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My name is Lisa and I'm a crafty girl with wanderlust working as an engineer by day. My blog chronicles projects in my home as well as pictures and stories from my travels.

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Friday
Jul252014

A Few Kitchen Updates

It has been a long time since I posted anything about my kitchen and since over the past few months I've made several changes I thought I would share.

First up was swapping out the vintage red and white enamel topped table that I had been using as a kitchen island. Let me just say that I love that table. I think it is fantastic. Since I stand at a towering 5'2" it is perfect for me as a work space plus it is super cute. My husband, however, had some differing opinions. He's a foot taller than me and it was way too low for him to comfortably use as a prep area in the kitchen, or as he would say the table was designed for munchkins.

Marriage is all about compromise (plus for selfish reasons I love having him make me dinner and thought removing any impediments to that would be in my best interest) so I had planned on building an island after we got married. Unfortunately, I have way more plans than time, so although I still intend to build a fantastic island that Frank will love the reality is that is likely a few years down the road. With that in mind I set about searching for something that would work better for us, but not break the bank.

I had no idea that kitchen islands were so dang expensive. Everything I seemed to like was about $1500 which was way more than I wanted to pay. Eventually I found a black kitchen cart with a stainless steel top on Overstock. At $368.99, it was still more than I would have liked to spend but it was the best option and by far the least expensive of anything I had found and I ended up ordering it in March.

When it arrived while Frank was out of town on a business trip I was excited to put it together and surprise him when he came home. Of course as I started putting it together I discovered that the two locking casters were missing and both side panels were broken. After some frustration I was able to get the replacement parts for the island a week later.  At this point I had become pretty annoyed with the kitchen cart so Frank, who had since returned home, kindly assembled it. 

In the end it has been pretty awesome. It is a great height for Frank to use as a prep space and I still have my lowered baking center to use when I am working on making something. I also like that the black color ties in with the black granite and the stainless top matches the appliances. The only thing I am not a fan of is the weird handles on the drawers. They have a strange cross hatch pattern on them, which is hard to see in the picture. Someday I will swap them out, but that is a minor thing to do down the road.

After we got back from our Scandinavia trip in May, Frank was off to Japan for work. I decided while he was gone that I should paint the kitchen. This is what happens when I am left to my own devices. The color has been a pretty green since I remodeled it when I first bought the house, but I was growing a little tired of the color. Additionally, the green was a little jarring with the macchiato color of the living/dining room that you could see through the pass through.

I wanted something lighter as well as a neutral and settled on Benjamin Moore's Pale Oak. Two coats of paint later and my kitchen was transformed.

With the fresh paint color on the walls there were a few more changes as well. While Frank and I were on our Scandinavian vacation most of the hotels we stayed at had a muesli bar as part of the buffet breakfast. We loved it and decided that we should make our own small version at home. Frank found the jars and filled them up with goodies and I found the wood tray at HomeGoods to stack them on.

The old red, white and green rug that I had been using in front of the sink had seen better days, plus with the new wall color I wanted something different so I replaced it with a hounds tooth check runner that I found at Target.

On the wall next to the window above the baking center I hung another HomeGoods find. I loved the mix of the white wire with the wood slats and rope hanger. On the top shelf I have a little bowl that I picked up at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul paired with some sake I bought in Japan. The second row has two pestles that I bought at the Chichicastenango Market in Guatemala, my great-grandmother's coffee can, an antique milk bottle that I bought at the Osu Kannon Flea Market my last day living in Japan and a tiny brass spice mill I bought in Turkey. On the bottom sits a hand painted bowl that I bought with Frank when we were in Positano, Italy two years ago. 

Overall I am really happy with the kitchen updates. They aren't the biggest changes but to me it really freshens up the space and makes everything seem so much brighter.

Still on my to do list in here is to sew some cafe curtains for the windows and add a subway tile backsplash, but I really need to finish tiling the downstairs bathroom before I even begin to think about that...

Wednesday
Jul232014

Nagoya Oktoberfest (名古屋オクトーバーフェスト)

When I was in Japan last week my trip would not have been complete without an evening at Nagoya Oktoberfest. I know that you are likely thinking 'German beer in Nagoya?' 'Oktoberfest in July?' but honestly it is a really fun time and a great place to hang out and relax with friends.

Nagoya Oktoberfest began in July 2011 and my first time going was in 2012. The pictures in this post are a combination from that summer as well as this one. Stretching over two plazas in Nagoya in Sakae, Oktoberfest consists of huge tents filled with picnic tables ringed by German beer and food stalls and a stage for some German entertainment.

First off, I have to say that I love the logo. Oktoberfest in Japanese is "オクトーバーフェスト" and they turned the "ーバー" into two hands clinking beer mugs. Very cute and very Japanese!

If you are at Oktoberfest you can get wine or soda if you would like, but why would you when there are over 40 German beers available from 10 different breweries. All the beer is served in glassware individual to the brewery. To get a beer you pay for the beer plus a ¥1,000 (about $10 USD) deposit for your glass. If you go back to that same brewery's stall for another beer they will swap out your glass and you just pay for the beer. At the end you return your glass and get your deposit back. The tricky part is that you have to return the glass to the correct brewery stall since each one has different glasses. It's not a big deal but wise to make a note of before you start drinking.

In addition to beer there is a wide variety of wurst, sauerkraut and other German food that you can enjoy. I did also see among other things available edamame and churros, which I thought would make for quite an interesting pairing with wurst.

At the far end of the plaza, a stage is set up with dancing and music that is fun to watch and enjoy made up of both German and Japanese performers. You haven't seen anything until you've watched a Japanese guy dancing in lederhosen.

Both summers that I went to Nagoya Oktoberfest I had a great time catching up with friends who still lived in Japan as well as other friends who happened to be back in Japan at the same time as me. With the laid back atmosphere and German beer you can't go wrong on a summer evening in Nagoya.

Nagoya Oktoberfest is held in Nagoya at Hisaya Odori Koen Hisaya Plaza (久屋大通公園久屋広場) and Angel Plaza (エンゼル広場) which you can access by a short walk from either the Sakae Subway Station on the Higashiyama Line or the Yabacho Subway Station on the Meijo Line. Oktoberfest lasts for two and half weeks in the middle of July, open from 11:00-21:00 on Saturday and Sunday and 15:00 - 21:00 on weekdays. This information was accurate at the time of writing, but please confirm prior to visiting in case time or location has changed.

Tuesday
Jul222014

Jefferson Market and Our Wedding Cake

One of the things that I love about my neighborhood is Jefferson Market. It is a little bakery around the corner from my house, a throwback to the days when the neighborhood was peppered with small businesses among the homes. 

On Saturdays and Sundays Jefferson Market is open for brunch from ten until one. People from all over the neighborhood pour into the small bakery and seating both inside and outside quickly fills up. Frank always gets the same thing when we go, a Mount Rushmore Plate (a fantastic hash brown and egg scramble) with a side of bacon.

I, however, usually opt for one of the specials. Every month there are two new specials, one savory and one sweet. I've enjoyed everything from brie stuffed French toast to strawberry rhubarb pancakes to root vegetable hash.

When Frank and I got married last year we decided that of course we should order a cake from Jefferson Market. They offer a fantastic selection of cake flavors and fillings.

We tried a bunch of samples and really enjoyed them all, finally settling on black magic cake with salted caramel filling and buttercream icing. 

I ordered the cake and dropped off a few succulents and some navy ribbon for them to decorate the cake. When I picked up the cake I quickly snapped the picture of it below and they helped me pack up the cake for the drive up north.

Unfortunately, this is the best picture that I have of the cake at our reception, which is a shame, but it was really delicious and everyone loved it.

Since we had a tiny wedding of only fourteen guests, we served the bottom tier at the wedding and took the top tier home to freeze for our anniversary.

This past Sunday marked a year since our wedding so of course we started the day by heading over to Jefferson Market for brunch. I got one of the specials, banana walnut pancakes, while Frank ordered his standby Mount Rushmore plate with a side of bacon.

We didn't do much the rest of the day due to the fact that on my flight home from Japan on Friday I had managed to contract a nasty cold, but we did thaw out our wedding cake and enjoy a slice of it together in the evening. Honestly, I was pretty surprised that it tasted so good after a year in the freezer. 

I can't believe that a year has past since Frank and I got married. Among other things it has been a busy year for us traveling: Domincan Republic for our honeymoon, New York in the fall, Arizona and Atlanta over the winter break, Las Vegas in January, Florida to see my grandparents and go to Tigers Spring Training in February, Indianapolis for the NCAA Regional Final, our extended trip to see Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Estonia, Finland with a stop in Amsterdam this spring plus several business trip for us both including Japan, Chicago, Las Vegas and Seattle for him and twice to Japan plus Charleston, LA, Arizona, Kentucky and Northern Michigan for me. While we've had a ton of fun traveling together we've also enjoyed our time at home going to our favorite places and working on our home renovations. We both love living in Ann Arbor and taking full advantage of all the amazing things our little town has to offer together. The year has flown by quickly for us and I hope that we have many more like this one ahead...

Thursday
Jul172014

Kehi no Matsubara (気比の松原) 

This past week I've been in Japan on a work trip. I'm actually writing this at the airport about to head back to the states. Although I had a lot of long work days, I did squeeze in a bunch of fun over the past weekend. One of those things was visiting Kehi no Matsubara (気比の松原) in Fukui Prefecture on Saturday morning.

I took the train to Tsuruga and then walked about 40 minutes to get to Kehi no Matsubara. Along the way I passed though a cute small shrine, Matsubara Jinja (松原神社),  nestled among some pine trees.

Approaching Kehi no Matsubara I walked through the lovely pine grove on the way to the water.

It was blistering hot outside so most of the Japanese visitors were enjoying the view from the shade of the trees or in pop-up beach tents.

The view was really spectacular with the pine grove along the water. Over 17,000 trees line the shore on Tsuruga Bay.

I walked down to the water to put my feet in. Honestly, it was not the most fun beach to walk on since it was very coarse pebbles instead of sand. I did think it was pretty neat that just a week and a half earlier I was walking in the surf on the opposite side of the Pacific Ocean.

The extreme heat was getting to me (it was about 90 degress and very humid) so I walked around in the shade of the pine grove for a little bit and then decided to take a taxi back to the station.

If you find yourself in Fukui, I think that Kehi no Matsubara is worth a stop for the view, but due to the rocky beach maybe not the best spot for a beach day and swimming.

To get to Kehi no Matsubara you can take a bus to Matsuba-cho from JR Tsuruga train station and get off at Kehi no Matsubara stop. I walked from Tsuruga station and taxied back which is also an option.

Monday
Jul072014

Griffith Observatory 

Last Tuesday while I was in LA on a business trip I finished up work at seven pm. Since I am not one to go to my hotel without some sightseeing fun I decided to visit Griffith Observatory on Mount Hollywood. I had been there a few times before over the years and it is a great place to go for a view over the city.

It was a beautiful evening and it seemed that quite a few other people had the same brilliant idea as I did which meant that I ended up having to park a mile away from Griffith Observatory on Western Canyon Road. Unfortunately, I had just come from work so I was sporting a dress and heels which was not prime attire for hiking up a curving mountain road. I am not known for being deterred by inappropriate footwear (Exhibit A: Hiking up Mount Warning in broken flip flops) so of course I headed off toward the Observatory anyway.

Along the way I had a lovely view of the Hollywood sign as the sun was low in the sky.

Twenty minutes (and quite a few pictures) later I was at Griffith Observatory. Construction on the beautiful Art Deco building began in 1933 and was opened to the public in 1935.

I headed up the stairs to the observation terraces to check out the view. One of the telescopes was open to the public, but the line was incredibly long so I settled for looking out at the horizon instead of peering up into the sky.

I watched as the daylight faded and the city streets below lit up. The view was really quite beautiful.

After the sun set I headed inside to check out the exhibits. There were so many neat displays relating to astronomy and our universe. One of my favorites was a periodic table with actual samples of the elements. I honestly could have wandered around forever but it was getting late and I needed to get to my hotel.

At this point it was pitch black outside. Other sensible people had flashlights with them however I was not so well prepared. Be advised that walking a mile back to your car in the dark with no flashlight wearing four inch wedge heels is not a good idea nor for the faint of heart. 

In the end I got back to my rental car safe and sound with no twisted ankles. Was my unprepared visit a smart thing to do? Decidedly not. Was is worth it? Absolutely.

Griffith Observatory is located at 2800 East Observatory Road in Los Angeles. Admission to the building is free, however there is a fee for planetarium shows. Griffith Observatory is open 10:00 a.m. - 10:00 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, 12:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m. from Tuesday through Friday and closed on Mondays.

Wednesday
Jul022014

An Evening at Manhattan Beach

At the beginning of this week I've been on a short trip to LA for work. I flew out on Monday afternoon and had made plans to get dinner with a friend, Don, who had recently moved out to California at 7:30 at the Strand House in Manhattan Beach. The traffic from the airport wasn't as bad as I had anticipated so I ended up getting there early leaving me some time to walk along the beach. I started by strolling out along the Manhattan Beach Pier for some lovely views back at the beach and the surfers trying to catch waves near the pier.

After walking the length of the pier and back I took off my shoes and descended down the stair to walk along the beach. There really is nothing like walking barefoot in the sand.

I walked in the surf soaking up the last remaining rays of sun and breathing in the salty air. It was perfect weather and everything looked gorgeous bathed in the early evening light.

I've never met a sea bird that I didn't take a picture of...

It was time to meet up with Don so I walked back towards the pier and used the public showers to rinse off my sandy feet.


The Strand House is located on Manhattan Beach Boulevard, perched for a perfect view overlooking the ocean.

It was really great to catch up with Don, learn about his move and how he was enjoying settling in. Our dinner was also really delicious. We shared a salad of pickled watermelon and speck, hamachi crudo with avocado, a prosciutto pizza with burrata and arugula and roasted peanut semifreddo with cacao nib cake for dessert. Everything was absolutely fantastic.

In addition to having fun chatting with Don and eating a delicious meal, the view from the restaurant was fantastic. All too soon we were done, the sun had set and it was time to say goodbye to Don.

Before I got in my car and drove to the hotel I couldn't resist one last photo looking out at the pier as I ended the evening.

Saturday
Jun282014

Christ the Redeemer (Cristo Redentor) 

With all eyes on Brazil as the World is gripped with World Cup fever (Congratulations to the US Team for advancing to the Knockout Stage on Thursday!) I have been thinking back on my trip to Brazil in the summer of 2007. I had friends that were living in Florianopolis for a few months so I couldn't resist going to Brazil to visit them. I spent a few days in Floripa with them and then headed off to see Iguaçu Falls and Rio de Janeiro by myself.

I thought I would share a few stories from that trip, starting with my visit to the iconic symbol of Rio de Janeiro, the Christ the Redeemer Statue (Cristo Redentor in Portuguese).

Built between 1922 and 1931, Christ the Redeemer looks down over Rio from a perch atop Corcovado Mountain in the Tijuca Forest National Park. Chosen from several design submissions, the statue was a collaboration between French-Polish sculptor Paul Landowski and Brazilian civil engineer Heitor da Silva Costa. In 2007, the statue was chosen as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World through international voting.

Christ the Redeemer was constructed from reinforced concrete and soapstone and stands at an amazing 98 feet tall without its pedestal. Before visiting I knew that the statue would be huge but I really didn't have any concept of how big it actually is. To put it in perspective, I am shorter than the statue's nose.

In my pictures you can see that there were some damaged spots on the statue and in 2010 the statue underwent a massive restoration.

Apart from seeing the awe inspiring statue up close, visiting Christ the Redeemer also was wonderful for the amazing views of Rio from the mountaintop.

My favorite view was overlooking Sugar Loaf Mountain (Pão de Açúcar) and the mouth of Guanabara Bay (Baía da Guanabara).

I also had a lovely view Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon (Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas).

Here I had a peek of the famous Copacabana beach and the ocean beyond.

I also had a few beautiful views of the Two Brothers (Morro Dois Irmãos).

I tried to take a picture of myself with Pão de Açúcar in the background but ended up completely blocking it with my head.

Visiting Christ the Redeemer was an awesome experience to see not only the statue but also the views of the city. It is a must see for anyone visiting Rio de Janeiro.

Monday
Jun232014

Creating a Berry Patch Behind the Garage

The small strip of land behind the garage has always been a hot mess. When I bought the house it was a jungle of overgrown black raspberries with poison ivy lurking along with other weeds. I had tried to unsuccessfully clear it out with nothing but a bad case of poison ivy for my troubles and ended up hiring someone to do it for me. Of course, the next summer everything was back with a vengeance. Since I didn't learn my lesson the first time I tried tackling it myself with the same itchy results and ended up hiring to have it cleared out again. Unfortunately, I wasn't so clear about the fact the black raspberries were keepers and to my dismay it was all wiped out. Last summer Frank put several bags of mulch down to keep the weeds and poison ivy at bay but this year I wanted to have a more permanent solution as well as plant some berries again.

We started by cleaning out all of the random things that had been stashed behind the garage and getting rid of the few weeds that had popped up again. Frank rototilled the dirt and then I spread it with a rake to level things out.

Next, I evenly spaced out our berry plants (4 raspberry and 4 blackberry) along the garage and planted them.

To define the berry patch border we decided to use black composite edging. I rolled it out on the patio, weighing it down with bricks to flatten it. Once we were ready to install it, I attached a stake to the edging every four feet.

Frank dug a shallow ditch where we wanted to place the edging and then I put the edging in place, hammering in the stakes and backfilling and tamping the soil down around it.

I definitely wanted to keep weeds at bay so I spread a bunch of mulch around the berries and laid out a sheet of landscape fabric on the pathway we were creating.

The biggest part of the project was filling in the path with nearly a square yard of marble rocks. Frank used a wheelbarrow to move all of the rock and then after he dumped it I spread it out with a rake. It was pretty exhausting but I love how it looks.

We finished off the project by putting down some more mulch along the fence and laying down a piece of sod. I think it looks great and in the three weeks since we did this it has remained gloriously weed and poison ivy free. The plants have been growing and some of the blackberry bushes have several young berries on them. I'm not expecting many berries this year but I have high hopes for the years to come.

 

Friday
Jun202014

Flying Over Norway

In April Frank and I started our Scandinavian vacation by flying from Detroit to Amsterdam, continuing on to Oslo. I slept well on the first leg of the journey but on the short flight from Amsterdam to Olso I was glued to my window with the beautiful views. The clouds were gorgeous, lit up by the early morning sun. Later when we dipped below the cloud cover I could begin making out the coastline of southern Norway. 

At the time I didn't know exactly what I as looking at, only that it was lovely. Since returning home I used the satellite view on Google maps (yes, I enjoy being a dork) to figure out where I was looking when I took these photos out the window. Below is the town of Lillesand nestled into the rugged coastline.

I was quite amazed at how clearly I could see these bridges linking Stathelle and Brevik.

At this point the flight path veered away from the coastline over the beautiful countryside of Vestfold County.

Next I caught a glimpse of the islands of Kommersøya, Gåserumpa, Killingholmen and Bjerkøya.

We proceeded past Drammensfjord with a view of the city of Drammen in the distance.

Below Drammensfjord is on the left with the town of Sætre on Inner Oslofjord on the right.

Finally we approached Oslo. You can see Bygdøg on the left with the city center on the right.

Straight down out the window I could see Nordstrand and the cargo terminals of the port.

Looking back out I now had a closer view of Oslo. On the left along the water is Tjuvholmen, the neighborhood where Frank and I stayed while in Oslo. Continuing along the water is Aker Brygge and then the ferry terminals of the Port of Oslo. The tall brick building just inland of the ferry terminals is the City Hall and right up the hill surrounded by trees is the Royal Palace.

After flying by Oslo we continued northeast over more lovely countryside, finally landing at the Oslo Airport. It was such a gorgeous flight and it made me even more excited to start our trip.

Wednesday
Jun182014

Tiling Progress in Downstairs Bathroom 

Between work and traveling, finding time to work on the bathroom has been tough, but I am inching along and made some headway on tiling the shower surround. I last left off with taping the cement board joints and setting the first two rows of tile. Since then I broke out my tile saw and pretty quickly I had set six more rows of subway tile plus the black liner bar.

At this point things got a little more complicated as I had to tile around the niche and had to modify my tile spacers to work with the chair rail tile. The chair rail tile is dimensional so the flat spacers wouldn't fit. I used some wire snips to trim the arcs off of one side and then put them in perpendicularly under the chair rail tile. I used the snipped off part between top of the chair rail and the next course of subway tile. Whatever works, right?

The other complicating factor was that the chair rail is just a smidgen under 6" so I couldn't line it up with the subway tile. I ended up offsetting it a bit from the subway tile to disguise the mismatch in length. 

I used painter's tape to keep the row that spanned the top of the niche in place since it had no support below. I had to work quickly at this point before the thinset set up too much make small adjustments in order to make sure that the rows that stacked up on the right side aligned with the row over the niche.

Next, I tiled the back of the niche, making sure to line it up with the surrounding tile.

At this point I had used up the batch of thinset that I had mixed up so I decided to pre-cut some of the tile that I would need for the rest of the niche before I mixed up the next batch. I wanted to trim out the niche with some bullnose tile but I didn't like the thick width that was available so I cut down my own from some tile that I had with a bullnose edge along the top.

I set the rip guide on my saw to the width of the black liner bar tiles that I was using and cut a bunch of thin bullnose pieces. It is hard to get the rip guide in the exact same spot again so I always cut a few more pieces than I will need just in case.

I also pre-cut the mitred corners for the niche before I mixed up the next batch of the thinset. To get the 45 degree angle I butted my tile up against my small speed square. When I am doing something like this I like to make the mitre cut first and then I cut the squared end down as I fit the piece when I am setting the tile.

I feel like at this point I should mention that I absolutely love my tile saw. I bought it used from Craigslist for $100 (a strange story in itself) back when I was tiling the master bedroom shower and it has been worth every penny and more. I couldn't even imagine doing this with tile nippers, plus I feel like everyone should own their own wet saw.

Back to the tiling, I mixed up some more thinset and tiled the top, bottom and sides of the niche trimming it all out with the thin bullnose I had cut. Again I used painters tape to hold the pieces without support in place. By the time I had the niche finished the row above the niche had set enough that I could remove the painter's tape that was supporting it and finish tiling to the ceiling.

I'm not going to lie, the niche took me a while with all of the cuts and it isn't perfect, but I really like it and think it was worth the effort. With the niche out of the way I don't have a lot of complicated cuts left so tiling the side of the shower and wainscoting should go fairly quickly. I can't wait to get the tiling done!

For other related posts about this bathroom renovation check out the history of my downstairs bathroomfixtures for my bathroom renovationplumbing in the downstairs bathroominstalling the floor tile underlaymentinsulating the ceiling, installing the vapor barrier for the shower, installing drywall and cement board, tiling a vintage mosaic border, mudding, taping, sanding and painting and taping the cement board joints. If you are interested in my completed master bathroom renovation check out master bathroom renovation recap.