Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Powerwashing the Deck

In a desperate attempt to avoid being suckered into raking the back yard (have I mentioned how awful it looks back there? No? I must be trying to avoid thinking about it...) Hubby showed up on Saturday morning with a power washer and a determination to wash the deck.

Which, to be honest, needed it. This photo is from the freak hail storm we had last July, over this winter that green moldy spot under the table had gained quite a bit of ground! So while I would have preferred leaf removal to deck cleaning, I figured it would be good to be rid of the green slime. It was a little slippery...
I had NO IDEA what a difference the power washer would make! Hubby did a quick test patch and I immediately grabbed the camera:

Do you see that?! That beautiful brown spot next to him, amidst the sea of grey? That's what the power washer does!

To the whole deck!

It takes awhile (there's a reason they rent it in 4 hour increments!)

But, WOW, what a difference! It looks like wood again! As you might imagine, we immediately ran back out and got some Thomspon's Water Seal to add a layer of protection against future mold. Unfortunately, with so much rain in the forecast we were advised against doing it today, but it's on standby for the next sunny 48 hour stretch!
Yay for pretty decks!

Monday, April 26, 2010

A Few Side Projects

As those who have been following along on the latest string of projects know, I am hard at work out on the enclosed sun porch. The whole thing is getting a complete overhaul, starting with this:

All the way down to this:

And I'm almost ready to show you the results! We've actually finished with the room itself and I'm just working on updating all the furniture and finalizing the decor so you can get the full effect! Soon, I promise!

In the meantime, however, I had some downtime mid-week while I was waiting for the floor paint to come in, so I knocked a few little side projects off my list.
First up was some cute green zebra print fabric I'd picked up earlier in the week. I hadn't quite decided what to do with it, but the living room needed a bit more color, so I stitched up a new cover for one of the throw pillows.

Doesn't he look cute snuggled under the palm tree over there? I thought so. And then I moved him... out onto the porch, so you can't see it yet! He hee...

So then I headed outside to deal with this mess of a tree:

This picture was taken last summer, a few months after I had attempted to trim it. It had been the same size as the one to the right, which was larger than that portion of the house, which looked a little silly! Unfortunately, I didn't realize that when you trim this kind of cedar, it branches out horizontally. Now go back and look at that photo... see where a horizontal growth from that cut would be? Face height in front of the door! Since it was in such bad shape anyway, Hubby and I agreed it would have to go! (We may attempt to dig up the other, but it's so close to our foundation that might just prove impossible.)
So I grabbed my trusty hand saw and got to it!

GONE! Better, no? Oh, no? You don't think that looks better? Well, let me get that stump up and I'll put something pretty in there! In the meantime we've discovered that not only is there more maneuvering space by the door and more light in the dining room now, there's also more light by the door at night (the flood light is on the wall to the right there,) there are fewer bugs sneaking into the house (I guess they liked that tree!) AND the cat can't hide dead animals so close to the door now! Yay!

Ok, but the paint still wasn't here, so I decided to get a little crafty with the front walkway. I had this extra set of dishes, which were all chipped and cracked, and useless for all practical purposes. So I'd been stewing over ideas for broken-ish plates for awhile and remembered seeing someone making a little garden wall out of them at some point. Can't remember for the life of me where, but ever since we installed our pebble walkway out front, those pebbles have been trying to run away! So...

I made a little border for the walkway out of my plates!

As you may have noticed, I'm a little short. I guess I'll have to go thrifting for some similar looking plates to finish it off! (HA HA! I just googled those plates "Alexandria" by Pier One, and it turns out they're selling the dinner plates for $43 on replacements.com. OOPS! HA ha ha...)

Hubby walked in that night looking a little confused and said, "Honey, why did you plant the dishes in the front yard?"
I said, "Well, I'm a little short on storage and couldn't think of anyplace else to put them..."

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Test Cooking Trisha Yearwood

In anticipation of our annual Kentucky Derby Party on the 1st, I decided to give authentic (according to Trisha Yearwood anyway!) Southern cooking a shot. So I ordered her latest book, Home Cooking with Trisha Yearwood, from the library and chose a few recipes that looked party friendly.

First up was the Hot Corn Dip, which was basically canned corn and green chilies floating in mayonnaise and some melted cheese.

When Trisha was on The View to promote the book, the ladies had gone NUTTY over this dip, but I have to say that I don't see the appeal. I guess if you luuurrve mayonnaise and corn, this would be right up your alley. But for me (and my step-mom and Hubby) it mostly just made us feel a little queasy. I guess we're not used to eating mayo as a meal!

Next up were Warren's Chicken Bites, which were chicken tenders combined with a dollop of cream cheese and jalapeno all wrapped up in bacon. The instructions said to grill them, but it wasn't grilling weather around here, so I tried frying some and baking others. Baking worked better, but I had to tell you that they all came out so ugly that I didn't even take a picture! The cheese leaked out and burned, the bacon crisped on the outer layer, and not at all in the center... I think I failed this recipe! Nonetheless, Hubby enjoyed it for the jalapeno kick, though he ended up pulling the bacon off after the first couple because combined with the cheese, it was a bit heavy! I again, experienced queasiness more than pleasure on this one.

Third and last, I gave the Vegetable Pie a shot.

Finally, a winner! The recipe is quite simple and called for onions, garlic, zuchinni and yellow squash all sauteed and layered on top of raw sliced tomatoes in the prepared pie crust, topped with water chestnuts. In lieu of a top crust there is a coating of mayonnaise (more!) and cheddar cheese. In the intro, however, she mentioned this recipe has worked equally well with whatever vegetable happened to be taking over the garden at the moment, so I used what I had in the fridge! Mine was tomato, zucchini, eggplant, portabello mushrooms, onion and garlic with the water chestnuts on top. This one was by FAR the best! Sweet from the tomatoes, fresh and light (especially if you scrape off the mayo topping!), Hubby and I both enjoyed this. The best part is that the recipe actually makes two pies, which is also how many crusts come in a box from the store making it an easy party addition! I think next time, though, I'll leave off the mayo entirely and just sprinkle the top with cheese.
Mmmm... cheese.... I guess we all have our weaknesses!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Strawberry Shortcake?

Is it wrong that I had this for lunch?

Then again is strawberry shortcake ever wrong? It has super powered berries, calcium (fresh whipped cream!) and umm... well, a wonderfully filling biscuit! The perfect spring lunch, in my book anyway!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Dividing the Perennials

Continuing on with the spring cleaning madness, I was out in the garden last weekend tidying things up and bit and decided that it was finally time to do something about a couple of the enormous perennials that were already in the garden when we bought the house.

First up, this Bleeding Heart:

That's the big pink plant to the left of the big really pink plant (a.k.a the azalea). I don't know who planted what in what order, but those two are crammed in the narrowest point of the garden about a foot and a half from each other.

It looked a little silly, especially since there was a big ol' empty area directly behind them in the wider part of the garden!
So when it peeked out of the ground a couple of inches, I started digging.

Actually, first I called my mother and asked her how exactly to divide a perennial. She said that in general, for every inch of the plant at the base, there is a foot of root. Now, my plant was about 7 inches wide, and about a foot and a half in one direction there was a driveway, in the other the azalea, who had his own root thing going on, so clearly I wasn't going to be digging up a 7 foot root ball! Completely forgetting to take pictures, I dug as much as I could and moved on to step two: use serrated bread knife to cut the plant into 8 inch squares and replant.

Even though I again forgot to take a picture, I have to mention that when I dug that thing up, I didn't find a root ball, I found a frickin' tree under there! I'm talking about roots almost as thick as my wrist! (no joke!) So I wasn't sure when I replanted the two pieces if I'd gotten enough root for them to survive, but they seem to be doing ok!

Piece number one went back in about the same place, but a few feet further away from the azalea and filling in some of that empty area. Piece number two went over on the left side of the house in the shady party of the garden.

And then it was on to the Siberian Iris, which was about two feet across and actually dead in the center!

It was so big it was keeping things around it from blooming!

So in I went with the shovel:

Which had about a foot long spade, which wasn't long enough to get under the whole plant!
So I got to this point and decided to cut straight to dividing the plant with the serrated knife while it was still in the ground to make it a bit more manageable!

I cut about a third of the plant away using the knife you can see up top there (its about a 10 inch blade), which worked like a charm!
Though I still had trouble wrestling that 1 foot long section out of the ground- turns out earth is a bit unwieldy!

But I got it! I divided the remaining chunk in half and pulled out part, leaving about one third of the original plant in the ground (which I had intended to replant in the same location anyway!) I then cut away all the dead parts, divided them into 8 inch-ish squares and had four chunks left. One went over here:

Another back over by the Bleeding Heart:

And I've still got two big chunks in pots that I need to find a home for!

Having done all that, I'm REALLY not looking forward to attacking the monster hostas on the other side of that walkway:

This photo was taken in early June two years ago (I'm talking about the green bushy things with white edges to the left of the door), so full-grown those things are at least twice as large as they are here! Those are going to be heavy!!

So how are your gardens coming along?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Spring Cleaning: Easy Curtain De-Wrinkling

I don't know about all of you, but most of the summer curtains around my house are super lightweight cotton or linen. And apparently when I "stored" my bedroom curtains last fall I simply balled them up and shoved them in an Ann Taylor bag! Which means that they were just a little wrinkly!

But I really didn't feel like spending the day hunched over the ironing board, so I got to thinking. I remembered reading (I think on Martha Stewart) that an easy way to "iron" a table cloth was to lay it out on the table, spritz it with water and let it hang dry right on the table. I also remember trying that and realizing that it just wasn't going to happen on my table. By the time my cloth got damp enough to de-wrinkle, I was getting concerned about the finish on my table.

"But" I thought to myself, "But these curtains are awfully thin... perhaps that would work on them!"

So I grabbed a bottle of linen spray (I'm sure water would work just fine, but why not fragrance the room while I'm at it?)

(This bottle came from HomeGoods for about $4.00.) And I got to spritzing!

Here's a side by side, the one on the left has already been sprayed but not the one on the right:

It's really hard to see straight on! But here's a side-shot of the one on the right after it got the spray treatment:

Vs Before:

Not bad for a few minutes and a minor hand cramp, huh? WAY better than the time it would have taken to iron 4 84" long curtains. I love shortcuts!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The "A" Months

Dear Mother Nature,

I would like to thank you for today. So rarely do you make mistakes in favor of us here in Massachusetts! There have certainly been days in August that felt like you got them confused with April, but the other way around? So rare!

Please don't think I'm ridiculing you for your mistake. 91 degrees the first week in April? I'll take it! We all will! And if, in the near future (very near, possibly? May 1st would be a great day for it!) you feel like sending us another unseasonably warm, blustery day, I would like to assure you that we here in Mass. will be every bit as surprised and grateful as we were today!

Your recently defrosted admirer,
Madame Meg

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Hollow Door Hallway

I mentioned a few posts back that I was working on something here:

As you may imagine, I'm finally painting those awful hollow core doors!

I had painted the one at the end of the hall last year when we redid that room. I hadn't bothered with the others because I figured we'd just replace them with nicer doors. But here we are two years into owning the place and we haven't gotten around to it yet! (That many doors and sets of hardware add up!)

With things brightening up with spring, the persistent darkness in that hallway was driving me nuts! Even with all the doors open, they just seemed to eat the light. So:

I painted them! And the trim (oh how I hate sanding! But if it has to be done...)

So much better! Although now the knobs all look so shabby. I'm thinking I'll get some brushed bronze spray paint and paint them to match the knobs on the kitchen cabinets.

(Which, incidentally, are very near the top of the "large project" list!) (The cabinets, I mean, not the knobs...)

The only bad thing about how bright the hallway is now is that I never noticed how BADLY I painted this part of the wall before:

And now everyone can see! Oops!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Spring Cleaning the Chandelier

It's true, most of the time I LOVE my chandelier! The sun setting through the french doors sends such pretty prisms all over the kitchen.

(Pardon the shade party going on up there, I'm trying to decide what I want for the warm weather shades!)

But, oh, about 4 times a year, I need to climb up there and clean the darned thing! All those shiny crystals get grimy from the cooking and the cat hair. Dust and dead bugs collect in the little leaves, all the usual stuff. Plus random cooking grease.

One good thing about doing it every few months rather than once a year is that I can clean the crystals with a damp cloth so I don't have to take every single one down to soak! So I use one damp lint free cloth, and one dry one to give it a good wipe down.

And after I'm done, (well, immediately afterward I scrub all the bug bits off the table below, but after that...) I do get quite a nice feeling of satisfaction at how much sparklier it looks!

Sudden Weather Changes

I can't decide if I love or hate New England because of the bizarre weather we've got here. I mean yesterday morning it was struggling to hit 60 degrees and my backyard looked like this:

(I know, I know, way past time to rake the back yard!)
This morning around the same time my weather station was reading over 75 and the water had already receded a couple of feet!

Hopefully the stream will be back within its normal banks by the end of the weekend so I can finally get someone in to rake those leaves! (There are very few things I'm willing to pay someone else to do, but raking that area back there... that's one of them!)

Hope you all are enjoying some long-awaited sun this holiday weekend as well!