Sunday, 31 March 2013

Happy Easter-over!

As an equal opportunity dual-culture family, today was a busy day for us. We started out the day with an Easter egg hunt

and finished it up with a Passover seder. A very late seder- we really should have held it on Monday, but better late than never!

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Southern porches

March has been a really lazy month around our house. Recovering from the exhaustion of getting two grants submitted on the 1st and then taking almost two weeks for vacation didn't leave much in the way of time (or motivation) to get any projects done.

I've been giving some thought to spring/summer projects, though. Within the next year or two we really need to replace the front porch on our house as the ceiling of it is starting to leak. Which, I'm sure, means that there's rotting timber in there. And since we actually use the upper level balcony as it's a walk out from our bedroom, I'd like to make sure it's sound so that we don't come crashing down through it some day.

Right now the porch spans the full width of the house, and the upper level is an open balcony.  The front of the house faces west and we get the full afternoon sun, so our bedroom is nice and bright. But the porch blocks the light from coming into the living room, so it's always dim in there. While it's nice to have the space outside, the tradeoff of the dark living room isn't worth it to me. Especially since we really only use this outdoor space about 4-5 months of the year.

I think that when we replace it we'll just build across half of the house to leave the living room window uncovered. This will give us a much smaller porch and balcony, but I think it will be fine. When the kids were younger it was always packed with strollers and ride-on toys, but the strollers are gone and we store their bikes in the shed now. And we can always include some storage space under the porch for their hockey sticks and roller blades.

With porches on my mind, I found myself lusting after the ones we saw in South Carolina. While I love the big, beautiful, two story wrap-around porches

I think that I might actually prefer the smaller, more casual ones. The one below really caught my eye;  I loved the separate seating areas for dining and relaxing, as well as the small enclosed garden surrounding the house.

I could just imagine myself coming home and looking though the ivy-covered gate to see the boys playing cards on the porch with Tessa curled up at their feet.

I know that the reality would likely be more along the lines of them chasing each other around the garden, firing pretend guns, wrestling, screaming, all while being circled by a barking dog, but a girl can dream!

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Baking to go

We're heading out of town with the boys for March Break. Alan's parents are renting a condo on the beach in Hilton Head and have invited us to join them for the week. They rented a condo there last year and we had a fantastic time lounging by the pool, walking on the beach, riding bikes, and just hanging out on the balcony relaxing.

I'm looking forward to a happy repeat this year. Since we're lucky enough to be staying in a condo and have cooking facilities, I decided to take along some baking supplies. There's nothing better than fresh muffins when you're spending a lazy morning perusing the newspaper. Or some delicious brownies for a late afternoon snack after a long day at the beach.

I wasn't interested in dragging along all of the ingredients that I might need to do this, so I decided to mix up the dry ingredients here and be all prepared to throw in the wet ingredients when I wanted to bake them. I'd seen recipes on Pinterest using Mason jars to pack the dry ingredients for cookies to give as gifts; this seemed like a perfect idea, so I trawled the interweb and picked out some recipes, as well as choosing  a few of my old favourites.

I printed up tags for each of the recipes to keep things organized, and made a quick trip over to the Bulk Barn at lunch (I love that place and regularly thank my lucky stars that they finally opened one downtown) to pick up some odds and ends. After dinner the boys and I set up all the ingredients on the counter and got to work.

I mixed the flour with the salt, baking powder and soda and then Cal put that layer in the bottom of the jar. We used my canning funnel to try to keep things contained (this was a marginal success as you can see by the state of the counter in front of Cal).

Some of the ingredients, like the brown sugar, needed to be packed down. We used one of my cookie decorating squeeze bottles for this as it was the only thing that I could find to fit into the mouth of the jar. This is one of those times that tiny little boy fingers actually come in handy.

We then layered in all of the other ingredients corresponding to the particular recipe; sugar, cocoa, chocolate or peanut butter chips, dried blueberries or cranberries, M&Ms, etc. I did all of the measuring, and they boys did the dumping and tamping. I think it took about 45 minutes to get eight different recipes aliquoted into the jars.

It took quite a bit of concentration to keep all the recipes straight. We did them one or two at a time, and as we finished each one we immediately tied the recipe card around the neck of the jar. On each card I printed the ingredients that went in the jar, what needs to be added, and the instructions for baking.

Allowing the children to help forced me to let go of try desperately to ignore my obsessive-compulsive tendencies. I would have made sure that each layer was perfectly packed down, so that the views from each side of the jar would be the same. They boys? Well, they kind of just rammed the stuff down and leveled it the best they could in 10 seconds flat. Then they clamoured for the next layer.

I have an assortment of cookies, muffins and brownies all set to go. It was a great way to procrastinate on my most hated chore - packing!

Sunday, 3 March 2013

My new project

The last two weeks have been busy ones at work, and I haven't managed to accomplish much around the house. Alan and I both had major grant proposals due on March 1, and were working 16-18 hour days. As a result, this weekend we're dealing with big piles of laundry, an empty fridge, an under-exercised dog and two very cranky, neglected children. We're both rather cranky too. Add to it how tired I am of writing and revising (and revising and revising) and you can understand why my blog has been largely ignored for the past couple of weeks.

Anyway, about three weeks ago I bought a new table for our kitchen. Right now we have a round table against the wall with two chairs flanking it. Unfortunately, only one of the chairs faces the television - the unlucky kid who sits down last has to swivel back and forth between his cereal bowl and the TV. This leads to fights most mornings when the boys are eating breakfast and want to be the one with the clear front view of cartoons.

I was thinking that I could prevent these arguments if they were sitting side-by-side against the wall, with both of them facing the television. The only problem is that the round table we have in there now is 42" wide and will block the pathway through the kitchen if we move it far enough out from the wall to sit behind.

So I was keeping my eyes open for a narrower table. It didn't need to be large because we always eat dinner in the dining room. We really only eat breakfast in the kitchen, and our timing in the morning always has only two people at the table at any time. We have seating for two at the island if we do happen to overlap.

I found a table that has the perfect proportions. It's 42" wide, which turns out to be precisely the width of the seat that I was planning to use in the dining room. Now I think I'll move it to the kitchen to use there. The table is only 28" deep, so there will be room to have seating against the wall and the table in front of it.

The table is an antique Empire style library table. As you can see, the it's very dark and heavy looking right now. In places where the old finish has chipped off, the wood is much lighter underneath. I plan to refinish it in a medium stain.

I've been itching to get started on it. It's in pretty rough shape, but thankfully it's all surface damage.

It's going to be a lot of work, especially those curly legs. I toyed with the idea of painting it, but I think it will look beautiful refinished. And I'll stain the bench and the island stools the same colour so they coordinate.

As for the bench, I think that I'll have it covered in vinyl to that it's easy to clean up spills. I certainly don't want to set myself up to have to be nagging the kids about sticky fingers on fabric all the time!
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