Plans for Updating our Garage

I’ve shown a lot of spaces in our home over the years, but there’s one space I haven’t really ever shown and it’s been for good reason.

Our garage.

You know how people pick a word of the year? Well I’m picking a word of the summer: this is going to be the summer of STORAGE. Ha! I am actually very excited for this – we’ve lived in this house for four years now and we’ve just kind of been working with what we have in terms of our storage spaces but it’s high time to finally get these spaces working better for our family. Our garage feels like the best, most logical place to start. And yikes these photos make me cringe but they also make me all the more ready to finally make some changes!

It’s not the most glamourous space to update, but there’s no doubt it’s a workhorse for us and it needs to be functioning better to meet our needs in our current stage of life. Here’s what I’m planning to do:

1. Clear everything out and purge!

The garage is kind of a dumping zone for all the random things that don’t have a place anywhere else. When we moved, a lot of things got placed here and never touched again: my knee brace from ACL surgery 15 years ago, old hiking boots, kickboxing gloves, extra jumper cables and who knows what else.

Also, the previous owners raised four boys here but by the time they sold the house, the boys were grown. They knew we had small children and so they left quite a few things that their boys had outgrown like sand toys and sports equipment. The storage rack with all the basketballs, soccer balls, etc was left by them and it has served us pretty well, but we’ve actually never taken the time to clear out everything and see what all is in it. And of course, over the past four years we’ve just accumulated more and more things – step one is clear everything out and do a major purge!

2. Create built in storage under the stairs

We may keep the ball storage rack from the previous owners, but we definitely need to add much more storage in this area. So far we’ve just been using the random storage shelves we brought from our last home and the existing small wall shelves; it’s been fine but definitely not ideal. I’m picturing simple but sturdy wooden shelves all along the right corner built to hold large bins of equipment.

My goal is to actually get to the point where the majority of items in our garage are stored underneath these stairs but that will only be possible by maximizing every vertical inch!

3. Better utilize side wall shelving

The previous owners installed simple shelving on the side walls. We don’t want to add more shelving because we want to leave space to walk around the sides of cars, but I think the shelves could be better organized and utilized to maximize efficient storage. This also includes the small shelving area at the bottom of our stairs where we keep our recycling!

4. Paint?

Our garage has very tall walls and I’m not sure painting would be worth the effort, but at the same time, if we’re going to all this other work, we might as well get the space looking nicer altogether? If we were the only people who ever see our garage I might not be interested in painting, but because this is the entrance people use to access our basement anytime we host, I think it might be worth it. If nothing else, getting rid of all the cobwebs would make a big difference! We’ll see how motivated we feel to paint once everything is cleared out of the garage.

Today’s going to be a beautiful sunny day so it’s a good time to get started – I’ll be sharing the progress in real time over on Instagram so be sure to follow along there if you want the play-by-play!

New Pillow Inserts in the Living Room

I’ve said before that the living room wins the award for slowest and steadiest renovation and I recently made another small change. It might be subtle at a glance, but in our day to day life this change made a big difference for us!

Last month I shared that I added some new pillows and artwork to the living room. The pillows were all from Target and while I obviously really liked the pillow covers, the inserts left something to be desired. I specifically chose pillows that had removable covers so I could easily clean them if needed and swap out the inserts.

We use the things in our house – it isn’t worth it to me to buy something that’s beautiful but not comfortable/easy to use/helpful/etc. It needs to be pretty and functional! While these pillows were technically functional, they weren’t very soft and comfy for lounging on the couch – and isn’t that the whole point? I knew from past experience with similar inserts they likely wouldn’t maintain shape over time.

I decided to buy new inserts to increase the comfort and longevity of the pillows. I chose these inserts and sized up for each pillow – for a 20 x 20 cover, I bought a 22 x 22 pillow; for a 22 x 22 cover, I bought a 24 x 24 pillow, etc. Sizing up gives each pillow a fuller look!

Here’s a side by side comparison of the original insert (left) and the new insert (right). You can see that the new insert is larger, fuller, and made of a different material. They feel so much more substantial!

The difference may seem subtle on camera, but I promise in real life it looks and feels significantly different. They’re cozy, comfortable, and we will enjoy lounging with them for years to come!

Before

After

Before

After

And just a reminder – our large frame over the couch is from FrameItEasy and my code for 10% off your order is still active until Wednesday (May 24, 2023). You can click this link to order and the discount will automatically be applied!

Gallery Wall Round-Up

Last week, I shared an update to our spiral staircase gallery wall and I received a request afterwards to share more of my various gallery walls. I thought it would make for a fun Friday post to just do a little round up of all the gallery walls in my house and just briefly talk about each one.

Spiral Staircase

The theme for this wall is legacy. I wanted this collection of photos to feel like a scrapbook of our family history.

I chose mixed metal frames for a collected-over-time feel and printed all photos in black and white to create a cohesive look. This wall has a few professional photos but is mostly casual moments we snapped on our phones and just documents life through the years. Keeping legacy in mind, I also chose a few handwritten notes (one is a letter my grandparents sent me in college, one is hymn lyrics found in my great-great aunt’s bible after she died) and photos of generations before us (my grandma’s school picture, Justin’s grandparents wedding picture, baby LJ with his grandma and great-grandma, etc). This is a very special wall for our family!

Playroom Wall

I wanted the playroom to feel, well, playful so that’s the word I kept in mind while building out this gallery wall.

I decided to use this wall as a place to display professionally taken family photos in full color and mixed in some bold, colorful artwork and mirrors. I didn’t want things to be too chaotic so I chose frames in gold or shades of green/blue/greige to keep things connected. The overall effect feels bright and fun!

Kitchen Gallery Wall

This small wall in between the living room and kitchen houses our thermostat, so I chose to blend it in to a gallery wall. The theme of this wall is history – subtly different than the spiral staircase gallery wall for a few reasons.

For one, this wall is full of the colorful mementos that didn’t fit the B&W scheme of the spiral staircase. There are colorful photos: one of my dad, brother and I from childhood and one of my grandpa with his parents. Since it’s technically in the kitchen, I have two handwritten recipes – one from my grandma and one from Justin’s grandma. There’s also some nods to places we have traveled: a map from a meaningful city for us, a scrap piece found in the wall of our family farmhouse, a colorful postcard from a trip we took with baby LJ. And it’s all centered above my grandma’s antique commode. History!

Kids Bedroom

LJ and Vi have a shared bedroom and they each have a gallery wall above their bed. I wanted them to flow together, but be distinct for each child so I kept a few things consistent (they each have a black-and-white line drawing, animals, hanging word art, colors, mixed frames) and then sprinkled in things that fit their unique personalities.

For LJ, my straight-laced, yet energetic firstborn, I chose pieces that feel both neat and playful – just like him!

For Vi, my adventurous and creative middle child, I chose art that felt a little mischievous and sweet – her personality in a nutshell!

Nursery

I created this nursery gallery wall before Ollie was born, so I hadn’t met him yet but knew a little boy would be joining our family. I wanted a sweet & whimsical feel to this space and chose pieces accordingly.

Again I went with mixed metals – gold, silver, and black – but I kept colors softer and more muted. I chose the only photos I had of Ollie at the time: a maternity photo and his ultrasound. I also brought the outdoors in through artwork: a landscape print, bunnies in a meadow, a snipped piece of a dried fern, a rainbow print.

Primary Bedroom

Not to be too on the nose, but the theme of this bedroom was love. Specifically, I wanted to see our marriage reflected up on the walls. I chose to mix gold, black, and natural wood frames and extend the wall beyond the dresser for a fuller effect.

I wanted our bedroom to be relaxing and soothing, so I worked in several abstract pieces to give a dreamier effect. I also chose a few special mementos – a ticket from our travels in Italy, a note Justin left for me, a card I gave him once – to mix in with photos of us. We love travel so I also chose a couple prints that inspire dreams of future adventures.

I love that each gallery wall is different and conveys a unique part of our family’s life. Each wall feels like a piece of the puzzle and makes our home feel like us. Now on to plan my next wall . . . ๐Ÿ˜‰

Baby Registry Must-Haves from a Mama of Three

It’s hard to believe it, but Ollie turned nine months old last week and I’m officially in the last quarter of my final baby year. I once wrote about the firsts and the lasts and the sentiment still holds true: there is so much joy in each stage and it’s also a little sad to say goodbye to the sweet stages as we move on, for good this time.

One of the benefits of knowing this is our last baby is that once he’s done using things, I can purge them from our house. I’m a minimalist at heart and I like clearing out things we’re no longer using and passing them along to others. An interesting thing I noticed this time around was that I actually used the least amount of baby items for him. I sometimes purged something before we even used it with him because I knew from experience we actually didn’t need it.

So I got to thinking…I’ve done this three times now. What did I actually need and use for our babies? I don’t blog much about babies/motherhood anymore but since we’re closing in on the end of the baby chapter it felt like a good time for one more post – knowing what I know now, what would tell myself from six years ago to put on a registry?

First of all, my top recommendation is to get the latest edition of Baby Bargains. This book was so helpful to me for figuring out top products in each category along with where to save and where to splurge. I highly recommend! It’s a great starting point for figuring out your choices for absolute must-haves like a crib, car seat, and stroller. I’m not going to elaborate on items like that because while they are necessary for baby, there’s so much that goes into preference, budget, and lifestyle needs that everyone will need to choose what works best for them.

What I am going to do is elaborate a bit on the top five second-tier things – things you don’t technically need for baby, but the items I reached for again and again with all three of my children. These are my baby year all-stars and if I was creating a minimalist registry right now, these are the things that would be on it!

My Top Five Baby Registry All-Stars

Pack n Play. While we have always had a crib in the nursery, I highly recommend having a pack n play for use elsewhere in your house! You can get them with a lot of extra accessories like storage consoles and portable bassinets and infant seats, but I preferred a simple model like this one because it’s much less expensive and I didn’t really need the extra bells and whistles. It’s a great option to use as a bassinet in your bedroom or elsewhere in the house, and it’s SO easy to fold up and take with you for when you’re on vacation, going to grandma’s house, etc so you have a safe place for baby to sleep.

In our house, the nursery is on the top floor so I’ve always used our pack n play on our main floor as a place to have diaper changes and set baby down to take a nap or play without worrying they’ll get into anything (particularly important when they’re crawling and you have to do things like make dinner!) Right now it’s in my office and is great for letting Ollie roll around and play while I get a little work done. We use it multiple times a day, every single day, and I plan on keeping it even once we’re past the baby stage for guest use.

Boppy Pillow. With all three of my babies, I have used (and loved!) my Boppy extensively. Regardless of if you plan to bottle or breastfeed, I think this pillow is worth getting. You will spend a lot of time feeding your baby and it makes holding and feeding your baby so much more comfortable! I also use it when our kids or my grandma, who has weak arm strength, want to hold the baby because it offers extra support and stability underneath. As your baby grows, it also works as a lounger for laying down and a support for sitting up.

It’s also my #1 suggestion to take along if you’re ever flying with a baby. I’ve gotten so much use out of this pillow over the past 5.5 years and it has held up so well! It’s also very easy to swap out the cover (I bought this one for Ollie) so you can have it match your personal tastes. Highly recommend!

Ergo baby carrier. I love babywearing! When my babies were itty bitty, I used the Solly baby wrap too but if I could only recommend one it would definitely be the Ergo. It’s comfortable, it’s easy to use, it can be used through toddlerhood, and it’s so nice to be hands free while carrying your child. I use it while we’re out and about (great for family outings, grocery shopping, vacations, etc) and also when I’m just at home and want to be hands free to fold laundry, make dinner, or do other tasks.

Activity Center. I am all for multiuse items that can work for multiple stages of life, and this play center has been great for all three of my kids. My babies have all enjoyed being around the action in our house and this is easy to move around to different spots in the house so baby can be near you and entertained at the same time. I love that the seat swivels to allow them some motion and you can convert it to a table once they outgrow the seat – because of that feature it’s been in constant use in one form or another for the past five years!

backpack diaper bag. Without question, I think a backpack diaper bag is the way to go. It allows you to be hands free to hold a child’s hand, push a stroller, etc and it just so so much easier to carry around. Mine is a little on the pricey side but I had a less expensive one with LJ and it didn’t even hold up two years – this one has now held up beautifully for almost four years so I think it was worth it!

Just slightly below my top all-stars, here are a few other random things I’ve loved and would also include on a registry:

baby monitor – we did not want an option with Wi-Fi but we did want a video monitor. This one is relatively inexpensive and works great!

sleep sacks – we used Halo sleep sacks for all three babies and I really believe this contributed to them being good sleepers. We also always used . . .

sound machine – I like just a simple fan sound for white noise and this is a good one!

wubbanub – two out of three of my babies loved having a pacifier and these are super cute. The stuffed animal helps position it slightly to stay in place and is easier for baby to grab! If you just want regular pacifiers, these soothie ones were our favorite – and you’ll also want a pacifier clip!

salt lamp – someone suggested this to me before I had LJ and I’m so thankful because it was the best idea as a lamp for nurseries and I’ve used one for each of my babies! Perfect for just giving a soft, dim glow when you don’t want to wake baby up with a bright light. I recommend a dimmable one so you can especially keep the light low for middle-of-the-night feedings.

-bottles – I’d have a few in advance (even if you’re planning to breastfeed – I didn’t plan to use bottles with Ollie, but here we are!), but since it’s hard to know your baby’s needs ahead of time I wouldn’t stock up on any one brand. Try a couple until you find what works – my first two kids used Avent just fine but then Ollie has done much better with Dr Brown’s. I prefer glass bottles but choose whichever you prefer!

muslin blankets – so great for tucking around baby in the carseat, using as a burpcloth in a pinch, creating a makeshift cart cover in a store, spreading on the ground while you play outside, etc.

nursing/carseat cover – I love using this to keep baby out of the sun/wind/cold when we’re outside, and it’s also a nice little shield when you’re inside but don’t want people touching or getting too close to your baby. It’s also great for when you want some privacy when breastfeeding in public!

high chair – honestly, this is a great place to save some money. Ikea makes a super inexpensive high chair that is simple, easy to clean, and holds up well. We’ve used it for all our babies! If you need one that is a little more multipurpose, we also have this booster seat and it’s worked too.

foldable high chair – this is definitely the most *extra* item on my list. It isn’t necessary at all, but we have loved having it for all our babies. I would not use it as an everyday high chair, but it’s perfect for keeping in the car. You can use it for picnic at the park or eating at grandma’s house or watching brother’s baseball game or taking on vacation…we have used it so much for our kids over the years!

silicone bibs with pockets – easy to clean and they catch a lot of the food that your baby will drop!

cups/plates/bowls/silverware – we love the re-play brand for all eating needs because their products are made in the USA with recycled milk jugs!

nose sucker – seems gross I know, but this is actually super useful to have! We love this brand for baby thermometers and nail clippers too.

changing pad – I’ve never had a true changing table. I just use a regular dresser (I’ve actually always used thrifted dressers!) with a changing pad on top and it’s worked perfectly. I just keep a little basket on the dresser too with diapers, wipes, and rash cream (psst I like this one). Speaking of…

-diapers – such a great thing to ask friends and family for! I wouldn’t lock in to a particular diaper brand until your baby is born because diapers fit all baby bodies a little differently so try companies. I personally like Pampers, Honest, and Hello Bello (and I think Honest has the best wipes!)

And what would I skip? There are 238748321 baby products out there and I would skip so many of them, but the biggest things that come to mind are:

-baby bathtub – we never ever used a baby bathtub for LJ or Vi. For Ollie, I saw one for $4 secondhand, decided to try it and . . . eh. It’s a little easier, but I didn’t miss it for the first two. We used sink baths or would take them into a bath with us until they were big enough to sit and then they just sat in the regular tub.

-baby detergent – we have always used a free and clear detergent for our whole family; there’s no need to pay extra for a “baby” product that does the same thing.

-wipe warmer – Never used one, never missed it.

-swings of any kind – This might be a hot take, but I say skip buying. For one thing, it’s impossible to predict whether or not your baby will even like a swing. Many babies don’t. Even if they do, they might be particular on what kind they like. Swings also have a very short lifespan of use. They can be bulky and take up space and your baby might use them for a little while but then they’re suddenly 9 months old (or younger!) and you have to now store this swing for years if you want to keep it for another baby in the future. Because of all that, I highly recommend borrowing this item. Ask your mama friends if anyone has one they’re not using – you’ll honestly probably be doing them a favor by taking it out of their storage space for a while. Try it out, see if it works for your baby, enjoy use of it if your baby likes it, and return when you’re done -maybe with a baked good or a coffee shop gift card as a thank you. I’ve done this for all three of my kids and it worked so well. It saves you money, is way more sustainable, and is low-risk, potentially high-reward! (And of course, feel free to do this with other baby items too! I have only borrowed swings but there are absolutely other items you can swap around with friends. Sharing is caring!)

Whew! What a list!

There are obviously more things that you’re going to want to think about: crib mattress, sheets, towels/washcloths, clothing (I’ll always encourage secondhand for kids!), etc. Like the car seat, crib, and stroller, so much of those choices come down to budget and personal preference, so I didn’t include my specific choices here, but if you’re curious about anything else we used along the way, just ask in the comments and I’m happy to share!

Is there anything else you would add to a must-have list for baby?

Home Tour 2023

It’s hard for me to believe, but we have now lived in this home for four years! Each year around this time, I like to compile photos of each space to capture this house fully at each stage. Our home is ever-evolving and I love watching it shift and change over the years as our family grows and we tackle different projects. This home is truly a labor of love and we are so lucky to call it ours. To see our previous home tours, you can click the links here for theย 2020 tour,ย 2021 tour, and 2022 tour.

As it is every year, during these tours I do clean my house so itโ€™s looking its best, but I also try to keep it true to the way we actually live. We’re a family of five with three young kids so there are things that aren’t Pinterest-worthy, but that’s our life! I donโ€™t move furniture around or style things differently or take things off my fridge. It is a true, but very tidy, glimpse of what our home actually is.

Basement

Guest Bedroom

Guest Bathroom

Entertaining Space

Basement Kitchen

Mudroom/Storage Room

Last year I talked about how I hoped this space would be revamped for our 2023 tour and LOL. That obviously did not happen.

Main Floor

Laundry

Full Bathroom

Powder Room

Home Office

Dining Room

Kitchen

Playroom

Living Room

Secret Nook

I decided not to touch this one before taking a picture because it’s a very accurate depiction of life with three-year-old Vi. Haha! She has commandeered this space for herself and she just piles all her things in. Whenever we aren’t sure where she is, we look in here and 99% of the time we find her burrowed in among all her treasures.

Foyer

Top Floor

Primary Bedroom

Primary Bathroom

Kidsโ€™ Shared Room

Kidsโ€™ Bathroom

Nursery

As you can see from these pictures, there are a few in progress rooms and a few that haven’t been touched yet – I’m excited to see what changes happen between now and our 2024 tour! ๐Ÿ˜‰

Upgrading Our Spiral Staircase Wall with Thrifted Frames

Back in 2021 I created a little gallery wall in the corner wall above our spiral staircase. It felt like the perfect place to do something a little unique so I curated a collection of mixed metal frames showcasing casual family memories. I always had the plan to update and add to the gallery as time went on and our family grew and this week I finally made the time to do it!

I love seeing different phases of our life reflected in this wall – we’ve got special mementos mixed with black and white photos of newborns and great-grandparents and every stage of life in between! I love seeing of a baby picture of LJ near another picture of him riding his bike as a 4 year old, and glimpsing special moments like the kids meeting Ollie for the first time or Vi exploring the beach with her cousin always has me reliving those sweet memories as I walk up and down these stairs.

My favorite part of this update (aside from seeing more memories on our walls) is that every single frame I used in this update was thrifted – it gives such an eclectic, collected vibe to the wall!

It’s no secret around here that I love thrifting and finding secondhand items to use in my home. Thrifting is good for my wallet and good for the planet, plus it helps me find unique items for my home. Win, win, win!

Of all the things I enjoy hunting for, thrifted frames are up there at the top of the list. I have thrifted dozens of frames over the years and love using them throughout my home. The other day, I thrifted 22 new frames in one shopping trip – the cashier was definitely curious at checkout, ha! But 22 frames for $28 total was an absolute no-brainer in my mind. As I sifted through options at the thrift store, I was elated to find so many unique small frames. I knew they’d be perfect for this project!

I love mixing metals so I’m always on the hunt for good metal frames that I can use as is, but in many cases, the frames are the size or shape I want, but not a color that works for the space. As long as the frame is solid quality, I still buy it knowing I have some options for making it work.

Today I thought I’d share the techniques I use for upgrading thrift store frames, both for this gallery wall project and other spaces in my home. When I shop with these ideas in mind, it really opens up the amount of possibilities for frames that might otherwise get passed over in the thrift store.

Spray Paint

My tried and true option is spray paint. A couple coats can completely change the look! The key is to keep the coats light so the paint doesn’t run or bubble up – a nice smooth finish will really elevate the frame. My go-to spray paints are this black one and this gold one.

Latex Paint

Occasionally I want a colorful frame and for that I turn to latex paint. I could buy colorful spray paint, but I have so many little sample jars of paint from various projects in the past that I like to use what I already have on hand. I recently snagged a couple jars from my stash to paint two wooden frames for our playroom wall and painted them Chatroom and Homberg Gray, both Sherwin Williams. I have found that it’s easiest to stick to simple frames (no ornate designs) and use a small angled brush to paint multiple thin coats.

Rub n Buff

I’ve struggled with Rub n Buff in the past and was on the verge of giving up on it, but I recently received some advice on how to apply it better. Now that I’m getting the hang of it, I’m liking it more and more! Rub n Buff can be used on a variety of surfaces but I think it works best on wood and metal. To apply, make sure you’re wearing gloves and dab just a tiny amount onto your finger. Lightly rub it all over the surface of your object, then use a clean soft cloth and buff the surface in small circular motions.

Sand + Stain

This option is the most labor-intensive of my options, but sometimes I want a wooden frame to retain the wood look. So many wood frames in thrift stores have an orangey colored stain that feels very 90s, but if the frame is a fairly simple design, an option is to sand it down and re-stain it a desirable color. For this frame in the kids room, I sanded off the old stain and just gave it a coat of polyurethane to keep a lighter wood look. If I wanted a darker look, I could have used a dark colored stain or even a gel stain. I only recently used gel stain for the first time (on my kids’ bedroom dresser) but I was instantly a fan so I might try that out on a frame in the future.

Next time you see an, ehem, ugly frame for sale at a yard sale or secondhand store, I hope this inspires you to not just pass over it but to think if there’s a way to make it work for your space! It might just be a perfect option ๐Ÿ™‚

April 2023 Book Reviews

Today we have a rare Tuesday blog post! Due to our trip to New Orleans, I didn’t blog at all last week and so the month started without my usual book review post. I’m remedying that right now! Let’s dive in to the three books I read last month:

Love Lettering by Kate Clayborn

With a thriving hand-lettering business and an exciting opportunity to advance her career even farther, Meg should be at the top of her game. Unfortunately, she’s suffering from a bad case of creative block and needs new inspiration fast. Enter Reid, a brilliant, pattern-noticing former client of Meg’s who shows up a year after his failed wedding with a question for Meg: how did she know the marriage was doomed and why did she hide a word of warning in their wedding program? Meg is shocked that he discovered her secret talent but now that he knows . . . he might be the right person to help her with her creative block. She asks him to tour NYC looking for inspiration in hand lettered signs and he agrees. Soon they are exploring the city together and getting to know one another in ways they didn’t anticipate, and the signs they find just might be pointing them towards one another.

I chose this book because a few months ago I read Love at First by this author and really enjoyed it. I had high hopes for another win but this one didn’t quite live up to same standard I had from the other book. On the plus side, I really liked Meg and Reid’s relationship. Their dynamic felt pretty genuine and there are some sweet, romantic moments that make their slow burn relationship easy to root for. That being said, the whole concept of Meg seeing in letters and Reid seeing in numbers is a central part of the book but it felt a little forced. Would a brilliant numbers guy really agree to play a letter scavenger hunt game with someone who is essentially a stranger? I got tired of all the lettering details as Meg works and thinks. We are in Meg’s head so much and there are a lot of bits where she “sees” in lettering (example: “You don’t like New York?” “I hate New York.” It almost makes me recoil, the way he’s said this. Bold, sans serif. No caps, but italics for the hate.) Asides like that happen frequently throughout the book and they just didn’t quite work for me. It was just too much time in her head and too much lettering content for me. It wasn’t a complete miss, I did enjoy the relationship and I could let go of some of the less believable parts, so overall I would give it a B rating (and also an R rating for a couple steamy open door scenes).

The Honey-Don’t List by Christina Lauren

Imagine Chip and Joanna Gaines, who gained tremendous popularity as a married couple doing home renovations on HGTV, actually can’t stand each other. All the lovey-dovey married life moments you see, all the books you read, all the interviews they do – it’s all for show. Literally. All for a show. And now imagine that Joanna isn’t actually designing most of what you see, but her underappreciated assistant is. That is pretty much the premise of this book. Melissa and Rusty Tripp are renovation + design gurus who actually have a lot of problems in their married life, despite working to promote their new book on marriage. Carey has been Melissa’s assistant for years and desperately needs the health insurance that comes with the job; James was told his new position as Rusty’s assistant would put his engineering degree to use but so far, it hasn’t panned out that way. Carey and James are tasked with traveling with Melissa and Rusty on their new book tour to make sure they appear to be the happily married couple they’re portraying to the public. While they don’t appear to have anything in common initially, Carey and James find that working together towards the shared goal of a successful book tour reveals they actually are pretty compatible after all.

I’ve read a decent amount of Christina Lauren (an author duo) over the years; usually I enjoy their books but unfortunately, this one ranks near the bottom for me. Melissa and Rusty are pretty unlikeable and their behavior throughout the book is incredibly frustrating to read. I felt like so much time was spent on the main conflict of making the book tour successful and we focused too much on the Melissa/Rusty drama – bottom line is, not enough space was given to Carey and James. While I liked them as characters, I didn’t have a ton of investment in them as a couple; their relationship was rushed and underdeveloped. Maybe I also had a bad taste in my mouth because I actually am a big fan of Chip and Joanna Gaines and so I didn’t like reading about a similar famous couple who was so fraudulent. Overall, this book didn’t meet the expectations I had for a Christina Lauren novel and I just didn’t love the characters much so this one was a miss for me. And for those who are interested, I’d give it a PG-13, leaning R rating for some language and steam, although it’s less than some of their other books.

Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason

Martha Friel just turned forty, and by the end of the first chapter, her husband has left her. Because, as the front jacket explains: “There’s something wrong with Martha, and has been for a long time. When she was seventeen, a little bomb went off in her brain and she was never the same. But countless doctors, endless therapy, and every kind of drug later, she still doesn’t know what’s wrong, why she spends her days unable to get out of bed and alienates both strangers and her loved ones with casually cruel remarks.” The rest of the book follows this summary from Goodreads: “By the time Martha finds out what is wrong, it doesn’t really matter anymore. It is too late to get the only thing she has ever wanted. Or maybe it will turn out that you can stop loving someone and start again from nothing – if you can find something else to want.”

Martha knows she is self-sabotaging. She knows she is hurting other people. And yet, she finds it impossible to stop herself. She has regrets, but cannot control her emotions and outbursts. Sometimes she feels good and happy and enjoys life. Other times, she cannot even bring herself to get out of bed. As a character, she’s both likeable and unlikeable. You empathize with her and also get very frustrated by her. You’re proud of her and disappointed in her. And isn’t that just like real life? We are all complex, we all have highs and lows, and we all have redeeming qualities and things we wish we could take back. With Martha, this is taken to the next level because of her battle with an undiagnosed mental illness. This book seemed to realistically portray what it might be like to not only live with a mental illness, but to love someone who struggles with one. The effects of mental illness reach many many people. It’s difficult to say I enjoyed this book because the subject matter was so heavy and it’s both sad and difficult to read at times, but I do think it’s incredibly well written and absolutely worth reading. I read it for my book club and we had an excellent discussion afterwards; it’s definitely one you’ll want to process with someone if you can. If this has the potential to be a hard topic for you, you may want to read the trigger warnings for the book first, but overall, I do recommend this one!

As the weather warms up, my book reading mood is feeling sunnier too. I think May is going to be full of lighter reads and I’m excited for that – if you have any great recs please send them my way. And as always, I’d love to hear what you’ve been reading lately!

Drawing Home Inspiration from our trip to New Orleans

Last week, Justin and I spent 5 days in New Orleans on our first trip away since having our third baby back in August. We went for a work conference for Justin but added a couple days to the front end of the trip so that we had plenty of time for leisure too. It was such a fun getaway and I felt so inspired by the city! It is absolutely full of hidden gems, beautiful buildings, delicious food, fun music, and entertainment unlike anywhere else I’ve traveled before. Even little alleyways had so much character and personality!

I drew an incredible amount of inspiration from this city and made some notes about things I want to incorporate into my own home, so today I thought I’d share them here. Stick around until the end of the post and I also share some of the highlights of the trip and my recommendations if you’re going there yourself!

But first, my biggest design takeaways from our trip:

1. Staircase inspiration

We stayed in a hotel on Canal Street except for the very first night, where Justin chose a cute historic hotel in the Garden District. I could not. stop. staring. at the lobby staircase! For reasons I don’t want to take up space and elaborate on right now, we eventually will need to renovate our staircase and this will definitely be a photo I use as inspiration for that future renovation. I absolutely love how this staircase incorporates clean lines with a traditional vibe and attention to detail. I’m taking notes on the simple balusters, the wood-tone treads, and the simple stringer detail underneath. And look at how the wood-tone handrail extends ever so slightly into the mostly-painted newel! Such a fantastic little detail. (And if you have no idea what I’m talking about, this post from ChrislovesJulia.com taught me so much about staircase anatomy!)

2. Lush greenery in outdoor living spaces

Whether it was a balcony in the French Quarter or a single-family home in the Garden District, I was struck by just how much greenery there was everywhere. It brought so much life and character to every space and I could not get enough!

We have a ton of plants inside our home, and we have woods surrounding our house, but our landscaping has never been high up on our priority list. This trip had me inspired to put more effort into not only our landscaping, but also including some type of potted plants on our porch, deck, and patio.

Something about window boxes and hanging baskets filled with flowers and plants romanticizes outdoor seating and I’m absolutely wanting to incorporate that into our spaces this summer.

3. Rust is missing from my color palette!

Over and over again, I found myself loving the color palette of the city and I think a big reason why is because it mimics the palette I use in my own home. It’s full of (mostly) muted shades of green, yellow, and pink!

It was confirmation for me that I love the colors in my home but also made me realize there’s a color missing: rust!

I was drawn to the contrast of brick and warm orange-brown painted buildings sprinkled in among the other colors I love. While I might not paint an entire room this color, I’m definitely inspired to find ways to incorporate more of it in my home.

4. Team Window Grids

Some of the windows in our house have grids and some do not. We’ve debated whether we should take the grids off or buy more to cover all the windows – this trip was ended the debate for me. I LOVE window grids. They give so much character to a building and I could not stop gushing over all the grid details on windows and doors.

Just look at this front porch! I was swooning over that window and front door.

5. Classic Black & White Flooring

Several places had black-and-white flooring patterns and I loved how classic and timeless they were. From the lobby of our first hotel to the floors of cafes, I was drawn to the simple shapes and patterns that laid the foundation for a well put-together space. I especially loved these smaller mosaic tiles and would love to incorporate something like this in a future bathroom renovation.

There’s so much more I could talk about – gas lanterns everywhere! wrought iron railings! roofing materials! window shutters! – but suffice to say this city made a huge impression on me. I will be drawing on this inspiration in my own home for years to come!

And now, I wanted to share some highlights from our trip itself. Honestly, I planned very little in advance. This city is an easy place to go without an agenda and find things to do. Hop on a streetcar and see where it takes you, wander down streets popping into restaurants for food and drinks as the mood strikes, sit in a cafe or on a balcony and people watch – it’s just a fun place to roam and explore and linger and enjoy. Here’s some of what we did:

French Quarter

Our hotel was on Canal Street, which is right next to the French Quarter, so we walked into the French Quarter pretty much every day. I absolutely loved just walking up and down the streets, turning this way and that depending on which street looked most intriguing. The architecture is so unique for the United States and the atmosphere is so fun. Having no agenda and just strolling and people-watching was an adventure in itself, but some streets do especially stand out.

Bourbon Street is the notorious party street and is worth checking out at any time of day; we went up and down it on a weekend afternoon, a weekend night, a weekday afternoon, and a weekday evening, and a weekday night and each time the vibe was different. While Bourbon Street is known for wild partying, Frenchmen Street is known for quality live music. We ate dinner listening to live jazz on Frenchman and it was such a great experience! Royal Street is another popular street and has more of the shopping scene – lots of art, jewelry, clothing, etc.

Other notable things in the French Quarter:

-dinner on a balcony! Such a fun way to people watch while eating, and don’t discount Bourbon Street. Though it’s a party street, it was also where we found one of our most delectable meals at a restaurant named Cornet. We also got balcony seating at Saint John and Royal House Oyster Bar, both in the French Quarter and both delicious. There are so many restaurants though, so pick and choose what speaks to you ๐Ÿ™‚ Honestly one night we just grabbed a slice of pizza on Bourbon Street and even that was delicious so you really can’t go wrong!

-art bazaar on Frenchmen Street; a fun night-time market of booths where local artisans display and sell their work

-Saint Louis Cathedral (free to go inside and it’s beautiful!)

-Jackson Square outside the cathedral is where artists gather to showcase their work. I bought a few pieces from local artists around the square and am excited to have unique artwork that doubles as a souvenir! (This is also where I randomly found my way onto the Today Show!? They were doing a taping here and I got to watch Hoda and Jenna – so fun!)

-Cafe du Monde and Cafe Beignet both have delicious beignets! Make sure to try them both out to determine your favorite – I think I ate 18 beignets total! ๐Ÿ™‚

-there’s an iconic bar inside a hotel called the Carousel Bar that we heard about and decided to check out. It’s cool to see but popular and very hard to find an open seat on the moving bar. We went to see it and ended up getting drinks just sitting near the bar and honestly, for how expensive drinks are, it wasn’t worth it. The bar itself is unique but if you’re not actually able to sit at it, I would just peek in, see the bar, and then head somewhere else to grab a drink.

Explore the City by Streetcar

Their streetcar system is a fun way to explore new areas! It’s inexpensive and reliable (we used the app called Le Pass for purchasing multi-day tickets and keeping track of schedules and stops) and I loved watching the city go by as we traveled to different districts!

Speaking of…

Garden District

We took the streetcar into the Garden District one day and enjoyed walking up and down streets admiring the beautiful houses. We found our way to Magazine Street which is full of restaurants and shopping. We went on a Sunday, which I would not actually recommend because a lot of businesses were closed, but we still enjoyed lunch and a few shops!

The Collective Shop on Magazine Street

A random highlight: I spotted a Little Free Library on our walk and picked up a book I’ve been wanting to read. Then a few blocks later we walked by a bar called The Bulldog and they were playing playoff basketball on their outdoor patio TV. We decided to stop and grab some drinks on the patio so Justin could watch the game and I could start reading my book. Just the kind of spontaneous and fun and relaxing vacation moment we both love ๐Ÿ™‚

National WWII Museum

When Justin was in his conference one morning I rode the streetcar by myself to the WWII Museum.

I spent three hours inside and honestly could’ve spent three more. It’s fascinating, so informative, poignant, sobering, important, and just incredibly well done. I learned so much and highly recommend checking it out!

City Park

One day Justin and I took the streetcar to the end of the line at City Park, which kind of feels like NOLA’s version of Central Park. We rented electric blue bikes right by the streetcar stop and biked all around the park.

The park is huge and there’s no way we could’ve walked it all so biking allowed us to see way more of it. We ended up spotting a Cafe du Monde location within the park and decided to stop and grab some beignets. Sitting on the patio eating beignets watching people buy flowers at a little cart and a woman blowing bubbles for kids to play in was one of my most contentedly picturesque moments of the trip! In addition to all the walking and biking paths, the park also has a little amusement area and mini golf, as well as NOLA’s Museum of Art which we did not check out but I would love to visit on a future trip.

On the way back to Canal Street, we spotted a little Irish pub and decided to make a spontaneous pit stop for a drink and outdoor patio seating. That’s another bonus of streetcar exploration – you can hop on and off as the inspiration strikes!

Random Closing Thoughts

New Orleans has a bit of a reputation – I talked to many people about our trip and questions I heard over and over are about safety and cleanliness. True, it’s not the cleanest city and you don’t want to walk alone at night. But using normal precautions like keeping your wallet in your front pocket were really the extent of what we did safety-wise. I explored two different mornings by myself while Justin was in his conference (one morning I walked the French Quarter and another I rode the streetcar) and both times I felt safe. There are so many people around always – so many tourists around always – that I always felt like I had a level of protection just by being around others. Overhearing that the couple walking in front of me are tourists from Oregon made me feel safer, you know? I felt like I could easily get help if I needed, and I also just made sure to regularly check in with Justin to keep him aware of my location.

There’s so much more I didn’t talk about here – walking by the river, checking out the outlet mall, the French Market, etc. There’s also things we didn’t do like a swamp tour, river cruise, or anything with the Battle of New Orleans (maybe next time!) It’s a city full of culture, history, and entertainment and my best advice is to just try different things there. Try different foods, try a museum, try a new mode of transportation. It’s such a fun place to explore!