Thursday, January 19, 2017

It's a Baby!

   So.. we weren't really able to find out the gender today as planned. I painted this box yesterday in anticipation of buying our pink and purple, or light and dark blue balloons to release out of the box today for our "reveal" video and pictures. But the ultrasound nurse said Chip was in a weird position, so she wasn't able to get a good enough view to determine anything for sure.
  She tried for about 10 minutes without any luck. We did get to hear the heartbeat again and today it was 158 BPM. We also got the results back from my blood test yesterday that checked for diseases like HIV and Syphilis, which I was obviously negative for both.  The doctor did tell me that I do not have the immunity for chicken pox! She asked me if I have had chicken pox, and I told her that I got it when I was in third grade. She says I shouldn't have any issue unless I find myself around someone with chicken pox, which I haven't been since third grade when we all gave it to each other. She did say that I could get a booster/ immunity shot if needed.

   When we told our doctor that we weren't able to find out the gender, she talked to the sonogram nurse to see if she was busy/ when her next appointment was to see if we could try it again. They gave me a cup of cold water to drink to see if Chip would squirm around in just the right way. No real luck though. The nurse asked, "Do you want me to tell you which gender I'm leaning towards?" I immediately said, "YES!" So she told us. But again, nothing definite for me to go out buying cute baby outfits yet. Michael says that's good though because it will save us some money until then.

  Here are the best two sonograms we got today (from the first ultrasound), although for some reason they looked less detailed than the ones before. Chip was moving his or her arms around a lot today, which was especially great for me to see since I had taken the cough medicine three nights over the weekend. I don't like that it looks like Chip has a huge dent in the head, but it didn't look like that in the other "squishy-looking" sonogram pictures. Maybe Chip was making cranky faces because of all the poking we were doing, trying to get him or her to move into a different position.
  We got a surprise box at our front door a few days ago (the box I painted for the balloon reveal!) and opened these lovely gifts from one of Michael's aunts. I love the super soft blanket -can you see the little lamb on the corner of it?- and the elephant has a rattle in the middle with crinkly ears.
   Only 4 (million) more long weeks until our next appointment for the anatomy scan where they will definitely be able to tell us if Chip is a boy or girl. Then we can take our wonderful balloon pictures and I can make those cupcakes to take to work with colored icing in the middle. This morning before the appointment Michael told me, "I want to get cupcakes that are the color of the baby, so they'll be white!" After a second he did a big fake laugh because of his hilarious joke. ;)

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Slytherins Unite

Speaking of witches.. I guess I should finally post this overly-detailed bit that I wrote in October which has just been sitting in my "Drafts" since then..  

  On Saturday, October 8th (2016), my cousin Lindsey came down from Georgia and spent the night at our house. We went for a walk and ran an errand to Publix, then watched the comedy mockumentary "Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping" with our dinner of popcorn and fruit-filled popsicles.
  That Sunday morning I got up at 5:40 (her idea!) but it was fine and I didn't feel tired. She drove us to the Royal Pacific Resort at Universal and she checked in. The girl helping us was super nice and put me and Michael down as the kids in the room so we could get free Express Pass cards for the rides!! And she gave us leis when we were done. I asked for green to keep up my Slytherin theme. Lindsey is a Slytherin too, hooray!! 

Slytherins: ambitious, shrewd, cunning, resourceful, show leadership, achievement-oriented, and will do anything to get their way. They also have highly developed senses of self preservation, meaning they tend to hesitate before acting, to weigh all possible outcomes before deciding exactly what should be done. Sounds like me to me.

   After repetitive confusion (I almost always get the Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure entrances mixed up) we met up with Michael around 7:20 and started with the rides!! Minion Mayhem, then took pictures in New York by The Mummy where they had some Halloween Horror Nights cages set up. I had to take pictures in front of them since that's the closest I'll get since I went in 2009. Michael went with his friends on his birthday. 
  We walked around London/ Diagon Alley. I stepped aside to the child swap area while they rode Escape from Gringotts. Fun fact that I can now write about: The announcer mentioned that pregnant women are not recommended to ride the coaster because of the drops and Michael whispered in my ear so Lindsey couldn't hear, "That could be you." We didn't know at the time that I actually was! ;) But that's not why I didn't ride it. We took more pictures (I was happily surprised with how many pictures Lindsey took!) and then rode the Hogwarts Express over to Islands of Adventure. Michael and Lindsey rode both of the Dragon Challenge roller coasters, then we met up with Lindsey's friend, Terri. They were roommates in college at Valdosta. I'm not sure if I had met her before, but I've seen her in pictures.
  Michael got food in Jurassic Park while we rode The Forbidden Journey in the castle and Flight of the Hippogriff (my favorite). We walked through Atlantis and made a reservation for lunch at Mythos, then continued on to Superhero Island where Michael got his Express Pass activated. We rode Spiderman (Lindsey said they are re-making that series for the third time in 15 years!! The Tobey Maguire version was first released in 2002) and then waited together while Lindsey and Terri rode The Hulk. Michael was getting really tired by then from all the sun exposure, plus he burnt his neck and the top of his head and feet while power washing our driveway the day before. He still said the sunburn wasn't as bad as that time without "suncream" (I heard some British people call it that) when we went kayaking in Catalina
   We walked to the Dr. Seuss area where Michael was an extra sweetie and got pictures with the Grinch and a dog with a top hat. Michael told me that he wondered if someone he knew was in the costume since they kept giving him hugs and high fives, but he never got a text from any friends about it during the remainder of the day. We also went on the Sneetch ride where the narrator was talking about different sounds instead of the usual story about why the Sneetches have green stars on their stomachs.

  Then it was time for lunch at Mythos. Michael got his usual Pad Thai and I got the flatbread, wondering most of the meal if I should have ordered the tomato basil soup instead. (That's what I got when we went with Ryan and Ben in December 2014 and it was really good!)
  After lunch, Terri left to get back on the Hogwarts Express to meet some other friends, but we wanted to go on the new King Kong: Skull Island ride before we left for the day. That is located in the Jurassic Park area and was pretty good. The jeep thing we rode in held 72 people. It seemed like it would be better if it held about 18, but phew! Something else easy for me to ride. We rode the Hogwarts Express back to Universal, shared a Butterbeer, and walked to the Halloween Horror Nights tribute merchandise store area. After taking half of a step in and seeing a 6-foot-tall murderous clown, I waited in the hallway for them. We said goodbye to Lindsey before she got in line for Rip Ride Rocket, and walked back to the car. With how tired Michael was I was surprised he didn't use the moving sidewalks. More steps for me, which I tracked all day with my Fitbit Flex.
** A few nights ago Lindsey texted me to let me know that Tom Felton (who plays Draco Malfoy in HP) is joining the cast of The Flash, for Season 3!! Michael and I have only watched the first episode (mainly bc Sebastian from Glee is the main character), but I'll definitely have to watch this new season.

Monday, January 16, 2017


  I was able to enjoy another Weekend Extravaganza the past few days since we got tickets to see Wicked on Saturday (my Christmas present) and Michael said we could go to Disney yesterday. (We got free tickets at work because of the tragic event at Pulse nightclub in June.) Friday was also great because I was able to meet Michael for lunch at Panera. Then I watched Jim Gaffigan's latest stand up hour "Cinco" on Netflix. I didn't sleep very well that night due to my bad cough and moved to the blow up mattress in the baby room. But luckily Saturday night Michael called one of my doctors and was approved to get Robitussin for my cough and that helped a lot. I only took one of the 20mL "servings" although it said I could take it every six hours. I said a lot of prayers for Chip not to be affected at all by the medicine, but I also read last week that it was safe to use after 12 weeks (and I'm 16 weeks today!) Yay, strong growing babies! I used cough drops during the day when needed yesterday. Thank goodness I didn't get this cold two months ago.

  I made breakfast for Michael Saturday morning, then he hung out with his friend, and I stayed home until I got changed for Wicked. I wore my Wicked Witch of the East tights and brought my ruby slippers in the car (although in the original books and play, the shoes are silver), but only ended up wearing my black flats since the parking garage was further away from the theater than I thought it would be. We made great time and by the time we went through the bag check/ security area and I made one last bathroom break, we got our seats and the play started five minutes later. (During intermission I made a beeline for the restrooms again and I was the first one in, remembering it was like a Titanic stampede during intermission when I went with my cousin Abby in Indiana in 2008!)
   I was excited that it was as great as I was expecting. Michael said he liked a lot of the songs, especially "Defying Gravity" and "No Good Deed", and that he would see the whole thing again. So we've talked about taking Chip when he or she is about 8 or 9. There was a girl who I guessed to be about 4 or 5 who sat next to me and was asking her mom questions the whole time. I'd rather go when I can enjoy the show and explain stuff on the way home.

PS- I did a "survey" on Facebook today and most people think Chip will be a boy. (It was 7 votes girl to 12 votes boy.) We'll find out on Thursday!!  PSS- Happy Birthday, Dawson!! 

   Here are a few pictures of when I dressed up like Elphaba (the Wicked Witch of the East) during Full Sail in December 2009 and Michael recorded me acting out/ lip-syncing to "No Good Deed" by Idina Menzel but I can't find it on YouTube anymore to attach the link. Oh well.. Nope! I found it! Here it is. You're welcome.  ;)

Friday, January 13, 2017

Sweet, Sugar, Handyman

  Michael and I can often be very different people. That works out great for me in the way that he can make something extravagant out of nothing (book shelves, dining room table, and now a deck). Yeah I'm good at cutting colorful papers and pictures together with stickers, but I also struggle with small projects that come with a two-page manual. For people who are thinking about buying a house, there is so much more money to be spent than just the price of the house. So many times since May, Michael has come up with a new idea for how we can make our house look extra great "and improve the sale value" (although we plan on living here for 30+ years). My question is always, "How much is that going to cost?" Somehow we've been able to keep our savings account in a healthy high-ish range for two people in our late twenties, not including the baby fund that we haven't taken any money out of yet. That may be a different situation come July. =) Although I was very surprised that we barely had to take any money out of savings to paint the whole house in June. We were just putting less into savings then.

  I looked up the average cost for building a deck, which would be way more if a contractor or architect is used, and it is between $2,000 and $15,000! Luckily we were close to the low end of that. For a much more detailed/ How-To post of the deck, be sure to read the post that Michael wrote. But here are the pictures I took on the Canon over the past few weeks ~

  December 21st: The second day that Michael began shoveling up squares of sod, I "helped" by sitting outside with him and talking for two hours. He said it actually helped him a lot (I love when me basically doing nothing is "such a big help" to him) and he worked until the sun went down. I took pictures that day, but won't post those just because Michael didn't have a shirt on. That was before it started getting cold. In his post you'll see me all bundled up in one of the photos- obviously that day was cold. To me at least; I'm pretty sure he was just wearing a short sleeve shirt and jeans.

December 30th and 31st:
  I did more helping on the 30th by checking the level when he was putting these posts into the brackets that were stuck in the concrete. Then I would hold the end of the long piece of wood he was cutting so it wouldn't topple over once it was cut in half. I also held my phone up as a flashlight when he wanted to finish working even though it was dark outside. He was so determined to get all the posts screwed into place that night. And he did. The huge piles of sod were picked up on New Years Eve by an old man who contacted Michael on Craigslist. At that point Michael's friend/ co-teacher at VAMP came over and helped for the next few days. That day my job of "helping" included picking up lunch for them, then later getting the pizza and drinks. Also giving sugars (kisses) on demand was requested. Just to Michael though! I didn't mind that.  =)

  My least favorite part of the project was on New Years Day when Ryan and I were at the mall and Michael texted me a picture of his "first injury of the year". When he was getting more wood from the top of his car, one piece slipped and hit him near the eye, causing a small gash, and a cut that went down his cheek to his jaw area. It made me so sad to look at it and turned a purple then blue color from the blood vessels popping in the bag area under his eye. Luckily it has finally healed!
  Michael, Brian, and I christened the patio that night after I dropped Ryan back off at the train and Michael sacrificed his Boba Fett keychain that we got together in 2009 during my first trip to Birmingham when I met his parents.  Boba was slowly dying though. His whole armor outfit had rubbed off at least a year ago and Michael recently noticed that somehow one of his Lego legs went missing!
  Another small snafu was when Michael went to dig the hole for one of the plants by the pole that holds all the string lights. He forcefully slammed the "hole-digger thing" into the ground and heard a crack. He had forgotten that the pipe for the sprinkler was there and the area began flooding. This was on January 5th, about an hour before my doctor appointment! He shut off the water, ran to Lowes and was back to glue the new pieces together with some "cement in a can" stuff, and we were still on time for the doctor appointment.
  After this photo was taken Michael moved that pile of dirt to the other side of the house (in the area you can't see behind the A/C unit shown below). He will work on leveling that out tomorrow morning and also talked about building another small deck in that area to hang our Eno hammocks from since there are two trees on that side. "The Quiet Deck" is how he referred to it. But I'm not sure if that will happen anytime soon. We've talked about wanting to build our savings back up first. Also in this picture below you can see how the outlet looked on the corner of the house, but was replaced as explained in the next part:
   In the two pictures above you can see both of the "step off points". The one in the first picture is almost level with the ground, as the yard is naturally higher in that area. The next photo shows an actual step down that needs to be noted. After he put up the lights, he came up with another idea to wire the lights to the pole so we wouldn't have to use the outlet on the side of the house. Here are those switches, including a dimmer for the lights (he's so fancy)!  The only "real" part Michael has left to do is complete the paver bricks, which he has started by outlining the original stepping blocks. Those will be replaced by the stack of bricks.
   He bought some chair covers for all of the outdoor furniture and those arrived the other day, which you can see in one of the pictures from this morning. He had pulled up the dead flowers from both sides of the porch (I also pulled up all the pink and white pansies (?) that were in the front yard because they had really been wilting from the cold weather) and he let me pick out the new flowers I wanted in the back. He says we can get tulips -my favorite- for the front yard later.
  The last part of the deck (as of now) that Michael wants to add in order to fully complete it, is to hook up water proof speakers and place those around the screened-in patio so when we have parties, we can have music playing outside. I told him we can get those at the end of March since that will be one of the months where we both get three paychecks. Oh, we did buy four tiki torches last night because he said the mosquitoes were biting him the night before when he sat outside. Those aren't in the pictures though because he hasn't put them in the yard yet.

Side note: Week 15 of my pregnancy has brought on a sinus cold with a lot of sneezing, causing a stuffy/ runny nose and today I'm mostly in a stage of coughing. Other than that, everything is terrific!!

A New Beautiful Deck

This post was written by Michael, and photos were taken on his iPhone 7:
I'll write my own version (with a lot less details) and Canon pictures soon.

  A while back when we bought the house, it was a small dream of mine to have a nice deck or patio outside of the screened in patio for us to throw parties, entertain guests, and just be able to relax in the cool evenings that Florida has to offer.  I didn’t want to build something that would be lifted off of the ground since I didn’t want to see over my 6’ fence into my neighbor's yard.  I started to brainstorm and though a paver patio would be nice.  The bricks would look nice and it would add a nice touch to the house.  However, when looking into the cost of the pavers and the amount of pavers I’d need for the size deck I wanted, I quickly thought maybe it wouldn’t be the best decision.  I kept thinking and decided that I'd make a ground level wooden deck. So I sat down and thought about the best way to go about this.  I’d have to build the deck off the ground so the moisture and water drainage wouldn’t affect the deck over the course of how many years.  I did some research and created a plan for the project. 
Here is the back of the house before we started the deck project.
   I started work on the deck on December 20, 2016.  I began by staking out the size footprint I wanted for the deck.  I had already picked out the furniture I was wanting and made sure I staked that out as well in the areas I wanted it.  With some neon string (which Sasha continued to blindly trip over) I marked out everything and stepped back to make sure that’s what I was wanting.  Once it was all measured out properly I began by digging up the perimeter leaving some extra space to work.  Let me tell you this was truly some backbreaking work.  I took a few days carefully removing all of the sod and saving that for later as well as all of the dirt that came with it.  I dug down about a foot all around and started to level out the ground.
Started with the stakes in the ground to the desired footprint.  I started to dig down and remove the sod and dirt.
The sod and dirt completely removed.  You can see our sprinkler lines running through the platform. 
I had to be careful not to hit them.  
 Once the ground was level I packed all of the dirt down until it was firm all around.  I then measured out where my concrete pylons were going to go.  I had bought some 8” tubing from Lowes and some concrete made for deck pylons.  I dug down an additional 2’ for each pylon and placed the cardboard tubes (already cut to size) into the holes.  I made sure each tube was level and filled the tubes about 4-5” with multi-purpose concrete gravel.  I rechecked the tubes to make sure they were level and filled in dirt around the outside of the tubes and packed it down.  Once the tubes were secure and level, I mixed up the concrete and poured it into the tubes.  I made sure each tube had a little more concrete than needed.  I read that you want to make the tops of the concrete slightly beveled and rounded (like the top of a ball) so water won’t puddle up and rot the wood away over time.  I carefully sculpted each pylon to a nice soft edge and once the concrete got firmer I placed my 4” metal pylon brackets in.  I made sure each bracket was level before moving onto the next.
Leveled out the dirt with a slight natural grade and raked the dirt to an even finish.
Freshly packed dirt.  Still had to go back to fill in a couple of areas and pack them down.  
Dug the 2' Deep holes for the pylons.
Leveled out the pylon tubes and inserted the gravel and prepared them for concrete. 
Another shot of the tubes ready for concrete.
Concrete is added and the metal brackets are in place.  Just waiting for the concrete to dry for 24 hours before using them.
  After 24 hours of curing time with the concrete, I moved onto laying down some heavy weed cloth.  I made sure the ground was clean of any roots and debris and laid down about 400’ of heavy weed control cloth.  Rachel and I then moved onto cutting the wood for the legs of the deck.  I bought 12’ long pieces of 4”x4” pressure treated wood.  We measured out the overall height of the deck including the decking and cut the legs to length.  We constantly made sure the legs were level and in square.  I constantly had to cross check everything because the ground had a natural grade to it so the legs looked like they sloped up as the ground sloped down.  It looked wonky for a few days but then it came to look right.  Lol.
Heavy weed cloth was laid down and holes for the metal brackets were cut to allow for them to come through. 
Got all of the 4"x 4" wood cut and screwed into the brackets.  As you can see it doesn't look level but that is because of the natural grade of the ground vs the deck level.  
 Once the legs were screwed into the metal brackets that had been embedded into the concrete pylons, I started work on the decking frame.  I built the frame out of 2”x 8” pressure treated wood and bought 12’ sections at a time.  This cut down on price, but man were these heavy.  I cut each piece according to the dimensions and attached it using 3.5” exterior decking screws.  Once the exterior frame was made I continued to connect each section doing a grid pattern.  I knew before I started this, which ways I wanted my decking to run so I made sure that the joists were spaced evenly and crossing each board making them structurally sound.  Once all the joists and cross beams were securely screwed in I started building up the bottom lip of the deck.  Because the deck was level and the ground wasn’t I needed to make sure that the bottom of the deck would be sealed from any dirt and possible cave-in situations.  I cut extra boards (the same I used for the framing) and screwed that into the base of the deck adding a backing to the inside of the deck.  Once that was complete we (my friend Brian helped from this point on) filled in the boarder with dirt and packed that down.  Once the dirt was packed and was checked for caving in issues, we moved onto cutting the decking. 
Getting the frame made.
The frame is almost done a few days later.  Had to go pick up a few more boards to fill in some areas.  
Another angle before I picked up more wood.
  I decided to go with the standard pressure treated wood decking.  I knew I wanted to stain the deck so I wanted to make sure it was natural wood so I would see that beautiful warm wood color.  I bought 2.5” tan decking screws for the top and these bad boys were fantastic. Brian and I decided we wanted an “organic” pattern to the deck and didn’t want a traditional repetitive staggering of the wood.  Not only would this make it easier to just cut and screw but also it gave it a much more natural and interesting look to the project.  He cut the boards and staggered them as I followed behind screwing in each board.  It was nice that any smaller pieces we could use to connect a few joists together and give a more organic look.  We made sure each board had a start and finish on a joist and would share that joist with a new board.  We didn’t want any “floating” sections to break over the years.
Test fitting some boards and getting the overall look we were going for.
Screwing down the boards one at a time.  Trying to keep up with Brian.
Decking is all complete and needs to be trimmed.  
  Once all the decking was attached we marked out the angles and left a little bit of overhang (about 2”) for aesthetic reasons.  We marked out cutting line using a chalk line and with a circular saw cut the excess wood off the sides.  I will say it was at this point that the deck started to look pretty professional.  I was actually surprised.  LolOnce the decking was all cut and finished we moved onto landscaping.  I knew ahead of time what I was wanting as far as plants went.  Since this deck was “ground level” it wasn’t going to have a railing however I did want to make a nice “railing” around it using some shrubs.  I bought a few Podocarpus plants because they are very easy to trim into any shape and they will end up growing into each other creating a wall-like shrub.  I then bought a few Leyland cypress trees that were planted around the corners of the deck.  I will keep these “trees” within 6’ tall by trimming them.  We threw some red mulch down and embedded a 12’ 4”x 4” pressure treated pole and cemented that into the ground at the end of the deck.  This pole is for the support of the string lights that were next on the list. 
Finished cutting the sides of the deck off and started to lay out the landscaping.
Finished getting the landscaping done and the furniture on the patio.
Another angle.  Sorry it's a bit dark.  We worked hard into the night.  

   Once the landscaping and the pole were in place I needed to wire the string lights up.  I bought some of the new “commercial” string lights Lowes started to carry.  They were cheaper than ones online but were still more expensive than the consumer lights most stores sell, but will last a lot longer.  These string lights had a heavy-duty electrical cord and a nice rubber socket connected to rings to hang the lights. You can find the link for them here:

    I bought some 3/32 stainless steel wire with stainless connectors to use as my guide wires from the pole to the house.  I strung up 5 guidelines from the pole to points on the house.  I made sure these were nice and taught before hanging the lights.  I used black zip ties to hang the lights to the guidelines.  This gave me the ability to move and shift the lines once up if I needed to space them out.  Once the lights were hung I needed to move an outlet from the house exterior wall to the pole.  I should have done this before adding the decking, however, it wasn’t that much of an issue.  I used exterior rubber conduit and exterior waterproof boxes for the electrical.  I ran the wires from the exterior outlet under the deck and to the pole.  I wired up a wall outlet using a half-hot method.  I wanted the lights to be on a dimmer because with 5 strands of lights they can get a bit bright.  I wired the bottom outlet to be used only with the wall dimmer while the top outlet would always be on.  I wired everything up and gave it a test.  It worked beautifully.  This video helped me a lot when wiring a half-hot outlet:

Got the dirt and the sod cleared and the lights wired.  Isn't it so pretty? =)

   Once the deck was finished and the lights were up we added our patio furniture and the grill and called her done.  I am so excited to have this build completed.  We finished the deck on January 8, 2017 totaling a 20-day build, not counting my days working Grinchmas at Universal.  So overall I am very happy with the results.  I still have to stain the deck but must wait a few months for the chemicals and moisture to evaporate from the wood.  I think we are going to go with a redwood/ cedar wood color for the final stain.