Quick Trip: Getting out of the slump

As I mentioned, I was in a slump. I didn’t blog or really do anything terribly creative. And, also, as I mentioned per my co-bloggers advice I just started doing stuff. One of the things I did was plan a quick road trip through Ohio with an old friend. I had been wanting to go back to the Columbus Zoo for years. I hadn’t been since I was a kid. So I persuaded an old friend who had vacation time to burn to take mid-week road trip with me. The Columbus Zoo did not disappoint! It was awesome and allowed for seeing some animals very close up.

 

After that we went to Cleveland and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame was interesting and I enjoyed the fashion but I don’t feel the need to repeat it.

 

It was nice to get away with very little agenda and just because I could.

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A Quick & Dirty Kilt

A few months ago my son, a high school senior, was debating trying out for his school’s production of Macbeth. He wasn’t actually in Shakespeare class but he had an independent​ study block that hour so it would work. I encouraged​ him in this venture as it would be something new and different for him; an experience. And for once he actually listened to me. He did it and got the part he tried out for; I’m still not even sure which. It’s a small one with just a couple lines, something just big enough to say he did it, that he was there, and just big enough to require a costumes. A kilt preferably, my almost man-child informed me over a month ago. Low and behold this week it was time to make the aforementioned kilt. Past time, really, since dress rehearsal/tech week had snuck up on us. It wasn’t just a case of my normal procrastinating ways that pushed the kilt making to the very last minute, this spring has been remarkably busy with multiple graduations in our family (mine, this kid’s, and my daughter’s 8th grade) and my return to working full time mixed in with the usual end of school year chaos and spring activities.

Naturally my first course of action was to Google “How to make a kilt”. As it turns out kilt making is a very specific age-old art. I did not have the time (or the funds for nine yards of plaid) to make an authentic kilt. And thus the Quick & Dirty kilt was hatched.

My Google research lead me to a wikiHow site which had comprehensive instructions on measuring, calculating yardage, and making proper pleats that I skimmed over and proceeded to follow only loosely. For example, instead of measuring my son’s waist and hips and calculating the pleat width to determine how much fabric I’d need to buy I went off my sons pants waist size, asked to see what two yards of the potential kilt fabric looked like and deemed that Good Enough. In retrospect two and a half yards would have been closer to ideal.

In keeping with the theme of in-authenticity I selected a lime green and navy purple-ish shirting flannel. It’s soft but not baby blanket soft. The main criteria was color (not traditional green or dark blue) and price. I didn’t want to break the bank on a one-time quick costume.

The fabric was about the right length straight off the bolt which made my life easier. I kept it folded over at the top (which became the waist) to give it a little more heft and thickness. After cutting a five inch strip off one end of the fabric I set to work making pleats. The instructions recommended a 16-20 inch flat front panel followed by pleats and some excess fabric to wrap under the front.

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I started with 17 inches for the flat front (but ended up pulling one more pleat over) and pinched about an inch of fabric to bring towards the front in a pleat. I think making the plaid look right on the pleats is more important than having a specific measurement for each pleat. For this particular plaid the pleats ended up covering the navy lines in the plaid.

Once the pleats are all folded and securely pinned ironing is a must. Spray starch would have been helpful here too but, alas, I didn’t have any on hand.

With the pleats all pressed in place I straight stitched across the top of the pleats and then down each one ending with a short diagonal that covered the width of each pleat. My original plan was to sew a line across the top parallel to the waist and then another about six inches down and call it good but after running the top line I didn’t think that was going to secure each pleat well enough. I was going for quick & dirty here not super crappy and likely to fall apart.

Now that all the pleats were all sewn down and in place it was time for the waist band. Remember the five inch wide strip I cut from the end of the fabric way back at the beginning? That was to become the waist band.

Basically I laid it out on the emergent kilt to match it’s width and make sure the plaids weren’t totally off before trimming it up to get semi straight lines. Then I employed the fold-press fold-press waist band construction method. What, you haven’t heard of that? Yeah, probably because I just made it up. It’s exactly as it sounds: Fold the band in half (wrong sides together) and press it good and hard. Then fold whatever seam allowance you’re going to use up on one long edge and press that. Repeat with the other long edge and tuck the raw ends of the short edges under. Press those too while you’re at it. And, voila!, a waist band.

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To attach the waistband pin it right side down along the top edge of the skirt part. Sew that down then flip it over, press everything flat, and fold the band over the other side of the top edge of the skirt part. This is wear all that pressing pays off. It should lay nicely with the midline press of the band at top and the pressed under edge over the part you just sewed. Pin it all down, press it (for good measure) and run your stitch across it.

Now all that’s left is the finishing touches. After making a button hole on the edge of the waist band and attaching a couple buckles I had my son try it on to see where the closures needed to be. It turns out the bottom edge of this kilt is a little sparse but he’s planning to wear shorts under. Again, we’re not aiming for authenticity here. Between that and a bit of velcro I think we’ll avoid unintentional flashings.

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kilt finished back

Check out those pleats!

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The Quick & Dirty kilt.

From start to finish this took about two hours to make. As you can see I did not hem the bottom edge. If it’s getting out of control I’ll go back and do that later…or maybe I’ll take the pinking shears to it. We’ll see.

kilt on side 1

It even matches his socks.

kilt on side 2

Apparently the flat front could be more narrow but overall not too shabby!

kilt on back

Holiday Baking (despite the craziness)

This weekend, my weekend with the kids and a holiday weekend, we’ve done yard work, had a family outing to an old school arcade, colored Easter eggs, baked (Well, I  baked, the kids not so much.), did the Easter basket tradition, and are about to attend Mass and head to a big family dinner. Yet it somehow feels like I haven’t accomplished enough. Final exams loom, I’m about to graduate with my bachelor’s degree in biochemistry…but I’ve got one more lab write up, a homework assignment, and a final to get through first. That’s the cloud that hangs low and heavy over this weekend. (And my fairly legitimate excuse for the terribly infrequent postings around here.)

Balancing working enough to support my household of six, meeting ALL the needs, and giving time and attention to my classwork is a massive challenge, one that requires constant focus and re-calibration. Somehow I’ve gotten this far and done decently well at it. Most the time. Sometimes it makes me a less than enthusiastic parent. I’m not fostering the pre-holiday excitement or planning fancy coordinated outfits for my five  (not so) small ones like I once was. But there is one holiday tradition I’ve managed to maintain, one of my favorites, the holiday baking.

I know it seems like baking holiday treats is something I do for others…It’s not. Don’t be fooled. It’s a totally selfish thing I do. I bake what like for holidays and don’t do other things so I can get the baking I want to do done. Baking has always been a comfort thing for me. It’s a soothing ritual when I’m stressed or upset and a productive distraction when I’m bored or anxious. I think this (past) weekend I was all of the above. So I baked.

This year the emergent theme of my holiday baking was fruits and vegetables. Don’t worry though, it wasn’t healthy. I made pineapple upside down cake, carrot cake, and that blueberry cheesecake from last Easter.

Pineapple upside down cake is one of my mom’s classics. She makes it in a cast iron pan with this amazing gooey brown sugar goodness crystallized on top just under a layer of juicy baked pineapple rings. My mom usually makes this at Easter but decided we probably had enough desserts without it this year. I noticed fresh pineapples on sale on one of my many weekly grocery store runs and had seen a bundt cake pan version of the old cast iron classic that I wanted to try. And thus pineapple upside down cake was added to my baking list.  Like I said, this is selfish baking here!

Having never made my mom’s version of the cake I’m not sure how close this one was but I used a recipe found online. The melted butter and brown sugar went into the bundt pan first and then pineapple slices and cherries (which my mom never used). The cake batter gets poured over that, it’s all baked, and then flipped out. Easy peasy!

No really, this was quite easy to make. I’d recommend it. The only changes I made to the recipe were using fresh pineapple which I mashed up real good and, because I was concerned about the moisture level of the batter, an added splash of rum. I only had coconut oil on hand so rum seemed like a good balancing liquid. One of my sisters commented that the cake had a vague pina colada taste….maybe next year I’ll be sharing my magical upside down pina colada cake recipe with you all. We’ll see. 😉

Unlike pineapple upside down cake, carrot cake is one of my favorite desserts to make (and to eat too). I started making it back in my early twenties when I was married. And, actually, carrot cake is responsible for my cheesecake baking obsession too.

My ex-husband’s birthday is in December. The first year we were married I wanted to do something fun and special for his birthday. I got tickets to a Piston’s game and planned to make his favorite dessert…but I didn’t know what that was so in the weeks leading up to his birthday I asked what kind of cake was his favorite. I swear he said cheesecake. Swear it! I had never made one before but had seen my mom make a classic New York cheesecake every year at Christmas for as long as I could remember. It never looked that hard. So I pulled out a cookbook, scanned the recipe, bought ingredients, and started a cheesecake a half hour or so before we had to leave for the game. I thought I could just whip it up and bake it real quick before we left so it would be cooled and ready to eat when we got home. It was going to be great and he was going to love it!

Except it takes way longer than half an hour to bake a cheesecake. Apparently my reading ahead and planning skills were even worse when I was 20 than they are now.

The result was a soupy mess of a cheesecake AND then, come to find out, my then new husband didn’t even like cheesecake very mush. He says he told me carrot cake was his favorite. There is no way he said carrot cake. Maybe he meant carrot cake but he said cheesecake. After that fiasco I decided I was going to master the art of cheesecakes. I’ve made many successful cheesecakes over the past sixteen years. I think I’ve succeeded. At some point after that I got a great carrot cake recipe from a co-worker and got pretty good at that too.

 

I consider it a win-win…at least as far as desserts are concerned.

 

As for the aforementioned blueberry cheesecake, I used the same recipe as last year because, despite my poor judgement on ingredient substitution, it really was a good recipe. This time I still didn’t find friache but I did use a better quality substitute: plain Fage Greek yogurt. It’s rich and creamy with a slightly sour taste and none of that cheap vanilla Greek yogurt overpowering after taste. It was super yum!

 

Oh, and I did get all my kids to dress up even if they weren’t in coordinated outfits. With a group of mostly teenagers that’s as good as it gets.

The Price of Being Cheap 

I am thrifty frugal cheap. It’s one of my best worst qualities. Or maybe one of my worst best qualities. Either way, it’s a quality and I possess it. Usually it’s not a bad thing but every once in a while my cheapness comes back around and bites me in the ass. The Wonder Woman accessories I recently made for a niece of mine are a prime example of said cheapness and ass biting…

Along with most the other sewing stuff that was in my home growing up (including one of my favorite sewing machines), I inherited this 1978 girls super hero costume pattern. I don’t ever remember her sewing, but apparently my mom made the Bat Girl costume for one of my older sisters. The hood and cape, in all their turquoise broadcloth glory, were residents of our Halloween costume bin. It came up in conversation not too long ago. My oldest sister remembered the costume, I told her I still had the pattern our mom used to make it. She then asked if could I make some Wonder Woman accessories for a special costume themed reading day at her daughter’s school. She happened to have some gold fleece leftover from another project. Apparently cheapness runs in my family.

Of course I said yes. She didn’t want a whole costume, just the crown, belt, and cuffs. That was a forty-five minute project, max. I could squeeze that into my insanely busy schedule.

So I obtained the leftover fleece and pulled out the old pattern. Lo and behold all the Wonder Woman pieces were missing. Well, all the ones I needed (aside from the cuffs which are meant for Bat Girl) since I wasn’t making those cute little shorts. My first instinct was to draw the pieces I needed but seeing as my printer actually had ink I decided to splurge and print some off the internet.

It didn’t take me too long to find a printable pattern for the crown, emblem, and a few stars and then it was time to get this party started. (I don’t remember which ones I used but, seriously, just Google Wonder Woman costume pieces. There are tons to choose from.)

As suspected this was a quick make. Other than those bastard stars. Cutting small, precise shapes out of flimsy sequins fabric is not as easy as one would think. At least I wasn’t sewing them on as I had also found some fabric glue in my sewing supply stash. I always felt like fabric glue was cheating, not for people who knew how to sew, and stuff like that but it was super convenient to just stick all that sparkly adornment on. I got the stars glued before setting it all aside to finish in the morning.

The next morning I threw together a sparkly logo.

I both glued and sewed it to some scrap denim from an old pair of jeans.

And then sewed it to the fleece belt. Things were going well (even the back looked cool); all that was left was the Velcro.

I scrounged around and found a strip of Velcro, slightly sticky on one side, that I had saved from some packaging a while back. I don’t remember exactly what but I distinctly recall seeing Velcro adhered to a box or envelope that was going to be thrown away and thinking “I could use that for something!” Psh, who would just throw away perfectly good Velcro? Not this girl! I pried it off the package and set it aside. Sure it was stiff and a bit goopy but on the Wonder Woman gear it would be on the exterior or at least away from skin so it was no big deal.
I could even use the stickiness to help hold the velcro in place while I sewed it down.

But for some reason my sewing machine was not happy about this particular little bit if sewing. It kept skipping stitches and jamming up resulting in a hot mess.I changed the needle and checked the bobbin. It still wasn’t working and my frustration level was rising. I switched sewing machines because clearly that one just wasn’t working. Ugh!

The same thing kept happening with the next machine. I changed directions for a minute and sewed the ends of the crown together. Well that worked. Then I tried the Velcro again. More jamming and mess.

Finally, finally, it dawned in me that the sewing machine wasn’t the problem. The Velcro was. The sticky stuff on the plastic side of the Velcro was gumming up my needle and causing problems with.. well, everything!

After that realization I dug up some fresh, brand new Velcro, pulled out the gross stitches, and threw the reused stuff away.

It took maybe five minutes to finish the set after switching Velcro. By that time I had spent upwards of half an hour messing about with sewing machines not working…all because I thought it was a good idea to re-purpose a strip of Velcro.

Sometimes it does not pay to be cheap!

Wordsmiths

Even though it wasn’t finished I gave my daughter the Fandom blanket I’ve been working on. It was her birthday (back in January); I wanted to give it to her for a special occasion and there was no way I was waiting until next Christmas. So instead she got a P.I.P…Present In Progress. Which sounds a bit like RIP so I made a tombstone to go with it…

Which apparently I did not get a picture of. Hey, I was super exhausted that day.  Her birthday fell on a week that I was working extra shifts And the kids had extra appointments and activities. Really it was just an outline of a tombstone that I printed out and wrote on, nothing spectacular. I wrote the dates Fall 2015-Winter 2017 (because this will be finished this winter) on the tombstone. My daughter was impressed with how long I’ve been working on this. (My first post about this blanket-to-be is here.)

While I’ve shared some of the squares as I made them. (Like this and this.), there are a couple that I’m especially proud of that I haven’t yet.

These four are the latest additions.

From left to right is Wesley from The Princess Bride (she’s a huge fan of the book and the movie), Shakespeare, a quote from the musical Hamilton  (the daughter literally knows all the words. To the entire show, no joke.), & a horse (that’s pretty self explanatory).

I found both the horse and the Princess Bride pattern on Ravelry (here & here respectively) but had to get creative to make squares that represented her two favorite wordsmiths (Shakespeare and Hamilton in case that wasn’t clear).

After scouring the Internet I came to the conclusion that no appropriate Shakespeare patterns existed. So I did what any good crafter would do and made one myself. There are websites to help with that. Basically you import a picture as a JPG or whatever, set the parameters (how many pixel/squares for example), and a pixilated picture is generated.

It took some playingaround to get Shakespeare’s face to look even close to right and that resulted in a square I knew wouldbe way too big. To par it down I took a screen shot of the pattern on my phone and cropped it in. I followed the screen shot (shown above) as a pattern. Even though I cut a row or two from the Bard’s forehead region he’s looking a bit long in the face.

Oddly enough I had trouble finding a Hamilton related crochet square and that was including a thorough search of Pinterest. I tried putting the logo, the one with the guy on top of a star, into the pattern generator but couldn’t get a clear picture. The guy looked like a jagged rectangular nothing. It was not good.

What I did find on Pinterest was more than a few images of Hamilton cross stitch projects. And guess what….

Cross stitch is also made of pixels!

Who knew? So, once again I took a screen shot on my fancy-dancy phone and used that as a pattern.

After some zooming in and lots of little black square counting I’ve got a pretty decent Hamilton square. (My daughter pointed out that I could have just made one that said “And Peggy!”. It would have been more simple but the quote I made is pretty cool as well.

And of course my girls was super excited about the quilt squares.

She suspected that I was making something for her birthday but had no idea what it was. She’s wanted a “Fandom blanket”, as she dubbed it, ever since I made this one for a friend’s baby almost two years ago now.

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I also got my daughter tickets to see the Lumineers in Grand Rapids. That’s what I call a present with a bonus. She was excited and I got to go to a super cool concert with her. It was a win win win.

Finishing the Bathroom 

One thing I’ve learned about home improvement projects from fixing up my bathroom is that there is no hard and fast finish to these things. It’s not like those shows where they add one last touch, have a big reveal, pack it up and call it a day. Right now my bathroom is mostly done. Basically. I could add another layer of paint to those shelves and maybe I’ll caulk around the toilet. Oh, and there might be a small drip under the sink that will have to be addressed at some point…but the renovation is, for all intents an purposes, finished.

I panted, tiled, and caulked. There is a new sink and vanity, new faucet, and a semi-new toilet (replaced just over a year ago when something fell in the previous one and it stopped flushing. Turns out it’s cheaper to replace the toilet than get a plumber out.)

Here are some of the stages of progress:

 

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Some creative thinking/problem solving skills were employed to make this vanity fit. My choices were limited by the narrow space between the wall and toilet; of the few available I really liked this one (and the mirror that matches).

Not impressed yet? Well, it started like this:

And now it looks like this:

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Okay so the tub is still a little rough but that’s a project for another day.

All told the cost of this bathroom update was right around $700 including paint, tiles (from the Habitat for Humanity Restore), cement backer board,thin set, grout, grout sealer, the vanity/sink, faucet, some pvc drain pipe stuff, and an assortment of random tools and bits and pieces. Oh, and a reciprocating saw. If all goes according to plan (and really when does it ever?) you’ll be seeing some more of the saw’s handiwork in the spring. Now that I’ve dipped my toes in the home improvement pond I intend to do some serious wading

Bathroom Reno Part 2

It seems I am blogging about this bathroom renovation project at a rate that is proportionally slow to the progress I’m making on it. So as a reminder here are a couple “before” pictures:

And here’s the post about the destruction of this beaut (in case you missed it).

When I was looking ahead, tiling the floor appeared to be the most challenging and intimidating aspect of this endeavor, well, that and sawing. It turns out it was the most fun.

I had to start with a layer of thin set/mortar (they’re the same thing..Hey, it was news to me.) and cement backer board. My brother-in-law came over and helped with the cutting and manhandling of the backer board. Once we got it all cut and ready we headed back to his house to celebrate my niece’s birthday; later that night I had my first experience with mortar. It was fun. There’s something sort of zen about raking even lines through some smooth, grey mortar and then squishing it all down with a board. Joint tape is pretty fun too.

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Even with only the backer board down it’s an improvement.

And then, of course, that had to set for twenty-four hours. Almost everything does, turns out home improvement is yet another provider of lessons about patience.

During the destruction of the bathroom I saw that my toilet flange was broken around one edge. My brother-in-law none too gently hacked out the rest of it and, in the process, notices what looked like a crack in the drain pipe beneath it.

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I spent a morning stressing, Googling, and phoning a friend over those little lines down in that pipe. After assessing how difficult it would be to cut the pipe out and replace it but before actually starting to cut I decided to take a step back and apply a classic mantra: Keep it simple, stupid! (One of the very few things I retained from high school math.) After one more assessment and some basic reasoning I realized the pipe was not in fact busted, those were just seams. Crisis averted…but morning wasted. Doh! At least the flange was easy to replace. I got one with a built in rubber gasket that just slides inside the existing drain pipe.

By this time it was Wednesday evening (week one). I’ve got class until mid afternoon Thursday and the kids come back from their dad’s Thursday evening. It was becoming obvious that I was not going to have the bathroom back together by then. Ah well, onward and upward right?

Because my bathroom is on the small side I laid out all the tiles to see how they’d fit. I took some helpful YouTube video’s advice and measured the center of the room, laid a line of vertical and then another of horizontal tiles, adjusting as needed to fit before filling in the rest. I preferred the look of the tiles flush with the tub on one side which left about a two and a half inch gap on the other. There was a matching gap on the short wall that’s perpendicular to the door. I have a random assortment of smaller tiles in my basement, my first instinct was to see if any would fit. The closest I got was some 1×1 inch green tiles but they were thicker than the main ones and there wasn’t even close to enough for both spaces. Obviously a no-go but I liked the idea of a smaller tile mosaic border.

But first things first, I needed to cut some tiles to fit around the toilet opening, along the back wall, and around the floor vent space. I done mentioned my saw intimidation, turns out it was a non issue. My nice neighbor has a tile saw and was happy to lend it to me/teach me how to use it. Cutting the few tiles was really no big deal at all! I got that finished and the tiles refit Thursday just in time to pause and go pick up the kids. Little did they know it was going to be a frozen pizza, not even sit down together, dinner night. I had tiles to set!

Again with the thin set.

I was a little worried that I hadn’t used enough thin set with the backer boards (time will tell I guess) so maybe I overcompensated when I was laying the tile. At first I was making a giant mess but after a few I got the hang of spreading an even layer of mortar, raking it, and applying the tiles and spacers in an orderly fashion. My youngest thought the process was pretty cool and “helped” some. Mostly he watched but I did let him press a few tiles into place.

And then it was time to wait for the materials to set. Again. Friday and Saturday were both busy days and (I was working Friday night) so other than pulling the spacers out, nothing happened until Sunday…

On Sunday morning I got up early (for me), made my coffee and tried out some edging layouts with the glass/stone mosaic tile sheets I had picked up.

br2-edging-tile       These things are not cheap but I only needed two sheets. Also they’re apparently mostly used for back splashes and wall tiling but I found at least one website that talked about doing mosaic tiling on floors and the sides of the room are little to no traffic areas. Plus they’re the same thickness as the other tiles which, from what I could tell, was a key factor.

They were a little messy to put down and I definitely used a little too much thin set in a couple areas making them less than even but all in all the results aren’t too bad.

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I definitely like the what they add to the aesthetic of the bathroom..

Yes, I know, the walls are terrible. That’s something to take care of later in the process. After all the edging tiles were down I left them alone for a while and later that afternoon we grouted. BTW grout is Not the same as thin set. It also takes a lot of water to a little powder. My fifteen year old was roped into helping me with the grouting and we learned that the hard way. Let’s just say we had some extra grout mixed when all was said and done.

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Also, grouting is a messy, messy process. It cleaned up a little better than what you see there. After a day or two of letting the grout set, I applied a sealer. It was really not too exciting and didn’t change the appearance at all so I took zero pictures of that. I did take some of the purple paint on the back wall.

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Not the finished painting, obvs.

 

With the floor done and some paint on the wall it was time to start putting this thing back together. Well, at least get the toilet back in. It’s still not quite back together…but I’ll tell you more about the details of that another time.