Issues with My Holly Bushes

Issues with My Holly Bushes

We have several holly bushes along our front walkway. One of them is losing leaves and turning pale yellow. Another seems to have a dead spot on the top middle about a foot wide. The others are a little lighter in color except for one that is deep green and is full of foliage. I am concerned about the cause being something that can spread to all of them, but don’t want to be hasty in pulling the worst one out either if it is something that can be fixed. They are pretty mature bushes measuring 3 or 4 feet wide and about 2 feet tall.

We also have found a lot of Japanese beetles and have been given a wide range of advice about how to treat from chemicals to bags, but we aren’t sure which may be best. They seem to be focusing on our Japanese maples, our fire bush, and my hydrangeas.

There is also a very nice thick lawn, and although we would like to train our two dogs to only do their business in the mulched areas this may take some time, and in the mean while we have a lot of yellow dead spots.

The problem with the holly is that it has too much water on the roots. It is possible that, even with the same amount of water given to each bush, the drainage under this particular holly is poor, and the roots are sitting in water too long after rain or irrigation. This problem generally results in yellowing leaves that drop off, particularly at the bottom of the plant and in the inner parts where less light is received. Checking the soil moisture a few inches below the surface should provide a clue, and if it is wet, help it dry out by removing any mulch that may be around this plant. If necessary it is a good idea to add a good dose of compost to the base of the plant. This can be purchased, but it is by far the best if you make it yourself, either from a heap, or if space is limited, a compost tumbler.

Japanese beetles will eat over 300 different plants. Beetle traps (bags) use a floral lure and a pheromone lure to attract beetles to the general vicinity of the bag. If there are plants susceptible to Japanese beetles near the trap, they will actually get more damage due to the attraction of beetles to the area. Place beetle traps at least 75 feet away from plants damaged by beetles. Spray plants that are under attack with an insecticide labeled for Japanese beetles and the plants in question. This will kill the beetles, although they will still have to eat a little of the plant in order to get the insecticide. Also, if you haven’t already done so, use a grub killer in your lawn right away. The beetles are laying eggs in your lawn and you will have damage caused by the grubs this fall if you do not act now to prevent this.

The spots in the lawn from dog urine are caused by an overdose of fertilizer. You may notice that the grass around the dead spots is actually darker green and grows taller, up to the point where the urea in the urine was too much and burned the grass out. The only way to prevent this (besides training) is to flush the area with water to dilute the urine. There should be no problem growing grass in these spots if the fall when temperatures have cooled (September is a good time), but you will have to water the seedlings at least once a day and keep the dogs away so they don’t trample the new grass. Sometimes it is easier to transplant sod from another area of the lawn and seed all in one spot. The sod will need at least as much watering as the seed, but at least the dogs will be able to run in that area.

Thanks to Garden Eaze for help on this article.

Shopping Your Pantry + A Foolproof Formula for Amazing Stew

Shopping Your Pantry + A Foolproof Formula for Amazing Stew

Food is probably the most danger-prone area of our household budget. Once upon a time, we lived in a really fun neighbourhood full of amazing restaurants. I cringe thinking about the thousands of dollars we spent on Thai takeout and burritos. Thankfully, we tend to be a bit more conscious of our spending (and our caloric intake) these days.

When we first started living together, we shared a really tiny apartment. And I was really terrible at cooking. I mean, I made an effort, and whatever I made usually tasted good in the end. But I really didn’t know how to make anything without a very specific recipe. Sometimes I would spend hours scouring the internet for a promising recipe that I could make with the ingredients I happened to have in my ill-stocked pantry. Other times, I would choose whatever sounded appealing and rush to the grocery store to buy $60 on condiments I would only use once.

The truth is, this is the way most of us cook. It’s the reason why we end up buying things like frozen pizzas and pre-made soups just to make life a little easier. Finding a recipe that matches the ingredients we have on hand is stressful and time-consuming. Rushing out to buy specialty ingredients is stressful, time-consuming and expensive.

After a few years of wasted time and money, we have finally figured out what works for us in terms of stocking our pantry and planning meals:

  1. Buy a deep freeze. We resisted this for so long, because we thought we would hoard food and never eat it. But once we finally got a small chest freezer, we couldn’t believe how much time and money it saved us. We freeze a lot of meals, so the freezer compartment of our fridge gets full pretty quickly. Check kijiji—you might find a great deal.
  2. Only buy meat on sale. When you don’t have the freezer space to store your meat, you end up buying it at whatever price the grocery store is charging that week. Don’t spend $6.99 on chicken breasts. Just don’t. Spend $200 on a simple chest freezer, and I guarantee it will save you $200 within a few months.
  3. Stock your pantry. A [well-stocked pantry] has been key for us. We buy non-perishable food in bulk or on sale, and keep an eye on which things are running out. We don’t clutter our cupboards with premade garbage (like canned soups, Kraft dinner, etc.), so it’s pretty easy to see when we are running low on diced tomatoes or flour. It helps to keep a good supply of spices and herbs on hand. Pro tip: the international food section of big box grocery stores often sell larger packages of common spices for much cheaper than the little glass bottles in the spice aisle.
  4. Stop following recipes to the letter. I understand that this is a really tough one when you’re just learning to cook. It really is worth picking up an authoritative cooking reference book so you can learn basic cooking techniques.
  5. Shop your pantry. Running to the grocery store for the specific type of cheese a recipe calls for or for another type of dried herb is a waste of your time and money. Once you learn to cook without a recipe, it gets easier to substitute ingredients and avoid unnecessary errands.

Basic Formula for Meat Stew

We make a lot of stew. It freezes great and is usually a welcome supper after a busy day of work. Plus, making your own rich stocks and broths is a fantastic way to use up leftovers like meat scraps, bones, and even vegetables that have passed their prime. After a lot of trial and error, I have finally cracked the code on improvised stew.


  • 1 ½ to 2 ½ pounds of meat (Cheap, fatty cuts are fine, but trim any excess fat)
  • Salt and pepper
  • ¼ to ½ cup white flour + more as needed
  • 3 tbsp of olive oil or butter (or a combination)
  • Onions (as many as you have or can stand to chop. Onions are non-negotiable)
  • Aromatics (try shallots, garlic, ginger, leeks, etc)
  • 6-8 cups of base liquid (Try a combination of beer, wine, homemade or store-bought stock, a couple of shots of whiskey or cognac, etc. You can also use water in a pinch)
  • Something spicy (try cayenne pepper, red pepper flakes, sriracha, etc.)
  • 30 mL of something acidic (I usually just use white vinegar, but try lime juice, white or red wine vinegar, a tiny bit of balsalmic vinegar, etc.)
  • Something sweet (Try a tablespoon of brown sugar, white sugar, maple syrup or even ketchup)
  • Something “umami” (Try a combination of Worcestershire sauce, tomato paste, parmesan cheese/rinds, white or red miso paste, or gochujang (Korean fermented chilli paste), mushrooms, yeast extracts like marmite, celery, fish sauce, soy sauce)1
  • Herbs (Try oregano, rosemary, sage, summer savoury, basil, etc. Summer savoury is my go-to)
  • Root vegetables (Potatoes, turnip, carrots, parsnip, sweet potato, etc.) Quantity depends on your taste.


  1. Cut meat into bite-sized cubes (I usually do 1-inch cubes), sprinkle with salt and a generous amount of pepper, and dredge in flour. It’s helpful to use a big ziplock bag for this step.
  2. Chop onions. No need to be too picky about the size—they will cook down into the stock.
  3. Heat oil/butter in the bottom of your stock pot. Brown meat (in batches if you need to), and remove to a bowl with a slotted spoon.
  4. Add a little more oil to the pan, and sauté onions until golden
  5. Add other aromatics and sauté another minute
  6. Return meat to stock pot
  7. Add your base liquid.
  8. Add your spicy, acidic, sweet, and umami ingredients, followed by the herbs.
  9. Simmer forever. Seriously, give it 2+ hours on low, until the meat is fork-tender and the gravy is thick. Depending on the cut of meat you used, this could take more or less time, but eventually the low, slow heat will break down collagen, which is what makes meat tough. If the gravy is still too thin, mix some flour with a little water to make and whisk it in.
  10. Peel and chop your root vegetables into bite-sized pieces and add to the pot1.
  11. Bring stew back to a boil and cook until vegetables are tender2.
  • Umami”, or the “fifth taste” after salt, sweet, sour and bitter, is the key to good stew. Have you ever spent a day making stew only to find it tasted bland? Ever tasted a really great stew that tasted somehow meatier and more savoury than usual? You can thank glutamates. In the simplest terms, umami actually comes from glutamates and ribonucleotides and a group of chemicals called ribonucleotides, which also occur naturally in many foods. When you combine ingredients containing these different umami-giving compounds, they enhance one another so the dish packs more flavour points than the sum of its parts. So don’t skimp on the umami ingredients. Your stew will taste just as delicious as a Big Mac at 3 am, except without the chemicals and the grease hangover.
  • Carrots and turnip take longer to cook than potatoes and sweet potatoes. You may want to add these first and let them simmer a few minutes before adding the rest of the vegetables.
  • If you won’t be eating the stew right away, keep in mind that the vegetables will continue to cook and soften in the gravy as the stew cools. To avoid soggy disappointment, try removing your stew from the heat earlier, before the vegetables are fully cooked. This is especially important if you’ll be freezing the stew as we often do. If you’re freezing the stew, potatoes are a poor choice. For freezer meals, you can always freeze the meat and liquid separately and keep a baggie of chopped, raw vegetables in the freezer so you can toss them together quickly in a saucepan when you’re ready for it. It all depends on how much you hate overcooked root vegetables.

Problems That Happen When You Are Making Other Plans

Problems That Happen When You Are Making Other Plans

It started innocently enough.

Having mostly finished Bathroom #1, and having had excellent success repairing the water damage in Bathroom #2, I decided tonight after work to get started on the rest of the work in Bathroom #2, by stripping the wallpaper and taking care of any sanding that needed doing, in preparation for painting tomorrow evening.

I certainly knew there was mold in spots, so I was prepared with my tilex, my sandpaper, my bleach and my fungicidal paint.

What I was not prepared for was that when I took off the strip of wallpaper next to the shower, a three inch chunk of wet, moldy sheetrock would come right with it. A little finger and screwdriver poking revealed an entire chunk of wall that was really…not. Unfortunately I broke my screwdriver and so I bought myself a nice new racheting one.

While I was down on my knees performing a wallectomy, I noticed that the subfloor under the tiles was also…not so much. So I ripped up the relevent tiles. (The previous owner was nice enough to make the moldy strip be a separate piece of flooring for easy removal. Wasn’t that nice?)

The next sheet of wallpaper I pulled down showed a touch of mold…

…and when I poked it with my finger, my finger went through.

One hour, a crowbar, a whole lot of rusty screws and a big honkin pile of debris later, I now have this:

This was, to say the least, not the plan. Especially because on Monday our tub is being reglazed, so that bathroom will be out of comission for 48-72 hours.

So now the timer is ticking on this job…

House Renovation Resolutions

House Renovation Resolutions

On a similar theme to my last post where I set down (rather formerly) some thoughts on home renovation. In this one I’m going to make some resolutions.

This time of year doing home renovations thinking about the renovations planned is at the forefront of my mind. Let’s look back on the list of resolutions I compiled last year and see how much of it has been done.


Tear out everything that is there and replace it. This is huge. This is exciting. This is messy beyond all levels of messiness and inconvenient beyond all levels of inconvenience. I will want to complain about it every day, but will try to refrain and look on the bright side of not having to cook. We actually needed quite a few different tools (it’s amazing how fiddly kitchen fitting can be) and we found a site Home Tool Helper ( to be super useful in getting the right ones.

(This was just recently completed. And it is everything I hoped it would be. I love my new kitchen. And, yes, I did complain every single day while the renovation took place.)

Finish painting and trim work in the dining room


Finish painting the odd random bits of trim in the foyer


Well, except for one small piece of trim that I noticed when I was decorating for Xmas. I’ll have to get to it soon. Soon being relative, of course.

Refinish wood floors in foyer and dining room


Landscape the front yard

Uh, no. Not one thing did we do to the front yard. We did get estimates, but in the end decided to spend our money on the kitchen renovation.

Rebuild front porch

Why did we buy a house with such a large wrap around front porch? Oh yes, so we could sit out there on our porch swing and sip our mint julips. Maybe when we are 90 we will be have some free time.

No. Just ran out of time this summer. And money.

Anyway, that is just the tip of the iceberg. The bigger of the projects that we have in mind. There are lots of smaller ones too like replacing doorknobs in the house (DONE!), hanging new light fixtures (DONE!), cleaning out the gutters (Mostly DONE!). But those are the sort of projects we tend to do on the spur of the moment. The ones that make us feel like me are actually accomplishing something on our weekends. The sort of projects we add to our list after we have done them just so we have the pleasure of crossing them off.

So what are other DIYers resolving to do this year?

In February of last year, The Stevens Family posted their home improvement resolutions for 2007. I am eager to see their post at years end to find out how they did.

Eye on Howard Hall Farm posted their short and sweet list which includes restoring an old beehive oven in their home in time for giving hearth cooking classes. Wow. I just want shiny floors.

Casa Caudill
 is looking to replace all of the windows in their house. I am weeping tears of happiness for them while I listen to my old wood windows rattle in the breeze. I also like to tell myself that they are original to the house and feel somehow happy about it, but really that is just how us old house renovators like to feel good about bundling up indoors. She also has resolved to pick a color for her kitchen. As someone who struggles with the choosing of paint colors I realize the enormity of this resolution.

Aimee writes her resolutions to spruce up her outdoor living area with a deck. We don’t have a deck, instead a screened porch, and I love it. It ranks up there as the best thing we have spent money on. I could probably just sip my mint julips out there and let the front porch fall down.

At the ever famous Houseblogs.Net, Jeanne asks everyone what their resolutions are for 2008. Read the comments and become inspired. Or perhaps strengthen your resolve to never buy an old house.

I hope they all post a recap and let us know if they accomplished what was on their renovation list. And how many of the projects will be carried over to this year.

Still Crazy After all these Years

Still Crazy After all these Years

While withdrawing some cash this afternoon to tip the movers tomorrow morning, I noticed that my bank account had suddenly shrunk in size quite a bit overnight. Alarmed, I went inside the bank and told a teller I wanted to double-check the amount in my account. She took my name and account # and said, “You have [very small amount] in your account.”

“But that can’t be,” I said. “I just checked it yesterday and I had [still a small amount, but decidedly more than I have today and definitely enough to pay the moving company tomorrow].”

She went on to tell me that two debit card purchases had been made early this morning for pretty big amounts of money.

“Those aren’t mine!” I said, freaking out, “I didn’t make those purchases!!”

“Did you make any purchases after 5 last night?” she asked.

“No!” I said, “I haven’t made any purchases in the last week except for $80 in groceries! And maybe some lipgloss, but come on, a girl needs her lipgloss.”

“Well, there were two purchases made with your card sometime between 5 PM last night and noon today,” the teller replied.

Suddenly realizing that my identity was probably stolen–or at least my debit card number–I turned white as a sheet and started hyperventilating.

“Oh my god!” I wailed, “Someone has definitely stolen my identity! I cannot believe this is happening. Someone has stolen my identity and is charging up all my cards. Oh my God!”

“Don’t worry, calm down, it’s going to be okay,” the teller said. “This happens. We’ll put a freeze on your account and we’ll close the card. You can dispute the payments from this morning and file a report with the police. It’ll be okay.”

“I’m going to be sick,” I replied, “I have to go home and be sick.”

My apartment is just half a block from the bank, so I ran home, threw up, splashed cold water on my face and went back to the bank. The teller closed my card and put a freeze on my account and again told me everything would be fine and I needed to just calm down.

“But I’m not going to have any money to pay the movers tomorrow now!” I told the teller, “I don’t know what to do. If there’s a freeze on my account and I can’t get into it and there’s hardly any money in there now anyway, what am I going to do? They won’t give me my stuff! I need my stuff! I’ve been without it for almost 6 months.”

Then it dawned on me. I’d already paid the movers. I gave them my card number last week. Those two transactions from my account this morning? One had to be for storage and the other was for the move. I hadn’t realized they were going to process the payment before they delivered my things so when I saw a shrunken bank account, I freaked out. And by “freaked out,” I mean I closed my card, froze my account, claimed identity theft, and threw up. Because my bank account was so small.

You know how I was so embarrassed the other day when I had to ask a stranger where the Dance Dance Party Party room was? Yeah, DOES NOT EVEN COMPARE.

Now I Am REALLY Home, For Good…

Now I Am REALLY Home, For Good…

or until the next trip.

In the Wall Street Journal there was an article once about Dooce. Ever heard of her? I know, me neither.

In the sidebar there is a list of blogs that are “blander than Dooce, less humorous and significantly less profane.” And yes, I am one of them. Thank you to everyone who emailed or commented to tell me about it. I would never have found it otherwise.

New Jersey did let me out, but it was touch and go for a little while there when I sat in a traffic jam for an hour as soon as I got on the highway. The panel was great. I spoke with Mom in the City, and A Baby Boomer Woman’s Life After 50.

I did end up complaining about my hotel room and they took the porn charges off of my bill. Just kidding. They did take the internet charges off my bill, you know being tethered to a desk isn’t enough, they have to charge you for the privilege. And also the $10 pot of coffee I had brought to my room in the morning, that apparently I am lazy enough to order.

Tonight after I got home, I was snuggling my baby, shut up he is so, on the couch tonight when I felt something on his little head. A TICK. A TICK on my baby’s head. So I did the only thing that I could do. Freak the hell out. And then go after it with tweezers. Yes, I did snap the body off the tick leaving the head embedded under his skin. I know I should have left it for Rob to do. I know this. And yet when I see wiggling tick legs sticking out of my baby I can’t help but try and pull it out right then. How could I possibly leave it in for several more hours?

Oh, you know you want to make these cream cheese and jelly turnovers. Or get your kids to make it for you. Sadly they are not allergen free. So please go eat them for me.

When I arrived home my 7 and 9 yr olds were just back from baseball practice and they had their little baseball outfits on. They looked so unbelievably cute I wanted to eat them. Except they were all dirt streaked and we all know how I feel about dirt. They began talking and telling me about their day in excruciating detail, while I nodded and made comments to show I was interested like, “Wow!” “Cool!” “No Way!” Their voices getting louder and louder because they both like to talk over each other. My 7 yr old immediately had to reenact when he threw a ball to a kid on his team and the kid screamed and ran away. I am not sure the actual event could have been as dramatic.

My 13 yr old son is helping the coach with the little kid team. I asked him how the practice went. He looked over at his little brother, a smile spread across his face and said, “He was really serious about it. It was cute.” Then he shrugged and walked away. I knew that if I mentioned it again he would in all likelihood deny having said it. But he said it once for me and that is all the matters.

It’s good to be home.

The Boy Who Ceased to Exist

The Boy Who Ceased to Exist

My thirteen year old son is going through that phase where he hates having his photo taken. Virtually every photo I take of him features the back of his head. Or his hand in front of his face. Or a book. I tease him that when grows up he is going to wonder if he even existed at all during his thirteenth year. Or wonder if perhaps that was the year we kept him tethered to the basement water pipes.

Today I was taking photos when he unceremoniously informed me that he no longer wants me to write anything about things he does. Or doesn’t do. Or photograph him. Or show other people the photos that I do manage to get of him. I should just pretend that he doesn’t exist.

He probably wouldn’t want me to tell you that today I let him go into the grocery store all alone to buy a few things. it isn’t that he has been itching to do this. It has never really come up before, but today we were running errands and I needed to go to the store next to the grocery store so I asked him if he wanted to go in alone.

He definitely wouldn’t want me to tell you that as he walked away I shouted, “Don’t let anyone kidnap you now!” When he found me a little while later in the neighboring store he seemed to walk taller. Some imperceptible change had happened and suddenly I could see the future.

As we were driving home, his seven year old brother in the back seat decided to count. With each number he got louder and more enthusiastic. My 13 year old son looked over at me and said, “My god that is the most annoying thing.” I agreed, but instead of saying anything I reached over and turned the radio off.

“No sense in competing. We may as well embrace the counting.” I laughed.

“Doesn’t that annoy you?” he asked.

Rather than answer, I reminded him of a time when he was about the same age and he decided to count by tens all the way home from his aunt’s house. A house that is over an hour away from us.

“I remember that!” he said.

“Do you?” I asked, in between the shouts of FIRTY-FIVE… FIRTY-SIX… FIRTY-SEVEN…

“Yes. I don’t remember it being so annoying though.” He laughed.

Of course you don’t, I wanted to say.

And so if I don’t mention this son anymore it isn’t because I don’t have things to say about him. I do. It isn’t that I don’t love him. Because man, do I love this child young man. I am proud of who he is growing up to be. I am fairly confident these days that he won’t grow up to be a career criminal, a serial killer, or a Republican. Oh I kid. I just threw that last one in there for my husband. Some of my best friends are Republicans.

Sometimes being a parent means keeping your mouth shut and embracing the moment silently. Not matter how annoying it might be.

The Bends

The Bends

Once upon a time my son complained about his hip hurting. And he dramatically limped around the house. Because I like to play a doctor, I assured him that his hip (and then knee) hurt from playing so much baseball. It had been All-Star season and he was out there running, sliding, throwing balls, for hours every single day. Of course you would fee achy. Then he got worse and I brought him to the doctor. We had blood work done and had to wait for what felt like FOREVER to get the results. Turned out he had Lyme disease. I felt horrible. He took antibiotics for weeks (months?) and dropped 10lbs off of his then already skinny frame.

If you think that would have caused me to turn in my Google M.D. license, you would be wrong.

So more time passed. This time my son was complaining that his jaw hurt. Well, duh chewing all the gum will do that to you. What? You haven’t been chewing gum? Well clearly you are grinding your teeth at night or something. Don’t worry you will get better soon. Just lie down and take a nap. Sleep is always good for what ails you. The next day he could not open his mouth wider than a centimeter or two. I brought him to the doctor and he had tonsillitis and had developed some sort of secondary infection in his jaw. OUCH! He had some antibiotics and began to feel better. I drank some wine to soothe my guilt.

But still I could not turn in my medical degree.

Last week my son was complaining that he had a sore throat. He had no other symptoms of being sick. No fever, no cough, no stomach ache, nothing that stopped him from inhaling vast quantities of food. I chalked it up to allergies that are causing everyone to have sore scratchy throats. Yesterday afternoon he came to me and said it felt like there was something in his throat. I made him open his mouth and shined my handy pen light in. “Holy mother of god!” I shouted. He had a huge abcess in his throat. I almost fainted from looking at it. Off we went to the doctor. Turns out that this is a viral thing, so no medication is necessary. We ran a strep test just to be on the safe side. We are dosing him up with tylenol, numbing mouth rinse, and soft food.

Last night I was googling my own medical symptoms. I have diagnosed myself with decompression sickness. I realize I have not recently, or ever, been scuba diving. Small details.

Weekend in the City

Weekend in the City

For my 16th birthday, my mom took me to New York City. For a girl who had never been on the other side of the Mississippi River, this was a Big Deal. My little sister came along, and my mom took us to the usual sights — the Met, the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State building, Times Square. She did such a good job of taking us to cool places. I’m pretty spoiled now, too, because I live close enough to NYC that both business and leisure allow for short, frequent trips to the city.

This weekend my mom, sister, and I reunited in NYC together for the first time since I was 16. Each of us had been back, but never all together. It was just what we needed. In no particular order, here are the 10 Best Things from the weekend.

1. The High Line

The High Line is a new-ish park build on an old, elevated rail line that runs up along 10th Avenue. It was so super fantastic that we walked half of it one day, and went back and walked the other half the next day. It’s a great way to see the city from a different vantage point, plus it’s interesting to think about urban architecture and do some people watching.

2. Wicked

This has been on my wishlist for years and I finally got to see it on Broadway! (Thanks, Mom!) It was crazy good and I’m in love with Elphaba. I want to buy the soundtrack and play Defying Gravity on repeat.

3. Shopping. My sister bought me a long, pretty gold necklace from Artists & Fleas at Chelsea Market. It was like Etsy-In-Person so I pretty much wanted one of everything. I’ll snap a photo of the necklace as soon as I’m wearing it with a cute outfit.

4. Our little Chelsea apartment

Thanks to we had a lovely apartment. We were perfectly located to be able to walk downtown (on Saturday), uptown (on Sunday), and up 60 stairs (every day — it’s on the 4th floor). We had plenty of room for the three of us, plus a kitchen, internet, TV, etc. I love staying in apartments and living like a local. We walked so much each day that each night we ended up back at the apartment early for a little couch time piled on each other.

5. 9/11 Memorial.

Still under construction, but allowing visitors. I’d like to see it again when it’s all finished and the trees are blooming.

6. Catching breakfast with a friend

Before I boarded my train home on Monday I was able to meet up with one of my oldest friends. Every Monday should begin with a cappuccino, a biscuit, and a dear friend, don’t you agree?

7. Speaking of breakfast

We had real NYC bagels on Sunday morning. I brought some back for my freezer for a weekend treat, too.

8. Banana cake with cream cheese frosting from Billy’s Bakery.

The thing that tweets and dreams are made of. We loved the first piece so much we went back for another piece the next night.

9. Shopping, part 2.

I walked into DSW wearing old, stinky, ratty shoes that I L-O-V-E, and walked out with a brand new, exact same pair, purchased for 50% off. I slipped on the new pair, tossed the old pair into a trash can on the sidewalk, and walked another few miles.

10. Just hanging with my mom and sister.

Sister + Mom

Thinking of Renovating Our Home

Thinking of Renovating Our Home

We have long wanted to make some significant improvements to our living space. Plus many of the rooms just look a bit tired and need a face lift if not significantly more. Anyway, I’ve been giving the matter some thought and wanted to put down some of the things I have researched, mainly to make sure it is orderly in my mind.

Renovating a house can be a difficult project to undertake because of the various details that you have to consider. However, it can also be very rewarding for both homeowners and investors. For investors, they can find a house that is in bad shape, make some renovations and then potentially sell it for a substantial profit. For homeowners, they may be able to increase the value of their home.

Let us first take a closer look at the various advantages and disadvantages of renovating a house before you start planning for it.

The Advantages of Renovating a House

The most obvious benefit of renovating a house is the gain in equity or value. Improving the kitchen, adding a bathroom or bedroom, or improving the landscaping could greatly increase the price of your home. You can add to this the fact that this capital gain would be tax-free. This tax break is available even if you do not reinvest your gains into another home or trade it with a higher-priced property.

You can even increase your profits further by helping in the actual work. And after the renovation is done, you can enjoy the fruits of your project if you do not plan to sell the home. For example, you would be able enjoy your new kitchen with its advanced appliances and devices after you have renovated this favorite part of the house. This is not possible with other kinds of investments such as stocks or bonds.

The Downsides of Renovating a House

One disadvantage of renovating a house is that you will be taking some risks. However, risks have always accompanied investments and you are able to minimize them with careful planning. Nevertheless, unexpected things may happen that may not even be your fault, such as the rerouting of traffic or the cancellation of a highway project that could cause a substantial drop in the value of your home.

Another disadvantage is that your usual daily activities will disrupted as a result of the construction work and there will be accompanying inconveniences such as a temporary loss of water or power as they work on the plumbing or the electrical wiring.

Another downside to doing a house renovation is that it would be time consuming for you. You will need to determine what needs to be done and to draw up the plan. You will also need to come up with the specifications and choose the contractor. You will also have to monitor the progress of the work being done and ensure that everything is being done properly and the right materials are being used.

Planning the House Renovation

The first step is to plan and prepare. You will need to familiarize yourself with the building regulations in your city or town and the applicable standards. You will need this information when you are preparing your budget and in selecting the proper contractor.

If you are an investor, it would also be advisable to get the services of a professional inspector to make sure that you know everything that will need to be done. If you are not experienced in inspecting a home that you plan to buy, there is a good chance that you might miss something. For example, you may not even notice that termites have infested the wood structure.

After these preparations, you can now draw up the specifications for your renovation project. You will need to ensure that you have listed everything that needs to be done so that the contractor will be able to properly estimate the total cost of the project. This could be a difficult process because you will need to specify exactly what materials would be used because costs could vary by a wide margin with different materials. You may want to consult a home designer or architect about your specifications and the materials that you plan to use. You will then need to apply for the required permits for the required construction activities.

Choosing a Professional Contractor

Before selecting your contractor, make sure that you have thoroughly checked his references. Try to interview his former clients. You may also need to verify the materials that he plans to use. When searching for your contractor, you may consult the local newspaper or you may drive around your neighborhood and look for homes that have been newly renovated. You can ask the owners regarding their contractors and you can also ask for referrals from the home designer or architect.

Possible Activities When Renovating a House

The first activity is to protect various parts to ensure that they are not weakened or collapse during the renovation work. You may need to strengthen carrying beams, joists and weakened walls. You may also need to replace or repair the roof or the foundation. You will also need to check if there are any damaged windows or siding and if there are, you will have to replace them.

After completing the above, you will have to carefully demolish those parts of the house that will be renovated. If you are living in the house, you will need to plan this carefully to minimize the disruption of your daily activities. Make sure to exercise caution when demolishing older homes that have used lead-based paint. Check on the proper procedure for disposing of the waste, particularly the debris containing hazardous materials like lead.

The sequence of activities will then start with structural carpentry work. This will be followed by works on plumbing, electrical wiring, and the ductwork for the air conditioning and heating systems. After this, you will then need to put in the insulation. And before you close the walls, it would be advisable to call in an inspector to check on the plumbing and wiring.

The next step is to put in the drywall and then the flooring, and then the windows. After this, you can focus on fine carpentry work, such as moldings, baseboards, closets and bookcases. After completing this, you are ready for interior painting, installation of wallpapers, and other finishes. You then install the sidings and gutters. Lastly, you can do the exterior painting and any auxiliary building, such as a swimming pool or sun room.