Friday, March 30, 2012

Back Home

I'm pushing it I know, starting a post at 2:39 in the afternoon, well into my two girls' deep afternoon post vacation slumbers. Yet here I am typing away because I'm almost giddy.  We're home.

If you've read my blog for a while, or know me or talk to me at all, you know what a redundant struggle this new home has been for me.  I found myself bumbling and embarrassed when people asked me where we're from while in Florida "Minnesota! well, um, originally.  We've lived just outside of Chicago for almost 5 years.  So I guess Chicago!"  I felt silly, rambling on when the inquirer was just posing a polite conversational question.  What do they care about this home identity crisis that I still seem to be struggling with?  they don;t and shouldn't, and quite frankly it made me realize that I need to once and for all get over this.  Its gotten completely ridiculous.

Truth is, it's gotten harder and harder to leave this home of ours.  I teared up when I had to say goodbye to Ian in Florida, very uncharacteristic for me, half because I knew how much we'd all miss him, how HARD it was going to be without him there, but also because I was jealous.  No fair!  He gets to go home.

When the plane touched down in Chicago, a freshly awakened Ainsley and oh so squirmy Louise both stilled.  "Oh mama, I think I see daddy's work!"  They both grinned as we clomped down the long stairs to baggage claim, unburdening our bags and hearts on our man we so missed.  The cool air felt delightful as we walked to the car, the drive so much greener than a mere 10 days ago.  Rather than hurry and scurry to unpack and organize last night I just sat with my family, drinking it all in.  I love our home.

This morning us girls all rose before the sun.  At first I was excited for my easy 5:30 arousal, sure I'd get a good hour to myself before the rest awoke.  Then I heard Louise's gleeful morning chirp and Ainsley's holler for love and us three enjoyed our dark quiet house in warm jammies and cozy snuggles.  It was perfect.

One of the greatest beauties of a trip and time away is the perspective it lends.  I feel so refreshed and energized, despite the different kind of exhaustion travelling with two little ones brings.  I am over the moon to plant our first real substantial this-could-actually-feed-us-for-some-of-the-summer garden with the girls this weekend.  I am giddy to try my hand at naturally died Easter eggs this year with the girls (beets, blueberries, blackberries, spinach and tumeric should do the trick!).  I am eager to delve back into the many projects I left undone a mere 10 days ago.  I am motivated to buckle down and continue to plow forward in this place, making do and making fun, economizing creating and enjoying.

For this is the life we lead here in this home, simple and easy and fun, and today I am oh so glad for all of that.


I've been dying to do this post for a few months.  Remember my announcement that we were switching our house over to a more economical, green clean?  Well I was so giddy with excitement (still am actually) that I didn't want my sheerly praiseful ramblings to overshadow the fact that this stuff is AMAZING.

I was reticent to sign up because Melaleuca is kind of a unique program.  You have to be signed up by someone who works for them, who then gets a commission for anything you buy.  I was a bit weary of both of these aspects, it seemed a bit pyramid-schemy to me.  It's odd these days to find a company who relies solely on word of mouth for advertising and passes the money on to it's customers.  Kind of neat once I figured it out.

The other catch is when you sign up you agree to spend a certain amount (point value) each month.  I'm still not quite sure why this is, perhaps to make sure it's worth the while to sign up, but let me tell you, if anything I have to hold back each month to only spend the minimum because I love the stuff (and really use it) that much!

But this means I have to plan.  I can't load up on everything one month, because the next month I won't need much and would have to just buy my 35 points (about $50-$60) worth of products anyways. I actually love this because I LOVE planning.  So the first month I got all the basic cleaning stuff.  Stain removers, all purpose cleaners, dishwasher soap, disinfectant, bathroom cleaner.  The next month I got toothpastes, more dishwasher soap, lotion, shampoo, bath bars, and vitamins.  Last month I loaded up on mineral suncreens, aloe, ibuprofen and children's acetaminophen.  This month I'm excited to try out the laundry soap, kids shampoo and of course more dishwasher soap.

I kid you not, every single product we've tried is amazing.  I know it may be silly to get so excited about cleaning supplies and other household products but I can't help it.  They've been the bane of my existence for quite some time.  One I learned that there are traces of formaldehyde and LOTS of weird animal fats in most baby lotions and soaps I was horrified and started buying the girls' stuff at whole foods, scouring labels to find the gentlest most natural products.  The catch? this stuff is expensive.  I understand why people buy the bulk target brand baby stuff because it's so much cheaper.  I felt kind of defeated and frustrated.  And don't even get me started on the household cleaners.  The chemical smells from my old standbys really bothered me once I had little ones underfoot and the greener cleaners just never seemed to clean all that well.  I've been amazed that not only is the melaleuca stuff green and smells amazing but it works as well if not better than any bleachy chemically stuff I've tried.  The ONE product I find I miss is my softscrub and I've remedied that by sprinkling some baking soda in the sink or tub, then spraying the tough and tender cleaner (far and away my new favorite) and scrubbing away.  I haven't missed bleach since.

One more perk?  See those teeny bottles in the first photo above?  Melaleuca has figured out how to make their stuff 4-6x concentrated so you get the pure product, no water added like most other cleaners, and mix your own spray bottles.  ONE of the bottle above will easily make 4-6 spray bottles worth.  And the cost? $5.69 for my favorite cleaner, this means each spray bottles worth costs about a dollar.  Talk about economical.

So slowly we're converting our whole house, no chore seeing as this company makes just about everything you'd need for your home.  They even have their own pharmaceutical company so you can buy your medicene cabinet staples through them (and guess what? they're cheaper!).  With a little planning and LOTS of self restraint (no more imprmotu target or costo runs for this mama!) this move has been more than worth it for our little family.  Getting that pacakge every month is like a little mini Christmas and I feel so good knowing that our home is free of chemicals that could harm ourselves or our girls AND it's really clean too!

And to end, a few of my favorite products...

Laundry Stain every time.

Glass and smells better than windex, in my humble opinion

Tough and Tender all purpose cleaner...I use this for everything, it works well and smells SO good

Wood polish...I've even sprayed some on scratched on our wood floors, it works SO well

 Sun Shades Sunscreen...the spf 45 spray was our favorite in easy to put on the girls and worked really well...and of course SMELLED SO GOOD!!!

Diamond Brite Dishwasher Soap...this is probably the main reason I finally switched over, i COULD NOT find a green dishwasher soap that worked and really hated the other harsh cleaners...that fake lemon smell was just too much, this stuff works better than any other product I've found, green or not, I am a convert for life thanks to this stuff.

Lemon Brite hand washing and smells SO good (am I beginning to sound like a broken record?)

Body Lotion...amazing!

 Vitamins...I've gotten back on the vitamin track with these and haven't had so much energy in I can't tell you hoe long

Shampoo...did I mention for the first 6 months you get to try products for free?  Last month I opted for the shampoo and love smells amazing and works really well on my crazy curly hair.

Sensitive Whitening Polish...we get the girls' toothpastes from here too, all really good!

Ah, so you see.  They have just about everything and we love just about everything.  Thanks for listening to me gush.  I just can't help myself.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

O, Sanibel.

Spring breaks have changed yes?  Those loungy snoozy dreamy lying in the sun days of youth are gone.  O, they are gone.

::our little water worm was sans floaties by the last day, still far to go before true flotation and swimming, but eager and proud::

::post nap woes, animal crackers quickly helped::

 ::deep end synchronized swimming with grammy::

 ::family wave jumping::

 ::tide pool running::

In their place are vacations filled with activity and bustle, new sleep routines and rules, testing all of our flexibility and patience, and in the end? a whole lot of fun.

::our second littel water girl, jumping off ledges, walking off of deep steps, 
she kept us on our toes this one did::

 ::"Hi Bop!" Louise's new favorite exclamation::

 ::ah, family::

 ::Louise loved doing the stairs like a big girl, no crawling down for this little lady::

 ::Ainsley with the big kids playing shuffleboard::

 ::sisters! minus Kelly :o(::

::Louise's curls erupted on Sanibel::

 ::popsicles and frozen grapes were the favorite snacks, 
Griffin was very interested::

 ::Ainsley and her pool pals!  We hardly saw that child while down at the pool, 
she was far too busy with her new friends::

It's so bizarre and wonderful to vacation at a place with my family as a grown up mother and wife, that I vacationed at as a child for years.  My toes still tingle as I swim with the girls over the big mosaic turtle in the pool, my nose remembers that first gulp of salty air as we cross the bridge from mainland florida to paradise, my skin remembers that hot sun, my tastebuds the grouper...O! the grouper.

While it's taken a bit to get used to this new groove of vacationing with little ones I'm realizing it allows me to see this place I so love in a whole new way, with the renewed zeal and excitement of youth.  I'm spoiled rotten.

Don't get me wrong, it was hard.  I can't even count how many times I was told by other parents (with a look of empathetic remembrance on their faces) "oh boy, do I remember vacations at this age!" "you're doing good mama!"  "been there, it's so hard"  Because truthfully, we hardly sat down.  After Ian left and I solo parented for 4 days, plus air travel day with 2 mobile dolls, I can officially say I'm spent.  But you won't hear me complaining (except for that moment when I broke down when Louise ran wildly off with lasagna hands all over Aunt Gail's beautiful white beach house).  I feel so blessed to be able to do this with my family, for this time and these memories.  Thankful for the hard exhausted sleep that met the girls each nap time and the calm and rest it allowed us all.  Glad for the action, the biking and swimming, running and playing, shell finding and wave jumping.  We did it all.

O, Sanibel.  You never cease to amaze and inspire.  Thank you thank you, and now? a little vacation from the vacation is in order :o).

Saturday, March 17, 2012

New Book Love

Sharing a few of the new gems in our house.

Pancakes for Breakfast by Tomie DePaola
  I know I mentioned this before but I truly cannot say enough good things about this book.  It's appropriate for every age, encourages storytelling, is silly and delightful and clever.  Far and away our whole family's favorite.

 White Rabbit books by Alan Baker
   I've been on the hunt for some new learning color, numbers and letter books for Louise and these are just what I'm looking for.  Rather than just sprouting information these books are stories, with beautiful illustrations and a precious bunny.  And how appropriate for the Easter Holiday coming up?

Mercy Watson series by Kate DiCamillo
  Since Little house in the Big Woods has been such a hit I've decided we can move on up to chapterbooks for Ainsley's bedtime reading.  I stumbled across the Mercy Watson series while searching for good first chapter books and we've been so happy with them.  Picutres on nearly every page and super cute stories captivate both the girls.  Ainsley drags this book along with her EVERYWHERE.  DiCamillo is one of my favorite children's authors, Despereaux anyone?  She doesn't dumb down language for kids and her stories are witty and fun.  Perhaps the Easter bunny can find it in his budget to get her the next one in the series?

Mama Panya's Pancakes by Mary and Rich Chamberlin
   I first read this book while teaching and the 5 year olds loved it.  I've been waiting to get it at the library for the girls and thought they still might be a bit young to grasp it's wonder, but they adore it.  Ainsley loves finding all the fun animals on the pages and we love talking about the differences in the lives of these Kenyan villagers when compared to our own.  She is desperate to be able to balance a basket on her head like mama panya and loves the idea that everyone brings something to a meal to contribute so there's enough food for everyone.  A truly sweet tale about making ends meet as well as broadening little one's horizons.

Who's in the Garden?
   I'm not typically a huge fan of board books.  While babies love to look at them and the indepence of turning their pages I tire of them easily and found I've gotten rid of most of ours in the past few months.  This board book?  amazing.  The illustrations are intricate enough to capture the attention of a much older child (or me!) and the rhyming story about finding critters in the garden is so cute.  I highly recommend this very seasonally appropriate story.

Bear At Home
   In an effort to find books that both Louise and Ainsley can enjoy together I found this series of bear books by Stella Blackstone.  While our library doesn't have them all they do have some and we LOVE this one.  A simple story about a tour through bear's house with bold illustrations.  The girls love looking at all the rooms and comparing them to our own and the quick story keeps them both engrossed.  Very good.

How Big is a Pig?
  If I were to restock my board books I'd include ALL of Clare Beaton's.  Her felt sewn illustrations are amazing and this story so catchy that Ainsley had it memorized after one read.  Even Louise was reciting some lines.  The girls love it.  Me too.

Now books for me!

Wednesday Sisters
  Another Chinaberry find, I'm only 80 pages in but loving this book.  It's kind of period peice, taking place in Palo Alto in the late 60s.  I love the descriptions of the clothes and social and political atmospheres.  It's about a group of women (moms) who meet at a park and their stories.  Kind of hits close to home.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta LAcks
   A nonfiction book about the woman behind the HeLa cells, her story and how her life (and cells) affected her family.  It ended up getting a bit long winded for me (I mean we already know the punchline) but fascinating nonetheless.  I really enjoyed learning about the beginning of cell duplication and growth in labs, seeing how much medical practices and cancer treatments have changed over time.  Every once in a while I like a book where I really learn something.  This fit the bill.

So there we are.  New favorites reads...feel free to share yours!


*DISCLAIMER: I know this post is going to be lame to most people (if I'm honest it's even lame to myself but it's 6am on the Saturday before our trip and I can't sleep so bare with me!)

Travelling has never really been my thing, scratch that, I LOVE travelling, hate the getting places.  I stress out over packing, preparedness, the unknown.  I never realized how much these things plagued me until adding two dependent little ones to the carry on load.  Long security and check in lines, unexpected delays and lengthy plane's stressful!  I thought I'd share a few things that have worked for me to keep travelling as slick as I can (and it never hurts to have a last minute reminder myself!)

  One of the biggest stressors for me is the balance between being prepared and having to keep track of ALL that stuff while away.  I literally go insane keeping track of shoes and socks, leggings and tiny underpants, pieces of toys and books.  While there are of course SOME things that HAVE to come, lovies and blankies galore! the rest is at my discretion.  If there's a washing machine where we're going (and there almost always is) I pack for a bout 5 days, regardless of the length of the stay. That way I'm not inundated with tiny clothes AND they get to where all their super cute (in this case new warm weather) clothes WAY more than once.

   But Becky, you just said to pack light?!? I'm so utterly confused.  Hear me out.  Carry-ons people, carry ons.  While I don't go nuts I DO pack "well" in this department.  Remember those unexpected delays?  and long plane rides?  and the all too real possibility of lost luggage?  Pack heavy friends.  Before having babies I almost NEVER packed a legitimate carry on.  I'd have my purse, with a book, ipod, and knitting shoved inside.  Good to go right?  Well kids need stuff to keep them happy, stuff like this...

   (LOTS of food.  I usually pack babybels, crackers of some sort, cereal bars, fruit snacks, dried fruit, bananas or apples and pb&Js)  this way I'm uber prepared if we end up taxiing forever or are stuck on the plane for any unforeseen amount of time.  I can't stress this enough.  Food is the key to happy traveling kids.

   Here's where we get to have some fun.  I've tried all sorts of different ways to keep the girls happy on long travel days (and no, portable DVD players have never been it!  although we did get an ipad for Christmas so we'll see what happens this time around).  Wrapping toys for the girls to open is always a hit, but the paper mess is a bit much for plane rides.  One of my favorites is bringing colored electrical or painters tape to play with on the seat trays.  I bring some little figurines and cars and we can make a whole scene and jsut play away.  PLus just pulling off tape and sticking it to each other is silly too.
  Other favorites are of course crayons and a new coloring book or two.  I find one or two new SMALL purchases go a long way.  I spent $5 on one hidden pictures book and a new coloring book for the girls and I know it will be quite exciting to pull something new out!
   Paperback books are a must for travelling.  I love scouring our stash for ones we haven't read in a while, sneak a few old favorites in and there we are!  I have found some GREAT mini paperbacks at thrift stores (Harold and the Purple Crayon, Peter Rabbit).  The beauty of travelling with paperbacks is you can pack more books and if they get lost or damaged it isn't nearly as catastrophic as losing a beautiful hardcover.
  And my number one tip always?  Don't give them ANYTHING until they show signs of needing redirection.  Just being out in a new place with things to look at and talk about is enough for quite awhile most times.  I've been amazed at how little entertainment my girls need sometimes...just talk with them, notice things, plan what you'll do once on your trip, relish in the free tiny sodas and pretzels and see how long it lasts!

  While I have one bag underfoot with the essentials (all that food and entertainment I just spoke of) I pack a small carry on with things that are too precious to trust to that underbelly of the plane.  All cameras and chargers of course are here, as are my carry on items in the event that the girls may allow me to knit a few rows or read a few pages.  I always pack LOTS of extra diapers (weird to think next trip I may not have any diapers to pack!) and clothes.  At LEAST 1 extra outfit per girl, 2 if I have the room.  This way we're covered in case of massive spills or accidents as well as if our bags are delayed.  And these clothes are always the softest most comfortable we own.  Think cotton loose pants and cozy shirts.  Clothes they can snuggle up and sleep in comfortably without hugging tummies too tightly!  When traveling to a sunny destination like tomorrow I pack a swimsuit per person as well.  Wouldn't want our bags to be delayed and have us unable to jump in that pool immediately upon arrival!  I pack extra snacks and books here too.
While it would be nice to just have one small bag to tote around I'm always glad for this extra one for piece of mind.

  (Positive Mental Attitude)  while I'll admit I am usually a flurry on nerves until we get to the gate, you'd better believe I have my game face on ALL day.  I do my best to have extra patience with the girls, extra flexibility.  I actually look forward to "special" travel treats, like sneaking a little chocolate for the plane, sharing in the wonder of liftoff with my girls.  I'm always amazed by how little "planned" entertainment they need when travelling.  The sights and sounds of new places and faces provide oodles all on their own.  And the most important thing?  To remember that this is a treat, that it's supposed to be FUN!  If I'm having fun then the family is having fun, so enjoy!

So there we have it!  We're all packed and ready to go.  Now if the house would just tidy itself!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Hump Day Nuggets:: Growing Pains

Recently, I've kind of been fixating.  When Ainsley was Louise's age I was just about to erupt with child.  Now I have another 18 month old and no baby in sight, no one even planned for anytime soon.  

Truthfully?  I'm kind of sad.  Babies are why I got into this business.  Holding and caring for your own personal miracle?  I dare you to find another job description that comes close.  The trouble is when that thrill of newness wears off where are we left?  With little people that's where.

It's been kind of the irony of my parenting journey that when the girls were teeny tiny I wanted them bigger and now I just crave a small bundle.   I used to take Ainsley to parks at 9 months old, starting crafts with her far too young.  While there's something to be said for challenging young minds there's also something to just letting them be.

Who I have right now are two little girls, not babies, not big kids.  One so desperately independent, but quite needy and snuggly all at once.  Another finding her own voice, challenging her bumbly body every minute.  And me?  Well of course I'm growing too.  We are growing all together as a family. The planner in me wants a plan, wants to know what this time next year will look like.  But I can't.  Because right now all I see are Louise's sweet chubby cheeks and Ainsley's big wise eyes.  I'm tired of trying to look ahead because right now they are ridiculous and amazing and I know this time next year I'll be looking back to now and wishing they were here again.

So here's to missing babies.  To knowing I want more, just not yet.  To enjoying my sweet girls and amazing husband right NOW, because they're pretty dang cute/wonderful/perfect as is.

And here's to...


The warm front continues here and we're soaking up every moment.  I'm thankful for our upcoming Florida trip this year more than ever because I'm prepared.  New sandals for the girls, fresh sunscreen and warm weather clothes that fit!  For the first time in I don't know how long we've had to unpack our bags BEFORE the trip to prepare for these balmy days.  (Oh but we're still over the moon for our trip!  Sand and swim and sun...YES!!!)

 ::the newest little driver in our house::

 ::buds budding all over::

 ::evening walks, every evening:
(and that's our house right there if I've never shown the front, ah home sweet home)

 ::Ainsley the bikemaster.  This child goes from fairy princess to Tom Boy in 5 seconds flat.  
That is surely one of my favorite things about her::

 ::and who do we have here?  Fairy Princess #2?  Suddenly SO opinionated about her ensembles and fanciness.   Don't worry Louise, there's enough fancy to go around::

 ::Oh, the fanciness::

::this child is DESPERATE to do the monkey bars, sadly I apparently can't do them anymore to show her how it's done.  Thankfully my lanky boy way along to give her some pointers.  Ah the growth our park play unveils, amazing::

 ::backyard picnics, new library books, new favorite sewing books, sun, and two girls happily occupied in their new outdoor haven....oh spring where have you been my whole life? 
or at least all winter!::

 ::a new backyard trick (for while we have a slide and cube and lots of bikes and ride ons the girls still need some direction back there every once in a while!) give your tots a spray bottle full of water, instruct them to clean or feed the plants and let them go.  Ainsley watered for a half hour and now she knows where EVERY plant in our yard is.  Such fun, and a great workout for those little hands::

 ::first park picnic! Relearning how to behave in the sandpit and when that kid in front of you isn't going down the slide fast enough, oh yeah and how to SIT and EAT, but so much fun nontheless::


 I've never considered myself a vain person.  Still, I've always envied THOSE girls.  The ones who look composed and beautiful always.  At the gym after a hard workout, at the coffee shop at 6am, at the club at closing time.  No fair.  I look horrid at all of those places.  In between sometimes too.  The thing is it never used to bother me.  Never USED to.

Ever since discovering eye wrinkles in the rear view en route to MN a few years back I've been in a mild panic.  I don't mind aging.  Quite frankly I'm glad for a legitimate excuse for my aesthetic flaws.  But suddenly I hate how I look in just about everything, despite being RELATIVELY the same size I was pre baby.  I've started chopping off my own hair because I despise it so much and I'm confident no stylist can help me.  It's frustrating to feel like I look like a hot mess all the time.  

Plus there's that balance, always.  The one between showing my girls how to take care of themselves but not care TOO much.  Apparently the key is finding a balance for myself.  Showering more in the mornings (instead of at night) so I feel good about my curls.  Taking an extra moment to coordinate something even if it's just 2 mornings a week.  Swiping on some mascara to awaken those not tired but looking quite tired eyes.  Sewing has SO helped with this.  New pieces at a low cost that make me feel good? YES PLEASE!

::saw a young mama in Louise's music class sporting this layered demin look 
with hair back and big earrings.  
TOTALLY copied her the next day.  I like it!::

 ::I got these earring for $2 at heartbreaker in MN (and no they haven't turned my ears green yet).  I hardly wore them until this week, now I've hardly taken them off::


 ::the 5 minute skirt from purlsoho with fold over elastic waistband and bias tape hem.  It's a bit wonky as I had to draw the pattern myself, but I love the length and the print and have been wearing it all day.  I've always wanted to be a skirt girl, perhhaps this summer is it!::

::yard sale wrap skirt from Weekend Sewing, all laid out::


::I've since sewn french seams to join the panels and am need only attach the goldenrod waistband and hem it.  Can't wait to wear it in Florida (and beyond!)  Ainsley's already envious of it's twirlability::

::Why I'm loving sewing #692.  YESTERDAY while packing for Florida it struck me that I don't have a tote large enough to carry all the things I'll need for the girls from the pool and beach and back each day.  We're talking snacks, diapers, water bottles, toys, sunscreen, hats, cameras, towels...WHEW!  No way hose was that going to fit in any ole bag I had lying around.  So I went to my trusty Weekend Sewing and found this Everything Tote pattern.  2 yards of fabric and an hour or so later I'm halfway there!  Can't wait to lug this around down south (and all summer long!)::

the outside is a kelly green linen and the lining is that beautiful cotton print

So I'm working on being in the now, thankful for today.  Blessed as I can ever imagine I'll be.  Trying not to force it.  Busy busy busy getting read for our trip, errands and packing and last minute sewing.  All the while trying to keep it real.  This IS a vacation afterall.  See you in 2 weeks!!!