Travel to Louisiana – Part 2 of Travel to Texas

While I was in Texas for my friend Melissa’s wedding, I decided it was high time I went to New Orleans. You know, experience new things and such. When I told my awesome client and friend Alyssa about this plan she got so excited all the Southern came out and she began planning my trip for me! But, as things happen, regional flooding in Louisiana devastated her small town outside Baton Rouge and there was a hurricane on the way.

So instead of spending 2 days together we carved out a couple hours beginning with lunch at Parrains Seafood, a local staple with the best oysters I have had in a long while:


After catching up over lunch we crossed the parking lot for coffee and I convinced Alyssa to begin putting her amazing stories online because the photos she takes and the stories she tells are powerful (this is her blog) and I am so excited that she’s sharing again.

We linger over coffee for awhile and then Alyssa agrees to a selfie but for a photographer that means 10 minutes to set up her cell phone on auto, even as other diners offer to help. No, this is how a photographer works😉

Processed with VSCO with c7 preset
Processed with VSCO with c7 preset

Too soon I was back on my way and pulling into New Orleans in time for dinner. I stayed at a fantastic yoga studio up in the loft and while it’s small it was also perfectly situated on Magazine Street and in the middle of everything I want to see.

Wednesday morning I was off to the plantations, starting with the one that everyone knows: Oak Alley:


It’s gorgeous, the house tour is fantastic and so, so photogenic. I could string a hammock up between these trees and nap for hours:


At the end of our tour I was looking down to the back lawn where another tour guide was waiting to meet her next group. With a few photo filters this seemed to me a picture that could have been taken a hundred years ago:


I talked with a few tourists in from Australia and they recommended the Laura Plantation, just down the road and I loved my stop there.


While a much different plantation, this was a quieter stop and I had a nearly private tour (there were 2 of us plus the guide) and the history of the home and family that lived here was brilliant.


Brilliantly, we got to discuss a lot about history and I shared recommendations for my favorite new book (America’s First Daughter) and musical obsession (Hamilton) neither of which the young tour guide had read or seen. It was a beautiful place but I wanted to get back to town before traffic picked up so I skipped the swamp tours on my way back though I did stop at a beautiful cemetery.


Thanks to the elevation, floods and proximity to the Gulf, cemetery plots are all above ground here and, though different, they are beautiful.


There was a lot to explore so I made sure to try jambalaya, beignets and of course fried green tomatoes:


In the midst of my trip, I got some horrible news from a client in one of our group programs so while I was mostly “off line” and not working, I needed to be there despite my vacation. Without going into all the details, our client was in an accident where she was badly hurt and her infant son was killed. It’s still horrifying and tragic to think about and I’m glad that we could surround her with love and support as soon as it happened.

I was definitely feeling very raw and found myself crying when I thought of her loss so I took advantage of one of the perks of staying in a yoga studio and signed up for the evening ‘restorative yoga’ class with the studio’s owner. As it turned out, no one else showed up so I had a private lesson!

Friday brought a long drive back to Dallas for my flight home, made longer by the fact that my rental car did not have cruise control. It did, however, have a total of 7 miles on the odometer when I picked it up.


Friday night I stayed with my aunt, uncle and cousins in Dallas before returning the car and catching an early flight home Saturday morning. Not too bad of a trip to Dallas, Austin, Baton Rouge and New Orleans in 9 days!

Travel to Texas – Part 1

Recently I considered reactivating my defunct travel blog but bah, I don’t have the energy to keep up here, much less in 2 spots. I figure that the reason I was thinking about it was reuniting with my Scotland travel buddy Melissa, who recently got married in Texas. By the time I started adding all the pictures I needed a couple of posts so this is the first leg of the trip: Texas. Warning: there will be sweat.

I flew into Dallas late on a Friday, picking up my rental car and checking in for 2 nights. Since my body was still on California time I had a late dinner at Torchy’s Tacos: I picked the Republican and the Democrat and both were tasty (unlike real politicians):


Despite the time difference I was up early and headed out to the Dallas Arboretum and spent a couple hours walking around with my camera.


Melissa mentioned it was one of her favorite places in Dallas so I knew I’d have to see why.


Hard to argue with that.


The best, very random part, was that Saturdays in August were a steal with $5 parking and $1 to get in because who goes outdoors in Texas in August anyways?


Since the wedding wasn’t until the afternoon I had a little time to get ready before heading out. Like a good guest I didn’t take pictures during the ceremony but it was hard to hear Melissa at times and I resisted the urge to yell “LOUDER, CLEARER” during the vows like we used to do to each other during debate drills.

The reception was at the Chase building downtown in the Sky Lounge and it was beautiful.


It was awesome to catch up with my college friend Kirsten and her husband Hays over dinner:


And then dance with Melissa and her new husband Scott:


After dinner and dancing there was cake but also popsicles because this wasn’t a fussy wedding. In fact, we debated in the elevator what made it down to earth. The mac and cheese, said one guest, no, the onion rings with the veggies argued another. It might have been the popsicles or the confetti canon that exploded in the lobby when 50 people threw bundles of confetti on the departing couple.

Sunday morning I was up and out of town early, heading south to Austin. I had a meeting lined up with a Conquer client at the Whole Foods flagship store and their parking garage was the most technologically advanced thing I’d seen in a long time. Mary Ann and I worked on her funnel and business and had a great time!


In Austin, I chose to stay in a cute little camp trailer just for shits and giggles. Though the bathroom was tiny (smaller than an airplane’s) it had all the necessities.


I forgot to coat myself in a couple layers of OFF! so I got eaten by mosquitos and spent the rest of the trip scratching my poor legs. Sunday night I met up with my friend Vasavi for dinner and talking:


The next day (Monday) I was up early for a client meeting with my long-term client Maya (2 years and first time meeting!):


By this time my hair was saying “NO MORE HUMIDITY” but alas, there was little I could do to control the weather. I headed to a coffee shop to work for a bit and then met up with my awesome friend Kendra:


So all in all Austin was wonderful and weird and full of great people and I must go back. Monday night I was on the road again and made it to the eastern side of the state before I stopped for the night.

Not much to see since I took the backroads to avoid Houston traffic but there was a fantastic double rainbow that I had to pull off the freeway to snap:


Next up: NOLA


My newest project

It’s been well over a year of planning but finally, finally I got out the power tools and got to work on my most ambitious goal yet!

I started by having the electrician come and move an outlet + add another one high up on the wall. He also took the switch for the garage light and moved it to the garage wall. Here we are cutting holes in the wall:



And all done:


I picked up 2x4s at Home Depot and began cutting them to form the base:


As you can see it’s not just a box, there’s a cross support that’s 12″ from the wall (intentionally).

Then I created an identical box and measured vertical supports.


Here it is all screwed together using kreg jig holes:


If I were just building a bench this is where I would finish but my bench/banquette will also have a back and top. Here it is with the top attached:


With the frame done I’ll need something to cover it up – I decided on 1/2″ MDF for the sides, front and back, 1/2″ plywood for the seat and a 1″x12′ board for the top. With the exception of the top everything would get painted white.

I took the board outside and first hit it with a wood conditioner, then 2 coats of Jacobean, and finally 2 coats of Poly.


Now it was time to cut the MDF which came in a sheet 4’x8′ and was a BEAR to maneuver and cut. I mean, cutting it with my jigsaw was easy enough but stabilizing it was a pain.

I started by adding the front:


Then the side:


And then sidetracked to work on the bench seat. I wanted the bench to lift up for storage so I cut the Plywood to fit around the supports:


Then a cut where the bench seat would hinge – making sure I had enough clearance for the MDF for the back.



Before attaching the bench I attached a piece of trim on 3 edges to make it easier to paint. The trim was a little bigger than the plywood so once it was ironed on I trimmed off the excess with an exacto knife. Gave everything a quick sand and then it was ready to install.

I primed the bench seat on both sides and then attached a 30″ long piano hinge on both seats:


With the top in place I was able to trim the pieces for the back and the final piece on the side. It got nailed in and then caulked around the edges before a coat of primer.

Finally, I needed to cover the gap in the back pieces – due to a messed up cut on the first piece of MDF I intended for this to be one piece but hey, it’s 2! This 1″ piece of white trim got a layer of liquid nails on the back and then was taped and clamped into place.


Finally, the top piece was attached with a couple of 1-1/2″ nails.

So… all done, right?

Not yet, to finish it off and look seamless throughout the living room I added baseboards around the bottom and the everything got a nice coat of white glossy paint. Here you can see the primer coat on the left, first coat of white on the right.


It was still pretty streaky so the last coat went on with a foam roller to smooth things out. Here we are with the table and freestanding bench:


and after the final touch ups:


It’s hard to tell but there’s actually a 3″ foam piece on the bench right now which I’ll be trimming down and covering in fabric. But even that’s not “done” since I have big plans for the TOP of this bench/banquette built in to execute, just as soon as I’m ready to emotionally survive a living room full of sawdust again.



Building again

So it’s the weekend again and this time I’m covered in sawdust, there’s tubes of caulk on the kitchen table and no fewer than 4 types of screws waiting to be used. I’ve got the clamps out and I am just about to bring the second saw into the dining room, further adding to the chaos and dust flying around.

And it makes me so excited.

I mean, it’s nice to get yard work done and see the outside transform and painting is always a quick and easy transformation but building something is so cool. I’ve learned a lot over the years but am mostly self taught. While the tables I made for the master bath were way too wobbly and ended up in recycling, the potting bench in the front yard is still holding up well:


and the bed frame I build is super sturdy:


Even the raised flower beds are still doing well, now filled with plants:

Back yard 2013_07_16 (19)

So all of those projects gave me confidence for this new one which is bigger and more epic and even more expensive than the others. I spent another $90 at Home Depot today and we haven’t even started on the caulk, wood filler, paint or trim yet.

Since it’s getting cold outside as Fall truly arrives it feels good to work inside and get sawdust in my hair.

12 Final Things from August

It’s hard to believe that August, and therefore summer, is over but the calendar doesn’t lie. Before we transitioned into Fall I had a productive couple of days working mostly outside to get shit done. Here’s my list of accomplishments:

1. While the sugar maple tree came out last November, the stump was still about 2-2.5′ tall and 2 other big sections of the trunk were hanging out in my side yard, taking up space. Here’s what it looked like before:


So Dad arrived with his chainsaw and took it all the way down to the dirt and now I’m working to remove the rest of the dirt and roots to make this box even with the grass and sidewalk:


2. We also took out a medium palm, see the small one in the photo above? There was a second small one in this box a few years ago so I transplanted it to the patch of dirt under the garage window but it quickly grew too big. Bye-bye palm.


3. To keep the garden going in the drought, I’ve been watering sporadically while pulling out the plants I hate and want to die. So I bought 2 hose hangers for the house. We put one in the backyard:


and one in the front yard:



4. Outside the front door I’ve always had this lattice covering the beams that bridge a gap in the roofline. Which was a pain because birds could get up in the rafters and make a nest and the lattice was sagging heavily. So we took it down.


Now when I walk out the front door it’s nice and bright!


I may still add something decorative there but first need to clear out the gutters up there and probably replace them with new.

Here’s the bird’s nest I found:


(Note, I’m going to be doing something fun with the lattice so it won’t go to waste!


but until then it’s taking up space in the side yard so I can pull out 1,000 nails.)

6. The next thing we did was so simple but made a big difference to me! When I bought my washer and dryer last November they went side by side until I could have Dad fix the gas line. Then we stacked them with the dryer on top. The only problem was the washer door swings open to the left, the dryer to the right. With the right drill bit and some patience, the door hardware was swapped so the dryer door now swings open to the left and I can quickly transfer wet clothes up to the dryer!

In case you’re wondering why I want them to swing left, it’s because the soap and softener are on a small shelf to the right of the units.

7. As I mentioned in the last round up, my miter saw had been smoking and wasn’t cutting cleanly so it was time for a new blade. I picked one up on Amazon and then Dad found a replacement at the swap meet for my table saw. In a couple minutes he had both of them traded out and even took the old one to be sharpened for reuse. Now I can bust out the rest of the baseboards and a new project coming up this fall! Look at that shiny blade on the table saw! No more rust is a good thing.


8. With the new blade in place, I was able to cut the cleats for my headboard and get that installed! I’m so glad it’s done:


9. Super simple but been on the to do list too long task: Got the propane tank refilled and hooked up to the grill and immediately rewarded this achievement with steaks on the grill for lunch. The grill is now hanging out on the side yard now that the stump from the tree is gone.


10. It was also time to disassemble the raised garden bed I put under the guest room window and recycle that wood. I had to unscrew the supports but then it was pretty quick work to cut up the wood and put it out in the trash.


11. In the front yard I took some time to clear off the potting bench, wash it down, scrub it a little and then wash it again. I do need to slap on some Thompson’s water seal but that could come later on.


Although it seems like I’ve been spending all my days outside, this really was a productive week of catch up after a hot and icky summer. Inside most of my projects are done so there’s not a whole lot left to do week to week.

12. This year I finally got my ducks in a row to enter photos in the county fair:
Fair Photos

and I brought them home the Monday after the Fair + 2 ribbons!IMG_1424


12 Good Things

I started this list a few weeks ago but things have been so active around here I didn’t get a chance to post it. These weeks feel a lot slower, for some reason, so tracking what’s new and good and accomplished is always helpful.

1.I pulled out the outdoor fabric I’ve been hoarding saving for years and started cutting with an 18″ square template. I started matching up fabric and soon had 4 pillows:

Front Bench

2. After cutting, pinning, sewing, flipping, stuffing and sewing closed the opening they were almost done. I picked up this “never wet” fabric spray and gave each side a coating. Here’s how it works in real life:

Cool right? These pillows are now hanging out on my bench and I have a couple more indoors.

My strategy for years has been to buy ugly outdoor pillows at the end of the season and then recover them with nicer fabric. So I’ve been cannibalizing the innards and tossing the old outer fabric which is mostly faded and horrible. This has helped me seriously reduce the pillows floating around in my garage taking up space!

3. The super soft burp rags are stilling rolling along and I have a box ready for cousin Katie who just had her first last week and am busting through the designs for cousin Micah who is expecting his first in August. (Update: sent both boxes out and Micah’s son was born last week!)


4. In the stash of outdoor fabric I found the extra that I bought to match my kitchen curtains (which are now all lined, hurray!) and used it to cover the kitchen rug. This also got a coat of never wet but I might need to apply a heavy coat of Modge Podge since the fabric is a bit loose.


5. Last weekend I finally brought in the piece of plywood I cut for my headboard and started working. I covered it in a queen sized egg carton used for mattresses that I got pretty cheap at Amazon. Then I layered on batting, muslin and the fabric to match my upholstered bed.


It’s not yet installed on the wall so I’m just leaning it carefully in place until I can finish the cleats.

I know it seems like all my projects have been fabric related but there’s a good reason for that: my saw blade needs replacing.

6. Before the saw went smokey and the bandit, I was able to cut the 1x2s I picked up for my trellis project and then stain the whole contraption.

It was messy. I had dark spotches on my hands for days.

Each support got nailed and screwed together for stability and then I buried them in the flower bed. It won’t withstand a lot of force but it’s working to keep the bougainvillea growing up instead of out.


7. It’s back to school season so I hit a few stores to pick up supplies to donate to my chiropractor who is putting together a drive for a local charity. I found a backpack as well as the usual pens, pencils, erasers, folders and markers.

9. I also found quite a few awesome things for me, namely these cool wood bins which were clearanced for $7 each and are absolutely perfect for storing my finished corn bags that are ready for sale. It’s the little things that make me ridiculously happy. All of the corn bags are now stored in the guest room.


10. Meanwhile, I had to put away the sewing machine for a bit and pull out my poster project. This huge mandala of flowers has been fun to work on and the set of pens I got from Amazon are awesome (and only $8/set!). I’m so close to having this done and then I have no idea where I’ll put it.



11. Taking advantage of our hot days and sun beating in through the kitchen window (now that the sugar maple is out), I made several batches of sun tea.


12. Finally, in August I’ve been trying to get to the Farmer’s Market on Saturdays and one weekend I took Nixon with me for a turn in the convertible.




Labeling (everything) the easy way

I’ve been on a big organizing and decluttering kick lately. Well, in the last 3 years😉

This year I’ve focused on getting things pared down, sorted and labeled so I know what I have, need and never need to buy again (looking at you tea lights!). As is popular in Pinterest and on blogs today, a lot of people buy a Cricut machine which makes custom vinyl labels. I admit, it’s tempting but when I look at what’s easy and simple I came to the conclusion that it’s just not needed right now.

If I take the cost of the machine ($199-300 plus the cost of cartridges) it’s easier to think about alternatives. Here’s what I use most often:


Screen Shot 2016-07-16 at 11.18.05 AM

(find it here on Amazon)

While it’s not super cheap, it’s one of the easiest I’ve found to use and has a ton of features. One of the best things is that it’s laid out like a QWERTY keyboard so it’s similar to texting making typing out the labels a lot faster.

The clear cartridge is great and I’ve used it throughout the kitchen:

Screen Shot 2016-07-16 at 11.17.52 AM

I’ll admit that for these glass bottles I considered etching the glass but it’s so much faster and easier to use a clear label + I can replace it if it gets sticky over time.

I’ve also used the label maker for my spice jars:

Screen Shot 2016-07-16 at 11.17.59 AM

Again, easy to replace when I change up the spices or need to add more.

Throughout the house I use these Smarassel boxes to store everything from craft supplies to journals and cards. To make the labels I simply cut out small square from card stock, put on 2 pieces of wishi tape and then overlay it with a clear label.


The best part is that I can do a whole cabinet of these boxes in about 30 minutes with minimal tools or clean up.

Now, the main benefit I can see to a special vinyl machine is the ability to make BIG labels, for things like storage boxes holding holiday decorations or shoeboxes in the bathroom. I have a solution for that: printer + laminator!

This is the laminator I have though I’m pretty certain I paid about $20 during a Black Friday type sale. I’ve picked up full sheet and small laminating sheets but I love that I don’t need to put them inside a sleeve, just load them up and run through the machine.

Using a template in Excel, I make labels in 3 different sizes for small, medium and large boxes, print the sheets out on regular white printer paper, cut them to size and then run through the laminator.

Now they’re labeling boxes of medicine:


My storage boxes in the garage:


Even the bigger holiday storage:


and the buckets where I store shop rags and towels:


The cubes for clothing storage:


And even overflow storage in the kitchen:


How they get secured varies, the boxes in my room have handles so I simply hole punch the label and run some twine through the holes and tie off. For most of the plastic boxes I just cut a strip of velcro and secure it since it’s easy enough to change if the contents of the box get updated.

Comparing costs

While there are some costs to this method it works well for me. This is the printer I use which I bought for about $100 and the toner cartridge is about $10 and lasts a full 12 months of printing so the cost for these labels is negligible. Yes, the clear cartridge for the labeler is expensive (about $30) but for 30′ of label it’s lasted me years and I still have half left!

Either way there will be up front costs in terms of supplies but I still think I’ll come out ahead using the label maker and laminator over a fancy vinyl cutting machine. For the few items I would like nicer labels (like baking storage in the kitchen) I’ve been able to find affordable done for you options on Etsy. More on that in a later post!