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.

daisies with owl

daisies and owl

I also brought home fresh tulips for the kitchen and arranged them in our bright green vase.
tulips

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?

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.

Dream pantrypantry pantry

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!

Spring Forward

Spring is in the air at our house. Despite the snowflake lights still hanging on our banister, I’m in full Spring-mode. Tonight also marks the beginning of Daylight Saving Time. Don’t forget to set your clocks forward one hour before you go to bed tonight!

I couldn’t be more excited to lose an hour of sleep. Seriously, I’m not being sarcastic. I’m looking forward to more daylight for evening walks and bike rides.

Another sign that Spring is on it way is in our flower garden. Check out what’s coming up already:

The hyacinths I planted last year survived! I worried they wouldn’t come back because I bought the flowers fully grown and then planted them around late April when it was still a little chilly out. I’m excited to see that they made it through the winter and now they are coming up and getting ready to bloom.

The tulips that I planted last year are also coming up. I noticed this little guy today while I was checking out the hyacinths.

Another sign that Spring is in the air is my latest organizing project. The first official day of Spring is still over a week away, but I’ve already got a jump-start on my “spring cleaning.” Remember at the beginning of 2012, one of my New Year’s resolutions was to get organized (closets, bathrooms and kitchen pantry)? I finally started on the pantry. It’s still a work in progress, but I’m happy with how it’s turning out so far. I realize that it still looks a little cluttered, but it’s better than it was. I will spare you the “before” photo. It was messy, so use your imagination. 🙂

I would love for our pantry to look like this:

Maybe some day.

In the meantime, I’ve been collecting Target gift cards like crazy lately so that I can buy more OXO vacuum-sealed containers. I love these containers! And no, I’m not getting any endorsements from OXO.

I hope get all of our pantry items (minus canned foods and individually package foods) into OXO containers.

Did you notice our fun star Post-it notes? Okay, they are a little hard to miss. I ran out of paper in our labeler so I’ve used these Post-its to label the containers. I actually think I like them a little better because I can also add the serving size and Weight Watchers Point Plus values.

I’m still collecting Target gift cards, so I will keep you updated on my progress. It will take a while to get our entire pantry into OXO containers, but I will keep buying a few here and there as I get more gift cards. Unfortunately, it seems like they never go on sale.

Once I get the pantry organized, my next room is the laundry room. It’s kinda drab now. This is one of the only rooms in the house that we didn’t paint. As you can tell, this shelf and wall are not very exciting. And the explanation for why there are so many containers of fabric softener; they were on sale. I also got a $5 Target gift card for purchasing two Downy and Tide items, so I stocked up.

You can also see the top of our very old washing machine in this photo. We will probably keep our washer and dryer until they die, so it might be awhile before I can really get this room looking like much. I would like to add a folding table, but that will have to wait until we buy a front-loading washing machine. As most homeowners know, you never run out of things to buy, or projects to do when you own a house. But that means there is always something new and exciting going on!

So before I wrap up this post, I’ll leave you with this photo. I caught Zoey sun-bathing and looking cute this afternoon.

Also, I’m going to try to post more regularly so check back on Tuesdays and Saturdays of every week for new posts!
Have a great weekend everyone!

Another busy, yet accomplished weekend

These days it seems like every weekend is a busy one. However, this weekend was successful despite our busy schedule. So to catch you up on the past few days, I’ve spent most of the week calling home and working on projects around the house. Here are the highlights of this past week’s happenings:

1. The earthquake on the East Coast.

Since all of my family lives on the East Coast, I spent Tuesday evening sending text messages and calling home to my mom and dad to hear the stories of their experiences during the quake.

2. Hurricane Irene.

It’s been a crazy week for my friends and family on the East Coast. More phone calls home and watching the weather to see the path of the storm.

3. Despite the bad weather on the East Coast, it’s been a beautiful week here in the Midwest.

Although I hoped to get more work done outside in the beautiful weather, I’ve been spending some time indoors trying to get projects done and catch up on some cleaning, etc. Tonight is the first night we’ve opened up the windows since sometime in April or May. Zoey is so excited to see the windows open that she’s been running from room to room.


Yesterday, we got up in the morning, went to breakfast and then headed over to Borders’ going out of business sale. It’s sad to see places like Borders close. I’ve been frequenting the sale over the past few weeks buying up photography, decor and comic books.

In the realm of home decor, I found a couple of great buys for my mom on organizing and a few on home decor and Real Simple’s book on simple solutions:


After our trip to Borders, my husband and I hopped back in the car and headed to Ikea for the afternoon.

Earlier this week I signed up for Ikea Family and wanted to go pick up my new card and check out a few items that are on our project list. Our visit to Ikea was a successful one and we came home with a few new items for our home and even got to enjoy a few frozen yogurt for signing up for Ikea Family!

Our trips to Ikea not only end up with new stuff for our home, but we always leave with a better idea of what we might pick up on our next visit. This time we shopped for couches. Previously, we were set on the idea that we would be buying a different couch then the one we picked out this time. When we walked into the showroom on Saturday, this particular couch caught our eye:

We are looking for something that sits low to the floor (because our entertainment center, which is also from Ikea, has our TV sitting pretty low to the floor) and is large enough that when we have a guests over, everyone can find a place to sit to watch a football game, movie or play video games. Right now with one couch, most of our guest have to curl up on the floor with a pillow.
We really like the charcoal color they had in the showroom and since we have a palette of neutral colors in our home, my plan is to brighten up the couch with brightly colored throw pillows and blankets. I especially love this couch because it is so large and both BJ and I can curl up and watch a movie and be completely comfortable! Now we just need to do some measurements to see if it will fit in our living room. If not, there are plenty of configurations for this couch, so we can go with a smaller option.
And of course, a trip to Ikea isn’t complete without the adventure of figuring out how all of your purchases will fit in the trunk! This time, I thought for sure we would get everything in without a problem. Especially since we didn’t buy as much as we normally do. But, in perfect Ikea trip fashion, there we were standing at the car sweating it out because the shelves I picked out for my office didn’t fit even with the seats folded down. But no worries. We got it all in! And this is how we drove home:
Now that everything we bought is safely at home, here are the finished results of another successful trip to Ikea.
Hallway to garage and utility room before:
Hallway to garage and utility room after:
We also purchased a bench for shoes that we put in the kitchen which allows us to come in the garage door and have a place to sit down and take off our shoes. And it also serves as storage for our shoes. I can’t count the number of times I’ve tripped over my own shoes in that back hallway. I’m glad we now have a place to put them that is out of the path to the laundry room.
And lastly, coming soon will be a post on the finished project of adding shelves to the wall in my office! Look for that post in the future!

The kitchen island and a home for my wrapping paper photo frames

After we moved into our house and began unpacking all of our existing kitchen dishes and appliances and then added all of our wedding gifts on top of that, we quickly filled up every existing storage space in our kitchen. We had things crammed in our cabinets and we were constantly digging around and stuffing to get everything to fit. Most people would consider getting rid of some of their items, but not us. Our solution: build more storage so our appliances and dishes could be spread out around the kitchen. The result: our fabulous kitchen island, built by us! Well, all of the pieces are from Ikea and we designed and assembled the whole thing.

Our goal with the island was to not only increase our existing storage space, built also to have a big workspace for preparing meals and a place to entertain guests in our kitchen while we prepare meals. We also wanted a place where we could eat dinner in our kitchen, but we weren’t interested in the traditional dinette table. The unit is also freestanding which will allow us to take it with us if or when we move out (some disassembly required).

The color choice of the island, which is different from our existing cherry kitchen cabinets was to create a contrast between the dark wood and the white cabinets. We also wanted to brighten up the kitchen. The dark cabinet and dark floor needed something that would pop against them! We chose the butcher block counters for a couple of reasons. First, they look really nice with the white cabinets and second, they were much more cost effective then the granite countertops we originally picked out. Because the bar and the work surface were two different pieces, the cost of granite skyrocketed.

Here’s our progress as we put the island together:


Zoey was also very helpful during the assembly. She supervised the entire project.

Some of the other fun features of the island include, the hidden trash can…
The book shelve for cookbooks and decorations…
And the cabinets to display our drink ware (with lights installed!):
So lastly, you might have noticed the new home for my Beating the Heat DIY project. I was originally planning to hang the frames in the kitchen on the backsplash, but I changed my mind after tapping the frames up to see how they would look. I’m happy to report that they still look great in the kitchen. I placed them on a few of the counters and I really like how they look. I think they’ve found their new home… for awhile at least!
They really brighten up the kitchen!