renew your grout on a shoestring budget


We’ve lived in this 1980s Tudor style house for several years now and the grout on the main level continues to be my nemesis.  The tile covers the entryway, kitchen, dining area, laundry room, and powder room.  It was disgusting when we first moved in and I buckled down to clean it with vinegar and baking soda back then.  It worked and looked so much better!  However, the grout needed resealing.  If we had an unlimited budget, I’d replace it to be sure.  But since that is not a reality, I’ve continued to clean it periodically with the baking soda and vinegar, Bar Keeper’s Friend, and a host of other cleaning methods.  I even got a steam mop in hopes of making the process easier.  It didn’t.  The main problem is that the kitchen gets disgusting fairly quickly.  We cook a lot and its a main traffic area as well.

Thankfully, I stumbled across Grout Renew recently.  For about $13 a bottle, this stuff is amazing!  Its a polyblend that renews the grout and acts as a sealant.  The process is a bit laborious but well worth the time.  I used a short bristled craft paint brush instead of their recommended toothbrush application because the craft brush gave me more control.  And, after painting each grout line, I used a piece of toilet paper and quickly wiped the excess that oozed on the tile itself.  The polyblend dries more rapidly than I’d anticipated and wiping the excess as you go is a lot easier than scraping the dried polyblend with your fingernail later on!

the powder room floor before Grout Renew
the powder room floor before Grout Renew


here you can compare the old dirty grout lines with the fresh Grout Renew lines
here you can compare the old dirty grout lines with the fresh Grout Renew lines

The Grout Renew comes in several colorways.  I’d recommend picking two or three that you think may work.  You can always return what you don’t use.  And, instead of buying the recommended grout cleaner, I used a more economical and eco-friendly solution that I use on furniture before painting it: two parts Dawn dish detergent, two part warm water, and one part white vinegar.  It works like a charm.

I’m super pleased with our results.  It makes the floor look cleaner, brighter, and newer.  I haven’t steam mopped it yet, though.  I’m trusting that Grout Renew will tolerate that well too.

the grout lines above the blue painter's tape have been treated, the lines below are the original grout lines
the grout lines above the blue painter’s tape have been treated, the lines below are the original grout lines

handmade for the holidays


Over the years, I’ve been fascinated with handcrafting for and with kids.  I’ve poured over some beautiful blogs and books by many a crafty mama.  Amanda Soule from soulemama has been one of my all time favorites.  So has Ginny from smallthings.  I’ve stood in awe over how these very busy women juggle so many creative projects all while beautifully mothering their large broods of adorable kiddos.  And I love the idea of giving of yourself (taking the time to utilize whatever amount of creative ability you do or don’t have) to create a gift for a loved one.  Especially when that loved one happens to be your child.  Natural toys are quite the rage now, but I think something is still missing when we buy that organic toy off the shelf or online.  And I’ve bought many!  Developmentally, kids certainly benefit more from a toy made with natural textures rather than plastic.  But there is also something very soulful about a toy that you the parent has made for them, despite every imperfection the toy may exhibit.

After holding onto Growing Up Sew Liberated by Meg McElwee for almost three years (yikes! how did that happen???), I finally took the plunge to sew a doll for our youngest Sprout last Christmas.  What held me back? I think it was a combination of not thinking I had enough time and also a bit of fear.  Fear that I couldn’t do it.  Fear that it wouldn’t look as beautiful as the dolls I see in Nova Natural Toys or Bella Luna Toys.  But, time was of the essence because last year out daughter had just turned seven and I knew she probably wouldn’t be playing with dolls much longer.  Meg’s instructions in this book are great for beginners and so I dove in to create her Mi Amiga doll.  I ordered supplies from A Child’s Dream and bought the yarn from a local yarn shop.  It wasn’t as hard as I’d thought, although I did have to backtrack and repeat a few steps.  Our Sprout had been wanting an Indian doll, so I created the doll with that in mind.  I winged it and made the Indian dress from felt and used some scrap yarn for a headband.   Overall, it turned out well except that Kaya started loosing her hair after a few days of being played with so I had to go back and secure it.  She is one of our daughter’s favs though and I’m glad that I made the effort!  I’d encourage all of you parents of Littles to take the plunge and give handmade holiday toy making a try.   Just knowing that you made something for them will be special to them in itself.

What sources have you enjoyed for a handmade holiday?  Some of my other go-to books have been:

Toymaking With Children by Freya Jaffke

made to play! by Joel Henriques

the creative family by Amanda Blake Soule

I’d love to hear of some other goodies if anyone wants to share!


on keeping backyard chickens and the lessons we’ve learned


Its been a bittersweet month here as I’ve worked through mixed emotions over finding our chickens and ducks suitable homes.  I am grateful that they all went to wonderful new owners who value them and who will care for them well.  Ping and Jemima in particular got an upgrade in their lodgings as they were adopted by a lovely couple who have other duck varieties and who have a six acre pond on their property.  They even feed their ducks watermelon every night!  Its duck heaven for sure.

Our decision was not an easy one.  Owning backyard poultry has been a pleasure.  Our feathered friends were constant entertainment and will always hold a sweet spot in my heart.  They also provided valuable lessons to our Sprouts with respect to responsibility and caring for animals.   However, as our kiddos are getting older and more involved in activities that require out of town travel,  we found that we were spending way too much dinero paying for animal care.  If we lived near family, perhaps it wouldn’t be an issue.  Or perhaps it would.  Who knows.  But, unfortunately in our case,  the neighborhood kids we found to care for our flock were irresponsible and the wonderful college student too expensive.  So, if you are weighing the pros and cons of backyard flock ownership, I’d strongly suggest taking into consideration how you’ll care for your flock if you travel often.

Over all, I think we did a lot of things right. We allowed the girls to free range often, but we had an adequately sized chicken yard in which to contain them.  This was especially important during the spring months when they could easily demolish tender plants in one afternoon.  Also, the chicken yard was fenced with no climb horse fencing buried six inches in the ground.  I think that is why we never had problems with predators despite the skunks and raccoons nearby.  We  also locked the ladies up at night for extra security.   Our converted rabbit hutches worked extremely well as a chicken coop for ten hens.  And, allowing them to partially free range, eat veggie scraps, munch on insects and feast on organic feed resulted in yummy fresh eggs that are hard to beat.  Who knows.  Maybe there will come a day when we can have another flock.  I wouldn’t think twice about it before making the leap!

Here is a quick check list to consider if you’re just starting out on your own poultry adventures:

  • build a chicken yard with a coop inside the chicken yard: this helps tremendously with general poultry management even if you are going to free range your flock. If you’re using wire fencing, go for no climb horse fencing and bury it at least 6 inches below ground to deter any digging predators.  Our yard was in the corner of our suburban backyard and had two walls of wooden fencing as well as a huge portion being the no-climb horse fencing.
  • research your coop options:  why settle for the factory made coop when you can really get creative and build an amazingly cool, one-of-a-kind abode?  Some great books that guided us along the way are:
    • Reinventing the Chicken Coop by Kevin McElroy and Matthew Wolpe
    • The Backyard Homestead Guide to Raising Farm Animals by Gail Damerow
    • How to Build Animal Housing by Carol Ekarius
    • Barnyard in Your Backyard also by Gail Damerow
  • if you’re free ranging your gals and have accessible vegetable gardens, flower beds, or nice landscaping that you don’t want demolished then come up with a plan on how and when you are going to let them free range (this is where that chicken yard is indispensable).  One book I loved when planning out how to allow our suburban yard and gardens exist in harmony with our flock was Free Range Chicken Gardens by Jessi Bloom. Besides being extremely insightful and chock full of knowledge only a landscape architect can dispense, its just a gorgeous book!
  • educate yourself: a great book for novices, especially if you’re doing this as a project with kiddos, is Chick Days: Raising Chickens From Hatchlings to Laying Hens by Jenna Woginrich.  She covers various breeds, housing ideas, and what to expect from week to week.  We could not have done without this one when we first started out.

What are your tips for backyard poultry care?


Ping and Jemima quickly adapted to their new six acre pond….duck heaven!

“nice to meet you”: integrating your backyard chicken flocks


Last year, after taking almost a year to settle into our new digs, we finally got a small flock of chickens.  We’d missed our girls (and their eggs!)  back in Montana and we were thrilled to have a great spot for a {sub}urban chicken yard.  (Check out the back posts on this blog for more details).  I must admit, though, that I was a bit nervous back in the Spring about introducing our newbies to the hens we acquired last year.  Chickens can be brutal and if one is pecked so hard that blood is drawn, those ladies will go cannibalistic and actually kill the bleeding bird.

Thankfully, none of this happened!  One key factor was that we selected friendly breeds.  Our older girls are a Buff Orphington and Wyandottes.  Our newbies are sweet Easter Eggers and Rhode Island Reds.  The second factor is that we slowly introduced the new chickens to the older ones by keeping the newbies in cages outside of the chicken yard (but close by) so that the older ones could check them out from a distance.  We did this for about two days for brief periods of time.  The final step was releasing the younger girls into the chicken yard at dusk.  Chickens are less likely to be aggressive at dusk and our older gals were no exception (much to my relief).  Also, they modeled for the younger ones the proper way to enter the coop.  And, yes, there was some squawking and light pecking but nothing too dramatic.  After a few days, they all figured out the new “pecking order” and have gotten along harmoniously since!

preparing for the grand introduction at dusk
preparing for the grand introduction at dusk






it took the new girls a while to go in that night, but they eventually did
it took the new girls a while to go in that night, but they eventually did






phase 1 of the music cabinet redux


Despite being able to barely carry a tune myself, I married into a wonderfully classically musical family.  And our children, thankfully, are following in their father’s footsteps.  Hence, we are beginning to accumulate sheet music with more to come.   Accumulating excessive piles of music on top of the piano, however,  just isn’t going to cut it around here.  So, back in January, I was trolling our local Goodwill and finally found an inexpensive piece to hack for a music cabinet.  I’ve been on the hunt for months!  For a mere $25 I scored this vintage entertainment center that looks like it was for one of those “box” TVs.  Do you remember those?  The ones with a dial?  The piece was in fairly decent shape with the exception of a bit of trim that needed to be glued and nailed.  I love the bowed front and the metal grill at the base.   The construction is solid and all that is needed is to have a backing added and the interior modified with shelving.  With our busy family schedule, I’m going to have to wait on the modifications but after having such a success with Vintage Market and Design furniture paint on our pantry doors, I couldn’t wait to paint again!  I’m hoping the entire piece will be done by summers end, but phase 1 of this project is officially complete.

I selected Peacock, a beautiful deep turquoise, to bring out the hint of turquoise in an art print we have hanging in the room.  Because I wanted more of a distressed look and didn’t have the extra money to buy the VMD waxes, etc., I just applied one coat of paint in a crosshatching pattern.  However, because the cabinet top will get more wear with music cases and who knows what else, I applied a second coat there.  After the paint dried and cured 24 hours later, I applied the protective clear coat and switched out the door pulls with some discount knobs from our local hobby store (they were two for one and only cost me $5).

We are already using the piece to an extent.  Piles of music as well as the boys’ music bags live inside the half finished cabinet.  And, as I’d suspected, the viola has found a nice resting spot on top while the cello comfortably leans against the side.  Once the cabinet is completely done, I’ll have to pull out my designer’s wand and find some cool mirrors or artwork to hang above it.



fowl friends


Last week, I was washing something at the kitchen sink and gazing out our window towards the chicken yard.  At first glance, I thought I saw Ping, one of our Blue Swedish ducks, at her feeding trough in the backyard.  (For newbies here, we named our birds which we obtained last year based on a children’s literature theme and Ping is named after the classic by Marjorie Flack).  I did a double take, though, when I realized that the head was too small!  And it was green, not black.  Sure enough, a closer look confirmed that a foreign fowl was in the yard.  And not one, but two.  A pair of Mallards had landed and were helping themselves to free food.  We honestly thought it was a passing phase.  Since we live near the Colorado River and the Connected Lakes, we have the amazing privilege of seeing a lot of birds around here.  We figured they were passing through and had made a pit stop.  Well, the pair probably decided that free food and a safe, though relatively tiny, pond were hard to beat.  Since Monday, they have showed up in the mornings and hang out with Ping and Jemima until dusk when they take flight towards the Connected Lakes.  By Tuesday afternoon, our girls decided that it just might be alright to let these foreign fowl swim in their pond.  And, finally, this morning they were all quacking together.  Favorite fowl friends indeed.

swooning over VMD furniture chalk paint

Thanks to a dear California friend, I am now officially enamored with Vintage Market and Design’s furniture chalk paint.  The gesso, chalk and water based paint is tinted with natural earth pigments and thus has low VOCs, no toxins, and no odor.  Whats not to love?  And, the fact that I have little or no prep work for refurbishing wood, metal, glass, rigid plastics, and even fabric certainly makes it swoon-worthy in my book.  And, to top it all off, VMD is much cheaper than its competitors and has 75 colors to choose from.

After seeing some amazing photos of my friend’s refurbished thrift store furniture, I decided back in the Fall that a low risk project was due.  Our kitchen still has its original 1980s pantry doors which, to say the least, were looking quite sad.  Beyond sad, really.  I figured that if using the VMD paint on them was a flop that it wouldn’t be a tremendous loss.  We could eventually get new doors.  The prep work, if you even want to call it that, was a cinch.  All I had to do was to mix 2 parts Dawn Dishwashing Liquid, 1 part vinegar and 2 parts warm water and then wipe down the doors.  In order to add a pop of color to our mostly neutral kitchen and to coordinate with my inexpensive handmade art work above the pantry, I chose VMD’s Barn Door (which also nostalgically reminded me of all of the barn door red paint I’d used back in Montana to paint our, um, barn doors!)  After two coats of paint followed by the Clear Coat sealer, the doors were done and certainly improved.   Viola!  Now I’m slowly working on hacking an old cabinet I found at Goodwill so that the Sprouts will have storage for all of their sheet music.  Stay tuned for updates!


"before": showing your pantry can be as embarrassing as revealing a messy closet!
“before”: showing your pantry can be as embarrassing as revealing a messy closet!
base coat
base coat
as with any home project, painting the doors snowballed into a complete pantry makeover...I finally labelled my whole food bulk items, and bought cheap racks and baskets at a local discount store to further organize the space.
as with any home project, painting the doors snowballed into a complete pantry makeover…I finally labelled my whole food bulk items, and bought cheap racks and baskets at a local discount store to further organize the space.
I love how the paint coordinated with my fabric art from our quilting store back in Montana (don't you just love those funky chickens?)
I love how the paint coordinated with my fabric art from our quilting store back in Montana (don’t you just love those funky chickens?)
in case you're wondering about the hanging object to the left of the pantry, those are my "prosperity hens" made by a women's cooperative in India....
in case you’re wondering about the hanging object to the left of the pantry, those are my “prosperity hens” made by a women’s cooperative in India….
the jury is out...VMD is absolutely swoon worthy!
the jury is out…VMD is absolutely swoon worthy!