Lessons Learned (mostly the hard way)

It has been a while since our last post, primarily because we currently find ourselves in the middle of about five projects (so what else is new?!).  As I reflect on the past almost three years in our home, I am reminded of all the lessons we have learned along the way, most of which we learned the hard way (after all, what other way is there).  SO....I decided to compile a list of my top 7  truths about home-ownership so that you, our faithful friends, might one day avoid some of the mishaps we have.

7. If it's cheap, it's going to break. I am mostly referring to fixtures here. Cheap knobs, handles, appliances, etc.. will inevitably break and require replacement. Do yourself a favor...spend the extra $$$ and save yourself some curse words down the road.

6. Chances are, even if it isn't cheap, it may break. If you have a home, apartment, townhouse, mobile home, RV, cardboard box, etc.. something will ALWAYS require your attention. I can't explain it. It's just  a truth.

5. Baseboards are filthy, dirty, horrid places. I know I can't be the only one here; our baseboards are like magnets for dirt and dust. Once I clean them, it's like all the dirt in the house knows they are vacant and immediately migrates directly to them. Ugh.

4. Throw pillows: men seem to be allergic to them. Women consider throw pillows like eyebrows: they are a necessary visual feature of the face (or couch) and without them, said face (or couch) looks a little naked. Throw pillows are the best in home accessory since the toaster oven. They make a great way to tie in different colors and they are the perfect addition to any late night scary movie watching endeavor. They are comfortable, interchangeable and just all around great companions for any living room or bedroom. The sad thing about throw pillows is that the male species seems to, as a general rule, be deathly allergic to their presence. Now, this "truth" is really still in the theorem stage but based on my scientific observation, men must move throw pillows around (usually by tossing and/or literally throwing them) before finding comfort in throw pillow environment. I am seriously considering Velcro-ing our pillows to the couch just to see if they really are toxic to men (therefore leaving dead bodies in their wake), or if they are just a minor nuisance. More to come on this topic....

3. Grass seems to keep growing, no matter how often it is cut. Those who know me, know I am not a plant person. This includes vegetable plants, herbs, shrubs, flowers, vines and yes, even grass. I am an animal person. Animals tell you when they are hungry and are therefore, far more deserving of my time and attention. Plants, rather than communicating their needs, just up and die. Thank goodness my wonderful husband is a plant person. He seems to be able to make any kind of plant live and even thrive. While I personally think yards are very pretty, I do find it very frustrating that the more you care for your yard,  the more care it requires. The grass continues to grow because we freakin' water it. The strawberries continue to ripen and if not picked, rot because he takes care of them. Weeds also puzzle me because even in spots where the yard may struggle, weeds seem to be doing just fine. It would seem to me that as a culture, it would be a whole lot easier if we just embraced weeks as being desirable and let them take over, saving ourselves a lot of work and time at Pike's Nursery. Just my thoughts...

2. If it is a little broken now, chances are it will be a lot broken later. Every homeowner has made this mistake; Something in the house is a little loose, a little squeaky, a little leaky or a little broken. You think to yourself  "oh it's not that urgent, I will just fix it later". BIG MISTAKE. You will not fix it later and it probably is or will eventually be that urgent. A shower door that starts to get a little stuck upon entry or exit will eventually become completely stuck, leaving you in a very vulnerable position and fresh out of good cuss words. There will likely be a post about this one at a later date...

1. When I was a little girl, I once had a fish tank. One time, I got a new tropical fish that the PetsMart people told me would grow as big as its environment allowed it to. They said that this particular fish would continue to grow based on the size of the tank it lived in. This leads me to the issue of storage. Not everyone has this issue but I would be willing to bet that most of us do. We, like the fish from PetsMart, seem to have the uncanny ability to take up as much space as our environment allows us to. For us, the minimal mansion is undoubtedly a small-ish tank compared to many. Like most old homes, our home has very limited closet space. We have one closet in the guest bath and one closet for each of our wardrobes. My sweet husband was kind enough to allow me to occupy the larger of the two master closets (I do have a very extensive and continually growing cowboy boot collection to house), but we continually find  ourselves coming up with creative ways to store things. Our house is full of baskets, bins, boxes, drawers and strategically utilized nooks and crannies. I am almost positive that no matter how large our home was, we would continue to face storage challenges, based on the tank vs. fish theory.

Now, I can think of about 100 additional "lessons" learned over the course of our home ownership but I think I will save those for the next post. Owning a home has been a very educational (and fun) experience for us and I look forward to many more learning experiences down the road.

Until next time-

Thanks for reading :-)


My Tack Room. I mean, Dining Room.

For those who do not know me very well, I will begin this post by letting you know that I am a "horse person". In case you are not aware, "horse people" are a particular breed of the human race that are what we shall call, special. As a general rule, "horse people" wince during western movies when a horse gets injured, rather than worrying about the condition of the human character of the story line. Generally speaking, horse people are kind to animals, oblivious to the presence of dirt and often foul-mouthed in everyday  conversation. Horse people are by nature, unafraid of 'horse germs,' un-phased by manure, and perpetually worried that their own, "human children" won't be born with the "horse lover gene". 

All that to say....my name is Amy and I am a horse person. My pickup truck serves as a mobile barn, storing my grooming tools, horse treats, halters and lead ropes. I have a special section in my closet dedicated to boots. I compare all large purchases to what they would equate in terms of saddles, horse purchases or vet bills. I am one of "those" people.

So....naturally my home would reflect some of my horsey habits. My patient and wonderful husband, though unfortunately not a "horse person" himself, is tolerant and supportive of my addiction. The mansion, while a small downtown cottage rehab, not only serves as a beloved home but also stores many of my most precious horse supplies. If you know anything about saddles, you know they are expensive, and more often than not, heavy. They are also leather and require special care and appropriate storage.  It is for this reason that I have chosen to store my saddles in our dining room- obviously this is the most appropriate place for stable gear. 

In order to make the most of our space (1300 sq ft.=creativity required), we decided to build traditional saddle racks as high as possible. The racks we chose are a simple design, which easily collapses against the wall while not in use. The design is fairly simple, requiring rough cut lumber, stripped and cut to size, and some basic metal hardware easily found at any hardware store. While the materials for this type of saddle rack are not usually expensive, we already had the wood to assemble them on hand. 

Now, our saddle racks pretty much climb the dining room wall. The benefit to having high ceilings, is that they make a small room appear larger. Another benefit to high ceilings, of course, is that you can fit more saddles on the wall.

Now, this is not a traditional southern formal dining room by any means BUT it is functional and, in my opinion, decorative (then again...I am a "horse person").  All we have to do now is stain the racks and voila...a complete tack/dining room!

The purpose of this post? To encourage you to make your home functional to your lifestyle. No, saddle racks in the dining room are not really the norm in a traditional southern home, but I would be willing to bet that even the most distinguished Garden & Gun reader would relate to our particular storage dilemma. Homes are meant to be lived in. They are meant to reflect our loves, our personalities and our daily lives. If you have kids, let the legos and Barbie shoes  decorate the living room. If you have cats, don't stress over a scratching post in the bedroom. If you have a pig (ha....who has a pig in the house?!? that was sarcasm, people), let him sleep on the couch while you have dinner guests. 

Moral to the story: Your home is your habitat. The mansion...it's an interesting mix of horse person and bike/tennis/marathon runner. We live in our house and so should you.

 If you ever join us for dinner or a drink one evening, don't be surprised if you find a horse hair in your drink or a pig running around the house. That's how we roll in the "mansion".

"The End....until we run out of square footage, that is"


Rain on a Tin Roof

For those who aren't aware....Macon, Ga is the hottest place on God's green Earth. I am not kidding....it is really hotter here. I can't explain it, but I know that this beloved city of ours is hot in the summer time and in the spring time and usually in the fall time and sometimes even in the winter time.

That said...energy costs (especially in an old house with lots of cracks and crannies), can easily get out of hand. When we purchased our beloved "mansion," one of the major selling points was the back deck. The deck overlooked our neighborhood and offered an outstanding view of our dear Alma Mater.  While we have loved the deck since day 1, we have not really been able to enjoy it during the summer time. You see, our back deck receives direct sunlight during the hottest part of the day, making it an unbearable place to sit between the months of April and, like October. Not only is the heat uncomfortable while on the porch, but the heat also permeates through the windows and into the kitchen, making an entire kitchen an indoor sauna for much of the year.

So what did we do to solve this little problem?
We began our biggest DIY-undertaking to date. Now follow me here....

<Our Deck Pre-Renovation.

We decided that with a roof, the back deck could finally become usable during the warmer months (like 11.5 months out of the year in Macon) AND we would be able to still utilize the deck during wet weather. The roof would also shade the sun from the kitchen, ultimately saving us some major energy bill nightmares. So, my sweet dear handy man husband, along with guidance and direction (and free labor) from my experienced contractor father, tore out our old railing, added new custom railing and built the porch up, adding a tin roof to cover the entire deck. The deck now offers a comfortable place to grill, sit, eat and watch the sunset.

Energy savings and avoided heat strokes aside, my very favorite thing about the new and improved porch is the sound of the tin when it rains; after all, what could possibly be more Southern than the sound of rain on a tin roof?

<Construction Zone

With all the tearing down, rebuilding, staining, nailing, and dodging bad weather.., this project took several months' worth of weekends to complete.The result is beautiful, however and I feel sure we will enjoy many back porch sunsets to come! (See below to admire the splendor)

Y'all Come Back Now, Ya Hear!


Fifty Shades of Yellow

If you have been following our DIY journey for any length of time, you know that I have a strong aversion to yellow walls. It is not that I detest the color yellow; in fact, I am quite fond of yellow when used where appropriate. I like lemons, Waffle House, Big Bird, canaries, the sun, etc.. I do not appreciate, however, the use of a particularly offensive shade of yellow throughout my home. When we first purchased our house, we really liked the colors that the first person who had it under contract chose.....for the most part. For a year, we lived with these colors choices and worked around them.  To be honest, I am very fond of a couple of the room colors and intend to leave them. As time moves on, however, I am becoming less and less comfortable with the bright, chameleonic personality of the yellow.

You see, yellow paint on the interior can be tricky; while the color can at first appear cheerful and even somewhat neutral, our particular shade of yellow was actually numerous shades in one. Now, I am not a color-ologist or whatever you call a person who names the Crayola box, but I am a concerned citizen seeking to warn you about the tricky nature of certain shades of yellow (disclaimer: not ALL shades of yellow).

Our yellow inhabited three rooms and a bathroom of our home. While at first I thought (or convinced myself that) the yellow made things feel more spacious, eventually I grew to realize that what was intended to be the same shade of yellow throughout the house, ended up being a different shade in each room and furthermore, a different shade at different times of the day.

So..... enter Amy and Chris, paint swatches, good friends and a bottle of wine (or two). The first room we tackled was the living room, which you may know about from reading our post THE YELLOW THAT KEPT ME UP AT NIGHT.  I will spare you the gruesome details of that adventure and sum it up to say that our new, Behr Mocha Latte living room is a latte more livable (see what I did there. lol).

The next room to tackle was the dining room. Once I saw the impact the dark brown color had on the overall tone of the living room, there was no going back. So....Chris went out of town for a day and I had a dear friend over for a night of painting and wine. She and I finished painting the dining room in a couple of short hours (trim and all). The dining room formerly known as yellow is now a delightful, clean shade of grey (Behr: "Anonymous"). Needless to say, I am not addicted to re-painting that which is yellow. The next opportunity that presented itself (i.e. the hubby went out of town), I grabbed two of my favorite friends (you know who you are), a couple of bottles of wine, a veggie pizza and a gallon of paint.

As I have mentioned before, our home is very small, but the rooms are rather large. Our foyer is actually large enough to be useful (hence the "nook", etc.).  In order to make the foyer a little more inviting and a little less "HEY I'M YELLOW!!!!," I opted for a dark brown shade similar to the one we chose for the living room. Oddly enough, Home Depot no longer had Behr Mocha Latte, so I just grabbed something that looked close (it is just paint, after all).

<Exhibit A: Yellow walls
<A few hours later, we have a complete project.  Marcie insists on being present for the "after" pictures. 

 Nook in the Yellow era, prior to painting (yes, those are glasses of merlot):


And Nook post-painting:

While painting a room is not necessarily a major DIY challenge, it really can completely change the look and feel of a room. I am beginning to find that when I get tired of a space, painting it almost always lifts my spirits and gives me a new outlook on life in that room. The foyer that was once super bright and cheerful (to the point of making my eyes hurt), is now warm and welcoming. I might get sick of brown eventually and if I do, I will just head back to the paint center to fulfill a new craving for change. 
I am obsessed with painting something navy blue eventually....

Moral to the story:
Why live an off-white eggshell life when you can live
a  high gloss mocha latte one?


Let's get Insulated

If  you live in an old house, you probably know that cold air some how finds its way through any crack or cranny possible. Old houses (especially larger ones), are just not insulated the way newer homes tend to be. Although our house is very small (or minimal, as we say), we find energy bills to be surprisingly high in during the colder and warmer months. We have also found that one side of our house stays fairly temperate, while the other side (the side with our bedroom on it) is always either freezing or rain forest hot.

So....backtracking just a bit....when we re-tiled our beloved tile shower (remember, the shower of problems  from a while back?), we discovered that there was absolutely no insulation on one side of the house. When our fabulous tile guy came in for the shower overhaul, he noticed this issue through the opening he had to make in the bathroom ceiling.

To make a long story very short...we decided that we had to insulate our house (which we have just now gotten around to doing). Not only were we freezing in the winter time and sweating in the summer time, but we were spending money cooling and heating a house that was not holding up its end of the bargain. After some careful research, we (ok, Chris) found that this little insulation problem could be easily fixed in a one afternoon DIY session.
 SO....to Lowe's we go.....

Chris  found a great deal on "green insulation," which as far as I understand, basically means a bunch of recycled paper crap that has been chopped up and compressed into a big block.

< See exhibit A-recycled paper insulation crap.

He also rented an insulation blower. Now...when I say insulation blower, I mean a huge metal thing with a big hose that makes lots of noise. See exhibit B, below:

Now, Chris had drafted a very well thought out plan outlining how we were going to blow the insulation throughout the attic of the house, forever solving our heating and cooling problems for a very reasonable financial investment. I, being the supportive wife that I am, agreed to this venture, blessing it whole-heartedly and moving along on my merry way.

Until I got drafted to help.

Once we got the blower situation and all the insulation in place, we realized that this was most certainly a two person job. I, being that same loving supportive wife that I was in the paragraph above, hesitantly agreed to help in the insulation placement escapade. Chris carefully explained how the blower worked and when to replace the recycled paper crap, how to carefully feed the blocks of recycled paper crap through the blower, etc.  He climbed into the attic, with the insulation hose in tow and once situated, gave me the green light to turn the machine on.

What you see here is a photo of the rented blower, the mound of recycled paper crap and my adoring husband. What you do not see is my Taliban-inspired get up, complete with face and head covering, as I was sure the paper crap particles would fly into the air, suffocating me and leaving me dead on the porch, covered in gray recycled crap powder. (note: I was a little overly-cautious. There was a significant amount of dust...but nothing warranting the safety precautions I had in place).

Once the machine was turned on, it began slowly moving recycled crap matter up the hose. I could see some material moving, but not very much. I had expected the machine to pull the material quickly, and that I would have to work to get the next block of insulation unwrapped and broken up to feed it through. For whatever reason, however, this did not happen. After about 10 minutes, I felt my cell phone vibrate with a call from Chris (from the attic, mind you). The blower was so loud that we had planned to communicate from attic to porch, via cell phone. I turned off the machine to hear him, only to find that no insulation had been coming out of the hose on his end.

So there we were, me in my Taliban-insulating costume and Chris trapped in the attic with a non-working insulation hose and dozens of blocks of recycled paper insulation crap to spread throughout the house. The machine was not working. It was a failure. What were we to do?

Hire it done. That's what we were to do.

We took the darn blower back to Lowe's, along with the blocks of paper recycled reclaimed green insulation crap and got our money back. Apparently, the machine we got a hold of was just a lemon. This process should have worked and should have been successful. The good news for us, however, is that we found a company that was able to come out and insulate the attic for about the same cost as it would have been to complete the job ourselves. Moral to the story: some things just aren't worth getting trapped in the attic with a stopped up insulation hose and a wife stuck on the porch in a Taliban-outfit and a thin layer of gray dust in her hair.

Insulation is a great thing. We are already noticing a difference in our climate de casa (that was supposed to read: climate of our house, in Spanish.) and we are looking forward to seeing our next power bill. If you do ever decide to insulate your own home, make sure you get a good machine. Also make sure you have help and face masks for all parties involved.

the end.


Would you like a table or a booth?

Another "secret" to living in a small home and maximizing the space you have: You need creative nooks, crannies, seating and storage. Now, we have done some pretty creative things in our home but I personally think this is the most creative.  We recently installed a restaurant-style booth in our kitchen.  Our floor plan is originally intended to include two bedrooms, a kitchen, laundry, living space and two full baths.  Because we don't have children, we turned our second "bedroom" into a dining room. Look for a post about the dining room later. It is a work in progress.

We use our dining room for when guests come over, in addition to storage for my saddles, our china, the wine rack (ok...one of the wine racks), and Thomas' bed time kennel. Since we moved into the house, we have had a small dinette in the kitchen, just big enough for the two of us.

In an attempt to be more creative with the space, and partly just to see if it would work, I decided I wanted a booth. My sweet husband  gladly accepted the challenge and we started shopping.

If you have ever priced booths (not that it's a normal thing to shop for), you know they are pretty expensive. Wood is also expensive. Luckily, we have a wonderful "wood guy" from Hawkinsville that Chris found on Craigslist who hooked us up with some awesome wood for this project. We truly are the Craigslist King and Queen. Don't worry...I am perpetually watching over my shoulder for the Craigslist killer...no Lifetime movies here.

So...enter booth building phase. After finding the wood for the table top, we needed benches. Rather than build them from scratch, we decided to repurpose some old church pews from a nearby church.  The pews had been sitting outside behind the church for months. We inquired about them and made a donation to purchase them.  Chris refinished them and behold...the beginnings of our restaurant booth!

Now...the booth is not perfect. It is shorter than a normal table (because of the pews), but with some decorative pillows...it looks just right in our kitchen.

The Birth of the Booth    Here is where we ate before we came up with the booth idea. This is a cute little dinette we picked up for about $150 when we first got our house. It has lived a good life and has served its purpose. We have recently re-purposed her to fill another role in the house. 
Stage 1: The Seats
We knew that we would want seats for our booth that were comfortable, functional and unique. We also knew that we would have to some how fit a strict bill for length and height in order to make them fit in the kitchen. Luckily (and through divine intervention, no doubt), we happened upon some old church pews at a neighborhood church. Two pews had, for whatever reason, been removed from the sanctuary and were sitting out behind the church. We inquired as to the fate of the pews and, through the generosity and good nature of the church staff (you know who you are...thank you!), we were able to make a more than reasonable donation in exchange for the pews.  The pews are VERY old and when we got them, had old green upholstery stapled to them. Chris removed the upholstery, cleaned up and sanded the pews and voila!

Stage 2: The Table

Once we got one of the pews situated and attached to the wall, we had to figure out what to do about a table. This is where our new friend from Craigslist enters the picture. With a little help from our new woodworking friend, Chris as able to build the table for the booth himself. He then attached the table to the wall, placing three hinges at the back, and a temporary leg underneath. After the table was placed, the staining party began. Because the pews and the table wood were different in grain, the stain absorbed into each surface differently. I kind of like the variation though. A few quarts of stain and some polyurethane later and there we have it...finished wood.

Stage 3: The Finishing Touches
Once we got everything refurbished, built and attached, it was time to accessorize. Now, we all know that old fashioned church pews are not designed to be comfy, especially without the fabulous upholstery that normally adorns them. In order to make our pews-turned booth seats comfortable to sit in, we needed cushions of some description. Of course, I was tasked with tracking down this essential piece of the puzzle. 

I considered making the cushions, which would probably run anywhere from $5-$10 per yard of fabric, plus the filler, but I then came to my senses. If you have ever shopped for decorative pillows, you know they can be pricey and often very disappointing when actually used for comfort. After a long search, I finally found four pillows that would do the trick.  
The next step in the booth building process required us to shed some light on the situation, literally. We decided that to complete the restaurant experience in our kitchen, we needed a suitable light fixture. Behold: our Apple-bee's lamp. This fixture completed the look and is sure to illuminate our table for "eatin' good in the neighborhood, for years to come". We picked the beauty up at a local charity auction and hired an electrician to install it (we don't do electrical work....it's a bad idea.). 

The final, final touch to conclude a most laborious task to date? Adding a bovine wall, of course. We added cow prints, created by an artist from Sanibel Island, Florida. I just can't resist good cow art. 

And there we go...a perfect table for two.


Our Minimal Mansion...on Vacation

Every year for my entire life, my family has taken a one week vacation to Fort Myers, Florida. Fort Myers is a special place for our family not just because we visit every year, but because we own a home there. Now, let me clarify, by "home" we are not talking about a beach house with a stocked mini bar and pool boy; no, we are talking about an early 1900's home that has been in my family for over four generations.

As you can imagine, the house has character. Within the house, there are four apartments, two of which my family rents out. One of the apartments is recently vacant, which we have decided to keep for our family to use. The last apartment has always been reserved for our family vacations and in past years has made a perfect spring break headquarters for countless college girls.

So why are we including a tidbit about our vacation in the MM blog, you ask? It's quite simple, really; we have a love for historic homes. Each year, my father takes a one-two week "vacation" down to Fort Myers. He spends well over half his trip working on the house. Anyone who owns a home knows that houses require your full dedication to maintain, especially when they are aged. Whether it is replacing screens, patching up walls or re-doing floors, the grand old Fort Myers house demands our family's full attention, vacation or not.

This year, Chris and I  wanted to help out as much as possible with the house. We love it and we want to do our part in helping preserve it for the next generation (the pig and the shih tzu, of course). While Chris was busy replacing ceiling tiles and monitoring a leaking pipe, I decided to give the bathroom of the recently vacated apartment a little face lift.

The canvas I had to work with was quite dismal; it had been occupied by a single guy (no offense guys), so it was completely void of color and actually kind of "blah".  In addition, the bathroom also faced several challenges that come with any old house; chipping paint, old wallpaper in various places and nail holes that are likely decades old.

Here are a few pictures of where we started with the bathroom project:

You can see how I felt there was a need for a change here.

so....a couple quarts of paint and one trip to the flea market later:

And there you have it....and afternoon of cleaning, painting and sprucing and it looks a little more comfortable than before. It isn't grand or luxurious but it will do. As we continue to slowly rehab and preserve the Fort Myers house, I am sure that this will be further updated. 

Moral to the story: a fresh coat of paint and a few accessories and you just might have yourself a decent looking powder room. 

Old homes require work and attention but they return your love ten fold; this house has a story (lots in fact) and more character than any beach bungalow with a mini bar and a pool boy. It is our little "minimal mansion" away from the Minimal Mansion.