One Room Challenge Week Three: Slow and Steady Progress

We’re another week in to the Fall One Room Challenge and since last week’s update a LOT has happened! And yet, nothing has been finished.

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We are very much in the messy middle of this project and if I’m being honest, it feels a little frustrating to not be able to check anything off our list. Our cabinet doors arrived and they are so pretty! But they’re still not painted or attached to the cabinet. We took our ugly fluorescent light down and our new fixture arrived! But it’s not installed yet so we just have wires hanging from the ceiling. We’ve started the window and door trim and I’m loving the new look! But we still need a couple final pieces of trim to complete each one. So many things are in progress and nothing is fully complete, but it feels like we’re nearly to the top of a steep hill and once we get there, we can roll down and everything will pick up speed.

The thing we really need to do in order to reach that hill top is finish all the planking. So much is waiting on that: installing the ceiling fixture, crown molding, window and door trim, baseboards, painting, etc. The planking needs to be done first before we can tackle anything else.

The reason this step is taking so long is because we’re covering all the walls and the ceiling and there’s a lot of measuring and troubleshooting involved. None of our walls are square, we have a bay window, and there are so many tricky little cuts involved.

Just look at the photo below. Between the three windows + trim and the bay window + all the angles on the wall and ceiling, you can see its a lot of precise measuring and cutting with each board used. We’re cutting out notches, figuring out angles, finagling wonky corners – it’s a time-consuming, meticulous process.

It’s also not really a one-person process. The walls are one thing, but the ceiling is absolutely a two person job. We’re using 12 foot planks and there’s just no way for one person to be able to hold the plank in place and nail everything at the same time. So I not only need Justin to be home to keep making progress, but we need our kids to be napping or have someone else watch them in order to work. Needless to say, we’re working with small, inconsistent windows of time to get things done.

This weekend, LJ is going to visit my parents so we’ll have some extra time when Vi’s napping to hopefully finish out the rest of this planking. From there, progress is really going to pick up so I have a feeling that next week’s check-in is going to be full of finished updates! I can’t wait!

Make sure to stop by the One Room Challenge blog to check out all the other projects in progress!

One Room Challenge Week Two: Our DIY Built-ins!

Another week has come and gone in the Fall 2020 One Room Challenge and buckle up because today is a doozy of a post: it’s all about our DIY built-ins!

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I went back and forth several times with whether to have the desk as a standalone piece of furniture or incorporate it into the built-ins. After mapping out both options with painters tape and placeholder furniture, I decided to go with a full wall of built-ins and a standalone desk to maximize storage.

We started out with base cabinets from Ikea. We went to their kitchen center and one of their employees drew out our plans using software. The software made it so easy to visualize and it was nice to play around with a few different combinations! We settled on four 30″ cabinets with doors and one 15″ cabinet with four drawers to go in the center.

The first step when we got home was ripping out all the beadboard (demo is so satisfying!) and trim. We were not concerned about the residual glue on the wall because we knew it would all be covered up eventually.

I assembled all the cabinets and arranged them in order. My grandpa also came over one day and helped us by moving the electrical outlet in the center of the back wall up a few feet so it would be accessible above the cabinets. Justin attached the cabinet legs and adjusted everything to the correct height. Our purchase from Ikea included a metal railing to attach to the wall and then hook the cabinets directly onto for extra stability. Justin put a lot of work into all those details to make sure the cabinets were level and sturdy!

He also used a jigsaw to cut out a hole in the far left cabinet so that it would be accessible to hook up our printer. Other than the outlet that my grandfather moved, this was the only outlet behind the cabinets so I’m thankful we can still use it!

Once everything was fastened in place, we attached vertical paneling along the walls around the cabinets (today’s post is long enough – I’ll cover this step in more detail in a future post!) and were ready to tackle our biggest DIY yet – the bookshelves!

Our first step was installing a countertop. Butcherblock would have been an easy choice, but it would have also been an expensive choice so we decided to use this edge-glued pine panel instead (making the countertops less than $70 instead of over $300). The option Lowe’s had in store was not quite deep enough, so Justin measured the extra depth we needed and cut a long thin board to match that size exactly. We screwed that board into place against the wall using the metal rails on the Ikea cabinet underneath.

We then used a kreg jig to create screw holes in the bottom of the large panel so we could screw the panel to the long, thin board, creating a deeper counter. We also used screws to attach the front of the panel to the Ikea cabinets, again using the cabinet’s metal rails.

After all this work, we discovered Menard’s had a similar panel that would have been deep enough and saved us all the extra trouble creating and attaching the back piece. Live and learn: always shop around!

The countertop was nearly twelve feet long and there was no way to finagle two six foot pieces so the seam would be hidden underneath a bookshelf support, so Justin used a circular saw to cut two panels to length to meet in the middle.

We used a flat bracket underneath to create stability at the seam between panels. This picture below gives you a good idea of how everything was connected: metal railings to attach counters to cabinets, kreg jig screws to attach the panel to the extra back board, and a flat bracket to attach the two panels to one another.

Since there’s going to be quite a bit of weight on the bookshelves, we also created extra support by screwing metal L brackets to the cabinets and counters.

Once the top was f.i.n.a.l.l.y. in place and as sturdy as possible, we sanded it down so the back board was as flush with the rest of the panel as possible. Then we started on the vertical supports. Justin took 1 x 12 boards and cut them to length, then we used the kreg jig to create three screw holes in the sides. We measured the placement of these holes strategically so that they would be hidden underneath the eventual shelves.

After triple checking that each board was square to the wall and as level as possible, we screwed the boards directly into the wall.

This step involved LOTS of precision and measuring, because we want each vertical support to line up with the line of the cabinet doors (which are ordered and hopefully shipping soon!)

It was finally time for the shelves! We measured and marked (and triple checked) where each shelf was going to go. Justin used scrap oak boards from our garage to cut down thin support pieces. We used premium interior wood screws to attach these pieces to the side boards and back wall where each shelf was going to go. This step was tedious because we had to make sure each and every board was level and in the correct spot so our shelves would all eventually look symmetrical!

Once all the supports were in place and we had checked to make sure everything was level, Justin took 1 x 12 boards and cut them all down to the correct shelf length.

We used a nail gun to nail each shelf into the support pieces. Because the shelves were so long (the only way we could make things look symmetrical), Justin cut extra scrap support pieces and used a kreg jig to attach them to the middle of each shelf.

Next, Justin took very thin plywood and cut it to the same size as each shelf. Using a nail gun, we attached this plywood to the bottom of each shelf so all the support pieces were hidden.

We used scrap pieces of wood to tuck in between the top board and the plywood to correct any bowing so everything looked nice and level.

Then it time to trim out the shelves. Justin took 1×2 primed boards and cut everything to the correct length. He used a nail gun to attach these trim pieces to all the vertical boards first, then went through and cut all the shelf trim pieces to length and nail to the front.

I used plastic wood to fill in all the nail holes and sand them smooth so they’re ready for painting

The end result was that each shelf looks like one nice, thick board. I’m so thrilled with how they turned out!

Justin used his table saw to rip down the scrap pieces of baseboard that we tore out of the room to create thin trim pieces to hide the gap between the vertical panel and top of the wall. Now the only thing we have left to do is install crown molding across the top and the cabinet doors when they arrive (hopefully within the next week or two) and it will be time to PAINT!

I’m so so proud of all our hard work with this project. It was the largest scale DIY we’ve ever attempted and it came with a ton of meticulous measuring, working with wonky walls, and problem solving. But we did it and I love it so much!

Check back in next Thursday to see our continued progress on this room! In the meantime, you can see all other ORC participants here.

Fall 2020 One Room Challenge Week One: My Dreamy Office Plans!

I am so excited for another round of the One Room Challenge!

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After tackling our basement kitchen renovation in the spring challenge, I was inspired to choose another space to renovate for the fall challenge. If you’ve been following me on Instagram lately, you know I’ve chosen to renovate our home office and make it the dreamy office + library of my dreams.

Here’s where we started at the beginning of this challenge:

One Room Challenge Home Office Renovation

When we first moved in, this was one of the rooms I was most excited about. From the first moment I saw it, I knew that this could be a special room. First of all, I think the French doors (which aren’t really pictured but you can see a bit of them in the first image) set the stage for a dramatic space. My heart was immediately invested in the idea of built-in storage along the far wall and I could picture this being a warm and cozy space to work on a computer or relax and curl up with a good book. Unfortunately, this room was not high on our priority list so for the first year (yes, year!) of living here it looked more or less like this:

I joked that this was our “Room of Requirement” (Harry Potter anyone?) because it had all the unpacked boxes from our move. All the extra stuff that we didn’t need yet was stored here and whenever I needed to find something random, this was usually where I found it. It was a hot mess of a room and didn’t get fully unpacked until July (14 months after moving in). Throughout that time it rarely ever got used as an office – I would typically just work in the less-cluttered kitchen – but it did sometimes double up as an overflow guest room. The picture below shows how last fall, my in-laws stayed in here because our guest room was mid-renovation AND a couch from our living room had to get moved in as well because of our Christmas tree in the living room. All our boxes were shoved either behind the couch or under the desk on the left side of the room. Suffice to say, this room has been a workhorse for us.

Now that we’ve tackled a few of the more pressing needs in our house, it felt like the right time to address this room and I can barely contain my excitement! My goal to create storage with the built-in cabinets + bookcases while still allowing plenty of room for a desk and office chair. I’m also hoping to create a cozy reading space tucked in the bay window area.

The Plans

This is the largest-scale DIY room renovation that Justin and I have ever tackled on our own. Justin was admittedly nervous that my plans would be too difficult to actually implement ourselves (in all fairness, I do tend to make things sound like they’ll be easier to do than they actually are haha) but so far we’re cautiously optimistic about completing this project! Our to-do list includes:

-remove all existing beadboard

-DIY built-in storage along the back wall with closed cabinets on the bottom and open bookshelves on top

-install vertical planks from floor to ceiling on all walls (and hopefully the ceiling too!)

-replace window and door trim

-replace baseboards

-add crown molding

-PAINT!

-replace light fixture (that fluorescent one has got to GO)

-finishing touches: curtains, cozy seating, all the fun stuff!

We’ve already ripped out all the beadboard and the built-ins are underway! If you follow me on Instagram (@simplifythechaos) you can see all the progress there. We just finished all the trimming out and plan to fill all the nail holes this week. I’ll share all the details on the DIY built-ins next Thursday! For now I’ll leave you with this little sneak peek:

I’m SO excited to transform this space into the office + library of my dreams. Check back here on Thursdays to watch the progress unfold! 🙂 In the meantime, you can check out all the other ORC participants and their chosen rooms here.

September 2020 Book Reviews

While I can hardly believe tomorrow is going to be October, I am also excited because that means it’s book review day!

This month I read five books (one of which was actually a re-read from a few years ago) and as usual, genres were all over the place. Let’s dive in!

The Last Flight by Julie Clark

The Last Flight: A Novel by [Julie Clark]

Claire has been searching for a way to escape her abusive marriage, so when she meets Eva, who also seems desperate to escape her life, in the airport, switching tickets seems like the perfect solution. That is, until Eva’s plane crashes. With no money, no identity, and no one to ask for help, Claire decides to assume Eva’s identity until she can figure out her next steps, not realizing that Eva was keeping some dark and dangerous secrets of her own.

This book was fast-paced and heart-pumping! I was immediately hooked from the start and raced through this book. I loved the alternating perspectives and the fact that Claire’s story mostly happened in the present while Eva’s focused on the past. Knowing Eva’s secrets and history before Claire did made me that much more eager to keep reading and see how things would unravel for her. I wasn’t necessarily expecting twists, but there were definitely a few towards the end of the book that I did not see coming and that made things even more interesting. While this book definitely got my adrenaline going, it wasn’t downright scary and I was able to read it alone at night while Justin was away without needing to sleep with the lights on. It was thrilling without being creepy and I really enjoyed it – highly recommend!

Her Last Flight by Beatriz Williams

Her Last Flight: A Novel by [Beatriz Williams]

When I searched my library for The Last Flight, this book also came up in my search. As soon as I saw it was a Beatriz Williams book, I requested a hold. I’ve raved about past books of hers (A Hundred Summers, The Secret Life of Violet Grant) and books she’s co-authored (The Glass Ocean, The Forgotten Room) so I was excited for this one and it did not disappoint!

Janey Everett is a journalist in pursuit of a story: after finding the wreckage of legendary pilot Sam Mallory’s plane, she discovers that he may not have been alone in his final crash and sets off to find the groundbreaking female pilot Irene Foster, who famously disappeared a decade earlier. This reads like biographical fiction even though it isn’t – it feels like a loose adaptation of Amelia Earhart’s life. I loved this book! The alternating timelines were a fascinating way to watch Sam and Irene’s lives unfold and I liked that it wasn’t directly Irene’s first person perspective but read like a novel. The characters, the historical details, the mystery – Williams just nailed it. My one complaint is that one of the “twists” was too easy to guess (and was guessable waaaay too early) but since this isn’t a suspense novel, I’ll let it slide. Overall, this book was a really enjoyable read and I’m adding it to my list of highly recommended Beatriz Williams novels!

The Royal We by Heather Cooks and Jessica Morgan

The Royal We by [Heather Cocks, Jessica Morgan]

American college student Bex Porter sets off for a study abroad adventure at Oxford only to find herself dorm-mates with Nick, aka Prince Nicholas, third in line for the throne of England. While romance is the last thing on her mind, she can’t ignore the close bond she feels towards Nick or the way their friendship soon feels like something else.

I actually read this book several years ago and loved it, so much so that it landed on my Ultimate Book Recommendations list. It’s like a fan fiction re-imagining of Prince William and Kate (if Kate was an American) and there are a lot of obvious parallels to the real life royal family (like Nick’s younger, rebellious, redheaded brother). It’s binge-y, it’s fun, it’s got characters you fall in love with and want to be friends with. I had forgotten how long it is though – I’m not sure 450+ pages was necessary and there definitely could have been things edited out. The length keeps it from being a true easy, breezy, light beach read simply because it does take effort to get through the whole thing. But even so, I really enjoyed it the first time and it was fun to re-live it again the second time. I would wholeheartedly recommend it with one caveat . . .

The Heir Affair by Heather Cooks and Jessica Morgan

The Heir Affair (The Royal We Book 2) by [Heather Cocks, Jessica Morgan]

. . . I hated the sequel. So much so that I think it makes me like The Royal We a little less.

When I first read The Royal We, it read like a standalone book. Even though there were still a few loose strings at the end, it very much ended in a way that allowed you to draw your own conclusions and feel happy and hopeful about the way things played out. Only to turn to The Heir Affair and realize you got it all wrong. I wanted this book to be about so many things – I feel like the authors could have taken a sequel in a lot of directions – and honestly, I just hated the direction it took. It took away my happy hopeful feelings, it made me frustrated, and it made me angry at characters I had once loved.

There were still some fun, cute moments that felt reminiscent of The Royal We, but not nearly enough. I kept holding out for an ending that made things make sense, that made me feel that same sort of happy, hopeful, “complete” sense I felt after reading The Royal We and I not only didn’t get it, but was so unsatisfied by the ending. Again, this book was long (450+ pages) and that’s a lot of exasperated reading. I find myself torn with whether or not I want another installment of this series. Maybe a third book could redeem all the things that I felt went wrong here . . . but also maybe not. My suggestion is to read The Royal We, draw your own conclusions, and then just move on without this sequel. 😉

The Whisper Network by Chandler Baker

After the death of Truviv’s CEO, all eyes are on the short list for his replacement. Ames Garrett is at the top of that list and while he appears to be a stellar candidate, there are a few women in the office who feel very differently. There are many secrets that have been buried, but with the impending nomination, it’s starting to feel like they need to come to light . . .

This book read like a murder (maybe?) mystery meets thriller meets expose of workplace sexual harrassment. To be honest, I’m not sure if I technically enjoyed it. It was really frustrating and hard to read, and I’ll never understand why women aren’t believed first, but at the same time, that was kind of the point. It shows just how hard it is to come forward with sexual harrassment or assault claims and how swift and severe the pushback can be. I think this would be an interesting book to discuss in a book club. It feels like a page straight out of the #metoo movement and I think it can be an important piece of the conversation. It’s certainly not a light, fun book but I flew through it even when it was frustrating.

As we’re entering fall, I’m really looking forward to lighting a candle and curling up under a blanket with a good book! Send all the cozy recommendations my way!

Happy Birthday Ruthie!

Today’s blog post is a special one – this weekend my youngest sister turns 27 (on the 27th – golden birthday!) and I wanted to take some time to give her a shout out. So if you’re not Ruthie, feel free to skip this one 😉

Ruthie is the biggest, most loyal supporter of my blog. She refreshes my site daily to look for new posts, she is always super encouraging, she gives me ideas for new posts, she finds my typos, she celebrates milestones and cheers me on every step of the way. Simply put, she’s my ultimate hype woman and it only feels right to surprise her when she refreshes the site today with a post about her.

I feel very lucky to have the type or relationship where Ruthie is not only my sister but one of my best friends. Even though we now live 800 miles apart, we talk multiple times a week and are very much a part of each other’s lives. Ruthie is a safe space for me to be wholly myself and I can share my stresses, triumphs, failures, worries, joys, and everything in between with her. She’s supportive, she’s non-judgemental, she’s thoughtful, she’s compassionate, and she’s always willing to give perspective when I need it or just listen when I don’t.

Ruthie is an intentional friend, sister, daughter, and aunt. She sends my kids little notes in the mail and makes sure they feel special and loved even from afar and it makes my heart so full!

Ruthie is also the life of the party. She’s energetic, she’s outgoing, and she can make friends with absolutely anyone. She’s just a fun person to be around. To know her is to love her, and man do I love her.

Happy birthday Squirt. You’re one of my favorite humans on this planet and I hope your weekend is as golden as you are. ❤

Tackling DIY with Little Ones at home

If you’ve been following my blog for really any length of time, you know that I love a good DIY project. I often get asked how I have time to do these projects with small children around, and while I frequently use evenings after my kids are asleep, I also do quite a bit during the days. Today I thought I’d just talk about some of the ways I make this happen. I’m not going to pretend that these are the best ways or the only ways, but these are the things that work best for me personally in tackling DIY projects as a stay-at-home mama to two children under the age of three.

Dual Nap = Naptime Hustle!

Probably my biggest strategy is the “naptime hustle,” which just means that the moment my children are sleeping, I jump into project mode.

This has obviously varied a bit with the ages of my children (newborn sleep is a whole different ballgame!) but I have worked really hard to keep our daily routine as consistent as possible so both kids are used to napping at the same time each day. There’s a lot that I’m pretty relaxed about in motherhood but sleep is not one of them. We’re consistent with our routines, we’re consistent with the time, we’re consistent with being home in the afternoon (no afternoon playdates!) – I try everything I can to provide a solid foundation for my kids to nap well. If there is one day we are out of the routine, it’s not a big deal; however, that does mean that I make sure the next day is right back on track. For the most part, this has worked really well and my kids are both great nappers. Right now, they both go down around 1:00. Vi will sleep about 1.5-2 hours and LJ usually sleeps about 3-3.5 hours.

Screen Time is not the Enemy

I think sometimes screen time gets a bad rap and society makes us feel guilty for allowing any TV time, but there is no shame in my mama game to say TV has been a wonderful tool for us to use in moderation. When Vi goes down for her morning nap (usually about 9-10:30 or 11), I have no problem letting LJ watch a couple shows so I can have some time to work on a project. Justin and I both credit TV for actually helping him with language and learning – so many shows have value with teaching new words, showing how something works, teaching simple problem solving, or introducing concepts like letter sounds, counting, etc.

Do projects in small chunks

It’s almost never safe to just leave things out when I’m not working on them because my kids will inevitability get into the tools, paint, wood, screws, etc. Whenever possible, I try to break up a project in small chunks so that it’s easier to get the task completely done in my small work window and then quick clean up when I’m finished. It makes for smaller bursts of work at a time, but that adds up to help get a project finished.

Set up nearby activities

Before Vi was walking, I would often set her up in the pack n play next to wherever I was working on anything, DIY or otherwise. Sometimes LJ would want to join her in there and they’d play together -contained but nearby.

Now that she’s bigger, I’ll try to set up an activity in the next room that I can monitor. As I worked on putting together our Ikea cabinets for the office, I broke apart the box and gave LJ markers to draw on it right outside the room (the doors have glass so I could see) while Vi watched and played with the box. When I worked on the basement kitchen, I blocked off the couch area using boxes and end tables so the kids could play there while I painted cabinet doors on the other side. Neither child is old enough for unsupervised independent play longer than about two minutes so finding ways to partition them from the project while still keeping them nearby has been a big strategy for working while they’re awake.

Let them help!

In each project, I try to find at least one small thing that LJ can help with. This often means letting him help me paint a wall or use something simple like a screwdriver.

In my current project of working on the office, he was thrilled to get a small hammer and helped pound in a few tiny nails into the back of the cabinets. He may only be two but it’s teaching him responsibility, it’s encouraging him to have a sense of pride and ownership, and often, it helps satisfy his urge to meddle in the project, haha! When a project is forbidden, it just increases his curiosity to get involved. When he’s allowed to have a part in it, he’s happy and then will move on and go play with something else and leave my project alone. It’s a win for both of us!

And speaking of help . . .

Childcare is a huge help to me when I’m in the midst of a project. As a stay-at-home mama, every little bit of outside help makes a huge difference for me. LJ recently started preschool and is now gone for three hours two times a week. Since Vi usually naps during this time, it gives me a bonus naptime hustle. My parents live about an hour away and they have also been incredibly helpful to me with childcare. They like to take the kids for a day or two every once in a while and they’ve also come here to watch them so I can get things done. This is especially helpful when I’m in the middle of a large scale project like painting tile floors or kitchen cabinets and need blocks of time beyond what a naptime provides. Pre-pandemic I also hired a babysitter twice a month to come watch the kids for a few hours so I could get a little work done without interruptions.

Recognize other areas will slip

The reality is, when I’m in full-on project mode, other areas of my life often slip a bit. I don’t try to do everything, and my time gets prioritized differently. Our house isn’t as clean. I have bigger piles of laundry because I’m not doing it as frequently. I don’t have the free time to read. I can’t do it all, so I’ve had to just recognize that sometimes these seasons of projects mean other areas are a little more lax and that’s okay.

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Of course there are seasons where DIY projects aren’t as feasible (looking at you again, newborn stage) but I truly believe that just because you have small children at home doesn’t mean you can’t tackle a project if you want to. Start with a simple job like spray painting some frames or swapping out hardware. When you start small, you learn to roll with the punches, find out what works best for you, your family, your daily schedules, and then you can work your way up to larger scale projects. DIY with small children around is not without its challenges, but it can be done and I’m cheering for you!

If you have finished a DIY project with small children around, what tips and tricks did you use to accomplish it?

My 32nd Birthday Weekend

On Friday, I turned 32! I’m one of those people who love their birthday and if you follow me on Instagram, you may have seen all my birthday week updates in stories. I love getting flowers, wine, chocolate, cards, phone calls . . . it doesn’t have to be big and fancy, but I love celebrating and I love the warmth and appreciation that I feel with each birthday wish. It always feels a little extra special when my birthday falls on a Friday, so today I’m recapping my birthday weekend since I love using this blog as a way to document our life.

Note: I’m going to be sharing photos and talking about different activities we did. I’m not going to include the many many many times we wore a mask, used hand sanitizer, washed our hands, made sure to socially distance, etc. Navigating life during covid involves a lot of things and rest assured, we were very conscious and took precautions with everything we did. Just because it’s not easy to see in a blog post doesn’t mean it didn’t happen ❤

Friday afternoon, my parents came to pick up the kids and take them for the weekend. My parents were so excited for time with their grandkids, my kids were so excited for special time with grandma and grandpa, and I was SO excited for a few adults-only days. It was a wonderful gift!

Friday night, Justin and I went out to dinner with a few friends at one of my favorite restaurants downtown. It was a nice day so we could enjoy patio seating and it was so fun to have a delicious meal and a night out. Afterwards we went to get ice cream and ran in to a few other friends unexpectedly so it ended up being a fun little hang out on picnic tables outside.

Saturday morning we got to sleep in (heavenly!) and I got a quick bike ride in on our stationary bike. I love morning workouts but it’s hard with little kids so it was a treat to get to take my time today. We got ready and headed down to Indianapolis for the day. First stop, Ikea! I drew some serious inspiration from their displays. Just look at this gorgeous green kitchen!

I had so much fun participating in the One Room Challenge for our basement kitchen that I’ve decided to join again for the fall challenge. I’m going to tackle our our office, and while I’m still working out a few details, I knew I wanted to do built-ins along one wall. Online it said the cabinets I wanted were out of stock but we asked the lady in store and she had the exact amount we needed – it felt like a birthday gift haha! She drew everything up in their program which was awesome to see and get absolutely everything we needed. I’m so excited to get started!

After Ikea, we picked up lunch from a place called Thaitanium (delicious!) and headed over to our friend’s house to eat lunch with them. They recently adopted twin boys and we haven’t had a chance to meet them yet. It was so nice to get to catch up with them and meet their boys!

We didn’t have plans for the rest of the day – our only goal was to explore and have some fun! We utilized the bike sharing program to rent bikes (our favorite way to navigate new cities!) and biked in and around downtown.

Once we got to monument circle, we decided to trade in our bikes for electric scooters – while initially this was pretty stressful for me (there’s a bit of a learning curve to balancing and the scooters go so fast!), once I got the hang of it, they were so much fun! We ended up scootering all over the cultural trail which was a fun way to explore the city.

My favorite place to explore was around the canal. It’s beautiful and peaceful! I of course had to take the most touristy picture possible. 😉

On our way back downtown we stopped in at a place called The Whit, which is an adult arcade. Lots of fun retro games to try out! I was impressed by all the covid precautions they had in place there and we enjoyed getting to play some very old but new to us games.

We started to get hungry so we headed back to Mass Ave to walk around and find a place to eat. The vibe of this street is so fun – lots of patio seating, people walking and biking around, pedal taverns (Justin made friends with some guy on a passing one which was pretty hilarious), etc. It’s just a fun place to go! We ended up grabbing some pizza at a place called Goodfellas and eating out on the patio while people watching. Then we slowly meandered back down Mass Ave, grabbed some more bikes, and headed back to our car to head home.

Initially, we thought we might stay overnight in Indy but I’m so glad we headed home instead. Sunday morning was so relaxing – we got to sleep in, watch church online without the distraction of two small children, and I got to lounge and read a new book while Justin went to pick up the kids. There is something so great about just getting to chill at home without worrying about a to-do list. It was such a nice, refreshing, restful day and the perfect way to cap off a great weekend!

I am undoubtedly a blessed woman. I’m so thankful for all of the past 32 years – the ups, downs, good days, bad days. They all led me right here and I am so thankful for each and every day. Cheers to the next 32 years!

Keeping the Playroom Manageable

When Justin and I first became parents, we decided to make a conscious effort to minimize the amount of stuff we accumulated. The baby/kid market is oversaturated with things and from the very beginning we’ve tried to be very intentional with what comes into our home. Yes to a breastfeeding pillow. No to a baby bathtub. Yes to a baby carrier. No to a wipe warmer. Amid all the decisions like those, it really wasn’t too challenging to avoid stocking up on toys at first – a few books, a couple rattles, a wubbanub (we had no idea how beloved that thing would become!) and we were good to go.

As LJ grew, we started to accumulate a few more toys. We rarely bought him anything, but he would get occasional gifts from grandparents and receive a few things around the holidays. I wrote this blog post about two years ago and showed all the toys we had during his first year of life and how I stored them and kept them manageable. (Look at baby LJ! Where does the time go?! Also, notice the musical lion walker – we’ll circle back to that in a bit).

LJ in playroom

We’ve slowly added to our toy collection over the past two years as LJ’s interests have grown and changed and we added another baby to our family. While we obviously have more now than we did then, it still feels very manageable. Today I thought I’d share some of the things I do to keep our playroom from becoming overwhelming. I definitely don’t have all the answers or think this is the only way to do things – these are just the things that work well for our family to keep our playroom a fun space where everything gets used!

Low-key holidays and birthdays. For each of our children’s first birthdays, we asked for no gifts (read about LJ’s here and Vi’s here). Honestly no judgement here if you love gifts for your one-year-old, but asking for donations to different organizations in lieu of gifts was a great alternative for us. Then for LJ’s second birthday, we got him one big gift (a train table) and had our families decorate their own train car as their gifts to him. This was a great option for making his day special without going overboard.

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Obviously, there will come a time when our kids have opinions and desires for their birthday gifts and we will honor that, but when they’re this little, it’s nice to keep birthdays very simple and intentional.

We’re not at all opposed to gifts or toys and Christmas is always a fun time for our relatives, particularly our parents, to gift things to our kids. I’ve previously blogged about how we usually ask for things like non-toy gifts and experiences or toys with a greater purpose (looking for toys that either support a small business, are made in the USA, are sustainable, use proceeds to support a cause we believe in, etc). These types of gifts do sometimes cost more, which means our children might get fewer gifts, but that is okay with us. We’d rather have fewer things that are meaningful than a bunch of stuff just for the sake of more. Do our kids still get toys and gifts outside these lists? Of course. I’m not going to stress myself or my relatives out with being too vigilant about this. It stops being fun when we try too hard – we just do the best we can.

Borrow (and return!) Toys. I am a big fan of swapping toys and baby gear with friends. There are so many things that your child only uses for a short window of time, so instead of cluttering up your house or filling up your storage spaces, see if anyone you know could make use of something. Remember that musical lion walker from earlier? That belongs to a friend of ours. Our kids are alternating ages, so when their oldest was done with it, we borrowed it for LJ. Then we gave it back when LJ was done so their second child could use it. Then when their second outgrew it, we borrowed it again for Vi. We used this same system for their rock n play, and we’ve borrowed a few other things over the years like a musical activity center and the beaded maze toy you see below.

We’ve also lent things like our baby swing, bassinet, and slumberpod out to friends and family as well. Toy and baby gear sharing is such an awesome way to save money, space, and sanity! You’re not only not spending a ton of money on ALL this stuff that will likely only get used for a short period of time; it’s also more sustainable and helps keep your homes less cluttered because you’re not storing a bunch of unused stuff in the interim between children. Win, win, win!

And on the topic of borrowing toys, I also “gifted” LJ three library books for Christmas last year. I chose three I knew he’s love, we read them a ton in our three week loan window, and then returned them. He had gotten enjoyment out of them and it didn’t result in permanent clutter. Score!

Purge Regularly. Even with borrowing toys and being intentional with gifts, we still accumulate more over time, so it’s important to regularly check in and assess what you have to make sure it’s manageable. At the end of the day, I like to be able to clean up ALL the toys and restore order to the playroom (and all the other rooms toys have migrated to) in under five minutes. Now, if every toy – every single block, train, ball, book, etc. – was taken out of its storage container and was strewn about multiple rooms around the house, it would definitely take me longer than five minutes to clean up. That’s okay though because that situation is rare; normally, not every toy gets played with every day. I want the average, everyday toy mess to be manageable and for me, that means able to be cleaned up in five minutes or less.

Anything that is broken or damaged gets fixed or removed. I also remove things that don’t get played with. Sometimes this is hard. Sometimes it’s a toy that you spent a decent amount of money on or it’s something that you think is adorable and wish your child wanted to play with or it’s a gift someone else gave. Ultimately though, if your child never plays with it, it’s just taking up space and there is likely another child out there who would love to actually play with it. If it’s been several months since it’s been chosen to play with, it’s time to find a new home. I just collect and donate these items to a local charity. I do keep a small amount of baby toys, but I really try not to keep too much because honestly, babies typically prefer to play with the toddler stuff anyways.

When I see something that fits in one of the above categories, I usually take it out then and there. But sometimes, I need to sit down and spend time just going through what we have and taking out things we don’t use. By doing this regularly, it keeps things super manageable and keeps it from getting too overwhelming.

Lately I had been feeling like our playroom was a little too much to handle. It was starting to take longer to clean up, and even when it was all cleaned up it still felt cluttered. So I spent about 15 minutes going through the room – we returned the toys we had borrowed from friends, I took down the pack n play from one corner (I used to corral Vi in there), and I took out the toys that the kids don’t play with. I also took out this plant because seriously…what was I thinking? Oy vey.

Our playroom now feels fresh and spacious again and we still have plenty of toys to play with. In this case, less really does feel like more! More space, more time not spent cleaning, more time spent playing because we’re not overwhelmed with too many choices. ❤

What tips and tricks do you have for keeping your playroom manageable?

August 2020 Book Reviews

It’s the last day of the month and that can only mean one thing: it’s book review day!

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This month I read six books and while there were a few I didn’t totally love, I enjoyed all six for different reasons. I’ve got some nonfiction memoirs, a long historical fiction saga, two rom coms (coincidentally both with protagonists working in the same industries), and a murder mystery whodunit. It was a fun mix of genres and topics and I’m excited to dive in!

The Guest List by Lucy Foley

A glamorous wedding on an obscure island off the coast of Ireland brings together a unique mix of people, including the bride, the plus-one, the bridesmaid, the wedding planner, and the best man. As the wedding festivities unfold, tensions rise and hidden secrets come to light. This alternating perspective whodunit was suspenseful and eerie without being creepy and I could not put it down! The thing about a book like this is that you know from the very beginning (even before you crack open the book, as the back cover mentions it) that a murder happens. But obviously, the author doesn’t want to give too much away too soon. So for the first third of the book, very little is revealed and each chapter ends with a bit of a cliffhanger/allusion to something but you don’t quite know what. It can be a little maddening, but it does make for a binge-worthy read. I just wanted to keep going to finally get a little breadcrumb of a clue. I did guess a few of the twists, some even pretty early on, but there were still some OH DANG moments for me as everything started to come to light. I felt very invested and I had to know who did the murderer was! The thing holding me back from this going on my all-star list is that I wasn’t altogether satisfied by the ending. I appreciated how most of it wrapped up, but there were a few things I wish had been a bit different. There needed to be one more chapter and a touch more resolution, but there are likely many readers who think the ending is perfect. Either way, I’d recommend this as a good binge-y whodunit!

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

But simply punishing the broken – walking away from them or hiding them from sight – only ensures that they remain broken and we do, too. There is no wholeness outside of our reciprocal humanity. (p. 290)

Whenever things got really bad, and they were questioning the value of their lives, I would remind them that each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done. I told them that if someone tells a lie, that person is not just a liar. If you take something that doesn’t belong to you, you are not just a thief. Even if you kill someone, you’re not just a killer. . . there is a strength, a power even, in understanding brokenness, because embracing our brokenness creates a need to show mercy. When you experience mercy, you learn things that are hard to learn otherwise. You see things you can’t otherwise see; you hear things you can’t otherwise hear. You begin to recognize the humanity that resides in each of us. (p. 290)

Oh my. I have a hard time even putting this book into words. I had known that our criminal justice system has its issues, but this book really opened my eyes to a lot of the realities of its flaws and the many ways in which “justice” has ultimately failed so many people, particularly people of color and/or the poor. This nonfiction book tells the story of Bryan Stevenson’s life working as a lawyer representing those who are often overlooked by our criminal justice system: the poor, the wrongly accused, and those condemned on death row. A lot of the story focuses on one man in particular: Walter McMillan, who is on death row for a murder he is adamant that he did not commit. While Stevenson works to build a case for Walter, we also read many other stories of people who were sentenced for life for crimes committed as juveniles, people who are imprisoned after having virtually no good representation in their trial, or black people who were purposefully given all-white juries for their trials. It was truly heartbreaking to read the many times you think justice will prevail . . . and it doesn’t. Not every story has a happy ending. Not every wrong is made right. There is so much hurt, so much suffering, and so much that just doesn’t make sense. There were times it was really difficult to read. But there were also stories that gave me hope. There were triumphs and there were moments that restore your faith in humanity. It can be overwhelming to realize there is so much work to still be done, but ultimately this book left me feeling passionate and hopeful.  While this is by no means an easy read, I think it is such an important read and absolutely recommend it!

Open Book by Jessica Simpson

I think it’s okay every now and again to reflect on that time. Get down the box from the top shelf of the emotional closet and marvel at the things that used to mean so much. The keepsakes of our mistakes, the souvenirs of lost years. But know when to start making new memories with people who deserve the you that you are now. (p. 326)

I would never have claimed to be a big Jessica Simpson fan (although I love love love her show collection haha), but she was obviously a big part of pop culture in the 90’s and early 2000’s and I feel like I’ve grown up with her somewhat. I actually really enjoyed this memoir! It brought back a lot of nostalgia, and it was fun to read about things like the people she met trying out for the Mickey Mouse Club and her rise to fame with her music and Newlyweds . I was also fascinated to read all the things that were really going on beyond the things shown in magazines or on MTV; as always, there is more to the story than what meets the eye. While reading, I kept taking breaks to look up things on the internet – everything from her music videos to Newlywed clips or pictures she’s referencing. Jessica doesn’t shy away from the darker moments in her past and she opens up about abuse she’s suffered and unhealthy relationships she’s been in. While she does call out people (I wouldn’t want to be John Mayer’s publicist after this book came out), she also talks about the things she herself has done that she regrets and the mistakes she’s made. This book was fun, intriguing, vulnerable, and engrossing. I really enjoyed it and would recommend, even if you’re not really a Jessica Simpson fan.

Beach Read by Emily Henry

January and Gus are former college classmates turned bestselling authors who find themselves as neighbors in a small town in Michigan where they both are suffering from a bit of writer’s block. Though they aren’t exactly what you would call friends, they make a bet – write a book in the other person’s genre and see who can sell their book first. Through mini boot-camp trainings to educate one another on their genres, they get to know one another better and start to realize maybe they have more in common than a shared passion for writing.

I think my beef with this book is that the cover and the title feel misleading. Technically there is a beach, and there is a lot of reading involved, but the cover gives off a vibe that is not really at all what the book actually reads like. That aside, I thought the actual premise was cute and enjoyed this read. It took me a while to warm up to January but I loved broody and vulnerable Gus. I liked that the book dug into some meatier topics like marital affairs, abuse, rejection, life in a cult (see what I mean by the cover is misleading!?) and wasn’t just a feel-good, surface-level rom com. There were some parts of the story line that didn’t really interest me, but overall it was a nice enough light read to break up the heavier topics in the other books I read this month. I’d recommend it with the caveat that it falls pretty middle of the road for me – enjoyable, but not a standout.

Lost Roses by Martha Hall Kelly

I previously read Lilac Girls from this author and loved it, so I was excited to see this prequel to the book following the perspectives of three women, American socialite Eliza, Russian heiress Sofya, and Russian peasant Varinka as their lives intertwine around the time of WWI and the Russian Revolution. However, I’m finding this book review a little hard to write. I recognize that this is a a good book, but I’m not actually sure if I enjoyed it. Does that even make sense?

First of all, it’s over 400 pages and I just don’t think it needed to be that long. So many words, but really…did that much stuff happen? No. Secondly, I like having someone to root for but there were no clear heros. I had empathy for Sofya and the plight of the White Russians, but it was also frustrating to see their tremendous sense of entitlement and how little regard they had for the peasants’ suffering. I also had empathy for Varinka and all her suffering as a peasant, but she also did some pretty crappy things once she gained even a slight amount of power. And then Eliza’s story provided some American perspective, but her “America” seemed a little entitled and out of touch and her story felt superfluous to me. I think the book just needed less of her. All that being said, I also didn’t hate it. Ha!  Though it takes place during WWI it focuses more on what was specifically happening in Russia which I thought was interesting and I was invested in finding out the outcome for each woman (mostly Sofya and Varinka). I recognize that the author has written complex characters with vulnerabilities, redeeming qualities, and deep flaws. Overall, this falls in the mid-range for me. Didn’t love it, didn’t hate it, unsure if I’d recommend. If character-driven historical fiction is your thing, maybe give it a shot?

Dating You/Hating You by Christina Lauren

Dating You / Hating You by [Christina Lauren]

Evie and Carter meet up at a mutual friend’s party and the chemistry is instant. They’re both Hollywood agents and don’t typical date those in the industry, but in this case, it seems worth a try. That is until they show up to work one day and realize their companies have merged and they’re now vying for the same position. What was once a potential budding relationship is now filled with competition, zany attempts at sabotage, and maybe a little bit of that initial chemistry too? I read this book on my Kindle in about a day. It’s an easy read: it’s got some silliness, it’s got some steaminess, it’s got a fun cast of main and supporting characters. It’s got an interesting setting of the behind-the-scenes world of Hollywood. It kind of reminded me of movies like How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days; even though the plot lines are really different, the general chemistry + sabotage + chemistry dynamic was similar. Overall, I enjoyed this as a nice light read to round out the month.

I’m really excited about a few of the books I have lined up for September so hopefully I’ll have some more great reviews to report next month! What books are you excited to read?

Going for BOLD in the Kids’ Bathroom

The kids’ bathroom got a little makeover recently and I am loving its new bold, fun look!

A Moody Bathroom Renovation

When we first moved in, there were glass shower doors on the tub, which we quickly removed and replaced with a shower curtain so we’d have an easier time bathing the kids. Other than that very small update, we hadn’t put any time and attention into this space since we moved in. Here’s what it looked like before:

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This project came on a whim. When I did my $0 bathroom makeover, I shopped my house and took the mirror from the kids’ bathroom. My intention was to just swap in another mirror, but when I took the original one down, I discovered a huge hole behind it! The new mirror I planned to put up was not the right size and shape to cover it so I asked Justin to just patch the hole and we’d just live with the patch job for a while.

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Justin came in with patching plaster and started to look around at all the walls in the bathroom. He commented they were all in rough shape – lots and lots of nicks, dings, holes, etc. His parents were visiting so we decided he should just patch all the walls and we’d quick paint the room since we had help with the kids. Well, one thing led to another and before we knew it, we decided to just update the entire room!

The kids’ bathroom is windowless and small, so I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to try out a bold paint color. We already had the botanical shower curtain from years ago so I used that as a starting point for finding the right color. I chose Sherwin Williams Cordial in Eggshell and painted the walls, ceilings, trim, and door. Justin was pretty skeptical about my painting the ceiling but it was a fun step away from convention and I love how it turned out! The color is moody and deep and just so dreamy.

A Moody Bathroom for Kids

The previous owners had left the black over-the-toilet storage shelf. While we’ve appreciated having the extra storage since the vanity is only 20 inches, the shelf was not very stable and could easily be knocked over by one of our kids. We decided to remove it and come up with a different storage solution.

Remember way back when we remodeled our guest bathroom? There was a half wall with a long board on top that we had to replace when we added trim to the wall. The original board has been in our garage ever since and we decided to use it here to make a couple new shelves. Justin planed the board down to size, sanded off all the previous stain, and put a few layers of clear polyurethane on top to seal it. We got these brackets and attached the boards to them and voila – two gorgeous shelves!

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I love that they are simple and modern and the light wood contrasts nicely with the dark paint color. I wanted the shelves to be both beautiful and functional so I shopped my home for picture frames and decor and found a few pretty storage solutions for keeping the practical items we reach for often.

We also swapped out the light fixture for this modern brass sconce and it made a huge difference! The mirror was a last minute decision – I planned to use an oval mirror to break up all the lines of the sconce and shelves. Once the oval mirror was up though it just did not feel right at all. This rectangular mirror with rounded edges provided the perfect balance of lines and curves!

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There used to be a very small towel bar to the right of the shower, but it felt much more practical to install a few hooks to hang multiple towels instead of just one. I chose three gold bath hooks – both because three felt right for the space and also because I’m subtly hinting to Justin that we should have another baby 😉 😉 😉

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LJ saw me scrolling through options for artwork above the hooks and he got really excited about this butterfly, so it felt like the perfect print to choose. I love online print shops – you buy your print, the file gets emailed to you, then you can print it off wherever you want! It allows me to have a nice variety of quality prints without spending a ton of money.

I’m so happy with how this bathroom turned out! I wanted something that felt appropriate for a children’s bathroom without screaming “I AM A CHILD’S BATHROOM” if that makes sense. Now it feels fun and unique and just right for kids while still fitting the style of the rest of our house. I love it!

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Sources

Wall Color: Sherwin Williams Cordial in Eggshell

Wall Sconce

Mirror

Black Shelf Brackets

Gold Bath Towel Hooks

Black Frame

Black and White Butterfly Print

Hand Towel

Black Wire Storage Basket