Last week I was driving by the Salvation Army when it occurred to me, "Why am I driving by the Salvation Army?  Why am I not stopping the car and going in for a little peek?"  After all, my thrift-store-averse daughters were back in school.  Why wouldn't I go?

Well I'm glad I followed that instinct because, guess what?  It was half-price day.  (I couldn't afford not to shop ;)

The first thing I spotted was worth a picture... but not worth the $695 (!) price tag.  (Of course it was half-price day, but a $347.50 accordion is still an accordion.  And I don't need an accordion.)


And in case you were wondering, I did check ebay to find out what one might sell for.  I couldn't find this exact brand so it's anyone's guess if this price was a good one.  I will say that people list old accordions for lots of money on ebay.  However, if you check the completed listings you will find that the overwhelming majority of them go unsold.  So, yeah.  I left it behind.  

Also left behind?  This side table.  

I can't remember the price but it wasn't much--especially at 50% off.  I was imagining it either refinished or painted.  The truth is that I just don't have a place for it, though, so I had to walk away.

But I didn't leave empty handed.  Oh nosiree.

What did I come home with?

For starters I got a giant punch bowl.  It needs a good cleaning as do the 12 glasses and ladle that came with it.  I have been on the hunt for a big punchbowl ever since I encountered this at a bridal shower:

Although I already have a perfectly serviceable punch bowl, I've been obsessed with finding one large enough to accommodate a bundt cake shaped ice cube.  (Because bundt cake shaped ice cubes are awesome!)   Mission accomplished.  I probably wouldn't have bought it at its original price of $20, but for $10 I was all over it.  Pictures will follow in a later post, I'm sure.

The purchase I am most giddy about is this set of card catalog file drawers (Price: $4.50 total):

At first I wasn't sure what they were.  Then I opened them up.  As a librarian's daughter, I recognized them right away.

Oh the potential!

They had clearly already been repurposed by the previous owners for use in a workshop or garage.  I suspect the paint job isn't original either as all the ones I see on the internet are painted black, grey or a sort of industrial green.

I am envisioning them spray painted a crisp white (or possibly aqua) with shiny chrome hardware.

But here is where I must make a confession.  And this isn't easy for me to put out there.  I might get my blogger's license revoked for this one.  Heck, I may never be allowed on Pinterest again.

But here goes:

I am an awful spray painter.

Whew!  It feels good to get that off my chest.  Does anyone know of a support group?  Or at the very least can one of you awesome spray painters give a sister some tips?  I used to think it was my lack of patience that was the problem.  Then I tried a few more projects.  I used thin even coats and waited between them.  I sanded things and prepped them.    I did everything I was supposed to do.  But it didn't matter.   My paint-jobs always end up bubbly and... just bad.

So if any of you awesome spray painters have some advice I'd love to hear it.

Better yet, you could just come over and do it for me.

I'll serve punch :)


In the Bloglight

Hello and welcome to `a casarella!  Come in and make yourself comfortable.

For those of you who have been around for awhile, please pardon the formality.  (We have company and I don't want to scare them away!)

The guests are visiting from Hometalk's Blogtalk page.  (Not familiar with Hometalk?  You old-timers should mosey over there and check it out.  This post will just be review for you anyway.)

And to my new guests, welcome!  I'm excited to have you here and tell you a little about myself and my blog, 'a casarella.

'A casarella, for those of you who don't speak Italian, means "a little house."  I borrowed the name from a plaque which is affixed to the front of our home.  It was placed there by the previous owners but we liked it and, given my Italian heritage, decided it should stay.

You can read more about this in my very first blog post, found here.

It seemed like a perfect name for a blog.  You see, I'd been contemplating a blog for several years before I actually started mine this past January.  I began reading blogs almost ten years ago when they were really quite novel.  The first blog I ever read was (and is) called Dooce.  The blogger, Heather Armstrong, was a newlywed when I first found her and some of her best posts (in my opinion) revolved around the tiny house that she and her husband were renovating at the time.

Well, things have changed.  Dooce has long since moved out of her tiny house and although I enjoyed watching her decorate and renovate her next two houses, I found many other blogs where I could get a more concentrated dose of home decor and DIY.  After years of poring over sites like Young House Love, Bower Power, Making it Lovely and Remodelaholic, I decided to take a stab at this blogging thing on my own.

As a teacher-turned-stay-at-home-mom it seemed like a great fit.  I could exercise my brain by writing about the things I was already doing as a mother, wife and home-owner.  What could be better?

And thus 'a casarella was born.

As much as I love home design, I could not sustain a blog on that alone.  Though we've done a few big projects around here (like this pre-blog balcony remodel that I wrote about back in February):

...and we're planning a few more (stay tuned for a solution to my office dilemma as well as a revamp of my daughters' playroom), my most popular posts seem to be about small crafting projects:

DIY laundry room art.  Blogged here.

Make your own flower petal lantern.  Blogged here.


Meatloaf-stuffed peppers in the crock pot.  Find the tutorial here.

This cake is as easy as it is beautiful.  Find the recipe here.

...and fun things I've done for my kids:

How to make a "Punch Box."
This poorly photographed (yet extremely thorough) tutorial is by far my most popular to date.  Find it here.

Probably my favorite project: the slumber party birthday cake.  Find it here.

...and their teachers:

I made this for teacher appreciation week
but a whole bunch of people on Pinterest think it would be a great Christmas gift!

Blogging has been a source of great joy (and sometimes great frustration) over the past few months.  Finding balance between my "blog life" and my "real life" has been a struggle.  On top of that, there is a lot to learn: everything from photo editing (definitely not my strength) to coding in html.  Had I known how much there was to learn when I started, I might not have started at all.  Thank goodness for that ignorance!  My advice to aspiring bloggers?  Go for it!  Don't be afraid to learn as you go.  And don't be afraid to reach out to other bloggers for help and advice.  The blogging community has definitely been a great (and unexpected) source of the joy that I mentioned above.

So, Hometalkers, that about sums me up.  Thank you so much for stopping by and I look forward to learning about you in the near future.



Decorating Paper Bag Book Covers

On Wednesday my older daughter started middle school.  And if I didn't think that I'd bore you to death, I would probably write a wistful, ten page post detailing my thoughts and feelings on the subject.

But given that her week was okay (and I'm emotionally spent from thinking about it) I'd like to focus on an aspect of middle school that we've both enjoyed (and possibly the most random topic ever): covering her textbooks.

(Look, it involves cutting up brown paper bags.  As a craft blogger (sorta, kinda), I'm obligated to get excited over this stuff.)

Anyway, when I found out that she would be needing to cover her books, I thought back fondly to those days of yore when my mother and I would sit down on a September evening, a stack of paper bags in front of us, and cover my textbooks.

But then I remembered something!  These days you can buy book covers.  (Spoiled 21st century children!)  And those covers come in all kinds of cool colors and patterns.  Surely my new sixth grader would want those over brown paper bags.  (Wouldn't she?)

Well, it turns out that my kid is ten-kinds-of-awesome because, no, she didn't want those pre-fab covers.  In fact, when I told her that she could have those or the ones that my mom and I used to make, she chose to go old school.  (And I'm pretty sure she didn't do it just to humor her poor, nostalgic mother, either.)

Now if you've never covered a textbook with a brown paper bag, I'm going to direct you to Youtube where there are numerous how-to videos that you can watch at your leisure.

Because what my daughter and I really enjoyed was the decorating.  (I might have begged to help.)

We used all kinds of fun items including Washi Tape, Sharpies, Stamps, jewel stickers--anything we had lying around, really.

Here are some books that she decorated:

And here is the back of one that I did.  (I obviously have a thing for Washi Tape Buntings these days):

Thanks for indulging this mama at the end of a difficult week.  I'll be back to share some more first-world problems real soon!  ;)



Making a Washi Tape Bunting Tutorial on SnapGuide

Back in April my brother sent me a link to a free iphone app called SnapGuide.  I blogged about it here and then promptly forgot about it.  Then last week I was playing around with Washi Tape trying to make a little bunting to adorn a birthday present.  My iphone was sitting next to me so I thought, what the heck, maybe I'll post a tutorial to SnapGuide.

To say that this was not my finest crafting moment would be an understatement.  I did the job hastily and imperfectly (the present was for an eight-year-old who was very likely not even going to notice the bunting before tearing into her gift).

The same could be said for my tutorial which, though easy to make, was quite basic as it was really just an experiment.

So imagine my surprise when I began getting emails from SnapGuide telling me that people were "liking" my tutorial.  I also got several comments including one from a young lady in England who was inspired to make her own.  I have to admit, I'm really enjoying this "social media" aspect of SnapGuide.  And even if you're not interested in doing your own tutorial, there are plenty of interesting tutorials to browse through.

You can find my tutorial here.

(And no, they didn't pay me to write this.  Something about not buying the cow when the milk was free...)


Truth or Dare Ball

Contrary to popular belief, we do more than eat here at my house, especially if there's a party going on.

As mentioned in my last post, my daughter recently had her first slumber party and did a lot of the planning herself (with the help of Pinterest).  One of the (many, many) things she pinned was this.  (Original source found here.)  Our inspiration site called it a "Toss and Talk" ball but the girls and I dubbed it a "Truth or Dare" ball.

We originally planned to buy a plastic ball at Walmart as suggested but then realized we had this great blow-up ball hanging around in the playroom.  I liked it because it had little sections that we could use as natural dividers between questions.

Our guests averaged about eight-years-old so I wanted to make sure that the questions (and dares) weren't too risque.   (I actually Googled, "Clean Truth or Dare Questions," and judging from the number of results I got, I was not alone in this quest.)  Other dares included, "Try and pick up the person next to you," or, "Remove the sock on the person to your left and do, 'This Little Piggy' with their toes."

The game is easy: the girls stand in a circle and toss the ball.  The person who catches it answers the question (or does the dare) that is in the same box as her right thumb.  The kids enjoyed it and it's a fun and inexpensive way to break the ice and get the party started.  (And to work off the cake ;)


Slumber Party Birthday Cake

I know that my last post was about a cake and while I hate to give the impression that it's all-cake-all-the-time here at `a casarella, I have to do another cake post.  (Right. Now.)

I must admit, I'm kinda proud of this one.  Anyone with an ounce of cake-decorating know-how is going to see it for the amateur effort that it is, but I'm going to ask that those people humor me.

You see, what my seven (soon-to-be-eight) year old wanted more than anything else for her birthday party this year was a sleepover.  After watching her older sister host countless sleepovers and attend countless more, she decided she was ready.

After I agreed to her request, she went into "planning mode."  My girls looove to plan themselves a party.  In years past this meant poring over the Party City and Oriental Trading catalogs.  Now however, they've turned to Pinterest.  (They are their mother's daughters, after all.)  The result was this board which my daughter populated with pins.  Now obviously she wasn't going to get everything on her virtual wish list, but one thing that she really fought for was a cake based on this.  (The source can be found here.)

To be honest with you, I was pretty certain that this little project would end in disaster.  I even had a backup cake picked out at the store just in case.  For these reasons I decided not to document the process for a tutorial.  That's a decision I now regret.

At the very least I need to share some pictures with you, along with a brief description of how I did it.

I hate to toot my own horn but isn't it cute?!

First I need to say that there's something freeing about thinking you're going to fail.  Somehow it gives you permission to go for it (and not worry about perfection, which can be an issue for me).

So here's what I did:

First I made a yellow cake in a 9x13 inch pan.  I used this recipe from Bakerella.  I skipped the step with the sugar water but I'm filing that idea away for the next time I make a layer cake.  

After letting it cool overnight, I frosted it with vanilla frosting.  (I used the boxed frosting mix from Trader Joe's which was pretty tasty considering it came from a box.  Obviously you can use whatever cake recipe and frosting you'd like.)

Then I put five Twinkies in the center of the cake to make the bodies.  (Upon unwrapping them my daughters announced, "We've never had a Twinkie before!"  That's when I started writing my Mother-of-the-Year Speech.  I stopped after browsing this blog and counting the number of sweets I've featured in the last six months.)

Now, the maker of my inspiration cake dyed her own fondant.  And I'd like to congratulate her on her ambition.  In the interest of my sanity, however, I chose to buy colored fondant at Michael's.  I'm sure it doesn't taste as good as the homemade, hand-dyed stuff, but there's something to be said for having a sane mom running the house...  Plus they have a whole "skin & hair color" fondant kit at Michael's and I thought that was kind of nifty.  You can buy something similar on Amazon HERE.  

So I made the heads out of some of the pinkish skin tone by rolling it into a ball.  (Technical, I know.)  My daughters, who decided the girls should be awake in bed--which, now that I think about it, was a lot like the actual sleepover--were on "smile and eye" duty.  They took black fondant and made tiny spheres for the eyes and little "sticks" for the mouths.  

Hair was my biggest concern.  I warned my daughter that they might all end up bald.  She was cool with that, and that made me relax a little.  Basically I took a little piece of fondant (three yellow and two brown to reflect the actual attendees), mushed it on top of each head, and kind of played with it until it resembled hair.  Am I blowing your mind with my precision and technical know-how?

The comforter is a big piece of pink fondant rolled out flat.  My girls made the flowers using flower-shaped fondant cutters in different sizes. (Similar to THESE.)  I basically just draped it over the pan.  

The pillows are jumbo marshmallows cut in half so they would lay flat on the bottom.  The heads wouldn't quite stay on top of the marshmallows so they're resting right in front of them.  

And that's pretty much it.  The end result is deceiving because it really wasn't that hard to do.  (That seems to be a theme around here.)  And, like the raspberry cake I wrote about last week, this one also got rave reviews.  I think my daughter thanked me about a hundred times which, in the end, was all that mattered.


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