Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Shades of Gray

We are on a tile roll. . .just a couple weeks after solidifying our wall tile choice for the 2nd bathroom renovation (Bellavita's Shimmering Ice, for those keeping up), we hit the streets again to find options for our dark gray floor tile.
Nothing spoke to us at the Tile Outlet where we found Shimmering Ice, so we mapped out a couple other stores that were conveniently on the way to our suburban Easter weekend destination. We popped into a well-yelp'd store and were quickly greeted by a small cat at the front door. Unexpected.
The cat followed us (or maybe led us?) through the whole store. 
We spied a few options to keep in mind, slowly building ideas of what patterns we liked and what patterns one of us loved and the other one could live with.
I found myself drawn to tile with the vertical stripe look, but often there seem to be too many colors in the stripes. This one was all shades of gray and found itself in the running.
But nothing spoke to us as clearly as the wall tile did. The next day we popped over to Lowe's with my sister and brother in law. We only have Home Depot close to us in the city, and there's only so much a city home improvement store can hold. So feasting our eyes on the mucho selection of this Lowe's in the 'burbs was a happy time indeed. It took us about .2 seconds to find a gray tile that matched the look we were going for! And, oh boy, was that price right. We only need about 32 square feet to cover the floor and go up the side of the tub, so at $2.25 a square foot, our budget is smiling.
We bought one piece as a sample and got it home. Laying the porcelain tile against the floor by the tub, we knew we had an instant hit. 
Looks like we're headed back to Lowe's! Wall tile, check. Floor tile, check. 8500 other parts of the bathroom re-do. . .still to come.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Let's Go to Peru

When it came to planning where our next vacation would be, Bob and I had South America - particularly Peru - high on the list. Bob's dream place to visit has always been Machu Picchu, must be that architect thing in him. It didn't hurt that his best friend from high school is Peruvian, so by tagging along with Aldo we had a built in translator, tour guide and travel buddy!
With two days on either end dedicated to just travel (Peru might have been in the same time zone as Chicago, but with 2 stops either way we were looking at more than a dozen hours plane/airport time each way), we dedicated 8 days to Cusco, Machu Picchu and Lima. This was the same amount of time spent on our New England Road Trip. Not so much time out of the office to cause people worry, but long enough to feel like a true vacation and not just a long weekend.

With Aldo on board, I found myself doing a lot less pre-planning than I normally do, I let him help guide how we booked our hotels, tours and tickets. We were budget conscious when it came to hotels, but the bulk of our spending was eaten up by planes, trains and automobiles. Landing in Lima, we didn't just look across the way and say, "oh, look there's Machu Picchu - let's walk on over." No, our trip was more in line with the following:

1. Land in Lima at 10pm.
2. Stay in the airport overnight to take a 5am flight to Cusco.
3. 2 days in Cusco to acclimate to the altitude and explore the city.
4. Get on an 8am tour bus to see more Incan Ruins.
5. Ditch the bus at a certain point and take a three-wheeled cab to the Ollantaytambo Train Station.
6. Take a 2 hour train to Aguis Calientes.
7. Sleep.
8. Load onto the 6am bus headed to Machu Picchu!
9. Head back to the train station at 5pm and reverse from #6!
No complaints here though - once I had some dramamine in my system the altitude issue was greatly lessened. The first day I truly thought my head was going to explode and I was going to pass out from walking up the umpteen stairs we had to get to our hostel. (note: this photo is NOT of the stairs we had to walk up. . .I might have died right then and there if this was the case.)
What is the one thing I always end up buying on my travels? Aloe gel for sunburns! I did really well with sunscreen until the last couple days in Lima when I apparently thought myself invincible. No, it was Bob's turn to be a red lobster in the early part of our trip and require the run to the pharmacia for After-Sun Aloe Lotion. Mostly contained to his forehead, his misplacement of his hat during our first big day tour was a mistake he would sorely regret.
We left the tour bookings and train reservations until we checked into our first hotel, letting our hotel "concierge" help us out, something I highly recommend if your vacation spot is geared towards tours and day trips. They helped secure our English-speaking tour guide for Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley, and were able to bundle everything together for us.
We visited Peru in the rainy season, which meant our early morning views of Machu Picchu were clouded over and it sprinkled on us throughout our hour long hike up Wayna Picchu. It was actually nice to have the cool rain, otherwise I think I would have been a big ball of sweat as I trudged up and up to the top.
But once we got there. . .and once the clouds rolled past. . . the wait was worth it.
We spent the next several hours walking around and learning about Machu Picchu, it's history, legacy and current state. 
We also spotted this chinchilla guarding the Sun Temple.
And then we had more photo ops with the local wildlife. (and by local, I mean the llamas and alpacas that they carefully placed in Machu Picchu in order to entertain tourists like me) Let's just say I had an obsession with taking photos of any animal that crossed our path.
Seriously, a few days later we saw a dog in a hat, so how can you not take a picture of that? It's a dog. In a hat. A Playboy hat.
After a full day at Machu Picchu, we reversed the travel schedule above and found ourselves back in Lima for our last few days in the country. We saw Aldo's family, checked out the rocky beach and Lydia got sunburned (wouldn't be a trip if that didn't happen).
And then there was the Parque Kennedy. Not far from our hotel in Miraflores (The Terra Viva brand, highly recommended), the park showed up in guidebooks as a tourist stop so we made sure to take a stroll through. On Saturday evening, the center of the park was filled with a mini-marketplace, and not far off the small amphitheater was packed with dancers and a live band.
We saw a cat walk by, and said, "look, a cat!" Cusco was filled with stray dogs, so it was a nice change of pace to see a feline. And then we saw a couple more. And then we saw a dozen. . .Turns out, Parque Kennedy is inexplicably home to dozens of cats! Fed by neighbors who work on donations to keep the cats healthy, spayed and fed, they lounged about on sunny sidewalks and raced about in the grass, trying to avoid over-exuberant children trying to pick them up. 
We ended up walking through the park several times, mainly to spy on the cats! 
Miraflores, a popular neighborhood in Lima, is also home to Love Park. A mosaic bench borders the park, and kissing couples flock there. 
Of course we had to get our own shot the day before we departed.
Soon enough it was Monday morning and the flight home was fast approaching. Fourteen hours later, we landed in Chicago and nine hours after that we were back at work! What a trip, what an adventure. Can we do it again soon?

Stay tuned for a write up of the souvenirs we found ourselves on this trip (here's a recap of our past trip goodies we've acquired for our home!)

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Tile Aisle

And so the second bathroom renovation gets underway! The bathroom is small but serviceable in its current state, but with room for improvement. While there is some storage under the sink, the corner has a ton of wasted vertical space where I dream of a linen cabinet. The tub is outdated, and the use of a shower curtain (as much as I love our Chicago El themed shower curtain) effectively cuts the room in half when closed. 
We are envisioning a pedestal sink to create more room for the linen cabinet, an energy efficient toilet with the dual flush system, a new tub with a slick shower door and a color theme with gray walls and finally using the cheery yellow towels we got as a wedding gift!

We spent last weekend creating a budget, sourcing pedestal sinks and tubs on Amazon.com and two trips to the Tile Outlet.

First up, the reason we're going to see some savings in this renovation is because of a deal we took advantage of using Turbo Tax. We applied $500 of our tax refund to our Amazon account and received 10% cash back, an extra $50 in our pocket. We figure we'll be able to buy the Nest thermostat, the accessories we need for the bathroom and maybe the pedestal sink or toilet if we find the same type in the store first (I'm a big believer in seeing what we're going to purchase in person first!).

So onto the Tile Outlet. We are planning on a dark gray floor tile that will also go up the side of the tub to tie it all together. The shower and tub walls were our focus of this weekend, though. We also want gray walls, so our original idea of gray glass tile started to wane as we got a little "gray on gray on gray" weary.

Instead we feasted our eyes on Shimmering Ice Creekside by Bellavita and were hooked.
We love the texture and the idea of organizing the 3x12 tiles in rows opposite rows of 2x6 tiles like in the photos we found online.
To mix it up a bit, we picked up enough gray glass tiles to create two rows to help tie it back to the room.
The Tile Outlet did not have the 2x6 size, so we'll need to order it online. Currently searching for the best price, cheapest shipping and most reliable site. Shopping at the Tile Outlet could be frustrating because the choices can be limited in some respects (they might only have two boxes of something you love), but the savings don't lie - $3 a square foot multiplied by 40 square feet!

Now 6 boxes of tile sit in our garage spot, waiting for the day to be applied to the wall. Speaking of, our next stop was Home Depot where Bob used the better part of a $50 gift card to get plenty o' tile tools including tile spacers, a trowel and a grout float.
Itching to get started, but plenty more to do in the meantime to prepare. The last thing I want to do is start demo'ing and then realize we never bought the new toilet!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Still Here, but Jet Lagged

I'm finishing up my longest lapse between posts yet, but for a good reason - I've been on the go pretty much non-stop the month of March! Between work trips to New Orleans and Washington D.C., a wedding weekend in Iowa and our long awaited vacation to Peru - plus a busy busy workload at the actual job - blogging has been an unfortunate casualty of war travel.

I can't wait to share all of the details of our Peru trip including some tips and tricks for packing smartly, a rundown of more souvenirs we'll cherish and photos upon photos of Machu Picchu. 
But first, I thought I'd stay on the travel bug for just a bit longer and share my latest lofty goal: visit these 15 places over the next 15 years. This list was culled together from the back of an American Way Magazine, a good hour spent gazing at the maps in the back and forming a shortlist (PS. Love that magazine). The easy answer is, "I want to go everywhere!" but when I really started looking at the maps and thinking about it, these 15 stood out for various reasons. 

In no particular order:
1. Spain
2. Singapore
3. Alaska
4. New Zealand
5. Scotland
6. Ireland
7. Savannah, Georgia
8. Mount Rushmore
9. Tokyo
10. Cape Cod
11. Austin, Texas
12. Vietnam 
13. Sweden
14. South Africa
15. Russia

So what's on your shortlist? Does 15 years seem doable? Will I still be blogging in 15 years or will technology be so advanced that you will just be mind-reading a chip in my head that shares my thoughts with the world? Probably.