Monday, December 28, 2009

Sidelight Solutions: Create privacy without sacrificing style

Since I just started this blog in November, it seems like most of my posts have been related to the holidays and Christmas decorating. As much fun as that was, now it's time to get down to the nitty gritty of everyday living! I've got a lot of things to cover--both past and future projects.

I thought I'd start with a little DIY project that we did shortly after we moved into our house last year. Here's what our front door and entryway looked like back then. (A frustrating space to work with, but more on that some other time...) Ignore the random folding chair--the realtor sat there during open houses.

At first, I loved all of the windows, and how much natural light they let in. But after living here awhile, this facade also left me feeling a I knew we'd end up getting curtains on the picture window at some point, but I still had a privacy issue with the sidelights and the window in the door that allowed any ol' Joe Schmoe to peer into our living room. Luke scoffed at my paranoia, but needless to say, I eventually won that battle. :)

Our options for covering up the windows included changing them out for custom frosted glass (too expensive), or installing small curtain rods and panels (too hard to find something stylish). Then one day while browsing at Home Depot, I discovered Artscape decorative window film. After doing some research online, I figured it was worth a shot.

There were lots of patterns to choose from, but I decided on the Rice Paper, which was the most subtle while still achieving the desired effect.

Sidelight Window Film 12" x 83"

Sidelight Window Film 24" x 36"

I didn't take any pictures of the process at the time (who knew I'd blog about it someday?), but applying the film was really pretty simple. After cleaning the windows, we just had to peel the film off the paper backing, spray the window with a mixture of water and dish soap, and then press the film against the window (on the inside, of course). The most time-consuming part was trimming the film to fit the window once it was in place. We also used a squeegee to make sure there were no air bubbles.

This is a really bad picture I took during the day (before we covered the door window), but you can see how the light still shines in through the film.

Since we were covering the two sidelights and the window in the door, it made sense to cover the transom above the door as well. But I wanted to change it up a bit, so I had the idea (*pats self on back*) to cut our last name out of the film, so that part of the glass would be clear. Since Hubby has the most precision and attention to detail between the both of us, I let him tackle that part. He printed out the letters on separate sheets of paper and cut them out to use as stencils. It took a couple of painstaking hours, but he did a great job. Plus, when the porch light is on at night, it shines through our name into the house and onto the wall in a funky, distorted kind of way. A nice little effect that we didn't plan on!

Night-time view from the outside
The overall cost of this project was about $60 for the three rolls of film we used. For being a quick, economical solution, I'm pretty happy with it so far. The film still lets some natural light in, and when we want more light or to see outside, we just open the curtains on the picture window. And, if we decide someday that we don't like the film anymore, it's supposedly easy to remove!

This film would also be great for a bathroom window or any other room where you want a little privacy without sacrificing style.

(New pic taken after we painted our walls gray. It's been seven years since we applied this window film and it still looks great!)

So what do you think of the faux frosted glass effect? Would these windows have bothered you, or was I crazy to let my paranoia take over and cover them up? (You can tell me the truth.) What would you have done?

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Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas deals and steals: Somebody stop me!

I. Love. Michael's.

My post-Christmas shopping experience yesterday just wasn't quite satisfying enough, so I ventured out again today in search of more sales. Hobby Lobby is usually my go-to store for crafts and decor in general, but I had already been there (plus, they're not open on Sundays anyway). So, I decided to see what Michael's had left over, and I totally hit the jackpot. Why do I not go to this store more often?!
They still had a pretty decent amount of holiday merchandise to peruse through (all 50-70% off!), and I was there for a good hour and a half, filling my cart with goodies. I could have come away with so much more, but I had to stop myself at some point. Let's just say it's a good thing they don't make their carts much bigger. Check these out!

36" Wreath - $9.99
I plan on sprucing this up with ribbon and maybe some ornaments, and then hanging it above our garage door next year. (Who am I kidding? Hubby will be the one to hang it. :)
As you can see, Phoebe wasted no time hopping in the middle as soon as I put it on the floor; she loves laying on our stuff and being contained in small spaces... ain't she cute?

10" Jingle Ball Wreath - $5.99
I'd love to eventually get a big mirror up on our empty dining room wall. If and when that happens, it would make the perfect canvas for this festive little wreath. (Unless I get ambitious enough to make an Eddie Ross ornament wreath.) I really love the look of wreaths hanging by a wide ribbon on the front of a mirror.

Plastic Craft Ornaments - $0.39 each
I envision these filled with faux snow and maybe some strands of tinsel or ribbon swirled inside. Easy DIY ornaments!

Ceramic containers - $1.79 each (!!!)
They had a bunch of cute containers that were all 70% off. I so badly wanted to snatch up ALL of them, but couldn't really justify that. So I settled for these two lovelies, which have just the right amount of glitz & glitter.

Potpourri Vase Filler - $2.99 and Christmas Raffia - $1.19
Perhaps I will put the vase filler in the above containers??

12" Glass Candle Holder - $5.49 and 14" Glass Candle Holder - $6.49
I think I'm most excited about these beauties! The shiny, silvery/gold design is going to look gorgeous with a little tealight glowing inside! They'll get along very nicely with my tabletop trees, too.
After I dragged myself away from Michael's, I decided to stop at Dollar General just to see what bargains they had. There wasn't much that caught my eye, except for these:

 Mini ornaments - $0.50 each and Tinsel strands - $0.50

I'm not sure where I'll put the mini ornaments, but I know I'll find a place for them somewhere! (I may use the little light bulbs as charms on gifts I wrap.) As for the tinsel, I'll stuff it inside the clear ornaments from Michael's.

Wow - that was exhilarating! I'm so excited about all of these finds, not to mention the money I saved! I felt that our holiday decor (aka the "Christmas corner") was a little weak this year, because we haven't really accumulated that much yet. This is definitely going to help, though.

Better yet, I just learned yesterday that they're going to build a brand new Michael's only a couple miles away from us! Woo-hoo!
I don't know about you, but I'm ready for Christmas 2010!  :)

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Post-Christmas Pick-me-up

So, Christmas is officially over. *tear* I hope you all had a safe, happy holiday with your loved ones. I know I did! (Except my sister wasn't able to make it back home due to the winter!)

December 25 may have come and gone, but I'm going to cling to my Christmas tree background for just a little bit longer before I commit to a new one. Likewise, we're still going to keep all the decorations up for awhile in our house, so that makes me feel a little less depressed. AND, Luke and I went shopping all over town today to check out the Christmas sales (surprisingly enough, he didn't put up much of a fight, so I took advantage of his good mood!). We didn't get up as early as I had wanted to, so I think a lot of the Christmas selection was already picked over, but I did manage to score a few things I'd been wanting (all 50% off):

Ribbon - $4.99/100ft. @ Target
I want to try wrapping this around our tree, and I'm sure I'll find plenty of uses for the extra!

Wrapping paper
$1.99/25 sq. ft. @ Target (3 rolls on left)
$3.99/90 sq. ft. @ Hobby Lobby (roll on right)

Snowflake stocking holders
$8.50/ea at Hobby Lobby
(The stockings were bought after Christmas last year at Walmart). 

We don't have a fireplace mantel (sad face) and our sideboard is already decked out, so instead I hung them with care on the ledge in our stairwell. This is the first time we've had stockings in our house, so next year we'll get to have fun with stocking stuffers!

How about you? Did you get any great deals on Christmas decor for next year?

Thursday, December 24, 2009

"Elph" Yourself!

Hubby and I opened each other's Christmas presents a little early this year, and I was so excited when I opened my gift and saw this beauty nestled inside!

I guess all my complaining about my crappy, bulky, old camera must have worked. :) I am now the proud owner of a Canon PowerShot Digital Elph SD780 IS. Woop woop! I'll be doing a lot of reading up and experimenting this Christmas to see what all it can do; I'm not used to something this advanced. Hopefully you'll see an improvement with the pics on my blog, too. I think this will inspire me to become quite the photographer!

On semi-related note, have you created a holiday greeting on Elf Yourself yet? I received a couple of these from friends, but finally made my own a couple days ago. It was a riot! Really easy, too. If you haven't played around with it yet, I recommend it! I even elf-ed our cat, Phoebe. Ok, so some people thought it was a little creepy, but she is part of the family after all (as much as my husband doesn't want to admit it. :)

Oh, and my rum cake from earlier this week turned out to be a success! Very moist and yummy. I'll be making another one for Christmas with the fam.

That's all for now, folks -- I'll be signing off for a couple days to enjoy the rest of this frigid, blustery, blizzard of a holiday. Have a very Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Office Christmas Party

So tomorrow, my department is having a Holiday Sweater Party (aka wear your most over-the-top holiday sweater) and white elephant gift exchange. We're also supposed to bring goodies to graze on all day, and I figured this was a good opportunity to try out a new recipe. I've been wanting to make a rum cake for quite some time, and I already had a bottle of rum extract that I bought for a different recipe a couple weeks ago. Conveniently enough, the side of the box featured a recipe for -- what else? -- a rum cake! So here's the recipe, along with some baking tidbits from my own experience sprinkled in.

Easy Rum Cake
1 pkg. (18 1/4 oz.) yellow cake mix
1 pkg. (3 1/2 oz.) instant vanilla pudding mix
4 eggs
1 cup water
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
2 tbsp. imitation rum extract
1 cup chopped pecans
Butter Rum Glaze (recipe follows)

Beat all ingredients, except pecans and glaze, in large bowl with mixer on low just to moisten. Beat on medium 4 minutes.

Grease and flour 12-cup Bundt pan. Sprinkle nuts in bottom of pan.

Pour batter into pan.

Bake in 325-degree oven 1 hour or until cake begins to pull away from sides of pan. Cool in pan 15 minutes. (1 hour was just about right; the cake was light and fluffy and a nice golden color.)

Meanwhile, prepare glaze (see recipe below). Invert cake onto serving plate. (Before I inverted it, I also brushed some glaze on what would be the bottom of the cake.)

Here's a photo of the inverted cake. I was paranoid that it was going to stick to the bottom of the pan, but it came out perfectly (cue sound of choirs singing). The culinary gods are really looking out for me today.

Pierce cake with fork. Spoon warm glaze over warm cake. Cool. (It's important to pour the glaze on while it's still runny, so it will really soak into the cake.)

Butter Rum Glaze
Mix 1/2 cup sugar, 1/4 cup butter, and 2 tbsp. water. Stirring constantly, bring to boil on medium heat and boil 1 minute. Remove from heat. Stir in 1/2 tsp. rum extract.

Baking this cake made the house smell amazing all day. If the aroma is any indication, it should be dee-lish! Normally I'd taste test it before I let other people eat it, but it looks so pretty that I don't want to slice into it yet. So I'll have to let you know how it turned out tomorrow. Here's the finished product in all its rummy, yummy glory.

By the way, I felt that there wasn't enough glaze on top of the cake, so I made another 1/2 batch to drizzle over the top. Hopefully that wasn't overkill. Next time I make this cake, I'd like to try it with real rum - I just didn't have the right kind on hand.

Oh, and just in case you're wondering what I'll be wearing to the party... I'm going to pair this sparkly red turtleneck (which is not that offensive in itself) with this lovely vest -- both scored at Goodwill. It was about all they had left as far as Christmas attire; apparently, holiday sweater parties are all the rage. I still think the vest is lacking something, though, so I plan on adding some white pom-poms and red sequins (from Hob Lob, natch) for extra flair. Maybe I'll even wear my santa hat to top it all off.

Do you have any fun office parties or holiday sweater parties to attend this season?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Creative Christmas Candlescapes

I was browsing the Better Homes and Gardens site and came across a feature on holiday candle displays that caught my eye. These are just a few that I would totally copy in my house!

Hazardous? Potentially. Beautiful? Definitely!

This makes me wish we had a fireplace and mantel. I feel like I'm missing out on so much decor potential!

Reminiscent of a cool, icy, winter wonderland
Love the contrast between the pure white candles and the earthy twigs.

 Why stop with just one or two candles when you can have nine?

Perfectly festive - and a great use for a cake pedestal!

Wine glasses pull double-duty as candle holders when placed upside down on a nice serving tray.

Place votive or tealight into skinny cylinder vase. Place skinny vase into wide vase. Add fake snow and other accents to create your own candlescape!

So simple, but so fun!  I love mini ornaments.

Any of these light your fire? Or maybe you've already used one of these ideas -- and if so, kudos to you for your creative candlescaping skills!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The countdown to Christmas continues...

Wow, it's already been 5 days since I last blogged. Between work, Christmas shopping, an office Christmas party, and attending two college graduations, this past week has been a blur!

I've been meaning to post a few pics of our front porch holiday decor. It won't exactly win any awards, but ya gotta start somewhere! Here's a look from the sidewalk - as you can tell, it was starting to snow a bit. Just adds to the festive look, right?

Our porch is very deep, which is nice, but you can imagine how empty and lonely it looks when it's NOT decorated for the holidays. Oy. We still need to get some chairs and a little table out there! Perhaps I'll hit up craigslist next spring to see what treasures I can find. But I digress.

We bought this wreath for 50% off last year after Christmas, and I was so excited to pull it out and finally be able to show it off! We couldn't find a wreath hanger that would work over our front door, so we ended up buying a $2 clear suction cup hanger at Wal-Mart, and it does a dandy job. I really like our wreath! The snow-tipped needles add just enough sparkle, but not so much that it's overwhelming.

And this is why I adore our big picture window around this time of year!
Ooooh, ahhhhh!
So there you have it, folks. If you have any [economical] tips or ideas on how to dress up our porch a little more, do share! There is an outlet outside, so we could add some lighted decorations, too (but I'll probably wait to snag something on sale post-Christmas).

On another note, I managed to get some more Christmas shopping done today, so I feel a little less stressed. Only a few more gifts to go. My idea of making creative DIY gifts for everyone didn't really pan out, due to the fact that I procrastinated this month, as usual. Thank goodness for Bed Bath & Beyond and 20% off coupons, am I right??

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Flashback: From Down 'n' Dirty to Green & Glorious

I've been so caught up in Christmas decorating and shopping (and blogging about Christmas decorating and shopping), that I forgot about enlightening you with the story of our sod installation. (I'm sure you've all been waiting on the edge of your seats.) While not as fun as talking about Christmas, I must follow through with my flashbacks. So settle in... it's another long read!
For those of you who are following along, we had just had our water well drilled (way back on May 22, 2008). Once that was completed and hooked up to the sprinkler system, we were ready to transform our barren yard into a lush lawn. After mulling over our options, the instant gratification factor of sod outweighed the lower cost of seed. Living on a dirt lot was getting old quickly. Just to remind you, this is what our house looked like right after we moved in.

But first (isn't there always a But first?)... we had to essentially re-grade the ground to make sure we had the best surface possible to lay the sod. This involved four main tasks:
1) Renting a tiller to tear up the hardened soil so the sod could take root easier
2) Using a drag harrow to loosen and even out the soil
3) Hauling in more dirt to fill low areas and make sure the grade sloped away from our house
4) Grooming the dirt for a smooth surface. This involved dragging a wire fence of sorts behind my brother-in-law's lawn tractor. It also involved me and my father-in-law holding onto each other's arms for stability as we stood top of the fence to weigh it down while we circled the yard. I'm sure the people driving by were very entertained by our DIY methods (and no, I don't have a picture of that part).
This is what 4 tons of dirt looks like. Not that much, really. Until you have to shovel it all.

The prepped dirt. Listen closely... can't you just hear it crying out for sod?
Finally, after all of the prep work, it was time to have our sod delivered from the sod farm. We scheduled the date only to have to re-schedule it again after a heavy rainstorm the night before--turns out they can't cut the sod if it's too wet. So we could do nothing but schedule it again and hope for dry weather (which is usually what we get around here). But alas, another thunderstorm rolled through, delaying our plans once more. I felt like everything was working against us, and I was afraid all our hard work was washing away right before our eyes.

The third time around, it all worked out. On June 21, 2008 -- nearly three months after we moved into our house -- the grass was finally on its way (cue dramatic music). By the way, if you've ever wondered what 780 rolls of sod looks like, wonder no more:

As you can see, we enlisted some help for this project. Along with his parents, Luke was able to wrangle some of the players from the 8th grade basketball team he coached. They got to build some much-needed muscle, and it only cost us a pizza party. Win/win.

Getting started was pretty intimidating. We had to work fast, so the sod wouldn't dry out. But after developing an assembly line of sorts and getting into a rhythm, it went quicker than I thought. The boys carried over the rolls of sod (which were deceptively heavy), and we butted them up next to each other to make sure there were no gaps. 

A few hours later, everyone was sore and dripping with sweat, but our lawn was now a lush, green carpet. I had never seen anything so beautiful. Weeks worth of intense, dirty labor had culminated to this moment. And to make it even more satisfying, we used every last roll of sod and didn't need any extra. Props to Hubby's mad estimation skillz.

Immediately after the sod was installed, we had to soak it with water like crazy, to the point of being squishy to walk on. This is where having a well came in handy; otherwise our water bill would have skyrocketed. We also fertilized it with New Lawn Starter, and implemented a regular, heavy watering schedule for the next few weeks. I had irrational fears that all our sod would just start browning and dying, but we must have done something right because it's still green!

And so ends our sod saga (was that a sigh of relief I just heard?). After this, we took a big break from any lawn projects, even though we still had no landscaping to speak of. But after paying for a sprinkler system, a well, and sod, the ol' pocketbook needed a breather, too. (Even though we saved a lot of money by installing almost everything ourselves.)
I'll have more to share later on, as we've finally gotten around to some landscaping this year. But for now, it's making me tired just re-living this part. If you've made it to the end of this post, thanks for sticking with it!


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