Once many years ago, I was fortunate enough to spend a Christmas in London. I fell in love with so many of their holiday meal traditions — roast beef with Yorkshire pudding, sticky toffee pudding for dessert, and of course, lots of booze. But the true secret to a happy holiday meal – no matter what kind of tense family dynamics may be present — is to give everyone a Christmas cracker. I’ve started seeing them in stores here in the U.S. (I love these from Pier 1) and have added them to our must-have list. Here’s how they work: Everyone gets a cracker on their plate, and at some point in the meal (I like to do it early on), each person takes a turn “challenging” the person sitting next to them. You have your neighbor pull one end of the cracker while you pull the other. Eventually the cracker tears open with a loud “pop” and out spills the goodies inside. Everyone gets a surprise toy, a joke and a paper crown hat. It’s really hard to be grumpy when everyone is wearing silly hats and reading corny jokes out loud. In England, Christmas Crackers are serious business. These ones at Harrods cost nearly $500 and come with silver “bling” inside. I’m happy with our plastic tops and paper hats.
What holiday traditions have you adopted? I’d love to hear about them. — Angela M.
If you enjoy beer as much as we do in our household, you probably share the love for microbrews. One of our favorite makers is Portland’s Hopworks Urban Brewery (or HUB), whose Abominable Winter Ale features art (by Martin Ontiveros) as cool as the beer is delicious. We love the Abominable so much, we’ve decided to keep him around by turning those empty bottles into snazzy drinking glasses.
Now, we’re pretty handy, but we don’t own a glass cutter, so of course I Googled for other ideas. I landed on this tutorial on cutting a bottle using string and acetone. As you may have gathered from the post headline, it was not a rousing success. It looks so easy in the video! What did we do wrong?
Step one: Tie a string around the bottle where you want the bottle to be cut.
Step two: Soak the string in nail polish remover (that’s the acetone — we used a small ramekin for this).
Step three: Place the string back on the bottle (wear gloves and keep the open acetone far away from you) and set the string on fire with a match; rotate bottle to distribute the fire. (I did the “one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand” counting thing for between counts of 12 and counts up to 20 and beyond while the string was on fire.)
Step four: plunge the bottle into a sink filled with icy water and apply pressure to both ends of the bottle — voila! the bottle should cleanly snap at the string. Except in our case, when the bottle should do NOTHING AT ALL, not matter how many times you try.
First we tried cotton string: caught on fire, but bottle did not break.
Then we tried cotton yarn: soaked up more acetone, burned better, but bottle still did not break.
Then we tried several rows of cotton twine that looked more like what they use in other videos online): burned well. Burned for an entire minute. Bottle did not break.
These bottles bear mute testimony to how many times we tried:
Next step: Anyone have a glass cutter? — Mary T.
A bathroom renovation has been on the agenda since the day escrow closed on our house. We’ve been doing what we can to fix our eyesore of a bath without any demolition: notably converting a traditional door into a mini french door to open up the space and swapping out a rickety towel rod for rope cleats that function as towel hooks. We’re itching to rip out the too-big toilet and cultured marble vanity — and yes, that is a sheet vinyl shower surround.
Finding the right fixtures has been a big hold up on our renovation process. We want something modern, but not TOO much so, as our house is mid-century — and the footprint needs to be small, as our bathroom is a tiny closet of sadness and despair. I know that finding a combination of size, look, and god-forbid functionality is a tall order from a bath fixture, but I’ve found all of these showers by Mira Showers. I’m absolutely swooning for the clean lines of the Mira Miniluxe ER. The exposed riser is a nod to the classic exposed plumbing often found in vintage homes, but with a decidedly more modern vibe. I’m torn between the Miniluxe and the minimalist luxury of the Mira Agile which would have the added bonus of a second hand-held shower head. Not only are both these choices visually attractive, but the showers from Mira Showers have a patented Magni-flo technology which will ensure a full deluge even at low pressure. And this lazy housekeeper won’t have to worry about limescale either, since the nozzles are designed to just rub clean.
We’ve already purchased the sink — after I wrote about it here way back in 2009. We just can’t pull the trigger on the darn faucet. I want a sturdy fixture that is 100% brass — but those can cost a hefty sum. I actually found a few options I like here and here — at Overstock, of all places. As for the toilet, after hours of measuring and internet review reading, I think we’re going with the Ariel Platinum Anna toilet, which has the smallest dimensions I’ve found. And in our lil’ loo, every inch matters.
What would you do with this little bathroom? We’re thinking white walls and subway tile, dark grout, and glossy black or dark gray floors. Clean, classic with a touch of modern — our goal is to open the space up and add some luxury to our modest bath!
This is a sponsored post.
The moment everyone’s been waiting for is here! The reveal of the final rooms in the Re-Energized by Design Competition is live, in a super-sized two parter. This time, the two remaining teams have TWICE the budget, a room full of LED lighting from GE Lighting, and a full range of gorgeous and energy efficient appliances from Frigidaire to pimp their room. We are REALLY going to see some major transformations happening here.
The GE LED lighting is available in many different “temperatures” of color, something that can dramatically affect in how things look in your kitchen. I experienced this first hand after I painted my own kitchen recently. I loved the paint color in daylight, but at night, the color looked awful. I switched out to a softer LED bulb (3000K) and it made ALL THE DIFFERENCE. And I won’t be needing to change the bulb (or the wall color, thankfully) for 25 years!
I really wish our team, the Bedford family, had made it to this final round. They could have really benefitted from those new Frigidare Gallery appliances — the ultra efficient induction range alone is a huge safety boost for families with young children (less burning risk). There’s no need to replace existing cookware, either — if a magnet sticks to the pan, it will work with induction. And a convection oven is a must-have for those of us who love to bake.
The Sayers, of course, did not disappoint in this challenge by using some unconventional materials to maximize their budget — and because they are obviously just cool like that. I loved their use of the salvaged steel chalkboard as a backsplash; and that mirror in the kitchen (though I wouldn’t want to be the one cleaning it) reminds me of my days as a culinary instructor, where we taught with a huge mirror over the butcher block. All this and surprisingly below budget!
The Reilly family has consistently been more traditional in their design choices, though I’ll admit I really liked what they did in the kitchen. Nothing wrong with the combination of white subway tile and dark grout, I always say. And the paint treatment on the cabinets? Spot On. No matter what team wins the grand prize, both these families have beautiful new kitchens to enjoy for years and years to come.
What do you think of the final room? Is it the Sayers family’s funky loft or the Reilly’s clean classic kitchen that should earn the $5000 grand prize? Watch and see who takes home the giant check below!
This is a sponsored post.
Even though our team is no longer in the running, it’s still fun to keep up with what’s going on in the Re-Energized By Design competition. This week, the remaining three teams made over their laundry rooms.
In addition to $500 and energy efficient lighting from GE, the homeowners each received an brand new set of Frigidaire Affinity laundry equipment. These are not your average high-efficiency washers & dryers — this is serious technology in action here. The Affinity dryer will dry a full load in less than 30 minutes, and the washer features allergen reduction and sanitizing features along with having the highest energy star rating. And aesthetically they please, too (though I have to wonder why no one picked the red option).
Love what those scrappy Sayers did in their space with that upcycled laundry drum light fixture. Their creative approach is always surprising, and will be tough to beat in the final round. In the end, the Mendes family’s pastel laundry room didn’t make the cut — that leaves the Sayers and the Reillys to duke it out in the kitchen challenge! who do you think will win?!
This is a sponsored post.
It’s that time again — time for the next challenge in the Re-Energized by Design competition! This week, the remaining four teams are making over the living room. The Bedford’s room is dramatic, with vaulted ceilings and a wall of windows (with some broken panes). I found the space overwhelmed by the arc lamp and the red brick fireplace, but not in a good way. Also — there was not a lot of lighting options. Reading was impossible on the couch unless it was daytime, and entertaining? Dim lights might be fine for a nightclub, but for a family-friendly party? Not so much. The stairs were just exposed plywood splattered with paint. Not much on the walls in regards to art, either. Their furniture was good though — a nice neutral modern sectional, and an heirloom mid-century lounge chair and dresser.
Rather than using bold bright colors on the walls, we went dark — Dark gray on that red brick fireplace. Instead of painting everything one color, we only painted two walls in the dark gray; and used a lighter gray on an accent wall and staircase, leaving the rest of the room white, allowing the space to feel more intimate and cozy without overwhelming the space with such a dark color. And next to the fireplace, Slade put in some nice open shelving painted to blend into the wall, styled with art and objects from around the house. We also broke up their sectional and reconfigured it, and flipped over their old rug for a more industrial look. Kristen also repainted their coffee table glossy black.
Kristen made some colorful decoupage art; and I (along with my uber-talented seamstress pal Suzanne) got to work on some accent pillows, a floor pouf, and the reupholstering of the mid-century lounger with a colorful new fabric. I thought the chair turned out gorgeous, going from something you barely noticed to something that can anchor a space on its own. If you know me, you know I had to work in some of my signature vintage orange velvet, too. But I’m honestly proudest of that pouf: my first sewing project in 4 years, made entirely by myself, with NO PATTERN. The boys instantly gravitated toward it. Liam declaring it “his dice”, proceeded to toss it around the room and jump all over it.
In the energy improvement category, the Bedfords did a lot as well to improve their usage. Slade installed (from scratch) a LED track lighting system that we hid behind the beam, so we could add light around the room on the bookcases, on the couch, and on the new art. We also swapped out LED bulbs for incandescent in the other lamps around the room, adding significantly more light to the space while reducing the wattage in half. Slade caulked all the windows and beams, helping to reduce heat loss. They also put their stereo and charging docks on a smart powerstrip, so they can reduce that energy loss when not in use. And if that wasn’t enough, they reduced their thermostat 3 degrees to produce a significant savings in energy usage.
Alas, it wasn’t enough for the judges, sadly. I loved our room — basically, I think it all came down to a matter of points. I wish we had more time on this room, we could have done so much more. My project checklist had about 10 more to-do’s left unchecked, believe it or not. Our fatal error was when our plans to make fabric roman shades for the windows became impossible; rather than the shade choice made, I wish we could have thrown up some cute no-sew curtains on tension rods. I think that could have made enough of a difference to get us into the next round. Twenty-twenty hindsight, I guess. Honestly, I’m proud we made it this far; a lot of which I should credit to the valiant efforts of Kristen and Slade. Our rooms were up against some pretty stiff competition from professional architects and designers, so our rag-tag team of DIY’ers made a good show!
Stick around for next week’s post, where
I bitterly tear apart the remaining contestant’s rooms with derisive judgements we see how the competition proceeds with the laundry room challenge! Who will get the chop next?
This is a sponsored post.
The second elimination challenge in the Re-Energized by Design competition is here! This time, each team had the option to makeover either the garage or an office. My team, The Bedfords, decided to makeover an office.
This space serves as a multi-purpose room for the Bedfords: an office for Slade, a guest room, and a napping space for the youngest member of the family, Theo. I was overwhelmed by the dark window coverings, multiple desks, and overall cluttered feel of the room. Something struck me immediately though — the giant, vintage pull-down school map of the United States. SO COOL! I decided to let that be the focal point of the space, and pulled all of the room’s inspiration from the color palate and theme. The color, Overjoy by Sherwin Williams, is a nice, warm golden yellow. It’s a perfect counterpoint to grey Seattle skies, and also complements the yellow and golden hues in the map without looking to pastel. This is a man’s office after all, so I wanted an air of distinguished masculinity to permeate the room. That being said, Slade wasn’t too convinced of my bold color choice at first.
Not having tons of money ($500), we scrapped plans for new furniture and instead focused on organizing and styling the space. We got rid of one of the two heavy dark wood desks, immediately making the room feel more open. I took the yellow-brass drawer pulls from the desk and antiqued them, making it look more expensive and more like an actual antique than the 1990’s repro it actually is. We purchased some dark wood shelving, a new set of Nate Berkus curtains from Target, and some nice dark wood blinds to help block out the light when little Theo is taking a siesta. Bonus — those window treatments will help reduce energy costs by blocking out the brutal summer sun through those west facing windows.
Instead of buying a brand new light fixture, we found a vintage one at our local buliding salvage for a song. We paired it with a dimmer switch to allow maximum flexibility for the multi-functioning room. The brassy 70’s feel of the fixture helped tie some of the pre-existing furniture into the new design. In fact, our motto for this room became “embrace the brass” — Kristen scored a few vintage hand-me-down brass lamps that really added some warmth and more focused light around the room. We outfitted everything with new GE LED bulbs, modernizing the vintage fixtures and adding an abundance of more functional light while simultaneously reducing the overall wattage.
Once again, the room was styled mostly with items from the Bedford’s home: an emerald green ceramic stool from the backyard added a touch of the orient, a vintage beer barrel from the basement served as a unique side table, and memorabilia from previous travels became art. My favorite little touch? Those three inexpensive matching clocks echoing the travel vibe. So fun.
I couldn’t be more pleased with how this room turned out. Slade, despite his reservations at first, loves it as well. And most importantly, the judges loved it! They gave me high praise for my color selection this week. Let’s see if this momentum keeps up — the living room challenge is next week!
Hello dear readers! It’s Monday afternoon, and though I am a little more sleepy than usual I didn’t want to wait a moment longer before introducing you to our new puppy, Cupcake. (Yes, our four-year old daughter picked out his name.) We picked him up from the breeder on Saturday, and spent about an hour there playing with him and his siblings, and getting some last minute tips on puppy care. It really helped to see where he was coming from. The house was big and warm and cozy — a puppy paradise, really.
We brought him home via a four hour drive that went surprising well. The little guy mostly snoozed contently the whole way. As soon as we got home, he promptly set about exploring his new place. It took him about five minutes before he found a spot to poop. Luckily, it was on the hard floor and was easy to clean up. We spent most of the night laughing and playing, amazed that he was already so good fetching; all those squeaky toys really are actually a ton of fun! The first night in the crate was not so bad. He fell asleep after about ten minutes and only woke up once around 2 am. After a quick, cold visit to the backyard, he went back to sleep until dawn. I thought, this is easy…
That was until last night, which seemed much harder than the first. Perhaps it was finally sinking in that his brothers and sisters were not going to show up? What ever was going on in that little walnut of a brain, Cupcake would not quiet down. After about 20 minutes of unsuccessfully trying to lure him to sleep, we decided to move the crate downstairs. Bad idea. He cried all night! Well, at least until around 2:30 a.m. when I took him outside (burrrrr — when did it suddenly get so cold here?!) and then moved the crate back up to our room. I got him to go to sleep by literally sliding it as close to our bed possible and then sticking my fingers in the crate. Not exactly comfortable for me, but it worked! We’ll try that again tonight. My plan is make sure we wear him out with lots of play before we put him in the crate to sleep.
People keep telling me that dogs learn to love being in their crates but it’s hard to imagine. From the wails he made last night you would think we were torturing him. Please tell me it gets easier! — Angela M.
Previously on the Puppy Files
Front door wreaths aren’t the only thing popping up in felt this holiday season. We spotted this lovely felt menorah over at Etsy (via iVillage). This clever design allows kids of all sizes to partake in the lighting of the flames — or rather, the buttoning of the flames! The wool felt is from upcycled sweaters, and is a great new homey tradition. ($60)
Another great seasonal tradition is the mistletoe. We love this one from branchhome.com. Each one is unique and comes ready to hang. Though kisses are not included it does come with thanks: Sales of this product help provide an income stream for sheepherders and artisans in the Rajasthan State of India, where it is made. ($26)
This is the weekend we go to pick up our new puppy! It seems like we have been thinking about and preparing for its arrival for ages now. I am excited and also nervous. Here are a few of the things we have done to get our home ready for the incoming bundle of energy. Are we ready?
Fenced in our yard. We have a small backyard, that already had border fences along the back and to one side. Luckily our neighbors didn’t mind that we wanted to finished it off on the other side and add a gate to the driveway. I thought the gate would make the yard feel smaller, but it actually does the opposite.
Bought a couple of baby gates. We’re not big believers in hanging on to things we don’t we need, so we mistakenly gave away our baby gates once our kid mastered the stairs in the house. We were able to replace them with a cheap ($15), portable version that we picked up at Babys R Us (rather than at a pet store). This will help us close off the house and keep an eye on the puppy. Hopefully they’ll do the trick!
Got a crate for training. It’s the one thing we’ve heard over and over again: Crate train! I’ve never done this before but I am trusting all I have heard and read that it will work. I love the idea of also using it create a safe place for the puppy to hang out when things in the house get overwhelming (like when we have screaming kids running around — it happens, though not everyday). We picked one that the puppy would grow into that has an adjustable section.
Read a few books. The first thing I read, to get myself psyched up about the dog, was Jill Abramson’s wonderful The Puppy Diaries. First, I am fascinated by the author because she is the new editor and first woman to run to The New York Times. Secondly, it’s an honest, emotional account of ups and downs of puppy-ownership.
Another book I picked up, at the insistence of Pam at EdenValleyDoodles, was Raising Puppies and Kids Together. It offers some great practical advice on how to teach your kids not to abuse or frighten the dog, and how to make sure your dog doesn’t pick up bad habits like biting and jumping. It even has some fun suggestions for games, like hide-n-seek, that I can’t wait to try with Isadora and pup.
Started instituting new “pick up all your toys” rule. If you have ever visited a home with young children, you know how often there are little things scattered about the floor. All those tiny plastic dollhouse pieces are gonna look mighty tempting to a young dog. We got some new sturdy bins from Ikea and organized their contents in big Ziploc bags. We also did a purge. Always healthy!
Began saving all our plastic bags. I know we can buy doggy poop bags (and some are even flushable!) but it doesn’t take long to gather a stash of plastic bags (even if you try your darnedest to always bring your reusable tote with you to the grocery store). I hear the ones that our newspaper comes wrapped in are especially good. Got ‘em!
Bought some things we’ll need: Such as sturdy food and water bowls, a mini Kong toy, rawhides, leash, collar, dog brushes, etc.
Bought some things ’cause they’re cute: Toys (thank you Martha Stewart, again), basket to put them, a jingle bell collar for Christmas morning, a puppy stocking to hang on the mantle with ours, and Poochie Bells, which you hang on your door frame for your dog to ring when he has to go out. (I’ll let you know if they work!)
We haven’t seriously invested in a dog bed yet — just a simple washable one for the crate. There are so many to choose from and they seem so pricey. We’re gonna wait. Also, I haven’t gotten any dog sweaters — though I know it will be cold out and puppy is just getting used to going outside. It’ll have a nice curly fleece coat of its own — will an extra layer be needed?
Dog owners, what am I forgetting? Your advice as always is appreciated and extremely welcome! — Angela M.
Previously on the Puppy Files
After Losing Our Dear Cat, We Ask: Is It Time For a Dog?