Wreath, or, something from nothing

This past weekend I helped out at the annual Christmas Bazaar at our parish.  This year I was in charge of coordinating the white elephant (the premise of this is that people give us their junk for free and we re-sell it.  One person’s junk is, after all, another person’s treasure.)

One of the final items to come in was an old Christmas garland.  I took one look at it and thought, “Yuk, who is going to want that!”  And nobody did want it, it just sat there under the Christmas table.  Near the end of the day I saw another person checking out this garland.  There was something about the way she was looking at it that got me thinking. She didn’t end up taking it, so I went back for another look.


It was pretty bad. Just a length of burlap twine with faux berries and pine bits, pinecones, and bunches of sticks wired on at regular intervals. The sticks, in particular, were pretty gross.  The garlands still had the price tags on them, so obviously they had never been used. and for good reason.  The whole set up was just very, very awkward.


I feel compelled to point out that they looked a lot less attractive in real life.

Obviously I ended up buying the ugly garlands in question.  My Master Plan was to unwind the various components from the burlap twine and then use the leftover bits and pieces to create something nice and Christmassy. And I actually got around to doing it.  I bent a wire coat hanger into a circle, de-stringed all the pinecones, etc, and started attaching the stuff to the coat hanger.  All the slim cones went on the outside and all the mini cones went on the inside of the circle.  Once i had them arranged properly I glue-gunned the heck out of them.  Next, I attached the fake berries with wire and then filled in all the empty spaces with the faux pine bits.

I didn’t take any ‘in progress” photos, but this is what all the bits now look like, minus the gathered stick bits. Those got thrown in the trash.


Isn’t that nice?  And doesn’t Darren do a lovely job of holding the wreath?  Such a gentleman.


Seriously though, I am really pleased with how it turned out. Much better than the random burlap string garland. And I should note, I didn’t glue on the berries and pine because I thought that when the time comes to change up the wreath, I could just take off all the extras and spray paint the pinecones underneath.


Now that’s just silly.


And here it is, in action, outside in the dark. Hmmm,  really must get a shot of this during the day.


One of the more exciting parts of the project is that I still have ALL of the plump, round pinecones left to use.  I’m thinking about dipping them in white paint and making – you guessed it – a garland. Oh, the irony.


Rehydrating Play Dough

A couple of days ago, Cate asked if she could play with play dough. No problem. It’s a great tactile toy and a wonderful way to keep kids entertained. Yes, it does make a bit of a mess, but unlike plasticine, play dough will dry into little solid bits and you can vacuum it up.

We’ve had our play dough for a few years and it has been getting a little worn out. I knew I needed to seriously address the issue when only two out of about twelve pots of play dough could be squished easily through a mold.

If you look online for advice on rehydrating play dough, including the official Play-Doh website, you generally get two pieces of advice: 1. Wrap the stuff in a damp paper towel and leave it overnight and 2. Add water, one drop at a time.

I had tried the damp paper towel trick, which was moderately successful, except that I forgot about the paper towel and had to pick out bits of dried paper towel from the play-dough the next time the kids played with it. I then tried the “add one drop of water at a time” trick, which worked pretty well. However, the next day the play dough was still kind of dried out. You could tell that the water hadn’t really incorporated into the whole lump of play dough.

All except one container. This was the container that had been in total bits and pieces and the only way I could put it together was to soak it in water and squish the bits together. This batch was almost as good as new.

Then the penny dropped. The secret to REALLY reconstituting play dough is increasing the SURFACE AREA that comes in contact with the water! So here’s the process.

  1. Use one of the “official” methods to get the play dough soft enough that it can fit through the “spaghetti-maker” extruder-bit. You know what I’m talking about.
  2. Make play dough spaghetti. Like this:

Alternatively, you can give the semi-dried out play dough to your one and a half year old to tear into bits and throw on the floor. Gather up the bits and ta-daaa, separated play dough with lots of surface area.

3. Pick up the spaghettied (or disembowelled) playdough in your hand and hold it under a running faucet for a couple of seconds. None of this pansy “one drop at a time” business. (By the way, this is a really good time to combine similar colours of play dough. We had 12 half-full pots of play dough and I was able to reduce that to about 7 full containers.)

4. Shake off the excess water and then squish the wet play dough in your hand. Start kneading.

It’s going to look nasty.

Told you so. Ignore it and keep kneading. It will get better.

See? Not quite as scary.

Almost there… (quick, name the movie reference!)

Well, look at that! See how the play dough absorbed all of the water?

5. Test your rehydrated play dough for squishyness.

There it is, all nice and pretty.



Ta-daa! The play dough has been successfully rehydrated. And it’s still going strong. Last tip – after I did this I found that my hands were pretty dried out, so make sure you moisturize or the feeling will probably drive you crazy. Oh, and if you try this at home, let me know how it turns out!

Quick sketch

This past Christmas Darren and I gave all the grandparents empty picture frames with promises to fill them up with family photos. We have yet to get our family portraits done, so the frames sit empty. Until now.

During a painting session with Cate earlier this week I thought, “Why don’t I just sketch our family?”  And so I did. (Please be warned: this is NOT great portraiture and I am under no illusions that it is!)


I think this took me about ten minutes. Here’s a closer look.


From left to right you have…

1. Darren – I tried to make him look cheerful.  I’m not sure it looks a lot like him.  Not to say that Darren isn’t cheerful, he just isn’t generally so … whimsical.

2. John – I sketched him while he was looking down and concentrating.  Hopefully knowing that helps the photo to make more sense.

3. Benno – This really doesn’t look much like him.  Really, the one of him and John’s portrait could be interchangeable.  Which may not be a bad thing, considering they are brothers.

4. Cate – This is the first one that I did and the best.  I like how her hair has the strong bang and is messy.  As usual.  My girl, I love her so much.

5. Jen – I don’t think this looks like me at all, aside from my bangs covering my left eye.

Well, some major flaws, but all in all, not bad for less than half an hour’s worth of work.  Darren’s Mom seemed to like it, so that’s good. But we really do have to get those family portraits taken.  And I suppose this means that I am obligated to do a sketch for my parents as well.  I guess I’ll go haul out the paints again…

DIY: Perpetual Calendar

perpetual calendar courtesy of DesignSponge

This past fall I saw a post on DesignSponge about creating a perpetual calendar (I think I first found it through Pinterest).  A perpetual calendar or journal has one page for every day of the year.  You write something that happened that day and then do that every day.  At the end of the year you start all over again, so that you can see what you did the year before.  My Aunt Mary has a perpetual calender for her garden and I always thought it was a neat idea.

So, I decided to create one for myself.  I used 5×8 index cards cut in half, stamped them with the date and year, and ended up with something like this:


I really liked the fruit crate in the DesignSponge version, but as I made it in the dead of winter, I resorted to using a mini Mandarin orange crate.  It stayed orange for quite some time and then I spray painted it last week (two coats of primer, two coats of Rustoleum Oil Rubbed Bronze spray paint). By the way, did you know that when a label says to use in a well ventilated area, it usually helps to spray paint an object at the front of the garage with the door open rather than at the back with the door slightly ajar?  I know, revolutionary.


I had a teal inkpad that I bought on a whim when it was on sale, so that is the colour that I used for stamping the date.  It took quite a while, but my OCDnss was very happy with such a repetitive task.


I like that the teal is so cheerful. I also used it on some of the “month” dividers.

Other dividers got the gold treatment.

I really like the gold and blue.  I made the month dividers the same size as the index cards.  I may change that in the future, but it works for now.

There it is, in all its glory, the perpetual calendar sitting next to the smilodon skeleton.  (Which I think it SO COOL, by the way.  I have totally stolen it as my desk mascot.  I don’t think Benno has clued in yet.  Let’s hope he just likes having it around and doesn’t try to reclaim it).

One final thing.  Know how long it took me to finish this?  From idea to completion, five months.  And if I didn’t have this blog to keep me doing things, it likely would have been sitting unfinished on the desk for a lot longer.  Next project to finish, artwork for John’s room.

DIY: Kindle cover

One of the great challenges of my marriage is figuring out what to give Darren for special occasions like birthdays and Christmas. He has very simple tastes, doesn’t like being made a fuss of, and is fairly particular. All of that means that I can’t just head out to the mall and purchase whatever first grabs my attention. I really need to think about what he wants and needs. This is probably a good thing. It means that I need to take the time to be thoughtful. It also means that finding an appropriate gift is a challenge.

This Christmas, after much discussion, I bought Darren a Kindle. This was a definite splurge for us and (thankfully) also takes the place of a birthday present as well. After shelling out money for the Kindle I wasn’t too excited about spending even more cash on a case. But Darren commutes to work, so he needs a case for the Kindle.

First of all I thought about hollowing out a book like this. Then I saw an IkeaHack for an iPad case that used a $0.99 NEDDA chair pad and I thought that it would be fairly easy to adapt for the Kindle. And that’s what I did.


This is the chair pad. You can get them with designs punched out of them, but I knew I wanted the Kindle to be as protected as possible, so I got the plain kind.


I sized up the Kindle and chopped off the edges of the pad.


There. Perfect fit.


Next I folded up the felt, pinned it where I wanted it, and left it under a heavy object (minus the Kindle inside) overnight. In my case I used a collapsed playpen, but I’m sure a stack of books would work as well.


This is what you are left with. So, I got to work, sewing up the sides and adding some Velcro until it looked like this:


After attaching the Velcro with hot glue, I wish that I had some black Velcro so the glue wouldn’t show through, but oh we’ll, we make do with what we’ve got.


See? Not so pretty. Just as I was finishing up I realized that while the red thread provides a nice contrast, I really would have preferred a darker color so that the Kindle looks wrapped in a seamless form of felt. So I am probably going to re-do this with grey thread.


But, it looks not too bad right now, and it is definitely better than just throwing the Kindle in a backpack unprotected.


There it is, all cosy in its Kindle cocoon. Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday, my Darren.

DIY: new clock face

One of the great struggles in our family is conveying the importance of time to the younger members. A major flaw in our current strategy is that the kids room does not have a clock. However, this oversight was fixed by the weekend trip to Ikea, when we purchased a Rusch clock for $2.99. I knew that I wanted to customize it, so on Monday morning when John was sleeping I proceeded to gut the clock.


That is the clock with the faceplate off, hands off, and the face pulled out. I traced the old clock face on teal paper, marked off the numbers, and made yellow numbers on a navy background. (The colors of the clock roughly match the kids’ comforters.)


For the numbers I cut a strip of paper that was approximately the same height as the original numbers and just started cutting away. The navy background was created by cutting shapes that I liked and fitting them all together like the pieces of a puzzle.


Here is a close up of the numbers (apologies for the upside down photos, I’ll fix it later today.) Then I glued them on, cut out the clock face, lined everything up and put it back together.


If you look closely you can see that I covered the hands of the clock with white out so that they would be visible on the darker paper. It looks sloppy up close, but it is fine from a distance. It was the whiteout that comes in strips, so it was actually quite tricky to do.


And here is the finished product (without the faceplate because it adds glare to the photo). Not bad for an hour and a half worth of work! And the kids loved it, which was also nice.

decluttering: window sills

Tsh Oxenreider, the lady behind the website Simple Mom, has written a book called Organized Simplicity which I blogged about a few days ago.  The last half of the book details a total house declutter over a period of ten days.  However, Tsh also acknowledges that not everyone has the time to devote ten full days to decluttering your house, and I am one of those people.

There is a quote at the end of the book from writer Elisabeth Elliot which I love: “When you don’t know what to do next, just do the thing in front of you”

And in the spirit of doing what is in front of you, this is what I look at every time I do the dishes.

And this is the window beside my desk in the kitchen.

Note the CD’s on the windowsill.  Our stereo is on the other side of the house.  Definitely not functional.  So even though we were packing to go away for the weekend, I seized the day and decluttered away.  And here are the results for the sink window:

I put the paintbrushes in a clear Mason jar, “replanted” the green onions (more on that later), and moved the scrubby stuff to above the left hand sink.  Got rid of the elderly bunny grass (an old class project of Benno’s), ditched the coasters that I never use, and moved the Christmas Cactus over here:

My apologies for the dark photo – I was just using my iPhone and I’ve not starting using Instagram yet, which I plan on doing.  Not much of a change here, but I did move the CDs over to our stereo in the living room and put the cactus in a MUCH prettier pot that we had sitting in our garage.

I know it is an improvement because Darren remarked on how much nicer it is to look out the kitchen window. Now I look out of that window and sigh with delight instead of cringing.

One step at a time, one step at a time…


We live in the suburbs.  Every morning when Darren has to go into work, he hops on a bus, then the Skytrain, then walks to his office in downtown Vancouver.  It’s quite a trek, but it (thankfully) allows us to live as a single-car family.

On days that he works from home, Darren is a nomad, wandering between our bedroom, the dining room, and my desk.  This is generally fine, except that when he brings papers home to work on, they tend to nest in odd places and then multiply, leaving their young scattered around the house in irritating piles.

I would love to put a desk in our bedroom.  But what kind?  I found a couple of lovely desks on Craigslist (in particular one that looked a lot like this), but eventually came to the conclusion that a full desk would make the room look really crowded, especially as we already have two bureaus in the room already.  The alternative was a slim table/desk, kind of like this:

Ikea is my general go-to, and the MICKE desk fits the bill in so may ways; under $100 (yay!), cord storage, clean lines, and a little bit of storage.  Now we just have to see if Darren fits properly.  It’s tough being tall.

But wait, there’s more.  I was snooping around on Ikeahacker again, and I found this lovely DIY gem from Jonathan Lo at Happy Mundane:

Walnut contact paper.  Good, no?  And we just happen to have walnut bedroom furniture and white bookcases.  I may just have to give this a try, but first I have to convince Darren about the desk…

If you want something done…

…you know how this one ends.

I like to be organized.  Before I had kids you could ask me where any item was in my house and, 99 times out of 100, I could find it.  Three kids later, I am down to about 80 times out of 100, which isn’t bad, but it still bugs me.  My accuracy gets even worse when it comes to remembering dates and events.

Enter the calendar.   We started off with the Fridge Calendar.  The best part of this calendar was that it had a lot of writing space.  The downside was that it also came with a bunch of stickers, a desk calendar, and a chore chart that never got used.  I tried to fit them into my routine, but it just didn’t work.

I then moved to a free monthly calendar.  This was functional, except that it had very limited space, and as I use our calendar for meal planning, work scheduling, and family scheduling, things got really crowded really quickly.

The next logical move was a bi-weekly calendar, but try as I might, I couldn’t find a good, free, online template.  So I just made one.  As I mentioned, graphic design is part of my job.  I had been thinking about putting together a calendar for a while and one Saturday I just did it.  And here it is for your enjoyment and personal use: bi weekly calendar template

And this is what it looks like in action on our fridge.


My apologies for the fuzzy photo, but I guess it does preserve our privacy somewhat.  But notice that I pulled out my sharpies to write in the dates.  Any project that involves the use of colour-coded Sharpies is a worthy use of time.  I have a year’s worth of calendar pages printed out and ready to go.  More on that and the paper on the right hand side of the photo later…

And organized Jen is a happy Jen.