summer project

a.k.a. What’s taking over our lives.

Seriously.  We’re losing our marbles, one 2×4 at a time over here.  I’ve had just about as much landscaping as I can take (see previous post), and I still have one. final. bed.  DOn’t get me wrong; I’m super excited to pick up our MAGNOLIA tree/shrub thing, but after that, I’m DONE.  No more planting for me this summer.

Andrew, I’m sure is just as frustrated as I am…  In true house-project fashion, everything takes way longer than you think (especially when you have not one but TWO engineers working on your projects), and EVERY option must be explored.  Andrew’s dad is the planner, Andrew is the do-er….and I think it takes three times as long.

Our existing deck and patio were pretty sad; the deck looked pretty worse for wear, and weeds had all but taken over whatever ‘patio’ we had.

  Shortly after returning from our France trip, in a fit of extreme motivation, I took up all our concrete pavers.  And all the flagstone.  BY MY SELF.  Seriously, the entire time I was lifting and rolling those giant pieces of concrete into piles, all I could think was ‘Is this a crossfit workout, or what?!’
  Between the paver removal and all my landscaping efforts, I might have sustained permanent wrist damage.  For real.

Andrew also completed deck demo, right down to (and including) the existing concrete supports.  Note the rusty bilco doors to the left (uncovered when we took the deck down); instead of simply replacing them and calling it a day, Andrew and his dad took a month to, essentially, make a roof for it.  No wonder this project is behind schedule; our totally unused, UNSEEN cellar entrance has a fancy schmancy roof.  End rant.

  Once all the pavers were up (squares got sold, flagstone is STILL in our garage…), a friend came over with his tractor to dig up and level the area for our new patio.
  Andrew even broke out his grandfather’s old survey equipment to ENSURE the ground was level. Our tractor friend got a good chuckle.  A few days later, we had someone come dig all the holes we needed, 20-something in all. So glad we hired THAT ONE out.

Nine new concrete supports for the deck as well as beams and joists, fence posts in and (in the foreground) our trench for the french drain.

Andrew and I spent the better part of Labor Day weekend digging out a giant trench for a french drain.  Seriously hard work.  Wrists are still sore a week later.

Inside the trench, we lined it with the black landscaping fabric, then inserted perforated tubes and filled the space with gravel.  We then folded over the fabric and covered it with soil.

 This weekend is pretty rainy, so we’re taking a bit of a break and binge-watching the newest season of Longmire on Netflix.  

This summer, I’ve been landscaping up a storm.  Let’s just say I’m making up for lost time since I’ve done almost nothing in the yard work department since we moved in three years ago. Oh, I’ve wanted to.  I just could never physically or mentally get around to anything more than mowing and some weeding each summer before school started up again and my brain turned to mush.  There was no time for spring planting or planning beds or anything.  And, I knew one day we’d put up a new fence, and who wants to put in a bunch of landscaping only to have it trampled before their very eyes.  Not this girl.

I’ll start with some before pictures.

Front of the house.  Note the wild grassy stuff under the tree in the front, lower left corner.  Also note the wildness on the far right, on the side of the house.  Prior to these photos, there were two awful evergreen trees–one where you can see the gutter on the left side of the porch and one over in the right ‘bed’–both of which came down with our winter weather.  Praise God; I would have had to hire someone to take them out for me.  (I sound like an assassin.  A tree-assassin, that is.)

  This is the north side of the house. Note the tree stump of fallen tree, stairs leading to the door Andrew took out, and general weedy, wild look of what was probably once a bed of some sort.  I’d been imagining a new look for this section for a LONG time.
    Before the deck came down.  Note the large green bush and smaller yellow and green bushes (if you can) that are totally hidden by weeds.  Driveway is to the right, along it was a bed with three peonies and lots of weeds.
  After pictures:

The bushes near the deck had to be removed for demolition, and while I wasn’t in love with them, I didn’t want to just throw them away or let them die.  Also this summer, I finished removing all the brush and sticker bushes from the back left corner of the yard.  I fashioned a new bed, raked it out, lined it with found stones (seriously, where are they coming from?!  they are EVERYWHERE in our dirt) and put in the bushes. This photo was taken pre-mulch and planting new grass.

  The fence panel was from our patio area, also removed during demo and repurposed to give us some fencing where the existing fencing had come down.
  This is the back right side of our yard.  On the one hand, I love the ‘wild’ look beyond our fence, and I do love that it’s kind of a ‘no man’s land’ where I can dump yard clippings, see wildlife and glimpses of neighbor kiddos playing.  However, I’m pretty sure it’s also a breeding ground for poison ivy and the prime location for deer to enter our yard.  (They’ve already eaten all the hostas that were back there when we moved in; I rescued them and moved them to various parts of the yard.)  Next year: privacy fencing!  I transplanted a bunch of myrtle from up near the house when we cleared out the existing concrete pavers, and many of these large round river rocks where up there, too.  It’s been mulched and both the myrtle and vinca vine have taken quite well.  Next year–after the fence–I plan to put in GIANT hostas in the back corner.
  Side bed along the drieveway: tiger lillies and red and pink day lillies, with a row of iris in the back.  I’m thinking I’ll add daffodil bulbs in a row along the front this fall.  It’s been mulched and cut back. I can’t wait for spring!  (Don’t mind our awful peeling paint on the south side…we’re planning to take care of that next summer, too.)
  Here is that bed under the tree in the front:

I’ve always hated how wild and unkempt it was.  It was a mix of iris, tiger lillies, weeds, lily of the valley and other things, I’m sure.  I didn’t like that it wasn’t round, either.  So, I spent an entire morning clearing out EVERYTHING that was there, sorting it out and then tilled it into a circle.  I shared the tiger lillies with my neighbor and we both planted them along our shared chain-link fence in the back–very excited for our rows to come up!  Again, more giant rocks had been hanging out there, so they’re gone, and it’s been mulched and the grass I planted is coming up nicely.  It’s a tricky bed, as it’s part shade and part sun, but I’m thinking it will be an annual bed.  I tend to consider annuals a colossal waste of money, but they can also be very beautiful.  The back side gets almost all shade, so I’ll put a pretty hosta there with annuals all around the front and sides.

During the demolition of the patio and prep for the new one, all the dirt that was removed got dumped along the side yard to create some raised beds for me.  I was excited, but totally underestimated the amount of work (i.e. hard labor) it would take to make these actual ‘beds.’  Holy carpal tunnel!

It took multiple go-arounds at raking it out, and upwards of probably 10 loads of ‘crap’ (rocks, hunks of clay, roots, etc…) I had to shovel into the wheelbarrow and dump elsewhere.  It certainly made up for all the gym time I missed!

  I raked out and planted the side bed first: white Annabelle hydrangeas in the back (known for their ability to stand up a bit straighter and slightly improved deer resistance), three blue ‘drinking gourd’ hostas near the front and a border of lily of the valey (transplanted from the bed under the tree in the front).  The magenta plants you see are ‘zipper’ coral bells, but they’ve actually been moved to the other part of this bed.  In their place, I have some yellowy-green and light green large hostas from a friend.
    The front round part of the bed:  This bed, perhaps, is my ultimate pride and joy.  It was definitely the hardest–both in terms of labor and planning–took the longest, but also gives me so much joy and happiness.  I never knew I’d like gardening as much as I do.  As a kid, I dreaded helping my mom outside (not that she did a ton, but every good homeowner has to keep up on their weeds, right?!), yet now I can’t wait to get my hands dirty and plant.  I think it’s because this is the area in which I get to shine; it’s a home-improvement project I don’t need Andrew’s help with.

I’ve been dying to get an ornamental shade tree in the bed from the beginning, and I picked out a Rising Sun Redbud.  Definitely take a minute to Google it; new growth comes in pink and it’s truly beautiful.  After it went in, I started planning out the rest of the plants.  I also got quite an assortment of plants from some friends.


The concrete border is temporary; those pieces are in our backyard and I snagged some to make this a raised bed.  Next year, or whenever we do the landscaping in the front (oh, those bushes are living on borrowed time, I tell ya), I’ll do a border to match whatever we do with the other beds.  Because of the redbud’s pink color, I chose a red/pink theme for the other plants in the bed.

In the back, Solomon’s Seal which gives height and has white blooms and loves shade.  The color around the front of the tree are other types of coral bells: ‘lava lamp’ and ‘caramel.’ There are also two types of hostas: the front three are ‘aureonebulosa’ varieties with white blossoms, the back three are all light green, from a friend, and I’ll be surprised in the spring to see what color their blossoms are–hoping for white!  In the right corner of the bed, where the rounded part meets the straight part, are three sedum–two tall and one short–and a bunch of lamb’s ear.  The bed gets morning sun in the front and it gradually lessens until it’s full shade after about 1 or 2 p.m.


I’ll be working on yet another bed this weekend–we’re wanting to put in a tree/shrub in a small bed between the driveway and the new deck (still under construction) that will give us some privacy and shade.  Once that’s finished, I’ll snap some better ‘after’ photos as everything looks so nice after the mulch and new grass has started coming in.

I still have one cubic yard of mulch sitting in the driveway…the goal is to have it GONE by the end of the weekend!

It really HAS been awhile.  Three months and eighteen days since my last post.  No excuse, really, except that the summer seemed to vanish before my very eyes.  (I suppose that happens when you spend one month of it in a foreign country and another with your head buried in a book studying.  When I came up for air, it was August. Gasp!)

LOTS of things going on in the Layer household this summer…and I can’t wait to tell you all about them.  Briefly. (Otherwise, we’d be here all day.)

  1. France Trip: It was fabulous.  I have a draft in here with a bunch of photos I intended to post when we got home…except that all the photos were the exact same ones that have already appeared on Facebook and I got busying studying for my test. Andrew and I diligently sorted his approximately 6,058 photos into a ‘highlights reel’ that we haven’t managed to show anyone, not to mention picking out the ones we need to get printed.  (Not that we’ve managed to sort and print the pictures from our Italy trip two years ago, either.) It will happen, one day, perhaps by Christmas.
  2. RD Exam: I passed!  I can’t believe I didn’t blog about this.  I did, however, post to Facebook.

The test was way harder than I anticipated it would be, and while I scored well, it certainly didn’t seem like it at the time.  In fact, during the entire test I thought it was just as likely that I was failing as I was passing.  And the ‘security measures’ they put you through certainly don’t help; I was photographed, finger-printed, forbidden to bring anything but my driver’s license into the test with me and denied my water bottle. The horror!  By the time I was finished, I was a nervous, sweaty, dehydrated mess.  The proctor handed me a folded-up paper with my score and I couldn’t bring myself to turn it over…until I accidentally dropped it while fumbling for the key to the locker they make you put everything in.  I saw the word ‘congratulations!’ and allowed myself to breathe.  It was all over.

3.  I was in a wedding.  Actually, Andrew and I both were.  One of Andrew’s work buddies, Jon, got married to Stacey this July at Belhurst Castle in Seneca Falls, NY.  Factoid: Seneca Falls was the model city behind the famous ‘Bedford Falls’ of It’s a Wonderful Life fame.  So cute.  I love her, we love them, I loved my dress and we can’t believe they’re moving to Rochester.  Sad.

4. Just days after my test, in August, we flew to Florida for a few days to join the rest of Andrew’s family on vacation at the South Seas Island Resort on Captiva Island.  Both Captiva and Sanibel Islands are so cute and charming.  It was such a relief to go on the trip after passing my test–I could finally relax and really enjoy myself.  Below is the view from our villa (we had our own balcony with a table and chairs where I spent every morning reading), and below that is the ocean from my perch on a lounge chair by the pool.  Florida is ungodly hot and muggy, but there is no where I’d rather be for a beach vacation.

  5.  I’m on book number FIVE since passing the exam.  I love to read, and it’s been so hard to find the time these past few years with school.  I really enjoyed A Small Indiscretion by Jan Ellison, The Dive from Clausen’s Pier by Ann Packer (get the tissues!) and Days of Awe by Lauren Fox. Picking up my next one today!

6.  We’re projecting.  Again.  We’ve been at it all summer.  I’ll need to do a separate post with photos to do it justice, but our new deck/patio/partial fence project has enlarged in scope to include a new ‘roof’ for our cellar door opening and extensive drainage for the yard.  We just finished the french drain and new gutters and picked out our stone and deck wood today, so that’s exciting.  I’ve also tackled perhaps 60% of our landscaping…and it has taken all darn summer.  After doing barely the bare minimum in terms of yard work, no joke, for the last three years, I certainly had my work cut out for me. Again, I’ll need to do a separate post with photos.  I finally finished a giant bed on the side of the house and am very happy with how it turned out.  I’m already excited for more landscaping next summer once we finish the fence in the back and tear out the awful bushes in the front.

7.  I protested!  As I’m sure all of you are aware, Planned Parenthood is under some major scrutiny after it came out that not only are they taking the lives of unborn babies, they’re profiting from the sale of their body parts as well.  A good friend organized a group of us to go to Buffalo and protest Aug. 22, along with others locally and nationally.  My picture even made the paper!  I was trained to be a crisis pregnancy volunteer in Ohio before we moved, and I’ve always felt called to this area of service.  I’m hoping to get involved by offering nutritional counseling to pre- and post-natal women at one of our local centers.

8.  I have a job!  My first day of work was yesterday.  I am a nutrition counselor at Weigel Health Center on the Buffalo State campus.  It’s part-time and I really like it.  I did it as a student this past spring, and now that I’m official, I get paid more and no one has to sign my notes (sweet).  While I’d like to work in a hospital part-time as well, I’m appreciating the downtime right now after four busy years in school, a very busy summer and while we’re still elbow-deep in our summer-turned-fall project.

9.  Writing: I’m stepping away from my traditional freelancing with the Advertiser, but am picking up a monthly nutrition column.  I think was starting to get a little burned out on the features and really need to focus my time and energy on nutrition-related endeavors, writing and otherwise.  I am, however, SUPER excited about the nutrition column.  It will be a Q&A format, which I’m also excited about.  It will appear later this month in our hometown paper, the East Aurora Advertiser.

10. Big changes are coming to the blog!  Now that I’m an OFFICIAL Registered Dietitian, I’d like to take the blog in a more nutrition-focused direction, and use it to further my professional writing. I’m actually having a friend who works in her company’s web/graphic arts department to help me get going tonight!  I’m really excited for a new look and purpose to the blog!

Andrew and I have an impending trip and I’ve been trying to clean out our fridge, freezer and pantry for the last few weeks. Tonight, we were each on our own for dinner, and Andrew finished off what was left of a rotisserie chicken and some veggies. 

I, on the other hand, got a little more creative: 

Salad with the last of the lettuce, the last of some jarred beets, red onion, the last of some shredded cheddar cheese, the last of some cukes and onions in vinegar and a little ceasar dressing.  

But wait–it gets better.


Bacon on Ezekiel bread with almond butter. In an effort to eat some bacon I cooked for Andrew’s weekday breakfasts, I channeled my inner chef to mimic the bacon and peanut butter burger I had at Cole’s, a bistro on Elmwood Avenue in Buffalo. Sounds crazy, but it’s good. And so was this. Thinking I might make one as a snack tomorrow…

I’m FINISHED!  (Except for that giant test I have to take at the end of the summer, but close enough.)

Last Saturday, myself and a handful of my classmates walked across the stage to receive our diplomas after FOUR LONG YEARS of academia. It’s crazy to think that it really took four years to get another bachelor’s degree (?!?!), and that it’s come and gone already. In some ways, it felt like an eternity; in others, I blinked.

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Mom and Andrew’s grandma joined us for the event at school.  The ceremony was 2 1/2 hours long and by the end, all I could think about was how thirsty I was!  A HUGE thank you to my mother, who did the most loving thing anyone could have at that moment – she got me some water. She also got yellow roses, my favorite :)  It felt like such a fuss over something I didn’t think was ‘that big of a deal,’ but in the end, it was nice.  These last four years were – hands down – the hardest of both mine and Andrew’s lives.  This calls for a celebration!

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After the ceremony, we headed back to East Aurora to join friends for lunch at our local Mexican place, where I got my celebratory post-semester margarita. It still doesn’t feel quite ‘real’ that I’ve graduated (again, it might be the big test looming), but each day it feels like a bit of the weight lifts off my shoulders.

What’s next?  Well, Andrew and I are about to head off on a much-needed vacation, and then I’ll be back and ready to spend some quality time on the yard, teach cycle classes at the YMCA, sit on the porch to read…and study.

Today, I had my last 5:30 a.m. wake-up for the hospital. 

Breakfast in hand, I walked into Buffalo General for what may be the last time. 

During my ‘staff relief’ rotation this past month, I worked on the 14th floor with neuro patients, as well as in the neurosurgery ICU. I shadowed one of the kindest, most patient dietitians I’ve ever met, whose calm demeanor was a perfect match for my high-strung nature. She offered both constructive criticism and encouragement along the way. Because I worked on the same floors every day, I got to know some of the nurses and patients as well. By the end of our four-week rotation, I was doing follow-up assessments on patients I’d seen multiple times already. I knew the nurses’ names. I got to the point that I was calculating tube feeds in seconds and even had to whip up a TPN recommendation on the spot today for my last–and very complicated–patient.

This rotation is the one I was dreading the most, yet I think I ended up enjoying it far more than the other two, despite the early mornings and long days. Far and away, I learned more about acute care and nutrition support in these four weeks than I did in any classroom in the last four years.

Four years. I can’t believe it’s been that long. In a matter of days, I’ll leave Buffalo State’s campus for the last time after graduation. I struggle to reconcile the amount of knowledge I’ve gained with how much Andrew and I have not done these past four years. Trips, house projects, quality time, starting a family. In some ways, it feels like we ‘lost’ all that time. It has felt as if we were in limbo since moving here–house-hunting, moving twice, me going back to school–I realized the other day that I’ve never really had what felt like a ‘permanent’ job since I graduated from Penn State 10 years ago. The Air Force wasn’t ever going to be my career, my short stint as a library employee certainly wasn’t permanent, we knew we would move, and then I went back to school just months after arriving in New York. Summers off never feel quite like the break they should be…not for me anyway. 

But now, things will be different. I’m not sure how it will all look, but I’m confident the future will be bright. And not nearly as stressful.

Today, I finished up four weeks of intense work as a student-RD with some dear friends. 

Next week, we’ll graduate–after four long years–and nothing feels quite as good as that right now.

Don’t get too excited–it’s not as a Registered Dietitian. Yet.

It’s to teach cycle classes at the YMCA! (Since I have about zero rhythm, I figured teaching kickbox was out. I’m hoping to add other disciplines, like TRX or Pilates, as I go along.)


A few weeks ago I arranged a meeting with the wellness director at our branch to discuss potential nutritional counseling opportunities and find out what I needed to do to become a fitness instructor. (As a group fitness instructor, I get my membership paid for AND get paid to work out. It’s a win-win-win. I already feel like I live there–why not make a little money while I’m at it?! Plus, the savings in my membership fee are sizable in and of itself.)

I hadn’t anticipated starting before this summer or even fall, but the director encouraged me to submit my application–our meeting served as my ‘interview’–and within a week I was signing paperwork. 

This weekend I attended my YMCA orientation, where I learned that the Buffalo Niagara YMCA is the second oldest YMCA in the country–only by a few months–to Boston’s YMCA. And Y’s are also the birthplace of basketball and volleyball, as well as the largest non-profit in the country. Who knew?!  I also got recertified in CPR and am ready to start shadowing other instructors this week!


I’ve been toying with the idea of being a fitness instructor for awhile now, and even though it’s happening really fast, I’ve also wondered why I haven’t done it earlier! What could be more perfect than to GET PAID TO WORK OUT?! 


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