Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Things Loved...Lately.

It's been a while, so I thought I'd share some favorites of late.


I have been hankering after a good tomato and bread salad for ages and now that tomatoes are ripe and abundant I was eager to take the plunge.  In quite a stroke of serendipity I came across an American's Test Kitchen featering their own "best" of this classic summer salad.  I made it.  We LOVED it.  The girls helped me make it, it's that simple, and I ate the leftovers from dinner for dessert last night.

Babble Wine

This TJs 6.99 bottle is my new favorite, this was even BEFORE I read the description in the store that informed me it has "afternotes of bacon fat".  Umm, YES!

iPlay Swim Diaper

This is my second year using one of these instead of the disposables and I continue to be in absolute love.  Especially for a family like us who's either at a splash pad or pool or sprinkler most every day this is far and away a more economical way to go.  I simply rinse and line dry the diaper and throw it in with the wash at the end of the week.  It's amazing!

Born to Run by Christopher McDougall

I read this book last month at the cabin and it kind of changed my life.  If you run AT ALL I can't imagine this book not doing the same for you.  Fascinating, inspiring, amazing.

Zeitoun by Dave Eggers

This nonfiction book was lent to me by a friend and I devoured it in about 3 days.  Once I got over how embarrassed I was that I knew so little of the details of hurricane Katrina I was absolutely entranced.  It was such a powerful story and I'm so glad I read it.

French Press Coffee

Ian and I have officially crossed over.  After our tried and true Krups machine started making weird hissing noises and taking over 10 minutes to brew a half pot of coffee we decided it was time to make a switch.  Having worked in a really good coffee shop in college we'd both gotten spoiled by the fresh amazing espresso and brew and it's been hard to find a good substiute at home.  We both drink coffee black and grind our beans at home so the next natural step was roasting at home and a french press, right?

Well, the roasting is all Ian.  A new coworker of his is quite the coffee aficionado  and has introduced him to this "other side" of coffee making.  I must say, the french press is definitely better than anything I've made in a conventional coffee maker.  We got the $12 model from IKEA and have no complaints so far!

TJs cookies

Perhaps the thing I miss most during the summer months is the lack of slow roasting and baking.  It's just too dang hot to have that oven on, period!  But while I miss the process, I REALLY miss the product.  It's been fun to have a seasonal excuse to peruse the store bought options out there.  My current fave?  TJs mini almond biscotti 2 (ok, maybe 3 or 4) of these and a cup of french press is my new naptime treat.  Delicious.

Coffee Berry eye and lip balm by SKIN Organics

I've been on the search for a good eye cream lately that's not crazy expensive and mostly natural.  I just wanted something kind of basic that would help with these lovely dark circles that motherhood has given me.  I grabbed this stuff at whole foods a few months back and love it.  I use it every night under my eyes and then swipe it across my lips.  I love that it's multi purpose, smells great and leaves my eyes feeling refreshed and soft.  Oh, and it's vegan, which I like too (in my products, not my diet :o).

Hmm, thisis fun. I have lots of things I've liked lately.

Teeny Tiny Tales by Sarah Hayes

This book is our latest library find and we're hooked.  Louise, Ainlsye and I adore it equally, which is quite the feat these days.  5 cute short stories about 5 little woodland nymph friends.  Love it.

Minnetonka Moccasins

I'm sure I've told you already but I LOVE these shoes.  I look forward to buying the girls a new pair each summer for their fall slip on shoes.  I know TOMS are big and I think they're adorable too, but a part of me is reluctant to buy into the trenc when I already face SO many wardrobe opinions and struggles with Ainsley.  As long as she lets me put her in adorable well made minnesota mocassion leather?  I'm going to do it.  Oh, Louise too.

I was even willing to let her go this year but she chose the "beautiful pretty brown"  that's my girl!

So many fun things lately.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

THE Find

Let me start by admitting wholeheartedly that my thrifting itch has gotten way out of control.  This is not to say it's a bad thing, but when sale prices at Target look WAY TOO CRAZY EXPENSIVE you know you've crossed over to the other side.

Oh but the other side? it's good.  It's filled with cheap dollar bin searching finding thrills, and all those empty handed trips are overwhelmingly made up for with the finds.

Today?  I may have found THE find.

This particular find was found at a nice large moving sale.  I'd seen an add in the local paper and figured any sale willing to spend money to advertise must have some goods, so we went.  When I go to sales I am mostly looking for things for the girls and other little ones in our lives.  Mint condition toys for gifts, good quality clothes and books.  I of course keep my eyes out for nice household items and vintage linens, but these seem harder to come by.  Oh but I'm getting away from myself.  Back to the dolls.

A wonderful friend gave Ainsley two of these dolls about a year and a half ago.  The dolls are the 8"
Madeline dolls, made by Eden.  These dolls were only in production for a few years in the mid 90s and were then discontinued.  Why?  I have no clue.  These dolls are adorable, SO well made and cute and a wonderful substitute for the more buxom barbie dolls.  I was delighted with this gift and Ainsley plays with those two dolls and the clothes and accessories endlessly.

So when I walked into this sale and saw all five dolls (the two we own plus three I never knew existed) lined up neatly with stands sitting a top a tupperware box of clothes and accessories I honed in.  I grabbed them immediately and searched for the seller to start negotiations.  The seller went to get her daughter whose dolls they were "um, $5 for the clothes and a buck a doll?"  I was all set with my $10 bill when the mom swooped in "oh no, you have to ask a bit more for those."  Shoot!  She knows what she has!  Keep cool Becky, keep cool. "Ok, um $3 a doll?  and $10 for the box?  I only have a $20 and I was hoping to get those felt boards too...could I get them all for $20?  "Sure! And we'll throw in the Madeline CD"  Thanks, amazing!  I'm so thrilled.

The girl went on to talk about her dolls.  How she was so glad they were going to two new little girls.  I nodded and smiled, happy too, and handed the loot off to Ian to hide them in the car before Ainsley saw them.  Nothing like stocking up for Christmas in July!

But aside from the fact that these dolls are adorable and desirable to my girls and myself, they are really quite valuable.  I had never looked up the worth of these dolls when we first got the two, but my friend kept reiterating "these are NICE.  REALLY NICE.  Take good care of them!"  Turns out?  ONE of these dolls, not mint, not in the box, is worth just under $100.  We have the whole set of 5 and about 80% of the clothes and accessories that go with them.  Ian about pooped his pants when I told him.  He rushed out the door to go back and try and nab the last two dolls standing but of course they'd already found new homes.

Much to Ian's chagrin I reminded him that these dolls aren't for sale.  These dolls are for Christmas morning for my two girls, for hours upon hours of imaginative play and delight.  I simply cannot wait to see Ainsley's face, Louise's too.  Now to find a spot in our house safe from both the girls AND Ian. Ahh, I love a good find.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Glad Bits

We just got back from a fun morning out at IKEA. Faced with another super hot day we got ready and decided to make the drive.  I go about twice a year, to stock up on the few things that are really so good and cheap there (art paper and supplies, candles, kitchen odds and ends, and of course delicious swiss chocolate).  We got there right when they opened and the girls had such a blast.  This time we were also checking out bunk bed options (I KNOW!)  Come this winter we hope to have our girls happily sharing a room and a bunk bed just seems the perfect motivation and space solution.  They were pretty exhausted.

We ran around, played, purchased everything on our list (I didn't stray!) and made our way back inside for lunch.  Ooh those meatballs.  Worth the drive alone.

But now I'm exhausted.  The girls appear to not be napping.  The pool is closed because of a power outage.  It's a solid 4.5 hours until Ian comes home AND tonight's a go back and sleep at work night for him.  Oh boy.

So lets play the glad game again shall we?  I'm SO glad I just restocked on amazing craft supplies and paper for super cheap.

I'm glad for air conditioning.  Even if it's driving me BONKERS to be inside nearly every afternoon.

I'm glad for time to clean and reorganize (our basement has never looked so good).

I'm glad for all the excitement and motivation that I feel for new projects.  Louise's birthday is just one month away!  I best get cracking.

I'm so glad for my girls.  They are getting so big and play together so well.  I've even been told to leave sometimes while they're playing because "this is just for kids mom.  I got this mom!"  When did I become MOM? not mama?  I guess I'm glad for that too.

But let's be real, I'm mostly really glad for that new french press I bought this morning and fresh home roasted coffee.  It appears as though I'm going to need it.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Meal Plan 7-23

Oye Vey.  Last week I too a silent oath to photograph all of the food I made, you know, just to keep track and put some visuals with these posts.  Well, this is as far as I got.

homemade pizza
fresh mozarella, basil and italian salami, and olive oil feta, spinach and black olives

zucchini pancakes with sour cream and bavarian sausages

At least I tried right?

To be truthful last week cooking was kind of rough.  I'm kind of in a rut this summer with cooking.  I'm really not a big griller, and it takes to long to get dinner on the table if I wait for Ian to get home to grill, but the other option is me standing over a hot stove in a sweltering kitchen.  This lead to TWO take out nights for us last week (one was due to a time failure on my part, our chicken wild rice casserole was nowhere near done come 6pm).  Still, it feels like a big old failure, so this week I set myself up for success with more realistic, flexible options.

ring salad and fried chicken (Ian made his grandma's ring salad this weekend and we have TONS leftover)
chicken tikka masala with peas and basmati rice and garlic naan
homemade mac and cheese with peas and hot dogs
chicken fried steak and mashed potatoes (I know, two fried nights, but the cube steak was on sale! I HAD TO!!!)
spicy dr pepper pulled pork on homemade corn tortillas and a vegetable
TJs veggie stiry fry and pork potstickers

ooh, and as a special treat dessert I bought ingredients for a cream cheese berry pie :o)

I had to buy all of the meat this week as my freezer stock has been depleted and that coupled with two bottles of my new favorite wines from TJs brought the grand total up to $150, RIGHT on budget. No take out this week! We may be in for a creative weekend of cooking!

New Venture

Just last night Ian and I were discussing the whole opposites attract phenomenon.  How most of the happy couples we know are so different, but work so well together.  I chuckled a bit while we talked because clearly Ian and I fall into this happy but trying category.  He says tomato and well, I say caprese salad!

That's not to say we don't rub off on each other, in fact I'm convinced that is why opposites work so well for each other.  If it weren't for Ian I would never know how much I truly enjoy a little eastern european brass band every once in a while, or how somedays simply nothing can taste better than a trip to a good Indian buffet, or how when you're in a rut, finding a new hobby and immersing yourself completely is the ultimate and perfect cure.

While I may not get to eat Indian as much as I would like and simply can't stomach another Fanfare CD for at least a few more weeks thanks to our long road trip last month, I am surely right there with him, 4 feet deep immersed in my new obsession.

Of course I'm talking about sewing. AH! sewing.  Recall this post?  Well, 5+ months later I'm still right there, absolutely giddy with possibilities and delighted to the core.  Sometimes I wax and wane with crafts. I'll think I've found my next big thing and it turns out to be fun for a moment but too much work to sustain.  But this? hardly EVER feels like work.  Even sewing for needs and gifts is actually more fun than just making things for fun.  It's absolutely invigorating (can you tell?)

What re-lit the most recent fire was my latest sewing book purchase.  Handmade Beginnings, by Anna Maria Horner is a book I've salivated over for months now.  In addition to adorable baby toy and clothing patterns she even has a few cute and practical maternity options (you never know someday!).  But the pattern that REALLY had me jonesing for a copy of my own was her quick change trousers.

These pants are absolute genius if you ask me.  Not only are they ADORABLE (allowing 4 patterns to work together for ultimate cuteness?) they are extremely practical.  They are 100% reversible and grow with your baby (or toddler).  I will say I can REALLY tell I'm a sewer now because as much as I love the pattern I'm already making some tweaks and adjustments. The pattern only goes up to a 2T but they're BIG and I'm excited to rig up a pattern for Ainsley soon!

my first three pairs

Once I got going, it's been hard to stop.  I've made some with particular little ones in mind and some because I was just too excited about all the cute pattern and fabric combinations!

Every single one of these pants were made with scraps and Ian's old work shirts.  I love the juxtaposition of flannel and plaid with bright fabrics.  That butt yoke is the perfect way to let my most favorite and precious fabrics shine.

Making ALL of these pants (6 pairs in all) at a time also allowed me to get into a real groove and find a system.  I've learned that making at least two of everything I sew is the most economical use of my time, so why not try 6?
quick change trousers assembly line

This has all been leading me somewhere, and I'm still working out the destination.  This is the first time that I've sewn for no one in particular, for the joy of it, for the sake of making something functional and beautiful.  I'm excited to keep building up a bit of an inventory and see where that takes me.  I'm not ready to make any great leaps just yet, but I feel on the verge of something pretty grand.

trousers and sundress for our friend Lily

It's so fun to be at a stage where I feel like I already have favorite go to patterns.  Patterns that I'm comfortable enough with to make without instruction and even a bit of artistic licence.  It's especially fun because I never in a million years saw myself as a sewer and now I can't imagine spending my precious free time any other way.

SO with all this steam under me and loft above I went for it.  I went to the store and committed to some beautiful fall fabrics.  Even with a great sale I am feeling pressure to make good use of my purchases.  Well, pressure isn't the right word, motivation, excitement, purpose and pleasure seem to come closer.  I'll keep you posted on my venture and hope to have something big to say about it all soon.  We'll just have to see.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

THIS Moment

Ainsley May (three and a half years old)

Oh my big girl.  Your dad and I were just talking about you the other night after you'd gone to bed.  We are fairly certain that you have officially shed the last of your toddler antic ways and truly settled into the start of the new big girl you're becoming.  I hear "ok, mama," "yes mama", "excuse me, mama", ALL day long now.  For all your defiance and independence since birth we are simply delighted to see the pleasant, relatively compliant big girl you are today.  We are so proud.

That's not to say that you still don't have your own opinions, goodness no, there's plenty of that.  You are still as particular as ever about your wardrobe.  You cried uncontrollably when I told you we had to wash your new favorite dress after you wore it for 4 days in a row.  You cry equally when I have to wash one of your two grammy nightgowns, they are your naptime/bedtime staple.  As hard as it makes getting ready in the morning I really do love your style, so little girl and sweet.  But you know I'd love you in a paper bag, right?

We have been spending our summer days playing and playing, your favorite thing to do.  We've been indoors more than I'd like thanks to the heat, but your creative ideas keep us happy and busy.  You still love to cook and bake with me and help whenever you can.

Baking aside we've still been finding lots of ways to have fun, even outside for little bits (with lots of sunscreen and water!)  The big pool right up the street is still your favorite, but becaues mama can't stomach that EVERY day on her own we've discovered a close second, the trains!

Last year you were a bit too little to run them yourself, but this year you're just big enough.  You love zooming around the familiar park track ad I love how tired they make you.  Win win!

You also LOVE to craft and are nearly always brimming with your new best idea.  Lately there have been lots of sewing projects on the horizon (mostly for lamby and Louise's birthday coming up), and some building projects (your little house, house).  But you also love a good lump of fresh playdough and a pumpkin knife as much as ever!

Oh and the dancing.  You LOVE to dance.  Just about every night while daddy does the dishes we turn on some Swan Lake or Nutcracker and you and your sister have at it.  It's delightful and beautiful and very VERY fun.

You continue to be so fearless and adventurous and as much as it scares me sometimes I am so thankful for your willingness to do just about anything.  While in Minnesota you were THRILLED to ride grandpa Dan's new scooter.  While up North you fished with abandon and loved grabbing your own minnow, and LOVED tubing. You jump and swim with ease.  Ah, I love your energy.

One of my favorite moments from this last month was the card you made for daddy for his birthday.  I'd set out the matericals and left the room to go do something or other and when I returned I found you beaming.  You'd spelled and written D-A-D-Y ALL on your own and then drawn a portrait of your dad, compelete with "that thing he pees out of " between his two stick legs.  We already have this photo stashed away for safe keeping.  What a special card that was!

I love you this moment Ainsley girl, sweet and kind, active and happy, such a big helper and eager and willing.  We sure are enjoying our summer together!

Louise Adele (22 months)

Oh my big girl.  Now that you are so close to two I've had to admit to myself that you're not a baby anymore and you've made sure to remind me of how much of a "big gurl!" you are every day.  You sleep in a big girl bed, eat with a fork and spoon, say please and thank you and wait patiently (well somtimes) for "my turn!".

You too are so adventurous and up for just about anything.  You love being your big sister's helper and going along with all her funny schemes.  You two play dress up and dollhouse, doctor and music class all the time.  It's such fun to watch.

Perhaps it's that you're our second (hence we don't pay mind to the antics as much), but you truly make life pretty easy for your dad and I.  We have yet to really experience a tantrum from you and when you do get upset or offtrack it's fairly easy to redirect you and keep having fun.  What an easy going happy girl we have!

We had SO much fun up at the cabin this past month and I was so impressed with all that you did.  You sat on the tube with me, rode happily in the speed boat, kayaked and canoed and loved loved loved swinging and swimming (of course).

One of my favorite memories from our trip were watching you fish for the first time. I am SO excited that I captured that excstatic face of yours on camera.  You were just brimming with joy.  My other favorite? swimming with you off the pontoon boat.  You'd float on your tummy while I held you under your arms and kick kick kick.  You are such a big girl Louise.  We love you so.

Coloring and reading are still two of your favorites.  You still eat really well, and the new stand out favorites are mushrooms and asparagus tips...you can't get enough!  You love taking care of your babies and playing with blocks.  You could color on our big roll of paper all day long.  You talk talk talk sing sing sing dance dance dance all the time.  Ah, what a fun little one you are.

I love you this moment, content and sweet, wiley and adventurous, learning and growing.   I can't believe you're almost two!!! And I can I can, you are just such a precious part of our live.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Glad Game

Necessity is the mother of invention.  Or so I'm told.  I remember that old -ism.  It felt like something my grandmother would have cross stitched and framed in her kitchen, right along side "back in MY day" and "kids these days...".  It felt archaic, used up, and SO not me or now.

Yet somehow, this afternoon, as I was ripping apart an old work shirt of my husband's to make into a tiny pair of pants for a little girl's birthday gift, I couldn't get the dang saying out of my head. Necessity is INDEED the mother of invention.

For the past year or so, more even maybe, I've been hearing lots of compliments about my "creativity and ingenuity". You are so creative! I would never have thought to use old sheets as fabric!  How DO you do it?  

All modesty and embarrassed "gee thanks" aside, I do it because I have to.

You see, I needed to cut up that shirt.  I don't have any spare money in the budget for gifts, none.  My husband is rounding out his 5th year as a PhD student, we bought an old I need something fixed just about every two months house, I stay home with two kids and sadly don't make any money doing it, and to top it all off?  apparently we're in the middle of a pretty bad recession.  Property and income taxes continue to rise, but funnily enough? wages are holding steady.  The cost of raising a mere family of four is skyrocketing past outrageous.  I'm honestly awed how anyone has any money to spare.

In any case, we sure don't.  So I'm learning to improvise.  In place of oodles of paper towels I've scrounged up every tiny cloth and unused towel in this house, grabbing one of them instead of a much more convenient albeit expensive paper alternative.  In lieu of purchasing gifts I've vowed to make at least a portion of every one this year, and instead of buying new fabric and yarn to sew with I've learned to use thrifted and unused sheets, pillowcases, men's button down shirts and unwound sweater yarn.  I'm still ironing out the whole budget food situation, but buying bulk meat and portioning out my own cuts has been a part of the routine for quite some time now.  Instead of putting the girls in expensive summer day camps and activities I fill our mornings with the free thrills in town (conservatory, library, splash pads and parks) and trips to the places we've purchased discount year memberships, averaging mere dollars a visit (arboretum, pool, zoo).  In essence? I'm re-inventing this semi-suburban life of ours, quite out of necessity.

Turns out? I'm not the only one.  I just finished a book The Dollshop Downstairs, a historical fiction children's novel about the creation of the Madame Alexander Dolls.  The owner of the doll shop was a Jewish Russian immigrant who started his own doll repair business in the basement of his apartment in New York City.  When World War One broke out and he lost the ability to buy his doll parts from Germany his business was threatened with failure, but he and his family rebooted, went back to the drawing boards, and out of only the materials they had on hand they made Nurse Nora, the first ever Madame Alexander doll which was ultimately bought by FAO Schwarz and the rest, well, it's history.

I doubt those dolls would ever had been created had it not been for the trade embargo with Germany.  I doubt I ever would have learned how AMAZINGLY well men's shirts, and vintage sheets work as fabric for just about everything, had it not been for this rather tight situation we're in right now.  It's actually pretty amazing.

This afternoon I watched Pollyanna with my girls in the basement while I folded and sorted all of my odds and ends of fabric and notions.  At the end, the girls were entranced and I welled up.  This poor little orphan girl has everything in the world to be angry at.  No money or possessions, no parents, no love from her crotchety old Aunt.  Yet she's vibrant with gladness and positivity and it rubs off on a whole town.

That was kind of the "ah ha!" moment for me.  I've spent so many sleepless nights worrying about tomorrow, next month and this time next year.  I've found myself even scowling at the carefree youth raucously enjoying their summers.  No fair.  

But suddenly I'm glad for the pinch, the stretch of life lately.  It's made me who I am.  It's made me look at life and things and needs so much differently.  It's made me so utterly content with all that I have and want for very little.  It's empowered me, because I can do this, AM doing this.  I am providing all that my family needs, just with a few twists and tricks here and there.  I feel truly proud for the first time in my life.  Proud to feel even one iota like all of those women and mothers before me who "made do" for so long.  Who stretched the last cup of flour, patched those socks one more time, let out the hems to their limits, and surrounded that Christmas tree with everyone's hearts desire.  Perhaps its not all as dramatic as that.  But as my boy works overnight one more time and my precious girls snooze in their rooms and I gaze around at our tidy cozy fifteen hundered square foot house, I can' help but feel so deeply glad for it all.  Thanks necessity.  I never knew how much I needed you.

Meal Plan 7-16

So sorry for nearly completely falling off the meal plan bandwagon, well, at least on here.  After my 10 days "off" in Minnesota and a week of fancy birthday and holiday food I was in no shape last week to do much thoughtful blogging on the whole thing.  But rest assured after a week of decadent desserts and some restocking last week I'm ready to charge ahead!

The new challenge that the summer brings with meal planning and more importantly, budgeting, is the farmer's market.  We have an amazing one, within walking distance, with donuts, and it can kind of become a big problem.  If I had all the money in the world I could buy nearly ALL of our food there, easily.  Farm fresh eggs, grass fed free range meat, cheese, organic produce, jams, potatoes, onions, red hen bread.  Ah.  A girl can dream.  My new strategy is to take a $20 with me and that's it, no really, that's ALL I get.  And it's worked out well and made us savor the farm freshness we get to indulge in each week.

This past week I bought a quart of blueberries, two zucchini, and a large bunch of rainbow chard.  Since the tomatoes, green beans, snap peas and fingerling carrots are abundant in our own yard I was choosy this week and am excited for coming in so under budget.

Meal Plan::

zucchinni pancakes (from smitten kitchen) and bavarian sausages
rainbow chard and cheese quiche
ham and cheese paninis with tomato salad
chicken wild rice casserole and green beans
soyaki* pork tenderloin and sweet potatoes
homemade margarita pizza and salad
pigs in a (homemade) blanket and "fancy" TJs mac and cheese (from the freezer section)
*(best marinade EVER from TJs)

spring salad (endive, radicchio, radishes, avocado, feta, vinaigrette)
mini ravioli salad
cream cheese and jam or ham and cheese or pb&j sandwiches

blueberry lemon pancakes (homemade, frozen)

farmer's market total:: $12
grocery total:: $91
week total:: $113

Saturday, July 14, 2012

A Little Bit of This, A Little Bit of That

So aside from hardly being busy at all we've been having a whole lot of fun around here.  After the post mega trip birthday fourth of july crash last week we've been in high gear and it's been great.

I think what really set the tone for the week was a fun birthday party outing for Ainsley and I on Saturday afternoon.  Our invitation had been ruined in the torrential rain while we were away so we found out about it the day before the party leaving us about 36 hours to come up with a fun gift for Ainsley's friend!  It turned out great!  (both the gift, I hope!, and the last minuteness).

We decided to make a colored pencil roll, my first! out of potato print fabric we made last winter, some felt, and fun ribbon

I left some extra slots for other special pens and pencils

I had fun trying out some new stitches on my machine for decoration

We coupled the roll with a pack of new colored pencils (clearly) and a drawing notebook.  I hope our friend liked it!

The party itself was lots of fun too.  A circus theme complete with face paint, carnival type games and yummy treats.  Ainsley (and I) had a blast!

It's so fun to see my girl in her element, with friends being active.  I left Louise home with Ian so it was just us two, such a treat to see my girl playing and being independent, willing and excited to do it all.

After a relaxing Sunday we were ready for the week.  I'd finally gotten a bit of a break from my two adorable girls after ALL THAT parenting and traveling alone, and felt ready to take on our long unscheduled days.

In addition to re-learning how to draw out activities, walk a bit slower and make things linger, I've resurrected afternoon baking, a tried and true favorite in this house.  The bright afternoon sun in our kitchen and sweltering heat of late has made it hard to want to turn on that old gas stove at all, but the necessity of cake baking for Ian's birthday reminded me how comforting and fun a little butter, sugar and flour can be.  For Ian's birthday I tried a new cake recipe, the butter cake from Joy of Cooking and it was delicious!  Then Ainsley was excited to try a new recipe from a library book she got about apple harvesting so we tried an applesauce cake with brown sugar frosting and oh goodness, it was like a little taste of fall.  I'd run out of some of my fall/winter spice staples in ground form, but had them in  pod form from some chai tea I'd made this winter so we ground allspice, cloves and nutmeg fresh and let me tell you, I may never buy pre-ground spices again.

But that isn't the interesting part.  THIS is the interesting part.

I turn my back for one minute to turn on the mixer and...

"We're just making a flour cake mama.  Aren't we YaWeez." "Yup.  Fower cake.  Yum yum yum."

I know there may be a day at some point in life that a simple baking project doesn't produce so much mess, but I almost dread the day.  Look at those smiles.  It's all about the fun isn't it?  And that flour cake?  well, it was actually quite good.

In other Vaagenes girl news, miss Louise has now graduated to a big girl (well toddler) bed.  While in Minnesota it became quickly apparent that she's really too big for a port a crib, so she slept every night in a king bed with me and did so well.  If there's one thing I've learned as a parent it's to go with the flow and take your kid's lead, so when we got home we decided to convert her crib and (knock on wood) it has been an absolutely seamless transition.

She uses her little step stool to climb in and out to play with toys and without fail we find her curled up with her nana's and doll sound asleep in minutes.

Oh the shenanigans that take place in that room.

my big girl bed girl

Perhaps it was that simple change in Louise room, or the fact that I never really did a proper spring cleaning this year, but for whatever reason a small fire was lit under me and I couldn't be stopped.  What started as a simple, but thorough, house clean, turned into an all out rearranging reorganizing three trash bags full ordeal.  It felt amazing.

I've been thinking of writing a redecorating post for a while now, not because I'm any good at it, but because I wanted to proclaim boldly that one CAN refresh a space using only things you have.  I get so annoyed with all these decorating articles and shows that claim "budget" redecorating tips for a mere $1000.  If you're really on a budget you do NOT have $1000, sometimes even $100, to spend on frivolous redecorating.  It's annoying.  So instead of going to IKEA and re-purposing a bookshelf as a hall bench (which by the way I REALLY want to do) I just move things around, search the house for un- or underused items and wing it.  I think it turned out well.

sunroom flip, the girls have been using the mini kitchen straight for three days and all because I moved it to the other side of the room and took out ALL the other surrounding toys.  We've also used the keyboard every afternoon for concerts and plays.

Dining room repurposing.  Our dining room is really a rather large space for just our little table and chairs and I hate to see good space in a small house go to waste.  I swapped the keyboard for the girls' table and chairs and took our art cabinet out of the front entry to give it proximity to their art space for easy access.  I'm excited to have a place to store my immediate projects (sewing and knitting) and have a place the girls can grab their own things to make and do that's NOT in my desk (like before).  So far so good!

The cleaning moved on upstairs, mainly to Ian's and my bedroom as that space has never quite worked well for us. But of course both of the girls' rooms got a facelift as well.

let's see how long Ainsley's closet stays like this, I give it about 12 more hours

 yes, that is a box full of tutus, they need their own space in her room

And the piece de resistance...

Ah this funny old house.  At the time we bought it we were ecstatic to have found a place with normal unsloped second floor bedrooms, "walk in" (for oak park) closets and space enough for a queen (not double) bed.  Then we actually moved and couldn't even fit our boxspring up the stairs (they make split queen box springs, did you know that?).  I'd tried two other room arrangements, but neither really worked.  The three windows (while great for sun and airflow) really hinder any sort of flexibilty with the furniture arrangement.  In the first arrangement our bed was blocking one window, in the second another.  Ian couldn't really open his bottom dresser drawers because they'd slam into my dresser which was crammed in one corner with his.  In short, it was kind of a disaster.  The one hitch with moving the bed to the one NON windowed wall it would fit on?  Our sidetables in no way would fit.  But I think I figured that out.

I took the top half of the cabinet that didn't end up fitting in our kitchen and a shelf from ikea turned sideways that we never found a home for and walla! side tables.

The girls are loving our "new" room too.  Floor space to sprawl out on, a simplified uncluttered layout, ipad within reach on Ian's shelf.  Ah.  Life is good.

Haha, horrible photo I know, but Louise's post nap fluff hair was too good to pass up.

In and around all this rearranging and cleaning we've found some time for some creativity and activity too.

Ainsley's little house inspired house, a work in progress but quite cherished already

An outing to the zoo, Ainsley simply had to stop in and see how her penguin friend was doing since her last check up.  Louise was quite the nurse helper.

We rounded out the fun yesterday afternoon with the second meeting of our preschool bookclub.  We gathered with some of our most cherished music garten friends and read Mama Panya's Pancakes while sharing in a tiny feast.  It was such a fun time for both the kids and adults.  The afternoon was capitalized by a princess parade where ALL the girls decided to hike up to Ainsley's room (all 7 of them!) and don fancy fairy dresses and jewelry and promenade down the stairs for us all to see.  I of course took no photos, but you can rest assured it was a delightful afternoon.

So we're having fun.  Looking forward to a lazy family weekend.  It helps so much to be starting with a clean house and a happy family.  Have a great weekend!