Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A plague upon our house...

Or, you know, the flu...

Both my husband and I are down for the count with the flu so there is very little of anything blog-worthy going on in this house. Just a lot of coughing, and no one wants to hear about that.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Exciting Jewelry News!

I'm very excited! The lovely people at Beadworld in Seattle saw my shop on Etsy, contacted me and asked me to teach a few classes in wire wrapping this spring! I will be teaching classes on earrings, donut wrapping, and bird's nests, with possible classes on cabochon wrapping to come later in the summer. This will be my first time teaching, but I think it will be very fun! Stay tuned for more info as I get it.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Office Organization Part 1: Mountains of Paper and Bills

I think I could almost get the hang of this being organized thing if it wasn't for all of the paper that seems to multiply in the house! I honestly let the mailbox fill up day after day because I don't want to deal with organizing all the paper that seems to just show up.

Here's the evidence of how I have been ignoring our paper situation...

That's about 6 months worth of paid bills, bank statements, and junk credit card offers that I just stuffed in that office cubbyhole because I couldn't bring myself to deal with it. If you look closely at the bottom left, there is also a nice sized pile of junk that I needed to shred, helpfully sitting on top of the shredder.

But I steeled myself to make room in the file drawer and empty out that huge pile of stuff. There are plenty of tutorials and guides out there on the internet about how to organize your paper. Even the US government has a guide. I decided to follow the table from the government's guide on how long to keep records, with a few tweaks.

How Long to Keep Documents
DocumentHow Long to Keep It
Bank statements1 year, unless needed to support tax filings
Birth certificates, marriage licenses, divorce decrees, passports, education records, military service recordsForever
ContractsUntil updated
Credit card recordsUntil paid, unless needed to support tax filings
Home purchase and improvement recordsAs long as you own the property
Household inventoryForever; update as needed
Insurance, lifeForever
Insurance, car, home, etc.Until you renew the policy
Investment statementsShred your monthly statements; keep annual statements until you sell the investments
Investment certificatesUntil you cash or sell the item
Loan documentsUntil you sell the item the loan was for
Real estate deedsAs long as you own the property
Receipts for large purchasesUntil you sell or discard the item
Service contracts and warrantiesUntil you sell or discard the item
Social Security cardForever
Social Security statementWhen you receive the new statement, shred the old one
Tax records7 years from the filing date
Vehicle titlesUntil you sell or dispose of the car
WillUntil updated

Luckily we have gone paperless for the majority of our bills, banks, and credit cards. Thank goodness, otherwise the paper would have totally taken over the office by now. So, I don't keep physical copies of bank statements in our filing cabinet since electronic copies are stored by the bank.

Important documents go in our fireproof safe: birth certificates, marriage license, passports, Social Security cards, vehicle titles, home inventory, etc. I also think I will move our back-up portable hard drives to the safe.

In our file drawer, I cleaned out all of the bills and statements over a year old and dumped them in the shred/burn pile and re-arranged everything into a few big labeled sections. I have folders for each year of our taxes. Then a section for everything related to our house (loan, refinance, account numbers for utilities). Then a folder for our latest home and auto insurance policies - they will get shredded each time a new renewal shows up in the mail.Then comes a section for important receipts (fridge, washer/dryer and other large purchases) and a big folder for user manuals. Then one copy of a statement for each of our bank and credit card accounts, just for reference. Then I have legal sized paperwork from our house purchase sitting off to the side. And that's it. I hope to keep the amount of paper that we store pared down to no more than this.

I also set up a paper action station on our kitchen counter, since that is the first place we dump the mail when it comes in the house.

It is now the home for pens and pencils, gift cards and post-it notes and has sorting sections for bills to pay, outgoing mail, paper to file, and then paper that needs to stay out and visible (mostly coupons and our 2012 tax folder so we can add to it as tax statements and W-2s trickle in). Junk mail will go straight into our newspaper recycling box by our fireplace (for non personally identifying junk) or directly into the fireplace to be kindling for the next fire (for credit offers and such).

Incidentally, here is the gigantic pile of paper that needs to be shredded or burned. This doesn't even include the huge bag of envelopes and paper that could just go straight into the recycling bin. I think it will make good kindling for the next time we have a fire in the fireplace...

Linked up to:

Delightful Order's Monthly Organization Challenge

IHeart Organizing's Monthly Organization Challenge
IHeart Organizing

Monday, January 21, 2013

DIY Bathroom Mirror Frame for less than $20

I've mentioned before how ugly our upstairs guest bathroom was before we attacked it with paint. The previous owners had installed nice stone tile on the floors, tub surround, and vanity top and then ruined the pretty effect with bright white (I think of it as apartment white) paint on the walls and a horrible peachy orange paint on the cabinets. We could only stand that for about a month after move-in before we broke out the paint brushes and painted the walls a warm cream and the vanity a chocolate brown. That definitely made the bathroom better.

 All that was left was the enormous 3'x5' blank builder's mirror - which isn't ugly, just plain.

I found a whole bunch of links on Pinterest from bloggers who updated their plain mirrors with trim from the hardware store (check out what seems to be the most popular tutorial here) and I figured that was a fast, easy fix. 

And it was! We bought 20 feet worth of pre-primed wood composite door trim from Lowe's, my dear husband cut the angles on his shiny new miter saw (Also bought that same trip at Lowe's. New project, new tool, right? Although it's perfectly easy to do this small project with a miter box and hand saw.) Then he used our rotary tool to cut grooves in the back of the trim for the mirror's hanging brackets, so the frame would lay flat against the glass. I painted the trim with two coats of the left over chocolate brown semi-gloss paint from the cabinets, then we just glued it directly on top of the edges of the mirror with Liquid Nails adhesive for mirrors. Simple! And super easy and fast. The longest part of it was waiting for the first coat of paint to dry in our cold garage.

Here's the result:

Nice, huh? Definitely looks more polished than the previous huge blank expanse of mirror. And for only around $20!
  • Three 7 foot pieces of pre-primed composite door casing trim - $15. There were way too many options for moulding - if you wanted something more decorative, the real wood moulding, while more expensive, had prettier patterns. But we figured that we were going to paint the trim anyway, so we would go with the simpler, cheaper option. We could have also saved a few bucks by buying a 10 foot piece and a 7 foot piece, but it wouldn't fit in our little hatchback.
  • Liquid Nails adhesive for mirrors, marble and granite - $5. This stuff seems very solid. It stuck to the mirror right away, with just a little wiggle time - so work fast while placing the pieces or you'll have permanently off kilter angles.
  • Semi-gloss latex paint - free! I used leftover paint, but this project needs so little paint that you could probably buy one of those little $3 tester jars and have more than enough.
And if you don't have a miter box, cutting the 45 degree angles could still technically be free because Home Depot and Lowe's both have cutting stations with saws and miter boxes. Just as long as you have measured very carefully, you could cut everything in the store.

This was such a fun easy project that I wish our house had more mirrors to frame, but alas, that was the only one. What should we pick for the next project? So many choices!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Jewelry Tutorial: Tree of Life Pendant

Tree of Life pendants have been very popular for quite a while. There are tons of sellers on Etsy that sell them (including me!) The great thing about these pendants is that even though the general concept is the same, each artist puts his or her own twist on the pendant and each one is different.

Another great thing is that they are surprisingly easy to make. I thought I would make a tutorial to share my technique in making Tree of Life pendants.

Tools and Supplies Needed:
  • 8 inches of 16 or 18 gauge wire 
  • 12-14 feet of 26 gauge wire  
  • Around 50 small (2-3 mm) gemstone chips or crystal beads – in whatever color you want: leafy green; yellow, red, orange, brown for fall; purple or pink for a fantasy tree 
  • Wire cutters 
  • Round nose pliers 
  • Flat nose pliers 
  • Round object for shaping the frame – around 1.5 inches in diameter (I use pill bottles)


Wrap the 16 gauge wire around your round shaping object (pill bottle for me). I like to keep the wire on the spool while I’m shaping it so that I can just cut exactly the amount I need. Leave around 1.5 inches of extra wire on either end of the circle.

Bend a 90 degree turn around 1.5 inches on one side of the wire. This will be your loop to attach to a chain.

Take the other end of the wire and wrap it around the bend twice, keeping the whole circle very tight against the bottle.

Slide the circle off the bottle and make sure it is symmetrical and even. If you used soft wire, you might want to give it a few whacks with a plastic headed hammer to harden the wire a little bit. 

Make a loop at the top of the circle.

Cut 12 pieces of 26 gauge wire 12 inches long and bend them in half.

Wrap each piece of wire four times around the bottom of the circle, keeping the length of each end equal.

Take a group of three wires and twist them a few times to make a root. Don’t twist more than a half inch or you won’t have enough room for the rest of your tree. Repeat in groups of three until you have twisted all the wires.

Bundle all the wires together and twist them into the trunk. How long you want the truck to be is up to you, but don’t twist too much or you won’t have enough room for the branches and leaves. If you feel like you twisted too much, you can bend your trunk a little so your tree isn't straight up and down. Asymmetrical trees are more visually interesting anyway!

Now is the fun part – the branches and leaves! Take 5 wires from the edge of the trunk bundle and twist them together a few times to make a branch.

Then separate out one wire and add beads to it until you reach the frame. The number of beads will vary depending on the size of bead and how long you twisted your branch. Wrap the wire a few times around the frame, downwards towards the roots, to secure it

I like to leave these wires long and loose until I have finished all the branches, just in case I need to slide the branches up or down or if I have to, I can unwrap a certain branch to re-do it. Don’t unwrap and re-wrap it too many times or you can over-work the wire and it will snap.

Twist the other wires from you big branch to make a little branch. Then add leaf beads to each wire and secure to the frame with a few wraps (downwards towards the roots again)

I like to switch to the other side of the trunk to work on a new branch, just to make sure my tree doesn't get too lopsided. Take another four or five wires and twist into a big branch, then split them off into smaller branches and leaves – however you think looks best for your tree.

Continue making big branches, secondary branches, and leaves until you have secured all the wires to the frame.

Then go back to the lowest branches and wrap the wire downwards towards the roots, until you reach the wraps for the nearest root. Add a new wire if you run out. Do the same for the other side.

Wrap all of the loose wires (downwards towards the roots), until you reach the wraps for the neighboring branch, arranging the spacing of the branches to whatever looks best to you. This will ensure that the whole frame is wrapped in wire, which I think looks neater than having spaces and also keeps your branches from sliding up and down.

And you are done! All you need to do is add a chain or cord and you have a beautiful tree of life pendant! Experiment with different types of wire and different colors or shapes of beads and each tree of life pendant you make can be beautifully unique.

If you would like to buy one of my Tree of Life pendants, check out my shop link here. I also take custom orders if you have something specific in mind.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Travel Tuesday - Death Valley National Park

This Travel Tuesday we'll do 180° from alpine Paradise to desert Death Valley. Hold on tight, because I have a lot to say about Death Valley...

Death Valley - Badwater Basin Salt Flats, lowest elevation in North America

Death Valley didn't become a National Park until 1994. Before that, it was a National Monument (in 1933), and before that, parts of the valley and surrounding mountains were mined for gold, silver, lead, and borax, leaving abandoned mine shafts and ghost towns when the mines eventually played out.

We decided to visit Death Valley this year during April, one of the rainiest, dreariest months in Seattle, but the very end of the comfortable winter tourist season in Death Valley. We flew into Las Vegas, NV and stayed on the Strip for an afternoon and one night. To be honest, that was about enough Las Vegas for my husband and me - we don't drink and we both figure that gambling is just a quick way to play video games and donate money to the casinos. So we just walked up and down the strip to take a look at all of the casinos, which is fun in its own way - kind of Disney-like, just with more drunk people and pornography advertisements.

We stayed at Excalibur, mostly because it was one of the more affordable hotels on the strip, and it was decent, but definitely not luxury class. It seems like they are slowly remodeling their guest rooms because the first night we were there, the room was dated and slightly dirty, but the second night (a few days later, after we got back from Death Valley) we were in the other tower and the room was newly remodeled and very nice. The casino itself was smokey, loud, and crowded, and of course had the requisite aggressive marketing people you have to dodge every time you step foot on the casino floor but the buffet was very nice.

We left early the next morning for the two hour drive into the park. We entered the park through Shoshone, CA in the south, on Badwater Road, which goes through some less visited parts of the park. It was an interesting drive and a nice introduction to the park without a lot of crowds or traffic. 

Lack of traffic also meant we could stop dead in the middle of the road when we saw this guy in the way.

Can't see him very well? Don't worry, he ran over, straight to the passenger door. I rolled down the window to snap a picture, but I was honestly worried he would just jump in to raid our lunches from the cooler.

Ha! Wildlife photography is easy, right?
Driving north on Badwater road, you eventually hit Badwater, the lowest elevation spot in the park and in North America itself. It is a hot, blinding white salt flat. We got there before noon and it was already over 95°. I guess I don't need to say to bring sunscreen and lots of water when you visit Death Valley.

Next going north is a short hike into a canyon with a natural stone bridge (aptly named Natural Bridge on the maps) And then after that in the valley, Devil's Golf Course, so named because it's apparently playing golf in hell is all in the rough...

Above, Natural Bridge. Below, Devil's Golf Course (watch your step!)
Going farther north, you'll reach a one way (going north) turn-off called Artist's Drive. This road will take you closer to mountains that have multi-colored mineral deposits, making the mountains almost look painted.

Artist Palette
Shortly after you re-join the main road, you will come to the Furnace Creek Junction, with the historic Furnace Creek Inn to the east (right), and the Furnace Creek Ranch up the road a bit to the northwest (left).

The Furnace Creek Inn is a historic four-star hotel, originally built as crew quarters for the Pacific Coast Borax  Company. The Inn has a formal restaurant, warm springs pool, and tennis courts. We stayed at the Furnace Creek Ranch up the road, which has two casual restaurants, a bar, a small museum, a pool, game courts, golf course, and horse stables and has motel type lodging or duplex cabins. We stayed in a cabin, which was small, but very comfortable, with a TV, free wifi and excellent air conditioning.

Restaurants at the Furnace Creek Ranch
We got to the ranch in the early afternoon, so we still had time to travel north a bit to see more sights. Just north of the ranch is the National Park visitor center, with rangers on hand to answer questions (and a gift shop!). Next along the road is a short roadside trail with remains of the historical borax mining and refinery that took place in the valley. Along the trail is a fabled 20 Mule Team Borax wagon train from the 1880s.

Another 12 miles north of the borax trail is a boardwalk and interpretive trail over Salt Creek, home to a type of fish found only in Death Valley. Shortly after that is an intersection, where you can head farther north or turn southwest to Stovepipe Wells. We headed west (left) and got gas and snacks in Stovepipe Wells village, which also has a motel and restaurant. Along the road to Stovepipe Wells are long views across the valley to the Panamint mountain range as well as 100 foot tall sand dunes. You can walk the few miles out to the dunes, if you don't mind sand in your boots.

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
After the sand dunes, we drove back south to our cabin, ate in the 49er Cafe (very good buffalo burgers...), swam in the warm springs fed pool, and then enjoyed sitting outside in the 85° midnight weather. 

The next morning we set out back towards the north, taking the Scotty's Castle Road, the northbound route at the junction before Stovepipe Wells. This is another less traveled portion of the park. We drove north for almost 20 miles without passing another car. 

Along Scotty's Castle Road is the outlet for a 27 mile, one way, four wheel drive road through a box canyon - from outside the east side of the park, passing through a ghost town and the Armagosa Mountain range, then down through Titus Canyon into the valley. We didn't have enough time or gas to try to drive this route, but it is on our list for the next time we visit.

The road out of Titus Canyon
All the way at the north end of the park is Scotty's Castle - a 1920s vacation mansion in the foothills above Death Valley. The "castle" was never completely finished, but you can walk the grounds for free or purchase a guided tour for the interior of the mansion.

Scotty's Castle
We walked around the grounds and chose to skip the interior tour so that we would have a chance to drive a bit west to check out Ubehebe Crater, caused by a volcanic eruption 300 years ago. You can walk down into the crater, but be prepared for a hot, dusty climb out. You can also hike along the rim of the crater, which we did for a short distance.

Ubehebe Crater and obvious signs...
After the crater, we headed south, back towards Furnace Creek Inn and turned east to exit the park. Along the road out of the park you can view Zabriskie Point, with views of yellow badlands, and a short, twisty one way dirt road though 20 Mule Team Canyon, with close up views of the badlands. As well as an opportunity (for my husband at least) to test the rental Jeep's high speed off road capability. I have video of that experience, with me gasping and swearing in the background, but I think I'll leave that to the imagination...

The last thing we did before the drive back to Las Vegas was a 26 mile round trip road up to Dante's View (apparently, they just ran with the death/hell/devil theme for the majority of naming opportunities). The last few miles of this road are steep and rather hair raising, with switchbacks so tight that larger vehicles and trailers aren't allowed. The drive is paid off by the sweeping views of the whole valley, as well as refreshing 72° temperatures at 5400 foot elevation (compared to the 100° on the valley floor).

Death Valley from Dante's View point
After that it was a peaceful desert drive back into Las Vegas, where we spent another night and took a quick side trip to Hoover Dam - which I think will be its own short Travel Tuesday entry, since this is getting long.

We spent almost two whole days in Death Valley and we only saw the highlights. With a good map and a Jeep, there are hundreds of miles of backcountry roads throughout the whole park. In fact, some of the coolest sights are off the paved roads, like Leadfield ghost town along the Titus Canyon road and Racetrack Playa, where rocks mysteriously move and leave tracks over the dry lake bed, only reachable by a 27 mile long high clearance dirt road.

Racetrack Playa - next time! source
I highly recommend renting a 4x4 vehicle for a trip to Death Valley. We found a Jeep Wrangler in Las Vegas and there are also Jeep rentals at Furnace Creek in the park. Keeping track of your gas tank is also very important. There are only three gas stations in the park: Panamint Springs (on the far west entrance), Stovepipe Wells, and Furnace Creek. Gas at Stovepipe Wells was comparatively cheaper while we were there ($4.75 vs $6.00 at Furnace Creek), so it pays to top of your gas tank outside the park and keep an eye on your gas gauge, especially since cell coverage is limited to areas around the hotels.

Heat is also a concern in Death Valley. We went there right at the end of the winter tourist season, and temperatures were starting to get slightly uncomfortable, over 105° at mid-afternoon. Summer visits are unwise, unless you zip through the park and never leave your air conditioned car.

I think I might be planning another trip to Death Valley in the coming years. It is a good way to dry out and heat up away from the wet, chilly Seattle winters.

As always, the National Park website is a great place to find maps, information about lodging, things to see and current conditions in the park.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Our pets: Birds! Birds!! (and more birds)

We aren't the typical dog or cat household. Don't get me wrong, I love dogs and cats and grew up with them as pets. But my husband grew up where having dogs in the house isn't done and is also slightly allergic to cats. So we have gone another direction in keeping pets.

Birds. So many birds...

I'll start off inside. Meet Bill and Sam, our canaries.

It's hard to get pictures of these guys because they move so darn fast! Sam and Bill live in our living room/dining room so they can see us and sing to us. And sing over us, trying to drown us out when we are on the phone or watching TV.

The backyard is the domain of our little flock of chickens. We live in suburbia, but we are technically within the city limits of a more rural town that allows backyard chickens. (We are also in the suburban area of Seattle, where backyard chickens, goats, and bees are the popular "green" thing to do.) And honestly, our chickens create the same amount of noise and waste as backyard dogs would, so I don't know why all towns don't allow chickens.

Meet Lola, Lulu, Coco, and newcomer Dot:

Lola and Lulu are Rhode Island Reds and are sisters from the same hatching. They are the most friendly of the flock: they will both eat from our hands and Lola will let me carry her around. Coco is a Cuckoo Marans, and is the top hen of the flock (a little aggressive and not very friendly with us). Dot is a Silver Laced Wyandotte. We just got her around three weeks ago and the other three are still acting like middle-school mean girls towards her, but she is slowly fitting in.

(And yes, you can laugh at the names I gave my chickens. That was the point... chickens are a little bit absurd anyway, so they need names to match.)

Unfortunately, that blurry iPhone picture is the only good picture we have of Dot at the moment. Her second day here, she jumped the fence and nearly got eaten by the neighbors' dog. Luckily she wasn't injured, but all her tail feathers were torn out. We are waiting until her feathers grow back (a few more weeks) to take some more pictures, because she just looks sad right now.

We built our chicken coop out of our neighbor's old play fort on stilts. They wanted to get rid of it and it seemed like a perfect base to start off our coop, so they just lowered it across the fence to us and we hacked the stilts off and did some other modifications to create a coop/nesting area with a secure outdoor run.

We just expanded the outdoor run area to give them another 16 square feet, along with some perches. We didn't get around to painting the new section, so the coop isn't quite as pretty as it was before, but it's much more functional now.

I would like to put some paving stones outside the door to the coop since we step there a lot and it gets super muddy (Ignore the snow... Today was our once yearly snowfall for this year). These spoiled chickens also have indoor and outdoor heat lights on timers, as well as an automatic coop door on a timer. (That's what happens when my engineer husband owns chickens... He's currently trying to invent an automatic treat dispenser so that they don't have to go without corn when we are gone for the day.) We also usually let them roam around our backyard during the winter and spring, but that has been changed to supervised roaming only since Dot nearly got herself eaten.

Here's a few more pictures:

Knock, knock...

Even though they are kind of unconventional pets, I love having chickens. Each of them has a different personality and they are fun to watch in the backyard. Not to mention, they make us breakfast every day.