In the Back Yard

This Sunday was Father’s Day, and our family had the chance to spend the day primarily out on the new back deck. You see, as of two weeks ago our back yard looked like this:

You see, we had a deck when we first moved in, but the previous owners had done everything wrong. They’d tied it into the house, they’d painted it with interior paint, they’d lined the ground underneath with plastic causing water to pool there… So much poor construction. There are all kinds of pictures of the original in my post about building a garden, when I took the old deck out to make room for my vegetable garden. But when that deck was gone, we didn’t have the funds to build a new one right away, so that section just became a mud pit for a few years (the ground here is mostly clay and is slick when wet). My husband used a few salvaged paving stones to keep the barbecues from sinking too badly, but that’s all we were able to do for a while.

Last week, though, my brother-in-law built us a deck. The actual work only took a couple of days, and with all of his experience in the trade he made it look so easy! (It would have taken me a month, and much frustration and swearing.) Not only did he build the deck, but he re-leveled the ground underneath so that now it drains away from the house instead of toward. He also put in gravel with a layer of landscape fabric underneath, creating better drainage and resisting weeds at the same time. (You would think that the lack of sun underneath would keep plants from growing at all, but I have been waging war against an ivy vine since I moved into this house.)

So no more mud pit, proper drainage, and a lovely deck upon which to spend the summer! We’re just waiting on the delivery of some new boards for the stairs so that they match, since I’d salvaged old stair brackets we wanted to use. But for now it’s totally functional, and still beautiful. I am so happy!

Having a brand new lovely deck encouraged me to get off my butt and plant my main vegetable garden, too. My tomatoes actually self-seeded this year — not in those nice straight lines, I picked the best ones and arranged them how I liked. Now we’ll have to see how well they fruit. I also planted white radishes, eggplants, onions, beets, and potatoes. The potatoes are where nothing has sprouted above-ground yet, but I find they can be slow starters.

The weather was so lovely this weekend that we ended up spending most of our time in the back yard. Sunday was especially warm, and I didn’t want to cook indoors, so my husband did the stereotypical thing of grilling up some hamburgers on Father’s Day. It was so nice to be able to just sit outside and enjoy the summer — although there was a fair amount of goofing around too, and my hubby playing soccer with the kids. All in all, it was a lovely, low-key Father’s Day.

Now to plan a nice barbecue for next week so that I can have my BIL over for a thank-you meal!

Weekend Costume Workshop

I spent two full days this weekend holed up with five friends in my basement trying desperately to help them get their Sunday ComicCon costumes finished. I don’t know how I ended up being the “experienced one” in this group, since I’m definitely no pro, but at least I had finished making the same costumes they had to make at least once already. While I coached my friends along, I did managed to get the dress for my Saturday costume sewn — but it still has lots of weathering to go before I consider it finished.

I dug out my face paints and makeup to do a few makeup trials. I’m decent at face-painting, but makeup is a totally different skill and I needed the practice.

It’s not horrible, but I think I can do better. My biggest lesson here is that I need some better eye shadows to create the look I’m going for, something with a lot more pigment. I’m going to have to go shopping this week.

Over the course of the days we had four sewing machines, a serger, a cutting table, an ironing board, and a painting table all in use, often all at the same time.

In the end, I think my friends got their costumes mostly done, or at least to a point where they could figure out most of the rest on their own. Some of my friends are returning tonight to complete their work, and others may be coming back next weekend.

Only 11 days to go…

(Oh, and I didn’t cook a single thing all weekend.)

New Stove!

I have a new stove! Well, okay, new to me. A friend of a friend was replacing her perfectly-functional old stove to get a fancy new one. She found out that I was looking for a stove to replace my old one, which was starting to develop… Issues. It was a really fancy-schmancy stove back when it was new like thirty years ago. It had panels on the top you could switch out so that it became a griddle, or a grill, or a special burner for a wok. But the oven was only large enough for a single cookie sheet to make room for the surface-level fan, and the drawer underneath was sacrificed for that as well. The light socket in the oven had something wrong with it, so the oven light bulb would burn out within days every time. And, most importantly, the oven didn’t keep a consistent temperature, which makes it really difficult to bake.

So here’s my new stove! It doesn’t match the rest of my black appliances, but I don’t care. It’s immaculate and runs reliably. The oven runs about 25 degrees F hot, but since it does so consistently I can compensate. And I actually have an oven light now so I can check for doneness without having to open the door!

One of these days I’ll be able to afford an electric, non-glass-top double oven… Maybe I’ll get one when I finally get my dream kitchen (which will probably be only in my dreams). Until then, this stove is fantastic!

Tonight I tested the stove out with a simple dinner of teriyaki salmon with steamed spinach on rice. I bought the salmon in one of those budget $10 freezer packs, and it was… Okay. Not bad, but a little bit dry. I think if I use this kind of salmon again it will be in something like a casserole that disguises the texture a bit better. But for a dinner for three adults and two kids (my brother-in-law was over) for about $13, it wasn’t half bad. Fresher fish would have been better, but this was definitely acceptable.

Fire Station 54

I know this isn’t the kind of thing that I usually write about, but as this is a public venue, and I figure that I should take advantage of it as such. I wanted to say a big thank-you to the fire fighters at Fire Station 54 in Blackburn Hamlet.

You see, Thing 1 needed a picture of a fire station for a poster board that she was preparing for a presentation to her Girl Guide group. Instead of photocopying something out of a book or printing something she’d found online, I suggested that we take a drive and visit an Ottawa fire station. She was dubious at first, but then she was persuaded that first-hand reporting would be more impressive for her presentation.

So we drove out to Fire Station 54, where two fire fighters were in the middle of parking a truck on the side lot. I asked if I could take a picture of the truck with my good camera for my daughter’s project, and they were more than happy to comply. Then they suggested that Thing 1 and Thing 2 get a chance to sit inside the driver’s seat, then check out the inside of the cab and ask questions. Then the fire fighters offered to set up the outriggers and extend the ladder so the girls could see how high it goes (about five stories, apparently).

After they put the ladder away, the fire fighters suggested that the girls go on a brief tour of the station. They got to see the garage, the fire fighting suits, the dispatch room, and most importantly to the kids, the fireman’s pole (which is, in the case of this particular station, located in its own closet).

I have lots of reasons to respect fire fighters. I mean, they’re heroes, both to the community and to me personally. On July 16th, 2012, I almost lost my little brother to a house fire caused by an electrical fault in a nearly-new air conditioner. Although he did manage to get out of the house on his own, the fire fighters had to contain the fire and put it out. So I have a lot of personal respect for them as well. But now, after my kids were treated so nicely, our local fire fighters have made a great impression on our family. Honestly, Thing 1 is super pumped about the whole experience and now she wants to be one when she grows up. To this I say: work those muscles, girl, you’re going to need them!

Ice Storm French Toast

Sunday going into Monday we had one heck of an ice storm. It was possibly as bad as the one in 1986, but nothing close to 1998. Even so, 43,000 people in town lost power and the city was turned into a virtual skating rink.


Apple tree branches encased in ice.


More apple tree branches.

Now, freezing rain isn’t a new thing in this city. But this is the latest that I can ever remember it closing everything down — I mean, it’s April, for crying out loud! My kids had a “snow day” (“ice day””?) yesterday. It’s nuts.


Roofing shingles under ice.

It got even more dangerous to be outside as the day went on and the temperatures rose, causing the ice to start falling off the trees and the roofs. Some people had flying ice shatter the windshield of their car. Everyone avoided the areas around buildings and trees to reduce the likelihood of being brained. At least here in Ottawa we don’t have any super-tall buildings like the CN Tower dropping big chunks of ice onto other buildings and damaging them.

As the sun set, the ground was covered in a few centimeters of slick ice from the freezing rain, and then another layer of broken ice from the branches and buildings dumping their loads. Many of the ice chunks were bigger than my hand, and almost two centimeters thick.


Pain perdu served with sliced apples.

Right before a big storm like this, around here the things that people tend to stock up on are milk, eggs, and bread. I think this is because, with a typically Canadian mentality, we tend to have lots of food put by in the freezer or the pantry to get us through bad weather, but we tend to run out of perishables. A common joke based on this trend is that everyone wants to make French toast when the weather is stormy (a dish which is comprised primarily of these three ingredients). Now, I don’t think I’ve ever made French toast during a storm before, but I was looking for a quick and easy meal for last night, so I figured why not? I had the supplies, after all.

I’d made Egg-Enriched White Loaf (page 67, Bread Machine: How to Prepare and Bake the Perfect Loaf (Jennie Shapter (2002)) earlier in the day (although I’d had issues with the amount of liquid and had to add more than the recipe recommended). I sliced that bread thickly and used the recipe for Pain Perdu on the Restigouche from page 19 of Anita Stewart’s Canada (2008) for the coating. (Yes, the book I had on reserve finally came in at the library.) I do know how to make French toast the way my parents taught me, which has rather more eggs and less milk (I used almond milk in any case), but I rather liked this new way of doing it.

Hopefully the weather will clear a little Tuesday so that my house-bound children can get to school, and this stir-crazy mom can get out of the house, if only for a coffee!

Teacup Pin Cushion Tutorial

My kids are learning to sew, so I thought that it was time that they had pincushions of their own. I’ve seen teacup pin cushions around at flea markets and craft fairs, so I thought we’d make a go of whipping up some of our own. They’re really easy and right up the kids’ alwy, patience-wise.

Teacup Pin Cushion

Materials:
– 1 teacup (saucer optional)
– 1 square of cotton or cotton-blend fabric, about 3X as wide as the teacup’s top
– polyester fiberfill
– thread

Supplies Needed:
– fabric scissors
– needle
– hot glue gun & glue
– pins

1. It all starts with a teacup — but none of Grandma’s fine china! We bought ours for about $2.00 at a local charity thrift shoppe. If you’re not into tea, a coffee or espresso cup works well, or an egg cup, or even a sake glass. We even made one using a miniature terracotta pot (picked up for about $0.75 at a gardening supply store). Basically, it has to be an opaque container that you like the looks of that’s about the size of an old teacup, or smaller. You will also need to pick out a piece of coordinating fabric that’s about three times as wide as the mouth of your vessel.

1.B. OPTIONAL STEP: If you’re very crafty, you can embroider a design on your fabric at this stage.

2. Using a pair of fabric scissors, cut your fabric into a circle about three times as wide as the opening of your teacup. It doesn’t have to be perfect, since this end will be hidden inside the bottom of the cup where nobody will ever see it.

3. Using a running stitch, stitch around the outside edge of the circle, about 1cm from the edge. Use a sturdy thread, but don’t worry about the colour, since this will be hidden as well. Tie a knot at each end of the thread, but do not stitch that knot into the fabric.

4. Making sure that the fabric is inside-right, pull the thread taut to gather the fabric, but do not tie a knot. This will make a little pouch.

5. Stuff the pouch firmly with fiberfill.

6. Draw the thread as taut as possible and tie it off securely. This will create a small cushion.

7. Stuff the cushion into the teacup, making sure that the end with the stitching and the gathering is at the bottom of the cup.

8. Affix the cushion inside the cup using hot glue. I found that I got the neatest results by pushing the fabric down below the edge of the cup, and then running a bead of hot glue quickly about 0.5cm lower than the edge of the cup. Then I carefully released pressure on the cushion until it sat at the height I wanted, holding it in place while the glue dried. Otherwise, the cushion kept trying to puff much too far out of the cup.

9.B. OPTIONAL STEP: Using hot glue or by sewing, decorate the pin cushion. You can add a border of ribbon or trim around the edge of the cup to conceal the glue. Buttons, lace, small pompoms, googly eyes, felt cutouts, silk flowers… If you’re so inclined, this is a great time to be creative.

And that’s really all there is to it!

As for our last March Break craft, Thing 2 went with a more contemporary look.

Whereas I made mine in a little flower pot. I created the floral element by sticking sewing pins through little fabric flowers bought in a confetti-like pack from the dollar store.

And Thing 1 used the fabric flowers slightly differently, pinning them into place with her pincushion’s pins.

String Art Tutorial

I’ve been wanting to try this craft with my girls for a while; it is a great way to learn how to use a hammer and nails! I never did this as a child, but my little brother did, and his string art masterpiece hung in his room for years. The nice thing about this craft is that you can make it simple or complicated, depending on the skill level of the people doing it. We went with really simple, perfect for a busy day’s work!

String Art

Materials:
– 1 piece of 1/2″to 3/4″ thick wood, approx 12″ by 12″ (pine preferred)
– 1 colour of acrylic paint
– 20 (or so) 1″ long common framing nails
– scraps of thin yarn or string
– sawtooth picture hanger & screws

Supplies Needed:
– fine-grain sandpaper
– paintbrush
– hammer
– wooden clothes pin
– screwdriver

1. We started with a 12″ by 12″ piece of 1/2″ pine shelving left over from an old project. Pine is inexpensive and easy to hammer nails into. Such a small piece can be often be found inexpensively (or free) off-cut from a home improvement store. If you’re not handy with a saw, most reno stores will cut wood to size if you ask.

2. Using fine-grain sandpaper, give the piece of wood a quick once-over to remove any splinters.

3. You can leave the wood unfinished (in fact, a lot of string art is done on gorgeous, rustic barn board), but my girls opted to paint theirs. Two coats of crafting acrylic turned Thing 2’s board an eye-searing pink, while Thing 1 chose a more muted lavender. Don’t forget to cover your work surfaces with paper or plastic if you care at all if it gets stained! (Graffito from the kids is optional.)

4. Nail in the nails in the pattern of your choice. My kids went for an abstract creation of their own design. However, any number of designs and shapes can be downloaded off of the Internet, printed out, and then taped onto the top of the wood. You can then nail along the edges of the design, and rip the paper away when you’re done. Alternately, you can freehand a design in pencil and then paint over the marks before you add the string.

Since the kids hadn’t done much hammering with full-sized hammers before, we used wooden clothes pins to hold the nails upright while they got them started. This keeps their fingers away from the hammer, at least until they have a little bit more precision! (It stunned Thing 1 that I could hold a nail while hammering without smashing my fingers.)

Thing 1 went with a free-form design.

Thing 2 went with a more geometric plan.

5. Tie a few knots around one of the nails, and then go to town wrapping the string around the nails!

6. If you’re planning on hanging the string art on the wall, using a screwdriver, attach a sawtooth picture hanger with screws to the top back of the piece. Alternately, it can be propped on shelf, or held up by a mini easel.