lessons in home ownership, one year in.

I can’t hardly even believe this, but tomorrow, August 30, marks one whole year of being in our first home. It’s been an amazing year, full of excitement and contentment and frustration and challenge and everything in between. And so, in honor of our first houseiversary, we thought we’d put together and share a few lessons in home ownership. Here goes…

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1. There is no such thing as an easy DIY project. 

But seriously. Kevin and I are notorious for attempting the seemingly simplest projects and somehow still finding a way to screw them up. I find it hilarious when people assume that we’re crafty or handy, because we’re always talking about doing some project or another, but now the secret’s out: we’re totally incapable of successfully accomplishing anything on the first try or in the way the instructions were written. We’re especially averse to anything that needs to be level and/or hung on a wall. So I guess the take home message here is to just know what you’re getting yourself into. Which leads me to…

2. Take your timeline for literally any project, and then multiply it times infinity. 

So, is it just us, or do other people fall prey to thinking they can finish things waaaaay sooner than is actually realistic too? It can’t just be us. Probably the most laughable example of this mistake is our basement renovation, which we were so convinced in September that we could complete by Thanksgiving and newsflash, we’re still not done. A more recent example is thinking that we could stain and install distressed wood shelving in our dining room before my parents came last week. Ha! In actuality, we stripped a screw in the very first bracket we drilled in, got discouraged and gave up, and waited for my dad to get here so we could troubleshoot next steps.

3. When in doubt, just switch the entire breaker box off. 

We think our breaker box is labeled pretty effectively, but the pressure of having to use wire cutters and change an outlet is enough all on it’s own, so we opt for the no-surprises route and just shut the whole thing down. Which leads to a whole different kind of stress revolving around me incessantly asking Kevin how much longer it’s going to take while I nervously worry about food beer going bad in the fridge.

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4. Make a friend at your local hardware store. 

Because you’ll be going there a lot, so the least you can do is set yourself up for a pleasant experience. All the big box hardware stores are pretty far from us, so we’ve started running to a nearby Ace when we need to grab something, and now we’re basically besties with one of the cashiers. She might not know much about how to help us with projects, but she has the best customer service ever and it’s just nice to see a smiling and familiar face in a place where you don’t expect it. Plus, she was there when we bought our firepit, and helped us negotiate our 10% discount with the manager. #wilmaFTW

5. Embrace the pink tile.

Ok, so maybe you haven’t been blessed with the same 1950s pink wall-tiled bathroom as we have, but I’m willing to bet you’ve got something in your house that you just hated when you moved in and swore you’d fix right away. For us, that was the pink tile. And the knotty pine in the basement. And 1,000 other things. But let’s face it, there will never be enough time or money or energy to fix all the things, so you have to pick your battles, and embrace what’s left. For us, again, that’s the pink tile. But after almost a year of telling myself over and over that it’s not so bad, right? I’m actually coming full circle and starting to think it’s cute and retro, right?

6. Ask yourself if you reeeeeeaaallllyyyy want a big yard.

“We want a big yard” is just one of those things people say when they’re looking for a house, ya know? And after living in apartments with no yard space and residence halls for many years, we were definitely among those people. It was on the top of our wish list when we house-hunted, and those of you who’ve seen our yard firsthand can attest to the fact that we got what we wanted, times ten. And thus has begun the love/hate relationship with our yard. Mowing the backyard feels like it takes an entire Saturday, and weeding could easily be a full-time job, but I love all the open space, not being too close to our neighbors, a place for a garden, and enjoying summer nights under the string lights in our adirondack chairs. I think we’re still coming out on top :)

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7. You can never have too many Phillips screwdrivers.

Seriously, these things are like the bobby pins of tools – you know you have about 1,000, and yet you can’t find a single one when you need it. I have no advice here, other than to purchase one whenever you can, in hopes that eventually you’ll have so many that you’ll have to be able to track down at least one when you need it. Honestly, where do these things disappear to?

8. Always look under the carpet.

We bought our house with beautiful hardwood floors in the living room and hallway and crossed our fingers that those same beautiful floors would be underneath the carpet in all three bedrooms. Surprise! They were, and the first thing we did was rip that carpet right up to reveal wood floors in pretty good condition that just need a little sanding and a new coat of polyurethane. Oh! And after almost putting the carpeted – yes, carpeted – bar from our basement out on the street for the taking, we decided to peek underneath, and what do you know? It was knotty pine in perfect condition, so we cleaned it off and stuck it back in the basement. I’m so glad we painted the knotty pine on the basement walls, but I’m loving having this one piece where we’re keeping the wood as-is. So, always check under the carpet; you never know what you may find. (Of course, you may find asbestos-ridden tile, which leads me to #9).

9. Wear appropriate personal protective equipment in the pictures you send to mom and dad.

Because if you’re wearing a mask and gloves in the picture you send, it’ll ease the pain when your next text is all about how you’re removing tile in your basement and yes, in fact, it is 9×9″ and oh shoot that means it probably contains asbestos and your environmental health specialist mother basically tells you you’re going to die a slow death from mesothelioma. Ok, so maybe that’s just my family, but I can’t imagine mom and dad wouldn’t like to see their babies being safe doing whatever they’re doing. At least wear the hard hat for the picture, and then proceed as you wish.

10. If you aren’t married yet, add the following line to your wedding vows: “I will work peacefully with my spouse on home improvement projects.”

And if you are married, or have spent any amount of time living with your partner, you’ll know what I mean. If you don’t, wow, God bless you, and please teach us your secrets or at least come over and mediate for us. Kevin and I’s methods of strategizing, problem solving, and doing things are totally opposite, so doing home improvement projects is basically the definition of a recipe for disaster. You’d think we’d learn by now, but we’ve had enough successes (eventually) that we keep at it. Sometimes that means walking away from something for a couple days to re-strategize without all the emotions involved, and other times it involves just staying out of the other person’s way and letting them try on their own. And still other times, it involves calling Kevin’s mom and asking her to please come help us put our basement flooring down (thank you!), because we got stuck after one piece of underlayment. #truelife

Cheers to one year of home ownership under our belt! I know this post was lighthearted and funny, but on the inside, I’m feeling pretty sappy. So grateful to our families for knowing when to give advice and when to let us make our own mistakes, our friends for listening to us complain about mowing or lamenting the missing pieces in yet another piece of IKEA furniture, and most of all, to Kevin, for putting up with my never-ending honey-do list and always working to make my dreams a reality. 

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our new firepit, and a love letter to our life.

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a few weekends ago, we bought a little firepit and set it up in our backyard. we’d been talking about getting one for awhile now, saying it would be the perfect addition to the backyard for cool summer nights and crisp fall days. and then, that weekend, the stars aligned (also known as there was only one left in stock at ace, and it was the floor model, and it was dented, and so we negotiated 10% off) and we brought one home.

which of course was almost immediately followed by a trip to the grocery store for all the makings of a s’more, a hunt for the metal skewers we knew we had lying around somewhere, and chilling one of our cellared bottles of boulevard bourbon barrel quad for the occasion. (the perfect s’more beer, if you’re wondering).

it was a perfect night. perfect breeze, perfectly roasted charred marshmallows, the perfect beer (ok, i’m sorry, i’ll stop), perfect company. we’ve spent countless nights outside in our backyard – grilling, dining, after-dinner cocktails, reading, harvesting – and they’ve all been wonderful, but this night, it just hit me. this is my life now. we have a house and a backyard and a grill and a garden and a firepit. it’s all ours, and it’s so beautiful. almost a year later, i still have to pinch myself sometimes, because i never thought we’d have this life this soon.

this firepit, that night – they’re a reminder to savor what we have and not take anything for granted. a reminder during all those times we fail at yet another home improvement project, that we’re so blessed to not be living in a residence hall anymore. a reminder during all those times we want to scream at each other during said home improvement projects, that we’re so blessed to have each other to navigate this crazy life with – the good, the bad, and even (especially?) the ugly. a reminder to take pride in and say thanks for the things that we do have, and quit spending too much time dwelling on what we don’t.

now, when’s everyone coming over for s’mores?

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{recipe} pearl couscous with swiss chard and quick san marzano tomato sauce.

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anyone who knows me well knows that I love to cook, and that we cook quite a bit around here. my favorite thing to collect is cookbooks, i read food blogs and magazines like it’s my job, and one of our favorite saturday pastimes is shopping for ingredients for a complex recipe i’ve been dreaming about making and spending the evening holed up inside getting it just right. but summer is sort of the one exception to this rule. of course, due to the aforementioned cookbook collection/food blog obsession, there’s not exactly a shortage of recipes that i’m dying to make or techniques i’d like to work on. but summer for us means less grocery store trips and less meal planning, and more farmer’s market trips and more eating straight from our garden. making something out of what’s already there.

even though i do genuinely love to cook, we all have those nights. those nights where calling for delivery seems way easier or going out for happy hour appetizers seems like way more fun. on the night we made this couscous, i was thinking all those things, but also feeling a little guilt about the swiss chard starting to wilt in my fridge and the san marzanos on the counter that i kept saying i was going to make sauce out of and can for the winter. in this particular occasion, my guilt won out and we whipped up this riff on your basic spaghetti and tomato sauce by using couscous instead and making our own what i’m calling “quick tomato sauce” with san marzanos from our garden, and adding in some greens for good measure. as is usually the case, i was happy with our decision to stay home by about halfway through cooking dinner, you know, when the tomatoes and onions started to smell like sauce and i knew this was actually going to taste good – intentional, even – and not just be your average clean-out-the-fridge meal.

which is not to say that those kinds of meals won’t happen, too. we’ve had our fair share of taco combinations and pizza toppings and they aren’t always good. even still, those weird meals bring with them the satisfaction of making something out of what’s already there. and the hope that every now and again, the stars might align, the tomatoes will be perfect, and you’ll accidentally throw together a meal for two that actually turns out to be good enough to purposely make again and again thereafter.

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ingredients

-1 tbsp. olive oil
-3 cloves garlic, minced
-1 medium or 2 small red onions, sliced into half moons
-4 San Marzano tomatoes (or Romas), diced
-2 oz. (about ½ can) tomato paste
-1 bunch swiss chard, de-stemmed and loosely torn
-1 cup pearl couscous
-salt, crushed red pepper
-parmesan and lemon zest to top

directions

1. Bring 2 cups of water to a boil in a medium-sized saucepan. Once boiling, reduce heat, add 1 cup couscous and simmer for 10-15 minutes, until all liquid has reduced and couscous is cooked through (it should be soft, but with a slight “bite,” just like al dente pasta). Set aside.

2. Meanwhile, while the couscous cooks, heat 1 tbsp. olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add minced garlic and onions and sauté until fragrant. Next, add diced tomatoes and allow to cook down for a few minutes. Then, add tomato paste and stir into the tomatoes and onions. Let sauce cook for a few minutes, adding a couple tablespoons of water or vegetable broth if needed for consistency. For the last few minutes, toss in the loosely torn swiss chard pieces and let sauce continue to cook until greens become just wilted. Season with salt and crushed red pepper.

3. Stir sauce into couscous, and divide evenly among plates (this makes 2 large entrée dishes or 4 side dishes). Top each dish with lemon zest and/or grated parmesan.
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{recipe} homemade basil fettuccine with cherry tomatoes + lobster.

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making your own pasta is undoubtedly one of those labor of love things, and if you have the time and interest to devote to it, it is beyond worth it. i tried it for the first time, a while back, before my kitchen aid mixer days, and it was basically a disaster. (yes, i still ate it). but since then, i’ve procured a trusty stand mixer and the pasta roller attachment, tried (and failed) a few more times, found a recipe that works for me, figured out how to troubleshoot a few common pasta issues, and even learned how to make it by hand a little better, too. (but don’t do that if you have a mixer and/or aren’t an italian grandma). i’d even say that i’ve officially moved out of the “i will suffer through making this because i know it will taste so good” phase and into the “i actually enjoy doing this let’s pour wine and turn on the record player too” phase.

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so a couple weekends ago after just having lamented that we hadn’t made homemade pasta in a while, and that we should sometime soon, we found ourselves in whole foods, where there was a convenient one-day-only sale on lobster tails. we snatched two right up, had them butterflied in the store, picked up a few other ingredients, and started dreaming up that night’s dinner.

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we don’t really cook a lot of meat/seafood and it’s not something i consider myself good at, so when i say that cooking lobster was pretty easy and you can do it without royally messing it up, i mean it. so the next time you find yourself in the grocery store and there’s a sale on lobster tails, you should a) not be afraid, b) get some, and c) have them butterfly them for you in the store because i don’t know how to tell you how to do that.

this is such a great summer dish for a saturday night where you want to do something kind of fancy but you want to do it in your pajamas. in other words, it’s a dish for all the saturday nights. anyways, the fresh pasta with basil mixed in, colorful cherry tomatoes, and buttery lobster, all topped off with parsley and parmesan, is such an awesome combo. hope you’ll try it!

suggested beer pairing: boulevard saison-brett.

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INGREDIENTS (serves 2)

½ lb. fresh pasta (preferably homemade)
handful of fresh basil, finely chopped
2 lobster tails, butterflied
1 tbsp. butter
3 cloves garlic, minced
handful of cherry tomatoes, halved
handful of fresh parsley, finely chopped
parmesan, shredded
sea salt
pepper

directions

1. If making pasta from scratch, follow this recipe, using 3 eggs (instead of 2) if dough is dry. Mix finely chopped basil into the dough. (you’ll only need half of the dough for the recipe (to serve 2), so before the rolling step, you can put the other half in the fridge and use within a couple days).

2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Place lobster tails on a baking sheet. Mix 1 tbsp. butter with 1 garlic clove, and spread over both lobster tails. Bake for about 10 minutes, until meat is white. Remove meat from tail and cut into 1-inch pieces. Set aside.

3. Meanwhile, heat a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Once boiling, add salt to the water (more than you think – I’ve read that you should be able to taste it if you were to drink the water). Carefully place cut fettuccine noodles into the boiling water, using tongs to separate noodles if they begin to stick together. Boil until al dente, about 3 minutes. Drain pasta, reserving a cupful of pasta water.

4. While lobster and pasta are cooking, heat 1 tbsp. olive oil in a skillet. Add garlic and sauté until fragrant, 1-2 minutes. Add halved tomatoes and continue sautéing, 2-3 minutes (if you do this concurrently with your pasta, add tomatoes at about the same time as you add pasta to boiling water).

5. Add lobster meat, drained pasta, shredded parmesan, and chopped parsley to the skillet. Add a bit of pasta water if needed. Use tongs to mix all ingredients together and continue cooking on medium-low until everything is warmed through.

6. Divide between two plates, garnish with additional parsley and parmesan, if desired, and season with sea salt and pepper. Bon appetit!

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{cocktails} the aviation.

before reading about it on food52 a few months ago, i’d never heard of an aviation cocktail, but right away i knew i wanted to try it. i mean, come on, it’s purple! i love gin cocktails, especially in the summer, and this one is particularly easy. the hardest part is probably going to be convincing yourself that you should buy the bottle of creme de violette and maraschino liqueur that you’ll need to make it, but i promise you’ll use them in enough other drinks to make it worth the splurge. we’ve been making these on saturday evenings while we cook dinner, and it’s the only cocktail i’ve made myself that i would also pay $10 for in a restaurant. see below for instructions, and hope you’ll give it a try!

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Ingredients (serves 2)

4 oz gin
1.5 oz lemon juice
.75 oz maraschino liqueur
.75 oz creme de violette

directions

shake all ingredients with plenty of ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
garnish with maraschino cherry.

cheers!
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