Friday, May 28, 2010

Get Crafty: Updating Furniture

Right now (well... not right now), I'm working on a new-to-me project to alleviate an over-flowing desk situation. I have a big (sort of ugly) desk with a hutch that lends itself to piling. Not good for a not-very-tidy person who has a not-very-tidy family. The secondary goal of this project is to lighten up the look of our living room, which is currently suffering depression on account of aforementioned bulky desk and other big furnishings. So I found a lovely, current West Elm desk in flawless condition on Craigslist. It is now waiting to be assigned a semi-permanent spot, and the big desk will find itself a new home via Craigslist as well. To make up for lost storage with the new desk (we'll forgive it because it's just so cute), I need an accessory unit. Enter the ice box.


Maybe 2 years ago, I picked up an old ice box that had been converted to a bookshelf... it's original locking doors are lost to time but it's shape and sturdy construction remains, and I find the antiquish-ness of it so charming. I love being able to see the holes where the original door hinges attached, and the paneled sides are interesting and belie the quality construction. I'm planning to reassign it from upstairs clothes storage to active duty housing the home office necessities. Unfortunately, my abundant desk clutter (including the computer console and my necessary printer), really needs to be accessible but not out in the open. My goal was to find some salvaged doors to attach to the frame, ones that allow air flow for the sake of the console's circulation system (so the backless nature of the ice box really works for this application). After measuring the margin around the front opening, I found a set of workable cabinet doors at our local Habitat for Humanity ReStore location, and they (as well as a more recently rummage sale chair for the desk) got painted black to match. I filled the door insets with fabric and recovered the chair seat with a neutral upholstery velvet. I imagine I may repaint the whole ice box to a more fun color at some point, but I'm aiming for progress right now and there is something to say for expeditious decisions.


The doors were a nice shade of brown that did not match the ice box. Too bad.


The chair had gold details and this painted image... the lovely shape of the chair was practically begging for a new lease on life, and my black Rustoleum Lustre spray paint and I were very happy to oblige.

After painting and reupholstery, this chair was a steal for $15 and a little lovin'...



And the ice box itself. I love the new doors and hardware (simple knobs and self-closing hinges). And the truly beautiful thing (aside from its ability to hide all my clutter), is that it would be a cinch to repaint and add different insets, so even if I change my decor it will not have to find a new home. Perfection. I'm hoping that sometime in June I'll get the living room settled into a new arrangement that opens up the space, hides the aesthetically unpleasant aspects of the home business and makes that room more welcoming. But for now, I'm enjoying spending time with my family and beginning the long weekend a little bit early :)

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Home Sweet Home: It's New to Me

It's here! Yes, it's here. Garage saling has begun for the year and I had forgotten how much I enjoy it. Maybe digging through other people's unwanted items and/or tough bargaining isn't your cup of tea (fair enough), but I'll take it any day of the week...

I am one of those people who enjoys the thrill of the hunt. You simply never know what's out there, and an opportunity surely awaits if you're willing to look past the ugly Christmas decorations and Happy Meal toys that you will inevitably encounter. And I have come to realize that it isn't about owning things that makes it appealing, but the prospect of finding an amazing deal on something we already need or a better/more functional/more appropriate version of what we already own. I also enjoy finding things that are unique. Sure, you can typically find a lot of Ikea-type furnishings within a 2-state radius of a blue'n'yellow store, but when you manage to get a hold of something that has lasted a long time already and still looks beautiful, you can feel pretty confident it'll last a couple more decades. For an opportunist, nothing beats the garage sale time of year. I also try to make the year-round estate sale circuit, dabble on Craigslist and frequent thrift stores... lucky for me our bustling college town offers significant turnover as the year progresses, and good deals are never in short supply.

Several years ago, while I was browsing through a neighborhood event, I came across a sale offering a beautiful, large, pure wool oriental-design rug in pristine condition. After some feigned hemming and hawing (I was buying it regardless!), I drove away with it after paying only $40 and a large art frame I had bought at a previous garage sale for $1. Did I forget to mention that I'm willing to barter too? When I got home I looked up that rug online (it had the Karastan information tag on it) and determined that the exact rug retailed for about $950. I am so pleased... it now lives in my bedroom. I would have put a rug there regardless, but it otherwise would have been of lesser quality, a lot more expensive, or both.

More recently, I went browsing with a good friend. Normally I don't hunt in packs, but she enjoys garage sales as much as I do and we have compatible methods. Neither of us has to look at everything, stop at every sale, or take very long making decisions about items of interest. We were very successful. I found a great solid wood coffee table with drawers and style (in nice condition), definitely an item on my watch list, for only $25 after bargaining. It's perfect in my sunroom, and allowed me to get rid of the old one... a decidedly not-as-awesome one that I purchased at a garage sale 5 years ago for $3. I also found a mannequin bust for staging photos for my Etsy shop (it's perfect!) for $7 and some crystal glasses in the exact style we already own (to replace a couple broken ones) for $0.10 each, among many other small treasures.

So now it's Wednesday... time to get to work so we can have a good, relaxing Memorial Day weekend. No time to add pictures, but a post will be forthcoming with a couple finished bits of made-over thrift/estate home furnishings. Since the weather is obliging, if muggy, I'd better to get to that lawn before it's too late...

Saturday, May 22, 2010

My Life in a Nutshell: Secret Pleasures

I discovered a new secret pleasure today. Secret pleasures are things that can't be completely in your control, so you just have to wait for them to happen and enjoy them as they occur. I only have a few, and I can only remember one aside from this new one (thank you sangria). Ah well... this is how it goes.

During the "grand rearranging" of our second story, a process that has already included building the new bunk beds and temporarily moving the 2 year old back into the nursery, we decided it was necessary to remove the horrible forest green carpet and refinish the wood floor in the 4th bedroom. This is the only room in the house that has a wood floor that we have not already refinished. So today, while I was running our garage sale, my big strong wonderful husband ripped up carpet and padding, removed staples and tack strips, and vacuumed the whole room so I could get to work this afternoon.

Having avoided the physically demanding part of the process, I got to work on the sanding. Took maybe an hour. Then more vacuuming and wiping up the dust with a damp towel. Then putting down a nice, even coat of polyurethane. This is where I discovered my secret pleasure...

Maybe it was just the fumes, but when the sun (after a long day of overcast weather and off and on rain) came through the window and hit the still-wet polyurethane, it fairly glowed. Like when the sun dances on the wall of a pool... it was neat. So neat I had to take a picture.


It looks great now, with the floor completely done and curing for a week or so before we put furniture back. In the meantime I'll get to either repaint or very seriously touch up the room before we can move the little guy in. It's amazing what 3 years and 2 little girls can do to a paint finish.


Now I'm relaxing, waiting for the kids' bedtime so I can eat some delicious stroganoff with my husband, and drinking sangria to take the edge off a long but very, very productive day.

FYI: My other secret pleasure is opening a can of Diet Coke (that has been hanging out in the garage in the middle of winter), and taking a sip as it turns to ice crystals. My husband tells me that this is everyone's secret pleasure, but I'll pretend it's just mine.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

From the Kitchen: Sweet Secret Coleslaw

I've been on a coleslaw kick since my mother-in-law found the recipe for the creamy coleslaw served at one of our favorite local seafood places, Mac's Acadian Seafood Shack. She recently made it for a family gathering, and I've been obsessed. The downside to the restaurant recipe is that it is loaded with fat and sugar. It's truly delicious, but the whole moderation thing was just not workign out for me. So I decided to see how light I could make a recipe without sacrificing those things I love about that coleslaw recipe... the creaminess, the sweetness and the tangy flavor. And I have to say, I think this succeeds! My husband went back for thirds, and he's not into eating light.


Sweet Secret Coleslaw

Ingredients:

1 (16 oz) bag of coleslaw mix (chopped cabbage and carrots)
2 tbsp minced onion
2/3 cup light miracle whip
1/2 cup splenda (the measure equivalent variety)
1 tbsp white vinegar
1/4 tsp salt

Directions:

Mix well. Refrigerate at least 2 hours prior to serving. Enjoy!

The secret? 1/6 of this recipe is only 1 point on the Weight Watchers diet plan. Who knew? What great way to get more veggies in without compromising anything you love :)


The original recipe is as below... the recipe from Mac's was printed in a newspaper, and exact quantities were not given... so I guess you get to experiment to find the balance, like my mother-in-law did. She told me her proportions once but I have forgotten them (sorry for you and me!).

Finely chopped onion
Mayonnaise
Pinch of sugar
Lemon juice
Seasonings from Wishbone Italian dressing (drain the oil from the bottle and use only the seasonings that remain).

Friday, May 14, 2010

From the Kitchen: Rainy Day Fare

It's been miserable here lately... weather-wise anyway. Stormy, wet, cold... just sort of depressingly icky. Even though it's Spring, I've been wanting warm blankets, shearling boots, and hot tea. Today is going to be a busy one, and I'm doing my best to make a meal ahead of time that my husband and I can enjoy after the kids go to bed. By ourselves. Alone...

I've had a bookmark on page 41 of Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes Day since December 26. That is, Pain d'Epi (aka Wheat Stalk Bread). It's simple elegance had me at hello. Today is the day! The dough is made and is resting on the counter. And I'm gearing up for a hybrid Italian Sausage Soup with Tortellini, the recipe being a conglomeration of several top-rated Allrecipes selections. My husband loves restaurant-style minestrone, but I like more substance to my soups. I'm hoping that by combining several to my liking I'll find something we both enjoy. Time will tell...


Italian Sausage Soup with Tortellini

Ingredients:

1 lb sweet Italian sausage
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp canola oil
3 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup red wine
1 (14.5 ounce) can Italian-style stewed tomatoes
1 cup sliced carrots
1 (14.5 ounce) can great Northern beans, undrained
1 medium zucchini, cubed
2 cups spinach - packed, rinsed and chopped
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tsp dried parsley
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 (9 oz) package fresh cheese tortellini
Fresh parmigiano reggiano cheese for grating as garnish

Directions:

In a stockpot, brown sausage with onion and garlic. Stir in broth, tomatoes and carrots, and season with salt and pepper and herbs. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer 15 minutes. Stir in beans (with liquid), zucchini and tortellini. Cover, and simmer another 15 minutes, or until zucchini is tender. Remove from heat, and add spinach. Replace lid allowing the heat from the soup to cook the spinach leaves. Soup is ready to serve after standing 5 minutes. Serve topped with grated cheese to taste.

4 hours later....

My dough is in the final rising before baking... my wheat grains turned out much fatter than the graceful ones shown in the book, but I also had to fit two loaves on my cookie sheets to bake them at the same time (like I said, busy day). I guess they were from "the seven good years". They look tasty. The soup is done... we're off to swim lessons followed by a kindergarten play, then back home for a nice romantic dinner.


The next day...

Today day is sunny and bright and both my husband and I agreed that this recipe was a keeper... I'm adding it to the "company appropriate" category because it smelled, tasted and looked delicious. With the bread, it was heavenly.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Home Sweet Home: Blogged about on Knock-Off Wood!

I blogged about my new handmade bunk beds on Monday, and later in the day I also uploaded photos to the Knock-Off Wood group on Flickr (aka "the bragging board"), and added my blog post to the "built it" section of Knock-Off Wood for others to read if they chose. But today, Ana included my bunk beds in a bragging board post! Yay! Here's the link...

Once I get over myself (being featured by someone so handy is just a teeny bit flattering), my day will be (hopefully) filled with cleaning, culling, and organizing house stuff. And convincing my computer that it does in fact want to print to pdf so I can list the new tux bib tutorial. *Sigh* I started the day by clearing a blocked gutter... in a downpour... before I had even gotten my morning tea. Maybe it's because we recently re-watched "Master and Commander", but climbing ladders in a slicker and boots made me feel a bit like a sailor... weathering the forces of nature, come what may. If only my house were so ship-shape. But the day is young, my tea is now ready and I'm listening to something light and happy. I think it'll be a good one, albeit rainy :) Hope yours is good too!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

TheJuneBride News: Sneak Preview

Almost ready to go up for sale in my Etsy shop, we have...

the tiny tuxedo and suit bib tutorial!!!

It's a one-size, 2 washcloth pattern for practically instant gratification!



While this bib is really intended for smaller toddlers and gooey babies, my not-so-little guy (I mean, he's big enough to wear a real suit!) helped me test out the finished product. He looks pretty dapper, no? Ready for a gala event! Or maybe a beach wedding in that suit and tie? Maybe you know a baby boy or two who might need to get a bit formal this summer while still having drool-able duds? Look no further!

It'll be up and ready for purchase in the next day or two. And did I mention you can make products to sell using the tutorial? Yep... be prepared for the endless possibilities!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Home Sweet Home: My Biggest Project Yet

I've been terrible about updating, but at least it's because I've been engrossed in a giant project. Really, really big. So, what have I been doing?

Building bunk beds! Heavy duty, super cute, made from plain ol' pine. After seeing a friend's link to Ana White's Knock-Off Wood blog on Facebook, I became literally obsessed with the idea of building. Ana posts free plans to build your own designer-inspired home furnishings from readily-accessible lumber. Easy to understand, easy to build with the proper basic tools. I'm not new to power tools, but neither do I use them everyday, so I was a little intimidated by the size of this project. But I'm no sissy... so after making sure I wouldn't upset my better half, I got to work.

I should preface this by noting that we had been on the market for bunk beds for our girls for several months. After buying and returning some very "average" bunking beds from Art Van Furniture (*shudder*... not a good experience) and nearly buying a metal not-unbunkable bunk bed from Ikea (wasn't in stock or we would have bought it), I decided to go the DIY route. It has taken lots of time, about $175 for materials, and lots of energy. But the beds are sturdy, lovely and repeatable, so in 10 years when we have 28 children, they can all have matching beds (I'm kidding! I don't think they'd all want to match).

We wanted beds that could come apart to use as separate non-bunked beds at some point, and the plans for the Land of Nod-inspired Simple Bed, with some modifications to adapt it into a bunk bed, were perfect. Off to the lumber yard...


Turns out untreated pine 4x4s are hard to find, so we adapted by using 2 2x4s. Not the exact dimensions, but the adaptations were easy to make, and about $50 cheaper than buying cedar 4x4s that would be painted anyway. The buy list and cut list made it so easy to get what was needed and cut it down to size quickly, and all the pieces were built over 1 weekend. 4 side rails, 2 headboards, 2 footboards, 2 guard rails, and 1 ladder. I used an entire bottle of wood glue.


Then there was the pre-painting prep... sanding, filling holes, sanding, filling more holes, sanding, caulking, de-dusting and priming. That took longer than building the thing! I haven't painted furniture in at least 5 years, and it's amazing how the paint aisles have changed. Oil paints have largely been replaced with more human- and environmentally-friendly water-based products, and I'm hoping they're just as durable. At least it was easy to clean up and not terribly stinky. And no turpentine! I opted for Behr's Clear Moon shade of white, and I was very pleased with both coverage and application.


I called in the big guns (aka my very strong husband) for the actual assembly. There was no humanly way to do that alone. And (lucky for us) we work well together. I was also "assisted" by the little guns... he was very excited about the beds even though he wouldn't be sleeping in them. We assembled the top and bottom separately, then stacked, added the guard rails (which I made about 5" longer than the directions for simplicity and practicality), and came to terms with the fact that the ladder (built as directed) was, in fact, 8 inches too short.


I debated whether or not to build a whole new ladder, but (since I am lazy when possible), the big guns and I agreed that a simple step (made from the leftover bits of 2x6s from the siderails) added on to the bottom would suffice. It was quick and relatively painless. We already had one bunking board, but we covered and stapled the bottom side with a white thrift store sheet to look better from the bottom bunk. I made a second one from the wood frame of an old boxspring that was lingering in our garage, also fully covered in a used white sheet. Here is the final result:


Now that it's done and assembled and in use, I am truly pleased with the results. There are a few little issues with it which no one but me will ever know about unless I point them out (so I won't), but even I can look at it as a whole and appreciate it without getting nit picky. It was a labor of love, and I fear that I will soon forget the unpleasantness (aka the finishing process) and dive headfirst into more building projects. Ah well... C'est la vie :) Thanks again to Ana at Knock-Off Wood for sharing her talents with the rest of us!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Etsy Tutorial: Treasury Tactics

I've been taking it pretty easy in the Etsy world lately, spending my time and energy on non-Etsy projects (which I will blog about when they're done!). My business volume has gone down accordingly and expectedly, and life has been moving a little slower. Not all that bad, actually. I hadn't made a treasury in months, and in that time frame Etsy rolled out a new treasury venue called Treasury East. It's a little different than the Main Treasury and Treasury West, the other two current options for making treasuries.

So maybe you are reading this and haven't a clue what I'm talking about. If you are an Etsy shopowner, treasuries are important. But, you ask, what is a treasury? Why should you make one? What good will it do? And, more importantly, how on earth do you make one?

I'll tell you a little bit about treasuries in general and explain the difference between the three options (Main Treasury, Treasury West and Treasury East).

What is a treasury?

According to Etsy, a treasury is simply a curated list of 12 items (plus 4 alternates) listed for sale on Etsy. That's basically it. Sounds boring, actually, but since there are literally millions of items listed, the possibilities are, for all intents and purposes, endless. Items featured in treasuries can have everything or nothing in common; color, theme, shape, season... if you have an Etsy account (free but required to shop on Etsy) and can find 12 things to fill up the spots, you (yes, you!) can make a treasury. The 4 alternate items will come into play if one of the featured items sells if it's on the front page. Sold items will not appear on the front page (so don't feature sold items in your treasuries!). If more than 4 items sell and all the alternates have been used to fill in, Etsy will default to displaying items from the previous front page feature to fill the spots (this explains why sometime items don't seem to fit well with the others).

Why should you make a treasury? What good will it do?

Well, there are several benefits of making treasuries, but they all stem from the fact that Etsy regularly selects treasuries to be featured on the front page. This means that humble little you or me could be choosing the front page items. People would pay big bucks to have an item featured on the front page of Etsy (meaning it would be seen by the bazillions of people who are looking at http://www.etsy.com/ at any given moment). However, that's a privilege you can't pay for... there is no way to pay anyone any amount of money to get on the front page. You have to earn it by having front page worthy photos and by getting Etsy treasury makers (potentially me or you or anyone else registered on Etsy, and sometimes the Etsy staff) to like your listing enough to put it in a collection that ends up being selected as Front Page material. To see some recent past Front Page collections (some were treasuries, some chosen directly by Etsy staff), you can go to The Vault at Craftcult. Making treasuries can help you make friends with other Etsy shopowners, a wonderful thing in general but also useful for banding together to help get on the front page. Without actually discussing it, per se, shops tend to group in Survivoresque alliances to the shared benefit of all involved. A sort of "I feature you, you feature me" mentality. If you get the right people featuring you (people who know how to make a good-looking treasury), you could end up on the front page. And wouldn't that be nice?

How do you make a treasury?

To answer this one, I'll have to explain the differences between the three treasuries. It's important to note that treasuries from any of these 3 options may be selected for a front page feature by Etsy admin. Explicit directions for the Main Treasury can be found in this Storque article.

Main Treasury: This is the original treasury function and is linked to from the Front Page (see below). New treasuries can be made when the number of treasuries goes below 333. They expire after 2 days (plus a random amount of "bonus time", up to 24 hours, added to them at the moment of creation). Each user is permitted to make one list in each treasury at a time, and you may include one of your own items, if you wish. This is only my personal opinion, but I think including one's own items is tacky in general (and your item will not be included if your treasury is chosen for the front page) since treasuries aren't intended for direct self promotion. It feels like fishing for compliments. Users are allowed to delete their own treasuries, but no more may be deleted when the number gets to 333 (this is important because if there are 333 left and the next one will expire in 5 hours, you will actually have to wait 5 hours... no one will be able to delete in that time frame to open up the treasury for new lists). A little bit of strategy here is that you may actually want to delete your list at a certain time to be eligible to make a new one, since you can one have one at a time. If the treasury will open in 1 hour but your current list will expire on it's own in 2 hours, it makes sense to delete it to get a new one that will last longer. Savvy?

Treasury West: This is just like the Main treasury except that it is less well know (not linked in an obvious way on the Etsy site), and the number must go below 222 rather than 333.

Treasury East: A bit different... these lists do not expire, and there are 16 feature spots rather than the normal 12 + 4 alternates. If it makes it to the front page (I know this because one of mine made it!), the topleft 12 will be featured unless Etsy admin mixes it up. So plan accordingly. Again, you may delete your own list when you decide. I'm of the opinion that there's no reason to keep lists that have a) already been on the front page, b) are very old or c) are made up largely of items that have sold (this happens as list get older). For example, a week-old list that has not made it to the front page is probably never going to get there. Delete it and make another.

Anytime you're making a treasury, it can be helpful to prepare ahead of time in Poster Sketch. This is a useful tool, unique to each IP address (any given poster sketch can only be seen on the computer it was made on). Here you can arrange, rearrange and edit to your hearts content, then copy and paste it into a treasury later. Or you could take a screen shot to share on your blog or other related places.

After my recent neglect of all things Etsy, I have decided to get more involved. Making treasuries is a great way to do that, so I made my very first Treasury East and a Main Treasury. Amazingly, both got featured on the Front Page! I also had an item featured in someone else's treasury that made it to the front page, so I had a few very encouraging days. I am feeling a bit more motivated now :)

*Update after publishing*

As an aside, I suppose I ought to discuss Treasury etiquette. Back in "the day" (maybe a year or more ago), NO ONE sent out convos telling people they were featured in their treasury. Now it seems, most people do. For some sellers, these little "hi you've been featured" convos can really add up. I used to be annoyed by it, considering it spam. Treasuries are not elevated to Front Page status by popularity (number of views and clicks), so it didn't make sense to me. However, if you really want people to know that you are doing them the kindness of featuring their work (and it really is something to be grateful for), sometimes you need to let them know. I don't think anyone at this point gets upset about being notified, but (again, this just my opinion) I CAN'T STAND IT when people remind me in the convo to click around and comment to improve the treasury's stats (more clicks, more views and more comments make a treasury go up on the "hotness scale"). Being asked to "make sure to tell all my friends" about the treasury just irks the sneakers right off of me. So, moral of the story, politely letting someone know they are featured and then leaving the ball in their court is great... beating them into submission, maybe not a good way to make friends. If you are featured or just want to be sociable, it's good form to click each item and leave a nice comment.