s January 2012 - The Kim Six Fix
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Stair Makeover Reveal (and Tutorial)

In case you haven't heard, my house has a lot of oak.
So I decided that the oak bannisters, although not super dated and completely functional needed a makeover.  (For a tutorial on this project, scroll down to below the before/after photos.)

I previously painted my stairwell and changed out the light fixture and I knew it was time to update the stair rails. It took me about a week and less than $5. Here is the result:
Not bad right?  

I really like it.  It goes really well with my dining room which has dark furniture:
No only did I do the downstairs rails, I also did the oak "cap" that wraps around to the half wall upstairs: 
It feels a lot less dated, and because I stained the oak instead of painting it, the grain still shows though. It really is quite pretty.

So how did I do it?  Here is a step by step tutorial in case you want to try it too:
Step 1: Remove the Rails
Remove the rails that are attached to the wall. There are little clips that screw into the underside of the stair rail that are held by two screws.  Unscrew those and lift off the rail.  In my case the hardware was all brass (of course) so I had to deal with that right away.  

Step 2: Update the Hardware
Rough up the hardware with some 180 grit sandpaper and spray it whatever color you want.  I chose brushed nickel to match my door knobs and other hardware:
Then tape off around the brackets that remain attached to the wall. Don't remove them since they should be screwed into a stud and you don't want to risk loosening them up when you take them down and put them back up.

You can use painter's tape up around the bracket and then tape up paper, sheet plastic or a drop cloth a few feet around each bracket to prevent spraypaint from getting on anywhere else.  Also be sure to put a drop cloth on the floor below the area you are spraying to catch any falling paint spray.
Depending on the color of the hardware and the color of the spray paint you may need a couple coats
Repeat on all the brackets.  Don't remove the paper or tape until the paint is completely dry, in order to avoid scratching the fresh paint.

Step 3: Sand the Rails
It is a good idea to do as much of your sanding outside if it is possible.  I was able to remove two rails from my stairs completely and I took those into my driveway and went after them with both my palm sander and by hand.

Start with a lower grit sandpaper (60-80) in order to remove the finish:
The rail on the right has been sanded once with 60 grit sandpaper. You will notice that the sheen is gone and it will feel almost 'chalky' to the touch.
After the finish has been removed use an 100 grit paper to smooth the surface and follow that with a 200+ to smooth the grain before staining:
You need to repeat these steps on any rails or balusters that you can't remove from the house. For the large flat surfaces I used an electric palm sander, for the curves and the rails I had to sand it by hand.  This is by far the longest step.  If it takes forever you are doing it right.  (I spent at least 4 hours sanding the my two hand rails and the small section seen in these photos)

Another tip I have for the sanding step is to minimize dust by taping off/closing any vents anywhere need your work area.  I had an air intake right below where I was sanding.  The last thing I wanted was fine sawdust to blow all over the rest of the house so I taped a sheet of paper over it and the dust stayed contained to the immediate area:

Step 4: Stain the Rails
It is now time to choose your finished look.  I wanted a really really dark finish (like the inspiration photo) and I also wanted to mostly hide the grain.  I decided on Minwax Ebony wood finish. Remember when you are choosing your stain color to consider the type of wood you are staining.  Most home improvement stores will have actual wood samples with the different colors to show you what your stain will look like on your wood type. 
To apply the stain you can either you a cloth (which is messy unless you are wearing gloves) or my tool of choice, a foam applicator.

A nice thing about using the foam applicators is that they are inexpensive and can be thrown away after you are finished with the project.  In between coats I store them in a ziplock bag and they stay wet so you can reuse them for additional coats, but at the end of the project, instead of cleaning them up with mineral spirits (since the stain is oil based you cannot wash them in water), I throw they away.

I actually use two applicators, one to wipe on the stain pretty heavily, and one to wipe it off.  With the stain I was using, I found it worked best to apply the stain pretty heavily, wait about 10 minutes until it was a just starting to get to sticky and then use a second applicator to wipe off any areas that were drippy or too heavy.  Per the manufacturer's instructions I never allowed any excess stain to sit on the wood. Always remember to wipe with the grain of the wood and from the darkest areas towards the lightest.
First coat of stain 
After allowing the stain to dry approximately 6 hours, recoat with any additional coats until you get the color you desire:
Second coat 
If you notice that your stain is raising the grain of your wood, you also may want to sand it in between coats.  I didn't have a huge problem with the grain, so a quick once-over with the sandpaper is all that I needed.   I did however need to do three coats of stain to get the dark color I wanted.
Third coat
If you are staining wood that touches other surfaces, like the walls or the balusters, be sure to tape off the area.  The stain is really thin and chances are you will still get a few drips under the tape but keeping as much of that dark stain off the wrong surfaces means a lot less touch up:

Step 5: Seal the Rails
In order to protect the wood from the dirt and oil in everyone's hands, you want to coat the stained surface with polyurethane or some version of it.  I settled on PolyAcrylic (which shouldn't be used if you are using a Red Mahogany stain, but is fine with the rest of the colors.)  If you are using a light color you should avoid oil based top coats since they tend to yellow over time and will distort the color of your rails. You need to wait 8 hours before applying an oil based finish and 24 if you are using PolyAcrylic.  
It is Poly Time!
You should do at least two, preferably three coats of sealant for maximum protection waiting two hours between each coat.  Even after the poly is applied, you still will be able to see the grain of the wood since unlike paint which will settle into the grain and self-level, stain is actually absorbed into the wood
Can it be? Is that beautiful oak? 

Step 6: Prime the Balusters
Once your poly is dry you can remove the painters tape and prime your rails. You should tape off any areas where the wood to be painted touches another surface (such as the wall or your beautifully newly stained rail.) Normally I would say if you have a steady hand you could just freehand along the edge of the wood the but because you are going to need so many coats here, it actually will save you time to do the taping.

Painters tape along woodwork
I used oil based Kilz primer for this project, although because you have sanded down to bare wood and because the balusters aren't high traffic areas, you could use a latex primer if you choose.  I used two coats of primer and sanded (220 grit) in between each coat.   Make sure you use a good quality brush for the smoothest finish, especially on the tricky nooks and crannies of turned rails. (I used a Purdy angular trim white china bristle which is the gold standard for a good finish when using oil based paints.)
After two coats of primer: looking good!
Step 7: Paint the Balusters
It is time for paint.  You would typically match you balusters and molding with the rest of the molding on your stairs, which is exactly what I did.  I also used this chance to touch up any scuffs and marks on the rest of the stair trim.  Depending on your paint color, you will probably need two coats to get the best finish.

Step 8: Touch up
Finally! The last step.  At this point there is probably going to be a few drips, splats or smears of stain, paint or primer on some of your walls.  Make sure you touch up those spots if you want to give this project a professional finished look.  Because the stain color I chose was so dark, I actually had to touch up my mistakes with primer first and then paint over the primer with the wall color. 
And there you have it!  
For me, this project only cost me $4.79, the cost of a can of stain. The spraypaint, sandpaper, primer, paint and painting supplies I already had on hand.  
That is a great deal since I think it looks like a million bucks! 

Meal Planning with only $20 and your Pantry: Week 4

We are at the bitter end of the pantry, plus I bought virtually no groceries this week, so the recipes had to be a lot less interesting.  I used more starches as filler, but every meal still had a decent amount of protein.

After this I only have to make three more meals before the end of this experiment!  Phew!

Sunday:  Sloppy Joes and Hasselback potatoes
I had a bunch of ground turkey and hamburger rolls in the freezer and because just last week we had burgers on the grill, I decided to make sloppy joe's instead.  My Sloppy Joe recipe is pretty much ground meat and barbecue sauce, both of which were in my pantry.  I also had some potatoes left over and decided to try oven roasting them Hasselback style.  They were okay.  The kids liked them.

Monday: Oven Baked "Fried" Chicken, Herbed Quinoa and Green Beans (Pinterest)

This was really easy (and only uses the most basic of pantry staples) to make and the kids liked it. Hubs and I thought it was pretty bland, but I could add a little cayenne next time.  The quinoa and green beans were also out of my pantry and freezer.  
Tuesday: Sausage and Rice Casserole (Paula Deen)

Wednesday: Spaghetti Bolognese (Emeril/Food Network)
Thursday: Leftovers

Friday: We went out to eat!  As a thank you for pet-sitting the neighbor's dogs over christmas vacation, they gave us a gift card to CPK.  Yum! Wood fired pizza and no dishes to wash!

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My Valentine's Day Mantle for 0$

As I said before, I don't normally decorate for Valentine's Day, but this year courtesy of Pinterest and a link up party at HomestoriesAtoZ, I decided I would dec out the mantle this year.

I already blogged about how I used the old girls' room paint chips to make a DIY garland:

Because of my January $20/week budget challenge I couldn't afford to spend a penny on this project so I needed to scour the house for anything else that could pass as valentine's day decor. I decided on my Christmas wreath that had previously been hanging on the mantle:

To make it less christmassy I used the remaining paint chips and cut around the voids left by my hole punch to make heart outlines for my wreath.

I scrounged around the kids' toy closet and settled on some wooden blocks to spell out a little Valentine's Day message.  The extras I threw into some little glass canisters.  I also found E's pink feather boa and used that to pump up the pink factor.

I also decided to make a rustic board sign using crepe paper streamer roses that I found on pinterest:
I will do a step by step tutorial in the future.  It was made completely out of supplies I had laying around the house, so it was free.

I had an ivory Lenox vase and matching bud vase that I filled with budding branches I cut from our flowering pear tree and added some red candles in crystal candlesticks left over from christmas.  (They are actually no longer standing up straight, they are kinda warped, but they will have to do.) I also added a row of candles I got at IKEA last summer and that have been sitting in my closet ever since:

I had the big pom poms I made for E's birthday party leftover and I put those on the hearth to complete the pinkness.

I am not madly in love with it.  It is a little hodge podge for my blood, but it was absolutely free with only things I already had laying around the house.  Not bad when you take that into account!

What happens when the kids find your camera

When a 2 year old and 5 year old get ahold of your camera, you are bound to find some interesting subject matter:
La La Loopsy

Tiger Kitty (read her adventure story here

The potty (yes in the kitchen/living room.)

Currently this is their favorite movie 


I included this one because even I am impressed with how clean my kitchen floor was! Maybe they were trying to document it.

Meal Planning with only your Pantry and $20 Week 3

This week was really crazy at our house. We had a lot of extra curricular activities and hubs had to work late a couple nights.  That made meal planning a lot more difficult.

Sunday: Leftover chili.  
I actually took the kids to see Beauty and the Beast at the movie theater with a gift card we received at Christmas.  I snuck in some juice boxes and fruit snacks and signed up for the theater's loyalty program in order to receive a free small popcorn.  The kids were so full of junk that they weren't really hungry anyhow.

Monday: Herb-Crusted Petite Sirloin, Garlic Mashed Potatoes and Green Bean Almondine
I bought potatoes last week but the steak and beans were in the freezer.
Tuesday: Burgers and Steak Fries
Because the weather has been so great, we decided to grill out.  I had frozen steak fries in the freezer.

Wednesday: Frozen Pizza and Mixed Veggies
E had a Girl Scout meeting and hubs was working late so I wanted something fast and easy since the kids were about to chew off their arms by the time we got home.  Normally we go out to eat on the third Wednesday of the month, but that wasn't happening.

Thursday: Chicken Taco Pie (Betty Crocker)
 This was good and easy. I did have to spend nearly $2.50 to buy cheddar cheese and I also added a bag of frozen mixed Mexican veggies (black beans, corn, broccoli and peppers) which made it more hearty.

Friday:  Mexican Hash Brown Dinner (Pinterest)

This was basically the same recipe as yesterday only instead of Bisquick and chicken, you use hash browns and ground beef.  Although the original recipe only called for corn, I once again added mixed Mexican veggies.  I chose it because I had a bag of hash browns in the freezer I was trying to get rid of, and needed a casserole that didn't use a cream soup or sour cream base.  The kids and hubs liked this a lot more than the previous night's version.

Saturday: Spaghetti Mariana
This is hubs 'go-to' meal.  He would eat it every day if I let him.  Since I was busy working on a home improvement project (I will reveal later) he cooked dinner and of course he chose spaghetti.

All in all this week's meal weren't nearly as creative as previous weeks, but we are still mostly dining out of the pantry. Only 10 more days to go.  Hopefully I can hang in there!

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