Updated on September 15, 2013
I’ve been fascinated with the Montessori approach to raising kids for a while now, largely thanks to this inspiring blog. I’m not going to set up a floor bed (which I do think is awesome) for my kids any time soon, but some of their views on child-rearing and living at the home with children really affected how we raise our girls.
One of the tenets of Montessori is to make the home accessible to the little ones. Some Montessori parents buy this expensive Learning Tower so their kids can reach the kitchen counter and cook alongside them. I’m not rich, so when I saw this great DIY here and got measurements from this blog, we were able to hack an IKEA kitchen step into an awesome and useful learning tower for our toddler who always wants to be involved in everything we do.
I used to get up every morning and make breakfast with this little girl hanging on my legs, begging to be picked up:
This was when she was around 14-15 months.
It was getting tiresome having to either pick her up and cook with one hand or tell her no and watch her fake cry. Sometimes I resorted to putting her on a chair, but I was hyper-aware and always watching her to prevent her from falling off. Not fun.
One day, we finally got our act together and tackled the project. We started with this kitchen step from IKEA.
With the measurements from the blog scribbled down on a notepad, I grabbed the materials from Home Depot. Even though a worker there once told me they didn’t do project cuts, the guy who helped me on that day was very willing to cut all the wood for me. So nice! Always ask, sometimes they say no, but sometimes they say yes! Or maybe I looked especially helpless that day, but whatever works.
You can find the measurements in the second comment of Jenny’s post on her learning tower. These measurements turned out to not be exact for us, so we had to make a few cuts here and there to get everything to fit. Not sure why, but it all worked out in the end. If you want to attempt this yourself, I would suggest you to use these measurements as a guide for you to create your own. But without these measurements, it probably would have taken us a LOT more time to do all the measuring, so I’m really grateful to Jenny from mint in the middle!
First, we took the top part off the step. Knowing ourselves and our tendency to lose small tiny things, I put the bits in a ziplock bag and taped it to the step. Future headache averted.
Then Nick screwed in four posts to the top step.
That was the hardest part of the whole thing. It was a bit complicated trying to screw the posts from underneath, but we survived the ordeal. After that, it was fairly simple to screw in the sides. I don’t have photos of the whole step-by-step but honestly, the photo below will tell you everything you need to know. If we could do it, anyone can.
We weren’t finished yet — we needed to put in a dowel in the back to prevent her from falling out — but we weren’t sure how to do that and were too excited to see it in action.
Janella loved it immediately. She helped us “cook” by stirring our meals, “wash” dishes by wiping a wet sponge on dirty dishes, and put away cut vegetables into a big bowl.
When Dad Vita visited us during the summer, we grabbed the opportunity to ask him to help us finally complete the kitchen step.
He cut the dowel down to size and then notched out two holes on the sides. He and Nick had to push apart the two posts to slide in the dowel. When we build our second one (for Sienna), we’ll attach the dowel at the same time we drill in the posts. That’ll definitely be easier!
When it was finally all assembled, the next step was to paint it. After some extensive research on Google Images to find the perfect yellow spray paint, I chose Sun Yellow by Rustoleum. It’s a nice color, very yellow, but it is BRIGHT.
The paint has already worn out in some areas and the color is still a little too bright for my liking, so I’ll probably repaint in the near future. Plus, the kitchen step has too many surface areas to spray paint, resulting in a lot of wasted paint. I’ll try using exterior paint and a brush next time and report back how that holds up.
But for now, Janella loves it.
When I’m cooking, I can just let her climb up and work alongside me. Whenever I need her to keep away from what I’m doing, I give her some clay or some cut-up food to play with.
Sometimes she mixes real food with her play food. Fine by me!
After some practice, she learned how to climb up and down by herself. She can also slide the step around the kitchen floor.
Sorry about the dirty kitchen floor. Obviously, I was in the middle of cooking dinner when I snapped these photos and I’m a MESSY cook.
Having her stand on her step proudly as I cook is lots of fun. I admit, sometimes it can get crazy trying to put things away from her when she wants to TOUCH EVERYTHING, but I remind myself to give her a task. And then she focuses on that task and I cook in peace and the world is right again.
By the way, I’m done with the newborn haze and ready to refocus my energy on our home. To keep myself accountable, I’m going to stick to a strict blogging schedule of new posts on every Monday and Wednesday. Come back on these days to see what we’re up to around here!
* This post contains affiliate links.
Posted on July 1, 2013
Ignore the pretty mirrors and the pretty lights if you can. Focus on that hole between the two lights. Dad Vita did some magic electrical work and turned our one-light bathroom into a fancy two-light one.
That change left behind a sad little hole in the wall. Here’s how we covered that hole up.
Dad Vita grabbed paint sticks that you can get free at a home improvement store, put glue on them, and put them behind the wall.
The paint sticks act as supports for the drywall piece that will go in there.
First stick is in…
Putting in the second stick…
All three sticks are in!
We left it alone to let the glue dry. Then Dad Vita traced out the hole on a piece of paper.
We had grabbed a square foot of drywall at home depot, which cost around $10. Dad Vita put down the circle template on a corner of the drywall and ran a pencil around it.
Then he cut it out with a utility knife.
He added some more glue to the paint sticks and then stuck the circle of drywall in there.
There was a gap around the hole — you can see it in the above photo. He spread joint compound on and around the drywall circle to make everything seamless.
This is what we used:
The unsightly hole is all sealed up!
But it’s not done yet. The joint compound is smooth, while our walls have heavy knockdown texture.
Dad Vita went back home to Philadelphia, so it was up to me to finish it off!
I added the knockdown texture to the patched hole by using these tools:
Let me tell you, these tools worked but it took me lots of trial and error to do it right. I tried different methods, from close and quick sprays to continuous spraying from farther away. I wasn’t satisfied with my efforts until I watched this great youtube video and it helped me SO MUCH.
Basically, watch as many youtube videos as you can and try, try again on your walls. You’ll get it with some practice. The best method for you will depend on how heavy the knockdown texture is on your walls.
This was after my first round of knockdown spray…
Let’s see the texture close up.
It looks pretty good, right? Nope. The texture here is not thick enough for our walls. I painted over this and wasn’t satisfied. Also, you could see the circle of the added drywall because it stuck out just a tad compared to the wall. It bugged me to no end.
Look closely at the next photo and you’ll see the circle of drywall sticking out AND that the patched spot is smoother than the wall around it.
I added more joint compound around the edge of the drywall circle to level things out and did some more rounds of knockdown texture spraying…
While Janella hung out in the tub (this was pre-Sienna) reading her then-favorite book about monkeys drumming on drums. You can’t beat Dr. Seuss.
However, after 300 rounds of knockdown texture spraying and repainting, I still wasn’t satisfied. I hate being a perfectionist.
I finally walked away and ignored it for a week.
One day, I finally looked at it again and realized that it looked just perfect (almost). Oh, awesome, I’m done!
Sometimes you just need to WALK AWAY.
I just love how everything looks, with the lights and the mirrors.
We’ve decided to go with the white hex tile! I’ll order samples very soon. And we need to go to Benjamin Moore very soon to select a gray for the bathroom cabinets… I love picking out paint colors.
And I think it’s funny how you can see a hint of my pregnant belly in the photo above. That’s Sienna, y’all. And she’ll be three weeks old tomorrow…!
Posted on June 21, 2013
On June 11, 2013, our little family of three became a family of four with the addition of our sweet little Sienna Jo!
The birth went great and Sienna is just a perfect, tiny little thing. Here’s what happened that day and the days thereafter, in pictures. (Please excuse the excess water weight on my body and face… ugh.)
Last pregnancy photo – June 10, 2013, the original due date.
Last photo of us as a family of three.
At the hospital! At around 6 AM in the morning.
My nurse, Kimberly, was truly great. I love (most of) the nurses at our hospital.
Hanging out with Janella and waiting for Sienna to come out.
Janella kept herself busy with toy animals and trains.
Sienna is here! 6 pounds, 14 ounces, a tiny girl. She practically dove out of me! Kimberly delivered her, since my doctor didn’t come in time. Oops!
We’ve waited so long to finally meet you, Sienna!
Sienna signing her first word: Mommy! Not really, but doesn’t it look like it? Although, on second thought, it might be a bad sign that she’s sticking out her tongue while signing it. Hmm.
Janella fell in love instantly with her little sister.
Such a sweet little girl baby.
Sienna has a cute little chin cleft and dimples. Two things that Nick and I don’t have. So fascinating to see how genes work…?!
Officially a family of four! Finally going home after two long nights at the hospital. I wanted an early discharge, but Sienna has a different blood type than me and so they wanted to watch for signs of jaundice. There were none, so off to home we went!
Janella carefully supervises as Nick swaddles Sienna.
Dad and his two girls.
Mom and her two girls. Janella enjoyed the wheelchair ride, but I’m not sure Sienna did.
Home sweet home.
P.S. Thanks, mom, for being there for the four of us during this time!! OXOX
Posted on June 11, 2013
Around 19 months ago, Janella was still inside me and I was working hard on her nursery.
I haven’t really shared the whole room with you all. Shame on me. I never quite finished it — there’s a blank wall that we still need to decide what to do with — so that’s why I kept on postponing on sharing it.
It’s time to get over myself and share it with you all, especially before baby #2 arrives… which will happen TOMORROW. Hooray!
Little girl baby #2 will eventually share the room with Janella when she is ready… but for now, it’s still Janella’s room. I wanted to document it as it is today before we change some things to accommodate baby #2.
This is my favorite corner in the room.
The book ledges are from IKEA and the elephant is from Costco. We got the sweet map from Gilt and it has a heart on Janella’s birthplace, Austin.
I put in the daybed because I thought I would be “sleeping” there during sleepless nights with a newborn. But we just took Janella into our room instead. The daybed wasn’t really used at all, so I wouldn’t recommend it for a nursery. However, it will probably become Janella’s future big girl bed. I really, really need to paint it.
The map was an unplanned purchase. We planned to DIY a giant map to put behind Janella’s crib, but we never got around to it. Nick found the cute map on Gilt, but it was smaller than we thought it would be. So, we decided to put it in that spot and it’s actually the perfect place for it. Eventually, I’ll add a light sconce underneath it so Janella can turn it on and read in bed.
The book ledges are my favorite. They make it so easy for Janella to grab books and put them back herself. And they add a lot of color and excitement to that corner!
The elephant is Janella’s FAVORITE. She runs and jumps into it EVERY NIGHT. She actually freaked out like a maniac when we gave it to her on her 1st birthday.
This corner is pretty sweet too. There’s the tissue paper ball that I made with a paper lantern, another roller shade with ribbon, and the fun orange closet that I caulked and painted while hugely pregnant. A soft armchair and an ottoman rounds out the area.
I love the tissue-covered paper lantern. It fills out the space nicely and when Janella was younger, she loved looking up at it. The chair is not really a necessary item to have in a nursery, but it was nice having a place to sit during these nights when Janella just wanted to cling on one of her parents after a late night wake-up.
I really enjoy having the curtain divide the closet from the room instead of a door, but our two cats are idiots. Actually, they’re not idiots, they’re just natural hunters. Since they’re indoor cats, they hunt baby shoes instead of birds and lizards. It gets old finding baby shoes on the first floor.
Cats, we can’t eat baby shoes. You can’t, either. STOP HUNTING THEM.
Otherwise, the closet is great. We’ll add a second rod sometime down the road so we can hang up more clothes. Some people scoff at hanging up baby clothes, but I love doing it. It’s so much easier than folding and you get less wrinkles.
Now, this is the space that is the most unfinished in this room. The crib is fine, but the crib skirt needs to be re-hemmed or adjusted in some way since we lowered the mattress.
We got three giant canvases and planned to paint a map for that wall, but now that we already have one in the room, we can’t think of what to paint on these canvases. We’ll come up with something. Maybe just a stencil on the wall will suffice?
For now, a cute banner from my baby shower fills out the space (my sweet friend Rachel made it!) along with the adorable bird mobile that my mom made.
The camera battery died before I could photograph this part of the room when I was taking pictures of it, but here’s an old picture of the teal dresser and the DIY animal art. This area still looks basically the same.
The teal dresser is a fun element in the room and I love it so much. It needs some touch-ups here and there and I still need to clean up these brass pulls, but the dresser holds so much clothes and gives me a lot of counter space for all the BABY STUFF. I don’t change Janella on the changing pad anymore — we change her on the floor — but I’m leaving it there for baby #2. Using a dresser instead of a separate changing table is one of the best decisions we’ve made for the room.
The animal DIY art was a BIG BIG hit with Janella. When she was younger, around 9-11 months old, I would tell her the signs for all the animals and point to them. When she started to sign, she could sign the words for all the animals and would point to the right photo when I said “Where is the…” At 19 months, she has outgrown these animals and I would swap them out with new animals or art, but I’m going to leave them there for the next baby! In short, animals + nursery = lots of fun learning for baby.
There’s no glider in this room… GASP. We have one in the living room (handed down to us by a sweet friend, Barb) that we used constantly for a few months. We considered moving it to the nursery, but rocking a baby to sleep is BORING and I needed to watch something on TV while rocking to keep me sane. Plus, we realized that Janella was getting addicted to being rocked to sleep so we stopped doing it and today she goes to sleep pretty well without any rocking whatsoever. Whew.
There are still a few things I want to add to the room. I would love a mirror of some kind at a low area so that Janella and her sister can make faces at themselves whenever they want. We need to put up a few cute hooks to hang up wet towels after nightly baths and to hold headbands. And in a few months, we’ll need to get a second crib in there, unless Janella transitions to the day bed before baby #2 is ready for the crib. I doubt that’ll happen, though.
I’ve logged a lot of hours in that room. Lots of putting away of clothes, of changing diapers, of GOOD MORNING BABY HI HI HI, lots of bedtime stories, lots of playing with socks and headbands, lots of weekly photos, and lots of hugs and kisses. It’s absolutely my favorite room of the house. It’s colorful, full of life, and totally Janella. I know she loves the room as much as I do.
I can only hope that baby girl #2 will love it as well!
Tomorrow… our family expands!
Updated on May 28, 2013
I was so excited about finding the perfect tile for our master bathroom, as well as our other two bathrooms (the green bathroom and the first floor bathroom).
But my excitement has been replaced with stress, frustration, and general bitterness. Ha, just joking, I don’t take tile that seriously. Well, maybe I do.
All this frustration is because of an upgrade that we made when we decided on our options when the house was being built. I remember being crammed in a tiny room with Nick, our relator, an interpreter, and the smiling lady with a long list of upgrade options. The clock was ticking and we had to make a lot of decisions all at once and FAST. Even though Nick and I had already discussed about what we wanted, there were just so many things to think about and to decide on, all in a span of an hour or two.
After that meeting, I was exhausted and worried that we made some wrong choices. I’m happy to say that today we’re just fine with a lot of our picks, but some of them could have been better. For example, I’m happy with the color of siding we went with and the upgrade we made on our bricks, but I hate our front door color. Luckily, some of our choices can be fixed pretty easily (e.g. the front door color), but some others can’t.
Like the cultured marble in our bathrooms.
When our relator recommended that we make the upgrade to marble in our bathrooms, we thought, sure! I mean, marble, isn’t that very desirable and gorgeous? But we didn’t realize that the marble was cultured… and even if the word “cultured” showed up on the papers and the conversation, it would have gone right over our heads anyway. We were young and knew NOTHING about home improvement and decor and all that stuff.
I do like the cultured marble in our bathrooms, since if we didn’t upgrade, we would have laminate countertops and cheap plastic shower walls.
When it comes to replacing our non-upgraded flooring in the bathrooms (they’re all roll-out vinyl fake tiles in beige), I hate hate hate hate hate the cultured marble SO MUCH.
Enough talking. Here’s a picture to show you why I’m grumbling about such a stupid first world problem…
Do you see it?
The cultured marble tub looks PINK next to the pretty white tile. I really like that tile – it looks marble but it’s a porcelain tile. Nice looking and budget-friendly, that’s my kind of combination. But noooo, it doesn’t work with the tub.
We were all set on using these tiles for our other two bathrooms, but I realized that the countertop (also cultured marble) would look weird with the whiter flooring, so I’m back to square one.
Here are some more tile options that we seriously considered…
Really nice, but is it too dark? Especially with our dark purple walls?
Not too dark, a nice gray. This was one of our top contenders. But… is it the ONE?
Almost identical to the previous tile, but this one had a better feel. It feels like leather, almost. Really nice. We almost went with this one, but I’m suddenly unsure. More on this later…
I kind of love the hex tile. However, the higher price tag (around 11 bucks per square feet) and more complicated installation made us cross this one off the list. But I’m seriously considering putting it back on the list and putting it at the top…
By itself, this tile is really, really nice. It’s very textured and feels like a natural stone tile and the colors are great. But it doesn’t work with our ultra-textured (knock-down) walls. Too much texture, too busy. Oh, and the cultured marble looks pink here against the white in the tile. Awesome.
We tried out many many tiles. There are two great local tile shops in Austin (Castle Flooring and The Tile Guy) that gave us great service and fun toys for Janella to play with. They took the time to meet with us, answer our questions, and made great recommendations. They gladly gave us sample after sample of tile.
The problem is not the stores, nor their service, nor their tile options.
It’s THIS DAMN CULTURED MARBLE.
I cannot rationalize ripping it out at all. At all. So… What are my real options here?
The leathery gray tile (fourth picture) was our best option, but the price for it is a bit high for a porcelain tile. It’s almost 5 bucks a square foot, but okay. It’s also a new color that we would be introducing to the bathroom. So far, we have white trim and doors, white/cream/pink cultured marble tub and shower enclosure, eggplant purple walls, and white/cream mirrors. Gray flooring would be another color to add to the mix. I like the look of white grout with darker gray tile, so that would be what we would be doing.
Now that I’m talking about this, I think it’s a fine options. What am I worried about? Nothing, except for the possibility that it’ll just look terrible.
White hex tile, on the other hand, is just so, so, so pretty. It would be white, which goes perfectly with the trim and the doors, so it wouldn’t be another color to introduce to the bathroom. White flooring might go just fine with the cultured marble, since white is… white. But will it? Or will it just make the cultured marble look darker? I’m not even sure.
The best price I found online for hex tile is around 5.79 per square feet, which is similar to the gray tile. So, price is really not a consideration here.
Finally, will hex tile be a pain in the neck to install ourselves? I am very afraid. We like the two-inch hex tile, which might make it just a tiny bit easier to install than the one-inch hex tile version… or am I just fooling myself? We have no experience with laying tile, by the way.
There’s ONE more thing to consider in all of this. The bathroom cabinets. Right now, they’re stained brown. I am already planning on painting them – but what color? We’ll probably paint them a white that’s complimentary with the cultured marble if we go with the gray flooring. If we go with white flooring, the cabinets will go a soft gray.
Whew. That’s a lot of words for some stupid tile. We aren’t going to buy the tile any time soon because we want to tackle some other projects first, but this decision is really bugging me.
Do you have any insight, opinions, or advice on this? Please share! I think about this issue every time I go into the bathroom and it’s annoying me… I love the bathroom so much so far and I don’t want to ruin it with badly chosen tile!
By the way – baby #2 is due in three weeks! MUCH more exciting than tile, right?
Posted on December 13, 2012
Did you know Janella is now one year old? Actually, since I’m really behind with sharing our happy news, she’s closer to 14 months. Craziness.
But look up at the art above her. I made that for her birthday party, which had a polka-dot theme. We’ve needed something on that wall for a while now and this was just a fun project to do… and it achieved two goals: 1. More polka-dot decor for the party and 2. Jazz up a weird extended wall in the living room. Mission accomplished.
First, a warning. I took these pictures at nighttime, since I only could work on this when Janella was down for the night. And I only took pictures of the first few steps, because the rest of it is pretty much the same thing and you don’t want to look at the same photos over and over again, right? Right.
I knew I wanted dots but I wasn’t sure at first how to create them. I went to Hobby Lobby to pick up a few stuff for the party and grabbed the chance to look for round stencils or round sponges… I found some, but they were too small for what I had in mind.
I decided to grab a sponge (clean one, of course, ew what are you thinking) and cut out a circle. It wasn’t that hard to do.
I only cut out one, but you might want to cut out a few so you don’t have to rinse them out after every paint color. I didn’t want to do that because I didn’t want different sized circles and I didn’t want to
kill waste any more sponges.
I gathered my acrylic paint stash, which is growing with every project, making me very happy. I knew that I wanted to include teal, pink, and gray, since they were the main colors of Janella’s birthday party. I also decided to add yellow to help it mesh better with the living room.
I started off bold, with dark teal.
It’s important to twist the sponge slowly to make the dots nicely circular and to pull back as you’re twisting, so the paint won’t stick up.
I only did a few teal dots because I knew they would make a strong visual impact. Then I moved on to adding pinks. Dark pink right out of the bottle, and then lighter shades by mixing pink with white.
And that’s where the photos end.
I kept on adding and adding dots in varying shades of gray, teal, and yellow. The little touches of pink were enough so I didn’t add any more after the first round. It took several nights of adding dots to fill up the whole canvas. I also decided to add a little more teal later on to make it even bolder but I’m glad I didn’t add any more pink.
Finally, the canvas was all filled and ready for the party! Just before the party began, we took a few photos of Janella playing with all the balloons on a table underneath the dots art. Here’s a photo that shows the whole canvas.
I had fun with this project and did it with no fear because I knew I could just paint it over easily (just like I did with this older canvas) if it didn’t look good. Right now, it looks great and we’ll leave it there until we find some real art that we fall in love with and shell out big bucks for.
I think I’m done with DIY art for now… I need NEED to make some real progress around the house!! There are a couple big projects that have been put on the backburner when I was sick, so it’s time to finally tackle them and check them off the list, FINALLY.
Nick, are you in? You have to be, you’re married to me. #sorrynotsorry
Updated on December 12, 2012
Yay! This is partly the reason why I’ve been MIA for so long. The first trimester is always an ugh experience. BUT I also got a nasty case of walking pneumonia which really knocked me off my feet and I was really sick for three long weeks. Last week I was slowly recovering, and I finally felt totally like myself again only yesterday. So glad that’s over!
Now, I’d like to discuss how we pulled off the family photo you see above. If you have a small kid or several kids, you know how hard family photos can be. For example, here’s one of our attempts at a family photo during Halloween:
We did manage to get a good photo after around 10 attempts, but I didn’t want to do that for our baby announcement since Janella would be seated on a chair with no supports. I wouldn’t be able to sit and smile while worrying whether (or when) my active little girl would jump/fall off the chair.
So, we took a series of photos and photoshopped (actually, photo-element-ed) them all together to make one perfect family photo!
It was pretty easy to do… with great results. All you need is a camera with a timer. Just don’t move the camera at all and the photoshopping will turn out great. I will definitely keep this trick in mind for future family photos!
Be back tomorrow with another DIY art project. Yes, I’m back… For real!! xo
And did you notice the new blog design? Love it – but as a result, there are some problems with photo sizes and weird links around here. I’m working on it!