Monthly Archives: January 2012

Signed, Sealed, and Delivered


One of the items far, far down on our to-do list involved getting a new mailbox.  Not only was it a little crooked, rusty, and ugly but it took the brute force of Hercules to open.


After a year-and-a-half of tug-of-war with the mailbox, we finally gave in and bought a new one.  Just a standard, black, run-of-the-mill one from Lowe’s for just under $18.

Not too shabby, but also a little lot on the plain side.  So, I turned to the never-ending idea generator (um, hello, Pinterest) for inspiration.  I soon stumbled upon this cute idea for displaying house numbers on a door.  You know what else this would look great on?  A mailbox!

Yes, vinyl characters were just the solution!  This pin led back to an Etsy seller, Single Story, who made a variety of different vinyl designs.  Check out her store here: Single Story.  I messaged her with my idea hoping she’d be open to a custom design as I had measured the mailbox to determine the exact size the numbers could be.  A few hours later, she messaged me that she was game and we were off!

Here is the design I came up with, similar to the one I found on Pinterest but I like the font (called Engravers) a little better.

If you’d like to duplicate this for your own purposes, feel free to download the Photoshop template here.

In about a week, I received the custom vinyl characters in the mail.  The seller at Short Story was so wonderful to work with- she even provided detailed instructions in the packaging.

It only took about 10 minutes to apply the vinyls.  We purchased two sets so we could apply to each side of the mailbox.  Our original mailbox only had the numbers on one side, which never made sense to me, since traffic can approach our house from either direction.

This is such a quick and easy way to jazz up your mailbox!


One of the first “projects” I ever did after moving in was actually to fix the mailbox- it was poorly mounted, crooked, missing fasteners, and so bent up it barely opened. I fixed it the same way a cut-rate body shop might fix your car: I hammered it back into a shape that would allow the door to close if slammed hard enough, forced it to be level by putting screws where there’s really not a place for any, and used whatever bolts I had lying around from previous projects to keep it all mounted. This seemed to work for the time being, but the grimace on our Lebron James look-a-like mailman’s face made it obvious that this would eventually need to be resolved.

Anyway, fast-forward to a few months ago in the hardware store, where while I’m carefully selecting lumber for the project to be revealed in our next post, Julie wandered off. She soon called me and told me to come help her pick out a mailbox. Oh, great. I obliged but really didn’t have time to mess with it, so it ended up just rattling around in my backseat for a few months.

Eventually I grew tired of hearing a mailbox clank every time I turned left, so I decided it was time to install it. Julie ordered some vinyl letters and I was tasked with their application. I’ve worked in the automotive industry for a few years, so applying stickers isn’t a foreign concept, and I’ve learned a few tricks:

1. Clean, clean, clean- If there’s any dirt or oil on your surface, your letters won’t adhere properly. I used window cleaner and a wash cloth to make sure I had a clean surface.

2. Apply slowly- Make sure you have everything lined up and even, and start with the easiest point at which to ensure proper placement. For this, I kept even spacing between the bottoms of the numbers and the bottom of the mailbox to ensure everything came out straight.


3. Peel level- The numbers themselves are adhesive, but come on an adhesive backing as well, This backing has to be peeled off after application, so I actually flip the edge over 180* so I can almost “roll” the backing off.

4. Air pockets- The vinyl will have little air bubbles, so make sure you smooth them out. I used a small plastic razor blade which had a nice edge but wouldn’t scratch the paint on the mailbox.

5. Heat- I used Julie’s fancy orange hair dryer to add style and promote adhesion.

I finally got the numbers applied and got the mailbox installed. It actually looks pretty good- it definitely beats the cheap reflective numbers it had previously, and I like having numbers on both sides. Oh, and I don’t need a winch to get the mail anymore.



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Filed under Front Yard

An Iron-Clad Deal


I feel like a failure.  I went three whole years without knowing about the closest trade day/flea market to us.  Forget treks to Round Top or Canton, McKinney, TX is just 20 miles away from us (okay, kidding- you know I’ll still be frequenting those places despite the distance).

McKinney Trade Days occur on the weekends before the third Monday of the month.  It’s no where near the scale of Round Top or even Canton, but it has a nice selection considering it’s a short drive away from us.  I’m sure some would consider 400 vendors more than a “nice selection” but hey, my benchmark was set by the infamous Round Top.

We saw quite the array of goodies.

Iron items galore such as this Cinderella-carriage looking chandelier and patio decor.

It wouldn’t be America without school branding on every item imaginable, including bird houses.

Rooster yard art, anyone?  It’s just what your backyard needs.

One of the coolest things we saw was a variety of art made of license plates, like this map of the United States with each state depicted by an old license plate from that particular state.  I can’t imagine how long it would take to collect all these and create a map!

My eyes were of course drawn to this cute little nightstand for $45.  I didn’t find a mate for him so I sadly left him behind.  Maybe next time, little buddy.

And who could forget this gem?  Welcome to Texas, y’all.

In the end, I managed to convince Chris to let us walk away with an iron cross and outdoor iron lantern.

We finally added a little Texas to our cross wall (notice the star and horseshoe in the middle).  Not too shabby for $4.

Our cross wall is quickly growing!

The lantern was our big purchase.  I can’t wait to put a mosquito candle and light it one night!  I’m still not sure how I convinced Chris into this one… especially because the line, “think of how much money I saved you by getting this one for $37 instead of the $100-something one from Pottery Barn,” didn’t work.  But, seriously, what a deal!


I really don’t understand these “trader day” things. Somehow Julie has managed to trick me into going to three different ones, but I have yet to drag her to a swap meet. Oh, what adventures await!

Anyway, this time I lured a friend into going with me, promising to pay for parking and a beer. But there was no beer. NO BEER! I don’t know what these “trader” people think, but this is Texas… we’ll have a beer.

Regardless, we managed to give our wives the slip and found a handful of guy-friendly booths- Army surplus, license plate novelties, guitars- but still found ourselves buying corn dogs out of boredom. Of course, it wasn’t long before the girls found us and announced their purchases.

Julie apparently has a thing for iron, because everything she wanted was made of it. She somehow managed to talk me into buying what is effectively the world’s most overbuilt candleholder. She sold me on it with a grandiose vision of enjoying mosquito-free nights of sipping lemonade on our patio, but it wasn’t until I was apologizing to my friend for rust-staining his car’s interior that I remembered Julie doesn’t really go outside. Doh!

I’m not saying I won’t ever go to another one of these glorified swap meets, but I’ll be toting a cooler to the next one.


Filed under Deals & Finds

Sheepishly Simple


Our living room is gigantic- which realtors consider a great selling feature- but when you’ve come from a 600 square foot apartment that barely fit one couch end-to-end, a gigantic living room is very intimidating.  We’ve come a long way in filling the room, having purchased an equally gigantic entertainment center, end table and inherited a coffee table and two chairs but the room is still looking like a barren wasteland and, sadly, still only half full.  Look at all that empty space!

I eventually have big plans for another seating area by the fireplace but I knew our furniture budget wasn’t quite ready for the Pottery Barn chairs I’ve been eyeing.  Channeling my inner-HGTV, I knew creating another seating area would help be defined by the use of another rug.  The size of the rug was going to be a challenge as the area was long and rectangular meaning standard size area rugs weren’t going to work.  We pretty much needed a runner (a long, skinny rug made for hallways) but all the runners I found were too long for the space.

One night, in one of the rare occasions where Chris had won control of the remote, I lost interest in the TV and began analyzing our future second seating area.  When suddenly, visions of sheepskin rugs filled my mind (faux of course!).  That’s just what the room needed size-wise and texture-wise.  The shaggy surface would warm up the room and the white/creamy color would blend in with the rest of the decor.

I excitedly began scouring the Internet for options.  In minutes, I found a sheepskin rug at IKEA for $29.99.  What a deal!

I went to check it out at the store and saw it was much smaller than I had originally thought (no dimensions were listed on the website).  We needed something about three times as long and twice as wide.  Hmm.. what to do…

I revisited Google to find other sizes of sheepskin rugs available and saw this guy.

Apparently, sheepskin rugs come in single or double pelt size.  Double is just what I needed.  Amazon had this one listed for $124.99 but I didn’t want to settle without seeing what other price options were out there (i.e. could I find this for cheaper?).

It was my lucky day when I found this tutorial from Young House Love showing how they made their own single pelt sheepskin throws for $5 each using material they found at a fabric store.  It sounded simple enough.  I wondered if I could apply the concept to make a double sheepskin rug.  And the challenge was on!

I dragged Chris to Joann’s by tempting him with the burger place situated next door (it always works!).  I found the perfect furry fabric that was even softer and whiter than the IKEA version.  It was perfect!  And at $9.99 a yard plus my 20% off coupon, I knew that even if we didn’t end up liking it, at least it wouldn’t be a huge waste of money.  I ended up purchasing 1.5 yards which totaled to $12.  Not bad!

Look how soft and fuzzy the fabric is!  Even Chloe approves and quickly made it her go-to nap destination.

I sketched out the design on the computer and soon determined that I could make a template using only a fourth of the overall design and just mirror it on the other three sides, making the rug symmetrical and the template easier to use.

Here’s the overall rug design I created and a copy of the quarter template I used to cut the rug.  Feel free to borrow!

See?  It’s the same shape on each of the four sides!

I gathered up newspapers and taped them all together.  I free-handed the quarter-template I created on the computer on top of the newspapers and cut out my template.  I probably could have just printed the quarter-template from the computer but was feeling in the drawing-mood.

Once I cut out the newspaper template, I flipped the fabric over to trace the design on the backside.  That way, if I messed up tracing, no one would ever see it.

Let the tracing begin!


A quick snip, and our rug emerged!  The fabric was pretty flimsy on its own so we decided to buy a cheap runner from Wal-Mart for $15 to use as the backing.

We cut the same shape in the runner (it was a little skinner than the sheepskin, but we just needed it to cover the main part for support) and with a little hot glue, boom- instant rug.

To the tune of $27, we got our own luxurious, custom rug!  Not too shabby.

Now about those Pottery Barn chairs…


We can be pretty Texan at times- we believe “y’all” is the only acceptable second-person plural, we don’t eat beef bred elsewhere, and we still remember the Alamo. What throws off our non-Texan friends and family, though, is that we don’t fall into the Texas stereotypes- we don’t own a truck, we only wear reasonably-sized belt buckles, and have no animal hides anywhere in the house… or so I thought.

Julie and I have spent more than a third of our lives together, so I feel like I know her pretty well. Every once in a while, though, she catches me by surprise and busts out with something completely un-Julie. Like when she said she wanted a sheepskin rug. My laughter quickly turned to confusion as I slowly began to realize that yes, she was serious. A sheepskin rug? Like, a rug that still looks like the sheep it came from? In this house??

I’m not picky and she seemed to be excited about it, so I decided to let her run with it. We went to a few stores and found a few options, but nothing that really met our needs or budget. And then she said the four words I’m beginning to hate: “Could we make one?” We went home and took some measurements and decided that as if our lives weren’t weird enough, we were going to make a rug.

We went to that fabric store where all the old ladies are shocked that I’m willing to even walk through the door, and Julie picked out some fabric. I wouldn’t call it “rug material”, but for 1/10th the cost of a real rug, I wasn’t about to object. We went back home and began laboring over exactly what a sheep rug is supposed to look like. Julie quickly drew up a pattern and within a few minutes, she had something traced out. She cut it out and we had a rug- mostly.

We tried laying it out on the floor, but it was pretty flimsy… and it was quickly gone. While we were distracted by a discussion about the mantel, the five-pound cat ran off with our new rug. This was a problem we hadn’t anticipated, but the solution was pretty simple. We bought the cheapest runner we could find at Wal-Mart and traced the rug over it. A little hot glue and ca-ching! A rug that can’t be nabbed by the cat burglar.

As stated before, I was never into animal skins, but I have to admit I kind of like this rug. It’s soft, fills some empty space, was less than $30, and makes it easier to find the cat. So add “rug maker” to the resume!


Filed under Easy DIY Projects, Living Room

Dear Internet, HERE’S How to Build a Fireplace Mantel


It finally happened.  The Internet let me down.  I had to check outside to see if any swine had sprouted wings or if the American Girl store was suddenly frozen over (for those of you who have never been in an American Girl store, it’s the closest thing to hell I’ve experienced).  Thankfully, the world wasn’t ending but I was concerned that Chris and I had DIYed ourselves into territory even unknown to HGTV.  Is that even possible?  But let me start at the beginning.

Presenting, our fireplace.

Not bad.  Nothing to brag about either… meaning a change was needed.  I wanted more of an “oh-la-la” pop and less of a “Hello!  70s flashback” pop.  The mantel was getting lost in the wall of brick.  We needed to do something to make it stand out.  Case in point- the Where’s Waldo mantel photo below.  Seriously, where is it?

I hunted around for mantel ideas and determined that a white wooden mantel is just what the mantel doctor ordered.  It would accentuate the mantel and tie in with the design of the rest of the living room.  I just love the crisp white look and something that would look substantial against the brick.  Here are the examples I rounded up from Pinterest.


So, the hunt was on.  How were we going to tackle this project?  With one of two options:

  1. Buy a pre-made mantel, demo the brick, and install the mantel in its place
  2. Make our own mantel and build it over the current brick mantel

I think we all know what option we chose but humor me for a moment.  I began pricing out pre-made mantles.  I found two options I really liked from


Not too shabby.  They only offered a stained or unfinished version so we’d have to purchase an unfinished wood and then paint ourselves.  Not too difficult.  Then I saw the price.  Starting price around $250.  And then you have to consider the cost of time and money to demo the bricks.  Ummm no thanks.  I looked more closely at the design and knew Chris could do something equally as great, probably better, and we could truly have a custom mantel for a fraction of the cost.

I started scouring the Internet for helpful how-to’s on how to build your own mantel.  That’s when I discovered… Nothing.  Zilch.  ZERO RESULTS!  My first thought: holy cow, I had stumped Google.  My second thought: maybe there’s a reason no one’s ever tried to build their own mantel over an existing one.  But, seriously?  NOT A SINGLE RESULT?  Dear DIYers everywhere, I’m shocked that none of you have catalogued building a mantel and posted it on the Internet for my creeping eyes to find.  Step it up people.

Now, how to break the news to Chris?  Chris has recently determined that anytime I start a sentence with, “Hey, Chris, I have an idea,” it doesn’t bode well for him.  All I can say is thank God for father-in-laws.  His parents were in town for a visit and his mom and I decided to go fabric shopping.  Unbeknownst to me, Chris had mentioned my idea to his dad.  I guess it sparked his interest enough that when his mom and I came home from our shopping trip, the mantel had taken form.  Key learning- obviously I need to go shopping more often.  Look what magical things happen as an outcome!

This project ended up being a tad more difficult and lengthy than I originally thought but it was so worth it!  Pop is an understatement!  And we saved quite a bit of money.  We ended up spending about $80 on materials AND the mantel required no demo.  Not too shabby compared to the other $250 option.


As an avid DIYer, I think the most frustrating things people say is that they wish they knew how to do that stuff, that they could never do that stuff because they’re not handy, or that they wished someone had taught them how to do all that stuff, etc. It’s true that most of what I know, I learned from my dad- as he worked on projects around the house, he taught me how to do stuff, too- and he learned the same way. About ten years ago, though, we were replacing some water heaters and he was showing me how to solder copper. I finally asked, “how do you know all this stuff?” Much to my surprise, he said that he didn’t, and that he had looked it up on the internet. I recently found out that my grandfather used to go to the library and take notes on all the stuff he needed to know for a project (he’s probably the most dedicated DIYer I know- he’s 84 and still replacing his own garage doors).

I mention all of this to highlight a point- that no one “knows” how to do these things, and that you can only be taught how to do so much- at a certain point, you have to make your own way and teach yourself, which is exactly what happened with my last project.

Julie decided that she didn’t like the brick mantel, and that we needed a white one instead… but of course, she didn’t want to paint or remove the brick. On top of all that, she didn’t want to drill into the brick in any way, and wasn’t really sure she would like a white mantel. So, of course, that meant I had to build a removable mantel. My dad and I built one while Julie and I mom were out shopping one day, but it turned out that we apparently had two very different concepts of what this thing was supposed to be, and I ended up having to start all over.

The first attempt:

Maybe people just don’t build their own mantels or something, but I found absolutely nothing online about it. No how-to. No before-and-after. No “that was like that time I built a mantel”. Nothing. I was flying solo on this one. Now, this is where true DIYers prevail- I was at Point A (no mantel) and knew where Point B (mantel) was, but no directions on how to move between the two, which meant that I had to carve my own path.

I knew what a mantel looked like, so all I had to do was put things together in the proper dimensions and I’d have one. The problem, though, was that Julie wanted it to hide a substantial amount of brick, meaning it would have to be quite a bit larger than most. On top of that, I had a limited width and an even more limited depth when compared to the overall height. Another issue was that while the brick was stair-stepped in the front, it was flush from on the sides, so I could only stagger the width by a certain amount.

Staggered front, flush sides:

I thought I was done at this point. According to Julie, I was only halfway there:

So I started with a board. This would ultimately define my overall dimensions, as it ran the length of the fireplace and limited me to a 12″ depth (any more and it would have stuck out awkwardly into the room. Next, I fitted some crown around it to hide the first layer of brick- it sat flush with the board in the front, but there was slight overhang on either side. It was already looking like a mantel.

Next, I nailed some casing trim below the crown, and I had completed my mantel- or so I thought. Julie wanted at least one more layer to hide more of the brick, but I was running out of lateral space. I managed to find some VERY thin wood, so one more layer was possible. Once I got it nailed together, I displayed it on the mantel (get it? HA!). I excitedly showed Julie our new mantel and, true to form, the first words out of her mouth were simply “it needs another layer.” Doh! After finally losing that battle, I was scratching my head as to how to build another layer on the side, as I was completely out of room. Eventually I came to the realization that I’d have to actually stack another piece of the thin wood (as opposed to staggering it). How do you put two pieces of wood together without using nails? Simple: glue and staples (yes, you read that right- I stapled my mantel together like a third grade art project).


Um, excuse me?  Staples??  This is the first I’m hearing of this…



Anyway, I finally had the stupid thing constructed. I didn’t want it to look like a third grade art project, so I had to do some real prep work before painting. I sanded every edge and corner, caulked every seam, patched every nail hole, and even blended the seams held together by those damn staples. I primed, sanded, painted, sanded, and painted again, and was finally done.

Putty and paint makes a boat what it ain’t!


Look how much wood is on this stupid thing!

All-in-all, I’m pretty satisfied with how it turned out. I built a removable mantel without any real guidance, and it actually looks pretty decent. Best of all, though, I don’t ever had to hear “we need to finish the mantel” ever again.

And now, for everyone needing a mantel building 101 guide, we’re about to make your day.  Here’s a guide showing what kind of wood we used for each section of the mantel which will hopefully help in your quest for building your own mantel.

I claim thee… MANTEL!

After Pictures.


P.S. Like the awesome vintage scale I bought Chris for his birthday at a random antique store on the side of the road in Bastrop, TX?  We’re obsessed.


Filed under Living Room