Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Backyard Play Area

So this project takes me back a bit, basically because it took a whole year to complete. You see last spring, when we looked out our back door we saw this:

A lot of houses around here have these outdoor fireplaces that I assume were put in around the same time the houses were built. (Ours included a not-so-lovely pile of wood covered by an old brown tarp.)

The fireplace was cool...we loved it...we used it...but it was also falling apart and either had to be repaired or removed. For safety's sake (we figured an active toddler would love to climb this), we decided to remove it.

So last spring, before Abe could walk, Noah set to work tearing down the fireplace. 

We salvaged a few nice slabs of marble and a ton of bricks, which we put to use around the yard.

We're not sure why, but when we moved in, the space next to our deck was covered in wood chips with weed blocker underneath. It obviously wasn't meant to be a garden but it seemed like grass wouldn't have a problem growing in that spot, so we removed the wood chips and weed blocker and planted grass. (I don't have a proper before picture. The best I could find was this one I took when a large branch fell out of a tree in our backyard and somehow landed without demolishing the deck!)

Here's the same spot sans tree branch and wood chips. We were right, the grass came in nicely.

It was so lush and green, I had to take a few pictures of Abe enjoying the soft grass before weeds crept in. As you can tell, this all happened quite awhile ago...

To complete that corner, I transplanted some hostas around the base of the house and added rocks to prevent dirt from splashing up on the siding.

I used some of the bricks we salvaged from the fireplace to hold the rocks in place. Worked like a charm, and it was a great way to reuse some of the materials that were piling up in the yard...

A year later and our backyard now looked like this:

I had used up most of the bricks as edging around four different gardens, but we were still left with a huge pile of broken cider blocks, sand, and other small bits of debris. We finally rented a small dumpster and had all the masonry we couldn't reuse hauled away. Oh, and I managed to move the wood pile to a less conspicuous part of the yard. Who wants to stare at a tarp-covered wood pile? Not me.

So after removing all the logs and bricks, I raked the sand and smaller rocks around until the area was level. The fireplace was sitting on top of a concrete slab which was a few inches below the surrounding grass. We left the slab in place since we'd like to eventually build a bigger sandbox back there, but now it's covered by a layer of dirt. We added wood chips to keep things from getting too muddy, and added boards and bricks around the edges to keep the wood chips in place. Then came the fun stuff...

Now a couple months ago, Abe and I were walking to the park when we came upon an old turtle sandbox someone had left out for trash pickup. It was covered in spiderwebs and the eyes were broken, but I figured it wouldn't be too hard to fix him up, so we dragged it home. Abe immediately discovered how much fun it was to climb on.

I pulled off the broken eyes, scrubbed it down with soap and water, and since the plastic looked a bit dried out, I rubbed it with mineral oil to replace some of its lost luster.

I replaced the eyes with new ones made from duct tape, and now he happily lives in our new play area...

...along with a little slide our neighbors gave to Abe when their boys outgrew it.

Pretty big improvement from what we started with...at least when it comes to acceptable climbing structures for kids. And happily, Abe's been enjoying his new sandbox, which is a huge improvement over the old one.

Part of the space that was covered by bricks will be added to my garden. For now I just filled a few pots with flowers to add a little color. I'll either plant seeds this fall or put perennials back there in the spring.

We found a lot of great houses when we were looking to buy, but a lot of them had small (or non-existent) yards, steep hills, or otherwise disappointing outdoor spaces. This house wasn't the biggest...or the newest...or the fanciest one we could buy, but it had by far the best yard - and although the yard wasn't in great shape at the time, it was large (and flat) and there were old trees and plenty of room for gardens and kid stuff. It definitely had potential, and after four years of hard work, I feel like we're finally discovering how great that can be. 

Anyone else transforming their yard one step at a time? Buy a house based on potential only to later realize how long it can take to see results? Own a turtle sandbox as a kid? It's amazing how long some of those toys last!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Veggie Garden Update

My vegetable garden had a rough start this year. A couple bunnies managed to squeeze under our "rabbit proof" fence and ate all of the beans, twice. Once those were done for they started nibbling on my tomatoes. (Aren't tomato leaves poisonous?) Oddly enough, the last thing they went for, before my husband fixed the fence, was the patch of carrots I had growing right next to the beans! I suppose they were waiting for those to turn into actual carrots. Needless to say, my dreams of an early and plentiful harvest were destroyed...and my search for a tasty rabbit stew recipe continues.

Luckily, my plants have recovered from the attack of the bunnies, although now they're a bit behind schedule. I just noticed the first few tomatoes forming on the vines! Usually I'm harvesting the first few tomatoes by early August.

I have two cucumber vines that are still short but covered in flowers...

...even noticed a couple tiny cucumbers! If I remember right, once these guys get going, they grow really fast.

I ended up buying some pepper plants to fill in the empty space left after the bunnies ate all my beets and rutabaga. 

We're looking forward to grilled jalapenos later this summer...

In an empty corner of the garden I planted a couple pumpkin seeds, and now I've got a nice (although small) pumpkin plant. So far it's more of a bush than a vine. I'm hoping I'll be able to train it to grow out of the garden and along the garage wall once it starts creeping around. 

The beans are doing well, although no flowers yet. I'm sure most people would have given up after the rabbits ate their beans for the second time, but I love beans and it seemed like there was still time in the year for a good harvest if I replanted. I'm hoping third time's the charm!

So that's what we're left with. One garden has beans, carrots, peppers, and a pumpkin, and the second garden is all tomatoes and cucumbers. We use the table in the corner for growing lettuce. It's coming along slowly but surely. See how we started here, and check out how our garden did in previous years here, here, and here

How does your garden grow? Anyone else have bunny problems? Good ideas for dealing with bunnies? They like to eat/kill my flowers too. Perhaps I'll take up falconry...

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Chair Recovery

My sister is getting married in Minnesota in less than two weeks. Since most of my family (my sister included) live out-of-state, that means we're going to have a house full of people in less than a week! Needless to say, Noah and I have been very busy cleaning, doing yard work, and trying to complete some half finished projects before everyone arrives. One thing I just crossed off my list: recovering two of my dining room chairs. 

My dining set belonged to my grandmother, so although I've recovered these chairs a few times already, I've always left the original fabric in place. I love the mid-century style of the pieces, but the harvest gold and avocado green fabric on the seats...not so much.

Before Abe was born, I had the brilliant idea to use iron-on vinyl to make a couple "kid proof" seat cushions for the upholstered chairs. Sad to say, it didn't really work. The vinyl quickly started to crack and peel, and then spills seeped through the cracks to discolor the fabric underneath. 

Yuck. Luckily, I was still able to get another yard of the canvas I had used to cover the other 4 chairs, so this was a relatively quick and easy project to complete. Here's what I did:

1. Measure your seats to determine how much fabric to buy - I used 2/3 yard of 45" wide fabric to cover 2 seats. 

2. Flip the chair over and unscrew the seat from the base.

3. Remove the existing cover by pulling out the staples (it helps to have a flat head screwdriver and pair of pliers to pull out any staples that get stuck), then use the seat (or old cover) as a template for cutting the new seat cover. Be sure to cut the fabric 2 to 3 inches larger than the seat. (I also added a thin layer of batting, mostly to prevent the old fabric from showing through.)

4. Using a staple gun, wrap the fabric around the edges and staple to the back of the seat. If needed, use a hammer to pound in any staples that stick out.

5. Trim excess batting at corners and fold corners over, making the fabric lie as flat as possible.

6. Place the seat on the chair frame and make sure the edges of the fabric are facing in. If they're pointed outward, you'll see raw and raveling edges peeking out under the seat!

7. Screw the seat back in place. The screws I used were sharp enough to go right through my fabric. If you're using a very heavy fabric, or are having trouble getting the screws though, you may want to poke "pilot" holes through the fabric before attaching the seat.

It's so nice to finally have all of our chairs looking clean and pretty. 

Now I understand why my grandma kept all of her furniture covered in plastic. Plastic seat covers may seem crazy, but I tell you, old ladies are geniuses when it comes to keeping furniture clean!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Canvas Wall

So I have an entire board on Pinterest dedicated to hanging stuff on the wall. Weird, right? It's mostly because I have a lot of blank walls in my house and I started seeing all these cool things people were doing in their houses and hoped I'd be inspired to do something fun in mine. One pin I fell in love with was this collage by Ingrid Jansen of Wood & Wool Stool. It got me to thinking about the square photos I take with my phone (which are not high quality pictures and normally don't look good blown up). I did a little experiment with one of those photos a few months back, using iron-on transfer paper to basically "print" my photo on canvas. It worked great, and since it was on canvas, any pixelization that would have been obvious if printed on photo paper essentially disappeared into the texture of the canvas.

So this is my entry for the Pinterest Challenge, a wall of square photos on stretched canvases! I'm not even going to pretend I accomplished this in a week. I've been working on this one for months! Hours spent transferring images to canvas, attaching completed canvases to stretcher bars, and coating them with mod podge, all while watching Game of Thrones and Mad Men with Noah after our little guy went to bed... 

So after four years of staring at a blank wall above our sofa, we now have a whole wall of pictures! (Let's just pretend that there isn't a gaping hole in the middle of my wall 'o' canvas. I ran out of stretcher bars and didn't have a photo picked out for that spot anyway. I'll fill it later.) 

I included pictures from places we love (New Orleans, our cabin, the State Fair), things we like to do (gardening, swimming, the State Fair), highlights of the seasons (fall leaves, spring rains, the State Fair), and a few favorite shots of Abe. (That's him napping on an antique sofa while visiting my sister in Nashville.) I could probably do a whole wall of Abe, so I limited myself by only using pictures taken with my phone.

Almost every shot on this wall was taken with my phone using the Retro Camera app for Android (also available in iTunes). It includes a number of different cameras, but I pretty much just use the Little Orange Box. The photos I get with it always have nice color and contrast and it adds some random vignetting and a grungy border which I like.

While most of these pictures were taken using the Retro Camera app, I don't use it often for pictures of Abe, so I added a Grunge border using Pixlr-o-matic to help the non-Retro Camera pictures blend in with the rest.

Oh, and just for fun, I wrote the date and where the picture was taken on the back of each canvas. Then I hung them on the wall in a grid using small picture hanging nails.

Of course Abe's new favorite pastime is to take down all the pictures and pound on the nails with his hammer. I should probably think about rehanging them with some velcro strips...

I'm still trying to decide if I want to go up another level. At least there's plenty of room to expand if we want to!

To see how I made my canvases, check out my DIY Photo on Canvas tutorial. I used dark transfer paper for that tutorial and I promised that I'd write an update once I tried using light transfer paper. After trying it both ways, I'd suggest using the light transfer paper. (Just make sure to reverse your images before printing!) It's cheaper and works just as well, if not better! Here's what I noticed:

1. Color - The colors appeared slightly darker when using the light transfer paper. I expected the light and white areas to look more yellowed since the canvas wasn't white, but I was pleasantly surprised by how nicely they turned out (see the baby picture above). 

2. Texture - The dark transfer paper felt like a plastic coating on the canvas, whereas with the light transfer paper, the colors simply blended into the canvas so the surface still looked and felt like canvas once the transfer was applied. This is more of a personal preference, but I liked the light transfer paper better, plus the texture of the canvas helped disguise the bluriness and pixelization that occured when blowing up some of my smaller pictures.

3. Bleeding - This happened a bit with both types of transfer paper, but I definitely noticed it more with the light transfer paper. I added a few coats of mod podge to my finished canvases for protection and to help the colors pop. I worked really fast and let the first coat dry completely before adding a second, but I did notice the colors bleeding a bit on some of the canvases with large areas of dark colors. It was only noticeable on the edges though. The pictures still looked great!

As for cost, here's what I spent:

$61.81 - 84 8 inch stretch bars
$35.99 - 6 yard roll of 54 inch wide unprimed canvas (originally $59.99 at Michael's but I used a 40% off coupon)
$18.94 - pack of 18 Avery light T-shirt transfers (also used some I already had on hand) 
$9.59 - 2 jars of Mod Podge (originally $7.99 each but I used more 40% off coupons)
$2.98 - Staples

Total: $129.31

If you want to include taxes and shipping (since I did order some of my supplies from Amazon), I still came in under $150. Considering that it costs $29.99 for an 8x10 on stretched canvas at Walgreens, I'd consider my $6.15 canvases a pretty good deal!

You can see my previous Pinterest Challenge entries right here, and don't forget to check out all the other entries at Young House Love, Bower Power, Centsational Girl, and Ten June!