Let's Just Try It

a compilation of inspiration and creative endeavors of a mom and daughter duo

reCreation-The Art of Old Becoming New

I believe in second chances, don’t you? Opportunities to shine better than you shined before, to correct a mistake made in haste or to try just one more time to reach the goal you fell short of last time. It takes grace on the giver, and persistence on the receiver, but this is the seasoning of life.  People need second chances – why? because they have value  and potential.  No matter how tired, battered or worn out they might be.

Art imitates life, right?

recreate:  \ˈre-krē-ˌāt\

transitive verb
:  to give new life or freshness to : refresh
intransitive verb
:  to take recreation

In the early days (back when I was very young and very bored) my mom would give me old buttons, yarn and scraps of fabric to keep me busy on those long summer days. I can remember thumbing through magazines and pattern books dreaming of all the things that those buttons and scraps could become.  This was my “recreation”.

Perhaps because of these memories, I have a very hard time walking past “items of great potential” –  Beautiful stacks of cardboard, old pallets, holey jeans… they all sing with the tune of second chances.

So, what is a girl to do? ReCreate of course!
I have been cooking up several projects and will be keeping a journal of the process. Check out my new blog “CJ’s (re)Creations for how to’s, techniques and some items for sale

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Zesty Mexican Chicken Soup

There is such a warm fuzzy feeling when the spices of Mexico meet a steamy broth filled with chunky vegetables and chicken.  Topped with a dollap of sour cream, a sprinkle of cheese and a few sliced olives, it will warm you down to your toes!

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Zesty Mexican Soup – serves 6 

Homemade

1 small chicken, cut into pieces (or 1 package of chicken pieces)

1 Tbl olive oil

1 onion – rough chop

1 celery – rough chop

2 carrots – rough chop

8 cups water

bay leaf

1/2 tsp oregano

salt and pepper

2 stalks chopped celery

1/2 c chopped green pepper

1/4 c chopped onion

1 clove garlic, chopped fine

1 can chopped tomatoes

1 can kidney beans, drained

1 cup frozen corn

1/2 tsp oregano

1 1/2 tsp cumin

salt and pepper to taste

In a stock pot, or large saucepan, brown chicken back, legs and wings in 1 tbl oil.

Add rough cut vegetables and brown slightly.  Add water, salt, pepper, oregano and bay leaf and remaining chicken

Simmer for 30-45 minutes until chicken is cooked through.

Remove chicken from broth and set aside.

Strain broth into a colander to remove the rough cut vegetables.  Reserve 2 cups of broth for soup, and freeze the rest for another day!

Remove chicken meat from bones and break into chunks (bones can be used again for more broth making goodness!)

Saute celery, green pepper, garlic and onion in 2 tsp olive oil until just softened.  Add spices, tomatoes, chicken chunks, frozen corn and kidney beans as well as the 2 cups of chicken broth.

Simmer for 20 minutes and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkle of sliced olives and shredded cheese.  For an extra bit of yum, fry stripes of tortilla in oil and sprinkle with salt and serve sprinkled on the top of the soup.  Mmmm Good!

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Quick Quick Version

3 chicken breasts (or 2 large ones)

2-3 cups of water

Salt, Pepper and 1/2 tsp each of oregano, parsley and chopped garlic

1 jar chunky mild salsa

1 can kidney beans, drained

1 can sweet corn

1/2 tsp oregano

1 1/2 tsp cumin

salt and pepper to taste

Poach chicken breasts in water with salt, pepper, oregano, parsley and chopped garlic for approximently 15 minutes or until cooked through.  Watch carefully that the meat does not overcook or it will be tough.

Remove from broth and set aside to cool

In a large saucepan, add poaching liquid, salsa, kidney beans, sweet corn, oregano, cumin.  Bring to a simmer.

Meanwhile, chunk chicken into bite size pieces

Add chicken to sauce and bring to simmer.  Simmer for 10 minutes.

Enjoy with a dollop of sour cream, a sprinkle of cheese and delicious fried tortilla strips for an extra treat.

Curing the Cold Weather Chills- Curried Vegetable Soup

Leaves are everywhere… the wind is sending goosebumps up and down my arms… and I am day-dreaming about a big steaming bowl of soup!

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I don’t know about you, but I have two meat lovin’ manly men in my household.  And even thought of a vegetable will send one of them (I won’t mention which) running for his keys to grab himself a burger from a local restaurant.

But I LOVE soup – and vegetables!

And they love Curry! and Spice! and Bacon!

So, what’s a girl to do, but to lure them into the land of health with the things they love.

This is the first in a short series of my favorite soup recipes – each with two ways to fix it – one quick quick, the other a little more involved but more home-made.  You choose which fits your timeline for your next soupy-meal.

Curried Vegetable Soup     (serves 4)

Homemade                                                                                   

3 peeled and sliced carrots

2 stalks sliced celery

1/2 cup chopped onion

1 garlic clove, chopped

1 Tbl olive oil

3 cups cauliflower florets

2 cups homemade Vegetable or Chicken broth *

1- 14 oz can unsweetened coconut milk

1 Tbl curry powder

1/2 tsp oregano

1/4 tsp cumin

1 cup frozen baby peas

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1 Tbl chutney (optional)

In a medium size pot, add oil, carrot, onion and celery.  Cook until softened.

Add cauliflower florets, broth, and spices. Cook until vegetables are soft.

Add coconut milk, peas and chopped cilantro.

Heat through. Season with salt and pepper to taste

Garnish with a sprinkle of fresh cilantro

Serve with flatbread or toasted pitas

(Homemade stock is easy! Simply toss in your lonely bits and pieces of vegetables hanging out in your fridge – carrot, onion, celery, garlic, sugar peas..whatever you’ve got – with some of your favorite herbs, salt, pepper and at least 4 cups of water.  Simmer at a slow simmer for as long as you can.  For extra color and flavor, saute the veg in a small amount of oil to soften before adding the water.   Want chicken broth?  Add chicken bones to your veg and brown slightly in the pot before adding water and simmer as above.  Freeze in small plastic containers and decant into freezer bags for easy use in all your favorite recipes)

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QUICK QUICK

1 -14oz can Vegetable or Chicken broth

1 small bag of frozen cauliflower

1 1/2 cups frozen mixed vegetables

1 cup frozen baby peas

1 Tbl curry powder

1/2 tsp oregano

1/4 tsp cumin

1/4 garlic powder

1- 14 oz can unsweetened coconut milk

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

In a medium saucepan, add broth, frozen cauliflower, mixed vegetables, peas and spices and heat to a slow boil.

Cook until softened.

Add coconut milk and cilantro and heat through.

Garnish with a sprinkle of fresh cilantro and enjoy!

If Ogres Are Like Onions, My Garden Is Like Lasagna!

shrek garden

Oh, wise wise Shrek.. He understood the importance of layers!

And who would have imagined that lasagna would ever be associated with gardening?

Or that these “non-traditional” concepts of gardening have been around since the beginning of time?

I remember my dear grandmother hauling her newspapers outside, and laying them in her flower beds.  I, as a young- probably mouthy, tag-along, plagued her with questions.  Her reply to me was “If I don’t have to weed, why would I?” I thought that newspaper gardens were silly…. until now.

I love fresh vegetables.  I love being in charge of my food.  I love seeing things grow.  I don’t love weeding..or tilling…or hoeing… much.

Enter a brilliant idea:  block the weeds and build your soil on top.    What?  Really? …   Yep!

My first inspiration came from one of my favorite blogs:  Old World Garden Farms .  Here is a family who represent what I long to be… creativity, productivity and thriftiness…oh! and they don’t like to hang out weeding the garden all day either!

Their 4 part series covers the basics of Raised Row Gardening – and their 10’x15′ plot provides enough food for their family and doesn’t take more than 10-15 minutes of maintenance per day.  I like that!

Lasagna Gardening is a no-till, easy to maintain way to garden.  What?  Less work?  I like it!

Need more motivation than easy? How about this:

Lasagna Gardening:

  • uses organic waste materials immediately
  • builds up the soil level
  • sequesters carbon
  • preserves the strata of microorganisms
  • improves soil fertility
  • holds water, slows evaporation and run-off
  • blocks out weeds
  • keeps root systems cool

Let’s face it – it’s a simple concept that mimics nature.  It’s not rocket science. Yet it does need a bit of planning – and I’ll attest that while it may be easier in spring, it requires  a bit of work to get started. However, thanks to the abundance of organic material just falling from the trees….and the horses, it is a low cost way to get things literally cooking in anticipation for those first beautiful days of spring.

Don’t have space?  This works GREAT in containers!  And you can join my Facebook group Container Gardening for Healthier Eating  and there is no need to buy expensive bags of potting soil… make your own!

So in the spirit of “Let’s Just Try It”, I’d like to provide an on-going journal of this adventure:  you can learn from my efforts and mistakes.. and hopefully find yourself providing your family with delicious fresh food from your own garden!

Here’s what I have learned so far: ( or you can jump to a helpful site Lasagna Gardening for a tried and tested step by step)

1.  Pick a sunny location

Got weeds? No problem!  So did we!

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2.  Now, go and sweet talk your local Home Depot warehouse manager… or the local supplier of hot water tanks.. OR if you are like me and replacing your furniture.. your own huge personal collection of cardboard from IKEA

cardboard

3.  Lay those lovely chunks of weed blocking goodness down – make sure you remove all those plastic covered labels and tape – which will take forever and ever to compost… and overlap your edges by at least 5 inches. This will keep those sneaky weeds from creeping through.  Wet this down as you add your first layer of “green” material.  It will help get the “cooking” process going.

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4.  Now the fun layering begins.  Grab your gloves, and a handy wheel barrow and throw down layers of “green” then “brown” organic material.  There is actually quite a bit of information on the web about Lasagna Gardening or sheet composting – and a few different takes on how it can be done.  But to put it very simply you need to types of layers – Green – nitrogen rich and  Brown-carbon rich.  Put the two together with a bit of moisture and voila! A working compost.  A ration of 2 carbon to 1 nitrogen works great. Check Dummies.com for a great breakdown of what works well.

For us, it will be mostly comprised of

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Horse manure (green and very “hot” with nitrogen)

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Straw  (brown) – Try to find straw that is free of seeds – if this isn’t possible, let your chickens (or borrow some from a friend) pick through and feed on the seeds before you proceed with the next layer

apples

Kitchen compost and/or herbicide free grass clippings – (green)  We’ve been peeling buckets of apples and freezing them in anticipation of putting the layers down.

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Tree leaves – we are using mostly maple leaves, thanks to my lovely suburban neighborhood which has streets lined with them.   – It might cost you a little to bribe your teenage girls to rake and bag them to take to the garden, but it was great seeing the look on the neighbor’s face when she caught us raking her front yard for her.

We are about halfway through the layering process so far on a 20’x20′ bed.  We will layer these until we have about 2 feet of material, which will decompose and become a good thick layer of rich ground for us to plant into.  Because it is on a slightly sloped grade, we will most likely put down black plastic to heat things up, and keep all our hard work from washing down the hill.

Next, we wait.. and plan – and begin to prepare those cold frames and mini seed pots made from recycled tp rolls for the beautiful rich soil that will be waiting come spring.

About our garden:

As of Autumn 2013, we have not yet found our piece of paradise to begin our little mini farm… so we have teamed up with our good friends who have a little slice of heaven out in the country.

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It doesn’t take much to motivate me to leave suburbia and drive a few extra minutes to take in this view!

We are actually going to run a side by side experiment using three types of gardening:  lasagna layering, standard tilling and raised beds – and see which one is truly the best producer of deliciousness.

Follow this blog for updates – as well as more of the adventures and misadventures that my daughter Elizabeth and I get up to.

Cardboard Cardboard Everywhere!

cardboard

When life gives you lemons  cardboard, make lemonade something amazing!

I’m sure that there are psychiatrists with treatment plans for people like me.  People who have rooms with ‘items of great potential’.  People whose hearts beat a little more quickly at the thought of what could be done with “that”.  People who love the phrase “another man’s trash…”   Yep.  That’s me.

So, here’s the story – we moved across an ocean.  Our life’s belongings are on a small container on a very big boat which has yet had the courage to leave port.  And we are in a big house full of …. nothing.

Never fear! IKEA is here!  Presto! We have beds, and a couple chairs, and a couple small tables (acting as desks)

and I now have a MOUNTAIN of cardboard and plastic.  It’s smooth perfectly clean surface is just calling to be made into something beautiful…something useful.

Oh and did I mention that I also have an abundance of time on my hands?

So, according to my mathematical equation :

[(cardboard + potential) /storage space] x extra time = useful or beautiful projects + happiness –  minimal financial outlay

This is an equation I can live with.

But what does one do with such an abundance of the stiff brown stuff?  The days of castles and cars are past.  Barbie has moved to another home, and Mr. Teddy now lives high on a shelf in my youngest daughter’s room where his primary job is now to be “cute”.

I contemplated building some amazing creation for our new neighbor’s 6 year old daughter and 4 year old son… but we’ve only spoken once… and they might find it a bit…odd.

I tried googling “cardboard projects” – let me just say there are some pretty creative people out there.

 How about some cardboard armor to slay a cardboard dragon?

armordragon

And considering the current furniture situation… perhaps a cardboard chair to relax in?

chair

Sadly, none of these are quite what I had in mind.

So my quest continues:  useful and/or beautiful,  fun and/or responsible.

Watch this space to see what kind of things I come up with

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Addendum

Even though so many creative ideas floated through my head… a more practical, and hopefully productive solution arose which required every last piece of cardboard I had gathered – and it will produce SO much more than any desk organizer or gingerbread village…

sheetcompost

Curious?  Jump to my next post here

Art By Putty Knife

This was definitely a classic “Let’s Just Try It” project!  A photo posted on Pinterest got my mind going, and a verse that I have always wanted illustrated were what got me going.  All it took was a big canvas with the right dimensions, a putty knife, Acrylic Gel Medium and my tray of acrylic paints.  One afternoon of joyous painting – it felt like the days when my mom would sit me at the table with fingerpaint – colour mixing and mashing…. so much fun!

This is how simple it is: Mix acrylic gel medium to give acrylic paints texture (or I suppose, use oils!). Use a paper plate as the palette – start with the lightest colour and load the putty knife-edge with the colour – stroke down for one, stroke to the side for the second. PIck up a bit of the next colour and stroke on the palatte to blend the colour slightly – continue working through the canvas, laying down the background. Work in the focal point (in this case, the tree).  Let dry.  Add leaves when dry.  (NB: the leaves consisted of a significant amount of gel as I wanted them to stand up on the canvas – I wasn’t entirely happy with the result – and definitely shouldn’t have worked on it at 10 pm!

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In true “Lets Just Try It” style – let me share what I learned….

  • A rough sketch of the elements of the painting can give direction for colour change as you go. It wasn’t entire a “fly by the seat of your pants” project.
  • Mix enough paint with the gel medium to get you through the entire painting. Matching mixed colours and gel is a difficult task – luckily this particular technique does not require exact match!
  • Edges are tough to tackle with a stiff putty knife – a softer, more flexible one would have been better
  • Blue tends to dry more transparent my end result was not exactly what I had hoped for as the overlapping of the colours were not disguised with the blue – of course I had to wait until it was dry to discover this!
  • Paint in the detail while the background is wet for a fun way to add tone to your detail. My tree trunk was painted with the same base colour, but when dragged through the wet background, picked up the light and dark elements.
  • Decide BEFORE you start whether you imagine a frame or not.  Sadly, I painted this on a stretched canvas, and have decided it definitely needs a frame…. I will have to seek professional advise about how to make that happen.
  • Finally, take your time on the final details!  I was so determined to finish in one day, that I got a bit sloppy on the leaves. It resulted in a slightly cartoonish looking tree.  Next time I will save the leaves for a fresh day, and spend time on some detail.

Rainbow-licious!

You know you are getting old when the things that were popular when you were a teen are popular once again. Smurfs, puffed sleeves and yes, my favorite teen-aged trend – the rainbow.  In my day, it didn’t represent New Age, or homosexuality – it was just cool.  And we had rainbows on everything – t-shirts, stickers, bedding, you name it!

It is with much joy that I see that my youngest girls also think it is cool.  And for both of their birthdays this year, we baked rainbows. :)  Such fun!

For my newest teen – freshly 13 years old, we made tie dye cupcakes.

I didn’t take photos as I went – it was a midnight oil type of project – but they were very easy to do. Instead of a recipe I used a white cake mix and equally divided the batter into 6 bowls. Each bowl was tinted a colour of the rainbow.  One spoonful of each colour, done in reverse order, into a white cupcake paper resulted in 15 lovely full cupcakes with a funky tie-dye appearance.  A white fluffy buttercream frosting swirled on top and it was a hit!

For my youngest’s 11th birthday, she requested a monster of a rainbow cake – 6 tiers, “with white frosting and sprinkles, please Mommy!”

I read Martha Stewart’s recipe (consisting of 14 egg whites and endless hours of whipping and baking) and decided that a revamp was in order!

The basics are:  6 layers – each layer is 1/3 of one standard recipe (therefore, 2 recipes will produce 6 layers)

Helpful tips before you begin: Precise division of both cake batter and filling are imperative. I used a scale for the cake batter, and a measuring cup for the filling. Baking one recipe at a time made these divisions much more manageable.

Using white margarine made a cloud white frosting for the outer layer. I used a cream cheese frosting for the filling, but can imagine many delicious possibilities such as coconut, lemon or vanilla flavours

The Nuts and Bolts:  Betty Crocker has a great white cake recipe – using only 4 egg whites, mind you.  A doubled recipe is required, but I recommend mixing and baking them separately.

After mixing the batter, measure and divide into separate bowls (3 for each recipe), making sure each bowl holds exactly the same amount of batter.  Colour each bowl with the appropriate colour of the rainbow.  Orange is easy with a bit of red and yellow, and purple with yellow and red.  I found that a mixed green was muddy looking, so I used a bottled green food colour.

Each bowl will fill a 9″ cake tin about 1/3 full.  These bake rather quickly, so watch them carefully.  20 minutes should be sufficient. Use a toothpick to test.

As the first recipe cools, mix the second recipe and follow the same procedures.

 

Once cooled, begin stacking and filling in between each layer.  Remember to work in reverse of the colour spectrum – purple, blue, orange, yellow and red.  Use exactly the same amount of filling between each layer and spread evenly, extending slightly beyond the edge of the cake

Finally, frost the outside of the cake and top.  Add whatever (if any) sprinkles or embellishments you like and Voila! You can taste a rainbow!

Things I learned along the way

More filling! Having a nice white divide between each colour makes for a greater impact.

Use Green food colour instead of yellow and blue combined.

More colouring = more intense colour.  Best option would be powdered or paste colour, but my cheapy liquid worked well and didn’t noticeably change the flavour of the cake.

Make plenty frosting for the outside of the cake – This is not  your average sized cake so a double recipe will be required.

Next time, I would love to make a 3 dimensional rainbow to place on top – either from moulding chocolate or royal icing.  However, the surprise on everyone’s faces when we sliced into what appeared to be a lovely white cake, was worth the secret🙂

 

 

Camping the Healthy Way

When I was a kid, we went camping often.  Mom and Dad would seemingly just decided we were going and we would pack up our tiny little Toyota Corolla (with roof rack), wedge our bodies in, and head off. From my child eyes, my mom would just throw all kinds of things into the cooler box and away we went.

We loved being outdoors, we loved the sounds of nature, we loved the activity… but most of all we loved the treats.  Camping meant treats – caramel corn, smores, trail mix and lots and lots of soda pop.

Now we have our own kids, and while we don’t camp nearly as much as I did when I was small, it is still a fun holiday… and a lot of work.

We are in process of bidding our fair summer goodbye, while all my northern hemisphere family and friends are just beginning to look forward to summer, we are packing for a weekend at the dam (lake for you northerners).

I am a huge list maker when it comes to camping, and I like to plan carefully my menus and snacks.  And, of course, with our healthier perspective on life now I need to break out the creative juices and get cracking!

I’d love to hear your favorite camping take-a-longs  and we will find ourselves with a great list of amazing yummy treats to add some flair to our next trips out-of-doors.

Breakfast ideas:

Potato Scramble – veggies, eggs and egg whites with a splash of salsa on top. Yum!

Yogurt and Papaya with a granola crunch topping and Health Muffins

Super Starter Oatmeal – oats cooked with chopped apple, peaches, raisins (or cranberries!) and cinnamon.  Mmmmm!

Lunch ideas:

Wraps made with homemade hummus, tomato, lettuce and a sprinkle of shredded white cheddar

Stuffed Baked Potatoes – broccoli, cauliflower, beans and a sprinkle of shredded white cheddar. Salsa and Plain Yogurt for a saucy topping

Dinner ideas:

Grilled chicken with whole wheat pasta salad, pepperdew and feta cheese

Chicken Chili and corn muffins

Easy Paella

Snack ideas:

Dried fruit trail mix  pretzels, peanuts and purchased dried fruit with coconut

Popcorn

Fresh fruit

Fresh Veggies and Hummus

Sweet Treat

(just because camping isn’t camping unless you have them…)

 

Marshmallows, chocolates and Marie Biscuits (if we were in the States, it would be graham crackers!)

 

 

So while we try not to look like the Beverly Hillbillies heading out on our adventure  at least we’ll know we’ve got “good eatin’s” in the food box!

Heart Shaped Mini Wreath

Most times, it’s the little things that count.  The unexpected kiss on the cheek, the wink across the room, the help when unasked.

There is nothing nicer than leaving a little gift for someone anonymously, and this little heart wreath is a simple way to show those you love that you appreciate them. Leave them hanging on the door, from the car mirror or maybe even on the shower handle.  Depending on the size made, it would take no time at all to whip up half a dozen. They use mostly scraps or repurposed materials and cost almost nothing.

Materials:

Medium Gauge Wire – (recycle an old hanger!)

A pair of pliers and a wire cutter

Masking tape

Scraps of fabric (left overs from sewing projects, old pillowcases, bits of worn out clothing)

Bits of Ribbon to hang with

Step One: Bend a small heart from a piece of wire.  Tip: start from the bottom of the heart and bend upward. Bend each side of the top of the heart by gently bending the curve around.  Perfection is not needed.

Step Two: Twist the ends of the heart together. If too long, trim shorter.  Tape ends with tape for safety. ( if the twisted section is too long, as it is above, trim with a pair of wire cutters. The tape will hold it together.

Step Three:  Tear strips from a variety of types of cloth.  The width required will depend on the size of wreath made.  For a 7 inch wreath, I used approximately 1 inch wide strips. If using very thick material, make narrower strips.

Step four: Cut the strips into a length that will make an easy hitch knot.  My sample was made with approximately 4 inch strips

Step five: Tie the strip onto the frame using a hitch knot. ( Fold the strip in half, forming a loop. Fold over the frame, insert the ends of the strips through the loop and pull tight.

Continue all the way around the frame pushing the knots close together and varying the colours and patterns.

Step Six: To finish the wreath, pull the ends of the knots apart from each other to give it a fluffed appearance.

Tie a longer length of ribbon in a loop and thread it around the wreath to form a hanger.

Ta Da! A cute little gift to brighten someones day!

* Options (I love options!)

Use a bigger frame and wider strips to make a really fluffy wreath

Use scraps of ribbon, or widely different textures of fabric for a beautifully diverse wreath

Hang a string of beads from the middle or the bottom – or a charm – or a bow – the possibilities are limitless!

Hearts-A-Plenty Quick DIY Wall Art

I love pretty things, but I love pretty things done quickly even more!
Our house has a very natural relaxed feeling – natural stone, putty coloured walls and wood.

I found a selection of woven wicker hearts at Mr. Price – my favorite budget hunting place. For R140.00 ($18.50) I got my creative juices flowing and came up with a great natural looking piece to hang over my bed. It fits perfectly with the apple green and brown – and has a little sentimental value with each heart representing one of my family.

I hung each heart at eye pleasing levels, knotted at the top with two small loops to create hangers. In less than an hour I had just what I wanted.

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