August 2011

We have a lovely (well, we’re working on it!) yard. It’s big and spacious, and we love spending time out there in the garden and eating dinner on the patio.

But beyond our patio and shed and in-progress flower beds, the view is a little distracting:

We have this nice six-foot privacy fence around most of the yard. But the 50′ closest to the house is just this crappy old rusty bugger of a fence. If you click and zoom on the picture above, you can see where the 6′ privacy fence (on the right) ends and the 4′ rusty one begins.

The rusty four-footer does nothing to block the view of our neighbors’… well, junk.

To be fair, we know that our yard has been plenty junky in the past, and we’re not perfect. In fact, we had a pretty junky swamp cooler that we feel pretty guilty about leaving up for so long (it’s off now, though!). And in the interest of total fairness, allow me to post this doozy of a junk pile from last year that our neighbors probably weren’t too fond of looking at:

But you know how when it’s “your junk” it’s okay? Kind of like when it’s “your filth” in the bathtub it’s okay? No? Anyone?

So, a fence means that we don’t have to look at anyone’s junk but our own- a wonderful thing.

I will spare you all the gory details of putting in a fence. If you’ve never done it, I would recommend getting a book on the matter, or maybe finding a good tutorial online.

A couple of notes though:

  • We got the Home Depot book on fences and patios, and it said to NOT set the line posts in concrete- just the terminal (end) posts. It said to just dig the holes, put in the posts, and fill it back in with dirt. We didn’t trust that, so we set all of them in concrete.
  • We dug all of the post holes with a post hole digger, not an auger. It’s hard work but really not too bad with the two of us. If we had a bunch (we only had five), we would definitely rent an auger.
  • Roots are jerks.
  • We did chain link to match the existing six-foot fence. If we were building a completely new fence around the entire yard, we would have done wood.
  • Vinyl privacy slats are very expensive. For 50′ of 6′ high slats, it would have cost us $275 to buy them new. We found some in the local classifieds for $50.
  • Setting the end posts and then using a string (and line level) as a guide for how tall to set the line posts is a good idea.
  • Brothers-in-law that spend their weekends helping build a fence are nice.
  • To pull the fence tight, you need a fence puller and come-along. A fence puller alone costs $35 to buy, but luckily Home Depot rents out the puller and come-along for $15 for 4 hours, which is more than enough time.

Here is Stan pulling the fence tight with the above-mentioned tools:

Aww yeeeeah.

And here is our progress so far!

Just picture how nice it will be with privacy slats in it. The red truck, white SUV, and minivan parked on the back lawn will be invisible! Along with the toilet and decrepit swing set!

PS- We’re still figuring out the whole “water your lawn” thing so it looks pretty sad right now. So yeah- I know our yard isn’t perfect, but it will be that much nicer when we can look at our imperfections and not our neighbors’.

Stay tuned for Part 2, wherein we put in the privacy slats and gussy it up a bit. We’re hoping the Virginia Creeper will soon spread onto our new fence like it has by the vegetable garden (visible on the right-hand side of the above photo).

It is HOT in our house.

Okay, so I know that we’re major wimps because we’re not experiencing the heat wave that’s going on in the south, but at least most people down there (maybe?) have air conditioning. We have no respite (except when I go to work and they keep the temperature at a level that requires me to wear a sweater and moon boots).

Why don’t we have cooling? Well, here’s why.

A few months ago, we were chatting with our across-the-street-and-down-a-ways neighbors, and we looked at our house from theirs. We saw a horrifying sight: our old swamp cooler, clinging for dear life on its precarious rotting wood support, looking mighty disgusting. Of course we always knew it was there, but seeing it from our nice neighbors’ view gave us a twinge of guilt for having such a ghetto piece of garbage hanging on the side of the house.

And besides that, I have always hated how one of the neat old windows on either side of the fireplace had been demolished and replaced with a big ugly vent.

And besides that, it didn’t really work properly for a variety of reasons, so we rarely bothered to use it.

So, we did something about it. We ripped ‘er off.

We were left with a gaping hole, which we covered with plastic and have embarrassingly been living with all summer:

This blogger has no pride.

Anyhoo, our plan is to actually make two new matching windows. I know I know, we’re crazy- but you can’t buy them new like this anymore, with just a simple hinge and latch:

We may also hunt some down from a salvage place, but finding two windows that match and are the correct size is probably nearly impossible.

But back to the problem at hand: that is, the problem that our house is consistently 82-84 degrees. Below are some practical tips for if you find yourself without a cooling system for a period of time, or if you’d like to just minimize your use of your cooling system.

Open the windows at night. At least in Utah, it cools off at night (I know that in some places such as Oklahoma, it never cools off and if that is the case where you live, I’m deeply sorry.) Open a couple to create cross-flow. We open the little “fireplace window” in the living room and the window in our bedroom, and even though it seems like a convoluted path, you can actually feel a surprising amount of air movement in the bedroom. A fan in front of a window will help even more.

Close the windows and blinds during the day. I used to think that you should leave the windows open as much as possible, but the simple fact is that if it’s 97 degrees outside, you want to keep that air out. Closing the blinds keeps out sunlight.

The idea with the above two tips is to bring cool night air in and trap it there as long as possible during the day.

Realize that in summer, you are probably going to be a little hot. One thing that has always been amusing to me is how inflexible we as a first-world society have become. Even if it’s over 100 degrees outside, we want to be cool- even chilly– inside! I know we’ve all heard this before, but trade the jeans for shorts and lose a layer, and don’t be afraid to be just a titch uncomfortable. Drink some ice water! My brother has a swamp cooler, and he turns it on just enough to “take the edge off”. Well done, Jonny.

On nights where the temperature shows no mercy and stays hot, use water (nature’s coolant) to cool off. I had to laugh when I saw this video. It could be called “Orangutan cools off like Amanda and Stan”.

At our house wet bandanas abound. Stan loves to throw them on me when I’m not looking, which always startles me and nearly results in him getting a swift punch in the face, but then it feels soooo good. Tying one around your neck works well too, since there is a lot of blood supply close to the skin there. (It’s the same principle as keeping your neck warm with a scarf in winter.) I’ve also been known to use a wet bandana the same way you would a blanket when going to bed.

Use a good old fashioned fan. Sometimes I have to do my makeup while sitting in front of a fan just so my face will stop sweating long enough. Fun, right?

Hang out in shady areas. I’m sorry if these tips seem a little “duh”, but it really did take me a while to notice that our east-facing patio is just about the most pleasant place to be in the late afternoon as the sun is setting to the west.

And for the record, we have been trying to get a new swamp cooler all summer. We want one on the roof so that none of our windows are blocked, and no one seems to want to install one for us. One place even let us pay for a bid (normally we wouldn’t pay for a bid but we were getting desperate), sent a guy out who said he could do it no problem, and then called ten days later to say that no, they actually can’t do new installations- only replacements- and they were not apologetic in the slightest for leading us on. It was Lowe’s in case you’re wondering. (Can you hear me Lowe’s? I’m disappointed!)

I may write another post about why we’re going with a swamp cooler (also known as evaporative cooler) over central air conditioning, but for now I think I’ve rambled enough. Stay cool and stay in school.

Have you guys ever been embarrassed by your thrift hunting, garage sale-ing, or side-of-the-road scavenging habits?

I have.

Sure, we all have to swallow a little gulp of pride when pulling junk off the side of the road or digging through someone else’s castoffs (well, I don’t think I have an overabundance of pride, so my gulp is pretty manageable).

But have you ever been really, truly embarrassed by it?

I have.

This happened a while ago, and for some reason I just thought of it recently. I was running, probably training for a race, when I ran by this awesome looking yard sale in the Avenues, which is a fancy, historic neighborhood where there are bound to be treasures. When I’m running hard to Daft Punk or Ratatat (or fine, I’ll admit it- Britney) there is little beyond oncoming cars and grossly protruding sidewalks that can break my concentration, but yard sales are up there.

Sweaty and panting like a malamute in Mississippi, tunes pumping in my ears, I stopped to admire all the fine wares. I was impressed at how nice all their stuff was, and spent some time wondering why the ratio of cool stuff to junk was so high.  I was about to look around for someone manning the sale, when I saw it.

A moving truck.

With people hauling stuff out of it.

This is not a yard sale! This is not a yard sale! RUN!

I had intruded on someone’s goods whilst they moved into their new probably awesome eclectic and historic apartment. Inspected. Gazed. Maybe even touched- I can’t remember.

To this day I don’t know if they said anything to me, thanks to my earphones and quick escape.

Does anyone else have such a story of mortification and woe? Do share!

Here is our patio.

I spent weeks rebuilding and refinishing (again) the patio table set that we’d previously spent hours refinishing and repainting, but more on that later. (Hint: the table is now coffee table height.)

There are obviously a few things wrong with it, and we have lots of little things to do, but for now I was kind of brainstorming ways to make it feel more intimate. Our yard goes back about 90 or 100 feet I think, which is awesome, but it also means that making cozy intimate spaces, or “outdoor rooms”, is a bit of a challenge.

See? Big!

I love the little stone seats that Sara put in a corner of her patio. It helps to close it in as well as- duh- giving people a place to sit.

I was looking for more of a quick fix, so I pulled out some pots and some old wooden crate things that I’d dragged off the side of the road (hoarding is good!) and made a little “wall”. You can still see the fountain when you’re sitting at the table, but it gives a nice little separation so you feel like you’re in a room.

The difference is subtle in pictures, but it has a whole new feeling in real life.

Here is my horrific rendering of how I’d like the patio to progress:

I’d like hosta in that whiskey barrel (such a great wedding present), a fence between the patio and the driveway, and some virginia creeper growing up those 50’s curlicues, please.

Also, I planted this pot and was kind of proud of it. Tall plant + trailing plant = a pretty planting!

And for one last finishing touch, we hung up some lantern lights that we’d forgotten we had. We actually bought them a long time ago for the wedding, then decided that to try to decorate Cactus & Tropicals would be to mess with perfection.

They look cool here though, and they help to visually enclose the patio even more. I think we need to have a bbq.

Does anyone else have any tricks for making large spaces more intimate? (I definitely don’t have this problem inside the house!)

Aah, the power of one word.

Today’s word in question is this: Only.

There’s something funny about the word “only”. When our wedding was featured on, the headline was “Amazing! This gorgeous wedding only cost $8000!” I know that the writer was comparing it to the average cost of weddings, which is somewhere around $25,000-$30,000, and in that way, the word “only” makes sense.

A couple of instances where the word “only” might not make as much sense are:

  • $8000 is only <insert large number here>% of my annual salary!
  • I only have $8000 of credit card debt!
  • It will only take us ten years to pay off that wedding!

You get the point.

A few people commented on that post that $8000 was still a ridiculous amount to spend on a wedding.

Hey- I totally agree! Sort of. Well, do I? I thought I did, but now I’m not sure.

I started out wanting to spend $4000 on a wedding, inspired by our beloved John and Sherry. But our budget was, shall we say, flexible, and in time we decided that since we had the means, we’d rather pay more and do less work (and make our loved ones do less work- although don’t get me wrong; everyone still did a ton of work).

After the wedding we let ourselves play the “What else could we have done with $8000?” game only a couple of times before snapping each other back to reality. It’s not worth it! Sure, we could have installed an automatic sprinkler system, or built a new garage, or started finishing the basement. But our lovely parents didn’t just give us that money* and say “Here, go nuts.” They gave it to us for a wedding.

*Yes, our parents covered the cost of our wedding. I’ve seen commenters (I spent way too much time on wedding boards) say that it’s wrong to “make” your parents pay for your wedding or “expect” them to. Well, we did neither. But when they did, we gratefully accepted their offer and tried to put on an event that everyone could enjoy.

I really had to come to terms with spending that kind of money on an event that would have the same outcome with just a $50 marriage license fee. But with each “Yes, I’m coming!” I got from friends and family, I got more and more excited and realized that hey- this is what life is about. It’s about getting people together for special events, and feeding and entertaining them if you have the means. People from out of town stayed for a few days, and it was so nice to have everyone pitch in to put on the event. It was a blast. This, my friends, is quality time:

However, life is not about going into debt so that you can have the most breathtaking cake or the most stylish dress or Wilson Phillips as your band (although that would be pretty sweet). It’s not about impressing everyone with every detail or having every single hair on every single person’s head in its perfect place.

Cool, but probably not necessary.

To continue the soap box, life is not about keeping up with the Joneses, period. If you buy a new boat because the Joneses did, you are dumb. If you buy a new boat because you can afford it and it will bring you and your family lots of happiness, fun, and memories for years to come, you are awesome. It’s the same thing with elements of your wedding. If you’re trying to show someone up by buying a dress from Kleinfeld that you cannot afford, I feel sorry for you. If you buy a super expensive dress because, hey- you can, and it makes you feel like a fairy princess and the most beautiful woman on the planet and that’s important to you, then go you! (We don’t have that priority in common, but still- go you!)

I know we hear this all the time, but it’s so beyond easy to compare ourselves to each other that it’s almost comical. I’ve talked to people before and thought, “What do you do, sit around and make lists of things that other people have gotten and haven’t, and things you’ve gotten and haven’t, and then assign them scores and add them all up to see who should be/is further along in life? Come on! Live your own life already!”

It’s even easier in a way, and less fair, on the internet. When I first started reading home blogs, I hated when people would say things like “This lamp was a steal at $75!” Are you kidding me? I’d think. That’s half of my grocery budget for the month! But you know what? It’s their blog and their life, and for them, $75 is a bargain for a lamp. Get over it, Amanda. It’s like when my friend (Hi Remmy!) says something like “These jeans are only $150.” I just smile and move on to the clearance rack. Remmy always looks fabulous, by the way. That’s a priority for him, and I love having an opinion that is different from my own. And who knows- maybe one day he’ll get me to splurge on (after saving up for, of course :)) a pair of awesome, life-changing jeans.

I guess that the point of this post is that budgets are an intensely personal thing. And I don’t mean that it’s something that must never be talked about. On the contrary, I believe that you should talk about personal things with people you trust, and perhaps in a more general way, with people who read your blog. It’s a great way to grow and learn (as long as you do learn and resist the temptation to simply compare). 

But when it comes to specific amounts, only you can decide if $150 is a good deal for a duvet cover, or if $250,000 is a good deal for a starter home, or if $8000 is a good deal for a wedding.

Since there is no wedding-related debt, our parents were willing and able to help, and it turned out fantastic and we loved seeing everyone, to us $8000 for our wedding was worth every penny.

PS- If anyone is curious what we would have done without our parents’ help, here it is: We would have had a simple ceremony up in a canyon with a very small number of people, and then taken people out to dinner (a much smaller group than attended our wedding). I would have worn a cheaper dress and we wouldn’t have had any groomsmen/bridesmaid/kids’ attire, no flowers, half the invitations, no decorating, etc. It would have been less stress and really fun, but we’re really glad that we had the opportunity to put on the event that we did.

So, did anyone make it through that whole post? Do you guys struggle with comparisons like I do sometimes? How do you keep society’s “only” in perspective with your “only”?

Life since our wedding has been a bit of a whirlwind full of thank-you notes,  extra sodas (and therefore extra pounds- SIX in a month to be exact and yes I’m serious), mountain trips, eating outside, draping wet bandanas over us so we can sleep at night (with no cooling system at all, our house stays at a balmy 84 degrees most nights), bedtime Scrabble-playing (sometimes I let Stan win :-D), getting back into the swing of work/cleaning the house/blogging…

Here is a scientifically-proven-to-be-boring picture from our last backpacking trip in the gorgeous Uinta mountains:

And now for some random happenings and goals:

  • August is officially clean car month. I cleaned her up good last night, and you’ll never guess what I found: a boutonniere from the wedding (possibly two). Also, three glass soda bottles rattling around the floorboards on the passenger side. Trash can on wheels no more!
  • August is also officially “drop the ‘Marriage Six’ month”. A friend of a friend started a friendly (oh, it’s ON) Biggest Loser competition and eleven girls have put in $5 each. That means I could win $50 if I’m able to resist eating four Creamies each night after dinner!

Go ahead. Stop running. Make my day.

  • My friend Lindsay’s Ph.D project has to do with studying female body image in the media, and she is doing some cool stuff! Did you know that Utah has the most plastic surgery per capita? “Vainest state”- no joke! It’s common to see billboards like this while driving through the city:

Classy, eh?


But Lindsay and her sister have pooled together enough money for twelve billboards throughout Utah that look like this!

Much better!

I love the work these beautiful women are doing. Learn more at Beauty Redefined. You can see more billboards on their site, too.

  • Does it make me a hypocrite to talk about wanting to lose six pounds and then in the next bullet point female body image? Well give me a break- it’s not like I’m getting lip injections. I just want to fit into my clothes properly again and have an incentive to stop drinking four sodas a day and go running and generally be healthy.
  • I saw the whole Pinterest Challenge thing a bit too late but I think it’s awesome! Maybe I’ll give myself another week and meet back here next Tuesday to show you something I made from Pinterest- that is, if I can narrow something down!
  • We saw Lyle Lovett in concert! Thanks Aunt and Uncle Jelly.
  • Still working on decorating the bedroom.
  • We’re also adding a ton of outlets and re-wiring a lot of the house. It currently has “knob and tube” (ie: old) wiring so we’re bringing it up to date. Having an electrician for a father-in-law is double plus good.
  • I’m contemplating doing NaNoWriMo this year. That stands for National Novel Writing Month. It’s in November, and you guessed it- you write a novel in a month.
  • I’ve only changed my name in one place. That makes me pretty lazy, considering it’s only a 2-step process:

  • I’m back to reading your blogs on a regular basis, but my commenting has been a little lacking. Sorry guys.
  • Lana is my new favorite person to follow on Pinterest.