What We Did This Summer: June

Our summer is absolutely flying by. We have been super busy. Too busy to write as much as I’d like to, but I thought I should at least share our month-by-month highlights. I give you… June.

We worked on the deck….

DSC_4770And Alethea graduated from kindergarten…

DSC_4813We celebrated her graduation with a trip to Como Town for rides and cotton candy…

DSC_4863 DSC_4973And we worked on the deck…

DSC_4987Caleb turned one and we celebrated with a baseball party…

DSC_5780And in what might turn out to be the highlight of the entire summer, the girls and Caleb sat on the grass behind second base and ate cake with their bare hands to conclude his smash cake photoshoot…

DSC_5826And we worked on the deck…

DSC_5697We played in/on/near the water every single day it didn’t rain…

DSC_5675And made several trips to the library and various playgrounds…

DSC_5287We enjoyed hanging out (and being goofy) with our neighbors…

DSC_5391And we did some more work on the deck…

DSC_5681We met this guy at the nature center…

Snapping TurtleCaleb thought it would be a good idea to pet him…

DSC_5534The girls thought it was a better idea to stay a long way behind him…

DSC_5536After working on the deck some more, we planted a fairy garden…

DSC_5705And the girls looked to see if they could find any trace of tiny magical visitors…

DSC_5728Alethea took her very first ballet class…

DSC_5610And she loved every minute of it…

DSC_5611All that along with a couple parties, trips to the beach, hanging out with friends, and lots more working on the deck made for a busy, but good month. And spoiler alert for the “What We Did This Summer: July” post, the deck still isn’t done and we’re not exactly sure when it will be. It’s ended up being a beast of a project, but we keep telling ourselves, “It will be so nice when it’s done.”

Here’s hoping this finds you all sitting back, sipping lemonade, and enjoying the sun!

Signs of Spring

Spring is here and signs of it are all over our backyard.

Dandelion bouquets picked just for me by my sweet middle child…

Dandelion bouquet A robin’s nest housing three perfectly gorgeous eggs…

robin's nest with eggsThe apple tree in full bloom…

apple blossoms And then there’s this…

DSC_4642The deck project has begun! Nothing like a little DIY to welcome the season, eh?

Mantel Makeover

Hey, everybody. I’m finally doing it. I’m finally posting the long promised photos of our living room mantel makeover! I know you’ve all been sitting on pins and needles (either that or you’ve totally forgotten that I ever mentioned it in the first place), but the wait is over at last.

Well, almost over, because first I need to remind you of what the room used to look like. Here is the picture from the last time I posted about it, which was November of 2012:

Living Room fall 2012And here’s what the living room looks like now:

Living Room Fall 2014 (2)We could not be more pleased with the finished product! The old mantel was functional in that it held our TV just fine, and it was sturdy (I personally tested that out by crawling all over it hanging Christmas decorations). So, it wasn’t awful, especially from a distance, but up close it had some less than lovely bits and we really wanted doors to cover the TV, media components, and all of the cords that come with them.









So a year ago we got on Angie’s List and contacted three cabinet builders to come bid on the job. (Because as much as we love a good DIY project around here, we decided this one was out of our league and we needed professional help.) We asked them if there was anything to be salvaged on the old mantel and each of them in turn said the same thing, “Rip it out, just rip it ALL out.” So that’s what we did…

Then we had the pleasure of seeing what our living room would look like with a gaping hole in it, which is always a good time.DSC_8294Then we hired one of our Angie’s List prospects, who came in and took extensive measurements, and also one of our kitchen shelves so he could match the stain to our existing cabinetry. A few weeks later he returned with all the pieces of the project and started the installation, at which point our house looked something like this:

DSC_8803We lived like this for two days. Two WHOLE days, people! And now anyone who has lived through a kitchen or bath renovation can laugh at me, but OH MY GOODNESS, I thought I was going to LOSE MY MIND! Things sitting in random places. Power tools where my kids could reach them (though the were unplugged when not in use of course). And the dust. Oh the dust. It was EVERYWHERE! I can’t believe I ever begged Peter to let us buy an old house so that we could renovate it and I’m so extremely glad he didn’t listen to me. What on earth was I thinking?!?!?

But it was worth it, we survived, and so did our cabinet guy. I thought the girls might pester him to death with their hundreds of questions (they did little else but sit watching him and asking questions the entire duration of the install). He was so good about it though and answered them all very patiently.

As you can see, the end product is a million times better than the original mantel. And while the two days felt much longer than they actually were, I can’t imagine how many eons it would have taken us to do it ourselves. Plus there is no way we could have gotten the stain so perfect or the finish so smooth. Seriously, it feels like silk. Don’t tell, but sometimes I just stand there and pet it when no one is looking. Smooth like butter…

Another time, I will post about the new shelves in the corner and the built-in bench in the kitchen that we had installed at the same time, but this post is long enough, I’d say.

Let’s close with one more before and after, shall we?

Before we moved in back in November of 2008…

empty-house-living roomAnd now, November 2014…

Living Room Fall 2014 | BobbleHeadBaby.comMuch improved, don’t you think?

TATT: Painting a Bathroom

It’s Tuesday, Y’all. We have a fresh several inches of snow on the ground. And a Tuesday in January with a blank slate of a world outside my door sounds the like perfect time to revive Tips And Tricks Tuesdays. Now, I’m not promising that I’ll be writing a TATT post every week, in fact, I’m pretty sure that’s not gonna happen, but I think it was a shame to let them die out entirely, so in the spirit of a new year and new beginnings, here we go…

Back in October I decided a main floor half-bathroom facelift was going to be my next home project to tackle. First order of business… paint. Now, I already knew I wanted to paint the room gray. And I already had quite a few shades of paint to choose from because I’ve used five different grays in various rooms in my house and I’ve got samples of a bunch more. So here’s how I got from a slew of possibilities to actual color on the walls.

4 Simple Tips for Painting a BathroomBathroom Painting Tip #1:
Don’t assume because you like a paint color in another room of your house (or in someone else’s house) that you’ll like it in your bathroom. Since bathrooms tend to be small and often have limited natural light and sometimes poor overall lighting, it’s almost guaranteed that the color will look significantly different when applied in that context. At about 22 square feet, with a single overhead light and one small window, our bathroom is no exception.

Half Bathroom BeforeBathroom Painting Tip #2:
Do try out different colors on your wall before committing to a color. If you happen to have leftover paint from another room, great! If not, for just a few dollars, you can buy a test pot of any color under the rainbow from your local home improvement store. It is so much better to spend a few dollars narrowing down your color choice, than to spend $20 or $30 on a gallon of paint you can’t stand. (Bonus tip, if you like a color from a brand the store doesn’t carry… like if you want a Behr color, but you are at Lowes… just ask at the paint counter. They almost always have the color in their computer and can mix it for you regardless of what brand it is.)

Sherwin Williams Proper Gray, Functional Gray and Versatile GrayThis is the step when you realize that SW Proper Gray (left) that you love in your daughters’ south facing bedroom, looks very cold in the light of a north facing window. And that SW Versatile Gray (right) that was perfect in the low light of your guest room closet, looks rather drab when confronted with even a small amount of natural light. And thus, you, or rather I, end up with Sherwin Williams Functional Gray (center), because, for this room, it’s just right.

Bathroom Painting Tip #3:
Don’t be intimidated by working around the toilet. Yes, you might have to imitate a Circ De Soleil contortionist as you cram yourself into a cramped corner or two to paint behind it, but take the tank lid off and cover the back of the tank with Glad Press ‘N’ Seal wrap and you can slop around all you need to in order to get the job done. (Also be encouraged that if you still do get a bit of paint somewhere on the porcelain, it can be wiped right off with a damp cloth. No harm done.)

painting around the toiletBathroom Painting Tip #4:
Do realize that by changing the wall color, you may be irresistibly inspired to make other changes in the room. Since changing the wall color, I’ve also changed one small thing (the soap pump) and one big thing (the overhead light, which, okay, I admit, I ordered and Peter actually installed, but whatever).

Bathroom ProgressI’m scheming about some other changes, a shelf for storage, some sort of art on the walls, and maybe a faux linen paint treatment if I get up the nerve to try it, so photos of those and of the new light will be coming your way as soon as I launch into my 2014 Home Improvement to-do list. Stay tuned!

Shhhh! It’s a Surprise!

Yikes!  It’s been almost two weeks since my last post.  So sorry!

We actually had a five day family vacation to Arizona last week (yes, I will post pictures soon) and then Peter had another business trip this week (this time to Philadelphia), so things have been a little out of sync around here.  However, all air travel for members of our household is over for a little while now, so hopefully my life will get some rhythm back soon.

I am hoping for rhythm, craving it even, but I do realize that a room renovation might throw a kink into things.  What renovation you ask?  The super secret, the girls don’t know about it, DON’T TELL THEM, Operation Playroom!

Operation Playroom is what you get when you have a family room full of toys and a nearly empty space under your basement stairs that just begs to be turned into a special kid-sized hideaway.

Can you see it?  If you squint really hard, it starts to look like sheetrock, carpet, paint, and a cute play kitchen, right?

No?  Okay, well, I can’t really see it either, so I whipped up a handy dandy mood board.

Of course, since making the mood board I’ve already picked a different paint color and am second guessing the carpet choice, but you get the general idea.

As far as layout goes, the hallway leading into the space (on the right in the pic above) will be open, with a chalkboard on one wall and some cubbies built into the studs on the other side.  The section under the lower stairs (on the left) will be curtained off for toy storage.

The main part of the room will be turned into a playhouse with a kitchen on the right and a built in bench on the left.  Ideally we’d keep the space as flexible as possible for future uses down the road, but we decided a built in bench would be fine since the monster black pipe would be in the way no matter what we want to use the space for and building a bench over it will disguise it.

Disappear monster black pipe, disappear!

So that’s the plan.  Time frame is to have it done before Christmas.  I am leaning towards making it a Christmas surprise, but haven’t decided whether we can realistically keep Alethea from getting nosy that long.  We’ll see.

I’m so excited about it though since it’s the first space I’ve ever gotten to do from the studs up.  So many options!  Can’t wait to dive in!

Front Porch Reveal

Yes folks, it’s actually done.

I know I said in my first post about our porch that we had a simple four task list to accomplish this summer.  Turns out that simple does not mean easy.  However, I am thrilled to announce that our summer (which dragged on into the fall) front porch project has been completed!    And without further ado, here is the finished product…

It meant that Peter and I spent nearly every weekend all summer covered in paint, stain, sawdust, brick dust and mortar, but when I look at the before and after pictures, I realize that it was SO worth it.

We started with this:

…and ended up with this:

32 oz of wood filler, two gallons of paint, two gallons of stain…

A load of lumber, three bags of mortar and 2000 lbs of bricks…

A weekend without stairs…

Again, totally, 100% worth it.

One more before and after, shall we?

On the downside, we are probably now out of the running for an episode of Desperate Landscapes, but on the upside, we’re probably out of the running for an episode of Desperate Landscapes, which should make our whole neighborhood happy.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go because Peter has already jumped into our fall landscaping project: The Side Yard Spruce.

Hmmm… on second thought, maybe we could still qualify…

Stay tuned.

On to Painting

Our front porch isn’t done yet.  It probably would have been, but then Peter bought me 32 ounces of Elmer’s wood filler, “Just to fill in the holes along the top of the railings on the stairs.”

I meant to just fill in those holes and then do all the painting, but then I found another hole here and a crack there and before I even knew it, hours had gone by and I’d actually managed to use up the whole container.

Our front porch looks diseased…

However, I’m probably the one with the sickness, if compulsively filling 32 oz worth of holes qualifies as a mental illness.

There are still a few more places I’d like to touch up, but my wood filler is gone now and I doubt Peter would be so unwise as to buy me 32 more ounces, so the painting can resume and by Monday this baby should be done. (Knock on pressure treated lumber.)

A DIY Mirror Project (and a Porch Sneak Peek)

No, the front porch isn’t done yet.  We hit it hard this past weekend and I am happy to report that all of the masonry and major construction is done.  We are sensing light at the end of the proverbial tunnel, but still have some painting, staining and other finish work to do.  Soon.  It will be done soon.  But in the mean time…

I am ashamed to say that I have been hoarding an embarrassment of picture frame riches in my garage for the past 12 months.  Can you believe that I have had half-a-dozen large and beautiful empty picture frames for a year now and haven’t managed to do a single project with them yet?  *Hangs head in shame*

But this past weekend that all changed.  I finally got one of them transformed and up on my wall.  Here’s how it went down…

Last year we got a stack of great frames from Peter’s parents who were cleaning out his great-aunt’s house.  I loved this one in particular:

I thought it would make a great frame for a mirror, but I wasn’t sure where one might get a custom sized chunk of mirror.  I thought I might have to call one of those glass specialist trucks, but since that seemed likely to be pricey, I made a quick call to Lowes first.  I found out that yes, Lowes does cut custom sized mirrors (up to a certain size), but the guy on the phone was a little fuzzy on the details.

I had a bunch of other stuff to pick up for the front porch project anyway, so the girls and I made a trip one morning to grab what we needed and check out the mirror cutting situation.  Turns out that you buy a large piece of mirror (I think it was 30″x36″) for $17 and then they cut off the piece that you need.  I wish I had known that ahead of time, because I only wanted a 15″x20″ chunk, but after the guy cut it, he asked me if I wanted the rest of the mirror.  And what was I going to say, “No, I paid for it, and it’s perfectly good mirror, but please throw it in the trash”?  Nope, couldn’t do it, so I ended up with not one, but two 15″x20″ pieces as well as two smaller 15″x16″ sections.  (Anyone else sense more mirror projects in my future?)

Back at home, I headed outside to freshen up the picture frame with several coats of gloss white spray paint.  While the paint was drying, I attempted to photograph my recent Lowes acquisition.

Is it a mirror or a portal to another dimension?

So photographing a mirror ended up being a little tricky, but I tell you, if I had known how simple the actual project was going to be, I would have done it ages ago.  One trip to Lowes, a few coats of spray paint, put in some staples with a staple gun, bend staples away from frame, insert mirror, bend staples back and ‘voila!’ it’s done!  One gorgeous framed mirror for around $20, with paint and extra mirror pieces to spare.  Love it!

Lydia thought it was pretty great too.

We had a good time playing with the mirror together.

So that was my adventure in DIY mirror framing.  Right now the finished product is hanging in my dining room, but I’m not sure if that is its permanent home.  We’ll see where it ends up.  I feel like it could look good in just about any room of our house.

It might even look good outside.  But with our super slick new front porch, the mirror probably wouldn’t get the attention it deserves.  I’d say it takes something pretty adorable to distract from something so fabulous as a nearly finished front porch.

Wouldn’t you agree?

Update: To view the completed front porch project, click here.

Let’s Review, Shall We?

There is little doubt in my mind that this summer will go down in our family history as the “Summer of the Front Porch Project”.  What was supposed to be a relatively simple 4-6 week project in May and early June has grown and evolved (as DIY projects are prone to do) and we are now pushing to finish our front porch facelift by the end of July… cross your fingers… and maybe your toes too.

We’ve spent nearly every free weeknight and weekend in the past month slowly chipping away at this, bit by bit.  And we’re making progress.  We like progress, not as much as we like ‘done’, but progress is good too.

However, before I tell you where we are now, let’s take a look at just how far we’ve come already.

Here is our front porch a la March 2010:This was about 14 months after we moved into the house, but our first year of home ownership was dominated by a highly sensitive infant who didn’t like to sleep… ever… landscaping wasn’t really a priority for us. As Alethea started doing better a night, we slowly came out of the fog of sleep deprivation, looked around, and realized things outside our home were looking less like a dream and more like a nightmare.

Our problems were plentiful, but just to highlight the biggest eye sores:
1. The pebble landscaping rock wasn’t a fabulous product to begin with, but it was made worse by the fact that no weed barrier had been installed under the rocks.  Pebbles mixed with weeds just aren’t a good look.
2. The unattractive plastic edging was missing in places and coming loose in others.
3. The ultra cheap solar lights we stuck in there as our one attempt to spruce things up during our first summer in the home, didn’t work very well and just added to the visual clutter.
4. The grass. Oh the grass. You’d never know we’d used TruGreen the whole summer before, would you?  I don’t blame TruGreen though.  The house was vacant almost a whole year before we bought it and the lawn needed extreme TLC.

So in the summer of 2010 our goals were to replace the pebbles and the plastic edging with something more attractive, and to water and fertilize on a consistent schedule to try and resuscitate the lawn.  (We actually talked about just ripping out all the grass and starting over, but that seemed like a crazy amount of time and labor, so we thought we’d try to work with what we had first.)

Fast forward sixteen months to July 2011…

As you can see, we replaced the plastic edging with gray square bricks, took out the pebbles to put down mulch, and had green grass growing!  We loved the brick edging and were thrilled that the grass was making progress, but the mulch, well, turns out mulch is not in fact better than little pebbles.  Little pebbles at least don’t lose their color and get all trampled down and gross looking.  Yeah, we didn’t like the mulch and it didn’t keep the weeds from growing either.  It’s a shame that my gorgeous orange begonia’s only friends at the corner were some vicious two foot tall stinging nettles.

Be still my beating heart. Begonias are my favorite shade plant ever. So exquisite! But I digress…

So we chalked the mulch up to a learning experience and decided to try again.  This time with bigger, cooler rocks, complete with weed barrier underlay.  And also, we knew we had to do something about our sorry solar lights.  They just had to go.

After searching multiple home improvement stores and many corners of the internet, we finally stumbled upon these stylish, but affordable landscaping lights at Menard’s.  Whoa, did I just use ‘stylish’ and ‘Menard’s’ in the same sentence?  Crazy, but we do love our lights.

So this spring, when the snow melted and the azaleas were in bloom, things looked better than they ever had before.

Better, yes, but still not finished.

Nice looking border, cool rocks with some boulders mixed in, and the new lights of course.  All good.  But everything behind the good stuff is bad, very, very bad.  The underside of our porch and bare foundation aren’t exactly polished. Enter our 2012 Front Porch Facelift Plan.

The first thing that we knew we wanted to do was to build a wooden screen between the support posts to block the view through to our home’s foundation.  We considered several different styles, but thought that something similar to this inspiration photo would fit the character of our house best, only ours will be stained, not painted.


But what the screen won’t cover is the huge irregularly shaped post footings.

We threw around a bunch of ideas (paint them, build a wood box over them, clad them with stone), but every plan seemed to draw more attention to them and what we really wanted was to make them disappear.  Then I had a thought.  Would a large gray footing disappear if it was covered by some other large gray blocks?  We stacked some up to find out.

We loved it, so building stone columns on the four footings became part of the plan.  (The ‘columns’ will actually only be two sided, since the screen will cover the inner sections of the footings, we won’t bother to put blocks where no one will see them.)  As you can probably tell from the photo, this was just a quick-trick-block-stack, when we build them for real, we’ll use mortar to hold them in place.  Neither Peter nor I has ever mortared anything, so this could be fun, but we figured one has to start somewhere and a non-structural, practically stands up on its own stack of big cement blocks seemed like an easy enough project.  We haven’t done it yet though, so we’ll see!

So we had screen plans and we had column building plans, but it didn’t seem like there was much point in sprucing up the whole underside of the porch if we didn’t spruce up the existing structure too, so the whole porch will be getting a fresh coat of paint/stain, including the previously untouched staircase.  Why was it never painted?  We just don’t know.

And since the stair treads and risers were a hodgepodge of different sized boards, Peter decided to replace all of those too.  So our four task list was: 1) Sand/paint/stain existing porch, 2) Replace existing stair treads and risers, 3) Construct screen around underside of porch (including access doors on either end), and 4) Build block columns on each of the four footings.

So that’s what we’ve been doing, and like I said before, we’re making progress.  At least I think we are.

This is progress, right?!?

In any case, I’m off to work on the front porch some more now.  Praise God for a Saturday that isn’t in the upper 90s and muggy.  Maybe my stain will actually dry correctly this weekend.  Here’s hoping!

Another Busy Weekend

Memorial Day Weekend 2012

My baby sister graduated from college.  Where does the time go?

Long pants in 90 degree weather? Check.  Shirt on backwards? Check.  Wearing Mom’s flip flops just because they have polka dots, even though she can’t walk in them? Check. Backpack on back that contains a toy baby bottle, a hair brush and a pair of bedroom slippers? Check.  Let Mom or Dad talk her out of any of that? Absolutely-completely-utterly-unthinkable.

Walked into Lowe’s to find concrete stain for our front porch facelift. Found the exact product in the exact color we needed on the mistint shelf for $4. Uh-huh.  That’s right.  Score one for the home team.

How do you know when it’s time to harvest your rhubarb?  Not really sure, but figured if it was twice as tall as my 16 month old, it was big enough.  Looks like I’ll be whipping up some cherry rhubarb jam this week.

Spent a lot of time outdoors this weekend communing with nature and working on the yard.  Saw lots of birds, a fat brown toad, some fairly large spiders, way too many mosquitoes, and this cute little guy who had found a crevice in one of our boulders to hide in.  Alethea wanted to pet him, but insisted that she put on her gardening gloves first.

Hope you all had a great weekend too!