I was talking to one of my colleagues about what publications keep him most informed. As I would have guessed, he mentioned Fast Company. He said he subscribes to FC as well as many other business and technology magazines. Then, to my excitement, my coworker told me that I'm welcome to borrow any of his magazines.
So I've decided I'm going to borrow his Fast Company each month. I've really enjoyed the March '09 edition so far and don't feel it will be a struggle to keep this up. I get to work on my resolution for free — and one could even say it's "green" since I'm borrowing a copy (okay, is that a stretch?).
I came in on Friday morning only to find a sweet Valentine's-themed surprise from my coworker Dawn (of The Gahan Girls). Dawn left a beautifully-wrapped flaky sugar cookie treat for all the women in the office. She sandwiched two delectable and fluffy cookies together using a thin layer of pink icing (all homemade, I'm sure).
We woke in our Piazza della Signoria-based bed and breakfast feeling relaxed and refreshed. The bed at Olga's Place was comfortable, the night outside our hotel's windows had been quiet (after the protest ended, that is) and we slept contently. If anyone smiles while they sleep, we were smiling that night — our honeymoon had been nothing but amazing.
Seeing in that we had a walking tour that day, we donned comfortable shoes and clothes we could layer. From there, we descended the stairs and walked just a few feet to a breakfast cafe. The vouchers Roberto gave us were good for a croissant of our choice (I chose a custard-filled one, Dan a classic buttered one) and a coffee drink (cappuccino for both of us). We checked our watches and headed in the direction of our tour's meeting place — just on the other side of the open air market past where we'd had dinner the night before.
Luckily, we arrived about half an hour early and located one of the guides. I say "luckily" because the tour guide representative checked her list and realized we were on the following day's list. Whoops. Rechecking our materials, we realized we had our days mixed up! Instead of a walking tour, we were supposed to be doing our bike tour through Tuscany. With only 30 minutes to spare, we hightailed ourselves back to Olga's House, changed into our athletic gear and borderline jogged to the meeting place one bridge down from the Ponte Vecchio.
We managed to make it to the bike tour meeting spot with a few minutes to spare. We chatted with a few other couples, singles and a mom-and-daughter duo. Most of the patrons were American, with a few from Australia, New Zealand and the UK. Everyone seemed incredibly nice — and very open to sharing their travel plans for their time in Florence/Italy.
A few more people gathered at the meeting spot while we caught our breath. Mary and Keith, our guides, immediately put us at ease. Mary was from the States and Keith from... Ireland? Scotland? They both had fabulous senses of humor. Keith and his business partner, Andy, started Chianti Wine Tours after realizing there wasn't a business model like it — then recruited the American after meeting her one night at one of their favorite nightspots.
Italians are crazy drivers, for the most part. Mary seemed to pick that up pretty quickly. Aboard one of two vans, we darted in between cars and quickly took turns and curves — and after 30 minutes, we arrived at a gorgeous castle. The Castello di Poppiano Guicciardini, to be exact. The 12th century castle is still home to a count and countess and houses a wine and extra virgin olive oil production facility. We did a brief tour of the facility, walking through the casks and bottling areas for the wine then the press and production area for the extra virgin olive oil. Then we enjoyed a half-glass tasting of one of the house chiantis and a sample of the olive oil on fresh-baked bread — mmmmm. The tour concluded with a stop by the castle's gift shop. This sounds kind of gimmicky, but we thought for the price (about $8/bottle for wine and $12/bottle for olive oil), it would be fun to bring back a "taste of Florence" for special occasions.
We stowed our new goodies and headed for the bikes. This team didn't kid around when it came to safety. We were briefed on everything from the brakes to road etiquette (single file, please). Mary was stern when she said that if we misbehave, we would be taken off our bikes. We hit the road.
Wow. As I write this, I again wish I had photographs from our trip. The views were more picturesque then I could ever describe. Incredible rolling hills, gorgeous Tuscan villas, lush green countryside, etc. The gorgeous blue skies (just barely sprinkled with clouds) only added to the aesthetics. Most of the ride was easy, with much of it being downhill. I mostly watched Dan from a distance, as he was always toward the front of the pack. The first half of the bike was invigorating, energizing and relaxing all at once. What a great idea, Dan!
We stopped for lunch at a true, classic, Tuscan restaurant. We were all treated to salad, fried bread and polenta to start. I chose the prosciutto, peas, cream and penne pasta dish for my lunch — and couldn't pass up an espresso and sponge cake with gelato and fruit salad for dessert. Dan seemed pleased with his penne and sausage lunch. We enjoyed talking with our small group, too. One girl, for example, told us how she was traveling from New Zealand by herself — and that she was tired of waiting for her friends and boyfriend to have vacation time — so she decided to embark on a month-long trip through Italy on her own.
The second leg of the bike was a little more intense. Much was flat — but I felt my muscles stretching during a few long, slight inclines. The very end was where we met the super intense hill. 900 meters at a rather strong incline was enough to tell me I'd need van support. Dan braved it and managed to make it to the top sans heart attack. I was impressed. About half of the 20 of us didn't even try — and about a half of those who did gave up. The last mile or so of the bike was smooth sailing — and it was great to see the castle in sight — though I didn't want the tour to end as we cruised through more of the amazing Tuscan countryside.
The 60/euro a person fee (including lunch) for a six-ish hour adventure was definitely worth the experience. Mary dropped us back off at the bridge and wished us well. Before bidding adieus, Keith gave us a map of Florence with all of his and Andy's favorite places (low-key and high-brow night spots, cafes, casual restaurants, high-end restaurants, etc.). That was a nice touch!
After a stroll back to the bed and breakfast and a quick refresh, we evaluated our dinner options. We remembered the guys' recommendation for a place called Trattoria Anita. Keith said when he was new to the city, he rather blindly decided to try the place because his sister's name is Anita — and he was in love. I put on my amazing new boots and was ready to go! Dan and I walked around rather aimlessly for about half an hour before we finally found the place (your map could use a little calibration, Keith!) but it was well worth it.
We had oven-baked pecorino (cheese) and ham with a layer of truffle sauce. Dan chose the ravioli with butter and sage and also a chicken breast with tomato sauce, ham and cheese dish. I had the sausage and white beans with tomato sauce and a simple house salad. We capped the meal off with a cappuccino, as we wanted to venture out for a while after dinner.
We decided to venture out to one of the locales on the same nifty map. Pop Cafe was touted to be a low-key, locals hangout. We made our way across the Ponte Vecchio and through people walking their dogs and hanging out on the steps of centuries-old churches to the famed Pop Cafe. The place was a dive for sure — and it was fun to people watch. In fact, Dan and I both felt the area was reminiscent of Little Five Points here in Atlanta. We each grabbed a Jack Daniels and diet coke then took up post outside (apparently there aren't any open container laws). We watched a teenager who was obviously over the limit (the multiple vomiting episodes gave it away) and the friends trying to take care of her. We did not run into Mary, Keith or Andy.
We heard English and Italian being spoken — as well as a few other languages I couldn't make out. When I went inside to get a little more ice for my drink, I heard a local say, "a blonde!" Before out trip, I'd heard Italians sometimes commented on blondes, as natural ones are few-and-far-between there.
We finished our (stiff) drinks and walked slowly back, along the river, so we could take in all the scenery. We'd have just one more day and one more night in the beautiful city.
We're officially a week and a day into the project — and the contractors have nearly finished their ends of the bargain!
We will be busy bees after their work is done though, as we'll have cabinet sanding (and maybe painting) to tackle. I know Dan will be a pro at the crown molding because his experience in our office/third bedroom went off without a hitch.
Nifty cutting board Phil made from extra butcher's block
(fits perfectly in the sink)
Wine glass "slats" in custom cabinet
Better view of cabinet (and in-progress book case
above cabinet where the soffit once was)
Not-yet-tiled side of backsplash
We have some tile!
The backsplash is coming along...
Phil and the tile subcontractor should be back today to finish up the backsplash. Phil's also going to quote us on a few other projects (recessed lighting, under-the-cabinet lighting, a peek through window and bar between the kitchen and living room, some painting, etc.).
Installed oven and gas cooktop (with drawers back in)
Undermount granite composite sink ($50 on Craig's List)
complete with faucet and push-button on/off switch
Cooking with gas — awesome
The mosaic tile we picked out at Home Depot today ($10.99 square/foot)
The changes Phil made over the duration of last week — plus what Dan assisted with on Saturday — are a little less noticeable but exciting nonetheless.
Several coats of tung oil and polyurethane have been applied to the counter tops; its color is becoming more and more rich by the day. Several electrical outlets were moved. A cork board is now up behind the custom-built desk. Drawer fronts, cabinet hardware and a modified "arch" above the sink rounded out the cosmetic changes.
Saturday was especially exciting. Phil arrived around 9:30 and Dan was eager to help. Over the course of the day, they installed the sink's plumbing, garbage disposal (and it's custom on/off button), the $190 Craig's List stove and $140 Craig's List gas cooktop.
A tile subcontractor will be at our house tomorrow to put up our backsplash, which consists of the quarter-inch cement backer board, adhesive multi-colored mosaic tiles and linen-colored grout.
Eventually we'll be sanding and repainting our cabinets an antique white color (and maybe taking the doors off some of them or all of them) and putting up consistent crown molding. We're looking into putting up new light fixtures and having our avocado green Vent-a-Hood repainted white professionally. The custom bookshelf (where the soffit once was) will stay open for now, as an electrician may need to go through the space to update our electrical panel.
We'll call Friday night "day 1." That means that the first two days Phil came by (Monday and Tuesday) will be considered "day 2" and "day 3" and "day 4."
Day 2: cut counter tops to size, installed new cabinets (including hidden trash can drawer) and custom desk, temporarily took out dishwasher and vent hood
Day 3: cut counters out to prepare for stove top, sink, etc.; installed drawer for custom desk; installed undermount sink
Day 3: moved around some electrical (installed some new electrical); prepared plumbing; applied first layer of sealant (tung oil) to countertops; added flourescent lighting above custom desk and over sink area; prepared for cork board above desk
When Dan told me he was hesitant to accompany me to a coworker/friend's housewarming Friday night, I was a little disappointed. I was not, however, doubtful of the progress he would make over the course of the evening.
Dan's Friday night mission: demolish the kitchen of "Mallory Manor." And demolish he did! Here's what I came home to.
Your eyes are not deceiving you. Where there was once a formica countertop, formica backsplash, avocado oven, avocado stove, sink, etc. — no more! Our plan is to do a budget-friendly renovation of our 1950's ranch home's kitchen. Dan will be working with a handy contractor/carpenter named Phil. We know there are butcher's block counter tops, updated appliances, a custom desk some changes to the cabinets and a granite composite (undermount) sink in the plan but are not sure of all of the details just yet.
I'll keep my blog following (wait, can you call three people "a following"?) posted on the kitchen's progress.