Monday, November 18, 2013

Christmas Wrapping Themes

I have been seeing a lot of different themes for wrapping Christmas gifts on Pinterest which reminded me of my own Christmas gift wrapping themes I have done over the past two years.

It turns out I have wrapped the gifts, made labels, and photographed these themes for two years, but I only wrote an actual blog post about one of them. So this year I have two different themes for Christmas presents I want to present: Red and White, and Brown Paper with Baking Twine. Both have handmade labels.

Brown Paper with Baking Twine Wrapping Theme

This theme was fun. I already had plenty of brown paper from a huge roll I bought at a clearance sale for an office supply store. By the way, buying that huge roll of paper was one of the best impulse purchases in my life. I have used it as drop cloths for painting, and table covers that can be drawn on among many other uses. 

I then added a touch of class with the red and white baker's twine. I used a double thickness of the twine to really make it pop. 

Each gift had a tag with the recipient's initial on it. I printed the initials on card-stock and then punched the labels out with my hand puncher.

I really love the look of these gifts with their labels and the baker's twine. Baker's twine is so much fun. I may have chosen this theme so I had an excuse to buy the twine. ;)

Red and White Wrapping Theme

Last year I decided to go with normal wrapping paper in red and white. I wanted to make the gifts a little more festive and less "1940's book package." The previous year was fun, but I wanted to get a little more traditional.

I used several predominantly red papers, white ribbon and black lettered  labels. 

With the new addition of my nephew last year I had to add a second letter to my labels (we now have two family members with the first initial "A".)  I used the same label punch with red paper. If had a color printer I would have done white card-stock with red initials for the red presents, but our color printer died earlier that year. 

To compliment the red presents I also wrapped some of them with white paper and red ribbon. This was not as successful because the white paper needs to be doubled over if you don't want the gift showing through. I'm not sure what happened to the rest of the presents wrapped in white, but I didn't get any pictures of them.

I also had a lot more presents last year. I bought a bunch of little presents to go with the big ones. So I had to get a little creative with the red paper. In the end I used some pure red, and some red with Santa. It worked out well.

I think the red is nice and festive under our tree. This year I'm all ready for the next theme with wrapping paper, but I have to think about the labels and ribbon.

Do you like to wrap your Christmas (or Hanukkah) presents with one theme of do you have a different system all together? Or maybe no system at all?

Monday, November 11, 2013

Wine Charms Number 2

I really love to make these wine charms. They are like little jewels that you can put on your glasses. I made a set about a year ago. Then this winter I started a set for my friend's birthday. It took me a long time to finish them, but once I did, I had to do another photo shoot. Go here for the full instructions to make your own.

What I like about these guys is that each is different, each is special and each one actually feels as great as they look. The resin layers on both sides protects the decoupage and adds a bit of class.

This time around I used all gold glitter and numbers for the "back" and some really beautiful paper for the front. My friend loves the color blue, so I made half of them with blue tones, and the other half with red. I always imagine my friend's hubby would like the red ones.

For the final touch I also made a little case. I recycled an old card I had for the cover. I first added a single layer of card-stock to hide the impression from the "Altoids" box. I then glued the old card for the design. After gluing it with Mod Podge I coated the whole thing with more resin.

I'm not sure if you can tell in these pictures but there is a good layer of thick resin on top of this box. I managed to eliminate the "Altoids" impression and make a nice cover for the box. I also love that the gold in the paper carried through to the gold on the backs of the charms.

I decided not to paint the rest of the box. It looked good enough and I was late on my gift.

The simple silver ring holds them onto the glass stem.

These little guys are not so cheap to make. I thought about selling them but they would probably not sell for even the cost of supplies. Instead only very special people get them. I must say, they are worth the work for a loved one. In the end they look so beautiful.

Even though my birthday gift was six months late, my friend was very excited to get this little gift (or she was just very gracious, she is quite a gracious lady). Let's hope I'm a little better with the timing next year. :)

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Power of Sunshine

Getting the "Funk" Out of Old Shirts

My husband likes to wear black undershirts to work. In fact, he really loves his little black shirts and wears them all the time. We buy the bags of shirts they sell at Target and he's happy. 

The problem is that after a while the shirts develop a strange smell. A "funk" if you will. I don't leave his clothes in the washer wet, and my washer is not funky either. In fact, none of our other clothes have this funk at all. I don't even really smell it myself, but my husband swears that some shirts have it, and some don't. He does a smell test before he puts a shirt on, if the shirt has this funk, he puts it back in the drawer (that's a man's idea of fixing the problem I guess).

In the past we have thrown out the old shirts and just gone out and bought new ones. This year, with a little one on the way, I decided to try something new. Operation de-funk was under way one summer day (ha I'm a poet, JK, not really).

Step One: Wash

I took all my hubby's shirts out of the drawer and washed them in the washer on high with both my home-made detergent and a half cup of white vinegar for good measure. Vinegar is known for it's disinfecting properties. 

Step Two: Dry

Now, this is wear the "summer day" part of my plan comes in. Growing up, we always took our bedding out in the spring and put it in the sun. I was never sure why we did this, but my mom assured me this would help "air it out" and clean our mattresses and comforters. I didn't really have a choice, but they did smell better by the end of the day so I figured she was on to something. 

Twenty years later, I'm reading the tag on my down comforter and it advises me to put the comforter in the sun twice a year. With a little research I found that the disinfecting power of the sun is a real thing, and my mom is not a nut-job that just liked to watch us drag our mattresses around every spring (sorry mom, I was a teenager).

With all this in mind, I took my husband's newly washed undershirts and hung them in the sun. 

They hung out in the sun for most of the day. 

Boy, do I love my clothes line, every time I look at it I'm happy (thanks hubby!). By the time I got around to taking these pictures the sun had gone behind the trees, but believe me, they were in the sun for at least a couple of hours. 

Step Three: The Result

I brought them in, and gave them to my hubby for the final test. Success! The funk was gone. Although I'm sure the vinegar helped, I KNOW the sunlight made the final step to really get those shirts clean and smelling good again. 

I don't really like a lot of harsh chemicals or super smelly detergents, this proves they are not needed. It has been five months, I went back to washing them the normal way (with a dryer, not on the line). They still smell fine. 

It's funny how it takes years to fully appreciate the knowledge your parents passed down to you as a child. Maybe because I'm having a child, I'm relearning all these little tricks. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Natural Cleaning Products

Since I have gotten pregnant I have been looking for more natural cleaning products. I have to admit, I'm a bit of a cleaning product whore. I go through cleaning phases where I use only homemade natural products, and then I switched back to the chemical, and bleach based stuff. I just can't decide what is better.

Let me give you a little background. A while ago, I made my own cleaning sprays with vinegar, and sometimes I just mix a little Mrs. Meyer's floor cleaner with water for the counters.

This worked great for me, but over last winter we hired a cleaning lady to come once every two weeks and she liked to use the "normal" stuff, Windex, Clorox Bleach Spray, and Bona for the floors. This was ok, because I was not in the house when she cleaned. But I hated to come home to the smell of all those chemicals (although having someone else clean is a dream, I know that!).

Since I have now taken over the cleaning again I realized that some of the products she used, just hid the dirt and didn't really clean the house. The Bleach Spray was great for my kitchen sink, granted, but the Bona? Bona is a floor spray that you dry mop. My cleaning lady said this was better for the floors than water and any kind of "soap." But when I started to clean the floors myself I saw that this is just not true. When Bona was used the floors LOOKED clean, but instead the stuff just put a layer of "varnish-like-stuff" over my floors, under that shiny varnish was the same dirt. Over the summer I have spent hours scraping up bits of dirt that has collected over the eight months that we used Bona.

There is a lot of debate as the the best product to use on wood floors. Some swear by products like Pine Sol, or Murphy's Oil, and others swear they wear down the wood. I don't know the answers, and honestly, I'm just as confused as the next person. But I do know that when I have my little one, I don't want him or her to crawl around on a floor that is both covered with dirt and covered with a chemical varnish that hides said dirt.

Now that I'm bringing a baby into the world I really feel it is time to commit to some serious natural products. I have decided to go right back to the basics: water, vinegar, soap, and (because that's what my mom used) Tea Tree Oil.

Cleaning with soap, water and natural products just makes more sense to me. In this society we have reverted to so many "time saving" products that we end up coating out house in chemicals instead of really cleaning it. My mother always told me, and I have found the same info on countless medical sites as well, that the best way to disinfect something is with good old soap and water. We don't need crazy antibacterial products, or to spray our house within an inch of it's life with some chemical. Soap, water and your good.

Tea Tree Oil is a great essential oil to add to a natural cleaning product. I especially like it when I use vinegar, because the Tea Tree helps mask the vinegar smell until it can evaporate. Tea Tree Oil is also great because it is a natural disinfectant and repels bugs. Last summer we had a big ant problem. This spring when they started to come back, I washed all the floors in the house with Tea Tree oil in my mop water, and no more ants. They just left.

White vinegar is also a great disinfectant, and people eat it. I figure if people eat the product, it must be good. I have had a lot of luck with white vinegar as a cleaning product.

Another great, natural product is lemon. I often clean my wood cutting boards with lemon to get out the smell of garlic and onions. When my step mother had a problem with ants on  her cutting boards I cleaned them with lemon and again, the ants stopped crawling on her wood cutting boards. I have started to experiment with making my own lemon infused white vinegar, and I will let you know how that works out next time I wash the floors.

So, from now on, I'm sticking to my new recipe. Until I get the next best idea and switch again, because I am a cleaning product whore after all.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Caulk The Bathroom Tub!

When we moved into our house three years ago one of the first things we did was resurface the tub. It was really bad.

The problem with the resurface job was that the guy took off all the caulk and did not replace it. Don't get me wrong, he was a really nice guy, he just couldn't caulk until the tub dried for three days. I was not about to pay him to come back, and he assured me it was easy to do.

I caulked the tub and was done.  Problem was, this was my first time caulking and I did not let the tub dry fully. I just wanted to get it done.

Ok, before I describe my caulking experience I have to say this.  I can't say caulk without giggling a little. Hubby and I are always making crude caulk jokes.  I'm sure you can imagine.  I will save you from our childish banter.

Eventually the caulk cracked.  I left it for way too long, the caulk and wall got moldy.  I continued to leave it.

Every day I would look at the cracked, moldy caulk and think "I should do something about that!" But I left it.

Then I got pregnant, and my mom was scheduled to come over from Australia.  Mom has a severe allergy to mold.  I also hated the idea of my baby being exposed to all that mold, even in utero.  So I finally decided to re-caulk the tub.

This time I decided to do it right.

I scraped off the old caulk. I used a handy little tool that was designed just for this purpose, and it worked great. Some of the new enamel did come up, but I don't think it was too bad.  The gunk that came out of those cracks was not pretty.

I then sprayed a solution  of water and bleach onto the cracks.  I left it to do its work for a while.  After about twenty minutes I then wiped off the bleach and water.

Not wanting to make the same mistake, and apply the caulk to soon after it was wet, I went out and visited a friend for a couple of hours.  Waiting at home for the tub to dry was not going to work. Three hours later I was refreshed from a visit and some good Italian food, and I could caulk.

Caulking is not that hard.  The resurface-tub-guy was right.  Once the tub was dry I had much better success with my caulk.  The main idea is to put the caulk in the crack and the smooth it over.

I found that using my slightly moistened finger to smooth over the caulk was the best option.

I then used a wet paper towel to clean up the edges. I have seen that some people use painters tape to get perfect edges on their caulk, but that was just too much work for me. I also used my finger to spread the caulk over some exposed edges of the new ceramic layer that had peeled. The problem with the resurface job is that if it cracks it just starts to peel off.  We have an area around the drain that is peeling. One of these days we will have to resurface it again. I might do it myself next time. I don't think it is that hard.

The worst part of the whole caulking job is the waiting.  Waiting for the tub to dry, and now, waiting for the caulk to dry. We went away early the next day, so this was not too bad. One tip I have to remember for next time is that caulk tends to shrink a bit as it dries, so leave more caulk than you think you need.

Two months later, the caulk is holding strong.

I'm very happy. The caulk is holding well.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Review: Individual Seven Layer Dip

For my husband's birthday this year I made Individual Seven Layer Dips by The Girl Who Ate Everything.

I found the recipe on Pinterest and have been quite keen to try it.  They look amazing and I have always been bothered by the fact that when you try to eat a seven layer dip from a big bowl it makes a big mess and is just not that good.  All-in-all this looked like the perfect solution.

I was very happy with the results.  I followed Christy's recipe almost completely.  I didn't have time to make my own guacamole so I went to a local store that sold fresh guacamole.  I am really not a fan of that stuff you buy in the grocery stores that come in a vacuum bag and is florescent green.

I also put a little less of the taco seasoning because I only had hot and did not want it to be too hot for the guests.

Overall, this was a easy recipe.  The most time consuming part is just assembling them.  I put all the cups out and just did each layer in a assembly line fashion.

The dip was a big hit with the guests.  The combination of flavors is really quite good.  I, myself, ate the leftover dip for about three days.  They made a great snack.

I found that the dip kept very well.  The layers seal each other in quite well and even the guacamole does not get discolored.  In the future, I will prepare the recipe the day before.  Just keep in mind that the tortilla chips get soggy when placed in the dip, so save that until the day of.

In the end, this is a great appetizer to make for any party.  I might try making more little layers of food, maybe strawberries and pound cake or chocolate pudding and other yummy stuff.  I'll have to think about it.

Go, make this recipe, and know that it is supper yummy.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Small Closet Upgarde

So many details in my house just seem wrong.  I'm not going to go into the long list of little jobs that were not completed very well, but lets just say that I am still fixing things when this house was only renovated five years ago.

One detail has been bothering me since the day I moved in: the closet in my bedroom.  First, it is tiny, but that is not anyone's fault, there just is not a lot of room in that room for a closet (it was kind of an afterthought).

But the part that kills me is that the rod for my clothes was installed from the front to the back of the closet instead of across the width.  This gave me about two-thirds less space to hang my clothes in an already small closet.  You can tell in the shot above that there is no rod or shelf across the top. The rod and shelf is off to the left just behind that wall with the heart.

The closet was also never primed or painted.  For a long time I had dreams of installing a pink damask pattern in that little closet and I know it would have looked fabulous, but after years of searching it is just not that easy to find wallpaper that is both nice and not too expensive.  If anyone has any ideas as to where I can find some nice wallpaper remnants I'm all ears.

In the end, I just painted the closet with some "oops" paint I had in the basement from my days of buying "oops" paint (the hubby discourages me from buying it anymore because we have so much paint in our basement and we need to control the clutter).  My "oops" paint was a blue exterior paint with a primer right in it. I figured that would do.  My mother-in-law, who actually did the painting because I'm pregnant and not supposed to inhale the fumes, kept asking me if the color was alright.  It's a closet.  We both figured it does not really matter because no one sees it but me (and my readers, hehe).

So we (really she) painted,  the hubby and I installed the new rod, cut to fit the right way, and we even got a nice shelf up to hold all my purses.  (It's a good thing I'm not really a huge purse and shoe person, because any more stuff would not fit.

Here is my after.  Everything is off the floor.  Clothes hanging the right way.  Even our little shelf.  I decided not to go crazy organizing the shelf.  It is just a pile of bags in bags (to protect them).

Now, a couple of tricks I have learned along the way.

1) Use all the same coat hangers!  My wonderful God mother taught me this one.  Boy was she right!  When you use all the same coat hangers, your clothes look better, the closet looks better, and life is better.  You will thank me later.  (We have been watching a lot of Monk, an old T.V. show, and he Monk, says that all the time.)

By mistake when we bought these coat hangers, which are supposed to take up less space, we got both gold and silver ones.  I try to keep the silver ones in here only, but sometimes a gold one slips in.  I love the way this looks.  My clothes may not all match like some Ikea commercial (BTW, have you seen the one where the whole closet is full of yellow clothes?  How could someone live like that?  Yellow?), but my closet does look better for a real person who wears all sorts of different clothes.

2) Hang a tie rack behind your clothes for belts and scarves.

Ok, I totally read that tip in a magazine somewhere, but they were right.  It is a brilliant way to store your unused items waiting for just the right outfit.  I'm not a huge user of accessories, but I always want to be.  So I have a pretty large selection of belts that needed a home.  I also hang my little party purse here for special occasions.

I do not hang my scarves there for the simple reason that I have too many.  After living in India for so long, I have a huge collection, and I prefer to put them where I can see them and use them a little more often.  In my baskets.  You can real all about my basket and old closet reorganization on the post Cleaning Out the Closet.

The new configuration of my little closet is so much better.  Once I'm back to a normal size I can't wait to have all my favorite dresses in there to look at and admire (if not wear, because I will have a baby).

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Yellow Wedding

An old friend of mine had a beautiful wedding a couple of weeks ago.  .

My friend decided to do her wedding in yellow and black.  The bridesmaids wore long black dresses (and one fabulous pant suit).  They looked positively fabulous beside the black tuxes of the groomsmen and under the bright white Chuppah.  It was an amazing ceremony.

I did not get any shots of the bridal party or the beautiful bride, because I don't like to wander around a wedding with my big old Cannon.  I leave the real photography to the wedding photographer, who was so sweet and kind, by the way.

I did get some great shots of the details before the wedding.

I did not capture the beauty of these flowers.  They were a soft butter color and so amazing.  The florist told me my friend had known for two years she wanted yellow roses.  It was brilliant.  The yellow really brightened the location and made it look really nice.

The favors were Grappa (I believe) that was made right on location.  The labels represent both the last names of the bride and groom.  I'm looking forward to when I can have a drink again and see how this stuff tastes.

The seating cards were a nice touch.  They used corks from the winery which the groom and wedding party carved themselves.  The cards looked great all lined up.

One choice that my friend made was that she hired many friends and vendors who are known in our home town.  I loved that the florist, baker, and judge were all friends who were also invited to the wedding.  They all did an amazing job and the personal touch was really nice.

I met the lady who made these cupcakes (she sat at my table) and she has an amazing way with baked goods.  I had the lemon cupcake and it was sooooo divine.

I really love this shot.  The light is just right, and light is what everything is about with photography.  It speaks for its self.

Here's a shot of the reception venue.

Like I said, the yellow centerpieces really brightened it up.

To end: I did get a shot of the bride, but only her toes.  I wanted to show off her "something blue" toenails.

 I just love the toes, and the shoes.  My friend has fabulous taste, she did go to F.I.T. after all.
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