Traveling with a dog: Tips for a great vacation for everyone

Over the past two years, we have done quite a bit of traveling with a dog. During the pandemic, even when restrictions were lifted, dog sitter options were quite limited. Understandably so, people did not want people or animals coming in and out of their homes. Our dog enjoys car rides, is friendly, and under fifty pounds (most of the time), which provides her the opportunity to stay in many dog-friendly places. Due to her breed, an English Bulldog, our traveling consists of road trips.

Traveling with your dog is a great opportunity for you to see the world around you, while also providing some adventure for your furry canine. Keep scrolling to learn the top five tips to successfully travel with a dog.

It all comes down to planning when traveling with a dog.

  • Destination selection
  • Accomodations
  • Itinerary
  • Packing

Planning is the most important step when traveling with a dog. This consists of hotel selection, daily agendas, dining options, and dog-friendly attractions or parks. If you are traveling with your dog; seek out opportunities to bring your dog along. Effective planning will lead to a successful vacation for both you and your dog.

Destination Selection

When traveling with a dog, some cities and climates are better for that experience. We use the following criteria when determining if we should bring our dog:

  • Are there dog-friendly hotels with no extra pet fees? How close are green areas to the hotel?
  • What do we want to see in the city? Are they dog-friendly? If not, how long would we be away from the hotel?
  • How many restaurants in the area are dog-friendly?
  • Distance from our home. What level of confidence do we have that our dog would enjoy the ride?
  • Weather. Will it be enjoyable to do outdoor activities with our dog?

If we have concerns over any of the criteria, we either stay home or go somewhere else. When traveling without our dog, we use They have options for someone to stay at your home or for your dog to stay at their location. All sitters are background-checked. I always recommend a meet and greet prior to booking with a sitter. This allows you and the sitter to determine if your dog is a match for them. For international travel, we typically like someone to stay at our home. If traveling domestically for a shorter period of time, our dog goes to their home.

Accomodations Selection

Seek out dog-friendly hotels or other accommodations when traveling with a dog. Several Marriott brand properties, such as Residence Inn and Courtyard will allow dogs, however, they commonly charge a ~$150 dog cleaning fee. Fees may vary slightly by the hotel and can be hefty, however, if staying for an extended period of time, the one-time cleaning fee is more palatable than if staying for two nights. One fee-free dog-friendly property within Marriott is A Loft.

The volume of A Loft properties in the United States is significant. A Loft is uber dog-friendly. Many locations allow you to borrow dog beds, provide dog bowls and even provide a welcome treat. Make sure to call ahead to determine what dog amenities your particular location offers. Make sure to review BringFido’s expensive list of dog-friendly hotels.

When selecting a hotel, determine the distance from the hotel to the nearest grassy area. Call the hotel and ask or look up the location on google maps. Many of the dog-friendly hotels we’ve used had green areas within a block. New Orleans was the exception. The closest green area near A Loft was five blocks. You really had to search for green areas in that city.


When traveling with a dog, there will be places where they are welcome and places where they are not. Planning the balance between those two scenarios can be challenging. We use yelp to plan one lunch or dinner each day at a dog-friendly location. Finding dog-friendly restaurants is much easier when visiting a warm-weather climate. When bringing your dog along for a meal, always bring a water bowl and bottle of water for your dog.

Your itinerary should include rest time for your dog. Several times during trips, our dog would stay in the hotel room while we visited museums or had a nicer meal out.

Plan for the time at dog-friendly parks, forest preserves or nature walks. This will allow your dog to get out and stretch their legs in a more significant manner.


Just as you pack necessities for yourself, spend adequate time packing for your dog. I’ve linked several necessities that you can grab on Amazon. As an Amazon affiliate, I earn small commissions when purchases are made from these links.

We bring the following items along with us when traveling with a dog
  • Crate: Even if your dog does not stay in the crate at your home when staying in a hotel or location with housekeeping, bring the crate. With individuals potentially entering your room, you do not want your dog to get scared or cause frustration to the hotel staff.
  • Leash: Always keep your dog on the leash when exploring outside the hotel room.
  • Blanket: Keep this in their crate for comfort and the smell of your and home.
  • Towel: You never know when your dog will step into a puddle. To be prepared, bring a dog towel to clean off their feet when you get back to your hotel room. Hotel comforters are commonly white and muddy paw prints are highly visible!
  • Dog food, bowls, and treats: Unless all the hotels along your trip provide bowls, bring them with you. If we are staying at multiple hotels, I divide the dog food into multiple large ziplock bags. That allows me to take in only what I need versus food for the entire trip to each hotel. If you would like to make your own dog treats, click here to review a recipe on our blog!
  • Poo bags: Lots and lots of poo bags. Always have extra with you.
  • Toys: Pack a few toys to make the hotel feel more like home.
  • Bottled water and a gallon of water: Bring a case of bottled water with you. Take this with you to restaurants or any other outings with your dog. Use the gallon of water for drink breaks while traveling in the car.
  • Dog trainer: Our dog is friendly and well-behaved, but we always bring her dog trainer with us. This collar allows you to give your dog signals about its behavior. You can use a beeping noise, vibration, or shock. Our dog responds to the beep. Use the dog trainer prior to leaving. If they jump, tell them no and use the trainer at the same time. Again, the shock button should be rarely used.

Enjoy traveling with your dog! Please share your own tips in the comments sections.


Emily M

Celebrating Mother’s Day Isn’t Easy for Everyone

Mother’s Day in the United States is right around the corner and for so many, this is a wonderful day of celebration. Deservedly so, Mother’s do so much for their families and it is wonderful a day is set aside to stop and reflect on their contributions. While I am talking about Mother’s Day in this post, there might be other holidays or events that trigger emotions for you.

For others, celebrating Mother’s Day is a reminder of the desire to be a Mother but perhaps they haven’t found the right partner, have not able to conceive or carry to term, or lost their Mother. In the past, this day has been difficult for me, due to experiencing four recurrent miscarriages and so badly wanting to become a Mother. The one highlight was always being able to celebrate my Mother. This year will be entirely different. After a long battle with cancer, my mother passed away in December. This will be my first Mother’s Day without her.

Celebrating Mother's Day

I used to be the person to put on a smile, attend the planned Mother’s Day activities, and internalize all the sadness. While I wholeheartedly feel that Mother’s Day should be a celebration, it does not mean that I must always partake in all activities. There are several things I have done through the years to help find a balance between celebrating Mother’s Day while preserving my own mental health.

Celebrating Mother's Day

Send Mother’s Day Cards in Advance

Sending a Mother’s Day card to those special moms in your life, whether it is your mom, sister, mother in law or friend, show them how much you care about them and what they have done for you and/or their families. Do this a week or two in advance.

When doing this in advance allows you to celebrate those women, but also eliminates a need for you to participate in the day of celebration. These individuals in your life, are probably keenly aware of the difficulty this day brings you.

Stay off Social Media on Mother’s Day

If you are an avid social media viewer or contributor, I encourage you to stay off social media on Mother’s Day. Your feed will be filled with Mother’s Day posts. You may even want to make a post yourself, but for the love of everything, do not scroll, watch stories, or get pulled into commenting on posts.

Social media, while entertaining, is an environment primarily geared towards “it’s a wonderful life”. You will see photos enhanced with the best lighting and posed scenes accompanied by the obligatory “Happy Mother’s Day” text. This may start to cause feelings of sadness or comparison to only see “it’s a wonderful life”. One of the Instagram influencers I follow, Tinx, says it perfectly “Comparison is the thief of joy”.

Plan an Outing for the Day

The outing may differ based on your situation and particular feelings for the day. You may also be aware of any triggers you might have, do your best to avoid those on that particular day. I enjoy going to church, but I know the sermon will always be about celebrating Mother’s Day, and each year I have always left in tears. Going to church on Mother’s Day is a trigger for me. Other ideas for outings include:

  • Plan an outdoor activity: A round of golf, walk through the Forrest preserve, take a bike ride, go on a hike
  • Visit an establishment: Check out your local brewery or distillery, treat yourself to a shopping trip,
  • Pay tribute: Visit your Mother’s resting place
  • Visit loved ones: If a large family celebration is a trigger for you, then plan for a small visit with your Mother or other loved one.
  • Be one with thyself: For us introverts, one of the most relaxing things that can be taken out and Netflix. For others, this might cause you to stew in your own thoughts. Again, plan an outing based on your situation and feelings.

Vocalize your Feelings when celebrating Mother’s Day

If you are in a situation where you live with a spouse or significant other, and celebrating Mother’s Day is a difficult day for you, vocalize that in advance. Let them know why the day is difficult, how you feel, and things, and make the day manageable for you.

Waking up in the morning in a sour mood without forewarning will not lead to a desirable day between you and your spouse or significant other. Prior to the day, let them know how you feel and how you would like to spend the day. Your spouse or significant other might also have a very specific version of how he or she would like to spend the day. Communicate and find common ground where you both feel supported and comfortable. While you may have faith that you will find peace in your situation or your situation may change, it is ok not to be ok all the time.

In conclusion, I appreciate the day to celebrate everyone who is a Mother and our Mother. Just like religious holidays, however, they do not need to be celebrated by all the time. Know your emotional limits, respect them and find a way to embrace the holiday in your own way. Give yourself permission to step out and take care of yourself.

Much love,

Emily M

You are a Strong Ass Woman: Loving yourself through recurrent miscarriage

My body and mind are numb as we drive to the hospital. Holding my husbands’ hand, we walk into the hospital, check-in, and are guided back to our room for the day. On the gurney lies blue hospital socks with little gripper bottoms and a light green gown. The nurse greets us, we sign the paperwork, and within the next thirty minutes, an IV is started, anesthesiology and the surgeon stopped by for pre-procedure reviews. Full of anxiety, despite medication to help me relax, my husband kisses me goodbye and I am wheeled down the hall and into a large, white, cold operating room. This has been my reality of recurrent miscarriage.

This exact situation happened not just once but four times within a two-and-a-half-year timeframe to us. I felt so ashamed and just utterly destroyed, each time we went through this. It took me a long time to feel worthy and loved again. Every day I miss being able to experience the late-night feedings and little league games that could have been with those four babies. This is the reality of recurrent miscarriage.

recurrent miscarriage

If you have been in this situation, let me remind you that you are not alone. There are, unfortunately, so many of us out there to support you. Miscarriage is not something that many post about on Facebook, rather it’s in those touching individual conversations when you realize “you’ve been through this too”. Once you open up yourself to share, others will feel comfortable too. You are not broken; the other women are not broken, we just have scars. We are strong ass women.

Our Story: Recurrent Miscarriage

recurrent miscarriage

I met my perfect match a little later in life and we married in April 2018. We had spent the past few years traveling the world while working through our infertility journey and we’re so excited to start our family. Our first miscarriage occurred a week before our honeymoon in Greece (August 2018)and the third occurred days before our trip to Israel and Turkey (January 2019). I was thrilled about a positive pregnancy test in August 2018. I kept the news to myself and put together a “you’re going to be a daddy” gift for my husband. It was such a special day and I was grateful that our journey to parenthood had finally started.

Too good to be true

Once you get that positive pregnancy test, my OB is the first call, to confirm the amazing news. They will typically check your HCG levels, progesterone, and some additional baseline blood tests are captured. My HCG levels were on track initially, but fast-forward to week seven, instead of going up by thousands, they were only increasing by 300 every three days. Everyone has their own HCG baseline and your doctor will tell you if you are on track or there is any cause for concern. In our case, there was a cause for concern.

An ultrasound took place the following day and my worst fear turned reality, no fetal pole. It was clear something was wrong when the ultrasound tech quickly wrapped up and told me I could get dressed. The next step included a quick walk over to the doctor’s office where he shared the news. There was a gestational sac and fetus but no heartbeat. We left the building in silence and I cried for what seemed like days. I was so ashamed that my body let our baby down, I felt completely responsible. It had to be something I did.

Preparing yourself for the miscarriage process

Miscarriage is painful, both physically and mentally. Many women silently suffer. According to the March of Dimes, it could be as much as 50% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage but only 10-15% diagnosed due to the woman even knowing she was pregnant. I had a D&C each time, mainly to capture the chromosomal information to better advise our next protocol. It is difficult to go to the hospital, knowing what is happening, and undergoing anesthesia. The process itself, however, is a day versus multiple days if you were to miscarry naturally at home. To learn more about a D&C versus natural miscarriage, please check out my recent post. Each hospital or procedure location has a different process.

A D&C Procedure

Three days later my husband took me to the hospital for a D&C procedure. Thankfully, a nurse called me in advance and walked me through what would happen. She warned me about two particular questions they would ask, “what would you like to do with the remains” and “would you like a chaplain present”? She walked me through common options for both scenarios. I was so grateful for the opportunity to prepare for those difficult questions.

I held back the tears until I was wheeled back to the operating room. In my mind I was screaming, “This can’t be happening. We just need to double-check”. With tears streaming down my face, the last thing I remember was a nurse holding my hand and telling me that I’ll be ok. Thank god for nurses. I needed someone else to be strong for me at that moment.

The D&C procedure timeline: What to Expect.
  1. Fast (no food or drink) for 12 hours prior to the procedure.
  2. Arrive at the hospital 90 minutes prior to the procedure time.
  3. Once in your room, you will change into a hospital gown and will be visited by a variety of people. An IV line is started and the Anesthesiologist and surgeon will stop by to review the final questions.
  4. You will be rolled back on the gurney to the operating room.
  5. The nurses will get you situated in the operating room and the anesthesiologist will start medications.
  6. The procedure times will vary. From room to room; estimate 90 minutes.
  7. Once you come out of anesthesia, you may feel cramping or an extreme urge to use the washroom.
  8. The observation will last an hour. A snack is provided during recovery.
  9. At home, plan on resting for the remainder of the day. You will be able to resume relatively normal activity the next day, but make sure you minimize long walks or running until your doctor gives the ok. Cramping, the uterus contracting to transition back to size, can be painful. Tylenol will help.

It will be a rough day, you might be angry and sad. Recurrent miscarriage is difficult, painful, and stressful. You will get through the day and you will pick yourself back up because you are a Strong Ass Woman!

Off to the Infertility Doctor

Due to my age, my OB referred me to an Infertility specialist at our local hospital. I know that God had a plan for my husband and me. It is just so incredibly hard to keep faith in the plan. After the August 2018 miscarriage, I had another in January 2019, the third in July 2019, and the fourth in March 2020. Each miscarriage took a piece of me, however, having regular appointments with an action plan provided relief.

Specialist after Specialist

Over the next two years, we tried various treatment protocols and I saw multiple doctors. I became a human pin cushion and truly had every infertility test imaginable. I transitioned to another specialist after my first infertility doctor retired. The doctor was very knowledgeable, however, the support team did not meet my expectations. My expectations are; return phone calls, answer insurance questions, and communicate timing with adequate notice. After wasting six months trying to corral the nurses, I opened up to someone I barely knew at the time. It turned out her journey wasn’t the easiest either. She is a huge support for me. I am grateful for her referral to yet another doctor. Many times, when you feel things crumbling, reach out. There are other women who have been there and are willing to help. Recurrent miscarriage or other reasons for infertility should not take control of you. Thank god for strong ass women always picking each other up.

recurrent miscarriage, shots
Light at the end of the tunnel

This new doctor was direct and was determined to get this process moving for us. One positive thing in our scenario is that we are able to get pregnant ourselves, the problem is staying pregnant. After additional tests, we finally had a possible cause for recurrent miscarriage; I have a blood clotting autoimmune disorder and thyroid elevations. I felt in control. We finally had an answer and a protocol designed to help. We tried two rounds of the protocol, complete with an increased amount of vitamin supplements, medications, and daily shots to help control my blood clotting disorder. I had a black and blue stomach for about six months. Not taking into consideration black and blue arms from weekly blood testing. Before starting this protocol we had just experienced miscarriage #3 and daily shots and weekly blood didn’t phase me anymore.

The first time trying the protocol resulted in miscarriage, but we decided to try one more round. Our doctor was direct, IVF, although not as effective in our situation but surrogacy should be on our radar. We moved forward with another round of the existing protocol. The protocol worked! I don’t know how this pregnancy will end, but we are already in our third trimester. Surrounding IVF, the only variable this eliminated was chromosomal abnormalities. The benefit allowed the strongest embryo to be selected, although this did not solve the problem of sustaining a pregnancy. This route could easily end with another recurrent miscarriage and significant expense.

Preparing for IVF when not covered by Insurance

The hard truth about IVF is that it is incredibly expensive and hard on the body, but let’s be honest, I’d already been giving myself daily shots and a variety of other medicines. We ended up sustaining a pregnancy and did not have to follow this process, but we were within a week of pulling the trigger. If your insurance does not cover IVF, you have options.

IVF Financial Support options:
Recurrent miscarriage, IVF support
  • Military service: Do you or your partner have any prior military service? Our provider offered a significant discount for veterans or active military.
  • Marketplace: Many people think the insurance marketplace is only for people who do not have insurance or need the support of Medicaid or Medicare. That is not the case. Through Obamacare, we found plans, in the private market that covered a large portion of IVF.
  • Grants: There are several resources online that offer financial support for IVF if you meet certain criteria. Fertility Within Reach is a great site that educates on available grants for Infertility and Adoption.
  • Experimental trials: Ask your doctor if they are aware of any trials in your area where you might be a candidate.

Thankfully my husband served our country and we were eligible to receive a generous veterans discount. We planned to pair the military discount with a private insurance plan from the marketplace. The marketplace plan we looked at was around $450 a month. It covered a majority of the costs associated with the retrieval and implantation procedures, and about 50% of the $7,000 in medicine per cycle. Be mindful that marketplace plans differ by state, and not all states cover IVF. In Illinois, as of 2020, some plans did.

Loving yourself through it all

Miscarriage and recurrent miscarriage may be one of the most difficult scenarios you will encounter. After the first and second miscarriages, I felt lost. I was letting down my husband and was struggling with the realization we may never have the family we desired. Through the following tactics, I was able to develop trust in my body, control my mind and realize it was not my fault. I am not a psychologist, therapist, or academically trained for this topic, however, I have significant experience.

Recommendations to support you through the process:
  • Talk to your partner/spouse. Be open and transparent with how you are feeling. You both experienced the loss. Share with your partner what you need from them to heal and ask what you can do to help them.
  • Support at the hospital. Prior to leaving the hospital after a D&C procedure, you can ask to see a support professional. Hospitals will have a person on call who will be able to speak with you then or schedule a time to connect.
  • Seek professional counseling or group support. My local hospital offers a support group for miscarriage, recurrent miscarriage, and infant loss. Ask your nurse or OB about groups in your area. What to Expect and Facebook also have groups dedicated to miscarriage.
  • Focus on the plan. Find a specialist in your area and book an appointment immediately, if you plan on continuing your journey to motherhood. Your specialist will run tests, review results from “products of conception” if you selected that option, and recommend a plan. Ask questions and advocate for yourself if you feel that either the plan is too aggressive or not aggressive enough. If you do not feel the support or plan is sufficient, get a second opinion.
  • Surround yourself with strong women. The first few months after miscarriage it is incredibly difficult to interact with individuals who do not understand. I wholeheartedly understand the frustrated feelings when someone says “enjoy the journey” or “your time will come”. I also understand when your neighbor, friend, and past acquaintances all post-pregnancy announcements on social media right after your miscarriage. Those situations can be very difficult. Whether it is through Facebook groups, or by talking to women who have been there, wrap yourself up in their arms. In time, you will find your way back to being that supportive neighbor and friend and will look forward to celebrating their bundle of joy with them. In the interim, give yourself some grace.

Miscarriage does not define you

Whatever your outcome, I can guarantee that you will feel comfortable knowing you gave it everything you had. I told my husband that five miscarriages were my ending point, and at that time I would feel like I truly gave it everything I possibly could. Through this entire process, I truly realized that I am stronger than I thought possible. You are too. This will always be part of your story, but it does not define you. Why? Because you are a Strong Ass Woman!

Much love!

Emily M

Dog Approved Pumpkin Treats using Brewing Grains

We have now transitioned to Pumpkin Dog treats! I have created a monster, my dog now just begs and begs for homemade dog treats. Her desire is my command, plus my husband has been brewing more, so getting spent grain is pretty easy. Over the past two months, I have been baking her peanut butter treats and wanted to switch it up a bit. I had a lot of whole-grain flour left over, so decided to come up with a recipe eliminating the wheat flour. When buying wheat flour some of the companies add a whole lot more than wheat flour and for the pure wheat flour, the price tag goes up. Now the one downside of this recipe, although a cleaner option for your dog, is that the treats are more brittle. If you are used to the traditional Milk bones, these will have more of a grain look.

Pumpkin Dog Treats

Pumpkin Dog Treats

Serving Size:
1 cookie
3.5 hours


  • 1 1/2 cups Spend Grain Flour (see this post for how to make your own)
  • 5 cups Spent Grains (Fresh from the brew day. Make sure the gains do not contain hops)
  • 2 1/2 Tbls ground Flax Seed mixed with 6 Tbls water
  • 1 can (16 oz) Pure Pumpkin (Make sure the only ingredient is Pumpkin. I use Libby’s)


  1. Pre-heat your oven to 300 degrees.
  2. In a large bowl mix together the spent grain flour and spent grains.
  3. In a small bowl mix together the ground flax seed and water. Set aside for 5 minutes.
  4. Add the 1 can of pure pumpkin to the spent grain mixture. Mix well.
  5. Drizzle the flax seed and water mixture over the spent grains.
  6. You will now need to prepare the treats for the oven. I purchased paw and bone shaped cookie cutters from Amazon that work great.
  7. Place 1/2 of the spent grain mixture on your prepared surface. Using your hands, make a rectangle that is 1/4 inch thick. The thicker the longer they will need to cook. Using a knife to cut in squares of cookie cutters, cut out the treats.
  8. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the treats on the parchment paper.
  9. Bake at 300 degrees for 30 minutes.
  10. Decrease temperature to 170 degrees and bake another 2 hours. Baking time will vary based on size of treats. Large treats may take 3 hours. The treats are done when they are hard and cooked all the way through.

Tired of wasting Cardstock? Complete projects in Design Space

Over the past few weeks, I have created beautiful giant cardstock flowers for the nursery. They look great, but my gosh, so much cardstock is wasted! I shop the sales at Hobby Lobby and Michael’s and was able to get the cardstock on sale, but still, cardstock is expensive. I’m the queen of repurposing, my husband is a bourbon drinker and cigar smoker and low and behold there is a market for selling empty bourbon bottles and empty cigar boxes on Etsy! So, up those went on my Etsy store. I also created outdoor tiki torches with Bourbon bottles and those help keep the bugs away in the muggy Chicagoland summers. You see my point; I had to find a way to use these cardstock scraps! I looked through all the cardstock projects in Design space to determine the most simplistic designs where your time will be well spent, fit the cardstock scrap size and could be used the most in a variety of ways.

Picnic Labels using Cardstock

In Cricut Design space, search for Picnic Labels under Projects. Instead of using the pen color and cardstock colors the creator recommended, I just used three colors from my scraps. The creator recommends adding ribbon and placing around a napkin. The outcome is adorable, but I could see for an indoor dinner, you could use these for seating assignments. The project took me less than 30 minutes to complete.

Design Space Project  Picnic Labels

Oh Happy Day – Gift Tag using Cardstock

Design Space cardstock Gift Tag

Now this one could not be more simple. If you typically find yourself without a tag for a gift bag, this is the perfect simple solution. In Cricut Design space, search for Oh Happy Day – Gift Tag under Projects. This will pull up a variety of gift tags. All of these tags are great for using scraps. . This craft uses very little cardstock. You will need a piece that is 3×6 and another piece that is 4×4. With leftover flower scraps you will have enough cardstock to make a nice stash of these gift tags for the future! This craft took me less than 10 minutes.

Graduation Cap Cake Topper

We are nearing graduation season! Instead of purchasing a cake or gift topper, use your cardstock scraps for this design. I used the colors I had on hand versus recommended by the creator. You can also re-size this design in the event you would like to put it on a poster board or another sort of display. Craft took a piece of 3×5, a 2×2 and 3×4. This craft took me ten minutes to complete.

Design Space project Grad

Holiday Place Cards

Design Space cardstock Place Cards

If you ended up making flowers for a particular themed event, this design is perfect for your cardstock scraps. In Design Space under Projects search for Holiday Place Cards. For a total of 4 place cards, I used two, 4.5×10 pieces of cardstock. In this design you swap out the names on the cards, cut the design and then use adhesive to create the layered look. If you want to make the cards look perfect, I recommend curating the letters so they attach instead of the individual letters. There are so many great tutorials on YouTube on how to curate letters in Design Space. If you just need a quick refresh, detach the name from the card, highlight the name, click on advanced in the toolbar and click ungroup to letters. After you make edits, group the letters, weld the name, and then attach the name back to to the card. If you do this, budget to spend an extra two minutes per place card. Without curating the names, to complete four place cards it took me less than ten minutes.

Just one More Page Bookmark

I really liked this simple bookmark. Whenever giving a book as a gift, add a bookmark, when sharing an old book, add a bookmark. I did, however, make a few customizations to this design. I started with the Just One More Page Bookmark under the Design Space Project section. In this design “just one more page” is a cut-out that you then adhere to the bookmark. Instead, I added pen text using the babette font, welded the words and then attached the text to the bookmark. I also used the cardstock scrap versus recommended materials. You could also add saying such as; No Spoilers Please, Do not Disturb, or In the Zone. Even with the edit from cut out to pen, this bookmark took me less than ten minutes. Now that I have the template all set, I could cut a dozen more and have them ready in two minutes.

Design Space  cardstock bookmark

Create your own card

There are so many elaborate cards on Design Space, but telling someone you are thinking of them, wishing a happy birthday or thank you does not need to be an elaborate process. This is also a great way to use your cardstock scrap. The larger scrap pieces are used for the actual card and then smaller scraps for some of the design items on the front. I wanted to keep this option under fifteen minutes, and therefore worked through a basic Happy Birthday card. If you create the envelope yourself, budget another 10-15 minutes.

  1. Take your largest piece of scrap, I recommend at least 4.5×9 and that will be your card. Create a rectangle in design space and add a score line at the half way point.
  2. Add a text box, select a writing font, under cut select pen and craft your inside card message. If you do not have pens for your Cricut or would prefer to hand write your message, this step is irrelevant.
  3. From the picture section in Design Space, select a nice saying such as Happy Birthday with a cake or balloons.
  4. Now if you would like an envelope, you will need to use a full sheet of new cardstock. Unless you have a scrap piece that is 2/3 a sheet. The easiest way is to find an existing card design under projects, delete the card, keep the envelope and resize to the size of card you just created. If you want to spend a little more time, you can create the envelope yourself in Design Space. You will have a rectangle the size of your card, and then create circles or triangles to fold in on the sides, up on the bottom and down from the top. The side inward folds on each side should be 1/3 of your card width. The up fold should be anywhere from 5/8 of your card to 3/4 of your card. The down fold will overlap the up fold. I recommend 1/2 of your card length.
Creating your own card with cardstock scraps

More to come with using Cardstock scrap

Design space regularly updates their library and I will continue to hunt for simple, scrap size, low time consuming projects. In the meantime, if there are other Design Space projects that you use for your scraps, please share those in the comment!


Emily M

Recent Posts:

8 Hours in Amsterdam: Experience the most iconic spots

One of the best things of international travel is the layovers. Yes, you heard that correctly. We look to find connecting fights through cities we want to explore and look for the longest layover possible. With our final destination of Israel, we stopped over in Amsterdam at 7:10 AM local time and did not depart again for Tele Viv until 7:00 PM local time. Therefore, we had a large amount of time to explore Amsterdam. The best part about a layover is that your bags stay on airport grounds, which eliminates the need to cart them all around a strange city or find storage.

By 8:00 AM local time we were on a train from the airport to the Amsterdam city center. We hit the ground running mainly because we were fighting jet lag, but secondly, we only had 8 remaining hours to explore. This post shares how we got the most out of eight hours in Amsterdam. The first thing to note is that the city really doesn’t come to life until 9:00 or 9:30 AM, coffee shops were even sparsely open.

Anne Frank Museum

The Anne Frank Museum and apartment were the highlight of the Amsterdam experience for me. The tour allows you to walk through the Frank apartment, read excerpts from Anne’s dairy and visualize what a day in the life was like living in the apartment. I had previously read “The Dairy of Anne Frank” but visiting the museum made all the emotion of the horrible Nazi regime feel so raw, recent and dismissed to easily by the world.

Planning your visit:

  • Get your tickets in advance.
  • Be prepared to wait outside about 30 minutes prior to your ticket time.
  • You will experience crowds. Practice patience as you may be working through the exhibit in a single file line.
  • You will need to climb narrow stairs to enter the apartment. It did not appear the apartment portion of the museum is ADA accessible.
  • Plan 2-hours for the tour due to depth of the exhibit.
  • Lastly, you will need to check your coat and any backpacks prior to the museum tour.

Heineken Experience in Amsterdam

Heineken does a phenomenal job with the “Heineken Experience” museum. Throughout the entire tour Heineken immerses you in the brewing process through smells, sounds, touch and then ending with taste. I have been to my fair share of brewery tours and this one is completely kid friendly. Highlighted throughout the experience are several of Heineken’s advertising partners. This includes a biking simulation, a futbol themed room with the ability to kick goals and sit on the team bench, and announcers. The tour concludes in the ideal fashion with the tasting room. Included in the admission are several sample tastes. I’ve concluded that Heineken fresh from the brewery is a much cleaner taste than what I’ve had here in the US. Plan to spend ~90 minutes to two hours at the Heineken Experience.

Red Light District in Amsterdam

My assumptions of the Red Light District were proven false with our self-guided walking tour. I expected the Red Light District to be debauchery, to various levels, 24-hours a day. That was definitely not the case. There was not much to see when we walked through, the window shows were closed, bar doors dark, clean up crews hard at work and only professionally dressed individuals walking the streets.

While I would not recommend spending the time to purposely walk through the Red Light District if you are only there during the day, I do recommend getting lost in the city. Amsterdam itself is beautiful, with the canals, architecture, small coffee shops, and lifestyle . The city is built for an active lifestyle with biking being one of the primary ways of transportation. Bikes are everywhere and unlike my experience with bicyclists in the US, the rules of the road are followed.

Amsterdam’s famous French Fries

How did I not know what french fries were a specialty in Amsterdam? The french fry is a completely different experience from the salty goodness of a thin McDonald’s fry. In Amsterdam, the fries come in a cone wrap and drenched with sauce on top. The sauce selections are endless, from basic mayonnaise to more elaborate tastes. I recommend getting a small fry, sharing with a travel partner and trying multiple sauces. has a great review page on the best fries in Amsterdam. We stopped at a place in the city center, which was great, but do your research to pick the perfect place along your journey.

Curate your own Amsterdam Experience

Traveling to explore cities across the ocean or even an hour from hour home is exciting. Each place as their own culture and travelers will visit for various reasons. With that in mind, curate your own experience. Before traveling, create an itinerary of must do items. For those most do items, secure tickets and any other logistics prior to your arrival. With any leftover time, get lost and explore. You will run across hidden gems when you allow time for exploration. I recommend planning only one-two must do’s in one day, depending on the time commitment and allow the rest of the day to explore. Talk to the locals, your cafe server, or your hotel clerk to find the places the locals love.

Keep Traveling!


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Window Framing Enhancement: DIY with simple molding

Window framing is an inexpensive way to add a finishing touch to your windows. In many homes, the builder will not frame windows or closets to match the door frames. When designing our nursery we decided to frame both the window and closet. The whole update, including chalking, putty, and paint total, took about two and a half hours per small window. From a cost perspective, this project will cost you approximately $30-100 per window. The larger the window, the more molding you will need, and therefore costs increase.

Due to the simplicity of the update, instead of just framing the nursery, we decided to update all the windows in the house. As we continue adding color to the builder’s white walls, the impact of the window framing will significantly enhance the custom look of each room. This simple DIY project helped bring our home from builder grade to WOW!

Colonial Window Framing Enhancement

The colonial window frame is considered a traditional look. You may typically see this around the doorways. This simplistic look works well in smaller rooms, such as guestrooms or children’s bedrooms. I recommend framing the window and closet with the same molding to provide a consistent look throughout the room. Colonial molding is in our loft area and all the bedrooms in our home, except the master bedroom. There are also multiple sizes of colonial molding. We used the 2 1/4 molding, however, if you want a more distinctive look, use 3 1/2 molding. Try to shop sales as much as possible, molding can be quite expensive. Wait for the rebates at Menard’s and if you are a veteran or active military, Lowe’s will provide a discount.

 Before and after window framing
Before and after window framing

Craftsman Window Framing Enhancement

Craftsman window framing is a more modern look and is significantly more eye-catching. Windows in larger open concept rooms are great candidates for craftsman molding. The look is heavier than the colonial, so you do want to be selective on where you install this type of molding. In our home, we installed craftsman molding on our family room window and our master bedroom window. Our master has a large three pain window and vaulted ceiling, and the living room is part of an open concept design.

Materials needed for Window Framing:

The same basic preparation materials are needed for both the colonial and craftsman window framing enhancements. The items that differ are the complexity, type of wood, and different cuts you will need to make. I’ve only linked products we use regularly and that are of good quality.

  • Measuring tape
  • Level
  • Pencil
  • Molding (your choice of style and size)
  • Miter Saw and Table Saw (we use a Craftsman table saw that is no longer sold). Our Miter saw is awesome.
  • Drill, drill bits, and screws (for craftsman molding)
  • Nail gun, compressor, and finishing nails
  • Liquid nails
  • Caulk
  • Putty
  • Paint

Complete the job

With any project before you kick off, make sure all your supplies/materials are in good and safe working condition. Taking this step before you start your project will hopefully minimize unnecessary trips to the hardware store. Perhaps your liquid nails only has 1/2 a tube left or your putty has dried up; put them on the list. After you have gathered your supplies it is time to start your project! Check out our detailed Craftsman video tutorial below.


Video Tutorial
Craftsman window framing


  1. Determine the size of colonial molding desired.
  2. Measure the window to determine how much molding to purchase. You will waste ~2 feet of molding due to the 45-degree cuts. Make sure to take that into account.
  3. Purchase supplies/materials
  4. If you are unfamiliar with how to use any of the tools (miter saw, nail gun, etc) make sure to read instruction manuals or seek out some guidance on YouTube.
  5. Start with the top piece, measure the top section of the window. Using a miter saw, cut each end at a 45-degree angle. The cut angle will start at the measured length of the window.
  6. Dry fit the top piece. You will see the 45-degree angle pieces extend beyond the length of the window.
  7. Measure and cut both side pieces.
  8. With a second person to help, dry-fit all three pieces to make sure the fit is accurate. Make any adjustments required. With a pencil, after making sure your molding is level, mark the placement.
  9. Apply liquid nails in an “S” pattern to the top piece.
  10. Secure the top piece with a nail gun.
  11. Apply liquid nails in an “S” pattern to the side pieces, one at a time.
  12. Secure the side pieces with a nail gun.
  13. Measure and cut the bottom molding section. On this piece, the 45-degree angles will cut in versus out on the top and side pieces.
  14. Dry fit the bottom piece. Make any adjustments required. Once satisfied with the placement, level and use a pencil to mark placement.
  15. Apply liquid nails.
  16. Secure the bottom piece with a nail gun.
  17. Caulk between the molding and drywall.
  18. Putty the nail holes.
  19. Sand the nail holes.
  20. Paint!
Colonial window framing

Happy updating!

Emily M

Pregnancy Pampering with a Bump Box Subscription

Bump Box for the win!

We had finally made it to week 10, which was huge for us! Our path to even getting to this point in a pregnancy had proven to be quite the challenge. After experiencing four consecutive miscarriages all within a two and a half year timeframe. Blood tests were going in the right directions, ultrasound showed a beating heart and the first trimester exhaustion was full tilt. One day a pink Bump Box arrived on our front steps and I was just over the moon with excitement with this little piece of joy in our lives, especially after so much heartbreak. My husband, without any magazine articles strategically placed around the house or hints, purchased me a Bump Box subscription.

Each month I look forward to each new Bump Box subscription arrival and religiously use all the products; they are formulated specifically for pregnancy. Several different subscription options that range from a month to month to a twelve month subscription or if you are looking for a one time gift that is possible also!

Bump Box Product Loves

Bump Box Product Miss

All of these products came in my monthly box and although many of the “loves” I enjoyed and regularly use. When reviewing the retail price, I most likely would have found a less expensive option. From my persepective, the baby book, sonogram picture, book, mug and massager are overpriced. The Mambino Facial Mist is amazing and I will continue to use that even post pregnancy. Mambino Facial Mist has a great scent, texture when sprayed on my face is perfection, and the intensity of the spray covers the full face. Prior to this Mambino spray I was using the Mario Bedescu, which was great, but Mambino far exceeds.

Adding to your monthly box

If you sign up or are gifted Bump Box on a subscription basis, you now have the ability to add to your box each month. Due to being a subscription member, you will receive a discount when adding products to your box. I would have loved to be able to customize my box and set preferences such as skin care and baby health as priorities over bath products for me. Currently that is not an available feature, or at least not one I was able to figure out on the website.

February Un-Boxing

Worth the splurge?

Yes, pregnancy is such a special time in your life. I was so grateful my husband gifted this for me, especially during a pandemic when it becomes more difficult to celebrate many things in life. If you love this idea but are not able or do not want to spend the money, put your own pregnancy box together! Recommended items to include:

  • Water Bottle (staying hydrated throughout your pregnancy is key)
  • Mints (to help with nausea)- Get these at your local Walgreens/Walmart/Target
  • Sonogram picture frame
  • Skincare for mom: Look for products from Honest, Tula, Mambino, Burt’s Bees
  • Bathing baby: Aveeno Baby and Johnson & Johnson Baby are great choices. Both of the options provided are gift sets.

Attention other new mommas: Check out my March Amazon baby finds. I purchased all of these after looking through reviews, talking to friends, watching YouTube videos and consulting experts at Buy Buy Baby.

Congratulations Mommas!

Wallpaper On The Ceiling? Great decision!

Ceiling wallpaper? Yes, and Yes. Before I work through the process, here is a little backstory. We purchased a new home a little over a year ago. I love the layout and all the space that we now have, however, when purchasing a new move-in ready home there are many small touches such as custom trim, paint colors or built in’s that cannot be added. Well, they could, but you would need to buy a custom home. Over the past year, we have taken our builder grade beauty to a custom home with DIY projects.

The most recent project is our first floor half bathroom update. This was a blank ~6×6 slate with white builder paint, pedestal sink, toilet and hexagon shaped mirror. My vision included some sort of wow ceiling and re-purposing a great mirror I found a few years back.

Before: Builder Grade

After: Wallpaper and a pop of color

Start with the Vision in mind

We started with the most impactful piece to me, the ceiling. In our old house, I painted the ceiling of our guest bathroom a slightly darker color than the walls and loved the contrast. It was just a change from the typical light colored, mainly white ceilings you see. When I took the ceiling plunge in the old house, I was worried that it would make the room look small, but it did no such thing. I was incredibly pleased. Needed less to say, I like a little pop on the ceilings of bathrooms.

After debating between accent paint colors for the ceiling and wallpaper, we went with wallpaper. In my Island blog, you know I did Peel and Stick wallpaper, but for this project, I was open to the real deal. My only criteria was that I wanted to actually be able to go to a store to see and feel the wallpaper. Come to find out, the big box home stores do not carry a large wallpaper inventory, if any. I searched around and found a wallpaper store about an hour from our home. This store, “Just Wallpaper” is the ultimate wallpaper jackpot! If you live in the Chicagoland Area, you must give this store a try.

The owner walked us through the different wallpaper options, listened to my vision, pulled a few samples she felt might fit and then left us to roam the store. We pulled out about fifteen great options and landed on one, from the Chip and Joanna Gain’s collection. This wallpaper was perfect for the ceiling and I envisioned mint walls perfectly accentuating the rooms, with the black accent mirror. In a true small shop fashion, the owner then pulled out color swatch from every paint supplier, so we could see if my mint wall vision really did fit. It did! We purchased the wallpaper and all the supplies needed in order to install the wallpaper.

Wallpaper we used (if you do not have a local store)

Project Steps

In our particular project, we started with the ceiling and worked our way down. We decided on these steps because I’m expecting wallpaper paste might end up on the walls. I would prefer to wipe off the existing paint instead of freshly painted walls.

  1. Install the ceiling wallpaper
  2. Test paint samples for walls
  3. Paint walls
  4. Install crown

Step 1: Ceiling Wallpaper Installation

Now, I’m not sure if I would hang wallpaper on a ceiling again. I’ll walk you through the process.

With gravity working against you and trying to maneuver in a small space with two ladders, it was a bit tricky. I strongly recommend that you watch several YouTube videos prior to installing.

Wallpaper supplies for ceiling wallpaper
  1. Identify if your wallpaper is pasted or unpasted. This will only change the amount of paste you apply to the wallpaper prior to installing.
  2. Gather your supplies.
  3. Prime your wall. Let’s say in five years you no longer like the wallpaper or a new owner would like to change it up, priming the walls with a wallpaper primer will allow the paper to be easily removed with a steamer. If you do not prime, you’ll end up gouging the drywall, if you ever remove the wallpaper.
  4. Measure and pre-cut your wallpaper sections. Determine how you want the patten to appear on the ceiling or wall. Also be aware with many patterns you will need to match designs and therefore you might end up wasting a few feet of paper each time you start a new section. When laying out the ceiling, based on the width of the wallpaper, I only needed three strips that were about sixty inches long.
  5. Even though the wallpaper we used was pre-pasted, since we are hanging on the ceiling, the shop owner recommended additional paste.
  6. Follow the instructions on the paste and wallpaper to properly install.
Ceiling wallpaper
Ceiling wallpaper

Step 2: Test paint samples and compare against ceiling wallpaper

When envisioning this project, a mint color scheme was calling to me. My husband was on board so we started trying to pick out the perfect mint. Similar to gray, some mints are more green, others blue and some take on a yellow hint of color. We ended on two shades of mint and tested them.

When testing colors, test in two separate areas in your space. Also, review your paint samples several times during the day to make sure you catch the various light streams coming in through the day.

I then held the ceiling wallpaper next to the colors to determine the direction. We went with the darker option.

Testing paint samples

Step 3: Paint Walls

This is where everything starts coming to life! Before painting, you will want to take the following steps:

  • Putty any holes from prior fixtures and then sand after dry.
  • Wipe down the walls with a damp rag.
  • Tape the baseboards, ceiling and around any fixtures.

It’s now time to paint! Start with painting the edges and around fixtures with a brush and then start rolling.

Step 4: Installing the Crown Molding

When installing crown, there are several options when it comes to sizes and styles. We went with a larger colonial style molding and added corner pieces. This was a simplistic install, my husband first added the corner pieces, then installed each piece old molding. Make sure to caulk the molding and then paint.

Ceiling wallpaper
Happy wallpapering!


Emily M

Cost Saving Tips When Creating A Backyard Paradise

Our previous house had the most beautiful backyard paradise. My dad is handy in everything and worked with me to design the perfect deck and patio. Then one summer, my dad and husband spent about a month building the deck. It was quite the endeavor, but wow, it sure extended the living area of our home. Our entire deck and patio combination ran the full length of the back of our home and included built in seating, a nook for our grill, and two areas to congregate. Honestly, I think upgrading our backyard was what led to our house selling at asking price within only 24 hours. We then built a new home from Lennar and are so pleased with the house, but with a large company, there are very few customizations you can request, especially when you purchase a house already in the build process. In our new home, started from scratch. Both designs ended are quite different. In this blog, I’ll walk through five cost saving items to consider when designing your backyard paradise.

  1. Determine what you want from your backyard.
  2. Expand your search for inspiration.
  3. Explore your material choices.
  4. Receive multiple quotes.
  5. Work in phases.

Before we get started, I’ll share a few before and after from both projects. As the Chicago winter fades, I will post additional after photos of our new home. We wrapped up the project right before the cold weather hit.

Old Home: Before and After

Backyard Paradise upgrade: Before and after deck add-on
Old red deck removed and replaced with a stamped concrete patio, 22 foot long deck with built in seating and grill nook.

New Home: Before and After

Backyard Paradise upgrade: Before and after patio add on
From a step step walk out to a full patio with gazebo, fire pit, built in seating, bar area and cooking area.

1. Determine what you want from your backyard

When starting the process of creating your backyard paradise, you first need to narrow down what you actually want to accomplish from your backyard. What is important and prioritize the wants. It is important to frame these as wish list items. As you continue the process, you may need to make some updates and sacrifices in order to fit your budget.

  • How often do you have large gatherings? If you have family dinner every other week at your house for 25 people and it is tight inside, you may want to consider a larger deck or patio. If you host 1 or 2 gatherings a year, the size of your patio should NOT be dictated based on those temporary visitors.
  • What special elements would you like? Firepit or fireplace? Outdoor cooking area? Gardening locations? Gathering area?
  • Would you prefer a deck or patio? Does one make more sense based your backdoor walk out?
  • Area there any regulations with your homeowners association?
  • Are you looking to include a pool or hot tub? What about a putting green, playhouse or swing set?

2. Expand your search for inspiration

Many times we easily get locked into one idea; your perfect backyard paradise. Perhaps that idea come to life because you saw a picture on Pinterest, attended a backyard BBQ or even was inspired by your favorite outdoor beer garden. There are dangers of getting locked into one idea; you may end up overspending or you may miss some great ideas because your inspiration was limited. Keep in mind the following when looking to expand your inspiration:

Fire structure inspiration
  • Look at fire pits, fire places, lanterns, heating lamps and impact lighting options. Keep your options open to propane powered, wood burning or natural gas lines. A gas or wood burning portable firepit is the most economical option. Portable firepits range from $125-$300, depending on size, heat output and style). The most expensive option is an outdoor fireplace powered by natural gas. Fireplaces built by a landscaper will run anywhere from $10,000-$15,000 depending on size and complexity. If you add a built in grill area or pizza oven to the outdoor fireplace, expect the cost to increase.
Fire Pit
Other Fire structures
Shelter inspiration
  • Determine your rationale behind the shelter. Is it shade or more of a backyard appeal aspect? Ideas range from retractable patio covers, pergolas, gazebos to full sunrooms. All of these options come in a variety of sizes. When determining the size, consult your HOA guidelines to first determine how large your outdoor patio/deck can be before locking into a specific size. You will also want to look at the grade of your backyard, does it slope? Also determine what furniture you will put under the structure. Will this be conversational sitting area or will your outdoor dining set be placed under your structure. All of these factors come into play when deciding the size and type of structure. We selected the Yardistry 10×10 Meridian Gazebo. Wayfair also has some great outdoor structures. Installation of any prefabricated structure still requires some skill. You will need 2-3 people to install over a two day period.
Deck inspiration
  • Look at similar backdoor to yard photos. If you have a second story backdoor, you will need some sort of deck. If you have a ground floor backdoor, you will most likely have the option to step down right to a patio or build a deck. In our first home, we did a deck and patio combination, whereas in our second home, we went straight to the patio. When looking at decks, get inspiration for steps, lighting, railings, colors, built in seating, swing or built in shade structures.
Patio inspiration
  • Explore patio shape, landscaping around the patio, water or fire structures on a patio and seating areas. First start with what you want the patio to accomplish and then seek inspiration for size and shape. Second, find several patio surface materials you love. This can include concrete, stamped and or colored concrete, pavers, brick or even gravel or pebbles.

The standard places to look for inspiration are Pinterest and other online sources, however, I strongly recommend getting out in the wild. Take walks and drive through your neighborhood and surrounding areas. That will provide you some great ideas and give you an idea of the investment other neighbors have made. Explore or Redfin to see pictures of other backyards. We found a backyard we loved of a house that was on the market, and we went and knocked on the front door, let them know we recently bought a new home but loved their backyard. They gladly gave us permission to go in the backyard, take measurements and explore a bit. The homeowner even came out and shared the phases they completed the project and a few of the companies they used. People take pride in home updates, so ask about them and learn from their process. Unless you are friends make sure you aren’t over presumptuous and ask to see something inside:)

This next piece KEY! You will need to stay competitive in your neighborhood should you sell, a buyer may not want to pay more for your house based your $30,000 investment versus the neighbors $15,000 investment. This is a piece we considered with both of the backyard updates.

3. Explore material choices for your backyard paradise

Pavers and Brick versus Concrete

Many landscape design teams will only install pavers or brick. When you are selecting a paver, inquire about the price differences between the bricks offered. We saw a significant prices differential between brick textures. When looking at pavers consider other textures, colors and other hardscape you have at play in your design or in the surrounding area. This includes matching the pavers to your home, any structures, blending with any existing patio or landscaping. I also encourage you to explore concrete materials. So much can be done with concrete. The standard grey concrete is one option, but you can also select from multiple colors, and also incorporate stamping. The prices to increase considerably when you move from the “standard” concrete to a colored stamped.

Standard Concrete
Standard and Stamped Concrete
Colored and Stamped Concrete
Built in Brick/Stone versus Portable Fire Structures

In our initial inspiration we had a fireplace and a built in natural gas fire pit. We ended up only going with a wood burning fire pit. After looking at costs and expected use, we could not justify the cost of the outdoor fireplace or running natural gas to a built in fire pit. A year later, we are so pleased with our $150 wood burning firepit.

Building material: Treated Lumber versus Composite

When building a deck, the lumber will be your largest material cost. I am far from an expert in this area, however, I will share my viewpoint from experience. does a great job reviewing composite vs. wood materials.

Treated lumber: Requires bi-annual maintenance such as pressure washing and staining and over a period of time the wood will start to crack, weather and mold, if you are in a dark shaded area. This lumber is significantly more cost effective and weighs much less.

Composite wood: Some composite wood does have a “fake” wood appearance, to avoid this, look at several composite vendors to make the best selection. With composite you will avoid the annual or bi-annual maintenance. The initial cost of composite is significantly more expensive.

4. Receive multiple quotes

Just because your neighbor or best friend has a person, does not mean you must use that person. Ask your neighbor, as your co-workers, and get recommendations from your neighborhood facebook group. You will want to have three companies provide quotes. With each company, share your vision and ask for their guidance based on their experience. Many landscape architects will diagram out your design and provide that along with a quote.

Ask for different aspects of the design to be priced individually. I recommend asking for pricing breakdown between the following elements (your design will most likely not have all these elements):

  • Bar or cooking area
  • Firepit and seating area
  • Patio base with pavers
  • Gazebo or pergola on patio
  • Landscaping bricks
  • Landscaping foliage
  • Built in seating areas
  • Based deck components
  • Deck add-on’s: built in seating, pergola, gazebo

With prices for each aspect of your deck or patio, you will then be able to determine what fits within your budget.

5. Work in phases when creating your backyard paradise

When creating your backyard paradise, you can work in phases. Home updates can be expensive and you may only be able to budget for the project basics to start. Talk to your landscape architect and ask for their guidance on what could be done in stages. Keep in mind that any permanent structures will need to be included in the initial phase.

Phase 1 Items
  • If you are running any natural gas lines, those need to be installed prior to pavers or concrete.
  • The Base: base deck or base patio using pavers or concrete
  • Deck: Any built in seating
  • Patio: Built in fire pits.
  • Anything requiring a built in look
Phase 2 Items
  • Landscaping around the deck or patio
  • Pergola added to a deck
  • Prefabricated gazebo or pergola. These can be bolted to the concrete or pavers.
  • Bar areas: This can sit on top of your concrete or pavers. When working with your landscape architect or concrete company, make sure you inform them of the long term plan. They may need to reinforce certain areas.
  • Portable fire pit
  • Fireplace: Inform your concrete company or landscape architect about this plan. Additional reinforcement under the base patio area will be needed.
  • Lighting: Our Edison lights have been up for a year so far and still work great! We even left them up through a Chicago winter.
  • Water features

You are now ready to get started on creating your backyard paradise! I hope this blog helped frame your perspective for tackling this project. You may feel overwhelmed at times, but it will all the worth it when you are sitting on your patio drinking a nice cold margarita!


Emily M