Intentional Gifts: Toys with a Greater Purpose

A few years ago someone told me that they think of spending money like voting for the type of world we want to live in. You use the power of your $ to tell companies what you value and what type of products you want. (A good example of this is grocery shopping – if it’s important to you to have quality organic food, you need to purchase quality organic food. The more money companies make off of organic food, the more they’re inspired to keep working to provide lots of organic food options. Then other companies notice and start providing their own organic products, the food industry starts to shift, now there are more organic food options – often at better price points! – because consumers ‘voted’ with their money).

This has stuck with me ever since, and I now try to be very intentional with the type of purchases I make. Whenever possible, I try to consider the type of world I want to live in and ‘vote’ with the power of my dollar. Does it always happen? No. But one area that I do really try to consider how I’m ‘voting’ is with toys.

Toys with a Greater Purpose

Last week, in my post about gift ideas that aren’t conventional toys, I shared some ideas for practical gifts, experiences, and consumable products. It’s true that I love non-toy gifts, but it’s also true that I do love toys! I just don’t love having a TON of toys around. There is a big difference in my mind between having a few quality toys that get frequently played with and inspire my kids to be creative, use their imagination, and have fun than having a playroom so full of toys that half of them don’t even get played with. (As always, if that’s not your thing, no judgement here! This is what works for us).

My kids will always have toys on their Christmas wish lists. Since they are still too little to request specific toys, I’m the one coming up with items for their lists and I try to be intentional about what goes on the list. I love finding toys that are not only cute and fun but also have some sort of greater purpose: this could mean supporting a small business selling products made in the USA or fair trade products made in Peru. It also means trying to find toys that are made from safer materials or sustainable materials (even better if they’re made from recycled materials). In other words I’m not looking for just a toy, but I’m looking for my dollar to also do a little good in the world. Now, does every single toy we own fit this bill? No. Do my kids still receive toys that aren’t on their list? Of course they do. We’re not perfect and I’m not worried about making sure every single thing that comes into our house has a greater purpose. We just try our best to make the effort when we can and don’t lose sleep over it when we can’t.

Since the holidays are coming up, I wanted to share some of the brands/stores I’ve found over the years that sell toys that have a mission or purpose that I love. This isn’t sponsored at all and I’m not making any money off of this – I just enjoy sharing what I’ve found! Plus, you know how I like to keep things as simple as possible so having this compiled list of go-to stores makes my own holiday shopping simpler.

There are so many great options beyond the specific items I share so if you’ve got some little ones in your life that you’re needing gift ideas for, I hope you’ll consider checking one of these brands out!

Plan Toys – I love Plan Toys because they are eco-friendly and made from sustainable materials like reclaimed rubber woods. They also have a strong focus on providing toys that aid in child development. A green company that makes development a priority and has cute products? Sign me up! LJ’s still frequently plays with this bulldozer that he got last Christmas so we’re putting this firetruck, this mini roller, and this excavator on his list this year.

Eco Kids – I mentioned in my previous post that I love asking for consumable toys because they are fun, inspire imagination and creativity, and eventually get used up (less clutter over time). I love this company because it is a family-owned business that uses non-toxic, natural ingredients and environmentally friendly packaging AND all products are made in the USA. I love these crayons (made from all natural beeswax so I don’t worry if LJ puts them in his mouth. . . which he does) and I have this finger paint set on his Christmas list this year.

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Begin Again – This small US company is committed to making toys for plastic-free play by utilizing plants such as rubberwood, natural rubber, and water-based stains. Last year LJ got this dump truck (seen in the corner of the picture above!) made of a bio-plastic consisting of sugar cane and corn cob and he still plays with it almost every day. They also have cute puzzles and bath toys!

Caaocho – This company makes bath toys out of 100% natural rubber and they are colored with food-grade paint. Plus they are super cute! LJ got this turtle during his first Christmas and Vi has this butterflyfish on her list this year.

Cuddle + Kind – I love the mission behind this company! They sell heirloom-quality knit dolls that are SO beautiful. Their products are handmade and fair trade, meaning the artisans that make them are compensated fairly for their work. Not only that, but for each doll purchased, the company provides 10 meals to children in need around the world. It’s just an incredible mission and I feel so good purchasing their products. Now their dolls aren’t cheap, but my preference would be to get one super cute and high quality doll rather than 10 cheaper dolls that aren’t made as ethically or sustainably. Vi has this one already and this one is on her Christmas list. 

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Green Toys – These toys are made safe in the USA from 100% recycled materials. They have recycled over 83 million milk jugs to this day! I have this dough set on LJ’s list this year – bonus that the dough is made with organic flour in a food-safe facility!

Chalk Full of Design – These small business sells a variety of cute and educational chalkboards made in the USA. I love so many of them! LJ is a little too small this year, but next year I’m going to ask for this personalized name chalkboard!

New Creation – I love supporting small businesses and I especially love supporting small businesses with a great mission. This shoppe’s mission is “design for justice” and they partner with many organizations in the fight to end sex trafficking and provide next steps for survivors. They are faith based non-profit selling survivor made goods and fair trade accessories, and they also provide prevention education on and rescue from human trafficking. I always ask for jewelry for myself (they have a great selection, and this mini stud set is on my list this year!) but they also offer some adorable items for children.  LJ got this donut rattle and this woodland fox for his first Christmas and I love these bandana bibs for Vi.

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OMG – baby LJ making me feel all the feels!

Secondhand shops – Another great place to buy toys? A secondhand shop/Facebook marketplace/yard sale/etc! There are so many places that sell used toys that are still in great condition. These toys are often sold for a fraction of the retail price and still have a lot of life left in them! Now does this mean every toy there is in good condition and worth buying? No. I’m not interested in adding junk toys to our collection, but when there are quality options, I’m all for it! Last year LJ got a full bag of Mega Blocks and a Melissa and Doug Spin Gear Board for Christmas. Both items were bought at a local consignment shop for less than $10 total (retail price is about $32 for both).  They were both in great condition and he loves playing with them. And I feel good about the purchases because they were inexpensive and gave new life to toys that were no longer being played with by their original owners and might’ve ended up in a landfill way too soon. Buying secondhand means you might have to hunt a little more for treasures, but it can be very worth it!

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What are your favorite places to buy toys? If you have found a great shop that sells toys and has a great mission behind it, I’d love to hear about it!

Guest Suite Renovation Progress

When Justin and I moved into our house, we fell in love with the layout and all the space, but we knew that the house needed some TLC to make it our own. We’re so excited to tackle it room by room and I’ve decided to document it here on the blog – I hope you enjoy the updates as much as we do! Our current project is: our guest suite.

Our house has four bedrooms. Three of them are on the top floor and the fourth is in the finished basement with an en suite, making it a natural choice for a guest room. Guests have some privacy and sleep undisturbed should our children decide to cry in the middle of the night. We love hosting and have overnight guests at least once a month so it is a priority for us to have a cozy and comfortable space for anyone staying with us.

While we loved the location and general layout of the guest room, there were some issues with it that caused it to be #2 on our list of rooms to update (our playroom being #1 – see that reveal here). First, the bedroom is actually *not* technically a bedroom because there is no window. This makes it PITCH black at night (there is also no window in the bathroom). In addition, the shower was problematic (small and difficult to control temperature), there was no heat source (no vents anywhere in either room!), there were strange and inconvenient outlet placements, there was a weird little built-in with an awkward TV opening, and cosmetically . . . let’s just say even when I did some minor decorating it didn’t exactly fit my style.

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Our renovation list includes:

-Install a window to make it a legal bedroom and introduce natural light

-Remove wallpaper, patch walls, and paint

-Move several outlets to more convenient locations

-Put door on the built-in TV opening (will be used for linen storage)

-Remove shower and replace with tile, new fixtures, and niche

-Replace bathroom flooring

-Replace vanity

-Replace bathroom lighting

-Add some sort of heat source to each room

Whew! Quite the laundry list of tasks, huh? We’ve done a lot of DIY projects in our previous homes but a big renovation like this is far beyond our capabilities so we hired a contractor. I’d say we’re about halfway done with the renovation so I thought it’d be a good time to show you some of the progress!

So far in the bedroom, the trim and doors have been removed, the doors have been primed, the wallpaper has been removed (HALLELUJAH!), and the walls have been patched. It has been SO cold in Indiana so we’ve held off on the window, but next week the weather is supposed to warm up a bit so it’s going in soon!

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In the bathroom we’ve made a LOT of progress and it’s going to be even better than I dreamed! When we ripped out the old shower, we discovered that there was some unused space behind the shower wall due to the bedroom built-ins. Jackpot!

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We immediately decided to change our plans and expand the shower into that unused space. This means more room for our guests to stand and we’re also able to install a bench along the back wall (our previous plans involved just a triangular shelf in the corner). This does significantly impact the cost, but I think it will be SO worth it. Every time I look at it now I’m just giddy and there’s not even tile yet!

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Whoop whoop!! Look at all that space!

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The old tile is all ripped up and I’m so excited to see the new tile go in. We’re still waiting on the tile for the shower floor to come in but in the meantime I’m getting all the heart eyes looking at what we have so far.

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The one area that isn’t going to work out like I’d hoped is our vanity. I had hoped to replace the old one with a floating vanity. I dreamt of this Ikea vanity with Semihandmade drawer fronts, but our space is about 3/4 inches too small. We considered having a custom one made but then discovered that due to the way plumbing had been originally installed, we’d have to dig the old plumbing out of the concrete, move it, and create a faux wall at the base of the floating vanity. It could have been done, but at a much higher cost than planned. We had to make a decision on what to spend the extra money on: a larger shower or a floating vanity. The vanity would add style but the shower would add so much extra space, function, and value to the house. It was a no-brainer. So the plan now is to keep the old vanity cabinet but update it with paint, new handles, and a new vanity top. It may not be *quite* what I originally envisioned but I’m still super excited!

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This is the first time Justin and I have done full room renovation, so we’re learning a lot. Mostly, these things take more time and money than expected ha! Overall, we’re really happy with the overall process and are very eager to see the finished product in a few weeks. Stay tuned!

Let’s Look: Entertaining Ideas

It’s that time of the month again where I link up with Shay and Erika for their monthly “Let’s Look” post and this month is all about entertaining ideas. Perfect timing as the holidays are fast approaching!

Let's Look

Justin and I love to have people over to our house. We love to host themed parties, game nights, casual dinners, backyard BBQs . . . the list goes on! When we were looking at buying the home we now live in, one of the biggest selling points was how well the space and layout worked for having lots of people over. We love providing a space for people to gather and create memories together.

Hosting can so fun but also super stressful so I try to keep things as simplified as possible. I wanted to focus this post on just a few tips I have that keep my focus on having fun and making memories rather than stressing out over details.

Tip #1: Don’t wait for your house to look “perfect”

When we were first married, we lived in a rental house with a full-sized basement that was just one gigantic room. Some of the room was storage that we partitioned off by duct-taping curtains to a soffit hanging from the ceiling. Not one piece of furniture was new – some of the hand-me-downs had already been used by multiple people before they reached us. It was FAR from perfect, but we made some of the best memories there. We hosted groups of friends for bible studies, Halloween parties, baby showers, and we even managed to squeeze 16 people around a mash-up of tables for Friendsgiving one year. The table was so long we had to use multiple tablecloths and it still didn’t fully cover everything! It was far from a picture-perfect tablescape but it was one of the most joyful and fun dinners we’ve ever had.

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When we moved in May to what is (we hope!) our forever home, we knew we wanted it to be a space to gather friends and family together. We also knew that the house needed some TLC. Bathrooms needed updating, walls needed painting, landscape needed work.

We have a long list of things we want to do to this house to make it “ours” and put our own stamp on it. We don’t have enough furniture for all the rooms and what we do have doesn’t necessarily fit the room or match the existing wall color. It would be really tempting to wait until it was “ready” to have people over. But honestly, we could be waiting years until we have it like we want and we’re just not willing to wait that long to entertain. So we add discolored leaves to our decades-old hand me down table, bring out extra folding chairs, and have people over anyways!

The point is, don’t wait to host until your house looks perfect. Host with what you have.  If this means pulling out folding tables and camping chairs to have seating for everyone, so be it. Memories can be made over paper plates just as well as they can be made over fine china.

Tip #2: Don’t make everything

Whether it’s decorations (if needed) or food, I highly recommend outsourcing what you can. I used to try to make everything homemade but that inevitably led to stress and frustration. These days, I focus on making a few things myself and then buy the rest. Makes things SO much simpler and less stressful!

Potlucks are another way to go – provide a main dish and ask others to contribute a side or dessert. A delicious meal comes together and everyone is happy because they only had to do a small portion of the prep.

And as far as party decorations go, I used to almost exclusively make my own but these days, I save myself a lot of time and trouble by making just a few simple ones and then buying the rest. I also try to save what I can to be re-used for future parties so even less effort is required in the future. 🙂

Tip #3: Have “standard” food ideas

If we’re having a backyard party, we’re either having burgers and hotdogs with chips and potato salad or Justin is grilling chicken with his favorite marinade with grilled veggies and salad. If I’m hosting a girls night, I stick with desserts, appetizers, and drinks and ask everyone to bring something to contribute. For a game night, we’re ordering pizza.

In other words, I’m not trying to recreate the wheel with menus. We have our go-tos that are easy to make and appeal to a wide variety of people and we stick with those. It makes planning and preparation so much easier! I also have a few tiered servers (such as this or this) that help literally and physically elevate a food table. It looks a little fancy but goes with any theme, is super easy to put out, and is also a good option to save space if I don’t have a large table.

 

What are your best tips for entertaining?

 

Non-Toy Gift Ideas

The first snow is on the ground here in Indiana and something about looking outside and seeing a fresh coat of white puts me in a festive mood. I love this time of year – cozy nights snuggled under blankets, candles burning, gathering with friends and family for a meal. I love the holiday seasons!

With every holiday season comes the inevitable gift-giving. My children are lucky to have grandparents, great-grandparerents, aunts, uncles, and cousins who love them and want to give them gifts. Every year around this time, I start getting asked what is on their Christmas list and every year, I struggle to come up with enough things to go around. On the one hand, I love that others want to show love to my children in this way. On the other, I don’t want our family to just accumulate stuff for the sake of getting gifts. I want our gifts to be meaningful, special, and not just clutter-creating.

LJ’s Christmas list does have some toys on it. I get it, I totally like gifting fun items! Who just wants to gift things like socks all the time? But that doesn’t mean that ALL his presents need to be toys. Currently, his list has practical things, experience gifts and consumable products. And yes, we did include a few books and specific toys he’ll love.  That’s completely okay! I’m not trying to be a grinch here. Just trying to keep what comes into our house a little more well-rounded.

Today I thought I’d share some ideas of what I’ve put on LJ and Vi’s Christmas lists. I want to be clear that if you’re all about giving toys for Christmas and want to go that route with all their presents – go for it! I’m not judging anyone for requesting or gifting toys. I just prefer to have a wider variety of gifts and avoid adding lots of clutter to my house. I’m sharing what we’re asking for this year in case anyone else out there is looking for ideas for gifts to ask for that aren’t toys.

Practical Gifts

I know my kiddos are still really little and don’t care so much about getting “fun” gifts, so I loaded up their lists with things that they need for the coming year. This includes things like snow pants, snow boots, and socks. I also put practical things on LJ’s list that are a little more fun like this Paw Patrol potty (he needs one for potty training and he LOVES Paw Patrol so this will be fun for him haha) and a backpack. Since she will only be 4 months old and we already have plenty of age-appropriate toys for her, Vi’s list is almost exclusively practical with things like clothing, a swimsuit for summer, a mirror for the car, bathtub spout cover, diapers and wipes.

Meaningful experiences

LJ adores his grandparents and loves to spend time with them. And on the flip side, they love spending time with him! This makes experience gifts an easy thing to ask for. I love the idea of experience gifts because they keep on giving – they are exciting to get, fun to look forward to, enjoyable in the moment, and afterwards they become fond memories to cherish. I let our loved ones know if they want to give an experience gift, such as a zoo pass, they are welcome to join our family when we use it or they can even take our children on a special date without us and experience it together. Justin and I did this several years ago for our niece and nephew; we bought them passes to a local children’s museum and then took them ourselves. We don’t get to see them as often as we would like so it was a special day just us four and we made some great memories and had so much fun!

Here are some ideas of experience gifts I have requested for my kids (or may ask for one day):

Zoo Pass

Whether it’s a day pass or a full membership, this is an experience gift that appeals to children of many ages. LJ absolutely loves going to the zoo, and we are lucky to live close to a great children’s zoo where he can not only see many different animals, but he can feed giraffes, ride a train, and brush goats (or kiss like he’s doing in the picture – haha! So sweet and so gross). The zoo is always a hit!

Day at a Children’s Museum

We have a science museum nearby. My parents live near a living history museum and my in-laws live near a children’s discovery museum. We all live in vastly different sized towns and cities so just because you live in a small town doesn’t mean there isn’t an option for you within driving distance. Maybe there is something 5 minutes away and this experience gift takes an afternoon. Maybe you have to drive an hour and it becomes more of an all-day trip. Maybe the museum is geared towards something specific, like art or science, or maybe it is more of a play museum. Or maybe it’s not a museum at all – for my nephew’s 7th birthday instead of getting him a physical gift, we bought tickets for our families to go to a trampoline park (highly recommend!) Whether it’s a hands-on museum or an indoor waterpark, there are memories to be made. 🙂

Inexpensive local experiences

Experience gifts don’t have to be expensive. Just think about what your child loves doing and try to create a special experience around it. Maybe the gift is a movie night at grandma’s with a new DVD or Redbox/Netflix/Amazon Prime/etc. movie, popped popcorn, and your child’s favorite splurge candy. Maybe there’s a local farm you can visit and explore together. If you live near a town with minor league teams, you can often find inexpensive tickets to a game. If your child loves to help in the kitchen, perhaps a gift of baking (gifting ingredients for chocolate chip cookies and then spending the afternoon baking together) is something he or she would enjoy. My nephew loves Legos, and if we buy him a set, Justin helps him put it together and this has become a special ‘thing’ they now do. There are a lot of options out there for things to do that don’t cost a ton but will provide lots of fun!

Consumable Gifts

A consumable gift is something that can be used up. It’s no secret that I am pretty minimal-ish and don’t like clutter. A gift that can get used up is perfect for creating fun memories without a ton of long-lasting clutter! LJ is starting to really enjoy doing little art projects at home so we put things like stickers and crayons (I love these!) on his list this year and I know he will be so excited to receive them.

Examples of consumable gifts:

-bubbles

-stickers/sticker books

-crayons, markers, colored pencils

-coloring books/activity books

-sidewalk chalk

-fingerpaint

-bath bombs in fun colors

I also love consumable gifts because they often inspire creativity and play in ways that conventional toys don’t. Win win!

And in addition to all those ideas, we did put a few toys and books on LJ’s Christmas list, although I try to be intentional about the toys I do ask for (I’ll share more about that next week). I’m not about restricting toys, just about finding balance. 🙂

Do you have any other ideas for non-toy gift ideas? Or toys that are definitely worth asking for? I’d love to hear them!

 

 

Phase One Master Bathroom Reveal

Today I’m finally revealing our master bathroom “Phase One” update!

I wrote about the start of our plans and progress in this blog post but in case you missed it, the goal wasn’t to make this space the bathroom of our dreams. Eventually, we plan to gut the bathroom and change the layout but we are waiting to tackle that until all Justin’s student loans are paid off and we save up to do exactly what we’d like. We’re probably at least 5 years out being able to do a full renovation, so in the meantime, we wanted to do some very budget-friendly updates to freshen up the space and make us fall in love with what we already had.

A reminder on where we started:

Phase 1 Bath 2

The first thing to go was the carpet and I was more than ready to say goodbye. We ripped up the carpet, carpet pad, tack strip, and alllll the staples (tedious, but rewarding!). After painting the floor with a primer, we set down these peel and stick vinyl tiles. Honestly, I was intimidated by the thought of these but they were SO easy to work with! They are super sticky but once they were down on the floor, you could slide them around a bit if needed and even peel them back up if you needed to rearrange.

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LJ learned firsthand just how sticky the bottom of the tiles are – haha!

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There are a lot of different angles in the room but the tiles could be cut with a regular scissors which was great! We were able to cut down on a lot of waste by using the same tile to cut multiple smaller pieces to fill in when we just needed a little bit to reach the wall. To cut unique pieces, I first took a piece of cardboard that I had cut to be the same size as the original tile, then I cut the cardboard to the needed size through trial and error and used it to trace the correct shape on the back of the tile. Then all I needed to do was cut the tile, peel the sticker back (where I had trace lines) and place it down!

Originally we thought we’d have to put down quarter round but the tiles slid right underneath the existing trim and we were happy enough with how it looked that we just decided it was good enough for phase one!

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The one thing that was frustrating with the tiles is that the edge patterns didn’t always match up. I often had to rotate it around several times or try different tile combinations to find the best fit. There are a lot of tiles that don’t exactly match up pattern-wise, but the overall pattern is busy enough that I don’t notice it unless I’m looking for it.

I was glad to see the brown go, but I’m still not totally satisfied with the color of the walls. I was shooting for a light gray and even tested out a few different colors. I chose Sherwin Williams Gray Strand and it looked gray in the can, looked gray in the paint tray, looked gray when tested on the wall (surrounded by white primer), but now that it’s fully covering the wall, it often tends to look blue. Argh! I think there are multiple factors here: the brown trim brings out warm tones and there is a lot of natural light that does the same thing. At night or on a cloudy day when there is less natural light, the walls do look grayer, and that’s what I was shooting for.

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I considered re-painting a different color but honestly, for a phase one, I think I’m just going to deal with it. Plus we already painted a LOT – one coat of primer and two coats of paint on the wall, then two coats of paint on the ceiling. We hadn’t originally planned on painting the ceiling, but the ceiling color was a creamy, almost yellow looking offwhite and I wanted a true white to help bring out the cool tones of paint on the wall. I do think it helped make a difference, plus it just looks nice and crisp now.

When we eventually redo the bathroom we will replace the vanities, but in the meantime I wanted to give them a fresh face lift. I had some paint leftover from our previous house (Sherwin Williams Urbane Bronze) and I love how it totally changed the look of the vanities for no additional cost. I picked up some new drawer pulls at Lowe’s to complete the facelift. We also ended up re-doing the caulk around the vanity top and sink since the old caulk was peeling and discolored.

Master Bath 1

We hadn’t planned on replacing the faucets, but while painting, the faucet on Justin’s head was knocked into and broke – you could no longer shut off by lifting the handle up and down but had to slide it to the right and we had to shut off the cold water valve because it never stopped flowing. Honestly, the old faucets were both not super functional and you had to push down the handle in a particular way to keep it from continuing to drip, so even though it put us over budget we decided to take this opportunity to swap them out for some new ones. I love the clean and simple look of these matte black ones and love the way it gives the vanity a cool mixed metals look with the brushed nickel drawer pulls.

Painted walls, refreshed vanities, new floors, some simple decor from things we already had (amazing what you can put together when you “shop” your own house) . . . I smile every time I walk into the bathroom now! It may still not be the bathroom of my dreams, but this little phase one update made me SO much happier with the space in the meantime. I’m loving the transformation!

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I love it so much!

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Rough budget breakdown (we bought paint supplies like brushes trays, etc for multiple rooms of the house so I didn’t include them in this list):

New Vanity Handles: $19.07

Faucets: $189.57 ($89 each)

Toilet Wax Ring: $6.90

Paint: $30.87

Misc (chalk line, plumbing lines): $54.18

Vinyl: $332.21

Total: $632.80

We had hoped to spend $500 or less but once we decided to change out the faucets we knew we’d be going over. Justin and I are both still happy with the transformation and would definitely do it all over again. It was definitely worth spending a little now to love the space we’re in for the next 5 or more years. Honestly, even if we were never able to do more than this update, we would be content with the changes. It just goes to show you that you don’t need to spend thousands of dollars to love a space!

 

October 2019 Book Reviews

If I could subtitle this blog post, I would have called it “October Book Reviews: I’m going to stop reading book jackets”

This month, I only got through 2 books and both times, I felt like the book cover affected my reactions and experiences. It didn’t mean I hated the book, it just changed things for me in some way and made me wish I had read the book without any preconceived notions. Like, I wish I had just picked them up and started reading immediately!

The Golden Hour by Beatriz Williams

The Golden Hour: A Novel by [Williams, Beatriz]

Oh Beatriz Williams, how I (usually) adore thee. I have loved previous books of hers (A Hundred Summers, The Secret Life of Violet Grant) so I was excited to pick this one up, but overall it was somewhat disappointing. I mean, it was alright, but I didn’t love it like I wanted to. The novel is roughly 460 pages and while I loved the last 100ish pages, I was pretty bored for a lot of the book. If it wasn’t written by an author I love, I believe I would have stopped reading long before I got to the good stuff. I just wasn’t that interested in the stories and it took me so long to finish. And in this case, the book jacket was misleading because I feel like the inside cover doesn’t really describe what to expect from the majority of the book. The book toggles back and forth between the lives of two women in two separate eras (early 1900’s and WWII) who are connected by one man. It is historical fiction, so it was interesting to read this fictitious take on some events in history I hadn’t previously heard of. I very much enjoyed those parts! Once I decided that this book wasn’t going to be my favorite William’s book, I started skim reading a bit and not worrying too much about soaking up every detail and the book became more enjoyable. I also found the storylines picked up some speed as the book progressed and the last 100 pages were honestly great. Overall, this book falls solidly as a 3/5 stars – didn’t love it, didn’t hate it, and I wish it was about 75-100 pages shorter (or that some of those pages were reallocated towards a longer ending, as the final wrap-up actually felt really rushed). It was just an okay read. If you’re interested in Beatriz Williams, I’d definitely recommend her other books first.

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

I love a good psychological thriller, and that’s what I thought this book would be. After reading, I would label it more as an intriguing mystery with psychological elements. Does that make sense? Typically when I read thrillers, I’m on the edge of my seat, my heart is pounding, I’m maybe even creeped out for the majority of the book. I wasn’t creeped out reading this book, but I was still very interested in the mystery!

Theo Faber is a psychotherapist working at a psychiatric unit with a patient named Alicia Berenson. Alicia is a former artist who shot her husband five times in the face and then never spoke another word. Theo is determined to work with Alicia and get her to open up about the murder and finally speak again. I was definitely intrigued by this premise and found the story to be fascinating and un-putdownable. I absolutely flew through it and loved it! That being said, I have one beef: the reviews! The book jacket is covered with reviews from those who read it saying things like “shocking twist,” “mind-blowing twist,” “a twist that will make even the most seasoned suspense reader break out in a cold sweat.” I wish the cover didn’t have these reviews because when I read a book expecting one huge, mind-blowing twist, then the whole time I read it I am coming up with possible explanations for the oncoming twist. I analyze every possible explanation and so when the shock comes, I often have guessed it as a possibility. So was the case with this book – the twist was one I had at least considered, so it wasn’t completely earth-shattering. I will say, there were many elements that I hadn’t guessed at all and I was considering SO many options that I was still surprised by much of the book and highly recommend this as a great read!

 

That’s that for this month! I think I’m going to start just picking up books based solely on recommendations and not read the covers at all. Have you ever done that? I’ll try if for the month of November and report back!

Happy Halloween!

I love Halloween!

Historically, Halloween is a time I go all out. I loved coming up with costumes and especially themed costumes. Ever since Justin and I have been together, I’ve tried to do a couples costume and then once LJ came along, we did a family costume. I had originally hoped to do a family costume again this year, but with 2 under 2, it’s been a bit hectic around here and coming up with and executing a family costume just wasn’t a top priority.

So instead of a family costume, I kept things relatively simple. For Vi, I found a 0-3 month unicorn “costume” (it’s just a headband and tutu) at a consignment store for a couple bucks and decided that was good enough for an infant who a) doesn’t care about this holiday b) will likely sleep through the whole thing and c) depending on weather, may be too bundled up for anyone to see what she’s wearing anyways.

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For LJ, I went with his interests and what I already had. Someone gifted us an 18-month engineer costume about a year ago and I’ve been saving it for Halloween. LJ is currently obsessed with trains so he’ll be a train engineer (provided the outfit fits – I actually haven’t tried it on him yet – eek!). Then yesterday during naptime I fashioned a Thomas the Tank Engine costume based loosely on something I found on Pinterest.

Look, the key here for me was to shoot for “adequate at best.” I’m not trying to win a costume contest or get a thousand likes on social media. I’m just trying to come up with a cute idea that my son will love and may or may not decide he’s in the mood to wear. I mean, he is a toddler. I found a DIY Thomas costume that had an internal contraption for storing candy so when you trick or treat, the candy goes through the steam pipe and gets stored inside the costume. Look, maybe that mama has an engineering degree or just really loves intricate costumes. Good for her! I’m happy if she’s happy. But I’m not using that as my measuring stick for success.

There are a ton of ideas for how to make a Thomas costume on Pinterest and the end results are all more impressive than mine, so I’m not going to give you a step by step. All I did was take a Pampers diaper box and cut the top flaps to the general shape of the train. When I cut out the bottom flaps, I used the extra cardboard and duct-taped the pieces to the top flap to fashion the back of the train. I had a red box from Aldi that I cut into the shape of the front grill (do trains have grills? I don’t even know that that is called) and I cut circles out for the wheels and taped them to the inside of the box.

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I painted the train blue (I just got a color sample jar from Lowe’s in Sherwin Williams Georgian Blue) and used red masking tape, yellow washi tape, and black construction paper to decorate the sides to look like Thomas. Justin printed out a Thomas face, and I just used construction paper to form a circle around his face which I taped to the front of the box. I wrapped half a paper towel roll in black construction paper and taped it on top and voila!

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It took me about 2 hours (not counting the dry time) and cost about $10 for materials. I’m happy with it and LJ is thrilled. Well, thrilled with the box, we’ll see if he actually wants to wear it tonight  (I do still have to attach some straps today).

I’d love to have a picture of my kids in their costumes to post here, and I give mad props to all the mamas who have already wrangled their kids into costumes to take photos before Halloween. For me, I’m pretty sure I’ve only got one shot to get LJ into his costume so I’m waiting for the main event tonight. So I’ll just leave you with some costumes from years past. Enjoy!

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2010: Katy Perry
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2012: Haymitch & Effie from The Hunger Games
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2013: Little Bo Peep & her sheep (and bumblebee)
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2014: Progressive Flo & Jake from State Farm
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2015: Abby from NCIS
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2016: Nick & Jess from New Girl
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2017: Backstreet Boy & Brittney Spears (BABY one more time!)
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2018: Pooh, Tigger, and Rabbit

Have a safe and happy Halloween!