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

Thursday, September 18, 2014

{Part 2} How to let go and let your pre-teen redecorate...and be happy with the results.

In part one, I gave you four tips for letting go and letting your pre-teen redecorate her own room. I'd guess that those tips are applicable to kids of all ages with just a little adjusting for age (and maybe taste).

When we took on the job of redecorating Brynn's room, we knew we didn't want to do a huge overhaul. We'd already done that when she turned 8 and I ripped out her carpet in favor of a wood floor. I also built her a bunch of furniture. This re-do was just meant to be a tweak. A little change in style to suit her more grown-up tastes.

Here are the details.

Paint. Brynn was set on white walls. Her trim was already white (including the wainscoting that goes about 1/3 of the way up her walls), the same white that we use for all of our house trim, The Right White by Restoration Hardware, color matched in Sherwin-Williams paint. The Right White is my favorite trim white and that wasn't negotiable. It's not too warm, not too cool, and keeping it the same in Brynn's room meant one fewer can of paint in the garage and easier touch ups when she (inevitably) scuffs the trim in her room.

In order to work with Brynn's trim, I thought her wall color white should probably be a tad warmer and darker than The Right White, but it really wasn't up to me. Remember, this was our opportunity to let Brynn choose her own design. So, I gave her several white paint swatches from Sherwin-Williams, all of which were acceptable to me. She looked at Extra White, Pure White, Snowbound, and Marshmallow. Marshmallow probably would have been my choice, the warmest and darkest of the four. She, on the other hand, wanted the whitest possible walls. Like, the color of printer paper. She wanted (and actually pointed to) the white that is the border between the paint colors on the color strip. Extra White was the whitest of the options she had, so that is what she chose. It's not a color that most of us would choose, especially not when combined with trim that is a hair darker and warmer. But she's not most of us, and it's not our room.

After Brynn and Scott primed and the paint started to go up on the walls, it was obvious to Scott and me that Extra White was both too cool and too bright. We wondered if Brynn would have second thoughts. Scott even said something like, "I guess I'll be back in here painting with her again tomorrow." She never said a word. I didn't ask her what she thought because I didn't want to make her doubt her decision. Once we got the room put back together, the white faded away, just like she wanted it to. The moral of the story is...don't fuss over paint colors in a kid's room. They're easily pleased.


Desk. You may remember this reading loft/desk combo that I built for Brynn back when she was turning 8. It was awesome...awesome for an 8, 9, or 10 year old. But this summer Brynn was feeling like she'd outgrown the loft. She was starting middle school and expecting her homework load to increase. She wanted a real desk. So, I kept my eyes peeled for one we could re-do, and I found this one on VarageSale, one of my favorite sources for furniture to makeover. Here I am driving home with the new (old) desk.

If Brynn had a bigger budget (remember, she was originally budgeting only $155 for this re-do, which I told her I'd match, bringing us to a total budget of $310), she could have chosen any desk she wanted. But she didn't have a bigger budget, so it was up to me to find one that was in decent shape, sturdy enough to last her until she gets out of high school, and ready for a makeover. She really wanted something modern. And given a bigger budget, we could have dressed this old desk up with modern pulls. I think someday she might buy herself new pulls. But for now, the original pulls add a bit of eclectic elegance to what otherwise could have become a room so modern and contemporary, it felt cold. So...budgets. We love them.

Brynn gave herself a choice of three colors for her desk: yellow, navy, or coral. She chose navy. General Finishes Milk Paint, my go-to paint when I'm painting a piece of furniture and don't want a distressed finish, has a great navy called Coastal Blue. I left Brynn out of the labor for this part (one can only share SO much of the work when one is a control, painting furniture is kind of my thing). My dad and I gave the desk a light sanding, I primed it with dark brown primer that I had on hand, sprayed it with half a quart of the Coastal Blue milk paint, finished the insides of the drawers in a coral color that I mixed up from leftover paints in the garage, and sealed the whole thing with PolyWhey wipe-on in satin.

I soaked the old brass drawer pulls in a vinegar and baking soda solution and then used Brasso to clean them. I think it's pretty caustic stuff, but every once in a while that's what it takes.

If the top of the desk looks a little off to you...that's because it is. I'm doing a little desk blotter experiment. I'll report back once I have some results. 

Bedding. Brynn had her heart set on the yellow and white chevron duvet from the moment she set eyes on it, so I knew it would be the centerpiece of the room. She found a few sets of navy and white sheets at PBTeen, too, but her budget was more of a Target budget. So, off to we went. Together we picked out the navy Threshold sheets to sleep on and the navy and white sheets for her box spring and a pillow.

I've become a pretty serious devotee to the Threshold sheets in recent years. I first started buying them because they were organic cotton. Unfortunately the navy sheets weren't available in organic (I'm thinking that organic in a deep navy dye is pretty hard to achieve) so we ended up with the conventional version. The sheets are made in India which was encouraging -- India leads the world in organic cotton production (although it is falling) and is an established Better Cotton region. So even though these are conventional, I feel okay about supporting India's cotton industry. The quality of the sheets is fantastic and in this latest package there was a bonus...the head and foot of the fitted sheets are labeled! So you put them on the right way the first time! Genius.

For the box spring, we bought the navy and white scribbled-polka dot/ikat-ish sheets, also from Target. I remember once upon a time seeing a box spring cover that just went around the edges of the box spring? And then I remember almost passing out when I saw the price. A fitted bottom sheet seems to work just as well, plus then you've got the top sheet and a pillow case to play with in the room. Best of all, the quality really isn't all that important because the fitted sheet only gets washed every now and then, to get the dust off. It's a fun way to bring in another color or pattern. So that's what we did.

Curtains. This is the design element that Brynn was probably the least involved in. She didn't really seem to care what her curtains looked like (maybe her brain was on design overload). For her closet I suggested white with a blue ribbon trim and she shrugged her shoulders and said okay. Once her navy and white sheets came and we knew that she liked them, I suggested the flat sheet as a non-working curtain just to soften her window and she shrugged again. I took that as a yes. Thankfully, once they were up she was quite enthusiastic. I think there was some squealing and maybe even a little shouting.

This is another project where I took over all the labor. Like the desk, this was something I couldn't really bear to see screwed up. She can move furniture, she can paint walls, and with enough time she could sew a lovely set of curtains. But she's in school all day and I'm here and I knew I could whip them out pretty quickly and a lot less painfully. The white curtains were in the as-is bin at Ikea. I used the same kind here in our living room when my mother-in-law and I created 9ft tall bold striped curtains (which I still love). The panels were only $10 each which is a steal for that much heavy fabric. Brynn's closet has a curtain track system that I special ordered from our local fabric shop and installed back in 2006, I think. It has held up really well. The only problem is that there's no fudge room for your curtain length. I love to just make my curtains whatever length they end up being and then hang the rod in the right spot. You can't do that when you're working with a curtain track, but the clean look is great and it seems to be super durable.

The navy and white curtains around the window are lined with leftover white curtain fabric from our living room curtains, just to give them some extra weight and help them look finished. I like all of my windows to show the same color (white) when you look at them from the outside of the house so I always line my curtains with white, even these ones that you can barely see from outside.

For the curtain rod over the window, I used a 6' wooden rod from Lowe's (probably meant to be a closet rod), a pair of Martha Stewart finials from Home Depot, and some handrail hardware I had hanging around. I painted the rod and finials navy, waxed it to make sure the fabric on the curtains would slide easily, and then hung it with the handrail hardware.

Artwork, lighting, accessories, etc. Brynn already had the gigantic framed poster of Paris from Ikea. It was a birthday gift last year (by the way, artwork makes great gifts for girls this age, I think). She was hoping to put it at the head of her bed, but after discussing the width of her bed versus the width of her ballet barre, she agreed it should go over the ballet barre. The ballet barre has been in her room for a few years now and she uses it at least a few times a week for stretching and barre work. It's just a 1x4 screwed into the wall with a handrail on it. Simple, inexpensive, and a really useful element for her.

The artwork above Brynn's bed is four watercolors she did a few days before we moved back from Mexico when Brynn was seven years old. She sat in the backyard there, looked around at the trees and flowers growing around her, and painted those pieces. While they are really special to me, they make her feel too young, so they will go. I told her I'd surprise her with some replacement art made by me. Yikes. I think I'll also paint the frame coral.

The ballet photo in the corner of her room is one I took during her second year of ballet. It's been in her room for a long time and I'm thrilled that she still loves it as much as I do.

The only piece of artwork I bought was the inspirational canvas. I passed by it at Hobby Lobby and couldn't NOT grab it. I knew she'd love it. It was a fun surprise element to add to her room.

For the message board above Brynn's desk, I used her old cork board, wrapped it in batting that I already had, and then finished it off in the coral and white fabric with yellow ribbons and some sparkly upholstery tacks.

Both of Brynn's lamps and her schoolhouse fixture were already in the room and working well. She was happy with them as they were, so we left those. In truth, the schoolhouse fixture was non-negotiable, but I think she already knew that so she didn't even ask to replace it. Plus...the good old budget would have said no anyway.

One accessory that totally floored Brynn was her new iHome. It was in our kitchen for a few years before Scott installed speakers in our main living area. Since then, it's just been sitting in a closet, along with a first generation iPod Touch. We're not interested in letting Brynn have unlimited internet access or a phone of her own, but the old iPod Touch is great for iTunes, email, weather forecasts, an alarm clock, Pandora, and iTunes. And that's about all she can do with it. Scott disabled or removed everything else. Because while eleven-year-olds may be trustworthy when it comes to design decisions, we know better than to trust her with a super-connected device of her own.

Besides her new desk, all of the furniture in her room was there before the re-do. I did take it all out (cube bookcase, bedside table, and bed) to repaint. I gave them all a light sanding, a coat of clear shellac wherever knots were bleeding through, and a fresh coat of paint with my sprayer. Are your kids super destructive to their furniture? Mine are! Brynn's furniture was in desperate need of a new coat of paint.

For Brynn's furniture and all of the basic white furniture in our house, as well as some of our built-ins, I use the (discontinued) Martha Stewart Glass of Milk white color matched in Sherwin-Williams ProClassic semi-gloss. The color is very similar to General Finishes Milk Paint Antique White. It's a great creamy white, not too yellow, not to dark. I always have a gallon on hand, so I didn't have to buy any paint for those touch-ups.

Since the only accessories we purchased were the small canvas word art plus fabric and ribbon for the message board, our cost in this category was only about $25.

All together, that brings our total cost to $307. Under budget by three dollars!

I'm proud of Brynn for making some great design decisions in her room and for sticking to her budget. When she looks through PBTeen, she kind of salivates a bit. To get the look she saw in a catalog like that without buying everything from the catalog took both maturity and vision. It was so fun to watch her wrestle with her ideas and then work with her as she made decisions.

Now...any guesses as to how soon we'll have to go through this process again? I'm crossing my fingers that we can make it to college. Wishful thinking, I'm sure.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

{Part 1} How to let go and let your pre-teen redecorate...and be happy with the results.

When our 11-year-old daughter, Brynn, made the jump from elementary school to middle school this summer, it seemed like she matured overnight. We were (and are still) a little overwhelmed by how responsible she suddenly is. Does she still make dumb choices? Of course. She's human. But she also empties the dishwasher at 6:45 every morning (without being asked). I want to complain because the noise from the dishes wakes me up, but I don't want to put away the dishes myself so I cover my ears and contemplate whether I should get up and help her. We've given her more freedom and trusted her to take more control over her life. And that included letting her choose how to redecorate her room.

It was tough. I'm not gonna lie. For a mom (and dad) who are a little bit control-freaky, it's hard to give up the reins to a kid. It's my house. I want it the way I want it. That's why I do everything myself.

But this isn't my space. It's hers. And I reserve the right to take it back, but if she can ride her bike to 7:15am swim practice every morning of the summer and get straight A's in school and spend six hours a week at dance and do dishes and take care of her pet mouse and clean out the cat's litter box twice a week? She can handle making some decorating decisions.

Based on our experience, here are our four tips for letting go and letting your pre-teen redecorate:
  1. Help your pre-teen find inspiration. If she's not already using Pinterest, set up a board on your account for her. You can check out Brynn's board here. The times that she's been allowed to access it have been few and far between but, even so, it's fun to see the progression in her inspiration, from what was clearly going to be a turquoise-based room to a navy-based room. Somehow, she also discovered the existence of Pottery Barn Teen. She talked me into signing up to get their catalogs. (We don't, as a general rule, receive catalogs. Patagonia, High Country Gardens, and Ikea are the exceptions.) Her one copy of PBTeen is dog-eared, water-stained and starting to fall apart. She let it be her main guide in finding inspiration.
  2. After your pre-teen has seen what things cost, let her set a budget. Brynn knew that she wanted the yellow and white chevron duvet from PBTeen and she knew that it was going to cost her about $75. (Sidenote: why are duvets so ridiculously expensive? It's two flat sheets sewn together!) Based on that, she thought she could get new sheets and some paint for another $75. To give herself some breathing room, she added an additional $5 and ended up with a budget of $155. Clearly, she forgot a few things. Her new desk, for one, which I'd already bought but still had to refinish. I suppose that was my contribution. Curtains, to name another. So I matched her budget and told her we'd aim for $310 total.
  3. Give your pre-teen a range of choices but not a blank slate. If you're a Love & Logic parent, this will be familiar to you. "Give your child lots of choices, all of which are fine with you." Remember that? Do you want to wear your jacket or carry it? Do you want an orange or a banana? Same goes here. Once I was on board with her decorating inspiration (which included white walls) I gave her 6 white paint swatches from which to make her choice. I didn't care which one she chose, but she had the power to make the final decision. For her desk, she got to choose between navy blue, yellow, and coral (the three colors she'd chosen to build her room around). I didn't care which one, but that's a pretty impactful decision for her to make. I chose the exact hue because the paint I used (General Finishes Milk Paint) comes in a limited range of colors. I did the online shopping for her sheets (she wanted navy sheets) and gave her a few choices. We talked about the thread count, the softness, how well they would wear, whether one had more organic cotton than another, and the price. She decided which sheets to buy. She is, after all, the one who will be sleeping in them.
  4. Involve your pre-teen in the actual work. This is where Scott came in. Repainting a room isn't difficult work, but it is time-consuming and tiring. It's not photoshop. In a world where things seem to just appear on a whim, we wanted to be sure that Brynn knew how much actual work was going on behind the scenes. Day one was clean-out day. She actually took every single non-furniture item out of her room. All of it. She moved most of it into the hallway but also took a bunch to the basement and set up camp down there. She sorted all of her stuff and got rid of about a third of what she had. Scott helped her move the furniture to the center of the room and cover it in drop cloths. Day two was clean and prime day. She and Scott dusted and cleaned her walls and chair rail and then they got to work priming the ceiling and walls. I'm not sure whether Scott knew how hard it would be to let an 11-year-old help him paint a room. I knew -- I let two 10-year-olds and two 8-year-olds paint the inside of the Bunk-alow last fall. Using paint brushes. There is some skill involved in painting a room and it takes time to develop. In Brynn's room, the lack of skill meant that the roller tray got stepped in a few times and paint was dripped on the floor several times. By day three, painting day, Scott actually got up early and tried to start before Brynn woke up. The reality was, priming exhausted her and she didn't have much enthusiasm for painting. She helped with the painting but not quite like she did with priming. Lessons learned (and that was our goal).
I'll be back later this week with more photos of Brynn's new room and a source list. Until then, I'd love to hear your thoughts on your kids' roles in planning their own rooms!

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!