2013: A year in (blog posts) review

I hope you are all enjoying a wonderful holiday season. From a work perspective, this whole holiday-in-the-middle-of-the-week thing is for the birds, but I certainly enjoyed having a whole weekend in between Christmas and the new year with no social engagements. It was a fruitful weekend as far as projects and personal rejuvenation goes.

But before I start telling you about what's new, I thought it would be a good time to look back at 2013. It was a good year as far as blogging goes. I published more posts than any other year since I started this blog (in April 2009!). This blog started as more of a journal and a way to keep track of my garden but it has transitioned to something else entirely. I now do projects I don't think I ever would have taken on otherwise if only to just tell you about them. As always, I strive to show you the good, the bad and the ugly, and there's been plenty of each.

Let's take a look at what happened in 2013.

In January I showed you a lot of the ugly when I bared it all in my laundry "room." The laundry basket system we installed still works really well for us to corral the clothes, but I have to admit that the clean clothes bins only really get emptied when they are overflowing and nothing more can be shoved in them.

Remember what it looked like before?

February was a productive month. I started by doing a little redecorating in the living room. We got a new area rug and I had a chair and ottoman recovered. It was a welcome change after many years of sort of a French Country color scheme.

One day in February, I came home from work and painted the back door black. Sometime that afternoon I got the urge and the next thing you know I was doing it. I still love it and wish I had done it sooner.

And at the end of the month I did some more painting, but this time on fabric when I painted the cushions on the chairs in front of the fireplace. I'm happy to report the paint has held up really well and no one who has sat in them has noticed they are actually painted.

March certainly came in like a lion at our house. A late winter storm dumped a foot of heavy, wet snow on us, wreaking havoc on the landscape. The damage caused by that storm was a huge concern, but turned out to have a silver lining. We had to cut down several trees damaged in the storm and it turns out I don't miss them at all. In fact I wish we had cut them down (particularly the cedar that was leaning on the house in the storm) years ago. And it gave me an excuse to create a new garden!

Later in the month, I was chomping at the bit to get back in the garden, but the weather was not cooperating, so I came up with this list of things to do while biding your time waiting to get to serious gardening.

In April, I wrote one of my favorite posts of the year, Pinterest gardening tips NOT to follow. I think I need to do more of these because I continue to see absolutely ridiculous gardening tips pinned on Pinterest.

I also got overly excited about installing the slide-out trash bin in the kitchen.

Spring finally came in May and I was happy to finally get something planted. The onion starts went into the new raised vegetable garden.

I also launched the Garden Appreciation Society—my way of encouraging you to enjoy your garden in a new way, by bringing some flowers inside—in May. I had a great time with this and really enjoyed seeing all the amazing bouquets you came up with too!

And in the quickest, most thrown-together project I've ever done, I made a huge obelisk. It's still standing, by the way.

There was lots of gardening in June, but the really big news was inside where we finally finished the kitchen. We had our fair share of setbacks with it, but I'm so happy we did it. I just love everything we did in there.

In July I finally gave you a full tour of the garden, but it was an as-is tour. Realizing that if I waited until it was looking perfect, you would never see it, I just grabbed the camera one day and did it.

August got a little competitive when my mom and I tried to figure out who had the bigger Incrediball hydrangea blooms.

In September I showed you how the window box changed over the course of the summer. I was pretty happy with how it turned out this year. I can't wait to start planning what will be in it next summer!

Sadly, fall came (only sad because of what comes after fall) so I was mostly working on inside projects again. In October I shared how I salvaged a stained marble table top on a cute little vintage table I found on Etsy.

I must have had tables on my mind this fall, because in November I also redid the kitchen table and shared how to I got a weather wood finish on it.

And suddenly it was December. I might have put off Christmas decorating until the last minute, but when I see the projects I was busy finishing up, I can see why.

I started off the month by creating a custom storage solution for the junk drawer. Love it!

I also took advantage of some warm weather at the beginning of the month to finish the exterior Christmas decorations. I tell you, putting up that window box was one of the best things we've ever done. What would I blog about if it weren't for that thing?

I finished what is perhaps my favorite DIY project of all time (and I'll give you a tutorial on it after the new year)—my orange cane chairs. It was fun showing off my new chairs to our friends and family that stopped over during the holidays.

And the last big project was adding a new mantel "sleeve." It's been up for a couple weeks now and I feel like it's what the fireplace really needed and I'm looking forward to seeing how I do decorating it once the Christmas decorations are finished.

What a year! I'm actually shocked to look back and see how much actually got finished. Sometimes I feel like I'm starting a lot of projects and not finishing too many, but maybe I did OK after all.

Thanks so much for reading this blog, commenting when you do and for making me not feel like a complete geek for sharing it all with you. I hope you had a great 2013 and I wish you an even better 2014!

Merry Christmas (and what it looks like at my house)

It's Christmas Eve. What's done is done and what is not done will not be. All that's left to do at this point is enjoy the holiday.

The last week and a half has been full of late nights for me as I tried to catch up on getting ready for hte holiday, so it's no surprise that I was running around the house taking pictures at 1 a.m. to show you a bit of the decorating around the joint. So let's get on with it, shall we? Because if you are nice enough to be spending your Christmas Eve looking at this blog, I'm not going to make you sit through a wordy post.

Can you tell I'm a bit enamored with the new mantel?

The Christmas tree is elderly dog friendly this year.  I got a zinc pot (it will be home to a boxwood come spring) and cut down an $8 tree stand to fit inside it, then stuck the tree in there and cut off the bottom branches. The tree is still at least 9 feet tall, maybe 10, but Hudson can walk underneath it with no problem and because it's super skinny it takes up very little room.

Somehow I have lost the star for the tree. I have no idea how that is possible, but I officially stopped looking for it on Sunday. So this year there is just a bow and I'll search the after-Christmas sales for a new one.

I wanted something plaid for a tree "scarf" and the cheapest thing I could find was a set of flannel sheets at Target. I used the flat sheet around the pot and the fitted sheet went on the dog bed so it would match!

I made a felted ball garland this year. It was super easy (I bought the balls on Etsy rather than making them myself), but I think it kind of gets lost on the tree.

I also made gift tags from paint swatch cards. Idea totally stolen from Pinterest.

I hung large plastic ornaments from the beams. Super easy and adds a bit of Christmas without it feeling like the ceiling is falling on your head (which is why I've never liked the idea of putting garland up there).

The old balls-in-glass-container always works well. This year I threw some greens in there as well. This one, which has a fishing float in it, is in the living room.

And this one is on the kitchen table.

I finally took a better picture of the swag this morning.

That's it, folks. If you celebrate Christmas, I hope you have a very merry one. And if you don't, I hope you have a good time at the movies :)

May visions of sugarplums dance in your heads tonight and may you have a wonderful holiday filled with great memories.

A new take on an old mantel

Pretty much the whole point of having a big fireplace is to decorate it for Christmas, right? So it was a big relief when last night we finished (for now) a project that will actually allow me to do that. Yes, I know it's December 20. I'm working on it!

I've mentioned before that I have a real problem decorating our mantel. Christmas is generally the exception to this, because if you pile enough greens on a mantel it will look Christmassy. The rest of the year is a challenge though.

While I like the stone mantel, it makes it very hard to set anything on it because it's always crooked so I end up sticking folded up paper under candlesticks and things to avoid having them look like the leaning tower of Pisa. Also, with all that stone in what is really not that big of a room, the whole thing can be a little overwhelming.

The man (who was our neighbor when we first bought the house) who built our house put in stone walls and fireplaces similar to ours in every house he built. You can often spot his work just by seeing them, so I would never do anything that would compromise the integrity of his work.

So I came up with the idea of a mantel "sleeve," which is basically just a box missing a side that slides right onto the existing stone mantel.

So here's the before:

And here's the fireplace with the new mantel sleeve (in not nearly as nice lighting):

The hold up has been in the finishing, which is always an adventure to me. I love paint. If you paint something you know exactly what it's going to look like. But you never really know with stain. It's always a crapshoot. At least it is with me. And as with other stain projects, I probably did a lot of extra steps that I ended up not needing to do.

I'll run it down quickly for you. We used red oak to build it, only because the lumber options for such long pieces were limited. I think life would have been so much easier had we made it out of maple or beech, but I don't mind the oak.

What I was really going for was a finish like this blogger did on a table. Unfortunately the instructions on how to get to that finish were a bit lacking so I did my best to interpret them. I also did a LOT of sampling on cut offs from the boards.

1. Sand the whole thing, making especially sure to sand off any glue that might not have been wiped off.
2. Fill the nail holes, cracks, etc. with wood filler. I'm partial to Timbermate, which I have only found at Woodcraft stores so I always order it online. It smells like Band-aids, but it never dries out and you can change the consistency by adding water to it.
3. By this point, I had decided that the grain on my test boards was just getting too dark in my stain samples, so I made a slurry with the Timbermate to use as grain filler. This helps smooth everything out even more, and hopefully would keep that grain from soaking up too much stain.

Just starting to sand after the grain filler had dried. (Notice the Christmas tree and wreath in the background!) You can also see how we (and by we, I mean Mr. Much More Patient) coped the back to go around the stones.

4. After letting the grain filler thoroughly dry, I sanded the whole thing down with 220-grit sandpaper and made sure to remove all the dust (wear a mask during this part because that grain filler makes dust almost as fine as drywall dust). I made a wash by adding water to Carrington Beige paint samples (I only needed two of the little 2 ounce sample bottles), applied it quickly and wiped it off. The idea was the pull out some of the pink tones that red oak has.

This was the consistency of the watered-down paint that I applied first.
5. Then I applied two coats of Minwax Classic Gray stain.
6.We took the mantel upstairs and tried it out and I didn't like it.

This was try No. 1 on the finish. I didn't care for it. I also changed the bow on the wreath!

7. So I sanded it all down with 220 grit again, and repeated the grain filler step (I don't really know why to be perfectly honest). I wasn't trying to start from scratch, but rather build upon what I already did.
8. Using a mixture of Classic Gray, Special Walnut, Driftwood and Weathered Oak stains (when you don't know what to do just throw 'em all in there and see what comes up, right?), I applied two coats of stain.
9. I did a light sanding, then applied one coat of Minwax Fast-Drying polyurethane in a satin finish.
10. Sand the whole thing with 400-grit sandpaper after the poly is really dry.
11. Normally you'd put on another coat of poly here, but I was running out of time and wanted to make sure I liked it before I really sealed the deal with more poly. After Christmas I'll put on another coat if I'm still happy with the look.

I'm really looking forward to decorating the mantel tonight, all while brainstorming what I'll do there after the holidays. What do you think? Are you partial to the original mantel or do you like the new twist?

Simple swag

Posting on the blog has been so sporadic lately and I apologize for that. I have so many projects up in the air right now and it seems like it's taking forever to finish any of them. I'm including things like "decorate the Christmas tree" and "hang up the garland outside that I bought a month ago and haven't put up yet but now I own it so I might as well do something with it."

Still, I feel like I ought to show you some sort of progress, right?

So I give you my Pinterest-inspired swag on the back door. It should be noted that this swag was created over the course of two nights (or, more accurately, early mornings) all done at hours after midnight, which sadly seems to be when I'm most productive lately.

Remember when I said a couple weeks ago that I was feeling so confident about being ahead this Christmas? Did you laugh? Because, yeah, that was clearly misguided.

By Monday, I will have Christmas decorations to show you. Not that you probably care anymore. But if it's not done by Sunday (or, rather, Saturday night), it's not being done.

In the meantime, let me tell you how this swag came about: I wanted a double-sided wreath for the back door but I couldn't find any I liked for a price I was willing to pay. I thought about making a wreath, but that seemed like a lot of work. Enter the swag, which is just a really fast way of sticking some greens somewhere.

I saw this picture from Better Homes and Gardens on Pinterest and thought I could probably make something similar.

Here's what I ended up with (fuzzy camera phone pictures and all ... my gosh I'm not winning any Blogger of the Month prizes am I?)

The ribbon is probably a bit big, but it's what I had. Actually it was wired ribbon but I took the wire out to make it floppier. It is attached to the top of the door with regular old thumb tacks.

Upon studying my photo, I just remembered that I bought holly to throw in there and forgot to put it in. Oh well, with all that ribbon you probably wouldn't see it anyway and you can always stick holly somewhere during the holidays, right?

At least something is looking a little Christmassy!

Orange you glad they are finally finished?

You know I always have several projects in the works at one time, but I think this one holds the record for longest in-progress project. Obsessed with cane chairs, I found a pair of them on Craigslist more than two years ago and picked them up for $30 each. This really wasn't a good deal (I've since seen similar chairs at Goodwill for $5), but I drove a long way for them and I wasn't going home without them!

They languished, like many of my projects do, in the basement for some time. Then I reupholstered a couple other chairs as practice for these last winter. Finally, this fall, I decided it was time to really get going on these. I'll save the tutorial (such as it is) for another post, because it's way more fun to just skip to the good part.

And here it is.

This is the part where I show you the picture of what these chairs (they don't match by the way, but close enough for me) looked like before, in all their dusty rose velvet glory. Except I can't find that picture. That's how you really know that  you've taken way too long on a project: when the before pictures have been moved off your computer and now reside on a hard drive with 9 years of other photos and can't be found.

But I did snap these in the driveway after I had already removed the fabric and sanded them, but before I started painting.

I've been lusting over an orange chair (I can't explain this, but it started here) for years and I've been lusting over that fabric for almost as long. Even though the whole world has already done their thing with Schumacher's Chiang Mai Dragon fabric and moved on, I just kept coming back to it. I am a sucker for a large, bright floral. The paint color, by the way, is Benjamin Moore Starburst Orange.

Technically speaking, reupholstering these chairs wasn't that difficult, other than that I was constantly afraid of screwing it up or doing something to mess up the fabric. By far the longest portion of the project was laying out the patterns on the fabric. I was so afraid to screw it up and I wanted the pattern on the chairs to match as closely as possible.

I also chose a turquoise houndstooth fabric for the back, not only to switch it up a little, but also to save a bit of money. I like the look.

These are in the back sunroom/office/den, which is the next room on the list for improvement. At some point we'll be redrywalling in there (the dreaded textured walls still exist in there) and putting in a wood plank ceiling like the rest of the downstairs rooms. I think they'll look great in that room once everything is finished. Oh, and they are pretty darn comfortable too!

It might have taken a long time, but this might be my favorite DIY project to date.