My Favorite

They need to polish the tile. Polishing tile. That is the only thing left to do downstairs. And does polishing tile prevent you from moving into the living room? The bed room? The dream paaaaaantry? No, it does not. And thus we have my new favorite thing about our basement renovation:
The spice shelves in the dream pantry! I love them. It's so hard to play favorites when everything is so perfect downstairs, but I just love the alphabetized order of spices amid the still-chaos of our half-organized home. I like sliding the pocket door open and peeking in on a pleasant little surprise. And the little fronts of each of those perfectly spaced shelves? They have a slight lip so that if you happen to brush against one of the spice jars, they won't immediately tumble to the floor. Of course, why would you bump into them when the width of the door jamb is precisely sized according to the depth of the shelves, which are precisely deep enough for the largest can in pantry?

In mere months we've graduated from stairwell shelving that I tried my best to make look spiffy and neat, to my dream pantry. Quite an improvement, no?
And just wait 'til I show you the stairwell now. I think you'll be impressed.

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Sail Bags are Keeping me Busy

I've been super busy making sail bags over the past month or two. We've had several graduation and teacher gift orders (just in time for a summer at the beach!) And of course there are all those June babies who need an awesome diaper bag. I love this one that I made for my girlfriend Carrie's new baby Everett:
We met up on a recent trip to Maine and she had her E bag packed to the gills. She said it's the absolute best for toting all his baby gear :) Big brother Selwyn has his own sail bag for all his gear too. Such stylin' boys.

And it's not just the sewing and splicing that's been keeping me busy; we've had a couple used sails come in that master cutter S graciously cut to size for me. It's soooo much easier to do this in the yard all at once - especially since we don't have any rooms big enough in the beehive to spread out the full sails.
Shoot us an email if you're cleaning out your attic and have a used sail that needs a new life; we'll send you a customized sail bag from our Etsy shop in exchange!

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Saturday Supper: Lighter Basil Pesto

We haven't had a Saturday supper for you in a couple weeks, with good reason though. Two weeks ago it was my birthday, S was off flying somewhere and I had mint chocolate chip ice cream for dinner. No recipe needed. Try it, I promise you'll like it. And last weekend a girlfriend and her three-year-old son were visiting. We had a battle for dinner. I'm sure many of you know what that's like and if you don't, I assure you that you really don't want to hear about it. Suffice to say "just try the one chickpea or we won't have a popsicle" was not what the three year old wanted to hear.

But this weekend, oh this weekend! This weekend's Saturday supper is straight from our garden. The garden my mom planted in May. The garden I have yet to tell you about because each time I go to write about it I look outside and something had grown another half foot and I just can't post 'til I have another photo. I have a garden-related giveaway for you, so the garden with the veggies that are just jUmPiNg out of the ground will be the subject of a post very, very soon.

First though, we have dinner. Where these 25 ounces of basil:
were turned into five batches of the most delicious lighter pesto. As in go ahead and heap it on, it's not as calorie laden as it could be. Which we devoured and then froze into the first of our stash to get us through a winter of pesto covered pasta, pizzas and foccacia.

Lighter Basil Pesto
serves 2-4

3 c. tightly packed basil (5.5 oz.)
3 T. walnuts (3/4 oz.)
3 T. fresh parmesan cheese (3 oz.)
2 large garlic cloves
1 T. lemon juice
3 T. olive oil
fresh ground pepper and salt to taste (I used 1/4 t. of salt)

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend until very smooth, stopping to scrape down sides a few times.

Serve over warm pasta or freeze in individual servings by lining muffin tins with heavy-duty plastic wrap, filling with pesto, freezing in tray until solid and then wrapping well and transferring to a freezer bag.

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The Floor! The Floor!

Look at this floor!!!
I cannot believe we own this, that this garden level is ours. Yes, we own the house, but after "buying" a renovation it makes it feel like we really own it. It makes me feel so old!

Yesterday our contractor used words like "final punch list" and "few last things." I am so excited I can barely stand it. Just a few more days 'til we fill this place back up with all our worldly goods and start in on the panic of where to fit it all....

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Grout is Messy

S flew over the weekend (I was alone for my birthday, which just meant I had ice cream for dinner, I highly recommend it) so he had Monday off. Even though he was a touch jet-lagged (side note: how jet lagged would you guess one can get in a 36 hour trip to California when one only spend 17 hours on the ground? I'm still trying to figure these things out.) he decided to grout the kitchen.
It was far messier than the tiling itself. S might not agree, but getting the grout off the tiles was definitely not a "wipe lightly with a damp sponge" kind of affair.
We need to give it a few mores days curing time before giving it a final seal and adding a bead of caulk around the base. Plus, after all the stanky poly I've been breathing all week I'd really like to wait 'til the weekend when "cooler" temps might mean we can open with windows while we seal.

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Want an Update?

Up until this week we did too. But then just like that, we made a decision on the floor, stressed the importance of having our upstairs back to normal for guests coming on the 10th and voila work central around here again. Not that work ever let up, but we haven't had five or six guys in the basement at one time in a few weeks. And let's face it, we're three or four weeks behind schedule.

You know what work central means? It means guys are here before I wake up in the morning and don't leave before 8. It's too crowded for me to go traipsing downstairs for photos in the middle of the day, and my Spanish and Russian are limited to about four words each, so getting good update photos is proving a bit difficult. Last night I went down at 8:30 and had the bejesus scared out of me when I discovered a guy was down there staining the stairs. All alone. No music on. Not talking to himself, like I would have been if I were staining steps. Well, I thought he was all alone 'til I opened the pantry door to discover another guy was painting the inside of the door. Apparently I'm the world's biggest pest; the basement is not my space to be in right now.

The flooring showed up Monday and is in the new bedroom acclimating to the space. We bought enough so we can also do the floor in my office...someday. And since it was a clear-out color, we also bought a spare box if we ever have some floor-destroying catastrophe downstairs. Like a water heater that leaks all over the bedroom. 

Yesterday we decided to put tile under the stairs where the freezer lives. It hadn't crossed our minds until S went downstairs, discovered the workers had knocked the freezer door open and it sat in a growing puddle. There's a 90% chance one of us will do that someday. Tile solves the potential floor catastrophe issue.

The sink and faucet are installed in the bathroom:
We chose the Kohler Fairfax bathroom faucet. We bought both it and the kitchen sink style, but thought the reach on the kitchen model want too far toward the front of the sink (shown above). I didn't want to wash my hands and have water splash over the front of the sink. The bathroom style has a shorter reach and is a bit more petite. It looks cute with the huge basin.
We also adding a little back splash on the back and side of the sink to save the walls from water damage. We're all about preventing water damage these days.

We have a ton of storage in the new linen closet, which I refer to as the off-season bedding storage closet.

The shower is totally finished. But like I said, you just don't know when there are really quiet worker toiling away so there's no way I'm taking a shower down there 'til I know they're done, done.
 I love the shampoo nook and that it's ever so slightly tilted forward so it doesn't collect water...and ya know, cause damage.
Oh no wait, the bathroom isn't done, we're still waiting on the fancy glass door that we spent a small fortune on but a much smaller fortune than it would have been if our contractor didn't "know a guy."

Over in the den, we've got built-ins that are completely built. (The doors were elsewhere being painted).
Apparently the built-in maker was a cabinet maker before immigrating to the US. We're impressed with his skills. He also made that weird shaped door under the stairs, which should be just wide enough to fit a Rubbermaid tote into the extra storage space. Fingers are crossed that it works out as planned, 'cause we couldn't exactly get at any of our totes stacked in the shed to measure. And check out that new railing where we used to have a flimsy paneled wall. It mimics the railing upstairs perfectly. Huge improvement. Huge.
And finally, the pantry, my favorite spot, has all its shelves and is in the process of getting a few coats of paint.
You can't really tell here, but the insides of all the closets are the palest lavender. I was going to choose something bold, but when faced with the unfamiliar Duron paint fan and a few hours to decide, I just chose what looked nice that day. I was a little concerned that a dark color would suck up too much light, so I went light, but apparently I didn't need to be concerned - the two recessed lights in the pantry alone make it like high noon in there. I expect S to be able to find spices in record time with all that light. Of course they'll be arranged alphabetically, but those dedicated spice shelves on the left will help too. And each shelf has a little lip so that when you walk in the door the spices won't fall over if you accidentally brush against them. Ikea's spice shelves that everyone seems to be using for kids' books these days were my inspiration.

To the right of the pocket door in the pantry are the deeper shelves for all our serving ware, baking pans, etc. Basically everything we used to keep on the Ikea Gorm shelves before-renovation.
The shelves form a J around the back and side walls and the wall that the pocket door slides into. The board on the right had to be added because the pocket door assembly made the front wall too unstable to support the shelves. Small price to pay for more storage.

Tonight when I went downstairs they were leveling a section of the floor in the den so the engineered hardwood wouldn't buckle. It was a big ole mess and there were five people in one room. So while I might have been able to take a photo of the built-ins with their doors on, it just wasn't the time. But I promise, the little section of flooring they had done looked amazing. Amazing.

The end is so close I can taste it. Oh no wait, that's the polyurethane getting circulated around the house by the central a/c. I'd open the windows if it weren't 95 degrees at 11pm, but instead I'll just put some rags in front of the intake vents and pull the covers over my nose tonight. So close.

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Happy Birthday to Me

My birthday was Saturday and while we really wanted to spend the weekend moving back into the basement, which my dad coined "the garden level," we spent yet another weekend dreaming instead of doing. But at least we've made progress in the final hold-up: we decided on engineered hardwood floors. Fingers crossed it proves to be a wise gamble.

Who wants to move furniture and run up and down stairs hundreds of times on their birthday anyway? I'd much rather play with my gifts! I asked for two gifts, one renovation-related and one blog related. First up, from my parents, Nicole Hill Gerulat's book "Photo 101" so I can continue to learn how to take better photos for our blog and for documenting life in general.
Nicole also offers online classes, which I may just have to look into taking this summer, but how can I possibly choose between her Photo 101, Photoshop or Illustrator class?

And from S, a new couch for our new den so we can finally graduate from the futon to something a bit more sophisticated. After looking at Crate & Barrel, Pottery Barn and several local furniture stores, we decided to give Ikea a shot. We sat on every single couch in the store, tape measure and calculators in hand. We thought we wanted a Karlstad sectional or a loveseat with a add-on lounge chair. But after chowing down on a free dinner in the Ikea cafe, S convinced me that a sofa with an ottoman pushed next to it looked and functioned the same as the add-on lounge chair, with the added convenience of being able to be moved easily to make seating for 4 instead of 3 when we have guests.
I won't lie, I didn't like the idea...until S carried the ottoman across the store to stick it against a sofa for proof. Exactly the same height as the sofa. Exactly the same size as the lounge. Seating for 4 instead of 3. Far more flexible when I want to move the furniture around. I can move it around, stick a tray on top and have a coffee table. Brilliant.
Our only mistake was buying just one ottoman. I can just guess who's going to be the one lounging on my birthday ottoman.... I guess we'll just have to go back and make another date of it the next time Ikea has their "eat for free with $100 purchase" offer!

As for the futon, it has a fancy new mattress from Portland Mattress Makers that makes at least as comfortable as our newer mattresses upstairs. So we'll be moving it to the new garden bedroom, making it up as a bed, and sneaking downstairs to sleep when the DC summer heat is just unbearable. Of course it will also make a nice private spot for our guests, albeit a little small (it's a full size), since the new bathroom is directly across the hall.

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Celebrate National Donut Day!

Celebrate National Donut Day today by making these fabulous baked donuts tonight!

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Deciding Whether to Gamble

Ok, we admit it, we're totally incapable of making a speedy decision on the flooring. Here's where things stand: the laminate we chose, which was the most realistic style we could find within a reasonable price range (we're $2k over budget on what we planned to spend and just aren't going up any more), is in China. It will be here in 4-6 really long weeks. We want the project done yesterday, but we've got the 450 sq ft we need on reserve.
Boston Cherry laminate from Robina
Meanwhile, yesterday we decided to trek up to Baltimore after work during rush hour traffic to look at larger samples of in-stock laminate flooring at Wood Floors Plus, a store that apparently the dozen dealers S called can't compete with on price. They have a website and if you're looking for flooring are definitely a place to check for a deal.

We walked in the store and I saw a large sample floor on the ground behind a display near the door. "Oooh, I like that one!" I proclaimed...and then kicked the floor when I realized it was the Boston Cherry laminate...that's in China. S and I discussed laminate, tile, everything flooring with a few different associates. Two people pointed us toward engineered hardwood, an option we definitely hadn't considered. And then one guy pointed us toward an engineered hardwood on clearance that looked exactly like our oak floors upstairs.
Engineered Hardwood Oak
The price happened to be exactly the same price as the laminate...that's in China. And when we interrogated three or four associates over whether they would put engineered hardwood in their basements. The response was, "yeah, of course, it's a wood floor for more humid areas." And then pointed to where it says "installation: below grade" on the box.

We left the store with yet another option to consider. And while we ate a dinner of crabcakes overlooking Baltimore's Inner Harbor, we buried our noses in our iPhones and researched engineered hardwood floors and read the specs and installation instructions for this particular floor. It's a wood floor that's apparently more structurally stable because it's several layers of wood veneer on top of layered wood and composite backing. And there's no glue in the installation (this particular floor is a floating engineered hardwood) to be affected by the moisture inherent in concrete that would dry out and cause a regular wood floor to un-glue and buckle. So the box says, "installation: below grade," the floor looks exactly like the floor upstairs and it's wood, not something that looks plastic-y in certain lights. What's not to like?

On the way home we stopped at S's parents summer house to look at their newly finished basement (which S's dad worked on himself over the winter), where they installed tiles in the basement. It looks amazing and I'm kicking myself for not taking a picture. We were in awe of the work S's dad has done and just how beautiful everything looked. The tile is absolutely perfect for the house, a summer house on the water. It will be cool and dry and a great hide-out when it's 102 with 98% humidity outside. Plus it's the perfect choice for their particular basement that had moisture problems remedied by french drains installed two years ago. But one hurricane without power would probably ruin laminate or engineered floors or carpet in their basement. Tile made 100% sense for them. And it looks great.

On the ride home S was fixated on the fact that tile is perfect for a wet basement (which we haven't had) and was ready to do the hard-sell until the light bulb went off. This isn't a $25k decision. It's only 450 square feet. That's ~$900 in flooring, $1000 with supplies. Not short change, but not so much that it's worth what-if'ing to death over. What if the basement floods? What if  wood or laminate floor is ruined? What if?! Oh well, if it's ruined and we've made a horrible decision, we change it. It's not like we're not capable of laying any floor ourselves; in a catastrophe we'd be upset, but we'd be out the cost of materials for a very small area. 

As safe an option as tile may be for a basement and as beautiful as it looked at S's parents house, it just does not work with our house. I'd love to live on the water, I'd love to worry about tracking beach sand inside, but we live in the city, in a neighborhood of brick colonials and personally, tile outside of the bath or kitchen just doesn't say colonial to me. Plus, if we ever decided we didn't like the tile, it would be a heck of a lot harder to remove and replace than a floating laminate or engineered floor (or we'd have to cut all the doors down and re-do thresholds so that we could float a floor on top of the tile).

I think I'd rather take the gamble and go for the floor that looks the same as upstairs. Maybe it will look horrible in 5 years, but it maybe it would be fab; that's what a gamble is all about, right? It's a small area, we may as well give it a shot, no?

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