Monthly Archives: August 2013

Garden Update: Surprises

moon and stars watermelonWell look at that…we have a tiny watermelon! Just like that time I found the cucumber in the wild west mess of unkempt vines in our garden, I was shocked to find the watermelon.

Downright bowled over.

Now I don’t want to leave it. I want to stay home and keep it safe from bugs and other nibbling beasts. (Our second cucumber was a midnight snack for something.) red pepperOur red pepper is ready to be picked! We are going to get to enjoy one before our vacation, and our neighbors (who are watering and harvesting while we are gone) will be able to enjoy another one. There are two, smaller green ones still left on the plant. Hopefully those will hold off until we get home. Forest Park community gardenI’m going to miss the garden while we are gone. I’m sad that I’m missing a week of new discoveries and tomato picking. Even though I know our plot is in good hands (thanks, Brett & Karen!), it’s tough to leave it. A few of our tomato plants are almost done, but most of them have newer green tomatoes on them and even some blossoms still. I hope that we can still have a few fresh tomatoes when we get back. forest park community gardenIn the meantime…hang on tiny watermelon! I want to enjoy you when I get back!

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Paper Weaving Party

paper weavingI mentioned here that I had some ladies over on Sunday night for a casual evening of paper crafting. We all worked on paper weaving projects, both big and small. I’ve been wanting to do some paper weaving for awhile now, and the stars finally aligned for all of us to get together and try it out. We each tried something different… Linda did a weaving with a vacation picture and a journal page, Jackie worked on a fabulous sushi weaving and a huge weaving of British-themed papers, Karen practiced with some old craft papers and I was aiming to finish a small piece of art for the bathroom. My creation is one of the three DIY art pieces that I mentioned during my Summer Manifesto. (“Summer” is going to extend into September around here!)  paper weaving The weaving is made from four different 12×12 scrapbooking papers, all shades of grey of course. I am going to put in into one of these frames (I have an extra) and hang it in the master bath. I added the shiny silver at the end and I quite like the little shine it adds to the otherwise monochromatic (aka DULL) weaving. (For the record, I like monochromatic…and dull.)paper weaving I’m waiting until after our vacation to frame it and hang it. I’ll share that with you when it’s all ready. Perhaps when that is done, I can actually show you the bathroom?

For today, I am dealing with a broken air conditioner (nothing like shelling out money for that right before vacation!), cleaning our apartment and trying to get our ducks in a row with cat/house/garden sitters and packing. I can’t believe Japan is just a few days away!!

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Shamrock Revival

oxalis This shamrock plant was “dead” in the spring. It had been sitting on my kitchen window ledge and on my desk since March 2012, and over the winter, it kind of gave up. I think lack of water and limited sunlight were contributing factors. I almost threw it out, but the book clubs ladies encouraged me to keep it and move it to more sunlight. I dug around in the soil and found the little oxalis bulbs. They still looked healthy, so I planted them in a fresh pot with some fresh soil and stuck the pot in the north corner of our balcony and forgot about it. (Forgot about it=rarely watered it.) The next time I noticed it, several leaves were popping up…by the end of July (when this picture was taken), the plant was thriving, bright green and full of flowers. Lesson learned…it needs more light. I have two other oxalis sitting on my kitchen window. Their leaves are purplish green…I’m thinking about moving them outside for the rest of the summer, too.

When we get home from Japan, I have to start thinking about the plant plan for the cold weather months. I have brought more indoor plants into the apartment this past year, and finding a place for both the houseplants and the balcony plants (the ones that come inside for the winter) is going to be a challenge. I’m a little sad just thinking about it.

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I Heart Snack Sets & 1950s Entertaining

vintage snack setLast week while thrifting with my parents, I came across these snack sets. They were only $1 per set, so I bought all four. I justified this purchase (I already have another collection of four smaller snack sets) by noting that the plates on these are almost dinner-sized, so they would be more useful for luncheons and larger servings. The ladies at the thrift store encouraged me to buy all of the snack sets, but I resisted. (It was hard to resist.)

I have an obsession with snack sets. They make me think of well-dressed ladies getting together and playing cards or having a wedding shower, eating tiny sandwiches and homemade Jell-O salads and drinking tea or coffee from the tiny cups. I feel like now, when I get together with my friends, we are wearing yoga pants as we crack open a bottle of wine and some cheese and crackers and call it a day. I long for the days of more polished entertaining.

On Sunday night I had some friends over for paper crafting. We ate veggies and homemade dip, chips and salsa, cheese and crackers, roasted tomato caprese salad and other tasty treats off of the snack plates. We drank summer red wine out of the tiny cups. (There were frequent refills.)

I’m thinking of hosting a snack set luncheon when I return…maybe as a last hurrah for the summer? I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime…do you get all fancy when you entertain? I can’t be the only one who dreams of fancy parties with homemade salads and tiny glass cups, right?



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Simple Summer Suppers: Roasted Tomato Caprese

garden dinner on the balconyThe challenge is on! We need to eat up all of our tomatoes around here before they go bad and before we hop on a plane for Japan. We’ve been giving away tons of red beauties, but still have so many to use! Last weekend, we had a mini-garden fest with our friend, Karen. We dined on our favorite panzanella, lightly grilled zucchini, Karen’s citrus rice salad and this delicious roasted tomato caprese salad. We were so lucky that the weather was perfect for dining outside on the balcony.

Honestly, it seems like a shame to roast perfectly delicious, garden-grown tomatoes…but it’s more of a shame to let them go to waste. I really think this salad will be a good one to try this winter with sad, peaked grocery store tomatoes. I’ll let you know. But for garden tomatoes…holy cow, the salad is crazy-good!roasting tomatoesIna Garten’s Roasted Caprese Salad

12 plum tomatoes (or the equivalent in lovely tomato varieties from your garden), halved with seeds removed

1/4 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 teaspoons sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

16 oz fresh mozzarella

handful of fresh basil, julienned

Preheat your oven to 275 degrees while you prep the tomatoes.roasting tomatoesPlace your tomatoes on a sheet pan (I covered mine with parchment paper to reduce sticky messes.) cut side up and drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Add garlic, sugar, salt and pepper.

Roast for two hours.

Cool tomatoes to room temperature and dump contents of pan (tomatoes and liquid) into serving bowl. Add fresh mozzarella (sliced) and basil. Mix and serve.roasted tomato capreseIna recommends arranging everything beautifully and adding a bit of extra olive oil, salt and pepper. But we found that the dish is fine without the extra oil. And while it’s lovely to serve alternating slices of tomato and mozzarella, serving it in a bowl is easy and rustic (and in no way lazy at all).

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The Mustache & The (Accidental) No TV Week

The Moustache by Carrere This month, while I was waiting for my book club book to come into the library, I filled the time with the novella, The Mustache by Emmanuel Carrere. It was recommended to me by one of the ladies in my book group, and she warned me that it was interesting and “very disturbing” at the end. That was enough to get me interested, but the premise was really intriguing as well: Curious to see people’s reactions, a man decides to shave his mustache on a whim. When no one notices, he becomes annoyed. Then, when his friends and family claim he never had a mustache, things unravel.

I normally only read old books (pre-1950s for the most part). I know I’m missing out on a vast array of good literature by being this way, but new things just don’t strike my fancy the way old things do. But I’m really glad I tried The Mustache…the story was fast-paced and completely unexpected. I can’t tell if it was truly a page-turner or if I was rushing through it in anticipation of the “very disturbing” end. Either way, the closing pages did not disappoint!

Apparently the movie ends very differently (from what I can tell from Wikipedia). I am still interested in seeing it though, especially since it is directed by Carrere and the music is done by Phillip Glass…I’ll be adding it to my list of things to watch once the weather gets cold.

Speaking of watching things, I haven’t had my TV on at all since last Monday. If you know me at all, you know this is huge… I often have the TV on during the day in the background for noise. It’s usually a cable news channel rehashing the same old stories, the same old Washington drama, the same old political fights. At night, especially if Naoto is working, I often spend the evening half working on a project and half watching Big Bang Theory re-runs. It is a silly waste of time. I didn’t make a conscious effort to turn the TV off, I just got busy working on things and didn’t turn it on. I’ve been listening to crazy-awesome music instead. Eleven days later, I feel like I haven’t missed a thing. Now, if only I could give up the internet for awhile…



Lily of the Valley embroidery pattern from Wild OliveToday I’m making the drive down to shop and have lunch with my parents. I haven’t seen them since they came up to visit with my grandma (and I didn’t have the Mother’s Day gift ready then) so I’m finally delivering the gifts for both Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.

I worked on this embroidery project over the 30 Days of Creativity in June. The pattern is from Mollie’s blog, Wild Olive, and can be found here. I really loved stitching it–it was a nice mix of back stitching and French knots (I love stitching those knots!) and I finished it in an evening. embroidery backingYesterday, I typed up a little message on blush paper and pasted it on the back of the embroidery hoop. I know there’s a nicer way to do this (where the fabric tucks around the larger hoop and the paper backing goes back into the smaller hoop), but sadly, I cut my fabric just a bit too short to make it all happen. So, I glued the fabric down to the back of the hoops and glued the paper backing on top. It looks fine, but the perfectionist in me is annoyed at the fact that it could be better. But, the important thing is, the front is lovely, the back is fine and the gift is (finally) going to be delivered this afternoon!Mother's Day gift wrapping

Here it is all wrapped up in a flat paper bag with some twine, a Martha Stewart flower sticker (from my huge sticker stash, collected over the years) and with a tiny piece of tape from Oh Hello Friend. Simple.

And, in case you’re curious, for Father’s Day we got my dad a Blackhawks cap and these fancy County Fair Field Notes (the Illinois ones, of course!)

Off to central Illinois for some thrifting and dining!

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Garden Update: CUCUMBER!!!

Japanese cucumberLadies and gentlemen, we have a cucumber!

This was great cause for celebration on Saturday afternoon at the garden. Because we didn’t care for our vine plants properly (hence the Wild West title for that part of the garden), they’ve only managed to become a tangled mess of cucumber and watermelon vines intertwined with fallen peas and lima beans and a wayward Juliet tomato plant. We kind of gave up on that section, chalking it up to our rookie year (and a little bit of laziness for not building a little vining contraption sooner).

So, when we were digging around looking for red Juliets, I came across the little guy above and shouted, “LOOK! A CUCUMBER!!!” Thankfully, we were the only ones at the garden, because I’m pretty sure I sounded like a crazy woman…but if you can’t get excited about growing a vegetable, what can you get excited about?future red pepperIn other good gardening news, our red pepper is getting bigger and starting to turn red. It’s often overshadowed in the garden by the crazy tomatoes, so I’m glad it’s plodding right along to redness. IMG_3275While Naoto weeded, I harvested another large bag of tomatoes (along with a yellow squash from Haig). I gave a few pounds to the book club ladies on Saturday morning, and by Saturday afternoon, our kitchen counter was full again.

Tomato takeover!

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Pleasant Home Movies on the Porch: The Cabinet of Dr Caligari

Movies on the Porch at Pleasant HomeOn Friday night, I dragged Naoto to see a silent movie.

Pleasant Home, a historic home/museum in our neighborhood, is hosting Silent Movies on the Porch this month. The porch is huge, the summer nights are mild and there is live piano accompaniment! It felt like a real old-time theater experience! I have never seen a silent movie (sad, I know!) so I thought watching one on a porch with live music was a great place to start. At least if the movie lost my interest, I could appreciate the piano, right? Well, the movie never lost my interest…even Naoto had a great time!

Friday’s movie was The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, a 1920 German horror film. The movie was kind of weird, kind of scary (though not scary by today’s standards). The set was charming–characters walked among jaggedly painted buildings and hills, they opened oddly-shaped doors and windows, they congregated in tiny, spare rooms… The actors were fun to watch…great facial expressions, great hand motions…without the captions, you could still get a feel for what was going on. There was a plot twist at the end. (I love a good plot twist.)IMG_3244The best part about this particular movie on the porch, though, was that the pianist, Thomas Holmes, wrote his own score for this movie! (You can read more about that here.) Apparently, the movie’s original score was too string-heavy to duplicate with just a piano, so he decided to write a new one…no big deal, right? His music really made the movie come alive–the suspenseful scenes were so much more effective with the piano behind them! There were several extreme close-ups of creepy Dr. Caligari during the movie, and Holmes’s music for these scenes was perfect to set the creepy mood!

The movie on the porch was so much fun that I think we’re going to do it again. This week Pleasant Home is showing Buster Keaton’s Our Hospitality. I’ll be spending all week talking it up to Naoto…but we all know he’s going to enjoy it, right?

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A Bears Game Double Date

Honor Flight Chicago Bears GameLast Thursday, my friend Barb and I had the pleasure of escorting two World War II veterans to a Bears game. That’s us above with Bill and Bill. As far as dates go, Barb and I hit the jackpot. The Bills were perfect gentlemen and we all had an amazing and special night. Honor Flight Chicago World War II veterans at Bears GameThe activity was an Honor Flight Chicago event. The Bears gave us tickets to the game that included access to the United Club, a “hospitality area” in the stadium that serves amazing cocktails and beer and gourmet food that you could either eat in the (climate-controlled) dining area or take to your cozy cushioned seat. We all felt a little spoiled by the services, the amazing food (hello freshly carved barbeque beef brisket on a challah roll!) and the spacious seating. We ate inside before the game, and then came back inside to meet up with the other volunteers and veterans at half-time. Otherwise, we were outside enjoying a great game (lots of scoring and a WIN for the Bears!) on a perfectly cool August night in Chicago. I mean…isn’t that a gorgeous view?Soldier Field skyline view Chicago Bears Soldier FieldBears score flag runnersBears WinDuring the game, George McCaskey came over to thank Bill and Bill for their service to our country. Both veterans were floored at this visit…as were all of the people around us. It was a really great moment in their night. a visit from GMme and the two Bills at Soldier FieldOur “seat neighbor” during the game has been a season ticket holder for five years. He was so kind to Bill and Bill. He helped us safely assist the two Bills up and down the stairs and chatted to them about their service and Soldier Field and he was just a downright great guy. Thanks Season Ticket Holder Section 311 Row 6 Seats 13 & 14!

One really funny/scary moment in the night occurred as we were entering Soldier Field. We were going through the ticket gates and (tall) Bill didn’t have his ticket. He explained to the ticket-taker that Barb had it. Barb had already gone through the gate and I reminded Bill that I had given him his ticket in the parking garage. He shook his head and said that I hadn’t given him a ticket. For a moment, I was questioning my own sanity, but then Barb came over and said she had seen me handing off the ticket to Bill. We thought maybe he had dropped it by the car or something. We had all entered through the gate but Bill, and you can’t re-enter once your ticket has been scanned, so we had a small moment of panic. No one wanted Bill to walk alone all the way back to the car to look for his ticket. I felt regretful that I had allowed Bill to be a gentleman and let me go first. But then, Bill went into his pocket and protested, “This sheet of paper is the only thing you gave me outside!” IT WAS HIS TICKET!! He just didn’t realize it was a paper-printed ticket (instead of the “real” tickets he was used to). The ticket-taker hugged him, I hugged her and we all breathed a huge sigh of relief that we were able to go inside without anymore drama and worry.

We all had a great time and I really felt honored to be able to spend the evening with Bill and Bill. When we dropped them off, they hugged us both and thanked us for choosing them to go…it was the least we could do. We have so much more to thank them for.

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