Thursday, October 31, 2013

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Go Back to What You Know

I was talking with a wise friend. She was telling me a story of when her adult child was going through a really rough time. She advised him simply: "Go back to what you know". Back to his foundation, his faith, his family.

I think this is beautiful advice, and as I reflect on this past month of blogging, I think this is apropos to a blog, especially this blog.

In many things that I do, I find myself in an "all or nothing" mode. But that's not good for me. It's not good for me with diet, with exercise, with work, with DIY projects, with household chores, with activities. And so I reflect on that advice "go back to what you know". Moderation in all areas of my life is key for me because it's what I "know" works, and this 31 day challenge just brought that fact home.

My blog posts do not have to be full of DIY how-tos, nor do they need to each be 700 words long. A few words, links, pictures can be okay. I enjoy blogging, I enjoy talking about DIY and decorating, and I enjoy coming up with tips, tricks, shortcuts and a few how-tos.

To go back to what I know, I simply need one word: moderation. I am grateful for the Nester providing this 31 day challenge. When it is completed, I will have missed a couple of days. That is okay. It has pushed me and challenged me to keep going.

What do you know...  Nicole

I'm participating in Nester's 31 day seriesClick here to access the index of gratitude posts.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

It's the Little Things

Little things mean a lot. Especially in the home improvement/DIY realm. In my kitchen, the grout had disintegrated between the tile and the laminate counter top. It just looked dirty.

A little bit of caulk goes a long way, though!

While I don't consider myself a caulking expert, here are a couple of my tips:
  • make the hole in the caulking cartridge smaller than you think necessary because you can always make it bigger, but it's impossible to make smaller
  • once you start with a bead of caulk, keep going
  • your finger and some water does a great job at smoothing out the bead
  • have some heavy duty paper towels or rags to wipe your finger on and to wipe up the excess caulk
I also laid down a back splash in the bathroom with a limestone and glass mosaic. I bought 2 sheets of tile for less than $20. I tried to get the vertical seam to be, well, seamless. I see a lot of applications where the seam is a little bit wider and you can tell right where the sheets stop and start. Even with my efforts, it is not perfect, but I think the center seam looks pretty good.

I used a pre-mixed adhesive & grout compound. I also used a dish scraper to lay down the adhesive/grout and then went back over it with a grout type of comb to give the mix some ridges. I then taped it into place with painters tape while it set up.

After the adhesive dried according to package directions, I grouted it using the same little dish scraper and a sponge to wipe up the extra grout. (And in this picture my hands look just like my mom's hands).

Neither project took very long to do, but went a long way towards making things look more finished.

I am grateful for so many of the little things in my life, especially in the DIY world.

What are the little things in your life?  Nicole

I'm participating in Nester's 31 day seriesClick here to access the index of gratitude posts.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Behold, the Front Porch

The front porch is one of my favorite parts of the house. It is both open to the neighborhood, but gives the illusion of some privacy. During the summer, it houses a couple of wicker chairs and a fern.

When we first moved in, the porch was a glassed-in three seasons-type of porch with a strange striped indoor/outdoor carpeting (wish I had pictures of that!) We removed the glass and the frame and painted it nearly twelve years ago. And, we haven't done much since.

The ceiling and the railing were starting to chip, so, before my son's graduation party, we scraped the ceiling and the railing and used some Citristrip on the railing as well. Then we sanded it smooth.

We primed it and painted the railing and the ceiling with Fawn Brindle from Sherwin Williams' Resilience line.

The porch ceiling is bead board, and my first thought was to paint it the lovely pale blue that you see on many porches. In the end, I simply ran out of time and painted it the same Fawn Brindle color as the railing.
My son scraped the ceiling and my daughter helped me cut in along the edges and in between the boards.

I find myself grateful for help on home improvement projects, that my children are at an age where they are so helpful, and that my front porch is both open and a refuge for reading a good book or the Saturday morning paper.

I'm participating in Nester's 31 day seriesClick here to access the index of gratitude posts.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Tasty Appetizer - Bow Tie Pasta Stacks

We had our nearly-annual block party recently. We did a potluck-style gathering and featured soups, appetizers and s'mores along with homemade hot cocoa (with a little peppermint schnapps for the adults).

In addition to a tasty vegetable-beef soup, my daughter and I made these adorable and tasty bow-tie pasta appetizers. I chopped the cheese and vegetables, and my daughter assembled the tiny pieces for a back breaking amount of time (these are her words and descriptions :)

I bought these adorable striped, bow-tie pasta on our recent day trip to Galena, IL.

Here is the recipe:

Bow Tie Pasta Stacks
1 package of bow tie pasta,prepared according to the package instructions
1 pound of good quality Mozzarella cheese, cut into approximately 1" X 1" by 1/4" slices)
1 red pepper, cut into 1" pieces
1 can or jar of black olives (you will probably not need all of these)
Sweet, Italian dressing (or your favorite Italian-type dressing)

I cooked the pasta, rinsed it in cool water and let it marinate for a few hours in the dressing. I also let the cheese, peppers and olives marinate as well. Then my daughter back-breakingly assembled the ingredients and placed it into a glass pan. We poured the marinating liquid over the stacks and covered the pan in plastic wrap.

These made a beautiful presentation and went over well!

In the sprit of my 31 days of gratitude posts, I am grateful for wonderful neighbors and grateful for delicious food.

I'm participating in Nester's 31 day series. Click here to access the index of gratitude posts.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Kitchen Thoughts

I've surprised myself this fall by cooking a lot more meals at home than I have in the past. I tend to want every meal that I cook at home to be super healthy. In my desires to cook super healthy meals, I find myself balking at all of the work it will take to chop the veggies or make my own salad dressing. Instead, this fall I've relaxed a little bit and opted to make meals that are fairly healthy.

I think letting go of my expectations on what a home-cooked meal should be has helped me cook more. I've lost 7 or 8 pounds, but more impressively, I no longer crave sweets and I have more energy. Hmmm...

My thoughts about cooking naturally lead me to the place where I prepare meals which, of course, leads to thoughts about a slight kitchen remodel (okay, it's removing a main support wall to open up the kitchen and the dining room, but that's just a minor technicality).

The kitchen is 10 X 13, has 3 doors and 2 windows. The door on the right swings into the dining room and the refrigerator impedes traffic a little.

One thought is to reconfigure the cabinets at the bottom of the picture and move the fridge to that wall. This would open up the right wall for pantry-like shelves. 

I would loose a little counter space, but the storage that I could gain from a wall of shelves would be enormous. This should also cost less than $100. It would help with traffic flow. This will probably be a project for this winter.

My ideal remodel, though, involves removing that right wall which is load bearing and has hvac running through it. I would also center the back door on the left wall. This should give me a nice galley style kitchen that is open to the dining room. I like my cabinets and would just reconfigure them to get this new arrangement.

In the spirit of gratitude, I am thankful for the kitchen that I do have and that I am able to feed my family. I am also thankful for new insights and for the ability to dream.

It's hard to believe that there are only a few days left in in Nester's 31 day seriesClick here to access the index of gratitude posts.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

There's a new kid in town

There's a new kid in town and her name is T.J. Maxx. And, yes, I was in the throng of people waiting 40 minutes to checkout. I bought bed pillows, a couple of sweaters and these decorative gold sparkly pillows for my couch.

I love these. They add the perfect touch of glam for fall and will take me into the Christmas season. I think I was even more impressed by the light mood that all of the employees helped keep in the store. The store was really busy, yet they kept smiling and being pleasant.

I've decided I may need to add a line item in the budget for T.J. Maxx until the novelty wears off. I'm not even being paid to say that...

How have you glammed things up for the fall? Nicole

I'm participating in Nester's 31 day seriesClick here to access the index of gratitude posts.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

HGTV's Defend the Trend

I just ran into this hilarious blog on HGTV called Defend the Trend. It looks at various trends and debates if a particular trend is still viable or on its way out. There are posts about the use of barn doors inside, floral patterns, chevron patterns, tree stumps, mustaches on everything, and mason jars.

I'll just throw in my 2 cents...

Barn Doors: These are okay in the right application. I've only seen these online, not in new houses around my area.

Floral Patterns: Get rid of the 80s chintz and many other things are okay. I love my floral patterned china still.

Chevron Patterns: I like this in temporary applications - no tile back splashes! I also like when the two colors are subtle like a light gray and a white. I also agree that herringbone is a more classic pattern as the debate suggested. However, I still don't have either pattern in my home.

Tree Stumps: I still think they look neat in home decor, but probably not my style. I think it will look really dated in 10 years.

Mustaches: I thought these were cute when they first came out and showed up on straws or cupcakes. Pillows? Too much.

Mason Jars: I love mason jars for storage because they keep things air tight. I also enjoy drinking out of a mason jar - lots of good memories with mason jars.

What trends are you still loving and what trends are on their way out?  Nicole

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Give Thanks

In keeping with the fall holidays and with the topic of this 31 day challenge, I decided to try my hand at creating my first printable.

To download, click on the picture. From there, right click and choose Copy Image. Proceed by pasting it into a document and printing. (When I use Microsoft Word, I make the margins narrow to accommodate a larger picture). This should fit into an 8.5 X 11 document frame. Or you can cut off the white edges and place it into an 8 X 10 frame.

Giving thanks... Nicole
I'm participating in Nester's 31 day seriesClick here to access the index of gratitude posts.

Monday, October 21, 2013

A little organizing

Our basement is partially finished, and the road to finishing it completely seems never ending. But, I still have books, movies, CDs, games, spray paint that needs organized. I am an avid reader, and while I try to get many books from the library, I have amassed quite a collection. I also seem to have quite the collection of exercise VHS and DVDs. Ahem.

We got water in our basement once - when we got 14 inches of rain overnight. Even though it is dry, that one time was enough and now I want to keep as much off of the floor as possible.

Lowe's to the rescue (and I'm not getting paid to say that!) They have 8' X 1" X 12" boards designated for shelf use. These are just simple pine boards. I got two of these cut and placed them on either side of our TV stand. I attached them with inexpensive brackets. I believe each  bracket cost around $1 while the 8' boards were $11 a piece.

In another part of the basement, I did the same thing. With the spray paint so easily visible, I was able to finish up a couple of projects and got rid of 7 or 8 cans of spray paint. You know you have a spray paint problem when you count nearly 30 cans and know that you have a use for each and everyone...
As I close this post, I am grateful for an organized space and know that I have quite a few more spots that need organized.
Happy organizing! Nicole
I'm participating in Nester's 31 day series. Click here to access the index of gratitude posts.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Thinking About Thanksgiving

The other day, I pinned some Thanksgiving table decoration ideas. I've never decorated for Thanksgiving specifically. Instead, I tend to make my Halloween decorations so that they are mostly fall-themed and will last until I pull out the Christmas decorations.

I found a couple of inspirations.

I like this first one (from Midwest Living) because it provides a little bit of glam with the mirror and the candles and a little bit of nature with the oranges, pine cones and pine boughs. This could transition into winter or Christmas, too.

 This next one (also from Midwest Living) uses apothecary jars to display ribbon, coffee beans and nuts. I like the architectural structure and the classiness that the jars provide, while the contents provide texture and the ribbons provide a bit of sheen.

This last one (from Southern Living) doesn't go theme-y. Instead, they have added pears to the table and branches to the buffet. I love the elegance and light, airiness of the room. I also like the symmetry of the pictures around the large mirror as well as the 2 ginger jars around the vase.

I love the 3rd picture, but that style does not really fit my bungalow house; instead, I am thinking about a combination of the first two and then transitioning that to Christmas decorations.

Do you decorate specifically for Thanksgiving?  Nicole

P.S. I went to work on my chalk painted chairs, and scratched the paint off of the arms. So, I need to sand and do the prep work like normal. The chair arms and legs had a fairly glossy finish, and I was trying to take the shortcut way out...

I'm participating in Nester's 31 day seriesClick here to access the index of gratitude posts.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

FREE Floor plan software

I've found a free, wonderful on-line tool from (and no, I am not being compensated to say this - I just think it's lots of fun). This tool allows you to create a floor plan and add in furniture, light fixtures, doors, windows, rugs, plants, etc.

I had my room like this for awhile after we refinished our hardwood floors. I didn't love this arrangement, but with heat vents and windows and doors, the piano only has a few places where it fits. The bottom step in our stair case actually protrudes enough that I can't fit the piano up against the stairs.

So I went back to my favorite arrangement for the couch. I like this one because our ceiling fan and couch are centered and I just like that symmetry. I also think this flows just a little better and looks more open.

The nice thing with this software, is that you can see how different pieces or sizes of furniture work in your room (and this might help to save some money down the road). 

I am grateful that companies provide free software like this for the average DIYer. And of course, they offer upgrades for people who have more sophisticated needs.

Have a great weekend! I hope to finish up my homemade chalk paint chairs and do a little cleaning and organizing..  Nicole

I'm participating in Nester's 31 day seriesClick here to access the index of gratitude posts.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Grateful for Gatherings of Family & Friends

I am grateful for gatherings of family & friends. I love the fellowship from such gatherings - visiting, catching up, celebrating.

One other thing that I am grateful for with these gatherings is that it provides the impetus for finishing up those tedious home improvement projects. Take this vent in the kitchen, for example. As part of a remodel on the room on the other side of the wall, we pulled out the old vent and replaced it with this smaller one. And this, of course, left a big gaping hole in the wall.
And it sat like that for about 15 years (hanging head sheepishly now). It was always hidden by a table or a cabinet.
Thankfully, my son's high school graduation provided that motivation to finally work on this project!
This was simple beadboard paneling that I lightly sanded, wiped with liquid sander, primed and painted. We also added a chair rail, caulked the gap between the beadboard and the baseboard, and touched up the paint over the caulk and nail marks.
This looks so much better than the gaping hole. Do you find that company provides the motivation to finish some home improvement projects?
I'm participating in Nester's 31 day series. Click here to access the index of gratitude posts.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Grateful for... Chalk paint?

Today, I note how grateful I am for decorating and DIY blogs. It's opened my eyes to the incredible talent and incredible kindness in the blog world - people freely share, compliment and offer kind but constructive critiques. Plus, they do it all so beautifully.

One of the blog projects that has peaked my interest is a DIY chalk paint recipe. I decided that I had the perfect chairs from Goodwill because if this doesn't work, I think they would look great with a Ballards-inspired slipcover. On blogs, I usually see wood furniture that is painted, but I happened to stumbled across chalk paint on fabric.  I also found this video of Ms. Annie Sloan herself painting fabric with her chalk paint. Now, I must note that I have never used Annie's chalk paint, nor have I used any other brand. Instead, I found this recipe from Twice Lovely. Since I have never used the original before, I do not know if this works the same or not. I also do not know how durable it will be, but promise to report back both the finished project and how it lasts after a couple of months.

Here are the before and in-progress shots:

1. The Goodwill chair in all her 90's forest green, burgundy, navy and gold glory.
2. The x-bottom base is what really captured my eye.
3. After the first coat of paint has been placed on the wood.
4. 2 coats of paint on the wood, 1 coat on the fabric.

This little jar of paint went really far. Now I just need to lightly sand and do one more coat on the arms and at least 2 on the fabric. I will also use a little bit of wax on both the wood and the fabric.

Diane from In My Own Style tested out several different recipes that you may want to check out as well.

Here is my recipe:

Have you used chalk paint? What do you think of it?  Nicole

I'm participating in Nester's 31 day seriesClick here to access the index of gratitude posts.

Monday, October 14, 2013

The extraordinary in the ordinary

As I stop and reflect on today and what I am grateful for, I must say that I am grateful for feeling under the weather. I had the headache-body ache-exhausted thing start up at work today and I came home early. I took a nap and read a book for the afternoon and evening. I sometimes think our body just says "slow down, but if you won't, I will make you". I had to just rest and recharge.

I am also thankful for my oldest son who made a short trip home from college this evening. His professor just defended his dissertation, so my son made him a cake to share in class tomorrow. He is such a thoughtful young man.

My middle son complimented my homemade chicken noodle soup because we had the chicken noodle soup mix and noted that "mom's is a lot better". That was unsolicited, folks!

My daughter tried to teach me a dance to some thun, thun song - I wasn't quite up for that, but it was quite an enjoyable moment.

Really, though, I think that being grateful for the everyday things lets me see the extraordinary in the ordinary.

What are you grateful for today? Nicole

I'm participating in Nester's 31 day series. Click here to access the index of gratitude posts.

Sunday, October 13, 2013


I am so grateful for a recent day trip to Galena, Illinois. The sun was shining and the sky was a bright blue with nary a cloud in sight. But the best part was seeing my good friend and her daughters. It was a girl's day where we got to indulge in shopping, gourmet food, antiques, chocolate and wine (purchasing, not drinking).

Galena bills itself as the Midwest's Premier Destination Getaway. It has also been recognized by Smithsonian Magazine, Conde Nast Traveler, Fodor's and Forbes' Magazine. It is a quaint town that has done a remarkable job with preserving its historical architecture. Ulysses S. Grant had a home there, and it is currently open for tours. There are many boutique-type of stores for clothing, food and home decor.

According to the Galena Historical Society's website, 85% of the buildings are on the National Register of Historical Places.


The city and shop owners have done a tremendous job at preserving many of the original characterstics, including mosaic entry ways:

an original cobblestone street:
and historical houses and buildings:

The shop owners are engaging and friendly. We bought wine at the Galena Cellars Winery, gourmet pasta at Pasta Perfetta, candy at Galena's Kandy Kitchen, buffalo-ranch flavored popcorn at the Great American Popcorn Co. My daughter and I have visited the All Things Sweet cupcake shop before, but we didn't get there this time.

And in writing this round up, I realized that I only bought food items.  Hmmm.  We looked at home decorating, clothing and jewelry stores, too, but just didn't buy anything. One thing that caught my eye was these two wire planters that were fastened together to form a globe. Naturally, I thought I can DIY that! I think it would be fun as an outside decoration, and I am keeping it in my files (or brain) until next year.

What's your favorite out of town day trip spot? Nicole

I'm participating in Nester's 31 day series. Click here to access the index of gratitude posts.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

State fairs and chili snack mix

You gotta love state fairs. The sites, sounds, smells and atmosphere make them a must-see. At the 2012 Iowa State Fair, this chili snack mix won the award for the best overall snack mix.
This chili-snack mix is an outstanding combination of salty, sweet and spicy, but not too salty, sweet and spicy. It gets rave reviews whenever I take it somewhere. Enjoy this for your next tailgate or football viewing party.

I like to print a sign to put near the snack mix so people aren't surprised when they bite into it. Feel free to print this sign if you wish.

2012 Iowa State Fair Chili Snack Mix (my version)

1 package (16 oz) corn chips
1 package Cheez-its
1 package crunchy Cheetos
1 can nuts
1 Cup (2 sticks) butter
½  Cup packed brown sugar
1 Tablespoon Garlic Powder
1 ½  Tablespoon Chili Powder
½  teaspoon baking soda

In a large bowl, combine chips, nuts, pretzels, and crackers.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, bring butter, brown sugar, garlic powder, and chili powder to a boil. Remove butter mixture from heat. Stir in baking soda. Pour over snack mixture and toss to coat.

Transfer spiced snack mixture to 2 greased (jelly roll type) baking sheets. Bake at 350F for 10-12 min, or until lightly toasted. Allow snack mix to cool completely before storing in an airtight container.

The first time I made this, I bought name brand stuff. After that, I bought  Aldi’s brand of each item and saved a significant amount of money.

Click here for the original version

Friday, October 11, 2013


I love fall for many reasons. I am always excited by the return of Starbuck's Pumpkin Spice Latte and relish that first one! I also love to see all of the great ways that people decorate with pumpkins as well as how they decorate pumpkins.

My pumpkin decorating was pretty simple this year:

My favorite pumpkin is in the middle picture - it was a pewter colored candle holder that I simply spray painted with gold paint and was part of my white and gold fall living room decorations.

I am also amazed at how some bloggers decorate pumpkins. They have some serious skills and creative ideas!! One of my many favorites was the Sharpie pumpkins at Boxy Colonial. She wrote the words to the Raven on a pumpkin using the humble Sharpie. I am also to participate in and see all of the pumpkins linked up at Primitive & Proper.

I also enjoy pumpkin desserts. Before I started blogging, I made the Pumpkin Roll that was on the back of the Libby's can. It went over so well because it is impressive looking and delicious.

Here are links to a few pumpkin desserts:

I know that I have expressed my gratitude for fall before, but I love pumpkins for decorating and eating. I also love the connecting that I made with the growers at our Farmer's Market. I have fond memories of trying to carve pumpkins in college and with my kids. I also remember trying to roast pumpkin seeds. Some were attempts with pumpkins were epic failures (like trying to carve a pumpkin with a steak knife - just don't!).

What' your favorite thing to do with pumpkins?

I'm participating in Nester's 31 day series. Click here to access the index of gratitude posts.


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