Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Moving to the music

Last year Mr. Big and I loaded every CD that we have ever owned onto our Mac. It took a full three days, but we can now play music for 28 days and never repeat a song. It's fantastic.

We've been looking for ways to incorporate our digital library into our home entertainment system in the new house. Mr. Big's brother in law eagerly pointed us towards Sonos today. The technology looks really cool because you can actually play different music in different rooms. There are only cables at one base station and then wireless stations can be placed throughout the house.

Sonos CR100

From the Sonos website:

With the Sonos® Controller in hand, you'll have instant access to your entire digital music collection, Internet radio and select music services from almost anywhere—inside or out. That's because the Sonos Controller uses SonosNet™, our secure, wireless mesh network that extends the range of your Controller throughout your entire home. Which means you don't have to run to your PC every time you want to pick a new tune or raise the volume. You can use up to 32 Controllers for all your ZonePlayers—like one for every room, floor or music lover in your house.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

We've got walls!

This is the best holiday gift we could have hoped for! Mr. Big found out that the first floor concrete block walls are up. Many thanks go out to our good buddy for keeping us in the loop. So exciting! We'll post pics when we return back after holidays.

Final holiday treats

So I meant to post these a few weeks ago, but life took over. This isn't going to be the most intriguing post, but I wanted to share a few holiday gifts/decor that I thought were interesting or different (before the holidays have left us).

This candelabra from boconcept.com has a bit of a French, retro feel to it. It looks like it would be a beautiful table centerpiece for the holidays and thereafter. At $79, it's pretty moderately priced. The Bo Concept website has lots of fun stuff, especially in the accessories link.

The best stockings that I came across this year were from West Elm. I love the embroidered stocking next to it's sister, the bling stocking. I'm hoping that we might see a post-holiday sale on these. (Update: Keep your fingers crossed that my purchase at $9.99 each will be succesful. Too cute to pass up!).

I wish that I would have found these gorgeous holiday ornament cards in time...perhaps it would have prompted us to get our cards out this year (scurrying around the corner to hide). These are from Rare Device, and while on the pricing side at $7 per ornament, they sure beat the $11.50 that I spent to two cards yesterday at Carlton. Delicate and unusual.

I thought that this would have been a really fun gift to give, but then realized that it's probably something that I would need to keep...and use for the benefit of the gift recipient. It's from Greener Grass Designs and can be yours for the whopping price of $26. Pricy, but would the laughs be worth it...?

Finally, this gift would be great for someone in the Cayman Islands where the season doesn't necessarily feel like winter and Christmas. It could create good atmosphere at a holiday party for certain. $50 from Rare Device.

Happy holidays to all of our good friends. I hope that you all get to enjoy beautiful meals, great family and loads of smiles!

Monday, December 18, 2006

The balancing act

My mom posted a comment below about my grandfathers experience with difficult clients. They are both right on the money (as usual...). There seems to be a fine balance between understanding what is going on with your construction project and being a flat-out pest. I don't want to be a two-year old asking questions at every step, but then again, I think it's important that to understand how a house is constructed and what elements are going into it.

Early on in the process, our builder was choosing the A/C units, utilities, etc. for us. We had no interaction with the sub-trades or any idea about the decisions that were being made. At one point, Mr. Big and I decided that we wanted to understand a bit more. So we went trudging around town speaking to A/C guys, gas guys, plumbers (who were guys too...), etc. Yes, imagine dorky accountants (x2) trying to keep up with rough-and-tumble construction types. It was a comical sight, I'm sure.

But the most amazing thing happened...everyone spent ages with us sharing their tips! And these weren't expensive tips, these were the "tips reserved for my best bud". Yes, Mr. Big is a pretty likable guy so I shouldn't have been surprised, but honestly, it was like a treasure chest was opened up for us. Was it ever fabulous to meet these guys and finally understand how everything came together. The beauty is that we can now actually understand what everyone is talking about...or so we think we can. (Our builder grimmaces in pain behind us...)

So last Sunday we were sharing a relaxing morning coffee with our builder. Everything is going fab and we're all buddies. I mentioned that I was pleased that a late change to the plans didn't affect the footing of the house. He gave me an perplexed look, gave the site an even more perplexed look, and then dashed off to the construction hut.

Okay, honestly, think Reggie Bush dash. Fast ...around workers ...over mounds of dirt ...and then into the endzone. Score!

Actually, it turns out that there was a penalty on the play and the footing (as in footing ball...haha) was 2 yards short (even worse). The photo below shows the original location and the updated location, which fortunately they were able to accomodate.

Obviously there is a fine balance to be struck between observing and participating. I doubt that I will be keeping that balance...but I'll try my hardest to listen to my wise grandfather's advice. Here's to trying...

Saturday, December 16, 2006

If these walls could talk...

How on earth do you finally decide on paint colors? And when do you decide whether to wallpaper or not? While these questions have raged through my mind in the past, I've realized that this all can be done, and redone, and then done again for years to come. The chances of getting it "spot on" in the first place are remote.

Even with this realization, I'm sort of bored with only having these two options (being paint and wallpaper) available for walls. In a perfect world, I would like to do a few funky things in the guest rooms. Creative painting seemed to be about the only option that appealed to me...that is until I stumbled upon Blik.

Blik is a line of surface graphics that you can purchase in many different shapes, sizes and colors. Yes, they are removable adhesives that can go on walls, doors, windows, etc. I'm pretty taken with the Iron Vines decal noted to the left. To me, it evokes a Moroccan and edgy-vintage feel all at the same time.

The best part? The cost! At a price of $60 for nine decals, it would seem that you could add a lot to a room with minimal outlay. And for an extra $10, they will even customize colors for you. Fantastic!

I'm sure that some are out there wondering "why not wallpaper?" To be honest, I'm not sure why. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that there is a bit of creative input into the placement of the decals. So what do you think...are these walls that talk?

Our rescue mission

As the name suggests, Royal Palm's are sort of the "king" of the palms in the Caribbean. Mr. Big was horrified recently to find that a friend's condo complex was going to simply cut down two large Royal Palms. As in 30ft tall! Apparently, the condo association (minus our friend) was concerned that the trees could come down in a future storm. They survived Hurricane Ivan, so we were perplexed to say the least.

Mr. Big, the humanitarian that he is, contacted a nursery on the island and they took a close look at the trees. They confirmed that they are healthy, but that the palms could be doing even better with proper water and vitamins. The condo association apparently never did anything special with them (which you really don't need to with palms once they are mature).

Our rescue mission has spanned a few weeks now, but we arrived at the land today to find two beautifully transplanted Royal Palms gracing the front of the property. To say that I was excited is a complete understatement. Not only did we save two trees, but it looks nice to have mature trees in a fairly young part of the neighborhood.

We'll need to take extra care of them over the upcoming months. As our tree-donating friend suggested, we're just going to have to get out to the land for some extra special tree hugging!

Guilty Pleasures

It's hard trying to find gifts for others on the internet, because I inevitably come across lovely items to pine over. Since our trip to Bella Winery, I've been on a kick for white vases and accessories.

The vases above are from Loop, a London knitting website that sells these ceramic vases from Annette Bugansky. The small votive holders are gorgeous as well. They are very pricy, but a good inspiration.

These second vases are from Greener Grass Design, which I found for the first time today. It's certainly worth a peak for neat home and gift ideas. I actually like how they have paired a fairly feminine vase with a more structural grass. These and the previous vases are pretty pricey, but they are good for ideas, right? :)

The final little white nugget that I cam across were these really neat bowls made out of white buttons. These are also from Greener Grass Design. Obviously the bowls could only be used for decor and/or easy serving (bread, etc.)

I think that I'll be bookmarking this site because they had lots of really neat items, especially for gifts. Well, that's the story anyway....gifts.... :)

Holiday Wreaths

Since moving away from home, I try to send wreaths or flowers to my grandparents and parents every year. I admit that it doesn't always get done, but when it does, I love getting their calls describing the special wreath that I choose for them. Yes, it's a silly little Jenny thing...

Apparently I started the process too late this year because I found this absolute beauty of a wreath, but it's too late to get to them by Christmas day. Yowzers, how beautiful and different is that?!? I absolutely love it. If you've never been to vivaterra.com before, it's certainly worth a visit.

I've kicked myself for the past hour about my unmatched procrastination skills, but now I'm onto try and find something equally as interesting. Wish me luck!

Monday, December 11, 2006

Dega Dega

I realize that this blog is starting to have quite a few "when I first moved to Cayman" recollections. I hope that you can stick with me. (Yes, I realize that I have been here for 8 years, but the novelty of first impressions apparently doesn't fade with me.) The most recent "when I first moved to Cayman" recollection was the manner of building homes in concrete...and just what that looks like.

There is a term here that people use to describe an area that is run down or not the nicest part of the island. "Dega, dega". Is that a great term or what?

The thing is...concrete construction looks sort of dega dega to me. Not the finished product, but as it is going up. There's always broken blocks and slop all over the place. This is a terrible way to describe the current state of our home, but it's not that far from the truth.

Take a look at that picture on the left. That's the bottom layer of foundation on the house. Dega dega for sure. Would that sight bother you? My head screams that the entire footing is solid concrete and fine, but my heart worries whether that corner could compromise the house. Fortunately for little Ms. Worrywart, this was fixed when I went back today. Honestly, am I crazy or what?

So moving away from the psychological part of building and into the good stuff, they have almost completed the foundation of the house. They have built up to about 8ft above sea level and will shortly begin filling in the blockwork with more compacted fill. The slab will follow shortly thereafter. Here is a shot from the back of the site:

Despite what you may think, those are not the walls. That's the foundation. The slab, and therefore the first floor, will sit about a foot higher up than the top row. Of course being Mr. and Mrs. Big, we had a momentary thought that "maybe 9ft was too high"? (You know you were thinking it...). But as time has passed, we're more and more pleased with our decision.

In fact, we didn't even plan for the best part...there is a whole new view of the canal from 9ft! We'll wait to share comparison pictures until the slab is poured, but it's pretty amazing. And yes, we need to figure out how to landscape up to the first floor...the fill guys are going to love us by the time we're through.

So there you go...the Stepaniuk house is out of the ground. It may be dega dega, but it our dega dega. :)

Building the foundation

I really don't remember trenches and piles being dug in California before starting the slab of a home. Our structural engineers told us that we would need to dig 6 ft below the slab, create "trench piles" (concrete forms) and build up from there. Amazingly enough, this was probably the one time that I didn't question why...and now it has me all curious.

Is it because we are so close to the water? Is it because the development previously was covered in mangroves and then filled in? Is it because concrete is a heavier building material than wood? If there is any insight out there among the girls, please share the knowledge!

This was the state of the land two weekends ago (yes, I am a weekend behind...shame on me). The trenches had been dug in the shape of the house and then big boulders were placed in the bottom 2-3 feet. At the time, I was a bit worried that the boulders were being used instead of the trench piles, but the next day we arrived to see that they filled in the boulders and place dre-barb (um, how do you spell that anyway?) on top of the fill.

Alrighty, we're on our way!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

I've Hit the Motherload

What do you get for Mr. Big for Christmas? He is the guy that wants nothing in particular...mainly because he'll just get what he wants when he wants. Doesn't leave much behind for creative gift giving.

Scrolling around on the internet yesterday, I came across this fab website, Uncrate, with loads of ideas for mens gifts. The stuff they highlight range from amazing furniture to DVD box sets to puzzles. The prices range from $25 to several thousand.

If you are having a difficult time this holiday season for that special someone in your life, I highly suggest taking a peak at Uncrate.com.

Friday, December 8, 2006

Rain, rain, go away...

It's been raining on the island for months now. Raining. Pouring. Raining again. Drizzling a bit. And raining some more. Honestly, it's FAR more rain than I remember in any recent years. Just when you've had enough, you come across a beauty like this:

Honestly, could this not come from a magazine? Instead, it comes from our front doorstep (note that our strata pays for gardeners...I claim no ability here).

So here's a little public admiration for all the beautiful things that come from those tropical rains. I hope that you all can enjoy this as much as I did.

Thursday, December 7, 2006

Oh Christmas Tree

Oh Christmas tree, how are thy leaves so absent?

We are headed home this year, which means that there is no Christmas tree in Mr. and Mrs. Big's house. (Enter sad expression here). My poor husband, he would have done better to just give in to a tree. It's just difficult to get into the holiday spirit without some decorations. Especially when you live on a small Caribbean island with limited resources.

So I've given you all a glimpse of my attempt (please feel free to laugh out loud). It started out on a Saturday afternoon with a goal to introduce some holiday cheer through a combination of silver, white and clear decorations. It turned out to be an ornament park on our dinner table accentuated with twinkling palm fronds. We'll be eating glitter for the next twelve months, but hey, we have a bit of holiday cheer, right?

At this point, I suppose it's useful to remember that there is always next year....

Precious dirt

Do you consider dirt precious? Call me shallow because I was one of those people who never really appreciated good, old fashioned dirt. Shame on me.

Hurricane Ivan wreaked havoc with homes on the island that were in low-lying areas or were not built on sufficient fill. Decisions homeowners made when building ultimately determined whether water would pour in or whether their beautiful floors would remain in tact. That's a pretty big decision. Mr. Big and I are fortunate enough to know (with hindsight, of course) that homes with foundations at 7ft above sea level did not have flooding in our area. So we decided to add 2 feet of fill for comfort and voila, our foundation was to be 9 ft above sea level.

Or so we thought...until we got the bill for 1 ft of fill...and started wondering if our home will look too high compared to our neighbors...and then thinking about how we will need extra landscaping.

For the past few weeks, we must have looked like cartoon characters walking around with bubbles over our head. "8 ft or 9ft? 8 ft or 9 ft?" Honestly, how are we going to get this house built if every question feels like this?

In the end, we decided on 9 ft. This has felt like the right height for quite some time. And since the cistern has hit the street, I don't feel quite as guilty about the cost of one extra foot of fill.

So now you might understand how pleased we were to venture to the land and find...the fill...the answer...in all its glory. Ok, it's only dirt, but it's precious dirt.

Monday, December 4, 2006

No, our weekend was not bruined

Ok, ok, you got me. Maybe just a little bit...

I know that this is supposed to be my "home building blog" but I've received a few DOZEN emails about the game this weekend, so I thought I'd officially state that Mr. Big and I have survived the weekend.

UCLA just flat out beat USC. They were hungry, they were fired up, they played with passion...they were USC in 2003. I loved that year...

I read an interesting perspective from someone yesterday, comparing USC to raising a child. Now we all know that I completely cannot comprehend what goes into raising a child, but his words did make sense to me. He said that you can watch proudly as a child grows and be completely amazed and exhilarated with them. But every once in a while, they do sometime that leaves you wondering "what the **(enter appropriate explicative here)** were you thinking". For me, USC had that moment on Saturday evening.

We were only able to watch the first half because we had the 40th anniversary party for our company that evening. I'm glad that we got Mr. Big out of the house as he was getting fairly "jumpy" watching the game. (Interestingly enough, the only two games that USC lost were the two that we could not watch....and no, I don't honestly believe that we jinxed them but I will admit that the far-fetched thought did cross my mind.) In the end, we are a different team today with different dynamics than back in 2003. The players expect to win. Full stop. Understandable I suppose given their recent track record.

In the end, I'm not surprised that the losses this season came to two gutsy football teams. And to be honest, these are always the teams that worry me most (darn state schools). Good job to the UCLA Bruins.

As for the USC Trojans, lets hope Carroll has them fighting mad on January 1.

Saturday, December 2, 2006

Cool Decking Material

A funny background for you all...

When we first started planning the house (yes, all the way back in early 2004), I was an absolute maniac when it came to home magazines. Honestly, I don't even want to speculate about how much of my "slush $$" went to these circulars....it got so bad at one point that I even purchased the same magazine issue twice! (Hanging my head in shame) Yes, I knew at the time that it was overboard.

Over time, I realized that my head was getting just too jumbled with all the different ideas out there. So I took a breather to try and focus on our thoughts. I'm pleased to report that this week was the first in the last 3-4 months that I've looked at these magazines again.

And onto the scheduled programming...

So this morning while perusing through "100 Ideas for Outdoor Decor" (but of course!), I came across these cool modular deck tiles
. For a 6x6 foot area, you can install these teak and Brazilian hardwood floors for $60, and they are not permanent. You can even get them in slip-proof finishes. Pretty cool. I don't have any place specifically in mind where we could use something like this, but we have a few outside terraces, so I think that I might file this one away for a rainy day!

Friday, December 1, 2006

To Cistern or not to Cistern?

That is the current question. You see, the water in here is relatively expensive because it has to go through a desalination process (taking the salt out of sea water). And we're going to need quite a bit to landscape the second lot. Many homes have large cisterns to collect rain water for landscaping purposes. Seems like a no-brainer to use this natural resource right?

Wrong. Apparently it is incredibly expensive to build a cistern... We met with a potential landscaper yesterday who suggested that cisterns holding less than 20,000 gallons aren't really useful. Yikes, anything that large is not going to be cheap.

The question is whether to invest now or pay the water company through the years. Seeing as my monthly water bill has always been about $20, you can imagine my preference. But I'm the naive one because I just don't know how much water it takes to landscape half an acre.

Hmmm...this is when I wish there was someone else to make these decisions for us. Growing up can be so complicated!

Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Groundbreaking

Just to make life a bit more intriguing, I think we'll give the husband the code name Mr. Big for the purposes of this blog. No, no, no, not following a Sex in the City fad nor do I have any "personal details" leading to this name (shame on you girls...). Rather, it seems appropriate because everything that we look at when considering this house is supersized. If there are decisions to make between a products, the largest or heaviest or thickest option is always chosen by my dear husband. And something leads me to believe that he wouldn't care to be referred to as Mr. Thick, Mr. Heavy or Mr. Chunky (as in chunky granite of course...). So there it is...he's duly coded as Mr. Big. :)

Backing up a bit here to share a few pictures of the day that the building officially started. To this point in time, we had looked at plans, made changes, looked at the plans some more, made more changes, looked at the plans yet again....and I think you get the picture. So this was the very happy face that greeted us all on the day that the fill officially arrived. Mr. Big in his glory!

I know that this is the boring, painful part so we'll get this over quickly. Here is a shot of the land looking back from the property line. The very few mounds of fill and random wood is all we needed to consider "construction started".

And you know what happens when construction is started, right? Friends come over to celebrate, look at plans...and ride their bikes!

Unfortunately if you are the friends of Mr. and Mrs. Big, your celebration consists of champagne and lime Tostitos (yes, you read that correctly). Ok, so we're not high class... In any case, the neighboorhood gatherings have started...!

My Mother's Daughter

Most people would say that I am my Father's daughter. That is, until you start talking about home decor or shopping. You get to these discussions and it is pretty obvious that my mom taught me something fierce.

Shop for a bargain, find items that are unique, and create a cozy home. Full stop. This woman (my mom of course...) raised three kids, taught tennis, had a thousand friends, but really, her true talent is her ability to create a home. She could give Martha (or anyone else for that matter) a run for their money...and on a budget as well.

So I have always been inspired by beautiful interiors. (My husband groans in the background...) The thing is...it's quite hard to narrow down exactly what you want your interior to be. Should it be rustic? modern? a combination of the two? And without any experience, how do you pull it off?

We recently visited a location in Healdsburg, California that did an excellent job of combining the various elements that "speak to me". The drum roll please and let me introduce...Bella Winery, which has a beautiful barn and wine cave that you never want to leave. Yes, I looked like a complete dork as I ran around the place snapping photos like a tourist (but then again, I was a tourist!).

The barn has the most beautiful interior to start your wine tasting. Look at that fabulous wall of shelving...so simple, and so obvious once you see it. It's clear that they spent quite a bit of time on the details as even the window trim was out of distressed pine. The concrete floor (I was drooling), the oversized windows, the big doors, the impressive front table...all of it blended together perfectly. If only we could live there...or replicate it!

The wine cave is where you are treated to the best wines in a cool, chic surrounding. Of course, they have an acoustic guitar going, candles everywhere, and a completely "unnecessary" store chock full of goodies.

All the way down the corridor, there are old wine barrels holding treasures tempting even the strongest women...plates and tea sets, candle holders, serving dishes, and all sorts of other table accessories. No, these decadent temptresses cannot replicate good friends at the dinner table...but they sure try.

The whole mood in the cave is electic and casual at the same time. Everything you look at seems to have a personality to it. All of your sense are captured, and yet it is entirely comfortable at the same time. How do you create that feeling in a home? Don't worry, I'm not going to propose that we live in a cave...

(I should mention that the wines at Bella are equally as impressive as the decor...)

I came away from this visit imaging how my mom would tackle this. While I loved everything that made Bella cozy and comfortable, I tend to also like more modern decor. There must be a middle road that I can find...and there I am...my mother's daughter once again.

And we're off

This is what my mind has felt like over the past three years...driftwood. No, I should qualify that statement...driftwood only comes into play when I think about the home that we are building.

Why is this so hard? What with the millions of different directions that this project could go, my vision can simply be swayed to and fro and then back again. My poor husband, I'm sure he wonders where his sensible partner has gone. Oh, but look at all the wonderful tidbits of inspiration that i bring him! His perplexed looks tell me enough...why can't I just make up my mind?

This blog is an attempt to capture all of these crazy home inspirations and, hopefully, pull off the vision that we both have. Wish us luck!