Dec 2, 2014

What Goes Around

I just love random acts of kindness! And lately I've had lots of sweetness bestowed upon me.
While shopping with both kids a few weeks ago (I was wearing Rosie in her carrier, pushing my cart, and Max was pushing a tiny shopping cart around), my crew was literally clogging up the whole grocery aisle. I apologized as I tried to maneuver around and usher Max out of the way. I had noticed plenty of people getting antsy as they became stuck behind us or couldn't rush past easily enough.

But this time, one woman patiently waited at the end of the aisle, smiling. As we approached, she looked me in the eyes and said, "You're doing a good job." Nothing more, nothing less. Just, "You're doing a good job." She could have said nothing at all. She could have sighed, pretended to be busy with something, or even just smiled and left it at that. Instead, this woman, a total stranger, reached out and said the exact words I needed to hear. Not everyone here thinks my kids are out of control! Or that I'm a crazy, flustered mama! What a wonderful thing for one woman to reach out to another in this way. To offer support.

Today at the store, Rosie was once again in her carrier as I busied myself loading our groceries into the back of the car. Another stranger rushed over and offered to hold the shopping cart in place while I unloaded it. Amazing! My heart feels so full after these types of encounters. So grateful for the human capacity for kindness, that I can easily forget that often times all of us are just as equally grumpy, rushed, self-centered.
These two practiced their kindness skills by coloring together on Thanksgiving. :)

I'm definitely far from a saint, but I do TRY to remind myself that a smile, holding a door, friendly chit-chat - whatever kindness looks like at any given moment - can truly brighten a person's day. These acts of kindness are something I'm trying to focus on with the kids this holiday season. Because selfishly, boosting up others is a way of boosting ourselves up too. Kindness feels good. Not always easy, but the rewards are there for the taking. 

Nov 23, 2014


Cookies & Beer has been in the back of my mind - like, pretty much always. But only now did I realize that a whole year has passed since my last post. This is sad stuff for my creative side. But I'm okay with it. Life took over. Two kids ages three and under is crazy, ya'll. You think you know, but you have no idea. (Or you totally do, because you've been there - or are still there. Or have it way harder!)

But here's the deal: I'm ready to get blogging again. Hooray! I'm not entirely sure what that means yet - it will probably continue to be sporadic, but we have lots of fun stuff going on that I want to share. There are still obscene amounts of cookies and beer being created and enjoyed in our home. And I'm a writer who hasn't been writing, so yeah - I need to fix that situation.

Let's see if I can do a speedy recap of the past year. In just 18 bullet points!

1) Max finished his first year of pre-school. And is the coolest kid in the world.
2) Ben and I attended a positive parenting workshop and are trying in earnest to be gentle, calm, loving parents in the midst of these chaotic early-parenting years.
3) Rosie turned one, started walking, and steals our hearts daily with her heart-melting smile.
4) We didn't sleep. All year.
5) We went through oodles of medical screenings and doctor's appointments with Rosie because our doctor thought her weight gain was too slow. We were terrified. She is FINE!
6) There was lots of laughter, lots of hugging, many small triumphs and big joys, and also many tears and challenges.
7) We got a puppy for one week.
8) Ben played on an Ultimate Frisbee team.
9) I had a blast helping host a baby shower, and then became an aunt!
10) We did a Dave Ramsey financial planning course and went into hardcore budgeting mode.
11) We've considered moving and driven to about 20,000 neighborhoods across middle Tennessee.
12) We went camping twice, the lake several times, and spent tons of lazy summer evenings grilling out in the backyard.
13) We've formed new friendships and strengthened old ones.
14) We have almost painted the entire interior of our house (including crown moldings and window frames, damn the window frames); have planted trees in the back yard, and DIY'ed a handful of home upgrades.
15) Animal control hauled away a feral cat that was living under our AC unit, a squirrel that had set up shop in the attic, and will soon be cleaning up after a skunk that was hunkered down in our crawl space. (Seriously, what is with this house and wild animals?!)
16) I volunteered as public relations coordinator for the Empowering Fearless Birth Conference. And got to sit on the home birth panel and chat about two of the best moments in my life. What a huge honor and humbling experience!!
17) Max turned four. He's officially smarter than me.
18) I became obsessed with Matilda Jane Clothing. Bad habit. Dave Ramsey wouldn't approve, but just look at Rosie in these clothes!

19) And finally, I took 82,000 photos and now have to sift through them all to find some to share in the blog.

There is of course much, much more - I'm exhausted just thinking of all this past year has entailed, but I wouldn't change it for anything! I may be delirious with sleep deprivation, but I mean it. Grateful mama here. Exhausted, yes. But very grateful. I'm excited to once again devote time to writing, sharing, photographing and generally documenting my life on this little blog. Below was one of my favorite moments of zen this year - sunrise at Fall Creek Falls. Awake before the family, taking it all in. A rare moment indeed.

Nov 24, 2013

3 + 100 = Fun!

It's a landmark moment. Little Wild Man has turned THREE! When did this happen?? I swear it was yesterday he was a pudgy little wiggle worm, happily sloshing pureed prunes and avocado chunks all over himself while babbling incoherently. Now he's a slim, coordinated pre-schooler {I think he's officially now a pre-schooler and not a toddler?} who can feed himself a sandwich and speak to me in full sentences. I'm so proud of him, and thrilled we survived another year, but it's bittersweet too. Will every birthday feel like this for us mamas and papas? It's amazing to watch your kiddos grow into little people, but oh so hard to let go of the notion of them as snuggly, needy newborns.

Little wild man is coming into his own as he strides into his third year. Here's what I know about him right now: he knows what he wants and is great at communicating those needs. He is intense, smart and observant. You cannot slide anything by this kid. You have to earn his trust (my mama bear instincts tell me this is a great personality trait). He is intuitive, empathetic and feels things deeply. What an honor that he's let me peek into his beautiful little soul and get to know him. I can only hope he'll continue to let me do so as the years go on!

The other landmark news? This is my 100th blog post! It took over a year to get here, but I'd still say it's cause for celebration! In honor of this momentous occasion, I thought about doing a giveaway - but then I realized I'd need something to actually give, and enough readers to warrant a drawing, ha! Instead I'll just share a quick tutorial with you on this rad teepee Ben and I made for Max's birthday. Seriously. Ben and I sat inside it and drank wine for an hour once it was assembled; it's fun even if you don't have kids. {In the interest of time, these are all unedited iPhone photos. Perhaps I'll take some better photos one day. Or perhaps not.}

A few notes: This project took several naps and several evenings (and glasses of wine) after the kids were asleep. If kids being asleep isn't an issue for you, I imagine you could knock it out in a weekend. And if you actually know how to operate your sewing machine - yeah, that would speed things up, too. This involves quite a bit of sewing, but the sewing is basic and once it's assembled, the teepee is very forgiving of squiggly seams and uneven fabric panels. Since we had a free corner in our living room, we opted to go big. This teepee will easily fit our whole family and then some, but you can scale down to suit your own space.

These are the two tutorials I leaned on most heavily (these people clearly know how to actually sew), but there came a point when I veered too far from the instructions and just started making things up, so I can only take you so far in this process!:

Makes Me Smile blog : Check out the AWESOME sketch of how all the pieces go together. I also loved the hilarious commentary.

Smile and Wave blog : This is what I used for all my measurements.

Here's a rough idea of how this all went down:

1. Gather supplies.

* 6 - eight foot 1" x 2" x 8' pine "poles" from the hardware store
* 1 - 9x12 canvas drop cloth
* Around 3 yards cream colored ribbon
* 12 inches of 1/4" elastic
* small role of rope or strong leather
* 1 yard extra fabric for door flaps

2. Assemble poles. You can make your teepee shorter, but we stuck with the 8' height of our poles. We measured 12" down from the top and Ben drilled a 1/4" hole in each pole. Stack the poles on top of one another and thread your rope straight through (a piece of tape around the end of the rope helps keep it from fraying as you work it through). At this point, we stood up the poles and tied the rope loosely where we thought we'd want them to stand.

3. Congratulate yourselves on being "half way done." Enjoy the small victory, because you're really not even close to half way done.

4. Create five fabric panels. {The sixth panel will be the door, which I made larger than the other sides.} After draping up the drop cloth and playing around with it, I decided to follow all of the measurements given at the Smile and Wave blog tutorial: 4" at the top, 38" at the bottom, and 80" tall. I thought it seemed huge, but thank goodness I stuck with the suggested dimensions, because they gave me plenty of wiggle room to correct my mistakes. I used Max's sidewalk chalk, a yardstick, and a patient hubby to help double check my measurements and hold everything in place while I drew out my panels (they look like a triangle with a flat top, for lack of a better description). Then I cut them out and, before going to bed, congratulated myself once again on being half way done. This time I was much closer, but still not half way.

5. Stitch panels together, along with inner ribbon ties, leaving the ends open for the door panel, which went on last. I won't pretend to have any advice on sewing, other than trying to avoid losing your sewing machine manual and wasting precious time watching out-of-focus youtube videos about how to thread your needle. I loved the suggestion from Makes Me Smile blog to fold over about 12" of ribbon and tuck it into your seams before sewing. (These ribbons tie around your poles to keep things in place). You end up with little tabs in the front, but Ben and I thought they looked cool. Plus I saved tons of time because I didn't have to stitch them on by hand at the end. This is the only photo I snapped in the midst of sewing, but you can kind of see the tab sticking out between the panels.

6. Create the door panel. This is where I went renegade and thought I could toss my tutorials to the wind. Oops. I measured and cut a canvas triangle for the upper portion of the door and sewed that on. Then I cut my owl-print fabric in half, hemmed the inside edges, and pinned them onto our set-up teepee to make sure I got the flaps where I wanted them. I eventually got things reasonably lined up and sewn into place, but I'm pretty sure there's a simpler method in either of the tutorials above. (Like maybe sew the entire front panel together FIRST, then attach it to the teepee).

7. Elasticize. Fold the top edges over about 1/2" or more, and stitch all the way around. Attach elastic (I think we used less than 6 inches after testing it out on the poles) to a safety pin and work it through, sewing at the beginning and end to secure.

8. Hem the bottom.

7. Set up, embellish, and snuggle in with your favorite people! We added these twinkly LED lights from Amazon. I love that they are cool to the touch, so completely safe for stringing against fabric. I also snagged this 2'x3' faux sheepskin rug from Home Decorators Collection, and threw in some pillows that had been sitting in storage.

Total Cost: $87 (way less than buying a pre-made one, AND this price included our fun accessories)

Poles & Drop Cloth from Hardware Store: around $36
Ribbon, elastic & Extra Fabric (from around $12
Rope: $7 from Amazon
Twinkly Lights: $13 (price has since gone up on Amazon)
Rug: $19

This project took some legwork, but it was seriously so much fun. And how cool is it to give your kiddo something you made with your own two hands? It's a great feeling! Max seems to love it. He wants to nap in it, sleep in it at night, and has brought many of his favorite books and toys in there to live. At his birthday dinner last night, much of our evening was spent rotating family members in and out of the tent to snuggle and/or read with him :)

Oct 7, 2013

Come on In!

It's high time I took you on a tour of our new house. I snapped these photos on move-in day so I'd be sure to catch everything in its original state. Welcome!

We really hope this house will be our "forever home," so we're trying to be extra thoughtful about what we do here. But there are definitely some small updates already in progress. Almost all of our immediate plans involve a paintbrush. And some sweat (and tears??), but not much more until we've lived here long enough to decide if we want to invest bigger renovations. I was about eight months pregnant on closing/move-in day, and you can tell from my goofy grin how insanely relieved I was that we'd actually succeeded in our crazy plan.

For the first time in our lives, we have TWO floors. Crazy! As you can see, things are very... beige. If you know Ben and I, you probably know that's not really our thing, but it's nothing that paint can't fix. To the left of the entry is a formal living room; we envision this doubling as an office space. I'd love to put a built-in desk in there with walls of shelving around it, and some glass doors in that wide door frame, since I like to entertain fantasies of working from home one day.

And for the record, Ben rocks. He surprised me for my birthday last week by hiring a professional to paint all of the trim and doors. Buh-bye, beige! Our house has tons of dental molding, so we always knew this job was one that we'd avoid DIYing at all costs. I figured I'd have to wait a long while, so am beyond excited to turn that trim white sometime this month. I'm convinced that it will 100% transform things.

To the right of the entry is our formal dining room. It's big enough to fully extend our beloved 12-seater dining table that's been passed down from my mom's family, so I'm pumped to host some big gatherings here. That door goes to the den, and will probably come down in the long run, but it's nice right now for blocking out noise while the kids are upstairs napping. And check out the molding in this room, I love it. I'm picturing something bold, like bright white on the bottom half of the walls, and navy on the upper half (pretty much exactly what I did in our old house before I "neutralized" it to sell).

The carpeting in here extends throughout the whole house except the kitchen, and I have to admit it doesn't bother me as much as I thought it would. It's actually nice for small children. We figure we'll get through toddlerhood with both kids, and once we've given this carpet a good run for its money, we'll look into hardwood floors for all the main living spaces.

The kitchen is accessed either through the dining room or a little hallway that leads off the entry.

This is another space that will see lots of paint: on the cabinets, walls, wood trim, and we've even discussed whitewashing the brickwork. A new light fixture is on the way, thanks to a fabulous birthday gift from my parents!

Our breakfast nook is really spacious and I love the overall size of our kitchen. It will get basic upgrades little by little, like new appliances, painting the cabinets and wood trim, updating hardware, and playing around with the idea of open shelving over and around the sink. Anything beyond aesthetic, budget-friendly updates likely won't happen for many years, though. You can see in this photo the two doors in the corner leading to the dining room and entry hall. In my fantasies, we'd remove the doors/walls in that corner and just have a large column separating the spaces so it would be almost totally open to the entry and dining room.

The kitchen leads into the den, which is where we spend most of our time. The paneling will eventually get painted (along with the brickwork that extends from the kitchen), and the light fixture updated, but for now we're enjoying how cozy it feels in here. And I may be unusual in my house wish-list, but the sliding door that accesses the backyard pretty much sold me on the house. I am obsessed with the idea of bringing the outside in, and making it as easy as possible to step out and enjoy our yard. Our last house had an amazing yard, but you couldn't see it from the main living space and had to go through a small door under the carport to access it. So I'm in indoor/outdoor heaven now :)

That doorway on the right leads to a petite laundry room (hooray for a laundry room on the main floor!!) and a huge bonus room (just a few steps up) that has taken on a life of its own as Max's beloved playroom. Here he is investigating on move-in day:

The main level also contains our garage, a guest room and a full bath, which are - surprise - also beige. Project de-beige the house is well underway over here!

Let's take a peek upstairs, where our other three bedrooms are.

Here's mine and Ben's - the others look just the same, only smaller and without dental molding :) We have an attached bath with a separate shower/toilet area, and a decently sized walk-in closet. I swear choirs were singing each time I opened it for the first few weeks. I've waited my whole life for a closet space like this!

Oh, and here's a quick peek at the backyard. The patio was closed in by huge hedges when we moved in. I'll just say that things are a little different now. But that's a topic for another blog post.

I can't wait to show you how things are coming together as we make progress with painting, updating and furnishing this space. We're occasionally overwhelmed by the size of this house compared to our last one ... but then we remind ourselves that with two kids aged two and under, we'd probably be overwhelmed by about anything right now. And the yard - oh, the gloriously flat yard. SO much easier to mow and care for. Ben can knock it out in about an hour. No more run-away lawnmowers down a steep hill, or wheels rolling away or hours spent with a weed-eater in the little crevices and hills where a lawnmower couldn't drive. So yeah, that's a plus. Not to mention we have the sweetest neighbors (up and down our street) in the whole world.

I definitely feel little pangs of sadness sometimes when I think about the memories we made at our last house, and the beautiful, updated kitchen we left behind. But then I head out for a walk on our quiet, pedestrian friendly streets, or take Max on a bike ride down the driveway without fearing he will go careening into a ditch, or chat with a neighbor in the street, or ... well, you get the idea. This move was the right thing for us, and with every little update and personal touch, this house feels more like our home.

Jul 22, 2013

Kitchen Reveal: Plaid to Rad

Now that I've shared the tale of our little lady's birth, it's time to get back to business! And before and after photos! When I last left you, we had just done a ton of updates to our old house, sold it, and moved into a new house in our dream neighborhood.

Luckily, a few months in, we are still totally in love with the new place and feel not a shred of regret. But that doesn't mean it was easy to say goodbye to our beloved little rancher. After we finished working our magic on it, that house looked pretty darn good, if I do say so. Since there was a chance the deal wouldn't go through on the new home, we made sure to do updates that we personally would love and enjoy if we stayed put for another year ... or five. That meant slightly more money invested, but I think it paid off big time in the form of selling our house FAST (5 days on the market) and getting the price we were hoping for (just enough to recoup what we put in and to cover the cost of our realtor).

Let's first take a look at the winner of most-improved room in the house: the kitchen! You may remember that we started with this (or maybe you blocked these shocking images - harvest gold appliances and plaid wallpaper - out of your mind):

With the help of new hardwood floors, lots of paint, and a carpenter to remove those cabinets over the peninsula (I talked about it in more detail here, here and here), we progressed to this:

And with the motivation of getting our house listed for sale, we leaped into the world of modern kitchens. I really wish I had photos to share with all our stuff still in it; it looked much warmer and cozier. But the best I could do was a photo from move-out day, so just imagine it with cute tea towels and colorful accessories:

She was a beauty, that kitchen. I was able to cook in this lovely space for about a month, and I may have shed a tear when we bid her farewell. What kind of crazy person am I to create my dream kitchen and then leave it behind?! 

We installed gorgeous granite counters, a deep, stainless sink with a tall, pull-down faucet, a smooth-surface cooktop and a new stainless range hood. Oh, and the lighting all got updated too, although we had installed those little by little along the way. We went middle of the road for most items, just in case we ended up re-financing instead of moving. And well, it turns out Ben and I believe in quality, and we had a hard time cheaping out, even just to sell the house.

See that luxe, high-end granite? That's what I'm talking about. Yeah, we got lucky with that part of the renovation. After lots of deliberation, we chose a white finish that was a step up from the most basic black we'd initially planned on. When I went to the warehouse to choose my slab (apparently this is what you do when buying granite - I had a lot of fun with this part of the project!), I couldn't find a piece in our selected finish that looked just right, and the options were a bit limited on the day I went in. I kept ogling another lovely hunk of rock that was in the next price point up, and that, my friends, is what the salesperson ended up giving us - for no extra cost! It's called River White, and it looks a lot like marble - but without the high maintenance and constant fear of ruining it. The creamy and gray tones and natural variations in the stone are stunning in person. I never understood what the big deal was about granite ... until I got this lovely slab in my kitchen!

Our new cook top was beautiful and sleek, but keeping it spotless for the new homeowners was nerve-wracking! We are messy cooks and not always the best about cleaning immediately after we cook (read: the kitchen may be a mess for a day or two - ok, three - before anybody deals with it). But with a glass cook top, it's vital to wipe off messes ASAP, so using this for the long term would definitely have taken some getting used to. We decided to spring for a stainless framed cook top with stainless, dishwasher-safe knobs. For an extra hundred dollars or so, we felt like the stainless finishes gave it a much more high-end look ... and it turned out that those frames also protect the glass from shattering or chipping around the edges as easily. Luckily for this clumsy cook.

One thing that surprised me was how much I LOVED the new range hood. I mean, not only did it look 1,000 times better than the previous mustard-colored incarnation, but wow - who knew how great it could be to actually see what you are cooking? The halogen lights in this hood were such a huge improvement - and one of the things I now miss the most in our new kitchen, which has woefully poor lighting.

The range hood and deep sink probably tie for my favorite improvements. It's the little things that make a kitchen so much more fun to use! Sadly, our shiny new refrigerator did not come with us. The buyers asked for it, and to keep the deal moving smoothly along, we agreed to leave it behind. It seemed to belong in our old kitchen anyway.

Here's one more before and after comparison:

If we stayed, I would have put in a white subway tile backsplash and added a colorful valance over the sink. Oh, and I'd remove that awkward cabinet that still sticks out over the peninsula and build in some open shelving on the wall instead. But that's not up to me anymore! I'm pretty sure this kitchen plus the hardwood floors (our two biggest investments) are what sold the house. Here's a rundown of our sources (I was surprised to find the best deals for most of our appliances on I wouldn't hesitate to recommend any of the items we purchased, they were all high quality and wonderfully functional during the month or so we got to use them:

Counters: River White granite, Granite Direct Store
Paint (cabinets, walls & trim): Delicate White, Porter Paints
Pendant Lights: Home Depot

Hope you enjoyed this peek at our very own extreme home makeover :) (At least that's what it felt like at the time!!) It was really great to learn the ropes of kitchen updating, and get a good sense of our style and needs from the space - it will make it much less daunting when we decide to tackle our new kitchen.