March 28, 2011

lessons learned

One weekend of on and off working and about $150 has resulted in an almost complete mudroom. At least on the inside. We still have the door to put in (Wednesday!) and the siding on the outside, but the inside is pretty much done. A few spots need paint touched up, furniture needs to be rearranged and I need to find a little rug for the floor so that the inevitable muddy shoes (it is a mudroom after all!) don't ruin the new flooring. The photo is a little dark due to the tarp covering the opening that will soon be a door, but you get the idea. I'll put up a real "finished" photo later this week after the door in is place (yay!)
I've learned two big lessons this weekend. Well, one of them is from this weekend, the other is sort of a realization that this weekend confirmed.

The first, is, do the mudroom first. OK, maybe not first. When we moved in we had so many essentials that needed to be done ASAP. Like a stove that you could turn on, countertops that weren't plywood, paint on all the dingy walls, put in an air conditioner (it was July in Virginia after all) etc, etc, etc. But somehow the mudroom got pushed to the very bottom of the list. And after a while we were just using it for storage anyway so we didn't really miss it. So this weekend, when we finally got around to painting the walls and the trim, ripping up the nasty carpet that has driven me crazy for almost two years and putting in new flooring I realized that all this time we have been ignoring almost 100 square feet of house.

It might be the fact that we are soon to be living in a situation where every inch will count, or just the fact that I have wanted the mudroom done for ages but Will hasn't really cared about that room, but I'm suddenly seeing so many opportunities for that space. All this winter when it was cold out and we were playroom-less, this could have been a playroom. Or it could have been the office (I do seem to remember suggesting that, but that was before the freezing cold leaky door was removed, so it was always pretty unpleasant in there) and the playroom could have stayed. Or it could have become Briton's room. Or, or, or... It could have just been an oh, so handy mudroom. So now I know. When space is at a premium, don't ignore perfectly good rooms just because there are other things to be done. Lesson learned.

The other thing I've realized is that next time we renovate a house (and there will be a next time. Because even if we are tired of it now, by the end of a year away from it we'll be dying to get at it again) I need to take better before pictures. Or maybe just more before pictures.
When we moved in here I took photos of the main rooms because, although they were dingy and plain, they weren't horrible. The really awful spots - the bathrooms and the mudroom - I didn't really take good pictures of. Mostly because they were so awful that I didn't want anyone to see them. I didn't want to see them. This is the closest thing I have to a real before photo of the mudroom, and it's not great.
This is after I tried to make it slightly better with some white paint which turned out to look like primer instead of paint. (Yuck! Now we have the white that is in the rest of the house on the walls - much better) I forgot about my green ceiling. I still like it, although I like the beam better in white. Oh well, inky blue is pretty too, and probably better for selling...(sigh)

But I've realized that part of the fun of renovating is being able to look back at the before and see the after. The coolest part of that Better Homes and Gardens article for me is to look at that before (which, by the way, was before we moved in) and compare it with the after. So from now on, more pictures. Even of the grimy, stained floors and the nasty peeling walls and the horrible toilets. That way, when I'm frustrated with progress, and I sometimes am because I just want it done (split personalities there I guess), I can look at what has come so far already.

Now I don't expect that there will be any renovating going on in New York. For one thing, we'll be renting. Plus we're there only a year. Plus there is the whole grad student budget situation (good thing the kids like Top Ramen!) But I'm sure there will be some decorating. Because I can't help it. And hopefully there will be some creative uses of space. Because I'm sure I'll need to use every small space living trick I've ever learned or have ever seen and then some. So. Don't let me forget. Before pictures. Lots of Before pictures.

Have you ever had any "left it till last" projects that you really wish you had started earlier? What were they?

March 25, 2011

well hello stranger

I feel like I've seen a banister, just like this, in just this spot before.

Oh right. That's why it looks so familiar.
That's what you looked like before we did this.

Sometimes our renovations don't have a fixed endpoint. I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing, it allows us the flexibility of change as we find we need it. Like when we were putting in the kitchen cabinets and the wobblyness of the old floors meant that the far end cabinet was a good inch lower than the rest. Instead of having to rip out the cabinets and the floor and do who knows what to make it right, we adjusted- a thicker piece of concrete for that section of countertop. Now it looks like a cool detail. And then there is the whole reason for the butcherblock section which, well, thank goodness we made that mistake, beacasue that section is where I do most of my cooking. I love it.

When we pulled the banister off of the stairs we knew that at some point we'd have to put something back in. For safety. But what? Well, we weren't sure. It opened up the room to have nothing there and it's the first thing that you see when you open the door, so it would have been a nice place to make a statement. But after a year and a half of trying to decide what should go there, and with that, how the bookshelf should finish off, we are running low on time, and so we built a new banister that looks very much like the old one, except painted this time, which I like much better. So yeah, we could have just saved ourselves a lot of time by leaving it, but again, I think that's ok. Sometimes renovations don't go as planned and you just go back to the origional. It's fate, I guess, the will of the DIY gods. And now that it's back, I'll admit, I really like the sweet simplicity of it.

Plus, one more thing checked off the list.

Have you had a renovation or project end up like that? Back where you started?

March 24, 2011

a case of over-purging

I'd say about 99% of the time I'm perfectly happy about what I've gotten rid of when I do my occasional mini purges, and even through the years, the larger ones that come before (or sometimes just after) moving. Sure, there's that pair of pants that I wish I hadn't been so quick to hand over or a toy here and there that the kids really did miss. But really, most of the time it's been just peachy.
But yesterday, while walking Evelyn to school, and by walking I mean carrying her the four short blocks between our house and her school ("my legs are so tired!") I realized I may have over purged a few months ago when I ditched our stroller.

We haven't used a stroller in ages. It had been sitting in our basement for months, gathering dust, taking up room, so off it went. And normally that wouldn't be a problem except I'm thinking that short legs + long New York blocks is going to equal the need for a stroller once again. Ugg.

I know, I'm not going to want a stroller on the subway and for those big trips around town, we did without on those trips in Dublin as well. It's the walk to the park and the grocery store and other neighborhood spots that I have a sneaking suspicion that a stroller will be handy for. At least until my little walking wimp gets her city legs.

We could, of course, just buy one of those cheap umbrella strollers. The thing is, we did that when we moved to Dublin with Briton (who was two years younger than Evie, but about the same weight) and about a week in the thing collapsed on us, on him to be precise, a few miles from home. It still gives me a little bit of a twitch to remember trying to get him out of the thing (and get him and our groceries home while dragging a disintegrating stroller). So I have a little bit of a phobia about crappy strollers. The one we got rid of was the same stroller that replaces the ill fated Dublin stroller. A Maclaren that cost far more than I ever thought I'd spend on a stroller but nevertheless turned out to be well worth it, it was still going strong when I took it to Salvation Army a few weeks ago. Bad timing I guess.

I would like to say lesson learned, but since I had not a single thought in my head a mere three weeks ago that we would ever go visit New York much less move there, I can't say that I could have predicted this, even if I'd thought long and hard about it.

So the purging will go on, and at the same time I'll be cruising Craigslist for a replacement stroller. C'est la vie. Have you ever thrown out something and then really needed it almost immediately after?

March 23, 2011

poor poor eliza

Last night Briton came downstairs wearing his best "disappointed older brother" face saying "Evie is in BIG trouble. And then he held out a pair of scissors and some familiar orange and pink yarn.

"She CUT OFF Eliza's hair!" He told me (dramatically, I assure you). Right about then I heard Evelyn erupt into wails in their room.
(before the big cut)

Upstairs I found Evie face down on her bed, sobbing and a partially bald Eliza laying on the floor with "hair" all around her.
(After, looking a little shabby but also a little funky)

Part of me was totally mad. I worked hard on that doll, after all. But then again, it's her doll, right? And better the doll's hair than her own (we've been there already and it was not pretty!) I'll be honest with you, I wasn't really sure how to react. So I lay down on the bed with her to try to calm the high pitched sobs, asking her why she had done that. Except, I already knew the answer.

I cut my kids hair. Always have. Briton, because he dislikes barbers and they always cut his bangs too short, no matter what I say, and Evie's because she has so little hair that she really doesn't need a haircut, but when someone else is getting one (I cut Will's hair as well) she wants one too. She's only had one "real" cut in her almost 5 years. The rest have been mommy cuts. And we've made a big deal about Mommy being the only one who can cut hair, hoping to avoid the "I cut it myself" issue as much as possible. But Evie spends a great deal of her day pretending that she is Eliza's mommy. So, really, it follows that she can cut Eliza's hair.

After some hiccups and nose blowing Evie said as much, also adding that she thought it might grow back rainbow colored (maybe just on the off chance?) but then "it just didn't!" I spent most of her tale trying to not look too stern, which was hard because I was trying not to laugh and stern is how I usually do that. Eventually Evie and the newly shorn Eliza dozed off for the night and all was calm in the house.

But now I have a dilemma. I can fix the doll's hair. I can even make it rainbow colored hair. But should I? Or do I leave it as is as a reminder of what happens if you cut hair? (not to mention it's kind of punk rock cute with the new do, if you don't look at the gaping hole on the back of her head) Hummm. What do you think?

March 22, 2011

sorting, sorting, sorting

Well Monday just flew by without much of a moment for sitting at the computer. Although this move is coming quickly, or at least the decision to move came very quickly, we actually have more time in some ways than we usually have when we've moved. Right now we're filling up every spare second finishing projects around the house, all those things that we planned to get done this year now need to be finished this month. Mudroom walls are being painted, the floor is going in, siding on. The house paint has been touched up. The garden is looking very pretty indeed and the stair banister that we took apart when we installed the shelves are, as I type, being put in. Or at least I think that's what all the banging and drilling coming from the living room is. I'll share photos as we get things completed, if I can remember to take them :)!

But because we do have a little more time before we actually have to move, we are trying to clear out as much as possible. Most of the time we've had to throw things into boxes as quickly as possible and as a result our basement is, well, pretty packed with crap. While I enjoy, most of the time, keeping the "house" tidy, I hate hate hate dealing with the basement. And the car. But that's a totally different story. And a different thing that needs cleaning before it goes.

Will and I joked this weekend that maybe we should permanently become big city apartment people (not really, because I think we'd eventually go a little crazy without a house to take apart) so that we don't have a basement or a car to fill up with junk. Probably not an option though since we like old houses and old houses usually have basements.

Anyway, this is all to say that I spent most of Sunday cleaning out the basement. Not just cleaning but CLEANING! Getting rid of boxes and baskets and random pieces of furniture that we have held onto but don't really need or have much emotional attachment to. I'm still hauling things away but it's a huge improvement. I still have a hard time letting go of things like my old dolls and special furniture pieces like my cradle so those will stay (forever I'm sure) but just having so much gone makes me feel lighter. It's amazing how much junk we have hauled around all these years. And the prospect of needing a smaller storage unit while we are in New York makes me happy too, because student budgets don't leave a lot of room for big storage unit rents, ya know?

If I'm a little MIA for the next week or so you'll just have to know that I'm probably plastering or painting or hauling yet more things to Goodwill. The house will go on the market sometime in early April (so Cville peeps, if you know anyone looking for a charming little Cape with a HUGE yard in North Downtown, send them my way!) but after that I'll be back in full force with projects and plans and all sorts of fun :)

March 18, 2011


Thank you, everyone, for your kind words yesterday. I can't tell you what a boost they gave me! It's so wonderful to have a supportive community around you when big changes happen. We still, obviously, have a lot of planning to do and I'll keep you up to date with anything fun here and will also keep up my normal posting as well. And don't worry, I'll keep blogging from the city. I'm sure I'll have lots and lots of stories, like, how Rhode Island turns out.

In the meantime, we are chugging along with out week and enjoying this beautiful, sunny weather. And I'm feeling pretty lucky to have a family that's up for adventure. So here are a few happy moments to round out the week.
Newsprint and Mr. Sketch markers (the flavored kind) make dinner, and breakfast and homework and piano practice just a little more fun.

Briton, who is reading From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankwiler with me, thinks it would be pretty cool to live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but only if we can all go, he has no interest in running away.

This is a freaking genius way of using big spools of thread on a regular sewing machine. Duh, why didn't I think of that. I've had a few sitting around ever since I lost my serger in the great basement flood.

Evie, thinks scrubbing baseboard with a dish brush is great fun. My trim has never looked so clean. I should be worried that she enjoys it so much, but for now, I'm just going to take advantage of it. :)
Cupcakes make bad days at school better, even when you have lost your entire research project and you have to start again. (poor kid:( )
Hamantash. Evie came home from school Monday talking non stop about hamantash and how she wanted to make some. I couldn't figure out what the heck she was talking about but typed it into google (thank goodness for google) and presto, recipe. (They are a dessert for Purim) Perfect for little hands and a big hit with the older brother.

It's going to be 80 degrees today. Yay! My garden will be so happy!

March 17, 2011

Well my friends, I have some big news. I'm not gonna lie, this has been quite a week at the Grimm house, lots of exciting things going on. And no, I'm going to stop you right there before you even think it, we are not going to have another baby, even if Evie wishes we would, sorry :). But a lot has been happening here abouts. I mean, we finished (almost) the bathroom, the magazine article came out, I found the perfect spinning wheel (in my dreams) and, drum roll please, we found out we are moving to New York.
Holy cow.

Last fall Will decided to apply for Grad school and just for kicks, he went all out and applied for some "if I could just pick any of them" types of places. And then we kind of forgot all about it. Life is good here, we love our friends, we love our house, we love our town, who wants to change things? And then a letter arrived at the end of last week to inform us that he'd been accepted into Columbia University. How do you say no to Columbia University?

So, to New York we will go. In June. In JUNE people! Not even in June, BY June. Holy Cow. I can't stop saying that.
At the moment we have very little settled. We know that we will be there about a year, maybe a little more. We have a vague idea of the neighborhood we want to live in, but that could change. We has some unusual ideas about what we will do about school for the kids, but again, that could change, and I'm sure I'll be writing more about that as we go. Will may go up first so that Briton can finish the school year, but, you guessed it, that could change too. The only thing we've really settled on so far is that we will try to sell the house.

I know, I know, we've put a lot into this house. We LOVE this house. But for a number of reasons we've decided that selling it would be the best thing for our family. Right now all I can think about is getting paint touched up (today) and siding on the mudroom (next week) and so I haven't had time to dwell on the fact that I'm leaving my happy little kitchen. I haven't even fully registered that I'm going to have to leave all my friends and my wonderful neighborhood. That will come, I'm sure, when the dust has settled on the decision.

The kids know and they are both excited, Evie because there is a possibility of bunk beds and because she will get to ride the subway, Briton because of the 20 playgrounds in Central Park and because of the close proximity of Rhode Island. Or as he puts it "New York will be fun, but this is a once in a life time opportunity to go see Rhode Island. "

Really, I have no idea what that's about. What's in Rhode Island that an eight year old would be so excited about? Whatever it is, I'm going to ride it all the way up to our (theoretical) new apartment.

So, New Yorkers, former New Yorkers, city people in general. Send advice this way. Four people and two pets in a teeny (possibly student housing teeny) apartment for a year.

Holy Cow.

March 16, 2011

paint chip bookmark: a tutorial

One of the great things about going through all the closets, under bed spaces (done!) and desk drawers is that I find all sorts of things I'd forgotten about. Things that I've been looking for, things that I can't imagine why I ever kept, things I didn't know I had. All sorts of things. Like paint chips. I wont tell you how many paint chips I found because, well, it's embarrassing. I have some from a house we owned 7 years and 4 moves ago. Why? Who knows, I just do. Or did, because those are one of those things that went into the recycling bin, except not all of them. I kept a few for a little project.
I don't know if you've noticed this but paint chip crafts are all over the place right now. There are paint chip buntings, orbes, and wreaths, paint chip art, paint chip garlands, paint chip wallets, business card holders and sculptures. And paint chip bookmarks.
We are always digging for scrap bits of paper to use as book marks. Especially for Briton who likes to use them to keep his place on the page while he is reading. Usually we end up with a discarded envelope or a folded piece of recycled paper. So a bookmark seemed like a good use for a few of those many, many paint chips (why, Gillian, why do you keep this junk?)

OK, so I also wanted a chance to play with my Silhouette. A few weeks ago I ordered some pens for it and have been having a grand old time using it to create intricate designs on cards and envelopes and random bits of paper, and now paint chips. Add a grommet and a ribbon and, what's the expression, Bob's you're uncle (I have no idea what that means, by the way) you have a fun bookmark. If you don't have a Silhouette, you could do this without the added art or you could use a stencil to paint something interesting over the colors.

Paint Chip Bookmark

You'll need:

Assorted paint chip strips
Silhouette Sketch pens (and Silhouette)
Grommet Kit
Corner punch
Scratch card stock, about the same thickness as the paint chip

1. Line the paint chip up along the leading edge of the cutting mat and then but the card stock up against the other edge, this is so any work that spills over the edge ends up on the paper and not the mat. Trust me, you don't want the pens to write on the mat. It doesn't seem to do any harm to the mat but the pen stops moving until it works off the sticky stuff. And then your drawing is weird.2. Choose an image for your bookmark, lining it up with the position of the paint chip on the grid and run it through with a Sketch Pen inserted into the cutting blade thingie (very technical, I know)3. Trim the corners with your corner cutter and punch a hole in the center top (I couldn't find my hole punch so I used a size knitting needle, size 13, just in case you need to know)
Assemble the grommet so that the smooth side is on the top of the card (I flipped it for the first one) this means that your paint chip will be upside down in your grommet mold. Hammer into place, string a ribbon through and you're done!

March 15, 2011

thiiiiiiis close

The bathroom.
It only took us four months longer than planned but (drum roll please....) we are done, or so very nearly done that we can say it's done. The only thing left to do is to switch out the shade on the light fixture. The ones we bought, while pretty, were just not getting along with the mirror (too wide) so back to Lowes I will go later today to find some narrower ones.

As I've said before this bathroom is super hard to photograph because it's so stinkin small, but you get the idea. Coming from this (and remember, this was after we painted it, before it was even worse!)It's much better. In fact, I think it's our nicest, quality wise, renovation in this house, mostly due to the fact that we have a nail gun now and that we have finally learned the secret to caulking (wet sponge people, not fancy caulking tools or your finger, a wet sponge does the trick. And getting caulk from the paint store and not Lowes, that helps as well) If we had had Will's new nail gun when we were putting the kitchen together things would have gone so much more smoothly. But alas, we didn't. Still, all further renovations will be taking place at the hands of the fantastic finish nailer which I love, even though I'm terrified of it and won't be using it anytime soon.
So here's the rundown of what we did:

Everything came out of the old bathroom - tile on walls and floor, toilet (reserved, we'd already replaced it) sink, stinky cabinet, ugly mirror. The new white tile and dark grout went in pretty well with only a minimum of "oh shits. The paint had some more (a whole quart was tipped over in the hallway. Yeah, fun) Bead board on the walls with trim top and bottom.
The mirror was actually a gold picture frame from our dining room that held Briton's art. It was a wrench to loose it but it fit perfectly and after two months of trying to find something that would work it was a relief to realize we had something in the house that would do. Besides, I can get another frame (I hope). Will had the old upstairs bathroom mirror - which has been living in our closet since I redid that room- cut down and I paint the frame, gold wasn't working with the silver/teal/white color scheme, and up it went.

And then there is the sink. Yes, I know, this is not the sink I wanted. I almost had Will convinced to try the bast iron wall mounted one, but then it sold before we could pick it up and we never found another, and after waiting around for a few more weeks to see if another showed up we gave up (I gave up) and went pedestal. I'm actually pretty pleased with it, it makes the bathroom very crisp looking to have all that white on the lower half.
Besides, I love my kitchen sink, I love the upstairs sink, so if I don't love this one (I do like it, I just don't love it) oh well. Will should get a turn now and then. But don't tell him I said that because I'm totally winning the shingle vs. clapboard on the mudroom battle at the moment.

So yes, Done. I still need some doo-dads. A soap pump that looks nice and maybe something to hang over the toilet, but even without those things I'm so ridiculously pleased to have a bathroom again. One that smells nice and looks nice and pretty much done.

Now. On to the next project. Mudroom floor, here I come.

March 14, 2011


Way back, oh, I think last winter, our kitchen was featured on Design Sponge which was very exciting and a little nerve wracking since people comment, but it was mostly good feedback. That same week I was contacted by Better Homes and Gardens about a doing a spread on the kitchen in one of their Kitchen and Bath magazines (I had no idea that they had several kitchen and bath mags, they do, we are in Makeover not Ideas or DIY). SO a few months later they came out for the day and primped, polished and shot our kitchen. I didn't feel like I could blog about it at the time because frankly I didn't quite believe that our little kitchen, our DIY, make things up as we go kitchen, would actually be in a magazine. Plus they shoot way out. Waaaaay out.
So this weekend when we were cruising the bookstore and we picked up the new issue of Kitchen and Bath Makeovers we had to try hard not to squeal to find that yes, we did make it in. EEEK!
They did an amazing job with the room, making it look bigger than it really is I feel, but I guess that's how it goes in the mags. That sounds like I know what I'm talking about, which I don't. But we're pretty excited! And Nigella looks so cute, it just makes me smile that they asked if she could be in the shot!

March 11, 2011

spinning dreams

I'm not sure if it's my current obsession with Robin's Egg blue or the fact that I keep getting Knit Picks catalouges full of wool roving and drop spindles, but I've been finding myself dreamig about learning to spin lately and to fixate a little on this little spinning wheel. Isn't it pretty? I didn't even know spinning wheels could look like that. I have no idea what all those things do but I don't really care, I have a total crush on it.
It would look so perfect next to my favorite chair, I can just imagine myself spinning away in the evenings, making yarn in just the color I want. That, of course, means I'd also have to start dying yarn but hey, in for a penny, in for a pound, right?

Somebody save me from myself.

Oh wait, did you say it's $700?

OK, maybe a drop spindle would be a little more practical at this point. Or, you know, just buying yarn.

March 10, 2011


The other day I was puttering around on one of my new favorite blogs Tinajo At Home and I came across this image. As intended, it perked up my morning but it also gave me a little inspiration. I've been kind of bored by our living room lately.
In the winter I love that it's darker and cozier than the rest of the house, lots of browns and oranges and mustards, perfect for cold weather. But I'm in a spring kind of mood so it was just feeling heavy and blah to me. Earlier this year I swapped out our old brown slipcover for a white one and that does help, especially now that I've put the arm slipcovers back on. Will took them off around Christmas to reveal the brown underneath for a funkier look, which, again was fine for winter but is too dark these days. But it wasn't enough. Part of me would like to take out all the orange elements for the spring and replace them with lighter ones but 1) I can't really spend the money to on a new set slip cover for the chair and a more neutral set of nesting tables (which we use all the time and can't live without) and 2) I actually love the orange, it just needed a little spring zing. So finding that robin's egg blue mixed with our deep 1970's orange looking so fun and bright made me smile. And go hunting around the house for some blue to add to the room.

It's amazing what you can find if you look. A pashmina, a little statue I brought home from Italy as the summer after high school,the dried hydrangeas from our weeding (yes, 10 year old hydrangeas!) some jars that I painted last year for our outside table. I wrapped a pillow in some blue knit fabric I had (you might recognize it from this skirt) to see the effect. I like it, although I think I might look for some nice, crisp orange fabric as well. I love the pillows in the image and would love to find something similar, maybe big dots.
It's not a huge change, the rug is looking way heavy to me now, I wish we had something without a pattern so that color changes were easier, maybe in time. For now it will have to do. But the overall effect, though subtle, made me smile.

Do you change things out with the weather or just keep things all year? How do you springify?

In other news, the police showed up at our house this morning to tell us that someone had been calling 911 from our land line. Except we haven't had a phone plugged in since the Obama election. Living in a swing state was just too much for me, I couldn't take the robo calls, and then when we didn't miss it, we never plugged it back in. (and to answer your question, we can't get rid of it because insanely it would cost us MORE to have just internet than it does to have the disconnected phone and our connected internet. Don't get me started about the stupidity of that!) I called the phone company and they have no idea.'s a mystery.

And also, Evie drew this picture and it keeps cracking me up. That's me saying "Oh no!" and Briton after a fall from the tree, or so she says.

March 9, 2011

art tray: a tutorial

OK, so when I say tutorial here, I'm using the term lightly because this was pretty simple. But what the hey, it was fun little project and it turned out well so I'm going to share.
Evelyn occupies more space on this blog than Briton. Part of that is just the fact that she is home with me most of the time and he is at school, so a lot of what I do during the day is with her. She also likes to have her picture taken and wants things made for her and so many of my projects tend to be for her. Briton, well, Briton is 8 1/2. He is starting to have opinions on things like haircuts and clothes and he isn't a big fan of getting his picture taken a lot of the time these days. He and I do a lot of things together, they just aren't as projecty (because project wise, he leaves me in the dust. The kid makes things like crazy. Currently he is working on a ball launcher for his fort).

But while Briton might not appear as much in the blog, art wise, he is all over the place in this house. We have his paintings, collages and sculptures everywhere. And it's here that Evie kind of gets the shaft. We have some of her drawings up on the vent (we have an exposed air duct in the kitchen for displaying art) but not a lot beyond that. I'm sure that once she starts Kindergarten she'll be bringing home projects by the bucket load just like her brother, but in the mean time I decided to use some of her "art" on a tray I wanted to rehab.

I'm a big tea girl and a few years ago Will bought me a pretty little tray from the Delft factory while on a business trip for toting my tea things out to the living room and the yard and the bedroom. Which was great. Except, don't tell him this, but the thing is not wide enough for my saucers. I know, I know, who uses saucers anymore? Well I do. I just do. So the tray is a little frustrating as a tray. However, it's perfect as a place for my oils and vinegars to sit on the counter. And that's where it has been pretty much since we moved in (and got counters, that is) But this leaves me without a tray. I've looked for one but nothing has really jumped out at me.
So a few weeks ago I was doing my weekly Michaels run and came across this perfectly sized tray in the clearance bin. Ugly, yes, but the perfect size. And for a buck, I couldn't pass it up. Last fall I Modge Podged a tray with a collage of the kids art to give to my parents at Christmas (my tea drinking habits are genetic) and then put it away somewhere until winter and promptly forgot where I hid it. No, really, it's still lost (sorry mom and dad, when I find it, it'll be in the mail) I was sure I'd find it during the great closet clean out but no luck. It's a mystery. But I started off with the idea of repeating this project for myself. However, when I looked through the collected art from the past few months I realized that almost everything was Briton's and it was all bold and fun and truthfully, framable - not really something I wanted to Modge Podge into a collage.

But while the closet clean out did not yield the lost tray, it did reveal a stash of paper that I set aside for wrapping gifts. We often cover our coffee table with paper and set out crayons and just let people scribble away on it. It's one of Evie'e favorite things and so most of the time it's all her, but some of the rolls have mom and dad and Briton and playdate friend's drawings as well.When it's pretty well covered I un-tape, roll it up and put it away for gift wrap. Or art trays. Because it's perfect.

This piece is that thinnish art paper that comes by the roll. I usually use freezer paper for the coffee table because it's sturdier but I must have been out for a while because I have several sheets of Evie scribbled art paper. It's also almost all crayon and after my experience with the mixed mediums from Briton's art on the first tray, I would say go crayon. It doesn't smear when you put the Modge Podge on and the colors stay true.

Alright, have you made it this far? Man, I'm having a wordy kind of day! Well good for you if you have, here's the drill.

Art Tray

You'll need:

1 hard plastic tray
Art big enough to more than cover the tray (again, thin paper and crayon is best)
Modge Podge Hard Coat
Clear poly-urethane
Craft knife
Cutting mat
Foam paintbrush
Sand paper (fine grit)

First, lightly sand the entire top side and edges of the tray, this will help the Modge Podge to stick. Clean the dust off well (the easiest way is to rinse it under the faucet and then let it dry) and apply a thin coat of Modge Podge all over the top of the tray. smooth the art on, cutting slits at the corners to help ease over the curved or angled parts. Smooth, smooth, smooth while it dries. And let it dry all the way before proceeding.

Now, flip the tray over onto the cutting mat and trim off all of the excess with the craft knife. Flip over and check that all the edges are smooth, trimming further as needed.
Coat the tray in another three thin coats of Modge Podge, letting each layer dry before adding the next and taking the Modge Podge all the way around the top rim of the tray with each coat.

Once you have all the coats on and dry, lightly sand the edges to smooth any Modge Podge/paper bumps. Wipe any dust away and spray or paint two coats of polyurethane onto the tray, top and bottom, allowing drying time in between. This will protect it from heat and moisture.
And that's about it. Pretty simple, yes? But I love how it turned out. It almost looks like a modern art print. Almost. And it fits my saucers perfectly :)

So, what do you do with kid art? Anything out of the ordinary (because I have lots and I need some more ideas!)

March 8, 2011

clean closets

I have a sort of split personality when it comes to cleaning. On the one hand, I really like my house to be clean. Or tidy I should say. I don't have germ thing and living in old houses all of my life has meant that having things CLEAN isn't really going to happen. I mean, when your aged wooden floors have gaps between each board, well, dirt is going to happen. But tidy I like. I find it distracting when the house is messy and so I tend to do little sweeps through the house to straighten up before I sit down to work.
Now this isn't to say that my house is always pristine, it's almost never pristine. But usually it's presentable, except on Friday mornings when I'm rushing to meet a deadline. Then, well, it's a crap shoot. It could be clean from the day before, it could be a pit. I dream of super organized spaces with everything stored in matching boxes and neatly stacked into crisp, well lit spaces. I love to look at the rooms on Chez Larsson, but alas, I don't think I'll ever get there. Partly because of the other side of my cleaning personality.

That would be the hoarder.

OK, I'm not a real hoarder, just looking at pictures of hoarders homes gives me the willies. But I do have a habit of stuffing things in closets and the basement when I don't want to be bothered with the "what do I do with that's". So these regular closet cleanouts are necessary for my two halves to work together well.

This closet is my nemesis. It's really the only space in the house other than the basement (which is on the list at the end of the month. Dread dread dread...) that doesn't have a specific daily purpose. No one is getting their clothes out each morning or putting away sheets and blankets. It's just storage. And it's not really clearly any one kind of storage. Originally, when the office was the playroom, it was the guest room equipment storage. Pillows, air bed blankets and shelf space and hooks for luggage made it easy to turn the playroom into a guest room. And we still keep that stuff in there, but now we have overflow books and special toys that are really outgrown but which no one seems particularly interested in moving on from, and playdoh cutters, wreaths, extra crafts supplies. It's a jumble. Since general storage is kind of in shot supply here, it's become the catch all. Which means it can get really, really messy.

When I tackle a closet I try to take EVERYTHING out and start again. That way I'm not married to what one shelf holds anymore. Both this closet and the linen closet got totally rearranged while our clothing closets pretty much went back in the same way that it was before, only cleaner and with less stuff.

I would really love to keep these spaces clean. Sometimes I think making more regular, small clean outs would work, but I'm afraid that if I pack anything else into our cleaning routine it just wont get done at all, and those spaces will become horrible again.

How do you handle these "hot spots" in your home? Do you tackle them on a regular basis and keep them clean or are they once a year, dreaded tasks?

March 7, 2011

interrupted plans

This weekend we were supposed to go spend two days hanging out under a mountain with some dear friends. Unfortunately, round about the time we were loading up the car, the stomach bug hit. Not out family this time, but one of the others. And as much as I was looking forward to a weekend away from computers and cell phones and DIY projects, it just wouldn't have been the same with out them. After a flurry of texts and calls we scrapped the plans for another day.
While this was absolutely the right decisions, it left a big gaping hole in our weekend, one that we probably should have filled with finally getting the bathroom sink installed, but after too many weeks off not enough time as a family we needed an escape. We all needed an escape. Especially the dog who seemed to sense that she had just lost out on two days of run as much as you can time. So off we went to for a walk in the woods.
When Will and I lived in Oregon, the ocean and the forest were both a short car ride away. In fact, if you drove about 45 minute in just about any direction you almost can't help but run into forest or mountains or lakes or ocean. Here in Virginia, there are plenty of trees, there is an ocean (although it's a bit too far for a quick afternoon trip, and also, the water is warm. And that's just weird) and there are these things that they call mountains. They aren't really mountains, not to a Northwest girl. You remember that scene in Crocodile Dundee "That's not a knife! This is a knife." Well, ask anyone from the west coast about the Blue Ridge Mountains and you'll get a similar response. Still, they are highish, and they are pretty. But we haven't really found our go to spots for escaping into the woods. So last summer when some friends suggested a hike at Sugar Hollow, we were happy to find a very Oregon-like wilderness so driveably close. So after the disappointment of this weekend, we piled in the car and headed out for a hike.

And spent the whole drive trying to explain to Evelyn that we were not going out to get sugar challah.
Out walk was quiet and beautiful and just what we needed. And when we got home we have squishy baked french toast for dinner that had been destined for breakfast the next day and then a funny thing happened. We did have that quiet weekend after all. Will worked some on the computer but other than that we stayed off phones and email and the kids played for hours and hours upstairs and I read for hours and hours downstairs. (By the way, it's amazing the difference that having glasses that are actually the right prescription makes. Two books in two days. It usually takes me two months to read that much. Thank goodness for glasses!) For the rest of Saturday and all of Sunday we were just quiet. We worked a little (all closets cleaned and sorted! Car loaded up with goodwill fodder!) we played a little, or in the case of the kids, a lot. We drank a lot of tea and ate scrummy things that aren't particularly good for you and just hunkered down. No playdates or meetings or social events or things to get done. Just quiet. And perfect.

It was bliss.

What was your weekend like?

March 4, 2011

in the garden

Well, I couldn't resist. After spending another hour or so yesterday in persuit of clean closet nirvana, the day became just too sunny to stay indoors and so Evie and I headed out to work in the garden. Heaven.
Last year we plowed up four looooong rows running along side out house and while this worked fine, I decided that I really prefer shorter beds, it makes weeding not seem wuite as daunting somehow to have lots of little beds instead of a few huge ones. Will also hated trying to mow between the rows to we wanted the grass out between beds, so a lot of digging is in order. Add to that the fact that we've decided to fence in the veg garden to make it look more formal and the rearranging needed to actually have a square garden and in some ways we are starting all over again.

The good news is that I love to dig when the weather is still a little cold. I'm not sure if it's my Northwest upbringing or the English blood in my veins but I really enjoy being out in the garden when you're only warm enough if your digging and wool sweaters and wellies are a must.
I remember spending hours out in the garden with my dad, getting things ready for summer, when we lived in Idaho and so gardening in just barely above freezing must be imprinted on the gardeners portion of my brain. I hate digging in the heat which makes summer weeding around here kind of a no-go, but I'm trying not to think about the hot days to come and am just focusing on this perfect gardening weather.

Evelyn, apparently, doesn't agree that it's perfect garneding weather and decided to dress for snow. Or maybe it was a fashion thing.
Yesterday I managed to get the garden staked out and the first two beds re-dug while Evie collected worms and today I'm hoping to do a few more. My sugar snap seedlings are actually ready to go in and I'm on the hunt for some of these tomato towers which I've used before to give the plants a head start. And now that I'm going to have small beds that can each be devoted to one crop, I'm starting to look at things like adding extra manure to the bed where to potatoes will be and trying to figure out what specifically the corn will like (lots of compost if the popcorn that went wild in the yarn waste corner last year is anything to go by!)

This won't be one of those elegant vegetable gardens, I imagine it will look pretty utilitartian once it's going, although I have plans to grow morning glories and gourds on the fences and have sunflower seedlings started to grow along the front side (where they won't block the rest of the garden from the sun). If I'm lucky it might look like a smaller version of this. But if I could I'd make my garden look like this, isn't that gorgeous? Someday... although, really, I think a full to bursting vegeatable garden is pretty gorgeous regardless of the ornamentation, but maybe that's just me.

How are your gardens coming along? Does the cold but sunny weather get you ramped up or keep you inside?

March 3, 2011

t-shirt yarn: a tutorial

With all this closet clearing (one and a half down, three and a half to go) I'm starting to amass a pretty substantial Goodwill pile. Mostly of t-shirts that have stretched and shoes that no longer fit growing feet, the usual. But I feel like every time I go through and do one of these big clear outs and haul all of our cast offs away, a week or so later I'm digging though our closets looking for an old shirt to use for this or that. But of course at that point there's nothing left to use as a painting shirt or as some make shift stuffing or a sweater to felt. So this time, as I go, I'm trying to pull out things that I might want down the road for a project or two. I've salvaged a wool skirt, a few of Will's dress shirts and some colorful t-shirts to tuck away (probably in the closet, sigh).
The T's are already being put to good use. Briton is constantly asking me for yarn or rope for projects. And while I would happily give him some yarn for an actual knitting/weaving/sewing experiment, more often than not he's really looking for something to tie things to trees or secure Playmobil men to the train track during an adventure gone wrong. So the good yarn is off limits but t-shirt yarn is perfect.

The first time I made t-shirt yarn I'll admit, I was really just looking for something to have rolled up in a bowl on my dining room table. Something colorful and out of the ordinary. So I bought some blue t-shirts and turn them into yarn balls. But once I'd made the first skein of the stuff, I realized that for kid yarn, it's perfect. It's actually perfect for a lot of things. I sported some as a stringy scarf for a while and made a necklace out of some more and I have great plans to one day crochet a rug, rag rug style, out of all those blues for the kitchen floor. But as art project fodder, it really shines.

This is a super simple procedure and only takes about 5 minutes to make, max. Plus the stretching part is pretty fun and I always have a willing helper when I get to that stage. T-shirts without side seams are really best if you are making something that needs smoothness, but for play yarn, any old t-shirt will do.

T-shirt Yarn

You'll need:

T-shirt - any adult size
Fabric Scissors
1. First cut the shirt off at the armpits to create a rectangular loop. Set the top half of the shirt aside, you won't need it here but it makes great dusters. Cut the bottom hem off of the loop as well.
2. Turn the rectangle so that one of the folded edges is up, we'll call this the top edge from now on. Fold the bottom edge up so that it lies one inch down from the top edge.
3. Fold the new bottom edge up to the same place. You should now have thick pile of jersey with a band at the top where it's just the original two layers.
4. Use your ruler to mark the folded area into 1-inch wide strips and trim any excess off the sides.
5. Cut along each strip through the thick layers of the t-shirt but not the thin band at the top.
6. Open up the fabric so that you can lay the uncut area flat (or flattish, some of the strips may be in the way, just adjust as you go)
7. Cut at a diagonal from the end of the first strip to the beginning of the second strip. Continue to do this all along the shirt. You'll end up with a weird loop at the beginning and will need to cut straight through at that one. This will give you one long, thin piece of jersey. You're almost done now.
8. Starting at one end, stretch the fabric tightly, this will cause it to roll up and create a yarn like shape. Work along the strip, pulling as you go, until you've reached the end. Then just roll it up like regular yarn and you're good to go!

Yay recycling!

Now I just need to figure out what to do with those old dress shirts, surely there's something fun that can be remade from them. Any ideas?