March 31, 2007

Serious Lack of Landscaping

I love my house- hate my yard.
Ok, hate is a strong word. I strongly dislike my yard. I wish you could have seen what it looked like when we moved here...everything was overgrown, the front of the house was completely shrouded by ancient junipers, and rhododendrons. Juniper is my least favorite plant, that has a scent I can only describe as cat pee. I know- gross, right? Well, they were living right under our windows, so I wanted them gone.

Fortunately for us, we made fast friends with our neighbor Rob. Rob loved yard work. Especially yard work that involved demolition. Rob had a truck and a chain, and he offered to yank those suckers out for us.
It was nothing short of a thrill watching the guys attach the chain, get into that old truck and floor it. The tires spun! Mud was flying! I held my breath hoping the rear bumper of the truck would stay attached. Not only did it stay on, but it yanked out those God-forsaken bushes by the roots. I think 21 in all.

But now what to do? Yes,we had a blank canvas, but no vision.
The picture here, of the front of the house is completely barren, and continues to be even now, a season later.

We do have grass now, but like everything else, there's a story for that, too.

The yard had no grass, instead there was a layer of moss over the whole surface. It was neglected for so long, that we had to start over. That meant tilling, raking, planting new grass seed and watering like crazy. If anyone has ever done this, you know how bone-shatteringly tiring it can be. If not, you are extremely lucky and I'm insanely jealous.
The grass grew in beautifully, but it grew only because I didn't touch the seeds. That was my husband's territory. I have a cursed "brown thumb" and am not allowed to participate in anything that requires the growing of a plant.
That being said, you can see why I have nothing in the way of curb appeal going on here. I need some major help. I want something "clean" neat, nothing that's going to grow all crazy-tall and out of control. I want lighting, pretty mulch, flowers for all seasons....I need a gardener! ha ha.

The Silver Lining:
There is one very cool feature, that we need to focus on though. It's in our side yard and it's gorgeous. This area was a wet, yucky low-lying drainage area. My husband dug down, laid down plastic, and poured gravel to make a dry creek bed. Then he made about a gazillion trips with the wheelbarrow filled with all these big rocks, and hand placed them one by one. The rocks came from our neighbor's yard overhaul (thanks Rob and Betsy!)
I think this project took him about 2 months of weekends, and some nights after work. He lost about 20 lbs. in the process, too.
Neighbors driving by would slow down, and tell him it was "looking good" and "great job". I think so too.
It not only looks cool, it really does divert the rainwater into the drainage pipe way better. It used to collect in this one spot, and I guarantee mosquitoes were having raves in there.
He did an amazing job, and I know he will continue to tweak it this spring and summer, so stay tuned!

March 22, 2007

Feeling All Artsy Fartsy

I woke up with the sun blazing though my windows and even though it was still chilly outside, I was so happy to see that spring sun. I'm sure there's some scientific fact behind it- all I know is that it cheered me up after that blizzard from a week ago.
Being that I was in this awesome mood, I wanted to do something today that was purely selfish (a.k.a. not painting a wall with a roller). I once bought some Mod Podge and some canvases and stuff at my local Michael's and it sat in my closet forever. I grabbed that stash and got to work.

Seeing that my newly-painted living room is in need of some serious accessory changes, I figured re-purposing some of my old things would save me a ton of moolah.

Plus, I had a good helper.

Having no clue how this would turn out, I took an old, gold frame and Mod Podged torn up bits of brown kraft paper and red tissue paper in layers , to hopefully give it a mosaic effect.

The effect was cool, but I like a little age on stuff, so I took some black and brown paint and dry brushed to make it look old.

While that was drying, I did a painting for my bathroom. There is a little back story as to how this painting came about:

A couple weeks ago, I was in HomeGoods, and I fell in love with this painting of koi. I wanted it so badly for my bathroom. I flipped that sucker over, saw that it was $70 bucks, and dropped it like it was on fire.

Here is my attempt at a copy:

I used to paint as a kid, and it has been way too long. Seeing as I am now 30-ish, this is my first attempt in many years. I know from an art standpoint it's far from perfect, but it makes me happy. Hope ya like it, too. :)

March 21, 2007

Nasty to Nice

We lived with this bathroom for almost a year before we tackled the re-do. Now, looking at these pictures, most people would say "that's not completely awful" ...oh, no these do not do justice to all the funky details, colors (green toilet?????) and (ew!) smells from almost 30 years of use. Look at those floors- if you had even one drink in you, that squiggly pattern seemed to move. Oh, and paneling. 70's luan paneling painted white- probably at the same time the walls took on that Pepto-Bismol color.

The kitchen was just finished, and my dear husband was taking a well deserved rest after all that work. I seem to remember him saying something about no new projects for a while.

My big problem is, I think I can tackle big projects by myself, so I start ripping stuff apart, and hit a snag that I need to be rescued from. Remember this, it comes into play later on.

My smaller problem is, if something doesn't look the way I want it to look, I loose sleep over it. I obsess about it. I want it fixed and yesterday.
This bathroom was next on the list .
On the hottest day of the summer, I grabbed a hammer and went to town on that paneling. The chair rail came off easily. On a roll, baby. I was happy, I had tunes playing and my son was the supervisor in his cute little Home Depot apron!
With the chair rail trim off so quickly, it was time for the paneling. I knew that was going to be a breeze- why not? Everything else up to this point had been.
I took my trusty hammer, pried out some nails and yanked-nothing. I stuck the hook part of the hammer between the wall and the panel and yanked---a 3x5 ish piece comes off. And then I see it. LIQUID NAIL construction adhesive.
It is like kryptonite to me and slows my progress down to a crawl. Now, most people might give up there but not me. I ran downstairs to the basement and grabbed the sawzall. I had no idea how to use this thing, all I know is that it looks like an electric knife on steroids. I know how to use an electric knife, this can't be much different.
After briefing my young child on calling 911 for emergency, my work began. With the first cut, I felt like a badass!! In record time, the paneling was off. Unfortunately, the liquid nail took half the drywall with it.
There was my snag. We had planned to just paint the walls, replace the vanity and trim and call it a day. Not with big chunks ripped out of my drywall. I cleaned up and waited for my husband to come home. I think I made him a fantastic meal that night to soften the blow.
We hashed out our options, and decided on replacing that paneling with .......more paneling. But nice bead board paneling. Not part of the plan, but in renovation you must be willing to compromise, right? meh.

This tub/shower combo used to be avocado green. Staying in budget, we had it sprayed (professionally) rather than replace the whole thing. What a huge difference! Doesn't it look brand spankin' new??

Right after we put the new floor down. This was something I helped on, but my husband really outdid himself. That floor fit like a glove. We love it, and everyone that comes here thinks it's tile. Nope vinyl- they have to bend down and touch it because they don't believe us.
Unfortunately, I didn't write down the paint or flooring information to share here, and my memory is horrible. But I can tell you that the cool curved shower-curtain rod came from Bed Bath & Beyond , and the HUGE vanity is Kraft Maid.
I'd say we got 80% of our original plan for this bathroom. We have champagne dreams on a beer budget, but somehow we make it work. I will never learn my lesson of biting off more than I can chew, but I thank God every day that I have a very patient and handy husband to bail me out when I get out of hand. He sleeps with one eye open for fear that I might start a project in the middle of the night or something. He knows me.

March 19, 2007

Proof That I Will Paint Anything

Never in my life had I lived in a house with a fireplace. I dreamed about it since I was little. To me , fireplace was synonymous with "home", and "comfort" , and "Christmas".

When I finally got one of my own, it was a little scary. This was not the grand , beautiful hearth I had wanted. It looked like you would get all dirty and smudgy if you leaned up against it. And there's that dark wood stain again.
We gradually got to thinking about how we could improve upon the look of the "black hole", as it came to be known.

My husband removed the rusted metal bi-fold doors and chain mail curtain..we got a proper screen and that helped a little, but it still didn't fit the picture I had in my head.

Being of limited budget, we agreed that we would have to tackle the beastie in stages. Paint is our friend. It covers up a multitude of problems, sins, and DIY mistakes. A little Warm Muffin on the walls and Swiss Coffee on the mantle, by Behr did the trick...
But I could not take my eyes off that brick. It was more glaring than ever. I had this sick obsession with it. I thought about tile and a new surround. Bleaching the brick, sealing it, yadda yadda. That damn budget held me back. It was time to suck it up and experiment.

2 coats of Kilz. Burnt umber, watered down and sloshed on with an old t-shirt, and some of the wall color dry brushed on and FINALLY something I can live with!!
Buh-bye black hole beastie!

March 17, 2007

Is D’Eirinn Mé

Happy Saint Patrick's Day!!!
Today we are going to my mother's for her incredible corned beef & cabbage dinner. My son and I are making Irish Soda Bread to bring to the festivities.
It's really easy, since there's no yeast involved (I still have nightmares about the time I tried to make pannetone with my mom) here's the recipe, if you want to try it.

Irish Soda Bread
By adding egg, sugar, caraway seeds, and butter to a traditional Irish soda bread recipe, you create a loaf that is fit for a Sunday breakfast or brunch. Wrapped well with plastic wrap, it can be stored at room temperature until the last crumb is eaten. Like all Irish soda breads, this freezes well.
4 Cups all-purpose flour
1/4 Cup sugar
1 Teaspoon salt
2 Teaspoons baking powder
2 Tablespoons caraway seeds
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter cold
2 Cups golden or dark raisins
1 1/2 scant cups buttermilk
1 large egg
1 Teaspoon baking soda
1 large egg yolk
1 Tablespoon heavy cream
Heat oven to 350 degrees;. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and caraway seeds until well combined.
Using a pastry cutter or two knives in scissor fashion, cut in butter until the mixture feels like coarse meal. Stir in raisins until evenly distributed.
In a small bowl, whisk together buttermilk, egg, and baking soda until well combined. Pour buttermilk mixture into the flour-and-butter mixture all at once, and stir with a fork until all the liquid is absorbed and the mixture begins to hold together. It should resemble a rough biscuit dough. Using your hands, press the dough into a round, dome-shaped loaf about 8 inches in diameter. Lift the loaf from the bowl, and transfer it to the prepared baking sheet.
In a small bowl, mix the egg yolk and cream together. With a pastry brush, brush the egg wash over the loaf. With a sharp knife or razor, incise a cross, about 1/2 inch deep, into the top of the loaf. Transfer to the oven. Bake, rotating halfway through, until it is deep golden brown and a wooden skewer comes out clean when inserted into the center, about 70 minutes. Remove from oven, and transfer bread from the baking sheet to a wire rack to cool.
I have lots more home improvement stuff to post, but today I'm relaxing my sore, tired muscles. I painted like mad yesterday. Wait till you see the finished result!
A hint: **FIREPLACE**
Oh, and one more thing: check out the snow we got last night here in the Northeast. It was near 70 degrees on Tuesday, mind you. I love New England, I really do.

March 14, 2007

part 3:

People always tell you that home renovations will take twice as long as you expect, and cost about 3 times as much. We were either in denial or just plain stupid, at least about the time frame. The cost was kept way down because we have an awesome friend, Mike, who just happens to know how to get stuff to hang on a wall without falling off.

I took our son out for the afternoon while the guys got to work. Along with Mike and my husband Jon, our friends Fish and Fred showed up, and they helped (hold the beer). Dogs from miles around heard my high-pitched squeals of happiness when I came home to the cabinets that just hours before were sitting in the garage!!

There of course was a huge catch. This is where the whole plan gets completely screwed up.
One of the lower cabinets - the one with the drawers- came to us damaged. We had to re order, so I called Home Depot. "No problem", they tell me. "When can I expect the cabinet? I have no counter top because I have no cabinet. No sink or dishwasher , either. Oh, and not that you care, but I have been washing my dishes in the bathroom sink for quite awhile. I also have a plumber and a carpenter who are ready to move on to other jobs because they can't sit around waiting all day for this one cabinet to finish their work, can you please rush this?"
"2 weeks tops" is the reply from Home Depot.
I give them the 2 weeks before I call and ask for an update. The girl grabs my file, looks....silence....she draws in a breath and says "I'm sorry, I see the order here, but the call has not been placed to Thomasville yet".
I think at that point I had an out of body experience. I don't remember what I said, all I know is my cabinet showed up 3 days later. They let us keep the old one, too for our trouble (big whoop). We were back in business!! After that, it went pretty smoothly with the exception of the hardwood floor patching in an area where we removed the half-wall. I have to really give credit to my husband- he is more handy than he gives himself credit for. He's super inventive, too. Like MacGyver with a tool belt.

While the guys were working on the installation, I was either following behind with the broom and dustpan, grabbing beers and pizza or painting. I always wanted to do a faux finish and this was a first try for me. It is a cream colored base with a glaze color applied with an old t-shirt:

In all, the project that was supposed to take a weekend (what a dork I am) took just under 2 months of weekends, and came in just under our budget of 13,000- that's everything. Cabinets, appliances , fixtures and counter tops.

The most important advice I could give anyone is, shop around and ask a ton of questions. For example: I wanted "Corian" brand counter tops- I talked to my counter guy and told him I was on a strict budget. He showed me a similar product that was alot less and was the exact style I was looking for. And because I saved money there, I was able to get the more expensive, deep sink I had my heart set on. Stuff like that really makes a difference when you're on a budget and want a completely new look.

The finished product!!!!

From this:
To this:

More than how it looks, which, undoubtedly is a huge improvement, I have a functioning kitchen that packs alot of practicality and storage in a tight space.
Evidence of a happy cook:

March 13, 2007

The Kitchen,part 2:

The day came for kitchen deconstruction. Our cabinets that we ordered from Home Depot had arrived, and were waiting in our basement and garage. We got Thomasville maple in Toasted Almond glaze.

I had my vision and picked out everything - right down to the cabinet pulls before hand so it was just going to be so easy...a weekend at most. Right?

Well, first we had to find a place for all our stuff.
I will never understand where all that came from. It's like a clown-car. Everything just kept coming when we emptied the cabinets and ended up being a chaotic mess.

Spices in the office, pots and pans in the family room, and a makeshift kitchen consisting of a microwave and fridge , set up in the dining room.
That took a major part of the morning, and while I was ready for a nap , we had to get cracking on taking down the old and dated cabinets and removing the counter tops. We also had plans to demo a pantry closet and half-wall separating the dining room from the kitchen. Any frustrations you have will melt away during demo. You let it all out with each swing of the hammer. Good times, people. Good times.

So about that poop. I never ever have been so disgusted in all my living life. When we took down one of the upper cabinets, it literally RAINED POOP from the ceiling. There had to be 20 years worth up there. It was the grossest thing ever. We never did see a mouse, dead or alive, but there was a nice little hole with telltale pink fiberglass insulation peeking out that told us this little guy (or guys, ew.) had been nice and cozy up there.

Ok no time to speculate on the fate of our little rodent squatter...we cleaned up the mess and got back to work!
Having a beer in hand makes the job alot easier, too. OH LOOK AT THE OLD WALLPAPER!!!hahaha!!

So far, we were looking good. It took much longer than I thought to even get ready to put up our first cabinet, but I was optimistic that this would all be a breeze.

March 12, 2007

Once upon a time...

Someone told me I should document our home improvements for posterity, so here we go with the first-ever post!

A little history:
We bought this 1976 3-bedroom ranch in the summer of 2004. We moved from a more urban area to a very small town and love it. It's close enough to civilization , but our yard is described as "land" and the word acerage came up a few times, instead of square feet. Lots to mow, but we no longer look out our kitchen window to see our elderly next door neighbor in her kitchen window - in her nightgown. (ew)

Unfortunately, the new house was not move-in ready.
Well, no. If I was Mrs. Roper it would have been perfect. I'm talkin' original AH-VAH-CAADO green shag carpet in the family room. The 3 bedrooms all sported the shag in various 70's shades: bright lemon yellow , a nice dark brown, and in the master yeah, you heard me right. With orange, yellow and brown flowered wallpaper. sexay.
I have video to prove the hideousness that I will post at some point, but I want to get to the real problem. The Kitchen.

Small, dark, dirty, cramped... All bad kitchen words. Too bad I didn't get pictures of the Harvest Gold fridge and brown stove. It was retro. Not a good "let's sell it on E-bay"! type of retro, either. But scary.

You do get a glimpse of non-working brown stove hood here.

But, seeing as I refused to cook on the brown fire hazard, and I accidentally melted the door racks of the fridge in the dishwasher on the first day, we went out and got the pretty, shiny stainless. glee!!

We embarked on designing the kitchen, which is not easy but I could see myself doing this for a living- I felt like a HGTV designer and I was in my friggin GLORY!

I went to Home Depot with my plans and they drew everything up , ordered the cabinets and we waited...

Part 2 tomorrow, but I will leave you with this lovely sneak peek:

POOP!!! ew, ew, ew, ew,ew!!!!!!