Archive for December, 2012

Lights, Camera, Action

Ok, more like lights, wrapping presents, teacher gifts, action. Doesn’t have the same ring to it, does it? But I have lots to tell you. Warning: this post is all over the place. A holiday smorgasbord if you will. We’ll cover:

Representing the “action” part of this post’s title, this year was going to be the very first year that we weren’t scurrying around like crazy with some giant house project going on over Christmas. You think I’m joking, but this is a deep seated “tradition” of ours. Waaay back in 2007 when we started this blog we were in the middle of a giant kitchen renovation over Christmas. We had already lived sans kitchen for two months and our new cabinets were installed, but we were still waiting on our counters to arrive and officially make the room functional again…

In 2008 over Christmas we decided to refinish the floors, so we had to move nearly all of the furniture in the entire house into the sunroom, den, and kitchen to free up the original hardwoods throughout the rest of the house…

In 2009 we gutted our only full bathroom, which commenced the weekend after Thanksgiving. So by New Year’s we found ourselves in the midst of tiling. Which meant that our only shower was still a few weeks away from being functional again. Yup, that meant getting creative and showering at the gym, John’s sister’s house, and even with the hose in the yard if we just needed to rinse off (brrr).

In 2010 we moved, which was our biggest project to date that occurred right in time for the holidays. We had more than a few adventures, which involved packing up every last possession and loading it into a UHaul… which then slipped into a ditch about .05 minutes after beginning the journey to our new house… which ended up looking a lot like this while we unpacked:

In 2011 we were knee-deep in the middle of our current house’s kitchen reno (we were painting cabinets on Christmas Eve)…

And in 2012, well, we’re in the middle of a sunroom upgrade along with planning Clara’s big-girl room (which we’ll probably tackle after we wrap up the sunroom) and we built Clara’s present again this year, but that hardly counts as a major the-house-is-sheer chaos project. Until about a week ago when we were nominated (and excitedly accepted the baton while I jumped up & down and sang “we get to use our cloth napkins!”) to host Christmas dinner for 15 family members – four who are under the age of 4. It should be a whole lotta crazy, so it looks like we have a little holiday project after all, eh?

So far I’ve just been breaking out the table runners and planning where everyone will sit (it involves some rearranging of furniture) along with figuring out the menu with John (our family always does pot luck, so we’ll provide a few main staples but everyone coming will bring a special dish or dessert to fill things out). It doesn’t feel too crazy yet, but I imagine in the middle of Christmas we’ll look around and our house will be just as chaotic as it ever was during a little ol’ kitchen or bathroom renovation. Haha. We’ll definitely share the details with you guys afterwards. You know momma can’t wait to set that table. And for anyone out there who has hosted Christmas dinner, we’d love any and all tips that you have! For reals, spill it.

Oh but on the subject of the “lights” part of the title, we’ve been getting lots of requests for photos of the lights that we hung outside, so here they are. We did a more detailed post dedicated just to the outdoor decorations last year, so you can get a lot more info on them here, but this year’s synopsis is that it only took us about an hour to dress up the porch and put plug-in candles in all of the windows.

As for our giant red Ikea lanterns from last year (scored for $11 a pop), we just ran an extension cord to get power over to them, and shoved a string of white lights inside of each one (so there are three total that are joined together in a chain and powered by the extension cord).

My favorite part is always adding these three large Moravian stars (which we’ve had since last year, purchased on sale from We love hanging them at different heights from the porch (they’re just held up with plant hooks from the inside of the porch’s header).

We didn’t think to get a good shot of my other favorite part – the glossy red reindeer who are hanging out in the window again this year. So here’s a pic from last year (aw, look at the ol’ ribbon and paint chip tree, which were kid friendly choices for a then very-grabby Clara).

These guys are such an easy holiday project if anyone out there is still looking for one. I grabbed them at Ben Franklin for $4 a pop (they’re giant – maybe two feet tall each). They were sort of a flat brown bag color when I got them and looked to be made of paper mache, so I thought making them super shiny and bright could be fun.

One $3.50 can of high-glossy “Sunrise Red” spray paint later and those babies were glossy and ceramic-animal-esque (and still look good a year later). The best news is that Clara is still obsessed and likes to gently pet them in the window while keeping an eye out for Santa.

Checking another thing off the ol’ list involved getting all of our Christmas presents squared away and wrapping them all. And something magical happened this year.

For those who follow us on Instagram/Facebook/Twitter you may have already seen this pic, but it was truly a holiday unicorn (it was that rare of an occurrence). After years of hoarding holiday bags from gifts we’ve received, I didn’t have to buy any bags/wrap/ribbon/tissue paper at all this year. Not even gift tags. Dude, that makes my spare-closet-full-of-bags-and-ribbon-and-all-things-gifty feel downright warranted.

Even that cute lunch box in the front of the picture below was something that I found shoved on the top shelf of Clara’s closet (it came with some onesies for her two Christmases ago, and has been sitting up there empty ever since).

And finally, we have our little teacher gifts. A few folks asked us what we were giving/making for Clara’s three preschool teachers, and although they had a room-mom who was happy to collect $5 from each kid per teacher and grab a gift card for each teacher to their favorite restaurant, she encouraged anyone who wanted to do something else to go for it. So we thought some homemade cookies would be a nice supplement to the gift cards they each would be getting, and I grabbed three tera cotta pots for 40 cents each (thanks to coupons at Michael’s) and we wrapped each stack of freshly baked cookies in plastic wrap and then surrounded them with gift wrap (still all from my leftover gift wrap closet! woot!). Some leftover ribbon to tie them at the top was the final step. They took all of three minutes to put together, but I think they look like cute little carrots growing out of our book. Haha.

Oh yeah, and our book was the other part of the present. Our teachers have all been so sweet and supportive about it, so we wanted to give them each signed copies so they knew what the heck had been keeping us so busy (some days John’s parents would pick Clara up since we were touring, so there were lots of emails going back and forth between us and them to share where we’d be and who would be coming to get her). They were all so sweet and thankfully kept the transition nice and smooth for Clara – so we really wanted to thank them for all that they do.

So that sums up this smorgasbord of a post about a slew of holiday-related goings-on at our house.

What’s going on at yours? Are all of your outdoor lights strung up? Did you make/give any teacher gifts this year? Are you hosting Christmas dinner and prepping for that? Do you save gift bags and ribbons like a madwoman (a la $herdog)? I draw the line at saving wrapping paper (I like to tear into that for the most part) but bags full of paper and ribbons, bows, and boxes are all fair game to me…



Making A Play Refrigerator From An Old Cabinet

Remember how we DIYed Clara a play kitchen last Christmas? Well, it was such a hit then (and still is – in fact it’s probably one of the only toys that she plays with every day) we immediately knew that we should add to it. More kitchen = more fun, right?

What can you add to a play kitchen like ours? Well, it was clearly lacking a frigid kitchen staple. You know, a refrigerator. So we quickly homed in on that as an easy way to upgrade Clara’s setup. And the decision was made even easier by the fact that we had another cabinet leftover from the kitchen remodel that we had been hoarding saving for nearly a year in the basement with this play-kitchen “expansion” in mind.

It was from the Habitat for Humanity Restore (maybe for $15? I can’t remember and the receipt is loooong gone) and we had considered using it for above our fridge, but then found one that was a better size. So this puppy has been sitting in our basement for over a year now, just waiting to be fridge-ified. But it had some obvious shortcomings before it was ready for its kitchen close-up. Observe:

But if it’s got a problem, yo I’ll solve it. Check out the look while my drill bit revolves it. (whisper this part: Ice, Ice, baby. Ice, ice, baby). Yup, $herdog isn’t the only one who can spit mad rhymes.

Fixing those aforementioned problems wasn’t too bad. First I removed both of the doors and added three shelves inside using one 10″ wide piece of pine board that I grabbed at Home Depot for $6 (which was the width of the cabinet). I attached each shelf with some simple screws straight through each side as you can see from the photo above.

Here it is with the shelves added. If I were doing a real “to scale” refrigerator I would’ve added more shelves closer together. But from Clara’s experience with her current play kitchen, the wide shelves are easiest for her to maneuver in (and some of her items are around 6″ tall, so spacing these shelves 7″ apart seemed to be the most functional. Neither of us had any great expectations that our creation would ever hit a super high level of fridge realism anyways… we just want the kid to have fun.

Next up, I wanted to cover the recessed portion of each side so that it would be a flat box (plus it would cover up my screw holes from the shelf-adding step). So I used my table saw to cut some panels of plywood to size and then used wood glue to secure them in place. These were the first items I purchased since I didn’t have them in my scrap wood pile, and they ran me $8 for all of the wood that I used on both sides.

Here’s my fancy step of letting my glue dry, with the help of clamps and some heavy objects to keep the plywood pressed flush to the cabinet.

Here’s how it was coming along after both sides and a top panel were done. It was definitely starting to look less like the bedraggled old cabinet that we started with.

Before painting, we lightly sanded the finish off of the doors and the face of the cabinet – just like we do when we’re painting kitchen cabinets for real.

We also thought a fun feature of her fridge would be to make the front magnetic – just like the real deal. So I busted out the can of magnetic primer that we still have plenty of (even after this project and this project). We did three coats, since we’ve found that to be stronger than one (tip: shake the heck out of it before applying it so all the magnetized particles don’t settle to the bottom of the can).

Here are the doors all primed with the magnetic stuff and the rest of it primed with just normal primer (Zinsser Smart Prime, which is low-VOC – it’s actually the same stuff we used for our real kitchen cabinets and we still had it leftover).

Once that was all dry, it was time to get our paint on. While some sort of silver or grey on the outside might have looked stainless-ish, we thought it would be nice if this guy fit in with Clara’s existing white play kitchen. But because we can’t resist a little bit o’ “fancy” we painted the inside a light blue with a small quart of paint that was leftover from a few book projects (Sylvan Mist by Benjamin Moore). You know, to lend an air of “cool” to the thing.

Once the inside was “chilled” with blue paint, we painted the outside surfaces semi-gloss white (Decorators White by Benjamin Moore – which we just always seem to have around for painting trim, the office cabinets, etc). It only took us one coat on the outside framing thanks to the white primer that we added first, but the doors took three coats to cover all of that black magnetic primer. But once it was all said and done, I reattached the doors with some new hinges and added some pulls that matched the rest of her kitchen. Those were the only other items that we purchased for the fridge-building project (also from Home Depot like the plywood) and they came to $5.25 for all the hinges and $6 each for the long fridge-ish hardware pulls – which were 7″ long for anyone wondering.

Then we thought it would be fun to give the fridge a logo of sorts, to help it look less like a cabinet and more like a fridge (we thought crazy-gluing them in place would help them stick for the long haul). So Sherry found these scrap-booking stickers at Michael’s that were as close to stainless steel as we could find. We thought one of the snowflakes could be a cool logo-ish-looking icon next to the name of our fictitious appliance brand.

We had a nice spirited debate as to whether it should be called “Cool” or “Chilly.” This is what happens when two former advertisers get into a branding discussion.

Ultimately we decided on cool… but we weren’t 100% sure so we just softly stuck them up there without any crazy glue on them quite yet. Just to get a feel for our little logo idea. Then we both stood there staring at it for a while and realized that it was a lot cooler in our minds. Hah. And in real life it just seemed kind of cheesy on the otherwise clean front (there’s not any lettering on Clara’s original kitchen, so maybe we were going overboard with this addition on the fridge). Plus, Sherry was convinced that Clara would peel them off in 2.2 seconds – even with crazy glue (perhaps ripping corners of them off, digging at them with blocks, etc). But here’s a pic of how it might’ve looked had we stuck with it…

But now you get to see the whole shebang all finished and ready for Christmas morning. I hope you’re all gently shaking jingle bells and/or playing various holiday-songs, because here’s what Clara’s gonna wake up to Christmas morning:

Yup, there’s Clara’s new fridge (okay, it sort of could double as a pantry too) next to her kitchen from last year, plus a little food cart that we’ll get to in a minute. And of course, you can’t give someone a fridge without stocking it full of food, right?

For the most part this is actually play food that we already owned. We’d purchased a bunch to give her last year, but after seeing how well the few sets of play food that she opened last Christmas had entertained her, we opted not to shove two more boxes down her present-riddled throat and instead planned to wait a while and introduce them later in the year when she was getting bored of a few other toys that we could phase out. Little did we know that those two boxes would sit unused in the spare room for an entire year. How did a whole year pass? Doesn’t it feel like we were just sharing Clara’s play kitchen a week ago?

Most of it is Melissa and Doug stuff that we scored on Joss & Main at a nice deep discount. I personally love the bologna.

We also supplemented with a few “DIYed” items of our own. For example, we picked up (and emptied) a couple of these teeny tiny Ben & Jerry’s cartons. I took one for the team and downed both of them in about four scoops.

Sherry also found these wooden eggs and egg crates at Michael’s to fill out what apparently is the dairy shelf in her fridge. One day – maybe around Easter? – we might even decorate them with Clara as a fun holiday activity. The funny thing is that Clara met Santa a little while ago (yes, the real one who hangs out at community events) and asked him for “eggs for her kitchen” so we thought that was sweet enough to warrant an actual crate of eggs. Make that two.

Also at Michael’s Sherry found these little Chinese takeout containers. You know, so Clara can pretend she has some leftover General Tso’s or something.


Oh yeah, and about that cart…

It was a thrift store find at one of our favorite local places. It was $5 and it was already this color, which was a pretty lucky break considering how many other strange colors it could have been. Clara actually helped us bring it home, so hopefully we didn’t just damage the illusion of Santa there.

We thought it’d be a great addition to the kitchen set because Clara has gotten a lot of fun out of a little wire fruit/veggie basket that she already has. And since this one is large enough to hold all of her produce along with some pantry-ish items on the bottom and it wheels around, hopefully it’ll add up to hours of enjoyment.

As for a budget breakdown, here’s how this little fridge & rolling cart full of food stacked up:

Under $51 for both the fridge and the cart isn’t too bad, right? The play kitchen from last year rung in at 74 beans, so it’s nice to add two other kitchen items for less. The only thing that’s missing are some grocery store gift cards so Clara can take care of some of the items on her shopping list…

Oh and the magnetized doors are worth the effort, so we highly recommend those if you’re in the mood to add some “extra sauce” to your fridge. We can both picture Clara hanging little drawings that she does on Post-Its and someday writing her own lists in sloppy kid-handwriting.

We’ll be sure to share video or photos of Clara actually receiving her gift, just like we did last year, so stayed tuned for that. And oh yeah, if you were wondering what mystery room we shot these photos in… it’s the playroom, which still has walls painted in a bunch of random colors from shooting our book back in February. This particular wall is Sylvan Mist by Benjamin Moore (the same color that we used on the inside of the fridge, so we cracked up when we realized that).

So, are any of you other “Santas” out there whipping up something in your workshop for next week? Are your kids as obsessed with play food (specifically play eggs) as our daughter? Do you find it funny that play fruits and veggies are usually life sized but most of the “pantry items” are at least half of their normal size (even when they’re made by the same company)? I’ll pause while you ponder that.

Psst- I grabbed a quick video of Clara playing with her kitchen the other morning, so that’s over on Young House Life for ya.