Monthly Archives: August 2013

Custom made Party Mix!

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This is a pretty simple idea, but I thought of it all by myself (meaning, I didn’t get the idea from Pinterest!) lol. So, I thought it deserved to be shared.
Throughout the year, we, as many parents, are always looking for ideas for healthy, easy snacks for the kids. Note, the emphasis is on easy here. We just want to grab and go, but, we are really trying to avoid the prepackaged stuff. So, one of my summer traditions for snacks is to make a special blend of party mix. FYI: By special blend, I mean that I toss whatever leftover bags of chips, crackers, pretzels, or goldfish I have left in the cupboard into a bowl. The thing is, everyone likes different things, so I was thinking, wouldnt it be great to make your own snack mix, with only the things you liked? Wouldn’t it be great to have a bunch of snacks for back to school all packaged up and ready?
So, we went to Bulk Barn (which is, by the way one of my favourite stores ever). The kids each picked out a couple nuts and seeds, some dried fruit, cereal, and they were allowed to pick one junk food (like cheezies etc) and one candy.
Here is our haul from Bulk Barn

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Then we tossed everything into a large container, and shook it up…

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Then, the kids scooped about a cup at a time into ziplock bags, so we could grab them to go.

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They even made little labels for their snacks – I think it was “Sam’s super snack mix” and, “Dylan’s Delicious Party Mix”…
Anyways, it worked well, we went away for a few days and it was handy just to be able to grab a bag and go…or grab a reusable container…however, I don’t think it’s going to last until school starts, so I might have to make another batch next week…

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Privacy Screen

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Privacy Screen

Our last job in finishing the backyard, was to build a privacy screen. When the landscapers put in the retaining walls, they left these posts up beside the walls, and instead of cutting them off, we told them to leave them so we could build a privacy screen. Our plan was to put up some lattice, but the more I thought about it, the more I am not even sure I like the look of lattice. And, we thought the posts were evenly spaced, but turns out they were all different distances apart. The posts range from 9 to 11 feet apart.
Here are what the posts looked like before…

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Here is another view, you can see the posts in the background in this photo…

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Here was my original plan…

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Then I saw this piece of art when John and I went to the beaches…

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And, it got John and I to thinking about cutting out a design. Why can’t we make a pattern or design? But, the problem is I couldn’t think of a material to use. I kept coming back to the idea of using fence boards. So here is my, sorry our, idea…

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By the way, I think this is a good point to mention the fact that I watched the guys carefully as they were putting up the fence…so, the way we made this, was pretty much the same way they put up our back fence. Lol.
We started by buying the wood. We bought 20 pieces of 10 foot 2×4, along with 20 framing or fencing brackets, and about 35 fencing boards (6 foot pieces, cut in half, giving us 70 pieces), plus nails and screws.
The first step was to measure down from the top of the posts and screw in the brackets.

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Then, we measured, and cut the 2×4 the right length, and nailed it in the brackets. Checked to see if it was level….

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Then measured down to add the bottom railing…

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Then we cut, and added a cross piece on the top and bottom. While John was nailing them in, I used a jig saw to cut out a few leaves on each piece. I randomly cut the leaves on each board, cutting out 2-6 leaves on each board.

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I used a 2×4 as a spacer to measure out the fence boards with a pencil on the top railing.

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Then, we nailed the boards at the top, with one nail,

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And used a level to level each board, and nailed a few extra nails at the top and bottom…

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And…a few hours later, here is the finished product!

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Not bad, eh? We had budgeted about $500, but it cost just over $300…. But, the best part is that we are now truly finished the backyard!

Rainbow Cake

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It was my daughter’s birthday last week, and we had just finished up the renovation, so didn’t have a huge amount of time left over to make the three layer cake that she requested…so I talked her into something a little easier…rainbow cake.
I saw the idea before, but it isn’t actually as complicated as I thought. You need a box of cake mix, plus eggs, oil, and water, and then you need food colouring, I had red, yellow, blue and green.

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Basically, you make the cake mix as directed…

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Then, we divided the cake mix into six equal parts, I just used cereal bowls…

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Then, we added a couple drops of food colouring to each bowl. When I say a couple I mean 6-8. Oh, and be careful when you are mixing colours like purple, always use less of the darker colour, like blue, and add one drop at a time, otherwise you won’t be able to see the red at all. Start with five drops of red, two drops of blue, and mix, then add more if you need it.

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Here are the colours we ended up with

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We decided to use measuring spoons to spoon them into cupcake liners, so we measured two tablespoons into each muffin liner, and it worked out pretty evenly. We started with the pink, then orange…

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Then, yellow, green blue and purple…

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Then, we popped them in the oven. Here is what they looked like when they came out…

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They didn’t exactly look pretty right out of the oven, but take a look at when we cut them open!

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The only problem is that they didn’t rise properly. As you can see, they didn’t even come up to the top of the cupcake liner. I am guessing it was because the batter took so long from mixing until it got into the pans. The most time consuming part was spooning each colour into the liners. Mixing the colours, didn’t take that long. So, next time, I will just make one big cake! I would do it again though, the kids at Sam’s party were really impressed by this one!

Flagstone patio

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Another area of our backyard we decided to do ourselves was the space around the bbq.
We had a few pieces of flagstone that we found around the backyard when we first moved in, but as the guys were excavating the backyard, they dug up a bunch of flagstone, so I ran out and dug them all up and stashed them at the side of the house to save them. One more piece of evidence for these landscapers to think that I am totally off my rocker.
Anyways, this is what the area looked like before we started…

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We raked the area level, then covered it with landscaping fabric. Then, brought in all of the flagstone pieces we had. I lifted all of the small pieces and John lifted the big.
Then, this would have been the fun part if they weren’t rocks, and weighed a hundred pounds each! It was kind of like a jigsaw puzzle, fitting all of the pieces of stone together. Although, we didn’t have enough puzzle pieces…So I tried..

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And tried…

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And I finally decided on this layout…

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I tried to put the larger stones on the pathways that would be used most often, like in and out of the backyard. Also, by making a pathway that forked, we used what stone we had without having to buy more flagstone. (I have to be honest here, I didn’t want to buy more flagstone not to save money, but because by this point, I just didn’t want to have to lift it in and out of the car!)
So, we filled in the cracks and spaces with the same pea gravel we used on the pathway…

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And, made sure the stones were level… it was hard to level them after the landscaping fabric was down, so I added some screening in places to even some of the stones out.
Overall, considering that I dug up all of the flagstone from the backyard, and it didn’t cost a penny, I thought it turned out pretty well. Maybe we will revisit it in the future, but for now, I am happy with it. And, I am happy with not lifting any stones for a while too!

Backyard renovation is DONE!!

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I am soooo happy we are finally finished the backyard renovations! We live about 40 minutes north of the city, and the advantage of that is that we have a nice big backyard. the backyard was one of the main reasons we fell in love with our house. but, we knew it needed work, so we have been planning this big reno since we moved in. let me tell you, it was way more complex and messy than we imagined, but we are thrilled with the finished product. If anyone in the GTA is debating getting landscaping work done, we would highly recommend Markham Landscaping. They took care of everything from the pool to fencing to even the sprinkler system!
Markham Landscaping Website
So, to make a long story short, we have been dealing with mud, dust and chaos for the last six weeks, but here’s the highlights…
Here is what our backyard looked like in May…

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Here is halfway finished, at the end of June…

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And here it is today…

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We also put up our new trampoline…

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Our side walkway…

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Here is what the side of our house has looked like for the last month during our renovations. They had to remove the neighbours retaining wall, and move our shed out of the way to get their machinery in and out of the backyard. And let me tell you, it was a slippery mess, like the rest of the backyard for most of the time!

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We paid the landscapers to move the shed back and build the retaining wall, but we decided to do the pathway ourselves. After all, we were the ones who laid the path in the first place after we ripped out the interlock to fix the leak in our basement a couple years ago.
Our thinking about the side of our house is that it is just a passage way to get to the backyard. We want it to look nice, be low maintenance, but an area where we could save a bit of money by doing ourselves.
Luckily, the landscapers were kind enough to level out the space for us. So, this is what we started with…

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And, a massive pile of gravel…(that’s a long story, I’ll spare you from hearing. You’re welcome.)

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Here are a couple different angles.

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So, we began by raking the entire area flat. There was a lot of limestone screening at the sides, so we raked that into the middle to level everything out. Then we covered the area with black landscaping fabric to stop weeds from growing.
We started with large cement pavers…Those of you that know me know I am not a huge fan of measuring, so 90% of the things I do, I put on a slight angle on purpose because I think that looks far better that trying to be straight and being a little off. It also makes stuff look a little funky, and funky is always good. So, we put down each of the pavers on a slight angle.

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Also, every couple months when the kids were babies, and whenever the mood hits me since, I have made stepping stones of the kids feet, so every three pavers, I added a homemade stepping stone…

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Then, we went around the garden and collected all of the rocks we had laying around, to make a border along the pathway, not a great picture, but you can kind of see where I was going with this idea…

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Then we stared digging gravel. We filled in the outsides of the path with the rough, larger gravel, and got a load of of pea gravel delivered for the pathway. (btw: the kids thought the name “pea gravel” was the funniest thing ever – you can imagine the quality of conversation between John and the kids here) So we spent quite a while shovelling. But, this is the end product…

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As you can see, we still have a little cleaning up to do, but we were happy overall. I would like to add a rock sculpture, or some painted rocks, or more stepping stones or something to make it a little more interesting. Right now, there is a lot of rock, not a whole lot else…let me know if you have any ideas! Now, onto the flagstone…

I burned my pot :(

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When I was halfway through making a batch of jam, I had it boiling on the stove, the landscapers called me outside, and of course, I started chatting. And, to make a long story short, here is what my pot looked like when I got back inside….

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So, after researching online, learned that Dawn dishwashing soap and Baking soda works … so I put a couple tbsp of each in the pot

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Then I added about a cup of water, and turned heat on med high…

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I let it boil for about 5 minutes. It did take off the top layer of burn, but it was far from being clean.

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So, I added some more Dawn soap and vinegar, and let it sit for a day. It wasn’t clean overnight, but every time I walked by the sink I scrubbed for a few seconds with a scouring pad, then let it soak. Believe it or not, here is what the pot looked like after 24 hours…

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Great, now back to digging up the backyard, and making more jam!