Full disclosure…

I’ve been buying stuff. Lots of stuff.

It started when I broke out the measuring tape and design books to determine what size this-or-that I need. And now I sit like a Venus Flytrap, patiently waiting to snap my prey.

All while trying to find the time to put these new acquisitions — and my wallet — away.

Striped Dwell Runner Rug

Clear Outdoor Globe Lights and Target Home Organic Sheet Set

108 Inch Drapes from West Elm

West Elm Scalloped Plates, One Kings Lane Vintage Wool Blanket, Terrain Heritage Garden Hose

DwellStudio Draper Stripe Runner | Room Essentials Clear Globe Lights | Target Home Organic Cotton Sheets | Koba Cotton Canvas Printed Curtains from West Elm | West Elm Scalloped Dinnerware Set | Vintage Wool Camp Blanket | Eggplant Heritage Garden Hose from Terrain

While I’ve always loved Paris, Rome was the city I was most looking forward to on our trip. So I was a little surprised when I ended up wanting to live in London.

Maybe part of its spell was not having to deal with a foreign language anymore, but we were smitten from the first night. Before the rain and chilly weather had a chance to change our minds, that is.

We rode the Eurostar train in from Paris, Drue and I listening to an audiobook and John having the pleasure of sitting next to a teenage girl whose hotel room must not have had a shower. But other than that it was perfectly nice. I kept nodding off, and was unsuccessful in determining which of the many tunnels we navigated was the Chunnel.

We (OK, I) did a little shopping and had lunch at St Pancras train station in London, where there was not a trash can to be found (bizarre). Then we began the long process of getting our travelcards, which I incorrectly read that we would not need photos for. So we went to the ATM, purchased some Smarties at Boots to get some change, had more passport photos taken and waited in line again. Fun times! I was thankful to be speaking English again, or it would have been a nightmare.

I couldn’t resist buying this postcard at Paperchase:

After a lengthy check-in involving a kiosk and a missing bed (gotta love budget hotel chains), we walked past the London Eye and across the bridge to Westminster Abbey.

While we only had a little time for our tour before closing, we did have great seats in the quire for the Evensong service. While waiting to enter, we were standing on Charles Darwin’s grave, and got to hear this exchange between some teenagers from Canada:

Girl 1: “Look, there’s Charles Darwin’s grave.”
Girl 2: “Who’s THAT?”
Girl 3: “You know how sometimes there’s a fish on people’s cars with legs? It’s that guy.”

We had dinner at a pub near the Tower Hill Tube stop before our Jack the Ripper walking tour. Fish and chips with London Pride, anyone?



We were too tired for drinks at the pub afterward, so we headed back to our hotel for some TV and postcard-writing. Justin Bieber was on Aaron Carr’s Summertime Special looking nervous and admitting that he just doesn’t get British humor. Neither do I, Justin, neither do I.


The next morning, we watched the Colonel’s Review of the Trooping the Colour parade. Trooping the Colour celebrates the queen’s birthday, but there are a few practice runs in the weeks leading up to it, which is what we saw.



Don’t they always look so happy to have their picture taken?

After the parade, we headed through Trafalgar Square on our way to St Paul’s Cathedral. The central Tube line was flooded, so we walked.

Believe it or not, we finally found a structure we could resist climbing, so instead of ascending the dome, we descended to the crypt (where a wedding was happening in the chapel — how romantic?).


Then we walked across the Millennium Bridge, which, as you can probably tell from the amount of pictures, I thought was pretty cool.





A little side trip to the Sherlock Holmes Museum and gift shop for a souvenir for John’s mom…


Dinner at a pub along the river…

And then it was time to visit the Tate Modern, which I must say, has the best museum gift shop ever (not that I’ve been to MOMA, but…).






There was a special Damien Hirst exhibition at the museum. Naturally, I had to have my picture taken, even if I do think he is a deranged animal killer.

The next morning, we took a hop-on hop-off bus tour, then hit the original Hard Rock Cafe before seeing Henry V at the Globe Theatre.








Our bus tour came with a free ferry ride on the river, which is where I took this picture of a banner up in honor of the Queen’s Jubilee (which was the previous weekend).

London has some great street art, even most of the Banksys are gone.


I especially liked this Tube station…


Then it was back on the bus, where I got yet another shot of the London Eye.

Given its proximity to our hotel (right out the window), I’m a little shocked we didn’t go on it, but it’s very expensive and we just weren’t feeling it at the time. Plus, John assured me that he would never be feeling it, and that Drue and I could go without him.

When our bus tour ended abruptly at closing time, we made our way back down to our favorite mode of transportation, and returned to the hotel for some Skyping.

Day 12 of our trip was one John was looking forward to, as we spent half the day at the British Museum. I couldn’t get as enthused about it as him and Drue, but I did enjoy taking pictures. And drying off.

Don’t worry, by now we had bought another umbrella.





We had lunch at a fancy little place inside the museum, with a tea chaser.

That evening, we walked through the door of a pub into a crowd of people standing around us with beers, staring. Turns out, we came in under the TV that everyone was watching the Euro 2012 soccer match on. We ended up being one of the only groups upstairs eating, all of which were non-Europeans.

Then we saw Shrek the Musical, which was great! Very funny, and unlike the American theatres I’ve been to, you’re allowed to drink your wine in the seating area instead of chugging it during intermission. It’s the little things.

Our last morning in London was — what else? — cold and drizzly. But that didn’t stop us from walking all around the Tower of London. Our tour was led by the first female Beefeater, Moira Cameron.




Then it was back to the airport for our long journey home.

While we were so ready to back home at the time — back to Calvin, cars and McDonald’s (kidding, kind of) — now we miss it a lot! So much so that John is looking into going on an archaeology dig in England next summer.

And who knows, maybe some day this blog will be titled It’s So Bloody Urban.

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Pictures from Paris

July 23, 2012

Ah, Paris. No matter how many times you go, there’s still plenty to see.

My last trip was 14 years ago, so I was almost as eager to see the standard sights as the few new-to-me things I squeezed into our itinerary. By the way, isn’t itinerary a tricky word to spell? I still haven’t mastered it, despite typing it probably 100 times this year.

We spent our last morning in Rome cramming everything from my overstuffed tote bag into our three carry-ons outside of the easyJet security checkpoint (apparently there are no free personal item allowances — or free on-flight drinks, for that matter), and touched down in Paris around 11 a.m.

After lunch at a cafe across from our hotel, appropriately named La Favorite, we ventured further into the Marais district for some shopping at Bonton and Merci. This, not surprisingly, was one of my highlights of the trip. Fun house mirrors, photo booths, beanbag cheeseburgers — what’s not to love?





Then we ventured up to Montmartre, and had one of the worst dinners of my life. Mostly-empty dining area with uncomfortably close serenading, rank smelling something, a rude waiter with no appreciation of my French (quelle horreur!), vegetable soup with no vegetables, etc., etc., etc. But we’ll just pretend that never happened and that the wonderful-looking place we had planned to eat at next door hadn’t been full. No pictures, no evidence. Right?

Luckily, the views from the hill were outstanding.



The next morning, we went on a historic Paris walk, beginning at Notre Dame cathedral. We waited several hours to climb the bell tower (and I took a long walk in search of the best takeout crepes), but it was definitely worth it!


The views from the Grand Gallery, where the gargoyles can be found, were magnificent.


Here’s Emmanuel, the bell housed in the South Tower (you are allowed to touch it — so I did, duh).

And here’s a view from the very top, all 387 steps.

After our descent, we visited the nearby Sainte Chapelle, famous for its stained glass windows.


In the afternoon, we visited the Eiffel Tower, but they’ve been having elevator issues for a while now, and the line for the elevator was about three hours long. We waited in line to take the stairs to the first level for about half an hour, but then decided to grab dinner and hope for thinner crowds later in the day.


One long walk later, we were at Cafe du Marche on the Rick-Steves-made-famous Rue Cler. Pretty crowded, but lovely nonetheless. And dinner was excellent, even if we were basically sitting right next to a mom and her daughter.

Then we walked back to the Eiffel Tower for our river cruise along the Seine. By now, it was kinda-sorta raining, but we sat in the outside part of the boat anyway so I could get some pictures. Then, it continued raining, we froze our asses off, and all my pictures included a woman standing in the middle of the boat with her umbrella open. Except for this one of the sparkly Eiffel Tower:

We then returned for our trip to the top of the tower, and luckily the rain had scared off most of the crowds. We waited in line for only half an hour for the elevator. AND, I’m pleased to announce, I was finally able to visit the top level! (On my other two visits to Paris, it was closed or we had come too late.)


And then we enjoyed climbing down about 600 steps in the rain since the elevators from level 2 to the exit were packed, ha ha.

The next morning, we visited the laundry mat for some much-needed clothes washing.

And changed out of our shorts to visit the Musée de l’Orangerie (where we saw Monet’s Water Lilies) and the Tuileries Garden.


And, of course, the Louvre.





After all that art, we returned to the historic center of Paris for dinner at Le Petit Chatelet, where I happily consumed our entire escargot appetizer, my main course, half a dessert and half a bottle of wine, all with a view of Notre Dame from the window.

Our last day in Paris was spent at the ever-busy Versailles. I hadn’t been a huge fan of the palace on my first visit (the crowds, the heat, the gold!), but John had to check it out for himself. And he agreed completely. It’s unbearably crowded inside the palace, and SO gaudy, but something you just have to see. We enjoyed the gardens until it started raining, though.


And I mean RAINING. I packed so light that we traveled with only one compact umbrella, which did us little good in the pouring rain.


Needless to say, we did not make it out to Marie Antoinette’s Hamlet, but instead high-tailed it to a tram outside the Grand Trianon.

With squishy shoes, we visited the Musee D’Orsay that evening.


And then our Paris trip was over, almost as quickly as it began.

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Alt Online Classes

July 19, 2012

You might remember that taking Blogging Your Way 2.0 with Holly Becker was on my 12 for ’12 list this year, but that the dates conflicted with our trip to Europe (another 12 for ’12 item – hey, if it’s not on the list, it doesn’t happen!).

So when Emily blogged about the Alt Online classes she’s been taking, it gave me a little push to check it out. While the classes are normally $15, thanks to Bing, you can take up to four classes for free in July.

While a lot of the classes happen during the day while I’m at work, there are also evening classes. I’d love to take a DSLR class, Photoshop for Bloggers and Content is King. What about you? Have you taken any online classes lately?

Well, it’s July, not June, but I’m back from our European vacation with plenty to share.

Here are some pictures from the first part of our trip, if you’d like to see…

We left Kansas City on Memorial Day evening and took a small American Eagle plane to Chicago for our overnight layover (gotta love rewards tickets).


After our flight from Chicago to New York was cancelled (eek!) we were luckily re-booked to a direct flight from Chicago to Rome. Taking only carry-on luggage probably helped in this regard!

We didn’t get much sleep on the plane, but after a speedy taxi ride, a friendly check in and a short nap, we were on our way to a few churches and the National Museum of Rome.


That night, we accidentally ordered enough wine for about five people, but still managed to get up early the next morning for a visit to the Colosseum.

Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum were also lovely, though my calves were definitely feeling all the cobblestone roads…



We saw Trajan’s column, then rode the glass elevator to the top of the Victor Emmanuel Monument.


Have I mentioned that John is afraid of heights?

We spent the next morning in the Pantheon neighborhood, which was one of my favorite parts of the trip.





Then in the afternoon, it was off to Vatican City to see St. Peter’s basilica, climb the dome (John skipped that part) and tour the Vatican Museum, which of course, includes the Sistine Chapel (“No Photo!” and “Shh!” were the guards’ constant refrains).




Saturday was the Italian holiday Festa della Repubblica (similar to our Fourth of July), and we angled for a view of the military parade to no avail. But we did scout out a prime location for the tricolor flyover, if only it had happened that day (we didn’t realize it had been cancelled following the earthquakes in Northern Italy).

It was a little disappointing after standing outside in the sun for a few hours. But then we treated Drue to a trip to the Hard Rock Cafe, visited the Borghese Gallery, and found our way through the crowds to the Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain.


Whew. We then spent our last day in Italy in Naples and Pompeii, which was another highlight of the trip (well, Pompeii, not Naples – that was a little sketchy!).





And that was it! There’s so much to do, it’s amazing, and five nights definitely didn’t do it justice. I’d love to return to Italy to visit Venice and Florence someday. But this trip covered the big three – Rome, Paris and London (aka, the reverse “European Vacation”), so I’ll have more pictures to share with you later!

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See You in June!

May 9, 2012

I hope you’ll excuse me while I step away from the blog for a bit.

We leave for Europe in a few weeks, and I have plenty of things to attend to, like figuring out how to get from the Newark airport to JFK in less than three hours during rush hour and where to find skinny white matchstick jeans I won’t look ridiculous in.

See you on the flip side! (And maybe in Blogging 2.0 if I think I can catch up after vacation!)

Here’s a little video filmed in Paris by Land of Nod, Inc.

One Thursday late last month, I took a half day off work and traveled 50 miles east to Higginsville, Missouri, to see my grandmother’s quilting group in action.

I’ve been to the small farming community many times before to visit my grandparents, but I’d never seen the quilting group where she’s been spending at least eight hours a week since the 1980s.

They meet every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon at her church, Salem United Church of Christ, which was founded over 140 years ago by German immigrants.

On the day I visited, there were six members in attendance working on an Ohio Star quilt for another church member who likes to sew, but not quilt.

They had been working on the quilt for two weeks, and say it typically takes them 4-6 weeks to finish a quilt, though this one was quite large.

People from all over the country have sent in quilts in various stages of completion for the group to finish, and they maintain a price list for their services. The average quilt can cost between $150-$300 to complete, and the group donates all the proceeds to various charities around the state.

In their heyday, the group had 16 quilters and completed a quilt a month. My grandmother keeps a photo album with each quilt the group has completed over the years.

Here she is, my grandmother Fay Tilly.

Apparently the quilting group is not enough to keep her busy, because she brought in some “extracurricular” projects she’d been working on at home to show the group.

And I guess the ladies were hoping I inherited some of her sewing skills, because I was greeted with my own needle, thimble and scissors. Although I warned them that I couldn’t sew, and failed their quiz on which finger the thimble goes on (“The thumb?”), they still let me quilt my own little triangle, and didn’t even rip it out (although maybe they should have!).

I could barely get my stitches in, let alone listen or converse with anyone (or take pictures!), so my quilting was short-lived. But Mary, Pat, Margaret, Marie, Annie and my grandmother talked about anything and everything while they quilted: Who was bringing what to the funeral luncheon that Saturday, how the Disabled American Veterans should stop sending them nickels in the mail, what they were doing for Easter, whose leg had been hurting, whose husband was developing Alzheimer’s, and so on.

I learned that Margaret (in the purple shirt) was my dad’s school bus driver and that Pat (in the black flowered blouse) knew my mother through Rainbow Girls when they both lived in Rolla, Missouri.

I asked them about their first experiences with quilting, and while some had learned from the mothers or grandmothers, others were taught how to quilt in the quilting group. My grandmother said that her mother had taught her and her four sisters how to quilt when they all worked together on a star quilt as children. Later, each girl made their own quilt — the same one, but in the color of their choosing. My grandmother’s quilt was purple, and she still has it.

Then my grandmother took me to the education room to see the large roll of batting they receive by mail to complete their quilts. It was nearly as tall as her!

Every afternoon at 3:00, the ladies break for “lunch,” a light snack provided by one of the other church circles. On this day, we had fruit cups and cookies, and it was Mary’s duty to set everything out.

After our lunch with the Reverend and church secretary, it was back to quilting.

At the end of they day, they roll the finished section so that the next “row” is easily accessible for the following meeting. By the time they reach the middle of the quilt, they’ll be “knocking knees,” as one of the ladies put it.

And with that, it was time to take my needle-pricked fingers home, with a new-found appreciation for quilting.

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Exterior Before and After

April 15, 2012

Last time I checked in with progress on our exterior project, we had just replaced the lights and were contemplating whether we really needed to move the house numbers now that only half of them are visible at night.

Well, I gave in and did the right thing.

See that little bit of paint left in the bottom of the can? I figured that would be enough to cover the patched holes where the numbers used to be (they’re now directly under the light).

Unfortunately, I failed to figure that that little bit of paint was actually solidified.

So it was off to Sherwin Williams for a quart of paint in a slightly different formula (since exterior Super Paint is only sold in $50+ gallons).

But guess who was super smart about taping the lid on with painters tape, then ripping it and all the color matching formula numbers off while the guy at Sherwin Williams gasped?

Yep.

Luckily, I had registered with the store near my work when I last purchased the paint in October, so they were able to retrieve my Galloping Green formula, which I took the risk of ordering in the *might not match perfectly* Resilience paint.

Don’t worry, it totally matched. [Sidebar: I tried giving up caffeine cold turkey this weekend and ended up taking a four-hour nap on Saturday, then woke up to a splitting headache that left me barely able to stand. I hightailed it to McDonald's for a medium mocha and a large Diet Coke. I'll be tapering off gradually for my next attempt.]

I also got some new Heather bushes (not for obvious reasons) to plant in my containers of death — I’m saving the Home Depot receipt that says I can return them if they don’t live for a whole year.

So that means we’re ready for the street view before and after! Here we go…


Not super dramatic for the amount of time it took, right? But it looks a lot cleaner and more my style.

Here’s the breakdown of what we did:

Landscaping:

  • Trimmed the bushes back to below the window
  • Pruned the lilac bush on the left side of the house
  • Added some dirt sloping away from the foundation behind the bushes, since the ground was starting to pull away from the house due to a dry summer
  • Re-mulched the area around the stairs and bushes that had become overgrown, using black mulch
  • Bought plants for the planters we already owned and put them back on both sides of the garage to make the square of concrete where there’s no stone less noticeable
  • Eventually, we’d like to pull out those bushes and completely redo the landscaping, though we don’t have the slightest clue how at this point. I know we definitely need a retaining wall or some method of keeping our mulch WHERE IT BELONGS (that’s a threat to future mulch) instead of drifting onto the lawn and driveway every time it rains or someone looks at it the wrong way.

Structural Improvements:

  • Replaced the drafty and dented half-moon-windowed door with a simpler Craftsman door
  • Installed a vinyl storm door
  • Eventually, we’d also like the replace the garage doors with something more stylish, since they make up a large portion of the facade. I’m also not crazy about the large concrete staircase and gross concrete retaining wall at the bottom – there has to be some kind of natural stone or paver solution to this. We also need to replace the roof next spring

Cosmetic Improvements:

  • Removed the too-small, improperly hung shutters
  • Repainted all of the trim with the same light gray color as the former door and shutters to help things blend better and make the entry more of the focus (and hopefully minimize how small those second story windows look now)
  • Replaced the light fixtures with stainless steel barn lights
  • Painted the front door blue and added a door knocker and kick plate
  • Replaced the brass door knob and lock set with a more substantial, brushed nickel levered version

Woo hoo, we’re “done!” Now it’s off to do some work in the backyard.

A few weeks ago, I bought a lovely vase by ceramic artist Emily Reinhardt, whose blog and Etsy shop are both named ‘the object enthusiast.’

It’s nice, right?

Unfortunately, that’s just the picture from her website.

I wanted to photograph it here, in its new home on top of the baby grand piano with some flowers. See, it’s the perfect home because it even already has a circular watermark on it:

The day after the vase arrived, I got home from work and picked some blooms from the lilac bush out front to use in my photograph. There was only one problem — the empty vase was no longer on top of the piano.

At first, I thought Drue was playing a trick on me and had hid the new vase (these type of things are a common occurrence). Since he was at his mom’s house, I looked all around, inside the piano bench, behind throw pillows and in the coat closet. I was about ready to call him when I asked John if he had seen the vase.

“Oh yeah. I forgot to tell you. This morning when I was getting ready for work I heard a crash and came downstairs to find Calvin had shattered it on the kitchen floor.”

These flowers are in memory of my fallen vase.

Which was a shock to me, because I didn’t even think Calvin could reach that high.

It seems I’ve underestimated the little dude.

I’m not sure how else to end this other than the obvious:

This is why we can’t have nice things.

My “baby” turned two on Friday.

It’s hard to believe.

I suppose this is when most people get itchy for another one, but in some ways, it feels like I just came home from the hospital. And romanticizing the newborn stage really isn’t my style.

But I do think I’ll miss these years. The “terrible” twos.

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