Road Trip Tips for Traveling with a Toddler (and baby!)

When I was sharing about our family beach trip over on Instagram two weeks ago, I got a few messages asking about traveling with kids and the tips and tricks we use to make the experience as fun as we can. Travel is normally a big part of our life (in this pandemic, the beach trip was our one and only trip planned for the foreseeable future) and I’ve previously shared about simplifying trip preparationroad trip tips for traveling with a baby, tips for flying with a baby, tips for hotel stays with a baby, and simplifying packing for travel with a baby. I feel like I’ve sufficiently covered what works for us and traveling with a baby, but a long road trip with a toddler is a whole other ball game! LJ is now 2 1/2 years old and we definitely needed to adjust our travel game accordingly. Today I thought I’d share some of the things that we do to make the road trip a fun extension of the vacation instead of a miserable bookend to an otherwise great trip.

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Just like every baby is different, every toddler is too – these are just the things that work well for our family when we travel.  I just wanted to share in case another parent out there might find one of these ideas helpful. I think the travel sets the tone for the start of your vacation so whatever we can do to make it a little more positive is great!

Pack. Snacks.

This is an obvious one, so I won’t waste much time elaborating. Pack a ton of easy snacks and have them accessible (I keep the big back of snacks right behind the driver and passenger seats) as well as water bottles. I would say pack more than you think you’ll need too – you definitely do not want to run out!

Load up on mess-free non-food treats

I got a small plastic basket at the dollar store to store things to occupy LJ throughout the trip. Our van is 14 years old and far from swanky, but it does have a DVD player and for that we are thankful haha. If your vehicle doesn’t have one, a portable DVD player might be a worthwhile investment for a long trip. We were in the car for 12+ hours, so an hour or two here and there of screen time helped all of us pass the time.

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I also like to have little mess-free activities for LJ to have every once in a while. I’ve had people tell me that they have little things to bring out at milestones (like every 100 miles or every hour or something), but I just brought things out as needed. I hit up the dollar spot at Target before long trips to find little activities for LJ – things like felt books, mess free markers, stickers, etc are perfect for the car!

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We also have a few of these Water Wow books and they are a HUGE hit. LJ loves them and will color them over and over. You just put a little bit of water in the brush and the water colors in the picture. Then it dries clear and you can color it again. These occupy him for a long time!

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Sometimes, desperate times call for desperate measures. In the moments where the kids are going crazy or crying (or both) and we just can’t stop quite yet, my solution is bubbles! While not necessarily 100% mess-free, bubbles floating around the back of the car instantly turn both my kids’ moods around and can help make a tough stretch of driving much more bearable. This is also something we can break out during a pit stop and need a little something to do.

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And speaking of pit stops…

Plan to stop, but keep it flexible

In our experience, traveling with kids is not the time to have a tight schedule. We assume that we will need to stop at least once every 2-3 hours and plan our travel time accordingly. Each stop is about 30-45 minutes to give our kids adequate time out of the car seats to stretch and burn off some energy. So if a drive is going to take 8 hours, we mentally plan for it to be at least 10 hours with stops. This keeps us from getting frustrated when there are inevitably delays or extra stops.

We typically do not plan stops in advance. We have a general idea of places we’d like to stop (i.e. let’s see if we can make it to X city) but we don’t plan specific places, mostly because it is really hard to plan hours in advance when your kids are going to need to stop. When it seems like our kids are getting restless or it’s getting close to meal time or we need to stop for gas, we stop wherever we are.

Find a Green Space for Pit Stops

We try to avoid high-traffic areas like rest stops – especially in a pandemic! – so our trick is to search for green spaces.

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My process is simple. I open up Google Maps, find where we are, and look around at the upcoming exits (if you’re not on an interstate, just look at the next few miles of your route). I try to find green spaces within 1-2 miles off the road. You can also search “park” or “playground” to help find a good stopping point. (Note: I did pack plenty of hand sanitizer to use after we left each playground, even though we were the only ones playing at most of them).

Here’s an example of a place I found just looking ahead at our route when we drove to the beach:

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Even if there is no playground, a place like Schwartzkopf or Millcreek Park is a good place to try because it’s near the interstate we’re driving, the green space is relatively large, and there’s a creek next to it. At the very least, we could run in the grass and find sticks and rocks to toss in the river (which we did!) It turns out that that park also had a small playground though, so it was a double win!

This is another park we found and I ended up saving it in my maps for future road trips because it was an exceptionally good stop: it’s off the beaten path, there’s a scenic walking trail around a small lake, a nice playground, and working bathrooms. It’s definitely somewhere I’d like to visit again!

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The “search for green space” method has honestly never steered us wrong. The worst case scenario would be we show up and it’s just a flat space of grass. Even then, we could still run around and hunt for rocks or sticks or dandelions or bugs, or we could break out the bubbles I brought along. The point is to get energy out and have some fun so that the kids (and adults) are happier for the next stretch of driving. (And for the record, so far it’s never been just a boring flat space of grass. There has always been something!) This is also good for Vi – at 10 months old, she loves the change in scenery of a park or playground and there is also usually a bench for me to use to sit and breastfeed.

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Pit stop for meals too

In a pre-pandemic world, we would always stop at a restaurant and eat inside, even if it was fast food, instead of just going through a drive through and continuing on. This actually saved us time later because it counted as a pit stop for our kids to get out some energy and would allow us to keep going for another 2-3 hours after eating.

In this pandemic, we obviously did not want to stop and eat in a restaurant. Instead, we got drive-thru food, took it to a park (again, just looking around on Google Maps for nearby green space) and had a little picnic.

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I keep a picnic blanket in our van at all times and this is handy to pull out if there’s no picnic table around! It also makes for a great place for Vi to crawl around since she’s too small for playgrounds.

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I can’t emphasize this enough: try to make your pit stops fun! If you only allow for a 10 minute stop + bathroom break, your kids will likely not last as long back in the car before needing to stop again. Trying to power through a long drive with babies and toddlers, at least in our experience, just leads to a more miserable time in the car because they are cranky and tired of sitting in their car seats. By incorporating a little bit of fun through pit stops, it not only makes the actual time in the car more pleasant (and quiet), but it also makes the traveling feel like a fun part of the vacation too and not just something to endure to get to the good part. Our pit stops were all fun and unique times to explore a new area as a family and create memories just like the actual time at our destination did. So worth it!

For extra long trips, consider stopping overnight

Our beach trip was a 12 hour drive with no stops, so we planned for it to be at least a 16 hour trip with stops. We could have tried to power through and do it in one day, but we had the ability to stop overnight and break it up into two 8 hour travel days instead and we were all much happier about that. It’s not always feasible, but when it is, this can be a really helpful option! Hotels have cribs and pack and plays for use (usually for free!) and we can usually find a good, relatively inexpensive option (we love Holiday Inns) last minute. If we happen to know someone who lives along our route, we’ve also asked to stay with them to break up the trip!

If we do plan to stop overnight, I pack a small suitcase with everything we need for the night: toiletries, LJ’s blankets and stuffed animals, our sound machine, pajamas, etc. We pack it last, so it’s right there when we open the trunk and it’s super easy to just grab that one bag and take it in without trying to wrangle multiple bags and kids.

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And an extra tip, the Slumberpod is an absolute GAME. CHANGER. for traveling with kids. Our family of four shared a hotel room in our overnight pit stop and then we shared a room at the beach house with Vi, and this thing was AMAZING. It is a black out tent that fits over the pack n play. It is breathable and totally safe, but it completely blacks out the crib so baby can easily sleep in the middle of the day or we can keep the lights on in our room at night. We will absolutely take this on all future trips with babies! (Also, in the beach house Vi did sleep in the large closet, but we didn’t close the doors 😉 )

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It worked so well in the hotel room too because Vi went down before LJ did and we could leave the lights on for him until it was his bedtime too. Win!

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Take along a Toddler Potty

LJ is 90% potty trained at this point, and he does not wear diapers on the drive. We keep his little Paw Patrol potty right in front of his seat, so when he tells us he has to go, we can stop anywhere. We’ve pulled over on the side of the road (if it’s safe), pulled into empty church parking lots, pulled into subdivisions to park along a quiet street . . . when he tells us he has to go, we can stop wherever. I highly recommend this if you have a very young toddler who cannot hold it to wait for a bathroom. This was also really helpful in the pandemic because it meant LJ never had to go inside a gas station or restaurant to go potty during the trip.

 

What tips do you have for traveling with a toddler?

DIY Painted Counter Tops

I’m still pinching myself over the basement kitchen transformation I shared earlier this week – I am so in love with the new look of the space! One of the things that made a huge difference in this renovation was updating the counter tops. Today I’m sharing the process I used to take these counter tops from a lackluster dated pattern to a clean, fresh marble look. The process seemed intimidating at first, but it was actually surprisingly easy to do!

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After installing the butcher block counter top for the island, I decided I wanted to keep that as an accent look and not continue butcher block all the way around the kitchen. I looked into replacing the counter tops with a faux marble laminate, but the estimate came back at around $1800-2000 and I was not about to spend that much on this renovation. I decided instead to proceed with the same simple, budget-friendly tool I had already used to update the tiles, walls, and cabinets: paint!

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The previous counters were brown and had a pressed leaf patterned look to them, which was not exactly the look I was going for here.

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I ordered this marble paint kit for just under $200 total with tax (and free shipping), and while that it not an insignificant amount of money, it is a heck of a lot cheaper than $2,000. I appreciated that the kit came with everything I needed to complete the project except for painter’s tape, which I already had.

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The first thing I needed to do was remove all existing caulk around the counter top and sink area and scrub the counter with an SOS pad. After wiping it down and taping off around the counter with painter’s tape, I was ready to paint. I used the included sponge brush to edge and the roller to cover the counter top with their white base primer. I applied a base coat, waited four hours, and applied a second coat.

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At this point, I realized that the counters were VERY white. The rest of the kitchen has a lot of warmer tones and the starkness of a cool, bright white counter top was just too much. I waited until morning to see how it looked fully dry and in natural light, and it was still a touch too bright. I had enough base primer for one more coat and I decided to veer from the kit’s instructions and try to tint and tone down the color a bit. I used baby food jars to try out different combinations of paint using the base primer, my wall paint, and the included gray paint for veining.

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I finally settled on a proportion of base primer + gray paint that felt right, crossed my fingers, and mixed up the combination in a larger scale with the rest of my base primer.

 

The change was very very subtle but just enough to take us from Colgate Toothpaste advertisement white to a slightly less shocking white hue. It was really hard to document the change on camera, but if you look closely in the corner where the counter top meets the backsplash, you can see a little bit of the original white that I missed when I put on the second coat. I was much happier with the slightly subdued new shade! I applied one full coat with the new color and made sure to touch up every area before letting it dry overnight.

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The next day I was ready to create the veins for a marble look. I put everything I needed on a paper plate so it would be easy to move along the counter top and not drip paint where I didn’t want it. For this step, I used the gray veining paint, small artist brush, spray bottle filled with water, angled brush, and a paper towel for blotting.

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I would highly recommend watching this video tutorial produced by Giani before attempting this step. It was so helpful to me to see exactly how veins are produced and the type of veins that look natural. The thought of drawing veins was intimidating to me, but it actually was quite easy. I just used the tiny brush to draw a slanted line, sprayed it with water to make the paint bleed, and then feathered the wet paint out to give it a lighter, blurred look. I used the paper towel to dab extra moisture and also soak up excess paint to achieve a faded look.

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I finished the major veins first, then drew on the edges and backsplash, and finished with “ghost” veins, which are smaller, more faded veins. I tried not to do too many, as I wanted a somewhat simple and clean look. If I ever started a line that I didn’t like, I could just spray more water on it, wipe it off, and try again! As long as the paint was wet, it was very easy to work with and fix. The kit also came with a white highlight paint to add texture by lightly dabbing on the paint with a sponge. I used this maybe in 3-4 places where the gray lines were a bit thicker, but I did not really utilize this optional step.

After letting all the veins dry four hours, it was time for the final step: epoxy. We first taped off every surface and appliance and attached the included plastic drop cloths to the bottom of the counter with painter’s tape to protect the cabinets and floors from any drips.

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Epoxy can be finicky and messy, so I would recommend this step happen when you have dedicated time to focus. While it can be done by one person, I would highly recommend doing it with two people. Justin and I worked together on this step after our kids went to bed and I was so thankful to be able to tag team! The instructions recommend setting aside four hours for this step but it only took us two hours working together.

The kit includes epoxy resin + activator in three small batches. This is because once the two are mixed together, you have about a 30 minute window to apply before it starts to set and harden. Smaller batches allow you to get good coverage with each section without rushing too much to try to cover the entire counter.

Justin mixed up the first batch of resin + applicator (it needs to be stirred continuously for exactly 3 minutes and 15 seconds before applying). He then poured it over about a 7 foot stretch of counter in a Z formation (the kit recommends a 6 foot run, but we needed to stretch it just a little to cover everything). He used the included brush to apply epoxy to the backsplash and edges and I used the roller to smooth it out over the counter top. Since brushing took longer than rolling, when I finished with the rolling, I would start mixing and stirring the next batch of epoxy while Justin finished brushing. By the time the epoxy was adequately stirred, he was finished with his section and we started on the next one. We continued this process over the whole counter, and we had to continuously go back over our work to check for drips, pools in the corners, and missed sections.

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Once we were totally satisfied with how it looked, we went to bed (it was past 11 pm). I needed to set an alarm to wake up in an hour to come down and remove the tape – you need to give it enough time for the epoxy to set but not fully harden before removing the tape. At that time, I also smoothed the drips along the bottom edge of the counter and went back to sleep. When we woke up, it was finished!

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The high gloss shine definitely took the look to the next level! The epoxy takes 48 hours to harden for light use and 7 days to fully cure. After about 40 hours (I got impatient haha), I went over the counter top edges and around the sink with a clear silicone caulk to finish it off.

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We did have some friends over for an outdoor, socially-distanced picnic two days later and we used the counters to set food on and they held up perfectly. It was fun to see people’s reactions – they couldn’t believe the counters were painted!

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The counter tops are far from perfect and there are a few areas where I wish I had done a vein a little differently, but overall I am so happy with how they turned out! Will anyone ever think this is real marble? Of course not. But it does look like a new laminate and I think it really upgraded the look of the counters without a high cost. Win!

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One thing I would do differently if I were to do this again is try to complete the epoxy step during the day. We did it at night after the kids went down because that’s when we both had the time to focus, but I wish we had asked my mom to come watch them during the day so we could do it with good, natural lighting. With only artificial light at night, there were a few places where we didn’t see a tiny missed spot with no epoxy or an imperfection like a small piece of lint that settled in the top and we didn’t pick out. These are very slight surface imperfections, but I think we would have caught them under natural light.

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Another benefit to doing it during the day is – you are awake to monitor the drying. I went to bed after taking off all the tape. At the time, I ran the brush over all the bottom edges again to make sure they were smooth and had no drips. Overnight, the epoxy continued to drip down a bit and it caused a bumpy, uneven look in some areas underneath the counter (in the picture below, look at the counter above the left corner of the dishwasher). We still hope to be able to sand these little bumps down for a smoother finish, but if I had done this during waking hours, I could have just lightly gone back over it with a brush every 30 minutes or so until it hardened to keep the edge nice and smooth.

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Overall, I’m really happy with the process and I’m thrilled with the outcome.  I found this to be a fairly easy DIY and I would definitely recommend this brand of paint kit for the job. They also have less expensive kits that give a granite look that I also think could look really nice in a space. If there’s a counter top in your house you just don’t like but you’re not ready to fully replace, painting is a perfect way to refresh a space without a ton of time or money. Go for it!

 

 

 

 

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I would HIGHLY recommend using a paint kit. I used this one but

One Room Challenge: The Finished Kitchen!

After two months full of renovating, I am absolutely thrilled to say that THE BASEMENT KITCHEN IS FINISHED!

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I started this project as part of the One Room Challenge and due to unexpected delays (hello mold) and a week off for our family vacation, I got it done just as the challenge ends today. Whew!

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Before I dig deep into the finished space, let’s revisit where we started two months ago.

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We were thrilled that the house had a full kitchen in the basement for guests and entertaining, but it was definitely a little lackluster and a lotta orange. I set out to transform this kitchen while sticking to a small budget of $1500 max, and while I knew the space had potential, the final result is even better than my wildest dreams.

The first project I tackled was painting the tile floors. I used a special paint made for flooring from Rustoleum and a whole lot of painter’s tape to create a simple patterned look and I love it! To read more about the process, you can check out this blog post. So far, the paint has held up really well and only needed some small touch ups after the drywall guys were not careful moving the stove.

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Next up were the cabinets. Justin and I first chose to completely remove the single cabinet that was in between the sink and the window. We still have plenty of storage and this really helped open up the room a little bit more. It actually seems bigger without that cabinet blocking the way!

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After removing all cabinet doors, drawer fronts, and hardware, deglossing and priming every surface, and debating color choices for a few days, I finally painted them Rock Bottom by HGTV Home by Sherwin Williams. It’s the perfect moody gray/green chameleon color and I love it so much! I chose a high quality paint so I only needed one gallon (and I still have paint to spare). You can read more about the painting process in this blog post. I did place these bumpers behind each door and drawer to keep the painted surfaces from sticking to one another and pulling off the paint. So far, everything has held up well!

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As for cabinet hardware, I wanted to change things up a bit from the previous look. I wanted the door handles to be single knobs instead of handles, so I used wood filler to fill in the extra holes and then painted over them – the holes are now practically invisible unless you know where to look for them. I found these knobs for the doors and these bin pulls for the drawers and I love the combined look!

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When it came time for counter tops, I had to make some big decisions. In order to stay within budget, replacing all the counter tops was not an option, but I knew I wanted to at least replace the top of the “island” (it’s technically not an island but just go with it). The previous owners had created extra counter space by wrapping the laminate around to the wall to create a small ledge. While I can appreciate the function of this, I wasn’t a fan of the look, and I knew we wouldn’t miss that bit of counter space. Plus, without the ledge in the way, we would have room for three stools instead of two and that was going to be way more functional for our purposes anyways. There was no way to remove just that extra ledge of laminate, so we removed the whole thing and created an accent island look with a butcher block counter top.

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We got the butcher block counter top from Menard’s and I ADORE IT. It is exactly what I hoped for and I love the look so much. We did hit some major hiccups through this process though and it became quite the saga (mold behind old paneling, wonky cabinets that needed moving, tile needing to be cut away…) If you want to read more about how this transformation took shape you can read about it in this blog post.

Since I couldn’t replace the rest of the counter tops, I decided to paint them instead. I ordered this kit to create the look of marble and while it certainly isn’t cheap, it came with absolutely everything needed to complete the project and it was still MUCH cheaper than replacing (the quote for new laminate came back at nearly $2000 including install, while this paint kit was just under $200. I’ll take that savings!)

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I plan to write an entire blog post hopefully later this week that shows the process of painting the counter tops, but for now, I will just say that it was not at all as complicated as I expected and while it is far from perfect, I am very happy with the results. It really feels like I have new counters!

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Now, no one would walk in to this kitchen and think that I got real marble installed, but I really do think it looks convincingly like I got new marble laminate. It is definitely better than the brown, pressed leaf pattern that was there previously so I am counting this as a major win. Stay tuned for a post with all the details!

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We also replaced all the baseboards and window trim in the kitchen. I wrote all about the DIY window trim we (okay, mostly Justin) installed and you can read about it here. I just wanted a simple trim that framed our gorgeous view of the outdoors without distracting from it and this was perfect.

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The sink faucets got upgraded as well. There were previously two faucets: the main one for filtered water and the little one for unfiltered well water (preference for the previous owner). The main faucet was replaced by this gorgeous matte black one, which I bought from the new and used options for a small discount, and we closed off the well water faucet hookup and installed a matte black soap pump for dishwashing soap instead.

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I tried not to buy a ton of new decor for the space and instead shopped my own house for plants, art, towels, and other decor to put the finishing touches on. With the exception of this vintage floral print from BFF Print shop, I already had all of the framed artwork. I loved taking off the extra trim and using this ledge (where the house foundation is) as a functional place to stack lots of art and plants. It feels extra special because the artwork is all personal!

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From left to right: a print I picked up in an adorable bookshop in Venice, Italy, Justin and I on our engagement hike, a recipe written by my great-great grandmother (and namesake!), pineapples symbolize welcome and are a nod to my favorite TV show – if you know, you know!, a little print I hand wrote, and a picture from my travels to the Himalayan mountains in India)

Overall, I could not be happier with how this kitchen turned out. I poured tons of hours and a lot of hard work into this and really had to stretch myself to solve some problems and come up with budget-friendly DIY solutions. I also have to give a huge shout out to Justin for all his help with many of my projects – he is so awesome! I’m so proud of how we made this kitchen come to life AND I’m extra proud that we stayed within budget. The grand total for this entire renovation was $1,494.27!! I am doing a happy dance over here!

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I could go on and on about this space, but I’ll leave you with this. If there’s a change you want to make to your home, I encourage you to go for it! There were a lot of things with this project that I had never done before, and it can be intimidating to try new things, but you don’t know what you can do until you TRY. And while I stand by the fact that you can transform a room without a huge budget, even a teeny tiny budget can make a difference. Have $100? Try swapping out cabinet hardware. Have $30? Try painting the walls. Have $5? Scour your local thrift stores for a piece or two of decor to spruce up your space. It doesn’t have to be the biggest, fanciest, best renovation possible. I have been discouraged before watching people transform rooms and they gut it down to the studs and completely remodel everything. While that’s great, and I certainly hope to do that with a few rooms in our house, it’s very expensive and therefore not always a realistic option. But even if you can’t do everything, you can do SOMETHING. And each little thing you do can help you fall more and more in love with your home. ❤

Sources + Budget Breakdown

Flooring

Rustoleum Home Floor Paint (Steam Gray & Haven Gray base coats; Top Coat): $160.44

Delicate Surface Painter’s Tape (6 rolls): $57.59

Misc supplies (rollers, Krud Kutter, etc.): $31.22

Cabinets

Kilz 2 Primer (already had – I buy a 3.5 gallon bucket at a time because I use this for so many projects!)

Liquid Deglosser: $8.53

Showcase Paint (in Rock Bottom by HGTV HOME by Sherwin Williams): $41.71

Hardware (cabinet knobs, drawer pulls): $99.90

Bumpers: $6.69

Paneling for island: $22.02

Counters

Butcher Block: $212.93

Giani Marble Paint Kit: $192.55

Misc Materials

Lumber for Window Trim: $36.02

Baseboards: $32.36

Wall Paint (Sherwin Williams Alabaster in Eggshell): $28.86

Window + Baseboard Trim (Sherwin Williams Alabaster in Satin): already had from previous project

Dish Soap Pump: $23.53

Faucet: $64.96 (bought from new/used)

Caulk: $7.89

Wood Filler: $5.33

Brushes: $12.79

Rollers: $4.98

Decoranything not listed below was either thrifted or I previously owned!

Counter stools: $284.60

Rug: $83.67

Clock: $25.48

Hand Soap Dispenser: $10.18 (used antique gold rub n buff to change silver to gold!)

Goldenrod faux plant: $20.04

Vintage floral art Print: $15 digital download + $5 printing

GRAND TOTAL: $1,494.27

*Note: we did not factor in the cost of having to hire drywallers to repair the mold because that was a repair our home needed (multiple areas of drywall needed repaired, not just in the kitchen) and that cost came out of a separate home maintenance fund. This is why it’s so important to have money set aside as a homeowner – you never know what will pop up!

 

 

June 2020 Book Reviews

I am having a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that it is July already. March seemed to last 239 days, April was another long month of quarantine and monotonous days . . . and now suddenly it’s July. What in the world?

This month I finished five books (and there’s a bonus book that I forgot to review previously) and genres were all over the place – just the way I like it!

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I feel like this month was split pretty evenly with books I really loved and books that were kind of a bummer. Let’s get into it!

99 Percent Mine by Sally Thorne

Darcy has inherited her grandmother’s house in a 50-50 split with her twin brother Jamie and she is determined to restore the home and make it shine. Heading up the renovation is Tom, Darcy and Jamie’s best friend from childhood who Darcy just so happens to be in love with. She’s always only had 1 percent of his heart, but now she’s going to do everything she can to claim the other 99%.

I read The Hating Game from this author back in December and really enjoyed it, so I was excited to check out another rom-com from her. I wanted to love this, but unfortunately it fell flat for me. The dynamics between the characters seemed really off and it was hard for me to connect with Darcy and Tom’s relationship. It felt forced, I did not understand the appeal, and I was confused at times by the Jamie-Darcy-Tom dynamics. And honestly, Darcy was just not a main character I enjoyed. She alternated between whiny and super aggressive and needy and it was just a lot to handle. I did like certain aspects of the book – the renovation plot line and pretty much anything with Darcy’s best friend Truly, and I think it was kind of hard not to love Tom – but it was not enough to love the book. This ended up being just an okay read for me.

The Friend Zone by Abby Jimenez

I actually read this book a few months ago, but when I went to write the review for its sequel this month, I realized that I somehow never reviewed this book! This is the problem with reading so many books on Kindle; I don’t have the physical book as a reminder to include it in my review and somehow this one slipped through the cracks. Whoops! Before I start this review, I do want to include a trigger warning for infertility. If this is a subject that is difficult for you, you may want to skip this one. Also, both books are pretty heavy on the language and there are a few steamy scenes (which you know are coming and can easily skip if you prefer) so keep that in mind if that’s not your cup of tea.

Kristen is a no-nonsense, highly sarcastic, witty and fun woman who has a lot going for her and one big thing working against her: she has health issues that have been causing some major problems and are likely leading to a life of infertility. As the festivities begin for her best friend Sloan’s upcoming wedding, she meets the best man Josh, who just so happens to check all the boxes of her dream guy. Their chemistry is undeniable, but Kristen refuses to allow a relationship to develop because Josh has made it no secret that he wants to have a huge family someday and she can’t bring herself to tell him that it isn’t in the cards for her. Okay. First of all, freaking Josh. He was a rockstar for me. Sweet, patient, earnest – he endeared himself to me and I loved the alternating perspectives so we could get his point of view too. I loved their dynamic and was rooting for them the whole time, but the book did get a little frustrating. I just wanted to shake Kristen so many times and say “JUST TELL HIM.” Like, so many things could have been solved with just a conversation. It had some heavy elements but this book was a fun, flirty rom com and I overall enjoyed it. I will say – I’m not sure how I feel about how the infertility was handled and I can see how this could be a really problematic plot line and conclusion for someone who struggles with this in real life, so please keep that in mind.

The Happy Ever After Playlist by Abby Jimenez

Okay! Back to The Happy Ever After Playlist. I didn’t realize until I went to write this review and saw an author note that this book was actually written first, and then The Friend Zone was written as a prequel to it. While both could be standalone books, I definitely recommend reading The Friend Zone first. In fact, if you haven’t read it yet, stop reading this review immediately, because there is about to be a major spoiler.

Seriously, don’t read more if you haven’t read The Friend Zone.

Two years after the tragic death of her fiance, Sloan is still entrenched in her grief and struggling to move on with her life, until one day a lost dog comes into her life and gives her purpose again. When she can’t get in touch with the owner, she adopts the dog as her own and starts to regain control on her life. That is, until the owner reaches out to her two weeks later. Jason is an up-and-coming musician who was touring in Australia; he’s coming home soon and wants his dog back. Texts turn into long phone calls and undeniable chemistry develops as the days count down to Sloan and Jason meeting in person. While I  liked The Friend Zone, I absolutely adored The Happy Ever Playlist. I loved that it had depth and Sloan and Jason dealt with real, actual struggles and problems as their relationship evolved. It’s fun, but far from fluffy. Their long-distance get to know you was just the cutest. Delightful, sweet, adorable, heartwarming, satisfying. You just want to cheer for each of them and honestly, I was swooning a little bit by the end. It’s just a super fun read and was perfect for vacation. I loved it!

One of Us is Next by Karen M. McManus

Back in November, I read the young adult novel One of Us is Lying and I loved it, so I was really excited for the sequel to come out. A year and a half after Bayview High was entrenched in scandal over the death of Simon Kelleher and his “About That” gossip app, a new copycat emerges. Only this time, it’s not an app, it’s a text-based game of Truth or Dare. Take the dare, or else a dark secret will be revealed about you to the whole school. Secrets are revealed, dares are taken, and soon, the game takes a deadly turn.

This book focuses on alternating points of view from main characters Maeve, Phoebe, and Knox and I loved getting to know them and their relationships with one another as they were each dragged into the game. There is also some crossover with characters from the first book which added a really fun element. I honestly felt like I knew everyone and I don’t know how the author can manage to make you love like 15 different people and want to just hang out with them all, but she does and it’s amazing. This book was an easy, quick read with an intriguing mystery. It’s bingey, interesting, and while I did guess some of the twists, there were still some surprises. I want to say that while this is a young adult novel, it’s definitely PG-13 with some sexual references and swearing, so be aware of that before recommending it to a young teen. You don’t have to read One of Us is Lying first, but there would be some small plot holes if you don’t, so I would encourage reading them in order. And I highly recommend you do –  I thoroughly enjoyed each book!

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Fowler

This book was recommended to me by a friend and I knew very little about it before diving into reading, which is definitely the way to go here. I would recommend reading this book with as little information about it as possible. The story follows Rosemary as she recounts her life story and the unraveling of her once close-knit family. And that’s all I’m going to say. 😉 There is a pretty big twist to the plot that I do not want to spoil, but I also am struggling a bit to explain my thoughts without addressing it or giving anything away. I will say that this was unlike any other book I’ve read and had a unique, thought-provoking plot that I wasn’t expecting. Poignant, heartfelt, complex, easy to read but really compelling. I think it would be an excellent candidate for an interesting book club discussion. Definitely recommend!

The Wives by Tarryn Fisher

The Wives: A Novel by [Tarryn Fisher]

The narrator of this book presents herself as Thursday, because that is the day she gets to be with her husband. The rest of the week he splits time with his two other wives whom she has never met. This polygamous marriage isn’t what she hoped for, but she loves her husband so much that it’s worth it. Until one day, she discovers some information that leads her to one of the other wives, and it changes things irrevocably.

Meh.

I think this is supposed to be in the psychological thriller category of books but truthfully it’s not very thrilling. There was never a point where my heart was pounding or I was jumpy or anything, and the few twists that were there felt disappointing and even ridiculous. It’s hard to even decide if I liked it. This book had elements of mystery and it was a good enough beach read thriller – not really too dark or twisty and easy to binge while lounging in the sun. I read it pretty compulsively, so I enjoyed it enough to want to find out what was going on. But I was also very aware of the fact that I felt underwhelmed by it for pretty much the whole second half of the book and I was definitely thrown by the ending – not in a good way. I would not recommend it if you’re wanting an edge-of-your-seat nail biting thriller (there are SO many other good thrillers with unreliable female narrators like Girl on a Train and A Woman in the Window), but if you’re in the mood for what I would call “psychological thriller lite,” than this is a decent option.

Now it’s nap time for my kids and I think the outdoors is calling me to go read a book on my porch swing. 😉 Do you like to read outside when the weather is nice?

Beach Week 2020

Beach Week 2020 is in the books!

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Justin’s parents rent a beach house in the Virginia Beach area every other year, and this year we were scheduled to go. They had booked the house back in 2019 . . . and then, the pandemic hit. We weren’t sure if we were going to be able to go but after closely monitoring the situation and discussing the options with our family (Justin’s parents and siblings), we all agreed to keep the vacation. I know everyone is in a different situation right now at I want to be sensitive to that – so much depends on the area you’re in (the infection rate, the current recommendations and regulations), the health needs of your family, the precautions you can still put in place, etc. We’re all just doing the best we can with the information we have. We were very familiar with the area we were traveling to and felt confident we could keep things socially distanced from those outside the family. We stayed well over six feet away from others on the beach and didn’t leave our house other than to walk across the street to the beach or go for bike rides. We either made all our meals at home or got carryout. It was definitely a little different from “normal” years, but we still had a great time and I’m very thankful we were able to go!

I really wanted to unplug a bit and focus on family time, so I didn’t have my phone on me very often. It was absolutely wonderful to just be present in a moment instead of try to document every single one. Because of this, I have a ton of memories, but not a ton of photos. Today I just wanted to share a few snippets of moments that were captured throughout the week. As you can see, it was full of lots of family time and outdoor adventures!

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Justin and I celebrated our anniversary (seven years!) on the 22nd with a kid-free date night: a bike ride to get some carry-out ice cream! SO thankful I get to do life with this man.

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The kids got really into digging in the sand and one day they dug a faux “pool” with help from Justin and his brother.  LJ and his cousin, who is only four months younger, loved playing in their mini ocean after it filled up with water from the tide.

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LJ got really into finding shells on the beach and designated mommy as his treasure-holder. There is something so sweet about being a boy mama ❤

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I am a minimalist, “let’s-take-as-little-as-possible-out-to-the-beach” kind of person, but a collapsible beach tent is absolutely worth it as something to take. It folds up small, is lightweight, and provides a shaded, sand-free area when kids need to take a break (or babies need to nap)! I got this one at Aldi two years ago and it came in so handy throughout the week both on the beach and at the pool.

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Vi got her ten month photos taken on the beach. She was such a trooper all week and loved getting to experience the sand and ocean for the first time!

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The best part of the whole week was watching my kids with their grandparents, aunts, uncle, and cousins. Justin’s parents and siblings all live within five minutes of one another, and it’s hard for us to be the family that lives far away, which makes trips like these even more important to us. It is so wonderful getting to see our kids develop relationships with everyone and this week of concentrated family time definitely helped them strengthen their bonds. This was the first in-person visit where LJ could say everyone’s name and associate names with faces and it was just the sweetest thing to see him make those connections. And all the cousins playing together all week was just so sweet!

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I already can’t wait until the next time we can be together!

 

One Room Challenge Week Seven: Final Details!

With just one week left in the One Room Challenge, we are down to just finishing up final details in the basement kitchen!

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One of the biggest changes this room has seen was the updated “island” (which if we’re being technicalis really a peninsula) with a butcher block counter top. Monday’s blog post was all about the process for installing and sealing the butcher block and I’m incredibly happy with how it turned out.

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As I stated in Monday’s post, even though I had hoped to also address the rest of the counter tops during this challenge, they are going to stay for now. I felt like I was trying to rush into a decision just for the sake of the ORC timeline, but choosing something I love is more important than finishing within this pre-determined window. I’m waiting on an estimate to come back for an inexpensive laminate or my other option is to paint them, but in the meantime, Justin and I both agree that with all other aspects of the kitchen improved, we don’t mind the old counter tops nearly as much (but they’re still going eventually ha!)

Another thing that got me really excited this week was the arrival of our bar stools.

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I searched and searched and searched for something that worked in this space and met all our many requirements. Justin didn’t want a back but I did, so we compromised on finding ones with a lower back. I wanted clean, simple lines with just a touch of detail: modern, yet classic. Not too bulky so we could fit three across comfortably. Oh yeah . . . and we did not want to spend $200-300+ per stool (this part was actually the hardest requirement – bar stools are so expensive!) Finally I found these and they are perfect!

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I love the thin metal frame and the simple line detail. They complement the space just right and they are pretty comfortable too! And now that we don’t have that strange extra counter running along the wall, we can fit three across instead of two which makes it more functional for entertaining. Remember when it looked like this?

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I’m so glad those days are done. 😉

Justin has been working on a lot of other little details throughout the space too. This week he finished swapping out all the old beige light switches and outlets for white ones (such a little thing, such a huge difference) and last night he was able to swap out our old sink faucet for this gorgeous matte black one.

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I also went around yesterday and touched up the painted tiles. These tiles have held up really well so far against normal foot traffic, but there were two areas that have sustained damage. The area in front of the island got nicked when we were moving the base cabinet and needed a small touch up, and then the area in front of the stove got really destroyed by the drywall guys when they moved out the stove.

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This was super frustrating because I was able to carefully move the stove back into place by myself with no damage to the floor so I feel like to men should’ve been able to do it too. Sigh.

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I ordered a set of small brushes and went around last night touching up each area and it is back to looking great!

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There are only a few items left on our to-do list in this kitchen, and most of them can be summed up in this picture:

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Just a few pieces of trim and baseboards, some touch up paint and caulk, and we’re adding a dish soap dispenser where the small spigot used to be. I also have a few pieces of artwork and decor I want to arrange and then we’ll be done with this renovation. I can hardly believe it – we are so very close!

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Next week, the ORC challenge will end and final rooms will be revealed from June 25-July 5. I will actually be on vacation with my family next week, so I will have a big final reveal post when I come back from vacation. In the meantime, you can check out other room reveals on the ORC Blog!

DIY Butcher Block Countertops

Over the weekend, Justin and I teamed up to finish a big project in the basement kitchen: our new butcher block counter top!

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And because I’m a sucker for a good before-and-after, here’s a refresher on what this looked like before we started:

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My parents took LJ for the weekend so we had lots of time to work on this project. If you caught my Week Four Renovation Update, you know that actually removing the old counters was pretty easy but we then realized the cabinets were not installed square to the wall. That would have been okay, except the pre-made counter top we bought was not quite long enough to reach one corner of the cabinet since it was angled further away from the wall. This meant we were going to have to move the old cabinets closer to the wall.

To provide more counter space, the previous owners had used a panel in front of the cabinet to make the base seem larger. We wanted to keep as much counter space as possible, so we decided to only move the cabinet enough for the counter to reach the end with a little overhang. Once we finally got the cabinet off and out of the way, Justin used an angle grinder to cut away about 1/2 inch of tile on the floor. He also sealed up the cracks that were in the concrete underneath using a silicone caulk.

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The previous owners had screwed a board directly into the concrete and then screwed the cabinet to that board to keep things super sturdy. Instead of drilling into the concrete, Justin used epoxy through the drill holes to fasten the board back to the concrete.

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This worked really well and provided a very sturdy place to attach the base cabinet. Once it was dry, we set the cabinet back on top and Justin screwed the cabinet into the board from the side of the cabinet.

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Since the cabinet didn’t actually touch the wall, we also created a small frame to connect the cabinet to the wall and provide sturdiness on the other side.

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Justin used a circular saw to cut a thin plywood panel for the front of the cabinet and attached it to the cabinets using small brad nails.

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Then it was time to finally place the counter top! We bought this one from Menard’s – we wanted the widest one because we plan to have stools for seating and treat it like an island. This was the perfect size! Justin first pre-drilled holes into the cabinet itself to make it a little easier to attach once it was on.

We set it on top and got it exactly where we wanted it, then Justin screwed the counter top directly in to the cabinet. While he did that, I painted the front panel the same color as the rest of the cabinets – HGTV Home by Sherwin Williams Rock Bottom in Satin.

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Once the counter top was on and the panel was painted, Justin got to work adding the baseboards and quarter round and I worked on sealing the counter. I wanted a really natural looking finish and decided against staining the wood first. To seal the counters, I chose a simple method with a tung oil finish. This is actually a product we’ve had for several years and since buying it, the brand has moved to Miniwax.

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After wiping down the counter with tack cloth, I used a clean cloth to apply the tung oil and rubbed it in using a circular motion. I let the first coat dry overnight, then ‘sanded’ it using super fine steel wool. I used the tack cloth to pick up all the steel wool shavings, and then repeated the process two more times. After three coats total, the counters have a gorgeous finish!

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There are a lot of different methods out there for sealing butcher block counter tops and I’m sure there are better ways to increase durability. This is not our main kitchen so these counters will not be subject to the daily grind of 3 meals a day and will instead get used when we have larger gatherings or host visitors. Because of this, I wasn’t super concerned with getting the absolute best and most durable option for sealing. I anticipate a few nicks and scratches over the years but 1) I actually like the character that brings and 2) if it doesn’t look good, the beauty of butcher block is we can sand them down and refinish them later! In our first house after getting married, our kitchen didn’t have much counter space so Justin made me a wooden island and this is the sealing process we used – it held up well through lots of baking adventures and food prep so I’m feeling confident that it will work for this counter too but again, if not, we can sand it down and try something else later.

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As for the rest of the counters, they have been one big question mark this whole project. I’m really trying to keep this renovation budget-friendly, so stone is out of the question. I’ve been debating painting the existing counters, replacing with another budget-friendly laminate, or continuing the butcher block look. Even though I’m doing this kitchen for the One Room Challenge and that ends in less than 2 weeks, I didn’t want to rush this decision. I like a good mood board or Pinterest inspiration, but I always prefer to just be in a space and get a true feel for what I want. I almost always regret making a decision  and buying something too early in the process, so I like to make decision as the space comes together. This makes for a slower, but more intentional renovation.

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I wanted to wait until the butcher block counter was installed to get a feel for what I wanted for the other counters. Once this butcher block was in place, I immediately knew I did not want to continue the butcher block with the rest. I love it as a kind of accent “island!” This leaves painting or replacing with another laminate. Because of COVID-19, everything is delayed. The paint kit I want takes at least 2 weeks to arrive and the laminate estimate is taking a couple weeks to come back (and then would take 4-5 weeks to be fabricated and ready). I found myself initially wanting to rush the process and make a decision for the sake of the ORC timeline, but honestly, that’s not the most important thing right now. I want to love the final result and if that means waiting a little longer to get it right, so be it. So for now, I’m going to wait for the laminate estimate and continue to just spend time in the space and hone my vision for it.

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I still need to run a line of clear silicone caulk around the edge of the counter by the wall, which I plan to do during nap time today, and then it will be 100% finished. After that I’ll probably spend the rest of nap time just staring at it – haha! Seriously though, it’s just so beautiful and I love when my vision for a space comes together just like I imagined! ❤

One Week Challenge Week 5 & 6: DIY Window Trim

Another week of the One Room Challenge is complete!

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We were making good progress on this project until we hit a major obstacle in Week Four: mold. When we ripped off the paneling on the half wall and discovered mold, we knew we needed it to be taken care of by professionals.

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Another thing we got slightly held up on was due to an outlet. Previously, there was just a 3 inch casing around each window. I wanted to install a chunkier trim but one of the outlets was too close to the window, so we couldn’t install the window trim until this was moved to make room.

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My grandpa is extremely handy and has done electrical work in the past, so he and my dad came out one day last week to shift the outlet over a few inches.

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He also split the outlet and added another one behind the stove. Previously, the stove had to be plugged in using one of the above-the-counter outlets, which just wasn’t very visually appealing. Now it can get plugged in without the cord showing!

We were kind of at a standstill for a while waiting on these few little projects to get finished. Last week we had drywall guys come out and they tore all the mold and replaced the drywall, and we also had them patch the hole left by the outlet.

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They finished up the jobs on Monday and we were back in business. I painted the new drywall and we were finally ready to start on the window trim.

DIY Window Trim

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I wanted to go with a chunky craftsman-style trim with clean, simple lines and we decided to DIY it using some basic lumber.

Materials + Tools Needed:

  • 1 x 4 board (we used one total)
  • 1 x 2 boards (we used two)
  • 1 x 3 boards (we used three)
  • primer
  • paint
  • angled brush
  • nail gun
  • miter saw
  • wood filler
  • sandpaper
  • silicone caulk

I decided to paint all the boards first, which I did by simply laying them down on saw horses inside. I used one coat of primer and two coats of Sherwin Williams Alabaster in Satin.  (I did have a drop cloth underneath when I actually painted, but I moved it before I remembered to take the picture).

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Justin used his miter saw to cut each board to the correct length. We ended up choosing to install the boards from top down: we started with the top horizontal board, then the two vertical boards boards. We used 1 x 3’s for the top and sides of each window and attached them with a nail gun (I would also recommend using a level – this helped us make sure each board was perfectly straight!)

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To attach the bottom boards, we first held the 1 x 2 in place on its side. Instead of having it end flush with the vertical boards, I wanted a little overhang so Justin cut it long. It ended up sticking out 7/8″ on each side. I would worry less about an exact measurement (like wanting exactly one inch overhang) and more about making sure it sticks out the same amount on each side.

While I held the still-unattached 1 x 2 in place, Justin held up the 1 x 4 underneath and got it right where we wanted it. He nailed the 1 x 4 to the wall, then turned the nail gun 90 degrees and nailed the 1 x 2 down into the 1 x 4. We chose this method because it was easier to ensure that the nail didn’t accidentally go in the 1 x 2 slightly angled and come through the top of the board.

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Of course, nothing in this house is simple, so we did run into some technical challenges with the second window. The cabinet was too close to the window to accommodate the full width of the trim, so Justin had to cut out a notch for the trim to fit.

In addition, the trim was too thick and we couldn’t fully open the cabinet door, so Justin ran each board through the planer (he planed the unpainted sides) to take off about 1/8 inch on all the boards. The extra steps were annoying, but they paid off because the trim fits perfectly and we can fully open the cabinet door!

Once the trim was finally in place, (and once I had primed and painted the window sills, which I could have done at any point in this process) I used wood filler and a putty knife to fill in all the nail holes. I like using this filler because it dries super quickly!

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After about 15 minutes, I just lightly sanded each spot and it was ready for paint. I painted over all the wood filler and the edges where the boards had been cut, as well as over anything that got scuffed up in the installation process (the boards that had been planed needed some TLC touch ups!)

Once all the paint was dry, I used caulk to fill in the edges, reinstalled the blinds . . .ORC Window-6

… and voila!

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Look at the trim that we had to plane – it fit perfectly next to the cabinet!

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The trim color and wall color are actually the same, just different sheens. I wanted the trim to have just a little detail but keep clean, simple lines and not take too much focus, because I want the gorgeous view to be the focus.

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I’m super happy with how this trim turned out! Here’s a before and after from the original kitchen to where we are now. HUGE difference!

A few things remaining on our to-do list: reinstall the peninsula cabinet and the new counter top, replace the sink faucet, swap all the outlets for white ones, plus all the little touch-ups and caulk we’ll need for the finishing touches. It’s coming together!

If you’re interested in checking out some of the other rooms people are renovating for the One Room Challenge, you can check them out here. We’ve got two weeks left!

Anti-Racism and Encouraging Racial Equality at Home

I’ve been participating in Erika and Shay‘s monthly “Let’s Look” posts and this month’s topic was sharing how we can make sure we’re encouraging racial equality at home. I’m excited that they chose to adjust the prompt based on current events, and use this as a chance to share some of the things on my heart.

Last week started a long journey of really taking the time to listen to the voices of others, reflect on my own implicit biases, privileges, and underlying racism, and apply what I’ve learned in my own life and beyond. I realized that it is not enough to be “not racist,” but I need to actively work to be anti-racist. And I am ashamed to say that I was not previously doing this well. This past week was a much needed wake-up call and I can honestly say that it was transformative for me. I know I’m not going to do this perfectly, and I’m probably going to say or do the wrong thing some times, but I am committed to working through the discomfort because this is too important.

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Image Credit: Oh Happy Dani

Fix It: Starting with Myself

I have been sharing a lot of posts and videos that I have found to be valuable, eye-opening, and challenging on my Instagram stories. I created a highlight bubble titled “BLM” (let’s be clear: that stands for Black Lives Matter, because they absolutely DO matter) that you can click on and see everything I shared there, but if you’re not on Instagram, here are a few videos in particular that made a huge impact on me over the past week:

I believe it is extremely important to specifically seek out and listen to Black voices right now, but this video was powerful too and really made me hold up a mirror to myself.

It can be overwhelming and difficult to know what to do and where to start with all the information out there right now. This article, 75 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice, gives a lot of great suggestions and is a helpful place to begin. Following accounts like @theconsciouskid (parenting and education through a critical race lens) and racial justice educators like @austinchanning and @rachel.cargle has provided me with a lot of insight, perspective, and additional resources and I am learning so much.

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Image source: @theconsciouskid

And speaking of social media, I realized in looking at my feed that the VAST majority of content creators I followed were white. I saw someone someone say something like “when you are the one constantly elevated, you have no idea what the view from the other side looks like” – I’m ashamed to admit that I didn’t even really notice the lack of representation in what I consumed and that in itself is very telling of my privilege. I didn’t want to follow a ton of random people just for the sake of a diverse feed (plus it doesn’t help accounts to have followers who don’t interact with them), but I intentionally sought out accounts that I enjoy and want to see content from. I love following home design accounts and have started following people like @prettyrealblog, @carmeon.hamilton, @joystreetdesign, @sgardnerstyle, @grillodesigns, @homemadebycarmona, and @dwellbycheryl – not just because they are Black but because I love their style! I also appreciate the financial wisdom I’ve gained from @thebudgetnista, the encouragement given by @seekwisdompcw, the beautiful and inspirational graphics produced by @ohhappydani, and the powerful videos created by @themanacho. Diversifying my feed has been such a simple, yet powerful change to make and I’m never going back.

It’s no secret around here that I love to read, so books are another place I am focusing my energy. Back in February, I read I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness and it was just announced as the next pick for Reese’s Book Club! If you haven’t read this book yet, I highly highly recommend it. It was such a powerful, challenging memoir. I have maxed out my holds on the library wait list with titles that include White Fragility: Why it’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, Stamped from the Beginning, and Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption. I have joined a book club group for How to Be An Anti-Racist and I’m excited for the challenge and learning that I’m sure will come from those discussions. In addition, I’m making a conscious effort to also seek out Black authors when I read fiction.

Address It: Teaching my Kids

Justin and I have had several conversations over the past week about racism, our biases and privileges, and how we can work to be better as anti-racist individuals and as parents. We want our kids to empathize with and stand up for others. We want them to work for equality and call out injustice. We want to raise our kids to appreciate diversity, to listen to the perspectives of others, and to work towards making this world a better, more equal place for everyone. And that all starts in our home.

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Image source: @southbaymommyandme

I did an inventory of LJ’s library and found that while we do have several books that include children from multiple races and ethnicities, we only have one book that has a non-white protagonist (The Snowy Day). This definitely needs to change. I’m in the process of choosing and ordering books with BIPOC protagonists and BIPOC authors to diversify his library (and I’m trying to buy them from BIPOC-owned bookstores). Same with the toys they play with – while we don’t have very many, I realized that of all the dolls or “people” toys we do have, they are almost exclusively white. We have only one black person that came in a set for LJ’s train table. I realized I have never been intentional about only getting “people” toys that look like my kids, but I also haven’t been intentional about seeking people toys that do not look like my kids. I’m going to be very intentional about diversifying their toys going forward. Same goes with our TV shows and movies – representation matters!

We live near a fairly diverse mid-sized city, but our actual home is in the surrounding country and the area is predominately white. Regardless, I am committed to making sure my children see and appreciate diversity around them. This means attending downtown events and activities where there will be many BIPOC people present, it means choosing parks and playgrounds in diverse areas, it means grocery shopping and going to library story time where I know there will be people who don’t look like us.  It takes a little more effort, but it is absolutely worth it.

I read the following analogy this week and it really stuck with me. I unfortunately can’t find where I discovered it, but it was something along the lines of: When we teach kids how to cross the street, we don’t just say “Be Safe!” and hope they know what to do. We specifically tell them exactly what they need to do: stop on the sidewalk, look both ways, hold an adult’s hand, wait for the signal, stay in the crosswalk, etc. We are repetitive and specific. The same needs to go with teaching anti-racism. We can’t just say “Be Nice!” and expect that to be enough for our kids to be anti-racist. We need to be specific and help teach our kids the types of racist behavior they may witness in the world that are not okay and that they should not condone or repeat. We need to be specific about ways for them to be an anti-racist ally and stand up for others, and those conversations can start now. Again, @theconsciouskid has been a great resource for me in this area.

Change It

My next steps look beyond our home. I cannot do everything, but I can do some things and I want to do them well. Voting. Supporting black-owned businesses. Donating to causes that align with my values and seek to make positive change in this world. Volunteering my time and resources. Continuing to have the tough conversations with my family and friends. Speaking out when I see injustice or racism.

I know there are so so many more things I can do, but I also know this journey to be anti-racist is a marathon, not a sprint. These are areas where I’m starting, not finishing.

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Image source: @ashlee_eiland

If you have additional resources that you have found helpful, I would love to hear about them!

 

May 2020 Book Reviews

Before I share today’s post, I want to share a little bit of my heart. There are many things going on in the world right now, specifically with the Black Lives Matter movement. I took last week off from posting on my blog and social media except to share resources that I found to be insightful and helpful to me personally. It was not the time for my own experiences or voice, it was the time to listen to the voices of others (I have saved it all to a highlight on my Instagram profile). I have done so much listening and reflecting and it was an eye-opening week for me to realize the many ways in which I have fallen short in incorporating Black voices into my life. Justin and I have had many conversations about how we are going to do better as individuals and as parents to be actively anti-racist. I wanted to share this because even though I’m going to resume posting about my own life, I am committed to continuing this much needed work because Black Lives absolutely Matter. ❤

When it comes to volume of reading material, May was one for the books (see what I did there? 😉 ) Thanks to the pandemic keeping me at home, unexpected delays in our basement kitchen renovation giving me more free time, a few long weekends at home, and our library keeping me supplied with ebooks for my Kindle, I read a lot of books. TWELVE to be exact! What! This is obviously much more than my typical number and this review will be a long one so let’s not waste anymore time and get right to it, shall we?

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Hope’s Crossing (Books 1-7) by RaeAnne Thayne

Hope's Crossing Collection Volume 1: An Anthology by [RaeAnne Thayne]

Back in December, I flew through this author’s Haven Point books and I would describe this as the sister series. These are very Hallmark-style romance books: quick and easy to read (I binged the series in a long weekend over Mother’s Day), no language or steamy scenes, predictable and maybe a smidge cheesy yet still romantic and sweet. These books all take place in a small Colorado town called Hope’s Crossing. I enjoy story arcs where each character has his/her own story but the stories overlap and all the characters throughout the books are connected. It just makes me feel connected to the people in this charming little town. I wanted to join the activities, eat at the Center of Hope cafe, check out the quaint bookstore, etc. I will say, I wish I had read this series first, because it was written first and some of these characters are referenced in the Haven Point series (there is crossover in several books which is fun!) but you definitely don’t have to. I think I liked the Haven Point series a little better and the writing is a little more developed but this was perfect for when I was craving some sweet, fun, lighthearted reads.

I’m Fine and Neither Are You by Camille Pagan

I'm Fine and Neither Are You by [Camille Pagán]

Penelope is a do-it-all mom: she is constantly juggling her job, her kids, her husband, and about a million other things. Her life seems like barely controlled chaos, especially in comparison to her best friend Jenny’s idyllic marriage, motherhood, and life. That is, until Jenny is shockingly found dead in her home and Penelope realizes her life wasn’t so perfect after all. In an effort to turn around her life and marriage, Penelope and her husband decide to make a change: they are going to make wish lists for ways they need their relationship to improve. Total honesty is the best policy…right?

I’ll be honest, I didn’t love the first part of the book. The overwhelmed, overworked martyr mom is not a story line I love and I was kind of annoyed by Penny and her woe-is-me. As I continued to read though, I started to really appreciate her character development and the whole story became more enjoyable. I genuinely wanted her and Sanjay to figure things out and succeed (side note: Sanjay eventually endeared himself to me with his requests/wishes and his own personal development). I expected a more nefarious subplot, but the book is mostly focused on Penelope’s personal growth and the way that her marriage has evolved over time. I thought it was an interesting look at the highs and lows of marriage and it gave me quite a bit to think about regarding finding balance, communicating honestly (within your marriage and also with your friends, online, etc) and prioritizing yourself as well as those you love. Overall, I enjoyed this read!

Meet Cute by Helena Hunting

Meet Cute by [Helena Hunting]

Kailyn is a trust lawyer assigned to help serve as conservator for an orphaned thirteen year old girl in the middle of a custody battle. The only problem is the current guardian in question is the girl’s older brother Daxton Hughes, a former child actor Kailyn went to law school with and fangirled over like crazy . . . until he betrayed her. Now she has to put aside her past hurts to make sure his sister Emme is taken care of. As Kailyn and Dax work together and get to know one another again, they realize there is a lot more to each other than they knew. This book was just the right sort of flirty, fun read that I was in the mood for. The characters are likable and easy to root for. There is just a little bit of mystery with the custody battle, but it’s not super shocking or suspenseful and the majority of the book focuses more on the dynamics between Kailyn and Dax. I did think the fact that Kailyn seemed obsessed with Dax’s show was a little extreme and a weird part of their dynamic but other than that, I liked their chemistry as they worked together to help take care of Emme (whom I also loved!) Fair warning, the book does have a decent amount of language and steam, but I thought it was an enjoyable rom-com!

The Mother-in-Law by Sally Hepworth

The Mother-in-Law: A Novel by [Sally Hepworth]

After losing her own mother, Lucy had high hopes for her future mother-in-law and craves closeness with a warm, inviting motherly figure. Unfortunately for her, Diana is not what she hoped for. Their relationship is strained at best until one day, Diana is found dead in what looks to be a potential suicide. Except, some things just aren’t adding up and everyone in the family, including Lucy, has secrets. I loved this book! I expected it to be a thriller, but it was actually more of a character-driven, slow burn family drama + whodunit. The narrators and timelines switch multiple times and we see Lucy and Diana’s perspectives over the years. It is such a fascinating look at relationships and how actions and events can be interpreted two totally different ways if you don’t know the other person’s motives, thoughts, and feelings. There were multiple times that I just wanted to shake the characters and insist they talk to one another – there were so many missteps and miscommunications that could have been avoided over the years with a few honest conversations. It made me sad for the relationships that could have been, and it also made me think about the relationships I have in my own life and how important communication is. I found this to be an intriguing read and I flew through it!

Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating by Christina Lauren

Josh and Hazel's Guide to Not Dating by [Christina Lauren]

A few months ago I read The Unhoneymooners from this author duo (it’s two women, Christina and Lauren) and loved it so I was excited to try another one from them. After they reconnect 10 years after initially meeting in college, Hazel finally has her chance to make Josh her best friend. Despite their differences in personality (Josh is easygoing, calm, neat, and steady while Hazel is quirky, messy, constantly in motion, and a bit of a hot mess with no filter), they do become close friends as they get to know one another. They start to set one another up on double blind dates that never seem to work out – could that be because they actually would rather be with one another?

The premise was fun, the pacing worked well, and the characters were unique and interesting, but I just felt so overwhelmed by Hazel. I feel guilty even just saying that because she is still a likable character and I know the whole point was supposed to be that she is super quirky and different and Josh accepts her just as she is, but it just felt over the top sometimes. Honestly, maybe that was the point the authors were trying to make – she’s tough to love wholeheartedly, but the right person will. 😉 I also didn’t love the ending; it felt rushed and weirdly crammed a lot of things in. Overall, it’s not going to make my rom-com Hall of Fame and I definitely prefer The Unhoneymooners, but this was still an enjoyable read.

Know My Name by Chanel Miller

“In rape cases it’s strange to me when people say, Well why didn’t you fight him? If you woke up to a robber in your home, saw him taking your stuff, people wouldn’t ask, Well, why didn’t you fight him? Why didn’t you tell him no? He’s already violating an unspoken rule, why would he suddenly choose to adhere to reason? What would give you reason to think he’d stop if you told him to?”

Oh my. This was a powerful read. I remember hearing about the Brock Turner case several years ago, but I admittedly did not follow the court case closely in the news over the months and years before the verdict was reached and sentencing given. This vulnerable memoir written by Chanel, previously known in the media as assault survivor Emily Doe, was incredibly eye-opening. Not only does she give insight into so much of her own life, but she gives the reader an intimate look at the way rape victims are treated and how their court cases unfold. This is not a light read. It is heartbreaking, frustrating, and heavy. It was hard to not only see how this particular case was handled, but also to see how victims are treated in other situations in our society (she references our current administration and the Kavanaugh hearing). Even so, the book is poignant and ultimately uplifting – despite Turner’s lenient sentencing and our sense of lost justice, there was a lot of change and hope that came from this situation and specifically her victim statement (I cried!) and I commend her for sharing her story this way. Though the subject matter is difficult, her storytelling is compelling and I could not put this book down. It is an important read and I highly recommend.

You have to hold out to see how your life unfolds, because it is most likely beyond what you can imagine. It is not a question of if you will survive this, but what beautiful things await you when you do.

 

Whew! I’m definitely not going to keep up that pace of reading, but I do plan to get quite a bit of reading done over the summer. I would love to incorporate more great books written specifically by Black authors, so if you have any suggestions, I would love to hear them!