Fireplace Reveal

I have been looking forward to finishing and sharing our fireplace project for a quite a while.  We started this back in mid-February when we found out how much we were getting from our tax refund and decided that this ugly thing was the target of those funds.  It has been finished for a while, but it took the weather cooling off and using it non-stop to get me excited enough to show you the whole ordeal.  What we started with was ugly and not safe to actually use.

First, we had to get rid of that hideous brick.  We were thinking that we could just take out the sides and put a new face on it with a different width profile.  But, wait.  Without the sides, it doesn't stand up.  Okay, we'll just take the whole thing out to rebuild the profile.

So cute... behind that little fireplace box there is a big awesome looking fireplace with an arched top.  Let's just take this little one out and use that awesome big one.  It looks way cooler.

Oh crap!!!  That little fireplace that we ripped out was the firebrick box and what we are left with is just exterior homebrick  -- not at all safe to burn in a fire in!  Now we have to put back in a new firebox... Did I mention it's winter?  And now we have a gaping hole in our house?  (And soot absolutely EVERYWHERE for months!)

Okay.  So, let's hire a brick mason so our house doesn't burn down.  I do love laying brick but I don't know enough about what I'm doing.

Also, we have to start over on design.  We were going to build a little wooden mantel around the brick.  But without the brick, we needed to shop for a facade.  Mark and I both, separately, found and fell in love with this one.  I've posted about it before, so I won't go into too much depth about it except to say, it is just too much for our house but we don't care.

Our masons were kind enough to include installing the mantel with no extra charge.  Thank goodness because that thing was HEAVY.  I had bruises on my thighs for four weeks from carrying it a few yards from the garage to the living room.

Next... we have to tear out the wall (to rebuild for the width and height differences of the new profile.) Originally, I wanted it to go up to the ceiling from the top of the mantle but narrower than the fireplace.  But, we didn't want to mess with wiring issues.  We had to open the wall anyway to create support structure for mounting the TV. So, we went about building out the wall frame and anchoring everything firmly to the brick. 

While we were at it, I put in behind the wall HDMI and a grounded outlet for the TV.

Up with the rest of the sheetrock and joint compound.

Paint and TV goes up!

Soapstone tile around the hearth and trim and wainscott on the neighboring walls.

And we just need to paint the wainscott and put in the baseboard.  So, it is close enough to DONE.  To give you the final reveal...  But before I do that, let me give a shout out to my crew of hard workers.  Zola and Viola helped me at every point along the way.  They helped cut boards and sheetrock, build wall framing, apply joint compound, paint, cut and position tile, install the grout, and paint in the tile sealer.  In a few cases, I couldn't have done it without them.  Zola, in particular, has the same love for construction that I do.  She always follows me around, hands me tools, holds screws or boards while I fasten, positions things for me, asks to hold the handle of some tool while I guide it, etc.  She listens and quickly follows instructions because she knows I will and have kicked her off the crew for the day if she doesn't (safety being the main concern when she isn't in the mood to follow instructions.)  Here is the moment you have all been waiting for... BOOM!


Breakfast For Dinner Favorte


Good tip in sharing recipes is to always provide a picture.  I didn't take on, because I was too busy stuffing my face the minute this thing was not too hot to burn my mouth off.  But, they all look pretty much the same, so I grabbed this one -- 

Disclosure:  I am a "throw together cooker."  I'm against hanging out in the kitchen for a long time just to eat a daily meal that you are just going to poop out later.  Special occasions or baking - different story.  But, don't expect a bunch of fresh ingredients and/or peaceful preparation time away from the kids.  That's not going to happen - and yes, I will probably die before you if you are judging me.  But I will have lived less time slaving in the kitchen, so I'm okay with it.  

Okay, here's how you do it.  Put the skillet on the burner and heat some oil, put in all breakfasty ingredients that you might want to sizzle a little. . . onions, trio pepper are my go to.  Then, just start pouring everything else breakfasty in.  Doesn't matter in combination... just have eggs, cheese, and other stuff.  I never go without meat(s) and potatoes in mine.  Stir it up loosely, but don't over do it.  You don't have to beat up the eggs or anything.  Just make sure everything is even in the skillet.  Then, benefits of the cast iron (which you get with some of the fancier 'glass' casserole dishes as well but without the rustic visual appeal) -- toss that bad boy in the oven and let that casserole set up while you go start a fire in the fireplace.  This part is important, because it's getting colder outside, and throwing in one of those paper covered fake logs takes ABSOLUTELY no effort on your part, so there is no excuse to leave this ingredient out.  It's important for the ambiance of the cast iron skillet dish.  You have about 40 minutes to enjoy it before that casserole is going in your mouth.

So, if you are one of those people who has to have very specific directions (take a chance, people!) ... here you go:

1/2 rough cut onion
1/2 cup frozen tri color peppers (I do so love me some trader joes)
1/2 bag of frozen potatoes (the trader joes roasted potatoes are really the best, but I ran out this time and used half that and have those grated ones and whatever, potatoes are potatoes.  Yum!)  
1 lb pre-cooked breakfast meat of any kind or combination.  I like to use bacon, sausage and cubed ham when I don't spending time pre-cooking the bacon and sausage.  But cubed ham is the go-to when it's a true toss together.
2 cups cheese.  Don't be stingy people.  It's not like this is healthy anyway and leaving out a little of the good stuff is only going to make it less cheesy.  So, why do it?
6-10 eggs.  This really depends on how eggy you like the dish to be.  The one pictured above probably used 12.  I'm in the 6-7 category because I like the surface to be chunky, the insides looser bound and to see the more than just hints of all the deliciousness inside.  But, like the rest of these ingredients, who cares.  It's going to be good no matter what you do.  

Things you could add if you aren't lazy: garlic, salt, pepper, (okay, any seasoning you want), ricotta cheese, sour cream, cream cheese, heavy cream... (you get the idea.  If it says "cream" or "cheese" in the title and is NOT Hazelnut coffee creamer it will probably be awesome), fresh herbs, left over pot roast, green chilis or any kind of peppers to put some zing, salsa, chili, those pop-can biscuits (uncooked) chopped into cubes and mixed in, white sausage gravy on top... the options are endless!

The best part is the leftovers.  Try to make at least two times your body weight of this so that you can have it again tomorrow.  Throw that stuff in a tortilla with some guac, sour cream, a few jalapenos, fresh cheese and some salsa and your mind WILL be blown.    


NY Day 2

I finally got around to looking at the rest of our pictures from our NY trip with Melanie & Ethan.  I wanted to share some highlights with you!

Here is Viola showing Ethan how to plank on vacation, of course.

All the kids really loved riding on the subway.  This time around, we were smart enough to really plan our routes around the city to avoid frustration on which train to take and how.  It made it fun for the adults to ride the subway, too.  Mark insists that it's called the "Sub."

Zola enjoyed the fountains at Rockefeller Plaza, and Mark paid homage to the show '30 Rock.'

You can't do a big city without seeing a street act.  These guys were pretty fun.  I'm pretty sure they were the same guys we saw last time we were here.  The kids were old enough to appreciate the hand stands and break dancing and gave a good show themselves later.

We spent some down time to rest our weary feet in central park.

And I have no idea why I love this goofy pictures of Zola making a face.  I just do.

We also had a good time at Time Square, Chinatown, Soho, and more.  The best part for me was watching Zola socialize with everyone in Washington park.  She had to use the restroom and all that was available was a porta potty.  She did a social service by walking from group of people to group of people giving them some kind of warning along the lines of "You see that blue house over there? Do NOT go in there.  It's disgusting."  Hilarious.  She even told the park janitors.



I don't know if you know this, but you are supposed to calibrate your monitor every couple of weeks.  That seems really often to me.  But, I think it's like getting your oil changed or something.  I have never done it.  I know Mark has done it a few times, but like someone who can't tell if something is out of tune... I never really saw a difference.  Now that I'm editing photos with the expectation that they will be at a professional level... the minor becomes the major.  I have been spending days and days and days trying to tune it just right.  There are expensive tools you can buy that will do it for you - but... I'm not big on buying things unless there is no way I can do it on my own.  Well... I'm not sure how well I did or how much tuning is still left to do.  So, I'm going to use this post for tests so I can view them on different monitors.  I only have so many monitors to cross view, so if you can let me know if what you see needs correction.... dark/shadowy, orange, blue, washed out, overly contrasted, highlights too blown out, skin is red/blue, black is gray... whatever you see that I can use to get a better final print -- Feel free to chime in with comments!



Quotes from the last few weeks:

- Mom, stop singing.  It's annoying. (zola)
- Skinny girls freeze to death faster. (random bumper sticker that made my day)
- I would survive all of 4 hours in the apocalypse (mark)
- Oh, this is happening. (hilary)
- Mona, help me.  Melanie is pouring water on me IN THE HOUSE! (mark)
- She's pooping, genius.  (zola)

On Self-Employment

I have encouraged Zola to start collecting aluminum cans to help her learn about money.  She has been dilligently doing so and got her first full trash bag full this past weekend.  I took her down to the place that buys cans and she earned her first $1.50.  (I think the guy overpaid her because she was adorable doing this by herself.)  She is so proud of herself.  We put her money in a savings jar and she gets to play with it for 5 minutes if she behaves appropriately and listens to instructions.

I am going full out on the idea of starting a side-business of newborn photography.  I am taking pictures, researching, and obsessing every free moment I have.  I have bought some equipment that is making a huge difference in quality and am lining up a few more free sessions in the next month or so to hone my craft.  I have tentatively lined up two babies for the next month.  And I'm realizing that I already need business cards because I'm marketing myself everytime I see a pregnant lady!  I'd love to drop off some cards at maternity boutiques, etc. and build my business a little.  Even if I only do two sessions a month, I wouldn't have to cut into our current budget to fulfill a dream of mine... a trip to Italy for our 20th anniversary in a few years.

On Photography

Since I've been investing in my camera equipment and knowledge obsessively, I've been taking a lot more pictures and trying to up my quality.  So, here are a few from this month.  For some reason, they are mostly of my crazy one.  Zola needs video at this point, because her talking is beyond hilarious.



hobby freak

I guess I only post when I'm excited about a new hobby these days.  My latest is taking newborn pictures.  Here are a few... (thank you parents for allowing me to share)