Creating a Happy, Colorful, Handmade Home & life on the shores of lake superior

December 31, 2012

I Resolve to Have Daily Resolutions

I still write 2010 on my cheques sometimes.  Last year, I accidentally wrote 2007 once.  I don't know if I am ready for 2013, but let's do it!

Do you make resolutions?  I have some post-Hungary plans, but they just happen to coincide with the new year.  I love lists like any good list-loving nutter butter (think dozens upon dozens scribbled daily), but I always feel doomed to fail with new year's resolutions.  It's always too much, too soon and then if I deviate once from my goals, I feel like the whole year is a write off and I've been excused to slip back into my old habits.  

So this year, I have but one resolution: to see each day as a fresh start to try new things, be more productive, refuse to take any guff, re-write the rules, change who I want to be, or view the world differently.

I hope you all have a blast celebrating tonight (I'll be mid-air somewhere).  I hope this coming year sees you all healthy, happy and surrounded by DIY projects finished in a timely manner with fabulous results and no setbacks.

December 28, 2012

December is (Almost) Done. Did We Have Fun?

Pretty soon it will be December 31st.  I'll be back home.  A new year will start.  We'll all be super bewildered, asking ourselves and each other: where did the time go?  At least I know where some of my time went, this month anyway.

The most important to me: I wished my Mom a virtual Happy Birthday (with a carefully curated collection of eye candy, just for her)!

Even though I was blue Mom left, I wasn't alone for long!  After sharing our respective views on the time apart (here's my take and here's Hubby's take), Hubby came to Budapest!  I tried my best to show him sights other than craft stores and flea markets, and in the new year I'll post a list of all of my favorite spots.

Hubby was here just in time for our fourth wedding anniversary!!  I commemorated it with part II of the bad wife list that made you all laugh last year.  No worries, part III is already being drafted (the ceramic painting was fun and my friend and I spoke in Hungarian the whole time.  Sorry Hubs, I honestly forget it makes no sense).

I am going through some serious DIY withdrawal.  Although I am now officially hooked on embroidery, it is repetitive and, once designed, doesn't quell my craving for dreaming up ideas.  But I am happy to have had this project and, as I shared, it really progressed in December (colder days = sure I'll curl up and embroider).  Since the post, I've wrapped up the half finished side you see here AND one half of the remaining side and am thisclose to finishing for my deadline!  All of a sudden I want so badly to finish it while actually in Hungary.

To help keep me in the DIY spirit in Budapest, I sandbagged quite a few projects, doling them out over the last few months.  Evil, I know, but I liked blogging about pieces of my home life.  It helped me feel connected and sane.  This month, I shared my jewellery display built from scratch for a friend.

I also showed you my experiments in spray paint finishes (and a long overdue makeover).

Speaking of lose ends, in case the apocalypse was imminent (and hanging a heavy mirror on a brick fireplace became a priority in your post-apocalyptic world), I finally, finally, spelled out how we hung the stenciled mirror.

With no more secret DIY projects up my sleeves (or are there?), I started lusting for a new project.  A second round at a garage makeoverPeppermint wreathsFelted wool anything?  Yes, yes, and yes.

Situated in beautiful Budapest, with it's light dusting of snow and delicious, deliciousness, I deviated a bit from DIY projects and shots of Budapest, to finally chat about why I don't celebrate Christmas.  Your insightful, receptive and honest comments were the best gift.

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December 27, 2012

Canadians, Do You Want Me Back?

My readership has grown quite a bit while I've been in Budapest.  I'm so happy you loved a little virtual sightseeing mixed in with the usual DIY goodness, but I'm coming home in a few days.  Will you still stop by Dans le Townhouse when I'm actually back in the townhouse?
Sure you will!  I've got plans, Stan!  Some really fun (and easy) DIY projects are on the horizon.  But I'll also be chilling out, maxing and relaxing all cool, getting re-acquainted with my Canadian life.

In four months, I have not:
  • gone to a movie
  • watched television
  • had a phone conversation
  • slept on a mattress
  • seen my employer
  • used a clothes dryer
  • paid a bill online
  • gone a week without getting grief from a stranger
  • taken any guff (looking at you, Parliament security guard.  I sure told you what's what)
  • shoveled snow
  • missed centipedes
  • listened to the radio
  • spent a day without speaking some Hungarian
  • baked anything
  • driven a car
  • had much variety in my wardrobe
  • used a dishwasher (or microwave)
  • bought in bulk
  • seen my Canadian family or friends (except Mom and Hubby!)
  • re-organized a cupboard or drawer
  • taken a bath (this needs clarification: I've showered)
  • worn high heels
  • had any drama in my life
  • hosted a dinner party
  • been able to put impoverished people out of my mind
  • put paint to canvas
  • sat in a truly comfortable chair
  • read a home decor magazine
  • seen a cat (where are all the cats?)   
  • UPDATE: Amy reminded me about the drooling stray I snuggled.  Budapest, though, has been weirdly cat-free!
  • made a purchase without converting the amount to CAD in my head
  • used a treadmill
  • gone a day without walking 

This list could go on forever.  My whole life has been different in Budapest, from the minutiae to the grand scale.  I feel a bit nervous going home, is that weird?

In addition to some chillaxin', I am planning to make my return home as life changing as being here has been.

For one thing, I've promised myself that I have to slow down and appreciate home more.  Here, even en route to do work, I marveled at the architecture, the history, the beauty . . . the differentness.  I don't marvel enough at home, even though I live in one of the most beautiful countries in the world.  From now on, if you see me in the streets, I'll be marveling.  In fact, after a blip in my confidence (okay, it was shaken and stirred), I feel good. These four months have ultimately made me feel more capable.  Right now, I feel so full of vim and vigor, I am convinced I can do anything if I just put my mind to it.  I am hoping this confidence doesn't subside.  

I never know when sneaky, unexpected feelings will hit me.

To help with the accomplishing of fantastical goals, I am also planning on concocting a good, productive routine.  I used to hate routine.  I love working from home because of the freedom.  Thrifting at 2:00pm?  Yay.  Impromptu beach or snowboarding day?  Let me just get the SPF.  But then it's working until midnight for a few days to catch up.  I still don't love the idea of a routine, but I had to have more structure in Budapest and realized it kept me more motivated to stay on task.  Look at me, I got stuff done!  So I'm going to construct a better balance between the giddy liberation I love and the fact that there are things that need doing in a timely manner.  Preferably before the vampires come out. 

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December 26, 2012

Chimney Cake Obsession (and Recipe)

I have decided I'm going to try going completely sugar free for January, to reset my taste buds and get sugar out of my system.  I think cold turkey is the way to go.  Full disclosure: I am binging now.  My weakness?  Kürtős Kalács (or Chimney Cake).  This delicious cake originated in Transylvania (in present day Romania) and is very popular in Hungary.

They have them in Budapest at public transit stops and the Christmas Fair, so there have been plenty of opportunities to gorge on hot, sweet, fresh from the coals goodness.


Handy Hubby can't pronounce it, so he calls it a "steaming tube of goodness".  He is so passionate about it, he just asked me if I want to grab people wandering around with their steaming tube and shake them, yelling "eat it now while it's hot, don't waste the goodness!".  Yup, he likes 'em.  

At the Christmas Fair

To make the real deal, you need some equipment (a wooden cylinder and open fire/hot coals), but I found a super simple version of the recipe so you don't have to light a fire or travel anywhere to get addicted.  You can see the full recipe with instructions here, on the Pencil Kitchen, contributed by Diana (the cheekiest monkey of all), who happens to be a Budapest Blogger!  Yum (although I recommend paper towel rolls trimmed to size, because toilet paper rolls give me the heebie jeebies). 

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December 25, 2012

Happy Thoughts + Snowy Budapest

Budapest has snow!  It's a light dusting, especially compared to the mammoth overload of snow Ottawa got, but it's still lovely to see the city winterized.  Okay, it's really slushy and grey (and still damp as heck), but I'll take it.  I'm just excited to have now, officially, seen Budapest in all four seasons. 

Thanks to everyone for their thought provoking and supportive comments yesterday, when I tried to explain why I don't celebrate Christmas.  I was really nervous about that post because I wanted to be honest but I also really, really didn't want to offend anyone or steal any merriment.  It was a lot of fun to read about the different ways some of you celebrate, and what this time of year means to you.  Of course I loved hearing that some folks feel the same way as me (it's always nice not to feel alone), but I also really loved hearing from readers who do celebrate. 

Even though I don't celebrate anything other than celebrating not having to shovel right now, I wanted to take a  moment and wish you all a lovely holiday.  I hope you and yours experience nothing but complete happiness for the holidays (and always), however you celebrate.

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December 24, 2012

Why I Don't Celebrate Christmas (Anymore)

Last year I briefly mentioned I don't celebrate Christmas (partly to explain why there would be no Christmas-themed posts around here, despite the fact I make Christmas Spiders for sale).  In subsequent weeks, I received a lot of emails from folks asking me why I don't celebrate.  I hadn't really thought to elaborate in my post, because I figured lots of people don't celebrate Christmas.  But I think because I don't celebrate anything instead, plus I used to celebrate Christmas, it became a little curiouser and curiouser.

This year I thought I'd explain, but I've been delaying this post because I'm worried about accidentally coming across as preachy or sounding about as fun as a sack of potatoes.  These are my very personal reasons for not celebrating Christmas and I'm not out to change people's minds or make Christmas less fun

Why I Don't Celebrate Christmas (Anymore)

The Question: Why don't you celebrate Christmas (anymore)?

The Short Answer:  

I'm not Christian.  Even though I went to a Catholic school from kindergarten until the end of high school, school-time masses involved me siting alone in the pew while everyone awkwardly squeezed by me to get their host.  I know that what we call "Christmas" has many secular aspects, and many folks who exchange gifts this time of year and put up a tree aren't Christian either, but I just feel weird about celebrating a holiday steeped in religious meaning when I am not a religious person.  I am sensitive to people wanting to keep Christ in "Christmas," so I think it's more appropriate that I don't celebrate.

The Long Answer:

At one time, my family (parents and little me) "did" Christmas, but only the secular aspects.  We divided our time between family in Toronto and Thunder Bay, which often meant scary, cross province drives in insane blizzards, or super expensive flights coupled with suitcases containing only a spare pair of gotch and dozens of gifts.  It was often very stressful.

We continued to celebrate Christmas until the year before I left my hometown for grad school.  I wanted to check out some universities in Vancouver, BC and "Christmas break" was the only free time, so my Mom, Dad and I toured Vancouver instead.  We loved the lack of preparation and stress and rushing around.  We still got to be together as a family but it was more relaxing, and on our own terms if that makes sense.  It was liberating to to spend time together without having to pay homage to a date that held no significance for us. 

The following year, after a lot of thought, we made a conscious decision to no longer celebrate Christmas.  At the end of the day, we weren't celebrating Christmas via any religious expression, and we weren't enjoying the commercial aspects, so we decided Christmas wasn't for us.  Frankly, I was also struggling with the dominance of Christianity (reflected strongly in the marketplace, like when Silent Night plays endlessly in every mall), while the many other religions practiced in Canada are marginalized.  
After I moved away from my hometown, my parents and Handy Hubby (who was still Buildy Boyfriend then), went to Montreal for a little R&R&R (resting, relaxing and reconnecting).  When Hubby and I got married in December the next year, we took off for a Grecian Honeymoon and spent "Christmas" there.  A Christmassy Christmastime is now a distant memory.  We travel during the holidays.  Capping off each year by seeing more of the world has become something we really look forward to, especially because Hubs and I spend our anniversary somewhere special each year as a result!  Starting each year feeling relaxed is an added bonus.

The Fall Out:

Most of our family has been pretty cool about our decision, and have respected it (even if they don't quite understand or relate).  I am sure they were (and are) a little disappointed, and I appreciate that.  We try to make sure we spend quality time with them at other times of the year.  There are a few relations, though, who I think have taken it personally, and see it as a rejection of them.  Without getting on a soapbox, we try to explain that our reasons are rooted in thinking deeply about whether we consider ourselves religious, what we think about the way in which Christmas dominates over celebrations of other religions, and also our resistance to consumerism.

Even though the decision wasn't made without serious thought and conviction, I feel like we might have to forever defend the decision.  I am trying to put myself in their shoes and understand, but it is so weird to me.  Frankly, I would love to see my family drop the tree decorating, gift exchange and forced merriment on December 25th, in favor of a more casual celebration at some other time of year, but I would never ever dream of trying to force them to give up Christmas.  I don't try to push my reasons on anyone, and I'm completely supportive of any and all who celebrate Christmas!  So I have a hard time responding to the sometimes insensitive and manipulative way some folks try to get us to celebrate Christmas.

I am happy that people enjoy Christmas.  I just don't understand why attendance is mandatory.  And I am frustrated, because I thought in Canada I have freedom of religion, which also means the freedom to not celebrate a religion.  But I guess it is tricky to find a balance between making other people happy, respecting everyone's beliefs and wishes, and doing what feels right . . . especially when doing what feels right is something a little off the beaten path.
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December 20, 2012

Why I'm a Bad Wife: Part II

Last year, so many of you got a kick out of my special anniversary post, chronicling why I'm a bad wife.  Did you think there were so few reasons?  I'm flattered.  I have a whole second list, in honor of our fourth wedding anniversary (which is today!) . . .

11.  Hubby had to come to Hungary with a mostly empty suitcase and completely empty carry-on (that must have looked suspicious) to trek home all the stuff I bought here.  Really Hubs, three pairs of gotch?  Why so fancy pants?

12.  Hubby gets volun-told for a lot of tasks.  Like painting my Grandma's fence.  Replacing my Mom's door knob.  Shimmying into my parents' attic to lay insulation.  And, for 2013, making a treadle desk for a member of my PhD thesis committee! 

13.  I'm still learning the words to songs he hates, but now I'm insisting he learn half so we can do duets on road trips.

14.  I don't know how it comes across in text, but in 3D I'm quite the cut up - always cracking jokes and making funny faces.  But I'll never be a great comedian because, even if it goes over like a lead balloon, I won't bury a bit.  Until laptops become obsolete, every time I have an open laptop across from Hubby's open laptop I will yell, "You sunk my battleship!" (even if it gets the Hubby eye-roll).  I also laugh so hard at my own jokes that sometimes I can't get the punchline out, but Hubby patiently waits for me to get it together.  

15.  To celebrate our one month of being married, we made a scrap book of the wedding day.  Oh gosh, if his work buddies knew his list of skills include gluing pretty corners on pictures . . .

He looks happy enough, but I'm sure he's glad scrapbooking and I didn't really get along.  Ask me if we ever finished that damn scrapbook? Stupid scrapbook.

16. I am a typo-making machine.  Despite all my edu-macation, I also make oodles of grammatical errors.  As a result, Hubby is well versed in feminist theory and philosophy from editing everything I have ever written, since we started dating (back in high school for those keeping track).  Oh, and he has the login info for the blog, to fix mistakes here too.  It's more efficient to cut out the middle man on that one.

17.  He's my favorite treasure hunting partner in crime, even though he hates the smell of all thrift stores and most antique stores.  Yard saling he likes, because it involves sunshine, driving and the occasional hot dog.  But here he is, in one of my favorite antique shops (loitering near the door, by the way).

18.  He thinks it's super swell I'm so into action movies while other wives insist on watching The Notebook again.  Yup, I'm into action movies alright.

Muscliness Via
Suuuuure I'll watch The Transporter, or Transporter 2, or Transporter 3, or The Italian Job, or Death Race, or The Bank Job.

19.  I put a copy of Twilight in his hands and told him it was about vampires.  He is so removed from popular culture, he had no idea it wasn't on par with Blade!  He read all four books (even if you hate the first one, how can you not want to know how it ends?), called it "literary crack" and is now wary of all my recommendations.  I think admitting, on the internet, that I read the series myself is penance enough, no?

20.  I tell anyone with ears (or an internet connection) that Hubby used to cut my hair.  I'm not sure this is something he wants to brag about, given my propensity for volunteering him for tasks (a high school teacher once asked if Hubs was available for appointments) and also because this skill might fall under the same category as "scrap booking," when it comes to being teased horribly by friends.  But I'm so proud of him!  He did such a good job that I am seriously considering going for the DIY'd choppy cut again.  Where are the kitchen scissors??

Me, circa High School graduation time, rocking my DIY hairdo.  Oh boy that was a long time ago.

Happy Anniversary, Handy Hubby.  Thanks for loving me, even when I rook you into another trip to the thrift store by pretending we're going to Le Baron.

That's us, on our wedding day!

P.S. Tonight, (on the night of our wedding anniversary, remember? I didn't), we're meeting my Hungarian friend to go to a pottery painting place, then we're meeting up with her boyfriend and making palacsinta (Hungarian crepes).  I'm just getting a jump start on next year's list.
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December 19, 2012

15 Felted Wool Projects + Ideas

I don't always do things at the "right" time.  I made felted wool flowers when it was so hot that working with wool, especially the dunking it into hot water part, felt nice and uncomfortable.  I made (and hung!) my Halloween wreath in the summer (but I watched Buffy re-runs while I made it, so it felt Halloweeny).  I also paint really summery paintings when it's still gloomy outside.  I've tried winter spray painting in the carpeted basement more than once ("summertime," Hubby says, "save these projects for the summertime!).  I don't just move to the beat of my own drummer, I'm off wandering in some field smelling flowers.

But I'm working on my timing.

It's freaking cold here (a little rainy and dreary, actually), is it cold there?  Yes?  Time for felted wool DIY projects, right?  I've pulled some faves from my DIY archives and also rounded up some sweet new ideas for felted wool crafts.

Let's start basics.  You already know how to make felted wool balls (here's my tutorial, plus some trouble shooting tips), so welcome to the wildly woolly world of felted wool billy buttons, acorns, rocks and more, like felted wool owl faces (okay they're hedgehogs, but they look like adorable owls)!

Felted wool bead necklace DIY
felted wool necklace
Projects to make with felted wool balls
garland, felted faces, felted rocks, acorns, billy buttons
Felted wool ball garland
felted wool necklace

Are your hands cramping from making so many felted wool balls?  Maybe a little pruney, like mine were?  But it's still cold.  Still time for wool.  From needle felting (I showed you how, here) to just sewing with felted wool, there seems to be an endless number of ways to inject a little wooliness and warmth into your DIY repertoire.  I really love all the different ideas for adding decorative wool touches to clothes!

Yellow felted wool project
yarn wreath with felted wool leaves
Felted wool project ideas
felted wool pillow, felted elbow patches, cell phone cases, needle felted art, flower ornament, felted sweater detail
Felted wool sweater detail
needle felted reindeer sweater

Have you whipped up anything wool recently?  I have a fun new idea that I bought some supplies for here, so I can't wait to whip up a wooly DIY the second I'm back in Canadian soil!  Although it's nothing as impressive as this sculpture, consisting of about 600 felted wool balls.  Wow.

Felted wool ball art sculpture
felted wool sculpture
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December 18, 2012

How to Hang a Heavy Mirror on Brick (How to Drill into Brick)

How to Hang a Heavy Mirror on Brick

You have a brick fireplace.  You want to hang something heavy on it.  Probably a mirror, to bounce a little light around the room.  No problem (and good idea, by the way, I'm sure it will look fabulous). 

There is obviously more than one way to do this (and always default to professionals), but here's how we hung the super heavy duty mirror we stenciled and framed.

  • Drill
  • Drill bit (for wood)
  • Masonry bit (some masonry screw brands sell the bit in the package)
  • Masonry screws
  • Wood screws
  • Masking tape
  • Pencil

How to hang something heavy on brick:

1.  We measured where we wanted the mirror hung, choosing two anchor points (for more strength) in the mortar between the bricks.

2.  We taped off the length of the screw on the drill bit, so we knew what depth to make the hole (this is the "poor man's depth gauge").

How to Hang a Heavy Mirror on Brick
Masking tape works well, because it doesn't leave a sticky residue on the bit.

3.   Using a masonry drill bit that came with our masonry screws, we drilled holes into the mortar, stopping when we reached our poor man's depth gauge.  Handy Hubs kept the drill as straight as possible, so as not to enlarge the hole.

How to Hang a Heavy Mirror on Brick

Step number three made a huge mess.

4.  Finally, we drove in the masonry screws, making sure they hugged the brick as tightly as possible, so they are nice and secure.

Easy-peasy.  Next we tackled the back of the mirror.

1.  We picked up some heavy duty hangers from our local hardware store and screwed them into the wood the mirror is mounted to, using wood screws.  We pre-drilled these holes too, to ensure a tighter fit.  (Pre-drilling also keeps the wood from splitting). 

How to Hang a Heavy Mirror on Brick

2.  Using heavy duty picture hanging wire (this stuff is weight-rated), we tightly strung it from the hangers, actually triple-stranding it to make it extra tough.  We also kept quite a long tail, wrapping it back onto itself.

How to Hang a Heavy Mirror on Brick
How to Hang a Heavy Mirror on Brick

 3.  We also wanted to make sure the wire sat where it should on the screws, so we marked the points in pencil on the back of the mirror.  It's important the wire isn't too loosey-goosey, so we adjusted the tension accordingly.

How to Hang a Heavy Mirror on Brick

And that's it!  I was really stressed about hanging something really heavy on the brick (I pictured the whole fireplace crumbling or hearing a crash*bang and finding bits of shiny Hungarian poem everywhere), but Hubs knew what he was doing!  We lived with this mirror for years, and never had it move an inch!

How to Hang a Heavy Mirror on Brick
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December 17, 2012

Embroidery Update!

Since my last report, my pretty ambitious embroidery project has actually been taking shape quite nicely.  Want to see?  (And yes, I may have intentionally worn my Costco-brand turquoise cashmere sweater to coordinate with my embroidery for this photo).

Learning to Embroider

Ta da!

Although I first reported it was grueling and labor intensive, I've since learned to love embroidering!  It really is a portable craft, so I brought it with me when visiting family (even getting a nod of approval from the talented relative who made this amazing piece).  I love that it is so portable and requires so little "set up," because that's one less excuse for getting it done.  Some of my creative endeavors just require so much space and stuff.  Sigh.  With embroidery, though, I just pop the cloth in the hoop and go, so I've been motivated to do an hour or so here and there, and those hours really add up!  As a bonus, I found it really helps me combat stress.  Once I got the hang of it, it's super soothing to do. 

I am really hoping to get the whole project done before I leave Hungary, because I like the idea of having this tangible memento, quite literally demonstrating the time I spent here (like the knitting clock, I guess).  We'll see.  I still have quite a bit left.

In any case, I see more embroidery in my future.  There has to be, because my favorite craft store in Budapest has this amazing embroidery floss, (made in Hungary, of superb quality and super inexpensive), so I stocked up.  These photos may or may not all be separate purchases. 

Stack of embroidery thread
Stack of embroidery thread
Stack of embroidery thread
Stack of embroidery thread

P.S. a stop at the craft store was on the Tanya Tour last week, en route to the Museum of Terror, as ever-patient Hubby watched me hmmm and hawww over even more embroidery thread than what is pictured here.

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