Happy Early Birthday

… to Jeremy! Jeremy’s birthday isn’t until August 8th, but he bought himself some presents anyways:

New Turn TableA fancy “new” turn table and a cool table to set it on! We have a pretty (but not audiophile-friendly) record player in the hall/foyer, but Jeremy wanted one for the downstairs. He watched for turntables on eBay for months, and finally decided on this one, a Technics SL- D205.
The little table fits the turn table perfectly! It’s from Home Goods. Supposedly it is made in India from reclaimed/recycled wood – hence the various colors and textures. It’s pretty cool. The cabinet is the perfect size for vinyl. The drawer is also handy, since it houses the preamp. The turn table plugs into the preamp, and the preamp connects to our receiver. The preamp is necessary for the turn table to work with our modern receiver.

Hole in TableWires in HoleTo keep things looking neat, Jeremy drilled a hole in the back of the table for the wires. The turn table’s wires go in, and the preamp’s come out and plug into the wall.

Audio In JackThis is the magic of the media room! Just plug your turn table into the wall and get magic surround sound! In reality, there is a wire that runs through the walls and plugs into the receiver in our storage room. The running of the wire was my gift to Jeremy.

Here’s where things get complicated. First, let’s start with placement. Wouldn’t it be better if the audio jack was closer to the outlet? Look back to the first picture in the post, the table doesn’t hide the plug. Well, I agree with you, that would look better.

MistakesSo, I first cut a hole next to the outlet. The plan was to remove the baseboard and run the wires along the floor to the corner, and then behind the built-in bookcase. Behind the bookcase is accessible via under the stairs, so I thought it would be easy.

Wrong. I forgot that along this wall the foundation is elevated. So, behind the baseboard is cement. In order to get the wires to the corner and behind the bookcase I would have to drill a hole through the studs in my way. That was not happening. So, my new hole is on the other side of the stud. The next part was to get behind the bookcase.

Behind BookcaseHere I am under the stairs, behind the bookcase. You can see the MDF boxes we built, wedged between the studs. Now, let’s zoom-in to the upper left-hand corner:

Stud FinderThe brown to the right is the MDF backing of the bookcase. When I pull back the insulation I can access the stud that forms the corner of the two walls. As you can see, there are already some wires running through that stud: the speaker wire for our left rear in-wall speaker, electric and ground wire for outlets (don’t worry, I turned the power off). Above the electric wire I drilled a hole. Then I used the fish tape to push the audio wires through the stud and out the hole in the wall.

Wires InstalledTa-da! These wires hook up to the back of the jack cover. Now we can enjoy vinyl downstairs, very loudly. It sounds great coming from our in-wall speakers. I really can tell the difference between this new turn table and our not-as-professional record player. We’re listening to records I’ve heard a thousand times and I am picking up on elements I just couldn’t hear before.

But wait, what about that extra hole I cut in the wall? For the solution to that and many other drywall issues, check out my next post. :)

Summertime Crafts

Sorry I have been so spotty with the blogging lately. We’ve definitely been busy though, so expect some serious updates! Today I just want to share some little projects I’ve been working on over the past few weeks.

First, I was on such a crocheting high after I finished Tori’s Blanket, that I decided to make another one!

Chunky BlanketLike Tori’s blanket, this is a lap blanket measuring 51 x 51 inches. This blanket is small but hefty! I understand now why the original pattern was for a baby blanket – to make it adult-sized takes too many skeins!

Stripes!

Do you love the cool stripe effect? I used four different yarns to create the effect – green, beige, maroon and a multi-colored that includes the other three colors. I just used every possible combinations of three yarns (yay math) to generate the different stripes.

This blanket is actually a redo of a blanket I made a long time ago. Previously I “knitted” nine squares on a loom and attached them to make a blanket. I never liked it much because the stitching was too loose. So, I unraveled that blanket and used the yarn to create this new one! In the end, I did have to buy a new skein of each color in order to finish the blanket.

My next two crafty projects are teacher related…

Colorful Name SticksFor the first time in my teaching career I am going to employ “equity sticks” (that’s the fancy term for writing names on popsicle sticks). I was finally convinced to try it after reading Dylan William’s “Embedded Formative Assessment”. William argues that “cold calling”, calling students randomly, is the best classroom practice. Please enjoy this quote about teaching and learning:

“Engaging in classroom discussion really does make you smarter. So, when teachers allow students to choose whether to participate or not – for example, by allowing them to raise their hands to show they have an answer – they are actually making the achievement gap worse, because those who are participating are getting smarter, while those avoiding engagement are forgoing the opportunities to increase their ability.

It was arguments like that which made me want to try equity sticks this year.

Equity SticksI painted the tips of the sticks four different colors – one for each class. Shout out to my friend Kristina for giving me a giant bag of popsicle sticks. At first I was sad that they were the plain ones; I really wanted to get a pack of the multi-colored sticks. Now I realize that this is even better. The names are easy to read on the plain wood, and I got to paint the tips any color I want! I just used some acrylic paint I already had. For the names I first tried a fine point sharpie, but it bled. What worked great was a Zig scrap-booking pen. These pens are archival quality, so I expect the ink will hold up great! The finishing touch is the divided pencil cup to keep my classes separate (from Staples).

LanyardMy last school related craft is a new lanyard for my bathroom pass. I created a kumihimo braid using neon green and orange polyester cord. Then I added the clip – this is where the laminated pass will attach. I braided a lanyard like this last year using the green and a neon pink – only I used macrame techniques. Doing a kumihimo braid with the disk is way faster! Last year’s bathroom pass lasted all year – so I expect this one to last too! I only decided to make a new one because the other one did get dirty.

Close-Up LanyardI really love the resulting pattern! I really like kumihimo braids because you can create so many different patterns.

So, that’s a few things that have kept me busy. I will try to not bore you with too many more teacher related projects. Jeremy says I should start a math teaching blog, but I am not so sure. Between the two, that would be a lot of time spent blogging.

Steppin’ It Up

This summer we’re taking the time to tackle some projects that we’ve been putting off. Several, like this one, are little eyesores that we’ve finally had enough of.

Before we had our beautiful bamboo floor, we had carpet on the stairs. And when we painted the upstairs, I painted the trim and stair string (that’s the technical term).

Carpet RemindersThe blue arrows are indicating the reminders the carpet left on each step of the string. Thick paint lines and carpet fuzz outlined lingering beige paint on the ascending staircase.

Unpainted StringOn the descending staircase we had a different problem. We redid the lower level after the bamboo was installed. Hopefully you can see the difference between the trim and stair string in the photo above. Here it wasn’t the carpet that impeded me, but fear of damaging the bamboo. Yet, after years (seriously?) of living with the mismatched stairs, it was time to conquer that fear.

Taped StairsI started by taping off the edge of the stairs and the railing. I did not tape off the edge of the trim on the wall side, because I was not repainting the white trim. I used 1.5 inch wide Frog Tape. This was my first time with Frog Tape, and I am pleased with the results. Several friends and blogs recommended Frog Tape, so I decided to give it a try – I’ve had mixed success with the blue painter’s tape and plain masking tape.

Before painting I laid a sheet on the stairs and sanded the area I was about to paint. You saw the problem areas in an earlier photo – thick paint lines and carpet fuzz. I made everything as smooth as I could with some medium-grit sandpaper. Then I wiped down the string stair and any exposed bamboo with a damp cloth. Poured my Ultra Pure White into a plastic cup and I was ready to get to work!

Fresh Stairs I used a 1.5 inch angle brush and a small artist’s brush for the job. I know Jeremy is tired of me buying new angle brushes every time I paint, but this time I sprung for the “best” (in term’s of HD’s good/better/best categorization). I chose this angle brush from Wooster. I had good control while I was painting, and it cleans up nicely. The bristles are still flexible and soft – I think this brush will last me a few jobs!

Fresh paintFeels good to have crisp white string stair matching the trim! The whole process of taping, sanding, cleaning and painting took about 3.5 hours. Mostly because of the taping – I was trying to be super precise.

In addition to cleaning up the paint on the stairs we also added a new rug (from Marshalls) to the foyer:

New Paint and New RugI think the cream, white, green and blue colors tie in everything from the split levels nicely! The rug is almost the entire length of the foyer, which is a nice improvement to our old gnome door mat (although I will miss him). The only problem with this rug that I fell in love with is it just barely fits under the door when it opens. You can get the door open over the rug, but it was making the rug slide – which is bad for the  bamboo, as well as unsafe.

Uncut Rug PadI bought a natural rubber no-slip pad to put under the rug. The rug measures 22 by 60 inches – I ended up buying a 3 by 5 foot pad. It came down to availability (of course, now I see a 2ft by 4ft option which would have worked), but I was already planning on cutting the pad, regardless of size. Many know of the anguish of trying to line the rug up perfectly with the no-slip pad underneath – it cannot be done! I read somewhere that the no slip mat should actually be slightly smaller in dimensions (up to 6 inches in each direction) than the actual rug. So, I cut the pad a little smaller than my rug.

No Slip PadYou can see I just left a little border between the pad and the edge of the rug. Then I just flipped it all over and laid it in place. A few tugs to line everything up and it was good to go! Nothing meticulous about it.

Rug LoveLooking good! It’s funny how something so simple can make such a big difference. The foyer and stairs are much more inviting now. I can’t believe that I was so scared to paint along the bamboo! The Frog Tape definitely gave me ease – it worked liked it promised and kept my stairs safe.

What projects have you been putting off? What eyesores have you been living with for years?

Easy Bathroom Facelift

We finally got a chance to execute a simple upgrade in our master bathroom – an extra long shower curtain. I first spotted the magic of an extra long curtain in this post from YoungHouseLove. See it for yourself:

Old Curtain

New CurtainIt’s a crazy optical illusion. I think it makes our teeny tiny bathroom a little more inviting. The white curtain is crisp and clean, making our tub look all sad and beige.

The old curtain was a plastic one that I think we’ve been using since we moved in four years ago. I have put it through the wash several times, and it was holding up well. It was not becoming brittle, like others on the interwebs have complained about. Although, as you can see in the first photo, it was pretty soap-scummy, despite its washings.

In addition to being extra long, our new curtain (from BB&B) is fabric. Jeremy read online that fabric liners/curtains are easier to keep clean – most likely because they can be bleached effectively. I throw it into the wash on a hot/warm cycle, then let it hang in the shower to dry. I know my mother-in-law had a problem with a shrinking fabric shower curtain – so I would avoid the dryer, or use the lowest setting.

So Fresh and So CleanYou might notice that this “curtain” is really just a liner and I reused the old rod and rings. I wanted to go crazy and get new, prettier hooks for the curtain. I restrained myself because we ultimately want no shower curtain in this bath.

We still daydream of remodeling this bathroom, like we wrote about in this post. Follow my bathrooms board on Pinterest for more ideas. Maybe next summer we can tackle this?

The Laziest Susan

I’ve had my eye on Susan since September 2011 when I started to pen this post:

“The corner base cabinet in our kitchen houses a lazy susan. This is where we store our small appliances – blender, toaster, crock-pot, waffle iron, etc. Recently I noticed that the shelves are droopy and starting to crack.”

These photos are from September 2011. The lazy susan is original to the home, built in 1997. When I saw the shelves were cracking, I called the manufacturer, Rev-A-Shelf, about a replacement. That’s when I learned that they no longer made this particular model. From there we just sort of forgot about susan…

Old Susan Gross Lazy SusanThings have definitely gotten worse for the lazy susan. You can see that the top shelf is starting to break free from the door. To operate the contraption, you have to hold up the top shelf while you spin…

With the other kitchen upgrades we’ve made (here and here), we decided we should finally fix this issue.

New Lazy DaisyJeremy was able to find an appropriate replacement, Lazy Daisy, also from Rev-A-Shelf. We considered getting wooden trays, but could not find a product with the right dimensions for the right price. So, Lazy Daisy is also plastic, but her shelves are thicker and reinforced better than the original susan.

Although Daisy is our Susan’s replacement, the parts were different enough (pole with a smaller diameter) that we had to do a complete reinstall. The most difficult part is attaching the door. As you can see from the photo above, they whole contraption gets installed before you attach the door. Door attachment was a two person job. I held the door in place while Jeremy screwed the trays into the door.

New Lazy DaisyHere’s Lazy Daisy all loaded up with our small appliances. She looks so crisp and clean! The new system is much smoother and easier to spin than the old lazy susan. Hopefully the reinforced trays won’t crack under the weight.

This was a relatively simple but long overdue upgrade. Do you have any projects like that?

Easy Chunky Crocheted Blanket

I’ve never been that great at crochet (and even worse at knitting) but when I saw this baby blanket on Pinterest, I thought I would give it a try.

The blanket is all single crochet, done with a large hook. There are three strands of yarn used together, making the blanket hefty. I love the author’s choice of colors! You can view the complete (and simple) tutorial here.

Finished BlanketI decided to make the blanket in maroon, black and grey for my cousin Tori, who will be attending Washington College in the fall (those are the school colors). Since Tori is not a baby, I had to modify the original pattern slightly. Instead of starting with 51 stitches, I started with 71.

Finished BlanketIn the end the resulting blanket still wasn’t all that big – 45 by 49 inches. I deemed it a “study blanket”, because lap blanket sounds a little “old”. Why did I stop so short? I ran out of yarn. And by “me” I mean the DC Metro area.

Well, I suppose the real problem was that my epiphany came too late. I decided to crochet this blanket 5 days before Tori’s graduation party. I went to several craft stores trying to find the perfect shade of maroon to match Washington College. In the end I purchased my yarns from two local knitting stores – The Yarn Garden and The Yarn Spot - and I bought out all their maroon yarn.

I chose Pythmouth Encore yarns because they are cotton/acrylic/wool blends, soft and had the colors I needed. I knew I wanted to make a blanket that was easy to care for, so 100% wool or alpaca was out of the question – even though they are the softest yarns.

Close UpOverall, I am really happy with the finished product. I love how the three colors work together. Although small, the blanket is heavy! Not surprising, considering it is crocheted with 3 yarns and it is a total of 12 skeins. At 200 yards per skein, that’s 2400 yards of yarn in a small (45″ x49″) area. No wonder it’s so hefty!

I definitely want to try this pattern again. I love working with my large size S crochet hook. Anyone else have a good pattern for a large hook?

Dismantle. Rebuild.

Sound overly dramatic? Well, I think you’re in store for a dramatic upgrade in our kitchen…

P1080987Does anyone else have unkind feelings towards this wooden valance above our sink, connecting our cabinets? That thing has been driving me crazy for the last four years, but we didn’t have the courage to tear it down until now.

Awesome InstallationTwo small wooden blocks were glued to the valance and then those blocks were screwed into the cabinets. Only, this side didn’t fair so well, so they slathered on a lot of glue. Jeremy removed the screws from each block, but they were both so heavily glued, that the valance didn’t budge. We broke out the hammer, crowbar and mallet to knock this baby down.

One side remainsThe valance ended up cracking and taking down only one of the blocks with it. It peeled away from the second block, leaving it glued to our cabinet. Never doubt the power of wood glue, even after sixteen years. We sliced the glue with a knife trying to loosen the hold, but Jeremy still had to attack it with a hammer and crowbar. Now our cabinets look like this:

Glue Mess

Cabinet DamageThe wood glue was not very forgiving. We have plans for how to repair/conceal the damage, but that’s for another day…

No More ValanceDoesn’t it suddenly feel light and airy in here? Except for that thing…

Sink LightYea, I am talking about that sad little light above the sink. Now that the valance is gone, we can finally experiment with pendant lamps!

If you follow me on Pinterest then you probably noticed all of my lighting pins recently. So many beautiful pendant lights out there! We ended up choosing the smaller HEKTAR pendant lamp from IKEA ( I think we might have paid less for it in-store).

HektarHooray!We hung the lamp so that the base is about mid-window. The finish on the shade is the same as our dining room chandelier, so that’s a plus. This lamp is a little industrial without feeling too out of place inside our home. We hope it is a sign of where our kitchen is headed. Isn’t it a great improvement over where we started?

The kitchen is starting to come together now. Although we’ve entered the phase that YoungHouseLove calls the middle, where “the middle makes no sense”. From here until we declare the kitchen “finished” it’s going to look/feel a little disconnected. We have ideas for window coverings, countertops, stoves and repairs – so we’ll keep you posted as we work through the middle.

What about you, in love with wooden valances? Do you think I should do a better job of staging photos, or do you like seeing the weird items on my countertops?