Compass, a real estate agency in New York City who I would highly recommend contacting during your quest for a place to call home, came up with an idea called “Starter Stories” regarding writing about starter homes.  I actually really pondered this whole concept because the first place I lived was a bit frightening.  However, as a mom, as a resident of New York, and as a person who lived in New York City and in other locations as well, I felt there was a lot I might be able to share for those on their quest for a starter home.

Searching for your first place can be daunting.  We live in a HGTV, DIY world where shows exist that teach we can have everything we want for a minimal price with some sort of five week turnover.

The truth of the matter is this isn’t true.  Most of us don’t have a team of people to fix up a house of our choice.  Most of us don’t have friends with their own HGTV show who can do a turnover for us within a two month period with a total revamping of a house for a cost that would, at most, only cover a roof replacement.

What comes of this is the expectation of having it all when you have nothing to begin with when you want to have it all.  It sets high expectations for a first home that many cannot achieve.

With that, I was house hunting pre-HGTV and DIY shows when they started telling us we could have everything we want in five weeks for an outrageously low cost.  Now, there are shows here and there that will be realistic, but the reality is that mistakes can be made when purchasing your first starter home, and I’d like to give some insight based on personal experience.

My adult life started out renting an apartment in an undesirable neighborhood.  When you’re young, you generally just like that feeling of being out on your own, but the year of waiting for that lease to run out was a pure nightmare.  I don’t ever think I wished a year away the way I did back then.  Gun fire, police cars, fights outside of the complex – that was the norm of every day living.  I endured knowing it was what I could afford, but it wasn’t what I anticipated for my life, and I couldn’t get out of there fast enough with my baby.  I think the moment that set me over the top was the inability to control the bug population trailing in from other people’s apartments.  It was just a place I would never want to revisit with any kind of fond memory.  To me, renting a bad apartment isn’t the end of the world because it isn’t permanent. Nowadays, you can thoroughly research an area and get an idea of where you want to live ahead of time.  I didn’t have that luxury back then.

My first home was purchased when I was 22 years old.  Despite having a small child and one on the way, there are things we didn’t look for due to inexperience.  One should have been the school system.  Another was the size of the house.  What I’m saying here is that we bought an approximately 1,000 square foot home that had a decent piece of property without great schools.  The mistake involved in this purchase was that the house had little storage, no garage, and the property was more appealing than the house.  I was married to someone who didn’t have home owning experience and also grew up in a family that wasn’t real concerned about where they lived.  My family was the opposite.  This isn’t a bashing of the family, this is complete honesty regarding at how they looked at things.  I grew up in an upper middle class family in a large home.  My father owned big cars and big houses, and that’s what was “normal” to me for lack of a better word.  The person I was married to had a lower middle class upbringing, and we were raised on opposite ends of the spectrum.  Contrary to what the public might think, I was the one that saved every penny, and he was the opposite.  I will vouch that it’s extremely hard to get ahead in life if you’re the only one attempting a future.

I had looked for awhile for starter homes back then.  There was one in particular that was a great size and could have been renovated.  Unfortunately, at that age, I wasn’t aware of my capabilities.  Purchasing that home would have been ideal.  My father convinced me to bring a contractor to the house who he knew somehow, and the contractor said there was $20,000 worth of repairs that needed to be made.  The house was at the top of our approved mortgage, so $20,000 wasn’t in the picture.  If I had known what my capabilities were, that house would have been perfect.  There’s a difference between sweat equity and having someone else do the work for you.

Another house I saw was in a great area and formerly owned by a Vietnam Veteran.  There were a ton of trees planted in the front of the house that were planted in front of the house as though it were in the woods when all the other houses dictated a beautiful neighborhood.  The inside of the house had wood nailed to all the walls and was painted in camouflage.  There was a large peephole that peered outside, and the backyard looked like something straight from a nightmare.   I was extremely sad for the previous owner.  Again, this would have been another great house to own because it was within an excellent school district and could have been great for my children, but I couldn’t see past what was going on in that house because I wasn’t aware of my capabilities.

After disagreeing a bit with the other party and being a person that was easy to be swayed to do what the other party wanted, I found a single family home on a decent amount of property.  We walked into the house, and the other party told the owners we would buy it.  I went along with it, and the first day we moved in, I was in tears.  I knew from the start it was all wrong for us, and I have to say I wasn’t exactly happy living there for seven years.

What took place with that home was me being the person to mow that nice piece of property with that little house.  I was the only one trying to improve it.  There was nothing I could really do to that house for extra space.  Sure, we thought we could put an addition on, but additions can’t take place when people can’t save money.  The schools were low rated.  My children weren’t getting the best education.  The master bedroom was so small that a king size bed filled the room.  It was a sardine can, to say the least.  However, it was where I first started learning to renovate houses.  That’s where I first started drilling, sawing, installing, and making it look the way I wanted….even though it could never be the way I wanted.  Despite my depression with that house, my creativity in other realms started to flourish.  I was sewing every day.  I created beautiful floral baskets.  I started repairing, repainting, and installed a dishwasher where there wasn’t one.  My goal was to get out of that house, though.  That came later.

Move forward a few years, and I went onto another adventure in starter homes.  This time, remarried with new hope in life.  This time, I knew what I could do and wasn’t afraid.  We worked together.  We had a plan.  We spent countless hours and days trying to find a home.  We had a list of towns, an idea of how much property, and looked at things with an open eye of what we could renovate.  With this perspective, we landed a two story home on an acre of property.  The house had been used for boat storage and was converted into a home.

01_houseoutside

This was my second starter home.  Originally, the house was a flat box.  It later had a second story added.  We hired a contractor to put a large room on the front, add dormers, and make a half bathroom into a full bathroom.  The house was located on almost an acre and had room for expansion.  It was originally 1,800 square feet, and the size increased to 2, 450 square feet which worked well for our growing family.

Donna Michaels - Bathroom Renovation 1

One of the bathrooms I renovated in the starter home involving a more updated vanity, mirror, tiling the floors, new lighting, and new fixtures.

I tiled, installed hardwood flooring, renovated the kitchen, hired a contractor for additions after daughter number four was soon to arrive.  We worked together to have the money to do things, and that’s where a huge difference was made in life.  We were able to purchase our dream home after selling that home.  Even with the dream home, it was a future dream home.  The home I purchased next was another renovation job, but had everything in it that I ever wanted.  It was all possible because of owning the previous home.

Donna Michaels -masterbedroom- floors, walls, extra storage created behind end table

The master bedroom was a little awkward in shape due to not having dormers, but we were able to access storage behind it using a small door seen behind the end table.  This was helpful to us since we were lacking a garage.  The flooring that I purchased was used throughout the house and really added to creating a nice look.  The original floors downstairs were basement type of carpet.  The room was decorated using a mish mash of different items that worked when I put them together.
Donna Michaels -downstairsbathroom, made corner cabinet, installed vanity, tile, heater, paint, plumbing

My kids were scared of this basement-like bathroom located in the downstairs of our starter home.  I warmed it up adding tile to the floor, walls, a good sized vanity, and some comfortable colors.  I made the corner cabinet and stained it the same color as the vanity.  It helped due to the window being located in an odd location.  Also, it was deep enough to help hold all of the girl things my girls acquired.

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Although this seemingly does not look like the most impressive kitchen around, the previous cabinets literally disintegrated on the floor.  They were replaced with these oak cabinets that I purchased online and installed myself.   I tiled the entire floor.  I cut the granite looking laminate countertop and designed the back splash.  The back splash was very useful because the walls were uneven, and everything wrong with the walls disappeared with the renovation.  The color of the kitchen was painted with a can of kitchen paint found on the Oops! paint table for $5.00.

Based on experience in life, here are my recommendations when purchasing your first place (and use the word “home” to apply to any residence you may be attempting to find).

1.  Live in the most inexpensive place you can live in order to stash as much money as possible for a down payment.  If you have a family member kind enough to know this is what you’re aiming for and wants to assist you in that endeavor, then work with it.

2.  Don’t be in such a hurry to purchase a home that you overlook the undesirable.  If that parking lot in your backyard and the noise bothers you, then don’t buy it.  Keep looking.  There is always another house.  Whatever bothers you will bother someone else (unless you can change something on the interior), and could make resell difficult in the future.

3.  Don’t let anyone scare you regarding interest rates and push you to purchase a home based on interest rates.

4.  Don’t buy a place based on the outside property.  When I say that, it’s because you may spend more time indoors than you realize unless you like to camp out in the yard frequently.

5.  Revisit the place you’re considering.  Look around the area.  Again, if you let fear that it’s going to go set in, you may make a wrong decision.  Where there is one place there is another, and get the thought process into your head that if you ‘lose’ a place, then maybe that place wasn’t meant for you because something better might come along.

6.  When you purchase a starter home with a set amount of time you think you’ll be there, assume you might be there years longer and ask yourself how you’ll feel if you have to stay there longer.  Seven years can turn into fifteen.  Most people I’ve met have ended up living in a place longer than they intended.

7.  Have a vision and consider foreclosures or home that needs TLC.  You may be able to negotiate the price down.

8.  Bring an experienced home buyer with you when looking around (a parent, friend, someone who has been there).  Ask for a straight up honest opinion and tell them not to cave even if you love the place.  Really evaluate what they say to you and don’t be so in love that you have blinders on.

9.  Last, but not least, when you actually do make that offer, be careful not to insult the buyer.  It happens.  Low balling the house too much can be a big mistake.  You may insult the seller so much that the seller wants nothing to do with you.

When you get into that house, don’t delay renovations because you have it set in your heat that you’ll be moving in a certain amount of time.  Treat it like you might be living there forever because you never know how long you might end up staying.

A starter home doesn’t have to be a starter for you.  If you are willing to get your hands dirty, you may be able to purchase a home that could be everything you wanted.  However, renovations cost money, and even if you buy something that needs updating, if the square footage is great for your family, it might be worth taking a chance because the future may bring you more opportunities and an ability to do everything you want with that house.

chandelier

My house has a two story open entry way that had a small brass chandelier in view of a window.  That chandelier was a bad size for the area it was located.  With a foyer that open and tall, I knew I could get away with something large.

I love the wrought iron type of look.  However, purchasing a wrought iron chandelier that is four feet high would be ridiculous.  The weight of such an adventure would surely be problematic with me having to hire  a crew to help.  Even though the ceiling and box were already prepared for a chandelier, holding the weight of a chandelier like I pictured in my mind would be a bigger venture than I want to take on right now.  Not only that, but the chandeliers I liked were so overpriced that I couldn’t justify the expense.  I found a super large one for a low cost and waited over a year before it was installed.  What a nightmare!  There’s a reason it wasn’t priced too high due to every little piece having to be assembled.  I really mean EVERYTHING down to the arms, the electrical connections of the arms, etc.  The directions were obviously translated and were basically pictures.  Regardless, I’ve done enough assembly that it didn’t really phase me (but did explain why the price was low).  The assembly wasn’t the reason it waited.  I was the reason it waited.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe new chandelier.

The brass chandelier was removed.  The new chandelier took on the location.  In the background of the upstairs hallway was a gaudy and cheap looking mini chandelier that matched the gold of the brass one that was hanging.  For awhile, I tried to decide what I was going to do with that hallway light.  It can clearly be seen on the bottom floor at the entry level.  So, I got this swift idea that I was going to try to make it match the chandelier in the entry.

uglybrasslight

I turned the power off to the light (I’m talking about the fuse box shut off, folks), removed it, and started to put my plan in action.  Since there are no places to hook crystals, I ordered bobeches (those are the glass bowl looking pieces near the candle part of the fixture) that had four places to add crystals.  I also ordered different crystal pieces to put my plan in action.  I matched up pictures online to what was on my large chandelier.  While I waited for those items to arrive, I started by cutting the brass around each candle to be circular.  The hexagon shape was annoying me.  I filed it down with a metal file.  This was a real pain, and it would have been easier just to leave it alone.

I bought a can of glossy black paint and primer.  After making sure the piece was free of dirt and grime, I removed the plastic candles, covered anything I didn’t want painted with painting tape (the blue tape), and put a light coat onto the fixture.  It took a couple of days regarding the painting process to make sure everything was dry and that I covered the areas.  If you spray paint, follow directions so you don’t create big drips by overdoing your spraying.  I find that setting pieces in a cardboard box is helpful to not get spray paint all over the place.  Patience is everything when it comes to coating and allowing to dry.  Follow the instructions because over spraying makes a piece look like a drip scene.

paint

An unnecessary step:  I cleaned off the plastic pieces and dipped the outer edges in beeswax.  I created drips with the beeswax to make them look like real candles.  I actually have done this on a couple of fixtures after having seen them sold online.  I purchased the beeswax awhile back using a coupon at Michaels Arts and Crafts.  The drips can be created by just dripping the wax down the sides with a spoon while the candle sits on waxed paper.  If you mess up, just let it cool completely and scrape it off.  Really, it was kind of pointless considering people aren’t tall enough to see this particular part of the project.

After mounting the light fixture, I added the candles on, slipped the bobeches over, and went to town adding crystals on the fixture.  I could have kept going with this because it was fun trying to figure out how to make a non-crystal holding piece into one that has crystals.  I used LED lights to save money in the future.  They were used on the large chandelier as well because who wants to have to change bulbs on a fixture like that?

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The total cost of this project was around $30.00.  You can control what you spend on something like this based on how far you want to go with crystals, etc.  In the end, I was able to match that small chandelier to the large one enough that the pieces look like they were meant to go together.  I can’t even tell you  how many people use to walk into my house and make fun of that hallway light.  When the large chandelier went up, the brass one stood out like a sore thumb.  I hope you enjoyed this project and found it inspiring.  If you have a chandelier or light fixture project you would like to share, hit me up on Facebook!  I love seeing your ideas!

 

 

PorchCollage1

When we purchased this home, I really underestimated the amount of work that needed to be done.  The wrap around porch was something that I didn’t look closely at because it seemed to be in decent condition. Of course, I’ve really questioned our judgment with a few things regarding this home.  The first being the home inspector we hired who was 85 years old and working more for a real estate agent than us.  I’m not saying his age prevented a good evaluation.  However, it did prevent him from looking at the roof due to not climbing on a ladder.  Not to mention this roof that he stated would last us for years bit the dust two weeks ago.  The roof failure and gutter failures were the main reasons the porch had such a high amount of rot, breakage, and warping.  Let’s not leave out the lack of maintenance over the years.  It’s just a bad idea to move into a home and never maintain anything.   The moral of the story is to seek out a highly rated home inspector that doesn’t come through a real estate agent or through someone who is attempting to make sure you buy the house.  Yes, I should have known by now.  Regardless, it is what it is at this point.

I had work divided up regarding seasons, and the porch was suppose to be a summer project.  Unfortunately, life doesn’t always play out the way we expect it, and the porch wasn’t in the cards.  In the big scheme of life, it doesn’t really matter.

Once work could be resumed on the porch, I tackled the first issue of the steps being unsafe.  They popped up in the air and no screw could hold them down.  I replaced them with the same type of wood originally installed.  I would have rather used nice treads, but due to the size and scope of the project I was encountering, some people didn’t agree that the over $400 price tag for treads that were prettier than the initial type of wood was worth the cost.  The truth is nobody really would have noticed, and another factor is that the space between the boards permits water to go through and not to just sit on top.steps

There were three parts of the railings that were very long (12 feet), and there was weakness due to the length.  The railings were installed that length to keep the views on the porch where bay windows existed.  I decided to install half posts that I cut down to fit to the railing sizes.  The posts were installed with lag bolts underneath and decking screws above.  I also framed them out for added stability.  Maybe it was being over cautious.

post

 

I picked posts that seemed to have similar character to the balusters….and that was another problem:  the balusters.

brokenbaluster

Balusters were broken and rotted from leaking gutters.  A few of the posts also had rot at the bottom.

rot

 

The balusters appeared to be something typical that would be sold at any hardware store.  However, I couldn’t find any that matched.  I considered replacing them with balusters that didn’t match, but it probably would have driven me crazy because I would have KNOWN they didn’t go together.  Thankfully, I was able to retrieve balusters at the points where the half posts were installed.  This enabled me to replace rotted and broken balusters in different areas on the porch.

There was rot that existed around the porch in places I didn’t even realize existed.  I laughed thinking back to what the home inspector said, “Oh, it’s just a little bit of rot…nothing that a little epoxy can’t fix.”  A LITTLE EPOXY ? What a joke!  The more I started working on this project, the more problems I uncovered.  After removing some of the railing to repair it, I discovered more and more and more…..

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I really did have difficulty locating places that had pieces to replace things on the porch, so my other option was to repair what was already there.  I jokingly stated, “Someone will appreciate this in the future when they want everything that was original to the porch.”  I thought about my comment and realized it was true.  How many times do people go to Victorian houses and say, “OHHHHH….that’s original to the house!”  Maybe someone really will be thankful 100 years from now that they have the original pieces to the home.

morerot

 

However, repairing what already exists is not always the FASTER or CHEAPER option.  I kept joking that it would have been faster to replace the whole porch.  I think this may have been true.

epoxy

Epoxy is expensive, and I don’t regret using it. A contractor came by to give me gutter estimates and stated he would have used Bondo, but I was using a system that worked for me (an epoxy system I ordered), and this porch is so huge that I know I saved money no matter what I did.   Really, after seeing outrageous estimates for fascia board replacement, I’m sure that my epoxy expenses wouldn’t even come close to what a contractor would have charged me.  On the corners of some of the rotted posts, I filled them with wood pieces and used Plexiglas with Pam sprayed on it to make the corners.  I set the plexiglass together to form a corner. The Pam made it easy to pop off when the epoxy dried.  I didn’t make this up, it was recommended by the company that made the epoxy.  As for Bondo, there were places that I did use it.  Between epoxy and Bondo, I feel the epoxy worked great for some areas, and the Bondo was great when something was spotted that needed quick repair.  The Bondo is much easier to sand, but I personally preferred the epoxy I used.  I can see the potential of Bondo coming loose at some point.  He argued that epoxy would come loose at some point too, but I was using a special brand that he had never seen, so he gave up on debating the issue when he saw how it worked.  I spent about $300 in materials to restore this porch.  That price didn’t include paint.  I know most people looking at what I did would think that this is a low estimate, but it was a lot of creativity that came into play.  With the amount of time I put into this porch, I’m positive I would have been charged thousands to have someone else come out and fix it.  The porch is overwhelming in size when it comes to having to paint and fix it.

Baluster replacement – for the most part, I had to saw off the rusted screws where the railings were attached.  I had to replace screws through the bottoms of balusters and  replace balusters that were broken or missing.  Then, I screwed the railings back into their locations with new decking screws.

I felt like I had to be an artist in some areas and was using plastic tools to form epoxy in places that were rotted off.  There were edges, corners, etc. that just needed so much help.  Everything required a lot of patience.  Sometimes, a person just wants to get a project done, yet it drones on and on until you wonder if the day will come that it will be beautiful again.  I said this already, but PATIENCE is EVERYTHING when it comes to completing home projects.

The balusters and ceiling and every area that was painted white had more than two coats painted on them.  The wood was absorbing it like it was a dry sponge with water.  It was shocking.  I had several cans of porch paint I had acquired and mixed them all together.  I was paying close attention to the weather at this point because we were getting cold days that were too cold to paint.  I’d look for a series of days that would permit painting and curing and would pay attention to the temperatures.  Every sunny day was a painting day.

I mixed a few gallons of porch paint together that I came from the Oops! Paint section at the hardware store after the season where I SHOULD HAVE been painting.  I knew it would be a mystery color, but I always figure mystery colors help me with my indecisiveness with choosing colors.  Besides, I painted this huge porch for under $50.00.  It would have cost a heck of a lot more with being super picky, choosing colors, and ordering it per gallon.  With the Oops! paint, I was able to get each gallon for $7.00 a piece.  I believe the prices have been raised again at our local hardware store, but it’s still worth it to buy Oops! paint.  Just don’t get crazy colors that will drive you mad, and you should be fine.

 

The last part of my project was replacing some seriously ugly light fixtures.  I had grand ideas for the light fixtures, but, in the end, I settled for some inexpensive lights for the ceiling due to having so many.  I found something that fit right to the ceiling and was less distracting than the previously installed lights.

I purchased an Amish porch swing at the end of the season.  I  stained, applied polyurethane, and then assembled it.  I found some hardware to hang it, and placed it near the front door where there is a view.  I debated the location because there are different areas the swing could hang.  I left enough room for it to swing without damaging my house.  I hung it two feet from the side of the house and left room in the front.  I may change the location at some point, but, for now, I like it.  As for the porch, I love it.  It made such a difference in the appearance of the outside of the house.  The amount of time put into it was well worth it.  No one use to comment on coming to the front door.  Now, everyone comments.  What a difference with the outside appearance!  If you have an outdoor porch project that you would like to share, please feel free to share it with me.

 

 

 

 

I was feeling creative and had this idea in my mind.  I wanted to create a pie with a brownie layer and cheesecake layer from scratch (no boxes), and came up with this idea.  Milk chocolate chips and dark chocolate chips would work as well.  This is a mildly sweet pie, so if you’re the kind of person who takes frosting off a cake, you’ll enjoy this.  If you hate making pie crusts, then purchase one frozen.  The pie isn’t a significant riser, so you’ll have enough room in a store bought pan.

I hope you enjoy!

Blackberry Brownie Cheesecake Pie

Prep time: 20 minutes

Servings: 6-8 (depending on cut)

1 pie crust for a 9 inch pie pan

Brownie Layer

2 TBSP salted butter

¼ c. semi sweet chocolate chips

¼ c. sugar

¼ c. flour

1 egg

¼ tsp vanilla

Cheesecake Layer

1 8 oz. package of cream cheese, softened

3 TBSP sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

Blackberry Topping

6 oz. of blackberries

2 tsp. cornstarch

1 tsp. sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Arrange pie crust into pie pan.

Brownie Layer

Place butter and chocolate chips into a microwave proof bowl. Microwave at 30 second intervals, and stir until completely melted.

Add sugar and flour to bowl. Mix with a fork. The mixture will be dry and thick. Add the egg and vanilla and blend by hand until a nice consistency.

Spread layer into pie crust.

Cheesecake Layer

Using a mixer, blend cream cheese with sugar.

Add egg and vanilla and mix until well blended.

Spread over the top of the brownie layer.

Blackberry Topping

Using a food processor or blender, process the blackberries until liquid.

Using a cheesecloth, strain blackberry seeds into a cup. You may have to rinse the cloth once or twice depending on the seeds. You should get approximately ½ cup of blackberry liquid.

In a small pan, add blackberry juice.

Whisk in cornstarch and sugar.

Heat on low to medium heat until thickened. This won’t take long, so keep whisking and watching.

Using a spoon, spoon the blackberry topping onto the cheesecake in rows.

Drag a knife through at horizontal and vertical intervals to add a marbling effect.

To prevent the pie crust from burning, cover it with aluminum foil or a pie crust shield after the first part of baking (20 minutes depending on your crust) when you see it starting to brown.

Bake pie for 45 to 50 minutes until slight browning is seen on cheesecake.

Serve with additional blackberries and whipped cream if desired.

collageofbath

My husband loves the reality television shows about Alaska.  He pointed out to me one day that a means of survival requires a dependence on the good will of neighbors.  Neighbors are essential and crucial to get repairs done or get help when you need it when you’re in the Alaskan frontier.  I’ve never been to Alaska, but, in theory, I think it would be great if we all used our skills and talents.  Bartering seems to be a thing of the past, yet seems so ideal were we all at a standpoint to survive.   Now, I know this wasn’t a matter of survival, but it was the Alaskan way of neighbors that struck me with this, and when someone says, “Hey, I need help…” actually having the abilities or talents to make a difference makes a person feel like there’s a real purpose in life even if it’s not that big.

I was contacted recently by a friend who needed a little assistance.  About a year ago, a bathroom project was started and was not completed.  With family coming for the holidays, having the bathroom finished was ideal.

Since my friend doesn’t have a fully stocked hardware store nearby, I picked up a bunch of items at my local hardware store and was fortunate to have the right things on hand.  I loaded up tools for the job with the hope I had everything I needed.

The toilet had not been put together or installed.  The vanity had been put together, but didn’t have a faucet installed.  The fixtures in the shower weren’t installed either.  I actually didn’t expect everything to take as long as it did, but I’m a slow perfectionist, and I wanted to make sure they had everything together.  I knew the friend wanted to learn too, and I struggled between wanting to teach and wanting her to have a running bathroom.  I know the latter was probably very important, and I only had a few hours to make it happen.

The friend had hand picked each and every thing in the bathroom, and it was SO CLOSE to done.  She worked with a budget and had a vision of the look she wanted.  She was able to keep the previous shower pan which was great.  I was amazed at her vision because, once everything was installed, it was easy to see how her ideas all pulled together in such a great way.

vanityshower

She had put together the vanity prior to my arrival.  When I arrived, the vanity was in the kitchen (beautiful pick, by the way), and we used a furniture pad to slide it to the bathroom.  This is a technique I use frequently due to spinal injuries.  It makes doing what you want to do so much easier.  It becomes challenging to move heavy items, and I love that I keep furniture pads on hand.  I can’t tell people enough what a difference it makes in my world, and they have come in handy so many times for items you wouldn’t expect.

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I installed the faucets she picked out and a toilet she had chosen.  I picked up a new kind of toilet seal (instead of the traditional wax seal) because I used it once in a problematic area, and it was spectacular.  It also allows you to reset the toilet if you need to do so.  Since I hadn’t initially seen how the tile was installed, buying this one item was worth the cost just in case there was a height adjustment with due to tile.  I knew it was something that would also permit the toilet to be reset if needed which is great if you are new to toilet installation.

The vanity needed a P-trap, and, for some odd reason, I actually had extra water lines at my house that worked in her vanity.  I still have no clue as to why I had so many, but there were two that were the perfect lengths.  I was fortunate that one of the P-traps I picked up fit perfectly, and the stars were aligned regarding the vanity and the plumbing.  Sometimes, a person buys a vanity, and the back has to be cut or a shelf has to be cut to fit the plumbing.  In this case, she decided to discard the flimsy back of the vanity and the shelving was perfect.

She wanted to do the caulking, and I gladly handed the task over to her.  I hate caulking.  It’s just something that I can’t stand doing, so I’m more than happy to have her do it.  We had to trouble shoot some of the shower problems because the attachments weren’t evenly sticking through the tile, and there was no give to make things even.  She went to the hardware store and found some longer screws to make it fit.  Another problem encountered was that things were missing from the packaged toilet to install the tank.  She found a replacement kit at the hardware store as well so the toilet could be completed.  I had purchased a universal water line for the toilet, and it worked with great success.  I figured the universal water line was a safe bet since I wasn’t sure what her measurements were and knew it would be adaptable.

In the end, I installed the toilet and the new vanity with the faucets and P-trap.  She finished up installing the handles today.  We both installed different pieces in the shower.  I think she did a great job in her selection of materials.  Once the vanity was installed, all the colors pulled together.  She was also very good with the spacial relations.  Although she might not feel like a handy person, something tells me she’s going to be installing some new plumbing soon.  She is permitting me to use her photos of our work, and I just wanted everyone to see her style.  I’m so happy that the bathroom they waited on for a year is finally finished.  I see they parked the toothbrushes on the vanity as of this morning!

 

Recently, I attended the wedding of two very special people:  Elena Humphreys and George Tabb.  Both bride and groom are creative artists in different realms, and, prior to the wedding, I knew I wanted to make something special for them that came from the heart.

When Elena announced she was looking for someone to take some fabric off her hands to reduce storage, I was more than thrilled to take her up on that offer.  My grandmother had a saying that stated, “Whoever dies with the most fabric wins!”  I was trying to beat my mother out, but I’m not sure what kind of reward this will entail when I hit the pavement.

Elena showed me these beautiful fabrics she designed.  Then, she pulled out these bags.  There was something exciting about them, but I wasn’t sure why.  She said, “These are antique grain bags.”  She described to me how they were mended and showed me how they were embroidered with initials so people knew which grain bag was their bag.  I was fascinated by the story, and I put them in a special place when I brought them home.

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When I received a wedding announcement, I knew immediately I had to make pillows from these bags.  Why?  Elena had told me that she thought the bags would make some really cool pillows and had me promise that I would make her pillows one day.  So, I did.  Knowing how much the details of these bags meant to her, it took me some time to figure out how I was going to make the pillows without changing the integrity of the original bag.

I knew I wanted to place zippers in the pillow covers in case the pillows ever had to be removed.  I ordered upholstery/slipcover zippers.  I also ordered down and feather pillows in the appropriate sizes (two inches larger than the intended size of the pillow cover).  I initially intended to make one red and one blue striped pillow.  To my surprise, when two of the pillows arrived, I realized the red striped bag was too narrow for the pillows I ordered.  That’s my own fault for assuming all things are created equal  Also, the red striped bag had an additional pieces of fabric attached to it that wasn’t going to work right with what I was creating. No problem. I ordered a narrow pillow to create something from the red striped grain bag.

First, the blue striped bag: I wanted to keep as much original stitching in place. I cut the bag in half. It was approximately two inches smaller in height and length than my pillows, but due to trying to get two pillows out of one bag, all sides were not equal.  I knew the fabric had give and that the pillows would work out despite the measurements not being a perfect 23″ by 23″.

After cutting the bag in half, there was a tie on one side and two open ends. I chose to sew the zipper in the end  that I cut to keep the original stitching in the other side. Once I installed the zipper, I put the bag top pieces side by side and stitched them together. You could do this with a basic zig zag stitch. This kept the original hand sewing visible along with the tie string.

On the bottom part of the bag, I had to pin in each side of the zipper. It was trickier because there wasn’t another open end. I basted each side of the zipper in and sewed it down. A heavy duty needle is a must for these bags because it’s like sewing through a canvas or denim fabric, and the layers make it needle breaking worthy.  If you’ve sewn enough, you know what I’m talking about.  There are needles specifically designed for denim.  If you have a needle for silk, you will lose it on this fabric.  Also, the fabric has a tendency to dull needles.

The narrow pillow required more creativity. I originally wanted to install a zipper, but the fabric wasn’t working with me. I had wanted to work it so I could have the red stripes running horizontally. All of these grain bags are different sizes, so giving dimensions, etc. isn’t really helpful to someone attempting this with any bag. This particular bag had pieces added to it. I removed the pieces that had been added onto the bag. I decided the bet method would be to overlap the pieces of fabric. I folded over edges with hems, and then overlapped them so I could fit the pillow into it. I reserved as much as I could from the bag as possible. I cut the tie piece off and attached it to the back with the original stitching still on it.

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From scrap pieces of the bag, I pulled threads out with a pin and created a loop with the same character as the tie to pull the tie through to close the pillow. I made a small edge around the pillow for decorative purposes and to give a good fit to the pillow. It’s a little more difficult to get the pillow in and out with this method, but it works when you have limited fabric to use or don’t have much knowledge of zipper installation.

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Based on measurements regarding the fabric I had available, I created a pillow cover that overlapped in the back.  I kept original mending because the flaws are what makes these bags so special.

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I cut the bag large enough for an edge to go around it.  The rule of thumb with the pillows – after you work out what you want to do with a feather and down pillow, make sure your pillow cover is approximately two inches shorter.  With the smaller pillow, I had to adjust it a bit for the particular pillow because that rule of thumb made the cover too tight.  Just give yourself some room to work with things and take your time measuring and thinking things out.  I’m an experienced seamstress, and the thought process of trying to get what I wanted out of this and making it happen took some time.  I even did things over because I didn’t like how something turned out.  Don’t rush it.  Just take your time.

I apologize for lack of detailed instructions regarding the making of the pillows, but, as I stated, the bags come in different sizes which can cause a person to have to get creative as far as creating a pillow out of them. Antique grain bags are a bit expensive, but there are fabrics created that replicate grain bags of the past that you could get the same look for a lower cost.  Also, you can use less expensive pillows. If you have any embroidery skills or a machine that embroiders, you could replicate an original grain bag look by putting initials on your creation.

And, if you’re wondering how the initial “P” holds up for the new bride and groom, I suppose you need to look them up.   ;)

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Elena and George – here’s to many years of happiness, new chapters in life, and a story that continues forever.

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I had the pleasure of being able to sample some of the most awesome hot and spicy mustard I’ve ever tried.  The variety of mustard El Diablo creates are good for just about anything you can think up!  As a creative cook, I was thrilled to try every single one of these.

El Diablo Mustards have what it takes to jack up the heat in so many of your dishes.  Add the Texas Chili on your hot dog to make it taste like a spicy chili dog.  Use the mango with your favorite chicken dish.  Add the Habanero to a Bloody Mary Mix.  How about some jalapeno in your dip right before you hit the couch for a football game?  There are so many things you can do with these mustards.  Some like it hot, and those who know how to dish it out will be thrilled to add El Diablo Mustards to your favorite dishes.

One lucky person will win the El Diablo Mustard variety pack.  With the winter season right around the corner, how many ways do you think you can use these in your dishes?  Let me know in the comments below!

To earn the most points for the giveaway, log into the entry below using either your email or facebook page! The more you do, the more entries you get.

There is one more thing:  SHOW EL DIABLO MUSTARD SOME LOVE!

We want you to hashtag El Diablo on Twitter and Facebook with  #mustardbitesback

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Good luck to all!

 

2292_50421772276_356_nDaughter, there’s so much to say from one woman to another,

There are things that you will just not understand until you are a mother,

I reflect back to the day you were born,

I was your age at most,

Struggling for survival,

Living on the coast,

I was on my own as a parent,

Growing up took place so fast,

There wasn’t time to play,

Or focus on the past,

I had two beautiful girls to love,

Responsibility was in tow,

No living life like 22 years,

Because I had to grow,

I have no regrets of decisions made,

But I know you think I do,

The best thing that ever happened to me,

was being a mom to Katie and you,

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I wish I could promise,

A smooth sailing life,

It doesn’t come from making tons of money,

Or being someone’s wife,

It won’t come from granting other’s wishes,

Or traveling the world,

It’s a roller coaster ride,

That sometimes will unfurl,

Live nightmares take place,

As well as sunny days,

Ups and downs will abound,

As wrinkles appear on your face,

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Life constantly changes,

No matter what you do,

And no matter where you go,

People will love you,

Because when you’re a mom,

Looking back on a day,

You wonder where time went,

Why your kids don’t stay,

Why they can’t feel all the love,

That’s pouring out in your heart,

Why they don’t know how deeply you feel,

About their lives having a great start,

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But some never know,

Thinking they are black sheep,

That love from your mom,

Has no boundary or favorite,

It’s unconditional love,

It’s so hard to explain,

When you see your child fall or hurt,

It causes such deep pain,

You want so much for them to have,

everything you didn’t,

You want them to conquer the world,

with everything within them,

My piece of advice to you today,

is that only you know you,

Others can try to lead the way,

But they don’t really know what you SHOULD do,

They aren’t in your head or in your mind,

You can expect them to understand,

That maybe the path that others take,

Isn’t in your life plan,

Maybe whatever they think is good,

Isn’t what’s good for you,

And the only way to make things right,

is to do what you need to do,

My only wish for you is that,

You love all that you do,

That you end up where you want to go

And enjoy being 22.

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Love you forever,

Mom


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I wrote this last month and wanted to wait to publish it.  There’s never a good time or enough said…or things that we all want to add later on…

I always thought it was unfortunate for women who didn’t get along with their mother-in-laws.  I was lucky.  My husband’s mother couldn’t have been happier to see her son get married.  In fact, when he asked me to marry him, he intended to get a preacher within three days after asking, go to the family home, and get married.  Not one for having a big wedding ceremony, that’s what he had in mind. To our surprise his mother and sister threw together a rather nice wedding within a three day period.   They called family friends, and we were stunned to find out we had guests coming to our last minute event.

We spoke almost daily.  My husband would often be perplexed at the amount of time we spent talking.  I had told him if we had been the same age in the same high school, we would have been great friends for life.  Despite our age difference, we were great friends.  I married into knowing her, but her friends from grade school kept in touch her entire life.

She loved to play bridge with her friends.  My husband often said she was so good at it that she didn’t have to think about it, but she never cared about winning.  She did it to socialize even though she was a born card player.

She always wanted a sister and never had one.  I always thought she related so well to women due to her want of a sister.  It was as though she became a sister to many.  Maybe that’s why God blessed her with a daughter who had a daughter, sons that had daughters, a great granddaughter, and a couple of grandsons who could bring more girls into the family.  Her life was inundated with females in the family.  At the same time, she loved being able to see her husband in her sons and cared so much for her grandsons that her face lit up talking about them.

Sue was a registered nurse.  She was proud of her accomplishments in the field, and I loved hearing the stories of nursing school back when she attended.  You weren’t allowed to be married.  You had to live there.  You went to church every morning.  There were no computerized mechanisms to check blood pressure or heart beats…you had to know how to do things without all the equipment out today, and she believed nurses today should still be taught the old school methods.  She roomed above a funeral home with other future nurses and said they had to be quiet when a funeral took place.  She talked about how she traded clothes with the other girls and how mad her mother became with her when she visited one day because one of her roommates walked out wearing her sweater.  It was her mother’s dream for her to become a nurse, but she ended up loving it and spoke fondly of her experiences with her nursing school comrades.

Sue was told she was the best looking girl in high school.  She was the best dressed.  She loved men, and they loved her.  One even became a doctor BECAUSE of her.  She was caught kissing another one and was told that if she wasn’t going to marry him, she shouldn’t be kissing him.

I use to tell her that she should write a book called, “The Many Loves of Sue.”  She said it would be quite a book..might have a mature rating on it.  That was her sense of humor.

She was raised in the church, singing in the choir, but she would let a curse word pass her lips and would do it in a way that could crack a person up.  Then she’d say, “How do you like that coming from an 85 year old woman?” with a grin on her face.  She told me about a time she was driving, stuck her middle finger out the window at a younger, obnoxious driver, and when the driver and his passenger saw how old she was, they broke out laughing…as did she.

It’s fortunate to have a life filled with people who care about you…a life full of people you loved and lost no matter how difficult it is to lose.

 

The other day, I caught myself wanting to pick up the phone to see how you were doing, but I knew you couldn’t talk to me.  Today, I got the phone call telling me you were gone.  I’m glad the suffering has ended, but I’m sad you were taken from our lives.  I look at my daughters, and I see your love of animals in their lives, a build like yours, hair like yours, and a sense of humor with a firecracker personality along with a love of being social.  They love their daddy like you loved yours, and, now, they both get to be with their father as do you.  I’ll never forget this summer…when Kylie drew a picture of Blaze and Dot for you, and you had to have it hanging perfectly to view it.  If a nurse knocked it down, you wanted it fixed to be perfectly straight and centered.  I laughed when you called a doctor, “Dr. Cutie Pie.”  His face flushed so red, but he was smiling the rest of the day.  You greeted the nurses with, “Hello, Beautiful,” and when I greeted you with that greeting, we went back and forth trying to one up each other with the compliments until someone stopped from laughing.  Most of all, I’m glad we were able to say goodbye to you…even though I still can’t seem to convince myself that it’s all real.  

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo, I bugged  out with an easy dessert using a recipe from Taste of Home’s September/October issue!  The recipe is called Frosted Pistachio Bars.  They kind of taste like a cookie/cake combination…but more like a soft cookie than anything.  I can see a lot of variations could be done with this bar, but here’s one I came up with for Halloween.  Then again, my kids (who aren’t THAT young) loved this, so maybe it’s good for crazy kids who like candy bugs and slugs on their food.

The dessert is so easy to make, and the fun part is finding new ways to decorate it.

I created the bugs and slugs using a variety of candies.  Tootsie Roll assortments are great because you can use the different colored Tootsie Rolls and form them into things like snails, meal worms, and inch worms.  I rolled the Tootsie Rolls in my hands to shape them and marked them with little marks to make them look more worm-like (you can use a knife just to make little cuts into the candy).  For the snails, I rolled out two different colors, twisted them together, rolled a shell, and let one of the Tootsie Rolls extend further for the snail’s head.  I formed two antennae for the top.

I used Rips candy for centipede legs.  I separated a bit on each side of the Rips.  Then, I put a little leftover frosting from the bowl onto the Rips and stuck them to Trolli Sour Brite Crawlers.  I also used Rips for some antennae on mini Mars candy bars.  Somehow, the Twix disappeared from the bag before I could use them…hmmmm…OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

For the colorful spiders, I cut up colored Twizzlers and placed Dots candy on the top.  I used Twizzlers for most of the legs.  Rips also came into play for some legs. Twizzlers were great to hold up my M&M’s to make more little bugs.  Whoppers and M&M’s also gave me some great bugs lying in the frosting.  Milk Duds made nice little bugs in the rug of the frosting.  I applied strips of Twizzlers over the top of the Milk Duds because they looked like a pet rock of sorts without anything added to them except eyes.

I sliced some Dots in half and cut pieces for a middle contrast.  They stuck together easily, so they were simply made crawling creatures.

The eyes and legs of some of the bugs were applied using an assortment of Cake Mate writing gels.  You could always make a small amount of frosting and color it to do the same, but it won’t take much to apply eyes and legs.

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There you have it…bugs and slugs.  They taste relatively good too.  I’m surprised the Whoppers made it considering they are one of my favorite, but I held back for the sake of art.

If you have any pictures you’d like to share of your project, send them to me via my facebook page!  Let your imagination run wild!

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