General Mom

Mom-of-5, building a home in California, step by step, with Faith and Feistiness ~ by General Mom Contractor

My Inspiration Corner

I was tagged on Instagram (IG) this week to post a picture in my home that inspires me.

Definitely my bathroom vanity nook inspires me. It’s a peaceful place where creativity and reflection occur. I love the natural light that comes through the closet and through the balcony French doors.

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We still have some floating shelves to install on the right and a little base moulding. Then the master bath is near complete. The cabinets are custom made from my drawings out of solid rock maple and stained. They are two huge drawers built in a “U” shape to go around the plumbing. A makeup drawer is hidden on the right. Cabinet hardware is Ikea. Countertops are Snow White solid surface. These were remnants I found from an Apple headquarters remodel job! Faucet and sink are Toto. Mirrors are Joss & Main and TJ Maxx. Tile is from Porcelanosa made in Spain. Paint is Rice Grain from Sherwin Williams. More pictures of the bath to follow!

Stay tuned by putting your email at the bottom to get posts emailed! Feel free to ask questions too. I love chatting house talk.

The Walnut “Continent”

I almost gave up on the idea of a walnut countertop for the island. We lovingly call it a continent since it’s so massive 78″ x 103″. It took me 7+ months to make it happen! Perseverance during a stressful time is so hard but God was the source of strength! I couldn’t come up with that kind of strength, sanity and solutions on my own.

The walnut countertop all started with an inspiration on Houzz of a white kitchen with a dark wood island top that warmed up the space. It fulfilled my big idea of having a unique work of art and it would be warm to the touch when you are having long coffee chats.

Then the search for material and a craftsman began. I found several online companies who make and ship wood tops. I quickly was overwhelmed to the vastness of materials, thickness, widths of boards, edge details, finishes, and prices. Put your head in your hands kind of amount of information!

Online was still a viable option. At the end of the day, I always try to find local options, if possible. We started with our cabinet maker who couldn’t get walnut in our budget and instead sourced Rock Maple that he was going to stain. He started gluing it up and the boards began twisting and warping because of the length and width. He wasn’t comfortable moving forward with the project and politely bowed out. Ok, back to the drawing board!

Back to online. Now I’m worried about shipping a top that big and during transit could look like Jenga by the time it arrived.

Back to Craigslist? Since I bought all our appliances and tile on Craigslist maybe, just maybe something will turn into a lead for the island. As I type this, I realize why the hubs shakes his head at me and then he’s totally amazed when I pull it off. He knows it’s a miracle because it makes no sense! So I searched “wood counter” “walnut” and up popped an ad for walnut slabs nearby. What? I know!

So, I drove up the next day and saw amazing, huge slabs of walnut. Not in my budget. I was wandering around asking lots of questions and in awe of the massive tree slabs I was looking at! I showed the owner my inspiration photo to which he showed me the walnut planks that get glued up. I think I heard angels singing! This is it!

I knew it was perfect but now to find someone who can do the execution to build and finish it. I asked for any referrals and they sent me to Norman Windrose of Windrose Fine Furniture. It took me some time to go to his shop, look at his FB pictures of work, get referrals, etc. By this time 5 months have ticked by and I was totally tired of my cardboard countertop with white table clothes! Time to press on!!

Norm specializes in fine furniture, slab countertops and tables. This would be the biggest top he’s done but he was fearless and confident in his craft. So we engaged him and I ordered 160 board feet of 3″ American Walnut planks 12-14″ wide, S4S meaning milled on all four sides and very few knots. The hubs scoured the internet for the biggest router bit he could find on the internet. We went with a Roman Medium Ogee which is gorgeous!

Now on to the photos!! This is the top being delivered.

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Me helping since it was about 400 pounds…

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And here she is all warm and inviting…

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Some close ups… We chose an oil finish, articulating faucet and a granite composite Blanco sink that will be used for washing my commercial size pans.

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A close up of the hand carved 90 degrees angles that just can’t be routered! It took Norman one full day to do the four corners (8 90’s). He also had to go around 8 times with the router going down a little “bit” at a time.

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So glad we persevered through the end! So very happy and thankful for the end result! Now time for some coffee!!

Stay tuned by putting your email at the bottom to get posts emailed! Feel free to ask questions too. I love chatting house talk.

Laundry Room Innovation

We have laundry insanity. Our major weakness is putting dried, folded clothes in baskets and then not putting them away. Baskets of clean clothes everywhere! I racked my brain how to solve this design problem! No more baskets!

Here is the top view of the blueprints so you can see the concept. I basically jack-n-jill’d the bathroom and the laundry room between two bedrooms. Two boys in the right bedroom and two girls on the left. Notice that instead of walls in the laundry I put sliding doors which expose the back of the children’s closets. Therefore, we can take clothes from the dryer and hang them in the closets or put them on the shelves right away!

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Here is my hubby putting the towers in. You can see the bedroom in the background with those doors open.

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Hanging up clothes and finally get organized!

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All done! Open the dryer and put the clothes away. So very glad to have this laundry solution in place! Maybe it will help you!

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House Building Requires Weakness

In order to enjoy house building, you have to understand and embrace your current home’s weaknesses. Meaning, whatever is “broken” in your current home whether that be lack of functioning space or poor design, make a list and design your home to fix these problems! Certainly you will need to depend on God’s grace for the new weaknesses that arise and the personalities to match.

I am a 20 year veteran recruiter. I’ve asked, heard and rehearsed my own responses to, “So, tell me your strengths and weaknesses.” The trick is knowing your weakness in an interview and spinning it into a strength! Same for house building!

Kitchen Weaknesses
With a growing family of 7, I cook with industrial sized kitchen pans and have to plate 7 dishes three times a day. So one of my weaknesses is clearly space in the kitchen. I need a large cooking surface and plating area/ serving spaces. The 1500 sq ft. rental we were in for a year and a half emphasized how great of a need it is to get the new kitchen space correct.

I designed a large 48″ range and counter space on both sides of it. I can plate the dishes and my food runners (i.e. 5 children) can set the table. Problem solved. The picture shows my baking weakness/ strength on the left with a pantry with pocket doors. My mixer, blender, toaster are hiding behind the pretty doors!

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I also put three large sinks in my kitchen! Hubs objected and snickered for months, but, the weakness showed itself at our rental and I had solid proof that my new system would be optimal!

Sink #1 , the main sink, under the kitchen window with the view from God!

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Sink #2 , the island sink for huge pots and pans. My rental kitchen sink looked like a pan graveyard overflowing with soaking pans and lids. You can’t even rinse dinner dishes it’s so daunting! Right behind my new cooking area is this island sink which is dark brown, 33″ Granite composite.

IMG_8233.JPGSink #3 is our beverage and snack station sink. It’s a 24″ Granite composite Blanco white sink. It is perfect for the espresso machine, wine fridge, lunch making area and kids fruit basket area. Problems solved.

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The battle of dirty dishes, clean dishes, and arguing to put dishes away was huge. The main sink, is for rinsing dishes and houses a cute metal basket hiding children’s cups to be reused. I put a dishwashers on either side of the main sink for this weakness….dirty dishes/ clean dishes/ putting away dishes nightmare. We go through an entire place setting at every meal. Since we homeschool, we go through 21 dishes and silverware and cups a day. So the crazy cycle was creating strife and I’m solved it with one clean dishwasher, one dirty dishwasher. Rarely putting away dishes. Just go and get the clean dishes out all day. Use them and put them in the empty dishwasher. Run it at night and that’s the new clean dishwasher. It’s genius!

So many more weaknesses that are now strengths that I want to tell you but then this would become a novel! I’ll show my laundry room weakness turned strength soon! Stay tuned by putting your email at the bottom to get posts emailed! Feel free to ask questions too. I love chatting house talk.

Plumbing – How to Avoid the Looney Bin

Do you remember the old Kohler ad where the lady puts a faucet on the architect’s desk and says,”Design a house around this?”

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I remember this ad so clearly, like it was a ominous warning from God long ago! Don’t you love the perplexed look on her husband’s face? He nailed it!

Times have changed in the plumbing industry, dramatically. I would recommend beginning the plumbing shopping right after the style of the house is determined. It will seriously take you that long to:
1. Find fixtures that fit within your budget.
2. Determine finish sections for the whole project.
3. Order the valves for the plumbing rough-in so you are not stuck in a back order time delay.
4. Go to fifty million showrooms and box stores who have limited product lines.
5. Come to grips on how you feel about plastic and if you like paying lots of money for it.

As you know, I’m on a budget but plumbing is a tough one to stay on budget without always picturing a leaky faucet in your mind. Our last house, I bought everything from Home Depot and it barely made five years without issues. We installed all of the faucets and showers ourselves and it was a pain with missing plastic components and the operation was faulty.

10 years later, the quality of plumbing is significantly worse at Home Depot and Lowe’s. It’s an isle of plastic with chrome over it. Plastic inside and out is not a good combo for longevity. Who are these manufacturers kidding?

Even Hansgrohe/Grohe have jumped on the plastic bandwagon. They have an excellent brand reputation and now they are charging a ton of money for cheap plastic trim pieces. They still make a great faucet. But if you want the matching line for the shower, you get plastic shower trim and heads. Get ready to tap your fingernails on everything!

I refuse to pay a lot of money for plastic or even half plastic/half decent quality. So after much stressful deliberation, lack of time, quality for the money, I’m going with Toto and a hint of California Faucets and Kohler. I don’t have the budget, but love the quality of Rohl, Lefroy Brooks, Graff and more.

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So, if you will be remodeling or building, remember the brilliant lady in the video. Get on the plumbing fixtures ASAP. Then you can take your time using my previous tips on saving money on the internet!
~ Regards from the looney bin,
General Mom

“Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.” Ephesians 6:10

Let the Iron Work Begin

Finding the right people to hire is the absolute most difficult and critical part of building a home. It requires talking to many people in the same trade, seeing their work and checking references.

One of the most visual impacting pieces of our project is the iron work. The front door is a full 9′ radius iron and glass door. I researched to the moon and back on this one and it boiled down to a door made in China or handcrafted. Cost was similar but quality was significantly different. So we opted for handcrafted. I interviewed several (10) local iron craftsman and finally settled on Silva’s Artistic Iron Work. He makes everything by hand. Truly a work of art!

We were referred by friends who has his amazing work in their house. I have been to his shop over the past 6 months and have seen him in action. Simply amazing! We also visited a home to see his work recently installed. So the homework is exhausting but will alleviate future headaches.

Silva started on the front door and he sent me this photo of our door being made in his shop! Super duper excited!

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Our covered porch has a radius that mimics the front door.

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It should look similar to this.

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After he completes the door, he will work on the banister. It’s a ton of work but will be a piece of art!

Black Friday to Cyber Monday Tips to Save Money

This is the first Cyber Monday that this, Mom-of-5 kids, was prepared to shop online with new money saving skills. I’ve outlined the detailed steps below to save 5-10% below the advertised sale price!

Step 1: Research what you really want, can afford and most importantly if it will fit in your space in advance of a sale.  Research different brands by going to the store and writing down what you do and don’t like.  Be sure to read all the specs on line and measure to see if it fits. It pays off when you finally find a sale.

Step 2: Register for all the major cash back sites in advance. It’s free! These offer the best selection of stores:
Ebates
Big Crumbs
Fat Wallet
Be aware that they rotate stores and how much cash back they offer. It’s kind of like the stock market and the percentages fluctuate. Once you know what you want you can search by appliances, toys, boots etc. Then you will see what stores like Sears, Home Depot are offering for cash back. Normally they offer anywhere from 1% to 10% (percentages double for Cyber Monday). Go for the highest cash back!

Step three: Go to the website directly you want to purchase from, Sears for example, to create an account and sign in. Otherwise, you have to do it when purchasing and this makes you feel like you won’t get that cash back with too many steps. Also, sign up for credit cards of those big stores in advance since, on big sale days they give extra savings of points or free financing.  At the least, make sure your credit limit is enough for your purchases when you are ready.

Step four: Close all web pages even if there is stuff in your cart. It remembers you when you come back in the next step.

Step five: Figure out which top three cash back sites are offering the biggest percentages and then click through that link to “shop and buy”.  That link takes you to directly to Sears for example. If you look up at the URL it sometimes says “ref” that means it got your referral site. So Sears will report your cash back at the end of the transaction or report which may take days.  I have received $$ back in my cash back account/paypal within a few days. Some are faster than others. But be smart, keep notes of how much your order was and which cash back sites owe you and what percentage too!

Step six: Use those retailer credit cards for extra discounts during checkout.

Step seven:  There are discount codes that sometimes work for free shipping or for first time buyers. Beware that you need the code during research time to cut and paste. Because you do not want to click through a site like Retailmenot or you will lose the tracking process of the cash back site.

Step eight: Some products have rebates which need your online receipt and postmarked by certain dates.

See, you can do this!! Are you exhausted or excited to save money on your next purchase??

Breakdown of my Cyber Monday Cost Savings:  I found a Bosch Dishwasher that our whole family agreed upon at a local store.  I searched all the box stores to see what deals they offered today.  I have been following a e-tailer in Missouri called Goedeker’s for a year with no tax and no shipping and they had a sale on this Bosch. The model was MSRP $1099, the box stores price $999 today.  My e-tailer had it on sale for a $100 less than that.  Making it $829 no shipping, no tax.  They had a $50 rebate form and I got 2% cash back from my entry cash back site. Our local electric company PG&E is offering an energy rebate of $50 as well.  So for $700 I got one of the top of the line Bosch dishwashers!

Have any savvy savings tips? Please share with us!

Tips on Designing a Home

Surprisingly, designs on paper are sometimes very different than what it becomes in reality. Most people say that they can’t “picture” how it will look. I have a few tips to help minimize the surprise and expense from design to reality.

Since I’m on a nail-biting budget, the structure of the house needs to be designed right the first time because change orders are super expensive and cause delays. Here are some practical tips to get what you want, get what you need and most importantly, you aren’t surprised when it’s too late.

1. Plan for the future. Try your best to think ahead to future lifestyle. That may include more children, bigger children, elderly parents or retirement. Make a list and scrub your plans with that list in hand. We designed our first house with one toddler in tow. We never imagined five children, so we outgrew that house quickly. At the very least, we could have designed the kids bedrooms to accommodate bunk beds for future kids! Thankfully, in the shared bathroom, we designed a door between the toilet and sinks. When it’s bedtime…that is essential! So we kept these lessons in mind and implemented them into the current design.

2. Take an inventory of what drives you crazy at your current house or past houses. Mine include overlapping doors or doors that you have to close one to open another, not enough closet or pantry space, outlets in the wrong places, and narrow walking paths.

3. Pick your favorite rooms and take note of the size of the room and give that to your designer. For instance, 5 x 9 is my favorite size for a private bathroom with a tub. 12 x 12 is my favorite minimum bedroom size for two children. You may want to visit some model homes and bring a tape measure! Beware of those tricky decorators that somehow make a 9 x 9 bedroom look big with a twin and one dresser!

4. Get some blue painter’s tape and lay out room sizes on your floor. With 7 bodies in our house, I love a 4 foot max – 42″ minimum walking path, since I always have someone following and tugging on me.

5. Make cut outs of your furniture to the scale of your design. Place them on the drawings and make sure you cut out a segment to allow for your favorite or minimum walking path. This will ensure the flow is good. If the piano doesn’t fit on the drawing now, it won’t in reality. You don’t want to be surprised at how uncomfortable you feel when it’s all framed!

I haven’t been too surprised during first floor framing, since I have scrubbed every inch of the plan. The second floor may be a bit surprising, since I have an “innovative” laundry room plan. I’ll take picture when it’s finished at the end of the week. I hope I’m right and it’s genius! If not, I will be annoyed at how small it is. The master closet may be a foot too small (yes you should know what bothers you) and I may have too much room around the tub. So we will see if I will be moving a wall back to accommodate. My framer is alerted to this possibility. As soon as the perimeter is framed, then I will remeasure and adjust it. Pulling an interior wall in 6″-1′ is not creating more work in this instance, so there is no change order needed.

One HUGE surprise was the foyer on this house. On paper it seemed average in size based on our old house foyer, past neighbors, model homes. But I am shocked at the height! It’s 20 feet high! I just didn’t envision it. Well, it’s dramatic to say the least. The foyer doubles as a music conservatory. Our piano is nestled under the staircase. I have a romantic notion of the children having recitals with our family watching in the foyer. A Juliet balcony extends over the foyer for a trio or viewing area. It will marvelous. Even seasoned owner builders like us are still surprised and thankfully in a good way!

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Second Floor Framing

The last stair was nailed and I got to climb up to our new second floor. I just put my hand over my heart and the view took my breath away.

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That is the view from the kids bedroom and our master bedroom is to the right of the scaffolding. This is the balcony looking over to the front door and front stairs.

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Framing the second story begins tomorrow and the lumber was delivered today. We still have water, electric and septic to trench before it rains. We should have our roof on in 4 weeks but I’m shooting for 3.5 weeks. Windows will be delivered December 2! I had last minute final decisions that had to be made about door heights, closet heights, pocket doors and newly found usable space. Never a dull moment when building a home!

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First Floor, Stucco and Custom Cabinets

And there we have it…a first floor! Woohoo! The opening on the right of the front cement stoop is where our staircase will be. That will be framed when scaffolding arrives on Monday. Since it’s over 20 feet tall in the foyer, there isn’t a way to stack it without the scaffolding.

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I finalized our stucco contract today. Stucco is a type of exterior finish that leaves a brick and siding kind of girl spinning. Stucco is essentially a mixture of cement, sand and water. There are fifty million options for finish and trims that this General Mom has to decide on, quickly. So I selected a light sand finish with a color coat mixed into the stucco. I am having the trim made locally out of casted concrete which looks like limestone. This will give it a nice Mediterranean look.

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My cabinet maker stopped by today to measure the kitchen. I literally was so focused on our discussion of ideas, that we both didn’t notice the framers were putting a huge 400 pound beam over our heads! He will get shop drawings together and then it will take several months for him to make the cabinets. So exciting! I can’t wait until you see the secret pantry door!

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Don’t let my framers kid you…they love all the photos I take of them! I’m like paparazzi following them around taking pictures.

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