Category Archives: home improvements

House Progress: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

As promised, I’m back one more time to explain a little more of the crazy process of building an addition/remodeling most of the existing house!

There is so much I could say that it’s hard to pare down to a few highlights. A quick backstory on the timing of the addition: We found out we were (surprise!) pregnant with Ingrid right after Jonathan quit his social work job to begin counseling full-time. I experienced some major anxiety about how things would work out since we were already strapped for money and bursting at the seams in our two-bedroom home. Anyway, we looked into moving or adding a small master on the back of the house at that time, and found we literally had no options except to sit tight. Turns out you have to have 18 months of self-employment income before you can qualify for a loan. And a part-time nursing career amazingly isn’t enough to qualify either. ūüôā So we waited to do anything. And you know what? It was fine. For all the fretting, it worked alright. (Like most of the world and previous generations would tell you.)

Fast forward 18 months (remember that requirement?) and we had WAY more options than I would dare hope for in the Fall of 2014. This was primarily because home values had been skyrocketing in our area, so our little house had appreciated tons in the 5 years we’d owned it. Once we realized we had some options while adding even more value to our house, we decided we should try and tackle all the things that would make us want to move in the foreseeable future, as I mentioned in the previous post. So, it became a mammoth project. In short, God is good. And patience is a virtue. (Even if you’re being strong-armed into said virtue, I guess!)

So, in May of 2016 we packed boxed and moved half of our house into the other half of our house. I cannot believe this, but I have no pictures of what our living room and (old) master bedroom looked like lined with furniture and piled high with boxes. It was tight. We moved out for about 7 weeks, staying a good portion of that time 10 minutes away at Jonathan’s parents’ (Thank you, Dave and Becky!!), which afforded us the ability to check in at the house at least daily.

You see, we subcontracted this mess out, making it all the more crucial to live/not live at our house while we were gone. We decided to subcontract it out because we needed to make the biggest bang for our buck (as you know by now, we were trying to do A LOT–with a little, comparatively). A quick word on that, for those considering something like this: First, we didn’t know how insanely hard it would be to subcontract. None, really. And I really don’t think our expectations were very high. But still. Turns out you can put a price on sanity–it’s called a contractor. Secondly, we had my dad at our side. A retired civil engineer with all kinds of commercial construction experience and connections, we COULD NOT HAVE DONE THIS PROJECT WITHOUT HIM. He may have the been the wind in our sails that convinced us we could do such a crazy endeavor ;), but he was also so committed to helping us succeed that he spent countless hours showing up at our house, making calls on our behalf, doing the heavy lifting when things fell through (which they inevitably do!), and giving a compassionate ear when we cried about how hard it was. It was funny to look through pictures, because there were a million of him walking through the frame, just being there at every turn. My dad deserves a medal. We are eternally grateful!

The last picture is of Jonathan and my dad using a hammer drill under the crawl space to create an opening between the existing crawl space and the new one. In case you were wondering ūüėČ

Okay, so back to the process. One of the best/worst parts was the kitchen. We designed an Ikea kitchen with a local company called ModerNash. We put so much time and energy into planning the thing, then they went and got everything for us, and we were ready to go. Except our assembly guys flaked. We were¬†highly motivated to keep the project moving forward and the next guys who could get it done were like 3 weeks later. So, in a moment of complete insanity, we decided to assemble and install the cabinets ourselves. My mother-in-law came with us late one night (while my FIL stayed with the kids) to help us get our heads around Ikea assembly, and we began to chip away at it. It took weeks. So many late nights, heading there after work and kids were in bed. We didn’t have lights wired yet, so we strategically plugged lamps around the space.

Ikea is wonderful. But if you know anything about them, you know nothing comes assembled. We received about 90 boxes for our kitchen. This picture is at the halfway point or so, but you can see some of our method for organization as we assembled:

Then, came the counters, which were acacia butcher block we bought from SouthEastern Salvage. This is after installation and before we oiled them the first time. Look at the pride in my eyes. And fatigue.

I have all kinds of thoughts about wood counters, but the long and short of it is we love them. Reach out if you have questions!

The kitchen was seriously too much on top of work and kids. It was crazy. I was genuinely worried I would lose my mind, but we did it! (And saved some much needed dollars, so…) As I said, we were motivated to keep the project moving because our life is a bit nuts without all this, so we needed to get back to “normal” ASAP. From start to finish (passing final codes inspection, anyway) we did this thing in 6 months.

Our kids were champs. We arguably had them in so many questionable situations. But, no trips to the ER! They became pretty accustomed to dangerous things around at any given point and didn’t bother things.

After 7 weeks out, we moved back into the house (definitely before most people would think it was a good idea). We had no microwave, hot water heater, stove, running water in the kitchen. But a good bit of that was in shape within a few days! Liam was starting kindergarten in the middle of everything, and it was so important to me that he be back in the house for his security and adjustment. He did a lot better than I did.

Jonathan and I moved our mattress into the living room (around all the boxes) and slept there for the 3 months following. We joked we had a studio apartment whenever people would walk in the front door. This is the only picture I have, really, that proves we were there. You can see our built-ins in the reflection of the mirror.

And here is the kids’ new temporary set up after we moved back in (before the carpet was installed in Liam’s new room).

To make matters more fun, the entire family got head lice (first timers!) within the first few weeks of Liam starting school. People, we did not have a washer hooked up (for months, but this timing was painful)! That kind of stress makes you cry and laugh, cry and laugh.

We went back and forth about the material for the exterior of the addition and finally landed on brick. It’s not an exact match, but it’s not too bad. Several people have asked how we found matching brick. Yeah! And it doesn’t hurt that it’s in the back of the house.

Spring 2016

Spring 2017

This is a gigantic post, but one more strange thing we learned: natural materials are some of the hardest to get rid of. We probably rented five 10 cubic yard dumpsters for everything, but we we got down to sand, gravel, dirt, rocks–we couldn’t get rid of it! Nobody accepts/wants that stuff! Explain that one to me! That meant we had a hobbit hill in our back yard for a l-o-n-g time.

In all, we probably had at least a dozen people from craigslist and such take dirt. I am sure that dirt multiplied. We offered a contractor doing work down the street with a bob cat free top soil and he wanted $500 to take it. What?! So, we kept offering it to people with pickups and shovels. The following spring, it was smaller, but still there, just staring me down. I hated that dirt pile.

I am happy to report that by this summer, we had a (somewhat) level back yard! Things are looking pretty normal here these days. Even though we still have caulking and painting trim to be done here and there. Homeownership is a work in progress, though, am I right?

Phew, I’m tired again just writing about it! We may very well have lost a few years off our lives, but we are so grateful to have the opportunity to make our house so much more of what we wanted and needed. It takes a village, and we certainly have a good one. We love this house. Our blood, sweat, and tears are in this place!


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House Progress: The Mother Lode, Part 2

As promised, here are the pictures from our addition. We turned our 2 bedroom, 1.5 bathroom into a 4 bedroom, 2 bathroom house with this addition. The addition is not terribly large (less than 500 square feet) but it consists of two bedrooms: the master and an office, a small laundry room, a master bathroom, and a hallway that includes a small amount of mudroom space. We aimed to make efficient use of space and not build something that feels totally different from the small spaces of our 1940s house. We also had building challenges with our weird property lines and set backs, but that’s another story for another time. Once we got into some real planning for this endeavor, we realized it was important to tackle everything that would make us consider moving in the foreseeable future. We feel like we accomplished that.

There is so much I want to explain about this whole process, but I’ll have to think more on what exactly to include (I feel like we could write a book!).

So, without further ado…


This is a progression of the master bedroom end of the addition looking into the house.




The office






The Laundry room. Almost not worth showing and the room looks crooked, but we still haven’t done much in there…yet.

The Master bedroom.




Our heavenly master bath.




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House Progress: The Mother Lode, Part 1

Last year we tackled an ambitious project. A very ambitious project. We pretty much re-invented our house. Much of the existing house was renovated. And then we added a sizable addition. All the while life continued on. We knew it would be a tough and draining endeavor, but we underestimated just how tough and draining. One year later, though, we can say it was totally worth it. And we never want to do it again!

One day I’ll get around to posting about the process. For now, pictures. Lots and lots of pictures. In fact, this post will come in two parts. Part 1: the existing house. Part 2: the addition.




Spring 2016                              Summer 2017

Spring 2016                            Summer 2017



Spring 2016                                Summer 2017




Spring 2016                               Summer 2017

Spring 2016                                Summer 2017



Spring 2016                                Summer 2017



Spring 2016                                    Summer 2017

Spring 2016                                Summer 2017




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Door Drama: Part Three

It’s been a long time since I wrote about any progress to our front door, and any of you who’ve kept up with this blog for a while may have thought we’d forgotten to finish our ¬†“plan”. (I assure you, I had not!)

But…the time has finally come!

I’m really excited about this post because, not only was it a heck-of-a-lot more work than anything we’ve tackled before, it has also¬†really helped to update the exterior of our home.

Okay, so if you’ll remember, here’s how our front entry looked June of 2012:


We painted the doorway white some time shortly after that and then attached shutters in July of 2013:

Fast forward another year, and here we are!IMG_0753


The process began months (or, really a year or two) earlier with plans for our roofed pergola. I cannot stress this step in the process enough. Sometimes it felt like we were beating a dead horse, but since we were (are) amateurs, it was critical in minimizing our stress once we entered the building phase. We talked about what each of us was envisioning. We researched ideas and sketched out our plans. We tried to anticipate what problems we could face. We priced lumber and supplies online. We talked with people in our lives who knew how to build. We made an exhaustive list for our Lowe’s trip.IMG_0967

Then, we set a date to build and recruited some help. This came in the form of my brother-in-law who helped with the manual labor (my dad threw out his back days earlier but still graciously managed to come and help out for a while), my in-laws who brought lunch and helped with just about anything else we needed, and my mom who kept the chilluns so we could actually focus and get stuff done. The hubs and I were talking about how DIYers get all the glory for rolling up their sleeves and getting dirty, but (in our experience) it takes a village to get the job done. We’re so grateful to everyone who helped us out!

The first step was to tear out the old awning, see what was left underneath, and power wash the area before we built over it again.IMG_0696

As in true DIY form, we did experience a few hiccups in our plan. The biggest one was the way we attached our posts to the concrete slab. We unsuccessfully tried a couple of frustrating methods before using L brackets and bits designed to drill into concrete.IMG_0721

The second most frustrating step was the way our corrugated steel bowed. IMG_0730

Even when we drilled it to the pergola while pulling it taut, the front bowed. We remedying it by attaching 1×2 pieces in between each rafter. In the end, we like the look better than without it.IMG_0755



One of the hardest parts about the project both in planning and in execution was building around that little corner. It was a pain because that affected the 3 inch slope on the last rafter. Let me tell you, math is an important skill in building!IMG_0751

Because we used pressure treated wood, we have to wait a while until we can stain it. But the plan is to stain it the same color as the shutters and then paint the concrete gray.

August 2011:DSCN0512


July 2014:


We had many moments of frustration, but we knew that we’d feel pride once we were finished. And we do. One of the areas where I feel most accomplished is in anticipating the cost and sticking to our budget. We built this puppy (including the painting and staining that have yet to be completed) for right around $250.¬†IMG_0755



One thing is for sure: it was a learning experience. And it doesn’t hurt that it’s still standing! ūüôā


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DIY Twin Duvet Cover

Our three -year-old is now an old pro at sleeping in a “big bed”. When we first transitioned him out of the crib, I realized that he was used to only sleeping with his blankie. Even the pillow at the head of the bed was new for him. So, I slapped a fitted sheet on his bed and called it good.

Lately, though, I’ve been feeling like he might be ready for covers. The blankie barely covers his legs and he is *better* about staying covered while he actually sleeps. I have a twin down comforter that I saved from when the twin bed was mine in college, so the only real question was how to cover it. (Notice the pun reference?)

I headed to Goodwill with my mom one day in search of some inspiration. We decided against blue and gray (that I was thinking of doing) since it could clash with armoire if it wasn’t just the right shade. There wasn’t a great selection, but my mom found this cute patterned sheet at the last minute:

IMG_0676We paired those subtle green circles interspersed in the pattern with a vibrant solid green sheet. We liked it because it was¬†fun, coordinated well with the colors in the room, and wasn’t too babyish. (since he is three afterall!)

After throwing them in the wash, I simply put the “right” sides together and sewed across one side and the bottom.¬†As it turned out, the sheets weren’t exactly the same size, so I laid it out and pinned the opposite side¬†with both sheets flattened out:


After sewing that side, I cut off the excess and sewed it once more (in case the green sheet frayed at all).

Then, I flipped the whole thing inside out and stuffed it with the duvet. I really wanted this thing to stay put (as sometimes the comforter can move around inside the cover), so I opted to tie a few knots with embroidery thread to secure the whole thing.

IMG_0670As for the top, I folded the green side over and did a wide hand stitch with embroidery thread. I’ll have to take all that apart whenever I wash it, but it made for a nice temporary fix, anyway.


For a simple afternoon project, I’m pleased!



Unfortunately for me (since I make bed), Liam informed me that he’s not ready to get rid of his side rail just yet. ūüôā


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Making Room for More (and Other Secrets for Living in Small Spaces)

Our den has morphed yet again!

I know it seems like we’re changing things in there every other week–and trust me, that is not my personality–but we had an amazing offer come our way, and we just couldn’t pass it up!

A few weeks ago, some friends of ours mentioned that they were getting rid of their couch and matching love seat since they were getting an upgrade. They are really nice and neutral and in great shape, even after years of use.  The best part? They were offering to give them for FREE!

We knew we wanted them (partially as a longer-term investment in seating space) but had to figure out a way to make it work.

Adding furniture to our house means something’s gotta go. So, the desk moved to the dining room and the bookshelf/console in front of the dining room window went to the attic, ready to sell.

DSCN0592Now, the dining room window looks like this:

photo 4

photo 5The desk feels a little casual for the space (good thing we have a casual house!), but I really think it was the best option.

Then, we just played furniture Tetris, and here is where everything landed:

photo 1

photo 2

photo 3

Our house is SMALL (1,200 sq feet), and with two children, it is feeling increasingly so. Just as I described our space challenge in the kids’ room, the same goes for every room in our house.

And that got me thinking that I would share a few tips that I’ve picked up from living in a home with limited space:

1. EVERYTHING must have a place

I think this is one of the most important things for organizing any space. That folding chair, the mug on the counter, the craft supplies…where do they live? The kids get a new toy at Christmas? Make it fit into the room’s plan. Having a place–on purpose–for each thing in your home makes clean up a ton easier (and quicker!), especially if everyone in your house knows where that place is.

2. Purge

Keep the mentality of “spring cleaning” year round. If you live in a small house, this is a necessity. We have small (and few) closets in this old ranch, so we have to make them count. It’s not helpful to have those full of things that I don’t really need.

3. Rethink the current set up often, especially when something new is introduced

Rearrange. Keep things fluid in your set up. This is a newer concept for me. We got a new couch and love seat. So, what was gonna go? Technically, we may have been able to cram an extra sofa in without losing anything in the room, but we like that we still feel like it breathes a little bit.

4. Scale furniture to the size of the room

The longer we live in this house, the harder this is. But, it’s helpful to not have too much or too big of furniture pieces in a small room. A huge armoire overwhelms the space and dwarfs the room. Keep things to scale.

A few examples of space-saving techniques in our house:

store wrapping paper above the door frame in a       closet

store wrapping paper above the door frame in a closet

use a kitchen magnetic knife strip to store bobby pins, safety pins, etc.

use a kitchen magnetic knife strip to store bobby pins, safety pins, etc.

hang command hooks inside closets for bag storage

hang command hooks inside closets for bag storage

add shelves to small bathroom closets to maximize storage

add shelves to small bathroom closets to maximize storage

add dresser to children's bedroom closet when there's no space in the room

add dresser to children’s bedroom closet when there’s no space in the room

Does anyone have contributing ideas? Please share! And happy spring cleaning! ūüôā


Filed under home improvements, personal thoughts

Mud Room Space

As promised, I’m back with the improvements we’ve made to our den by the back door! For Christmas, we received a hat rack and shoe bench we’d been eyeing at IKEA¬†from Jonathan’s parents.

If you’ll remember, here’s how sad our entryway was before:


Needless to say, it didn’t take long before we were assembling those babies! And here’s how she looks:


*Note the increasingly permanent set up for our modem and router on Jonathan’s box drum


DSCN0884I’m so pleased with how it has matured the space. We really thought about making our own coat rack from a pallet, and I’m glad we didn’t. This will be something that will last us (maybe even go with us to our next house).


One thing is  for sure, this room has come a long way since we moved in 2.5 years ago!

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