Monday, January 14, 2019

Playing with the Pantry

I have such good intentions of posting more regularly--but apparently it's going to take a while to develop the habit!

This next project is one that was in the works for a verrrrry long time.  In our house, we have a "butler's pantry"...that is, a walk-through hall from the kitchen to the dining room.  One one side, there is a short row of cupboards, and on the other side, there is a regular pantry closet.

Years ago, I put up shelves above the cupboards and filled them with these glass jars from World Market (I was patient and got them for less than $10/each, with coupons).  I *love* how they look!  I also made the "Groceries and Crockery" sign above the jars from a piece of reclaimed wood.

I do a lot of baking!  It's one of my favorite things to do.  So the butler's pantry is my unofficial "baking center," since that's where I keep the mixer and my staples like flour, sugar, and chocolate chips!  But when I say I do a LOT of baking, I'm not kidding...when all my kids are home, I make about 6 loaves of bread a week--that's at least 12 cups of flour, and my pretty glass canister only holds about that much.

To save emptying and refilling my glass jars quite so often, I would generally just bring in one of these beasties from the garage.  They hold 25 lbs of flour (or sugar, or whatever), and the wide opening was convenient to use.  But they're not that pretty to look at.  And in all honesty--often they just tended to live in the pantry for days on end, rather that moving in and out and in and out over and over again.

So you can imagine that when I came across this style of bin, I was intrigued.   Marketed for pet food, I could find no reason it wouldn't work just as well for food staples.  They are food-grade and have a sealing lid to keep out bugs.  I thought how convenient it would be to just store these IN the pantry, and I could roll them out whenever I needed a lot of flour or sugar. 

There was just one problem:  They didn't fit in my pantry.

So this is the "before" of my pantry.  It had four 22" deep Rubbermaid shelves.  The bottom shelf, unfortunately, was not tall enough to put the wheeled container under, or the orange-lidded bins I had been using.  But since I wasn't crazy about the Rubbermaid shelves anyway, I figured it was high time for a pantry makeover!

I was inspired by the pantry re-design of Lucy Designs.   She ditched her wire shelving and built wrap-around shelving instead.  I only had just over 7" of room on each side wall, but I carefully calculated out areas, and I determined that five narrower, wrap-around shelves would actually give me more surface area than my five deep Rubbermaid shelves, with the added bonus of being able to use the floor space the way I wanted to.

All that took me MONTHS to get started.  I ordered three of the pet-food bins in January 2018.  I finally re-did my pantry the week before Thanksgiving 2018.  So for 11 months, the bins sat stacked in a corner of my dining room!

First step was obviously to clear everything out.  Taking out the Rubbermaid shelves is reasonably easy (usually).  You can see how they are specially designed clips all along the back edge.  A flat-head screwdriver helps to open those up, and then the shelf pretty much lifts free.  All of those clips are attached with drywall anchors, though, so a combination of a screwdriver and a pair of pliers are often needed to get those out.

Next I put up rails for my five shelves.  I marked all the studs and screwed them in where studs were.  I started on the left and worked counterclockwise around the closet.

For the rails I bought pre-primed 1x2 MDF boards.  For the shelves I bought a single sheet of 3/4" thick MDF and cut it down to the sizes I needed.

I don't have pictures of the next phase, but it involved a lot of cutting and fiddling and adjusting!  The shelves along the back wall were cut the full width of the closet.  This way they were supported on three sides, which makes sense since they will be the ones supporting the most weight.  In my closet, the bottom two shelves are 16" deep and the top three are 12" deep.

The side shelves are 7 " deep.  They are supported on their back sides (the sides of the closet) and one end with rails, and then I used a mending brace to attach them to the wide back shelves.

Those narrow side shelves also had to be notched out to fit around the door molding on the inside of the closet.  If I hadn't done that, they would have had to have been even narrower than 7", I wasn't willing to do that.

After that it was caulk...and caulk...and more caulk!  Then paint...and paint...and more paint!  I had primed my shelving boards before installing them, but in some ways it was just easier to finish up once they were installed.  I ran out of space to dry boards in my garage, and it was cold enough that they didn't dry very fast anyway!

I was thrilled with how it looked, and sent pictures to all my relatives ;-)  I let everything dry for about 48 hours before moving all my dry goods into their newly improved home...


I put just as much stuff on my narrower shelves, but it's SO much easier to see and find things!  I love love love that.

I did purchase about three new glass jars to hold my collection of chocolate chips...milk, mini semisweet, bittersweet, white chocolate, and peanut butter!  Mmmmm.....

And my favorite part...bins of flour, sugar, and rice slide neatly under the bottom shelf!


 With holiday baking, I probably went through 75-100 lbs of flour...but with only a few trips to the garage, and my baking area stayed neat!

And my best guess is that the pantry makeover came in right around $100, and that's including the few new containers I bought.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Back to Building! Vanity project

It has been a long, long time since I built anything other than shelves...and although there were a few hiccups along the way, it felt GOOD!

Here is my latest project:

And please excuse the cell-phone photos--it's all I got before it went to it's new home! 

You may be wondering why this is titled as a "vanity."  Well, that's what this piece will be when it finally grows up all the way!  But it's not for MY home, so the final drilling and installing hasn't happened  yet.

FIVE years ago...I can't believe it's been that long...I built the Grand Truss table and benches for a client, followed by the Grand Rustic-X buffet.  This spring she contacted me to ask if I was still building, and if so...would I be interested in building a vanity for her??

This is the inspiration photo she sent me.  Isn't it gorgeous?? I love the top-mount sink and that gorgeous tile wall!  And barn doors---oh, how I've wanted to do something with a barn door! 

I warned her up front that I had NOT built anything with barn door before, but I was willing to try if she was willing to take a risk on me!

Thankfully she was also very flexible on timing.  My spring/summer/early fall were all crazy!  So this project got delayed until the second half of October, and I spent two weeks living in the garage until it was done.

The barn door hardware is the SmartStandard barn door hardware kit from Amazon.  Yes, there are lots of DIY hardware tutorials out there...but this kit matched the look of the inspiration piece SO well.  The only issue was that it was made for 60" and the client wanted the vanity to be 50" it did require some hardware surgery.

Did you catch the fact that I only had a PICTURE to go off of to build this piece??   A picture, a length, and a depth.  That was the sum total of my instructions. 

I sketched out the barest details (thank goodness it was a simple design), plugged in some measurements and constructed a basic cut list.  Ordered the hardware and away I went!

The frame was a simple box, mainly made out of stock 2x4s.  Based on the inspiration photo, the shelves sit on top of the horizontal supports between the legs (see right), but I trimmed them with 2x2s.  You can see how they sit above the level of the shelf supports.

It gives the impression that the shelves are notched out to fit around the legs, but they are really separate pieces.  I cut down 2x6 lumber to make the shelves--both to get rid of the rounded edges and get the width that I needed.  I did the same thing to make the countertop, and the boards are all held together with pocket holes.

Pictures are a little few and far between.  October days in a garage in the Pacific Northwest are not the best photo-ops.  I worked on applying the finish, and had to sand down the whole top and start again with stain about twice.  Despite applying pre-stain conditioner, the stain didn't want to "take" evenly.

I was pretty nervous about putting the barn door hardware all together.  It's VERY bulky, and I was worried about it clearing the countertop just right (it did), but when I hung the doors--I encountered another problem.

When I hung the doors AT THE MEASUREMENTS SPECIFIED in the instructions...There was about an inch gap between the frame and the doors.  It bugged me.  A lot!!  I ended up putting a second trim piece behind the doors to hide the gap.  In the end--it will probably be for the best, as it will help hide pipes under the sink.

You can see they look much better (no gap!) on the finished product.

I had to play a little bit with staging, since I don't have a sink to put on top of it....

And I apologize again for bad pictures and bad lighting (not that I could do much about that one).

I'm anxious for my client to finish her bathroom so I can see what it will look like in her space!  Although I do think it also makes a nice console...entertainment center...buffet...whatever!

But I think it turned out pretty close to the inspiration photo, don't you think?

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

First Impression: Real Estate Photography

It's no secret that in the age of websites and apps and YouTube videos, potential buyers will be previewing homes on the Internet before they ever set foot in a home.   Their First Impression is going to be shaped by the photographs...and so hiring a talented, professional real estate photographer can make all the difference in your bottom line: the money in your pocket and time on your side.

Pineview Lodge, photograph by Kirk Bergman Photography
Last month my extended family gathered for a reunion in beautiful Hamilton, Montana.  This is where I grew up, and I think it's one of the most beautiful places on Earth!  Some of us gathered at Pineview Lodge for the second time, and we also spilled over into some of our families' local homes.
Pineview Lodge, photograph by Kirk Bergman Photography

My nephew, who IS a talented, professional real estate photographer (Kirk Bergman Photography, based out of Utah) took the marketing photos for Pineview Lodge (above) a couple of years ago.  This year he had a commission to photograph another vacation rental property not too far away.  He invited me to come along to see what goes in to capturing the beauty and emotion of a home that makes a potential buyer want that one over all others.   

This property is Preacher's Cabin in Florence, Montana.
Preacher's Cabin, photograph by Kirk Bergman Photography

Screened porch.  My photo!
It's interesting to see the difference between a photo shot on my iPhone 6s compared to one professionally staged, composed, and edited to show off the best features of a home!

Which room would you rather take your hot chocolate to in the morning?
Screened porch.  Photo by Kirk Bergman Photography

 Getting ready to take the shot.  I must say the finished photo looks much more cozy and inviting.
Bedroom.  Photo by Kirk Bergman Photography.

 It was fun to see how Kirk tried different angles and checked lighting.  But mostly I appreciated how he looked for distracting elements and had me, his temporary go-fer, move things out of sight.  He didn't ignore crooked drapes, remote controls, too many tchotchkes, or dim spaces, but made changes that enhanced the feel of the room. 

 What a beautiful space!  Can't you imagine yourself enjoying the view, or relaxing by the fire on a chilly evening?
Preacher's Cabin, photograph by Kirk Bergman Photography

The outdoor sitting area, photographed at eye level rather than from a downward-looking angle, captures the peaceful feeling of the outdoor space. 

Preacher's Cabin, photo by Kirk Bergman Photography

If you look inside that red circle very closely, you might be able to see the drone in the sky.  Another feature of professional photographers is that they have the fun tools needed to get the great shots!  Kirk brought his drone to capture some outstanding aerials that gave an idea of the grand scenery that is there to enjoy.

Preacher's Cabin, photo by Kirk Bergman Photography

Preacher's Cabin, photo by Kirk Bergman Photography

It really does look like the perfect spot to enjoy a Montana cabin vacation!


I really do have a strong belief in the value of good real estate photography.  Back in 2012, our family lived in Utah.  I was running a side business of refurbishing furniture, and our two-car garage wasn't handling the extra demands very well!  We put our house on the market and looked for something a little bigger.  We hired an agent to market our home, and he sent over a photographer.  I remember looking at the published photos and being horrified....the photographer had taken a picture of the bathroom with an open toilet seat!  That was the worst of the photography faux pas, but the rest of the photographs were pretty uninspiring as well.  I was disappointed in the photographer and our agent.  Is it any wonder that after two months and one low-ball offer, we decided to take our house off the market??

Fast forward about eight husband accepted a new job in Seattle, and this time we had to sell our house.  We hired a different real estate agent, and this time the photographer did an outstanding job of capturing the colors and emotion of our pretty house!  It sold after six days on the market.

So...I'm a believer!

When selling the most expensive thing you own (your home!), your goal is to make sure everyone who sees it knows just how special it is!  A good agent...and a good photographer...are key to making that goal a reality.


My thanks to Kirk Bergman Photography for allowing me to tag along on this photo shoot. 

Friday, September 7, 2018

Alaska Cruise!!

 This was the Alaska of my dreams...
Glacier Bay National Park

About two weeks ago, my husband I embarked on an Alaskan Cruise!  This is something we have been semi-seriously talking about for over three years.  It might never have happened, but for a chance conversation with some friends who also happened to have been thinking of an Alaskan cruise...and it turned out each of us were just the encouragement the other needed!  From a beginning of two couples, the trip grew to four couples, including another couple from Washington and my sister and brother-in-law from Utah.  

If you've ever thought of a couples' cruise--it is the ideal kind of vacation to share with friends!  You help each other pass the time on the boat together, have supper together, but there is also plenty to do on your own.  We didn't all do the same excursions or go to the same shows, but there was usually a buddy around if you wanted one.  It was awesome that way!

Getting ready to board!

The trip had some great moments and some not-so-great moments.  Sunday we were at sea all day, and the water was pretty rough!  Even the crew commented on it.  Our group made good use of Dramamine, prescription motion sickness patches, and sea-bands--and we still felt a little yishy at times.  Thankfully that was the worst we had, and by morning we were in calmer waters.

Our first stop was Juneau, and unfortunately--this was kind of a bummer day for us.  It was also my birthday, and so we decided to make a big SPLURGE for an excursion--taking a helicopter ride to land on Mendenhall Glacier, where we would be able to get out and walk around, and then having a "traditional" salmon lunch!  Unfortunately...the weather was drizzly and the cloud cover was low, and so they cancelled our excursion.  They didn't tell us this until we got off the boat and were all set to meet up with our guide, so that was a HUGE let-down.  I just don't think we were mentally prepared for that possibility!

So our immediate next stop was with the excursion coordinator, and with all these excursions leaving IMMEDIATELY, we felt we got shuffled off to a substitute excursion in a pretty big hurry.  Partly this was our fault, but maybe a little bit theirs--anyway, we wished we had some more time and someone who'd talk over the options with us a bit more.

Our priority was to get to see the glacier, so we got put on a bus to go there as well as to "Glacier Gardens"...oh, and to a FISH HATCHERY first!  Somehow we missed that fine print.  Let's just say visiting a fish hatchery has never appeared on either or our bucket lists!  The most fun part of that was catching glimpses of seal heads popping out of the water.

Cold and wet...but we smiled!
Next, the glacier!  Well, it was still drizzling and the fog/clouds kept getting thicker.  From the visitors center, we could barely make out the glacier, so we walked a mile or so to a viewpoint by a waterfall to get a better look. Did I mention that this tour only took you TO the visitor's center??  No getting on the glacier like we had originally planned.  Anyway, by the time we got to the waterfall, it was even foggier and I swear our view of the glacier was even LESS than it had been.  And by the time we got there--it was time to turn around and come back to catch the bus.  It was very anti-climatic!

As I mentioned, we were supposed to get lunch with our original excursion.  On the substitute one--not so much!  My dear husband was getting HANGRY, but we had another stop to make!  Next we went to Glacier Gardens.  This was probably the best stop of the day, although the weather still wasn't very cooperative.  We took a little jeep ride up the side of the mountain while learning about the temperate rain forest, and my favorite thing to see were these awesome Flower Towers:  upside-down trees planted upside-down in the dirt, with a whole garden planted in and on their exposed root structure.  They were really cool!

When we got to the top of the mountain, we were supposed to have "stunning panoramic views" of Juneau...hmmm, not so much.  Again, it was the weather's fault!!  We got a small glimpse of the Juneau wasn't very impressive.

After riding back down the mountain, we were wet and cold.  We were grateful to a snack bar with hot chocolate for both of us and a hot dog for Mike.  Then a bus ride back into town...

Where, in our cold and wet short-sidedness, we just decided to go back to the boat.  In hind sight--I think we should have wandered the town, but we were pretty blue and miserable.  But our traveling partners were still out on their excursions, so we ended up at a table for 8 for dinner by ourselves.  Trust you want to really wreck your birthday, sit at a table for 8 with only two people!  Mike was going to tell our waiter it was my birthday, and I told him DON'T YOU DARE!  I didn't much feel like celebrating.  I'm not proud of my attitude that night!  But it did get better, I promise!!

Top of White Pass--getting ready to ride down.
Next day...Skagway!  When my parents took an Alaskan cruise 15-20 years ago, this was their favorite stop, and the train ride was their favorite excursion.  So this was the one thing we KNEW we wanted to do!  We shared our excursion this day with our Washington friends.  We rode a bus up to the top of White Pass, and our driver was entertaining and informative.  At the top of the pass (officially in Canada), we got on the White Pass Railway and rode the train back down.   Our weather this day wasn't great either.  The cloud cover was pretty low, and so we didn't have "stunning panoramic views" here either.  But what we did see was beautiful, and I especially loved the Alpine meadows we went through, and hearing the history of the Klondike Gold Rush--definitely a harder and less lucrative venture than I ever knew!

 Next stop was Dredgetown, a re-creation of a Klondike-era Alaskan mining town.  We got to experience panning for gold, which was fun to do--once (I wouldn't need to do it again).  Mike and I together got about $19 worth of gold--which I know I brought home in a small film canister, but haven't located since!!  Then we were provided with a BBQ lunch before being dropped off in town.  I will say this--while the BBQ lunch was just fine, based on my experience with it, we would NOT choose to pay money for food included with an excursion again.  I think we'd have better luck finding our  own food in whatever town we were in.  That made me feel a little better about missing our meal in Juneau!
Arctic Brotherhood Hall, Skagway

Skagway is very, very small!  Of course it is mostly tourist-trap shops, but we enjoyed looking through them!  They didn't get much of our money--just some fudge Mike though he should have, and not much else.  We had a good time wandering before returning to the ship.  I did do my touristy-duty in photographing what is touted as "the MOST photographed building in Alaska"--the Arctic Brotherhood Hall!  The facade is made of thousands of pieces of driftwood, and it really was spectacular.

That brings us to Wednesday!  Wednesday was the best day of the trip! This was the day we sailed into Glacier Bay National Park.  

In the morning, the fog was so thick I don't think you could see 15 feet away from the boat.  But by mid-morning, the fog lifted and we were blessed with a gorgeous blue sky with lots of puffy clouds!  It was utterly and completely spectacular.

Marjorie Glacier

Marjorie Glacier

 Of course we only saw a small portion of the 3.3 MILLION acre park!  But it was the Alaska of my dreams--the way I have always imagined it to be. Marjorie Glacier (a tidewater glacier) was the one we were able to get closest to.  It was awesome to hear it crack and pop and see pieces of it drop into the water.

Imagine 2300 passengers all wanting to get a close look at the glacier.  The ship turned oh-so-slowly around right in front of it, so everyone would get a chance to see it. I think I pretty much stayed outside and watched the whole time.

On the way out of the bay, we passed an island loaded with sea lions--I really wished I had had binoculars then, as we weren't all that close!  We did see a couple of otters swimming next to the boat, and later in the afternoon we passed a couple of pods of whales.  They were too far away to see clearly, but I saw lots of spouts, a couple of flashes of some backs, and a few tails.  It definitely wasn't a trip to see lots of wildlife--but the scenery was amazing!

More pictures of Glacier Bay...just because!

The two pictures above are my two very most favorite pictures from the entire trip!  I now see them every time I look at my iPhone or Apple Watch!  I love that I can take them with me wherever I go.

 I could have looked at the sky and the water for ages!  Some people might have thought a clear blue sky would  have been better--but I wouldn't trade these gorgeous racing clouds for anything.

Red Hen Home: Ketchikan Thursday morning our port was in Ketchikan.  This was the most fun port for us, and we wished we had had more time there!  First we took a trolley tour up to see the totem pole park, as it is a little ways out of the city.  We had a good guide again, so it was entertaining and informative.  This was our favorite totem pole--one we really felt we could be a part of!

Next was the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show.  We had heard it was not to be missed--and we were not misled!  It was a TON of fun.  The audience was divided into two "camps": U.S. and Canada (we were Canada).  Then you cheered your team through about 10 competitions of strength, agility, and skill, all wrapped up in a hilarious package.  The log rolling in particular--so cool!!  Normally I don't consider myself a very loud or enthusiastic fan--but this particular competition really got it out of me!!  So much so that I (ahem!) won a signed postcard from the show for my enthusiasm!  I'm sure that was why Canada won ;-)  For reals--if you go to Alaska, put this on your "must do" list!

One other thing we got a glimpse of was the salmon running.  Sadly, it was a really bad year for salmon.  Apparently the streams should have been so full of fish you could almost walk across on them--this year, there were many, but you certainly would have gotten very wet!

Friday we were at sea most of the day, but in port in Victoria, Canada by about 6:30 p.m.  We really don't live all that far from Victoria, but ferry costs are so high that we have never been there.  I've always wanted to see the Butchart Gardens, so we signed up for that excursion, even knowing it would be dark.

It takes a good 40 minutes to be bussed to the gardens, and this time, unfortunately, we did NOT have an awesome guide...he was pretty dull.  Better luck next time!  The gardens themselves WERE magnificent--what we could see!! The tour was advertised as "being lit up with thousands of lights," but I'm not sure there were that many!  I guess I was expecting trees wrapped in Christmas lights, but what they had were lots of landscaping lights.  Those were nice, for sure, but didn't give quite the fairy-land experience I think I was expecting!  What the tour did, is whet my desire to go back and see it in the daytime someday!  The Japanese Gardens were most enjoyable at night, as those gardens rely more on texture and shape anyway, rather than rioting colors.  But oh--what we could see really was amazing!

After a late night back to the boat, we had to be up early the next morning to disembark in Seattle.  The trip was over all too quickly!  I think Mike would like to take a cruise every year if we could afford it!!

I realize I haven't said much about the cruise ship itself, so here goes.  We sailed on the Ruby Princess out of Seattle, which is convenient since we live just northeast of there!  The ship was lovely and the crew was amazing.  We LOVED our waiter and assistant waiter for each of our dinners together.  We had an excellent room steward--after noticing that we had pushed our two twin beds together, he made them up as a king bed for us for the rest of the trip.  That little touch made a world of difference to us.

Floating Islands
My chocolate mousse birthday box
Chocolate/Pistachio Dessert
Everybody who goes on a cruise talks about the food!  I am widely known as a "food snob," so I have a few things to say ;-)  Yes, it is true that food was available pretty much ALL THE TIME!  However--I didn't think it was so amazing that I HAD to eat it all the time, which was probably a good thing.  I would say the dinners in the main dining room were generally very good.  You generally had about 6-8 choices of an appetizer, 8-10 choices of an entree, and about 8 choices for dessert each night, with at least half of those choices being specific for that night.  The choices were varied, the presentation was beautiful!  We had some very good meals, some good ones, and one that was just bad (and they would have brought me something else if I had asked--which I didn't).    We had about three AMAZING desserts (I still dream of the salted caramel custard...).

The buffet was very good for breakfast, but I wasn't all that impressed with it for lunch/dinner.  But to be honest, I didn't feel very hungry for lunch most days, so most of it just didn't appeal.  The desserts at the buffet were generally quite poor, even though their breakfasts pastries were quite good--go figure.  We  had a couple of meals in the "anytime" dining room, and I didn't think those were as good as in the formal dining room either--but since they are run out of different kitchens, maybe that makes sense.  There was also a pizza bar on board (pretty good), soft ice cream available most of the time (who doesn't like that?), and a burger grill (which my sister said wasn't great).  Then there were at least four specialty dining rooms that cost extra if you wanted to go there.  Our friends did, and based on their description I didn't feel like I had missed out.  I just think going on a cruise is so pricey to begin with, you might as well eat the food you've already paid for ;-)

Entertainment:  there is a lot of it available!  And that is good, because ship time can get to be pretty dull, especially if you neither drink nor gamble!  We went to one musical/magic show which was OK--we liked the magic part a lot, so went to see the magician (in a solo performance) another time and really enjoyed him.  They had a singer/comic perform two different shows, and we went to both of those because he was so good!  Then the crew puts on some different "game shows" which we enjoyed--unless they got too raunchy, in which case we left!

My one real complaint about Princess is that they don't have a good way for traveling companions to get a hold of each other.  Obviously your cell phone doesn't work--but they do have a ship "intranet" which allows you to message other passengers.  But since your phone doesn't alert you to any messages, it's hard to make connections.  Princess needs to write an app!

So, do I want to take another cruise??  Definitely!  Next year, probably not--but maybe in 3-5 years.  I liked Princess a lot, but not enough that I won't consider trying another cruise line.  But I do think it's a good solid choice.

Hope this helps you make a decision if you're considering a cruise!

Have you been on a cruise?  
Where did you go/what did you think?  
Where should we go on our next one??