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Coming Soon to a Renter Like You

Just so you know that I’m not whistling Dixie, here’s a short photo preview of the projects I’ve been working on for the new(ish) site.

I haven’t finished setting it all up yet, but it’s actually looking pretty cool so far.

I’ll still focus on small projects renters can do to individualize their properties without breaking their leases — or their budgets — but the new site will be less of about “how-to” site & more about inspiration.

DON’T STRESS!!!! I’ll be linking any projects that need technical savvy to informative expert sources, so you’ll actually have better/more advice than I could ever dream of providing.

Plus, our new place is SO much more representative of most rental properties than the PA house was. We’re now in a standard-issue 2-bedroom/1 bath apartment with a small patio. So, I imagine my future projects will be even more practical & relatable to the average renter. At least I hope so.

Here are some cryptic photo hints about some of the first projects you’ll see on the new site:

Don’t You Forget About Me

Hey Rental House Rulers!! 

SO sorry I haven’t been with you for so long (since around Christmas… yikes!), but I’ve been on the move.

Literally. We moved.

We’re now back in our hometown of Tucson, AZ and we COULDN’T BE HAPPIER!!!

 

The move was sudden & unexpected for everyone. Documenting it would have been next to impossible. (And trust me, you don’t want to be next to impossible. That guy’s a real buzz-kill.)BUT… I did take many photos along the way & will be posting a farewell to our old house. We sure did love that old crapshack. 

Nonetheless, it was time to move on — and we’re thrilled with our new place. It’s an apartment, and much smaller than our old house, but it has SO much potential for coolness. I’ve got a zillion ideas, and I’ll definitely be letting you all in on them.

That said, the site will probably get a bit of an overhaul. I learned a lot from my first go at it, but now I know what about the blogging process worked for me… and what didn’t. And I shall be addressing all bugs, glitches and style “don’ts” as I get the new place — and the new site — put together.

But fret not, my RHRers!! There IS more to come — and if you liked the first RHR… you’re gonna love the new one!

Thanks so much for your patience. You guys rock. See you soon :)

Easy Like Sunday Bloggin’ 2

You know how you always have extra holiday swag laying around — like Secret Santa candies and Uncle So-and-So’s famous peanut brittle?

And how they always crowd up your counter space until they go stale and you finally allow yourself to throw them out?

Why? That tin of your favorite cookies or bouquet of candy canes was intended to bring you enjoyment, not stress. And yet, after the presents are unwrapped & the tinsel is down, it’s hard to move the leftover holiday treats. No matter the kind intentions, come about January 3, those uneaten holiday gifts just seem like some kind of bizarre culinary social obligation. 

Must. Finish. Fruitcake.

So, I decided to to conduct an experiment.

ImageI took the leftover holiday goodies & artfully arranged them next to our usual “snack zone” — the area of the kitchen where we keep crackers, nuts, dried fruits, etc.

I liberated these super-yummy biscotti cookies from their original holiday-themed packaging & casually dumped them into a round glass vase. No big whoop. No pressure. Just some biscotti laying around. 

The maple candy I put into a simple mason jar that originally contained homemade apple butter. (Which all got eaten. Quickly.) I hoped that the simple jar would enhance the appeal of the old-timey candy.

And the last few cookie-tin cookies? Well, I just set them out on a plate. Like they expected to be eaten.

Image

Did it work?

You betcha! The cookies vanished, the biscotti is half gone & only maple candy crumbs remain.

Holiday mission accomplished!

Perfectly Imperfect

*Editor’s Note: I didn’t plan on featuring this project on RHR, but the more I thought about it, the more I figured you might enjoy it. It’s hardly up to par in terms of my usual aesthetic requirements & the pictures are crummy at best —  but in terms of fun & function, well, it’s one of my favorite projects ever.

We’ve been losing a lot of sleep over the closet in Sonia’s room. Literally.

The sliding doors provided by the landlord were VERY heavy (like solid-oak heavy) and hung from rails under the doorjamb rather than sliding on floor rails. Which made me nervous. Seriously… they’re REALLY heavy! So we chose to remove them — and of course, store them safely in the basement — so Sonia wouldn’t injure herself.

For a while, we just left the closet doorless, but Sonia recently started having nightmares & wanted to avoid her room. It took a while, but eventually she told us that it was because her closet was “too scary.”

Yikes. I guess I can’t blame her. That mess IS scary.

Although, in my defense, I’m only saving all that stuff so I can donate it. Which I’m gonna do. Soon. Jeez… get off my back ;->

Anyway, it was obviously time to come up with a solution for the missing closet doors.

We considered going with curtains, but I worried that they’d blow in the breeze from the fan & spook her even more than the doorless-ness. Then we thought about hanging lighter wooden closet doors (like the ones we used for our bathroom closet)

but it would have cost way too much because the closet in Sonia’s room is so long.

What were we to do? We needed a cheap, simple, temporary way to close off a long area… Then it came to me… Church!! The church basement! Those accordion-like, vinyl room divider thingies!

They’re light enough that we won’t have to worry about them falling; solid enough to keep ghosts & scary monsters away; cheap and easy to install. Win-win-win!

Of course, they are kind of ugly. And we could only find them in faux-wood-grain, which didn’t help. But frankly, after all those long nights, we were willing to compromise on aesthetics in exchange for a solid 8 hours of sleep. So we grabbed them & decided to figure out how to make them “work” later.

The installation was a breeze — it only took about 30 minutes & we were hardly rushing.

Once they were in place, we figured it might help Sonia to “trust” the new doors if she got to decorate them herself. So I picked up some tempera paint & glitter paints … and we let her go wild!!

She just can’t believe it’s true!

I joined in on the fun by using some very simple stencils to paint animal shapes on the top half of the doors.

Unfortunately, I’d forgotten to buy stencil adhesive, so I just taped them up & did the best I could. The results are a little crude, but they do the trick.

We also plastered the doors with colorful, sparkly stickers:)

Of course, letting a 4-year-0ld loose with paint has its consequences…

… but that’s the great thing about tempera paint — it washes right off with soap & water! So both child & closet can be restored to their original paintless glory when the time arrives.

So, did it work, you ask?

Like a charm! Sonia is no longer afraid of her room. And there have been way fewer nightmares.

So, despite the mess, we’re thrilled.

And when I asked her what she thought of her new closet doors, Sonia said, “They’re perfect.”

You are, kiddo. You are.

Lamp-tastic!

So, a while back, I scored several lamps for under $15 at a local thrift shop.

Aesthetically, they needed a little help, but were in working condition & had potential, so I scooped them up, promising myself (and Dan… and you guys) that I’d work my magic on them.

Then I got busy with something else & months passed. And the sun began setting earlier… and earlier… and earlier. Now it’s dark by 4:30. So I’ve decided to get started on the lamps. I guess necessity really is the mother of invention.

But how to go about turning these uglies into beauties? It would take some thinking outside the box. Or rather, inside the box.

This awesome tin once contained scrumptious amaretto cookies from Italy.

I love it SOOOO much. I want to buy it a mink stole.

So, obviously, I had to turn it into a lamp.

But how to accomplish such a Herculean task?!?

Enter ugly lamp #1. The glass on this lamp base is actually pretty nice — thick, bevel cut, unblemished — but I just can’t figure out how to make it un-grandma-y.

So, I decided to simply remove the glass & find a way to use the “guts” of the lamp to create something entirely new.

So I clipped off the plug & pulled out the guts.

Perfect!

All I needed to do now was to make a couple of holes in the tin: One for the neck of the lamp, and one for its cord.

So I had Dan break out the old cordless drill. He used a bit that was just slightly larger than the lamp’s rod.

Then I just dropped the lamp guts in and filled the bottom of the cookie tin with sandwich baggies full of sand to weigh it down — so it won’t be top-heavy & tip over all the time.

I added a small platform made of scrap wood & cardboard to set the lamp base on, which gave me more height than if I’d set it directly in the bottom of the tin. Then I replaced the lid & covered the hole with the original lamp’s vase cap.

Of course, since I’d had to clip the plug off the original lamp’s cord (to be able to fit it through the “exit” hole on the back of the cookie tin), I had to replace it.

Enter Dan, who is much braver than I when it comes to all things electrical.

He stripped the end of the existing wire — which he admitted would have been much easier if he’d had some linesman pliers… sorry, Honey! — and connected them to this prefab plug.

Then I added a bulb and shade.

And… viola! A new lamp!!!

In all, it was a 20 minute project. The hardest part was finding a shade that 1) I liked; and 2) had the correct mounting hardware.

*More on the hardware later — I forgot to take a pic before we left for our vacay & we won’t be home for a few more days yet. Oops, sorry!!

It was a fun, easy way to make use of a lamp I didn’t like, while also repurposing a cookie tin that I really do. The same effect could be achieved with any sort of tin — crackers, coffee, tea… anything. You just need to make sure that 1) the tin has a lid; and 2) the base is bigger & heavier than the shade.

So… one ugly lamp down, 4 to go. Stay tuned!

How about you? What’s your favorite repurposing project? Made any lamps out of weird stuff? Do you have a favorite tin? Or maybe a grandma-lamp you don’t know what to do with? We’d love to hear from you!

Grudge Match: Science -vs- Tarnish

AAAAACK! Just one day to go & I’m not remotely ready.

But since I figured a lot of you are in the same boat, I don’t feel so bad.

And, since I’m such a great gal, I’m even gonna help you get your holiday feast on the table. (Roast Beast, anyone? No? Who Pudding, then?)

OK, then… how about I help you clean your silver?

I picked up these classic silver platters at a rummage sale recently. I chatted up the lady in charge, finding out in the process that the platters were actually hers. She was so happy to see someone recognize their pretty-tarnished-but-in-really-good-shape-otherwise potential. After I promised to cherish them & make sure they see many holiday feasts to come, she practically gave them to me… marked down from $3 each to 2 for 50 cents! SCORE!!! Thank you, nice lady :)

Now… in my day I’ve polished enough silver to know that the process is smelly, tedious and messy. And each time I’ve done it, I say to myself, “Self — why are you working harder, not smarter?” (And I usually answer myself, “Self, because you’re a moron. Why don’t you try that cool aluminum foil & baking soda trick?”)

So… in the interest of science — and my sanity — I decided to give it a go this year. Essentially, you line your sink with tin foil, add baking soda, salt & hot water, and just soak your silver in it. That’s it.

I poked around online, checking out a few different tutorials on the process. They were pretty similar, but each had different instructions on how much baking soda & salt to add.

Finally, I chose to follow the instructions I found here. Why? Because it wasn’t all specific. And I was in a hurry & didn’t have time to futz around.

After lining my sink with tin foil, I added “some” baking soda & salt. Then I filled the sink with the hottest water the tap could provide. Which was pretty hot. There was steam coming off it. I tried to get a pic of the steam, but it didn’t really show up. Bummer.

Anyway, then I stirred up the mixture and put a platter in.

The water only covered half, so I figured the results would be obvious.

Not so much.

But I decided to keep trying. I started fresh, and this time used BOILING water.

Ah! Now that’s a visible difference!

Much better.

The dip did help to loosen things up a bit, but to be honest… it still took a significant amount of rubbing with a soft towel to get the tarnish off.

Enough that I was reminded of… cleaning silver. Awww, man.

In the end, the dip did work. Somewhat. It was not the miracle solution I was looking for, though.

Definitely better, but to bring these beauties back to their original glory, I think I’m gonna have to bust out the silver polish. Sigh.

HOWEVER — If my platters hadn’t been SO tarnished, I think the process would have given me great results. So if you’ve got some silver that is only a little tarnished, I think it would work famously. Which is exactly what I’m going to tell my mom the next time she tries to rope me into cleaning the silverware for Thanksgiving.

Kidding. She hasn’t enlisted me since I moved out. Which was a big part of why I went to college. ;->

Anyway, I hope you found my little experiment enlightening. Now I have some noxious rubbing to do.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS!!!!!

Not a Tough Cookie

In my opinion, when it comes to Christmas cookies, nothing beats a good old-fashioned sugar cookie with hard, shiny icing.

So a few years back, I decided to hunt down & perfect the perfect Christmas cookie recipe.

As my holiday gift to you, I’d like to share it!

First and foremost, I did not create these recipes. I got the cookie recipe here. It’s perfect as is. I don’t “tweak” it at all.

I got my icing recipe here.

** This recipe I did modify a tad. I use 1/4 tsp. almond extract & 1/4 tsp. lemon extract. The lemon gives it a little zing without being recognizable.

The frosting recipe I got here. It’s softer & fluffier than the icing, but it does harden a bit. I pipe it on to decorate on top of the hard icing. It holds up relatively well to stacking/jostling.

So, just follow the recipes and you really will be fine.

And I’ll give you some tips I’ve devised to make the process easy & tidy.

1) Measure out your ingredients beforehand. I know, I know, only geeks & Food Network chefs pre-measure their ingredients. True. That’s why their recipes turn out so well. When you measure as you go, it’s waaaaaay too easy to forget whether you’ve put in 3 cups or 4 cups of flour. Pre-measuring your ingredients is especially helpful if your kids want to help bake the cookies, because all they have to do is dump bowl A into mixture B.

2) Make the dough in the evening. It needs to chill overnight. The recipe says it can be worked with after an hour in the fridge, but do yourself a favor — leave it overnight.

To efficiently store/use my dough, I divide each batch in half & wrap the halves in plastic wrap. That way, I can keep the second half of a batch chilling in the fridge while I roll out/cut cookies from the first half.

The colder (read: stiffer) your dough, the easier it’ll be to roll/cut.

I also try to shape it like a flat-ish square. Again… easier to roll out that way.

3) When it’s time to roll, grab a roll… of wax paper. Put some on the counter/table where you plan to roll. Also put a sheet on top of the dough. In other words, sandwich your dough in wax paper. Now roll. No sticking!

Cutting the cookies is also easier if you do it on wax paper. Why? Easier to lift the cookies. Just slip your fingertips underneath the wax paper and tip the cookie into your other hand.

And… super easy cleanup.

4) Parchment paper is your friend. Yes, it’s pricey. But it eliminates the need for non-stick spray, which, in my opinion, tastes weird. Seriously. I can tell when people use it. Yuck. Plus… what a greasy mess.

And frankly, a little parchment paper goes a long way. I’ve been working on the same roll for a couple of years now. How so? I reuse it. That’s right, you can use the same piece of parchment paper to bake a few batches of cookies. On the same day, I mean. I don’t advocate keeping soiled parchment paper in your cupboards. I’m not that cheap. Yet. ;->

Eventually it’ll get all crispy & wrinkly and you’ll need to use a new sheet, but you’re good for, like 3 or 4 trips through the oven.

5) Let your cookies cool completely before icing them. Completely. If they’re warm, the icing won’t stick.

I layer them — again using parchment paper — while they cool to keep them from overrunning my counter space.

6) Make your own icing & frosting. Seriously. Why do people bake homemade cookies only to ruin them with mass-produced frosting? Frosting and icing are sooo easy to make. And sooo much cheaper than the store-bought stuff.

What’s the difference between icing & frosting? Texture, essentially. Frosting you spread or squeeze on; icing you dribble on. Frosting is fluffy; icing is slick. Frosting stays more or less soft; icing hardens.

You use the same ingredients for both, save one. For frosting, you use shortening. For icing, you use corn syrup.

7) Measure the flavored extracts for your icing carefully. Don’t do it right over the mixing bowl. Trust me. One slip of the wrist & you’ll end up with uber-icing. Extracts be potent, yo. And they ain’t cheap either. So proceed with caution. I measure mine into a little bowl, then dump that in the mixing bowl.

8) Set up an icing station.

Use a deep sheet pan & a cookie cooling rack that fits inside it. Line the sheet pan with waxed paper. Set the cooling rack on top of the paper. Set cookies on rack.

Now ice. The video says either “dip” or “paint,” but I ladle. It coats the front & sides of the cookie and kind of wraps around to the back a tiny bit. It’s kind of a middle ground between the (in my opinion) too little icing you get by painting it on & the too much you get when you dip.

Don’t be stingy, though. You need to coat the whole cookie, relatively thickly.

You will be left with what could be a big ole mess. But thanks to your handy dandy icing station, cleanup is a breeze!

(I somehow didn’t get a pic of this part of the process, which is a shame. Sorry. What you do is just remove/rinse the cooling rack; fold the edges of the icing-covered wax paper in toward the middle; then tip the whole sheet pan upside down over the trash can to throw out the extra icing. You barely have to touch it. Awesome.)

9) Let the icing dry completely. Put iced cookies on sheets of… you guessed it… wax paper while they harden. They’ll come right off, leaving the pooled icing around their edges behind. I mean, you might have to clean up the edges a little, but it’s really a pretty clean lift.

10) Give ‘em another coat.

If you’re short on time, you can skip the second coat, but honestly, they’re better with two coats. They just are.

11) To frost, or not to frost? If you want to give your cookies a little more pop, you can whip up some frosting to pipe on.

Don’t have a piping bag & tips? Just put your frosting in a plastic baggie, trim one corner & squeeze! Just be careful. If you get overzealous, you could pop a seam.

This pic is from last year. This year, I chose to forgo the piping & just torque up the colors. See below.

12) Spread the love! People love these cookies. They’re not too sweet, but deeply satisfying. And they’re excellent dunkers, from milk to coffee.

But make sure you give them the entrance they deserve — these are no plastic baggie cookies.

They’re a gift in & of themselves — put them in a cute cookie tin, or in a box lined with foil, sprinkled with glitter & tied with a ribbon. Bling bling!

12) Enclose a copy of the recipe. People will appreciate it.

So there you have it. Easy, tidy & delicious. The Christmas cookie trifecta — my gift to you. Happy holidays, everyone!!!!!!!

Decking the Halls… With Actual Boughs of Holly

So, in an effort to be super-frugal with our holiday budget this year, I asked Dan to bring home some branches from the many pine trees around his parents’ house for decorating purposes.

Then he did me one better. He snagged some real holly too!

I fa-la-la-love that guy!!

I started by using the holly to create a simple sprig that adds a punch of color to our front porch railing.

I also draped plain white string lights along both the top & bottom rail & wrapped the top rail with a silver-trimmed white ribbon.

But it still didn’t look… complete. I don’t know why, but I just didn’t feel done.

So I added some dangling silver ornaments for a little more pop.

Then I hung large jingle bells from the ceiling, using the hooks that held our jam jar lanterns this summer. (Original lantern post here.)

And created an outdoor centerpiece for our wicker table by wrapping a bare wreath with white lights & placing some candles in the middle. I just used a glass bowl, 3 pillar candles of different heights & some white craft sand.

(I dig the way the sand kinda looks like snow drifts.)

It’s not Clark Griswold-level, but I think our outdoor holiday decor looks nice.

Understated.

And it pleased us here at RHR greatly that we were able to use natural greenery, rather than settling for that fake, plastic garland. Always a bonus!

And even better? Using so many repurposed items (string lights, jingle bells, wreaths, craft sand) and shopping the holiday sales/discount bin at the craft store for the rest (ribbon, candles) meant that our transformation was super affordable. All told, I spent about $10.

Not bad, if you ask me!

Perry Como was right  — The prettiest sight I see IS the holly on my own front door!

So, how about you? How’s your holiday decorating coming along? Have you been able to keep costs down by cleverly reusing stuff? Any cool centerpiece ideas? Let us know!

It’s Oil in the Presentation

Family, friends, Secret Santas, bosses, neighbors… the cost of holiday cheer can be enough to send us here at RHR running for the spiced rum.

So to level the playing field between our extreme popularity ;-> and our deep and abiding cheapskatery, we’ve been making our holiday gifts for years now.

I know, I know. Nobody likes to get a homemade present. They’re always weird, and nothing you’d actually use… and worst of all, you can’t even re-gift them because what if the recipient asks you about the crafting process or the materials or something? Stupid, lousy crochet. Damn you and your prudish insistence upon keeping things “cozy.”   (Image courtesy of Photobucket)

Fortunately, it doesn’t have to go down like that. Over years of careful observation, we’ve determined one essential DIY gift constant: everyone likes food.

We’ve gifted everyone from immediate family to casual acquaintances with foodstuffs — and always to rave reviews. We’ve done flavored apertifs & spice rubs & hand-dipped candies. And frankly, we haven’t even scratched the surface of everything we want to make.

DIY gifting is every bit as addictive as any other DIY pursuit. Sure, it takes planning and effort. But it’s truly fun & a lot easier than you’d imagine — and eventually you find yourself turning your nose up at store-bought options because you know you can do it better… for SO much less.

Anyway, this year we decided to do infused cooking oils!

First, we headed out to a local gourmet foods distributor that sells bulk oil. By buying from the source, we could afford higher quality ingredients. Plus, we managed to cut costs by getting the bottles for only 50 cents each (with purchase of oil). Score!!  The containers for homemade gifts are often the most expensive part of the project, so we’re always looking for clever ways to cut costs on that front.

We chose a light Spanish olive oil…

…then we picked up some whole clove garlic, fresh thyme & rosemary and black peppercorns.

Once we got all the booty home — for about $7 per bottle — Dan heated the oil, adding a sachet of the rosemary & thyme so the oil could suck up all their herby goodness.

For an expert herbed-oil tutorial, click here.

Once the oils were thoroughly infused and ready for gifting, I topped them with a little tin foil and ribbon, along with a shiny ornament.

Because with homemade gifts, presentation MATTERS.

Practical, easy & so much less expensive than it looks. Score!

AND… We’ve already gotten the ultimate homemade-present compliment. One of our recipients actually used our infused oil to cook for a holiday party. Color us flattered!

How about you guys? Have you ever made infused oil? What are your favorite kinds? Anyone else making gifts rather than buying? We’d love to hear that we’re not alone… ;-> So don’t be afraid to hit that comments button! Tell us all about it!

Wreath-hab: You Want Some Jingle With Those Bells?

Remember our gate wreath & mail drop basket combo? And how much I dug the idea of switching out the decorations from time to time to reflect the seasons?

Well, check this out:

Jingle bells, some faux holly berries…

…and gawh-jus white poinsettia…

… take our little duo from autumn to winter for less than $10 in less than 10 minutes.

First, I plucked the silk flowers from my Harvest Moon wreath:

 Original post here

Then I used some faux holly berries I found in the craft store clearance bin & a handful of jingle bells to create a subtle holiday look.

I used picture wire to attach the bells

and just tucked the berries in around them.

Of course, I trimmed back the ends of the picture wire, too…

Easy peasey.

Oh, and I straightened out all the wire branches on the faux berries and kind of squeezed them together:

I think the tidier look made a big difference

… before (bottom) and … after (top)

… by giving it a little je ne c’est quoi…

Oh, yeah. I totally speak French now. I learned it from the tube my clochettes came in. So la-tee-da.

Oops. Didn’t get the poinsettia in that shot.

Here…

Please ignore the price stickers on the poinsettia. I’m trying to train myself out of a borderline OCD sticker-removal thing.

But man they’re driving me crazy. Aaarrrrgggghhhh…

Anyway.

Quick, easy, cheap. The Rental House Rules decorating trifecta. Score!

We’ll be back soon with more exterior decor. We’re experiencing a bit of technical difficulty with our string lights. Not to worry, though. We’re on it.

In the meantime… take another peek at my wreath.

Oh, yeah. You love it, don’tcha? Yeah, you do. You’re on the naughty list for sure, you cheeky thing!

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