"I love my cats because I love my home, and little by little they become its visible soul." Jean Couteau

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

mirror image side tables

Memorial day weekend was very busy for me and projects:
  • finished painting the guest room furniture and am mostly finished putting that room back together
  • mowed the back yard
  • went to the local nursery and got some new bushes to replace a few that didn't make it through the winter, then planted said bushes and put down some new mulch
  • finished moving the toilet paper holder in the downstairs bathroom (more to come)
  • sanded and painted a side table (more to come)
But for now, I'm going to take us back in time...

In mid-January, we had some ridiculously nice weather, and I decided to take advantage of it to paint some furniture. I had bought some side tables several months earlier off the craigslist-style trading site at work to go in the sitting area off the dining room. They were pretty nice tables, though dinged up with some water spots, so I had the plan that I would eventually re-stain them to the other furniture or paint them. I wasn't sure what I really wanted to do with them, so they just sat around for a long time. Then one day I was re-perusing my friend, Cathy's, blog, and came across this post, where she just used painter's tape to create geometric designs on canvas. That struck me as a wonderful solution for my tables, so I began searching the internet for pattern inspiration. I found tons of stencils that I loved, but it had to be strictly straight lines that I could tape off since I wasn't planning on actually buying a stencil. Then I found this one from Cutting Edge Stencils:

I did lots of drawing on graph paper to figure out exactly how the taping would go to make sure it would be feasible. Then I got to work on my tables. Unfortunately, I wasn't smart enough to take any true 'before' pictures. The first shots I took were after I took the legs off and sanded the tables all the way down:

I took the legs off because that seemed easier for sanding and painting, and I think it was a good call. I used our power sander to take all the finish off down to the plain wood. Then I primed everything with Kilz. It covered really well.

Next, I painted the tables with wall paint that was left behind by the builders. It wasn't really labeled, other than as the wall and ceiling paint, but it's a generic off-white/beige/cream. I did two coats of this. I probably would have only needed one, but the paint was really thin. Then I put the legs back on and starting taping.

I should have taken some pictures of the taping process. It was pretty intense and time-consuming. I taped full-length strips everywhere that's white in the picture below, then used an Xacto knife to cut out the little pieces to create the squares. Then I used a foam roller to paint on the yellow. For paint, I just got a small sample size at Home Depot. I picked the color to match the yellow/gold in the cushions I had made. I only needed one coat of the yellow.

After painting the first table, I wasn't sure if I wanted to do the other table matching or opposite colors, so I took an informal Facebook poll of my friends. Everyone who voted (which was only a few people) voted for matching, but in the end, I decided to do opposite, in true "My Fair Lady" fashion:
She will ask for your advice
Your reply will be concise
She will listen very nicely,
then go off and do precisely
what she wants!

Taping the second table took even more time since I still had to tape all the white areas, but none of them were full strips. I did the same as before, taping out full strips, then cutting out all the pieces I didn't want.

The tables aren't actually next to each other like this in the sitting area, but I wanted to show them together. I definitely think that painting them opposite was the right choice, and I really love how they came out!

Initially, I didn't put any protective coating on these guys. I kind of liked the matte paint finish and didn't want to gloss it up with polyacrylic. However, the placement of one of the tables made it the perfect stepping stone for our little cat, Oliver (seriously little -- full-grown, less than 5 pounds), to climb onto the window bench, which is a little tall for him to confidently jump up onto. Since there's now a little cat traipsing over my table all the time, leaving hair and little cat footprints behind, I decided it should get some protection. So that was another of my mini projects this Memorial day weekend. I used a foam roller to apply two thin coats of polyacrylic to both tables. I used polyacrylic versus polyurethane for the easier cleanup of water solubility. The tops are a bit glossier than before, but I find I don't really mind, and it should make the tables easier to wipe off.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

guest bedroom makeover

After I painted the guest room a medium gray a few months ago, I decided to paint all the furniture in there white. I had been thinking about doing something to the furniture for awhile, as it's just a mish-mash of random furniture that got put in there -- a bookshelf and table from my first apartment, a bed a friend gave me when I moved to my third apartment, a dresser I got off craigslist -- so it didn't really go together. The bed is actual wood, the rest is Ikea fake wood, but everything was slightly different colors of 'wood'. After I got the room painted, I decided that all white furniture would really pop against the darker walls, so once the weather go nice, it was time to get started.

I decided to try spray painting, which I had never done before. I thought it might be easier, especially for the bed, which isn't all straight lines that could be roller painted. Also, I thought it would take less time since spray paint doesn't take as long to dry as regular paint. I was wrong on both accounts, though I still think, theoretically, these could both be true.

Even after reading multiple blogs about spray painting furniture, I still didn't really know what I was doing. One blog I read strongly recommended Kilz primer and Krylon gloss paint, so that's what I started with. I do think the Kilz primer is great, though it's all I've used, so I have nothing to compare it to. Partway through, I was emailing my friend, Cathy, and bemoaning the many troubles I was having, including that I seemed to be going through way more cans of paint than I had anticipated. She recommended Rustoleum, saying that she thought it tended to cover better and so not require as many cans as other brands. Rustoleum has a brand called 2x Painter's Touch, which is supposed to cover twice as well as their regular kind, so that's what I went with. As a bonus, the 2x kind cost the same as the regular Rustoleum, both of which cost about half what a can of Krylon cost me. As a double bonus, I could get Rustoleum as Home Depot, whereas I had to go to Michael's or Hobby Lobby for Krylon, which was just less convenient (theoretically, I could get Krylon at Walmart for about the same price as Rustoleum, but Walmart always seemed to be out of white gloss).

Over time, I got better at spraying. I knew from my blog reading that you don't want to spray in one spot for long; you want to keep moving. However, in real life, it's not as easily done as said, and you have to keep moving faster than I thought. Because of this, I ended up with a lot of spots where the paint pooled and dripped and, once the problem was there, it was hard to remedy, so those drips are still there. Oh well. It's just the guest room, which hardly gets used, so I'm OK with some imperfections at this point.

The other important thing for spray painting is wearing appropriate protective gear. DEFINITELY wear a mask over your nose and mouth, and safety glasses are a good idea too. Also, spray paint in a well-ventilated area. I mostly did it outside, in the back yard, or in the garage (with the garage door open) when it started getting rainy.

I started with the dresser, then moved onto the bed, then the bookshelf. I left the bookshelf until last because I was initially hoping to not have to paint it at all. I had actually sold my old light wood-colored bookshelf and bought a new (to me) one that was supposed to be white. Once I got the dresser drawers painted and set them next to the bookshelf, though, the shelf was more of an off-white, so I still had to paint it. By the time I got to the bookshelf, I had my method down, and that piece took me a lot less time and paint than the dresser and bed. The dresser, I only did one coat of primer, but I was doing it pretty thick and getting lots of drips, so with the bed and bookshelf, I did two coats of primer and tried to do them thinner. For both the dresser and bed, I started out with the Krylon paint and did so many coats I lost count. Then I got the Rustoleum and did maybe two or three more coats! The bookshelf got two coats of primer and two coats of Rustoleum.

So without further ado, here are some before and after pictures!

So now I'm finally done! Which is good because I have a lot more projects planned in my head. Plus, Zach is probably tired of seeing me in painting clothes all the time:

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

pinterest challenge

For this post, I am participating in...

(not sponsored by Pinterest or anyone else, just inspired by Katie of Bower Power and Sherry of Young House Love to get people to stop pinning and start doing).

I'm not 100% sure I should admit this here, but I only recently joined Pinterest and have still not really gotten into using it. So this project didn't actually come from my Pinterest pinning, but it's the same idea, I just stick URLs in my gmail task list instead.

I got this project idea from Abiding Here. I initially got thinking about doing something with maps after seeing posts on Sparks Fly and Young House Love. I liked the idea of different state maps representing where we're from. Also, my husband, Zach, has always been kind of into maps and geography, so when I told him about the idea, he said, "Yeah, that sounds good," which I took to mean, "That's an awesome idea! I am so totally psyched about it!" :-p

I decided to do four maps, representing each of our home states (Michigan and Maryland) and the states where we went to college (Massachusetts and Texas). Since we currently live in Maryland, that one kind of gets double-duty. Instead of just doing regular state maps, I decided to zoom in on the cities where we lived, and then cut out the state around that. 

I initially planned to use old maps that I had from the pre-GPS navigator days, but I ran into some snags with that. First, I didn't have a map of Texas. Second, the maps I did have had bright green highlighter marking my driving route when I had used these maps to get from MD to MI and MD to MA. Third, I they weren't as zoomed-in on the specific areas as I would have liked. So, after much thinking and searching the internet for maps, I eventually gave in and made screen shots of Google maps of the desired areas. I didn't really want to use Google maps because I think they look a little cartoony compared to normal road maps, but I couldn't find any online maps that would give me the amount of zoom I wanted and in a decent resolution and that would be the same look for all the states. And in the end, I think the Google maps look pretty good. Next, I did some more internet searching and found state outline images. 

Next came gimp magic. Gimp is a free Photoshop-esque program, originally developed for Linux, but now available for Windows and Mac (which I have). I'd never used it before, but I had Photoshop on my old Mac, and they're fairly similar. I did have to do some internet searching to find the tool I wanted (which was there, but had a less-intuitive icon and name than in Photoshop), but otherwise, not too hard and not too different from Photoshop. Anyway, for each map, I opened the Google map and state outline in gimp. 

 Houston, TX Google map

 TX outline map from EnchantedLearning.com

I used the fuzzy select tool () to select the inside of the state outline (just use the tool to click on the white inside part). This is similar to Photoshop's magic eraser tool. A dotted line will appear around the state outline, just inside the black line. Hit delete to erase the white background, making the background see-through. Then I had to make the size of my outline match up with the size of my Google map. I did this by looking at the dimensions shown in the window header of the map picture, then went in the 'Image' menu and chose 'Scale Image'. In the dialog box that opens, I chose the smaller dimension of the map (height for MD and MA, width for MI and TX), and set the corresponding dimension of the outline to match that. Then I simply selected the outline image and copied and pasted it onto the map image. Ta-da!

For ease of printing, I then exported the combined outline map image into a jpg or tiff and inserted it as an image in PowerPoint, where I cropped off most of the map edges that didn't make it inside the outline. After printing came the real hard part -- cutting them out. All those little wiggles and juts had me wishing we were from somewhere else, like Colorado or Utah! At one point, I tried using an xacto knife, but I wasn't able to get as clean a cut as with my small, sharp scissors. 

Next came the second hardest part -- finding frames! I wanted square frames, so they could all look the same, even though MD and MA are short and wide and MI is a little taller, and TX is pretty much square. Apparently, demand for square frames is pretty low, making white, 12" x 12" frames difficult to find, especially at a price I deemed not ridiculous to pay for four frames. In the end, I found 40%-off brown 12" x 12" frames at Michael's, which I spray-painted white using leftover paint from my big guest room furniture spray-painting project (post yet to come, so stay tuned!). Also at Michael's, I got some light green scrapbook paper on which to mount the maps. And the result, is pretty much what I had hoped for:

Thursday, May 2, 2013

lessons in lawn mowing

You may have noticed in some of the pictures in the previous post that there are several large dead patches where there should be grass. That was when I learned that, while in general it is OK and maybe even good for the grass to have the clippings left behind after cutting the grass, this does not hold true when the grass has grown so tall it is falling over on itself. In this case, the clippings are extra thick and will not decompose fast enough to maintain adequate sun to the grass beneath, thereby killing the grass. Last summer, I tried twice to grow new grass in these dead patches. I was mildly successful in the back, under the deck, even though I had been told it would be harder to grow grass there in the shade. However, in the super sunny parts of the yard, my attempts did not produce any new grass. I believe there are multiple contributing factors to this, including:

  1. terrible soil
  2. insufficient soil aeration
  3. not reseeding at the appropriate time of year

This year, we are calling in professionals to aerate and fertilize the whole yard and reseed the dead patches. Apparently, though, the optimum time for that is in the fall, not the spring, so we'll have to live one more summer with sad grass.

You may be wondering why we let our grass get so long that leaving the clippings on the lawn would be a problem in the first place. We had moved into our house in March, when the development was not yet finished. We were told by the builder's realtor that, most likely, when the development was finished and the HOA was turned over to the homeowners, everyone would probably vote to add a little more money to our dues and have the care of our private yards taken care of by the same folks that do the maintenance on the common areas of the community. Since we had bought our house in December, I guess we kept thinking that this turnover would be imminent, so we didn't want to rush out and spend lots of money on a lawnmower that we wouldn't need in a few months. Then time went on, and our grass kept getting longer, and we hadn't heard anything about the HOA being turned over to the community, so we finally gave in a bought a plug-in electric lawnmower. 

Initially, Zach said I was in charge of all yard-related things because he's not good with plants, but my first go at lawn mowing was an emotional disaster. I got up early to get it done before the summer heat became too much for me to handle doing manual labor. However, with the recent rain and dew not yet evaporated, I knew I really shouldn't be cutting the grass yet. Also, I discovered that part of the mower had been bent, and we were unable to adjust the cutting height up from the lowest setting. Zach had called, and we were supposed to be getting a replacement part, but we didn't know when, and our grass was already way beyond when it should have been cut, so I decided to go ahead anyway. So, to recap:

super long grass + damp grass + shortest mower setting = mower getting clogged every few minutes

I had to stop many, many times to unclog the mower, so the job took me a lot longer than it normally should have. By the time I was done, the sun was super hot and I was super grumpy. So, when the lawn needed to be cut again, I made Zach do it. Now it has become his job, though it's not as much of a job when the grass isn't ridiculously long. This past weekend, he even trimmed the bushes in our front yard. So he's slowly becoming a bit more of a plant caretaker :-)