March of the cake toppers

Strange requests for creative crafts come standard in my family. My mom was once commissioned to sew a sleeping bag for a friend’s son’s hedgehog. True story. So I guess it wasn’t that out of the ordinary when my about-to-be-wed sister asked me to design her custom penguin wedding cake toppers. The only rule? They had to be cute and not cartoonish. This is what I came up with using polymer clay, acrylic paint, some tulle as well as flowers and ribbons from the craft section at Michaels.

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Painted, primed and ready for finessing.

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birds eye view of the bride and groom

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finished love birds

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train and tails

 

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Cuter than sliced bread

Bread dough ornaments. A sticky, yet worthwhile Christmas craft or gift idea. All you need is a package of white bread, Elmer’s glue, polyurethane and paint supplies. I know it’s a little late, but here’s a guide to how you can make your own:

1) Decide how many ornaments you’d like to make. To make about four small/medium ornaments, I used 6 slices of bread and 3 tbsp of Elmer’s glue. The ratio is about 2 slices to 1 tbsp of glue.

2) Cut the crusts off of the bread

3) Shred bread into a bowl (make sure they’re tiny pieces) and add the glue

4) Get ready for some long, sticky kneading. With your hands (helps if you flour or coat them in olive oil before to keep all the dough from sticking to you, but you may need to do this several times) start kneading the bread and glue together. This took me about ten minutes until the dough stopped being sticky and took on an elastic, satiny-matte texture. If you feel like it’s taking forever or is too wet, add some more shredded bread until you get the consistency of sugar cookie dough.

5) Once you’re done kneading, you’re ready for the fun part: molding your dough into custom decorations. Some helpful tools I used were a garlic press (to make realistic looking hair), paint brushes dipped in water to smooth down rough patches, toothpicks and a rolling pin. If you plan on hanging the ornaments, make sure to factor that into your design, too.

TIPS: To join two pieces of dough together, score both sides with a toothpick and use some slip (dough soaked in water so it’s slippery and soft) to adhere them together. This scoring and slip technique is used in pottery. Here’s a how-to video if you need some extra help.

6) Once you’re done shaping the ornaments, set them somewhere safe to dry for 24-72 hours. Make sure you prop them up or give them extra support if need be, since once they’re dry, the shape they’re in is the shape you’re stuck with.

7) When you’re sure that they’re completely dry, it’s time to paint. I used basic acrylic paint from Michaels, but you can use whatever you’d like. Set them out to dry once more for at least 12 hours (or whatever the paint bottle specifies).

8) After your paint is dry, a coating of polyurethane is the final thing you need to preserve your ornaments. Use a disposable container and pour enough polyurethane to submerge the ornament. They only need to be coated once, so after you slosh it around in the pan for a few seconds, remove it and set it to dry on a wire rack that you don’t plan on using for food again. Once the coating is no longer tacky, you’re good to go and can add your new decorations to your home.

Christmas Sloth

Santa

Mr. and Mrs. Gnome

Bagpiper

Time for a tune-up

Old instruments aren’t a rarity in my thrift store travels, but they don’t come cheap. I’ve seen vintage french horns for upwards of $900 and trumpets for at least half of that. However, this summer I roamed into a thrift store in Norfolk, VA and much to my surprise, I found a 1930s soprano saxophone for.. drumroll please.. $20. My sister is a middle school band teacher and I’ve been dying to convert an old instrument into a lamp for her. So with the help from Home Depot electrical department and Target lampshade choices, this is what I created for a cool $50. She’ll be getting it for Christmas in just a few more days.

Here’s the lamp making kit I bought at the Home Depot that made this project a breeze.

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Civilized Feline

Eat your hearts out, parents of self-soiling toddlers. My two-year-old cat, Kit, is now a sophisticated toilet-user. (Pause for jeering, ooohs, aaahs and Meet the Parents comparisons). Surprisingly, it wasn’t as hard as one might think. I’d equate it to training a mouse to find cheese in a maze, but it does take time, patience and some inconvenience if you only have one bathroom. However, if you’d like to forge forth and transform your little felines into refined ladies and gents, here’s how.

Vois la! Sophisticated toilet-user

Determine your cat’s adaptability. 
During my research, I read that the best candidates (catidates?) for toilet training are cats with dominant personalities. If your cat is bold and unflappable, this will most likely work for you. If you have a more timid cat, they might need a little coaxing and a bit more time, but it’s worth a shot.

Take Your Time
The first rule of thumb is DO NOT RUSH. You should only move onto the next step once your cat has been comfortable in the current stage for a few days. Make sure their behavior is completely normal and calm before you advance. Otherwise, you may have to deal with an accident, subsequent confusion or reverting to a previous step—delaying the whole process.

Don’t Waste Your Money on Expensive Training Books and Supplies
After reading through a slew of kitty potty-training material, I was able to cobble together techniques and supplies that cost a total of $3. If you follow my steps, you’ll be able to too! They work just as well as the $50 professional potty-training kits.

Be Patient
Using a toilet is completely unnatural to a cat as they like to dig and bury. Be patient. If your cat has an accident DO NOT SCOLD IT. Rather, revert to the previous step and wait until your cat has adjusted before you try moving onto the next step again. Treats and praise every time your little feline uses the facilities will also help encourage faster learning.

Block Off Secluded Areas
The term, “don’t shit where you eat” holds true for cats. During the later stages of potty-training I could tell that Kit was uncomfortable and looking for an easy out. She was exploring closets that she never goes in, corners of my apartment that aren’t high-traffic areas. Make sure to discourage accidents by blocking off areas where your cat may want to relieve themselves instead of going in the toilet. I closed closet doors and monitored her behavior closely until she had finally used the loo. It definitely worked!

Step-by-Step Guide

1) Move your cat’s box to the bathroom. If your cat’s box is already in the bathroom, great! But if not, it’ll just add a little more time to your potty-training schedule. It’s recommended to move the box closer to the bathroom in stages, but I think this is up to your own discretion. If you can move the box in one fell swoop without little Fluffy being totally freaked out, then do that. But if you’re having issues making the connection, you might have to move it gradually. This may mean having the box migrate through your living room over the course of a few days, (not the most pleasant) but it may be necessary to make the move. However you get there, once it’s in the bathroom, let it sit for a few days (or however long necessary) until your cat is using it calmly and on its regular schedule.

2) Raise it up. Before you get to the commode, you need to make the litter box toilet-height. This part can be tricky and you need to make sure the box is always on a completely stable surface. Any wiggling might freak out your cat and if it ever fell over, it would be really hard to get your cat to try it again. The way I did this stage was by moving the litter box directly next to the toilet and using phone books to raise the box up a couple of inches every day until it was toilet height. I made sure to duct tape the box to the base so that it didn’t wobble and was completely secure. Again, gauge your cat’s reaction before you raise the box. And if they have an accident, go back to the previous height or step.

3) The big switch. Once your litter box has been toilet-height for a while and your cat is comfortable jumping up into it (or better yet, climbing onto the toilet and then into the box!) it’s time to make the switch into the toilet bowl. For this, I used the very economical and efficient aluminum roasting pan from my grocery store. It’s sturdy enough (my cat is only about 7 pounds, but heavier cats should be fine) and flexible enough to mold around the toilet base. I lifted up the seat and bent the edges around the toilet bowl. Then I duct taped the seat down over the pan edge so that there was no way it could fall in. This is really important! If your pan isn’t secure and falls in, you might never be able to get your cat to try it again. Once it’s all taped, add litter like you would normally in their box (flushable so you don’t clog your toilet. I used crystals, but you’re supposed to use completely flushable litter). This is a big transition, so give your cat a week or two to get used to either perching on the toilet seat to go, or climbing into the pan.

4) Arts and crafts. Once your cat is going comfortably for a while, cut a small hole in the bottom edge of the pan and remove a little bit of the litter.  This should be about quarter to golf ball size at first so they can get used to the sound of litter going into the water and still have plenty of room and support to use the pan. Do not cut a hole in the middle. Your cat needs the support and time to get used to change. And with each cut, make sure to remove a small amount of litter so they’re not only getting used to a new position, but less digging too. From here, it’s up to your discretion and the comfort of your cat as to how fast you make the hole bigger. Mine took about a month and a half until the litter pan was completely removed and I only cut away about an inch at a time. This is the hardest process because not only are you getting your cat to stand on the toilet seat and balance in a new position as you cut away the pan, but you’re getting rid of its instinct to dig and bury. For a while my cat pawed at the toilet seat as she would to move the litter around! Made me kind of sad, but now she’s used to it.

If you follow these steps, your furry children will soon be civilized cohabitants—eliminating gross smells, expensive litter and waste in landfills. Good luck and remember to be patient, kind and to take your time!