The problem with partial renovation

The main problem with partially redoing a space is that you have to work with what’s there. Fixtures, cabinets, and lighting all often stay put in low-budget renovations.

Which leads us to today’s problem: HOW have I never noticed that my sink and light fixture are NOT CENTERED ON ONE ANOTHER?!? I haven’t noticed that detail even ONCE in 7 years??

So I took a deep breath, decided to center the mirror on the largest and most noticeable thing–the vanity–and try to ignore the offset nature of the lighting for as long as possible.


We will just pretend that THIS isn’t there.


The picture isn’t off center or at an angle…the lights are actually only over the right third of the mirror. Really.

In celebration of this amazingness, I’m linking to Clan Donaldson’s Theme Thursday…appropriately enough labeled “Askew” this week. Yeah…askew.

On a positive note, I successfully anchored and hung that HUGE mirror by myself (and by that I mean my stay-at-home-mom self which perpetually includes my two sidekicks…) with no physical or structural damage! I’ll post the rest of this room’s renovation soon. It was a pretty amazing change…



Feeling Crafty

I guess that blogging about my home improvement projects lit a fire under me, because I woke up yesterday with a resolve to finish the job that I started. 🙂

I put the last coat of paint on the back bathroom walls in the morning. When I finished, I realized that I has about 1/4 cup of paint left from that  gallon. I knew that I wanted to use some of that paint to make custom artwork for my front bathroom…and if I let it dry out I knew that I would put off the project because I didn’t want to open a whole new gallon.

I had a deadline! I work very well under the pressure of a deadline. Some call it procrastination…I call it creative…procrastination. Ehh. It works for me.

So I loaded up my mom, my boys, my niece and nephew, and headed out to Michael’s to get a few supplies. We hit the jackpot and found a 5-pack of 16″x20″ canvases for $9.95! I only needed two, but Zander has fallen in love with art in the last couple of years. He had been begging for me to get him canvases…so two birds and such. I also picked up a larger canvas for half off (of the normal jacked-up prices…) for the back bathroom. One tube of paint for an accent color (regularly $3.99, but it was also 40% off), and we were ready to go!

I had seen a pin on Pinterest that gave me the idea for this project. I decided to use the colors from the two areas that I was painting (front bathroom–green; hall, foyer, and back bathroom–blue) plus the accent color that I picked up at the store to create artwork that would coordinate perfectly with my rooms without running all over town trying to find the right picture at the right price.

Here’s what I did:

Tape off your design

First, tape off your design.

Then do it again...

Then do it again…

Then pretend it's a paint by number (without the numbers)...

Then pretend it’s a paint by number (without the numbers)…

Remove the tape

Remove the tape and enjoy!

Custom art work for super cheap!

Custom art work for super cheap!

Again, I said custom art work for super cheap!

Again, I said custom art work for super cheap! See how the blue in the painting coordinates with the blue peeking through the doorway? Brilliant!

The final result

The final result…note the bathing child, which allowed me the few minutes necessary for taking these pictures without the creation of messes of horrific proportions.

Moving in (Part 2): Bathroom Before and After

Remember how I said a few days ago that I didn’t make any changes to our house when we moved in? Well that was partly because we were entirely too broke to be buying a house, and partly because we literally had to move in within hours of signing the papers.

After closing, I walked into the house that was so near perfect when we chose it…so inviting that we just had to offer on it…

And realized that they took the rose tinted glasses with them when they left! It was still nice, and I was still happy that it was ours…but there were a few glaring issues that we hadn’t seen/noticed (or weren’t THERE until after our home inspection).

BB hole in a window pane? Check.
Stains and hair on carpets from dogs living INSIDE the last month? Check.
Bathroom wall with a baseball-sized patch that wasn’t even sanded or painted (just covered with a picture)? Check.
Other issues I can’t even name now??? Check.
Money to fix it? Nope.

So I put tape over the BB hole, used a friend’s carpet cleaner to TRY to clean the carpets, and hung a cardboard-backed piece of Hobby Lobby art on the bathroom wall (on the nail that was already there) and called it a day. Or a year. Or seven.

The bathroom was the very first thing on my list of “things that need to change” in our house.

Lovely wall with patches and holes

I filled and sanded lots of holes on this wall since we didn’t want to leave the broken fixtures up eternally…please also note the patched-but-never-finished area. It looks small here, but it was about palm-sized. Lovely.

Another lovely wall

I sanded and patched around the switches here, then filled in the holes from the TP holder. Since it jabbed you in the side every time you used the toilet, I decided that it had to go.

Vanity view

I’ve always loved dark blue counter tops, haven’t you? No? hmmm…

The problems with this room (in no particular order) were:

  • Dirty walls that wouldn’t come or stay clean…no matter how many times I scrubbed them
  • Broken fixtures. The toilet paper holder and towel bar were both irreparably damaged and had been for most of our tenure
  • Walls with bumps, patches, holes, gouges, etc.
  • Unfinished…finishing? The trim and door facing wasn’t ever blended/puttied/connected/whatever they call it to the walls. Long story short, there were gaps that were just plain gross. They looked ragged and collected gunk.
  • Nails that weren’t completely sunken when putting in the door facing, and holes that weren’t filled when the nails WERE fully sunken
  • No cover on the tub overflow hole…so the baby gets to bathe with a “rusty hole of interesting possibilities” that fascinates him endlessly
  • Lovely cream/gold speckled tile in the tub/shower area that is a BIT tricky to coordinate with both a paint color and the dark blue counter tops that I flat out didn’t have the cash to replace (understatement of the year?)

Since we’re still relatively broke, I still didn’t have a ton of cash to throw at this room. I did, however, have $100-$150 that I could stretch or splurge with to my heart’s content. 🙂

Since I had several projects going at once, and since planning had been going on little by little in my mind for some time (thanks Pinterest), I had a document on my phone to track goals for each room.

These were my goals for the room:

  • Sand and fix bad spots on walls (total cost was $15 for ALL rooms…so maybe $3-5 for this one)
  • Paint walls ($30) and trim ($5-10 after dividing among all rooms)
  • Reuse towel ring and don’t replace tp holder–use basket on tank for tp.
  • Frame for old print for the wall (This was a nostalgic semi-splurge. I realized after choosing my paint color that the old cardboard-backed print that had hung there all those years was perfectly coordinated for my new colors! I decided to frame it properly and use it instead of buying new art. $25 for the frame)
  • Fix overflow cover ($9)
  • Use hooks instead of towel bar; install two lower ones for the boys to use ($15)
  • Frame Mirror ($15…but I haven’t done it yet. I have the materials, but we kind of went on vacation…soon!)
  • Storage cabinet above toilet (this is on hold until I find a great deal on one…that won’t fall apart when you look at it sideways)
  • Additional art for either side of vanity (this will be about $7 total…I’m using a pinterest idea that I’ll share when it’s finished!)
  • Total so far–around $130. With the storage cabinet, I’ll probably end up a little over the original budget, but that’s why I haven’t bought it yet. 🙂

Want to see???

I had some great help. My wonderful mother came to help cut in, hold ladders, and dispense water and wisdom. Then I got a little more help…just look…

Roll baby roll

Roll baby roll

I love this one

I love this one

Isn’t that great? Then I got a little more help…

Precious helpers

Precious helpers

Michael came in and drilled the holes for the hooks, since I was still afraid to use the drill (I’ve gotten over that!) Then…we were finished.



Another shot

The area in which I’ll eventually put a pretty white cabinet…and half of a helper.

New Bathroom

The money shot! 🙂 What a change a coat of paint and a little love can make!

I love it more than I can say. It is an accomplishment that means so much more than it would if I had just paid someone to do it. It means that I conquered negative thoughts that said I couldn’t. It means that I added beauty and value to our home.

And that was only the beginning…more to come!

“Moving into” our home…after 7 years

Sooo…I bought a fantastic bundle of homemaking e-books a few weeks ago in a frantic effort to whip myself into shape. 🙂 It is such a rich collection of treasures that I’ll be digging through those books for the next two years. There were a few books (or studies), however, that really spoke to my heart. I picked two and dived in.

And broke down barriers that I couldn’t believe that I couldn’t see.

31 Days to Clean: Having a Martha House the Mary Way

Vibrant Living Strategies Workshop from Well Grounded Life

Amazing. Plain and simple.

To condense several days of major personal journaling and revelation into a manageable blog post, I’ll just give you the pertinent highlights.

We have lived in our house for nearly 7 years, and I haven’t even changed the living room curtains. No, really. In fact, the only major change we have made was painting the living room a few years ago because the grey/green was depressing…and I could no longer live with the horrible WHITE sponge painting on the brick fireplace.

I realized that we have been living in survival mode from the moment that we married. Sometimes (often) that survival mode was for financial reasons, sometimes it was parenting, and sometimes it was a million other things. Because of that mindset, we never really made any steps toward making our house our own. We have lived like renters for our 7 years of home ownership.

I also realized that I have spent much of my adult life on auto-pilot.

Which brings me to my resolutions (the fun part)…

From my Vibrant Living Strategies  journal:

I want to live intentionally! I want to have drive and a purpose. I want to be proud of my home when I invite people in…or better yet, when my husband comes in the door each day. I want to be proud of myself as a wife, a mother, or even a person for the first time in a very long time.

I am praying that this course and the other changes I’m going to work on making will give me the encouragement I need to make real and meaningful changes in me, my attitude, and my heart…not just my circumstances.

Day 1 of 31 Days to Clean led me to create this home care mission statement (because you need to know WHY you’re cleaning before you can be successful changing HOW you clean):

I want our home to have a sense of peace. I want our home to reflect intentional living–not haphazard, “fall where it may” living. I want to be able to enjoy the beauty of the things in our home. I want to have a functional home–where the things we have can and do fulfill their intended purposes. I want to stop living with a renter’s or survival mode mindset! We are homeowners, and our home should look and feel loved.

So I made plans. I looked at my home with different eyes. I listed the things that bothered me most about our home, and then I began taking steps toward fixing them. I grabbed the “low hanging fruit” to make quick progress.

Luckily, I also took before and after photos along the way with future blog posts in mind. 🙂

Although there are bigger projects to share, I’m going to leave you with my first steps…because that’s where you start any journey.

My helper is checking that my picture is level.

My helper is checking that my picture is level.

I decided that the first step was to properly hang the pictures that I use to decorate my house. Since I was living with that renter’s mindset, I just had them hanging on nails that were already in the walls…whether they were really in a good place or not. Hint–they usually weren’t.

My mom painted this in college. Isn't it awesome?!?

My mom painted this in college. Isn’t it awesome?!?

They were small steps, but hanging those paintings made such a difference in my house and heart. I made progress that day, and it began the process that has helped me to make even more.

I also got to use power tools later. Stay tuned. 😉

A different take on laundry detergent

This post marks the end of weeks-long radio silence on this blog. 🙂 It’s good to be back!

The last few weeks of work and the first couple of weeks of stay-at-home mom’ing were so trying that I couldn’t even make it to the computer. I am so glad to be able to take a couple of minutes this morning and get back on track!

I promised my friend/neighbor and my mom a recipe for laundry detergent that didn’t require the 5 gallon bucket, grating soap, or cooking the mixture. Since they both have septic tanks and therefore can not use bleach anyway, I knew just the recipe to give them. The recipe uses Dawn dishwashing liquid as the “soap,” so if you ever use chlorine bleach in your laundry this is NOT the recipe for you.

Note: If you don’t already know, most standard dishwashing liquids (including Dawn) contain ammonia. NEVER MIX BLEACH AND AMMONIA! The combination of these two chemicals creates a toxic gas that causes lung damage and even death.

Ok. Warning is out of the way. Here’s the recipe!

As so many of my homemade ideas have, this one came from One Good Thing by Jillee.

3 Tablespoons Borax
3 Tablespoons Washing Powder
2 Tablespoons Dawn dishwashing liquid

Put ingredients into a one gallon jug. Pour in 4 cups very hot/boiling water and swirl until dissolved. Let mixture cool and then fill up with cold water. Voila!

Use about 1/2 cup per load. This detergent is very thin, but Jillee says that it still works just as well. Also, if you want an additional scent boost, you can mix in a couple of tablespoons of your favorite scent crystals (I use Purex) to the mixture before adding the water.

Try it and let me know what you think!

Needs vs Wants: Dishwasher

dirty dishes

dirty dishesEasy call, right? A dishwasher is obviously a need. In these rushed days, who in their right mind would opt OUT of having a dishwasher?

The situation is this…my dishwasher is dead. It developed a terrible sound, followed by a terrible smell, and utterly failed to wash the last several loads of dishes that I forced through it to a decent level of clean. Once I was sure that it was dead, I did what any normal homeowner does when a major appliance bites the dust–I went shopping.

I went to Sears first because (1) we have a card there and (2) our last dishwasher was a Kenmore, and I liked it a lot. I found a model that was perfect almost immediately. It had hidden controls (since I have a toddler and don’t like my dishwasher turning on at random times of the day), it had bells and whistles (something like a thermoblaster area for pots and pans…sounded perfect for those dishes that wait a week to be washed), and it had a moderate price tag for a washer with those features ($600…when sitting next to the $2000 washer, that looks like pocket change!). I always shop around though, so we left without even talking to a sales rep.

We went to Home Depot on a whim, but they didn’t have anything that could beat the Sears machine. Since I am not one to snub my nose at a discount, we also went to the local scratch-and-dent store. They had a washer with the hidden controls for $349! Of course, it didn’t have a thermoblaster, but it was also almost half the price.

At this point, I’m about ready to whip out the debit card and go for it. Of course, I know that I really need to talk to my husband about it before spending that kind of money, so I left.

After leaving the stores, I started having those guilty second thoughts. I remembered my efforts to rein in out spending habits. I remembered our decision to stop relying on credit for major purchases. I remembered my budget guide that tells me to save money specifically for big purchases. I remembered my resolution to be a lot more strict about needs vs wants with myself.

So I started washing my dishes.

Know what? My glasses aren’t nearly as cloudy as I thought they were. They actually sparkle. It also didn’t take that long to wash a day’s worth of dishes. Of course, I’m still washing because I had a LOT more than one day’s worth waiting on the new dishwasher.

The time I spent washing my own dishes gave me time to really reflect on the usefulness of a dishwasher and the habits that it creates in my kitchen. Here’s the problem: the more I rely on my dishwasher, the more dishes I allow to pile up.

Think about it this way. If you know that you have to wash the dishes by hand, are you going to let them sit in the sink or on the table overnight? No! Knowing you HAVE to wash them by hand instead of just throwing them into the dishwasher, you are more likely to just go ahead and rinse them off right after dinner. Newsflash: when you wash a dish immediately after using it, it comes clean with almost NO work! Holy cow!! (I know, I know…some of you are thinking that it should have been obvious to me much sooner than 28 years old, but I have always had a dishwasher to depend on.)

After all of that introspection and dish washing, I have decided to do something really crazy. I am going to wait to buy a new dishwasher until I can pay cash for it. I don’t want to put it on a credit card, and I don’t want to undo our progress toward having an emergency fund for a “want” that I can do without.

That means that I will be without a dishwasher for at least 3 months…one of those months, I’ll still be working outside the home. I think that it also means that I will be a lot more conscious of using only the dishes that are necessary when cooking and serving meals. I washed 36 cups and glasses today. That’s A LOT of cups and glasses for a family of 4…especially when we aren’t at home most of the day 5 days a week!

I have had Zander, my niece Katie and my nephew Joe playing at my house today. They have each had a single cup from this morning when they first started playing till now. They will keep that cup until this evening.  I have had to remind them and rescue the cups from the sink a few times already, but  I know that they will get into the habit.

Baby steps.

What do you think? Could you live without a dishwasher? What would you do without before giving up your dishwasher?

We are Papertowel-less

A little over a month ago (April 28, to be exact), I posted this comment on my Facebook page:

“Ok…I have issued and accepted a challenge to myself. I am trying to eliminate the use of paper towels in our house. My goal right now is to make the 4 rolls that I have left last at least 2 months. I will not buy any more paper towels until July 1. I have plenty of kitchen towels and rags, cleaning rags, and even some homemade “clorox” wipes. I am about to wash the cloth napkins that have been sitting in my linen closet for 6 years waiting to be used. Game on! :-)”

Since that day, we have used less than 1 roll of papertowels. Yep…the other three are still sitting there collecting dust.

Here’s what we are using:

  • cloth napkins for meals
  • flannel squares for quick wipe-ups (faces, noses, hands, etc)
  • kitchen towels for dishes, cooking, and such (I keep a clean one out at all times)
  • kitchen rags for washing dishes
  • retired rags for floors, yuck messes, staining messes, and things that need to just be thrown away (I wash a lot of them, but some things just need to go in the trash!)

We already had a lot of these things hiding in our linen closet. It was just a matter of rummaging through to see how we could use what we already had. I started out using the “clorox” wipes, but have wound up using them only rarely. I usually just grab a rag and a spray of whatever cleaner is closest…or a microfiber cloth. Those things are awesome! I use microfiber for messes that would have usually required a good bit of cleaner or scrubbing, like my flat cooktop after using it to knead my bread dough. 🙂

I have realized that I’m not a huge fan of WHITE napkins, for obvious reasons if you have kids and serve spaghetti. I spent $4 on a couple of yards of printed darker fabric that I’m slowly hemming into napkins. I also discovered that old flannel baby blankets can be cut into the most perfect little rags for toddler-related clean ups. I hated having to run to the closet for washcloths every time I needed to degunkify that percious little face, but I didn’t want to spend  money to BUY even more stuff. One of the points of this whole project is to save some money while lessening our impact on the enviroment. I can’t do that if I’m buying more and more. So, I took a pair of pinking shears to a white blanket that was stained beyond hope anyway, and sent them through the wash with my fingers crossed. Unlike my flour-sack towels, these didn’t ravel AT ALL!! I forsee the demise of a few more blankets in my house’s future…

The only thing that we use papertowels for is really grease. The few times that I have cooked sausage, I drained it on papertowels. I may try it on my flannel rags and rinse them with a little dawn, but for now, I’m ok with this occasional usage. Once we’re out of those 4 rolls though, there’s no looking back! (of course, at this rate, that will be some time in 2013)

The best part of the whole process was the moment that my husband told a friend that he’s really been enjoying using the cloth napkins! He said that he wasn’t too sure about it at first, but he’s really gotten used to it. *smile* I love affirmation. I hope that he’ll look back on a lot of the changes that I’m trying in our house with the same happiness.