Staying Busy while Socially Distancing

This week has been one marked on our calendars for months now, and it will definitely be one we remember forever, although not for the reasons we thought it would.

Justin was supposed to have a conference for work this week and we were going to spend the week traveling, first in Memphis and then New Orleans. We were going to turn it into a work trip + vacation and we were both really excited. Obviously, things have drastically shifted in our world lately and that trip has been cancelled. Instead, we are hunkered down at home, socially distancing ourselves in the midst of a global pandemic. I still can’t believe I’m typing those words – this all feels very surreal.

I know many of us are feeling anxious in this time. We hear about toilet paper shortages, increasing numbers of COVID-19 cases, stores and restaurants closing, quarantines, and a general sense of panic amidst all the leaders asking us to remain calm. There’s no sports. There’s no school. It feels like a strange, alternate reality where normal life is cancelled.

Today I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve done to make the most of social distancing at home. I recognize that this isn’t an easy time for many people. I know that many families are affected personally by this virus and have loved ones in critical condition or who have died. I know many people have lost a source of income due to all the store closures and cancellations. I don’t at all want it to seem like this is a lighthearted time at home for us, because all of this weighs very heavily on my heart. But I also know that I need to try to stay positive and busy during this time to keep my own mental health up and take care of my family. We are all just trying to do the best we can with a very difficult situation. I wanted to share what I’ve been doing in case it helps even just one person find something that helps them cope with staying at home for an indefinite period of time.

Make a List

When I realized that we would be staying at home for the forseeable future, I wrote out a list of things that I would love to accomplish – everything from opening Vi’s 529 plan to home updates. I appreciate that a ‘to-do list’ makes this time feel purposeful, which helps ease my anxiety level.

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Home Projects

Some items on my to-do list are things I’ve been wanting to do for a while and just haven’t made the time to do them . . . now that it feels like I have nothing but time, it’s a good time to tackle some of those projects. For example, I’ve been meaning to put another coat of paint on our playroom toy shelves since it was starting to chip off in some places. It’s been bothering me for a while, so yesterday I finally tackled it and it looks so much better now!

I’m also working on some projects that were on my ‘someday’ list to do, like painting the basement. I knew I wanted to paint this space eventually but it wasn’t on my radar to do this year; however, now that I have so much time at home, it’s a perfect time to get a larger scale project like this done.

It doesn’t have to be a huge project or cost money. Even something simple like rearranging furniture, cleaning out closets, finally putting together a gallery wall, etc. can be done during this time and makes your home feel fresh.

Date from Home

Justin is also home for the week since he took this week off for our vacation, so it’s been nice to have lots of quality time together. We kind of each do our own projects and things throughout the day, but in the evenings we try to do something together. The first night it was folding laundry and watching Frozen 2 on Disney+, then the next night we got out a puzzle to work on together. It doesn’t have to be fancy to be fun and meaningful. Streaming movies and shows together is a nice way to unwind but doing something like completing a home project, cooking a meal together, putting together a puzzle or playing a 2-player game is a great way to connect and focus on our relationship in ways that we don’t always have time for.

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Move your Body

I’ve never been more thankful for my at-home workout plans from Expecting and Empowered. There are a ton of free workouts from various fitness instructors on YouTube and lots of subscription programs out there too. Find something that works for you! Exercise is proven to be a mood booster and can help reduce stress and anxiety – all things we can use right now.

Get Outside

Yesterday I was feeling the need to move my body and I was craving a change in scenery, so I put Vi in the stroller and we just went for a walk. It was a little chilly but the crisp spring air was so refreshing! I meant for our walk to be about 10 minutes long and it ended up being over 30 minutes. It felt so good to be moving outside and I kept on going. Obviously, weather is going to be a factor here but on days where the sun is shining and it’s above freezing, I’m going to make it a point to get outside at least for a little bit.

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Stay Connected

I took a break from Facebook for Lent and I’m so happy I’m not on it right now. Social media can be a great way to connect, but it can also just be a continuous cycle of seeing people panic and share misinformation. I am still on Instagram, but I limit my time consuming that content. Instead, I stay connected with friends and family through phone calls, group texts, and the Marco Polo app. Marco Polo is my favorite – I am staying up with my college friends in different states as well as my fellow stay-at-home mom friends from my area. We’re sharing our experiences and days with one another through videos and it really helps to have regular communication with others to keep me from feeling too isolated.

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Simple Self Care

I haven’t taken the time to paint my nails in a long time, so I gave myself a pedicure. It felt good to do a little something for myself and feel a bit normal. Things like a face mask or a deep conditioner (Pinterest is full of DIY options if you don’t have a store brought product) can help you stay relaxed. Light a candle, listen to music, and give yourself some TLC.

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Learn Something – Classes, Books, Podcasts

Now is a great time to take an online class! There are SO many options out there. Brit + Co is currently offering FREE classes through the end of the month and I’m going to take advantage and take one or two of them.

It’s also a great time to read a book! My physical library is closed until mid-April,(thankfully, I already checked out many books beforehand) but they are still doing digital checkouts. There are apps to download books if you don’t have an e-reader or you can also use an app like Audible to listen to audiobooks.

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Podcasts are also a great way to get some mental stimulation too. I’ve previously shared my favorite podcasts here but I’m currently loving listening to the Herself podcast, Chris Loves Julia, and Happier with Gretchen Rubin as I work on projects around the house.

 

I think one of the most important things is just to try to stay occupied – keeping my body moving, my mind active, and my relationships growing has helped me cope with these difficult and strange times.

Stay safe friends ❤

One week and $50 goes a long way

Before I start today’s blog post, I want to acknowledge the strange days that we are currently living in. In the span of a week, it seems like COVID-19 has taken over our thoughts, actions, lives in a way that none of us saw coming. On the one hand, it feels strange to post lighthearted, normal posts. On the other hand, I think normalcy is very much needed in whatever ways we can have it right now. I have made the decision to continue blogging and posting about our life, what I’m reading, our family, our home projects, etc. because it provides something for me to do and a much needed mental distraction while we socially distance ourselves at home.

I really enjoy uncovering potential in things. I like to find something that the world overlooks and re-purpose it into something beautiful and unique. It’s not only a great way to save some resources and give new life to an item but it’s also typically less expensive than buying something brand new.

For each of my children, I have taken an old, inexpensive dresser and fixed it up to use as a changing table/dresser combo for their nurseries (Vi’s is on the left and LJ’s is on the right).

When my brother and sister-in-law announced that they were expecting a baby, I offered to fix up a dresser for her nursery as my gift to them. They accepted and I began the hunt for a good dresser to fix up.

It took longer than I expected to find a dresser for the project. I searched Craiglist, Marketplace, thrift stores, and kept coming up empty. Many dressers weren’t the right size (too narrow to fit a changing pad, or too high to be able to change a baby) and many that were the right size were too expensive (LJ’s dresser was found for $30 and Vi’s for $10, so I knew it was possible and didn’t want to shell out $70-100 for a dresser I was going to fix up anyways).

Finally, I found this gem on Facebook marketplace and negotiated the price down to $15.

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Justin thought I was absolutely crazy for bringing this thing home, and honestly, I don’t blame him. The veneer was pretty ugly and there were scratches and chips all over the place. One side had pretty significant damage and pieces came off when we were loading and unloading it from the vehicle. But I just knew I could make it shine!

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By the time I got this piece and had time to work on it, there was only one week until the shower. I love a good challenge, so I got to work with lots of enthusiasm. First things first, I removed the hardware, pulled out all the drawers, and sanded the veneer to smooth out as many scratches and chips as I could.

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It quickly became obvious that the super damaged side was beyond repair, so Justin ripped it off entirely and I just sanded down the frame to prepare it for a new piece of plywood.

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The other side of the dresser only had minor damage, and I decided to try a few methods to repair the damage instead of replace the entire side. I took a utility knife and cut out the damaged pieces to make a clean line, and then my plan was to take a strip of veneer from the damaged side we ripped off to use as a patch. The problem was, the veneer was glued down to the other side in such a way that it didn’t peel easily. I could only peel off small pieces at a time and it took a long time to haphazardly patch. I started with just once section and waited to see how it all dried and sanded.

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Unfortunately, I wasn’t satisfied with it when it was sanded and dried so I decided to take out the patched veneer and try something else. After looking at a few various options, I decided to try Kwik Wood.

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This stuff worked like a dream! You knead a small amount of putty and then fit it to the space. It dries super hard and is sandable and paintable!

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I know I know, this still looks super ugly. But it FELT super smooth and I knew it would look so much better painted anyways.

The next step was to prime everything and let it dry. We are fortunate to have a room in our garage devoted to painting (the previous owners fixed up cars and had a room built specifically to paint them).

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Justin had plywood leftover from a previous project and he cut down a piece to replace the damaged side of the dresser.

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We used wood glue to attach the plywood to the dresser frame and Justin also put a small nail in each corner for extra durability.

Once the side was dry, I sanded the edges and primed the plywood as well. Then the whole dresser got two coats of paint (my sister-in-law chose “Fading Rose” by Sherwin Williams).

I originally thought I would replace the hardware, but decided instead to spray paint the existing hardware in a metallic gold to give it a fresh, like-new look. The hardware was so unique and I thought it really gave a cool look to the dresser!

I’m SO happy with how the dresser turned out!

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Justin and I worried that maybe the side with plywood would obviously look different, but it didn’t AT. ALL. In fact, it turned out so well, that I wish I would have just done that to both sides. The patched side turned out well, but you could slightly tell where the patched areas were. Cutting the plywood and attaching it took a fraction of the time as patching and repairing the other side and actually looked better in the end.

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I’m so glad I kept the original hardware – it gives such a unique look to the dresser!

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The dresser is on wheels and if I had a little more time  to put into the project, I think it would have been cool to replace the wheels with turned sofa legs. Maybe something like this? Still, overall I’m so happy with the end result and I hope they enjoy using it once my little niece arrives!

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Sources

Dresser: Facebook Marketplace ($15)

Kwik Wood ($6.18)

Paint: Sherwin Williams Fading Rose in Satin ($20.92)

Spray Paint: Rustoleum Metallic Warm Gold ($6.40)

Sandpaper, paint brushes, plywood, primer: Already owned

Total Project Cost: $48.50

Fatherhood

I talk about motherhood a lot on my blog but today I wanted to talk about an equally important topic: fatherhood.

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I think it’s super common for new dads to feel a little hesitant and out of their depth with a brand new baby because they aren’t exactly sure what to do, but let’s be honest: moms feel that way too! It seems like there is this belief out there that women just instinctively know everything about motherhood.  That thinking is untrue and and does more harm than good. It can make a new mama doubt herself and feel like a failure if she doesn’t know exactly what her baby needs all the time and it can make a new dad feel like he is useless. No one gets a manual and there were many times where I felt like I had no idea what to do. I just learned one day at a time.  Each parent needs time to get to know their baby and his or her personality and particular needs – and the only way to do this is by spending time with the baby. I strongly believe it’s important for dads to be involved in the care of babies right from the beginning.

This can be easier said than done. I breastfed both of my babies so regardless of who was holding him or her, once the baby started crying, he or she was handed right back to me. It often was the case that the baby was hungry and that was something only I could do, so it wasn’t really a big deal at first. But then it started to feel like their care was always “on me” because I was the one to had to feed them.

If I didn’t want parenting to always feel like it was “on me” in the little people years, I had to let go of control and let Justin step in. This isn’t always easy for me, as I often want to be the one in control, but it has been a healthy thing for both Justin and I. When one of our babies was fussy (and I knew that he or she wasn’t hungry), I didn’t step in to try to soothe every time. I had to give him a chance too! It’s so hard as a new mama not to step in every time but it’s so important to give dads a chance to find out what works for them too.

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Today I thought I’d share a few other things that have been important for me to do in my role as mother in order to help encourage Justin in his role as a father. I think every person is different and every relationship dynamic is different, but this is what has worked for us!

Have a “thing” for dad to claim ownership of

Even when our babies were teeny tiny newborns who relied on me frequently for feedings, there were a few things that they needed that I didn’t have to be the one to provide and Justin could step up and take over. One was diaper changes – obviously not a glamorous job, but I think it can provide a sense of nurturing since it’s something the baby absolutely needs. (This didn’t mean that Justin got stuck with all the diaper changes, but it was definitely a place where he could jump in and help often). Another was awake cuddle time – bonding with the baby and getting lots of face to face time for the babies to see that he is a constant in their lives.

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Another big thing was bath time. From the very beginning when we brought LJ home from the hospital, bath time became Justin’s ‘thing.’ It was a task he could completely take care of from start to finish and was an easy way for him to have quality time with each of our children. There are days when he works late or just needs a break and I’ll give the baths but for the most part, this has been his thing for the past two years.

Communicate Ways to Help

Going from one to two kids was a huge transition for me. Tasks that I used to be able to keep up with easily started to slip as I tried to juggle more and more demands. I felt overwhelmed and stressed, and I found myself getting irritated because I felt like I was drowning in all the things on my plate and Justin wasn’t instinctively stepping up and taking over. The truth is, Justin was so willing to help but just needed to know what to do.  I had to remind myself that he is not a mind reader. While it would be great if he just *knew* that we needed to restock the diaper bag before leaving the house, it wasn’t something he thought about.

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I started to communicate how overwhelmed I was feeling and how I really needed him to step up. I listed some areas I wanted him to notice and help with, such as checking the diaper bag and restocking it before we left the house. After the first few times of us leaving the house and me asking him to check the diaper bag, now he does it instinctively. Even though it’s a small thing, it is so helpful to me and makes me feel like we are a team working together, both working to get our family out the door on time.

Another thing he has started stepping up and doing is getting the kids dressed and ready to go. At first, he would always ask me to pick out their outfits and then he would get them dressed, but I communicated how that still put all the decision fatigue on me so he started picking out outfits for them. Which leads me to…

Minimize criticism

If I’m being honest, I’ve had to really bite my tongue sometimes when I see the outfit Justin picked out for one of our kids. I usually put dresses on Vi for church, but Justin will dress her in pants. I like for clothing to be cute and coordinated, but Justin will sometimes put mismatched combinations on our kids. I am not always successful, but I try really really really hard not to criticize or correct his efforts.

Why?

Because if I ask for help and then criticize how he helps, it works against me in two ways. It makes Justin doubt himself, which leads to him always asking questions to make sure he’s doing something just like I want, which does not help relieve my mental load but in fact, adds to it. It also makes him not want to help. Who wants to do something if they’re just going to get criticized? Not me. And not him.

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So when he folds the kids laundry and puts it in the wrong spot in the drawer, I say nothing. When he doesn’t fill the diaper bag the exact same way I do, I say nothing. When Vi’s socks are on the outside of her leggings instead of underneath, I say nothing. When he brings LJ out in blue shoes, brown pants, and a gray sweater, I say nothing. (Although of course, on that day we unexpectedly had our pictures taken at church. Sigh).

I’m not always perfect at this and have slipped and let out some comments about how he did or didn’t do something, but for the most part, I try to focus on saying only one thing: THANK YOU. Because in the end, it doesn’t really matter that Vi isn’t wearing a matching bow in her hair or that we have 17 more snacks than we need in the diaper bag. What matters is that Justin and I are a team and we are working together to raise our children.

Give him opportunities

Justin can’t figure out what works for him as a dad if he doesn’t have the chance. This means stepping back and letting him figure things out for himself. A good example is bedtime routines: I have a routine for putting LJ down for bed. Justin’s routine for putting him down is different. Neither of our routines is the “right” way – they both work! I’m not going to say “well here’s what I do and you need to do the same thing.” He figured out what works for him and LJ and it’s great!

I also make sure to leave Justin alone with the kids when I can. It drives me CRAZY when people call this “babysitting.” He is their DAD. He loves them and is very capable of taking care of them. Giving him some time to figure things out on his own is important for him to feel confident in his abilities as a parent (and it’s important for me to get some time on my own to recharge).

Celebrate his unique personality

I fell in love with Justin because of who is is. He is funny, caring, and energetic. He makes everyone around him feel comfortable and important. He makes me laugh and reminds me not to take everything so seriously. We are not the same, but that is why we make such a good team. We complement each other and each bring different strengths to our relationship. The same is true in parenting. We don’t handle situations the same way, but that is actually a good thing. Justin brings things to the table that I don’t, and vice-versa.

Justin is so fun and always makes time to play with LJ when he gets home no matter how tired he is from work.

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He is also nurturing in his own way and always provides a space for our kids to feel safe and loved.

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It’s so fun to watch him take obvious joy in watching LJ and Vi grow and develop their own unique personalities. He shows so much pride in them! And now that LJ is getting older, they are starting to go on little father-son dates together. We like to go get donuts as a fun little family outing, and just this past Saturday Justin and LJ went out for donuts and then to get a haircut and when they got back, LJ was grinning from ear to ear! You could tell he had the best time just soaking up all of daddy’s attention.

Justin does a great job in pushing me outside my comfort zone. He’ll try letting our kids sit on their own or try a new food or activity sooner than I would. But many times, it turns out our kids are capable of that skill and I didn’t even realize it. I just needed someone (him) to tell me it’s okay to try it with them. He’s adventurous and helps give our kids the confidence to try new things. He is a calming presence who reminds me to relax and not stress out about little things. The areas he takes a casual approach are generally the ones I’m a little more high strung about, and the areas I’m more lax about are sometimes the things he stresses out about (he does not like food messes haha!) We make a good team and balance each other well.

Our kids need Justin’s parenting just like they need mine. I need him as a partner in parenting. What he brings to the family is important and deserves to be celebrated too.  I’ll have the kids write cards for him or make sure to tell him ‘thank you’ often. We need him! And it’s important to remind him of that from time to time. ❤

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lessons Learned: Guest Suite Reno

In case you missed it, I recently shared our renovated guest space. Our house has three bedrooms: three on the top floor and one in the basement. The basement bedroom has an attached bathroom and it made for a natural choice in guest room, but it was in desperate need of some updating.

To see pictures of the final bedroom, you can check out this post,

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And to see pictures of the final bathroom, you can check out this one.

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While Justin and I have done many small cosmetic changes to our previous homes, this was the first time we hired a contractor and did major renovation work. We learned so much from the project and today I thought it’d be fun to look back on the project as a whole: what we learned, what we loved, and what we wish we did differently.

Lesson #1: Plan Extra for Timeline and Budget

I had read somewhere to plan for a project to take 10% longer than expected and cost 10% more than expected. So we planned for extra time and money . . . and we were still way off. Our initial timeline of 5-6 weeks stretched to almost four months and we went over budget about 25% from our original estimate.

One big reason for the blowup of our original timeline and budget was the shower. When the old fiberglass shower was removed, we discovered unused space behind the wall and decided expand the shower to be much bigger and include a bench. This dramatically altered the timeline and budget with more time, more labor, more materials, and more money. We knew this and decided to allocate more money towards the project. And now that we’re on the other side, I can confidently say it was 100% worth making these changes. We love the shower and all the space it now has for our guests!20191030_202714

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Even with the changes to the shower, we still went over our adjusted budget. There were a few things that we didn’t initially take into account, such as a new shower fan and heaters for the room; however, a lot of our problem was that we knew the things we needed to buy on our own, but we didn’t actually plan out exactly what we would buy beforehand. Which leads me to my second lesson…

Lesson #2: Plan out ALL materials in advance

We knew we needed drawer handles. We didn’t plan which ones in advance. We knew we needed a shower door. We didn’t plan which one in advance. We knew we needed a light fixture, tiles, a counter top, faucet, a shower head, towel rods . . . you see where I’m going here. We didn’t plan any of this in advance. I waited to make those decision as we went along because I wanted to see how the room was coming together to make sure that whatever I chose was going to work.

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The problem with not knowing these details in advance is that we didn’t really know how much we could allocate to everything. We just had a general fund that we had set aside for the project and when we bought a shower door, tiles, towel hooks, etc, they just came out of the pool of money.

Looking back, this seems like a really obvious rookie mistake, right? I didn’t know how much each item was going to cost, and I was just choosing the items I liked as we went along. I was trying to stay balanced (i.e. I splurged on a shower door but said no to my dream mirror and chose a cheaper option) but in the end, the lack of planning is one of the reasons we went over budget. I really should have gone through and priced out every single item we needed to buy beforehand. That way I would have known exactly how much I had to spend on each item, and if there would have been items I wanted to change or add as we went along, I would’ve been able to adjust other items accordingly to stay in budget. Planning every item also would have helped me to see all the little items that I wasn’t initially thinking of, such as a shower valve, light bulbs, etc. to make sure we planned for everything.

#3: Don’t buy things too far in advance

This sounds like the opposite of what I just said, but while there were many things I should have planned in advance, there were also things I bought in advance that I shouldn’t have. For example, I bought not one, but TWO mirrors in advance. I thought I would use one for the bathroom mirror and couldn’t decide which one, so I got both. Unfortunately, I used the measurements based off the old mirror size. I didn’t know that the vanity would be raised or that the new light fixture would hang down further. The space for the mirror ended up being smaller than before and neither mirror worked in the space. Not only that, but I bought them too far in advance and they were both outside their return windows!

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Luckily, one mirror was able to be used in the guest room above the vanity table. The other mirror is still in the box but I do think I know where I want to put it now. Still, these were silly purchases to make so far in advance!

#4: Get clear on your vision

Probably our biggest lessons learned came from the bathroom vanity situation. I knew I wanted to change the vanity, and told our contractor we’d be replacing the old one, but didn’t have a clear vision for what that would look like. Demo had already begun when I decided I wanted to do a floating vanity. Then we realized the way the plumbing had been done wouldn’t work with a floating vanity and would be way too expensive to change. This shouldn’t have been shocking. We definitely could have looked at the plumbing from the get go and realized our limitations.

Then we decided to keep the old vanity  with a few updates and just replace the countertop. I searched and searched online and in stores for a pre-made one that would fit wall-to-wall, but couldn’t find one. We were already 3 weeks into the project when I talked to a local company about getting one made. We wasted seven weeks before switching to another company (read the whole story here).

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While I’m ultimately really happy with how the counter top turned out, if we would have honed in our vision for the vanity, realized we just needed a counter top made, and reached out to multiple companies from the get-go, we would have saved a ton of time and a whole lot of headaches and frustration.

Also, we would have avoided another hiccup, which was . . .

#5: Choose similar materials at the same time.

I chose the floor tile, shower floor tile, and shower wall tile all together. Then the tile guy brought in some samples for the shower threshold and bench. Then I chose the vanity top after all that was installed. Now, looking back, I wish I had chosen ALL the materials together. The one thing I really don’t like about the bathroom is the shower bench top.

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The option presented to me by our tile guy is fine. I like it enough, and it seemed like the best option at the time. But I don’t like that we had to use two pieces instead of one and now that all the other materials are in, it just doesn’t feel quite right with the rest of them. I really, REALLY wish I had used the same material on the bench top as we did on the counter top, but I didn’t know what that material would be when we did the shower.

This is a good example of many lessons learned together. I could have loved the bench top if I had a clear vision, if I had figured out all the materials and chosen them together, and if I had . . .

#6: Allow time to figure out what you really want

Because of my poor planning and because I didn’t have all my materials at once, I allowed myself to settle for something that was just okay. When my tile guy presented this top as an option, I didn’t research further. I wasn’t crazy about the tile, but I didn’t hate it and thought it was probably the best option. Yes, I should have started thinking about the materials earlier. But I also should have allowed myself a little time to look into other options to find something I loved instead of feeling pressure to just pick something and settle for just okay. I should have asked to delay the decision a day or two to look into other options.

#7: Test paint on the surface it will be on

I talked about this a little in the reveal post, but when I went to select a trim color for the guest bedroom, I tested it out on the wall because the trim wasn’t installed yet. Silly me! I knew to test it on multiple places throughout the room because light can change slightly throughout. I knew to test it next to the wall color to make sure I liked the contrast. And I liked the color I chose . . . until it was actually on the trim. The color looked different on the wood trim than it did on the wall (duh!) and I didn’t like it on the trim. So I had to go and re-paint all the doors trim. I love the new trim color, but it was tedious and annoying to re-do and had I just tested paint on the actual trim pieces I could have avoided the whole thing.

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#8: Get opinions from multiple contractors/companies

When we first started planning, we reached out to two contractors. I’m so glad we did, because only one of them proved to be reliable (obviously, this is the one we chose). Then when it came to vanity tops, I looked at multiple companies but only followed through with one (because at the time, this was the only company I could find with the material we wanted). Obviously, this company was not a good choice and we had to go back to the drawing board and find someone else. Lesson learned: always get multiple opinions/quotes/etc.

Overall, I love how both rooms turned out. In many ways, it fulfills and even exceeds my original vision for the space! We learned a lot from the whole experience and I know that the lessons learned will be valuable help to us as we continue to go through the house room by room and make this house into our dream home.

I don’t always love staying at home, and that’s okay

Hypothetical situation.

Let’s say a woman lands her absolute dream job. It’s the job description she wants, the salary she wants, the hours she wants, the location she wants. Great boss, great benefits, great perks. She’s happy and fulfilled at her workplace and feels very lucky and grateful to have this job. She will still have a bad day now and then. She will more than likely encounter tasks she has to complete that she doesn’t enjoy. She may have to work late some days, she may have a co-worker that she doesn’t get along with, she may have a stressful deadline. Even though this is her DREAM job, it won’t always be perfect.

I imagine that this girl would still have days where she just wants to vent to a friend about a bad day at the office or complain about a particular aspect of her job that she dislikes. I would never expect her to always be 100% happy and never issue a single complaint just because she landed her dream gig.

So, why do I put the pressure on myself to always be 100% happy about my job as a stay at home mom?

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The answer is multi-faceted. Before becoming a mother, I taught special education for six years. I truly enjoyed teaching and loved my students and co-workers but in my heart I always knew I wanted to stay at home with my kids one day. Justin was always so supportive of this dream of mine and we worked really hard to make it happen. We set aside my salary to have as an emergency fund for when we no longer had my teaching salary. We got creative with our budget. Justin was willing to pick up the occasional extra shift and I transitioned to a part-time work from home job. The decision to resign from my teaching job was not without sacrifice but we both felt it was worth it. On top of that, I am very aware that not everyone who wants to stay at home with their kids is able to, whether for financial reasons, health insurance reasons, family dynamics, or other reasons. I do not take for granted the privilege I have to be able to make this choice and I’m so very grateful to be able to stay home with my children.

Knowing all that, I find that I put this crazy amount of pressure on myself to always feel 100% happy and fulfilled every day. I wanted this life! This is my dream job! We sacrificed, I’m lucky to do this, I should be thrilled and grateful!

am grateful. Of course I am. I get to help LJ practice learning to count. I get to watch Vi’s first roll. I get to be present for so many moments in their childhood and I get to watch their sweet little sibling bond develop. I love my job! But my dream job is not perfect. I have a two year old and a six month old and these little people years can be exhausting and demanding. Some days are just really freaking hard.

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Justin comes home from a long, hard day at work and can vent to me about his stress or things that went wrong at work and I never once think he’s ungrateful for his job. I can easily give him grace to know that it’s not a bad job, it was just a bad day. And yet, I have struggled to give that same grace to myself. I struggle to let myself really feel all of my feelings as a stay at home mom without feeling guilty about them.

I feel guilty for the days I keep looking at the clock, counting down the minutes until Justin comes home. I feel guilty for feeling annoyed on days when my kids alternate naps and I never have a minute to myself. I feel guilty for the times I wish I could just zone out and read a book instead of play with trains on the floor again. I feel guilty for getting frustrated by tantrums, irritated by fussiness, or exasperated by irrational arguments (yes, you have to wear pants to the grocery store!) I feel guilty for complaining when I’m completely drained at the end of the day but there is still a pile of dishes to wash and toys to pick up and oh yeah, I’d also like some energy to do something want to do like get my workout in or read a book or just hang out with my husband.

I feel guilty because I know there are others thinking “wow, must be nice to get to stay home with your kids.” And it IS nice. I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else right now. But it can be both wonderful and difficult. It is both fulfilling and exhausting. There are moments where I hold both babies on my lap at the same time and just cover them in hugs and kisses because I’m so. very. grateful. to be with them. Then there are other moments where I think I might scream if I don’t have at least 5 seconds without someone touching me/pulling on me/demanding my body for breastfeeding or to get up and get them a snack. And sometimes, those moments happen in the course of the same day.

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I’ve talked before about how much I loved Molly Millwood’s bookTo Have and To Hold, and she wrote something that stopped me in my tracks and summed up all my feelings so perfectly. She says: “As mothers, we sometimes want so much to savor the precious moments of caring for little ones before they’re no longer little. On the other hand . . . we sometimes want to fast-forward into a future we envision as more comfortable and more productive. We long for escape from the truly grueling work of caring for infants and toddlers” (page 76).

This is not only how I feel as a mother, but how I specifically feel as a stay at home mother. I want to cherish this time, because I know in the grand scheme of life, these years at home are fleeting. But there are also days where I can’t wait for some relief. Where I long for LJ to be in preschool so I have a few less hours with the demands of two children at home. I know the days are long but the years are short and I want to savor every moment, but I also know I can’t always do that because some moments are just really challenging.

It’s hard for me to put all this out there, but I truly believe it’s not talked about enough. Society acknowledges that stay at home moms work hard and that their job isn’t easy, but I have always felt like there is this underlying sense of “well, yes of course it’s hard, but you chose to do this and you’re lucky to even get to so you shouldn’t complain.” And I just think that’s completely ridiculous. EVERYONE has bad days. EVERY job has difficulties. EVERYONE has the right to express their feelings, both on the good days and bad. And that includes stay at home moms.

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I am working hard to embrace the truth of my feelings. I don’t always do this perfectly, but I’m really striving to just accept and give myself permission to own my feelings without judgement or guilt.

I have dreamed about staying home for years, my husband and I worked really hard to make this dream a reality, and I know that there are many people who wish they could stay at home but aren’t able to. I have landed my dream job as a stay at home mom – I love it and feel profoundly thankful for it.

But I don’t always enjoy it, and some days are really hard.

And as Millwood so eloquently puts it, “relief comes when we embrace the paradox. It’s both.”

I’m working to embrace my paradox, and I hope this encourages you that it’s okay to embrace yours too. ❤

February 2020 Book Reviews

This month’s book review feels a little different than normal because while I normally try to vary the types of books I read, this month I read a lot of heavier novels. Novels that made me think. Novels that made me have to take time to process. Novels that stayed with me after I turned the last page and I won’t soon forget about. I feel like I limped across the finish line for February. My brain is exhausted!

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These reviews are just my thoughts written out, and I had a lot of them. Some thoughts I’m not sure I did a great job of putting into words. It feels a little scattered and word vomit-y, but that’s a pretty accurate depiction of how I feel after this marathon of reading so here we go!

I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown

“Our only chance at dismantling racial injustice is being more curious about its origins than we are worried about our comfort.”

More than any other book I read this month (and possibly ever), this memoir deeply challenged me. It is a fast, but powerful read. Austin Channing Brown writes poignantly about her experiences as a black woman in the largely white communities and organizations she’s been involved in throughout her life. She writes in a way that made me pause to think so many times.  It made me put a mirror up to myself and really look. It often made me uncomfortable. It made me realize I need to be uncomfortable because I am all too guilty of, as Brown puts it, trying to “live comfortably in ignorance of America’s racial history” and that extends to present day. Our country’s history of slavery and racism hurts my heart to think about. I can’t grasp it, I can’t understand it. So I often choose to not think about it, because it’s easier. But the fact is, it really happened. And racism, though it looks different than it did 200 years ago, still exists. It even exists in “nice” white people. This book helped to open my eyes to the lenses I use to view society.  I’m embarrassed to admit that I had never really realized how much white culture is embedded into American society – our workplaces, our school curriculum, etc and how this affects my way of thinking.  I have a lot to think about and process as I move forward to figure out where I go from here and how I live differently. I think this quote from the book speaks directly to my feelings: “I don’t know what to do with that I’ve learned . . . I can’t fix your pain, and I can’t take it away, but I can see it. And I can work for the rest of my life to make sure your children don’t have to experience the pain of racism . . . Doing nothing is no longer an option for me.” I highly, highly recommend this book.

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

Full disclosure: I was on the waiting list for this book for months. And anytime I’m on the waiting list for that long, my expectations for the book significantly rise. If this many people want to read it, it has to be amazing right? So I think I kind of unfairly expected a lot from this one and after the first few chapters, I wasn’t sure it was going to live up to the hype.  I kept going though and eventually this book really grew on me and I enjoyed reading it. This book revolves around the Dutch House, a very unique, grand estate in Pennsylvania (I wish it was real so I could visit it!), and is told through the perspective of Danny, a boy who spent his childhood there with his sister and father. What’s interesting about this book is that even though the narration throughout the decades is always Danny’s, the timelines shift back and forth, and there are a lot of spoilers/foreshadowing throughout. At times, that made me sad because I already knew what was going to happen even though I didn’t know how it was going to happen, but overall this narration really worked. It is more character-driven than plot-driven and it focuses on things like what motivates people to act the way they do and the close (maybe too close?) relationship between Danny and his sister Maeve. I had a lot to think about after finishing it – forgiveness, family bonds, regret, how our past experiences shape us. It’s described as a dark fairy tale and I completely agree with that label. I would say overall, I enjoyed it, but I wish I hadn’t had such high expectations going into it. (And as a complete side note: normally I prefer reading the physical book, but I found out that Tom Hanks narrated the audiobook and I wish I had gone that route instead. I think I would have loved it so much more!) 

A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum

“But what had her grandparents expected when they came to this country? That their children and grandchildren would be fully Arab, too? That their culture would remain untouched? It wasn’t her fault she wasn’t Arab enough. She had lived her entire life straddled between two cultures. She was neither Arab nor American. She belonged nowhere. She didn’t know who she was.” (p.28)

This novel is told through the stories of three women related women: Isra, a Palestinian woman who moved to New York after her arranged marriage, her daughter Deya, and her mother-in-law Fareeda. The perspectives and timelines change depending on the chapter’s narrator, but I found the book surprisingly easy to follow along with.  The stories of Muslim immigrants living in Brooklyn and trying to keep their culture alive in a completely different country was about the farthest thing from my personal experience and I was really fascinated by how each woman chose to navigate her strict, oppressive, and conservative culture and family life. I know these stories do not portray what life is like for every Palestinian immigrant family, but it definitely broadened my worldview (even though it is a work of fiction). And the fact that it was told through three related women with different, yet similar experiences was interesting. I will say – Isra’s story was pretty repetitive and got hard for me to focus on. At the same time, I think the monotony was kind of the point of her story line and drove home her feelings and perspective to the reader. Deya’s story was the easiest to fly through and I always looked forward to her chapters. And when Fareeda’s story got brought in, much needed perspective was gained. Overall, this was a deep, complex novel and gave me so much to think about and process! This one will stay with me a long time.

The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary

I read this around Valentine’s Day and it was the perfect choice for a fun, engaging read not only for the holiday, but also to lighten up my reading load this month. Tiffy and Leon are flatmates . . . but due to opposite work schedules, they never need to be in the flat at the same time and or even meet each other. They start to leave each other notes around the apartment about house-related things and gradually develop a friendship of sorts as they start to share more and more of their lives with one another through these notes. Then one day, they unexpectedly meet, and their views towards one another dramatically shift. I seriously loved this book. It was cute, it was sweet, it had depth, it had likable characters, and it had a unique premise. I love a book where I can really root for the characters and this makes you just want the best for everyone. It was romantic but not cheesy or overly steamy. It just struck the perfect balance for me and I didn’t want it to end. I highly recommend it if you’re craving a fun read!

Beartown by Fredrick Backman

” …many of the best things people do for each other occur precisely because of loyalty. The only problem is that many of the very worst things we do to each other occur because of the same thing.”

Where to even begin with this one. I have so many thoughts and feelings about this and I’m going to try to do it justice. In simplest terms, this book is about life in a hockey town. Backman’s style is so unique and his writing is incredible, but what makes it a fascinating book also makes it a difficult one to get through. From the very first sentence, you know something horrible is going to happen. So there is always this sense of pervasive sadness and foreboding as you read. The narration keeps switching, sometimes from one sentence to another, and there are a ton of perspectives (I stopped counting when I got to 20 different people). It is extremely character-driven and as such, is very slow. Like, it took 112 pages to get through one. single. day. in the lives of these characters. And it’s a long book at 400+ pages! I even took to my Instagram stories and talked about how I wanted to stop reading even though I wasn’t even quite halfway through.

Instead of quitting, I took a little break and started reading another book for a while. I came back to Beartown to give it one more effort. After reading about 40 more pages, things started to shift for me. Suddenly, I had a grasp on all the characters. I was invested in their lives. I had my favorites, I had my least favorites. I was intrigued. I was frustrated. I had to see how it all played out. It made me feel a lot of emotions and I wanted to personally talk to so many of these characters – some I wanted to hug and others I wanted to smack in the face. I can honestly say the last 1/3 of the book flew by. And I absolutely cannot believe I am saying this, but it’s possible that I might want to read the sequel. I don’t know. Maybe I’m just running on the adrenaline of finishing, but I enjoyed the last part enough for it to at least make up for not liking the first part. That being said, would I recommend it? I’m honestly not sure. It’s a unique style of writing that is not for everyone, but for the right reader, it’s fantastic.

Whew – we made it! I think I’m going to need some lighter reads for March, so if you have any good suggestions, send them my way!

Guest Bedroom Reveal

For the past 3+ months, we’ve been working on updating the guest space in our home and everything is finally finished! I could not be happier with the transformation and I’m so excited to finally share how the space looks now.

Welcome to our guest room!

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When we first moved in, I knew this area was the first major renovation I wanted to tackle. This basement bedroom was a natural choice for a guest room, but there were some pretty major things to address: no window, dark walls, odd outlet placements (why is there an outlet halfway up the left wall??), and of course, that wallpaper.

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The biggest change we made was to add a window to bring in natural light and make it a legal bedroom. Luckily, even though it is in the basement, only the bottom half of the wall is foundation/underground so our contractor could add it without much extra hassle to the exterior. The natural light is mostly indirect due to the angle of house and the fact that the window is behind our back deck, but it still makes a huge difference.

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I also knew from the very beginning that I wanted to nix the wallpaper, brighten up the walls, and add board and batten to make the half-wall into a feature, which ended up doubling as a headboard. I love how it turned out!

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Justin cut down, sanded, and stained a nice thick slab of white oak for the top of the wall, which provides not only a shelf for plants and simple decor, but also extra space for guests to place things if needed. And did you notice the artwork giving a little nod to the room’s original decor? Much more my style!

There wasn’t a way to fit a dresser in the room without it seeming crowded, so on the wall opposite the bed we converted the built-in TV cabinet to a linen closet for guest use and to hold extra towels, blankets, pillows, etc. You can read all about that full project in this blog post.

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We also swapped out all the old trim – I wanted a much thicker look and it actually made the room seem bigger and the ceiling higher! – and painted it in a soft contrasting color. I didn’t want too stark of a contrast, so at first we had it painted just a shade or two darker than the walls. but it didn’t end up providing quite enough contrast for me. I chose to lighten up my favorite shade of gray to 75% and repaint all the trim and doors and I’m so much happier with the contrast now.

Even though there isn’t room for a dresser, I still wanted a space for guests to sit and get ready. I had a narrow table from the entryway of my previous home and, when paired with a mirror and chair, it was just right to use as a small vanity. It also solved the problem of what to do with this awkward little angled wall – win win!

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A wider desk would have been too clunky in the space, but this is thin enough to work and still provide space for jewelry, make-up, etc.

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There is an en suite bathroom, but that bathroom is the only one in the basement so it is frequently used even when we don’t have guests. Because of this, the room sort of doubles as a hallway to the bathroom. I wrote all about the bathroom renovation here.

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When it came to furnishing the room, we did get some new things but I also tried to shop our home as much as possible. A lot of the frames, books, candles, tchotchkes are things I’ve collected over the years. It’s fun for me to find ways to mix new things with the old!

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I plan to share a post of all we learned from this experience at some point, but for now, I’m just going to enjoy soaking up this new space. 🙂

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Thanks so much for following along with this fun renovation!

Sources

(Note: I provided non-affiliate links to everything I could, but many things were either thrifted, bought from a store with ever-changing inventory like TJ Maxx, or bought years ago.)

Wall Color: Sherwin Williams Alabaster

Trim/Door Color: Sherwin Williams Repose Gray (tinted at 75%)

Window Trim Color: Sherwin Williams Dot to Dot (this was the original trim color, which we painted over on all the trim but kept around the window)

Linen Closet Color: Sherwin Williams Oyster Bay

Linen Closet door handles: Rejuvenation

Linen Closet drawer pulls: Rejuvenation

Round Mirror: Home Goods

Vanity Table: World Market (similar)

Chair: Target

Bedding: Home Goods

Sheets: TJ Maxx

Nightstands: Wayfair

Lamps: Target

Lampshades: Target

Magnolia Candle: Target

Alarm Clock: Target

Window Roller Shade: Graber

Lily Prints: Juniper Print Shop here and here

Lily Print Frames: Ikea

Ballerina Print: Juniper Print Shop