Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Small Business Holiday Shopping Guide

If you like to start your Christmas shopping early, then you and I have a lot in common. The older I get, the earlier I start. About four or five years ago, I started to finish all my Christmas shopping by Thanksgiving, and let me tell you, it's allowed me to see the magic of the holiday season in a much bigger way. I'm not stressfully running around for last-minute gifts, waiting in lines at stores, or getting anxious that my Amazon order won't make it in time. I may wait to buy one or two things that I know will go on sale for Black Friday, but other than that, once Thanksgiving comes around, I know I can go into the Christmas season completely stress-free.

Each year I try more and more to buy things from small businesses. This year, I'm doing a holiday shopping guide, in two parts. The first, focusing on shopping small, and second, sharing ideas from more conventional retailers. 

Let us begin by shopping small!

My personal favorite things on this list are from Farmhouse Pottery. They're based in Woodstock, VT, and I drool over their Instagram feed on the regular. What I love about FP is that their pieces are classic, and they can work in any home design, be it rustic, modern, traditional or, you guessed it, farmhouse. I bought my first FP piece this past June, and I'm so smitten with it, and I love that it's handmade in New England. But, beside that, their pieces are truly dreamy. My picks from their shop selection are their 1. Maple syrup and bell pitcher boxed set (who doesn't love to make pancakes in flannel PJ's on a cold winter Sunday morning?), 2. Silo soup mug (for cuddling on the couch on a snowy day with an oversized mug of soup), 3. Milk bottle match striker (for lighting all those winter candles and starting your evening fires), 4. Beehive baker (pricey, but an incredible heirloom-quality, functional piece that can be handed down to generations).

Photos courtesy of Farmhouse Pottery.
If you're feeling like a splurge, you could even purchase a workshop session in their studio in VT. Someday, Josh and I would love to do this - and what a great gift idea for a couple, mother/daughter or best friends weekend getaway, right?

My own first Farmhouse Pottery purchase. 

Those who know me well know that my love for Organic Bath Co. products runs deep. I first discovered their Drenched body butter a few years back, and I've exclusively used it since then. I've also branched out to try their sugar scrubs and their Nourish Night Balm, and all these products continue to be in constant rotation in my bathroom. Going into the winter season, I cannot recommend these enough. The Drenched body butter is the most amazing, moisturizing one I've ever tried, and I personally find the fact that it's fragrance-free amazing so it doesn't irritate me while I sleep. The Nourish Night Balm is perfect for dry skin in the winter, and their sugar scrubs exfoliate your skin, while leaving it incredibly moisturized once you're out of the shower. They also donate a portion of each sale to the Global Soap Project, an organization that provides soap to underdeveloped countries.

Photo courtesy of Organic Bath Co.

I feel like men are more challenging to shop for than women, and that could be because women just use more stuff than men. But while browsing Etsy, I found this shave cream from Moss N Oak, and it sounded like a great little stocking stuffer for men. It's infused with Argan oil, which is my favorite for skincare moisturization, and it's also infused with peppermint, pine and lavender essential oils, which will smell perfectly woodsy and clean for the winter season. Neither Josh or I have tried this, so we can't speak to its quality, but the shop has stellar reviews on Etsy, and I'm awfully intrigued by it.

Photo courtesy of Moss&Oak on Etsy.

If you don't find goats irresistible, then I don't even know who you are. Beekman 1802 has been growing in popularity over the years, but I still consider them a small business, I suppose. I guess you could argue me on that one, but I thought they more so belonged on this list versus a conventional retailer. Whenever I use my Beekman goat tote for groceries, farmer's markets, or sometimes even as a work bag, I get compliments on it. Reusable bags are great for a variety of reasons, as we all know, so get one that's super cute for a farm animal lover in your life. Every season, they change the design, so it's not the same as the one I have, but every design I've seen has been super cute.

One of my favorite types of gifts to give are personalized ones, and Etsy is the best place to find these types of gifts. When I was browsing Christmas decor on Etsy in October, I stumbled upon a shop called Black Butterfly Signs, and they make personalized door mats. For someone who just purchased a home, or really, anyone, a door mat with either their name, or a saying you know they'd like is such a fun gift to give. My personal favorites from this shop are down below (if you have a Seinfeld-obsessed friend or family member, you need to check out bottom right).

Photos courtesy of Black Butterfly Designs.

I also love getting people personalized mugs from Etsy. This past May for my sister's birthday, who is a nurse, I got her a Trauma Llama mug, and it was a hit. I feel like everyone has too many coffee mugs, and yet, not enough at the same time, especially if it's personalized with your name, or a funny saying. A standout Etsy shop for fun coffee/cocoa mugs is Sweet Mint Handmade. They have something for everyone, and their designs/font choice are awesome. Below is a sampling of my favorites from this shop.

Photos courtesy of Sweet Mint Handmade.

You had to know that I would work Cape Cod in here somehow, right? We bought a candle from Cape Cod Soy Candle at a boutique in Chatham a few years ago, and it's so lovely. I mostly bought it because of the beautiful mason jar and label design, but the fragrance is perfection. We got the Cape Cod Cottage scent and love it. I have yet to try any others, but they're always on my wish list. For winter, their Holiday by the Sea scent smells like perfection in a jar.

Photo courtesy of Cape Cod Soy Candle.

Going back to Etsy for a sec, I really love the idea of getting someone an illustration of their home or happy place. Great for new homeowners, or someone who travels to a place that gives them all the feels, if you send in a photo of the home or place, an artist on Etsy can draw or paint it for you. I actually plan to do this for our house because I have the perfect place for an illustration of it. There are so many artists on Etsy, and it's hard to choose just one, especially because it depends on the recipient's style and taste. To give an example, though, here's a house watercolor from an artist, landgpaperco, on Etsy, that I personally admire.

Photo courtesy of landgpaperco.

I love the t-shirts from Sneaky Bacon Tees. My personal favorite is their You Had Me At Pizza tee because, well, I have an obsession with pizza. They have so many funny t-shirts, though, that would make a memorable gift for someone you know.

Photo courtesy of Sneaky Bacon.

Lastly, Josh wanted to chime in and say, "Buy local beer!" For anyone who enjoys a good microbrew, he'll often go out to a brewery near us to grab a growler or a six pack to bring with us while we travel for Christmas, and pour people glasses, or give them as gifts. For us, we live local to Brown's Brewery, and he also grew up close to Southern Tier Brewery (which, by the way, their Warlock beer is hands down the best I've ever had. It's a seasonal beer of epic proportions). Southern Tier can be purchased in a lot of stores now, but these are the varieties we had on hand. So anyhoo, that's his way of gifting a little taste of home.

Beer-y Christmas, everyone!

Friday, November 17, 2017

Guest Room Part I: The Construction

I can finally say, come be our guest!

Not that people haven't come to visit us since moving in, but they've been sleeping in storage facilities that seemed to have once resembled something that looked like a bedroom. Friends and family that came to stay with us would wake up with a lovely view of the sunrise over our tree farm, clouded by silhouettes of 2x4's, storage boxes and the distinct fragrance of saw dust. So once our bathroom was done, we were desperate to get the guest room complete as well, since they sit back to back to one another. And also because it was getting a little ridiculous to clear out our lumbar supply each time we had overnight company.

This is the room we took a chunk out of to install the guest bathroom and laundry closet, so it's smaller than when we first moved in. Those two projects changed the shape of this room from square-ish to an L. I was worried, at first, that we made the guest room too small, and maybe it would have been better to eliminate the room completely and just make a really big bathroom and laundry room instead. But once we actually laid it out I realized it was still plenty of space for guests to be comfortable. It's definitely quaint (tiny is more accurate). But really, it's a place with a bed and room for a few suitcases, which is all people really need when they come to stay. Plus, we have another bedroom that will eventually be converted into a guest room as well, and this space could potentially be Josh's office someday. So basically, the size is actually rather perfect as a bonus room/den.

Anyhoo, let's go back to the start of the project. 

Josh tore down the plaster and lathe walls in this room back when he did the bathroom space demo work. While we installed our bathroom, the guest room became a literal construction site. There was tons of lumbar everywhere, and it was filthy. Josh set up his saw and work station in there. Screws and nails were all over the floors. It was a disaster. So Step 1 was just cleaning some of it out so that we could at least walk inside.

The guest room when we started the bathroom reno, which was on the other side of this wall.

Step 2, my friends, was refinishing the floors. I did a whole separate post about this here.

When I last left you with the floors, we hadn't yet sealed them. We used a professional grade polyurethane from Bona Traffic and followed the instructions to a T. This product is really highly-rated online, and requires you to put down three coats of product. But, it was worth it to protect all the hard work that was put into these. Only time will tell how well this will last through the years, but so far, we're pretty thrilled with the results. The best thing about this product, for me, was the it was pretty clear - as in, no yellow tint. I knew that the poly would darken the natural wood a bit, but what I didn't want was for them to become too yellow or red. This product didn't do that, and darkened them to the perfect hue of rich, but natural, pine. 

You can see the color difference once the poly was applied
(the bottom right is the raw wood without poly).

Josh started to drywall and tape once the floors were in (but not yet sealed). While Josh wrapped up the taping and sanding, I started to sand, prime and paint all the shiplap planks we had cut at Home Depot. I really wanted faux shiplap on the back wall (where the bed headboard will go) and we used 3/8 in plywood to make it happen. We've done this in our bathroom and mudroom, and loved the way it turned out. We always have Home Depot cut the plywood for us because they don't charge much for each cut, and it saves us so much time (plus, when they do it, they have better tools, and it comes out way better). 

The room after the drywall was ready for painting.
After doing the mudroom and bathroom faux shiplap walls, we learned a thing or two. For me, the biggest pain is actually painting them. Getting in between each plank to paint the top and bottom of each piece while attached to the wall is beyond tedious and it takes what seems a lifetime to finish. I had to use a tiny little art brush from a craft store to do it in our other rooms, and I was miserable through the entire process. So this time, I decided to prime and paint them before putting them up on the walls, and then just doing a touch-up layer with a big roller once they were up. This was a much better process, and what I would recommend to anyone who wants to do a similar project. 

Painting the sides of the planks with a roller before attaching them to the wall was so much easier
than trying to paint them after installation. 

The plywood shiplap pieces ready to go!

I decided I also wanted to prime and paint the whole room, including the wall where the shiplap would go, before we installed the plywood planks. And once that was done, we started to install the planks to create the faux shiplap accent wall.

When our contractor installed all the plumbing and electrical for our bathroom next door, we had him hardwire this room for a ceiling light fixture as well. So, we were finally able to install a ceiling fan/light combo in here, which was such a great feeling. None of the bedrooms in this house were hardwired for ceiling lights, so we have to do this in each room we remodel. 

After that, we just had to cut, prime and paint the new trim for the door, windows, floor and ceiling, and drill and paint the door. Once the room is painted, we always feel like we're so close, and we're always so surprised when the trim work ends up taking another few weeks. But, it's always worth the wait in the end. For the door, we bought a slab door, and I decided  to paint it the same color as the room. I was originally going to stain it a walnut color, but with the warmth of the pine floors, I decided it would flow better if it was just plain white. We're still waiting on the door knob, but it's the same one we used on our kitchen doors. This knob is a special order, and we always wait until the last minute to order it, and it never comes before we actually finish a room.

Once we finished caulking the trim work, and felt confident that the floors were completely cured, it was my favorite day - move in day. Stay tuned for how I'm decking this room out for the holidays. 

Saturday, November 4, 2017

DIY Farmhouse Christmas Tree Planters (Courtesy of The White Cottage Farm)

One of my favorite things about social media is the sharing of ideas. With everything going on in the world, and with everyone having three different opinions on everything, it's nice to turn to the internet for light-hearted, creative inspiration. I'm not saying I have great ideas, but I do enjoy posting the projects we take on, with the hopes that others will read them, and feel empowered to tackle their own projects at home. I get a thrill out of making things with my hands, and I feel passionate about everyone having a home that's meaningful to them, and that's an expression of their own creativity. 

I also love being inspired by others. I try to only use Pinterest as a way to visualize an idea I already have in my head, so that our home doesn't end up looking like a replica of someone else's. But sometimes, I'm just stuck, and I need inspiration, and I do seek out new, fresh ideas that we can adapt to our house. In October, I found a photo on Pinterest from The White Cottage Farm of wood planters with Christmas trees in them, and I just fell in love. I've been stuck on how to decorate our front porch for Christmas for the past two years, and seeing this photo just made everything else come to together for me. Lucky for me, they posted a tutorial on their blog with a how-to on these planters, and I was inspired to tackle this project myself, without too much help from Josh. And, I'm happy to report, I succeeded.

Their tutorial online broke down all the lumber you need, as well as the exact measurements for your cuts, taking away all the guess work. So, off to Home Depot I went to get everything I needed, and when I came home, I got started.

See the link to tutorial here for the supplies you need, as well as the measurements and cuts you need to make.

I'd love to say that anyone can do this, but I do need to make a disclaimer that if you don't have power tools, this will be much more challenging. I can't imagine doing this project with a hand saw and a hammer and nails. I'm sure you could, but it would take forever because there are quite a few cuts you need to make and lots of nailing. If you own a table saw, and a nail gun, this will be pretty easy.

I started by using our table saw to cut all the wood. To save a little time, I stacked up 5 of the fence pieces at a time, and cut them in the stacks to the specifications listed in the tutorial. In the end, you'll end up with 32 pieces of fencing (4 for each side of the planters, and I made two planters total). When I moved on to the cuts for the 1x4's, I wrote down each measurement on every piece so I wasn't confused later on, and stacked them by length.

I'll be honest, I had a hard time following the written directions for the assembly, so I just looked at their pictures of the finished product to figure out what to do, and kind of used their directions as a guide. I started with the front and back sections, and laid them out on our deck seating bench. Before I nailed anything into place, I put the pieces together to make sure everything lined up (and to, you know, make sure it was correct) before I nailed them all into place. 

Side note: If you want the front legs of your planters to be angled off, I would suggest cutting the angle out before nailing everything into place. You'll read later in the tutorial that I tried to jigsaw out the angle after everything was assembled, and it didn't go well. You can use the directions in the tutorial to make your cut line, and then use a table saw (or even a hand saw) to cut the angle before nailing everything together.

Once I was happy with it with how everything was positioned, I used the nail gun and nailed away, making sure that all the fence pieces were nailed to the side rail pieces so the unit was secure. I repeated this process twice, and then the front and the back of Planter No. 1 was complete.

For the side pieces, this is where it got tricky, and I had to ask Josh for some ideas of how to finish these off. I really didn't understand the written directions at all, and I tried a few things before I had to step away from it, and come back to it with a fresh mind, and also, with Josh. 

The original tutorial had you start to build the side pieces onto the front and back pieces without being completely assembled, and for us, it just seemed easier to assemble the entire side piece first before securing them to the front and back. We decided that the same process of laying everything out in the exact design before nailing them into place worked the best. 

In order to secure the fence pieces, though, since there are no right and left beams for these sections, we needed to cut the cross beam out before nailing. I laid a 1x4 piece over the fence pieces, and made cut marks on the 1x4 by making two dots, and then drawing a line to connect them. It was about a 35-40 degree angle, and yours may depend based on your wood pieces. I used the table saw to make the cut for the cross beam, and then laid that down on top of the fence pieces. Then I added the top and bottom beams, lined them all up perfectly, and nailed those into place. I repeated the process for the other side. 

Side note: the tutorial suggests using two scrap wood pieces to create one of the cross beams on  side piece, but I had an extra 1x4 around the house, and just used a fresh one so I didn't have a seam to worry about. If you do this, I would suggest picking up another 1x4, which is only a few extra dollars.

Once we had each side constructed, we had to nail them all together. I had to have Josh help me hold the pieces together so I could secure them in place with the nail gun.

I decided I wanted to copy their tutorial and create a little bit of an angled front leg because it makes them look so much more custom. We didn't have the tool they used, so I used our jigsaw, and followed their instructions to make the cut. This is also where I ran into a little bit of trouble. The pressure of the jigsaw loosened some of my nails, and part of the planter fell apart during this process, and I basically had to reconstruct it and nail it back into place. It was such a pain, and my own stupidity for using a jigsaw in the first place. For the second planter, I cut the angled front legs before I nailed them into place in the beginning, and that is definitely the way to go about it. 

After both planters were completely assembled, I went around with some sandpaper just to get rid of any splintered wood. I contemplated using caulk to hide any gaps in wood (since, you know, I'm an amateur carpenter at best and some of my pieces didn't perfectly line up), but I decided I actually kind of preferred all the imperfections since I wanted them to look rustic. If you don't plan to paint your planter, you may want to use wood filler to hide any gaps or seams  so it stains a little easier, or matches your raw wood.

And then, it was time to layer in the distressed finishes. 

You could go in any direction you wanted here. You could just stain them a natural pine color, or go with a slightly deeper stain for a more natural, rustic look. You could paint them any color you want if you wanted them to look a little more fresh and modern. For us, we really liked the way they looked in the original tutorial, so I decided to stain them first to create a layer of dark brown underneath, and then paint them white. They used Dark Walnut by Minwax as a base, but I had a can of Special Walnut laying around, so I just used that. Then after about an hour, I used a cheap, dry brush and applied a flat-finish ceiling paint that was just a standard out-of-the-can Ultra White by Behr. Having a matte finish paint helps the wood to look more worn and distressed, so I would definitely recommend that route if that's the look you're going for. Plus, it dries super fast, which is a plus if this is a quick weekend project for you. 

I used a cheap paint brush to apply the paint because of that rustic look I was going for, and I didn't worry too much about how it looked. I started by only putting a very small amount of paint on my brush and used long strokes to apply it over the stain. I sometimes went in to add more, and sometimes left it pretty thinly applied. If you wanted a more clean or modern finish, you could use a roller and apply two coats of paint over the unfinished wood.

I just did the one light coat of paint and let it sit for 24 hours, and I was happy with how it looked, so I stopped there. And, they were done!

To make two of these planters, I paid $72.11 for all the supplies I had to purchase, which includes all the wood and the white paint (I had the stain, the brushes, and the tools, so you would have to factor in extra for a small can of stain and anything else you may need). That breaks down to $36.05 for each one, plus a few hours of my time. If I had to estimate time (even though I really didn't keep track), I would say for both planters, it took me two and a half hours from start to finish, less any drying time for the stain or paint. That would also include cutting all the wood. 

I got an inexpensive artificial 4ft. tree on Amazon (yay for Prime!), placed it inside, and strung clear lights around them. The tree were sturdy enough that we were able to assemble them and set them on top of the planters, and they didn't sink into them. But if you needed to, you could certainly build a platform inside to elevate whatever you want to put in here, or even a cheap bucket of some sort. I only bought the one to make sure I was happy with it first before buying the other, so now I'm just waiting for the second to arrive. The one I bought can be found here.

If you were inspired to, you could decorate your trees. I almost bought some pinecones for the trees to keep it simple but also add a little something extra, but I decided to rein myself in and just focus on having them natural with the clear lights. But you could of course go all out with some bulb ornaments and ribbons.

Before Christmas, we plan to buy the other tree (obviously), and redo our front door trim,
which we started to do right before I took this picture. 
I can't even tell you how much I love these. I'm so happy the lovely folks at The White Cottage Farm shared their creation with the world, and made it pretty easy to re-create it at home. I plan to use these all year 'round, and fill them with seasonal decorations, so really, they've more than paid for themselves with the use I will get out of them. 
01 09 10