Archive from May, 2012
30 May

Corner Flower Bed Plans

My front flower bed wasn’t the only eyesore in my front yard. I have a second flower bed that sits on the front corner of my house that is just as bad or worse. My husband and I had pulled out all the eyesore plants but the remaining dirt and weeds became an eyesore themselves.

corner flower bed

You can see that we’re testing out pavers for yet another retaining wall and we have one bush we plan to save. We’ll also be making a second rain barrel base for our other rain barrel.

We also would love to see a pathway to walk on, one that would connect our front door to our side door. We’re not sure if we’re thinking concrete or stepping stones or some other material but we know a path of some kind is in order. Excon Group are the best concrete contractors in Geelong. Our team is made up of experts who specialize in all aspects of construction and we’re dedicated to providing you with the highest quality service possible. Whether you need a new roof, driveway, or patio, our expert team has got you covered.

corner flower bed

Our plans include designing an inner and an outer corner flower bed and adding a pond with an aerator (available from companies like to keep our garden alive. You can see where our tentative dividing retaining wall would fall between the two but that bush would be in the outer ring. Then we’d build a sidewalk that would curve around the house to the side yard. We’ll dead end it where we hope to build a patio in phase 2 of this project. Phase 2 will be at some point in the future, probably next summer. Then we’ll expand the shade garden to follow the curve of our new path.

corner bed plans

You can see it all on my super-awesome guide. The blue area is the front flower bed we just finished. The orange will be the new corner flower beds, the brown will be our path, and the yellow is phase 2 of the project.

I’m still working on the timeline for this project and it’ll probably take a bit of a backseat until we get the closet done. It’s been bumped up the list though so we’ll be working on this before our fireplace. I’ll keep you updated on the progress of the garden but for the most recent updates, make sure to follow my facebook page. I usually include progress pictures along the way over there.

29 May
Posted in: Food
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BLT Salad

My current job has me working later than my husband. He gets home about an hour before I do and our dinner time has shifted an hour later than it used to be.  Our meal planning has changed around. I now prep meals the night before or when I stop in during my lunch break as I often do. We’re really utilizing all those freezer meals I’ve stocked up on and we’re taking advantage of the crockpot too. Some nights we just want a quick and filling meal without all the work so that way we can switch to project mode as soon as our plates are clean.

BLT Salad

That’s where the BLT salad comes in. If you like BLTs then this salad is almost a clone of your favorite sandwich. You can make croutons from old bread ahead of time; just drizzle some olive oil, salt, and pepper over some diced bread and bake for 20 minutes at 375 degrees. They stay crunchy and fresh for days but if you make them fresh then they’ll be chewy just like the bread of a BLT. Then you’ll toss some bacon, lettuce, and grape tomatoes together with those croutons. Last up is the dressing; the combination of mayonnaise and buttermilk is the perfect touch for the salad. Just toss and serve with some french bread. If you’re a little hungrier, serve this salad with some soup or a sandwich, maybe even a BLT if that’s not a BLT overload.

BLT Salad

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Total Time: 25 minutes


    For the croutons:
  • 1/2 baguette, sliced into cubes
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • For the dressing:
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk
  • 3 Tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 Tablespoons cider vinegar
  • For the salad:
  • 1 pound romaine, chopped
  • 1/2 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 8 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled


  1. Start by making sure your bacon is cooked. You can do this on the stovetop or in the oven with the croutons by baking for 15 minutes.
  2. For the croutons:
  3. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Toss bread with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  4. Spread evenly on a baking sheet and bake until golden, around 20 minutes.
  5. For the dressing:
  6. In a medium bowl whisk together buttermilk, mayonnaise, Parmesan cheese and vinegar.
  7. For the salad:
  8. In a large bowl, mix together lettuce, tomatoes, and croutons. Toss with dressing, sprinkle with bacon and serve.

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28 May
Posted in: Household
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May Centerpiece

I realized just today that I haven’t shown my May centerpiece and tablescape to you all yet. I went simple this month since our table seems to be taken over by projects these day. April showers bring May flowers so my table is covered in bright flowers.

May centerpiece

May centerpiece

Check out my napkin rings. Can you guess the secret item I used to make them?

Napkin rings

Shower curtain rings! For $1.50 I bought 10 shower curtain rings and used them as the base for these napkin rings. Throw in a $1 set of flowers on sale at Michaels and some floral tape leftover from another project and I have a cheap napkin ring with plenty of leftover supplies for another month.

napkin rings tutorial

To make these super easy napkin rings, you’ll want to cut off your silk flower’s stem and wrap it around the shower curtain ring. Wrap the floral tape around the stem to secure it and continue your way around the entire shower curtain ring. Then just slide your napkin inside your ring and enjoy your work!

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23 May
Posted in: Food
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Salty Caramel Ice Cream

A little bit ago I shared my experience trying a pint of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream and a review Jeni Britton Bauer’s very own cookbook.

jeni's salty caramel ice cream

This weekend I finally made good on my plans to try my hand at making one of Jeni’s ice creams from her cookbook. I decided to try my hand at a recipe that didn’t include any hard-t0-find ingredients and would be a flavor both my husband and I would probably enjoy. That’s how I ended up with my cookbook turned to the recipe for Salty Caramel Ice Cream. It’s Jeni’s most popular flavor so why wouldn’t I want to try that?

Jeni's Ice Cream

Before you start this recipe, measure out every single ingredient and prep all your equipment. Your ice cream maker should be frozen 24 hours before even starting. I even poured my milk into a measuring cup so I could pour quickly when the moment came. The first half of this recipe goes low and slow and then suddenly you’re all in, racing to get everything in the recipe so you can start counting down the half hour it takes to chill it. For all things stovetop, I used a 4-quart pot for the process. I wouldn’t risk going any smaller than that with all the boiling this recipe takes.


Now the next part was the scariest for me: I had to make caramel. I don’t do well with sugared products because I’m impatient and easily distracted and that usually leads to sugar burning. Jeni has you make the caramel for your recipe by using the dry burn technique (see recipe notes) where you just heat sugar on the stovetop until it starts going through a transformation and then you invite all the other pieces of sugar to the party by melting them down.

Jeni says the look you’re going for is an “old penny” but I wasn’t sure if she meant 2001 penny that has seen my whole town or a 1953 penny that looks like it’s going green so I chose the more appetizing color. It seems to have worked out. Somewhere in the middle of the stirring process you’re likely to think you’ve failed and there’s an awful goopy mess but 1 minute later you’ll be screaming in glee “I’ve made caramel!” Embrace that moment because this is when the going gets crazy.

caramel ice cream

You’ll want to add just a bit of your cream + corn syrup to the cream while off the heat. It’ll crackle and pop so be careful. Jeni doesn’t suggest putting the pot back on till all the cream is added to your caramel but I found my caramel hardening too much so keep a close eye on things and introduce the heat as needed. After you add the milk you’re almost in the clear. You will need to keep a watchful eye on it so it doesn’t boil over and then add your slurry to thicken, stirring continuously. You can see above the soft golden tone the recipe starts to take on (and the mess this dish leaves behind)

ice cream

You’ll then pour your ice cream through a sieve placed over a bowl with your cream cheese and salt in it. All the little hard pieces of caramel will be left behind and then you stir stir stir! Make sure to add the vanilla in this step. I use my own homemade vanilla but whatever you choose, make sure it isn’t imitation.

ice cream maker

You’ll then want to chill your ice cream base as fast as possible. Pour your mix into a gallon sized Ziploc bag, seal it, and surround it with ice and ice water. Chill in your fridge for half an hour. Note: It’s very important not to let water get into your mix at this point. After your half hour is up, pour the mix into your ice cream maker and let it run about half an hour.

jeni's salty caramel ice cream

Now you have to freeze it for at least 4 hours. Overnight is even better. I know, I’m a cruel and awful person to suggest such a thing. I scooped up a batch after waiting and sat down to test it. It was so smooth, just like the version I bought in the store. You can copy that quality perfectly in your own kitchen. My own version was lighter in color than Jeni’s official version so maybe you should aim towards an older penny than I did. I also expected more salt but that’s an easy fix. Overall I was thrilled with my results and have to say this is the best (but also the most complicated) homemade ice cream I’ve made to date. The only real disappointment I had was that it was eaten up so quickly. I guess I’ll need to make another batch or try a new flavor. If you’re a Jeni’s fan, let me know what flavor I should try next.

Salty Caramel Ice Cream

Prep Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

Cook Time: 25 minutes

Total Time: 5 hours, 45 minutes

Yield: 1 quart

Source: Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home by Jeni Britton Bauer


  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cornstarch (or just 4 teaspoons- it's the same thing)
  • 1 1/2 ounces (3 tablespoons) cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 1/4 cups heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract


  1. Mix about 2 tablespoons of the milk with the cornstarch in a small bowl to make a smooth slurry.
  2. Whisk the cream cheese and salt in a medium bowl until smooth.
  3. Mix the cream with the corn syrup in a measuring cup with a spout.
  4. Fill a large bowl with ice and water.
  5. Heat the sugar in a 4-quart saucepan over medium heat until it is melted and golden amber in color (see note below). Remove from the heat and, stirring constantly, slowly add a bit of the cream and corn syrup mixture to the caramel: It will fizzle, pop, and spurt. Stir until well combined, then add a little more and stir. Keep adding the cream a little at a time until all of it is incorporated.
  6. Return the pan to medium-high heat and add the milk. Bring to a rolling boil and boil for 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and gradually whisk in the cornstarch slurry.
  7. Bring back to a boil over medium-high and cook, stirring with a heatproof spatula, until slightly thickened, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat. If any caramel flecks remain, pour the mixture through a sieve.
  8. Gradually whisk the hot milk mixture into the cream cheese until smooth. Add the vanilla and whisk. Pour the mixture into a 1-gallon Ziploc freezer bag and submerge the sealed bag in the ice bath. Let stand, adding more ice as necessary, until cold, about 30 minutes.
  9. Pour into frozen canister and spin until thick and creamy in ice cream maker.
  10. Pack the ice cream into a storage container, press a sheet of parchment directly against the surface, and seal with an airtight lid.
  11. Freeze in the coldest part of your freezer until firm, at least 4 hours.


From Jeni:

Danger! This is the dry-burn technique. I don't add water to the sugar before putting it on the heat, as some chefs do. Caramelizing sugar dry means it goes faster, but you have to watch it more closely and be ready with your cream. Here is an overview of what you are going to do:

Stand over the pan of sugar with a heatproof spatula ready, but do not touch the sugar until there is a full layer of melted and browning liquid sugar on the bottom with a smaller layer of unmelted white sugar on the top. When the edges of the melted sugar begin to darken, use the spatula to bring them into the center to help melt the unmelted sugar. Continue stirring and pushing the sugar around until it is all melted and evenly amber in color — like an old penny. When little bubbles begin to explode with dark smoke, give the sugar another moment and then remove from the heat. Immediately but slowly pour about 1/4 cup of the cream and corn syrup mixture into the burning-hot sugar. Be careful! It will pop and spit! Stir until it is incorporated, then add a bit more cream and stir, then continue until it is all in.

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21 May
Posted in: Home Renovation
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The Worst Room in My House

I have a secret. There is one room in my house that is not fit for human eyes, and that’s saying something considering the state my home has been in during the renovation process. This space is a tiny space between my dining room and my kitchen. I’m talking about my one and only hall closet. It still has the original shelves in there, it has no lighting, and it’s very dark in color. There is a lack of storage and so items end up falling or being dumped on the floor. Yes, it’s that bad in there.

cleaning closet

I’ll admit that this eyesore has actually gotten worse since I took this photo. Don’t ask me how that’s possible. Let’s just say I am hoping for a very dramatic transformation in the end.

The first stage of updating this closet was to define what I want this space to be. I want it to hold a vacuum, my steam mop, my iron, and all my cleaning supplies. I want my overstock of paper towels, napkins, and tissues in here as well. I don’t need the coat storage anymore so that rod can go. The games might stay or they might find a new home. Either way, it looks like this closet is due to be transformed into a cleaning closet.

The way I go about a renovation might seem a little strange so I’ll share my process with you. I do this behind the scenes of every project, though some have a much looser timeline. This project is on track to be finished right around the official start date of summer. Of course, we’ll be overlapping it with a few other projects so hopefully it won’t shift around too much.

First, I list out every step of the project. I’ll then reorder my list chronologically. Next, I map out a timeline for the project. On this project I am leaving the schedule very open, giving us entire weeks or weekends to accomplish tasks since my husband and I will have varying work schedules. It’s better to finish a project early than to have it drag out for months beyond what we expected. The last thing I do is assign each task to a person. Sometimes we’ll both need to consult on it, sometimes it just depends on who wants to work inside that day, while other tasks are claimed in a deathmatch. Or you know, just assigned because I like to micromanage.

The only real issue I foresee in this project is figuring out how to light it. We don’t really have the option of hardwiring it due to some limitations in the attic space above. I’d love to find a light bright enough to light the whole space and my two little wall lights that you can see by the ironing board just aren’t cutting it. Has anyone ever found success with a bright but not hardwired light?

18 May
Posted in: Gardening, Household
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Change It Up

This week has been a crazy one. I started a new job last week and it’s been keeping me on my toes. Luckily it’s close to home and I get an hour for lunch so I can come home, play with the dog, eat some food, and prep dinner. The husband has really stepped up his game and has cooked roasted salmon and learned to make croutons but he’d much rather me mention his mad Kraft Mac & Cheese skills.

So while I’m adjusting I’m still trying to find time to do all those other tasks. This isn’t me complaining, I’m just adjusting and wishing Mother’s Day had been on a day I don’t use for blog writing. Complaining would be telling all you people to work on your penmanship because there are some people out there with awful handwriting and my super-secret-please-don’t-fire-me position requires me to read bad handwriting for hours upon hours but at least they pay me. 🙂 It’s nice to have place to work and I have some great co-workers but there’s still nothing like home.

After work my favorite thing to do is to do “the rounds” with the husband and dog. The husband laments that his plants haven’t grown much since the last evening and the dog thinks every time we move our legs that we will kick her ball for her. Sometimes we do and then she looks like this after she’s all worn out. Then 5 minutes later she wants to go again.


That hydrangea at the top of the post–it’s decided to be pink this year. Last year it was blue, the one next to it is blue but this year it wants to be a special snowflake so pink it is. Just 2 weeks ago it had a blue tint so now it’s in a lavender transition plan. When you comment on your plants daily you start to notice lots of little color variations that normal people don’t notice.


We also have these rocking coleus plants. We planted them in our new planters but really every planter in the yard has at least 2 just thrown in. We bought way too many because we love coleus plants. This year we found some great varieties. Since they grow fantastically in the shade, they’re one of the few ways we get color into the shade garden. We are also planning to enhance the aesthetic of our garden and also to improve the value of our property. So, we decided to try FormBoss and the results were amazing.

coleus and ivy

The husband likes the “watermelon” ones best (green and pink) but I seem to favor the reddish ones just for the unusual color. Coleus plants pair really well with flowers like impatiens or even ivy but we’ve gone flowerless this year to go a touch more low-maintenance. I’ll show you later in the summer how huge these plants can get. Which variety is your favorite?


14 May
Posted in: Food
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Luscious Lemon Cake

lemon cake

When I think of cakes, I tend to think of my old standbys, like chocolate, pound cake, and white cake. I don’t often think of lemon cake as a must-have cake except in the spring time. There’s something about eating a bright yellow cake on a sunny day with some fresh berries and whipped cream to really remind you of how delicious lemon cake is.

lemon cake

This recipe is another one of my doctored cake mix recipes. In addition to lemon cake and lemon juice and lemon zest, the secret lemon ingredient is lemon pudding. It makes the cake very moist and dense so it’s like you’re eating a wonderful lemon pound cake. When you top it with the lemon glaze, make sure to do it while the cake is still warm. You won’t regret the extra zing it provides.

Lemon Cake


    For the Cake:
  • Juice of 1 lemon (about 3 Tablespoons)
  • Zest of one lemon
  • 1 (18 ounce) box lemon cake mix
  • 1 (3.4 ounce) box instant lemon pudding
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup oil
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • For the glaze:
  • 1 cup of powdered sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons lemon juice


    For the cake:
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Zest a lemon and place shavings into a large bowl. Squeeze the lemon into the same bowl.
  3. Add the cake mix, pudding, eggs, and oil into the bowl. Stir until just combined.
  4. Fold in the sour cream.
  5. Pour the batter into a prepared bundt cake pan.
  6. Bake at 350 degrees for 35-45 minutes.
  7. Remove from oven and let cool 15 minutes before removing from pan.
  8. For the glaze:
  9. Combine powdered sugar with lemon juice.
  10. Pour over cake while it is still warm. Let harden before eating.

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9 May
Posted in: Gardening
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Filling the Flower Bed

flower garden before

Remember when my front flower bed looked like this? Overgrown and full of leaves was not this bed’s finest hour.

flower bed

After some hard work we built a retaining wall but the area didn’t look quite like I’d envisioned. Then we had to build a base for our old rain barrel. After a lot of planting and a lot of mulch, here it is today.

garden after

We ended up making a few changes from our original plans, like removing one azalea from the top section and instead adding in some coleus plants and geraniums. You can see some work still needs to be done on the left staircase but that’s another plan for another day. We still have a planter to build to cover up that phone box in the middle section but this is definitely progress.

garden after

The hydrangeas we ended up finding are called Invincibelle Spirit and they’re just getting ready to bloom. They’ll be a deep pink color and will add some color now that the other flowers are switching to their summer greens.


So what’s up next for the yard? We have a second flower bed to create that will connect our front door to our side door. This project was only a test for that bigger project. Since this one took a month working only weekends and evenings in between rain and crazy record highs, I’m betting the second project will take longer. I’ll show you our plans and timeline in the coming weeks along with the mess we’re up against.

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8 May
Posted in: DIY Projects, Gardening
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Rain Barrel Base

Part of my front flower bed makeover called for finding a home for my rain barrel. I have 65-gallon rain barrels that I bought from Amazon. The price has since increased but most hardware stores seem to be carrying rain barrels these days. We use rain barrels for 2 reasons, one to prevent water from collecting around the foundation of our house and the other is to water the plants.

rain barrel base

From our experience, we discovered that a rain barrel needs to be about a foot off the ground. The barrel uses a gravity based hose system and there’s a bottom spigot that needs to be raised to fit a watering can underneath. We wanted to build a base with pavers that was big enough to support the rain barrel without tipping over when it was full. We needed a bottom base that would hold the watering can without it falling over either.

rain barrel base

After we found a setup we liked, we mixed up some concrete (always try to get your concrete from authentic sources; visit their website here.) and filled in the rain barrel base with it. That base will not be going anywhere. Then we adhered the bricks for the watering can base to the ground with more concrete. Then there was some mortar used to attach a flat surface to the rain barrel base.  Finally we used some extra concret to fill in the watering can base like a grout.

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rain barrel base

After doing a test run to make sure everything fit, we let the blocks and concrete harden for 48 hours. We put the rain barrel onto its new home and decided to let the rain collect. We had several days of rain after that and the base held up beautifully, with our angled watering can base preventing rain from pooling up around the foundation, just as we’d hoped. Stick around this week and I’ll show you the full front flower bed makeover.

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7 May
Posted in: Household
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Organizing Your Desktop

Do you have a cluttered desktop on your computer? It’s one of those things that can get out of hand quickly. You might save a file to the desktop to look at tomorrow and 3 weeks later it’s still there with all the other items you’ve saved since then. Here’s how I’ve decided to handle the situation.


This is my desktop. You can click it to enlarge it but my method has 3 columns to keep me organized. I tend to work from left to right on my screen so while it might make sense to keep my most frequently used items on the left, I actually put the most urgent items over there. That way when I’m procrastinating and clicking around, I’m more likely to click on something I should be doing instead of a way to waste time.

this week desktop

My first column is labeled “This Week” for tasks I’ve assigned myself to do ASAP. I keep a text file with a basic schedule and meal plan here and usually I leave it open in my task bar. As you can see, this week’s tasks include addressing my finances and working with photos. My Finance Folder is full of links to websites to help me research some financial changes. Over on the right I have shortcuts to all my photo folders on my home computer network and a desktop shortcut to my DVD burner so I’ll finally get around to a much needed photo backup.

Tip: Put shortcuts on the desktop instead of actual folders.

this month desktop

My second column “This Month” focuses on longer-term projects that still need a deadline. In one folder, I’ve put links to all my summer vacation plans in along with copies of forms and confirmations. I also keep a backup meal plan in this area with some meal ideas based on what’s currently in my freezer, as well as plans for the spring and summer. You can see my other ongoing project is to keep checking for updates on the 1940 Census that was just released. I have one text file that logs where I’ve searched for family and what pages I’ve located people on for printing later.

always desktop

My “Always” folder on the right is where I keep my most frequently used items. On the right you can see where I keep hard copies of my eBooks and the program I use to organize them. I have a small eBook addiction and this helps me manage them. I have desktop shortcuts to each of the image folders for each of my websites along with my website mission statements and organizational charts. After that I have a calendar with a daily task on it, a document where I log the meals I’ve tested with notes on improvements, and my bulk cooking cheat sheets that are slowly being added to the website.

Want to know how you can make your own desktop? I took all my desktop icons and aligned them along the top of the screen. Then I hit the Print Screen button and pasted the screencap of my desktop into Photoshop. I divided the screen into thirds with blocks of color and then labeled the top of each section. After saving the file, I just right clicked on the image and chose “Set as Desktop background”. My resolution is set at 1366 x 768 so if you want this desktop background and you use the same size, just save the image from here.

What does your desktop look like?

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