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May 28, 2014

The Best Laid Plans...

This past weekend ended up being an exercise in futility. The plan was to buy new pavers for the front steps and boards for the board and batten wainscoting on Saturday, install the pavers, and get the boards planed down to size. Then on Sunday we'd prime and paint the boards and get the chair rail installed.

Did.Not.Happen. When we got back from buying the stones and boards, Tom pulled out the old stones, leveled that area of the sidewalk and put the new pavers in. It was then that we realized we didn't like them. So we rearranged them. Still not good. We tried a combination of the new ones and the old ones. No go. So we went back to the store to return the pavers and look for something else. We couldn't find anything else we liked so we went home defeated, with the plan to try some stone and landscaping retailers next weekend.


But what to do with the front steps that were now torn apart? We put the old stones back into place - and stole two from the garden retaining wall to replace the ones that were damaged over the winter. We're planning on removing that garden and planting something else anyway.

With the sidewalk leveled it made a huge difference. I can't believe how much better the steps look just with that little change. It's still not where we want to end up, but for now at least it's not a hazard. Though it's sad that we spent an entire day just to end up back where we started.


And it doesn't look as bad as it did last weekend...


Or the weekend before...



On the bright side, we did pick up some trees to plant along the side of the porch. The neighbours' house is so close - there's no privacy at all. Last year we installed the railing to separate us a little bit, and now we're putting in cedar trees to block the view. They're small right now, but eventually they'll provide some privacy - for us and for our neighbours.




And we brought out the hammock, because the weather was awesome. Of course, Little Dog is in love with the hammock and won't let anyone in it by themselves. Even when everyone else has given up, she's still in there swinging away.





Oh, we did get the boards planed, and a couple of coats of primer applied, but that was it. The time just whizzes by too fast and suddenly is 8pm on Sunday night. This week is month-end for me at work so I'm staying late and nothing is going to get done before Thursday. But once Thursday hits -it's game on. There's no time to waste because...we finally have a date for our master bath renovation to start!

May 22, 2014

Easy Homemade Dinner Rolls

My father-in-law was over for dinner on Sunday, and instead of just whipping up a one-pan stirfry meal that is our usual, I decided to do it up right - bbq pork loin fillets, rice, and a couple of different vegetables (including more fiddleheads!) Fancy. I also wanted to try out some dinner rolls instead of my regular go-to - Irish soda bread (which is awesome by the way, you should try it), so I got to experimenting.

Easy Homemade Dinner Rolls

I'm definitely a beginner when it comes to yeast-type breads, so if I can do it, you can do it too. All together it takes about 2 1/2 hours so give yourself plenty of time.

Ingredients:

3 1/4 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon yeast
1 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup oil
1 1/3 cups warm water

Mix together the flour, sugar, yeast, and salt. Add in the oil and water. Mix well and then knead the dough on a lightly floured surface for a few minutes. If you're using a stand mixer with a pastry hook, let it mix for about 5 minutes. Cover the dough with a tea towel and let it rise until it doubles in size (about an hour).

Lay the dough out on a lightly floured surface again and roll it into a tube shape. Cut the dough into equal-sized pieces (I cut the dough into 15 pieces but you could make them larger or smaller). Roll each piece into a ball and place on a greased cookie sheet. Cover the dough with the tea towel and let rise again for about an hour.

(Note: I'm wondering if this second rise time is necessary. They plumped up even more in the oven so it might not even matter.)

Easy Homemade Dinner Rolls

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

If you want to, brush the top of the rolls with a milk and sugar wash to add some sweetness, or an egg wash (egg and water mixture) to get a shiny crust. I went for the milk and sugar.

Bake the rolls for 18 to 20 minutes, until the tops are lightly browned. Let them cool for a minute and then pull them apart.

Easy Homemade Dinner Rolls

Easy Homemade Dinner Rolls

I don't think I can accurately describe just how good these are. Well, there were only about 6 left over after dinner, so that might say it right there. They were soft and just slightly sweet. Next time I think I'll use a bigger pan so that the rolls aren't as close to each other and there'll be more crust on each one.

Easy Homemade Dinner Rolls



May 20, 2014

Broken-down Bricks


The crazy, cold winter we had did quite a number on our front steps this year. They started to crack around the end of February, and by the time we got back from Texas in April it looked like there'd been a shark attack.



On Sunday, Tom grabbed a couple of the largest pavers they had at Home Depot in the hopes that they would fit. This was just a quick fix until we can decide what we want to do permanently with the front walkway. The cold weather had also heaved the bricks of the sidewalk so it's a bit of a rollercoaster right now and will all have to be redone.


The top bricks are glued to the bottom ones, so he had to chip the broken ones out piece by piece. The bricks just crumbled away, so it was probably time to replace them anyway.



Unfortunately the new bricks were too thick. They were also a bit too short, but that wouldn't have been that much of a problem, we just wanted to reduce the tripping hazard of the missing bits. But with them too high, the chance of tripping is now increased. Especially for me, the clumsiest person on earth (I have an award and everything).

So now we had a big gap in the steps and no way to fill it. Yesterday was a holiday here in Ontario, so all of the stores were closed. I crawled under the back deck looking for spare bricks, but Tom - in a burst of efficiency - had taken them all up to his father's empty lot. Instead we had to use a deck board left over from when we rebuilt the back deck, some plywood, and then a 1 inch thick board to make up the depth.



Classy, isn't it? He screwed it all together so that nothing would shift, and we now have the most redneck front entrance in the neighbourhood. If only we had an old washing machine to put out on the porch. J











May 16, 2014

Fiddleheads, Fiddleheads

It's fiddlehead season in southern Ontario (or in the northeast - depending on where you are). I've read that people in California can pay up to $20 a pound for this tasty vegetable! Aren't we lucky to get them for a tenth of that price - if not for free. A friend of ours has them growing wild right on his property, so he gave us two ziploc bags full this past week.

fiddleheads

Have you tried fiddleheads? They taste something like asparagus, but are actually the curled up frond heads of the fiddlehead fern plant. They're only available for a couple of weeks in the spring, so you have to be fast!

fiddleheads

It's important when preparing fiddleheads to wash and cook them thoroughly. You can get really sick from eating raw or lightly-cooked fiddleheads. We washed ours, then boiled them for 8-10 minutes. After that we sauteed them in garlic, butter, and hot sauce, and ate them with lemon pepper sole (and some berries for colour).

fiddleheads

It's been many, many years since I had fiddleheads, and then it was in soup, so I'd forgotten how good they taste.

fiddleheads

How do you like to prepare your fiddleheads?

May 13, 2014

Photo Gifts - Let's Get Artistic

I took some pictures of my aunt's little fluff of a dog at Christmas time and decided to give my aunt a framed copy of the best one for her birthday (which was yesterday).

This is the original picture. Her name is Desi and she's a Coton de Tulear. Cute, right? She's over-the-top friendly and happy all the time. She has this way of flashing a smile, front teeth on display, that's just hilarious.

desi coton de tulear

While this picture was great, I'd recently downloaded a couple of artistic photoshopping iPhone apps that I wanted to try out.

The first one is called Waterlogue. I've written about it before, and it's really fun. There are different settings depending on how intense you want the colours to be, or how much detail you want to show. I find that it doesn't capture people's faces very well, but for animals & scenery it's terrific.

Here is Desi "waterlogued":

desi coton de tulear waterlogue iphone app

The second app is called Artist's Sketch. Pretty self-explanatory, it turns a photo into a black and white pencil sketch. The options are a bit limited right now, but I really like just the basic one anyway.

Here is Desi "sketched":

desi coton de tulear artist's sketch iphone app

Great detail on the fur, isn't there? The sketch was definitely my favourite so that's the one I went with.  I found a grey and black fabric photo frame at Target and had her gift ready just like that. I also printed out the other two pictures and put them behind the first one, so she can change it out if she wants to.

desi coton de tulear artist's sketch iphone app

I also tried my hand at making a pillow box for the first time. It took two tries, but it isn't bad. It was a bit hard because of the size - I couldn't print out a template big enough so I had to freehand a lot of it.

pillow box diy

pillow box diy

And the only thing large enough I had on hand was plain white poster board. I love how Rebecca at Older & Wisor makes them from leftover cereal or pop boxes. I will definitely try that when I need a smaller one in the future.

Have you used these two phone apps yet? What do you think of them? Are there other ones that you like better? What about gift boxes? Do you recycle what you have or buy new ones?


May 10, 2014

Lightening Up the Bedroom (Board and Batten Prep)

I'm thinking of making some changes to the master bedroom. Well, that's a bit of a lie because I've actually  started already.

If you remember, last year we painted the bedroom Benjamin Moore Stormy Monday (after a brief detour to BM Arctic Seal). With orange and white accessories we were pretty happy with the results. But after a year of living with it, I felt like it was still a little too dark.

Before:

BM Stormy Monday grey master bedroom

BM Stormy Monday grey master bedroom

Not that I want to repaint the whole room - just half of it. The bottom half. We're going to install board and batten wainscoting. Tom's very excited. (No, he's not.) But he's willing to give it a shot if it makes me happy. We're going for something simple - maybe like this,


So this past weekend I painted the lower half of the room bright white. I knew we wouldn't have time to paint AND install the battens in one weekend - plus caulking, puttying, and painting some more - so while Tom was off at his pool tournament I got the painting out of the way.

I used paint and primer in one, but it still took three coats to cover the grey. The nice thing was that the paint colour was the same as the trim, so I only needed to tape off the upper half of the wall and cover the floor.

Master Bedroom BM Stormy Monday Grey and White Wainscoting

The room already has chair rail moulding around the room. Honestly, I don't love it. It's too narrow and a bit too ornate.

Master Bedroom BM Stormy Monday Grey and White Wainscoting

We will be removing it when we install the wainscoting, but for now I thought it would look better painted. Though, after four coats, there was still grey paint showing through. Grrrr.

Master Bedroom BM Stormy Monday Grey and White Wainscoting

When we painted the room the first time, I wanted it all one colour as I thought two colours would chop the room in half and make the ceiling look lower. But the white horizontal line through the middle somehow makes the room appear wider and the height still looks the same. So that's a win.

The baseboard will have to be replaced as well, as the upper edge of it is probably no more than 1/8 of an inch deep - far too thin for battens.

Master Bedroom BM Stormy Monday Grey and White Wainscoting

We're not going to be installing chunky ones, somewhere in the range of 1/4 inch, maybe a bit more. We're going to keep the door trim in place and match that depth. Luckily, we have a planer now, so we can customize the boards to whatever thickness we need.

Master Bedroom BM Stormy Monday Grey and White Wainscoting

It'll be a week or two before we have time to continue with the project, but so far, so good.


May 7, 2014

Bookshelf Toybox Combo (DIY)

My favourite little girl, Piper, turned one year old a couple of weeks ago and I thought, what better way to mark this momentous occasion than with a great big gift - one that will last for a long, long time (I hope).

DIY Bookcase Toybox Wood

I originally saw the plans on Ana White's site. She called it the "Kendra storage console". Ana is the goddess of wooden furniture building. Her plans were inspired by a Pottery Barn storage console that sells for over $200 - but you can build it yourself for less.

DIY Bookcase Toybox Wood

Ana's plans result in a bookcase/box that is about 18" x 23" square and 24" high. We wanted ours to be a little larger so that Piper could continue to use it as she got older, so we decided on 24" x 26" and 30" high. Because it was larger overall, we went with 1x3 boards instead of the 1x2s listed in the original instructions.

With the change in dimensions, we had to do a little trial and error to get exactly what we wanted, but all in all, this project shouldn't take you more than a weekend, including staining or painting it.

Instructions:

We started by cutting the side pieces - the front and back upright pieces and the bottom cross piece - and joining them together. That second cross piece in the picture is just there to keep everything square, it isn't attached. Take a look at how much use our fold-up worktable is getting. All that paint, stain, and tool marks show just how truly loved it is.

DIY Bookcase Toybox Wood

We drilled pocket holes to hide the screws that would join the pieces together. We have a Kreg Jig R3 (ie. the Kreg Jr.) to position the holes correctly. This guy is just $40 and is a lifesaver. We used it to hide the screws when we built the sofa table as well. You just line up where you want the holes to be using the grey sliders on the sides of the jig, clamp the jig to your board, and drill the holes using the guides. The screw heads are hidden and the holes can be puttied over.

DIY Bookcase Toybox Wood

The angled rail that runs from the top shelf to the front of the box was next. The easiest way to find the angle for this piece is to take the uncut length of board that will be the rail and put the bottom corner of it against the top inside corner of the front upright board. (See the first picture on the left, below.) The other end of the rail should be resting on the inside corner of the back upright board (like in the top right picture, below). Take a ruler or straight edge, line it up with the inside edge of the front board, and draw a line straight up from the corner. Cut the rail along this line.

Put the board back where you had it with that newly cut edge now in place along the side of the upright board and the other end resting again on the front corner of the back board. (See middle picture.)

Take your straight edge, line it up with the top of the upright board, and draw a line horizontally straight across the rail board. (See top right picture again.) Cut along this line.

Using a pocket screw, attach the bottom end of the rail to the upright board. To attach the upper end, you'll use a piece of 1x1 or 1x2 that will run along the inside of the bookshelf, across both boards. This piece will also act as additional support for the top shelf.You can cut it to the length of the top of the frame, or you can angle it like we did so that it matches the angle of the rail.  Attach the support piece with countersunk screws. (See bottom picture.)

DIY Bookcase Toybox Wood

DIY Bookcase Toybox Wood

DIY Bookcase Toybox Wood

Once the four framing pieces were secured, we added the middle upright boards. To measure the length, you just need to stand each of your boards on the bottom rail and trace the angle of the top rail (the underside of it) with a pencil. Cut the boards at the marked angle, drill pocket holes at the top and bottom, and attach with screws. We put the pocket hole at the top of each board on the side so that it was less visible.

DIY Bookcase Toybox Wood

The middle bookshelf board will also need a support. Taking a piece of 1x1 or 1x2, you'll cut a shelf support for each side that is no longer than the depth of the shelf. Ours was 9 inches deep. We cut the front of each support at 45 degrees angling downwards so that it would be less visible from the front. These supports are attached to the inside of each side "frame" at the depth you've decided on - ours was about 9 inches from the top.

Then you repeat this all over again for the other side of the box. Make sure that you're always attaching your pocket screws on the inside!

The front of the box was very simple. There are two upright support boards and three cross boards. One thing to note is that the upright boards sit in front of the sides to make the corner, so make sure you include that extra distance when you're measuring to cut your cross boards. These boards were then attached to each other using pocket screws. You'll also want to make sure that the bottom horizontal board lines up with the horizontal board on the sides.

DIY Bookcase Toybox Wood

Before you attach the three sides together you'll want to add the supports for the floorboard of the box. These supports can again be 1x1s or 1x2s. When attaching the supports, make sure that all three are the same depth from the bottom and level so that when the floor of the box is inserted it lays flat.

DIY Bookcase Toybox Wood

The sides and front can now be attached to each other. To make it easier, you can clamp the corners together and set the floorboard in place - this will help you keep the frame square. The corners were secured using countersunk screws straight through the front at the same height as the three cross boards.

DIY Bookcase Toybox Wood

The floorboard can now be screwed into place using countersunk screws at each of the corners and along each side. We used a sheet of 1/4 inch plywood with a birch veneer for the bottom. We also cut and attached a support piece for underneath the floorboard along the back of the box that would be attached to the backing board once it was installed.

DIY Bookcase Toybox Wood

DIY Bookcase Toybox Wood

The middle shelf can now be cut and attached. Measure the width of the floor board and cut your shelf board to match. Attach countersunk screws up through the underside of the shelf supports to secure it to the frame.

The backing board comes next. We used plywood again, but some that was thinner than the floorboard as it didn't need to support any weight. Measure from the top of the frame to the bottom of the floorboard support and from side to side. Cut your plywood and attach it to the frame using small finishing nails. Make sure that you also attach the backing board to the middle shelf to give it a little extra support and to keep the backing board from bowing out away from the bookcase.

We cut the top board so that it overhung the sides of the frame by about a half inch and attached it so that it sat on top of the backing board and was flush with it. This top board is not as deep as the middle shelf - about 7 inches. You could also have the board hang over the back slightly so that the top is always against the wall, even if there's a baseboard stopping the legs from being flush (my carpenter man forgot to do that.)

DIY Bookcase Toybox Wood

I puttied all of the (visible) holes and sanded them smooth so there were no exposed screws or sharp edges. I sanded the heck out of this thing. First with 60 grit paper, then with 100 grit, and finally with 220 grit.

DIY Bookcase Toybox Wood

DIY Bookcase Toybox Wood

I wanted to match their nursery furniture which is a dark mahogany colour. I put a coat of Minwax dark walnut stain on first because I didn't think the mahogany stain would be dark enough. In retrospect, I think I should have left it out as I wasn't able to get the colour as red as I wanted. But anyway, after the walnut, I applied two coats of Minwax red mahogany stain, and then two coats of furniture wax. After buffing the wax, I went over all of it with steel wool to make it even smoother. I've written before (and here, too) about the benefit of using steel wool after waxing. I can't recommend it enough - your wood surface will feel like silk.

What a beauty!

DIY Bookcase Toybox Wood

DIY Bookcase Toybox Wood

DIY Bookcase Toybox Wood

Then it was time for a bit of staging to get an idea of what it would look like in use. We scrounged all around the house to fill up the toybox. (That's Piper's mommy and daddy in the framed picture.)

DIY Bookcase Toybox Wood

How many people reading this noticed that most of the toys in the box are dog toys? That's all we have around here, but we have plenty of them. I added some colourful books (by Christopher Moore - not child appropriate at all, but very, very funny) and a few keepsakes.

DIY Bookcase Toybox Wood

DIY Bookcase Toybox Wood

DIY Bookcase Toybox Wood

We're pretty proud of this one. I showed photos of it to my boss, he told his wife about it, and I think we may have some orders in our future!