Thursday, July 26, 2012

Picture This...

Some things are best described in pictures.
Here is a brief glimpse into what we have been up to the last few days:

Trent working the trench digger as we prepare to install our sprinkler system.

Our yard looked like a mutant gopher had attacked it.

 Oh, 975lbs of hot tub? No problem.

 Busy, productive, and a little painful. Now for some advil.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

What We Are Eating Wednesday

The weather here has been so pleasant the kids and I are spending as much time as possible outside. Doesn't hurt that we always have work to do on the backyard. With most of the backyard projects wrapping up this week, we are leaning towards easy, full proof meals to keep us going.

Grilled lemon chicken with zuchinni

Blueberry and Greek yogurt stuffed french toast with scrambled eggs

Grilled tri tip steak with baked sweet potatoes

Crockpot pulled bbq pork, salad, melon

Turkey burgers with sweet potato fries, salad

Bell pepper, zuchinni, and pepperoni grilled pizza

Quesadillas with cheesy black beans and salsa

Wish us luck this week! Sprinklers, dirt prep, and finally sod!!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

DIY Backyard Landscaping: Above Ground Pool

The work has been a consistent daily grind around here. But when you see how it is all coming together, it all seems worth it.

We a started with a swing set, a trampoline, a garden and a whole lot of dirt. I am talking a wasteland of dirt.

While the dirt is still present and accounted for, its numbers have been shrunk considerably.

Here is our goal:

Not to scale.

Grass for us to run on, play soccer, and spread out a blanket to watch clouds. A pool for the hot summer days. A pool deck for us to relax and watch the kids jump in the trampoline or play on the jungle gym. A great fire pit for the adults to chat around at night, enjoying a drink or two.

We still have sprinklers to install and sod to lay down, plus a little cleaning up, but until then I thought it would be fun to post about each of the projects.

First up? The pool!


We started with this rather sad stretch of yard next to the trampoline. I knew we would have some leveling to do as my garden boxes used to be over here and they had caused some dips. But wow, it was so much more than a few small dips.

One of the former owners of this house must have hardscaped this area at some point because everywhere we dug, we hit gravel. A huge compacted bed of gravel.

We started by using a flat front shovel to remove all the thatch and roots and to create a base to determine the slope.

Once that was done and we could clearly see where the lowest spot was so we got started. When preping an area for an above ground pool, you always want to level the area to the lowest point. Never add dirt to raise the lower area up! Under the wieght of all the water in the pool, that added dirt will compact and suddenly your nice level pool will sag and risk collapse.

Sadly, our low spot consisted of one 4 foot by 2 foot corner. Eight square feet caused us to dig out and level 192 square feet to match it. Yeah. Less than fun.

To level we taped a four foot level onto a 2x4 piece of wood. Starting at the high point we would place the level then use the 2x4 to scrape dirt down until it was right. Over and over again we repeated this process until the entire area was level within 1". Not fun. Beer helped.

Really hard to get a good photo by flood light.

4' level attached to a 2x4 with tape

After we walked the area to ensure we had gotten all of that pesky gravel out,  we began to assemble the pool. Now, typically you would do two more steps of prep. First, lay down a sand bed to help protect the pool from anything poking through. Second lay down foam insulation boards(from the hardware store). Not only does this provide an extra layer of protection, but it also creates a soft smooth surface for walking.

Because we bought this pool used and there was no guarantee it would remain usable after reassembling, we didn't want to invest that extra money. Instead we just used a 10mm tarp under to pool to help protect the vinyl from any rocks or roots we missed.

This particular pool is a 9'x19'x52" Splash-a-Round soft sided vinyl pool. We just followed the directions for assembling it, which was the easiest part of all of this. We would then spend the next three weeks replacing broken pump valves, patching holes in the bottom of the liner, and fixing leaking parts.

Pool up, working on fixing it.

Once everything was fixed, we focused on the extras. The pool came with an old deck that needed a lot of love. Sadly, without the deck we could not get into the pool. Stairs and all, you know. So hubby began replacing rotten boards and strengthening the supports. We knew from the start that if we liked the pool we would build a big wrap around deck before next summer, but for now we needed to make this one safe for everyone.

Still a work in progress. Needs rails.

Once the stairs for the deck were up it was time for some prettying up! First we installed a reed cover to hide the big blue eyesore.Next we marked out where the future deck wrap around deck will go and after weed spraying, laying down weed cloth, and putting in an edger we spread out 2 yards of basic 3/4" gravel. We also repeated the process for under the trampoline. No more weeds growing under there! Looking better already!

While the whole process was heartbreaking, frustrating, and back breaking to say the least, we have loved having the pool. Or as Gabe calls it, the cool!

Next up, how to make your own concrete edger or curb!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Fevers, Chills, and a Virus Oh My!

It has been a long week here at the house. It all started Sunday. The little man woke up with a nasty fever. No runny nose, no cough, no third arm. Just a persistant fever leaving him feeling less than stellar.

Not that it kept him from his usual craziness activities. From Sunday until Tuesday we kept a close eye on him, but other than the fever there was nothing else to note. Now, before you hand me the worst parent of the year award for not taking my kid in right away, let me just say that I grew up in a medical household. I know that fevers under 103 with no other symptoms, while uncomfortable for the little guy, in my opinion held no danger. His body was fighting off a virus and the best thing I could do was help him stay comfortable.

Come Wednesday the fever was gone and other than a crankier than usual disposition all seemed to be back to normal. Que the crazy rash. This afternoon, out of nowhere, BAM! Small little red dots all over his back and chest. They don't seem to be uncomfortable and the fever is still gone, but there they are.

One quick check with Dr. Google and I think I have the answer. Roseola. Apparently it is a very common childhood virus, and also highly contagious. Which means the little puffalump will most likely be sporting the polka dot look pretty soon as well. I'll call and check with their pediatrician in the morning to be sure though.

Overall I think how we react when our kids are sick is a deeply personal choice. I felt confident letting his body fight the virus intruder. Based on his disposition, and a careful and consistent tracking of his temperature, I am comfortable with my decision. We all have to do what we think is best for our kids. For now, I think sleep, a cool bath, and maybe a special popsicle treat (along with a call to the Dr.) are the best options for us.

I guess the floor was cooler, because I kept finding him like this.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Finding Peace Right in Front of Me

Lately everything has been go, go, go around here. Projects to finish, time lines to follow, work for Trent, stress for me. Like a tidal wave it has washed over me, creating a great feeling of self disappointment. Disappointment that I cannot provide an answer all of our problems immediately. Disappointment that our children cannot be involved in all the things I want for them. Disappointment that Trent will most likely be working two jobs for at least another year.

Today I made a realization. What my children need is not classes or a minivan. They don't need a bigger house, or more toys. What they need is their parents to be present. Not simply there with them physically, but to have us actively involved in their lives. And when I do that, the oddest thing happens. I am happy. All of those things that had seemed like such a big deal seem insignificant in comparison to the relationship and memories I am creating with my children.

My children are a blessing in so many ways. And today as we played in our pool for the first time, they gave me yet another gift. Perspective. The house, the projects, the struggle. They are all for a purpose. But without the joy, love, and connection my children and I create by spending interactive time together all of the other stuff is pointless.

Today with my family left me feeling renewed and uplifted in ways I haven't felt in months. I love my life. I love my family. And our future will be wonderful - because we are going to actively make the choice everyday to believe so.

Lumberjocks: Woodworking Paraphernalia by Trent

I am entranced by professional wood workers.  The obsession with detail, ingenuity, imagination, and hard work that goes into a finished project is amazing.  As I'm still developing my skills and building my arsenal of tools, I find myself searching for other works as inspiration.  LumberJocks satisfies this search.
Gorgeous hand carved chairs take such attention to detail.  The wood choice, the joinery, the angles and carved seat, the finish, I wouldn't even know where to start with a project like this.  But my lord I want to sit in it!

I like to call furniture like this "Alice in Wonderland Furniture." Pieces that look like they're going to come alive.  I mean WOW!   Can you imagine seeing this greet you everyday at your front door?  Some of the incredible features on this piece are wooden hinges, one of the eyes was a knot in wood (HOW COOL!), a ton of different wood choices to make this come alive, and just the incredible imagination!  Super neat.
Check out this awesome hammock!  This guy used bent lamination, or thin strips that he bent to a form, then glued together to make the finished product.  Wood bending is exciting and terrifying at the same time to me!
Here's another great bent lamination technique, with a glass table to highlight the bends!

I like when people mix materials other than wood; glass and metal are fascination additions
Here's another awesome bending piece.  This table was made completely from a 2x4!  INCREDIBLE!
And if you think that table's amazing, look at this birdcage!  It's made from 1 2x4x8!!!  The ingenuity and time taken to develop pieces like these just astound me!

You can see how easy it is to get sucked into that website.  So many incredible craftsmen with unique perspectives and styles.  This place really gets my gears turning.  I just wish I had all of the tools and time necessary to create the projects I have in mind.  

Normally I just build from necessity.  Some garden boxes and a garden fence which was NECESSARY as Gabe kept picking everything before it was even close to ripe: 
In the background you can see the garden fence and fence picket garden boxes
And here's a baby gate I made out of a crib to keep the kids out of the kitchen.  I have a how to article I'm going to publish in the near future on this.

Baby Gate
The only true labor of love that I've created for my family is a rocking horse for Gabe's birthday. This was made using the Wood Whisperer's plans.

Rocking horse
I want to make either a pirate ship or a different rocking animal for Abbey's first birthday or Christmas.

Anyways, Lumberjocks is an awesome website, and totally addicting!  Take a short look around, if you're interested in wood working in the slightest, it will turn into a long look.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Search For the Perfect Pancake #1

In my mind I have a picture of the perfect pancake. Soft. Fluffy. Delicate texture. Not to sweet or buttery. A slight chew to it. 

Perhaps my mom made them like this when I was little. Maybe I have spent one too many late nights at Ihop in my life. 

Either way, I have searched and searched for THE pancake. The pancake that lives up to my standards. I can honesty state that I have tried dozens of different pancake recipes in my search. So now, I will let you all in on my crazy hunt.

The search for the perfect pancake.

Our first contender comes from King Arthur Flour.

Simply Perfect Pancakes
makes 12

2 eggs
1 1/4 cups milk
3 tablespoons butter (I use one tablespoon butter, 2 tablespoons unsweetened applesauce)
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup King Arthur White Wheat Flour (I love their wheat flour. It is very finely ground.)
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons sugar (I have replaced the sugar before with maple syrup. Yum!)

In large bowl beat milk and eggs until fluffy.

Slowly and gently stir in your butter (and applesauce if you are using it).

In another bowl, whisk together all dry ingredients. 

Mix dry ingredients into the egg mixture.

Let the mixture rest for 15 minutes while you preheat your griddle to 375.

Once the batter has rested and your griddle is ready, drop by 1/4 cup fulls onto your griddle.

As usual, none of my pancakes are perfect circles.

Once you see an even layer of bubbles on the pancake surface it is time to flip!

Allow the pancake to cook for another 1 1/2 - 2 minutes.

Remove to a plate and enjoy! If you cannot eat right away, place on a cookie sheet and put into a preheated 200 degree oven.

A nice drizzle of pure maple syrup.

Decent fluffyness when straight off the griddle.

While this recipe was good, it wasn't great. The pancakes were fluffy at first, but the ones that sat for a few minutes flattened out and became tough. And there wasn't a ton of flavor to them.

This may be a good recipe for add in pancakes - like cinnamon raisin or blueberry - as the batter starts out with a good fluff.

Overall I think I would try these again, but with the added work of fluffing the eggs and only an ok turn out, I cannot say they will be a regular in our rotation.

The search continues.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

What We Are Eating Wednesday

The weather keeps getting warmer in these parts and we have been taking full advantage of Hubby's new grill. We somehow avoided using the oven and stovetop all together last week! Fingers crossed we can keep that trend going this week too.

French toast with sliced cantaloupe and spinach frittata

Grilled bell pepper, tomato, and turkey pepperoni pizza

Grilled chicken, tomato, and motzarella sandwiches

Crock pot sloppy joes on home made buns(from freezer), with salad and diced fruit

Chicken, bell pepper, and pineapple kabobs with pita bread

Grilled burgers and dogs on homemade buns, watermelon

Chicken fajitas on homemade tortillas, black beans

We are heavy on the chicken this week. I caught a great sale on minimally processed chicken breasts last week and bought 16 lbs! May sound like a lot, but we go through a lot of chicken a week feeding a family of five. 

Now I am off to clean the pool. Fun times.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Fun Facts

I have spent the last several weeks fighting with the used pool we bought off Craigslist. Around children and polite company we refer to her as the Big Blue Bohemith. In private, I refer to her as something far more colorful. Five patched holes, two replaced valves (four if you count the first two we bought that were wrong), two fixed plumbing leaks, and some pool chemicals later we may finally be able to swim in her tomorrow. Hm. I'll wait and see on that one.

Isn't she soooo pretty? Maybe not now, but she'll clean up well.

While digging holes under the legs of our swing set today in preparation for concrete supports, I uncovered a large section of tree root. Directly in my way. Of course. Forty five minutes, a jigsaw, a handsaw, a hammer, a screwdriver, and a pick axe later we broke off six inches of it. The hubbs and I declared it good enough and went inside to commiserate over a beer escape the heat.

Tree gives shade, roots trash my yard. Tough fight.

The family and I will be spending all day in the yard tomorrow. We have playground mulch being delivered this weekend, and need to get the weed cloth down under the swing set first. Hubby will be spending his morning finishing up the re-purposed deck that came with aforementioned Big Blue B. Without the deck we will have to pole vault into the pool. How very Olympian.

Concrete retaining wall done, and the forms are now cleaned up.

Next week we rototill the backyard, level, and install a new sprinkler system. In three days. Don't tell my husband, but even for us I think that is pushing it.

I walked into my garden last night, only to find these little visitors. While they were cute, I told them they had to go home and wrangled them back into the neighbors yard. Momma dog was very pleased.

Eight little puppies in all.Including a chubba little girl who got stuck trying to push through the fence.

I think I am going to start eating smoothies for lunch. I have a really healthy meal every day for breakfast, and typically eat a healthy dinner. But lunch. Yeah, not so much. And my waste line is reflecting this.

Lately Gabriel will pretend his food is talking to him. He does it quietly and with such absorption I don't have the heart to tell him not to play with his food.

Carrots and zuchinni, oh my!

Abigail thinks hats and sippy cups are hilarious. They are a sure fire attention getter and guaranteed giggle maker for the little love.

My brother starts his Jr. year of high school next month. It still blows me away how quickly he has grown up, and the kind of man he is becoming. I am so proud of him.

That's it. Tomorrow is What We Are Eating Wednesday, and another post on a controversial topic in these parts: pancakes. Serious stuff, I know.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

4th of July Recap

Better late than never, right?

For the Fourth of July the family and I piled into the car and headed to the San Diego County Fair for some fair time fun. This was the first time the kids had been to the fair, and I have to say they did awesome!

Father and son waiting for the pig races to start

Hubbs and sis-in-law channeling their inner piggy
Gabe getting in on the fun

Piss piggy eat your heart out

Enjoying the good eats

Cousinly love

Navigating through the spinning vortex with Nama.

Gabe was thrilled to finally get a ride on a motorcycle

Help! We are stuck in a glass cage of emotion!

When the little man saw the machinery, his excitement was overwhelming


Some father son racing

Abigail and I awestruck over the fireworks

It was a wonderful Fourth, topped with an incredible fireworks show. Luckily, the San Diego County Fair was not part of the giant fireworks meltdown (did you all here about this?) and we had a great spot. It felt like we were right under the fireworks! Abigail, Gabriel, and their cousin Victor were all entranced. 

Hope you all had a wonderful holiday!