April showers, brings May landscape overhaul?

We’ve lived in this house for just under one year now!  It’s hard to believe because sometimes it feels like we just moved in with lots of unfinished little projects; other times it feels like we’ve been here for much longer.  But the truth is that moving day was May 18th so we’re officially coming up on our one year in this house anniversary.  Crazy what we’ve been able to do in that time and yet, there was one large area of our home that had seen very little improvement.  Sure, we ‘maintained’ what we inherited and made some very modest improvements in order to get through the summer, but let’s face it, we were busy unpacking and trying to get our new LIFE in order to really worry about too much more.  The YARD.  One of the things we LOVED about this house was the flat, open, manageable sized yard.  Well, we loved what the yard could be.  We knew that buried under years of neglect and layers upon layers of leaves, ivy, dirt, ivy, ivy, bamboo, and some more ivy, there was a great outdoor space for us!

We thought this year, we’d tackle a new fence and a phase one round of improvements, but once we decided to hold a large outdoor event at our house in mid-august, we decided to bite the bullet and do a more complete overhaul of the yard.

Here’s what we started with when we saw the house:

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Ok- from a distance, it doesn’t look THAT bad.  Trust me, it was.  First step was finally taking care of the fence.  It clearly had seen better days and was in need of a complete removal.  There really was no saving it because some years back, a tree along the back property line had fallen (onto the garage, no less) and when the roots up-rooted, it took the fence up with it.  Hence the current condition with our fence lifted at one point and leaning into the alley in that spot while leaning into the yard at the other end.  The side fence pieces from the house to our neighbor’s  were also barely holding on.  The left side literally blew down one day and the right side with the gate was hardly operable.  No saving them either, they all had to go.

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We got 3 estimates for the fence.  Two large companies that have done a lot of work in the neighborhood and a smaller, local landscape company.  In the end, price and product led us to contract with one of the large fence companies.  We’re basically installing the new fence in the same location as the existing, except we’re adding a larger gate by the garage and moving the short fence line into the yard by 4 feet in order to create a larger parking pad off the alley in front of our garage.  Not that parking is ever a problem in our neighborhood, but we figured we might as well plan the new fence to allow for it now because we wouldn’t want to have to modify the new fence in the future.  Also, fences are expensive!  We’re hoping to do this now and NEVER AGAIN!  Fence install day is Friday (TODAY!) so we’ll show you how that turns out in a future post!

Our to do list included more ivy removal.  We knew we’d have a few weeks before the fence was installed so we figured we’d take the opportunity to clear out the ivy along the fence line so that once the new fence is in, the area would be cleared and done.  Ivy. UGH. I’d like to meet the person who thought, ‘Oh, what a lovely green plant that has no fragrance, no flowers, and no real purpose in life.  Yes, let’s plant it everywhere and let it cover the ground, climb the walls of the house, climb the trunks of all the trees and, my favorite, spread through the lawn creating a desert condition on the ground that no longer supports the growth of anything more than a collection of weeds.’  Oh, what I’d say to that person… anyway.  We know that ridding the property 100% of ivy is not realistic, but we wanted to give ourselves the best chance to maintain its removal which meant that we had to dig out as much of the plant and roots as possible.

And so we set out on the ivy clearing, pulling one root strand at a time.  A pick-axe, shovel, and three 12 hour days of physical labor, and the yard went from this:

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to this:

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The yard was already looking better and BIGGER!  We packed 14 contractor bags full on ivy vines.  JUST THE VINES…14 bags!  It was ridiculous and we’re so glad to get it out of here!  In the process, we uncovered a stone retaining wall which was a nice surprise.  It wasn’t huge but we dug out all the stones and stock piled them for use elsewhere in the yard makeover.  It may not look like a lot in these photos, but trust me, the yard was taking shape.

Up next in the yard overhaul…Taking care of the bamboo jungle once and for all!

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May 9, 2014 · 10:15 am

Baby got BACK.

…as in BACKsplash. We got ‘er done, FINALLY and COMPLETELY (!) and here comes the best part…sharing it all with you! 🙂

Ever since our contractor finished correcting installing the final corner of countertop in our kitchen, I fantasized about the backsplash and the day we’d have one (so for about 10 months now). Ha, I’m not joking. We lived with bare drywall/plaster behind our countertop forEVER…there were scratches, pencil marks, scuffs, notes, measurements…you name it, our wall had it.

See? Not so pretty to stand and cook in front of.

So, let’s start with the easy part: the choice to use a “free” material to complete 75% of our backsplash. In our room by room update, you may remember seeing bamboo as the backsplash. We should have bought stock in the bamboo flooring industry for crying out loud, since we’ve used it now in 5 applications between 2 houses…this makes it the 6th. Somehow when we bought it for our first house, we ended up with a ton of extra material. Hence the free-ness of it this time around. By now, we’re just trying to use it up in smart, unique and easy ways. I’ll never forget that moment when the light bulb went on above Anthony’s head as we were standing in the kitchen looking at the bare, nasty white walls.

The conversation went something like this: “so, this may be totally crazy, but what do you think of bamboo on the walls as the majority of the backsplash?” “ummm, love it. let’s do it!” Done and done. One of the quickest home renovation ideas we’ve both arrived at. Here’s why we thought it’d work well:

  • with all of the white in this room, we wanted some contrast and some warmth in our choice of backsplash.
  • laying it out horizontally meant large areas of coverage could be accomplished fast (side note: this is the exact opposite of what happened with the tile we chose, lol…at least 75% of our backsplash went up quickly!?).
  • we’d installed it in the full bath of our first home and knew that it would be extremely durable when water landed on it.
  • did I mention it was essentially FREE at this point?! We had nothing to lose…except for the boxes of stuff that went up on the walls and allowed us to GAIN storage space back!

The installation process for bamboo took about 3-4 days of working nights after work for a couple of hours each time. Once that was in place, we started looking into what tiles we may want behind the stove and range hood. Man, there are lots of options out there. We looked online at tons of stunning kitchen reno’s. We looked through Houzz every night. We went to the big box stores and the small, boutique tile shops nearby. I looked through all of our tile samples at work and asked reps for what new styles they were aware of and any discounts they could offer. Long story short, we knew we wanted a fun shape (even though we LOVE the classic simplicity of subway tile, we felt that this was our opportunity to add some interest to the room), and a bit of color and texture.

Enter a recommendation from one of the reps at our local Architectural Ceramics stores. They are Walker Zanger tiles from their Ashbury Mosaic line. We fell in love with the shape and these 2 colors. We immediately thought about alternating them to create a fun pattern on the wall behind the stove.

Once we found out that they were only in stock in the California warehouse and shipping was going to cost over $200, we had to rethink things. 😦 How is it possible that the most perfect tiles that we had searched so long and hard for, were so far away and cost so much to get here? I mean, yes, they’re ceramic tile and they need to be packed and shipped carefully, but SERIOUSLY?! For $200, I could charter a plane to get them here. Is that what they were doing?! Needless to say, we were very skeptical. Architectural Ceramics was giving us a discount because we work in the design industry, but our theory is that they were trying to make up costs by changing us an arm and a leg for unnecessary shipping costs.

After a little more research and asking around at work, a colleague reminded me of a local tile shop not too far from our office. Chesapeake Tile was outstanding. I emailed them to get a quote and immediately got a response. After asking about shipping, I learned there was a warehouse in TX that could get them for us and that shipping was only going to be $87. #thatsmorelikeit

7-10 days later, many of these boxes were sitting in our dining room. Very unassuming, just staring at us from the corner…waiting for us to get the courage to start one of the more visible and time-consuming projects we’ve done since moving in.

 

We unpacked them and were faced with full mesh-backed groupings of tile that needed to be taken off one by one, since we were going to hang them individually to allow the alternating color pattern to work.

A few beers and some good music later, we had this scene on our hands. 🙂

 

Before installing tile, we had to apply primer to the wall. There were 2 reasons for this: it sealed in the new plaster work the contractor did and helped the thin set mortar really bond. It’s amazing the difference a bright white wall made after months of dingy grayish white! I was almost ready to stop right there and leave it white…HA, or not. We have 867 sf +/- a few feet of white surfaces in the kitchen already. 😉

We used Kilz Primer since it has really good coverage and blocks out any stains or marks on the wall. We also used this (a few coats of it) on the panelling in the playroom to bring it from a nasty, dirty, it-used-to-be-white-but-was-seriously-stained-yellow back to bright white again.

Here’s my first pass at setting up our pattern. It’s not the pattern we ultimately ended up going with…but the fact that we had this many individual tiles ready to go was exciting in and of itself. 😛

 

 

These were absolutely integral to a successful installation. They were kind of a pain since every 6th one would fall out, but 96% of them stayed in and allowed us to know if we had evenly spaced tiles.

One last countertop mock-up before GO time…!

Step 1: schmear thin-set on the wall.

Step 2: use a notched trowel to make sure that you apply the proper depth of setting material to the surface. The rule of thumb is the notches in the trowel should be approximately 2/3 the thickness of your tile.

This was the thin-set we used. We spent a good deal of time researching a Bondera-type wall mat in lieu of using thin-set but ultimately decided against it for a few reasons; our main concerns with it were longevity and the requirement to have to grout within 8 hours of applying the tile to the wall. Ain’t gonna happen as parents of a toddler! We’re lucky we got half the wall done in one night much less the whole wall and then grouting it soon after.

Once it was time to start applying tile to the wall, a part of me was all giddy excited and a part of me was totally nervously anxious! We’d hung the backsplash in our first house, but it came ready to go in 12″ x 12″ mesh backed squares…this was one…single…solitary…tile…by one. HERE GOES!

 

We started by sticking the first row of tiles next to each other, with spacers as we went. Take note of the spacer location…that’ll be key in a second. After finishing the first row and starting to stack the second row, it was immediately clear our system had a fatal error…see how close each of the first row of tiles is, measured at the fattest, most rounded middle part? Well, once we layered the light blue ones in, they didn’t fit. The vertical part of the shape didn’t have enough room. So, we moved the spacers up to that area and started setting the light blue ones in and alternating tiles up and down…grayish tile, light blue, grayish tile, light blue, grayish…you get the picture.

It was so nervewracking since I for one, was convinced we weren’t going to be able to keep it straight the whole way up by eyeballing it! Anthony may have worried about the same thing, but he never let onto it…someone’s gotta remain calm and confident around here. And it’s not me by any means! 😛

Once we got rolling, we were cooking with gas…ha! Not really. I hate cooking with gas (true story, I’m one of the few people who begged for an electric stove when we were shopping for our new appliances), I just wanted to use a cheesy pun. Lol.

 

Getting there…cutting each tile surrounding the range hood was oh-so-fun. We have our contractor to thank for that. They jimmied the thing into its location so tightly, we were afraid to take it off.

A final close-up before grout made it’s appearance…! Notice the spacers that hated consistently doing their job.

 

After heading to the HD to choose our grout, we chose this baby in Snow White. It took 1.5 bags to complete about 20 sf.

 

It’s shaping up to be a real wall finally!

 

 

If you look closely below, you can see the whole process in one image. Whoever said a picture is worth 1,000 words wasn’t kidding. 🙂 A fully grouted bottom part of the wall, a top left corner that’s drying and a right corner awaiting grout.

 

 

What’s that? It’s close-ups you crave? Sure thing. I gotcha covered.

And then, just like how they make a full-blown meal with the magic of tv, we had a full-blown completely tiled wall. Just like that… 😉 A few late nights, a few days of our stove sitting in the middle of the kitchen with just enough room to sneak by and a few 6 packs of beer later, we had a COMPLETED BACKSPLASH! Bada-bing-bada-boom.

Before the big reveal, here’s a before photo, just to remind you of the blah-ness…

 

And here’s what we get to enjoy on a daily basis now!!! 🙂 🙂 🙂

Sorry for the long post, there were a lot of details, a lot of decisions and so much effort that went into making this project a reality! I’m just glad to see less and less remnants of a construction site…I see enough of that at work. 😛 And, I think Anthony is glad to never have to cut any number of tiles around a range hood again.

 

 

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April 3, 2014 · 11:14 pm

Thanksgivukkah 2013

So I failed to keep my promise to you and share our Thanksgiving feastivus with you before the warm weather arrived…but I’m hoping I can get a pass this time because technically, the 70 degree weather was here for 1.5 days and is now nowhere to be found. The wind gusts the other night and the recent temperatures (high of 32?!) are making me feel like March really is the most bipolar month to ever exist. Update: I started writing this a few days ago when it was in the 20s outside. Now it was 60 yesterday and tomorrow 2-6″ of snow are predicted for Baltimore…?!?! Seriously? Hi, climate change, you’re obviously very real now…doesn’t mean I have to like you.

Let’s cut to the chase and present our scrumptious menu, shall we? 🙂 Oh wait, I forgot to mention, this year was the first (and last ever…at least not for another 75,000 years) time that the first night of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving fell on the same day. INSANITY! Hanukkah has never been this early. Totally threw us all for a loop. Talk about getting your shopping done early…I did not. Who is really done by Thanksgiving anyway?! If you ARE one of those people, please come help me with gift-giving ideas in the future. Anyway, this is a good fact to keep in mind as you check out our menu. Some items are a fantastic blend of both of our family’s traditions and cultures. 🙂

We had way too much fun coming up with the centerpieces and decorations for our house. It was the first time we were getting to use not only our new Pottery barn table, but the extension leaves to host everyone! Good thing we took the wall down between our dining room and kitchen…we needed all the space we could get to gather around the table. That’s a good problem to have. 🙂

If you look closely in the photo above, you’ll see 3 little turkey friends. We made them with G and she had SO much fun doing it! All they required were basic craft ingredients from Michael’s that added lots of color and smiles to the table: pipe cleaners, buttons, pom-poms, clothes pins, styrofoam balls and googly eyes. Now, if only we could find some more easy and inexpensive crafts to do together to keep our little artiste a happy lady!

We made the ‘Gobble, Gobble’ sign below using cardstock that was on sale at Michaels, tracing the printed letters onto gray cardstock and threading yellow ribbon through them all. G’s little mini handprint turkey was a nice centerpiece divider!

In between food prep, playing and eating, there was a lot of this…

Chillaxing at its finest. 🙂

Look who I found! One proud little girl learning to walk as we watched!

So, now that this event is behind us, I can say that it wasn’t that bad making all of the food ourselves! We just paced ourselves and spread it out over a 2 week period. Oh, and having family that were willing to bring everything else, helped a bit too. 🙂 I also need to give credit where credit’s due. See that turkey and fried shrimp? Yeah, that was all my incredibly talented hubby’s contribution. We used an oven bag (best recommendation ever!) and it was some of the tastiest turkey I’ve ever had.

Here was our first try at tackling the menu for all 13 of us (some of the bros couldn’t make it and  thank god the 3 dogs didn’t need to be factored in…lol):

  • Turkey
  • …the fix-in’s of course: gravy and cranberry relish, made by no other than the incredible Minke!
  • Fried Shrimp (it’s a family tradition)
  • Italian Sausage Stuffing
  • Challah Stuffing
  • Horseradish Mashed Potatoes
  • Sweet Potato Casserole
  • Brussel Sprouts
  • Parmesan Butternut Squash
  • Mini Noodle Kugels (Minke!)

These next few photos are what it’s all about. Family, love, hugs, and memories made at home. Here’s to our new home and lots of future big family gatherings!

Some of the desserts were brought to us by Aunt Raq and Minke…rum cake (my dad’s favorite!), pumpkin cake balls and pecan pie; and we made cranberry lemon bars, apple squares and a pumpkin roll. The feast didn’t stop at the main meal! 🙂 Happy birthday Aunt Christine and Pop-Pop!

Our Hanukkah celebration involved multiple menorahs of course; the menurkey was my favorite. Can’t wait for next year…now that we know how to keep 18 things coming out warm all at the same time, we got it in the bag (pun intended)!

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March 16, 2014 · 2:32 pm

Flor -ed at team ibby!

New post up for your viewing pleasure!

Here!

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We also missed the posting of our New House new room…for the kiddo post.  Enjoy!

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March 13, 2014 · 9:16 pm

I’ll be thankful for snow come July.

It’s March 4 and there’s fresh snow outside, coupled with bitter cold temps. I read this morning that BWI set a record low for this day in history: 4 degrees. What gives, Mother Nature?!

I know…since we still haven’t lived here a full year yet, you’re just giving us lots of snow days to enjoy at home in our “new” house (or testing our patience and creativity with multiple days off of work and at home with a toddler. I know our little ‘marshmallow’ is adorable, but…some of us are teetering on negative vacay time)! Well, just FYI, our chimney needs lots of work before it can crackle and keep us warmly curled up alongside of it, so we’d appreciate it if you’d save some of the snow and frozen weather for next year too, ok? Spread the love a little.

At this point in the year, my recipe ideas tend to focus on corned beef, irish soda bread and hamantaschen. But, this year I still seem to be stuck on comfort meals that come steaming out of the crockpot, mainly because it’s been so cold out. All I want to do is sit on the couch with delicious aromas wafting out of a machine that’s doing all the work for me! So, since my brain is still in cold weather mode and comfort foods (and oh yeah, I may have never gotten to sharing this with y’all right after the actual holiday happened. oops!)…how about we revisit a wonderful Cataldo holiday that combines chilly temperatures and completely fills your belly up with cozy goodness. It’s called Thanksgiving. And yes, it’s a holiday that everyone celebrates, not just our family as I referred to above, but when I met Anthony, I learned that Thanksgiving is THE most important holiday in his family. 🙂

Hold on, I just realized I have 30 photos of the big ol’ feast to share. They’re not all gonna get uploaded tonight so let’s break this post into 2, shall we? Consider it my way of spreading the love. Mother Nature, take note.

Part 2 coming to you before it gets warm outside…I promise. At this point, what’s another day, right? 😉

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March 4, 2014 · 11:14 pm

Last major kitchen project – started!

It was about time for us to start the last project left in the kitchen – the tile backsplash!  We’ve had the boxes of tile stacked in the corner of our dining room for, oh, I don’t know 4 months or so.  Just sittin’ there.  Waiting.  Collecting dust.  Just longing to be on display behind the range.

With all the holidays, G’s birthday, and scheduled visitors out of the way, we figured it was time to start that project which would undoubtably make our kitchen a dissaster.  We were realistic about the mess because it was not like we had a week off in order to complete the project – we knew it would be a done a few hours at a time after G was asleep/on the weekends/when we had a few minutes here and there.  By accepting the mess and being able to leave all the tools/supplies out on the counter, it would be easy to pick up and work on a section and then put it down to be continued later.  Ideal? No. But do-able with work and a toddler? Yes.

We also knew this project would take a little extra time because unlike 99% of people who take on a tile job and purchase that tile already assembled on one foot by one foot sheets where each tile is already perfectly spaced and the project moves 1 square foot at a time; we decided to mix two colors of the ornate tile we purchased and had to remove each tile from the pre-spaced backer and place each individual tile one by one on the wall!  Oh, and the two colors of tile are not the exact same size making it a spectacular effort to keep them well spaced, level, and plum! Handmade tiles, we love you, but you’re a real B—- to install!

Here’s a sneak peak from when the first few rows went up (you’ll have to wait for the rest!):

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Optimistic we can get all the tiles up by the end of the weekend (maybe even grouted??) and then share with you all.

Happy Friday!

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February 21, 2014 · 10:34 am

5 years of wedded bliss.

We celebrated our 5th wedding anniversary back in September. A little over 5 months ago. Go figure…Anthony always said 5 was his lucky number, so it’s perfect. Or a totally cheesy excuse as to why I’m only getting to these now. You decide. 😛

One of the things we love to do when on vacation is stay at a B&B…we hunt and hunt for one with charm, character, modern amenities, and walkability to local shops/restaurants/sights. So far we’re 4 for 4. 🙂 This time, our criteria also included being within a 2-3 hour drive from Baltimore since Aunt Raq was watching G for us (MAJOR AWESOMENESS!). After days of searching, we landed on Gettysburg. I’d never been but Anthony worked on a project there (at Gettysburg College) years ago. We were both excited to learn more about the history of the battlegrounds, but even more so to just get 48 uninterrupted hours together to eat, drink and be merry…and not be at the mercy of a nap schedule. 😉

The Brickhouse Inn was nothing short of spectacular in every way. Highly recommend it!!!

The minute we arrived, we were greeted with freshly baked chocolate cake and iced tea…and the ability to chill our champagne. Yessssss. We chose the Carriage House for our home away from home. It was a privately-entered-off-of-the-garden, loft-like sort of space that was the perfect size.

Here’s the lush and tranquil garden and patio space between the 2 old homes that made up the Inn. The Carraige House was to the right of this photo. We were lucky enough to be able to have breakfast out here both mornings! The weather cooperated, which is unheard of in our marriage. The weather cooperating for any big event? Crazy talk. We pinched ourselves multiple times. The grounds, the hospitality, the peacefulness, the fresh baked goods each afternoon and the fact that we could walk from our B&B right into town…we couldn’t have asked for a better getaway!

The green and yellow building below is the old, original RR station for the city of Gettysburg. Why can’t all RR stations be like this one and look like something out of a magazine?

We decided to take a horseback ride tour (provided by Artillery Ridge Campgrounds) through the battlegrounds to learn as much as we could about the Civil War. Best decision ever. Having a furry four-legged friend accompany us as we heard some of the serene timeline of events, kept everything in perspective.

This was the view as far as the eye could see. It was surreal to think of it as a place so many people lost their lives.

The trip was absolutely perfect and so needed for this weary mommy + daddy. 😉

Here’s to another 55 years, A! 🙂

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February 13, 2014 · 11:19 pm