Friday, April 20, 2018

DIY Tulip Wreath

Apparently I'm into wreaths? I remember each holiday in my childhood, mom would lug a giant rubbermaid box of decorations out of the garage, and we'd bedeck the house. In hindsight, I suspect our decorations were probably a mix of garish-and-cheap next to expensive-and-broken items: White ghosts (stuffed with plastic grocery bags) hanging from the trees out front for Halloween, real pumpkins stabbed with wooden feathers to resemble turkeys at Thanksgiving, or intricate little Christmas nutcrackers with delicate hats, hands, or heads that were super-glued back on after careless children broke them.

Sorry we broke all your stuff, mom (and continue to break; who killed off another wise man from your nativity set last Christmas? It wasn't me this time.) That's not the point, though; the point is that I remember loving the process of decorating our house. However, I'm four years a mother, and I don't really have much of a stash of seasonal decor myself to spread the joy to my children. The one thing I'm slowly accumulating is a small supply of wreaths.

Perhaps it's because my first DIY autumn wreath was (is) so awesome. I really liked how it turned out, and the process was a fun experiment.

Then the Christmas edition came around the next year:

However, pine cones don't really say "spring," do they? I did the unthinkable a bought an Easter wreath on sale at Smith's, but Easter came and went so quickly.  I eyed my barren door last week and knew it was time for something happy, springy, and floral. Thus, to my Pinterest board I went, and I pulled up this lovely tulip wreath tutorial from The How-To Mom. "Laurel," you say, "your wreath doesn't look as great as hers." I know, I know. It's either a product of skill or a Michael's vs. Dollar Tree effect. I do love her two-toned effect, but the dollar store only had pink and pink-with-a-little-bit-of-white varieties. Not much contrast, I'm afraid. Nonetheless, I am super pleased with how it turned out.

I bought the tulip stems and ribbon from Dollar Tree. Fact: I can't remember how many bunches I bought (not enough the first time; I had to go back for more.) My best guess is 12 bunches with 4 or 5 tulips a bunch. I used one spool of 3 inch x 3 yard green burlap ribbon. It... almost reached. I knew it was going to be close, and had I overlapped it slightly less, I think I could have made it seamlessly around. The very last section (where I put the loop to hang it) has a loop of brown burlap that I hope is hidden by the flowers.😊

Since the Dollar Tree only had 9 inch foam wreath forms, I opted for a Walmart one for around $4. I chose the 12 inch (though the original tutorial uses a 14 inch.) All around, that clocks in the price of this beauty at roughly $17 before tax. 

I love the simplicity of this tutorial. After clipping off the individual stems with pliers and securing my ribbon to the foam with hot glue, I wrapped. Just wrapped. No more gluing until securing the ribbon at the very end, no floral wire, pushpins, or eye screws... I loved making this wreath.

I tried to follow the pictures and suggestions from the original tutorial. It looked like she grouped 3 or 4 stems per wrap-around of ribbon, pushing the leaves towards the top so they won't get pinned under the ribbon. The end of the ring is tricky, but I found I could trim the stems slightly shorter and tuck the last flowers into the first loop of ribbon. I used hot glue to secure the end of the ribbon and glued on a loop for hanging.

Voila: spring.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

"Big Dreams, Small Spaces" Texas Style

 I am not a fan of most reality TV. But I DO love the "Great British Baking Show," and I have recently discovered another British import that has a similar appeal for me. It's called "Big Dreams, Small Spaces," and it's about a gardening guru, Monte Don, who helps two individuals or families during each episode turn small yards into interesting or beautiful garden spaces. One of the things I love about it is that the participants do most of the work themselves; they don't hire professionals to come in to make the transformation happen. And often they work with a relatively small budget.

I have to admit that I am intrigued. Well, more than intrigued; I am motivated. So over the course of the summer, my plan is to take this small, ugly corner of our yard and transform it into a magical garden for our grandchildren, complete with structures, plantings, and decor. I want to involve them both in designing the space and in working to make it happen.

This really is a small space--only about 15 1/2 feet by 36 feet, but I feel like it has potential, and anything will be an improvement. Right now it is just sort of a graveyard for odds and ends. The only bright spot is the flower bed along the house wall which is just beginning to bloom:

Monte always has the homeowners draw up a plan, so the children and I have plotted out our design. I wish he were here to give us his input, but for now we will go with what we have got:

It may be hard to read, but it includes a narrow flower bed around the giant water tank, a small graveled seating area around an equally small raised fire bowl, a play house w/deck, and a child-size garden bench.

Budget? I'm just having to estimate here, but I'm hoping to pull if all off for under $400. The playhouse plans I have found have a cost of about $250, but I will need to build a deck under it because the ground slopes down to the fence, so that cost will be higher. Add in the cost of the fire feature, the bench, plants, gravel and mulch, and $400 may be too little. But that will be our target.

It's a little (very) scary to post about this as an on-going project because it could turn into a complete disaster. But putting it out there will also encourage me to really make it happen. And along the way I will share what I learn--what works and what doesn't. And if it turns out, maybe it will encourage you to dream big in a small way too.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Can you bake a cake in a KitchenAid mixing bowl?


End of blog post.

Except first, can we talk about internet forums or conversation threads or whatever it's called when someone asks a question and others can post answers? I appreciate such things; I find good tips and helpful answers to the problems that Google doesn't know how to solve. However, upon trying to figure out the above, I found some vague yeses, some "I Don't Knows" (why post at all to say you don't know? Unless you have a related, helpful suggestion?), and a lecture or two about treating the KitchenAid mixing bowl with care rather than hazarding its safety in an oven.

Whatever. The point is, SourPatch had a very specific request for his birthday cake: a chocolate, blue bird cake. A short perusal of Google images later, I found and fell in love with this cake. The artist uses 4 round cakes and shapes them to look like a dome. Then, there's also this very cute tutorial with a pair of round cakes and a dome cake on top.

Here's the rub: I'm trying to cut back on my sugar intake, and the big family party happens after Patch's birthday. For the day of, I just wanted one cake mix worth of cake for the family and a few friends. Further, even if I did want a behemoth of a cake, why not use a cake pan already in the intended shape? So I eyed my stainless steel mixing bowl and asked the internet if I could bake with it.

True, I have had lots of experience baking with the Wilton Wonder Mold Pan. My bestie in high school convinced me to go on a "Barbie Cake" baking run. The advantage this pan has over the KitchenAid bowl is a long, metal skewer running down the center to help it bake evenly. The disadvantage is has is that I don't own one any more.

However, I followed the same baking temperature and time suggested for the Wilton pan: 325 degrees for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Using a Devil's food recipe from the wonderful Cake Mix Doctor Book, I found that time perfect for my cake, even without the metal cylinder in the center. I also found it a little squatty. I know that I managed to cook two mixes at once for a tall Barbie cake, but alas I don't have any memory of how to adjust the time.

The moral is that the cake pan survived (325 is a pretty low baking temp, n'est pas?) and from all appearances returned unscathed from its adventure in the oven. Along with homemade buttercream frosting, I decorated with edible colored baking sheets my mom gifted me in lieu of the fondant (and marshmallows for the eyes.) The final result wasn't polished, but it was delicious!