Exploring options with my new Cricut Air Explorer

My friend Misty has a Silhoutte while my friend Kim has the Cricut. For those of you not into crafting, these machines are die-cutting machines. They can cut paper, card stock, vinyl, leather and poster board.

Misty makes T-shirts and personalizes bags and other items with hers. Kim only has used hers for cutting card stock letters and shapes.

Now I don’t do a lot of crafty projects. No scrap booking. No making cutesy little cards or other craft projects. If I make a custom card it is more likely on my computer than a cut intricate design. Even the party supplies – banners, name cards – that I have done were done on the computer.

But I love the die-cut machine at the school and liked seeing Misty’s shirt designs. I began looking into their differences between these two machines with the idea of maybe getting one.

And then my husband took the choice away when for Mother’s Day this year he bought me a Cricut Air Explorer.

But what was I going to do it?

I installed the software on my laptop and gave the tutorial project a try. (That is the card in the above photo.)

After that, the machine sat on the bedroom floor for the next two months. (What can I say…I was busy with other things, and I didn’t have any projects going on that needed a die-cut machine.)

But in the back of my head, I was planning to make an Imagine Dragons T-shirt for the concert in November. However, I knew nothing about making my own shirt with vinyl or how to use the design program that came with the unit.

So I watched some videos, ordered some supplies and cranked out four projects in two days.

Cell Phone Cover – My very first project was to cut some vinyl and make a decal for my new iPhone 7 Otter Box case. If you have read any of my books, you know I love dragons so that is what I wanted for the decal.

Lesson learned – The fine detail of the dragon’s tail and the curly parts of the letters proved to be a little difficult when removing the excess vinyl. This probably shouldn’t have been my first project but it worked out.

Toiletry Bag – I recently put an emergency toiletry bag together for my husband to keep at work. (He is an attorney but mostly dresses in jeans and a T-shirt. He keeps a suit at the office for sudden court meetings or meetings with clients. I decided it would be fun to personalize the bag. I choose his initials and a Star Wars rebel symbol.

Lesson learned – For my first iron-on project I should not have chosen something as cumbersome as this small bag. Also the black vinyl on the dark grey fabric is very subtle, and if I had to do it again, I would pick a different vinyl color.

So yes, this means the first two projects I did were not the easiest of projects. But the next two were shirts so a tad easier.

 

PTA shirt – This past weekend I attended a PTA conference. I just recently became the treasurer for my son’s middle school. The problem was since it was a new school for him, I don’t have a PTA shirt and decided to make my own.  I loved being able to use a soft lady’s shirt instead of the standard T-shirt material.

Lesson learned – Double and triple check to make sure the design is straight on the shirt. I still can’t decide if it is slightly crooked or if the “Rocks” word just makes it look that way.

Imagine Dragons shirt – As I said before, I wanted to do a shirt for the concert, so I came up with this design based off their latest album Evolve. Again, I choose a unique women’s shirt (It has a crisscross design on the back) rather than a T-shirt. Of course with months before the concert, I may just make another one – perhaps a long-sleeve one in case it is cool in November.

Lesson Learned – Don’t try to double cut the vinyl. I had read this suggestion somewhere, but the cuts didn’t line up properly. I ended up having to use the other half of the sheet of vinyl to get the correct cut.

So there are my first four projects with the Cricut. I am sure I will keep learning new lessons as I find other fun projects to try. Hmmm….everyone may be getting personalized gifts for Christmas this year.

Dressing up for Alamo City ComicCon 2017

For the fourth year, my family has attended the Alamo City Comic Con. This year it moved from the fall to Memorial Day weekend and was bigger and better than ever.

As always, this comic con attracts some big stars. There are really too many to list but here are a few of this year’s stars: Dave Bautista (Guardians of the Galaxy), Val Kilmer, Karl Urban (most recent Star Trek movies), Ian McDiarmid (Star Wars), Peter Mayhew (Star Wars), Dolph Lundgren, Rob Schneider, and Sean Astin (Lord of the Rings movie trilogy).

And as we did the last three years, we went ahead and got into the spirit by wearing costumes.

This year’s cast of characters….

Indiana Jones – My husband once dressed up as Indiana Jones for a video clip in a speech he was giving. So it wasn’t hard to decide to do it for Comic Con. Most of the clothes came from Goodwill. I added some make up to “dirty” it up. I ordered his bag, whip and hat from Amazon. He originally was going to 3D print his gun and make his holster but we ran out of time and ordered them from E-bay. The costume turned out great.

K2SO – The last two years, Jase has had my husband make him a costume. This year he decided to just buy one. Since he loves the droids from Star Wars, he decided to go as K2SO from Rogue One.

Pikachu – Lexie loves Pokemon so we bought her this cute Pikachu costume. Of course the weekend we receive it, she wore the gauntlets bike riding and tore one of them when she fell. My husband did a good job of patching it up. We replaced the hat that came with the costume with a Pikachu headband that was super cute. She decided that she needed yellow hair and red cheeks.

Lara Croft – I had been thinking about doing Lara Croft (from the Tomb Raider video games) for a while. Last year, I had a blast making my Suicide Squad’s Harley Quinn costume. Lara Croft wasn’t too hard to do. I already had a bag. My husband had the holsters and guns. I ordered the boots from Amazon and the wig from E-bay. The shorts were from Goodwill and the tank was from Wal-mart. It came together pretty easily and of course everyone knew who I was which is my main goal.

It was a great event, and we look forward to doing it again next year.

Making my own Harley Quinn Costume

For the past three years, my family has attended the Alamo City Comic Con. To get in the spirit, we have always dressed in costumes fitting for a comic book convention.

The first year I was Huntress. I bought the costume but replaced the shirt. The next year, I was Poison Ivy. Again, I bought the costume but made even more modifications to make it better. It was also the first time I wore a wig as part of my costume.

img_2070Now my husband has always made his costumes for Comic Con but I have had no desire to make my own. That is until this year. I had been toying with the idea of being Harley Quinn and just buying a costume. Then in April, I saw the trailer for Suicide Squad. I had found the Harley Quinn costume I wanted.

But when I looked online, I didn’t like what I saw. Then I watched a few YouTube videos on making my own Harley Quinn costume. I thought, “I can do that.” And so my adventure in making my own costume began.

Shirt

img_5231The shirt was probably the easiest. I bought a white long sleeve woman’s shirt from Goodwill. I cut the sleeves and bottom to the appropriate lengths and then used red fabric paint to color the top and add the stripes to the sleeves. My only problem with this was that the fabric paint made the fabric stiff.

To get the letters on the shirt, I created the “Daddy’s Little Monster” lettering on my computer and then printed it on transfer paper.

To create the holes in the shirt, I used sandpaper for a more natural look. My husband then sewed some areas to get the look that the shirt had been repaired. Makeup was used to “dirty” up the shirt. In the end, I think it looks pretty authentic. (Total cost $6.54.)

Baseball Bat

img_5229img_5230I spent a lot of time trying to find a cheap wooden bat that we could use to make Harley’s bat. I finally found this one at a used sporting goods store for $10. My husband stripped the paint and then I painted the diamonds and letters on the bat. For the copy on the back, I spent a lot of time looking at what people thought it should say but no one knew as this was before the movie came out. But waiting for the movie didn’t help. I finally found what I think was on the bat and handwrote it with a sharpie. We then coated the bat with varnish and added the sport tape. (Cost – $23 because varnish remover was expensive.)

Necklace, Bracelets and Belt

img_5233Again, I shopped at Goodwill and Salvation Army to find these pieces. The necklace was a white belt that we painted gold. The PUDDIN letters are just foam painted and attached to the necklace.

The bracelets were a black belt that I got for 50 cents because it was damaged. We cut them to the correct length and added Velcro. And the belt is just a belt we found and painted the correct colors. My husband 3D printed a few extra of the raised pieces and while the belt is almost too short, we were able to make it work. (Total cost for all 4 pieces- $5.93)

Wig

img_5236I bought a cheap wig off of Ebay since I didn’t like the fake look of the pink and blue on the store bought Harley Quinn wigs. I watched a few videos on how to dye it but will admit it wasn’t as easy as it looked. My pink side came out too red and even after lightening it, the wig seems much frizzier on that side. Also because I bought a wig that was not already in ponytails, I had to do them myself and anyone who works with a cheap wig knows that this isn’t an easy task. Overall it turned out okay but not my favorite piece that we created. (Cost – $12.15.)

Gun and Holster

img_5232I have to give my husband all the credit for these. He had leather to make the gun holster and on the opposite side he created a little pouch so I could carry my cell phone and ID. img_2011He 3D printed the gun and did all the painted detail work. It looks awesome! (Total cost was $2 for a paint pen.)

Now I did buy a couple of pieces. img_5235Even though there were videos on how to do them, I bought the shorts ($8) and boots ($43) off of Ebay and ordered a set of waterproof tattoos to take care of her arm band and tats on her legs. (We still drew with eyeliner the ones on her face.)

Overall, I did enjoy making this costume. It is way more authentic than one you can buy in the store and I liked searching for the pieces and finding great deals. The whole costume, including make-up, cost about $120.

Formatting your self-published novel – DIY or hire someone?

CIMG1036You have written your novel and now are ready to publish it as an e-book. But your file needs to be submitted in the proper format as required by the publisher. So do you do it yourself or hire someone to do it for you?

Well, that really depends on how computer savvy you are. I have done the formatting for all my books with no problems. I know of other authors who would never want the headache of formatting their book and hire someone to do it.

Option 1 – Do it yourself

You can follow the step-by-step instructions offered by Smashwords to prepare your manuscript.

Amazon too offers a simplified formatting guide.

Advantage – It is free. If you are relatively proficient at MS Word, it is not difficult to follow the Smashwords guide. Amazon’s is a little more complex.

Disadvantage – if you aren’t proficient in MS Word, or you don’t own/use MS Word you could produce an improperly formatted book that will prevent or delay the publishing of your book. Also depending on your level of proficiency, it can take a while to follow all the formatting steps.

Option 2 – Hire someone

As I said, some authors would rather leave the formatting to the professionals. Just remember that when you hire someone to format your book that is all they are doing. They are not proofing the content.

Smashwords offers a list of formatters (as well as cover designers).

Advantages – Hiring someone who knows what they are doing can take less time and relieve you of having to worry about the formatting being done correctly.

Disadvantage – It cost money. The average rate can vary from $30 to $100 depending on the complexity or condition of your current file. It also can take longer depending on the turnaround time of the person doing the formatting.

In most cases, you will need to do several versions of your book. You will not want to use the same formatted version for all the publishers, especially as Smashwords requires a specific notice as part of the front matter that you will want to remove for submission to Amazon and other providers.

The most important thing is that you follow the guidelines provided by Amazon, Smashwords, or whatever other e-book publishers you are using so that your book not only meets their requirements but looks professional.

Fixing our “painted” kitchen counters (remodel follow up)

Last March, we remodeled our kitchen by putting in a new sink and painted our counter tops for under $600. About 9 months later, I noticed a few spots here and there where the paint had worn off and exposed the original off-white kitchen counters.

Area by the stove

Area by the stove

At first, there were just a few spots next to the stove (a high-use area) and by the sink (an area that is often wet). It was these two areas that I decided needed to be redone after the spots near the stove began to grow each time we wiped the counter.

I did the area by the stove first. As I applied the black primer from the Giani granite paint kit to the exposed areas, I noticed more and more little worn marks. I didn’t want to repaint the whole counter (even though it is a small section) so I just dabbed on some back primer on the exposed areas.

Repaired area by stove

Repaired area by stove

It took me a little while to remember exactly how I sponged on the other colors. I know the first color wasn’t done precisely the same as before, but I am hoping now that I have added the others and layered on the colors that it will look okay. Actually, I am sure it will be unnoticeable to anyone else, but I may always see any flaw. I noticed this was true last time.

I was extra careful about putting on the clear coat and made sure there was plenty of coverage. They recommend two coats, but I went ahead and added a third.

The sink area before repairs

The sink area before repairs

I did the sink a few days later. You can’t use the counter while painting, and the clear coat needs to set for a minimum of 24 hours before use, so I didn’t want to have two sections of the counter out of commission at the same time.

After shot of section by sink

After shot of section by sink

By the time I did this second section, I felt like a pro. It was easy to blend the new areas in with the old. I don’t think in either area, you can tell that I “fixed” the counter at all.

While I am disappointed that we didn’t make it through a whole year (or much longer) before having to fix the counters, I must say I do enjoy how they turned out. I don’t know if the problems that developed are due to the product or to “user-error”. I did have a lot of counter tops to cover the first time, and the clear coat was the hardest thing to do. There is certainly a possibility that I didn’t apply it well enough. And of course since I am not using their brand cleaner, I guess my cleaner could have worn away the clear coat.

Would I still recommend this paint for your counters? Yes, I do. It was an inexpensive fix to spruce up our kitchen, and the repairs to the paint were easy.

My $580, 5-day kitchen remodel

For a couple of years, I have wanted to replace the lament counter tops we had installed when we built the house. I love the look of granite and had been interested in using the company my parents had used that lays granite counters over your existing counter tops. But last April, my husband started his own company so my dreams of remodeling my kitchen were put on hold.

Well that is until while talking with my parents, my mom suggested we paint our counter tops. She saw the idea on one of the many home improvement shows on TV. So I looked into it. There were numerous websites that told how you could do it yourself, but I don’t feel I have the greatest color coordination and instead decided to buy a kit. After researching and reading reviews, I went with Giani granite paint kits. Each kit covers 35 sq. ft. I calculated my counter tops were 76 sq. ft. not including the 4” back splash so I bought three kits of Sicilian Sand.

When I showed my in-laws my new paint kits, my father-in-law suggested we replace our sink. They had recently remodeled their kitchen and loved their new granite-composite sink. So I looked into it and since my father-in-law had agreed to help with the removal and installation, we went ahead and ordered a new sink and new faucets.

Here is the breakdown of what we spent:

$184 – 3 Giani granite paint kits (from Amazon – used a $20 gift card that basically covered the tax)

$50 – Supplies not included in kit (really fine sand paper, wood putty, sanding block, 2 tubes of caulk, painter’s tape, a fine paint brush and glitter)

$312 – Mont Blanc Kitchen sink & Delta faucet (from Home Depot)

$34 – additional supplies needed to install new sink

$580- total

Here are a few “before” photos. (I forgot to take them before I added the blue painter’s tape.)

P1020335 P1020336

Friday Night

I removed everything from the tops of the counters and from underneath the sink. My husband sanded down a few areas where some dried glue and epoxy had gotten on one of the counter tops. He also removed all the caulk from the top of the back splash. After that he used wood putty to fill in the two cracks/seams where the counter-top pieces came together.  (corner of top photo) After that, I put the painter’s tape on the walls and drawers. (Note: If you are doing this, put 2 rows of tape on the walls like the DVD suggests. I ended up adding a second row after I started painting on Sunday.)

Saturday

My husband sanded down the wood putty, and I wiped down the counters using SOS pads (per the kits instructions) on the ones that wouldn’t be effected by the sink removal. After lunch, my father-in-law came over, and he and my husband removed the sink. During the removal, they cracked part of the counter top. Using some liquid cement, they glued the piece back on and then had to use wood putty to fill the cracks. Another area also had to be rebuilt with wood putty. While I took Lexie to a birthday party, they temporarily put in the new sink and hooked up the faucet and did as much prep work as they could to make the re-install easier.

P1020342After dinner (we used paper plates and heated up leftover in the microwave which was now on the dinette table), I cleaned the remaining counter tops with the SOS pads. Then I painted the counter tops with the black primer. It has to dry for eight hours, so we decide over night would be a good option.

Sunday

Sunday morning after a quick bowl of cereal, I began to sponge on the paint to make the counter tops look like granite. They give you three colors in the kit. I had read reviews where others had bought a fourth color (and sometimes a fifth or sixth) either from the company or just down at the arts and craft store. I decided to stick with the three colors – Brown Feldspar, Inca Gold and
White Limestone – that come in the kit.

They give you a black paper to practice on so I had an idea of how I wanted it to look.

I have to say that I have a LOT of counter top space. It took hours to get this done. I pretty much had five steps – apply brown liberally with the sponge, then add the gold randomly (trying to cover more of the black area), then added a little more brown. After that I added the white as an accent – kind of like a veining look and then to help it blend in, I added just a little more gold over the white.

P1020356 I started at 8 am and by lunchtime had about 1/2 the kitchen done. By 2:30, I had it all done except the upper, narrower bar areas. But I had also run out of brown. So I went down to Wal-Mart to find something similar to use in their arts and craft section. I ended up having to add just a touch of the white to it, but the new color was pretty close to the original. P1020354After dinner, I finished the narrow areas and then applied the first coat of clear top coat. (I had to wait until 9:30 to do this on the narrow areas as the paint has to dry four hours before the top coat is applied.)

Monday

P1020353I lightly sanded the first top coat and then applied a second coat. After an hour, I removed all the painter’s tape. The counters couldn’t be used for the next 24-hours. (The photo to the right is of the counter in our dinette room.)

Tuesday

Not much needed to be done today but install the new sink and hook it up. Of course it never is as easy as they think it is but after a few hours of redoing the pipes because this sink is slightly deeper than my last one, my husband and father-in-law got it in. I think it looks wonderful and goes really well with the counter tops.

P1020358

The new counter tops make the kitchen look totally different. When I began the idea of painting them and when I did the practice sheet, I originally wanted less black showing. It didn’t work out that way but I love the look. I think if you don’t plan to have the black showing that after you paint the primer, you should paint another lighter color as your background and not expect to cover it up with sponge painting. I also learned that with this much counter top, it is easy to get burned out trying to paint it all in one day. Oh, and when they say sponge “very lightly” on the backsplash – they mean it. (We have a few places where the paint “ran”.)

Overall, I like the new look and at only $580 to re-do my kitchen, I think it definitely was worth it.