Right to the Bittersweet End

I knew it was the sensible thing to do with school starting tomorrow morning, but I hesitated to call the kids inside tonight.  They ended summer the same way they started it: playing outside until dark with their neighborhood friends. 

Just like summer ought to be, right to the bittersweet end.

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Waking Up a Sleepy Nightstand

Over five years ago while eight months pregnant with our third daughter, I stripped and refinished our entire bedroom suite, a collection of mismatched pieces gathered over years and places.  I gleaned two bits of wisdom from that experience.  First, I discovered how painting old furniture can give it new life.  Unifying all our pieces in black looked amazing, especially given the previous mishmash of finishes.  Second, though perhaps more tangentially, it solidified my belief that you should never underestimate a woman who is nesting.

While I've always liked the black finish, this summer I decided to freshen up one of the bedroom pieces: my nightstand.  Before I fill you in on the process, let me first give you some sneak peaks of the finished product below:

The process was simple enough.  I brought the nightstand to our garage, set up a drop cloth to protect the floor, and removed the hardware from the drawers.

After lightly sanding the nightstand and cleaning it of dust, I filled the small nicks with wood filler using a putty knife.  I then let the wood filler dry and sanded once more to ensure the smoothest surface for painting.

In case you're curious, I used Halcyon Green by Behr, which is a lovely color that pleasingly shifts depending on the lighting.  Sometimes it appears bluish-green; other times it appears to have a more gray undertone.

I carefully used a one-inch angled brush to cut in corners and reach small crevices, and then followed up with a small foam paint roller specifically designed for furniture and cabinets.  Rollers not only provide easy and quick paint coverage; they also prevent the appearance of brush strokes.

I loved the color even before it dried, but I thought that adding a second subtle accent color (this time, a crisp Valspar paint sample called March Ice) would add even more impact to the finished piece.

I painted the entire top with March Ice, the lighter paint,

and then used the main paint shade, Halcyon Green, to stencil a pattern on the top.  (Check out my full tutorial explaining how to stencil perfectly for helpful tips.)

This simply restoration made the nightstand look like an entirely new piece of furniture, one that's fresh and airy, not dark and clunky.  Its lightness even seems to cause the hardware, which I barely noticed when the piece was black, to gleam more brightly.

Plus, the stenciled pattern attractively minimizes any lingering imperfections.  Despite my wood putty work, the piece still has some slight mars, which makes sense that the nightstand was mine from childhood.  (You know, ten years ago when I was a kid.  Okay, twenty years ago.)

Alright, alright.  Thirty years ago.

As an added bonus, the lighter finish masks dust wonderfully, and if you can't see dust, it's easy to pretend it's not there.  If only for that reason, the nightstand might be one of my favorite DIY projects of the summer. 

Come to think of it, perhaps one of my favorite DIY projects of all time.

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Bring New Dimension to Your Bookshelves

Stationed in the corner of our family room is a tall black bookshelf that's sturdy, functional, and spacious enough to store a portion of our books.  We've owned it the bookshelf for years, but this summer I began to regard it curiously.  Could something simple be done to elevate the shelves from standard to stand-out

Could I somehow brighten the black background and help the horizontal lines pop?  Could I complete a project that would prompt me to take a Pinterest-worthy close-up picture where I highlighted a few books and one prominently angled metallic initial?

Why, yes.  Yes I could. 

And it all started by unscrewing thirty screws to remove the back panel of the bookshelf and measuring the panel's length and width.  While wallpaper or a few coats of paint in fun accent color would be excellent ways to amp up a bookshelf's interior, I opted to buy a yard of fabric in a subtle geographic print to serve as my backdrop.

If you choose to use fabric, I recommend ironing the fabric with starch first.  Perhaps you're more adultlike than I am and regularly use starch while you iron, but as a non-adultish adult, I rarely iron and I've never used starch.  This was a necessary DIY leap, and it paid off with crisp fabric that was easy to handle.

With all of my supplies gathered and prepped, I first used binder clips to secure the fabric in place tautly.

Once the fabric was perfectly aligned, I then applied a thin line of hot glue to adhere the fabric to the panel.

It's that simple, my friends.  After letting the glue dry, it was time to remove the binder clips, screw the thirty screws back into place, shimmy the bookshelf back into its corner, and admire my work.

Instead of looking overwhelmingly dark and heavy, the bookshelf now has new dimension.  Three cheers for brighter backdrops!  (And, surprisingly, three cheers for starch.  It's good to be a grown-up sometimes.)

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The Salvaged Magazine Rack

I try to follow a useful rule when shopping at garage sales: if you see something you like, pick it up and hold onto it.  I've learned the wisdom of this practice by losing out on a few good items due to indecision.  This summer, in fact, I found a terrific metal magazine rack on sale for one dollar, but I waffled on the purchase.  Do I need a magazine rack?  Where would I put it? 

By the time I decided that I'd love the magazine rack and mentally designated the perfect place for it in my house (The. Perfect. Place.), the magazine rack was gone.  I mulled over that rack for the rest of the day.  I searched for magazine racks on Google and found one that looked exactly like the one I had passed up.  It was selling for $29.  Snap.

Ah, you never quite get over the one that got away.

On the flip side, if I had bought that original metal magazine rack, I wouldn't have picked up this one:

I must tell you that it didn't come looking quite this nice.  When I found it at another garage sale weeks later, it was dirty, missing three spindles, and relegated to the free pile because of its condition.  Free?  I'll take free.  I'm all about free!

While a small part of me still mourned the original metal rack that I could have gotten, my DIY sensibility appreciated the chance to salvage an object that others found worthless.  It was time give that poor cast-off wooden rack a little love.

I bought two dowel rods at Lowes, cut them to size with a hand saw, and lightly filed the edges until the rods easily slid into the pre-drilled holes on the rack's base and upper lip.

Once the missing rods were inserted, I sanded the entire rack with a fine sandpaper, removed all traces of dust, and finished with several light coats of brushed nickel spray paint, the same finish I used for my recent picture frame upgrade.

Not only do I love that I saved it from a dumpster, but I also love how it looks!  The best part, though, just might be that once the project was finished, I didn't have to think twice about where to put it.  

I already had picked the perfect spot.

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Kitchen Table Upgrade

If I had to nominate one piece of furniture that serves as our home's primary workhorse for eating and congregating and working, it would be our kitchen table.  This summer I assessed its condition honestly: scratches from years of use, Sharpie marker scribbles from an unsupervised craft time, deeply embedded stains from spilled drinks, and a piece of Scotch tape that had become one with the tabletop and remained affixed no matter how often I scratched at it with my fingernail.

In short, it was a typical kitchen table belonging to a family with kids, one that prompts a mother to think sandblasting it would be more effective than wiping it down with another Clorox wipe.

And that's the very thought that spurred my total kitchen table overhaul earlier this summer.  My husband helped me carry the table outside where I used a power sander to strip the old finish and reveal the bare wood.

I can't underestimate how satisfying this process was.  Crusted Play-Doh and Kool-Aid stains are no match for a woman with determination and a palm sander.

After thoroughly sanding all remnants of the old yellow finish and wiping the table free of dust, I applied Rust-Oleum Wood Stain in Driftwood, a cool-toned gray hue, allowing ample drying time between applications.  Two coats might have sufficed, but since I prefer more opaque coverage, I added a third coat before sealing the table with two protective coats of polycrylic finish. 

When the table was returned to our kitchen, I basked for a moment at its pristine condition.  But only for a moment.


Because, as we know, no space remains pristine for long.  It's the kitchen table, after all, and real life takes place there.

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A Favorite DIY Hack: Keep What Works. Change What Doesn't.

One of the most enjoyable parts of summer has been having time to pay attention to my house, or more specifically, my house projects.  Give me an unassuming decoration or piece of old furniture, let me putz in my garage to sand and spray and stain and paint, and I'm in my element.  (It lets me dream that I host my own HGTV show, even if my neighbors are the only ones who get to watch it.)

To commemorate the end of summer and the many DIY exploits its afforded, each day this week I'll be sharing one of my recent projects, starting with this simple picture frame upgrade.

Essentially, there was nothing egregiously wrong with this picture frame, except that there was nothing particularly right about it.  The wood didn't match our decor, I didn't gravitate toward the dark brown photo mat, and we have nothing yellow in our house.  

Three strikes, yes, but there was one redeeming factor: the picture frame itself wasn't bad at all.  I could keep what worked (the frame) and change what didn't (everything else.)

I spray painted the photo mat crisp white, spray painted the frame brushed nickel, and filled the frame with modern geographic scrapbook paper prints that better complimented our color scheme.

Now, instead of a dark and dated picture frame, the look is fresh and clean.  (Plus, the upgrade demanded little time or money or skill, which is always a win.)

Wonderful things happen when you take a moment to look at your home with fresh eyes.  The easiest upgrade -- keeping what works, changing what doesn't -- might be right in front of us waiting to be discovered, just like this frame was for me.

Check back each day this week to see more fun DIY transformations!

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Unplug For a Few Minutes

Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you. 
(Anne Lamott | Salon, April 10, 2015)

Like all past summers already have and all future summers eventually will, this summer draws to a close.  Last week's meetings and increased activity in my email inbox signaled that the end was near.  On Monday morning when I walk across campus to my first class of the fall semester, the deal will be sealed: summer living will be over.  

I've extracted everything I could from these past few months: picnics and potlucks with family and friends and neighbors, stacks of good books, some happy hours of mindless TV after the kids went to bed, hunting for treasures at dozens of garage sales, morning runs, afternoons when the neighborhood kids helped my girls empty our freezer of ice pops, evenings playing Yahtzee on the back patio, epic gardening, DIY projects around the house, a few small road trips, and some opportunities (even in the midst of daily life with kids playing and squabbling and seemingly always needing to be fed ) to slow down, unplug, and be a person.

I believe I'm ready for the semester ahead because of it.

This isn't to say that I'm not already slightly nostalgic for what's about to end.  In fact, after a day's worth of department meetings, final syllabus revisions, and discussion with colleagues, yesterday I came home, changed out of my skirt and heels, and immediately headed to our garden where I picked brimming bowls of tomatoes -- a task, my my opinion, that might be the most honest work I ever do in life besides cutting the grass.

It also isn't to say that I've immediately dived into my work responsibilities with laser-like focus.  No, the day I began to edit several assignments, I started by spending two hours sorting my email inbox because -- hello -- it's much easier to edit next week's assignments when you have the peace of mind that your emails from the past three years are organized.  (This is the same logic my dear friend followed when she spent an afternoon cleaning her office instead of writing her syllabus.  I haven't yet seen it, but she's told me that the new way she stores envelopes in her drawer is life changing.)

Besides from printing rosters, setting up course websites, and attending to other start-of-the-semester odds and ends, there's one more thing I need to do before the semester starts.  I'm printing Anne Lamott's words and pinning them to the bulletin board in my office so I'll remember their wisdom.

Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.

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So Much Green

There's so much green these days that I almost don't see it anymore.  Even in mid-August when lawns normally have browned from the summer's scorch, our grass is perfectly green.  The mountainside behind our house provides a serene green background.  The trees in our yard gently sway in the wind, waving their branches as if announcing their greenness.

As I drove the other day along a road framed by trees, the green suddenly stood out to me.  So much green!  So much life and lushness!

I've looked at it so long, I've forgotten that the view can be another way.  In other seasons, it can appear dark and dormant and dead.

Sometimes when you're in the midst of a season, you forget that it can be another way.  Lord knows that happens to me in the height of winter, when I doubt I'll ever feel sunshine on my skin again.  And the Lord knows this happens during other times, too, like when we're hurting, whether physically or emotionally, and we can't remember what it feels like to live without pain, without the sensation that life seems dark and dormant and dead.

The seasons always turn.  They always do.

I'm now looking at the green with more awareness, more gratitude, because I know that it won't always be this way.  And I want to remember when the darkness comes -- because it will -- it won't last forever.

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The Day Consumed by Zucchinis

There are moments in life when you reach a point of decision and say, with every ounce of moxy you can muster, enough is enough.  That was me this morning when I regarded the twenty two zucchinis (some rivaling the size of whiffle ball bats) that had accumulated on my kitchen counter.

I made a declaration: This is the day when I will conquer those zucchini.  In a veritable zucchini-style veni, vedi, vici, I systematically attacked those gourds.  I now have ten zucchini breads and fifteen dozen (fifteen dozen!) chocolate chip zucchini cookies in my freezer to vouch for that fact.

My day was utterly consumed by zucchini.  And, amazingly, I didn't get through them all.  After pulling the last batch of cookies from the oven, I still had a sizable bowl of leftover shredded zucchini and four whole zucchini sitting on the counter, mocking me.

Don't even get me started on my tomatoes.

Or my apples.

Come to think of it, all of my produce.

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