IDEA 89: TAG THE TREES

Oct
2016

Tree_Tags_Branch_1

Up in northern Michigan, the farm my dad grew up on sports some ancient apple orchards. The trees still produce, and the varieties are heirloom, if there ever were some. There’s not just the Jonathans, Macintosh and Golden Delicious, but Wealthy, Wagener, King and Alexander. Even now I can’t remember all the names, which is why this fall we made the rounds with my dad and we tagged the trees.

And it occurred to me, the project was so satisfying (and educational), why shouldn’t everyone do this with their own trees?

Of course most people don’t have an apple orchard in the family. But there really isn’t any reason you can’t identify and mark the trees you do have. Here’s what I did:

I bought aluminum tree tags online for the rich price of 100 for about ten bucks.

Tree_Tags_Blanks

You can write on these with a Sharpie if you like, but, not wanting to make things too easy on myself, I opted to purchase a set of “punches”. You can purchase the whole alphabet for about a dollar and a half per letter. My letters were about 1/4″ tall. There are lots of sets available. Just put “Letter Punch Set” in the search.

Tree_Tags_Letter_Punches_1

I bought aluminum wire and it came with a wire clipper in the package, which came in very handy.

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And we cut long pieces, making sure to allow lots of room around the branches. We hung our tags much like a loose bangle bracelet, so as not to disturb the tree’s growth.

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I learned a lot about our apple trees, but probably just as important, now our lovely trees sport shiny bangles that don’t just identify the fruit. Seeing the tags jiggle in the wind makes me smile as they betray the love with which these trees are cared for. It may not change the world, but it’s a very BellaPamella thing to do!

Tree_Tags_King

By the way, Happy Birthday, Dad. And thank you for sharing your knowledge, and your trees!

Tree_Tags_Dad

IDEA 88: SCARF SKIRT

Sep
2016

Scarf_Skirt_Model_2

This may just be the best use of clearance merch ever! Last spring I picked up these sweet scarves at Target at a deep discount, for $5.98 each. I loved the fringe and thought they would make a super cute skirt. But it took me until I felt a slight chill on the wind to decide it was time to give it a try.

Materials were pretty simple: two identical men’s scarves (these were about 12″ x 46″ without the fringe), a 7″ skirt zipper, thread, scissors or a rotary cutter, pinking shears or a pinking rotary cutter and a sewing machine.

Scarf_Skirt_Materials

I decided if I pinked the top edge I wouldn’t have to make a waistband. So I measured on my body where I wanted the skirt to fall and cut four identical pieces from the ends of the scarves (so all pieces had a fringe). My pieces were 15 1/2 ” from the cut to the top of the fringe. I cut mine with a ruler and a ruffled rotary cutter to create a straight pinked edge.

Scarf_Skirt_pinked_cut

Next step was to install the zipper in the middle of two of the scarf pieces.

Scarf_Skirt_Zipper_CUScarf_Skirt_Pink

Once I had the zipper installed I went ahead and machine basted the other three vertical seams. I was essentially making a tube with a fringe at the bottom.

Then, with the whole thing inside-out, I tried it on. If you’ve gotten this far, you can now see how your body is not actually a perfect cylinder. And at this point you may need a helper, although I did manage on my own. Start to pull out and pin the excess fabric so the shape begins to fit your curves. You’ll take the most from the side seams, so start there, pinning the most excess on those sides. You want to take enough from the sides to create more of a skirt shape, but not so it’s tight yet. Then you want to pin in four darts, one on each side in the front and one on each side in the back. Your helper needs to make sure the darts are an even distance from the zipper in the back, and from the center seam in the front. In my case, I used the different colored stripes in the plaid to guide me.

This should get the whole thing fitting you just like a glove. Carefully unzip it and get it off without sticking yourself with all those pins!

Scarf_Skirt_Pin

Sew everything you pinned.

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Once everything is sewn, it’s not a bad idea to try the whole thing on, still inside-out, and check it for fit. If all’s well, trim the seams to an even amount outside your stitching.

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Get all the pesky threads trimmed, and press the seams open and the darts pointing away from the center. And that’s it!

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Now I’m looking  forward to brisk winds and boot days, and only you and I will know the secret behind my super swingy, $11.96 fringe skirt!





IDEA 87: MAKE IT EASY

Aug
2016

Tea_Cake

The idea for this cake came from a decorating disaster. But it came out so beautifully I just had to share. And the solution couldn’t be easier.

I had made a very tiny cake, the cake pans were just five inches in diameter. And the plan was to create a small pillow cake with quilted fondant. But the cake just hadn’t cooled enough and so, as happens when you try to rush, the frosting began to melt and crawl.

I just hate presenting a disaster cake, (even though we all know it tastes just as good). So I put the project in the fridge and ruminated on the problem, when the solution came to me.

I still had fondant, so I simply rolled out a sheet and draped it over the frosted cake, like a perfect little fondant tablecloth! Then it was just a matter of adding a tiny tea set to the top.

You don’t have to make a disaster cake to try this one. In fact you really don’t even have to make the cake. This idea could be added to a small store bought cake. I think it would be perfect for a child’s tea party. Or better yet, a perfectly sweet wedding anniversary!

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IDEA 86: DARE TO COMMUNICATE

Jul
2016

July_Note

You never know where the next inspiration is going to come from.

Recently, I was traveling and stayed at one of those chain motels with the free breakfast included (what’s not to love about that?) So, I was already happy about getting a free banana, when I saw that someone had hand-written a note of well wishes on every one. Generally, the notes were all a variation of “Have a great day”, I chose “Soar with the eagles”, which inexplicably lifted the next couple hundred miles of my road trip.

It occurred to me how simple, yet powerful these little unexpected ball-point moments of inspiration had been, from one stranger to another, placed ingeniously on the part of the fruit that would be stripped off and thrown out anyway.

It suddenly made me nostalgic for the days I used to pack lunches for school. Wouldn’t this be a fun way to remind a child that his lunch was lovingly packed? (Or to pontificate on the importance of potassium–whichever is your whim).

So, in this world of email, text and instant messaging, I dare you to try zagging when others zig. Pick up a ball-point pen and a piece of food and have at it! And while you’re at it, Soar with the eagles!


IDEA 85: MAKE YOUR MARK

Jun
2016

Mark_Lilly

My extended family has been congregating on our family farmland for many summers. And the highlights of the reunions are the beautiful big meals, prepared, served and enjoyed outdoors.

Mark_party_scene

A handsome open-air structure, made by my brothers and cousins hosts the meals, and several years ago we replaced the mismatched tables and chairs with something sturdy enough to survive the northern Michigan winters.

Mark_tables and benches

My brother made the simplest of designs and all hands helped out to build the iconic tables and benches.

Mark_Table_end

With all the materials (treated lumber and screws) coming from the lumber yard, the solution is smart, elegant and very cost effective.

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Even better, each kid who put a bench together got to burn his or her name in the bottom, proof that they pitched in and deserve their place as a crucial piece of this family.

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The otherwise humble tableau is dressed up with our well worn and faded tablecloths.

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And, of course, lots of helpers make amazing food and natural decor.

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It’s an annual ritual, that none of us could imagine going without. I say, take a stand. Embrace a tradition. And make your mark.



IDEA 84: BEAUTIFY SOMETHING

May
2016

Bench_before

I love to troll around flea markets looking for that odd old thing that’s just begging for me to buy it and make something out of it. Such was the case when this little boudoir bench caught my eye. It had a raggedy finish and was topped by a flat piece of wood with a garish striped fabric stuck to it. Still, the unusual piece and deeply turned legs grabbed me.

Bench_Detail

I stripped, stained and finished the legs and back. And cut a nice thick piece of foam for the seat. But for the longest time I couldn’t decide what fabric to cover it in. Until one day when I found myself at another flea market. And was standing there holding this beautiful old faded seed sack that said “Bemis Extra Heavy Seamless” on it.

Bench_Top

That made the perfect cover. The result is so sweet, and dare I say, chic? I noticed Restoration Hardware was selling a similar look in their latest catalog.

Restoration_Hdwe

Now the bench lives in my bathroom, at the ready if you’re looking to set down your towel, or need a place to prop the iPad next to the tub. And everyone who comes in there comments on it.

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I just tell them it’s from Restoration Hardware. (Not really, but it so could be).

IDEA 83: ANTICIPATE

Apr
2016

April_Garden_beds

My husband, the gardener of the household, calls April in Minnesota the “cruelest of all months”.

Your natural clock tells you it’s time to plant, but history tells us we are better off waiting, than subjecting a plethora of tiny growing things to a surprise freeze or snow shower.

But that does not keep him (and most Minnesotans who are so inclined) form tidying up the gardens in anticipation of our short but much beloved growing season.

While a cursory glance around the yard doesn’t look like much, his appreciation and care for what is to come has made me much more aware of the coming beauty. The garden that’s been buried in snow all winter is now completely tidied up. It’s all dirt and wood chips, with the exception of two green things: The garlic bed, planted last fall is brimming with new green shoots that apparently were at work all winter under a cozy blanket of snow. And the wood-chip path is being taken over with soft green clover. I asked him why he left the clover when he cleared out everything else. And, while I would think most gardeners would consider this a weed, he appreciates the clover for the soft bed it forms for bare feet. Much preferable to wood-chips on the tootsies.

Elsewhere in the yard, a very young False Indigo has been guarded by a wire form. If he hadn’t lovingly cleared out around it, I may never have noticed. And I would never have known that at this young stage, a False Indigo looks exactly like asparagus poking up into the world.

April_False_Indigo

Teeny-tiny Forget-Me-Nots are up in force, but so small they’re easy to miss.

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Just outside the vegetable garden, fresh green Stella d’oro daylilies are preparing for the show.

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Before the red Asiatic lilies appear, the foliage makes a pretty green star pattern.

April_Lilies

And it wouldn’t be a Minnesota yard without a host of different hosta varieties peeking up.

April_Hosta

In all the brownness, our bright pink Magnolia tree tries to hold its own.

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And the April rain reveals that all the loving preparation has it’s own beauty.

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In the coming months, the garden will begin bursting with vegetation. The gate will be dripping with a bean vine so prolific, it makes you want to laugh. This place will get so lush and beautiful, coming home every evening will be a celebration.

And, once again, we’ll all be reminded why we put up with Minnesota winters.

April_Summer_Beauty

IDEA 82: GO HOMEMADE

Mar
2016

Maple_Syrup_Sunny

I remember reading a spoof on Martha Stewart where she purportedly had a recipe for making your own water. And this comes close. But.

When you live in the Midwest, well, when you have kids, sometimes you do things you never dreamed you would in the name of adventure.

We live in Minneapolis, the “South Metro”. We are a stone’s throw from the city in an urban neighborhood. And we have several mature maple trees, including a majestic Sugar Maple. When our neighbor called a tree trimmer to help remove a large branch from one of his trees, we observed from next door. Where the limb was removed, a veritable river of sap flowed out.

Huh, we said.

The next thing I knew, my husband had drilled two holes in our maple and began collecting bucket after bucket of pure maple tree sap.

Maple_Syrup_Buckets

He went online to discover that any maple tree can produce beautiful maple syrup, and our sugar maple would produce at the rate of 40 gallons of sap to one of syrup. Why not?

According to the online recipe, the time to sap the sap is when temperatures drop below freezing at night and rise into the 40s during the day. In Minnesota these conditions typically occur during the month of March, but depending on where you live, it could be anywhere from mid-February to April.

And get this: you probably have everything you need to produce maple syrup right in your house. Basically, what my hubby did was: Collect the sap in ice cream buckets, emptied each night into a 5 gallon paint bucket from Home Depot.

Once he got a bunch (and the sap seemed to be slowing down) he set up a boiling station out on our back patio. It seems there is a lot of boiling and evaporation, (which means doing it in the kitchen is not a good idea, unless, I guess, if you have a lot of wallpaper you’d like to remove).

Maple_Syrup_Boil

He filled my big soup pot with sap and brought it to a boil. Then he sat and monitored. As the liquid boiled down, he added more, always keeping a steady boil. Our 5-gallon Home Depot bucket of sap translated itself into one pint jar and two more little jars of delicious maple syrup. Enough to keep this family in homemade maple syrup until next spring.

Maple_Syrup_Bounty

So, was it worth it? Well, if you were just looking at the money savings, you would answer no, not even close. But what value would you put on creating something as magical as maple syrup straight from your yard, with no special tools at all? I’ll leave that one up to you. But if you do decide to give it a whirl, you must let me know! You are a sparkle in an otherwise world of practical, Martha!

IDEA 81: COMBINE THE POSIES WITH THE SWEETS

Feb
2016

Apple_Rose_box_of_R

I just had to make this the February tutorial because, what‘s better than sweets AND flowers to celebrate Valentines Day? Whether you make these for someone else or yourself, you’ll feel the love.

Sometimes a food recipe photo or tutorial is super-pretty and looks so easy. But when you try to make it, the result is much more difficult, and less attractive than in the picture. Well, this one is different! It really is that easy, and these turn out as cute as they say.

Apple_Rose_O

You may have seen this fun link for “Apple Roses” .

I wondered if it was really as simple and wonderful as it looked so I tried it. And, contrary to what I was expecting, they turned out every bit as beautiful and delicious as the picture.

I used peach preserves instead of apricot, just because of personal preference, but I bet you could substitute any marmalade or preserve you like. And I prefer to do a double recipe so you use exactly one package of puff pastry. Besides, six roses just isn’t enough! So, here would be your ingredient list for 12 roses:

4 apples (any kind you like but the red skin color makes pretty roses)

1 lemon

6 tablespoons preserves (I used peach)

4 tablespoons water

I package puff pastry containing two sheets

Cinnamon

Powdered sugar for a sprinkle at the end, if you like

Follow the fun tutorial and see what you think. I then packaged mine in a simple pastry box tied with a narrow grosgrain ribbon. The ultimate in taste for any deserving Valentine.

Including yourself, of course.

Apple_Rose_ribbon_box

Red Leaf_Mother_Child


IDEA 80: RECYCLE WITH STYLE

Jan
2016

Spats_CU2

Here’s a super-quick January Saturday idea, the quickest DIY ever.

My husband has all these cute chunky hiking-type socks. And typically he gets a lot of sock blow-outs.

Spats_hole

What do do with them? Cut them straight off by cutting straight across the vamp, then along the upper edge of the heal.

Spats_cut_twoSpats_two

Then pull them on over your short boots or shoes. You can wear them either way, right side up or like this, upside down.

Spats_Done

Voila! Instant spats!