Sunday, August 30, 2015

Mess of the Month Part I: Demolition and Countertops

I haven’t posted a thing in months not only because I’ve been traveling all over the country, but also because I’ve been working on not just a mess of the day, but a mess of the month. In July (well, let’s face it, July and August) I gutted and remodeled my kitchen. This was a long enough project that I’ve broken it up into three posts (which I'll make live links below as they post!)

Part II: Cabinets and Sink
Part III: Flooring, Appliances, and Hardware
Part IV: Backsplash and Finishing Touches

If you don’t recall from my move in post, the original 1940 kitchen in my Wisconsin home was not only ugly, but very hard to use.

I’d tried my best to make it work, bringing in a butcher block, and replacing the useless overhead light. But, still, it was hard to do much useful cooking in this kitchen. This was the palette I started with in June.

Having scoured Pinterest and surveyed friends and family I decided on cabinets from Cliqstudios, butcher block countertops and the Domsjo farmhouse sink from Ikea, and laminate flooring from Build Direct.

With plans drawn on graph paper and cabinets on order, I rented a U-haul and drove to Chicago to pick up my flooring and Ikea goods. It felt like a lot of truck, but when I got to the warehouse I realized that I got off easy compared to the alternative.
I put a Thursday on the calendar and recruited all of my friends in town to come over and help with demolition. Everyone brought their favorite crow bar and I provided the essentials.
I started first by removing the absurd in-cabinet heater vent, and carefully unhooking the garbage disposal and plumbing. After my careful work my friends showed up and the men made short work of what was once my kitchen. By the time the pizza was delivered at 12:30, there was nothing left but rubble.

Meanwhile in the basement I was working on my IKEA butcher block countertops. With guidance from The Newly Woodwards and a few other helpful online blogs I undertook the countertop project.

I had hoped for the Hammarp in Oak, but when Ikea was all out and I was already in Chicago with a rental truck I opted for the Birch. I bought a 74” and a 98”, more than I really needed, because of an unrelated snafu (we’ll get to this later). So, the first step was to cut the countertops to size.

Of course, if I’d just parted with the $40 and bought a circular saw at this point, I could have saved myself substantial heartache (more on this later, as well) but I didn’t. So, I used my chop saw to cut the 25” countertops to fit in my kitchen.
While the top of the butcher block was more smooth and had less knots and filler, I liked the color variation on the back better. So, I flipped them over and made the tops the bottoms. Then, I tested 3 different colors of Minwax stain (Red Chestnut, Gunstock, and Red Oak-- shown top to bottom on left side) on the underside of my countertops, then mixed a few colors together to see if I could find the color I wanted. I settled on the Red Chestnut, which of course, I could only track down in a half pint container, but it turned out to be enough for the whole project. I used a soft cloth (read, old cotton pajamas cut up into 8" x 8" squares) to wipe on the stain. 
The trouble I ran into was that the stain seemed to change color from one day to the next. The stain I’d used in the mud room (Red Oak) was the right color one day, and the wrong color when I tried it again the next day. As I got to the bottom of the half pint of Red Chestnut I noticed the stain going on more red with every coat! Why, you ask? Because I didn’t follow directions. Stain needs to be stirred. The red pigment settles at the bottom. Why I didn’t stir the stain like I was supposed to? I don’t know. I’m a failure.

To add insult to injury, other blogs I’d read said that the light finish needed to be removed from the countertops before finishing them. Also, because I was using the backs, I had the sand out the blue IKEA logo. So, I used my palm sander and 80 grit sand paper to remove it. I followed back over with a 220 to smooth it back out. I learned later that having done this scratched up the surface and made it take the stain quite differently. So, everything turned out much darker where I’d sanded.
Thus, the process of staining the countertops was a highly volatile one that lead to much cursing and a fair amount of drinking. In the end, each piece got three coats of stain and turned out darker than I’d intended. But, I learned a lot in the process. 
Next, it came time for the Waterlox. All over the internet people will tell you how hard it is to track down this magical substance like it’s some sort of mythical creature. I happened to be at the local hardware store (and we’re talking local hardware store, whatever size you’re thinking of, its about 1/4 of that) and found it immediately. People will also say this product is "so expensive!" At my harware store the quart was about $30 and did the whole project. It is possible I got lucky, it is also possible other people just need to stop shopping at Home Depot. My local True Value had both “Original” and “Satin” finish. I opted for the satin because I didn’t want to have to be too picky about a perfectly glossy finish when I was working.

Per the instructions (see, I learned) I applied a coat on each surface by wiping it on with a rag (again, pajamas), waited 24 hours, sanded with a 220 grit paper, wiped down with a soft rag (a t-shirt), and gave it another thin coat. Over the course of a week or two I gave the tops 6 coats and the bottoms 4 coats. This was probably overkill, but I had the time, and was trying to get the surface as smooth as I could, and kept messing it up.
They certainly aren’t perfect, but for a DIY kitchen and a total cost of less that $400, I’m feeling pretty good about them.

While I waited for Waterlox to dry, I also selected a new color for the kitchen walls. I did a little patching of the holes from the old built in cabinetry, and gave the parts that would show in the end (or so I thought) a couple coats of Behr Almond Milk.

With Mom and Dad on their way to help, the kitchen now looked like this

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Trouble with my hose

My house on Park Street came with a couple of unexpected amenities. For one, there was a beer pong table in the basement (it's still there, and we've used it, who am I kidding?). For two, there was a 150 ft hose taking up most of the floor of the garage. In order to park my car in the garage before the snow started, I dragged the hose outside and left it in a pile one afternoon... then left it there for 7 months. True, this is not a nice thing to do to a hose; True, my neighbors probably didn't appreciate it. But what the heck am I supposed to with a hose!?

Well, the snow melted and the garden came back to life and suddenly I was faced with a whole new set of home ownership problems: clogged rain gutters, overgrown shrubbery, and a totally unkempt yard. So, this is why the left me the hose...

First I untangled the hose and used it to clean rain gutters. Then, I tore out the Yew (don't even get me started on this...) and the overgrown vines in the front yard to plant hydrangeas. Newly transplanted hydrangeas need lots of water. And alas, I found myself cussing at the tangled heap of hose more often than I'd anticipated. I consulted pinterest and found a number of ideas for what to with a hose, but most would only work for a dainty little 20ft hose, not my 150ft monstrosity. But Shanty2Chic had one idea that I could get behind

I had to adapt her plan a little to fit my style, but here is an easy hose post that you can make in an afternoon for about $25. 

At the hardware store I bought a pre cut, pressure treated fence post, a wooden cap for the post, and a quart of exterior white paint ($22 total). For the hook I pulled out a leftover IKEA Hemnes coat hook from my mud room project. First, I wiped down the post and gave it and the cap 3 coats of paint. 
I attached the hook (slightly crooked, and burnt my finger in the process, are you surprised?). 
I dug a hole about a foot deep in the front yard where I wanted the post and buried it, then hammered it into the ground as best as I could with a rubber mallet.
Finally, I attached the decorative cap with wood glue (if it falls off in a storm I'll use something stronger, right?)

Monday, April 20, 2015

DIY Bootleg Screen Printed Onesie (with tutorial)

This month, my mom threw a baby shower for my sister. The planning had really been uneventful until she attended the shower thrown by the baby-to-be's other grandmother. And it was beautiful. Mom, who is a bit competitive though she wouldn't like to admit it, threw party planning into high gear. Each guest received a onesie in a bottle in the mail along with their invitation with a bid to decorate it and bring it to the shower. Then, at the shower we all voted for the winning onseie. Well, although I don't like to admit it, sometimes I get a little competitive too. I had my heart set on making the cutest onesie of them all!

I considered just stitching on a little tie and suspenders like I see all over pinterest, but that, I decided, was aiming too low. I wanted to go big for this project. It needed to be impressive. Clearly, I would learn to screen print. 

After many hours online reading tutorials that involved cutting out your template with an X-acto knife (which is really not my forte), I found this tutorial on instructables that allowed you to first paint your design, then turn it into a screen print. The author, as always, suggests starting simple. But then, I know I've already mentioned my pension for starting big rather than small. So, I decided to go with this design for my first project.
My first attempt at following the instructable didn't go so well, but after a couple hours of cursing, and a number of failed attempts, I finally had something almost good enough to bring to a shower (although, I still wish there had been time to redo it once more). I'll spare you the mess and just get down to the tutorial. But, let me warn you, as I sometimes do, that this not a good idea. Try it if you must, but I'd strongly recommend only doing this if you sincerely want to make multiple items with the same exact design on them in the same color, and if you're extraordinarily patient. If that doesn't sound like a description of you, might I recommend puff-paint?

Supplies you'll need:

Embroidery hoop
Voile (fabric for curtain lining, or other "screen like" fabric)
Screen Drawing Fluid*
Screen Filler*
Squeegee (small is better- aim for 4" to 5") 
Small Paintbrush
Something screenprint (e.g., a onesie)
Screen printing paint*

*In a very small town in rural Wisconsin, finding the screen printing supplies was a challenge. I used Speedball brand products, as they're available online from amazon and also Nasco. 

Step 1: Create your design.
I used InDesign to put together this little bit of typography and printed it out of a laser printer. Really, anything that you can trace, you can screenprint. Go nuts. 
Step 2: Paint your design onto your screen. 
Cut a piece of voile just a bit larger than your embroidery hoop. Place your printed design face up on your work surface then cover it with the voile. Centering your design under the fabric, tape the fabric to your surface to secure it in place. With your small paintbrush carefully trace over the design with the screen drawing fluid. Let the fluid dry partly before pulling up the voile and securing it in the embroidery hoop with the design centered. Paint over your design a second time with a generous coat of the drawing fluid. If you don't do this, you will regret it. Trust me. Let the fluid dry completely, helping it along with a blow dryer if you're impatient. 
Step 3: Fill your screen.
Once the drawing fluid is completely dry set the hoop on a prepared surface that you are okay with gunking up (might I recommend newspaper, plastic sheeting, etc). Spoon or pour a couple of tablespoons of screen filler onto your voile. Using your squeegee, spread the filler around using as FEW strokes as possible and clearing as much filler off of your design as possible. Then, wait for it to dry (this will take a while). 
If you did a good job, your whole hoop will be filled with opaque red goop and the blue design will still be clear. For me, this was not the case at all. Once the first coat was just about dry I dolloped another few tablespoons of screen filler, swiped it around a few times, again trying to clear off the blue design as best I could and then waited for it to dry, again. 
Step 4: Rinse out the drawing fluid. 
Once the filler is dry, rinse off the blue drawing fluid with hot water. I used a little bit of fingernail scrubbing to get the last little bits off. Screen should now show through your design. And now, you get to wait for the dumb thing to dry one more stinking time. 
Step 5: Do a sample print. 
After all that, it's finally time to print. But, god knows that you don't really trust this thing. I recommend starting with a sample print on something you don't care about to get the feel for it. I used a cami that had seen better days and was ready for the rag bag. 
Place the screen directly on the sample fabric. Run a line of paint across the top of the image. Using substantial pressure and holding the hoop in place with your other hand, drag the paint across the image with your squeegee about 3 times, or as few strokes as you can use to thoroughly cover the image in paint.
Carefully pull the screen from the sample fabric and set it aside on paper/plastic/something disposable. If any ink came through places you didn't want it, add more screen filler to those spots with a paint brush. DO NOT wash out your screen. Once you wash it, the filler will start to loosen and you'll end up with a less crisp image. To be totally honest, my "sample" was the most crisp image I got. 

Step 6: Print your items. 
Repeat the process that you just mastered on your sample now with your actual items. Be sure to place something inside of any shirt/onesie/bag that you print to be sure that the ink doesn't leak through the second layer of fabric. I found waxed paper worked well, but a few layers of newspaper would do it too!
Step 7: Curse
Swear a blue streak when whatever you printed doesn't turn out like you wanted it to. Don't quit your day job.

Monday, April 13, 2015

It was totally on trend when you were born... (Chevron baby quilt pattern)

Last fall I got some of the most exciting news a girl could ask for. My sister is having a baby. Of course, I can't wait to be an aunt to a little baby boy in May, but in the meantime, from 2000 miles away, I immediately got started on baby crafts. After all, babies are the best people to craft for.

I spent a number of hours on Pinterest looking at baby quilts and then dug through my old stash of quilt patterns, but, of course, couldn't find anything that I really liked or thought my sister would like. She's hip, she's stylish, she lives in Marin. I couldn't very well make her a boring pastel nine-patch circa 1993. So, I showed up to craft night with my friends one Thursday with a pad of quad-rule and my TI 83 plus and set to work designing my own quilt, something that would say: My baby is totally on trend right now. 

After a half hour of sketching I gave up and admitted that we all know what it on trend right now: Chevrons. True, chevrons will probably be "out" by 2020 and people will look at them and say, "Chevrons, that is so twenty-teens." As my friends pointed out, though, baby quilts only have to be on trend for about 3 years. Then, they can just stand as a testament to the era in which we were born. So, chevrons it is. 

I drew up a pattern that was simplistic and clean and 40" by 50" and calculated my yardage. 
I got to the fabric store, list in hand and reminding myself that my sister told me she was going "traditional vintage boy"--- light gray blue, navy, and dark red. I tried to steer myself to those colors, really I did. But I know my sister. She doesn't decorate with dark red. She decorates with turquoise. The walls of her 5th grade bedroom were turquoise. Gender be damned, I wandered the store for an hour picking out fabrics that reminded me of her and trollied them to the cutting table. 

"Can I make a quilt for a baby boy out of these?" I asked the girl behind the counter. 
She saw the desperation on my face. I have been this employee. The answer is yes. The answer is always yes. "Sure, yeah. I think they're cute." With the blessing of the JoAnns employee (because this was important to me) I went home to start on the quilt.

1/3 yard of each of 5 different 45" fabrics
1 yard of 45" white fabric
Either 1.5 yards of 45" or 1.25 yards of 54" fabric for backing
Batting (if desired)

White: Cut six 5.5" strips the width of the fabric (apx 44")
Cut each strip into seven 5.5" squares you'll need (40 in total)
Cut each square on the diagonal to create 80 triangles. 

Each color: Cut two 5.5" strips the width of the fabric. 
From strips cut a total of eight 5.5" squares. 
Cut each square in half on the diagonal to create 16 triangles. 

Using a 1/4" seam allowance throughout sew one colored triangle to one white triangle to create a square. Repeat with all triangles (create 80 squares in total). Press seams.

Using the pattern as a guide, sew 4 color-matched squares together with 1/4" seams to create a chevron. Repeat with all squares until you have 20 10.5" by 10.5" blocks. Press seams. 
Sew 4 like-colored blocks into a strip. Repeat to create 5 rows. Sew 5 rows together to create quilt top. Press seams. 

Quilt and Bind
"Stitch in the ditch" along the edge of each chevron (i.e., at the color changes). Back and bind as you like. 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Pi Day Car Bomb Whoopie Pies

When you're a professor and spend every waking minute with other Ph.Ds things sometimes get a little nerdy. Luckily, when you're a professor, you dig how nerdy your friends are. So, when 3/14/15 rolled around and I was invited to a "Pi Day" party at which we would make a toast at 9:26:53 (yes, down to the second) to celebrate this once a century occurrence of 3.141592653 I was obviously very excited.

The assignment was to come up with a "Pi themed pie" but it was specially requested in the invite that we be creative with our pie selections. To avoid a table full of the same pies, our hosts recommended pizza pies, fruit pies, pot pies, any pies! I first considered making an apple pie, because apple pie is simple an delicious, but after a lot of pondering (when I probably should have been prepping lectures) I decided I wanted to do something more creative. Perhaps a pie I'd never made before? Perhaps, a whoopie pie?

The first thing I did was look up whoopie pie on Wikipedia. A California girl, I've never even a seen a whoopie pie in real life, much less made one. The recipes I found seemed simple enough. Chocolate cakey cookie, white frosting. I can do this. But then, that seems awful boring... It was then that realized that this would likely be the only chance to make a St. Patrick's Day dessert. After all, I like to maximize my holiday spirit (and my holiday spirits).

So, I pulled up my car bomb cupcake recipe from years ago and set to work trying to make an Irish Car Bomb Whoopie Pie to commemorate the overlap between Pi day and St. Patricks's Day.

Car Bomb Whoopie Pies
Makes 20. 

1 box Pillsbury Super Moist Dark Chocolate Cake Mix
3 eggs
1/2 bottle (6-oz) Guinness Draught Stout

Preheat oven to 350˚. Combine cake mix and eggs in a large bowl and slowly mix in beer. Mix well for 2 minutes on medium speed, being sure to scrape the sides of the bowl to incorporate beer into all the batter. Let batter sit for at least 10 minutes to become more stiff. Liberally grease or line 2 baking sheets Spoon out batter into approximately 1 to 2 oz portions on cookie sheet. Bake 12-15 minutes. Remove cookies from the oven and allow them to cool on wire racks. Makes apx. 40 cookies

Whiskey Ganache
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
2/3 cup milk
3 tbsp Irish whiskey

In a double boiler bring the milk up to a simmer. Add chocolate chips and stir constantly with a wire whisk until the chocolate is smooth and melted. Remove from heat and stir in whiskey. Cool in the refrigerator for about one hour, checking every 10 minutes or so to make sure it hasn't set up too much. Should be the consistency of thick syrup/loose honey.

Bailey's Frosting
16 oz (one container) Pillsbury Creamy Supreme Vanilla Frosting
4 tbsp Irish Cream

Chill frosting before using. With an electric mixer whip frosting well before slowly adding the Irish Cream. If frosting gets too loose add powdered sugar to thicken it back up.

Match cooled cookies into pairs of equal size. If cookies are uniform you can skip this step, but let's be real, they're not. 
Using a small offset spatula or butter knife, frost one cookie from each pair with Bailey's frosting. Sandwich frosting between cookies and set aside. Repeat until all cookies are made into sandwiches. NOTE: I just barely had enough frosting to make all 20 sandwiches. So, if you like more frosting, rather than less in your whoopie pie, plan to double your frosting recipe. 

Place wire racks a cutting board, cookie sheet, or other large, easy to clean flat surface. Remove chilled ganache from refrigerator and dip each sandwich to cover half with ganache. Place on wire racks and chill until ganache is firm. 

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Updating the craft room closet

Last weekend the sun came out for the first time in ages. The college students in town put on their swimsuits and binge drank to celebrate. Your Professors, on the other hand, enthusiastically set to work cleaning and updating our homes.

My weekend task was to deal with the craft room closet. This space was quite literally the first thing that I made a mess of upon arriving. Anything the movers didn't know what to do with I shoved in the closet. Then, as the months went by, I just shoved more and more things in the closet, since it was already beyond hope. 

By the end of winter it looked like this. You can see that there isn't really much in it (although I didn't photograph the piles of junk on the floor) because the space just wasn't well designed for what I need. 

I started by taking everything out an assessing the situation. Three hanging rods, two shelves, a dozen mismatched hooks, and three colors of paint (fun fact, this closet has been both pink and mint green in it's past). Since this is a craft room and not a bedroom, it was clear to me that what I really needed was shelving. 

To the lumber store I went in my little tiny Echo and asked the young man in the lumber yard to help me put my 8' board lengths in through the window. "I'll just hold them with one hand while I drive," I assured him. "I'm not going far." He mumbled something under his breath and wandered off. I drove home cautiously. 

At home, I unboxed the fancy miter saw my parents got me for Christmas and set it up in my basement. To make the 2 shelves I cut 6 lengths of 1x4 and 2 lengths of 1x10 and 2 lengths of 1x8. I screwed the 1x4 in place in the closet. 

The whole closet was already in need of paint, so I gave all of the trim and the new shelf joists a coat of high gloss white. I realized I never finished painting the closet floor, so I gave it a little touch up job, and pulled out the gallon of Antique White I've been using to hide a multitude of sins in this house to give the rest of the closet a once over. Then, I spent my evenings after work painting various pieces of shelving (1x8 and 1x10) in high gloss to match. 
I picked up a new chain pull for the overhead light so that it could be switched on (there wasn't one when I moved in, which is mind blowing because if you recall, this room was a chocolate brown cave-- so I can only assume that the girl living in this room was a mess at all times...) I replaced the hodge podge of various hooks and clips that had been mounted over the years with two matching coat hooks spaced perfectly for my ironing board (thanks pinterest) and put it all back together. 

I was able to put about twice as much stuff back in the closet as I initially took out and it still looks better than it did. 
Closet organization for the win. Who needs to binge drink in the sun anyway?

Monday, March 9, 2015

A key hook 2 years in the making

If you know me at all you know that I am pretty much always looking for something. My cell phone, my ID, my keys, and now, my mittens. Despite my efforts to stay organized, my keys allude me about 80% of the time. When I lived in a shoebox of an apartment it was pretty easy to find the missing object most of the time. I only had 800 square feet to search. But now with 3 bedrooms, a garage, a basement, and living space, the search for missing objects has become a significant portion of my day.

In an attempt to get the key situation under control I decided I need a key hanger. About 2 years ago I saw this key hook on Pinterest and thought it was a great and very cute solution. I started saving keys for the someday project. I kept a little cache of my high school locker keys, bike lock keys from the locks cut off my stolen bikes, keys to apartments I moved out of, etc. In November the day finally came that I had enough keys! All I had to do was bend them and I would have something as beautiful as this.
I brought the keys home with me for Christmas and asked my dad for his help with the key bending. We went out into his cold garage to find pliers and he gave the first key a tweak. It snapped in half. He tried another, same result. At this point I decided that this wasn't going as planned. Perhaps my dad lacked the finesse necessary for such a task.

I went went back home to Wisconsin and tried again in my warm house, with my remaining keys. I broke one immediately. I tried warming the key over a candle first then bending, and broke another. I was beginning to give up hope. Then, I decided to give up and use one "real" key that came with my house. After all, a key to your first home seems like a good sentiment for the key holder. Of course, this one bent perfectly the first time with no trouble.

Luckily around this same time I was fighting another battle with keys my home. See, when I moved into my house I was given about 10 keys. All of them opened knobs on 3 of the 4 exterior doors and the deadbolt on the back door. The front door, conversely, had no key at all. This was completely unfathomable to someone moving from LA, but when I asked the realtor he simply explained that people don't lock their doors here. What!? Needless to say I had the lock changed so that I could lock my front door, but when I did so was given exactly one key to the door. Copies, I figured would be easy enough to get made. This is where I was wrong. I tried the local True Value Hardware, but the kid learning made me two copies with the wrong blank that wouldn't fit in the door. I tried the "Minute Key" kiosk at Menard's and got two more keys that didn't work. I went to Home Depot and the women there told me that no, they couldn't make that key. So I stopped locking my door again and hid the key away for fear of losing it, but on the bright side, at least I had more keys to play with.

When I heated it up and tried to bend it, one of the useless keys from the True Value ALMOST worked. I was just giving it a tiny final tweak when it snapped. Infuriated, I pulled out the super glue and stuck it back together. The "Minute Keys" alternatively, bent without a fight. Of course, they're the ugliest ones.

After this whole fiasco I had spent about $15 in keys and burnt myself twice. I had a scary little graveyard of broken keys to my house, car, old apartments and padlocks, and I had exactly 4 kind of ugly bent keys.

Good enough.

I went to Goodwill and paid 99 cents for this sweet "Gone Fishing" sign that I can only imagine adorned the wall of someone old man's office.
I removed the metal hanger and gave it a couple of coats of white, glossy spray paint. Then, I tried to come up with a classy way of attaching a ribbon to the back. I tried nails, I tried glue. But alas, duct tape was the answer.
Using some little baby-sized 6 cent screws and my cordless screwdriver I affixed my 4 ugly bent keys.
All in all, this is not at all what I expected, but it was 2 years and about $20 in the making, so I'm hanging it up anyway.