Party Time! Happy Birthday Jim!

Although Jim's actual birthday isn't until mid-February, we celebrated on Saturday night.  Really celebrated.  Probably a little more than we should have.  Yesterday was long.  But, Jim is turning 40 so there was good reason.  I think the party helped ease the transition.  hahaha.

We had about 70 revelers at our house which made for a great time.  Amazingly the kids slept through pretty much the whole thing!  We used Paperless Post this year after having loads of problems with Evite this year.  I was so happy even if it wasn't free - still more reasonable than sending an invitation.

We hired a caterer with serving staff for the first time and let me tell you - it makes a WORLD of difference.  It was a little bit hard to give up control of the party for about the first 15 minutes but then I realized I could actually enjoy my own party.  I never once worried about whether people had enough drinks.  The only issue was that we ran out of ice but we had some great neighbors who were willing to fill up some bags of ice at their houses and bring it over.  Gotta love your neighbors!
 The food was amazing.  Here's a sampling - mozzarella and tomato on pesto crostini. 
 And the birthday cake.

We generally have one big adult cocktail party every January.  We used to do a big Christmas party but finally decided that December was too complicated for everyone.  So, it became a January party a few years ago and I don't think we'll go back. This year we combined the winter cocktail party with Jim's birthday for double the fun!

Here are a few things that we generally do to prepare for a big party besides the usual stuff like clean the bathrooms:
  • Move any furniture which may be a tripping hazard or which might get in the way of traffic patterns.  This includes small foot stools, small side tables, etc.  
  • Eliminate as many chairs as possible - you want people walking around and mingling, not sitting.  Put the dining room chairs in the basement so the dining room is completely clear for drinks and food.
  • Create an area for coats if it's a winter party.  We use the garment racks which also come in handy our annual yard sale.  This year we put them in our basement playroom which worked perfectly.
  • Set up a bar area but also a satellite bar for wine and maybe a small cooler of beer.  We set up the bar in the dining room but people are always welcome to grab a beer from the fridge in the kitchen as well.  We set up a small wine bar in the living room as well.  
  • Put as many toys as possible out of sight.  This is particularly important for an adults only party which this one most definitely was. 
  • Turn off all overhead lights and turn on a few lamps.  Dim the chandeliers.  Much more festive.
  • Lock up the dog so no one has to worry about their food being stolen when they go for another cocktail.
  • Make punch and serve it from a punch bowl.  This certainly adds to the festive nature of the party.  This year's recipe is here.
  • Clear kitchen counters as much as possible.  I put our toaster and coffee pot away this year as well as all of the usual clutter.  You'll need the space no matter how big your kitchen is (unless you are RHBH Lisa Vanderpump).
  • Set up a recycling area.  You'll probably need more recycling space than trash.  No matter what the weather, we usually put a big bin outside the back door, and then smaller one somewhere near the bar.  Fortunately our recycling does not have to be separated and all plastics are recyclable so ours was easy to do.
What are your party tips?  Any big parties coming up?

Happy Birthday Honey!


Big Changes Around Here

Just wanted to point out some changes on the main blog page.  First, I created a new blog header. Not sure I'll keep it for the long haul but I like it better than the nothingness I had before! 

I added a tag menu in the column on the right so you can find all of my posts about say the dining room. 

I also updated my blog roll which has expanded A LOT!  I need more hobbies maybe.  Here it is for those who are reading on reader. 

Finally, I updated my house tour photos to reflect the changes in our kitchen (backsplash), dining room, the kids' rooms.  I still need to add some more exterior photos and do a real "tour" through the house.  Maybe I'll even do a video... or not since I hate my own voice.

Happy Sunday!


High Impact Updates for Alex Too!

If you tuned in yesterday, you saw some updates in Elizabeth's room.  Of course, the updates in her room were interconnected with some necessary updates in Alex's room.  For those who don't know my family yet, Alex is my rambunctious 20 month old.  (Lots more about Alex's nursery here and here)

First, I stole the light from Alex's dresser for Elizabeth's nightstand.  It was definitely a little girly for a boy's room and it really needed to be removed.  It looks so much better in her room.
 All of this was spurred when I found this great lamp at HomeGoods a few weeks ago for $35 on clearance.  I love everything about it.  Not sure it will end up in Alex's ultimate big-boy room but I will certainly find a place for it in our house because it's so great.  

Just FYI - I often have about 10 things in the back of my mind that I shop for whenever I am out.  As soon as I see something that fits one of those bills at a great price then I am all over it.  The great thing about this method is that you don't often end up settling for something you really don't like and you can wait for a good deal since it's not an immediate need. 

In addition to the new lamp I framed a poster that I had for a while.  It's from the National Book Festival which is a great annual event on the National Mall in late September.  The posters are free.   

I cheated on the framing though because I didn't want to make a big investment.  So, I bought a big frame from AC Moore (with a coupon so about $25) and a large dark blue mat (less than $10) on which I then just mounted the poster.  By "mount" I really mean that I just squashed the poster between the glass and the mat and stuck a couple of tiny pieces of two-sided tape on the top.  Very unprofessional but it looks quite good actually!

So here's how Alex's dresser looks now.  Much more boyish and fitting for his room.

I love how the poster really fills the space and the colors go well with the rest of the room.  I think this poster will likely be a major jumping off point for Alex's big boy room next year.  Also, the "A" was a fun find from the Marshall's clearance shelf. 

P.S. Some day I'll fill you in in on my current mental shopping list but that will take a whole post!

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Growing Up: A Little Girl's Room Evolves

It's a snow day here today!  Can't say I'm particularly happy about it.  I really hate it tomorrow but today the kids will exhaust themselves climbing around in the 8" or so we got.  

We went to kindergarten information night on Tuesday night.  It's hard to believe my baby girl is going to be in kindergarten next fall.  It feels like she was just born!  I know... soon we'll be talking about college.  Honestly, I love each new stage of her life more than the last.  One of my main goals with her room is to have it grow with her so she doesn't grow tired of it.  One of the easy ways to keep things updated is to change up the wall decor as she grows.  Changing out her bedding would be another good option but I chose bedding that is not babyish so hopefully we won't need to change that any time soon.  (To read more about her room, click here.)

Elizabeth's room was one of the first room that we finished after the renovation.  We wanted her to have a place to get away from the craziness of settling into our house.  Here's how it looked last spring.

I liked it but I felt the wall decor was definitely lacking.  I was mostly using what we had around.  I love the gallery walls that people are doing - it's a great way to fill a tough space without a huge piece of art.  So, I created a gallery space in Elizabeth's room over her arm chair. 

I love this because I feel it can really change as she changes and he interests evolved.  The best part is that it didn't cost a dime!  The small green board with the pink stripes is a magnetic board - so adorable.  I bought it a long time ago but hadn't found the right place for it.  The pink and green frames were left-over from a baby shower I threw years ago.  The "sugar and spice" sign was in my room when I was a child.  My grandmother made the embroidered piece on top and the frame on the right was hers.  She always loved Mary Engelbreit.  I have a second Mary Engelbreit frame to add but I need to find a way to hang on the wall securely.   

Over her bed I added a cherry blossom branch decal which is probably very "last year" but I love the effect.  I moved the bird and watermelon print over here as well.  She picked it out and loves it.  I think it feels more special in this location and I definitely wanted one piece over the bed now that we have the cherry blossoms on the opposite wall.

A quick update on the nightstand.  There is no update!  It needs updating and something needs to happen but I haven't figured out what exactly, but I plan to do something soon.  Really soon. 
You may have noticed the change in the light fixture on the nightstand.  I think it needs to be punched up but this was in her nursery as a baby and has lived on there in Alex's but the floral shade was not cutting it in there and definitely was not going to work in his big boy room which we'll be putting together next year... or sooner since he jumped out of his crib last weekend!

Check back tomorrow for some fun and easy updates to Alex's nursery.

Linking up to: All Things Bright and Beautiful


Built-in Bookcases - An Awkward Corner (Update 4)

Hubby is still working away on the bookshelves and doing a super fantastic job. (Go Jim!) We're having a few friends over on Saturday for a little party so we really need to get things in shape so we can at least put some spare furniture down there and clean-out the guest room for visitors! Yikes!

We did run into a bit of a dilemma with how to deal with the corner.  Backtracking a bit - we originally were just going to fill the nook in the back of the family room with bookshelves and call it a day.  But, then we started thinking about where to place the TV and sofa, and we realized that putting the TV on the back wall would cause us to put the sofa in the middle of the room and really cut it off.  So we changed it up and moved the TV to the right wall.  
I thought about just putting a piece of furniture under the TV and calling it a day.  A little more thinking and talking and we realized we have a LOT of books still in boxes and if we filled this wall with bookshelves too then we would be able to unpack more boxes.  And, we could use the lower shelves for more toys and kids books.  MORE toys. 

Now we had to create a true corner in the built-in and this was a first for us.  Hubby did a bunch of searching online and in his many woodworking magazines.  We didn't want the span to be too large there or the shelves could not be supported properly.  So, we played with moving the bookshelf to the right of the corner back and forth. 

Here you can see the shelf on the right pushed up to the base cabinet on the back wall.  Jim and our friend Nick thought it closed off the corner too much and they were right (so glad I listened to them). 
So we fixed it by pushing that shelf to the right which creates a more open feeling on the top as well as a set of supportable corner shelves. 
Initially we thought the narrow space on the bottom right of the corner would be a wasted space.  After thinking about it for a few minutes I realized that smaller toys could fit in this space easily, but also small bins or baskets to house toys and later video game equipment or DVDs. 

Out of a problem came a solution and hopefully a really useful space!  Ironically, I think the shelves are going to make the space feel a bit larger because they will contain the stuff and it makes the room feel less long and narrow.  Can't wait to get these painted out and the TV mounted!

What's your latest DIY problem that you are trying to solve?


The Case of the Leaky Water Dispenser - SOLVED!

This is a random DIY post for a Tuesday. Everything is in flux here. Bookshelves are moving forward, and the living room looks like a furniture store. Yikes. So I'm posting about something completely different.  Our fridge.  I love our fridge.  The French doors are great and I love the bottom freezer.  Not sure I could go back to a top freezer.  It fits perfectly in the corner next to our stairs.  It's a Samsung similar to this
The downside?  The internal water filter drips.  First, you are probably asking "Why don't you have a water and ice dispenser on the door?"  First, I like the clean look of the plain door.  Second, it's cheaper and it felt like we were bleeding money while renovating our house last year.  Third, I could imagine our kids holding the button down and letting the water and ice flood the kitchen.

Anyway, the internal water dispenser was our choice.  We loved it until it started dripping for about a minute after we would fill a glass. Annoying.  Of course, I changed the filter and then had a service call from Samsung (it was still under warranty).  The service guy fixed it for about a month but then it started up again - after the warranty expired.

After thinking about it for the past 6 months (and leaving a small paper towel in there to catch the drips), I started to think about the filter.  It was an after-market version.  So, I bought some filters name brand filters.  Bingo.  Fixed. 

I think it has something to do with the seal the filter makes.  The name brand filter was much harder to push and turn into place which leads me to believe the other filters were too loose and let the air in.  I guess this is one place where being thrifty did not pay!  Wish I had figured that out a year ago!!


Built-in Bookcases (Update 3)

Happy Monday!  Well, hubby really outdid himself this weekend with work on our new built-in bookshelves in the basement.  He spent every spare minute working on them and they are looking really good.  (See the first two updates here and here)  Here's where we were last week. 

That's our cardboard "TV" which we are using to find the perfect location on the wall for the TV.  The bookshelves will go around it. 

Here are some progress pictures over the course of latter part of last week and this weekend. 

We are adding two small pull out "desk drawers" for extra play space or even a laptop.  This is a first for us but Jim said it was fairly simple to build.  I can post some close-ups of the underside if anyone is interested in the construction. 
We are also adding bead board behind the built-ins for a little extra interest.  It's fairly inexpensive but adds some additional architectural interest.  Everything will be painted ultimately.  Instead of attaching the bead board to the back of each set of bookcases, Jim attached the bead board directly to the wall.

Jim installed 2x6 blocking between the studs where the TV mount will go.  We have finally learned our lesson on this - so much easier than searching for a stud.  Not pretty but it works. 
 The bead board was then installed over the top. 
The area looks really great and I can't wait to see it trimmed out and painted. We have a busy week and weekend ahead but hopefully I'll have another update later this week. 

Did you make progress on any major projects this weekend? 


My Winter Mantel

I have finally finished my winter mantel.  It took me forever and I'm still not sure it says "winter" but I really do like it.  It's definitely not a variation on Christmas which is what I was going for.  The great thing about winter is that there really are no preconceived notions of what winter colors have to be.  That may be the only good thing about winter for me.

The candlesticks are new from HomeGoods.  I found them on the clearance cart for $18 each.  They are really heavy and they add some interesting height around the TV.  I already had the two green vases and you may remember them from previous mantelscapes.  The short blue glass vase was $5.99 at Marshalls and the brown/blue ceramic flower vase was $4.00 on clearance also from Marshalls.  The glass lidded jars were used in my living room Christmas mantel.  I bought them for the guest bathroom but haven't put them to use yet.  More on that soon. 
The oblong silver bowl was a Christmas gift from my mom this year.  I love that I could use it for the mantel, a centerpiece or even as a bread basket!  The fun silver artichoke candles are from a local drugstore, Preston's, here in Arlington.  I love to check out their great gift and home department while I wait for prescriptions to be filled!
Is your mantel still empty after Christmas?  Where are you finding inspiration?


Find Your Mud Room (or Area)

Don't have a mudroom but want one?  You may have to be creative and steal a small area in your house near the most frequently used doorway.  It does not have to be big and doesn't have to be a whole room by any means - just a small stretch of wall or a corner of the room.

We don't have a real mudroom so to speak, despite our whole house reno 2 years ago (read all about that here).  We have what I call a "mud area" which is the landing on our stairs in front of our driveway door which is the main every day door in our house now.  We have a small set of hooks there (from Target), and a boot tray (also from Target) to organize the space.
The kids sit on the stairs to take their boots on and off.  Not the most ideal but it's better than nothing!  There is really no room for a stool.  The doors on the right go out to our driveway.  The one on the left is stationary (but can be opened to carry large things to the basement) and the right one we use every day.

The rug is a "water hog" from LL Bean.  I love that it's big enough to cover and protect most of the wood floors.  Well worth the investment even though I would have liked something with a bit more color and interest.

Of course the mess on the boot tray was driving me crazy.  Not much I can do about the boots and shoes that live there.  At least they are contained on the tray!  (more on my tray obsession here)

Then I figured out that the hats and gloves are really the issue, so I found a box at HomeGoods over the weekend for $7.99!  Wow - that is so much better!
So, how much was my "mud room"?  Here is how much I paid for my stuff but I gave you some suggestions in case you want to recreate a similar area in your home.  Note: The prices aren't the same because the products I purchased don't seem to be available any more.
Set of Hooks (similar to this) - about $25
Boot Tray (similar to this) - about $30
Mitten Box - $8
Water Hog Mat (find it here) - about $75
TOTAL - about $140

Well worth it to keep the coats and boots off the kitchen floor!


Built-in Bookcases (Update 2)

Hubby worked so hard this weekend to make a lot of headway on our bookcases.  (Read about our progress last week here)  We want this project to move quickly so we don't lose our precious playroom area for the bulk of the cold weather.  He did a load of pre-planning (something neither of us are generally very good at) and it is paying off.  There have been a few snags along the way and a lot of rethinking but overall, I think these will be our best built-ins yet. 

Here's where we were before with Ikea shelves and the old TV armoire.  

Then we cleared out the stuff.  

We moved some of the toys to the other side of the room to retain as much playroom space as possible.  There's hubby taking a rest after all of that toy moving!
The rest is in the guestroom next door.  Hope we don't have any unexpected guests any time soon!  We have an embarrassing number of toys!

Then Jim pulled the carpet back.  Believe me, you do not want to put built-ins on top of any carpet.  We've made that mistake before. 
Out came the baseboard, the carpet padding, and the tack strip.  We'll have to restretch the carpet when we get the baseboards back in. 
 Jim then popped the base into place which is a 1'x4' frame.  Jim made this in his shop and brought it in. 
Then he brought in the base cabinet for the back wall.  Unfortunately it didn't fit the first time because the wall was 1/2 inch to narrow at the front.  He remade the base and put it back in.  It was touch and go for a few minutes but everything is fine now.
 Looking good!
I'll have another progress report in a couple of days.  I think I'll be on painting duty before the weekend.