mate (and let me tell you, there was a lot of mating going on yesterday!), and each female will lay 1500 eggs in the soil at the bottom of the plant.  When the larvae hatch they will feast on the roots of the plant.  Yep.  Not a gardener’s best friend.

So now, how to get rid of the little beasts?

The “pick and squish” method of bug removal which has worked well for me with slugs and cabbage worms is not effective with these quick-moving and flying bugs (although they are an easy enough target when mating…) 

So yesterday I made a batch of some old-fashioned insecticidal soap (recipe below) and went bug hunting.  I have to admit, I did get a certain joy out of seeing the bugs falter under the spray of the soap, and the ants were happy as they dragged all of the carcasses away to their nests (homicidal clean-up: nature at its best)  But the fight is long from over.  The soap is only effective if the bugs get hit with it, so I missed any that flew away, or that were hiding.  I went hunting twice yesterday and found about the same number of bugs each time, and I am sure I will find more out there today.  But it’s a start in the right direction, and hopefully in time to rescue at least some of our plants. 

Next year, we are going to grow these plants under floating row covers so the beetles can’t get at them (an ounce of prevention….)

For this year, I think the squirt bottle and I are going to be good friends.

Make Your Own insecticidal Soap

To two cups of water add 1 tablespoon of liquid castile soap (like Dr. Bronner’s).   Mix and spray.

I also read somewhere yesterday that a little oil makes the soap more effective on hard-shelled bugs like these beetles.  So I added 1 tablespoon of olive oil to mine. 

Have you had difficulty with any garden pests this year?  How have you handled it?  Please share your ideas in the comments!

Happy growing!

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I’ve had this Harry Potter inspired project on the back-burner for the last few months, but with the new (and last!) movie coming out very soon I knew now was the time to tackle it.

And so, may I present, straight from my sewing room Madam Malkin’s: Robes for All Occasions: Gryffindor school robes!

I used this tutorial on BurdaSyle and although I found them a bit of a challenge to put them together, I am pretty happy with the results.

I used broadcloth for its affordability, and found the Gryffindor crest on Etsy.

If you are thinking of making some yourself, definitely read through all of the comments on the tutorial, as they were really helpful in drafting and cutting out the pattern.  Next time (oh yes, there will be a next time, I still have at least one more to make!) despite the extra fabric it will take, I think I will line the whole front, and not just 4 inches as the pattern calls for.  This was the first time I have used seam tape and I wasn’t really happy with it. 

I can’t wait to hand these robes over to their owner tomorrow! 

Harry Potter Fun!

Your robes are on and you are ready for a magical adventure.  Here are some magical ideas I’ve collected from around the web.  (Most of these I used to create a magical day at Hogwarts for my students, but the kitchen creations would be appreciated by fans of all ages.)

1.  Find or make yourself an owl and send letters by “owl post” in invisible ink.  (I was lucky enough to find a beautiful snowy owl stuffy at a yard sale, but several years ago I made a pompom owl for my mother as part of  Harry Potter-themed birthday present, that, of course, had to arrive by owl post.)  Or write letters in regular ink, or with calligraphy pens,  on “scrolls” (receipt or adding-machine tape works great for this!)

2.  Spend a day taking classes at Hogwarts! 

  • Herbology: create magical plants of your own with art supplies, or use your imagination and spend some time in the garden planting and caring for “magical” plants. 
  • Potions: think cooking or science experiments (magic mud is a favourite), or write your own
  • Transfiguration: play a game of charades
  • Charms: create your own spells
  • and if you have enough people, don’t forget to play a game of Quidditch (I have played a modified version with as few as seven people)

3.  Cook up some favourite Hogwarts treats by following some fun recipes on Heather Bailey’s site: Chocolate Wands, Butterbeer and mini broomsticks, Cockroach Clusters, and of course you could always make chocolate frogs or pretend any jelly beans are of the “Bertie Botts Every Flavoured” variety.   

Enjoy!   And remember: “Draco Dormiens Nunquam Titillandus”

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