Let There Be Light!

“When you rise in the morning, give thanks for the light, for your life, for your strength.  

Give thanks for your food, and for the joy of living.  

If you see no reason to give thanks, the fault lies in yourself.”

–Tecumseh

Inspiration comes in many forms:  art, books, nature, music, or a myriad of other sources.  As I’ve searched high and low for master bathroom lighting, my inspiration came in the form of beautiful-but-rustic-and-bank-breaking-fixtures by Pottery Barn and Restoration Hardware!  Such loveliness would set me back $400-$3100, but oh are they eye candy to me.  These are some of the ones that hooked me:

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Do you think I let the price tag on these babies discourage me?  By no means!  I knew I could recreate the same effect with less expensive materials.  For me, this is the real upcycling/reusing/salvage rush:  to take something old, worn out, or even (gasp!) hideous and make it into something that is useful and pleases the eye.  I headed down to my go-to place:  Habitat Restore.  They just happened to be having a sale on all brass lighting.  (Was that providence or what?!)  I purchased this ugly duckling for $12 and went on my merry way.

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My impatience got the best of me as I began to disassemble the fixture IN THE CAR!  (Note:  this isn’t always a keen idea if there’s glass involved.)  I knew there were good bones there if I could peel away the layers of ugly glass and brass trim that screamed “1983.” By the time I arrived home, I knew exactly what to do with this golden treasure.  I gathered some materials from the craft store that would be in keeping with the rustic-cottage-comfy-farmhouse-industrial vibe that permeates the rest of the house.  My sexy, shiny 80’s lady needed some jewelry and accessories for this makeover!

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Pry off those blue basket handles and spray paint the entire thing black along with the bones of the brass chandelier.  Check. Configure Christmas ornaments and beads in a pleasing configuration that is elegant but not too fussy with much trial and error.  Check.   Turn basket upside down and add the missing elements of the light kit.  Check.  Smile lovingly and bat my eyes at Hubby Extraordinaire so that he will install that thing RIGHT NOW.  Check.  (In truth, he’s more than kind, able, and willing enough to do this without any coaxing from me!)  Flip the switch and watch light flood the four corners of our unfinished master bath without any smoke or fire hazards.  Check.  Do the happy dance that yet another project actually worked.  CHECK CHECK.

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It may not be Pottery Barn or Restoration Hardware, but it’s mine and at the low, low price of about $45.  Do me a solid and ignore the lack of paint and finish that you see in the background of these pictures, will you?  It’s all a work in progress.  We are laboring at other master bath projects and will share more of that journey soon.  For now, I will give thanks for the light.

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Top 10 Lessons Learned: Year One

“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”

–William Butler Yeats

Buying any house is a gamble; purchasing and transforming a modest homestead with crumbly studs and a leaky pond into our dream home requires vision, optimism, and a smidgen of ignorance about the enormity of the task before us. This house has been our patient teacher, doling out knowledge in often stingy portions, somehow understanding our need to learn as we go.  This place has been ours for almost 14 months, and we’ve lived in it for nearly twelve.  Here are a few of the construction life lessons that we have been taught since christening our September Farm.

10.  You never know what you can do until you try.

The DIY movement has some serious disciples in this family, but it hasn’t always been so for the lady of the house.  I have astonished myself with the things I can do with the help of the right tools and some coaching from my man and Youtube. To answer the questions I am often asked:  “Yes, I put down that floor myself.”  “No, we didn’t use a contractor.”  “Yes, my husband thinks it’s sexy that I work with power tools.”  “No, I probably won’t install your floors for you, but it doesn’t mean I don’t like you.”  If you have ever dared to think you would like to try something new but were unsure of your abilities, put on your safety gear and go for it!

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Note to self:  borrow hubby’s safety glasses next time you take a pic .  Ditch the scuba mask.

9.  The right tools make all the difference.

Sure, you can spend three times as long trying to accomplish the task at hand with that rusty, whiny saw.  But why not save time and your sanity by purchasing the right tool for the job?  You will wonder why you didn’t do it sooner.  Seriously, dig out your coupon and go buy that thing.  Now.  It will be worth it.

8.  Primer is your friend.

I must confess that I am a woman who is utterly enamored of and entranced by paint samples.  I must also sheepishly admit that though I have been painting almost everything that doesn’t move for upwards of three decades, I have only recently invited primer into the process.  And by recently, I mean since we have owned this house.  Can I just say, “DARLING, WHERE HAVE  YOU BEEN ALL MY LIFE??!”  Primer seriously makes every painting job easier and brings forth better results.  This may have some of you rolling your eyes and muttering, “Duh, lady,” under your breath, but others of us can be slow learners.  Better late than never, right?

7.  Caulk covers a multitude of sins.

I’m not even joking, y’all.  Caulk has ushered some of our homemade-curtain-turned-prom-dress fiascoes projects onto the runway!  It makes everything look seamless, professional, and like you absolutely meant to do it that way.  When I’m armed with a tube of caulk, my handsome hunk lovingly refers to me as “the finishing crew.”

6.  Upcycling:  it’s a thing.

We have recently acquired a few old doors that belonged to David’s grandfather; what joy to learn that he salvaged them from construction sites and trash heaps as he was building his own cozy cottage!  My current infatuation with architectural salvage knows no bounds, so I snatch up doors and windows like stray puppies.  Just remember that a door isn’t only a door; it can find new life as a wall, a headboard, a table, or whatever your sweet Pinterest-filled-mind can dream up.  We’ve used many unconventional materials to bring whimsy, history, and function to our home.   Ugly, landfill-bound items can be reborn as enchanting pieces.  Try it once, and you’ll be hooked.

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I can hardly wait to show you what this ugly duckling has become!

5.  Pay attention to the hidden structures, not just the aesthetics.

Bless my heart, I want the pretty stuff first!  Paint gives me a rush.  No, I’m not sniffing it, but I simply enjoy the instant change that it brings to a room.  I peruse fabric samples and decor catalogs before a room is even built. However, I have learned that the wiring matters.  The plumbing matters.  A dry basement matters.  The A/C certainly matters, especially when you are….ahem….of a certain age and feeling those pesky hot flashes now and then.  When you have to spend money on these non-pretty items, just do it.  You will be glad later, even if it means you don’t get to display the 14 adorable  throw pillows you made for another 6 months.

4.  Hire a professional when necessary.

If, say, you need a new electrical panel and power pole or a new sewer pipe connection for the bathroom addition, for pity’s sake, please hire a professional.  It doesn’t make you less capable; it makes you smart.

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Kids, don’t attempt this at home!

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This is just the beginning of our master bath!  More pictures to come soon.  

3.  The inspector is, in fact, a valuable asset to your project.

Not that I had any foundation for this, mind you, but a creeping sense of fear and rebellion would overtake me when I heard the word, “inspector.”  As in “county building inspector representing THE MAN who wants to make it hard for us to live our dreams.”  We’re independent here, right? This is our land, our home, our Ponderosa, by golly.  Must we really submit to THE MAN?  Well, the answer is yes, you must.  And no, he isn’t here to steal our souls or crush our dreams.  Our inspectors have been extremely helpful on this journey!  I daresay they have even saved our lives, as it was one of the inspectors who pointed out copper gas pipe running throughout the house after we’d opened up a kitchen wall housing said pipe!  Inspectors have given great advice and been more than willing to share their knowledge.

2. You WILL make mistakes.  Learn from them.

Guess what?  It’s not the end of the world.  Some of our building mistakes have led to unintentional awesomeness!  What you end up with is a custom piece with a funny/crazy story behind it.  What’s so wrong with that?  You might also have a little regret that you forgot what a fantastic gardener your hubby is and didn’t teach yourself to can his bounty of vegetables before the harvest came in, but there’s always next year.  Go forth and do better next time.  Remain teachable.


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1.  Be yourself.

 Not everyone will embrace your vision.  Heck, sometimes you yourself will question it and make changes accordingly.  Just remember that this is your nest, your safe place, your haven.  You have to abide there.  You will make lasting memories in that amalgamation of wood and glass and metal and insulation.  If someone else doesn’t get it, that’s okay.  You don’t have to make your house fit into someone else’s idea of what a proper home looks like.  Be yourself and afford your dwelling the same luxury.

It seems that this house is always imparting not just building wisdom but life wisdom. It affirms some solid things we knew and disposes of flimsy bits we thought we were sure of.  In the end, this first year of building and living a country life has lit a fire in us to know more, do more, and explore more.  The best is yet to come.

Going Places

“It is good to have an end to journey toward;

but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”

–Ernest Hemingway

A new yet old thought occurred to me a few days ago as dear husband and I talked about which project to start next:  what does it matter?  It’s certainly nice to finish projects and check them off the list, but just as important is the time spent together learning, making mistakes, planning, solving challenges, gathering supplies, and verbalizing dreams for the future.  We are on this incredible journey of turning this old house into a family home, and what a journey it is!  Each small step is as important as the destination.

We’ve been gathering various objects over the months with no real goal in mind.  An old, forgotten window given away at an estate sale, a dusty suitcase, a handful of pebbles, an outdated road atlas, weathered and discarded cedar fence boards, a hefty slab of maple butcher block (thanks to our friends Summer and David)–all these have been patiently hanging out at our house, waiting for new life.

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To use all our found objects, we decided to pay homage to wanderlust in our cozy home.  We would build a tiny, travel themed powder room (31″ by 64″), borrowing space from what will eventually become our family room.  We knew this would be a long project, since we needed to employ plumbers to dig up the concrete slab and add sewer pipe.  There are many construction tasks we have idealistically attempted with stars in our eyes and a can-do attitude, but tapping into the septic system would not be one of them!

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Once the pipes were laid and connected, we began our work.  Superman and I built the walls together.  He spent a sweaty afternoon carving and shaping the butcher block to fit in our guest bathroom as a counter.  I used up countless sanding pads removing the old finish from the thick maple slab.  We scouted a small vessel sink and farmhouse faucet on Ebay for less than half of what they would cost new.  The solid wood door was a castaway from the Habitat Restore.  For the ceiling we used some of that old family room paneling and painted it white.  The cedar fence boards added texture and interest to one of the walls.

For me, putting down the floor was therapeutic.  I knew I wanted to try a river rock floor.  Lowes even sells pre-made river rock “tiles” that are easy to install, but at $11 a square foot I knew there had to be another way.  I cleaned up some pebbles I had saved from our family vacation last year to David’s parents’ place in the north woods of Wisconsin.  Their idyllic place on 240 wooded acres is often the inspiration for the things we implement in our own home.  Those lake pebbles were added to others that I purchased from the local dollar store.  Although I’m a novice at this type of floor and made some minor errors, I’m happy with the overall results.

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My free window from an estate sale, repainted and adorned with some scrapbook paper, hand lettering, and cool knobs was transformed into a place to hang hand towels.  My $2 vintage suitcase found new purpose as a storage cabinet.  The free book of road maps was used to decoupage an old mirror frame, highlighting birthplaces of our family and favorite travel spots.  A decorative oar found on clearance was turned into a toilet paper holder.  David brilliantly suggested converting a metal globe to a light fixture to top it all off.  Who would think that adding a toilet and sink to our small home would make such an immense difference?

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Just a few days ago we celebrated owning this house for one year!  Signing on the dotted line for this property was just the beginning of the journey.  Much has been accomplished in the past year with more to come.  Every step has brought unexpected challenges and joys.  Through the remodeling, dust, materials, sweat, ideas, and exhaustion, we have learned innumerable lessons about construction, family, love, and ourselves.  Isn’t that the journey that matters, in the end?

Simple Little Pleasures

“I believe the nicest and sweetest days are not those on which anything very splendid or wonderful or exciting happens

but just those that bring simple little pleasures,

following one another softly, like pearls slipping off a string.”

–L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Avonlea

As we drift into our first summer on September Farm, our days are filled with the simple pleasures of country life:  fireflies performing their dusk dance on the meadow, evening pond visits from thirsty deer, handpicked wildflower bouquets, and enthusiastic frog choruses.  Bare feet on freshly turned earth delivers an unexpected peace and sense of connection.  Fruit and vegetable gardens are springing to life with the promise of later bounty, the result of dear husband’s hard work and accumulated knowledge.  These little joys pop up all around us and continue to awe this city girl.

While the garden is one of David’s chief joys, helping to reincarnate old pieces destined for the trash heap is one of mine.  Remember this homemade bar found in the dank, dusty corner of our basement?

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It was covered in chipped paneling and adorned with ill-fitting cabinet doors and smoky gold mirrors.  The drawers were full of dust, incomplete decks of cards, and poker chips.  For me, it was love at first sight!  I knew it could be something special again.  Dear husband (who really can carry out any impossible idea I throw at him) cut off the bar to counter height and made the necessary repairs to add stability to the piece.

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I especially love the mid-century, gold and silver flecked formica counter that extends to add more space as needed.  I primed the whole cabinet and then coated it with a $5 can of gray paint from the clearance shelf at Lowes.   I used sandpaper to give it some worn spots.  I finished it off with a little bit of stain to add to the rustic finish.  Hubby removed the cabinet doors; I curtained the storage opening instead to adorn it with cottage charm.  The final touch was to add new knobs.  Here’s the final result:

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Not only does our “new” kitchen island provide much needed storage, it doubled the counter space in the kitchen!  With this finished, I was able to bring some yard sale treasures out of hiding to accompany the piece.  I found these kitchen stools at separate yard sales for $5 each; they reminded me of a similar one in my grandma’s 1940’s kitchen where I would sit and watch her fry bologna.  My son spent an hour cleaning off the rust on these, armed with a scrub brush and a can of Coke.  I replaced the cushion in one with a spare egg crate mattress and recovered the seats in kid-friendly laminated fabric.

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What would this lovely lady be without one more accessory?  I dusted off one of the first purchases I made after we bought the farm:  an old copper wood bin garnered from a barn sale ($5) down the dirt road from us.  My handy husband braced it, turned it upside down, drilled holes in it for Ikea pot hooks ($8), and mounted it to the ceiling.  Behold my country pot rack that hangs over the island!  I love the aged patina and the extra storage it provides.

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Simple little pleasures abound in our simple little home as we slowly transform it to fit our family.  Just as valuable as the physical changes are the intangible ones:  new memories made on this land, birthdays celebrated around the kitchen table, songs filling every corner, kid laughter and cricket chirps co-existing.  Every aspect of the metamorphosis is a wonder and a delight.