Back in bloom

Mom, Mike and I have spent a lot of time in the yard lately just trying to get it back in shape after “winter.” The last few months have actually been really restorative for the plants since they were struggling at the end of last summer’s drought.

We had also decided to make some changes to the landscaping and finally had time to do it. The previous owners had pretty ornamental plants and we wanted more edible ones. So we dug out all the hedges and some of the geraniums to make room for a berry patch. Most of last year’s strawberry plants survived, and we added a few more to fill in the gaps. They are going strong.


So excited for strawberries!

The blueberry bush we bought last year had basically turned into a stick by the end of the summer, but I’m glad to report that it did survive and it’s started to leaf out quite a bit.

We bought two more blueberry bushes and then two raspberry plants, both of which seem to be happy.


One of the happy raspberries. 

In order to keep the dogs and Harper from messing up the plants, Mike built a fence around them.

We did leave these pretty tulips in the middle, although we might move the bulbs later.

I actually didn’t know they were going to come up until I noticed them poking out from under one of our planter boxes. When I moved the box I discovered a little salamander family living under there. At first I thought they were newts, so I showed Harper and she kept going back to that spot yelling, “baby NEWT!” So funny.

On the other end of the berries there is a beautiful fuchsia plant that also looked pretty terrible a few months ago. I’m so glad to see that it’s back in bloom.

The other red and white fuchsia plant got sort of squished by another bush, so it’s taking a little longer to recover. But I think it will.

This mum that looks like daisies was another surprise.

I had planted it in the ammo box planter, and not only did it return, it jumped out into places all over the yard.

The mint that was growing in the box got this sort of purple trim around the edges, but it seems to be turning back to normal.

Our hydrangeas look really lush again, which is nice. We have one little and one big, but the little guy is catching up!

The calla lilies that were so pretty last year are popping through the soil again.

And I’m thrilled to see this orchid, the only potted plant I kept from the previous owners, produced these impressive blooms.

I forgot to water this plant I bought at the end of last summer and figured it was dead, but it has flowers on it again. Whew!

I had to trim a couple geranium plants because they became absolutely huge after the winter rains.

The side yard, where the dogs are supposed to do their business, got completely overgrown with shoulder-high weeds.

So I finally dug them all up, plus all the ground cover that was keeping the dogs from using the rest of the yard. We are going to regrade it a little bit to help with drainage and then plant new grass seed.


Just a bit better…

We dug up a LOT of weeds to make a little tomato patch, and then fenced it in.

We got a few more plants to fill in some open spots. And of course I can’t give up my dream of having dahlias.

I also can’t give up on our little mandarin tree, which has yet to produce an edible orange. It was happiest in the shade of one of our ugly hedges, so now that the hedge is gone I keep moving it around the yard trying to find a good spot.

It does at least have some small oranges all over it. The other orange tree, though, has totally flourished.

When we moved in it had one orange and no new blossoms. Now it is producing like crazy. It has fragrant blossoms and bees all over it.

It has some tiny green oranges and some that are almost ready to pick.

We pruned it a little and weeded around it, but mostly we are just waiting for those oranges to ripen. Exciting!

Our little front-yard garden got kind of disrupted when we had our sewer lateral replaced, but it still looks pretty good. And then mom dug out the little triangular spot in our driveway, planted some pretty flowers and decorated it with a cool rock. I’ll have to post some photos of that.

All in all we are feeling really great about the yard and just hoping it stays healthy as long as possible since another dry summer is pretty much guaranteed.

My first time making gumbo (and corned beef)

I used to be a pretty voracious blog reader, but lately my Feedly has been skimmed to a select few blogs I occasionally have time to read. I keep reading them, though, because I realized that even though that time is precious, it is mine. And I really like discovering new recipes, new crafts, and whatever else I find there. It’s kind of nice, actually, to have culled a giant mess of posts down to the ones I truly care about and will get something from. 

So, that is how I found this recipe for chicken and sausage gumbo from one of my long-time favorite reads, Iowa Girl Eats. Check out her post for pictures of all the steps. I was kind of intimidated to try gumbo, but it was not hard at all. And it turned out so well! We all wanted to lick our bowls after dinner. 

Changes I made (of course): I used chicken breasts cut into chunks instead of thighs so I wouldn’t have to shred it after it cooked. And I realized mid-week that I was out of tomato paste, so I just squeezed in a little ketchup and that seemed to work. Sometimes you gotta be MacGyver in the kitchen! 

For St. Patrick’s Day I also tackled a new-to-me meal — corned beef and cabbage. I used Martha’s recipe, which is not so much a recipe as an instruction to throw everything in the Crock Pot and let it cook all day.

I was surprised that it made a clear broth rather than a gravy after all that time, but the meat turned out perfectly and the veggies were good, too. I had so many left over that I ended up roasting them in the oven with a baked chicken yesterday and they were even better. 

Donut muffins

Speaking of recipes you have to make…

I found this recipe for donut muffins on Red Tricycle and I knew I had to try it. I first had one of these scrumptious breakfast desserts at Bette’s Diner in Berkeley and I immediately fell in love. The muffin itself is pretty plain, but then it’s dipped in butter and rolled in cinnamon sugar (a la Bubble Bread), which sends it over the top.

The only thing I changed was to scale back the cinnamon to a teaspoon instead of a tablespoon. I feel like people have a compulsion to add too much cinnamon to recipes. Or maybe it’s just me. But I thought the batch of muffins I made turned out perfectly and they were gone in a flash!

Make this carrot cake!

Mom wanted a homemade cake for her birthday a few days ago, so I dug out some recipes I had been wanting to try. One of them was for “the BEST carrot cake,” and it sure looked like it. So we decided to give it a try.

Oh man, was that a good cake. I went ahead and made the full recipe even though it made way too much cake and frosting. I added pecans but no raisins or pineapple or anything like that. The layers baked up beautifully and I managed to construct a cake that wasn’t too lopsided.

Normally I like ice cream with cake, but this one didn’t even need it. It was rich, a little spicy, and perfectly spring-ish. I highly recommend giving it a try, maybe for Easter?

Arm knit cowl pattern

I’m happy to say that my first knitting class went very well. We had a huge turnout — 16 people. Which is a challenge as far as helping each person goes, but it was fun to see that many cowls come together in all different colors.

I put together a tutorial for the class and I thought I would make it available here in case anyone wants to give arm knitting a try. It’s certainly helpful to have the in-person instruction of a class. But there are a lot of helpful YouTube videos that are great if you are trying to teach yourself.

Download the PDF here.

The pattern shows you how to make either a single loop or longer double loop cowl.

I’m thinking that teaching more classes could be a really great next step for me in my business. So I’m trying to come up with more ideas for quick and easy projects. After churning out so many of the same design it’s fun to put on your super creative hat sometimes!

Finally, naps

I think it’s been about 2 weeks now that Harper has been taking a two-hour nap every day. I can’t express to you how revolutionary that is in our house!

She had been starting to enjoy her bedtime routine more at night, even to the point of asking to go to bed when she got sleepy. So I guess I had the sense that she might be ready to commit to a nap routine as well. One day I just said that if she wasn’t asleep by X time, I would put her in bed. So I did. And she protested a little, but I think she slept about an hour an a half the first day.

After that she pretty quickly got into a routine of going to sleep at 2:30 and sleeping until 4:30, sometimes later. I just couldn’t believe it. I was really stunned that it was that easy to get a child that was taking 30-45-minute naps at all different times of day to sleep consistently. Sometimes she had even been skipping her nap altogether.

What’s stranger is that the long naps haven’t really affected her bedtime or wake-up time. She does seem to be in a better mood than before. I can imagine that she’s been tired for a long time. So days have taken on a completely different rhythm, with an actual break every afternoon for both mom and I. Of course, Harper is still a 2-year-old, so it’s always an adventure. But it’s better.

This all hit me in kind of an unexpected way, though. At first it made me really upset. I just felt like it was the first thing I had done really wrong as a parent and I felt really dumb. Like the answer was always there and I just couldn’t figure it out. I felt I had tried everything to get her to nap and always failed. But I guess I had never really tried to get her to sleep at the same time and place every day with an established routine. Maybe because my days are always so different it didn’t seem possible to be consistent.

So I’ve had to work through those feelings and I feel a lot better now. All I can do is move forward having learned a big lesson. And who knows, she may have just needed to be ready.

We just heard from the preschool we were planning to send Harper to that they have an opening. So I guess she is about to have a whole new routine that will certainly require a nap. Good timing!