Mista Lista: They See Me Mowin’

Mista Lista’s changing things up at the ‘Zoo.  Each month, Mista Lista will be taking a closer look at one part of the ‘Zoo to see how things are shaping up. This month, Mista Lista is checking on things in the yard.

Front Yard

Our goals in the front yard were fairly simple: Take out overgrown landscaping and disintegrating edging; replace with new landscaping and new edging. We didn’t take a close up of the front flower bed when we bought the house, but it was primarily a thick row of overgrown grass with a few snake inhabitants. We tore out most of the grass and replaced it with a white climbing rose, hydrangeas, hostas, and a few flowering plants, primarily mums.  After a year, everything is thriving, and we even had to widen the bed to make room for our hostas.  I’m probably going to have to divide them next year, and my neighbor is planning to give me some of her divided hostas, too, which will mean even more hostas.  Yay! I just love hydrangeas and hostas together, though this year our hydrangeas bloomed pink instead of blue.  I love the deep purple-blue, but the pink were a nice change. I envision pink in the front near the house (near the foundation it will be a tough battle to maintain the right soil ph for blue) and blue in the back along the new white fence.  We’ll see.

Last Year                                                                                 This Year


 Side Yard

Yes, we have two side yards, but only one is pictured.  The other one hasn’t changed much. Our west side yard was the priority, primarily because of the magnolia looming over our house (the roots were too close to the house foundation to be safe) as well as the other overgrown shrubs. We replaced them with a variety of plants including knockout roses, loropetalum, canna lilies, caladiums, purple fountain grass, and monkey grass. Everything has grown so quickly that is hard to believe it’s only been a year since these were planted. The pavers and the pine straw that our neighbors had spread on our yard have now been replaced with flourishing grass.  

                                 Last Year                                                                                 This Year

Westyard IMG_5042

Back Yard

The backyard has also changed dramatically.  Again, our goals were primarily to take out overgrown and ill-placed shrubs and trees, and down the road, replace the fence.  We added more flowerbeds, filled with canna lilies, lantanas, banana trees, roses, etc. We also tried a fruit/vegetable garden this year (mostly not a win), and started replacing the fence.  After buying a new outdoor area rug and some lawn furniture, we actually had people over for a cookout, with enough seats for all.  Yay!

Last Year                                                                                 This Year

BackYard1 IMG_4610

Overall, here’s what’s been accomplished thus far:

  • Moving gate latch to the inside of the backyard (Surprise! We discovered we did in fact have a gate latch already, but it was put on the outside to allow free access to our backyard to any interested parties…what-tha-what?)  We now realize how the neighbors were able to show other interested buyers the backyard while we were looking at the inside with our realtor!) (1)
  • Cut down imposing magnolia in side yard (2)
  • Trim trees, shrubs, and grasses (2)
  • Remove sago palms in the way of mowing (2)
  • Replace rotted fence board (2)
  • Test/correct sprinkler aim (2)
  • Clear easement behind fence to keep weeds out of our yard (2)
  • Remove overgrown (ugly) hedges and grasses and snakes, oh my! (2)
  • Remove scalloped landscape edging (3)
  • Add new plants, mulch, and edging (3)
  • Replace odd flower bed between entry and driveway with brick pavers so that we aren’t stepping out of our car into the flower/weed bed (2)
  • Cut down magnolias in backyard (3)
  • Paint faded mailbox (2)
  • Shadowbox wood fence (3)
  • Line fence with crape myrtles for low maintenance privacy and shade (3)
  • Add edible plants! (3)
  • Upgrade fence (4)
  • More patio furniture for people to be able to join us in our back yard (3)
  • Expand patio area (4)
  • Add gate on garage side for convenience (4)
  • Add sunporch? (4)
  • Add pool? (4)

Staying on top of things with the yard hasn’t been the easiest during our flooring project. We are constantly battling the weeds in the back, so we are brainstorming solutions for keeping them out more easily (that don’t involve lots of toxic chemicals!).  We also hope to finish the fencing and rearrange some plants in September to give them time to get established in their new homes before cooler weather arrives.  Ah, so many projects, so little time.

Best Christmas Present Ever: New Year, New Home

In case you haven’t noticed, the KaZoos have been relatively silent for a couple of months now.  Yes, the holiday season is always busy, and yes, life gets in the way of writing about life. #firstworldproblems  In this case, the reason we’ve been keeping quiet on the blog front is because we wanted to wait until we were “absolutely, positively, undeniably, and reliably” sure we could share our good news with you, and now we can say (drumroll, please): WE BOUGHT A HOUSE!  (Feel free to imagine lots of munchkins dancing and singing in the streets for those of you who recognized the quote from The Wizard of Oz).Driveway_View_of_House

When we first started this blog, we hoped it would be a space where we could dream and plan a bit about life, including the possibility of buying a home in the near future.  Over four years ago, we lost a considerable chunk of change on selling our first home right after the bubble burst in our area, and we have slowly been saving back up to buy again once I was near the end of grad school.  For the past couple of years, Chris had been keeping a close eye on the real estate market in our desired location, while I kept a close eye on my schoolwork.  Recently, Chris noticed that the supply of homes in our desired area (and desired price range!) had dwindled considerably (literally to just 2 homes in our  #1 preferred area), as investors and retiring baby boomers have been snatching up coastal properties left and right (and paying cash, compared to those of us having to rebuild savings just to make a cash down payment).  Given this turn of events in the real estate market, in August, we decided that we would plan to look at homes over the winter holidays with the plan to buy in spring.  In October, I was able to make a trip down to the coast, and we decided to look at a few places (just for fun, of course) that met our criteria (or thereabouts).  We ended up looking at three houses in varying stages of shock and awe, vaguely reminiscent of fill-in-your-favorite-home-buying-show on HGTV.

Chris named Place #1 “Rich Man No Yard.”  On the plus side, the house was in our preferred neighborhood, had plenty of interior space, and had all the upgrades we would have wanted to do ourselves.  On the minus side, the house was at the top of our budget (hence rich) and had the smallest strip of a back yard I’ve ever seen (hence no yard). When we found out that the owner was unlikely to negotiate any below asking price because he was trying to use the money to pay off his mortgage on a nicer home he had just built, we said farewell.  We knew the home would be great for someone, just not for us, as we wanted some outdoor play space for future littles and knew we would really be stretching to afford it. We would rather live comfortably financially, even if it means less comfortably in terms of features and upgrades (for now).  It has since sold–congrats to the seller and the new owners!

Place #2 Chris termed “Italian Disaster.” On the plus side, the Tuscan villa house (hence Italian) was spacious with luxury upgrades everywhere (pot filler, anyone?) and was still (amazingly) within our budget.  On the minus side, the house was a short sale that had been abandoned and was in a state of obvious neglect and deterioration (hence disaster).  When we learned the AC was on the fritz and saw floorboards with wood rot, heaps of (dead) winged insects in the puddling two-story drapes, and the mosquito pond out back (“waterfront property” in our area frequently translates to retention pond + mosquitoes), we realized it would take more cash than we had on hand to make the necessary repairs and replacements to return it to its former glory. Plus, Chris and I are apparently sweet meat for mosquitoes, so we didn’t want to tempt fate. Or the mosquitoes.  We aren’t sure of its current status, but we know that someone with enough $$$ to fix it up right will have an amazing home one day!

The third place on our list to see was taken off the market the day before I arrived, so that was that.  However, the next day, Chris received an automated email with the latest real estate offerings, including another home just listed in our preferred neighborhood.  At first, neither of us felt like seeing another home, especially one that was a former rental and considerably smaller than we hoped, but later that day, we both felt the tiniest inclination to see it anyway.  We set up an appointment for the next day, and saw Place #3.  Place #3 never received a nickname because we made an offer shortly after seeing it.  It was a short sale well within our budget, and apparently well within others’, too.  The entire street was lined with cars full of potential buyers queuing up behind us (we were the first appointment of at least five that day).  One guy literally barged in on us while we were looking around inside and mistook me for his realtor, whom he had obviously not met yet–haha!  During our appointment, the realtor indicated that short sales were taking 90-120 days to close, which for the average buyer might be a turn-off, but for us, this was perfect timing.  The house met all of our basic requirements, and despite being on the smaller side and lacking the upgrades of #1 and #2, it had a spacious yard, came with a new AC unit (major plus in our area!), and was a blank slate we could see ourselves transforming into our own home.  We drove down the coastline a few minutes, thinking and praying, and called the realtor back to make an offer, which was accepted by the owner and forwarded on to the bank.  

Having never gone through the short sale process before, we weren’t exactly sure what was going to happen, and having heard rumors where things fall through quite easily with short sales and foreclosures, we didn’t let ourselves get our hopes up.  For the rest of October and half of November we went around saying, “If we get the house we’ve made an offer on, it will be great, but if not, that’s okay, too.”  Then, on November 16, we got a call that the bank had accepted our offer and wanted to close within 30 days.  This meant closing mid-December instead of mid-February, which put us in an excited whirlwind of activity.  The broker at our realty firm, who is commonly referred to as the short sale expert in our area, said she had never seen a short sale go so quickly and that we must have had all our ducks in a row for it to go so smoothly.  We know SOMEBODY had our ducks in a row. 🙂  Even though closing two months earlier than expected meant that we would be a little tighter on our budget longer than expected, the affordability of the home made it feasible.  Living simply really is better! On December 16th, we officially became homeowners (again).  Best part? Our mortgage will be less than the rent we are paying in the city.

And now we get to start a new year with a new home!  We didn’t really do much over the holidays other than basic cleaning and airing out (more on that in a forthcoming post) since we were traveling around to see family, but we did get some good news: When the guy came to turn the gas on, Chris asked about the possibility of getting a gas line run to the kitchen, and the gas man observed that we have “a gas nub” behind the electric range (not sure if that’s the official term, but we’re sticking with it–he’s the expert, right?). SWEEEEEEEET!  We have dearly missed cooking on gas and are completely stoked that we won’t have to pay $$$$ to run a gas line to the kitchen.  Plus, they gave us a coupon for a free gas appliance installation.  If house = Christmas present, then existing gas in kitchen + free install = gigantic bow on top.  Back in the day, the natural gas website in our area had three main headings, two of which were “HAVE GAS?” and “WANT GAS?” (or maybe it was “NEED GAS?”).  Totally hilarious, right?  So now it’s a family joke. WE HAVE GAS!

Since I will still be living the city life this semester while trying to get my dissertation proposal submitted and my data collected so that I can write from home, we won’t be moving our things down right away.  I’ll keep most of the furniture with me up north and will send fragiles/nonessentials with Chris on monthly roadtrips between here and there (all those Christmas decorations now packed away, wedding china, etc.).  While I work on my dissertation up here, he can be working on the house down there.  Of course, I’m itching to get my hands on the new house (and yard!), so it will drive me nuts that he gets to be all DIY while I get to be all…DISsertation. Where’s that paintbrush? I mean, keyboard?

Anyway, after telling our family and close friends over the holidays, we wanted to share with you, too. Stay tuned for more pics and info forthcoming in another post.  We’ll be documenting the transformation from house to the KaZoo home, so we hope you’ll stick around (or join us) for the journey. Happy New Year!

The Curse of the Many-Legged Giants

Chris and I are currently losing a battle with many-legged giants in our house.  No, I don’t mean mutant wolf spiders or centipedes.  We’re talking furniture, folks.  I am constantly frustrated by the lack of flexibility we have with our furniture arrangement in our current living situation (rental condo), and we are both dreading the forthcoming day when we become a two-person moving crew and have to haul all of our giant pieces of furniture down narrow halls and stairs, around insanely tight corners with low overheads, and into a moving truck.  But wait, how did the giants get here in the first place?

A long time ago, back when we were engaged, Chris and I selected this bed to be our future bed:   PB farmhouse

Picture courtesy of Pottery Barn:


Two and a half years after we were married (and extremely tired of using my old twin beds pushed together and covered with a king-sized foam mattress thing), we finally bit the bullet and bought the king-size version on sale.  Enter Giant #1.  Our bed is a gentle giant, though.  We absolutely love our bed and wouldn’t trade, sell, or give it away to anyone EVER.  Of course, our love affair is made more complete by the mattress set we bought for it.  Seriously, every time we lie down it is like going to a luxury spa retreat.  It is, by far, the best investment we have made furniture-wise, so we are perfectly content with our gentle giant.

Not so with the large (pun intended) majority of the rest of our furniture, which includes the following:

Gifts/Freebies from Amy’s parents:

  • 5′ baby grand piano
  • chair-and-a-half known as “the comfy chair”
  • oversized loveseat
  • dining table with two leaves
  • china cabinet
  • antique buffet
  • chest of drawers
  • two nightstands
  • double bed with full sized dresser, mirror, chest, and nightstand
  • computer desk
  • glass table
  • microwave cart
  • (2) different cube bookshelves (2 x 4)
  • 3-panel room divider
  • cat condo


  • Kenmore Washer and Dryer (on sale from Sears)
  • TV stand from Bombay (on clearance)
  • Extra long Pottery Barn Seabury suede sofa (floor sample purchased for 70% off)
  • Pottery Barn project table (on sale)
  • Pottery Barn Farmhouse Tallboy dresser (on sale)
  • elliptical workout machine (on sale)
  • Pottery Barn teen media stand (on sale)
  • Pier 1 wicker chaise (on sale)
  • (2) Pier 1 bar stools (on sale)
  • (3) Pier 1 counter stools (Craigslist)
  • Pier 1 mail center (on sale)
  • (2) different cube bookshelves (1 x 3; 3 x 3) (Target or Linens ‘N’ Things)
  • 2 bookshelves (Target on sale)
  • 1 media armoire (Target on sale)
  • 2 side tables (Target on clearance)
  • metal pantry storage rack (don’t remember, but it was cheap)
  • 4 Gorilla racks for garage (Sam’s Club)
  • storage bench (Target on sale)
  • craft storage organizer (craft store on sale)
  • cat condo (Pet Smart on sale)
  • grill (Wal-Mart on sale)
  • bistro sized patio set (Target on sale)

Notice some trends?  We do.

Trend #1: Our home = Goodwill Donation Center.

I’m an only child, so when my parents downsized after I flew the coop, they gave us a lot of their (bigger) furniture.  This list doesn’t even include the Pier 1 wicker loveseat and chair and a jungle green leather sofa they gave us that we’ve already passed to others!  Chris and I love a clean, spacious home, but our sentimental hearts beat wildly at times, resulting in conversations like the following:

Mom: I’m giving the comfy chair away to Goodwill.

Me: What?!

Mom: It just doesn’t go with my new style, and I don’t really have room for it anyway.

Me: But it is such a great chair with so many memories!

Mom: I know, but I’m giving it away unless you want it.

(Chris in the background): Tell her we’ll take it.

Me: We’ll take it.

This is also how we amass random home decor from Chris’s grandmother and my parents.  In fact, every time we visit Chris’s grandmother, we bring home a carload full, and I frequently receive boxes of my mom’s old teaching stuff, family photos, home decorating accessories, knickknacks, linens, etc. that I tend to sort through before sending to Goodwill or selling.  I also inherited 14 place settings of china from a relative, in addition to 2 we received as a gift from Chris’s grandmother and the 10 we received as part of our wedding registry.  I’m the only child of a mother whose only sibling has already passed, so I will also inherit her china…and her mother’s china…(you can see where this is going, can’t you?).  With that much china, I should be able to open a restaurant soon, which is good since I’ll need the restaurant space to store it all!

Lorie Marrero, creator of the Clutter Diet (check it out here: http://www.clutterdiet.com/) recommends stopping clutter before it enters your home.  Great advice!  When you are trying to be frugal and not spend money on things, though, it is hard to pass on “perfectly good” items, especially items you don’t have as a young-ish couple..and if some of these items tend to be made better than they are now.  For example, we have gone through two butter dishes since being married 7 years ago, including a Le Creuset one!  Our Corningware dishes have hairline fissures…not so with my grandmother and mother’s dishes (the ones with the blue emblem on them) that will probably outlast us all.  Maybe they will make cool homes for the cockroaches at the end of the world.

Trend #2: Modern farmhouse style = no room in the inn, or at least, in the condo.

Chris and I have very eclectic taste but trend towards a cross between European farmhouse and mid-century modern.  When we were homeowners, this was not a problem.  Our first home had a spacious, open concept that was perfect for our tendency to prefer big furniture designed for large spaces.  Unfortunately, I decided to go back to school in an urban area where housing is $$$.  In fact, our city is one of the few places where the housing market has continued to swell despite the general economic/housing market situation.  Our rent even went up this year (le sigh).   Suffice it to say, we live in a “spacious” 3 BR/2BA condo that feels like the size of a mouse hole with our furniture in it.  We even had to buy in the “suburbs” and spend more on our rent than our original home mortgage to have room enough for all our stuff.  Problem? Definitely.  But what could we have parted with?

Trend #3: Furniture sales = furniture clutter.

After making some disappointing investments in some cheaper engineered wood products, we decided to go solid wood with the rest of our purchases in hopes of lasting quality.  In trying to buy quality for lower prices, we tend to shop sales.  The only problem here is that shopping leads to purchases, which leads to space problems…which leads to the need to reclaim some of it by parting with some pieces (and probably replacing some with smaller pieces, eventually).  The creeping giant of Guilt seems pleased to hang out in our space…guilt over things purchased that are functioning yet take up too much space…guilt over things purchased that were not good investments (all in the name of saving money)…guilt over giving away free, “perfectly good” furniture  and having to replace these items with smaller ones (read: purchase things to replace free things).  The handmadehome has a great article on guilt, by the way.  It’s an older blog post, but copy/paste the link and it should work: http://www.thehandmadehome.net/2013/01/lazy-gals-survival-guide-guilt-vs-conviction/

Trend #4: Parting is such sweet sorrow.

We have been clearing out clutter for about a year and a half, and we have done some serious purging…of everything except the furniture.  My clothes used to take up two closets, a dresser, and a chest (that’s what happens when you don’t grow and can still wear your clothes from high school).  Now I use a chest and share the master closet with my husband.  Craft supplies have been used or donated to teachers.  I’ve even parted with some books, which is incredibly difficult since I’m a bibliophile.  The final frontier is the furniture, but the giants have to go.  Trouble is, we are struggling with what to give away, sell, and repurpose, especially since almost all of these pieces see frequent use or will, once we have kids and need additional bedroom furniture, seating, and such (read: near future).

Anyone else have some giants that need to find a new cave home?  Any ideas on how to conquer our giants?