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cleaning (5) craft (26) DIY food (7) niftyman (4) nondairy (18) vegan (11)

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

DIY Costume Wings

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

One-Ingredient Vegan Ice Cream

Have you seen those impressive vegan ice cream recipes where (a) there's only one ingredient: bananas and (b) they do it w/o an ice cream maker? Turns out the secret is freezing the bananas and then grinding them up in a food processor. The recipes caution that the process can take some time and much scraping until you get the right consistency. Not one to overexert myself in any way, I thought, Hey, I have an ice cream maker. I wonder if I could simply puree the bananas and throw it into the machine. It works!

Step 1: Puree 4 bananas to yield 2 cups.

Step 2: Pour into ice cream maker.

Step 3: After 20 mins, voila!

So creamy and scoopable!

Phoebe friendly!

Even Miss I-Only-Eat-Real-Ice-Cream Chloe likes it.

No added sugar = puppy friendly!

Finally, Luna gets to eat our food.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

DIY Mini Ranch Style Doghouse

Allen Lau (aka my handy husband) finally agreed to write a post for the nifty nest. Maybe he'll build us a log cabin next!

A mini ranch style doghouse made of . . .

a pile of scrap wood!
It's been a couple of years since I demolished and removed a built-in storage chest from our bedroom. Because I'm somewhat obsessive-compulsive about not wasting, I hung on to quite a pile of wooden planks and mini posts and beams. This stockpile of wood sat in the garage for a while and then finally found a place in the narrow alley of the side yard near the trash bin, where it has taken on many season's worth of rain and dirt. Reptiles and snails have even made a home for themselves under this pile of wood. The day finally came when I put this wood to good use! I knew my hoarding ways would pay off. We recently adopted a new puppy, and I thought it would be great to build her a little shelter from the elements when she goes outside to play. I did a quick search and found a nice and simple plan from Sunset for a mini ranch style doghouse. Limited by my raw materials and whatever else I scraped up in the house, the following is my adaptation of the Sunset design:

Create a solid foundation by laying some 2 x 4s (in this case 1-1/2 x 2s) as the base, cut planks to desired length, lay the planks perpendicular, and screw down planks to form a stable platform. My dimensions were around a 3' x 3'  square.
I made some quick calculations using high school math to figure out the heights of the front and back vertical support beams so that we end up with a roof line that has about a 15° slope from the front to back.

On one side, add the vertical beams and anchor to the platform with some right-angle braces for reinforced strength. The braces are not required, as the side walls attach to the platform, and the vertical beams give the structure enough rigidity. Nail or screw in planks on the outside of the platform and support beams, working your way up from the bottom. Do the same thing for the other side of the doghouse.
For the front of the house, add a rectangular frame for the doorway. Here I made the opening 12" x 18". 
Cut planks to length and screw or nail to front of the house, working your way up from bottom and around the entryway. Notice the 2-inch gap just below the very top plank at the top. I intentionally left this open for ventilation and to allow a bit of light to come through. Also, because I didn't have a table saw and didn't want the trouble of ripping a narrow strip of wood to fit this gap, I decided to let the gap remain.
Create the removable roof. I thought having a removable roof was a great idea from the Sunset plans. The removable roof allows for easy access for any future cleanup. Basically do the same thing as the platform in the first step. Here take care to ensure the support beams that hold together the planks fit around the four vertical support beams. I saved the worst wood pieces for the roof, as they will be topped off by roof shingles anyway.

The completed doghouse! Yay!

Add a coat of primer, then a coat of desired color paint. Enlist the help of your kids. I just found some old interior wall paint  in the garage. I would suggest using exterior wall paint if you have any lying around. 

Add a swing door that doubles as an awning when opened. I wanted a door so that we can close up the house at night to prevent any unwanted animals from making themselves at home. I was very proud of myself for recovering two old hinges from a broken screen door that's also been collecting dust in our side yard alleyway. Add roof shingles to the roof for weatherproofing.

Luna checks out her new digs.

I did end up having to go to the hardware store to pick up a few items: shingles, roofing nails, galvanized steel deck screws, galvanized nails for outdoors, some right-angled braces. The total cost was about $50 and about 20 hours of sweat and labor.

  • Instead of buying tools for one-off jobs, borrow from friends and neighbors. 
  • Before screwing in planks, especially near the ends of planks or board pieces, pre-drill starter holes that are slightly smaller than the size of the screws; this will prevent any of the wood from splitting.
  • Use the good clean sides of the wood for the inside of the house so that your precious pet will not get injured by splinters. Try to remove any dirt and mold that accumulates on the wood. Remove any finishes from old paint or stains so that your pet doesn't ingest them.
  • Use screws and nails that are long enough for the material but not so long that they protrude into the interior where your pet may get scraped and injured by the sharp tips.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Puppy House Training Tips: Week Two

We adopted an eight-week-old puppy named Bitsy from a local shelter about a week ago. I'll admit it. I'm not an animal person but I'll do anything for my ten-year-old, Phoebe. That girl owes me big time. On the car ride home Phoebe said, "This is the happiest day of my life." The shelter listed the puppy as a terrier mix. However, once we started the paperwork, the manager revealed that her mother was a chihuahua! We're hoping it's a myth that chihuahuas are difficult to house train.

For a control freak like me puppy house training is a nightmare. We quickly renamed her Luna (Bitsy was a little too close to Bitchy), as the shelter manager told us she doesn't really know her name yet. Week One was a blur of constantly taking Luna outside to check if she had to eliminate. But still she had at least one accident a day. Now that it's Week Two I feel like my nerves can handle blogging about it.

We're following Sarah Hodgson's method for house training in Puppies for Dummies:

Step One: Put the puppy on a leash and tell her "Outside." Take her to the door.
Step Two: Lead her to the grass and say "Let's potty." In our case, Luna preferred the ivy that borders our lawn. I read that dogs feel vulnerable when they're eliminating so they usually choose a private area. If she poops or pees say "Potty" while she's crouching and doing her thing. Once she's done pooping give her lots of praise. I squeal "Good girl!" while scratching under her neck. Then give her a treat. Linger outside for ten minutes or so in case she also needs to pee.
Step Three: Say "Inside" and go directly back into the house. In the beginning, we're trying to make it clear to Luna that the front lawn is just for eliminating. Once she gets the hang of it, we don't have to be so restrictive.

Helpful hints:
Feed your puppy on a schedule. My kids keep a detailed log recording what time Luna does the following: Eat, Poop, Pee, Nap. At the shelter, Luna was allowed to graze all day because she was so small (3 lbs!), and they were afraid she wouldn't gain enough weight. Because house training was my top priority, I nixed the grazing habit right away. She still kind of plays with her food. She grabs a kibble, takes it a few feet away, and then eats it. Then she goes back for more one painstaking kibble at a time. We often have to walk over, point at her bowl, and remind her to "Eat." Did I mention that I'm controlling? After half an hour we take her food bowl away.

Get your puppy a crate. We bought a plastic one from Petco. We lined the bottom with a pink towel and gave her a mini Build-a-Bear teddy my kids found in their room. It has tightly stitched thread eyes so we don't have to worry about Luna swallowing small parts. Lucky for us she liked her crate right away. During the day, we leave the gate open so she can go in for naps but at night we lock her in so she can't get out while we're asleep. When we let her out in the morning, she poops and pees outside right away.

Know when to take your puppy out to eliminate. The best bets are after she sleeps and after she eats. Based on Luna's log, she poops within an hour of eating. Sometimes if she hasn't pooped after the last meal, she might have trouble eating so we have to take her out to check if she needs to poop. Peeing is less predictable but here's the general formula for calculating how long your puppy can hold her bladder: months old + 1. This means Luna can hold her bladder for up to 3 hours. Usually it's longer during the night. Her record is going to sleep at 10:30 and not getting up until 5:30. That said, she usually goes more often than every three hours, because we leave her water bowl out until 7:30 in the evening.

Be prepared. Keep at least two treats in your pocket at all times. That way, in case she poops and pees you can be consistent about rewarding both times. Hang your keys on the doorknob so you don't get locked out. Have a flashlight or lantern, your shoes, and plastic bags by the door. You don't want to be searching for these things when you're racing outside.

Lessons learned:
Because Luna has not received all her vaccinations, we can't take her on sidewalks where she could pick up Parvo. Also, she doesn't get her rabies vaccine until she's four months old so she can't come into contact on a walk with strange dogs. The safest bet is to use our backyard but we don't have grass in our backyard. Luckily our house is at the end of a cul-de-sac, so the vet gave us the green light to use our front lawn where it's unlikely a dog walker would venture so far off the beaten path. Good thing I didn't listen to people advising me to use newspapers or pads in the house.

Most of the time when Luna had an accident, we would realize in hindsight that she had given us a sign. Once she was pacing, one time she was chasing her own tail in circles, another time she was nippy with Phoebe. In general, if you're giving your puppy lots of attention and she still acts restless and nippy, she might need to eliminate. Of course, puppies are playful, curious, and naughty so it's often confusing whether she's just acting like a puppy or acting weird. We've also discovered that like human infants, she gets fussy around late afternoon.

I found myself so hell bent on preventing an accident that sometimes I would stay outside with Luna for an hour. I felt like a puppy abuser dragging her back to the ivy every ten minutes to check to see if she had to pee. Once you see that she understands potty, you have to let go a little and watch for the signs. True, you risk an accident but worse case, you take her out a few extra times and get better at catching the signs. This is only week two but Luna has shown me that she understands potty by crouching and trying to pee--even though she has nothing!

Although I know she's not considered house trained until she doesn't have an accident for four weeks straight, I've seen so much progress in one week that I'm hopeful we have a genius dog. Whenever I feel frustrated, I remind myself that someday her bladder will be stronger, she'll only needs to eat twice a day, and she can go on walks.

Sweet success!

Monday, June 18, 2012

DIY Electrical-Tape Bows

Chloe Lau (aka, Miss Panda), craft contributor, gives a tutorial on her handmade hair bows. She created these bows as gifts for her friends.

I am very excited to be the first guest blogger on Nifty Nest. Lately, I've noticed that bows are everywhere. They are very classic and cute accessories that really complete an outfit. I always look for them, but find them way too pricey for the tiny bit of fabric you get. Most are about $2 to $5 each. Crazy, right? Here is a bow made only from electrical tape! Not only is it a cheap alternative but it is also fun to make and very durable.

These are the supplies you'll need: electrical tape (found at Orchard Supply), bobby pins, and scissors.

Step 1: Cut one piece of electrical tape. A good length is about 2.5 inches, but you can give or take a bit.

Step 2: Cut another piece of tape identical to the first.

Step 3: This is perhaps the trickiest step, so you'll need steady hands and a few tries. Attach the pieces of tape to each other. They should be aligned with the sticky parts facing each other. This will make the bow stronger and more flexible so that it won't crumple when you hold it. Plus, it won't get stuck in your hair. ;)

Step 4: Cut a 3-inch piece of tape lengthwise down the center to make two thin strips.

Step 5: Cut two pieces of tape about 1.5 inches long and stick them together like in Step 3. You now have a small piece and the big piece you made earlier.

Step 6: Center the small piece on top of the big piece. They shouldn't stick together yet. 

Step 7: Keeping the pieces together, pinch the middle to make that bow shape. The tape is very flexible, so it's okay if you make a few mistakes.

Step 8: Remember those thin strips you cut in step 4? Take one and carefully wrap it around the place where you pinched the bow. Keep wrapping until you reach the end of the strip and press down to secure. You can add the second strip on top of it for more strength. This holds the bow together and gives it the "knot." It's also where you'll attach the bobby pin.

Step 9: Attach the bobby pin to the back of the bow. Just slide it right into the "knot."

You're done! You should end up with an adorable bow like this. Most people can't even tell it's homemade. Plus, it won't come apart or unravel because the tape is very sturdy. Experiment with different tape colors and sizes. Duct tape works too, but it's harder to work with. I use these bows for many things other than fashion. I often decorate presents with the bigger bows and put the smaller bows on stuffed animals for ties.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Vegan Truffles

This month's issue of Bon Appetit had an article by Sarah Britton about natural sweeteners. Yes, I'm hopping on the bandwagon to cut down on refined sugar. If not for health reasons, for vanity--I like the skinny jeans! On the top of Britton's list of favorite sweeteners are dates. Oh yeah, I forgot about those guys. My husband bought me a big tub from Costco. I've been chopping them up and adding them to my morning yogurt. It's a nice change from my usual sweetener, a ripe banana. I only need about four dates though. What do I do with the rest?

Here's a recipe from Britton that's pretty good. Just to be clear, these don't have the creaminess of real truffles but the cocoa does add a nice chocolate flavor. These are great for my dairy-free Phoebe. Also, good for me seeing as skinny jeans aren't going out of style anytime soon.

from Bon Appetit magazine

1-1/2 c chopped almonds (or pistachios)
1-1/2 c dates
3 T cocoa
3 T quick-cooking oats*
pinch of Kosher salt
1 T water
zest of 1 orange

*If you don't have quick-cooking oats, just puree regular rolled oats in the food processor.

Chop nuts in food processor. Set aside. Puree dates, cocoa, oats, and salt in food processor. Add water and pulse until "dough" clumps together. Stir in orange zest.

Use small cookie scoop to portion out a truffle. (Or you can use your 1 T measuring spoon.)

Roll into a ball in the palm of your hands.

Coat ball with chopped nuts.

Makes about a 12 to 20, depending on size of your scoop.