Sunday, November 29, 2009

DIY Tabletop Trees

First of all, I hope you all had a lovely Thanksgiving! By now, of course, just about everyone has shifted into Christmas gear. After a stretch of warm, sunny weather here, it's cold and blustery today, so now it finally feels like the holiday season has officially arrived.

This year, I thought I'd try making some of my own decorations. I've always loved the "tabletop trees" that seem to be everywhere now. I'm particularly fond of the glittery ones, like these Gold Trees from Crate & Barrel ($29.95 for a set of 2), but Target's curled wood version is pretty fabulous, too ($24.99).

At these prices, they're not going to break the bank or anything. Yet being the penny-pincher I am, I thought to myself, I bet I could make something like that for half the cost. Plus, it could be kinda fun! So I started searching for materials to make my own conical creations. Here's what I found:


23" Christmas Craft Tree - Hobby Lobby (40% off): $4.79
17" Christmas Craft Tree - Hobby Lobby (40% off): $3.59
itsy BEADsies bowl and vase filler - Hobby Lobby (2 bags @ 50% off): $4.99
18 ft. True Silver Holiday Garland - Target (2 garlands): $7.98

So the garland from Target wasn't exactly a bargain, but it was the perfect size for this project -- nice and skinny, so my tree wouldn't be all shaggy. Making the garland tree was pretty simple. All I did was wrap the garland around it, starting at the base and keeping the rows packed tight. I dabbed some hot glue on it every so often to keep the rows in place. Total time: about 20 minutes.

The beaded tree, however, was a bit more tedious. First, I covered the cone in gold wrapping paper, which I already had on hand. Then, I hot glued the beads on one by one, starting at the bottom. They were actually a little bit squishy, which worked out well when I was trying to squeeze them together as close as possible. Once I started, I realized it was going to take awhile, but I had to see it through to the end... which came about two hours later (including a couple breaks to rest my eyes and straighten my hunched back). Yikes!

And (drumroll, please), here are my completed tabletop trees in all their glimmering glory!

What do you think? I have to say I'm pretty pleased overall. The silver garland created a super-sparkly effect, and I love the texture, too. I wish there were fewer gaps in my beaded tree, but there really wasn't much I could do about that. I didn't save quite as much money as I had hoped; however, I do still have some leftover garland and beads for another project. There's also something to be said for the feeling of accomplishment you get when you can say "I made it myself." I may even experiment with more tabletop trees made with other materials... flowers, feathers, ribbon... oh, the possibilities!

More Christmas decorations coming soon... Yippee!

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The 'Zine Scene

So I got my first issues of House Beautiful and Better Homes and Gardens in the mail a few days ago (thanks to a couple of 1-year subscriptions on Amazon for a mere 5 smackers). I've been trying not to look at them, like a kid trying not to peek at the Christmas presents, because I want some new reading material to take along on the Thanksgiving road trip.

I'm super excited to start channeling my inner domestic diva! Anyone out there subscribe to either of these mags? What other glossies are you reading? (Even if it's not home-related... I'm also a fan of InStyle and Bon Appetit.)

Speaking of the impending holiday... I'll be making some pumpkin pie bars and apple pie today to take to the fam ... yummmm! 

And next time I post, I'll hopefully have some good Black Friday deals to report on, and of course... decorating for Christmas! I'm even going to get my Martha Stewart on and try my hand at a crafty project or two... check back for an update on Sunday!

But until then... Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Flashback: Well, how about that?

If you'll recall from my previous post on our sprinkler system, we had almost finished it up until we realized there was another very important step we needed to take...something we had neglected to research, being the naive first-time homebuyers we were.

As it turns out, most homes in the area we live have their own wells in their yard to access the large water table that's below this part of town. Some have their well hooked up to their whole house, and some only have it hooked up to their outside faucets and sprinkler systems. After talking to several neighbors, we found out that having a well would be a big money-saver in the long run, even though it's a large cost upfront. After all, once you pay for the installation, the water is essentially free after that. We decided to get ours hooked up to our sprinkler system, since we knew we'd be using a lot of H20 once we installed our sod.

Drilling a well is obviously not a DIY project. We got some recommendations for a local drilling company, and set up a time for them to come drill. When the day came, we both took off work to come oversee the process. It was a good thing we hadn't laid sod or built our fence yet, because they had to back their big honker of a rig right up into our backyard.

The whole process was pretty interesting... and a little frightening at times. See for yourself:

When they started the drilling process, this is what spewed up from the bowels of the earth (ok, so maybe it was only from a few feet down):

 Eventually, we had our own little lake in our backyard. Lovely, no?

Fifty feet later (at $16/foot), they were ready to install the casing for the well (the long white tube).

After back-filling the rest of the hole around the casing with sand, they installed the actual pump mechanism.

Finally, after some water testing, it was all over. Our very own well! Actually, the whole thing took less than two hours. We also learned a lot from the process. For instance, have you ever seen brown or even black stains on sidewalks or driveways? Here's a couple pictures from the sidewalks down our street:

Turns out this is caused by the iron content from the groundwater. It's hit-or-miss, and some houses get it worse than others depending on their location. We've experienced it ourselves too (the picture below is what the edge of our driveway looks like now), but there's not much you can do about it. Plus, you get used to it when you see it everywhere else.

Once the well was finished, we were able to get it hooked up to the sprinkler system and finish that part, too. And so ends another [painfully long] chapter of the saga of our lawn. Next step? Getting some GREEN!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Clean Sweep

So, I had the day off work today and what did I choose to do with my time?  Lounge on the couch watching TV? Spend the day outside enjoying the unseasonably beautiful weather? No, for the last five or so hours, I've been doing some serious house-cleaning. Dusting, vacuuming, scrubbing the bathroom tub, shower and floors... I even managed to get all the laundry done. Am I crazy to spend my vacation day doing this? Perhaps. But let me tell you, it felt pretty darn good. Plus, not a bad workout. And now I can chillax the rest of the weekend.

How do you feel about cleaning house? Do you dread it, or do you find it therapeutic? What part of cleaning makes you cringe the most?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Flashback: All Systems Go

When we bought our house, I knew there was going to be some manual labor involved in the near future, since it was lawn-less. Looking back, though, I had no idea! As you can probably guess from the picture in my previous post, our first order of business was to do something about the desert that existed around our house. But before we could even think about planting grass seed or laying sod, we needed to put in a sprinkler system. And, before I continue any further, I should inform you that my husband Luke’s three favorite letters are D, I, and Y. That makes me, by association, a DIY-er as well (not that there's anything wrong with that).

Luckily, Luke had helped a family friend install a sprinkler system once before, so he had some idea of what was involved. We also took a free class that was offered at a local sprinkler system company, and paid $65 for a DIY design and materials list to give us a starting point.

Once we had our system mapped out to our liking (thanks to AutoCAD), it was time to buy all the parts we needed – from elbows, tees, and couplings, to rotors and spray heads, to poly pipe and funny pipe (although I never understood what was so funny about it). We also rented a Ditch Witch to pull our poly pipe deep below the ground. But unfortunately a machine couldn't do it all for us. We did our share of trench-digging too, in order to find the poly pipes so we could connect them to each other, and make our connections to the sprinkler heads via the funny pipe. Yeesh.

While we were digging, we also ran into some lovely construction waste buried in the dirt, like some sort of concrete graveyard. Here are the remains piled on our driveway.

These are three sprinkler heads connected to the funny pipe... it looked like some sort of giant prehistoric clawprint, which is why I probably took the photo.

And these are some of the many trenches we dug to get to the poly pipe after it was pulled through the ground by the Ditch Witch. We had to be very careful when digging to find the pipe, so as not to puncture it with the shovel.

I took this picture to celebrate our very first connection!

The whole thing was a very physically and emotionally draining process as far as I was concerned (the phrase "blood, sweat, and tears" comes to mind), and there were times I felt we’d never get it done. At one point, we had unsightly blue poly pipe sticking up all over the yard for quite some time, which prompted some questions from passersby about what it was for. Not too long ago, I probably would have asked the same question, but now I was all too familiar with it!

After what seemed like several weeks of working on the sprinkler system whenever we could after work or on the weekends (as long as the weather was cooperating), we had finally almost finished it – thanks to the help of Luke’s parents, too. Why almost? Well, I'll get to that in my next post.

I can truthfully say that I'm proud we did it all ourselves and saved hundreds of dollars in the process (even though my sanity and overall well-being was put to the test). However, once was enough... one of my prerequisites for our next house is that it already has a sprinkler system... or we'll pay someone else to do it!

I know I didn't go into a lot of details on the whole process (maybe because I've tried to block it from my memory?), but if you have any specific questions about it, I'd be happy to try and answer them! Likewise, if you have any of your own sprinkler system adventures -- or misadventures -- feel free to share!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Here goes nothin'!

Welcome to my blog!

Even though my husband and I have been living in our little house on the corner for over a year and a half now, I just recently decided to start a blog to document our adventures as first-time homeowners. In a short period of time, we've already managed to get a lot done (which I'll recount in "flashbacks"), but our little abode still has much more in store for us.  Turns out it takes a lot of work to turn a brand new house into a home!

The picture above is what our house looks like now. Below is what it looked like when we first bought it. Pretty barren. So how did we get this far? You'll have to stay tuned for all the juicy dirt. Pun intended.

For those of you who haven't fallen asleep yet, there are a few reasons I wanted to start a blog:
1) To act not only as my own personal journal for keeping track of everything we're doing, but also as a sounding board to get feedback and ideas from others out there who are going through the same experiences -- whether they're first-time homeowners or not.
2) To keep my family and friends up to date on our adventures. I was already e-mailing them every time we complete a project anyway, so why not put it on this nifty little blog instead?
3) While I'm not vain enough to think that my home improvement blog is some earth-shattering new concept, I do hope that maybe I can even inspire someone else every once in awhile.

Speaking of inspiration, now seems like a good time to give a shout out to my sister before I sign off. She's got a great blog, The Yellow Front Door, and encouraged me to become a fellow blogger as well.

Whew... my first post! That felt good. My goal is to write at least once a week, so I hope you'll check back in regularly to see what we're getting ourselves into next!


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