chal-lenge: noun a calling to account or into question

Follow along as I challenge the tricks, tips, clever craft and decorating ideas and "simple" recipes that we clip, bookmark, and "pin" for trial at a later date.

Are they really worth the effort? Time (and I) will tell!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Kindle Cover

No project from Mom this week so I thought I would go it alone. Hopefully she will be able to catch up soon. I do enjoy her creativity.

Okay, I hear you moaning about yet another book project. I can’t help it, I just love working with books. I also love shopping for them at the many used book sales in the area. Although there are many books to choose from, finding a hard cover book with a
pretty cover that is exactly the right size as a Kindle has been a little tricky and I have been looking for a while. This particular book was so perfect for my project that my little hand just reached out and snapped it up before anyone else could get it. Like anyone else would want an old copy of Madame Bovary when they could pick up a Twilight novel or something equally as intriguing. What was I thinking? I really love the gold and muted red of this cover.

I have wanted to make a book cover for my Kindle for quite some time now. I feel it’s a nice mix of old and new technology. I did a bit of research before starting and found this great tutorial: if you are interested in making one for yourself.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Challenge #5

Given the later date of this post, you can see that we have been having a little trouble either coming up with ideas or being motivated enough to get them done. I have been collecting some great ideas on Pinterest while Mom has been visiting yard
sales. I find the Pinterest route much easier. It’s difficult to come up with an idea on the spot at a yard sale. Most often you find a lot of the same household stuff and it isn’t especially inspirational.

So I was cruising along on Pinterest the other day and came across an idea to make hats out of old sweaters. There is no shortage of used clothing stores in my area so off I went in search of materials. There was so much to choose from! The sweaters with some type of banding on the bottom work out the best because they hold their shape very nicely. No sweater cost more than $2. I did feel a little badly about cutting up perfectly nice sweaters and maybe taking them away from some poor little child, but there were plenty more from which they could choose. I tried on the peach sweater and decided it fit nicely and was too cute to cut up so I replaced it with a yellow cotton sweater (not pictured).

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Challenge Week #4

I asked my daughter to stop at a consignment shop with me last week-end. I thought a set of fresh eyes might help with my choice of project for the week. We went in the shop with no idea of what the next project would be. We wandered around for a bit not seeing anything very inspirational. My daughter picked up a set of wooden coasters as a possibility but I couldn’t think of anything to do with them. I did like that they were wooden and the center portion where you would place a glass looked perfect for framing something. Even though they were only $3, I didn’t buy them. I was thinking about the coaters as I drove home. Of course once I got home I had an idea and I headed back to the store to pick them up.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Challenge: Week #3

I’m feeling like my regular haunts are not putting forth any creative material for my upcycling projects. I was in a bit of panic because I couldn’t find anything. I was headed down to the Hudson Valley to have some fun on a wine tour and wouldn’t have time to do any of that type of shopping. Maybe stop at some yard sales along the way? That didn’t sound like much fun to me. Although add a little wine and I might see things in a different light!

When I pulled into my daughter’s driveway, I could see that one of her neighbors had been cleaning out their back room. Several artist canvasses, some still wrapped in plastic, were piled up next to the dumpster ready to be taken away. I was sure I could find a project somewhere among them so I gathered up a few and tossed them in the trunk to take home with me. Dumpster diving wasn’t included in the contest rules, but I don’t think Mom will mind.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Challenge: Week #2

It’s week two and we’re still going strong! I love this project Mom chose. She found this beat up old high chair at a yard sale. You can see that the arms are missing and it’s just covered with spattered paint. Obviously someone else took an old piece of furniture that was no longer useful in its original form and made a modification. I wonder how long it was used as a painting stool. It’s fun to see all the different colors of paint and imagine the rooms that were given a fresh coat of paint.

Always one to look beyond the obvious, Mom decided to freshen up this interesting piece with a new coat of paint (all one color this time!) and give it a new use. She has a green thumb and has many plants around the house. This unique plant stand provides a variety of height in her collection as well as fun visual interest. It’s the kind of thing that makes you say, “Hmm, why didn’t I think of that?”

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Challenge: Week #1

Well we did it! Mom and I both finished our projects on time this week. When we talked midweek I wasn’t sure it was going to happen. A week isn’t a very long time to find a treasure and develop it into a project and we were both feeling some pressure. Time will tell whether or not we can keep up the pace.

My project began with a set of Smithsonian souvenir cookie cutters. The set includes a star, flag, airplane, elephant and dinosaur. When I saw them in the store I just stared at them trying to figure out how I could use them. My daughter stepped up next to me and tipped me off to an idea: use the cookie cutters as a stamp.

I spent a day or two trying to figure out which stamps to use and what to stamp them on. I stopped by a second hand shop and found a white cotton dresser scarf which was just perfect. I decided to go with a patriotic theme and chose the star with red, white and blue paint. The stamping was really easy and only took me about 30 minutes to finish. In the end, I decided to do a little spatter painting to add a little interest (those are the blobs you see!). I think it adds a little interest. Cookie cutters come in so many shapes and sizes and I think this idea would work well for personalized curtains, pillows and even t-shirts. There are so many possibilities to ponder.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Mommy and Me

So a whole month has gone by without a project or a post from me. That’s not to say that I have had a lack of inspiration or challenges to overcome. My projects have just been piling up all around me! Spring always brings a flurry of activity trying to get the yard in order as well as an increase in my travels. My paid job has been a challenge lately too as I just try to keep up. It saps up a lot of my energy and that’s just not right!

Speaking about traveling, while visiting my mom this week-end I came up with a joint challenge. I thought this time around I would choose a partner to keep myself motivated. Have you ever heard of up cycling? It means to change an item either old or new to give it a new use or purpose. I have been intrigued by some of the ideas I’ve seen floating around and want to give it a try. My mother is the queen of upcycling. She can take just about anything and turn it into a work of art. I’m not sure I’ll be able to keep up with her but I’m going to give it a try.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Old Books

I don’t know what it is about old books that attract me. Maybe it’s the worn covers in a variety of colors that feel so soft in my hands. Or maybe it’s the interesting topics and titles like “The Mind of the Adolescent Girl” and “Commodore Hornblower”. Maybe it’s the nostalgia of an old text book like the Dick and Jane books in elementary school. Anytime I stop at a yard sale, attend a book sale or visit an antique shop, I always check out the old books. I do actually read some of them but mostly I like to decorate with them. I love to see stacks of old books on desks and shelves. The sight of them is so warm and inviting.

Old books are receiving a new life these days in the crafting world. Maybe it’s all part of the repurposing movement. A local bookstore is sponsoring a book crafting contest ( I can’t wait to stop by and check out the entries. In anticipation of the event, the library held a book crafting workshop. The session was unstructured which really freaked me out, but I managed to pull myself together and decorate a little box. It was fun to see the projects the other participants created.

My interest piqued, I started to search online for more book crafting ideas. That’s when I came across the instructions for a book vase. It looked pretty simple and I decided to give it a try. I had just dropped off a load of books for the library book sale but another look around turned up a romance novel that was passed on to me. I really have to think hard before I choose a book to “use creatively”. I’m sorry, any book entitled “The Summer I Dared”, deserves to be cut up and it was an easy choice.

The instructions are simple. Cut your design out of a piece of cardboard. Transfer your design on the pages, cutting out three or four pages at a time. The instructions said to use a craft knife but I found that scissors worked much better. Once all the pages are cut, it’s time to cut off the cover. Make sure you leave the spine of the book intact. Glue the first and last page together and separate all the pages. Voila! You have a book vase! The center is pretty small, but a stem or two fit quite nicely in the center.

This was a fun little project and only took about an hour. A collection of a few different designs would make a nice grouping on a table. You can be sure I’ll be looking for similar titles at this year’s book sale to increase my collection.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

...while the blender was out

I had some broccoli languishing in my refrigerator this week-end and it inspired me to make some cream of broccoli soup. I don’t use my blender very often so I keep it in a box in the basement. This helps free up valuable space in my kitchen. My basement…well on occasion it does become a dumping ground for “stuff”. Long story short, I headed down to excavate it to cream up my soup.

While I was moving things around to uncover the blender, I came across a huge bag of paper scraps and my paper making supplies. I was reminded of a project on my list that I hadn’t gotten to yet: paper bowls. So, while the blender was out, I decided to make one. I started by tearing little scraps of blue paper and placing them in the blender with some water to make a pulp.

I decided to use a pan bottom as my mold and sprayed it with cooking spray in lieu of official mold release which I haven’t been able to find. I used a too much water to make my pulp and had to wring it out a bit before applying it to the pan bottom. The pulp went on fairly easily and before long I had a nice even base. Now it was time to dry it all out. I set the oven on low and put the pan with its paper hat in to dry. I was a little worried about starting a fire so I only left the oven on for about a half hour. By morning, the bowl was dry enough to remove from the mold, which it did beautifully.

Hmmm, the bowl was papery and weak and not good for any purpose as far as I could tell. It held its form well but was very fragile and had to be handled with extreme care or it would tear apart. While gazing at the bowl, I began to envision the sky blue bowl as a base for another paper project I had hanging around. Out came the mulberry paper and water color paints.
This technique is called washi chigiri-e. Paper shapes are torn from the mulberry paper and sprayed with a little water. A brush dipped in water color paint is then touched to the edge of the shape and the paint seeps into the paper. I chose to create a sunflower to place in the bowl.

I thought it only fair to showcase a failure as well as my successes. So here it is in all its lame glory, a stupid paper bowl serving no purpose whatsoever. I’m not sure what I ever thought I would do with a paper bowl but at least it’s off my list of things to do. I’ll keep thinking on it but for now I’m putting it back in my bag of scrap paper to recycle into some other project someday. By the way, the soup was delicious!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Yard Sale Finds

We all know and love yard sales. Some of us make a day of it and shop at as many as we can. Often buying things that only end up in our own yard sales a year or so later. Lesson learned I have tried to stay away from yard sales for the past few years. I really have enough stuff. But I have to admit, it’s hard to resist the lure of poking through all the treasures that are left out in the yard for sale. As I pass yard sales I can almost hear those treasures calling me to stop and take them home. It makes me crazy!

This past summer I was driving home from work on a beautiful Saturday afternoon and I passed one yard sale after another. I was trying so hard to resist the call. Finally, I just couldn’t stand it any longer and I pulled over at the next sale that came into sight. Darn, I wish I had picked another sale. It was so disappointing to finally stop and find mostly junk. I always try to buy something but I was having a hard time finding anything of interest. The only thing that attracted my attention was a chest. It was looking a little rough but interesting. Someone had tried to strip the paint from it and the feet were missing. It looked like it had been hanging around for a while.

Knowing that I really didn’t have any real use for the chest, I started walking back to my car. The homeowners called after me asking me to please take something home. Wasn’t there anything I might be interested in? I mentioned the chest and before I knew it, the thing was in my car and I was on my way home. By the way, they reduced the price to $10!

So, the chest has been sitting in my basement every since. Added to the treasures from the attic, it has been difficult to navigate through the basement and it was almost impossible to get to my treadmill. As much as I hate the treadmill, it was time to come up with a plan so this chest could move on.

The first step was to come up with some feet. My clever husband quickly crafted some wooden feet that I felt fit the style of the chest. After exploring my furniture finishing options, I decided to go with a natural Tung oil finish for the chest. I felt I would be able to get a warm consistent finish with this product. I had to chuckle to myself as I rubbed the oil over a surface that still had some leftover bits and pieces of paint deep in the crevices. If I had started to strip the chest myself, I would never have let this go. But because it wasn’t my work, I considered it a nice rustic look. Maybe there’s a lesson there. Anyway, I was right about the finish. The oil added just the right luster and the result was rich and warm.

Now I needed to tackle the feet. I dragged out my variety of stains and finishes. I could not get anything to match or even coordinate. I don’t know what kind of wood it is, but the tone is rust colored. Not being able to find the right color, I combed the hardware store looking for a creative solution. I even checked out the second hand stores looking for odds and ends of old feet that might have been left behind. I had an elderly salesman tell me I could take his old feet but I decided against that option. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t come up with anything. Back to the stains I went. It really is hard to look at that little sample and just “see” how it will look. I had to decide so I took a chance and I think I got it right!

With the feet stained and attached to the chest, I am very pleased with the result.
It’s an interesting piece that looks like it has a story to tell. The chest ha
s taken up residence in my daughter’s room for the time being but I’m hoping that it goes home with someone one of these days. Another project finished and crossed off the list. Maybe I’ll be able to find my treadmill again soon.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Bottle Cap Coasters

While perusing the craft section at the Waterfront Arts Festival a few years ago, I spotted some coasters that featured beer bottle caps. They just screamed fun and good times. But it was such a hot day that it was all I could do just to keep walking let alone make a decision to buy anything. Of course once I got home and refreshed, I wished I’d taken the time to buy a few. Once a festival closes, you have no idea where to buy the wonderful things you passed by. Fortunately, I live in an area where there are LOTS of festivals and the hunt was on. From festival to festival we went in search of the coasters until I finally found them a year later at Canal Days in Fairport (a really nice festival if you are ever in the area!). Even though the selection was low by the time I found them, I did buy a few.

As I used the coasters I started to really look at how they were made and decided I wanted to try to recreate them. There were only three materials needed: resin, bottle caps and the container to act as the coaster itself. How hard could it be? It was much harder than I thought and the search took me several months. The resin was readily available at Michael’s and with my 40% off coupon was affordable. Because I wanted a real variety of bottle caps, I enlisted the help of my craft beer drinking friends. They really took my request to heart and always checked the bottle caps to make sure they were “cool” before making their purchase. Thanks, guys!

The real trick was finding the container. What was it? I searched on-line for petri dishes and that wasn’t it. I searched for stainless steel jar covers, no luck. I was thinking of giving up when I walked passed a display of jar candles at Big Lots. That was it! The covers on the jars were exactly what I was looking for. Now that I knew what I was looking for, I needed to find the source. Back to the internet I went. It took some doing, but I finally found a source and placed my order.

The process was very simple, mix up the resin, pour a small layer, and arrange the caps, let dry for 24 hours. This step is crucial because the bottle caps have a
tendency to float if the resin is poured to fill the entire form. Once dry, the bottle caps are adhered to the bottom of the coaster and another batch of resin can be poured to cover the bottle caps. I don’t think there is any way to avoid the little bubbles in the resin that are created from stirring. I used my hair dryer on a low temp to bring the bubbles to the surface so they could pop. Dry for another 24hours before using.

Mission accomplished! I think these little guys are adorable and make great party favors for a fun-loving group. I did puzzle over this project for quite some time. Could my brain power have been used to solve a larger problem than making beer coasters? Sure, but what fun would that be!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

...more from the attic

In my last post I mentioned that we had dragged some odds and ends from Tom’s family garage attic. Among the treasures was an adorable chrome and red Formica table but no chairs. We pulled out two formal dining room chairs that were covered with goop and grime. My mother thought she could revitalize the chairs to match the table until we found the appropriate chairs to complete the set. She took the chairs home and scrubbed them up and painted them red so they would match the table. Before we could pick them up, I rescued some chrome chairs from the dumpster at work that I knew would match the table. The result? Two red dining room chairs with no purpose.

Unable to sentence them to the landfill, the red chairs ended up in my basement which is getting extremely crowded with all my treasures. As I walked on my treadmill, I would look at the chairs and wonder what to do with them. They have good lines and are very sturdy. Hmm, being in the Adirondack frame of mind, birch bark came to mind. My thought was to do a faux birch bark finish and pull the chairs up to the table in our new camp. I had an idea but not the experience to pull it off. I looked through some faux painting books from the library but there were no birch bark examples for me to follow. What to do? I called my mom who has been painting furniture for years. Even though she hasn’t done anything lately, I was confident she could help with my project.

I was fortunate enough to have my mother come and spend the week-end with me. I’m happy to say she was eager to help me with my project. It took a little bit of explaining to convey my thoughts to her, but once she got it, we were off and running. We started in the morning with two coats of white ceiling paint as a primer. By the time we got home later in the afternoon, we were eager to start the. faux painting part of the project and turn the chairs into birch trees. We worked together pretty well, me trying to explain my vision and her trying to teach me the technical aspects of the job. I worked on one chair and Mom on the other. Our styles are a little different but in the end, the chairs look pretty similar.

I’m not sure if the chairs are quite done yet, they may need a little detail here and there but I’m pretty pleased with them so far. Another victory for old furniture! The chairs are truly unique and will certainly add a little whimsy to our d├ęcor. I haven’t worked on a project with my mother for quite a while now and I have to say, it was a real pleasure. Thanks, Mom!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Kale Chips

Kale seems to be one of the must have vegetables lately. Every time I get a food magazine, kale is a featured ingredient. And no wonder. It is a super nutritious vegetable and an excellent source of antioxidant vitamins A, C, and K. I also learned that it is a part of the cabbage family. I decided to give kale a try. My first recipe was a butternut squash and kale risotto. What I discovered is that kale has a very strong, overpowering flavor and I decided it was not for me. But, hey, at least I tried.

Recipes for kale chips seem to be popping up everywhere. All the reviews are just stellar. Everyone seems to just love them and they sound easy to prepare. All summer I kept telling myself I would give them a try but when I stopped at the farm stand each day on my way home from work, I just couldn’t bring myself to buy the kale. The flavor of the previous recipe would come to mind and I would shudder. Just when I had finally convinced myself to try again, the stand was closed for the season. I was saved!

Still, the thought of those kale chips was haunting me. I spotted kale in the grocery store this week-end, took a big breath and threw a bunch in my cart. Once
home, I cut out the stem, broke the leaves into two-inch pieces tossed it in olive oil and put it all into the oven to crisp up. Wow! I was more than pleasantly surprised. The little crisps just seemed to melt in my mouth. With a little salt and garlic powder, they were very tasty. I ate up a good handful and put the rest in a plastic bag for another time.

And now here I am thinking about a little snack. What will it be, kale chips or Tostidos? Hmmm, I wonder.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Chair

Several interesting pieces of old furniture turned up while clearing out the attic of the garage at my husband’s family home. As luck would have it, they were just calling my name asking to be brought back to life. Among the pieces was a little rocking chair. Although it was covered with cobwebs and dirt, it was obvious that someone had started to strip the many layers of paint from the chair before putting it aside. There isn’t anyone left to verify, but I can only assume that the project was started by my father-in-law. I wasn't a part of the family very long before he passed away, but I remember him as being a very industrious person. He was always looking for a new project to tackle and wasn’t afraid to jump right in. Furniture refinishing was one of his many projects. He did complete several pieces but this one appears to have been too much for him.

As anyone who has ever tried to strip paint and varnish from an old piece of furniture knows, those spindles will either make or break you. When I looked at the chair, I could tell that many hours had already been spent taking off the old layers and the spindles were indeed the breaking point. I counted five layers of paint in the twists and turns of the spindles. The little chair was just gasping out its last breaths and I knew I had to help it.

I haven’t worked on furniture for quite some time and I knew that what was left to do would be very difficult. A friend recommended an environmentally friendly stripping formula. “The paint will just peel right of”, he said. Can’t believe I fell for that one. Countless hours were wasted while I waited for the product to dissolve the paint. Sorry environmentalists, sometimes you just have to bring out the big guns and that’s just what I did.

I won’t bore you with all the moaning and groaning involved in the project. Stripping furniture is a smelly, dirty and back breaking job. I have to admit that there were many times during the process that I would set the chair aside and debate about whether or not to finish it. After all, there was no guarantee that I would be successful and I didn’t even have any place to put the finished piece. But then I would look at it sitting in a corner of the garage looking so forlorn that I would renew my effort to bring it back to save it's life.

What a job! I agonized over it for almost a year battling between wanting to give up and knowing I could do it if I just tried a little harder. Well, it’s finally finished. With a new fiber board seat stained to look like leather nailed in place and a spot cleared in the family room for it to sit, I can breathe a sigh of relief. It really is a sweet little chair that not only represents my determination, but is a nice little reminder of a time gone by. Oh, you’re welcome little chair.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Random Recipes

After cleaning out my freezer last week, I decided to tackle the ever-growing pile of recipes I have collected before restocking. I have a drawer full of recipes torn from magazines and printed from my favorite on-line cooking sites.

I chose a few, jotted down the ingredients and proceeded to torture my husband with new meals all week. My choices were fairly simple to put together although I am a little slow in the chopping department. I’m happy to report that there were no knife- related injuries all week.

Peanut noodles with chicken and spring vegetables was my first try. The sauce was made from peanut butter, ginger, garlic and chile-garlic sauce to spice things up a little. The noodles were wheat spaghetti and I used broccoli and carrots for my vegetables. I love ginger so I give this recipe a thumbs up but Tom was not a fan.

On to balsamic chicken with pears. Balsamic vinegar has a strong presence so I was a little nervous about how this one would go over. It ended up being absolutely delicious with a nice balance between the sweet pears and vinegar. I threw in some dried cranberries for extra flavor and color.

Apricot glazed flounder was my fish choice for the week. This one also called for ginger which wasn’t a success earlier in the week. I used it anyway but reduced the amount. Success! We love fish and this little sauce was a nice compliment.

Pork, apple and cheddar meatballs with wheat noodles was the final choice. I have never cooked with ground pork before but I will now! This was a very tasty and moist combination. The apples and onions were grated to add extra moisture and eliminate anyone biting into “chunks”. Ouch! Wet slippery produce is tricky to grate.

To cap off the week, I selected this apple sharlotka recipe. It really is mostly apples with a little batter thrown in. My result did not look as pretty as the picture but it was delicious. It’s the kind of dessert you don’t have to feel guilty about eating.

I feel good about my efforts this past week. I need to stay motivated and keep working through my pile because I still have a long way to go!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Cleaning Out

What better way to start the New Year than to make an attempt to get better organized? I have several things on my agenda for the week-end. First up, what’s all this stuff in my freezer? Is there any real food anywhere? All this random stuff is left over from the holidays. I’ll have to go through it all and discard the unidentified, freezer burned bits and pieces. Of course once I clean out the freezer, I’ll have to go grocery shopping. Before I can do that, I’ll have to do some menu planning. Maybe I’ll get lucky and find something for dinner.

There is still a pile of unwanted clothes and coats that will need to be bagged up and delivered the to local clothes collection bin. I received a call out from the consignment shop and they are looking for VHS tapes. What better time to clean out our old collection? We don’t own a VHS player any longer so these things are just sitting around. More stuff out of the house!

In line with my New Year’s goals, I’m meeting with the Executive Director of the Phelps Art Center this afternoon to discuss volunteer opportunities. Looks like my year is off to a good start.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year!

I love the beginning of a new year. There’s nothing like a fresh new calendar, journal, planner, etc. to energize me. I set goals for myself every year even though they seem to be a continuation of last year’s goals. I’m like a little inch worm working my way toward the ultimate prize. Although unlike the inchworm, I do take the time to stop and see how beautiful the marigolds can be as I make my way ever upward. Maybe that’s why it takes me so long to get there!

My goals this year are like millions of others: health and fitness, spiritual well-being, and expanding my knowledge of the world around me. All easily translated into the cliche body, mind and soul. But if you think about it, what else is there?

Body: Healthy menus including those dreaded fruits and vegetables! Besides adding to the healthy, I pledge to eliminate the bad. Eliminating the bad will prove to be the most difficult. I say this as I sip the last of the Festive Ale and eat the last bag of kettle cooked potato chips. I will exercise more consistently this year including weight training and yoga. I think my dvd’s have been sufficiently reviewed from the couch. I have a new Personal Fitness and Nutrition Log that I will faithfully complete each day.

Mind: My professional career is ever evolving and if I want to stay competitive(and employed) I will need to speak with knowledge and authority. My goal is to stay in tune with the changes in government policies and procedures and make myself an invaluable member of the team. Selfishly, I hope to hang on to my job for a few more years!

Soul: I will find a not-for-profit organization that can make good use of my skills and abilities. I will volunteer time each week to help them reach their goals while enriching my own life.

I don’t believe my goals are self-serving because they all benefit others as well as myself. I’m excited to get started and see how far I can get. Maybe you can be an inchworm too and keep working toward your ulitmate goal whatever it might be. Don’t be discouraged, it all takes time. Best of luck with your New Year’s goals!