More Free Food

This week, I had two nights of dinner provided for my family free of charge thanks to my internet friend, Deb, who is Not Inadequate. She has been using a meal delivery program, called Blue Apron, for a few months and earned the right to send a sample delivery to three friends. I was one of the lucky recipients!

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I had to sign up for an account, including giving my credit card number for future deliveries, and then I got to choose either the 2-person plan for 3 meals or the Family Plan (4 people) for 2 meals. Since Anthony is here, I went with the Family Plan.

[After my sample meals were delivered, I promptly canceled my account to prevent any further deliveries so these two meals were provided totally free of charge with no further cost to me.]

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I chose which week to start my deliveries and then had my choice of two out of four different meals for that week. For the 2-person plan, there are 6 meals to choose from. I chose Sirloin Steak with Roasted Potatoes and Spinach & Basil Gnocchi with salad for our two meals.

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You are provided with an insulated bag with ice packs containing all the food you need in just the right proportions for your meals. There are also detailed, color instructions.

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Although everything was provided, there was still prep work (chopping, mixing, cooking, etc) and it took me about 30-40 minutes and an overflowing sink full of dishes to prepare and cook each meal.

We thought both meals were excellent and I loved trying things that I wouldn’t normally make. It should be noted that portion-sizes are very limited. There are no extras and you won’t have leftovers. Honestly, I could not see paying $30-35 per meal for this service. Sure, it was convenient to have it delivered right to my door but I still had to go to the grocery store for food for the other nights of the week (and to buy food for Zack…because…PICKIEST KID ON THE PLANET). I suppose if money were no object, I would have no problem doing this. But for now, I will stick to E-Meals menu planning*, where I get fun new, super easy recipes each week (but I do have to buy all the ingredients myself). Works fine for me though and it’s much cheaper ($5/month if you pay for a year in advance)!

*I previously blogged about E-Meals here. I probably used it for a full year and accumulated enough new recipes that I stopped. But recently, getting bored with the same old things again and seeing another half-price deal for a year membership, I started it up and am loving it. 

Free Food

$945 – That’s the amount of free food that various guests and I have consumed while dining out over the past year!

When I was scrolling back through my blog, I noticed my original post on my acceptance as a Secret Diner. I did not pursue the Market Force assignments because frankly, it’s too much work for a little payout of food that I don’t really care to eat (i.e. basically fast food). But I try to do one or two assignments for A Closer Look each month now that we are settled into Jacksonville. These are the assignments that I have done so far…

Closer Look

Sweet…I’ve had some really good meals out at places that I wouldn’t typically dine, such as Bahama Breeze, Seasons 52 and Capital Grille. The first two (at the bottom of the list) were in Minneapolis after Carl left for Jacksonville so Kelly and Anthony were my guests for those two assignments. Zack went with me to Tijuana Flats in Fleming Island, I took my mom to Capital Grille when she was here last time and a friend from church went to The Kitchen on San Marco since it was dinner at the bar and Carl was not that interested. But Carl has been my companion for all of the other meals. We enjoyed another great meal out at Seasons 52 last night.

There is one caveat to all this “free” dining…I actually have to put in some work after enjoying my free meal. There is an extensive questionnaire that I have to complete online after the meal (and it has to be completed within 12 hours of leaving the restaurant). For each section of the questionnaire (for example, Pre-Visit Call, Facilities, Host/Hostess, Bar Service, Server,  Food & Beverage Items, Service Flow, Recommendations), I have to write a 5-7 sentence paragraph describing in detail what occurred. It takes me at least one hour to complete the entire questionnaire. And then I often get follow-up questions for the next few days for clarification.

Many assignments also require photos. Luckily, in this selfie-crazed world, it is not uncommon at all to take photos of the food or restaurant while dining. While dining at Capital Grille,I forgot to tell mom to wait for me to take a photo of her steak. She cut into it before I could snap a photo of it “untouched.” After submitting my documentation, I received an email asking if the steak was presented to us that way. When I explained that it had been cut into, I was informed that the client may not accept my report since the guidelines were not followed exactly. If that were the case, I would not be reimbursed. It was a nerve-racking few weeks waiting to see if my reimbursement would be issued. Thankfully it was!  I love my mom dearly and enjoyed my fancy dinner out with her, but I would hate to pay nearly $200 out-of-pocket for one dinner.

I love working for A Closer Look. Free food is a good thing :).

Old Glory

Our neighbors have included us in their yearly tradition by inviting us down to their beach house for the Independence Day holiday.
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Since it is also the neighbor’s birthday, I wanted to bring her a gift. What better gift for an Independence Day baby that a custom wooden flag to hang on their fence. It was really easy to make. Waiting for the paint to dry was the longest part of the process.

I started by buying four fence pickets like these:

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My husband and I used the table saw to cut them in half lengthwise. Then we cut each board into approximately 35″ widths so that I had 8 equal boards for each flag since we decided to make one for ourselves as well.

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I then painted half white and half red. I already had leftover white paint. I bought a quart of red and ended up using less than an inch of the can. You can probably get away with a couple of containers of craft paint if you wanted.

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When the paint was dry, I arranged them in alternating order, pushed 4 boards together, taped off a corner and painted them blue. I again had bought a quart of blue paint and used even less than the red.

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When the paint was dry, I turned all the boards over (keeping them in order) and used long paint sticks as supports, gluing and screwing them in place. You could also buy a piece of wood but the paint sticks were the perfect size and they were free. Yay for free.

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While I was working on the back, I screwed in two hanging hooks at the top.

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When all the boards were secure, I turned it back over and using a stamp from my collection, carefully stamped white stars on the blue background. I had to google the correct pattern to actually put 50 stars. The key was to start with the middle row, which straddled two boards. Then I worked my way out in each direction, putting two rows on each board. There are 5 rows with 6 stars alternating with 4 rows with 5 stars.

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Since I felt the finished product looked a little to shiny and bright, I took a sanding block and ran it over the top and distressed the edges.

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Since these flags will most likely be hung outside (I know mine will), the final step was to put two coats of polyurethane on the front and one coat on the back (just because I ran out).

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I’m very happy with the way that they turned out and can’t wait to give Susan her flag this weekend. I hope she loves it as much as I love mine.

Happy Independence Day!

How we Built our Farm-House Table

Today I just wanted to give an overview of what was involved in building our farm-house table. I’m not doing to go into a detailed tutorial because there are lots of other good tutorials on the internet already.  In fact, these are the two that we used for inspiration:

Build a Farm House Table for Under $100

Free Farm House Dining Table Plans

Plus, it’s doubtful if anybody reading this post will actually build their own. Except for maybe my friend, Not Inadequate Deb. Go for it Deb. It’s your turn!

Most importantly, for building your own table, you will need one of these:

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An extremely handsome and handy husband :). If you don’t have one of those, then I just feel sorry for you. Poor you. Lucky me.

So the first thing that Carl did was build a frame for the table using 1x4s on the outside and 2x4s for the braces.

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Then he cut the odd-shaped beams down to size for the table legs. To fit the beams in the corners of the frame, he needed to notch out a right angle.

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Here you can see how he took what was basically a pentagon and made a right angle.

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Now it fits right in the corner.

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Since we did not have enough vintage wood to make the table as wide as we wanted, we decided to put a border around the outside using new wood. Since I wanted to wood to blend well with the old wood, I needed to “age” it before staining. I followed these directions on Craftaholics Anonymous, which basically involved first brushing on black tea (which has tannic acid). Next, you brush on vinegar which has had steel wool sitting in it for 24-48 hours. This solution reacts with the tannic acid to turn your wood a grey color.

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Here you can see the difference between new wood, wood with the solution just applied and wood which has been sitting in the sun for a few minutes. So cool!

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Then it was time to start laying out our pieces on the top of the frame and cutting everything down to size. Carl ended up having to add a few more cross braces to match up the seams for the wood pieces.

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Next was the tricky part. Since I did not want screw heads on the top of the table, we needed to attach it from the bottom. So being careful to keep everything in the order that we just figured out, we needed to slide the pieces one by one under the frame and attach them.

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We kept lifting the frame up and examining the boards to make sure they were fitting snuggly and as flat as possible. When all was done, we had a table top!

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I lightly sanded the entire surface and rounded off the sharp edges and corners of the new wood that formed the border around the table with the new orbital sander that I purchased myself. Men aren’t the only ones that like new power tools.  After bringing that bad boy that weighs about 100 pounds, inside, I got to staining it.

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After applying one coat of walnut stain (two coats on the new wood on the border), the table was darker than Carl liked. So I sanded it down with fine grit sandpaper several times until the wood grain and color variations were showing. The final step was to apply two coats of Satin Poly for protection.

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After giving it a few days for the Poly to completely dry, we turned the table over for the final steps. First up was attaching the legs with large bolts.

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Then Carl added a small piece of trim next to the frame to hep support the aprons and hide all the screws in the side of the frame.  I had the honor of painting the outside of the frame and the trim piece with the same white chalk paint that I used previously on my other tables. It took three coats to completely cover the new wood.

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The very final step was to use a very old engraving tool that Carl’s dad gave us eons ago and that we have never before used to etch our names in the bottom of the table.

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I used a red permanent marker to help highlight our names and make them pop a little more.

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And there you have it…our new farm-house table!

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We figure it cost 62 trips to Lowe’s,  a couple hundred dollars in supplies, including the 100-year-old wood and two weekends worth of work. It is everything that I imagined it would be and I couldn’t be happier!

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I love it and will treasure it always. Thanks for all of your hard work, Carl!

Guest Room Wall Art

I was inspired by this blog post on one of the blogs that I read regularly for some wall art for the guest room.


Conveniently, having lived in 6 states now, this was the perfect arrangement for above the guest room bed. If you haven’t moved around as much as I have, then this artwork may not work for you :).

I went to Home Depot looking for rugged-looking wood and found cedar fence pickets around 5″ wide. I had the helpful worker guy cut them into 15 inch lengths so that I had 18 boards of equal size.

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I stained them dark brown. Since they soaked up so much stain, I ran out on the last four boards and had to use a slightly darker brown that I had lying around the house which accounts for the different colored boards but I think that just adds to the rustic charm.

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Then I had to attach three boards together to make roughly square shapes. It was my husband’s idea to buy wooden yardsticks and cut them in thirds. He suggested just using wood glue but even after stacking photo albums on them overnight while they dried, I found some a little wobbly so I ended up adding screws to the back.

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The next step will only work if you have a wonderful, crafty friend with a Silhouette machine. My Cricut cutting machine is limited to the cartridges that I have on hand. The cartridge with the States of America cost over $100 and I wasn’t willing to pay that for a one-time use. Knowing that my friend back in Minnesota, Ann Marie, had a Silhouette that can cut out any shape, I elicited her help in cutting out that 6 states for me that Carl and I have lived in. I asked her to make them around 12″ wide or tall, depending upon the state.

After they arrived in the mail a few days later, I laid my boards out and then used a map of the US to place the states correctly. Yes, I admit that I had to look up the correct orientation for half of the states (I did know IL, MN and FL).

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I removed the templates from the backing paper and placed them directly on the boards. I taped around the outside edges to prevent overspray.

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You can’t see the tape because I used clear packing tape but it was there :).

I sprayed about 3 coats of white spray paint, allowing time in between to dry.

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After the last coat, I allowed a few minutes to dry and then pulled up the tape and templates. The last step was to hang them on the wall, using sawtooth hangers on the back of the wood and nails in the wall.

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I think it was the perfect addition to my Navigational/Nautical room.

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It’s hard to see in the photo but the quilt has “Old-World charm featuring a detailed vintage-style map print” (as taken from the description on, where I purchased it).

Thank you to my crafty friend, AM. I appreciate the help in making my vision come true!

Who (beside Ann Marie) can name all the states that we lived in? What about the state in the top left?? Who remembers where Carl and I lived for the summer after we were first married?