Colorful Catrinas

My youngest daughter just returned from Mexico where she has been doing her culinary practice at a wonderful colonial restaurant for the past four months.  Among the things she brought me upon her return were these cute little skeleton dolls fashionably dressed in fancy attire and plumed hats. They are known as Catrinas and are an important part of Mexican culture.

I had seen these dolls before at souvenir shops and in magazines and had always thought that Catrinas (or Kalakas as they are sometimes called) were associated with ancient Mexican Day of the Dead traditions but I was wrong.    

I was surprised to learn that they have a very interesting and more modern history which is linked surprisingly to Frida Khalo and her husband, artist Diego Rivera.   

Catrina started out as a political cartoon created by Mexican cartoonist Jose Guadalupe Posada during the early 1900’s for one of his political pamphlets.  Originally dubbed Calavera Garbancera (roughly translated: the chick-pea selling skeleton or the chick-pea vendor) Posada’s cartoon was meant to satirize the poor peasant class of Mexicans who put on airs of rich European dandies and adopted the dress and mannerisms of the European upper class, thus rejecting their own native origins and heritage.

Posada died quietly without the fame or recognition that he deserved and it wasn’t until many years later that his fancy skeleton lady became a beloved symbol of Mexican culture when famed artist Diego Rivera painted his iconic mural entitled Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park.   Catrina is the central character in his mural and she is surrounded by influential figures of Mexican history. She is shown wearing a quetzal feather boa around her neck and a fancy plumed hat on her head. Rivera painted himself as a small child standing next to her and holding her hand. Behind him is his wife Frida Khalo who has one hand resting on his shoulder and in the other she is holding a ying/yang symbol. It was Diego Rivera himself who coined the term Calavera Catrina which means the the dapper skeleton or the dandy skeleton. In Mexico and in some Central American countries the word catrin means a dandy or someone who is dressed to the teeth in the height of fashion. Catrina is the feminine form of the word.  

I must add that Catrina is meant to be a colorful, happy and fun folkloric figure and is not in any way related to the darker and more sinister cult figure of Santa Muerte.  In Mexico they make Catrinas out of many different materials, the favorite being paper mache which is then painted brightly. Here’s a paper mache Catrina riding a bike.  

This one seems to be yelling, or perhaps singing   

Sometimes their clothes are made out of fabric and lace and bits of feathers.

Other Catrinas are made of clay. There are even some Talavera ones like this catrin and catrina sitting on a park bench, but Talavera catrinas are very expensive.  Maybe on her next trip to Mexico she can get me this adorable couple that was displayed in a store window.  

There was a huge array of them at the store where my daughter purchased a few and it was difficult to choose. 

This one looks like a turn of the century school teacher to me These are my two favorite of all the ones she bought me. They’re very elegant ladies made of clay.  The black birds are just decorative but I thought they were cool because they look kind of gothic. They had other catrinas where the birds were brightly painted like Amazon parrots.

I sense the start of a new collection.

 

Joining Feathered Nest Friday at French Country Cottage

 

 

White Crackly Candle Holders

A couple of years ago I went to a garage sale and ended up buying several things. These two formerly black and blue candle holders were not among them because I didn’t actually buy them. They were pretty much shoved at me by the seller who insisted that I just take them. She seemed anxious to be rid of them…not that I blamed her.  I didn’t want to hurt her feelings by refusing so I put them in the car and brought them home. I’ve never really been fond of them.  In fact, I didn’t know whether they were actually candle holders or pedestals or plant stands or something else entirely. I would have used them out in the garden as plant stands but they’re made of a weird material that I suspected wouldn’t hold up to water.  I was just about to throw them in the garbage recently when I thought, well…perhaps I can paint them a lighter shade and put them somewhere in the house.

They were hideous black, blue and green things with what seemed to be an attempt at a fleur de lis design on the front. They also had cracks in several places so I filled those in with wall putty.

There were big visible cracks near the top and at the base.

Then I dug into my bag of resin appliques which is full of odds and ends and left over broken pieces. I managed to find a couple of cherubs and some roses.

And lucky me, I also found a nearly full tube of Instant Nails to adhere the appliques with.

So, on they went. After they dried overnight, the candle holders got a coat of Americana Chalk Paint in white. It didn’t cover very well unfortunately and I needed four coats in all to get full coverage.

But the white looked so boring to me. I’m not really fond of white. So I painted over the middle portion in aqua. That didn’t work as well as I’d hoped because now the contrast was too distinct.  I was about to paint it white again when I spied an almost empty bottle of Jo-Sonja Decor Crackle among the paint jars. There was just enough for the middle section and a narrow strip at the bottom of both candle holders.  It had a nice effect because it toned down the color contrast quite a bit.

This type of crackle is sandwiched in between two colors. It goes on top of the base color and then you have to apply a contrasting color on top of that.

The top color (in this case I applied another coat of white) cracks and subtly reveals the darker color beneath it.

I set the candle holders on top of the piano temporarily, but then I decided that they filled in that empty spot nicely, so there they will stay. 


 

 

Dinette Makover

Does anyone even use the word dinette anymore? I haven’t heard it used in ages. Heck, I can’t even find it on google. But back in the day, dinette sets were really popular for small apartments as well as for eat-in kitchens. That’s what I had in mind when I put together a little table and four non matching chairs for my oldest daughter’s tiny dining room this past December. She rents a small house a few blocks away from us which is just the perfect size for her and a roommate.  However, her roommate of many years moved out at the end of last year and because the dining set was hers, she took it with her.  At around the same time, my daughter in law was getting rid of a little rustic sewing table that her mother no longer needed and I figured it would make a perfect temporary dining table for my daughter. At least until she got around to buying something nicer.

Even though it was a small table, it was unusually tall so I had to cut three inches off the legs to make it the right height.
Next I had to find some inexpensive chairs that were not too large or too beat up. That was going to be challenging here in Costa Rica where used items in good condition are often just as expensive as new ones and old beat up items are just a tad less costly. The stars and planets must have been aligned in my favor because after just a quick check online I found someone (down the street from me!) who had about 200 school chairs for sale in nearly new condition at $10 dollars each.  I purchased four of them and was delighted to see that they were strong and sturdy with metal frames and nice wooden seats and back rests.


Now that I had the chairs, I turned my attention back to the table. Some of the dark brown paint had started to chip and peel off in certain areas so I took it out to the backyard and sanded it to smooth down and even out the nicks.
I was feeling quite pleased with myself and everything was going according to plan, until it rained. Athough I had carefully covered the table with plastic after I was done sanding, it rained so hard that afternoon that the wind lifted up the plastic and pushed rainwater beneath it, soaking the entire table. The next day I woke up to a seriously warped and blistered tabletop that I knew I wouldn’t be able to fix. Thankfully my next door neighbor Elmer is a carpenter so I asked him for help. He was kind enough to nail/glue on a thin sheet of new plywood over the old tabletop and round off the edges for me.
As I debated what color to paint it, my daughter in law again came to the rescue and offered me several unopened jars of Americana Chalk Paint that she no longer needed as she and my son were getting ready to move back to Colorado and were getting rid of all their stuff. I was doubtful about the color at first. It looked sort of grayish in the jar. But hey, never look a gift horse in the mouth, right? I ended up loving the color once it was on the table. It’s actually a soft bluish green.
The table had an apron on all four sides that I decided to paint white, for contrast. I also had a bag full of left over resin appliques that I had made last year which I thought might look nice on the apron. They were mostly odds and ends and I was unable to find four matching pieces so I used two smaller pieces for the two ends of the table and two larger pieces for the sides.

I was tempted to leave the chairs as they were because they really were in nice shape and didn’t need anything done to them, but unfortunately they clashed with the color of the table so I ended up just painting the backrest in the same bluegreen chalk paint and leaving the seat unpainted.  As a final touch I decoupaged a floral motif on the backrests and on opposite corners of the table with a bit of modpodge. Everything then got a protective topcoat of matte varnish. I also bought a piece of thick glass for the tabletop to protect it in case of spills.

I loaded it up in the car and took it over to her house a couple of days before Christmas while she was at work to surprise her.  I was so excited about setting it up at her place that I completely forgot to take pictures of it in situ. So the only photos I have were snapped at my house.  Thankfully she liked it…you never know with kids. Yay.

 

Black Rose

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I know, I know. There is no such thing as a black rose. I know I’ve talked about my black roses before and have even showed you pictures, but I thought I’d post about them again because a few days ago as I was removing some bouquets of faded roses from their vases, I discovered that some of those “black” roses had turned an amazing and velvety pitch black as they dried.

For quite some time I didn’t know what the name of this rose was, but I suspected that it was Black Baccara. The nursery where I purchased it confirmed my suspicion recently  and they told me that it was indeed Black Baccara. This rose is actually considered to be a very deep dark red but the color on the petals is uneven throughout, thus much of it does look black. On the same plant some of the blooms are darker and others are redder. Here it is as a bud.

As you can see, the base of the petals is reddish, but above the base and to the tips, it is indeed black.

As you can see, the base of the petals is reddish, but above the base and to the tips, it is indeed black.

I’ve read that Black Baccara is a very unpredictable rose which sometimes blooms red and rarely blooms black. Apparently it depends on the soil and the climate. I guess I must have favorable conditions here because it does get quite black and you actually have to look very closely to see the tinges of red. Here it is in a vase. This photo is completely unretouched and it is the true color. Even up close this particular bloom was for the most part, quite black. Others from the same bush are sometimes less black and more maroon.

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Last week I was about to throw out some faded roses that I had placed in a couple of vases, but I loved the way the colors had intensified as they dried, particularly the black ones so I decided to save them. I really like the look of dried roses.

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I tied them in a bunch and hung them with a ribbon from a ceiling lamp to finish drying. The sweet fragrance still lingers and wafts of delicately scented perfume reach my nose every time I walk past the hanging bouquets. I am reminded of an old Egyptian proverb that says, “Even if the flower has faded, it still retains it’s beautiful fragrance.” The proverb of course is a poetic reference to women who have matured.

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I am always fascinated by the deep russet, gold and burgundy tones that aging roses aquire. I think I like dried bouquets almost as much as fresh ones and I am thinking that perhaps I can collect enough black roses for a gothic flower arrangement.

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Pink and Pearls Christmas Tree

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This year  I bought a flocked Christmas tree. I hadn’t planned on a flocked tree and I always assumed that I didn’t like them because I had seen some pretty fake looking ones over the years. I mean, artificial Christmas trees are artificial enough without the fake snow, right? But back in October I happened to stop at the local Walmart in search of some Halloween items and surprisingly they were already setting up their Christmas displays.

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Among the several trees that they had unboxed and set up, there was a lovely 7 ft, perfectly cone shaped flocked Blue Spruce at a perfect price. To my surprise it didn’t look as fake as most. If I didn’t live in a tropical country where pine trees are non-existent and it has never snowed in recorded history, this little tree could very well have fooled folks.  Well, maybe not. But I was smitten nonetheless.

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After about a week or so of thinking about it, I went back to Walmart only to discover that they had sold out of flocked trees almost immediately. Not that there were too many to begin with, I had only seen about 10 or 12 boxes of them on the shelf. It turns out that that was their entire inventory.  I should have known. The problem with Walmart in Costa Rica (and other stores here as well) is that they only import a limited amount of any particular item so when it’s gone, it’s gone and there are no rainchecks.  After calling their central offices, they were kind enough to locate a tree for me (the last one in the entire  country!) at a Walmart in a different province and they were kind enough to have it shipped to the store nearest to me at no extra cost. Hurray for their customer service!

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I wanted to give pastel tones a try this year. I rather like the soft toned down look of the tree. I used pearl garland rather than the ubiquitous tinsel one because I didn’t want the garland to overshadow the ornaments. Pale pink sparkly poinsettias filled up large spaces so that the branches wouldn’t look sparse.

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One definite advantage of a pastel Christmas tree is that the kitties seem to leave it pretty much alone. They aren’t attracted to soft toned ornaments as much as they are to the shiny glittery mirror type ones. Other years I would wake up to find at least half a dozen balls strewn all across the floor and the kitties playing soccer with them. Not this time.tree-9-765x1024

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Who knows, maybe next Christmas I’ll long for green, red and gold and I’ll return to more traditional holiday colors but for now this will do.
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This week I will be joining:

Inspire Me Monday @ Create With Joy

Inspire Me Mondays @ My Uncommon Slice of Suburbia

Make it Pretty Monday @ The Dedicated House

Busy Monday @ A Pinch of Joy

Metamorphosis Monday @ Between Naps On The Porch

Tuesdays at our Home  @  Our Home Away From Home

LouLou Girls Linky Party  @ Lou Lou Girls

Creative Muster Party  @ Fluster Buster

Wow Us Wednesdays  @ Savvy Southern Style

Tuesdays With A Twist  @ God’s Growing Garden

Party in Your PJ’s @ The Cookie Puzzle

The Homemaking Party @ Classical Homemaking

Share Your Style Thursday Link-Up Party 

Home and Garden Thursday  @ A Delightsome Life

Sweet and Simple Fridays @ Rooted in Thyme

Feathered Nest Friday @ French Country Cottage

Friday Feature’s Link Party @ Oh My Heartsie Girl

Anything Goes Pink Saturday @ How Sweet The Sound

Best Of The Weekend Party 

Saturday Sparks Link Party @ Pieced Passtimes

Baubles á la Découpage

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A few months ago I was watching some Youtube video tutorials that explained how to decoupage your own Christmas ornaments. I came across several that were actually quite stunning and very unusual because you don’t ordinarily see baubles like that in stores. Naturally I had to try my hand at making my own. It turned out to be so easy and fun that I made close to 70 or 75 of them.  I started early in about September or so and it’s a good thing I did because that allowed me to convert all of last year’s red and gold balls into soft pastel toned ornaments topped by pink satin ribbons for hanging.

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Last year’s shiny red and striped balls

My first idea was to go out and buy new boxes of pink and white balls. So I hit the stores (which fortunately in my area begin to display and sell their Christmas stuff at the end of September) but I was dissapointed to discover that nobody even had any white or pink Christmas ball ornaments for sale. Those don’t seem to be popular Christmas colors at all. Even on Ebay the selection is limited. While trying to figure out what to do it ocurred to me that I could probably spray paint the balls with pink and white spray paint. And then I thought, well heck, why even buy new ones when I have boxes full of last year’s ornaments that I can recycle? So that’s exactly what I did. Here’s what I started out with.

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I  had a few cans of half empty spray paint in the tool locker so each red and gold ball got a base coat of random shades of white, cream, ivory or pink.  After temporarily removing the gold or silver hanging part off each ball, I put them on a wooden skewer and sprayed them. Some of them required a couple of coats to completely cover up the original color. Then I put them out in the sun to dry.

This particular ball has a glitter design on it which you can see a bit of in this photo. It doesn't matter because after all the coats of mod podge and varnish it will be completely hidden.

This particular ball has a glitter design on it which you can see a bit of in this photo. It doesn’t matter because after all the coats of mod podge and varnish it will be completely hidden.

The next step after the spray paint has dried is to give them a coat of regular acrylic craft paint in whatever color you want the bauble to be. I used mostly white, pink and aqua. The craft paint gives the balls a smooth matte finish to work on and it is especially necessary if you plan on using a crackle medium to give them an antique crackle finish. I used three different types of crackle finish with different results. By far, my favorite was Jo Sonja’s Decor Crackle because it provided the most dramatic crackle. I also used Jo Sonja’s Crackle Medium which is a bit different than their Decor Crackle but I didn’t like that one at all because it made them look leathery. Mod Podge’s Crackle Finish was pretty good too, it results in a very fine eggshell type crackle. All of these are all applied in different manners, some go on before the basecoat and some go on top of the basecoat, so if you’re going to use crackle, you have to read the instructions carefully before applying it. Next you have to choose what kind of appliqué you want. I used napkins.

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I found that Mod Podge was the easiest way of sticking the napkins on to the spheres, but you could probably just use Elmer’s glue or any white glue with pretty much the same result. After the applique dried completely I went over it with another coat of Mod Podge just to smooth everything down and make sure that nothing was unglued.  At this point you can sprinkle on a little bit of ultra-fine glitter while they are still tacky, to give them a bit of shimmer. Or you can let them dry and then apply a coat of a product called Sparkle (also from Mod Podge) which gives a really beautiful subtle shimmer once it’s dry which is spread evenly over the entire surface.

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After that is dry, you can add accents with glitter glue or fabric paint. I added white pearly dots here and there and also thin streaks of gold and silver glitter randomly.

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The final step is to apply two coats of regular transparent varnish. This gives them alot of shine and also protects the appliqué. I tried using water based varnish on the first couple of them but I didn’t like how that turned out because it gave them a sort of dull finish and I wanted them to be really shiny. So in the end I just used regular oil based varnish.

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When they are completely dry you just re-attach the little metal or plastic hanging part and they are set to go. I  wanted mine to look a bit more romantic so I removed the little gold hanger thread that they come with and replaced it with a thin pink ribbon. On the front of the baubles I hot glued on a pink satin bow.

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I also bought a package of 3 inch styrofoam hearts to decoupage in the same way.

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Here they are drying on sticks during various stages of the process.

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This is the crackle finish from Mod Podge’s Crackle product. It’s a very fine eggshell look.

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This week I will be Joining.

Tuesdays at our Home  @  Our Home Away From Home

LouLou Girls Linky Party  @ Lou Lou Girls

Creative Muster Party  @ Fluster Buster

Wow Us Wednesdays  @ Savvy Southern Style

Tuesdays With A Twist  @ God’s Growing Garden

Party in Your PJ’s @ The Cookie Puzzle

The Homemaking Party @ Classical Homemaking

Share Your Style Thursday Link-Up Party 

Home and Garden Thursday  @ A Delightsome Life

Sweet and Simple Fridays @ Rooted in Thyme

Feathered Nest Friday @ French Country Cottage

Friday Feature’s Link Party @ Oh My Heartsie Girl

Anything Goes Pink Saturday @ How Sweet The Sound

Best Of The Weekend Party 

Saturday Sparks Link Party @ Pieced Pastimes

Lace Hearts

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I’ve been working on Christmas ornaments for the past couple of months. This year I decided I’d make my own ornaments and decorations because the colors and styles that are available in my area aren’t too varied or interesting. I think that one of the main drawbacks here is that everything has to be shatterproof due to the tile or terrazo floors that most folks have in their homes (including me).  That really limits the selection because plastic just isn’t as pretty. Everyone knows that the most beautiful ornaments are made of glass.  Also, all the stores here seem to import the same items and carry the exact same stuff in the same colors: gold, red, green, silver. I have plenty of those colors from years past but this year I’ve been on the lookout for pastel colored ornaments. I searched high and low for anything in soft pink, aqua or white but I was unable to find much in those shades. So I had no choice but to make them myself. In addition to recycling last year’s ornaments and painting over them (that’ll be the subject of a future post) I also dug deep into my bag of fabric remnants and came up with these puffy little lace hearts to hang on the tree. I used plain fabric in white and pink as the base and then sewed lace scraps over that. The hearts are lightly stuffed with quilt batting and then embellished a bit with pearls and rhinestones or whatever else I could find in my sewing box. A thin satin ribbon on top makes them “hangable” so they can be used on the tree.

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I don’t know how many I made, I sort of lost track because I would sit and sew in the evenings while I relaxed and watched tv or Netflix. I ended up with so many that I gave a few of them away to friends.

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I made two different sized heart templates out of newspaper. One was wide and short and the other was narrow and longer. All the hearts were made with those two templates.lace-hearts

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This ivory mesh fabric that I used for these hearts is woven with real silver wire thread. It’s hand made by artisans in Egypt.

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img_1874I already have more than enough to hang on the Christmas tree but I think I might just keep on making them because they’re so easy and fun to make. I can fill little baskets with them or just give them away as gifts.

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Joining: Feathered Nest Friday at French Country Cottage

Halloween in the Guest Bath

6.JPGI usually don’t decorate any of the bathrooms in my home for any holiday. I’ve always thought that a tablescape and a pumpkin or two  were quite sufficient for Halloween.  I don’t know why I had the sudden urge to decorate the guest bath/daughter’s bath with halloween items this year. I can’t really say that I decorated it,  but I did want to at least give a nod to one of my favorite times of the year. 1That little plastic jack-o-lantern soap dispenser was a cheapie item that I got at the grocery store a couple of years ago pre-filled with soap. I hadn’t expected it to last this long since it was so inexpensive, but lo and behold…it’s still intact and quite refillable, it pumps out soap perfectly.

4.JPGThis glass vase is usually filled with seashells the rest of the year. The black and silver spider is from the Bombay Company and it’s part of a set of six. They’re fun because the legs are flexible and you can put them into all different positions.I’ve been searching Ebay for a couple of years now to try and find more of these but haven’t had any luck.

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9This little raven watches from his perch and greets guests with a beady eyed stare.  Always sitting, never flitting. Watching, watching…evermore.

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12.JPGOn the other wall, halloween knick knacks replace the every day figurines that usually fill this shelf and black and orange towels substitute the usual green ones.

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Instant Granite

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Last year when we remodeled the bathroom shared by our two daughters which also doubles as a guest bath, I decided that I was tired of the large pastel green pedestal sink. It had looked fine in the 90s when we installed it (to match the pastel green toilet, ugh.) but today colored fixtures  look so dated and I figured that a little modernizing might not be a bad idea. So we bought a smaller plain white water efficient toilet and a matching white sink with a vanity  that had drawers and cabinet space underneath so that my daughters would have a place to store their make-up, blow dryer and flat irons

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I had searched high and low for a solid wood vanity small enough to fit into the space where the pedestal sink had been but I was unable to find anything in real wood. There were plenty of vanities made of laminate covered particle board that were just the right size but I was hesitant to buy anything made of laminate because it’s not very durable, particularly in humid conditions like a bathroom. I’ve had several items made of melamine covered particle board and eventually have had to throw them out. I was sure this laminate vanity wouldn’t last too long but I had to settle for what was available to fit the tiny space so I went ahead and bought it.

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Just as I predicted, not even two months later my housekeeper accidentally knocked down a small wall shelf in the bathroom with the end of the broomstick as she was cleaning. Naturally the shelf hit the edge of the vanity and cracked the laminate in three different spots. I tried to paint the cracked spots so as to protect the now exposed interior particle board but the paint didn’t last long and the cracks became larger and more unsightly as the months went by.

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I was bummed out thinking that I’d have to replace the entire vanity after less than a year but after a quick online search for possible solutions, I came across a product called Instant Granite. Instant Granite??? Of course I snickered and rolled my eyes at the mere thought of such a thing but after weighing all the options I figured this stuff would probably be the quickest and cheapest fix at around $39 dollars for a 6 ft roll plus $8 dollars shipping. I went ahead and ordered a roll on Amazon which arrived within two days. Talk about quick shipping!

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It’s a very thick self adhesive vinyl that you just measure, peel and stick. It comes with a little squeegy to get all the air bubbles out.  Before attempting to install it, I watched every Youtube video and tutorial that I could find. Apparently people have had great success with this stuff and they report that it’s held up quite well even on kitchen countertops. And supposedly it’s so real looking that it’s difficult to distinguish from the real thing.

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Although it can be cut around sinks and faucets, hubby was patient enough to remove the sink for me because I didn’t want to risk leaving any space for water or moisture to seep in between the laminate top and the instant granite.

To get sharp tight fitting edges, you can heat the instant granite a little bit with the blow dryer.

To get sharp tight fitting edges, you can heat the instant granite a little bit with the blow dryer.

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I was actually quite pleased with the result even though it’s not as simple as most of the Youtube videos make it out to be. I had problems getting the corners to look smooth and seamless but maybe that was just me.  It took me about an hour to install it (I spent most of that time trying to get those pesky corners just right) As far as the claims that it looks like real granite, well I can tell you that my son and my daughter in law came over in the evening and used the guest bath and neither one of them noticed a thing. They just assumed it was granite. When I told them that it was vinyl, they were so shocked that they went back and ran their hands over it and examined it carefully because they didn’t believe me.

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Now I will have to wait and see if it will hold up well to the everyday bathroom use, but so far so good.

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Joining: Feathered Nest Friday at French Country Cottage

DNA Tests And a Bit Of Ancestor History

THIS AND THAT

 

I usually post about home related topics and gardening, but this week I wanted to talk a little bit about my DNA test results, which I am really intrigued and excited about.  I just got back the results of my second test a couple of weeks ago and boy were they surprising this time!

First let me go back a couple of years to when my son decided to get tested with a company called 23andme. These people not only tested his DNA for ethnicity but at that point in time they were also testing for any possible genetic propensities to a huge number of illnesses.  After seeing the results of my son’s test and arguing back and forth about what he likely inherited from his dad and what he inherited from me, my curiosity was piqued and I just had to know.  The only way to find that out was for either my husband or I (or both) to get tested as well. Hubby immediately balked at the idea, as I knew he would. He stated in no uncertain terms that he thought DNA tests were dumb and a waste of money. Furthermore, he had no desire to know what his ethnicity was. I, on the other hand was itching to find out and I went ahead and ordered a test kit at that time and sent my sample off to their lab for processing. When I got the results back a few weeks later, I was not surprised by most of it but a little bit confused by the trace amounts of DNA that showed up from places that were completely foreign to me. (clicking on the photos will make them larger)test1

My father is a Christian Maronite from Lebanon so it was to be expected that the test showed an almost 36% of Middle Eastern and North African DNA. North Africa includes Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco, all majoritarily arab countries so that part of the test made sense. It also showed roughly a 40%  European ancestry mostly from Southern Europe and that was further broken down specifically to the Iberian Peninsula and Italy with just a sprinkling in of Northern European. The Iberian portion wasn’t a revelation because my mother’s maiden name is Portugese and she is descended from two Portugese brothers who travelled to South America and settled in Ecuador in the 1600s. There are also several Spanish surnames in our family tree on my mother’s side. What really took me aback though, was the Italian bit. There had been persistent rumors in our family that we were “Italian” but nobody could really say for sure how that happened. There are no Italian surnames in our family that I know of. However, there was an old family rumor that there had been some shennanigans going on with one of my great-great-great grandmas who had an affair with an army general of Italian ancestry. I had always brushed it off as fantasy and had never believed it.  But if the story is true, then I guess we all carry the evidence of her indiscretion. Another non surprise was the 16.8% of Native American and Yakut DNA that showed up in the test. My mother is from Ecuador and despite her blonde hair, light skin and light eyes, this DNA was contributed by her and by her mother before her and so on. My mitochondrial DNA (A2p) was identified as being Native American, specifically Inca. So I can be certain that this came from my maternal grandmother.test 2

The small percentage of Yakut (a Siberian group of people)  isn’t surprising either because as the theory goes, America was first populated by people who crossed the Bering Strait from Siberia and travelled downward from there.

A Yakut Girl (Source: Pinterest)

A Yakut Girl (Source: Pinterest)

What I found very interesting was the trace amount of DNA from Oceania that 23andme identified. What?? How did THAT get in there?  After doing a bit of research I discovered that among people with Inca ancestry it is not uncommon to find Polynesian DNA as well. This is because Easter Island, or Rapanui as it is called in the language of it’s inhabitants, which is located off the Coast of Chile, was populated entirely by Polynesian peoples who crossed the Pacific Ocean eastward in canoes and settled there hundreds of years ago. Being expert navigators many of them continued on from there to mainland South America where they mixed with the Native American inhabitants of the continent, thus contributing Polynesian DNA to many of the Inca people. Who knew. The test also identified a small amount of Sub-Saharan African DNA, specifically pinpointed to West Africa but they didn’t specify which country. I discovered that the majority of people who have Iberian ancestry also carry trace amounts of African DNA because of the very close proximity of Morocco to Spain. During the period of Al Andalus, which was the Islamic period of Southern Spain and Portugal, many moors crossed over from western Africa through the Strait of Gibraltar and into Spain. The kingdom of Al Andalus flourished for over 700 years but this all changed when the northern rulers Ferdinand and Isabella aka as “The Catholic Kings” from Aragon and Castille conquered the Southern part of Spain and expelled both Jews and Muslims from what would be known from then on as strictly Christian lands. Many of them however converted to Christianity and stayed put, gradually mixing into the general Christian population. BTW this was the same Ferdinand and Isabella who funded Cristopher Columbus’s expedition in 1492.

Fast Forward a couple of years to 2016. I dicovered that DNA tests can be addictive. Seriously. I was browsing through Amazon one day looking for something else, when much to my delight I saw that they were advertising Ancestry dot com’s DNA test for only 89 dollars. I thought…what the heck,  I’ll order it and see if the results match up with my 23andme test. But this time some of the results were very surprising.

ancestrytest1

While the overall percentages were roughly the same i.e. 36% middle eastern, 43%  European, and 17% Native American, this test showed zero Polynesian ancestry (so much for my Easter Island explanation)  and only a 1% amount of sub-Saharan DNA specifically pinpointed to Mali in addition to the 2% North African.  That’s not unexpected because Mali shares a border with Algeria…again, an arab country.

ancestry test 3

It was Ancestry’s breakdown of my European DNA that confused me the most. They identified it as mostly Italian/Greek with only 3% Iberian. Greek?? Now, I am certain there are no Greeks in my family. Or are there? Well maybe. In the late 1800s there was a large influx of Greeks into Lebanon and there is also a large Greek Orthodox community who settled there hundreds of years ago. So it’s entirely possible that the Greek ancestry comes from my Lebanese side. But, how is it possible that there is such a large amount of Italian ancestry and so little Iberian?  Very odd indeed. Aside from my alleged cheating great great (great) grandma in the 1800s, I am unaware of a single Italian person in my family. Ancestry’s test detected no Scandinavian/Eastern Europe DNA but I know for a fact that my great grandmother Julia’s mom was from Denmark and her last name was Eskildsen. That’s where my mom’s blonde hair likely comes from as well as that bit of Ashkenazi that both tests detected.

ancestry test 4

Ancestry dot com also identified a 4% of DNA from the Caucasus region which they indicated could be from Syria, Turkey or Armenia. 23andme didn’t catch that, they just lumped it all together as Middle Eastern. It makes sense though, considering Lebanon’s proximity to Syria as well as the strong Turkish influence over the entire middle east during Ottoman rule which only recently ended in the early 20th century.

Since both tests yielded very similar results in the overall percentages of each ethnicity, but significant differences in the detailed breakdown, I am not quite sure which one I should believe. My son says he trusts the 23andme test more. For no particular reason. But I am inclined to believe the company who has the larger data base to draw from…which would be Ancestry dot com.  Or maybe I should just believe whichever parts I like best from both tests.

neanderthal

One of the more interesting things that the first of the two tests showed was my percentage of Neanderthal DNA. Apparently pretty much everyone with European ancestry carries at least some Neanderthal DNA handed down to us from the days when Homo Sapiens and Neanderthals interbred upon encountering one another in Europe. My Neanderthal DNA is less than 4% which is about average. I would really love for hubby to take this test because I am almost certain that his Neanderthal DNA has to be pretty close to 100%.  At least, that’s what his behavior seems to indicate at times. Hehe.