What to do with so many plants?

I have a thing for plants. This has led to me collecting many, many houseplants over the years. Since we’ve moved, the majority of them are happily hanging out on the back porch. They seem to really enjoy it back there, growing much larger leaves than they would inside. I have a number of pothos plants. I started with two and now have 7, not including ones I’ve given away. They are very easy to propagate, you just cut off a vine and stick it in water until roots grow and then plant it. When the vines get within chewing distance of our cats, I start to notice puncture marks in the leaves. I decided that a good way to keep the plants away from the cats would be to hang them up. Conveniently, I came across a tutorial on Pinterest from skinny laminx for making your own plant hangers out of rope, twine, string, etc.

I picked up some thin hemp rope at the craft store and followed the tutorial to create a hanger for one of my plants. I have plans to make more some time soon.

Close up view

 

Hanging next to a stone pillar on our porch

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Making ourselves feel at home

When we moved, we quickly missed the beer and wine glass storage we had added to our kitchen at the old house. Throughout our time there, we slowly installed shelves on the wall, corner shelves, and shelves above the sink. We used those shelves to store the fancy glassware we collected. Even with the additional cabinet space at the new house, we didn’t have enough room for all of the fancy glassware. Since beer and wine drinking are hobbies of ours, this was something we wanted to remedy right away.

Enter Craigslist, again. After a week or so of browsing the site, I found the perfect piece of furniture: unfinished, $60, fits in the convertible, and had glass doors. Luckily, the Minwax gel stain I used on the bathroom cabinets in the old house was the perfect color to match the wine rack we already owned.

Preparing the cabinet:

  • The cabinet had wax spilled on the top of it at some point so I did my best to remove it by first scraping it off with a razor blade and then using an iron and paper towels to try to absorb what was left.
  • There was a small hole in the top that I filled with wood filler.
  • I removed all hardware from the cabinet – glass, hinges, knobs, etc.
  • I sanded the entire cabinet with 100 grit sandpaper followed by 180 grit sandpaper and cleaned off the sanding dust with a tack cloth.

After that, it was on to the staining. I did one coat of stain and two coats of polyurethane. The wax spot on the top didn’t quite stain completely, but it’s not too noticeable. You can see it in the center of the photo below.

After assembling the cabinet again, it was time to move it inside. I also stained two pieces of pine to create wall shelves above the cabinet. I used brackets from Ikea that we had in the previous house.

After that it was just time to decorate! It was such a great feeling to finally finish unpacking the dining room.

The whole view of the dining room, taken from the sitting room.

Can’t wait to paint this room and replace that light fixture…. someday.

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Making furniture to hide those litter boxes

During the recent move to our new house, we struggled with where to put our cats’ litter boxes. At the old house we had three litter boxes for the three cats. We decided to try going down to two litter boxes in the new place. However, we weren’t excited about any potential litter box locations.

A few Google searches later and I knew there were a variety of furniture options I could purchase to hide litter boxes. I also knew that they were pricey, leading me to decide make my own. A few days of watching Craigslist and a trip to the Salvation Army later, I scored two solid wood furniture pieces that worked in our house and were big enough to conceal a litter box for about $90 total. I couldn’t even purchase an already made piece of furniture for twice that cost.  Once the furniture was home, we put in the litter boxes for a few weeks and left one of the cabinet doors open so that the cats would get used to the new digs. Probably only needed to do it for a few days, but we were still busy unpacking.

Furniture piece one: a cabinet that fit nicely by the front door and stairs.

After measuring where to put the cat sized hole –  few inches above the inside platform, centered, about 7 inches wide – I drew the lines for the hole, using a bucket to get the arch correct. I then covered the lines with masking tape and drew them again so that the wood would not splinter when we cut it.

My husband then took care of using the drill to start the hole and then the jigsaw to cut out the opening:

After finishing the whole, we removed the tape and sanded the edges.

As our cats don’t always hit their litter box target (weird, right?) We decided to line the inside of the furniture with heavy duty plastic drop cloth so that it can be cleaned / replaced as needed. I used a staple gun to hold the pieces in place. Update, 7/26/14: we’ve recently added pet pee pad lining behind the boxes in addition to the plastic for those times when the one cat misses the litter boxes. They do a pretty good job of absorbing liquid and locking in the odor.

As soon as we carried the cabinet inside and installed the clean litter box, our cat Carston make a beeline for the litter box. I couldn’t even get a photo first! It was good to know he wasn’t reluctant about trying it out. Here’s his exit:

The litter box inside, along with a litter mat to try to trap litter before the cats make it out the hole.

Now unsuspecting guests will never know what this piece of furniture is hiding by our front door. As a bonus, it’s an excellent place to store mail! Now I just need to repaint it once I settle on the colors for that part of the house and hang some art work above. Someday.

Furniture piece #2 is a rock solid low cabinet. It was obviously made by hand. It smelled strongly of patchouli when I got it home.

Following the same process, we cut a hole in the slide a few inches above the inner platform, lined it with plastic and swapped out the gold knobs for brushed nickel knobs left over from our bathroom renovation at the old house.

Here it is inside. It’s so roomy we could probably put two boxes inside.

It’s positioned just below the window that looks on to our back porch, a perfect kitty sitting spot. The exit faces our fireplace so it’s concealed from the rest of the living room. I plan to either strip and re-stain this cabinet darker or paint it to match our living room. I would like to get cushions to put on top so that it acts as a people sitting bench in addition to a kitty sitting bench. Again, someday.

Mojo and Carston say it’s perfect for gazing out the window:

The cats have been using their new litter box cabinets with the holes in the side for more than a week now. We’ve happily noticed a that these cabinets do a decent job of containing unpleasant odors and the cats are more than happy to use them. Hooray!

What kind of furniture finds have you repurposed for your pets?

An update on our DIY stained concrete floors

As you may know from my last post, recently we bought a new house and converted our old house into a rental property. My biggest concern about converting the house into a rental property was how the concrete floors would hold up. If you don’t recall, I wrote about installing our DIY stained concrete floors in a series of three posts:

  1. Preparing to stain concrete
  2. Staining and sealing concrete
  3. Caring for your floors

While we took good care of our floors, they did get small nicks from our 50 lb dog’s claws and would get scuffs from furniture if rubber pads weren’t used. When we moved out, we found that the couches did a number on the floors in a couple of spots. Because we knew almost any tenant we would find in Austin would have a dog or two, and that tenants probably wouldn’t care for the floors like we did, we decided to put a more durable sealant on the floors.

EcoProCrete makes a harder sealer called EcoTuff. We passed on EcoTuff when first installing the floors because it was considerably more expensive than the Acri-Soy and it was much shinier. Once we decided to turn the house into a rental property, we knew the time had come to make the investment to protect the floors.

After talking with our supplier in Austin, House and Earth, we learned all about EcoTuff. It’s applied in a two part process using a two part primer/sealer and a clear coat finish. The primer/sealer is much like an epoxy, you have to mix two parts together before applying it. Apparently EcoProCrete has just come out with a primer/sealer that is just one part, but House and Earth was unable to procure it in time for us.

After reading the extremely poorly written and organized Manufacturers Application Guide (which I can’t find online), I decided that in addition to mopping the floor to clean it prior to the primer/sealer, I needed to mop it with a diluted citrus degreaser. The application guide warned against having any oils or waxes on the floor when the primer was applied. We did have a light floor wax as the top coat. To be super safe, I then mopped the floor again after degreasing. Let’s just say I was done with the whole mopping process by that time.

The next step was to do a test run of these products in one of the closets since I was uncertain about if and how this would work. I used a 3/8″ nap roller to apply the primer/sealer after mixing up just a bit of it. I must have applied the coating too thick in the closet because it never really dried to the point where it wasn’t slightly tacky. The instructions said that the coating should not be tacky. I had to go ahead and apply the clear coat to complete my test, and after that dried I wasn’t able to scrape up the coating so I decided it was fine. I had the green light to do the rest of the house.

I used a paddle mixer with our drill to mix the two cans for the primer/sealer together. I would then dip my roller in the can and roll out the material on to the floor. It was quite sticky. I used a T-bar applicator with a foam pad to smooth out the primer after it had been applied to ensure that I wasn’t applying it too thick. The primer hardens after a while, so I actually had to mix up a second batch once I reached the living room because the first batch was too thick. After drying for about 7 hours, the primer was no longer tacky and I moved on to the clear coat. The clear coat was quite fun to apply because I didn’t have to bend over and use a roller. I just used the T-bar applicator and the clear coat would just glide on. I poured the clear coat on the floor and then went back and forth from one end of the room to the other smoothing out the coat to ensure that no lap lines were left. After drying for an hour, I applied the second coat and was finished!

A few things I learned:

  • When dry, the primer and clear coat was very hard. When removing the blue painters tape from the baseboards, the paint would peel right off. Luckily, you couldn’t really tell with our baseboards since they’d recently been touched up. Definitely use the tape to cover surfaces like the transition areas from the concrete to another type of floor. Leave a small gap between the painter’s tape and the floor so that the coating on the floor does not trap the tape, leaving you unable to get it out.
  • Because we had first used Acri-Soy, we used less than 50% of the primer/sealer and clear coat that was called for by the manufacturer. This saved us a great deal of money since House and Earth was able to accept a return for the remaining material. I don’t know what the results would have been if we had not already had 2 coats of Acri-Soy on top of our Deco-Poz floors.
  • The T-bar applicator with foam pad was worth it’s weight in gold. It was quite heavy and good for smearing everything around, but the primer/sealer definitely needed to be first applied with a roller.
  • They don’t mess around with the shine on this coating. I kind of preferred the Acri-Soy + wax look, but needed the durability of the Eco-Tuff.

Since you’re probably tired of reading, on to the pictures!

Whoa, look at that shine!

Yep, pretty shiny from this angle too.

 

Now that we’re in a house that is partially carpeted, I desperately miss my concrete floors. I’m already counting down the days until I can rip out the carpet and do something different!

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Making a wine bottle chandelier

Ok, so I just made a small wine bottle hanging light fixture… not really a chandelier. It’s been a project in the making for quite some time and a great way to break, I mean upcycle, some wine bottles.

A preview of the finished product

 

First, I had to figure out how to cut the bottom off of wine bottles. The internet was ripe with methods that didn’t work. First I tried a crazy idea where you dip string in acetone, tie it around a bottle and catch it on fire.

Yeah, that didn’t work.

Next, I found a YouTube video that demonstrated how to use a makeshift jig to score bottles with a cheap glass scorer and then use the temperature difference between hot and cold water to crack the bottle. I was never able to get my jig to create a straight enough score so when the bottle did break, it just created a mess.

Oops

After multiple rounds of trying to improve my jig, I settled on purchasing this Generation Green Bottle Cutter. After setting it up I got to practicing. And practicing. Getting the bottles to actually crack was the hardest part. I found that heating the bottle in the oven to 225 and then dipping it in ice water just ended in spider cracks everywhere. However, dipping the water in hot and then cold water took many dips for the most part and the hot water cooled down very quickly. It was important to keep the hot water very hot which I ended up doing by microwaving the bowl of hot water every few minutes. Pouring boiling water from a teapot onto the score slowly for a few seconds sometimes worked as well.

Dipping the bottle in hot and cold water

When the score cracked, I could hear it and see the fact that the bottle was beginning to crack. It often took a number of additional temperature changes before the bottle would separate altogether. The Generation Green Bottle Cutter came with a tapping tool that could be used to separate the bottle along the score if it wouldn’t crack. I tried this a few times but never created a straight cut. Even when just using the water a straight cut was rare. I think I created a perfectly straight cut 2 or 3 times and unfortunately only once with the color of bottle I wanted to use. I finally got 3 bottles cut close to straight so that I could use them in my chandelier.

Once I had the cut bottles, it was time to create the light fixture. I picked up the following:

  • A swag kit that included a chain, hooks, wired plug and switch
  • 3 Candelabra sockets
  • Candelabra bulbs
  • Heat shrink tubes
  • Electrical crimp connectors
  • A piece of pine lumber

I then got my handy helper to cut the lumber into two 1 foot sections. One of the sections was split down the middle. We attached two hooks on either end of the wider piece, drilled 3 holes for wires and installed metal staples to use to fasten the wires. We then glued the two smaller pieces to the wider one in a U shape and I stained the wood.

The board before gluing on the sides

After the U was constructed and stained, It was time to insert the candelabra sockets in the bottles and start wiring them up to the plug. I used the crimp connectors to wire the three sockets in a parallel circuit.

Wiring the sockets through the wood holder

After the wiring was complete, I covered the connections with heat shrink wrap and electrical tape.  It was then time to hang the mini chandelier! After hanging it above a dresser, I found the best place to insert the switch that came with the swag kit.

No flash, shows the color of the bottles

Above the dresser

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Making refrigerator pickles

Do you know what can be wonderfully tasty? Pickles! Not just any pickles, but ones that you make yourself from in-season local veggies.

After hitting up our local farmer’s market, we came home with gorgeous cauliflower and carrots with the intent to turn them into pickles.

Beautiful multi-colored carrots. They tasted like candy.

First carrots I ever purchased with the tops still attached!

Delicious white, purple, and green cauliflower.

While you can make refrigerator pickles from scratch, I chose to use mixes that I picked up during a trip to Cook Forest, Pennsylvania previously.

Ready to go pickle mixes

We also have a collection of flip top glass jars that are perfect for refrigerator pickles. I filled them up with a combination of carrots and cauliflower and then modified the recipe to make a partial batch. The mix called for a gallon of vegetables, which is way more than I had.

Veggies chopped and ready to pickle.

 

The dill pickle mix has a few more days to marinate, but the bread and butter type mix has already been taste tested and given a seal of approval. I’m sure they won’t last long.

Ready to marinate!

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Make your own simple laundry detergent

Some time ago I decided that instead of buying eco-friendly laundry detergent which can be quite pricey, I would try making my own. This idea didn’t just pop into my head, I saw a number of other blog posts about how to do it.

After actually reading the posts, I decided the liquid version was too time consuming and that I would make the powdered version. To start, I purchased the necessary ingredients on Amazon:

Assembling the ingredients

The next step was to find a suitable container to hold my new powdered laundry soap but I luckily had a decent sized plastic jug that orzo came in. I then got around to grating one cup of the bar soap using the smallest grater I own. Somehow I didn’t anticipate how difficult this task would be.

Trying to grate Fels Naptha

After what felt like forever as my hands quickly tired, I decided grating soap was a stupid idea. I then got out a a much larger cheese grater to make the task go faster. I put the grated soap into a cheap mini food processer to chop up the soap peels.

Soap peels in the mini processor

It took a few iterations, but I eventually got a cup of grated soap after grating about 3/4 of the bar of soap.

From there it was easy, I combined 1 cup grated soap, 1/2 cup borax, 1/2 cup washing soda and 1/4 cup baking soda. My plan is to add oxyclean to individual loads as needed. According to what I’ve read 2 tablespoons of this mixture should be sufficient for my conventional washing machine. It turns out I even had a long handled scoop left over from a nutritional supplement.

The final product

For the next batch I think I might try a different bar soap due to some mixed reviews I’ve read about Fels Naptha. I also read that opening the bar soap and letting it dry out helps with the grating process.

Anyhow, I’ve used the soap a few times and haven’t noticed a difference from store bought laundry detergent.

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