Jan 29, 2014

Watercolour Photos

I became an artist today. A watercolour artist. It only took a few minutes and $1.99. A pretty good deal, wasn't it? 

Or ma-a-a-a-ybe I just bought a new app called Waterlogue that lets you turn any photo into a watercolour painting.

I am flat out addicted to this app. So much so that I wore out my phone battery today playing with it. It's so simple to use - there are about 12 different styles, different sizes, frames/no frames, etc. I know this sounds like an infomercial, but honestly, I paid for it myself, and they don't even know I exist.

How about a sample before and after? This is a photo of an ice-covered tree in our yard taken during the ice storm just before Christmas. The original photo:

And the Waterlogue painted version:

So pretty, isn't it? That is something I would print. I especially love the light blues and bright shades of orange that are so much more visible than in the photo.

Here's our kitchen post-makeover:

And painted:

Of course I had to do some pictures of the dogs. (I did about three each, but I'll only make you look at one.)

I just couldn't stop. I mean, who doesn't need a watercolour of downtown Houston?

Or a palm tree?

Or The Alamo at night? In this one I really love how the people turned out. I think the guy in the right foreground is checking his phone. :-)

And that was my first day with Waterlogue. I can't wait to go through my vacation/nature pictures and perhaps make something worth framing.

Have you tried out Waterlogue? What would you "paint"?

Jan 19, 2014

Oatmeal Cookies Done Two Ways

After having a break in the freezing cold weather, the temperatures have started to drop again. Blowing snow all day today. Watching that snow whip past the window just made me want to snuggle under a blanket, in front of the fire, with a plate of warm cookies and a glass of milk. Sounds good, doesn't it?

With this in mind I baked two huge batches of cookies - Oatmeal Chocolate Chip and Cranberry Oatmeal.

The recipe below produces the most wonderful soft, chewy cookies.

1 cup butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups rolled oats
1 cup chocolate chips/dried cranberries/chopped nuts, etc.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

In one bowl cream the butter and sugar. Stir in the eggs, and then the vanilla. In a separate bowl mix the flour, baking soda, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix well. Stir in the rolled oats.

At this point I split the mixture in two and put half into another bowl. Because there is half as much batter, I only added 1/2 cup of chocolate chips to one, and 1/2 cup of dried cranberries to the other.

I wanted to make little bite-sized cookies, so I used a 1 teaspoon measuring spoon to scoop the batter and drop it onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 12 minutes or until the cookies are just slightly brown. This is how you get chewy cookies - take them out of the oven before they're done. They'll continue cooking as they cool on the cookie sheet.

After a few minutes I moved the cookies to my awesome new cooling racks - a Christmas gift from my in-laws. Isn't it great that they're stackable?

This recipe made about 10 dozen mini cookies - about 3 to 4 dozen if you're making regular-sized ones.

And then we spent the rest of the afternoon getting cozy and eating way too many cookies.

Jan 13, 2014

Closet & Craft Room Organization

It was still light out when I left work today, y'all! That means it's almost Spring, right? Right?

In that vein, I did some spring cleaning/organizing this weekend. It involved some swapping out between the bedroom and the craft room. Sometimes you buy furniture for a specific purpose and then find out it works much better somewhere else.

This is where I store some of my shoes. Maybe half of them. And in the little drawers are my socks - work socks, trouser socks, running socks.

This storage unit came from Ikea a few years ago. I found it in the As-Is section because it's missing one drawer. Or maybe five - I never did see the original. But it worked for me because I only intended to use it for shoes. I especially loved the larger cubbies for my boots and taller shoes.

Then there is the wicker dresser in the craft room. Bought specifically for craft supplies. You might remember it from when I gave it a paint makeover. And boy, was it packed - though not very organized. At first it was, but then I just started shoving things in here and there, whenever I didn't know what else to do with them.

So this weekend I decided to switch them up. You're thinking, "But wait a minute, you aren't going to put your shoes in drawers are you?" No, of course I'm not. There is a shelf that runs all along the three sides of the closet up above the racks. A shelf that is practically empty. And the shoes in the cabinet are mostly for dress or for summer, so I figured it would be no problem to have them up high out of the way.

Instead, I'm using the dresser for the aforementioned socks, underwear, skirts, and workout clothes. All of the things that were sharing space in our main dresser.

At first I tried the big dresser in the closet and the small wicker one in the bedroom, thinking the paint colour would be a nice complement and the reduced height would give the room more balance. But the big dresser just looked crowded and the small dresser looked lost. So back they went.

Now I don't have to have bins on top of the cabinet for my undies and workout tops, and the space in the closet is being used much more efficiently. By no means is this my dream closet. We're still working with the wire shelving that the previous owners left behind. Sometime this year we're going to sit down with paper and pencil and figure out exactly what we want to do in there. I'm thinking floor to ceiling built-in shelving and fewer hanging racks.

Back in the craft room, the previous shoe cabinet was becoming a new craft/sewing supply area. All of my craft paint and spray adhesive went into the smaller cubbies, while my fabric is now easier to see in the larger spots.

Before this, my fabric was folded up and stored anywhere I could find a space - in the trunk, the storage bench, the closet. Absolutely everywhere. I went through it and culled the fabric that I probably wasn't going to use - I had at least 4 blankets set aside for "dog toys" - how many toys do they need? There is still some overflow into the closet, but this gives me a good idea of what I have at a glance.

In the drawers are my artist's brushes, sponge brushes, and glues. The unit also came with dozens of different-sized dividers so that you can partition the drawers, or even make the cubbies smaller if you need more sections.

I put it against the wall under the wrapping centre, and I love how much colour there is when you look in that direction. I have a bad habit of buying neutrals when it comes to clothes and decorations - but not so with my paint and ribbon!

On the other side of the room I had Tom hang two prints that had originally been destined for the TV room in the basement. The prints came from Michael's and the frames were a $5 find (for both!) from a yard sale. I may still spray paint the frames some day, but I can live with them for now. The pier reminds me of Kemah, Texas, and the boat and poles reminds me of Samana, in the Dominican Republic. This wall was very big and empty before - I'm glad I finally found something to hang there.

The closet is still packed full - but it's fairly organized. Nothing I'm going to be showing off; short of knocking out a wall or putting on an addition, my craft room is never going to be big enough. But the paint and the fabric are things I turn to all the time, so it made sense to have them out where it was easy to access them.

I keep looking over at that colourful little corner and smiling. Sometimes little changes make the biggest impact.

Jan 8, 2014

Gone Running

One of my goals for 2014 is to run more often. I've been running for about 3 years now, but not very regularly. I started out doing the Couch to 5K (C25K) program, and to anyone who is thinking about trying it - do it!

It's a fantastic program. I honestly had trouble with the 3 minute running intervals in the third week (the 60 and 90 second intervals in the first two weeks weren't too bad) and was absolutely terrified of the 8 minute run in week 5. But now I can easily run 5K. I've even run 10K a couple of times.

My problem is, I don't run often enough so I'm not building my endurance or my speed. I am seriously slow. I'm averaging 34-36 minutes for a 5K. I really want to break that 30 minute barrier. But I have to keep reminding myself,

I think I'm going to start the Bridge to 10K program, the next level up from the C25K. I obviously need someone telling me what to do.

So I went out and bought a few gadgets to make running a little more fun. First I got some new headphones/earbuds. I have weird ear openings. I don't know if they're really small or just a strange shape, but I have trouble keeping regular earbuds in place. I bought these Sony Active Sport headphones and I'm loving them already.

They wrap around your ear and the speaker just kind of rests in your ear rather than being jammed in there. The loop is so lightweight it's almost like foam. You know how your sunglasses arms can pinch behind your ear if they're too tight? You don't get any of that. And they stay in place.

I also bought an armband to hold my phone. I'll admit, I'm a flailer. Somehow I always manage to snag the headphone wire with my hand at least once per run and nearly knock my phone off the treadmill. And when I run outside I don't like to hold anything in my hands. So this is just perfect.

And of course there are paint splatters on it already. I was doing touch ups on the basement ceiling and listening to music at the same time. If it wasn't covered in paint or dog hair how would I know it was mine?

So there you go. My tools and my plan. I use Map My Run to keep track of my progress. Some of my friends are on it, so that keeps me accountable. But you won't see any photos of me running, because I'm pretty sure it would be something like this:

Do you run? Do you enjoy it? How long have you been running? Do you have any tips?

Jan 6, 2014

DIY Vintage Book Coat Rack

The worst thing about DIYing gifts for your family is that you can't show them off on the blog until after Christmas. So much for giving other people ideas for their own gifts, right?

My aunt is a bit of a book lover. Family members who read here are laughing right now at the "bit" part. She has a used bookstore in our home town that is stuffed to the gills with books of every genre. So what better gift to give her than a wall-mounted coat rack made from vintage books?

I first saw this idea on the Knick of Time Interiors website and pinned it to my "Future Projects" Pinterest board for later. Isn't her coat rack cute?  I loved the different-sized hooks and the off-kilter books and knew it would be the perfect gift for my aunt.

The original instructions involve screwing the wood to the back of the books, the books to each other, and then the hooks to the front of the books, but we thought it might be easier - and stronger - if we ran long machine bolts straight through from front to back, locking them in with nuts. This method requires you to have a selection of drill bits and other tools, so if you're workshop is limited you might want to use the other instructions.

Tom & I have a bad habit of leaving building handmade gifts until the last minute, but I knew this one was going to take some time, so I got right on it. I headed to the local used bookstore to get some vintage books in varying sizes and colours. Just imagine how much I was cringing when I told the lady at the bookstore that I was looking for cheap hardcover books that I could drill holes into. But she was actually kind of excited when I explained the project and asked if I would make one for her too!

I didn't really choose the books according to author, I was looking mostly at colour and size, but I still got a good variety with some classics mixed in. There is some Hemingway, some Shaw, and a couple of books from series' that my aunt already had. For a minute she thought I'd used books from her shop!

The hooks came from Canadian Tire, except the second one which is from Lee Valley Tools. That one is my favourite - made of hand-forged iron. I was hoping to find some authentic vintage hooks in local resale stores but I couldn't find a single one. Still, I think these ones have an old vibe.

To put it together you'll need long machine bolts with tapered heads, matching nuts, and a piece of plywood as a backing board. Make sure the bolts are longer than you'll need - you'll be cutting the excess off later. You'll also need black paint if you want the bolt heads to blend in with the hooks. We spray painted the heads ahead of time to keep from getting paint on the hooks.

Here's where Tom took over. First, he cut three keyholes into the back of the board to make it easy to hang. All you need to do to hang it is insert three screws (with anchors) into the wall the same distance apart as the holes and slip the coat rack onto the screws.

He even built a template for my aunt. It's a board with three screws through it with the same spacing as the rack. The screws stick out through the back, so she just has to press it against the wall to make marks, and then she knows exactly where to put the screws to have it line up. My husband is such a smartie!

I arranged the books on the board and then the hooks on the books in the exact pattern I wanted them. Tom  then drilled small guide holes into the covers of the books where the bolts would go.

He put the hooks to the side, placed scrap boards over the books, and clamped them to the work table, squeezing the books down tightly in between. If you don't have clamps, you could have someone hold the boards in place for you.

He drilled holes down through the books and the plywood using the guide holes from before. Once the holes are drilled, you can remove the clamps as you can now use the holes to line everything back up if something gets moved around.

He then put the hooks back in place and screwed the bolts through the holes to test the setup. We both had a laugh when one of the bolts went right through the books, the board, and the worktable, locking the whole thing down.

You'll now remove the mounting board so you can widen the holes at the back. You want the nuts to sink down flush with the board. Tom used a cone-shaped tapered bit to widen the holes to the right size.

Then you put the board back on and thread the nuts onto the bolts, tightening them right down until they disappear into the holes.

Now you'll want to cut off the excess rod on the bolts. Tom used the Dremel with a cutoff wheel, but you could also snip them off with vise grips and then sand down the sharp edges.

The final step was to fill in the bolt holes at the back with wood putty and sand it smooth when dry.

Here she is, all ready to go. 

This is one of my favourite things we've ever built. It makes me want to run out and buy more books and start a coat rack-building business.

Are you a bibliophile? Do you know someone who is? 
Do you think this is something you'd ever make?

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