Monday, November 24, 2014

Boots boots boots! (my DIY Mudroom)

One of my goals in my new home in Wisconsin is to make some changes that make my otherwise builder's grade 1940's ranch style home a little more updated and custom. From the first time I walked in the front door I knew I wanted a little mudroom in the existing small awkward foyer. For the first few months after I moved in, it looked like this.
First, I removed the ugly hanging racks and coat rod and painted the ceiling white (because, of course, it was brown), which was an immediate aesthetic improvement. But, that meant I had no place to put my bags, coats, and umbrellas, which are all apparently necessary in Wisconsin the summer.

Dad came to town for my birthday and for about $150 he generously bought the lumber to build me a bench and a shelf. We decided to make the bench and shelf out of poplar, and used pine for the pieces I planned to paint white. I gave him my sketch and my tools and left for work. When I came home it looked like this. Dad is amazing. I don't know what else to say.
After my parents headed back to sunny CA, I started by staining the poplar bench and shelf boards my dad had cut to size with Minwax Red Mahogany to match the other woodwork in the house. Next, I painted the support boards and all of the trim in the foyer with white high gloss (because it too was brown-- thats right, the walls were such dark brown you can't tell, but the trim in these photos is light brown). I painted the back wall white and to give the illusion of wainscoting added a few strips of trim down the wall. The other walls were painted the same soft blue (EasyCare Abloom) I used in the kitchen.

Thinking I was nearly done, I fitted back in my now stained shelf and bench, then attempted trim. This was a new challenge for me. I learned (by-doing) how to cut a miter corner using my drawing tools from 9th grade Geometry and a jigsaw. A lot of glue and wood filler putty and even more touch up paint later, I had a place to take off my snow boots. I also filled up my woven felt baskets with scarves, hats, and mittens to get me through the winter.
I took a trip to Ikea coat hooks and spent a final evening installing them, and bought a door sweep to help keep out the draft from under my front door. Now, I've now got a place to take off a layer or two of the 4-5 layers that one has to wear every single day in Wisconsin to avoid frostbite. Plus, for about $200 I think I made a substantial improvement to my humble little house.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Kitty Box: Contained

I am not a cat person. I like dogs, big, hulking, goofy dogs. But, when you're the kind of person who travels out of state once a month and likes to have some freedom and flexibility, big goofy dogs just aren't practical.  A lazy, autonomous cat is a much better fit for this point in my life. So, my rescued calico Barley and I have come to a pretty comfortable agreement about our living situation. We like each other enough that it works out. But, there is one thing about cats that has just always made my skin crawl: litter boxes.

I thought that living in Wisconsin with a big back yard Barley might learn to be a poop-outside kind of cat. But, alas, outdoors in Wisconsin is consistently either too buggy, too cold, or just too scary for my poor lovably dull-witted calico. So, the litter box is a burden I must bear.

Despite the fact that my house is more than twice the size of my Orange County apartment, there is still no good place for a litter box. It can't go in my room (too smelly), it can't go in the guest room (because I keep that closed up when no one is visiting), it certainly can't go in the kitchen (yuck), and I don't want it in the craft room because frankly, I'd rather Barley stay scared of that room as long as she can. So, the litter box has to go in the living room, where every guest will see and smell it. Ugh. I couldn't do that again.

While perusing SkyMall (there is always something you didn't know you needed in SkyMall) I saw this end table turned litter box for sale for just $100. It's a great idea, but I find this image oddly unsettling, and also, couldn't bring myself to encourage SkyMall's existence by paying them for something.
So, I decided, I would DIY my own. At this point, with a plan in mind, I started the slow process of preparing Barley for the transition. I placed her litter box in the footprint of the place where I would eventually have an end table and I started my search.

After much thrift shop scouring I found a funky mid-century end table with cabinet doors for $15. It was originally a sort of putrid shade of teak-green that I have never really appreciated. So, I gave it a quick sanding, staining, and sealing with wipe-on polyurethane. Then, brought the end table inside, opened up both doors, put down a "piddle pad" to protect the wood, and put the litter box in the cabinet. Barley wasn't so sure at first so I put her in the litter box for a minute. She hopped out almost immediately, but at least knew where it was.

After about a week of living with the cabinet doors open, I bravely removed the litter box, turned the cabinet on its side, sketched out a line and pulled out my jigsaw. I cut a kitty sized hole in the back of the cabinet and sanded the edge to make sure it was smooth. Admittedly, its not perfect, but for my first ever experience with a jigsaw, I call it a success.
Some other versions I have seen have a separator between the litter section and the door, but my cabinet wasn't quite big enough for that. I also saw some that stapled in a permanent plastic liner to protect the wood, but I decided that might end up more messy than helpful in the long run. So, I put down a clean piddle pad and put the litter box back in to give it a go. To my surprise, Barley figured out how to get in and out of the kitty door much faster than I expected. In just a few days I was able to close up the cabinet doors and she was happy enough to enter and exit through the hole in the back of the cabinet.
This has substantially cut down on the mess, smell, and noise (she used to just get in the litter box and fling litter around when I was trying to sleep) and as far as I can tell, Barley doesn't mind it.
If you've got to have a litter box, this is the only way to do it.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Grown Up Frozen Costumes (yes, I went there)

You may have read a few months back that I made an Elsa dress for my friend's daughter. As it turns out, an Elsa dress for a 5 year old doesn't require much fabric, so I happened to have a whole lot left over. As Halloween approached, I couldn't resist the temptation to make my own grown up version of the costume for Halloween. Of course, when I discussed this with my friends, they too wanted in on the fun. The plan was made, flights were booked, and suddenly my news feed started filling up with articles like this one from USA today, admonishing slutty girls from slutting up beloved children's characters. Well, sorry Disney, if you didn't want us to objectify ourselves and this may not have been the best role model for 3 year olds.
Given the uproar over the slutfication of Elsa, I certainly didn't expect to get to the fabric store and find Simplicity 1553, a pattern produced by Disney itself to make the wholesome princesses of the past into little hoes. Apparently Belle and Cinderella are fair game. We didn't expect much of them anyway.
So, armed with a pattern and my leftover fabric, I made what was essentially a teal sequined corset, lined with teal satin. The corset was supposed to lace up the back, but even I had to draw the line somewhere. So, I inserted a separating zipper down the back of  my fully lined, fully boned, princess corset. I will note that I added 2 inches of length to the pattern in the hopes of a more Elsa-eque silhouette. Unfortunately, I'm so long waisted that this basically just made it reach my belly button.

Elsa's skirt, despite what I did for the child version, is not a full, gathered number like past princesses. Instead she's in a sleek fitted little number with a slit up to there. I couldn't see myself waltzing into a halloween party in a full length gown, so I patterned out a skirt I already had in my closet that fit pretty well with curved seams down the sides to make fitted silhouette work on my big-ol-butt. Finally, I found a sparkly piece of chiffon on the clearance rack at Joanns. I trimmed it to about 50 inches, cut a bit of a cape-shaped curve in it, and gathered it at the top. I hand stitched the "hook" side of some sew-in white velcro to the cape, and the "loop" side to the inside top edge of the corset so that it could come off for washing.
Olaf was a team effort, as my friend Melissa created a felt Olaf face and glued it on a white beanie, added three 2" black pom-poms on a white t-shirt. I used my real tutu tutorial (exact same length, believe it or not, I just changed the waist measurement) to create a snowman silhouette.
For Anna's dress I had very ambitious plans involving an equally offensive Simplicy pattern, but ran out of time. So, a blue dress, a teal t-shirt, and a black tank top were pulled from my friend Beth's closet (and a last minute shopping trip in downtown Madison). I zipped up a 2-seam caplet from a yard of stretch velvet and we were off.