Martina’s Childhood Favorite Toys: Handmade Barbie Furniture

05/31/2011

It would be hard for me to chose what my true favorite toy was but I certainly loved playing house. Thousands of hours were clocked playing with my Fisher Price Little People, you know the small, choking-hazard ones from the 80s? I had the tudor house, the SUV and camper, the hospital, the tractor, the school bus and of course lots of Little People. My mom still has these but she insists they stay at her house. She did, however, hand over the boxes labeled in colorful markers and glitter “Martina’s Stuff” containing all the handmade plastic canvas Barbie furniture gifted to me by my Granny.

I had forget just how many pieces there were in this set. Granny must have spent many hours making all of this for me. I feel very blessed that I had it. I didn’t get interested in Barbies until late elementary school days. My best friend Michele and I would set up huge Barbie cities in my basement and spent hours playing.

The two [barely] surviving Barbies have seen better days. Naked, chopped off hair, and both missing a hand due to a tragic dog attack. I think I’ll be on the lookout for some decent clothed Barbies at yard sales this summer.

Let’s go on a little tour of the Barbie house. Note, anywhere you see drawers or cabinet doors they’re functional! Here’s Barbie’s bedroom with a bed, rug, dresser with mirror, vanity chair and table, and a room divider screen:

The kitchen with area rug, china cabinet, corner hutch, stove and table with gingham tablecloth:

I love the blue vintage style stove with heart details:

The formal dining table with white lace tablecloth and 4 chairs:

The living room with area rug, fireplace, love seat with pillow, arm chair with matching footstool, coffee table, end table and floor lamp.

There is also an entertainment center for the TV, stereo and speakers:

I wonder if our kids will recognize this brown box with a picture on it as a TV:

Like Jason’s Definitely Dinosaurs, I’m really glad my mom saved this furniture for me, that it’s still in great shape, and that it’s pretty indestructible for our kids to play with. Too bad Granny hadn’t used her own house for inspiration and made this furniture mid-century!

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Shade Cloth Canopy for the Pergola

05/30/2011

A few summers ago Jason and I built a simple pergola out of 4x4s and 2x4s for our back patio. We used “bamboo” reed screens to create shade over the top for the first 2 years but they gradually disintegrated. After a year with no shade over our patio dining area, we decided on a new solution this year.

It’s called black shade cloth and it supposedly creates 70% shade. We knew we didn’t want anything solid enough to keep rain out (though that would be nice) because our pergola isn’t heavy enough to withstand high speed winds that we have occasionally when storm fronts move through.

Our pergola is 12×12 so we had a shade cloth custom cut to our dimensions from MyTarp.com. I think it cost around $79. We were concerned that it was too big when we first opened it up but it ended up being just perfect and we installed it using J-hooks on the top of the pergola. (The shade cloth comes with metal grommets every 1.5′ or so.)

We’re loving this new shady spot to eat!


Phone Photo Friday

05/27/2011


Preparing for Foster Kids: Versatility in Gear

05/26/2011

Like any first time parents, we’ve been scrambling to figure out what kind of equipment we need have in preparation for welcoming little ones into our house. Only with foster parenting we have the added complexity of not knowing whether we’re preparing for a newborn or a 5-year-old, since we’re opening our availability to kids anywhere in that age range. Being placed with a newborn – 1-year-old is less likely than a toddler or young child, so we’re limiting how many infant/baby items we bring into our cozy house at this point. As I’ve been researching, one word keeps coming to mind: VERSATILITY.

Crib to Toddler Bed
Cribs that convert into toddler beds seem to be the status quo these days, and for good reason since most kids are able to climb out of their crib by 2 years. Our SOMNAT has three options: a higher position for newborns, a low position for infants that can sit up or pull up to a stand, and a toddler bed with one crib side removed. (I can’t find any photos online of it set up like a toddler bed… the image on the right is a random Google search image.) Some cribs even convert into twin or double beds, using the crib sides and the headboard and footboard. We had other plans for a big kid bed though.

Low Bed to Loft or Bunk Bed
We decided on the popular KURA for kids too big for the SOMNAT. I’ve seen the KURA bed set up and even customized in many ways. I love that it can be a low bed, a loft bed or a bunk bed. Even in the loft/bunk set up the bed is not very tall so it’s a safer option for young children. According to IKEA the bunk shouldn’t be used for kids younger than 6 but I have friends who have used it with 3, 4 and 5 year olds with no issues. In the high bed position, the square footage under the bed is open for a second mattress or additional floor space. It can easily be closed off on the bottom to create a fun hiding place or to cover up a cluttered toy area.

Convertible Car Seats
Many friends have offered to loan us their car seats. INFANT car seats. Why? Because they’re only used for 8-12 months and then they’re stored for the next kid. When I started researching car seats I was amazed to learn that there are car seats that go from newborn up to 70 lbs—the whole range of kids we’re likely to foster parent! I’ve heard all the benefits of being able to tote a sleeping baby around in an infant carrier but for foster parents, a convertible car seat is perfect. If we have an infant and feel like an infant car seat would be helpful, I’m glad to know that so many people have them in storage. My friend Susan recommends the Britax Marathon because it’s “really sturdy, easy to clean, easy to install & versatile for sizes newborn to 65-70 pounds.” We were gifted a perfect black one. I’m confident that we’ll be needing a second one at some point so if anyone wants to buy us another one, I like this cowmooflage one… just saying. (SIDENOTE: Getting bedding, car seats, strollers, clothing, etc. in unisex colors is obviously the most economical option for any parents who are planning on having more than one child.)

Strollers
There is a lot of room for personal preferences here but I love the simple yet hearty Jeep umbrella stroller my mom and I found at a yard sale recently. (Similar to this, pictured above but black and without all the accessories.) There are lots of fancy stroller options out there, including ones that work specifically with infant carriers, but I survived infancy being worn in backpack-style carrier and pushed around in a simple fabric umbrella stroller. Cheaper, lighter, smaller. I don’t have the age/weight specs on mine since it was second hand but I suspect this will work for all kids 1-5 with no problem. If/when we have 2 kids, I’ll be keeping an eye on craigslist for one of those fancy Sit & Stand strollers (like this one) that can tote two+ kids from newborn – 45 lbs and have lots of storage.

High Chairs
This Eddie Bauer foldable booster seat was recommended to me by my friend K for it’s portability and ease of storage. Our friends Renata and Sean convinced us we should get a Stokke chair. They’re as pricy as the Britax car seats but with sturdy wood construction and an adaptable design to work for an infant, a child and an adult, it’s considered a lifetime chair. We inquired about one on craigslist but didn’t hear back and while we were at IKEA we semi-impulsively (I had it on my baby wishlist) bought the ANTILOP high chair and tray for $25. The seat base is a bit bulky but the legs pop off so it can be stored pretty easily. The style matches our other dining chairs and the tray means we can move the seat around and we don’t need to find a placemat solution, though these work great with our friends’ Stokke. Did I mention the Stokke high chair comes in a bunch of colors?

These are the 5 key pieces of baby/child gear I come up with. Can you think of anything else to add? If you are preparing to become a foster parent or looking for gift ideas for a new foster parent of young children, remember: versatility, versatility, versatility. Books, audio CDs, DVDs, dishes (kids utensils, sippy cups), bibs and classic toys (blocks, puzzles, stuffed animals, musical instruments, cars, dolls) can also be added to the list of items that can be used for a wide range of ages.


Jason’s Childhood Favorite Toys: Definitely Dinosaurs

05/25/2011

Little Jason was a dinosaur enthusiast. He and his little brother Dan had a collection of a particular kind of dinosaurs called Definitely Dinosaurs made by Playskool. Jason and his brothers also had every boy and unisex toy and game manufactered in the 1980s and early 90s. Nerf guns, sit-n-spin, Hungry Hungry Hippos, Ghostbusters gear, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Super Soakers…you name it, they had it. Anyway… most of that stuff is long gone but his mom saved the Definitely Dinosaurs for him. Since we’re going to have kiddos around the ranch soon she brought them over. I cleaned them up and took some photos before putting them away in toy storage.

The official Definitely Dinosaur crew:

With their 5 Caveman comrades:

And with a few inferior-quality friends. Every dino collection needs a T-Rex. And a … a … whatever that little guy on the left is:

I’m really glad Jason’s mom saved these. I’m also glad they’re still in great shape and they’re really durable toys so we don’t have to worry about sentimental childhood toys getting ruined by our kids.


Fireplace Makeover: Removing a Brick Hearth and Retiling

05/24/2011

Here’s our fireplace before. It’s basically looked the same since we bought our house except the walls were builder’s beige and the trim was white. The fireplace is brick inside, painted black, with tan 1 sq. ft. marble around the outside.

The problem is that it sticks out into the living room, right into the foot path. Adults, kids and even dogs have tripped on it. And those corners are SHARP! Nerve-wracking for some of our friends with little ones.

See how far it sticks out into the traffic path of the room?

And it eats up precious floor space.

We could tell the wood flooring had been cut around the fireplace base (referred to as “hearth” from here out) when the house was built 56 years ago, but that the built out fireplace with space above for a TV and marble hearth had been added when the house was renovated just before we bought it 4 years ago. We were curious what was under the tile but it had never occurred to Jason or me that under the tile would be brick…

We’re guessing that this brick slab was originally built into the living room to serve as a platform for a wood burning stove. Our house doesn’t have a chimney or a functional fireplace and based on some neighbors that still don’t have central heat and air, we can assume that our house originally didn’t either. So how do you remove a brick hearth?! You Google it. Then you buy a brick chisel, get out your hammer, put on a dust mask (ASBESTOS ALERT!), googles, gloves and have at it. We also laid down an old sheet to protect our wood flooring and covered our TV with a blanket. It was a dusty, dirty, labor-intensive job. Chunks of mortar were flying. Jason did all the chiseling and I moved the bricks out of the way into a box. The worse part of the chiseling was splitting bricks in half. When I took the photo below, there were still 7 bricks that needed to be chopped in half. Once they were out, reconstruction could begin!

When we got to the hardware store we decided on 4″ tumbled multicolor slate. I love the way the slate tiles turned out in the floor of our hall bath (photo here) and it’s nice to have some consistency throughout the house. The variation of size and color and the rounded corners made these very forgiving and easy to work with. No need for spacers or getting everything perfectly square, at least not for an area this small. Also, they were cheap: only $3.97 per square foot. (This project ended up being 8 sq. ft. I believe.)

Before tiling could start, we had to patch in new drywall around the sides and top of the fireplace. We put tile backer board on the base of the fireplace which is made of cement so it’s sturdy for walking on. We had to glue it down with Liquid Nails (and a little Thin Set tile adhesive) because the subfloor here was uneven concrete. Jason adhered the tiles with Thin Set and a grooved trowel.

As I mentioned, these tiles are very easy to work with. My job was to open the packages and hand Jason the tiles as he spread out the Thin Set and set the tiles in place.

Ta-da! We only had to cut 6 tiles. Natural stone tiles really should be cut with a wet saw but we don’t own one and couldn’t justify renting one just for 6 tiles. So we used a hammer and brick chisel. Not perfect but good enough for us. “Grout covers a multitude of sins,” we like to say. Once the adhesive was dry (after about 24 hours) the tiles were ready for their first coat of sealer. We used a matte sealer that’s made for porous natural stone. This is necessary to do before grouting or the grout won’t wipe off the tile faces.

Several steps happened between the photos above and below but I was too involved to photograph. After the first coat of sealer is dry, 15 minutes maybe?, it’s time to start grouting. Since this was a small area we bought pre-mixed grout. It’s more expensive than the powder bag but obviously easier. Grouting is a two person job. Jason spread the grout over the surface of the tiles and pressed it into all the cracks using a rubber trowel. (You can imagine why it’s important that the adhesive Thin Set is completely dry or tiles will start shifting.) I started wiping grout off with a large, damp sponge and a bucket of warm water. It doesn’t have to be warm but if feels nicer to my rubber-gloved hands. The sponge does need to be thoroughly wrung out though. Too much water will thin and breakdown the grout. It takes many swipes of the sponge to get all of the grout off the faces of the tiles. The grout starts drying and sticking to the tiles in about 10 minutes so it’s a fast moving process. I actually really enjoy this process and I feel like I’m quite the grout wiping expert after tiling our humongous master shower. Once the grout was dry, another 24 hours to be safe, the tiles and grout get another coat of sealer. This time it’s to make sure the grout gets sealed. Jason added simple, square-edge white trim around the sides and top of the fireplace to cover the holes left from the original trim. He then painted it white with trim paint. He also touched up the brick base and insides of the fireplace with black spray paint. (I couldn’t photograph these steps because he did them while I was at work.)

We are soon going to be repainting our living room in Greek Villa by Sherwin Williams so I asked Jason if he’d brush some onto the drywall around the fireplace so we can get a feel for how it’ll look finished. Imagine it without the box of bricks and the blue wall with drywall mud patches on the right.

No more sharp-enough-to-bust-a-head-open intrusion sticking out into the living room.

No more toe-stubbing and tripping on cold, hard marble.


Fireplace: Before & After

05/23/2011

We refinished our faux fireplace. Tomorrow I’ll tell you why and how.

Before:

After: