Merry Christmas to Me

I must have been a very good girl this year because I got a lot of the things that I wanted.  And, some I didn't even know I wanted!  But, one of the greatest gifts was from Mike:

A brand, spanking new Canon Rebel T1i.  I've already picked out a new strap and fancy purse/bag.  I will look pretty darn good toting this bad boy around.  Too bad I have yet to figure it out, oh well, I'm having fun learning!

Not only did I get my big ticket item, I got a lot of the other stuff I asked for too.

Like the hive vase from West Elm that my mom and dad got me:

While it looks smallish online, it's pretty substantial in real life.  I thought it would go next to the chair in the living room, but it's pretty much the same size as the new lamp I bought.  I'm still working on where to put it.  Most likely it'll stay in the living room because it looks so darn cute with the gray walls and brown furniture.

I also got the lipstick, Shellac nail polish, and grocery bag carrier, among others.  I'm so grateful for everything I got, and had a blast with all my family!  Now we can put all the decorations away and relax!

Dear Santa...

Since it's less than 2 weeks until Christmas, we're not doing a lot of DIY projects around here.  We're in more of a GSD mode, you know, "get shit done".

My parents are coming in this weekend to celebrate and then the regular festivities are next week.  So, we're busy bustin' are butts to get last minute shopping done, wrapping everything before the other one peeks, and getting the house cleaned and ready for company.

Since all that stuff isn't blog worthy, I thought I'd stop in to share some things that I'm hoping Santa leaves under the tree this year: 

1. I bought my first pair of TOMS over the summer and love them!  I have these ash colored ones but, ever since I bought Mike a pair of the limited edition Movember ones, I've been borrowing his, (sometimes without asking - sorry babe!).  I think it's about time I get my own black pair.

2.  I saw a commercial for the new HGTV Magazine while watching what else, HGTV, and knew I wanted it.  I think it'll be like This Old House Magazine but with more flair!

3.  To those that are just blog friends, (those that stop in to see what's happening at our little blog, but don't know Mike and I personally), I never told you that over the summer Mike and I made a little beehive and have been happy beekeepers for the last couple of months!  We've been busy outside trying to get the hive ready for the winter and hope they make it through, and busy inside trying to bring a little 'bee-ness' into the decorating.  I loved this vase even before we got the bees, but now that we're new parents to over 10,000 of the little guys, this is even more cute.  Someday, I promise to write a post of all the beekeeping shenanigans. 

4.  I used to get Shellac manicures and tried a couple places around town, but was never satisfied with it.  Due to shoty work, not the system.  I loved the system.  That's why this DIYer went and bought everything I needed to do it at home.  They've been a little slow going with adding new colors, but they finally have a cute gray color called Asphalt.   

5.  I've always been more of a chapstick kinda girl more than lipstick, but one of my Thirty before 30 things is to start wearing lipstick everyday.  This MAC lipstick in Fanfare has been all over Pinterest lately as a nice natural color.

6.  Mike and I have a thing for ginkgo leaves, and when I saw these charms on Esty I thought they would make a really cute necklace.

7.  I also found these grocery bag holders on Pinterest, and I'm not embarrassed to say I want one in every color.  While Mike takes two or three bags in at a time, I like to try to grab all 13 bags at once to only make one trip.  Most of the time I make it, almost all of the time I get to the back door and spend 10 more minutes trying to figure out how to turn the handle with my elbow or foot.

8.  Finally my DLSR camera, this is a holdover from last year.  And if I don't get one this year, it'll be on my list again next year.  I'm tired of my grainy Blackberry photos, or the dark and unfocused from my point and shoot.  Somebody please take pity on me!

Well there it is.  When I was younger I would have been bummed if I didn't get everything I asked for, but as I've grown up I'm definitely more of a giver, and I've picked out some kick-ass gifts for everyone, so I already know I'm going to have a great time this year.  If I get one or none of the items above I'll be happy, I'll just wait for some after the holidays sales and help myself!

What's on everyone's must-have list this year?  Anyone else buy things for themselves and say they're from Santa?  Nope, just me?

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

Our decorations are up!

I'm definitely one of those people that think that you should celebrate one holiday at a time, and the thought of stores preparing for Christmas before we've even cooked the turkey gives me hives.  While I usually ease into the decorating, our December is jam packed, so the day after Thanksgiving we dusted off the decoration bins and got to work.

Last year I bought new ornaments after the holidays at Target for a couple bucks a box along with some silver ribbon and after packing them away and forgetting about them for a year, it was like Christmas morning opening them up to see what I had bought.  I was really glad to see I kept it simple with silver and gold.

I chose the corner with the small table next to the front door to put the tree.  You'll probably think I'm crazy, but last year we actually did it on the other side and blocked the front door.  I think the only reason we did that was because the outlet is on a switch, so our lazy butts didn't have to plug and unplug the lights every night.

The first step was to move the table and ottoman to the other side of the wall, and this move only reinforces my idea of a small bookshelf or piece for that space. 

I put up the pre-lit tree in record time, then waited an hour for Mike to come help me find the one cord and plug that wasn't connected and then proceeded to smack my head as we found it in about 5 minutes.

I added the ribbon and the ornaments and then ran drove the hour and a half to the nearest Ikea for the pièce de résistance, (not to mention Benelli's favorite part), three faux lambskin rugs for the tree skirt.  I've wanted to do this since seeing it on Young House Love years ago.

Obviously, I have no idea how to take a photo of the tree lit up, but it looks great in person.  And, we bought a timer so we can stay lazy and not have to worry about turning the lights on and off.  It's the small things in life that make me so happy.

Growing up, my parents tree was always full of homemade ornaments and a hodge podge of ornaments collected over the years.  Each year my mom, sister, and I would love opening each box and remembering all the different stories behind each one.  One day, when we start having kids, I'd like to have a tree more like that, but for now I'm enjoying making ours a little fancy and elegant.

The one tradition Mike and I do have that we started on our first Christmas together was buying an ornament from a very popular local artist, (check him out here: Don Drumm Studios).  The ornaments run a little pricy, (about $25-$30 a piece), but buying one a year doesn't break the bank and we love walking around the store and showroom and seeing all the other pieces.  It's fun to try to find one that relates to our year and like the ornaments on my parents tree, I like unwrapping them each year and thinking about why we chose that one and the previous years.

Here's the first one we bought together:

Mike added the little polymer heart with an '08 for our first year.  The second year we had gotten our first kitten Vespa and found one with a kitten on it:

Unfortunately, he got really sick right after Christmas and on the vet's recommendation we had to put him down.  He was the first pet Mike and I had together and I'm glad we have a nice way to remember him by every year.  Sniff, sniff.  Okay, on a happier note, after that, we ended up getting Benelli and the following Christmas found another cat ornament, (Don Drumm really likes his cat's, maybe that's one of the reason's we like him so much!).

This is where Mike thinks I'm crazy because I always point out that Vespa's ornament has a moon, like night, and passing, and Benelli's has a sun, like a new day.  Yeah, kinda corny.

So, this year we had an important task to find a new ornament that fit our past year, and I think we found it:

Yep, Santa riding a blimp!  Let me explain, our city is the headquarters of Goodyear and one of the blimp hangers is just a bit down the road.  So, although it's not technically our first year in our house, it's the first full year in our new city, and will always be remembered for all the work we did to make it a home.

So, there's our Christmas tree and a little of our traditions.  Anyone else have some traditions that include blimp riding Santa's?

Between a House and a Hard Place

Before winter hits, we had one last (major) outdoor project to complete.  And in true Northeastern Ohio fashion, once fall hit, we've had about 1 nice day, every two weeks or so.  The rest has been all rain and once even a threat of snow.  Which are the two reasons we had to do this project in the first place.  So, since last Tuesday we found ourselves sitting pretty with sunny 65 degrees, it was go time.

The task was to fix the drainage problem next to our foundation between the house and driveway.  You can see the little half sidewalk/half mulch strip below:

The problem was the sidewalk part sloped towards the house which allowed water from rain and melted snow to flow down the drive, then against the house.  Not to mention our sump pump drain that you can see peeking out of the mulch in the bottom left of the photo above.  The mulch then allowed the water to drain down against the foundation.  Which had caused some leaks into the basement.  Lucky us.

While Mike didn't have any problem digging up the mulch and using some grout to fill in the deteriorated block to fix the leaking water, this didn't fix the bigger problem of the water, and left as-is, would only reappear later.

The solution was to remove the sidewalk, (I realize it's not a sidewalk, more like a driveway extension, but neither really make sense, so it's a sidewalk for now), and the mulch and replace with a more-appropriately sloped concrete slab.  We talked through a lot of different options like a stone base with a perforated pipe for slow drainage, or filling it in with lots of plants that would suck up all the water.  But the stones could become a nuisance and in large amounts, the water would still sit against the foundation.  And in the winter, when the chance of snow and melting is there, all the plants would be dead, duh.  So concrete was the way to go again.

Mike went old school and used a sledgehammer to break-up the concrete and piled them all by hand.

Before getting too ahead of himself, (and before we built the deck), he dug a trench to tie in the sump pump drain to the downspout drains that terminated back in the back yard in our dry well.

He dug a little tunnel right under that piece of concrete that was already there and fed the pipe through to the back of the house.

He then backfilled it with dirt and it's sat like that during our deck construction.  When we finally decided on our plan Mike dug out the depth he wanted and drilled holes about a foot deep into the existing driveway and placed 2-foot pieces of rebar into them.  This would allow the poured concrete to become a part of the existing driveway.  He also added some welded-wire for reinforcement.  He then added an expansion joint against the house, which for those that don't understand the properties of concrete, allows movement of the slab, without pushing against our foundation. 

Since we were short of time with bad weather coming, Mike took a half day at work, (don't worry he's been working most weekends, so he's definitely put in the hours) and scheduled for two yards of concrete to be delivered.

The truck arrived while I was home for lunch and Mike very quickly realized that he needed help, so I ran out in my work clothes and {wo}maned the shoot.  Which means, Mike was calf-deep in concrete while I stood on the driveway and moved the shoot back and forth and motioned to the driver to move up the drive for an even distribution.

Here's the moment that Mike realized he was in trouble and needed my help:

Once I got my groove I was fine, but let's just say I'm not going to quit my day job.  Which was why as soon as the concrete was poured, my lunch hour was over and I had to go back to work.  Our neighbor came over just before I left and was able to help even out the concrete while Mike screed and finished it.  I quickly snapped some photos on my blackberry camera before leaving to show you how they finished it.

For those wondering, the big triangle cut out of the driveway is because of some cracks in the drive that turned into corners that were completely cracked off.  Mike used a partner saw to cut out the drive to repour.

After work, I came home to a completely finished slab, that sloped away from the house and had a small curb against the house to further prevent water from sitting against the foundation.  A couple coats of cure and seal and some cuts with the partner saw and we were able to cross off the last major outdoor project of the season.

Pinterest Challenge | Fall Edition

If you're my mom or one of my regular readers you may have noticed I've been a little absent in my postings.  Well thanks to a fun freezing rain front that hit Northeast Ohio a couple weeks ago, I got a nasty cold that knocked me down for about 10 days.  Then, my laptop hard drive crashed.  Then, this weekend I got hit with the flu that kicked my ass.  So in short, I've been slowly dying, with no computer to keep me company in my last moments.  That's why I had to finally get out of bed, shower, and show my immune systems what's up.

And I did just in time too, because last week the girls from Young House Love and Bower Power decided to fuel my Pinterest addiction with the announcement of the Pinterest Challenge: Fall Edition!

Like the Summer Edition, (see my projects here), the rules were the same: make something inspired by something found on Pinterest. The only problem I had was doing only one project.  But since I scoff at flu shots, I guess my sickness made sure I didn't go overboard.  

So, on to my project.  I had so many ideas that I didn't know where to start, until I stopped thinking and out of necessity found something to jazz up our front door for the fall.  Something that would work from Halloween all the way to Thanksgiving.  Because I like things to be multi-functional? Nooo, it's because I'm lazy.  That's why when I found this burlap bubble wreath, it was love at first sight. 

(From Today's Fabulous Finds, and pinned here on Pinterest)

I grabbed my supplies at Joann's, which included 1-1/2 yard of light tan burlap, 100 pins, (with large heads), and 1-12" foam wreath.  Since I have never before made a wreath, I figured I would just follow Janet's directions and be done.  But after I read them I got busy and a couple days past, but I had my material so I just starting going to town.  I remembered to cut the burlap into 4" squares:

Then I started folding.  From memory.  You can probably tell where this is going.

I started by folding the square diagonally:

Then I took the left corner and brought it to the front:

The right corner I folded towards the back:

Which made a little dart thingy.

At this point those that have seen Janet's bubble wreath may have noticed mine doesn't look quite like hers. It took me a couple more steps to realize mine weren't coming out very "bubbly".  I'll explain where the mix-up came from in a minute.  

So back to my fuzzy memories of the directions.  After folding the squares I placed a pin where my fingers where holding everything together and attached to the foam wreath.  This is the worst photo, but in my defense I was sick and doing everything one-handed, while fending off the cat.  Okay, proceed.

I didn't pin in any particular order, just filled in as I went.  It was when I got to about this spot that I realized my "bubbles" were more "darty" and pointed then Janet's.  All very technical terms here.

I finally broke down and stopped folding long enough to look up the real directions.  That's when I realized I was folding them wrong.  I completely embarrassed myself and made a little video to show you how I was folding them.  Now remember I was sick, so I was all nasally and sounded like I was pinching my nose the whole time, so don't laugh, too hard.

Now I'll show you how you're supposed to fold them:

Here's both types of folds pinned to the wreath:

I have to admit I kinda dig mine.  And not in a "only a mom could love that face" kinda way.  I think it's a little funkier with the pointier fold.  So instead of completely starting over and throwing everything thing in a heap in the trash, I forged on and continued pinning, moving around the wreath and hiding the pin heads as I went.

After it was full, (exactly 97 squares+pins later) I added two pieces of ribbon on the back, (with two of the left over pins), and tied the pieces in a bow.  I used a Command hook to hang on the door and then quickly shut the door so I didn't hurt my brain anymore with meaningless debates of which fold is more pointy or bubbly.

What do you think?

I guess since I started out by hoping to merely mimic Janet's cute wreath but came up with my own take on it, I followed all the rules this time.  If you want to play along, you can visit any of the hosts and see what everyone else came up with:

Katie (Bower Power), Sherry (Young House Love), Ana ( and Erin (House of Earnest).

Inspire Me | Porch Edition (And a Big Purchase)

After moving our inherited deck furniture to the new deck we immediately looked less hillbilly.  Less redneck, but more "We just moved in and have no furniture."

I've always had plans for this area, but never could do anything until we finished the deck and moved the furniture out.  Now that we have a blank canvas to work with, I'm ready to go!

Since we're like two 80-years-old, we like to sit on the porch and enjoy a drink or two on nice evenings.  This means that we need some seating - preferably a love seat and two chairs, some type of table and some color so it has some nice curb appeal.

I thought that shopping for patio furniture in the middle of fall would give me some deep discounts, but what I found out was - patio furniture is freakin' expensive!  Even with the 10-40% end of season sales!  I quickly realized we could be spending close to $600 for some simple seating and pillows!  Not exactly what we had in mind.  So I looked to my favorite Swedish inexpensive furniture store to see if they had any options.  Turns out I really liked the look of Ikea's outdoor furniture and it wasn't to bad on the wallet either.

Since I know Mike doesn't like spending money on pretty much anything decorative, I made a special board for him with the prices of all the items so he can see that everything I picked is under $100. 

1. Bench  2. Seat Cushions  I  3. Chair  I  4. Throw Pillows  5. Table  6. Rug

While I was in the middle of writing this post I continued looking at other stores and drooled over the expensive options.  I finally got desperate and did a Google Shopping search of "Patio Furniture Sets".  Again, I felt a little overwhelmed by the prices but something jumped out at me this time.  This little picture popped up along the right, and I almost jumped out of my seat when I saw the price $299 along the left!

I got even more excited when I saw that it was from Bed, Bath, and Beyond.  Does anyone else immediately think 20% off, like me?  I have like 12 of those coupons stashed and always get more in the mail, so I never pay full price there.  I also liked that I could actually go to the store and pick it up and not pay shipping, since my store said they had 2 in stock.  The only problem was that every time I clicked on the link it took me to the page and the set looked like this:

With no option to change the color.  I was so confused!  While I don't mind the white fabric, I hate the silver.  No matter which way I searched or clicked links, it always took me to the white set, with no tan set in sight.  I guess I was on a patio furniture high because I didn't see this as an issue since I would just stop by our store to check them out myself.

I tricked Mike into stopping by the other night under the pretense of "just checking it out".  When I asked the woman at the counter she said she didn't have any in stock, but she could order a set, and they were the tan set!  I'm not sure what happened since I told you I was in a sort of trance, but I turned around and asked Mike for his credit card right there.  He looked at me like I was mad, (but this happens a lot, so I wasn't discouraged) and I started talking really fast about how I can't find one under $600, and all the good ones are red, but that would clash with our red front door, and if we wait too long we won't get to enjoy any of the nice days left.  He interrupted my babbling and said he trusted me that I did the research and agreed that we could get the set.

We even got the manager to take off the shipping, since the website said they had two in stock, (they said that someone stole two of them and they hadn't updated their inventory) and I argued that  instead of putting pants on and coming into the store (under the pretense that they had them in stock) I could have easily did it at home in my underwear.  Mike taught me the fine art of arguing speaking with the manager, when you don't feel like something is fair.  So, the moral of the story is don't go shopping while your on a patio high, because you will drive home with a order receipt in your hand.  And always tell your boyfriend that you "just want to check it out"!   

I got a shipped notification in my email on Friday, and after checking on it every hour or so it has yet to update UPS' website as to a shipment arrival date so I will have to hold my horses patiently wait to see my new outdoor furniture.  Meanwhile I did a Google Image search and found some better photos of the set.
And even a shopper's own photo:

Via BabyCenter

Since I've yet to see this puppy in person, I'll let you know what I think when it arrives.  We're hoping it comes in time for Halloween since our neighborhood does it up big and if the weather is nice we all sit on our porches.  We'll be classing it up this year.  A major improvement over the folding chairs last year.

What do you guys think?  Do you think I'm crazy for buying furniture without seeing it in person?  Has anyone else gone to the store in an "online-find high" and ended up buying a big purchase?  I'd love to hear that I'm not the only one!

A Hoppy Harvest

While we were in the midst of our deck project, our hop plants topped out and the hop flowers were busing growing and eventually it was time to harvest.

Here's how tall the middle one got before it started focusing it's energy on hop production, (remember that's about 20 ft high!):

Here's what the little jewels looked like up close:

Mike was more than a little excited.

To harvest the hops he started by cutting the vines back to the roots.  To my amazement, you do this every year, and every year it starts over and grows back up the rope.

After this, he used the pulleys he designed to bring the plants down to proper picking level.

We actually set up chairs in front of the plants, with the bucket between us and hand cut each hop off.  Between the two of us and the three plants this took about 2 hours.  I'm not a bitter beer drinker so the smell was a little gross to me, but being a big IPA and APA fan like Mike is, he was in heaven.

After we got all of the hop flowers cut, we used our neighbors screen door, (not an extra one lying around, Mike literally went over and asked to use the screen door attached to their door. Mike's crazy and our neighbors are way too nice), to spread them out for drying.

Mike was like a proud papa the whole time and kept wanting to pose with his babies. 

We had two different varieties, or genomes as the beer world calls them, Centennial and Chinook, and that's the reason for the different piles.  We had two Chinook plants and the big pile on the left were from these.  The pile in the top middle are the Centennial, and the smallest pile is from a potted hop plant Mike got from a friend that's sitting up front near the porch. 

I have to admit, I was pretty proud too, especially since we were told that the first year production would only yield about 1/3 of what we got.  And, a couple were so massive that you couldn't help be impressed:

Mike even called the boys from next door over to show off his hops.  They're 6 and 8, so it was a little soon to expect them to be impressed, but they did have fun helping us spread out the hops to get more even drying.  They said they smelled gross too, so we know they've got quite awhile before they're sneaking beers from their parents.

Mike set up a fan underneath the screen and let them dry out for a couple days:

Drying them prevents mildew and preserves them better.  After they dried out, Mike filled up some gallon freezer bags, 6 in total, and froze them to be used later in his homebrew.  Each batch of beer varies, but he usually uses about 2 ounces, (small handful), for each batch, (about 5 gallons of beer per batch), so you can imagine how many batches these will make!

Inspire Me | Deck Edition

With the deck now complete, I thought I'd share a little inspirational board I put together months ago to help me envision the deck decorating.  Because, building it is only half the battle.  (Wow, that should be Our First Nest's motto).

Since we finalized the design of the deck I've known where I'd like the zones to go.  We'd like a grilling area, food set-up area, seating, and eating.  That may sound like a lot, but I'm not sure if I've mentioned this but, the deck is HUGE!  I don't think we'll have any trouble getting everything we want to fit.  Since it might be hard to visual where everything is going, I made a little diagram to help see all the zones:

Zone #1:  This will be the permanent spot for our grill.  The notch that I've mentioned before was designed specifically so our grill sits along the railing with a couple of inches on both sides.  Mike and I figured this would be his zone and wanted it close to the door for easy food trips, and close to the eating and food set-up area.  We also wanted Mike to be separate from everyone so he can focus on the grilling, but also able to be a part of the party if he wanted to.

Zone #2:  Here will be the food set-up.  We plan on bringing out the fold-out table and keeping the food here so that it's close to the door and the grill, but also doesn't clog up the other areas.   Since we won't always have a full table of food to set-up, this will be utilized for big parties and probably kept empty the rest of the time.

Zone #3: This is the area I'm most excited about, the seating area.  My plan is to someday get a big outdoor sectional with some chairs for some R&R time.  Mike and I both love sitting outside and this is going to be a great place to hang out with our Nook and Kindle to relax. 

Zone #4: Obviously all that is left is the eating area.  Like I mentioned in my last post, my parents generously left us their deck furniture that has been sitting on our porch for the last year, (yeah we're those people).  It's a great set, (and even has a lounge chair that's sitting in Zone #3 as we speak), but it's not really big enough.  It's a table and chairs for 4 and we'd like something more like seating for 6.  Mostly for the extra seating, and because the area is big and a small table and chairs looks a little out of place.  For now, they work great, but down the road we're looking at a possible DIY table.    
Since I've had a lot of ideas about this deck I starting making a little board to keep all the ideas together and I realized I had only made one zone; the seating area.  I did say that I'm most excited about this area, didn't I?  I used some items from my favorite Swedish inexpensive furniture store to show you what I'm thinking about:  

1. This is similar to the color of our siding, and in an outdoor area, this is like the paint color, so everything we put on the deck has to look good with this.

2. I'm not sure how I'm going to do it, but I'd love to incorporate some sting lights and maybe some lanterns for some soft lighting when the sun goes down.  Mike's not completely on board with these, probably because it'll be his job to figure out a way to hang, power, and maintain them!

3. This sectional from IKEA is something I've been eying forever.  I'd love to have something similar to lounge, read, and hang out like an outdoor living room.  A lot of the outdoor sectionals are thousands of dollars, but this one is pretty reasonable at only $650.  I'll have to find an IKEA that has one put together to see if it's worth the investment.

4. I love lounging with blankets and having some designated outdoor ones are a must.  This one looks durable, but at $12.99, I wouldn't be too bummed if it got a little dirty.  A fireside session will be needed to give it that bonfire smell, of course.

5. To bring more color onto the deck I'll use colorful planters like this one and that one, as well as fill them with colorful plants.

6. You can't have a couch and blankets without a bunch of pillows.  These outdoor pillows are perfect for the sectional, or just adding some comfort to those that want sit along the stairs.

7. Every outdoor space needs some shade, and this umbrella can be used over the table or over the couch.

While we're quickly running out of nice weather here in Northeast Ohio, I'm looking forward to creating a nice outdoor space for lounging next spring/summer.