Posts Tagged ‘dining room’

Our firstborn was about to turn two, and we wanted to give him a birthday party about something he liked. I know that in a year or two we probably won’t have much choice about what “thing” he’s excited about for a party theme, but for this year it was still kind of up to us – so we went for something he always loves to talk about when we are out for a walk or a drive: TREES.


We had so much fun decorating the dining room up for our “tree” theme. I was so glad it wasn’t still all painted bright blue and salmon pink.

One weird thing is that I was doing a lot of my planning for this party over Christmas break and basically everything tree oriented was also bedecked with candy canes and Santas. I couldn’t find any tree-oriented invitations at any of the usual sites I like to peruse: Minted, TinyPrints, etc. Only Christmas trees or whole gardens.

Luckily trees are very, very forgiving to paint or draw. So I pulled out my watercolor set and poked around a little making some sketched trees and letters and numbers.



Then I scanned them and combined a few, playing around with photo processing software to make our invitations:


Since the place we were printing them, Costco, let you print the back for free, I added a photo from our summer trip to Westonbirt Arboretum and a few party details on the back.


We uploaded them as a 5×7 jpg file and they printed in just a few days, on nice thick paper with rounded corners and free envelopes, and all for a very affordable price compared to the sites I usually look at, or even compared to printing something at home from Etsy.

Since the holiday break is a time when I really should be planning my courses, procrastination meant I did all kinds of little prep things ahead of time that were time consuming but big time fun for my DIY crafting heart.

I decided to make tree crayons.

I ordered a bunch of inexpensive bulk crayons – restaurant packs of 4 colors – from Amazon and broke them up to make tree-shaped crayons for the favors. I have heard that as kids get older there are tons of broken excess crayons and extras from restaurants and whatnot, so I look forward to doing this again sometime. It took about 4 crayons to make one chunky toddler tree crayon. I used this silicone mold and baked them at 200 degrees for about 12-15 minutes. The baking part was too messy and hot to do with toddlers but I think this could be a fun supervised craft for kids maybe ages 4 and older? Also I learned you should do all of the lighter colors first as any small bit of darker wax mixed in leaves a mark on them. No big deal but good to note for the future. Another thing I realized part way through is that the wax is very sloshy when they’re full – instead of melting 4 crayons, for the last few batches I just melted three in each, which made for a shallower crayon, but then when I took them out of the oven and while they were still hot and liquid, I broke a single crayon in half and sank both pieces deep into the pool of melted wax in each mold. This filled up the volume but meant they weren’t as hard to get out of the oven splash-free. Notes for next time, I guess. Anyway it was fun! They don’t take long to cool and you can pop them out and color away.


I ordered some inexpensive brown organza bags from eBay and stuck in a little memo pad for a cute toddler tree favor that will hopefully be used up and not just turn into knick-knacky clutter.

Though I know crayons can become clutter too! There’s no escaping it really.

We made “Ranger Badges” with printable name tag labels (Avery 8395). 

I found a big green fabric remnant at my favorite local thrift store for $1.75 and one evening when my mom was visiting we cut simple leaf shapes out of it – we ended up getting 100 leaves out of it – more than we needed. We strung them around and made them into a banner, as well as tacking them up onto the wall as part of our big paper tree in the corner.

Here’s the spread of “tree” themed foods – mostly just green things, or natural things. The tree trunk is brownie, though in hindsight I wish we’d cut it into smaller pieces since only a few people broke off any to eat. The cupcake frosting is from this recipe and I used AmeriColor gel paste food coloring which gave a good saturated color without that weird “dye” taste that some food colorings have.

Here were our drink options, which we called the hydration station: apple juice boxes for the kiddos, Sprite bottles for their pretty green glass, and some sweet tea and ice water for the grownups:

More of the food spread, again going with the green theme – snap-pea crisps, our son’s quirky favorite snack of green olives, and some pretzel “sticks” that also had delicious guacamole foliage my friend Kelly made and brought along for dipping:

I wanted some kind of large tree for the wall, but the options at the party store in town were all too much like inflatable palm trees (college town problems) and the like – and they started at $39.99 which… no. However, I noticed that the long brown sheets of paper that come as padding in Amazon boxes had a sort of barklike texture, so I saved a few and the day before the party my friend Sian and I went ahead and tried tacking some up on the wall along with the extra fabric cut-out leaves. We just used masking tape to hold things up, and it was all very forgiving.

It turned out pretty cute and was a nice anchor point for the room. The poster I wanted (Sequoia National Park WPA poster from the 30s) was not available online in a big size for less than $80, which, well, no, so I just printed a mock-up version for the party on our regular printer via blockposters– it had paper cut lines all through it so it wouldn’t work for a real art print, but it was definitely good enough for a party decoration.

Since my son has been enjoying a few “glue dot” type crafts at preschool lately, I thought we could probably do one as a craft activity for the group, gluing leaves onto some basic bare trees. I was going to buy a leaf punch but realized I would probably not use it very much so instead I found an Etsy seller who sells prepunched leaf shapes to use as confetti. No buying paper, no punching, no mess! They arrived quickly and were great.

They seemed like a hit – we had about 8 toddlers at a time doing the craft (on a vinyl tablecloth on the floor) and with their parents helping it all went pretty great! I don’t want to put a picture of anyone else’s kid on a public blog but it was really adorable to see them all hard at work.

drying art

Here are some of the masterpieces drying on the sofa back.

We had a great time and it was wonderful to see our dining room having fun with a big crowd the way it sounds like it used to back in the 1910s.


Happy 2nd Birthday to our little forest ranger! We love you!

My favorite photo of the day – our 2 year old and his beloved grandma “Gaga.”

And one last picture… Something about this one just cracks me up. After most everyone had left, we found him munching away on some broccoli and apparently thinking things over. We had a great day – happy birthday little one!


Read Full Post »

When we first walked through our house four years ago, several rooms had wallpaper or paint colors that weren’t to our taste. It’s to be expected, really. And like everyone says, you have to have the vision to see past colors you dislike and look at the bones beneath.

The bones were good.

But the wallpaper? The wallpaper was bad. How bad, you ask?

Initial visit to our house

This bad.

We imagined that the dining room would be one of the first rooms we’d repaint, because it seemed like such an “easy” payoff. Big windows, a neat floorboard pattern, a built-in china cabinet, and a chandelier that, while over-the-top for sure, was original to the house and had a certain ragged glamor to it. Yet we never got around to it.

We had paint chips hanging from a nail on the wall. We even scraped a little of the wallpaper off one weekend, to see how hard it would be. We scraped a patch of the popcorn ceiling and sent it to the lab.

And then we just… stopped. We did other rooms. We worked. We watched lots of Netflix. We had a baby. And still the dining room remained in all its ridiculous glory.

The wallpaper border, when viewed closely, shows a rich variety of wildlife: birds, insects, hermit crabs and a horned tadpolish creature a friend once termed “fetal goats.” Not something you see every day, really.

Closeup of old wallpaper border

Unless you’re us. We saw it EXACTLY every day. For four years. But at long last, after far too long, and due almost entirely to the hard work of my father-in-law who was visiting (and swears he enjoys this stuff), we can finally say that the dining room is quite different now!

Dining Room Before & After

Dining Room Before & After

So the basic steps of the transformation (again, all credit to my in-laws, especially for the hard initial steps of scraping!)

  • Put down plastic and tape it to the baseboards.
  • Put very hot tap water into trigger spray bottles.
  • Spray a 3′ x 3′ patch of popcorn ceiling, move onto a second one, and then move back to scrape the first. (Side note of caution: We had our ceiling texture tested for asbestos and other evil things not long after moving in – don’t skip that step because you do NOT want to be breathing in all that bad stuff if it’s in your ceiling. The $50 the test cost is nothing compared to the chance of possible medical bills and heartbreak years down the line.)
  • Scrape the popcorn texture off with your putty knife lying almost parallel to the ceiling. Be careful not to gouge through because patching is no fun.
  • Patch the inevitable few gouges with joint compound.
  • Sand out the gouges and any weird spots in the ceiling.

If your popcorn texture is like ours, it leaves a chalky residue behind. We tried washing this off, sanding it, scrubbing it, etc. but sometimes it still causes the first coat of primer and paint to peel off.

Dining Room Project

This is not a happy moment. Not at all.

The good news was that when it all came down, it brought the worst of the chalky residue with it, so the next coat stuck. We used high-bonding primer from Lowe’s and Behr Ceiling White paint from HD.

For the wallpaper:
Seriously, wallpaper is different every time we remove it. In this room, here’s what worked.

  • Score the wallpaper with a scoring tool.
  • Put very hot tap water into trigger spray bottles and add a few drops of dish soap (this was the inlaws’ idea, and it seemed to work).
  • Spray the scored paper and let the water really soak in for a while while you keep spraying other parts of the wall.
  • Scrape off the wallpaper — ours was super old and came off in annoyingly tiny bits. But it did, eventually, come off.
  • Scrub the wall well to remove the wallpaper glue residue as much as possible (we used microfiber dishcloths for this, rinsed in hot tap water.)
  • Use joint compound to smooth any gouges or weird spots in the walls — in an old house, there are always weird spots — and sand smooth.

The people before us had painted a pink stripe UNDER the wallpaper border — probably to keep the blue paint from showing through? Who knows. Nothing a little high-hiding primer couldn’t handle!

Dining Room Project

This stuff is very helpful for putting dark colors to rest – we’ve used it in the foyer, too, and it really saved some time when we were painting that burgundy trim white. I’d say one coat of this is equal to 2-3 coats of Kilz2 latex primer, for color hiding at least.

Once the walls were primed it was time to pick a new wall color. With such a big shiny light fixture dominating the room, we wanted something that would blend in to the background and let the woodwork and lighting be the main attention-seekers in the room. We tried a few pale colors:

Dining Room Project

Left to Right these are:
Mild Mint by Behr, Lincoln White Sash by Valspar above Spring Melt by Martha Stewart (color matched to Behre Ultra), Valspar Luna, and Valspar Churchill Hotel Ecru.

They looked different in different parts of the room, and (as always) in daylight vs. lamplight, but we ultimately settled on the color-matched Spring Melt, because it was a nice pale grey/green/blue and we thought it looked kind of timeless and clean and light. Again, it’s a much paler color than we would usually go for, but we wanted the lighting to be the noticeable thing about the room, not the wallcolor.

And so, again, with the amazing help of my in-laws, we finished it up… two coats of paint on the walls, two or three on the trim, and all the cleanup.

But so far we’re feeling pretty good about how it turned out.

Smooth ceiling with the paint finally sticking properly:

Dining Room Project

Walls painted, in lamplight:

Dining Room Project

Walls painted in daylight, and the furniture back in!

Dining Room Project

We still have some finishing touches to do — notably finding some stuff to hang on the walls which look so much EMPTIER without all that busy wallpaper going on. But so far, so good.

Honestly, it will be really nice (kind of weird, but really nice) to be able to have people over and talk about something at dinner that is a topic OTHER than the walls. 🙂

Read Full Post »

sideboard before-and-after

Thrifted sideboard: $55

Sandpaper: $18

Wood Stain (Rustoleum Ultimate Wood Stain in Kona): $9

Polyurethane: (Minwax Fast-Drying Polyurethane in Semi-Gloss): $5

Foam brushes: $0.69 x 8

Read Full Post »

Three weeks ago H & I went to a huge furniture superstore looking for a 10′ by 10′ square rug for our dining room. It has ten warehouses, two just for rugs, so it was a good place to find variety. We wanted it to be wool, reasonably plush (we touched some really cheapo feeling poky ones we didn’t like) and dominated by pale colors with not too much red in it. We found one, and it was a “good” price but it was still too much money for us at this time so we decided against it.

However, that trip was very USEFUL for us in that it gave us a much better sense of what a good price was, what kinds of materials we wanted, etc. When we came home we felt better about shopping online knowing more about what we wanted.

We found a deal on Overstock.com for a rug that seemed to meet all our criteria — plus it was less than half the price of the one in the store, since they only had a few in stock. After much hemming and hawing, we ordered it. It arrived, to our joy, only two days later! Yay! Right?

Wrong.  I sliced the packaging open to see a subtle curve — a circular border. It was round. Very definitely a circle and not a square. The colors were good, the size was good, it was the same brand as what we had ordered, and now that we could feel it in person, we liked the quality of the wool and plushness, etc. But round. Not square. Quite different really.

So…. alas. Ugh, right? I hate this stuff. I called. They apologized. They emailed us a UPS prepaid return label and sent a new rug.

You can probably guess where this is going.

It arrived. It, too, was ROUND.

This time when I called, I asked for a supervisor, explained the ordeal, and they were very nice and understanding and apologetic. They emailed us another UPS prepaid return label and said they would confirm with the warehouse about the rug shape before sending a new one.

Three days went by. I called back. They were still checking on the shape, they said. Didn’t want to make that same mistake again right? Haha, of course! On the third day we got an email saying our new rug was on its way!

It arrived today. It’s round.

I called again and talked to a supervisor’s supervisor, who is named BRIAN and is very nice. He is currently personally calling the warehouse to check if a square one exists in the world.

If it does, he’ll send it and send UPS to pick up the two remaining rugs from my house.

If it doesn’t, we’ll talk about a discount on keeping one of the current ones. The funny part (funny? either it’s all funny or none of it is) is that during this process, we bought a set of dining room chairs. They have very square backs, and putting them around our round table under the round chandelier in a square room has actually made me wonder whether the room would look better with a square or… get this… a round rug.


I’m supposed to hear back from him within two hours. Trust me, I’ll keep you posted.

Read Full Post »

First, some snow this morning in the back yard:

Moving it in!

Unwrapping it — it was still wrapped in Amish blankets (and Amish Saran Wrap, I guess) from when it was born! Also, you can’t see it in this picture, but our last name and 2008 is written where the bolts come out on the top of one of the legs… that makes me super happy. 🙂


Window view


Arnie comes to investigate:


Good incentive to change these colors, now, right? (It looks so much nicer in black & white above…)


This might not make much sense but I am super excited about how the hue of the wood matches the hue of the floor — the floors are 99 years old and a paler SHADE, but they are just the right brownness (not too red, not too yellow) and I’m so happy about it!! Evidence:


Read Full Post »

Here are a few photos of our recent baby steps on home improvement!

Here you can see one side of the dining room window alcove — as previously mentioned it took us two hours to get just these small side panels of wallpaper off. Very frustrating! And of course what lay beneath (salmon-colored paint!) significantly reduced any small feeling of accomplishment we may have felt. As previously noted, this wallpaper is about 40 times harder to remove than the kitchen/hall paper was. But since the walls are old and delicate plaster, we’re taking our time and using non-aggressive products. It’ll be okay eventually.
Sad, isn’t it? 🙂

Here you can see a little entryway project I had in mind from the moment we signed our papers. Since the house was built in 1910, I really wanted a nice picture of President Taft for the entry way. He was a jolly guy with a cute mustache and eventually became a Supreme Court Justice as well. Finally found one and a frame with the right sort of angles for the entryway. Photobucket

And since the photo was a reproduction print, I decided to get a real campaign button to lend a little authenticity to things. It’s the little frame in the photo above; here’s a close-up. 🙂

So that’s really all for now… hopefully we’ll get some more done soon… and our dining room table arrives in a few days, so that’s one less empty room! 🙂

Read Full Post »

I know it’s been a while! We’ve been sort of on hold over the holidays, not getting much done around here worth blogging about.

Today, though, we decided to finally try removing some of the dining room wallpaper. If you remember, due to the tastes of the previous administration, the walls are painted a vivid Mediterranean blue and there is a thick (12″) wallpaper border all around the top and carefully lining the inset big bay window. This wallpaper border is bright salmon pink, with purple and blue butterflies, birds, and flowers. It’s absolutely, positively horrendous. Especially with the bright blue walls.

Anyway we finally tried removing some of it (from the inset) this afternoon and it was SO MUCH MORE DIFFICULT than the kitchen or hallway wallpapers. The surface was the worst possible type: shiny enough to keep water from seeping in, but not slick or shiny enough to have any sort of surface you could pull off in large pieces.

So for the first time we made good use of our wallpaper scoring tool – this little guy – rolling it all around to perforate the semi-shiny top layer. Then sprayed lots of hot tap water on this surface, letting it get into the little holes and slowly soak into the backing. After a while, I could use a small (2″) scraper to pick off small pieces… most of them were little torn up triangles about a quarter of an inch wide. Covered, of course, in stinky yellow glue-water slime.

Seriously awful. We immediately rearranged our plan from “let’s take it all off today!” to “let’s get both of the panels we started peeled off today and call it a day!” — and we barely made it that far.

To top off the indignity, when we finally got all that horrid salmon-colored paper off our two panels, you’ll never guess what lay beneath: Salmon-colored paint.


Not an especially gratifying day of home ownership, I have to say.

Read Full Post »