Free Spa Day

We can all use a little getaway once in awhile, but it requires time and patience so I'm sharing my recipe for a free spa getaway at home.  Okay, you have to buy a few things, but they're good for MANY spa days.  Taking care of yourself is just as important as caring for your home and everyone else that lives in it.  Here is my recipe for an at-home spa retreat:

"Let it go, let it go....."

"Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication."
-Leonardo da Vinci

I posted that quote on my Madella's Facebook page last week and I love the quote and its meaning, but here's what I really wanted to say,

"Spring is here and its time to clean up all the shit you've been collecting all winter (or maybe all your life)." I'm serious.  Clean it up, empty it out, give it away, just get it out of your home so you can free up some space.  Trust me, I know it is really easy to accumulate stuff, especially if you have kids.  I thought we had been doing a fairly decent job of keeping things clutter free around here, but lately my office (that's right, not the kids bedrooms or their playroom, but my office) has gotten way out of hand.  And the thing is, I can't function when my office is messy.  It almost feels like I'm choking.   I've been living with it this way for several months.  I could give you a million reasons why I didn't just take the time and clear it out, but the fact is I just didn't do it.  Last week, I was making some drapes for a client and was listening to one of my audiobooks (yep, that's how I spend my time in the workroom, I listen to books.  If you get your window treatments back from me REALLY fast, it probably means I was listening to a rockin' book.)  Last weeks book was called Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui by Karen Kingston.  Don't ask me what on earth made me decide to listen to this one, but I'm really glad I did.

How can you tell if the "stuff" you have is clutter?  There are 4 categories of clutter says Kingston.

                                     1. Things you do not use or love
                                     2. Things that are untidy or disorganized
                                     3. Too many things in too small a space
                                     4.  Anything Unfinished

Getting rid of clutter can seem extremely overwhelming, but if you start off small, the job can be manageable. For my office, I started with the floor.  I picked up all 3 of my briefcases, fabric books, Charlie's bone that I stub my toe on EVERY SINGLE day.  Then I moved to the bookshelves and finally, the dark horse in the desk.  It took me an entire day, but I put on some happy music, lit a candle, had about 16 cups of coffee and tackled the beast.  I am writing this right now sitting at a paper free desk, looking out my window at the daffodils in the front yard (I couldn't even see out the window a week ago because there was a table in the way).  

I can't even tell you how good it feels to walk into my office in the morning. There must be some truth in the fact that freeing up space and getting rid of clutter helps the energy in the room.  After my office, I did so major damage to my closet and bedroom.  (The kids are hiding in their rooms.)

Kingstons book opened my eyes to a new way of defining clutter.  I was holding onto a ton of stuff that I was saving "for some day".  When I realized I didn't need to save those things, it was so much easier to let them go.  You know what's really bad?  I can't even tell you what was in the bags we gave to the Multiple Sclerosis society last week.  

I love #1, Things you do not use or love.  I have made a commitment to our family that I will not bring ANYTHING into this house that I do not use or love and that means I still have a whole lot of stuff to get rid of before one more item comes in the door.

The coolest thing about de-cluttering your space?  You might find you love your home a little more.

Read the book, but don't buy a hard copy, get it from the library or listen to it on audio.  It will help kick start your clutter clearing process.

"Let it go, let it go" (seriously if I hear that song one more time, I'm going to poke my eyes out, but it was an appropriate ending to this post),

How to stain a railing

We have had these ugly oak railings in our home since it was built and they never really bothered me until we decided to put in new flooring. Once I took a good look at them, the only thing I could think was, "Eeeeww". They have been overlooked all these years because I've had my focus on other areas of the house, but now it is time to tackle the railings.
Here are the supplies you will need to begin:
  1. Stain or paint (I chose to go with Minwax Polyshade stain which is a stain polyurethane mix) 
  2. Sanding block (I used a medium grit sand paper)
  3. Tack cloth
  4. Steel Wool (not shown, but if you don't know what it is, Google it)
  5. Mask (because the fumes will knock you on your ass)
  6. Foam brush
  7. Stolen old t-shirt from hubbies dresser cut into strips
  8. Disposable gloves (get lots of them)

We put it dark hardwood floors so I purchased the darker stain for the railing.  In the end, it still didn't turn out as dark as the photo on the can, but I got tired of putting on coats of stain and it's good enough. (That's right, I've learned it doesn't have to be perfect)
Tape off your wall and floor around the railing.  I didn't bother with the floor because the tile was being removed the next week.  Bye Bye terracotta disaster! (I've had to decorate around that damn floor for the last 14 years)

Here are the steps (sorry no photos of me working on them....that would take too much time and I needed to get this finished!)
  1. Sand the railing with the medium grit sand paper.  You don't have to sand all the way to the original wood, you just need to take off the top layer of polyurethane and all the other gunk that has built up on your railing over the years. 
  2. Use the tack cloth to wipe away all the excess dust and debris.  I also went over the bottom rail with the vacuum cleaner attachment.  
  3. Put on your mask and gloves (I really hope I don't have to tell you this, but just in case you forget I'm giving you a little reminder.)
  4. Apply the stain.  Experts recommend applying the stain with a soft cloth (i.e husbands ripped up t-shirt) and I found that worked really well for the spindles.  However, in order to get the look I wanted without putting on a bazillion coats of stain, I used the kids foam paint brush shown above and it worked great.  I used the foam brush to apply, working in small sections and then used the t-shirt to carefully wipe away the excess.  Timing is key here.  If you wipe away the excess too soon, the stain you just applied will come off (and you'll need to apply about 100 more coats to get the look).  If you wait too long, the stain will be really tacky and you won't be able to wipe it away.  So don't be afraid to play with a small section before getting started.  
  5. Let the stain dry....this was painstaking for me.  Each coat needs about 24 hours to dry completely.  
  6. After the stain is dry use the steel wool gently.
  7. Use the tack cloth to remove any debris
  8. Repeat stain.
  9. Repeat steps 3-7 until you achieve the desired result.  (It took me 4 coats to get this look)  Probably could use 1 more, but it's good enough.
I know,the floor made a HUGE difference too.  

I'd love to hear from you if you decide to tackle your own railings or any other staining projects for that matter.  
Happy staining,

How to sew the perfect corner

Here is a quick video on how to sew the perfect corner.  There is no talking in this tutorial because I was trying to sew a straight line with one hand and hold my phone in the other to video the demonstration.  (for the record, this is NOT a professional video, but you'll get the point)
Once you are finished, you may need to clip some of the corners if there is a lot of bulk in the fabric.
When you finish and turn the fabric right side out, you should end up with perfect corners like photo below. Good luck, happy sewing!

Lovin' those pallet walls

I'd like to give a big shout out to the owners at the White Oak Tavern in Ellicott City for doing a fantastic job on their pallet walls.  If you haven't been to the new restaurant yet, it is worth the trip.  HoCo blogs hosted a party at the restaurant last week and I had a chance to see their handy work first hand.
I had an opportunity to speak with one of the owners, Clare Frey, who explained the process to me.  All of these pieces of wood are made from pallets (which they got for free from local builders who were happy to avoid the fees at the dump).  They lightly sanded and stained each piece of wood.  Although it appears there are multiple colored stains, they only used 2 colors.  Since the wood on each pallet is different, the results are random, thus giving a multi-color look.  Installation was somewhat random as well.  They only restricted themselves on the height of each row so the boards had to be the same height, but the color was completely random and unplanned.  The pallet walls are an on-going project.  They started with one wall and are transforming the restaurant one wall at a time as the pallets become available.  I personally love this look and can't wait to see the restaurant when it is finished.  What do you think?

Top 10 Under $10

For the last 2 years, I've hosted a "best of" party for our book club.  What is a "best of" party you ask?
Each person who attends the party brings 3 of her (sorry, no men in this book club) favorite items.  The rules are as follows:
  1. Each item must be under $10
  2. Each item must be a staple in your home, something you love and use all the time.
  3. Everyone brings 3 different wrapped items.
  4. We draw numbers from a hat and whoever gets #1 gets to pick from the pile and so on.
  5. At the end, everyone ends up with 3 items to take home.
It can be anything, a food item, beauty product, garden accessory...the possibilities are endless.  I love this event so much because we get to learn about products first hand from our friends.  And since they are our friends, the things they bring are going to be cool.

So I thought I would share with you my favorite top 10 items from our last 2 years:

1. Eucalyptus Mint Candle from Bath and Body Works (I wait until it goes on sale to get it under $10)

2. Tea Tree Tingle Body Wash from Trader Joes
3.  Coconut Oil from Trader Joes

4. Rao's Spaghetti Sauce
5.  Burt's Bees Res Q Ointment (I found this at Safeway)
6.  Dish Drying Mat (we bought ours from Bed, Bath and Beyond)

7.  Cookie Scoop (also found this at Bed, Bath and Beyond with 20% off coupon, you can get it for $10)
8.  Cetaphil Face Cleanser (this didn't make it to party, but I love it)
9.  Dark Chocolate Covered Espresso Beans from Trader Joes
10.  Wickles Pickles

So there you have it, my top 10 products under $10.  I already have some ideas for next year, but I'd love for you to to share a few of your favorite products.  And NO, I did not get paid for this advertisement, although I probably should!  

If you MUST buy ready made curtains

Let me start out by stating the obvious...I believe in custom made window treatments.  For many reasons:
  • Custom means the window treatment will fit YOUR window. This example is an obvious reason for custom:
  • Custom means the design is tailored to your decorating style.
  • Custom means you select the exact fabric and trim for your window.
  • Custom means paying attention to detail.  
  • Custom means you will have quality lining in your window treatments to protect your investment.
  • Custom means the job isn't finished until you are completely satisfied.

Now I realize that custom window treatments can be pricey.  However you are making an investment in your home when you purchase custom.  If you MUST buy ready made curtains, I have a few tips for you to help them look like custom.  

 Most ready made drapes are too short.  I like to see drapes hung as close to the ceiling as possible and touching the floor.  In order to get the additional length, you can sew a complimentary fabric to the bottom of the ready made panels as I've done with these sheers.

Here is another example of how to make your ready made drapes look custom:

These ready-made grommet panels were too short so the client and I decided to add some trim and a contrast fabric to the bottom to help them look custom and fit the window.

To make them really look custom, we measured the existing panels to the bottom of her window sill.  We had 12" from the floor to the sill so we needed to add 12" of contrast fabric to the bottom of the panels.  You can see the decorative cording and contrast fabric is this photo.

These are the completed panels pleated up and hanging in my workroom before installation.  (The bands of fabric holding the pleats together is just temporary to help the folds stay in place)
You can also add some banding or other decorative element to the lead edge (inside edge) of the drapery panel to get a custom look.  These panels are NOT ready-made, but I wanted to show you an some examples.

Recycling Holiday Cards

This weekend, my family and I tackled my least favorite thing I like to do with my time.....taking down the Christmas decorations.  I truly hate that job, but when it is all over I feel like I have a clean slate for the new year.  Unfortunately for my family, a clean slate typically means me asking, "what do you think about this pillow here, what about over here, oh or how about this picture?"  They're normally good for one answer, then they roll their eyes and hide to stay out of my decorating tornado.

Each year when we unpack the decorations, I do the same thing, but there are a few decorations that remain constant and unchanged.  One of my favorites is to cover a door in the kitchen with all the holiday cards we receive from our friends and family.  Although I keep all the cards that have pictures, I tend to trash the rest of them.  (It's true and I'm really sorry for those of you who send the traditional card, but I really like the photographs)

This year I recruited my youngest daughter, Ella to help me turn those "traditional" cards into gift tags for next years gifts. I know I saw this idea somewhere...perhaps Pinterest or another blog so please forgive me if you are the inventor of this great idea for not giving you credit.  It took us about a half an hour to cut them out, but it makes me feel better about using them again next year.
Wishing you all much health and happiness in 2014!!!

How to remove a railing between 2 rooms

We have been living with these 1980's railings between our kitchen and "sunken" living room since we purchased the house in 2000.  I never liked them, but I've learned to live with them over the years.  Last weekend, I decided it was time to do away with them once and for all.  Taking them out was really simple.  The hardest part was cutting and laying new tile (which wasn't that hard either, just time consuming and a little messy).
Here are the pictures:

The first step was to remove the wooden plugs that covered the screws.  I was able to pop them off easily with a flat head screw driver.
 In these pictures you can see the screws that were under the plugs.  I had to unscrew all of them and then I was able to lift the entire railing off the floor.
Ta Da!!!!  Doug wasn't too thrilled with me because I couldn't find the extra tiles. But after searching for 2 days, Madison and I found them in my workroom.
This is what I found when I took the railing up.  
I had to remove all those screws and pry the board up because if I put the tile on top of the board, it would have been too high.
 This must have been the original flooring.  Why the previous owners didn't take those darn railings down when they upgraded the kitchen boggles my mind, it would have saved me all this trouble.
So here you can see they put a concrete underlay between the tile and the old floor.  I found a piece at Home Depot on sale because half the sheet was damaged.  Since I only needed 2 small strips, it worked perfectly for this project.
The concrete board is really easy to cut.  You need to score each side first.

 Then you can snap it where you scored with a utility knife.
 I had to purchase these special screws to drill into the concrete board.(some guy at Home Depot stopped me to see if I knew what I was doing....that really makes me mad)
 Here is the concrete strip placed on top of the old linoleum and then screwed down into the floor.
There was just enough tile left over from when the previous owners upgraded the kitchen.  I was able to buy a wet saw from Clarks Ace Hardware for $80.  I had never used a wet saw before, but it was really easy.  Just like using a table saw, only you need to add water in a tray that rests under the saw blade.  What I didn't expect was to get water splashed all over my face when I started up the saw.  I won't include a picture of that mess.  I cut my tiles with the new wet saw trying not to lose a finger.
  Next, I spread a thin layer of tile adhesive and placed each of the tiles down using spacers (found in the tile aisle at Home Depot) and let it dry for 48 hours.
 I spread grout over the spaces once this was dry and let it dry for another 24 hours.  I got lucky and found a  small container of grout that matched the existing grout.  
  Finally, I added a stair guard to finish it all off.  I would have preferred wood, but I'm happy with this one.
I'm so happy those ugly railings are gone and thankful to Doug who puts up with me and my projects (but he did know what he was getting into when he married me 15 years ago!)

I hope you have a great day and don't be afraid to tackle projects yourself.  You CAN do it.