Today I got a call at work on my cell phone.  A nice lady who lives across the street said that she had corralled Tilley (our Aussie) on the street in front of our house.  That was very nice of her, but there was a major problem with this picture: when I left for work an hour earlier, Tilley was locked inside of the house with the windows shut and wearing a cone.  

photo 1

Tilley was wearing a cone because she wore out her paws last weekend at a lake and couldn’t stop licking them.

It turns out that Tilley opened the closed-but-not-latched door to our office, climbed up on the desk, stood on her hind legs to rip the screen, climbed out and jumped about 5 feet down…all while in the cone.

photo 2

How did the dog above fit through this hole?!

Despite overcoming at least 4 levels of redundancy meant to keep her in the house, she didn’t venture far from the house.  I guess Tilley’s elaborate plans ended with her actually getting out of the house.  I’m really grateful to our neighbor who took time out of her walk to get Tilley back under control.  Now I guess we have to figure out how to replace this screen too – the sliding door screen was already busted by Houndini while we were at home.

I really do wonder what goes on in that dog brain.  Can you imagine driving by a house with a dog in a cone climbing out of a window?



It’s been hot and dry here in the Valley, but it feels like a real Midwestern summer so I’m actually thrilled.  Although I am drowning in work (not house work – job work), I am concerned that this blog will end up like the 6 strawberry plants I planted in our backyard.  I’m not totally sure what did them in, but I am sure that both strawberries and blogs need nourishment.  The strawberries have actually been watered and fertilized with fancy organic fertilizer, but, in 4 weeks they’ve gone from this:


to brown, shriveled plant skeletons blending into the soil.  It seems disrespectful to post photos of their lifeless bodies here.  I have learned the following:

1. Do not plant strawberries along your crazed Australian shepherd’s main highway for racing along the fence.  She always chooses to trample the plants instead of jump the rose bush.  I can’t imagine why.

2. Do not plant strawberry plants too deep.  I think this explained the first three deaths.

But, I still can’t figure out what the heck happened.  I don’t know what the former owners had there but they had custom built these planters.  The plants died 1 at a time too. ?????

Anyway, do stay tuned and I promise to broadcast something besides static.  I have lots of interesting stuff going on, but unfortunately my day job pays more so it gets priority.  Here’s what I’ve been up to:

-Refinishing a picnic table (I’m learning!)

-Tiling a shower as part of a bathroom redo – in progress now!  (Picked any tile lately?)

-Redecorating the living areas and kitchen, including some shelves and rugs!

-planting more, less dead plants and eating home grown cherries!  (Maybe the strawberries felt intimidated)


Our kitchen!

Drum roll please….

The last update I gave on the kitchen was shortly after the backplash was put in.  At that point, the kitchen looked like this:

photo 4

Our appliances were in, but they didn’t all work yet and we had no faucet or plumbing.  The lights were installed the day after the tile.  The window sill is still missing in the back.

As of three weeks ago, we were moved back in and functioning, but still getting construction dust.  As of last Thursday, the city inspector came for the final inspection…and he will be back after we had to sign a form promising that our water fixtures are low flow.  Ah, California.

We started planning the process in mid-November.  We ordered cabinets 4 days before Christmas.  Our kitchen was torn apart January 22.  We moved our stuff back in March 20.  We started cooking later that week.  After that, a few odds and ends have had to be cleaned up (like the missing vent cover in the photo below or a non-functioning electrical outlet). And our final inspection was April 3.  4 months total, but two months out of commission.

So here we are, the before:

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You can’t tell below, but we got a new door too.  The opening was a door door, which is against local code.

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And the after!

photo 5

photo 4 photo 3

And with lights:

photo 1

The kitchen is lighter, brighter and more airy!  It is also much more functional.  The contractor that we hired, Mark aka JMB Builders, did a really wonderful job.  Here are our top favorite features.

1. We can hear each other when in the living room vs. the kitchen.

2. We bought an induction stove (but didn’t pay MSRP). And it is awesome.  It now takes literally 2 minutes to boil a pot of water.  It is like Formula 1 compared to Toyota Camry.  This watched pot DOES boil and like crazy!  It also stir fries, scrambles eggs and everything else in record time.  Cooking a full dinner can be done in 20 minutes now.

3. Not cleaning teeny-tiny food items or spilled out of grouted tile is excellent.

4. Fitting everything into logically-laid-out cabinets is a far cry over shoveling our modern-day appliances into 1950s cupboards that don’t seem to make any sense.

5.Tilley has not figured out how to open the trash and it has been 3 weeks!  As we now actually have a kitchen trash IN the kitchen (as opposed to the porch or the garage, where it was safe before), this alone has been worth the pain spent in the remodel phase. 😀 😀

6. Our oven fits stuff!  Now we need to try thanksgiving again and this time, the bird will actually fit!

7. Having a non-corroded, pull-out faucet with a huge, deep sink is also convenient for doing dishes.  The under-mount sink is a great invention!

8. We love having lights!  The overhead lighting makes the whole area feel like a living space rather than a sleeping space or MAYBE a knitting or watching TV space.  We can actually enjoy being awake at night here.  The kitchen no longer feels like a school hallway either since the color of the LED lights is more natural.

9. We have a pull out pantry of sorts – that’s the tall cabinet next to the window.  It just makes more sense to us to have one place that the food should be in (although the oil is above the stove).

10. The glass cabinet doors are great – no one has to ask where the glasses are anymore and you can see our dishes (thanks, Aunt Cherie!)

11. The new dishwasher is peaceful and effective.  I’m wondering how long it will take our extremely hard water to form a bunch of rockage in it, but as of now, I’ve never seen such clean dishes.

12. Our cabinets have pull out drawers so we can can easily access appliances.  This is much better than having everything sit out taking up precious countertop space.

13. Those tiles really look cool!

And, since I can’t do anything without second guessing, here are the couple very minor points that maybe I would do differently:

1. Opening a door handle can be done with 1 finger.  A knob requires two fingers.  This is annoying if you are in the middle of cooking and your hands are messy, but is not a show stopper.

2. The counter is shallower by 2 inches or so than the old tiled counter.  Tilley can reach her little dog nose two inches deeper, which is a minor nuisance resolvable by pushing dishes back to the back of the counter space.  I wish we had seen this coming and had them made just a liiiiittle bit deeper.

Not too bad for a major project though!  And the middle of the road issues:

1. I’m still not passionate one way or the other about refrigerators, although the water dispenser and the storage space on this one is better than the old side-by-side one.  We definitely weren’t using all of the freezer space and pre-made casseroles didn’t fit well in that version either.

2. I like that the microwave doesn’t take up counter space.  We do use the microwave for re-heating things, but not really seriously enough that it warranted kicking the thing around all the time.  I do confess that the microwave hood fan is a little less powerful than I expected – despite having been told this by multiple sources.  This is probably because the induction stove is also more powerful than any other stove I’ve had.  Even if we had know this, however, we still would’ve opted for the microwave hood.  The kitchen space in our house is tight, no doubt about it, so maximizing and double-purposing spaces is very important.

I still haven’t posted on all of the specifics, especially appliance choices, the floors or the lighting, so those are yet to come.  One more time, old vs. New, FTW:

2014-01-22 08.26.42 photo 5

Chalk one up for repurposing.

This is the story of how I made my own chalk paint, painted a (free, re-purposed) nightstand, learned a great secret for stenciling and finished it all up with wax.

It is not necessary to justify an end table purchase, but the piece of crud that showed up in our house deserves some explanation.  Our dearth of furniture became obvious after we moved into our house last November.  We actually had never owned an end table because our couches could both access the coffee table and since we moved literally every year for 7 years, end tables (especially those grad students could afford) were pretty much dead weight.  However, our new house has a rather long living room so only one couch can use the coffee table conveniently.  Plus, I have spent way too much time looking at blogs and I see that end tables help make a house feel homey.  And Tilley seems to chew the furniture less*.

Anyway, time to buy an end table.  I tried to take one step up from Ikea and bought this little number from a fairly large store online:


Lesson #1: Cheap furniture not from Ikea can actually be much, much worse than that form Ikea.  It doesn’t look so bad in the store’s photo does it?  [Because I’m not saying very nice things about this store I don’t want to name names.]  However, when it actually showed up, the white part was yellowish, creamy MDF and the top was veneer that was about 1/16″ thick.  The whole thing smelled worse than cheap Ikea furniture and wasn’t easy to assemble.  But, the worst part was that there was a 2 inch chip out of the front of the veneer and the stain was splattered all over the top.  I do not have a picture of this tragedy since I didn’t really expect much to be come of it.

Fortunately, the large store has a phone line that is manned 7 days a week and has an excellent return policy.  Phone call #1 basically went as follows:

Me: My thing arrived.  It’s messed up, as in blah blah blah.

Customer rep: Can you fix it or would you like another one?

Me: No, definitely not.  I don’t know how to fix veneer.  I don’t really need another one since this has been disheartening. [Read: because it is a piece of crud.]

Customer rep: Ok, that’s a bummer.  We will give you a full refund and send you a USPS label so you can send it back.  Just package it all back in the original box, then schedule a pick-up when you have the label.

Me: Great, thanks.

I guess they must do this a lot.  Anyway, after about 10 days, the label hadn’t arrived so I called the store back and asked.  It turns out they had already refunded my credit card and weren’t going to pay for me to ship it back.  The lady this time said, “Just donate it.”  Ok then.  So, to donate it, I had to put the thing together.  Next time I want to assemble furniture, I am going to Ikea.  It was much more logical and the crummy pressed wood doesn’t completely fall apart.  Eventually I got it together and queued up to donate, but then, I remembered that I knew someone who needed a nightstand.   And a car-themed gag nightstand would be a great gift for this person…but you can’t buy those so what better way to use this stupid thing than for a gag gift?!  I filled the gap in the veneer with wood filler, let it dry a day and evened it out with a sanding block.  This removed the as-received hill-billy styling of the piece after I got some paint on it.

I decided to try out chalk paint on it because I like flat finishes, as I learned from my last furniture painting attempt.  I understand that chalk paint can typically be used without sanding or priming, but since this was sketchy, smelly Chinese MDF, I opted to prime before painting.  Sanding wasn’t an option for this finish.  Off came the hardware and I primed the now-nightstand with Zinsser BIN primer, which I have been assured is an excellent odor blocker by a Kelly-Moore rep that I met in Home Depot.  A Benjamin Moore store employee also told me that it is a good bonding primer, meaning that it should stick to shiney stuff.  It is shellac based, so it needs special brush cleaner (or disposable brushes).  Truthfully, I haven’t seen anyone else on the internet use this stuff – they all seem to prefer the oil based.  I have yet to find out why since this seems pretty stuck when I tried rubbing or scratching or sanding it off.  I already had a can on hand and it also cleaned off my hands without mineral spirits, so that was appealing for me.


Painting the end table with primer was already a step up.  Again, no photos, but just imagine the ugly thin in the photo up there all white.  I primed everywhere, including the inside of the drawer.

Since this is a low-budget project, I refused to buy full-priced, hard to find chalk paint and decided to make my own after cruising the internet.  I found my favorite list of recipes here and went with a calcium carbonate option, but created my own recipe.  I had no trouble finding this on Amazon.  This site used a 2:1 Paint: Calcium: Carbonate, which I assume is by volume.  I never follow recipes and this seemed a little thick to me.  I opted for about 8 tablespoons of the calcium carbonate, then added just enough water to stir into a paste.  The total volume of this mixture was roughly 4 oz.  I then poured in 16 oz of Behr Premium Plus Flat Enamel in Polar Bear White and stirred with a mixer that attached to my drill – probably meant for cement.  This type of paint said acrylic, not latex, on the can which may be useful for making homemade chalk paint.  The paint was a nice consistency, fairly close to what actually came out of the can.  All in all, I was very pleased with this recipe.  It went on smooth, did not dry with brush strokes and covered the primer with a single coat.  I did opt for two coats on the top for durability.  After it dried, the paint felt chalky, but not loose.  I was not interested in sanding the edges.  Now picture a white nightstand.  The photo is coming below.

I was interested in putting a stencil on top of this car-themed nightstand.  This is the emblem found on first-generation Pontiac Firebirds:


Whether or not it is politically-correct today is NOT the point of this post.  Let it suffice to say that the recipient of this nightstand is a fan of the first-gen Firebird, so I had an appropriate stencil made here on Etsy.  I was using previously-owned Martha Stewart metallic paint in Thundercloud, which may or may not be good paint for stenciling.

Lesson #2 (very important): Not all sponges for stenciling are created equal.  Typically one dunks the sponge in the paint, then blots off the excess paint until the sponge is basically dry.  I first tried a piece of just a plain old sponge, but couldn’t get it dry enough to not leave bubbles without making it so dry that it would not leave paint at all!  So, I drove over to Michaels and bought something like these.  These worked just as badly as the plain ol’ sponge!  But, I decided to plow ahead with too much paint on my brush…and got this mess:

photo 1

All of the bumps are because of the bubbles that formed in the brush.  The edges were also pretty far from clean since the paint leaked over.  I still had to do two coats to eliminate actual holes form the bubbles and so the whole Firebird logo was raised off of the nightstand.  Technically, it got the job done, but it bugged me.  Surely, there is a better way to do this!

I used my trusty friend the electric sander again and erased the Firebird from the top.  Then I put 2 coats of chalk paint back on.  The paint has kept perfectly for 2 weeks now in a plastic container with tight-fitting light (think large yogurt container).

Lesson #3: Makeup sponges make EXCELLENT stenciling applicators, especially when there is a lot of fine detail.  I actually learned that from here.  These are phenomenal and far and way better than anything else I tested.  Fortunately, I have a package of these for the foundation that I never wear.  The holes are so fine that the paint doesn’t bubble up and I could blot off the paint until they were dry, but still stencil paint with clean lines and no bubbles!  I end up going over the pattern 3 times to get the color to my liking.  Here she is:

photo 2

Lesson #4: Bleed through can be sort of cleaned up.  For those areas where I was impatient and didn’t blot of enough paint, there was still bleed through.  This was a particularly persnickety stencil since it had a lot of connected pieces, as you can tell.  It slipped around a lot and I was nervous about adhesive over my chalk paint.  If I did it again, I really now understand the importance of blotting FULLY EACH TIME no matter how annoying it is.

I used paste wax to seal the paint.  I used CeCe Caldwell‘s wax since it is all natural and I had to drive someplace special to get either this or Annie Sloan on the day that I wanted it.  I didn’t really want to pay for this for this project, but I have another project queued up that will benefit as well.

Lesson #5: Minwax paste wax in “natural” is not acceptable for white furniture.  I’m not the first to say this and I won’t be the last.  Fortunately, I tested it on the bottom just to see what would happen.  1) It was hard and didn’t blend well and 2) it was orange.  It is much much cheaper though, so I still would use it on a darker furniture item.

I painted the handle (spray Zinsser BIN and the Martha Stewart paint again) and screwed it back on.  Here is the whole thing in a room:


Yikes, iPhone photos are not good for decorating photos.  Note my clever off-set positioning of the stencil so the lamp wasn’t smack in the middle of the stencil.

Fortunately, I already owned a lot of the supplies (and those which I did not are mostly reusable for other projects), otherwise this would have been quite expensive to dress up a free nightstand.

Anyway, the project was fun, the recipient is happy and I learned that homemade chalk paint is great and there are some tricks to stenciling.  The end table shall have a lovely new life as a nightstand!



*This totally looks like a sane dog who doesn’t chew furniture, right?