Thursday, November 20, 2014

Custom House Portraits

I was lucky enough to take a quick road trip up to Boston this week to celebrate my dear friend's birthday. Ellie and I have been friends since 6th grade and we have shared so much of life together - high school, deaths, swimming days, college, marriages, births, our love of ice cream & Dawson's Creek and all the in between.

Ellie and her husband Tommy have an incredible story with their son Tucker. Tucker was born at 25 weeks with many complications - after almost a year in the hospital, he is back at home and thriving. He is a true example of a miracle! You can read more about his story here.

Not only is Ellie an incredible wife, mother & friend, but she is an incredibly talented artist. I can remember as a teenager begging her to draw just about anything, but mostly Christmas gifts for my family. She was talented then and she is even more talented now. 

Her latest venture is in custom house portraits. We were fortunate to receive a custom drawing of our house for a wedding present. I cannot think of a more thoughtful and perfect gift! We recently purchased a frame for it and look forward to hanging it in our entryway when we finish renovating the hallway in December.

If you are having difficulty coming up with the perfect gift for a family member, why not have Ellie commission a house portrait?! It will be the perfect gift, especially for any of those new home buyers out there. She has also launched a college portfolio this fall. All Virginia schools are highlighted and there will be more to come! Contact Ellie on her Etsy sight, Custom Portraits by E.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

An Adventure in Bluestone

This weekend was filled with house projects. Projects that had been in the making for months or longer. With the "polar vortex" that hit New England this weekend, we donned hats, hand warmers, and hot coffee to power through these "to dos" of the weekend.

First up was finishing the diy trash bin. It all started after too many mornings of this…

...We decided it was time to outsmart the raccoons and build a trash bin that would fit 2 circular trash containers with a solid lid. I managed to build the bin (with Andrew's help of course) out of 2x4s, galvanized nails & screws, 1/2" plywood and lots of swearing.  One day of building, one afternoon of shingling. It's nothing fancy, but it gets the job done - the trash is now intact & in the bin each morning. Gone are the mornings of picking up soggy containers, old meat remnants and God knows what else...

We also spent the weekend sanding and mudding the upstairs & entryway hallways. This project began LAST March with the removal of 1/2 the ceiling and installation of can lights.  Sheetrock was put up a couple sheets at a time, followed by months with gapping holes. After a while I forgot that part of the ceiling was missing, that sheetrock nails were on every surface and that I still did not have a linen closet that I had dreamt of months earlier.  All in due time, my friend.

And so we made it a few more steps closer to putting paint up on the walls. I for one will be psyched when house days no longer involve dust masks or the "nails on a chalkboard" also known as scraping mud on walls.  Does anyone know what I'm talking about?

And then the BIG, gigantic adventure in bluestone that was Friday. The first few weeks of living in the house, we realized that the chimney leaked each and every time it rained. Turns out there was no proper piece of bluestone or chimney cap on top of the chimney. There was a cement "cap" that had a large crack in the center, not so successfully covering the opening in the chimney.

Last year we asked our Portuguese mason to fix it. Apparently climbing up on the roof or getting in a crane and then putting a bit piece of bluestone on the chimney was not gonna happen.  Once we asked him, he suddenly forgot any part of English that we'd heard before and stopped returning our phone calls.

And this is how I learned to brick...

Andrew used his engineering, spacial genius to almost give me a heart attack and get that piece of 250 lb bluestone from the driveway, up the side of the house, and onto the top of 4 stacks of bricks. Nothing was broken. No mishaps happened. It was a surprisingly easy ordeal.  To which Andrew likes to remind me - he should not be doubted, it all works out.

It was literally the ballsiest and most brilliant operation and adventure that 82 Middle Ave has ever seen. And there has been a lot to be seen….

Friday, November 14, 2014

Lemon Meringue Pie: 4 Years in the Making

When Andrew and I first started dating I was a TERRIBLE cook. If the smoke alarm was going off, you knew I was in the kitchen. I ruined just about every pot in the kitchen we were renting, and managed to undercook, overcook, char, and ruin just about any recipe I tried. Seriously. I had a rough go of it for awhile.

With persistence and sweet encouragement from Andrew, my culinary skills have evolved over our 4 years together. In fact, the lemon meringue pie is a perfect testimate to my improved culinary abilities.

Andrew's favorite dessert is lemon meringue pie. It is THE only thing he wants for his birthday. Every year. He couldn't possibly have a regular, flour cake drenched in icing with colorful sprinkles scattered over the top. Nope. He wants the most challenging pie in the history of pies.

So, what does any good girlfriend, fiance & wife do?!?! She attempts to bake this challenging pie each and every birthday. And thanks to my lack of culinary skills, I have successfully ruined it each and every year, EXCEPT for this year! I also, for whatever reason, have used a different recipe every single year. This may or may not have lead to all the mistakes. Here's how the story goes...

YEAR 1: Runny Meringue

We had been dating for 4 months when Andrew's birthday rolled around. I just so happened to be in Newport waiting for a boat delivery south. We were living at Andrew's sister's house and of course I didn't really "know" my way around her kitchen, or any kitchen other than a boat galley for that matter. I also had no idea at all how hard it was to make a lemon meringue pie. If I remember correctly, the pie crust and lemon filling were fine. When it came to the meringue, I realized I hadn't bought cream of tartar. Big uh-oh. Andrew suggested we use cream (not at all like cream of tartar btw), which we had plenty of, and as you can imagine, the meringue was more like runny egg whites mixed in with some cream & sugar. Fail #1.

YEAR 2: Seeds

Year #2 we were living in Newport in a rented, fully furnished apartment and again, I was waiting for a boat delivery south and had time on my hands to bake. I decided to try my hand again at the pie, thinking this time I just needed cream of tartar and I would be golden. The problem was that I decided to make the pie gluten free. Big mistake. First off, the "crust" was the meringue and you needed a chistle to break it.  As Andrew attempted his second bite, he got this funny look on his face. He grinned, spit out two seeds, and said, "It's so good babe!". We proceeded to laugh until we cried.
Fail #2.

YEAR 3: Looks can be deceiving

By last year my lemon meringue pie was the running joke and the highlight of Andrew's birthday. I was determined to at least make this year's pie edible, being his 40th and all. We'd been in our house for a few months and I was starting to get this cooking thing under control. I was no longer setting off smoke alarms, and my dinners finally tasted as good as Andrew's cooking. I felt confident. I picked a new recipe that did in fact include gluten goodness and proceeded to follow each and every step to a T. I poured the filling, whipped up the meringue with large peaks & placed it in the oven to bake. It was a beautiful pie. I was ecstatic that I had finally gotten it right.

I sent my friend Meriah home with a slice that night and Andrew & I settled in on the couch to enjoy my first successful lemon meringue pie. We both took a bite and immediately looked at each other with big eyes. That damn pie was the chewiest thing EVER - it was like we were eating a sugar daddy. I could not believe it. I immediately texted Meriah and said "Don't eat the pie. Wait until next year."

That saying, "Third times a charm"…bullshit.

YEAR 4: Success!!

And finally, this year, with a new recipe that promised a no fail pie from the "Not So Humble Pie" blog, I mastered the lemon meringue pie. The crust was store bought (shh, don't tell). The filling was lemony and contained no seeds or chewiness. The meringue was fluffy, white and perfect. It could be a bit better, but god knows it could not be worse!!

I am proud of this pie, there is no doubt. It has become the running joke and I am glad to have finally tackled the challenge.  But I have to admit that I am sad as well. Sad that we will not fall over laughing on the floor over seeds, or think that cream will be a great substitute for cream of tartar.

I guess there is always next year:)

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

DIY Chili & Grilled Cheese Party

Last year I threw Andrew the ultimate 40th birthday bash - A BEER themed party complete with a Budweiser jacket, Budweiser cake, and "Beer Me" glasses. Can you guess Andrew's favorite brew?!?!

This year wasn't really a monumental birthday for Andrew, but in my book, every birthday deserves a celebration, no matter the number! For me, I'll make any excuse to get our friends together and entertain at our house. A fall birthday party seemed like as good an excuse as any! My sister and brother-in-law even flew in from Virginia for the occasion. We grew up with a mama who loves any excuse to throw a party and it turns out her girls are no different!

We spent the weekend soaking in the last "warm" days of fall, eating greasy brunch food, raking leaves, drinking mulled wine, and prepping for Andrew's birthday celebration.

I knew it would be hard to top last year's party, and honestly I didn't want to. I just wanted an excuse to light candles in my house, steal some ideas from Pinterest, and share some vino with friends while their kids terrorized my house.

I settled on a DIY chili & grilled cheese bar as I've recently been in the fall spirit. It turned out to be fantastic!! Who doesn't love chili, tomato soup, and grilled cheese?! Its a kid AND adult friendly meal for sure, so it was perfect for our mix of guests. 

For the grilled cheese bar I set up 2 panini makers (Big score on the Bella Panini Maker on sale at Macy's), 5 types of cheese, bacon, basil, tomato and lots of bread & butter.  It was DIY and added creativity and fun for guests. The chili I made with a super easy recipe - 4 ingredients - ground beef, black beans, diced tomatoes, and kidney beans (and spices). And the tomato soup was homemade from Trader Joes:) Thanks TJ! 

For dessert I opted out of the traditional birthday cake. Honestly, I just didn't feel like flour and icing this time around. So again, I went with the fall theme and set up a smores' bar, rice krispie treats & caramel apples. Another epic success with our guests of all ages. In fact, I think the adults enjoyed the gooey smores' more than the kids.

After the last guest had left, I surveyed the scene - beer bottles & chili mason jars scattered the table tops, kid's handprints smudged every surface and Andrew sat on the couch with a big grin on his face.  It was the birthday celebration that everybody deserves for a new year of life. A successful party celebrating my love, our friends, and this house that we now call home. I don't think Pinterest can capture that feeling, that wholehearted thankfulness for those who will come and celebrate a non-monumental birthday with chili & grilled cheese.  Happy Birthday Andrew! 

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Winterizing: It's That Time Again!

Anything with "winter" in the name gives me shivers. It immediately brings to mind itchy sweaters, cold feet, snow shoveling and house arrest. When Andrew brought up "winterizing" our house just last week before the first Nor'easter of the season, I cringed. I wanted to stay in my state of denial - the denial where the beautiful fall leaves would not fall to the ground, that I would not have to swap out my flimsy sundresses for bulky, thick sweaters, and that we would not begin another season of pricey oil bills.

Like any good Southerner, I can't stand the thought of winter. Much to my dismay, I am now a New England girl and I must learn to cope with the "wintery" weather that is sure to be on my front doorstep very soon.

And so we have spent the last week or so "winterizing" the house.  In hopes of saving a few $$ on our heating bill, we spent a little time at our home away from home, Home Depot, to stock up on insulating materials. We are hopeful that with all the new windows and wall insulation we put in over the last year, we will be warm and cozy. But, we decided to go a step further - the old saying "less is more" is not true in this case. Although ugly, we decided to put in weather stripping for both the front & back doors. The dutch door in the back creates quite the draft in an already chilly room, so we are hoping this will clear up the problem.

We also insulated all the copper heating pipes in the basement - there is no sense in heating our basement!

Those two first items were easy enough. The next one, its a real doosy. For the last year our chimney has suffered. Big time. The cap and bricks surrounding it are crumbling and water inevitably finds its way down the chimney with even the slightest bit of rain. The Portugese mason whom we love & did great work on our foundation, was not too keen to climb up on our roof and install a new slab of bluestone. So Andrew and I did it ourselves. And to be completely honest…I thought one of us was going to get killed in the process. I totally trust my husband - he always makes questionable projects work perfect, but hoisting a 250 lb slab of blue stone up to the roof had me hesitant. It was quite the ordeal & I have to give Andrew huge kudos for successfully engineering it all. Now we just need to learn how to pour concrete & lay bricks…easy, right?!

And if you want to know the saddest part of ALL of winterizing…it'd be the outdoor shower. It was like going to a funeral…sad to see it go and happy with the memories. Obviously I adore this shower. The reality is I despise the indoor shower/bathroom and am so sad that the weather will not permit me to bask in the glory of hot showers & breathe in the fresh air at the same time. It really is a beautiful thing.

Winterizing the shower involved bleeding the pipes of all water. Removing the shower head and mixer, then blowing out any leftover water with the air compressor. Putting it all safely in a box marked "outdoor shower". And then crying...

But you want to know the best part of all of winterizing?! The Sunbeam heated mattress pad from Amazon. That's right. For $79.99 you can have the best part of winter!! I ordered this baby last year when I could not stand one more night of cringing at the thought of climbing into cold sheets. This literally is the biggest game changer for those with poor circulation and the need for a warm & cozy bed at night in the winter. It will not disappoint...promise.

Fingers crossed that all this "winterizing" leads to smaller heat bills & a shorter winter.  One can dream...

Monday, November 3, 2014

"Stay Moon"

I have to be honest about something…

I DO NOT understand how in the world brides & grooms go on their honeymoon right after the wedding.

The day after our wedding I was a tired, crying heap of emotions with no energy or goals to achieve. If someone had asked me to get on a plane, let alone explore and navigate a new country, I would have run the other way crying and flailing my arms. 

Seriously though, that is the honest to God truth. 

Luckily for us, our honeymoon destination's rainy season just so happens to be in September & October. It also happens to be two of the best months in New England. And a still fairly busy work season for both of us. So, we have postponed our honeymoon for the two worst months in New England: January & February. Yep, that's right, we are escaping the polar vortex and heading to Thailand, Cambodia & Vietnam for 4 whole weeks! 

But you can't get married and then just return to real life immediately, right?!  We started wedded bliss with a 3 day "Stay Moon".  I highly recommend it. If you are like us, life is crazy and you rarely spend time in your home or state just relaxing and exploring without a purpose. 

We spent our "Stay Moon" exploring a few neighboring towns in Rhode Island & Massachusetts, slept 12 glorious hours each night, rehashed the wedding weekend again and again and again, and just enjoyed BEING together at our home. Here is a quick recap & a few recommendations. 


These sweet seaside towns are in our backyard and we still hadn't explored them. The head of the Little Compton harbor was filled with boats, gorgeous cottages, and a yacht club. Westport had a few wildlife reserves we explored and an incredible entrance to the harbor from the ocean that was churned up on the day we went. Lunch at Partners in Westport is a must! Where else can you buy a grilled turkey pesto panini, a lamp for your desk and a cute birthday card for a friend?

To say we love Matunuck oysters would be an understatement. We found these gems at a local farmer's market last year and decided to have them at our wedding. These oysters are grown, harvested & served at Matunuck Oyster Bar in Matunuck Beach, Rhode Island. We had never been and our "Stay Moon" seemed like the best reason to drive down to the south coast & slurp some oysters by the water. It also happened to be one of the most romantic sunsets of the year. Thanks Matunuck!

This funky sounding town name had me curious. Known for it's boating harbor & affluent coastal community, this town in South Dartmouth, Mass was a cute stop for an afternoon. Cute boutiques, restaurants & coastal views. We recommend the cheeseburger at the Black Bass Grille. 

 "Stay Moon" Success. Honeymoon on the horizon! Stay Tuned...

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