She works with willing hands.

Ode to Basil

Basil, sweet basil, you are a true summer treat.

Straight from the plant is the only way to eat

your tender green leaves on caprese salad or penne,

the uses for you are vast – they are many.

In ice cream or cookies you’re an unexpected flavor,

you make me creative and cause me to savor

the warm summer air and my bare feet in the grass.

I’m pondering ways to store you when autumn comes to pass.

Garden Update

Now that it’s July, it’s time for a garden update!

As I shared with y’all back in the spring, Jersey Boy and I built a Simple Raised Garden Bed and we planted the following:

1.  Sweet basil

2.  Italian parsley

3.  Rosemary

4.  Thyme

5.  Cherry tomatoes

6.  Cucumbers

7.  Green bell peppers

8.  Yellow bell peppers

9.  Red bell peppers

10. Jalapeno peppers

Deer are plentiful in our area, so we covered our garden bed with Deer Block and crossed our fingers that those doe-eyed vandals wouldn’t come destroy it all.

So how does our garden grow?

Quite well, I’m happy to report!

And did the Deer Block work?

Yes!  Those rascals haven’t gained access yet.  (My fingers are still crossed.)

Here is how our plants are faring:

1.  Sweet basil – It’s growing well but not out of control.  I use a ton of basil in my summer cooking so I regularly pluck its fragrant little leaves.  Plucking basil regularly encourages the plant to grow all summer long.

2.  Italian parsley – Take a look.  My parsley is OUT OF CONTROL.

parsley plant

It is thoroughly happy and I have a ton of it.  Anyone want some?

3.  Rosemary – My plant is happy but not huge.  There is nothing quite like the aromatic pleasure of picking rosemary straight from the garden and chopping it up.  I could smell my fingers all day – but that would be weird, right?

4.  Thyme – Much like my rosemary, my thyme is happy but not huge.

5.  Cherry tomatoes – I am super excited about these little babies.  Just look at ’em.

cherry tomato plant

With two cherry tomato plants in our garden, we’ll soon be in tomato heaven.

6.  Cucumbers – This is the first time that I’ve ever grown a cucumber plant and let me tell you – cucumber is crazy.  From the weird curly-q tendrils that loop themselves around everything (including my other plants) to the fact that its vines crawl all over the garden and take up a ton of space – cucumber will not be ignored.  Nobody puts cucumber in a corner.

I bought this little wooden trellis to elevate my cucumber and give my other plants some breathing room.

crazy cucumber

7.  Green bell peppers – It’s not putting out yet.  What gives?

8.  Yellow bell peppers – Same.  Still not putting out.

9.  Red bell peppers – My red bell pepper plant has sprouted some nice-sized peppers, but none have turned red before my kids managed to swipe them off the plant.

red bell pepper plant

10. Jalapeno peppers – We love spicy food in my house so we’re eating our jalapenos faster than our plant is putting ’em out.  And they’re not crazy spicy.  My kids have been eating raw jalapeno slices without flinching.

So there’s the update.  We love our little garden.  It’s one of my favorite things about this summer.

Trader Joe’s Highs and Lows

Happy Monday, ya’ll.  I hope you enjoyed celebrating the beloved daddies in your life yesterday!  I made my meat-and-potatoes-loving Jersey Boy a Father’s Day dinner of grilled steak, potatoes with dill butter, corn on the cob, and chocolate peanut butter cup ice cream with chocolate chip cookies for dessert.  Mmmmmmm – my mouth is watering just thinking about it.

But back to the matter at hand…

Today’s Trader Joe’s Highs and Lows is all about hand soap.

I confess – I have a hand soap obsession.  I buy new hand soaps often and hoard them in the cabinet under my kitchen sink.  I consider hand soap a tiny luxury – a moment of aromatherapeutic indulgence in the midst of the mundane daily task of washing tiny hands.  My current favorite is Meyer’s Clean Day Peony Hand Soap (because peonies are my favorite flower and they were just in season here in Pennsylvania).

Trader Joe’s carries a number of nice hand soaps, and one of them is today’s Trader Joe’s high – Trader Joe’s Herbal Blend Lemongrass & Clary Sage Liquid Soap.

tj's hand soap high

I like this soap a whole lot.  I keep it in Jersey Boy’s manly basement bathroom because it has a fresh, gender-neutral scent.  And a little goes a long way – you don’t need a huge pump, so the twelve ounce bottle lasts a good long time.  Plus, it is sulfate and paraben free, so you don’t have to worry about putting nasty chemicals on your little ones’ hands.

This next soap, however, earns the title of today’s Trader Joe’s low – Trader Joe’s Botanical Bounty Foaming Hand Soap.

tj's hand soap low

Yes, the eight ounce bottle is adorbs (it looks precious in my powder room) and the scent is pleasant, but the consistency of the soap drives me nuts.  It is watery and foams very little, making me feel like I need two pumps rather than one.  Me no likey that.

What is your favorite hand soap?

Front Porch Love

I hope ya’ll had a wonderful Memorial Day weekend!  Jersey Boy, the littles and I shunned the beach and stayed busy here at the homestead.  We did yard work, tended to our little garden (I’ll give you a garden update soon) and finally focused attention on our lovely front porch.

I’m dedicating this post – which I named Front Porch Love – to one of my favorite DIY home design blogs that is no more – Young House Love.  They inspired me for years with their fresh and colorful taste, before mysteriously withdrawing from the blogging world while they were at the very top of their game.  They achieved a level of success that most bloggers only dream of, with two book deals and product lines at Target and Shades of Light.  And when they quit, it was such a big deal in the blogosphere that their departure was covered by the New York Times.

I miss you, Young House Love.  Tear.  I hope that this thrifty front porch zhushing would make you proud.

Here is our sad, lonely porch in her bare state:

bare front porch

For a gal with Southern roots and a strong affinity for front porches and all that they represent, our neglected front porch has been a scandal.  When we bought our house two years ago I was pregnant and ravaged by morning sickness, too busy hanging my head over the toilet bowl to give a hoot about the front porch’s appearance.  So she sat and waited patiently, feeling neglected but holding out hope.  Until this past weekend, when we finally gave her the attention that a lovely front porch deserves.

First, I enlisted some helpers.  Armed with scrub brushes, we got down to shining her up.

scrub porch

boys scrubbing porch

Can these boys just stay this way forever?

I cleaned her ceiling, where a number of creepy crawlies had taken up residence.

me cleaning ceiling

And after we scrubbed, shined and swept, it was time to decorate.  These rocking chairs arrived earlier in the week, and Jersey Boy put them together on Saturday:

rocking chair

We bought them from Amazon, where they were $139 each with free shipping.  We had an Amazon gift card, so we paid $78 out of pocket for two rocking chairs.

They are solid wood and seem to be well made.  Time will tell.

final front porch

I picked up the indoor/outdoor rug from Target for $50.

final front porch1

I already owned the blue planters and I snatched the baskets from my neighbor when she decided to throw them away.

final front porch2

We’ve owned the little Ikea table since the early days of our marriage, and the pillows are oldies from Crate & Barrel.

All told, this project cost us around $140, including $78 for the rockers, $50 for the rug and roughly $12 on flowers.

Jersey Boy and I plan to spend our summer evenings rocking on our lovely front porch, beverage in hand.  And I think that she is finally feeling the love.

Making a Simple Raised Garden Bed

As I mentioned in my Weekend Recap, last weekend we headed over to the Depot and purchased the fixin’s to make a raised garden bed.  My kids have been asking and asking to grow a garden, and who am I to deny such a lovely request?  I want them to be amazed by planting tiny nondescript plants and watching them mature into edibles that we will enjoy all summer.

I had three requirements for this project:

1.  simple;

2.  inexpensive; and

3.  keeps out the deer.

In my neck of the woods, we have tons of deer.  We encounter them often and they’re precious and lovely – until they eat every.darn.thing.you.plant.  In the fall those lovely deer shred my gorgeous mums.  Boo hoo.  So I needed an effective way of keeping them out of our little family garden.

I know that Pinterest is chock full of gorgeous, handcrafted garden beds in a range of configurations.  But ain’t nobody got time for that (at least not this unbored housewife).  I decided to be creative and go with a square.

I perused various price points, and almost bought a raised garden bed kit from Costco for around $70.  But then I discovered that Home Depot had a four-by-four foot raised garden bed kit on sale for $34.88.  It is made of untreated cedar wood (which is important because some treated woods and other materials used to build garden beds leech chemicals into the soil and your plants – yuck).  It also looked simple to assemble (see point one above) and was inexpensive (see point two).  It was a winner.

We grabbed the garden bed kit, six bags of garden soil for $1.88 each, and some organic composted cow dung for $5.17 (the plants will love it).  As for the deer issue, we decided to buy this:

deer block

It’s made in the USA and comes with a money-back guarantee that it will keep out the deer.  For $19.97, I was convinced.

We also bought green metal stakes to secure the deer netting around the garden.  We already had two green stakes in the garage at home, so we picked up two more.  They are four feet in length and cost $3.46 each.

Then I got to choose my precious herbs and veggies!  I decided on:

1.  Sweet basil

2.  Italian parsley

3.  Rosemary

4.  Thyme

5.  Cherry tomatoes

6.  Cucumbers

7.  Green bell peppers

8.  Yellow bell peppers

9.  Red bell peppers

10. Jalapeno peppers

Because of the small size of my bed, I didn’t want to waste space planting stuff that I don’t use often.  I use all of these herbs and veggies pretty much weekly.

When we got home, Jersey Boy got straight to it by assembling the bed.

IMG_2648

The assembly required one screw driver (although Jersey Boy preferred to use his power tools), and took no longer than ten minutes.

IMG_2686

Easy stuff.

Then we decided on a location in the yard that already had a bald spot and gets a good amount of sun.  We fiddled around with the placement of the bed, making sure that it looked nice and square against the back fence.

IMG_2695

We used a straight-edged spade to make an edge mark outline around the outside of the garden bed.

IMG_2704

After we edged around the bed, we moved it out of the way,

IMG_2712

and dug just an inch or two deep to remove the top layer of sod from the inside of the square.  This helps to prevent weeds from making their way up through the soil and into the garden bed.

IMG_2723

After we had a perfect square,

IMG_2731

we put our raised garden bed back in place.  (Look at those cute little knees.)

IMG_2736

Then we drove our stakes into the ground at the four corners of the garden bed, sinking them about a foot deep.

IMG_2745

IMG_2750

Next we filled the bed with garden soil and composted cow dung.

IMG_2757

Then we added the deer netting.  I decided to double-wrap two sides of the bed in a way that would prevent access, but would make it harder for the deer to break-in.

IMG_2771

The metal stakes have handy little hooks on them to attach the netting.

IMG_2768

Here are my precious little plants:

IMG_2779

They came in biodegradable pots that I soaked with water and planted straight into the soil.  No waste = a good thing.

I planted them in pretty little rows and stood back to admire my family’s work.

IMG_2787

That’s one cute garden.

Then I draped more deer netting across the top of the garden bed and zip-tied it to each of the corners.  This made two flaps that fall to the ground, but can easily be lifted to attend to the plants.

We’ll see how the netting fares, but it’s six days in and the deer haven’t gained access.

This raised garden bed was simple, inexpensive and will *hopefully* keep out those precious deer.