How our garden grows

We made it a priority this year to get raised garden beds installed in our new back yard. And by “we” I mean that I planted a few plants, raked a bit of dirt around, moved two wheel barrows of dirt and mulched said plants. Someone else did the heavy lifting.

My husband constructed us three 4′ x 8′ raised garden beds out of cedar planks. They are about 12″ tall. Cedar is supposed to resist decay better than other types of wood. He then dug out the existing grass, leveled the ground a bit, placed cardboard in the bottom and filled them with dirt. Well, I helped with the cardboard too. Do you see how much work I did here?

We planted:

  • Eight tomato varieties
  • Two basil varieties
  • Two chards (one red, one yellow)
  • Five pepper varieties (jalapeño, bell, serrano, etc)
  • Three mounds of cucumbers
  • A row of okra seeds
  • A row of beans from seed
  • Marigolds from seed, to hopefully help keep the bugs away
Constructed garden beds, lined with cardboard

Constructed garden beds, lined with cardboard

Do you see the two wheel barrows of dirt I moved? And how I raked some of the dirt around?

Do you see the two wheel barrows of dirt I moved? And how I raked some of the dirt around?

The first bed has eight tomato plants in it, all different varieties.

The first bed has eight tomato plants in it, all different varieties.

The second bed has two basil plants, two chard plants, and five pepper plants, all of different varieties.

The second bed has two basil plants, two chard plants, and five pepper plants, all of different varieties.

The third bed has some tiny little cucumber plants and we're hoping to soon see some okra and beans sprouting.

The third bed has some tiny little cucumber plants and we’re hoping to soon see some okra and beans sprouting.

One of the peppers is already blooming!

One of the peppers is already blooming!

Molly guards the raised beds. Hopefully she scares away the birds, although it's more likely that the birds will scare her.

Molly guards the raised beds. Hopefully she scares away the birds, although it’s more likely that the birds will scare her.

Little tiny figs started to grow as soon as the fig tree got leaves.

Little tiny figs started to grow as soon as the fig tree got leaves.

Just a few days ago the figs were much larger!

Just a few days ago the figs were much larger!

 

 

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Fixing our peeling bathroom cabinets

Cabinets

When we moved in to our new house last April, the trim, windowsills and bathroom cabinets had all been freshly painted. After just a few months, we realized that all of this fresh paint was peeling right off those surfaces. Ugh. The master bathroom cabinets were by far the worst offenders since we’ve been touching them every day. It finally got to the point where I needed to do something about it. After talking to the Home Depot paint department, I learned that the previous owners painted latex paint over oil-based paint, causing the surfaces to peel. The fix is to remove the peeling layer, use a primer that lets you switch from oil-based paint to latex paint, and then paint with latex paint.

The entire process took me a weekend and a few days to get all of the prep work and painting done. First, I used plastic drop cloth to seal off the inside of the cabinets so paint dust didn’t get in there.

Prepping the work area

Prepping the work area

Close up of the peeling paint.

Close up of the peeling paint.

To start the paint removal process I peeled off as much paint as I could. It was much easier to peel than it was to sand.

Then I sanded it as much as I could, wearing a dust mast to avoid breathing in the paint dust. On the narrow parts where I couldn’t really sand the paint, I used Soy Gel paint remover. You brush on the Soy Gel and let it sit for a while, the longer it sits, the more layers of paint it will take off. After it set for a while, I gently used a paint scraper to remove the gel.

Close up of part of the cabinets where I used Soy Gel, a paint scraper and sand paper to remove the paint.

Close up of part of the cabinets where I used Soy Gel, a paint scraper and sand paper to remove the paint.

Before moving onto the primer step, I made sure to get all of the remaining loose paint off using sand paper. I used a wet rag to wipe the cabinets down to remove the paint dust and let the surface dry for a few hours.

I used a gray tinted Kilz primer and then two coats of Behr plus self-priming semi gloss enamel in color graphic charcoal. Where I could, I used a small foam roller specifically made for cabinets to get a nice smooth paint finish. For the other areas I used a nice angled paint brush. You have to be careful to not get paint drips when using the brush.

The contrast in the bathroom is so much nicer than the completely cream colored original version.

Finished cabinets

Finished cabinets

Now, I just need to keep my fingers crossed that this new paint doesn’t start to peel…

Why hello sunlight!

When we decided to purchase our current house, I was disappointed that it lacks vaulted ceilings. Our realtor put the idea in my head to install a skylight to open up the ceiling. So that’s exactly what I just did. Not only does it make the ceiling feel more open, it makes our previously dark living room nice and light. Our covered back porch prevents the back windows from getting much light. Now we have plenty of light. Check out the before and after photos to see what a huge difference the skylight made. We had a 4′ x 4′ Velux skylight installed with a solar powered remote controlled light filtering shade. While we were having a hole cut in the roof, we also had a Velux sun tube installed in the laundry room which doesn’t have any windows. It’s awesome!  All work was done by Design Skylights and I must say that the end cost was very reasonable.

The before view looking towards the back of the house. The window and door look out to the covered porch. The room is lit with a flash so that you can actually see it. Bonus if you spot the hidden cat in this photo.

The after view, lit only by the light in the room due to the skylight and windows.

The light filtering shade will be very handy during the hot summer months. The shade is solar powered and operates using a remote control.

A view of the sun tube in the laundry room. The light is not on.

The outside view. The sun tube is the glass dome on the left.

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Make your own sun screens

Every time I’ve walked into our new kitchen during the late afternoon / early evening with its west facing windows, I think to myself “it’s time to make sun screens.” Well, I finally got around to it so now the sun doesn’t blind us and we have improved energy efficiency, which is important in sunny and hot Texas. Because the built-in screens for our windows only cover the part of the window that opens, I had to create new screen frames for the windows, rather than just simply using the screen frame that was there. Converting existing screen frames into sun screens is much easier, something I’ve done before as well.

Ugh, the sun shines right through the kitchen window on the west side of the house!

To make a sun screen, first measure your windows and head to the store to get supplies. Lowes and Home Depot sell screen frame kits that basically have everything you need, except the screen material and the screen spline roller tool. Since I had some screen frame pieces left from our previous house, and I needed to create two frames, I bought my supplies separately. Here’s what you need:

Supplies:

Tools:

  • Screen spline roller
  • Cutting utensils: scissors, box cutter
  • Drill, screw driver
  • Metal saw (ignore the saw in my picture below, apparently it’s a wood saw. Make sure you have a metal saw)

Supplies and tools all collected

 

General instructions:

Measure your window to determine what size to make the screen frame. Make sure it will cover the window, but leave room to hang the screen using your chosen method. Factoring in the screen corners, cut the metal frame pieces to size. My screen corners added 3/4″ to each side of my screen, so I had to subtract 1.5″ from each side of my screen frame so that it would be the appropriate size. After cutting four pieces, assemble them with the screen corners.

Assembled frame

Then, cut a piece of screen to fit over the frame, leaving at least an inch or more on each side. Lay the screen over the side of the frame that has the channel for the spline. The roller tool has one end that is narrow and another end that’s wider with a groove. The narrow side is used to push the screen down into the channel before forcing in the spline. This helps you make sure the screen doesn’t get ripples and is positioned correctly.

Use the roller to push the screen down into the frame before using the spline.

Next, use the other side of the roller to push down the spline into the channel, starting at one corner. This is where it helps to have the thinnest spline that will work for the frame.

Spline in the channel of one side of the frame.

I don’t worry about cutting the spline at each corner, I just make the turn and keep going. Make sure to hold the screen fairly taut while rolling in the spline, which can take some force. It helps to have two people for this part, especially if it’s the first time you’ve tried making a screen. Once you’re finished, use the box cutter to cut the excess screen off, close to the frame. Be careful that you don’t cut your new screen! I position the razor blade towards the frame to reduce those chances.

Screen, before trimming excess

To hang the screens, we drilled into the metal window frame at the top and the bottom and used the plastic screen clips:

Installed sun screen on the kitchen window.

And now we can finally leave the blinds open in the evening, without being blinded by the sun in the early evening!

Bonus!

This weekend I took care of another exciting house project – organizing our plastic container storage! The Container Store had just the thing, an elfa basket that be installed in a cabinet on a track so that you can pull it out of a cabinet for easy access. You can also easily lift out the basket to get at anything you have stashed in the very back of the cabinet.

Elfa drawer, installed in the cabinet. Yes, that shelf is kind of warped, but the basket frame still works as designed.

Elfa drawer, pulled out with plastic containers nicely organized.

 

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Introducing… my craft room!

Ok, so the title is a little misleading. It’s really OUR craft and computer room and we had a similar room in our previous house. The exciting news  today is that after a few months in our new house, the craft room is finally unpacked and ready for use! And it is huge… it has all of the furniture from the last house, plus our old couch bed (and room to spare).

We had a long delay with unpacking the room because of our cats. We decided that we needed to protect our raw wood Ikea Ivar shelving units from their fur. Since the shelves were unfinished, cat fur stuck to them and was impossible to get off. So we took the time to sand all 25 shelves and two cabinet doors and apply three coats of Minwax fast drying polyurethane. It took awhile.

When we first installed our Ivar units in the previous house, we need to have some amount of hidden storage for office and craft supplies and all those other things that would look silly just left out somewhere. To create hidden storage, we have some galvanized metal doors and wood cabinet doors. However, Ivar does not come with anything to enclose the sides of the unit, so when we installed the doors I knew I needed something to cover the sides so people couldn’t see the messes we were hiding.

The tall thin shelving unit, mostly dedicated to crafts.

The shorter shelving unit, mostly dedicated to books and office supplies.

At that time, I decided to use plain canvas cloth and print it with sponge stamps I made myself. It was a good idea, but I’ve not been entirely happy with the execution.

Side of the cabinet with hand printed canvas.

Side of the office supply cabinet.

Since we were taking the time to upgrade the shelves with polyurethane, I decided to also upgrade the fabric. After a misguided decision to try to make my own chevron pattern fabric starting from canvas again, I quickly realized I could buy chevron home decor fabric on Etsy. A few days later, it arrived in the mail.

Chartreuse home decor chevron fabric.

I then started the somewhat frustrating process of prying all of the staples out of the shelf supports. I tend to get a little staple gun crazy sometimes. After taking out the old fabric, I used it as a template to cut a piece of the chevron fabric. To keep the fabric from unraveling and so that I didn’t have to do any sewing, I used pinking shears to cut the fabric. I stapled the fabric to the sides, the bottom shelf (so nothing can fall out) and any wood supports that happened to be positioned at the top or bottom of the fabric.

The inside of the shelf after stapling the new fabric

My arm sure is sore now after prying out staples and then maneuvering the staple gun over my head. I’m pretty short so some of these shelves were hard to reach.

The new fabric makes the craft room stylish.

The other stylish shelf unit.

A view of both shelves.

Someday we’ll get around to personalizing this room… painting the walls, hanging decorations, adding curtains or a valance, replacing the tiny little white fan… and so on.

Making ourselves feel at home

When we moved, we quickly missed the beer and wine glass storage we had added to our kitchen at the old house. Throughout our time there, we slowly installed shelves on the wall, corner shelves, and shelves above the sink. We used those shelves to store the fancy glassware we collected. Even with the additional cabinet space at the new house, we didn’t have enough room for all of the fancy glassware. Since beer and wine drinking are hobbies of ours, this was something we wanted to remedy right away.

Enter Craigslist, again. After a week or so of browsing the site, I found the perfect piece of furniture: unfinished, $60, fits in the convertible, and had glass doors. Luckily, the Minwax gel stain I used on the bathroom cabinets in the old house was the perfect color to match the wine rack we already owned.

Preparing the cabinet:

  • The cabinet had wax spilled on the top of it at some point so I did my best to remove it by first scraping it off with a razor blade and then using an iron and paper towels to try to absorb what was left.
  • There was a small hole in the top that I filled with wood filler.
  • I removed all hardware from the cabinet – glass, hinges, knobs, etc.
  • I sanded the entire cabinet with 100 grit sandpaper followed by 180 grit sandpaper and cleaned off the sanding dust with a tack cloth.

After that, it was on to the staining. I did one coat of stain and two coats of polyurethane. The wax spot on the top didn’t quite stain completely, but it’s not too noticeable. You can see it in the center of the photo below.

After assembling the cabinet again, it was time to move it inside. I also stained two pieces of pine to create wall shelves above the cabinet. I used brackets from Ikea that we had in the previous house.

After that it was just time to decorate! It was such a great feeling to finally finish unpacking the dining room.

The whole view of the dining room, taken from the sitting room.

Can’t wait to paint this room and replace that light fixture…. someday.

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Making furniture to hide those litter boxes

During the recent move to our new house, we struggled with where to put our cats’ litter boxes. At the old house we had three litter boxes for the three cats. We decided to try going down to two litter boxes in the new place. However, we weren’t excited about any potential litter box locations.

A few Google searches later and I knew there were a variety of furniture options I could purchase to hide litter boxes. I also knew that they were pricey, leading me to decide make my own. A few days of watching Craigslist and a trip to the Salvation Army later, I scored two solid wood furniture pieces that worked in our house and were big enough to conceal a litter box for about $90 total. I couldn’t even purchase an already made piece of furniture for twice that cost.  Once the furniture was home, we put in the litter boxes for a few weeks and left one of the cabinet doors open so that the cats would get used to the new digs. Probably only needed to do it for a few days, but we were still busy unpacking.

Furniture piece one: a cabinet that fit nicely by the front door and stairs.

After measuring where to put the cat sized hole –  few inches above the inside platform, centered, about 7 inches wide – I drew the lines for the hole, using a bucket to get the arch correct. I then covered the lines with masking tape and drew them again so that the wood would not splinter when we cut it.

My husband then took care of using the drill to start the hole and then the jigsaw to cut out the opening:

After finishing the whole, we removed the tape and sanded the edges.

As our cats don’t always hit their litter box target (weird, right?) We decided to line the inside of the furniture with heavy duty plastic drop cloth so that it can be cleaned / replaced as needed. I used a staple gun to hold the pieces in place. Update, 7/26/14: we’ve recently added pet pee pad lining behind the boxes in addition to the plastic for those times when the one cat misses the litter boxes. They do a pretty good job of absorbing liquid and locking in the odor.

As soon as we carried the cabinet inside and installed the clean litter box, our cat Carston make a beeline for the litter box. I couldn’t even get a photo first! It was good to know he wasn’t reluctant about trying it out. Here’s his exit:

The litter box inside, along with a litter mat to try to trap litter before the cats make it out the hole.

Now unsuspecting guests will never know what this piece of furniture is hiding by our front door. As a bonus, it’s an excellent place to store mail! Now I just need to repaint it once I settle on the colors for that part of the house and hang some art work above. Someday.

Furniture piece #2 is a rock solid low cabinet. It was obviously made by hand. It smelled strongly of patchouli when I got it home.

Following the same process, we cut a hole in the slide a few inches above the inner platform, lined it with plastic and swapped out the gold knobs for brushed nickel knobs left over from our bathroom renovation at the old house.

Here it is inside. It’s so roomy we could probably put two boxes inside.

It’s positioned just below the window that looks on to our back porch, a perfect kitty sitting spot. The exit faces our fireplace so it’s concealed from the rest of the living room. I plan to either strip and re-stain this cabinet darker or paint it to match our living room. I would like to get cushions to put on top so that it acts as a people sitting bench in addition to a kitty sitting bench. Again, someday.

Mojo and Carston say it’s perfect for gazing out the window:

The cats have been using their new litter box cabinets with the holes in the side for more than a week now. We’ve happily noticed a that these cabinets do a decent job of containing unpleasant odors and the cats are more than happy to use them. Hooray!

What kind of furniture finds have you repurposed for your pets?