4.30.2015

Wildflower Season in the Texas Hill Country

One of the things I miss most about living in Japan is the incredible Cherry Blossom season in early spring.  Albeit not exactly the same, we have our own celebration of spring here in Central Texas known as wildflower season, where our roads and highways are lined with patches and fields of colorful wildflowers native to Central Texas. 

I just found out recently that this is an actual program {called the Wildflower Program} that the Texas Department of Transportation has to beautify the roads and encourage growth of native plants that require less water and maintenance.  The program was started by Lady Bird Johnson, the wife of President Lyndon B. Johnson, and is still in effect today.

I love this time of year.  Our grass along the highways turn from green to all shades of the rainbow, filled with Bluebonnets, Primrose, Indian Paintbrush, to name a few.  It's magical to jump in the car and take a drive during wildflower season in Texas, and it's difficult for photo junkies {like me} to stay in the car and not jump out to take photos along the busy highway every few minutes!

This is our second wildflower season, and I'm sharing with you some photos I've collected from last year as well as this year so far.  I hope you enjoy them, and are enjoying springtime wherever you call home.  Thank you for reading!














4.25.2015

Master Bathroom Remodel Part II {Laying Tile}

I know it's seemed like forever since my first master bathroom update, but that's because it has taken us so much longer than we expected to get through the second phase of this project - the floor.  We've still been working away on it pretty much every weekend, but things have slowed down due to other commitments, mainly Matt's job and homework, training for the Spartan Race + selling my Jetta/buying my new Mazda 6.  We've had so much on our plates these past few months, but we are determined to get it all done before Matt leaves for his training in Oklahoma City in a couple of weeks, so the end is now in sight!

Moving on to the master bathroom... when I last posted about this project, we had completed all the demo and built our new shower, which is amazing by the way, and I can't wait to start using it again!  The next step was re-tiling our floor, and it was all on us - no contractors to help!  Neither of us had tiled a floor before, so we really didn't realize what we were getting into.  I guess I figured that it would go quickly, because it isn't a huge space, but I think that actually hindered us more than helped us to be honest.

We literally started with nothing but our wood sub-floor, which just needed to be cleaned up a little.  The next step was to lay the cement backer board, which comes in 4 ft x 6 ft sheets.  In order to make sure they all fit together nicely before we adhered them to our floor, we did a dry-fit, meaning, we cut all of the pieces out and laid them down together to make sure they worked before doing anything else.

I got this idea from my friend Patricia who did this in the walls of her kitchen - I love the idea of God's Word being part of the foundation of a home.



Our toilet room when we started the floor - I'm not sure why, but I kept taking photos of this area to show the progress, so I thought I'd include them in this post for you all to see.




After the dry-fit, we mixed our first batch of thin-set and started laying the cement backer board we had pre-cut.  This went fairly smooth, and we were able to get the board laid in one night, even screwing it in.  After you adhere them with thin-set, you also have to screw them into the subfloor with about a gazillion screws.  In reality, it was more like 60 screws per sheet, but that is still A TON of screws, especially when you're laying like 8 or 9 sheets!























 

Once the backer board was dry, it was time to begin fitting our tile.  We used the same 12x24 inch porcelain tile for our floor that we used on the walls of our shower.  Our tile guy who did the shower told us to start by lining up our grout lines to his grout lines and make the floor tile seem like it was continuous with the wall tile, if that makes sense.  After watching countless YouTube videos on how to tile a floor, I've learned that usually people start tiling in the center of their room and go from there.  In our case, we needed the tile to line up with tile that was already in our shower, so our starting point was along the edge of our shower.

There were pros and cons of this.  The pro is that we had something solid to push against {the shower curb} to make sure the tiles were tight and straight.  The cons - it took us a little longer, because we could only tile in one direction.  Also, everything is relying on that first line {the curb of our shower} to be straight.  If it is not perfectly straight {which we've come to realize nothing in a house is ever perfectly straight}, our tile will slowly start to shift, and will end up really not straight near the end.  There's a lot more technical stuff that goes into tiling a floor properly than I originally thought.  There was a lot to think about!  









 

We used 1/8" grout spacers, which is what our tile guy used in our shower, and we did the same thing that we did with the backer board - a dry-fit.  In the main portion of our bathroom, we laid out as many full tiles as possible, and then started measuring the end pieces to be cut.  We ended up renting a wet-saw from Home Depot {which makes a terrible mess by the way - our garage had about 2 inches of dirty tile residue water in it} and we actually pulled an all-nighter and worked from 8:00 pm to 8:00 am to get the tile cut and laid into place in our bathroom!  We {Matt} returned the saw at 8:30 in the morning and we slept for the rest of the day pretty much!  But that was a huge step for us.  The tile was all cut and in it's place, we just needed to mix our thin-set and actually stick it to the floor - easy, right?

Here's where it got tricky.  We started doing our thin-set with the first row of tiles we laid - the row along the shower curb.  It did not go as smoothly as the YouTube videos showed.  I guess it's because this was our first time doing it, but they made it seem so simple and quick!  Not for us.  We were stressed and worried about time {the thin-set would dry pretty quickly in our bucket, and we'd need to re-mix a whole new batch after only 6 tiles!}.  It was also SUPER messy!  We were dropping globs of thin-set everywhere, kneeling in it, stepping in it, it was all over our tiles!  

Needless to say, the process actually went a lot slower than we expected, and each night we were only able to get a few rows done.  We ended up getting better at it as we went, but it got sketchy once we were done with the main portion of the bathroom and tried to move into the toilet room.  We basically ended up getting backed into a corner {literally} and it was really difficult to work.  Since you're not able to step on tile that is still wet for 24 hours, we really had to break up those smaller areas and let tile dry before moving on just so we could have an area to stand while working!  Let's just say that this part of the project that I expected to do in one day ended up taking us about 6 days {which equals about 4 weekends, since that's the only time we could work on it} to finish!  Slow is an understatement, but man, did it feel good once it was all done and in place!

















So, we added an extra step into the mix for our project.  Remember when I said it was a complete mess when we were laying the thin-set for the tile?  Well, we didn't do that great of a job cleaning it up between the tile joints, so it dried like that.  Matt ended up having to go buy a special tool to chip the dried thin-set out of all the joints so we could fill them with grout.  Word of advice - try to clean up your thin-set as you tile, and don't let it dry in places you don't want it to {if you can help it}!  

The last step, and most enjoyable step I might add, was grouting.  I don't know if it was the most fun because it was the final step, or the quickest, or because I was actually supposed to make a mess, but I really enjoyed this part.  It was so quick, in fact, that I did it all by myself {it only took about two hours} while Matt was at work!  It went so fast that I only needed one bucket of grout for the whole bathroom.  It was getting a little dry by the end, but was definitely still working.  It was a little arm workout, too - you have to press the grout into the joints in little strokes, and make sure to get it in everywhere.  I only did about a 4 ft x 4 ft area at a time, and then I would stop to wipe up the excess.  The hardest part is how dirty the water bucket keeps getting because of all that excess grout.  I had to empty and refill it about 10 times, but I cannot tell you how amazing it was to see that floor finally finished!







The grout looks dark here, because it's still wet, but over the next few days, it dried to a light gray/beige color that matches the tile perfectly! I could not be more happy or excited for the next {and final!} phase of this bathroom remodel, which is putting in all of the final fixtures and decorative touches. We've already been going much faster since the floor has been completed, and I can't wait to share with you the big reveal hopefully in a few weeks. We're racing the clock right now - we have less than two weeks until our friends get in town - so we'll see what we can finish in that time - wish us luck!!

4.19.2015

Springtime in Barton Springs

Springtime is here in Austin {and has been for a little while, we've just been too busy to enjoy it}! Matt and I were out at the obstacle course practicing for our upcoming mud run the other weekend and decided to get something to eat in one of our favorite Austin neighborhoods right south of downtown called Barton Springs.

This area just feels like spring and summer to me - it has a ton of energy and is right near Zilker Park where the music festival Austin City Limits is held.  It is also home to Barton Springs Pool, which I'm sure I'll be posting about sometime this summer!  The neighborhood's central road is Barton Springs Road, which is flanked on either side by jogging paths, parks, Lady Bird Lake, shops, restaurants and food trucks.  It's really a fun area, and it was a perfect day for a stop after our workout.













I can't wait to get out more this spring and explore some new areas of our city, and I hope you're enjoying the warmer weather in your's as well!

4.16.2015

{Thoughts on} Turning Thirty

So, I'm turning thirty years old today.  Later today- I think I still technically have a few hours left in my twenties.  It's hard to believe, I know.  I pretty much feel that I haven't changed a bit since my late teenage years.  I'd like to believe that I would blend seamlessly back into the halls of my high school, and that no one would ever be the wiser.  But, looking at my cousins in their late teens today, I know that can't possibly be true.

Can anyone else around my age relate to this?  One of my co-workers and I are always joking that there seems to be a "missing decade".  It seems like it was just Y2K {and if you don't know what that is, then you're probably too young to understand what I'm talking about!}.  It took a looong time for people to go from writing "1999" to "2000" on the top of their checks.  It was such a big change.  It still feels like a car that's year 2000 or newer is still pretty new {to me, that is}. 

But, the truth is, that car would be 15 years old today!  There seems to be a whole chunk of time between the year 2000 and today that my mind tends to subconsciously forget.  I mean, when did I go from discussing what dress to wear to prom with my girlfriends to discussing last year's property taxes with my parents?!  Which means, my mind thinks that it's still the year 2005.   Which means I am about to turn twenty.  As cool as that sounds, I'm really glad that decade isn't missing, and here's a little list of reasons why.



8 Reasons I'm Glad I'm Thirty Today:

1.  I don't wear tops that are constantly revealing my midriff, and I know how to properly use liquid eyeliner.  I started off with the deepest one, right?  But, it's true.  I'm glad I'm thirty, because I am slightly more skilled at all things fashion and beauty than I was 10-15 years ago.  It's literally hard for me to look at some pictures from back in the day.

2.  I have seen the world.  If it really was the year 2005, I would never have even left the four safe walls of my bedroom at my parent's house, forget about living abroad for 4 years!  I would never have climbed through the night to see the sunrise at the top of a mountain.  Or swam in a waterfall with elephants.  Or wandered through the pavilions of the Taj Mahal.  Or scuba dived {dove... dived??} with manta rays.  In fact, I wouldn't have even known how to scuba dive at all.  I could sit here and list off countless incredible things I've done this past decade, but when I say I have seen the world, I truly mean people.  Different cultures.  Different religions.  Different ideas and ways of life.  From California to Cambodia, and everywhere in between, I have met so many amazing people that have changed a part of me {for the better}.  The world is a big place, and I've been blessed to get to know it.

3.  I have the best friends I've ever had.  I've heard people say this before, but it really is true - when it comes to friends, it really is all about quality over quantity.  And the older you get, the more this becomes clear as day.  It might sound sad, but I didn't have this 10-15 years ago.  Girlfriends that text you randomly to let you know they are thinking of you and are thankful for you.  Friends that feel more like family.  Relationships that can transcend thousands of miles and years apart without being affected, that's true friendship. 

4.  I actually care about what I eat + drink.  And more importantly, what that food does for my body.  No more consuming an entire bag of Lays barbeque potato chips {NOT the baked kind, either} in one sitting or having one too many hurricanes at a party.  I am not saying I never have sweets or a drink {moderation is key}, but I'm just more educated on the matter now, and I don't enjoy feeling like crap the next day because of something I decided to consume.  My thirty-year-old self knows it's not worth it!

5.  I know more things.  Plain and simple - I'm wiser.  I know that it is generally true that the older you get, the wiser you get, but it's one of the perks about being thirty, and I'm mentioning it!  This kind of goes along with seeing the world, because  a lot of the things I've learned have come not from books in school, but from experiences I've had and people I've met.  I feel that the range of topics that I'm even somewhat knowledgeable on has really broadened over the past decade.  What I like about this is that I can usually always find something in common with anyone I'm meeting for the first time.  Last year, I was in Chicago for a work conference where I was meeting about forty new people during a cocktail hour the first night.  There were so many interesting people there, from all over the world, and I literally could have talked to them all night.  I wasn't shy, and I wasn't nervous to talk about myself or ask them questions - even people who were much higher up in the company than me.  And I remember thinking just how different I was at that moment than the Cortnie that was in high school or even college.  I guess knowledge really is power, and that's one of the best parts about being thirty right now!

6.  I know who I am.  This is more than I can say for twenty-year-old me.  And that's not a bad thing, it's a normal thing.  I'm sure there are some circumstances where this isn't true, but for the most part, I believe most teenagers and early twenty-something's have no clue who they truly are.  And that's alright - your twenties are for figuring all that out.  Your goals, your strengths and weaknesses, your views on faith, religion, politics and world events, your skills and passions, what you want out of life - these things all change as you change {at least they did for me}, and I love that by the time we are thirty, we have a lot of this figured out.  There is a peace that comes with knowing ourselves.

7.  I appreciate my parents a lot more.  And our relationship is better today because of it.  As you get older, you start to realize your parents are getting older, too.  They will not be around forever, and you start to hate that you wasted so much of your teenage years and early twenties acting like they would be.  Eventually, you start to think of them more as friends and real people  {other than just your parents} than ever before.  Take my Mom, for example.  My sister and I knew we could get away with murder with her growing up.  She was not a disciplinarian.  And we teased her about this and that, like kids do.  But, hearing about her now, as a manager, delegating tasks, hiring and firing, I step back and picture her through the eyes of others that she works with - people who don't know her as "Mom".  And she completely impresses and surprises me and makes me want to know her more {and I'm not just saying that because I know she's reading this!}.  Same with my Dad.  He's a cool guy!  I don't know if I would have uttered those words when I was a teenager, but he is!  He's full of awesome hobbies and adventurous stories - not just from the recent years either - he's been on some crazy adventures long before I was even born.  Yes, my parents aren't just my parents - they are actual people with stories of their own, just like Matt and I {profound, I know!}. 

8.  I'm ready + excited for the next phase of my life.  I'm glad I'm thirty today, because it was one of my goals to wait until my thirties to settle down a little more and have kids.  And I'm looking forward to that in my future.  I love my life right now and where it's going.  I'm not wishing to relive my teenage years or do anything over.  I've done what I wanted to do in my teenage years and twenties, and I'm excited to move forward!

Thanks for reading + I hope I've inspired any of you who have just turned or are about to turn thirty as well!  Happy weekend!

4.10.2015

A Fiddle Leaf Fig Story



One of the things I've really become excited about since having our own house is plants.  I remember trying so very hard to have plants in the past, and they've always ended up dead in a mater of months.  There was our first house plant, Fred, who spent his whole life in our home slowly creeping toward his death.  There was the time that Matt and I decided to re-landscape our duplex in California.  We spent a whole weekend removing the old dirt, bucket by bucket, into the back of my Pontiac Grand Am, bringing in bags upon bags of new dirt, mulch and flowers, only to have it all washed away after a good rain flooded the area.  That was so disappointing.  I've even killed a cactus before, and that my friends, is hard to do.  Not too hard for me, apparently.

That being said, I was nervous to start up again with a new potential victim.  However, I found a beautiful little Fiddle Leaf Fig plant at our local Home Depot one day - these are super trendy plants right now, and I love their look, so I decided to go for it.  I planted it, kept it in our sunny entrance way, and watered it RELIGIOUSLY.  The rule {or so I've heard} for Fiddle Leaf Figs is one cup of water for every foot of plant, once a week.  I water and rotate him every Sunday.  One year later, and he is still going strong - and I am so proud of myself!  Not only is he NOT dead, he is actually thriving and growing  taller and taller every month.  Fiddle Leaf Figs grow up, not out, so eventually, I have no doubt that he will be taller than I am.


I love this little guy - he is my favorite house plant.  Just yesterday I was telling Matt that he is my "pride and joy".  Seriously.  Maybe I need a dog or a child or something, because that sounds pretty lame.  But the house plant will do for now.  I even have plans for a couple more Fiddle Leaf Figs around our house, along with some other types in there as well.  I think a house full of only Fiddle Leaf Fig plants might be classified as "too far", no?  

 {Here he is in his new spot in our living room - he completely outgrew his spot in our foyer months ago!}
 


What I love most about this little guy is how he livens up our home.  I have found a new love for house plants.  They just bring something so fresh and alive into a house - they instantly make any space one hundred times better!  Come this summer, we will try our luck at plants that are exposed to the elements - the backyard and garden area - wish us luck!
 

4.05.2015

Happy Easter!

Happy Easter, everyone!  I was planning on posting more on the blog over the weekend, but it was so very full with activities and things that just took priority {like, selling my car AND finding and buying a new one for me all in a matter of close to 24 hours.  Yes, that happened}.  Between making progress in our bathroom, both Matt and I working, and dealing with used car salesmen, getting to spend the morning at church today felt like a much-needed refuge from the insanity and made my heart full.  I am so thankful for the gift of Christ's death + resurrection over anything else that may be going on in our lives right now!




"By his wounds, you have been healed" ~1 Peter 2:24