Jul 31, 2012

a blank (but colorful) canvas

For years (and still to this day), I have been having this dream: I open my closet and discover several fabulous clothing items tucked up on a top shelf, or on hangers in the back corner. The dream is always the same, but the clothes are different each time, and very specific. When I wake up and realize that the fabulous wardrobe only existed in my head, I'm always shattered.

Clothes have taken a backseat to motherhood and home-fixing lately, but I'm a girl who began sketching clothing designs (using a fashion design kit - I was never much of a sketch artist!) at eight years old - and trying to sew clothes for my Barbie dolls, and eventually doing a bit of fashion-related journalism for a few years.

Speaking of fashion, Ben and I don't have cable, so imagine my excitement last night when I discovered that Project Runway Season 10 is available on Lifetime's website. I have some serious love for this show. It sparks my creativity and is making me excited to finally take the plunge and get a sewing machine! Funny enough, the inspiration I pulled from the first episode was not clothing but home-related. I guess that's just where my brain goes now. Check out these solid colored canvases used to decorate the contestants' apartments. They take a cue from the fashion world's current color-blocking trend:

The pinks and purples are not exactly my thing, but I've always loved fabric-covered canvases as a cheap way to fill blank walls. In fact, I wrote an article about it back in my freelancing days. This is our old bedroom (see the whole room in our East Nashville house tour) featured in Nashville's late and great "All the Rage" newspaper. :)

Fabric-covered canvases are a trick I've used in almost every place I've lived over the years, but for some reason it never occurred to me to use solid colors in a grid like this Project Runway epiphany. It would be a great way to fill the space above our platform bed until we get (or I build) a new headboard. This is definitely going into my must-do project list. I'll let you in on the results whenever I get around to this little DIY!

Jul 27, 2012

what a {fri}day for a daydream: den dreams

**update: just for fun, I added a photoshop rendering of what our den might look like with a nicer fan and more windows. scroll all the way down to check it out!**

Phew, well I got a lot off my chest yesterday, so if you're still here ... thanks! Today we'll get back into the realm of lighter topics ... like a fantasy den :)

I know I've talked lots about our den, and shown you some random corners of this elusive room (check those out here, here and here). I'm still working up the courage to photograph the whole thing in its current state and display it to the world - you see, there's the small matter of cleaning it up enough to photograph, since it's taken on a life of its own as Max's unofficial playroom.

Here's what it looked like pre-furnishings and post-hardwood-floor-installation:

I have really struggled with the den which is funny, since it has some of my favorite features in the house (vaulted, beamed ceiling, built-in brick shelving). It's also the darkest room in the house with just one little window.

Our back door entry is in this room, our TV is in this room, and Max's book/toy shelf is here. Oh, and it's also sort of a hallway since it connects the kitchen to the rest of the house. Anybody else feel a bout of multiple personality disorder coming on?

Ben and I already had our dark wood paneling painted white (see the evolution here) to brighten things up. My first instinct was to also paint our brickwork white, but I decided we should live with it for a year ... since painted brick is not exactly easy to reverse. So here I am, 12 months later, and I still think white brick would be a gazillion times happier looking than our 70s orange-y red bricks. I have to say, I still love the rustic look of our wooden ceiling beams, which will remain untouched by any paintbrush. So on my den dream-list are:

* Paint brickwork white (and brass fireplace black!)
* (this one's a reach) Add floor-to-ceiling windows or windowed doors on either side of the fireplace
* Add skylights
* Replace the light fixture (it just barely snuck into the photo above; it's terrible)

So come join me for a little daydream trippin'! These are some DENspirational photos I've been drooling over (sorry, couldn't resist the pun):

I LOVE how the white backdrop of this room contrasts with the wood beams. via House of Turqoise

Trade the stones for bricks, and this is our room almost exactly. The blingy light fixture adds a modern
touch (I've considered a steel/metal fan in our room), and I love the
sunlight streaming through that door to the left of the fireplace. via Young House Love

Windows going all the way up into the A-frame of the ceiling? Yes, please. via Birch & Lily

Amy Butler's home again, of course. The skylights are amazing. Via Apartment Therapy

For fun, I thought I'd do a quick mock-up in Photoshop of how our den might one day look with some work! Windows plus a ceiling fan :)

Jul 26, 2012

ups and downs, and love all around

Oh, Ca-na-da,
our home and native land...

Now you'll be singing the refrain of Canada's national anthem all day. You can thank me later. :)

Lovely Canada, the butt of many a joke, became home to Ben and I for almost three years. The people of Calgary, Alberta, embraced us, welcomed Max as a citizen, and generally made us feel utterly at home. Needless to say, moving back to Nashville was hard. But trying to raise our baby boy more than 2,000 miles away from family was harder.

Ben and I both studied abroad as college students, so we knew firsthand that moving home is always tougher than moving away. You are a changed person, and so are those you were close to back home, so it takes a little time to re-connect. Moving home is also not necessarily as exciting as moving to an exotic new land (what, Canada can't be called exotic?). And moving home as new parents adds a whole new dimension of challenges to spending time with (and making new) friends. Grabbing a beer, meeting up for lunch or throwing a last-minute dinner party are much more challenging endeavors than ever before. In Calgary, we had several close friends whose homes we could literally walk to, which suited us wonderfully. But Nashville is sprawling, and we can't really walk anywhere at all.

Ben and I are notoriously poor planners, and we have discovered that the only path to a fulfilling social life in Nashville, with kiddos, is ... you guessed it, to pull out that calendar and pencil things in! More than a day beforehand! We're still getting the hang of the whole parenting/life balance thing, but slowly we're figuring it out.

But easily the most challenging aspect of moving from Canada to the US has been the cultural changes. The lifestyle is just so different! We miss walking around our old Calgary neighborhood and seeing lots of people outside, exercising, enjoying the fresh air no matter the weather. {Based on the swing sets and minivans, our neighborhood is full of families, but they never seem to be outside.} We miss having parks around every street corner, sidewalks in every neighborhood, and a pedestrian and biker-friendly mentality. Luckily I've found a wonderful group of like-minded mamas {Bambino Brigade, for anyone who's interested!} who meet up for hiking and jogging all around Nashville.

We struggle with American politics, too. Anybody who knows Ben and I is probably aware of our left-leaning (by American standards) ideals. This gelled a little better up North than in my hometown. And in Canada we got a little too accustomed to the total lack of stress about health care and personal safety, among other things. We knew we'd have a hard time with those matters when we came back, and well ... we have. Nashville is progressive as far as Southern cities go, but when we first moved back we still felt inundated with a weird mix of in-your-face-Christianity and crime and regressive attitudes about women's rights (that's a US thing, not a Nashville thing). Although I still get fired up about these topics, I suppose that by now I've re-adjusted and learned to tune out the stuff that raises my blood pressure!

And one last thing ... the sense of community, of accountability, is so different. I will never forget some of the random acts of community I saw when we first moved to Calgary. A FedEx delivery man asked a stranger on the sidewalk to help him lift his dolly over the curb. The man gladly helped, and they cordially went about their morning. It was so natural to ask for and receive help that I was floored by this simple act. And then I remember the fateful night that we had to shove our sofa up eight flights of stairs because it wouldn't fit in our apartment building's elevator. Not one, but TWO guys immediately offered to help. Not only did they help, but they spent over an hour finagling that thing up the stairs, taking it apart, and reassembling it inside our apartment. I really love that Americans are independent and self-sufficient, but I think we can take these ideals to the extreme. We are an every-man-for-himself society, and when people are starving or going bankrupt paying health care bills, we tend to think it's not our problem. I know this is a broad generalization, and I promise I don't intend to offend anyone, but this is my personal observation. Canadians tend to have a stronger sense of responsibility for the well-being of fellow citizens. Or, as some would say, they are more socialist-leaning ;)

But enough about my gripes, let's talk about things I LOVE about being home:

* Family. Max adores his Gamma & Pa, his Mormor and Mor-Pa, his Aunt Liz and Uncle Will, and his Aunt Jenny. Ben and I do, too.

* The people of Nashville are oh so friendly. It's always a pleasure to be out and about, chatting with strangers and friends alike.

* Weather. Even at its coldest this past winter, we never put on our Canadian winter coats. Barely a week passed that I wasn't able to easily get outside with Max. Let me tell you, after spending 30 minutes bundling Max up every.single.time I wanted to take him out in Calgary, popping on a rain coat or a light fleece and walking out of the door feels like a blessing.

* Music and culture. Nashville is such a vibrant city, and we've easily (and often) taken advantage of free and kid-friendly music and events, as well as some pretty amazing concerts for our date nights. As fun of a city as Calgary is, the culture and music scene just can't compare to Nashville's.

* Farms. It's not the Calgary's fault that produce only grows for one or two months out of the year! It's cold up there for fruits and veggies! But if you read this blog like ... ever ... then you know how obsessed I am with all the wonderful local fare available here in middle Tennessee.

So there you have it. Ben and I talk a lot about the pros and cons of our old home of Nashville, which is now our new home, versus our temporary (but almost permanent) home in Canada. We're so lucky to have gone through the experience together, to have one another as best friends and confidantes as we navigate the waters of parenthood and country-hopping and learning to live and enjoy our lives to the utmost. We're doing our best to avoid a total identity crisis as we settle back into Tennessee life!

Not to get all philosophical on you, but after traveling and moving around a few times, I often wonder if where you live really impacts the quality of life, or if it's ultimately up to us to make our life what we want it, no matter where we live. When I am fed up with the flaws in America's system, I think about moving back to Canada. But then deep down I feel that if I don't like something about my home country, then I should probably do something about it rather than just move away. What do you guys think? Ben and I seriously ponder this all the time. To be honest, I'm bored with our opinions. Let's hear some other ones!

Jul 24, 2012

Cookies of the Month: July Energy Bites

Well it's that time again ... another month, another batch of cookies!

July's recipe is actually on the healthier side, but don't tell Max. As far as he's concerned, these high-protein, no-bake "energy bites" are the end all be all of cookies! My friend Nychole turned me on to the recipe, and I sat on it for months before finally trying it out. I had gotten into the bad habit of giving Little Wild Man processed kids' snack bars when we were on the run or he needed a quick bite (or as a bribe for him to sit in his car seat. Mom of the year over here!). Sure, I may have bought organic snack bars, but the main ingredient was still sugar, and there was virtually no redeeming health value.

So long story short, I made these energy bites instead, and man, were they tasty. And easy. And fast. Ben, who's not usually a cookie person, was licking his lips and asking if he was allowed more, or if he had to save them for Max. I can't lie, I ate my fair share too. I adapted from this recipe.

No-Bake Energy Bites

All you have to do is stir these ingredients together in a mixing bowl:

1 cup old-fashioned oats
2/3 cups coconut flakes
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup ground flaxseed
1/3 cup plus 1 tbspn. honey
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 cup chopped or mini chocolate chips (optional)
1/4 cup cranberries or other dried fruit (optional)

Then just form into balls (I made mine small and bite-sized for easy toddler snacking), and store in the refrigerator. That's it! Our little guy was a big fan. Though the honey adds some sugar, the petite size of these makes portion control a snap.

Jul 20, 2012

what a {fri}day for a daydream: babyhood

You may notice that I've had some fun with my blog design ... let me know what you think! I'm still learning a LOT about how to use blogger and perfect my layout - it's trickier than I'd realized. But since I have a little bit of background in graphic design, making Cookies & Beer look nice for you lovely readers is one of my favorite parts of this blogging addiction hobby!

Today is a quiet, drizzly day, and as Max takes his nap, I'm enjoying some daydreams of when he was just a wee lad. He was born with a full head of that delicious blonde hair, and I've been in love ever since I met him back on November 14, 2010. Can't believe we're only a few months away from his SECOND (gasp!) birthday! Can you believe my big boy was ever this tiny?

note: I never intended for this to be a blog about Max, but it's supposed to be a blog about reality ... and hey, as a stay-at-home mom, Max is a huge chunk of my reality :) I've been busy cooking up a storm this week, so will have some food posts coming soon!

Have a great weekend!!

Jul 19, 2012

local love: blueberries, tomatoes & bacon, oh my!

My idea of the good life during the summer is indulging in fresh, local foods. Pretty simple. So yesterday was a great day in my life. We started with a little blueberry picking with one of my mommy groups, over at Franklin's Golden Bell Blueberry Farm. The cutest family runs this farm and they were all there helping out, along with their sweet yellow lab. Thank goodness some rain came last week, or this happy little farm would have been done for the season. But as of yesterday, there were lots of blueberries ripe for the pickin'. Max was obsessed. With everything: the dog, the blueberries, the trucks (or gators, perhaps is the appropriate southern term?)!

Not very many berries made it into Max's bucket. Ok, not any made it in, except the handfuls I hastily plucked when I realized it was time to go and we had nothing to show for our outing! He got the hang of blueberry picking right away, finding the low branches and plucking off the ripe blue ones before popping them into his mouth. It must be intrinsic, knowing not to choose berries that aren't ripe yet...

When Max was stuffed full of blueberries and I'd paid for my meager pickings (only $1.25 for my half pound, wish I had gotten more!!), Max buddied up with Lucky the Blueberry Dog. I tried to pay extra for all the berries that went straight to Max's belly but they wouldn't let me. I'm telling you, sweetest family farm ever!

We laid out picnic blankets under a tree while the kiddos enjoyed their lunches, and once Max was back home and happily napping, I made my own lunch:

Local bacon from Peaceful Pastures, tomatoes from my Bountiful Blessings CSA, and whole wheat sourdough bread from a vendor at the Franklin Farmer's Market. A little mayo and lettuce and it was all over.

Our CSA had extra tomatoes this week, so I snagged a bunch and am hoping to make some fresh pizza sauce with them. Yummo.

Jul 17, 2012

This is the Story ... of a Lovely Ikea Shelf

This lovely Ikea shelf has traveled the world. Ok, maybe not the world, but across North America for sure. We bought it in Canada just after Ben's 30th birthday. I had gotten him a record player, which led to buying a receiver and speakers, and then naturally, we needed a place to store all that equipment. A trip to Ikea yielded this shelf, which made the cut to travel all the way back to Nashville last summer. Problem was, the color and style seemed all wrong in our new, more traditional space. And the cords ... don't get me started on how terrible those cords looked!


After doing a bit of reading (www.ikeahackers.net is AWESOME for ideas!) on whether I could successfully paint over Ikea veneer, I decided that remaking this shelf was doable and worth the effort. Especially since it's probably the most functional storage space ever - Max loves the toy boxes that he can easily slide out, and the easy access to his growing library! So here's what I did:

{1} I disassembled the whole thing and roughed it up a little. This is possibly the most important step! I went over both sides of each piece with a medium grit sandpaper, wiped with a wet rag, then repeated once more, making sure everything was clean and dry.

{2} Prime Time! I used a Kilz heavy duty, oil-based spray primer for most pieces, and a cheaper one once I ran out of the Kilz. The Kilz had great coverage and only took one coat, whereas the cheaper spray took two coats to get the same coverage. I tried to spray thin, even coats, but didn't worry too much about it since I knew I would sand out any imperfections in the next step.

{3} I let these dry for 24 hours, then sanded them with a really fine sandpaper (320 grit, I think). I found that sanding between coats is the real key to getting a smooth looking and durable final product.

{4} Now it was time to paint! I got a quart of Olympic's zero VOC paint in a glossy white and applied it with a small roller. Can I just say, the small paint roller rocks! It gave  great, smooth coverage and I don't know why I haven't been using this for all of my projects. I used two coats of paint, sanding lightly between coats.

{5} I went to Home Depot with my shelf's measurements in hand (scratch that - I forgot my measurements and called Ben for help), and the friendly lumber guys trimmed a piece of tempered hard board to size for me. It's shelved next to the plywood, but is more lightweight. This piece also got a layer of primer, a light sanding and cleaning, and then a top coat of my favorite paint color of the moment, Martha Stewart's Sea Glass (thanks for the tip, Amy!). 

In a very non-technical fashion, I reassembled my shelf and propped up the board behind it so that I could mark where to cut a hole for our electronics. I started small since we decided to move our stereo system downstairs (and away from curious toddler hands!) for now. To cut out a rectangle, I first etched out my shape with an exacto knife, and Ben actually busted out his electric saw to finish off the job.

{6} Next, it was just a matter of nailing the backboard into my finished shelf!

And I ended up with this!

Here's Max giving the "new" shelf a whirl. It's been living in our den (where it takes plenty of abuse!) for a few months now, and so far my paint is holding up really well. For a total cost of about $40, I'm pretty thrilled with the improvement!

Jul 16, 2012

Pretty Little Bargains

The sun is shining today, a great way to start the week! But last week was rainy, rainy, rainy. The rain was much needed, and appreciated in every way ... except by my wallet. I took Max on many more shopping outings than usual, since our typical outdoor play times were a no go. Luckily, I don't shop at fancy places these days, and the ol' wallet wasn't hit as hard as it could have been! At Home Goods, I tracked down this pretty dog bed for Bosco, for just $20. He's notoriously picky about dog beds, but I think he approved.

And my best deal in a long time ... this little guy from Target. He was hanging out in their bargain section and was a steal at $2.50. Right now, he's living on one of the built-in shelves in the den.

I guess rainy weeks are good for getting things done around the house. When I'm trapped indoors, looking at my space all day, I find that I get inspired much faster!

Oh, and in the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit that the title of this post was inspired by my latest Netflix tv show addiction, "Pretty Little Liars." Much like pizza, it's cheesy and delicious and a great guilty pleasure :)

Jul 12, 2012

Designer Crush

Ever since I spotted her house tour (check out the whole thing here) on the Apartment Therapy blog, I have been obsessed with Amy Butler's gorgeous textile and wallpaper designs. And her mid-century home is pretty much the stuff of my dreams. It's updated to perfection - she and her husband have kept the best elements of their home intact (vaulted ceilings, big windows, beautiful stone work), while making it feel bright and fresh - not like some mid-century spaces that try too hard, and end up looking stiff and dull. Though her home is obviously on a much grander scale, there are elements that I'd love to re-create in our home one day. Like this:

Our den also has a vaulted ceiling, and I dream of adding skylights and floor to ceiling windows (or french doors). And ever since setting eyes on this wallpaper, I have wanted it for our entry hall. The colors, and modern yet whimsical style fit in exactly with my vision for our house.

When I set out to order fabric for Max's curtains (more on that here), I noticed that fabric.com had a sale going for all Amy Butler fabrics. I was doing a happy dance and loaded about six different options into my cart! Of course I had to narrow the selections down, as much as I loved every last one, and I couldn't have been more excited when my box of lovely textiles arrived yesterday.

I am in love with all of them. The first one (on the left) is meant for our bedroom, and I want to pair the other two together as pillow covers in our den. I bought them with the hope that they'd coordinate, and I think they actually work really nicely together. 

I'm beginning to amass fabrics ... with no real clue about sewing (and no sewing machine). I feel a trip to my mom's coming on. (That ok, Mom?) If I'm lucky, maybe she'll let me use her sewing machine AND provide a bit of a tutorial along the way :)

Jul 11, 2012

Max & the Popsicle

I tried to think of a more creative title for this post, but it just wasn't happening. This post is mostly a photo dump, because I thought Max's first-ever popsicle experience was just so darn cute. And as his mom, I am the authority on Max cuteness.

So my little guy has been growing molars for the past few weeks. Ouch. That's all I can think when I see those bad boys making their way through his gums. And that's his opinion on the situation, too.

In an especially bad moment, I remembered that we had a lone strawberry popsicle in the freezer, and I thought maybe it would help numb Max's gums, or at the very least distract him for a few minutes. It wasn't love at first bite, but once he realized that it tasted good and was fun to eat, he was concentrated on the task at hand. He had me laughing so hard, saying "uh oh" in his sweet little toddler voice every time a drip fell onto his hands ... and arms, and legs and feet. He's a bit of a neat freak, and I have no idea where he gets it (ok, maybe it comes from his Morfar - which is Danish for Grandpa, ie, my dad).

You can see the skepticism on his face at the beginning, and he did not like his sticky hands, but he seemed to accept the messiness factor as he went along. And he especially loved the part at the end where I washed him off with the garden hose!


Jul 10, 2012

A Little Pinterest Project

So like most of you (c'mon, admit it!), I am slightly addicted to pinterest. This idea had been hanging out on my pinboard for a while, but I move slow as molasses (I can use that saying, I'm back in the South now!) when it comes to committing to wall art.

pinterest via the style files blog

But once Max created his second masterpiece, I decided that his work MUST be properly displayed! A friend told me she had found supplies similar to those in the photo above at a hardware store for under $20 total, so off I went to Home Depot! Twenty dollars and about 15 minutes of drilling and attaching the rods later, and presto. I had a happy little corner to display Max's art, invitations, photos, or whatever makes me smile at the moment.

This is a corner in our ever-elusive den. I promise I'll eventually get around to sharing what it looks like these days. (You can tell in these photos that the lighting situation is terrible in this room, which is the main reason I've struggled to photograph it.) This spot is right next to the kitchen doorway, so it's a high-traffic area and a fab place for revolving displays of art and other fun stuff. Currently it has an invitation to an anniversary party in Norway, art by Max, a wedding invitation, one of my all-time favorite baby photos of Max, another wedding invite, a baby shower invite and more artwork.

I'd been planning to post about this project today and, incidentally, it coincided with the Pinterest Challenge being hosted by a few of my very favorite bloggers: Young House Love, Bower Power, Ten June and Centsational Girl. Check them out to see the crazy creative and crafty ideas they came up with!