Monday, July 30, 2012

Fireplace: Up goes the mantel!

In case you're just tuning in, I recently demo-ed all of the the tile off of my fireplace.

Buh-bye tile...

I love this porcelain tile on my floors, but not so much on the fireplace -- it doesn't exactly have that wow-factor.

My goal for today was to get the holes repaired and the mantel installed. I started by spraying my new mantel, purchased from (I like them), with a spray primer. If I may plug Mantels Direct for a moment (and no, they are paying me to say this...I just have had several great experiences buying from them)....I purchased mantels for both of my homes from them. The one that is currently in my townhouse rental was a custom-built piece. The one I purchased for the home I live in now was a stock piece, but is so absolutely gorgeous. They usually ship for free, and the quality and selection are fantastic....and you can customize pretty much every piece they offer to fit your specific dimensions.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch....I primed my mantel.

I used Zinsser's Bulls Eye primer, which is a basic, all-purpose primer by a brand I like. Please note, this is not the oil-based version that I usually use. I knew I would be priming sanded, unfinished wood, so I did not need the sticking power of the oil-based version.

I had hoped to buy drywall in a smaller size, but my local Lowe's only sold the full size sheets. With the help of my strong-armed husband, we picked up a fireproof sheet of drywall and lugged it home on the Truck of Awesomeness (or the TOA for short....this is what we call my husband's truck).

I purchased a cheap-y drywall saw for a few bucks, and started cleaning up the edges of the holes I had created in my walls. 

I know what you're thinking....I just made the holes bigger. What I actually did was square off the holes, so that I could easily patch them with square pieces of drywall. I also removed any stray drywall screws that were poking out in the exposed area.

I used my drywall saw to cut out three rectangles.

I used drywall screws to secure the drywall to the studs. At this point, Brian walked into the room, and said (and I quote), "Dang! You just installed drywall. That is so sexy." Which, this big-bellied pregnant gal appreciated. :)

Next it was time to install the mantel. I screwed the mounting bracket that came with the shelf into the studs.

And then, with the help of Brian, we plopped the shelf right on top. We ended up having to shim underneath the shelf because the wall wasn't totally level, causing the shelf to lean forward even though it was totally flush with the wall. When you're dealing with moulding and mantels, don't worry too much about little gaps here and there. As long as things are level, you can patch those gaps and you'll never notice it again.

Here's where I ended up on Day 2. Looking better!


Pin It

Saturday, July 28, 2012

To Quote my husband...on Church

Pin It

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Remembering Wedding Bells

Nine years ago today, Brian and I hitched our wagons together and officially committed, before family and friends, to do life together. Best. Decision. EVER. :)

So.....since it's my anniversary, I'm giving myself the day off from blogging. Hope y'all are having a fabulous day!!


Pin It

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Fireplace: Demolition Time!

Literally the same day my new fireplace mantel was delivered, I started tearing the tile off of my fireplace. I was sooooooo excited, but also a tad nervous in case I had underestimated the scope of the project. Sometimes you never know how complicated something will be until you get your hands dirty. Luckily, this project only presented minimal surprises, and I had either the know-how or knowledgeable resources to overcome those obstacles.

Here's what I started with...

It's not awful, right? It's just not us. Brian and I always planned to change this tile when we were selecting our finishings during the build process. We had the builder take the porcelain floor tile up onto the fireplace, which was the cheapest option we had at the time the house was being built. But we always knew this tile was just a placeholder. I watch way too much HGTV to not have one mother-of-a-focal-point fireplace.

I rarely take pictures of my family room from this angle, so enjoy it while you can! :) This is definitely the more "boring" side of the room.....but not for long!! Eventually, I'd like to do something fun in the TV nook, like built-ins, and/or wallpaper the back wall....and a new TV stand. Oh, and if you ask Brian, he'd tell you our 52" TV is WAAAAAY too small (hmmmph). But I digress.

I gathered my tile-taking-off tools, pictured below...I primarily used the chisel and the mallet, but the flat head screwdriver came in handy on the lower tiles that had a thinner layer of grout. The hammer came in handy when I jammed my chisel behind a tile and couldn't weasel it out (oopsie). I used the backend of the hammer to pull the tile away from the wall just enough to rescue my chisel.

So, I started chiseling, Aristotle-stone-tablet-style. I gently tapped the chisel with the mallet, until I had shimmied the chisel deep enough behind the tile until I heard the suction-y sound of the tile separating itself from the wall.

One down, fifteen to go!

I ran into a minor issue with tile #4. Most of the drywall tore away, leaving me with a layer of paper over the studs. Then, when I got to the bottom row of tile, I ran into a MAJOR issue...two and a half tiles ripped ALL of the drywall off the wall, exposing the studs and my home's undercarriage (how embarrassing!).

But, I'll be honest....I wasn't the least bit worried. Why, you ask? Because I have an Adrienne. Everyone needs an Adrienne. If ANYONE would know what to do and how to teach me to do it, it was Adrienne. I snapped a few pictures of the damage, and emailed them over. Within minutes, my dear friend sent me a list of tools I would need and how to prep the area and repair the drywall. I heart her so much.

All in all, I was very happy with the result - the majority of the tiles came off clean, and I only had two spots where the drywall needed to be replaced. Not too shabby!

So, here's where I left off for the day. Demolition complete!!

Stay tuned, because it gets way better, I promise!


Pin It

Monday, July 23, 2012

It's a....

So, this weekend we found out the gender of our little bambino! So....what's your guess?

I'll give you a little more time to think about it.

Well? What's your guess?'s a........

{keep scrolling down}

Oh boy, it's a boy!

It is now officially time to start brainstorming the nursery! Woo hoo! But I need your help....what are some of your favorite nursery designs? How did you design your nursery? What are the things I absolutely need to consider when creating a safe, beautiful room for my baby boy? I'd love to hear from you, so please comment with links to your faves. 


Pin It

Saturday, July 21, 2012

To Quote my husband...on Change


Pin It

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Super Simple Strawberry Basil Dessert

My friend Diana has been on a strawberry basil kick these days, and it's totally been rubbing off on me. Doesn't it sound like a dreamy combination? Well, let me tell you, IT IS. So, the other night, I dabbled with my very first strawberry basil creation: a super simple dessert of fresh, sliced strawberries tossed in a basil simple syrup. Yum!!

Since this was intended to be a dessert, I didn't feel bad added extra sugar to my strawberries. Besides, my strawberries weren't super sweet on their own, so they kinda had it comin', if you know what I mean. This simple syrup is not overly sweet either -- it's just sweet enough to make the strawberries incredibly satisfying to eat, and the brightness from the basil creates an amazingly fresh sensation -- you just gotta try it. So, here's how it all went down... 

  • 1 1/2 cups of water
  • 1 cup of powdered sugar
  • a small bunch of basil
  • strawberries, sliced
Bring the water to a boil. Tear the basil leaves and stems into the hot water and turn the heat off. Muddle the leaves with a wooden spoon, and let steep for about 10-15 minutes. You're essentially making a "basil tea."

Turn heat back on to high, and add sugar. Whisk until the sugar dissolves. Let boil for about 3-5 minutes.

Strain liquid into a container, and refrigerate until cool.

Slice strawberries...

...and toss with a few tablespoons of your basil simple syrup (or enough to coat your strawberries). Serve cold and enjoy!


Pin It

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Alison's Secret Lasagna Recipe {pssst...don't tell anyone!}

My lasagna recipe has morphed and evolved over the years, and I think I've finally settled on "the recipe." It's a balance of easy and slightly time consuming elements, however, I would most certainly classify it as an easy recipe to pull off.

One important thing to note: do not cut this recipe in half or decrease it in any way. This recipe is meant to be shared or at least enjoyed on multiple occasions. I don't make lasagna often, but when I do, I make at least two or three pan's worth, so that we can give one away and freeze one for the next month. There's almost always a new mom or someone with an injury or other special circumstance in everyone's circle of influence, so use this as an opportunity to spread some love. :)

So, here it "secret" lasagna recipe!


  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2-3 lbs ground beef
  • 4 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 134 oz of your favorite jar spaghetti sauce (I used two Costco-sized jars of Prego)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 6 thyme sprigs, tied together with kitchen string
  • 3 tbsp brown sugar
  • 3 tsp anchovy paste
  • Several splashes of worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper 
  • 1-2 pounds sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
  • 2 pounds fresh ricotta
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped basil
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 pound packaged whole-milk mozzarella, shredded (6 cups)
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • Lasagna noodles (you can use no-cook if you like, but regular lasagna noodles taste better)
I really just eye-ball the ground beef and sausage. Ultimately you need a-whole-lotta both. Personally, I like a really meaty and really cheesy lasagna. 

In the biggest dutch oven or heavy-bottom pot that you own, heat  the olive oil until shimmering. Add the ground beef and sausage, and cook over moderately high heat, breaking up the meat into large chunks, until no pink remains. Add the garlic, oregano, anchovy paste, worcestershire, garlic powder and crushed red pepper and cook until fragrant. 

Add all of the jar sauce, the brown sugar, bay leaves and thyme bundle. Cover, and simmer over low heat for at least 60 minutes. Add salt and pepper if needed (I didn't add any this last time I made lasagna and was very happy with my sauce...but each time is different). Remove the thyme bundle and bay leaves when you're done simmering.

In a large bowl, combine the ricotta with the parsley, basil and 1/4 cup of the Parmesan. Add two cups of the shredded mozzarella and season with salt and pepper. Beat in the egg. Make sure you season with salt and pepper BEFORE you add the egg. I always forget and have to trust that I've seasoned the ricotta mixture properly (unless I'm feeling brave enough to eat raw egg, which I am NOT doing while pregnant). I've found that a little salt goes a long way in this step. 

Cook your lasagna noodles according to the package instructions (or don't, if you're using no-cook noodles). I prefer regular lasagna noodles, even though they are more work -- they just taste better in my opinion, but I've used the no-cook version quite a bit too, so use whatever you prefer. 

I like to buy disposable lasagna trays in bulk from Costco (they usually come in packs of twelve, I believe) -- makes it easy to freeze or giveaway without compromising your bakeware. 

Once your noodles are cooked, it's time to assemble your lasagna! Remember, you're going to be making at least 2-3 lasagnas, so get a few pans out. You'll start by ladling a small amount of sauce into the bottom of each pan. From there you will layer your ingredients in the following order:

  • noodles
  • ricotta mixture
  • sauce
  • mozzarella
  • repeat
Don't overdo it. You'll want to have at least 3-4 layers, so use your elements sparingly. The more thin layers you have, the better your lasagna will be. Your final layer will consist of noodles, sauce, mozzarella and parmesan. 

Cooking instructions will vary depending on when you eat the lasagna. The absolute best thing to do is refrigerate your lasagna overnight before cooking. But, if you plan to cook one of you lasagnas immediately, here's what you'll do:

  • Preheat oven to 400 F
  • Cover the lasagna with tented aluminum foil, and bake for 25 minutes. 
  • Uncover the lasagna and bake for an additional 20 minutes, until bubbly and golden. 
If you cook it right away, it may be a tad watery, but it will be completely delicious, so who cares?

If you freeze or refrigerate your lasagna, here's what you'll want to do:

  • If frozen, defrost in the refrigerator overnight -- make sure it completely defrosts
  • Let lasagna sit out on your counter for about an hour before you plan to cook it (to take the chill off)
  • Preheat oven to 400 F
  • Cover the lasagna with tented foil and bake for 70 minutes
  • Uncover the lasagna and bake for an additional 20 minutes, until bubbly and golden

Slice and serve!!


Pin It