...because home doesn't happen overnight.
09.01.15 / Some Outdoor Stuff

How exciting is that post title? It just grabs your attention and pulls you in, right? Haha.

outdoor 5

I like a good renovation as much as the next house-loving person. But I have to say it’s been nice living in a post-renovation home. We’re able to make it through entire weekends with no dust flying, no rooms off limits, no major disruptions. It feels like we’re finally living in our house. Maybe that doesn’t make sense but, if you’ve ever lived through a major remodel, maybe it does.

When/if we get the itch to DIY, we have several little projects still on the to-do list. This summer we crossed off a few of those things and even tackled some projects that weren’t on the list. We built screens to disguise the trash and recycling bins and the electric meter. (So far, we haven’t received any hate mail from the meter reader.) We also added a refrigerator side panel and organized the garage. I haven’t written about the garage yet, but we parked a vehicle in it for the first time ever! #postrenovationgoals

Today I’m sharing a few more outdoor projects we worked on this summer. They aren’t really post-worthy as stand alone projects so I’m lumping them together in one meaty post.

outdoor stuff 8

We added snow rails to the metal roof. (And by we, I mean Steve.) You may recall that we originally installed clear plastic snow guards on the roof above the exterior man doors and garage door. (You can spy them here and in most of the exterior shots of the house.) They were *supposed to* prevent snow and ice from avalanching off the metal roof in the winter to protect our gutters and any humans on the ground. But after our first heavy snowfall two years ago, the guards over the front door slid right off with the snow. (!) It wasn’t exactly the protection we were hoping for. We think their failure had everything to do with the pitch – or lack thereof – of our roof.

The good news is we found a local company that was able to manufacture snow rails for us. The bad news is it took TWO YEARS to finally get the snow rails in our hands. (For the company’s sake, I’m not naming them publicly. While their product is excellent, we can’t vouch for their customer service.) The snow rails were color-matched to our existing roof and set us back $500. Steve easily tapped off the plastic snow guards with a rubber mallet. Then he cut sections of the snow rail to length and screwed them into the metal roof ribs with stainless steel screws. (The ribs are the raised “lines” on the roof.) The screws are rustproof and boast rubber washers. The major stipulation was that each continuous length of rail had to end on a rib. You can see how each rail ends on a rib in the photos above and below.

outdoor stuff 6

outdoor stuff 7

The rail extends around the entire perimeter of the roof – front, sides and back. With help from his dad, Steve knocked out the job in two hours. We actually love the aesthetic of the snow rails and we’re glad to have the rails in place before winter hits. Of course, this means we’ll probably get no snow this year. So be it!

$500 plus two hours of DIY labor isn’t the end of the world but if you’re considering metal for a low-pitched roof in a colder climate, it’s just something to keep in mind. Learn from our mistakes, people. We’re your guinea pigs ;)

outdoor stuff 2

We made an outdoor shelf for the kitchen window. (And by we, I mean I told Steve what I wanted it to look like and he built it.) I’ve always thought the window needed a shelf to better connect it to the deck area.

outdoor stuff 4

The shelf is constructed of cedar boards and off-the-shelf exterior brackets – both from Menards. The brackets are screwed into the brick facade with Red Head wall anchors. FYI – Red Head refers to the type of screw, not the color ;) Steve added a lip of trim with nails and wood glue. I like that the lip provides a little security for loose items.

outdoor stuff 3

The shelf is a great spot for drinks, napkins and dessert plates when we eat outside. We purposely didn’t make it deep enough for dinner plates because it’s not really conducive to acting as a pass-through… which would have been a cool idea but not practical. The kitchen sink is just inside the window but it’s difficult to access the shelf through the window.

outdoor stuff 1

While I’m thinking of it, many of you want to know how the outdoor furniture is holding up. The plastic wicker-like bases are in mint condition. No breakage, no fading, no rust. Covering them in a high quality cover during the winter helps immensely. (See how we store the outdoor furniture here.)

The cushions are a bit more needy. They aren’t meant to be left out all the time. I only place them on the sectional when we’re using it. In the summer, I stash the cushions behind the sectional under the deep eave for added protection from the elements. In the winter, I store them in the attic. The covers are machine washable and I wash them each fall before stashing them away for the winter. They’re in pretty good condition. The zippers still work. There aren’t any tears or holes. There is a spot on one cover where a pile of dead leaves left a stain. The cushions are reversible so I just turn that side down. I line dry the covers after washing but there has been some shrinkage. They still fit the cushions but you can see how the piping doesn’t line up perfectly now. It’s not a deal breaker but, again, something to keep in mind.

Also, those Woolly Pockets are the bomb. I love them.

shade sail hooks 1

We added hardware for future shade sails. Adding shade sails above the deck and dining patio has been on our wish list for a while. A few readers suggested checking out Costco for affordable options. Thank you! We did give them a look but we really feel like our space would benefit most from custom sails. We’ve determined a larger rectangular sail over the deck and a smaller triangular sail over the dining patio is the ideal setup for us. Because of ongoing insurance quandaries resulting from Everett’s accident earlier this year, we don’t feel comfortable shelling out money for the actual sails this year.

shade sail hooks 2

Instead, we purchased and installed the hardware (basically a trio of heavy duty rings) along the eave and have loose plans to put in a trio of posts in the yard this fall. (I marked out the general locations of the rings in the photo above with red X’s.) We’re hoping to add the sails next summer. I’ll keep you posted. Sometimes, this is how bigger projects go. We piecemeal them into smaller projects as time and money allow.

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We put in two garden beds. I wish the picture better portrayed how much joy this project has brought to our lives. I also wish our neighbor’s fence was charcoal or black.

backyard clearing

backyard clearing

backyard clearing

One side of our backyard was overgrown with LARGE random shrubs. We cleared them out earlier this summer with the help of a chainsaw and a rented stump grinder and paid a tree trimming crew to come out, mulch everything and haul it off. That brush pile was three times bigger when it was all said and done. Then we made two basic 4′ x 8′ raised garden beds. We had rich soil + organic compost delivered to fill the beds. Layne had grown a few hot pepper and cucumber plants from seed at school last spring so we plopped those in one of the beds and let nature do its thing.

Clearing out the space for the beds opened up our backyard to a neighbor’s backyard. His name is Bassim. He’s Lebanese and the sweetest person. As soon as he saw we were attempting to grow a garden, he offered up two tomato plants from his garden that weren’t doing so well. He thought they would fare better in our raised beds. Plus, he’s just really nice. The tomato plants took well to the transplant. We had a decent first harvest: first cucumbers, then tomatoes and now hot peppers. I have no idea what we did right but we’re so into this gardening thing now.

garden harvest

The kids LOVE going out and checking the garden everyday. They pull weeds and pick whatever is ripe. They bring in their mini harvests and wash it all by hand. The cucumbers usually don’t make it to the fridge. The kids eat them fresh of the vine. I’ve been making all of my favorite tomato recipes including this one. Bassim lets me clip fresh basil from his garden. It’s so good as a garnish.

Everything you’ve heard about growing your own food is true. It’s opens you up to whole new community. Okay, maybe one neighbor isn’t an entire community but still. When Bassim sees us outside weeding, watering or harvesting, he comes over to say hi and talk garden talk. And seeing the kids’ sense of pride and excitement in growing, picking and eating their own food is priceless. It’s something I want to continue to nurture.

The second bed is growing impressive weeds. Cue the womp, womp sound effect. We didn’t plant anything in it because we wanted to see how the first summer went with one bed. I thought about making it a cutting garden so I could grow flowers to bring inside for decoration, but our family has enjoyed growing food so much that I think we’ll plant more veggies next year. Suggestions?

That pretty much brings you up to speed on outdoor projects around here. Have you crossed off any outdoor projects on your to-do list this summer?

images: Dana Miller for House*Tweaking

clean house

It’s no secret that one of the perks of living small is a quicker cleaning routine. Our previous house was >2,700 square feet laid out over two floors and it took me a good 1-2 days to clean it thoroughly. At the time, I was working as a pharmacist and eventually I hired a housekeeper to come in once a month for a deep clean. (Initially, I felt extremely guilty and hoity-toity about hiring help. But the first time I came home to a clean house that I hadn’t cleaned, all negative feelings subsided.) I would try to follow a daily cleaning schedule to stay on top of things in between the deep cleans but I felt like I was constantly cleaning. Cleaning that house was the bane of my existence.

Fast forward to 2015 and cleaning still isn’t my favorite pastime but it’s much less painful in a smaller house. Not only do I have less house to clean, I have less stuff to clean. And I love it. I gave up the daily cleaning schedule in exchange for once-a-week whole house cleans. Daily cleaning isn’t necessary in this smaller space and, honestly, I enjoy an entire just-cleaned house. Otherwise, I start thinking about what isn’t clean or what I have to clean the next day.

At first, I did whole house cleans on Saturdays. I thought that everyone would pitch in and things would go more quickly. This went on for months unsuccessfully. Yes, everyone was home. Yes, everyone had a job to do. But it wasn’t quick. At all. We didn’t have a good rhythm. Not to mention, we were spending our rare family time cleaning. And as soon as the house was deemed clean, everyone was home to mess it up again in no time.

So I made the executive decision to stop cleaning house on weekends. Now I clean house on Mondays and, I have to say, it’s wonderful. We do laundry over the weekend but it’s a task that is easily broken up and sprinkled into our schedule with little disruption. On Sunday nights, we do a quick pickup of the entire house. On Monday mornings after everyone is off to school / work, (Mabrey and) I clean. I finally have a good routine and can clean the entire house in a little over an hour. I start wiping, dusting and vacuuming in the kitchen and then work my way into the living room and mudroom. Once the common areas are done, I check off the bedrooms. (Bed linens are washed over the weekend so things go quickly.) I use a Bona floor mop on the hardwoods throughout before moving on to the bathrooms. I finish up in the master bathroom where I clean the tub while I shower to save time. When I’m all done, I have several hours to enjoy a clean house before the post-school / post-work chaos ensues. I savor it.

Of course, we still have daily chores (emptying dishwasher, post-meal cleanup, litter box scooping, wiping down bathroom counters, taking out the trash, putting toys away, etc.) to attend to during the week but those are things that happen regardless. I think the biggest difference with this cleaning routine is that I’m not cleaning in anticipation of guests when I clean on Mondays. It’s more of a maintenance thing and I get to enjoy the fruits of my labor afterward. On the weekends, I’ve stopped fretting about our house’s appearance and focus on the people around me instead. Plus, I realized that most of our guests don’t really notice the difference between a Saturday clean versus a Monday clean (as long as we tidy up, wipe down the bathroom counters and swirl a brush around in the toilets before their visit). One weekend we had our good friends over and when they arrived I was folding a pile of laundry in the living room. My girlfriend said, “I’m so happy to see laundry in your living room! It’s like a real house.”

What about you? How long does it take you to clean your (big or small) home? Do you follow a daily schedule or do you prefer whole house cleans? Do you clean on weekends? Any advice for quicker cleans? Obviously, this routine works for us because I’m home. If you work outside of the house, don’t feel guilty about hiring out if you can afford it! And I would encourage you to choose a day of the week that allows you to enjoy your clean house as much as possible on your time off.

P.S. – A quick cleaning tip from my grandma: Lay old newspapers or used tissue paper on the top of exposed upper cabinetry to collect dust. On cleaning day, just fold up the papers and replace. Easy!

P.S.S. – My quick cleaning tips are: 1) Start with a tidy house. (I’m easily distracted if I have to walk into another room to put something away.) 2) Keep cleaning tools and products close to where you use them. 3) Let little kids wipe down base cabinets and call it done even if you would do it better. 4) Buy a smaller house! Get rid of stuff!

More cleaning-related posts: how I clean the globe lights, how I clean the wood floors.

image: Dana Miller for House*Tweaking


Congrats to Trudy and Nathan who would like to try the orange apple fruit chews and the pineapple coconut bar, respectively.

I’ve had requests to share what a typical day is like for me. The thing is, every day is different and not all that exciting. But I figured, what the heck!, and documented a random day earlier this week. Spoiler alert: it’s not as glamorous as you think. I’m just a normal mom trying my best to make it through these long days and short years without letting my health, sanity and passions fall by the wayside. Get ready for some very candid, very real photos. (It was a no makeup, no shower day. Not all that unusual actually.)


midnight – 7:45 a.m. I’m up with Mabrey eight times during the night. I thought she had the “big kid” bed all figured out but I was wrong.

6:30 – 7:45 a.m. Steve gets the boys up and off to school so I can catch some zzzzz’s but, in reality, I just lie in bed replaying the night’s events on the back of my eyelids like a bad movie. I am exhausted before the day even starts. Mabrey throws open the door. Good morning! She is unfazed by the lack of sleep. I get up, wash my face, make the bed and plod to the kitchen for breakfast.

8:00 – 9:00 a.m. We eat breakfast: fried uncured ham, toast with honey from one of Steve’s co-worker’s beehives (it’s the best honey I’ve ever had) and green juice that Steve made. Mabrey leans over several times while we’re eating to tell me secrets. I love you, she whispers. Suddenly last night doesn’t seem so awful in retrospect. Steve is working from home today. I thank him for the juice and for getting the boys off to school. I empty the dishwasher, load it back up with dirties and clean up the kitchen.

mabrey bath


9:00 – 10:30 a.m. I attempt to edit some photos for a blog post while Mabrey plays with Play-doh but it’s nearly impossible. She wants me to play with her. I feel like I’m half-assing both tasks so I shut my laptop and try to keep her happy and quiet while Steve works nearby. After a while, Mabrey and I go to my room so I can get dressed. In the few minutes it takes me to dress, Mabrey sneaks into the bathroom and rubs big clumps of Steve’s hair gel into her own hair. I try combing it out but it’s useless. I give her a bath while Cheetah supervises.

naturebox snacks

tennis snack

we're off!

10:30 – 11:00 a.m. Mabrey and I prepare to run errands. I have a tennis drilling session at noon but need to grab a few things from the store first. I make a list: toilet paper, paper towels, one of those childproof doorknob covers to prevent Mabrey from wandering the house at night. I pack Mabrey a NatureBox snack for the trip to the store: mango orange fruit chews + praline pumpkin seeds. I also pack her a lunch to eat in the nursery at tennis while I’m drilling. If I eat lunch before tennis, I’m sluggish. Instead, I pack NatureBox’s dark chocolate berry trail mix, a banana and my water bottle. We’re off! I feel like I’m forgetting something.


11:00 a.m. – noon Mabrey eats her snack while I grab a few things. We check out. As I’m loading up our purchases, I remember that I forgot to grab Mabrey’s lunch I had packed at home. (I knew I was forgetting something!) I tell her. She loses it. I drive back home, grab her lunch and drive to tennis. I scarf down my banana and a palmful of trail mix. I pull into the parking lot right at noon. Mabrey has fallen asleep in her car seat. I feel a twinge of guilt and wonder if I should skip tennis to take Mabrey home for a nap she most desperately needs. Mabrey wakes up excited for “school.”

noon – 2:00 p.m. I drill with a fun group of ladies. (I played tennis in high school and just picked up a racket again in October after an 18-year hiatus.) I play like crap but it feels good to sweat it out. I get a boost of energy. I pick Mabrey up from the nursery. Her “teacher” informs me that Mabrey was unusually tired. Mabrey falls asleep on the way home.


2:00 – 2:45 p.m. I put Mabrey down for a nap. She doesn’t fight me at all. I’m so hungry. I eat lunch: cajun stew leftover from the previous night’s dinner + an apple with peanut cookie butter. I unload the car & Mabrey’s lunch bag and clean up the kitchen. Again. I scoop Cheetah’s litter box. I need to shower but don’t have enough time.

everett home

everett snack

everett snack

steve snack

2:45 – 3:30 p.m. Everett gets off the bus and pretends to fall down in the driveway while all the kids on the bus watch. (He does this every day. The first time he did it his bus driver stopped the bus to make sure he was okay. Everett = drama.) I make him oatmeal with almond milk and top it with NatureBox’s french toast granola + strawberries. He eats every. single. bite. He does his homework. I offer Steve – who eats a mostly paleo diet – NatureBox’s coconut date energy bites. He strikes a corny pose for the camera then threatens to post a picture of me eating in my pajamas on the internet.

layne home

layne snack

3:30 – 4:00 p.m. Layne is home from school. He brings in the day’s mail. He chooses a snack: carrot, apple, NatureBox’s praline pumpkin seeds. I sort the mail and parent-teacher communication. I’m reminded that I am chaperoning Layne’s field trip the next morning.

4:00 – 6:00 p.m. It’s too cold to play outside. Layne and Everett watch a movie while I edit photos (finally!) and attempt to wrangle my inbox. I am so behind. I really want to write a post but Mabrey wakes up from her nap. We cuddle for a while and I start contemplating dinner.

dinner help

everett color

layne reads

everett note

6:00 – 6:30 p.m. Mabrey helps me prepare dinner while Everett colors and Layne reads. We listen to Nickel Creek on Cone. Everett gives a love note to Steve who is hiding in our bedroom finishing up work. He decides he’s done and joins us in the kitchen.


6:30 – 7:15 p.m. We eat dinner: bacon-wrapped pollack, asparagus cooked in sesame oil with lemon mayo. Plus white cheddar mac-n-cheese for the kids. Plus rosé for me. The boys whine about the asparagus but they eat it anyway and we talk about how everyone’s pee is going to stink later. Each kid gets a mini frozen coconut sandwich bar as a reward for finishing their dinner.

tetonic plates

packing lunches

7:15 – 7:45 p.m. It’s kitchen cleanup time. Again. The kids bring their dishes to the sink. Steve loads the dishwasher while I wipe down the counters and sweep the floor. The boys get their pajamas on and brush their teeth. Mabrey needs a little help with hers. Layne shows everyone his school project on tectonic plates. All three kids commence play-wrestling in the living room. I pretend not to hear the words “butt” and “poop.” Steve packs the boys’ lunches for the next day and gets a little help from Mabrey. I go to feed Cheetah but discover Mabrey has already fed her…a week’s worth of food…in her water bowl.

7:45 – 8:05 p.m. We meditate.

8:05 – 8:30 p.m. Bedtime stories for Everett and Mabrey. Hugs, kisses, lights out. I realize I forgot to buy a doorknob cover for Mabrey’s room earlier in the day. It was even on my list! Steve rushes off to buy one just in case we need it. I really hope Mabrey sleeps.

8:30 – 9:00 p.m. Layne reads then heads to bed. Steve is back with a 4-pack of doorknob covers. We decide to hold off on installing one until Mabrey is awake. Don’t wake a sleeping dragon!

9:00 – 10:00 p.m. Steve sits next to me in the living room while I edit MORE PHOTOS. At 10:00, he gives me a quick kiss and goes to bed.


10:00 p.m. – 12:45 a.m. With Cheetah snoozing at my side, I finish editing photos, write a post and respond to the most pressing emails in my inbox. I throw in the towel. I need a shower still but I’m too tired. I’ll have to get up extra early the next morning to squeeze in a shower. I change into my pajamas, wash my face, brush my teeth, set my alarm and slide into bed. It’s frigid and I think about summer and warm sunshine and wonder why the hell I live in Ohio. But I’m grateful for our snug lil’ house, my healthy family and a full day. Cheetah curls up at my feet. I’m out within minutes.


Ground-breaking stuff, eh? Like I said, every day is different. On the days I don’t have tennis, I try to work out at home. Some nights I stay up until 2:00 a.m. cranking out a post just because that’s the only time I have to do it. Once a week, I get groceries. About once a week, Steve brings home dinner. We try to keep things pretty healthy most of the time but indulge every now and then.

NatureBox snacks are a great fit for our lifestyle. We pack them for school, work and on the go. I love that they are free of high fructose corn syrup, partially hydrogenated oils, trans fats and artificial sweeteners / flavors / colors. The kids love the way they taste. Eaten on their own or paired with fresh produce, yogurt, oatmeal, etc., they are the perfect pick-me-up. With over 100 snacks to choose from, there’s something for everyone. (I was stoked to see many new options!) I like to keep them on hand for when our groceries are running low and I can’t make it to the store. The subscription service  allows me to choose new & healthy snacks each month. Are you interested in giving NatureBox a try? Keep reading for details on how to win a free 6-month subscription!

PRIZE: Two winners will each win a 6-month subscription to NatureBox.

RULES: You must be at least 18 years old and have a shipping address (no P.O. boxes please) within the U.S. or Canada.

TO ENTER: Browse the ample snack selection here. Then leave a comment on this post sharing which snack you’d most like to try.

DEADLINE: Enter before 9:00 p.m. EST on Thursday, February 12th. Two random winners will be announced Friday, February 13th.

WHILE YOU’RE AT IT: Join NatureBox today and score a FREE sample box of their most popular snacks. Click here to get started. Free trial is available for new and U.S. & Canadian subscribers only. Not valid on gift subscriptions and may not be combined with any other offers.

Good luck and healthy snacking!

*This post is sponsored in part by NatureBox. Thank you for supporting the brands that support this blog. Even if you don’t end up subscribing, I hope you enjoyed a behind-the-scenes look at my everyday.

images: Dana Miller for House*Tweaking