Easy and Durable Place Mats

I have to admit that I rarely use place mats on my dining room table. I do, however, think they are absolutely adorable (on other people’s table) when they reflect a particular season or holiday. Last Christmas, I decided I would make some festive place mats for my loved ones and their children. I picked a fun design with ginger bread men on one side and a solid brown fabric for the reverse side. I chose brown with the hope that the place mats could be used in autumn and then flipped to reflect the Christmas season. FYI, the brown did match the Christmas fabric due to the brown in the ginger bread men. (I felt I needed to mention that since one does not typically think of brown as a Christmas color.) Because I consider myself a beginner sewer, I followed a pattern and the directions for a simple place mat provided by craftandfabricslinks.com . This site is a great place to find FREE patterns, sewing lessons, sewing project ideas, and links. Here is how my place mats turned out. The fabric was purchased at Joann Fabrics.

Denim Pin Cushion

I thought I would share this cute little pin cushion I made for my sister-in-law a while back. I simply cut out a piece of denim that included the pocket from an old skirt. I then paired it with some red fabric that had some country style. I think it turned out nicely. The pocket can then be used to hold embroidery floss, needles, buttons, a thimble…the list goes on and on!

Handbags

A couple of summers ago, I wanted to pick up sewing. My goal was to purchase a book that would teach me some basic techniques through the creation of various items. I love handbags (what girl doesn’t), so I found a book that offered several different designs.The Sew Everything Workshop book is a must for anyone who loves to sew. It is especially useful for beginner sewers because the book actually offers patterns for the multitude of projects it teaches how to make. Projects include various clothing items, handbags, a doggy coat, a quilt, and a children’s stuffed elephant. I particularly love the “Tokyo Bag” offered in this book. Here are a few pictures of the ones I have made using various fabrics. Once you make this bag, it is a breeze to make. You can then alter your pattern to make a bigger bag.

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Amish Caramel Corn

Boiling caramel
Boiling caramel

On Christmas’s past, I have packaged what I have officially named “Amish Caramel Corn” for my loved ones. I love this recipe because it is easy to make, ships well in the mail, and is by far the best tasting caramel corn I have ever tasted. I have received nothing but rave reviews from those who have been graced by its presence. The original recipe came from allrecipes.com – a site that I visit often for their multitude of recipes paired with reviews. I do wish they would include more photos of the cooking process. I am not an experienced cook and rely on pictures. For that reason, I have included pictures of each step. I do need to warn you…once you take a bite of this luscious treat, you will not be able to step away!

Light and foamy caramel
Light and foamy caramel

Ingredients

  • 7 quarts plain popped popcorn *I used popping corn and popped it on the stove top. This fresh popcorn makes a huge difference in the taste.
  • 2 cups dry roasted peanuts (optional)
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup light corn syrup
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup margarine
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Caramel corn
Caramel corn

Directions

  1. Place the popped popcorn into two shallow greased baking pans. You may use roasting pans, jelly roll pans, or disposable roasting pans. Add the peanuts to the popped corn if using. Set aside.
  2. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F (120 degrees C). Combine the brown sugar, corn syrup, margarine and salt in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring enough to blend. Once the mixture begins to boil, boil for 5 minutes while stirring constantly.

    Tubs from Walmart
    Tubs from Walmart
  3. Remove from the heat, and stir in the baking soda and vanilla. The mixture will be light and foamy. Immediately pour over the popcorn in the pans, and stir to coat. Don’t worry too much at this point about getting all of the corn coated.
  4. Bake for 1 hour, removing the pans, and giving them each a good stir every 15 minutes. Line the counter top with waxed paper. Dump the corn out onto the waxed paper and separate the pieces. Allow to cool completely, then store in airtight containers or resealable bags.

How to plant a garden…

For the past few years, my thumb has gotten greener and greener. It has taken those years to educate myself on how to produce the results I want. I have also experienced A LOT of trial and error. As a beginner gardener, it is normal to feel a little nervous about starting any kind of garden. There is a science to it, so planning and preparation are key. You will have to keep in mind that going through the trial and error are also necessary. You will kill things! That is unfortunately how you will learn how to be a gardener. Hang in there though, no matter what happens! There are just too many reasons not to. To name a few…

  • gardening is fun
  • it gets you out in the fresh air
  • you get to take part in the cycle of life
  • it gets you active
  • it gets your mind off all the junk in life
  • the product is good for your health
  • it is cheaper and safer to grow your own produce
  • people will envy you for being successful at it-let’s be honest, some people really do kill everything they touch

The first steps to planting your garden involve the planning. In order to achieve success, you have to plan it out! Start by making a list of your favorite kinds of flowers or vegetables (depending on what type of garden you would like to have). It has been my experience that growing flowers is easier than growing vegetables. This is obviously because food for me is also going to be food for other living things, so there is much more attention that needs to be given to a vegetable garden. That’s not to say that you won’t get some visitors to your flower garden!

Once you have your list, assess where you will put your garden. Take special notice of how much space you have available and the amount of light the area receives throughout the day. This is very important, because you will find some plants like only morning sun while others prefer afternoon sun. Other plants want sun all day long. Take notice of overhanging trees that may also shade the area at different times of the day.

Vegetables. Yummy, nutrient-rich, colorful vegetables! Maybe you would like to have a fresh garden salad throughout the summer months. There are many varieties of lettuce, so think about your favorites. Maybe you would like to add some herbs to your salad or make a dressing from them. Herbs are a great addition to the garden and can aid in keeping pests away. Many plants, including some vegetables and herbs can thrive in pots. If ground space is an issue, that may be another alternative to consider.

I recently found some great plans available online for several different garden types. I have also found some great books from my local library that are specific to the area I live in. You can find my list here. The online plans can be found at Better Homes and Gardens. You will have to sign up to become a member of the site, but it is free and full of benefits. Once logged in, you can download several different plans based on your needs (All-American Vegetable Garden, Summer Garden, Fall Garden, etc.). These plans will offer some insight on which plants grow best together and how to arrange them in your space. If you are starting from seed, read the seed packet for specific spacing directions. Many seeds can be started indoors and then transplanted into the garden. This is how I prefer to garden-starting from scratch. This does require more time, patience, and tending to. As you become a more experienced gardener, you will come to find that you will plan for next year’s garden well in advance. It is wise to gather seed catalogs from your favorite producers to assist you in your planning. You can also view online catalogs and purchase seeds straight from the source. One company that is well-recognized for its organic seeds is Park Seed. They also sell a variety of plants ready to be placed directly in the garden or your favorite pot. These are perfect for the beginner gardener. Another great place to buy online and gather information is at Burpee. You can also check your local nurseries or stores like Home Depot and Lowe’s offer some healthy plants at a reasonable cost.

The next step is to determine when to plant your garden. Depending on which zone you live in, the time to plant your garden will vary. Again, follow the directions on the seed packet so that you are planting according to your zone. Why is the zone important? Because someone who lives in Arizona will need to plant differently than someone living in Massachusetts. Good luck and let me know how your garden goes!

You can view the plans for my garden and check out my pics here.