Tuesday, December 29, 2015

DIY Awning

This is the awning we built in our backyard this last summer. Jake really wanted a shaded area to sit in our backyard. He planned and came up with this idea.

First he nailed some 2x4's to the house as support. And drilled nails into the cement to hold the 4 vertical beams.

We added the beams across the top. From the house to the first vertical, then the first vertical beam to the second. This was the sketchiest thing we have done in our remodeling experience. I stood on a ladder holding one end above my head as high as I could while Jake screwed in the other end with one hand, holding the beam up with the other. But we got it done.

We added lateral supports to keep it sturdy. Then came the paint.

After this was all done, it was on me to sew the fabric. We got an outdoor fabric, I sewed the sides and the ends. Then every 4-5 feet in the fabric, I sewed across to make it a little stronger and sewed on hooks on either end.
I think we calculated that I sewed around 150 feet of fabric in all.

The hooks in the fabric went through the carabiners that connected to the metal wires Jake added from each end of the awning. We attached the wires with hooks on each ends and the sides through the middle also to keep them steady under the weight of the fabric.

We take the fabric off over the winter, and if it rains we can just slide them closed if we want (though they have been rained on and it's no big deal. It is nice though because we did add light around the frame so even though we don't use it for shade in the winter, the outdoor lights are still beautiful and well used.

It made quite an impact from before!

In all we used
4- 4x4 poles that were drilled into the cement
4- very large screws and plates to hold the 4x4 poles
2- 2x4 poles across the top of the 4x4's as additional support
1- 2x4 across the house as an anchor
5- 2x6 poles around the outside of the poles; from the house to the first 4x4, from 4x4 to the next (each side) and one across the front two 4x4s

Around 50 feet of outdoor fabric (two strands), though we could have bought much less. 
metal wire- from the house to the end (4 stands- 2 for each strip of fabric across)
8- hooks to screw the wire into the wood
20- carabiners to hook the fabric to the metal wire

For more of our home makeover projects click here.

Monday, December 28, 2015


I'm finally backtracking quite a bit to our June vacation to Hawaii! I had gone through all of the pictures when we returned from Kauai and then put them on our external hard drive. Well along the way somewhere I lost the hard drive.

I'm so heartbroken because it had everything! All of my pictures from college, Peru, Africa, China, Honduras, even our Wedding! Everywhere we have gone, including Hawaii, ALL of Coopers puppy pictures. All gone.

So I've been holding out in hopes that it would show up. But it's now been almost half a year and it's still missing. I've pretty much given up hope.

I do still have the pictures I posted to facebook. So I will use those. Because it's been so long though, I don't remember specific days. I'll do my best though this may be inaccurate.

Day 1
How this all happened. Jake's parents rented a condo for the week and told us all that if we wanted a free place to stay, we could pay our way to get there. Of course we couldn't pass that up. Everyone else booked flights together. Jake and I waited a little longer to price check flights and ended up on a different flight. 

When we landed Jake's parents picked us up in our Jeep we got to drive for the week. It was so fun! We stopped by Costco for food and headed to the beautiful condo! We had a lovely room to ourselves. 

We took a drive around the island with everyone and just explored all together. The island of course was all beautiful.

We rented some snorkel gear and boogie boards and all headed to the beach. 

There also happened to be a beached seal which was pretty cool to see. 

Day 2
We all decided to head to a waterfall. We thought we'd be able to hike down but when we got there is was more a look out from above. It was beautiful though.

That didn't stop Jake and Preston though and then I followed along too. We hiked behind some fences. We didn't get down to the bottom of the waterfall, but instead on top of it. Still, it was awesome. I just almost got eaten alive in the meantime. 

We did some more beaching. And then Jake and Preston jumped off a cliff. Literally.

Day 3
"The kids" all went on the most beautiful hike in the world. No joke. The Napoli Coast. We did the first two miles into a little beach.

The next two miles took us to an incredible, huge, fresh water waterfall and lake. I've never experienced anything like this. 

We all had to swim behind the waterfall and jump in. It was so fun!

On the way back, Jake and Preston had to jump into every body of water we came across. 

8 miles later, we got back to the cars.

Day 4
More time at the beach. We had to rest our exhausted legs. (I also made Jake be cute for me)

That night, we all went to the Smith's Luau. Unfortunately, these are some of the pictures I lost. 

Late that night Jake, Preston, Maddy and I went to the beach after dark to look at the stars and hang out together. I loved this. 

Day 5
John, Preston, Dad, Jake and I went on the "get dirty" dune buggy tour. Seriously one of the funnest things I have done. Jake and I took turns driving, trying to get the other the muddiest. I won.
We had a lunch break at a little water hole and waterfall.
And then went back out for more riding. 

Day 6
Some of us, (Maddy, Preston, Mom, Jake and I) went on a zipline excursion with Outfitters Kauai. I include the name because it was kind of a sad last day all together. We sat around in line for probably 6 hours of the 6 1/2 hours we were out. We loved our zipline in Honduras, but this one took FOREVER!

Everyone but us left later this day. Jake and I still had another day before our flight out.

Day 7

Again I don't really have pictures from this day. But we went to the local farmers market. We walked around the beach some more and returned everyone's rentals. We shopped and just had a relaxing and romantic last day. 

This was SUCH an incredible vacation. I've never had such a fun "relaxing" trip. We loved every minute of it. 

Monday, September 7, 2015


Day 10- Venice/ Dublin
If you didn't already read about it, days 1-9 are posted here on my Italy post.

Day 10 happened to be my 25th birthday and our last day in Italy. So we started the morning walking around Venice a bit and then caught a bus to the airport. We booked seperate flights to Dublin because it's much cheaper to fly in and out of Dublin from the U.S. than Italy. But we decided since we were doing that, we'd spend a day there as well.

Our flight to Dublin was on Aer Lingus which is the cheapest airline I've ever seen. Their "complimentary" soda was 2.50 euros. And to even pick a middle seat next to a toilet was $10 a person. But we made it to Dublin none the less.

In Dublin we checked into our hotel in the temple bar area and first thing, stopped at a pub for some fish and chips. They were delightful! It had also been years since I'd been in the UK. So I went straight to a store and bought some prawn cocktail crips and aero bars.

We then jumped on a hop on hop off bus. We simply just wanted to see as much of the city as we could and then explore on our own. This was a cheap way to do this. If I had more time in the city though I'd love to tour the Guiness factory or visit the old jail. But instead we just rode past them. We got off and walked around. We went to Trinity College as well which was really cool.

After the college, which was close to our hotel. Then we went out around Temple Bar. This area was amazing! It was one pub after the other, packed full of people, all with incredible live musicians playing. On the streets, again, live musicians everywhere. We spent the night dancing and enjoying the free concerts everywhere we went. I loved this city!!

Day 11- 
We did try to get some sleep before our flight but from our room could hear partying in the street up until we got on the bus in the morning for our flight. It was insane but we loved it.

We flew home and after delays, changed flights and missed connections, we finally made it home at midnight. My Dad picked us up from the airport and when we got home he threw some salmon and chicken on the grill at one in the morning because, why not?

This was such an incredible trip! I wish we could be there right now.

Thursday, August 13, 2015


This is my "how to travel Italy on limited time", because we fit in as much as humanly possible in the time that we had. To read about Ireland, click here. 

Here's how it went;

Day 1-
We left the U.S. at 6:00. We had a 5 hour layover in Houston, and passes to the United club which was fantastic. We were able to eat breakfast and lunch there. But apparently we weren't upper class enough because as the worker put it, "He can't sleep like that! This is a BUSINESS lounge!" Because Jake was asleep with a cheesy eye mask on.

Day 2- Pompeii/ Sorrento
After a short layover in Germany, we landed in Naples, Italy at noon. From there we took the circumvesuvia rail line from the Naples train station, first to Pompeii. In Pompeii we checked our bags at the train station and went and visited the ruins.

TIP: I wish we would have spent a little more time in Naples because they had the best knock off designer brands we'd seen, and the best clothing prices, but it was our first place and we just assumed we would see more. But more importantly, if you are going to Pompeii to see the remains of artifacts or the body casts, they are not at the site of the ruins. They have been relocated to a museum in Naples.

We were so exhausted at this point and Pompeii was so large and extremely hot that we had a hard time here. We didn't stay too long but enough to see what we wanted to see. We got back on the Circumvensuvia rail and made it to Sorrento. We tried to explore Sorrento a little bit but were so exhausted that we ended up going to bed early and sleeping for close to 12 hours that night.

Day 3- Amalfi Coast
This was one of my favorite days of the whole trip. We went to the bus station and hopped on a SITA bus that drives along the Amalfi Coast. It was the most stunning drive, but nausiating. We got off in Positano which can't even be explained. Pictures don't do it justice. It was the most beautiful city I have ever seen.

We walked around and shopped and then headed down to the beach to swim. The view from the water was incredible and can't be missed.

Our plan was to take the SITA to all the little towns along the coast, but after Positano, we just wanted to spend most of our time there. So we paid for a Ferry to take us to Salerno. The ferry was worth it just to see the coast from the water. It was also some of the most fun I had the entire trip. I loved the ferry rides.

We stayed in Salerno for a couple of hours and then hopped back on the ferry to Positano. At night we took the SITA bus back to Sorrento. There we walked around and got dinner. The streets of Sorrento were completely packed at night. It was a fun city with much to do. I really enjoyed our stay there.

Day 4- Rome
On the morning of day 4 we took a train back to Naples, and from Naples hopped on a fast train from Naples to Rome.

TIP: If you plan on traveling by train (which is the best way). Don't buy the Italyrail pass that gives you so many days of travel for a certain amount. We bought all our train passes individually, including one day with 3 trains, and one leg in first class, and we still came out over $100 cheaper per person than the discounted ItalyRail pass.

Also make sure to book the fast trains. They save you so much time even though they're a little more expensive. It took us an hour to get to Rome from Naples.

Once in Rome, we took our bags to the hotel. We were there early but they held our bags for us while we went out on our own. This is where the traveling exhaustion started to hit every day. It was also the hottest I have EVER been in my life. I was not prepared for the weather and the heat. We first went to the Coloseum. I think this was my favorite single thing we did in Italy. It was just incredible to be there and see it.

We walked around Palantine Hill and then past Piazza Venezia. From there to Piazza Navona and lunch. We also got gelato at Tre Scalini. The best gelato we had in Italy.

From there we walked to the Pantheon which was so incredible.

Then to Trevi Fountain which happened to be completely under construction. We seemed to find everything was under construction while we were there.

Trevi Fountain to the Spanish steps. These sucked after our day of walking. But be sure to drink from all the fountains in Rome. It was the best water I've ever tasted and there are places to fill up your water everywhere. Including the Fountain at the Spanish Steps.

From there we walked to the Capuchin Bone Church. It was a sect that decorated their church with human bones. Though it was very cool to see. It was tiny and cost us 8 euros each. Definitely not worth that.

From there we went back to our hotel and checked into the room. We were drained and slept with ease.

Day 5- Rome
The next morning after breakfast at our hotel, we started early at Vatican City. We took a public bus which was cheap and fast. If you're in Rome I highly suggest figuring out the bus system. You can get anywhere. If we had realized this the first day, we could have saved ourselves a little better.

We had prebooked tickets to see the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel for 9:00. We got to the Vatican early however so we could see St Peter's Basilica. I suggest getting there early. We waited maybe 20 minutes to get in. By 10am it was a two hour wait. But you get to stand and admire St. Peters Square in the meantime. And the basilica was amazing! The church I have ever been in.

We were told we could use our Vatican Museum tickets at any point so we took a little detour. Every first Wednesday of the month, the Pope does the Papal Audience where you can go listen to him and he meets with people there after. So we stood in line and by some miracle were able to get in to hear the pope. That was really unique and pretty cool to be able to do. We didn't stay for the whole thing, but just for his talk.

TIP: Make sure you book any big museums or attractions online in advanced! We saved ourselve probably 2 hours at the Coloseum, 3 plus at the vatican museum and so on. Many advanced bookings are free. Others it was just a couple dollars to book it and saved us hours on hours of waiting in line.

The Vatican Museum was amazing. We were star struck by the painters and their work. It's worth every penny and every second you spend there. I was a little surpised by Sistine Chapel because there's really nothing in there but the ceiling, but it was incredible.

From there we walked by the Castle St. Angelo. We did not go inside, but if we had more time, that would be something I would like to do.

We walked through the Jewish Ghetto and Isola Tiberina. We listened to a tour group here for a little bit which was SUPER interesting.

We went back to the hotel and grabbed dinner and then took a public bus to Trastevere. However, we ended up missing our stop and lost in the city far from any tourists. It was fun, but when it got dark we decided to just call it a night and head back.

Day 6- Rome, Pisa, Florence
In the morning, we wandered around Rome a bit. We saw all the attractions we wanted to see, so we just took some time to explore the streets. We ended up finding several local markets and getting some fruit and clothes and things. It was relaxing after the last few days.

From Rome Termini Station we took a fast train to Florence. The original plan was to take a train to Pisa, check our bags, then Florence. However, there was only a fast train to Florence, which was 2-3 hours quicker, and then we were able to just check into our hotel first and didn't have to worry about our bags.

Our hotel in Florence upgraded us to a huge room with a beautiful balcony. This was my favorite hotel as far as our room went. We ate the most spectacular dinner in Florence (I literally cried) and then caught the hour long train to Pisa.

I was pleasantly surprised by the City of Pisa. I loved the streets and the shops. It was much cheaper than Rome had been and an overall quant, cute little town. I also wasn't expecting much from the leaning tower because I'd heard over and over that it's just small and not that cool. But I thought it was great. It probably helped that I'd heard so many bad things because I wasn't expecting much but I was impressed.

From Pisa, we took the hour long train back to Florence again and walked around the Piazza by our hotel and to bed.

Day 7- Florence
Florence was by far my favorite city that we stayed in. It was small, beautiful and so much to do. The city though was SO HOT! All of Italy was while we were there, but we were dying. It was SO great that our hotel had a pool. We went back mid day to cool off before heading out again.

We started the day at San Lorenzo Market. This was huge and awesome and so much fun. Jake bought himself a new leather belt for super cheap. I found my favorite pair of sunglasses. We bought some souvineers and just looked around. They do tons of leather work in Florence and if I wasn't such a cheapskate I would have bought some more, but I had fun just looking around. All the shops outside sold goods, inside was a giant food market. Wine shops, Olive oil, Pasta, meats, breads, spices, you name it.

From there we walked past the giant church in Florence, around that square and down to Ponte Vechio. We had to head back because we had tickets to go see Galeria dell'accademia at noon. (Basically just to see the David) Again, we booked in advanced and skipped another two hour line.

TIP: If you're in Florence, invest in the Firenze card. The only museum I really wanted to go to in Florence was this one, just because I'm not a big art person. (Though the other museums are some of the best in the world and I'd still suggest going.) However, I did want to go up the Duomo for instance or to the top of the tower at Piazza Vechio but the lines were so long to do everything. With the Firenze card, you also get to the front of the line of those and save yourself lots of money, and you don't have to pay extra for the entrance tickets.

After the David we took a dip in our pool, relaxed a little bit and headed out again. We crossed the Ponte Vechio and walked to Forte Beleverde. On map quest I saw that it wasn't that far to walk from there to Piazza Michaelangelo (where you have a great view of the city). However what map quest didn't take into account was the huge incline up to the Fort, then all the way back down and all the way back up again to the Piazza. We were SO drained from this walk. If you want a great view of the city, just go straight to the Piazza a skip the Fort. There is no easy way to do both.

Not to mention, after the fort, we actually took the wrong rode and walked about a mile into a small town outside of Florence. Mide you, I loved this walk and am actually really glad we got lost here. We saw a cute small town, vinyards and amazing scenary. We turned around, took the steep rode down to the bottom of the Piazza and hike the million stairs back up. It was worth the view in the end.

Day 8- Florence, Venice
The next morning we woke up and got in line for the Duomo. We wanted to climb to the top before we left. What we didn't realize is the church opens at 10am, but the Duomo was actually earlier, at 8:30. It doesn't say that anywhere. So get there early and you may not have to wait in line. We thought we were there an hour before opening. But again, this is where a Firenze card would have come in handy because they let all those people in straight away. We would have had more time for other things as well had we had one. But this is what we chose to wait in line for that morning and it was well worth it! We waited about an hour, but even right after we got there the line was doubling. Again, get there early!

Also, on your way up to the Duomo you can see inside the church, which really isn't all that great inside. If you have to pick one line, pick the Duomo. The climb up was a little sketchy in parts and I've never been more dizzy in a winding staircase. But it was so worth the view!

After we came down, we checked out of our hotel and headed to the train station. Before we left we checked tickets for the train to Venice. By the time we got there, they were sold out of economy class for the next several hours. So we decided to just book first class on the next train out. It was almost double the cost, but it was our longest train ride and we had to experience first class. It was wonderful! The seats were so comfortable, they came around with drinks and cookies. It was worth it. And again, still cheaper than an ItalyRail pass.

We got to Venice and checked in. We were on the Eastern end of the actual island part of the city, far from Piazza San Marco (the main area) which I was actually really happy about. We walked for hours that day, mostly because all the streets are so confusing. But I hated the San Marco area. It was nothing but people. You could barely walk down the street. Everything was super expensive and it wasn't worth it. I will say now that Venice was my least favorite city and super overrated, in my humble opinion. But we walked around and stopped and had a delicious dinner.

Day 9- Venice
We had tickets for Doge's Palace Secret Itineraries tour which I have heard nothing but great things about. I was REALLY looking forward to this tour. So from our hotel we hopped on the Venice Public transportation, Vaporetto line. It was 7 euros for one way, but it was a boat ride through the city and we wanted to experience it. I was mad about the price, but honestly, you don't ever have to validate the ticket it you don't want. And they don't check. So I won't lie. We used the same ticket probably 6 times and never validated it. But I'm glad because the first time we got on, it was morning and we got a seat at the front of the boat. We thought they'd come around to check tickets but didn't. Turns out you were just supposed to scan it when you got on.

Well we got on at 9am and our tour was for 10. So I thought we had plenty of time. By 9:45 we were still 6 stops away from San Marcos. The guy next to us told us, "if you get off here, you can get to the square on foot." So we did. Turns out, we were on a whole other island! I was so mad! So we had no choice but to wait for another boat. We got to the palace 30 minutes late and they wouldn't let us join our tour. When we got inside I spoke with someone who luckily took us to the group. We ended missing about an hour of the hour and 15 or so minute tour. I'm glad we got to see any of it at all though.

We got there to see where Casanova was imprisoned and escaped from. We also got to walk through one secret passage to the prison. The tour consists of secret passages and rooms not open to the public. We missed all the others unfortunately though. But we walked around on our own in the places open to the public after our tour was over.

After the Palace we went up the Campile di San Marco. The clock tower for the church with a great view of the city. We walked around some more and got then discovered the other end of Venice east of the train station. This was my favorite part of the city because it was much cheaper, full of shops that weren't over priced and not too crowded. Plus I got a new purst and I love it!

Day 10- Venice, Dublin
This day was my birthday and pretty dang awesome. But becuase this is already the longest post in history, I'm going to do a seperate Ireland post. But first, my beautiful birthday present from Jake, and our last night in Venice.

But  let me just say, we did not vacation. It was not relaxing. We traveled the country to see as much as we could. It wipes you out, but it is so worth every second.

Read about the rest of the trip in Ireland here.