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Woohoo!  I’ve been hinting about a project over the last couple of weeks and I’m so excited to finally share it today.  I’ve been giving my fireplace a makeover!  After a lot of pondering, I finally worked up the courage to paint my oak fireplace white.  (Spoiler alert: I love how it turned out!)

But before I get to the makeover, here’s a look way back at how the fireplace looked before we did any improvements.  When we first moved in, the fireplace was oak with no real mantle shelf (it was only about 2 inches wide at the top making it too narrow to place anything).    

before-fireplace

My Dad built a mantle shelf for us which gave me more room to decorate and made the mantle look more substantial.

fireplace-shelf

Then I used paper of all things for a free and easy way to hide my flat-screen tv cables.

fireplace-hidden-wires

Then over the winter I finally got around to painting the brass fireplace accents with high-heat black spray paint.

fireplace-mantle

The fireplace was looking much better than the sorry state we found it in when we moved in, but I still was dreaming of a white fireplace mantle.  So I did it!  I painted the fireplace white!  To do so, I broke out some new painting tools.  I read a lot of articles on painting oak, and oil based primer seemed to be the way to go so I bought Zinsser white oil-based primer. 

oil-primer

And I bought some new brushes too because I wanted a really smooth finish.  Since I have some other painting projects in mind down the road, I got a multi-pack of Purdy brushes.  These brushes were good, but I wasn’t blown away with them considering they were the most expensive brushes at Home Depot.

purdy-brushes

With those tools in tow, I finally got to painting!  I gave the mantle two coats of primer.  Here it is after one coat of primer:

primed-fireplace

Since the top mantle shelf is removable, I was able to take it apart and paint it outdoors since oil based paint can get a bit smelly.  I used a fancy method of newspapers and chairs to setup a painting station for myself.

painting-fireplace-shelf

In between each coat of primer, I sanded everything down.  After two coats of primer were on and dry (I actually waited about a week since I was only able to work on weekends), I got to the actual painting.  I used semi-gloss Behr paint in “polar bear white.”  Choosing a white paint color was surprisingly hard because I wanted something white, but not too stark, and didn’t want the paint to have a grey or yellow tone so it wouldn’t look dingy.  Polar Bear White ended up being a little brighter than I expected, but I don’t mind because it has a nice fresh look.  Here’s the fireplace after a coat of paint:

painting-fireplace

Again, I sanded between coats and gave the fireplace about two full coats of paint and a third coat at the top of the shelf to give it the perfectly smooth look I was after.  And here’s how it looks cleaned up:

painted-fireplace-mantle

After I took the painter’s tape off, I could see how much paint I accidently got on the black fireplace surround.  I’m not worried about this though because the final phase of this project will be tiling the surround which will disguise all of my misguided paint.

how-to-paint-fireplace

I didn’t figure out exactly how I wanted to decorate the new white mantle yet, so I just put a plant and some decorative birds up there for now.

refinishing-fireplace

Here’s another look at my new white fireplace! 

painted-fireplace

Since we all like a good before and after, here’s a look at how far my fireplace has come.

diy-fireplace-makeover

My fireplace has had more looks than Madonna!  Now it just needs some new tile and it will be all done.  In the meanwhile I’m thrilled with my new white fireplace!

I'm sharing this project on Delightful OrderHouse of Hepworths, & Beneath My Heart; check out the other great projects shared.

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Favorite Travel Souvenirs


May 29, 2012
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One of my very most favorite things to do ever is travel.  If time and money weren’t an obstacle, I would travel to every continent on the planet.  My hubby and I decided a long time ago to make traveling a priority, even if it meant cutting back in other areas (like going out to eat frequently for example which we rarely do), so we’ve had the good fortune to take multiple vacations in the few years we’ve been married.  I was happy to see that Centsational Girl is having a travel souvenirs blog party today because this is something I have wanted to share. 

Whenever we travel, there is a must-have souvenir that we always pick-up- magnets!

magnetcollection

We started collecting magnets on our honeymoon and haven’t left a vacation without picking up at least one since (with the exception of a weekend trip to Washington DC last year which I’m still disappointed about).  Magnets are the perfect vacation souvenir in my opinion because they’re available absolutely everywhere, they don’t take up much space in your luggage or in your house once you get home, and they’re inexpensive.



We amassed quite a few magnets last year because we took a Mediterranean cruise and picked up a magnet in each port we stopped in.  A couple of the magnets are also souvenirs relatives had brought back for us from their trips. 

If you’re wondering what some of our favorite travel spots have been, I’d pick Costa Rica, Mallorca, Bermuda, and Genoa Italy as some of my favorites.  Although to tell you the truth, I have never met a vacation spot I didn’t like!



The other vacation souvenir we started collecting, but quickly proved to be much less practical, is coffee mugs.  Mugs are also available practically anywhere, but after we had brought home a few, we quickly began to run out of cabinet space to store them.  Plus, there’s only so many mugs a household of two needs.  Nevertheless, it is fun to have my tea in the “Las Vegas mug” and think back on the trip.



We also have several mugs from Disney because their mugs are so darn cute.

disneymugs

Of course if we come across some locally made unique items, or even a fun pen or t-shirt, we might snag one of those too, but magnets and mugs are the only items we make sure to always look for.

Update: I totally forgot to include one of my other favorite travel souvenirs- postcards!  I love collecting postcards especially vintage looking ones.  I mean, I only dedicated an entire wall of my house to travel photos and postcards!



All this travel talk has me itching to go on another vacation!  Do you have any getaways planned for this summer?  Is there a type of souvenir you like to pick up each time?

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The tricky part of blogging is that when I’m busy working on projects, I don’t have time to blog.  Or when I’m busy blogging, I don’t have time to actually do projects.  So you can probably guess by my lack of posts recently that I’ve been a busy bee working on some projects.  I took a bunch of photos today, so I hope to share what I’ve been working on starting next week (spoiler alert: 2 of my favorite projects ever are coming up!)

I’ve also been doing some small things here and there around the house.  Although they’re not particularly exciting, I’m happy to check several things off of my to-do list.

After about 2 years (yes, YEARS) of living with way too long curtains, I finally broke out the sewing machine and hemmed them.  This was actually a pain because I washed them first which got them all wrinkled and meant over an hour of ironing for 6 all-cotton curtain panels.  Although that doesn’t really excuse the 2 years of procrastinating.  But now they’re clean, ironed, and just the right length!

(Sorry I have no idea how to take a photo of a bright window!)  Despite the chore of washing them,  I do actually like these curtains, they are the Ritva curtains from Ikea.

I’d show you a wider angle photo of the curtains, but they are right next to a big project I’ve been working on.  I’m very excited about this one and can’t wait to show y’all next week!

And speaking of both procrastination and secret projects, I finally got off my butt to finish a project I started forever ago but never really completed.  I will keep you in suspense a little longer with this one, but here’s a teaser photo of some shelves I’m painting for it:

Not a very exciting photo, but it will  be a very exciting project once it’s all done!

We’ve also been doing a little touch up painting, including our front door and surrounding trim which got a fresh coat of white paint.

Now if I could only prevent my pooch from jumping on the door and dirtying it up again.

So that’s what I’ve been up to, crossing things off my to-do list and finishing up a few big projects.  What have you been working on recently?

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Sweet Strawberries


May 18, 2012
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Two years ago I bought two small strawberry plants and planted them in a container.  I got a whopping harvest of about 3 or 5 strawberries that year.  Last year, I replanted those plants into the ground and had a better harvest of a couple dozen strawberries.  They were spreading like crazy so when we built a garden bed in the back of our yard last year, I relocated a strawberry plant there.  It’s been the perfect spot for strawberries because they’ve spread like mad and have overtaken the left side of the garden bed.

strawberry-plants

Here’s a close up of the madness with salvia flowers growing in the background.  In hindsight, planting the salvia next to the strawberries wasn’t a good move considering salvia attracts lots of bees and makes strawberry picking a much more dangerous activity than you’d think.



I started picking strawberries this week and I’ve already had a bigger harvest than I did all of last year.  The strawberries have a wonderful flavor and are very aromatic, something store-bought strawberries just can’t compete with.

strawberry

There are still a lot of green strawberries so I’m hoping my harvest stretches out for a few weeks.

green strawberries

Today I picked a big bowl of strawberries.  However, I did catch a certain garden pest trying to take a big bite out of them!



He’s lucky he’s so cute.  But who can blame him, no one can resist my big beautiful berries.

IMG_4463

What’s growing in your garden this year?  Have you tried growing strawberries or other fruit?

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Garage Sale Hosting Tips


May 17, 2012
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Remember last year when I had a garage sale and said it would be years before I had another one because they're so much work? Well I guess I have a bad memory because my family got together to host another one this past weekend.  And this time I swear I'm not doing another one for years! The garage sale was successful, but boy was I exhausted by the end of the day.

But the good news is that I got rid of a lot of stuff and made a little extra cash. You can check out my yard sale hosting tips from last year here, but I learned a few additional things this year:

Get Motivated.  I used the garage sale as motivation to spend a couple of weeks beforehand, working on weekends, cleaning out closets and our spare bedrooms purging stuff and making yard sale piles. This was great because it lit my fire to clean places like our often forgotten closet in the guest room. So now these "storage closets" which were really "old junk hoarding places" are organized and CLEAN! The key is to use the garage sale as incentive and allocate yourself plenty of time so you don’t burn out.

Of course what is much easier is keeping a yard sale/goodwill box throughout the year. In my basement I had a box for stuff I wanted to either donate or sell. As I no longer need things or replace stuff, I toss my too-good-to-trash stuff in the box for Craigslist selling or Goodwill donation. This box is great because it's already full off stuff I want to get rid of. Had I intended to do a garage sale earlier, I would have been stashing stuff here for a few months beforehand.

Price things to move. My goal for the yard sale was to get rid of as much as possible, the cash is just a sweet bonus. So I tried to price things at the cheap prices I like to see at yard sales. I let people haggle and reduced prices when people asked. There were a couple of items I stood my ground on, but I set a fair price from the start for them and eventually they sold.


Clothes and shoes sell too. I usually only shop for household items at yard sales, so I was surprised to see how well our clothes and shoes sold. I priced items at $1-$2 and made sure everything was neat and nicely hung on a hanger and they sold well.  I also got rid of handbags like I promised back when I organized my closet.


Preparation is key.  This brings me to my next point, the night before preparation was key. The night before, I got all of my stuff organized so it would be quick and easy to setup the next morning. All of my clothes were hung up on hangers and grouped into similar piles (t-shirts, sweaters, pants). I wrapped a rubber band around each group of hangers so the next morning I could just grab the pile of clothes and hang it up on a pole we had setup between two ladders.
Any household items or other stuff was grouped and boxed. I like grouping stuff by similar types of items (home decor, picture frames, tools, etc) or by price ($1 stuff, $2 stuff, etc). Either way, grouping items by how I intended to set them up on tables made it easier to get ready the next morning.  Invest in preparing the night before to make things easier the following morning, especially when “early birds” show up even if when you specifically wrote “no early birds” in  your Craigslist ad. 



I’m happy I got rid of so much stuff at this yard sale, but this time I swear it will be a few more years before I recover enough to do another one.  And hopefully since I got rid of so much stuff this time around, I won’t have a need to do another yard sale for a long time.  Have you ever hosted a garage sale? 

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We had a bunch of bananas that were starting to brown (what an exciting start to this blog post, haha), so I wanted to make a snack with them before they went bad.   There are a bunch of different recipes for banana bites online with varying degrees of complexity, but I wanted to make something really simple so I used just 4 ingredients I already had on hand.
I simply cut up a banana, added a layer of peanut butter, and then topped it with a craisin (a dried cranberry).
banana-snacks
Then I melted some chocolate chips in a shallow dish (I like to use a little fish shaped dish because it’s a nice depth).  I microwave chocolate chips for no more than 45 seconds at a time to make sure the chocolate doesn’t scorch, and just stir between each microwave session.
melted-chocolate
Once the chocolate was melted, I spread it onto the banana bites with a butter knife.
make-chocolate-banana-bites
Then I stuck the bites into the freezer for a few hours until fully frozen.
chocolate-peanutbutter-banana-bites
And there you have it, a super easy, 4 ingredient, chocolate peanut butter banana bite!  Since my bananas were on the over ripe side, these bites turned out very sweet.  Hope you have a sweet tooth! 
chocolate-peanut-butter-banana-bites
Yummy!  These are a nice size when you want a bite-size sweet snack.  Do you have any favorite sweet treats?

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Mother’s Day is less than a week away and although I’d like to do something nice to show my appreciation to my Mom, she’s one of those hard to shop for people who appreciates the thought, but is hard to please with the gift part.  So I’ve been brainstorming some Mother’s Day gift ideas she might like, and hopefully that the special Mom in your life would like too. 

Make sure to scroll down to see all of the ideas and enter the amazing GIVEAWAY at the end too!

First some Mother’s Day dessert ideas.  What Mom doesn’t like a sweet treat, so desserts always make a nice gift. 

mothers-day-dessert-gift-ideas


Crafts make a great gift too.  Every Mom loves something made just for her.  Here’ are some cute DIY Mother’s Day gift ideas I came across:

diy-mothers-day-gift-ideas

Of course, a lot of women I know would prefer to pick out a gift for themselves, especially if they’re a little picky like a certain special lady I know.  And who doesn’t love getting a gift card and going on a little shopping spree?  Home Depot gift cards are a perfect gift option for any mom, especially if you are short on time and need something easy, but want to get a gift she’ll love. 

They’re especially a great gift this time of year because the Home Depot is planting ideas for Mother’s Day and a gift card is perfect for a mom looking to create her dream garden or outdoor space.  The gift cards come in dozens of cute designs and can even be personalized with your own photo and message!  Plus they’re convenient to use both in-store and online at HomeDepot.com.  You can also find great ideas from the Home Depot on their Facebook page or Twitter.

The Home Depot has been kind enough to spread the love to one of my readers too.  They’re giving away a $100 gift card!!!!!

The Home Depot Mother's Day Gift Card1


This giveaway is now closed. Thanks for entering.


Entering this giveaway is simple, here's how:

- Prize: $100 Home Depot Gift Card
- Enter By: Friday 5/11/2012 11:59pm EST.
- To Enter: Just leave any comment!
- Bonus Entry 1: Follow my blog through an RSS Feed (like Google Reader) or on Blogger/Google Friend Connect.  Leave a separate comment saying you’ve done so.  If you are already a follower, leave a comment saying so.
- Bonus Entry 2: Tweet about this giveaway or post it on your blog.  Leave a separate comment with the link.

Good luck and Happy Mother’s Day!


Disclosure: The Home Depot partnered with bloggers such as me to help promote their gift cards. As part of this promotion, I received a gift card(s) to share with my readers. They did not tell me what to purchase or what to say about the products. The Home Depot believes that consumers and bloggers are free to form their own opinions and share them in their own words. The Home Depot’s policies align with WOMMA Ethics Code, FTC guidelines and social media engagement recommendations.The winner of this giveaway will be randomly chosen and gift card fulfillment will be handled by a third party.

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It feels like we were just celebrating the New Year, but it’s May already!  When did that happen?  And why am I always so surprised at the start of each month?  Don’t I have a calendar?  Although I might be surprisingly surprised that it’s May, I’m looking forward to several things this month, including the warm weather, gardening, garage sales, hosting a very exciting giveaway next week (I promise you’ll want to make sure you come back for this one), and last, but not least, a very exciting makeover project that I’ve dreamed about for years and finally started work on.  Now I just need to find time to blog about it all!

But before I get too carried away with May, it’s time for my monthly look back at what I accomplished in April and some of the totally dreamy projects I came across on other blogs.  First some of my April highlights:

april projects

1. I fantasized about my dream house.
2. I was surprised to find some unexpected guests living in my house.
3. I shared some fun garage sale finds and how I was scammed with one purchase.
4. I compiled some very cute dessert ideas for Easter.
5. I shared my old-school Easter decorations.
6. I shocked everyone with some surprise information and shared a delicious seitan recipe.

Now, onto some of the amazing projects I came across on other blogs.  Prepare to be blown away.

blog favorites

1. Gorgeous sunroom makeover from Jenna Sue Design. Looks very high end, but is furnished with affordable finds from places like Ikea and Target.
2. Clever way to disguise a router with a book from Anamu.
3. Cute cupcake bouquet from My Cake School.
4. Beautiful dining room molding from Thistlewood Farms.

So much inspiration!  How was your April?  Did you complete any awesome projects or find anything really cool online?

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