Saturday, March 28, 2009

The kids' B-day party

We had a joint birthday party for the kids today, and I think everyone had a good time. As usual, Liz did a great job planning the shindig, and the weather today was just fabulous. We opened up the sliding glass door and let the party spill out into the back yard.

Liz set up a pizza party for the kids. She pre-baked some personal size pizza crusts, and we let the kids spread sauce, cheese and toppings on their pizzas (outside, of course). They then handed the pizzas to me in the kitchen (we have a window that opens into the backyard; it was great for this), and I baked the pizzas for everyone. The kids all got paper cook hats (think the hat you'd see at a burger joint) and paper aprons to decorate and wear. After pizza was the cake. Liz did better than last year, check out the pics below. We then opened presents, and the kids got some wonderful gifts. Then, after about 3 hours, everyone left. By then it was naptime for most of our guests under 6.

Liz made both of these cakes herself, and I was impressed. She did purchase the Care Bears, and the Car and Piston Cup on John's cake are toys, but she did everything else. Even the icing was made from scratch and dyed with her own color mix. I like the M&M rainbow (V helped with that) and the "3" road on John's cake. You can just see the oreos ringing the base of J's cake. Liz put them on because the looked like tires. V's cake is ringed with tiny marshmallows. They tasted as good as they looked.

We cleaned up this evening, and I'm enjoying some peace and quiet outside while the kids are asleep. I've got a small fire going in my new outdoor fireplace, and the wireless network lets me write this in the backyard. Today was a good day.

BTW- I'm sure Liz will be posing more party pics on her blog. I just wanted to share the cake pics first.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

My $7 outdoor fireplace

I've wanted an outdoor fireplace since I bought my house. I have a gas fireplace in the house, but burning gas inside is not the same as burning stuff (wood, charcoal, etc.) outside. I like terra cotta chimeneas, but I couldn't stomach paying over $50 for one. So I decided to make myself an outdoor fireplace.

I wanted something simple and small. I wanted to be able to move my fireplace around without trouble, and I wanted to be able to put it away when I didn't want to use it. That precluded building a permanent fire pit in the yard. (But I know how to build one out of brick now.)

I happened to see a cactus planter at Home Depot, and it struck me as the perfect fireplace. It was a shallow terra cotta dish 15" in diameter, and about 5" deep. The only downside was the presence of a drainage hole in the middle of the dish. Well, I could fix that. I bought the planter for $7, and built a nice fireplace with materials I had around my garage.

I built a stand for the pot using 2x4's. The ceramic of the pot should insulate the wood of the stand from charing or burning. I kept the stand simple; I built a 1 foot cube out of eight 10.5" lengths of 2x4 using drywall screws. I painted the stand black with a can of spray paint I had leftover from another project. To seal the hole in the bottom of the planter, I used mortar to affix a broken piece of tile over the hole. We have used the fireplace twice this weekend, roasting marshmallows both times. I hope the family enjoys it as much as I do. (Although Liz does dislike the fact that our clothes smell like smoke when we're done. C'est la vie.)

Spending only $7 on the whole project is a source of frugal pride for me. But I still would like a chimenea. Maybe I could build one...

Here's the stand I built before painting.

I put a piece of cardboard under the hole in the bottom of the pot, put a layer of mortar down, and pressed the tile into the mortar. I also had a "test fire" in the pot before doing this.

Liz and Virginia enjoyed the fire. I think the black stand looks pretty good.

John was happier running, but he did roast a few marshmallows first.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Learning a new home improvement skill

I now know how to do basic masonry; I built a small brick wall today.

It's spring in SoCal, and it's time to start planting our garden. We have been planting a small (8' x 4') vegetable garden every year, and this year we decided to add to that. We put in a small herb garden (6' radius quarter circle) in the corner of our yard. When we installed our vegetable garden, we made a raised bed using 2x12's. It made amending the soil easier, and we were guaranteed to have good drainage.

We want good drainage for our herb garden, but we're not too worried about amending the soil. Herbs grow in just about anything. We decided to put the new plot next to our back patio, and we wanted it to look nice. Since a lot of the landscaping in our yard is brick, we decided a brick wall would make a nice border to the garden.

I have never worked with brick/masonry before, but I figured it couldn't be too hard, right? Actually, it isn't too hard; it just takes a little bit of time. I dug the garden and put in some temporary composite edging to keep the dirt in place and to mark the plot. Then I dug a small trench for the brick wall to sit in, and filled the bottom with sand. The sand provided a foundation for the wall, and allowed me to level the bricks. I had to cut a few bricks to fit, and I learned how to do that, using a brick hammer and a couple of chisels. I only ruined a few bricks learning. Applying the mortar was relatively easy after that. I only built the wall two bricks high (it's a garden border), but hey, I built a wall.

The kids helped.

I finished the project at dusk. The rectangle of pipe against the wall is my sprinkler system for the vegetable garden. We pulled it out to turn over the soil. Below the sprinkler is Dweezel, the garden gnome. He'll go home when we plant the garden tomorrow.

"Is this the Deskjet?"

My son is precocious. He's still a couple of weeks shy of his third birthday, but he's been using the family computer. He doesn't just bang on buttons or watch movies someone else starts, but he surf's the web. Really. He bookmarked on his own, and he knew what he did. He uses the bookmark to go back the webpage to play games, which he also does all by himself. He's been matching letters and rhyming words in the Word World and Super Why sections

Just today, he was playing on the computer, and he asked my wife, "Is this the Deskjet?" He knows how to print, and wanted to make sure he was using the right printer. He printed out a picture from Word World to color. Dude.

Yesterday my daughter participated in a jog-a-thon at her school. She's five, and she and the other kindergartners wore stickers on their backs for the jog-a-thon. They ran laps in the school yard, and each lap the kids would stop to have a parent mark their sticker to count laps. Other kids ran/jogged/walked and some of them took rests, but not my daughter. She ran full speed the entire allotted time, stopping only to get her sticker marked. She was passing other kids on the outside. Virginia ran 24 laps without stopping, and she was still ready to run when her class had to stop (after about 10 minutes). From what I heard, she was doing the whole 'Chariots of Fire' thing running laps, her hair flying in the wind behind her. That girl loves to run.