Thursday, July 31, 2014

DIY X-Side Planters

Tonight I'm finally getting around to showing you some awesome planters that Joe made for us earlier this summer. I had flagged the idea for the planters on a blog called Centsational Girl over a year ago with plans to have Joe make a couple to place on the deck on either side of the sliding door. After building the nice new deck last year, and the table earlier this spring, we decided that it would be a good time to make the planters. Joe took a look at the pictures from Centsational Girl then drew up his own plans for ours. Ours are made with pressure-treated pine boards that are more rot resistant, and once they have had time to completely dry out we plan on painting these with a semi-solid colored stain to help them stand out a bit from the deck boards.

One planter is filled with lavender and rosemary, and the other has parsley, basil, and mint. I love having all these herbs right outside our door! And the plants are much happier than they were in smaller pots on the window sill.

The material list to make one is this:
  • One 1 lb box of 1 1/4 inch exterior screws
  • Four 8ft pressure treated 1x6s
  • One 8ft pressure treated 1x4
  • One 8ft pressure treated 2x2
  • One 6ft pressure treated 1x6 fence picket (rough cut)
  • One sheet of pressure treated privacy lattice (the kind with the tighter weave)
  • Landscape fabric

Some of this we already had on hand from other projects, but if you were to buy these materials, Joe estimates that it would cost between $30 an $40.

So the first step is to cut all the lumber to size. This requires some rip cuts, which are much easier with a table saw. Much to Joe's chagrin, he does not have one. But we do have a Kreg rip cut jig that attaches to a circular saw, and it worked out just fine. Here are the cuts you'll start with:
  1. Rip the 1x4 and one of the 8ft 1x6 boards in half
  2. Cut the remaining three 8ft 1x6 boards into four 20" sections each (you'll have about 16" left over, but save these...we'll use them later!)
  3. Cut the 2x2 into four 2ft pieces

Once you have these cuts made, set one of the 20" sections from each of the three boards together and measure their width. This will make the sides of our planter. Take this width and cut the ripped 1x6 board into eight pieces that are this length. Ours were about 17.5" long.

The next step is to start assembling the frame of the planter. To do this, Joe first used our Kreg Jig Jr to make two pocket holes in each end of the pieces of the ripped 1x6. With the pocket holes drilled, Joe used some of our larger clamps to hold two of the pocket holed pieces between two of the cut 2x2s. One of the boards is lined up with the top of the 2x2s, and the other is placed so that it is 4 inches from the other end of the 2x2s. Then you drive screws into the pocket holes to attach it all together.

Repeat this process to make the other side of the frame, and then you attach the two sides together using a similar process. Now you have a frame! Time to fill in the rest.

Use three of the 20" long pieces of 1x6 for each side and attach them to the inside. You'll want to start the screws from the inside so the heads don't show on the outside. Joe pre-drilled two holes at the top and bottom before attaching them with screws. Do this for all four sides.

Now the fun/hard part! Making the Xs on each side. These are made by making angle cuts on the ripped 1x4 pieces from earlier. One thing you'll notice is that since each side isn't a perfect square, you can't just use the 45 degree mark on the miter saw to cut the ends. Joe being Joe needed to figure out EXACTLY what the angle was and how long each piece had to be. He worked out the math and plugged the equation into his trusty TI-83 calculator to find his answer. He was oddly proud of this part of the project... You could probably just measure it and estimate the length and angle to get close enough :)

Cut the ripped 1x4 pieces into 8 pieces of the appropriate length and the correct angle. Place four of them in each side to represent half of the X for those sides. Then cut the remaining four pieces into two pieces so that they fit into the other two corners to make the X!

Once you have the Xs set into each side, Joe used painters tape to hold them in place. The reason for this is because he wanted to fasten them from the inside of the planter so there weren't screw heads showing. Once the Xs are taped in place, you can set the planter on its side and attach them with screws.

With the sides finished, it's time to finish up the inside of the planter. The planter needs to have a bottom to hold the soil after all! To do this, use the leftover pieces of 1x6 boards to create a ledge on the inside of two of the sides. You should have just the right length of pieces for this from your earlier cuts (hooray reusing scraps!). Then cut the rough-cut 1x6 board into pieces that will rest on those two ledges and screw them in place. We ended up using 1x6 fence boards and a piece of 2x4 because we had them on hand as left-overs from some compost bins Joe made, but you could really use just about anything you want.

The next thing to do is to make a ledge to go around the top. This isn't necessary, but Joe liked that it covered the exposed ends of the planter's side boards. These are simple 45 degree cuts that are then screwed in from the top. No TI-83 calculator required!

Almost there! One thing that Joe did that we haven't seen on other plans was that he used pressure-treated lattice to line the inside of the planter. Then he put a good, thick landscape fabric over the lattice. The purpose of the lattice is to keep the soil out of contact with the planter sides so they can air out. Hopefully this helps them resist rotting and last a lot longer! He just used a staple gun to hold the lattice and landscape fabric in place.

And there you go! Now you have a beautiful and sturdy planter ready to be filled up with soil and some fun herbs or flowers.

Well that was a lengthy post but if you should ever decide to build some planters like these, you now have some good guidelines :) I That's it for tonight, have a great weekend!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Flower Petal Wedding Cake

Hi there! I'm back with more cakes. I spent the better half of last week and most of the day yesterday working on these cakes. It was a lot of work but I'm happy to say that they worked out mostly as I had planned with very few hiccups. Originally the order was just for a wedding cake, but a couple months ago the groom's parents contacted me to see if it would be possible for me to also make a groom's cake for the rehearsal dinner. I told them, "Of course!", while wondering how exactly I'd pull both cakes off in one weekend haha. Since the rehearsal dinner was on a Friday night, I knew I'd have to have it completely decorated and ready by Thursday night. That meant baking everything on Wednesday.

By the time I went to bed on Wednesday night, our fridge was filled to the brim with all the layers needed for a 2 tier groom's cake, 3 tier wedding cake, and an additional sheet cake for the wedding. After a cake order like this, Joe and I are looking into getting a 2nd refrigerator for the basement :)

The other part of these cakes that I needed to get started on ahead of time was making all of the gum-paste flower petals that were needed to decorate the wedding cake. This was something completely new for me and after watching a few tutorial videos online and some trial and error I was finally able to make a passable flower petal. In the picture below you can see what I rigged up to dry the petals with. Just regular muffin tins with foil pressed into each of the cups. It worked really well and I did the same thing with with a mini-muffin tin for some of the smaller petals. I made all of these petals on Thursday night so that they would have time to dry before using them on Saturday.

Pretty petals :)

On to the groom's cake! The design was simple, but it's is surprisingly difficult for me to make straight lines while piping on the icing. In an effort to make the straightest and most evenly spaced lines as possible around the cake, I first marked off the bottom of the cake into 1" increments then used my bench scraper to mark the lines at each tick mark. It was quick and easy! But as you can see in the final cake, my final vertical icing lines were still a little shaky. For all the little dots between the lines I just eyeballed the spacing.

I also found that making chocolate curls is not as simple as you would think. 

I have to say, getting smooth sides and sharp corners on the hexagon cake was definitely more difficult than on a round cake. But with the help of the edge icing on the cake it turned out looking pretty nice. At least I think so :) I delivered and set up the cake on Friday evening after work then went home and got to work on the wedding cake.

The wedding cake itself was a super simple design. Just smooth white fondant on all the tiers. The slightly more difficult part was figuring out the arrangement and attaching all the flower petals. Since I transport the cake tiers while they're still un-stacked, I couldn't attach all of the flowers ahead of time at home. I did attach a few with the plan to fill in all the gaps once I got the cake set up at the venue.

Here you can see what the seams between the tiers looked like before filling them with icing. The icing definitely makes a big difference!

I used royal icing to "glue" the petals to the cake and it seemed to work well. Since I stuck the majority of the petals on at the venue, most of them were still drying when we left. I was just praying that no one would knock  the table or touch the cake before it was time to cut it. That's pretty much my worst wedding cake nightmare, that something will happen to the cake between the time that I get it set up and when the bride and groom get there and cut the cake. So far so good though!

My final comment about this cake is that I finally "caulked" the seams between the layers with some icing to fill the gap and make it look nicer overall. That was for you, Mary :) Though I have to give Joe credit for it since he's the one who told me I should bring the icing along just in case. So, thanks Joe!

I've got a couple months before another big wedding cake weekend. Between now and then I'm hoping to finish a few little projects I have going on around the house. This weekend, Joe and I made good progress on making over my latest curbside trash find. I found a really cool chair with a wood frame and upholstered seat and back that was really sturdy but just needed some love. Joe is refinishing the frame and I'm doing the upholstery update. So far it's looking really good! Hopefully by next weekend I'll be ready to share it on the blog. That's it for tonight though! Have a good week.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Trowbridge Family Reunion 2014

Hello again! I'm back tonight with a recap of our trip to Texas a couple weeks ago for the Trowbridge family reunion. You may remember from my last Trowbridge reunion post that this is the bi-annual get together of my mom's side of the family. This now includes Mimi, 12 aunts and uncles, 20 grandkids and 3 grandson-in-laws (including Joe). We didn't quite get the whole group together this year but it was close!

Everyone convened in San Antonio at Aunt Martha and Uncle Joe's house before heading about an hour northwest of town to the Roddy Tree Ranch where we had cabins booked for a few nights. People got settled in to their cabins and we checked out the pool, the Guadalupe River, and started playing some yard games. Here is the biggest cabin we had where dinner was made and we all ate/hung out.

The Ponderosa Cabin. As you can see it's more of a house, but it's easier to call it a cabin :)

Here's one of the other cabins we had. The big open area behind this cabin is where we played bocce ball, set up the corn hole games and a new game called Polish.

We had a couple other cabins, but you don't have to see all those :) We spent all our time there just catching up with family, playing games, swimming, eating (of course), and just generally relaxing. Sometimes we take little day trips during these reunions to nearby attractions or parks, but the ranch had plenty to do and we were all content to just stay there for a few days. We couldn't have asked for better weather either! Especially considering what it could have been like in July in central Texas. It was in the high 70s / low 80s and breezy the whole time. Totally bearable for hanging out outside all day. I guess now I'll just share a few pics!

Lila, Megan, Adeline, Sophia

After dinner chats - Mom, Mimi, Uncle Vaughn, Cora

Mimi, Uncle Vaughn, Cora, Aunt Carol

Aunt Carol, Mimi, Kate, Aunt Martha

Sorry about the blurry picture but this was just part of an epic game of knock out that went down one night. There were actually several games in a row and I'm happy to say I won one of them! Everyone got in on the action. 

Some extreme bocce ball playing going on. L-R: Andrew, Rebecca, Uncle Dave, Selina, Joe, Grace, Aunt Martha

As you can see there was a lot of hanging out in the shade while watching yard games. Andrew, Selina, Mimi, Aunt Barbara, Megan, Aunt Martha

More extreme bocce ball. Me, Michael, Mom, Uncle Dave

Uncle Charlie, Dad, Andy, Matthew, Joe

Thomas and Selina waiting their turn for corn hole. 

The whole group! In this picture we're missing 5 cousins and 1 uncle. We were lucky to find a friendly person who was also staying at the ranch to come take a big group picture for us. 

I guess that's it for tonight! Joe and I don't have anything too fun going on this weekend, but I am starting to psych myself up for a big wedding and grooms cake for next weekend. I'll be doing some gum-paste flower work that I've never tried before. Wish me luck!

Update! Due to popular demand I'd like to include a picture of the soon to be great-grandchild in our family. Sara and Andy are expecting a little one toward the end of October! Here's the proof :)

Aaaaand in case your curious, here is a picture of the next soon to be great-grandchild! Joe and I will welcome our little one sometime around New Years. Sara's bump is a little more impressive than mine at this point though haha.

Monday, July 14, 2014

I'm back and I brought cake!

Sorry for the 2 month disappearance! We've been traveling quite a bit since the last time I posted. First I spent Memorial Day weekend in Illinois with my 4 college housemates. As usual we had a great time and relived as many Rolla shenanigans as possible :) The next weekend, Joe and I went to my parents' home in Ohio for a graduation party for Gracie. Which means, GRACE IS GOING TO COLLEGE! When did this happen? She'll be heading to Mississippi State in only a few weeks and I already told her to plan on receiving some fun care packages. Now that I've posted it on the blog, I have to keep my promise :)

Two weekends after Ohio, we headed to St. Louis to celebrate the first birthday of our nephew, Albert. He's running around like a crazy man now and is always entertaining. We had fun playing with him and visiting with Joe's family as well. On the last weekend in June we drove to St. Louis again, and flew from there to San Antonio for the bi-annual Trowbridge Reunion (which I'll probably post about separately later). We spent 4 days hanging out by the Guadalupe River, playing lots of games, swimming, eating and catching up with everyone. It was really fun and relaxing! On the Wednesday before the 4th of July, we flew back to St. Louis from San Antonio, then left the next morning to drive to Wisconsin with Joe's parents. Joe's Grandma had planned a little family reunion up there over the 4th of July weekend, so we didn't want to miss that either! We spent the next few days playing more games, watching the little ones play, eating more good food and catching up again. Lots of good family time that week!

Finally, the Sunday after the 4th of July we drove back to St. Louis and I hopped on a flight to Houston for a week long course on the Basics of Corrosion (don't be too jealous). Now I'm home and happy to be here! Which means it's time to ease back in to blogging. What better to start with than a couple of cakes! These are from back in May. One graduation cake and one birthday cake. I had a couple other graduation cupcake orders but failed to take pictures of those.

First up is the graduation cake I made for our neighbors. Our neighbor gave me a picture of a cake she liked from a local grocery store and I tried my best to copy it exactly. Even down to the plastic graduation cap that I was able to find at the cake supply store. Funny story: I was at the grocery store buying cake supplies and I went through self checkout. The lady running self-check was especially chatty and asked what I was making since she saw I was buying baking ingredients. I picked up the same flyer from the checkout stand that our neighbor had given me with the cake picture on it, pointed to the picture and said, "this one". :) I thought it was funny. Anyway, here's the cake. The yellow writing looks extra shaky and I'm not sure why, I don't think it looked that bad in person, but maybe it did.

Next is a birthday cake that I made for the husband of a friend of a friend. She requested a Wisconsin Badgers football themed cake and after looking at several inspiration pictures she sent, we came up with the following design. The football on top is awful and that's my fault. But I was really happy with the rest of the cake! Especially the Badger mascot that I painted onto some modeling chocolate. I really liked the "vintage" version of the Wisconsin mascot that I'd seen in several inspiration pictures and knew I wanted to incorporate it into the cake somehow. There is a long skewer held between the front part of the badger and an extra piece of modeling chocolate behind it that allows it to stand up on top of the cake. Here it is!

Well, that's it for tonight! As usual, I have plenty of other things to post about, I've just fallen off the wagon I guess. Hopefully posting will be less sporadic after this. We'll be home for the next few weeks as far as I know and I've got several projects in the works. Until next time, have a good night!