Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Our summer treat...

My husband knows it's summer when nearly every trip to BJ's includes purchasing the double pack of large bottles of lemon juice. What do I do with it? I make lemonade... Lots and lots of lemonade!

I actually stopped making lemonade for a while because I didn't like the amount of granulated sugar I had to use in it to get the right tartness to sweetness ratio. The calories were outrageous and I felt guilty when my father in-law who is diabetic would drink glass after glass of it. I refuse to use "fake sugar" and I tried honey but that just didn't taste quite right. Then BJ's started selling 100% pure agave in large jugs so I figured I'd give it a whirl. It's WONDERFUL! The agave has a low glycemic index and only 60 calories per tablespoon so each glass must only have 20-30 calories at most.

I don't actually measure the ingredients when I'm making it so just test as you go. Start with a gentle mix and add more of whatever is missing until you hit what pleasures your taste buds.

Lemon juice
100% pure agave (which, I've recently learned, is also the essential ingredient in smooth tequila)

I use a 1.75 gallon jug and fill it nearly full leaving enough room for additional ingredients to adjust to taste. If I've got some lemons or limes, I wash the outside of them well and then slice and squeeze them into the lemonade as well for a little zingy pulp addition. They are pretty too.

From now until the end of September you'll find a jug of lemonade in our fridge at all times. For someone that drinks water almost exclusively, this is such a nice treat!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Tips from an inept painter...

I've painted (rooms/houses, not artsy) a lot. It turns out that I kind of like it. The times that I've hated it was when there was no end in sight and no opportunity to step away from it and take a break... And when room after room was white on white with white ceilings and white whiteness. That was our house in Vermont. We'd spent 1.5 years renovating it from the ground up and because of jobs, never even got to live in the finished product before we moved away. I painted all six rooms on the ground floor white because it was on the market and my realtor had already balked at the "carrot" orange in the living room (the neighbors called when we painted it as they thought the house was on fire... But I LOVED it!) and the dining room which was a delicious "saffron" above the white wainscot. She didn't mind the "mossy glen" green in the master bedroom and bathroom or the pale yellow in the main bathroom. But after the reaction to the carrot orange I decided to buy recycled paint... And it was white so I went with it.

By the time I was done down there, I didn't want to see another paint brush for a long long time.

And so it was that when we moved into our new house on Cape Cod, we agreed not to do any projects for at least six months. I held up my end of the bargain and about a year later decided to paint our bedroom a lovely lavender. Then a while later we redid the large guest room into our new master bedroom and painted it a gorgeous blue. Then a few months later I pulled apart my office and painted it a serene jade green.

I have recognized that sadness, a need to nest, or a burning desire to move are the usual triggers for sudden bursts of painting. So it came as no surprise to my husband when I came home from Home Depot with several samples of paint a few days after we put our cat to sleep. Not only was I sad but I was ready to reclaim the sun room that had become the cat's room exclusively over the last few years.

And... In addition to reclaiming the sunroom, I decided to finally tackle the disgusting green cabinets in the kitchen. They were painted by the previous owner with a flat finish and therefore they did NOT come clean when something got spilled and left on them. The color green wasn't bad. In fact it reminded me a bit of our VT bedroom... But it's not really a kitchen color.

Armed with a gallon each of semi-gloss "eggnog", satin "Mexican chile", and satin "corn silk", I jumped in while my husband was in the midst of back-to-back double shifts over this past weekend. And now, phase 1 is done which includes all cabinets and two walls.

While I was painting I was thinking about what tips I would share with others about painting. Yes, you can get advice from a professional but I'm a realist and believe fully in short cuts if they get you to the same place.

Here are a few things I've learned....

1) Spend time on the Behr website (or similar) playing with colors. My taste is in my mouth not in my color coordination and therefore I tend to pick neutral, easy to coordinate colors (the VT house was my first foray into bold colors) so this website allows you to pick out-of-your-box colors and get an educated opinion about what colors complement your choices.

2) Buy samples of every color you are considering and slap them up in various places where the lighting will be different. Make sure you like it in day/evening light and with your lighting. Live with the samples for a few days if you think you like them. If you still like them in a few days, it's probably safe to buy a gallon or two. If you are at all unsure, try again!

3) Invest in a couple of canvas floor covers. The plastic ones are TERRIBLE! They stick to your shoes, wrinkle up inevitably leaving crucial areas exposed, and transfer paint drops EVERYwhere because they never dry.

4) Spending a couple of bucks on a couple of good edging brushes really saves time in the long run. Flat edge brushes are NOT for painting trim or cutting in.

5) Always always always line your paint trays before pouring paint in them. Using a heavy, wide aluminum foil works great and saves you from tossing lots of plastic liners away at the end of the project or washing tons of paint into your septic/sewer system.

6) Buy a couple of Shur-line pour and store paint can lids. They are worth EVERY cent of the $3 - yes, $3. I'll never paint without them again!

7) If you are painting something like furniture or cabinet doors, buy a few sets of plastic pyramids. These little gems elevate your project and allow you to flip them (carefully) before they are completely dry or allow you to paint the entire leg of the furniture right to the bottom without clumping at the bottom edge or painting on the floor.

8) Taping is a must for some things (i use Frog Tape) but I find it to be a pain in the ass so I often skip taping and use aluminum foil to cover things like hinges and door knobs. But... Even though I'm lazy, I will take doors off hinges of necessary just to keep the hinges clean. It's worth the effort!

9) Don't bother washing brushes and rollers at the end of each day. Just wrap each snuggly (without crushing bristles) in its own aluminum foil and then put them all in a zip lock type bag. They will keep this way for quite a while without drying out. I actually add a little paint to each before wrapping so that the upper bristles don't dry out. It works very well!

10) This is one that I've only JUST matured into... Only bite off as much as you can chew in ONE day! For example, if you plan to paint ALL of the cabinets on your kitchen by yourself, don't take them all off the first day. Take off the first 4-6 doors and paint them and the cabinet braces until they are completely done. Once you rehang them (and put on a touch up coat if necessary) only THEN take the next 4-6 off and repeat. If you take them all down at once and take 3-4 days to complete the project, your home will feel like total chaos for days on end! This approach allows for controlled chaos. Again... With SEVERAL painting projects under my belt, I'm just finally embracing this reality.

11) Be realistic about A) the scope of the project, B) the help you will/ won't have (the addendum to our wedding vows includes that painting projects are mine to handle entirely on my own... And my husband automatically gets to deal with the really gross stuff - vomit/diarrhea-spewing children, cat box (a moot point now)... And the impetus for the rule... the one time when our previous dog ate cat poop and proceeded to spew it from both ends when it didn't agree with her tender tummy), and C) the estimated time and impact of the chaos painting brings.

And my final tip... Always always always plan about two thirds more time than you originally estimate because inevitably SOMEthing will happen to slow down progress. My worst one was painting half of my office thinking that the fake mint color would mellow only to realize after the second coat dried that it was truly truly terrible and I HAD to go get new paint and start again!

Have fun! Painting is the cheapest way to make a huge change for not a lot of money which is why I can't seem to stay away from it.

Now on to phase 2!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Countdown to hip surgery...

Despite being only 42 years old, I was recently informed that the constant pain in my right hip is because of a torn labrum (cartilage lining the inside of the hip socket) and a bone spur. Therefore I have to have surgery to repair it and remove the bone spur. The trouble is that I won't know if I'll be just taking it easy for a week or if I'll be on crutches without any walking for a month (depending on the exact location of the bone spur and how it is removed)... until after I come out of surgery. For someone like me, that uncertainty is uncomfortable. I like to plan ahead for things and it's tricky not knowing exactly what I'm planning for with this deal. We've decided to plan for the worst and hope for the best.

With summer coming on fast, we have the usual list of projects that we want to complete PLUS some other big projects that we need to complete. We really dislike doing labor-intensive projects during the heat and hectic schedules the summer months bring and since I might lose a month or more, we have to knock as much off the list as possible before my May 30th surgery. We also have my stepson's high school graduation just ten days after my surgery and we are planning a barbecue at our house... on our new patio. Yeah, no pressure.

Well... it means that we have 26 days to accomplish a boatload of projects. 26 days to tear down the old deck, level the ground, and install a new 600 square foot patio with built-in fire pit. 26 days to build the last new gate that will close in the final section of the back yard once the patio is done. 26 days to re-purpose the wood from the old deck into new steps and landings in front of three exterior doors. 26 days to install the last, longest, and likely most difficult length of fencing (due to tree roots and the neighbor's dogs).  26 days to prepare the food for a graduation party and freeze it. 26 days to clean the house from top to bottom and make it shine like the top of the Chrysler building before I have to hang around watching the dust bunnies multiply and dog fur tumbleweeds plan a coup. 26 days to paint the kitchen. (Yeah... I'm probably alone in thinking that this is a MUST do.)

It's ambitious. Especially because my husband and I just went over the calendar last night and determined that of those 26 days, he and I will be home together only 3.5 days - one of which is Mother's Day and two of which are four days before my surgery. No pressure.

So... that means that everything that we can each do alone must be done at the first moment we are available - no procrastinating. Ugh. I am so glad that I already transplanted ~18 hostas and a couple of lilies... but now I have to head home right now and begin the process of removing all of the stone work that I built around those gardens a few years ago and relocate ~15 large slate pieces. I better get moving!