Friday, January 31, 2014

House Update: Fixing the Floors

One of the main things we loved about our house when we purchased it was the original hardwood floors on both the main and upper levels. What we didn't realize when we bought our house though was that not all of our floors were the same.

The previous owner had the floors in the entire house refinished, except those in the master bedroom. So, we had lovely floors in 90% of our house, except in of the most important rooms in the house.

Not the best picture, but you can tell the floors look rough
In addition to the master bedroom, we wanted to fix the ugly patch that was left over after we removed the built in cabinet in the office room (I've decided to call it the office since it has our desks in it).

Not even itty bitty puppy Charlie could make the two toned floors look good
The final place we wanted to refinish the floors was on the stairs and upstairs landing. The carpet on them had seen better days and I was more than happy to see the dated style go. The stairs that were not covered by carpet were really rough and a drastically different color than any of the wood surfaces in our house. 
I mean, no. 
We removed the carpet from the stairs and landing the same weekend we talked to the company we hired to refinish the floors*. We also moved into our spare (smaller) bedroom to keep the master bedroom open for renovations. And then we waited. And waited. And waited some more. They finally came to refinish the floors in November, which was just in time for us to order our new bedroom furniture before my dad came for the holiday.

The stairs were more expensive to refinish because they have to be done by hand, but they were so, so worth it. We are undecided on whether to add a runner on the stairs or leave them plain. Right now, indecisiveness and a laziness is keeping them bare.

Charlie approves of the new stairs

The landing is such a small space, but it makes such a nice impact on the second floor as a whole.

And, the area you're probably most interested in--the patch in our office:

Old floor on top, newly stained on the bottom
The color is not an exact match, but it looks much better than the glaring two toned mess that was there before. Plus, I haven't given up hope that over time, sunlight, and age may cause the stain to miraculously become the same color.
I am not sharing pictures of the master bedroom just yet because there's a lot to update you on in there than just the floors. I'll cover it soon, I promise!

*I originally wanted to try DIY refinishing the floors, but Brian insisted that we hire professionals since this type of project requires special tools to ensure a smooth finish. Plus, we wanted to match the stain in the rest of the house as close as possible and figured pros that do this every day would be better at it than us.

What home projects made the biggest impact on your house? Have you ever refinished floors?

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

House Update: Wallpaper Removal

I feel like I haven't posted a house, ever. Sorry about that! The progress on our home projects is slower than I would like, but I have to remember that every little thing is a step in making our house the home we envision. We're trying to focus on making quality updates by doing things the right way, but that also means things take much long than I ever thought possible.

One of the first rooms we decided to change is the family room/office/random room we hardly use next to our kitchen.

Obligatory before shots

Brian really, really hated this wallpaper. He said the grass cloth looked like burlap sacks glued to the wall. While I think some grass cloth wallpapers can look nice, ours had seen better days after at least three decades (probably more like five) on our walls.

There were plenty of sun bleached spots...

...and questionable stains 

...and tears in the wallpaper

So, just a few weeks after moving in, I decided to tackle the wallpaper myself. Here are the supplies I used:

Vinegar, your wallpaper removal bff, scraper, and sponge (which is somehow not pictured)

First, I covered our floors, expecting things to get a little messy. Next, I created my wallpaper removal mixture of half hot water and half vinegar, which makes your house smell great. I used my sponge to soak an area of wallpaper that in theory should eat away at the wallpaper glue.

I started small

Next, I started on a corner and scraped and pulled off wallpaper in as big of chunks as possible, which was usually about four inches at a time.

No, I'm not advertising for Hyde, the sticker refused to come off

After a lot of scraping, my wall looked like this:

 Obviously, I couldn't leave all this junk on the walls, so I used my sponge soaked in my vinegar mixture to scrub, scrub, scrub the paper/paste mixture off the wall. This was the worst part. It took all my upper body strength and about a week to remove it all. And by all, I mean what I could live with after hours of scrubbing.
Scrubbed on the left / Not yet scrubbed on the right

Sadly, in order to remove all the wallpaper from this room, we also had to remove the beautiful built in cabinet in there. It made me really sad to have to remove it since it was one of the things I absolutely loved when we looked at our house, but we saved it so we could replace it if we wanted.

After removing the built in though, the room felt so much bigger that I couldn't see putting it back. We did keep the cabinet though and hope to repurpose it somewhere else in our house. Unfortunately, after we removed the cabinet, we uncovered yet another issue:

Two toned floors!
The floors around the built in had been refinished, making the floor look ridiculous. Luckily, floor refinishing was also on our to do list.
This room still has a long way to go, I literally just removed the wallpaper and have done nothing else in this room, but Brian still thinks it is a huge improvement.

Have you ever removed wallpaper? Was it difficult or easy? Actually, don't tell me if it was easy, I'm not sure I could handle it.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Hot Retreats, Cool Drinks*

It seems as if the news over the last week has either been about the bitter cold sweeping the nation or Justin Beiber. Both of which I hope go back to Canada because I'm so over them both.

To combat these winter blues, I have been searching for a quick, warm getaway. We skipped vacation last year in lieu of buying a house and we are both feeling restless to get out of town for a few days in the next couple of months.

Our requirements are:
1) warm-nay-hot and sunny
2) short flight from DC
3) not wildly expensive (see aforementioned house purchase)
4) someplace new to both of us 

We have been looking for the perfect destination without much success over the last couple of weeks.  Here are a few of our front runners:


Bermuda hits almost all of our requirements perfectly. The flight is short and surprisingly inexpensive and neither of us have been there before. It's not quite as hot as other Carribean islands since it is much further north, but it's still a huge step up from the sub freezing temperatures we're experience right now. And, as a bonus, I could sing "Kokomo" by the Beach Boys the whole time (Bermuda, Bahamas, come on pretty mama). 


I've heard wonderful things about Jamaica from friends that honeymooned there and are anxiously awaiting their next visit. I thought Brian had been there before, but luckily I was wrong and Jamaica is back on our list of possibilities. Flights, food, and accommodations are reasonable, and there are some great looking deals on social sites right now (although I've never booked a trip through such a site and it makes me a wee bit nervous). There are also many all inclusive resorts in Jamaica which makes my gluttonous heart happy.


Although Cancun brings to mind images of out of control spring breakers (ie: not what we're going for), the area near
Cancun seems to be much more tame. I've somehow never been to Mexico despite my love for their food and it being our neighbor. Again, there are ample all inclusive places in the area and the shorter flight make it very appealing.


I'm not opposed to a domestic vacation so long as the location is warm...which basically leaves the Southwest at this time of year (or Hawaii, which we don't have the time or money to do). Of course, if we went this route, I would want to go to the Cubs' spring training in Mesa, which would be considerably more expensive. 

Are you planning or dreaming of a warm getaway? Anyone have suggestions or thoughts on where we should go?  Who else is going to be singing Kokomo with me all day?

*Yes, my title is a play on the Dairy Queen slogan because blizzards are both topical and delicious.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Snow Days in DC

In Illinois, snow days look like this:

(Actually, this probably wasn't a snow day)
(Again, maybe a snow day, maybe just January)

In DC, snow days look like this:
Our backyard barely snow covered on our last snow day

Downtown DC on the same snow day, taken by my husband who wisely still went to work.
I think some of the cars have snow on them. Maybe.
I understand that the DC area is not accustomed to the amounts of snow, ice, and wind that the Midwest and other areas get during winter and are thus less prepared to deal with such conditions. Sometimes though, I just have to shake my head at the way people around here act over possible snowy conditions.
Today, we got to extend our weekend even further with another snow day. Currently, there is no snow coming down, but the weather forecast is calling for up to ten inches of snow over the next twenty four hours. Of course, the weather people around here are geeking out (we haven't had more than two inches in DC proper for more than three years!!). I'm just hoping we've taken a day off for a real reason this time. Until then, I'm going to enjoy a day with my boys, once they wake up.
How does your area react to snow or the threat of it? Anyone else enjoying an unexpected day off?

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Book Report: Game of Thrones Series

After hearing endless hype about the Game of Thrones series, I decided to see what all the fuss was about for myself. As a firm believer that the books are better than their on-screen adaptations, I decided to read the books before ruining my entire Netflix DVD queue to watch the show.

These books are monstrously long and have taken me forever to finish, but I finally read the last (released) book, and I feel compelled to share my thoughts. I don't consider myself to be a literary snob or critic by any means (I read and enjoyed all the Twilight books). I just like to read things that are interesting and entertaining enough to fill my hour+ commute every day.

On a whole, I really enjoyed how Martin continues to expand the universe of characters throughout the books without it ever feeling forced or out of convenience. And, he (or his editors) understand that a reader will not be able to actually remember all of these characters and subtly reintroduces them while still moving the scene forward (I've always hated those recaps at the beginning of books where they rehash everything like we are second graders). 

Martin creates a world with attention to every detail, which is sometimes great, but mundane at other times (like after the thousandth description of food. I like food, but I don't need to know about the sauce on the quail). His attention to detail and vivid descriptions do make the gratuitous violence that much more horrific and fascinating though.

My main complaint with the books is the ample violence toward women, much of which has little to do with the storyline and only serves to make the reader despise an already hated character. It gets to a point where it seems odd if something terrible isn't happening to a female character, which is unnecessary, and frankly, sad.

Overall, I enjoyed the series and I am eager to read the two (or more?) final installments of the series (even though Brian is convinced he has the ending figured out already). These books have something for everyone: dragons and magic for the fantasy types, zombies for the scifi lovers, and plenty of scheming, backstabbing, and shocking twists for action and adventure enthusiasts. And for anyone else, there's Tyrion.

As I finished the books, I wrote my thoughts out to share while everything was fresh in my mind.

A Game of Thrones:

I don't think I've included any spoilers (beyond what is in the show), but read at your own risk!

This book starts out following the Stark family, whose lives go in many directions by the end of the book. Although you probably don't like every member of the family (I'm looking at you, Sansa), you quickly realize that they are the ones to root (and Tyrion and Dany). The ending was traumatic and further solidified my support for Team Stark.

A Clash of Kings:

This book is ridiculously long. And spoiler: nothing happens in the nearly 1000 pages. A bunch of people want to rule the seven kingdoms. There are some new characters introduced, but you probably won't understand why you should care about them for at least another book, if ever.

A Storm of Swords:


 Everyone dies. Oh, you liked that character? Too bad, they're DEAD. Probably murdered in a horrific and public way. Did you say you like weddings? Not anymore you don't. At least stuff actually happens in this book, even if you don't like the things that happen.

A Feast for Crows:

The events of this book are concurrent with the events in the next book (for a while), but only follow about half the characters. Luckily, the author explains this upfront, but what he doesn't explain is that the characters followed in this book are either 1) ones you hate or 2) ones you don't care about at all (with one possible exception, depending on your preferences). Even though this book is mercifully shorter than the others, it feels so. much. longer. because you cannot wait to get through it and see what is happening to the real characters in the series.

A Dance with Dragons:

You are finally reading about your favorite characters again! You are happy until you realize you are also reading about a whole slew of brand new characters as well and you're not sure your brain can keep everyone straight. Not to worry, half of these characters will be dead or forgotten by the end of the book and you can go back to not caring about them very soon. This book could should actually be called: Dudes Who Want Daenerys and Her Dragons, since that seems to be the overarching theme of this book. She can't help it that she's so popular.

Although this beast of a book took me two months to read (the holidays and other books happened in that time as well), I am so sad it's finished  because I want to know what happens and it could still be years before the next installment is released. At least I have three seasons of the television show to watch now!

Are you a GoT fan? Did you read the books? What are your thoughts on the series?

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Christmas Dreams Can Come True

At least one of mine did this year. 

A few weeks ago, my father in law stopped to see us on his way back home from visiting my brother in law. As only the second 'real' guest to our house (as in, a guest from out of state), we were excited to show off our home and discuss all the improvements we are planning on making.

After staying with my brother in law for a week in snow covered Boston with little to do (he is limited in what he is allowed to do), my father in law was itching to do something. So, when I mentioned that the lack of lighting in our living room was going on the top of our to do list, he not so subtly suggested that a trip to Home Depot was in order. 

My father in law knows how to fix almost anything (and has luckily passed much of this knowledge on to his sons), so about twenty four hours, a couple of holes in the wall, and a lot of dust later, we finally have a light in our living room.

Behold our light:

It is not fancy, and certainly not pretty, but I love it all the same. We're still deciding on what type of light fixture to put in its place (who knew how many light fixtures there are to choose from?!), but for now I am appreciative to have any light at all.

A close up, excuse the fingerprint smudges 

Sunday, January 5, 2014


So, I'm a little late on New Years. I just can't seem to get excited about New Years because that means December is over and January is upon us. And January is the worst.

First off, January starts with a hangover. No matter how much you sleep in or how little you drink ringing in the new year, you're going to feel like crap the next day. If you're lucky, you at least won't have to work so you can nurse yourself back to normal on the couch in your pajamas while watching the Rose Parade. And if you do have to work, you have my deepest sympathies and I hope your new year involves days off in a better time of year.

Then there are the resolutions. There is all this pressure to create a list of socially acceptable goals to 'make you a better person' even though it is widely accepted that no one actually expects you to complete said goals. I can't even remember my goals from last year, but they usually become obsolete so quickly as other, more pressing issues arise. My resolution for 2014? Find my car keys, which was completed January 1, thanks to my husband who actually found them. I can only go down from there, so I'm declaring all goals achieved for 2014.

It is isanely cold. Unless you are lucky enough to live somewhere that the temperatures are relatively constant year round (hi. Can I come visit? Tomorrow?), you're probably complaining about the weather right now. On Facebook. 

Along with the frigid temperatures, January always seems to have an overabundance of snow. Once the magical herald of the holiday season, snow in January is at best an inconvenience and at worst a constant reminder that spring is still a long, long ways off. And we really don't need anything else to remind us of that.

Thanks to all the cold, dry days my skin feels like it is being stretched out like Cassandra from Dr. Who, except I can't yell at people to "moisturize me!" whenever I need lotion. Yet.

Even though we are officially heading back toward spring and our days are getting incrementally longer, it's still dark leaving for and returning from work everyday, which is pretty much the most depressing thing ever. So even if you are lucky enough to get a brief reprieve from the blistering arctic air, you probably won't get a chance to enjoy it because it will be gone as soon as you leave work.

And finally, the glorious days of gluttony are a thing of the past. Since Halloween, i have been able to keep a near constant supply of candy, cookies, and desserts on hand without anyone giving it a second thought. Now, however, I get the stink eye if I my snacks aren't healthy, as though my poor food decisions may rub off on others. If only I were that influential.

Do you love or love to hate January? Feel free to complain away, it is Monday after all.
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