State of the Garden Address: Fall 2013

I can’t say my garden has been terribly successful this year, though it is much better than last.  About half of my plants perished from the heat, swimming after downpours, neglect, or simply not being harvested. The victims? My lavender, the spinach (though I did get one small harvest out of them, yum!), the cauliflower, the dill, the lettuce.

What did survive is slowly being transplanted in hopes of allowing it to expand. I’m starting to think ahead to next year and what I’ll do differently. I need to keep a journal and do some more research into what I’m buying and how it grows best. This year I put them in dirt and hoped for the best.

When I say I transplanted them, I mean I did it last week. Sean built me planters back in June, and there have been bags of dirt sitting in them since. I finally pulled them out and dumped them in. Bad news: leaving bags that long deceives the local 8 legged population into thinking they can move in. Good news: the grass below was killed and worms had made their way into the bags, so my planter boxes have some wriggly soil enrichers. Natalie got a kick out of the worms, asking to hold them and laughing uncontrollably when I put a wiggly one in the palm of her chubby little hand.

Here’s what the blueberry bush looks like now. Forgive the insane pine needlage, we were gone for the weekend and it was insanely windy.


Here are the strawberries, which are still producing.


The tomato plant, which have only produced mini tomatoes so far. At the top of the picture is the pepper plant.


My sunflower circle was a success! Giant sunflowers grew, interspersed with smaller ones. I’ll be harvesting the head of the furthest right flower in the picture below so I can improve upon my design for next year.



Smart Shopping with Coupons

Have you seen that TLC show Extreme Couponers? The one where people will dive into dumpsters, spend 60 hours a week clipping and planning 6 hour shopping trips, and sacrifice interior aesthetics in the name of bringing home thousands of dollars worth of products for free or pennies on the dollar? I would watch it on occasion before we cut cable, but a couple weeks ago I discovered it was on Netflix.

Guess what my nap time TV indulgence has become?

Now, I have no intentions of committing that much time, effort and space into my grocery trips. I haven’t even made a solid habit of meal planning for the week. Plus, I hate math, and the lists these men and women go to the store with scare me. But as a result of our complacency, the grocery budget is always the one that gets out of line month to month. We love to travel, and want to go visit my sister in law in San Diego this fall, but the money is never there. If I can shop smarter, and take some tricks from these people, then perhaps that grocery budget can lose some weight and we can siphon it into a more enjoyable and indulgent savings pot.

I’ve been passively couponing for a while. My mom and mother in law both give me their Telegram & Gazette circulars, and they’ve piled up. So this week, while the kiddos snoozed away, I popped on an episode of EC, pulled out a file box and some folders, grabbed the pile, and began getting organized.

After watching several episodes and seeing the systems these people used, I decided the easiest way for me to keep on top of it would be to file the circulars whole, then clip the coupons I need when I plan my trip. See my set up below and add in a computer.

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Big Blue, the file box – Each manila folder holds a month of circulars (Smart Source, Red Plum, or P&G) chronologically with spines up so I can see the printed dates quickly. Circulars are tossed when their coupons expire.

Notebook – Holds my Emily Ley meal planning pages, which have spaces for your meals and a large space for your shopping list. I have to plan for my own family, plus the daycare kiddos.

Circulars – I have 2 grocery stores within 5 minutes of me (I know, spoiled) so I pull their weekly flyers out to check the deals. Some people go all out and shop 8 stores withing a 50 mile radius…I think 2 is good to start with.

Computer (not pictured) – Because I don’t have 60 hours a week to devote to this, I use the resources available. There are several blogs that do the deal matching legwork for you. I simply googled “Price Chopper coupon deals” and “Stop and Shop coupon deals”. They typically match up the sales in the flyer or on the shelves with coupons online (printables) or in recent circulars (referenced by title and date, hence my filing system for quick hunting). Having a printer that works (and hasn’t been blinking it’s LOW INK light at you for a month) will allow you to access even more savings with the online printable coupons.

Husband or Mother-in-Law (not pictured) – Useful for wrangling the wee princess if she’s awake. She thinks it’s fun to steal mommy’s laptop or pen and scribble all over my planning sheet.

This week I happened to get lucky, and achieved my biggest milestone yet – a free item! And what’s better, a free item that I NEEDED. My hubby has 3 staples in his beauty…I mean grooming…routine: Head and Shoulders 2 in 1, Old Spice deodorant and Old Spice body wash. I like to smell him after he showers.


Head and Shoulders is usually $5.79. This week it was marked down to $3.99.

The store had a coupon that I could load onto my membership card worth $2 off of 1. So now it was only $1.99.  Awesome.

But wait, there’s more.

This Sunday’s circular had a $2 off 1 coupon…thereby making my purchase -$0.01.

That’s a negative, folks.

Sadly I only had one of each coupon, otherwise you better believe I would have stocked up.

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I’ll keep you updated with other hot deals I nab and tips on “Smart Shopping” as I’ve deemed my less than extreme version of couponing. I’m still very much learning, but I believe in sharing what you know!

A Haven in the City

I grew up in the sticks, and I was very happy there. Now I live in the city, a fact that I haven’t yet come to complete terms with.

It seems the longer I live on this busy street with the grocery store a mere 500 feet away, the harder my spirit is retaliating and yearning for country life, animals and simplicity around me. I have this romantic idea of becoming an urban homesteader, with a garden that shames the best produce departments and chickens that lay sunny yolked eggs for only my family. My thumbs itch, they want to be green SO badly.

Last year’s attempt at a garden wound up dying of dehydration and failure to plant. I hung my head in shame. But did I learn? Nope. I’m back at it again this year.

However this year I’m making more progress than last. The big difference is that I’m spending at least an hour outside with Natalie each day and she adores nature. She is enthralled by plants and flowers and bugs and dirt. So my plants are in containers and are getting a nice daily watering.

Here’s what we have going on so far:

Strawberries – I’m very excited about these. They are my second plants, as the first two got too dried out and didn’t recover from transplanting. But these second ones are already berrying up! 


Blueberries – The bush is in a large container for the moment. Once the yard is more settled, I’ll find a place to properly plant it to let it flourish. But it’s already flowering!



Spinach and Cauliflower – The cauliflower was an accident, I meant to grab broccoli, but the canisters were all mixed up at the store.


Sweet Mint and Dill –


Tomatoes –


Pepper and Cabbage – The cabbage was an accident, I meant to grab lettuce, but again, I blame the messy shelf labeling over my inability to  double check what I’d pulled.


Red Lettuce –


And what I’m most excited about, the Sunflower House! I’ve planted 2 varieties, one will grow about 4 feet in height, the others 12 feet!!! So *green thumbs crossed* we get some mammoth flowers. The robins will love the feast the heads will provide. However, I realized after the fact that this would become a mowing nightmare for Sean, so I’m kicking around some ideas on how to remedy this. My leading thought is to make the inner circle a sand pit for the kids to dig in. Any other suggestions?


Natalie and the other day care kids adore being outside, and it’s my favorite time of the day as well. So I want to really make our yard a magical and enjoyable place for both  kids and adults. I have many other ideas swimming about in my brain, and I’ll do my best to keep up with updates on how things are changing!

Office Overhaul: Phase One


I give you fair warning folks, it’s about to get ugly up in here. This is keeping it real. There is a room in our house that I had the highest hopes for, but I currently HATE. Loathe. Despise. It’s also the room that’s supposed to house what I love to do most (outside of playing and caring for the Princess).

Prepare yourselves, and don’t say I didn’t warn you. This is our office/craft room.

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We have tried a million times to wrangle this mess, and it gets the best of us every time. So here’s hoping the million and oneth time is the charm.

Sean and I were insane and went to IKEA yesterday, aka President’s Day on a school vacation week. We spent about $170 and came home with a 4×2 Expedit bookcase, a Billy bookcase, a Vika desktop and a couple legs, and a handful of other non-office related items.

I cleared out the room last night and gave the wood floors a good clean, so it was ready for construction.

Enter my sister, who came into town for the day and was swiftly enlisted into the crafty chicks club.


Cue the cheesy “look what we did” photos that I texted to Sean.

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This is almost the final configuration (if you can see it under that mess…oh dear). The bookcases provide oodles of storage, and the tops will act as a cutting/pinning/pressing table.

The wooden bookcase with the swords on top will be moved out and the desktop will go there. That’s where my sewing machine will live. My poor Mac is feeling claustrophobic.

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A view of Sean’s corner and the Billy, which will house all of our books.

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Sitting at my Mac, there’s plenty of space to work around the cutting table.

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This little space in front of the closet I imagine will house a little table and play space for Natalie while we’re working.


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More progress will happen when Sean gets home this evening, so hopefully we’ll be in awesome shape soon!

A Bird in the Vent

I’m linking this post up to the Homestead Barn Hop over at The Prairie Homestead.

Warning: I feel like I should title this post “The Improper Housewife”,  this is by no means a professional or recommended how-to!

Sean, Natalie and I were sitting outside, enjoying the beautiful spring sunshine, when we were dive bombed by a couple of birds. We laughed it off, ‘Ha ha, silly birds’, but then we noticed where these birds were headed.

Our drier vent.

And what was worse? They had nesting materials in their beaks.

‘Tis the season.

We had learned a hard lesson last year, when we had a couple of birds nest in a hole in our eaves. My sympathetic heart wasn’t hard enough to kick them out into the frigid snow, and what harm could a couple little birds do?

Well, the birds were OK, but they were quickly kicked out by a couple of squirrels, who chewed the hole larger to fit their fat butts in there and PROCREATED.

Their ungrateful little brats wrestled all night above our bed and mocked us as we got in and out of our cars. Four little heads would poke out of the hole as we yelled empty threats to get out “or else!”

I think the neighbors thought we were crazy.

But we finally brought in the big guns, a wildlife exterminator, who chased out the ingrates, set out traps, and patched over the hole to keep them from coming back.

And while we aren’t worried about squirrels chasing the birds up there, we don’t want the threat of cooked birds or eggs or vent fires when I run a load of laundry.

Sean had to run to the doctors to get his wrist looked at. We were afraid he may have gotten bitten by a brown recluse spider while working in the yard, but luckily(?) it was just a nasty bit of poison ivy.

So it was up to me to nip our vent issue in the bud. Time for a ghetto fabulous patch job.

I gathered some materials – pet screen, duct tape and scissors.

Used a highly technical tool to clear out any nesting materials.

And got to work taping.

I clipped the corners of the screen at an angle so it would bend into a square cleanly.


It’s not pretty, it’s not practical, but it’s enough to keep nesters out until Sean can address it with a more permanent solution.

Bon Voyage Pet Bed | Pinterest Challenge

I’m joining in on the fun over at Young House Love, Bower Power, Hi Sugarplum, and The Great Indoors.

The challenge was to finally take one of those projects or ideas that you’ve been pinning on Pinterest and make something! I had a couple ideas, but after an impromptu thrift shop trip, I scored a beautiful older suitcase, and decided to make a cat bed, inspired by Apartment Therapy’s post.

In the inspiration post, they use a half suitcase, but this one had a great pocket where I could stash my boys’ toys. Plus, I was working within Natalie’s nap time, and wanted to get it done before she woke up.

I gathered my materials:

  • 1 hard sided suitcase
  • 1 old pillow that was retired from the guest bedroom
  • 1 length of fabric from my stash
  • trim
  • hot glue gun
  • safety pins
  • scissors

First, I cut the fabric large enough that it would wrap around the pillow.

Because I was working within the uncertain confines of Natalie’s nap, I did a no sew version of a pillow cover. I pulled in the fabric around the corners, similar to hospital corners on a bed. Then I used safety pins to secure them, slipping the pin through the pillow fabric as well.

I made sure the pins were safely under the pillow so they wouldn’t be exposed.

I then used hot glue to secure the trim to the lids, so that it would stay propped open at just beyond 90 degrees and not open all the way to 180 degrees.

Note to self: use trim that is not stretchy. Stretchy trim makes this step pointless.

I propped it against the wall, relocated the multitude of cat toys, and waited for approval from the boys.

I didn’t have to wait long.

Breakdown of costs:

  • suitcase = $7.99
  • pillow = free – retired from the guest bedroom
  • fabric = free – from my stash, originally given to me by a friend, so truly free
  • trim = free – from my stash, originally given to me by a friend, so, again, truly free
  • safety pins = free – had on hand

So the total came in at a whopping $7.99!

Homesteading Mission Statement and Goals

I’m submitting this as part of The Prairie Homestead’s Monday Barn Hop.

Many may wonder why I want to go through all the work and effort behind homesteading when I have a grocery store and a convenience store right just a few doors up from me.

There are a number of reasons behind my efforts:

  • Fresh fruits and veggies will have us eating healthier
  • We’ll save money on produce and in other areas
  • We’ll know exactly what goes into our what we’re eating or using
  • Teach Natalie where her food comes from
  • New adventure/hobby
  • Help break my addiction to technology and live simpler
  • Overall better quality of life for our family as a whole

The Gardell Homestead’s Mission Statement:

To use and protect the natural resources that God has given us, while learning important life skills and passing them along to our children.

To help further focus my intentions for this endeavor, I’ve developed loose goals for one year, five years and ten years from now.

One year from now, I’d like to:

  • establish 2 raised bed gardens
  • put up a clothes line
  • learn how to make soap
  • make my own laundry soap
  • give homemade/homegrown Christmas gifts

Five years from now, I’d like to:

  • teach Natalie to tend her own plant or two
  • add 2 more raised beds along with hanging baskets
  • have a matured composting system
  • have a rain barrel which supplies all the water for the garden

Ten years from now, I’d like to:

  • have chickens for free-range eggs
  • have an established enough garden to sell produce at a farmers market (or set up mini CSA)
  • be established enough in my soap production to sell at a farmers market or online
  • give Natalie her own raised bed to tend

Lead Me Not Into Thrifted Temptation

Nate Berkus is dangerous. As is Pinterest. And Young House Love and Bower Power. They make me think creative things. Creative things that make me jump in the car and head for thrift stores.

Today was one of those days. Sherry Petersik (of YHL) and Katie Bower (of Bower Power) are hosting the next installment of the Pinterest Challenge, which is aimed to get you to stop pinning and start doing. And I also want to polish off the nursery and submit it to Nate Berkus’ House Proud.

A girl can dream right?

So I headed out in search of a few items, and scored at our new local Habitat for Humanity ReStore.

Sorry for the crummy iPhone pic.

My haul:

Suitcase – $7.99

Mirror – $10.00

Books – $2.00 ($0.50 for Romeo and Juliet, and $1.50 for the Drama book)

That’s a total $20.00 for two projects. And that mirror is no joke. It’s a hefty, solid piece, which I was only able to get home because of the awesome young guys volunteering at the store. They hauled it out to my car while I toted the suitcase in one hand and Her Royal Highness’ chaise (aka car seat) in the other.

I can’t wait to share with you what I do with them. I will disclose that the suitcase is for the Pinterest challenge, and the mirror and books are for Natalie’s room.

Have you gotten thrifty lately?

Little Split Level on the Urban Prairie

I’m submitting this as part of The Prairie Homestead’s Monday Barn Hop.

Anyone else think of Gnomeo and Juliet?

I feel like the gnome in this picture, with Monday’s little gremlins carrying off my stiff, lifeless body. Her Royal Highness has been testing me today, swinging between happy and miserable within seconds. My hope is she’s just overtired and stimulated from having visitors the last 4 days.

I’ll recap this weekend later on this week, but today I’m writing about a new obsession I have.


Yes, you heard me right. Homesteading. Like, goats and cows and chickens and bees and veggies and other crunchy granola-type things. And yes, I’m well aware that I live in the city of Worcester, on a main road, with my neighbors’ homes just a little too close for comfort. And the only thing I’ve successfully grown is weeds.

But there is such thing as Urban Homesteading, and I’ve been reading up on it. And the top title in the picture below pretty much sums up my approach.

homesteading books

It started with a brand new e-book called Your Custom Homestead by Jill Winger, the gorgeous author of The Prairie Homestead. It helps you discover what aspects of homesteading you want to incorporate, and it’s broken up into 21 days, with brief and easy assignments each day.

Sean and I did hit up the Flower and Patio Show yesterday, which was, for the most part, a complete disappointment. Not worth the $10 entry fee. But we did catch a very neat presentation on cooking with herbs, where I learned about infusing vinegar, creating dressings, and making herb butter. Do I sense Christmas presents this year?

The horticulturist who presented was selling a seed propagation kit for $25. It included seeds, soil, trays and the vented mini greenhouse to house them. And directions…very important.

cat guards greenhouse

Not to mention it’ll keep my little seedlings safe from our rogue chewers.

So next, I have to plan my garden. What I’ll grow when, building the raised beds, and composting!

Over the River and Through the Woods

Two weekends ago, Natalie went on her first road trip. Five hours up to Maine to bring my grandmother back home. This meant quality time with Grandma Sharon (my mom)…

…and Great Grandma Marilynn.

I was so excited to bring Natalie to one of my favorite places in the world.

Home Port.

My grandparents built it as a summer home originally, and ended up retiring there. My mom’s been spending summers there since she was in high school, and I’ve been vacationing there since I was a baby. And now Natalie will vacation there with us.

It’s in Martinsville, Maine, a town so tiny that its welcome sign says “Welcome to Martinsville, Please Come Again”. You turn off the main street onto a dirt road of questionable condition. After rumbling through a tunnel of trees you emerge and see the house waiting at the end of the road. Two other houses have sprouted on either side since I was a child, but Grandma’s house remains front and center, welcoming you.

Out the back of the house is the most amazing sight you’ll ever wake up to.  A field stretches to the end of a point, and the sea takes over from there. In the summer the field is filled with wild flowers, and purple lupus take over more and more each year.

Down a little path are the remnants of stone steps that my uncle built. The tide has since eroded the hill and collapsed what was there. Now you have to sit on your butt and jump down to get to the beach.

But it’s worth it.

This is the first time I’ve been down to the beach when it was cold enough to ice over. It was in the single digits when I headed out to snap these shots.

I’d hoped to bring Natalie down to the beach for the first time, but did you see my previous sentence?




Holy Frozen Fish Sticks.

So we’ll have to wait until the summer to get her tiny toes in the sand. I can’t wait.

But for my frozen fingers I was rewarded with some pretty unique ice forms.

Overall it was a much needed weekend away, and Natalie traveled like a dream. But more on that another time.