Stair Remodel

Stair Remodel

In my post about our dining room, I mentioned that we had made a list of things that needed to be done to our house when we bought it two years ago: stairs, windows, kitchen, yard. We were finally in the position to start tackling that list – partially out of financial readiness, partially out of an urgency that comes with a newly mobile baby.

Tied for first place on that list was stair railing and our windows.

Our house was built in 1979 and both the stair railing and windows were original. When we bought the house, the stair risers were carpeted and open – Brady Bunch style. Before we moved in, our flooring contractor enclosed them when he was putting in the wood floors.

Image from the Redfin listing
Stairs when we bought the house.

The railing was iron and wobbly. It looked dated. The balusters were so far apart that a small child (or animal) could easily fit through them.

Stairs from front door
Before shot of the stairs

My husband rigged it with mesh and rope to make it safe for the time being but after two years, I had had enough of his decor.


Before view from upstairs
View of my husband’s handy work. Safety first.

I did the usual scouring of Pinterest and Houzz to find examples of what I wanted. My style is more traditional than it is modern or trendy. I wanted something more craftsman than midcentury for this project.

Finding a Contractor

Where do you even start to find someone who does stair railings? I started with the free local home magazines that we get from time to time. They had a few companies advertised that specialized in this work. And I did a google search. Experts will recommend that you get three bids for any project and I completely agree. I’ve found that you’ll always get one that’s way out there with their price and then two that are comparable. Then it’s a matter of who you trust more to do the work.

That’s been true for most of the updates that we’ve done to this house and this time was no different. All the contractors that I spoke with were in the same ballpark as far as price. The job went to the person I felt most comfortable with getting the job done right. He came to the appointment prepared, was knowledgable about the work and had samples with him of past jobs and materials that would be used.

The Work

Once the contract was signed, we had to wait for some space in their schedule. Of course, the first available time they had was exactly when I had the windows being replaced so we had to push out an additional week so that the two projects didn’t over lap. I don’t think it would have been and issue if we didn’t have two large picture windows right above the stairs.

Before view of picture windows
Before: Upstair picture windows

The company I used, Kleinsmith Stair and Trim, had the whole process down to a science. The first carpenter came and took out the old stair railing and put in the new wood posts and railings. This process took two days.

Demo just beginning
Goodbye 1979
Safety first
End of Day 2

The second phase was the staining. They knocked that out in one day. The third was a finishing carpenter who installed all the balusters and finishing pieces.

Finishing work on the stairs
Baluster install

I have to say that beyond some amazing craftsmanship, they were all wonderful people. Super friendly and respectful of our home. They were all incredibly talented.

This post contains some affiliate links – meaning if you click through the links and buy anything, the retailer will pay me a small commission at no additional cost to you! I never link to anything that I haven’t actually used. 


I knew that this space wouldn’t look finished until I changed out the light fixtures also. While they had been updated at some point, they still didn’t fit my style.

Free lights
Old light fixtures

I found this foyer light and this chandelier at Joss and Main. The upstairs hallway light was updated with a flush mount light from Home Depot.

The finished product

New stairway
Finished stairs

Going into this project, I knew that it would make a huge difference. We did it out of necessity but knew it would ultimately increase our home’s value. I was surprised with how much of an impact this made.

Bottom stair view
Love how the new stain works with our wood floors
Top of the stairs
New flush mount light

Not only does it look incredible but it really has changed the entire way this house feels: updated, contemporary, safe and warm. The investment was worth every penny.

View from upstairs
New windows, new lights, new railing
Landing lighting
Globe chandalier
New entry light
Foyer lighting


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Hand Foot Mouth Disease

A preschooler right of passage.

Sure I’ve heard of Hand Foot Mouth Disease but naively, I didn’t think any of us would get it.

No one at school had it. Didn’t hear of anyone at our dance studio with it either. So when our oldest had a fever one Sunday morning, I didn’t even think that could be it. But it was.

Big Nugget had just started back at school on Sept 1st. The new school year runny nose promptly showed up the next week. I had come home from the gym one Sunday morning and she had a 101 degree fever and just wanted to lay around and watch tv. She mentioned that her throat hurt so I thought maybe this cold was turning into something a little more intense. I gave her some Motrin and within an hour, she said she was feeling fine and had a lot more energy. So I thought we were out of the woods.

The fever didn’t return at all so Monday she went to school like normal. When I picked her up, she had a small rash on her face. Once again, I chalked it up to a messy face from playing and snack time. Yep, I’m completely oblivious. That night she was extra fussy and resistant to bedtime. She kept walking up every hour crying and saying her feet itched. No amount of lotion would help so I finally gave her some Tylenol and she slept (just in time for the baby to wake up though, lucky me).

Tuesday is cleaning lady day so our plans were to go to swim class and head straight to Legoland. While she was rinsing off after swim class, she showed me the ‘polka dots’ on her hand. Boom. Light Bulb. I asked to see her feet. More polka dots.

It was an instantaneous rush of emotions. Empathy. Panic. Concern. And guilt. Oh, so much guilt.

The itchy feet the night before, the seeming refusal to sleep, was actually my sweet girl in pain. And I didn’t handle it well and now I was near tears as she kept saying, “I’m sorry Mamma”. Ugh.

I told her that we couldn’t go to Legoland, instead we would go to Starbucks and walk at the beach to kill some time. The nurse I spoke with at our Pediatricians office confirmed my suspicion. I called both her swim school and preschool to let them know so they could take the necessary precautions to limit the spread.

Hand Foot Mouth rash
The start of her mouth rash from Hand Foot Mouth disease.

How do you treat Hand Foot Mouth??

HFM is highly contagious. It’s viral so all you can do is let it run it’s course. So for 7 days, I needed to keep her away from her baby sister and any other kids. No sharing of utensils or drinks. Wash hands frequently. Treat the symptoms with over the counter medicine. And to sanitize everything I could.

I was determined to keep this isolated just to her and not let it spread to the baby – if it wasn’t too late. All the plush toys were put into the wash machine on sanitize cycle. All the wood and plastic toys were soaked in scalding hot water with vinegar. Everything was wiped down with Clorox with bleach and we switched from Meyers kitchen cleaner to Clorox with bleach. My eco instinct when out the window when I was faced with the possibility of this spreading – two weeks before a big family trip to Disneyland.

Big Nugget got to eat loads of popsicles, pasta, avocado and a handful of trips to Menchies for froyo. We eat fairly clean and don’t keep sugary drinks in the house. She’s never even liked fruit juice. The novelty of a Gatorade was super helpful when I was desperate to keep her hydrated.

Anything frozen and bland when you have Hand Foot Mouth
It hurts to eat anything with Hand Foot Mouth disease. Menchies to the rescue.

A few things that helped us – RinseAid, Benadryl (we used dye free but warning, it tastes horrible) and Aveeno Anti-Itch cream. I threw my screen time limits out the window and we watched of few of my favorite Disney movies in preparation for our trip. We did a few outings but made sure that she stayed confined to her stroller seat and didn’t touch anything. She had such a good attitude and didn’t even put up a fight when we went to her favorite mall and she couldn’t ride the rides. I was so proud of her. She made the week home as easy as possible. Extra screen time and lots of popsicles played a huge role in that.

Distractions are key to dealing with Hand Foot Mouth.
Moana necklace, screen time and mommy snuggles makes Hand Foot Mouth bearable.

So far, everyone else is in the clear. Big Nugget is feeling better and back to school today. I’m looking forward to getting back to my normal routine of preschool pick ups and keeping the Little Nugget from eating all the dog food. Knocking on wood that it stays that way.

How to do the San Diego Zoo with kids

I’m a child of the 80’s and I used to love to watch Johnny Carson, especially on the nights when Joan Embry from the San Diego Zoo would come on (this is a great montage). It always seemed like a magical place to me. Once I moved to San Diego and got a chance to go to the zoo, I wasn’t disappointed. I was struck by their message of conservation and education. They do such a fantastic job bringing you close to the animals. Once we had Big Nugget, we became zoo members.

San Diego Zoo

San Diego Zoo

This was the first year that we had the chance to go to the special donor breakfast and animal encounter. The breakfast was disappointing and not very family-friendly – fruit salad, yogurts, and some pastries plus they ran out of seats. However, the animal encounter made up for what the breakfast lacked. My girls were fascinated and for a little girl who wants to be a zookeeper when she grows up, it was the highlight of her year.

The zoo is nestled in the middle of historic Balboa Park, essentially in downtown San Diego. When you are in the zoo, you would never know it. Once in awhile, you do get a glimpse of the outside world and you can hear the bell tower chime every 15 minutes. We haven’t done the Skyfair Aerial Tram yet but I promised Big Nugget that we would do it next time. One of the joys of being members, you don’t have to cram everything into one day.


There are always volunteers or zookeepers out to answer any of your questions at various parts of the park. My Big Nugget has always said that she wants to be a zookeeper so she loved getting a peak into some of the work that goes into taking care of the animals. This zookeeper is getting breakfast ready for the koala’s.


The zoo is dauntingly hilly in parts and when you have two kids in a double stroller, you learn the routes of least resistance. This visit, I was thankful to have my husband with us to do the grunt work but I’ve done this day alone and regretted some navigational decisions. I always start by going right from the entrance. First stop, see the koala/giraffe/rhino loop. Then head to the Elephant Odyssey and up the hill to the polar bears. We then head to the new Africa Rocks exhibit, I love the new penguins. Finish that loop with the famous pandas – a can’t miss. Once you are back in the front of the zoo, we go to the hippos and then around to the monkey trail. Going this route, you avoid going UP this hill.


You get so close to the animals and can experience them with all your senses if you know what I mean. You can smell the rhinos from a block away. My Big Nugget likes to bring her binoculars but there really is no need.


Take your time, talk to the experts they have around the zoo and enjoy watching these animals up close.

San Diego Zoo Safari Park

If you love the San Diego Zoo, then you will love their sister property, the Safari Park. Personally, I prefer it over the Balboa Park location for a number of reasons. Either way, you are spending a day learning and basking in the glow of some amazing animals.

Other Things to do in Balboa Park

Balboa Park is such a beautiful place. If you are spending time in downtown San Diego then I highly recommend walking this gem and checking out some of the museums. We love going down to the Natural History Museum and spending time in their Backyard Exhibit. It’s perfect for toddlers and preschoolers.

Dining Room Makeover

Dining Room Makeover

When we moved into this house two years ago, we made a list of projects that we wanted to tackle that were necessary – flooring, windows, bringing the stair rail up to code, etc, etc. The dining room was nowhere on that list. At least until our master bathroom developed a hidden slow leak and flooded the dining room below it. We had to have a mold abatement team come out with their huge dryers. They tore off half of the ceiling and an entire wall of drywall. I left like we were living in the end of E.T. for weeks.



So the dining room was moved up on our project list. New paint, new lighting, new chairs, and art.

I love bold colors and since this was a stand alone dining room with great light, I wanted to do something dark. The adjoining rooms are blueish gray (Sherwin Williams Gray Sheen) so I used the navy that was in that color family (Sherwin Williams Salty Dog).


My Duncan Phyfe table and buffet that was handed down to me from my Grandmother. I had no intention of replacing  them but the chairs were added to the set in the 80’s by my Dad and had to go. I wanted something that could withstand meals with kids, be wiped down easily, didn’t break my bank and gave a pop of color against the dark walls. These shaker white wood chairs are from Target.


The watercolor prints were done by my husband’s great aunt. She’s 93 (!!!) and did these to document a safari that she went on in 1963. They were a part of a book that she did of her adventure that she gave out to the family. I love the art but also really love the family significance. The gold frames from Aaron Brothers make the art pop against the dark wall.


Big Nugget’s preschool is a Reggio Emilia school (I wrote a bit about it here) and there is a lot of artwork that is sent home. A. LOT. Almost all of it, I load into my Artkive app. Most of it I keep in a scrapbooking box. Some of it I toss – don’t tell. But some of them I love having framed around the house. This spot in the dining room faces the front door so it’s a nice way to welcome people into our home.


Now that this room is done, I’m looking forward to more family meals around the table.

dining room


Vollmer Chili

Our family chili recipe is one of my go-to recipes for a game day crowd, fall day or chili cook-off.

Football season always makes me want cool weather and comfort food. Living in San Diego, we don’t get cool weather until the end of football season so comfort food will have to do and my family’s chili recipe is my go-to.

Growing up, our house was football central. Uncles and cousins would all come over to watch the Lions each week. Cooking for a big crowd was something my parents perfected. Chili was always a go-to for us since it was easy and my family’s recipe isn’t spicy so everyone would eat it. My Dad was adamant this was the best way to make chili because everyone has a different tolerance for heat. We always put out spices and peppers for people if they wanted to amp up their own bowl. Shredded cheese, onion and fresh bread are perfect condiments.

This post contains some affiliate links – meaning if you click through the links and buy anything, the retailer will pay me a small commission at no additional cost to you!

Now I love to make this recipe because it’s easy to throw together and my somewhat picky 3 year old will eat it. My husband usually loads it up with hot peppers from our garden but I’m happy with a few dashes of cayenne pepper and some yummy bread. This recipe makes quite a bit for our family of four so there are plenty of leftovers for the next day, or your freezer.

I start by chopping up the green peppers and celery. It’s important to keep the dice of each the same size so when you saute them later, they will cook equally.

Make the Chili – Step by Step Guide

Brown the meat, I’m using turkey today but you could use any ground meat, with the onions and garlic. Season the meat with some salt and pepper and chili seasoning. Once that is browned and drained if necessary, transfer to the crockpot.

Melt half a stick of butter in the same pan you browned the meat in, then add in the green peppers and celery. Saute them until the veggies soften and change color. Meanwhile, drain and rinse the beans and add to the crockpot. Add in the crushed tomatoes and Campbell’s tomato soup and the remaining butter. When the veggies are done, add them to the crockpot and stir to combine. Season with  chili powder, cayenne (if using), salt and pepper to taste.

Easy chili recipe for your crockpot. Not spicy, perfect for holidays and game days. #chili

Yes, that is a Detroit Lions crock pot, thanks to my Mom. Let the chili simmer in the crockpot on high for 2 hours or low for 4. My Dad would always make this the day before since he thought everything tasted better the next day but most times I can barely keep my husband out of the crockpot before it’s ready. Doctor it up however you prefer!

Other Crowd-Pleasing Recipes

If you like this kind of easy, comfort food then check other my other recipes:

Easy chili recipe for your crockpot. Not spicy, perfect for holidays and game days. #chili
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Vollmer Chili

Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 2 hours
Total Time 2 hours 20 minutes
Servings 6
Author Alice Faggi


  • 2 green pepper diced
  • 4 celery stalks diced
  • 1 yellow onion diced
  • 1 lb ground turkey
  • 2 tsp chili powder divided
  • 8 tbsp butter divided
  • 32 oz canned diced tomatoes
  • 16 oz dark kidney beans
  • 16 oz light kidney beans
  • 23 oz Campbells tomato soup family size
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • cayenne pepper to taste


  1. Brown the meat with the onions and garlic. Season the meat with some salt and pepper and chili seasoning. Once that is browned and drained if necessary, transfer to the crockpot.

  2. Melt half a stick of butter in the same pan you browned the meat in, then add in the green peppers and celery. Saute them until the veggies soften and change color.

  3. Rinse and drain the beans. Combine all ingredients in the crock pot and simmer on low for 4 hours or high for 2. 

5 Tips for Preschool Drop Off

5 Tips for Preschool Drop Off

Preschool drop off, I don’t know who was more nervous. However, I just left Big Nugget at preschool and I was so proud (and a little shocked) at how well she did. Frankly, she was so excited to see her teacher and play in her classroom that she barely cared that her dad and I left.

What a difference a few months make because when we started school nine months earlier, it wasn’t so easy. It was new and strange. Scary and intimidating. Our former preschool director gave us some great advice to get us acclimated and make the transition as easy as possible.

We made a list with Big Nugget of what we would do at drop off. The important part here is that you as the parent sticks to the list and even if it doesn’t go as planned, you leave when the list if done. With us, it was fairly simple.

5 Tips for a Smooth Preschool Drop Off

  1. Get signed in
  2. Put your things in your cubbie
  3. Show me what you are excited to do that day (We go to a Reggio Emilia school, lots of art and play in the classroom)
  4. Give me a great big hug and kiss
  5. Walk me to the gate, mom leaves

We were encouraged to come a few weeks early and do a few trial classes. The first one, I stayed the entire time. The second one, I left a little early. The third, I just did what would be a normal drop off and left. This really helped ease her into being there and gave her the confidence that she could do it and that I would always come back to get her.

The first week was a breeze, the second week was a little harder but we stuck to the plan and she adjusted quickly and fairly anxiety free. Now she is thriving in school, adores her teachers (you can see our teacher appreciation craft here) and both of us were VERY excited for the new school year to begin.

Looking for more back to school resources? Check out my list of 10 Back to School Books for Preschoolers


Preschool Drop Off