Spring Update

It’s been a couple weeks since I’ve given an update, and we’ve made lots of progress on a few different projects.

Our garden is planted, for the most part, and includes snow peas, a couple jalapeno peppers, eggplants, 2 roma-variety tomatoes and 1 grape tomato, bush zucchini, spaghetti squash, large sized and  pickling sized cucumbers, various herbs, and leeks. We started everything from seed inside about a month ago (except the snow peas, which were planted outside and are now a perfect row of happy little pea plants), so we’ll see how this goes. Doesn’t look like much now!

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We’ve also gotten a number of perennial flowers happily planted in our new flower bed, and everything is really starting to grow with the recent warmer weather.

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We made some mild progress on our balusters, and got them all primed with the paint sprayer a few weeks ago:

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But then the pollen hit and we decided to hold off on doing the final paint coat. No one wants yellow paint on their stairs! So these are still piled in our living room awaiting that fate.

We are almost done with our little side tables for our guest bedroom – they got stained on top, and got a coat of light gray paint (a runner-up color for our kitchen cabinets, when we were still considering painting them gray, so we already had that paint). Another coat of paint and some sealer and they’ll be all done. Here are some photos of this project from the beginning. They are kinda-matching, kinda-not:

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The paint stripper took of multiple layers of gummy, old paint.

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Tops all sanded

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Getting some stain

We’ve also made some progress with the buffet piece we’re refurbishing for our friends…the wooden surfaces we salvaged are all stained now, and the body is waiting for primer and paint. Nik busted out the router this weekend to practice with, since we’ll be attempting to cut out the middle of the solid doors in the front of the piece to put in some radiator grate or glass so they can put their cable box in there and still get a signal through to their remote. I’ll save pictures of this till the end…so it can be a surprise!

The weather was beautiful yesterday, so I dragged all the cut pieces of crown molding out of the garage, gave them a quick sanding and dust-off, and got the paint sprayer out. I’ve never put semi-gloss paint in the sprayer (which is what we use for our trim paint) so I was a little worried about how tacky it might feel – but it worked like a charm! The finish was really nice, and a bit glossy (not as glossy as when painted on with a brush). We had one minor clog in the gun, but running some water through it seemed to fix the issue.

So that took all of 15 minutes to do, once everything was set up. After about an hour of dry time, we decided to just go ahead and mount the pieces since we already had pressure in the air compressor. We started in the dining room and made it most of the way around the living room. There’s a few pieces left to hang but we finally called it quits at dinnertime.

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Everyone knows crown molding is challenging – and we definitely have some wonky corners/edges. I think the challenge is not finding the right angle, but getting the piece perfectly level and lined up in the saw – especially if its a 12′ wobbly piece hanging out the other side of the saw. If it’s not perfectly level, your angle can be a few degrees off. That combined with our walls/ceilings which aren’t remotely straight has left us with some intimidating gaps. We’re just going to have to make really good friends with the caulk gun for this project!

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Before

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After!

Despite my attempt to make organized lists of things to accomplish for the weekend, Nik always manages to go off and start a completely new project – like ripping apart most of our side deck off the garage, and replacing the floor, stair treads, and railing. Granted, this did have to happen at some point since the boards were completely splintering. He used left over wood pieces from the jungle gym – but we need to get a few more boards to finish the stair treads and railing. Before:

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During and after:

Progress-wise, our goal this month is to get the crown molding finished and patched, get somewhere with the stair railings/balusters, get our friends’ buffet piece and our guest bedroom tables finished up, and wrap up refinishing a dining table in the garage that we’ve had for a while that Nik recently unearthed and started working on. And THEN we can start on our bathroom!

 

Making Balusters

I find that when I make a blog post with goals and plans, we get more done that weekend. So here we go: last weekend we did make a lengthy trip to Lowes to investigate our stair options. We measured our stairs, and realized we only need 2 x 8′ pieces of plowed handrail to cover the sections that will have balusters, and 1 x 12′ piece of unplowed handrail to cover the walled section that won’t require balusters. Plowed handrails basically just have a small groove on the bottom, to hold the balusters in place and hide that junction. There is also a little slat of wood that slides out of the bottom of that groove, called a fillet, and I think you can cut this to fit between each baluster to get them spaced evenly and further secure them in place (fillet shown in the right picture):

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Our plowed groove is only 1.25″ wide, so that will be the width of our square balusters. The ones we have upstairs are currently 1.75″ and they feel too bulky, so I think the 1.25″ will be a nice, airy upgrade.

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So the two plowed 8′ railings were $47 each and the 12′ unplowed one was $57, totaling $151. Unfortunately, after all the effort of getting the 12′ one home sticking out the trunk, we realized we bought a 12′ plowed one ($20 more expensive!) so we’ll have to return that and get the unplowed one. To mount that one to the wall, we’re not sure the plowed bottom will attach to the brackets correctly, since they’re designed to attached to an unplowed rail.

Speaking of brackets for that handrail, we bought some new ones that are a bit more attractive and substantial since this railing is heavier than our previous one. Those were about $18 total. We also bought two oval wooden wall plates for where the banister hits the wall, $14 total. Not sure those are both necessary yet, but we can return them if they’re not needed.

Finally, we headed to the lumber section to see what we could use for balusters. We found 2″x2″x36″ pieces of poplar or oak that were nice quality wood – but $6 each! We need 28, so that would be $168. Too pricey. So we wandered further into the lumber section and found plain 2×6 white pine boards (actual size 1.5″ x 5.5″ x 8′ length). Some were bowed or had bad knots, but after about 20 minutes we had selected 4 satisfactory boards. We measured that we could get out 8 balusters per board, and, best part, each board was a little less than $5, totaling $19, and leaving us with 4 extra balusters for when we inevitably mess some up. That savings almost pays for our table saw that we used to cut them all!

So on to the cutting…Nik first cut them to length with the miter saw, leaving some extra length for figuring out the exact height that will be on the slanted section of our new railing area:

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Code is 32-38″for balusters on steps, so since they should all be the same height here with a knee wall vs. individual steps, we’ll aim for 34″. Then he used the table saw to rip one edge off the board and make it a fresh, flat cut. Then we ripped the remaining 3 sides on each baluster to get them to 1.25″ (remember, the  boards are 1.5″ thick and we wanted a fresh, sharp cut on each side).

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So I think it was a total of 8 initial rip cuts for the original pieces of wood, then 3×32 cuts on each baluster. Over 100 table saw cuts certainly took a while and the noise potentially annoyed some neighbors on a Sunday evening. It looked like we’d been snowed on afterwards, but we got them all done!

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This Saturday we’re finally having a yard sale in the morning to clear out some pre-wedding housewares and other clutter we’ve collected, but the afternoon should be warm and lovely – a perfect time to get out the paint sprayer! We use this one from Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Critter-Spray-Products-22032-Siphon/dp/B00006FRPJ.

Critter Spray Products 22032 118SG Siphon Gun

It is cheap (but requires a good air compressor), and is only practical for small painting projects (trim or cabinets – not walls, for example). It screws right on to cheap pint sized mason jars, and we always strain the paint first, then thin it a little bit with floetrol and water for water-based latex paints, to prevent clogging.

We also bought more crown molding while at Lowes last weekend, so we’ll cut the remaining pieces we need to finish off the living room walls, then do a massive paint sprayer session on all the crown molding and all the balusters. We might do a protective clear coat of water based polycrylic on the balusters after they are installed, depending on how durable the finish feels with the paint sprayer. On Sunday we’ll do more paint spraying if we don’t get it all done Saturday, and hopefully get the remaining sections of crown molding installed.

The next steps will be caulking, filling, and doing touchup paint on the crown molding. For the stairs, we’ll need to sand, stain, and seal the new handrails, remove the old banister/balusters upstairs, and move on to installing the new ones…then caulking, filling, and doing touchup paint where needed. The sooner we get these projects done, the sooner we can start thinking about our master bath renovation – that’s good motivation for me!

 

Finding Inspiration

The last few weeks have been pretty stagnant at our household. We’ve made some progress cutting crown molding for the entire dining room and about half of the living room, but it hasn’t been nearly warm enough outside to paint with our sprayer and I’m not up to the challenge of painting all that trim by hand. So that project is on hold for a bit.

I did get around to spreading out new garden soil in our flower garden, and added some accent pieces, including a corner ceramic pot, and a garden gnome. My family had a garden gnome growing up and Nik seemed to like the idea of one. We just hadn’t found the perfect one yet. Then I came across this little guy – and he felt like the perfect addition.

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He has been named Sinclair, and in the several days he’s resided in our garden, he’s experienced a variety of weather conditions – including the dusting of snow we got on Sunday morning!

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So back to renovations…this spring has been slow going. Before starting on the master bathroom, plans this spring were to get the crown molding installed downstairs (on hold for warmer weather), build a kitchen island, and finish the stupid stair banister. That last one has been nagging us for months now, and we keep discussing it, running into problems, deciding we don’t know what to do, and then putting it off.

This is the area that we now need to install a railing/balusters, since we opened up this wall:

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Previously, that was a solid wall, and there was a simple railing running down that side of the stairs screwed into the wall.

So what are the problems? I think the biggest is we have railing upstairs on the landing with a light poplar railing and white wooden balusters, and you can see it from downstairs:

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Not my favorite railing/baluster combo, but I think we came to the conclusion we should attempt to match the new railing/balusters to what is upstairs. I like metal balusters, but they’re pricey (as I remember, about $8-10/piece) and then we’d need a lot of them to do the new opening downstairs and replace all the ones upstairs (~26-28 of them).

We then thought the balusters weren’t too atrocious, and I could purchase ones that are a pretty close match for the new opening, but the light wood railing is awful. So I wondered if it could be stained dark to match the floors. We have the railing still sitting in our office that was removed from the other wall, so I got to work sanding a portion to see if we could get a nice dark color:

The general answer was no. Sanding was difficult (curved edges) and the wood was very smooth and dense so it definitely didn’t take up stain well. It would be hard to ever get it to the darkness I like, and it would never have the rich grain/texture of a red oak railing.

So then we thought, can’t we save the balusters upstairs, and just replace the two railings? It’s possible…but we can’t really figure out how the upstairs balusters are attached to the railing and I’m pretty sure we’d ding them up trying to remove the old railing. And then I remembered I don’t really even like the shape of those balusters, but its costly to buy new balusters…you see how these problems escalate? At this rate, there will never be a railing.

But then we were watching Fixer Upper last night, and there was a staircase they did that caught my attention because of how beautiful and simple it was:

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I love the dark oak railing and those balusters – just straight cut pieces of wood! I love the simplicity. No shapes, fancy carving, and most importantly – inexpensive! So now I’m inspired again to see if we can make this happen.

To change the railing, we will have to buy new oak railings and get them home safely. A 12′ plowed railing is about $70, and we’d need probably 2-3 of these. I don’t exactly understand the difference between plowed and un-plowed railing and why the plowing is needed for some balusters, so we still need to go to the store to figure that out. The unplowed ones are cheaper, and there are also 8′ lengths available that would lower the cost if we don’t need a full 12′. We will reuse the newel post that is there, but paint it white. Then we can either buy pieces of wood to cut to a 1.25″ square baluster, or they sell pre-cut plain square balusters for about $5 a pop. I’m not sure what’s special about the premade balusters – some of the descriptions say they have some sort of removable pin, so we also need to figure this out at the store. Even if we buy these, plus the railings, the total price is reasonable, at a little over $300. If we can make our own balusters, I think that price will be a lot lower.

At any rate, I’m feeling newly inspired about this. It won’t be an easy or fast project, but I think we’ll end up with a stairway we really like, vs just trying to make the style that was previously there work with our new floors. I think we need to start by acquiring and cutting the required pieces, and perhaps when I spray paint our crown molding (if spring decides to ever come back), I can spray the balusters too and really get this project going. I didn’t see myself ever being this excited about my stairs!

A New Garden and Molding

We got a bunch done this weekend, including finishing our flower garden edge, buying some crown molding, and even getting it up in the powder room as I had hoped! I’ll show some pictures for a quick update:

For those who don’t remember, our backyard started like this, with an unsightly jungle gym:

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My dad and Nik ripped that down in a single afternoon (although somehow my mom ended up in the rewarding “after” shot…probably because she was helping clear a lot of brush from the yard when this was taken):IMG_2159

Last spring we built a small raised bed garden:

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And now we’ve extended that garden around the deck to create a bordered flower garden:

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This garden greatly diminished the old pile of jungle gym lumber under the deck, but you can see we still have some more to get rid of. Baby steps…

We bought a few bags of dirt to get this area started, but I’m not spending a ton more on new dirt. We’ll probably just put a light topping to make it look nicer, add some mulch, and any flowers we plant we’ll dig out a hole and add better dirt just around the plant.

Now on to crown molding: we bought a contractor’s pack of molding (8 pack of 12′ pieces!), which caused some drama since it had to stick out of Nik’s trunk on the car ride home. We were ill-prepared for this, and I had forgotten bungee cords, so we tied the trunk down with rope, went very slowly, and tried not to annoy too many other drivers on the 2 mile drive home from Lowe’s. It was a success, overall.

To do the bathroom, we needed 2 32″ pieces, and 2 71″ pieces, all cut with inside corners. This is evidently the only “before” shot I took of the bathroom ceiling:

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We messed with the miter saw a bit, and figured out there are two ways to cut the angle properly: one that makes the angle easier to figure out, but is harder to hold the trim, and one that takes some time to think about the angle, but handling the trim during the cut is way easier. But inside angles are figured out, nonetheless. When we were sure the pieces fit decently, I gave them a quick coat of our semi-gloss white trim paint. Then it was time for nailing.

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Getting the pieces in place was trickier than it looked – I forget nothing is perfectly straight/plumb in our lovely house, including the ceiling, which apparently is curved in the bathroom. We had to settle on an arrangement that left some gaps, knowing that caulking and filling would hopefully cover things up. So here’s the semi-finished room:

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Looks nice from afar, but up close here are some of the gap issues I’m referring to that will have to be dealt with:

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Also, the gleaming white trim made it glaringly obvious that we forgot to paint the ceiling in this particular room. It looks downright dirty compared to the new trim (most obvious 2 pictures up)…so we’ll have to buy a small can of ceiling paint and get to that asap.

This week there’s not too much on the to-do list. Friday night is the 6 year anniversary of when I finally agreed to be in a relationship with Nik (this was a lengthy decision for me, starting with Nik asking me out on a date on Valentine’s Day…little did Nik know that this was just the start of all the indecisiveness he’d have to deal with in a future involving me!). So we’re going out to celebrate Friday. Then my parents might come up to visit Saturday and Sunday since October was their last visit. We are hoping to install a front storm door, and maybe get some more crown molding done, but there’s not many other pressing chores so it should be a nice weekend.

TGIF

Not too much house work has gone on in the last week, but we have some plans for this weekend. Hopefully the weather stays warm, since we heavily thatched our yard last week, then fertilized and seeded the lawn (right before a nice rainy day!). So much thatch came up out of the yard – you can see unthatched on the left, and thatched on the right:

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We found some interesting creatures this week as well – one was a really large jumping spider who hopped right through our back door and was walking around the kitchen. Nik got him in a cup to relocate outside, and he was watching us quite intently during this process:

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I also worked from home yesterday, and noticed this little creature running along our neighbor’s house when I glanced out the window. I watched him for a bit, then went outside to see if I could catch him since he definitely looked like an escaped pet and not a natural outdoor mouse. The catching was unsuccessful although I was able to get within a couple feet of him before he scurried further, but I left him some triscuits and bedding material to keep him warm – and some of the triscuits definitely got munched. I wonder if we’ll see him around again.

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Last weekend we also planted a lot of our vegetable garden seeds (tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers) and some flowers (zinnias, canterbury bells, vincas, and marigolds). They’re incubating in our sunny guest room window at the moment, but maybe we can move them outside for a few hours over the weekend to get some natural sun.

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We also finally harvested our beet crop, to start getting the garden ready for new plants, and they were disappointing to say the least…although we didn’t pay them much attention since planting seeds; I’m not sure we really ever watered them once during the fall/winter. Maybe next year will be better…but we still sauteed up the little nubs and ate them!

For other yard news, I mentioned we’re working on building a flower bed in our backyard using the left over jungle gym wood. We have the plans laid out, and last weekend we bought all the metal linkers and deck screws that we’ll use to give the wood edges some support. So I’d like to get this all situated this weekend so we can add some dirt and eventually get some flowers relocated to this bed. Here’s some pictures of the progress, and the plans:img_3274

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Next on the list is we obtained some side tables for our guest bedroom that are perfect for the space – and the pair was $30 on craigslist! But they have numerous coats of thick paint on them, so I’m curious to see what wood we’ll find when we strip it off. We’ll probably repaint the body of the side tables, and depending on how the tops look, either paint or stain those. I forgot to snap a picture of them…but once we start working on them, I’ll show some. We also have a large console-type piece of furniture that we are redoing for a friend, so perhaps some stripping of that piece will happen this weekend as well.

I also want to start thinking about the crown molding on our downstairs ceilings – I added up dimensions this week, and figured we need about 130 feet of molding to do the living room, foyer/stair column, dining room, and powder room. A contractor’s pack of molding is $78/96′, so this project will be much less expensive than I had thought…for some reason I had priced this DIY project at $1800 when we first bought the home, and I have no idea where that number came from…even if we eventually do the rooms upstairs, it won’t be nearly that much. Crown molding isn’t easy though (painting, cutting properly, installing up over your head with the nail gun, filling holes, caulking, and touch up paint), so it will feel like $1800 of labor! Maybe we’ll start small with the powder room this weekend, to see what we’re getting ourselves into.

It’s so much fun writing about all the things we’re surely going to accomplish in one weekend – we’ll see by Monday how much we really get done!

Guest Bedroom Makeover

I finally got around to taking some pictures of the guest bedroom we’ve been working on. We love the way it turned out – it looks so bright and inviting now and I think our guests will appreciate it. We just need to recruit some visitors to stay with us!

For the past year this room has been a storage area for extra flooring scraps and random boxes, and in anticipation of painting, the electrical plates were all removed and there were some smears of potential paint colors up on one wall. There was also an old dingy comforter and some mismatched blankets, which looked even more dingy in the awful CFL light from the old ceiling fan.

I never took a great before picture, but here’s a super-before picture, from our first night in the house:

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And here’s the old ceiling fan – which we managed to sell for $20 to a weirdly-eager buyer on craigslist:

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So for this makeover, we painted the walls a light blue-purple color (Cool Mist by Valspar – leftover paint from our office room), gave the floor and door trim and window sill a fresh coat of white, got a new bed spread and pillows, and updated the ceiling fan. I don’t consider clearing out clutter to really be part of a ‘makeover’, but we did that as well and after all our hard work this was probably what made the biggest difference in this room. We also moved a desk in here for sitting at or putting a suitcase on. Here’s the finished room:

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And a closeup of the new fan ($69 at Home Depot). This fan was a smaller width than the old fan (42″ vs 52″) and it fits this tiny room much better:

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We’re still waiting to get our final shipment of blinds to update the window blind, and I’ve been stalking craigslist for a pair of little side tables that need redoing for either side of the bed.

This past weekend we installed 5 other blinds that the store had sizes for in stock and laid out a design for our backyard flower garden and started trenching the ground to put a wood border in. We also put new toilet seats on our upstairs toilets (I don’t ever want to see/smell 18 years of crusted pee from removing an old toilet seat again!). You know what happened the last time we replaced a toilet seat for the downstairs bathroom – the entire room was demo-ed down to the subfloor that very afternoon. We restrained ourselves this time, but I’m itching to start our master bathroom renovation this summer!

Molding, Blinds, and Birds

This weekend we got the majority of our cabinet molding trim installed, and it looks really nice. All that’s left is to fill nail holes and give it one more coat,  but I can still show pictures today.

The cabinets were a little plain to begin with, and trim has the ability to really dress things up and make them look professionally done. We choose just to do top trim to maintain good clearance under our cabinets, although there is also trim that you can put on the bottoms of the cabinets as well. This is how they started:

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We picked out small crown molding trim and did a quick coat of paint before mounting.

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We used a series of boards behind each piece of trim to tack the trim to, and then attached the boards to the cabinets – there wasn’t quite enough room above the cabinet doors to tack the crown molding straight into the cabinet, unfortunately.

Nik learned how to cut crown molding on the miter saw…and after thinking about it, he realized they’re really just 45 degree cuts, but you have to hold the trim in a certain way when you make the cut. We also realized that when you make these types of miter cuts, you inevitably lose a few inches on each cut that we didn’t account for, which sent Nik back to Lowe’s on Sunday to buy another 8′ of the trim to finish the job. Then it was time for the nail gun:

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And here is the (almost) finished job, before:

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And after:

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$18 of trim makes a big difference!

I also spent a lot of time this weekend painting the guest room upstairs – walls and floor trim. We had extra paint from a bedroom we painted when we moved into the house, and it was high time to use that paint up before it got too old. We’re also replacing the ceiling fan in that room to something that isn’t from 1999, but without daylight to work on it until next weekend that project will be on hold.

On Saturday we started installing new wider-slat blinds since our old metal ones are dated, some are missing slats, and many of them have broken mechanisms so they don’t actually open or stay up. After a long argument with Home Depot about a store credit we had, and them not allowing us to spend it on the blind sizes we needed online even though it says we can use the store credit at their online store, etc., we only ended up buying 3 blinds so far that happened to be in sizes we needed that were in stock at the store. Hopefully we can get the rest purchased or ordered this week, but we like how the first few look mounted. To give every window in the house these new blinds (these are the least expensive faux-wood option the store carries), the cost  is about $430. For the upgraded feel they give every room I think the investment is totally worth it.

Before and after:

On another note, Nik got me some binoculars and a bird book for Christmas to watch the many birds that visit our backyard feeder. We’ve seen juncos (these look just like Angry Birds), flickers, a variety of woodpeckers, chickadees of course, bluebirds, cardinals, robins, and a bunch more. Here’s some of our visitors to leave you with:

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