Fixing the Pond

So there’s this pond in our backyard just off the corner of the back deck.  It had fish in it at one point.  For 3 years actually (even after the filter quit working, and Greg quit bothering to clean it out or even feed the fish.)  They were some resilient goldfish.  Here’s what it’s looked like for the past several months…

 As you can see, it’s nothing but gunk.  A little bit of water, a lot of leaves, sticks, and algea.  To make things worse, the dogs like to try to drink out of it.  Lovely, right?

We debated whether to dig the whole thing up and just fill it in and put grass there or fix it up.  We both liked the idea of having a nice pond and some fishes out back, so we opted to fix it up (and we’ll do a better job at keeping it up this time!).  So the first step was to empty out all the crap.  And of course Greg jumped on the chance to go buy a shop-vac!  We registered for one for our wedding, but didn’t get it.  A quick trip to Home Depot and we were in business.

About 2 hours later we were all cleaned out. And I trimmed away some of the limbs at the base of the tree to clean that up too.  It was way too messy before.
 We found a good size hole in the lower pond, which we had anticipated might be there.  We bought some pond filler to take care of that.  We might have gone a little overboard, but we weren’t really sure what this stuff would do.  It basically filled in the hole and hardened into a spongy blob (that’s the best I can describe it!) And it expanded as it hardened…so yeah, a little overboard. But we’re good now!
We bought a new filter at Home Depot, and it’s working great!  
So we filled it enough to cover out blog (to test it out), and we’ll let the filter run for a few days and clear the water up.  Then we will pull some of the weeds growing around and in between some of the rocks and fill it with some fish!

a little love by the mailbox

I’ve been spending 90% of my outdoor time in the backyard and garden, which is great cause it looks so good!!  Yep, I’m gonna brag, cause I think it looks awesome, and there’s so much more I still want to do! 😉   I love yard work.  Is that weird?  I wish I could show you pictures of Greg’s yard 1 year ago so you could see the comparison.  I kid you not, the backyard was a complete JUNGLE!  Seriously, you couldn’t step more than 4 feet off the back steps because it was so overgrown with dead trees and bushes, weeds as tall as I am!  You’ve seen garden pics, but even that is still a work in progress. I haven’t even planted my watermelon and cantaloup plants. They are going on the other side, which has been cleared out and prepped, but I haven’t gotten around to planting.

The past 2 days I’ve been out in the yard.  Surprisingly, I’ve woken up at 8 and 830 am ready to start my day (yep, meaning I woke up BEFORE my alarms went off.  That’s monumental, my friends). So I’ve gotten in 2 FULL days of yardwork.  I’ve pulled weeds, finished clearing out the “melon” side of the garden, raked up tons of sticks, trimmed up some bushes and trees along the fence-line, and then I decided it was time for the front yard to get some love.  I mean, that’s the part everyone else sees, right?  Remember our ivy covered mailbox area? 

This picture was taken AFTER we had already cleared out all the ivy off the ground.  See how thick the ivy is on the back fence wall?  It was just as thick all over the ground.  The ivy was taking over!!  And it still is taking over…here’s a picture from behind that fence wall…

Again, this is after being chopped and cleared out so that the ivy only remains on the fence.  That whole dirt area was covered in ivy.  And it still is, sorta.  Ivy vines are a mess. They go deep into the dirt and are a pain in the butt to pull up.  That’s part of what I worked on Friday, and why my back was feeling it all day Saturday :/

But, the results are so much better! 🙂  I really wanted to plant a bunch of zinnias (the flowers I used in our wedding), and make this area sort of a wildflower area.  Like this…

But zinnias require lots of sun, as do most the flowering plants I like.  The problem with this area is after about 11am, it’s full shade.  So I headed out to Lowe’s to talk to a plant expert about what would work best in the shade.  He lead me to some little bushes, and although they are little now they will grow as big as 5 feet tall and wide.  We will have to trim them to keep them from getting that big, but they will fill the space nicely with their yellow flowering tips.  They are called “Sweet Broom” shrubs and they are the 3 plants you see in the bed below.  (oh, and after I took this picture I thinned out the ivy on the back fence wall. So it looks a little more like the left wall now)

 And when they are full grown, they will look more like this…

And all around the curved border I planted some hosta root bulbs.  I love hostas.  I think they look so pretty with their big green leaves.  So these will sprout up inside the border in front of the yellow shrubs.

Hopefully in a few weeks or sometime this summer they will all grow in nicely and I’ll come back and show you the results 🙂

the cookie chronicles – part 3

Unfortunately this step of the cookie chronicles was not actually photographed.  Needless-to-say, this step was a near failure.  And I was getting super crunched for time at this point (the party was about 4 hours later).  And I had called my friend Lauren for back-up.  So photographing was not high on my priority list.  But, I will do my best to pull some internet photos to accurately describe the process.

Here’s what you need….

 Decorating tips of your choice (depending on what patterns you want to make), disposable bags, couplers (the white pieces that allow you to interchange tips), and icing dye.  Once I made the frosting, I decided I wanted to use 3 colors on our cookies.  White, black, and purple.  The frosting naturally was white, so I didn’t use any dye for that.  The black and purple dye I got at Hobby Lobby.  They are made by Wilton, and unlike food coloring, these icing dyes are the consistency of jelly, and they are very concentrated. So, to color the icing, you simply dip a toothpick into the dye and mix it into the icing, and of course, depending on how dark you want the colors to be, you keep adding color with a new toothpick each time.  A little goes a long way.

Once you get the coloring how you want it, scoop each color into it’s own decorating bag.  (Now, here’s the part where I almost thought we were gonna totally fail.)  The frosting (although it came from a recipe that was intended for cooking decorating, was too thick to squeeze out the bags through some of our tips.  So, I slowly added a little bit of water to each frosting to make it a little more runny, because the bags kept bursting and getting holes in them from the pressure.  HOWEVER, even though it came out of the bags easier, we then had trouble with the frosting not “releasing” from the tips.  In order to make some of the decorations, like stars, flowers, etc with the tips, you need the frosting to easily release when pressure is not longer applied to the bag.  We had trouble with this, and I’m wondering if it’s because we had made the icing too thin at that point.  But we still struggled with holes bursting….so I’m not sure what the magic trick is.  Like I said in the first post, there is definitely a learning curve to this cookie decorating business.  Clearly I haven’t mastered it yet!

But, in the end, we got some pretty cute cookies.  And they tasted delicious regardless of how they looked!!!!  I CAN vouch for the taste of these recipes, even if they didn’t perform the way I had hoped.  I’m SURE it’s a mistake on my part, not the recipe itself.

Here’s our final result.  Lots of panties and high heels for our dear friend Leah Oh and a few bras here and there!

And it just wouldn’t be a bachelorette party without at least one penis cookie 😉  We had to bake her just one.

the cookie chronicles- part 2

So after my first (what I would consider failed) attempt at some lingerie cookies for my friend’s bachelorette party, I did even more research online for cookie decorating recipes and helpful tips.  That’s when I came across this website: Karen’s Cookies.  It was a life saver!! Anything you need to know about basic cookie decorating is on this site.  And the best part is she goes into much detail about each step of prepping and baking. You should check her out, she’s much more of a pro than me!  I decided to use her “Basic Rolled Sugar Cookies” recipe and her “Meringue Powder Buttercream” frosting recipe.  She has several other types of cookie and frosting recipes, but these were the ones I chose.

So here’s how it goes:
Basic Rolled Sugar Cookies
Ingredients:
     – 1 cup butter, softened
     – 1 cup superfine sugar (or granulated sugar, processed in blender for 30 seconds)
     – 1/2 tsp. salt
     – 1 large egg
     – 1 large egg yolk
     – 2 tsp. Vanilla extract
     – 1/2 tsp. Almond extract (optional)
     – 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

Directions:
First of all, I didn’t bother to buy superfine sugar, so I opted for the toss-sugar-in-a-food-processor route.

In a stand mixer (or with a hand-held), cream the butter, sugar and salt together until light and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes with mixer set at medium speed.

Add the yolk, beat well. Add the whole egg, vanilla and optional almond extract and beat until mixed. Add flour and beat at low speed just until flour is mixed in (do not overmix- remember, we don’t want heavy cookies!).  Divide dough in halves or thirds and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate until firm, at least one hour and up to 2 days.

Oh, and make a big mess in the kitchen….that’s step 4, 7, and 10

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Dust work surface and rolling pin with flour. Roll dough to 1/4″ thick, sprinkling with additional flour as needed to prevent sticking. Cut into desired shapes and place on parchment-lined baking pans.

Bake in preheated oven until cookies appear dry on the surface and are light golden brown on the edges, about 10 minutes (very large cookies may take up to 12 or 13 minutes). Remove from cookie sheets to cooling racks and cool completely before decorating.

Meringue Powder Buttercream Frosting

Ingredients:
     – 1/3 cup water
     – 3 Tbsp. meringue powder
     – ½ cup shortening
     – 4 ½ cups powdered sugar
     – 1 tsp. vanilla extract
     – ¼ tsp. almond extract

**Helpful hint #2: Don’t bother looking for Meringue Powder in grocery stores. Just take my advice and safe yourself a bunch of trips, and get it at Hobby Lobby, on the baking aisle of course!**

Directions:

Place half of the powdered sugar and the meringue powder in the bowl of an electric mixer. Whisk together well.

Turn on mixer (use whip attachment, if you have it) and, while motor is running, slowly stream in the water.  Once the water is mixed in, turn mixer to high speed and whip until stiff peaks form (this step took me about 7 mins). 
 still too runny…
stiff peaks…

Add flavorings and mix well. Change to paddle attachment or dough hook (if you have them…I do not.  My mixer is a true antique, and I just have plain old-fashioned beaters!). If using a hand mixer, use the same beaters you were using before. Add remaining powdered sugar and shortening and whip for 2-3 minutes more.

Note: Don’t skimp on the whipping time after adding the shortening. You really need to whip it well to prevent separation later.

Next is the fun part….cookie decorating!

the cookie chronicles- part 1

For my friend Leah’s bachorlette party I knew I wanted to make some lingerie cookies.  Ya know, like these…

I’ve never decorated cookies before, so this was all new to me.  But Greg and I used to watch a lot of Cake Boss, and he makes it look so easy.  And I wasn’t decorating a 10-tier cake, so how hard could it be, right?  Haha.  Let’s just say I think there is a learning curve to this whole cookie decorating business.  I found some supplies at Party City, but honestly Hobby Lobby is the place to go!  They have a whole aisle dedicated to baking.  As far as supplies go, you need disposable decorating bags, decorating tips of your choice, cookie cutters, and some good recipes.

I bought this cupcake decorators set that included bags and 4 tips, but any of these supplies can be bought individually too.  And I even bought some additional tips to work with in different shapes (at Hobby Lobby!).  Below is a tip guide to give you an idea of what each shape does…

I didn’t bother with trying to make the “full body” lingerie cookies, but the “panties” are pretty easy because you can just use a heart-shaped cookie turned upside down.  Hobby Lobby also had some high heel cookie cutters, so I did those as well.

Now for the recipes!  I did some research online (and on Pinterest, of course!), and thankfully did a trail run on the cookies on Wednesday before the party on Friday.  The first attempt wasn’t bad, so I’ll give you those recipes in a minute.  It’s a recipe similar to these frosted cookies you see in grocery stores all the time… (and I got it from this site: Annie’s Eats)

Yes, they are very yummy, but for what I was trying to accomplish, they didn’t work.  In order to get the frosting to hold the shape and make detailed designs on your cookies, it has to be somewhat thick.  And the frosting I made in the first trial was way too runny.  Yummy, but too runny, so none of the decorating tips worked…all the icing just flowed together. Make sense?

But since they still tasted good, here’s the recipe from the first trial:
Helpful tip! The dough has to chill for 1 hour prior to baking. Plan accordingly when you begin. 😉
Frosted Cookies
Ingredients:
For the cookies
     – 4½ cups all-purpose flour
     – 4½ tsp. baking powder
     – ¾ tsp. salt
     – 1½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
     – 1½ cups sugar
     – 3 large eggs
     – 5 tsp. vanilla extract

For the frosting
     – 5 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
     – 1/3 cup (5 1/3 tbsp.) unsalted butter, melted
     – 1 tbsp. vanilla extract
     – 7-8 tbsp. milk (plus more, as needed)
     – food coloring (optional)
     – sprinkles (optional)

Directions:
In a medium bowl combine the flour, baking powder and salt, and whisk together to blend. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the butter and sugar and beat together on medium-high speed until soft and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition and scraping down the bowl as needed. Blend in the vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, add in the dry ingredients mixing just until incorporated and evenly mixed. Gently divide dough into halves or thirds, wrap in saran wrap, and chill for at least 1 hour (or up to 1 day). You want to gently handle the dough at this point to avoid activating the gluten, which could result in heavy cookies, and we want light fluffy ones!

While the dough is chilling you can make the frosting. Place the confectioners’ sugar in a medium bowl. Add the melted butter, vanilla, and milk to the bowl and whisk until smooth. (I used my stand mixer). Whisk in additional milk as necessary, 1 teaspoon at a time, until you reach your desired consistency. Tint with food coloring if desired.

When you’re ready to bake, line your baking sheets with parchment paper (works MUCH better than foil for preventing sticking). If you have cookie cutters, roll out your dough with a rolling pin. You want your dough to be fairly thick for these fluffy cookies, so roll it out to roughly 1/2inch thickness. If you have cookie cutters, cut out your shapes. If not, you can skip the rolling step and just scoop out approx. 1/4 cup of dough and flatten it to 1/2 inch size balls and place onto the cookie sheet. Place cookies approx. 2 inches apart. Bake at 350˚ F for 10-12 minutes. Keep a close eye on these cookies! You don’t want to overbake them. The tops won’t brown, just the edges will be a very light brown when ready. Let them cool on the baking sheet for a few minutes, then transfer to a wire rack. Once they are cooled, you can spread the frosting on with a spatula or spoon. (If the frosting begins to thicken as you decorate, just continue to whisk in small amounts of milk to smooth it out.) Top with sprinkles if desired!

And to show you what I mean by the frosting not holding it’s shape, here’s my trial 1 of lingerie cookies….

 Greg thought they were good, but I believe my exact words to him were “amateur.”  haha. I knew I could do better.  Check out “Cookie chronicles- part 2″…..

Girls night out!

Last night I had the pleasure of hosting a lingerie/bachelorette night for my dear friend Leah.  Leah lived with me for 2 years when I bought my first house, and we met our soul-mates together!  Seriously, she met John, and through John I met Greg.  And in just two more weeks she’ll be a married gal too!  We started the night out going to dinner at Cocina Superior, and it was so yummy!

After dinner we all came back to mine and Greg’s house for some party games and lingerie gifts.  I made lots of desserts for us to enjoy including chocolate dipped strawberries, “panty” and “high heel” sugar cookies, and some yummy spiked punch! 😉  It took 2 batches before I was pleased with the cookies, and thankfully Lauren helped me decorate them because they were quite time consuming.  (and I’ll be posting the recipes for the cookies and frosting tomorrow!)  And probably one of my favorite items were some vintage pin-up girls I framed to decorate the tables.

We played a few games and Leah opened lots of great lingerie gifts.  One of the games we played, Leah had to answer questions that we had asked John about their relationship.  If she got the answer right, she got to draw from a “good” girl goodie bag.  If she got it wrong though, she drew from a “bad” girl bag filled with funny/sexy goodies.  It got pretty funny and we had lots of laughs.

 
 She missed a question, and go some edible panties! haha
the happy Maid of Honor (Leah’s sister, Kaylee)
 Lots of laughs 🙂
and one happy bride 🙂
 

 The rest of the night we went out on the town to a place called Tin Roof. They had a country band playing, and we had lots of fun dancing and enjoying the night. What a great night!

another happy weekend

Last weekend we celebrated another wedding.  My dear friend Abby and her fiance Trevor tied the knot.  Abby is one of my friends from high school and we went to Samford together where we were roommates for 3 years. We also studied nursing together!  It was a lovely wedding out at Hargis retreat center.  The ceremony took place in the chapel overlooking the lake.  It was another beautiful Saturday.  And we had some of our long distance girlfriends come into town!!

 

After the wedding, all of us girls (and our wonderful significant others) went to dinner at Superior Grill.  I love these girls!  We became friends in college and have been together ever since!  Some of them have moved away, but we manage to get together when we can…especially now that some of us are getting married one by one 🙂

Sunday was another pretty day.  We decided to take a trip to my Granddaddy’s lake and we took some friends with us.  My Granddaddy built a lake in the Alabaster area many many years ago.  My family has property on the lake and Greg (and his buddies) have recently figured out that we can go down there whenever we want to fish, hang out, relax and all that good stuff 😉  There aren’t houses built on the lake so it’s very quiet and peaceful.  I can remember many trips out there as a kid, fishing with my Granddaddy, riding in his boat and having picnics with Nana and my cousins.  The property hasn’t really changed one bit since those days, and it’s kinda nice that way.

my boys out on the water in my Granddaddy’s boat
of course we had a dog pack with us….
 this is Amos. He’s one of Steven and Mallorie’s pups, and he’s quite photogenic!
We took Jack out on a quick little fishing attempt.  I say attempt because we didn’t catch anything. Although, Greg and I are very impatient fishermen, uh, fisher-people?  After about 15 mins we wanted to head back to the dock with our friends.  Jack however decided it would be more fun to swim back…

We had fun and the pups were worn out by the time we got home, which is always good.  And we enjoyed hanging out with our friends for the afternoon.  Steven and Mallorie are about to move to Tennessee, so it’s nice spending time with them while they are still somewhat nearby.

This is Roux…Steve and Mal’s beagle mix

Happy Easter

We woke up Easter morning in Chattanooga, TN after our friends Aidan and Jinna Anne’s wedding on Saturday night.  We made record time driving back to Birmingham to make it to lunch with our families by noon.  It was a great afternoon.  Kim and Kendall had setup a long table in the driveway for us all to sit around and enjoy lunch.  We ate delicious home-cooking and had a great time visiting with everyone.  The kids were their usual silly adorable selves.  My mom, Dwayne and sisters were there too!  Katie and Chuck couldn’t stay but it was good to see them even if it was brief.  Emily had her friend Mary Kate home with her for the weekend because Mary Kate is from Augusta, GA.  And it’s the Masters golf tournament this weekend.  And yep, Mary Kate’s family rents out their house during the Masters to people attending the tournament.  So she came to Birmingham for Easter weekend.

I was sad we couldn’t make it to church this morning, but grateful to be able to spend time with our families today.  I love our families.  We all get along really well, and I enjoy being able to see everyone on holidays. 

Evey and Bennett quickly become center of attention as most grand-babies do 😉 And Cate is still sleeping most of the time, so she just gets held and passed around.
 
Do we have some cute nieces and nephew, or what!?

We spent the rest of the day laying on the couch watching the Masters.  It’s been a long busy weekend and we are exhausted.  I’ve got to get back to work tomorrow so I’m sure it’ll be an early night for us as well.  Hope everyone had a wonderful Easter weekend as well with families and loved ones.  I’m so thankful for the blessings God has given us.  Sometimes I need to be reminded how blessed I truly am.  God has been so good to us and I pray I never forget that.  I have a wonderful husband who I am grateful to have by my side.  Happy Easter and happy 6 month anniversary to us!

Chattanooga wedding

Our good friends Jinna Anne and Aidan are finally hitched!  Friday morning we headed up to Chattanooga TN for their wedding weekend.  It was a great weekend all around. The weather was wonderful!  Beautiful and sunny and temperatures in the 70s. Couldn’t have been better.  Their rehearsal dinner was at the Tennessee Aquarium and at the end of the night when dinner and toasts were complete, we all got to walk through the aquarium.  It was a cool way to wrap up the evening.  After the rehearsal dinner, most of us walked to a local bar for the evening to visit with friends and family that had driven into town for the weekend.  It’s so fun having all our friends together from Birmingham, Auburn, Louisville, Indiana, and so on.

Saturday went smoothly (well as far as I could tell!). The weather was warm and sunny again.  Greg was Aidan’s best man (along with Aidan’s dad). So he left for pictures while me and some of our other friends hung around the hotel killing time.  We all met back up at 5 for the wedding in a beautiful chapel on the University of TN, Chattanooga’s campus.  The ceremony was beautiful. They even had 2 soloists sing one of my favorite songs that we also included in our own ceremony…The Prayer.

Their reception took place on Lookout Mountain (same mountaintop as Rock City).  The views were gorgeous, the banquet hall was beautiful, and their band was AMAZING!  Seriously, once we had dinner and the real party started, we danced and danced and danced all night long! It was so much fun!

 Me and my sister-in-law, Callen
 Lindsay married Greg’s friend John last September and they live in Kentucky. We really wish we lived closed to these guys!
 Greg and John
 Birmingham gals (and future brides themselves!)
Dana and Laura
 
 and today (April 8th) is OUR 6 month anniversary! One year will be here before we know it!

Congrats Aidan and Jinna Anne!! We love you guys 🙂

day 2 of gardening

We made a lot of progress today on the garden. I bought some weed-killer to spray along the fence lines, got a few more strawberry plants, grape plants and a few more garden necessities.  Here’s some of the containers I planted last week…

These are strawberries…like I said, my strawberries didn’t do well last year, so I’m trying different containers in hopes something works this year. I have a mixture of Ozark Beauty, Quinault, and Sequoia strawberries.

 These are 3 different types of cherry tomatoes…Husky Cherry Red, Super Sweet 100, and Amelia.
But the biggest achievement of the day was our backyard garden area. I got the veggies planted into the raised bed.  I mixed the dirt we piled in it yesterday with the remaining compost from my bin.  Yep, a whole year’s worth of composting all gone in 2 days :/  Oh well, that’s what it’s for.  And check this guy out…
 You know you have good dirt when it’s filled with earthworms, but seriously, this guy was HUGE!! Definitely the biggest worm I’ve ever seen!
 
While I finished planting, Greg went to get us some gravel to make easier pathways (and to help with drainage). It looks so great now!

I have large tomatoes (Celebrity and Better Boy), red and green bell peppers, cucumbers, and more strawberries. I’ve never grown cucumbers, but my step-dad said they are vines so I added a trellis for them to climb.  The cucumbers are at the top of this picture, along the chicken wire trellis.  The 4 plants in front are the other strawberries.
I mounded these strawberries up to help them drain (again, in hopes of better growth this year).
And I got a soaker hose that winds throughout the garden.  I’ve only used it once so far, but it’s so easy. You just turn on the water and it slowly waters the whole bed.  But eventually, this little beauty will water our garden…
Yep, it’s a rain barrel.  We got it last fall as a wedding gift and it collects rainwater that can be used to water our garden and plants.  It was completely full, but unfortunately we had to empty it to get it up onto this shelf that Greg built.  We figured out that in order to get water to flow through a hose connected to the spigot, you need some help from gravity.  So we had to figure out a way to elevate the barrel.  Greg took a wood pallet and nailed some 2x4s for legs and support beams.  Now we just have to wait for rain to fill it up again (and hope the weight of it doesn’t crush the pallet!)  Once it fills though we can use this to water the garden rather than precious (aka pricey) water from the house. 
Oh and one more thing. I bought us 2 grape vines that will hopefully grow along the fence line. One of them is a Concord grape plant, and I don’t actually remember the name of the other.  They are both red grapes so hopefully they are good!
So there ya have it.  Lots of progress this week.  Of course it’s not 100% done. I still have cantaloup and watermelon to plant, but that will have to wait till next week!  I’m back to work for 3 days and then we are celebrating our first wedding of the season on Saturday!