Monday, May 12, 2014

Our Musical Inspiration

Before I can post anything about each room in our house, I need to share a special detail about our house that I will be mentioning in all of the posts.

Since the very beginning of the house building process, I've had my mind on the interior design. It's a fun and creative, but it also is a concrete activity that can kept my mind occupied whenever we had trouble before and during construction.

Even though it was a fun distraction, it wasn't always distracting in a good way because there are so many choices out there, and I didn't know where to start. It got to be a little overwhelming trying to make decisions. 

But Chris solved the problem one night last summer. We were still living in Suffolk, and I was talking to Chris about colors for the living room - OK, it might have been more like whining or complaining about it. Regardless of what it was, at that time, a light bulb went off in Chris's head, and he asked, "Why don't we use our favorite albums to do the rooms?"

I adore my husband - the brilliant man. It was a perfect idea. He suggested we pick an album for each room we wanted to decorate and then use the album artwork to inspire the colors and decor. It would narrow down our choices, and it was a way to make the rooms very unique to us. It also guaranteed we picked color combinations we liked (cause we already love them on the albums).

We went through and picked an album for all of the rooms we knew we would be using a lot (the living room, for example), and we decided to keep the other rooms neutral for now (plain old linen white paint on the walls).

Now that all the rooms are painted, I'm so happy with how they turned out. It is a special way for us to make the work of decorating easier while also displaying our passion for music, which is one of the things that brought Chris and I together when we first met. 

So here is the list of rooms and the albums we picked for each. We made some bold choices, and I'm so glad we did. 

"Chase This Light" by Jimmy Eat World

"The Everglow" by Mae

"Bleed American" by Jimmy Eat World

"The Crane Wife" by the Decemberists

"Stay What You Are" by Saves the Day

"Deja Entendu" by Brand New

In each of the individual room posts, I'll talk more about the album choice and how it inspired us. And of course, I'll show off the semi-finished product (a lot of the rooms don't have furniture or accessories in them quite yet),

In closing, I highly suggest this technique for anyone who has no decorating experience or finds it overwhelming. It made the process if picking paint, furniture, decorations, etc., so much easier. Also, it made the house even more of a reflection of who we are and gave us the opportunity to choose things we love. Additionally, there was only one time that it was a problem, but you'll hear all about that soon enough. :)


Thursday, May 1, 2014

The level-headed office

Having an awesome office in our home has been a priority for us even before we decided to build our first home and we were still looking to buy. 
Since we first got married and moved in together, we have had a space in our home dedicated as an office, and we knew we wanted to continue the tradition in our first house.  
The Plan
The office has been in our house plan since since Day 1, but it had a different shape when we first designed it with the help of FIL.
Originally, the office was going to have two massive closets - one of each side of the door as you walked into the room - for comic book storage and a ledge near the ceiling running around the whole room where Chris could display his collectibles, like his Bowen Marvel busts (nerd alert - I know!)
However, early in the house design process, we decided to ditch the formal dining room (because we didn't want to knowingly add - and spend money on - a room in our house that we knew we would use once or twice a year), so the plan for the office changed. Although we don't want a formal dining room, we recognize other people might if we ever decide to sell our house. So we deleted the closets from the office and moved the comic book storage elsewhere in the house (this was an excellent decision - more to come when I cover the FROG). With the deletion of the closets, the office is now a simple room that gets some of the best light in the house, especially because it has a beautiful trio of windows at the front that faces the street. These windows just let the light pour into the room.Now, the office can act as a formal dining room if we ever sell or if we ever find ourselves in need of one.

The Office Under Construction

FIL working outside of the office windows

The Construction
The office has the distinction of being one of the rooms on the front of house. It might seem a little odd, but we didn't want the kitchen or living room in that location, so the office got placed there by default because that was the only choice - except the half bath - YIKES!
Throughout construction, rooms seem to fluctuate in size based on how complete they are - they can look bigger or smaller, squarer or rectangle-y-er (???). However, the office never seemed small to me. As soon as the guys started framing the house, the office has felt like a huge room. It's always remained consistent.
Additionally, unlike other rooms in our Big Blue House, the office has not been a problem child. It might be perhaps because my no drama husband has taken the lead on this room, but it most likely is because it just has required any special attention. It didn't require special wiring like the living room. There wasn't any tiling to worry about like in the kitchen and bathroom. It didn't have special architecture accents like the master bedroom and FROG. It's just a simple square room.
Additionally, the special details for the office aren't going to happen until after we've moved in. The ledge I mentioned before is still completed as a father/son project by FIL and Chris after we are in the house. There is also a plan for FIL to construct a desk and storage space in the office, but that will take place later also. So for now, it remains our level-headed square room.
But the office does have something eye-catching about it. It's at the front of the house and it greets you as you walk in, so like a well-mannered middle child looking to get Mom and Dad's attention with a new nose ring, the office got some funky paint.
We had a hard time picking an album as a theme for the office. Nothing popped out in our minds immediately when we thought about it. Finally, we sorted through our vinyl collection, and an album spoke to Chris: Jimmy Eat World "Chase Our Light." 
It fit both of our requirements for picking it as a room inspiration. I absolutely love his album; we both do and it has beautiful album art. But... well... I was still a little worried about picking it because it's a bit loud.

Am I right? A little loud? Still, Chris and I both really like it, and we agreed to pick one color from it and make it a statement piece in the room. So we picked the green that peeks through the feathers. We agreed it was a good choice and moved on.
I felt confident with the choice until the paint came. When I saw the small green paint spot on the can, it screamed out at me. And I got a little nervous. This room was going to be seriously green. Too green? As you'll see in later post, we picked a lot of bold colors through out the house, but this one really stood out - even among all if our colors. But I decided not to get too worked up about it because my mom raised me to know paint can always change (she also taught me to never buy full price paint, but that lesson went out the window with the album art idea).
Well, when the paint went in the walls, I was very pleasantly shocked. The paint is beautiful! Sure, it's bold (and everyone who sees it says the same thing, "Wow, that's really green!"), but we love it, and it looks amazing with the white trim and crown molding and with the dark flooring. It's also a very sunny room, and it makes for a very cherry atmosphere, which I love. I should know by now Jimmy Eat World won't let me down - even if interior decorating.

The boys installing the front windows

The office with the walls up (and a ton of duct work in it)

After the drywall was installed

The Final Product
The office has been the middle child of our home since day one if construction. It's easy-going and doesn't need constant attention to ensure it doesn't get unruly and act out. However, it did go trough a phase of self-modification that had us worried. But our level-headed office didn't let us down. It looks beautiful, and I think we are going to love using it (even it does become a dining room in the future).

Standing in the foyer looking to the office (and living room)

Looking to the front of the house from inside the office 

A panaromic shot of the (semi-)finished office

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Why I Haven't Written More Home Construction Posts

If I had to give myself a grade for my coverage of the construction of our home, it would be... um... a F! Without a doubt. 

I think I started off strong with quite a few posts, but I recognize (and I imagine you do too) I haven't written a post since our footer was dug in November - YIKES!

I hope it goes without saying that our house has greatly progressed since my last post. In fact, it's nearly done! We are scheduled to move next month, and we are extremely excited about it.

So, why was the silence so prolonged? Well, until recently, I hadn't thought much about why I wasn't updating GingerSnaps more often. I wrote it off with the excuse of being busy - I just hadn't gotten the chance to post; I just didn't have the time. But after a lot of thought, I know this isn't true.

The real reason I haven't made the time to post is deeper than not reorganizing my priorities.

From the beginning of the house building process, I have been told (by both others and myself) that it was going to be remarkably stressful. And while I recognized the stress building in me during the construction, I didn't realize how poorly I was managing that stress.

I thought I was pushing it out of my mind, but what I was really doing was neglecting, surpressing, and/or avoiding every aspect of the process that stressed me out.

Frequently, over the past couple of months, I avoided or curtailed conversations about the house when Chris brought them up. I would give vague, quick answers when a co-worker or friend asked me how the house was coming along. And I never updated GingerSnaps because it would mean I'd have to think about the stress and face it head-on.

Now, this is where the issue gets a little more complicated (tired of my excuse yet?). Writing has always been like therapy for me. I have alway found it extremely cathartic since I was younger (even before I was old enough to know what cathartic meant). 

I've always enjoyed pouring my stress and emotions out of myself onto paper in order to gain new perspective on the situation and take those thoughts back in (to fix, resolve, etc., any problems). Think of it like a blood transfusion. Taking out the bad and bringing in the good. In writing, I can sort thoughts out, and then organize them into little boxes, only to pack them back nearly into my mind again. Things are neater and clearer at the end of it all.

It would seem like writing would be the perfect outlet for the stress I was feeling, but there was a hold-up. Writing for this reason has one huge requirement: brutal honesty with both myself and my audience.

But that was the problem. I didn't feel like I could be honest. I've never written about such personal events in a public arena before now, so I felt hesitant about writing about what was going on, especially if there was bickering or any type of drama involved.

I think of myself as an open and honest person, but I forgot when I decided to write everything down for everyone to read I'm not the only person involved - there's Chris, his family (especially his dad), and my family. I foolishly never got everyone's OK up front to be as candid and honest as possible. Hindsight being 20/20, I should have identified my stakeholders up front and gotten the go ahead from everyone before ever starting posting to Ginger Snaps.  

So, because of that, every time I tried to write, it always seemed like there wasn't anything to say - at least anything interesting. I could have (and maybe should have) posted every milestone with little detail, but it might not have been very interesting (especially if I wasn't very passionate about it). Just think about all the drama they inject into those HGTV shows - if they didn't do that, every episode would be the same and boring. No one would watch.

If I did that, it seemed (at least to me) like I was wasting your time because it wouldn't be entertaining and my time because it wouldn't be therapeutic. I'm sorry if it's a silly excuse. Once again, in hindsight, a lot of you would have preferred some so-so updates rather than none at all. And I'm sorry for that too.

As with any endeavor, this effort needed good planning, and I definitely failed in that department. One more time: Sorry.

Going forward, as we move closer to our official move-in, I'm going to try to make it up to both you and myself. Over the next couple of weeks, I'm going to do a post for each of the rooms as well as the exterior of the house, giving a synopsis of all that went on (the drama even!) during the construction and sharing with you the amazing transformation from woods to dirt to a bunch of plywood to beautiful house in just a few months.

I hope you will enjoy it even though it's so late. And in the future, I'm going to always remember the complications and limitations I discussed here to ensure I never again cut off the most amazing and least expensive therapy ever, especially during one of the most stressful times in my life.

Finally, here's a picture of the house to hold you guys over: 

Thank you so much for your patience and support, and for reading!


Sunday, November 17, 2013

Building a good foundation...

So, good news! Things are moving at our property - most notably dirt! However - bad news - it seems like the weather is not on our side.
When we scheduled a time to do the footer,  it poured down rain all day - delaying the digging for a couple of days. The next week, the crew was able to dig the footer, but the next day, the forecast was SNOW FLURRIES! Really, Virginia weather? You pick the year we build a house to have an early winter? Thanks a lot!
That being said, after a couple of delays, the footer in finally in place. Chris stopped by the property on Friday and assured me the cement has been poured! Hooray! Who knew I'd be so thrilled about a hole in the ground filled with cement? It's the little things in life, I suppose.

The footer of the house before the cement was poured.
This is the first real construction milestone of our house building process, but it couldn't happen until we put down the batter boards first.
FIL, Chris, and Adam (one of FIL's employees who was very sweet to help us during his weekend) went out to the property one Saturday to do this. I was unable to attend because I had an appointment, but after talking to Chris about what the process entailed, I'm sorry I missed the bulk of it.
Essentially, the batter boards are put down as a guide the footer crew to use to know where the house needs to sit. The process is done with wooden boards and string - a lot of string. Oh, there is one more very important ingredient - great geometry skills.
Now, it should be said, I hate geometry. It was the only math I didn't enjoy in high school, and it was the only math in which I didn't do well. My disdain for geometry only increased while I studied for the GRE. My study guides had piles and piles of geometry in them, much to my chagrin. I recall saying to my mother, "Why are they testing us on this? It's not like you ever use geometry in real life." To which my mother said (and this will make perfect sense if you've met my mother), "Actually, Em, geometry is probably the most commonly used math in every day life - just think about the work Mr. Collins does."
And as usual, my mother's words haunt me by not only coming true (she is always right) but doing so in exactly the way she cited in her example. Darn you, geometry! You win this one!
So, FIL worked tirelessly during the morning hours by tapping into the amazing math skills in his head and measuring and remeasuring to lay out every corner of our future home perfectly.

FIL, right, and Adam walk through the area where our house will sit eventually (taken from the right corner of the future house - look closely to see the intersection of a white string and a pink string in the bottom left).
As FIL measured, Chris and Adam hammered wooden boards into the ground in various locations (based on FIL's measurements, obviously), and then, they hammered nails into those boards. From there, they took string from one set of boards and strung it to another set to line up with each side of the house.  And of course, between all that, there was more measuring, some surveying, and even more measuring.
When I made it to the property after my appointment, there was a jungle of white and pink string all over the property. To an untrained eye, it looked random, but to FIL, it was methodical and harmonious. It was awesome to see him work out all of it in his head and get all those measurements perfectly aligned. He knows exactly what it's supposed to look like (not to mention he can picture the final product in his mind better than any of us), and while we stood around waiting for the word to do something, his wheels were turning to make sure it was perfect. 
The final result still didn't make much sense to me, even after an elaborate explanation from FIL, but it made the house even more real for me. For the first time, we could see where our house would sit, and we got a feel for its size and shape. It was pretty exciting.

Chris holds a yard stick while FIL surveys the grade of the land to ensure the foundation is level.
Days after, FIL, Adam, and Chris finished the batter boards, the foundation crew came to do the footer. We are fortunate the crew doing our footer is working another job on our street, so they are never far away. Neither Chris nor I were present for the digging or the pouring of the footer, but FIL was there to oversee the work. This was one of those times I really appreciated having a family member overseeing the work. It's comforting to know we have someone on our side (so to speak) there to witness the construction. Thank goodness - everything seemed to go just fine.

The view of the construction from the right corner of the house.
Next up is the block work - the actual foundation. It should start this week and be done in a couple of days. Fingers crossed for good weather! I will be sure to update you here. Until then, thank goodness for geometry and FILs who are much better at it than I am!


Thursday, October 24, 2013


Ladies and gentlemen: The trees are down! That’s right – they’re gone, no more, deceased, done. I’ve never been quite so excited about trees being destroyed as I was when I drove past the cleared property for the first time.
In the span of a day and a half, the tree crew came in and turned a heavily wooded piece of land into a clear space on which to build our dream home.

View of the front right corner of future home.

The land clearing didn’t go completely to plan. We were hoping to keep a good amount of trees in the front yard, but many of the ones we wanted to keep were in the way of the construction vehicles and would be in the way the whole time we built – the tree crew figured this out the hard way while trying to navigate gingerly around our keeper trees. 
Secondly, there were concerns about the health of some of the trees. When paired with close proximity to our future home, unhealthy trees just have to go.

View of the front of our future home.
When Chris and I first visited the property after the trees came down, I admittedly was a little disappointed because I felt too many trees had come down. It doesn't look bad, but it definitely didn’t look the way I had envisioned.
It’s strange; originally, I was concerned about too many trees being taken down because when we walked the property to identify the trees we wanted to keep, I was avid about taking out any trees that were close to the house (I’m not trying to have a big ole tree crash through my newly built house during a hurricane).
But after all that, I still didn’t imagine the land would look like it had a lack of coverage once all the trees were taken down. We called father-in-law (FIL) to ask him about the trees. He told us about the two points I mentioned above, but when they didn’t comfort me, he said he’d come out to walk it with us and explain the plan (for the millionth time) to help us see what he sees when he looks at a clear piece of land.
A couple of Saturdays ago, FIL took Chris and I to the property and we walked it with measuring tape to figure out where everything would be placed.

Chris with his dad, standing on the future spot of our driveway.
Because there are more trees gone than expected, we agreed to move the house over 30 feet in order to give us more breathing room next to our neighbors.
But other than that, we saw the light when FIL walked the land with us. He forced us to use our imaginations, and we realized the numbers of trees taken down was a blessing and was for the best.
Our house will be better protected from having anything fall on it, but it also means it will be more exposed to the sun. This might sound like it could be a negative, but it means our house will dry sufficiently after rains (no moldy siding) and we’ll have a great amount of natural light (and warmth) coming into our home.
Additionally, we still have plenty of trees behind what will become our backyard, so we will still have nice shade (when we need it).

View of the side of our future home and what will become the backyard.
At first, I thought we would regret how many trees came down, but with a little help and imagination, I think a misstep turned out for the best.
But the best part about the trees coming down is that it was the first step in the construction. Unfortunately, it happened right before our area experienced a week of nothing but rain and clouds.
For the past week and some change, we’ve been waiting for the (exceptionally saturated) ground to dry enough to complete the next step – getting dirt down - so we can move forward with digging the footer. FIL assured me this is always the hardest (and most arduous) part of construction.
So, we are back to waiting, but now, it’s for the weather, not the county. I’m not sure which is better, but neither seems to have a sense of urgency or cares that we are on a schedule. Hmm, I’m still thinking weather is more reasonable. 


Sunday, September 22, 2013

Digging a hole...

There has not been much actual movement on the house building front for the past couple of weeks. We have encountered the ultimate adversary for home building - the government. Insert the dramatic, menacing music here.
We have found out (the hard way it would seem) that York County is quite difficult when it comes to home building. My father-in-law (FIL) has built houses in Virginia Beach, Portsmouth, Norfolk, and Suffolk, and he said he's never encountered the hoops through which York County is having him jump.
We are moving closer to actual construction every day, but there has been little things to get done here and there that I never thought would matter. For example, a tree inspection has to come to the property to approve the trees we want to take down. I have to ask - what is he inspecting?
I'm figuring he is looking to ensure runoff isn't affected, but it seems so strange that they wouldn't require this before we bought the land. It makes me nervous that he might find an endangered tree in the middle of the property, and we'll have to build our house around it. Now, that's green living!
Although we are experiencing some set-backs, everything is moving forward, so we're ready when construction begins. The tree, foundation, and framing guys are already lined up. We just need the construction to start.
We did get a little bit of action on the property (an unofficial groundbreaking) last week when Chris, FIL, and I had to dig a ditch for a drainage pipe at the front of the property.
When we arrived at the property (after FIL), I expected to see a big piece of machinery there to help dig this 24-foot-wide, 16-inch-deep ditch, but to my chagrin, there was just my poor FIL, a spade, and a grubbing mattock.
When we got out of the truck, we realized FIL had arrived much earlier than we planned, and he had been digging (and making a ton of progress) for quite a long time.
I asked him if there was some kind of machine we could use to dig it, and he told me, "Sure, it's right here - it's called the Collins." He smiled and handed Chris and I shovels.

Chris getting his hands dirty!

FIL had broken up most of the ditch before we arrived, and he lamented that the ground was tough clay. We got to work cleaning out monstrous mounds of clay from the ditch with our shovels.
Just to note, for the past couple of months, I have been working out my hands, wrists, and arms to ensure I wouldn't be useless in the construction, but I think I need to work a little harder.
I definitely felt out of my element doing manual labor. I don't think it's a secret that I'm not very handy, but I underestimated how much power it takes to heave dirt out of a hole.
So, I pulled up my big girl pants and got to work. After we cleared the ditch, we put the drainage pipe in it, just to realize it needed to be deeper.
And we got back in there and cleared it out more. Eventually, we (meaning my expert FIL) were content with the depth and pushed the pipe into the ditch.

The finished product!

It only took a couple of hours, but it felt great to finally get something done on the land. Also, while it seems like such a small piece of the monumental task in front of us, this is the ditch that will sit underneath our driveway.
I thought as we finished our job how amazing it is to think every time I drive onto my property I can remember I helped dig that ditch. I have not had many opportunities in life to make something for myself, but after our work on the property, I realized it is an awesome feeling.
It solidified the feeling in me that building our first home is a great decision. We are going to live in something that we designed and help create. It's a feeling that so few people have, and I'm thrilled I get to be one of them.

I promise we were working hard - this was just a tiny break.

Thursday, August 29, 2013


I know, I know, I know. It's been months since my last post - please forgive me, but there wasn't much to write about. The land was hosed up, but now, we are back on track! Hooray!

It finally happened – we closed on a piece of land. No, it wasn’t the piece of land we originally picked out – the status of that land is still in limbo – but it seems it’s really true what they say about things happening for a reason because we got a better piece of land.
I haven't written much about the struggle with the original piece on here, mostly because I was so unsure of what was really going on, but for the past four months, we have been stuck in no man's land with that land. Lots of waiting, lots of unknowns, lots of worrying - the usual.
But last week, we finally closed on a piece of land, and we can start the official home building process! 
Chris and my father-in-law (FIL) walk the land where our house will sit (eventually).
When Chris told me, I continued to verify what he had said for an hour or so afterward because it just doesn’t feel real. Because of the lengthy waiting process we had with the original piece of land.
It was February when we agreed to build instead of buy, and we found a piece of land a couple of days later. We thought we would have a house built by the end of August, but then, things got tangled up. For the past six months, we’ve been up and down and all around with the original piece of land in the Grafton area of York County.
When we put a bid on the land in early March, the sellers quickly accepted – we thought we’d be digging the footer any day, but soon, the problems began.
Problems finding the original title… then problems finding heirs to the land and getting them to sign off. Days went by, and we wouldn’t hear anything. Then before we knew it, it was July.
We were told not to worry, but that wasn’t easy. Our lease was marked to end August 31, and it was fast approaching. 
Fortunately, we are blessed to have family in the area, and my parents, who live in Newport News, offered their home to us until ours is built. But still, I was always nervous we would leave on condo in Suffolk and move into my parents’ house without the promise of land.
My father-in-law (as you remember is building our house) wasn't worried for most of the waiting period, but in the middle of July, he told us we needed to find a new piece of land.
We looked all over the Peninsula and even up in Williamsburg, but we did not fall in love with anything. And to tell the truth, one of those pieces was the one on which we closed and will build our home.
Originally, we looked at a different piece on the same road (there are a few lots for sale... all different sizes), and I remember saying I didn't love it - giving it a 6 out of 10. Chris on the other hand liked it quite a bit, but being the wonderful man he is, he told me we wouldn't bid on it if I didn't love it.
But a few days after the original visit, I drove to the lot with my mother, and it was like I was looking at it with different eyes.
Maybe the first time I was hungry or nauseated... or just grumpy. Whatever it was, it passed because I fell hard for the lot. (It helped that I figured out the neighborhood backs up to a usable service entrance to Newport News Park, where I can run and walk Ariel).
So, I returned home, and admitted my oversight and fickleness to Chris, and we decided to go for it. Unfortunately, that process also wasn't easy. 
The original piece we wanted was too high in price, so we looked at a second one. 
That one was too oddly shaped, so onto a third.
This one was just right - right size (1 acre), right price (the same as the other piece we were looking to buy), right location (the northern part of York County - great schools, close proximity to Yorktown Beach, Newport News, the Route 17 shopping corridor, and the highway). Very Goldilocks, I know!
So, we put a bid in and waited some more. 
As we waited, we packed up our condo in Suffolk, and we planned our move to Newport News - still uncertain about where we would build. Still uncertain about how long our stuff would need to be stored. (God bless my parents for taking us in without a firm end date)

This is Ariel's idea of "helping" us move.
But then, to paraphrase Jiminy Cricket, like a bolt out of the blue, fate stepped in to see us through. I suppose the Blue Fairy was on our side because the day before we moved out of our condo, we received word the land was ours.
We are thrilled with the plot! The drive from this lot is is a little farther to work for me (and a little closer for Chris) than the other piece, but it’s a nicer location – quieter, friendlier, more private. It’s on a small road that dead-ends about a half mile from where our house will be built, and the neighborhood around it is very private and removed from traffic.
So, now, we are moving forward with as much steam as we can. This week, the trees will start coming down (the incredible abundance of trees on this land is a small downfall, but we think it’s worth it), and in just a few weeks, we should be starting the footer.

Chris and my FIL measuring the land.
We couldn't be more thrilled to be starting the house finally. I’ve already starting taking pictures (which aren’t very eventful so far), and I will be sure to update as much as possible on the progress.