Frugal holiday beauty

This weekend I have the fun of attending the Joy for the Journey adoptive mom retreat in Lancaster, PA. So instead of my usual frugality post, I thought I’d share some fun and frugal ways to decorate for the upcoming holidays.


 This silver and white decor could be lovely for both Thanksgiving and Christmas.



Christmas ball decor

Lots of pretty ideas for Christmas balls- A big box of glass Christmas balls is $10 at Target or Walmart.


Here are a couple of affordable and pretty ways to decorate pine cones.

Dip a pine cone in glue and dust with Epsom salts for snow-sparkled pine cones.sparkly pinecones


Or gather a bunch of pine cones with some red ribbon for a lovely alternative to a wreath.pinecone-cluster-collage

Did you know that you can slip ping pong balls over LED lights to make these lovely globe lights?


Then finally here’s a sweet craft you can make with some wood rounds and an etching tool.



Before you buy decor items at full price, be sure to look at your local thrift stores and craft stores. Often thrift stores seem to be the depository for half-done craft projects, which makes them a great place to look for ribbon, yarn, silk flowers, and many other craft and decor items such as knitting needles, beads, crochet hooks, baskets, tins, and wreaths.

If you have more ideas for affordable Thanksgiving and Christmas decor, I’d love to hear them!


Gifts kids can make for friends

Gifts Kids Can Make

If your kids are like mine, they enjoy giving their friends gifts at Christmas time.  The problem is, even a $5-$10 gift, multiplied by 3 or 4 or 6 friends, times whatever number of kids you have in your family, can add up to a lot of bucks.  But if you can think of fun gifts that your kids can make for friends, suddenly gift-giving gets a lot more affordable– and a lot more personal. Here are a few gift projects that might spark a kid’s creativity and help solve the dilemma of gift-giving on a budget at your house.


paper clip earrings1.  These paper clip earrings would be quick and fun to make, and could be done in any color, depending on the preferences of the gift recipient.


Decorating Mugs

2. These coffee mugs decorated with sharpies would also be cute.  Just make sure you follow the directions on the site and be aware that you’ll need to buy the right kind of sharpie.  Not all sharpies are created equal.


teacupcandles3. Fill a thrifted teacup with melted candle wax and add wicks (purchased at the craft store or on amazon) and you have a sweet delicate gift for a teen girl or maybe even a grandma.


paracord beaded bracelets

4. These paracord bracelets are completely awesome looking.  I wasn’t able to find an exact tutorial, but my son who has made quite a few paracord bracelets says it isn’t a complicated design.



licorice jar
5. What kid wouldn’t like to get a jar of his or her favorite treats?  If licorice isn’t a favorite, suggest mini Hershey bars, nuts or even beef jerky. (Tho that last option might put you back into the $10 range, depending on the size of the jar.)


Duct tape wallets

6.  Duct tape wallets have been a popular project at our house for years.  Here’s an easy tutorial.


iPhone wallet

Make Your Own IPhone Wallet

7.  A teen who knows how to sew and is game for a more challenging project might enjoy zipping out one of these I-Phone wallets.  You might even want to make one for yourself!



8. For a fun and colorful necklace, just use nail polish to decorate a washer in bright colors.


Be sure to visit the bloggers linked above  to see the details of each of these great ideas!  And happy crafting!!

Bathroom reveal, finally

Looking into the old bathroom

Looking into the old bathroom

There was once an upstairs bathroom with a crowded floor plan and a shower that had been needing to go to the dump for at least a year or five. But since it was neither the guest bath or the master bath, the project got delayed and delayed. But then this summer we finally decided to do something about it.

Looking toward the shower and toilet in the old bathroom

Looking toward the shower and toilet in the old bathroom

Here are a few shots of the old bathroom.  As you can see, there’s almost no space in front of the bathroom sink.  But still it functioned pretty well until the wall panels around the shower stall began to leak. Our plumber told us that this type of shower always fails eventually. It it worked well for us for almost 15 years. But we still felt disappointed over the lack of durability and knew we didn’t want that type of shower again.

We decided that along with replacing the shower, we’d also like to bump the sink wall out just a little to gain a better layout.  We ended up adding a tiny sliver of space– 20 inches by 6 feet, which made the new space a total of 6×8 feet.

Still not palatial, but that was enough space to fit a full size tub instead of just a corner shower.  It also allowed us to give the sink a quarter turn and set it against the back wall of the bathroom. Here’s the sketch of the old floor plan next to the new one.  You should be able to click on all photos to enlarge them.

bathroom remodel

The plan


Building the new wall

Building the new wall

Once we had our plan together, finally one day in July of this year we began work. Since we had the goal of keeping the bathroom functional (with intact walls) as long as possible, the first step was to build the new wall to gain that precious 20 inches. Here’s John in the teeny new space, pounding away. Once that wall was up, it was time to demo the old wall.  Though we’d imagined leaving all the fixtures in as long as possible, pretty quickly we realized we’d just have to go ahead and remove the old sink along with the old shower.  We were able to leave the toilet in place for another week or so while we worked so at least that part of the bathroom would still be useable for a little longer.

Since both plumbing and electrical had to be moved, we ended up needing both a plumber (around $750) and an electrician (around $250).  Both guys ended up being available the very same week, so by the end of July, we had a new light fixture and a new tub/shower going in.

New lightsFor lighting, instead of a simple light bar above the sink, we ended up installing a ceiling fixture on the angled ceiling that had 4 directional pivoting lights, that allowed us to really direct the light nicely all over the room.  The new bathroom feels much brighter than the old one.

New tub in a nearly gutted bathroom

New tub in a nearly gutted bathroom

As for the tub, at first we were planning to go with a one piece unit.  But the plumber checked out our stairs and told us there was no way that would fit up our stairs.  So we settled for a really nice Sterling tub and 3 piece surround that the plumber recommended highly.  It is a nice big unit with a deep tub, and set onto a Quickcrete base feels very sturdy.

Plumbing holes drilled in the old cabinet

Plumbing holes drilled in the old cabinet

To save a little cash, we used our old sink, faucet and vanity cabinet, which I stained dark brown just as I did in the other bathrooms in our house.  Cleaned up and with new knobs added, it hardly looks like the same fixture.  I used a jigsaw to cut the holes in the cabinet to fit the plumbing, which needed to come up from the floor instead of through the wall as is more typical in a bathroom.




Cabinet and new flooring

Cabinet and new flooring

Here’s a shot of the cabinet installed, as well as the new flooring, which ended up being  one of my favorite parts of the bathroom. About that flooring:  I really wanted wood but John thought that would be a disaster in a bathroom.  Maybe vinyl plank flooring?  Again, John’s concern was water damage. So I started looking at the various sheet vinyl options that were made to look like wood. When I read all the good reviews about this flooring Lowe’s StainMaster Huntington Coffee Wood, I was pretty sure I’d found what I wanted.

My lovely new flooring.  And tub.  And toilet.

My lovely new flooring. And tub. And toilet.

When we got to Lowe’s, the lady who was going to cut it for us remembered she had a remnant already cut.  The remnant was double the size we needed, but she marked it down to cost no more than a custom-cut piece would be, which means we got enough for two bathrooms for the grand price of $90.  We cut off what we needed and rolled it up to be used when one of our other bathrooms needs a new floor.  Love this stuff. Here’s another shot of it after we got the new tub installed.

Then it was time for sheetrock and more sheetrock.  We tossed around a lot of interesting-looking finishes, but ended up doing one that my husband had experience with and felt confident doing.  It is a knock-down finish, like is commonly seen on ceilings, so it has a more interesting texture than a typical wall.  But it should still be fairly easy to keep clean and not too rough when bumped against.

Here you can see the wall after it was textured and painted, as well as the cool baseboards that John made from cheapo pine firring that he stained dark and then gouged out to look wavy like the walnut trim that he installed elsewhere in the room.

Trim and wall detail

And then here are the rest of the bathroom photos after the work was done, showing the various details and angles of the room.  I especially love the way the towel shelf turned out.  Also I like the towel hooks on the wall so that the boys can easily hang their towels up after using them.  All in all, I’m thrilled with the way it turned out.  It is a huge upgrade, and such a pleasant place now.  Yay to my amazing hubby for doing such a good job!

Looking into the new tub

Looking into the new tub

Toward the sink from the doorway

Toward the sink from the doorway

Another favorite bit:  the towel cubby

Another favorite bit: the towel cubby

Toward the tub and toilet

Toward the tub and toilet

The towel hook-rack has a 'live' edge

The towel hook-rack has a ‘live’ edge

Toward the sink

Toward the sink

The cute towel cubby

The cute towel cubby

Faux plaster or stone finishes for sheetrock

faux plaster or stone finishes for sheetrockJohn has been busy sheet-rocking in the boys bathroom, which is really exciting, because that means paint is coming soon.  One of the ideas we’re tossing around is doing a decorative finish on the wall with kind of a plaster-look finish.  This morning I found several different tutorials for adding a bit more texture to a wall using sheetrock mud  (aka joint compound).

Here’s one way to do it that involves adding a tube of caulk and some bonding primer to your joint compound, which actually makes good sense to me, since it sounds like it would really help the textured layer adhere to the wall.  However–no pictures here.  I’d really like to see some ideas for actually making the patterns on the wall.

Here’s a tutorial that uses Ardex, something I’ve never heard of.  Turns out it is also used for giving formica countertops a facelift that looks a lot like concrete.  I like that this tutorial has pictures.  You can see the pattern is really random, and it looks pretty simple to do.

stone stencilThis tutorial from Home Depot has some close photos of how to pattern it– we’d just do step 1 and 2 I think, since we’re not really planning on adding a glaze to the wall.  I think it also might be a good idea to add caulk and bonding primer to the joint compound like the first tutorial.  Maybe also add some tint to the joint compound?  Not sure.

Finally, I happened across this fabulous raised plaster stencil  that allows you to do a faux stone finish on a wall.  I am guessing this is pretty labor intensive, but I’d love to try it, perhaps on just one wall in the bathroom? Here’s the etsy shop where you can buy this cool looking stencil.

Have any of you done textured finishes on sheetrock?  I’d love to hear your experiences.

Storage ideas for tiny bathrooms

Our bathroom project is progressing really well.  We’ve got the toilet and shower in working order, are hard at work on sheetrock, and hope to have the sink functional within the next day or two. Of course then comes taping, mudding, texturing, painting, and trimming out.  (Yikes– there’s lots still to do!)

One of the things we’re planning is some built-in storage space. Since our bathroom is basically attic space, it has a slanted ceiling.  We’re planning on using space behind the new wall where the ceiling slopes down toward the floor for additional storage.

In thinking about what to do, I’ve been pinning interesting storage solutions on pinterest.  Most of the ones I’m showing you here involve using the space between studs for storage. Here’s the one that first caught my eye.  Isn’t it pretty?  I like the dark wood, and think that whatever we do, we’ll probably do in dark wood, since that’s the color I stained the old yellow-oak cabinet.



This next one was designed to utilize a slanted ceiling like the one in our bathroom.  I like the beadboard trim inside the space. It is also a similar blue to what I’m considering painting the walls.



This one looks like it has a ton of storage, and I really like the trim work.  It also has some good step by step photos of the process.  Kinda makes me want to start making holes in walls and adding storage in other rooms around here.



This next one looks like a great idea next to a toilet.  I couldn’t find a link to the actual project, just the photo, but I like the idea of recessing the toilet paper in the wall a bit, especially in a tight space.



And isn’t this final one a great way to incorporate a mirror AND some storage? This project is a good option if cutting holes in walls isn’t your cup of tea. I also really like the rustic stain she put on the wood.  You can click here to see step by step pictures of this project.  And if you want, you can also follow me on Pinterest by clicking here.

I’m still not sure what form our bathroom storage is going to take, but I’m hoping we’ll have the entire bathroom done for the big reveal soon, maybe even by the end of the month?  I’m so excited to show it all to you!


the danger of ‘while we’re at it’

I’m following my daughter Erika’s lead and doing a post on what I’ve been doing this month.

The project I’m most excited about is the remodel in the boys’ bathroom.  It’s been needing an update for awhile.  Leaking shower =damaged floor. We decided that while we’re at it– watch out for that dangerous word, all ye who remodel!– we might as well upgrade from a little tiny shower to a full tub.  And to make space for that, we needed to move a wall. Here’s a sketch-up of the planned change in floor plan.  It’s actually only a 20 inch by 6 foot long addition.  But it made space for a tub and a quarter turn of the sink.  That change will allow a bit of standing room in the bathroom, something it was very short on before.

bath layout change

So a 20-inch wall move?  Not a huge deal if you have a competent woodworker for a husband, right? But it turned out that the sink vent stack was in that wall.  AND the shower plumbing is also going to be moved around the corner to a different wall, to accommodate the new tub.  Grand total on the plumbing alone? Somewhere in the $1200 range.  Yikes.    But the work has needed to be done for awhile and it will be a wonderful upgrade, so we are doing it.  The new tub got dragged upstairs today by my strong sons.  :)  And here’s a pix of my handsome hubby in that sliver of new space in the midst of the adding-on.

New space

I’ll keep you posted.

t-shirt makeover

the starting point
Recently in a bag of hand-me-downs I spotted a ladies top whose fabric I really liked but the style of which did not appeal to any of the girls in the family. That set me to wondering how I could remake the shirt into something that someone would enjoy. The fabric was soft and stretchy and reminded me a lot of the maxi skirts I’ve been wearing a lot lately. So I decided to remake the shirt into a skirt for my youngest daughter.

I began by laying out the top as smoothly as possible on my cutting board and cutting off both sleeves right where they attached to the body of the top. It might be a good idea to turn the garment inside out before beginning to cut, but that idea didn’t occur to me til later.Step 1: Cut off the sleeves



Next I cut off the neckline of the shirt in a straight line just below the lowest point of the neckline.  I also trimmed away the sides of the top in a (kinda) straight line, angled just a little inward toward the top, which was now going to be the waist of my skirt.  I left the bottom of the shirt alone, as that was going to be the bottom edge of my skirt.  (Yay- the hemming was already done!)

Step 2: Trim away the top and sides

Next I turned the skirt inside out and sewed up the side seams of the skirt, doing my best to make a smooth transition from the existing stitching to the new stitching where I’d trimmed away fabric.

Step 3: Sew the side seams

Next I sewed the ‘tunnel’ at the top of the skirt into which I could thread elastic for a waistband. I happened to have elastic that was about 3/4 inch thick, so I folded over about 1-1/4 inches of fabric, tucking about a 1/4 inch under again before sewing, so that no raw edges would be exposed on the waistband.

Step 4: Sew the waistband

Once I’d sewn my waistband, leaving a 1-inch opening into which to thread my elastic, I put a safety pin into the end of my elastic and threaded it through the ‘tunnel’ of the waistband.  Once that was done, all that was left was to sew the two ends of the elastic together!  Here’s the final product.

Completed skirtMy sweet little model


And here it is on my little girl.  It ended up being too short to be a true maxi skirt for her, but it’s still really cute, I think.  I think I’ll keep an eye out for a large-sized striped shirt so that I can try this technique again and make another one that is actually long enough to be a maxi skirt for her one of these days.

This project was a lot of fun and took me only half an hour. I was amazed at how fast it came together. Have you ever remade a garment into something else?  How did it go?


how to turn a shirt into a skirt

Giveaway: The Nesting Place

Folks, I am soooo excited about this lovely book!  It is by Myquillyn Smith, who blogs at The Nester, and it contains many, many simple and delightful ways to make a wonderfully comfortable haven out of any ordinary house.  You don’t have to have thousands of dollars.  In fact, you don’t even have to own the home you’re living in to make it a welcoming place for you and your loved ones.

I’m blessed to be giving away one copy of this book.  All you have to do to enter the drawing is comment below and tell me one thing you’d like to fix about your current home.  For an additional entry, like this post on Facebook or share it on Twitter, then comment again telling me you did so.   I’ll choose a book winner later this week!

Reviving tired cabinets with gel stain

The stain I usedWe built our house in 1993, and a couple decades with our big clan has left many things looking well worn, including all the cabinets in the house.  In 2012, I gave two bathrooms a $40 makeover. I’ve been wondering about doing a similar makeover in our worn kitchen.  But I was leery of making our kitchen that dark, and I really wanted to still see the grain in the wood. So when I finally got brave enough to try some stain, instead of ‘java’, I selected a lighter tone called brown mahogany, which was brown with red undertones.  I wasn’t quite sure how it would look on my worn honey oak cabinets, but I figured it could only look better.  Here’s my kitchen pre-makeover.

 Kitchen - before


And here’s a closeup of some of the drawers, showing how much of the finish was worn off.

Drawers- before

I began by taking all the cabinet drawers off and washing them well several times.  This step might go more quickly if you used a degreaser.  And this whole job was simplified by the fact that none of my drawers and cabinets had any handles or upraised panels on them.  They are very plain jane cabinets.

Reviving old cabinets with stainTo get a feel for the way the stain would lay down on the cabinets, and to decide how thick I wanted it to go on, I experimented on the insides of several cabinet doors. My tools included rubber gloves for my hands, and old tube socks with which to lay on the stain.  Though the stain definitely dries faster outdoors where there’s a little air movement, I recommend working in the shade, so that your surface doesn’t get tacky too quickly.

Begin with a moderate amount of stain on your sock-clad, gloved hand. Take long smooth strokes from end to end, going with the grain.  It’s wise to practice on the backs of your cabinet doors first, so that you can decide how thickly to lay on the stain, and to get a feel for how to lay on the stain most smoothly.

If you are overly cautious and use only a tiny bit of stain, the stain will begin to get tacky very quickly, making the work blobby and bumpy.   I found it worked better to load my sock with a generous amount of stain, and make 4 or 5 quick thick stripes down the length of a door, as shown in the photo below.  Make the next 5 or 6 strokes in between your original strokes, to fill the whole door in with color.  Then finish with another dozen or fewer strokes, working quickly, until the whole surface is smooth and even.

Spreading stain on

Here’s a photo showing the before of one of my doors and the after of another.  If you end up not liking the effect, no worries.  This stain, while fresh, washes off very easily with paint thinner, allowing you another try.  And you will gradually get better. Do you biggest, most visible surfaces last of all, to take advantage of your growing skill.  And if this project, done in the kitchen, sounds way too daunting, you might want to start in the laundry room, where mistakes are likely to bother you less.

I was lazy and did not remove the hinge components from my doors, which made it harder to make the backs of the doors around the hinges look smooth.  If you’re more of a perfectionist than I am, you probably ought to take the time to remove all hardware.  Remember also to label doors and drawers somehow, so that you don’t get things mixed up.

Doors- before and after

I worked through the kitchen a section at a time, so that at any given time only one portion of the kitchen was wet. One day I did half of the lower cabinets.  The second day I did the rest of the lowers.  The third day I did all of the upper cabinets.  I don’t have many uppers, or it probably would have required a 4th day.  I HIGHLY recommend blockading the wet places of the lower cabinetry with chairs and/or signs.  I can’t tell you how many times kids forgot things were wet and came rubbing against cabinet edges.  Depending on how thickly you lay down stain, and how good your ventilation is, some surfaces may feel tacky and be prone to rub marks for up to two days.

In each section, first I did the backs of each door, and the faces of the drawers for that part of the kitchen, outside in the shade, moving them to a sunny place to finish drying as I finished each surface. Then while those surfaces were drying, I came inside and stained the cabinet faces.

Usually by the time the indoor staining of a section was done (a few hours) the door backs that I’d set in the sun were dry enough to carefully turn over.  Then I could stain the door faces, leaving them to dry overnight, moving on to the next section the next day.

And here are some shots of my finished project.  Hooray!  They are still very simple cabinets, but the deeper stain really brought out the lovely grain of the oak, grain that we didn’t really see when the wood was lighter.  My expert woodworker/hubby says that the honey oak looks very much the color of mahogany with this stain.


One really fun thing about this project was that back in 2012 when I did the bathrooms, I bought drawer pulls for the kitchen as well.  So after all the staining was done, John came through the kitchen and installed my new drawer pulls.  I’m amazed at how much better they make my old cabinets look.  Here’s the before and after shot of that section of drawers I showed you above.  Don’t the drawer pulls look lovely?

Drawers- beforeDrawers- after







Another fun thing that we did was cut back the microwave shelf just a little bit. The shelf had been designed for a much bigger microwave, and the depth of it really decreased the usefulness of the counter space below it, especially given the fact that our coffee pot opens upward.  Four inches cut off the back of that shelf makes that counter feel much more open.

 After- by fridge

One funny note:  back when I bought those drawer pulls, I really, really thought I also bought cabinet door handles.  But for the life of him, my husband could not find any door knobs in his shop. And who knows, maybe I only thought I bought them. So for now the doors do not have knobs.  If they don’t show up, I’m thinking of buying ones that look like this. But with or without door handles, I love the fresh look that this project gave my kitchen.  And the cost of that stain?  $16.  That’s what I call an affordable fix!

After - sink area

Kitchen- after


Organizing sewing and craft supplies (and a recipe for homemade laundry detergent)

In my laundry room, I am fortunate to have quite a bit of high shelving above the washer and dryer, on which I store craft and sewing supplies.  I’ve been struggling for awhile with my fabric storage.  I’ve tried just folding it and stacking it.  I’ve tried keeping it in clear bins.  But inevitably when the girls or I are hunting for a particular piece of fabric, everything gets jumbled, and (apparently) none of us are terribly good at re-stacking things neatly on a routine basis.  Same with the crafts, kept in bins on the top shelves.   Things get pulled out, put away improperly or not at all, and the longer it goes between straightening, the messier the whole area gets.  Pretty soon pulling out even one tiny thing makes an avalanche of mess highly probable.  (Please tell me this doesn’t only happen at my house??)

Laundry room-- the messy middleAwhile back I’d seen this idea for organizing tissue paper, and realized it’d work perfectly for fabric.  So last week, I pulled all the mess off those upper shelves, wiped everything down, and started folding fabric and threading it through the wire shelving rack. I’m terrible at taking ‘before’ pictures when I do projects– I tend to be way to eager to just leap in– but here’s a picture of the messy middle. Anything would be an improvement at this point, right?

The hardest part about this project was folding the fabric of varying sizes and shapes into fairly uniform sizes, so that it would look nice lined up.  If I had it to do again, I’d probably organize it in the order of the colors of the rainbow– wouldn’t that be just lovely?  I’ve seen books arranged by color on bookshelves and loved it.  But I didn’t have that idea til I was halfway done with the project, so I think I will leave it be as is.  I still think it looks really pretty.

Organizing fabric with wire shelving

You might also be able to see in the photo above that I flipped the lower shelf over so that the lip of the shelf was facing up instead of down.  With the lip up, I was able to use the shelf for gift wrap storage. I’m planning to also add a long wire or a dowel just below that shelf onto which I can thread spools of ribbon, to better organize my gift wrap supplies.

Setting the fabric up this way makes it SO easy to see what I have and grab what I need without disturbing anything else.  I’m delighted with how much better my craft area looks now, and am hoping it will be lots easier to maintain.  And having everything so easy to find makes me want to leap in and use more of my goodies!  Hooray for organizing success.

Organizing craft supplies


Here are other posts I’ve written about my laundry room.  It’s a hard working space and has seen several revamps over the years.

Shelf for a mismatched washer/dryer

School-book shelving in my laundry room

Laundry room organization ideas

soapAnd in case you’re curious about our laundry soap, here’s the recipe:

  • 4 cups of borax
  • 4 cups of washing soda
  • 1/2 bar Fels-Naphtha soap, finely grated

We store it in a 2-quart jar onto which I’ve fitted a lid from a parmesan cheese container.  We put 2 tablespoons of this mixture into each wash load.  It does a good job and is much more affordable than regular laundry detergent.  It even worked well when we had a front loader washer.  (The front-load washer died after working long and valiantly on our behalf.)

If you like this post, I’d love a pin on Pinterest. Next Wednesday I hope to share a very exciting, very affordable project that I’m working on in my kitchen! What’s new at your house?  Have you done any organizing lately?