The Basics of a Walt Disney World Vacation

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Wishes! Over Cinderella’s Castle

Planning a trip to Walt Disney World can be pretty intimidating. I’ll never forget when my husband and I decided to take our first trip. I went to WDW website and clicked on the hotel tab… when over 25 Disney hotels appeared, I was very shocked! But no fear, after some research I was able to plan the most magical trip ever.

And you will, too! Start here, and you can go anywhere.

First things first…

When should you go?

2017 is going to be an excellent time to visit WDW, especially because of the opening of Avatar Land on May 27, 2017! First, you need to decide what time of year is best for you to go. Keep in mind the school calendar and try your best to go during the off-season, especially because the summers in Orlando are BRUTAL and could make or break a trip. We went the first week of December; the parks were quiet and the weather was in the mid-60s.

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Tangled toilets, Magic Kingdom

Staying on Disney Property

Disney vacations are expensive, but if you stay on site, (which I HIGHLY recommend) Disney includes all transportation on property for free, (monorail, boats, buses) and Disney’s Magical Express even picks you up and drops you off from the airport so you don’t even need a rental car! Disney also allows on-site guests to book Fastpass+ 60 days out and provides guests with Extra Magic hours either before or after park opening or closing. Just check their calendar for these days and times. Guests also receive their MagicBands in the mail, free.

If you do decide to go during the Christmas season, make note that Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party is a separate ticketed event only on select evenings, unlike all the ‘free’ or included in a park ticket Christmas events at Disneyland. However, there are many holiday decorations and activities at every park during the holiday season that are included in a park ticket. Epcot is especially special during the holiday offering many different traditions and food offerings from around the world.

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Epcot

Getting there

I always keep an eye out for the lowest airfare through airfarewatchdog.com

You are able to enter your dates, destination, and preferences of travel and they send you emails on low airfare and reduced prices. Just keep in mind the really low fare carriers usually charge crazy extra baggage fees, even for carry-ons. Here’s looking at you, Frontier!!! 🙂

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Luggage from American Tourister

Where to stay

There’s many things to keep in mind when choosing a hotel for your WDW trip. Disney has a three tier program that works as so: Deluxe, (think Animal Kingdom Lodge, The Polynesian, Wilderness Lodge, etc.) Moderate, (i.e. Caribbean Beach, Port Orleans, etc.) and value (i.e. Pop Century, Art of Animation, etc.)

I recommend staying at a deluxe resort, or touring some of them in the monorail loop. The monorail stops at Magic Kingdom park, Disney’s Contemporary Resort, Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort & the Transportation and Ticket Center. (TTC)

The moderate resorts are an excellent option and beautiful places to stay.

The value resorts are basically motels dressed-up with Disney theming and are VERY far from the resorts. The only transportation available are the buses and they share EVERY BUS LINE. I’ve heard people waiting an hour for the buses. Make sure you read all the pros & cons of all the Disney Hotels before choosing one. We loved AKL, but we went during the off-season and would chose a different resort if we went again because its only close proximity to a park is Disney’s Animal Kingdom. It is far from the other parks and only uses bus transportation, even though it doesn’t share bus lines.

Compare the WDW Resorts here on one of my favorite Disney blogger, Tom Bricker’s site:

http://www.disneytouristblog.com/disney-world-hotel-reviews/

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Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort

Renting DVC

We stayed at Animal Kingdom Lodge in a DVC (Disney Vacation Club) studio villa with a savannah view of the animals. Retail price through Disney is crazy for this resort, but if you want to stay at a deluxe resort and you know 11 months in advance and can pay full price at that time, you can book through a company that resells Disney Vacation Club points. We booked through David’s Vacation Rentals, and they were fantastic from start to finish. They also have an A+ with the BBB. There’s a handy calculator on their site that you can immediately get a price on your stay if you know your dates. A big bonus for us was a savings of almost half off the retail price, an immediate booking number to link on My Disney Experience app, and all the DVC rooms have kitchenettes!

Without getting too confusing, DVC members pay into a timeshare like program through Disney to collect points for a room at a resort. When members won’t be using their points that year, they can sell them to this company to resell.

David’s Vacation Club Rentals: https://www.dvcrequest.com/

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Savannah view room at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge

Disney Dining

Keep in mind WDW has restaurants that are VERY popular, such as Cinderella’s Royal Table INSIDE Cinderella’s Castle in Magic Kingdom and Be Our Guest Restaurant to only name two. These places book up very fast, and dining reservations NEED to be made 180 days in advance. I had to for Be Our Guest. Make sure you research all the restaurants in the parks, resorts, and Disney Springs (previously known as Downtown Disney) before booking.

Compare the restaurants on my favorite blog, here:

http://www.disneytouristblog.com/disney-world-restaurant-reviews/

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Be Our Guest Restaurant 

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The Ballroom inside Be Our Guest Restaurant

Some of my favorite restaurants:

Be Our Guest, Magic Kingdom

La Hacienda de san Angel, Epcot

Tokyo Dining, Epcot

Sci-Fi Dine-In, Hollywood Studios

Boma, Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort

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Sci-Fi Dine-In at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

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A flight of margaritas from La Hacienda de san Angel 

Some of my favorite bars:

Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto, Polynesian Resort

Dawa Bar, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park

Victoria Falls Lounge, Animal Kingdom Resort

Jock Lindsey’s Hangar Bar, Disney Springs

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Bloody Mary at Dawa Bar, Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Park tickets

Park tickets are expensive, but keep in mind that the longer you decide to stay, the cheaper per day it is. Another important option is to park hop or not. We saved money not park hopping and decided to stay a few extra days. Keep this in mind when booking dining, because if you don’t have a hopper you cannot go to the restaurants inside a different park that day. We purchased our Universal Orlando and Walt Disney World tickets through undercovertourist.com, an authorized dealer of Orlando park tickets. They are always cheaper than Disney’s site, and they are fantastic!

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Cinderella’s Castle, Magic Kingdom

Fastpass+

Download My Disney Experience app. When you have your reservation number, enter it right away so that you can customize your magic band colors and link it to your credit card for in-park or Disney Springs purchases. When you get your park tickets, enter those in your app, also, and it will all link together. If you are staying on Disney property, you can reserve Fastpass+ for rides and attractions 60 days out. You get 3 Fastpass+ a day, and you are able to change/cancel any on the app at anytime.

Here’s an excellent review of all the rides/ attractions and what you should use your Fastpass+ for: http://www.disneytouristblog.com/rides-parks-guides/

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Magic Kingdom

I hope this has convinced you to start planning a trip to Walt Disney World! All your research and hard work will pay off in magical moments shared with your loved ones.

Dani H

My Cherry Tree

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When we bought our house in 2013, I was gifted with my very first fruit tree. I have to be honest, when we originally moved in, all I saw was a pretty purple tree in my backyard. It was when the tree started to fruit that I realized it was a black cherry tree.

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I waited too long to pick most of its fruit, and many birds beat me to it. One weekend, with a sling bag on my hip, I climbed my cherry tree and picked what was left of the fruit. I didn’t know what to do with the fruit, and most of the cherries were squished in my bag because they where too ripe. After the adventure of pitting the cherries BY HAND, I decided to preserve the cherries. I dusted off my old Ball Canning Book, and got to work. IMG_3718

The first batch yielded only ten 12 oz. jars. Since then, I have learned the tricks of the trade a bit more and last summer I was able to make four dozen jars of black cherry jam. IMG_3719My friends and family alike enjoy the sweet treats my cherry tree so graciously provides each summer. The cherry tree, for me, provides so much more. I know the crisp winter air is behind me when I see its dazzling pink blossoms. I seek solace in its branches when I climb its limbs, my same sling bag in tow. IMG_0790

The rain graced my face last June as I climbed to the tallest branch that would hold me. I remember smiling up at the sky. Life is so beautiful, sometimes in the simplest of ways.

So, for me, the cherry tree provides so much more.

-Dani

30th Birthday on Kauai

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Hideaways Private Beach

For my 30th birthday this last March, my family planned an incredible journey to the Hawaiian island of Kauai. The island of Kauai has always been a special place for my family, and my parents always tried to make the journey over the Pacific at least bi-yearly. Because of conflicting schedules and adulting, we had not been in 9 years.

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From our balcony looking down on Hideaways Beach and on to Bali Hai

We stay in the same condo every time we go because we love the view and amenities… hello Margaritaville Machine! We love the owners, and it is by far the best condo on the north shore. If you ever want to stay there, make sure you stay in the Puu Poa penthouse #412, you won’t be sorry. All the units in the Puu Poa complex are beautiful, though.

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My husband Brendan, Mom, me, Dad, & my brother Brendan

Around the corner from our condo in Hanalei, we went to a trendy local eatery called Kalypso. They have delicious traditional Hawaiian poke bowls and yummy blended drinks. The view isn’t bad, either.

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Banana Daiquiri

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Traditional Hawaiian Poke Bowl

It’s been many years since I have seen a luau, and seeing as though my aunt and uncle don’t get many opportunities to luau in Ohio, we visited the Smith’s Family Luau in Kauai’s picturesque Wailua River Valley.

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Smith’s Family Garden Luau

The Smith Family really puts on an incredible show. When you first arrive, you receive a shell necklace and a photo is taken of your family that you have an option to purchase later that evening.

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Peacock at Smith’s Family Garden Luau

Be sure you arrive early, because the gardens and birds on the grounds are breathtaking. A tram will give you a quick garden tour of the indigenous plants and birds as it takes you to the roasting spot. A small ceremony is conducted as the pig is buried, and everyone gathers in a covered dining area where all the yummy grub is served. It’s all you can eat and drink, and the food was great. Traditional American fare as well as some Hawaiian poi is served.

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Make sure you get a few Mai Tais! There is also some domestic beer and wine available.

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Snorkeling is by far, my favorite thing to do on the islands. When I enter the warm, tropical waters, I feel as though I’ve entered another world. In a way, I have. Because the Hawaiian Islands are the most isolated islands in  the world, you can see and experience so many different species of plants and animals. What a better was to do this than enter the underwater? It’s not uncommon to see hundreds of different species of fish and sea turtles.

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When we stay on the north shore, my favorite beach is the Hideaways Beach just under our condo. The hike down to the beach is steep in some places, but the hike is short and the reward is great.

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A rickety staircase leads you about a quarter of the way down, and the rest is up to you.

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But a small, probably empty beach will be your reward.

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This has to be one of my top five favorite places on Earth I’ve visited.

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Hideaways Beach looking on to Bali Hai

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A few days we walked down to the Hanalei Bay, which was only a 10 minute walk, to snorkel. This beach is larger and serves the St. Regis Resort, so there are many more people here.

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Hanalei Bay

Years ago, before my parents found the amazing condo we stay in today, we stayed at the St. Regis. If you prefer a top-notch resort, this is the winner. For my 30th birthday, my entire family took me to the St. Regis brunch, which is my absolute favorite.

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Uncle Craig, Aunt Gin, Mom, Aunt Kathy, me, Uncle Pat, my brother Brendan, Dad, and my husband Brendan at the St. Regis, Kauai

The brunch buffet is to die for.

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St. Regis Kauai brunch options

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Aloha Mary

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Dessert options

This trip was so iconic for me, and it eased all the pain of turning 30. A special thank you to my beautiful mother and my handsome husband for planning such a remarkable trip for everyone.

If you have any questions about our trip, please email me!

daniellerhughson@gmail.com

-Dani

DIY Distressed Display Letters

  

Seeing all the informative posts on Pinterest on distressing those big letters gave me the courage to try it on my own. And with Walmart now selling big wood letters at $1.97 each, it was a cheap adventure.

All you need for this craft: 

 -2 different colors craft paint (one will be your bottom coat that will show through slightly, one will be your top coat) 

-big wood letters (Walmart, $1.97) 

-duct tape 

 It was seriously super easy. All I did was buy 97 cent craft paint at Walmart and go to town.

  

The first thing I did was paint my first coat. This is the coat that will be shown through the ‘distress’ of the top coat. 

 

I chose a dull gold. I waited about 5 minutes before I painted my top coat. I chose black. 

 

 I dried the paint quickly with my hair dryer. Immediately after the paint no longer appeared ‘wet’, I applied the duct tape, pressed firmly, and ripped it off all over the letter in sheets. This is my outcome: 

I’m pleasantly pleased with the result.   

  Very ‘vintage’! I also did the letter H with no base coat, so that the wood just showed through.  

 Feeling both very confident and creative at this point, I also did an oar I found for $5 at a garage sale.   

 What an easy and inexpensive way to distress decor peices! 

Thanks for checking out my blog! 

Dani⭐️

Cilantro Lime Chicken Soup

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This soup is not only low on calories, but VERY easy to make. The hubs just LOVES this one. It’s great all on its own, or as a starter to a lighter meal. You can even go sans chicken if it’s a starter.

It’s low on time, high on flavor. Boom.

Ingredients

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, boiled & shredded
Juice of 1 lime
6 cups chicken broth
2 cans chopped tomatoes and chili
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1-2 jalapeños, chopped (I just used pickled)
Dash olive oil
1 tbsp dried oregano
1/2 tbsp cumin
1 tsp sweet spicy chili (I found mine at the 99 cent store😝)
Buch of cilantro, chopped & stems removed
Salt & paper, to taste
1 avocado (optional)

If spicy is not your thing, dial down on the jalapeño and skip the sweet spicy chili.

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A had a couple chicken breasts chillin’ in the fridge that would go bad in a few days, so before I forgot about them, I boiled the up and shredded them. If you’re low on time, you can always just fry the chicken up real quick in a pan and shred right before you make the soup.

For boiling, I just bring a small stock pot of water to a boil, add my chicken boobies, reduce the heat a tad, and time for about 20-30 minutes. I’m at a higher altitude, so it sometimes takes me a bit longer. Make sure they’re cooked all the way through, and shred with two forks. Easy peasy.

After your chicken is cooked, set it aside. Sauté up your garlic, onion, and celery in a dash of olive oil. If you have fresh jalapeños, toss those in too. Add a little black pepper.

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After a couple minutes, add your cans of tomato, shredded chicken, pickled jalapeños, oregano, cumin, and 6 cups chicken broth. Bring to a boil.

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Reduce heat to low. Add the juice of the entire lime, half the bunch of cilantro, and sweet spicy chili. Cover and simmer for about 20 minutes.

Serve with avocado & a pinch of fresh cilantro. Enjoy!

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DIY Matte Black Emblems

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This is my commuter buddy before Brendan did the emblems. I love my Lexus IS 250. She looks pretty sweet before, huh?

I love the look the matte black emblems have, but upwards of $200 from the dealer? Uh huh. No.

So get this stuff. It’s called Plasti Dip. You can get it anywhere from online to Walmart. It’s not cheap though… about $10, but you’re saving about $190.

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This stuff is great because you don’t have to be crazy with your prep-work. If you get it on your paint or anywhere else, it simply peels off. You don’t even have to take your emblems off. Score.

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Clean the area and mask off around the emblem. Use newspaper to avoid overspray in any areas. When I say mask off around the emblem, I mean make a square or rectangle around it. You will be able to easily peel off around the emblem.

Spray 2-3 coats of paint about six inches away and waiting about 15 minutes to dry between coats. Wait an hour.

Now the fun begins. Unmask. The plastic paint simply peels off the paint and sticks to the emblem. Be careful peeling around the letters and numbers, you may need to use a pick. Just be sure not to scratch your paint.

Sorry I don’t have a many photos of the process. This was the hubby’s project I’m sharing 😃

And after:

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Thanks for checking out my blog! Let me know what you think! I need to take some decent photos of the car after. 😊

Dani⭐️

My $3,500 Kitchen Renovation

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I contemplated for a long time (okay, not THAT long, maybe a few months) on what route to take with our kitchen renovation. My heart wanted to go to Ikea and plan out a dream kitchen, but although Ikea is the best budget-friendly option for cabinets, I knew deep-down that my cabinets were in GREAT shape. The biggest issue for me was the color… 1985’s favorite honey oak. They are pretty much yellow.

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So I finally decided that I wanted to save some money and refinish our cabinets. Sigh. After some research, I found that most people paint their cabinets white or black. Another popular option was the General Finishes Gel Stain in Java. (VERY dark brown) Although the java color was beautiful, I was looking for a more cozy-cottage-rustic feel that you get from a wood grain.

I decided to go with the gel stain for its ease of use and application. I chose the Antique Walnut color and a water based poly clear coat with the General Finishes brand. I purchased them on amazon.com and they arrived at my doorstep in less than a week. I also added the handy-dandy paint triangles to my cart and wished I bought more. Those paint triangles help you paint BOTH sides of your cabinet doors at once. I’m down for a shortcut. Just FYI… I bought a quart of stain and used THREE coats on the entire kitchen and still have half the quart left. I plan on refinishing my bathroom cabinets in the future.

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I disassembled all my cabinet doors and removed my drawers. I’m lazy. When I can be. I didn’t label any hardware or doors. Sometimes I even like to think I’m brave. I soaked my nasty hardware in Fantastico for a couple days and scrubbed them clean.

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The next week consisted of sanding down the all the doors, drawers, and built-in cabinets. I used an electric sander for the most part. Some grooves I had to sand by hand. I used mostly 120 grit sandpaper, but I’m not going to lie. When I was out I used whatever I had. Nobody died.

It’s an understatement to say there was sawdust everywhere. Just relax. I promise some day soon it will all be clean again.

Brendan tore off our tile counters one day after work. It was some serious demolition… it even took some of the wall with it when the backsplash came off. I almost fainted when I saw the holes in the wall.

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After thoroughly cleaning all the cabinets, doors, and drawers with a wet rag, I applied my first coat of stain with one of Brendan’s old white cotton socks. I wore gloves under the sock. Make sure you move in the direction of the wood grain and wipe off and pools or globs before moving on. Anywhere you didn’t do a great job sanding won’t pick up the color as much. I was going for an imperfect rustic look, so I was okay with it. I’m not perfect, my kitchen shouldn’t be either. 😉

You must wait at least 24 hours between each coat of stain, and at least 72 hours after all your coats of stain to apply the poly. I actually followed that instruction.

Coat #1

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Coat #2

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Coat #3

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After I applied the second coat, Brendan and I went to Home Depot to check out appliances and some counter solutions. I know what you’re thinking. Home Depot is not the industry standard for granite, but I cannot be more happy with choosing them. My seams are nearly invisible and the price was impossible to beat. They were extremely professional and timely. I pushed them to get the granite in before Christmas and they managed to do it for me. And I’m not paid by Home Depot to say that. I swear. 😃 The only thing is they have a pricing list that goes by letters. A is the cheapest. We chose A because granite is granite, right? It’s about $55 a square foot installed. The advertised $35 a square foot is unsealed granite. You don’t want that. 😃

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Also, Home Depot mounts your under-mount sink and drills the holes for your faucets for free.

Next year we will put in a backsplash, so for the time being I painted a quick birch tree backsplash for Christmas.

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Because our house came with a decent Whirlpool stainless fridge,I decided to keep it and buy the matching Whirlpool dishwasher, gas range oven, and hood. It ended up saving us a lot of money. We ended up paying only $1k for the appliances with a sale at Home Depot. They also delivered the appliances to out rural home for free!

We had to change our plumbing a bit to allow for the new rear-facing drains. Luckily, my father-in-law is a plumber and taught my husband a lot about plumbing!

I only have seven drawers, so I purchased these vintage style cup drawer pulls on eBay for about $2 each. I purchased drawer knobs at Walmart online for 66 cents each. I ended up paying less than $25 for hardware. Screaming deal.

I purchased the vintage style faucet, air gap, and reverse osmosis faucet on eBay for all less than $200. The beautiful Franke stainless under-mount sink was a generous gift from my father-in-law.

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Brendan made my dream of having two clear glass cabinets by cutting out the inserts of my two rear cabinets with his router. I simply took the cabinet doors to the glass shop and they installed custom cut glass into them for me. It was a little pricey (about $140) but I felt it was worth it because we had saved so much elsewhere.

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Thank you for checking out my post! I hope this was helpful or inspiring for you. If I can do this, you can do this.

If you have enjoyed this, please follow my blog or pin. Thanks!

Dani⭐️

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