When I was a teenager, I worked as a lifeguard. It was a great gig, especially since North Carolina summer weather is so volatile. Almost every afternoon, there was thunder and the threat of rain. That meant kicking everyone out of the pool and playing cards with fellow guards while on the clock. Oh yeah.

As an adult trying to stain her deck, that weather has been very annoying in the past month.

Everyday, 30% chance of scattered thunderstorms. Everyday, drought (or an errant three minute downpour.)

Last Wednesday I looked at the forecast. Open skies for SIX DAYS! As soon as Hurricane Arthur got out of town on Thursday, we were set.

Friday, we prepped by cleaning the deck. Before:

After, significantly brighter:

It looks so easy in before and after pictures. But it wasn’t great.

I bought a gallon of no-scrub deck wash that was supposed to cover 300 square feet. Halfway into spraying our 12’x12′ (144 square feet) deck, I realized I was almost out of wash. Ugh! Luckily, it takes four minutes to get from our driveway to Lowe’s. Husband went and picked up another bottle.

So I finished spraying and started rinsing. As I was spraying, I noticed this pulpy, cellulose-like layer peeling off. Hmmmm. When it dried (you can see it best near the bottom of the broom, the white stuff):

And the same happened in places where I walked:

So I ended up sanding the railing and a few spots on the decking. Word of wisdom: bleach-filled deck cleaner will eat. wood. up.

I looked online at product reviews and others had the same issue. Most of the positive reviews were associated with composite decks. Oh well. In the end, we got it clean and ready for stain.

We waited two days for the wood to dry, and on Sunday, started staining. We tackled the hard part first, balusters.

I couldn’t imagine doing this alone. Two people made it so much easier. I’d paint one side, he’d do the other.

Then we’d wipe off the excess.

Rinse and repeat in the hundreds of nooks and crannies.

Our handy helper. (Side note: went for his first peds visit. He gained 10 oz in one week and is in the top percentile for length at 23.25″!)

There are several spots that don’t look great, but my parents, deck staining veterans, assured us that as soon as the sun hit it for a couple of days, any splotches would blend.

Yesterday, I stained the decking in four staining sessions during Charlie naps. I need to move the furniture back today, but Charlie is having one of those needy mornings where he cries as soon as I put him down. So it looks like I’ll have to snuggle him today. Poor me. 🙂

One of the most frequent questions I get: how are your spray painted door knobs holding up? I thought I’d do an update on that project and a few others.

Living Without Paper Towels

Two years ago, we gave up paper towels. Instead, we bought a pack of plain cotton towels to cut down on waste. So how’s it going? Are we still at it?


The cotton towels are so basic. They’re perfect to use at meals and to wipe up little spills. Cleaning them is easy too. They go in our weekly laundry load of whites (an hour long hot cycle with a scoop of oxiclean.) The pack came with 14, which was plenty, but we got another pack in December to make sure we never ran out in a week. We got 14 for $17. Now, it’s only seven going for $21. So yeah, just an FYI – you can probably find them cheaper somewhere else.

As for regular cleaning, we use rags made from old dish towels and t-shirts. I didn’t like the idea of wiping down a bathroom sink with the same towels we use during a meal.

So two years without buying any paper towels? We’ll consider our towel investment a success.

Spray Painted Door Knobs

I did a brief update on this project last year, but I recently got a question about it, so here’s another update!

The interior spray painted door knobs are in great condition. The only nicked paint is on the latch plate in the door frame, from the latch moving across it. It’s so minor, it doesn’t bother us. Someone told us their store-bought bronze latch plates did the same thing and recommended clear bumper pads.

The front door handle is a different story.

It’s not great. Obviously, the lock has had a key jammed in it several times a day for two years. So that makes sense.

But the handle? Boo. Not sure what’s going on there. A huge chip appeared at some point last year (we think moving furniture scraped it) and it’s slowly spread.

I definitely want to repaint these (and coat them with a clear enamel) but I recall installing the lock being a huge pain. So I’m avoiding it for now.

Rustoleum Countertop Transformations

Remember when our kitchen looked like this?

The riskiest project we took on was Rustoleum’s Countertop Transformations. It was a relatively new product and we weren’t sure how it would turn out or if it’d even last.

Good news! They look as good as new. We treat the counters nice – using cutting boards and trivets – so we expected them to stay in good shape. (Full disclosure: this is an old picture. I didn’t take a new one because I didn’t feel like cleaning off the counter!)

One day we’ll invest in new counters, but until then, we’re very happy with this.

No TV In The Bedroom

Last summer we ditched the TV in our bedroom. Instead, we started reading before bed. Definitely a good change. After all, less technology in the bedroom is better for sleep and…other things. Wink wink. (But maybe not?) (Sorry mom)

But it didn’t last. Well. It did. But when Charlie was born, I found myself sitting in bed all morning for feeding sessions. It got boring, and I really wanted to watch the news.

So the TV is back. But only for the morning news (and World Cup action.) It’s still banned at night, to keep the environment lazy and quiet to get us all ready for sleepy time.

It’s summer, which means we’ve been spending a lot of time outside. We’ve done a few things to the backyard, and now we’re starting to flesh out the living space aspect.

So here’s a tour of our terrible, awful backyard. Full of weeds, bald patches, an unstained deck and next to no landscaping!

This spring, Ryan got an itch to build more garden beds. He added two more to our collection.

He’s growing asparagus, basil, tomatoes, cucumbers, cauliflower and black beans. He had snow peas and spinach, but they died during a weeklong 90 degree streak. He also tried onions and peppers, but the peppers didn’t take when he transplanted them and the onions mysteriously disappeared (I blame the birds!). He also tilled a giant 40′ x 10′ stretch for watermelons, cantaloupes and other sprawling fruit.

I love gardening, but given my earlier displaced center of gravity, I haven’t done anything with it this year. It’s truly the husband’s pet project!

You might recall we had also been composting. We stepped up our game with a dedicated compost bin (on the far left of that bottom picture). Ryan built it using cedar fencing. It’s pretty huge! We don’t have any plans to harvest what’s inside. It’s just nice to not fill up our trash can with food scraps.

And here’s the deck now. We haven’t stained it yet (we had to wait since it was new, pressure treated lumber), but we’re teaming with Thompson’s WaterSeal to show off a couple of their great products. We just need the forecast to stop having a 30% chance of scattered thunderstorms every single day!

The table is from Target. Their patio stuff was on clearance and we snagged it for $70. The matching chairs were only available online and went on sale this week, so they’re on the way. The umbrella was a gift from Ryan’s parents.

The Adirondacks are from last summer (I won them at Haven Conference!). The table is another clearance Target find. I grabbed a couple of clearance outdoor lumbar pillows too, but forgot to put them on for the photos.

Moving down, Ryan bought an Acorn grill a few months ago. He absolutely loves it and I love that he shares in some of the cooking! We had it on the deck until we brought the new table home. It’s better down here on the concrete. The deck box is a piece that needs some work. It’s going to get a paint job, perhaps as early as this weekend.

Zooming out a bit, you can see we have a trash can problem. Yuck-o. Needs to be hidden!

So that’s what’s going on. But we have some things to do:

  • Wash and stain the deck
  • Paint the deck box
  • Repair a leak in the gutter
  • Replace floodlight with a sensored floodlight
  • Get a new screen door
  • Add lattice to the base of the deck (and stain it!)
  • Plant a couple of bushes around the deck steps (and add more plants elsewhere – we’d like a couple of fig bushes and some smaller fruit trees)
  • Overseed the yard
  • Build something to hide the trash and recycling bins

This stuff is really just scratching the surface. Adding accessories – lighting, candles, plants, etc. – is really what will make it an enjoyable space.

Eventually, we want to fence in the backyard and lay a patio at the base of the steps. Those are two long term projects though.

I’m hoping to tackle the staining very soon! Just waiting for a two or three day drought.

How have you made your outdoor living space better for the summer?