Sunday, June 29, 2014

Side Table Makeover


To see a run down piece of furniture and instantly visualize how it could be transformed...that's a gift...a gift I don't have. But once in a while I'll see something that might have some potential. That said, I spotted this little side table at a yard sale.


I know...ugh. It was filthy...covered in dirt, spider webs, crayon, dried sludge and something that appeared to be cigarette ashes. In fact, it was among the leftovers at the second day of a neighborhood yard sale. The "good stuff" had been sold early the previous day. For all I know this table was discovered buried under stuff in their garage and placed outside for the garbage man instead of the yard sale.


Now, I also don't have much furniture renovating experience...but in this case the table was already as run down as it could get. At least it wasn't rotting. If nothing else, I could sand it and re-stain it and it would still be a thousand times better, right? I gave the guy what he asked for it (a dollar, though he said it rather apologetically) and hauled it home. I probably could have gotten it for free if I'd have only asked.

I know Mr. LH was probably muttering something about how nuts I was when I pulled it out of the van.

The table was making me sneeze big time. I had to scrub it down quickly...using a bucket, cleaner, scrub brush and even wire to get in between those slats. After all that the sneezing stopped but the table still looked pretty sad.


The varnish was yellowed and peeling. The table top was scarred and dented. It appeared to be homemade (and hastily so).  But...it was solid. Made from 2x4s and 2x6s. I had no clue yet what I was going to do with it so I parked it in the garage for a couple months.

Last week inspiration and a bit of motivation finally hit me (along with a desire to clear out some space in the garage).

I lugged the table outside, pulled the whole thing apart and sanded down the individual pieces removing as much of the old varnish as I could. A belt sander makes quick work of this.

For the top, I considered using regular wood stain. But after spotting this post from Young House Love, I wanted to try a colored stain or a semi-transparent paint for a touch of unexpected color. We headed to the store to see what we could find. Cabot has a wood stain in small containers that can be tinted. (According to the Cabot website at the time of this posting, this wood stain is available exclusively at Lowes.)


Mr. LH and I decided on the blue-green "gulfstream" (though the mosaic blue would go fabulously with our bedroom decor).


The tabletop still had some dents and scratches that I didn't get sanded down all the way to completely remove the old varnish. The stain wasn't able to soak into those spots. But it "gave the tabletop some character".

After the first coat of Cabot Wood Stain

After two coats of the Cabot wood stain

The instructions indicate 4 coats for full color but we stopped at two. I was really loving the color! I had barely used any stain at all so there was plenty left for another use. It dried to the touch quickly and had a nice satin finish (the image above is after applying a couple layers of glossy polyurethane).

I don't care for the "distressed wood" look too much and my tabletop already had plenty of distressing in it from it's mysterious past. That was enough for me so I simply primed and painted the bottom pieces solid white.


I also added a shelf in the middle using a scrap piece of plywood and molding. That's the large piece in the photo above.

Everything was coated in several coats of polyurethane and then reassembled (a little differently than it was originally done).


Ta-da!

So for lots of elbow grease and less than $9 in new materials (a dollar for the table and less than $8 for the stain), we had a new side table. So maybe I'm not as nuts as Mr. LH thinks I am....



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Friday, June 27, 2014

DIY Hail Protection For The Garden


We had been fighting hail for over a month. From May on into June it was day after day of tornado warnings, sirens, rain and hail. The hail throughout the state ranged from pea sized to baseball sized, though thankfully our house saw nothing larger than a nickel). We had managed to find temporary ways to cover the newly transplanted tomato and pepper plants and while functional, the solutions were less than ideal.

This is one of the better set-ups...


Sad looking, I know. We had old screens clamped to tomato cages, replacement window screening draped over more tomatoes and peppers, a bed sheet covering the cucumbers and a 10 foot section of hardware cloth (that we had purchased in early may to make hail guards) was surrounding another container of tomatoes.

Mr. LH and I had been brainstorming hail protection that was portable, easy to set up, easy to make, inexpensive and relatively simple to store. We also wanted something that could transition easily into a permanent hail protection system later when we were finally able to buy our own place. We weren't asking for much, were we?

Last summer on our trip to Mission: Wolf, we saw a genius use for old screen doors. They were recycled into hail protection for leafy greens...


However, we needed something for much larger plants.

We had considered hinged foldable "tents" of hardware cloth...


We could make the frame like we did for The Girl's Play Tent. It looked like a great solution for smaller plants and newly transplanted veggies but after trying out the play tent on the veggies to get an idea of the size needed...



...we decided that in order to protect more mature tomato plants the tents would have to be made much bigger than this play tent. Good idea, but probably more manageable for smaller plants.

Finally, we decided to simply make a frame of 2x4s and hardware cloth that would be supported by removable legs. Since we already had a 2 x 10 foot section of hardware cloth, we thought it would be easier to store the completed pieces later if we cut the hardware cloth in half to make two 5-foot hail guards (instead of one 10 foot long one).

After a month of crazy spring weather, I had done my share of dangerous sprints out to the back patio in lightning storms and hail storms to get the plants covered before any damage could occur. It seemed like every afternoon the skies would darken and thunder would rumble. It was time stop sitting around planning and just do it...so we made a trip to the hardware store.

To make the hail guards, I used:
I made these guards based on what materials were already on hand, the budget and the area I needed to cover. Most of my garden is planted in EarthBoxes so a 2-foot wide section of hardware cloth is wide enough to cover them. If these hail guards were being made to protect a larger garden plot, I may choose to use 3-foot wide sections instead.

I'll explain here how I made these and maybe it will help you create your own customized version. Basically, we were making 2 frames from 2x4's, both measuring 5' 1 1/2" by 2' 1 1/2" with a 5' x 2' section of hardware cloth attached to the top of each. They would be supported by 2x4 legs, each 4 feet high (because that should give ample room underneath for fully mature Roma tomato plants). The legs would be bolted to the interior of the frames.

We found it was cheaper to purchase all 8 foot sections of 2x4s rather than buying 12 foot sections. Lowes cut them all to our specifications and didn't even charge us for it.

For the frames, we had four 2x4s each cut into one 5-foot section, one 2-foot section and one 1-foot section. The one foot sections were waste that went into our scrap lumber pile at home. For the legs, we had four 8-foot 2x4s cut in half (making eight 4-foot legs)

The frame pieces were aligned as shown in this rough drawing:


I drilled pilot holes in the ends of the boards to help prevent the wood from splitting.


I had originally thought to screw the boards in place but I had so much trouble with them (quickly stripped a couple screws) so I switched to glue and nails.


Once the frames were completed, the hardware cloth could be rolled out on top and attached.

To attach the hardware cloth to the frames, we found these 3/4" poultry net staples in the hardware aisle  at Lowes. They were with the nails.


If you need a lot (close to the 365 quantity shown on the box), I'd suggest getting more than one box. There were some quality control issues with my box.


 They're called "staples" but you just pound them in with a hammer like you would with nails.


I placed one every six to eight inches (or so).


The hardware cloth is a stubborn thing. It keeps wanting to roll up and will NOT lay flat. I left it in one big 10 foot roll and just unrolled as I pounded the staples in. Once I got to the end of my first frame, I cut the hardware cloth.


Then I was left with another 5 foot section to use on the second frame.

Holes were drilled into the corners of the frames and the tops of each leg. Bolts would slide into these holes to secure the legs to the frames. They could easily be undone at the end of the growing season and stored away for the winter.


Here is a look at the inside of the leg assembly.


The 4 foot height of the hail guards and the heavy top frame made the finished product a little wobbly. So to stabilize the hail guards, we tried screwing cross pieces into the legs. It helped a little, but they still weren't as sturdy as I would have liked.

Just as the first hail guard got its cross pieces and was set up as a test, a storm dropped right on top of us.


The frame withstood the quick storm (and its accompanying hail) but the slight breezes made me worry about stronger winds. The guard was still wobbly and I was concerned an especially windy storm could easily topple the guards destroying more plants than hail ever would. (Perhaps 4x4 posts as legs would have helped? But I wasn't equipped to drill bolt holes through 4 inch posts.)

A close-up of one of the cross braces (shown after the cinder blocks were purchased)

So I made another trip to Lowes to get an assortment of cinder blocks. I used the standard 8" x 8" x 16" cinder blocks for the "inside" where both hail guards meet. I used the 8" x 8" x 8" square cinder blocks for each of the "outer" legs.

Stacked 2 high with the legs inserted into the holes, these hail guards weren't going anywhere!

I love how the EarthBoxes fit perfectly between the legs!

For now, we also have fiberglass screening draped across the front of the guards. It will help to protect against anything blowing in sideways from the west. It also provides a smidgen of shade from the intense Colorado summer sun.

The guards are placed close enough to the side of the house that the north and east sides are somewhat protected as well.


With the guards placed side by side, there is a strip of open space between them. For now, we have other containers sitting there beneath the open space...


...and it is quickly and easily covered by those old window screens.


I plan to use either wood sealer or exterior pain on the wood before too long. I wouldn't want all that hard work going to waste too quickly. If I had thought about it sooner, I would have done that before ever putting the hail guards together. Ah well...live and learn. Of course, cedar or pressure treated wood would have been a good option but totally out of the budget right now.

However, I can breathe a little easier now knowing that sudden storms won't do much damage these plants. Even if we're away from home they're protected. With this much heavy-duty coverage in place, I wonder if we'll get any more hail in this area?



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Sunday, June 22, 2014

Goodbye Elementary School + A Pina Colada Julius Recipe

I just love all those smiley faces!

Our youngest has completed her elementary school education. On the first Monday of June, she had her "Continuation Ceremony". A Continuation Ceremony is basically a graduation from 5th grade. I guess they started using the word "continuation" because so many people frowned upon a "graduation" for 5th graders.

The ceremony was held first thing in the morning and the 5th graders were dismissed immediately afterwards. When The Boy completed 5th Grade a few years ago, Mr. LH and I let him choose a place to go for a celebratory lunch. He chose GoodTimes, a place he had been itching to try ever since we moved to Colorado.


We extended the same offer to The Girl for her "after graduation treat". She chose Dairy Queen for a hot dog and Pina Colada Julius.


I could do without the hot dog myself, but that Pina Colada Julius was so good we decided to try to make it ourselves at home. After all, weren't we already enjoying homemade Orange Julius drinks already?

It took several attempts to get it as close as possible to the original, but that was just fine with us. We surely didn't mind drinking the "mistakes".

Homemade Pina Colada Julius

1 20oz. can crushed pinapple, chilled
1/2 cup shredded coconut (sweetened or un-sweetened)
1 tsp coconut flavor* (found near the extracts in the grocery store)
1 tsp vanilla extract*
1/4 to 1/2 cup sugar (use more if you're using unsweetened coconut, but I felt 1/2 cup was a bit too sweet)
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut milk**
1/4 cup Half & Half**
1 1/2 cups ice

Place all ingredients except the ice into your blender (I use our VitaMix) and blend on high for 30 seconds. Doing this before adding the ice helps to really to smooth out the coconut. Add the ice and blend for a full minute to make your drink smooth and frothy. Pour into glasses and garnish with a slice of pineapple if desired. Makes approximately 4 cups.

* You can use 2 tsp of vanilla extract if you do not use the coconut flavor.

** You can use all coconut milk or all Half & Half or even all whole milk if you like. Using all coconut milk will make a thinner drink. Using all Half & Half makes a much thicker, frothier drink and using all whole milk makes a less thick, less frothy drink (but not as thin as if you had used all coconut milk). All versions are yummy.



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Friday, June 20, 2014

Squirrel Tag

I was awakened early this morning to the sounds of rapping, chirping and scampering feet. I had to get up to see what was going on.

It seems some neighborhood squirrels were jumping from rooftop to rooftop chasing one another and playing leap frog on the privacy fences between lots. There were five of them running back and forth, jumping and seeming to have quite a good time.

I believe the sudden appearance of me and my camera outside interrupted their play. One of the group sounded the alarm and all motion and noise ceased for a bit. I was able to take a quick picture of this squirrel taking a break in the neighbor's aspen tree.


He looks quite cozy there, though also aware of my presence.


As soon as I headed back inside, all the squirrels were all at it again...



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Thursday, June 19, 2014

Going Back To Scratch-Made Muffins

I have to confess, I have rarely made muffins from scratch in the past several (ten?) years. I don't know why. Before moving to Colorado, I would blame the lack of time. Now I'll blame it partly on the altitude. I worry I'll wind up with flat tops. But muffins from scratch are so fast and easy (and YUMMY), flat tops or not!


Last week, I was flipping through this old Better Homes & Gardens recipe magazine that I picked out of the free bin at the "Friends Of The Library" bookstore.


It was published in 1971. Some of the images look as unappealing as the 70's themselves but I found lots of great recipes to try - one of which was the "Best-Ever Muffins".


You can see the original version above in the picture. I used the option for blueberry muffins and made a couple changes - most notably the oven temperature (because of the altitude). The 375°F oven temperature worked for a 6000 ft altitude. A 400°F oven would have resulted in very overdone muffins.

Blueberry Muffins
- adapted from the Better Homes & Gardens Best-Ever Muffins recipe for higher altitudes

Muffin Ingredients
1 3/4 cups sifted all purpose flour
1/4 cup plus 2 TBS sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup butter, melted (or coconut or vegetable oil)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 large egg, beaten
3/4 cup milk
1 cup fresh (or thawed and drained) blueberries

Topping (optional)
2 TBS butter, melted
additional sugar for sprinkling

Grease and flour a 12 cavity muffin pan (or use baking spray). Preheat oven to 375°F.

Sift flour, 1/4 cup of the sugar, baking powder and salt together into a bowl. Combine the butter, vanilla, egg and milk in another container. Add liquids into the dry ingredients all at once and stir until just blended.

In a small bowl, toss the blueberries with 2 Tablespoons of sugar. Fold the sugar-coated blueberries into the batter.

Fill greased muffin cups 2/3 full. Bake on center rack until golden  - 20 to 25 minutes (I bake mine for about 25 minutes).

Optional - Dip the tops of baked muffins in melted butter and sprinkle with sugar before serving.

Makes 12 muffins.


I really like these muffins. I must say that after years and years of muffins made from pre-made mixes, the most noticeable difference was the lack of "sweet". Don't get me wrong, they are plenty sweet, but they aren't nearly as sweet as muffins made from a pre-packaged mix. These muffins had more flavor. And of course the fresh (an even frozen) blueberries are a HUGE difference from the dehydrated "blueberry flavored nuggets" found in those store-bought mixes.


I think I'll try the same recipe with different add-ins. Perhaps pear and cranberry or applesauce and cinnamon and of course banana and walnut, though The Girl may protest because she can't eat nuts with her braces.



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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Lava Skies

We had another storm blow through. At first it looked like nothing much. Then it looked pretty threatening.


We wound up with some strong wind gusts and a few much needed sprinkles...but the sunset created from those retreating storm clouds was fantastic!


It looked almost like magma was rolling in!




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Monday, June 16, 2014

Crab Rangoon

I have an abnormal weakness for Crab Rangoon. If I go to an all-you-can-eat Chinese restaurant, my first plate usually consists of a little Beef & Broccoli and a pile of Crab Rangoon. Every plate after that is just a refill of Rangoon. I can't seem to get enough of them!

Mr. LH started buying the frozen kind whenever we would have stir-fry at home. But the box only came with 12 Rangoons. I was supposed to share twelve Rangoons with the rest of the family? No way.

We had to find a way to make them...lots of them.


Many years ago, we were gifted a cookbook full of appetizer recipes. Within those pages, we came across a Crab Rangoon recipe that we immediately tried. We wound up making several changes but what you see below has been our recipe for the last five or so years. It makes a huge batch and any leftover Rangoon can be frozen and baked at a later date (though we don't usually have too many leftovers).

Crab Rangoon

Ingredients:
  • 8 oz. softened cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 6 oz imitation crab meat, chopped small OR one 6 oz can white crab meat, drained and flaked)
  • 4 green onions, thinly sliced (white and green parts)
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 tsp A-1 sauce
  • 1 package won ton wrappers (with at least wrappers 40 in the package)



  • Combine all ingredients in a bowl. A hand mixer works well to incorporate everything together.

  • Place approximately one teaspoon of crab filling in the center of the won ton wrapper.
  • Dip your finger in water and moisten the edges of the won ton wrapper.
  • Fold over into a rectangle and press edges to seal.
  • Set folded won ton aside and repeat the process with remaining won ton wrappers and filling until all of the crab filling is used up. I don't usually use the whole package of won ton wrappers. The remaining wrappers can be frozen in a freezer bag. 
  • Note: If you will not be frying the rangoon anytime soon, cover with a damp towel to keep them from drying out.

  • Heat oil in fryer to 375 degrees.
  • Place won tons in the hot oil 4 to 6 at a time. Do not crowd the won tons.
  • They will sink to the bottom then float to the top. About 30 seconds after they rise to the top of the oil, flip the won tons. Fry until golden brown.
  • Remove from the oil and set aside on a baking rack to drain.
  • Repeat until all the won tons are cooked.
  • Serve immediately or place in a 175 degree oven to keep warm.




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