Author Archives: annisa

Christmas Around Our Home 2017

While my kids would have loved for us to truly douse the house in Christmas everything, I prefer a lighter touch when it comes to Christmas decorating.

In fact, I’ve already donated 5 bags of stuff this month because all the extra decor out for Christmas is making me twitchy. My closets are looking nice and tidy though!

The mantel in the living room we never use is decorated with some greenery, ceramic trees and one of my favorite projects of all time – a DIY wood dove.

I can see the mantel from the doorway though, so it’s not a complete waste.

I made a wreath from yard clippings for our dining room.

Okay, fine. They weren’t clippings from my yard exactly.

I shamelessly clipped borrowed them from an area that I hope am supremely confident belongs to all the neighbors.

Remember the wood slice from this post?

Well, it’s currently sitting on top of our shoe cabinet with an embroidery hoop wreath.

The greenery on the wreath dried out in about 3 seconds days, but that’s okay.

And, no, I just do not have it in me to unscrew those jars to straighten the trees inside. Fake snow is only slightly behind glitter in terms of craft supplies that I avoid handling at all costs. I told the kids we’ll pretend the wind is blowing REALLY HARD inside those snow globes and that’s why the trees are leaning.

Moving on. Here’s the centerpiece on my dining room table.

The clippings in the pitcher are from a tree in my backyard. I swear!

The little plant by the sheet music trees is real and I’ve kept it alive for probably 9 months.

It turns out remembering to water your plants is really helpful. Go figure.

This DIY Christmas bunting from a prior year is a whimsical, colorful break from the quiet tones of the rest of our holiday decor.

The sign the bunting is tacked to is a work-in-progress. The wood came from the wine rack we ripped apart, which is why you can see the x-shaped markings.

I’m not entirely sure what I’m doing with this project, so it’s just been sitting unfinished for several months. Eventually, I’ll figure it out.

In the meantime, I’m sharing it because it’s a good reminder to me in the midst of the hustle and bustle to just stop and focus on what’s important. I’m a lot happier when I do that instead of getting hung up on the inconsequential annoyances of the day.


P.S. If you missed it, here’s our 2017 Christmas tree and our 2016 Christmas tree.

You may also like this post from 2015 about our dining room shelves decked out for Christmas.

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Christmas Tree 2017

I was gung-ho to decorate for Christmas this year.

Then I opened the Christmas boxes stuffed with holiday decor.

I looked at all the glitz and glitter and did not feel that burst of fa-la-la-magic. Instead, I felt like a tall, curly-haired grinch. Minus the green complexion.

However, the kids were excited to douse the house in Christmas everything! Even though I FELT like a grinch, I didn’t want to BE a grinch. So we blasted Christmas music and got to work spreading holiday cheer around the house.

I set the Christmas tree up in the living room in front of the big window. Then I just looked at it like, “What am I going to do with you now?”

The glitz and glitter, the shine and sparkle was not what I was in the mood for this year. At all.

My son kept asking me when we were going to hang the ornaments on the tree. It only took him 7 1/2 minutes to hang all of his ornaments on the tree in his room, so he was back in the living room ready for more Christmas action in no time.

Imagine how confused he was when I said, “let’s cut up Daddy’s shirt and make ribbons for the tree!”

“Why? We have shiny ornaments!”

It’s a fair point.

It’s hard to explain to him how my minds works. I barely understand it myself!

Understated ribbon on the tree seemed like a good idea because it was the opposite of shiny ornaments. I didn’t have any understated ribbon, but I did have one of Handy Husband’s shirts in the donation pile that would work for making something ribbon-like.

After I tied the newly-made “ribbons” on the tree I decided the tree needed some filler. So I found all the fake flowers and other nature-y things I had and shoved strategically placed them in the tree. I even used some fabric backing material…anything and everything not shiny was fair game. Antlers? Sure! Throw those on there too!

It was at this point that I had the brilliant idea (sarcasm alert) to make ornaments out of my son’s building blocks as a way to give the Christmas tree that handmade touch.

The ornament project took a couple of days to complete though and in the meantime, we weren’t spending any time around the tree! ZERO!

All the effort and none of the enjoyment.

Why? Well…

Our home is the opposite of open concept. Every room has at least one door. Even between the kitchen and dining room there’s a door. This is pretty typical in older Irish homes as it was a way to save money by only heating certain rooms.

It turns out, at this stage in our lives, this particular home’s layout does not work for us. At all. I’m not saying that as a complaint, but more as an interesting observation of our habits and how we live in our space.

The living room is the one room in our home that rarely gets used and THAT’S where I put the tree. Why? Because that’s where Christmas trees go! Or, at least, that’s where I’ve always put our Christmas tree.

This house is much different than all the other places we’ve lived, but I was treating it the same.

No wonder I was feeling like a grinch. All the work to make the tree pretty and we weren’t even enjoying it. In hindsight, my aversion to the shiny ornaments was probably my brain’s early warning system.

After I had this realization, I knew there was a solution. Move the tree to a room where we spend our family time.

Oh, boy. Let me tell you! Dragging a mostly decorated tree across the house and through two doorways without causing major damage is not the easiest thing in the world to accomplish by yourself. Also, just a friendly reminder to unplug the dang tree before you pick it up and start that awkward shuffle to the next room. Not that I know from experience or anything.

Eventually and with the utmost thanks for no photographic evidence of the feat, I was able to get the tree situated in a corner of our dining room. Instantly, I felt SO MUCH BETTER. No more grinch. And no more ridiculous mental drama over a dang tree.

When the kids got home from school that day, they said, “Oh, mama! Now we can eat breakfast AND open presents!” My thoughts exactly, kids.

The dining room is where we spend most of our time as a family. For meals, of course. But also for homework, games, artwork, etc. It makes sense that the Christmas tree should be located where we spend the most time. It might not be the most conventional or make for the best photo op, but it’s what works for our family at this moment in time.

To me, creating spaces that live well for us is part of what makes a pretty happy home.

While I love our un-shiny tree, my son just asked me, “can we hang the shiny ornaments now?”

Sure, buddy.


P.S. I swear our tree does have a top. Apparently, I just didn’t take a picture of it. Also, there is only one real present under the tree in this photo. The rest are fakes to hide the light cords.

P.P.S. Here’s our tree from 2016. Here’s more info about that stool – it was originally made in high school shop class! Our stockings are a partial DIY.

P.P.S.S. While the tree looks close to the fireplace, it really isn’t. Plus, we don’t burn wood in that fireplace – just an occasional candle. So no one freak out.

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Happy List: #51

10 days until Christmas!

Are you ready? Or are you fa-la-la-la-frazzled?

I’m feeling pretty solid. Or as solid as I can be hoping the items I ordered show up on time!

This week I finally (a whole 11 days into the month) shared something Christmas-y with you.
On Monday it was window shopping in Ireland to see how Irish retailers get in the Christmas spirit. Spoiler alert: no grinches here! On Wednesday I shared the ornaments I made out of my son’s wood blocks. Apparently, nothing is safe in this house from one of my crafty ideas.

I’ve got some good stuff for you on today’s Happy List! I do love all the ideas and inspiration this time of year!


SHEET MUSIC PINECONES

The heavens have opened and bestowed on me the perfect craft idea!

For a piano-playing gal – especially one who is missing her piano right now (it’s in storage in Atlanta) – these sheet music pinecones are everything!

I saw this idea and the great tutorial that goes along with it at Vin ‘yet Etc. I just discovered and bookmarked this blog because they have a ton of ideas and inspiration I need to catch up on!

(image: Vin ‘yet Etc.)


MY KIND OF TO-DO LIST

And no, I’m not going to make any jokes about #5. I’m a immature adult.


THE MOTHER

I just discovered the song The Mother by Brandi Carlile.

If you know a mom who is going through that transition from their old-life to their mom-life this song will strike a chord. It does not matter how we became a mom or when. We all have to find our way through that messy, beautiful, hard, amazing transition. I’ve been a mom for 10 years and I still sometimes wrestle with those emotions.

The story of how I became a mom is different from Brandi’s. Yet her lyrics had me saying “Yes! I get that feeling!”


CHRISTMAS GUACAMOLE

Guacamole doesn’t do much for me, which I know is a VERY controversial thing to say. People are very passionate about avocados.

However, look at this Christmas guacamole. It makes even me want to try it. The recipe is by Gaby at What’s Gaby Cooking. Definitely check it out.

Also, I’m suddenly craving some salty chips.


ECODOMES

If I ever decided to do the ecotourism or outdoor adventure thing in Patagonia, I think I’d like to stay in one of these domes by EcoCamp.

Just throwing that out there. I’m not at all super into roughing it, so this seems like a nice compromise: nature in the day, hot shower and a real bed at night. I wonder if they have wifi?


DIY BUFFALO CHECK JARS

Anyone want to make these for me? Just seeing if there are any takers…

The detailed tutorial is at WhipperBerry!

(image: WhipperBerry)


RECHARGEABLE BATTERIES

Handy Husband has a lot of good ideas, but his decision to start buying rechargeable batteries about 10 years ago was one of his better ones.

I don’t know how much we’ve saved over the years, but I’m confident it’s been a lot. That panic of not having batteries when the kids open their Christmas present from Santa or when the TV remote dies is no longer a thing in our house.

We’ve used these AA and AAA batteries by Eneloop for years and can vouch for them. There are cheaper brands on the market now, which I’m sure are just as awesome though.

Oh, and don’t forget the charger. We have this one and it’s worked for years. It even works with our outlet adapter while we are living abroad, which is a miracle in and of itself.


FREE PRINTABLE – PERPETUAL CALENDAR

Ashley from Under The Sycamore has a perpetual calendar free printable for all of you!

She’s been making these since 2010 when her husband needed an inexpensive and meaningful gift for the small group leaders at his church. She made a daily calendar with a simple premise: “write down the best part of your day…each day.”

Her idea was to also print this out and attach to hostess or teacher gifts this Christmas. I REALLY like that idea since I’ve been pondering the teacher gift situation. This only takes 4 sheets of paper!


 

WOVEN WREATH

There is so much talent and creativity in the world and it never ceases to amaze me. Case in point: here’s an awesome idea for a wreath by Lisa at Wisconsin Magpie.

You have to click over to her site to see the finished woven wreath. The best part is this idea can work for any season just by changing the accessories. So smart.

(image: Wisconsin Magpie)


TABLETOP TREE

Anyone doing a tabletop tree this year?

I love the simplicity of this one from Tone on Tone Antiques.

(image: Tone on Tone Antiques)


Happy Friday, everyone! I hope your weekend will be full of holiday cheer!

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Turn Building Blocks Into Christmas Ornaments

Some people do crossword puzzles to keep their brain sharp. I constantly thinking of ways to repurpose items in our home. Totally the same, right? Hmm. The latest idea was to turn my kids’ natural wood building blocks into Christmas ornaments.

Why?? Let me explain…

One of my favorite things about the holiday season is the artwork my kids bring home from school. I’ve saved some of it and every year when I open the holiday boxes and see something they made with their cute little toddler (now big kid) hands, I melt into a pile of mom goo.

This is one of my favorite pieces of foot-made handmade artwork.

If handmade items bring me so much holiday cheer, then it stands to reason our tree needed something handmade too.

Like I do with most of my projects, I shop my home for materials first. These wood building blocks “Santa” is playing with were just begging to be repurposed into ornaments.

The building blocks were made by Handy Husband for our son quite awhile ago. Here’s the info on how he made them. We have a huge basket full of them. These are similar, but with more shapes.

Now, I swear I didn’t rip the building blocks out of his little hands simply for my own crafty purposes.

This time. Ha!

Fact is, like so many toys, our son hasn’t played with the building blocks in over a year. At least.

Repurposing 12 of them for a Christmas ornament project didn’t seem like too much of a stretch.

I asked Handy Husband if he would cut the wood blocks in half and drill a hole in the top of each block. He said, “You want how many?” “Sure honey, anything for you.”

The BEST PART of this process was that our son wanted to help daddy.

The kiddo didn’t use the saw, but he helped with measuring, sanding and with supervision he helped drill the holes in the building blocks.

Handy Husband picked up a lot of his DIY skills by watching and helping his dad. Now I see it happening with the next generation and, yes, it’s another ‘melt into a puddle of mom goo’ moment.

After sanding off the rough bits, I added two coats of stain to the blocks using a rag.

For certain projects, especially small ones, I find using a rag to apply the stain is better in terms of ease-of-use and clean-up. I just throw the rag away when I’m done.

Also, I’d definitely recommend using gloves when working with stain. It’s just not fun to wash it off your hands.

In case you are wondering, I use old cutting boards as a work surface for all our small crafty projects that are done in the house. As you can see, they hold up to a lot of wear and tear!

Back to the project…

When the stain was dry I used a paint pen to add a holiday message to the wood block ornaments.

I kept it simple because hand lettering is not my strong suit, but here’s how they turned out.

While I’m using these as ornaments now, in the future I can repurpose them as gift tags!

I do like a versatile DIY project.

Next week I’ll show you how these building blocks, I mean, Christmas ornaments look on our happy little tree! Let me just take some pictures first…

 

*affiliate link to Amazon used in this post

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Living in Ireland: Christmas in Retail 2017

We are counting down the days until we celebrate our second Christmas living in Ireland!

Last year I didn’t know what to expect as far as the holidays go and I was pleasantly surprised to see that everyone – including retailers – really get into the Christmas spirit here. This makes sense given the heavy Catholic influence in Ireland.

There is no “buffer holiday” between Halloween and Christmas in Ireland, so the holiday decorations starting going up in early November. As an example of how early festivities start, the tree lighting event in our town was on November 18. Santa arrived on a Harley Davidson (why not?) to turn on the town’s Christmas lights. Then there was a fireworks show, which we watched from the pier along the bay. It was pretty fantastic!

Retailers get in on the action too. They don’t miss an opportunity! Perhaps it is no surprise then that Black Friday IS a thing here. It came to the U.K. and Ireland not too many years ago due, in large part, to the influence of American retailers. It happens on Thanksgiving weekend, just like in the U.S.

Today, as I did last year, I am sharing some pictures of Christmas in Irish retail. Mainly just storefronts because I avoid actually going IN stores for holiday shopping as much as possible.

These pictures were taken on my daily commute around South Dublin. The lighting and conditions are less than ideal. Terribly, really. So, in the spirit of the season, please forgive the quality of the images and ALL the window glare!

Come along on my walk…


Here’s a children’s clothing retailer riffing on the magic of the season.

Right next door is a men’s clothing store giving me ALL THE PANIC.

You’ll see why…

Really, people? Really? That typo made me hightail it out of town the mall!

Kidding, but I did leave town to get pictures of the Blarney Woollen Mills during our visit to Blarney Castle.

This is the largest gift shop in Ireland according to their sign.

If I’m going to be in a store this is the type I’d choose!

The Christmas decorations were among the best I’ve seen this year.

The store had a mixture of high-end clothing and home goods coupled with your traditional souvenir tchotchkes.

Closer to home, here’s the sidewalk outside of a cute flower shop.

I see this every Wednesday when I drop my daughter off for her painting class.

An outdoor retailer opened a new location near us and this is their Christmas display.

It’s been quite cold lately in Dublin, so I’m sure their business is hopping!

I’m pretty sure I shared this one last year, but it’s just such a sweet window.

The animals all move and the kids love it.

This cafe is never open when I walk by early in the morning.

That’s a shame because look at their tree!

You know I’d like to make one!

Handy Husband is a little bah-humbug on the idea. He says things like, “what would we do with it?” And I say, “hang all of our leather flipflop keychains let’s not worry about the details.”

Here’s one of the windows from the bookstore, Eason.

Eason is like the Barnes and Noble of bookstores in the U.K. and Ireland. This is also where you buy things like office and school supplies.

Even thrift stores get in the Christmas spirit. This one is run by St. Vincent de Paul.

There is not one dominant thrift store retailer like Goodwill or Savers in Ireland. Instead, every single charity runs a tiny thrift store. I might have to write more about that at some point.

I also shared this storefront window last year. I just love what this high-end women’s clothing shop does to decorate for Christmas.

You can see a very nice reflection of a church in the window too. These pictures…oh well.

I’m not exactly sure what this place does, but they sure like cold weather creatures.

Not a storefront, but the best use of a trash can I’ve seen in awhile!

Also, they call them bins instead of cans. So, a garbage truck is a bin lorry.

I love the use of greenery on the front of this cafe.

It’s hard to tell in this picture, but they have blankets on each of those barstools so you can wrap up while you drink your latte. I like small touches like that.


As I finished typing this post, I looked up and IT WAS SNOWING! Teeny tiny flakes, but it was snow! That counts. Being right on the Irish Sea with moderate temperatures, it is really hard for it to snow in Dublin.

My kids are at school and I just hope they got to see it. It lasted maybe 10 minutes and, of course, did not stick. My son put a wish for snow on the wishing tree at a local church last week and he would be so happy to see his wish come true.

P.S. If you want to see last year’s Living in Ireland: Christmas in Retail post, click here.

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Happy List: #50

Does anyone else still have holiday boxes and decor strewn EVERYWHERE around their home?

I’m seeing homes beautifully decorated for Christmas ALL OVER social media and I’m like, “Hey! Is this a candy cane from last year?”

*sigh*

The tree is up though. It’s halfway decorated. As is the mantel. I made some wreaths and I keep moving them around because I can’t decide where I want them. I just liked making them!

So, basically, I’ve totally got it together in the holiday decorating department.

On a less melodramatic note, on Monday I shared our trip to Blarney Castle! I’m glad we finally made it over there. On Wednesday I wrote about the facelift we gave our wood dining room chairs without the help of power tools. They look so much better!

Here’s what’s on the Happy List this week!


POM POM GNOME

I’m still a sucker for a cute craft!

This one looks like an ornament you’d find in a store. The idea and step-by-step directions can be found at Lia Griffith.

(image: Lia Griffith)


PRETTY AND FUNCTIONAL

I know friends who are remodeling and I’m just over here living vicariously through their process! It’s so neat to see all of their ideas come to life!

If I ever do another remodel I would love to incorporate some hide-the-tech functionality into the home.

Like hidden outlets.


Or a full-on charging drawer complete with a power strip.

Since I like clear counters and pretty backsplashes, I can see the appeal of a pop-up outlet.

This idea would be extremely helpful in desk design too.

All images from Houzz .

ZIP-UP HOODIE

Guys! I have this asymmetrical zip-up hoodie by Tom’s Ware in red and teal and I LOVE THEM TO PIECES.

It’s like a sweatshirt, but I feel all put together when I’m wearing it. I have the navy one in my Amazon cart right now as a hint to Handy Husband.

I’m 5’9″, a size 8 and I wear the hoodie in a U.S. medium which gives me wiggle room to wear layers underneath of it. (That whole sentence made me feel weird, by the way.) The hoodie is $34.99 at the moment.

By the way, I’ve washed these hoodies on cold, but I’ve never put them in the dryer. Hang dry only.


LEMON RICOTTA COOKIES 

Ricotta probably makes these cookies a little healthier, right? Yeah. Probably not.

However, these cookies from Giada De Laurentiis still look awesome.

And a nice break from the traditional holiday cookie. Maybe I should make them this weekend?

(image: Food Network)


DECK THE HALL

Generally speaking, I don’t think hallways add much in terms of aesthetics to a home.

Unless THIS is your hallway.

I love it all.

(image: Studio McGee)


ANTIPODES

Now for a little break from home stuff to get our learning on! This is a well-rounded blog. Ha!

The antipodes of any place on the Earth is the point on the Earth’s surface which is diametrically opposite to it. So, if you were to start digging a hole straight through the Earth, where would you end up?

My parents always asked if we were digging a hole to China. Turns out they should have asked if we were digging a hole to the Indian Ocean. Ha!

There’s a website called Antipodes Map that lets you find the antipodes of any place on Earth.

I told my daughter’s teacher about this tool and they’ve already used the website during geography class.

This is a fun way to learn something new about geography! Even for us adults who’ve been out of school for a really, really, really long time.


SKIING SANTAS

I have never been to the Swiss Alps, but can you imagine being there and seeing 2,600 Santas?

According to this article by The Daily Mail that’s just what happened this week to open the ski season at Verbier. The pictures of this event just made me smile!

I mean look at this…

(image: EPA via Daily Mail)


RAILING LOVE

How in the world do I get a railing like this? Who makes these? And how many of my first-born would it cost?

This photo is from a place in Poland called Villa 11 Folk & Design.

(image: Agoda)


Here’s the view of the railing from the outside. The inside of this place is equally amazing.

Who wants to go with me?!?!

(image: Agoda)


WINE CORK TREE

If you have a few wine corks lying around *I won’t mention any names* this would be a super cute and easy craft.

All the details and more ideas on how to display these trees are at Live Laugh Rowe.

Image: Simple Wine Cork Trees! Perfect for holiday dinner favors or a simple addition to your holiday decor. Tutorial at www.livelaughrowe.com


THE AWARD FOR BEST TREE STAND GOES TO…

Have you EVER seen a more amazing tree stand? Nope. You haven’t because this is the tree stand to end all tree stands.

If you want to see more beautiful pictures from Hollie at Artful Homestead, be sure and check out her Instagram feed.


Anyone have holiday plans for the weekend? We actually have a low-key weekend planned, so I’ll have plenty of time to finish up this Christmas tree decorating thing.

But maybe I should just make cookies instead…

Happy Friday!

*affiliate link to Amazon included in this post

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Refinish Wood Chairs Without Power Tools

That’s right! We did indeed refinish our wood dining chairs without the help of power tools!

I know what you’re thinking.

No. We are not gluttons for punishment. Well, not in this case, anyway.

Have we lost our marbles? Possibly a few of them, but not from this project.

Refinishing the chairs was less of a big deal than I thought it was going to be. This is often the case with things I procrastinate on doing, by the way.

Since we only refinished the seats and left the legs and backs alone, the process didn’t take as long as I thought it would. Thank goodness – since we use these chairs every single day. 

As you can see, our dining table and chairs are not a matched set. I like to call them coordinating.

Over time, the chair seats became more and more orange-toned. This was especially evident after I refinished the dining table 2 years ago. (see above photo)

In addition to the orange color, the finish was starting to wear in places.

This didn’t surprise me at all. The chairs are AT LEAST 15 years old and have moved with us 6 or 7 times, so it was past time for a cosmetic refresh.

Here you can see just how orange the finish was compared to the wood’s natural color after I started sanding.

Normally, I’d use a power sander to tackle this project. I’ve used this one in the past.

However, as I may have mentioned one or a million times, we sold our power tools when we moved to Ireland. The plugs won’t work here! We have been hesitant to buy a bunch of new tools that require electricity because our visas have to be renewed each year. That leaves us feeling a bit unsettled. I don’t want to procure a bunch of stuff that I can only use here when our status still feels so temporary.

So we refinished the wood chairs the old-fashioned way – by hand! The process is so simple, even a kid can help.

To refinish your chairs by hand you are going to need sandpaper in varying grits, stain or a polycrylic protective finish and a paint brush. Also helpful: rags, vacuum or broom, sanding block and gloves.

Here are the steps we used to refinish the wood chairs:

Step 1: Use A LOT of Elbow Grease
Start by sanding the existing finish off each chair moving in the direction of the grain using the coarsest grit sandpaper you have.

Sandpaper grit is determined by a number. The lower the number the coarser the sandpaper. I started with the coarsest sandpaper I had, 60-grit, and worked up to 100-grit and then 220-grit.

Sandpaper is often sold in sheets approximately 9×11 inches in size that you’ll end up cutting down to the size you need. I was using leftover sandpaper that goes with an electric sander, which is why mine is red-colored and looks like a perfect square. No wasting around here!

If you don’t have a sanding block, you can wrap the sandpaper around any wood block. That’s what we did. This will help you get more surface area traction. For the nooks and crannies though, you’ll probably end up ditching the sanding block and just wrapping the sandpaper around your fingers. Wearing gloves can be helpful for this part to protect your fingers from any unwanted ‘exfoliation.’

Step 2:  Just Keep Sanding, Just Keep Sanding

However, the gloves need to come off in order for you to feel how smooth the wood is getting. We use a handheld broom or vacuum to remove the dust as we go to constantly assess if the wood is smooth enough to stop sanding. I may or may not say, “please let it be now” an awful lot during this process.

As the finish is removed, you can switch to a higher numbered sandpaper. Now you’re in the fine tuning process of removing any grooves left by the rougher sandpaper and just getting the wood as smooth as possible.

Remember, you’re going to be sitting on these chairs – you don’t want snags and rough bits!

Step 3: Apply Stain or Clear Coat

I decided the natural wood of the chairs was what I wanted to see, so I opted not to use a stain. Instead, I applied a water-based polycrylic clear protective finish to the chair seats.

The process is pretty much the same though. First, I used a damp rag to remove any dust from the chairs and let them dry. Then I applied two thin coats of the poly with a paint brush. Three might have been better, but I was living on the edge. The polycrylic may look milky in the can, but it dries clear.

I did do a quick buff with the 220-grit sandpaper between the coats of polycrylic taking care to wipe any additional dust off when I was finished. Again, just trying to make sure the seats were as smooth as possible.

I was careful to read the directions on the can of polycrylic to make sure I allowed for the proper amount of drying time between coats. My results always tend to be better when I follow the manufacturer’s instructions! Imagine that?

Step 4: Enjoy the Finished Result

Of course I waited until the darkest days of winter to try and get photos of the chairs, but as you can see, they are no longer orange-ish!

We’ve been using the refinished chairs for a couple of months now and they are holding up beautifully to the constant use of our family! This is important because kids spill things all. the. time.

As I was assessing this project, I realized that even if I had my electric sander, I would have sanded parts of the seats by hand due to the grooves for your tush.

Also, this was a team project. Handy Husband jumped in to help and it’s a good thing he did. He’s MUCH more of a perfectionist than I am, so I credit how well the chairs turned out to having his help with the sanding. Between the two of us, it took about 2 hours to sand down the seats of 4 chairs. Not too bad!

I maybe spent another hour, not including drying time, applying the polycrylic.

For 3 hours of time and less than 20 bucks, this was a project that was a no-brainer to tackle – even without power tools.

My chairs still don’t match my table perfectly. After all, they are made of different types of wood. The important thing is I’m so much happier with how they look now. I hope my experience encourages you to try refinishing your chairs – either by hand or with power tools – too.


P.S. If you want to read about how we refinished the dining room table, click here.

*affiliate links to Amazon used in this post

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Visiting Ireland: Kissing the Blarney Stone at Blarney Castle

I finally kissed the Blarney Stone at Blarney Castle! Cross that one off the Travel Bucket List!

According to legend, I should be exceptionally eloquent now…but, I think I’m still waiting for the ol’ magic to kick in. Oh well.

Our family visited Blarney Castle on a cold, rainy November day. It was fantastic! Truly.

I could have done without the rain, but then it wouldn’t be Ireland!


History:

The original Blarney Castle was a wooden structure dating back to the 10th century. It’s long since gone. The stone castle you will see on your visit is the third structure on the site and it was built by Cormac McCarthy, King of Munster, in 1446.

There are many theories about the origin and history of the Blarney Stone most of which have been debunked. Among those is the legend castle management seems to promoting, which is that the Blarney Stone is half of the Stone of Scone given as a thank you to Cormac McCarthy.

What is the Stone of Scone? Well, it’s a real thing and is also known as the Stone of Destiny. It was last used in the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. It would be cool if this connection to the Blarney Stone was true, but that’s part of the fun of legends. No one really knows.

But how did kissing the Blarney Stone become a thing? Well. That also has many theories. The folks at the castle believe a witch revealed the stone’s power. Once folks knew the stone had ‘power’ it was only a matter of time before people started puckering up, right?

While the historical references are a little mushy, there appears to be evidence starting in the 18th century of people kissing the stone to receive it’s power of eloquence. This is also known as the gift of gab or ability to flatter.

One of the most famous people to kiss the Blarney Stone was Winston Churchill in 1912. This was before safeguards were in place and he had to be dangled by his ankles in order to kiss the stone! Churchill later became known as one of the great orators of the 20th century. Seems like the Blarney Stone magic at work to me.


Kissing the Blarney Stone Takes EFFORT:

The Blarney Stone, if it does have power, was sure placed in an inconvenient spot to receive said powers.

It’s located at the very tippy top of the castle in the parapet. Do you know what a parapet is? It is the wall around the roof of a structure. Just imagine the roof is still there…

That’s right, you’re headed for the roof of a castle built 600 years ago. In my amateur opinion, people in the 1440s must have been a heck of a lot more nimble than their present day counterparts. Or way less worried about falling…concussions…broken bones…etc.

As you’re walking up and up and UP the uneven stone steps to the parapet, your handrail is a rope. I’m guessing that’s an upgrade from the 1400s.

When you’re at the top of the castle, you get in line to kiss the Blarney Stone. Or visit in November and there probably won’t be a line.

To kiss the stone you’re going to lay down on your back, reach your hands backwards behind you to grab railings attached to the parapet, tip your head backwards and kiss the wall where the Blarney Stone is located. Approximately half of your body is going to be hanging off into the abyss. Don’t worry. There are a couple of more iron bars and an Irish dude to keep you from falling to your death.

It’s really not that bad. I totally let my kids do it.

Yes, I kissed the Blarney Stone too and I didn’t feel unsafe at all.

But perhaps it was better that I didn’t see how it looks from the ground until I was finished.

If your husband forgets to take a picture of you locking lips with one of the world’s least hygienic tourist attractions, don’t worry. There’s another guy operating the big ol’ camera that’s taking your souvenir photo.

While kissing the Blarney Stone was great fun or craic as they say in Ireland, it was a wee bit anticlimactic. There’s really no soaking in the moment. The staff manning the Blarney Stone had seen this a million times. While they were super nice, they were definitely in assembly line mode calling “next!” right after one person had finished. 

I’m definitely glad I did it though! No regrets!


Experiencing the Castle:

When you’ve finished kissing the Blarney Stone, the walk down is a bit easier. There’s a handrail instead of a rope. So that’s something.

You’re going to be thankful for modern medicine if you do fall on these steps though.

Your tour of the castle is self-guided. You can step out of the stairwell to visit various rooms in the castle on your way up and down. At different points around the castle educational placards are set-up so you can learn about the castle’s history.

I have to admit, I did not spend as much time reading this information as I would have liked because I was focused on the kids and making sure they were being careful. Later that night I had to do some Googling to catch up on what I missed.


Castle Grounds:

While the castle itself might not knock your socks off IF you’ve seen a bunch of castles, the experience is unlike any other you’re going to get in Ireland because of the Blarney Stone.

However, where we spent the most time and were continually delighted at every turn was on the castle grounds.

For instance, they have a Poison Garden. All those nasty plants that kill people in books and movies like nightshade and foxglove – they are growing them. My kids were FASCINATED.

The adults spent a fair amount of time deciding if a) the cage over the cannabis plant was going to do any good and b) if the cannabis plant was actually real. (It’s in the cage on the upper right corner of the below photo.)

Another neat spot on the grounds is the Rock Close. It is a ‘magical place’ that may have been the site of druid worship back in the day. It was pure fun to explore the Wishing Steps, the Witch’s Kitchen, a boardwalk, unique rock formations and more in this area.

Remember, we were exploring in the rain and for the most part were distracted by our surroundings to worry too much about the weather. So maybe it was kind of magical!

I did have to dry the kids’ socks out at the B&B where we stayed when we were done though!

There’s also a small cave on the grounds to explore! It’s called the Badger’s Cave and it was originally a secret escape route out of the castle. How cool is that?

This is the view looking out from the cave’s entrance on the day we visited.

For a full list of gardens and other things to see on the 60 acres of castle grounds, click here.


When to Visit:
The castle is open year-round except Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

In late November, when we visited, the grounds were still gorgeous and we walked right up to the stone. No waiting.

Unofficially, our B&B host said lines to kiss the Blarney Stone can be HOURS long during peak tourist season, such as August. I would not have waited hours to kiss the stone. I don’t have that level of patience in me.


Tickets:
It is a little bit cheaper (savings of one euro as of November 2017) for adults to buy tickets online.

Kids 7 and under are free. Family tickets are available.

Audio guides are available for purchase.


How to Get There:
This is one of the times when visiting Ireland that a car would be helpful.

However, the castle is only 8km from Cork, so a cab ride would be approximately 15 euro from the Cork City Center. That’s an estimate from the MyTaxi app, so don’t hold me to that quote.

Here are the directions from the Blarney Castle website.


On-Site Amenities:
The castle gift shop was one of the better ones I’ve visited. We came away with a little luck from Ireland.

However, just on the other side of Blarney Village from the castle is the largest gift shop in Ireland, Blarney Woollen Mills. It was amazing!! I don’t say that lightly. It had a combination of high-end clothing, some home goods, jewelry and then your regular souvenirs. I only tell you this so you don’t spend all your euros in one spot.

There’s also a cafe on the castle grounds and when we were there a separate coffee cart was open as well.


Kissing the Blarney Stone with Kids:

I called to verify this after our visit and the rules say kids 8 and up can kiss the Blarney Stone. The staff on duty did ask my 7-year-old how old he was, but let him proceed. I guess we lucked out? We didn’t know the age limit when we went.

It’s a height issue more than anything, I think, since you are hanging over a semi-open space with some iron rails for protection. He was tall enough to kiss the wall with help (as you can see the man has a tight hold on him), but not tall enough to bend backward far enough to reach the actual stone. He doesn’t know the difference though. No one tell him!

If you’re unsure about whether or not your kids will be able to kiss the Blarney Stone, definitely ask before you go up to avoid any disappointment.

From a safety standpoint in the castle itself, I was definitely the “HOLD THE HANDRAIL” police. You’re climbing up near vertical, uneven steps holding onto a rope. You need to be able to exercise caution. It would not be my personal preference to do that with a toddler in tow or carrying a baby. Going down is still very steep, but there is an actual handrail instead of a rope.

Just remember, this castle was not built for tourists. It was built as an actual home and fortress in the 15th century. Treating the experience with respect, appreciation and caution is a good learning experience – for all of us.


Would I Recommend Visiting Blarney Castle?

Yes! If you are going to be in the Cork area, then I’d definitely recommend visiting Blarney Castle. The visit, on the whole, offered something that we hadn’t experienced yet.

However, if you have limited time in Ireland, then there are other locations that I’d prioritize first. As small as the country is, it’s impossible to do everything in just a week’s time.

Last, but not least, I am happy – thrilled actually – to leave you with this photographic gem of me kissing the Blarney Stone. See? I do show up on the blog every once in awhile!

Still waiting for that eloquence though…

More information about Blarney Castle can be found on their site.


If you liked this one, here are more posts about visiting Ireland.

The Cliffs of Moher and the Aran Islands with Kids

Galway with Kids

Our Favorite Irish Castle Tour with Kids

Belfast with Kids

Dublin: Talking Statues

Here are some posts about our expat experience of living in Ireland.

Living in Ireland: Storm Ophelia

Living in Ireland: That Time a Tree Came Down

Living in Ireland: Pediatric Emergency Medicine

Living in Ireland: Back After A Month in the United States

Living in Ireland: As Seen On My Commute

Living in Ireland: A Trip to the Hardware Store

Living in Ireland: Spring Flowers In Our Yard

Living in Ireland: Grocery Shopping

Living in Ireland: What to See my Hot Press?

Living in Ireland: Merry Christmas 2016

Living in Ireland: Christmas in Retail

Living in Ireland: Groceries

Moving to Ireland: Grocery Item Look Alikes

Moving to Ireland: Primary School 101

Moving to Ireland: First Week of School

Moving to Ireland: The Great Purge

Moving to Ireland: Human Kindness is Overflowing 

Moving to Ireland: House Viewing #1

Moving to Ireland:  House Viewing #2

Moving to Ireland: House Viewing #3

Moving to Ireland: Temp House First Floor

Moving to Ireland: Temp House Second Floor

Moving Tips to Keep You Sane

My #1 Moving Tip

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Happy List: #49

Well, hello to you and December too!

It’s good to be back blogging this week, but we really enjoyed our time with friends over Thanksgiving! I’ll tell you about the new places we visited in Ireland soon.

This week I shared a list of board games we’ve been playing together as a family. These are games that EVEN ME as a non-game player enjoy.

Wednesday was the third installment in the Would I Make It Again series featuring Apple Fritter Muffins. If you like Apple Fritters or are curious about what I would do if a muffin gets stuck in the pan, I suggest reading that post.

Here’s what’s on the Happy List this week.


ADVENT CALENDARS

I know it’s getting a little late to talk about advent calendars, but that’s how I roll.

I love the simplicity of this block advent calendar from the Hearth and Hand Collection at Target. This would be a neat DIY project too if you were handy with a saw.

I’m really mentioning advent calendars today because I found one for ME! The truth comes out…

A Jam Advent Calendar with 1 ounce jars of jam by Bonne Maman. That’s seriously my idea of the perfect gift.

My first choice is to make freezer jam. However, if I’m going to buy jam, I actually enjoy this brand which is available in several countries, including the U.S. I have some in my refrigerator right now. Blueberry and black cherry are my favorite flavors.


FREE PRINTABLE

Ashley from The Handmade Home has another amazing free printable for you to download.

While it definitely works for the holidays, I think this is one you could use all year.

Print this up and frame it for a friend, teacher or family member and it would make a great gift too. The Handmade Home has an online shop full of other goodies for your home (and clothing too).

(image: The Handmade Home)


CHALKBOARD SKILLS

Laura from DustToDesigns does this chalkboard art with regular chalk. Can you believe it?

I think I need to start practicing…


HOLY COLOR, IRONMAN!

Robert Downey Jr. bought the DeRose Windmill House in the Hamptons, which was originally built in the 1800s.

Hooked on Houses has a great article showing what the house used to look like based on online listing photos and what the house looks like now from its feature in Architectural Digest.

The differences are WILD. This remodeled kitchen with its colorful tile is one of the tamer (trying to think of a word to describe the house is hard) parts of the house.

(both images: Architectural Digest via Hooked on Houses)


FOOD-RELATED STOCKING STUFFER OR SECRET SANTA GIFTS

If you need some stocking stuffer or Secret Santa gift ideas, here are a few I’ve seen floating around Amazon lately.

For the music lover: cooking spoon Set MIX STIX

For the cyclist: Bicycle Pizza Cutter

For the cabin-y type: Toothpick Chalet

For the person who likes things just so: Perfectionist Cutting Board

For the cat lover: Meow Bag Ties

For the bird lover or person who just likes happy scissors: Toucan Kitchen Shears

For the wine drinker: Christmas Wine Charm Set


AMAZING TILE

This is why talented tile layers get paid a lot of money for their craft.

The time and patience it must take to lay tile in this design. Wow.

Read how they do it…

BEHIND THE SCENES: A large portion of what makes a quality home is working with people who have pride in their craft and put everything they have into it. Watching the amount of effort and patience that goes into all the steps of this tile design for a bathroom is incredible. First they set the white penny tiles. Then they do a full lay out of the black penny tiles to make sure nothing is out of place. Once that is complete they mark each location with a Sharpie before pulling out each marked white penny round. Then they individually reset each black penny round. #2legit Can't wait to show more from this house over the next few weeks. #millhavenhomes #design #customhome #utahbuilder #tile #tiledesign #bathroom

A post shared by Millhaven Homes (@millhavenhomes) on


DIY SHIPLAP CHARGER PLATES

Need a good DIY project? Of course you do! And this one is probably easier than laying a two-toned penny tile floor.

The website Hale and Harlow has a step-by-step tutorial on how to make your own shiplap chargers out of wood.


CROCK-POT MONKEY BREAD

What can’t a Crock-Pot do? That’s a legitimate question. I’m seriously wondering.

Michael from Inspired by Charm made a holiday version of monkey bread with cranberries and oranges in the slow cooker that looks perfectly gooey and gorgeous! You can’t always use those two words together, but this time it works!


CEILING FAN-TASTIC

The ceiling fan in the model home by Millhaven Homes is the best thing I’ve ever seen.

image: Millhaven Homes

Their lighting and fans come from Hansen Lighting in Utah. I reached out to Hansen Lighting and the ceiling fan is called the Quorum Windmill  (product #Quorum 196015-86). They offered me the 60-inch fan for $877 via email. I don’t know what shipping would be. It retails for $1,110 on the Quorum site. Overstock has it for $1,018 plus free shipping right now.


HOLIDAY TRADITIONS

I borrowed this graphic from a friend’s Facebook page. I don’t know who the original credit goes to, but I thought it was an especially timely reminder.


Happy first day of December, everyone!

 

*affiliate links used in this post

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Would I Make it Again? Apple Fritter Muffins

When I was a little girl, my Uncle Donny owned a doughnut shop.

I can still remember the sweet smell of the shop, the flour smudges on my uncle’s all white uniform and, of course, the sweet treats.

Looking back, I’m sure it was anything but glamorous to be up in the wee hours of the morning making bear claws, maple bars and apple fritters.

But, oh, the deliciousness!

Fast forward let’s not talk about how long to a couple of weeks ago when my landlord gifted me a bag of apples from the tree in her backyard. Tart green apples that were perfect for baking. That’s my kind of gift, folks!

I think it was serendipity that the apples arrived when I had been taking a trip down memory lane to the doughnut shop.

I wondered if it was possible to make something close to an apple fritter without setting up my own doughnut shop. Let’s face it, you could never exercise enough to make that decision work out in your favor.

I found a recipe for apple fritter bread by The Baking Chocolatess with a variation on the recipe for muffins. Since serendipity was still on my side, I decided to give the apple fritter muffin recipe a whirl.

Even though these muffins obviously aren’t fried like a traditional apple fritter would be, there’s something about the muffin texture that definitely evokes a similarity. Maybe it’s that I did take the time, as the recipe suggested, to swirl the apple and sugar mixture in the batter after I added it to the cupcake liners. So every single bite had extra deliciousness baked in.

I would recommend using cupcake liners with this recipe – it just seemed stickier than a regular muffin – and I wasn’t sure cooking spray alone was going to make getting the muffins out of the tin easy. Although, I’m not above just eating straight from the pan – in case there was any doubt.

My pictures would have looked better if my powdered sugar glaze didn’t have lumps in it, but I can assure you, it doesn’t affect the taste.

So, would I make apple fritter muffins again?

I already have! That was mainly because they were a) delicious and b) Handy Husband shared a bunch with a coworker so we NEEDED more. Needed, I tell you.

It makes me happy when I use the eeny, meeny, miny, moe method of selecting a new recipe to make that it actually turns out. Although, to be fair, a person who names their site The Baking ChocolateTess probably knows a thing or two about baking! Thank goodness!


Other recipes in the Would I Make It Again Series:

Would I Make It Again: Rhubarb Scones

Would I Make It Again: Korean Beef Bowl

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