Tag Archives: DIY

Minnesota Wonderer is up to something

Interested in catching up with Minnesota Transplant’s latest passion project, heavy on the passion? Check out my author blog here. Maybe you’ll find your next favorite read.

Lofty fantasies

As I was sorting through my belongings a few weeks ago, purging stuff in preparation to put our house on the market, I ran across a diary I kept 10 years ago.

I was living a tumultuous year then. One so ridiculous and unbelievable, I wrote a book about it. But to summarize, it was the year I moved out of the house I shared with my husband of 16 years; eventually, we divorced.

Among the entries in that diary I found was a page where I described in list form (of course) how I envisioned the rest of my life. What is important to know is that I made this list when I was no longer coupled and before I met the man to whom I am now married, so theoretically, this list reflected my true wishes, unaffected by anyone else with whom I might be living.

Near the top of the list, I wrote that I wanted to live in a loft in the city.

If you’ve been following this blog with any attention at all, you know that didn’t happen. I currently am living in a big box of a house in the suburbs. It has 9-foot ceilings and what some might consider an open floor plan, but no one would consider it loft-like.

But for a few weeks this fall, my Beloved and I entertained some “lofty” ideas.

We came this close (I’m holding my thumb and index finger a quarter inch apart) to buying this:


Yup, it’s exactly what it looks like: A 125-year-old church.

It was a smokin’ deal, and by hot I mean it would have cost less than most cars. Let’s just say, it needed a lot of work, otherwise known as a blank canvas to take on every Pinterest dream associated with “loft,” “barn,” “converted church” and “open floor plan.” And the church was located in the center of, well, I think technically it’s a village, so “city” is a stretch, but to be fair, it was within walking distance of the post office, hardware store and local watering hole.

I had visions of turning this:


… into something like this:


This is a picture of a church converted into a single-family home in London. Sale price last year? $15.5 million.

To be completely honest, we weren’t going to renovate a $15,000 dump into a $15 million home, but you get the vision for which we were shooting. We went as far as putting in a offer for the church, measuring every room, shopping for lighting and furniture, and meeting with the building inspector, painters, plasterers, electricians and plumbers.

We were what they call in the trade, “serious buyers.”

For about three weeks, I doodled floor plans, planned the perfect kitchen under churchy-looking windows, weighs the pros and cons of a master bedroom in the choir loft and picked out chandeliers Joanna Gaines herself might have chosen.

We also had parts of the flooring tested for asbestos.

Asbestos, as you may or may not know, was commonly used in building materials in the mid-20th century. And it causes cancer.

The church flooring is full of the stuff. And with all the other repairs and renovations required to make the church our dream home (not to mention the dirty work and sore muscles), we couldn’t afford to asbestos abatement, too (or cancer).

So we rescinded our offer.

I was disappointed, no denying it. But for about three weeks, it was like the time between buying a lottery ticket and learning you’d lost. Those 48 hours when you might win $400 million dollars is filled with extravagant fantasies, and fantasizing is fun. So I was like, “better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all,” you know the drill.

My Beloved now is dreaming of all kinds of other living accommodations and shopping for them with online searches of various precision. As he trips across the internet, he frequently shows me other churches on the market.

But then he’s also talking about building a pole barn in the middle of nowhere.

So I’m not sure I’ll ever get that loft in the city.

But it was fun to dream about it.

How I painted my kitchen table (with before and afters!)

While everyone else is transforming themselves from “everyday” to “Halloween scary,” I’m sharing a transformation of my own: My kitchen table.

Let’s begin with the “Before Before” shot:

Kitchen Table: Ancient History

Kitchen Table: Ancient History

Here’s my kitchen in 2012 after we finished painting the walls. The 42-inch round table had served us well, especially considering it cost $6.

That’s no typo.

My Beloved picked it up at a second-hand shop in 2007 when he was living in a three-bedroom condo in Minnesota. The table even came with four matching chairs. Marked price was $100, but he had a $100 coupon so all he paid was the sales tax.

We moved it to Illinois with us and ate literally thousands of meals at it over the past eight years. Note the use of the tablecloth in the image above: The wooden table-top was in the condition you might expect for $6. Then at some point, one of the chairs broke in such an irreversible way, even my handy Beloved couldn’t repair it. We decided we had extracted our $6 in value from the set and pondered an upgrade.

We began with the chairs. I decided I wanted something a bit more comfortable (read: padded), and we found a deal on a set of taupe fabric-covered chairs with brass-nail head accents. Unfortunately, the brownishness of the chairs didn’t coordinate with the grayness of the rug, so I decided to create a table to bring things together. My Beloved found a beautiful table with good bones on Craigslist for $200. So here’s the real Before shot:

Table Before

Kitchen Table: Before (accented by small dog who seems to sneak into every shot)

It was a nice table (with an extra six inches of diameter) but very dark brown.

I’m not into re-staining furniture, but I love painting it (click here for the super cool creation of which I’m most proud).

I used a combination of colors in Pale Smoke, Silver Threads, Milk Paint, Stony Fields and Pine Whisper from Pittsburgh Paints to achieve this result:

Kitchen Table: After

Kitchen Table: After

A transformation from “everyday” to “one-of-a-kind”! Given how often we use this table, we invested in a piece of quarter-inch glass to protect the tabletop (so I could put away the tablecloths forever!).

Here’s a closer look at the table legs:

Legs: Closeup

Legs: Closeup

I used Soft Gold to soften the visual edges by painting it on and wiping it off so it only filled the crevices. I love the effect.

Table edge: Closeup

Table edge: Closeup

To be honest, this project isn’t completely finished (I just couldn’t wait to share it here). I plan to put some sort of swirly design on the table top in the form of a sticker-type decal (protected by the glass, of course). When I accomplish that task, I’ll share that, too!

Form follows function

“Ugliness is in a way superior to beauty because it lasts.”

~ Serge Gainsbourg

As with all things, the steps along side our house have been in a state of decline for a while. I maintain the previous homeowner did a fantastic job on our home’s landscaping, but nothing lasts forever, and so it is with the railroad timber steps.

Here’s the backstory: Our house is the only house on the block with a walk-out basement. In order to have such an amenity, the elevation of the yard in the front of the house is one story higher than the yard in back. This means, one’s side yards are steep hills. Our side yards used to look like this:

For many years, these steps were as functional as they were attractive, but as you can see, the steps began disintegrating in the past year or two.

My Beloved recoiled at the quotes he received for having the steps replaced by pros so he decided to do it himself. Or, at least, he decided to put himself in charge.

With the help of a strong-backed young relative and a couple of his friends, our side yards have been transformed over the past couple of weeks. [To be perfectly clear, I am neither the gardener nor the landscaper nor the carpenter nor the manual labor when it comes to all things yard. I am only the lawnmower, and I refuse to whack weeds so I’ve been replaced by an eager-to-earn neighbor boy who also contributed to the steps project by planting seedlings and soon, painting.]

Here’s how our side yards look now:

The steps on the north side will be stained but you can see now exactly which steps were replaced. Infinitely better structure! As you can see, terraces have replaced the steps on the south side. My Beloved intends to install walking steps as some point.

My back hurts just looking at it, but it wouldn’t be so satisfying to admire if it wasn’t because of hard work.

“Life is too complicated not to be orderly.”

~ Martha Stewart

Does this work of art make my front door look like a lush?

Oh, my god, has it been three years already?!

Yes, it’s been three years since we painted the dining room (and the living room and the kitchen).


Time flies when you’re … um … not painting every wall on the main floor of your house.

In any case, when I showed off the before-and-after pictures of the dining room following that transformation, I left out the north wall, which has looked pretty much like this for three years:

entry way before

A little naked. It’s an expanse deserving of something dramatic, so my Beloved and I have looked for that Something Dramatic for a while now (I still can’t believe it’s been three years of dithering–I could have had a Mona Lisa commissioned, painted and paid for in that time). For a while, we were looking for something gnarly (as in literally gnarled) or possibly a unique piece of driftwood.

No dice.

This week, my Beloved painted the front door. What possessed him to do this, I don’t know, but I can attest it was not me who put it on his Honey Do list. It used to be a sort of tired pine green. Now it’s a lovely shade of Pinot Noir.

He apparently also got tired of waiting for the perfect Something Dramatic to show up unbidden at our front door so he went trolling on the internet to find something to adorn the spot above the church bench. He found Something Dramatic, and it arrived at our front door today:

entry way after

I think it’s cool. If you stare at it long enough, it feels like you’re traveling through the galaxy in hyperdrive.

Hey, wine has an other worldly lure. Maybe we should have gone with Pinot Noir three years ago.

Close-up view from the edge of the universe.

Close-up view from the edge of the universe.

For before-and-after addicts only

I’m addicted to before-and-after transformations. Lately, my guilty pleasure is “Chopped,” the Food Network TV show that features chefs turning strange baskets of ingredients into gourmet meals. Deep-fried shrimp heads as a garnish on a fresh mango-and-beet-greens salad? Bring it on! Let’s see how it’s done.

On the theory that other people find before-and-after photos interesting, I’m sharing a few today.

For the past two months, my Beloved and I have been powering through closets (as opposed to shrimp heads). I’ve been to Goodwill at least three times, dropping off all manner of unworn clothes and boom boxes (really? we had three stereos we weren’t using? what has this digital device universe come to?).

Most of those closet transformations haven’t warranted a picture but I sleep better at night knowing the basement furnace room now has labeled plastic bins for all the remotes and USB cords we’ve collected over the years and the bedroom closet in my Adored stepson’s room now has enough room for a mattress (to be retrieved by the Adored stepson again at some future date).

The drive to streamline began with the kitchen pantry, which my mother helped me tackle during a visit in April:

pantry before

Pantry: Before

Pantry: After

Pantry: After

Other pain points in the kitchen included the junk drawer. Everyone has a junk drawer, right? Filled with weird gadgets, bits of garbage and loose screws? Well, my junk drawer had enough batteries to power the lighting on the Eiffel Tower for a week and enough hooks to hang King Henry’s harem. So I found boxes for them and labeled them (love my label maker!):

Junk drawer: After

Junk drawer: After

It helped that I threw away an ocean of rubber bands, used twist ties and all those loose screws (why did we keep old screws?). But organizing similar stuff in containers helps a lot. With that in mind, I tackled the cupboard above my kitchen desk, which was more like a junk cupboard than a cookbook case:

Kitchen desk cupboard: After

Kitchen desk cupboard: After

Meanwhile, my Beloved tackled the water filtration system under the kitchen sink. Thanks to a slow leak that softened the particle board base, the water tank crushed it:

Under-the-kitchen-sink: Before

Under-the-kitchen-sink: Before

Reminds me of quick sand. Yuck.

After diagnosing more than one weak, leaky point requiring several visits to Home Depot, my Beloved invested in a new system altogether. He also removed the cupboard floor and put in a new kick-plate. Ta, da! The new system filters delicious water:

Under-the-kitchen-sink: After

Under-the-kitchen-sink: After

As the weather improves (marginally), we are tackling outdoor projects. I would show you my awesome diagonally mowed lawn, but only a Californian on water restrictions can appreciate it. So instead, I’ll show you the deck steps I painted over Memorial Day weekend:

Deck steps: Before

Deck steps: Before

Deck steps: After

Deck steps: After

Paint cures a lot of ills. Meanwhile, my Beloved has taken on a project for which the only power I’m providing is cheerleading. He’s replacing the disintegrating railroad tie steps on the side of the house:

steps before

Landscape steps: Before

Unfortunately, I don’t have an after for you yet (but I have a guaranteed post when my Beloved and his crack team of manual laborers complete the task).

Something I learned from my little sister

Every time I roast a chicken, I think of my sister.

For years, decades really, I refused to have anything to do with “chicken on the bone.” Besides eating it, of course. If Col. Sanders was willing to hack through all that horrible connective tissue and handle that mysterious package of squishy little pieces, more power to him: I’ll eat the delicious fried results. But heck if I was going to handle that stuff — that’s what modern butchers are for! I bought skinless boneless chicken breasts.

Then, about a decade ago (I might have been living with her briefly at the time, between marriages as I was), my sister salted and peppered a whole chicken, popped it in the oven and said something like, “well, there’s dinner.”

“Oh, I admire you,” I said. “I hate handling chicken on the bone.”

“Oh, it’s so easy,” she said, making “easy” sound like it had 12 syllables. “You really should try it.”

Pretty much up until then, I assumed I was the smarter sibling. Because I was older, see. I had more experience.

Well, not with preparing chicken, as it turned out. My sister was right. Roasting a chicken is easy.

And then, I discovered when I moved in with my Beloved, that disgusting carcass of chicken bits and bones make the most amazing chicken broth. “Amazing,” with 12 syllables.

And making chicken broth is pretty easy, too! Who’d a thunk?

So today as I was salting and peppering my whole chicken (my Beloved refused to let me use anything fancy like lemon or garlic or, God forbid, rosemary), I thought of my sister. And of the amazing chicken soup I’m going to eat tomorrow, too.

Fairest mirror on the wall

In the vein of my continued fascination with paint and its transformative effects, here’s a look at the dresser mirror I upcycled for my Adored stepson’s bedroom makeover:

dresser after

You can see the matching nightstand across the room in the mirror reflection (you can see a little picture-taking hand, too).

mirror close upThe first three coats of the mirror were in Shalestone (same shade at the dresser drawers). The final coat came from a bit of leftover Pumpernickel from the dining room downstairs (remember that makeover? here’s a peek). I brushed it on and then immediately wiped it off with a paper towel. I was attempting to replicate the look of the floor lamp in the room, and I’m not sure I completely succeeded, but I like it a lot better than it looked before. The finishing touch was three coats of polyurethane, so the mirror is a bit shinier than the dresser, which received only a wax coating.

Here’s how the dresser and mirror looked before (no, I take no ownership of the empty Fireball bottles on the dresser in the before shot):

How to turn a teenager’s football fantasy into a young man’s cool retreat

The obnoxious orange walls and cartoonish Fatheads are gone.

My Adored stepson’s bedroom decorated in all things Chicago Bears was perfect for a teenager, but I wasn’t so happy with it after he started college last fall.

Yesterday, I shared how I transformed my Adored stepson’s nightstand with paint (missed it? Click here). Today, here’s a look at how his bedroom looks now. (No, I didn’t manage to get any before pictures; I was in that much of a hurry to change it.)

First we painted the very dark blue wall behind the bed in a slightly lighter dark blue, Pittsburgh Paints’ Calvary. The other Chicago Bears blue wall and the two orange walls were covered with Silver Blueberry:

bedroom 1

I like painting the wall behind the bed in a bedroom a different color; it’s sort of like creating a huge headboard for the bed. In this case, the existing headboard needed a coat of paint, too, to transform it from wrought-iron black to white so it popped against the Calvary. The Chicago Bears bedspread, made with love by Caswell’s grandma, will be used to keep him warm, maybe at a brutally cold Bears game. It was replaced with a neutral gray comforter.

bedroom 2

My Adored stepson’s old lamps were black with orange shades, which simply wouldn’t do in the cool room I wanted to evoke visions of “seaside vacation.”

The perfect floor lamp I found was too short, so I used fake books with hidden compartments to boost its height:

bedroom 3

Here’s a close-up:

floor lamp

I found the perfect lamp for the nightstand at, of all places, Menards (“for all your home improvement projects, save big money at Menards”). The body is brushed chrome (to match the nightstand’s new drawer pulls) and the lampshade has “French print” to echo the fake books on the other side of the bed.

bedroom 4

The walls now need all new decorations. The Chicago Bears Fatheads and posters will find a new home in my Beloved garage (aka, man cave). I have grand plans to showcase beautiful things while making a young man feel at home (since Stepson sleeps here most weekends and will be living with us this summer); I’ll share as I complete them.


bedroom 5

Say cheese! DIY ricotta

Oh, the weather outside is frightful. But the cheese is so delightful.

That’s not how the song goes, but the bastardized lyrics describe my day today.

Let’s just say this much about the weather in northern Illinois: It’s cold and windy and the only way to combat it is with a second pair of socks and comfort food.


This inspired me to pull out the DIY ricotta kit my sister gave me for Christmas a year ago with the words, “It might make a fun blog.”

ricotta ingredients

Making ricotta cheese, it turns out, requires very few ingredients and a lot of patience: Milk, citric acid and cheese salt. I sprang for organic whole milk, and I appreciate how the packaging reminds me twice — on the kit and on the carton — where milk comes from. If one is going to embrace DIY, one ought to be aware of all the contributors to the project.

I chose to make ricotta because the recipe had only five steps; the recipe for mozzarella has 12 steps, two notes and more temperature references than I care to count (or monitor). Plus I had an idea for how to use the ricotta.

ricotta cooking

I heated the milk over medium low heat. Here’s where the patience comes in; if one uses too high a heat, the milk scorches. You can see the curds forming at about 120 degrees. It took nearly a half hour to get to 180 degrees.

ricotta draining

After sitting undisturbed for 10 minutes, it’s time to separate the men from the boys, oops I mean, separate the curds from the whey. Cheesecloth required.

ricotta finished

Here’s the final result. Some beautiful curds …

ricotta whey

And a whole lot of whey. What does one do with whey? Throw it away? No way! I’ll figure out some way to use this. Smoothies, maybe?

ricotta dish

All this work for a bit of comfort food for supper: Spoon a dollop of DIY ricotta on some warm tomatoey pasta and a bit of chicken sausage. Yum.

Stay warm, friends!