Friday, November 30, 2012

{outside the box} 2012 Sustainable Gift Guide

This is not the be-all and end-all to gift guides. Instead, it's just a few thoughts and suggestions for giving sustainable gifts or gifts that get you thinking outside the box. These are gifts that might make a difference to the receiver, to the environment, to the people involved in creating the gift. These are gifts that could have a long-term positive impact, and maybe they are gifts that won't turn into clutter in the receiver's home.

Locally made
Check out local boutiques and nurseries to see what you can find that is made by artisans in your area. Even here in Colorado Springs, not exactly a bastion of arts and crafts, I can find locally-made products. Also, check with friends who have a crafty hobby. Just off the top of my head, I can think of friends who sew, woodwork, bake and preserve food...I know that any of these people would be willing to create something that I could give as a gift. Also be sure to check out craft fairs -- we had one at my house a few weeks ago and I know that lots of locally made gifts were purchased!

Etsy! If you can't find the handmade item you're looking for locally, try Etsy! I've used Etsy for gifts a few times in the past and been so pleased with everything I've purchased. Are things more expensive than the version you'd find at Kohl's or Target? Um, yeah. Of course. Is it okay to adjust and buy fewer things in order give something that is handmade in the USA? I think so.

Great vintage finds are available on Etsy, but also on your local Craigslist in the antiques section and at local flea markets. Vintage quilts, enamelware, kitchen tools, furniture, decor items -- all of them are unique and sustainable items.

I love food. I love to give food, I love to receive food, I love to eat food. I especially love it if it is food that I can feel good about. Here are a few ideas for food and food-related gifts:

What about gifts for people who are working to improve the outdoor spaces around their home? Here are a few ideas for them.
  • A gift certificate to a local nursery.
  • A month of service from a local, organic lawn care provider, like this one in our town. Because who wouldn't want a pro to work on their lawn for a month or two?
  • A gift certificate to a mail-order nursery that specializes in plants for that person's region. I use this one because I can get a lot of xeric plants for not much money.
  • Gardening tools! I once got a garden cart as a gift. And a composting bin. Both gifts made me giddy. Both came from my mom, who knows me well.
  • A ticket or tickets or even a membership to your local botanic gardens.

They may not be locally made on organic paper, but I have a hard time resisting great books -- especially those that can make a difference in the life of the reader. Right now I'm crazy about Shauna Niequist's books and can't wait to get my hands on her newest one that comes out this spring, Bread & Wine. I would also be inclined to give cookbooks, especially the new Forks Over Knives book. A book like that can change a person's health for life. As a groomsmen gift, my brother-in-law received Dave Ramsey's book The Total Money Makeover. It has completely changed his life and the life of his family. Books inspire, books change, books entertain. You can't go wrong with a good book!

Fair Trade
Do you have a local fair trade shop? I do. Ours is called Yobel Market. My kids will be getting stockings stuffed with jewelry, headbands, scarves, note pads, and who knows what else from Yobel. And I'm thinking...if Colorado Springs has a fair trade shop, you probably do too. Here are a few other spots where it is easy to find fair trade products.
  • Fair Trade USA
  • Whole Foods Market (Have you seen that Whole Foods is selling Toms now?!)
  • World Market (World Market used to be a fun place to shop for fair trade stuff, but now that it's been purchased by Bed Bath & Beyond, I'm not as tread lightly along this path.)

Non-Toxic Body Products
Even Scott likes to receive high quality body products. His favorites are the Ava Anderson lip balm (they come in a pack of 4 for $13, which we think is totally worth it) and the (sadly now discontinued) Burts Bees Bay Rum line. We prefer to buy non-toxic body products from Ava Anderson because we don't have to look at the labels -- we know every ingredient is trustworthy. I also buy body products from Whole Foods, but only after checking the ingredients on the label and checking them in the EWG Skin Deep database.

It would be kind of sad to give someone a gift that's full of carcinogens.

I've also been known to make my own body products, package them nicely, and give them away as gifts, especially for teachers. Last year I made sugar-lemon-ginger body scrub with ingredients similar to this recipe.

Gifts that change the world for one person, one animal, or even the whole planet.
Why not make a financial contribution in a loved one's name? We've done this in lieu of physical gifts and been really happy with the results. Here are some of the organizations that are favorites for individuals in my family.
  • Wild Aid. This is one of Scott's favorites, because they go after the demand end of the endangered species problem. There are lots of great organizations working to protect endangered species, but Wild Aid is the only one we know of who has created a huge ad campaign aimed at reducing the demand for ivory and other parts of the bodies of endangered animals. Anyone who has been through an introduction to economics will tell you that if there is a demand, a supply will always be found. We love to contribute to an organization that attacks the demand.
  • Atin Afrika Foundation. This is my daughter Brynn's favorite. Our friend Chelsea founded the organization and we absolutely believe in the work she is doing. Atin is a transitional shelter that cares for, feeds, and educates street kids in Uganda while seeking a permanent home solution for the kids. The kids eventually go back to their families -- sometimes grandma or an aunt or uncle, because mom and dad are gone or unable to care for the kids. Once a child has gone through Atin, the child will always have the support of Atin in helping to pay for school and clothes, and a place to come back to if they need help.
  • Sea Shepherd Conservation Society Cove Guardians. I realize that the Sea Shepherd organization is a slightly controversial one, but it is my daughter Callie's favorite. Lately she's been watching the livestream of the dolphin hunts and slaughters in Taiji via the Sea Shepherd Cove Guardians. The Cove Guardians seek to publicize and, eventually, end the Taiji dolphin slaughter. Because it is something that is important to Callie, and because I can see how learning about the slaughter is shaping who she is and the impact she will have on the world, I will happily support the Sea Shepherd Cove Guardians with a gift this Christmas.
  • Compassion International. About ten years ago, we gave the gift of Compassion Sponsorship to a member of our family. We were ready to take on the financial commitment of supporting a second child through Compassion and we knew someone special who would appreciate that commitment as much as we did, so we sponsored the child as a gift. Compassion is able to set it up so that you are responsible for the financial end and the person who receives the gift is responsible for corresponding with the child, or you can be responsible for both. Compassion sponsorship is a great gift for someone who has a heart for children or a certain culture or country.
  • Blood:Water Mission. My brother and his wife are strong supporters of Blood:Water Mission. B:WM implements programs of prevention, treatment, and support for HIV/AIDS as well as programs that increase access to clean water for people living in Africa. I love that B:WM recognizes that both HIV and clean water are extremely complex problems and approaches those problems with humility and reliance on the local communities as those communities work with B:WM to create solutions.
  • Therapeutic Living Centers for the Blind. This is a small organization in Southern California that has personal meaning to me and my family -- my older sister used to live there and was treated with the utmost respect and compassion. If I were to to contribute to an organization as a gift for my mom, this is where it would go. Because a mom's heart is blessed by the organizations that help her children and, for us, this one is the top of the heap.
Where would you donate if you were making a contribution as a gift to a friend or family member? Maybe the animal rescue organization where they adopted a pet? Maybe a food pantry in their town? An organization that supports prevention of a disease that touched that person? The person's church? Maybe it could even be your child's school or the summer camp where they go. There are so many great organizations out there -- finding one is not difficult.

This Christmas when it comes to gifts, will you be thinking outside the box? What can you give that would bless someone locally or be sustainable, healthy, or even world-changing?

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Sneak peaks

Just because I want you to catch a quick glimpse of some of the projects that are happening around here this week...


Monday, November 26, 2012

Brand new kitchen faucet...and saving water, too?

American Classic Modern Satin Nickel Spiral Pull-down
Kitchen Faucet purchased on Overstock

A few weeks ago, our old kitchen faucet died.

It had been in our house since the 2nd incarnation of our kitchen (we're now on number 3). Here's what it looked like the first day it was installed, back in 2006.

Sorry it's not the best shot. I'm sure you can understand that in 2006, I didn't think I'd be blogging, much less writing about a kitchen faucet.

But I think you get the idea -- it was a slightly above builder-grade faucet from Home Depot. And it was okay. Never great, but it was good enough to make a re-appearance when we really remodeled our kitchen. Here it was in our current kitchen:
Again, not a great photo but I actually have an excuse. Scott pulled the faucet out and started replacing it while I was putting the kids to bed at 8:30 at night. Who does that? And then, at 8:50 we realized we needed a longer supply hose and he had to run to Lowe's before the 9pm closing time. He didn't make it. So we went without water in the kitchen for a day. Not really much of a hardship, actually. But the not having a before photo? That's kind of a bummer. Anyway...

I'd been thinking about replacing the faucet for a while now, so when it was handled a bit too roughly and then wouldn't turn off, I knew it wasn't worth fixing. Scott got it back up and running (loosely) for a few day, just long enough to receive our new faucet. It wouldn't have lasted much longer.

When the old faucet busted, I found this new one on Overstock, which I'd actually eyed in the past but it had been sold out (and now is sold out again). Overstock has become my go-to source for plumbing fixtures. They usually have a decent selection at a good price, and I know from experience that their returns (even on plumbing fixtures) are zero hassle. At $118, the new faucet didn't break the bank, especially when compared to other spiral pull-down faucets.  I loved the traditional design of it (since most of the pull-downs I'd seen were very modern looking). What I loved most was the satin nickel finish. I knew from having a polished chrome finish on the old faucet, I definitely wanted satin.

And it is soooo much easier to keep clean. I am really, really happy with it.

But here's one thing I didn't know I was in for. The water pressure!

Seriously, the first time we turned it on, water splattered all over our kitchen. And, I don't know this for a fact so maybe take it with a grain of salt, but I think we're actually using less water.

Crazy, right?

Here is my logic on this one. At full pressure, the same amount of water comes through both the old faucet and the new one. The new one must have a super-powered aerator on it which is what gives it the crazy pressure (read more about aerators here). Because the new one gives us so much more power in the sink, we spend less time rinsing dishes and cleaning out the sink.

Less time rinsing using the same amount of water per second = less water used.

Am I right? Clearly, I am not an expert. But, when I started using this faucet and put all of the clues together, it seemed like we were probably using less water. And, when you live in the high desert, in a drought, something like taking 5 seconds to rinse a plate instead of 8 seconds really adds up. 

At worst, the faucet is using the same amount of water per second, but we're spending less time using it. At best, the aerator is a super-charged one that creates a more powerful stream while using less water, so we're using fewer gallons per second and spending less time with the faucet on. Sounds like a win-win to me.

What do you think? Am I on to something? Could replacing your faucet help you do dishes more efficiently and make your kitchen look better, too?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The making of a "happy" Thanksgiving dinner

Those of you who have known me for a long time know that for about the last five years I've differentiated between "happy" food and "unhappy" food. For those of you who are new, here's a little primer for you. Happy food is sustainably grown and harvested, sustainably, ethically, and humanely raised (obviously referring to meat and dairy there), and usually (but not always) organic and local. Now that we've moved to a diet of mostly high nutrient density foods (like Eat to Live or Engine 2), our definition of "happy food" has expanded. Now it isn't just about how the food was grown, raised, harvested, slaughtered, etc. but also about what it does to our bodies. So, for example, local organic kale is just about the happiest food ever, right? Cool Whip, on the other hand, uh...yeah. Cool Whip is like really, REALLY unhappy.

Making a Thanksgiving dinner that reflects a high-nutrient-density food pyramid.
Can it be done? I think it can!
Although we've moved away from a diet that includes meat and other animal products (they simply don't have the nutrient density that our bodies crave now), we still have our 21 cubic foot freezer in our artifact from our local meat buy-a-whole-hog-at-a-time days. And it still has some meat in it, including a beautiful organic turkey that I bought last year at Costco after Thanksgiving.

And shortly after I bought it, we went vegan. And now we're not really into meat.

Luckily, our kids still like meat (although when Callie eats too much meat and/or oil, she pukes -- case in point, last night she puked up a gigantic Pei Wei dinner all over her bedroom carpet). We're having Thanksgiving with a family who eats meat, too. And I'm sure I'll have a slice of turkey, but not because I crave it or feel like I need it. Just because it's there.

Here is what we'll be eating this Thanksgiving, besides the turkey.

We'll have a Gardener's Pie (aka: vegan shepherd's pie) stuffed with lots of veggies and topped with mashed potatoes.

We'll be eating Kickin' Corn Puddin, a vegan spicy creamed corn recipe that we got at our last Whole Foods Health Starts Here class.

We'll have our usual Tangy Cranberry Chutney, similar to this recipe. I've been making this since our first Thanksgiving together and it might be my favorite part of Thanksgiving. It's got apples, raisins, a little cider vinegar, cloves, and a ton of sugar. This year I'll be experimenting with subbing dates for the sugar. But...shhhh...don't tell my kids, okay?

I'll make some baked Stuffed Apples. I plan to hollow out some of the apples from our local CSA, stuff them with the same stuffing I'd usually use to stuff a turkey (mine always has nuts and dried cranberries in it, along with the usual onions, celery, and blend of herbs), and bake them for a while. How long? I dunno. Until they're done, I guess. This is how dinner happens around here.

I'll make some gravy to go with the turkey. I was thinking of including some chantarelles that I picked up at Whole Foods for about half-off, but I don't really want them to get lost in the gravy. Plus, the kids like gravy more than anyone and I don't think they'll appreciate the chantarelles. So if you have some ideas for what to do with 1/4lb of chantarelles, speak up. Seriously.

My friend Emily, who is much better at following recipes than I am, will bring over the Maple Mashed Sweet Potatoes and the Tarragon Green Beans from the Forks Over Knives companion book.

For dessert, I bought an unhappy but probably quite tasty Pumpkin Cheesecake from Costco. I'm pretty sure it will satisfy everyone who feels like eating dessert. I, for one, will have a bite but would probably be satisfied with a good cup of coffee after dinner.

While this isn't a super high nutrient density Thanksgiving dinner, it is a mostly-vegan Thanksgiving dinner that will satisfy our desire for traditional Thanksgiving foods, but in a healthier way. I'll report back on what is popular and what isn't and I'll share some recipes. Maybe I'll learn something that you can use for a healthy meal during this holiday season!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Reclaimed Kitchen Island

This piece has actually been hanging around our house for about a week now, but I haven't had a chance to blog about it until now. Maybe you remember we had some discussion on Facebook about whether the top should be wood, butcher block, or stainless steel? I ended up going with wood because it was fast and easy -- the stainless steel guy couldn't fabricate a top in time for my deadline for this piece. And I wasn't ready to invest in butcher block for a piece I was only *hoping* to sell, not assured of selling.

I built the island for a craft fair that was at my house last weekend -- I knew I would need more serving space in my kitchen, plus I hoped that it would showcase what I can do with reclaimed wood and I thought it would sell relatively easily. It didn't sell at the craft fair (got lots of ooohs and ahhhs, though), but I think it's got a new owner now (care of Craigslist). She's coming to pick it up tonight, and I am pretty sure I'll have to build another one for myself!

This little island has become sort of a workhorse in my kitchen!

I use it mostly as a place to prep veggies -- it is great to be able to face my "audience" while I work (can you tell I used to teach public speaking?) even if my audience is only the dog. Usually, though, my girls are sitting in the kitchen hanging out with me while I cook, and it is nice to be able to work without my back to them.

I've also found that it is a great place to store my juicer and my blender -- two pieces that we use regularly and take up more counter space than I'd like. The storage space under the island keeps my counters clear, which I love.

This size is a bit too big for my kitchen. It is 60"x26" and I need it to be more like 40"x26". I also think when I re-make it, I'll use a butcher block top. My never-ending complaint (or, one of my never-ending complaints) is that my cutting boards are too small (even though the biggest is about 18"x24"), so this should solve that problem. With the way that Scott and I eat, I'm constantly chopping veggies so I think the butcher block top will come in super handy.

I'm also going to add a galvanized pipe towel rack to one side of the island. I've got it sitting in the garage, waiting to be added, but I ran out of time to put it on this island because of the craft fair deadline that was quickly approaching. Plus, industrial-chic is not everyone's thing, so a friend suggested I leave it off and offer it as an add-on. Smart thinking, especially since galvanized pipe isn't as cheap as one would think.

One thing I'll miss about this island is its reclaimed origins. Almost the whole thing is built out of wood from our recently de-constructed deck. There are marks in it from where my girls banged on the wood while taking the deck apart, and some where they just banged on it because they had hammers in their hands and they are kids. We're using most of the old deck wood to build a pergola and I'm not sure how much will be left for furniture. I'm hoping to get at least a few pieces, but I may have to go find someone else's old wood to use or (gasp!) buy new wood.

Do you have a small island in your kitchen? What do you use it for? Do you ever feel like it is in the way? One of my girls is a little bummed that the island leaves her less room for dancing. :)

FYI: if you're looking for plans for an island similar to this one, check out Michaela's Kitchen Island plans over at Ana White. This one is the same overall dimensions, but without the drawers. Also, this one was built using pocket hole construction and sealed with my favorite non-toxic sealer, PolyWhey by Vermont Natural Coatings.

Friday, November 16, 2012

{tutorial} Bold Striped Curtains

About a month ago, Scott and I embarked upon a repainting of almost the entire interior of our house. Bedrooms were spared but...not much else.

We went grey. (On the walls, not in our hair.)

Our grey walls were inspired by our new curtains, curtains that we didn't yet have. In my mind, though, and on Pinterest, I saw bold grey and white striped curtains.

Here are a few of my inspiration images:

From The Blissful Bee via Pinterest

From The Yellow Cape Cod via Pinterest

From A Well Dressed Home via Pinterest

If I'm being totally honest, I have to tell you that originally I wanted bold chevron, but I couldn't find bold chevron fabric or curtains anywhere and the idea of making bold chevron fabric was just about enough to knock me out. So when my friend Emily suggested stripes instead, I was all over it.

For about ten seconds, I considered using white curtains and painting the stripes on. This seems like a reasonably good idea until you get down to the nitty gritty of it. Where do you lay out four 108" x 57" panels to paint them? Is there a clean spot (a dirt, dust, and pet hair-free place) in my house that is this big? Um, no. Is there one in yours?? Because, if so, I'd like to come move in with you. Or hire you to keep my house clean.

So that left me with a few options -- leaving a panel intact and adhering stripes to the panels, using something like Heat-n-Bond, was one option. This sounded cumbersome. The other option was buying panels (or fabric, but panels from Ikea were way cheaper than fabric from a fabric store) and cutting them apart, then sewing them back together.

In the end, this seemed like the easiest option. Plus, my mother in law agreed to do the sewing for me which kind of made it a no-brainer.

SO, here's how we did it.

I needed 4 108" curtain panels and I needed them to be lined.

I bought two packs of these grey curtains from Ikea and two packs of these white ones. Looking back, I should have bought two more packs of white ones to line the curtains, but I ended up buying 14 yards of crappy curtain liner from Hancock Fabrics instead. Another pack of curtains would have been cheaper, thicker, and wider.

The curtains needed to be washed ahead of time to deal with shrinkage, so I washed all the grey curtains together and then all the whites. After sewing the crappy curtain liner into the new curtains, we realized that we'd forgotten to pre-wash the liner. So...I guess when I wash the curtains I'll do it on cold and hang them to dry?

The moral of that story is remember to wash your liner, too.

Once the curtain panels were clean and dry, I laid them out on my rotary mat and cut them into strips. To make 4 108" panels with 1/2" seam allowances, I cut the following:
  • 4 18.5" tall white strips with grommets from the tops of the white panels.
  • 8 19" tall white strips
  • 8 19" tall grey strips
  • 4 23" tall grey strips for the bottoms. I left these unhemmed until the curtains where hanging, then hemmed them using the iron-on hemming strips that come with Ikea curtains.
My mother-in-law and I both agreed that getting the strips cut right is the main key in getting these curtains right. If they aren't exactly the right sizes, there is no way you'll be able to get the stripes lined up pefectly.

My stripes line up perfectly. I could live with them if they didn't line up perfectly, but someone more OCD than I am would probably go nuts.

Once the strips were all cut, my mother-in-law sewed them together, alternating colors, using a half inch seam allowance. In order to get the seams perfect, she put a strip of masking tape 1/2" from the needle on my machine -- this made it easy to keep the seam allowance right.

Getting the seam allowance consistent is the second crucial part of getting these curtains right.

Once all of the strips were sewn together, we cut the liner to fit and gave it both a top and bottom hem. This is where it gets a little murky and you might want to figure out a better way for yourself...

My mother-in-law topstitched the top of the liner along the seam just below the grommets at the tops of the panels. Then, she pressed the sides of the panels over about 1/2", sandwiched the liner between the two layers of curtain, and topstitched the length of the curtains.

We talked about a bunch of ways to put the liner in, but because we needed to leave the grommets accessible, we couldn't find a great way to do it. This seems to have worked, though!

Once the liner was in, we hung the curtains and then I used the hemming strips enclosed with the curtains from Ikea to press and hem the curtains.

All together, including curtains, liner, and thread, these panels cost me about $175 and I ended up with a lot of fabric leftover -- one full grey panel, another half a grey panel, and about 3/4 of a white panel. I already have plans for the grey fabric and I have no doubt that I'll be able to use the leftover white fabric down the road, too. Clearly, these panels were more expensive than just buying four plain Ikea panels (I could have done that for about $75). But, for the effect that I ended up with, I think $45-ish per panel was a pretty good price!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The evolution of a wall

Do you agree that there are some parts of your house that are constantly evolving? I mean, some things change and then stay that way (like my wood floors will probably stay wood floors for a very long time) but some things have to be grown into.

When we first moved into our house, this was the view from the entry:

When Scott and I decided to buy this house in the Springs, we were still living in Cincinnati. He wasn't able to make the trip out to look for a house, but he trusted me to pick a good house in a good neighborhood. This is what I came up with. It is a good house and it is a great neighborhood, but it took some imagination to see what the house could become.

I have a good imagination. Scott's isn't so good, but (thank God) he trusted me. When he walked in and saw a house that was spectacularly maintained but not at all updated, he didn't freak out.

That might be reason #863 that I love my husband. He trusts me.

Anyway, in order to maintain the "integrity" of the original house, we lived with the brown cedar siding for a while. My mom has great decorating instincts and said, "Paint it glossy white!" but we took our time. We spent time living in the space, just being there, before we made any changes. We asked opinions from our family and even from at least one wood restoration "expert" to see if there was anything we could do to lighten up that cedar. More than one person recommended drywalling over it.

But in the end, it got a few coats of stainblocking primer and then some sage green paint (technically, the paint was Celery green from Restoration Hardware). Brown cedar, it turns out, was not our style.

And the cedar looked better (to us) after it was painted. But then there was the issue of that orange brick which contrasted heavily with the celery green cedar. My mom said, "Paint the brick glossy white!" but we wanted to go for a more subtle look first. So we got out a few different shades of paint and some drywall compound and gave it the look of used brick (which was actually my mom's second suggestion). We lightened up the mortar and whitewashed the bricks here and there until it looked random enough to pass as old used brick.

This was about 4 days after giving birth to Callie. I'm pretty sure I fed her,
got spit up on, and climbed right back up on the ladder to keep working. Nice.

If I had it to do over again, I wouldn't leave this face for a minute, certainly not to
faux paint brick. She was (is) too precious.

And, actually, the faux used brick wasn't terrible. I wish I had some better photos, but in this one at least you can see how it looked at Christmas. It looked okay.

But at some point, we decided that we were ready for the brick to be white. I am so thankful that Scott goes along with me on these whims -- even though he's the one who usually has to be at the top of the 22 foot ladder, he is willing to let these elements of our house evolve.

And so we went white. More stainblocking primer, three or four coats of white paint, and lots of patience.

Looking back, I think what forced the move to white was the artwork above the mantle. That painting was done by Brynn, my older daughter, when she was about four or five years old. I loved the colors and wanted it up in the house. I wanted it front and center. But the "used" brick on the fireplace competed with it and so the brick, all 22 x 6 feet of it, had to change.

The white brick surrounded by celery cedar held on for about five years before we decided to go grey last month. But, as we went grey on all the drywall, it seemed like a good time to make the full transition from brown cedar to glossy white, just like my mom had said we should on day one.

So maybe the moral of the story should be, "Listen to your mother and do as she says." If I had, I would have saved myself (and Scott) hours and hours of time standing on a ladder (and subsequent trips to the massage therapist and doctor to get his back re-aligned after time on said ladder).

I think, though, that part of discovering our style requires more than changing our house from one extreme to another without hitting any of the stops in between. Especially for a couple as young (and inexperienced) as Scott and I were when we moved in. We were 27? 26? That is awfully young to assume that we could know our style. Somehow my mom knew where we'd end up. She could see around that corner before we could. But the in between? That was part of our evolution.


Now. This isn't the best angle for a shot anymore, but just for comparison's sake...

A better angle.

And so here is where we are today. We're still making changes and the view from our entry is still evolving -- in fact we made some major changes just this week. I'll update you on those in the next few days. But for now we've hit a place that we're really happy with. It is bright and airy and getting more modern every day. It is a look I never would have predicted but it feels like home.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Weathered Farmhouse Table

I talked a bit about how this table was built in my post from last Wednesday, but if you want to build the same table you don't have to follow my "here's my cut list -- do your best" approach because sweet Ana White created updated Farmhouse Table plans using pocket hole construction!

Now you should have no problem building the table. This post is about how I got that beautiful weathered finish. I don't usually finish with oil-based stains -- I don't like how they make me feel (dry throat, headache, sometimes even nauseous). I don't like their clean up and disposal issues. I don't like their high VOC content. But when I saw a Minwax stain called "Weathered Oak," I had to take it home to try it. And it was exactly what I've been looking for. FYI: I also tried the Minwax "Classic Grey" which is in the color chart linked above. It looked more blue than grey and almost nothing like the color pictured on the can. I'm glad I tested it first!

Minwax "Weathered Oak" on the left, "Classic Grey" on the right.
Until a water-based stain manufacturer finds something that can compete with this finish, I'll be compromising my values (and cringing inside) and using this stain. 

I could have used my old standby, the oxidizing solution made from steel wool and vinegar, but I wanted more yellow to show through. The steel wool and vinegar trick would have been too dark for the look I was going for.

For this finish, I applied one coat of stain to the legs and two to the top and stretcher boards. The legs are reclaimed cedar (from old fence posts) and only needed a light coat to get the color I was looking for. The rest was new pine and needed more color.

Before staining, I gave the table top a coat of wood conditioner and then a light sanding. I didn't condition the stretcher boards because I was running out of conditioner -- can you see the difference? I was surprised how much blotchier the stretchers came out. I still love them (they're rustic and beautiful) but next time I'll use conditioner on the stretchers, too.

For the sealer, I used Polywhey in satin on the whole table. So far I've put two coats on the top and one on the legs and stretchers. I'll probably put another coat on the whole thing, just for added protection. I love the look of Polywhey on this finish -- when the undercoat is darker, satin Polywhey can get a little too glossy for my taste. But on a stain this light, the Polywhey has almost no shine. It's gorgeous -- much like a waxed finish but nearly bullet-proof.

Okay, maybe not bullet-proof, but kid proof, for sure.

Is this a finish that would work in your house? What do you think about the table? Is a design like this, that seats 4-6 people, something that would work for you?

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Pocket Hole Farmhouse Table

I'm not quite finished with this table (I just put wood conditioner on the top and I'm hoping to stain it before I go to bed) but I thought I'd give you a sneak peak anyway.

Looking for a farmhouse table plan using pocket hole construction was a bit tough. I couldn't find exactly what I was looking for, so I made one up. In my head. While I worked.

That's pretty much how I do things these days. On the fly.

And I was in a hurry, so no in-progress pictures here. But I can share with you my cut list and I'm sure that you can figure out how to put it together. Because if you read this blog you must be pretty bright!

I started with this Ana White farmhouse table plan as inspiration, and used her newly updated Tryde Coffee Table plan to help me figure out how I was going to put it together. (Edited to add: Ana has since created an updated Farmhouse Table plan using pocket hole construction!)

Here's how I did it: the aprons are joined to the posts/legs using pocket hole joints. The planks on top are joined to each other with pocket hole joints. The top is attached to the aprons using pocket hole joints. The only non-pocket hole joints are the modified lap joints on the bottom. (I'm sure there is a technical term for these joints, but I call them "modified" lap joints because only one piece of wood is notched. On a real lap joint, I think both pieces are notched. But don't quote me on that.) There are modified lap joints attaching the support boards for the stretcher to the legs, and to attach the stretcher to the support boards.

I used my table saw to cut the modified lap joints and then joined the boards using glue and countersunk screws. The holes are filled with wood plugs.

I based my cuts on my existing dining room table, because I wanted this table to be about the same size. The overall dimensions are about 37.75W x 85L x 31.5H.

4 - 4x4 posts @ 29" (legs)
2 - 2x4 @ 67" (long aprons)
2 - 2x4 @ 27" (short aprons)
1 - 2x4 @ 74" (stretcher)
2 - 2x4 @ 34" (stretcher supports)
4 - 2x8 @ 70.5" (table top planks)
1 - 2x10@ 70.5" (center table top plank -- I had to use one 2x10 to get the right overall width)
2 - 2x8 ~38" (breadboard ends -- measure your joined tabletop before cutting these)

For the finish, I'm planning to go for a weathered look. I love the look of the legs (reclaimed 4x4 posts) as they are now, so hopefully I can create a similar look for the rest of the table. Completed table photos to come soon!

Psst...check out the finished table here!

Pssssst...Ana posted updated plans using pocket hole construction here!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

{juice} Double Dare

I'm sure that this admission will date me, but I'm going to go ahead and say it anyway. I used to watch Double Dare. Do you remember Double Dare? That kids' game show on Nickelodeon? Maybe I didn't really watch it; maybe it just happened to be on tv when I was home, and I happened to see kids getting buckets of green slime dumped on their heads when they answered a question incorrectly or failed a DD challenge.

When I was looking for a name for this juice recipe, DD came to mind immediately. Green slime. That's what it looks like. The color, at least. Not so much the consistency, since it isn't slimy at all. Actually, it's refreshing and tart and packed with nutrients.

I make this juice the same way I make most of my juices. I put the first five ingredients through my juicer, then transfer the juice to my blender and add the last ingredient. In this one, spinach gets added at the end. It creates some foam, but once it sits in the fridge for a few minutes, the foam dissipates and all that is left is lovely green juice. This recipe makes about 3 medium or two large juices -- enough to share.

What a way to start your week! Happy Monday!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

{finishing} From Honey Oak to Weathered Oak

Do you cringe when you see honey oak? You know, orange-stained and super shiny oak that looks like it belongs in 1985? I do. Even more, I cringe when I walk into furniture stores that are selling the stuff now. New. But I guess someone is still buying it new, despite the abundance of the stuff on Craigslist and at thrift stores.

Change your old honey oak piece into a Restoration Hardware-worthy weathered oak piece. Or go buy someone else's old honey oak piece and make it look new old! Here's how.

First, grab some of the paint and varnish stripper that I talked about here. I've only recently become a Möstenböcker's convert, but the stuff works and I will keep shouting it from the rooftops until I find something better. If such a thing exists.

Strip the old honey finish off of your 80's furniture. How long this takes and how much effort it requires probably depends on how thick the original finish is. Keep at it -- it will be worth it. Get ALL the old finish off -- wherever you leave the old finish, the color will stay orange.

Finish prepping your piece by giving it a light sanding with very fine grit sandpaper. Vacuum and wipe off all the dust.

Next, grab your jar of oxidizing solution (which, of course, you keep in your garage at all times). What? You don't have some on hand? Okay, this is going to set you back a few days. Go make yourself some oxidizing solution (AKA: iron acetate) with a jar of vinegar and a steel wool pad. More on the how-to here. Be sure to read all the comments on that post -- it will answer your questions, I promise.

Since oak is high in tannins, you don't want to use your old, concentrated oxidizing solution as-is. I diluted mine with white vinegar -- about 6 parts vinegar to 1 part solution. Yours may need more or less dilution, depending on how long it has been sitting around and how much you've used. TEST your solution on an inconspicuous part of your furniture, let it dry, re-assess and make the needed adjustments to get the color right. Super-concentrated solution will turn your oak black almost immediately. Maybe this is the look you're going for? Overly-diluted solution will make very little change.

Once you've got the solution right, paint it onto your stripped and sanded piece of furniture. Please paint it on with the grain. I used a foam brush for this project and I tried to keep a wet edge. If you let the solution dry and then go back over it, the part you went over twice will be darker than parts that you only went over once. If it is still wet when you overlap, it will blend and look relatively uniform.

That sounds really basic, I know. But if I don't say it, someone will end up with stripes on their piece. The first time I oxidized, I got stripes. Ugh.

Let the piece dry and give it another very light sanding, just to make sure it is super smooth. If you sand too roughly, you'll have to go back and add more solution to the parts you over-sanded. So please, be gentle.

FYI: the more cheaply-made your piece of furniture is, the more variation in color you will end up with, because the piece will be built using different grades of oak or even different varieties of oak. The legs on the pieces pictured here were made from several different oak boards laminated together, and you can see the difference in color between the boards. In my opinion, the variations in color add to the charm of a piece like this.

Your last step is to seal the piece. I prefer Staples Crystal Clear Paste Wax. I buy it at Woodcraft (where the employees call it "bowling alley wax,") but it is also available online. It is inexpensive, goes on easily, dries hard and smooth, and has a beautiful satin finish. AND it doesn't give me a headache. I don't think it is a verified low-VOC product, but it is not unpleasant to work with like most conventional finishes.

So, put on a light coat of wax using a soft cloth. As you put it on, the wood will take on an orangey hue, but don't worry! Once the wax dries the orange will disappear. Give the wax at least an hour to harden before buffing it with a clean soft cloth. Add a second coat all over and maybe a third coat to the top.

Now, why wax as a topcoat? Because every other sealer I've used (ie: polyurethane, polycrylic, and even my beloved PolyWhey) turns the wood orange. Simple as that. Clear wax won't change the color of weathered oak. If you find something else that doesn't change the color of the wood, tell me about it. I'd love to know!

If you go with wax as a sealer, please be kind to your furniture. Use a coaster under your drink to avoid water rings and spots. Don't use harsh cleaners. In fact, don't even use a homemade vinegar-based cleaner unless you are trying to strip the wax. Just wipe down the surface with a damp cloth or a dry microfiber rag. Every six or so months, give it another coat of wax, at least on the top. The sides and legs probably won't need it. Taking care of your piece will keep it looking new. Er...old.