Happy Memorial Day weekend! While it’s really a time to honor our Nation’s deceased veterans, the focus tends to be a little more a little more on barbecues and booze (….and appliance sales…. go ‘merica*). The good new is that with a long weekend you can do both! Attend a Memorial service, spend some beautifying a loved one’s grave site…and celebrate with friends and family.
And if you like your celebrations on the boozy side, here are some cocktail recipes for you to try out.
Matt and I are both mad for Gin + Tonics… although I’m a little more open to variation than he is. Rosemary-gin-lemonade? Sounds deliciously summery.
If lemonade isn’t your jam, maybe try a different fruit with your g+t. I think the blackberry sounds especially amazing!
Our go-to Sangria recipe is, oddly enough, more winter-friendly, using oranges, lemons, and limes. Peaches just started appearing in stores here and I cannot wait to try this more seasonal recipe.
Mojitos are one of my favorite summery drinks, and I just planted some mint this year (if you do grow your own mint make sure you keep it in a container otherwise it could take over). You can also easily make mojitos by the pitcher.
Ever heard of a caipirinha? Most people I know haven’t, but they’re all missing out. It’s basically a Brazilian margarita–delicious, simple to make, and massively boozy (so be careful about how fast you go through them!)
Looking for more? I’m a little biased towards gin and rum so if you’re looking for something else Total Wine’s website has a recipe index by type of liquor.
And of course, please be responsible people.
*I feel like there really needs to be a be a proper sarcasm tag in HTML…
As Matt worked on the shed, I worked on digging up the stones on half of our patio. I like the stones, but the patio as-is just isn’t working so I’m going to reporpose the stones for paths and edging elsewhere.
I’m currently about 1/3 of the way through the patio. Looks gorgeous, huh? We’ve got a fine crop of weeds this year. (you can also see my make-shift herb/veggie garden in the pots–tomato, basil, and mint. It will be a good summer for caprese and mojitos…. if I can keep basil alive more than a week…)
This isn’t going to be the final layout (there will be a fair amount of tetris-ing, I’m sure) but I wanted to get an idea of how many of the stones I would need before I start digging them into place. I’m also planning on having some sort of ground-cover between the stones so those un-mowable patches of weeds won’t be staying.
I also have a PSA for newbie-gardeners: know thy evil plants.
I grabbed a pretty innocuous looking weed to rip it up and immediately knew something was amiss by the stabbing pain. Ok thorns, no biggie, right? WRONG! The stabbing/burning continued after I let go. Ohshit. I ran my hand under cold water and washed it with soap to try and wash away whatever toxin was causing the burning, but no luck. I even tried hot water which is a treatment for marine stingers… doesn’t work with mid-western flora apparently. On a whim I googled “Stinging nettles” and sure enough, it looked exactly like what I had grabbed bare-handed. Joy. The next morning–12 hours later–my hand was still burning. I tried hydro-cortisone and antihistamines but it still didn’t really start to subside until around 18 hours later. For the next couple of days it still felt like I had a mostly-healed burn on my palm.
It doesn’t look all that terrifying does it? The barbs on the stems really just look like fuzz… until you grab them. I was feeling kind of like a dumbass for not knowing what stinging nettles look like (#citygirl) but apparently none of my co-workers did either. One found out about them the same way I did, but another just knew she had these killer plants in her yard (seriously, one just brushed against her arm once and started the whole burning awfulness). My sister suggested this link for weed identification… but she also suggested having Matt do all the weed pulling and I kind of like that idea.
It doesn’t help matters that we have another plant that looks pretty similar to the nettles.
This one? Not a nettle. The leaves are still jagged, but a little broader and they get bluebell-like flowers on them later in the summer. Anyone know what they really are? The leaves seem to wrong for bluebells…
Fuzzy stem, still not a nettle. These guys get brown-eyed susan like flowers on them, but they’re way taller (about 4+ feet at their peak) and spindly-er than the brown-eyed susans I’m used to.
These guys just flowered. The flowers are more purple than they look here and I think they’re adorable… I just have no clue what they are.
And my final mystery plant… I don’t remember these flowering last summer (but we didn’t move in until July). It’s currently about 2 feet tall and too well-placed for me to just write off as a weed.
For those of you playing along at home, any ideas on my mystery plants? The first 2 have just about taken over our back yard so they clearly spread like mad.
Goodbye sad little shed, we will not miss you. Especially since you were a beast to take down.
It may not have looked like much, but this thing was surprisingly solid. We started by detaching it from our fence so that wouldn’t get pulled down with it. Then Matt went it and unscrewed everything he could and then took a crowbar to the roof.
An hour later he had the roof off, but it was ungodly heavy.
“Real men work in khakis.” –Matt Also, this was just 2 weekends ago and we really did need jackets. Yay for early May in Minnesota. At least it wasn’t snowing….
Before we could do anything else we stripped off all the shingles–they weighed a ton! Then we were able to wrestle the roof away from where it fell so Matt could work on breaking it down into manageable chunks.
After lunch we tackled the walls. Some of the plywood panels pried off relatively easier than others….
After about 3 hours of work the whole thing was down. The shed was really assembled in the most mind-boggling way–nails, screws, bolts, staples… they used every kind of fastener known to man. Plus, every one of the 4×4’s supporting the corners was made up of multiple pieces sistered together. 3 were 2 separate pieces, and one was made up of 3 different pieces cobbled together.
It still doesn’t look like much, but I think it looks better. It’s one of the sunnier parts of our backyard so may be a possible spot for our future vegetable garden.
Matt likes to cook and I like to bake, but with limited space we haven’t amassed a huge collection of kitchen gadgets (and I’m actually not a fan of super-specific gadgets). I thought I’d share some of our favorite kitchen pieces though.
Ohhh yeah, the highlight of any wedding registry, right? If you don’t do any significant baking you probably don’t have to go this fancy, but for me it’s awesome (especially come my annual Christmas Cookie Bonanza). I haven’t bothered with any of the uber-fancy attachments, but I do really like the flex-edge beater. I also feel a little lame that I stuck with the classic stainless steel when there are so many color options out there, I just figured there were cheaper ways for me to change up my kitchen color scheme.
The first food processor I got Matt was a little mini-prep one. It was amazing for dicing onions and chopping up things for guacamole…. but then we discovered the joy of using a food processor to cut in butter so we upgraded to a bigger model. Matt makes scones every Saturday so he actually uses this one more than me!
I’m a big tea drinker, and Matt’s the only coffee drinker in the house so we don’t have need of a full coffee maker. An electric kettle though? It makes us both happy, and this one also looks so cute on our counter! Personally I prefer the ones where the kettle is independent of the heating element, but this particular one is a little heavy because it’s ceramic.
It looks so simple, but it’s so useful! Anytime I’m working with a stickier dough it help to cleanly remove it from my rolling surface and get cut-out cookies off without deformities. It also will do a great job scraping off cutting boards if you want to compost or just don’t have a garbage disposal.
Spatulas are pretty standard cooking gear, but these specific ones are my favorite. They’re one solid piece so you don’t get ickiness building up in between the blade and the handle. As I was putting this post together it looks like more places are making solid spatulas… plus some in fun colors!
What’s my secret to perfectly proportioned muffins and cupcakes? A cookie scoop. It’s super easy to get the batter from the bowl to the pan and a large (3 Tbsp) is the perfect size for a standard muffin tin.
I have a nicer set on our table, but for the counter I love these because they’re a combination shaker AND pour spout. Cool, huh?
You can find rolls are parchment paper most places, but the flat sheets are kind of amazing. No ripping, no curling, just easy-peasy. (Also, if you’re in a bind you can substitute a cut up paper bag for parchment… just never use wax paper as a sub).
You know how I said I didn’t really like task-specific gadgets? This one’s the exception. Sure, it’s not that hard to make rice on the stove top, but having to get it just right when you’ve got other stuff happening? It can be a little putzy and this guy takes all the guesswork out it (plus a lot come with a steamer so it’s not totally a single use gadget). It’s also no more work to clean up after than another pot you would have used to make rice anyway.
I have my music pretty solidly under control since I switched to download only for any new purchases and ripped everything else to computer several years ago. I’ve known some music snobs though who still prefer to buy CDs so they can control the settings when they rip them to their computer. If you’re among the music snobs you may still want to back everything up on an external drive and then rid yourself of the physical CDs. Seriously, you Do Not Need Them.
My personal favorite media player is iTunes (yup, I’m an Apple fan girl*). It’s free, and I really like their sorting options. Most people know iTunes, but not everyone knows the extent of their sorting options (heck, Matt still complains about their options and I don’t think he’s used iTunes in a decade). I also have a nice Bluetooth speaker so I don’t have to haul my computer around to listen to music around the house.
Movies + TV
DVDs are my main trouble spot. Most downloads are protected and will only play on whatever player the seller says (ex: iTunes, Amazon Video). I don’t particularly care for these restrictions so I continue to buy hard copy.* Unfortunately DVDs take up gobs of space.
It’s not even that bad, but shuffling through all the boxes was annoying, plus Matt started to complain about my collection so I decided to compact it because I’m a good wife. Matt’s a fan of the disc binders but I think they look kind of ugly. You can get nicer looked ones, but they’re pricey and the style still doesn’t fit what I’m looking for. I opted for inexpensive CD sleeves, labels, and a couple small bins.
Labels: $10/350, Mircrocenter
Sleeves: $2 /100, Microcenter
Bins: $6, Target
Please ignore my slightly dysfunctional curtains…
I have one bin for movies and one for TV (and a third for the extras/special features disc). I may add some dividers for genre/TV Show Name, but right now it’s just alphabetical. The movie labels have the movie title, rating, and run time, and the TV labels have the show name, season/disc number, and episode names. On some I could fit the episode names on the main label, but for others I had to print a second which I just stuck on the back.
It works for now, but I have dreams of creating a CD sized card catalog style drawer system some day. I’ve been looking for plain wooden CD drawers that I could cobble together, but no such luck so far. I may try and make the whole thing from scratch, but drawers are a little finicky.
If you have oodles of free time, you could also rip all your discs to a portable drive and plug that right into your computer. My current computer is USB only and my old laptop was very slow at ripping DVDs so that may be a super long-term project for me…
Oooh this one’s touchy for me. As I’ve mentioned before, I LOVE books. Not ebooks, real, physical books. I also tend to hoard despite the fact I live right across the street from a library. Basically, don’t use me as your role model for book storage (but if you do, no judgement here). I still browse through my collection occasionally and weed out things that no longer hold my interest…. when we moved I think I got rid of about 5 books…
Also, does anyone else wish amazon paired an ebook with any hard copy books you buy like they do for CDs? That would make travel delightful for me (which is like the only time I really use ebooks).
Last time I touched on cleaning up photo files on your computer, but what about preserving your photos? You take them for the memories right? So you probably want to go back through them now and again.
I’m not much of a scrapbooker, but I love having nice printed albums. You don’t have to print off your photos before hand, you can resize as necessary, and they’re so much slimmer than if you scrapbooked by hand. I tend to have individual albums for big trips/events, but I’ve also been toying with the idea of creating little “yearbooks” to use the random photos I take over the year. I saw the idea on Young House Love and I think it’s a great idea. I’ve been using Shutterfly for my printing so far because they always have coupons, but there are tons of options out there.
If you don’t want more stuff (more power to you!) albums might not me for you. You may still want to put together slideshows to make your digital photos a little more accessible. iPhoto has a slideshow option, but my dad (who is not a total Apple convert) just uses Powerpoint and it works for him. Bonus, if you hook your computer up to your TV you can show off your photos to a whole room of your captive family and friends.***
*Except for the iPhone… I have an irrational dislike of their charger. I hit charger Zen when I realized all my small devices took a micro USB. Why do you want to take that away from me Apple????
**Ok, Doctor Who I still buy off of iTunes so I can get instant gratification
*** I actually like seeing people’s photos, just pleaseplease spend at least a little tend editing them before showing them to other people…and I don’t even necessarily mean like Photoshop editing, just weed out the super blurry ones and the 20 bajilion duplicates, mmkay?
I LOVE our yard, not for what it is at the moment, but for it’s potential. It’s small, private, and well shaded. I think it’s the perfect size to give us some space to garden and entertain without being a giant time suck. Plus there’s a nice playground about 2 blocks away (and 2 more within a 5 minute drive) so it gives visiting nieces and nephews (and hypothetical future children) a place to get their ya-yas out without us having to deal with the maintenance. Win.
Currently though, the yard is a little sad.
We have about zero curb appeal… but a lot of that comes from the poo-brown color of our house. As much as I hate the color, we don’t want to invest in painting/re-siding until it’s actually needed because it gets pretty pricey for a 2.5 story house (and the paint is currently in fine shape). Until then I do still want to beef up the landscaping. I’m picturing hydrangeas on the sunny side, and a sprawling shade garden under the larger pine.
Around the side we’ve got some annoying slopeage happening that’s kind of PITA to mow. Matt’s big goal for the year is to build a wall. A small wall. A small retaining wall. We just want to even up the front yard and side yard a bit for a cleaner look and easier maintenance.
And then there’s the backyard. I love how private and shady it is, but other than that it doesn’t have a lot going for it (expect potential).
The existing beds are pretty ramshackle and weedy, there’s a weird garden right smack in the middle that seems like a waste of space, and the patio is pretty beat up and mis-matched.
On the other side we have this weird shed (lean-to?) thing that serves no purpose whatsoever for us (expect for looking ugly). It needs to go. The fence on this side does need to get replaced, but it might not be a this-year thing.
Fixing the door is a slightly higher priority since it should be a pretty cheap and easy fix that will help things look a little less janky. The stone-rimmed bed over here is a new addition. It’s going to be my pollinator garden. I split up an existing sedum from the middle our yard, and picked up some blazing star bulbs and a pollinator seed mix to fill in (you can see all the green where they’re just starting to sprout).
The main plan for this year is demo so it will all probably look a lot worse before it will get better. The shed needs to go, the existing patio needs to be ripped up, and the cellar entrance to our basement filled in. Some plants I want to relocate and others may be ruthlessly ripped up. The front yard also needs some regrading to happen so our front yard may be mostly dirt for a while.
We’re going to be working on a couple different projects over the next few months–yard Before pics coming soon!–so I figured some outdoor corners would be nice springtime inspiration for all of us!
Not gonna lie, but I’m really not a fan of grass. It’s kind of boring and you just have to mow it constantly. A little bit of river rock filler though? Nicely textural and will really make the plants pop around it. Plus I dig the ever-so-slightly overgrown look this little corner is sporting.
Gravel can also make for a cute patio area. I love how they paired it with pavers here to make a more stable area for the table and chairs. Also, did you notice the A/C unit? I barely did.
Pavers, wood decking, mulch, AND gravel? Whoa! I love the mix though… as you may have caught on I think texture is a huge part of landscaping and this setting seems delightfully low maintenance.
I’m also a sucker for ponds, but I’ll never talk Matt into one in the mosquito haven that is Minnesota. Maybe a nice little bubbling fountain to kill the standing water….
Or maybe a dry creek bed? I love the look of these and they can help out with drainage in problem areas.
Perhaps you’ve heard of the new(ish) fad that is the She Shed? This kind of makes me want one…. Plus, I LOVE the look of ivy, but I know it’s terrible for homes. I might sacrifice a small shed to it though.
If you want another way to get your low maintenance (after it’s done anyway) texture groove on, how about an rock rug? I don’t think I’d have the patience to make one, but they are pretty swoon-worthy.
Oh hallways, another oft neglected part of the home. Right up there with ceilings really. While I’m a fan of neutral hallways I do think neutral still deserves thought and consideration to flow well with the rest of the house and our current hallway is just a little too builder-beige for me at the moment.
We have these AMAZING stairs that I really want to pop, but for now they just recede into shadow.
We also have quite a bit of open wall space, probably more here than any other “public” room. The landing makes a great home for our cat tree (and the kitties love being able to lord over our back yard) but it’s not the most attractive feature (and I’ll be honest that I don’t actually have a good solution for this yet). Also, when this house was built why in god’s name didn’t they center that window???
The railings were lovely at one point but appear to have taken a LOT of abuse over the years. Most of the newel posts are missing the trim around the cap, we have one spindle that’s completely missing and another that’s held together to electrical tape. I think we may have to get the spindles custom made, but I think I can tackle the newel caps myself.
I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned it, but I am a HUGE sucker for staircases. You have no idea how thrilled I was to find a house with a pretty impressive set of stairs.
A more traditional vibe than what I usually post, but this one is probably the most similar to the stairs in our house. I think the two-toned look is fab and I’m seriously considering duplicating it.
Exposed brick may be another love of mine. The sleek modern stairs paired with the more industrial brick is also a contrast I’m particularly fond of.
While this is clearly not for households who have need of a handrail, I love how bright and airy this is (bonus points for a cozy reading corner)! Also, can we take a moment to collectively swoon over those beefy wood treads?
Maybe your stairs aren’t already making an architectural statement, but this ombre paint treatment would make even the simplest of stairs pop.
If you fear no pattern you could also opt to wallpaper your risers… or stencil, or tile. I saw a similar treatment with white textured wallpaper that was pretty divine as well. Plus if you use a removal wallpaper you can easily swap it out as your tastes change.
Maybe you have some outdoor stairs that you want to stand out. How amazing are these aged aqua steps??? I wish I had a place for them in my life right now.
If you have a small yard and want to maximize your greenery I think using glass steps over plantings is kind of ingenious.
Some of these were more recent than other, but none really deserved their own post. Every house has it’s small projects that make a difference though.
Our butler pantry had a pretty hideous light fixture–really just a basic socket and pull chain (like you’d find in an unfinished basement) with an ugly little clip-on shade. So sad. The problem here though was that we were super limited in our choices. There was no switch so we had to have a pull chain, and the trim around the weird built-in shells left us only about 6″ of space to work with.
We ended up finding a super-cheap Jelly Jar light at Menards along with a pull-chain kit. For about $10 total we figured it would be worth a try even if we royally effed it up.
Still not amazing, but probably the best we can do with the limitations unless we haul in an electrician (which, honestly, I really would like to do).
The hardest part of converting a standard light to a pull-chain is drilling the hole for the pull-chain mechanism itself to go through. I would suggest trying to make a pilot hole of sorts by pounding a nail through the area first, then you can probably drill through. Matt tried using our Dremel and admitted it was not one of the smartest things he has ever done.
Micro-bath Mini Makeover
Our half-bath wasn’t in awful shape, but it still needed a little lovin’. I don’t have a proper before picture, so here we’ve already swapped out the existing faucet for this adorable ceramic-handled one switched out the mirror for something with a little more style.
We also replaced yet another sad little light fixture.
I’m actually still on the hunt for a better fixture here, but at $25 I don’t feel too bad about swapping this one out again down the line. The micro-bath is going to get a more significant makeover in the near-ish future so I’ll probably be deciding on a more permanent replacement then.
Our house is in desperate need of some curb appeal, no question there, but a lot of that will be slowly worked in over the years. A more pressing matter however, is that our front steps lacked a railing. This can be a sore spot for insurance companies, but it was also a practical issue for us. Our parents are getting older, winters are icey, and I have a nasty habit of random injuries* so having a railing on our front steps seemed like a really good idea.
We picked up a fairly inexpensive railing at Menards since we’re planning on completely replacing the front steps completely in the next couple years. It took a few hours to align and assemble and then another day to paint (Rustoleum Hammered Old Bronze). It actually looks better than I expected!
Please ignore our ghetto drainage solution–we get huge amounts of water pooling there when it rains and until recently it’s been too cold to start properly re-grading that area.
We’ve been steadily switching out all the switches and outlets in the house for the “decorator” style ones. We needed to switch out all the beige for white anyway (at least by my personal definition of “need”) so I opted for the fancy ones. Regardless of which style you go with though, replacing grody old switches/outlets can really make a big difference.
*Spraining your foot when you live on the 3rd floor with no elevator is not pleasant.