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DIY Light Blocker

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For a long time, we needed a blind for this little window in our bedroom but I could never quite find exactly what I wanted or needed at a price I was willing to pay. It also occurred to me that somewhere in the bowels of my house, I had a black curtain panel used in our last house that might be useful in such an application.  After a two-day search, I finally found it in the basement under the tool bench (???) and started my project.  I cut the panel to size, hemmed the sides and used some clip rings and a 40-inch shower tension rod from Bed, Bath & Beyond. I decided to go with a tension shower rod for the stability and lack of permanence in case I decide to upgrade down the road.
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It has worked beautifully and only cost around $11.00 for the hardware by using several BB&B coupons. (I love that they stack coupons!)
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There is still enough fabric left from the curtain panel to construct some sort of blind or shade for the large window, as well.
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We also finally agreed upon, and purchased, a ceiling fan for the master bedroom.  It’s only taken a year to decide what to do with the much-despised overhead light.  We contemplated something retro and also contemplated a different ceiling fan but could never quite come to an agreement.  J still wanted some light overhead but I didn’t want to go with a traditional looking ceiling fan with one of those ugly overhead light kits, so we did nothing.  Now that summer is upon us and it’s getting warm in our room at night, I started my search again. Finally, finally, finally, we found one we both agreed upon with nice clean modern lines at a price we could afford but then couldn’t find it in stock anywhere.  I contacted Electric Supplies Online and their awesome customer service department (hi, Kristine!) helped me get in the queue for one as soon as they were available.  After a month’s wait, I received a shipping notice and it should be here tomorrow.
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I can’t wait to get it hung.  After a full year, this will bring our master bedroom renovation to completion. Things don’t always move swiftly around here but that might also have something to do with our propensity for jumping around from project to project as the mood strikes as well as a lack of funding.  That’s okay, though.  After all, slow and steady wins the race, or something like that.  What projects are you working on right now?

It Only Took Two and a Half Years

Two and a half years ago, I posted about painting the white ‘cracks’ of my cabinet doors. Yesterday, while doing some baking, I finally finished the last of them.
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Now every cabinet door and drawer is solid orange.
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I can’t tell you how good it felt to finally cross that off my master to-do list.  Also, the apple strudel that I baked was super delish and I’ll be back later in the week with the recipe.  Right now I’m just going to hang-out in my kitchen and admire my lovely doors.
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Did you accomplish anything on your to-do list this weekend or was it nice and relaxing? Share!

How to Get the Most Bang for Your Buck When it Comes to Kitchen Knives

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Lately, J has been doing most of the cooking in our house. I have been swamped with work and not only has he had more time on his hands,  he has taken this opportunity to expand his culinary skills.  He has read, watched and learned an immense amount over the past six months and really stepped-up his game when it comes to cooking.  Consequently, we have been the lucky recipients of some amazing meals.  During our kitchen overhaul, J bought a few new knives and wants to share his findings with you.  Not only has he found an economic solution, it’s a superior one at that.

J here: I ❤ Chinese chef knives. No longer shall I daydream of owning an $800+ set of German Wüsthof knives when only two or three of these babies will perform just as well or better at a tiny fraction of the cost. I only paid $41 for these three knives including a sharpening stone (+ ~$15 for shipping) and I’ve barely touched my $275 set of Anolons in weeks. No, I’m not crazy. I have my reasons:

Control – Even though they appear large and unwieldy, a little time & practice with them will prove how nimble these are. Since they are a sizable weighty hunk of metal they will do most of the work if they’re sharp enough. No need to force downward pressure on the blade because they just glide through nearly everything with little effort. It’s important to place your index finger on the side of the blade rather than holding it with a full grip like a hatchet. Watch chef Martin Yan give a tutorial and show off his sublime skillz: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HV8FPk5qN9k

Safety – With a big rectangular cleaver I know where all of the knife is at all times. I’m never going to get caught by a stray tip because the knife turned. With a normal knife as I put my knuckle parallel I can’t lift the blade too high or I could cut myself but if I lift my finger too high it will be over the top of the spine. With the cleaver the sky is the limit as to how far I can lift. I raise my knuckle just above the food and I have ~4 inches of leeway before my knuckle is over or under the knife.

Value – When your knife only costs $10 it’s hard to worry too much about destroying it. Two of these knives are stainless steel which require very little maintenance. The one on the bottom is made of carbon steel which will practically rust in your kitchen when it’s raining outside (not really). Clean it immediately after using, then wipe it COMPLETELY dry. Wipe a few drops of cooking oil on it to inhibit rust. The advantage of carbon steel is how wickedly sharp it can be, while the stainless are a bit tougher to keep a super sharp edge on. if your carbon gets a little spotty just rub some Barkeeper’s Friend on it to take off the rust. Good as new. It’s very similar to cast iron cookware which is also an incredible value. If somehow I lost all my worldy possessions and had to start over, a couple Chinese chef knives and a cast iron skillet would be among the first purchases I’d make. Of course you can spend $40 or even $400 on a Chinese chef knife. If you got it flaunt it.

Bad-assedness – These things just look the business. Not only could I scare off any solicitors or Jehovah’s Witnesses answering the door with one of these in hand, but they just look so bad ass hanging in my kitchen on a magnetic strip. I also feel like I’m in a kung fu movie or something when I’m only chopping onions to feed the family.

The three knives have different functions. The thickest cleaver at the top is for heavy duty bone chopping. The middle one for cutting thicker items like pineapples and hard root vegetables. The carbon steel knife is for ultra thin slices of veggies or boneless meats.

Here’s where you can buy 2/3 of these knives and a sharpening stone.

• The thick meat cleaver I bought at a local Asian grocery store for $13 and there was only one left. You can buy a similar one here: http://wokshop.stores.yahoo.net/meatcleaver.html

• The middle stainless knife is a Winco KC-101 I bought on Amazon for $10: http://www.amazon.com/Chinese-Cleaver-Wooden-Handle-2-Inch/dp/B003HESNR8

• The carbon steel veggie knife was purchased online from the Wok Shop in San Francisco: http://wokshop.stores.yahoo.net/vegcleav.html

Make sure you buy the large sharpening stone too: http://wokshop.stores.yahoo.net/sharston.html

Here’s a video on how to sharpen them. Make sure you soak your whetstone first: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jIycmyzrcF0
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So that’s J’s take on these knives. I want you to focus on that magnetic knife strip.  That’s where I come into the picture.  A couple of weeks ago I was shopping with one of my BFF’s and we hit the Kitchen Collection store in an outlet.  I had printed a 20% off one item coupon before I left because I knew I was going after a particular magnetic knife strip. It was marked at $13.99 online but when I got to the store, the tag was marked $11.99 and I ended-up getting it for $10.31 with the coupon and sales tax.  After that we headed to a new casino that had opened a few miles away where they were giving out $15.00 in “free play”.  Now, make no mistake, I am too cheap to be a real gambler but if they want to give me $15.00 to play with, I will.  I managed to make $12.41 real money on my “free play”, so it paid for my knife strip with a couple of bucks to spare.  As J mentioned above, all-in-all, this knife upgrade has cost us $41.00.  Along with our $9.99 IKEA cutting board, we have certainly enhanced our kitchen.
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What about you?  How do you get the most bang for your buck in the kitchen? Any good tips to share?

The Kitchen is Still the Heart of our Home

After J hung the shelves over the prep table, I “styled” them. I don’t have that special knack for artfully arranging things that so many others seem to possess. It takes me a few times to get something that’s balanced and pleasing to the eye. These shelves are also supposed to be useful so I don’t want them to be cluttered with a lot of useless bits and object d’art. My first attempt had a lot going on.
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After living with it for a few weeks, I knew that the bright yellow painting my daughter made me had to be relocated because it just didn’t flow with the kitchen. The turquoise boxes for J’s fancy tasting spoons really popped against everything else so I took everything down and started over. I moved the painting to the master bedroom and found a dark basket in which to hide the spoon boxes.  I also moved the other items around so now things look a little less cluttered and a lot more cohesive. Here’s what I have now.
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Here’s the painting in our bedroom where I can see it every morning when I wake-up.
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It works with the yellow “highlights” I already have in the room and I’m not sure why I didn’t think of moving it there before.

Slowly, but surely, J and I are moving toward our shared vision of our “dream kitchen”.
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In fact, we got a second opinion on the gas cooktop and it’s now installed! There’s still an issue with moving the regulator so the drawer can fully go back in and as soon as it’s finished, I’ll post some pictures. I’m thrilled that we didn’t have to get a different cooktop or have to re-sell the one we’d already purchased. At this point, the drawer is a minor issue which can (hopefully) be easily remedied. There are still a few  other things we want to do:

1. Replace the double sink with a single bowl.

2. Replace the faucet with a higher arched model for filling large pots and buckets.

3. Have the garbage disposal removed.  It’s old, rusting and leaking.  We thought about replacing it but since we’re on a septic system, we don’t put any food scraps down our sink anyway.  After much research, we’ve decided to get rid of it altogether and get the pipe replaced under the sink.

4.  Install a couple of magnetic knife strips for our butcher knives.

5.  Fill the existing holes in the mortar of our brick wall and install some hooks for our cast iron skillets.

6.  Buy two more LÄMPLIG chopping boards for the counter.  We bought one about a month ago and it is awesome.  A great value at $9.99.

This kitchen has been on an almost four- year journey of discovery and is finally feeling comfortable in its own skin.  I’ve loved the kitchen since the moment I saw it and, while it’s evolved quite a bit from my original interpretation, I’m still trying to honor the home’s ‘bones’.  I hope the house likes it.

Gas Cooktop – Fail

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Remember the gas cooktop that I was so excited about?  The one found on Craigslist for a great price and there was even talk of stars aligning?  Yeah, well, as it turns out, not so much.  J did a ton of research on installing these things and decided that he just wasn’t comfortable dealing with natural gas, which is completely understandable.  We called our local plumber out and he couldn’t install it because the drop-in part of the cooktop is too big for the opening in the counter and since the dishwasher is on the other side, there isn’t enough counter to cut to make it fit.  We were too eager and uninformed when we made our purchase.  I saw a 30″ cooktop and thought it would fit because it never once occurred to me that the drop-in parts are not at all standard.  It was a good deal, just not for us.  We are going to get a second opinion to see if there’s anything that can be done. If not, we’ll try to re-sell it on Craigslist.  In the meantime, we are considering this to be a lesson learned as we go back to the drawing board.  Know thy drop-in measurements!

What about you?  Have you ever bought anything in haste only to regret it later?  Ha – no one ever does that, right?

Fresh Flowers (?) and The January Cure

If you’ve been following the January Cure over at Apartment Therapy, this past weekend was all about flowers, bedroom organization and cleaning.  I still can’t bring myself to buy fresh flowers but we did finally hang the spider plant in the bedroom.  I love the way the healthy green really brightens the drudge of winter.
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Unfortunately, we still haven’t started on the basement project because, once again, we’ve been side-tracked.  Last year it was our bedroom floor and now it’s the kitchen. We’ve started some ball rolling that can’t be stopped, apparently, because we bought a new-to-us gas cooktop on Craigslist and our next project is installation.
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(This is the CL picture, not our kitchen.)

This is something we’ve been wanting to do for the longest time and it seems like suddenly all the stars are aligned because we’ve been finding the components we need on CL at great prices. It’s been very exciting for us (we don’t get out much) and J has been cooking some amazing dishes in our ‘new’ kitchen.

Are you working on any projects that you’ve been longing to do?

As Usual…

It’s perfectly normal for me to be running behind.  Right now I’m running behind schedule for the January Cure going on over at Apartment Therapy.  We were supposed to pick a piece of art to frame yesterday and I still haven’t framed the Charley Harper poster I purchased last year.
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Even worse, I still don’t even know if I want to frame it in gold or black. What do you think?
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Since it’s going in our living room, I’m inclined to pick gold simply because it fits better with the other art already in there and I feel like it lets the art stand out on it’s own.  I could be wrong.  It’s happened before.

We’re also thinking about putting a Thomas Keller quote in our kitchen:

“When you acknowledge, as you must, that there is no such thing as perfect food, only the idea of it, then the real purpose of striving toward perfection becomes clear: to make people happy, that is what cooking is all about.”

Thomas Keller, The French Laundry Cookbook

J can put his graphic design skills to work and make something highly personalized to frame that really means something to us.

This weekend’s assignments are to buy flowers, work on kitchen organization and prepare a meal.  With two kids, we’ll probably prepare six meals between now and Sunday evening so that doesn’t even count. I do, however, have a cupboard that dearly needs clearing.  Otherwise, our kitchen really isn’t in bad shape.  I think my time will be better well spent working on clearing some of the clutter in the basement.  Sunday night is trash night in our house so it gives me even more incentive to get my groove on.  What about you?  Any big plans for the weekend?  I hope it’s a good one!

Hello 2014!

I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m more than happy to bid farewell to 2013.  It was definitely not one of our finer years.  I’m optimistic that 2014 will have us on a upswing and to start the year off right, J and I decided to do something we’ve wanted to do since we moved in 3 and half years ago –  remove the over-the-range microwave and add some open shelving to our kitchen.  Before we started we went through my inspiration file to help solidify a plan in our minds.  We’ve been creeping toward a certain kind of ‘look’ with our house but the kitchen was still in a sort of flux between modern and kitschy.  We have known for a while that we need to de-clutter and streamline things in there to better facilitate our meal preparation as well since we have a lot of counter space that was going unused due to random bits of ‘stuff’. After sifting through dozens of pictures, we decided we wanted something along these lines.
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All of these kitchens are warm, modern and fairly uncluttered while not feeling sterile. They also feel right with our 1956 modern ranch and are welcoming and user-friendly, something we definitely want.  After doing some research on vent hood installation, we took the plunge and bought a new range hood on Craigslist for $25.  I used some Christmas cash I received from my mother-in-law, so no out-of-pocket expense for us.
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Working underneath this microwave has been downright claustrophobic.
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Putting up the range hood has been one of the best DIY’s we’ve ever done.  Not only is it freeing for an enhanced cooking experience, it makes the whole kitchen feel a lot larger.
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Unfortunately, the tile under the microwave had been removed so we had to install a backsplash.  I don’t know if this is a ‘forever’ solution but it works for now.  It’s also a lot easier to clean!

We’ve had this prep table from IKEA for years, ever since we lived in a house with zero counter space and J lovingly bought it for my birthday.  When we moved into this house, we didn’t need to use it as much since we had a lot more counter space and it slowly became covered with a bunch of hot sauce and other debris. (It was actually a lot worse from when this picture was taken.)
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We knew that some open shelving would clear up a lot of the clutter and give us back our prep table for actual food preparation. I used a couple of Lowe’s gift cards to purchase the shelving and hardware and J did a fine job of installing them for me.
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I can’t begin to tell you how much of a difference these two relatively minor changes have made.  The whole kitchen feels so open now and is a pleasure to spend time in.  Plus, we have tons of counter space now to work on.  We’ve even uncluttered the long countertop.
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The next thing we plan to do is hang the cast iron skillets on the brick wall similar to what is demonstrated in the upper left corner of our inspiration picture. We also need a new garbage disposal, since the old one is leaking, and I’d love to get a new single bowl sink. Baby steps, baby steps…  We’re definitely closer to our inspiration, that’s for sure!

I’m also participating in the January Cure again over at Apartment Therapy.  I was looking at some of last year’s projects, like the landing strip I created in the kitchen, and it’s still as neat and tidy as ever.  If I can keep it up, in a few years my house may have some semblance of order!  This year’s Cure is aimed at the basement and I’m hoping to get something, anything, accomplished down there.

So what about you?  What have you accomplished so far in 2014?  Are you doing the January Cure? Are you happy to see 2013 go?  Share!

Spider Plant


I’m working from the bedroom today because I can’t stand being in our living room where my desk is located.  It’s still full of stuff and I am a firm believer that a cluttered environment leads to a cluttered mind.  Besides, being in our nice clean bedroom has given me time to contemplate my spider plant.
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I’ve had this plant since my son was in the first grade. He went to a plant store in our village for a mother’s day field trip and brought this little tiny plant home to me.  I didn’t even know what it was at the time but we kept repotting it and taking care of it and one day, years later, it sprouted a baby spider plant.  My son is now in the sixth grade and this plant is still going strong.  After reading about them, I’ve discovered that they’re pretty hardy little plants that will thrive in most conditions.  I do need to move it to a bigger pot though, preferably one that’s hanging.  I looked around online and finally settled on this one from Fiskars.
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We’re going to hang the plant in the corner where I originally wanted to hang the KLÄDSAM mobile from IKEA.  I showed the mobile to J on a shopping trip there and he immediately gave it a thumbs-down, so no mobile was ever hung.  I think it will be a good spot for the plant because it will still receive enough indirect light to thrive and will also look nice in a space that’s been needing some ‘oomph’ for a while.
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On another note, I’ve decided that I absolutely love the color on the bedroom walls, especially on a gray day.  We chose Gray Shimmer from Valspar and it definitely changes with the light.  Most of the time it reads pretty white but, on a day like today, it’s sort of a light moody gray that is very serene.  It’s a great color and I’m seriously considering using it when we get ready to paint the hallway and living room.  Of course, we’ll need to be able to walk through the hallway and living room first.

Another Post About Books

Ever since I found a book at the library about living with books and posted about it, I’ve been obsessing about displaying our books in some manner.  I always have some stack of books sitting around in a haphazard fashion but ever since drooling over some of these gorgeous pictures, I can’t get the idea of having books in our home out of my head.
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For the longest time I’ve tried to convince myself that I don’t need them and they are just ‘clutter’ but I love them and think they really bring something positive to my overall well-being. I found another book at the library about living with books from House Beautiful called Decorating with Books.
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Honestly, I like Books Make a Home  more but I did find some captivating images in Decorating with Books that made me realize that I really need to display some books in our home.   Just looking at these images gives me  a serene feeling.  That’s something I would like to manifest in my own surroundings because I really feel that anything that relieves stress is a good thing.  Not to get all Freudian, but I’ve loved the library ever since I was a little kid and going there has always invoked these feelings in me. It would make sense that surrounding myself with books would give me that feeling in my own space.
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Each of these images are of entirely different architectural and decorating styles, yet I love them all. They all give me that same deep contented feeling that I want to replicate. Inspiration struck me over the weekend and I decided to use a closet component that was gathering dust in the basement as a bookshelf next to my nightstand.  It’s not the most beautiful bookshelf but I figured I could live with it for a while to see if living with books is what I really want.  So far, I love walking into our bedroom to be greeted by this cheerful stack.  Not only that, but it gives me a place to display all of my collected Dwell magazines.
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It’s only been a few days but this stack has convinced me that I want to display the rest of our books in the basement TV room.  Right now they are stuck in a shelf  that’s overrun with dvd’s and entertainment equipment.  I want to display them and let them shine in their own right.  That room has been slow going but progress is being made.  I hope to work on it before winter so we have a place to escape in the evening.

Do you live with books?  How do you manage them?