Monday, July 29, 2013

Home Improvements: The Kitchen

This is one of my very most favorite things that I've ever done to my house.  It's incredible.  Sometimes I just sit at the dining room table and look into the kitchen, admiring its beauty.

The backsplash.

Backsplashes are what take an ordinary kitchen to a kitchen with character.  It automatically makes a kitchen look high end.  From the very beginning I have wanted to put up a backsplash, but I always thought that tile was the only way to go, and that seemed kind of daunting.  And messy.  And easy to mess up when you have a lot of space to cover.  And hard to change when you get tired of it.  But when I saw one of my favorite bloggers do a tutorial on how to install a bead board backsplash, I knew I could do it.  Bead board went right along with the farmhouse style that my house is turning out to be.  And it was so inexpensive.  It cost me less than $30 and only took two nap times and two evenings!  And I did it by myself, with no help!  Ok, so Nate helped by pounding in two nails in the corner where my left-handed swing couldn't get the job done.  But as long as you can use a circular saw, you can do this!  And if you don't know how to use a circular saw, just ask me.  It is easy, and will open up a whole new world of possibilities!!!

I had originally planned on using liquid nails to adhere the bead board to the walls, but Nate was hesitant.  He wasn't convinced that he would like the bead board, so he wanted me to use something less permanent.  Come on, hubby!  Show a little faith!  I've never led you astray before!  I knew we would love it, so I just said "ok" and used nails.  You can see where the nails are if you look closely (despite the fact that I countersunk them, patched the hole, and sanded them before painting), but you won't notice them unless you try.

This is the "before" shot.  It doesn't show much of how the kitchen looks, but you can see the plainness:

And the after:
 We have a seriously huge kitchen with loads of counter space.  It's awesome.
 Cutting the holes for the outlets was by far the hardest part of the installation.  If I had a jig saw it would have been a piece of cake, but I did it with a knife.  Unfortunately (and fortunately!) our kitchen has a lot of outlets.  Oh, well!  I also had to buy these little spacers to put behind the outlets so that they could be pushed out far enough.  Note: Lowes doesn't carry them, but Home Depot does.
 Calk is your best friend when doing a project like this.  Any imperfections can be hidden with just a bit of calk.  I also put a small piece of wooden trim along the exposed edges of the bead board, to give it a finished look.
I love plants in the kitchen.  It's so much easier to remember to water them when they're there.  ;)  I have something decorative, aloe vera, and basil.  

Our second kitchen makeover project:

Replacing the hardware.

I don't know why I didn't do this sooner.  I guess I just didn't know what direction to take it in.  But once I got a little more confidence in my decor tastes, it was a cinch.

The before:
Rustic.  Sooo rustic.  Like everything else in this house was.  I think this was the "splurge" from when the old owners completely renovated the kitchen.  These handles were something like $5 each.  And there are a lot of cupboards in my kitchen, people.  A lot.  Well, I removed them and sold them online to a very eager buyer for $20, and I replaced them with this!:
 The vertical handles were in a multi pack from Target, which saved us a bundle.  The horizontal handles were bought individually from Home Depot and were a bit more expensive.  But I love them so very much, so it was worth it.  With as many cupboards as there are in this kitchen, it would have been a bit overwhelming if the horizontal handles were the same as the vertical ones.  It needed to be changed up a bit.  And this makes it seem a little more custom, too, which is a very good thing!

And last but not least...

The curtains.

When we first became homeowners, I felt this itch to get curtains for every window, but I just couldn't find any that I liked.  I had a distinct idea of what I wanted, and you can't just find something in your mind like that at Target.  So, I bought a sewing machine for my birthday, learned how to sew, and scoured the internet for the perfect inspiration.  I found it here, and I've since followed her blog and it has helped me identify my own style preferences.  It's been great!

So, I whipped up these curtains, and another set over the sink to match, out of some nice linen:

I used the same fabric to make curtains for the dining room, but I sewed them in a different style:

A lovely view of the backsplash, the hardware, and the curtains along with the numbered bar stools that I gave new life to:

And lest you think my kitchen is always this spotless, this is how it looked after a very good cleaning:
If only it would stay that way.  Just keepin' it real, kids.  

So, let's be honest.  Do you love it as much as I do?  Because I love it.  A lot.  There is nothing I would change about it, and that is a wonderful feeling!

TDC Before and After

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Minnesota: Mall of America

Our last day in Minnesota we devoted to the Mall of America.  That place is crazy.  We bought some souvenirs and debated going to the aquarium.  It's pretty expensive, but we knew that Russ would absolutely love it (he looooves fish), but was it worth it just for an 18-month-old's simple enjoyment?  Absolutely.  Most of the trip was catered to Caleb, because 3-year-olds just get so excited over things.  So it was nice to do something just because Russell would love it.  And we all ended up loving it anyway, so it was a great choice!

 We got to pet starfishes:

And they had like a billion jelly fish:

Jelly fish are fun to photograph: octopus:

Star fish on the glass:

Sea horses!  I think the was my first time seeing sea horses:

They were cool.  Did you know that they hold themselves still by grabbing things with their tails?  I didn't know that.  For some reason I just thought they floated in place:

After the aquarium, we debated if it was worth it to go on rides in Nicelodeon Universe (formerly Camp Snoopy, which was a much better name).  After all, we weren't sure how many rides our little guys would be able to go on.  We decided to buy a few tickets anyway, and we're so glad we did!  There were tons of fun things for toddlers.  We didn't get a lot of pictures, but here are a few....

Let's start off with Blue.  We're big Blue's Clues fans in our house:

Last year when we went to Sea World, Caleb went on a ride like this and absolutely loved it.  It goes up high and then drops down, fast, a little bit at a time.  The entire time he was on it, Caleb said, "wee!" and held his hands up in the air:

Driving the big truck:

And again, the big dropping thingy.  They aren't even ready to go yet and Caleb already has his hands in the air!:

What else did we do in Minnesota that didn't get documented with pictures and blog posts of their own?  We had lunch with a family that Nate taught on his mission.  It was a blast.  If it wasn't for a long overdue nap time for our boys, we could have spent all day with them!  We're going to be great friends when we move back there some day, I just know it.  We also got a deal on tickets for a big bouncy house center and went with our friends and their three boys, ages three and under.  Let me just say, the kids had tons of fun, but it's possible that the parents had even more fun!  I think I know what Caleb will do for his fourth birthday party....

It was all together a glorious trip.  We saw so many wonderful friends, Caleb slept in a big boy bed in the hotel all by himself...and only fell out two of three nights.  We figured out how to feed Caleb on trips--almost no eating out, and a lot of hot dogs, fruit snacks, spinach, and poppy seed dressing.  And we enjoyed Minnesota so much that not a day goes by that I don't think about moving back.  Some day.  Some day....

Minnesota: Como Zoo!

St. Paul has a wonderful little zoo that is free to the public.  Of course with our two little animal lovers we couldn't pass this up!  We called up a good friend of mine who has two little boys close in age to my two, and we had a wonderful time.

 They had these great gardens and greenhouses that we enjoyed strolling through:

This plant is pretty much like clovers, but all of them have four leaves!  I was a fan:

Umm...holy gorilla!:

Two giraffes:

Two giraffes and two boys:

Two more boys.  They're gonna be good buds some day:


A snow leopard!  Cool!:

And a tiger:

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Minnesota: Sight-seeing around MSP

After spending a wonderful week in my hometown, we drove our rental car five hours south to the Twin Cities.  We have lots of friends there that we wanted to visit, and we wanted to do some regular vacation-y things, since we never go on vacations other than to visit family.

So, here are a few things that we did!

First off, we went to the big Hmong festival.  It's the biggest Hmong gathering in the world!  We went with some friends, and we only saw one other white family while we were there.  Ha!  But I didn't even think of it.  I felt so at home among all those Asians.  And I looooove Hmong food.  I've been dreaming of purple sticky rice ever since!

I've heard of this sport before from Nate (he taught Hmong people on his mission for our Church, and he speaks fluent Hmong), but it was something else to see it in real life:

It's pretty much volleyball, but using your feet.  Insane.  I was impressed.

We saw a few other things (like their spinning top competition), but I didn't get any other pictures.  Why?  Probably because it was insanely hot and crowded and we had two antsy children in their stroller.  But it was fun still.  And now I want more purple sticky rice and Hmong sausage.  Mmmmm....

One of the most anticipated parts of our trip was the cherry on the spoon.  Caleb asked about it for weeks leading up to our trip.  It seems so simple, and yet it did not disappoint!

How could we not??:

More great Minnesota experiences to come.  :)

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Minnesota: 4th of July

In my hometown, the July 4th parade is held on the Sunday closest to July 4th.  Don't ask me why.  If I ever live there again then I'll petition to have it changed.  But there is a little town that happens to be closer to where I grew up, but I don't claim it as my own because I usually only go there on July 4th.  It's tiny.  Like, population 12.  Or something close to that.  I think it has one store--a convenience store with a restaurant attached.  I had pie there once.

But don't be fooled--this place is famous.  Named after Eugene Debs, America's own socialist!  He was in my history book in high school.  Just google him if you don't know who he is.

And even more than Eugene Debs, the Debs parade is famous because it's so small that it goes around twice.  But I must say, it wasn't a bad parade this year!  Well, there was the guy who drove his minivan with an American flag draped on the hood.  And the guy who drove his semi truck.  But I snapped a few pictures of some of my favorite parade "floats," for lack of a better word.

This was my dad's exhibit--his horses, Cletus and Kate, pulled his wagon that was built in the 1800s, while my sister and her kids went along for the ride:

Here is the mini Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox.  The "real" ones are at the waterfront on Lake Bemidji, but this pair like to make appearances in parades this time of year:

There were lots of cool cars at the parade this year:

What's a great way to score loads of candy at a parade??  Bring a 3-year-old who says "hi" and "thank you" to everyone in the parade and happens to be unable to eat most candy.  We've still got a huge bag full!

And this little airplane came out of nowhere:

My dad's horses for the second time around!:

Every time Caleb saw an American flag he would stop and put his hand on his heart.  It made me proud:

Paul and Babe again!:

A firetruck...always very exciting for small boys:

My mom and my niece also rode their horses in the parade, but I didn't get any decent pictures of them.  Darn.

Ever since I can remember, we have had a pot luck picnic at my Granddad's house after the Debs parade.  My granddad used to live on the same 40 acre property where I grew up, but he passed away seven years ago tomorrow, at the age of 87.  His trailer house was sold long ago, so now just the garage and landscape remain.  It's hard going to these family gatherings without him there, but it's so great to see his memory living on.

At the picnic, we all sit around under the shade of the trees, talking and laughing.  The kids swim in the lake, and some people go out on the boat to fish.  It was probably my favorite part of the trip.

Nate, my dad, one of my favorite uncles, and a cousin:

A few of my favorite aunts and uncle:

The boys loved having cousins to play with (there are sooooo many kids their age!  It's wonderful!) and they were such social butterflies.  They were friends with everyone!  Even clingy little Russell went around giving everyone high fives when it was time to leave.  Here he is with one of my favorite aunts (making a hilarious yet unintentional face) and my cousin, and a few of my cousins' kids:

Russell enjoyed bouncing on my sister's lap:

Some more favorite uncles, my cousin, and my dad:

Part of the way through the picnic, Nate took the boys to my mom's house for their naps so they could stay up late to watch the fireworks without turning into monsters.  So I walked from my dad's house to my mom's house (it's about a mile away) by myself that afternoon, and I was in heaven.  I used to ride my horse, Hank, on this trail every single day.  It's the most beautiful place that I've ever seen in my life, and I miss it desperately!  We decided that day that we would be moving back to Minnesota at some point in the next year.

Isn't it like heaven on earth?

I came upon this hole in the ground where turtle eggs were buried and hatched, leaving little egg shells in the dirt:

I'm guessing the turtles made it safely to this little river, which was only a few yards away:

The hay field where I spent many hot, hot, horrible afternoons baling hay in my youth.  I don't look back on those memories fondly.  It's not fun work.  But I do look upon this field fondly.  It's so beautiful!  And the clouds in Minnesota just can't be beat:

Sigh.  I really can't wait to get back there!