Colouring Books for Grown-Ups

I haven’t used my pencil crayons in twenty years, but I haven’t been able to let them go either.  I never thought of taking up colouring again, but someone else has, and hence the trend of adult colouring books! What a great idea! Here’s a project I started with some awesome highlighters, and I hope my friend will help me and finish the rest.  I can’t wait to the see the combined result!

Colouring Book

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Custom ABC Book – DIY

This is my absolute favorite project to date!  It was easy, inexpensive, and the result was fantastic!  My niece is about to experience her first Christmas and turn 1!  I wanted to get her something great, so I decided to make her a custom ABC book.

I was inspired by some custom alphabet board books I saw online, but since I left this to the last minute, I didn’t have time to order one.  So I came up with a DIY solution and the end product cost less than $8.

Custom ABC Book - Craft Ambitions M

  1. Find your pictures and choose the caption.  I wrote down A-Z, and while I browsed through my photos (thank you iCloud and Facebook), I wrote down the caption and saved the picture as the caption name.  That way I could keep track of the letters I needed, and they got saved in order.  I also tried to use as many family pictures as possible, and it was easy to choose the cutest ones.
  2. Select a picture for the front cover and back cover.
  3. Crop to 4” x 6” proportional.  If the picture was taken on a phone it might be square or just a little out of proportion.  But my local photo lab would only print standard proportion.  I ended up doing this after I added captions and it ruined some of my pictures, so do this first.
  4. Add captions.  I choose to use wigflip.com/rolfbot because it’s free, I didn’t need to register, and the text is white with a black outline which can be read over any color.  You don’t get a choice of font, but I liked how it looks like a meme.  It’s so 2014.
  5. Print photos.
  6. Buy a 12-page photo album.  This is the key to the simplicity of the entire project. 12 pages plus inside front and inside back cover is exactly 26 slots.  I got mine from London Drugs for $1.99.

Custom ABC Book - Craft Ambitions Y

So easy!  And it was super fun to review her first year of pictures.  Custom ABC Book - Craft Ambitions

How I Plan to Have 52 Dates with my Husband This Year

If James Lipton ever asks, my least favorite word is “busy”.  It’s not that I don’t like being occupied or involved.  It’s just that it keeps me away from my favorite thing, my man.  My husband is part of so many activities and he rarely says no to anyone.  His busy calendar often leaves me eating dinner alone and saying “hello and goodbye” as we get ready for work.   Sometimes I feel like “Ladyhawke” (high-five if you get my obscure ‘80s movie reference).  So I often feel like the neglected wife.  But he’s not without his complaints either.  When we do have time together, I might try to get some errands done or even fall asleep watching tv.  This doesn’t count as quality time either.

So we came up with a plan.  I got a deck of cards.  Each week I set out a new card (alternating colours) to signify it’s time for a date.  I plan the dates for the red cards, and he plans the black ones.  After the date, I write down on the card what we did and when.  I wish I could draw, but stick men is all I can manage.  In the last five months we’ve had twenty dates!

52 Dates

52 Date Rules

  • Each person plans half the dates
  • Dates don’t have to be elaborate or cost any money
  • Dates cannot include other people
  • Average one date per week for the year

A typical date for us usually involves going out for dinner; it’s one of our favorite things.  But it can be as simple as watching the new Doctor Who episode together, having a nice breakfast at home, or going for a walk.  The best date so far (we both agree) was grabbing a coffee at our old campus, and strolling around hand in hand, reminiscing about old times.

This has been working well for us because it makes him really make time for me and it makes me really take quality time with him.  So far it’s been working great for both of us!

download

Gifts That Give to Charity

I love giving presents to my family at Christmas.  I hope to find something nice that they will like and can use.  But it’s such a challenge!  Unfortunately we are fortunate enough to have almost everything we want.  So for the last few years I have been trying to find nice gifts that also helps others.  A search for gifts that give to charity or leads to numerous lists of ideas, but they are usually stores, websites or charities I don’t know.  So after some intensive research I’ve come up with a few ideas, including local (Edmonton) charitable gift guide.

International Gifts

Kiva Mirco Loans

Kiva helps facilitate micro-loans directly to borrowers throughout the world.  A $25 gift certificate will let the receiver choose the individual who gets the loan and once it’s paid back, they can loan it out again or withdraw it.  You can choose the loanee based on location and sector.  In the last six year my $25 donation got matched and then has been donated out nine times.  Right now I’ve loaned to Agileo in Uganda to buy a maize mill and Aliyma in Krygzstan to buy cows and sheep to sell milk.

How Kiva Works

Oxfam

Oxfam is an international organization that tries to find solutions to poverty in developing nations.  Oxfam Unwrapped allows you to pick from a variety of gifts that go directly to help people around the world. Plus they come with cute cards and clever sayings.  Give your mom a chicken for Christmas.  Get your brother a few drinks (of clean water).   Plant a vegetable garden for you aunt and emergency toilets for your uncle.

Oxfam Goat

OXFAM

UNICEF

UNICEF also offers gifts that are given to those in need in developing countries.  Their program of Survival Gifts lets you pick from educational gifts like school books, health needs like anti-malaria pills, water pumps, and emergency relief.

Local Gifts

If you prefer to keep you donations close to home, here are a few suggestions in the Edmonton area.

There are a number of great calendars that support some local groups.

Edmonton Fire Department Calendar

Edmonton Fire Department Calendar

Art from the Valley Zoo Development Society

The gift of home decor while supporting the zoo.  The Valley Zoo Development Society offers paintings by Lucy the Elephant or Hula and Makani the Harbour Seals. Pieces range from $39 – $139.

Harbour Seal Art

Harbour Seal Art

Edmonton Public Library Merchandise

For over a year the library has offered free library cards to everyone.  Plus the library offers more than book borrowing, their goal is to grow literacies and life skills for an active, engaged community to enhance their health and success.  Pick up some stocking stuffers like mugs, USB ports, pens or mitts.  This is adorable onesie is the most expensive item at $20.

EPL-07

Ginger Bread Men for Habitat for Humanity

Albertan coffee shop, the Good Earth Cafe will give $1 from every $6.95 cookie package to Habitat for Humanity.

Greeting Cards for the Stollery Centre

I love this idea.  If you are sending out Christmas cards, why not buy cards that supports a charity?  These clever folks offer eCards, or PDFs, which you can print and mail with the gold ol’ post.  The donation amount is up to you. That’s a win-win-win.

Christmas Tree for Kids Kottage

Buy your natural fir tree for $20 from Ikea, you get a $20 Ikea gift card and Kids Kottage will receive some of the proceeds.

Red Mittens for the Canadian Olympic Committee

Every year the Bay offers a new style of the iconic red mittens.  $3.33 from the $10 price goes to the Canadian Olympic Committee.

Red Mitten the Bay

Wildlife Rehabilitation Society of Edmonton

Ten beautiful wildlife photography greeting cards for $15 or a donation to save wildlife from $50 to feed hungry birds to $1000 to support eagle rehab.

xmas-ask-card-2014-photo-without-text1

Festival of Trees (Nov 27 – 30)

Last but no least is the University Foundation’s Festival of Trees.  This fundraising event is not only an experience gift but also a great shopping opportunity.  This year’s donations are to support the purchase of a gamma knife to perform delicate brain procedures. Tickets for adults are $10, seniors/youth $5, and children (2-12) $2.

UHF_FOT2014_weblogoblock_FINAL

Got any other good Gifts that Give Back?  Let me know!

How (Not) to Take a Passport Photo

I’m obsessed with make-up tutorials right now, because this happened!  My passport photo or the Creature from the Black Lagoon!

Bad_Passport_PhotoOk, scroll past it already!  I was so embarrassed by this photo, I couldn’t even ask the photographer to re-take it!  My loving husband re-assures me that I don’t look anything like it, but it is LITERALLY my picture!

So a week later, after I had time to prepare, I had this photo taken.  Better, right?  Short of going on a crash diet and getting a face lift, here’s what I did.

Passport_PhotoHow to Take Your Best Passport Photo

  1. Get enough sleep.  To avoid that puffy-red-eyed exhausted look, try not having to fake it.
  2. Do your makeup.  Oh, how naive I was to believe in natural beauty. Those Dove ads lied to me.  Ok, yes you’re a natural beauty, but go ahead an enhance that beauty with a tad of make-up.  By the way, I;m in love with Jaclyn Hill‘s makeup tutorials.
  3. Pose! The official Passport Canada instructions require a neutral face, but not a relaxed zombie face!  Smize (thanks Tyra!) and work that jaw (thanks Peter Hurley!).  I’m a natural frowner, so I gave just a hint of a smile to turn the corners of my mouth straight.  That gave me a (positive) neutral face.
  4. Wear your hair down.  Ok, this doesn’t apply to me, but if your hair stylist gave you a great cut to flatter your face, then show off that work of art.
  5. Wear a flattering and not distracting shirt- ie: black v-neck.
  6. Choose the right photographer.  The reject photo was taken at London Drugs on a Saturday morning, when the cashier was juggling passport photos and print pickups.  The good photo was taken at Black’s on a weekday evening when the entire mall was empty.  The photographer was glad anyone came into his shop.
  7. Take your time.  Just relax (while posing!) and don’t be afraid to ask for a re-take.

Enjoy your world travels! This photo is going to last me the next 10 years!

How_To_Passport_Photo.jpg

Refinishing an Outdoor Bar

When I pinned this awesome outdoor cooler, I thought that even though it was a big project, I could do it.  Do you know what’s better than building it?  Buying it for $20 at a garage sale!  It was in pretty good shape when we got it, completely usable – but with a little elbow grease I thought I could make it something amazing.

outdoor_bar_B&A

Step 1 – Wood Brightener

The first thing I did was clean the bar with a wood brightener.  I didn’t know such a product existed, but it’s like a magic elixer.  You apply it (diluted) to wet wood furniture, let it soak, then scrub it.  See how it went from dark and dirty to bright and clean?  Isn’t it great?  The wood feels fresh and raw, ready to be finished.

After_Wood_Brightener

Step 2 – Unwarp Wood (or Bend it Like Villa)

One of the planks of the lid had gotten warped from sitting outside.  We thought of leaving it,  or replacing it, or adding braces to it.  Then we decided to try to bend it back.  Did you know you can bend wood?  My mom gave me this tip.  She remembers her dad, who was a carpenter, did it all the time.  First you need to soak the wood, to make it malleable, then you need to apply pressure to bend it.  I soaked the blank in the bathtub and covered it in weights overnight.  The next morning the plank was pretty flat.  I took the plank out of the water, but left the weights, so it wouldn’t warp when it dried.  Ta da!  It’s flat again.  How will I prevent from bending again? I’m going to seal it.  Once it’s sealed, and water can’t penetrate, it should remain warp free.

Step 3 – Stain It

All the of the craft sites recommend gel stains, so that’s what I went with.  Gel stains are thick, like pudding, so application is easier and less messy. One crafter said gel stains are so amazing that you don’t have to remove all the old stain.  She lied.  As you can see the lid now has a “unique patina”, but I can live with it.  I used an old pair of sweat pants cut into rags to wipe on the stain.  Don’t forget to wear rubber gloves (latex will melt).  I decided to only stain the top, because I didn’t want the project to start getting too labour expensive.  After three coats, I was pretty happy with the results.

Gel Stain

Step 4 – Seal It

We need to protect all our hard work!  Especially if it’s going to survive outside.  My friend is a furniture maker, and he recommended Varathane Diamond Wood Finish.  It looks cloudy, but it dries clear.  I sealed the entire bar, with several coats.

Step 5 – Finishing Touches

Last, but not least, I added new knobs and installed a cool bottle opener/cap catcher some friends gave us. Voila! Now we can enjoy cold beverages in the hot weather.  (Let’s pretend I’ve posted this in the summer!)

Refinished Outdoor Bar

Refinished Outdoor Bar

Halloween Decoration – Creepy Potions & Crawly Specimen

Do you want to take your Halloween decorations over the top this year?  Then check out these super easy potion and specimen jars.

All you need are a few jars, some random goodies (the dollar store is great) and some clever labels.

Craft tip #1 – Cover the lids with black gaffer tape.  I tried spray paint, and it didn’t work well.  Then when the Harry Potter the Exhibit came through town, I took a good look at their apothecary jars, and their lids were covered by black tape too!

Craft tip #2 – Age your labels by dipping them in tea.  Don’t you remember that Edison Twins did that when they were trying to fake a pirate map?

Craft tip # 3 – If you print your labels on regular paper with a laser printer, you can adhere them to the jars with milk.  Really.  Check it here.

Wizard’s Own Potion Ingredients

  • Roc Feathers (from a feather boa)
  • Distilled Tears of A Thousand Care Bears (in an old Kraft Peanut Butter jar shaped like a bear)
  • Succubus Horns (dollar store devil horns)
  • Fallen Angel Eyes (dollar store)
  • Candied Goblin Brains (dollar store)

Wizard's Own Potions

Specimen

I wish this picture had turned out better.  Well, it’s a failed experiment anyway.  (Or is it?  Mwahahahahah!) As you can see (or not) from the label “Human Shrinking Experiment #13.  Subject: Male, aged 31.  Survived : 5 minutes, 42 seconds.”  It’s another great dollar store fine, a rubber skeleton, in a peanut butter jar.

Human Shrinking Experiment #13

Human Shrinking Experiment #13

Come Up with Your Own or Borrow These

potion_ideas

Calgary Garden Tour

It’s the end of August and I just visited two amazing gardens in Calgary – my Oma’s garden with dozens of varieties of flowers and Uncle John’s homemade greenhouse.

Oma has a sea field of plants.  She’s been cultivating them there for over fifty years.  There’s white hydrangeas, red Japanese poppies (I brought the seeds back from a visit to Japan, but I don’t think they let you do that anymore), pansies, marigolds (annuals) and nasturtiums from seed…

calgary_garden

white ones, yellow ones, pink ones, red ones, hostas, ferns…

2014-08-23 11.08.03

and clematis – to start!  There’s more flowers in the vegetable garden, around the house and in the front yard.  Plus apples, raspberries, onions, tomatoes, beets, rhubarb…

2014-08-23 11.09.32

And the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree – Uncle John also has an impressive garden.  Look at these vegetables!  He strings up the tomatoes so they take up less space.  I think he has every vegetable you can grow!

greenhouse_veggies

Uncle John built this greenhouse on the side of his garage with pvc pipe and plastic film.  It’s over 6 feet tall and keeps a nice hot temperature even during those summer cold snaps.

2014-08-22 20.27.53

Oh, and here’s gardening companion, Diamond.  Uncle John catches wasps and puts them in her web.  Diamond wraps up the wasp like a breakfast burrito.  Samwise can’t save you now!

2014-08-22 20.26.09

Diamond, the gardener’s spider companion

Name that Lily

ROAR!  Another Tiger Lily has bloomed.  I have been waiting WEEKS for this one to flower.  I watched the tiny buds form, get bigger and gradually change colour.

Stages of Lily Flower Buds

Stages of Lily Flower Buds

And then today…

Tiger Lily CraftAmbitions.Wordpress.com

Isn’t that stunning? I think it’s a tiger lily BUT I thought the last ones were tiger lilies AND these are completely different.

Name That Lily

LilyCompareGoogle has been proven to be useless in my identification process.  How do you search “sort of a pale peachy orange colour lily in zone 3a”?  So the lily on the left will remain nameless but I’m pretty sure that the lily on the right is a tiger lily.  Maybe even a Port Alberni Tiger Lily.

 

 

Not Delayed Blooms – Monkshood (?)

(Sound of hand slapping forehead!)
Such a rookie mistake AND beginners’ luck!  I thought I had delphiniums, but now I think they’re monkshood.  I couldn’t believe that all my neighbours’ plants were blooming and mine just started to bud.  Then I took a closer look and realized that I had mislabeled my flowers.  The MAJOR problem is their care is completely different.

wordpress.craftambitions.com

wordpress.craftambitions.com

Last summer, I moved my monkshood (by un-gloved hand, oops!) from a partial shade area to full sun, covered it in manure and bone meal, and kept it moist.  Luckily they LOVED it!  They grew taller and with more buds than ever before, and are just starting to bloom.  It’s  easy to see the significant improvement because I missed moving a few plants, and the ones in the old location look weak and spindly in comparison.

Now that I look at the two flowers next to each other, they are obviously different.  The delphiniums have a five-petal flower and the monkshood are a funny hood-like shape.  I guess the lesson learned is that all flowers like extra sun, water and manure!

Delayed Blooms – Lily

I think my flower garden is developmentally delayed. I have watched other peoples lilies and delphiniums in full bloom for the past two weeks, while my flowers just grew on their own schedule with no inkling to bloom.

Then yesterday – kapow!  Tiger Lily! (Ok, I don’t actually know what kind of lily it is, but it’s orange, so I’m going with tiger). Check out this baby! I’m SO EXCITED about this one flower!!!  I’ve been working this garden for three years and have never seen a lily. Only last year was I able to identify it as not a weed, then some cottontail ate it!  Lois says that they need to be divided every 4-6 years and to plant them in a place they haven’t grown before to prevent disease, so last year I moved most of the bulbs to a sunnier location.  This is one I MISSED. She is doing much better than her sisters in their new home.

Lily_Orange

After re-reading Lois’s, I’ll have to remember these tips for next year.

Tips on Growing Lilies

  • Plant at depth 3 times the length of the bulb, pointed end up
  • Keep soil moist, but not puddled
  • Allow steps to die down before cutting back in fall
  • Divisions may take 2-3 years to flower
  • Heavy Feeders!  Bone meal and 20-20-20 one a month until Aug 1.
  • Mulch to keep roots cool
  • Deadhead, to improve bulb strength
Lily Bubils

Lily Bubils

Lily Bulbils

Part of the reason I thought these plants were weeds was these weird black nodules on the stem.  Thanks to Mike’s Backyard for explaining that they are part of the lily’s propagation.  I had to get my finger in the picture so you could see how small they are.  The bulbils will eventually mature, fall off, and start to grow in the soil.  But you might want to collect them so you can control where they grow.

My Childhood is For Sale

A trip to a local antique shop has made me feel old and depressed.  I didn’t realize that the contents of my childhood toy chest made for the inventory of an antique shop.  And when did toys from the ’80s become antiques?  Oh, I know, it’s when the kids these days started wearing those ridiculous skinny jeans.  And check out these prices.  Forget investing in blue chips, I should have bought more action figures.

My Little Ponies ranged in price from $25 to $48 for a purple unicorn, and the plastic Coke yo-yo I thought was a novelty was priced at $75!

collage_toy1
Hubby’s Star Wars figures are priced at $15-$25, but what really shocked us was that an original Nintendo sells for $148. Please tell me who is buying a 30 year old gaming system and what are they doing with it?  I can barely pay someone to take away my Rock Band set.  Maybe I should hold onto it until 2044?

collage_NES

The only thing toy that made us feel happy was the Darth Vader Mask.  We bought ours at a garage sale for $1 (I wrote about it here) but the antique shop priced it at $80.

collage_Vader

Grandma’s House or Antique Mall?

It also appears that the antique store robbed my mom’s china hutch and my grandmother’s house. They have Oma’s coffee mugs, coffee maker, jam jars, cookware, crystal glasses, etched wall mirror, Royal Dalton dolls, framed needlepoint, glass sculpture, and furniture.  I’m not sure how I would feel if I saw all my belongings for sale in a store.

An entire set of mom’s china pattern is for sale.  It’s the delicate pink flowers and gold trim of Royal Albert’s Lavender Rose.  The teapot is priced at $150 and a dessert plate for $9.50.  Mom thinks this is outrageous.  The store’s website tells me that for the dishes to have value they must have been manufactured in England.  If it doesn’t say England, than it’s a China-made new production.collage_china_crystal

And there are the loads of crystal classes. These ones sell for about$4/piece, which I think is inexpensive.  Can you tell crystal from glass?  My friend has a very clever grandma that takes advantage of people who don’t care to know the difference.   She heads to garage sales bright and early, buys all the crystal priced as glass and sell it at the flea market!

If you’re not sure if it’s crystal or glass, there are few tests to try:

  • Read the label.  Obvious I know, but my $4 crystal vase still had the label on it.
  • Crystal shines like a prism.
  • Crystal is heavy.
  • Crystal sounds bright.  Flick it or run a wet finger around the edge.  Crystal makes a pleasant sound, glass is dull.
  • Crystal can be worked thin.  Check the rim.

 

singer_sewingWe can’t talk about antiques without talking about Singer sewing machines.  I’m a bit of an expert these; I watched an episode of Pickers once. Don’t get excited if you have one of these, they aren’t worth as much as you’d like.  Singer made a variation of this machine from the 1850s (in the 1920’s they added electricity) to the 1970’s. They were very popular – everyone had one – which makes them not very valuable today.  Plus most modern people don’t want a hundred pound piece of furniture (ok – my Singer “featherweight” is only 30 lbs).

The biggest surprise to me at the antique store was the prices on what I consider old and out of date housewares.  I don’t know who would want these “antiques” at all, much less pay more than a couple of quarters for them.  I guess the antique mall is too rich for me, and I’ll just have to stick to garage sales.

 

collage_50s

7 Tips for a Great Garage Sale

I’ve been known to visit a few garage sales in my time, and to throw a couple too, so I’ve come up with a few tips.

  1. 7 Tips for a Great Garage SaleHave a large inventory.  Be sure to have enough stuff to warrant sitting around for a whole weekend selling it.
  2. Merchandising.  Think like a store.  Have your stock sorted, organized and clean.  Display your good stuff out front.
  3. Signage. Lots of them.  Make it easy to get to your house.  I like easy to follow arrows, hubby likes a straight forward address.  Sometimes if we get lost on our way to a sale, we’ll just give up.
  4. Pricing.  Price it clearly, price it to sell.  Buyers like to know the cost, they feel uncomfortable making the first bid.  10%-25% retail is standard.  You can mark a whole table or box of stuff at the same price.
  5. Advertise the big stuff.  Big and/or expensive items are difficult to move at garage sales.  Put it up on kijiji before the sale starts and have them pick it up during your sale.  Don’t forget my kijiji rule – only respond to polite and properly written replies.  Shout out to Weird Al for putting this sentiment to music.
  6. Have Change.  You’ll need small bills and change.
  7. Make it a party.  Get your neighbours, family, and friends to join you.  “Multi-family” sales are always more appealing and fun.

Good luck with your sale!

Love Thy Neighbours’ Garage Sale

garage_saleI know the exact moment I became old.  It was a lovely Saturday morning in the summer of ’12.  I was driving through my neighborhood, listening to CBC radio, and I saw the sign – literally.  Garage sale!  I followed the arrows and soon found myself rummaging through someone else’s junk.  Ever since my first taste, I can’t stop.

Now it’s become a weekly adventure.  Sometimes we take our cruisers and prowl the streets.  Other times we drive to the fancy communities with our fancy lattes.  We never know what we’ll find.  It’s just like my very own Antique Picker Wars.  It’s really hit or miss.  Sometimes there’s nothing but yogurt containers and other times it’s crystal and nerd toys.

When we first starting shopping, we made one rule.  Fair prices are paid – no haggling on good deals.  Other than that, it’s fair game.  Plus now we know where to find the good sales.  Run down neighborhoods are more likely to have run down stuff and is the only time we find cigarette smells.  Young neighborhoods with young families have lots of baby and kids stuff in great condition.  Old neighborhoods tend to have all sorts of things from another era.

We’ve found many items worth our cash – kitchen wares, books, dvds, knitting needles and craft supplies, crystal vase, nerd stuff, power tools, mahogany headboard, baby toys, golf caddy, art, garden supplies, furniture,…  He are a few of our favorites.

Favorite Buy: Road runner carved in wood.  I have this memory of when my twin brother and I were 4 years old.  We were playing with my mom’s carved wood bird.  It was like an asymmetrical seesaw, and if you pushed down on the tail it would pop back up.  Except it wasn’t a toy.  Mom warned us to stop playing with it or we’d break.  No way, I thought.  Then all of a sudden it’s beak was broken off.  I’m sure it was my brother’s fault, I don’t have any memory of breaking it.  Well, guess what I found at one sale.

Road_Runner

Road Runners – Mom’s (above), Garage Sale Find (below)

Darth Vader Helmet

Darth Vader Mask

 

Hubby’s Favorite Buy:  Toss up between the Darth Vader mask or the beer stein collection.  Vader cost $1 and the steins cost between 10 cents and a $1.

Beer Stein Collectiion

Beer Stein Collection

Blender

Blender

 

Best Deal: Commercial blender with 3 HP, $25.  The seller had gotten out of the smoothie business, and I got the best blender ever.

Worst Deal: Old garden trellises.  I got three of them for two bits each.  They’re ugly, broken, and I don’t know what I was thinking.  Sometimes other people’s trash is just trash.  Don’t buy stuff just because it’s cheap.  Lesson learned.

 

Happy Hostas and Plentiful Petunias

Holy hostas! Check out these monsters!  They must be really happy to be exploding like this.  I wish I knew a secret as to why these are so healthy, but I didn’t do anything to them, they just grew that way.  I have about a dozen hostas of a few different varieties and these are the biggest.

happy_hostas

I have to admit that I don’t know much about flowers.  Every spring I go to the garden centre and look at all the plants but it might as well be klingon poetry.  So I pick my old standby – petunias.  I love cascading petunias.  This pot only has three little plants but it looks like a magenta afro.

petunias

Lonely Iris and Old Peonies

Last summer I divided my irises.  Actually, I didn’t even know I had  irises until I was weeding and I dug up some mysterious rhizomes.  So I did some research, and carefully replanted them for the next season.  After all my hard work I got one little bloom.  It was a beautiful purple, but poor little Iris was all alone.

If you would like to divide your irises, do it just after they’re done blooming.  Cut leaves back by one third, divide the rhizomes with your hands and make sure that each piece has leaves.  Plant them in well drained soil with at least 6 hours of sun.  Leave the roots just barely exposed.  Spread mulch over them to protect them from the winter but remove it in the spring.  My irises may not have bloomed because over crowding or because I added mulch.

Iris

I’m pretty fond of my peonies.  I’m haven’t been much of a gardener, but my peonies grow and produce bushels of lovely blooms no matter what I do.  (If you aren’t much of a gardener either, I highly recommend that you take close up pictures of your flowers.  They are so much more impressive when you can edit out the weeds and mess.)  I have two colors of peonies, one delicate pink (my colours are blush and bashful) and the other clean white with a tiny touch of fuchsia, maybe festiva maxima. peonies_triptic

This week I learned a lot about peonies from Lyndon Penner on CBC radio.  Listen to the six minute interview here.  He says that peonies thrive in Alberta, and have grown here for over 125 years.  They are really tough and don’t need much fussing. (My brother tries to kill his each year, but they just keep coming back.  He doesn’t like their floppy stems and cascades of petals.)  Peonies also live a long time, 80-125 years, unlike a typical perennial which lives 5-8 seasons.  To take care off your plant, deadhead old blooms and cut back in the fall after the first frost.  Water after periods of drought and never fertilize with manure.  They don’t need dividing, but if you do want to divide them or move them, wait until the first week of September when the weather is cooler but not yet frozen, and put them in a spot where they can get full sun.  So bro, I’ll see you on Labour Day with my shovel.

Peony - Festiva Maxima

Peony – Festiva Maxima

 

 

Dip Dye Cutlery

Tired of cutlery that lacks flamboyance?  Always wanted to color coordinate your forks?  Then try – “dip dyed” flatware!  (It’s not actually dip dyed, it’s spray painted, but it achieves the same look.)

Dip Dye Cutlery

Dip Dye Cutlery

When I saw this idea on Pinterest, I immediately knew that I needed to do this.  My office kitchen never seems to have any forks.  I guess that they accidentally get abducted and never break free.  And due to a completely unrelated reason, I have a few unmatched forks.  So I thought I’d give them a a makeover.

This project took only about 5 minutes, including the 60 seconds to shake up the can of paint.  Once I covered the tine-side with some paper and tape, then I gave the handles a quick spray of primer.  I let it dry for an hour, as per the paint’s directions, and then sprayed it with a canary yellow.  One coat was enough; they already made it through the dishwasher.

Don’t they look great? Office lunches are going to be great, and I’ll never have to eat my salad with chopsticks again!

Spring Flowers

Last summer I put a lot of energy into my flower beds, and I waited to patiently all winter to see what would come up this spring.  So far I’m pretty happy with the results.

These petite pink flowers of elephant-ears are the first to bloom in the spring and often come up while the plant is still surrounded by snow.  I never really appreciated this plant until I learned about its resiliency.  They grow in sun, shade, wet, dry or poor soil.  That’s why you often see them underneath spruce trees where almost nothing else will grow.  Once the flowers are gone you’re left with a carpet of tough green leaves.  Last fall I divided my plants and spread them out to cover more ground.

Elephant Ears

Elephant-Ears

Forget-Me-Not is another early bloomer.  They come up as a carpet of tiny blue flowers.  I love these because they seed themselves and spread to anywhere that doesn’t already have plant.  Yet, they’re easy to remove if they get in the way.   It’s so nice to have some color in the garden when the rest of the plants are just waking up.  Since these spread so easily, they are a good plant to share with neighbors.  Just dig out a dirt full in the spring and enjoy.

Forget-Me-Nots

Forget-Me-Nots

 

Cornflower (or Bachelor Button) was the next to bloom.  I got these from a neighbour last year and I think they’re pretty happy.  I really like how the look with the Forget-Me-Nots in the foreground.  These are an interesting blossom that look a little like a fuchsia and purple dandelion seed head.  Lois says I need to deadhead them, and after the main flowers are finished, I need to cut them back to 1/3 height for second blooming.

Cornflower

Cornflower

Check out these hostas!  Twelve days ago they were just poking out of the ground.  Hostas are a shade loving plant and they look great all season.  I especially like the one with the variegated leaves.  I divided some of these last year and I can’t wait for them to fill in the entire bed border.

Next to the trellis is my new addition, brewers hops.  He’s little now, but he’s suppose to grow up to eight meters.  And right in front of him are my delphiniums.  Last year I moved my delphiniums to a sunnier spot , but it looks like I missed a few.  It really is better on the sunny side because those delphiniums are twice as tall.

South Garden

South Garden

Japanese Barberry and a few annuals.  I inherited these shrubs with the house, but I just had to share because they are the perfect plant for the dry and hot spot on the south side of my house.  The near one is golden nugget and the far one is concord.  They generally do well without a lot of water, but early this spring they were looking a little dead and needed hydrating.  They are prickly little plants, so don’t get too close.

Japanese Barberry

Japanese Barberry

In a couple of weeks everything will look so different.  I can’t wait to see what comes up next.

 

 

 

Dinner at North 53

North 53 is a new restaurant in Edmonton located on the trendy side of 124 street.

North 53 on Urbanspoon

If you’ve never eaten here, the server offers a brief explanation of the restaurants’ concept.  Their aim is to serve Canadian cuisine with locally sourced and exclusively Canadian ingredients.  This means no pepper, and in the early spring the fruit is canned and there aren’t as many vegetables as they would like.  Their dishes are on the small side (3 oz) with the idea that you can try a few different items.

Eating here is a dinning experience.  It’s like being a judge on Iron Chef while playing the straight man in a theater of the food-absurd sketch on SNL.  But in a good way.  Each dish arrives with a detailed description from the server, which is necessary because otherwise you wouldn’t know was on your plate, or in the chef’s mind.

Our sever greeted us with complimentary champagne because he know we were celebrating.  I think I may have mentioned our anniversary when I made the reservation online.  Each item on the menu is so unique, so we took advantage of the special Six Course Tasting Menu, which includes three snacks, two bites, and dessert.  At $85 per person this is one of the most expensive dinners I’ve ordered.  If you’d like to add the wine parings, it’s another $50 each.

Before we got started it smelled like Cheech and Chong had won Master Chef.  The odor was pungent!  It turned out to be the Chicken Cooked in Hay.  The dish was being served to a nearby table and came covered with a glass dome full of smoke.  The smell didn’t last but it was rank.  Since it wasn’t part of the tasting menu I can’t give you a review.

Amuse-Bouche

Dinner started with pinky finger-sized amuse-bouche of a stuffed rolled leafy green.  I forgot to take a picture, and it’s not mentioned on the online menu, so I can’t give you any more details.  Except, it was good start to the dinner.  We tasted it carefully, discussing each flavor and texture, and enjoyed both bites.

The following are my pictures along with the exact description from the menu.  If you have good attention to detail you’ll notice that the scallop dish has nasturtium leaves even though  the duck breast’s description includes nasturtiums.

Raw Scallops with Compressed Cucumber and Dried Seaweed

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Scallop, raw/cucumber/dill/yogurt whey/dulse

The first “snack” was raw scallops with compressed cucumber and dried seaweed.  You haven’t had cucumbers until you have had compressed cucumbers.  Oh wait, yes you have.  I really liked this dish.  The delicate, cold scallops went well with the crispy, salty seaweed.

Elk Tartare

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Elk, tartare/elderberry/onion/sunflower oil/cured heart

The second “snack” was elk tartare.  The entire combination was wonderful.  The elk, with the sweet berry, dill, creamy sauce, and salty/crunchy flakes was amazing.  You can really tell that the (iron) chef put a lot of thought into each ingredient.  But Cured Heart?  When the server said Cured Heart I couldn’t help but laugh.  Is it really a remedy to being heart-broken?

 Duck Breast

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Duck Breast/variations of beetroot/lingonberry/nasturtium

The final “snack” was duck breast.  The skin was removed from the meat so they could be cooked at different temperatures.  The skin was seared on high heat and the breast was cooked at a lower heat to render out the fat.  Then they were put back together and served with lingonberries.  I’m not a huge fan of duck, mostly because of the fattiness, but this was really nice.

 Pain au Lait

Pain du Lait and Squash Butter

Pain au Lait and Squash Butter

Delicious!  This pain au lait was buttery and soft and tasted exactly like I remember it in France, even though it was only four inches long for both of us.

 Short Rib

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Short Rib, glazed in black plum/yukon gold potato/oxtail jus

The first “bite” was a short rib and mashed potatoes.  Cooked at 76 degrees for 24 hours, this was by far the best dish of the whole meal.  I can’t really articulate how amazing it was, except that it fell apart with just a fork and the plum glaze was the perfect accent.  The potatoes were silky smooth, because they are mostly butter and cream.  Ina Garten would be proud.

Caramelized Onion with Puffed Wheat

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Onion, cooked in oxidized pear juice/lightly puffed wheat/thyme

The last “bite” was caramelized onions with puffed wheat.  Surprisingly sweet, these were my least favorite dish.  They tasted like onions.  With crispy puffed wheat.  The problem with this dish is I feel I could easily recreate it at home.

Cherry Seltzer

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Homemade Cherry Seltzer

Next we have a shot of homemade cherry seltzer for a palate cleanser.  I’m a huge fan of sparkling water and fruit juices, and this was very balanced drink – just enough sweat and tart.  I would order this anytime.

 Dessert

Finally came dessert.  We got two different desserts because my better half has a strawberry allergy, so they were able to offer a blueberry alternative.

I got preserved strawberry (more like strawberry juice) with crème fraîche ice cream, red pepper for crunch and thai basil.  The iced cream was really smooth and went perfectly with the sweetness/tartness of the strawberries.  Basil and peppers may seem like an odd addition but I feel that it really worked.  The basil was refreshing, like mint might be, and the red pepper’s sweetness went well with the strawberries.

Hubby got blueberries, tarragon ice, goat’s milk ice cream and oats.  The combination was just a little too unusual for him.  I liked the goat’s milk iced cream, it tasted like coconut pudding.  But the tarragon ice looked strange, and tasted like it sounded.  I know they are trying to push the limits of how we define Canadian food, but you know what’s really tasty?  Saskatoon berry pie and cow’s milk ice cream.  I’m just saying.

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Preserved Strawberry/créme fraiche/red pepper/basil

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Blueberry compote, tarragon ice, goat milk ice cream, oats.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Salted Caramel and Marshmallow with Honey

IMG_0959

Salted Caramel and Marshmallow with Honey

No dinner mints here.  The final bites were a salted caramel and marshmallow with honey.  This is probably the smoothest caramel I’ve ever had.  And the honey was a very delicate accent to the marshmallow.  A very nice ending.

 Verdict

I had a really good time at North 53.  Our six course tasting menu actually included ten different dishes. Everything we ate was interesting and complex.  It was really fun to think about the different flavours and make an opinion on what we liked and didn’t like.  Even though the dishes are small, we were well fed.  I liked that we got to try all sorts of unique dishes.  Service was good and the ambiance is lovely.  But this is a restaurant for a select demographic.  It’s for people who have an adventurous palate and are comfortable spending $200 – $300 for dinner for two.  Personally, I’m only the first one.  I liked the meal as sort of a dinner and show, but I can’t see going back any time soon.  It’s just too pricey for me.  And now that I’ve tried elk tartare and tarragon ice, I don’t need to hurry back for more.

Picky Notes to the Owners

If I had to complain about anything it would be these few minor issues.  The restaurant wasn’t full, yet they sat everyone right next to each other.  I prefer more space when available.  They could use a longer play list because we heard the same Norah Jones song a few times.  And they spelled crème fraîche wrong.  

Growth Chart DIY

I’ve had this project in mind for a long time, and now that my nephew is 2, I finally get to make it.  You can buy them on etsy in all sorts of styles for $35 to over $100 PLUS shipping.  But you can make it yourself with a bit of wood and some imagination.

I had a nice piece of dark wood leftover from a construction project.   I like it because it’s just 6 inches wide and 1/4 inches thick, which makes it light and easy to hang on a wall.  I decided to cut the length to six feet, and mark the bottom at six inches (to clear the baseboards) and the top 6’6″.  I really wanted the chart to be in both imperial and metric, so I marked inches on one side and centimeters on the other.  My plan was to paint all the numbers, but it turns out I’m a terrible painter.  Instead, I used patterned duct tape to make the feet markers and Avery Window Decals from Walmart to make the centimeters.  Did you know that in Microsoft Word you can indicate that you want your table cells to be exactly 1 centimeter x 1 centimeter?  Now you do!

Next I drilled a whole at exactly the six foot marker, to make hanging easy.

And my latest discovery?  Gold Sharpie! To cleanly and permanently mark  the height on the dark wood.

Here’s K, looking rather unsure, next to the finished product.

Growth Chart DIY

Growth Chart DIY