Friday, May 29, 2009

My Cement Dilemma

Yesterday I had to finish making a Texas stone I started last week. I had meant to do it before I went to Austin for graduation, but you know the end of that story. Anyway, last week I had purchased a new bag of cement because my old supply had hardened to the point of driving me insane when I mixed it. So I went down to Lowe's and stood in front of the cement, trying to remember what kind of Quikrete I usually use. I was sure it was a cement mix, but all of them seemed to have a lot of gravel in them. And I was pretty sure I didn't usually have that in my cement. So I called my husband and we discussed it. And after a few minutes we decided that I must have had gravel in my cement, but that it wasn't a problem so I shouldn't worry about it.

So yesterday I opened my cement, and carefully measured how much I was going to need as I really only wanted to make the exact amount I was going to need. I had things I needed to get done, and I really didn't want to deal with what to do with extra cement. I was so thorough--pouring water in the mold to know how many cups it held and then carefully measured out what I needed. I put about half of it in a bucket, and then added what I thought was just the right amount of water for the entire project. Guess what? It turns out my memory of the ratio of cement to water was incorrect. Shocking, I know. I poured in the rest of the cement, hoping that it would make the consistency just right and all would be fine. Yeah, right. So there I was, staring into a bucket of way too watery cement and thinking to myself that not only was it too thin there were way too many little rocks in it. I went back into the garage to get some more cement to add to my mix, and found part of an old bag from my previous projects and wouldn't ya know it--I had bought the wrong kind of Quikrete. So not only was my mix too watery, it was, as I suspected, too rocky. I groaned, but proceeded to add more concrete to my mix until it was the right consistency.

Then came decision time. I had no idea how using such a gravelly cement would affect my finished stone. So I had to decide if I should throw it out and start over, or just gamble that it would all be OK. With the amount of work it takes to make one of my mosaics, you would think I would opt to play it safe. But not me. I was determined to finish this project and not using the cement I had ready would mean another trip to Lowe's and the possibility of not getting it done that day.

So I took the cement, gently shoveled and spread it over the stone and hoped for the best.

Once I was finished, I was faced with another dilemma--what to do with the extra cement. I really need to get over the resistance to just throwing out my extra materials. But that didn't happen with this project. Instead I went to my table and created another mosaic stone. I really do love creating these free-handed mosaics, and this one turned out very nicely. Once it was finished I wasn't sure I wanted to once again gamble on my cement. But I really wanted to finish, and I wasn't sure what to do with the cement if I didn't make a stone out of it. So once again, I put my head down and pushed through it. And after it was all poured, I cleaned up my tools and prayed it would all turn out.

This morning I went into my garage to check out my stones. My free-handed one looked good from this angel:

I like to leave my stones in their molds for about 24 hrs before removing them. But I was so curious as to how this turned out, I just couldn't wait. So I flipped it over...

and removed the mold.

Next came off the contact paper...

to reveal a very promising stone.
Cleaning it up was interesting, as there seemed to be more cement buildup around the glass. But after a few minutes it looked pretty good.
So the verdict is mostly good. I like the design, but wish I had used the light blue throughout the background instead of the white. But that's an artistic criticism. As far as the construction, I was happy to see there was only slight movement of the glass when pouring the concrete. I am also please that although you can see some of the gravel in the concrete, it isn't too distracting. I will not use this concrete again for my mosaics, but I am very happy that I didn't lose all of my work because of my obsession with not wasting materials. Hopefully the same will hold true for my Texas stone, which I am going to give some extra time to cure before I turn it out. But either way, I'll post the results of that later.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Grouting Once Again!

Last year I made a Texas Longhorn themed lazy susan for my oldest daughter. I don't have a picture of it, but it was really cute and she loved it. So did her roommate, Michelle, who later asked my daughter if she thought I would make one for her. I said of course, and planned to make one as a graduation present. I remembered this, and sat a lazy susan aside that I had purchased with my supplies for the craft show. I even bought orange glass for the project.

Well, anyone who has read this blog will know what happened next. I procrastinated a little, and then a little more. And wouldn't you know it, the day before we were to drive to Austin for graduation I still hadn't started it. But since I am the procrastination queen, all was not lost. I managed to cut, glue, grout and seal in time to give it to Michelle the day of the University commencement. Hurray!

I really should just stop there and show you how great the lazy susan turned out.

Really nice, huh?

I really shouldn't mention that the longhorn I had planned to put in the center had been discontinued and I had to run around to several more stores to find an alternative. After all, I think I like this Texas one even better than the original orange longhorn I had planned to use. I also should mention that I was cutting glass after dinner the day before we had to leave. Or that I wasn't finished gluing it until around 11 pm that night. And don't even get me started on how I made too much grout the next morning and ended up completing three frames-- even though I really didn't have time to finish the lazy susan. And of course there is the fact that I was sealing the grout at my hotel room in Austin on Saturday morning.

Really all that matters is that I got it done, and delivered Saturday afternoon. Right on time for graduation. And Michelle loved it. So all's well that ends well. One day I'll end up paying the price for my procrastination. But today isn't that day. So I'll just be thankful that I once again successfully avoided the consequences of my inaction. And hope, tomorrow isn't the day my luck runs out!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Hawking My Wares

May 8, 2009

Well, the day finally arrived. I fought back the urge to skip the Continental Craft Show, and instead loaded up my van, picked up a wagon from a friends and drove to the Reservations Center. The first thing that struck me when I arrived was how small my table was. I didn't have a ton of stuff to sell, but I definitely had more than would fit on my table. So lesson number one of this experience: Find out how big your space is. Luckily my friend Becky was also coming to sell things (Becky is the real reason I didn't chicken out!), and she didn't need her whole table. So we set up next to each other and I put things on part of her table. What didn't fit ended up under the table, which in the end worked out fine.

So the big question is was the craft show successful? The answer is yes and no.

If you go by sales, the craft show was kind of a bust. I sold 4 items.

One banana holder

My mosiac stepping stone

My Texas Stepping Stone display
(which was sold to woman who planned to auction it off at a Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo Auction thanks to the generosity of my friend who it actually already had been sold to)
And a small Texas Stepping stone

However, if you view the craft show as a learning experience, it was very successful. I learned several important things. First of all, I learned that the best things to sell at employee craft shows are food items. These people come down for lunch and want to eat. The two food tables were busy all day long. I had lots of comments about how great my stuff was, but no one was ready to buy. Not surprising considering the economy and how little job security we have right now (layoffs were announced less than a week after this show). But I think if I had been at a real craft show where people had come prepared to spend money on things I would have sold a lot.

The second thing I learned is that I really need to sit down and figure out firm prices on everything. I had thought about pricing for most things, but not everything. And when people would ask how much something was, my brain went on auto pilot at times and I ended up quoting prices too low. In fact, I sold my mosaic stone for less than I probably should have. But the woman who bought it got a bargain, and I learned a good lesson so it's all good!

I know there are other lessons I learned, but I can't remember them. How great is that? Anyway, although I didn't make much money this experience did peak my interest enough that I will most likely do a real show in the near future. But I am going to start early making items--and I'm going to focus on mosaic stepping stones--and make a lot of them. If I do that, I think it will be a much more enjoyable and profitable experience.

Craft Show Mosiacs

I must have been insane agreeing to a quick trip to Austin to take my 15 year old to the world release party of Percy Jackson and the Olympians just days before my craft show. Insane, or the world's best mom--take your pick. But in order to make this trip I had to get enough glass cut so that I could work on mosaics while my two daughters were spending the day together. I really didn't think it would be as difficult as it was. When will I learn--when on a tight deadline anything that can go wrong will go wrong. And so it did. I had planned to have everything cut and packed up early enough to watch some TV and get to bed at a decent time. Instead I crawled into bed at 2 am. You heard right, 2 am--and I needed to leave for Austin around 6 am so that we would arrive in time to switch places with my college senior in the line to buy the book and get her numbered tickets for the book signing. Book People opens at 9 am. My daughter had a class she couldn't miss at 9:30. So she either needed to be the first person in line to buy books, or we needed to take her place in line so she could leave for class. And I stayed up until 2 am!

May 5, 2009

Happy Cinco de Mayo!

The morning got off to a shaky start. I was a little slow to get moving (shocking I know), and we got on the road about 15 minutes late. Then we went to Sonic for some hefty doses of caffeine for the road. This ended up taking longer than expected because our car hop didn't put one of the lids on tight. When she handed me the cup, it when it spilled all over me. She then ran to get napkins for me as I sat there questioning why I was out of bed. Luckily I only got wet enough to be annoyed and not enough to make me miserable the whole way to Austin. At that point you would think it would be smooth sailing on our drive, but this is me we are talking about. We ended up having to stop several times to tighten lug nuts on my van. I have one tire that needs several adjustments to the lug nuts after the tires have been rotated, and I of course rotated them the day before. Needless to say all of this added up to us being well behind schedule--with no chance of making it to Book People before 9 am. Luckily, my daughter ended up being the first person in line, so she was able to buy the books, get her tickets for the book signing and still have time to let us into her apartment before she had to leave for class.

But we had finally made it, so I wasn't complaining. I set myself up in her living room and started gluing glass. I was hungry and tired, but worked pretty steadily. I did try to take a nap at one point, but my body betrayed me with a 15 min power nap and wouldn't give me anymore. But the day was productive. I got several pieces glued, and they even had time to dry before we left. My girls got to spend time together that day, and thoroughly enjoyed the book party. Plus we finished our trip off with a Cinco de Mayo party at Chuy's Mexican Restaurant, and I managed to drive all the way back home with only a 30 minute stop for a nap in the parking lot at Bucky's in Giddings. I was beat when we got home, but it was a great day.

So here are some of the items I made in Austin. I took these pictures the next day, and my brain was obviously still tired because I didn't manage to get pictures of everything I had made. But here is what they looked like before the grout:

Of course gluing is just the first step in the process. Grouting was still left--and the grouting is the hardest part. I dread grouting. In fact, I think I can honestly say I hate grouting. Grouting is the reason I may never do another mosaic kitchen item again. But that's material for an entirely different blog. I was so tired on Wednesday, that I was functionally craft disabled. So even though I managed to accomplish quite a bit while we were in Austin, I still ended up losing a day of prep for my show. Once again--insane or the world's best mom, you be the judge. So on Thursday, I was up to my elbows in grout, moaning and groaning and swearing I was going to toss it all and simply go out to lunch on Friday instead. But I kept my inner complainer in check, and finished my projects. The grout sealer was put on way too soon, but the items were done. And they looked good. Here are my finished kitchen items ready to be sold:

I was proud of my work, but it really felt like there should be more. But this was it. It was done, and after tomorrow this craft show would be history. The question is would I actually be brave enough to sit down at my table and try to sell this stuff, or would I give in to the urge to run the other direction?

Catching Up

This past month has been busy, busy, busy. First there was the craft show, then there was graduation at the University of Texas. Throw in on top of that a computer meltdown that luckily was not my hard drive, which had not been backed up in a very long time. In the hustle and bustle these events caused, something had to give. And that something was my blogging. But now I have a small break before the graduation party starts over, this time for high school. So I'll try to catch up--although I will warn you that high school graduation will be followed very quickly by a very full summer schedule which right off the bat includes our family vacation and church girls camp. So my crafting my suffer, but I'll try my best to keep up to date documenting what I am able to get done.

OK, so let's get started by talking about the craft show. I worked pretty hard to get items done I could take to the show. In fact, I ran myself so ragged that week of the show that on Thursday I was seriously considering not attending. But I persevered and not only managed to finish my project but actually took them all to the craft show where I stayed most of the day. We'll discuss the show in a while, but first let me catch you up on the preparation:

Monday, May 4

The week started off with stepping stones and glass cutting. I had promised to take my youngest up to Austin for a book signing on Tuesday, May 5th. But the only way I could do that and still get my projects done was to get some stones into molds and to cut enough glass that I could work at my oldest daughter's apartment while the two girls were off playing during the day. (Playing may be a bit of an exaggeration since my 14 year old spend most of the day going to classes with her older sister.) Anyway, most of Monday was taken over by errands I had to run and I didn't get out into the garage until after dinner. I had intended to pour two Texas stones over the weekend, but didn't get them done. Luckily I had gotten another mold on Friday and I had all the glass work laid out for two stones. So all I had to do was mix the cement and pour it. Sounds pretty straight forward. Of course you have to remember who was running this show. So naturally things didn't go quite as planned.

Since I was trying to work fast and I couldn't remember exactly how much concrete each mold made, I grabbed a 40 lb bag of cement and decided to mix it all up. This ended up being quite a chore for a couple of reasons. First of all, while running errands during the day I had forgotten to buy more concrete. So I ended up using a bag that had sat in my garage for a quite a while. This meant that it had hardened a bit, which translates to lots of hard chunks in my bag. This made mixing it by hand quite a chore, and it took a lot longer than it should have. But I pressed on, got the concrete mixed to the right consistency and then poured my two stones.

And then I realized I had mixed way too much cement. But I didn't panic, I just decided that I would dye the cement and make a longhorn stone. That would definitely use up all the extra cement. Wrong! I poured the longhorn stone and still had a ton of cement left. Once again, I didn't panic. I simply decided to use this as an opportunity to create a free handed glass stepping stone. So I traced the mold I was going to use, laid out my design and poured the stone. Was the cement all used up as a I had hoped? No. But by then I had had it. I really needed to get to work cutting glass. So I took out a couple of more molds and just poured the cement into them. And this is what I ended up with: one longhorn stone, one large glass mosaic stone, and two small cement only stones.

Finally the cement was all used up! I cleaned up my equipment, and vowed never to mix an entire bag of cement again. Unless of course I am prepared to make 6 stones. Or I black out this whole experience and totally forget what a mistake mixing a whole bag is. With my memory that is a distinct possibility. But hopefully the fact that I am writing about this experience will prevent such a thing. Hopefully!

Now, since I am writing this post long after I actually did this work I can jump forward and show you the results. I guess getting behind does have at least one small benefit. So after spending all of the 5th in Austin, I went into the garage on the morning of the 6th to turn out my stones.

They all came out of their molds in excellent condition.

And cleaned up well:

Although my longhorn stone had a funny consistency in the coloring:

Not sure what happened there, but we'll just say it adds to the character of the stone.

Please ignore my foot in the above picture.

I hate my feet, but they seem to sneak into the pictures of my stepping stones.

Maybe I subconsciously have a foot fetish.

Maybe its all related to the calls I used to get at work from the man who wanted
to know if my feet were sweaty.
Maybe I should make a stone using some of these:

Maybe I should focus and quit rambling about feet.

As I was saying, all the stones turned out well.

I especially liked the free handed mosaic I created.

This was really fun to make. I loved cutting the glass as I designed it. I will definitely do more of these kinds of stones.

As I was working in my crowded, cluttered garage, I was reminded of a very important step in making stepping stones.


Why, you ask? This is why:

Stones are tender when they first come out of the molds. Especially ones you haven't reinforced with wire. I was working in a small space where all my new stones were laid out on the ground. I tried to step over the stones, but ended up stepping on one. It immediately cracked. What a waste! But at least it was just one of the extra stones that was only made out of the left over cement. I would have cried if it had been my mosaic one!

So there you have my story of the stones. Coming next is my account of more glass cutting and and mosaics. I would do it now, but my blog isn't the only thing I have neglected. Poor Dakota is way past due for a walk. And she has been actively hinting that she wants one for the past hr. So check back again soon. There should be another update soon.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

I Am Not A Slacker!

I just need to say that I am not a slacker! I have been so busy with my craft fair, and making a quick trip to see my parents that I have neglected my posts. College and high school graduations are right around the corner, so things won't slow down any time soon. But I have plenty of pictures and craft news to share--and hopefully will get at least some of them up this weekend. So check back soon to see my new work.