Gift Ideas: For the Host(ess)

I’m actually giving this gift at a party I’m going to tonight, so banking on the fact that the host of the party isn’t reading this post before he receives this (hi Adam!).

The hubs and I were invited to an X-mas Xtravaganza this year. We’ve never been to the home of this couple, so I wanted to take along a little host(ess) gift for them. Since we’ve never been there and I have absolutely no idea about the style / design aesthetic of their house, I decided to go low risk with a small gift basket with the following:

  • Hand-designed mugs. You can see a few other options for designing these in my post Gift Ideas: Couple Christmas Kits (coming Christmas 2018). For this basket, I decided to go with their first name initials, using the dot technique. I chose yellow, as I found out that’s their accent color in their kitchen (and mugs go in the kitchen….).
    • Materials:
      • Mugs – I got these at the Dollar Tree. Be sure to get oven safe ones.
      • Oil-based paint marker – Joann Fabrics sells these in packs or by themselves and has a wide variety of colors.
      • Letter stencil – I have a big book of pre-cut letters (which you’ll see I use in many of my crafts – it was a great purchase) which I used here, but you could also use letter stickers for this one. If you have a paper letter, you’ll also want a glue stick to attach it to the mug.
    • Instructions:
      • Choose what side you want the letter to go on / which way you want the handle facing. I chose to have the handles opposite each other, as it makes for cuter presentation when the two mugs are together.
      • Attach the letter in the center of the mug. Then, make a bunch of small dots around the edge of the letter so you have a good outline (but not completely solid). Then, get crazy with dots out and around the letter. I usually try to make a generally circular shape around the letter with good dot coverage and then add a few random floaters fanned out slightly from there.
      • Remove the letter stencil and let dry overnight. Then, bake at 250°F for 2 hours on a baking sheet. Remove from oven and let cool completely.

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  • Fireside Coffee Mix. This has been a holiday favorite of mine for over 10 years. My high school art teacher first shared it with me (I cannot for the life of me remember why) and I’ll pull it out every few years to make for myself or as a gift.
    • Materials:
      • Jar – I got this one from the Dollar Tree. There are tons of varieties you can get; a mason jar works great too.
      • Ribbon + tag – I made my tag out of Christmas craft paper I have (not pictured).
      • Ingredients for the mix- powdered coffee creamer, instant coffee, hot cocoa packets, sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon
    • Instructions:
      • Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix together:
        • 4 packs hot cocoa mix
        • 1 cup powdered creamer
        • 3/4 cup sugar
        • 1/2 cup instant coffee
        • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
        • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
      • Transfer to the jar.
      • Cut the ribbon long enough to wrap around the mouth of the jar, with some extra to make a bow. TIP – I ALWAYS underestimate how much ribbon it takes to make a bow. You can always cut excess, but you can’t add more, so give yourself some length to work with. Then add the tag, tie the ribbon and that’s it!
  • Kahlua. This is a great addition to any cup of coffee and will be especially tasty with the cinnamon-y, chocolate-y goodness of the Fireside Coffee.
  • Chocolates. Lindor Lindt truffles make for pretty presentation in a mug or floating in a basket. And, they come in a variety of colors / flavors, so they can be a perfect, addition to many types of gift baskets, especially the color baskets (like this one). I chose gold (caramel and milk chocolate), as it would align with the yellow kitchen accent color. Then, I added teal and royal blue (milk chocolate and sea salt and dark chocolate, respectively) as the hostess’ favorite color is blue.
  • Cute basket. Since this was a home warming gift, I wanted to get a small basket that they might actually use in their house. I chose this sisal rope + navy basket because navy is pretty neutral (and again, blue is her favorite color) and the natural element of the sisal seemed like maybe it could work for them. We’ll find out!

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A Makeover Story: Exterior Brick

This all started when we decided decided to put on an addition, which start with wanting to dig out our half basement crawl space. Things spiral like that, you know how it is. Anyhow, we will be putting siding on the addition and needed a way to blend it with the current exterior which is part brick and part stone. The stone part is tanish gray (pretty neutral) but the brick was a tanish yellow and taupe color. It wasn’t my favorite; let’s go with that.

However, I enjoy having a brick house. It’s very insulating and solid and I didn’t want to make a big investment because, well, the addition. So, I decided to look into painting brick which, it turns out, is bad for the brick. Lime wash, though, is an organic material (limestone) based product that is okay for bricks because it ‘let’s them breathe.’ After a bit of research, I came across a product called Romabio lime wash paint. If you DIY the lime wash, you have to perfectly portion a number of materials (water, pigment, limestone, etc.); with this product, the guess work is done for you. We chose nube gray to pair with our front stone. In hindsight, we might have picked a different shade, but I’m still happy with it as I love gray.

Also, often times, people will spray away some of the lime wash before it dries (or with a high powered sprayer) to give it a weathered, aged look. After testing that look (right) as well as a solid, non sprayed-off look (left), I decided to go for a solid finish as I was ultimately trying to hide the original color.

 

Oh, and it’s super easy to do. Here’s how.

Materials:

  • Romabio lime wash in a color of your choosing
  • Bucket to mix paint
  • Paint stirrer (or drill with stirrer attached)
  • Paint brush
  • Ladder
  • Painters tape
  • Hose
  • Measuring cup (depending how much you want to mix)

Steps:

  1. Mix up your lime wash – the product I used needs 100% dilution, which means for as much lime wash as you put in your bucket, put equal parts water; we mixed a bit at a time (no inherent value in this), but if you have a lot to do you could mix it all up. Use your stirrer or drill for this.
  2. Tape off any areas, like doors, windows or by your roof line.
  3. Spray water on an area of your brick with your hose; you will need to work section by section for this part because you don’t want the brick to dry before you can apply the lime wash.
  4. Then, just like painting, apply the lime wash/water mixture (it will be thin). Be sure to get into all the nooks and crannies of the brick, especially the grout. Be careful about splatter on your sidewalks or driveway. It doesn’t matter quite as much in grass because it can be removed when you next mow your lawn.
  5. You will need to let it dry for 5 days before you hose down your house (or front planters – be careful). It’s okay if it rains – you shouldn’t have any problems with it running unless it’s freshly painted.

BEFORE

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AFTER

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A Makeover Story: Planter Beds

I love to DIY – anything from basic crafting to parties to home improvement and I’m game. But, plants are my kryptonite. Despite my best efforts, I have yet to keep any plants healthy (and/or alive). I even had a situation at an office I managed where we had little bugs from over-watering; they were a real problem.

Anyhow, my front flower/planter beds were a mess and I decided it was adulting time, so me and the hubs came up with an ambitious makeover plan:

  • Edge the beds in stone – my husband has a thing about how his grass looks, so having a clean edge is important to him. To contain the mulch we’d be adding, we needed a border, so we landed on a perpendicular pattern of paver bricks to create a ledge for the mower wheel, as well as a wall to keep the mulch in. We bought 7″ x 3″ stone pavers in two colors (210 in total) and used all-purpose sand to level the bricks and keep them in place. To set a straight edge, we used a piece of string tied between two stakes that spanned the length of the bed. We measured the distance of the string from the house at both ends to ensure it would create a straight edge relative to the house facade. Then, we dug out a canal for the bricks using an edging shovel (but really any straight or regular shovel will work) as well as a standard shovel.
    • *Tip, to calculate how many bricks you need, measure the length of your beds, convert to inches and divide by the length of your block.

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  • Incorporate a weed barrier – we have only lived in the house for about 3 years, but we’ve had to weed a number of times. We decided to do something about it and my m-i-l had given us some weed block bed liner that she had left over from a project, so that worked out. We still had to get some (we bought this kind), but every savings counts!
  • Refresh the foliage – there were a few plants when we first moved in, but between the deer and lack of care (my bad), they were looking pretty damn pathetic. So, we went all in and bought a bunch of new plants to liven up the front. Everything we chose is deer resistant and okay to grow in the northern ‘Midwest.’
    • Boxwoods (6) – these are our anchor; they are a nice, deep green neutral for the rest of the colors; they can grow up to 4′ x 4′ and be shaped.
    • Barberry (2) – these are the reddish ones; they are a good accent to the green, low maintenance and pretty easy to grow. Be careful not to overdo it with these as they can grow out of control.
    • Spirea (2) – these are the two green/yellow/red ones at the left side; they need more sun than some of the others, so we put the in the sunniest spot of the house
    • Catmint – these are the light green and purple wide plants; we have 3 cats who roam free outside during the day, so we thought this would be fun for them. I’m not sure how long the plants will last, but they love them. Bonus – they’re pretty.
    • Bee balm – these are the two small plants toward the middle (one isn’t planted yet); we chose them for as a pop of color and because they attract bees, which are very important to the environment, and we love honey!
  • Add fresh mulch – for this go around, we decided to try the sweet peet mulch, which is all organic and supposedly the best mulch out there. It’s also good to use in lieu of topsoil for planting. We got a yard and a half, which seems to be about the right amount (our beds are about 40’x6′ and 35’x6′).

All in all, we spent the following on this project for our materials list:

  • Pavers and sand = $150
  • Plants, plant food, planting soil = $419 (by far, the most expensive part)
  • Sweet Peet mulch = $80
  • Weed block = $40
    • If you don’t mind a little extra, weed block stakes are a great choice as they keep the liner in place in the bed

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You’ll also want to have the following tools on hand: wheelbarrow, shovel, trowel, rake, stakes, string, mini mallet, work gloves, garden hose (be sure to water your new plants!!)

We actioned in the following order: set edge line, dig out, move existing mulch, put down weed blocker, put in sand and bricks, dig holes for plants, plant plants and finally top with mulch. We got halfway done in about a day and a half. Hopefully we’ll tackle the other side this weekend!

**As an aside, directly before this project, we lime washed our house with Romabio Lime Wash in nube gray. Check out A Makeover Story: Exterior Brick blog to see before and after pictures and hear about how easy it was!

 

Home Command Center

This is a simple craft that has really helped me stay organized in a few different ways. It has allowed me to keep track monthly events, weekly meal plans, daily to do lists and even upcoming items or other important information to have handy. It’s very easy to create – you just have to start with the right base of materials. I used a 21″ x 15″ marker board that has a cork board edging. It came with a couple of magnets, some magnet clips, and four magnetic dry erase markers with erasers on the ends. To supplement the base board, I’ve added two magnetic notepads – one has rows for each day of the week (I use this to plan my meals) and one is a combo notepad with perforation in the middle – the left side is rows with the days of the week (where I write my weekly to dos by day) and the right side is a shopping list (where I write my grocery list once I make my meal plan). Below are the instructions for how I went about setting up the board.

  1. Decide your main division of space. I knew I wanted to have part calendar, part free space for my notepads and the markers to hang. I decided to do a little over half the width as the calendar – my exact split was 13″ calendar, 8″ free space. I marked the dividing line at the top and bottom and then used a permanent black marker to draw the line. *Tip, you can use whatever color marker you want – I used black because the dry erase markers I have are various colors. When you erase dry erase marker, your permanent market lines will (mostly) stay. (After a few months, you may need to redo your permanent lines because applying dry erase marker over permanent marker and then erasing (on a dry erase surface) removes the permanent marker too – good thing to know if you ever accidentally use a permanent marker!)
  2. Plan your calendar spacing. I wanted to divide the height into 7 spaces – one larger for the month, one slimmer for the days of the week, and 5 equal height for the weeks. For the width, I wanted to do the same thing, but with 7 equal columns for the days of the week. Since I had a total of 13 by 15 to work with, I divided the width (13″) into seven 1.85″ spaces and the height (15″) into one 2.5″ space (for the month), one 1.25″ space (for the days of the week) and five 2.25″ spaces (for the weeks in the month). *Tip, I didn’t carry my columns to the very top so I’d have a nice open space in which to write the month and year. I marked all my lines at the top and bottom – be sure to mark using a ruler the SAME WAY at the top of the board as at the bottom, otherwise you will end up with crazy crooked lines! After marking everything, I began drawing the lines working from one side to the other.
  3. Add the days of the week in the appropriate boxes using permanent marker.
  4. Finally, you’re ready to add the final details. This includes the Month and year and the individual dates. Be sure to use dry erase for this so you can easily change each month. Then, add any of your accessories to the open side and any additional important information around the edges. In the below picture, you can see I don’t have my magnetic notepads up yet, but instead I have some random notes in my open space.

Annual Cleaning Plan Design

This post is by reader request (thanks, Mama). At the beginning of 2017, I decided I wanted to try out a few resolutions to see if I could make them behaviors. I made three goals (two personal, one home) – this one is all about my home goal of getting on an weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, semi-annual and annual cleaning schedule. Now, let me start by saying you don’t have to go to that level. I have  found that sometimes I slack on the more regularly recurring items, but in general am doing a decent job sticking to this. So, here is a step by step guide to building a cleaning plan, along with my cleaning plan as an example.

  1. Decide the granularity. This is a thing I talk about with co-workers a lot (due to the nature of our work) – how granular into the detail do we get? You need to sort this out first because it will impact your upcoming steps. Do you want to plan down to the every week activities? What do you want your recurrences to be? Here are some options to consider: Daily, Weekly, Bi-weekly (also known as fortnightly), Semi-monthly, Monthly, Quarterly, Semi-annual, Annual. I suppose if you wanted, you could go to larger periods of time (like Bi-annual, or every 2 years), but I would recommend you cap it at Annual.
  2. Make an activity list. This can be a bit hard, especially for the items that occur less frequently (you probably think about them a whole lot less frequently too, or it’s something you never really notice). I would encourage you to check out Pinterest – there are some good suggestions of items to include using search terms like Cleaning Schedule or Seasonal Cleaning. You can also check out my plan below for what I’m doing. When you’re working on this step, consider your level of granularity – if you are not considering daily or weekly activities, you don’t need to include things like laundry, dishes, or taking out the trash. On the flip side, if it’s easier for you to make a list of all your cleaning duties, you can just filter these items out in the next step.
  3. Sort the activities. Next to each activity on the list, determine the frequency you need to complete it each year – once, twice, every 3 months, etc. Consider the level of granularity that you chose in #1 – you want to break your list up into these groups. If something on your list is outside those cadences, you need to determine if the frequency changes, the item is omitted, or you add a level of granularity. Basically, this is what my paper looked like: Schedule no assignments
  4. Determine the when. For this step, you can basically ignore anything that will occur monthly or more frequently. If you have quarterly, semi-annual or annual activities, this step is for you. Start with your annual activities because this group will be the easiest to assign. Take the number of activities and divide by 12. This will give you how often you need to schedule an annual activity. I had 12 annual activities, which made it really easy to determine I needed to schedule 1 activity every month. (You may be thinking to yourself – I don’t get it, why don’t we just do all the annual stuff at the same time every year? Well, because that sounds like it’s going to suck a lot, in my opinion, to have to do that. However, if that is your style and you’re okay dedicating a weekend to knock everything out, you may also feel free to skip this step.) I went through my list and decided which month paired best with each activity, taking into consideration factors like weather, other activities at the same time of year, etc. I then applied this same method for my semi-annual activities list, except this time, I divided by 6 because these activities would occur 2x a year (12/2=6). I had 14 items on this list, which meant I needed to schedule 2 activities per month and then add 1 activity to four months (ie, 8 months would have 2 activities (4 semi-annual sets) and the other 4 months would have 3 activites (2 semi-annual sets). I then paired up my months (January/July, February/August, March/September, April/October, May/November, June/December) and assigned them to the groups of tasks. I didn’t go to the quarterly level, but for that, you’d divide by 4. As with my annual activities, I applied reasoning on weather and time of year impacts to these pairings. Here is how it worked out for me:Schedule with assignments
  5. Schedule the activities. Once you’ve worked out what you need to do each day/week/month, you need to go through and schedule it onto a calendar with reminders. I am a fan of the Google products (and am a Samsung Galaxy Note 5 user, aka Android), so I have my calendar synced to my Gmail and on my phone. This enables me to get both phone alerts and email reminders. I even have a smart watch (Samsung Gear Fit 2) that’s connected to my phone and vibrates my wrist with reminders, so it makes it pretty hard to ignore. The other great part about using a synced calendar like Google Calendar is that you can sync other email addresses to the same calendar. I have my hubs hooked up so I can invite him to events we have going on (like our Family Dinner Meeting every Friday night – more about this in another post, or my family gatherings, of which there are many). So, he is able to see what’s going on and, when he’s interested, will take part in the cleaning plan. (NOTE: I do not have him set up to receive reminders – something to think about if you share your calendar with anyone, you can customize who gets what reminders.) I entered my activities in this order: Weekly, Bi-Weekly, Monthly, Semi-Annual and Annual. I went in this order so I could try to ensure one Saturday didn’t end up getting activities in EVERY category – if you vary between days of the week, this won’t be as big of a deal. For each group, I added the recurrence, set the time I wanted to set aside for the activity and also set a reminder. See below for how to do this in Google Calendar: GoogleCalendar
  6. Clean. This is the final, and if you ask me, hardest step. Since I can tend to be really good at planning and sometimes slackerish on the follow through (can’t we all), I went one step further and made a tracker to keep a record of the actual dates I completed my semi-annual and annual activities. I have justified this level of ridiculousness to myself by adding a cost column to track anything I have to spend to complete the activities (ie, purchasing a new filter for my fridge). But, and this little tidbit is a non-cleaning related bonus, I also have started keeping track of the money I spend on my home (which comes in handy for insurance purposes, should you ever need it, and is helpful for reference later on). This includes things like purchasing large pieces of furniture, installing new features or items, building any custom pieces, or making any significant changes. Each of these trackers is a separate tab in an Excel spreadsheet – here are some screen grabs of what these look like:Trackers

If you’re a control freak like I am and like to plan and document everything, check back for a post on my Monthly Budget Excel Book.

Mounted Magnetic Spice Rack

This was a really fun, although somewhat stressful, project. The stressful part was mainly because we didn’t have the perfect drill bit to make the right size holes, so we used a a combination of two different types and had to drill everything twice. However, in the below instructions, we’re helping you avoid our mistake and make things a bit simpler. Here is the finished product so you have a sense as to whether or not you want to keep reading – is this what you want to create?

Materials List:

Tools:

  • Drill press
  • Combination square
  • Forstner bit – 1 11/16″ and ½”
  • Drill
  • Tape measure
  • Circular Saw or Table Saw

To make this, first I started by finding some jars I liked that had metal lids. I found a couple of really great options on Amazon, but ended up with these even though they were more than I ideally wanted to spend. I bought two sets because I have a lot of spices and then ended up using all of them, so it was perfect. My husband started by measuring the length and width of the underside of the cabinet and cut a piece of 3/4″ plywood to fit. Then, we measured the diameter of the jar lids to determine how big of a circle we’d need to drill out so we could mount them up in the plywood. If you buy the same jars I did, you will need the 1 11/16″ Forstner bit. If you’re lids are a different size, you’ll need to measure to determine the bit size you need.

We then needed to work out the spacing of the jars. Our plywood was 29″ by 10″ and we decided to do four rows deep by 12 rows across, which created about 2 5.5/16″ (2.33 in.) by 2 1/4″ of space for each jar. We marked the underside of the plywood with the intersection points of the grid at the exact center of where each jar should go. This helped the hubs a lot in drilling all the circles. Sadly, because we’re using the Imperial system, we got into some crazy fractions, but ended up making it work. Here’s the math:doingthemath.jpg

  • Measure a border around the edge – we had about a ½” border around the whole outside of the plywood
  • Determine how many jars you want to fit across and how many deep. The space for each jar will be called the jar perimeter. Then = total length of the plywood – total width of both borders (in my case, this was 1″ (½+½)) / number of jars you want to fit across. This will give you the length of each jar perimeter. You then need to do the same thing for the width of the plywood = total width – (width of border x2) / number of bottles deep. This will give you the width of each jar perimeter.
  • Then, you want to mark the center point where each jar center will be. Take ½ of the jar perimeter length and add it to the width of your border. Measure in from the outside of the wood and make a vertical line (if your wood is landscape). From that measurement, add a full length of the jar perimeter and mark another vertical line. Keep adding in increments of a full jar perimeter length and making vertical lines until you reach the end of the plywood.
  • Repeat this process with the jar perimeter width. From the border, add ½ the jar perimeter width and mark a horizontal line. Add increments of the full jar perimeter width and continue marking horizontal lines until you reach the end of the plywood. It should look like this when you’re done. You can also see the tools we used to make marking and line drawing simple. These are from Woodpeckers and are all American made in Strongsville, OH.

Marking and Marked

Once the plywood is marked, drill the holes using the larger of your two Forstner bits. Once you have all your main holes drilled out, use the smaller Forstner bit to drill out small holes for the magnets to rest in. If you use the magnets in the link above you’ll need to drill down 1/8″ using a ½” drill bit). To secure the magnets in place, we dropped them all in, put the jars in to hold them in place, and then flipped the whole thing over to drop 5 minute Loctite epoxy through the top holes. I decided to tape off the top of my jars just to be sure I wouldn’t get any epoxy leakage and it worked really well (I used blue painters tape because I had some laying around and I figured it would remove cleanly).Drill pressing plywoodTapedjarswithmagnets

Once the epoxy dried, we sanded the top to remove any overflow, pulled off the jars and then coated the whole thing in Watco Danish oil in Dark Walnut. Once that dried, it was time to install. We used 1″ counter sinking screws (flat head) and screwed directly into the underside of our cabinet and then placed all the jars. They actually hang really well from the magnets and are easy to use. One tip for using this spice rack – organize your jars so you’ll remember what’s where. I planned each row in a way that I would associate them and remember the order. For my husband, I just made a little chart that is taped on the inside of the cabinet door:

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