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.