Outdoor kitchen

Whilst chatting with our best friends in St Louis a few weeks ago, they mentioned reorganizing their kitchen ahead of the arrival of their baby. They planned to store some of their seasonal kitchen items in totes in their basement, like their grilling gear. And, not kidding, my brain short circuited for a full second as I processed the concept of not being able to cook outside ALL of the time. Creating a space for outdoor cookery has been high on our list of improvements for this house. When the pandemic sent us into lockdown last spring, finishing the outdoor kitchen sprung to the top of Aaron’s list.

Let’s dive in with a throwback “before” photo… which is actually a photo of Hank, but because I’m so off my blogging game that this is legitimately the best “before” shot of the area that would become the kitchen.

He’s a handsome boy ūüôā

When Aaron laid the deck for the outdoor dining room, he also built the platform and deck for the kitchen. And, yes, this is another picture of Hank, which happens to be a decent “before” shot.

This is essentially our view when we walk from the living room out to the backyard. For those playing along, you might remember that we reconfigured the backside of the house with this in mind during the interior reno.

Let’s get into the details. We knew we needed space for the smoker and grill, storage for our new commercial style vacuum sealer, and lots of countertop. My general opinion is that you can’t have too much countertop in a kitchen. Plus we’ve taken to occasionally frying things and there’s no better place to do that than outside. Ditto for cooking up stir fry dishes in a wok.

We mapped out a few possible configurations, but kept getting tripped up on the size of the smoker. It’s a Yoder that we planned to remove from its attached cart. Ultimately, after lots of research by Aaron, we opted to sell the Yoder and invest in a Memphis Elite pellet smoker and wood-fired grill with a much smaller footprint. And after much deliberation, Aaron nixed his charcoal grill in favor of a small, built-in gas unit. That gave us ample room for a fry station when needed and even space for a small sink.

Construction started with the base cabinets and setting the Toja grid for the overhang. We opted for a smaller version than we used on the outdoor dining room, which was much easier to maneuver.

An aside about cabinet building. I am constantly amazed at Aaron’s abilities. At one point in the last few years, I walked into the garage and he had built a cabinet – seemingly out of thin air. If I had to build a cabinet it would assuredly end in tears and at least one, (hopefully) non-fatal injury. I’m blown away that he can design and build things.¬†It’s like this amazing super power that I get to witness. I digress…

With the structure in place, he was ready to start tiling the counter. We opted for absolute black granite, the same material we used in the indoor kitchen, except in large scale tiles.

The large opening will house the smoker, leaving ample counter space to the left.

On the right side of the kitchen, there’s space for a small sink and the small gas grill. The cabinet on the far right will house the vacuum sealer on a slide out shelf for easy access.

The back and top are lined with strips of ipe, the same material as the deck, which adds some nice natural texture above the black stone.

After that I seem to remember basically walking outside one day to a finished kitchen… and my photo album seems to support that memory. But I know Aaron spent some time installing the smoker and grill AND a fair bit of time creating the front cabinet panels. The slats were meticulously designed to ensure a completely seamless look. Four doors are hidden within, offering access to the cabinets and clipping in place with magnets. So I’m sure there were hours of cutting, nailing, and painting… but we’ll just pretend his super powers let him snap his fingers and arrive at this.

Amongst the kitchen build, we finally decided on a planter arrangement to fill the gap between the kitchen and dining area. We opted for Mexican river rock as a base, which ties into other planters in the backyard and is one of our favorite stone options. We topped these with pots we gathered from HomeGoods for an herb garden, but which worked better here. Then we added lavender and trailing rosemary, irrigation and some uplights. And, yes, you may notice that two of the lavender plants succumbed to lack of water between purchase and planting. We replaced them with greener versions, which adds some nice contrast against the silvery ones that survived. The shot below gives you a better  view of the dining room, planter and kitchen all together.

I love how the avocado tree encroaches a bit.


Ok. Are you ready for some before/after goodness?

That is one sexy kitchen… and (fair warning)… it might be sexier at night.

If you stop by and we don’t answer the door right away, it’s because we’re outside…

Can you blame us?

Dining outdoors is the best dining

Between the four seasons (sometimes in one day) and humidity, I like to joke that Missouri only has about 5 completely perfect days a year. While that’s a bit of an exaggeration, the SoCal weather, specifically in a nearly coastal town like Camarillo was a huge draw for us. We have our house open as much as possible and I never mind the extra dusting. It’s a fair trade off for enjoying the fresh air.

I tell you all of this because the exterior of a house, specifically an area for outdoor dining, was on our wish list during our home search. In fact, we were so enamored with the backyard on a home in Camarillo that we made an offer despite the fact that the house was only 1,400 square feet with a funky layout and much too small kitchen. That’s how hard we fell HAAARD for the backyard.¬† Thankfully, we didn’t get that house and instead inherited this:


Which wasn’t exactly a move-in ready dining area (we tore out the built-in, small, sun drenched exterior table pretty quickly after moving in, but it was potential, and you know how much we love potential! The view above is looking out from our living room. We removed this door and replaced it with French doors, anticipating that some day this space would be our prime outdoor entertainment area. This post will orient you to the outside door placement if you want a refresher.

You won’t see these raised beds in many previous posts because they got pretty gnarly after years of neglect.

So when we hired a crew to clean out our backyard planters, we had them rip these out as well, which gave us the blank slate we were looking for.

Over the months, the design for this space went through many iterations. We considered tiling the whole patio, but eventually settled on a raised deck with a pergola. The space was so long that it gave us a chance to add a built-in seating area, which would allow us to move our fire pit into this entertaining zone.

Construction kicked off with Aaron setting the footings and removing the brick light posts.

After that he framed the deck.

Here’s a look at the built-in benches getting roughed in. This will make a lot more sense a few pictures down.

Next he started adding the electrical and lights.

Before you ask, the deck in the back left of the photo is a kitchen. It is equally drool worthy and will get its own post. For now, let’s focus on lighting. We opted for lots of layers so we could provide the right glow for any occasion. Ambient uplighting comes from these really cool puck lights.

Next up was decking with our favorite outdoor wood: Ipe. We’ve been enamored with this wood since we used it on the garage and fence at the firehouse. It’s a great candidate for California because, among other attributes, it is termite resistant.

We opted for a clean look by covering the whole deck with full boards. You’ll see these lines carried through the rest of the deck when I get those photos up ūüôā

Here’s a better shot of the benches. They’re a step down from the deck and sit flush with the yard. The hatch on the left allows for access to necessary electrical bits and will get covered by the cushions.

Then it was time to oil, which is the absolute best day when working with Ipe. Soooooo prettttty!

With the deck in place, Aaron turned his attention to the pergola, which was inspired by Costco. What? Inspiration is all around ūüėÄ

While browsing Costco one weekend (remember the days when you could leisurely shop?), we noticed they were selling a pergola kit. It was fairly reasonable and got Aaron thinking that it would be faster and potentially cheaper and easier to use a kit. The Costco option didn’t work due to the size and style, but Aaron turned to the interwebs and found Toja Grid, a modular, sleek pergola system. The hardware pieces allow you to connect 4×4 or 6×6 lumber in a variety of configurations. We opted for 6×6 to give the pergola enough visual weight for the space we planned to cover. The posts and beams got a coat of Sherwin Williams Woodscapes in Black Alder, which is becoming our go to exterior coating and color.

The pieces went together as expected, but we ran into a complete work stoppage when we realized that there was no way for us to safely raise the first set. The height, weight, angles, literally everything were working against us. Once again, the interwebs came to the rescue. Aaron was able to hire a few laborers to do the (literal) heavy lifting and get the pergola in place.

With the structure in place, we started adding in the decor:

  • Table – Design Within Reach 1966 Collection, bought from the local DWR outlet which can be a dangerous place to browse
  • Chairs – Wayfair
  • Pots (various, but lots from HomeGoods) and plants (my favorite is the New Zealand Christmas tree)
  • Lights – Costco
  • Sunshade

Much improved view from our bedroom below:

The fire pit seating got light gray cushions made from Sunbrella fabric.

The daytime photos are stunning, but the evening pictures may be better thanks to the lighting. It’s hard to choose which I like better… I imagine it’s like having children. You appreciate them for different reasons.

Now you can see the layers of lights. String lights keep the overhead lighting from being too heavy and a dimmer allows for brighter light during meals. The uplighting will run the whole perimeter of the deck (which will cover the entire patio – more photos soon!) Downlighting highlights that the dining room is raised and also washes the back of the fire pit seating.

Ok, I lied. I like the evening photos the best. Don’t tell the daytime photos I picked a favorite.

MUCH more to show you out here, including a magazine worthy outdoor kitchen that was Aaron’s first COVID project, which has allowed us to enjoy it all summer.

Current status

Note: It’s been awhile since I’ve come to this space… so long that it feels like a completely different world. Last time I was here, we weren’t living in a pandemic and George Floyd was still alive. Both things will come to define this year. For the most part, Aaron and I have been fortunate. I work from home now, opting for a uniform of tights and t-shirts. Like many others with remote-capable jobs, I feel tethered to my computer for long hours and some days are truly a struggle. Meanwhile, this country is simultaneously waking up and closing their eyes/ears to the systemic racism that people have faced for decades. We’re in the former group, a work in progress like most people, but unapologetically rooted in the belief that Black Lives Matter. We also believe in science and facts, which still feels like a weird thing to have to defend.

In the midst of all of this, blogging about my house felt trivial… and more often than not, I was left with very little energy or emotion at the end of the day. As recently as earlier this week I thought, “The blog is dead.” Putting words to that thought made me stop and really consider if I was done here, and I decided that I wasn’t. I want to be here in spite of everything going on – mostly as an outlet where I can put some positive energy to pull me out of much of the negativity waiting for me in the world.

While I sincerely hope that the November 3 results in a much needed change to the occupant of the White House, I know that the work doesn’t end there. We’re in a marathon to change America for the better – to create a more perfect country where our ideals are truly available for all. And because it’s a marathon, we all need time and space to step out for a minute, to recharge. So I’m here to do that for me and if my ramblings help you do that too, welcome friend.

This post was inspired by Redfin, who has suddenly broken through the Gmail barrier and lands their emails in my inbox (rather than the black hole that is promotions folder). I don’t mind. You probably already know I have a thing for real estate, and the emails make it easy to keep up with the houses selling in Camarillo. I feel like I’ve adjusted to the California real estate market, but every once in a while I see a listing and react with “they’re listing a 3/2 1,200-sq-ft house for WHAT?” It was one of those listings, that made me visit our home’s Redfin post to double check the size of our lot. And the listing pictures gave me such a kick that I decided to give you a current status look at where we are vs the listing photos. We had more than one COVID construction (COVID-struction?) project so there’s plenty of new content for any of you who have been stalking my Instagram or just generally wondering what we’ve been up to on the home renovation front. This will give you a taste and I’ll swing back with individual posts (and more photos) on some of the major areas that I haven’t posted about.

Let’s dive in, because the front of the house got a major facelift… and we didn’t do most of the work (gasp!)

The updated paint is a little hard to see in the after shot (more on that here) but the lack of grass is pretty apparent! We were so excited to pull the trigger on a xeriscaped front yard AND pay someone else to do the work. The front beds are still a work in progress. We also have plans for the entryway and a new garage door at some point.

Stepping into the main space of the house, it was fun to remember what was where and try and get the same angles. My lens wasn’t quite as wide, but I think you get the idea.

I really want to pull out the before photos of the living room and give it the post it deserves, because the transformation is CRAZY!

We haven’t talked much about the master bath… mostly because it’s kind of meh. We painted it white and it feels a little sterile and disjointed. I painted the cabinets and hated just about every minute of it. They turned out ok.

Yep! We did it! We finally got the wine room of our dreams. It’s not 100% done (still need to hang some art) but more details coming soon!

I loooooove the changes we’ve made in the backyard.

The only thing I’m not super jazzed about is losing the ivy covered fence. That’s a story for a different day.

So that’s where we are. There’s plenty of projects to dive into and I’m genuinely looking forward to pulling together some before/after shots of most the recent (within the last year-ish is recent, right?) transformations.

Crossing Iceland off the bucket list

This is going to be a massive post. We spent 10 days Iceland in September 2018 and I want to break it down for us and for anyone who may want to know WAY too much about our time on this island. If you’re just looking for some tips and our absolute top experiences, feel free to jump to the bottom of the post. If you’re here for the long haul, get your favorite beverage because I have SO many things to tell you.

I love intensive travel planning. I want to know all the gems, all the tips, everything we might want to see, do or eat. There always comes a time when I’ve narrowed down the agenda that I stop planning. I don’t need yet another thing to add as a definite (or a maybe) stop, and I want to get away from the myriad of images online so as not to taint the actual experience of being in a place and really seeing it.

This point never came with Iceland. Sure, I had an itinerary, but I researched and ogled up to the night before we left. I still worried that seeing the stunning sights so many times online would make the real thing less stunning. Those fears were completely misplaced. Iceland is beautiful online. It is otherworldly in person. So if this is your first or your 131st blog looking for Iceland information, rest assured that what you’ll see below is nothing compared to seeing it in real life.

When we traveled: Sept 1 – 13, 2018

Flights: Delta (connecting through Milwaukee on the way out and NYC on the way back)

Accommodations: Three AirBnBs (noted below) and one night at Hotel Keflavik

What we did

Day 1: Arriving and getting a taste of Iceland

After landing, buying liquor at Duty Free, and picking up our rental car, we settled in for the the long drive to our first AirBnB. This lodging was strategically placed to give us access Iceland’s southern coast and put us in striking distance of¬†J√∂kuls√°rl√≥n. Driving in Iceland is super easy (they drive on the right side of the road), but can feel terminally slow thanks to the 50 kilometers per hour speed limit on their two lane highways. The Icelandic coffee (which is a mix of espresso and regular coffee beans) and striking scenery helped with the 3 1/2 hour drive. We broke it up by stopping for groceries at Kronan in Selfoss. We also stopped off at¬†Sk√≥gafoss, one of the many sights that are easily accessible from Highway 1, also known as the Ring Road because it rings the island.

Sk√≥gafoss was a really nice introduction to Iceland’s waterfalls. It is absolutely massive and incredibly beautiful.

The rest of the day was spent admiring the view from our first AirBnB (which I definitely took a photo of and also definitely forgot to ask Aaron to edit) and trying to stay awake until 8 pm – an arbitrary time that we thought we could achieve to help assist with the jet lag and 8 hour time difference between California and Iceland. We made it to about 8:30. Winning.

Day 2: An introduction to F-Roads

After getting a bit of a late start thanks to needing to go out for gas (20 minutes one way), we headed for¬†Landmannalaugar. This highland park was listed as “mind blowing” in the Lonely Planet guidebook and was high on my radar. Once I had the attractions we could hit plotted on a Google map, I noticed that¬†Landmannalaugar could be accessed from either our first or second AirBnB and that it was conveniently located on the SAME road as the first accommodation. Google quoted a 2 hour, 23 minute drive. Google was a baldfaced liar in this instance. That is mostly due to the fact that Google doesn’t properly recognize Iceland’s F-Roads, which are unpaved, 4WD required journeys onto themselves.

The 4WD requirement in and of itself didn’t radically alter our plans at the outset. Luckily, I have a partner who has 4WD skills, and we had the right vehicle for the job. What didn’t work in our favor was the condition of the road (very bumpy) that meant our 2 1/2 hour drive was likely to be closer to 3 hours (or more). Still we pushed ahead, enjoying the inland scenery and ALL of the sheep (Fun fact: There are more sheep on Iceland than people) until we go to this:

This is a river that you have to ford to keep going on the F-road. After consulting our Iceland map, it was one of many we would hit on this section. Not having enough confidence in 1) our rental car, 2) the depth of the river (here or further up), 3) whether weather conditions would change (they do frequently in Iceland) and raise the water depth for our return trip, we called this attempt at Landmannalaugar over. We shot a few photos where we stopped and enjoyed a roadside lunch.

With enough time left in the day to see something else, we headed for Reynisfjara beach. This black sand beach that is backed by basalt towers is one of the most popular spots on Iceland’s southern coast. It is well deserved.

Day 3: The glacier lagoon

I mentioned that our first AirBnB was positioned strategically. It was all for this:

The one and only tour we booked on this trip was an hour-long Zodiac boat tour of Jökulsárlón. Getting out into the icebergs, seeing seals up close and getting near the edge of the glacier was the absolute highlight of Iceland for me. I would visit this spot over and over again.

A few notes:

  • The Zodiac boat tour is SO worth it, but there is plenty to see and photograph from the shore. We spent at least an hour wandering the shores after the tour and may have spent longer if the weather was better.
  • Diamond Beach is just across the highway. It seemed totally walkable from the¬†J√∂kuls√°rl√≥n parking lot. Due to the weather, we opted out, but it’s another very popular spot in Iceland.
  • Fjalls√°rl√≥n is another, smaller glacier lagoon nearby. It is supposed to be less crowded. If we go back, I would plan to stop at this one first before heading to the main attraction.

Svartifoss, a waterfall over basalt columns, was on my list for the drive back. A 1 mile hike seemed like a good way to break up the drive, and the weather was starting to cooperate. The waterfall itself was as advertised – pretty and touristy.

The hike was a bit more strenuous than I realized. We’re both in decent shape, but it became obvious that Aaron’s “Handyman diet and exercise plan” (wherein he works as a handyman instead of mostly sitting at a desk editing photos) made him better conditioned for this type of hike. I blame my recent obsession with high intensity interval training as my preferred method of cardio workouts. Doing jumping jacks or squat jumps or burpees as hard as you can for 20 seconds does little to prepare the body for a sustained uphill slog.

We spent the rest of the drive stopping to shoot waterfalls that caught our eye on the drive out. This country is the very opposite of California in so many ways – black earth, green everything and so wet. We were amazed by how many unnamed, but beautiful waterfalls dot the hills here.

We also pulled off to capture the light spilling across a moss-covered lava field.

Day 4: The day we should have set an alarm clock

Day 4 was our first transition day, meaning we’d need to pack everything up, vacate our existing accommodations, then entertain ourselves and grocery shop before settling into our next temporary home. Knowing all of that we should have set an alarm clock, but we were lulled into complacency by the uncomfortable bed (how long could we sleep?) and our usually very reliable internal clocks (Aaron usually doesn’t sleep much past 7 and I rarely sleep past 8). At 9 am, I rolled over and said “Oh no! We have got to get up.” Cut to us hurriedly eating, packing and leaving with plenty of time to spare, but feeling like we were way behind schedule for the day.

Our first stop was¬†Seljalandsfoss. (Side note: I cannot spell our pronounce any of these names, but I do know that “foss” means waterfall.) This beauty is a huge attraction because you can walk all the way around the waterfall. It’s popular, it’s wet and it’s worth it. (Another sidenote: We toted lightweight rain suits, but never needed them. If you have decent outdoor gear, like a coat and hiking pants, you should be fine.)

What we loved most was the sheer amount of water cascading off the hill and then turning into mist, rather than a roaring river at the bottom. The light (and the amount of people) we’re conducive to many photos. If you want a stunning shot like you see online, you’ll need to go early.

From there we wandered over to¬†Glj√ļfrab√ļi. This waterfall is definitely a “pretty to see, not pretty to photograph” spot. To get the full effect you do have to walk up a small creek. We opted to stay dry.

From there, I really wish we would have had the extra few hours back because we would have done the hike to¬†Reykjadalur Hot Springs. It’s a hike through a geothermal area to a hot spring river. And it may be at the top of my list for our next trip. Instead, we opted to stop by the Kerid Crater and it was ok. It’s a multicolored crater with a lake at the bottom.

It is exactly that and hard to photograph and just wasn’t my favorite. Something has to make the bottom of the list, right? This is 100% my personal opinion. Some people absolutely love it so don’t cross it off your list because of me.

From there we headed back to Kronan for more groceries and settled in to our next AirBnB. It was a cute property with a dog that ALWAYS wanted to play fetch, but never wanted to be pet.

Day 5: The Golden Circle and some “hidden gems”

When you start researching Iceland, you will read a LOT about the Golden Circle. This area is the closest nature you can get to from¬†Reykjav√≠k and therefore very popular. The classic Golden Circle tour is:¬†√ěingvellir National Park (a park where the tectonic plates are pushing against each other), Geysir (a geyser) and Gulfoss (huge waterfall). We were based on the east side of the circle and decided to string together 2 of the classics with some “hidden gems” in the area. First up we went to Geysir. This is the geyser from which all others get their names. It’s in a very cool geothermal area, and, depending on your interest in seeing water shoot pretty high into the air, you could spend a lot of time here. The eruptions are very regular and about 10 minutes apart.¬† We watched a few and then continued on our way to Gulfoss.

Gulfoss is massive and magnificent.

We decided to chase a few more waterfalls and headed up the 32, which I had already dubbed “waterfall alley.” The first stop was Hjalparfoss a sweet double waterfall tucked down a short gravel road (4WD not required).

From there we headed in search of Gj√°in. To get to this incredibly lush, waterfall laden valley, you have to drive down a very barren, arid F road. I think part of the appeal of this spot is that it’s so unexpected given it’s surroundings. It was a cool place to see, but much of the area is roped off. My best suggestion is to stop here if you want to eat lunch in a pretty place. It’s not really a hiking or photo destination, save for a few angles.

Here. Right here is where I almost made the biggest mistake of this entire trip. I said to Aaron, “There’s another waterfall if you want to drive like 20 minutes the other direction on this F road, but I don’t know if it’s worth it.”

If you can F road (because that is totally a verb now), do not question whether you should visit H√°ifoss and Granni. Do it.
The internet photos don’t do it justice. (You should still go.)
I’ve been and I don’t think these photos do it justice. (Seriously, GOOOOO)

H√°ifoss encapsulates Iceland for me. You drive down this F road thinking you’re crazy, walk up to a cliff that tested my fear of heights and see one of the most beautiful things nature has to offer.

Day 6: We make it to¬†Landmannalaugar… but the weather doesn’t cooperate

Day 6 was our last chance at making it back to¬†Landmannalaugar – a multicolored highland park that we didn’t get to enjoy on our first full day in Iceland. The drive from the Golden Circle was much easier (about half of it is paved and the F road portion was not particularly bumpy or treacherous). The park is a mash up of colors – black, fluorescent green, red, orange, white. It is truly a special place on an island that is full of beauty.

Unfortunately, the day we made it up there the weather did not cooperate. It was cold, wet and rather miserable. We did a short hike, which would have been a perfect introduction to the stunning variety of the park – painted mountains, a lava field, and geothermic activity were all encapsulated in a short and easy 3 mile hike. The rain made it hard to photograph and by the time we slogged back to the SUV, we decided to cut our losses and head back down to the AirBnB.

Day 7: Closing out the Golden Circle and heading to Snaefellsnes Peninsula

Thingvellir National Park, the third “Classic Golden Circle” site was at the top of our agenda for the day. This historic area is the home of Iceland’s first parliament and sits atop the spot where the North American and European tectonic plates are slowly tearing away from each other. To be honest, this was one of our least favorite spots on the island. It is clogged with tourists and doesn’t hold a candle to the raw nature you can find in other spots. We read some signs, photographed a small waterfall and continued on our way.

Porufoss waterfall was our next detour. Maybe it was the theme of the day, but this waterfall was also just ok. You can’t get particularly close to it and there’s nothing outstanding about it.

We didn’t spend much time here before heading to Borgarnes to stock up on food for the last leg of our journey on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. This peninsula sits north of Reykjavik and is often called “Iceland in miniature” thanks to the abundance of natural beauty housed in a relatively small footprint. It has a glacier, black sand beaches, mountains, lava fields, waterfalls and more. It’s also significantly less touristy than the south coast and Golden Circle. It seemed liked a perfect last stop. The weather was dreary so we opted to relax at the AirBnB instead of trying to tack on any additional sights.

Day 8: Kirkjufell, Berserkjahruan lava fields and naps

We got our introduction to the peninsula by seeking out the most photographed mountain in Iceland: Kirkjufell. This pyramid-shaped beauty has it’s own neighboring waterfall: Kirkjufellfoss and is conveniently located right off the highway. Both the mountain and waterfall are beautiful in their own right, but it is easy to see why so many people make sure to stop here.

We continued along Highway 54 until just before it meets Highway 56 where the Berserkjahruan lava fields lie. These craggy lava flows are covered with the softest moss, making the landscape incredibly dynamic and photogenic.

At this point, a slight sickness that started the evening before made Aaron ask for a break. I am never one to turn down a nap, so we spent the afternoon resting at the AirBnB before enjoying some dramatic views in the evening.

Day 9: In which I try to make it an easy day but we still see a LOT of sights

Aaron woke up the next day feeling better, but definitely not 100%. “No problem,” I said. “We can make it an easier day.”

I don’t necessarily think hiking a beach, climbing up a crater and then hiking to three waterfalls is necessarily “easy,” but we kept coming across new options and he kept saying “ok” so that’s what we did.

Our first stop was¬†Dritvik Dj√ļpal√≥nssandur, a stunning black beach at the end of the peninsula. It topped¬†Reynisfjara beach thanks to the varied landscape and absolute solitude. We saw one other group walking down to the beach as we were walking out.

The next stop on the road that rings the peninsula was¬†Saxh√≥lar crater. I’m not sure why this landed on my list, but we walked up the steps, circled the crater and decided that craters just are not our jam.

Thankfully there were a few waterfalls nearby. Klukkufoss was billed as falling over impressive basal columns and was just a short 1/3 mile hike. While not nearly as breathtaking as Svartifoss, Klukkufoss had a few nice angles and we had it ALL to ourselves.

Another 1/3 mile walk took us to Snekkjufoss, which was also very pretty.

We opted to stop in Hellisandur to grab a coffee and ended up at the adorable¬†Kaffih√ļs Gamla Rif, where we overheard some fellow tourists asking about how they could get close to the¬†Sn√¶fellsj√∂kull glacier, which had been rather elusive on our trip, always covered in clouds. We learned that F570 takes you pretty close to the glacier and I knew we’d be adding that to tomorrow’s list.

We planned to close out the “easy” day by completing the loop road around the peninsula. At this point, I wondered if we were ‘waterfalled out’ but the signs for¬†Sv√∂√įufoss made us pull off. The waterfall was pretty from afar, but we could see a well worn path that might get us up close and personal. A few creek crossings later and we were able to view this stunner from so many angles that we ended up calling it “the jungle gym waterfall.” It was by far one of our favorite waterfalls thanks to how close you can get and how deserted the whole area was.

Day 10: Up close and personal with the glacier

For our last day on the peninsula, we decided to give the F570 a go and see how close we could get to the glacier. Mission accomplished X1000. Once again we were almost completely alone on this road and able to enjoy the glacier from a variety of angles. I even convinced Aaron to stage a glacier selfie.

The view looking down from the mountain was also stunning!

Next up we swung down to Arnarstapi to check out the rugged coastline. There is a pretty well-known hike from Arnarstapi to Hellnar. If this had been the first stop of our trip, it would have been stunning, but having spent 9 1/2 days overloading our eyeballs with everything Iceland had to offer, we were underwhelmed. The coastline is stunning, but once you get into the lava field it felt quite familiar.

Day 11: Souvenir shopping, KFC and Hotel Keflavik

The last day in Iceland we pretty chill. Our main objective was to grab lunch in Reykjavík and stock up on souvenirs and gifts. We opted for the VERY popular Icelandic Street Food and can tell you that the hype is warranted thanks to unlimited delicious soup (lamb or shellfish) and free unlimited desserts. Everything was delicious and it was a complete bargain.

From there we hit up a Kronan to grab lots of treats for ourselves and knock out some Christmas gifts. We grabbed licorice chocolate (an Icelandic favorite), locally produced salt, coffee and a few more resuable shopping bags (the quality and price of European bags is hard to beat). Grabbing these items at the grocery store made them very affordable and very authentic. (Before flying out we rounded out our shopping with a few bottles of Brennivin and a stuffed animal puffin for our niece.)

From there we checked into the Hotel Keflevik. This lovely hotel has a fantastic breakfast spread and is the perfect place to stay before returning to the States thanks to the close proximity to the airport. We looked at menus for our final dinner in country but ended up at KFC, and I regret nothing. Not cooking a meal and being introduced to fries + gravy was exactly the right way to close out our final night. The bottle of wine and cable TV in the hotel didn’t hurt either ūüėČ


  • The internet has a wealth of information on this small island. I’m not even telling you anything new here, so much as cataloging our trip for my own personal memories. Jeannie at Iceland With a View is hands down the best resource, including a Facebook group that you can join to chat with fellow would be and past Iceland travelers. I may never leave that group thanks to the Iceland images that are injected into my Facebook feed.
  • Rent a car. They drive on the same side of the road as we do. We used Blue with a discount from Iceland With a View and were very happy. Opt for the insurance and add¬† a wireless hotspot.
  • Everyone speaks English.
  • Food is expensive. If you’ve done any research you already know this. We kept our overall food expenses in check by making nearly all of our own meals, which meant shopping at local grocery stores. Kronan was our favorite for price and selection. On our first trip, I brought our wireless hotspot into the store so we could google to confirm things like “Is this meat beef?” We ate simply, but enjoyed a lot of the local delicacies – Atlantic salmon, lamb and langoustine were highlights. If you’re really interested in meal planning, I’d be happy to write a specific post or just email you some additional thoughts.
  • The best thing we brought with us was a few marinade packets. These small envelopes allowed us to have flavorful meals without buying a bunch of spices we didn’t want to transport home.
  • Buy alcohol at the Duty Free shop before leaving the airport. There’s one handily located right by the baggage claim.
  • F-Roads – Know them and your skill set. Google doesn’t really recognize F-roads, but you’ll need to. If you’re comfortable with off-roading and rent the appropriate vehicle, go for it. Half of our favorite experiences were down this bumpy roads. If these aren’t your cup of tea, just be careful when planning what you want to see.


The best of the best – In our opinion the absolute must see stops in Iceland based on what we visited.


Parting thoughts: Iceland crept into my heart in a way that I never expected. It was the top of Aaron’s bucket list trip based on the extremely beautiful and diverse landscape, but I have fallen for it hard. We may have crossed it off for now, but I have no doubt that we’ll be back.

Backyard planters – The 2018 bonus project

We haven’t talked much about the backyard even though it was an important part of our consideration when buying a house. When logisitics and budget negated our ability to buy something with a mountain view, we settled on the need for privacy. This house delivered thanks to a neighborhood section full of single story homes and a back fence absolutely flooded with ivy, which adds so much life to the space.


We inherited three things

  1. Way more planters than we could ever hope to fill
  2. A smorgasbord of non-native plants that need continuous watering.
  3. Questionable irrigation for said water-loving plants

The irrigation worked somewhat well to keep the plants alive. It worked really well at encouraging weeds. While we focused on the interior reno, the planters were slowly overrun. Our solution: cut the water entirely, saving money and killing the weeds. It worked-ish. Mostly it was a hot mess of plants that we were thankful to have in the rear of our house where no one could see them.

The ultimate plan was to rip out every last plant and replace it with drought tolerant varieties, which we both love. But with everything else on our plate and the sheer scale of the project, we figured this project wouldn’t happen until sometime well into 2019. That didn’t stop us from wishing for a solution (or more time) because we use our backyard a LOT. We moved into our home in July and literally didn’t eat dinner inside until early October. Add in plenty of time relaxing by the fire pit and we logged a lot of hours dreaming about what the backyard would look like… some day.

That day came much faster than expected. Aaron’s business started ramping up last fall. Having some extra cash from that coincided with our neighbor’s landscaping company making some finishing touches in their yard. Aaron asked what it would cost for them to clean out all of our planters, and a few hundred dollars later we had a clean slate.

We had already tested painting the brick a medium gray  in a few sections so we were ready to get rid of all that red.

The hardscape was also fairly easy. We absolutely love blue gray Mexican beach pebbles, but at nearly $10 per bag we knew we couldn’t fill the beds with these. Thankfully white marble chips are about half the price and well within our color story. We opted to do the higher (and smaller) levels of each planter in Mexican beach pebble and the bulk of the planters in white marble chips.

In terms of plants, we decided on a clean look for the planters. We weren’t looking to overfill or buy plants that would spread. We also wanted native or drought tolerant plants for eco and “know your weaknesses” reasons. When it came to the exact plants we were a big basket of¬†¬Į\_(„ÉĄ)_/¬Į

So we visited nurseries and took pictures and asked for prices and made sure that everything we liked would be good with little water and lots of neglect. Our biggest scores were finding 5′ jade plants for $55 and massive agave that had been neglected so long they literally grew through their pots into the earth and had to be dug up for $35. THESE are our types of plants!

In the far left side of the yard we planted a lemon tree. This was unrelated to this major project and obviously not drought tolerant. But we have always wanted a lemon tree and when in California, as they say. Next to that we kicked things off with a coat of paint…

In the taller section we planted a foxtail agave and a white bushy thing. Up front we opted for fescue (which you will see a lot) and tall squiggly plants.

If you haven’t realized by now, you should not be here for specific plant advice.

The plants for the center section of the yard needed special consideration because our dogs have decided they do not like the dogs that live behind us. One of the neighbor dogs has decided that the right answer to Great Dane aggression is literally pulling sections of the fence off with his teeth. So besides having some patches, we needed plants that the Danes wouldn’t entirely trample as we work on their manners.

Agave plants were the solution. We paired them with more white fluffy plants and fronted it all with fescue. The white plants and fescue on the right side are still kind of intact after several months of Dane re-education. It’s mostly a win.

Moving along the back fence we bought three aloe things and more fescue.

Because repetition in design is good and this agave was mysteriously only $50, we echoed the look from the other corner.

The key hole planter was our biggest challenge because of the sheer size of it. We wanted to make sure it felt appropriately full without spending an arm and a leg on plants.

Our solution was well spaced and various sized agave in the marble chips, backed by two massive jades and more white fluff plants in the Mexican pebbles.

It is one of my favorite sections of the planters… although looking at the photos it makes me want to redo our fence. Don’t look at the fence.

Rounding out the right side, we planted some variegated jade, more fescue and a tall something that I absolutely loved and negotiated hard for. Also of note, there’s a rusty piece of metal (because when one of your best friends hauls a piece of rusty metal out of the ocean and asks you to put it in your garden, you say yes). You may also have noticed that we didn’t paint the brick touching the patio. We have some other plans for the backyard patio, which are¬† definitely ON the list for 2019 (and kicking off in a few weeks!)