Tuesday, May 20, 2014

{Celebrating with Cupcakes & Fondant}

Baby Agnes turned one in May.  Um, what?  Yes, I said it.  She's one already.  We spent the whole year in shock that we had a girl and now we've moved onto the phase where we're shocked that she's one already.  There's nothing like a growing child to show you just how quickly the time passes.  They are like living, breathing scrapbooks or time capsules.  You look at them today and your memory plays a movie in your head of the days that have passed.  Jeff and I spent the whole weekend singing "Happy Birthday" to her over and over.  Poor child.  We also kept saying things like, "Remember when she used to fit in our arms like this?" and "Remember when she just laid there on her playmat, not able to really do anything?"  Now she's cruising the furniture like nobody's business, climbing up on the couch using anything close by as a step stool (including dad's face), and taking just one single step unassisted before hesitating and sitting back down.
Jeff and I took off from work on her actual birthday to spend the day with her.  Since the weather was crappy, we didn't do much of anything besides get things ready for the next day's party.  Luckily, the forecast for party day was perfectly cool & sunny.  I love the month of May.  We all enjoyed having birthday tea on the playroom floor using the new tea set we bought her, even Grandpa.

She likes to share and tries to very forcefully jam the spoon into your mouth.  Then she chucks the cups and saucers over her shoulder in a very Mad-Hatter way.  I originally wanted to do a rainbow theme or a Mad Hatter Tea Party them, so I almost bought her this top-hat by LilBirdsCouture on Etsy to wear for the big day.  

{$24} Pink Lemonade Vintage Inspired Birthday - Mini Top Hat Headband (or fascinator)
But, Jeff practically insisted on a May Flowers theme, and I agreed it was easier and more fitting for the time of the year.  I'll re-explore the Mad Hatter theme for when she's older and has real girlfriends to invite for tea.  

That night, Jeff made dinner and we celebrated with the Grandparents and some cupcakes.  I spent the rest of the night decorating more cupcakes with homemade chocolate icing that I made with Ghirardelli cocoa powder and a mini cake that I covered in fondant.  Screw making my own cake batter.   When people rave over them, I always tell them the batter is from the box.  I'm not one to take credit for something I didn't do.  Mr. Hines and Mrs. Crocker are my friends and they do quite a fine job in this busy mother's opinion.  Can I, and have I made my own?  Yes.  Maybe one day the negative stigma over boxed cake mixes will be a thing of the past.  What's your take on it? 

Oh, and while at the store, I also picked up a box of this blue velvet cake mix just for the heck of it and mostly because it's my favorite color. I don't care when or how I use it, but I can't wait.  Maybe some tri-colored cupcakes for the 4th of July or something like that.   
The little flowers on the chocolate cupcakes are made out of royal icing, which dries rock hard.  It's the cement for bakers.  I made a big batch of these flowers a long time ago after my mom sent me a birthday package full of Wilton cake decorating supplies.  She used to be a cake decorator at a local arts & crafts store called Lee Wards.  Michaels bought them out.  I remember going in there as a kid and seeing her decorated cakes hanging up on the wall.  I was like, "How do heck do they stay up there?"  I didn't realize they were fake.  Anyway, royal icing decorations keep in an airtight container FOR.EVER.  This is the third time I've used them and I still have a bunch left.  I recommend making a ton if you have the time, so you'll always have a stash to make your cupcakes pop. 

People call me crazy when I do creative stuff like this, but this is my therapy.  This is my yoga.  This is my xanax.  This birthday cake for my daughter's 1st was the first time I experimented with covering a cake with fondant.  The design was inspired by the Cake Boss and thanks to his TV show, I felt like a real pro.  "I'm not a professional cake decorator, but I learned how to be one while watching TV."  I had a little extra help with this Cake Boss kit that I bought at Michaels.  I didn't buy the pre-made fondant like the book suggests because I made my own a while ago (fondant keeps for a long time too), and used it to make the ears, eyes, eyebrows, and nose of a fox cake that I made for my sister's birthday.  

I had a huge chunk of it leftover, so I brought it out and added my own Wilton gel colors to it to match the colors in my daughter's birthday decorations.  

This stuff is like play-doh for adults.  So. Much. Fun!  It probably helped that I had a few drinks while making the cake.  I'm not a drinker so a little goes a long way with me.  As you're rolling it out, you're supposed to periodically lift the fondant sheet up and dust your table with more powdered sugar.  Well, I didn't.  I blame it on the alcohol.  

It ended up sticking to the mat in a very big way so I had to scrape it off with a bench scraper and start over.  Oh well, lesson learned.  You'd think all the cookie dough I've rolled out would have taught me that lesson, but no.  I like to learn things the hard way.  Over and over.  Ironically, I also blame my calmness about the above on the alcohol.  I should drink more often.  I really should.    
I displayed the cake on a boring clear glass cake stand.  I've been on the hunt for the perfect vintage cake stand like this one sold by SwirlingOrange11 on Etsy:

{$295} Turquoise Blue Milk Glass Cake Stand, Opaque Blue Milk Glass Wedding Cake or Cupcake Pedestal

So far, I haven't been able to find one at the price I'd like to pay.  When I finally find the one, though, I may just have to bite the bullet and pay a little extra. 

The cupcake stand is also a Wilton product.  I used a 50% off coupon at JoAnn Fabric so it cost me about $10.  It collapses so it stores nice and compact on a shelf in my basement.  The nice thing about it is that the tier surfaces are slanted outwards so the tops of your cupcakes are displayed, not the sides so much.  You can also attach ribbon, lace, or any other decorative trim to the sides to add another element of design to your cupcake display.  I haven't done this, but if I ever do, I'll probably use sticky scrapbooking tabs or something to hold the trim on instead of hot glueing it.        
For the party decor, I went to Party City and bought the standard party stuff.  Cups, plates, napkins, tissue paper hanging thingies, paper lanterns, and helium balloons.  I wanted to add a little personalized touch, so I printed out one picture from each month of Agnes's life and hung them in chronological order.  I used a strand of pink & white baker's twine and mini wooden clothes pins to hold each photo.  It was so hard to pick my favorite one, but the experience of going through all of those photos was a nice way to reminisce about the year. 
I saved the triangles of scrapbook paper that I cut out for her baptism decorations, seen above, and hung them in between each photo.  The big tissue paper pom poms can be made yourself, like I did here for Agnes's baptism.  I used all the tissue paper that I got in baby shower gifts.  The pom poms for her birthday were store-bought because I was feeling lazy and wanted to focus my energy and time on her cake.  Call me cheap, call me frugal, call me a hoarder, but I save all of it.  I flatten it out as best I can and store it in my basement with the hundred and one gift bags I've received over the years for baby showers and birthdays.  You have to understand too, that I'm an environmentalist by profession.  I do care about not wasting resources, so when I can, I try to recycle things, especially paper.  When I need to use the tissue paper, I'll iron it on a low setting if I need to and if I have the time.  Otherwise, it gets shoved into a gift bag, crinkles and all.   

Well, the party was a success, and everyone enjoyed the cupcakes and mini cake, especially Agnes.  I was able to really enjoy myself and the weather, thanks to everyone who helped that day.  Jeff manned the grill, and Grandma made the sides.  Everyone pitched in and helped clean up too, which is always so helpful.  Happy Birthday to our sweet, happy-go-lucky, baby girl who has put smiles on all of our faces since the day she was born.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

{How To Hang Something from Your Ceiling}

In today's post, I'll show you how to hang a mid-weight item from your plaster ceiling (with tips for drywall too), using a cordless drill and a swag hook kit from the hardware store. As an added bonus, I'll share a tip with you that will make clean-up of falling debris a cinch!  In this example, I hung a chandelier that I had re-wired and then I re-vamped it by spray painting it pink for my daughter's bedroom.  

{Know Your Opponent}

Before you begin any hanging project, it's important to know the weight of the item to be hung, the type of ceiling material you're working with, and make sure you are using the correct hardware for the job.  My home was built in the early 50's and has plaster walls and ceilings, which was an unpleasant surprise to this 2nd-time homeowner. So, the type of anchors, screws, nails, etc. that worked in my previous dry-walled home do not work for my new home's plaster.

Here's an example for you...an old landlord thought it was a good idea to hang a ceiling fan from one of these swag hooks.  These hooks are not meant for something that heavy.  We left the fan on low while we were away for a long Summer weekend just to keep the air circulating a little.  Well, I'll just say the words "Massive CD collection" and "wrecking ball" and you can paint your own mental picture.  No bueno.

The chandelier will hang above a bed, so it's important that it won't come crashing down on someone in the middle of the night.  The package usually describes the weight capacity for the hardware.  Follow it to avoid the aforementioned scenario.

{Gather Your Supplies}

•protective eye gear
•cordless drill
•drill bits (one tiny and one large)
•paper dixie cup
•swag hook kit
•tape measure

For safety's sake, wear protective eye gear and use your tools carefully.  You'll be looking up and foreign debris can very easily get into your eyes. 

For this project I gathered the chandelier, a tape measure, a pencil, my cordless drill, a couple of drill bits, a paper dixie cup, and my swag hook kit.  Also shown is the plug portion of the cord kit used to convert my chandelier from hard-wire to plug-in.  That tutorial is in the works.

Arrange your tools and materials in one spot close to your work zone.  This is going to save you lots of climbing up and down ladders, or in my case, a bed.  

{Pick Your Spot Wisely}

Determine the ideal location for your item, keeping in mind any 6-foot-3 inhabitants of your home.  Also, be aware of things like windows and doorways.  You don't want to take all this time carefully hanging your decoration, only to bash it with a door or for a breeze through an open window to cause a problem.  I wanted the chandelier to hang in the center of the alcove, over the bed.  So, I measured a center point of just the alcove area, not the whole room, using a tape measure and marked a tiny dot on the ceiling with my pencil.  

{Ingenious Trick for Easy Clean-Up} 

Next, put your small drill bit on your drill.  Use it to poke a hole in the bottom of the dixie cup and feed the cup down onto the drill bit so that the bottom of the cup rests against the drill.  Tear away about half of the cup so the drill bit is longer than the cup.  The cup will stay on the drill as you drill into the ceiling, catching most, if not all, of the debris that will come out of the hole.  This makes for a no-mess project!  That's a huge plus...unless you're like me who is prone to making things harder on yourself by making stupid mistakes.  
After being so impressed with my dixie cup trick, I set my drill down on the bed against the chandelier, being careful that the cup stayed upright.  Well, it fell over and out came all of the dust and debris all over my daughter's vintage quilt.  My sister and I call that "pulling a Nuskey"...our maiden name.  We call each other at random to share lots of these little moments, usually starting the conversation with, "I just pulled a Nuskey...".

{Do Some Exploratory Drilling}

Using a tiny drill bit, drill up into the ceiling at the spot you marked with your pencil.  If you are not met with much resistance and the drill bit goes all the way through easily, you did not hit a wood joist (one of the wood beams that runs vertically across you house).  No worries, though.  Read on to see what to do next.  

{Did You Find a Joist?}

If you did meet resistance and you notice that some of your debris is saw dust, you hit a wooden joist and the job just became a little bit easier.  If you hit a joist, you simply screw the swag hook onto the blunt end of the wood screw included in the kit and then screw the pointy end up into the ceiling and joist until the hook is flush with the ceiling.  That's it!  You're done!  

{Visualize a Toggle Bolt as Being Kind of Like Childbirth}

Now, if you did not hit a joist, change out your drill bit to the larger one and put your dixie dust catcher back on.  Assemble the toggle bolt like this:

The little wings have a spring in them that allows them to spring outwards like this, but up inside your ceiling.  Picture having a baby...in your womb baby is able to stretch out just a little....but once it's time to come out he has to bend completely in half to fit through the birth canal.  Once he's on the other side, though, he can stretch out again.  Nice visual, huh?  No?  Sorry.  I had two C-sections so I apologize if I brought back any painful memories for you.  

To accomplish this childbirth like task, you have to drill a hole large enough to fit the assembled toggle bolt, toggle and all, up into the ceiling. It probably will be the size of a dime in diameter.  The base of the swag hook will cover this huge hole, so don't worry.  If your drill bit is not that large in diameter, just keep the drill going while making a circular motion inside the drill to shave off the sides of the hole a little at a time.  Your glad you have your dixie dust catcher now, aren't you?  

You'll thank me when you realize you don't have to take a shower just to get dust out of your hair.  It may be trial and error, so stop and check every few seconds to see if the hole is large enough.  If not, keep going.  

Once the hole is wide enough, pinch the wings down against the screw and push the whole thing up inside.  Be sure that the hook is on the end because you want to push the screw upwards as far as you can to ensure the wings spring back out, yet you don't want to lose your screw up there too.  

Lastly, as you screw the hook clockwise to tighten, pull downwards gently at the same time.  The wings will grip the inside of the ceiling and the screw will appear to be getting shorter and shorter, with the hook getting closer and closer towards the ceiling.    

source:  wikihow.com

Once you have tightened the hook and it is flush against the ceiling, you're done!  Now you can hang your project and be proud that you did it all by yourself.    

As Always, Stay Cozy!

Monday, May 5, 2014

{Weekend Revamp ~ Spray Painting a Brass Chandelier}

In today's post, you'll learn how to use spray paint to turn a boring, ugly brass chandelier into a lovely, more updated piece you'll be proud of.  You'll also learn how I converted a hard-wired lighting fixture into a plug-in fixture.  Finally, I'll provide a link that will show you how to hang a chandelier, or any light- to mid-weight item, from a plaster ceiling with tips for hanging it from dry wall too.

{Train Your Eye to See the Potential in Junk}

When flea marketing or antiquing, have a mental list of things you're looking for.  Try not to make it too specific, though.  If you need a red side table, don't look for a red side table.  Instead, look for a table you love because of its shape and lines.  You can always paint it red yourself!  

I picked up this ugly contractor-grade brass chandelier while antiquing at Antiques & Art Emporium in Burlington, NJ with a good friend.
It certainly was no antique, that I knew for sure, but it was a steal at $15.  My daughter's room needed another light source and this would be perfect. However, it was a hard-wire type fixture and there is no receptacle in the ceiling of my daughter's room.  My early 1950's home was built with electrical outlets above each window with these awful flourescent lights plugged into them.  The outlets are attached to very convenient lightswitches, right by the doorways, but they made the house look like a creepy funeral parlor. I still haven't taken down the one in our master bedroom and every time Jeff flips the switch by accident (or on purpose), I yell at him until he turns it off.  I can't bear it.  Anyway, I planned on converting the chandelier into a plug-in fixture and the over-the-window outlet is at the perfect height and location.

{Make Friends Wherever You Go}

So, the following Sunday, I took the fixture with me to a barn sale on Meadowbrook Road in nearby Robbinsville (google maps address is 245 Meadowbrook Road -- look for a small sign by the road, the barn is set back).  Paul opens his barn to the public on Sundays only.  He gets his stock from auctions, estate sales, and house clean-outs so it's a great place to pick and the stock is forever changing.  Chances are, when you go to Paul's barn sale, you'll run into some of his very friendly and helpful buddies.  One of them is Brian Carroll, a lighting professional who has a showroom with his wife at Tomato Factory Antiques in Hopewell, NJ.  He rewired the main part of the chandelier for me, leaving the arms wired the way they were since they looked as though they had never been used.  He left me extra cord so that I could make it as long as I wanted.  All I had to do was attach the plug on the end, which was surprisingly simple.  I'll post a how-to later.

The chandelier then sat around for another month or two.  After a relaxing weekend away with my sister, I was inspired to take on some projects that have been nagging me to get done.  So, without further adieu...here is how I turned a boring contractor-grade brass chandelier into a gorgeous pale pink lighting fixture for my baby girl's bedroom. 

{Gather Your Materials}

•TSP cleaner
•rag & small container of water
•rubber gloves
•dropcloth or large cardboard box
•metal spray primer
•colored spray paint of your choice
•plastic bag

{Get Busy!}

Here are the products that I used to clean and paint the chandelier.

First, I removed the plastic tubes and metal cups from each arm.

Next, I used sand paper to rough up the surface of the chandelier and little cups so the primer and paint would have  something to stick to.
Then I put on my chemical-resistant gloves and wiped away the sanding dust, using a rag and a mixture of water and TSP.  
I protected the cord with a plastic bag.  Then, using a large cardboard box as a drop cloth, I primed everything with the metal primer. 
Two coats of primer covered up all of that ugly brass quite well, didn't it?

The next day, I hung it from my clothesline to get access to all of the nooks and crannies, which worked well.  I sprayed two coats of pale pink.  Let me tell you...spray painting is NOT good on a windy day.  I guess it was good that I didn't breathe the fumes in, but I think I wasted a good portion!

The cups got a coat of pink too.

{Finishing Touches}

The finishing touches were a cord cover and a ceiling medallion.  The cord cover was super easy to make.  If you can thread a sewing machine and sew a straight line, you'll be just fine.  It's just an extra long tube of fabric that I slid onto the plug end (make sure you make the tube wide enough to accomodate the plug).  

Use a cloth tape measure to measure the circumference around the plug.  Add a 1/4" to that for some wiggle room, plus another 1" for your seam allowance, which I usually like at 1/2".

Circumference of plug + 1/4" + 1" = width of your fabric strip

Here, you can see the fabric is folded lengthways (hot-dog-style) with the right (printed) sides together, using a 1/2" seam allowance.

My fabric measured 4" wide by three times the length of the cord.  You'll need that extra length to get that uniform ruffled look.   

I then fed the plug all the way through, making sure to scrunch the fabric as I went.

I slit a 1/2" hole in the seam at the spot where I wanted one single chain link to poke through for hanging it on the swag hook.    

The ceiling medallion is from the big box hardware store.  I fastened it to the ceiling using command strips.  It's very lightweight and paintable (I just left mine white).

Finally, it was time to hang this baby up and make the room a little brighter!

I had a little helper of course, which made it a whole lot more interesting, and fun, might I add.  I hope that one day she'll be happy that I taught her how to do stuff like this.

Check out my tutorial on how to hang stuff from a plaster ceiling.  

As Always, Stay Cozy!