While we were out, Scott and I spent the world’s fastest few days in New York – first in a suburb of the city, then a handful of nights in Manhattan. As it always seems to go, our time there was way, way too short, but it was long enough to give us that much needed break from front-porch-planning, laptops, work talk and baseboards (oh, I cringe!).
My mom lives in a small town about an hour and a half from the city, and for the very first time in my life, I met my 17-year-old half brother – who, by the way, is a pretty amazing kid! The days leading up to our trip, I remember feeling nervous and slightly anxious; I’m going to meet a sibling! I haven’t seen my mom in almost 6 years! Where’s the wine? I need my chill pill. (Ha!)
My parents divorced when I was very young (too young to remember), and I grew up with my dad, step mom (who I called “mom” – she raised me, went to every one of my hockey tournaments and has always been there), and half siblings (who I never viewed as “halves,” so to speak; I changed their diapers and drove them to sports practice!). My birth mom always lived far away – at least a long plane ride – and aside from a few phone calls every year and one visit when I was 10, I never knew her as an adult. To be quite honest, I never gave it much thought until I was in college, a result of my friends questions and curiosity. Growing up, it was something that didn’t cross my mind much; that’s the (weird) truth (I already had a happy family I’d known almost my entire life), but 6 years ago, we reconnected after more than 15 years (!).
It’s funny that until that meeting, I didn’t realize that I really, really missed her being a part of my life. We never discussed the gap in time, and at this point, it doesn’t even matter. (Better late than never, as they say!) I know it might seem strange, but she held and coddled our cats in the same way I do, she ordered the same ice cream that I crave on hot summer days, and she would say a sentence – verbatim – at the exact moment that I did. (Jinx!) She’s an incredibly talented artist, and she walked around our entire condo and commented on each photo, framed print and paint color choice; she loved it all.
Since that visit, we talk on the phone much more, we send cards, and after 6 years of not having seen her, we booked our tickets to a tiny airport in Newburgh, New York, and we met her husband for the first time. We met her son (and my half sibling) for the first time! We slept in, watched movies, barbecued and ate coconut cake. We fell in love with their teeny poodle Biscuit, and I considered stuffing him in my suitcase. (Do you think they’ll notice?, I asked Scott.) As an adult, I finally feel like I know my mom. And for as many things that we have in common, she’ll surprise me with the silly things she says, and the things that worry her. I’ve learned the cadence in her voice, noticed the way she walks, and we filled our bellies on her homemade Korean food.
At the end of our visit, she dropped us off at the bus that would take us into the city. After such a wild range of emotions, it felt a little surreal to say good bye, and she cutely tried to prolong the visit by insisting we stop at the market for fruit and snacks. When I promised her that we would eat lunch after we checked into our hotel, she waited with us until the bus came (we both got teary eyed, of course!), and we were on to the next leg of our trip!
The ride into NYC was nice, since it gave us a little time to decompress, chat about the whirlwind family “meeting” – and what’ll be the first thing we do after dropping our bags? Scott and I have both been to the city previously, but it’s been well over 10 years for each of us (and ironically, we realized that we were both there during the same month, same year – before we knew each other!). We were only in the city for two and a half days, and these walking legs were sore by the time we boarded the plane back home! The sign of a successful vacation, we think.
We walked The High Line, dined off of your feedback and found ourselves in the middle of a dance-party-slash-BBQ-fest. An evening with an old friend had us discovering dinner at the end of an alley, cocktails in a speakeasy and ending the night with big, floppy slices of pizza. The weather was just as temperamental as Chicago, giving us beautiful sun one day and rain and fog the next – it didn’t matter; we soaked in every minute!
And a message to New York and (new) family: we won’t be long.
If it hasn’t been incredibly obvious over the last handful of updates, we’ve really been focusing on our house’s exterior – and my goodness, the power of paint! And new concrete! And well made stairs! (Can you tell we’re thrilled to nix the baseboard talk; if only for a little while?)
After all of those larger upgrades, we were happy to hone in on something much smaller – those outdoor lights. Ours haven’t worked since we’ve moved in, and just last week, they officially died for the garden apartment, too. It was more than just a bulb issue; aside from their inability to properly mount onto the house, the ballasts were bad and the fixtures simply needed replacement. (Had it been as easy as replacing the bulbs, we probably could’ve given them a new coat of paint, but, ugh, these went way, way beyond that.)
The challenge came in the width – a lot of in store and online browsing had us coveting fixtures that were way too wide, and we were limited to no more than 8″ at the widest point and no more than 5″ for the base. We ultimately landed on these, which were exactly 8″ with a 5″ round base. Done, and done!
The only difference between what we got and what the online description would have you think is that the finish is matte black, as opposed to the glossy black you see in the listing. (There’s one review that mentions this as well, so we knew that before purchasing.) The seeded glass is a nice detail, and the matte finish complements our door hardware pretty well!
The garden unit had the same former lights as us, but they were installed upside down (um, what?), and they were dropped pretty low. Our tenant mentioned that it was blinding to come home at night, which, yea. We needed to fix that for them right away…
… and much better!
We went with a similar light as ours, but because vertical height is limited in their entryway, we scaled back on the size and picked up these fixtures, which worked perfectly. Above, you can also see that we shortened the drop of the conduit – which, sadly, left behind two raw-concrete-colored patches, but our forever goal is to re-paint the entire foundation. (On a side note, we originally ordered four of these smaller lights, but they felt dinky next to our door + transom window combination.)
We’re amazed at how this teeny upgrade has made all the difference – but haven’t we been saying that with every change-up lately? It’s true. Not to mention, they work! (And as we were screwing in the last bulb, our next door neighbors came outside and applauded our weekend work – ha! It was funny, touching, and satisfying.)
We’re both feeling inspired by how far the front has come, and we’re so, so looking forward to more impactful projects as this warm weather is (finally!) sticking around. Our days and weekends have been jam-packed with DIY (morning, noon and night, as they say), but right now we’re looking forward to the coming days, because we’ll be taking a little adventure break visiting family and friends in NYC. These frazzled minds need a good rest, belly laughs, adventure and a recharge, and so, we’ll be back in a week – ready to go!
PS… NYC lovers! Can you recommend your favorite place for brunch? For dinner? For drinks? We have no agenda (but limited time), and we’re all ears!
PPS… For the love of pet and prints, we’ll still be taking Pet Shop and Print Shop orders as usual!
As Kim mentioned yesterday, we’ve started to realize around here that once in a while, the better fiscal (and marital saving) decision can sometimes be to hire a job out. And after an almost entire wasted day this past Saturday, the stairs leading up to our front porch just may have been another one of those times! But after cutting our losses Saturday night and a fresh re-start on Sunday, we’re ultimately glad we pushed through ourselves:
While you can see the faded, splintered wood and crooked construction on the left, above, the photo just doesn’t do justice to how rickety the stairs really were. In a completely inexplicable move, the cracked, crooked concrete pad had actually been poured around the old stair stringers, which had led the wood to rot and slowly sink down and to the left. Paired with our (spoiler alert!) formerly crooked exterior lights, our house had started to look like it was three sheets to the wind, so to speak. (Go home, house; you’re drunk.)
It all started over Memorial Day weekend when my folks came to town, and my Dad and I were on Team Rebuild the Sloppy Staircase. Our concrete guy had made quick work of the old steps with a sawzall to properly pour our new pavement, so we started with a clean slate.
After some brainstorming, a bit of quick math and a handful of trim cuts, the three stringers went in pretty quickly. Tip: Save yourself time and hassle and buy these pre-cut. You’ll gain yourself a few hours and LOTS of hassle – and only spend a couple extra bucks.
Your math (and local building code) will vary significantly from ours if you decide to tackle this project on your own, so this post is not meant as a tutorial. Rather, this is an un-tutorial? (Quick web research will turn up a handful of online plans and tutorials if you’re feeling brave!) Once the stringers are in and level, the stairs pretty much assemble themselves. Place your risers in first (we used pressure treated 1″ x 8″ boards ripped down to fit), then screw your treads in place.
Fasten! Fasten! Fasten! If you don’t have a CC of your own to supervise your work, consider consulting a friend or family member. Pops and I ended up finishing the stairs over the long weekend, but ran out of time to construct the railings. That’s when all hell broke loose. Hence, the un-tutorial.
Kim and I picked up where my dad and I left off, and we spent this past Saturday with lots of, a-hem, quirky banter being thrown around and an eventual 5pm acceptance of failure and desire for comfort food from our favorite budget pasta spot. And wine – lots and lots of wine.
Admittedly, my initial plan was as flawed as the day is long. I had bought components to build railings that would have looked great but that also made creating accurate, strong joints an incredible challenge. So with a belly full of delicious brunch, we regrouped on Sunday and hit the lumber yard with a modified plan and a simple shopping list of:
4 – Pressure treated 2″x4″x8′
4 – Pressure treated 8′ handrails
16 – 2″x2″ beveled spindles
Our new design would be rock-solid, easy to measure and assemble, and would match the existing porch railings perfectly. Victory!
After some math and a bit of trial and error, we ended up making all of our cuts at 32 degree angles so that the railing caps and 2x4s matched up (nearly) perfectly at the tops and bottoms.
We mounted our 2x4s vertically, then attached our railings – which come pre-routed with a groove that caps easily over the 2×4 – with little difficulty.
Again, having a CC nearby almost always speeds up the process and improves the quality of your work. Even if you are rocking some killer hat hair.
After duplicating the upper railing pattern upside-down on the bottom end, we were ready for the stair spindles. Math, measure, cut, repeat. Drill, level, fasten repeat. This is actually working out! Unbelievable!
And there you have it – 3 working days later (with only 2 of those days being successful), we had our completed front stairs! What we failed to accomplish in an entire afternoon on a crabby Saturday was completed in about 2 hours on a sunny Sunday. Sometimes all you need is a plan. And a supervising CC.
Remember the old rotted and crooked, posts? They were swapped out for clean, simple 4x4s and new simple post caps.
Gone are the days of some pseudo-post, hack-job madness. Clean lines abound!
Unfortunately, fresh pressure-treated wood often needs a minimum of 30 to 60 days to fully dry before it’s ready for paint, so we’ll be impatiently waiting for that day and focusing on some other areas of our slowly improving front yard. Next on the agenda? New light fixtures for the front and basement doors, an outdoor rug, porch paint and (finally!) landscaping. (Add that to painting the front door, capping the cinder block on the garden level and, ooh, a porch swing!) Bundle all that with the privacy fence we’re planning on the north side of our home (and tearing down the rusted chain link that’s there now), and this yard is coming together – phew! – piece by piece.
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