Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Travel - A Weekend in Newport, RI

Just about every March/April Matt and I get "the itch."  Our New England winter has been long, work has kept us away from each other much more than 50 hours a week, and we desperately need a way to recharge.  Last year we took a long weekend in Vermont after "the itch."  This year we headed back to a familiar favorite, Newport, Rhode Island.

Matt and I met in college at Roger Williams University in Bristol, RI.  And though we don't visit there often, we still enjoy coming back to one of our favorite Rhode Island towns.  We've also discovered that the off season is a great time to travel here to beat the Newport summer crowds of popped collar, Sperry wearing, tourists.  You can also score some excellent rates on hotels, and we timed it with restaurant week to try more of Newport's great restaurants at more competitive prices.

We want to share our travel stories more often - to share what we like (possibly don't like) and hope you can take some of our tips on your own trip!

Where to Stay: So far we have two favorites from our stays in Newport, and once learned the Best Western is a no go! Don't do it!

The Attwater: This trip was our first time at The Attwater, a Boutique Lark Hotel close to downtown Newport and we're in love!  We scored 30% off their regular rates by spotting the Hotel on  This place is a blogger's dream!  The room was large and everything was spotless and so comfortable.  They include a small breakfast which was just enough to get our day going and not spoil a restaurant week lunch.  We also took full advantage of the mid afternoon treats and lattes.  Another win for Newport - this hotel includes parking! Year round!

The Hotel Viking: We've stayed here in the past, but only if we could find a discounted rate.  They are also part of a Boutique Hotel group - Noble House Hotels & Resorts.  We like the Viking, it is a very historic part of Newport.  Hanging out at the hotel bar makes us feel part of the swanky Newport.  If you're staying here, we recommend the newer hotels rooms, and not the historic suites.  They also don't commonly include parking or breakfast, but you can ask!

What to Do:  There are so many great things to do in Newport, the beaches, Cliff Walk, the mansion tours but we don't want to overwhelm anyone headed there just for a weekend so we'll share our favorite highlights.

Newport Storm Brewery & Newport Distilling Co:  Our relationship was built on Friday night dates to Newport Storm Brewery for beer tastings in college.  They are Rhode Island's only microbrewery and make some extremely great beer in their new facility.  If you're not into beer, they also offer a Rum tasting - distilled in house! AND featured on Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe!  If you go ask for Brent and tell him Meg and Matt sent you.

Newport Vineyards:  I don't know what it is about vineyards, but we just love to visit them.  Newport Vineyard is nothing like what you'll see in a big wine country, but it's pretty impressive that they grow all of their own grapes for their wines.  It's worth a stop for a tasting and perhaps a tour.  They have a wine variety for everyone, and they are excellent.

The Armory Antiques:  A trip to Newport is not complete for us without a stop in The Armory Antique store.  Most of their goods are nautical because of the location.  

Thames Street Shopping: Downtown Newport is full of both main stream (Banana Republic) and eclectic shopping.  And if you're in town before May 1st, all of the metered parking is free!

Norman Bird Sanctuary:  We didn't stop here on this past trip, but if you have a hike in your schedule, the Norman Bird Sanctuary is nearby and you can hike to some pretty amazing views of the beaches.

Ocean Drive & Fort Adams:  Looking for your dream home?  Exploring Ocean Drive and Fort Adams is a quiet drive, perfect for Sunday morning before you need to head home.

Where to Eat:  There must be over 100 restaurants in Newport and the surrounding area and honestly, about 75% of them are really good.  We're highlighting our favorites:

Perro Salado: Open for dinner, Perro Salado is located in an old home and serves rustic mexican.  This is a great spot for a romantic dinner if you like spicy food and amazing cocktails.

Midtown Oyster:  We ended up here for lunch, where we had the Midtown Burger, a quality cheeseburger with fried oysters.  If fried seafood or a classic pub burger is what you're craving head here.  The beer list is extensive.

Fluke wine bar & kitchen:  If you looking for something romantic, but don't want to end up with the "yuppie" crowd at Bowen's, try Fluke.  The menu was extremely eclectic and worth the trip if you want to eat something you'd never attempt cooking at home.  Fluke also has a great wine list and cocktail menu including some great non alcoholic options.

Brick Alley Pub:  This would be the pub to visit with a crowd!  The menu has lots of variety and everyone loves the salad bar.  

Aidan's:  Now we're venturing outside of Newport.  Aidan's is located downtown Bristol and as long as you avoid it after 10pm you won't run into too much of a college crowd.  Aidan's is always full of locals who just want some great Irish pub grub.  And again - they feature an extensive beer menu and long tap list.  (do you see a trend?)

West Main Pizza:  In between Newport and Bristol you'll find West Main Pizza.  They won't tell me the recipe, but the crust makes this pizza the best we've ever had.  Even when we're not hungry we stop because nobody else does it like them.  Our favorite is the Blue Cow Pizza - topped with hamburger, bacon and blue cheese sauce.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

2014 Goals Update

The first three months of 2014 have come and gone.  And I'm completely fine with that because they have been COLD!  I know winters are cold and snowy in New England, but I feel like the winter of 2014 was colder for a longer period of time and I think everyone is ready for sun, warmth, and good old New England humidity!  

I wanted to do a three month check in on our goals.  Mostly to keep us accountable, but to share in case you follow our blog and are curious.  You'll see we haven't made progress on everything, but I'm OK with that.  We've been through some "stuff" these past three months that I'd categorize as "big life stuff." And through it all, we're still standing and happy, and that's an accomplishment that I'm very proud of.  Add to that the goals we were able to start and I'd say we're going to have a very strong 2014.

18 Preston Goals
- Complete our exterior painting project - We're still waiting on the weather.  Hopefully we'll get started mid to late April.

- Hire an electrician (and our first official contractor) - Another item waiting on the weather.  We haven't tackled many big home improvement projects in these first few months of 2014.

- Share 52 blog posts this year (anyone notice the little face lift!) - We've been pretty slow on this one, but have lots of great ideas in the pipeline.  Now is just time and motivation to share them with all of you!

Matt's Goals
- Complete an obstacle race - Hasn't signed up yet, but boot camp starts soon!

- Finish a basement overhaul - Began the planning phase.  Once it warms up and we can move items to the garage for staging during the basement overhaul we'll get started on the execution phase.

- Have our first Tag Sale - Another item waiting on that warm weather, but we're super excited for a yard sale to purge!

- Workout every weekend - Been on a few runs, but again, the weather the beginning of 2014 hasn't been very motivating.

Meg's Goals
- Practice Yoga - Excited to stay this is on track.  Got off to a slow start, but now that I "get it" I practice 2-3 times per week.

- Finish converting the upstairs room to a craft/office space - Excited to also confirm this is pretty much done!  Some small items are left, but for the most part the room is completely redone and functioning as a beautiful crafting space.  

- Have our first Yard Sale (for those of your who didn't grow up in Connecticut) - Another item waiting on that warm weather, but we're super excited for a yard sale to purge!

- Workout every weekend - This didn't start in January, but my yoga practice has me at the yoga studio every weekend and now that nice weather is starting to peek out here and there we've managed a few long neighborhood walks.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

2014 Vegetable Garden Planning

Everyone else has said it, so I will chime in too.  This winter has been awful and I think it's taking a toll on myself and everyone I love.  Everyone is so cranky!

So, in the spirit of looking forward I started my vegetable garden planning this week. 

This will be the third year for our vegetable garden and so far we've gotten mixed results.  2012 was amazing!  The garden just flourished and we were eating tomatoes, zucchini, and squash for weeks.  Last year the tomatoes and peppers did pretty well, but everything else completely crapped out.  Gardening takes work, so I change the game plan slightly each year in an effort in making my hard work to go good use.

2012 Vegetable Garden
Garden Bed: I garden in a 4' x 10' raised bed built from landscape timbers that usually go on sale at Home Depot in March or April.  They are fastened together with some pieces of rebar that go through and into the ground.  The bottom of the bed is lined with chicken wire and landscape fabric.  The first year we had the dirt delivered (and of course the truck just couldn't reach to dump in right in the garden bed,) and each year we now add compost and fertilizer in the spring and till the soil frequently until we can plant.

Seeds or Plants?  I start just about everything by seed.  It's worked in the past, it's cheap and easy, and honestly, the process of seed to plant to fruit to belly is as close as I've had the chance to get to the miracle of child birth.  And it's magical.

Pepper plants - 2013
Planning: Year one was a free for all, whatever fit where is what I went with.  At times the garden may have looked a bit overgrown, (see above) but it did so well!  Last year I tried the square foot gardening technique and swapped everything around since (apparently) rotation is important and we had a less than stellar year.

In 2014 I happened across this little online planning tool,  and I'm going to go with some of their suggestions, specifically with my timing.  We are a Zone 6 area (to get technical on you) and their website does a great job visually showing me when to start what and where.

I totally would have started the basil indoors too soon, and transplanted way too early.  Because we had such a crappy winter I'm likely going to stay on the end of each scale provided.  So in the basil example, I'll seed mid April and plan on transplanting to the garden the first week of June.

What are you planting?!  This year I'm sticking to what has been easy for me in the past, plus a few experiments.  Below is a rough idea of the plan in the space I have.  I have a large perennial (aka, low maintenance!) herb garden somewhere else that we'll talk about in another post.    
2014 Garden Plan
Tomatoes: who doesn't plant tomatoes in a home garden?!  I've gone both the plant and seed route with these guys before.  
Cherry Tomatoes: I will likely buy a plant, so I can eat them very very quickly!
Sweet Grape Tomatoes: I've had great success with seed, so going that way again
Yellow Pearl TomatoesI've had great success with seed, so going that way again
Notice I stuck to the small varieties. We'll eat them the most, and I know then ripen quickly and produce all summer with proper pruning.  I don't want to waste space with big guys that take all summer.

Greens:  I've done all kinds including romaine, mixed greens, rainbow chard, (literally just for it's looks) and arugula.
This year I'm only going to plant what we eat - Mixed Greens, Kale, and Arugula.   Greens are super easy and fast growing, I'll start from seed directly in the garden in May.  The sun in my garden faces from the top of that diagram, just about all day.  It's good to know where your sun is.  In my plan I know my tomatoes will block that sun and create shade for my greens!  Greens to best in the spring when it's still cool around here and with partial shade during the day!

Carrots: I've failed at these twice so far, but I'm not a wimp and I'm hoping the third time is the charm.  (Does anyone have any carrot growing tips?!)

Annual Herbs:  I love perennials because they are low maintenance and lots of herbs are actually perennials in our zone.  For annual herbs I typically only plant the basics.  
Basil:  This the only herb I'll start indoors.  Since it will eventually have a big stock like a tomato I will give it a head start.
Cilantro: Last year I discovered this lasts through the first frost?!
Parsley: I'm really just hoping it's going to serve me well through a frost like the cilantro!

Cucumbers: pickling variety only.  These have been a struggle for me.  Though, I got new seeds and I'm going to make another effort.

Squash: Year one I picked squash the size of my leg out of my garden!  Last year, I think I got two, total!  We can make entire meals of this veggie during the summer. I'm really hoping they do well.  I think I'll start them inside and then milk carton green house them just after the transplant.

Beans: Last year I planted these just so my neighbor's daughter could have something to take care of.  They love my garden.  But they were so delicious and I'm really just planting them to be a snack during all my hard work.

Garlic - 2013
So that was a long winded post!  Who hung in there?  Let's do an ice breaker, if you could plant one veggie and be guaranteed it would flourish, what would it be?  

Please at least take away the tip of finding your sun and playing with it and different height veggies to make a small garden work for you. 

And I pick giant pumpkin!

Monday, March 10, 2014

2014 House Update - Dining Room

Continuing some of our home updates in celebration our 2 year homeiversary.  We shared our kitchen updates a few weeks ago and we're moving onto the dining room.   

First, the inspiration for the room started on Pinterest, of course! 

And while it is still quite the work in progress, we've certainly come a long way from our yellow walls with nine paint pot samples to pick from!

Moving the coffee and espresso machines was another Pinterest inspiration.  Matt has quite the collection of coffee brewing methods including the espresso machine percolator, french press, and his current favorite, the Cold Brew Tody system.  

Let's run down the list of goals for the dining room and take note of where we've come in the past two years:

Dining Room
Paint walls - We used Behr Scotland Road
Dining Room Gallery Art Wall - we're still switching out the art about twice a year
Add Coffee bar with hanging hooks for mugs
Find a rug - we went with FLOR tiles
New Chandelier
Upholster the inside fabric panels of the china cabinet (I even bought the fabric!)
Extend the china cabinet into the kitchen so it's two sided
Purchase new kegorator (current would move to future deck)
Add custom millwork surrounding kegorator with wine storage.  Similar to this idea.

And after all of these updates, we hardly even use this room!!!  Does anyone else just walk by the dining room and never actually eat in in?  The plus side is that this is the cleanest room in the house!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

2014 House Update - Kitchen

Now that we've passed our 2 year homeiversary, we thought it would be fun to share where each of our rooms have come since moving in and where we are headed.  Over the next few months (remember, we usually only blog about once a week) we'll be sharing a room update.

2014 House Update - Kitchen

There were actually lots of kitchen updates this past fall.  Above you can see a sneak peak of some new stools in the bottom right, some very colorful artwork, and if you're good maybe you spotted the new oven! Below is the other corner of the kitchen where the new island is!!!!  Forget what the kitchen looked like before? Check out our kitchen in 2012 here!

Let's run down the list of goals for the kitchen and take note of where we've come in the past two years:

Paint walls - We used Benjamin Moore Gray Owl
Kitchen command center - You'll see in the photos, this is still going strong and we love it.
- Add in wall charges for iPhone docks
Mini mudroom
- Paint/finish bottom framed portion of mudroom
Artwork for walls - love my large framed kitchen towel! and clipboard art
New range
Add more counter space or island with new kitchen stools
Tile Backsplash
Install new light fixtures, possibly add recessed lighting
Update other appliances in the future, primarily the refrigerator and adding a hood above stove
Update sink faucet and possibly add hospital pedals
Extend the china cabinet into the kitchen so it's two sided
Replace the granite counter tops
Replace the kitchen floor tile

The artwork is new this year.  The large poster frame I scored at Michael's at a buy one, get one sale.  It was originally black, but was spray painted a gloss white.  The print inside is actually a dish towel from Crate and Barrel!  The clip board where I mount recipes I'm going to make now has a permanent print for when I'm not cooking.  This is a Meg Kearney original.
The command center is still going strong and we use it all the time!  The cell phones still don't actually have built in charges yet, which is a good think, because we would have needed to change it for the 5's!

Well, hello there GE Cafe Series Range.  I'm a bit obsessed and secretly (or not so secretly! <    edited by Matt) was so excited when our old range finally kicked the bucket.  It was on the list from the beginning to upgrade the Frigidaire range to something a bit higher end.  This GE ended up in our price ranges and I couldn't be happier.  There is a large center burner and this is also the dual fuel model.  I love how consistent the electric oven is and the gas top is a joy to cook on.  You can also see the new backsplash in this shot! This is new since move in, but I don't think we've shared it yet. It's a stainless steel subway tile from Lowe's.

Last but not least the new island.  We used to have a pub height hand me down table in here, but it was awkward, and certainly not helpful for cooking.  We're hoping to share more on the island build - Matt did it all himself!  He's become quite the carpenter.  It's built of precut/prethreaded black pipe ($200) for the frame.  A butcher block top leftover from an IKEA table my parents had ($0) and the shelves Matt built from reclaimed barn board out of my grandmother's basement ($0.)

There you have it - our updated kitchen two years later.  I have to say that I'm very happy.  The rest of our list involves a bit more complicated and expensive items (new floors and counter!) so I'm sure those will be much further down the line.

Have you updated your kitchen?  What's your favorite part?  What was your money well spent?

Monday, January 20, 2014

Progress on the Exterior - Primed before Winter

I can't believe we never shared where we left off before our lovely New England winter on the exterior painting project.  As much as it would have felt great to get color on the house, we stopped at fully priming the back side of the house.  Priming before winter was a must, thought we will need to do it again in the spring before color because exterior primer is only good for 90 days before a final paint coat is applied.  

Here is the updated to do list broken down:
Project List:
  • Scrape any old paint that will come off
  • New paint colors selected
  • Finish the never ending scraping
  • Replace any broken shingles
  • New flashing above lower window
  • New PVC window trim
  • Sand all cedar shingles
  • Flash AC unit
  • Wash, brush, dry house
  • Prime everything - 75% complete as of 11/11
  • Correct bad flashing job on porch roof (wait until spring when we hire a pro and do a new roof here anyway)
  • Final coat of paint (if this can't happen, we'll need to prime again in the spring)
Remainder of the Exterior Paint Project List for 2014:
  • Continue with Side 2 (scrape/strip paint, repair, sand, clean, prime, paint
  • Continue with Side 3 (scrape/strip paint, repair, sand, clean, prime, paint
  • Continue with Side 4 (scrape/strip paint, repair, sand, clean, prime, paint
  • Paint all trim
  • New fascia boards along eaves
  • Install faux eave brackets
  • Accent trim and eave bracket detail with third trim color
  • Stain front railing (completed in 2012!)

Below is a reminder if our choice tools on this side of the house and we've added information on the painting products we went with:

Scraping Tools:
Huskey bend scraper - Matt's choice 
Huskey 14 in 1 tool - Meg's choice
Safety Glasses - we wear safety glasses alot around here, splurge and get yourself a good pair.  These are Meg's favorite.

Scraping Update: Scraping was the hardest of the three main tasks (scraping, sanding, painting) for this project. We read about an environmentally safe paint stripping product that we are planning on trying this spring.  Honestly, even it if doesn't work we can't skip at least trying to possible save us from this grueling task again.

Sanding Tools:
DeWalt orbiting sander - best sander for the job!
The Mouse - only used for the hard to reach spots
Dry Brush
Safety Masks & of course safety glasses again - we're using protective respirators rated for harmful dust.

Sanding Notes: sanding honestly wasn't that bad and only took a day for two of us to complete. I think the care we took to sand well, and then clean up all the dust and debris after will help out paint job last a very long time.

Priming/Painting Tools:
California Paint 2010 Acrylic Exterior Paint
California Paint Trouble Shooter acrylic primer
4" wide synthetic brushes
Safety Glasses & Hats: when working with paint on something as awkward as a house, safety glasses and a hat to protect your hair is a very good idea.  This gets just about as messy as painting a ceiling.

Painting Notes: So far we've only primed which is a MUST before winter to protect the home from excess moisture.  We will prime it again in the spring, but we were able to complete one side with two people in a 10 hour day.  Why aren't we spraying?  So many people have asked us this question.  For one, our house is not very big and honestly the time it would take to tape everything off would almost equal the handwork we did.  Second, some sprayers would need us to thin the paint and we didn't buy the best just to add water to it.  And third, with our old and textured cedar shakes we'd need to back brush the entire thing anyway.

If you liked this post, check out the others regarding our Exterior Paint Project:
- Getting Started
- Scraping

Sunday, January 12, 2014

One Little Word & 2014 Goals

This year I've decided to join the folks who do "One Little Word" as a new years resolution kind of goal and then focus their entire year on that word.  Many of my goals fit into the word already and it's something that I need to work on for myself.  The One Little Word I chose is:

I plan on using opportunities throughout this year to work on balance at home, at work, and with my health and happiness.  I already started with rescheduling my flight home during our trip to San Diego so I could stay one more day and visit Disneyland with my family.

Matt and I have other goals for 2014, both individually and as a team, but as you'll see, we're keeping the list short, and attainable.

18 Preston Goals
- Complete our exterior painting project
- Hire an electrician (and our first official contractor)
- Share 52 blog posts this year (anyone notice the little face lift!)

Matt's Goals
- Complete an obstacle race
- Finish a basement overhaul
- Have our first Tag Sale
- Workout every weekend

Meg's Goals
- Practice Yoga
- Finish converting the upstairs room to a craft/office space
- Have our first Yard Sale (for those of your who didn't grow up in Connecticut)
- Workout every weekend