Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Custom Silhouettes

A while back I made custom silhouettes for each member in our family. I know what you're thinking...."So you mean you made silhouettes for you and Mark, right?".....oh no, my dears, the kitties got their own silhouettes too!! (what....they're members of our family too!!) This is a simple little QUICK project that yields an absolutely adorable result.

First up, I took everyone's picture. To keep it simple I just used the Photobooth function on my MacBook. 

So, as you can see, lighting or which direction you're facing doesn't really matter when taking these pictures. The only thing to keep in mind is to make sure that you get the right angle so that you can see the full profile. (Tip - a toy helps to get your pet looking the right direction....the trick is to snap the pic before they start swatting at the toy!)

Next up, I printed these out (directly from the computer onto white printer paper) and then carefully cut them out following all of the lines of our profile. I left most of our body on at this point so that I could decide how I wanted to cut it to give it that classic silhouette look.

I then looked at other silhouettes as a reference to decide how I should trim off each of our bodies around the neck line, taking into consideration how it would best suite the picture. After severing our bodies from our head (har har), I took my custom profile stencil that I had just created and traced each of them onto black cardstock (AKA, scrapbooking paper). Then I carefully cut out the traced profiles from the black cardstock and surveyed the rough draft of the silhouettes.

At this point, I needed to decide how much detail I should keep in each one. I had left my messy hair that was coming out of my bun from my original picture, but in the end I trimmed that hair off of my silhouette. The messy bun just doesn't translate very well into a silhouette picture! (Tip - silhouettes work best for ladies and girls when you have your hair pulled back...I'd suggest either a bun or a ponytail) I also originally left the whiskers on the kitties, but again, that didn't translate into a silhouette very well so those got trimmed off in the end too. I'd suggest leaving more details in when you trace and cut your silhouette and then tweaking it until you're happy with the amount of detail.

All that was left to do now was to "mount" each silhouette onto some colorful paper (again, I used scrapbook paper here) and pop it into a matted frame.  In anticipation of this project, I had previously picked out some cheap frames from Michael's when they were having one of their 50% off sales on frames. I wanted each frame and each colored paper to be unique just like the silhouette of the person (and/or animal) it represented.

These lovely little silhouettes now live in my office area downstairs and I have to say:  Each time I look at one of those little kitty silhouettes I have to smile :)

Monday, July 18, 2011

Lago di Garda

Riva del Garda (google image)

Lake Garda - the largest of the Italian lakes -  lies just a thirty minute train ride from Verona, yet many American tourists overlook it for the more trafficked Lake Como (Como is the one that Rick Steves recommends). This beautiful lake is situated at the base of the Italian Alps and has many lovely lakeside towns. This destination made it on our list thanks to my friend and ex-coworker, Jenny. Jenny spent a summer (plus several other trips) visiting towns throughout Europe and performing with her UAB choral group (Jenny, if you read this...correct me if I'm wrong. I'm a little fuzzy on the details....I just remember you being gone from the office for an ENTIRE summer, galavanting around Europe while I was stuck at my desk!). Out of all of the places Jenny visited she said this was one of her favorites....and when I started looking at possible destinations for our trip, the beauty of the pictures from this area absolutely blew me away. ....Not to mention the fact that Mark and I felt this place was less likely to be overrun by tourists (which is a huge plus in our eyes) it made the list!

I picked the town of Malcesine for us to stay. Malcesine has beautiful medieval streets, nice restaurants and shopping, a beach, a cable car that takes you up to Monte Baldo and even a castle.
Malcesine from the water (google images)

After narrowing down which town we should stay in, picking accommodations was pretty easy. Malcesine is only a town of about 3500 people so accommodations were limited. Our requirements for a hotel here were: a nice view (lake or castle view...or both!), comfortable room, walking distance to restaurants/town, a pleasing aesthetic, less than $150/night and a good TripAdvisor rating.  We found all of these specifications met with a little B&B called Hotel Erika.

Hotel Erika (image from website)

Although it has the word "hotel" in it's name, it's listed as a B&B on TripAdvisor and it claims the Number 1 spot. At just $91/night it definitely met our price requirement....and with a beautiful garden, rooms with views of the castle( ..from private balconies!), and modern, updated rooms & easily won us over as our top choice. 

view of Castle from Balcony! (image from Trip Advisor)

We're spending 3 nights at the Hotel Erika, and during our time there we plan to explore several of the beautiful lake towns of Lago di Garda (Riva, Limone, Gargnano, Tremosine, Salo, and Gardone). We'll take day trips to probably 2-3 towns per day by using the very accessible ferries that traverse up and down the lake. 

Oh - We're also planning to paraglide down Monte Baldo :) 

image from Fly2Fun

Yep.....PARAGLIDE!!! It's gonna be SO freakn' AMAZING!!! I found a company online called Fly2Fun that does tandem flights for 100 euro/person. It's a 20-30 minute flight down from Monte Baldo and you land right beside the lake in a grassy area. The drop from Monte Baldo down to Lake Garda is 1700 meters. .......I can't wait!! 

Also, I should mention transportation in case anyone else is planning to go and is trying to figure this out themselves....We're taking a train from Venice to Desenzano del Garda. From there, we're planning to take a ferry up the lake to Malcesine (2hr trip on the fast ferry). You can also take a bus (1 hr trip on the 62-64 bus line), but on the trip up to our destination we wanted to take the scenic route in order to scope out some of the other lake towns along the way. On the trip back from Malcesine to Cinque Terre (our next destination) we plan to take the bus down to Peschiera del Garda (the OTHER train stop besides Desenzano at the Southern end of Lake Garda) and then hop on a train to Cinque Terre. 

beach/lakeside walk/castle @ Malcesine up, Cinque Terre. 

the indecisive wife

UPDATE POST TRIP:  Lake Garda and Malcesine was absolutely AMAZING! Probably our favorite locale of the entire trip. The scenery is breathtaking, the people are warm and gracious, the food is excellent, the area is affordable, it's easy to visit other towns on the lake via ferry and there's plenty to see and do. The tourists are respectful and are at a minimum compared to other locations we visited in Italy (bonus: the number of American tourists is very limited). The clarity of the lake water is unbelievable - this is not your average North American lake! The color of the water is a crystal clear aqua blue and the villages on the lake are so picturesque, with flowers, olive and lemon trees everywhere and a castle in nearly every town. We visited Limone, Riva del Garda and Malcesine while there (limoncino is produced in Limone) and loved every one of them. The paragliding was also a huge highlight of our trip - to be able to see the lake and mountains from that viewpoint was amazing. And, quite honestly, it wasn't scary at fact, it was quite peaceful. I'd HIGHLY recommend that you paraglide while visiting...Fly2Fun was great (although the guides spoke little English) was very safe and easy. 

Oh - I would be remiss if I didn't mention Hotel Erika. This little inn at the top of hill (coming up from the town center) is the absolute perfect place to stay. Erika runs the inn herself and is SO accommodating and gracious. She serves breakfast herself every morning to the guests and no detail is left unattended. The inn is very clean and modern and Erika treats you as though you're an old friend staying in her home. We stayed in room #16 (at the time it was listed as a Delux Plus with castle view and a/c...although I think the room categories might have been reworked since we've been) - it had the most beautiful view of the castle and the balcony was more private than some of the others. Mark and I both agreed that we thought it was the best room in the entire inn. You can check out the review Mark wrote here and Hotel Erika's website here

the view from our balcony at Hotel Erika (photo has NOT been retouched - at all!)

view of Limone from the ferry

me paragliding (tandem, of course!) over Lake Garda

 view of Malcesine from the air

 castle at Malcesine

 swans on the beach at Malcesine

Friday, July 15, 2011

Venezia - The Floating City

When we began planning our Italy Trip, Venice was not on the list of cities to visit. This may be surprising to some, as when many people picture Italy, Venice -- with it's famous canals and gondolas --is one of the first images that comes to mind.

Well, our reasons for not listing the city once described as the "worlds most beautiful city built by man" as a top city to visit mostly revolved around two reasons: 1 - Venice is a tourist magnet, which is NOT something that Mark and I enjoy. The crowds, the constant awareness that you're likely to be ripped off by vendors/hotel owners/restaurants/taxi drivers, etc and the need to ALWAYS watch your bag and your pockets sends the anxiety level of two worry-warts like us through the roof and 2 - It's expensive. In a city that boasts around 50,000 tourists per day, you can bet you're gonna pay a pretty penny for everything from accommodations to a cappuccino. Plus, Mark had been to Venice before and from what he could recall, he didn't remember it being one of his favorite places (Mark went on a trip to Italy through Birmingham Southern [his college] in 2004). But in the end, we decided to add Venice to our list of destinations - what, with it sinking and all we figured we need to see it while it's still around!

So, we began looking at hotels.....Mark and I pretty much live and die (as far as trip planning goes) by TripAdvisor reviews. We planned our honeymoon hotel (Four Seasons Maui at Wailea), our Mexico hotel (Valentin Imperial Maya) and even small little weekend trip hotels based off of the brutally honest reviews we've found on TripAdvisor....and they've all been great. We've learned to take some reviews in stride, to check to see where the reviewer is from (some people have higher expectations than others), and to email reviewers if you have a question that maybe they didn't answer. We've also learned to check the forums (their search feature is great) for additional information that may not be in the reviews. I also love looking at the candid pictures on really gives you a feel for the hotel moreso than the posed, stylized pictures you'll find on the hotel's website.

We narrowed our search down to two hotels (well, actually B&B's in this case b/c they were a better value [and seemed to be overall cleaner] in Venice). The first option was Plazzo Schaivoni.
...with a wonderful location, just a 5 minute walk from St. Mark's Square. And it has BEAUTIFUL canal views from rooms with balconies:
real picture from a TripAdvisor reviewer

Although, the rooms left a lot to be desired in the decor department:

And our 2nd option was Casa Santa Maria Formosa 

It also has BEAUTIFUL canal views from the room, although their rooms do not have balconies:
...and a very nice location as well - about equal distance to the Rialto Bridge and St. Mark's Square...both a 10 minute walk. Plus with a fairly recent renovation, their room decor was quite nice:

Our hotel requirements included: good location, nice view of canal, good TripAdvisor reviews, $250/night or under, a pleasing aesthetic and, of course, availability for our dates. (Tip - it's good to figure out what your requirements are BEFORE you start looking at'll help you narrow the field)  Sooooooooo.....We ended up choosing.....

Casa Santa Maria Formosa!!! (it's the yellow building with green shutters on the right)

....stay tuned for more accommodation choices for our other Italian destinations....not all choices were this easy or this clear. Trust me. 

The Indecisive Wife

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A Thrifty Desk

I had made up my mind:  I wanted a french provincial style desk for my home office. I wanted this office to be everything that my work office is not (bright and organized are two adjectives that come to mind!). I wanted this office to make me smile. .....So I set off on what would turn out to be a 8 - 9 month long hunt for the perfect french provincial desk.

I looked and I looked and I looked.....thrift stores, consignment shops, flea markets, Craigslist...etc.....for MONTHS and I couldn't find anything that matched the image in my head and (most importantly) the dollars in my wallet. Granted, I found several beautiful french provincial desks along the way, but they were all more than I was willing to spend....MUCH more in many cases! You see, I'm a bit of a cheapskate [sidenote: i've always pronounced that word cheap-scape....whoops!] so I didn't want to spend more than $150 tops....especially if I was going to have to re-finish it, because the vision in my head was a WHITE french provincial desk.

...And then, one lucky day in a Flea Market in Pelham, I found this:

Technically it's a vanity, but that center cubby would just provide more storage, so I was all in.  It might not have looked like much, but I knew I could turn it into something that I could make work. Now I just had to settle on price. The desk was in a booth with everything marked off 50%. Even with the sale pricing, that only brought it down to $150 (uh, yeah...they had this sucker priced at $300 ..smph!!). So I jotted down the booth number and went up to the front counter to barter. I had $100 cash and I told them that was what I was willing to offer...they called the owner of the booth and luckily they agreed to my price. (btw - you CAN barter with these people at flea markets...just have the front counter call the booth owner. I learned this from my mother-in-law...she owns a couple booths at flea market in Leeds, AL) The desk wasn't the lovely, expensive-looking french provincial style that I dreaming of per se -- it was more so the 70's knock-off french provincial style -- but with a nice new coat of white paint I could see the potential. So home with me it went!

I'm pretty sure (in keeping with the 70's knock-off) that this desk was made with veneer so I couldn't sand it all down and start over with the paint, so instead I primed it and then painted it. I just used the Kilz primer that I had on hand....let it dry overnight and then painted Martha Stewart's basic white color in an eggshell sheen on top. The primer stuck to the glossy veneer giving me a rough surface that the paint would bond to.  Luckily, the primer + paint combo provided enough coverage to cover up the unsightly yellow-ish hue as well as the tacky gold trim. So just 2 days later (after allowing the primer to dry for 24 hours and the paint to dry for 24 hours) I was left with this:

A nice, white and bright french provincial-ish style desk....on the cheap!! :)

the indecisive wife

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

La Dolce Vita

In just a little over 60 days we'll be taking a 16 day/15 night vacation to Italy!! I can hardly believe it's true myself. We've been talking about taking this trip for at least 3 years, and we figured now is as good of a time as any!

We went back and forth a LOT on our itinerary. In the beginning we wanted to visit an additional country(ies) in addition to Italy and we considered France, Spain and Greece all as possible options. But in the end, we decided just to focus this trip on Italy alone since there are so many places that we are dying to see within Italy. Even with spending 16 days in the country, we're not nearly getting to go all of the places that we'd like to but we're happy with the itinerary that we've come up with. So, with that said,  may I present to you.....[drumrollllllllllll].....

An Introduction to La Dolce Vita in Italia:

September 17th - Leave Birmingham around Noon
September 18th - Arrive in Venice around 9am
September 18th & 19th - Venice
September 20th - leave for Lake Garda (we're staying in Malcesine)
September 20th, 21st, 22nd - Lake Garda
September 23rd - leave for Cinque Terre
September 23rd and 24th - Cinque Terre (we're staying in Manarola)
September 25th - Train to Pisa to pick up Rental Car along w/ a quick sightseeing stop to see the Leaning Tower ; continue drive to Tuscany
September 25th, 26th, 27th - Tuscany (we're staying at an agriturismo [farmhouse] outside of a town called Poggibonsi near San Gimignano
September 28th - Leave early morning for the 1 hour drive to Florence
September 28th - Spend day & night in Florence
September 29th - Spend day in Florence then take evening train to Rome
September 29th - Evening in Rome
September 30th, October 1st and 2nd - Rome
October 3rd - Fly Home - leave Rome around 1pm

...and in case you want the simple breakdown:
Venice – 1 full day, 1 half day, 2 nights
Lake Garda – 2 full days, 1 half day, 3 nights
Cinque  Terre – 1 full day, 1 half day, 2 nights
Pisa – couple hours on way to Tuscany
Tuscany – 2 full days, 1 half day, 3 nights
Florence –1 “full” day, 3/4 day(travel day), 1 night
Rome – 3 full days plus 1 evening, 4 nights 

We have alllllmost all of our accommodations booked (which has nearly driven me insane...we literally drew paper out of my hand for one of them! [please reference the name of the blog...]), as well as our flights and car rental. Next up, trying to loosely plan our activities. I say loosely because I have a tendency to overplan (naahhh....not me, right?!) and I don't want to do that here. Of course there are things we know we want to see and things we know we want to do (paragliding over Lake Garda? yes, please!), but what we want most out of this trip is to really see and experience the country and culture of Italy. I. Cannot. Freak'n. Wait. 

The Indecisive Wife

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Bed Building Tips

Okay ladies and gents....who wants a step by step guide to building a bed?

...what's that? crickets? yeah...that's what I thought. I don't feel like re-hasing it either. [note to self:  blog WHILE doing my next project...not all at the end]

So how bout this - I'll just give you guys a little insight on the knowledge I gained while Mark and I attempted our first furniture building project. Yep, I said first. Our very first furniture project was something that we'd use every single day -- at least 8 hours each day (on good nights)......about 56 hours a week....almost 3000 hours a year...yeah, well, you get my drift....we're brave. unknowingly optimistic. or just down right dummies. But here we are, 2 and a half months later and our bed is STILL standing. hells to the yeah.

Tip 1 - Buy Straight Boards. Even if you have to look through every single board at Home Depot/Lowe's/your neighborhood hardware store - trust me, it's worth it.

Tip 2 - Do Your Research. Going into the project, figure out how you are going to make everything work. Measure your mattress. Measure your room and the space where the furniture will go. Double check your measurements for your wood cuts. Make any design changes in the beginning. Plan out how you'll connect it all. And possibly most importantly, measure your stairwell and make sure you're going to be able to transport it into your room of choice ;)

Tip 3 - Have Lowes/Home Depot/Hardware store of choice make your large cuts for you. Don't have a table saw? No problem...neither do we. Lowe's (and Home Depot) will cut your wood purchases for you.....for FREE. Just select your wood, find a lumber department employee and ask them to cut your wood (before you purchase it). {why does that sound like a dirty joke?!} Make sure to give them exact measurements (even down to the 16th) and feel free to check their work before you leave the store with it. ....oh, and save your receipts in case of any errors.

Tip 4 - Visit a Woodworking Shop to Buy your Stain and Ask the Old Men Working in the Shop for Their Advice. Sounds odd, right? Well this is probably one of the best things we did, by sheer dumb luck. I did my research on stains and found that the one that was most likely to give me the look I was going for (both in ease of use and color) was General Stains. Well, my local Lowe's (or Home Depot...I keep saying Lowe's b/c it's literally less than 5 miles from my house) doesn't sell General Stains so that sent me on a mission to find a place that did. That mission took me to a woodworking shop about 25 minutes away, but boy was it worth it. The guys that work at these shops are a wealth of knowledge. Feel free to ask them a million questions....they love helping a younger generation that actually wants to BUILD things.

Tip 5: Building is the Easy Part. Finishing is the Part that Never Ends. The old man in the woodworking shop gave us detailed instructions on how to finish wood. He literally referred to finishing as "The Dark Arts of Woodworking"....yeah, I'd say he takes this stuff pretty seriously. Finishing - unfortunately - calls for a step by step guide (see any foreshadowing here?!?)......

  1. Sand. Sand, a LOT. Start with 150 grit and work your way up to 220 grit. (we did 150, 180, 220) If you skip a grit you will not get a smooth finish and it will be noticeable. We got a little lazy on one of the boards at the end (long story, but it was the 2nd board we had bought of it's kind...the first one ended up being too crooked. we were ready for this project to be over by this point)
  2. Spray shellac on everything to seal the wood if you're using a soft wood like pine. This will help the stain to soak in evenly. We used Zinsser Clear Spray Shellac. 
  3. Wipe everything down thoroughly. I used water and a car washing sponge with almost all of the water squeezed out. Rinse often. 
  4. Mix your stain 50-50 with Mineral Spirits (you might not need to do this with all stains, but i used General Stains - Java and the woodworking guru suggested it....glad I did. It gave me a beautiful finish)
  5. Test your stain on a scrap piece of wood (sooooooo glad I did this) to make sure you like the color. If not, adjust your mineral spirit/stain mixture. 
  6. Wipe the stain on with a lint free rag (we used a ripped up t-shirt). Go heavy handed when wiping on and then gently wipe off with a clean rag. Use long strokes when applying and when wiping off use one long continuous stroke. 
  7. Allow to dry and evaluate color. If you'd like for it to be darker then apply another coat of stain. 
  8. Poly. (oh how I hate thee) We used Minwax Fast Drying Polyurethane in a Semi-Gloss. Apply with a NATURAL BRISTLE BRUSH (like China White). Use long strokes. 
  9. Allow the 1st coat of Poly to dry for 48 hours. Notice I said first coat. ....there will be more. 
  10. LIGHTLY sand the 1st coat of Poly. It was suggested that we use 400 grit black wet sandpaper, but we found that this removed too much poly and even some stain. **Note - even if you have a sander, DO THIS SANDING BY HAND!!! we learned the hard way. So instead, we used Steel Wool #0000, again, very gently. 
  11. Apply 2nd coat of Poly same as first. **Note - make sure you thoroughly clean your [expensive] brushes between each use. We washed them with mineral spirits and then soap and THEN brushed them with a comb. 
  12. Allow to Dry for 48 hours
  13. Lightly sand, again with Steel Wool #0000
  14. 3rd Coat of Poly - a little different than before. Mix this one with Mineral Spirits (about 30% spirits) and WIPE on with a lent free rag (again, we used an old t-shirt). Make sure to use one long, continuous stroke.
  15. Allow to Dry for 48 hours......and you're done!!! **Note - you can apply more than 3 coats of will just make your finish more durable. Our woodworking guru recommended at least 3. We were soooooooo over this project by 3 coats though that we couldn't stand to do any more. Just repeat steps 8-13 and save step 14 for the last coat. 
Tip 6 - Make Sure Your Furniture Will Break Down for Moving. We used brackets (Simpson ties) along with bolts and washers so that we could take the siderails apart from the headboard and footboard. The horizontal canopy pieces come off of the headboard and footboard as well.

Tip 7 - Be Patient and Plan that This Project Will Take a LOT More Time than You Anticipated - Especially if It's Your First. This project took us 3 months - 'nuff said. 

Tip 8 - GOOD LUCK!!!!! ;) ...with a lot of patience and a *lot* of elbow grease, you'll end up with a piece of furniture that you can treasure for a lifetime!