Showing posts with label Budget Friendly. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Budget Friendly. Show all posts

Friday, January 10, 2014

Movin' on up: Adjusting our spaces to kids' changing needs

While all kids have different interests and enjoy different activities, one thing is true for every kid: as they grow up, the way they use their spaces is ever-changing. I've found that I can make my life easier (read: cleaner and less crazy) if I adjust their spaces to suit how they spend their time.

When we first moved into our house, a space behind our sofa in the family room was dedicated to the kids and their toys. It worked well because I could see and hear them playing while I was in the kitchen, which is where I spent most of my time back then. The kids' space wasn't immediately visible to visitors and it was an area that, if left messy, wouldn't disturb the adults in the house.

As the kids grew older, though, and they didn't need my eyes on them all the time, it was a relief to move their area upstairs to the loft. Our loft area, a 9'x12' space at the top of the stairs on the way to the kids' bedrooms, has been an invaluable area for our kids over the past six years. I have a partially obstructed view of it from my kitchen and I can hear activity in this area from any corner of my house.

Before: Little Kid Space

After: Big Kid Space

Until this Christmas, the loft was home to my kids' play kitchen. We built it when Brynn was three years old and even as a ten year old this summer, she and Callie were still playing in it. They used it as a restaurant, as a pretend classroom, and sometimes even as a kitchen. Even though the play kitchen was still usable for the girls, we sensed that they were starting to cross into an age where they would appreciate a more mature play space. They weren't as loud and boisterous anymore when they played in the kitchen. In fact, they were whispering – almost like they didn't want us to know that they were still using their little kitchen. But what really convinced me was their tendency to raid my craft closet and their inability to put anything away when they were finished.

One day I kind of exploded. No, I totally exploded. It was one of those mom moments you never forget even though you wish you could totally block it out. Callie had been in my craft closet, made a mess, and left it a total disaster. Glue stuck to the table, glitter and paper scraps all over the place. Cardboard scraps strewn on the table and floor. String and ribbon and stickers and sequins everywhere. I had wanted to do a specific task quickly but couldn't even get into the closet.

I took all of her craft supplies out of the closet and tossed them in her room and told her she could never come back. My closet was off limits to her.

Within seconds I realized how unfair it was. Crafting is what Callie does. Creating purses and houses and bracelets out of cardboard and tape and rubber bands and fabric is who she is. When she can't create, she starts to burst at the seams. It is who she is. A tinkerer. An artist. A creator.

So I took a deep breath and said, "Here's the deal. We cannot coexist in this space but you cannot exist without crafts. You need to choose: play kitchen or crafts." It took her a millisecond to respond, "Crafts!" Brynn agreed.

As much as it hurt to admit that they were growing up, I knew it had to happen. I took photos of their play kitchen and posted them on a local moms' Facebook page. The kitchen and its contents were gone within a day. We boxed up the little kid toys that we wanted to hang onto for visiting toddlers. We gave away everything else.

Starting with a clean slate, I built a simple divider to make the loft feel more separate from the hallway and to give me a wall to set a dresser against, so that we'd have plenty of storage. The divider is screwed into the floor, the adjacent wall, and the dresser it sits in front of. The dresser is a hand-me-down that I cleaned up and painted – it's perfect for holding fabric and craft supplies. I moved around some bookcases that were already in the space and I built a table out of bits and pieces in my garage (and a sheet of plywood I had to buy). I made curtains from fabric that I'd found in a pile of remnants a year or so ago. I had set the fabric aside for the next step in the evolution of this space and was glad to find it still sitting in my sewing closet. We stopped into Ikea for a few pieces to help us organize, and for a couple of stools to set at the table.

The divider is a 2x2 frame and 3/8" plywood leftover from other projects.

I scrubbed the brass pulls with Bar Keeper's Friend to make them shine!

Construction paper to roll over the table.

Buckets from the dollar aisle at Target and an Ikea BYGEL rail.

We also bought a new computer to put in this space. It wasn't something we'd planned to do right that very second, but our kids are using computers for more and more homework assignments, and the computer they'd been using was eight years old and running pretty slowly. (For the record, my four year old MacBook works fine...I just don't like to share it with my children.) We already had a computer cabinet in the loft – it was formerly a TV cabinet, that we converted to a computer cabinet – and it's been great for them to have an updated machine that I can see and hear from almost anywhere in the house. And I kind of love the giant 27" screen, even though it's hard for me to admit.

This TV cabinet was in my house as a kid. It's solid pine and really heavy! I painted it a few years ago and built the
platform for the computer. The keyboard sits on the pull-out tray that used to hold the TV. Our printer, printer paper,
ink, and camera accessories all fit into the bottom cabinet. And up top is our TV antenna for the whole house. Can
you see the beer cans on it? Classy.

If you don't count the new computer (ahem) changing this space cost us under $100. We already had almost all of the supplies and sold the old kitchen for $50. This has been, by far, the most impact-per-dollar change we've made in our house.

While it was sad to say goodbye to the little kitchen, watching the girls create in this space and knowing that it is a space we can use together has been a nice change for all four of us.

Here are some elements of this space that I think make it effective:
  • I can see and hear it from the kitchen. When the kids are using the computer, I can monitor it. 
  • I pass the loft while going to and from the girls' rooms at night, so I can stop in to clean up any supplies or scraps they leave behind. I'll never be surprised by a mess there because I have to pass it often.
  • The space may turn into a multi-use space for doing homework as well as crafting, but for now it's a place where they can leave an unfinished project to return to later, and in the meantime it doesn't bother anyone. It doesn't have to be moved out of the way for dinner or for guests.
  • The space is well-lit with lots of natural light and lamps as well as bright and cheery colors. It's an inspiring place to work.
  • Because the new computer is up there, the kids can turn a movie on Netflix or watch a how-to video on YouTube while they work.
  • The carpet is old, so I don't really care if they spill on it or screw it up in some other way, as I'm sure they will.
  • The table is finished with nearly bullet-proof PolyWhey floor finish, so it's easy to clean.
  • For super messy projects, I added a roll of construction paper to a dowel fastened under the table. Now we can roll paper over the table to make cleanup quick and easy.
  • There is plenty of storage. Storage in the hand-me-down dresser, storage in cans hanging from the walls, and storage in the two bookcases we've had in our house ever since we got married.
  • A whole wall is dedicated to inspiration and display. Right now a third of that wall is taken up by a Ugandan alphabet which was given to us by a friend who takes care of street kids in Uganda. I added some artwork with positive messages from The Handmade Home and we hung up the kids' favorite artwork to spur them on to more creativity.
Do you think you could carve out space in your house for a dedicated craft area? Or would a dedicated Lego space go over better in your house? How do you adjust your home to meet your kids' changing needs?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Quick, cheap, and easy Christmas card display

Sometimes Pinterest sucks me in and when it spits me out two hours later, I feel like I've been lost in a never-ending vortex and have only a stiff neck to show for it.

This was not one of those times.

Yesterday I was there for about two minutes when I saw this pin from a friend and immediately thought, "I need that!" I did not take one more second to think about it before I ran upstairs, grabbed my ball of kitchen string, and started wrapping a cabinet door in it.

For several years now, I've looked at the sorry stack of Christmas cards sitting in my kitchen and thought I really wasn't doing justice to all of those families and people we love. But creating a way to display those cards just never ended up high on my list of things to do during the month of December.

That's why I love this quick and easy Christmas card display. It will take you longer to read this post than it will for you to put together this display.

Here are the steps:

1. Find a ball of string, yarn, or twine. (I wanted to use my red and white twine from Ikea but my kids used it all without telling me. Story of my life.)

2. Wrap it around a door a few times. (I used a cabinet door over my computer, but you could do it on a pantry door or a closet door instead.)
3. Tie the string/twine/yarn on the back side of the door.

 4. Use paper clips or clothespins or something similar to affix the cards to your string.

Done. Seriously easy. And, for me at least, free, because I had all the materials on hand.

How do you display your Christmas cards?

Sunday, November 24, 2013

What are you up to for Advent?

Psst...for more on our Advent Adventure, check out this more recent post!

Ever since my kids were little, our Advent calendars have been the kind with chocolate behind the doors of a cardboard calendar. But this year I'm ready for something different. Something a little more challenging.

Don't get me wrong. My kids still want their daily chocolate, and that's okay with me.

As the kids get older, though, I've found myself spending less time wiping butts, checking teeth, and picking up clothes. Instead, I'm spending more time reading and discussing books with them (Black Beauty and Poppy were our two latest reads), cooking with them, crafting together, building, painting...

And like a sudden clap of thunder on a sunny summer day, I realized that I've left the age of needy children and been thrown into a time when my kids are able to contribute to the daily running of our household.

For me, that means more time for fun. For activities. For enjoying my kids and also being able to relax when they've gone to bed.

This is a fantastic stage of life.

Which leads me back to the point: for my first time as a mom, I've got the time and energy to think about Advent as 24 days of connecting with my family. It can be 24 days of preparing for Christmas and 24 days of enjoying the greatest gifts I've ever received, my husband and kids.

And even as I write this, I think that maybe I'm being a little pollyanna. It won't be all fun and games. There will be times when we're running too late and have to skip an Advent activity. Sometimes the kids will want to take our activities too far. But I'm okay with that. I want the challenge. I think the fun will outweigh the eye-rolling. I'm finally ready for this.

So I'm building an Advent calendar. I took an old cabinet door, painted it red, and screwed in 24 little cup hooks. I've got little envelopes to hang on each hook. When it's done, I'll show it to you. But right now I want some feedback. What goes in the envelopes?

I've come up with some ideas of my own. Here are a few of my favorites:
  • Watch a Christmas movie
  • Take a drive to see Christmas lights
  • Take an evening walk as a family
  • Make popcorn strings and hang them on a tree outside
  • Write a letter to one of your teachers teacher telling her why you like his or her class
  • Pick up litter
  • Make s'mores
  • Share three reasons why each person in your family is special
  • Make snowflakes to hang in the windows

One of the best parts of creating this calendar has been getting input from the kids. They're so creative and...unpredictable. Here are a few of their ideas:
  • Do everything by candlelight for the rest of the night
  • Make crazy hats
  • Make whipped cream
  • Have an eating contest (I wonder if those two are related?)
  • Have a broccoli night

Yep, the kids' ideas rock.

So my plan is to gather our ideas, print them out, and put them into envelopes that correspond with the days when we have the right amount of free time to enjoy those activities. We won't be making Christmas cookies on Thursday nights, our busiest night of the week. But we could play a game of Jenga.

What do you have planned for Advent? Or has it even crossed your mind?

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Solar-powered mason jar path lights

Scott and I ended up creating these path lights by sort of a happy accident. I'd been looking for low-voltage outdoor wall sconces for the Bunkalow, hoping that we could run our landscape lighting through the Bunkalow to power lights for the front porch. It turns out that low-voltage wall sconces do not exist (or at least I couldn't find any). So then I started looking for solar-powered wall sconces. Nothing. Or at least nothing I'd want on our Bunkalow.

Somehow, though, I ended up on this post from Not Martha. She walked me through the steps of creating jar lights, which I figured I could hang from the front wall of the Bunkalow. Her tutorial was created a few years ago, though, and solar lights have come a long way since then (at least, if the criteria you're using to evaluate solar lights is how easily they can be taken apart and made into something else).

Admittedly, this is probably not how most people judge the products they buy. Am I the only person who goes to the hardware store looking for something to take apart and put back together in a different way? Am I the only one who clearly needs help but when an employee asks if I need help, I smile and say, "No...I'm doing fine," because I know they'll think I'm nuts?

After reading the Not Martha tutorial, I picked up a couple of these cheap solar path lights at Lowe's ($2.98 each).

I messed with them a little in the store – enough to know that the top (the part with the solar panel, the light, and the battery) twisted off easily, making it that much easier to take apart and re-assemble if I needed to.

It took destroying one light before Scott figured out that these lights fit perfectly in the top of a mason jar, making this particular solar path light the holy grail of solar path lights. And since Lowe's changes their inventory about every six months, I'd recommend buying about two dozen of these babies now.

Here's how to make your own.

First, grab some old mason jars. Any volume wide-mouth mason jar will work, but the top must be the wide-mouth version (3" in diameter).

Pop out the inner lid – you only need the band part of the top for this.

Unscrew the top from your solar path light.

Use a tiny screwdriver to unscrew the four tiny screws.

Be very careful not to separate the wires from the light (they're soldered on, so if they pop off they won't be easy to reattach, unless you're good with a soldering iron – we are not). Grab the top part of the light (the part with the solar panel) and give it a little squeeze until you can pop it from the underside of the lid band to the top side.

Line up the two parts of your top and screw them back together with the lid band in between.

Pull out the green tab that keeps the light from turning on (you could do this at the beginning to test the light, but then the light will shine in your eyes while you're working). Screw the top onto the jar and you've got a path light.

Here's what I love most about this path light – since the top is totally removable, you can get creative with the jars. Maybe some sparkly tulle at Christmas time, construction paper cut out to look like a jack-o'-lantern in the fall, swirled paint in the jar for a funky vibe, or just some simple frosted spray paint to give the jar a calmer glow.

Now...I need some bright ideas for what to do with the bottom part of the solar path lights I disassembled. I'm not even sure if they're recyclable plastic. Thoughts?

Friday, September 13, 2013

Using an Old Shutter as an Air Vent

I finally did it. After our beer fridge died twice from overheating, Scott and I finally created a solution.

You see, on the other side of that shutter is a 19" wide beer fridge. When we remodeled our kitchen, we created this space for it, but the space won't accommodate a standard sized built-in fridge (nor will our bank account). And stand-alone beer fridges aren't meant to be inside a cabinet – they need ventilation. A few inches of space around the edges of the fridge won't cut it.

So after we killed two fridges in six years, we decided enough was enough. Out came the drywall knife and up went...a shutter.

Yep. Because, as you know from this post, I think standard vents and cold air returns are ugly. I can live with the ones that I don't see often, but I walk down these stairs every time I go from the kitchen to the backyard, to my bedroom, or to the garage. So this ventilating solution couldn't make my eye twitch.

I got the shutter for $5 from the ReStore. Scott cut it to an appropriate size before cutting the hole in the wall. I trimmed the shutter, primed it, and painted it. Then I screwed on some D-rings and hung it on the wall. It seriously took me an hour of active work time and I had all the supplies lying around, save for the shutter itself.

What I think is great about this solution is how many problems it could fix. Used shutters are available in so many sizes – you could easily use trim to join a few shutters and cover a wide space like a cold air return. If your cold air return cover needs a filter, it would be easy to attach one to the back of the shutter. Also, shutters hang easily and are easy to remove if you want to clean behind them. (What? Did I say that?) And if you don't do trim (don't have a saw, don't have random pieces of lumber lying around your garage), it would be simple to join a few shutters using a mending plate like this before painting and hanging on the wall. This really is a simple, cheap, and accessible project that just about anyone can do!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

{backyard bunk-alow} Part One: From Fort to Cabin

As part of our backyard renovation, we promised the girls that we'd tear down their old fort and replace it with something bigger and more grown up. They are, after all, 8 & 10 years old now. You wouldn't know it by the way they still fought over the fort's one swing...until it fell off sometime this summer. But still, a fort with a fake telescope and steering wheel just wouldn't do anymore.

The idea was to give them a place where they could have sleepovers (with their dad and grandpa and maybe me, too) and a place where they could kick back, read, and chill with their friends. The hillside where the fort sits is pretty steep and not an easy place to landscape nor is it a great place to play. The new cabin will reclaim some unused space and give them a bigger piece of the backyard to call their own.

The inspiration for our cabin comes from Ashley and Jamin at The Handmade Home. I had a chance to get to know Ashley this summer when we were both invited to an event for bloggers at Delta Faucet. I'd pinned her Handmade Hideaway long before I met her and when I finally made the connection that SHE was the one with the world's cutest backyard hideaway, I was stoked. Because not only is her hideaway super cute and exactly what I was looking for, but also because she is one of the most genuine, caring, and entertaining people I know.

Image via Pinterest. Here's a link to the Handmade Hideaway tutorial.

See how dang fun this thing is? For the past few days I've been working my rear end off to build something similar. I started by taking apart, piece by piece, our old fort. The girls happened to have the day off of school on Tuesday and they helped me out by organizing all of the hardware that I pulled out of the fort so that I could re-use it. They had about ten different containers full of screws, bolts, nuts, and washers with a sign that said,

"Brynn's Hardwear. Bring in your old wears. Buy new. Buy used. Awsimniss is in the air when you come to Brynn's Hardwear."

I know. Kids are too stinkin' funny. I especially love their spelling.

Here's the old fort:

Yep, it was a little out of square thanks to years of kids swinging on the swings (which used to hang off to the right but are now missing). My kids, at a combined total of about 140 pounds, were still spider swinging on the one remaining swing a few months ago. Scott and I would cringe as we'd see the whole fort twist every time the swing moved and we weren't that sad when the swing finally fell off. Thankfully, not while a kid was using it.

The fort actually has a bit of history in our neighborhood. Our neighbors across the street built it for their kids when they were young. When they outgrew it, the fort was dragged across the street to our next door neighbors' yard where it served two kids well. We acquired it about five years ago. We buried the base in our hillside since we didn't have a flat place to put it. Then we took off the plastic sides and replaced them with the wooden railing you see in the photo above. Eventually we removed the plastic slide that came with the fort. One swing bit the dust while we were living in Mexico a few years ago. The second finally saw its end this summer.

Although the fort had seen better days, the wood from which it's built is still in decent shape. So, being the re-user that I am, I'm hoping to incorporate as much of it into the new cabin as possible.

With that in mind, here's how the fort looked at the beginning of day two, after a day of disassembly:

And at the beginning of day three:

So those 10ft long 2x10s that make the frame for this beast? They're from our old deck (aka: The Raft). They're heavy. And, you know, I build heavy furniture and don't use the term "heavy" lightly. They're really heavy in a way that I've found to be atypical for lumber this old. I think it's because they are (or were) pressure treated. But despite their weight I got this far on the new cabin's base while Scott was at work. I did it by myself. That front right corner? It's more than 5' off the ground. All I'm saying excuses, my friends. If I can do this, you can do anything. You don't even need a buff partner to help you out. I mean, this deck is even level. Maybe not square (although I did my best to get the posts in the right places while wondering how many neighbors were spying and laughing every time my tape measure hit the ground), but it is definitely level.

The footprint of the posts is 10' wide and 8' deep, the reverse of Jamin and Ashley's. Since we have enough space I cantilevered the deck out an additional 2' 8" toward the front (making it 10' x 10'8" total). Most of the leftover 2x10s from The Raft (our old deck) were just barely long enough to make 10'8" work -- I'm glad I could find those giant boards a new home in our yard. They're old but they are in decent shape and have a lot of life left in them.

I thought I could build the deck for the cabin without moving all of the posts from the old fort. As it turned out, it made more sense to move all four of them and re-dig those holes.

More on that later this week...because everyone should know how to dig a good post hole.

Until then, follow me on Instagram to see progress of our cabin every day. Or follow me on Facebook to get intermittent updates (read: when I remember to post).

Lastly...any ideas on what to call this thing? The kids are calling it "the cabin." I wanted "backyard bungalow" but Scott says that "bungalow" sounds too much like "gigolo." We've tested out "chalet" and I've thought of "casita" and "cabana." We can't even consider calling it a "playhouse" or our oldest kid won't use it. If you can think of something better (and I'm sure you can) throw it out there. We just might grab it.

Edited to add: Callie found the perfect name! We're calling it the "Backyard Bunk-alow," and I've updated the title of this post to include the new name. Click here for part two where you'll hear how we came up with the name.  Click here for all of the Backyard Bunk-alow posts!

Monday, August 26, 2013

From old-school chairs to new-school chairs: a Heywood-Wakefield makeover

Please don't faint.

I totally defaced six Heywood-Wakefield chairs.

But I promise, they weren't worth much.

Yes, I know that there is some old school furniture, like these Toledo Uhl Art stools, that is worth a fortune. I narrowly missed out on 9 of those stools for $20/each on Craigslist. I still feel sick to my stomach even though it happened 10 months ago. Sigh.

Moving on. The chairs I refinished don't belong in the same category as those stools. They're easy to find, sometimes even for free if you're lucky enough to live near an old school that is getting new furniture or closing down.

I bought six of them on Ebay for a couple hundred bucks plus shipping. They sat in my garage gathering sawdust for several months before I had time to work on them, but all the while I had a vision for what they could be.

These are not my exact chairs, but similar ones I found on Ebay once I realized
I couldn't find the Ebay pics for my chairs!

Once I finally had a chance to take them out of their packaging, the first thing I did was remove all the screws to separate the wooden seats and backs from the metal frames. I saved the old screws in a container to re-use later. I used this stripper to get rid of the old yellow finish on the chair seats and backs. (Avid readers will remember that I once sung the praises of Mostenbocker's stripper, but I've had problems using it this summer in our super-dry climate, so I've switched brands. This new stuff is working great!)

Can I just inject a sentimental note here? These seats and chair backs were made from the nicest wood I've ever worked with. I have no idea what species it is, but it's obvious that the wood that was used to build these chairs back in the 1940s or 1950s is not the same stuff I buy at Home Depot today and certainly a lot nicer than what's in our kids' classrooms now. After I got through the layer of yellow grime I knew I was working with something unlike any lumber I've ever touched before. There's some kind of spiritual connection you make when working with something old and beautiful, especially something that's been handled by thousands of school kids. I love the vibe I got from these chairs.

Once the old finish was gone, I gave each seat and back a good sanding before applying a grey-wash. For my grey-wash, I used one part Restoration Hardware's Graphite to about eight parts water. I shook it up well in an old plastic peanut butter jar and then painted it onto the backs and seats of the chairs, wiping it off immediately with an old rag.

I just wanted the grey-wash to offset the yellow tones in the wood a bit, to give the wood a more neutral color once finished. The seats are still warm, just not yellow like before.

Once the grey-wash was dry, I brushed on 3 coats of my favorite sealer, PolyWhey in satin. As always, I sanded between coats with 400 grit paper for a super smooth finish.*

For the frames, first I sanded them down with 220 grit paper to get rid of the rust and peeling paint. When it came to the new finish, I waffled back and forth between two different options. I knew I wanted them to be red but I wasn't sure how to get there. On one side was powder coating. I'd visited a powder coating and metal fabricating shop last winter and seen powder coating in action. It's a great process and relatively green, as well. There are no harmful VOCs and very little waste. In the process, the metal is sandblasted to remove the old finish. Then, the metal is sprayed with a static-charged pigmented powder before being baked in a super hot oven where the powder coating melts (sorry...I don't know the technical term) and adheres to the metal. Once the powder coat is cooled and dry, it's a really durable and glossy finish. Your bike frame is powder coated as is lots of colored metal outdoor furniture. The only problem was the cost. I knew that for each chair I'd have to pony up somewhere between $40-$75. For one or two chairs I could handle the cost. But for six chairs? I just wasn't ready for that kind of investment.

My second option was spray paint. Let me just say this: I loathe spray paint. It smells. It makes me feel sick. It produces a ton of overspray that I hate dealing with. Here is the upside, though. It's cheap.

The cheap got me. I knew that if the sprayed-on finish deteriorated quickly, I could always go back and get the frames powder coated. You know, when I've got several hundred bucks to spare which will happen...probably never.

I ended up using Rustoleum auto body primer for the first coat and then Rustoleum auto enamel in Gloss Cherry for the second coat. It took four cans of primer and four cans of paint to get the job done. Every single second of it sucked.

After working with my sprayer for a while, I'm totally spoiled. I already hated using canned spray paint, but now I really don't ever want to use canned spray paint again. It's hard to control, it gets paint residue on everything, the smell lingers forever...ugh. I just really, really don't like the stuff.

But it got the job done.

In the foreground of the picture where the frames are all red you can see my strategy for painting screws and other hardware. It's a piece of styrofoam that was used to package something we bought a while back. I kept it around and have been using it when I need to paint hardware. It works great -- just stick the hardware in so it stands up straight. No more screws or knobs rolling around while I paint them.

So what do you think? Did I deface a precious antique or give new life to some ailing chairs?

*FYI: I don't get any kick-backs from Vermont Natural Coatings for promoting their product...I just really like it that much.