» March 2012 «


Bird Nest Workshop


Today was another Bird’s Nest workshop out at Aunt Willie’s Wildlflowers. These are just a few of the photos from the day. We ate a delicious pasta salad, rolls, and strawberry almond salad. So healthy!

Everything on the farm is blooming early thanks to our mild winter so there are more flowers than usual right now. This is wonderful for viewing, not so great for the upcoming wedding season. I suppose we can’t complain too much with all these beauties.

These handcrafted bird’s nest are the perfect table decoration for your upcoming Easter get-together. Check out how to make one for yourself and be sure to view more photos from the day over on our “Farm Photos” tab.

Supplies:

1 small straw wreath
1 cardboard circle that matches the wreath size
1 spool of paddle wire
1 small bag of fake moss
1 bag of two-pronged pins
moss, nuts, dried flowers, lichen, and any other decoration from nature you can think of

Instructions:

1. Take your fake moss and cover the straw wreath, wrapping it loosely with paddle wire as you move around the wreath. Twist the paddle wire together once the entire wreath is covered. You really just need to make sure no straw is showing on the sides because the real moss will cover the top of the wreath.
2. Using hot glue, attach the cardboard circle to the bottom of your wreath. This will keep your moss and pretties from falling through.
3. Take various colors and textures of moss and fill the wreath hole and various parts of the top of your wreath. You can use as much or as little moss as you’d like for this part. One of our farm ladies today covered her entire wreath in moss and other just had little trails of moss coming out of the center and over the edges.
4. Now use dried hydrangea, daffodils, dogwood, nuts, lichen, twigs, wheat, grasses and anything else you can find to decorate the rim of your nest. This year, I used blue hydrangea bunches on each side, pussy willow branches, feathers, dried pods, larkspur, and artemisia to decorate.
5. Once all your decor is secured in place with pins or hot glue, drop in a few candy eggs and your bird’s nest is complete!


Change + Acceptance


It never ceases to amaze me how much I don’t know about life. Every day brings new challenges, new joys and new adventures. Some days it feels as though this rocky rollercoaster that we are on just won’t stop. And the funny thing is, when it does stop, or at least pauses for a moment, that’s the moment when I feel most excited for the next big drop.

The hubby and I have been married for 4 years this May and our married life, as in our dating life, is full of never-ending surprises. We have frustrating daily surprises like broken down cars and doctor bills. Yet, at the same time, we are constantly being blessed with meals to get us through finals week or an unexpected check in the mail to treat ourselves to a night out. These past four years we have come to realize time and time again just how great God is and how blessed we are in Him.

These past few weeks it seems everyone in our family has had to make difficult decisions and come to some unexpected conclusions (more on this soon). When this happens, my usual response is to curl up in a ball and hide under the covers. To a certain degree I could get away with this while living under my parents’ roof. However, when the roof is your own, you have to put on your big girl pants and man up. This is not the easiest of lessons to learn and I constantly feel as if my progress is in a two steps forward, one step back rhythm. However, I suppose as long as I’m moving forward in the long-run, I’m doing alright.

Anyways, the point is, when so much change takes place at once, it sometimes easy to lose focus and forget what’s really important. This time next year, we could be moving to one of 7 cities if the hubby gets into a PhD school. If he doesn’t get in, we can go wherever we want, which is definitely the more terrifying option for me. You want me to choose from anything I want? And… cue meltdown.

So, what should I be doing now? Well, the hubby will be applying to schools in the Fall and I will most likely be applying to graduate programs or jobs (or both) in those cities as well. We won’t know anything until March next year, a mere 2 months before graduation, so until then I have a few options…

Option #1: Panic and overthink every possible situation that may arise.
Option #2: Panic and curl up under the covers. (My favorite)
Option #3: Know that the next year will continue to be a riveting rollercoaster of a ride, enjoy the ride, and trust that whatever comes next will be exhilarating, worthwhile and right.

Yeah, I know, number three is the winner, it sounds so simple and yet we all know it’s so much easier said than done. However, that is where I am choosing to put my focus–waiting and trusting that what is meant to be, will be, one way or another. Like I said at the beginning, I know very little about life so why waste time trying to decipher every last detail when I could be enjoying them all.

If you’ve made it this far, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for sticking with me through this brief hiatus from our usual postings. After a long and taxing week, writing out my scrambled thoughts has a very therapeutic effect. Perhaps you too find yourself facing unexpected changes today. If that’s the case, I encourage you to stand strong and keep pushing forward.


Watermelon Turtle + Edible Books


The Milligan library held their second annual Edible Books Festival this week (year #1 here). My contributions included a “Holes” carrot cake made with graham crackers, coffee frosting and cinnamon as well as a “Tortoise and the Hare” watermelon turtle, complete with hair-get it? I crack myself up.

Anywho, I thought I’d share a few quick and dirty instructions for carving Mr. Turtle. I’ve seen several versions of this turtle but the one at Down Memory Lane is my favorite.

Instructions:
1. Cut watermelon in half along the longer line.

2. Use a melon-baller, or if you don’t have one (like me) use a metal measuring spoon-1/4 tsp, and scoop out as much watermelon as possible.

3. Scrape all remnants of the watermelon out of each side.

4. Take one side of the watermelon, and draw an oval-shaped shell, four feet, and a head with a dry-erase marker (dry-erase makes it easy to wipe off once you’re done carving).

5. Carve out your shapes.

6. With a flat head screwdriver, carve out the lines on your shell. If you are afraid to eyeball it, use the dry erase marker to draw your shapes. I basically just dragged the flat edge back and forth to make the lines–took about 15 minutes total.

7. Poke two small holes in the head and poke in two whole peppercorns for eyes.

8. Use toothpicks to secure your legs and head to the shell.

9. All that’s left is filling the non-shell side with fruit (and adding strawberry-leaf hair if desired). I used the previously scooped melon balls, strawberries and grapes as filling.

This turtle is really easy to make and adds a fun element to any party.

Here’s a little shot of the carrot “Holes” cake. I basically just used a round cookie cutter to make the holes, crumbled the cake into piles and added ground-up graham crackers so it looked more textured and desert-like. I also sprinkled cinnamon into the holes and on one side of the mounds to act as a sort of shading. The “shovels” are broken wood skewers and the rocks are ginger candies.

Some of my other favorites from Edible Books 2012 were “Where’s Wal-dough” (cookie people with Waldo hiding among them) by Grace Jackson, “Pigs in Heaven” (a plate of bacon) by Seth and Stacey Tramel, and “Book of Fungi” with meringue mushrooms (I totally thought they were real mushrooms) by Meredith Sommers.

If you ever have the opportunity to bake for an Edible Books event, DO IT! It’s so much fun! I hope you’ve enjoyed this little tutorial. Let us know how your watermelons turn out. Happy carving!


Be So Happy


[![](jekyll_uploads/2012/03/Be-Happy.png "Be Happy")](http://www.sweetpeonies.com/2012/03/be-so-happy/be-happy/) Courtesy of Elisandra Sevenstar

All the beautiful sunshine this past week has made me a very happy camper. Nothing brings a smile to my face more quickly than waking up to rays of sunshine streaming through my bedroom window in the morning–nothing except maybe this sweet little poster from Elisandra Sevenstar’s Etsy Shop.

I have seen this popular design popping up all over Pinterest and was finally able to trace it back to the source. Elisandra’s ETSY store has some wonderful designs that are both colorful and cheerful.

The “be so happy” whale is definitely my favorite and, along with the sunshine, never fails to bring a smile to my face.

Be sure to stop by her ETSY site or website and show her some love.

Be happy!


Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe


When individuals think about that moist, delicious, classic chocolate chip cookie, they typically don’t think wheat. However, ever since the hubby went on a wheat bread craze, we’ve had a lot of wheat flour in the house. Last year, he decided to try out some wheat chocolate chip cookies and we’ve loved the combination of chocolate and wheat ever since. So delicious!

I needed a batch of cookies in a hurry this afternoon so I went to a never-fail baker–good ol’ betty Crocker. This is basically Betty’s recipe with a few simple alterations to make it more moist.

Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies Ingredients * 3/4 c. brown sugar * 3/4 c. sugar * 1-1/4 c. butter * 1 egg * 2 c. whole wheat flour * 1-1/2 tsp vanilla * 1/2 tsp baking soda * 1/4 tsp cinnamon Directions 1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. 2. Combine the sugar, butter and eggs in a large bowl. 3. Add flour, vanilla, baking soda and cinnamon. If you are feeling adventurous, add 1 tbsp of honey. 4. Line your pan with wax paper or coat with cooking spray. 5. Drop spoonfuls of batter onto your cookie sheet about 2 inches apart. 6. Cook for 10-12 minutes.

That’s it–tasty cookies, with a little less guilt, in about 30 minutes. Happy baking!


Sycamore Shoals: Nature Photography


I love history. I am by no means an expert but I love it none-the-less. Living in a region that is so full of rich history has been a truly eye-opening experience. One of our early finds after moving to East Tennessee was this small, charming state park that is literally 45 seconds from our home.

Sycamore Shoals State Park was part of the earliest settlement outside the 13 original English colonies. It was made famous by what we deem the Muster of the Overmountain Men. The “overmountain” nickname refers to the fact that their settlement was west of the Appalachians, or “over” the mountains, if you will. At the time the Appalachians were the primary geographical boundary that divided the colonies from the west. Their settlement over the mountain opened the door to the ensuing years westward expansion.

Pretty neat, huh? Well, all this to say, we love the park. The walking trail runs right along the river’s edge and is absolutely beautiful year round.

Jack and I spend many after-dinner hours down at the park taking in the splendors of creation (and walking off our very full tummies). Spring is one of our favorite times to explore the park because we feel like little kids discovering some great wonder for the very first time.

I decided to snap a few photos this week to give you all a small glimpse of the beautiful new growths taking root down at the Shoals. I hope you’ve enjoyed this glimpse into our historic little corner of the world.


How to Build a Planter Box


Spring is in the air here in East Tennessee and our household is gearing up for another attempt at container gardening. Although we love our little apartment, one very unfortunate downside is the inability to put our budding green thumbs to work. Since Jack and I very much enjoy the labors of tending a garden, we had to figure out a way to make due without a plot of land.

Our first year in Tennessee, we purchased a few inexpensive starter pots for a bit of trial and error in East Tennessee growing. The second year, we got smarter. We borrowed three large cylinder buckets from Linda out at Aunt Willies Wildflowers that were deep enough to allow better root growth for larger plants. The buckets aren’t pretty but our tomatoes grew much bigger and stronger because of them. We also attempted to put together our first planter box. When this project was attempted however, Jack did not own his own saw or a decent drill so we relied heavily on the great staff over at Home Depot to make the appropriate cuts for us.

This last Christmas, Jack was gifted a new saw and drill (you can imagine how much our neighbors are loving us this Spring). Jack’s biggest goal with his new toys has been building wall book shelves that work around his desk. This is a slow process and we have had some extra wood pieces lying around the house because of the project. Last weekend, with the beautiful weather beckoning us outdoors, we decided to get the porch ready for planting and since we had the materials, we decided to build our second planter box too. This one is WAY better!

I asked the lovely husband to write up these simple instructions for those of you looking to container garden this spring.
Please don’t hesitate to shoot us an email if you have any questions.

_Tools & Materials:_

Plywood sheet-whatever size you want (we used 3/4″ plywood that was 8′ x 14″)
8 L-Brackets
1 package of Screen Door nylon
Wide head tacks or staple gun
1 extra piece of lumber-(4′ 1×4)
Wood screws or nails

Directions:

  1. Cut four equal (and they really do need to be equal!) lengths of wood (I used some scrap 3/4” plywood that was 8′ x 14”).
  2. Attach L-brackets to each side, forming a square.
  3. Cut a sufficient amount of screen material to cover the bottom of the box (I use twice as much and doubled it over).
  4. Using a staple gun (or tacks with a wide head) fasten the screen material to the bottom of the box, keeping it tight.
  5. Fold the excess screen material back inward (under the box) and staple it. This serves a two-fold purpose—it gives some strength to the staples (in case the screen rips) and it hides the excess without having to cut it off.
  6. Cut two equal lengths of a smaller kind of lumber (I used a 4′ 1×4) and miter the ends at a 45º angle, making each look like a trapezoid (viz. not a parallellogram).
  7. Screw (or nail, if you’re brave) the two 1x4s to the bottom of the box diagonally.

That’s it! The quick and dirty way to throw together a planter box for Spring. Of course, you can grab some outdoor stain or sealant if you’d like to further protect the box. We, however, have come to like the gray, weathered look of our first box and thus decided not to treat the wood at all.

I hope this helps. Once again feel free to email us with any questions or clarification needs.

Happy Building!


Lemon-Berry Pie Jars


Working in a public relations office and running a blog definitely has its perks. This past week I was asked to help bake treats for the re-accreditation committee coming to review our college. My contribution was one of multiple treats and favors made by alumni and faculty. After much deliberation I decided to make pie–not just any pie, mini pies in cute little jars–who could resist?

lemon berry pie

Berry pies are not terribly difficult to bake so I was at a loss for how to spice up my treat. I settled on creative crusts and lots of lemon. For my first trial pie, I used raspberries and lemon zest. The lemon zest alone didn’t give it enough pizzazz so I altered my ingredients and came up with this tasty recipe.

lemon berry pie

Lemon-Berry Pie Jars Yield: 6 pie jars Ingredients * 1-10 oz. bag frozen raspberries * 1-14 oz. bag frozen blackberries * 1/2 c. sugar * 1 tsp lemon juice * 1.5 tbsp tapioca * 1/4 tsp vanilla * 1/4 tsp cinnamon * 1 lemon zest (whole lemon) * 3 c. flour * 1/4 tsp salt * 2/3 c. shortening * 6 tbsp cold water Directions 1. Thaw berries and drain in a strainer. 2. Place berries, lemon juice, sugar, tapioca, zest, cinnamon and vanilla into a large bowl. Gently combine until berries are well coated. 3. Allow to sit for 20 minutes. 4. Preheat oven to 400 degrees and prepare the dough. 5. For the pie crust, combine flour and salt. 6. Cut in the shortening a small amount at a time. I use a fork for this portion of the process. Scoop out a little shortening at a time and press the clumps into the flour. You want to see the flour turn crumbly. 7. After all the shortening is combined. Add cold water one tablespoon at a time. Toss dough until it forms an even mixture. This is the point where most instructions will tell you to refrigerate the dough for at least one hour. I have done this with and without refrigeration and honestly couldn\'t tell the difference, so, I leave it up to you. 8. The last step is filling your container-of-choice and laying the crust over the top. For my jars, I used two different types of flowers cookie cutters and laid the first pattern over the top of the jar. I cut the middles out of each flower with a frosting tip. The second, smaller cookie cut-out I baked separately on a cookie sheet. 9. Brush your crust with egg wash (1 egg and 2 tbsp water) before placing in the oven and again after 10 minutes. Don\'t forget to also sprinkle the crust with cinnamon and sugar. 10. Bake for at least 15 minutes (see baking precautions below). 11. The berries are full of liquid so you need to monitor the pies carefully. I didn\'t want the berries overflowing onto my crust so I let it bake until the juice started bubbling over (about 15 minutes), then removed the pies from the oven to cool for a a few minutes before putting them back in under the broiler to finish browning the crust (about 15 minutes). 12. I finished my pie packaging by hot gluing fake leaves onto the side of the jars and tying them with twine.

Happy Baking!


Spring’s Sprouts


Working on a cut-flower farm is not the idealized job I once thought it to be. No, I used to think cutting flowers all day would be simple, relaxing, and inspiring. Although at times cutting can be all of these things, more often working on the farm can be summed up as painful, dirty, and sweaty. Let me assure you, the cut-flower life is not one to be entered into lightly. Although aspects are very rewarding it is a difficult job–and this from someone who only works on the farm once a week.

I spent a few days this week, my spring break, helping Linda out at Aunt Willies Wildflowers. What do I have to show for my hard work? Sunburns, callouses, 50-or-so cuts and scrapes (and no, I am in no way complaining) and of course a few photos just for you. For me, the hard work and painfully sore nights are worth being outside and enjoying the daily surprises of nature.

In the early months of spring, we (and I mean mostly Roy and Linda) take on a variety of tasks to prepare for the cutting season. These tasks include the following:
-fill seed trays (each holding upwards of 200 seedlings at a time)
-hoe flower beds
-stake down landscape fabric
-transplant seedlings into the hoophouse
-clear dead bushes and plants
-weed for hours on end.
Getting the farm ready for the cutting season is a very dirty job, but of course, someone has to do it.

I took these photos to give you an idea of how barren the farm can seem early in the season and how incredibly fast the plants grow to fill all this empty space (check out last year’s images under “Farm Photos” to get an idea). It never ceases to amaze me how many new plants are sprouting each week.

One month from now these empty beds will be full of flowers so hang on to your britches and keep checking back with us because them cuttin’ days are coming.


Granola Trail Mix


Jack and I are always looking for low-calorie, high protein and of course, good tasting snacks to hold us over throughout the busy day. We have been trying out various trail mix varieties over the last few weeks and finally figured out an inexpensive way to make our very own.

homemade granolaInstead of using a nut-based mix, we decided to use granola as the main ingredient and add in mixed nuts, M&Ms, and craisins. We bought a bulk bag of craisins for $3 and a bulk nuts for $4.

As for the granola, all it takes is a few cups of old-fashioned oats.

Granola:

3 c. old-fashioned oats
3 tbsp. brown sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/3 c. honey
1/4 c. canola oil
1 tsp. vanilla

_Directions:_

Preheat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Combine oats, sugar, salt and cinnamon in a large bowl. Combine remaining ingredients in a separate bowl. Pour honey mixture over oats-coat thoroughly. Once the oats are coated, spread onto a cookie sheet, thin and even. Place in oven. Stir the granola at least every 12 minutes to keep it from burning–you really don’t want this to burn. Remove granola from oven after 30 minutes or when oats turn a golden brown. Allow to cool completely. Add mixed nuts, fruit, chocolate, craisins or whatever else you can think of to spice up your trail mix. Here’s where I learned all about granola making.

Adding fruit to your mix can become quite expensive, however you can easily dry your own fruit pieces. Jack is currently drying mangoes to add to our mix–yummy!

I used 1/4 of the bag of craisins and 1/4 the box of nuts with 1 batch of oats to yield about 8 cups of trail mix. Why is this important to note? We can make a few more batches!

You can also skip the trail mix and simply eat the granola for breakfast.


Mini Moss Terrarium


I am working on some fun new posts for you all but in the meantime I decided to share a few photographs of the moss dish I threw together from the leftover workshop materials.

The bowl is from Wal-Mart and only cost $2.50. I used stones, tree bark, privet berries, and a pine cone.I took the pine cone and peeled off a few of the layers, sticking them upright into the middle of the dish to add texture and break up the scene.

Remember you can use absolutely anything to make your terrarium–weeds, twigs, succulents, stones, moss, leaves… For taller containers, I would recommend starting with dirt, followed by small pebbles or stones, and finally your greenery to help add lots of textural contrast. See the link below for a good example of this.

There are many varieties of terrariums to make…Jack and I have been debating either a Hobbit Hole terrarium or maybe even this Dinosaur terrarium, which just happens to be my favorite!

If you decide to brave the terrarium project, be sure to send us a photo! Happy Sunday!


The Patterns of Life


Tonight I am breathing a huge sigh of relief after making it through another week of midterms. Now I intend to spend my next week (Spring Break) re-cooperating, reading “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” and stocking up on some great blog posts for you all.

For today, I thought I would give you a glimpse of our home through the patterns that inspire it. As many of you know, the apartment life is just not the same a turning an actual house into your very own home. Although Jack and I have a lovely apartment, certain rules keep us from making it truly ours. So, without being able to paint the walls, hang anything heavy, attach molding, etc. patterns have become my way of making due until the eventual day that we are able to purchase a home of our own.

These photos are just a few of my favorite patterns that I have in our apartment that I hope to one day incorporate into a home of our own. Keeping these patterns in sight keeps me looking forward to the future and to the possibilities it holds–and I don’t simply mean for decorating.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this unique sneak peak into our little apartment living.