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Jun 28, 2013

The Flower Bed, Now With Actual Flowers

No one would ever mistake me for having a green thumb. As much as I love plants and flowers, I am terrible at looking after them. If you're not in my face saying, "Hey, over here! Feed me!" you're probably going to go hungry. I am doing pretty well inside the house right now. I think I have 3 plants on the go and thriving. True, one is a cactus - the definition of low maintenance - but I have had them die before. I'm admitting to all this neglect and yet people still allow me to have dogs. (Note: my dogs aren't neglected. Just my plants. And sometimes my husband.)

My next door neighbour is a groundskeeper at a golf course and he takes his lawn and garden very seriously. He works on them every single day. I'm sure he's a bit embarrassed to be living next to me. I'm lucky that the previous owners planted perennials in our garden to at least keep up appearances. But even perennials can't last if you don't look after them.

So last weekend I broke down, bought new flowers and some super soil to spruce up our digs. I wish I had some good before shots but I don't often take pictures of the front of the house, since I know there isn't much to see.

This is the best I could find:


Previously there was echinacea growing, and a couple of near-death clematis (clematii?), so I pulled most of it out. The echinacea was pretty, but it just grew too tall every year and would usually fall over. The soil was also pretty old so I gave it a good mix with some super soil and lovingly spread it around. 

flowers

I chose the flowers for their colours, for the differing heights, and for their ability to spread out.  The neighbours must have laughed, watching me with my flower pots spread out in front of me, wondering what to do next. I planted the impatiens along the front in groups of two to make them a little more substantial right off the bat. Then I planted the salvia and this other guy (new guinea impatiens, maybe?) along the back. That guy started out in a hanging basket, but because he likes partial to full sun, I split him up into four plants and spread 'im around.
impatiens

salvia

new guinea impatiens

Now each morning when I leave for work, I give my garden a smile. So far it's been 5 days and a bit of a heat wave, and they're still hanging in there. Just look at how that coral one in the middle popped.

flowers

flowers

flowers


And as a bit of extra fun, we pulled out the tree in the front flower bed. It's never been a favourite, and this year it seems to have given up the ghost, so we pulled it out redneck style. 

removing tree

Yes, Tom wrapped a tow cable around the tree trunk, attached it to his truck hitch, and pulled. We can't have one flower bed looking nice without the other one looking like a grave, right? 

removing tree

Now to find a tree that we really like (I'm voting for birch).

~~~~~

On a different note, I'm sure you're aware that Google Reader is hitting the road on July 1st, right? Have you found an alternative for your feeds? Both Bloglovin' and Feedly are popular. And they both offer easy importing of your current feeds. Don't wait, the clock is ticking!



Jun 25, 2013

Yard Sale Bench Finds a Home


Way back in April of 2012 I bought a bench at our company yard sale. For $2. Quite a bargain, right? And this past weekend I got around to refurbishing it.

refurbished bench

Do you remember it before? It's a very solid piece of furniture, with a slapped on paint job. It was for background in a photo shoot, so I'm sure they weren't too worried about the quality of the work at the time.


I popped out the front fabric panel inserts and gave the sides a fresh coat of white paint, then painted the top with a paint and poly in one in brown. I really wanted to stain and poly the top, but it's only made of particle board, so no wood grain for me.

After work on Friday I bought some 2" foam, quilt batting, and upholstery fabric with a bit of a herringbone pattern. I had Tom cut down a piece of plywood to the same size as the top of the bench and used that as my base for the cushion.

While he was cutting the board, I recovered the front inserts in the same fabric. The inserts were made up of a thin piece of plywood, an even thinner piece of batting, and then the dropcloth material. Recovering it was a simple matter of removing the old fabric by pulling out the staples, cutting a new piece of fabric - make sure you leave enough on each side to wrap to the back - and stapling it to the back of the board. It really only took about 10 minutes. (Four of which were spent finding a heavier stapler than the one I thought I could use.)




I handed the inserts off to Tom to reinstall, and got to work on the cushion. I cut the foam to size and then spray glued it to the plywood board. The glue isn't there to do more than keep the foam in place while I'm pulling on the fabric, it's not really strong enough to hold something with this amount of weight.

 

I measured out a piece of quilt batting that would cover the front and sides, and wrap to the back by a couple of extra inches. I flipped the foam and board upside down on the batting, wrapped it tightly to the back and got to stapling. You'll want to start by stapling the batting to the center of each side of the board, to get it anchored firmly. You can then flip it back over and make sure that everything is smooth and there isn't any gapping.  I usually work on the corners next. I folded the batting material to get nice clean corners - kind of like wrapping a present - and then stapled it down.


I then filled in with more staples between the center and the corner of each side. Make sure you keep pulling the material taut all along. You may want to have someone else hold it for you if you need two hands to work the stapler.

I repeated the process with the upholstery fabric. If you want to have tidy edges, see here for a tutorial. The underside wasn't going to show in this case, so it didn't matter what it looked like.

bench cushion


bench cushion

I've sewn the corners before (here and here), and done a double-fold (my favourite, I'll have to take pictures sometime), but I kept this one simple - just tucked one side in and folded the other over.

bench cushion

See how easy that was? We then drilled four holes in the top of the bench and attached the cushion to the top from underneath with screws. Make sure they aren't too long - you don't want to poke someone in the butt!

refurbished bench

Here you can see the detail of the front panels.

refurbished bench

Now a little before and after:
refurbished bench

I was considering painting the side inserts the same colour as the wall behind the bench, but I think I might just add some antique-looking handles instead.

refurbished bench

refurbished bench

The best thing is that now we have somewhere to sit to put our shoes on. No more sitting on the floor and getting slobber-attacked by dogs!

~~~~~

I'm linking up here this week!




Jun 20, 2013

Beef Kebabs

I wasn't planning on writing about these beef kebabs, but they turned out so well that I just had to share.


I started by marinating stewing beef in a mixture of barbecue sauce, lime juice, red pepper flakes, and sriracha. The lime juice is excellent for tenderizing an otherwise tough cut of meat. Mine sat in the marinade (in the fridge) for a couple of days just because I didn't have time to prepare the skewers, but if you're in a hurry or you're using a more tender meat (e.g. chicken) you only need to marinate for a few hours.

The nice thing about using the stewing beef is that it's already cut up into bite-sized cubes for you. For the vegetables I used sweet red peppers, onions, mushrooms, and zucchini. The options are endless though - cherry tomatoes, corn on the cob, eggplant, ...even pineapple. Cut them into fairly large chunks, about the same size as the pieces of meat.

If you're using wooden skewers you'll probably want to soak them in water for a few minutes before using. I soaked mine while I cut up the vegetables. It's not absolutely necessary - the ends are going to char anyway - but I think it makes them a little more flexible and less likely to splinter or break.

Building the kebab is pretty straight forward - just alternate threading meat and vegetable pieces until you get to the top. Be very gentle with the mushrooms, they break so easily.



Once your grill is heated, lay the skewers across the grill so that they cook evenly and you get pretty grill marks. I found that the zucchini cooks a little slower - you might want to pre-cook it a bit before making the skewers. I like my vegetables crunchy though so having them a bit underdone was perfect for me.



I served it with green peas (very high end, I know) and orzo pasta. I like to give the orzo a visual kick by browning just a handful of it in a frying pan before putting it all into boiling water. I flavoured the orzo with coconut aminos and italian seasoning.




This all looks so summery to me. Even if we did eat it in the basement TV room while watching the season premiere of True Blood.


~~~~~

I'm linking up to these parties this week!


Jun 17, 2013

Texas 2013 - San Antonio

When we were in Texas last week we took a day trip to San Antonio. We didn't get to spend as much time there as I would have liked, but I fell in love with what I saw. I would move to San Antonio in a heartbeat, given the chance.

We started out downtown at the Riverwalk. What a beautiful area!

Riverwalk - San Antonio

The old buildings, the huge trees, flowers everywhere...just amazing. Every restaurant has an outdoor patio with wrought iron furniture and brightly coloured umbrellas. It was hard to take it all in.

Riverwalk - San Antonio

Riverwalk - San Antonio

We walked around a bit and then had lunch at a mexican restaurant. The lady sitting next to us befriended this duck and was sneaking it tortilla chips. I swear it was going to crawl up in her lap, it was so friendly.

Riverwalk - San Antonio

After lunch, Tom had to meet a friend so we headed north of downtown. While he talked to his friend I sat in the car and looked up real estate listings, pretending I was moving there.

We really wanted to see the missions before it got dark but we didn't have time to see them all, so we chose Mission Espada for the aquaduct, Mission San José for the church, and the Alamo because, well, you have to see the Alamo, right? As Canadians, southern US history is just a story for us, but we wanted to learn as much as we could.

We were the only ones at Mission Espada. It was so quiet, we felt like we should tiptoe around.

Mission Espada - San Antonio

Mission Espada - San Antonio

The chapel is so lovely, and the nuns who live on the grounds keep the courtyard outside their quarters full of flowers and trees.

Mission Espada - San Antonio

Mission Espada - San Antonio

We took a quick trip to the aquaduct but the area was closing so I didn't get any good pictures. The irrigation system is made up of gravity-flow ditches, dams, and an aquaduct to distribute water to 3,500 acres of land.

We then moved on to Mission San José. Luckily, it is open a half hour longer than Espada. San José is much bigger, and has had more restoration work done.

Mission San José - San Antonio

Mission San José - San Antonio

There is a water-powered mill on the grounds, believed to be the oldest mill in Texas. We were lucky enough to see it working just before they shut the water gate for the day.

Mission San José - San Antonio

Mission San José - San Antonio

Mission San José - San Antonio

We heard that the Alamo was open for another half hour (did we plan our path well or what?) so we hurried back to downtown. We only had about 10 minutes so we didn't get to see very much. In fact, Tom didn't even get to go inside the mission. He dropped me off so I could take pictures and went to find a parking spot. There were so many people around that it was hard to get unobstructed shots.

The Alamo - San Antonio

The Alamo - San Antonio

The Alamo - San Antonio

I didn't get a chance to explore, so I had to settle for taking pictures of the plaques and reading them later.

The Alamo - San Antonio

The Alamo - San Antonio
(click photo to enlarge)

We wandered back along the Riverwalk and headed over to the King William historic district. It turned out to be quite a hike for two people who hadn't eaten since noon. This neighbourhood used to be part of the Alamo land, was sold off, became a fashionable area for German immigrants, fell out of favour, and has since been restored. It is quite a large area, but since my stomach was rumbling we only wandered a few of the streets.

The houses on those streets though! Huge mansions on even larger properties. Some of the houses have walking tours throughout the day.

King William Historical District - San Antonio

King William Historical District - San Antonio

King William Historical District - San Antonio

Even the garages/carriage houses are worth a second look.

King William Historical District - San Antonio

I also took pictures of a couple of the outdoor patios. We don't have outdoor areas you can use year-round in Ontario, so to see them is always a novelty.

King William Historical District - San Antonio

This one was on the second floor, linking the main house to the guest house.

King William Historical District - San Antonio

We headed back to the Riverwalk again and stopped for BBQ. I ordered beef ribs - wow they are huge! There were tons of fish in the river, begging for bread scraps. This one came up to say hello. He looks a bit grumpy, doesn't he? Maybe because the bread was so good I wouldn't share.

Riverwalk - San Antonio

I had heard about a mexican bakery that was open 24 hours, so I dragged Tom around the streets looking for it. I knew approximately where it was, but we still ended up walking a couple of miles and found it almost by accident.


The area was still really busy, even for being nearly 10 o'clock at night. We were pretty beat by then, and we still had a long drive back to Houston, so we started the trek back to the car. We ended up walking past the Alamo again so I got another shot of the chapel, this time all lit up.

The Alamo - San Antonio

We had such a great time that we are determined to come back, for longer next time. I want to stay in this hotel with a room overlooking the water.

Riverwalk - San Antonio

Do you live in San Antonio? Do you go downtown very often? I'm guessing the locals avoid the crowds, but I don't know if I'd be able to tear myself away.



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