Going Green for Earth Day 2013

Happy Earth Day 2013!

I got an early start on our Earth Day celebrations this weekend by purchasing fresh flowers and house plants and planting a seed starter kit for our vegetable/herb garden.

On Friday afternoon, I stopped by the grocery store and decided that it would be nice to have fresh flowers for the weekend. I picked up these daisies and arranged them in Ball jars to use as coffee table decorations. They went perfectly with our West Elm owl, Threshold coasters and West Elm tray.

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daisies and owl

I also brought home fresh tulips for the kitchen and arranged them in our bright green vase.
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On Saturday, I made a trip to Home Deport and found some gerbera daisy annuals for our kitchen. The flowers and their brightly colored pots (which we already owned) add vibrance to our kitchen while helping with our air quality. Very Earth Day appropriate!
gerbera daisy

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I also picked up a few foliage plants including this prayer plant and palm.

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We decided to kick-start our vegetable/herb garden by purchasing a Burpee seed starting kit. You can find these kits at places like Target or Home Depot. The kit is really easy to set up and even includes a QR code on the package that you can scan to watch a “how to” video.

I planted 12 different rows of vegetables and herbs in our seed starter. Hopefully, in a few weeks we will have little seedlings ready to plant outside.

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The seed starter can be stored inside in direct sunlight or under a grow light. If it’s nice enough, you can also store the starter outside in direct sunlight. Since we still have the lingering possibility of a freeze over the next week or so, our seed starter is seeking refuge in the loft window.

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How are you celebrating Earth Day this year?

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Chalkboard Fun

Pinterest boards seem to be covered with DIY chalkboard projects these days. While I have a plan for a DIY chalkboard, in the meantime, BJ and I found a wall mounted chalkboard photo frame on sale at Crate and Barrel.

The chalkboard came with four 4×4 photo frames. Because printed photos come in standard sizes like 4×6, this required photo cutting to achieve the 4×4 size. You could also use photo editing software to crop the photos on your computer and then print them to a desired size. I chose to cut a few 4×6 photos left over from another project.

To cut the 4×6 photos to 4×4, I removed the filler paper inside the frames. Then I placed the paper on the photo as a template. I used a piece of scotch tape to hold the paper in place while I cut the photo. Don’t worry about putting the tape on the photo because the part of the photo with the tape won’t be needed.

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After I finished cutting, I arranged the photos in the frames.

And, if you’re wondering, the third photo from the left is a squirrel hanging from a tree eating a nut. I snapped that photo a few years ago while visiting a park in Maryland. The squirrel was more interested in his or her lunch than me standing there taking pictures. The swans are in the same park but the photos were taken around six years apart. The heart is from our Christmas tree this year and the red flowers were taken at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina.

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I digress… back to the chalkboard. Next, BJ got out a few tools for hanging frames. We chose the open wall by our downstairs powder room to hang the chalkboard. It is easily visible from our kitchen and adds more character to our once boring back hallway.

The frame came with hardware for hanging, but we also added anchors to make sure the drywall could hold the weight of the frame. Our drywall is pretty soft, so adding anchors for extra support really helps.

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Now that our chalkboard is up, BJ and I can write fun messages to each other.

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We also use the chalkboard to write our dinner menu and wine pairing each evening.

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Do you have a chalkboard in your home? How do you use your chalkboard?

Adding a Little Mood Lighting

Before we start this post, we just want to say that our thoughts and prayers are going out to everyone affected by Superstorm Sandy. Much of our family lives in the Mid-Atlantic and East Coast regions. We are very thankful that they are safe and sound tonight. We hope our readers are safe tonight and keeping warm. Please be safe! We are thinking of you. 

I love the look of soft mood lighting. It makes a home so cozy! And I saved one of our most exciting Ikea finds for last.

Recently, BJ and I made a small lighting upgrade to the kitchen that made a huge difference in the room. When BJ installed our new cabinet lights from Ikea, I was oooo-ing and ahhh-ing every time we turned them on. Even during the day, I can notice a difference in how they light up the counters. Below is a photo of our kitchen during the day. This also similiar to the lights looked in the Ikea showroom when we found them. The direct light right on the counters really helps when you are prepping and preparing meals.

Nothing beats how the lights look at night. And with our already installed cool white led rope lighting, the kitchen is so warm and welcoming. I call it a “gourmet glow.”

These lights are great because they give an expensive look, but are reasonably priced to install.

To give our kitchen the “gourmet glow” we bought and installed five Grundtal lights.

To connect the lights on one switch, we used two power supply cords and three connector cords.

Because we have two separate sets of cabinets, we used three connector cords and two power cords to plug the lights into two different outlets. If we had one straight set of cabinets, we would need four connector cords and one power cord. Here is how our outlets are set up:

When we built our house two years ago, we asked the builders to install a switch for two outlets, one above the each set of cabinets so we could later install over-cabinet lighting. If you do not have a pre-installed switch and outlet, you can install one or hire an electrician to install one for you.

With the appraisal still on the horizon, adding the over cabinet lighting was a great way to help increase the value of our home with little investment. It took BJ about 45 minutes to install all the lights.

Have you made any quick and easy upgrades that made a big impact to your home?

Organized Bliss

The pantry is finally finished. When you open the door, it is easy to find exactly what you are looking for. I love it!

Before I started working on our pantry this was my inspiration.

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And now our pantry looks like this, the top view:

And the bottom:

We have a lot more food in our pantry than the first inspiration photo and we also have a mix of boxes and vacuumed sealed containers. But for us, this works.

Before our pantry looked like this:

It was chaos. I also had trouble with the cans on the bottom shelf. They took up a lot of real estate and you couldn’t really see what was there. We decided to solve that problem by looking for something that we could put under the bottom of the pre-existing pantry shelves. We found this stacking shelf system at the Container Store and it works perfectly.

I also took our organizing one step further and labeled the majority of our containers. And because I am a Weight Watchers Lifetime Member, I have all the serving sizes and PointsPlus values written under the name of each product. For the baking and cooking products, I just labeled them with their name.

So our pantry is finally organized and hopefully it will stay this way for a long time. I love opening the door and finding everything I need without digging around. And because we used vacuumed sealed containers to store much of our food, we don’t have to worry about food going stale quickly. It’s a win-win!

A little wine with your home decor?

Mmmm wine. I love  how some of it tastes and I love to use wine bottles in our decor. We came across these wine racks at Ikea while we were still living in our apartment. When we moved into our house, we hung them up in our kitchen and ever since then, we’ve found different ways to incorporate wine into our kitchen decor.

The flowers and grapes came from Michaels. I bought them for another project and just on a whim, I weaved the flowers through the wine racks and then hung the grapes from them for a little something extra. I’ve always liked the way it looks and now I don’t remember what I originally bought the flowers or grapes for.

One of the fun things about using wine bottles in your kitchen decor is the constant change of scenery. As friends and family come over and you enjoy a bottle of wine together, you replace that bottle with a new one.

And you can also use the corks. Here is how we are reusing our wine bottle corks. Our collection is still in progress.

Finally, to go along with our wine decor, we found this neat wall hanging.

Once we finish the crown molding, our plan is to hang this above the door into our dining room.

BJ and I became more into wine around this time last year when we took our first anniversary trip to the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. We took tours of the winery, participated in a wine tasting and even enjoyed a wine and chocolate pairing. If you enjoy wine and haven’t been to the Biltmore, I definitely recommend it. If you are interesting in learning more about wine it’s a great way to get away to the mountains and learn about vino while you’re there!

Who wouldn’t want to kick back, drink a glass of wine and enjoy this view?

Have a great week!

Pinterest Picks: Kitchens

Holy crazy busy week, Batman! Sorry for my brief hiatus. I’m back now and ready to give you my Pinterest picks for this week.

Who doesn’t love a beautiful kitchen? The kitchen is the heart of our home. We spend a great deal of time in there cooking and hanging out. When we have friends over, we love standing around the island snacking and talking. When it’s just BJ and I, we cook dinner together and make snacks together in our kitchen.

Kitchen pictures are all over Pinterest and there are so many beautiful styles to check out.

I love all the windows in this kitchen. It is so bright and airy.

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This kitchen is beautiful and rustic. I love the wooden beams on the ceiling.

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This kitchen has a beautiful tin ceiling. I also really like the hanging lights over the island. Eventually, we would like to add track lighting so we can hang lights like these in our kitchen.

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This kitchen is simple, but colorful. There is something fun and cheery about it.

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I grew up in the Appalachian Mountains and this kitchen reminds me of the beautiful kitchens you find in some of the vacation home cabins near Canaan Valley, West Virginia. I love the view out of the windows of this kitchen.

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Cupcakes and pastries anyone? I love the windows in this kitchen. It also looks like it would be a great place to entertain friends. Pull up a bar stool and enjoy a cupcake and a cup of coffee among friends.

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This space definitely has a wow factor. I love that you can see into the dining room as if you are looking though a window to the outside. This would be a great entertaining space.

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I love the skylights in this kitchen. It looks like a great place to enjoy a cup of coffee while you read your local newspaper on your iPad.

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Here are more skylights and hanging lights in this beautiful kitchen. I also appreciate a double oven. We tried to get one installed in our kitchen, but it wasn’t an option for our builder.

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All of these kitchens and more can be found on my Beautiful Homes Pinterest board.

Updates on the slate tile floor and kitchen pantry

Over the past few months our dining room floor has sat idle, waiting for grout. The cold weather made it difficult to open the windows and let the room air out during the grouting process, so we patiently waited for it warm up again. Spring is officially here and since they are calling for nice weather this weekend, we took the opportunity to get the floor ready to grout.

Before we could start the next step of finishing the floor, we needed to fix a few broken tiles and re-set the tiles that came loose after we set them.

We walked around the floor trying to feel if anything rocked or squirmed under our feet. If we found a tile that was either broken or loose, we marked it with painters/masking tape. The tape served as a way to find the tiles we planned to repair so we wouldn’t spend time walking on every tile each time we fixed one.

After we were sure we found all the tiles to repair, we slowly lifted the loose tiles to make sure we didn’t break anything. Then we used a hammer and chisel to remove the mortar from the concrete. For the broken tiles, they were set a little better so we had to use the chisel to pry them off of the floor. Some tiles were set so well we had to lightly hit them with the hammer a few times to loosen them from the floor. Then we used the chisel and hammer to remove the remaining mortar and tile.

For the broken tiles, we had to replace them with new tiles and throw away the old ones.

We saved a few tiles when we first laid the floor just in case we needed them down the road. We used three of the tiles today and now we have 2 or 3 left if we need them. Once we picked out new tiles from our reserve and cleaned up the dust and mortar pieces, we started replacing the tiles. Before we put the mortar down, we taped off the surrounding tiles to prevent excess mortar splattering on the faces of the clean tiles. Then we spread the thin-set mortar.

For a few of the tiles, we added extra mortar to the low spots to make sure they set.

Then we laid all the tiles and made sure to press them into the mortar to get a strong contact between the mortar and the tile.

It took a few hours to remove the old mortar and set the tiles and during that time, Zoey paid us a few visits. She’s not allowed in the dining room, but she kept coming to supervise and even crossed the threshold to test her limits and run to the open window. She is mischievous!

Now that the broken and loose tiles are repaired, we are ready to fully prep for grout. Our next steps are to seal the tiles again and then wait 24 hours for the tiles we fixed to set up. Then, we grout! Once the grout is finished, we will seal the floor two more times. After we seal, and the floor dries, we can replace the base board. And then, our dining room is finished!

The floor project has gone well so far and although we’re not quite finished, I have a few lessons learned to share with anyone thinking about a DIY slate floor:

1. Do not rush a tile floor. It takes time to do all the associated steps.

2. Make sure you press all the tiles firmly into the mortar. If they are not in the mortar, they will come loose a few days after you are finished.

3. Always take the time to prep the floor before you put tile down. A clean floor is better for the mortar.

4. Make sure you can open the windows when you lay the thin set mortar. It will help keep the overwhelming smell down.

And that’s where we are with the floor. It’s almost ready to grout, we just need to wait for the tiles to set, clean the entire floor and seal it one more time.

More updates to come!

In other news, I also worked on the kitchen pantry this week. I acquired more Target gift cards and used them to buy OXO containers. I also reorganized the pantry and it went from this:

To this:

I still need a few more OXO containers for some of my baking supplies and snacks, but it has definitely come a long way from before. There were so many boxes of cans stacked on the floor and now they are easily accessible on the bottom shelf. I also reorganized our food into categories. I tried to keep the breakfast products somewhat together, the baking supplies in one area, the cans on one shelf and the snacks together. Now I can see exactly how many of items we have. And with our snacks in vacuüm sealed containers, they will last longer and I won’t have to throw away stale bags of chips!

That’s all for now! Enjoy the rest of your weekend!