Sunday, November 16, 2014

Doctor Who Inspired Bedroom Makeover!

First things first: I'm a geek and a nerd but not in the sense that my house looks like a sci fi tv show set. I am a casual Doctor Who fan at best, and I don't like the most popular Doctors and I can only handle so many Tardis cat houses, Tardis refrigerators, Tardis dresses, Doctor Who themed weddings, etc. 

Francis is the Doctor Who fan of the Manor, and I really like this Exploding Tardis poster that came with him. I don't know anything about it, like if this has some sort of show significance, I just knew some day that it would look good over the fireplace in our bedroom. But I get ahead of myself. Let's back up. This is what the room looked like when we bought the house:

Is that a beautiful drop ceiling or what? Like sleeping in an office! I wish I had a close up of that wallpaper. It was tiny pink flowers, applied over UNSIZED drywall. Also, that drywall only goes as high as the false ceiling. Behold: 

Look how jagged it is in some spots, like they were just using any leftover drywall they could find.

Isn't this fun? Surprisingly, it only took 5 hours to pull down all the wallpaper. I'll tell you my secret: Mix hot water with the cheapest fabric softener you can find, like the $2 bottle from Walgreens. Score the wallpaper with a paper tiger, spray it down real good, and then leave it for 10 minutes. I didn't even need a scraper! I thought it would take weeks, and I panicked when we started on a Friday afternoon and were done by 7:30 pm, because it was late summer/early fall and I knew it would take a few weeks to get on the schedule with Carerra Plaster Restoration, our go-to wall and ceiling fixer-uppers (see: Master Closet Remodel). I forgot to take pictures after they finished and before we painted, but here's a before and after of the ceiling:

Photos cannot do this justice. The ceiling under the drop ceiling was a hot mess of cracks, plus all the wires from the frame, plus that ceiling fan situation. Oye. It was hideous, and we were staring at it for months before we got around to stripping the wallpaper. The new ceiling practically glows, I am not even kidding. It's beautiful, and sometimes I just lie on the bed enjoying the fact that I am looking at a normal ceiling for the first time in 3 years and 4 months.

It's a snowy, gray day today so it's hard to get true photos with natural light. The paint is La Fonda Spice, the inner curtains are these faux silk in silver, and the outer curtains are these Eclipse Thermal panels. We decided to be lazy and not repaint the trim, which is a dark raisin color.

The photo in the middle is a colorized photo of Elvis Presley with the King and Queen of Thailand on the set of GI Blues in 1960. Also, if you have a dog that prefers a crate, I highly recommend going with a wood end table crate. They just look so much nicer. We have two, one for upstairs and one for downstairs.

The duvet cover and pillow cases were at Costco a couple weeks ago for $19.99! I nearly fell over dead. They are SO SOFT. I am looking for suggestions on what to hang over the bed! I was surprised to find that of all the artwork we have in storage, none of it will work in this spot. The one and only Tardis is already in the room, so no Doctor Who suggestions. ;)

Thursday, October 30, 2014

What To Do With Green Tomatoes?

This year the squirrels stole ALL of our ripe tomatoes, and even some green ones. Hector apparently only chases them away from the bird feeder and not the garden. Admittedly, I was not the most attentive gardener this year. I did manage to salvage about 3lbs of green tomatoes, some big and some small, and I was determined to find something interesting to to with them. Here are 5 Green Tomato recipes I found that alternatives to the usual suggestions of fried green tomatoes, tomato relish, and tomato pickles.

1. The most intriguing: Green Tomato Jam that tastes like a fruit. Raspberry, Strawberry, Mixed Berry, whatever you prefer. You won't believe the secret!

2. Green Tomato Cake - You had me at cream cheese icing and walnuts. I loooooooove carrot cake and this is very similar. 

3. Green Tomato Soup - If you are salvaging all your green tomatoes, then it is perfect soup weather! I would probably pick up the tip of cooking it a little longer and blending it with an immersion blender. This one is paleo and gluten free!

4. Mario Batali's Spaghetti with Green Tomatoes - The pesto alone is a killer  recipe. Great reminder that using up green tomatoes does not have to be complicated. I agree with Mario that Parmigiano Reggiano is the undisputed King of Cheeses. Buy fresh and you'll never go back to anything in a shaker.

5. Green Tomato Tart - I like all things quiche-like. I can tell you, though, that I am lazy and would buy a pie crust.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Fun Money Friday!

I've had a lot of requests for my rewards master list lately, but I didn't keep up with it when I was working several jobs. Now that I'm down to one job and some fun hobbies, I decided to get back to collecting "fun money". I am highly opinionated and love being rewarded for it, so I definitely consider surveys a fun hobby. I know that my opinion and data are worth money. I NEVER do any surveys that offer me an entry in a sweepstakes. Don't give away your data for free if you can help it!

Surveys and Points for Actions:
1. MyPoints - I have been using MyPoints for 16 years and have redeemed 111,000 points, and that's with many lean years on a budget where the only points I was earning was from Bonus Mail, surveys, and signing up for free offers. You can earn a lot more if you install the toolbar so you never miss shopping rewards (see below for more), use their coupon portal if you are a serious coupon-er, and there is also a MyPoints Visa card. The only thing it has been lacking all these years is a referral link. The only way to refer a friend is via Facebook or email. If you would let me send you an invite, I would love you forever. Email me at

2. E-Rewards - I have to include this one because it is awesome and I get a lot of frequent flyer miles from this site, but there's no way to sign up for it directly or refer people. If you belong to any of the programs listed as sponsors, you should get an invitation from them. The rewards you earn from surveys can be converted into rewards from the program that referred you, or any of the other sponsors. I think I was referred by Ticketmaster but redeem for Southwest and United miles.

3. Shopkick - I played with this all afternoon and I LOVE IT! OK, you are not going to make a ton of money with this, but if you have a convenient shopping area like I do with Target, Costco, Best Buy, and a mall really close together, you can run around and earn "kicks" just for walking into stores and scanning stuff. I see it as rewarding exercise. Save it for when it's raining or cold and you need to get your 10,000 steps on Fitbit.

4. Earndit - Speaking of Fitbit (or any number of other fitness trackers), get rewarded for exercising! All you have to do it connect your tracker account and Earndit gives you points automatically. Use them for coupon rewards, sweepstakes, or charity donations.

5. iPoll -  I like the app more than the website. The app has shopping "missions" for reporting new products, taking photos, and answering surveys while you are in stores. Plus, I have found that mobile-based surveys tend to cater to my short attention span, and are quick rewards for a few minutes of my attention. This is another where you have to decide what your time is worth. If you are in a store that will reward you in both Shopkick and iPoll, start with Shopkick.

6. Google Opinion Rewards - If you have an Android device, this is awesome. It adds credits to your Google Play store. This is how I justify in-game purchases in Tiny Death Star, or buy books.

7. Rewardable - I just started using this and haven't gotten to explore it much yet. You get paid cash for testing apps and completing little "secret shopper" missions at stores. It was recommended by CNet as a reputable app that pays.

8. Paid Viewpoint - Holy moly, things have changed since I was last making money with surveys! This site is super high tech and interesting, and I've made money right away! I appreciate a site that does not ever waste my time (which is why I-say has already been booted off the list). Paid Viewpoint has a top rating with Survey Police, too.

Shopping Rewards:
1. Rewards Network: Add all of your debit and credit cards into this site and earn rewards for eating at restaurants. The thing I LOVE about this is that 99% of the restaurants are locally owned, not chains. We eat at the burger bar down the street on a weekly basis and earn 5 FF for every dollar spent, including on alcohol! You can only join one, so pick wisely. I have all my cards hooked up to United MileagePlus, Francis has all of his hooked up to Southwest Rapid Rewards. You can also hook it up to Club O (, U Promise, Hilton Honors, and many others.

2. StitchFix - Oh, how I love StitchFix. You fill out a personal style profile, and a stylist sends you new clothes once a month. Keep what you like, send back what you don't like. Get a huge discount if you keep the whole box! It's so fun and easy. Your referral link will net you a one-time $25 credit when your referrals get their first Fix.

3. Zulily - OMG, so many good deals for the whole family, and all of it top brands. This is an especially good way to get maternity clothes for CHEAP (no, I am no pregnant, I just notice good deals). It's kind of dangerous, honestly. Happily, you get $15 for each person you refer, which stretches a long way!

4. Rent the Runway - This is the way to go for special events. I rented all my jewelry for my wedding and felt like a movie star. It's especially fun to flip through the gallery and see the piece you rented at a red carpet event. Use the referral link and you get $20, and I get $20!

5. JewelScent - Candles, Tarts, Soaps, and Scrubs, OH MY! Awesome products for home and bath, and each comes with a ring or other item of jewelry worth up to $7,500. Your referral link nets you 10% of your referrals' purchases, every time they buy. (Full disclosure, I am a consultant for this company, which basically just means that I put a lot of effort into sharing my link for cash instead of credits.)

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Master Closet Remodel

Whenever I talk to people who want to buy an old house and rehab it slowly, rather than gutting and doing everything at once, I always say that they should live in the house for awhile before deciding their priorities. When we bought this house, I thought my priorities were removing every shred of wood paneling, and remodeling both bathrooms. Now, after 3 years, I desperately want a new kitchen, and a nice bedroom, and this tiny room wore on me in a way I never could have expected.

There are a lot of things this room could be. A lot of people with old houses call it a sick room. We had at one time considered it for a nursery, but it doesn't have heat or A/C. All these years of trying to decide what to do with it, oh, how that plaster "repair" was wearing on my nerves. This is what our contractor did with every crack in the house. Just slathered it with joint compound and called it good. In on area the ceiling was sagging and they acted like we were crazy when we asked them to do a better job. THIS IS NOT HOW YOU REPAIR PLASTER.

I mean, what do you even do with this? Thank god we didn't have this contractor do any more than was required (we had a 203K loan) because we'd surely be doing everything over again, just like we had to do with this room.

Enter Carrera Plaster Restoration! My favorite thing about living in Carondelet is that there is a neighbor for every service you could possibly need. Jason did some repairs in our dining room after we stripped the wallpaper, and we know he was the man for this room when we finally decided our plaster priorities.

Amazing, yes? If you need plaster repairs, make sure to get an actual plaster professional! Now check out our BRAND NEW MAAAAAAAAAASTER CLOSET!

We drove to Schaumberg IKEA last year to pick up the EXPEDIT (now KALLAX) and STOLMEN closet system. The danger with making big purchases at IKEA four hours away is that you are bound to forget some pieces. We were able to get a clothes rod online, but still haven't decided what to do with one of the window panels we bought without the mounting hardware. I'll figure it out when the St Louis IKEA opens. In the back you can also see my hidden litter box project.

Hooray! A clothes rod tall enough for a maxi dress, and Francis is no longer living out of the coat closet on the first floor. I still need more glass heads for our Disney ears, so if you see one for $50 or less, send me a tip!

Next up: master bedroom!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Turn Trash Into Treasure with Plarn!

Guess what this bag is made of!


I bet you didn't guess DISNEY SHOPPING BAGS!

That's right, you can turn your shopping bags into a sturdy, stretchy, long-lasting bag with PLARN. Plastic Yarn = PLARN! It's super easy if you know how to crochet. All you have to do is cut up the yarn into 1" strips.

Depending on how heavy-duty the bags are, I adjust the thickness a little bit. Super heavy, maybe a little less than 1". Thin bags, maybe a little bit wider than 1" for extra strength.

Once you have your loops, connect them the way you would connect two rubber bands. (Need step by step instructions for that? There's an ehow for everything.)

Some people like to make a big ball of plarn all at once. Personally, I like to cut up a few bags at a time, and then add loops as I go. Crocheting with plarn is pretty tough on the hands, so switching it up is an opportunity to take a break. Note: Disney bags will turn your hands blue, but it washes off pretty easily (especially with Jewelscent sugar scrub).

Here's another bag I made with Target bags! My pattern is very simple: I just do a few rows of double crochet for the bottom (both of these are 4 rows of 20dc with a size N hook), and then crochet in the round until the bag is the size I want it to be. It's all one piece, including the strap, which is just 4dc across until it's as long as I want it to be, and then attached with a single crochet on the other side. These bags are the perfect size for a waterproof pool bag to hold your book, keys, wallet and sunblock!

This project requires A LOT of bags - you get about 3 dc per loop, just to give you an idea. The Disney bags were collected from our regular souvenir shopping in 2 trips to Walt Disney World and one trip to Disneyland. As you might have noticed, I ran a little short on the strap, so that is my excuse to plan another trip to WDW.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Hide the Litter Box in an Old Trunk!

I'm a couple weeks behind schedule on this project, but here's phase one of our new walk in closet: hide the litter box. Since we started this closet project 6 months ago, the litter box has been in the guest bedroom, "temporarily". Temporarily, as in, there's no litter mat and I am tired of having to put on sandals to walk through that room, because you just cannot vacuum every speck of litter up off of 130 year old pine floors. The other problem is that in this house, a plain old litter box is 100% accessible to dogs. I was almost asleep last night when I had to holler at Phoenix to get back in the bedroom because she had gone for a "midnight snack". 

So I found this box at an antique mall. Let's not talk about how much I paid for it. I thought it was half off, and it wasn't, but I'd already designed the whole project in my head and it was just too late, ok?

Look how cool it is on the inside! That tray lifts out. I haven't decided what too do with it yet (I bet Deanna will have ideas).

There is another box nailed to the bottom, so I pried it out.

Then I measured and drew out a hole for access and two holes on top for light/ventilation. I measured our standard litter box hood and then made the hole 1" taller and 1" wider because we have a tank of a Bombay cat and I was feeling generous.

See? He is huge.

As Eddie Izzard would say, "ET VOILA!" 

No more midnight snacks for dogs, and now the cats have a walk-off area inside the box and a litter mat outside of the box. And there is a little sneak peek at the walk in closet. More to follow!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Disney Dream Cruise Report!

Disney Dream at Castaway Cay
Disney Cruise Line and Disney Aulani just won "Best of"  awards from Travel + Leisure this week, and it reminded me that I never posted my cruise report! Now that two months have gone by and we have no current vacation plans, it was really rough to get pictures together for this post. I want to be back on a boat where there is ice cream and hot dogs any time I want them! 

Francis and I were both huge cruise skeptics before this trip,  but agreed to try a three day cruise because I wanted to be able to recommend the Land & Sea vacation packages honestly. If you read Craves,  Caves, & Graves, you know that we are spontaneous,  road-tripping people and our main worry was feeling trapped on a cruise.

Daily Princess Meet & Greet
We have the utmost faith in Disney when it comes to vacations,  though, and knew that Disney beats all when it comes to food,  entertainment,  and service.  On the flight to Orlando and all through our 4 Park days,  we overheard veteran cruisers evangelizing about Disney Cruise Line and the myriad ways they beat the competition,  so that was reassuring.

Nassau, Bahamas 
I have no other cruise experience to compare it to,  but I will say this: we were so exhausted from the parks that we happily stayed on the ship the first day instead of venturing onto Nassau,  and the Disney Dream was full of people with the same plan. We were docked between the Carnival Sensation and the Norwegian Getaway, and the difference was shocking. We later found out from a seasoned cruiser in our dining party that the Carnival ship has a full day at sea after Nassau,  while the Disney Dream stops at the private Island,  Castaway Cay, so that is why their ship looked deserted. Still,  I think it speaks volumes that there is so much onboard entertainment on a Disney ship that many,  many people see no reason to spend extra money on shore excursions.

Another thing I appreciated that first day was that our inside stateroom,  while small,  was so comfortable,  and our stateroom attendant so attentive,  that we happily spent many hours there,  just watching TV. I know that sounds weird on vacation,  but vacation is a break from our "kids" : two cats and two dogs who are all attention whores.

 The inside staterooms have "Magic Portholes", which are flat screen monitors built into the wall that show the camera view of the outside of the ship. It keeps the room from feeling claustrophobic,  plus there are visits from animated characters to break up the monotony of "at sea". We saw Winnie the Pooh,  Tinker bell,  Kevin from Up, the Emperor and Pacha,  and a few others.

Castaway Cay Serenity Bay
Castaway Cay Mount Rustmore
Day two,  we visited Disney's private island,  Castaway Cay. We're not really beach people, but we wanted to explore,  and the BBQ lunch at the adults only beach was excellent. The adult beach,  aptly named Serenity Bay, was very quiet and relaxing. The island also has several gift shops,  plus rentals for all kinds of activities and water sports. They even have an island 5K in the morning,  as well as yoga classes on the beach.

Castaway Cay Pelican Plunge
After lunch we went back to the boat,  because we knew that there were so many people on the island that the wait time for AquaDuck would be drastically reduced. AquaDuck is an amazing water ride through a tube that runs all the way around the ship, and I think the best part of this whole vacation was Francis giggling behind me on that raft. The whole pool deck, especially the adult-only decks,  were another reason we were happy to stay on the boat.  One thing we learned on the Keys to the Kingdom tour is how Disney uses music to set the mood, and this technology is put to good use on the ships. You can walk between the all-ages area,  which is like a party boat, to the adult area,  where the music is subdued, or the total silence of the upper adult deck,  and be blown away by the use of speakers and acoustics. The adult area is so quiet you could fall asleep (and we did).

I didn't get a lot of pictures of the dining rooms or food, but everything was EXCELLENT, particularly our solo dinner at Palo on the last night. Everyone should dine in a restaurant with a wall of windows on the top deck of a cruise ship at sunset once in their life. Make that happen for yourself.

The other dining experience I highly recommend is Artist's Palette. Our rotational dining group was all adults traveling without children and I know everyone at our table had as much fun as the families did in this restaurant. All those "pictures" are video screens that come to life and interact with the guests. It's AMAZING. There is also "Enchanted Artwork" throughout the ship!

Now that we are in the "Castaway Club", which gives you early booking privileges for Castaway Cay cabanas, Palo, the spa, and shore excursions, PLUS we never got around to seeing any of the shows, so now I feel like we have to go again. Who's with me? :)

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Crochet Washcloth Obsession & Jewelscent

Last Friday was my last day working in an office. Since I started Craves, Caves & Graves 6 years ago, I have wanted to do nothing more than write that blog full time. Francis has been the perfect partner to make this a reality, since photography is his job, and he taught me to pay more attention to what I am doing instead of just blindly pressing the button like a tourist.

That, in turn, has helped me with improving my social media skills, which lead to Jewelscent, a new direct sales company with a social network business model. All you have to do is share your referral link. Perfect for me, because the end goal here was to always have my weekends free to travel with my husband. I managed my team from a Disney cruise ship last month, so if that's not proof you can do a job anywhere, I don't know what is.

After 9 months of working my tail off, I decided that it was time to take the leap, and spend the summer building up all of my websites. This one in particular is one I've wanted to make better use of since using it as a wedding site last year. We always have projects going on, and I hope to use it to keep friends and family updated.

My first project was relaxation. I have had almost no time for reading books or working on crafts in the past year. Last week I bought some cotton yarn and made a couple washcloths.

I am easily addicted to the instant gratification of simple and fast crochet projects, so the next thing I knew I was at Joanns buying more cotton yarn.

So many colors! So many ideas for color-coordinating gift sets! Next thing I knew, I was binge watching Orange is the New Black for 3 days straight and making washcloths.

Of course, I could sell these but the pricing on Etsy is horrifying. Crafters, your time IS worth money. You will never make a living doing what you love if you price your goods to cover materials only! Stop paying yourself like a sweatshop worker!

I do have a craft fair coming up in August where I will be selling gift packs of Jewelscent and spa cloths, but meanwhile, if you buy one scrub or two soaps via my link this month, I will send you a washcloth FOR FREE! 

Next up on the Franceth Manor project list: Finishing Francis's closet. I have set myself an ambitious goal of posting about that next week. Can I finish painting and assemble IKEA furniture that fast? Stay tuned!