30 November 2011

My First DIY!!

Unlike many of my fellow bloggers, I leave much to be desired in the do-it-yourself department.  I'm not very crafty and I'm definitely not handy; in fact, as much as I grumble about my husband's handyman abilities (or lack thereof), I'm actually really grateful for the skills he has ... if we had to rely solely on my abilities, we'd be in trouble!

To be honest, when I read the frequent postings of those other bloggers, I'm often filled with a crazy kind of envy: I only WISH I could execute on my ideas as well as they can!!  Not only would it save me a ton of money to not call a tradesperson every time I need something hammered, but I've always imagined there's something super-satisfying about DIY projects.  To be able to say
I did that! would be all kinds of awesome.

Well, I'm happy say that my suspicions were correct: it
is super-satisfying.  How do I know?  Because I built my own lamp this week, that's why!!!

Yet another school project, this time we were charged with building a lamp: either creating one from scratch or repurposing an old lamp to give it new life.  Originally I had intended to make over a 1960's beauty that's been in my family since ... well, the '60's.  I love it (which is why I still have it) but it's pretty ugly.  At least, so I thought.  When I presented my "glamourization" idea to the class, I was universally shot down. 
NO! they said.  Don't touch it!  It's perfect the way it is.

Huh.  Okaaaay.

So it was back to square one.  I hit up a few dollar stores in town looking for inspiration, but came up empty.  I think I was a bit fixated on my original idea (exacerbated by the birdhouse failure, no doubt) and as we all know, being married to one idea really shuts you down to others.  At my next stop at our local GoodWill, however, I hit creative pay dirt.  And for an investment of a whopping two whole bucks, I brought this little guy home:

Adorable, right?

At just over 12 inches high, this solid little ceramic snowman (whom I've named Finnigan) was the perfect jumping-off point for my project and, unexpectedly, yet another inadvertent digression into the Christmas season before December first!  I really need to give it to the celebratory tide ...

Anyhoo, the most terrifying part for me was the drilling.  Having purchased a lamp kit at Rona earlier in the day, I needed to drill a hole in Finny's hat (for the actual light) and in his rear end (for the cord).  I was certain that the instant I touched the drill to him, I would smash him to smithereens.  I used masking tape to secure my drilling areas and on some good advice from Daryn, I started with the smallest drill bit that came in the set and progressed to larger and larger bits (genius).

My range of bits

Here's my first taste of success:

I am woman (with power tools), hear me roar ...

It worked!  Two holes, perfectly placed and nary a smithereen anywhere.

It took several hours of fiddling to successfully complete the installation, especially since Finny's top hat, which is tilted at such a jaunty angle, is tilted at such a jaunty angle!  Obviously laying the base cap flush against it wasn't going to work (at least not if I wanted the lamp to stand straight up, versus jutting out at a weird, inappropriate angle) so we had to devise of way of building up his hat slightly so that cap would sit horizontally.  Slicing off angled pieces of cork didn't work, nor did stuffing foam ear plugs underneath it.  Our solution?  To build layer upon layer of hot glue inside the cap, forming a perfectly customized wall of glue.  This was the process which took the most time, as each layer had to dry nearly completely before I added the next.  Here's what it looked like once attached and secured with another layer of glue:

Yes, it's ugly, but a quick coat of black paint and now it's not even noticeable!

Throughout the process I learned (the hard way):

  • To manipulate hot glue with wet fingers only; it sticks to dry fingers and can give you quite a bad burn! 
  • That it's best to work with wires only when the lamp is unplugged (yeah, it happened) 
  • Hot glue does stick to ceramic plates (no matter how glossy the finish, and no matter how doggedly I believed that it wouldn't)

And with only two incidents of second-degree burning and one electricution, this is what Finny looked like!

Awwww, yeah!

He still needed a little something, though, so the following day I made a dollar store run again and purchased an octagonal plaque (to use as a base) some red and green bead garlands, a few little trees and some clear acrylic vase-filler beads.  And of course, a shade; I picked up a little beige, faux-silk number at Canadian Tire for just around $20.

I painted both the base and the shade white - two thick coats for each - as well as the cork bases of the little trees.  Once dry, I whipped out my trusty hot glue gun again and affixed Finny to the base.  Since his attitude is so playful and devil-may-care, I put him on an angle on the base, and to one side.  All the better to leave some room for the trees, which I also glued down.

Once the hot glue had hardened and each fixture wasn't going anywhere, I got out my white crafter's glue and went to town.  Moving in sections, I used a paint brush to spread a thick layer of white glue, then gobbed on handfuls of the acrylic beads to form a floor of "snow".  I also added some snow details on his hat, just for effect.

Some light paint touch-ups and the addition of a few details, and here we are!

Sorry about the blurry photo - I wanted to catch him in natural light

How cute is Finnigan?!

I love him, and A. can't wait to get him in her room for the holidays.  I think he's a winner!

Now of course, there are some details outstanding that I will work on this week (and share with you next).  Specifically, I'm going to add a band of beads around both the top and bottom of the shade, but I'm taking my time.  Since I intend to place the beads individually in an alternating red-and-green pattern
(why would I make it easy on myself and use a single, solid-colour strand when, with just a little more effort, I can make it impossible?)  My hot glue gun and I need a small break, though, so I'll come back to it this weekend.

Otherwise, though, Finny is a fait a complis!  It wasn't at all as difficult as I imagined it would be, and my DIY confidence is definitely up.  I'm looking for my next project as I type! 
WOO to the HOO!!!!

UPDATE: To see how Finny turned out, click HERE!  (I'll give you a hint: he's pretty fabulous!!)

PS ~ I've linked up Finny's success story to:

1. Power Tool Link Party at A Home In College Hill

29 November 2011

Inspiration Gallery #11 | Christmas Crafts

AGAIN I'm breaking my own rule around holiday-themed anything (shopping, blog posts, music, decorating) but I can't help myself ... maybe I ought to reconsider my rule?  This time it's purely in the interests of timing; if I were to wait until December to blog about these fantastic holiday crafts, it'd be the 20th and way too late!  So I'm breaking all the rules for you guys; let me know if you try any of them!

edible holiday garland
Pretty (and tasty!) holiday garlands via here
How to Make 6-Pointed Paper Snowflakes
The best paper snowflakes ever via here
Not just for the holidays anymore!  Amazing ping pong lights via here
A modern festive Christmas wreath using my favourite: dollar store ornaments! via here
Not technically a "craft," I know, but truffles are my favourite homemade holiday treat and my family loves when it's chocolate-making time in our house!  This isn't my exact recipe, but it looks just as delicious, via here

Sort of makes me feel all chipper and festive inside :)  What are your favourite holiday DIYs?  Anyone doing anything crafty this year?


25 November 2011

It's All About Optics

I may have whined about mentioned once or twice that I've been burning the (morning, noon and) midnight oil trying to catch up on school projects that came down the pipe while I was away - the week of vacation didn't do me any favours but the additional week of illness really put me behind the 8-ball.  I knew the project work was intensive (having been completing it diligently for the past few months) but missing those two weeks really put the workload into perspective: it's a lot!!

One of my catch-up assignments was focused on the concepts of Rhythm and Motion.  Obviously the idea is to connect both concepts to room design, but schoolwork - particularly in a creative stream - allows a little bit of latitude in execution, which meant I could veer from any sort of formal design and create this bad boy:

Awwww, yeah baby!!

Inspired by a fabulous tutorial on nefotlak, one of my favourite blogs, Cheryl created some beautiful pieces with her students.  Here's a sample of their terrific work:

nefotlak image via here

So I thought to myself, how better to represent rhythm and motion that with a wicked little op art project??  Amazing!

I started with a 10 x 15 inch presentation board, which is our standard for the course.  As Cheryl points out in her tutorial, it works beautifully if you freehand the circles but I'm a gal who prefers a little more precision so I turned to my trusty stencils and, when they got too small, to randomly sized bowls in my cupboards that I traced around in every-expanding sizes.

Once the circles were drawn and starting in the exact centre of the smallest one, I drew a line top to bottom.  Again, the lines don't need to be ruler-straight and could be freehanded, but I wanted specific spacing between my lines so a ruler needed to be employed.  Once the centre line was established, I measured out and drew in the rest of my lines to each edge of my design.  The final template looked similar to this:

nefotlak image via here

Then it was time to start shading.  Using some fabulous pens I purchased at DeSerres for my drafting course, I coloured every other segment individually, alternating the segments on each line to create a checkerboard effect.  What started like this ...

then looked like this ...

and then like this ...

and then like this ...

and finally , after many hours of work, like this ...

Can you see it?  It sort of looks like it's swirling around (or at least it should) and since it took me about 6 hours start-to-finish, I've got my fingers crossed for a decent mark!  This was an amazing project and I'm so grateful to Cheryl for posting the original tutorial: thanks!!

On that note, I'm off for the weekend; we'll be running here, there and everywhere as per usual.  Wishing you a great one, and don't forget to check in on Monday when I'll be posting November's Mood of the Month!


22 November 2011

School Daze

Since we returned from vacation I've been working double-time to complete projects that are soon (or past!) due.  The one that's been vexing me the most and causing me to tear out small chunks of hair and cry spontaneously has been the birdhouse project.

Yes, you read that right: 
Bird. House.

Initially, I had a fabulous idea.  Like,
beyond amazing.  My plan had been take a piece of log - what I ended up purchasing was birch - and hollow it out to create a wooden tube with a 4-to-6 inch interior diameter and an inch-thick wall.  The top was to be slanted at 30 degrees, with a square 10 x 10 x 1 roof of natural pine.  The base was to be the same dimensions as the roof, but attached to the house by a hinge and a hook, so it could be unhooked and tipped open at the end of every season to clean it out for the next inhabitants.  If I was feeling really adverturous, I was going to try my hand at installing a small door in the back, which would open to a plexi-glass window so that mid-season, you could peek at the bird family in residence without causing them any distress.  It was all perfectly planned, and would have been fabulous except ...

Do you know how hard it is to hollow out a log?  Yeah, it's hard. 
Really hard.  My good friend (she of the amazing Hallowe'en displays) pulled out all her best tools and we chopped-sawed and reciprocating-sawed and hammered and chiseled and drilled and sanded as best we could but to no avail.  The end result could be described perfectly in two words:


So we tried to tackle it another way, by cutting 12 inches of log into 5 smaller pieces, the better to drill through each section more easily.  The idea here was that once each segment was hollowed out individually, the rings could be glued together to form the foot-long tube I was looking for.  After another hour of chopping and grinding and quite a lot of swearing and laughing, the pieces started to snap off in the vise and we gave up.

Our next idea was to build a framework around which I could hot-glue or nail sticks of varying sizes.  The cap and base would still work in the same way, and the biggest challenge would be to find a way to drill the entrance hole without destroying the sticks in the process, and to fill the gaps between sticks in a way that looked relatively natural but also made the house as weatherproof as possible.

Didn't work.  Sigh.

So off I went to the dollar store to see what materials I could mine from there.  Ordinarily I can find everything and anything I need in the dollar store, and love trolling the aisles for creative ideas.  It really has become one of my favourite places, but not last night.  I don't know if it was the disappointment of not being able to make my initial idea work (which I still stand by and am SURE would have been awesome if only we'd been able to figure it out!  Still, the laughs were good) or if it was my overwhelming feeling of pointlessness with this project that blocked my creative chakra.  Whatever it was, we left more aimless than we were when we walked in, albeit with a bag stuffed full of items with possible-birdhouse-potential.

The end result, after hours of fiddling and super-gluing my fingers to just about everything (including together), here we have it:


Yeah, I know.  Sooooo lame.  I haven't found a way to affixed the top yet nor hang it from a tree, but I'm definitely working on it (I have to hand it in today so I better get a move on!)  Here's how this masterpiece came to be:

1. Purchase a gazillion of these bamboo boxes for two bucks each

2. Slice the bamboo sticks from around the box sides (and stab myself with the screwdriver a few times in the process)

3. Measure off pieces of bamboo wrap to size and glue to each side of a wooden box with fluted sides.  The flutes meant that there was large gaps at each corner, which I filled with smaller pieces of the bamboo, wrapped around each corner and glued to each side.  There are still narrow gaps at the top of these corner pieces, but that's OK.  The house needs ventilation and these are perfect to provide it!  Here's a view from the top, with the first layer of sides and corners attached.

4. The entrance to the house was made by gluing two plain wooden door signs together, then attaching a piece of circular metal to narrow the opening and ensure it's impervious to the attack of other birds.  In this case, the metal ring was adapted from a drain catcher, out of which we pried the wire mesh to leave just the metal cap, and then super-glued it in place.

5. A second layer of bamboo matting was attached to all four sides, for a bit of insulation.  The corner pieces were left as just one layer, for better ventilation.

6. I added some decorative detailing to the front and top by running the bamboo sticks horizontally versus vertically.  The lid is just an inverted plain wooden tray into which bamboo walls are nestled; it's a tight fit and I worry about compression causing the superglue at the base to fail, but I'll cross that bridge if I come to it.  And voila!  There we have it: the most lame (but hopefully effective) cut-and-paste project I've ever done.  I'm not happy with it per se, but it's important to own the process.  Stupid birdhouse.

More school updates to come later this week (hint: I've been busy!!)  Ciao for now!


21 November 2011

The Golden Ticket

I mentioned on Friday that we would be spending the weekend (or at least, all of Saturday) in the gym at a volleyball tournament for J., which was great fun and very successful.  Congrats to the boys for winning GOLD!

Inspired by the pretty color of their hardware, here are two gold-themed interiors that caught my eye this weekend:

Totally stunning via here
This feels super-contemporary but really warm and inviting at the same time, via here

So what's your take on gold?  Do you love it, or can you live without it?  How popular is it in today's interiors?  Hit me up in the comments if you have an opinion.


18 November 2011

'Tis The Season

Aside from completely vindicating my ruling yesterday about the whole winter coat debate with A., today's snow squall cemented the issue: winter's here.  Break out the hot chocolate and woolen socks!

In the spirit of the weather, I did something today that I rarely do: I Christmas shopped in November (gasp!).  I'm not ashamed of it but it's a little uncomfortable; I have some very rigid personal rules about the holidays that I violated most profoundly by cracking open my wallet this afternoon (no Christmas-related activities before December 1!), but so be it.  I'll get back on the straight and narrow tomorrow.  Today I'm just excited that I've already put a big check mark on my shopping list.  One down, eight more to go!!

Here's a sneak peek at first purchases (and don't worry, no spoiler alert necessary: one isn't allowed on the internet without supervision and doesn't read the blog, and the other can't read, full stop)

My niece is a budding artist and I'm guessing she'll go crazy for the fingers paints.  Some artist's paper to use as her canvas plus a make-your-own t-shirt kit should keep her - and her parents! - busy for hours.  Her mother will thank me, I'm sure.

As for the origami, that's the first stocking stuffer of the season for my little one.  She's obsessed with these instructional packets (I happened to pick this one up at
DeSerres) so it'll keep her busy in the car as we travel to all the Christmas obligations, if nothing else.

I know it's silly, but scratching off a whole person from my list this early in the game makes me feel ridiculously accomplished (traditionally I wind up being a Christmas Eve shopper).  Now I just have to keep up the momentum (post-December 1st, of course) and maybe this year I can avoid the Shoppers Drug Mart rush at 4.30pm on the 24th!

And now for something completely different:
 a little shameless self-promotion.  This is probably in hugely bad taste so I apologize in advance, but check it:

This is a presentation board I did for my Artist Spotlight project in Art History class last semester, which I was pretty pleased with.


is where it is now!  Yup, that's right: my teacher put it up on the wall!!  I know it's totally nerdy and whatever, and that it's just a few pictures glued onto a poster board, and that I really should get a life, but still ... it's exciting and validating.  It makes me happy :)

And speaking of happy, this is beyond awesome:

Muppets, Twilight
image from Disney, via here

WereRowlf?  Stop it, it's too much.  I can't take it :)

Before I sign off, I just wanted to remind all my fellow Miltonians that
EC Drury High School is hosting its annual Craft Show this weekend; if you too would like to brazenly break the December 1st rule and start your Christmas shopping early, you should stop by between 10am and 4pm on Saturday and 10-and-3 on Sunday.  Featuring over 100 vendors, admission is $2 for adults (kids are free) and even better, parking is no charge!  Click here for more details.

We'll be spending our weekend on the courts.  J's got a volleyball tournament in Stratford on Saturday so we're looking forward to being gym rats for the day.  Keep your fingers crossed for a decent showing from the team, and have a great weekend!


17 November 2011

Are You Ready for Old Man Winter?

This week I unilaterally decided it was time for A. to start wearing her winter coat to school every day, much to her annoyance and general dismay.  She argued that it wasn't nearly cold enough, being only mid-November (she's a true Canadian ... it's not cold until it's frozen!) and that the other kids would laugh at her since they're all still running around mostly coatless.  And while I assured her that it would be only funny until they all came down with bronchitis (and then who'd be the one laughing?) she's still feeling more than a little put out.

This morning, however, I opened my Outlook to find Style at Home's most recent e-newsletter,
35+ Cost Efficient Ways to Prepare for Winter.  Vindication!  Baby, it's [getting] cold outside, and here are some of my favourite ideas to prep your home and yourself for the season of holiday and hibernation:

Preparing your home for winter

Seal Your Windows
Seal drafty windows to keep heat in and energy bills low with one (or both) of these two simple tasks. First, caulk the cracks. Sold in temporary or permanent form, caulking is inexpensive and easy to apply. Second, cover your windows in a thin plastic film (available at any hardware store) and tape it down with waterproof double-sided tape, heating the edges with a hair dryer and pressing the protective layer into place. When it gets warmer outside, simply peel the film off, open the window, and let the sun shine in.

Don't Forget About Heating Maintenance
Is your heating system ready to weather the winter? Have a professional check your heating system and ensure it's in good working order before you turn it on. Schedule checks for your furnace, venting system and chimney. Don't forget to replace the batteries on smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, in case any of your heating systems are overworking.

Prepare Your Hearth for a Fire
Before getting chestnuts ready for the roasting, get your fireplace set for the fire. Grab a flashlight and look inside for build-up, bird's nests or obvious cracks. From the outside, check for broken bricks and crumbling mortar. Ensure that your damper opens and closes and seals tightly. Clean out the ashes and remember that in addition to these steps, you should have your chimney professionally cleaned every other year (more often if you burn a lot of fires). Stock up on wood and kindling, and you're ready for a comfy, cosy season by the fire.

10 Things To Do in November

Stock Up On Wine
Whether it's for serving to your guests or bringing to parties, you're sure to go through lots of wine this holiday season. Make a serious trip to the liquor store now and you won't have to go again until the New Year.

Add Flowers to Your Decor
Forced bulbs are a wonderful way to brighten up a
 colourless winter vista; not only do they look beautiful on the windowsill, but the lower temperatures near the glass will help them stay in bloom longer. To make things easier, you can buy pretreated bulbs that don't require special treatment -- just pot them up, water and wait for them to grow.

Get Started on Greeting Cards
If, like many Canadians, you have friends or relatives abroad, it's likely you need to start mailing cards at the beginning of December to guarantee that they'll make it to their destination by Christmas. Make things easy by purchasing cards and stamps and organizing your list of recipients ahead of time. Address and stamp all your envelopes first, so you can whip off a card in any spare moment.

Colin and Justin's 5 Winter Makeover Tips

Add Warmth With Light
Proper lighting can really cosy up a space. As the months roll forward, it's best to avoid harsh lighting. Instead, favour warm glows created by lights like the Mini Table Lamp in hot red from EQ3. Or invest in an affordable dimmer switch like Lutron's Maestro Preset 600W in white from The Home Depot, and you'll be changing your mood on a whim. Even easier, opt for the simple, natural glow of flickering scented candles. Bliss!

Update your home with fresh flowers, candles, cushions and throws. Accessories can change the mood and dynamic of a space. For colour, choose pieces in warm hues like rich red and deep orange, and you'll be sure to raise your room's temperature.

These are just a few tips and tricks that caught my eye, but there are many more: check out the whole helpful list here.  What are your traditions and habits getting ready for winter?  Do you do anything special?

1. Seal Your Windows image via here
2. Don't Forget About Heating Maintenance image via here
3. Prepare Your Hearth for a Fire image via here
4. Stock Up On Wine image via here
5. Add Flowers to Your Decor image via here
6. Get Started on Greeting Cards image via here
7. Add Warmth With Light image via here
8. Accessorize! image via here

16 November 2011

Travel Photo Album ~ More Cuba Snaps!

Daryn's pre-departure lunch at Pearson ~ appropriately, a Cuban sandwich
A pretty and practical flower stall that struck my fancy in Havana
The gorgeous, sun-filled cupola of one of Havana's oldest cathedrals
Our traditional Cuban lunch while on tour; it was one of the best we had all week
Strays were everywhere - cats, dogs, you name it - and they wrung my tender little pet-loving Canadian heart
Even the pigeons looked like they had mange
The amazing detail of these marble busts (of Cuban military leaders) blew my mind
Not. Right.
I was obsessed with these gorgeous waxy purple plants outside our resort room
Varadero beach ... too pretty ...
Another stray, who shared our fried chicken lunch in Varadero (but turned his nose up at the rice and beans)
The Godpigeon and his lieutenant giving tourists the feathery eyeball
Chicken on the loose and little girl in hot pursuit
Daryn couldn't get over (or get enough of!) these football-helmet-shaped cabs in Varadero
Awsmazing wedding favours
My favourite balcony
Our reason for being there ~ XO to the happy couple