Monthly Archives: November 2012

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Create a Cozy Bed

cozy layered bed for winter

I’ll be honest, creating this post was more about trying out my new camera then showing you my bedding strategies, but it’s a good excuse for a post with both. Emmeth dropped my point and shoot down the stairs over the holiday, so I picked up a new (to me) dslr from Craigslist today. I haven’t taken it out of auto yet (or read the manual) but wow! what a difference. I took these in our no central light, previously impossible to photograph bedroom unless it was 10 am with all the curtains open. What a difference! You could even see the room if I left the side lights off, but it looked a little gloomy. But I digress, back to the cozy bedding.

I live near Chicago, which means winter is cold. Plus our bedrooms are in a (mostly) finished attic space, which doesn’t have the right number of heating vents. So a cozy, warm bed, with lots of layers, is important. I like to read in bed, so I’m particular about my pillows as well.

Here’s how I make all our beds for winter: heated mattress pad (super important on those 3 degree days), sheets, quilt/heavy blanket, duvet, throw. And then as many pillows as I can stand, with a basket nearby to toss them in at night. Layers let us adjust for the crazy Chicago weather without having to constantly remake the beds. And they let me have at least one blanket even when the kid that’s climbed in the middle of the night tries to run off with them.

Kid tested, cat approved.

What about you, how do you change your bed for cooler weather?

A Chalkboard Tree

Honestly, if I’d had my way this weekend, this would have been our only tree. At least upstairs. But there were loud protests, even from Finn, who I’d expected not to care. Each for different reasons. So I lost that battle and ended up rearranging the furniture (again) to accommodate the tree. Which is fine. Although I’m still pondering selling ours on Craigslist to get a slimmer model. Every year I think about this, always after we’ve put the silly thing up.

Up for consideration today though, I present The Chalkboard Tree.

As you can see from the inspiration image in the header, mine is considerably less detailed. Minimalist even. I say mine, but really I showed Finn the inspiration image and asked him to draw one on the chalkboard in the kitchen. I might have had leftover big tree issues. However. I really like the little spartan tree. I think it will be fun to have everyone who comes to our house in the next few weeks contribute something to the image. I have a small bucket with chalk near the base. There have already been a few additions, mostly from me. The kids really liked the idea, but have yet to follow through.

Do you put up a tree? Any annual decor traditions that require furniture rearranging?

The Cranky Crafter Makes a Straw Wreath

Cranky crafting time. This project involved glue, which I hate. I always get it everywhere, probably because in elementary school instead of trying to be neat with the glue I was always the one spreading thin layers on my fingers and then peeling it off.

make a wreath from straws

Project Details

  • Supplies needed – straws, glue, wreath form
  • Patience level required –  low
  • Time commitment – 15 minutes
  • Clean-up – minimal

My wreath differs slightly from the inspiration image, so I’ll give you directions for how I made it as I made adjustments to both the materials and directions. I didn’t look at the wreath form size and just grabbed one at Michaels.  Which turned out to be a 12″ flat cardboard form, the inspiration wreath is considerably smaller. Therefore, I ran out of straws after the first wreath (yes, I made more than one. You’ll see why in another post). I also switched out the red stripe straws for birch bark patterned ones. Finally, I used Alene’s Tacky glue instead of hot glue. I knew if I went the hot glue route I’d burn my fingers setting the straws in place in addition to ending up with glue strings everywhere. Dried tacky glue is much easier to get off my fingers and maintains my fingerprints (so I can continue to get into any and all government facilities).


    1. 1.  Cut 1″ off of 100 straws. I find I have a fairly accurate eye for what one inch looks like, so I eyeballed it.  You could, of  course, use a ruler, but that required more coordination and planning than I was up for.
    2. 2. Cut another inch from 50 of those straws. There’s that I can eyeball an inch thing again. If you go the ruler route then cut 1″ off 50 straws and 2″ off the other 50.
    3. 3. Cut the rest of the straws (44) in half. Use a ruler if you must. I did not.
    4. 4. Gather up your ten millions (ok, fine, 150) one inch pieces.


Like so, only with many more straws.

Then glue your tall straws and medium straws on the wreath form, alternating sizes and lining up the ends around the form. Use plenty of glue and don’t worry if it seeps up in between, we’ll cover that up next.

If you get tired of gluing straws (because you have the patience of a gnat), put it down and walk away. Who cares? This project won’t be ruined by neglect as long as you set it somewhere the straws can’t be bent.

Once you’ve regained your patience for crafting and have gone all the way (round the bend), go back with the small straws. Alternating sizes again, in the gaps from the first round.

And you’re done. You did go all around with the little straws, right? Great, grab a(nother) glass of wine and toast a job well done.


This wreath was inspired by the red one in the collage above. Directions here. It looked both cheap and simple, two things that I require in a craft project. It also looking interesting and modern, so my hopes were high for it not ending up in the trash when I was done. So far I like it. I’ll be honest, up close it still looks like a bunch of straws glued to cardboard. Fancy paper straws that you can buy at Anthropologie, yes, but still. It’s straws on cardboard. I think it will look nice in multiples as part of my mantel display though (you can see a sneak peek on Instagram, follow me @designingaround).

Chalkboard tree tomorrow. With considerably less directions.

Cranky Crafting!


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Crafts for the Crotchety

I like the idea of crafting. I do. It sounds nice and it seems like something I should like. But I don’t. Not really. I have the patience of a gnat. And I’m really picky about how things look. In my experience, crafts always look better in pictures. To sum up, crafting usually makes me cranky. I start to sound like that old guy who hates everything (I have a special hatred for glue in all its forms).

However. I’m issuing myself a challenge. You can join along too, if you like. Crafts for the non-crafty. Projects that look good and are actually easy. From Pinterest, because, seriously, I have over 2000 pins. I should really do something with all those ideas. Otherwise I have to admit that I have a problem. (My name is Kathryn and I am not as crafty as Pinterest would make you think)

So people, let’s get crafty. Or you know, not. We’ll see how it goes.  I’ve decided to try two – three projects per week leading up to the holiday.  As noted above, I’m not choosing super challenging projects. I want to create things with the kids, not win crafty blogger of the year. My project criteria are projects that don’t create more clutter and that don’t make me regret this idea after the first week. I know, way to commit, right?  Baby steps. This week’s projects are the Straw Wreath and Chalkboard Tree above. Check in tomorrow for details.



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The Basement Grows Up

basement play space with swings and media

We’re really lucky to have a semi-finished space in the basement (which doesn’t look like this anymore since the great sofa switcheroo, I should take new photos . It’s very large and open, making it a great space to play and hang out. Unless you’re over 5’6″ (5 foot in some places), then you’re cramped and uncomfortable. But really, how many people are taller than 5’6″? Not me and really Finn enjoys crouching and banging his head on soffits. At any rate, it makes a fabulous space for the kids and since we’ve finished finishing it (it had walls and a ceiling when we moved in. And a bar and a bathtub.) its been such a luxury to not have to look at mounds of kid toys everywhere. They still creep upstairs, but in manageable amounts. However. Kids grow and change far too quickly. What worked for the space four years ago is not as effective now.

Several things remain – I like to keep the floor space as open as possible. We need a space for building large things, a space for art projects, a space for dolls/dress-up and space for games/reading/Wii, TV, lounging, etc. The space needed for dolls/dress-up, however, is shrinking as the tall one grows older. And the type of crafting space is changing. The small one still needs plenty of space for building and physical play. Here’s the current breakdown.

Supply Storage. Lots of these things are not used.

Crafting space in the weird little nook by the entrance.

Table. Needs more storage. And a better top.

Fabric storage and sewing supplies. Generally a disaster.

It’s a weird little set of nooks just inside the door. The first picture is looking to your left, then around to your right. The last picture is storage tucked under the stairs. The tall one has asked for a sewing machine for Christmas. I’d like to set up a functional area for her to sew and craft. We either need to refit this space some or move things around. There’s another strange little nook at the back, you can see it at the back of the opening photo. Here’s a close up.

We could clear out those shelves and relocate or get rid of them. The bins could move where the art area is now.

I sew but not continuously. I’m trying to think of what would help organize such a space for a child. So far every project has just resulted in fabric, thread and needles everywhere if she’s not supervised. Which she doesn’t really want to be, nor do I want to. She’s quite capable of just making things and I want to empower that. I also don’t want to pull pins out of guests. Their parents tend to frown on that sort of thing. Plus they yell. Loudly. I don’t like noise.

At any rate, crafty types, what do you like to organize your sewing/knitting/craft spaces? Which area would you choose? I’m open to replacing her table, maybe something with drawers? I’m sure I can find something thrifted or on Craigslist to paint and make cheery and cute. This will likely be part of her holiday presents, so I need to get going.

Happy Friday

What are you doing this weekend? I peeked into a fabulous exhibit at the MCA Chicago at a meeting on Wednesday, I’m looking forward to exploring it with the family this weekend. The kids can even climb on part of it. The Toy and Game Fair is in town too and promises interaction with inventors so I’m hoping we can check that out as well. And that it does not disappoint by being entirely too commercial. Will report back.

Lots of great links this week.

I must remember this in February.

Every child deserves teachers like these.

This project is amazing. What would you write?

“and home is like this too. it can be an expression of ourselves in a particular space and time, an invention that never stops evolving.”

10 really good ways to seize the day.

Oh Amazon. You are so good sometimes. Seriously, check it out. Horse heads.

Popcorn. One kernel at a time. Insane.

And here on the blog, in case you missed it, I shared some of my favorite gifts for boys as well as my eyes bigger than stomach holiday crafting issues. There was also the living room remix and my Craigslist take on a room from Rue. And who could forget the ever fabulous homemade laundry soap recipe.

See you next week. Probably in elastic waist pants.

Getting Crafty With It

Every year at this time I make all sorts of plans. Crafty, crafty plans. This year, I think, this will be the year I’m that mom. The one that does all kinds of fun stuff and makes memories. And then I run out of energy/time/money/energy/ ideas/time/energy. Instead of the super cute and fun activities countdown calendar, I buy the one with chocolate behind each square. Actually I buy two, because, really, do they need something else to argue over? One year I bought (what I thought was) a nifty lego one and everyday there were complaints that it didn’t have chocolate. “Look, you can make Santa out of legos.” “Mom, why isn’t Santa chocolate (there’s a whole other discussion, kids)”. Last year I ordered a “crafty” calendar from Etsy, but it was far too juvenile. Not to mention just not worth it, a couple of days had pages torn from a coloring book.

This year, however, this year is the year I get it together. Right? Right. I mean, I have pinned the crap out of ideas for this holiday. And not just any ideas. Pretty ideas, that don’t feel too cluttery, that perhaps I can live with. Because really, holiday decor starts to look like a bunch of clutter to me after about 3 days. I know, I’m horrible and devoid of spirit. I’ve accepted it and moved on.

So here’s the plan. I make some stuff with the kids. Revelatory, yes? I think the little fairy snow terrarium above will make a great centerpiece, perhaps accented with tiny gingerbread houses. Several of the straw wreaths in our picture window could be fun, or perhaps some popsicle stick snowflakes. Maybe I’ll go crazy and do both.

And those elf donuts? Those are just crazy. Actually, I went ahead and bought the book as one of the tall one’s presents. Tiny Treats, by American Girl. It’s ridiculous and cute. The sort of thing I absolutely don’t have time for but that she will totally love.

I’ve put on my tough face and already told them we’re not getting the chocolate. Thus far they’ve taken the news well. Activity cards for things we do anyway (cookie baking, watching Elf and such) along with planning better for holiday events (checking out holiday lights at the zoo and the windows at Macy’s). Memories will be made, dammit, I shall forge holiday traditions. And then we’ll eat chocolate. Because really, that’s what the holidays are all about.

wreath. fairy house. book tree. mantel. gingerbread.

A Gift Guide for Boys

I know. It’s not even Thanksgiving yet. But it is, at least, after Halloween. And I also know that like me, most of you are probably giving some thought to what to give your kids for whatever Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/Secular Gift Holiday Event you celebrate. These things, despite what our children (and occasionally our significant others) think, take some planning. My own children, being the helpful little creatures that they are, have generated lists a mile long, to assist me in this process. Sorting through these lists, finding the items that I can live with, afford and think they’ll actually play with, is no small task. So in case you’re in a similar boat, or have unhelpful children that haven’t even generated a list (as if), I’m putting together a series of gift guides. I gravitate towards toy purchases that lead toward open play and creativity, as even toys with specific directions are never used as intended in my house. I’m far less likely to be irritated about this if in the process the toy isn’t completely destroyed. So here are 9 items I’ve found to be essential for “boy” play in our home, although several regularly cross the gender gap. For reference, the boy in my home is currently 6, and all of these are toys he has played with regularly for one to two years. In the lifespan of a toy with a child this age, that’s a pretty good run.

Now you might notice that several items on this list aren’t strictly toys. Rope, PVC pipe, mailing tubes, fabric scraps (I’m linking to Waldorf play silks here, but I just have yards of fabric). Cardboard boxes should also be on this list. I have actually instructed the grandparents to give mailing tubes and such for Christmas, I think the small one was three. He LOVED it. We still have them and they are played with regularly, so it’s worth getting the “good” cardboard tubes. A selection of PVC pipes and corners allows one to build a variety of structures, marble runs to play houses, and fabric scraps become costumes, roofs, blankets, wings, capes …

As for the official toys, we all know my love of the Lego Education site and gear legos. Citiblocks are equally fabulous, far more versatile than regular blocks. Stuffed animals are popular here for vet school, there have been numerous surgeries of late. No one’s created a Franken-animal as yet, but I think its only a matter of time. (Needles and thread will certainly be on my craft supplies gift guide). Dominoes make for excellent indoor play, in our house they are used exclusively for domino runs. And while we have several marble run toys, I like the q-ba-maze for storage and ease of use.

A couple of runners up. We do have the Quadrilla Marble Runs and I like them, although you need a lot to really be able to build and they are crazy expensive. We lucked into ours with a Toys-R-Us clearance and a store manager who clearly didn’t know the value of what he was selling us (a huge set for $70, down from $300+). The hotwheels Trick Trax have also been popular, although more with kids that come over than my own.

Do you have any favorite toys to share? What other gift guides would you like to see?

I have included affiliate links with these products on the off chance that I can make some money from these sorts of things. Now you know.

Anatomy of a Room

We haven’t had an Anatomy of a Room or a What to buy from Craigslist post in a few weeks. How about one that mashes them both together? Let’s take a look at what works in the room above and then see if we can recreate it, with a few tweaks, from Craigslist. Interested?

Clearly I’m still loving dark walls and big windows with funky lighting. This space is from Rue Magazine. I also like the way the furniture is in the center of the room, which allows the large room to still feel cozy and intimate. Wood on the ceiling warms up the dark walls, but finishing it in a different color from the floors ensures that you don’t feel like you’re in a box and bring your eye to the fabulous architecture. Interesting color and texture from the large-scale art and rug create movement. Here’s another view.

I don’t know where they store their kids toys in this space, but I’m sure they’ve got it all figured out. Along with fingerprint free glass for the table.

So, how to recreate via the Craigslist? I looked for a similar sofa and chairs. The sofa is a tight back instead of cushions, but still has clean lines. I found two chairs that would work, although neither was a pair, so the hunt goes on. A coffee table that’s glass and wood, a nicely patterned rug and a daybed (that would need to be recovered) round out the furniture. Supplement those with two simple lamps from Ikea and a great ceiling fixture and stump table from West Elm and your well on your way to the same look.

What do you think, does this feel like you could make a similar space with these pieces, a little paint and some creativity?

Links to all items can be found on my Pinterest board.

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