Breathing Life into the Living Room

As I mentioned in this post awhile back, it was high time to do some work in the living room, beyond moving around the furniture. I started with the ceiling and once that was looking better moved to the walls.

Note, the ceilings are not perfect. I doubt they’ll ever be but as you can see in this pic the difference between the popcorn, scraped but not sanded and sanded and painted sections it’s a big improvement.

2014 - ceiling living roomThe brown wall paint wasn’t working for me anymore.

With the new light going in above the living room, I knew the space would feel lighter but I wanted to do something more.

So out came the paint, first to prime and then a new wall color!

2014 - primed dining roomI decided to go with a nice neutral and started looking at gray paint. Trust me, people fret and worry for months over the “perfect gray” and there is none. It depends on your space. Grab a few samples (I used 3) and go for the best one.

DSC_0241Can you guess from the pic which one I chose? While I liked the top one I thought it was too much like the current brown in tone. The bottom left one was a nice color but in the light it looked blue. So I went with the third one, middle right, called Dolphin Fin from Behr.

Painting can be a huge chore but when you focus on the result it makes it easier to stand. I love finishing a room, even if it did mean going back on the ladder for hours at a time to get in the corners, prime, paint and touch up.

2014 - dining room cutting in

These peaks were oh, so much fun to handle:

2014 - living room detail(you can see in this corner that the ceiling paint needs a little touch up)

While I will eventually paint the hallway to match first I’ll need to relocate 4 bookshelves and remove the pictures on the wall.

Probably the most impressive thing (to me at least) is that I did the room without taping or putting down drop cloths. I used one old sheet to rest the can on as I moved around the room but other than that it was just being careful and not letting the brush or roller drip.

2014 - fireplace wall finalThe dining room was done as well and it looks (and feels) 100 times lighter. Like walking into a cloud. Not a pod of dolphins though, those animals are mean.

2014 - hallway not painted

The door to the garage needed a bit of love so I grabbed one of the darker gray samples on a whim and painted the door and frame and LOVE how it works together:

2014 - dining room door

When the new dining room light is installed I think you’ll see how everything fits together per the vision in my head.

2014 - dining room finalThe last piece I have to do is around the front door (once I finish the trim at the top) and around the window after I take down the roman shade:

2014 - front window finishedAfter doing the ceiling, priming, painting, touching up, and reinstalling all those pesky light switch and outlet covers the room is finally back to a semblance of normal.

2014 - living room wide shoteIf you’re following along at home I have 4 little to dos left:

1) Front door frame – caulk then fix up the paint

2) replace the air vent return

3) replace the cable plate cover

4) touch up ceiling paint in a few places

You know what’s coming up next, right?

2014 - fire place detail


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At last I see the Light…

When looking over my project list it becomes clear that I’m down to the last big projects. Such as lighting, carpet, gutters and outdoor paint. Fun stuff, I promise.

The problem is that each of these projects is usually a larger up front investment. It’s much easier to install some baseboards or take out a tree.

So when I mentioned to my friend Lily that I needed to find an electrician to install some lights she immediately put me in touch with a local guy who works full time as an electrician and does side work. After discussing the myriad of projects I had in front of me and getting a quote I was ready to go!

But first I needed some lights. Here’s the results from the first work day

(note: I did very little real work…)

He began with the outdoor lights and replaced the 3 mismatching lights with these:

1) By the garage


2) By the front door


3) By the back door


Inside we started with the main bathroom:

Imageand the master bath:


And then tackled the outdated ceiling fans, first in the office:

photo(1)and then the guest room:


I also got the light switch in my master bedroom fixed – the switch was no longer controlling the overhead light and since I was planning to swap out that ceiling fan for something new very soon, I needed to get it fixed.

It took a bit of time but only because the existing switch, well, “blew up” and I had to grab a replacement from the garage.

While this was a lot of work to do at once, we’re not actually finished. See, the whole point was to get an overhead light in the living room (finally) and I picked up a brand new light for that room. But I’m also replacing the ceiling fans in the master bedroom and the dining room and those were back ordered.

So in the next few weeks work day #2 will commence, this one a little more intensive with running wire, installing a new switch and crawling into the attic to set the light. Oh, I’m not going to be doing any of the work, my role is supervising.

But I can’t wait for the whole house to be finished!

Here’s the lights I chose and pricing information if you’re interested:

Outdoor Lanterns here for $11.97 each


Office and Guest room fans here for $39.97/ea

DSC_0246Main bath light here for $39.97

DSC_0247Master bath light from Pacific Bay (note I picked this one up on clearance 2+ years ago for around $20 at OSH so it’s unlikely to be in stock now) similar here

DSC_0244For those math-challenged individuals keeping track it puts my expenses for 7 new light fixtures at:

$175.82 for lights

$80 for labor

for a total of $255.82 (or just under $37/per light)


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Living Room Remodel

After five and a half years I decided it was high time to make the living room more livable, especially since it’s a room I spend copious amounts of time in. If I had an unlimited budget the number of things I would do to this house would expand exponentially, as it is I do not have such a budget.

Since moving into the house in 2009, a few things have been done to the living room. Initially we replaced the drywall, baseboards, carpet and carpet pad due to the flood and for the longest time that’s where I stopped. The walls were painted brown and the baseboards white but that’s as far as I got.

So in imagining this room and what I’d need to make it feel “finished” I started at the top.

Well, technically I started by clearing out everything in the room.

photo(3)a few hours later:

photo(4)It was a little difficult getting everything arranged in other rooms but once I was done it was time to prep:

photo(5)I started by covering the walls in plastic sheeting. I got it from the shed at my grandparent’s old house, thinking it was a roll of trash bags. My uncle was tossing it in the trash when I said “I could use that” and use it I have. Since the plastic adheres directly to the painted walls and baseboards I used green frog tape.

However, I was attempting to scrape at the edges so in many places the tape came loose, from the dust, disturbing the seal, whatever. I ended up securing it in several places with my staple gun and then prying out the staples with a flat head screwdriver.

photo(7)On the floor I went with resin paper which is tougher than brown wrapping paper. Also at 3′ in width I could use much less tape on the seams.

This paper was taped together with packing tape, a reallly old roll that I’ve had for years. I hate using it on packages because there’s a weird logo on it. So it was perfect for this project. Except it didn’t stick well. So if you’re doing this I recommend duct tape. Seriously.

The doorways were the hardest part since I had to cover the door to the garage, the front door, the hallway opening and the opening to the kitchen. The front door and garage door were left exposed, I figured I’d rather clean them than deal with a front that ripped every time I went in or out. The hallway and kitchen simply got huge panels that overlapped.

The mantle also got wrapped and with the exception of a few cords for lights, the whole room was soon looking very Dexter-y.

photo(8)With everything wrapped I brought in the tools:


  • Scaffold
  • 6′ ladder
  • step stool
  • water bottle
  • spatulas
  • empty trash can
  • goggles
  • face mask

Before getting started I decided to clean off the ceiling fan in the dining area – it was pretty dusty – and take off the cover for the skylight.

photo(10)I’d emptied the room on Wednesday and Thursday, then began prep on Thursday. I was ready to begin with scraping early on Friday, hoping to get all the paint up by Sunday evening.

But before I could actually get started I had a little setback. At 4am Friday I woke up to intense pain, the middle and pointer fingers on my left hand were stiff and moving them produced sharp stabs and throbbing pain.

My chiropractor did some light therapy and I spent several hours holding a frozen water bottle. By 4pm I was able to bend my fingers without too much pain so I got started.

When I do projects like these I like to have a distraction so while working I listened to the Kathy Reichs book Break No Bones on my iPad. I left it in the hallway on one of the bookshelves so I could hear but it wouldn’t get dusty.

Here’s where I was after just a few hours:


Through Friday afternoon and evening I was able to get over half the room done, one of the hardest parts was making sure I didn’t rip up the resin paper when moving the

After I worked around the room scraping I went back up the scaffold and sanded the rough spots (which I couldn’t do until the drywall dried after being sprayed down). This is by far the worst part for me because that fine dust gets everywhere and quickly covered up the goggles I was wearing. Which meant half the time working without goggles and getting lots of minute specks in my eyes.

It was miserable.

By 4pm on Saturday I had sanded a third of the ceiling but was completely dried out due to the dust. So I took a break to pick up the ceiling paint I needed at Home Depot.

Cleaning up

Once the bulk of the ceiling was scraped and sanded, I began the clean up process. Still wearing the mask, I swept up most of the gunk into a trash can so I could later bag it up and move it to the trash outdoors.

Side note: Why is it only when I have projects like these do I forget to put the trash cans out? Oh, right, I fell asleep early before trash pick up day.

Next came the final patching and sanding on the ceiling. I wanted to keep the surface as smooth as possible so I went over this very carefully with the sanding blocks (120 grit) but didn’t do much spackling. There were several spots throughout the room where 3-5 small holes were in the ceiling, badly covered up. I got them as smooth as I could and decided to see how well the paint would cover.

Last job before was getting as much of the dust as possible off the ceiling. I used the leaf blower positioned straight up and it pushed the air up and down, creating billows of dust clouds so the tiny specks of terror would settle on the plastic sheeting or on the floor.


While I toyed with the idea of using my spray painter, I was more than a little concerned about drippage, especially since the resin paper had been torn in several areas. I didn’t want the over spray on my nice carpet so I went back to the old brush method.

Here’s the paint I always use:

BehrCeilingPaintAnd yes, I get the 2 gallon size because you will need it again. I promise. I love that it covers super well, you don’t need to prime the surface and it dries pretty quickly.

Because I have the tendency to experience fluctuating blood sugar levels, I decided to start my Sunday with a hearty breakfast and lots of water. Staying hydrated during these projects is always a challenge for me and I hate getting dizzy on the scaffold.-

By 6pm on Sunday I’d done more than half of the room. Just like when I was scraping, I started with the western half, not only because it was larger but there are fewer obstacles with just the ceiling fan in the way.


Monday, I must admit, was a bit of a slow day. I’d found while doing that far corner by the garage that I had not sanded well enough. So the sanding block made a reappearance, I swept off the ceiling and then commenced painting when the dust had mostly settled.

I also spackled over the drywall screws which go right down a line.

photo(16)I was able to paint most of the dining room area and so there was just the middle section (and tallest peak) to do after Monday:

photo(17)Tuesday was a complete wash. Instead of painting or cleaning I worked on the business, did some laundry, dishes and attempted to keep the kitchen functional.

Oh and I remembered to put out the garbage cans for pickup on Wednesday so: win.

By Wednesday afternoon I was back on the scaffold. Again. This time I used the roller brush and extension arm and then followed behind with the brush to get into the corners. It went MUCH faster that way and I was able to get the right thickness so the drywall didn’t peel at all.

photo 4With that done I quickly tore down the plastic, rolled up the resin and followed behind with the vacuum to catch the spills. The whole space was still rather dusty though so I used a mop down the hallway, in the hall bathroom, across the fireplace tile and in the dining area to get it up.

Then I steam cleaned the carpets again to get the dust out of the fibers. Can you tell in this pic which section of the carpet has not been cleaned?

photo 1It was about this time I remembered that I had not cleaned off the fan blades in the dining room. D’oh. At least I didn’t turn them on. So I brought the ladder back in and cleaned that off before declaring the room “clean” once more.

photo 3There are a few spots that need touch up but they’re so small I don’t need to keep the plastic and resin paper up. Plus in the corner right by the hall and bookshelves there’s a section I couldn’t easily scrape so I need to finish up there. I’ll move the bookshelves first though.

So that was my week… dusty and dirty and painty… next up is adding a light in the living room so I can see at night and touching up the wall paint in here.

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Hallway Progress

The last time I updated on the hallway was back in November 2012 when I finished scraping the ceiling, patching and sanding it and then painting. I was trying to procrastinate from my novel and after working on the hallway I did the office ceiling too.

In late 2012 we finally finished installing the baseboards in this section of the hallway but I never got around to posting it. Here’s the really old before:

DSCI0070This is an old pic before I painted the wall (you can see here where the bookshelf was attached on the wall) and before the doors went white.

For the longest time I had a big picture frame hanging here:

2012_02_15 (29)Here’s the after:

baseboardsThe phone cord in the first photo is no longer needed now that I have the phone jack in the office repaired and the wireless router in the office.

Even though the baseboard were installed, I still needed to do the finish work by filling in the nail holes, edges and seams with caulk so I started on that and worked my way down the entire hallway.

Back when I did the ceiling paint I also filled in any gaps at the top of the door frames so the last step will be to touch up white paint on the door frames.

After rearranging furniture in the master bedroom, the white bookshelf needed a new home so it ended up here:

Hallway 2014_03_10 (01)This single bookshelf holds the books I want to keep – either business books for reference, art books that I love or classics that I re-read. There’s room for more but I’m trying to keep it simple, finishing up the unread books on this shelf and deciding if I want to keep them.

The bottom shelf has magazines but I’m seriously cutting back on what I keep. I have boxes of magazine tear outs so I go through spurts of scanning them for Pinterest or my computer or just throwing them all away.

Hallway 2014_03_10 (02)Pinterest is the new magazine stack anyway. With fewer advertisements.

One of the reasons I’m not investing much in the bookshelf here is because it’s pretty dinged up and I’d like to replace this wall with planks.

Like these:


Or this:


I think it would be nice to have that detail and with the easy to install tongue and groove systems they sell easy to build. Now that I have an electric saw I’ll just need to borrow a nail gun.

But in the meantime, this is my mini hallway update.

Hallway 2014_03_10 (03)

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InstaFriday: Post-Cabo Edition

Oh I am missing Cabo… it was a rough week at home with the rain, responsibilities… email…

I started out by picking up a ton of fruit and veggies from the co-op since my fridge was pretty empty

Screenshot 2014-03-11 22.35.30

I forgot how much I love fresh pineapple in my smoothies! Also, salsa. Yummy.

I’ve been picking out fabric for this quilt for months and seeing it pieced together has been awesome! We’re working on the border now and then will choose the fabric for the back panel.

Screenshot 2014-03-11 22.34.17One of the things I found when I got home was that pavement ants had burrowed up from the cracks in the driveway, built their little hills in my garage and were not paying rent! The nerve. Now I sweep out the garage every day or two and am about to engage in some chemical warfare.

Screenshot 2014-03-11 22.34.58Luckily the garden is blooming! These tulips are above to push up and the mint is absolutely thriving after being cut way back. The whole planter box can fill 50, 60 mojitos. Come on over.

Screenshot 2014-03-11 22.35.07To say the boys were happy to have me home is a bit of an understatement. They would not leave my side. These 3 are the reason I have a brown couch cover and warm feet.

Screenshot 2014-03-11 22.31.57Another shot of the garden, this time the raised garden bed in the side yard. I filled up these boxes with 10 cu ft of dirt plus half of my compost bin (which has turned trash into nutrient rich soil!). There’s now enough dirt to cover the soaker hoses in a few inches of soil so it’s less likely to evaporate when I water.

Screenshot 2014-03-11 22.27.43And since I have been looking for a way to upgrade this plot in the back yard, I built another raised garden bed this week for this geranium:

Screenshot 2014-03-11 22.35.49

These two. They crack me up. Wilson is my calm one while Nixon is all kinds of crazy. The look Wilson is giving me as Nix pawed at his face while licking his nose cracked me up. I think it’s the universal look of an eternally patient big brother.


Screenshot 2014-03-11 22.34.39Alyssum gets my vote as the most hardy plant ever – it’s survived year round and is looking healthy and spreading fast.

Screenshot 2014-03-11 22.35.19If you’re wondering why I have so many flower pictures it’s because the California weather has looked like this:

Screenshot 2014-03-11 22.28.00crazy, right? The fields are filling in, the sky is blue and those clouds are just joking.

Finally, this week marked the 5th anniversary of my Grandma passing. Hence the selfie with her coffee mug in her honor:

Screenshot 2014-03-11 22.32.16

Today I’m jetting off again on a short trip – can’t wait to share the pictures from this coming weekend!


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Raised Garden Beds Revisited

Last summer I finally invested some attention, time and moolah into my side yard, in the form of 2 raised garden beds. They were not cheap to assemble or fill but have improved the look of the yard 105%. Approximately.

Back yard 2013_07_16 (40)My only (small) complaint is that when I’m sweeping leaves or hosing off the sidewalk there’s very few places for the water to “run off” since the boards butt right up against the walkway.

Not a huge deal.

Just this month I’ve finished adding more dirt to get these more level, if you recall in the beginning of this project I used bags and bags of fill dirt from the nursery (which wasn’t cheap) and it barely made a dent! Since these boxes are nice and deep – 12″ – that means a lot of square footage to fill.

Recently I decided to add another box, this time to the backyard.

This small patch under the guest window has a notoriously hard time getting plants to grow – in part because the faucet here is drippy but the soil is like clay.

photo(1)Since this red geranium has survived for 8 months clearly now I have to disrupt the tiny little ecosystem.

I started with some brainstorming and quickly measured out the space. Here’s the wood I picked out:


It’s just common board from Home Depot, width is 1″, height is 8″ (so both thinner and shorter than the side yard boxes) and the box measurements are 90″ x 20″ aka about 7.5′ x 1.75′.

After picking up (2) 8′ boards and (1) 6′ board and very narrowly fitting them in my car, I measured them on the ground before cutting them with my new circular saw. For the measurements, I wanted it to butt up against the walkway like the side yard but not the house in the back.

A few reasons:

1) I’m relatively sure I’m going to be painting the siding someday soon and I’d rather not get paint all over my box. When I paint it will be important to drape/cover the ground to get behind. This is the same reason I’ve not planted any bushes/larger plants in this space in, oh, 5 years.

2) the hose from the faucet runs along the house, across the path to the side yard where it’s hooked up to a soaker hose. I’d rather not have it buried in case it needs replacing and keeping it behind the box means it’s relatively safe from the mower.

My faucet here does have a split connector so the second hose is attached to the caddy. This is the one I use for washing the patios, watering the roses in the summer and cleaning off my lawn chairs. It’s pretty compact and I don’t use it much since the automated sprinklers do most of the watering.

Back to the boxes!

After cutting them down to size, I assembled them with these corner brackets I picked up with the wood and some 1″ exterior wood screws.

photo(3)Now, if you’ve drilled through some solid wood before you know that it’s easy to a) strip the screws or b) give up and try to hammer them in halfway through.

Oh, is that just me?

If you were unaware, a drill bit makes this job 1000% easier. However. You may break a lot of drill bits.

Oh, still just me?

Here’s my completely amateur tip: pick up a drill bit designed for concrete. They exist, I promise. Maybe not at Wal-Mart but check out a smaller, independent hardware store and you’ll be able to buy the size you use most in a more heavy duty composite.


Done. So the holes are drilled, brackets attached and box assembled.

photo(2)Now, this wood is not perfectly straight and the boards are a little bowed. I know, it annoys me too. But considering I have an inch gap on the back and 2-3″ on the right side, I wasn’t freaking out too much about making it square. Because: priorities.

Here’s the box finally installed:

photoThat geranium looks really sad now, doesn’t it?

I decided to add more fill dirt to bring it up to box height so first came digging out the plant and then bringing in a lot of dirt! Luckily I had just begun to empty my compost bin of the good, nutrient rich soil and it made up the first layer. Then I added this dirt which I pick up at Big Lots:

gardensoilI’ve used it for years and it really does a nice job. 2 cu ft is just $7 in the spring and they tend to sell out quickly. I’ve purchased 9 bags so far this year and I always seem to need more (in a related note, I’m pretty sure I vacuum it all out of my carpet year round).

I emptied 2 bags and then replaced the 3 plants, the largest one in the middle:

Backyard 2014_03_11 (01)The dogs were intrigued:

Backyard 2014_03_11 (03)The little patio on the far left is for my rain barrel project – whenever I get around to demoing and replacing the gutters and downspouts. I still need to refill the cracks between the bricks with another layer of polymeric sand but that will need to happen on a day that isn’t so windy.

The last “problem” is that I want to fix up the area in and around the faucet and sprinkler settings. I hate how it always seems to be super muddy so I will be digging out the mud here and filling in with some rocks.

photo(4)If you can’t tell, I’m the kind of person who really likes having things in their nice little boxes. Which is neigh impossible in a living space like a garden but I do try!

This path was pretty torn up when I moved in, last summer we pulled the 12″ bricks and replaced them with this design, and now the box is installed to contain the flowers.

Final before & after:Screenshot 2014-03-11 20.30.14

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Kitchen Update

It’s been awhile since I blogged about my kitchen, mostly because it’s small, I’m not planning on remodeling anytime soon and I’d rather NOT spend much time in there. But after getting a few new Christmas presents and bringing in some much needed color, I thought an update post was in order.

Also, I just cleaned it so this is photographic proof.

My only tip for cleaning the kitchen is to start in the corner that no one sees. It’s really easy to start on the end that’s visible from the living room and then ignore those hidden corners. Work backwards.

For me that means this corner by the fridge:

Kitchen 2014_03_08 (02)

From right to left I have:

  • a bright tray that holds my reusable water bottles
  • the toaster
  • my new Cuinsart blender
  • a teal basket for the extra blender parts

I really love these water bottles and picked up a second set of 5 because I go through 3-5 each day. Instead of filling them up every hour, I just dump any leftover water in the sink, put the lid in the small teal tin and then refill then before bed.

20131105_123648Also, they take 25 seconds to fill from the fridge water dispenser so I do calf exercises from my personal trainer :)

The next piece of counter top is the coffee corner. Mom and Dad gave me a Keurig for Christmas so it’s in the corner (these suckers are heavy!) with accessories nearby.

Kitchen 2014_03_08 (03)From right to left:

  • ceramic strawberry that holds tea baskets for loose tea
  • basket for K-cups which is empty because they’re on order
  • Coffee ceramic that holds tea bags
  • Keurig
  • round basket for my teal coffee cups (set of 4)

I like having all my coffee and tea together, the drawer underneath the toaster has more tea bags and individual servings of local honey.

Next up is sink adjacent – because my sink is at an odd angle, it’s hard to have much here.

Kitchen 2014_03_08 (05)From right to left:

  • ceramic strawberry strainer that’s holding sugar packets
  • green ceramic basket, currently holding tomatoes
  • teal drying mat with my blender in pieces
  • Pur water filter

I find it handy to keep the water filter right here instead of in the fridge. When full it only fills 2 water bottles so I tend to use it for cooking or refilling the Keurig.

Behind the sink we have another odd triangle:

Kitchen 2014_03_08 (12)So behind the sink there are a few of my bike collection, with one basket holding onions.

The other sink adjacent corner is more practical:

Kitchen 2014_03_08 (11)From right to left:

  • small ceramic pitcher for my scrub brush
  • red basket for dish soap, hand soap, sink stoppers and sponge
  • red heart shaped ceramic for scrubbing towels
  • kitchen scale, currently holding garlic

Right next to the stove I have 2 teal containers from Target, I think they’re for plants but I use them for cooking utensils:

Kitchen 2014_03_08 (10)And behind the stove within reach is a basket of cloth napkins and hot pads and a white caddy with plastic utensils and paper napkins:

Kitchen 2014_03_08 (09)And then the clean counter at the end of the kitchen:

Kitchen 2014_03_08 (08)There you have it, my organized kitchen – well the counters at least! I’ve been able to downsize most of what I’m storing in the cabinets so once I fix a lower cabinet with better storage I hope to have a tutorial for you!

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