Archive for the ‘Decorating’ Category

It’s time to paint the kitchen cabinets. We bought a new countertop and backsplash, both of which look great. We also installed new under cabinet lights, but I’m not so happy with those. Now we’re talking paint colors. Here’s a photo of our very white kitchen.

I happen to love white kitchens and would be happy repainting the cabinets white, but Mark is really keen on adding color. So we decided to compromise: we’d repaint the upper cabinets white and the lower cabinets some other color. Inspired by photos of these gray cabinets I found here, I tried to sell Mark on the idea of gray cabinets. His response to the photos: “very pretty, but cold and institutional.” Hmm. After much discussion, we settled on searching for a blue-gray color which would add some color but still be fairly neutral, go with the countertops, and feel warm and inviting. That’s when we brought home every blue-gray paint swatch known to man and started taping them on our cabinets (you can see just a few of them of them in the photo above).

Over and over our eyes was drawn to “Winter’s Day” by Martha Stewart. Not wanting to repeat the mistakes I made searching for a porch ceiling color (which you can read about here and here), I tried to do some research on “Winter’s Day,” googling to see if I could find photos of it on other people’s cabinets. No luck. So we made a $3 investment and bought a test can which I used to paint a portion of the bottom cabinets.

Pardon the less-than-stellar photos. I’m not a great photographer on my best day, but I really don’t know how to take photos when dealing with light from a window.

Sadly, we don’t love Winter’s Day. We like it, but we’re going for love here, not simple affection. So it looks like we’re back to the negotiation phase of searching for a paint color.

It’s probably a good thing that we decided not to go with Winter’s Day because it has a rather unfortunate side-effect. “A winter’s day” is the opening line to the famous Simon and Garfunkel song, “I am a Rock.” If you’re not familiar with that tune, it builds to the following lines which every time I look at Winter’s Day I can’t help but sing at full volume: “I have no need for friendship; friendship causes pain. It’s laughter and it’s loving I disdain. I am a rock. I am an island.”

Yeah, thank God we’re picking a new color.


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The first year Mark and I lived in this house we planted a Japanese maple (Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’) on our wedding anniversary. We spent over $100 on that tree, but it’s been worth every penny. It’s gorgeous and has grown tremendously in the past six years (you can see a photo of it on this previous post). It also remains Mark’s hands-down favorite thing we’ve planted in the yard. Last summer he said to me, “No matter what is going on in my life, when I look at that tree I can’t help but be happy.” Now Mark is not a tree-huggin’, nature-lovin’ kinda guy, so that statement was pretty darn powerful. In fact, it planted the seed (ah, clever pun) for his Valentine’s Day gift this year.

The Japanese maple is stunning in the fall; its leaves turn a deep crimson. So when the leaves started changing last October, I began plucking some leaves off the tree and tucking them in a thick book. I collected leaves over a few weeks to make sure I had some representing the peak of fall color. Then I just left the leaves alone (or, I “leaved” them alone — I just can’t stop the puns today!) in the book to dry out.

For Valentine’s Day I gathered all the leaves I had tucked away in the book.

Then I grabbed a frame we already had.

I picked my two favorite leaves, arranged them on the glass, cut some pale green card stock to serve as the background, and put a piece of cardboard behind that so that the leaves were pushed snug against the glass (I didn’t want them slipping).

Mark was really touched by the gift. He even put the frame on the bookcase right next to his most beloved collection of Michael Chabon novels and his Edgar Allen Poe action figure. I feel so honored.

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The $5000 dishwasher

It’s time for me to come clean. I’ve been putting off this day long enough. I have done something decidedly un-yikes-money-ish. I have started to upgrade my kitchen with money that would probably definitely be better suited to a long stay in my savings account.

It all started just over a year ago when my sister called me out of the blue and said she wanted to give us a dishwasher. Our old dishwasher was, as she put it, disgusting. So she bought us this fancy dishwasher that is gorgeous (oh yeah, it washes dishes pretty well too).

The dishwasher came with one problem: it made the rest of our kitchen look like crap. It’s not that the kitchen wasn’t dingy before the dishwasher came along, it’s just that when everything in a room is dated and dingy your eye kind of just gets used to it. But that beauty of a dishwasher made the rest of the room an eyesore. Now, don’t get me wrong, since the moment we bought this house I’ve been dreaming of updating the kitchen. I’ve given it a lot of thought. A lot. If only I were paid to spend time online looking at pictures of other people’s kitchens. Could that be a job because I’m really, really good at it?

Anyhow, not long after we got the oh-so-fancy new dishwasher, my parents bought us the arguably even fancier new kitchen range.

With two new appliances and one long-time unhappy cook, this kitchen was practically begging for a facelift. So I started dreaming about upgrades. Here are some photos to get you acquainted with what I was working with:

I know, some of these pictures are from before we even got the new stove. They’re the really “before” pictures.

That light above the kitchen sink -- it hasn't worked in MONTHS.

And this is the view from when I’m cooking at the stove (except now I have the fancy new stove):

While I fantasized about gutting the kitchen and doing a complete remodel, that costs big, big bucks and let’s face it, I wanted to spend small, small bucks. So I figured the biggest bang for our bucks would be to replace the countertops, sink and faucet. The counters were laminate and badly scratched and stained. The sink, however, was really disgusting — it was rusting through on the edges (which you can sort of see if you scroll up a few pictures — look at the left side of the sink edge. Yuck, right?).

I did a lot of research on different countertop options, and even more shopping around comparing prices. In the end, we decided on quartz countertops for their durability and style, and chose a stone called Bianco River by Silestone. It’s a white countertop with pale gray mottling. I’ve always loved the look of marble countertops but don’t like that they stain fairly easily. I needed something that would withstand anything I (or Charlie) could throw at it. So I waited for a sale at Home Depot (I noticed that they offer the same sale every 3-6 months) and ordered the countertops. I really wanted to buy the countertops from a local kitchen design store rather than a big box store, but, sadly, they couldn’t compete with the sale price at Home Depot and I couldn’t justify the additional expense. After I ordered the counters, they still weren’t installed for about a month. First someone had to come out to the house to measure the space and then they had to go away to order and cut the stone.

Eventually the counters arrived and were installed in just a few hours. Here’s a not so great photo taken immediately after the countertops and sink were put in:

Do you see that brand new sink? Yowsa!

Our previous sink was a double bowl, drop in sink. This new sink, as you can see, is a big, deep single bowl and I love it. LOVE IT. I can put huge pots and pans in there, step back, and they’re completely hidden from sight. It’s like magic. We also got that new faucet which is great, but it can’t compete with the love affair I’m having with the sink.

The only problem with getting the new countertop is that it sort of necessitated getting a new backsplash. And I believe, folks, this is what is commonly referred to as a slippery slope. You see, the old countertop had a six-inch backsplash and when it was removed along with the old counters, it left behind a very ugly stripe:

While the rest of the wood panelling is just painted, we couldn’t paint over the brown stripe because it was full of old, dried glue that couldn’t be removed.

So next up for our kitchen update: a new backsplash. I figure that by the time we’ve finished all our little kitchen upgrades (which include many more items beyond a backsplash), we’ll have spent about $5000. And that’s how one “free” dishwasher is gonna end up costing some mighty big bucks. But I promise, from now on I’ll share our kitchen makeover journey along the way.

Are any of you dreaming of renovating your kitchen? Or perhaps you’ve already created your dream kitchen? What features are you happiest with and what would you change in a heartbeat? Do tell!

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So it turns out that Charlie is a cheap date. I promised him last Friday night that on Saturday we’d go get a Christmas tree. In a strange moment of Christmas giving, I even went so far as to tell him that he could pick whichever tree he wanted. I regretted the promise as soon as it left my mouth, suddenly wondering just how expensive Christmas trees could get. But ultimately I told myself that letting Charlie pick the Christmas tree was alright because I’d be helping him create wonderful Christmas memories (which pretty much must be how every parent justifies spending too much on their kid for Christmas). Luckily for me, it turned out that Charlie wanted a small tree so that he’d be able to reach the top in order to “put the angel on.” Where does he get this stuff? Mark and I (and our total lack of enthusiasm about Christmas decorating) have never talked to him about Christmas trees and angels and stockings. None of it. Anyhow, first thing Saturday morning Charlie had us in the car heading to the nearest Christmas tree lot. When we arrived, he hopped out and ran straight toward this tree that is so small that it was placed on top of a picnic table rather than with the rest of the adult trees:

This baby put us back $25 which is a drop in the bucket compared to the much larger trees. And since it’s so small, we already had all the ornaments it took to decorate it. All we needed was a new set of lights because our old set didn’t work when we plugged it in. But, I managed to score a great deal on two light sets at CVS; not only were they on sale, but the Extra Care Bucks reward machine printed out a coupon when I scanned my card, and CVS was offering an additional $3 off LED lights when you bring in an old set for recycling. These LED lights even come with a 3-year warranty, although somehow I can’t imagine that I’ll be organized/inspired enough to hold on to the original receipt and bar code from the box in order to take advantage of the warranty should the lights break.

So even though Charlie’s Christmas tree might just have qualified as the tiniest tree at the lot, I think we managed to make it look special nonetheless. The important thing, of course, is that he loves it.

And, yes, Charlie did put the angel on top himself (not before dropping it on the ground and breaking its wing though). Nothing says Christmas more than a teary four-year-old standing over a crumpled angel. Fortunately, glue was made just for this kind of occasion.

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Neither Mark nor I are too enthusiastic about decorating for Christmas. We never have been. While I appreciate a beautifully decorated home in someone else’s house, I can’t help but feel like decorating in my own home is sort of a hassle. Consequently, we’ve never bothered to be well-equipped to deck the halls. But this is the first year that Charlie is aware of and seems to understand Christmas (at least the decorating/Santa/presents part). So he’s been asking about how we’re going to get ready for Christmas.

Since I’m all about using what you have and doing things for less dollars, I was thrilled to stumble upon this idea for making a holiday garland out of pine cones. And since you know our front yard is chock full of pine trees, we have plenty of pine cones to use as decorations. You can find the full directions for the pine cone garland here, but the concept is simple: screw small cup holders into the bottom of each pine cone, punch small holes in a long ribbon, and hang a pine cone from each hole.

This was a great activity to do with Charlie. Charlie collected a huge number of pine cones from the front yard, sorted them by size and quality (no inferior pine cones were going to grace our garland!), then he helped hang each pine cone in a hole in the ribbon.

Coupled with other items we already had such as stockings (including a beautiful embroidered one for Charlie made by my very talented mom), ornaments in a vase, a cool red star made by my artistic sister-in-law, and some candles, this pine cone garland makes our fireplace look downright festive.

All told, our decorated fireplace cost just a few bucks for the small cup holders for the pine cones. Not bad at all.

And for the next family decorating project, I think we’ll try homemade paper snowflakes which in addition to being pretty and oh so inexpensive, will give Charlie some practice using scissors. Then we’ll get a Christmas tree which will be our decorating splurge because, whether we go real or artificial, it’s certainly going to put us back more than a few dollars.

What are you doing this year to decorate for the holidays? Do you go all out or are you more of a less is more decorator?

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Not so very long ago I wrote about how I was forcing paperwhite narcissus bulbs in order to have them bloom in time for Christmas. Christmas has come early because they’re starting to bloom now.

These bulbs took just under three weeks to start blooming, so I figure that if I start the process of forcing new bulbs now they’ll bloom right at Christmas.

In my first post about paperwhites, I wrote about how researchers at Cornell University discovered that giving paperwhites a small amount of alcohol stunts their growth, thus avoiding some of the problems of blooming paperwhites being top heavy and falling over. Despite the lesson in alcohol-induced stunting, I decided to keep my first round of paperwhites completely sober. Sure enough, these just-blooming paperwhites are about to topple over. But I figured out a way to potentially avoid this problem in my second round of paperwhites without stunting the bulbs’ growth. I just put my new paperwhite bulbs in the bottom of tall, clear glasses. As the bulbs grow, I figure the sides of the glass will keep them propped up. It’s worth a try at any rate.

Do you have any bulbs growing? Paperwhites, amaryllis, or something else?

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I set a goal for this past weekend to paint the porch ceiling blue. Technically, the goal was to paint the ceiling the previous weekend, but after a small setback in which I chose a shade of blue (Serene Sky by Behr) that was all wrong for the house, I had to postpone my efforts until this past weekend. Actually, if I’m going to be completely honest, I really set the goal to paint the porch ceiling blue many weeks ago when I the made The List — 20 tasks to do around the house, each costing less than $20. But when I created The List, I didn’t put a date on any of the “to do” items, so I really wasn’t behind on the porch ceiling project until last weekend.

Armed with a quart of Cloudy Day by Behr, I set to work Saturday morning. I applied blue painter’s tape around the edges of the porch where the ceiling meets the molding. Then I took a brush and cut in around the painter’s tape. After that was done, I used a roller brush to roll the paint onto the ceiling. I got about three quarters of the first coat done when I ran out of paint. So in the middle of my project, Mark, Charlie and I drove to Home Depot to get more paint. Running out of paint was particularly distressing because I’d hoped to paint the porch ceiling for under $20 and I’d already gone over budget after wasting money on the quart of the way-too-cheery Serene Sky. This, people, is why they make testers of paint. I could have bought one for Serene Sky, in fact, I thought about buying one but I decided not to because I didn’t want to spend the $3 or whatever relatively small amount it cost. Silly, silly me.

Anyhow, off we went to buy more Cloudy Day. I knew I could finish the ceiling with two more quarts, but the price of two quarts was only a couple of dollars less than a gallon, and Mark said he liked the color of Cloudy Day so much that he might want to use it on other projects, so a gallon of the stuff came home with us.

I finished painting the first coat of Cloudy Day and got to work on the second coat. That’s when Mark couldn’t stand it anymore and took over. Mark used to be a professional house painter. He’s very, very particular about painting. The fact that Mark hadn’t shown much interest in the porch ceiling project until he ultimately took it over was a little, uh, odd to me. At some point in the middle of the first coat, when he came out and started giving me unsolicited advice, I asked him why he wasn’t insisting on painting the ceiling himself. He replied, “I’m trying to learn to let go.” Alrighty then, I kept painting. I don’t think I’m a bad painter, but I will never be as good a painter as Mark. So by the time I got around to rolling on the second coat of paint, Mark  had watched my efforts for long enough. He finished up the porch ceiling while I played with Charlie and tried not to interfere too much.

While I’m happy with the ceiling, I’m not happy that I went over the $20 budget. In fact, you may be wondering just how far over budget I went.

The Tally
(All paint by Behr in satin finish, exterior paint & primer in one)

  • 1 quart Serene Sky: $15.95
  • 1 quart Cloudy Day: $15.95
  • 1 gallon Cloudy Day (by the time I got to buying a gallon of Cloudy Day, I wanted to have it mixed using a cheaper Behr exterior paint in order to save money, but Mark told me that was a bad idea. I don’t know why it was a bad idea, but I didn’t really feel like I was in a position to argue): $34.95
  • 1 roller brush: $4.97
  • paint brush: FREE (thank goodness, we had it already)

Grand Total: $71.82

Hmm, not even close to $20. So how did I go so terribly wrong? First, I should have sprung for the tester in Serene Sky rather than buying the quart outright. Second, once I had settled on a color — Cloudy Day — I should have just bought a gallon rather than hoping that a quart would be enough. To my credit, however, I did use a paint calculator tool which estimated that I only needed about a quart. Granted, I knew my measurements probably weren’t exact since the calculator is based on painting four walls rather than a ceiling, but I figured I was close enough. Third, I didn’t choose an inexpensive paint. Behr offers a basic exterior paint that would have saved me several dollars, but I bought the paint that has the primer built in thinking it would save me a step. Maybe it did, but maybe I also could have just used the less expensive exterior paint and not bothered priming. I’ll never know. Finally, I bought the small roller brush (and I used it for this project), but we had two larger roller brushes at home I could have used instead. Had I just bought a couple of tester jars (one for Serene Sky and one for Cloudy Day), and had I bought a gallon of Cloudy Day to begin with, and had I properly checked our supplies at home before I went to Home Depot, my total costs would have probably been about $40, still much more than the $20 I’d hoped for, but a lot less than what I did spend.

Regardless of how I annihilated the budget, the ceiling looks great. The blue is subtle yet unexpected and fun. Unfortunately, however, when Mark finished the second coat and removed the carefully placed painter’s tape — the tape that was supposed to prevent me from getting blue paint on the cream colored molding — there were several spots where the blue paint had seeped through the painter’s tape, like here:

and here:

I probably wouldn’t have noticed this, but Mark sure did and that’s all it took for him to announce, “We’re going to have to repaint the whole porch.” To be fair, the porch needed to be repainted even before my ceiling mishaps, but the mishaps have provided a sense of urgency that Mark hadn’t felt before. So I guess repainting the porch will be the next project at Casa Yikes Money. I’ve already started looking at different shades of tan. But this time, I’m investing in some tester jars.

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