Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

It’s patio-building season again and, as you can probably guess, we’ve been hard at work. You may recall that, as of the end of patio season last year, we were done digging out the area and built 80% of the wall.


After the cold, hard winter, our patio looked a little worse for the wear (so.many.leaves).  But we cleaned up and got back to work.  Here’s how it looks now:


Since this is the third year we have spent on this patio, we are ready for it to be done already (how is it not done yet???).  We’ve been moving full speed ahead on the project this spring:

  • We finished the last 20% of the wall.  That said, we haven’t capped the wall yet because we want to see how the different options look with the finished patio.
  • We installed the built-in light fixtures.  This was a nightmare because our Home Depot stopped selling the sconces we used for the first half of the wall, but fortunately we found them at another store.  Phew.
  • We set the first level of the stairs.  We won’t build the stairs up until the flagstone is installed, because we don’t know the right height of the steps until we know how deep the flagstone will be.
  • We picked out the flagstone we want to use!  We are going to use a traditional looking flagstone with natural features that will blend well with the extisting flagstone.  Each flagstone has different heights, which is a going to be annoying during install.  But it’s cheaper and looks much more natural and interesting than the “thermal” flagstone which looks more manufactured.


Progress!  But the title of this post is Two Steps Forward, One Step Back.  So, what’s the one step back?

We pulled up all the flagstone that was already down.  (Gasp!)

You are probably asking yourself why we would do that?!  Well, we wanted to re-grade the whole area.  The backyard gets a lot of water run-off, especially during big storms.  The run-off has been known to puddle near the house although it drains pretty quickly once the rain is over.  We want to route it away from the foundation to avoid any water trouble.


So our next step is to stake out the area.  (You may recall that we had to stake out the area to figure out how deep to build the wall, but those stakes are long gone.)  Then, and know that we are not looking forward to this, we have to dig again.  We will level out the area before ordering the sand and stone.

We’re getting there!!


The Wrong Shade of Brown

We decided to paint our guest bathroom brown.  It used to be a bright shade of green and it just didn’t fit with the color scheme that we were bringing through the rest of the house.


(That picture dates back to when we moved in, but we hadn’t touched it yet.)

We thought that a nice neutral would balance the yellow, green, and blue in the nearby bedrooms and a brown or beige seemed like a good option.  We thought we nailed it with a paint swatch we found at Restoration Hardware and had our local Benjamin Moore dealer replicate it.

When we popped the swatch up on the wall, it wasn’t quite as dreamy as we had hoped.  We thought it looked a little green, but attributed that to the underlying paint leaking through.  Turns out, it actually was just a little too green.

Bathroom- After1st Paint

Do you see what we mean?  The photo actually makes it look greener than it is in real life, but you get the jist of it.  We still think that brown is the right choice, but finding the right one is proving to be as difficult as picking the right shade of grey.

The tile grout is orange, which makes the brown look greener.  Also, the wood surrounding the medicine cabinet has red-orange undertones that clash with the brown.  Here’s a close-up:


So, we’re going to try a new shade of brown.  Our sights are currently set on Benjamin Moore’s Bradstreet Beige, a brown with some red undertones.  We’re not convinced that it will be right either, but we’ll keep working through it until we find the right one.

Downsizing: The Art of Gardening Near The House

Planting gardens alongside your house is tricky business.  The plants look tiny when you buy them, but, with a little water and sun, they can grow so big they overpower your house.  That’s exactly what happened at our house – a few shrubs grew a little too tall in front of our house, blocking the windows into the basement.



By the middle of the summer, the bush closest to the front door impedes the stairway and the little bench on the deck.  Even after cutting the bushes back in the fall, they really make the walkway feel crowded.  You can see that they have grown very close to the sidewalk:


So, to say it simply: those bushes had to go.


They came up really easily – they had shallow roots.  We were thankful for those shallow roots when we replanted them in the backyard – we didn’t have to dig deep holes in that rocky soil.  (Digging at all gives us patio flashbacks … )  The walkway to our front door immediately felt more spacious and less like you were going to get swallowed whole by a shrub.  The next step was the fun part – picking new plants!

The new plants needed to be shade friendly and not too big.  We wanted the bed to look nice all year, so we planned for a mix of perennials, evergreen groundcovers, and a dwarf ornamental tree for a little height.  We also knew we wanted to incorporate an azalea, since they are all over our property (our signature plant, if you will).  We drove over to Home Depot to look at plants and get ideas.  We came home with some ideas and drew out a plan.  Then, we picked up our new friends!


Here’s what we got:

  • A six-pack of yellow Asiatic Lillies (flowering perennial)
  • 2 Emerald Gaiety Euonymus (ground cover)
  • 1 dwarf Japanese Maple (ornamental tree)
  • an azalea in “girard rose” (shrub)
  • 2 Japanese Hollies (shrub)
  • 2 Bleeding Hearts (flowering perennial)

Plus, we had a rose bush that we planted last summer after we lost an azalea (the big bushes overpowered it).

We couldn’t find anything that would block the big gap under the front stoop.  Krister came up with the (brilliant) idea that we should move a boxwood from a bed next to our creek.  We are planning to rework that creek garden at some point, plus the boxwood was clearly struggling in the shade of a big evergreen.  Actually, two boxwoods were struggling in the shade of a big evergreen:


We snagged the better of the two (believe it or not, it’s the right one in that picture above) and transplanted it.  It fit perfectly:


Then, we planted everyone else!


A close-up of the bleeding hearts (Kristin loves them and was so excited to plant them here):


Check out the walkway to the front door too:




As a reminder, here’s what it looked like before:


And after:


How do you like it?  We’re quite pleased.

The Grass is Always Greener…

…on our side of the fence!  Okay, not really, but we try.

We love our lawn and we like to keep it green and lush.  But, as anyone who has a lawn knows, that is much easier said than done.  We’re constantly battling shade, pet waste, and erosion on our property.  The result is usually spotty grass, thinning, and a lot of moss.

Our arsenal is full and we don’t give up easily.  To combat the bare spots, we apply- wait for it, wait for it – grass seed.  (We know, that seems like an obvious solution.  Sometimes the easy answer works!)  We put grass seed down on the whole yard to fill in the bald areas as well as the areas where the grass is just thinning for thicker, stronger hair grass.  Then we sprinkle on fertilizer (Scott’s Turfbuilder Starter Food) to encourage the grass to grow.

Lawn - bald spot

The moss… well, that’s a trickier problem.  Our battle plan features three different strategies.  First, we aerate the lawn.  Moss can grow as a result of soil compaction, so we use a hand aerator to loosen the soil.  This task is admittedly a tedious chore, so now we’re sporting blisters on our hands.  Second, after aerating, we apply a healthy coat of lime to reduce the acidity of our soil.  Third , we spray a “moss terminating formula” (aka: a spray that kills moss) on some of the densest areas of moss.  The moss tends to grow in areas where the grass is thin, but in order to convince the grass to grow, we need to get rid of the moss.

Applying lime

We have found that getting started early in the season helps the new grass germinate and grow enough to tolerate the summer heat and drought.  We were able to tackle the lawn a few weeks ago and we’re getting ready to do a second application.  You can already see the difference:

Our pretty lawn

Much greener already.  Joneses 1; Moss 0.  Really, everybody wins.

The Colors of Spring

This year, the colors of spring are blue and yellow.  And now the colors of spring are covering our porch.  They look awesome:

Colorful porch

It’s been a while since we’ve posted about the porch, so here’s a reminder of what it looked like before our color infusion:


All we did was swap out a few pillows and add a rug.  But that’s all it took to get the room feeling cheery.  The pillows that came with the furniture were great (they had a lovely floral pattern that was quite fun).  The pillows were black and khaki, which left the room feeling too neutral with the brown-khaki couches and the brown wooden table.  Adding pillows was an easy way to bring some bright colors into the room.

Porch pillows closeup

We also snagged a matching 8×10 rug.  The rug was a necessity for making the room more usable.  We often didn’t use the porch because the slate floor in the cold porch made it too uncomfortable to hang out in.  Add a rug and voila! comfort.

The pillows and the rug are both suitable for outdoor areas.  You may recall that we used to get some water filtering through the porch back before Krister installed the door to the backyard.  The water has been gone ever since (knock on wood) but we thought it was safer to get watersafe furniture and accessories just in case.

We want to add a few more yellow accessories and we’ll certainly update you when we do!

Lighten Up

This post should probably be renamed: “Things that are a major pain and have little impact, but sometimes you just have to do them.”  Specifically, we picked up our paintbrushes and painted a ceiling, some shutters, and some mouldings…  white.

The paint job was one of those little things that we kept meaning to do, but it took us two years to actually do it.  The ceiling had a few little spots on it from before we moved in and some areas that had been spackled when our overhead lights were installed (back in the fall of 2010).  We painted the hallway shortly after Kasen was born (Spring 2010) but skipped the mouldings.  And the shutters were still the grey-white that the living room was painted when we moved in.  Another project that we should’ve tackled in the fall of 2010.  Needless to say, we’ve been putting it off.

Here’s what the ceiling looked like before (spoiler: it looked like a white ceiling):


Here’s what it looks like now (yep, still looks like a white ceiling):


Even though the pictures don’t show it, the shade of white in the “before” picture was more of a grey-white, which matched the color scheme of the living room before we moved in.  But after we installed mouldings in Benjamin Moore’s White Chocolate, a warmer white, the ceiling looked a little dirty.  Now it matches seamlessly with the mouldings.  And that’s something that really cheers us up!

A photo of the mouldings and shutters during the painting process shows the change a bit better.  Oh, but before we show you that picture, we should probably mention that the shutters we’re dealing with are the ones in the pictures above – so they’re indoor shutters, not outdoor.  We’re just working with our regular semigloss paint (Natura by Benjamin Moore) in White Chocolate.  Liek we said above, that’s the same color as the mouldings and pretty much the rest of the house.  Now, to show you the paint color difference…

On a closet door in the hallway:

Painting the Hallway

On the shutters (left is unfinished, right has one coat of white):

white on shutters

Here’s what the shutters look like when we finished:

shutters are white

By the way, do you see the color difference in the yellow walls?  The “after” picture is truer to life.  We just upgraded the camera (an amazing birthday present from Krister to Kristin) and the new camera grabs color more accurately.  We’re thrilled.

But going back to the point of the post (how annoying this paint job was).  It took 5 coats of paint over three days to get those shutters white.  And they still look a little bit grey in parts.  Hopefully it’s just a shadow, but annoying nonetheless.  But we’re happy to have the project under our belts and we’re ready to move on to more interesting projects!

Our Empty Nursery

Dedicated to Kalliope Joy, our sweet baby girl, who was stillborn on February 11, 2013.   This post will only contain “before” and “after” photographs of her room (no extra text) in her honor.


Littler Ks Room - before

Littler Ks Room - before - view 2

Kalliope's closet before


Kalliope's room

Kalliope's Corner Cabinet

  Kalliope's bedding

Kalliope's chandelier

Kalliope's closet door    Kalliope's closet - refurbished

We miss you, Kalliope.

Our Unique Second Birthday Party

We confess that we were planning Kasen’s second birthday party since last year.  We enjoyed the first party so much, we couldn’t wait to start dreaming up fun themes for a big ole Two Year Old.

Kristin was obsessed with the idea of doing a Frank Sinatra themed party because she loves that Kasen has big blue eyes and shares a birthday with Ole Blue Eyes.  Unfortunately, the planning never really took off because, well, we couldn’t come up with any fun toddler-appropriate activities related to him or his music.  Check out those blue eyes though:

Kasens Blue Eyes

(Picture courtesy of, Dec. 2011.)

So, back to the drawing board… and by “drawing board” we mean “Google.”  We just did a quick search for what other celebrities share Kasen’s birthday.  Staring back at us?  Bob Barker.  And so the Price is Right party was born.

price is rightWhen you have the right theme, the pieces just naturally fall into place.  We came up with so so so many ideas on activities and decor, but finally settled on these:

  • The famous yellow name tags
  • Bidding podiums
  • A stage where the kids could pretend to be Bob Barker
  • Plinko
  • “Showcase”-themed gift bags

Naturally, we DIYed everything and are going to share our how-to with you.  Everything was easy.  But first, a gratuitous and fun photo of our little munchkin, waking up on his birthday to discover birthday balloons (a family tradition):


Sorry for the iPhone picture instead of something with more quality – our cameras missed most of the action of Kasen’s birthday, so you’ll see a bunch of iPhone pics in this post.  Better than nothing!

Name Tags

The yellow name tags are a classic relic from the Price is Right.  Every audience member is a potential contestant and proudly displays his or her name on a yellow name tag.  We copied found a picture of the name tags online and drew them on yellow contact paper with a black permanent marker.  We can’t tell the difference.  Here’s a pic of Kasen’s name tag – and his birthday cake covered face:


Bidding Podiums

Our next bit of inspiration came from the bidding podiums used at the beginning of every show.  The contestants are told to “come on down” to the podiums, bid on an initial prize, and whichever contestant guesses closest (without going over) to the actual retail price gets to continue on to win more prizes.  The podiums on the show look like this:


We constructed toddler-height podiums using a cardboard and paint.  We had a big box left over from Kasen’s new fish tank light.  We cut it in half and spray painted it gold.  Then we took another box and painted each quarter a different color.  We used black duct tape to connect everything together and added vinyl numbering to represent each kid’s bid.  We stuck some buzzers behind the podiums and viola! instant toddler fun.


kasen bday podium cropped

Kasen still plays with the buzzers every day.  They were a huge hit!  If you’re interested, they’re called Learning Resources Answer Buzzers – they make four noises – a horn honk, a boxing bell, a door bell, and “boing!”

Bob Barker’s Stage

Before Drew Carey took over the show, Bob Barker used to stand on the stage looking over the audience and the contestants at the bidding podiums.  We had the same set up.  We constructed a stage using a piece of plywood on 4 small cinder blocks, which we had around the house.  We put some batting on top of it (the same kind you use for quilting, etc.) to soften it for the kids, threw a white sheet over it, and called it a stage.  We created a nice backdrop with a removable wall sticker that said “Price is Right” and set up some “prizes” for the “contestants” to bid on The “prizes” were actually Kasen’s big birthday present – a play table and chairs.  A microphone completed the ensemble.  Another toddler success!


Plinko Board

After a contestant wins the initial bidding, he or she gets to compete in another game to win some prizes.  One of the most famous games is Plinko, a game in which the contestant drops pucks down the board with the hopes of winning a cash prize:


We made a toddler-sized Plinko board (with the help of Kasen’s Uncle Billy) using a piece of peg board and some pegs.  It was not too tough to manage.  Here’s what we did:

  1. Framed out the pegboard, so the plinko pucks didn’t fall off the sides.
  2. Added a couple small pieces of wood to create “goals” at the bottom of the pegboard.
  3. Installed the pegs at regular intervals.
  4. Cut Plinko pucks using the jig we had in the house for cutting door knobs.
  5. Added a couple of vertical legs to hold the pegboard up.
  6. Decorate!  We painted the pucks rainbow colors and super-glued some scrapbooking letters on the top of the page.

It was a hit.  The kids loved climbing up Kasen’s ladder and dropping the pucks in the top.


The Showcase

At the very end of the game, two contestants compete to win the biggest prize of the day, known as the Showcase.  One player bids on a big prize that often includes vacations, cars, boats, or furniture.  A second player bids on a different big prize.  The player who bids closest to the actual value of their showcase wins the prize.

We know toddler birthday parties can be pretty competitive, but we weren’t about to give away a car at Kasen’s party.  Instead, we packed favor bags with toy cars, doll furniture, and play money.  And, naturally, we had a model showing them off:


The toddlers loved the new toys and games.  Everyone had a great time, especially Kasen!  We were really pleased with how everything turned out.  We know that next year Kasen will probably have his own opinions about his birthday party, but we enjoyed planning a really fun and unusual party this year.  We hope that you were inspired to throw an unusual party too!



For a while when Kasen was starting to learn about colors, when asked “What color is this?” he responded “Yellow!” regardless of the object’s actual color.  We are pretty sure that this declaration was a result of the word “Yellow” being fun and easy to say, because the true color-love-of-his-life is orange.  He wants to eat out of an orange bowl with an orange fork, to wear an orange jacket, and to play with an orange ball.  So, for his birthday , how could we not indulge him with some orange and yellow?


That’s right!  Kasen is the now proud owner of some orange fish.  And they are happy fish.

Kasen’s fish tank is a fresh water, tropical tank holding 50 gallons of water.  In its hayday, Krister kept salt water fish in the tank during college on a special stand he built himself.  Not surprising, since he’s always had the DIY spirit.  That brings us to a fun opportunity for a throwback picture:

fishtank in college

The fishtank is behind us on the left side of the picture (obviously the fishtank was not the focus of the picture).  On a non-DIY note, Kristin recalls that her arms were only that buff becasuse she helped carry that fishtank (with some of the water and fish inside) in and out of the dorm every semester.  Ah, to have those arms again.  Wow, we really have changed over the years!

The tank has been sitting in our basement gathering dust for a few years now.  Since Kasen loves fish (and Krister wants a bigger, that’s right folks – BIGGER – tank), we decided to move it into Kasen’s room.  Kristin’s brother Billy helped Krister move the tank and decided that the fish would be the perfect birthday gift for his nephew.  And he was right.  Kasen loves the “fishies”!  When he wakes up from naps, we hear him through the monitor advising the fish that they are orange.  You know, in case they forgot.

Oh, and for those of you interested in some of the physics at work here…  a 50-gallon fish tank weighs in the realm of 450-500 pounds when it is full.  So, if you’re planning to get one, you can’t just plop it on any old piece of furniture.  We are the type who tend to overbuild things and Kasen’s built-ins are no exception. The built-ins were constructed with a number of extra supports so that the shelves are strong enough to hold the tank (and probably more).

After Krister installed the tank, he drilled a hole into the built-ins so to run the wires and tubing.  We placed one of the toy storage baskets in front of the outlet, so Kasen wasn’t tempted to pull on anything essential.


A big thank you to Billy for the awesome orange birthday present for his almost-two-year-old nephew!  And we’ll be back next week with the details on Kasen’s birthday party (spoiler: it’s a Price is Right themed party, featuring some awesome DIY projects) and more birthday presents.

Baby Steps

We have begun progress on Littler K’s room!  We haven’t made much progress (hence this post’s title), but slow and steady wins the race, right?

So, when we left off, the room was untouched:

And we had picked a layout:

Our top priority was to pick a color scheme.  We hadn’t done that because we didn’t know if Littler K would be a boy or a girl.  Well, guess what?  IT’S A GIRL!   Kristin always imagined a purple and white color scheme for a girl’s room (if we had a girl).  In looking for inspiration, however, we found this gorgeous nursery color-combo at Pottery Barn Kids.  The rest, as they say, is history.  Here’s the PBK bedding that is our inspiration for the room:

We tested a shade of light green paint on the wall (Pale Vista by Benjamin Moore) and we’re sold.

Of course, we didn’t celebrate for long.  Settling on the color scheme reminded us that we have a lot of work ahead of us, before we can even get to nursery painting!  Our to-do list, which will probably grow, currently looks like this:

  • Replace the moldings to match the ones we’ve been updating in the rest of the house.
  • Install new overhead lighting.
  • Fix the closet.
  • Paint the walls and pray that we don’t have another wallpaper situation!
  • Bring in the furniture and accessories!

Oh, right.  That list actually is missing a huge project: cover the popcorn ceiling!  Which brings us to what we’ve been working on for a weekend or two:

We’ve taken out the mouldings and covered the ceiling.  We are in progress for spackling and sanding before we paint the ceiling.  Oh, and you can see our little paint sample on the wall next to the window (and another one on the left side of the picture).  The color will pop more when we get some new lighting in there.

Oh, and we have more news!  Well, the walls had some news anyway.  Turns out that someone stuffed some newspaper in the walls behind the mouldings in the 1970s…  We found mostly obituaries and lost pets, but we thought that the “MALE HELP WANTED” section was the most interesting relic:

So, we’ll continue to make baby steps.  We won’t try and do anything too fast in light of the holidays – Happy Thanksgiving everyone! – and Kasen’s upcoming birthday (is he almost two already???).  But we’ll keep chugging along and we’ll keep you posted along the way.  Hope you all have a DIY holiday planned too.