Archive for the ‘projects’ Category

It’s been a year since we ripped the doors off our rickety kitchen cabinets and took a sledgehammer to our pink tile floors – our renovation dragged on a little longer than planned, but has been done for several months now and should be shared here on the blog while it’s still relatively shiny and new!  Our appliances are already dotted with baby handprints and I fear it’s only a matter of time before Isaac gouges our cabinets with his favorite toy car…

First, the before:  When we bought our house, we put kitchen remodel on the 5-year plan.  It was functional (mostly), but pretty dark and a little dinged up and not in line with the clean, crisp vibe I’ve been breathing into each room, one by one.  I mean, the black granite tile counters do bring a certain early 90’s charm to the space, but that’s not entirely what we’re going for here.

I always found this corner awkward and under-used – we didn’t need a breakfast nook with our dining room table just a few feet away, so it often became a holding pen for rain boots and Amazon packages.

The fridge/pantry situation was no good – a previous owner / handyman Joe had cut a hole out of the wall so that the fridge could be pushed back out of the way, but this meant that one wall of the pantry was taken up with the exposed back of the refrigerator.  And I didn’t love the fully-exposed side of the fridge.

I know “open concept” wasn’t en vogue when our house was built in the ’50’s, but the kitchen felt so hemmed in.  I immediately had visions of us freeing up this corner for better kitchen/living connectivity.

So finally, after belaboring every little detail and drawing up 14 different layouts and soliciting high-medium-low bids (“low” is relative in this market!), we settled on a plan and signed up a contractor and let the demo games begin.  Shane and I offered to take on the demo scope ourselves, mostly to save on the labor cost, but also because demolition is very gratifying work.  The Rusts were over for a backyard meal that Friday night and the boys couldn’t resist the lure of the drill – they got started right after dinner while I scrambled to shuttle our dishes down to the basement.  Sayonara, cabinets, with your squeaky drawers and mysterious odor and peeling finish!  No love lost there.

I was out of the house for much of the day on Saturday while Shane and Juliette busted a major move.

No horrific surprises, as is always a fear when you’re taking apart a 70 year-old home, but we uncovered a couple of treasures, like the beige tile counters directly under the black granite and the three layers of linoleum under the tile flooring.

This is remodeling:  it always has to get so much worse before it gets better.

But…I’m starting to see that open corner?

The wall we removed was load-bearing and required a new beam in the ceiling, but once that was hoisted into place and the old studs were removed, I started to move from terrified to excited.  Already so much better.

Electrical was roughed in and then things were quiet for a couple of weeks while we waited for drywall.  But once drywall was hung, Juliette and I stepped in to slap it all with a fresh coat of white paint.

I was quite pregnant by this point and leveraged my growing belly to get the contractor to pick up the pace.  This project had a due date!

Juliette left her mark on the wall behind the fridge.  ISAAC!  We were so excited to meet you.

Painted and ready for flooring, which I’d decided at the last minute to change to Red Oak planks to match our existing living room floors.  Shane had to drive to Home Depot in Spokane to pick up what seemed to be the only 2 1/4″ Red Oak in the state, but he did it.

Ten hours in the car well-spent, Shane.

Cabinet day!  Thrilling.

Down to the details.

But Sweet Jesus, what a mess.  Our kitchen and living room were stuffed into our basement and bedrooms and then the insulators showed up and needed access to the attic through the guest room closet and all of that crap ended up on our bed for a day and I felt like I was living in a hoarder’s house.  We hung in there, but there were points when the stress of the mess felt crushing.

There were a couple of hiccups near the end, like when I asked the tile guy to pull down half a day’s work because the white tile I ordered looked dingy and gray next to our beautiful new countertops, and when the floor refinisher told us we needed to be out of the house for two separate weekends while the fumes cleared, and then when I went and had a baby before things were all wrapped up, but eventually, it was done.

And I love it.

The awkward nook is super-functional now with tons of storage and a bench/shoe drawer and the open shelving of my dreams.

And that open corner is so handy for keeping an eye on the little rascal.

It’s not always this clean (it’s never this clean), but it’s bright and there’s a place for everything and our new dishwasher doesn’t sound like a garbage truck.  I’m so grateful.

The next installment of gettin’ her done!  This project actually started back in January and was largely wrapped up by March, but I’ve spent the last few months tinkering with art and hanging plants and finally feel like I can call these bathrooms finished.  Ready for some before photos?

This was our hall bath, in all its pink and gray glory.  Not pictured is the lovely pink tub, just out of frame.

And the bedroom bath, which was just a teensy little half-bath next to my closet (we’ll save the bedroom revamp for another day, but you can bet I’ve said buh-bye to the beige walls and the nipple light).

While the tile work and the vanities emanated a certain 1950’s charm, the sinks backed up constantly and I couldn’t open the cabinet drawers without shutting the bathroom door.  We were ready for a revamp.

This was our first major reno project and so we were careful not to bite off more DIY than we could handle.  We decided to take on demo and final painting ourselves and let the contractor handle everything in-between.

Shane and one of our all-too-kind neighbors spent a weekend taking the bathrooms down to the studs and filling the dumpster parked in our driveway.

Juliette put on her “work clothes” to help pry nails.

Ready for some magic to happen!

It took the guys about four weeks to turn this…

Into this!

I kept everything very neutral – gray, black, white, wood – and then softened the final look with lots of plants and botanical-themed art.

The walnut vanities are the handiwork of a local cabinet shop and after two years of wrestling with our old rickety drawers, I get so much joy in watching our new ones slide smooth as butter.

The hall bath got an even bigger functionality upgrade, with a new sliding door (no more cabinet conflicts!) and…

A shower!  I had to say good-bye to my closet, but we have a second small closet in our bedroom that has ended up working fine for my things (ok, and Shane gets dressed in the guest room now.  small sacrifices!).

A soap niche that fits all our bottles and a tiny plant!  Such luxury.

We’re all super-happy with how it all turned out – Juliette is back to taking long, drawn-out baths, Shane loves that he has a shelf for his bluetooth speaker so that he can listen to podcasts while showering, and I find a little zen watering my houseplants while I brush my teeth.  Score, score, score.

I meant to do a full photo tour of our house when we moved in here two and a half years ago, but I started slapping on fresh coats of white paint the same day we got our keys and then I felt like I missed the boat on capturing the true “before” state of things.  I decided I’d wait until we were done with our refresh and then just do final pictures – finish one room a month, nine(ish) rooms in the house, take a short break for the holidays and we’d be kicking back in our well-styled crib by Spring 2019!  Oh, Kel.  Silly Kel.  Two years later it felt like we still hadn’t really finished anything.  When we started spending all day, every day at home in March I resolved to give our house some love and get some shit DONE.

Pandemic Project 1:  Finish the dining room.  Let me take you back to the pre-purchase staged version (from our listing photos).  That chandelier was…fancy, but hardly the mid-century vibe we were going for.

We made good progress on this room when we first moved in with new lighting and new windows and new furniture, but the main white wall was a blank canvas begging for artwork or wallpaper or some kind of focal point.  After not finding anything on the inter-webs that sang to me, I decided to channel my inner DIY-ist with a Sharpie paint pen and a lotta foliage photos for inspiration.  Here she is…  Finito!

I naively thought I could just free-hand this thing right on the wall, but oh, Kel.  Silly Kel.  My first take was not so good, so I slapped another coat of white paint on the wall and spent a couple of weekends mapping out a full-size mockup of the pattern I wanted on trace paper, getting my leaves and overlaps just so.

I then traced the final linework on the back-side of the paper with thick pencil, taped the pattern to the wall, and transferred the pencil marks with a good rub.  Then the satisfying work of tracing those lines with a rich, black Sharpie.

So fun, you guys!  Seriously, I love a long, tedious task like this.

It was hard to know when exactly I should be done, but finally the wall felt sufficiently un-blank and I was able to call it a day.

In hindsight I wonder if I should have opted to draw magnolia branches and rhododendron leaves to carry in the patterns from our backyard, but nope.  NOPE.  The Monstera leaves are perfect.  This room is complete and I’ve got a big blank picture frame hanging over our mantle that’s calling my name.  Onward.

2017 was not a banner year for me book-wise.  I finished 12 books – a couple of duds, a few decent ones, and a couple of stand-outs.  I do believe I should get extra credit for finishing all 1,168 pages of Atlas Shrugged.  The round-up:


I’m Just A Person by Tig Notaro

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Strangers in their own Land by Arlie Russel

City of Thieves by David Benioff

Dark Money by Jane Mayer

Option B by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant

The Magic of Motherhood by Ashlee Gadd


Best books of 2017:

City of Thieves was brilliant and beautiful and tragic and funny.  Damn, Benioff can write.  (From the comfort of my couch) I was in World War II Russia – I felt the cold of the frozen forests, the hunger pangs of a completely empty stomach, the desolation of streets lined with bombed, looted buildings.  And I felt all the warmth of friendship and camaraderie and hard-fought victory.

I also loved Homegoing, which was fiction very much grounded in truth.  It’s a story of horrific injustice and unfathomable fortitude, beautifully and cleverly woven.  Read it.

Honorable mentions to Born A Crime (I liked Trevor Noah before I read his memoir but loved him afterward) and Love Warrior (Glennon Doyle Melton’s love revolution is real, folks!).


On the docket for 2018: 

So many good things!  I’ve been soliciting recommendations from some of my most trusted confidantes and am feeling pretty pumped about my queue:

For fun:  A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

For introspection:  Practicing Resurrection by Nora Gallagher

For understanding:  Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond

For a dose of “classic”:  The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

For rainy, quiet Friday nights:  Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

According to Goodreads, I finished 22 books in 2016 and ran the usual gamut from non-fiction to fiction, though I was lighter on “fem-moirs” than in years past.  The round-up:


Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion by Sara Miles

The Dream of a Common Language by Adrienne Rich

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People by Nadia Bolz-Weber

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer by Tracy Kidder

Mudbound by Hillary Jordan

Wearing God: Clothing, Laughter, Fire, and Other Overlooked Ways of Meeting God by Lauren F. Winner

Parenting Without Power Struggles by Susan Stiffelman

Stoner by John Williams

Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating by Mark Bittman

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America by Kathryn Edin

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

My Bright Abyss: Meditation of  Modern Believer by Christian Wiman

Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed

The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

Peace Like A River by Leif Enger

You’ll Grow Out of It by Jessi Klein

Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West


Best books of 2016:  PEACE LIKE A RIVER!  Sweet Jesus, this was good.  It’s been a long time since I’ve fallen for a character like I did for Reuben.  And his sister, Swede.  And his dad, Jeremiah.  And his wayward brother, Davy.  Ok, I loved all the family.  All the imagery.  All the things about this book!

Also dug Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed, because, wowsers, that woman has a way with words that’s amazingly simple but profound.  Honorable mention to Anthony Doerr’s All The Light We Cannot See for weaving such an intricate, beautiful story, and to Lindy West’s Shrill for her sheer bad-assery.  Oh, and to Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air, for touching me to the point that I did the full-on ugly sob while reading the final chapter in bed one night.  It was a good reading year.

On the docket for 2017:  I’m about 150 pages into Atlas Shrugged, and if my Kindle is accurate, it will only take me about 47 hours to finish that one out (oooofffff…).  I’ll be reading a little outside my comfort zone with Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire and Dark Money.  Will be jumping very much back into my comfort zone with Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling and I’m Just a Person by Tig Notaro.  IF I ever finish Atlas Shrugged, that is…

I checked out The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up from the library a couple of weeks ago, curious to find out for myself what all the buzz was about.  I’d heard stories about people completely overhauling their homes after heeding the author’s call to declutter, and though I like to think I run a relatively tight ship around here, I’m always open to ideas about how to live more simply.  The main premise of the book is this:  if you don’t love it, if it doesn’t bring you joy, LET IT GO.  Pretty revolutionary in this day and age of excess, isn’t it?  But I’m nothing if not revolutionary (says the woman who breaks out in hives at the mere thought of change!), so I’ve decided to see what kinds of un-loved things are lurking in the recesses of our closets and cabinets.  One of the primary guidelines for purging is to evaluate your belongings by category rather than location – rather than going through your home room by room, gather all your books or clothes or mementos in one place and go through the pile at one time, so that you get a truer sense of how much you own.  I’ve broken down our stuff into the following categories and hope to tackle one or two bunches a week, with the ultimate goal of handling every single item in our house by the time summer rolls around.

  • books
  • eating/drinking/cooking wares
  • linens and towels
  • toiletries
  • toys
  • art supplies
  • papers
  • decor items
  • mementos/keepsakes
  • clothes
  • random crap

According to the book, you’re actually supposed to start with clothes, but given the number of things in my closet that I know I’m doomed to part with, I’m not ready to go there.  Books it is, then!  Shane and I aren’t major book collectors, so this should be easy, right?  Right?!

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I grabbed every last book in our house and piled them all on the kitchen island today.  I was a little taken aback to see these all stacked up together – I thought I did a solid bookshelf purge a couple of years ago?  I was even more taken aback when I started sifting through the stacks and realized how many novels I’ve been hanging on to that I have no intention of reading again.  In about 45 minutes, I’d weeded out a good third of our collection – what remains are my favorite art and architecture books, about 30 memoirs and novels I love, and a small pile for Jules.  I actually did a second culling as I was putting these away and came up with another 20 titles I was ready to ditch.

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Coming soon to Goodwill on Dearborn!

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Seven paper bags of books now sit in our downstairs hall, ready to leave our house and never return again.  Our bookshelves are looking wonderfully sparse.  “Life-changing magic” might be a stretch, but this felt good.

The list-maker in me loves these looks back at 2015, so indulge me one more time!  This is what I read:

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This is Ridiculous This is Amazing by Jason Good

Wonder Weeks by Frans X. Plooij

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Not that Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling

Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

Why We Can’t Wait by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez

Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls

Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

Everything You Ever Wanted by Jillian Lauren

God Help the Child by Toni Morrison

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe


It wasn’t a stellar reading year for me – it seemed rare that I was fully engaged in a book.  I lulled a lot on the longer reads (dang you, Goldfinch!) and was disappointed by what I thought would be fun, easy page-turners (Lena Dunham let me down!).  That said, there were still a couple of stand-out gems.

Best books of 2015:  I ended up reading quite a few books focused on justice and race – books that are relevant and important at any time and place, but all the more so given the fact that recent headlines speak of instance after instance of prejudice, oppression, and maltreatment.  I read Why We Can’t Wait over the summer and was rocked by the way Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. boldly defied discrimination with such powerful grace, such selfless love.  Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy was also a reminder that, holy crap, one guy can make a substantive difference.  Honorable mentions to Half Broke Horses for being, just, fun, and to Uncle Tom’s Cabin for putting me through the emotional gamut, from tear-jerking sorrow to hot-blooded indignation.

Worst book of 2015:  Wonder Weeks.  I thought it would be packed with interesting nuggets of insight into what’s happening in Juliette’s quickly-developing brain, but instead it was filled with obvious observations and repetitive anecdotes.  Shoulda skipped it.

On the docket for 2016:  Looking forward to losing myself in the story of All the Light We Cannot See (I’ve heard good things).  Hoping to prompt some intense introspection with My Bright Abyss.  And boldly adding Atlas Shrugged to the list, as it’s been taunting me from my bookshelf for about five years now, intimidating me with its heft.  Bring it.

Things have been relatively uneventful at Chez Schnell since we returned from our week in Oregon – we fell back into our regular routine pretty smoothly and picked up right where we left off at work and daycare.  I wouldn’t necessarily say we came home rested, as Juliette missed the vacation memo about sleeping in and whiling away the afternoons with a good book, but I did come back with a burst of productive energy.  I’ve been hitting my task list hard this past couple of weeks, declaring August “get ‘er done month!”

Most significantly, after nine years of procrastination, we have a wedding album!  I spent a weekend combing through all 1700 of our wedding photos, pulling out and editing my favorites.  The album came in the mail a couple of days ago, and I’m thrilled with it.  We don’t have top-notch pictures of our special day, but this book definitely captures the most important moments and people.  CHECK.

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After three years of lamenting the state of our water-marked dining room table, we borrowed a disc sander from a friend and I went to town on my first furniture refinishing project.  I put the final coat of polyurethane on it tonight and, with the exception of one gut-wrenching spot where I sanded through the veneer, it looks pretty good.   Much improved, at least. The dining room makeover that I started back in April is nearly complete!

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I also cleaned out our closets and took four bags of clothes to Goodwill, got Juliette’s baby book up-to-date, purged my iPhone photo library, and picked enough blackberries to make a damn good pie (super-important stuff).  Phew!  I haven’t been this productive since that final burst of nesting momentum I felt when I was eight months pregnant (no, I’m not pregnant!  had you wondering, though, huh?).

Admittedly, I think I’m addicted to that rush of check-marking adrenaline – I’ve recently been falling asleep and waking up with nothing but to-do’s on the brain.  Thankfully, Juliette is quick to remind me that all work and no play just ain’t gonna fly, so we’ve had a couple of good romps at the playground and took a very satisfying dip in Lake Washington this evening.  Thanks, Jules, for keeping my neuroses in check.  Now go clean your room.

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I think I started this loop scarf in…2012?  Is that possible?  Anyhow, bottom line is, it took me dang near forever to get this one finished, but I bound off the last stitches last week and love how it turned out.  Soft, good drape, just the right amount of color.  And done in time for these last couple (or few?…ugh…) months of winter.

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Pattern found here.

La Verne sent me a link to this pattern a couple of months ago with the message “wouldn’t this be the cutest on Jules?”.  Yes, La Verne, actually it would!

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I had some chunky blue yarn I was going to use for a hat, but I opted for this instead – it knitted up super-fast and only required one quick YouTube refresher course to finish off the ears.  Shane thinks she looks like a Teletubby, but I don’t care – she’s wearing this thing for as long as I can get it over her head!

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Pattern available for purchase on Ravelry.