Holiday Decorating Ideas on the Cheap

We never really used to decorate too much for Christmas.  We’d have the tree, and our stockings would come out Christmas Eve, and if it happened to occur to someone, we got a wreath as well.  These days, since my parents have retired, they get a bit more into it.  Last year, because they were down in NYC visiting Ando’s family, it was up to the Pie and I to decorate the house for the holiday season.  This was the first year that my mother had let my dad put up white LED lights in the bushes outside (something he’s been wanting to do for thirty years, though I’m still holding out for the animatronic Santa on the roof).  So I knew we could go a bit more out there than we had in previous years.

The idea was to work with what we had, and my parents have collected a vast number of Christmas tree decorations in their almost forty years together.  So I took the biggest glass balls and suspended them from scrap ribbons tied to the banister on our upstairs landing.

Christmas Decorating Ideas

Coming down the stairs you can see your reflection in the closest ones.

Christmas Decorating Ideas

And the view from the bottom.

Christmas Decorating Ideas

Some of the more oddly shaped and heavier glass balls I looped around the curtain rod in the dining room.

Christmas Decorating Ideas

Then I took a garland that came from Ten Thousand Villages and some paper IKEA decorations and did this to the window in the living room.

Christmas Decorating Ideas

Christmas Decorating Ideas

For a wreath, I picked this one up at Value Village for $2.50.

Christmas Decorating Ideas

I pulled the artificial stuff off it and sprayed the actual grape vine underneath a nice bright copper.

Christmas Decorating Ideas

Christmas Decorating Ideas

Then the Pie and I went to Canadian Tire and went through their clearance decoration bin — this is where they sell off the bits of stuff that fell off other stuff the year before. We picked up a few wreath embellishments for about $2.40 in total, and I sprayed some silver.

Christmas Decorating Ideas

Other bits we bought were already copper.

Christmas Decorating Ideas

The finished product is simple, easy, and cheap, and cost me less than five bucks (I forgot to take a picture of it until AFTER I’d hung it up between the two doors). And all those decorations can just be pulled out and reused somewhere else if I feel like changing it up next year.

Christmas Decorating Ideas

So you don’t have to spend a million dollars to create some winter wonderland. Simple accents here and there can also express the holiday season in the same way!

The Accommodating Office

This will (hopefully) be the last full summer that we live here in St. John’s.  Accordingly, our friends and families are taking advantage of it and we are having four separate sets of guests staying in our house from June all the way until August.

Normally when we have guests, we cram an air mattress into the tiny space that is my home office floor and force our guests to live in cramped conditions for the duration of their visit.

Sping Shuffle

This summer, probably because the Pie and I will be sleeping in there while our parents take our bed, we decided to move things around to make for a little more room.

Sping Shuffle

We got a Groupon deal for a new memory foam mattress, and so when (if) it arrives we plan to keep the old mattress for a few extra weeks and use it on the floor of the guest room/office.  As crappy as the mattress is, if you have ever slept with another person on an air mattress you will know how much more preferable it is to being flopped around every time the other person rolls over or gets in or out of bed.  Anyway, in order to do this we had to make a bit more room for ourselves.

Many of my teaching materials are going across the street to my school office.  I should really use it for more than meeting with my students, as it’s pretty spacious and, unlike most of the students in my department, I only share it with one other person, a per-course instructor like me who is never there.  I plan to stake my claim on the desk by the window. I’ve already dusted it, after all.

Spring Shuffle

If we could afford it, the Pie and I would be all over some amazing furniture that better utilizes small spaces.  Watch this video from Resource Furniture and see what I mean — it’s very inspiring.  As we can’t afford it, we did the best we could.  I found this desk online and decided that a small rolling desk was probably the best option for us, and that $60 was a decent price for it.  My old desk, which was actually originally in the Pie’s office, was a sturdy structure from IKEA, in the JERKER line.  I hated it.  Mostly because if you are familiar with IKEA furniture, you know that once you put it together the first time, you really shouldn’t take it apart ever again.  And we moved this heavy sucker FIVE TIMES.

Sping Shuffle

Fortunately our friend Kirby had a serious crush on the desk, and with no IKEA nearer than Québec City, had no way to get one of his very own.  So we gave him this one, and he’s very happy with it.

So, after de-cluttering my work area (so much stuff that was out in view that could be put away somewhere else), and shoving the freezer over to the other side of the room, there’s a lot more floor space in my office, plenty of room for a queen-sized mattress and some more to spare.

Sping Shuffle

We can simply roll the desk into our room or the dining room or wherever, so that I can still do some work at home while people are here.  And I will use my school office more often as well.

Sping Shuffle

I bought this little metal shelf from Canadian Tire to support my herb farm once I re-potted it and I suspect another one will do a handy job of holding all my fabric (the shoe shelf I am currently using is not really up to the strain).

Sping Shuffle

The new shelf in the office.

Spring Shuffle

Of course, removing a large and tall piece of furniture left a huge empty spot on my wall.  But I can fill that easily enough.  I added two more prints I got for Christmas, and then used Rasterbator and a picture of Gren to fill the rest of the space.  Cait tells me she looks forward to waking up to Gren’s looming face when she and her sister come to visit this August.  I told her that not only would she have the poster version, but the real Gren would probably loom over her to wake her up as well.  This is his favourite room to play ball in after all.

Spring Shuffle

Let there be LIGHT!

Light BOX

Rule number one in food photography: ALWAYS USE NATURAL LIGHT.

You know what?  Sometimes that’s just not possible.

You know dinner/supper? Generally that is served in the evening.  And in the winter here, that means it’s dark out.

The solution to that is to use a light box, or light tent.  Many photographers use these devices when featuring a single product.  It’s a good way to get whatever it is to display without any distracting background messing up the shot.

Light BOX

It’s also a good way to diffuse the harshness of electric lighting and make your subject look a little bit more natural.

Professional light boxes or light tents, even the small ones, will run you at least a hundred bucks, easy.  And that’s without the super-bright lighting system that goes with it.  Add another minimum four hundred dollars to your total if you want to go that way.

Constructing my box cost me less than $15 and took me less than an hour.  And a homemade box will give you pretty much the same results. You do the math.

Light BOX

Here’s what you need:

A large and sturdy cardboard box.  These ones are slightly smaller than what I had originally planned, but I can always make another one when I get a bigger box.

Light BOX

Enough white cloth (muslin, linen, cotton, or fleece) to line the box.  Tape or glue for attaching things (I like me my hockey tape, as you know, and it’s designed to attach to fabric).  Double-sided tape is great if you don’t want your adhesive efforts to show.  Scissors/Box Cutter/Rotary Cutter, for cutting things.  White or coloured Bristol board, for your background.   You can also skip the board and use your cloth, but bending the board will give you a nice edge-less angle.

Light BOX

At least two, but preferably more, goose-neck or adjustable neck work lamps.  I already have two of these Tertial ones from IKEA, which cost $10 and come with a clamp base.  I plan to acquire one more to go on top of the box.  It’s important to note that these lamps support the brighter 100W (or 23W if you are using a CFL) bulbs without risk of fire.

As many bright light bulbs as you need for your lamps.  I recommend using 100W bulbs (23W in compact fluorescent terms).  I picked up these “daylight” bulbs, which produce a cooler, less yellow light than a regular incandescent, from Canadian Tire for $10.  Halogens work well in this project, because they’re freaking bright, but they also use more energy, so that’s a judgment call for you to make on your own.

Light BOX

Just make sure that the wattage on your light bulb matches the maximum wattage on the lamps you are using.  You can get cheap desk lamps from anywhere to use for the project but more often than not they will only support a 60W (13W CFL) bulb, and those in the know say that’s just not bright enough for their purposes. The lamp on the right is less bright.

Light BOX

The best part about this is you can totally half-ass the project, if you were so inclined.  You don’t even need to measure the holes you cut in the box and if you’re in a hurry, you can leave the interior of the box unlined and simply drape the fabric over the top.

Light BOX

I plan to be a bit more meticulous, however.  But only a little bit.  It’s sort of half-assed half-assery.

Now of course there are a million different DIYs for making your own light box/tent.  Most of them are by real photographers who actually know what they’re doing, but there are some by people like me.  The dabblers of the earth.  I’m going to add my own to the mix, because the world needs a bit more alidoesit flavour, don’t you think?  My three favourite ones in terms of method and supplies are down below, if you want to check them out, but the concept is always the same.  Box.  White stuff.  Light.  Done.

So you take your box.  Grenadier was extremely helpful in the construction of this light box, as the pictures show.

Light BOX

Cut off the top flaps and secure the bottom ones.  The bottom is going to be the back of the box, and the sides the floor, walls, and ceiling.

Light BOX

Cut out large holes on each of the three sides.

Light BOX

Line the box with white fabric, covering the holes completely.  Make sure that all you can see inside the box is white.  White’s a nice reflector.

Light BOX

Prop a piece of bristol board inside the box so that one end is wedged into the top corner.

Bend the board to make a curve and use a bit of tape to stick the bottom in place so it doesn’t slide out.  This will be your photographic surface.  The curve of the board means that there are no corners or edges visible in the photographs.

Light BOX

Put your lamps with their bright bulbs up to all the holes in the box (as I said, I plan to have three lamps some time soon) and turn them on.  Make sure the bulbs don’t touch the cloth.  You wouldn’t want to start a fire.  You might find it easiest to take pictures of items in your light box using a tripod, but it’s not entirely necessary to your happiness.

Tada, your very own light box!

Light BOX

Here’s some food in a shot taken, like I normally do, in my kitchen during the day.  The light is natural outdoor light through my big kitchen window at the end of the afternoon in October.  Lovely.

Light BOX

Now here is the same food in a shot taken at night, using the electric lights in my kitchen.

Light BOX

And again, in my brand new light box!  I think we can all agree there’s a difference!

Light BOX

Other Light Box/Tent Projects:

http://jyoseph.com/blog/diy-light-box-for-product-photography

http://reverb.madstatic.com/blog/2006/04/01/make-a-photo-light-box-light-tent-cheap/

http://www.digital-photography-school.com/how-to-make-a-inexpensive-light-tent

Safety First!

Safety First!

Our stairs are a deathtrap.  They are narrow, bendy, and uneven.  Not to mention slippery as anything.  Unfortunately, we have to use them several times a day.  During our most recent spate with bad weather, the Pie was heading down them in his boots and he slipped.  Luckily he caught himself and our bannister is firmly embedded in the wall, but that was the last straw for me.  I fall down the damned things all the time, but the Pie is one of those people with remarkable balance, and he’s very hard to take down.  So if he falls, you’ve got a problem. To prevent future accidents during what is being forecast as a bad winter, I am adhering safety treads to each one of our stairs. I picked up these 3M Safety Walk rolls from Canadian Tire for ten bucks a roll.  We have fifteen steps in total, each being approximately two feet wide, meaning that for one strip per step I need thirty feet.  So two of these five-yard rolls will do me just fine.

Safety First!

Make sure if you’re putting adhesive strips on inside steps you use an indoor/outdoor strip as opposed to a regular outdoor strip, as they’re easier on bare feet. The instructions are pretty clear.  Let’s see how well I follow them!

Safety First!

First you need to clean all the dirt and grease and grime off each step. Your surface has to be completely dry or the stuff won’t stick.

Safety First!

Then you measure out your strips. Make sure to measure carefully.  I have exactly 30′ of tape and I need to use it all to cover the steps, so my measurements per step have to be spot-on.  Fifteen steps with 24″ strips sounds good to me.

Then you cut the strips to size and round the corners.  Rounding the corners in a uniform manner is certainly harder than it looks.

Safety First!

Peel off the backing and adhere the strip to the step.

Safety First!

Press from the inside out to release any bubbles.

Safety First!

Because my two rolls were 15′ each, I ended up with two 12″ strips at the end of my cutting. Actually, they were about 14″ each, which turned out to be handy on my widest step, where I just put them next to each other.

Safety First!

And now my stairs are safe (er, safer than they were, at least).

Safety First!

Private Screening

As you may have seen from previous posts (like when our toilet exploded), life here at Elizabeth is more often than not fraught with peril.  And now, with two small boys and a wee dog running around, the grown-ups here have to be extra vigilant.

And of course, being boys, they like to get themselves into trouble.  One of their favourite things to do is attempt to climb under the back porch, which is full of rubble and sharp bits of re-bar and all sorts of nasty things.   Once they’re under there, it’s a job getting them back out.

As a solution, I am going to staple a plastic screen around the whole thing.  Subtle and yet effective.  I found a roll of plastic chicken wire at Canadian Tire for $11.

If I have any left, I’m going to go around the railings as well.  Both Gren and IP have a disturbing tendency to hang off the edge.  I hope the screen will act as a deterrent.  And I found some extra in the shed the other day.  BONUS.

So here I go.  I only used two tools here: a staple gun (with staples, of course), and a sharp knife for cutting through the screen.  You could even use scissors on this stuff.

Our staple gun isn’t particularly powerful, and my hands are quite small, so I had to grip the gun near the top and therefore didn’t get as much stapling *oomph* as I wanted.  There are certain drawbacks to being a woman with tiny hands.

Basically I just tried to get the screen as tight as possible and then stapled the crap out of it, leaving no space for small fingers (or noses) to get in.

Even under the steps, where I folded the screen in half to fit.

Now, this is only plastic chicken wire, which isn’t very strong.  It’s more of a mental deterrent than a real physical barrier. In an attempt to make it stronger than it was, I kept it all as one long piece for as much as I could, and, of course, stapled the crap out of it.

I did the top as well, hiding the raw edges on the outside where il Principe couldn’t see them.  Of course the first thing he did when he came out was stick his fingers through the holes and try to push his brother’s stroller through one of the panels.  The screen works better in deterring Gren from wreaking havoc.

I did run out, and there is a hole about two feet wide next to the steps, but we can just put a large potted plant there.

We might end up ripping it out (the top stuff at least) and using real metal chicken wire, just because when il Principe is determined about something, he’s really determined.

Greenthumbing Day Two

FINALLY.

The weather and the fates conspired against me and I was not able to go out into the garden until MONDAY evening.  It’s shameful that “Day One” and “Day Two” should be so freaking far apart.  Stupid Newfoundland.  Spring just does not exist here.  In fact it’s supposed to snow Tuesday.  Of course.

Anyway, I did my raking.  The Pie helped tremendously even though he loathes gardening.  Otherwise it would have taken FOREVER.

Here’s the before.

Here’s the during.  It was the Pie’s idea to put all the leaves on a tarp and drag them to the leaf heap behind the shed.  It was sheer genius.

He grew up in a forest and is thus familiar with such brilliant leaf transport methods.

Here’s the after.  Admittedly it’s rather half-assed, but at this late point all the leaves have disintegrated and are impossible to rake.  The Pie says the rest of them will disappear the first time he mows the lawn.

I hope to have better luck with the slugs and snails this year.  As I’m sure you noticed with my Rodentia posts that I’m not a huge fan of needlessly killing living things that have done me no personal harm.  But these slugs and snails, they’re everywhere (and I mean everywhere), and they’re costing me money (that I don’t have) in replacement plants. My young plants have no chance to grow before they’re literally nipped in the bud by the slimy suckers.

And you can see that the slugs have already had their way with my tulips.

They’ve eaten all the buds on my iris as well.  I nearly raked up the iris while clearing out the beds due to their tenuous grasp on the soil.  I hope they don’t die.

So I caved and bought Scott’s Eco-Sense SLUG-B-GON at Canadian Tire.  Because the name is AWESOME.

But actually because the bait just stops slugs from eating once they eat it, and uneaten bait is safely absorbed by the soil, safe for other animals, children, pets … all that jazz.  I’m excited to test it out.

As far as the actual growing of things goes, I got nothin’.  The tulips, iris, and daffodils are doing their regular thing, but haven’t yet bloomed.  I’m trying to get a cutting from my indoor palm to root to give to Kª, and I’ve started trying to root some avocado pits as well.  If that works I’ll give you a little how-to.  In the meantime, we just wait.

I have been doing my research, however, and have come up with a list of perennial plants that are supposedly hardy here on the rock (shallow, rocky, lead-filled soil) and which I wouldn’t mind having in my garden:

Cornflower/Bachelor’s Buttons (these grew last year but they’re an annual so I’m not sure I’ll plant again)

Fair Maids of France

Hosta (though the slugs had their way with them last year)

Laburnum (which actually grows in huge trees next door)

Lilac

Lily

Lupin

Pitcher Plant (the official provincial flower)

Poppies (we had some success last year.  I’m hoping they appear again.)

Sea Thrift (apparently pretty rare but also native to the island)

Silver Dollar

Snapdragon

Snowball Tree

Viola (Pansies)

Wild Rose

The goal with this garden is to plant all this stuff and set it up so no one has to work on it while I’m gone on my fieldwork term.  Easy peasy is the key here.  Any suggestions (or cuttings!) would be most appreciated, just put your comments below.

***EDIT: I’ll have you know it has snowed TWICE since I wrote this.  The last time it snowed was yesterday morning.  Oh Newfoundland … ***