How to whitewash your brick fireplace and build a new mantle.

I’ve neglected this poor blog for a very long time. Not because I have nothing to write (oh, trust me, things are movin’ around here…), but purely because I haven’t taken the time. I’m not too busy. I’m not too exhausted. I just haven’t made it a priority.

I often think of entire paragraphs when I’m in the shower or snapping a great picture with my iPhone. And then, once the little goes to bed, I spend entire hours reveling in the silence and solitude of being alone at home. It’s really quite wonderful.

BUT… as many of you know, in May of last year, Redneck Husband and I bought a house. After a long and grueling process of looking at house, after house, after house, we finally found one that had everything we wanted.

In the last year, we’ve done many DIY projects that deserve their own posts. But two weeks ago, Redneck Husband and I were spending a rainy Sunday afternoon on the couch. He was watching hunting shows, I was staring at this ugly monstrosity.

Fireplace makeover: before

Dirty. Stinky. Old. Dated. Gold…?

After about 30 minutes of Pinterest searching and coming up practically empty-handed in a search for fireplace tutorials, I decided I was going to spend the next few hours doing something about the ugly fireplace. I knew I wanted to whitewash instead of paint, and I knew the gold had to go.

At about 3 p.m., I walked out to the garage and got started.

Since I’ve had a couple of my blog friends ask, here’s what I did:

1. Tape off all areas you would like to protect in the whitewash process. For me, this included the floor, tile on top (see picture), and walls. I wasn’t worried about the mantle or doors since I knew those were going to be painted next.

2. Pick the white paint you would like to use. I used an old gallon of off-white paint I had in the garage. It’s called Churchill White from Lowe’s, but any white will work.

3. Test a brick, then debate for way too long whether or not you want to take the plunge. But trust me, you want to take the plunge. If you need to call my mom and hear the words “it can’t get much worse than it already is,” I’m sure she’d be okay with me giving out her number on the internet.

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4. Mix your white paint with water in a 2:1 ratio in some kind of disposable container. I used a coffee container. At first I started using a 1/4 cup measuring cup (2 – 1/4 cups of paint, 1 – 1/4 cup of water). After doing that twice, I increased to using a 1 cup measuring cup ( 2 cups paint, 1 cup water). Regardless, 2:1 ratio was the best.

5. Grab a brush (I used a 1″ brush), and get to painting. I started light, and was wiping off with a t-shirt after applying like I read in many tutorials. This was too light for me, and I wanted to avoid having to repeat the process too many times.

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6. Put on your big kid panties and started straight painting and not wiping off. I kept the t-shirts handy to soak up drips. I also used a flat cardboard box on the floor to keep drips from getting on my wood floors.

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7. It takes a while to get in a groove, but once you do, you move pretty quickly. Dab the paint on pretty thick. It soaks into the brick, and you may still end up going back for a second coat.

8. Once finished covering the entire brick surface with your 2:1 whitewash (without wiping down after), you can decide whether or not you want a second coat. I did, so I went back to the beginning and knocked out the second coat while I was covered in paint drips.

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9. Give yourself a break after all that painting. Painting my fireplace took about 3 hours total for 2 coats. Really… once you get moving, it goes pretty quickly. The beauty of whitewashing is that it doesn’t have to be perfect or exactly even, just be sure to get in all of the cracks. Anyway, my break lasted an entire work week. I know, some break, right?

The next weekend, I took on that ugly brass and gold that I had been staring at all week. I mean, yuck.

10. Pick up some high heat spray paint from your local hardware store. I didn’t want a shine, so I used Rustoleum’s high heat spray paint in black matte. Be sure to use high heat paint if you EVER plan to use your fireplace.

Image11. Use painter’s tape to tape off the windows on your fireplace door, then use scotch tape to add newspaper over the glass, around the edges of the doors, and on the bottom surface.

12. Generously spray your high heat spray paint on your brass fireplace doors.Image13. Allow time to dry before assessing the need for a second coat. If you want to sufficiently panic about messing up your fireplace like I did, go ahead. Because when it’s drying, it will look like this:

ImageDon’t worry– it will dry matte and beautiful.

14. Once dried, take off the newspaper. You may not need to give your ugly gold mantle a makeover, so you may be able to enjoy your beautiful fireplace at this point. If you need to touch up the brick around the edges of the doors, do so. If not, get to work on your ugly gold mantle.

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We opted to sand our original mantle down because it had custom cuts for our mantle lights. This seemed like a great idea at the time, but I did the sanding, and I’m ashamed to admit that my arms are still sore from about 2 hours of sanding. Oh well. Our plan was to sand down the original and add molding, and that’s what we did.

15. Anyway, regardless of your plan, take your stripped or fresh wood mantle, and cut molding according to size. I didn’t take pictures here because Redneck Husband did it while I was at work. He used 40 degree angles.

16. Attach the molding using liquid nails wood glue and clamps. Cuss in front of your three-year-old because the damn liquid nails doesn’t hold it right, then resort to using tiny nails at each end of the molding. Or learn from our mistake and skip the cussing part. I still recommend the liquid nails AND the nails at each end though.

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17. Mount your mantle back to your brick fireplace. We are lucky, and our mantle sits neatly on top of our fireplace with little attachment.

18. Pour yourself a glass of wine, sit on your couch, and admire your beautiful modern whitewashed fireplace that went from drab eyesore to beautiful living room focal point in a matter of hours.

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Although we spread our project out over two weeks, if I would have had the motivation before 3 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon, I really do think it could be easily done in a weekend. It was, by far, the easiest DIY project we’ve completed thus far. Few cuss words, few threats of divorce, and huge payoff in a matter of hours. Right now, I’m sitting on my couch and staring at my beautiful new fireplace that lightened up my living room more than I would have ever imagined.

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I can’t stress enough how easy and quick this project was. What are you waiting for? Say goodbye to those hideous brick fireplaces with those ugly brass doors!

Firsts. And Seconds. And Thirds.

We’ve had quite a few sharable moments in the past two years, my little family and I.

There have been invaluable firsts–baby.

And wonderful seconds–birthdays.

And even dreaded thirds–moves!

And then? Things settled down. Finally.

And because we’ve got one child, and my parents have one grandchild, we’ve got lots of photos. My parents? They’ve got more time than I do. They print theirs off in batches of twenty. Me? I discover one day that, despite what’s suggested by our refrigerator photos, Jayce no longer has fluffly curls and arm chub. So I log onto my Shutterfly account and print hundreds of beauties like these:

So this Christmas? No, it’s not our first holiday season. But it’s a season of firsts.

For the first time, we’ll spend a Christmas fully settled in our home.

We’ll have things that are never where they belong, but that belong somewhere.

We’ll have photos on our walls that have not been updated since our wedding, but there are photos on our walls.

And also? We’ll be sending out a Christmas card.

When I realized that, in fact, I am organized enough this year to send out a Christmas card, I turned to Shutterfly. Much like my camera’s memory card, they’ve got hundreds of choices from adorable to cuu-uute.

Or, if you’re like my mom was when I was growing up, you always talk about sending out a Christmas Card, but it quickly turned into a New Years card. Mom’s philosophy: “They were sent, weren’t they?”

I’ve learned many things during my adventures of motherhood, and one of them is this: You’ll have countless memorable moments, but it’s how you celebrate them that matters.

 I was given 25 holiday cards in exchange for this post. As a proud mother to an adorable toddler, I can assure you that I’ve learned of Shutterfly’s quality by choice, not force. So don’t worry, I’m still broke. But thanks to Shutterfly? At least I’ll save some money on my holiday cards.

And if you’re a blogger? Shutterfly wants you. For details about how to earn 25 free cards this holiday season, register here: http://goo.gl/DDw7Q

Rules of Pitching to Mommy Bloggers

I’ve never done a product review on my blog. I’d love to, and I have faith that this will come in time.

You know, when my blogging audience is more than just my friends and family.

However, I came across this article from Bloomberg Business week, and it got me thinking. Like any audience, there are rules to pitching to mommy bloggers.

Here they are:

1.) Do not, under any circumstance, use mass media to reach mamas. Don’t send mass emails. Don’t forward them a press release. These ladies are busy. Their days of leisurely shopping trips and coffee dates with friends aren’t over, but their scarce. Make them feel special, and they’ll make your product feel special.

2.) Shut up and get to the point. Like I said, these ladies are busy. They’re spending their days wiping poop off of bums, shoveling food into mouths, and folding Laundry Mountain (or not). Keep your pitch short and sweet. Get to the point because I’ve only got 5.9 seconds to read an email, and that’s only if I’ve locked myself in the bathroom to do it.

3.) What’s in it for her? Make it great! While some charge, many mommy bloggers review products for free. After all, they get a free product outta the deal. But why not make it even better? Throw in a gift card for your company. If she likes you (and if you follow these rules & create great products, she will), she’ll come back, credit cards a-blazin’. In return for a thoughtful review, help her out. Make that returning trip easier on her wallet. She’s got kids to feed, ya know.

4.) Giveaways, giveaways, giveaways! I’m not a giveaway enter-er. I don’t spend hours after my kid goes to bed writing comments and sending tweets to have a 1 in 215 chance of winning a prize. I’m too busy for that. But… I do know loads of moms who do! So, help a mommy blogger gain traffic on her blog. Give her a second product so that she can hold a giveaway. Boosting blog traffic is always a winning factor.

5.) Don’t expect dishonesty. That’s just plain insulting. A mama’s blog is her domain. Literally. It’s her space of freedom so respect her and allow her to write and review honestly. Don’t ever….EVER offer extra incentive for a positive review. Don’t coax it and chances are it will be fantastic. We mamas are pretty darn smart.

Mommy bloggers are becoming an increasingly useful marketing tool for products. Because let’s face it–we’ve got large mouths. If I like something (ahem… I LOVE Mary Kay products), I’m going to shout it from my rooftop laptop.

Let’s face it. I shop. And I’m willing to scream how much I love some things–maybe even your thing. All it takes from you is a little bit of class and a whole lotta prizes.

One Word: Exhaustion.

I’ve had an incredibly hard time putting into words what I’ve felt lately. For weeks, I wasn’t even sure whether it was simply exhaustion or something more.

Redneck Husband asked me (in his most compassionate voice possible): “Well what is it? Are you unhappy? Are you sick?”

I think what he meant was: Is it emotional/mental or physical?

The answer? Ummm, yes.

I mean no. I’m not unhappy and I’m not sick.

It’s emotional, mental and physical though.

I’m emotionally drained. I’m mentally tapped out. I’m physically….exhausted.

When I committed to finishing school and heading back to Eugene regularly for classes, I committed to another thing.

I promised myself…and my son…that I would not, under any circumstance, expect J to sacrifice anything.

That was week one. Three terms ago.

Today? Today is midweek nine. Three terms later.

And while I still read him about 1,765,930 books a day, I can’t remember the last time I took my son to the library.

That’s draining me–emotionally.

Last week–week eight, term three–I successfully completed a ten minute solo presentation, a paper, an online assignment, a two blog posts, and a something-that-I-can’t-even-remember. All that goodness while I balance being a mom, wife, professional, and student.

This? This is tapping me out–mentally.

And oh yes, because that’s just not quite enough to turn a girl’s hair gray and give her wrinkles before she’s thirty, my kid? Never. Sleeps. No really, never.

And since my husbands working hard night shifts to pay for my shoes maintain our awesome life (Make no mistake, this part is for real. No sarcasm there.), I fly solo during bedtime, sleep-time, morning-time, and daytime.

As a result, I let my kid sleep with me and we spend time in the morning working from my laptop and watching Thomas the Train–because I’m physically exhausted.

But, let’s face it, I have crazy supportive family and friends. And (more importantly) I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Like I said, week nine. Of ten.

And because I’m set in my ways I have a dream of a successful career in public relations, I won’t give up. I’m keeping my eye on the prize.

And that prize? Is two-fold.

One is here, the minute I finish my portfolio reviews, and it will look like this…

Ahhh, yeah. If I close my eyes, toss the wooden train that’s poking my back across the room onto Laundry Mountain, I can almost feel that pedicure.

My second prize? It’s the best one.

Because after all, he’s the reason I’m doing this anyway.

Sleek. Shiny. And New?

“Wow. Are you serious? This is for me?”

My husband picked up his new iPod Touch and twirled it in his hand. He ran his thumb over the flawless screen that was still protected by the plastic film that highlighted its new-ness.

“Yep. Glad you like it.”

I smiled as I watched him empty the contents of the box onto the couch.

One iPod. One cord. One stand. And one instruction manual.

My husband’s birthday present. Sometime around Christmastime I had learned that Redneck Husband had never owned an iPod. It was around this same time that I started stashing away every coin–literally, every penny–stray dollar bill from the laundry, or wad of cash from our beer bottle pop can return to buy an iPod for his birthday.

I mean, he’d never owned an iPod? Who had I married?! That’s not even human in 2011. Then again, this was the man who only established an email account two years ago when he began searching for a new job.

And no, that’s not a lie. I’ll give you a moment to move on from the shock.

I was ecstatic to give my  husband his iPod for his birthday. I wrapped it in plain white paper, let J color on it with his crayons, and topped it off with green ribbon. And before that? I thought long and hard about where to hide it and how I was going to keep it a secret from him. I’d be lying if I said the excitement never came close to ruining the surprise.

But oh, how my mentality has changed. My husband’s iPod? It’s the equivalent of my BlackBerry. His crack? Is Angry Birds. Oh yes, and law enforcement podcasts. I suppose I shouldn’t complain. I mean, he does mute the damn thing when we’re in bed. Or, you know, use his headphones.

I don't steal.

Ahem. Yes. You read me. He plays it in bed. Probably while I’m tweeting from my BlackBerry on the other side of bed. Yep, we’re that awesome.

Now people, while I swoon daily over the awesomeness of my Macbook Pro, I don’t own an iPhone. Or an iPod touch (I’m a shuffle kind of gal) or an iPad (I can only afford to dream about those–and I do).

So prior to playing one or two levels on my husband’s new marriage vice form of entertainment, I didn’t know what it was. And while I still may only slightly understand the appeal, I just plain don’t get police podcasts.

I know podcasts. I subscribe to podcasts (The Productivity Maven’s teleclasses, Robert Middleton’s classes…), but police podcasts?

What could he possibly enjoy about these? Or further? Doesn’t he get enough of the police jargon at work?

12-32-74….. 456-9-18. The cryptic language of a sheriff’s deputy. Another post, another time.

So, three times a week, when we’re both actually able to sleep the same hours, my husband’s listening to a language that’s seemingly made up entirely of numbers and I’m tweeting from my Crack BlackBerry.

We rock. In fact, we’re on a whole new level of awesome. In fact, it’s all my fault. I should have never selflessly skimped and scraped to get my husband that shiny new iPod.

The thanks I get… Unless he learns his lesson, Redneck Husband may have committed himself to a life of presents like new Carhartts, socks, and on a special occasion? CDs.

Because we don’t have a CD player in the bedroom.

Deciphering the Language of a Realtor

It’s amazing, isn’t it, how a single word can change the entire picture painted to a consumer?

If you’ve been reading my latest Tweets, you know that Redneck Husband and I are in the process of searching for a home to buy.

We just started the process a couple of weeks ago, and today we looked at two houses to bring our grand total of potentials up to three.

The first one was, and still is, a maybe. If it’s meant to be it will be.

The second was a no after some discussion. While I loved the back (and front) yards, and the house had plenty of space. But the apartment complex that shared a fence line? A bit too much city for this Smalltown Family.

The third? The third was across the street from the first, but had more updates (and a price tag more than $20,000 higher) and less square footage. I knew this one was a no when the realtor struggled with her high-tech lock key and I discovered a generic coffee can full of dirty water and cigarette butts on the front porch. Let’s just say I didn’t really care to pay $20,000 for second-hand smoke and already-installed vinyl windows. My husband knows how do put in a window and won’t give me lung cancer.

Photo Credit

Our house hunt didn’t start here. When we moved to Smalltown USA last summer, we searched…and searched….for a great home. We were starting fresh with some great opportunities and we wanted our house to represent that.

I talked with a realtor and we looked at approximately 34,245,876 online house listings in Smalltown County. We struck out and eventually opted to rent.

But this time, we mean business. So in the spirit of obtaining our own house, we’re back in the saddle again. We’ve got a new realtor (LOVE her!), and we’ve looked at every online listing in Smalltown County (again).

By now, I’d like to consider myself a pro at scouring these online MLS flyers for the invisible ink that screams “DO NOT LOOK AT THIS HOUSE! IT… [fill in the blank].” I could decipher the cryptic, manipulative language of a realtor with my eyes closed. You know, if someone read it to me.

Introducing…

Possible Translations for the Top 5 Terms Your Realtor Doesn’t Want You to Learn:

1. Quant: So small that you probably won’t ever, no matter how hard you try, be able to fit your couch through the front door when you move in. Your laundry room is in the kitchen, (or a bathroom), and you better like sleeping with your kids because–surprise!–the kids’ bedrooms are too small to fit beds.

2. Cottage Style: I haven’t quite pinned this one down yet, but I’m fairly certain the translation is “dirt floors.” Or maybe it’s “exposed wall beams.” The house has walls, but let’s face it, those quant rooms don’t even have a foundation–let alone hardwood floors.

3. Needs TLC: Forget pinching pennies for closing costs, use that spare change to buy some buckets and tarps. Come the first rain after you’ve moved in all of your worldly possessions, that roof will be leaking in every corner of the house. And you had better like the color black, because the mold on those walls isn’t going away with a little bit of cheery paint.

4. Up & coming neighborhood: Your neighbors have cars in their yard without tires, and tires stacked on their porch. You could feed an army with the amount of food you could store in their porch appliances, and it’s a good thing, because they’ve got a headcount of delinquent residents in the double digits. Or worse–you better have your local fire department on speed dial for when your next door neighbor’s house bursts into flames when they’re too high to blow out a candle.

5. Make it your dream home: Oh, did we forget to mention that this home isn’t finished? Yeah, the owner hasn’t put in any bathroom fixtures or lighting. So… not only can you not shower or go to the bathroom, but there will be no use of electricity after dark. After all, primitive living is in!

I leave you with this thought: Would you even look at a house that was too small for your 6′ 6″ husband to stand straight in, had dirt floors and a cracked foundation, but no walls, in a run-down neighborhood?

Probably not.

But you’d buy a quant cottage style home that needs TLC in an up and coming community just waiting for you to make into your dream home.

Realtors? They’re damn good at using word choice to manipulate buyers. I’ll personally attest to that. After all, I’ve seen these houses. Without walls. With cracked foundations. Next door to the house where my husband arrested some sleezeball for beating his girlfriend the night before. And even quite possibly needing a wrecking ball instead of some TLC.

Face it. It’s all about word choice.

Like a Blogger Virgin

Despite literally spending thousands upon thousands of dollars to learn about communication technology and every social media tool under the sun, I didn’t create my blog until just over a year ago. Moreover, I didn’t even commit to making it real (you know, contributing more than once a month regularly) until I purchased my own domain earlier this year.

[By the way, how do you like my new place? I'm enjoying it-- lots of updates, plenty space for my words to run...]

Anyway, I’ve never video blogged–or vlogged. What a ridiculous word. Kind of like tweeps, but I won’t even go there.

Sure, I listen to Robert Middleton’s podcasts while I work, and I’ve watched my fair share of viral Youtube videos that continue to be forwarded to my inbox despite using the strongest junk mail setting known to man woman. Have you seen this one? So. Stinking. Cute.

But, despite my resistance, vlogging, or any type of video embedded in a blog, is spreading through the blogosphere and leaving me in blogging dust. I mean Dooce does it, and the woman’s my Mommy Blogging idol.

Let’s face it: I don’t want to be that deadbeat-Mommy-Blogger-wannabe who simply didn’t keep up with the times. That would be the Mommy Blogging equivalent of wearing mom jeans. You know the ones–they give you mom butt. Yes, these are real terms people. Ask around. I’m not making this stuff up.

So I’m wondering… How important is vlogging for a Mommy Blogger? Yeah, loads of bloggers do it, but I really really don’t like the idea of showering and dressing sitting in front of my webcam to talk to myself.

Or is it that I have nothing to talk about?

I love my blogging community. Love.

Photo Credit

What I don’t love? Is my recent lack of blogging inspiration. In recent weeks, I’m struggling with what to write and how to engage my readers in conversation.

I’m not going to beg for comments, people. But I’m handing you the material, so let’s talk about it!

Maybe it’s my sheer exhaustion as I enter week eight of a ten week school term with a baby who sleeps a mere five hours per night and a job that I like doing more than my homework.

Maybe.

Or? Maybe it’s that by the time my house is clean(ish), quiet, and dark at night, all I want to do is catch up on my reading or surrender my mind to thoughtless television.

Yeah, maybe it’s that too.

As I’m struggling, though, I’m contemplating making my first vlog post. Just to test it out. I want to give my readers a face to go along with The Smalltown Mama name. I want to engage.

So, in the spirit of engaging my audience, what do y’all think?

Vlog? No vlog? What do you want to watch me talk about?

Or… Should I just share cuter-than-life kid videos that I’ve posted on Vimeo?

Who knows, maybe someday I’ll go viral. Wait, that sounded wrong…

Quick–Now’s your chance! Tell me what you’d like to happen on The Smalltown Mama! Give me a great topic and maybe I’ll shoot you some credit, too! Because if you’re a Smalltown Mama fan? I already owe you one.

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