Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Lake County Fair: (Some of) My Past Glories

Over the weekend I submitted my entries to this year’s county fair.

a cool old brochure from the Lake County Fair

(I found this cool old Lake County Fair program in one of my dad’s photo/scrapbook albums.)

I’ve been entering items for competition in the Family Arts and Crafts (and Agriculture) department every year for many many years now. I’ve entered cakes, crafts, vegetables, and even scarecrows, as seen below!, though usually I enter sewing projects.

I thought I’d share a few of my past glories of the Lake County Fair. :)

Here’s my dad, my friends Janis and Marissa, me, and our various award-winning projects, in 2000. :)  The dress I’m hanging on to was my very favorite prom dress, hand made and hand embroidered with Japanese characters (drawn on by our Japanese exchange student!) that won a Sweepstakes ribbon, which is best in category.  That year may have been the one with the most entries I’ve ever submitted.

Lake County Fair 2000

Here’s a page from my dad’s scrapbook/album.

2000 Lake County Fair out of Dad's album

(I love the bovine posteriors photo so much, I blew it up for my living room.) ;)

In 2001, I won another Sweepstakes for a colorful skirt/top outfit, which my dad again documented one of his albums. :)

A sweepstakes rosette in 2001

And let’s skip ahead to the high point of my Lake County Fair career. :) In 2008, I won Best in Show in the sewing department! I made this dress out of fabric from Wal-Mart. I was very surprised, because it’s no wedding dress (I entered my own in 2006), but I heard from a worker who heard from the judges that it was all my beautifully sewn binding that won me the Best in Show ribbon. :)

Best in Show at the Lake County Fair 2008

Let’s take a closer look at those glorious ribbons, shall we? ;)

Best in Show at the Lake County Fair 2008

This Thursday evening, I will find out how my entries this year placed!  I’ll definitely post about it!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

I killed my cilantro sprout :(

I killed the cilantro sprout! :(

I killed my cilantro sprout! :( In the picture taking and the adding seeds and the moving things around when I took out the dead parsley…my beautiful little cilantro sprout is shriveled and brown and dead. :(

I did add more seeds, so I will be watching for them to sprout! *Crossing my fingers!*

Thursday, July 26, 2012


My musings on POOPs and weeds began this weekend, when I really began my war on burdock.

Since we’ve moved into this house, we’ve been plagued by these thisle-y sticker-y things that the dogs bring into our house on their coats. (I couldn’t find any to photograph outside, so here’s a picture from a website I found in my research.)

The dogs would just be covered in clumps of these. Especially Shadow, because his hair is longer. And my cousin’s dog would need to get them cut out of her long hair when she’d come over.  And we’d have clumps of them on the porch and on our rugs…and sometimes the clumps would look like a dead mouse and I’d freak out.

I had to figure out where they were coming from and rid our yard of them.

Also, separately, since I am trying to cultivate wildflowers (and pretty weeds) in our yard, I’ve been trying to sort of research what’s naturally growing here, so I can decide if it gets to stay or has to go.

Well, we have a ton of this stuff in our yard that Grandpa calls wild rhubarb.

wild rhubarb...which is really burdock

So, I Googled “wild rhubarb” and eventually came upon sites like this and this that told me that wild rhubarb is really burdock.  And burdock is the source of those stupid stickers!!

I already knew that burdock is pretty hard to kill with weed killers (since I used Round Up to clear the areas for the wildflower garden), so I was looking for a way to get rid of it.  The second site I listed started to tell me, and this site told me a little more.  Burdock is biennial. So the first year, it just sprouts leaves (like the ones shown above) and the second year, it flowers then goes to seed and dies. So if you can attack it while it’s flowering but before it’s gone to seed (which are the brown stickers), you can (hopefully) kill it.

So I let it grow this year, and began attacking over the weekend.

burdock in "bloom"

Some of these burdock stalks got TALL! Higher than our 4-foot fence!

Here are the “blooms” up close.


This article says to wait until the blooms just start to turn purple. I hope I waited long enough. But I definitely didn’t want to wait too long and lose my chance!

Here are some of my piles of burdock.

piles of burdock

And because I really really really don’t want them to somehow keep growing and spreading, my goal is to burn them all :)

burdock in the firepit

Because burdock spreads only by seed, a few years of attacking the plants like this should hopefully remove (or at least significantly reduce) the burdock from my life and my yard. I know that it spreads by seed, because you can almost see the dogs’ paths throughout the yard covered in little burdock plants.  (And as I continually discover more burdock, I shake my fist at it and yell “Burdock!!” in my old man voice, as if I were yelling at those darn kids to keep off my lawn.)  :)

Anyway, while I was sweating away, trying to remove these plants, I thought to myself how in my research about how to rid myself of burdock, I came across so many articles, like this one, about the beneficial uses of burdock.  You can cook, eat, bake with, and make tea out of almost every part of the plant, from the roots, to the stalks, to the blooms. I was learning about its medicinal uses as well as its nutritional benefits.  You can actually buy burdock seeds online.

And here I am trying to get rid of it. For me, it is a POOP. It’s a Plant Out Of Place.  People think I’m nuts for keeping blackberries. I think people are nuts for growing burdock. But again, one woman’s weed is another woman’s delicious treat. 

So, in an effort to remove my POOPs, I will be sweating all summer as I continue my war on burdock.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Musings on Weeds and POOPs

Before I tell you about my chore this weekend, I thought I’d muse a bit about weeds.

wildflower garden

I’ve got an uncle who loves to garden, study gardening, and be philosophical about gardening, and he was telling me that in one of his master gardening classes, his teacher told him that there’s really no such thing as a weed, because every plant has a place and purpose. But there are plenty of POOPs, which are…Plants Out Of Place.

Dandelions, daylilies, and Queen Anne’s Lace are pretty, but if you don’t want them mixed in with your impatiens, hydrangeas, and hostas, then they’re weeds, or really, Plants Out Of Place. But if you want those flowers mixed in with your wildflower garden or along your fence line, then they’re not out of place at all.


I love that! Plants Out Of Place.  Because as I’m trying to fill my yard with wildflowers, I know my yard looks weedy to most people.  And I do know that my wildflower meadow is filled with Plants Out Of Place. To me, those are plants that aren’t particularly floral or decorative. I plan on spending the next few years removing some of those POOPs so I can be sure my wildflowers can get the best chance for survival and beauty.  But as I do it, I tell myself, they’re not weeds.

I also know that I love blackberries, and most people consider them weeds. But because I want them in my yard, they’re not weeds or POOPs, because to me, they’re in the right place. ;)

blackberries in my hostas

And as I was “weeding” this weekend, (that is, removing POOPs), I was being very philosophical about my chore.  I’ll tell you more about it tomorrow, but I am going to try to stop calling plants “weeds” because one woman’s weed is another woman’s wildflower.  And I’ll begin calling them POOPs, because although it may sound sillier, it’s so much more appropriate! ;)

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Aerogarden Update: RIP Parsley

Aerogarden Update #8

Well, my parsley has died.

RIP Parsley

I truly did neglect it. And I never cooked with it. Poor parsley.

I do have recipes in my various America’s Test Kitchen cookbooks that call for fresh parsley, that’s why I tried to grow it.  Once spring and summer came, though, I was just doing a lot less cooking and never got around to it. I’ll find those recipes and count out the months until I think I’ll really get around to trying them, and re-plant parsley accordingly. I’ll keep you updated. In the meantime, RIP Parsley.

In other news, I don’t know what bugs were eating my basil, but I spritzed some watered-down vinegar on it, and there are no more little chew marks on the leaves and the basil’s grown quite bigger than it was a month ago!

big basil!

I know that I over-pruned it a bit to start off with…its main stalk isn’t as thick and hefty as the one we’re growing at work.  But it’s growing and I’m trying to encourage it as much as I can!

And here’s my baby cilantro sprouts! I feel like it’s growing kind of slowly, but here’s a little sprout!

baby cilantro!

I used some leftover seeds from my first cilantro batch…planted in a blank/empty grow sponge. Only one of the seeds is really sprouting. Though, now that I think about it, the Aerogarden light is much higher because of the big ol’ basil, so that could be why the cilantro seems so slow growing.  So after I’m finished writing this post, I think I’ll prune the basil a bit so I can lower the light, and add a few more cilantro seeds.

For now, I think I’ll just cover up the parsley spot and leave it empty. But yummy fresh basil, tomato, and mozzarella, here I come!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Things I Love Thursday: Velcro, Organization, & InvisibleHand

Oh man, did I get a good deal on some Velcro One-Wraps…the Velcro strips that you can use to organize all the cords in your life!

Velcro OneStrap to organize cords!

Look at those gorgeously tamed cords! And that’s just the beginning! I just grabbed a few things to photograph, but boy, pretty soon almost every cord in my house is going to have some Velcro around it, keeping it tidy!

Here are the straps I bought:

Velcro One-Wrap ties

I got the colorful ties at JoAnn’s when their notions were 60% off, and I had a coupon on my smartphone from their app for an extra 15% off! Each package of 10 was just over $1. They’re smaller wraps, 1/4” x 5”; supposed to be for portable electronics (think earbuds) but they work just as well on any cords (that aren’t overly long or thick that is). I got 3 packs and I was pretty excited to start Velcroing everything.

Then I realized, I wanted more One-Wraps. Okay so, I’m a bit of a hoarder…I’ll admit it. But also, when I find something that’s such a good and easy idea as this one, I want to go with it!

I found these on Amazon for a good price (and they’re bigger: 1/2” by 8”), but then my next favorite thing, my InvisibleHand extension for my internet browser, found me the same wraps at Walmart.com for about 1/2 the price! Woohoo! I bought 2 packs! 200 One-Wraps! I am in heaven!

InvisibleHand extension

So about the InvisibleHand extension: You install it as an add-on to your browser. It’s silent most of the time, but when you’re looking at product pages, it sees what you’re shopping for and searches the internet for a better price. Sometimes it turns up good  hits, sometimes it doesn’t.

But this time it was a gem! The link on Walmart.com was one that I wouldn’t have found easily on my own: it’s part of a “bundle” but you really don’t have to buy anything but the wraps. Each pack of wraps ships for $.97, so even with shipping it’s still a great price compared to anywhere else!

I love InvisibleHand since I always shop Amazon, I really don’t often think to check other websites. (Don’t worry, Amazon, you still have my loyalty and 90% of my business!) :)

Anyway, check out InvisibleHand and get yourself some Velcro One-Wraps to tame all your cords!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Guest Post: Fool-Your-Friends Fake Granite Countertops for $150

I’m pretty excited to present my first guest post!

This is what my awesome friend Ashley’s kitchen looks like now:

Ashley's new kitchen

Isn’t it phenomenal? And the only new things she bought were the floors, which she had professionally done, and the tile backsplash, which she and her husband installed themselves.  The rest was total DIY.  She refinished her cabinets, painted her countertops, and of course, repainted the walls.

She’s been nice enough to share with us her faux-finishing technique for her counters. How awesome to paint your counters!

Here’s Ashley’s guest post:

Fool-Your-Friends Fake Granite Countertops for $150

For me, summertime is home improvement season. Every year I am excited to start
a new project. About halfway through, I hate myself for starting a new project, but at
the end, I’m always glad I did it!

We bought our house in May of 2009. It was in great shape, but we wanted to put
our own touches on it. We did the usual quick fixes, like new carpets and paint. We
knew we wanted to tackle a couple of big projects, like the kitchen, but we put it off
for a couple years. Our kitchen looked like this when we moved in:

Ashley's old kitchen

And this is what our attached dining area looked like:

Ashley's old dining

We were lucky enough to already have the expensive stuff, like stainless steel
appliances and cabinets that were in really good shape.

I’m a teacher, and a couple months later when I was having trouble finding a
summer job, I took on cabinet refinishing. I hand sanded and used gel stain and
polyurethane to refinish our cabinets, and then our kitchen looked like this:

Ashley's cabinets refinished

The next thing we did was to put in Pergo laminate floors. We liked the ceramic tiles
that were already there, but they were installed incorrectly, and many of them were
already cracked, with more threatening to crack at any time. We didn’t want to mess
with heavy appliances, so we paid someone to install our new floors.

This summer, I needed a new project.

Our white laminate countertops looked cheap next to our fabulous cabinets, so we
looked into replacing them. All of the estimates we got were outrageous, so I started
looking into other options.

I saw some guides to spray painting countertops, but those all looked like regular
laminate, and we wanted something a little fancier. I also found that Rust-Oleum
makes a countertop refinishing kit, but they didn’t offer the color we wanted.

I found this guide online, which wasn’t super specific, but gave me enough details to
get me started. Once I found out you could fake granite countertops, I had my mind
set on it!

It wasn’t a moment too soon, either, because my husband sat a hot pot on a pot
holder and burned a potholder shape into our counter.

Ashley's potholder burn

Of course it was in a place where I couldn’t easily cover it…So I got started!

First, I removed the sink (thank God for YouTube tutorials!!), cleaned and sanded
down the counters, then I masking-taped the edges.

Ashley's counters taped

I gathered my materials:

Ashley's materials

I bought Kilz Primer and Valspar paints. I overestimated the amount I needed. I
could have gone with a small can of the base color, and samples of the other three.
I decided on Glaze Coat because it is waterproof and heat-resistant, which seemed
perfect for a kitchen counter!

I rolled on the primer, and then rolled on the base coat with a foam roller. It looks
green in the photos, but it’s actually a shade of brown.

Ashley's base layer of paint

While I waited for the base coat to dry, I practiced on an old cardboard box to get a
feel for the amount of sponging I should do. This also helped me see the shape of the
sponge, so I could anticipate any recurring shape patterns made by the sponge, in
order to plan and make them less obvious.

Ashley's practice paint technique

I used a natural sea sponge. I cut it in two so I only had to buy one. I found that it
was good to layer the colors – I did a layer of the darkest brown, then a sparse layer
of an almond color. Then I went back over with each layer twice. This really helped
give it a more natural, in-depth look so the layers weren’t obvious.

As a final touch, I used white as a small accent. I had a small paintbrush (like what
we used in art class in elementary school) and used that to flick paint onto the
counter. A toothbrush would probably work too! I occasionally used the paintbrush
like I used the sponge, and just made a splotch on the countertop. Because I had done a practice run, I had a good idea of how dense to make my layers each time,
since I would be going over them again and again.

Here is the painted countertop!

Ashley's granite paint technique done

The next step was the scariest for me – putting the glaze on! It’s basically a two-part
epoxy with a time limit for applying it. Before I got the glaze out, I taped everything
off. I used several layers of newspaper on the floor for drips. It was mostly ok, but it
would have been better to use a plastic dropcloth, or maybe even just trash bags.
The epoxy soaked through to the floor in a couple of places. (It mostly scraped off
though – I was lucky!)

I also made the mistake of not moving the stove out for the first coat! I ended
up epoxying the stove to the counter top. We had to use a putty knife to cut it
loose…oops! My final mistake to learn from is to turn the air conditioning off,
no matter what kind of insane heat wave you are having! Not only is it good for
ventilation, but it also keeps tiny dust particles from blowing up and landing in your
glaze coat.

I followed the Glaze Coat directions exactly, and it turned out pretty well. I used a
foam brush to spread it on to the vertical surfaces, which works, but it is important
not to get too much on, or there will be drip marks, which are really noticeable with
Glaze Coat.

On my first coat, I had some trouble getting the glaze to spread all the way to the
edges. During my second coat, I came up with this brilliant idea!

Ashley's glaze coat with tape walls

I used the masking tape to build a wall (make sure it’s on there with no ripples for
the epoxy to drip through!). Then I was free to pour out the glaze all the way to the
edges. I used a straight trowel to spread it evenly. Watch out for dry spots! I had
some spots that the glaze just skipped over for some reason. You have to catch these
spots and respread them before the glaze dries, or you’ll have to do a second coat
like I did. Having to do a second coat was not only more expensive, but way more
stressful too! In the picture above, you can see the midnight slushie my husband and
I had to go get in order to escape our ripped-apart kitchen!

Ashley's glaze coat drying

After about an hour of drying time, I was able to pull the masking tape off the sides
and it was stable enough that it didn’t drip or droop over the sides.
Then the glaze has to dry for 72 hours. It will be dry to the touch after the first 24
hours, but don’t put anything on your counter! We spent this time painting our
kitchen and dining area bright yellow. During this time, I also decided that we were
just going to go for it and install a tile backsplash, since the whole room was already
in a shambles.

Ashley's messy dining room - work is in progress!

We did the tiling while the countertop was in its last few hours of drying, so we
could lean on the counter a little bit without worrying that we were leaving marks in

Ashley's husband Eric helping with the tile

After some cleanup, we were finally done!

Ashley's new kitchen!

Ashley's new dining room

What a difference a DIY makes!

Ashley's kitchen before and after

Ashley's kitchen before and after

The counter has survived several parties and lots of food preparation. There are no
marks on it! The only thing to get used to is that using too wet of a rag to clean the
counter sometimes leaves water spots. Also, things don’t slide across the counter
anymore – they kind of just stop, which is harder to get used to that you would

The end result is a fancy kitchen for a fraction of the price of a professional
renovation! And I even have the satisfaction of knowing that I did (most of) it

Thanks again for sharing all your photos and advice, Ashley!! 

Monday, July 16, 2012

Unfinished Projects

On our very long to-do list at our house is a new master bathroom. And by new, I mean new. Right now, the future master bathroom is 2/3 of a former-bedroom that is currently serving as a box storage unit. :)

future master bathroom

I normally don’t think about the bathroom, because there’s too much to think about. We want some radiant flooring under tile, which means we have to take up the hardwood that’s there. We have to install all new plumbing, and then decide on sinks, counters, and faucets, all of which are pretty expensive – so I want to get my choices right.

Then I saw this bathroom featured on YoungHouseLove, loved it, and promptly went to the 320 Sycamore blog to ogle it some more.

320 sycamore master bathroom after

When I started showing Brandon these awesome pictures, he looked around our living room and immediately began naming off unfinished projects that I currently have in progress (not to mention all the trim work I need to do in the kitchen!).

If you’ve been following this blog, these might all look familiar to you, but I thought I’d outline them for us anyway. Maybe it will prompt me to actually finish something. :)

The first, and most obvious, is the fireplace, which still looks like this:

unfinished fireplace

I still haven’t primed, painted, or even bought the materials to build the mantel.

And what you don’t usually see is this:

fireplace tools and supplies that are still living in our living room

All the tools and supplies for the fireplace that are still living in our living room. Brandon made sure to point all this out! :)

Next to that mess is one of the chairs I plan to recover:

unfinished chair

But in the meantime is acting as a tool/supply holder and hider. Hmm…I should get on that.

Then, on the other side of the fireplace is the bookcase…that still needs to be built up to ceiling height and get some new, matching sides. :)

bookcase that needs sides and a top

The other bookcase is pretty done and pretty organized, but I did some mudding/caulking touch up on it to smooth out the seams, and still haven’t primed or painted over that! Oops!

need to paint over this mud!

Oh! Here’s one Brandon really wanted me to point out to you! Not only do we not have real, decorative living room curtains yet, but I still haven’t finished the sheers I began putting up. Yep, we’re still missing the middle section.

missing the middle section!

The fabric is in my sewing room. I just need to hem the tops and bottoms. But I just don’t. :) And at this point, I’m not even sure if I can remember my measurements. I thought I’d have it done right away so I didn’t write them down! :)

And lastly, (at least for this post), I’ve been painting our coffee table (which I will outline for you in a separate post) but it’s still not done, and we’re just living around it having tape all over it. :)

coffee table painting in progress

So there. There are all the reason Brandon laughs at me when I start planning our future master bathroom. And he said I had to tell you all about it!

What about you? Are you good at actually doing things start to finish? Or do you get distracted by the new/shiny things halfway through like I do? :)

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