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

May 29, 2013

A Sexier Smoke Detector

I'm serious about fire safety and what's fabulous about our condo is that they share my concern and make everyone test the smoke detectors in their townhouses annually.  Unfortunately, smoke detectors generally aren't easy on the eyes.  Ours in particular, although not even old, are bulky, beige and strictly un-paintable, so when I received an offer from First Alert to try out a slim new model, I jumped at the chance!

(I can't show you an "after" photo from the same angle right now because the doorway to my office is packed knee high with student mid-terms, projects, piles of books and three purses.  It's a scary greeting each morning).

The model we received is the new First Alert Designer Series 2 in 1 speaking alarm in white (yay!), which is slim and low profile.  Hubs and I have systematically gone through and replaced every 1970s light fixture (even the ceiling fans!) in the townhouse with fresh new fixtures, but it's been so disheartening to install them beside the sad smoke detectors that were already there.  The smoke detectors were strategically placed, so it was safest to keep them there, but jeez, were they ugly! 

The new smoke detector (which you can find at Lowe's and other home improvement stores), in addition to disappearing nicely into the ceiling (it's less than half the size of the old one), is also a lot more technologically advanced than our old unit.  First Alert has a Patented Smoke Entry system which provides a direct path to the sensor based on the way smoke travels, which means it's more sensitive to smoke but, here's the best part, it results in fewer false alarms!  Plus it detects Carbon Monoxide as an added safety bonus.  Steam from our shower used to set off our old alarm, but we've had none of those false alarms in the two weeks or so we've been testing this smoke detector. We also like that in can be programmed so that a voice tells you where the fire/smoke is, what the hazard is, or whether the battery just needs to be changed (instead of chirping maniacally for shower steam, battery change and fire interchangeably).  There's a video that highlights all of the features, you can see it here.

Although I've hated our smoke detectors and complained before, I was lazy about changing them (especially because it was really an aesthetic thing and they work just fine), but learning about how much safer this new model is makes its slimmer look icing on the cake.  It's definitely townhouse-approved.  But now I want a few more . . . 

I was provided this unit for review from First Alert, but was not asked, encouraged or paid to write a positive review.

May 27, 2013

Thrift Store Art - Refreshed for the Townhouse

When my parents were visiting, we made many-a-trip to the thrift stores (my poor Dad).  We even found a new-to-me Value Village when he ripped his only pair of pants and we had to make an impromptu Moore's run.  It was at that Value Village that I found two lovely paintings, both of water, that made me smile.  This weekend, I removed them from their frames and gave them a blast of glossy white spray paint before reassembling them.  Both frames were a little beat up (and dated) but now are refreshed.  One day Hubs and I will make new frames for them (see here for one tutorial, and here for another), but right now paint was all I had time for.  It's a cheap fix that made them both look modern, cheery and townhouse-appropriate.

One made its way into the office, replacing a small sculpture my Grandpa made (it will find a new home). The other is adding more zingy colour to the bathroom, replacing a black and white photograph that hung there previously.  Things are looking grim on the lakehouse purchase (competition - details soon), so these two paintings might be my only "waterfront view" in the foreseeable future.  At $20.00 a piece, these are the better deal (less headache, too)!

In the bathroom, I love the extra jolt of turquoise to tie in the colour from pretty much every other room.  My DIY yellow painting has a hint of turquoise and the new painting has a hit of yellow, so they work nicely together.  Plus, (is this too much information?), when I have a bath, the water crashing against rocks is my new view.  Seeing as this is a windowless bathroom, I'll take what I can get!

How to take frames from blah to bright:
  • Using pliers, remove the nails holding the painting in place
  • Lightly sand the frame, to remove any sheen
  • Wipe clean with a damp cloth, allow to dry
  • Spray with primer (I chose a stain blocking primer - Beauti-tone STOPZ)
  • Allow to dry overnight
  • Spray with Rustoleum Painter's Touch in Gloss White
  • Allow to dry for 48 hours to fully cure 
  • Hammer in finishing nails alongside the painting
  • Install eye hooks and picture hanging wire
This is a photo of the back before I disassembled it, but I did the same thing: using finishing nails to hold the painting in place (mine are straighter!) by hammering them into the frame alongside the painting:

And that's it!  P.S. Check out this post on how to pick the right frame for your art - it might give you some DIY ideas!

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May 24, 2013

Pretty Keys

Today I'm swapping ideas with German-based blogger Katja (of  She loved the knotted cord bracelets Erica and I whipped up and is sharing the project with her readers today. 

I have keys on the brain because we're still toying with the option of buying the dream house (we've met with our mortgage lender, I found a real estate agent here in Ottawa, and we're really thinking about doing it.  The problem: a verbal offer made by a prospective buyer who has been dragging her heels for months).  So, with keys on the brain, I wanted to share this sweet and easy DIY to help identify different keys.  It's easy: stick your keys into a piece of foam and paint on some nail polish in fun hues.  I did this to my house key years ago and, although not so fun (I only have pink, deep plum and red nail polish), it has held up surprisingly well and I'd be lost without the reminder as to which key goes where!  Next up: adding a glow-in-the-dark sealer!

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May 22, 2013

Our Dream House . . . Just Out of Reach, or Not?

If you've read the blog for awhile, you know Hubby & I have this dream of living on a lake (Lake Superior is my first choice).  Our plan was to wait until I'm done my PhD (I hope to submit this August), then wrap up house projects during the fall, sell the townhouse early next spring and move.  But we weren't sure where, exactly.  Lake Superior living would mean moving back to our hometown, which has benefits and drawbacks.  Until now, we've moved where I've gone to school.  It seems scary and exciting to think that we could move anywhere next because Hubby's job has flexibility like that.  So do we want to move anywhere . . . or back home?

To help decide (and to totally distract me throughout the week), Captain Distracto keeps tabs on Lake Superior homes for sale and emails me listings.  Until now we've done our best Goldilocks impressions: too small, too big, too expensive, too far.  But Hubs found a house so perfect, it's making me go all crazy-eyed.  I actually suggested buying it now, living off ramen noodles if we have to, carrying two mortgages until we're done in Ottawa and then selling the townhouse and moving. 

The house: good price, fabulous location, lakefront (on Lake Superior), 1400 square feet, two bedrooms and two bathrooms, two car garage and cart port, work shop (hello painting studio!), guest house with its own (extra) bathroom, sauna, a dreamy open layout with spacious living area and sunny kitchen.  It is a bit dated even though it's only 13 years old, but it has SO much potential.  Imagine it with all white walls and trim, bright artwork, painted kitchen cabinets, updated tile and counters . . .

The back, facing the lake.
The view.  My word, the view.  Rainbows not included.
Guest house with its own bathroom.
Two car garage with so much spray painting room!
The living room is huge with a fireplace, million dollar view, and great hardwood floors.  Just hand me some paint!
Love this dining room!  But I'm already dreaming of a new light fixture.
A kitchen I can finally paint!  I am thinking pale turquoise cupboards with white counters and grey tile floor.

I know when we're ready to move, we won't find something as perfect (or affordable) and I'll be disappointed.  Before when we looked at homes, I was willing to make ridiculous concessions ("axe the guest bedroom!" "who needs an office!" "kitchens are overrated, we can live without one!") because I knew to buy a lakefront property we'd have to make sacrifices.  But this home has everything we want and need and more, so I don't think I'll be able to be so chill about sacrifices from now on.  Everyone think good thoughts so no one else buys this and it's available when we're ready . . .
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May 21, 2013

How to Use Needle Felting Techniques to Decorate - or Mend - a Wool Sweater

Spring is the time to say "see ya later!" to all my winter clothes.  I don't actually have a special place to put them, but I do shuffle things around in the closet so really out-of-season things are hidden and spring/summer clothes are front and centre.  I also take this time to make sure every last sweater is washed in Eucalan (the stuff I use for washing "dry clean only" woolens at home), plus I use a sweater shaver to remove any pills

My Mom is doing the same seasonal song and dance so we thought it was high time we mended a hole ruining a perfectly lovely, if a little boring, cashmere sweater of hers.  Inspired by my wooly round up of projects in the winter (particularly this tutorial), we thought a DIY needle felted wool patch/applique would be a perfect dose of whimsy - and the perfect hole-hider. 

Needle felted wood applique

Instead of just a single heart to hide the hole, we needle felted on a row of hearts to hide the small hole but also give a basic sweater a little character that Jessica Day would surely approve of (if it were yellow or pink - but I couldn't convince my Mom of the merits of more zing). 

We used a cookie cutter to help keep the shape, but you can also draw on a design and felt in the lines.

First we slid the sweater on to the foam block.  Then we pulled off a small amount of wool roving and placed it in the shape of the cookie cutter.  We bit off  more than we could chew and felted a huge wad for the first heart.  Multiple, thin layers workers better!

How to needle felt shapes

This is the best part of needle felting: stab, stab, stab.  If you haven't been tempted by my needle felted art, let me say again: nothing relieves stress like stabbing something woolly with a barbed needle!  Just watch the fingers because these needles are terribly painful.  But this is really all there is to it!  Stabbing the felted wool repeatedly works the fibers into the wool sweater.

How to needle felt shapes
How to fix a sweater hole

Once all three hearts were felted neatly, we used an iron on the "wool" setting and gently pressed the hearts to smooth them out (I've seen other people skip this step, I've seen others mist with water first).  The finished sweater needs to be hand-washed (which means soaking and rinsing and laying flat to us) just like before.

How to set needle felted shape

Cute, right? 

How to needle felt shapes
Needle felted heart How to needle felt shapes

The same technique would look great on a cozy wool pillow.  Needle felting is quick and easy work, so a pillow with a dense pattern or repeating design would look amazing and take very little time. 

Happy felting!
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May 15, 2013

Easy DIY Knotted Cord Bracelet

After pinning way too many knotted bracelets to my my "DIY to try" board, I decided it was time to take the plunge and finally make one!  My friend Erica and I planned a craft session during a recent visit and, with the help of my Hubby, tried a few different kinds of knots before finding an awesome one that lies flat, works perfectly, and looks so sweet.  Here's how we made these summery bracelets!

Nautical knot bracelet DIY


Make a silk cord bracelet

Before you get started, open up the crimp ends a little, using pliers.

Gold ribbon crimp ends

Take one length of cord, fold it in half.  Lay it down on your work surface so it forms a loop.  For my bracelets, I used 2 pieces of cord, each 22" long, and that made a 6" long bracelet (including the clasp).  Use more cord if you have thicker cord or want a longer bracelet.

Make a nautical knot

Sneak your second length of cord (also folded in half), under the loop.

Make a nautical knot

Loop the bottom cord over and then under the tails of the loop you made.

Make a nautical knot

Then wrap it over one half of the loop, then under itself and then over the second half of the loop. 

Make a nautical knot

Gently pull the knot tight, shaping it a bit so it lies flat and the ends are even.

Make a nautical knot

Measure how long you would like your bracelet (don't forget the clasp adds length).  Place tape all the way around the four strands where you want to cut them.

Make a knotted cord bracelet

Using sharp scissors, cut all four ends after the tape so the tape holds the cord together.  This type of cord unravels quickly, so we immediately added epoxy to the ends.  Some tutorials show gluing on the sides of the cord but then it shows, so we glued the ends and only a millimeter between each cord to hold them together invisibly.  We mixed the two-part epoxy with a toothpick and used the toothpick to spread on the glue and coax a little between the cords.

How to finish off a satin cord bracelet
Hubby's hands!
Let the epoxy dry for a minute, just so it's tacky but not hard (this epoxy dries rock hard).

How to use a ribbon crimp end with cord bracelet

Place the cord into the opened ribbon crimp and use a toothpick to push it all in.  It's wriggly and will try to escape, but the epoxy (still pliable but not totally glued) will help hold it together.

How to use a ribbon crimp end

Close the crimp with needle nosed pliers and let dry 24 hours.

How to use a ribbon crimp end

Add a clasp using two small jump rings.  Our clasps were provided by the Etsy shop, Antiqued and I really love them because they already come with tag connectors and look really sleek.  At this point, you can also add some chain in lieu of the connector to make the length adjustable.

DIY Knotted silk cord bracelet
Easy DIY cord bracelet

These bracelets took minutes to make (and cost only $1-2 per bracelet), so we made a bunch!  Erica's versions of these bracelets are totally different than mine so take a look for more inspiration.  It was serendipitous that we each just happened to find, and favor, really different cord.

Summery bracelet tutorial
Bright yellow bracelet

I made this two-tone one first, but Erica and I both decided we love the look of the solid colour better.

Knotted bracelet tutorial

It's lightweight and really cheery, which makes it perfect for summer. 

Bracelets for $1-2 DIY
Knotted coral cord bracelet

P.S. This is a project kitties love to help with.

Kitty playing with string
Kitty playing with string


How to make a knotted satin cord bracelet - nautical, colorful
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