April 2021 Book Reviews

Another month, another book review! I’m really excited to share today’s reviews because I read three books in the month of April and they were all winners – I love when that happens!

Any of these books would make for great summer reads, perfect for sitting back and relaxing in the sunshine. Let’s dive in!

The Star-Crossed Sisters of Tuscany by Lori Nelson Spielman

The second-born daughters in the Fontana family have been living under a curse for generations: not one of them has found love. Second-born Emilia thinks the curse is nonsense, while her second-born cousin Lucy has tried everything in her power to break it. One day they receive an invitation from their eccentric great-aunt Poppy (also a second-born daughter) to join her on an all-expenses paid trip to Italy where, on her 80th birthday, she will meet the love of her life and break the curse.

While this book started off a little slow and I was initially very annoyed by the family dynamics, I really enjoyed the story once the women actually got to Italy. Justin and I traveled to Italy five years ago and visited many of the places the book mentions so it was fun to connect with the setting. Even if you haven’t been to Italy, this book was a great escapist book that sweeps the reader away to another place with Vespa rides through Tuscany, museums in Florence, and indulgent meals in Venice. I liked that the narration went back and forth from present-day Emilia to Poppy’s life in the past. It was a sweet, indulgent read with several twists to the plot, some I predicted and some I didn’t, that kept things interesting. I finished the book feeling satisfied and ready to travel again (aren’t we all ready for that?) and recommend this book for fans of adventure, sisterhood, and falling in love.

Life’s Too Short by Abby Jimenez

Life's Too Short (The Friend Zone Book 3) by [Abby Jimenez]

Popular YouTuber Vanessa has traveled the globe and had many adventures, but none have prepared her for the instant motherhood of gaining custody of her half-sister’s baby girl. She’s certainly not prepared for the appearance of her gorgeous next-door neighbor Adrian one night as he comes to try to help soothe the infant’s wails that have kept him up all night. Before long, Adrian and Vanessa strike up a friendship that could lead to something more . . . if Vanessa is willing to hope for a future that a looming health fear has never allowed her to dream of.

Alright y’all. Here’s the deal. I have read Jimenez’s previous two rom coms and while I really enjoyed The Friend Zone, I straight-up adored The Happy Ever After Playlist which has kind of become my rom com benchmark. So I had very high expectations going into this book – and they were exceeded. I loved this one! I loved Vanessa and Adrian as individuals and could not get enough of their fun banter and blossoming relationship. All of the supporting characters are interesting and ultimately likeable. I loved that it wasn’t all fluffy love and “easy” problems; this book covers guardianship of an infant, a drug-addicted sister, a hoarder father, reconciling broken family relationships, and a potentially devastating health diagnosis. Yet the book never feels heavy. It remains relatable, charming, and entertaining. I feel like Vanessa and Adrian reminded me of Justin and I at the start of our relationship – we were acquaintances, then friends, then best friends, then interested in dating but both afraid to cross that line and mess up our friendship, and then we finally dated knowing it was going to be “it” for us. This book took me back! It’s sweet, it’s funny, it’s endearing, it’s inspiring – I just loved it so much and highly recommend it!

*A note: the chronological order of books is The Friend Zone, The Happy Ever After Playlist, Life’s Too Short. You don’t have to read them in order, as each book is a standalone, BUT there are some minor spoilers and character overlap so I do recommend reading in order if you can! It’s fun to see where the characters are in different stages of life throughout the book. I would say they also get more tame as they progress, going from Hot to Medium to Mild (for contemporary romance standards) in terms of language and sexy scenes, so if you feel strongly about that you could start where you feel comfortable on that scale.

Oona Out of Order by Margarita Montimore

New Year’s Eve, 1982. Eighteen-year-old Oona is at a party that will ring in the New Year and, on the stroke of midnight, her nineteenth birthday. She’s in love with her boyfriend, their band feels like it’s on the verge of their big break, and life stretches out infinitely in front of her. Only when the clock strikes midnight, she opens her eyes to find that while she is now nineteen years old on the inside, she is physically in her 51-year-old body in the year 2015. Her disbelief turns to horror as she realizes that she will live the rest of her life out of order, never knowing what year it will be next until she jumps to it on midnight on New Year’s Eve.

Time travel books always have the potential to be confusing, and I’ve learned you just have to give them a little leeway. I spent some time trying to figure out logistics of her past/future actions and just kept turning my mind in knots. Time travel is impossible, so the book itself needs to be granted a little creative license and once I just accepted that and didn’t try to “figure it out” I enjoyed it a lot more. I found the plot surprisingly easy to follow along with considering all the jumps. I liked the recurring characters and how they wove in and out of her life. I liked that there was some mystery to it – the people in Oona’s future life knew some things that they refused to tell her about her “past” because she hadn’t yet lived it and they wanted her to have some surprises, both good and not-so-great. Ultimately, can she do anything to change her fate? It’s an interesting concept to ponder as we read along with her adventures. There are some twists I didn’t anticipate and ultimately, I found myself wishing for even more. I loved seeing how her life played out and how the things connected and made sense throughout her life and could have kept reading through even more years! This book was recommended to me by friend and I was glad to have someone to talk with about it after I finished, so I think it would make for a great book club discussion.

Friday Features {4.23.21}

A couple weeks ago I put together a “Friday Features” post with a bunch of little things that made me happy or happened in our life lately. It was a fun way of documenting a few small moments of our life, so I’m going to make that a semi-regular feature on the blog. These posts are far from perfect – phone pics snapped in quick moment and random things that don’t necessarily have anything to do with each other – but they make me so happy to look back on. Perfection is overrated anyways, right?

Here’s what has happened around here lately!

Visit with Justin’s Parents

We hadn’t seen Justin’s parents since November, so we were all excited for their recent week-long visit to stay with us. The kids absolutely loved having so much quality time with their grandparents and a lot of really sweet memories were made.

Day Date with Justin

When his parents were in town, they watched the kids for us on Saturday so we could have a date day. We enjoyed having a bit of a staycation and spent the day exploring local shops and restaurants together.

Small Business Finds

It’s really important to me to support small businesses whenever I can, so it was fun to do a little shopping at several of them on our day date! I found a locally-made maple cutting board, some cute cloth napkins, two summer outfits, some bar soaps (I love using these in the shower and at my bathroom vanity as opposed to liquid in a plastic bottle), and a few new children’s books.

“New” Furniture

I shared before that I added a gallery wall to disguise our thermostat on the wall in between our living room and kitchen and as of yesterday, the wall has another addition. This antique commode was refinished by my maternal great-grandmother and has been in my parents’ home for years. They were willing to pass it down to me and I’m so excited to have this special heirloom in my home. I can’t wait to style the top!

Recent Thrift Store Finds

I love thrifting for home decor because it allows me to find some unique items that don’t just look like what everyone else has and it’s super sustainable! I recently popped in to my local store and scored this little dish that is the perfect size for storing sponges and soap in the kitchen . . .

. . . and I also found this cute little metal bowl that I just know is going to be a very versatile decor piece in my house! Both items together were less than $6 so this felt like a big win.

Second Pfizer Shot

On Wednesday, I received the second dose of my Pfizer vaccination. I did experience soreness at the injection shot, along with some fatigue and minor muscle aches and chills in the day following my shot. Thankfully, I’m now about 39 hours post-shot and I’m back to feeling great. I’m so thankful to have both shots done and am feeling hopeful for the future!

Have a great weekend!

Transforming our Kitchen for under $600!

I love a good budget-friendly DIY and today I’m so excited to share our kitchen refresh – a low cost transformation using paint, repurposed materials, and a few simple swaps!

At the beginning of 2021, one of my goals was to paint the main floor of our house. Every wall was brown and the whole space felt dark and dingy, so I decided to lighten everything up by painting the walls (Sherwin Williams Alabaster) and trim (Sherwin Williams Agreeable Gray). The more rooms that got painted, the more the kitchen just felt out of place.

Justin swapped out the old recessed light bulbs for these LED options a couple months ago and that change alone went a long way in updating the look of the space, but I knew I wanted to do a bit more. We have dreams of completely renovating the kitchen (the current layout does not work well for our family) but that won’t happen for several years. In the meantime, I decided to do a low-cost, big-impact facelift that would help the space fit in better with the rest of the house.

The previous owners had made a few updates shortly before selling and one of the updates was new quartz countertops. While the style isn’t my first choice, the countertops are high quality and I didn’t want to alter them. The black quartz has a lot of veins in shades of brown, taupe, and gold so I wanted to work with that even though I was moving the kitchen away from all the brown.

I chose Sherwin Williams Link Gray for the cabinets (you can find the full painting tutorial here). The color is very hard to accurately capture on camera – it’s a warm, versatile color that changes from green to gray to blue depending on the light. You’ll notice that there is even some variation between pictures in this post because the look of the cabinet changes depending on where I stand to take a picture!

The previous owners also updated the backsplash, but unfortunately, it was a big miss for us. It only went up about halfway to the cabinets, there were noticeable gaps between the backsplash and outlets, and visible seams in between the sheets of backsplash tile. In our opinion, it did nothing to help elevate the look of the kitchen and we wanted to take it down.

Using two putty knives and a hammer, I was able to peel the old backsplash off the wall. The drywall was a mess behind it, as it appears they had torn down a previous backsplash and then just put the new one up over the torn drywall paper. This was a fine solution on the interior wall, but for the exterior walls, especially around the sink, we wanted to create a better seal. I used primer over the torn drywall, then a layer of joint compound, then another layer of primer (after lightly sanding the joint compound) to create a smooth surface.

When we demoed our home office, we removed beadboard from all around the room and we saved every piece so we could repurpose it for backsplash. Justin cut away the parts with previous outlet holes and cut every piece down to fill the entire space from countertop to upper cabinet.

We used scrap wood with a rounded edge from previous projects to trim out the ends under the cabinets and top around the bay window. I used paintable caulk to fill in all of the seams between pieces and edges and then painted everything, including the window trim, Sherwin Williams Agreeable Gray. The windows themselves got two coats of Sherwin Williams Tricorn Black. I also ran a bead of clear caulk along the bottom edge of the beadboard to keep everything sealed off from water. To complete the look, we swapped out the old almond colored outlets and switches for white ones and I painted wooden switch plates to match the beadboard.

I also swapped out our hodgepodge of counter stools for these steel and wood ones from Target. It took me a long time to find stools that had a back (Justin’s requirement), worked with our color scheme, and didn’t cost more than $100 per stool. I’m so happy I found these – they’re comfortable, inexpensive, and look great!

I mostly shopped my own house for pieces of decor to finish out the space but I did purchase a new kitchen rug from Target and a small, locally-made maple cutting board from a small business. These little details helped make this space feel complete!

We still plan to swap out the fluorescent light fixture but other than that, this kitchen refresh is finished! It has made such a huge difference in the way our house feels and even though we’re still planning a bigger renovation someday, this has made me love our current kitchen a lot more in the meantime.

Budget Breakdown

Liquid Nails – $4.57

Joint Compound – $6.64

New outlets (two GFCI), switches, and wooden plates – $21.96 (I saved almost $40 on these items using Menard’s Rebates!)

Cabinet Paint – $41.71

Counter Stools – $365.90

LED Recessed Lights – $74.83

Kitchen Rug – $20

Maple Cutting Board – $35

Total Cost: $570.61

I already had the primer and paint for the ceiling, trim, windows, and walls since I’m using the same paint throughout the main floor, so this wasn’t an additional expense. We also had all the caulk, painters tape, brushes, tools, etc. from previous projects. So while it might be hard to recreate this exact project for the same amount of money, I do think it shows that you don’t need to spend a ton in order to see a big difference!

DIY Painted Kitchen Cabinets

We’re currently in the process of giving our kitchen a budget-friendly facelift. While we’re still working on a few more projects for the space, we’ve finished one step that has already made a huge difference: painting the kitchen cabinets!

New cabinets were not an option, and the floor and countertops are also staying. With so many things staying, painting the cabinets was an easy and cost-effective way to still make a major impact! Today I’m sharing the process I used for this transformation – it took me about three days of actively working on it (while my parents watched our kids) to get the whole kitchen finished so it’s a good project to tackle over a long weekend.

Materials

deglosser

-lint-free cloth

primer

-paint

-foam roller

-angled brush

-painters tape

The first step was to remove all the cabinet doors. We have a little electric screwdriver that makes quick work of this step, but a regular screwdriver would work too.

Ideally, we would have removed the drawer fronts as well; however, when I started trying to unscrew one, I realized that the previous owners had used screws and a nail gun to attach the fronts. I have no idea why they did both, but we would have had to pry all the fronts off – a laborious process that possibly would’ve caused some damage to the drawers. We chose to leave them attached to the drawers and just painted the fronts and sides and left the backs as is since they’re rarely visible. Assuming your drawer fronts aren’t nailed on, I would absolutely recommend removing them as well and following the same process as with the door fronts.

After unscrewing the door from the cabinet, I removed all hardware (hinges and knob). While wearing a latex glove, I poured some liquid deglosser onto a clean cloth and rubbed it all over the surface of the front and back of the doors. This process is a substitute for sanding and prepares the previously stained wood so that paint will adhere better to it. It saves so much time compared to sanding!

Once the deglosser is dry, the doors were ready to be primed. I buy Kilz 2 primer in bulk because I use it so often and it worked well for this project. I recommend starting with the back of the cabinet doors so that once you flip them over, the front will be finished last. The painted wood has the potential to get a nick or scuff when it’s flipped over and I much prefer that if that happens, it happens to the back side

After the primer has dried, it’s time to paint! After a lot of deliberation, I landed on Sherwin Williams Link Gray – a nice warm grayish-green that coordinates well with all the brown and gold tones in our kitchen countertop. I recommend getting a higher-quality paint for the cabinets because they’ll get a lot of use. I chose the HGTV Showcase line from Lowe’s (in a satin finish). There are brands out there that specifically have paint for cabinets but I used this brand when I painted our basement kitchen cabinets last year and they still look perfect!

I used an angled brush to paint the inset edge first . . .

. . . then I used a six inch foam roller to cover the rest of the door.

This paint boasts “one coat coverage” and that may be true for walls, but I found that the first coat didn’t quite get everything and a second coat was needed. That being said, I chose not to do a second coat on the backs of the doors since the coverage was really pretty good and the backs aren’t often visible. This allowed me to also do the entire kitchen with just one gallon of paint!

I waited about four hours and then flipped the doors over to repeat the same process of primer + paint on the fronts. Again, I used a brush to paint the inset first and then used the foam roller for everything else.

When painting the fronts, I like to set them on top of paint cans or other small items where they can be lifted off the ground so I can roll the edges as well.

After letting the fronts dry for at least two hours, I applied a second coat.

For painting the cabinet boxes, I followed the same process of deglosser + primer + two coats of paint. I used painter’s tape to protect the floors and underside of the countertop. Personally, I like a smoother finish on cabinets so I used the foam roller for as many surfaces as I could and saved the brush for edges and corners that the roller couldn’t reach.

I recommend letting the cabinets and fronts cure for at least 24 hours before reattaching the fronts. I have two little kids around and couldn’t leave my fronts off that long, so I reattached them sooner but after the kids went to bed, I opened up all the doors and drawers so they could continue to cure without touching (if the paint isn’t fully cured and a door front rests on the cabinet, it could lead to the paint sticking).

I wish I had a better “before” picture of this angle, but all I have is this crummy screenshot so it will have to do.

And now here’s that same stretch of cabinets:

I honestly can’t believe what a big difference paint made. Same floors, same knobs, same countertop, same backsplash (for now), yet the kitchen looks completely different! And since I could do the whole cabinet with one gallon of paint, this transformation cost me around $50. Well worth it!

I wish I had more “after” pictures to show you, but we’re already well underway with the next step of updating all the backsplash. So stay tuned for more of this kitchen transformation soon!

Friday Features

Happy Friday!

Today, I felt inspired to write up a different kind of blog post than my usual. I typically share a lot of our day-to-day moments on Instagram and save the bigger things for the blog (like finished home projects, family milestones, etc). I’ve talked about this before, but as much as the blog is a fun way for me to share things with others, it’s also a great way for me to document parts of our life for us to look back on in later years. There are a lot of little things that, while they aren’t worth dedicating an entire blog post to, I’m feeling inspired to create a little space for on the blog. Friday seems like the perfect time to round-up a random hodgepodge of things from the past week or two and I love that it just gives a little glimpse into our life right now. I do plan to write little Friday posts like this more often, although I’m not sure how often they’ll pop up. We’ll see! For now, here’s what’s been on my mind lately:

Summer Weather

This week we had several days in the 70s which is just fine with us! We broke out the water table and other summer toys and cannot wait for fun in the sun.

Plant Refresh

I had several plants that were getting too big for their planters so the start of spring felt like the perfect time to do some transplanting. I bought a few new pots and just switching out a few plants and planters has everything feeling so fresh around here!

LJ and Vi Comparison

Earlier this week we went to a park we haven’t been to in a long time. Vi has recently started doing slides 100% independently and she is so proud of herself! I snapped this picture of her and it immediately gave me a flashback to LJ using that exact same slide when he was about her same age. I had to dig through my archives and I found a video of LJ that I screenshot so I could do a little comparison of my babies!

Spring Cleaning Closets

This past week, I went through LJ and Vi’s dressers and removed anything that they’ve outgrown or is not the right season (LJ is still in 3T, but doesn’t need sweaters for the spring/summer months). I also checked for anything that was stained or had holes or other major signs of wear – anything that fit this category went straight into a bag that I’ll drop off at a local company that accepts fabrics in any condition for textile recycling.

I keep large clear tubs in each of their closets to store clothes they’ve outgrown. I keep the bin organization simple – I keep sizes separate by using a piece of cardboard as a divider and slipping a piece of paper with the size marked in the bin so it’s clearly visible. It’s nothing fancy but this system works!

Consignment Closet Refresh

The vast majority of my children’s clothing is either hand-me-down from friends or was bought secondhand at a consignment store. I don’t like spending lots of money on their clothing. They outgrow sizes so fast that it doesn’t seem worth it to spend $20 on a shirt they’ll only wear for a couple months. Plus. let’s be honest. Kids are messy! I’m constantly removing stains from food, dirt, markers, etc. I prefer to spend $3 or less on a shirt – if it is still in good condition after it’s outgrown and can be passed down to another child, great! If it has holes or stains and needs to be recycled instead, it doesn’t feel too wasteful because it’s already been worn a lot. Secondhand clothing is cost-effective for me and sustainable for the planet – a win win!

We’ve already received a lot of hand-me-downs that will fit my kids this summer, so after going through their closets and getting the next sizes ready, I made a list of things they still needed. We took a trip to the consignment store yesterday to fill in their wardrobe gaps – LJ especially had fun getting to pick out some shirts for himself! We got all these items (plus one shirt he already wanted to wear) for $40.

Herself Podcast

I’ve talked before about the HERself podcast but I listened to episode 69 while painting the kitchen cabinets that really resonated with me. Their guest, Elicia, is a stay-at-home mom and talked about the balance of staying at home but also wanting to have something for herself outside of motherhood. She personally had a passion for her kids AND also had a passion with connecting with other women so she’s joining the podcast as an employee while staying home with her kids. They talked a bit about finding little opportunities to fulfill a passion or have a role outside of the role of mom. This spoke to me so much! I am so thankful that I am able to stay home with my children (though I’ve been honest that it isn’t always easy) and love being able to fill this role for my children and our family, but I’m also a wife and a woman who has passions and interests beyond motherhood. Reading is a way for me to rest and recharge, and I also find a lot of joy in using this blog as a creative outlet. Over the past two years, I’ve also really leaned into updating our house and sharing all our projects, big and small, and it’s become a huge passion of mine. I’m learning the value of the word and. I love my kids AND I enjoy some alone time. I like completing home projects AND reading bedtime stories. I love to nurture AND create. My kids are a priority AND so am I.

Aldi Juice Find

Does anyone else love Aldi? It’s my favorite place to stock up on all our basic grocery needs! I love that it’s inexpensive and you don’t get decision fatigue because there aren’t like, 82935792348 brands of ketchup to choose from. They also have lots of great organic options at a fraction of the cost of other grocery stores. I saw these juice pouches in the Aldi Finds section and decided to try them out – they have been a HUGE hit with my kids! They don’t drink juice very often but these pouches make for a nice little treat with less sugar than other brands of juice.

ASMR Home Video

I’ve been watching this video on repeat – it’s so satisfying to hear all these little sounds of home!

First Covid Shot!

Indiana opened up eligibility for those 30+ last week and I jumped at the chance to schedule an appointment. I got my first dose of Pfizer last Wednesday and was SO excited! My only side effects were a sore arm and some fatigue around the 24-hour mark (but after a nap, I felt great!) I’m so thankful for the efforts of scientists to make this happen so quickly. I’m feeling hopeful for the future and “normal” activities resuming soon!

Note: I’m not interested in debating vaccines on the internet. There are lots of great resources out there to help make your own decision – I personally found @kinggutterbaby and @jessicamalatyrivera to be great sources of information for me.

Have a great weekend!

March 2021 Book Reviews

No tricks, just treats today as I’m kicking off April with my favorite kind of post: book reviews!

In March I read three books and mostly (you’ll see) enjoyed them all. Let’s dive right in!

One To Watch by Kate Stayman-London

One to Watch: A Novel by [Kate Stayman-London]

Bea is a successful and popular plus-sized fashion blogger, and after writing a scathing about the lack of diversity on the reality show Main Squeeze, she is approached by the producer to come on the show and give a new look to the franchise as the lead for their next season. I’ve watched the Bachelor/Bachelorette for years (although less frequently in the past 5 years) so this was a really fun read for me. I liked the characters, I liked the parallels to the franchise we all know and love (or love to hate), I liked how it gave a peel-back-the-curtain feel to “reality” TV . I found Bea to be a charming and relatable heroine and I was rooting for her to find love. Most of the other characters are also really likeable and I loved that in between chapters we would see what was happening around the country – what were people saying in podcasts or writing in articles or talking about in group chats. That’s really what Bachelor Nation is like and it broadened the plot beyond Bea’s personal experience. The real Bachelor franchise is currently experiencing a major reckoning with lack of racial diversity over the years, and they also never have contestants with body diversity either. It was really interesting to imagine a scenario where they would move in this direction! I loved the message that everyone deserves love and size isn’t (or shouldn’t be) what people judge you on. I’ll give a little warning that while the Bachelor has producers to edit out language and sexual content before viewing, this book doesn’t, so be aware of that if that’s not your cup of tea. If you’re a fan of the Bachelor franchise, I really think you’d enjoy this book but I also think those who aren’t fans would enjoy it.

Long Bright River by Liz Moore

Long Bright River: A Novel by [Liz Moore]

Mickey is a cop whose beat includes a tough Philadelphia neighborhood overwhelmed by the opioid crisis. Her sister Kacey is an addict who lives on those same streets. After Kacey disappears around the same time as a string of murders begins, Mickey becomes obsessed with finding both the killer and Kacey.

This was a book chosen by my book club. I’m not sure I would have chosen to read it otherwise, but I can say with a good amount of confidence that if I had chosen to read it on my own, I doubt I would have finished it because the plot absolutely dragged. It’s not really a mystery and not really a thriller, though it had elements of both. It was a character-driven novel, but I struggled because I didn’t actually like Mickey, the sole point of view and main character, very much. It is very slow-moving and covers a lot of hard subject matter like drug addiction, exploitation, murder, single parenthood, homelessness, etc. There are a lot of little side plots and a lot of time spent on Mickey and Kacey’s history and childhood. By page 200 I was really having to force myself to keep reading and I think had it not been a book club pick, I would have quit. But then, all the sudden, something happened in the plot that changed everything for me and I couldn’t put the rest of the book down! I absolutely flew through the last third of the book and loved it. Everyone in my book club agreed that the last portion of the book was so different than the rest; it felt like “this is the book I wanted to read!” To be honest, I don’t know if I recommend it or not. I think it definitely depends on the reader. It needed to be 100 pages shorter, but I did ultimately really enjoy where it ended up. I’m glad I finished it!

What you Wish For by Katherine Center

Samantha and the rest of her colleagues at school are reeling from the loss of their beloved principal. Just when it seems like things will never be good again, Duncan Carpenter is announced as the next principal. Sam’s history with Duncan at a previous school gives her hope that he will bring much-needed fun, joy, and life back into the school. But when Duncan arrives, the rule-following, safety-obsessed authoritarian is nothing like the guy she remembers. Is the old Duncan still in there? And can Sam help coax him back?

I wanted to read something fun and interesting, with a bit of depth but not too much and this was the perfect choice. I found the characters, both main and side, to be interesting and likeable, I loved the relationship between Sam and Duncan, I enjoyed that there were only a couple side plots included and they were all meaningful to the story. The setting in a unique school in the beachside community of Galveston was fun to picture and I easily felt like part of the school community there. I will say, this book does cover the heavy topic of reasons why safety in schools is important in this day and age, which might be triggering for some people. That being said, it didn’t really feel overly light or overly dramatic – it just hit a nice middle ground, like a Hallmark movie with some depth. I enjoyed it!

My April stack is growing so hopefully I’ll be able to devote quite a bit of time to reading because I have several books I’m excited about reading soon! What books have you been loving lately?

An Ikea Hack for Vittsjo Shelves

On Monday I shared Justin’s work office reveal and without question the star of the show was his shelving unit! Today I’m sharing all the details about the hack that took these three Ikea shelves and kicked them up several notches.

We bought three of these Vittsjo shelves from Ikea. Initially I had hoped to use this double Vittsjo, which is a bit more cost-effective, but it was out of stock in my store. This ended up being a blessing because I actually love the look and scale of three even better! The units came with glass inserts to create the shelves, but I was inspired by the chunkier look that Kim and Scott from Yellow Brick Home gave their Vittsjo and we decided to create a similar look. (Note: If you’re interested in doing this hack for yourself, I’ve included a full list of all the materials we used at the bottom of this post!)

Once all three units were assembled, we lined them up against the wall and Justin took measurements of the total length and width of one shelf spanning all three units and sketched out an outline, making sure to include all the places we would need to make notches to accommodate the vertical posts.

Each shelf would have a length of 60″ and a width of 14″. We bought a sheet of 1/2″ plywood, which was enough to make three long shelves and three small pieces for the bottom shelf . The sheet was 4′ x 8′, so our first step was to cut it down to the correct length. It was a gorgeous day, so Justin wheeled his work table outside!

Justin planned to use his circular saw for cutting the plywood to length so after measuring and marking the 60″ length, he also measured and marked out exactly where the edge of the circular saw’s guide would be when it cut the length. We clamped down a piece of scrap wood with a straight edge right where the circular saw guide would run so that Justin would have a solid wall to keep the saw’s guide flush against. This ensured a super straight cut! He also tossed a couple of larger blocks of scrap wood on top to keep the guide wood firmly in place.

After taking this picture, I was in charge of holding the side of the plywood hanging off the work table (since the saw couldn’t be directly over the table or it would have cut into it) and catching the part getting cut off. We saved that excess piece to make the bottom shelf pieces later!

Once the sheet was cut to length, the next step was cutting the width of each shelf. We repeated the same process as before – measuring and marking the width (14″) and also making a mark where the edge of the circular saw guide would be.

Here’s a close-up of the two marks he made. Can you see the little mark right on the edge where the guide wood is placed? That is exactly where the edge of the circular saw will be when Justin cuts the shelf to length. The other pencil mark along the edge is marking where the saw blade will cut the shelf to the correct width.

We repeated this process two more times to create three shelves with a 14″ width.

Next up was marking and cutting out all the notches. Using the outline he had drawn with all the shelf measurements, Justin used his combination square to mark where each notch should go.

This step took the longest, but creating a precise outline of the notch was necessary so he would know exactly where to cut. We highly recommend double checking measurements! Justin initially measured to the wrong spot and the notch would have been off but I noticed it in time and we were able to correct it before cutting. Measure twice (or three times!), cut once!

To cut out the notches, Justin used his jigsaw. He first cut the two parallel lines coming in from the edge.

Before cutting the top line, he drilled a small hole near the top of the notch.

This hole served as a place to start the jigsaw for a more precise cut on the final line at the top of the notch.

Justin repeated this process for all the notches and then lightly sanded all the edges and corners with 120-grit sandpaper. We tested this shelf to make sure it fit on our Vittsjo units (it did!) and then this one served as a template to trace notches on the remaining two shelves.

Once all the shelves were cut and we made sure they all fit, I started applying this 1/2″ edge banding on all the exposed edges. This step is definitely optional if you like the look of the layers of plywood, but we used it for our DIY play kitchen and I liked the cleaner look that edge banding provided.

The edge banding has dried glue on the back that is activated by heat. I turned my iron on to the cotton setting (a pretty high heat – around 400 degrees), placed the banding glue-side down on the side of the plywood, and ran the iron over the banding.

I kept the iron moving the whole time, rubbing back and forth over the same small area for 4-5 seconds, working my way slowly down to the end.

When I got near the end, I used a scissors to snip the band right at the edge of the plywood, and continued ironing to seal the end.

The nice thing about edge banding is if you get a little off and your band is crooked or slipped a bit, you just run the iron over it again to heat up the glue and then you can slide it to adjust positioning or even totally take it off and re-apply. I think it’s a very beginner-friendly DIY trick to elevate the look of plywood!

The edge banding was slightly wider than the plywood so we got this edge banding trimmer to shave off the excess. We had to adjust the blades so it didn’t shave too much off and the tool itself required quite a bit of forearm strength to use so Justin handled this task. πŸ˜‰

Once all the edge banding was trimmed, Justin did a quick round of sanding with 220-grit sandpaper on his orbital sander to give the shelves a nice smooth finish. I wiped them down with a tack cloth . . .

. . . and proceeded to stain them. We used stain and polyurethane we already had on hand and I used foam brushes to apply one coat of stain and two coats of polyurethane to the shelves.

After letting them dry, I very lightly buffed by hand using 400-grit sandpaper. Then it was time to assemble them in their new home in Justin’s office and style them!

You’ll notice we also cut three individual pieces to fit the lowest shelf. These were much more straightforward than the other shelves because the Vittsjo units came with a piece of rectangular wood to fit in each bottom shelf and we decided to keep that recessed look rather than cut another shelf like the other three. Justin just traced the wood three times onto the excess plywood we had after cutting the other three shelves to length, cut out each rectangle, and I stained them. No funky cuts or edge banding required!

We are thrilled with the way the edge banding looks. It creates the look of a solid piece of wood instead of plywood and looks so streamlined!

One of the shelves holds Justin’s coffee maker and some drink options, so we’re glad we put two coats of polyurethane on top to help with durability in case of a spill.

The wood look also brings in a lot of warmth and contrast to a room that otherwise was pretty bland and sterile-looking. It also provides a great base for displaying a variety of pieces that reflect Justin’s personality and profession.

We’re so happy with the results of this Ikea hack! It gave the simple black shelves an elevated look full of character and was just what this space needed!

Materials Used (for a complete list of sources on the shelves, check out this post!)

-1/2 inch sheet of 4′ x 8′ plywood

-circular saw

-jigsaw

-drill

-measuring tape

-combination square

-sandpaper (we used 120 grit, 220 grit, and 400 grit)

1/2 inch edge banding

-steam iron

-scissors

-stain

-polyurethane

foam brushes

optional materials:

-clamps

-scrap wood with a straight edge

-orbital sander

edge band trimmers

One Year in a Pandemic: A Photo Journal

We’ve officially been in a pandemic for over a year. On the one hand, it’s hard to believe it’s been that long. On the other hand, it’s become so ingrained that it feels like it’s been a lot longer since life was “normal” (does anyone else watch TV made before March 2020 and think things like “OMG they just hugged!” or “Wow there are so many people there! And they’re so close together!”)

I originally intended to write a journal entry type blog post looking back over the past year, but I found myself procrastinating over and over. I think that I’ve been in a mode of just getting through this thing one day at a time for so long, and while I do sometimes stop to process what is going on, it’s such a huge thing that it’s hard for me to mentally wrap my mind around (and honestly feels triggering and defeating right now). I definitely have pandemic fatigue like so many others. We’re all ready for this to be done, but none of us actually know when it will be over. Summer 2021 is looking hopeful, and maybe at that time I’ll feel ready to do a look back over this time in a pandemic with two small children. Right now, I don’t feel ready to mentally take on that blog post.

Instead, I thought I would do a little visual look back over the year. This post is a beast with TONS of pictures. Quite honestly, I created this primarily to have a collection of some of our pandemic life all in one spot. It’s a little look into what the year looked like – what we did, what we wore (spoiler alert: 98% pajamas), what life was like. I fully understand that I might be the only one this invested in remembering what a year in our family life looked like, so feel free to skip this post if 83713491834 pictures isn’t your thing. πŸ˜‰

March 2020

Vi was dedicated at church on March 15, the weekend everything started shutting down. Little did we know that would be the last Sunday we’d step foot inside our church for over a year (we’ve been watching virtually ever since!) Justin and I were supposed to go to New Orleans the next week but that got cancelled so instead his vacation time was spent at home as a family. At that time it felt cozy and special to have quality time together and no other obligations. We had our first DIY Date Night and had no idea that a lot more DIY projects were in store for the following year.

April 2020

I did not leave my house this entire month except to go to the grocery store. Our Easter celebration was held over Zoom and we did a few small activities with LJ at home to celebrate. It was around this time that we realized that this pandemic wasn’t going away anytime soon.

May 2020

We entertained ourselves by painting toenails, lots and lots of playtime indoors, watching our farmer neighbors, and enjoying outdoor weather whenever we could. I enjoyed a sweet and simple Mother’s Day at home in our pajamas and got to meet my new niece towards the end of the month. πŸ™‚

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June 2020

Even though it wasn’t a typically looking vacation, we were so thankful for Beach Week 2020 with family. At home, things stayed eventful with our AC system dying in the hottest week and LJ deciding to wash his hair in candle wax.

July 2020

We took advantage of our pond often and got to have my family over for an outdoor party which made this month almost feel normal.

August 2020

Justin’s parents were able to visit us for the first time since March and we celebrated Vi’s first birthday! We also got to go the zoo as a family and it was so nice to have a more ‘normal’ activity to do together!

September 2020

A milestone month for us – LJ started preschool! I was so thankful for in-person preschool and for a school that took tons of safety precautions. We also got to celebrate my birthday with four friends at an outdoor restaurant and my parents watched the kids for a day so Justin and I could have a mini getaway exploring Indianapolis outdoors. My middle sister and I also pulled off a big surprise by driving out to Virginia to celebrate our youngest sister’s birthday!

October 2020

Early voting, Halloween, and lots and lots of work on our home office!

November 2020

Back indoors for lots of playtime and we celebrated my tractor-loving boy’s third birthday! He also got a new bed and was preeeeetty excited about it. πŸ™‚ I had to include a picture of our kids eating apples too – they became obsessed with apples this year and would sometimes eat 2-3 a day.

December 2020

A magical month full of Christmas activities! The kids are at such a FUN stage right now and it really made the holidays that much more special. We didn’t travel to Virginia in December and our extended family gathering on my side didn’t happen like usual, but we had at-home date nights, Christmas jammies, gingerbread houses, and lots of special fun.

January 2021

Usually January feels about 78 days long, but strangely enough this year it didn’t! Maybe it’s because by this time, we were very used to just hanging out at home so it didn’t feel out of the ordinary.

February 2021

We got a ton of snow this month and had lots of fun playing in it. On days when it was too cold, we tried to get creative with new activities indoors – busy toddler tasks, baking Valentines cookies, and the big news: getting a bounce house to burn off our energy!

March 2021

Here we are. One year later. In the last year there have been days I’ve cried, days I’ve felt so overwhelmed, days I’ve yelled, and days I’ve really really struggled. Being the primary caregiver for two small children without regular help or the ability to go to places like the library, playdates, museums, etc has been so incredibly challenging. I don’t want to sugarcoat it – it’s been a tough year. But there have also been so many great memories of our time together at home. So many snuggles, forts, puzzles, laughs, getting creative with finding things to do (and TV shows, let’s be honest here). Time together like we’ve never had before and will likely never have again.

I’m feeling hopeful for the future. My grandparents and parents are now vaccinated (and so is our babysitter – hallelujah for a little more help around here!) The weather is warming up and we’re able to spend lots more time outside. We’re tentatively making travel plans for the summer and feeling optimistic about being able to do more things in a ‘normal’ way. I know we’re not there yet, but it feels closer and closer each day. One thing is for sure, this past year is one I will never forget.

A Quick Makeover for Justin’s Office

Yesterday I spent about three hours doing a flash room makeover to a room in desperate need of some help: Justin’s work office!

Justin works in the healthcare field and moved into a new office building in January 2021. Since moving in, he had done virtually nothing in terms of decorating his office space and asked me to help. Here’s what the room looked like prior to my, shall we say, intervention:

Not exactly an inspiring space, huh?

When thinking about what to do in the room, there were some obvious challenges. The room is painted the same color as all the other rooms on the floor and it’s obviously not our building so we couldn’t make any permanent updates. There’s no window, so I couldn’t use natural light or bring in real plants, and the light in there is fluorescent, which isn’t flattering to work with. While we couldn’t make any changes to the room itself, I was excited to think of ways to bring in interest, character, and functionality despite those limitations. My goal was to make this room more comfortable and reflective of Justin while still remaining functional and professional.

A bookshelf felt like an obvious choice to create some interest and offer a practical storage solution. I chose to create one large unit out of three Ikea Vittsjo shelves – I loved that these metal shelves brought in black accents but the slim frames and open back and sides kept them from overwhelming the space. In lieu of the glass inserts the Vittsjo came with, Justin and I made long shelves out of plywood (tutorial coming soon!) for a more substantial look. I love that the wood tones also help the shelving unit tie in to his desk.

I used a variety of wood tones, storage baskets with natural fibers, and faux plants to bring in warmth, texture, and life to the space and incorporated black and metal accents to keep a masculine vibe. A mirror placed on top of the shelves helps reflect the light and mimic the effects of a window.

While I wanted these shelves to look good, they also needed to be workhorses for storage. Justin has a lot of books, magazines, and papers he needs to be able to reference easily, plus several things he likes to have quick access to (coffee, mints, etc). I kept all but the largest of his books arranged vertically so he can easily pull what he needs from the shelf and corralled all his magazines in a black wire storage basket so they’re easy to flip through and find the one he’s looking for. His loose papers are now stored in simple file folders and stay neat and orderly tucked in a black file organizer.

His coffeemaker sits ready to go next to some other drink options and a medium sized basket above hides all his Keurig cups.

Another basket now discreetly stores his stash of mints so he can grab one easily as he walks in or out of his office.

I wanted to be very intentional about sprinkling little tidbits of Justin’s personality throughout the bookcase. A beer stein from a trip he took to Europe, a hat box that belonged to his maternal grandfather, and a little wooden engraving of The Lord’s Prayer given to him by his paternal grandparents – these sentimental items reflect his history and heritage.

A worn piece of scrap wood on the top shelf provides rustic sculptural interest while giving a nod to his passion for woodworking and salvaging old wood. I also purchased the digital downloads of two minimalist line drawings from BFF Print Shop, one with a father and son and one with a father and daughter, and displayed them in thrift store frames that I spray painted black. I love that they’re an artistic tribute to Justin’s role as father but the clean lines and black and white color palate keep them from feeling too busy among the other items. All these personal touches take the room from being a standard workspace to something that is distinctly Justin’s.

The grid-like pattern of the shelves combined with all the books, papers, and frames created a lot of sharp angles so things like the clock, rounded bookends, a circular basket, and the organic feel of all the leaves throughout helped soften the overall look.

On the wall to the other wide of his desk, I also included a gallery wall of black and white family photos. Justin faces this wall when seated at his desk and he wanted to be able to see us throughout his day (melt my heart!) I chose a mixed finish look with gold, silver, and light wood frames and kept all the pictures black and white for a more coordinated look.

I added a lamp and small faux plant to his desk as well to create a cozier feel for his desk and give him an option if he needs a break from the fluorescent light.

Given the limitations we had in this office space, it was never going to feel quite as homey as, well, our home; however, Justin spends so much time here that it was important to have a space that feels comfortable and inspiring. It turns out, the office didn’t require a complete overhaul to achieve that! I think this is true for any similar space. Maybe you work in an office (or are transitioning back to it soon) or you’re renting your current home or apartment and can’t make big changes or maybe you just don’t have the budget for a big change in your home – a functional piece of furniture, items with varying degrees of warmth and texture, and glimpses of personality throughout can be enough to totally transform a space!

Sources (note: anything not listed is either thrifted, old, or no longer sold)

Bookshelf: Ikea Vittsjo (tutorial coming soon!)

Faux plants: here, here, here, and here

Father and Son Line Drawing (digital download)

Father and Daughter Line Drawing (digital download)

Black Wire Basket

Black Clock

Keurig K-Mini

Round basket

Rectangular basket

Gallery Wall Frames: here, here, here, and here

Updating a Bedroom with a Geometric Accent Wall!

A friend of a friend reached out to me a couple weeks ago to ask if she could hire us to install a geometric accent wall in her main bedroom. They had already painted the walls in Sherwin Williams Peppercorn (a gorgeous moody gray!) but felt like the room needed a little something extra. She sent me an inspiration picture and after talking it over with Justin, we decided this sounded like a fun project to tackle together and agreed to do it.

This project took less than 24 hours, cost about $70 in materials, and was pretty easy to do. In other words, a quick, low-cost, relatively easy DIY project that was perfect for a Saturday!

Materials

1 1/2″ primed pine (we used 10 8′ boards)

painters tape

-miter saw

-nail gun + nails (we used 1 1/2″ nails)

spackling

combination square

-220 grit and 440 grit sandpaper

-six inch foam roller

-sawhorses

-paint

-optional: square layout tool; stud finder

On Friday afternoon, Justin and I went over to map out the pattern using painters tape (I chose tape with a width of 1.41″ so it would closely mimic the size of the 1.5″ trim). This served two purposes: it gave the homeowners a chance to make sure they liked the pattern and also helped us know exactly how much trim we need to complete the project.

We chose to use this 1 1/2″ primed pine, which comes in 8 foot lengths, so we created the pattern in a way that ensured no section was longer than 8 feet. We wanted to keep things as simple as possible by sticking to 90, 60, and 30 degree angles and we used this square layout tool to help place the first few pieces. While this tool was helpful in giving us a starting point for placing trim at the correct angle, once the first few pieces were taped down we saved some time and effort and eyeballed the rest of the trim placement. If you want to make your pattern super precise you can absolutely measure the angles for each taped piece but since this was just a guideline for us, we weren’t worried about precision.

We used an 8 foot piece as a guide for figuring out where we wanted each piece of trim to go, then placed the tape right along the side of the board for a nice straight line.

We started on the far right side of the room and created a triangle using the top right corner of the wall as the 90 degree angle, then built out the pattern from there.

Once the whole pattern was up on the wall, we got the homeowners’ approval and made a couple changes at their request. I wanted them to sit with it overnight so they had a chance to make sure they were totally happy with the pattern before we started since tape is way easier to change than installed trim.

At home that night, I used a six inch foam roller to paint two coats of Sherwin Williams Peppercorn in eggshell finish on the trim pieces and let them cure overnight.

On Saturday morning we loaded everything up and headed over to their house to install. We began with the long piece of trim stretching from the right corner of the wall to the baseboards. We knew this piece of trim would create a right triangle with the right wall and baseboard which made figuring out the angles pretty easy. I made a lovely diagram to help you visualize what I’m talking about πŸ˜‰

We knew the length of this trim was just shy of 8 feet, so Justin used his miter saw to trim what would be the “top” end at a 30 degree angle and the “bottom” end to a 60 degree angle, making sure the angles were pointed in the correct directions to line up with the wall and baseboard.

The tape was just a guideline so we were not stressed about lining things up exactly. Once both ends of the trim were cut to the correct angle, we just placed the trim flush against both the corner of the walls and the baseboard and Justin used his nail gun to attach it to the wall. It didn’t end up exactly where our taped line was, but it was pretty close!

We wanted as few nail holes as possible, so I used a stud finder to locate all the studs in the wall and placed a small piece of tape over each one so Justin could nail directly into studs for a secure hold with minimal nails.

We decided to install all the longest boards first and then go back and fill in with the shorter pieces of trim. We worked our way across the wall from right to left, building off of each board we installed. The picture below gives you a good idea of the “in progress” part – we removed the corresponding piece of tape prior to installing each piece of trim and rolled back the intersecting pieces so that they wouldn’t get in the way of install.

Installation wasn’t hard once you understood the general math we were working with. I’ll walk you through our process as we installed trim where the far right green tape is marking in the picture below.

We had already installed the longer trim it would intersect with, and that installed trim made a triangle with the wall and taped line as shown in my lovely drawing below.

We knew we had cut the top angle of the long trim at 30 degrees. We wanted the short trim piece to intersect with the long trim piece at a 90 degree angle. That left one angle, “x”, to figure out. The sum of the angles of a triangle is 180 degrees. 90+30=120, meaning the last angle would be 60 degrees. (It’s worth noting that we didn’t actually do calculations every time – we used 30, 60, and 90 degree angles for the entire wall so determining angles was easy!)

Justin used his miter saw to cut one end of a piece of trim to 60 degrees, intentionally keeping it longer than we needed.

He brought the trim back inside, placed the angled cut flush against the wall, and then used the combination square to ensure the new trim was intersecting the installed trim at a perfect 90 degree angle.

Once the trim was at the correct angle, he marked it right where it intersected the installed trim and cut it right on that line.

Once the length was cut at a straight angle, it fit perfectly in the intended space and Justin nailed it into the wall. That’s the general process we used with each piece of trim, although sometimes instead of a wall being one side of the ‘triangle,’ it was the ceiling or baseboard or another piece of trim.

While Justin focused on cutting down and installing the trim pieces, I visually checked each piece prior to install to make sure the pattern continued to look uniform.

I also followed behind him to fill in all the nail holes using this spackling.

I like using this product because it goes on pink and turns white as it dries. Usually I’ll just lightly sand it with my finger, but this time I put the spackling on a little thicker than normal. I waited until it was completely dry, then lightly sanded it smooth, first with a 220 grit sandpaper and then with a 440 grit sandpaper. I used a little piece of painters tape to create a shelf underneath each patched hole prior to sanding so the tape would catch a good amount of the dust from sanding.

I had thought we’d need to caulk each piece, but we ended up really liking the crisp lines that the trim created on the wall. Plus, the fact that Justin was nailing into studs as often as possible meant there was a nice tight fit with almost no gaps. I did caulk a couple places between the trim and the far walls where there was a little bit more of a gap. After all the holes were sanded and the caulk dried, I used my foam roller to do a quick once over on the whole thing.

And with that – we were done!

The new bed the homeowners chose was really heavy, so we offered to help them put it together before we left. It looks so awesome up against the wall!

We started taping out the pattern around 5:00 pm on Friday, and we were totally finished with the wall by 2:30 pm on Saturday. Quick, easy, low-cost, but big impact – I’m so glad we decided to take on this project!

Sources:

Wall Color: Sherwin Williams Peppercorn

Ceiling Color: Sherwin Williams Alabaster

Bed: Restoration Hardware