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Sunday, September 27, 2015

Refreshing Old Wood

Before we listed our old house, we obviously tried to get it looking as good as we possible could.

We had a dog for a long time, so....some of the wood was less than perfect. There were superficial (and some, um, not so superficial) scratches all over the place. The house was also 15 years old and nothing had been refreshed since it was built, so there was wear and tear on the wood and finish on most of the doors and cabinets as well. We really didn't want to replace the cabinets or the doors, so we were hoping to be about to somehow touch them up quickly and cheaply.

Enter: stain.

I know, it's a total DUH moment. But I thought re-staining them would be a huge pain. The lightening bolt moment was when I realized I could just touch up the scratches and not have to worry about doing the entire piece (or in this case, the entire freaking house).

We had somehow during the course of living there knocked out one of the spindles in the staircase, so we'd purchased stain that was as close to the reddish/orange-ish oak color that we could in order to stain the replacement spindle. One day I was eyeing the stain and eyeing the scratches and thought..."Hmm. I wonder.....well, let's try it...."

And guys, it worked SO WELL.

I didn't get as many pics as I should have, and these were taken with my old busted phone, but you can still see the difference. It didn't completely erase the wear and tear, but it freshened the wood up beautifully and made me wish I'd done it YEARS ago instead of just living with that worn finish and those scratches.

All I did was clean the areas that were worn and/or scratched, and then used a standard liquid stain, dipped a sock in it, and rubbed it lightly into the scratched or worn areas. I did no sanding - I figured that the finish was already gone from these areas, and I figured correctly. I didn't worry about getting stain on the areas that were fine or about getting it perfect - I just rubbed it into the areas that needed retouching, wiped it down, let it dry, and then in a couple of cases, repeated.

And no, we didn't have lime green walls in the old house. This is light mint green, if you can believe it. Crazy what a difference white balance and the type of light makes in the rendering of color!

Again, this wasn't a magic wand. It didn't fill in gouges or make the scratches disappear in all cases (although it did in some!!) - but it really made a HUGE difference and made the wood look new again.  

This door was one of the biggest transformations for me - the finish had almost completely worn off on the bottom, but after rubbing it down with stain, it looked completely perfect again.f

I did go back and rub the protective topcoat on the re-stained areas to give them a little bit of extra protection as well, so I'd recommend that step to keep your "new" wood looking nice as long as possible.

But, guys, I was seriously in shock at how well this worked. It took all of 20 minutes to do the entire house, plus another 5 to give a couple areas a second coat, plus another 10 or so to do the topcoat. For well under an hour's time, it made a HUGE difference in the house and made it look 10 years newer. We just went and visited the old house and it's holding up perfectly five months later. The wood still looks new and shiny and clean!

If you have ANY worn wood in your house, I can't recommend doing this enough. SUPER cheap, SUPER easy, and SUPER fast. Get thee to the hardware store to get some stain!

Friday, September 25, 2015

One More Sitting Room Post?

This room has had more posts than the entire house put together, I think. Probably because it's taken so damn long to get anywhere with it. Also it's such a huge change that I can't stop looking at it. Or writing about it, apparently.

When we left off, the sitting room looked like this:

I threw a couple of fall pieces into the shelves and hung up the burlap bunting to celebrate the season (very begrudgingly, I tell you, I'm already over winter and it hasn't even arrived yet), but my plan for that middle spot has been to have a giant 2.5' x 5' canvas sitting on the buffet. See photoshopped rendering below from this post:

I found a canvas that exact size listed on Craigslist (kismet!) for $45 - haggled down to $35 - with the plan of painting over it. A blank canvas of that size is WAY more than $35 (I've been looking) so I was super excited to find one the right size.

I picked it up Thursday and even though I'd measured it out, I was a little worried it wouldn't fit. This thing is huge. Here I am standing next to it, with it resting on the floor:

I threw it up into the space just to make sure it was the right size, and it. fit. PERFECTLY. (When it's done, it won't be competing with the banner or the topiaries or the boat thingy, so imagine it alone.)

What a freaking score. I don't know, maybe canvases of those size and at that price are on Craigslist regularly, but I haven't seen them, so I'm all, "IT WAS MEANT TO BE!" over here.

Now my big project is painting it. I really have no idea how to do this, and I haven't painted with acrylics or oil paint since high school, so it will be....interesting. We'll go with interesting just so I don't get too intimidated and give up before I start.

Again, I have no idea what I'm doing, but just to get SOMEWHERE with it, I decided to use some of the leftover primer from painting the trim to take the canvas back to white and give me a blank slate.

Carys is painting a birdhouse she made with the same primer I'm using on the canvas.

I literally just finished the first coat and then came and wrote this (trying to squeeze it in before Em wakes up from nap). I'll let it dry and then.....I guess the next step is go to a paint store? To buy paint? And brushes? Hipefully I can find a sales associate who knows something so they can lead me in the right direction. Or do you know? Tell me what I need if you're secretly (or not so secretly) a great artist!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

House Updates, Round....Who Knows Anymore

The sitting room even MORE done than last time I said it was done! REJOICE! 

I'll give you a glimpse of the before and after before making you delve into my totally succinct post with absolutely no superfluous words or pictures. HA. Right. 

HOLY SHIT, RIGHT?????? I live here and I'm having a hard time believing it. 

Anyway, back to the beginning. 

So after we were done painting, I swept the room and realized that I got paint all. over. the. fcking. floor. UGH. USE A DROPCLOTH, LARA. It was a deliberate choice not to use a dropcloth because I was thinking that we'd be replacing these floors soon, but since we ended up not selling our house (we're renting it out) we didn't have the large chunk of change to invest in this house, so we'll probably be living with these floors (and the two hundred other types of flooring in the house) for a while.  LESSON: USE A DROPCLOTH ALWAYS.

The result of my BAD LIFE CHOICES

So I spent a day using Goof Off* and a scraper to try to get all the primer, paint, and caulk off. The paint came off pretty easily, but the primer was another story. I was on my hands and knees scrubbing and spraying and scraping for hours. Ooooof. Not fun. My back did not like me after that night. 

*If you are painting, do yourself a favor and get this spray. It makes getting those marks off SO much easier! Recommended by St. Danny and enthusiastically endorsed by me!

No pictures of this OH-SO-INTERESTING process, but after that, I worked on putting the shelves back in, which involved lots of math and measuring and re-checking measurements and cursing builders who can't make even or level built-in shelving units. Although each side actually should have five shelves, when I started working out the distances and the spacing, I realized I only wanted to use four, which would allow for each section to hold larger frames - if I was using five shelves, I would have only been able to fit 5x7s or smaller. 

(NOTE: all of these pictures show a broken drawer handle. I lost the screw for that drawer so I need to go pick another one up. Someday. When I'm both at the store AND I remember. The struggle is real, ya'll.)

I collected all the frames in the house, laid them out on the floor, and picked a variety of sizes in a variety of finishes to fill the shelves. I tried to keep it somewhat cohesive, while still being eclectic and fun. I don't know - in my mind that keeps it from looking too formal while not being jarring. Question mark? I DON'T KNOW WHAT I'M DOING, OKAY? But, like...if I used a silver frame, I made sure to have at least one other silver frame in the collection as well. Is this a design rule? I don't know. But I think it worked? 

Choosing the pictures was the HARDEST part. I could have filled 20 more shelves, easily. I love my family or something, I guess. I think my kids are cute, I guess. I sorted through hundreds that I had lying around (waiting to be put in an album...ho hum) and printed off a few more to add to the pile (I'm not the only one who is woefully behind in printing, right?) and then just tried to match my favorite pictures to frames. I let Carys pick out a couple of her favorites and Emmeline...well, Emmeline liked to pick up piles of pictures and throw them all over the room. So she wasn't quite as much help. But she did uncover a couple that I used with her method, so....thanks! I guess! I also included a couple of small prints that were all in the same little scrapbook paper set that the hipster in me couldn't resist.  #lifeisbeautiful #arrows #embarkonadventure #celebratetoday #somuchhipster

I tried really hard to get an equal number of pics of both Carys and Emmeline, but Carys has been around for 2.5 more years than Em has, so while it's close...it's not exact. I'm sorry, Emmeline. Thus is the life of the little sister.

As a reminder, here's the before (like WAY before...before we moved in) -

And here it is now.....

I almost can't believe it's the same room, and I look at it daily. And that transformation was with just. paint. Well, just paint and a couple of billion man hours, but still. PAINT. MIND BLOWN.

That middle section is acting as a placeholder for a couple of decor pieces and those are not final (in fact, I've already removed the tall topiaries - if you scroll up to the very top before/after pic you can see it as it looks right this second, complete with some fall decor I threw up). Those will be replaced with a giant painting. I'm picking up a 35x60 canvas from Craigslist later this week (the exact perfect size!!!! for $35!!!), which I'm going to repaint in a way that pretty much just rips off the inspiration picture from this post. Well, rips it off as well as my meager talent will allow.

This window wall is DYING for curtains. Unfortunately, we'll have to make them or custom order them. None of my old reliable home decor stores (um, Target, basically) had curtains that were long enough to cover these windows, nor did they have rods long enough to span the width of the windows. To do it the way I think I want, I need 144" long curtains and a 136" long curtain rod.  I debated where I wanted to hang the rods - I've seen these types of windows with the rods running just under the half-circle window and with them running across the top of the half circle, and I think I've decided I want them at the top of the half-circle.  I just don't want to cut the wall height visually by hanging curtains 1/3 of the way down it.

Like this only like 1/10th this grand:

Perfect I was just looking for drapery inspiration for my four huge windows in the family room. Similar color scheme including floors.:

So picture curtains here. I'm thinking just simple cream or white, maybe with the ends dipped in gold or some other fun color.  And maybe some white or bamboo roman blinds? 

The other side of the room literally just has a tree. That needs to be repotted pretty desperately. The tree will probably stay there, because it's too tall for any other room in the house. The blue towel, however, will be replaced with a nice drip tray. Maybe even one on wheels? #BIGDREAMSYALL

Soooo let's just go back to the pretty side....

We also need to figure out the lighting situation in there. As you can see below, right now there are only lights within the built-ins, so it gets really dark once the sun has gone down. We're going to need some lamps, which frankly I'm not looking forward to. I don't know anything about lamps. Where to put them, what kind to choose, ANYTHING. I like my built-in lighting.  

I scoped out some chairs at a place called At Home and found some contenders. At only around $200 a pop, I'm sure they're not lifetime investment chairs that I'll be passing onto my grandkids, but they were comfortable enough and at that price I wouldn't be devastated if when they are ruined by tiny humans.

What do you think? Any grab your eye as the perfect fit?

In other news, we also painted the brass fireplace surround black. This is a project that I've wanted to do since we moved in but on a whim I finally ordered the paint and then one morning when Em was napping I decided to just go for it. I started by cleaning the brass well and then roughing it up with a light sanding, per the instructions on the spray paint.

Here's the before - it actually doesn't look bad in this picture, but in real life and up close, the brass was really tarnished and full of spots/rust and in bad shape. 

I taped off everything (hint: a plastic drop cloth instead of a dozen garbage bags would make your life ONE MILLION times easier and also expedite the taping-off process by a factor of about a thousand) and stuck a cut-to-fit piece of cardboard INSIDE the fireplace, behind the doors, so I could get the inner brass pieces but not any of the actual fireplace interior. I had no idea what the overspray would be like - would it reach the built-ins on the side? Would I be fine? I got sick of taping so I just went for it and figured I could stop quickly if needed and add more plastic and dropcloths. Well, I was mostly okay. The overspray didn't reach the cabinets, but it did get on the floor, so I stopped to grab another dropcloth and covered the floor entirely. Luckily, the spray wiped off the floor easily (I'll begrudgingly give tile that benefit).

This spray was different than other spray paint I've used in that the second coat had to be done either within the hour, or after 48 hours. Assuming I read it right, anyway. Since I didn't want to live with garbage bags on my walls for two days, I did the second coat within the hour. I gave it about 45 minutes to dry, then sprayed again. It took pretty much the entire can of spray paint to do this small job, but I always apply spraypaint liberally. I know you're supposed to do lots of light layers, but I'm too impatient for that.

As you can see above, I used Rustoleum High-Heat Ultra. We haven't lit the fireplace yet, so I don't know how it will hold up then, but so far it's been good....except if you slam the doors open wide and allow them to hit the VERY sharp brick corners of the fireplace. Then it scratches. I realized that the brass was scratched in that place, too, so not just a problem with the paint. I don't know if there's a solution for that, but...we'll just open the doors carefully, I guess.

 I don't LOVE how that area is now a gaping black hole, though. I might have to see if I can replace the handles on the doors to bring some interest back into that area? Or maybe put some white candles inside it to brighten it up? But on the plus side, I think that takes care of all the brass in the main floor??? RIP brass.

Now please let me RIP the tile floors in the family room. SOON.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Letters to Emmeline : Twenty-One Months

August 12 to September 12, 2015
Dear Emmeline, 

You make me smile all day, every day. I cannot imagine life without you. WE cannot imagine life without you.

You're the goofiest little kid - you've certainly figured out how to play to an audience and you do whatever you can to leave us all in stitches constantly.  Carys is absolutely captivated and entertained by you - and she LOVES encouraging you to be silly and loves being silly with you.

You'll just randomly drop and start doing this frog-bunny hop as we're taking a walk.

Yet as goofy as you are, you're equally serious and watch the action around you unfold, quietly taking it in with the tip of your finger in your mouth. In front of family, you're loud and you sing all day and you laugh and you giggle and you do crazy things to make us laugh, but when we get in front of a crowd, you instantly go into wide-eyed spectator mode. It's so interesting to see the two seemingly conflicting sides of your personality come emerge. Will you continue to be the shy goofball as you get older and more comfortable in front of strangers or will your outgoing side shine through more? Or will you continue to be a delightful mix of both?  Interestingly, Carys is very much the same way, though her shy side took a while to develop, whereas you've had it from the start (and it's your silly side that's taken time to emerge).  

Look! It's daddy! He does exist!

You're picking up more and more words and are comfortably putting together two word phrases: "Eat, please." "More milk." "Mama, up!" You've also mastered a number of animal noises (quack, neigh, the elephant bar-umpf complete with arm-to-nose gesture, woof, meow, ssssss for snake, tongue flick for lizard, roar, etc) and body parts (you can identify hair, head, ear, eye, cheek, nose, mouth, teeth, tongue, chin, neck, back, elbow, arm, fingers, hand, tummy, belly button, booty, leg, foot, and toe).  You've spotted the moon and any time we see it you get super excited: "Mama! Mama! MOON!" Your favorite phrase is currently "Mama, datch!" which means, "Mama, watch!" It's all day, every day. And it's to show off anything from running across the room (expected response: "Wow, you're so fast!") to hitting yourself in the face (expected response: laughter) to balancing on one leg and putting the other up behind you (expected response: clapping).  You say it while you're in your car seat, while you're going to bed, while you're playing in another room, while you're eating. You've found the key to getting my attention and you use it liberally. Since I know that one day soon this phase will be over and you'll move onto another repeated phrase, I try to watch every time. Your sister already does so many things without my watchful eye (much to my chagrin - PUT MY MAKEUP AWAY, CARYS!) that I've learned to watch as much as I can for as long as I can.

We had the doctor appointment regarding your liver on the 11th, and we don't know any more than we did before - although I did learn that it could be absolutely nothing and just naturally occurring higher liver enzyme levels. Now that I know that, I'm almost positive that's what it is, but they took some more blood and gave you an ultrasound (which actually took place after the time period covered in this letter) and we should find out by the end of the month what the results were from those. You're such a healthy kid that I'll be shocked if they find anything abnormal.

We have done so much stuff this month. In looking back through the pictures, I'm actually kind of amazed at how much we did. How did we fit this all into a month-long period??

Playing in a bounce house (L); at Ft. Atkinson (R)

We went to a place called SkyZone, which is like a giant trampoline park. You're juuuuuuust learning to actually jump (instead of just bending your knees) but you mostly just loved running back and forth over the springy surfaces. 

We had a "Christmas in August" at your great-grandma Blanket's house, where you enjoyed opening presents and running around in a pack of second cousins - and really enjoyed the infamous bear chair, which has been around since I was a baby, and which I plan on stealing for our house the second my grandma's head is turned. Christmastime is always SO hectic, with Christmas celebrations at two great-grandparents' houses, two grandparents' houses, and our house. Grandma Blankets (so named because of her amazing quilts and blankets) decided to split it up a little this year and do the majority of gifts at this celebration, so the little ones aren't quite so overwhelmed come December. SMART LADY.


We had birthday parties and play dates and dinner dates and parades and the zoo (at least four times, at two different zoos!) and a drive-through wildlife safari park and Nana leaving to go back to her "teaching house" (SOB SOB SOB) and long bike rides and short bike rides and a trip to Ft. Atkinson for their living history days (fun until Carys was totally traumatized by the cannon going off) and raspberry picking. Carys had her first sleepover (with a friend staying at our house) and you enjoyed it just as much as Carys did. We also babysat a friend's two girls for the day, and you were so thrilled to have a similarly aged friend around for the day. Usually you are surrounded by babies or three and four-year-olds and are kind of the odd one out age-wise, you poor girl. 

Tired girls after a long day at the Lincoln Zoo

At a splash pad birthday party (L); on a (shoeless) walk (R)

At the Omaha Zoo

At a new park that we stopped at during a bike ride

Playing play dough on a play date at our house

Picking raspberries (L); at a dinner party (R)

Popsicles on a play date

At the Omaha Zoo with the girls we babysat

Playdate at our house with the "big kid" neighbor - making berry art

You take after your big sister with your BIG love for babies. We hung out with our friend, who has a six-month-old, and you just loved on her the whole time. And you do the same with your toy babies: carrying them around, wrapped in a scrap of fabric, putting them to bed, feeding them. I love seeing this nurturing side of you.

You stuck a baby in your shirt and did the entire walk with it in there

You're starting to get a little bolder and a little braver and will touch bugs and animals (sometimes), whereas up until recently your preferred animal was "any one not by me." You started liking dogs back when you were at the in-home daycare with a big lab and like Nissa the cat and Toby the dog at my parents' house, but other than that, you were not a fan. Recently, though, you've stepped out of your comfort zone and will sometimes reach out and touch an animal or point to it without any prompting! 

Watching deer at the Wildlife Safari Park

Pointing to a caterpillar on a leaf

You're also taking bigger chances with your climbing and running and jumping (help me!) and talking to strangers more (I always do a double take when I hear your sweet little voice pipe up, "Hi!" and "Bye!" because I'm so used to you being completely silent in public). You learned to ride a scooter!!! And you might be better on C's balance bike than she is. 

You adore your Nana. She left for ask for her teaching house mid-August and has made it back once, but you've started asking for her, which is pretty heartbreaking (for all of us!). Whenever you see me talking on the phone, you think it's Nana and start calling, "Nana! Nana!" while reaching for the phone. When we do talk to her on the phone, you pepper your "conversations" (really just Nana talking and you listening with a big smile on your face) with hugging and kissing the phone. JUST SMASH MY HEART INTO A MILLION PIECES. Video calls are your favorite, though. You just have the biggest smile on your face and you don't want to say goodbye - even after we've ended the video chat, you'll open the computer and ask for Nana. (To be clear, you love your other aunts/uncles/grandparents/great-grandparents too, but I see you with your Nana the most, so it's the relationship that I know best!)


You and Carys are just thick as thieves these days. I can't even get truly mad when the two of you gang up against me because having you in cahoots is exactly what sisters should be doing. So inwardly I'm beaming, even when outwardly I'm doling out consequences. I look back to see you holding hands across car seats almost daily. When re-installing your car seat after taking it out to clean it, Carys BEGGED me to put it back with you forward facing so you could "match" and she could "see and talk to you easier." (Sorry, Carys, it'll be at least another year, if not two!) When we are walking, you'll drop my hand in favor of Carys's, and she is so proud to be your guide.  She loves going in when you've woken up and being the first one to see you - and the two of you will play contentedly in your crib for quite a while before you need me to come get you out. Carys has recently begun asking for you two to have sleepovers and share a bed - be still my heart! You're not quite ready for that yet, I don't think, but I'd love for you guys to willingly share a room and have late night chats and secret play sessions when you're supposed to be sleeping. I say it all the time, but watching this sisterly bond develop is pretty much my favorite part of motherhood. You're such a good team.


I need to take a sentence to claim a moment of victory: you ate cantaloupe! That was a nice change from your fervent desire to only eat sweets and junk food. That's one thing you won't copy your sister one: she'll happily be chowing down on spinach and strawberries and you'll take one look at it and throw it all on the floor. No, kid. You have to eat real food. We eat real food in this house. I hate to say it, but you're going to need to get with the program. 

This is all you would eat if you had your way.

You love to play in water (and dump it over the side of the tub) and I can keep you entertained for as long as I want by turning the water in the sink on in a slow stream. You'll happily play at the sink with nothing more than the stream of water and a cup for probably ten hours if I let you. You love dolls, books (bedtime stories stretch on and on and on as you request, "More! More book! Pees?"), scooters, cars, trucks, climbing, coloring, and hugs. When we have playdates at the neighbor's house, it's 90% you running the doll stroller in laps, 5% asking for food, and 5% playing with the big girls. One of your favorite (and most infuriating) things to do is to climb onto the table and run laps on it. We've somehow started a routine where your dad goes and gets you in the morning and you're ALWAYS smiling when he brings you into the room. You love those precious few moments with him. 

I always gloss over the trying and difficult parts of parenthood in these letters, because, well, why dwell on those parts? Ain't nobody want to dwell on those parts. But you are definitely a toddler. You have your opinions that end in instant tears if I don't meet them exactly (do you want the bar IN the wrapper or out of it?? it can't be both!) and you get tired and grumpy and you gleefully don't listen at times (like, can you just keep your food on the table? does every meal have to end with you looking me in the eye and throwing it on the ground?) and there are days when I just want to scream and/or drink wine and/or go lock myself in my room to gain just two minutes of peace and quiet, but....every day I'm reminded of how lucky I am. I wouldn't change my life with you guys for anything.

And I love being your mom.