Saturday, December 22, 2012

Easy Christmas Crafts

It's Christmastime and this is the first "real" Christmas in our house.  Last year we moved in on December 10th and managed to keep our tree decorated and in tact during the move.  That was the only Christmasy thing we had up since we were still living in boxes.

I have collected just a few items during after Christmas sales and from thrift stores here and there.  Pretty much anything cheap that I liked, I bought.  I never felt inspired in our rental house, but this year I broke out my crafting supplies!

I started with "modernizing" a nutcracker.  No offense to anyone who loves or collects nutcrackers, but I don't really care for them and find them a little creepy.  But I have friends and family who love them, so to each their own!

My inspiration for this project was at West Elm last Christmas.  They had these solid white nutcrackers without all the hair and thrills.  

I don't have a before picture because once I decided to take the plunge and redo him, I immediately starting yanking things off of him before snapping a pic.  He came from a thrift store, but kinda look like the one below.

After pulling off the hair, there was a lot of hair fuzz and glue that I just sanded down a little so the texture wouldn't show as much.  While I was at it with a spray can, I also painted a paper mache thrift store deer that was plain brown paper.

Here it is finished, but I realize it looks terrible on that wall color.  I would love to do the same thing to the little red guy, but sprayed solid red.  

The white guy probably needs another coat.  I bet a warmer white would look good, but true white was what I had.  Maybe next year, I'll give it another coat in an antique white.

A free grapevine wreath hangs on my door year round.  Thanks to this Pinterest post, I was inspired to make my grapevine wreath christmassy instead of the usual wreath I hang.  Felt is so inexpensive, so this project is very budget friendly.  Probably cost me less than 50 cents.  You can find the tutorial on how to make the flowers here.  I did not have, and did not feel like buying just 6 red and white buttons. Not worth it to me.  But if you already have them, go right ahead and put the finishing touch on!

The only thing I did differently was I did NOT hot glue the flowers to the wreath.  I want to reuse the wreath for other seasons so I hot glued twisty ties to the flowers then stuck the twisty ties into the wreath to get them to stay.  So it's temporary!

I did take some time to make them all.  Probably 4 hours of cutting, pinching, stitching, and glueing.  A great project to do while you watch a christmas movie.

I swapped out a few prints like this one in the bathroom.  It was a free printable from some website (sorry I don't have the link).  It was originally gray, not red, but I changed it in photoshop.

I'm not real big into Christmas "characters" like Santa and snowmen.  I prefer more natural things like trees, deer, and angels.  I have a gold pinecone covered tree that I got on clearance at Target maybe last year.  So to add to that, I searched on Pinterest for cone tree crafts.  Most involved buying a foam cone from the craft store for around $5.  Then I saw this post on Pinterest on how to make a cone out of a cereal box.

You can look on there for more instruction, but I basically cut the box flaps off and started rolling to determine the size I wanted.  I also found that using a spray nozzle from a bottle of cleaner and misting the cardboard with water really helped it bend without creasing.  Then just hot glue it together.

I bought twine for another project, but used it here too.  The red yarn I already had in my old crochet supplies.  Using dots of hot glue every few inches, I attached the twine and yarn to the cone.  I had to go around twice with the yarn to cover up the cardboard.

Inspired by this Pinterest post, and a pine tree we just cut down in our backyard, I made a garland to hang over our big window.  

It was incredibly simple and quick to do.  Cut the ribbon about 3 or 4 inches long and tie in a granny knot.  Then, hot glue ribbon to the top of the pinecone.  Then glue pinecones about 6 inches apart along the twine.  That's it!

I also made a short one for the bathroom.  I don't have many rooms to decorate, so the bathroom got some attention.  They're pretty much my favorite right now.

I didn't craft anything for this one, but I just had to share the great deal I got at a local thrift store.  This pre-lit, pre-decorated tree was only $5!  Perfect for our bedroom.

And of course, a Christmas post wouldn't be complete without a picture of our tree.  We don't have enough floor space for a full size tree, but having a real tree is important to both of us.  Fortunately, Lowes sells tabletop trees for about $20.  This year, with the suggestion from my mom, we put the tree centered in front of our triple window.  It's sitting on top of our glass top coffee table, which has been pushed over right under the window.

Both our moms have given us an ornament a year for most of our life, plus the ornaments I have bought myself, so we have enough to more than cover a full sized tree.  We can only fit maybe 1/4 of our ornaments so this year we picked out our favorites to put on the tree.  

The skirt is just a burlap runner I made a few years ago.

Of course, this is not all our decorations.  Just the new ones that I crafted on the cheap that I wanted to share. 

We really need to start working on our outdoor decor, and plant some trees that we can actually reach the branches of.  All our trees are over 40 ft tall, and we have no bushes to put lights on either.  Next year, I would love to have a huge lit wreath under our triple window and some lights in the yard.  

I almost missed getting this post up before Christmas!

Monday, December 17, 2012

How Does Your Garden Grow?

I had my first "real" garden this year.  I've planted vegetables in the past, but they were either in a small patch of the yard, or in containers.  This was the first time I had the space to plant as much as I wanted and whatever I wanted.  It was the year to experiment.  Experiment to see what worked and what didn't work.  To see how much of the crop we actually needed and could reasonably eat.

Back in April, we picked a patch of land that got full sun, was out of the way of other activities, and was within reach of the garden hose.  Matt tilled up the dirt and also tilled in compost.

I planted:
green beans
green onions
bell peppers
mixed greens

I planned out the spacing and placement, putting the taller plants in the back.  My good friend Gita helped me plant the seeds.  Some were seeds and others I bought as plants.

Then I forgot to take pictures for two months.  Or lost them on the computer.  So, this is what the garden looked like in June (definitely not at it's peak).  I loved having fresh greens anytime for a salad!

As for what worked?  The zucchini, squash, basil, greens, onions, and jalapeƱos.  I learned that I don't need as much basil and onions.  I ended up freezing a lot of it at the end of the season to we'll have fresh basil to add to recipes during the winter (the muffin pan and water technique).  And next year I will plant the zucchini and squash in batches.  They produce a lot for one month, then taper off.  We had so much zucchini, then nothing.  So planting in rounds would be helpful.

The corn didn't really work.  I call it midget corn.  The plants were short.  The cobs were under developed.  Not sure why.  Can anyone offer advise?  We did get to eat it once.  It was delish!  I also got ONE watermelon.  It was small, but tasty.  I didn't get too many good tomatoes or green beans, but I will try them again.

Maybe we didn't have the compost tilled in good enough.  I noticed that one plant would be great and the row next to it wasn't so great.  Possible variation in nutrients?  I dunno.

I had so many harvests like this one.  Once I took a whole box full of squash, zucchini, tomatoes, basil, lettuce, peppers to the beach on vacation.  We had meals where everything but the meat came from the garden.  There was so much basil, I ended up freezing a lot of it using this technique.

Wash, dry, and cut into strips.  

Pack strips into a mini-muffin pan (as many as will fit).  

Then fill muffin pan with water and freeze.  

You can store your basil "pucks" in a gallon zip lock bag.  

They are great to toss into a pan right before serving and will quickly melt.  The basil stays green unlike when it's refrigerated.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Pinterest Project: Flower Tower

I realize this is a little late in the season.  I've really been procrastinating in the blog department.  Better late than never!

Inspired by this pinterest post, I made my own flower tower for our deck.  This is not the cheapest DIY project, but the beauty it adds all season long (more than one season if you plant pansies) is worth it.  You could do it cheaper by collecting mis-matched pots from thrift stores, but it's hard to find large ones.  That could take a while.

First, gather your supplies.  You'll need:

- 14 in. pot
- 12 in. pot
- 10 in. pot
- 8 in. pot
- 6 in. pot
- 12.5 in. saucer
- 36 in. half inch dowel rod
- bag of potting soil
- 20-30 annual plants

We found out the hard way that you don't really need the saucer.  Terre cotta absorbs so much of the water that there isn't really any run-off.  And if you plan on moving it, it's nearly impossible to move with the saucer.  Ours broke...twice...when Matt was picking the entire tower up to move to another location.  Try not to need to move it once it's assembled.  It was unavoidable for us.  We finally created a seating arrangement and the tower needed to move.  Then twice more when I stained the deck.

Start with the biggest pot on the bottom.  Then insert the half inch dowel.  You'll want to put some filler in the bottom half of the pot so you don't have to waste a bunch of potting soil down there.  I used rocks from the yard.  We have an unlimited supply.  

Create a nice flat bed of soil, then feed the next pot onto the dowel, making sure it's centered and level. Fill in with more potting soil.  Repeat for next layer.  Rocks, soil, pot, more soil.

Now it's time to plant your flowers!  I chose impatiens and sweet potato vines.  The back half of our deck is in full shade, so I knew the impatiens would do well, and they have.

Fast forward 3 months and this is what they looked like in August.  I love how you can't even see the pots anymore.  It's truly a tower of flowers.

It's been so long I don't remember the exact cost, but the pots were around $50 total.  And the flower maybe $5 total?  Of course I can reuse the pots year after year and vary the type of flowers used.  Can't wait til next year!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Rock Retaining Wall

These photos date way back to March.  I had no idea that I hadn't shared them until recently.  Oops!  I guess they got overlooked.  This was around the same time Matt built the wishing well.  It was kinda a rocky month (haha get it? rocky?)

We have a two car garage which is not used for cars.  But we do need to park two cars in front of the garage door.  Back when the house was under construction, we poured gravel just where we HAD to have it.  See below how it really only fits one car parked in the center of it.  The rocks taper to the sides and you can see the cender-block foundation.  The sole purpose was to allow trucks to back up to the garage to unload stuff, not to look pretty.

For three months we parked our cars side-by-side on the mound of gravel causing the cars to lean away from each other.  Matt finally got more gravel.  I believe we got it all from the rock quarry and hauled it ourselves in Matt's dad's dump truck.  

Matt dumped then spread out the gravel with the skid steer (aka bob cat).  Since the right side of the garage is on the corner, pushing the gravel over there would have caused it just to spill around the corner.  We needed a retaining wall of some sort to hold the gravel in place and stay in front of the house.

(That pretty green winter rye grass was so pretty.  It's all dead now and looking less than stellar)

Having just gathered rocks for the well house, Matt was in rock gathering mode and disappeared back into the woods with the skid steer.  It didn't take him long to emerge with a bucket full of rocks.  And by rocks, I mean boulders.  These suckers were big.  I didn't know how he got them into the skid steer bucket.

Well, it turns out it was shear man-power.  Some of these rocks easily weigh 600+ lbs.  Matt muscled them into place, starting with the biggest ones.  As it was coming together, we realized these rocks had nice flat sides and would make great steps!

He laid the big rocks down and filled in with smaller ones on the sides.  They don't even wobble at all!

I absolutely LOVE them!  They are one of my favorite projects we've done.  It only took about 2 hours and cost NO money.  I think they really add to the "hardscape" of our yard and are completely functional (actually dual-purpose: wall/steps).  Too bad we always have a vehicle parked there, so most people who visit don't even notice them.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Dresser Makeover

Our bedroom dressers are hand-me-downs from Matt's dad.  He actually used them when he was a boy. We've been using them since we got married.  I love the simple lines and easy of use (I usually open them one handed by grabbing the bottom of the drawer), and the fact that they were free.  

Only problem was, the finish was in bad shape.  Like really bad.  Covered in scratches and worn out spots.  They COULD be sanded down and restained, but that is A LOT of work and I am not up for it unless I know there is some really awesome antique wood under there.

I knew I could paint them with just a few hours of work (spread out over a couple days).  I don't have a true before picture of them in our bedroom, but you can see them in these shots below.  This one is mine.

And the one wayyyy at the end of the hall under the window is Matt's.  

In decided on a paint color, I wanted to go with a neutral.  I already have pops of lime on the bed, and a pop of dark teal on my side table.  The room couldn't really handle an additional color, and I certainly couldn't paint two whole dressers lime or dark teal.  That would be fine for one smaller piece of furniture but not in this case.  Neutral was the way to go.

Their current color of brown was too dark and too close to the rug color they sit on.  White would be too washed out with the antique white walls.  Beige would be too...well...beige.  Gray way the way to go.  We have gray in our duvet cover and the closet curtain.

I spread the contents of the dresser on the floor of the spare bedroom so we could still access our clothes during the project.  We carried them downstairs and I took off the hardware, which will be staying as is because hardware is expensive and I like these the way they are.

Note the damage of decades of use.

Before painting anything, it's important to sand the surface a little to rough it up so the paint can stick and won't chip off with time and use.  You can do this simply with a piece of sand paper, but with the size of this project I wanted to save myself some time and sweat, so I broke out the electric sander.

Then, wipe down the furniture to remove all the sanding dust.  I use mineral spirits paint thinner and paper towels because it dries fast and is ready to paint immediately.  See most of the pieces below are already dry. 

I used a 6 inch skinny roller that is made for cabinets and doors.  In addition to dressers I've also used this roller on cabinets and doors.  Fancy how that worked out!!  

Going from such a dark color to a light color, it's a good idea to prime the wood first.  It helps the paint cover better and you'll have less coats to paint.

You still need a brush to get in the corners and cracks.  On each side of the piece, brush the paint into the cracks and anywhere the roller won't reach.  Then go back and roll the flat areas.  Continue this alternating process until you've painted all sides of the furniture and drawer fronts.  It goes fast!

Most people would use latex paint because it's not fumey, dries fast, and is easily cleanable with water.

 I, on the other hand, used oil based paint.  It's fumey and hazardous, slow to dry, and has to be cleaned up with paint thinner.  So why would I use this stuff?  Because it's the best paint out there.  You know how painted dresser drawers stick when you open them and if you lay something on it for a while, it sticks and sometimes gets paint stuck to it?  You know how painted furniture always has brush strokes on it?  Well, not with oil paint!

It dries S-L-O-W.  During the slow drying, the paint levels out.  It looks almost factory done.  And it dries HARD.  Really hard.  Nothing will stick to it.  It also covers really well, so I skipped the priming step.  But I had to wait a full day in between coats to make sure it was fully dry (don't need to do that with latex).

My project schedule was: 
Day 1-remove hardware, sand, clean, 1st coat (approx. time 3 hrs)
Day 2-2nd coat (approx. time 1 hr)
Day 3-3rd coat (only needed it on the tops, less than 1 hr)

To deal with the fumes, I painted in the garage.  As an extra precaution, I left them there for a full week after the final coat to fume off before bringing them inside.  Couldn't smell a thing!

Paint experts actually recommend oil paint for kitchen cabinets because it holds up to the water, steam, and oil that comes with cooking.  Against their advise, I used latex in my kitchen because I didn't want to be stuck in a house for days painting with toxic paint fumes.  You CAN see more brush strokes and orange peel roller texture, but latex holds up fine in my experience.  

The color actually ended up lighter than I thought it would, but I've decided to not worry about that.  It's still a huge improvement.

Before bringing the dressers inside, I lightly distressed them with a piece of fine sandpaper.  It can leave the paint around that area looking scratched and dry, so my trick is to rub some vaseline on the rough spot.  The wood/paint just needs a little oil and why mess with buying or opening another bottle.  Vaseline does the trick!

Since I had all the painting supplies on hand, the cost of the project was just the quart of paint which was around $20 from Sherwin Williams.  

More about why I buy from them here (halfway down the post) and here.


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