Interacting with Autistic Children – A Guide for Charity Appearances

If you follow me on social media, you may know that I recently joined The Royal Sisterhood, a member of Costumers for a Cause.

CFAC is a local nonprofit which brings costumers together to volunteer their talents for local charities, to aid and enrich their fundraisers and other events. Dressed as princesses, superheroes, and more, we do appearances at events such as charity walks, Children’s hospital TV programming, and more.

Prior to joining The Royal Sisterhood, I was involved with another division of Costumers for a Cause, doing appearances as Superheroes/ villains, along with my husband. (I went as Beast, he would usually go as Magneto or Loki, all from the Marvel Cinematic Universe.)

At a TRS meeting yesterday, my friend Sara did a great presentation on gender inclusiveness while doing charity appearances. With an Autism Walk coming up, I asked if the group had ever discussed interacting with Autistic children. I have seen some pretty bizarre things with regards to Neurotypicals interacting with Autistics, after all.

After sharing a few thoughts on the matter, I was asked to write up a bit of a guide. I went home, brainstormed with my husband, and here we are! While this was written specifically for a group of Princesses, we thought that it was good advice for those doing charity appearances in general, so decided to post it here.

All dressed up as “The Fairy Godmother”,
prior to a charity appearance.

Interacting with an Autistic Child

1. Don’t force eye contact.

Eye contact can feel very threatening/intimidating to some, and far too intimate to others. If it’s obvious they don’t want to make eye contact, talk to their shoulder or their chin. Just because they’re not looking at you, doesn’t mean they’re not looking at you… if that makes sense. Don’t take it personally if they don’t want to look you in the face.

2. Do not touch – even a fist bump or high five – without asking first.

Don’t take it personally if they don’t want to touch you, or shy away from you physically.

3. Talk to the autistic child first, not their parent.

For example, ask the child if they want a hug, not the adult if it’s OK. If it turns out that the child needs the adult to communicate for them, the adult will step in. Asking the adult first is a sore point in the community.

4. Be mindful of sensory issues.

Avoid or go very light on perfume, etc when attending an Autistic event. Be mindful of the fact that loud voices (loud to us, not to you!) can be very startling.

Of particular note for princess events: The high, very girly princess voice and accompanying laugh can be difficult/painful, especially in groups. If you are in a group of two or more princesses, try to keep laughter subdued.

5. Know your audience.

Autistics are very, VERY literal. There’s a fine line between staying in character, and offending the children. Many of us have no ability to suspend disbelief, and some of the things said to enhance “character” can come off as lying, or as mocking the Autistic child.

For example, if you say “I just came from Arendelle…”, an Autistic child is likely to process it something like: “Arendelle doesn’t exist. Is she making fun of me? Does she think I’m stupid? What am I supposed to say to that?”.

It can be very awkward and uncomfortable. If at all possible, avoid making definitive statements about the fictional world you’re portraying (I know, this is super counter-intuitive, for showing up in character). For this reason, various figures of speech can also be confusing and make things awkward.

6. Speak very clearly. Enunciate!

Many Autistics also have sensory processing disorders, which can be exacerbated by busy environments like the charity walk. When you hear EVERYTHING going on around you, it can be very hard to pick out a certain person talking, even if right in front of you.

Please don’t be offended if you’re asked to repeat something, or if you are misunderstood. Also know that many rely on reading lips, even if they don’t have a hearing problem. Try to face in their general direction when talking to them, even if eye contact is an issue.

7. Give plenty of time for a response.

Autistic children can take longer to reply than neurotypical children. If you’re sure they heard you, just have a bit of patience in waiting for a reply. They’re processing! Also, know that long pauses may feel really awkward to you, but aren’t necessarily to Autistics. Autistics can enjoy your quiet presence, and don’t necessarily need nonstop conversation. Social cues are not our strong point!

8. Ask about hobbies, BUT…

… be prepared to have your ear talked off. If you get an Autistic child talking about an area of special interest, they can go on and on. It can be hard for them to tell when the other party is not interested, or the conversation should move on. Be ready to be very, very patient!

On that point, know that when the conversation has ended, be clear that you are ending it. Don’t hint around that you have to move on, just be clear and honest that you need to meet others, etc. Again, social cues!

9. Do not take anything personally.

I’ve touched on this with a couple of other points, but it should be expanded on. For one thing, Autistics can be very frank with you. There’s not usually a lot of sugar coating, more just saying what’s on the mind. It can come off rude, but is usually not ever INTENDED to be rude. These can fall into observations or questions about physical appearance, etc. Try to roll with things, even if something hurts a bit.

10. Watch your wording.

Please avoid the use of “high functioning” or “low functioning” to describe an Autistic person. Don’t compare an Autistic to a non Autistic, or use phrases like “For an Autistic…” (“You’re so friendly/empathetic/well spoken for an Autistic”, for example). Though it likely won’t come up, it needs to be said: Don’t use “cure” language.

Additionally, know that – much like gender pronouns – How you refer to an Autistic is important. Many/most Autistic adults prefer identity-first language, ie: Autistic person, Autistic child, etc… while many non-Autistic people seem to think that person-first language is most appropriate: “Person with Autism”, “Person who has Autism”. Many of us see “with” or “who has” to be offensive, as it usually accompanies the idea of us being “inflicted” with something, that it’s something separate from us, and/or is a temporary/ “curable” thing. Autism is our Operating System, it’s who we are.

If an Autistic person tells you what their preference is – identity-first or person-first – please respect it. Also: Please don’t ever say “suffers from Autism”.

11. Tone matters.

You don’t necessarily need to mimic how the parent talks to the Autistic child. Some parents of Autistics are… less than ideal in how they treat their kids, and can talk to them like they’re babies and/or idiots. Aside from issues mentioned above (eye contact, enunciation, literal speech), you shouldn’t feel the need to talk any differently to an Autistic child, than you would a neurotypical child. As an example, nonverbal children are often looked at as stupid or lesser-than, and are frequently talked down to. The fact that they don’t speak *doesn’t* mean they don’t understand, or aren’t intelligent. Some of the most intelligent people I’ve ever known are non-verbal.

12. Know that every Autistic is different.

Some of these tips won’t apply to everyone. For some, every single one will. You will likely meet Autistic children who “pass” for neurotypical.

*****

As a bit of an aside – this isn’t so much about dealing with Autistic children, as it is a bit of information about the Autism community, culture, etc…

April is coming up, and with it… “Autism Awareness Month”. Every Autistic adult I know dreads this month, as the promotion and observance of it tends to be hugely offensive to Autistic people. I’ve written about it Here, Here, and Here. I’d encourage anyone planning to do Autism charity appearances to read through those posts.

The TL;DR:

1. Autism Speaks is a horrible organization, on so many levels. Most Autistic adults and many parents of Autistics are horrified by their campaigns and treatment of Autistics. Please consider NOT supporting A$, and look to alternative organizations. I tend to recommend Autistic Self Advocacy Network, as it is “Nothing about us, without us”

2. As an extension of #1, the puzzle piece and “Light it up blue” are very much Autism Speaks symbols, and as such are pretty offensive to a many Autistics. For more information/perspective, I recommend Goggling such things as “Don’t light it up blue”, and “Autism Speaks doesn’t speak for me”.

3. The #ActuallyAutistic tag on social media – particularly Twitter – is a good read if you’d like to hear what Autistic people have to say.

A few members of The Royal Sisterhood

How We Made That: “Hobbit Hole” Cat Shelter Tutorial

In every aspect of our life, my husband and I are very “If you give a mouse a cookie”. A small idea snowballs really quickly, basically… “If we’re going to do X, we should probably go ahead and do Y… and Z… and OMG wouldn’t it be cool if ….?”

That’s basically my explanation for this tutorial, and the project that spawned it. A little background…

Back in 2011, the tornado smashed out one of our garage windows. It’s right by the ground, and totally useless – there’s a weirdly placed fireplace behind it, so no human is getting in or out of it – so it’s been pretty low on our priority list of things to fix. We’d see a cat or two go in and out of it, not a huge deal.

Then last year, my husband heard some noises in the wall when he was in the garage… and discovered a litter of kittens! We socialized them and their mama, and found homes for each of them. Shortly after that, Mama (now “Artemis”, per her new family!)’s sister also had a litter of kittens in there. We were able to hold the kittens once, before she hid them away from us. They all became feral, and lived in and around our garage/yard.

Flash forward to now. We have about 10 ferals living in our yard. They’ve all been named – Frodo, Sam, Merry, Pippin, Fili, Kili, Galadriel, Arwen, Celeborn, Beorn – and have their own Facebook fan page: The Feral fellowship. We’ve trapped, neutered, and released MOST of them so far, and are currently raising a small litter of kittens from them (Celebrian, Elladan, and Elrohir) in my husband’s office, and will soon adopt them out.

ANYWAY.

In the course of trapping, neutering, and releasing, we decided that we should clean up a part of the backyard, near the window they use, and put a small crate out there as a shelter. Maybe we’d plant some catnip. Actually, maybe that crate should be one of these homemade ones that are insulated? If we’re going to go to THAT trouble, why not build one from scratch? What if we make it look like a Hobbit hole? With cat grass growing on top!

… If we’re going to do THAT, maybe we should make a little “patio” of mulch around it – with a little border – so that we don’t have to use the lawnmower up against it. Actually, if we make that area a little bigger, we can surround the little apple tree so that we don’t have to mow around that. A little bigger yet, and we can do the same with the compost bins. Hell, at this point, that whole section of yard may as well be done in mulch, there’s no point bothering to mow the thin little strip that’ll be left… that’s a lot of mulch. Maybe we can sink some pots of catnip into the ground, to look like bushes in their little shire? And add some stepping stones! You know, we may as well add a little pond, so they have a constant source of drinking water…

… and here we are. Proud caretakers of a little feral “Shire”. Here is how we did it:

Materials

– 1 round egress Well with matching cover. Ours was about 36″ diameter, and 2′ deep.
– 6′ plank of solid composite decking, in brown. Don’t use the hollow kind!
– Large tube of construction adhesive. (We used Loctite PL 3X Premium Construction Adhesive)
– Outdoor latex paints, tinted yellow and green
– “Cedar” coloured silicone caulking
– Pipe hanging strap
– Screws, bolts, etc
– Soil
– Cat grass seed

How We Did it

Being careful to line up / center everything, I used a sharpie and a couple of plates to trace circles onto the egress cover for the openings

Then, I drew a rough guide for the “brickwork” around each. I wanted to get an idea of how many bricks I’d need, and what sizes. I ended up needing 24 1.5″ x 2″ bricks for the main door, and 40 1″ x 1.5″ smaller bricks for the two windows.

I had my husband cut the bricks from the plank of decking, using his table saw. He used his jigsaw to cut the holes out of the egress cover. He was careful to get the door out in one solid piece, as I’d be using it.

As he presented me his perfectly cut bricks, he informed me:

“You know what you need to put between each of the brick pieces? MORDOR. I mean MORTAR.”

… what a dork 🙂

Once the holes were all cut, I slathered the whole front facade with a thick layer of construction adhesive. I used a painting sponge to spread and texture it, kind of smacking and pulling it upwards to resemble stucco.

As I finished spreading and texturing around a window, I carefully placed the appropriate sized “bricks” into place around the edge, pushing in to secure in the adhesive.

Once the whole thing was coated, textured, and had all of the bricks placed, I let it dry (cure?) for a couple days.

In the meantime, I spread the door piece with more adhesive, using the sponge and an old paintbrush to streak it into more of a “wooden door” texture.

Once everything was dried/cured, I painted the “stucco” yellow, and the door green.


As I was being artsy in the comfort of our house, my husband slaved out in the yard to clean debris, strip the sod, and level the whole thing. Getting the ground level where the Hobbit Whole would go was important, so it would be stable and fit snuggly against the garage.

I piped the cedar toned silicone caulking around the edge of the windows/door, and in between each brick.

Once it was all piped, I used a wet finger to smooth it all down

Once everything was all cured and dried, it was time to assemble it all.

First, Porter fit the egress cover to the egress well, and marked spots on the egress cover to indicate where the holes on the well would line up. He then drilled these holes, so he could bolt the cover on.

Next, with the cover on to hold the well into the correct curve, he attached two 2×4 planks across what would become the bottom of the structure, to hold it all into place. (Not pictured)

Next, he attached the door. He took the facade off the well to do this. Due to the ridges going on in the back of the facade / door, he had to get creative. He ended up … ah, let me just quote him…

“I used pipe hanging strap (like this ), which is easily bendable and has holes for screwing into things. I used one piece near the center of the door and one strap near the top. It’s just bolted on, I drilled holes in the support strips to mount it.”

He then replaced the facade onto the well, and attached it with 3 or 4 small bolts.
Finally! Time to install the Hobbit Hole into our little feral shire!

We had already completely landscaped the “Shire” by this point – covered the entire area in landscape fabric, installed a small pond, dug holes and sunk 5 little pots for catnip “shrubs”, spread mulch, and laid stepping stones.

We had left a small spot of unmulched area on the fabric, right about where the Hobbit hole would be going. We placed it where we wanted it, then packed some more mulch down into it as a bit of a floor, and to hide the beams underneath.

Then, we mounded a bunch of dirt over it. You really want to pack it in well, and it’ll want to slide a bit. Take your time!

Then, plant a ton of cat grass seeds. I think we ended up using 8 packets, over a few weeks, just getting ridiculous with it. They tend to grow in small clumps, rather than an all-over sod like consistency.

Didn’t manage to get a close up of the soil covered structure, so here’s a view of the whole Feral Shire..


… and then we waited, keeping the soil moist while we let nature take its course. MADDENING!

Once the grass started sprouting, the ferals started to indicate their approval 🙂

Pippin got up there and caused a bit of sliding, which we later repaired:

I think Frodo may have been a little jealous…

… and then Sam wanted to know what was up…

.. and the Kili decided to come hang out with them all…

A patched dirt slide, a few more seeds and a couple weeks later, and voila … one proper feral shelter Hobbit Hole! It was a lot of work, but totally worth it!


It’s been nice to see them hang out in the back yard, fairly carefree. They get along well, have access to fresh water and food, and seem to know thay’re safe here, and free to be cats:




(Bonus: There’s video of Arwen enjoying that catnip.. SO cute! Click here to view it on their Facebook page!)

Be sure to follow The Feral Fellowship on Facebook for tons of cat photos and updates on their lives out back!

By the way, if you’re here because you’re a big fan of Middle Earth… I highly recommend checking out Tol-Con, a Middle Earth themed fan convention coming to Minneapolis in 2016. My husband and I are both involved with it, along with a great team – it’s a fan run convention, and featured themed BANQUETS as part of the ticket! Here is the Facebook page for it. Won’t you join us on our adventure?

DIY Tutorial: Recycled Wood Slice Garden Pathway

Adapting a “new” home (built in 1928, but new to us!) to suit your own style is usually a big ordeal… but that went doubly for us, when we were hit by the tornado right after moving in!

After the debris had settled, most of the cleanup was done, and we had a new roof over our heads, it was time to do some finer cleanup, repair, rebuild, and redo. The side yard was a PROJECT – it was where most of the debris had landed, the small amount of planting we’d done pre-tornado was trampled by the roofers… just a huge mess. Add to that the fact that neither of us had done any sort of landscaping design before? We were sort of floundering!

We started working on the side yard last summer, one year after the tornado. It was around this time that we were also trying to figure out what we would do with the remnant logs from our downed black walnut. We’d taken the biggest logs to a mill, and had some smaller (too small for the mill) logs milled in our yard. After all of that, we still had some more logs that were either too small in diameter, too short, or too irregular for the portable wood mill. It had been such a gorgeous tree, and the wood was WAY too beautiful to let any of it go to waste.


After the tornado

With the bulk of the wood being processed and spoken for already – mostly for rebuilding the kitchen – these few leftover logs were something we could play around with a bit.

I had the idea of slicing them all up into disks and using them to redesign the side yard. We’d already decided that we wanted it to be lush with edibles, but hadn’t really come up with a solid design, or even really tossed around ideas yet. I thought it would be a pretty, rustic looking walkway to separate gardens on both sides of it… and the idea looked fabulous in my head!

Porter was a bit hesitant, and needed to be talked into it. He wasn’t sure we’d have enough wood, and wasn’t able to picture the outcome like I did.

So, I did the math – I measured out the ideal pathway, and figured out how many square inches we were talking. Then, we figured out the average diameters of the logs we had left, and worked out how many square inches of coverage we would have, when slicing them into 3″ disks. There would be enough, so my husband agreed to go ahead with it.

While this looks like a huge project, it took about a day and a half of work, with the two of us doing it ourselves. We love the results, and here’s how we did it:

This is what we started with at the beginning of the weekend. The bulk of the tornado debris had been cleared, but we still had some construction debris in there. We had already planted 3 or 4 raspberry bushes along the side of the house, and had covered the soil in that area with cedar mulch.

As a first step, we completely cleared the area of any debris, garbage, and any large pieces of broken glass.

Next, we pulled up the sod from the entire area, aside from the section with the raspberry bushes.

Once all of the sod was removed, we raked and trampled the ground to ensure a level base for what we were doing.

With a flat work surface to start laying everything out on, I started laying out the various garden sections, creating a wavy path with cement edging pavers.

Once the main pathway was established, I filled in the outer sections with fresh topsoil, and planted the gardens. I planted strawberry plants across from the raspberries, and basil and mint just beyond that in the next “wave” on that side.

The strawberry section

We planted two types of hops – 1 type each, on either side of our air conditioner – and ran twine up to our second level deck for them to grow up. Beyond the hops, we planted blueberry bushes (which ended up failing 🙁 )

As I was building the pathway and gardens, Porter was busy in the backyard, cutting the logs into 3″ disks (larger ones), and 2″ disks (the smaller diameter ones, as filler). What a badass!

(As a note: He says it would have been nicer to use a large band saw for this, as some of the cuts – smaller logs – got kind of dangerous)

AS he finished batches of log slices, he would cart them out to me, and I would place them. I started by placing the largest disks evenly throughout the space, to create the main stepping stones. I’d work my way down the sizes of logs, finally filling everything in with the smallest disks.

This is what it looked like when I’d finished placing all of the wood slices.

Another view.

Once all of the wood slices were placed, we had to carefully fill it all in with dirt. We shoveled on clean dirt, and swept it into all of the voids between the logs.

The filled-in pathway.

A year later, this is what it looks like. Gorgeous! The wood has weathered a bit, and those 3-4 small raspberry bushes filled in like CRAZY, providing us with a ton of insanely delicious berries.

The strawberries have also filled in, and we’ve been transplanting the runners to the next garden wave (took out the basil and mint), for even more berries.

The hops have ALSO grown like crazy, and are threatening to take over our upper deck! Love it!

Not only do we love the look of pathway, but it has the added benefit of making our whole side yard a NO MOWING area!

Because we used a high quality hard wood, this path will look great for many years to come. Even as it degrades, it will only gain character!

So there you have it. Not a TON of work, with such great results!

On the afternoon of May 22, 2011, North Minneapolis was devastated by a tornado. Twisted recounts the Porters’ first 11 months, post disaster. Rebuilding their house, working around the challenges presented by inadequate insurance coverage. Frustration at repeated bouts of incompetence and greed from their city officials. Dealing with issues such as loss of control, logistics, change, and over-stimulation, as an Aspergian woman.

Subjects covered include: Opportunistic “Vultures”, gawkers, new friendships, a bizarre gingerbread house, unique decisions made with the rebuild – including an internet-famous kitchen backsplash, “Tornado Claus”, contractor drama, water balloons, DIY design and work, music, sensory overload, and details on how to cook jambalaya for almost 300 people, in the parking lot of a funeral home… should you ever find yourself in the position to do so. Order your hard copy here, or digital edition here.

DIY “Random Light” Lampshade

Remember our friend Stephanie, who spent the summer of 2012 on a reality show?

Though she’s a chemist, she quickly became known for her craftiness, always making stuff, designing furniture, etc. As she puts it, she imagines that she may be an interior designer in an alternate universe. Very much in touch with her crafty side, this one…. so, we asked her to write a guest blog post, showing you how to make her fabulous DIY hanging light fixtures!

Enjoy!

So I live in a pretty cool loft space, but my apartment was riddled with really ugly generic metal light covers that looked more like they belonged in a public school than my apartment. I LOVED some of the fixtures available at Design Within Reach, but they were ridiculously expensive, and I wasn’t willing to drop $2K on four lamp shades. So what’s a gal to do? Make your own! Here’s my step by step process on how to do just that.

Step 1: Acquire big punching ball balloons and inflate until they are nice spheres- the size of these will determine the size of your finished lamp shades, so fill appropriately. A good place to find these is at a party supply store. Also purchase the other supplies you’ll need: wall paper paste, Vaseline, yarn, and stiffening spray. The yarn is going to be the structure of the lamps at the end of your project, so here is where you can really personalize things. Choose colors that go with your décor, or maybe a variety of yarn thicknesses or textures.

Step 2: You’ll want to set up a work space (like that one shown above) where you can suspend the balloons and protect your flooring from drips. An alternative is to work outside or in a basement- but if working outside just make sure it isn’t somewhere that things may blow through the air and stick to your crate.

Now the fun begins! Cover each balloon with Vaseline. Yes, this gets quite messy.

Step 3: Now you’ll be covering your yarn with wallpaper paste. A small bucket is quite helpful here.

Step 4: Pull the yarn out of the paste and wrap around your balloon. Squeeze off excess paste between your fingers as you remove it from the bucket. Otherwise it will be too sloppy & wet. This can be done as a one person job, but it is much easier with two people working together here!

Step 5: Continue adding on string. I used a couple different tones/ thicknesses for variety. Keep swirling yarn around the balloons until you have a nice framework created. Don’t forget to leave an opening at the bottom large enough to slide over your light bulbs!

Step 6: Once dry (I waited 24 hours), spray with stiffener spray- do not hold back! Be liberal with this stuff. J Let dry completely after spraying. Next, pop the balloons and your project is almost complete! I suggest another round of stiffener spray at this point.

Step 7: Hang and enjoy! Looks pretty similar to those retailing for about $1000 here. For less than $10 a pop in supplies to make them yourselves, I think it is worth a little effort!

Awesome! Wanna follow Stephanie’s post-reality adventures? You can connect with her on Twitter, or on her fan page on Facebook!

DIY Vinyl Tile Flooring Installation

A few months ago, Porter and I spread out “enabler” tendencies beyond our house.

If you’ve read my tornado book, Twisted: A Minneapolis Tornado Memoir… you may recall my friend Peter the ROCKSTAR. After the tornado, he came to our rescue with landscaper equipment and busted his butt to help us dig out from all of this. A lifesaver – and we barely knew him, at the time. Now, we are so happy to have him and his wonderful girlfriend Michelle as friends.

A few months ago, Peter had to leave home for a week, to volunteer with a big fundraiser. Michelle was planning to use that time to paint a few rooms in their house, and asked if we wanted to come paint with her.

Sure we did! An opportunity to start paying it forward / back!

Except… we can’t leave anything as simple as that. While we could paint the bathroom, the walls in there had some dings and dents. We asked if we could fix those, first. Same goes with some minor wall repair in the bedroom. It’s all good, right?

Remember that kid’s book about giving a mouse a cookie, and about how if you give him that, he’ll ask for all this other stuff as well? We… are just like that. Why paint the walls, when we could fix them first? HEY! CAN WE RE TILE YOUR BATHROOM!?

Peter put his foot down on letting us completely renovate the bathroom (boo!), but joked that we could re-tile the kitchen if we wanted. I honestly don’t think he understood that it wasn’t a joke, it was permission.. 🙂

So, after he left, we went shopping for tile with Michelle. There’s this really great tile we bought at Menards after the tornado – it’s self adhesive vinyl tile, but textured and designed to look like stone. It is BEAUTIFUL in our kitchen, and works perfectly – we don’t have the cold or slippery concerns that stone tile would have, in a room apt to have water spilling on the floor.

Also, we wouldn’t need to worry about reinforcing the floor for the added weight, pulling up the existing vinyl sheet flooring, or dealing with floor leveler – unlike stone tiles, there was no risk of the tile cracking if it’s even slightly out of level.

While Porter does NOT like vinyl tile as a rule, he was fine with this. It was actually designed to be used with a vinyl grout, which also took away from the cheese factor of regular vinyl sticky tiles. All around, a great product.

Beyond the long term implications of the flooring choices, this had two other things going for it – it was relatively economical, and very easy to install. Can’t say enough good things about it, especially after all the hassle that went into tiling our bathroom (Although, I have to say – having Fibonacci sequence tiled into the wall is so far BEYOND awesome, that the hassle was worth it!), and kitchen counters/backsplash (Ditto on hassle for 159 digits of pi!).

So, given that a new year usually brings with it a to-do list of home improvements for the coming year, we’d like to show you how to install this type of tile.

Before starting, we thoroughly cleaned the floor. Tiles should be laid down on a clean, flat floor. As some of the old vinyl tile sheet was sticking up on a few edges, etc, we had to repair that first – we used a staple cut to tack those edges/corners down.

Now, decide where you want your tiles to start. For this installation, we measured the room’s main area length and width, then divided that by the total width of a tile (including the grout line extension.) As it didn’t divide cleanly, we divided the remaining measurements in two – to have an equal amount of small piece on either side of that initial row.

Using that information on where to place the first row – both in terms of length and width of the room – We laid our first row. Now, most/all such tiles will have arrows printed on the back, with the instructions to orient all tiles so that the arrows are all facing the same way. With this particular style of tile, it was even easier than that – two of the adjoining sides had a dropped extension for grout. All we had to do was to keep the corner of those two lines facing the same way (“Upper left”, in this instance):

Remove the paper backing, carefully line up the edges with tiles that had already been placed, and slip it into place:

Firmly press down on the tile to secure. You may want to use a rolling pin or a tile roller:

Continue laying whole tiles, using previously laid tiles as a guide:

While it would be perfectly ok to lay the tiles as a straight up grid, we decided to do an offset pattern. To do this, I started each successive row of tiles offset from the one before, using half the measurement of a tile as a guide to place the first one. (If the tiles are 12″, offset them by 6″, etc – Be sure to include the grout measurement when doing this!).

For that matter, if you don’t mind all the extra cutting, you could snap a chalk line diagonally across a room and end up with a diamond pattern.

Once you’ve gotten all of the whole tiles down that you can – left with an outer edge of untiled floor – it’s time to go back and cut/fill all of those little pieces.

For each section, measure the length and width – measure the width at both ends, as many houses/rooms aren’t perfectly square.

Mark the measurements down on the back of your tile, being careful to do it in such a way that the orientation of the tile will be correct when placed:

Use a box cutter and a metal ruler to cut straight lines.

Once all of the tiles are laid and pressed down well, it’s time to grout. We used a vinyl grout made specifically for vinyl tiles. Using a grout float, we pushed grout into the grout lines, then carefully scraped extra grout from the tiles on either side of each line:

Work with a small area at a time, as drying grout gets difficult to work with:

Using a wet sponge, wipe away excess grout from tiles a bit at a time – you’ll need to clean your sponge and swap out for clean water fairly often.

Once all of the grout is applied and wiped clean, allow it to dry – undisturbed -for at least 24 hours, or however long is specified on your grout directions.

Before:


After:


Depending on the size/dimension of your room and the pattern placement you go with, this is a project that can be done SUPER quickly. Ours – two rooms – took about a day to tile (1 person), and another to grout. If you go with a straight grid pattern, it would take even less time, if you go with a diamond pattern, plan on more time.

Peter came home at the end of the week, shocked at what we’d done. Even months later, they are both delighted with their new floor, with one caveat:

They don’t sweep as much, and shock themselves when they do. This is something we’ve noticed, as well – white floors don’t camouflage dirt, so you know exactly what you’re getting into when you sweep. These floors do SUCH a good job of masking dirt.. it can be a bit unnerving if you procrastinate at all on sweeping!

How to Custom Design and Install a Nerdy Granite Tile Backsplash

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My tornado memoir – “Twisted” was released on 05/22/12! click here for more details, or to purchase!
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So, I know it’s not EXACTLY food related… but tiling an awesome back splash is KITCHEN related, and tutorials are *almost* recipes, right? I swear this is actually a food blog…!

Remember back when I debuted the photos of our finished bathroom renovation, with Fibonacci sequence tiled into the main wall, and a few digits of pi tiled behind the toilet? It was a last minute design idea, and it was to be a subtle, small nod to our nerdiness.

Well, one thing led to another… and now we have 159 digits of pi tiled into our kitchen backsplash. If you follow me on Twitter, you’re probably sick of hearing about it by now… but I not only have the final photos, I have a tutorial on how to do it yourself!

Now, I know we went sort of nuts with the pi day celebrations last year… but this really takes it to a whole new level. We’re happy to have this in place in time for this year’s party, but… damn. No idea how we’ll top this for Pi day 2013. Or, you know, 2015, when we should really go all out! (3/14/15!)

I guess the one good thing about getting your house destroyed by a tornado is that it forces you to get off your butt, make a bunch of design decisions and actually DO renovations on the house, rather than just talk about “someday, it would be cool if…”.

We still have quite a ways to go, but the house really is looking great. We won’t have cabinet faces and doors for a WHILE – still waiting for the lumber we had milled to be properly dried, so we can build all that. Oh well. I think the fact that the black walnut that destroyed our kitchen is being used to rebuild it is badass enough to be worth the wait! Anyway…

Now, I realize that the odds of anyone else tiling pi into their kitchen is fairly slim… but this tutorial is also good for anyone who wants to put in a new backsplash, but with a personal twist. The photos and specifics here are for pi, but the principles can apply to any design you can think up, with 2″ x 2″ tiles.

For instance..

– Using two favorite colors to create a custom checkerboard design, should you not be happy with the small amount of pre-fab options out there.

– If you look at the tiles as “pixels”, you can do pretty much anything you can come up with that is 9-10 squares tall, by however long you want.

– Tetris!

– Music fans or musicians could make an amazing “equalizer” type design!

I can’t tell you how rewarding it is to look at a finished, completely custom backsplash, and know that it is YOURS… and it wasn’t the difficult! On to the tutorial….

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