Archived Ideas for ‘Projects’

IDEA 82: GO HOMEMADE

Mar
2016

Maple_Syrup_Sunny

I remember reading a spoof on Martha Stewart where she purportedly had a recipe for making your own water. And this comes close. But.

When you live in the Midwest, well, when you have kids, sometimes you do things you never dreamed you would in the name of adventure.

We live in Minneapolis, the “South Metro”. We are a stone’s throw from the city in an urban neighborhood. And we have several mature maple trees, including a majestic Sugar Maple. When our neighbor called a tree trimmer to help remove a large branch from one of his trees, we observed from next door. Where the limb was removed, a veritable river of sap flowed out.

Huh, we said.

The next thing I knew, my husband had drilled two holes in our maple and began collecting bucket after bucket of pure maple tree sap.

Maple_Syrup_Buckets

He went online to discover that any maple tree can produce beautiful maple syrup, and our sugar maple would produce at the rate of 40 gallons of sap to one of syrup. Why not?

According to the online recipe, the time to sap the sap is when temperatures drop below freezing at night and rise into the 40s during the day. In Minnesota these conditions typically occur during the month of March, but depending on where you live, it could be anywhere from mid-February to April.

And get this: you probably have everything you need to produce maple syrup right in your house. Basically, what my hubby did was: Collect the sap in ice cream buckets, emptied each night into a 5 gallon paint bucket from Home Depot.

Once he got a bunch (and the sap seemed to be slowing down) he set up a boiling station out on our back patio. It seems there is a lot of boiling and evaporation, (which means doing it in the kitchen is not a good idea, unless, I guess, if you have a lot of wallpaper you’d like to remove).

Maple_Syrup_Boil

He filled my big soup pot with sap and brought it to a boil. Then he sat and monitored. As the liquid boiled down, he added more, always keeping a steady boil. Our 5-gallon Home Depot bucket of sap translated itself into one pint jar and two more little jars of delicious maple syrup. Enough to keep this family in homemade maple syrup until next spring.

Maple_Syrup_Bounty

So, was it worth it? Well, if you were just looking at the money savings, you would answer no, not even close. But what value would you put on creating something as magical as maple syrup straight from your yard, with no special tools at all? I’ll leave that one up to you. But if you do decide to give it a whirl, you must let me know! You are a sparkle in an otherwise world of practical, Martha!

IDEA 80: RECYCLE WITH STYLE

Jan
2016

Spats_CU2

Here’s a super-quick January Saturday idea, the quickest DIY ever.

My husband has all these cute chunky hiking-type socks. And typically he gets a lot of sock blow-outs.

Spats_hole

What do do with them? Cut them straight off by cutting straight across the vamp, then along the upper edge of the heal.

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Then pull them on over your short boots or shoes. You can wear them either way, right side up or like this, upside down.

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Voila! Instant spats!

IDEA 77: MAKE A GRAND ENTRANCE

Jun
2015

Entrance_1

The decision to redecorate our entry wasn’t exactly a decision. Or at least, not one made by us.

One spring morning at the tail end of a particularly grueling winter we opened the interior door to the front vestibule only to find a waterfall coursing down our exterior front door. There had been an ice dam in our roof (a very Minnesota thing) and the springtime version of an ice dam is a (damn) waterfall just where no one wants one. In this case, it completely and spectacularly totaled the door. The good news is that while it was purportedly original to our 1912 house, our door wasn’t particularly wonderful. It was made with veneer, which in 1912 was about 1/4 inch thick. And even without the help of the waterfall, the layers had begun to separate and curl as if the door had been made out of giant potato chips.

Entrance_before

What followed was one of those projects you would never bother to do, but end up being so glad you did.

If I were to prioritize all the things I would like to do to the house, redecorating that four by six foot space between the outer and inner front door would not be too far up on the list. But once there were huge holes in the walls (opened up to ensure there would be no trapped moisture), suddenly a little sprucing up seemed like a capital idea. The room had been wallpapered, so removing that was another project I never would have bothered with (but had to, because of said holes in wall).

Entrance_Ug

In the end I decided to have some fun with the wall moulding. It’s like a chair rail, except at about eye-level. I painted the wall dove gray below and white above. And then decided I kinda missed my striped wallpaper (although after all the trouble to remove it, I wasn’t about to paper again). So I taped off some lovely wide stripes and painted them white.

Entrance_tape_cropped

Then I screwed hooks all around the room on that railing.

Entrance_Hooks

We ordered a new door, and this one was so gorgeous I stained it a deep color, such a change from the old door that had myriad coats of white paint on the inside.

Entrance_4

Now our entrance is fit for royalty. Complete with plenty of cute hooks to hang up their cloaks.

Or, in the case of our visitors, hoodies.

IDEA 76: MAKE A CHERISHED HAND-ME-DOWN

Apr
2015

Hand_Ben_Notype

What is it about our off-spring’s little hand and footprints that look to us like one of nature’s most beautiful design motifs?

When my firstborn came back from the hospital nursery with inky feet, I was thrilled to see that the nurses had captured the one-day-old feet on a beautiful document, and I requested they put another set right onto the page of his baby book.

Foot_Nell_Book

When my baby daughter got to day-care, I received a “corsage” made by one of the teachers. It was for Mother’s Day, and was made using my daughter’s tiny handprint in pink paint, cut out, laminated with a pin back, and festooned with small pink ribbons. I wore that corsage on Mother’s Day for years.

That’s why, when my colleague Jen told me about her handprint project, I knew I had to share it. It’s just SUCH a BellaPamella idea!!

With each child’s first birthday, she purchased a white tablecloth. The birthday kid was allowed to put a painty set of his/her handprints on the cloth, which was then labeled with their age (1). As the birthdays commenced, the handprints collected. Each cloth is different, reflecting the “design sensibility” of each child.

Hand_Noah_Tablecloth

The original idea was to bring out the special tablecloth to decorate the birthday party table. But, very quickly, Jen realized this keepsake was way too precious to expose it to spilled Kool-Aid and ice cream.

So, it still comes out. It gets it’s annual set of prints, and becomes a wall hanging or other decorative drape for the duration of the celebration. Then it’s safely stowed, away from flinging food, until the next year. And one day, it just may provide a favorite story for her grand kids.

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IDEA 74: MAKE A HOLIDAY KITCHEN TREE

Dec
2014

Kitchen_Tree_Dec_Bistro

Many years ago, at a kitchen shop, I was enticed by a silver-plated Christmas ornament in the shape of a miniature colander. It was at that very moment I decided to give my beloved kitchen a Christmas tree of its own.

Of course, there isn’t a lot of extra room in my kitchen, so I bought the smallest tree I could find, about 2 ½ feet high.

Over the years I have collected special kitchen themed ornaments for this tree, which has now become an annual tradition, brought home along with the regular sized family Christmas tree.

Kitchen_Tree_silver_3Kitchen_Tree_UtensilsKitchen_Tree_Silver

I’ve got a tiny old fashioned egg beater, a whisk, rolling pin, fry pan, cheese shredder, kettle, a mini spoon, knife and fork, a tiny blender and myriad plates, cups and teapots.

Kitchen_Tree_Pear_TeapotKitchen_Tree_pitchersKitchen_Tree_CoffeesKitchen_Tree_BlenderKitchen_Tree_Plates

Kitchen_Tree_Time4Tea

To make your own kitchen tree, you’ll need a small tree stand with a water reservoir. The one I use is much bigger than it needs to be, but it was one we had around so I use it. Look for a nicely shaped “table top” tree. They are much less expensive than a full sized one, although I usually have to shop around a couple places to find them.

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I like to start by winding a beautiful ribbon on the tree. I don’t use any lights. But you could if you want to.

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My wide ribbon has wire in the edges. This makes it very easy to just sort of unwind the ribbon down the tree. It naturally wants to curve that way.

Then I insert several “fruit picks”. I keep these with my ornaments and just stick them right into the tree.

Kitchen_Tree_Berry_picks

You don’t need everything right away. In fact, it’s more fun to add a new ornament to your kitchen tree each year.

Kitchen_Tree_Dec_cropped

So what do you put on the treetop? A star shaped cookie cutter, of course.

Kitchen_Tree_Star_noribbon

IDEA 71: LET THEM MAKE CAKE

May
2014

Cake_maker_girl

My friend and colleague Kiersten has an amazing cookbook collection. Baking beautiful cakes and treats is her creative outlet. And a holiday does not go by without K whipping up a cake or beautiful dessert creation. That’s why it occurred to her that her young daughter Sydney might find it exciting to create a cake of her own.

Baking with young kids, we’re often left with a choice: either create our thing of beauty and suffer the consequences of angry offspring, or allow them artistic freedom and leave our idea by the wayside. That’s why this idea of Kiersten’s is so inspired. Using a box cake mix she didn’t need anyway, and leftover candies, she helped her daughter make a simple sheet cake. Once it was done, Syd was given free reign to decorate “her canvas” any way she liked. Does she want the icing black? No problem. Would she like to pile all the candy in one corner? Why not?

Cake_maker_kid

As it turned out, Syd actually had a bit of talent when it came to a pleasing distribution of deco on the cake top. But the real beauty was that she was completely in charge. That’s something that makes us all feel great. (Look at that sweet, proud face!) And, what an awesome gift to give your “big” little child.

IDEA 68: STAY POSITIVE

Feb
2014

Chocolate_Butterfly_cake_top

We all have our coping mechanisms, and it’s a good thing we do. Here in Minnesota, winter brings a boat-load of snow and this year, record below zero temperatures to boot. That’s why I was so delighted to see this sweet extra-curricular project my daughter fashioned. Here, in the midst of snow days and the occasional power outage, she didn’t just bake a cake. She baked a pink-and-chocolate-and-white cake with a lacy chocolate butterfly on top.

The cake is tiny, only about four inches across. It’s white cake, covered in chocolate buttercream frosting, with rolled white chocolate over that. She piped a ring of frosting around the bottom into which she pressed alternating light and dark pink m&m candies. But the true genius is the butterfly. After melting the chocolate, she folded a piece of parchment paper and placed it, unfolded, onto an open book. The parchment paper took the shape of the curved pages underneath, as did the chocolate, drizzled in a butterfly shape. Once cooled (in the fridge), the resulting winged creature stands 3-D atop the cake as if it just alighted temporarily before moving on to the next posy.

I can’t decide which was the more gratifying winter escape: The beautiful butterfly, or gobbling it up! Yum!

Chocolate_Butterfly_Cake_side

IDEA 66: GO FOR THE WIN-WIN

Nov
2013

Holiday_Dillybeans

Those of us with gardens are plagued by at least one fact: If we have enough of something, we more than likely have WAY too much of it.

Each year our family finds ourselves up to our eyeballs in SOMETHING. This year it was green beans. My husband planted a dandy crop of beans to climb his chicken-wire fence and form a natural shade wall to our patio. Once the beans appeared, it was lovely to snap off a few and munch while doing yard duty. But somewhere along the way, we realized we were LOUSY with green beans.

Greenbean_Haul

Keeping up with the harvest was no small feat. But worse was concocting ways to eat them all. I brought a few bag-loads to work and it was satisfying to watch them disappear. But the beans kept coming. And that’s how he (ingenious husband) came up with the idea to make Dilly Beans.

I can take absolutely no credit. He bought numerous flats of canning jars and we had everything but the vinegar. Using a few other things he either grew or got from the CSA, he put these together, lovely in their simple and organic manifestation of red and green. The recipe he used was from The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. But if you don’t have the book, the recipe is very much like this one.

Dillybeans_2

The addition of red bell pepper slices to the lovely green prompted my declaration that they were now holiday gifts. And, of course, he made multiples of the recipe. Add some red or green grosgrain ribbon bows and if you’re feeling snappy, tie on a little card.

Dillybeans_ribbonDillybeans_red_ribbon

If you didn’t happen to grow green beans this year, you now have time to plan, plant, harvest and can for NEXT holiday season. But no need to wait. Just get your beans from the grocer. Then, spend one afternoon canning beans and you can wrap up a dozen of the same pretty packages. Just think. You could have your holiday shopping done in one weekend. Now that’s a BellaPamella idea if I’ve ever heard one!

Holidays can't happen

By the way, care to look stunning as you create your holiday gifts? How about buying yourself a gift of a BellaPamella apron here?!

IDEA 65: REMEMBER TOGETHER

Oct
2013

Memorial_book_1

Recently, we lost a very dear friend and relative. My mom’s sister, my sweet “Aunt Liz”.

Lizzie had a condition that wore her down slowly, with very little pain. So we were all blessed with a little time. Time to visit. Time to get used to the idea. Time to say good-bye.

And my sister had a really amazing idea. The idea was to create a book of Lizzie’s wonderful life. Creating a book of this sort isn’t the amazing part. Online publishers like My Publisher and Shutterfly make it a snap. But the ingenious part was, instead of doing so after she passed, we worked on it with her, while she was still with us.

Together, Liz and my mom combed photo albums to pick out favorites. Family members would create spreads, or send in thoughts and photos for the rest of the “editors” to make use of. Liz wrote wonderful detailed passages about her work, her travels, and her dreams, and of course corrected the occasional errant fact.

The wonderful pages full of her life stacked up. As her strength waned, we printed a copy so she could have it and share it with visitors at hospice. And once she was gone, we printed many copies, giving each person a means to reminisce.

By the way, you don’t even have to wait until someone is ill. A treasure like this can be started any time. Either way, why wait till someone is gone to express how very much they mean to you?

Memorial_book_2

IDEA 64: SHARE YOUR WISDOM

Jul
2013

Phil's-osophy_Book

If you have kids, one day they will be moving on from your nest. When this started happening at my house I found myself wondering if I had really covered all the topics. Had I sufficiently marinated them in my philosophy of life? And did any of it stick?

For this reason I had a bit of an epiphany while watching the episode of Modern Family called “Phil’s-osophy”. (By the way, if you are a parent, this show should be required viewing. I have often noticed that in the throes of raising a family, your first defense is a sense of humor). Anyway, in this episode, The family’s oldest daughter sets off for college. The dad, Phil, creates a book for her called Phil’s-osophy. (If you are Phil Dunphy, this title makes perfect sense). Since Phil is Phil, his words of wisdom are kind of hilarious. But, while it’s all loads of fun, that’s not my point. My point is this: Why not create your own book of philosophy to send along to college with your grad!

I just finished a small (5.75″ x 7.75″) 20 page book from My Publisher that cost only $12.99 and it was beautiful! Another very popular book making site is Snapfish. And I know there are many others. The idea is to put together a book of your own words of love and wisdom for your kids flying the coop.

Of course you don’t have to use an online publisher, although they are simple, inexpensive, and do a beautiful job with photos. You could consider making a handmade book. It all depends on your inclination, and artsy-crafty prowess.

So, in my haste to get this idea to you in time for school starting this fall, I’m writing this without my example to show you. In lieu of that, we’ll just have to take a look at a few of Phil’s pages:

Phil's-osophy_8

Phil's-osophy_3

Phil's-osophy_2

And a few more of my favorites:

The most amazing things that can happen to a human being will happen to you if you just lower your expectations.

Take a lesson from parakeets: If you’re ever feeling lonely, eat in a front of a mirror.

Watch a sunrise at least once a day.

If you’re ever in a jam, a crayon scrunched up under your nose makes a good pretend mustache.

Never be afraid to reach for the stars because even if you fall, you’ll always be wearing a Parentchute™.