Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Announcing the Winner of the 2016 Gingerbread House Contest

This year's winner swept the competition by 9 votes.  An exciting race!
As promised, I can now reveal the masterminds behind this year's entries:
1st Place: "Country Cottage": Our Curious Cowgirl, Tessie (age 7.5).
2nd Place: "Shipwrecked": Mr. Steady
3rd Place: "Almost Finished": Yours Truly.
Thank you for all who participated in the voting this year! 
If you missed the voting deadline, you don't have to miss the fun. There's still time to make your own edible creations with your family.  For inspiration, you could always...
Check out the original entries here:

Or peek behind the scenes of this year's builds here:

Or see more of our holiday creations from years past:
Thank you again for being a part of our favorite tradition!
From our home to yours,

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

DIY: Behind the Walls - Building an In-Law Apartment From Scratch

After the ceiling beam fiasco, we revisited our inspiration, reestablished our resolve, and refocused our efforts to get caught back up.  Getting electrical, plumbing, and HVAC installed and functional was our next objective because we knew they were the only things standing in the way of hanging sheetrock - and I could smell progress.
But, even with a renewed hope in completion, the "Behind the Walls" season of this renovation was dreadfully long and painfully costly. Emptying buckets of money between the wall studs, floor and ceiling joists, and pouring it down the crawlspace week after week really wore on both of us.

I think this phase was especially defeating for us because we had just completed an 18 month long money-bucket-emptying party on our side of the house (termite damage, new floor joists, insulation, updated plumbing, new kitchen...etc) and still didn't have any "after photos" to show for it (hopefully coming soon).  It really is amazing how much work goes on BEFORE the sheetrock actually goes up.  And by amazing...I mean exhausting.

 A peek behind the walls:
Red and blue money:
Square metal money:
Pink fluffy money:
More pink fluffy money:

  So, on our side we were are still living with bare drywall, trim-less windows, and sheets for doors - classy, I know.  But, in the East Wing we had to carry on. We couldn't stop for a season, wait until our nocturnal 5 month old decided to get with the program, or take some time to catch up with business orders.  We had to just keep moving forward.

And it was taking for...ev....er.

I'm the finish gal. I like to design the finishes, choose the finishes, apply the finishes, rearrange the finishes... and I wanted it all finished - yesterday.  Along with waves of impatience and frustration, there were waves of hope and encouragement.  I stopped daily to stare at my inspiration poster and thanked the Lord for the strength to endure.
As I write this out it it's starting to sound like all we did was stand around doubting ourselves, but that was surely not the case.  We worked. Really. Really. Hard.
I don't say that to toot my own horn. I say it for you...who put your blood, sweat, and tears (and money buckets) in to the work behind the walls - Only to have your friends and neighbors come over at completion and say, "That's a lovely paint color" or "The sofa goes nicely with the trim."

We can't hold it against them. They don't know any better. 

They weren't there when you were covered in filth, exhausted, and out of money, just longing to get to the point where there were walls you could paint with that  "lovely color".   They can't see the other 2/3 of the ice berg, lurking beneath the surface. 

But we can - because we've been there. 

And it was terrible.

But, we conquered it. 

So, here's to us! And to completed renovations everywhere!
Now, before I get to wild here, I have to admit that we're still cruising through the house renovation tunnel (chucking money out the window), but we can see the light! That light is the glow of a completed project, shining proudly and urging us to continue.
When we face this beat up old farmhouse and wonder what it will take to see our dream complete, we feel that glow and remember we made it through from start to finish.
 It was just one project - but it was a big one!
That apartment was truly built from scratch. I taped, mudded, and sanded every drywall seam that is now invisible to the naked eye. Mr. Steady ran every foot of plumbing line, joined every connection, and installed every valve that mysteriously allows for functional sinks, showers, and even a washing machine.

 And if we don't go back and revel in that, we will forget.  All that work is hidden behind the walls and if we can't tie the end to the beginning in hindsight, we will stay stuck in the middle of our current projects and lose hope.

So, even if your renovation was small - you finished it. Celebrate!

And, if you're not there yet, let us shine our celebratory light in your direction so you won't have to navigate in the dark!
 We looked to other DIYers, renovation blogs, forums, books, and even TV programs (Fixer Upper and This Old House are our favorites) to find tips, tricks, and ideas...but, mostly for encouragement.  To see that it could be done, it had been done, and we would soon join those courageous enough to face renovation - in victory!

So, this is our time now, to pay it forward.

Stepping off my soap box now...
We managed to save a few buckets of money by covering all the plumbing labor ourselves. What better way to test the accuracy of YouTube videos and blog tutorials, than trying it yourself.  Honestly, that is the only "training" Mr. Steady had - no joke!  Fortunately, he's kind of a freak...In a good way! He is a very quick learner and completely undaunted by the unfamiliar.

And when the real plumber came to run the gas line, he commented on what a nice job the "plumber" did.  *Swish!*

You probably noticed the Pex Plumbing Manifold in the photos above. I will write up a post just on that system for you and link it HERE when it is ready.  We were very happy with it and can't wait to share more with you about the installation process.

In contrast, the drain lines (4" PVC) were all run under the house. That meant we had to fit a round Mr. Steady in a square access hole - a tricky process.
And messy.
But, he did have help: 
Really, what good is a 7 year old in a construction zone if you can't send her halfway under the house to run pipe fittings to her Dad? Right?

 Overall, the behind the scenes work is a dirty, exhausting, mess of projects.  And I'm mighty glad to be on this side of the story. But, it's part of the journey, nonetheless.  And we are so grateful for the help, prayer, babysitting, meals, hugs, and encouragement we received that allowed us to forge through. Jehovah Jireh!
How did you get through your behind the scenes work?  Were you brave enough to take on a trade or wise enough to hire out? 
We'd love to hear your questions, thoughts, and comments!
From our home to yours,
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DIY: Ceiling Beam - Building an In-Law Apartment from Scratch

Our first MAJOR snag in the renovation: We pulled the rickety patchwork plywood pieces from the ceiling in the former garage (future living room) to find the joists drooping - a lot (2.5").  The center support joist was a 1x10 (drastically undersized for the 15 foot load it was carrying) and some of the lateral joists were attached with a single nail. Knowing that this part of the structure was originally constructed in the 90s and was not sagging from age, but rather from poor craftsmanship (and apparently really bad math) was aggravating at best.  Reframing the ceiling was definitely not in the original budget or time frame, but something had to be done.

We got some advice from a local guy who was familiar with structural loads and decided on a home made LVL. Not cheap or easy, but certainly cheaper and easier than reframing it all from scratch. So, after several days of rigorous calculations and painful design decisions, Mr. Steady gathered (2) 2x12s and a sheet of 3/4" plywood and sandwiched them together to make one massive - and insanely heavy beam. 

  So heavy, in fact, that we had to hire some muscle to get in place.  Mr. Steady wedged a 4x4 under the original ceiling joist to lift it to the correct (and level) height (a creaky, terrifying experience in itself) and everyone quickly took their places for the new beam installation:

  • Three sturdy ladders
  • Three sturdy young men
  • 2 heavy duty rafter hangers
  • 3 hammers
  • Hundreds of nails
  • Lots of upper body strength
  • and 1 nervous photographer behind the camera
  • ....Oh, and my father-in-law pacing around making wise cracks about the ceiling caving in (oh so helpful)...

After all the heaving and the hammering was finished, everyone stepped back. We pulled the 4x4 brace away and held our breath.

The new center beam sits almost on center in the room. The original one was off by about 18" - don't ask! We still had a long journey ahead of us....but at least we didn't have a health hazard above us.
Please leave your comments, questions, and thoughts below. Love to hear from you!

Don't miss the next installment of the In-Law Apartment series....Subscribe HERE or in the top right hand side of your screen - just below the stunning photo of your favorite author! =)

From our home to yours,

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Matzo House Construction: Behind the Scenes Sneak Peek of this Year's Contest Entries

For those of you familiar with our Annual Gingerbread House Contest, you probably weren't surprised at all to see us veer from the typical "gingerbread" construction for this year's entries.   
But, Matzo? Why? 
Well, as you know, we carefully select our materials using a calculated system involving several predetermined factor considerations.....
Actually: We just use free stuff.
While moving my mother-in-law in to her newly completed apartment, we found 2 cases (yes, 2 cases - 36 unopened boxes) of expired Matzo. How's that for free stuff? 
So, what is Matzo anyway? 
Unleavened bread.
It is used during traditional Passover ceremonies and has great prophetic significance as celebrated in Messianic Seders. (We participated in one of these a few years ago and it was very eye opening!)
Plainly speaking it is basically a 7"x7" sheet of Saltine Cracker - lacking salt. Not really designed for enjoyment - but great for construction!
Here is a pile of Matzo (or Matzah, or Matzoh...)
There was definitely a learning curve as we explored the relatively fragile properties of Matzo as compared to gingerbread or even graham crackers.
After toying with it for a while we decided the Matzo was a little flimsy, so we created sturdier pieces by gluing (icing) two sheets together for each wall. You can see the double cracker stacker style in this photo:

  Except for a few minor construction fails (explained in the coming paragraphs), this year was great fun and a healthy challenge! We hope you enjoy viewing the results as much as we enjoyed making them.
Here is a behind the scenes look at this year's contest entries:
The "Country Cottage" was constructed in a classic "house" form. It was frosted and covered in blue cornmeal for a roughcast plaster look. Windows and doors were added to each side. As the roof details were being installed the doors and windows slid off the walls one by one.
Apparently, the loose cornmeal bits don't make a very solid contact point for the icing to adhere to.  So, the cornmeal had to be scraped off and the frosting cleared back to the bare Matzo anywhere a design element was to be added. 
This was a small step backward in the process, but nothing heartbreaking.
The "Almost Finished" Entry was constructed with double "exterior walls" and received a little more structural support with graham crackers studs (16" on center - to scale).

And, of course, before sheetrock could go up, insulation (cotton candy) was put in place:

And electrical work completed:

Construction Fail: The cotton candy (although a clever idea) was a big disappointment. It began dissolving immediately after being handled and had melted away almost completely by the time the sheetrock walls started going up. 
Oh, well.  Just like real life renovation fails: Lesson learned.
The construction of the "Ship Wrecked" entry was quite different. The initial hull of the ship was constructed with a single layer of Matzo (lots of tricky cuts and piles of Matzo debris).
The aftermath of the construction process:
A second layer of Matzo was attached to the main frame in 3" strips resembling wood planks. 
The ship was then strong and sturdy...and even the texture was right on. But the color was all wrong.
Enter: Vodka and food coloring!
The color went on smoothly and the alcohol evaporated quickly without warping the Matzo boards.

Every bit of the process went smoothly until the anchor was added as a final touch. The fondant hadn't set up completely and melted into a wobbly heap in the sand (blue cornmeal). Oops!

Good thing it's on dry land.

Well, that's it for this year's sneak peek. Do you have any Gingerbread House Fails or lessons learned you'd like to share? Please leave a comment in the box below. And don't forget to:
Click on the photo below to see the FINAL ENTRIES and cast YOUR VOTE!



Saturday, December 3, 2016

Gingerbread House Contest: The 2016 Entries


Before viewing the entries, I must reveal two major TWISTS in the plot:
1. This year's "gingerbread houses" aren't made of gingerbread! 
Nope, they're not your classic graham cracker or milk carton house either! 
This year we used Matzo.
Apparently, Matzo houses are a thing...? We weren't aware of this new cultural awakening. We weren't trying to stay hip with new trends. We were doing just as we had in years past -using what we had.  And we had a case of Matzo. It was expired. And the rest is history.
2. Some of this year's "gingerbread houses" aren't even houses!
They are, however, completely edible (not that you'd want to eat any of them), and held together with a royal icing "glue".  So, they were created in a gingerbread house style - with a stale Matzo flair.
The artist behind each entry will not be revealed until the voting results are in.
After reviewing the photos below, please use ONE of these three options to cast your vote:
1. Use the poll box in the side panel (top right hand side on a PC)
2. Click the "comment" link at the end of the post and share your vote. 
3. Send an email to mskatiesartstudio@gmail.com
A winner will be announced on December 20th!
This "gingerbread house" is the cheerful creation of a true chicken lover - quaint, colorful, and carefully designed.

 This "gingerbread house" is a nod to renovation projects and the classic case of "almost finished."

This "gingerbread house" isn't a house at all, but a bold display of creativity and resourcefulness.


I'm working on a post with a sneak peek "Behind the Scenes of our Matzo House Construction." I will post the link here when it is ready. Or you can Subscribe and receive new posts by email!
We'd love to hear your thoughts, questions, and comments on this year's entries. Drop us a note in the comment box below. 
And don't forget to vote!