Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Husband of the Year

It’s official.  Close the voting.  My husband has already locked up Husband of the Year. 
When I originally came up with the bathroom design I didn’t know exactly how we were going to accomplish all of it because a lot of it was uncharted materials for us but we usually figure it out as we go.  One of the aspects of the design called for a wood paneled tub apron.  I know, I know.  Wood in a wet room?  Mama wants a wood paneled tub apron, mama gets a wood paneled tub apron.
I priced out wood paneled aprons at a few places and they topped $1K.  1) Not in my budget and 2) the style/color of the panels wouldn’t be custom to match the vanity we already had.  I’m not spending that kind of money for something that probably wouldn’t match.  Back to the drawing board.
My non-carpenter husband casually mentioned on Saturday that he was going to go to the lumber yard to see about building the apron himself.  Now he is the most talented DIY guy I know but carpentry is an art that even he’ll admit it wasn’t one of his top talents.  I wished him well but knew in my head that this was going to turn out very badly.  There would be a lot of long afternoons spent in the garage.  There would surely be a lot of colorful language.  We’d end up spending lots of money in materials and we would have decided after the fact that it would have been cheaper/easier to DIY.
He returned from the lumbar yard with all his materials, excited about the project.  I nod, smile and wish him well.  We bathe the boys and put everyone to bed and I decide to call it a night as well.  He then retreats to the garage to build me a tub apron.  He did it!  True wood paneled, tongue and groove style.  Seriously the thing is a work of art.  Now to get the correct stain formula to match the vanity... 
He worked all night long, so as to not take away from his weekend time with the family, finally climbing into bed at 4:58 AM.  The first of the kids woke up 52 minutes later and he got up with them without a single complaint.  He then took 2 out of 3 of them to church that morning, took them to the park in the afternoon and made dinner…and have you seen him in a tool belt?  I digress…
Seriously Sean, stop, you’re making me look bad.  Well maybe 5 more minutes...



Saturday, March 24, 2012

P S A: Citronella Torch Oil & Kids

We break from our regularly scheduled programing to bring you this very important public service announcement on a common household poison.  Citronella fuel oil poisoning and kids. 

Two years ago this spring my family was out enjoying the first nice, spring day of the year.  We had spent the day dragging our patio furniture out of winter hibernation and were getting ready to head to a BBQ.  In the blink of an eye our son Matthew, 21 months old at the time, climbed up on patio chair, reached for a decorative citronella fuel oil lantern we had on the table and brought it up to his face.  We’re not sure if he thought it was a toy ball or a sippy cup or what he was trying to do with it but the oil spilled all over his face.  He immediately began coughing. 
Unsure of what to do we called my physician father who told us to immediately head to the ER.  My husband rushed him to Bryn Mawr Hospital while I stayed back with our then 4 week old son, pacing nervously.  Sean called me a little while later and said they were going to transport him via ambulance to the ICU at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and that I needed to get there.  I remember him sounding so matter of fact on the phone, almost robot-like, probably due to shock.  I began running around the house trying to get things I’d need.  His stuffed doggy would make him feel better.
I had to take my newborn son to a friend’s house because I didn’t want him around the germs of a hospital.  Her house is 2 miles away and I’d been there many times before but I was in such a haze that I kept getting lost.  It felt like a bad dream I couldn’t wake up from.
I arrived at the Emergency Room to find a swarm of people around my baby.  He sat on Sean’s lap with IV’s, crying.  After some debate between the doctors at Bryn Mawr and CHOP the decision was made to put him under and intubate before transport.  Seeing that procedure performed is something I never want to experience again.  We sang Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star to keep him calm and then he was unconscious.  Just hours prior he was running around our deck while we listened to the Phillies on the radio and now he was laying unconscious in a hospital bed.
CHOP sent an ambulance, a doctor and a nurse to pick us up.  I rode with them.  It was surreal.  My baby was unconscious in the back of an ambulance.  Please God, not my baby.
He was brought into the ICU, a flurry of activity around him.  I stood off to the side while they worked on him.  Eventually the team dissipated and I was left holding my baby’s hand.  Unconscious, looking like he was napping like I’d watched him do a hundred times before.  Except this time there were tubes coming out of his nose.  Machines helping him to breathe.  Wearing nothing but a diaper so they could easily work on him.  A kind nurse made sure that his stuffed doggy was always sitting on his shoulder, right next to his face.
They had to keep administering drugs to keep him from waking up in a panic and vomiting the chemical.  We got used to the hourly chest x-ray’s.  We became too versed in the ability to spot the haze of the chemical in his lungs on the x-rays.  We watched his stats on the machines, praying the numbers wouldn’t go down.  We’d listen and ask questions to the team of doctors that would come around and talk to us like we were in a Grey’s Anatomy episode.  They said they were confident he would be fine but he had to remain sedated and intubated for a few days because with citronella poisoning the child can look fine initially but their health could decline in a matter of hours.  It was a painful waiting game.
We didn’t sleep, we didn’t eat.  Sunday came and went.  Monday came and went.  No real improvement on his x-rays but thankfully he wasn’t getting worse which was a positive sign.  Finally on Tuesday it was decided it was probably safe to wake him up.  The first thing he asked for with his scratchy voice was his ‘binky.’  Our baby was back.
By this point we started taking turns giving each other breaks.  We acted so strong in the bubble of the ICU but after those elevator doors opened and dumped us out into the fresh spring air, seeing life go on around us with the bustle of activity in the city, reality sunk in.  We weren’t dreaming.  Our lives were almost destroyed but miracle of miracles, we got our baby back.  
By Thursday his lungs were clear and we were free to take him home.  Those days in the hospital felt like both an eternity and a flash at the same time but we were finally home.  Matthew is almost four now.  He has made a full recovery with no residual damage.  He is a miracle. 
This story is always difficult for me to tell but one I believe needs to be told in order to prevent this from happening to another family.  The director of poison control at CHOP told us Matthew was the first of many cases of citronella fuel oil poisoning they would see that season.  Why had I never heard of this before?  We had child locks, gates, locked up the cleaning products, locked up the medicines.  I consider us good parents.  I’ve heard it so many times before and it is true, it can happen to anyone and it can happen in an instant.
Through all this I was given the gift of perspective.  It sounds so simple.  A healthy little boy and the perspective to enjoy him, his brothers and our life together.  It has changed the way I parent, changed the way I react and changed the way I live.  2 year old tantrums?  Whatever.  4 year old whininess?  Bring it.  I was blessed with 3 healthy, happy, energetic little boys and I couldn’t be luckier.  So hug your babies close and enjoy every miraculous minute.
Some technical information on the dangers of citronella oil:
Citronella fuel oil is one of the most dangerous household chemicals you can have in your home.  I'm just a parent, not a doctor so I can't get into the specifics about which ingredient(s) is the culprit but my main goal is to spread the word that this common household substance can be extremely dangerous.   Torch lamp fuels are often packaged in containers that resemble plastic apple juice bottles yet can be very toxic if ingested or inhaled, causing severe lung injury and even death.   When aspirated into the lungs, citronella fuel oil coats delicate tissues with toxic vapors, causes chemical pneumonia, and can trigger fatal pulmonary arrest.  We all know to keep the bottle the oil comes in out of reach of children but many homes have tiki torches or table lanterns containing the oil that are accessible to kids.   Toddlers are notorious for climbing and pulling up on things.  They can pull a tiki torch down, splashing the oil on their face or grab lanterns full of oil that looks like apple juice on patio tables (just as dangerous unlit).  Keep these items stored when not in use and keep a close eye on kids when they are out. 

Please pass this story along to anyone who may benefit from this information.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

When in Rome...No Sew Roman Shades

The kitchen renovation left me with 2 new windows to dress.  I love the look of roman shades but not the price.  I came across a few 'no-sew' roman shade tutorials on my ultimate time waster, pinterest.com.  I thought it sounded too good to be true but since the sites promised it wouldn't cost me more than $10 I figured I had nothing to lose (...er $10 to lose) so I gave it a shot.  I was pleasantly surprised when it worked!  Below are my adapted instructions from various sites including The Little Green Notebook.

Tape measure
Fabric glue
Mini blinds (the cheapest ones you can find to fit your window)
Fabric (yardage depends on the size of your window) - I'd recommend an irregular pattern in case you don't like to use a level like me.  If you're using stripes there won't be much room for error.

Measure your window and determine how many folds you need.  I don't think there is a right or wrong answer here.  I went with 6.

Lay your blinds on the floor fully extended. Carefully cut away all of the thin, ladder-like strings.  Do not cut the lift cord (the thicker cord). 

 Trash the strings.

Remove the plastic plugs from the bottom of the blinds and set the bottom slat for later. Remove all of the slats leaving only enough slats for your folds (I kept 6 slats for my 6 folds).

Reinstall the bottom slat so that the length of your window and the fully extended shade are about the same size (it doesn't have to be perfect).

Cut your fabric a few inches larger than your fully extended shades on all sides. 

At the top of the mini blinds fold the top edge of the fabric over and iron a crease to make a crisp edge.  Then glue that to the top rail leaving the ends open so that you can slip the rail into the brackets during installation.

Place your slats at even increments where your folds will be.  Fold over and iron a crease into the sides of the fabric.  Glue the slats to the inside of creased fabric folds.

Wrap the bottom like a present and glue.

Let your assistant take a snooze while you wait an hour or so for the blinds to dry.

 Install using the standard mini blind instructions.

Voila! Roman shades for a few bucks! In hindsight I would have splurged for thicker fabric but that's the beauty of DIY on a budget...you aren't married to it and can change it on a whim!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


When we first moved in the 1st floor powder room had an over sized sink vanity, bright yellow walls, a slate floor and a too short toilet (coming from someone who is barely 5' tall). 

My husband decided that demoing this room the day I went into labor with our first child was a good idea. He actually hit a water pipe with a nail not too long before it was time to go to the hospital.  He gave a whole new meaning to 'my water broke.'
We replaced the slate floor with a ceramic tile, swapped the over sized vanity with a pedestal, added a bead board wainscoting, updated the trim and painted the room blue...then brown...then stripes.  Hi my name is Meghan and I'm a paint addict.
After seeing some striped rooms on pinterest I decided to give it a shot with some left over white paint from our fireplace built ins. 

Total cost of adding stripes using leftover paint?  Zero dolla.  Holla.
I think I may be the only one on the planet who actually likes it and I'm sure I'll tire of it in about a week, but hey, paint is cheap so I'll just paint it for a forth time!
While my husband was demoing the room and I was in labor I decided to do some walking/shopping at my favorite store, HomeGoods, to keep the labor moving (seriously what is wrong with us?). I found a mirror that was a little boring but the price was right so I bought it and a couple years later sprayed it with a $3 can of spray paint. Again I'm sure I'll hate it in about 5 minutes but then I'll just respray it.


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Another sneak peek

Finally after a couple of days of trying we were able to get our roman tub filler in (literally in, not hooked up). Don't make the same mistake we made if you're ever installing an under mount tub. Check out the length of your faucet (the valve stem for plumbing aficionados) to ensure it'll clear the entire tub deck (taking into account the thickness of plywood, backer board, thin set and your stone material). We did not and it meant hours of my husband removing a portion of the undermount frame from a tiny crawl space after the kids were put to bed. He was thrilled. 
So here is the tub faucet. We were able to buy brand new high end Graff faucets at a third of the retail price by going through Green Demolitions http://greendemolitions.com/. Green Demolitions sells luxury commercial surplus and donated kitchens, appliances, bathroom fixtures, home decor, etc. from houses being demolished and renovated in Greenwich and New Canaan, CT, Scarsdale and Bedford, NY, and beyond. Donation proceeds benefit Recovery Unlimited. They don't only sell demo parts but also brand new parts donated by various companies. They're located in NY, NJ and Connecticut but will ship to you. They were great to work with and the quality of the faucet craftsmanship really shows.

Slowly but surely we're getting there. We're about 2 weeks out from the shower glass installation and then we'll finally have a usable bathroom!

The Great Wall of Martin

One of the few projects that rank up there with kitchens in terms of difficulty are bathrooms and to our surprise, retaining walls. When we moved into this money pit the existing brick retaining wall was leaning a little. I'm no engineer but I'm pretty sure if it is leaning it probably isn't retaining much.
We knew it would eventually have to be replaced and sure enough a few months later the wall fell. We decided that 12 weeks after having our 2nd child in less than 2 years we needed to replace the 100 ft retaining wall. We always realize in hindsight how silly these things are.
10 pallets of stone, 2 tons of gravel, dozens of yards of dirt/mulch and more money than I care to admit in plants we began the project. It was by far the hottest summer on record so my husband and friends weren't ever disappointed when it rained and they had to take a break to 'rehydrate' with their beverages of choice.
Along with the generous help of friends, family and neighbors we built that wall (we had more colorful words to describe the wall while we were in the middle of it) stone by stone.
This retaining wall wasn't just for show. We were actually retaining a pretty decent sized sloped front yard. We didn't want to repeat the mistakes of the prior owners so my husband did a lot of research on how to ensure it didn't fall again. The strategy we went with was one our neighbor used and because his is still standing we figured we'd give it a shot too. The key is to build the wall into the ground so that as the ground freezes and thaws the wall moves with it (instead of being pushed by the ground). To do that you turn some of the stones perpendicular with the wall every few feet and back fill with dirt and stone. So far so good. After 2 winters it is still standing and not leaning.
Because it is such a long wall we decided to add 6' stairs to break up the space. I wasn't so sure at the time but because my husband was the one doing all the back breaking labor I let him win and I'm so glad I did. He was right.  He loves it when I say that. It has served as a nice spot to sit and have a drink (not that we're ever driven to drink or anything...).

We gave DIY landscaping a try and if I could do it all over again I would have paid a professional to do it. I just don't have a green thumb.

I won't lie. That was a really tough project and I'm not sure I'd DIY it again. The local tow company became very familiar with our house as we had to call them out a few times to get the Bobcat out of the mud. They actually felt sorry for us the last time and didn't charge us. Thanks Jamison Towing!

Update on Kitchen Reno

Update: By request I've posted a view from the dining room into the kitchen to show the areas where the walls were removed and replaced with support beams. The windows on either side of the cabinetry used to be the doors to the deck and were not actually in the space that is now the kitchen when the house was originally built. There were walls where the refrigerator is now and where the ovens are now.
The long range plan is to add window seats below each of the windows. For now they serve as a place to keep our kids' table/chairs and highchair. Maybe new cabinetry will ease the sting of my kids' outgrowing their highchairs {sniffle}.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Master Bath Sneak Peek

Our current renovation may just beat the kitchen in the 'most improved' category. We're still in the middle of it so I don't have true before and after shots just yet but here is a sneak peek :)

This was the floor. Sexy right? The upside to this floor was that the linoleum was way easier to remove than the tile laid in a 2" wet bed and wire mesh like our other bathrooms (says the person who didn't actually have to remove it). 

And here is a shot of what the floor looks like right now. Honed carrara marble. De-lish.

I'll post again after we're actually done...or 95% done seeing as how that is as done as we ever seem to get in this household before we decide to start something new.

Piece of Cake

We break from renovations about 4 times a year (the kids' birthdays and Christmas) :) I would love to be able to say that we take it easy on our own birthdays but then that would mean that I wasn't ripping up old carpet on my birthday last year. Anyhoo...yesterday we celebrated our middle child, Brady's, 2nd birthday. I saw Elmo and Cookie Monster cupcakes at the bakery but at $2/per they were a little out of my budget. Maybe in my next life I'll be the kind of gal willing to drop $2 on a cupcake.

I still wanted to make Brady Elmo cupcakes (mommy guilt for the middle child???) but I'm an accountant, not a baker, so I took a gander down the baking isle at the grocery store. I picked up a chocolate boxed mix, orange jelly beans and frosting in a can that came with really convenient decorating tips built right in in blue and red. I already had Chips Ahoy, chocolate covered Oreos, white chocolate discs (you can use big marshmallows too) and chocolate chips. Assembling them was a breeze!

Brady was still talking about his Elmo cupcakes the next morning so I'd say they were a hit!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Reclaimed Wood Console Table

After we completed our kitchen renovation we were left with a giant open space. Now don't get me wrong I'm not complaining about a giant open space...it just left an awkward open space in between our family room and living room. I tried putting a table a neighbor gave me that I refinished with paint to match our kitchen cabinets but the size wasn't right and I was going for more of an organic look to the room. I then went on the hunt for 'the perfect table.' I wanted an L-shaped table that could serve as both a console table for lamps, books, remotes as well as a computer desk. It had to be large enough to store our boys' toy boxes underneath. I couldn't find it anywhere and it would have been a fortune to have custom built. Then I read about John and Sherry's giant console table over at Young House Love and was smitten. Love at first sight.

I spent a few months plotting my approach. Because this was my first attempt at furniture building I figured the 'reclaimed wood' look would hide the inevitable mistakes (not to mention hide any future damage my 3 young boys would inflict) and wouldn't it provide an interesting story to tell at all of my fabulous dinner parties? Right, like that ever happens.

Thanks to google I found Manayunk Timber, a reclaimed lumber yard in Philadelphia, and chose a pine beam from an 1860's paper mill. Steve, the owner, planed them into the sizes I needed. The beams still had the old bolt holes in them when I picked them up, which, at first made my heart sink. Then I realized they just added to the story so moved ahead with my project.

This is truly a 'before' shot:
There are two sets of 3 planks about 6-7" wide each (1 set was 5' long and the other set was 7.5' long to form the L-shape). I roughed it up with a hammer and screwdriver and then sanded them down to give everything a smooth finish. The key to a 'worn' look is to make it as random as possible. If you just hit it with a hammer every 6" it'll look like someone hit it with a hammer every 6" and who really wants that look?

I applied one coat of Minwax dark maple on all the planks before we assembled the table because we were afraid that if the planks were to eventually separate a little you would see unfinished wood in the gaps. Then my stud muffin husband and I attached the planks together using both biscuits and 10" metal plates and bolts (sprayed painted with oil rubbed bronze paint). You could probably get away with not using biscuits if you didn't have that tool but because our table was so large we wanted to ensure everything was solid. The legs were $15 each from IKEA that I sprayed in oil rubbed bronze paint. I used 6 because it was such a large table and needed the support. I then applied a 2nd coat of Minwax dark maple and then sealed the whole thing with 3 coats of SafeCoat.

The toy boxes are really end tables from IKEA and the chair is a knock off wishbone chair from Overstock.com.

I love the bolt holes. Perfect for my laptop, cell phone and lamp plugs! A very happy accident.

Bam! A custom made table with a story all for under $400!

Can you imagine if the former workers in the mill that held this beam knew that those holes would eventually be used for cell phone charging????

Shared at: Oopsey Daisy House of Hepworths

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Fireplace Transformation

This is a shot of the awful fireplace wall the day we moved in.  As part of the kitchen renovation we ripped out most of the brick and the wood mantle.
We then framed the walls where the brick used to be, insulated and drywalled.
This is what it looked like after all the brick was tossed and the new drywall hung.
Next we applied a scratch coat over the brick. Because our brick had never been painted we didn't need to install lath first. The brick corbels will eventually be covered in stone and serve as the support for the slate mantle.
We used an Eldorado stone which has a very authentic look. We taped off an area on our deck the size of the fireplace first to dry fit all the stones to ensure we liked the look before we mixed our thin set. That was time consuming but very important. We had some difficulty getting the stone to stick on the row with the keystone because there was no row beneath it to support while it dried. We eventually built a support out of 2x4's to brace it until it dried. We then came back and piped in some mortar in the cracks.
We hired a local carpenter to build bookcases flanking the fireplace. We've been working on our DIY skills over the years but serious carpentry is one we haven't mastered yet so we left this one up to the professionals. They were built out of MDF and color matched to the kitchen cabinetry.
So that was my version that probably read like an HGTV "how to" commercial. Don't you find it amazing how they'll give you instructions on something complicated like "how to install kitchen cabinets" in a 30 second commercial? Like anyone would be versed enough after that to install their kitchen.
Here's the real nitty gritty from the doer in our operation (I'm just there to look cute):
  • Applied a stucco mortar skin coat over brick. (This can be tricky if brick is sealed…. spray with water and if beads of water appear, will need to strip / sand down or rough up to help adhesion.)
  • You can nail mesh to brick, then stucco to help stucco stay while it dries, we didn’t, but had issues with stucco sagging and probably should have
  • Measure surface (with stucco) and dry fit everything first. We measured and taped off on flat surface and laid it all out, and made the cuts….before mixing any veneer mortar.
  • Once scratch coat is dry (~1-2 days), “back butter” veneer stone using veneer stone mortar then set.- May need to build support frames to help keep in place as they dry (e.g. above fireplace opening span and corners.)
  • Apply same veneer stone mortar as “grout”, can also dry stack with no gap if desired.
  • We used a blue thermal flagstone for the mantle and hearth and added that at the end setting in mortar. If you’re going this route, will need to add a corbel for support to mantle. I turned 2 bricks in the top row sideways (protruding out of fireplace plane), and mortared in place prior to the skin coat. Then used a corner veneer to cover the brick bottom and face that was exposed (top was covered by mantle.)
Added to link party: Between Naps On The Porch

The heart of the home

Thanks so much to John & Sherry over at the always awesome site for featuring our kitchen renovation earlier this week! http://www.younghouselove.com/2012/03/reader-redesign-putting-the-drama-in-dramatic-makeover/

If the kitchen is the heart of the home then ours needed to be 1st on the transplant list. It was definitely state of the art with it's double ovens in the 60's. Are you jealous of the scalloped woodwork over the sink?

The door to the right was the entrance to a very dark dining room and the door to the left was the entrance to a dark hallway. Notice a theme? Lots of doors = very little light.
This is the view from the kitchen to the family room. The good thing about this kitchen was the open floor plan.  This kitchen had 2 doors onto the deck and 1 large window. We decided to turn the doors into windows and the window into a door. Doing so meant moving the baseboard heating around (thus no heat while we were doing it). Great project for the dead of winter. Our infant son slept with mittens.
Another view of the beauty.

We lived in this mess for three...long...months. Washing baby bottles in the bathtub, eating out of a microwave set up in our dining room.

Walls are down!

Ahhh...now that's better! The cabinetry separating the kitchen from the dining room have glass cabinets on both sides to let the light in. I'd love to be able to say that the bar sink is super convenient during fabulous dinner parties but really they just serve as storage for tools on our latest renovation project.

The view from the kitchen into the family room. I'd say that room gets the most improved award to date. I think we may have a master bathroom renovation to knock it out of 1st place soon...

So that was renovation #1. Trust me it didn't go as smoothly as the pictures may lead you to believe :) There was a lot of blood, sweat and tears (a lot of tears). We're just weekend warriors who figure it out as we go thanks to helpful people at Home Depot/Lowes, google and great friends/family willing to lend a hand when we've had enough!

Cabinets: Kraftmaid Canvas (white) and Peppercorn (island)

Lighting: Restoration Hardware

Paint: Behr Premium Restful

Backsplash: Ming Green Marble

Appliances: GE

Stools: Overstock