Crockpot season

With all that was going on last week I had a delay in posting the recipes I tried. Coincidentally enough, this week’s recipes were relatively similar so I was able to merge both. I love when things work out like that.

I’m not sure what prompted me to try the healthy buffalo chicken bowl, but that’s how I started last week — mostly because I had chicken on hand and was able to get that going in the crockpot before I even hit the grocery store for the other ingredients. To hopefully make it a bit more filling, I also added quinoa to the chicken bowls, which I think helped.

I have to say I was pleasantly surprised how well avocado goes with buffalo chicken. I don’t know that I’d ever intentionally paired the two, but it was delicious! I may attempt to make a wrap out of this for lunches at work. It’s filling with lots of flavor.

Buffalo chicken bowl

On Tuesday I decided to make crockpot mojo pork with cuban style black beans. I figured it was a perfect day to have it cook all day, since donating blood that afternoon meant no gym for me that evening (aka: much earlier dinner time so I wouldn’t have to worry about overcooking or drying it out). Sadly when I got home, I realized I didn’t have the lid all the way on so there were still raw spots…

I put the crockpot on high and used the extra time to take Hurley for a long walk (and to work up an appetite). I’d been really excited about the recipe since I love carnitas and this seemed to be a new twist on it. The little assured me it was delicious when we talked on the phone that night…and I realized as I was about to hang up the phone that I never made the cuban style beans. Fail on my part.

Regardless, it was delicious. And I loved having a different flavor on the pork. Surprisingly the lemon and orange juice didn’t come out quite as strongly as I thought, but that could also be because I had quite a bit of lime with my cilantro lime rice. I can’t seem to help myself!

Mojo pork

Flash forward to this week, and I’m once again using the crockpot. Last night I made crockpot Italian beef sandwiches. This time I didn’t have the roast cook all day, partially because I knew I didn’t want it to reach a point of shredding too easily.

Since I’m not a huge fan of peppers, I didn’t incorporate those into the dish. And as with last week (where has my head been?!), I realized as I was about to dish up that I forgot an ingredient — banana peppers. Instead I put them on the side. Just to try something new, I use havarti cheese instead of provolone (though I love that as well) and both proved to be a great addition.

The salad proved to be a nice contrast with feta cheese, pomegranate and green olives with a balsamic dressing. Full on flavor explosion! I probably would have been better off using a hoagie just from a juice/mess perspective. I also chose the wrong meal to be lazy about using my old placemats. Naturally I’ve got beef broth on the white strip of my placemat. What can you do?

Italian beef

Hurley certainly approved of the meal. I poured a little bit of the beef broth into his dog food for dinner and he licked kept going back to lick it the rest of the night.

Tonight he wasn’t quite as impressed with dinner (not that he got to sample it since it packed some heat). I made a variation of buffalo chicken meatballs recipe that caught my eye over the weekend. By that I mean I made the meatballs almost as directed and then paired it with spaghetti squash so it made for a relatively complete meal. The one modification I did make to the meatball recipe is that I used kale instead of celery (and used my nutribullet since it seemed like too much work to pull out my food processor).

This time I attempted making spaghetti squash differently — in the crockpot, of course. It was actually really nice to throw the squash in there before going to the gym and having it be ready when I got home. After putting the meatballs in the oven to bake, I scooped out the spaghetti squash and added in some cream cheese and the remaining 1/4 cup of buffalo sauce that was supposed to be drizzled over the meatballs.

The timing worked out really well, and I ended up putting the meatballs in the crockpot (in part to get it out of what I assume was the butter from the recipe) to heat it all together.

Crockpot

I wish I wouldn’t have used quite as much cream cheese, but that was my attempt to use up stuff in my fridge before it went bad. Same held true for the sharp cheddar cheese I threw on top. Although it was a bit overkill on the creamy factor, I loved the combination! The meatball recipe would actually make for a really great buffalo turkey burger recipe.

Dinner

There was also an unintended consequence in that I’ve been drinking a ton of water since dinner. Perhaps I should try this recipe again the night before I need to donate blood again. Good way to increase my water intake for sure! Plus it’s the first time I feel like I created my own recipe of sorts. I’d say I’m progressing in my culinary efforts, but this would be coming from a girl who made crockpot recipes for two weeks straight… Tis the season!

Four months to go…

My old college roommate had a blog post last week about being six months away from turning 30. It hit me that my milestone birthday is only four months away — a good reminder to check in with my 30 Before 30 List.

I was a bit relieved to find that 21 are officially done. Even better, the remaining are at least in progress. Not that it would be a huge deal or disappointment if I didn’t fully cross those off the list (there might be one or two where I don’t meet the full goal, like number of new states visited). Really this was just my way to not be so overwhelmed at the prospect of turning 30.

Although I have to admit I’ve still been feeling a bit uneasy about this next birthday. In some ways I don’t feel like I’m where I’d like to be as I approach the big 3-0. I’m not married or even in a relationship, I don’t own my own house or have kids on the horizon. But lately I’ve been trying to focus on the silver lining.

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I’m not necessarily where I envisioned being at this stage, but I’ve made immeasurable progress in recent years and when I look around, life is pretty damn good. My career is heading in a fantastic direction, I love the activities and organizations I’ve been able to participate in this past year or so, and I’m (clearly) crazy about my furbaby.

And in the meantime, there’s still lots more to accomplish and see in the world. Who knows — maybe I’ll even end up creating a 35 Before 35 List. Then again, maybe not….

Career
1. Explore the options for becoming a certified life coach In progress…I’ve got an excel file with my options and met with a life coach to talk through them
2. Publish in some capacity DONE!
3. Volunteer with a new nonprofit DONE! 
4. Find a work mentor DONE! 
5. Obtain a new job, ideally public health related DONE!
6. Reach out to nonprofit consultants to chart a path to get to that career DONE!
7. Join a professional organization DONE!
8. Look into joining a board of directors for a nonprofit I’m passionate about In progress…attending a panel discussion followed by a board matching event in a couple weeks

Health
1. Train for and run a 5K DONE! And did a second one, too!
2. Learn to meditate In progress…attending a class on Nov. 5
3. Buy a bike DONE!
4. Get a full physical / health assessment DONE!
5. Log 2,000 miles DONE! Hit my final mile for it on 10/17/15

One Time Events
1. Take a community education class DONE! And still taking quite a few
2. Adopt a dog DONE! By far the best accomplishment on this list ❤
3. Have a technology-free weekend DONE! 
4. Watch a movie in a theater by myself DONE! About to do this for a play, too
5. Donate blood DONE!
6. Do one random act of kindness for a stranger
7. Go to a non-work related conference DONE!
8. Type up my baby journals and publish into a book DONE!
9. Create and maintain the quotes/life lessons journal DONE!
10. Host a dinner/holiday party DONE!

On-Going Efforts
1. Read 90 books In progress…20 more to go
2. Find a way to permanently store/organize all my photo and mementos In progress…it would help if I would stop taking photos
3. Keep a gratitude journal for 30 days DONE!
4. Visit 7 new states so I’ll have visited 30 states total In progress…three more go visit
5. Write and send 30 homemade cards to family and friends In progress…9 more to write and send
6. Participate in a book club In progress…the one I was supposed to join in October got postponed
7. Hit 500 blog posts DONE! My thankful Thursday post on the leadership institute put me at 500

Fall favorite

With most foods I try, I’m indifferent about whether I’d make them again. I can probably count on both hands how many recipes I’ve made more than once. Last night, however, I made a recipe I will undoubtedly make again. I was actually tempted to send the photo to the family and tell them to try it ASAP and/or that I found our post-holiday meal using leftover turkey.

Although I love chicken and dumplings, I tend to have an on-again, off-again relationship with soups. Thankfully I spotted this chicken dumpling casserole. Perfect solution.

I should mention I doubled the dumpling portion of the recipe, in part since I put a little too much seasoning in it and I was nervous it would be too much. It turned out to be in my favor since it fully covered the chicken layer (plus I love dumplings). The other addition is that I added in corn as a way to incorporate vegetables. A little different but worth it.

Casserole Steps

Forty minutes later, I had this comforting goodness. Legit food love right here.

Dumpling Casserole

This is such a great substitute for chicken and dumpling soup. I’ve already vowed to learn this recipe by heart and whip it up all fall and winter.

The day before I also attempted a new recipe: sweet potato sloppy joes. It was certainly a different take, and surprisingly delicious. As always, I used ground turkey instead of ground beef. I added in quite a bit of seasonings to the sloppy joe mix and saved the leftovers for pasta later in the week since I’m not a huge fan of leftover sweet potatoes.

Sweet potato sloppy joe

That’s all I’ll say on the sloppy joe recipe since I’m still hung up on the chicken dumpling casserole. Seriously, try it.

Thankful Thursday #20

Yesterday I “graduated” from the leadership institute I’ve referenced in a few of my blog posts, and quite honestly, I couldn’t think of a more deserving Thankful Thursday topic.

A little more than a year ago I showed up for the three-day kickoff retreat, unsure of what I was getting myself into. All I can say looking back is that I absolutely ended up being at the right place at the right time.

It almost seems like magic. Aside from the four individuals in my cohort who work in the state office building (who I now pow-wow with on a regular basis), I have literally spent all of 10 days over the course of three retreats with my cohort of 26. And somehow they feel like family.

What drives that is likely the depth and range of conversations we’ve had over the course of the year. To say we got up close and personal is an understatement. We took no less than five assessments (including a 360 assessment, which is intense in and of itself) to understand our personality, behavioral and thinking preferences. After receiving results, we dove into group discussions and pair-and-share conversations about what that means for ourselves and how it’s perceived by those around us.

Lame as it sounds, the leadership institute was probably one of the most challenging things I’ve done. Not in terms of the amount of work necessarily, but certainly the depth. It’s hard to be vulnerable with people you hardly know. It’s difficult to come face to face with your weaknesses, particularly in a “professional” setting. Each one of us was stretched beyond our comfort zone, and we became stronger for it.

What I loved about the institute is that it went beyond learning about our preferences and a specific set of skills, like crisis communication and conflict resolution. We were empowered to explore and then embrace our strengths and also our weaknesses. The whole experience felt like life coaching, career counseling, mentoring, leadership development and a support group all wrapped up in one.

I can’t even begin to articulate how thankful I am for the experiences I’ve had through this institute. The friendships gained, the lessons learned and the growth I’ve had in the last year is truly remarkable. For the first time, I’ve embraced what I bring to the table (and that includes being an introvert!) and recognize that value within teams. And for me, that’s huge.

leadership

It also didn’t hurt that my go-to lady in the institute also has an adorable yellow lab with an equally impressive vertical jump. I’m telling you — right place at the right time. ❤

New searching technique

I tried something a little different this week when I was searching for new recipes as I made my meal plan for the week. Typically I search for things on Pinterest like “healthy dinner recipes” or “low carb recipes,” depending on what mood strikes. This week, however, I searched for recipes that had great leftovers.

For some reason the first thing that jumped out at me was a crock pot ham and potatoes au grautin recipe. Following my grandma’s funeral when I was in middle school, I was overdosed on scalloped potatoes. For that reason, it’s rare that I crave something like this dish. It’s not that I don’t like it; it’s probably more that I’m indifferent to it.

The one slight modification I made to the recipe is that I didn’t use reduced fat cheese. In part it was because I couldn’t find it at the store and there was no way I was using the fat free cheese. I think I settled on colby jack or mild cheddar — can’t quite remember which.

Cooking it on high resulted in dinner in about three hours, which was perfect timing for a walk with Hurley and a few household tasks. So it wasn’t too much carb overload (particularly for lunch leftovers at work, which would knock me out), I tried to make half of the plate veggies (with lemon pepper, since I love adding that to steamed vegetables).

potatoes

Thankfully the recipe was a success! Tomorrow I’ll be on day three of the leftovers and I have no doubt it will be just as good. It might be a recipe to consider again around the holidays when there’s leftover ham.

The second recipe would be good at any point in the year, though this cool (and glorious) weather seems to be perfect timing for it. Last night I whipped up taco soup, and I’ll admit I was a bit nervous for this one. Mixing beef broth, rotel and cream cheese? I definitely had my doubts. Apparently they were unwarranted, though.

I did add two cans of beans to this as well and was tempted to add corn, but figured I would keep it relatively simple. I love that I could make it in about 20 minutes. Paired with veggie tortillas, this really hit the spot (especially with all the seasonings I added to it).

taco soup

The leftovers of the soup tonight were delicious, so Pinterest proved to be right again. In fact, I almost think the leftovers are better since it had a chance to thicken and the spices were more prominent. Heck, maybe searching this way will help me have more luck in not getting tired of leftovers so quickly… One can only hope!

Busy badge

I have to admit that I hate the busy badge, and yet it’s something I seem to wear constantly and with pride. My standard response to “How are you?” is “Busy, but good.” Who doesn’t claim to be busy in this day and age?

To some degree it’s about perception. On a more personal level, though, it very much relates to this blog post I read last week about being busy:

“If I’m being honest, I like staying busy. It’s comfortable to me. I’m happiest when I have my nice little to-do lists organized neatly on post-it notes, with tiny little tasks I can efficiently check off. By the end of the day, I feel so happy and in control, like life is CRAZY, but I have totally CONQUERED it. “

Preach it! Who doesn’t like that feeling at the end of the day?

But busy doesn’t always mean productive or meaningful, and that’s the part that’s been making me question my busy badge tendencies. This mindset shift actually started a couple months ago when I had a call with my leadership institute director, and when similar messages start popping up in my life, I know it’s time to start paying attention.

Part of my struggle in being busy is that I often go into autopilot mode (which is a fantastic descriptor I got from the leadership director). At the beginning of the day or week, I recognize I need to get X, Y and Z done, so I structure my schedule and tasks accordingly. Given my Type A, people-pleasing personality, there’s often not a lot of deviation from that plan.

It’s not bad, necessarily, but it often means I’m a product of my schedule and, to some degree, other people’s needs or requests. It’s less about being in the moment and more about crossing something off my list so that I can move on to the next task, be it a work project, volunteer assignment or something as simple as mowing the lawn or walking Hurley. That’s not how I want to live.

As I mentioned in my post about the sisters trip, a focus we had in some of our conversations got back to priorities, schedules and meaningful work. Am I making time for the things that matter? At the end of the day, it’s not about whether the work got done but whether the right work got done.

That’s why, when I saw this as we shopped in Cape Cod, I damn near bought this bracelet. Talk about driving the message home.

enough time

In each day and throughout our lives, we have just enough time for the important things. How am I stacking up?

I was probably more apt to notice those given the book I’ve been reading this month –  Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. (I’ll be honest that I won’t quite finish it since it’s due at the library and I can’t renew it since someone else has it on hold.) This is one of those books that I thought I would just skim but instead got hooked right off the bat:

“There are far more activities and opportunities in the world than we have time and resources to invest in. And although many of them may be good, or even very good, the fact is that most are trivial and few are vital.” (pg. 5)

Let that last sentence sink in for a second. Trivial? Not vital? I was half tempted to jump into defense mode.

But it makes sense.

There are so many causes and organizations and activities and work assignments and DIY projects and…you get the picture. How do you choose what’s really worth investing your time, resources and energy into? And what is it that only you could bring to the table? My role with the Alzheimer’s Association, while great, could easily be done by dozens of people in the community. Is it vital that I’m in that position? What draws me to the opportunity in the first place?

What I loved about the book is that it was quick to drive home that it’s not about taking on less or simplifying your schedule. Rather, it’s about taking an honest look at your life to see if you’re committing to the right things. If the Alzheimer’s Association is important to me, than I should certainly keep that in my life. But do I need to accept every meeting request or social invitation? Can I nix a gym class or two to take my dog on a long walk instead, particularly while the weather is nice?

That brings up the other struggle with busyness. As the blog post I referenced earlier pointed out, busyness is a choice we make — often as a crutch. It’s the need to feel as though we’re more in control (ding ding ding!) and valued than we may feel on the inside. It’s even worse for people pleasers. What will the volunteer coordinator think if I don’t show up to a meeting? Everyone else seems to juggle it all, why can’t I?

But what I’m learning is that it’s not about doing it all. It’s about doing the things that are important to you, which is a decision only you can make. When everything is a priority, nothing is.

What goes on my schedule for the day or week should be dependent on me, and I’m finally reaching a point where I’m not saying “yes” to everything. I’m weighing the pros and cons. Is my input needed at this meeting? Do they need my skill set for this project? Will it take time away from Hurley, and would I be okay with that?

That’s what my year of being intentional is about – diving into those hard questions. What are the negotiables in my schedule and how can I scale back on those to focus on what really matters, both personally and professionally?

Quite frankly, I’m tired of going a million miles an hour, fueled on caffeine and stress. I have just enough time in life for doing the things that are important to me and/or allow me to utilize my unique gifts, talents and skills. It’s time to start being more accountable to myself and setting up those boundaries.

The funny thing is, I think if I were to make the shift, I’d feel much more fulfill and in control than I do when I’m “busy.” Ain’t that something.

It’s going to be tough, but I think it’s time to ditch the busy badge, one stitch at a time!

Going and going and going

Sunday I was kicking ass and taking names. Not literally, mind you, but I felt like the Energizer bunny. It started off with a fantastic spin class followed by our Walk to End Alzheimer’s, which I’m still in awe about two days later.

The Walk reminded me of why I’m so connected to the cause. One woman who spoke at our opening ceremony was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s at the age of 52. Can you even imagine?! I was so inspired by the people who showed up for the Walk, and particularly those who were brave enough to share their stories with me. It’s amazing how a Walk like that can bring so many together.

In a more logistical manner, the Walk was also a success in my book. The weather was gorgeous, the booth I helped manage ran pretty seamlessly and we got to unveil our Why I Walk board! My committee saw an example of what another Walk did, and it so happens I know a fantastic craftsman. Uncle Buck has this whipped up in a matter of hours, and the Walk chair and I painted it in about an hour a couple days later. Even more exciting is that Uncle Buck showed up at the Walk to see the finished product and show his support. ❤

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Although I was ready to an afternoon siesta after the Walk, duties called (primarily since I’m big on using Sundays to prep for the week). I decided to go somewhat rogue in the kitchen for dinner, making the pizza pasta I blogged about a couple weeks ago merged with ideas from the cheesy pesto chicken lasagna spaghetti squash recipe I’d also made recently. Essentially I took the sauce/toppings from the pizza pasta, mixed it with spaghetti squash and threw in ricotta cheese and a bit of mozzarella cheese on top. It was delicious!

spaghetti squash

While the squash was baking, I also started whipping up a batch of chocolate chip pumpkin bread. In part I did it as a thank you for the middle since she’s watching Hurley this evening while I’m at a conference…but it’s also because I was really craving it, too. Like I told the middle, though, the only thing healthy about it is perhaps the greek yogurt and whole wheat flour. So worth it, though. I’m all about all things pumpkin this time of year.

pumpkin bread

Once the baking was done, things finally settled down for the weekend. And not a moment too soon, according to Hurley (although he was down for the count before I started cooking since we’d gone on a long walk around the lake).

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It’s safe to say I put off doing the dishes and putting laundry away once he crawled up next to me. I swear I could stare at this guy all day! Maybe one of these days, though, I won’t be so obsessive with taking photos and sharing it with my blog followers… I just can’t help myself!

Thankful Thursday #19

Once again, it’s been awhile since I’ve written a Thankful Thursday post. I figured I should tackle this while it was still fresh in my mind instead of waiting until I’m back to my high-strung self.

Last week (a week ago today, actually) I went on vacation with the sisters. We’ve decided that every three years we should have a sisters trip (our first one was three years ago to London) and this year we (somewhat last-minute) decided to venture to Cape Cod.

We didn’t learn our lesson with London in that we didn’t do a ton of research leading up to the trip (doing so would have helped me know in advance that despite being called Martha’s Vineyard, there aren’t many wineries or even wine tastings available…). But that was part of the beauty of the trip. (Plus it helped that Cape Cod was small enough and technically in the off-season to where it didn’t feel nearly as overwhelming as London.)

This week I’ve been thankful not only for the time with the sisters, but also having the opportunity to get away to really recharge my batteries. I realized that the last non-work trip I took was almost two years ago when I went to Denver with the middle.

Not to say I don’t have opportunities to relax if I don’t travel. One of the unique, shall we say, components of my personality is my inability to cool it. (Let’s just be honest about that fact.) Even when I took two days off work after submitting the evaluation report, I used that time to work on my table, run errands and do chores I neglected that week. I was the girl in college who skipped class to do work for other classes or extra-curriculars.

It’s something I’m trying to work on, but definitely showcases the necessity of a trip like this, at least at this juncture in my life. From the time I left work on Wednesday afternoon until I got back to the office on Tuesday morning, I didn’t check my work email. (!) I didn’t make a grocery list for the next week (though I thought about it) or give a second thought to chores and other responsibilities. For the first time in a long time, I wasn’t on an adrenaline rush of caffeine, stress and/or endorphins. It was probably a good break for my mind and my body!

What also helped are the great conversations I had with the sisters about intentionality and prioritizing as a way to stay true to the type of life you want to lead. I’ll probably have more on that later, but it played a huge role in my perspective coming back home.

By the time I got back to work on Tuesday morning, I was almost zen. I wasn’t trying to multi-task or fall into the adrenaline trap. That may change in the next week or so, mind you, as deadlines pop up and projects escalate. But for now, I’m taking things one task and one meeting at a time.

I’m thankful for the renewed efforts to control my schedule instead of letting it control me. When everything is a priority, nothing is. The beauty is that it’s up to me to set those priorities. I certainly got a reminder of what those are through my long weekend trip.

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The only downside is that I didn’t have Hurley around. You could say we’re making up for lost time…

Hurley

It probably goes without saying that he’s one of my top priorities. ❤

Missing out

I’ve discovered my new favorite way to make burrito bowls!

I’d actually come across this recipe last week but held off until I was back from vacation to try it. Tonight after spin class and walking Hurley (both of which were much needed), this chili-lime beef and black bean bowl took me literally 15 minutes to make. I’m not sure if it was the amount of cilantro and lime I put into the dish or what. All I know is it quickly moved up to the top as my favorite Mexican dish.

This is the first time I’ve made steak with tacos, which is actually a bit surprising given I’ve dabbled with so many others (ground turkey, carnitas, barbacoa, etc.). It makes me feel like I’ve been missing out all these years.

I almost forgot to marinade the steak before heading to spin, but I’m so glad I remembered that step. There was so much flavor in it! I found thinly cut pieces of steak of sale at the grocery store last week, and one thing I’ll keep in mind for next time it to cut them into slightly smaller chunks — and potentially before I marinade.

Although I was tempted to make the copycat Chipotle cilantro-lime recipe, I decided to just use brown rice, lime and cilantro (making sure not to skimp on either). I also swapped out the black beans for red kidney beans to change things up a bit. Also surprising, I think this is the first time I had cilantro lime in each portion of the burrito bowl, which definitely enhanced the flavor.

Like I said, within 15 minutes, this burrito bowl was assembled. I didn’t make the avocado cream, though I did cut up slices of avocado to include. I also decided to really go all out by adding green olives, banana peppers and some smoked tabasco sauce. It was seriously mouth-watering.

burrito bowl

I won’t lie…I ended up swapping out my new placemat for my old orange one. I’m really paranoid about spilling on the new placemat or (heaven forbid) the new table! Maybe in a few weeks or once I find a recipe that’s a little less messy (because let’s be honest, I also had some chip and homemade salsa with the burrito bowl) I’ll be less anal about it. Or maybe not…

Blood, sweat and tears (quite literally…)

August was apparently a big month for me in terms of completing projects. After I finished my big evaluation report for work, I used the couple of days I took off to focus on finishing up the never-ending DIY project.

This is by far the largest DIY project the middle and I have taken on to date. And I should be clear right up front that this would not be complete without her. It was a true labor of love that tried our (but mostly my) patience every step of the way. If she weren’t my voice of reason, this would very likely be in pieces at a bon fire. There were points where it got that ugly.

But let me start back at the beginning.

When my parents downsized earlier this year, they decided to get rid of my mom’s crafting table, which was previously our family dining room table. I’d always loved the gorgeous pine wood and figured I could spruce it up a bit for my own dining room. (I tried to find a photo of our original table, but most included unflattering photos of the middle and I’m not about to make those public given how much she contributed to this project).

My mom has also been intrigued by painting furniture, so she decided to paint it blue before passing it on to me given how worn down it was.

full before

Normally something like this would work in my house, given I have a pink entertainment center, a teal desk and love color. Thanks to Pinterest, though, I fell in love with a particular style. The minute I saw it, I knew that’s what I wanted. This was a close second since it would match the style of my table a bit more.

And thus the project began. The weekend after Memorial Day weekend, the middle and I started the process of stripping paint – which let me tell you, takes a hell of a lot longer than I thought. All I can say is thank goodness for the middle. She searched which type of paint stripper was best, so at least we had a fantastic product. (Seriously, if you ever need to strip paint, which I hope to never do again, buy this. It doesn’t burn you at all or smell terrible).

For the first round we lathered the paint stripped all over the table and chairs, covered it with garbage sacks and let it sit overnight. (We also did her wine rack too, which took considerably less time.)

Paint stripping

Initially we were excited by the results. Peeling it off was actually kind of enjoyable, particularly when we could see the wood coming through — even under the original blue of the chairs.

Round 1

Unfortunately, as the day wore on, I became substantially less excited. There were areas the paint stripper dried, making it difficult to make much progress. Also, trying to strip paint off a table top, four table legs and six chairs in one afternoon? Not at all smart on our part… Lesson learned: take it one or two pieces at a time.

Over the next few weeks we continued to chip away at the paint, trying to get as close to the original wood as possible. It helped to have the spray-can version of the paint stripper. We’d lob it on a section of a chair, wait a couple minutes and then keep peeling away. We also tried another brand of paint stripper, but given the number of times I burned myself even using gloves and trying to be careful, it wasn’t worth it. The orange wonder seemed to do the trick on it’s own.

I won’t lie that I had a handful of weak moments where I thought about just buying new chairs for the table. Having to deal with this level of detail (particularly on the chair legs and the design on the chair back) was just too much. So many curves and crevices. Plus it was incredibly messy (I will say mineral spirits helped with that a bit). And this was just phase one!

chair back

chair side

Somehow after a few weeks (probably because of the middle…) we prevailed. We’d reached a point where we’d stripped about all that we could, signaling it was time to move onto the next phase of the project: sanding.

Ready to sand

The middle also saved the day in borrowing tools from her boyfriend’s family so we could have two electric sanders. I don’t even want to imagine what it would be like trying to do it by hand with sheets of sanding paper.

I’ll be honest that I lost a little motivation during this phase. Especially with the detailing sander, it took a lot of focus and I felt like I wasn’t seeing any real progress. It was exciting to see the wood smoothing out so well, though.

Sanding detail

At this point we put the table on hold for awhile. I knew, though, that we had to finish the project sooner rather than later (if only because my sister and her boyfriend would want to park in their garage at some point…). My motivation perked up again when the middle sent me this picture while I was on my way back home from my training in California that first week in August. Isn’t is insane how much difference sanding can make?!

anded table

And with that, it was time to start priming. The middle even created a great corner to make sure I could spray without ruining anything in her garage or the driveway (which I may have done during the paint stripping phase…).

Priming

Naturally nothing with this project was easy. After spending a full afternoon taping around the spokes of the chairs and covering the seats (to avoid getting any paint on the wood we planned to stain), I loaded up the paint sprayer and was ready to power through priming. Except nothing happened. In 50 minutes all I managed to accomplish was two strips of wood on the bottom of the table top.

I called it quits, coming back the next day with a new paint sprayer. Long story short, that sprayer was a bit too powerful (one of the chairs is a lasting reminder of that…) and thankfully the old one started working. In the course of an afternoon, I knocked out all the priming. Finally it felt like I was seeing progress!

(And as I did with my entertainment center, I’ll put in a plug for paint sprayers. Absolutely worth the investment, especially on projects like this!)

Primed

That weekend was also when I narrowed down my paint options. Guys, I had no idea how many shades of off-white there were! It was incredibly overwhelming. I knew I didn’t want any color tint to it (gray, blue, pink, etc.). I also didn’t want it to be too beige or tan, since the wall color in my living room borders on a creamy yellow. Plus my two sources of inspiration had pretty crisp white.

Finally I settled on bone. I won’t lie — I had my doubts once it was painted. It was was a bit more white than I intended, though the middle mentioned that perhaps doing a gray or cream primer may have helped make that more subtle. (I say that like it’s a tip to remember in the event I’m ever crazy enough to take on an endeavor like this again.)

Selecting a stain also proved to be a struggle. I didn’t want to go too dark, since I already feel like the wood in my house is overwhelming dark. But I wanted something that had just enough contrast to the white. After three trips to Menards, I finally found a shade I liked: hickory.

That brought on it’s own moment of panic. The stain I loved was a gel stain, which I’d never worked with before. (To be honest, it’s not like I’ve worked with much stain anyway. I’ve only done my coffee bar and that was under the supervision of a pro…). And the employee just kept saying, “It’s all about what you prefer.”

I decided to be brave and run with the gel. We started by putting a pre-stain on all the furniture. Then came painting on the gel…which promptly resulted in me googling tips for applying gel stain. The directions said to wipe the excess after three minutes, but that resulted in a not-so-ascetically-pleasing (read: ugly) finish. We (and by we I really mean I) almost scrapped the gel stain idea, but I’m thankful I didn’t.

One tip that helped is the comparison that liquid stain is like spreading butter on toast. Gel stain is like spreading peanut butter on toast. So long as we had the right consistency, we didn’t have to wipe the excess after three minutes.

About an hour later, the staining was done. And that’s when I really fell in love.

Half chairs stained

Chairs

In the next day or so, we made final touch-ups to the stain and the white paint on the spokes near the seat. I will say that if you’re ever in this type of predicament, definitely paint before staining. It might have even been that day that we polyurethaned all the chairs (all the days of working on this project started blending together after while). But finally, something was done! So we celebrated.

celebrate

We saved the table top for the very end. This is where staining really counted. I’d feel okay about screwing up the bottom of the table or even one of the chairs. But the table top is really where I needed to bring my A-game.

light top

Once the stain dried, I was a bit anxious when I saw how streaky/uneven it was. The middle used some mineral spirits on it the next day, which helped a tad. We also applied a second coat, which seemed to even it out quite a bit. Finally, a week and a half ago, the middle applied the polyurethane to the table top. There was no turning back!

final table top

This past Saturday morning I applied the final coat of polyurethane to the table. The final step should have felt substantially more rewarding. Why was it not, might you ask? I discovered a flaw in my plan. Googling confirmed that, unfortunately, oil based polyurethane will turn white paint yellow.

Yes, you read that right. White paint will turn yellow, which is exactly what happened to my chairs.

I kid you not, I about broke down in tears right then and there. I reached the finish line, but it wasn’t the table I’d worked so hard to rehab. But I was also the first to admit I was burnt out on the project and no way in hell was I started over on those chairs.

Thankfully, the lighting in my dining room is dark enough that you can’t really tell it’s yellow. It looks more like the off-white I’d been envisioning, though I’ll likely reassess whether I want to repaint it when I move at some point in the (hopefully not so immediate) future. But I still have to admit it looks fabulous in my dining room — especially with my newly created canvases!

final

final 2

I love the burst of white in my dining room and the contrast the stain has to the white (well, technically yellow…). It definitely matches the look I was going with, so I’d consider this a major Pinterest win (minus the yellow, of course).

And just a few more photos for good measure — is this transformation not amazing?!

Chairs Before and After

Table Before and After

Pinterest photo

With that, I’m retiring from DIY projects for the time being. As my mom jokingly says, it’s been real, it’s been fun, but is hasn’t been real fun. But I will say I am pretty damn proud. (And another big shout out to the middle!) I think this ups our DIY cred.

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