Christmas Tree Debate… Real or Fake?

Hey Everyone!

So excited that Christmas is just around the corner. I cannot wait to celebrate our first Christmas in our new house, with Lily-bean. And this is the first time we are decorating for Christmas!! Everything’s looking pretty great, if I do say so myself!! Pictures coming soon… and the new fireplace looks EPIC with the garland and stockings. I cannot wait to show you.

My parents are amazing and last year, they gave us the fake Christmas tree that I grew up with. Of course, this led to an immediate and in-depth discussion between Todd and me, as a newly-engaged couple last Christmas. I bet you can see where this is going!

Here is the background on this debate: I grew up in Phoenix, and I can count on one hand the number of times we had a real Christmas tree… and every one of those trees was carefully selected from a dusty Safeway parking lot, driven the 0.5 miles to our house, and dragged into the house, leaving a trail of needles behind it. Lovely. When I was about eight, my parents got tired of the sap, the mess, the watering, etc., and bought a fake tree (in case you were wondering, the PC term is actually “artificial” because “fake” sounds so negative!!) So to me, “getting the Christmas tree” means going to the attic and bringing down the tree so it can air out before we hang the lights and ornaments. To Todd, this is a complete abomination of the true meaning of Christmas.

The first time Todd brought me to Iowa was in October of 2009, and the first activity we did with his family was going to the Kragel’s Christmas Tree Farm. The entire family went together to choose the perfect tree, two months in advance!! I bundled up from head to toe, and wondered in amazement at the entire operation. Here I am, just chilling in Iowa on my first family vacation with Todd:

all snuggled up!!

OK, so now that you have a visual, there are a few more things you might need to know:

1. Todd doesn’t just love the Kragel Christmas Farm. He, and his two brothers, worked on the farm every Christmas for years…. in the winter. In Iowa. In the snow. That is serious commitment.

2. In Iowa, you go and pick out your tree in October, and then when you are ready to pick it up, you go and they cut it out of the ground for you. No Safeway parking lots around here. You also get hot chocolate with marshmallows, which is definitely the most necessary part, since it was approximately eight degrees when we went there. Eight.

3. Todd and his brother, James, wrote a song about fake Christmas trees (Apparently James and Andrea had their first fake tree last year, too!) If you want to sing it, it goes to the tune of “Oh Christmas Tree” …seems appropriate right?

Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree, How I wish you were real.

Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree, How I wish you were real.

You don’t smell like a real tree, and you don’t like like a real tree either.

Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree, How I wish you were real.

 So after all of that, you can see why this was not an easy decision for us to make. Here we have a beautiful fake, I mean artificial, tree, which is so functional, but not the true Iowa adventure that Todd was looking for. So, we reached a compromise. We decided to trade off every year. One year, we will use our artificial tree, and the next year a real one!! According to Todd, “getting a real tree” next year will involve driving to Flagstaff with a chain saw. We will see.

I am planning to post pictures of all our Christmas decorations this week!! Hope you all are spending time getting ready for the holidays, and enjoying family and friends.




Chrissy + Ted… Engaged!!

Hey Everyone,

Thanks for checking in! As I mentioned yesterday, there are lots of exciting things happening around here… and one of my favorite things, is that my little sister Christina just got engaged to her boyfriend Ted! He proposed the night before Thanksgiving (is Thanksgiving-Eve an actual thing??) Anyway. Not the point. :)  The story is really cute. Our families got together for “Fake Thanksgiving” on Thanksgiving Eve, and Ted convinced Chrissy to go for a drive with him during the party. When they got back, they were ENGAGED!!

I’m really excited for them, and of course we are thrilled to have a new brother in the family!

It sounds like the wedding will be happening next fall (October-Novemeber-ish), and I’m sure there will be a million more updates as they get into planning. Here they are last February:

aren’t they so cute??

Congratulations Chrissy and Ted, we are SO EXCITED for you two! We can’t wait to be a part of your special day and your super beautiful life together.



Back to Blogging!

Hi Everybody,

So a lot of you have probably noticed that I haven’t been around for the past couple months. The truth is, we have just gotten so busy all of a sudden!! We started traveling a lot, work got much busier, and we had a couple of amazing weddings to attend… but I definitely have a lot of updates which I will hopefully be getting to in the next few days here!

The best thing ever is when I run into someone who I don’t see very often, and they mention the blog. What a great way for people to keep updated on our lives. Thanks to everyone who reads my random stories, and checks in on our house projects and puppy. We love you all! In the meantime, here’s a picture of Lily-bean, relaxing on a pile of laundry :) What a hard life!

cuddling with all her towels!!

Check back tomorrow for my first major update… my little sis got engaged last week!!



Quesadilla Maker or Bust!

Hi Everybody,

Hope you all are having a wonderful Thursday. We have spent most of this week and the past weekend working on our fireplace remodel and demolition. BUT we managed to take a break from all of the dust and craziness, to have a fun night out with friends!

Last Saturday, Todd and I headed to Dave and Buster’s with Christina, Ted, Katie and Bob (I think you have been introduced to everyone except Bob so far… he plays in a band with my sister and me, and we love him for several reasons: most notably, his ukulele skills… not to mention that he is an awesome guitarist and all around fun guy). Perfect group for a fun night out.

And, as most things tend to go in our life, we decided that we needed a goal for the evening: to win Christina and Ted a quesadilla maker for their new apartment. Apparently, this is a goal they have been working on for some time now, and it costs exactly 4200 tickets (which is equal to approximately $100 in tokens, to win the tickets that you need). I will not even tell you the retail price of a quesadilla maker (around $18), because you would definitely question our judgment in spending an entire evening/tons of money to achieve this goal.

I may have failed to mention that I am not a huge fan of arcades. Or any sort of organized sport, really. OK, so TECHNICALLY, skee-ball is not an organized sport. But when the game really gets going, and you only have one more ball to throw, and everyone’s yelling at you, I mean encouraging you… it’s SO stressful!!  Personally, I am not a fan. However, nobody else in the entire group agreed with me on this, so we headed to Dave and Buster’s to win a quesadilla maker. Onward and upward.

Once we got there, we ordered a few drinks, and the night became extremely entertaining and fun! We divided into teams, to see who could win the most tickets. Of course, all of the tickets would later be combined to win the quesadilla maker, but this made it much more fun. Of course, I kind of wanted to go for one of these awesome bananas:

who wouldn’t want a giant banana?

You know those wheel of fortune type games, where you have to push the button at the exact second to win the grand prize? Bob spent most of the night trying to convince us of his strategy, which is to always hit the button on the first time around, because it has to be a reflex – it can’t be timed or anticipated. Todd had me on his team, which meant that we spent most of the evening at the roller coaster simulation, which was epic. Needless to say, I didn’t win our team many tickets!

So by the end of the night, we were down by about 500 tickets. Just as we went to weigh our tickets and determine the winner of the competition, Todd played one last round of wheel of fortune – and hit the button on the first time around. AND he won the GRAND PRIZE … 1000 tickets!! Pretty sure that put team awesome (me and Todd) in the lead!! SUCCESS…

they got enough tickets for a quesadilla maker AND a sweatshirt!!

katie and bob… reflex masters!

the super unlikely winners!!



DIY Fireplace Remodel – Step 4: Total Destruction, I mean Demolition

I kind of feel a little bit guilty writing about the demolition part of this project, because I had very little to do with this part of the process. Our amazing friend Charlie took the lead, and he worked with Todd for an entire Saturday to take apart our horrendous fireplace. It’s amazing, because the more we tore it down, the better our room looked – even with all of the dust and disaster! Just in case you forgot what we were dealing with, here’s the “before” shot from Saturday morning:

“nice arch,” said no one, EVER.

So… it was time for the stucco-southwest-awkward architecture to go. And the boys were completely stoked to tear it down. First, some tarp coverage was necessary. We are not experts, but we did our best (I actually did have a role in this part… tape dispensing!) and here’s what we came up with:

tarp work… looking good so far.

The rest of the story may be better told in pictures, with some input from Todd along the way:

getting started… it was about this time when we discovered that there were not one, not two, but THREE layers of chicken wire, mixed in with concrete. I would say that they over-committed. Just a bit.

charlie… such a huge help this weekend! we could not have done it without you!

the arch is almost gone!!! and this is how i measured the success of this project.

that’s my man…

like i said, total destruction.

getting down to the bare bones for a clean and fresh start

thank goodness for the shop-vac. ready to roll for sunday morning.

We had anticipated that demolition would take 2-3 hours… BUT all in all, it took the entire Saturday. The main problem was, we thought it was simple drywall. In reality, it was concrete cinder blocks, and exterior-strength stucco, filled with layers upon layers of chicken wire. Since the house was built in the 80′s, we are assuming that this has been sitting here for approximately thirty years… and it didn’t really want to go. We were super thankful that Charlie had the power tools to attack the project. Todd’s advice for anyone who is considering something like this: Any project is manageable, as long as you have the right tools!

We also discovered that although you think you know exactly what you are dealing with, sometimes it is impossible to see something until you are diving in head first! And that’s the way we do most of our projects :) Haha!



DIY Fireplace Remodel – Step 3: Distressing the Mantel

Hi Everybody!

Thanks for checking back in. For those of you who are wondering why I haven’t written in a few days, there are two reasons: one is because we have had some serious demolition going on in the middle of our house. Secondly, I am trying to learn the techie stuff that goes along with blogging. Which takes a LOT of time. Anyway, back to the remodel, which is obviously why you are here!

So, my favorite part of the fireplace (so far) has been creating our mantel. Based on the detailed plans Todd drew up, we knew that our mantel needed to be 75 inches long. We wanted it to have a distressed look, and we wanted it to be a rich, dark color to match our dining room furniture, since the dining room opens up into the living room and faces the fireplace.

We debated about what sort of wood we wanted, the thickness, etc., but we finally settled on a giant piece of pine lumber at Home Depot. Of course, we were really disappointed when the Home Depot employee informed us that the wood we had chosen would not fit inside of his saw. So, back to the drawing board. It was seriously like a Christmas miracle, because we both turned the corner into another aisle, and saw this cart:


It was cedar wood, which already looked pretty distressed from wood beetles, and it was the exact thickness that we wanted! We could never replicate some of the distress patterns that the beetles had created. I immediately ran to find the saw guy (I can honestly say, I never thought I would be typing those words!). He explained that someone had done a special order for all of these boards, but then they had changed their mind – so the wood was on extra clearance! Perfection. We measured, cut, and loaded our new mantel into the car.

measuring the mantel

the “saw guy”

The next step was not so simple. We decided to distress and stain our mantel. Of course, both of us have pretty limited experience with this process, so we did what we do best – we Googled it. We found a bunch of tutorials for distressing and staining wood, and decided to try some of these strategies on the scrap wood we had left over from the saw guy (yup, it still sounds weird…)

Of course, we couldn’t do any of our projects without supervision from this little one:

lily-bean was not impressed when we started beating up the wood with a hammer… she’s a trooper though!

To distress the board, we just beat it up with hammers, pliers, whatever hard tools we could find. It was awesome! We used a combination of sanding the wood, messing it up, and then sanding it again, until it was nicely weathered.

hammer damage… maybe a little too fun.

sanding, in between the distressing

that is some serious distressing!!

The one disclaimer I will make is, be careful when you hit near the edge of the wood! Todd hit the edge too hard with a hammer, and a large chunk split off from the mantel. Luckily, that can go in the back so nobody will ever see it… but now you know a secret about our new fireplace! So, be careful you don’t go too crazy, depending on the kind of wood you are using!

a little oops… but it’s not honest unless we show you our mistakes, right??

We also tested various stains on our practice wood… which was a REALLY good strategy! The problem was, the wood was really dry, and apparently cedar is also a soft wood… so it soaked up the stain immediately. The directions on the can of stain told us to wait a few minutes, and then wipe off the excess. Well, there was NO excess. It was almost dry to the touch after two minutes, because it had soaked it all up. This would have been fine, except the dark walnut stain had turned our beautiful piece of scrap wood completely black. Not exactly the rustic look we were going for.

On to Plan B. Do you ever get tired of hearing about how we always have a Plan B? And usually Plan C, and when none of those work… we make up Plan D! We called Todd’s dad, who is an incredible woodworker. Unfortunately, they live in Iowa, so he only gets to help with these projects a few times a year. His suggestion was to use Gel Stain, because it won’t soak in as fast. Back to Home Depot, and this time we went with gel, in a lighter color. My logic was that if we needed, we could add a bunch of coats to make it the right color.

minwax gel stain in mahogany

Next, we stained it. We did one coat of gel stain all over, and let it dry. The next day, we re-coated the top and front of the mantel, since that would be the most visible. Unfortunately, we did the staining as a two-person job, so I don’t have any photos of the actual process. Todd brushed the stain on with a paintbrush, and I wiped it off within thirty seconds, using part of an old sheet. We just worked our way down the board on one side, and then rotated it to work on the next side, etc.

We sealed the mantel with a Minwax polyurethane satin finish. It is a little too shiny for our taste, so once it is all installed, it may get a little more sanding. We will see what it looks like when it’s up and the rest of the fireplace is done!! Here are a few photos of it, post-stain and finish:

mounted into the new fireplace… it looks SO GOOD!!!

pretty beautiful right??

Check back tomorrow for a post about the demolition! You will never see so much chicken wire in your life!




DIY Fireplace Remodel – Step Two: Choose Bricks

Once we committed to re-doing the fireplace, we had some important decisions to make. To be honest, I just wanted to sit down and cry in the middle of the store, because I had absolutely no idea what I wanted… but Todd was a total champ. He is usually the sane calm one, so that’s not shocking. First, we wanted stacked rock. Then, we switched gears to red brick, which we quickly rejected. Finally, we decided that we wanted to find the same marble veneer that was used in our kitchen backsplash, which looks like this:

the backsplash in the kitchen

We found something really similar at Lowe’s, but we still weren’t sure if it was the exact same thing thing. They carry4x8 tumbled marble tiles, which looked pretty close… but we didn’t have anything to compare it with, so we weren’t sure. Of course, no decision is ever simple with us, so we decided to open up several boxes, right in the middle of the store. Here are the options that we came up with:

first we mixed up the two kinds of brick… we decided it was too much contrast

the light colored brick. beautiful, but maybe a little too reminiscent of the bright white i mentioned before…

this is the exact same brick that we have in our kitchen… we found it!!! yay for Lowe’s!!

At this point, we had taken over the entire aisle and were getting strange looks from a few curious individuals. So, we decided to commit, loaded 19 square feet of tumbled marble tile into our shopping cart, grabbed some grout/sealer, and a big bucket… and headed on our way! When we got home, we figured out that it was the exact same as our backsplash… I love successful shopping trips.

Next, we have to figure out how to install it! Yikes.

Check back later this week for an update on our DIY mantel. We are getting close to a finished product!!



(Editor’s note: when I was writing this blog post, I consistently referred to the above mentioned product as “brick” because that’s what it seems like to me :). But my co-editor has informed me that it is actually 4×8 tumbled marble tile, and that true home improvement gurus will not be impressed by me calling it brick. In the interest of mutual satisfaction, I decided to mix it up… so sometimes I called it “brick” and sometimes I called it by it’s technical name… 4×8 tumbled marble tile. Oh, geez.)




DIY Fireplace Remodel – Step One: Make a Plan

Hi Everybody!

Hope you all are having a great Tuesday so far. I am pretty excited to go to work today, and here’s why: on Tuesdays, I lead a social group for teens and “tweens” (the awkward stage when you want to be a teenager but you’re really just eleven years old…) and we are starting up group tonight! We took several weeks off for the summer, so I’m really excited to get back into it tonight. It’s pretty entertaining and it’s always a good time.

Now, on to the fireplace… when we moved in, the fireplace was our least favorite thing about the house. OK, that is completely not true. Actually, I think we were both so excited about our house that we honestly did not even notice it the first twenty times we walked through the house. But on the twenty-first time we walked into the house, we noticed it… and we hated it were not impressed. Unfortunately, I had some pretty crazy camera difficulties around the time when we were moving, and I think the true original picture of the fireplace got lost. BUT lucky for you, I have pictures of us painting it, in our first attempt to cover it up subdue it. Let me start with this: The inside of our house is painted a beautiful neutral tan color, and we love it. NOT the fireplace. Oh no. the fireplace was white. Nope, that’s not even accurate. It was BRIGHT white. So white, it actually glowed in the dark when we turned off the lights. So white, it kind of burned your retinas if you looked at it directly. So white… well, you get the idea. Here’s the fireplace when it was halfway painted to it’s current color, which I think was a big improvement:

so white, we had to paint it before we got Lily, or she would have blended right in. haha now i’ll stop. but seriously – pretty white right??

Here’s what it looked like for the past six months that we have lived in the house:

dramatic improvement… or at least a good temporary fix!

So that brings us to the past month, when we have started to look at living room furniture. And of course, we realized that this 1980′s stucco disaster will not work with the rest of the house, or the style of our furniture. For anyone who hasn’t been to our house, you should also know that the fireplace is the first thing people see when they walk into the house. It’s the centerpiece of the living room, and it’s in need of serious help. Here are the main goals for the new fireplace:

1. NO MORE STUCCO!!!! We joke around that we need a turquoise coyote and some chili peppers to complete our southwest tribute… unacceptable.

2. We want a mantel (well mostly me!) so we can hang Christmas stockings. Oh, and I guess  we can put fun decorations on it for the rest of the year.

3. Drywall above the mantel – our ultimate vision is to hang a picture above the mantel, which we can’t really do because right now, the wall is cement/stucco disaster.

4. The arch has got to go. Enough said.

5.  Match the style of our home – our kitchen and bathrooms have dark wood and granite, with neutral brick backsplashes.

I thought you might be interested to see some of Todd’s quick sketches, so you can get an idea of what we are doing. The bottom half will be neutral brick, and the mantel will be stained, distressed cedar wood. Above the mantel, we will have drywall and (hopefully!) a hanging picture.

side view, front view…it already looks cozy!

can’t wait!!

Luckily, we have an amazing friend, Charlie, who is super knowledgeable about all things related to construction. He’s going to be the project manager on this little adventure. Check back later this week – I will be posting the bricks, mantel, demolition (ahh! nervous!) and the steps we are taking to create this beauty.



“S” is for sassy… oh wait.

As you all know, “S” is DEFINITELY for sassy in this family… Lily and I are competing for the sass queen title this week. But, “S” is also special for another reason… it’s my new initial! And as new nesters, of course I decided that we needed to represent this awesome letter in our new house!

I really wanted something for our kitchen wall, which holds some of our awesome engagement pictures (by these fab photographers) in a bunch of frames from our wedding shower in Iowa. I also wanted to try these fabric flowers so this seemed like the perfect idea.

Katie (Ahchay) and I worked together on this little adventure, and we weren’t really sure what we wanted the final product to look like. So of course, that’s the perfect time to start gathering a large number of supplies! We started with some scrapbook paper, twine, and some fabric squares. Oh and of course, my wooden “S” which was carefully selected from the fabric store.

looks like a great start to making it up as we go along!

Ahchay and I worked together at a preschool for kids with autism for a few years, and lived together for one extremely awesome year, so we have definitely perfected the art of multi-tasking. We can seriously drink a bottle of wine, discuss the entire world, follow a complex recipe (almost) accurately, and do crafts to our hearts’ content… all while listening to the “Party in the USA” channel on Pandora. Perfect Saturday night, right? Of course, we also know how to divide and conquer. And that’s what we did here.

Katie worked on mod podging the paper to the top half of the “S” — we cut little slits all around it, so that she could wrap the paper even though it was curved.

looks kinda crazy, but it worked!

I worked on creating the flowers, based on the directions I linked above. The only difference was that I used hot glue, because let’s be honest, I am not really patient enough to wait for fabric glue to dry.

fabric flowers! (see above for the link)

ready for the next step… twine!

After that was done, and the mod podge was dry, we wrapped the bottom of the “S” with twine, starting at one end.

wrapping with twine

The only awkward thing was the very end of the “S” which was not covered… so we fixed that with a little extra twine.

we glued twine onto the end, so that it would blend with the rest of the “S”

Next, I added the flowers, also using hot glue:

coming together pretty well!

Here’s the finished product… what do you think? Kind of fun, right? I love it that we had no plan, which is potentially stressful for both of us, and we made something awesome! Thanks Ahchay for hanging out and having a fun girls’ night!!

the finished product :)

gallery wall in our kitchenette

Hope you all have a wonderful week! Subscribe to my RSS feed (to the right of this article), and check back tomorrow… I am posting about our fireplace remodel which is currently a work in progress!



Four Month Anniversary

Today is our four month anniversary. Yes, I know that it is incredibly cheesy to celebrate our four month anniversary. So for those of you who don’t like cheesiness, I will completely understand if you want to stop reading right here (even though there are pictures at the end…) because I am about to get even cheesier. The year before Todd and I got married, we were beyond busy. He was in grad school and working full time, I was working full time at a new job, we were planning the wedding, and THEN we had the brilliant idea to buy a house. Needless to say, after the wedding, we were both beyond exhausted. But at the same time, I think we were both a little sad to say good-bye to all of the craziness (yes, I know, it sounds insane… but once you’re used to life being so busy, sometimes it’s almost hard to stop and take a breath… no matter how badly you need that fresh air!)  While we were on our honeymoon, we finally had time to sit down and talk to each other, and it was the best thing ever! I honestly have no idea how we got through that insane chapter of our lives, but I am so thankful that we did, and now we have lots of funny stories from the lack of sleep during those eight months!!

Since we got married, life has calmed down in a big way. We cook dinner together, go for long walks, RELAX, work on our awesome house, and have time to hang out with our wonderful friends and new puppy. The best part is, I get to spend every single day waking up to my best friend in the world. God has definitely blessed us with each other – we make a pretty killer team. And one of the things we decided after the wedding, was that we would celebrate our anniversary every month for the first year. That way, we get to continue the celebration of our love :) Haha non-cheesy people, if you are still reading… don’t say I didn’t warn you!

We decided to take turns planning, and tonight is Todd’s turn to plan. A full update on that when I have some details!! In the meantime, I wanted to share some of our favorite photos from the big day. We are in the process of creating scrapbook wedding albums for our families, which will probably be a not-so-surprise Christmas gift, so I have been spending a lot of quality time with these beautiful photos lately! All photographs were taken by our amazingly talented friends and photographers Jordan and Amy Demos. Enjoy!!

First Look… I seriously could not breathe at this moment.

ahhhh!!! SO excited and nervous!!

awwwww…. how did i get so lucky to marry my best friend?

couldn’t have done it without these ladies!!

the cutest boys around.

so blessed.

love LOVE my dad.

U2 “beautiful day” played while we walked down the aisle.

it truly was the perfect day.