Next Up: Changes Coming to the Guest Suite!

This mid-afternoon blog post is brought to you by Daylight Savings Time, which I am blaming for being sleep-deprived this morning and not hitting “publish” like I thought I had. So Happy Monday afternoon!

The longer we have lived in this house, the more I feel like I’ve honed in on a specific vision for it. I’m so glad we didn’t do major renovations when we first moved in; living here has shown me how we actually need certain spaces to function and that has completely changed my mind on some ideas I had when we first bought the home. As I’ve spent nearly four years tackling smaller renovations room by room, I’ve cultivated spaces that feel right for our family and it’s been really gratifying to see those spaces now work together throughout the house like pieces to puzzle.

That being said, I have been feeling like some of my earliest projects don’t quite fit that puzzle very well. These renovations happened so early on that I didn’t necessarily have the “whole house vision” in mind and now that I do, I’m wanting to go back in and re-address some things. There’s one space in particular I’ve been thinking about a lot lately and feel ready to tackle: our guest suite!

When we first moved into our house, the guest suite immediately rose to the top of the project list. Technically, it couldn’t be considered a bedroom at the time because there was no window, but I immediately saw the potential. We hired a contractor to put in a window, strip the wallpaper, and demo the en suite bathroom – you can catch up on the initial renovation in previous posts (click here for the bedroom and here for the bathroom).

We initially finished the guest suite in early 2020 – just in time for a global pandemic and a very long pause on hosting guests. Ha! Eventually, I decided I wanted to add a bit of interest to the plain white walls and started a botanical wallpaper look using paint and a stencil. It was fairly labor intensive and I wasn’t sure I wanted to go all the way around the room so I paused after two walls. Along the way I also updated the bed and bedding and swapped out the nightstands for the ones from Justin and my bedroom (I still love all those changes!)

I recently had some inspiration for the guest suite that I think is going to make it make so much more sense with the rest of the house – it gave me that excited, adrenaline feeling in my gut that made me know this is the right direction to take the room! Here’s what I am going to be addressing:

1. Finishing the Faux Wallpaper. I do want to complete the wallpaper look all the way around the room and I’m going for it. I know that it will be time consuming, but I truly believe it will be worth it!

2. Paint the trim + doors + built-ins dark. Initially, I chose white walls and a light greige contrast trim because I thought it would help brighten the fairly dark room (the window is partially shaded by our back deck and with that + the angle of the house compared to the path of the sun, it never receives direct, bright sunlight). Now I have more confidence in leaning into the natural shadowiness of the bedroom and I want to go dark green on the trim. The goal is a cozy, moody retreat!

3. Finally update the ceiling light! The last remining boob light (if you know, you know) in our home has numbered days and I cannot wait to see it go.

4. Repaint the en suite bathroom. With the wallpaper going on every wall in the bedroom and the trim going dark green, I think I’ll need to change the guest bathroom color. I am currently leaning towards a pink and again, it’s giving me that adrenaline feeling of being nervous for a dramatic change but also excited because I think it’s the right call.

5. Replace the carpet. We are finally ready to get new carpet in the works throughout the whole basement. The current carpet is very worn, stained, pulling up in places, and just very much in need of being replaced. I do want to replace with another carpet because a) our basement gets very cold and carpet is such an easy way to keep it warm and cozy and b) this is a big rec space/entertaining space for kids and carpet makes more sense to me for kids to play on.

I’m starting this week on the wallpaper stencil – you can follow along on Instagram for the play-by-play!

Restoring a Thrifted Dresser (+ the finished Kids Room!)

Over the past week, I’ve been working to remove the paint from the kids’ shared dresser and restore it to a natural wood finish. It all came together yesterday and to say I’m in love is putting it mildly!

Before

After

Somewhere between 7-8 years ago, Justin and I bought this vintage midcentury dresser on Facebook Marketplace for $30. It had signs of wear and tear and the easiest solution at the time was to paint it, so I chose a mid-tone blue and gave it a little upgrade. It has lived happily as a kid dresser for the past 5.5 years (even serving as a changing table when LJ was younger) and is still one of my favorite thrifted finds to date.

I recently completed the mountain mural accent wall in the kids’ shared bedroom, and when I got everything back in place, things didn’t feel quite right. It seemed like a lot of painted surfaces: painted walls, painted trim, painted door, painted dresser. It also felt really heavily blue! I knew I needed to bring in some natural elements and decided to try to strip the paint off of the dresser. I had never attempted this before but figured worst case scenario would be I could just repaint it in a different color if stripping didn’t work.

After doing a bit of research online, I bought a product called Citristrip to try. First things first, I removed the drawers and hardware and placed the drawers face up on a drop cloth (I save old bedsheets for this purpose!) I wore a double layer of latex-free gloves and assembled things in my basement where there is a big open space and plenty of circulating air – Citristrip is safe to use indoors but I still wanted lots of ventilation.

I poured it out directly onto the dresser and used an old paintbrush to roughly apply it everywhere. After some trial and error I learned that thicker is better – you want a pretty thick layer on top of the paint!

I stashed the brush in a ziploc baggie and let the Citristrip soak in, quickly learning that leaving it on longer produces better results. You don’t want it to dry out, but you do want to give it time to work. And when it works, it looks wild!

My mind was blown! I kept thinking the paint looked like really elaborate frosting and couldn’t believe how much it bubbled up. The first round, where I did a light layer and only left it on 30 minutes, left a lot of residue but the second round, where I poured it on thick and left it on 2 hours, took nearly everything off!

I used a plastic scraper to remove the paint; sometimes I needed to do a bit of extra scraping to get it all off but it did not require a lot of muscle or effort to do the vast majority!

The main frame of the dresser took an extra round of Citristrip because the paint layer was thicker, but once I got everything stripped it was time to clean off the reside. I used mineral spirits (again, you want ventilation and gloves!) and a clean cloth to wipe down the surfaces; it works best to give the mineral spirits plenty of time to fully dry before sanding.

The dresser had a very thin layer of wood veneer on almost everything (more on that in a bit) and sanded well for me. I used an orbital sander, first with 80-grit sandpaper, then 120-grit, then 220-grit to get the surfaces down to raw wood. At this point, I started to feel optimistic that this was actually going to turn out well, because things were looking so much better!

I wiped everything down with a tack cloth and then it was time for gel stain – I chose this dark walnut color.

I have never used a gel stain before but it’s super easy to apply: I painted the stain on using a brush, first going in the direction against the grain, then immediately going over it with the brush again (without adding more stain), this time with the grain.

I let it set 2-3 minutes and then wiped it off with an old pillowcase (I’m telling you, save your old bedding for projects!) Here’s a look at two drawers in the process, one with the stain wiped off and one with it still soaking:

One unusual thing I hadn’t remembered about the dresser was that the top is actually laminate. Hmmm. The paint stripped off it fine and I used 220-grit sandpaper to get the remaining residue off, but it’s hard to tell how much of the gel stain it took. The walnut color I chose pretty closely matched the original color and I was afraid of blotchiness so I did the whole top at one time; it looks great with the rest of the dresser and definitely did darken, so it at least took some of the gel stain. It worked out and I’m happy with the result!

The legs did not take the stain well, although that’s probably because I didn’t want to sand them, so I decided to pivot and use Rub n Buff. My goal was to try to match the patina of the original brass drawer pulls. I removed the legs and used just a tiny bit of product, rubbing it in with an old cloth. I was pleasantly surprised to see the legs really did look similar to the drawer pulls!

After everything had a chance to dry, I put it all back together in my kids room and WOWZA, this was exactly what the space needed!

I LOVE the richness of the warm walnut color. It is seriously stunning, and the patina on the brass hardware + faux patina on the legs brings so much character!

This is still a $30 thrifted dresser, so it’s far from perfect, but I just think she’s a showstopper now. I am so so happy with how this dresser now ties in with the other wood tones throughout and completes the room . . . even though I don’t really ever think a room is totally finished. Our needs and tastes are constantly evolving and I like to make little tweaks to our rooms here and there along the way. Plus this room will likely need an overhaul of sorts down the room when there are two teenage boys sharing it (!!!) That being said, the kids’ room feels like it’s in a really good place for their current stage of life so for now…it’s done. πŸ™‚

Sources:

Wall Color: Sherwin Williams Eider White and Nordic Bleu

Bedframes: Vintage

Dresser: Vintage

Windowpane Curtains

Blackout Blinds

Curtain Rods

Sconces

Vi’s Sheet Set

LJ’s Sheet Set

Yellow Quilts

Striped Throw Blanket

Round Mirror

How I Decorate Slowly (and why I do it!)

It’s been five months since I shared my mood board inspiration for leveling up the living room. It’s been four months since I painted the walls white. It’s been two months since we installed the sconces . . . and nothing much has happened since. In terms of speed, this room transformation is practically glacial.

You may or may not have noticed, but I’ve slowed down on the pace of home projects around here lately. This was a choice I made very intentionally for a few reasons, and I can honestly say it’s been such a healthy decision for me and my family. Today I wanted to take a minute to just talk about why I’ve moved to a more sustainable pace and how I approach slowly transforming my home.

One big reason I’ve slowed down is: money. The vast majority of our projects up to this point have been on the smaller scale. I’ve gotten creative with finding ways to transform a space with a small budget: stenciling instead of wallpaper, upgrading thrifted furniture, painting cabinets, painting countertops, etc and we’ve done the large majority of work ourselves. Now we’re looking ahead to hiring out some bigger projects in the next year or two, so we’re quicker to save money and slower to spend on smaller projects.

Another, probably obvious, reason I’ve slowed down lately is due to time. I have three kids, so life is full! I’ve learned I can take advantage of nap time and preschool and yes, their daily allotted screen time to get things done. I can work late at night or wake up early in the morning. I’m good at finding ways to squeeze in projects but also, I don’t want to spend all my time on projects. I’m so aware of how fast these years are going and have been working really hard to strike a healthy balance of life and projects.

A great example happened this past weekend: we had a gloriously empty calendar where nothing was planned for anyone in our family. It was the perfect opportunity to update the kids’ bedroom dresser. It was also the perfect opportunity for some quality family time. We landed on a best-of-both-worlds solution: for our family, we chose a Saturday family adventure day (science museum, lunch, walking to a bakery for a special treat) and Sunday afternoon campfire (popcorn + smores!) together.

For ourselves, Justin played tennis with his friends Saturday morning while I played with the kids, then he took the kids in the evenings and Sunday morning before church so I could have time for the dresser. Saturday night we even had a movie-in-the-basement date night while I waited on the paint stripper to work its magic on the dresser. We both got time away for hobbies that energize us AND we got quality family time and couple time together. True, the dresser could’ve been completed if I buckled down and said no to all the other things, but that’s not healthy for anyone in my family. We’re ALL much happier with a slower project pace and a balance of time together and time on our own things.

The last reason I’m slowing down is hard to describe, but is a mixture of learning contentment and leaving space to figure out how this home can best serve our family. It takes time in a space to discover what it needs. Do I want a gallery wall here or one large piece of art? Do I want a console table here or something with storage? Learning to live with a blank wall or empty space in the meantime has been an exercise in contentment – I don’t truly need anything and I don’t want to buy things just to fill the house, so I’m okay with nothing until I find just what I want. Spending time in spaces helps me hone in on a vision and think through possibilities, and half the fun is in anticipating/dreaming/planning anyways. Just recently I decided that eventually, I’m going to swap the dining room and playroom. Not now, because our current setup is working in this season, but long-term, the switch will make more sense for us. It takes time to let my mind wander and think through these possibilities. In the meantime, I’m learning to be content with my house as is and let me tell you, there’s joy to be found in that contentment too.

So how have I been approaching a slower, more intentional way of working on my home? I’ve been reflecting on this quite a bit lately and here are some of the things that come to mind:

Thrift for Budget-Friendly Items

It’s no secret that I love thrifting. Buying secondhand is sustainable for the environment and easier on the wallet – a win-win in my book. I have had great luck slowly sourcing items over the years, thrifting everything from bigger items like chairs, side tables, and dressers to smaller dΓ©cor pieces like picture frames, planters, and little tchotchkes. Thrifting has allowed me to fill my home with unique items and allows me to try out different things without a big commitment. I can also hold onto items loosely – if it breaks or ends up not working in our home, it’s easier to let go of.

All that being said, thrifting is not a quick, one-click process. It took me months to find a little lamp I loved for my kitchen countertop! I try to carve out time once a week or every-other-week to pop in to a thrift store, whether I have an hour to browse or just ten minutes to glance around (if you’re not sure where to start or how to maximize a quick trip, I wrote a post about making the most of thrifting when I’m limited on time). I’ve been thrifting for items for years and over time, my home is slowly filling with items I truly love. The hunt for items that speak to me takes time and patience, but it’s so rewarding once I find a gem for our home!

Use Placeholder Items to Determine What I really Want

I bought a teal-colored accent chair for the living room in our last home and absolutely loved it there. We moved here with it and it just hasn’t translated the same way. I’ve tried it in multiple rooms and in multiple places and have come to accept it just isn’t going to be a piece I keep long-term in this home. BUT! It has been an excellent placeholder for me while I determine what I do and don’t want.

When it sat in the playroom, it helped me determine I wanted a couch instead of a chair for more seating. When it sat in my office bay window it helped affirm that space worked perfectly for a chair – and I soon thrifted my beloved yellow chair. When it sat against the stairs in our living room, it made us realize that the extra seating was nice but the placement felt odd so we’d have to find the perfect option, otherwise it’s better to have nothing there. When it sat against a small wall in our living room, it helped me determine I really needed something with a smaller profile, leading me to this $5 thrift store chair.

Now it sits in the bay window area of our living room and has confirmed we do want another chair there (just not this one). And with that, I think this chair is ready for its next home. I’m glad we kept it for so long, even when I knew it wasn’t meant for this house, because it helped us figure out what DID work here. Now that we’re filling up with things we love and that work for this house, it’s ready for its next life . . . at my sister’s house! I’ll be sure to visit πŸ˜‰

Shop My House

I love shopping my home to find just the right thing for a space! This is different than a placeholder, because these are all items I use, love, and want to keep in my house. I used to get stuck in a rut with thinking one item had to stay in the place where I first put it, but I realized once I held a looser grip on arrangements, it became so much fun to see the same old items in a new way! If you want to know more about how I do this, I wrote a whole post about shopping my home.

Again, this takes a little time to walk through my home and try to look at items individually and objectively. And then obviously, when I move something to a new place, I might have a blank space where that item used to be for a while. Maybe I’ll thrift a new item for that spot, maybe I’ll find something else in my home, or maybe it will be an empty place for my eyes to rest for a bit. It’s a process!

Live with Less

It’s actually pretty refreshing to have some blank space in my home. For example, my dining room is pretty bare – just a hand-me-down table and chairs and a large blank wall – but there are perks to that. It’s super easy to clean and maintain. My kids love racing around the table and there’s space to do that. We have a nice big floor area beside the table to make messy art projects. The blank slate-like nature of the room also makes it easier to dream of the future possibilities. There’s no clutter distracting my mind and I can just breathe and imagine what it could be . . . while enjoying the freedom that comes with less for now.

I realized that living with less also helped me recognize when an item really speaks to me – if I see it in the store and it feels worth giving up the blank space for, I know it’s a good one!

Enjoy the Imperfect House

I have been craving slowness in other areas of my life and lately I’ve been leaning into leaving space for that. I love to curl up with a blanket and a good book. I love the rhythmic process of baking homemade bread. I love sitting around the table playing the 15th round of Old Maid or Go Fish (my kids are in an era of loving games and it’s so much fun!) Life is happening in this home whether it’s “finished” or not, and I have been savoring the moments I step back from the projects and just enjoy living here.

We live in an era of instant gratification (Streaming services! Same day delivery! Instant downloads!) and I think this impacts home renovations too. You can turn on HGTV and watch an entire home undergo months and months of renovations in the span of 60 minutes. Before-and-after pictures on Instagram can show you a room transformation with just a simple swipe of your finger. We’re used to the process happening quickly, or at least, being shown to us quickly, but that’s not reality. Most transformations happen slowly and I have become much happier with a slower pace.

It also feels worth ending on this clarification: my chosen pace feels slow to me, but may not feel slow to you. Previously, I was going from project to project, finishing one and jumping right in to the next. I was challenging myself to complete entire rooms in a small amount of time and I was working on big projects one after another. My current pace is much slower and is more sustainable for my life and my family; it’s a balance that works for us. What that looks like will be different for every person – maybe one space a year is all you have the capacity and resources to handle and my pace seems unsustainable. Or maybe you have the capacity and resources for one room a month and my pace seems super slow. It’s true what they say: comparison is the thief of joy. I encourage you to find a pace that feels right for YOU and enjoy how that works for your life rather than dwell on anyone else’s.

Now I’m off to keep working on my kids’ dresser – slow and steady, just the way I like it. πŸ™‚

February 2023 Book Reviews

It’s always surprising to me how fast February feels (especially since January is 87 days long) but here we are somehow in March already. I’m ready for longer days, more sunshine, and the beginning of Spring so I’m here for it!

In February I read two books and while one fell pretty flat for me, one is going to be added to my Top Recommendations List because I loved it so much. Let’s get into it!

All You Need to be Impossibly French by Helena Frith Powell

Last month I read Bringing Up Bebe and really enjoyed it. I joked with Justin that I was “entering my French era” and decided to try another book along the same lines. This particular one was written by a British woman living in France and follows kind of a similar thought process as Bringing up Bebe – she’s noticing the differences between herself (and other non-French women) and French women and wants to “uncover the secrets of [their] chic living.”

Here’s the thing. I did not have the same warm, affirming feelings as I did reading Bringing up Bebe. In fact, I found some aspects of this book to be more of a turnoff – like a strange recurring interaction with a Frenchman that borders emotional (and potentially physical) cheating and gave me the ick. While some chapters were interesting and entertaining, overall I wasn’t as charmed by this author’s deep dive into the world of French women. I tried to put more of a finger on why that was and checked the publication date: 2006. Oddly enough, this seemed to make things click. The book feels like the early-00’s obsession with thinness – the “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” era, you know what I mean? And reading it in 2023, yes we want to look good, channel fierce energy, worry less, take care of ourselves more, etc. . . . but in a healthy, well-rounded, accepting our flaws kind of way. And this book doesn’t seem to leave the same kind of room for that. Looking through that lens, I actually don’t think it’s a bad book, I just don’t think it aged particularly well and so it fell flat for me.

Love at First by Kate Clayborn

Nora adores her close-knit, quirky building and never wants anything about it to change. Unfortunately, the newest tenant, Will, is determined to bring change. After inheriting one of the six apartments in the building from his late uncle, he is clear about his intentions: renovate the apartment and rent it out. Horrified by the thought of a revolving door of renters ruining the familial feel of the building, Nora decides to make things difficult for Will in hopes that he changes his mind. Despite the ensuing sabotage and complications, Will and Nora get to know one another better and neither can deny that underneath the animosity they each feel a strong connection to one another.

I ADORED this book! I thought it was so fun and charming and sweet. Nora and Will are both really likeable characters and I enjoyed their back-and-forth dynamic. Their characters are relatable and down-to-earth and I particularly enjoyed Nora’s inner dialogue. I love a good alternating narration, enemies to lovers trope and this book did it so well. The vast majority of the story takes place in their shared apartment building and the rest of the cast of characters is eclectic and delightful. I just wanted to hang out in this building! I’d rank it as PG-13; there’s a bit of language and one steamy chapter (could easily be skipped over if you prefer). It’s predictable but not overly cheesy and is a great choice when you just want a realistic, feel-good romance. I highly recommend!

What have you been reading lately?

Etsy Finds for My Home and Life

I recently tried a new bread recipe and my entire family loves it so much that it’s become a staple in our household. Since I am making it weekly (sometimes twice a week!), I decided to treat myself to a pretty bread baker.

I found a beautiful stoneware bread baker on Etsy and instantly fell in love. When I saw that the potter lives in Indiana, it felt like a bonus to get to support a local-ish small business. He sent updates throughout the process of making it (so fun!) and it felt like a mini Christmas Day when it finally arrived. I’ve been using it ever since!

Etsy is such a fun place to shop and find unique items for my house (and life in general!) I’ve used it for a wide variety of things over the years and today I thought I’d do a little round-up of my favorite finds so far. This post isn’t sponsored or anything like that – I just love creating a collected, character-filled look and feel to my home and genuinely enjoy using Etsy to find items achieving that!

Stoneware Pottery Bread Baker

I know I already talked about this, but it just makes me so happy! It was definitely a splurge item but given how often I use it + how much I love it + the value I personally place on a unique, handmade item and supporting small businesses and artisans, to me it was totally worth it.

Maple Cutting Board

I saw this on Etsy last year and immediately sent my mom a link for my Christmas list. Ha! It is stunning and so substantial. This small business is great – the cutting boards are handcrafted in small batches in the USA with sustainably sourced American maple. One side is for cutting, the other for displaying and serving food. Again, it’s more of a splurge item, but for the quality and longevity I think it’s worth it!

Vintage Brass Wall Planters

Etsy isn’t just for selling newly created items – there are a ton of people selling vintage pieces! This little collection of vintage brass wall planters was cultivated over time and all started when I needed something to put on this small wall in Ollie’s nursery. I found the smaller two wall planters on Etsy and loved them, but they weren’t enough to fill the whole wall. I kept searching for more, waiting for ones that would feel right for the space, and eventually found two more from different vintage sellers (as well as a fifth one I found locally at a vintage sale). I love the eclectic, yet elevated touch they bring to the nursery and might keep adding to the collection at some point. To find something similar, you can just search “vintage brass wall planter” and lots of options will show up.

Leather Drawer Pulls

Back in August 2021 when I was working on updating our bedroom, I decided to upgrade an Ikea Hemnes dresser to create a dupe of a much more expensive dresser I loved. I turned to Etsy for leather drawer pulls and found these – they were exactly what I was looking for and gave a custom look to this standard dresser. They’re well made and still going strong a year and a half later.

Brass Wall Sconces

Did you know you can find a lot of great lighting sources on Etsy? I discovered Illuminate Vintage there and ended up buying their raw brass globe sconces for our bedroom renovation. They’re so pretty and I love how they’re gaining a patina over time.

Artwork/Digital Downloads

I have turned to Etsy multiple times over the years for digital downloads. I think the first time was when I needed some art for this wall in our basement – I knew I wanted something large but had a small budget so a digital download was the perfect solution. I bought this download, had it printed off at my local FedEx at 24″ x 36″, built a frame out of scrap wood, and boom: a big, beautiful piece of artwork! (Side note: it looks like the shop I purchased from does not offer this print as a digital download anymore, but you can still purchase it on paper or canvas).

For Christmas, my horse-loving niece asked for artwork to decorate her new room so I found this one and this one, printed them off, and slipped them in thrifted frames that I spray painted. When I needed Valentines for LJ and Vi to take to school, I found a cute template to print and attach suckers to. When I needed a map of Ireland for a DIY Christmas ornament for my sister, when I wanted some seasonal art, when I looked for black and white contrast cards for Ollie as a newborn, when I wanted to incorporate a deer and tractor in LJ’s upgraded gallery wall – Etsy, Etsy, Etsy. I personally have only purchased digital downloads, but you can also find options that will be physically shipped to you, sometimes even framed.

I do think it’s important to note: there is some original artwork on Etsy but there are also a lot of prints from other artists. MANY of these prints can be found through the public domain (meaning you can download and print them free from copyright restrictions). There are literally millions of pieces of art in the public domain – the Etsy shops do not own the print but they charge for the download because they offer the service of a more curated collection. If you want the absolute cheapest option, you can go through the public domain yourself and find free artwork to download. If you want some curation so you’re not sifting through mountains of artwork, it might be work the few dollars that the Etsy shop will charge you to download.

While Etsy is great for finding things for my home, I’ve also used it to find things for my kids.

Baby Girl Bows

There are SO many shops selling adorable bows for little girls. I especially loved finding and supporting shops that were run by mamas! As she got older and stopped wanting the nylon band going around her head, we switched to some cute ribbed clips to keep her hair out of her face.

Linen Boppy Cover

Without a doubt, my Boppy pillow is one of my most used baby items. It got used SO much with each child that by the time I had Ollie, the original cover was looking pretty dingy. I found this beautiful handmade linen cover on Etsy and it’s given new life to my six-year-old pillow!

Knitted Santa Hat

I mean – can you even!? LJ was born around Thanksgiving and spent a week in the NICU so by the time we left the hospital and could take newborn pictures, it was December. Perfect for a little Christmas sprinkled in! I’m not keeping many baby items long term, but this is one item I’m going to hold on to. Who knows, maybe I’ll have a grandchild get to wear it someday – it has that kind of heirloom quality.

I could go on and on about the random things I’ve purchased over the years. Gifts for others (like this book ornament and this toddler purse), a new nursing/car seat cover after Ollie was born, constellation decals for our secret nook under the stairs . . . the list goes on! The bottom line is, Etsy is a great place to look for items for your home and life and they’re often handmade by artisans and small business owners, making them unique and special. It feels like a win, win, win!

Now I’m on the hunt for a tissue box cover for the kids’ shared bedroom and I bet you can guess where I’m looking first . . . πŸ™‚

Shifting my “Resolutions” Mindset in 2023

February 20 may feel like a weird time to discuss New Year resolutions, but that’s exactly what we’re doing today. At the beginning of 2023, I chose to just share my goals for my house and not any personal goals because truthfully, I didn’t really have a clear vision for personal goals. It took almost a month for me to settle into 2023 and realize I actually DO have inspiration for goals this year and once the idea struck, motivation and excitement came right away!

My thought process was: January 1 is an arbitrary date, why do we place so much emphasis on THAT date being the start date for goals? Why can’t every month be a start date? In fact…what if I treat every month like it IS a start date?

Enter: monthly goals.

It was easy enough to start. Back in November 2022, I decided I wanted to do the Whole30 plan. I knew my nutrition needed an overhaul; I was snacking so frequently throughout my days and the food choices I was making were not nutritious. On top of that, I wasn’t feeling great. I had low energy and felt tired all the time. I wanted to reset my cravings and introduce more whole foods into my days. I also wanted to enjoy the holidays and seasonal treats, so I planned and prepared to start the Whole30 on January 1. (Side note: this planning and preparation was actually really crucial for my success. I had time to search and plan for meals, make Whole30-compliant swaps in our pantry as we ran out of items, start making some small daily changes early so it didn’t feel like such a dramatic 180 on January 1, etc. It made things much easier!)

I didn’t have any other 2023 plans, just the desire to reset my nutrition and take a step back to better health and feeling like the best version of myself. And about halfway through January, I realized I was ready to REALLY start feeling like myself again.

Let me explain a bit. I am many things in life: a woman, wife, daughter, sister, friend, co-worker, volunteer, DIYer, reader, etc. These are all important parts of who I am. But, very understandably, one role has been dominant over the past six years: mama.

Five years ago – baby LJ in February 2018

It’s been a role I’ve added and one I’ve cherished. I know the value of “AND” though. I am a mother AND I’m still Sarah. I have found such value in purpose in motherhood AND I still enjoy things outside of motherhood. I love the ways in which my life has changed AND I miss some of the old things I don’t have much time or energy for anymore. I will miss the pregnancy/infant stage of life AND I’m looking forward to getting back to my body just being mine.

Pregnant with Vi in June 2019

To elaborate a bit on that point, my body hasn’t quite felt fully my own for years now. I had been pregnant or breastfeeding since February 2017 (with the exception of only 5 months in between Vi and Ollie where I was neither). Don’t get me wrong, I’m so so grateful for all my body has gone through. From our first loss to three pregnancies to two successful breastfeeding journeys to one not-so-successful journey . . . my body has stretched to the max and sustained new life and recovered from three c-sections and breastfed and carried and rocked and held and done so many things. I’m so incredibly grateful for all of this and I do not take it for granted. But I also miss prioritizing it for ME and not just for other people.

My sweet and snuggly Ollie Bear, the caboose to our family ❀

Now that my last breastfeeding journey is done and we are finished having children, 2023 feels like the year to prioritize Sarah. I’m always going to be mama and I wouldn’t change that for anything. But I want to prioritize the “AND ___” part this year.

A date night in October 2021; that small window where I wasn’t pregnant or breastfeeding

I mapped out the year and chose one aspect of health or “getting back to myself” to focus on each month. Some are big goals, some are smaller. I wouldn’t place the same level of importance on them all (mental health > hair for example) but they’re all things that I know will compound into the overall goal of feeling more like myself. My hope is that habits will form in the month and will become routine and low-effort, so they’ll continue long after the month is over. The Whole30 is finished, but my nutrition dramatically shifted in the course of that month and now it’s not difficult to continue to implement better choices and meals. I’m hoping the same for other months!

It feels like a win-win. My kids will get a happier, healthier mama and I will feel better and more like my FULL self.

I was very careful to stick to one aspect each month. I’m still a busy mama and I just know adding too many goals at once is setting myself up for failure. I want to focus on doing ONE thing well at a time. Is it possible that New Year resolutions fail because it’s overwhelming to work on 7 things for an entire year? Maybe. It certainly feels way more manageable and possible to focus on doing one thing for one month! Here’s how I mapped out the year:

January – Nutrition

My goal for this month was to overhaul my nutrition and I’m proud to say Justin and I both successfully completed the Whole30. If you’re not familiar with the Whole30, it’s basically taking out processed foods and focusing on real, nutrient dense whole foods for 30 days. This month worked just as I wanted it to: it was a great way to tackle my cravings and kind of reset my body while learning new habits, meals, and substitutions that I can easily continue indefinitely. Justin and I have several new meals that we are keeping in our regular rotation going forward and we’ve also found some substitutions that we don’t mind making permanent (things like no sugar added bacon, ketchup, dressing, etc. that are just as delicious as their added-sugar counterparts). I have so much more energy and feel great and it’s not been hard to maintain significantly better nutrition (not perfect! Perfection was never the goal) into February.

February – Exercise

This month, I’ve been focused on incorporating more exercise into my days. With each additional child, it’s been harder and harder to prioritize time for this, but now that Ollie is sleeping through the night, I’ve been utilizing early morning hours again. I’m focusing on a mix of cardio and strength-training and am shooting for 5 days of exercise a week. I love the sense of accomplishment in getting my workout done before the kids even wake up and I can definitely notice a difference in my strength, energy levels, and overall feel of my body.

March – Hair

I have always been really low maintenance about my hair, but the past 6 years I’ve lived in messy mom buns. Nothing wrong with that, but also…maybe I can find some super quick and easy alternatives to pull my hair back? Maybe I can start actually using a product or two in my hair? Maybe I can invest in a nourishing hair mask or something to encourage regrowth from all the postpartum hair shedding? I’m never going to spend an hour on my hair each day, but I know there are easy additions I could use to put in some effort here.

April – Skin

I’ve got my first appointment with a dermatologist lined up for April. I’m also planning to focus on the specific skincare products I’m using on my skin and look at what may need to be added/removed/tweaked as my skin ages and changes. As for makeup, I used to care more about wearing it. High school, college, dating, when I was teaching everyday . . . I’ve never been one to wear much, but since the age of about 13, I have almost always at least worn something. Since staying at home all the time, that’s fallen by the wayside and while I get that it doesn’t really matter, it does feel different when I put in a bit of effort. It feels like prioritizing me just for me, does that make sense? Is it the most important thing? No. Do I want to get into an elaborate daily makeup routine? NO! But I can’t deny that hopping on a Zoom meeting for work or going into the grocery store or even just looking in the mirror as I wash my hands feels better when I have at least a quick swipe of mascara on. Even if I’m just upping my effort from “nothing” to “slightly above nothing” it will feel like a return to self of sorts.

May – Sleep

Probably goes without saying, but this month I’ll be focusing on limiting screens before bed, establishing a solid bedtime and nightly routine, maximizing our sleep environment, etc.

June – Mental Health

I think I’m going to keep most details about this month’s plan private, but I will say that I plan to involve both prayer and therapy. Nothing is “wrong” but I think that’s a stigma that needs to be dismantled – therapy is such a kind thing you can do for yourself and it doesn’t mean you’re at a breaking point or something is wrong with you or your life. We focus on the health that people can see (diet and exercise) but the unseen health (mental and spiritual) is just as important for your life. I may try to swap March and June, but so much of starting therapy is going to depend on availability and childcare options and I have many many more options available to me in the summer.

July – Water

This month is both for monitoring/maximizing my water intake and hydration, but also getting in the water. Swimming with my kids, actually getting IN the water instead of watching from the sideline, making memories with my family, etc.

August – Friendship

More phone calls, more snail mail, more coffee dates, just more time and effort connecting with friends near and far.

September – Wardrobe

Did I pick this month because it’s my birthday month? Maybe πŸ˜‰ But if you’ve been around since the beginning of this blog, you know I used to share my daily teaching outfits. I enjoy putting together a cute outfit! My needs have obviously changed and I don’t want or need a big wardrobe these days but I do want some new options that feel good and fit well. Instead of a bunch of trendy fast-fashion items, I care about buying fewer, more versatile pieces that are made to last and particularly want to support clothing companies that use sustainable practices and pay fair, living wages. That often translates to a higher cost for me as the consumer (understandably!) so I haven’t wanted to invest in new clothes during the constant back-and-forth cycle of pregnancy and postpartum. I’ll be 13 months postpartum at this point and I’m hoping I’ll be at a place to be able to think and buy long-term for some wardrobe staples.

October – Financial

Justin and I regularly keep track of our financial goals but I want to set aside a month to really analyze where we’re at with our spending/saving/planning goals for the year and the future. I’d like to set up better systems for goal tracking and preparing for future wants (travel, home renovations, etc) and really spend time looking at maximizing some of our investment options. It also feels like a good month to hone in a plan for holiday spending and what our goals for gifting are. I could see us also using this month as a “no spend” time to reduce extra spending in preparation for the higher-cost months of November and December. We’ll see!

November – Rest

December is crazy busy. I want to be very intentional with carving out time to rest in November to both prepare myself for the craziness and also to train myself to know that rest IS productive. I once read that “good work requires good rest” and I know that’s true. I want to get my mind and body used to having pockets of “off” time so that when December hits, I can hopefully still be able to rest and enjoy.

December – Vitamin D

I feel myself depleting as December goes on. There’s so many fun things happening, but it takes a lot of energy. Days get shorter, activities ramp up. It’s a lot! I have a vitamin D light therapy lamp that a friend gave me last year and I didn’t utilize it well this winter. I know that it would have made a big difference, so my December goal is to use it daily!

I’m feeling so motivated and energized by the thought of each of these months and I’m truly excited to work on these goals. I’m using a habit tracker to keep track of my monthly progress and it’s honestly so satisfying. If you didn’t do resolutions but are wanting to set some personal goals, March 1 is coming up and might just be the perfect time to start. πŸ˜‰

How We Made our DIY Lego Table

I just love a good DIY date. Last week, I shared plans and inspiration for making a Lego table for our kids and over the weekend Justin and I worked together to create our own. It was so fun to work on this together and I love how it turned out!

We decided to keep things simple with a basic table that could corral tons of Legos and provide a big workspace for creations. I also wanted it to have a top that would not only act as a lid for keeping all the Legos stored away but would create a regular table for other activities when needed. Today I’m sharing exactly what we did, including a few mistakes we made along the way, in case you’re interested in making one too.

Materials

-large piece of pine plywood for the table base (we got pre-sanded)

-large piece of oak plywood for the table top (we got pre-sanded)

-pine 1×6 (we needed two)

-oak board (we ripped down a scrap piece, similar in size to a 1×2)

-wood glue

-1 3/4″ wood screws

-wood stain (we used this one)

-black stain (we used this one)

-polyurethane

-foam brushes, latex gloves, and fabric rags for stain application

-220-grit sandpaper

-tools used: tape measure, clamps, miter saw, drill, impact driver, circular saw, nail gun, orbital sander, table saw (only used to rip down our repurposed wood)

The first thing we did was determine the size of the table. I wanted the table to comfortably fit Lego baseplates so we chose dimensions based on how many baseplates we wanted to be in use. (Note: I made two mistakes here. I measured the baseplates quickly and said “oh, they’re 10x10s!” and went off that, when they are in fact 10 1/32″. I was close, but learned the hard way that being a tiny bit off can cause issues. Also, I did not realize that when you actually click Legos in across baseplates, it separates the plates a teeny bit. Nothing too significant, but again, enough to make a difference in measurement. Make sure to take this into account when determining size! More on these mistakes later.)

We measured and marked the desired length and width onto the pine plywood. We accounted for 1/8″ wiggle room and Justin used clamps and a long piece of scrap pine to serve as a guide to keep the cut straight. He used his circular saw to cut both sides; the saw will cause a bit of splinting on whatever side is facing up, so have the nicer side facing down! I lightly sanded the edges with a piece of 220-grit sandpaper to remove the splints.

We determined the height we wanted based on a combination of factors – we wanted it a little higher than our train table but a little lower than our play kitchen. We determined 19 1/4″ for the legs (so with the 3/4″ plywood on top, we’d be at a 20″ table height) and I used the miter saw to cut them all to size.

We installed the legs using two 1 3/4″ inch wood screws from the plywood down into each leg. We highly recommend drilling pilot holes first!

Also, make sure you’re thinking about how you’re going to be installing the table sides and place the screws going down away from where you’re going to need to screw in from the side.

To create sides, we used pine 1x6s. I started with the short ends first and measured the precise lengths of the plywood (measure each side individually in case they’re not perfectly the same). I cut the 1×6 down to size using the miter saw. We played around a bit with the placement to determine how high of a “fence” we wanted around the table. We wanted something tall enough to corral all Legos and allow for creations to remain in place once the lid was on, but something short enough for little arms to reach over and access the middle of the table easily.

We settled on a placement that created a 3 1/4″ fence around the table. Justin came up with the idea to clamp a level to use as a guide to rest the 1×6 on to make sure the wood was installed straight (we did not use the level itself to determine “levelness” since the floor might not be level, but instead measured from the plywood down on both sides to make sure placement was consistent).

We ran a bead of wood glue across the edge of the plywood and used a wood screw on each end to drill into the legs (this is where it was important before to make sure to space out the screws going down into the legs!) We also ran a wood screw into the plywood in between the two legs for extra security.

The hardest side to install was the second short side – it needed to be exactly the same placement on the table as the opposite side but wasn’t being installed flush against an existing side, so we had to measure very carefully to ensure we placed it at the correct height. Double and triple check this before installing!

We followed the same process for the long sides, making sure to line up placement with the short sides. On these sides, we used four wood screws per side – one in each leg and two spaced out in between. We also used a nail gun to attach the long side edges into the short side ends.

At this point, the base was complete! I filled the nail holes with wood putty and gave all surfaces a light sand with 220-grit sandpaper before staining. (Note: We specifically chose pre-sanded wood to give ourselves a break on sanding, but I still recommend going over everything at least once to ensure no splinters!) I chose this black stain color and gave the table two coats of coverage. I chose to leave the inside base of the table natural since it would be covered by baseplates.

For the top, we measured the dimensions of the installed table sides and cut down the oak plywood to size using the circular saw and guide again, adding on a half each each way for some wiggle room. I went ahead and stained the bottom side of the table in this stain color.

For the lip of the table, we repurposed an oak board we had removed from our guest room during that renovation. Justin planed it down to remove the old stain and ripped it into strips of 2″ width. I used a miter saw to cut the sides to length, once again starting on the short sides, and I stained the “inner” side before installing.

We installed the tabletop sides similarly to how we installed the table base sides: we ran a bead of wood glue along the plywood edge and then used a nail gun to add a few nails along the side for extra stability. We did the short sides first, long sides second. We let everything dry, I filled in the nail holes with wood filler, and then Justin used his orbital sander with 220-grit paper to smooth all the sides and edges.

I gave the top a layer of the same stain and let everything dry, then added a coat of polyurethane to the tabletop.

This *should* have been it, but remember how I warned you to make sure your Lego baseplate measurements are exact? Well…mine weren’t and we ran into this issue when installing them. We had left enough wiggle room for the baseplates to fit across the shorter side, but for the longer side, the 1/32″ addition compounded over 6 baseplates meant that despite the built in wiggle room, the last piece didn’t fit!

Our solution was to take a scrap piece of pine (it was an odd size scrap piece – I think like 1/2″ x 2 3/4″ dimensions) and create a fence inside the table. We cut the board to fit side to side in the table, traced both sides of the board, and drilled pilot holes in the exact center between those lines.

Then we held the board back in place, and used wood screws to drill up into the pilot holes from the bottom up.

This created the perfect size surface for baseplates to fit and gave us a little area for loose Legos to be kept in. It wasn’t what we planned but it was a good solution for our dilemma! We chose not to attach the baseplates directly to the tabletop so they can be swapped out for whatever the kids are making.

The Lego table was complete and let me tell you, it has been a HIT with both of my big kids!

I love the option of having the tabletop on to cover all the Legos – I’m imagining this will get used many times over the years for crafts, activities, birthday parties, and overflow seating when we entertain. We already put it to use during our Super Bowl party on Sunday and it worked perfectly as a table for kids to eat at!

I also like that we can cover up the Legos if we have younger children over for a playdate. That being said, most of the time, the table will be uncovered. When that happens, the kids can actually use the lid upside down for additional Lego creation space!

Seeing this table in use at the Super Bowl party got me to thinking . . . we might want to make some small benches to fit under the table, right? They would be perfect for sitting around the table to eat, craft, or, of course, play with Legos! I’m guilty of “if you give a mouse a cookie…” syndrome and well, that just might be another project to add to the list. πŸ™‚

24 At-Home Date Night Ideas

For our very first Valentine’s Day back in 2012, Justin and I went ice skating and then had dinner at . . . Waffle House. He even brought a little fake flower for the table, ha! Our ideal date is casual and fun (and I love breakfast food!) so I found the whole thing to be charming and perfect. It struck just the right balance of making a special memory without trying too hard.

Flash forward 11 (!!) years and our plans for tomorrow are to go to a local breakfast joint and have brunch together (with a six-month-old tagalong!) while the big two kids are in preschool. Not much has changed and yet, SO much has changed.

We don’t really make Valentine’s Day a huge deal because we try to be intentional about dating each other all year long, although what this looks like has changed over the years. As we’ve added kids to our family, we’ve had to adjust the way that we carve out time for one another. Sometimes this looks like getting a babysitter and going out for dinner or a comedy show or something like that, but more often than not it looks like figuring out a way to have a date at home after the kids go to bed.

We’ve been working on our date-night-at-home style for several years now and as much as we love curling up on the couch and watching a movie or show, we also enjoy some variety. I’ve been collecting ideas over the years so I have a list to turn to when we want something different and I thought I’d share it today in case anyone else is looking for different at-home date night ideas. Everyone has different styles (for example: I have absolutely no interest in building a fort in my living room for a date night when I’m also the person who will have to get the room put back together afterwards, but I’m happy for people who want to do that!); these are ideas that sound fun for Justin and my personalities. Feel free to take any ideas from here and make them your own!

A couple disclaimers before the list: I really strongly recommend talking about your expectations in advance. A simple “hey, I’d really like to carve out time for a date at home this week. What night looks best for setting aside an hour or two for focused time together?” can help set the tone that this is important to you. I also recommend setting an expectation about devices – using the TV or a device as part of your date night is fine, but there are also nights where we want it to be device-free. If you want to eliminate the distraction of phones or devices, communicate that in advance! “It’s important to me that we have this time together distraction-free, so can we both commit to keeping our phones off for this hour?” Justin and I haven’t always had the same expectations for what it means to have a date at home and it has helped us so so much to talk about those expectations in advance so we’re not disappointed or frustrated by mismatched standards.

Okay, let’s get to the list!

No Advance Planning + FREE!

1. “Dream” date. I love a super low-key evening where we just dream together about something in the future. Maybe you prefer a tangible thing like creating a physical vision board, maybe it’s a shared Pinterest board, or maybe it’s just talking and bouncing off one another – however you choose to do it, it’s fun to just grab a drink and a fun snack and dream together.

2. Make a Bucket List. A spin-off of the dream date is to actually create a bucket list together. I’m a bit of a nerd and love lists, so I like to go a step farther and categorize: a bucket list for things to do as a family, a separate list for travel/adventure, yet another list for house projects and financial goals. We have a shared Google spreadsheet (told you I’m a bit of a nerd) with things we want to do and their goal timelines; we enjoy seeing progress get made and it’s fun to work toward making them happen.

3. Plan a vacation. You could probably lump this one in with the dream date, but taking it a step farther than dreaming, it’s super fun to actually sit down and plan a vacation together. Justin and I are currently planning a trip for our 10 year anniversary and it’s so exciting to just cozy up on the couch with our laptops and chat about options for flights, lodging, and things to do. We’re taking our time before making any final decisions but we’ve had several nights of talking about options – we’re just about ready to pull the trigger on some flights and then the planning date nights will really take off (no pun intended, ha!)

4. Create a Spotify playlist together. Way back when I was deep in our office renovation, I was working on things in the room and Justin was sitting just outside of it pulling up random songs from our childhood to play. I’m not even sure how it started (maybe he was looking up one song stuck in his head?) but it spiraled into several hours of back-and-forth requests and was SUCH a fun evening of unlocking memories from our youth – “remember this song?” “Oh, what about this one!” “Oh my gosh, can you believe this one is 25 years old!?” We had a blast and determined that 1997 was the greatest year of music, ha! Try creating a playlist together of favorites from childhood or college or some other formative time, or a playlist for an upcoming road trip or just to have on in the background while making dinner together.

5. Learn a dance routine. Sure, you can follow a YouTube tutorial to learn to salsa, waltz, whatever, but I’m also thinking a little more niche here. There are so many songs with specific routines that would be fun to try out – it’s a life goal of mine to learn the Thriller dance! Maybe you’re more a fan of Fancy Like or About Damn Time – there are so many songs, both new and old, out there with specific routines to try out. Which leads me to . . .

6. Try a TikTok or Instagram challenge. TikTok and Instagram are FULL of challenges to try out. Crazy lifts and couple yoga poses will either make you super impressed with your skills or crack up laughing over how terribly the move is going!

7. Take Random Buzzfeed quizzes. Buzzfeed has some hilariously niche quizzes. Which cartoon cat are you? Which Bath and Body Works candle matches your personality? Which of the 4 types of Super Bowl fans are you? What is your distinct movie genre? I mean…the possibilities are endless, super random, and entertaining.

8. Find a list of questions to ask each other. Just googling “questions to ask your spouse/partner” brings up list after list of questions to ask to get to know one another better. I’ve also used “A Year of Us” to spark unique conversations when we just want a simple way to connect.

9. Watch a comedian online. Justin and I are obsessed with Nate Bargatze and have watched all his specials. Netflix, Prime, Hulu – whatever streaming service you use, search for stand up comedy and you’ll find multiple options. Grab some snacks and prepare to laugh together.

10. Good old-fashioned game or puzzle night. We personally love a game night. I blogged about two-person games we enjoy a couple years ago, but you can also search your personal game collection or borrow a new game from a neighbor (or check out your local library – mine loans out games and puzzles!) and get your game faces on. We also love a puzzle while watching TV (maybe pair a puzzle with a stand-up comedian!) and have this puzzle board storage system to keep it away from our kids if we need multiple nights to finish it. You can also try online games and quizzes – we love Sporcle and have had nights where we team up to beat the clock or we sometimes each are on our own device and do the same quiz to see who can get finished quickest.

No Advance Planning + $

11. Candlelit dinner + takeout. A couple weeks ago, my parents had the older two kids for the night. I made dinner for Justin and I and decided on a whim to plate it on our fancy china and light some candles. It was a fun way to elevate our dinner and make it feel a little special, and I feel like it naturally made us take our time and linger longer over the meal. An even easier way to enjoy this is ordering takeout or delivery from your favorite restaurant – then break out the good plates, light some candles, and enjoy!

12. Video game + pizza night. When it was Justin’s turn to plan a date night, he got all his old Guitar Hero stuff out from storage, booted up his old xBox, and we played for hours – video games weren’t my thing growing up but it was so fun to play together! Order some pizza and try a brand new video game, something nostalgic like MarioKart, or an online game if you don’t have your own system.

Advance Planning + $

13. Drink Around the World. Pick a few different regions or countries and make a cocktail they are known for: aperol spritz (Italy), sangria (Spain), pina colada (Puerto Rico), mojito (Cuba), Singapore sling (Singapore), Mai Tai (Hawaii), White Russian (Belgium), the list goes on! It might be fun to each pick a drink or two to make for the other partner and have each other guess what country/region the drink came from.

14. Recipe Roulette. Flip through a cookbook, stop at a random page, and pick something to make together for dinner! My sister and I like to say that all experiences are either a good memory or a good story – an overlooked recipe you’ve never made before might surprise you and become a new favorite or it might become a hilarious memory of the time you made a dinner that was barely edible but so fun to attempt.

15. Create a signature drink. Justin loves experimenting with mixology – it’s fun to try different combinations and see what works and what doesn’t. I love the idea of working together to come up with a signature drink for our date nights!

16. Blind Taste Test. Pick a category (chocolate bars, chips, pop/soda, ice cream, etc) and choose a few different brands to try. Label the back of the package or bottom of the bowl and try them blindfolded to see which one is your true favorite.

17. Date Night in a Box. There are subscription companies out there who curate a date night in a box and deliver it to your doorstep – you fill out a survey and they send you a date night box catered to your preferences. We’ve never tried this so I can’t speak to it personally, but it might be a fun option if you want to be surprised!

18. Wine + Cheese Tasting. Pretty self-explanatory, but this is always a winner in my book. A little charcuterie board + glass of wine can make a night on the couch feel special and intention.

19. Escape Room in a Box. We’ve never done one of these, but we love doing escape rooms in real life and I think this would be a really fun thing to try!

20. To Hunt a Killer Murder Mystery Game. We bought this game for a date night last year and it was really fun to work together to solve the murder. The downfall is you can only play it one time, but the good news is it’s really easy to pack everything up and pass it along to a friend or sell on Marketplace so someone else can enjoy it too!

21. Advanced Lego Set. Justin was obsessed with Legos as a kid and there are so many awesome Lego sets out there now. I think it’d be fun to work together to build a really complex Lego set together someday.

22. Night in Mexico. Have tacos for dinner, make margaritas, and break out Mexican train dominos for a fun little themed date night.

23. Spa Night. This actually falls under the “no advance planning and free” category for me because I have these things on hand, but I put it here in case others don’t. We actually really enjoy getting ready for bed early, then doing face masks and hanging out in our robes while watching a movie or talking. It’s restful and relaxing and fun and yes, my husband, who loves hunting, beer, and sports, also really enjoys these nights. πŸ˜‰

24. DIY Date Night. I gotta end on this one because it’s my personal favorite! Honestly, this does not need to be intimidating – start really small! In fact, I think it’s ideal to start out with projects that can be finished in one single night since a bigger DIY project could make it seem like a chore or too much work if it spirals into multiple days. It’s supposed to be fun so pick something that actually seems fun (so maybe not the time to replace your furnace filters or clean out the gutters). We started with simple shelves for our kids, but you could start even smaller with a can of paint and an old piece of furniture or hardware you want to swap out in your kitchen or bathroom. You don’t need complex tools either – you can do a lot with your basic hammer and screwdrivers when you’re starting out. Put on some music (your curated Spotify playlist perhaps?) and enjoy figuring out something new with your partner. It’s so gratifying to build something or make something beautiful together!

Happy dating!

Inspiration for a DIY Lego Table

After a bit of a project hiatus, I’m ready to jump back into some DIY. First up is a time-sensitive project for my kids that is going to stretch my creative muscles a bit and be pretty FUN at the same time because it all revolves around: play time!

Our playroom has gone through many changes over the years and has evolved as our kids have grown. LJ and Vi are only 21 months apart in age, so their toys have always been pretty interchangeable and have leveled-up at roughly the same time.

As they have both grown, we have slowly added more developmentally-appropriate toys.

I never worried about Vi choking on a small piece of LJ’s toy, because it simply didn’t exist in our home. What was safe for Vi was also safe for LJ and vice-versa and we were very intentional about that.

We’re in a different stage of life now. They are 5 and 3 and each have toys with small parts and tiny pieces that are fine for them, but definitely not for Ollie. Since Ollie is (quickly!) approaching the stage of crawling and will likely also be putting things he encounters into his mouth, it’s time to adjust the playroom setup once again and move all the toys with tiny pieces out.

The most urgent thing we needed to address was the LEGOS. Oh my word, Legos have completely invaded our lives. LJ is obsessed with building little farms and houses created all these little setups around the playroom. It was adorable and chaotic and also, no longer safe around Ollie. Last week we finally moved all the Legos into the basement, but they’re currently just everywhere down there and don’t really have any central workspace or storage anymore.

We had previously been using the train table for Lego storage in the playroom and it worked really well at first – it provided a nice flat tabletop to work and Legos could be stored underneath. Plus, LJ’s growing love of Legos coincided with his fading interest in trains so it was nice to use this table for multiple phases of life. Now, the Lego collection has outgrown what can fit on and in the table (plus, I imagine that Ollie might have an interest in trains in a year or two, so I’d like the train table to be available for the train/truck/car stage if he wants) so it’s time to come up with a different solution.

I’ve been scouring Pinterest for inspiration and am starting to hone in on a vision for our Lego storage. I’m leaning towards a freestanding table to allow multiple kids to work and move around the space. I love the idea of including shelves for storage, like this Ikea hack from If Only April:

Image Source: If Only April

I also love the idea of something totally custom and built to a size that exactly fits the flat baseplates with a rim around the edge to keep tiny pieces from falling off. Maybe something like a larger version of this DIY Lego Table from Love Create Celebrate?

Image Source: Love Create Celebrate

This table will be in our basement, which is an easy way to keep things separate from Ollie in our daily life; however, the basement is still our main area for entertaining. We often have other families over and so Ollie will still occasionally be down there (not to mention other little ones) and even though that will always be supervised, I still want to make sure whatever solution we come up with has the option to tuck away all the Legos safely.

The reason this project is time-sensitive is because the Legos are already in the basement and we’re hosting a big Super Bowl party on Sunday. Yes, this Sunday. Six days from now Sunday. Can we get this finished in time? I sure hope so! I’ll be posting real-time progress this week on Instagram so if you want to see how we’re doing on this goal, you can follow along there!

January 2023 Book Reviews

There’s something about January that makes it feel like the longest month ever. It’s the exact same length as December yet somehow feels like it has 78 more days. Whew! We finally made it through though and that means it’s time for my first monthly book review of 2023!

This month I read three books and they were all over the place genre-wise (I love those kind of months!) and I’m excited to discuss – let’s get into it!

Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting by Pamela Druckerman

As the subtitle suggests: Pamela is an American mother living in Paris. She looks around at all the other mothers and children and realizes there are some major differences. French children are sleeping through the night at just a few months old. They are eating balanced meals with adventurous flavors (and very little snacking in between!) They are playing contentedly while their parents chat with one another, not needing constant parental interference. This book sets out to answer the author and reader’s most burning question: how is this possible? What do the French do differently?

I found this book to be really fascinating and discovered that Justin and my parenting philosophies actually align well with many of the French ideas. For example, all of our children have been good sleepers who sleep through the night by 8-12 weeks old (I know, I know). We would never have said we did anything special and thought we just got lucky, but in reading what the French parents do, we realized we actually did that same thing! Whether about food, schedules, or general lifestyle, I found myself frequently reading passages aloud to Justin and discussing them together. At one point he was like “what is this book called again? I want to start recommending it to people.” Ha! Now did we align with every single thing? Not really. But it was insightful, entertaining, and thought-provoking (not to mention, really made me want to pack up and visit France!) and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s kind of like a mini memoir + travel escape + parenting guide all wrapped in one and if you’re in or approaching the stage of parenting little ones, I would definitely recommend this book.

The Bodyguard by Katherine Center

Hannah just wants to work. She was dumped by her boyfriend (and co-worker) right after her mother’s funeral and she wants to cope by leaving the country asap. There’s a tantalizing job offer in London and all she has to do to earn her place there is knock her next assignment out of the park. Her job as a bodyguard has put her in charge of a myriad of characters, some decent, others not-so-savory, but she’s confident that she has what it takes to handle one last job in Texas . . . that is, until she realizes her next assignment is guarding Jack Stapleton. Gorgeous and charismatic movie star Jack Stapleton. And what’s worse: instead of discreetly shadowing as his bodyguard, she has to pretend to be his girlfriend. Hannah does her best to act the part but it isn’t long before it doesn’t feel very much like acting.

This book was a delightful pick for a snowy day. I cozied up with a blanket and dove in and didn’t want to put it down! It’s pretty much just as predictable as you would imagine based on the synopsis, but that’s just what I was in the mood for. Hannah is neurotic but smart, capable, and down-to-earth and Jack is just as swoony and sweet as you would want him to be. I loved their dynamic and found them easy to root for! My one critique would be that it’s not the strongest writing I’ve encountered; some of the side stories (I can’t even really call them side plots) that dealt with Hannah and Jack’s individual histories felt a little underdeveloped and were quickly in and out of the main plot. You also have to just go with some of the more ridiculous aspects of stalking situation that I think are meant to be more comedic but I found to be silly. That aside, I really enjoyed it and found it to be a fun romantic escape. It’s a particularly great choice if you’re looking for something romantic but not steamy (it’s suggestive at most, and there’s maybe 4-5 swear words total but otherwise pretty clean). It’s a sweet and satisfying read that will leave you smiling!

The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Dare

All Adunni wants is her education. She wants a future that escapes the life of poverty she was born into, and she wants a change to see the world outside of her small, rural Nigerian village. Above all, what she wants is a louding voice – a voice that allows her to speak up for herself and all other women. But her father does not see the value in education; what he sees is the value in selling her as a young bride. Adunni is forced into marriage at 14 years old and that marks the beginning of a journey towards the city of Lagos that is beyond anything she could have imagined.

It was somewhat hard for me to get into this story because the prose was that of a 14-year-old Nigerian girl with broken English; while it was a fantastic way for the author to truly putting the reader inside the mind of Adunni, it was kind of jarring to read and took me a while to adjust to. As a character, Adunni’s naivete was frustrating at times, but her strength, bravery, and unrelenting hope for her future was incredibly inspiring. That being said, this book deserves content warnings for various kinds of abuse and was pretty heartbreaking. There were many times that I found it difficult to read. I don’t know much about Nigerian culture, but through some character reactions and the addition of Nigerian facts before the later chapters I was able to discern more of what is acceptable and what isn’t, and what is supposed to be unacceptable but is allowed to slide. Ultimately I’m glad I read it – it’s inspiring and hopeful, giving voice to woman and providing a testament that women and girls have value – but it’s difficult to say I enjoyed or to wholeheartedly recommend because of the difficult layers of content. It’s well-written, compelling, tragic, hopeful, and will definitely make you think, and it’s a good idea to read with someone else and discuss afterwards.

That’s it for January! Now onto February, where I can already tell I’ll be in the mood for more easy-breezy romance reads. What is on your reading list?