Backyard Dreams

Spring officially arrived over the weekend and we couldn’t be more excited! The days are getting longer and the weather warmer. We are still having below freezing temperatures overnight and they are calling for 6 inches of snow on Thursday, but we are choosing to ignore that and focus on the warmer days ahead.

There’s lots of work we want to do around the house this spring/summer and we’ve already begun making plans and looking for ideas. Pinterest as always is a great source of inspiration, we’ve created a board to corral all these ideas until we are ready to make them happen. Here’s what we got so far:

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First, we’re thinking of adding a pergola above our current deck, something simple and not too ornate to provide some much needed shade in our west facing / full sun backyard.

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We may even go with something even simpler and more modern looking… the jury is still out as to the exact look we will aim to achieve; time, measurements and costs will tell.

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Staining the deck a nice rich-but-not-too-dark color will be a must. Ours is currently unfinished treated wood which has been left as is for over 6 years; it is in desperate need for a little face-lift.

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We’d love to extend our outdoor entertaining area by creating an eating area on pavers beside our current deck but we’ll have to work on some privacy issues first. We’re thinking of adding a nice L-shaped privacy partition/fence. Something modern looking like the options above.

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We even thought of hanging a bunch of planters from it to soften the look and add more greenery.

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While looking at home improvement store flyers we discovered shade sails. They seem really easy to install and care for. We were quite surprised by how inexpensive they are (we got a 11′-8″ x 11′-8″ one on sale for 43$ plus tax over the weekend). We really like that they have a more modern look too!AudreeLeeBlog - Backyard Dreams 09(source)

The installation of these shade sails seems quite easy, as they even sell kits like the one above at home improvement stores; we’ll definitely be picking one up when we are ready to install ours.

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We have a big sandbox which we plan on converting into a garden, we’ve been looking into what to plant and when, as this is our first time gardening, we think garden markers will be a must to help us remember what is what.

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A gardening journal is also something that will be very helpful in the years to come although we would have never thought of it until we came across this pin:

Of course, these are just some general ideas we’ve been looking into, we will have to wait for the rest of the snow to melt before we can truly measure everything and get proper quotes and estimates done which in turn will determine what’s possible budget wise. In the mean time, we thought we’d kick off the spring season by treating ourselves to a barbecue!AudreeLeeBlog - Backyard Dreams 12

We got this one on sale for 199$ from Lowe’s and assembled it over the weekend. It’s already making our backyard look better (:

A new barbecue might not look like much progress but like we always say, it’s  all about baby steps!

Has the warmer weather put you in full spring mode too? What are your backyard plans for this year? Do you have any advice for our first gardening attempt?

Beach Vacation Essentials

We mentioned in this post that we recently enjoyed a two week vacation in the beautiful islands of Trinidad and Tobago. Most of our time there was spent on the beach. Knowing we would spend so much time by the ocean, these items were the first to make it into our luggage.

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Turkish Towels – We wrote about these in this post and we seriously can’t say enough good things about them. We bought ours specifically for this trip having heard great thing about them and we were not disappointed. These towels are so thin, they barely take up any room in your luggage but they also absorb much better than regular towels and they dry faster too. They were the perfect size to sunbathing on and we found it easier to shake the sand off them than it would be on regular towels. A win all around.

After-sun gel – This gel feels really amazing on the skin especially on sun-burnt areas as it is always cool on application. It goes on thinner than the after-sun lotion mentioned below and we prefer it for our faces and/or to put on the go as it seems to absorb faster . It also does not have the sticky feeling we hate in certain gel-creams.

After-sun lotion – This after-sun lotion is one of our favorites, it smells good and hydrates your skin so well. We put it on immediately after we get out of the sun for the day and after showering too to keep our skin moisturized and lock in that sun kissed color.

Waterproof Camera – This was one of those purchases we made feeling like maybe it was a splurge rather than a necessity but we’ve since changed our minds. Yes you can definitely go without one, we have in the past but being able to bring your camera everywhere, without having to worry about it getting wet or the humidity gives you peace of mind and allows you to catch so many more shots/memories. We literally took ours swimming in the ocean and Lee was able to catch great shots of her cousin body surfing waves.

Bubba – These are perfect for drinking on the beach as they keep your drinks cold for hours even in the hot sun, the close-able opening is ideal to prevent sand from getting in your drink.

Sunscreen – Obviously this is a priority and not just for beach vacations. We love that this particular brand doesn’t have the typical sunscreen smell (it actually smells good) and that it doesn’t irritate my skin like other brands do.

Leave-In Conditioner –  This is a life hair saver! The salt water from the ocean dries up our hair in no time and regular conditioner applied after shampooing doesn’t seem to be enough to hydrate them. This product can be applied on wet or dry hair, it smells great and it really makes a big difference in the look and feel of our hair, we bring it on all our beach vacations.

SPF Lipbalm – A must for long hours in the sun especially by the ocean, trust me, sun-burnt lips are not fun.

Water Bottle –  This water bottle is a favorite of ours, we use them daily and bring there everywhere with us so it was no surprise that made it on the trip too. We bring them empty in our carry on bags and fill them at the airport water fountains after clearing security (therefore avoiding having to pay ridiculous prices for airport water bottles). The  carabiner clip made it ideal to bring on the few waterfall hikes we took.

Wet bikini bag –  We don’t have this exact one (ours is a fabric one that we bought at bikini village a few years ago) but a bag like this is perfect to hold your still wet bathing suit (and/or even a wet towel) after a day at the beach. It is also quite handy if you want to take one last swim on the day you fly back home as you don’t have to worry about your wet bathing suit being in contact with the rest of the clothes in your luggage.

P.S. The prices of some of these products in the links above are simply ridiculous, we didn’t buy ours online but figured this would be the easiest way for you to see exactly which product we were talking about.

Are you planning a trip to the south to escape the last few weeks of winter? What are your essentials for a beach vacation?

Organizing & Storing Digital Photos

Lee and I recently sneaked away on a two weeks vacation to the beautiful islands of Trinidad and Tobago with her family. Lee was born in T&T and actually lived there until the age of 10 when her parents moved to Canada. Most of her family still lives there so this trip was extra special for her since she hadn’t seen them in just over 5 years.

We brought two cameras with us for the trip, our waterproof camera for all day, everyday and beach picture and our SLR for times where we did more tourist-y things. Our phones stayed in her aunt’s safe for most of the trip so aside for plane pictures, there were barely used for pictures. Still, over the course of the two weeks, we managed to take just over 2600 pictures!

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Of course that amount was before we went through them and deleted duplicates, blurry or otherwise useless pictures. We try to only keep pictures that fall in the two following categories:

  1. Worth printing picture (beautiful or meaningful pictures that we would actually pay to print and display in our house);
  2.  Tells a story or memory we want to remember (some pictures aren’t as beautiful but they tell stories which make our trip the amazing experience it was and though most of these aren’t pictures we would ever print or display, they are a vital part of explaining the story and essence of our trip and therefore are worth keeping).

Any pictures that doesn’t fall into the two categories above gets deleted. Once we’ve slimmed down our collection of pictures and/or edited the ones that need it (using Picasa which is free) it is time to organize them. We’ve created a system that allows us to very quickly find any particular picture we are looking for whether by subject or by date. Here’s how:

First, we’ve created folders for every year and labeled them as such.

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Then, in each of these yearly folders are monthly folders all labelled as with the “YYYY-MM” format. Using the month’s number rather than abbreviation ensures that our folders are in the proper order (January to December).

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In each of the monthly folders are our pictures, all renamed with the following format: “YYYY-MM-DD Event name ##”. Labeling the pictures with the date mainly helps them stay in order whereas adding the event name makes it so much easier to find a particular picture. For instance we can search for “Easter 2015” and all the pictures from last year’s Easter celebration will come up. But we can also do a wider “Easter” search which will yield all of our Easter pictures from all of the past years (2015, 2014, 2013, etc…).

This is probably my favorite feature of this organizational system as we were able to create categories through the event name on each picture. For instance searching “Instagram” yields all the pictures which were posted on Instagram, the “Project” search yield a mod podge of all the DIY projects we’ve done over the years, the “Crochet” search yields all the pictures of my crochet creations…

Whenever naming a picture, we always ask ourselves what we would type in a search box to find this exact picture and simply use that. We try to include both specific and wider options in the event names, for instance instead of naming the picture from our trip “Trip to Trinidad and Tobago” we will name them more specifically  such as “Trip to Trinidad and Tobago – Maracas Beach”. This allows us to search for certain pictures in the following ways:

  • “Trip” to find the pictures of all our trips;
  • “Trinidad and Tobago” to find all the pictures of our trips to this country
  • “Trinidad and Tobago 2016” to find all of the pictures of this specific trip or;
  • “Maracas Beach” for all the pictures of our visit to this specific beach during our trip.

The options become endless and it makes it easy to find exactly what you are looking for. Of course whenever we have more than one picture for a particular event, we add numbers after the event name (in chronological order in which they were taken).

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We try to upload up our pictures frequently (from all possible sources: SLR, waterproof camera, phones, etc.) and organize them at least once a month. Being consistent and not falling behind is the key to having this system working properly and easily.

Every time we complete a month, we upload a copy of it from our computer to both of our portable hard drives, this way, our pictures are stored digitally on 3 different devices and we can sleep soundly without fear or loosing them all if one of our devices was to fatally crash.

Do you have any sort of system to organize and store your digital pictures? Have you ever thought of saving them on multiple devices to minimize the risk of loosing them in the event one of them would fatally crash? Have you upgraded to storing on the cloud yet?

Crochet WIP | The Granite Cape

I work in an office building and since we have one thermostat which controls all 6 of our company’s offices, I find it really hard to have a constant and comfortable temperature. Some days are really hot, some are really cold no matter how much we play with the thermostats (in fact, we passed this meme around the office and found it quite fitting!). I’ve been looking for something warm that would work well over most of my work wardrobe and would look professional enough to be worn in front of customers. But I had yet to find anything I liked in store.

Then I saw Stephanie Lau from All About Ami‘s pattern for The Granite Cape! It seems like the perfect piece of clothing to toss over any of my work outfits. The stitch used seems tight enough to be warm (not letting too much air through), and almost blanket like. I can picture myself snuggle up in it working away at my computer.

So even though I have many crochet work in progress (WIP) on my hooks, I decided to add this one too, with a goal to have it completed by the end of the winter. I especially love the color Stephanie choose to make hers, it looks like such a fantastic neutral which would pair well with just about anything.

Unfortunately though, this color wasn’t available at my craft store on the day I went to buy yarn for this project, so, I selected a different kind of yarn in a similar color.

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I bought skeins of Lion Brand – Vanna’s Choice Yarn in Linen for my version of The Granite Cape. I love the soft neutral beige color, I think it will look great with most of my work clothes.

Before I started my project though, I worked up a small swatch using the Granite stitch which was new to me. I did that to familiarize myself with this stitch as well as test that my gauge/tension was similar to Stephanie‘s.

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Luckily, my swatch came out with the proper dimensions and I got the hang of this new stitch really easily. It was time to start the project! I decided to keep notes of when and for how long I worked on this project thinking it would be fun to know how many hours and crochet sessions it would take to complete this project. Here’s my progress so far:

Session 1 – 11 first rows – About 1.5 hours (including 30 minute of frogging and redoing 3 rows after I noticed a mistake)

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Session 2 – 32 rows – About 3 hours

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Session 3 – 28 rows – About 2 hours

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I’m loving the beautiful and rich texture of this stitch so much, it is a pleasure to crochet. I can’t wait to see and try on the final product!

What do you use to keep warm on particularly cold days in the office? Have you ever kept track of your progress and the time you’ve spend and the amount of session it took to complete a project?

How To Fix Your Dryer

A few months ago, we began noticing our dryer was acting a little funny, it was taking longer to dry than usual so we started with the obvious and deep cleaned its lint trap (which we knew to do after seeing this pin). We also unscrewed the dryer vent trap on the outside of our house and cleaned it (it had a bit of lint build up). This seemed to help but didn’t completely fix the issue.

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Then, a few weeks ago, the zipper of one of my sweaters got stuck in the dryer, like really stuck. As in, we had to take the dryer apart to be able to free the zipper pull. That is when we noticed that the drum felt was worn and causing our drum to rock up and down, creating a gap through which lint and clothes would escape/get stuck.

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In order to figure that out we had to:

  1. Use a flat head screwdriver to release the spring clip which hold the top of the dryer in place;
  2. Repeat the same process on the other side to release the second clip and free the dryer top;
  3. We used a leftover piece of wood we had lying around to old the top propped up;
  4. Then used our flat head  screwdriver again to release the clips holding the front of the washer in place;
  5. Taking caution not to pull the front panel too far away from the machine, we tilted it forward enough to be able to disconnect the grey and blue wires therefore freeing the front panel from the rest of the machine;
  6. This allowed us to see exactly where the zipper pull got stuck, to remove it all the while noticing that the upper felt was worn and almost flat compared to the bottom felt which appeared to be in much better shape.

The amount of lint inside our dryer was absolutely ridiculous! We were so shocked that we didn’t think to take a picture and simply started cleaning it off. There was SO much, no wonder our dryer had been taking longer and longer to dry!

We considered our options: fixing our current dryer (which is about 14 years old and was donated to us by my uncle when we moved) or buying a new set of washer/dryer. We did a bit of research on the matter and quickly realized that the estimated life span of a new washer is 10-14 years whereas a dryer is said to last 10-13 years. This meant that at 14 years old, both our machines have surpassed the expected life span of newer machines. We also knew that our machines were built to last longer than that since my dad’s similar ones lasted over 20 years with only basic maintenance done on them throughout the years. We decided to find out how much the felt would cost and then decide. Our first step was to find our dryer’s model number. Luckily for us, the model number tag on our machine was easy to locate: on the cabinet frame inside the door. If you need help finding the model number tag on your appliance, this useful tool should be able to point you in the right direction.

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My dad stopped by an appliance parts store in Ottawa after work and met with a very knowledgeable/older salesman who sold him a repair kit which contained not only the 45$ felt kit (upper and lower felts) that we needed but 3 other parts (the bearing, the belt and the idler) which are the most susceptible to need repair on our specific model of dryer. At 47$ for the kit (only 2 extra dollars for 3 more parts), we figured it was worth the buy. Even more so after the kind salesman assured us that replacing all the parts at once would pretty much guarantee that our dryer would last us another 10 years. Talk about bang for your buck!

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When came time to install all these parts, we turned to Partselect.ca to figure out how. This website is incredibly well done, entering our dryer’s model number in the search bar lead us to a page with tons of information: section diagrams with every part listed, detailed part info, list of common symptoms and suggested parts to fix them, detailed how-to repair videos as well as consumer written installation instructions. We loaded the videos corresponding to our new parts and followed Steve’s instructions step-by-step. We had to watch the videos over quite a few times and by the end we were saying “Hi, I’m Steve from Part Select” in unison with him at the beginning of every video. Sure enough, we were able to replace every parts within a few hours and with only 3 basic tools as promised by Steve in his videos.

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Though time consuming, this repair was kinda of fun to do. It is always neat to learn knew things and we definitely felt smarter after learning how to disassemble/repair/re-assemble our dryer which taught us a lot about how it actually operates. We were glad that this repair cost less than 50$ and should extend the life of our dryer by another decade. Of course, we have to thank Steve, our new friend for all his advice and help (through the partselect videos); Thanks Steve!

Have you ever had to repair one of your major appliances? Were you surprised by how easy it is to do yourself or do you prefer leaving this type of work to the pros?