Christmas Nostalgia

 

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It’s my favorite time of year, Christmas! Fun with friends and family, holiday baking, decorating…such a joyful time, full of magic. Come share a wonderful, nostalgic holiday season!

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It’s A Big Bug World

 

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It’s fall, and lately I’ve been thinking a lot about…bugs! Has your home been invaded by stink bugs recently? Have you been seeing what seems like a lot of wasps acting frantic? Why is this happening? Why do we even need insects? The answer might surprise you. It’s actually a big bug world out there, but it’s pretty fascinating, too.

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I’m active in my area’s Master Gardener program. (I recently became an Advanced Master Gardener). For months, I’ve been identifying, organizing, and preserving a large collection of bugs for the local Master Gardener office. The boxes will be used to help ID insects, and to help educate and present to the public on insects. Through local Garden clubs and the MGs, I recently had the privilege to present to two schools all about insects. To see how excited the kids were, how eager they were to learn all about insects, and to share the boxes I’ve worked so hard on made me very happy! Doing this project, I learned more about insects than I could have ever imagined! It’s really an amazing world – right in our own backyards.

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Did you know that 90% of all living creatures are insects? Scientists think that for every one pound of human, there are 300 pounds of insects out there! That’s a whole lotta BUGS! Even those I’ve feared (and often times loathed) serve an important part in our world. Not all are to be hated -many insects are beneficial to humans and to gardens.

Insects are an important source of food for many other garden creatures.

I took this photo of snack time on my mom’s porch in Georgia this summer.

I took this photo of “snack time” from my mom’s porch in Georgia this summer.

 

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This little guy loved living in my garden all summer.

We watched the mama frequently feed her hungry brood of babies bugs this summer.

We watched the mama frequently feed her hungry brood of babies bugs this summer.

We need insects to pollinate our crops and gardens for food.

Adding color to our yards brings us joy and beneficials like this Monarch. Monarchs journey to Mexico for the winter!

Adding color to our yards brings us joy as well as beneficials like this Monarch. Monarchs journey south for the winter!

Bees are especially good at pollinating. Living in hives, drone bees are the male bees that are responsible for mating with the queen bee. Worker bees are all female, and the only ones you’ll see outside a hive.

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Those busy female worker bees build and protect the hive, and keep it clean and tidy (hmm… why does that sound familiar)? They also flap their wings to circulate stuffy inside hive air! In the time it takes to say “Mississippi”, a bee can flap her wings 200 times!

Bees give us honey and wax, but I’ve always wondered what purpose wasps serve. We had several large nests of wasps this year around our house, and I suffered some nasty stings. Female wasps are the only wasps that sting, and can do so over and over (bees only sting once). Penguins don’t have to deal with wasps, because the only place on Earth you won’t find these aggressive boogers is Antarctica!

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As we found this summer, their nests can go up quickly. Wasps make their homes from chewing up wood (Carpenter bees drilled into my brand new chicken coop this spring – arrrgh! Different insect, but this made me think of it). Wasps make a paper-like substance from the wood they chew to create their home.

Can you imagine how many wasps would be in this size nest? {shudder}

Can you imagine how many wasps would be in this size nest? {shudder}

An inside view of a wasp nest

An inside view of a wasp nest

But why does it seem like wasps are everywhere we go in early fall? As I sit in my glamper blogging, a wasp has just landed on the window next to me.

Hey I don’t remember inviting you in...

Hey I don’t remember inviting you in…

What is it about this time of year and wasps?!?

Fertile female wasps overwinter, waiting to emerge next year to create new nests and lay eggs. This year’s crop of workers that were tending the young all summer no longer have young mouths to feed, so now they’re busy trying to take care of themselves. They’re basically kicked out of the hive, and aren’t too happy. You’d be grumpy, too, if you were evicted, hungry and knew you were about to die! Although wasps are a nuisance to humans, they are predators (some are also parasitic) to many other pests that eat crops and cause bigger problems for humans.

Beetles are another group of insects I find fascinating. One in four insects is a beetle. Worldwide over 300,000 different kinds of beetles share our world; 12,000 varieties are found here in the USA.

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I find the sizes of beetles, ranging from flea-size to much larger, interesting, as well as the many colors and patterns. Though this Colorado potato beetle I found that made a meal of some of my plants, I think his stripes and coloring are neat looking.

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Not all beetles are bad, such as this beneficial and beautiful Six Spotted Tiger Beetle I found hiding in a pine cone.

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I admit, I did scream when this Eastern Click Eyed beetle landed in my hair this summer. (Harmless, the false eyes are alarming, but what cool factor this beetle has, like he’s wearing shades!)

And those green or brown stink bugs that are driving us all crazy by coming into our homes? They are just looking for a warm place to hunker down for the winter. Just be careful not to squish them when you “capture” them.

Until Next time…Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole 

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Farmgirl Roadtrip: A Great Burger Journey

 

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It’s October, though in Connecticut, lately we’ve had weather that have feels like mid-July! Instead of craving pumpkin, I’ve been dreaming of hamburgers! No matter what the temperature or season, a fabulous burger is one of life’s simplest, best pleasures!

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Vintage Glamping Dream Come True, Part 2

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What a month it’s been! We worked day and night to get our little camper ready for a Vintage Camper Roundup last weekend. (Check out the updates we’ve made to her since the last blog!) Being our maiden voyage, we weren’t sure what to expect. Would we be comfortable sleeping in the camper? Would she travel well? After all the excitement, hard work and dreaming, would we even like camping??

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Vintage Glamping Dream Come True – And A Giveaway!

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In September, my husband Kim and I celebrate our 25th anniversary! One dream we’ve always shared is someday having a camper or RV.

I’d be hard-pressed to count all the ways MaryJane’s influenced me! When I first saw MaryJane’s writing on “Glamping” (she originally coined that word!) – that was it! Our dream morphed to wanting a vintage camper. Recently, that wish came true!

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A Suburban Chicken Tale

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It’s been almost four years since I first got chickens. I’ve learned much since then, many lessons that only come with experience. Just like with most anything in life, there’s ups and downs – which I found out first hand!

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The Most Wonderful Time of the Year – Summer Changes

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It’s my favorite time of the year, as spring morphs into summer! Connecticut winters are often harsh, but summers are really pretty, full of changes! We’ve been busy bees ourselves making changes- sprucing up, cleaning up, and even adding a new family member!

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Orchids, 101

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Spring’s here! I love warmer weather, wearing brighter clothes, and getting outside. I just got back from spring break in Texas, where things were so much greener than my area. (I’ll share pics)! While everything in New England isn’t yet in full bloom, I’m enjoying indoor blooms, including my favorite, orchids. Mother’s Day is this month – why not give Mom an orchid? While they have a reputation for being “difficult”, with a little care and know-how, orchids are a beautiful, easy and long-lasting houseplant.

I couldn’t wait to go to Texas with my daughter for spring break. Connecticut was damp and unusually cold for much of April. I was so thrilled to see my family! I also was looking forward to seeing green outside, and I wasn’t disappointed! The weather was beautiful. Everything was lush and blooming.

 

Enjoyin' blue skies, green grass and Poochie at my niece's lovely home!

Enjoyin’ blue skies, green grass and Poochie at my niece’s lovely home!

My brother's yard and patio is a beautiful oasis with desert rose...

My brother’s yard and patio is a beautiful oasis with desert rose…

And various species of cacti. The large cactus was transplanted from my dad's ranch.

…and various species of cacti. The large cactus was transplanted from my dad’s hill country ranch.

Nothing beats a Texas sunset!

Nothing beats a Texas sunset! We fed treats to the cows at a relative’s farm.

Check out this shrimp plant growing in my father’s yard. I wish it would grow in my zone!

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While things are starting to bloom, sometimes it seems like forever in Connecticut for things to green. Having houseplants is a must! My favorite orchid on my desk has just bloomed again, and about to bloom more flowers!

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Orchids are unique plants. They make up the largest plant family; in the wild there’s over 28,000 species of orchids, with 90% found in the tropics. Five varieties commonly sold are Spray orchids (Dendrobium), Dancing Ladies (Oncidium), Lady’s Slippers (Paphiopedilum) and Moth orchids (Phalaenopsis). When Moth orchids reach 6 to 7 years old, they bloom almost continually! In between blooms, orchids keep their shiny green leaves that I think are often overlooked as beautiful foliage adding color to a home.

Though this orchid is in between blooms, its foliage looks lovely!

Though this orchid is in between blooms, its foliage looks lovely!

Indoors, orchids love light, even warmth, and high humidity. Humidity’s bad for hair, but great for plants! Most homes are drier than the tropics, so misting with a spray bottle or using humidity trays can help houseplants by increasing the humidity around the plant. Place an orchid on a tray of pebbles or sea glass with a bit of water (add a few grains of activated charcoal to keep the water from turning sour). As the water evaporates, it surrounds the plant with humidity. Just make sure the pot and roots are not sitting in water, but rather on top of the stones.

I repurpose old plates for saucers under plants. When making a humidity tray, make sure the pot sits on top of stones or sea glass, and that the width is bigger than the plant, not just the pot. Evaporation needs to reach the leaves. Grouping plants also aids in humidity needs.

I repurpose old plates for saucers under plants. When making a humidity tray, make sure the pot sits on top of stones or sea glass, and that the width is bigger than the plant, not just the pot. Evaporation needs to reach the leaves. Grouping plants also aids in humidity needs.

Keeping plants in a humid room like a bathroom (as long as there is the right light) can aid humidity, too, but avoid placing orchids in a kitchen. Phalaenopsis are susceptible to ethylene gas emitted from foods like apples and bananas; the blossoms will turn black and drop all at once if too close to ripening fruit.

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As for light, orchids love light! Bright indirect light from a Southern facing window is best, but you can get away with less light with Lady Slipper and Moth varieties.

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Orchids aren’t potted in “soil”, but rather a “medium” of coarsely chopped bark and wood with small amounts of peat moss, perlite and vermiculite mixed in. This allows for quick drainage and air to surround the roots. You can purchase special orchid potting mix (that also works for Bromeliads) at most stores carrying gardening products. (I found mine at Lowes). The medium eventually decomposes, so repotting your orchids every two years is a good idea. Orchids grow “Monopodial” or “upright”, or grow “Sympodial”, creeping. You need to know this when repotting your orchid, and provide it with the right type of pot. It’s recommended to avoid dark-colored pots that can warm roots too quickly, but clay pots are okay…just watch your water. The only water not recommended for orchids is water that comes directly from a water softener. Since I have a well, I use distilled water.

IMG_2866When it comes to houseplants, what causes failure is a “one size fits all” mentality, especially with orchids. This is particularly true when watering. Some orchids have storage organs for water, and will need a rest period. Orchids prefer drying out a bit between waterings; the potting medium should feel dry before adding more water (usually 7 to 10 days, but it depends on your room’s climate and the size of the pot). Orchids probably won’t need water as often as your other houseplants.

Watch your water with orchids. Overwatering is a common cause of orchid death.

Watch your water with orchids. Overwatering is a common cause of orchid death.

There’s a method of watering orchids called the “Ice Method”, where you allow 3 or so ice cubes to melt on top of the medium each week. Research shows that this is not the best method for watering orchids.

As for feeding, I love the saying “Feed them weakly, weekly”! You can use houseplant food that is diluted to ¼ strength. I like easy, so I prefer to use a spray formulated for orchids, and have had wonderful results. Just don’t spray the flowers.

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Orchids are often called “rare” or are pricey in stores. They have both male and female parts fused into one organ, so to be pollinated the right insect must visit. Produced seeds are extremely tiny, and special fungi must be present to grow. Many orchids now are produced using newer methods like tissue culture, so prices aren’t what they used to be. IKEA has good, inexpensive prices on orchids, with a great selection of healthy, beautiful plants. I’ve found orchids at IKEA at half the cost of other places near me.

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Are you an orchid fan, too? Let me know, (or just say hello) in comments! Wishing everyone a Happy Mother’s Day! And be sure to read MaryJane’s article, “Easily Re-Bloom Your Supermarket Orchids,” in the latest issue of MaryJanesFarm, “Blue Moon,” June/July 2017. 

 

Until Next Time…Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

 

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Surprises!

 

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It’s April already?! How’d that happen?! In New England, Mother Nature’s running a wee bit late, with days that keep feeling more like February. As I write, I’m nursing yet another bad cold and cough (the weather isn’t helping). Life’s been a bit of a whirlwind lately at our house! I could certainly sit and rest a spell, so grab a cup of tea and let’s catch up! This past month has been full of surprises!

Speaking of surprises, “Melinda L.”, you are my winner for last month’s giveaway of the beautiful Prairie Pin Pouch clothespin holder. Enjoy! A big shout out of thanks to Julie Pruett for her beautiful work! Thanks to everyone who entered!

IMG_2048-001 In Connecticut, Mother Nature surprised us by dumping record breaking snow a few weeks ago, just as we were thinking spring was on the way. We all knew the storm was coming, but I think everyone was just a little surprised how much snow we got. My husband’s usually able to handle the driveway with his tractor and snow thrower, but it was no match for the sticks thrown by the wind. We are so thankful that the snow has finally melted from our driveway! On the plus side, the storm brought a surprise family day off!

 

Handsome hubby throwing snow

Handsome hubby throwing snow

 

My seeds for my veggie garden are started inside, but it will be awhile before the ground is warm enough to plant.

 

Don't you love the art on this early 1900's seed packet?

Don’t you love the art on this early 1900’s seed packet?

I’m very pleasantly surprised by the many wonderful reactions I got to the article on vintage sewing machines that I wrote in the current issue of MaryJanesFarm Magazine. I even made two new farmgirl friends because of it! You just never know where you’ll find a farmgirl! If you don’t have a subscription to MaryJanesFarm Magazine, you’re missing out…subscribe HERE!

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I surprised myself by saying “yes” to my daughter when she asked for yet another pet! Our daughter’s grown up in a multiple pet household. She loves animals with her whole heart, and like me, becomes a squealing puddle of mush at the sight of anything covered in fur. Currently, our family consists of one and a half dogs (a shepherd mx and a chihuahua), a cat, a bunny, three hermit crabs, and five chickens.

My idea of cute and cuddly...

My idea of cute and cuddly…

We’ve said to our daughter, “No more”. One day, she texted, “Mom, can I have a pet snake?” “You’re joking, right? Are you sick? Do you have a fever?!?” I thought something was wrong. It’s a long story, but a young, pet albino corn snake came up for adoption.

My husband’s also a huge animal lover, and nothing’s more heartwarming than my 6’3 hubby walking a five pound chihuahua. He is, however, TERRIFIED of snakes. He doesn’t even like earthworms (too “snake-like”).

My daughter, on the other hand, sees beauty in just about every creature. I love that about her. Her dad said he would give “Noodle” a three day trial. Snakes aren’t what I think of as a cute, cuddly pet. I respect (and fear certain) snakes, and value their place in the environment, but not so much in my home. My husband and I are both surprised, now several weeks later, at how fascinating and docile “Noodle” is. We find watching him interesting, and I have even been brave enough to hold him. I am surprised that I am even feeling a bit attached to him. (However, he’d better never get loose from his aquarium! My 14 year old daughter will have a very hard time paying the mortgage all by herself when my husband and I move out)!

When you're cold blooded and it's 20 degrees out...

When you’re cold blooded and it’s 20 degrees out…

From the time my daughter was born, she and I have been very close. All the while, people have said things like, “Just wait until she’s a teenager, you won’t be so close”. I disagree. I started to worry a few weeks ago, however. I felt like something was not right, but could not pinpoint what it was. Whenever I’d ask, Audrey would say “Nothing’s wrong, Mama”.

Last Sunday, my friend Andrea took me out for brunch for my birthday. When we came home, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. When I went into the kitchen, I was greeted by friends, jumping out from behind the kitchen island, screaming, “SURPRISE”!!! My closest friends and their daughters were there, all dressed like the 1940s!

"SURPRISE"! Was I ever!!!

“SURPRISE”! Was I ever!!!

There was food galore, beautiful flowers, and my handsome hubby dressed in a suit. My friend Erin bakes cakes as a hobby. She’s is so talented. She baked an awesome, beautiful “Rosie the Riveter” cake.

My friend Erin made this amazing cake! It was delicious, too.

My friend Erin made this amazing cake! It was delicious, too.

My friend Andrea even found 1940’s party favors for everyone: little music boxes shaped like horse drawn Cinderella carriages. Each one plays a different song, mine plays “Happy Birthday”.

Everyone at the party received a "Cinderella" music box candy holder/party favor from the 1940's . So adorable!

Everyone at the party received a “Cinderella” music box candy holder/party favor from the 1940’s . So adorable!

My friend Lisa is such a hoot! She wore her husband's grandfather's uniform from WWII.

My friend Lisa is such a hoot! She wore her husband’s grandfather’s uniform from WWII.

Lisa's husband, Ernie's grandfather, WWII, back row third from left. Photo courtesy Lisa Ruot

Lisa’s husband, Ernie’s grandfather, WWII, back row third from left. Photo courtesy Lisa Ruot

Two beautiful ladies, my friend Beth and her daughter Grace - 40's style!

Two beautiful ladies, my friend Beth and her daughter Grace – 40’s style!

My sweet, beautiful best friend and daughter, Audrey - my best gift ever!

My sweet, beautiful best friend and daughter, Audrey – my best gift ever!

Surprised does not describe it…FLABBERGASTED, SHOCKED, AMAZED! My daughter planned and executed the whole thing, down to the last detail. She rallied my friends, planned the menu and worked out all of the details. She was quite the hostess! What fourteen-year-old does that for their mom?!? I am feeling very lucky, very blessed, and very loved.

Sometimes, life surprises us when we least expect it. May your spring be filled with wonderful, happy surprises!

Until Next time…Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

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Laundry Room Re-Do and Giveaway!

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Some things in life are necessary, but not necessarily enjoyable. Laundry’s one, although I don’t mind it. It’s a more pleasant task since sprucing up the laundry room (without a major, expensive overhaul). Take a peek at my tips for making a laundry space more inviting, efficient, and  “farmgirl chic”!

Because our laundry room is off the main living area, we want it attractive, but having an organized, aesthetically-pleasing laundry area, no matter where it’s located, makes chore day better.

Panoramic of my laundry room

Panoramic of my laundry room

My family’s only three, but judging from our laundry, you’d think we’re an army! My husband’s  allergic to chemicals and starch used at commercial dry cleaners, so we wash and iron all his dress clothes for work. I’m the primary “laundry goddess” of the house. (We’ve suffered enough once-white-now-pink clothes from DD and DH doing washing, so I prefer doing it). My teen daughter helps with ironing, and puts folded laundry away.

Growing up, my parents’ washers and dryers were made to last! Nowadays, appliances don’t seem to survive a decade. My husband and I had our set repaired many times, and handy hubby also did repairs, but it was time for a new set since they became inefficient. After shopping around for the best deal, we splurged on my dream set- a front loading Merlot-colored washer and dryer with all the bells and whistles! I just adore the deep red, and decided to use it as my main accent color.

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Since we inexpensively added storage cabinets and a counter ourselves years ago, I opted out of storage pedestals. I’m short, so without pedestals the washer and dryer are the perfect height for folding.

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A wicker laundry basket (Goodwill, $5.00) looks better than plastic and is lighter for carrying. I re-purposed on-hand, matching place mats to protect the appliance tops.

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In the 80’s, wooden garbage cans were trendy. My dad built me one, but after 25 years, the paint looked worn and dirty, the cow cutout on front dated. Sentimental since Daddy made it, I removed the cow, cleaned the can, and spray-painted it to match the appliances, painting the tired brass hardware a  “hammered” look with paint I had on hand.

IMG_2045We have hampers upstairs, but a downstairs hamper’s handy for wet powder room towels and soiled kitchen linens. I bought a 1940’s “tole-ware” metal hamper at a tag sale for $10. Inside, I lined the bottom with a “puppy pad” to keep wet items from rusting the bottom. The top of the hamper’s decorated with a piece from my VSM collection: a 1950’s child’s size hand-crank. My mother was gifted one just like it when she was in elementary school, from a little boy with a crush on her. The toy iron was my daughter’s when she was little.

IMG_2019I’d wanted a wooden ironing board ever since I first saw MaryJane’s! I finally found one on a Facebook Tag Sale for $5.00! It’s solid and sturdy. When I went to pick it up, the original fabric was still there, looking new. “It’s about a hundred years old, I think. It was my mother’s and she never used it,” quipped the seller. I, on the other hand, use it all the time! It’s easy to set up and move, has a large work space and isn’t the least bit shaky. I chose red chambray to recover it.

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There’s a table top ironing board for touch-ups or small items. I recovered it using a fun vintage-print fabric. I sewed a matching cord-keeper bag for when my iron’s not in use.

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Various bottles and boxes with commercial labels look cluttered. I store homemade laundry detergent in a vintage biscuit jar. We also use a liquid store-bought earth-friendly detergent, depending on what’s washing. A galvanized beverage holder is easier to use than a clunky plastic detergent bottle. I found mine on clearance for $5.00 at Walmart because the lid was dented, which was easily fixed with a rubber mallet. Vintage flea-market-found demitasse cups measure out the perfect amount of detergent for my high-efficiency washer, while a saucer catches drips. I love to re-purpose old wooden soda crates. I cut a piece of plywood to fit the top for a flat surface, raising the liquid dispenser up for easy use.

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The windowless room is tiny, so I have to make the most of space. There’s no sink, so I use a large, antique enamelware basin, a bargain flea-market find for hand-washing or soaking.

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I splurged ($70) on my sturdy antique drying rack with its weathered iron and chippy red paint. If you can’t find a vintage one, Victorian Trading Co. sells a great reproduction.

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 IMG_2043I adore my pretty clothespin holder, handmade by farmgirl sister Julie Pruett. When the weather warms, I’ll use it on the clothesline,  (ahhh….sun-fresh linens!) but it graces indoors beautifully!

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Leave a comment below for a chance to win one of Julie’s creations – this adorable little spring-themed “ducky” embroidered clothespin bag, along with clothespins and a bar of soap for making your own detergent, is up for grabs, made especially for the Suburban Farmgirl blog giveaway! (I’ll announce the winner in the April blog)! Julie’s bags are well-made and great for all sorts of uses! To order, check out her many designs at Prairie Pin Pouch.

Decorative touches make a chore area “finished”.  A small vintage lamp (tag sale), an 1800’s antique sad iron, (Goodwill)  and a quick-drying colorful rag rug (Ikea) inexpensively tie everything together. I replaced tired mass-produced 90’s art with cute reproduction tin “laundry” ads found at a local “junk-tique” shop for $10 each (check eBay for similar items).

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This summer, we’ll add fresh paint, and install a tile floor ourselves (wish us luck)! Any chore is made easier with a tidy, inviting work space. No matter where your laundry area is, cut clutter, add a little warmth and whimsy, and laundry won’t be a dreary task.

******Remember to leave a comment to be entered in the giveaway drawing!*********

Until Next Time…Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

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