Monday, January 31, 2011

Weekend project - diy chalkboard

Since we moved into our cave  townhouse, we've been trying to figure out what to do with the long wall that stretches from the entry, past the kitchen, and leads to the living room. It's dark, and it would be nice to put some lamps or a little table, but the hallway is narrow, there's a heater smack in the middle of it, and no plugs.

A couple of weeks ago when I joined Pinterest, I noticed a chalkboard trend emerging, and I immediately knew I must jump on board and have a chalkboard on that wall. Davis, of course, had to be practical.

"We can't hang anything really heavy from that wall," he said.

I found chalkboard contact paper.

"We live in a cave," he said. "We can't put that much black anywhere."

Finally I triumphed, with Martha Stewart's help: custom colour chalkboard paint. Davis had no more rebuttals, and on Saturday afternoon we went to Home Depot to buy the following supplies:
  • thin wooden board
  • unsanded tile grout
  • paint
  • painting supplies (roller, tray, drop sheets)
  • sand paper
  • screws and anchors to hang
  • chalk

Our paint colour is called Ships At Sea - not black, and picked to complement the Hokusai prints we have hanging in the kitchen.

Martha recommended a ratio of 1 cup of paint to 2 tablespoons of tile grout. In retrospect, I would recommend sifting the grout to get the chunkies out, but we found another way to deal with them. Because we thought we'd use a fair amount of paint, we poured it into an empty container which made it easier to stir the grout in.

Then we got to painting!

We did four coats - we sanded after the second coat and found some of those grout chunkies I told you about, and they made nasty white streaks across the paint. For the next two coats, Davis just rolled the paint really hard and squished down the chunks and then painted over them right away - but it probably would have been easier to sift the grout at the beginning.

We also didn't want to leave out the wet board overnight (see above picture) so after the third coat was dry we wrapped up the board in drop sheets and started the last coat Sunday morning.

Once the last coat was dry and sanded (no more streaks!), we had to prime the chalkboard - which is something you're supposed to do even with pre-made chalkboards - by rubbing a piece of chalk over the entire surface and wiping it off.

Et voila! Davis hung the chalkboard, and we were done.

I'm very happy with my chalkboard - it works really well, although it doesn't wipe quite as clean as a normal chalkboard would. But it's totally worth it to have a blue chalkboard.

All together, the materials cost about $60. This was a little pricey, when a pre-made chalkboard that was a few feet larger was the same price. I think the biggest cost was the tile grout at $20 - because it only came in a giant box, and I only needed a few tablespoons. If they'd had it in a smaller size, that would have saved some money. The boxes of screws and anchors were probably about $15 together too, so if you already had four screws lying around you could also save that amount as well. Otherwise, the rest of it was pretty cheap - $5 for the board, $13 for the paint, and less than $10 for the painting supplies. Even with the $60, I still think it's worth it - paintings can cost that much, and this will be a constantly evolving creative space - like having a different artwork every day!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Day in the life of a vet student - sheep tipping edition

For real, this is a legit sheep restraint method, and goes something like this:

1. Chase sheep around a pen until you're sweaty and tired and they're just getting warmed up.
2. Grab a sheep by its jaw. This will stop the sheep from going forward.
3. Put your leg behind the sheep's butt. This will stop the sheep from going backward and might also leave a nice rorschach smear on your pant leg.
4. Flip the sheep onto its butt, like a judo twist.
5. The sheep will sit quietly between your knees, and will mostly allow you to examine it.

[Disclaimer: don't try this at home unless you're an experienced sheep tipper or are being supervised by one. Also don't try this with anything other than sheep, such as cows, bears, or cats. Also, it goes without saying, but no sheep were harmed during this exercise - just cuddled a bit.]

Monday, January 24, 2011

The spice of life

I've been buying spices in bulk for a couple of years now, because I can't bear to spend $5 on a little glass bottle of paprika at the grocery store. But this meant that I unfortunately had a basket full of little baggies twist-tied with spices in them - not the most attractive or organized presentation.

When we moved to Guelph, I decided to buy a spice rack to fill with bulk spices - we found a really cool magnetic system that stood on the counter, which seemed like a good idea because we didn't have much cupboard space (we don't have much counter space either, but it didn't seem like much of an issue at the time). We bought a few extra tins that we figured we'd cram onto the easel, and went home.

I'm not sure how it transpired that Davis figured out that - being magnetic - the tins would also stick to the fridge, but as far as I'm concerned this discovery is right up there with penicillin, flubber, and the theory of relativity. I still remember the dawning look of revelation on his face as he stood there, still holding the tin stuck to the fridge door. We returned the easel set, and bought a bunch more individual tins. And they've been multiplying ever since.

[note also Davis's hercules beetle magnet and the requisite bird on top of the wine rack - well, I assure you it's a bird, it looks more like a blob]

I've labeled the back of each of them and arranged them in alphabetical order - primarily because I'm a nerd, but it also makes things easier to find.

I love my spice rack. Realistically, I'll never run out of room, the tins are just over a dollar each, and if I decide for some unknown reason I never want to eat cardamom anymore, I can just wash the tin and stick a new label on. And most importantly, I can buy spices in bulk without sorting through a bunch of baggies every time I want to cook.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Reduce, reuse, recycle

I'm not sure what we could reuse her for... although I always say I vacuum enough cat hair each week to make a brand new cat. That sounds like a kind of never-ending cycle though -  creating a new cat out of the old cat's old fur? And then, you can make a new cat from the fur from the cat you made from the old cat's fur, and then before you know it your cats have multiplied every 20 minutes like bacteria and then they build an evil cat army intent on chewing your toes through the blanket at four in the morning and coming out of the litter box to park their butts straight on your school assignments.

I think I need another coffee.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Avoid responsibilities.

That is the moral of the story.

I walked out of school at 5 p.m. today after intensely observing the genitalia of a 4-month-old bull (really, that was our lab) and the first thing I saw was the moon - nearly full and low in the sky, looking like I could reach out and poke it and have it roll off its perch and stop at my feet.

"I wish I had my camera," I thought. "This would make a really great photo."

"I could walk home right now and grab my camera and tripod," I thought. "It's a 15 minute walk. The moon won't change that much in 15 minutes."

"You have to buy tomatoes and soy sauce," I told myself firmly, looking at the grocery list scribbled on my wrist. "You can't eat photos of the moon."

Unfortunately the grocery store is in the same general direction as our house, so for 15 minutes as I walked in the nose-sniffling cold I flip flopped. Tomatoes. Moon. Soy sauce. Creativity. Food.

But, as I kind of suspected all along, my feet took me home to my camera and my tripod.

So, today's life lesson?

Creativity first. Groceries later.

I'm pleased with this photo especially because I've never had a good opportunity to take low light photos before (other than when we were running through the forest at night trying to see owls and making coyote calls), and I was able to play around a bit today. The sky wasn't nearly this black - in fact, it was still relatively light out, but I had to make the shutter speed a lot faster than I expected (about 1/400) in order to get the details of the moon - otherwise it was just a bright smudge. I wish I'd remembered to try a few different f-stops, but that will be a goal for next time.

Some crows flew by. There are a couple hundred roosting next to our house at the moment, but that's for another post.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Vet student super hero

Most of the time, I love vet school. But sometimes... I feel like this:

"The new vet student action figure from Mattel: it has foldable legs for long periods of sitting and studying.  You can watch its hair turn grey before your eyes. Comes complete with 40-pound backpack and scoliosis. Happiness not included."

Which is why (and also because I have only two hours of class today - three hours apart!) I am playing hooky. I have decided to get more efficient things done today such as:
  • list some new things in my Etsy shop
  • go wine shopping
  • make cashew chicken curry
  • pay bills
  • do laundry
  • pay attention to cats
  • make a Simon & Garfunkel CD for my mom
And, okay, maybe a leeetle bit of studying. Because I have no other employable skills. ;o)

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Christmas cooking recap

Every year I get drafted into making two things at Christmas: our now-traditional Christmas day breakfast crepes, and cookies.

This year, along with the usual gingerbread and sugar cookies, I decided to try something a little fancier, and found Martha Stewart's Linzer sandwich cookies. They looked complicated, but ended up being not much more difficult than gingerbread cookies.

Here's what you'll need:
  • 1 cup raw hazelnuts (I ended up adding some almond to mine because the bag of hazelnuts I bought turned out to be slightly less than a cup)
  • 1/2 pound unsalted butter (it's so much easier if you take this out a few hours before...!)
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • confectioner's sugar
  • jam (raspberry or cherry will do, but I was told that red currant is traditional so I hunted all over {okay in three grocery stores} for some. It was delicious, so I do recommend it if you can find it!)
  • you will also need two cookie cutters - one that is large and round and one that is small (see pictures)
Start by preheating your oven to 375 degrees. When the oven is ready, spread the nuts on a baking sheet and toast them for about 10 minutes. Keep an eye on them though... mine could have used a couple more minutes, but you don't want them to burn! When the nuts have cooled, rub the skins off using your fingers or, for more stubborn ones, a clean towel.

Using a food processor, grind the nuts as finely as possible. I didn't have a food processor, so I destroyed the motor of my mother-in-law's coffee grinder instead. Fortunately she wasn't upset because it was only $10 and she ended up getting another one for Christmas, totally coincidentally. If there are some chunks left it's not a big deal because it'll be interesting in the finished cookie... but try to get most of the nuts to a salt-like consistency. Set aside for now.

In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. If you are so privileged, you can use an electric mixer. I used my good old muscles. Add egg, and beat until smooth. Mix in vanilla.

In a medium bowl, whisk together ground hazelnuts, flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. In parts, add to butter mixture and stir until combined. I had to use my hands at the end. 

Get two large pieces of plastic wrap, and divide the dough onto each piece. Flatten to form a disk, then wrap each piece in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour.

When the dough has chilled, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. On a floured surface, roll out the dough until it is about 1/4 inch thick. Cut out the cookies using the large circular cutter and place onto a baking tray. Using the small cutter, cut out the centres of half of the cookies. Bake for about 12-16 minutes, checking to make sure the edges don't get too brown. Cool on wire racks.

Separate the whole cookies from the cookies with the cut-out centre. First, sift some confectioner's sugar over the cookies with the cut-out centre. Then, spread some jam on the whole cookies. Then make a sandwich!

I thought these cookies were super tasty - a nice break from all the chocolate we had, and the nuttiness combined with the tartness of the currant jam was delish!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Christmas bird count

This is the third year we've taken part in the Audubon Society's Christmas bird count, where for over 100 years groups of ornithologists and bird-lovers count each and every bird they see on one day in a specific area in a specific time period. All the sightings are compiled for one region and eventually form one giant database that allows researchers to look at large-scale trends in bird populations to see which species are doing well and which are decreasing in certain areas.

The weather was mild this year but the snow was falling thickly, which made for a beautiful winter wonderland as we walked through the forest, listening for the soft phoe-bee of black-capped chickadees or the clear birrrdy birdy birdybirdy of northern cardinals.

Oh right, but we were also looking for birds.

This was a record year for me - we saw 23 different species of birds including common goldeneye, mergansers, a merlin, two red-tailed hawks, three types of woodpeckers, cardinals, chickadees, white-breasted nuthatches, greater black-backed gulls, robins, sparrows, pine siskins and my personal favourite: the eastern screech owl (can you see it?).
And here's a little white-breasted nuthatch, and below him a downy woodpecker.

I wasn't able to get as many photos of the birds as I would have liked because we saw so many of them from far away, but my little owl more than satisfies me.