Saturday, September 29, 2012

Becoming a Seasonal Decorator

I am not, historically, someone who decorates extensively for holidays. I mean, we put up a Christmas Tree. And we usually talk about putting up lights and then don't get around to it. But I LOVE holidays, and I love at least the idea of decorating for them, so I am trying to turn over a new leaf here.

My attempts to become a better person through seasonal decorating started last year, right after Halloween, when I bought what seemed at the time to be a whole bunch of Halloween stuff on clearance. And then I added to my stockpile throughout the year with thrift store finds.

But when I pulled it all out this didn't seem like as much as I had thought. And also I didn't like some of it anymore. So another trip to Target for sadly non-clearance stuff was necessary.

I'm still tinkering. Somewhere around here we have a big, garish light-up Frankenstein who needs to hang out on the front lawn I guess. He's not quite as....classy as I like to think my other stuff is, though, so I'm holding out and making excuses to the kids when they ask about him. But we did quite a bit this week, so it's coming along.

This guy was a thrift store find a few months ago (and the doormat was one of my clearance Target buys last year). I'm not sure if he's supposed to be a plant holder or not (we might replace the mums with candy on Halloween), but I thought they would be fun.

Graveyard from combo of dollar store and Target clearance tombstones. And those skulls are from the thrift store, too. They're supposed to light up, but I don't think the lights work. I might ask Dave to tinker with them a little more to make sure.

Then we have my attempt at a centerpiece. Which I cannot seem to leave alone. Gavroche the cat wanted to be in the picture because he's all orange and Halloween-y. Okay. So the owl candleholder and the brown pumpkin are from the $2.50 section at Target, and the fake acorns and pinecones and whatnot in the glass pumpkin are from the $1 section. They keep settling, so I need to go get more. Everything else is from their regular Halloween section, and I think it was all in the $2-6 dollar range. Word of warning: the owl candleholder is adorable and all, but it doesn't open up, so it's really hard to get the damn candle in there. And then, when you do, it burns down to nothing in half an hour, and you're back to start. Grr....

This is the first incarnation. Turns out everything has moved around almost as much as the cat.

But everything was kind of too level, so I started adding in books. First up some Victorian Ghost Stories...

More books! I'm not sure why I turned the skull the other way for this one. We are not as well stocked on Halloween appropriate books as on some other genres, but I did my best. Shirley Jackson's The Lottery...doesn't get much creepier than that story, right? And Hawthorne's Twice-Told Tales. I can't remember for sure, but I think maybe some of them are scary? Or at least vaguely gothic? Then Kristi came over and I told her about how I'm still worried it's too same-heighty, and she suggested tall candlesticks. Yes! I think it needs that. They didn't have any at Target, though, so I will have to keep looking.

And THEN I thought the stick-y brown pumpkin was too much the same size as the glass pumpkin, so I bought a million gourds for 69 cents each at Trader Joe's, and did this. And that was just a couple of hours ago, so who knows what will happen next. I am new to centerpieces. Also, I should mention that the cats like to lick the gourds. I don't know what's up with that.

Linking with Everything Fall Link Party at My Uncommon Slice of Suburbia

Thursday, September 27, 2012


I think we've already done more with this house in 4 months than we did with our old house in 9 years. That might be a slight exaggeration, but it does make me sad to look back at all the stuff we did in the last few months, to get the house ready to sell, and wonder why we didn't do it earlier so we could enjoy it.  I can't pin down exactly the reason for our house-decorating/fixing-up lethargy, but I do have my suspicions, and their names are Ari, Milo, and August.

When we moved in, we had an almost 2 year old, and I was 7 months pregnant. Then we had August 2 1/2 years after Milo, and, well...things stayed pretty hectic for a long time. Of course, I seem to be reverting to old patterns with this whole having another baby thing I'm doing (and that's part of the reason I feel such a push to get things done over the next couple of months, while there's still time!)....but we have no plans to repeat having a baby and a toddler at the same time.

One of the saddest parts of leaving our old house was how little time we had to enjoy the kitchen reno we did in order to hurry along the house selling. In fact, I wouldn't say we got to enjoy it at all;  it was nice to look at, but I too scared of messing it up to actually USE the kitchen much.

So let's take a moment to look back on it and pretend it was ever really ours (good thing I took pictures, since otherwise I'd have go pound on the new owner's door and ask to come in and visit for awhile).

I don't really have bonafide "before" shots, so here's what I managed to come up with:

This is the color the kitchen came with, and we lived with it for a very long time. Why is every house I move into yellow? That's our old table, and those are the same plates I bought at Marshall's or TJ Maxx or somewhere back when we lived in Boston. Then I held on to them until their time was past and they'd lost pretty much all resale value. Oh well.

And this is the best I could do to show the lovely builder grade oak cabinets, brass hardware, and original, late '80's laminate (complete with chipped off piece on the corner there). Ignore the counter surface in the middle there; that was our stand-alone island (essential for our almost no counter space kitchen). We had repainted by this point, but hadn't gotten any further than that, despite grand plans.

We had no funds for granite or new cabinets or to hire anyone to refinish the cabinets. So one week Dave took the kids to California to visit in-laws, and I stayed behind and did a quick, cheap remodel. We had butcher block from Ikea installed, and my wonderful real estate agent and some equally wonderful friends came over to help me knock out painting the cabinets and replacing all the hardware. Then Dave put up the backsplash when he got home. Finished result:

Oh, how I love that backsplash! It's plastic, but it looks like pressed tin.

I loved these counter tops, but I was terrified of using them. I spent most of my time rubbing mineral oil into them and watching them obsessively to make sure I cleaned up any drop of water immediately.

The new table was really supposed to wait and go straight to the new house, but the old table was so beat up that we went ahead and got it early.

I don't have a price breakdown....the cabinets were maybe $60 for hardware (I reused the hinges and spray painted them to match the brushed nickel cabinet pulls) plus the rest of the same never-ending gallon of paint I had already painted every bathroom cabinet in the house with (and some oil based primer that I also already had on hand). I want to say we bought two 96" lengths of the Numerar counters from Ikea for $170 each. Having the countertops installed was the most expensive part, at around $500, if I remember right. Of course, handier people than we could have done that themselves. We could not. I'm glad we didn't try.

From time to time I wonder if I would have done things the same way if were doing it for ourselves. I think we mostly would have. I had actually envisioned painting the cabinets black long before we decided we were moving, in fact. And I've already shared my love of the backsplash. It's possible I would have sprung for real tin had we been staying, but it's also possible I would have decided that the extra cost + extra maintenance would have made it not worthwhile.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Picture ledge hanging: proving we can accomplish things on weekdays, too

Yesterday I kept thinking about doing a photo tour of some of the little projects that we really need to get knocked out/finished. But I couldn't even work up the motivation to post about how hard it is to work up the motivation to do these small things.

So I was surprised to find us, last night just before bed, actually doing one of them! I commented yesterday on Stately Kitsch that her picture ledge hanging might be enough to inspire some picture ledge hanging around here. And I guess it actually did!

We picked up the picture ledges during the shelf buying Ikea expedition, so....almost a month ago? They've been leaning against various walls ever since. They started out in the foyer and then made the big move into the den where they belong. And then they sat there until last night.

My original plan was to put a gallery wall here, but we ended up with the picture ledges for a couple of reasons. It's easier to switch pictures around from time to time, helping to prevent the problem we've run into historically with pictures, wherein all the pictures of August stop when he is 2 because the wall's full and I stop ordering prints. Also....easier. Although it took a bit longer than I expected to get everything hung up....we had one long and one short Ribba picture ledge for each of the two planned rows, so we needed to make sure they were level, and even with each other, and decide on the height and spacing and all that.


Walls around it are still looking a little bare (and this is a room that still has the original paint; plan is for this room to end up some kind of taupe, but I'm a little gun shy about picking it out; it seems like a lot can go wrong with taupe). We're thinking more photos hanging around the ledges (like maybe some of our favorites, so we're less likely to want to switch them around in the near future). We also need more light in that area, so that we can actually see the pictures. This room gets less natural light than the front rooms and the only light in there right now are two sort of....spotlights over the fireplace and a couple of lamps. Like with the library, we're not sure whether we want to spring for more overhead lights or just buy some more lamps.

But I will just bask in this sense of weeknight accomplishment for now. And admire how much smaller the big pile of pictures got last night:

Aww, look at that one on top: it's Dave and Oliver, my favorite dog ever (who died about a year ago, at 16. This is back when Dave was in college (I had just graduated) and Oliver was around 2 or 3):

It didn't make the cut for the picture ledges because it's not in a black frame. Oh! I hope it comes out of that frame okay; it appears to be unmatted. And this is a picture from pre-digital days; I suspect the chances of me managing to find the negative somewhere are pretty much zero.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Fire Pit Weekend Revealed!

Our yard is very big (we have a half acre lot) and very empty. We have the only non-wooded lot in the (small) neighborhood. The story we got from neighbors is that a tornado a few years back hit our house and took out a bunch of trees, and the former owner went with clearing out the whole backyard as the least expensive way to clean things up.

It's a huge change from the super wooded lot at our old house. I'm excited about the possibilities involved with gardening with the help of actual sunlight, but truth be told the totally empty yard was kind of....boring. It's not even especially useful as a flat surface for, like, sports and stuff (you know, if we were a sporty people), because there are all kinds of surprising dips and holes where trees used to be, excellent for spraining ankles.

We have a dome climber, like this one:
I thought it would get more use from our older kids than a swingset, and then I found a great deal on one on Craigslist and snatched it up. So picture a giant, flat, grassy yard with a dome climber in one corner. That's what we had.

Until today!

We had a cheap little metal fire pit from Wal-mart or wherever that we used on the driveway at the old house. The kids have always LOVED having fires (and the accompanying marshmallows); firepit evenings often started with marshmallows and ended with kids running around catching fireflies and all that sort of thing. So idyllic!

So I knew I wanted a more substantial/permanent/pretty firepit here. I did my usual Pinterest research:,,1636191,00.html

And settled on this $30 firepit from Always Chasing Life as my primary inspiration.

Ours was more than $30, for a few reasons. For one thing, we lacked a nice patio to put it on, so we decided to clear out a circle in the yard and put gravel down first. And we wound up with slightly more expensive stones, for reasons that I will reveal as our story continues.

Okay! Firepit weekend arrived, and we headed off to Lowes, where we discovered that they were having a 20% off sale on landscaping stones! What luck!

We picked out this pea gravel to use as the base. We wound up with 22 bags (and could probably use a couple more for better coverage) at  $3.37/bag (after our 5% Lowes card discount), already blowing a $30 budget out of the water. But cheaper than a patio!

We were planning to get these "castle blocks:"

....but then Dave did some fancy mathematical figurin' about radii and whatnot and decided that we could make a smaller circle by buying the more expensive (but also prettier) flagstone. In the end, we decided that the castle block would probably have been fine; Dave didn't really think about how in firepit building, unlike in geometry, you can play around with the spacing between the blocks and make circles smaller with barely noticeable aesthetic ramifications.

I'm glad we went with the flagstone, though; I'm very pleased with how it looks.

I'm conflating various Lowes trips, interrupted by sleep and eating and birthday parties and August's performance as Colonel Hathi in The Jungle Book, for the sake of the narrative. Had we bought everything at once, it would have killed the minivan, I think. In the end, though, we bought 22 bags of pea gravel and 30 flagstones, at $1.86 each.

We came home with all the stuff and set to work. We even had an extra kid over for the afternoon, so we got him going with some manual labor, too:



By the way, see that fence? My husband built that fence all by himself! Well, my brother helped with digging the post holes. But, mostly, all by himself. Which took a long time and was a sucky job, and saved us a bunch of money, and looks AWESOME. Go Dave! (not that crappy fence along the back; that was already there. That's the fence The Beagle sneaks out under whenever she gets a chance. Not Dave's fence; it's like Fort Knox, I tell you!)

Digging the circle was the most time consuming and unfun part. But then came....the gravel spreading!

And then....the rock stacking!

Dave took all the dirt/grass he dug out of the circle and piled against the crappy fence for Beagle-proofing purposes:

I am, again, condensing for dramatic effect. The whole process took parts of 3 days, start to finish, although only a substantial part of the first day. It probably could have been completed in one long day, had that been absolutely necessary. Really, the part he did today took about 15 minutes (finishing stacking the stones from the last minivan-load).

We opted for cheapo plastic Adirondack chairs. We wanted 6 of them, and paying for six nice chairs just wasn't going to happen. It being the end of the season and all, white was the only color Lowes had left. We have big plans to spray paint them and make them more beautiful, though. Sometime.

The finished project:

And here it is in action:

Fire! Pretty!

So there you have it. Total, more than $30, cost: $129.94 for the gravel and flagstones, plus another $102.48 for the Adirondack chairs.

Editing to add.....the metal bowl is just the bowl from our old firepit, recycled. In case anyone was wondering :)

Linking with:
Summer Spruce Up Series

Spray painting self doubt

While Dave was digging with The Beagle on Saturday, I was confidently applying thin and even coats of green spray paint to the formerly cream colored lamps from the dining room. Said lamps were $5 each at the thrift store and looked like this (with Target shades. I won't say how much the shades were because it makes the lamps sound lots more expensive. They were Target priced):

Then I did this to them:

And then I brought them inside and put their Target shades back on them and stood back to admire my work:


Then Dave came in and looked at them. He didn't like them. "I don't know about the color," he said, "it doesn't seem quite right. Maybe they should be orange?"

Clearly, I thought to myself, Dave was insane. Or at least handicapped by poor color sense. I dismissed his critique immediately.

Then my friend Kristi came over. She didn't like the color, either, but she didn't suggest anything crazy like painting them orange. "Hmm...." I though to myself.

So. I don't know. I like them green, but I'm now on a quest to find at least one other person who agrees with me, because if no one else likes them, then it's possible that I'm just....wrong.

I have been envisioning pops of green in my blue rooms for awhile now. I think I can trace the inspiration to this house tour from Apartment Therapy. It is also a colonial (though, at 4500 square feet, I'm not sure how boxy it can really be), and I love pretty much every single thing about it. And I've had this particular photo stuck in my head since I first saw it:

green table and owl against blue walls. Pop! Anyway, anyone want to weigh in? Green? No way? What color SHOULD they be? Or should they go back to the thrift store from whence they came to be replaced by some more excitingly-shaped lamp?

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Library tweaks

I ordered curtains from last week, and they showed up on Friday. For some reason they're called "conspiracy curtains." There's a rug on its way next, for under the armchair (mostly so it doesn't slide back and break the glass doors....when we get the glass doors). We had trouble deciding between rug and no rug for this room....Dave says no rug is better for the acoustics, with the piano and guitar, but we weren't sure our family's musical talents are really at a high enough level for us to care that much. So rug just under the chair is the current compromise.

Then I picked up curtain rods at Lowes and put some stuff on the chess table. Like a chess board. And the horse lamp (works thematically with the chess board, you see!). I think I've decided to paint the table gray and go with no chess board painted on it for now. Because our existing chess board likes it there. The chess board's move to an accessible location (it used to live on top of our tall TV armoire) has meant an approximate 300% increase in the amount of chess played around here in the past few days.

And we hung the picture on the wall! No more leaning! for backlit photos? I feel like I should know this.....I tried the flash, but things were even worse then. Wait for a cloudy day?

Oh. I think this is with the flash. Maybe it is better.

Picture on wall!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Fire pit sneak preview

You know what you need when you're digging a circle for a fire pit? The most important part? A beagle.

Dining room....the beginning of progress

We are in the midst of a busy home improvement Saturday around here. Already there has been a trip to Lowe's, curtain hanging, lamp spray-priming, and firepit yard digging. That's still going on, the digging is. But I can't help--pregnant! Yep....digging while pregnant gives babies two heads, I think I read somewhere. And hanging curtains is such hard work that I'm taking a break to post. More on Firepit Weekend later (or Firepit Month--we'll see which).

Today...layer two of the house tour continues, with a comparison of the dining room back before we moved in and now. Our old house had a tiny dining room that acted, at various stages in our nine years there, as a playroom, schoolroom, and office/music room, but never actually a dining room.

I kind of liked the idea of actually having a dining room in this house. We don't have weekly dinner parties or anything, but we do usually host Thanksgiving for Dave's side of the family and we have some other times when a room with a big table that seats a lot of people comes in handy (like the math club that Dave coaches. At the old house, this involved dragging tv trays out and setting them up in the living room. No more! Math club at the table, baby! Movin' on up).

Yes, so we like to have wild and crazy math times around here and we need a table and a room to keep it in.   But I didn't want a room that was just a dining room, either (truth be told, we mostly eat in the kitchen). My original plan, before we even picked out this particular house, was that our new house would have a dining room/schoolroom/library, with lovely shelves lining all the walls. I pinned several examples to inspire me, such as:


So pretty! Only then we moved into this house, and the dining room was filled with judge's paneling. I didn't want to rip all the judge's paneling out (and, looking around, this room isn't really big enough to support a big ol' table AND walls lined with shelves). So a new plan was born: schoolroom/dining room in the dining room and library/music room (it would have been a music room/vaguely sitting room-esque room under the old plan, I think) in the living room.

So far this is working out nicely. I have a dining room that suits our schoolroom needs beautifully by day but can pass as a respectable dining room by night. We spend a lot of time in this room, contrary to all the stereotypes about dining rooms. It gets a lot of natural light and is a pleasant room to be in and, of course, there's always somewhere to sit no matter how many people are already in there. It's our home base for school, it's where the laptops tend to spend most of their time, and it's where I put giant piles of hand-me-down baby clothes until I have a chance to sort through them (thanks, Kristi!)

Here's the picture of it empty again:

And here it is today (not really today. Today there are the piles of baby clothes. I think it was Thursday):

I can't get as good of an angle as I could into the library....must purchase wide angle lens (with magic money). Okay, so this is the view from the foyer. That table and the buffet were housewarming gifts from my mother (who, along with my aunts, owns a really cool shop that sells second-hand and antique furniture/stuff: A Classy Flea). Table and chairs are of unknown origin; the buffet is from Lane, orginally. The table has another leaf that can go in it and two more chairs (chairs are slightly mismatched, you might notice. I'd like to someday get more that are closer to the style of the ones with the round spindles, as I like them better and they're more comfortable, but it's all close enough for now). When the leaf is in, we can seat as many as 10 people in relative comfort.

The buffet is pretty, and it's also HUGE. It holds tons and tons of stuff--like all the currently used school stuff that needs to stay hidden when not in use so that the room can look like a real dining room. Generally speaking, there are piles of books and a computer or two all over the table. But each kid has his own compartment in the buffet where his stuff goes, so it's pretty quick to whisk it all away when needed.

We've had that painting--we'll call it the Sad Pilgrim painting (I guess they're pilgrims. They're dressed up like pilgrims) forever. It's an old oil painting, also from my mom, but it spent a long time in exile in our old basement because we couldn't find the right spot for it at our old house. And it got kind of beat up in the process, and I feel guilty about that. But it's still pretty! Also, it needs to be hung up instead of just leaning there. Ongoing theme in the house, it seems. Leaning is easier than hanging!

Those lamps have already gotten a paint job. They were $5 each at the thrift store, and then I got the shades at Target. The shape is pretty traditional/boring, but I decided to go ahead and get them, since they were the right size/price and let the color do the heavy lifting for them. They'll get their own post later, because I can't spray paint something and not devote a post to it! If I do, I'll run out of things to post about, and I'll have to go outside and help dig.

I'm envisioning getting some buddies (at the thrift store/garage sales, I hope) for the globe and having a small collection of them on the buffet--sort of an homage to the room's schooliness and also a way to add a little...whimsy? 

Finally, I am aware that the brass outlet cover sticks out like a sore thumb. It will be gone soon.

We call this the Old Lady Cabinet. I'm thinking of eventually moving it to the foyer and getting something else in this corner. With the buffet and the table both being pretty formal and traditional, I'd like some things to tone down that vibe a bit. This is also from my mom's shop, but we paid for it all by ourselves. On top are baskets of school stuff and inside are...MORE boxes of school stuff. Math manipulatives and art supplies, to be precise. 

Here's another shot of the fancy light fixture. Fancy! (This might be another thing that eventually leaves to facilitate the toning down of the traditional vibe)

And these pictures were housewarming gifts from some friends. This is the room where we keep all the housewarming gifts. I want to spray paint the frames, and then they will be even more lovely. 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Way Back in May: Part 2

The upstairs!

The former owners' decorating choices get a little more....interesting when you get upstairs. There are 4 bedrooms up there, a laundry room and hall bath, plus a ridiculously big master bath and closet. Before we saw the inside of the house, I was expecting the room over the garage to be a bonus room. But no. It's all closet and bathroom.

At one end of the second floor are two decent sized (around 12 by 12, IIRC) bedrooms. This one has two closets, so it ended up being Milo and August's room.

And here's the other one, Ari's room. You can't tell from this picture, but each of the non-stripey walls was painted a different color--one to match each of the stripe colors. Also, oddly, there's a really nice ceiling fan in this room. I say it's odd because it's such a big upgrade from the ones in all of the other rooms. Why did this room get such a fancy fan? We will never know.

The guest room. It's a good bit smaller than the other bedrooms. We thought about using it for a nursery once we realized we were going to need a nursery, but we'd really like to have a dedicated guest room, so we have an alternative plan for a nursery. If this baby is anything like the last one, the nursery will exist mostly as a place to keep clothes for long time anyway, and we'll have a baby sleeping in our room. Eventually, we'd love to finish the basement with a big rec room and a smaller guest room/bath, and then this room will become another kid room.

The hall bath. Our realtor's theory about the missing mirror (in this bathroom and the downstairs one) was that it had cracks in it, so the bank took them down for safety/not wanting a lawsuit reasons. Since not having a bathroom mirror wasn't practical long term, and since there was that big bare spot on the wall and no way of matching the paint, this room was one of the first to get a quicky makeover so that we could hang up mirrors. This is another room that fascinates me....I'll post a better picture of them later, but the light fixtures above the sinks are really, really cool. The faucets had also been updated. But nothing else in the room. Someone apparently got started on a nice update but didn't finish for one reason or another.

Master bedroom. The picture does not show it, of course, but this room is really, really long. Like 29 feet long (by about 13 feet wide, I think?) Which is why we came up with the idea to put up a wall with french doors to section off one end of it for a small nursery, which can later be a library or sitting room or office or whatever. I've always poo pooed the idea of a sitting room in a master bedroom as something that would never get used....but as my boys get bigger, I'm definitely starting to see the appeal of having a place to retreat to.

Master bath. My goodness! What's going on in here!? What an....interesting color (painted over wallpaper, incidentally). An eclectic blend of fixtures from 3 different decades! Chrome light fixture, brass towel rack, bronze nipple lights! Cabinets that don't exactly close! Disgusting, stained carpet! Big enough to park a truck in! We haven't done anything in here yet, even though ripping up that gross carpet was one of my biggest priorities moving in. We're a bit overwhelmed by the sheer size of this room. But AT LEAST replacing that carpet with some kind of tile (our first attempt at tiling!) MUST be done before the baby comes. I'm not letting a baby touch that carpet; it's bad enough that I have to.

So there you have it. The whole of the Boxy Colonial. Eventually I'll post some pictures of the outside and maybe the basement, but both are more or less blank slates at the moment. Actually, if we fulfill our ambition to make this weekend Firepit Weekend, you might get to see some yard action sooner rather than later.