Saturday, May 29, 2010

Patio Palooza: I walk the line

Before we had the yard dug up, we needed to mark out the future patio. I thought this meant spray painting wherever looked good, but I was clearly mistaken. Hubs had me out there: measuring perfectly straight lines, using a protractor, aliging angles and generally reliving geometry.

However, all those precide lines looked a little weird, so we ended up drawing a perfectsquare (so we would know we had enough bricks, sand and gravel) and then free forming the swoops and curves we wanted.

That dotted line between the two swoops marks where our garden will be. We wanted little pockets for privacy and nooks of gardens.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Deckstravaganza: Icing on the Cake

Wednesday, before a 200-day-a-versary dinner at Trostel's Dish (delish. You must go and you must get the crispy fried avocado. Must, must, must! Now!), we got a little work done.

Oh la la, check out the latest addition to the deck!

We took some naked poles...

...added these.

Et voila!

We've got some morning glories and moonflowers set to grow up the ballasters and soon we'll add some hops (yep, the beer kind, though they will be just decorative and not for brewing) to climb up, too. Throw in some hanging baskets and we'll be all set!

Farm fresh

Last night, I picked up our very first CSA share! CSAs (community supported agriculture) are rad little farms that sell shares and you get a variety of farm-fresh veggies every week. I've been wanted to get a share for the past few years, but never had the cash to spare (they can be a couple hundred dollars for the summer).

We used the Homestead, which is a small farm in Pleasant Hill, Iowa that operates a CSA and trains and supports autistic adults. I thought it was pretty cool that we could get local, fresh veggies delivered to our neighborhood weekly by a program that is also helping the community. Talk about multi-tasking!

Anyway, here's our bounty!

We're splitting a share with our neighbor, so this is technically half a share, but you can see it's plenty to keep us busy for a week. I was hoping for some asparagus to pickle (a la Diana at A Little Bit of Spain in Iowa) but oh well!

We started with a yummy spinach pizza. 

Can't wait to see what we get next week!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Patio Palooza: Bring on the Bricks! And a Guest Blogger!

Tomorrow, a man and his Bobcat are coming to our home to rip up the yard while I'm at work.

And so begins our very own Patio Palooza.

Yes folks, before we've even finished our deck, we're ripping up sod and getting geared up to build a 14x16 (ish) paver patio! No rest for the wicked up in here.

Of course, with work starting tomorrow and the bulk of it all going down this weekend, I've somehow managed to get off the hook. I leave Saturday around noon for five days in Mexico, so Hubs and a merry band of gentlemen will be the ones shoveling, leveling, shoveling again, leveling again, and so on. Yes, while I take my little sister to the beach for some R&R, Hubs and his poor, unsuspecting little brother will be here in Iowa, doing the dirty work.

I feel just gut wrenched over this. I mean, I’ll be lounging around, swimming up to get margaritas while poor Hubs & Co. lay out several tons of rocks and gravel. That’s just not fair, but somehow, some way – I’ll manage.

And, a surprise for you, my darling little blog readers:

While I’m getting a wicked sunburn because no matter how many floppy hats and SPF70 (seriously?) I have on my side, beach vacations leave me lobsterish, you’ll be getting updates from the brains AND the brawn behind the operation – Hubs himself. I assume you’ll actually learn something about building a paver patio while I’m gone, which will be a shock for most of you readers. Be kind to him, he's good people.

Adios, amigos!

One Thing Thursday: Puerto Vallarta (or any tourtisty jungle)

In honor of my Mexican vacation in a few short (actually, they feel really, really long) days, I present to you:

One Thing To Do in a Tourist-Riddled Jungle – Zip Lining
OK, so this isn’t the post you’ve come to expect from my hobo-with-a-plane-ticket-and-a-pocket-of-big-dreams OTT regimen, I know. You’re thinking, “Ma’am. OTT is about doing one thing unique to that location. Zip lining is offered, like, everywhere. Way to sell out, lah-oos-sah.”

Me and my sister, rumbling through the Sierra Madres, on our way for some good old-fashion tourist fun!

Well, I have no rebuttal other than to say that sometimes you go to touristy places and sometimes you indulge in touristy things and sometimes those things are freaking awesome and result in you catapulting through the trees, your safety resting in one carabineer and the technical knowledge of some dude with a scum stash. And that is OK. Fun is fun, so get off your high horse, already.
If you have time for two things: Find a dancing horse. This one was conveniently part of the resort's evening show, and it mesmerized Middle Sis and I for a good twenty minutes.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Deckstravaganza: Behind bars

Look what I came home to on Monday!
Our very first section of railing, which looks mighty fine, if I do say so myself. I helped Hubs and we had the rest up in no time.
Please don't be suspicious that there are almost no pictures of me helping. It's because I'm the photographer. Documenting this whole shebang for your amusement and mild education is important, too!

And while we where building, guess which of our friendly neighbors dropped by?

Awwww, yeah. Our boy Scott paid us his first visit of the year! We missed him so much and we're wicked pumped that he came by to see the new deck. We also had a baby fox chasing fireflies in the yard later that night. We couldn't tell what it was at first, so Hubs walked toward it and was about twnety feet away when he realized it was a fox. Everyone got scared and bolted at that point.

Once we had cleaned up our building supplies, I moved this sad little plant from its temporary home by the garage. One lonely salvia and something I think may be grass, but I'm really hoping it's the Columbine I had there last year.

And now, because we haven't posted a self-portrait in a while:

Are you ready for the unveiling of the newly-railed deck? Blam!

Before coming in to make a ginormous plate of nachos, Hubs also peeled the framing from the concrete pad that will hold in the main stairs.

Not bad for a Monday, right?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Hot, hot knits

Literally. My beloved side project, Happy Hour Homemakers, got an order from our one and only (and therefore best and most awesome) client for thirteen scarves. THIRTEEN!

Now our darling client was planning ahead and only wants these by Christmas, but fate has aligned our stars so that these will likely be finished before the Fourth of July.
  • I’ve got plane rides next week, four of them in fact, to move my rump from its current position on my couch to Cancun, Mexico. And seeing as how I am the woman who once spent nine hours panicking in a stall of LAX, terrified to board a plane for New Zealand lest I end up a corpse in an ocean, being slowly eaten by the supposed angels of the sea – well, distractions are certainly welcome as I swoop up and down over North America in a most unnatural way.
  • Once at my destination, my only job is to lounge and eat musk melon.
  • By nature, I’m wired to do a little more than that, so while my traveling companions nap and swim, I’ll be knitting.
Seriously, who takes 15 skeins of yarn on a tropical vacation?

*Also, who makes some of these vidoes? Bad techno and pixelated new agey dolphin art? Goodnight, America.

Deckstravanagza: Tedium

Sunday, we started with a muggy bike ride to Tally's for brunch, which has become our new weekly tradition. This time, though - we were armed with a coupon, so the whole thing was even sweeter. Once we were back, it was time to get back down to business.

We notched out the very last board and Hubs had the honor of placing the last screw. Just look at the pure joy on his face!

Then, while he went and futzed with our neglected garden, I started placing the baluster caps on the rails. We went with the black metal poles for maximum see-through-ability after the City of Des Moines crushed our stainless steel tension wire dreams. Let me tell you, measuring and drilling these caps was boring. Luckily, Hubs realized that somehow, we had forgotten to start our basil seeds (!) and I needed caulk to fill the caps, so we got to break things up with a trip to the hardware store.

When all was said and done, here is what we had: a deck with flooring and posts, but no stairs, rails or trellis. That's what weeknights are for! Though I failed at taking garden pictures - we did get the beans and basil in the ground finally, too. Parts of our life not directly related to deck building have been put on the back burner these past few weeks.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Deckstravaganza: Nine sweaty hours

Saturday, we were able to trick our friend, who we'll call Doc, into helping out ALL DAY LONG. Those of you who have built a deck know how intensely valuable this is. We were primed to take full advantage of our little helper. The poor guy even came over in a sweatshirt, thinking it'd be a little chilly. Sadly for all of us and our hydration levels, this was not the case. We were hit with an 85 degree day complete with a blazing sun and sticky humidity. Lucky us!
Anyway, we got started on attaching the deck boards. I was in charge of pilot holes with the puny drill and Doc followed with the Serious Drill to actually place the drills. Meanwhile, Hubs was in charge of this:
Just kidding; we all know he's far too industrious. He was fighting the other trellis pole and getting that into place and stopping whenever we hit a post so he could notch out around it. Doc and I were too nervous to do any cutting for fear it might not meet Hubs' exacting standards.
Eventually, we finally got the trellis post into place (of course when I say we, I mean the dudes did the legwork and I photojournalized).

After that, we were able to really move - we made huge deck board progress and Hubs was able to dig out and pour the concrete footing for the stairs.

Someone was absolutely no help. He'll remain unnamed.

I didn't count how many of these are on the deck because it would have made me weep. Lots. All perfectly aligned and beautiful!

Ah! Such a pretty expanse of wood!

At the end of the day, we'd racked up the following:

  • Three giant bottles of Powerade - emptied

  • 10 ABBA songs listened to because we were too focused on working to mess with my embarrassing iPod

  • One case of heat rash (Hubs, but he's tough; he'll be OK)

  • One nearly floored deck. We left one board off because we were so tired and wanted to fully enjoy the final board.

  • Two giant drilling-induced blisters

  • Three red necks

  • Six bags of concrete to fill a 5ft by 1ft pad

  • Two drill battery changes

  • Twelve hours of sleep preparing for Sunday

Friday, May 21, 2010

Deckstravaganza: Boards & jorts

First, something no human being - living, dead or in various stages of zombieism - has seen since 1994: Me in jean shorts.
Not only are there jorts, but there are also huge sneakers and zero fray because these puppies were cut in a blind fury. Stop your drooling, folks! This is how a lady who owns no gettin'-dirty shorts rolls when she's hot. Alluring though this look may be, there is much work to be done.
Or is there? This deck looks finished!
Just kidding. Trick photography, kids.

Anyway, we had a few floor boards down, so I worked on adding to our tiny landing pad while hubs started putting up the trellis anchors.
Again, with the trick photography. Look, Ma - no jorts!

This is where I stopped. The foreman looks pleased.

This weekend, we're calling in reinforcements! Hubs' old roomate is coming over Saturday for a long day of finishing deck boards and (we hope) starting on the rails. The end is near, you guys!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

One Thing Thursdays: Athens

One day early!

Today, my friends, all I have is this:

Yes. Me. Doing the Running Man. On the stairs of some ruins in Athens.

Have fun. Be careful of the ouzo, she's a meanie in a bottle.

Please forgive the head-to-toe denim, the wild bleached hair, the absurd look on my face and my errant tummy. Times were different.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Adventure awaits

You’re going to think I’m either a spoiled brat or a reborn gypsy after this post. Fair warning.

In two weeks, I’m heading to Cancun with my sister, my best friend and her younger sister for five days of sun, sand and Tecate. While that’s all good and well, my brain is itching for more travel. It seems I developed a nasty habit while I was a college student with a generous credit limit - I got used to scheduling solo vacation adventures each year.

Nowadays, with the cost of two airline tickets and actual jobs that don't take kindly to three week sabaticals, the opportunities for finding a good deal to Madrid and just going aren't as easy. nevertheless, hubs and I are plotting an anniversary trip that will put us somewhere new. Our feet itch to climb over new rocks, our ears to be completely confused by new languages and our mouths are hungry for something other than what we find on our plates here at home. But where will we land? That’s a harder question to answer.

Hawaii: We’re seeing some amazing deals on flights and condos (words can’t describe how much I adore browsing, plus we like the idea of going somewhere warm where we can wander through forests, nap on sand and eat Spam. The only negative is that we agree (illogically) that domestic vacations don't "count" as much as international ones.

Belgium: The original idea of renting a camper van and touring abbey breweries died when I saw that camper van rentals start at around $2,000. A little studio in Brugge and a cheap rental car could easily fix that, though. I even found an awesome 17th century turret in the city center we could hole up in with our brews and a fireplace.

Costa Rica: Just like Hawaii, Costa Rica offers two awesome landscapes and really affordable options. Also: monkeys and toucans.

Ireland: Hubs has never been and I’m jumping at the chance to get back to Cork and get my hands on some garlic mayo and a fresh Murphy’s. We’d probably drive the Ring of Kerry and see southern Ireland. I'm not eager to see my favorite places over-run with summer tourists, so I like the idea of making this a fall trip.

Macchuu Pichu: Our first idea, but sadly, far too expensive and deserving of more than the five-six days we can afford PTO-wise. Unless of course, some benevolent readers decided to fund us. I promise to repay you in witty blog posts.

Currently in the lead: Bocas del Toro, Panama. A chain of teeny tiny islands, populated by jungle hippies, expats, native folks and rainforest creatures. With hotels on piers and $.50 beer and swings over the ocean. We like this place because we could get crazy and kayak through bat caves (this activity will totally involve me wearing some seriously protective headgear. Remember the Great Bat Incident of Aught Nine?), or we could just nap in a hammock over the ocean all day.

Meanwhile, we've also noticed our (only) toilet is misbehaving, which is terrifying. It's orginal to our 1955 home, so we've known for a while that its time could come at any moment. However, I'm determined not to let one cranky potty ruin my dreams of international adventure in 2010. Come hell or high (sewage) water, we're going on vacay.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Deckstravaganza: Artiste

Thursday night, while hubs cut posts to their proper length, I stared at this mess.

Awful, right? The ugly patches where the old deck posts had butted up against the house, plus a few random peeling bits where about to be made ship shape.

Armed with the gallon of paint the old homeowners left us, some sand paper and a bucket of elbow grease, I fixed up the ugly spots and now the back of the house is as good as new!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Deckstravaganza: Level Headed

Putting up the main posts that will hold the railing in place didn’t sound like a big job to me. I figured we’d screw them onto the frame and call it a day, but hubs had another idea in mind.
Like all other parts of this deck, he wanted to make sure nothing short of the hand of God could remove these posts from our precious project. So we started by making sure each post was positioned perfectly. Not almost perfect, not “that’ll do” – no, we’re talking painstaking, life or death perfect.

Then, we used scrap 2x8s to frame around the posts so they were secure on all four sides. Nary a wiggle here, folks. Sturdy is an understatement.

Between late Thursday and early Friday, we managed to get up four of the six posts we will need! We also somehow broke this hammer, which I will be spray painting a light turquoise or something and framing, because we love free art!


We headed south this weekend for my sister's graduation party. On the way, I finished my very first hat! Larger than average craniums run in my family, so it isn't exactly the slouchy hat all the other girls in the knitting class got, but I do love the color and I've now officially mastered double pointed needles.
Once Lou-side, we camped out at my aunt's house with my pop's whole family - some of my most loyal blog readers! Eighty party guests, five pounds of Mom's macaroni salad and an entire pack of dogs, each more spoiled than the last.

Check out the newest family pooch: Murphy. She has a wardrobe of onesies that would rival any baby. What little girl doesn't love camo and lace?

Friday, May 14, 2010

How to Pull Off a Top Secret Trip

Since I love traveling and surprises, I can't think of a better present than a surprise vacation. Giving them is also quite nice because who better to chaperon a surprise vacation than the giftee's jet-setting older sister or a girlfriend with a new penchant for Italian nouns and simple sentences (that'd be me in both cases)? How very convenient.

Tomorrow, I'll be presenting my youngest sister with her secret trip at her graduation party. Two weeks later, we'll meet up with my best pal and her sis in a top secret location.

Seeing as how this will be my third surprise vacation gift, I figured y'all might like some tips, in case you too would like to trick an unsuspecting sibling or boyfriend into a quick jaunt somewhere exotic.
  1. Pick a good spot! Seriously, as awesome as it is that you get to tag along on this rad little journey, it's a gift. So don't gift your cranky Uncle Elmer* with a summer of following your favorite metal band. Unless Uncle Elmer is in to that, which is cool. I like when people are surprising.
  2. Pick a good cover! Even more fun than picking the actual vacation spot if picking a cover spot, so you can refer to the vacation and strike fear into the hearts of your giftee. All three times I've given a surprise trip, the giftees knew they were going on a trip and they knew when - people have jobs and stuff they need to plan around, you know? Personally, I like to pick the exact opposite of what the giftee would like, so I would tell Uncle Elmer to lace up his boots, dust off that dancing lady tattoo and get ready to mosh. He knows you're joking, but it's still fun. Currently, I have my sister stocking up on flannel and moose repellent for a camping trip in Alberta.
  3. It's OK if you slip. For hubs' trip, I couldn't make it until his graduation to let him know where we are going. The day after I booked the plane tickets, I squealed on myself. Being a real sucker for historical side trips, he totally didn't mind and he spent the next few months researching the area, happy as a clam.
  4. Consider all the costs. Nothing's worse than giving someone a present wherein they have to drop $500 for a rental car. Now of course, I've never made this mistake, but I imagine it would suck.
  5. Craft a magical reveal of the location. Assuming you can hold off on spilling the beans, make it worth it. For tomorrow, I've got a delightful bounty of clues wrapped up and ready to lead Little Sister to our ultimate destination. She's a history major, so I tried to find weird historical facts about the place.
  6. Keep it fair. Growing up with two sisters, my mom always made everything fair. We wore the same dresses in different colors, and even that would get heated if she got the pur-ple and I HATE teal. We got the same Barbies. Christmas presents were counted and recounted to ensure total equality. I apply that same philosophy to surprise gifts. It's just safer that way.

*I don't have an Uncle Elmer. He's a work of fiction. Sounds cool though, right?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

One Thing Thursday: Merle Hay Neighborhood

Perhaps best known as Beaverdale's neighbor, my beloved 'hood is actually Merle Hay - a pretty sweet neighborhood in its own right. We've got cute houses (mostly mid-50s ranches and 1.5 stories), bike trails, local businesses, BIG yards, mature trees, schools, a rocking neighborhood association (if I do say so myself) and proximity to all the fabulousness DSM has to offer.

What we don't have? A pawn shop.

You see, we recently learned a pawn shop/payday lender wanted to set up shop just blocks from what I envision as my forever home. Not cool. Always the marketer, I worry about people associating my neighborhood with seedy businesses. Studies have also shown that pawn shops can increase the crime rate and cause property values to plummet. Not music to my ears.

So, I spent today reaching out to my council members and neighbors - asking them to do what they can to keep my little 'hood wholesome. It's been a great response, but only time will tell. For those of you interested, there is a public meeting today at 4:00 p.m. at City Hall.

I digress: One thing to do when wandering the streets of Merle Hay?
Bike there!

I recently discovered biking and I like to swap out my SUV for my $25 refurbished Huffy whenever possible. Places I bike to (not all are technically in MH, but whatever - we're all neighbors!):
  • Snookie's for ice cream
  • Grounds for Celebration for iced tea on the patio
  • Timothy's for a beverage
  • Payless Shoes for kicks
  • El Chisme for pizza
  • Marino's for Italian
  • Merle Hay Mall for whatever my little heart desires (usually the next completion prize on an Old Chicago Mini Tour)
  • KC BBQ for some nomalicious pork
  • India Star for naan
  • Church!
  • Jimmy Johns because I'm freaky fast, too
  • The gym
  • Riley Park for a picnic
  • The bank
  • Dahl's
  • AK's
  • The Sprint Store, should my phone fail me

What do you love about your neighborhood?

*Update* Here are details on a council meeting this afternoon where residents will speak out against pawn shops and payday lenders.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Deckstravaganza: Speedy McHubs

I'd like to show you the progress of our final joists being hung, but I cannot.

Hubs gets home from work about a half hour before I do. Somehow, that half hour resulted in a ridiculous amount of progress yesterday:

He was hammering in the final nail when I pulled into the driveway. He's a wonderment.

There was still work to be done, though. So we moved this pile of gravel (which, I might add is much heavier than this picture lets on).

We put the offending gravel, to be arranged and beautified at a later date (once we have our mulch for the garden that will surround the deck), under the joists - again much more taxing that you'd think).
Then, we called it a day and went to get some spaghetti and meatballs at Marino's, where little old Italian men made cheesy jokes, hubs and I debated the merits of camper vans and I ate my weight in breadsticks. Perfecto!
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