A look back at 2011

Wow. One year ago today, looking ahead to the start of 2011, I had no idea how big of a year it would be. I’m inclined to take a trip down memory lane and reminisce about some of the life-altering highlights.

It hasn’t all been roses, but here are my major happy memories from 2011.

January

The year started out as planned, with an epic trip to New York City with my best friends from college. It was one of the most fun long weekends ever – and it all started because of a good deal on airfare. We saw shows, toured the sights, ate some wonderful food, participated in our first flash mob (ridiculous), sang karaoke, went clubbing and even toured the New York Times with a former college classmate of mine who works there.

It was also in January that I officially applied for my current position at work. After three years as a multimedia producer working on online projects for all sections of the paper, I became the interactive entertainment producer, helping to plan, launch and maintain a new entertainment site.

February

February was the month of skiing. Training for my first American Birkebeiner cross country ski race got intense, and I was out on the trails 3-4 times a week, sometimes skiing for hours. The race was at the end of the month, and in single-digit temperatures I finished the 34.5 hilly miles in just under 7 hours. That’s pretty slow compared to most skiers, but relative to my training, it was a fast pace and I was so glad I put myself out there and entered the race (despite nearly getting frostbite on race day).

February was also the month Peter and I officially decided it was time to have kids. Our past discussions of “when” had always been a vague “we’ll know when it’s time,” so it was kind of scary at first when we realized this could be the time. Of course, we had no idea how long (or short) it would take for it to happen.

March

March was defined by Tap Milwaukee. This is when work got serious on getting the site up and running. It was incredibly stressful and challenging, but also some of the most fun I’ve had at work.

April

My memories of April are all packed into one crazy, wonderful week. My lifelong friend Sonya got married in Minneapolis in mid-April. My entire family went up there for the wedding and had an awesome weekend.

The Monday after the wedding weekend, I wasn’t thrilled to be back at my desk. But later that afternoon I got possibly the biggest surprise of my life. The Pulitzer Prizes were announced, and not only did a project I had put months of time and effort into win the award for explanatory reporting, but my very own name was included on the team of five people who won it. I still am in a bit of disbelief over this.

(Photo by Kristyna Wentz-Graff)

The week that followed was fun, exciting, overwhelming – and also stressful. Tap Milwaukee launched one week later.

(And yeah, I somehow found time to make cookies.)

May

Another dear friend, Jay, got married in May. His wedding weekend marked another big milestone in my life. In our hotel room in Cincinnati the afternoon before the wedding, I took a pregnancy test. I didn’t expect anything of it, but I just wanted to be sure it’d be safe for me to drink at the wedding. Lo and behold, it was positive. I couldn’t believe it. I expected that moment to be one of pure joy and excitement, but I found myself scared initially. After letting it sink in a little, the excitement came, but despite being surrounded my all my best friends from high school, we had to keep this to ourselves. The weekend’s activities were a ton of fun and kept us distracted enough not to spend every moment thinking about the baby though. I successfully managed to sip Diet Coke at the wedding with no one realizing there was no booze in it. That Sunday, which was Mother’s Day, we called our parents and shared the news.

(Diet Coke or Rum and Coke? No one knows the difference.)

Later in May, I returned to New York City, this time for the Pulitzer Prize ceremony. It was Peter’s first time in the city and proved to be another epic weekend, this time spent sightseeing, visiting my college BFF and celebrating the Pulitzer with my coworkers and parents.

(The entire “class” of this year’s winners. Recognize anyone famous?)

(The team with our editor for the traditional Pulitzer jumping photo. How cool is it that our paper has won so many recent Pulitzers that we actually have traditions around them?)

June

I turned 25 with not much fanfare, just a nice dinner with Peter at one of my favorite restaurants during Downtown Dining Week.

June is more memorable for the work I did on Tap Milwaukee’s Summerfest coverage, though. [Summerfest is the world’s largest music festival: 11 days, 8 main stages of constant concerts on the Milwaukee lakefront.] This year, I went crazy trying to set up a video interview with every possible [somewhat known] musician playing the fest. The result was a ridiculously busy and complex week and a half of coordinating, shooting, interviewing, editing and posting dozens of videos (with lots of help from an incredible team, of course). I had the pleasure of interviewing Jack’s Mannequin, Cage the Elephant, and Danny Gokey, and shot an epic (I know, I’m using that word a lot in this post, but it’s true) interview with Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips. We spent over an hour with him waiting for a golf cart to take us to the Skyglider, where we conducted the interview from however many feet above the ground.

(Wayne Coyne interview)

(Cage the Elephant interview)

July

Much, much earlier in the year, I had signed up for the inaugural Summerfest half marathon. Even after becoming pregnant, I planned to run it with my doctor’s blessing. Well, come July, I had gone from being in great shape thanks to all that skiing in February and a good deal of running in March, to losing all my endurance thanks to a super busy work schedule and first trimester fatigue. So I dropped down to the 10K distance, figuring even if I wasn’t all that fast, I could still bang out six miles. I did, but the course was hot, the sun was unrelenting and the race organizers ran out of water, making it a brutal failure for Summerfest and even prompting them to offer partial refunds to all racers. My pregnant brain got confused and I ended up starting the race with the half marathoners, who started 30 minutes before the 10K, which thankfully ensured I had just enough water to make it through unscathed. Had I started with the 10K after the water supply was completely decimated, baby’s first race might have gotten ugly.

My family took a wonderful trip to Glen Arbor, Mich., to visit my Aunt and Uncle at the end of July. Peter and I took a ferry across Lake Michigan to get there, which was exiting in and of itself. We enjoyed absolutely perfect beaches, beautiful hikes, sand dunes, kayaking and lots of family time.

As I look back at my planner, I realize July was also a highly social month for me. I lived it up, going to concerts, movies, dinners and races with friends as much as possible. I started to realize that those kinds of things would take a back seat when the baby arrived, so I stopped feeling bad if the house was a mess or I skipped the gym in favor of something more fun. I’m sure I’ll miss that freedom next summer, so I’m glad I enjoyed it as much as possible while I could.

August

August was another fun, social month, just like July. At the end of August I had the opportunity to travel to a resort in Tucson, Ariz., for a features journalism conference. Rough, I know. Peter came with and we celebrated our 3-year anniversary. It was a sweet little unofficial “babymoon,” even though I spent part of the time in conference sessions.

September

Peter turned 28 in September, and we celebrated with a night out in Milwaukee. I took him to dinner at Harbor House and to the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, and we stayed in a hotel downtown thanks to Marriott rewards that needed to be redeemed.

We also hosted a huge feast in September! I roasted my first turkey for a Thanksgiving story I wrote for the Food section, and invited a houseful of guests over to eat it with us. I now have new respect for anyone who hosts a big holiday gathering.

October

This is the month in which things got real, baby-wise. I had my first baby shower, hosted by my sister and mom. It was so much fun and filled with such love. This was accompanied by a wonderful weekend with college friends (instead of clubbing like we did in New York City in January, we went apple-picking and to a haunted mansion, hehe).

We also made a visit to Peter’s hometown in Missouri for a relaxing weekend free of obligations.

November

Childbirth classes, two more baby showers, another trip to Peter’s hometown and my hometown and wow — time is flying by and life is so busy I barely have time to breathe.

December

It all culminates in December! We spent the first week doing all sorts of baby prep – choosing a pediatrician, taking maternity photos, training people at work to do my job, two final baby showers (yeah, busy week) – and then our little guy decided to arrive 3.5 weeks earlier than expected.

Suddenly, our world changed big time! The rest of the month has flown by. Lots of family visits…

Corban’s first Christmas…

Sleepless nights followed by snuggly mornings…

It’s been an amazing month to top off an amazing year. 2012 has big shoes to fill, but somehow I think this little guy will make it a happy new year.

The fireplace transformation

This project (with mucho and mucho appreciated help from my wonderful mom!) truly felt like it was off of HGTV. But it really only took an afternoon and a smidgen of skill (which came from my mom).

Remember how I’m not a huge fan of all the oak in our house? (Just wait… eventually we will be tackling a room that is like 90% oak.) With the fireplace, it wasn’t so much the oak I didn’t like, as the “teeth” design (as Peter calls it) in the woodwork of the fireplace. Here’s a before picture (after the mantle had been all cleared off):

(Hi sweet Biggles!) And here’s a close up of the TEETH. Don’t they look mean?

(My photo colors are all over the place in this post. Photographing a home improvement project is not easy.)

I also thought that painting the fireplace white would help it flow better with the marble tile and look a little more updated. Good news – if we paint it, we can cover up the teeth with an inexpensive molding, and no one will know they’re there! The original plan to chop them out using some sort of tool seemed way too dangerous (not to us, to the fireplace).

So after measuring the length, width, depth, etc. of the teeth area, we spent a good 20 minutes searching Home Depot for 1 1/2-inch wide molding that would work. Out of probably 70 options, only one worked perfectly – and thankfully it was a style that was simple and would look good with our fireplace (and it was only $5!) The plan was to paint, nail the molding over the teeth and paint again.

My mom also had the idea to paint the brass in the fireplace doors black. Not a huge change, but it ended up making a big difference.

Here’s a sneak peak at the after photo (I need to retake it in brighter daylight):

Now I’ll walk you through the process, if you’re interested.

Step one: Sand – fine grade sandpaper – just rough it up.

Step two: Wipe the sanded wood (and brass) down with a rag and tape around anywhere you don’t want paint.

Step three: Paint! This was not an easy paint job. Lots of crevices, and we had to make sure not to leave horrible brush strokes. We did two coats in this step (with an hour dry time between). The teeth did, indeed, need to be painted – at least the insides of them, which were the hardest parts. Even though they were going to be covered up, if you were sitting on the floor you would still be able to see up  under the molding. We had to use very small artist’s brushes for that part. Strangely, I enjoyed painting inside the teeth the most.

Step three-point-five: Spray paint the brass while the first coat is drying. Use heat-resistant paint.

Step four: Peter and my mom took care of figuring out the right lengths and cuts for the molding. This was the toughest part. We ended up making another trip to Home Depot for a miter saw to cut the corner angles. This was worth it — there’s no way you can estimate an exact 45-degree angle.

Step five: Nail the molding to the fireplace using thin nails with tiny heads – the name is escaping me but I’ll update this when I find out. This proved more difficult than expected because the nails would easily bend and therefore become impossible to nail in. Also, you have to nail them ALL the way in so they aren’t sticking out at all. We dinged up a few spots, but you’ll see how we fixed that in the next step.

Step six: Use wood filler to fill in any gaps in the tiny space over the nailheads, the molding (even with a miter saw, it wasn’t perfect) and the dents. Just use your fingers, and smooth it out or sand it lightly after it dries.

Step seven: After the wood filler dries, paint the whole thing again (sigh). But then that’s it! You’re done!

No more dents:

No more gaps in the corner:

And no more teeth! Here’s a before and after:

And in case you’re wondering what is worthy of placement on our mantle…

An unphotographable (seriously!) Pulitzer prize (yep, this is what a Pulitzer looks like. It’s a Tiffany’s paper weight).

And since Peter was jealous of my paper weight, he wanted to show off his most prized trophy as well, to balance it out on the other side, ya know.

(That blue thing in the middle is the Pulitzer certificate. Peter didn’t get a certificate in his poker tourney.)

Once we have kids, we’ll presumably have more important junk than our own accomplishments (and Peter’s attempts at jokes) to display on the mantle. But hey, I’m not just gonna stash that paper weight on a pile of paper.

We got this glass plate in Venice when we were on our honeymoon. I love it!

And these dried flowers were plucked from our church a couple years ago when we were helping with fall yardwork. They’ve been attacked by the cats and are looking a little sparse, so I should snag some more this fall.

And there you have it. A fireplace transformation in less than 5 hours!