September 18, 2014

Deck Makeover, Part I - Prepping Pressure-Treated Wood for Stain

I had grand plans for the lakehouse exterior this summer: paint the exterior house doors and the garage doors aqua, paint the house exterior and garage exterior nearly-black, paint the guesthouse door and trim, stain the main deck, stain the guesthouse deck, and avoid gardening at all cost.

I think that I was most successful at avoiding gardening.  I did, however, also manage to slap a coat of grey stain on the deck just before the cold weather set in.  Whew - just under the wire!  It proved surprisingly tricky to find a suitably sunny stretch of days in which to stain the deck.  You never realize how much rain you're getting until you need a minimum of three sunny days in a row.  I naively thought the deck might take a couple of days to prep and stain, but in the end our schedule looked more like this:

Day One: Prep the deck (instructions below) - Hubby and I worked together.
Days Two-Six: Wait for the weather to clear up.
Day Seven: Sunny day! Stain the railings, part of the stairs, part of one bench - Hubby and I worked together but got so little done.
Days Eight-Twelve: Vacation (poorly planned).
Day Nineteen: Finally, another sunny day! Stain the main area of the deck - Me alone, sigh.
Day Twenty: Finish up the other bench and stairs - Mom took Hubby's place on deck duty with me.
Days Twenty One-Twenty Two: Soak my finger in epsom salt to help release a super deep, super large splinter.
Day Twenty-Three: It worked!!  The epsom salt was incredibly stingy, but softened the skin and brought the sliver to the surface for removal.  Oh yeah, and the deck looks okay too.

Currently I still need to touch up a few areas but it's been so cold at night that I'm worried it won't dry properly.  All in all, it took four days of actual labour to prep and stain the deck - three of those days required two hands on deck (sorry, couldn't resist).  I really think the deck could use a second coat, but I can always add another coat in the spring.  I'll show you the finished deck soon, but first we need to mow the lawn because we've "forgotten" to do that for the past four weeks and it's looking really disheveled.  After what we did to the front yard, I can't show you the back yard in its current state.  I just can't.  In the meantime, here are the details on how we prepped the deck.  And hey, dragging out the deck staining story will really help draw you, the reader, in and recreate the frustrating, delayed gratification I experienced as this task dragged on and on.  This is an advanced creative writing technique, I'm sure of it.

Before we did any type of surface prep, we removed the step leading from the house to the deck.  When the railing had been added for the elderly former occupant, the stairs had been cut to accommodate it.  The railing was a hassle and an eyesore for us, but to remove it we had to jettison the entire step.  We plan to re-build it and will stain it to match the deck (if possible).

In the photo above, and the truly incriminating photo below (I stopped feeding them last year, I promise), you can also see how weathered and sad the deck was. 

Our deck is pressure-treated wood that was installed about 13 years ago.  New pressure treated wood can have a high moisture content and needs to dry out properly before staining/painting, but because ours was so old that wasn't a concern.  It was treated with some kind of clear finish, but had really taken a beaten and much of the finish had worn off.  The wood was very dry and weathered, with some discoloration.  Pressure-treated wood can have a green tint, but it also seemed like we also had some mildew.  It was advised that we sand the whole thing by the pros at Canadian Tire but that seemed like soooo much work, so we made the executive decision to skip sanding.  Instead, we scrubbed extra thoroughly using the deck cleaner they recommended.

After the step was removed, I swept the deck really well but because our deck was built with the boards rammed up against each other (dude who built this house did not understand wood expansion), a lot of debris was stuck in the crevice between the boards.  After my best sweeping attempt, I used Rez Deck Cleaner to clean and prepare the deck for staining.  This deck cleaner cleans, brightens, and restores weathered wood surfaces.  I learned that the grey tinge of weathered wood is actually a layer of dead wood fibers that need to be removed, which this cleaner does.  If our deck had previously been stained a different colour, I could have used Rez Deck Stripper instead (but I probably wouldn't have been so glib about skipping sanding).  The type of wood, its condition, whether it's been stained/treated before, if it's weathered, etc., all impact the best course of action for prepping a deck so make sure to chat with a pro at your local paint department for advice tailored to your deck if refinishing it is on your to-do list.

If using a deck cleaner like this one is part of the preparation system recommended for you, here's my experience:

  • Put on thick rubber gloves, rubber boots, and eye protection
  • Protect vegetation by hosing it down with water (keep pets away)
  • Wet the deck with a hose
  • Dilute the deck cleaner, as per the manufacturer's instructions
  • Using a mop, broom, or paint roller, slop on the cleaner evenly and let it sit for 15 minutes
  • [Optional, but I did this] re-apply the deck cleaner to keep the deck wet
  • After another 15 minutes, scrub with a rough bristled brush 
  • My tip: keep a bucket of water nearby to clean your bristle brush of goo
  • Rinse thoroughly with a hose
  • Allow to dry for at least 24 hours before applying stain

At first it didn't seem like it was working, but when I started scrubbing with my brush I realized that a lot of grey goo and film was coming off.  My water bucket was immediately filthy so I kept re-filling it to make cleaning off the brush easier.  I scrubbed and scrubbed and rinsed and rinsed (the 3.78 L jug was more than enough for our deck).  I didn't use a pressure washer because I was advised that it could soak the wood too much, so I just used a garden hose.  It worked out well because I initially tried to stealthily steal my Dad's pressure washer but his theft-deterrent practice is to store pieces of his tools and equipment elsewhere, and without the missing piece we couldn't use it so stealing it seemed futile.  We were actually looking for the piece for so long, that he came home and caught us red-handed so we politely hauled it back to the garage and added a pressure washer to our sale watch list at Canadian Tire.

After cleaning, the deck did look much brighter and much less grey.  Not that Szuka gives a damn.  She gets a little peeved anytime we have the gall to go outside without her.

The deck definitely absorbed the stain nicely, so I think the cleaning process was a success - although only time will tell how the stain holds up and whether or not it begins to peel.  I'll share the completed deck makeover soon (you caught a sneak peek on Instagram).  Provided we don't get snow this week, I may have an aqua patio chair makeover to go with it.

Disclosure:  I partnered with Canadian Tire for this project.  I was not asked or prompted to provide a positive review of any products used for preparing or staining the deck.

September 16, 2014

Bearly a Problem

It's embarrassing to admit, but when we first moved from the city to our rural lakehouse, I was scared out of my gourd.  The woods - at night! - tops the list of my irrational fears.  A lifetime of scary movies has taught me that bad things happen in the wood at night.  Shortly before the move, we started watching The Walking Dead, and that's when I learned that the woods can be terrifying during the day too.  The episode in which Hershel's idyllic, country farm is overrun by walkers hit a little too close to home and that's when I stopped watching.  Only recently have I been able to come home in the dark without spending half an hour parked in the driveway, petrified with fear of what's lurking outside and trying to screw up the courage to open the door.  I can now stand on the deck at night while Szuka does her evening perimeter check/pee, instead of cowering inside with all of the lights on.  When something goes bump in the night I'm not immediately drenched in sweat, certain that my untimely demise is imminent.

Photo Source
Despite the bevy of irrational fears that have shaped my experience of country life, I haven't - until recently - been afraid of more plausible threats, like bears.  I've seen black bears, here and there, but I always felt safe in my backyard because black bears, we're told, tend to avoid people.  Predatory black bear attacks, although horrific and gruesome when they happen, are really very rare.  Still, habituated bears - those that are accustomed to humans and aren't afraid - are worrisome.

Photo Source
Recently I shared a photo on Instagram of one of our apple trees with a branch ripped almost clean off.  I suspected a bear, and it was confirmed last week when a neighbour anxiously banged on our front door to let us know a bear was in our apple tree, high among the branches, and refusing the budge.  He eventually ran off, but she was really concerned by how unfazed he was by our presence.

The neighbour told me someone else in the area had been confronted by a giant, 200+ lb black bear, who determinedly, yet slowly, approached her while she was out walking.  She in turn slowly backed away but he followed, so she tried to make herself big and tall and noisy but still he confidently moved toward her (probably not unlike the curious bear in this video).  He was only scared away by a passing truck.

This description sounded eerily like what might happen before a predatory attack.  For the first time, I became afraid of what's actually lurking out there, in the woods.  I felt somewhat safe because Szuka is always by my side (and she's a big girl), but then I read that dogs can be the worst around bears: some run up to a bear and nip it, then turn around and run back to their owner with the bear in hot pursuit.  Szuka, still just an adolescent and fun-loving pup, is goofy enough to do that.

Illustration Source
I decided to do a little research and see what I could do - in addition to buying bear bangers and bear spray, which I stocked up on - to keep bears away (plus what to do in the case of an encounter!).  The number one rule for keeping safe in bear country?  Hide food sources (garbage, compost, etc).  That's kind of a no-brainer, and despite my former penchant for fox-feeding, we've been diligent about not leaving food out.  I have no idea what possessed the former owner to plant two juicy apple trees between the house and the garage.  But then I saw this photo of a woman feeding a black bear and I realized that sometimes smart people just do stupid things.

Photo Source
We had been meaning to chop the trees down, but last fall there were no confirmed signs of bears coming to our yard (we thought we saw bear poop, but now I'm not so sure), and so it hadn't seemed urgent.  Plus, we liked the leafy privacy they afforded.  Well, it turns out that last year there was a big bear hunt in the area that eradicated the bears, but without an organized hunt this year, more black bears began appearing.

A couple of Instagram friends told me we could interrupt the fruit cycle and still keep the trees.  I thought that might be a good idea but suddenly the fruit tree removal seemed very urgent.  The persistent little black bear started appearing daily and I was worried he'd bring bigger, even bolder friends.  Even though he's small, I knew that he could still do damage if provoked - especially if he took a swipe at Szuka.  He tended to appear around the time we went outside to play fetch - and I started to wonder how many times he'd been only a few feet away without us realizing.  One night I decided to read about every fatal bear attack in North America in the last hundred years, and it had me wishing for a comforting episode of The Walking Dead.  Did you know that a woman was mauled to death in her kitchen when a black bear burst through her window and attacked her?!?  Hubby and I decided, definitively, that the trees needed to go.  Right now.  Luckily, my father-in-law was kind enough to drop what he was doing and come by with a chainsaw.  He expertly cut down the trees (digging up the ground around them so the sawed off stump won't protrude) and then we bagged up all of the apples.  I still need to cut down and dispose of the heap of branches, but the larger chunks of wood we'll dry out and burn.  We mourned the apple trees a little, and the heap of brush has certainly not added curb appeal, but I feel a lot better now that the lure of delicious applies is gone.

The bear will still come back for a bit, out of habit, until he realizes that the apple buffet has officially closed.  The neighbours have blueberries that have yet to ripen so it's entirely possible that he'll still be hanging around the area, snacking.  Hopefully, though, no additional bears will be drawn to our yard because we never leave out anything tasty.  At least by the time our little guest grows to his full size, our apple trees will be a distant memory.  In the meantime, I'm not going outside without bear bangers and bear spray, plus I've put a giant bell on Szuka's collar so we don't accidentally crash a teddy bear picnic.

See ya, little guy.

September 11, 2014

25 Easy + Inspiring Art Ideas

Did you see how cold it was here yesterday?!?  I wore earmuffs while I worked outside, and it was with a heavy heart that I pulled out the bin labelled "winter accessories".  While we lived in Ottawa, I grew to love fall because it was a welcome respite from the sticky humidity of summer.  Now that I'm back in Northwestern Ontario, fall offers me little but the ominous warning that winter is coming.  I don't know why, but I'm dreading winter like never before.  Maybe because last winter was pretty grueling: snow so deep that even my humongous truck got stuck, a failing furnace warmed our house to a toasty 16 degrees (that's only 60 for my American friends), and endless snowstorms

Despite the cold, I've been working hard, trying to finish "summer projects," like staining the deck, spray painting everything, and cleaning out the garage (plus I'm really hoping we manage to paint the house exterior).  I know our days of working on projects outside are numbered, so I'm also cleaning out our weird little fish room, which I have decided will make the perfect studio for painting.  It's got a lake view, a floor I don't give a hoot about wrecking, and a sink!  This winter I've decided that I'm going to hunker down and create.  My Mom and I always dreaming up really fun ideas for beautiful, artful, handmade home wares and we decided that this winter we're finally going to shelve the excuses and see them come to fruition.  With this genius plan, my dread for winter has abated ever so slightly.   

Just for fun, I rounded up 25 ideas for modern, chic (but super easy) DIY art projects, in case you need a few fun projects to help you get excited for colder months, and more time spent indoors.

This project caused a bit of outrage (read the comments on her blog), but I really like Dana's trendy gold and chevron painting.  It's fast and easy, but the large scale makes such a big impact.  This is one of those satisfying, little-work-big-outcome projects - my favorite!

Equally simple is Katie's textured painting, which can be whipped up with leftover renovation supplies: all purpose joint compound, a trowel, and leftover paint.

Bower Power

Katie's DIY art really reminds me of this stunning, muted pair of abstracts:

Image Via

My last print-making experience saw me gauge a huge chunk out of my right hand but I'm still tempted by this simple tutorial from Emma Dime, using a handmade rubber stamp.

Emma Dime

But of course I favor this aqua version (from Rachel):

The Crafted Life

Using colourful embroidery stitches to affix a crocheted doily to cloth makes for a sweet (and easy) piece of art - and a great way to use the doilies that seem to linger on, unloved, at yard sales and thrift shops.  Here Esther used an embroidery hoop to display the finished product, but I think mounting a group of doilies onto fabric that's been stretched on a frame would be a nice option, and lend a slightly more modern feel.

Wholly Kao

It's not that I have anything against embroidery hoops!  In fact, this installation (spotted by at Anthropologie, by Little Girl Big Closet) would be a perfect DIY project! Done in sheer fabrics and hung, layered like this, in front of a powder room window would be a really fun take on sheers curtains. 

Little Girl Big Closet

I have quite a few DIY art tutorials in my DIY Projects Archive and although I've really tried to take step-by-step photos of what is usually a fly by the seat of my pants type affair, sometimes it's difficult to really capture how a painting is made.  Mandi's tutorials for her stunning abstract painting is perfection - lots of photos that show how just some simple layering can produce a truly sophisticated finished piece.

A Beautiful Mess

Mandi also created this beautiful quilted art, a textural take on abstract art.  I love the wood frames she made for both pieces because they immediately look gallery-ready.

A Beautiful Mess

Recently my Mom and I were pouring over a website, looking at vintage options for some kitchen artwork for her, when she looked at me, wide-eyed, as she remembered, "there's a whole bunch of those photos you took in Hungary that I want to get blown up and framed instead!!".  I have file folders on my computer stuffed with thousands of photos and although I always intend to blow them up and frame them, I usually forget about them once they're in the bowels of my hard-drive.  So here's a reminder: unearth those stunning beach photos or artsy vacation shots, fix them up a bit with a free photo editor like Picmonkey, and frame them for instant art!  Hanging a grouping in a grid, in identical frames, makes the look more artful.  You can thank Kate for this beautiful inspiration:

Centsational Girl
Even easier is enlarging just one photo as an engineering print (Staples can do this) and mounting it on tempered hardboard like Jules did in this tutorial - or building a custom frame for it with this tutorial from Yellow Brick Home.  Yep, I definitely need to pick out some photos to frame (and print for photo albums, something I've neglected for years) because rumor has it Black's Photography is closing up shop in Thunder Bay.  I'm so glad I've put off this task for years :(  Don't be like me: hunker down this winter and get it done!

Joy Shoppe

An app turns photos into "watercolour" masterpieces with the touch of a button!  See Heather's tutorial for all of the details.  Again, a grouping framed in identical frames looks sharp.  

Setting for Four

For something a little more dimensional, Meg's video tutorial demonstrates how to whip up mid-century inspired star-bursts - it's so easy!


I don't think Merrick posted a tutorial of this pretty, graphic piece she created  for her dining room (I couldn't find one) but I think that with a straight edge, some painter's tape, and a few tubes of acrylic paint, this is definitely do-able.  A square canvas is the perfect choice.

Merrick's Art

Here's another take on creating a simple, graphic piece (from Pop Sugar):

Pop Sugar

This paper art is so ingenious, but Patricia's tutorial looks really easy - although I think origami would be a fun alternative, and could be mounted in the same way.  I could totally see luring some girlfriends over on a blustery evening and making something like this - this is especially good for the paint-averse.

A Little Hut

Still using paper as a medium, Carrie created an assortment of beautiful paper pinwheels to adorn her walls and the result looks like an art installation.  Although I love the colourful papers Carrie used - and the vintage, curated over time look her collection has - a more monochromatic colour palette would still look whimsical but just a smidge more modern.

Dream Green DIY

Sometimes it just takes switching up the medium to make something simple seem fresh and new.  Colourful, layered circles painted on sheet music and book pages - dreamed up by Mary - would look great framed in sleek Ikea frames.

Me With My Head in the Clouds

Do you remember those stamps I bought in Hungary?  I've lost and found them about a dozen times since bringing them home, but right now they're safely tucked away, ready for me to finally turn them into something great.  I plan to frame the mod dogs (especially since I tracked down a Komondor on eBay!) but I'm searching for the right frames.  In the meantime, I'm temped to copy and enlarge some of them, like the one I spotted on Desire to Inspire, although this idea isn't limited to stamps - playing cards, ticket stubs, scraps of love letters, etc., would all be contenders for photocopying and enlarging.

Desire to Inspire

Some paint, some brushstrokes.  Spotted on HGTV, this abstract piece proves that as long as it's big, even the simplest composition can be eye catching.  A little texture and a little variation in the intensity of the colour helps too (add a little white, or thin out the paint).    


I have a confession: despite my penchant for all-white walls (and insistence that they're the best), I do love the look of a stenciled or wallpapered room.  Really.  But it just seems like a lot of work, and I know I'll get bored or overwhelmed immediately - I have before!  That's why I love this idea of just stenciling a large "canvas" made of wood planks (although a proper canvas would do too), as seen on The Handmade Home:

The Handmade Home

I don't think that I enjoy the textural trend of woven/hand knotted wall hangings that's really hot right now enough to try to make my own, but seeing the beautiful, fanciful woven wall hangings that artisans create (like this one spotted on One Kings Lane) makes it easy to see why this has become a popular DIY project.  I actually follow a few particularly talented weavers on Instagram, because I find their use of colour and their compositions inspiring, even if I never plan on picking up a piece of yarn.  This winter I'm sure a lot of folks will be hunkering down with a small loom and some Netflix.

One Kings Lane

As much as I think a project like this is very feasible as a DIY project (see here and here), I think that the real artists who create such captivating work (like the weaving below, from Native Line) deserve a little attention.  Wow, just wow.  I'm all for DIY art (and when I say DIY art, I mean DIY "art") because it can be personal and budget-friendly - plus fun and relaxing to make!  But every now and then I feel compelled to recognize the talent of professional artists and humbly back away, in a shuffling manner.

Native Line Store

Although I love looking at woven pieces, like the two photographed above, I felt kind of (okay, really) lukewarm about macrame until I saw this giant wall hanging...

The State of Things

...And the one below, and now I feel the need to implore someone to find a good tutorial (here's a simplified one, and here's another, and another, and another - whoa this is popular) and make this beauty for themselves.  Go big or go home, though. 

Apartment Therapy

When the lakehouse walls inevitably fill up, I'm taking art outside with this clever idea (also by Dana!):

Home Depot

Remember I just intimated that artists are awesome and let's respect them?  Well, now I'm going to admit that borrowing a neat idea crossed my mind this summer.  I very randomly found this delicate painted arrow/feather collage by Britt Bass and thought it was super cute and just quirky enough.  I didn't see them for sale anymore but decided to use this collage as inspiration.  I planned to snag some of the many goose feathers, guinea fowl feathers, and loon feathers littering the lawn and make something similar (maybe dip dye some feathers?) but, alas, I couldn't get my hands on enough that weren't chewed by Szuka.  I'm presenting it as inspiration for a fun collage made from feathers, paper, paint - maybe dye? Foliage?  Go crazy but add some on-trend colours and aim for repetition, not clutter, for a modern piece with some character.

My love affair with my text painting abated but only because I grew tired of the execution.  Linda's angled script in gold is a delicate and elegant version that has me running for the printer again...

Craftaholics Anonymous

This bold, turquoise painting (spotted on Michael Mundy's website) isn't a DIY project (in the sense that there's no tutorial) but it's the perfect inspiration to cap off this collection of tutorials and ideas/suggestions.  Some teal paint and an afternoon, that's all you need.    

I hope you liked this round-up!  I combed the internet for modern and chic, but still playful and easy tutorials and ideas.  Sometimes when I search for "DIY art ideas" I get really overwhelmed with all of the ideas out there - some of them a little too cutesy and craftsy for me.  But if I had the wall space (and time), I'd try each and every one of these ideas.  Now, before I get too ahead of myself dreaming up things to do when the snow falls, it's time to finish some summer projects!  In a toque. 
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