Thursday, December 17, 2015

Personalized Teachers Christmas Gifts

My kids have been in school for decades it seems so there have been a lot of different types of gifts given to their teachers.  I've given anything from gift cards to gift baskets, candies to lotions, but I've realized, that the biggest reactions came from gifts that were personalized and hand-made.  I was walking down the school hallway to my child's teacher's class room and noticed in a previous teacher's classroom was the crayola art picture I made for her.  I won't lie, that kind of tugged at my heart strings a bit seeing something I made 3 years ago hanging on the wall.

That got me thinking to the reaction that I got when I made a mug for another teacher with the classroom picture on one side and on the other side, it wrote, "Mrs. Allen, you are the best."

This year, I thought I would combine the two.  Being the yearbook coordinator last year brought on a lot of photo ideas so my plan was to make classroom books for my kids' teachers this year for an end of the year memento.  I went to the school and photographed all the kids.  As I was editing pictures, I was playing around and came up with this:


I decided to make a cup, but of course, it didn't turn out as I had hoped the first go at it.  I had to make a few modifications, like changing the orientation to landscape for one of them.


The result was a really adorable cup.

Next, I decided to wrap the gift and stick it in an insulated lunch bag with the teacher's initial embroidered on it.  I had read a lot of teachers liking gifts that are created from their students, especially ornaments so off my kids went to create their own masterpiece. 


It was the perfect gift tag.  One side had a little piece of artwork, while the other side had their name.


Then I decided to frame the picture I created as well because I just simply loved the way it turned out. Hopefully, it will be a nice addition to the classroom ;)


I was planning on doing this for teacher appreciation week, but I've always been a little impatient and just couldn't wait so I'm gifting it as well.


For a finishing touch, on the back of the portrait, I printed a picture of my son with a little note.

When thinking of the things that I want for Christmas, I really love receiving hand-made gifts.  I'm hoping the teachers love the gifts as much as I did creating them.  What do you think?  What were some of your most favorite hand-made gifts you have given?

Update:  What's the reaction verdict?  I got a handful of teary-eyed teachers and plenty of hugs.  Hearing that I gave them the best gift they have ever received, made all the hours of editing worth it.  That's the least I could do for all the hours they have given my kiddos, right?  Now, I have to figure out how to top that for teacher appreciation week.   I'm so out of ideas at the moment.  Anyone make anything unique that you would like to share?

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Installing ring - the video doorbell

One of the things that I have been wanting to do for a while is set up some security cameras around the house for a safety measure.  I found a video doorbell online that allows you to see who is at your door before you open it.  Oftentimes, we get solicitors, but not knowing who is at the door, I peak out the window and they see me!  There goes my cover of pretending I'm not home if I don't want to answer the door.  I don't like the fact that my kiddos rush to the door without a second thought either.  Therefore, I thought I'd take the plunge and buy me one of these gadgets.  Now, the problem was figuring out which one.  I narrowed it down to two different doorbells.!important;%20margin:0px%20!important;">SkyBell Wi-Fi Video Doorbell Version 2.0 (BRONZE)</a><img src="" width="1" height="1" border="0" alt="" style="border:none !important; margin:0px !important     

There was the ring and skybell that I was looking at.  I noticed this morning there is also the august brand that hasn't been released.  I can't remember the reason that made me decide to go with the ring brand.  I'm sure it had to do with the reviews.


I chose the venetian bronze color because I had just painted my hardware an oil rubbed bronze so it would match nicely. Opening the box, you see all these fancy tools to help you install your new doorbell.


Here's the doorbell I started with.  It is completely boring and very ugly.  I've wanted to replace this thing since I moved in.


First up, I turned off the power to the doorbell.  Then it was time to remove the old doorbell.  I removed the screws and then pulled the door bell off, cutting away at the sealer.  Disgusting, huh? 


I had to then drill through the brick.  Can I say, this is SOOOO hard to do.  Because of the location of our previous doorbell and me wanting to hide the two screw holes already there, I had no choice, but to have to drill through brick TIMES FOUR!  I'm telling you now.  If you have a choice weather or not to drill through the mortar or a wood trim, do it!  Although the kit comes with a drill bit, our brick was SO very hard that it wore that out and I had to buy another masonry bit to replace it.


Drilling the four holes was hands down the toughest part.  Next up was pulling the two doorbell wires through the back plate of the doorbell and attaching it to the screws.


I screwed the blue wire to the left and the white wire to the right screw.  It was a complete guess on my part as far as which wire went to which screw.


I screwed the top plate on top and now was the time to test it out.  I installed the ring app, set my settings and gave it a go.


It worked!  My kids had so much fun watching themselves on their devices.


What's the verdict 6 months later on this little gadget?!important;%20margin:0px%20!important;

I can't live with out it.  I am surprised by the advantages still today.  I set my doorbell to be motion activated. Therefore, even if no one rings the doorbell, my phone notifies me whenever someone is at the door.  This comes in so handy during the holiday seasons when I am buying all my christmas presents online.  Whenever the delivery man comes and drops off the package, I can see on my phone the packages and bring them inside!  They don't even ring the doorbell anymore, but I know the packages are there because I can see them on the floor through the camera.  I also get notified from UPS via text, but sometimes that notification comes 30 minutes later and I never get notified if it is FEDEX or USPS so that doorbell is awesome especially in the evenings when I wouldn't even know the packages are there (FEDEX for us delivers in the evening and never rings the doorbell to let us know).

The doorbell also lets me know when the kids leave the house.  Since I work early in the morning, its nice to know when my kids leave for school. I can't tell you how many times my kids let me know that dad overslept and they were late!  

Aside from the fact, its awesome to see who is at the door from your own bedroom so you don't have to get up if you don't want to, it is even MORE awesome to know who is at the door when you are not home.  Just this week, we were remodeling our pool and workers were over working on it.  I couldn't stay because I had to take the kids to piano practice.  Yet, while I was gone, the doorbell rang so I picked it up on my phone to answer it because I could see it was one of the workers needing to show me something.  I was able to answer the ring and talk with him to let him know I was only a few minutes away.  Instead of him leaving and then having the company call me back, he waited for me to personally show me around.

Those are the advantages.  Now for the disadvantages.  It's great that there is a motion-activated sensor, but there is also a downfall to it.  I see every car that "slowly" drives by.  I live in a culdesac and there are only 3 other houses at the end of the street so I don't get too many cars that drive by slowly, but if you live on a busy street, the motion-activated sensor could be annoying.  The other disadvantage is the lag.  Sometimes, there is a slight delay from when the person rings the doorbell to when you are notified.  The last thing is that you cannot see through the camera in real time.  I wish there was a feature where you can see out your door without being activated by a motion.

For me, the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages to the point I contemplate installing one for our backdoor as well - not necessarily for the "doorbell" feature, but for the motion-activated camera.  In the end, it was worth the purchase.  I wasn't able to find any discounts or coupons or sales, but its one of the purchases I would still make again, regardless.  Are there any gadgets you have bought that you just can't live without?

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Gel Staining the Front Door and Spray Painting the Door Handle

I know its been way too long since I last posted something here.  Is there anyone still out there?  Life's been a little hectic to say the least and while I am still working on a lot of home projects, I really haven't had the time or motivation to post them.  Working longer hours at my job and chauffeuring the kids around to all their activities has left me no time to really do anything else so a project that would normally take me a weekend or two to complete is now taking me months.  That being said, having a nice long Thanksgiving weekend has sort of rejuvenated me.  That and trying to upload my 2000+ pictures off my camera has left me looking back on all the projects that I haven't posted.

One thing that I wanted to do this past summer (yeah, several months ago!) was to beautify/update my front house.  While, cutting down bushes and trimming trees do a lot to maintain your home, I wanted to do a lot more.  On my to-do list was re-staining the front door, changing out the torn weather strip, updating my hardware, installing landscaping lights, replacing my door bell, installing cameras and changing out my lanterns for motion-sensored/dusk till dawn lights.  My outside list kept growing so I had to just jump in and pick something to start with.  

First up was refinishing my front door.  The problem was I wanted my door to "look" stained, but couldn't really just go out and buy any stain.  The reason being was the fact that I had a fiberglass door.  When I built my house, I didn't even think about the differences between doors.  I told them to build it like the model which they did, with a fiberglass door.  I was kicking myself in the butt this summer not choosing an all wooden door UNTIL I discovered all the benefits of a fiberglass door.  It doesn't weather as fast (most or all of my neighbors that have a wooden door have had to restain their door only 3 years after they moved in).  It took 8+ years before my door started showing signs of wear and tear and I don't have to worry about mildew or warping with my door. 

That being said, it was time to re-stain my door.  You can see the stain was faded and started to chip off.

In my research, I found out that I needed to use a gel stain in order to refinish my fiberglass door because fiberglass does not absorb like wood.  I thought, great, I'll just walk into Lowe's and pick out my stain color, easy peesy, right?  Hmm..nope.  The major box-stores didn't carry gel stain so I had to go to an actual paint store for it.  I ended up buying a quart of the Minwax Gel stain in Walnut color and Minwax Waterbased Helmsman Spar Urethane to seal the door.


After purchasing my stain, I had to wait for a nice weather day since I would be leaving my door partially opened while it dried.  I prepped the door by taping off all the areas I didn't want stain on.

I decided to paint the trim around the door as well so I filled in all the dents and nail holes that the builder neglected to do.


I also removed the hardware so I didn't have to worry about accidently getting stain on it.


I washed to door with some soap and water to clean up any debris.  When the door dried, I sanded the door to remove any stain chips and scratches. I cleaned off all the dust and started staining.  I applied two coats of the gel stain right on top of the existing stain and waited a few minutes before wiping off the excess. It was extremely easy as gel stain doesn't drip like normal stain.  In fact, it looks a bit like jello, but it really did make my fiberglass door look like it was stained wood.

From this:


To this:

What a difference, huh?  When I was done staining the door, I painted the trim of the door in the same color to freshen it up a bit.

A week later, I applied the urethane onto the door to seal in the stain and keep the door looking new longer.

Now on to the hardware.  My door lock was horrible.  It would stick, the key wouldn't work and the clear polish was peeling away from it so it made it look terrible.  My hardware looked so bad I was ready to replace it completely.  I had already chosen the new oil rubbed bronze hardware.  However, when I went to the store, they didn't have any in stock so I figured that I would, while I waited for the new hardware to become in stock, just spray paint my door knob with some oil rubbed bronze paint. 

I used this Rust-oleum Universal Metallic Oil Rubbed Bronze spray paint to cover my hardware.  I already had it in my garage and have used it on many projects.  I love the way I don't have to prime the surface.  I sanded the hardware to remove what clear finish was still left on it.  I used a very fine grit sand paper so that the scratches would be light and easily covered with paint.  Then I covered the actual lock with some tape because I knew I did not want that to be painted.  I even sprayed the screws so that it would match the hardware.  After about 5 light coats, and several hours of drying, I placed the hardware back on my door and the verdict?

I LOVE the way it turned out.

I had intended this to be a temporary solution as I thought that with daily use, the paint would not hold up, but can I say that after 6 months of using the door knob daily, there isn't  a scratch on it?  It still looks new.  Also, when I removed the hardware and placed it back on, it seemed to line up better and now the door doesn't stick anymore.  It's been a win win and at this point, I don't plan on replacing it.  What I do plan on is spray painting all the other exterior door handles.

After I stained the door, I took the liberty of going ahead and replacing the weather striping on the bottom of the door.  Since I have a fiberglass door, it has a little groove on the bottom of the door that allows a weather strip to snap in place.  I bought the MD Kerf's Mount Door Bottom  to replace the existing torn one on my door.  The best part is that I get reimbursed from my electric company for the purchase for being more energy efficient.


I really love the way it turned out.  It doesn't look like much in these pictures, but it is WAY different up close.


Okay, so you can't tell from these pictures, but I also replaced the doorbell, but that will have to be in another post.  For now, I am so happy to step foot onto my front door everyday and the kids are happier too now that they can open it themselves with ease.

The total project was about $30 for all the stain as I waited for a 40% off day (it happens 2-3 times a year at sherwin williams and had a $10 coupon on top of that that I found on their website :)  I spent another $10 for the weather strip (which was reimbursed by my electric company).  For about 3 hours, it saved me $300 which was the quote to restain just the exterior side of my front door (I actually stained both sides so they would match), not to mention taking care of my door knobs.  This do it yourself project was completely worth it.

So how many things was that I checked off my list?  Restaining door - check, new hardware (well new looking) - check, new weather stripping - check and new door bell - check.   That's a lot, but oh so many more to go.  I can't wait to share them with you all.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Wall of Pictures

I have an open concept in my house so there aren't that many walls to hang pictures.  My foyer has a two story wall that I nailed some frames up when I first moved in.  8 years later and the same 6 posed baby and family pictures still hung.  A lot has happened in 8 years, including me having more kids.  The most recent family picture was missing my youngest child who is now 7 years old.  I was so ready to take all the posed, Sunday dressed, fake smiles off my walls.   

My wall was empty for a while because I couldn't find the frames at the price I wanted and since I was going for a less formal look, I wasn't going to reuse any of the black frames that I already had.  That meant having dozens of black frames that I didn't need and having no frames that I did need.

I was out of luck for weeks until I saw the triple picture frame on sale.  That started my collection.  I bought every size  they had in the dark stain.  The following week, at another Target location, they had the grey and white frames on sale so I bought all that was on the shelf.   I couldn't resist the 75% off price.  

In the end, I love love the mix and match of frames.  It was exactly what I was looking for as well as exactly what I wanted to pay. 

This project took what seemed like forever.  I first measured the wall to see how high and wide I wanted to go and decided the best place to start was to lay everything out on the floor.  I went upstairs to view the entire layout.

Once I was satisfied.  I started to hang the pictures, starting in the middle and working my way out.  I came up with this.  I stared at it for a while and stepped away.


When I came back, I decided to tweak things a bit.  With plaster (to fill in holes) in one hand and a hammer in the other, I started to create new holes, while filling in the old ones.  This is what I came up with the 2nd go around with it. 


This time when I stepped away and came back, I still loved it.  All in all, it took me nearly 4.5 hours to come up with the layout and hang everything.  My framed space was 6 feet tall by 9 feet wide with the lowest bottom frame about 3 feet from the floor.  It stayed this way for I would say 6 months because I was so busy.  Yet, no one seemed to notice and I even had some comment on how great the pictures were.  I don't know if they just didn't notice that all the pictures were exactly the same or that they were just being nice.

When I finally had time, I went through thousands of pictures, copying my favorites into a separate folder.  I knew which pictures I really loved, but I didn't know which size to order.  I needed to visually see where everything would be to make sure I didn't have the same poses right next to each other.  

Therefore, I decided to create a template of my wall on the computer in order to better see what pictures would look good and where.

It was very easy to move images around on the computer and when it came time to ordering the prints, they were already marked on my template.  This made ordering prints, quick and painless.

Here's my final selection.  All my images were taken by me except for the ones that I'm in.  Each photo just makes me smile and it brought back a memory of the time that it was taken.  That is what I wanted.  I didn't want any photos that were taken in a studio with a fake background and forced smile. 


I wanted "family love" and I think I achieved that.  There aren't any "say cheese" smiles.  They are mostly of them running around and being silly.  


I love love love my wall of pictures.  I love the frames.  I love the pictures.  I love the fact that it is the first thing I see when I walk in door and it is what I see when I sit in my office as I work so I am super happy.

The total price was $75 for all the frames (which were originally $300, but I got 75% off) and approximately $25 for all the photos.  Total amount spent was $100 for the entire project which is $50 under my budget so I am super happy about that.  Sometimes, all you have to do is wait to get what you want at the price you want it.  I'm so ecstatic I did just that..I waited and waited...and finally found what I was looking for.

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