Sunday, August 28, 2011

Nursery progress: DIY no-sew curtains: mission accomplished

We just got back from a fun, low-key weekend in Amishville (aka a small town outside Lancaster, PA -- not its actual name) with my high school friends and their husbands. We thought we had escaped Hurricane Irene, who thankfully did not accomplish too much in our neighborhood here in Virginia, only to wake up this morning in our rental house in Pennsylvania with no electricity and no water. Still, no biggie, and now we're back. Tomorrow I return to work for another school year -- teachers are back though kids don't return until the day after Labor Day. With summer vacation coming to an end, before we left for our short, final summer trip, I was determined to create the nursery curtains, and I'm happy to report I did it!

I will admit that I was pretty scared of tackling this project, mostly because I was afraid of messing up my expensive fabric. Fortunately, that did not happen, and I've learned that this is one of those projects that falls into the category of, "If I can do it, you can do it."

I started here with the Young House Love post about their DIY no-sew nursery curtains. Their measurements wound up being a little different from my own, though, because I wanted to make curtains 84" long for the nursery window which is 64" long and 33" wide. I did follow the advice of Sherry from YHL and added 3" to each length of fabric so that I could have a proper 1.5" hem on each end of each curtain. So, I laid out my long fabric on the floor and got to work cutting two 87" panels. I used a light gray oil pastel to mark off my fabric and easily cut a straight line.

You'll also notice I bought Heat N' Bond hem iron-on adhesive in super strength. (Way better price on Amazon! Good to know for the future...) I originally bought one roll at Jo-Ann Fabrics for $2.99, but it turns out one roll is almost exactly enough for one curtain panel, so I had to turn this one-day project into a two-day project once I was able to return to the store to buy a second roll.

I followed Sherry's tutorial on how to use the hem tape. Unfortunately, in doing so this is where I made my one significant mistake. Apparently the tape Sherry uses has a paper side and a fabric side. I thought mine did, too, but mine really has just the fabric. So, Sherry talks in her video tutorial about putting the iron directly on the hem tape to allow it to get warm and adhere. As soon as I did this, I got gluey goop all over my iron. Then I read the back of my Heat N' Bond package and saw where it expressly says, "DO NOT apply iron directly to adhesive tape." Lesson learned (after taking a wet sponge to my iron): always read the package, and don't just rely on another blogger's know-how.

Once I discovered the difference between Sherry's tape and my own, I went a little rogue (Ok, I disregarded the rest of Sherry's tutorial). I put my hem tape onto my curtain fabric. I placed it about half and inch from the top.

I measured out exactly enough hem tape to run the length of one side of curtain. Then I used books to hold down the curtains and the tape as I folded the fabric over itself so that the hem tape was secured inside a little curtain sandwich.
With my iron on a medium setting, I started applying heat to the hem. The hem tape definitely gets hot even when it's sandwiched between two sides of fabric. I held the iron for about three seconds at a time in each spot along the hem. Another thing I learned is that you do not want to slide the iron across your fabric. Doing so runs the risk of creating a bunched up hem. Instead, be sure to lift your iron as you work your way across your curtain. Below you can see the portion of the hem that had been ironed against the portion waiting for the iron.

I simply repeated these steps for the three other sides of each curtain. Between figuring out what I was doing, cutting the fabric, messing up, fixing my mistake, and then hemming four sides, it took me about an hour to finish the first curtain panel. The next day, when I had purchased my second roll of hem tape, it only took me about 30 minutes to complete the second panel. So, if you do this right, this is an hour-long job for two curtain panels.

As for how we'll hang these curtains, we're using the type of curtain clips that simply attach to the top of each panel and require no addition sewing, holes, etc.

Now that I know how to do this, I plan to make curtains for our master bedroom using the same method. That's a project for another day, though. For now we're prepping the nursery for painting, which will get done this week. Once the walls are dry and we hang the curtains, I'll share how they look in their finished state. For now, though, I am also quite happy that they are the right length with no visible imperfections (and when Matt and I held them up against the window in a test run we were really happy to see that they achieved the black-out effect we were hoping for in the nursery). Remember, if you're wondering whether or not you can accomplish this project, the answer is yes!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Fake flowers for the bathroom

Last week as I was looking at our newly improved master bathroom, I realized that something was missing. Our vanity looked a like sparse. I was used to it holding our orchid, the one that only bloomed for the first few months after I purchased it years ago and had never bloomed again since. I tried following the advice for getting your orchid to rebloom, including putting it outside during our humid summer months. My fatal mistake, though, was leaving it outside while we were in Argentina and Heat Dome hit the D.C. area, which was surely more than even the most humidity-loving orchid can handle. So I came home from Argentina to a completely dead orchid, which is fine I suppose since it was never going to rebloom under my care.

Then we disassembled our living room table, leaving a fake flower arrangement I'd created a couple years ago on the floor with no purpose. So I decided to disassemble the arrangement and turn some of it into a smaller bathroom arrangement. My disclaimer is that I generally dislike fake flowers, but they have their place in life, namely in the bathroom, the place where for me they are less likely to receive TLC.

I took the original green pot the orchid came in, the river rocks that were keeping the former flower arrangement in place, and the two stems of fake grasses and the single white flower from the original flower arrangement. A few minutes later I had my new, free decoration.

I love repurposing items in the home. Unfortunately, I will not be repurposing the other flowers and leaves from the original arrangement, so if you'd like them (and I know you in real life) let me know, otherwise I'll be posting them for free on Craigslist or donating them next time I make a charity run.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

I'm a decal winner!

A fun surprise came my way on my 30th birthday -- I actually won a blog giveaway, this time for a Dali Decals $25 gift certificate. I was on the fence about the whole decals-in-the-nursery trend, which according to some snooty blogs is apparently on its way out. Then I started to realize how many cute designs are available, and I started to think more about the blank wall that will be above the crib and how I don't want to make it too busy/I'm worried about hanging stuff on there lest it should fall into the crib. (Perhaps this is a stupid fear? I don't really know what's kosher in the stuff-above-the-crib category.) Of course, once I won this awesome giveaway, my decision to put a decal over the crib was solidified.

I've narrowed down the decals to my top two choices.

First there's the Mod Tree Branch with Two Mod Birds for $65
If I went with this option, I would probably choose colors similar to what you see in the above sample photo. Lime green and orange would definitely work with the nursery color scheme of bold pops of color to contrast the neutral gray walls we plan to paint (soon). I would flip the decal to its mirror image, though, so it could be coming out of the side of the wall closest to the window in the nursery. The potential downside of this option is that the birds could make the nursery too theme-y, considering that the curtain fabric contains a few abstract birds. I'm not super into birds or anything, so it's weird that birds keep popping up in my idea banks. (Perhaps I should just let go and Put a Bird on It.)

The second option is more inspired by the fact that we now know Baby Awesomerod is a girl. Here is the Swirling Poppies Set of 15 wall decals for $39.
Again, if I went with this option, I would probably choose to order the decals in white to work against the gray walls (though I guess I could get them in a nursery accent color, but maybe that would be a little much?). I would also arrange these decals on the wall so that they appeared to be popping out of the top of the crib, which will also be white with colorful crib sheets in nursery accent colors. The potential downside of this option is that maybe it's too girly. After all, if we can eventually have a Baby Awesomerod #2 I will guess it will be a boy and this might be something we'd need to change out. Or just accept the fact that boys can like flowers, too, and Matt is a sensitive guy. Or just accept the fact that we'd only be spending about $14 for this removable decoration, so we can always switch it out if and when we're ready.

OK, please help me decide! What would you choose?

Friday, August 19, 2011

Carpets like new!

The last item on our "Stuff professionals are doing for us" portion of our summer bucket list was to get the carpets in our house professionally cleaned. We intentionally saved this for last since we were waiting for all the professionals to finish tracking the mud from their work boots through the house, and we were especially waiting for the patio to be complete so there would be less mud in our backyard overall (of course, this plan was slightly foiled when all the backyard grass got destroyed during the patio installation, but you can't win them all).

On my 30th birthday we had a house full of these...

These giant industrial fans really did get all the carpets dry in a few short hours.

We chose Hew's Carpet Cleaning to get this job done. We found their recommendation through a friend's Angie's List account. We've had our carpets cleaned once professionally prior to this, and another time Matt rented a carpet cleaner from the grocery store and did it himself. Now that we've used Hew's Carpet Cleaning, though, we do not plan to use another company nor will we choose the DIY option for this task. We've never seen our carpets look so good -- in fact, they look brand new -- and we were thoroughly impressed with all aspects of Hew's service, including the use of these industrial-strength fans that dried our floors in no time.

The downstairs = the real test of Hew's prowess. Fortunately, these once-dirty carpets are spotless!

We found Hew's prices to be comparable to those of other companies we looked into, but thanks to a special on Angie's List we got an even better deal. Our house falls into the "up to 1950 square feet category" listed on Hew's website, so the cost of a whole-house carpet cleaning is $199. Through Angie's List we were able to get $100 off, so we signed up for our own Angie's List account for a month (instead of continuing to mooch off a friend's account), which costs $13.25. Once our carpet cleaning person arrived, we let him upsell us by agreeing to add the pet odor removal option to our downstairs level, costing us another $40. He explained that since that's the level where the dogs spend half their days, the dog smell will really come out once he gets the carpets wet, and once the smell is out he won't be able to get it out without this option. Who knows if this was absolutely necessary, but the downstairs does have the messiest carpet, so we agreed. All in, we spent $153 for this service. It's worth it to us for this to become an annual summer event. When we moved in we talked about doing this every summer, but travels or forgetfulness have gotten in the way before. Still, we've had our carpets cleaned three times in four and a half years, which is probably better than the American household average.

In addition to the fact that the professional work being done on our house this summer is complete, the carpet cleaning also came at the perfect time because we've consolidated the furniture in our house. Without the large desk in the office/nursery and the large table in the living room, it was easier for us to quickly move coffee tables, chairs and accessories onto the wood floors of our house (in our dining room/kitchen and foyer) and create pretty open spaces for carpet cleaning. Granted, Hew's did not clean under our sofas or under our beds, but since those are not high-traffic areas we think that's fine. And, because we have not brought any nursery furniture into the house yet, we are even starting the nursery transformation process with some spotless carpet.

As you can see, this space is difficult to photograph, particularly in the morning when so much light is flooding through the window, despite the fact that it's covered with a shade. I think I'm ready to tackle those DIY no sew curtains. I'm afraid of messing up my nice fabric, but I guess I need to get over it! Matt's about ready to start the dresser refinishing project, so we're about to start the real work!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Stamped concrete patio reveal

A big part of our Summer of Spending Money has involved the addition of a patio to our backyard underneath our deck. The goals behind this project were basically three-fold:

1) Come up with a solution so that half of our backyard is no longer a mud pit.

2) Increase our usable outdoor living space.

3) Provide a safe outdoor space in which Baby Awesomerod can play.

The third item wasn't even on the list when we first began investigating this project in the spring, because at that point Baby Awesomerod was not in the picture.

Here's what our backyard looked like at the start of the summer...

As we started exploring our options, we had to make one crucial early decision between two options: stamped concrete or paver patio? We got estimates from several different companies. Three of the companies install only paver patios. The fourth company, and the one we wound up choosing, installs only stamped concrete patios.

Before we settled on our decision, though, we investigated the pros and cons of both options.

Pros of a paver patio:
1) It's the more popular choice in terms of aesthetics, as stamped concrete is still relatively new to most homeowners; therefore, paver patios might have higher Bang for Your Buck when it comes to resale.

2) If an individual paver is damaged, it can be easily replaced.

Cons of the paver patio:
1) Weeds and other grasses can creep up between the pavers, meaning that weeding would probably be a frequent part of paver patio upkeep.

2) The sand between the pavers erodes and needs to be reapplied with some frequency.

Pros of the stamped concrete patio:
1) It's the cheaper option. Our stamped concrete costs came in at half the cost of paver patio estimates we received.

2) Stamped concrete offers tremendous aesthetic flexibility, as the possible design and color combinations are virtually endless.

This is the design and color palette we chose:

Cons of the stamped concrete patio:
1) If the patio cracks, the only way to repair it is to replace the entire patio (alternatively, you could suck it up and live with the crack).

2) The patio needs to be resealed every 3-5 years. This can be done by the company that installed the patio, but it can also be easily accomplished by the less-than-handy homeowner (thumbs point to us).

When all is said and done, each option involves maintenance requirements. Ultimately, though, the stamped concrete requires less maintenance, and it costs so much less than paver patios. The big con for the stamped concrete patio is the possibility of cracks, but because our patio sits underneath our deck we hope that it will be more protected from the elements. Time will tell.

We found our stamped concrete patio company, Creteman Concrete, thanks to a recommendation from our neighbors Joe and Laura. We liked the look of their patio, and we were pleased to see the stamped concrete estimate coming in at approximately $3,000 for our approximately 250 square foot patio. We also appreciated the fact that this company had the best plan for working with our slightly difficult backyard. Despite our yard's small size, there is a steep horizontal incline running from one end of the yard to the other. The change in elevation is a solid few feet, meaning that the paver patio companies were all going to build a wall to make the patio level, which would more than double the price of our patio. Creteman Concrete was able to take dirt from one end of the yard to the other to help make it more level. Additionally, it's easier to get the concrete built up level than it is to construct a level paver patio frame.

Our finished space!

The downsides to the installation process were three fold. First of all, you may recall we had to have our AC detached from our house while the patio was being installed. This was all, of course, happening during a particularly hot time of the summer. Second of all, it rained on the day our patio was supposed to be sealed. We were prepared for this possibility because Joe and Laura went through some similar rain delays during their installation, but I don't think I was physically prepared for an additional day with no AC. Thirdly, all the work we did last fall to get grass to grow in the backyard is now officially lost. During installation our remaining grass got torn up and there are now plenty of muddy patches once again. So, we'll be reseeding again before the frost sets in this fall. Still, if this is the worst part of the experience, I'll take it, because now we have an awesome backyard space.

Sad little patches of grass

The completion of the patio project corresponded beautifully with end-of-season outdoor furniture sales. Although this is the Summer of Spending Money and we're just about spent out, we decided that it made the most sense to go ahead and buy the half-priced furniture now so that we can enjoy the patio this fall and into next spring instead of waiting until the spring to find full-price furniture. We had little difficulty finding what we were looking for. We went with the Martha Stewart Charlottetown wicker collection on sale at Home Depot and bought the loveseat, two arm chairs and a coffee table. Interestingly enough, we found better prices in the store than we did on Home Depot's website, the one exception being the loveseat, which was only available online by the time we were ready to make the purchase.

This new patio fulfills all our requirements for increasing our living space while also providing a solution to the mud pit dilemma we've been battling as long as we've lived in this house. Now not only does way less mud get tracked into our house, but no mud splashes on the siding when it rains. I was hosing down our siding on an almost weekly basis, and it was getting to be ridiculous. You may also notice in the above photo that you can actually see the window looking into our downstairs. Finally! We have light in the lower level of our house. Getting rid of that shed made me quite happy.

When next spring rolls around, provided we have the energy and the funds (which will hang in the balance until we adjust to life with Baby Awesomerod) we plan to add some hanging plants as well as some larger potted plants to line the section of the patio that has the steeper step into the backyard (see the lefthand side of the patio pictures). For now, though, this space will be a great place to enjoy as the weather turns cooler. I would definitely recommend stamped concrete patios and Creteman Concrete to anyone considering this option!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Decoding the baby registry matrix

Baby gear. There's a ton of it, and as first-time parents, it's really hard to figure out what you need versus all the junk that you'll never use. Couple that with the fact that every baby is different and that for every person who swears by one product, there's another person who tells you to avoid it at all costs, and pretty soon you don't know what to do.

When faced with the question of baby gear, I did what I do best and researched, maybe a little too much. On just one day early in my pregnancy I received three recommendations for the book Baby Bargains, which is to baby gear what What to Expect is to pregnancy reading. Every expecting parent has read it, and there are copies to borrow. So, our neighbor Mimi immediately loaned me her copy and I went to work flagging pages for big-ticket items like cribs, strollers, car seats and baby carriers. Matt was tasked with some Consumer Reports online research as well. In the end we discovered that if it's a big-ticket baby item sold in America it meets reasonably strict safety standards. (The only exception I personally believe exists to this rule is for IKEA cribs, which were eerily pulled with little explanation from the American market last month. Just this week two new IKEA cribs have been introduced in American stores, but I'm skeptical enough that we're staying away.)

In addition to reading portions of the Baby Bargains book (reading the whole thing would make your head explode), I also started polling the approximately one-third of my friends who have one or more kids. I received numerous emailed lists of baby registry suggestions friends had made for me as well as lists friends had received from other friends during their pregnancies. This is chain mail at its best.

Not surprisingly, I started to get really conflicting information, but certain patterns did emerge. While in L.A. with my brother's family we noted their strollers and feeding supplies. While in Argentina with our friends Dawn and Jon we got to know their toys and decided if we could put up in the long term with the noises emanating from these devices. Over time, certain brands and products emerged as consistently recommended by both the Baby Bargains book and real people whom we know and trust: Maclaren, Ergo Baby, Graco, BumGenius. Also the recommendations for what you need versus what you'll probably never use started to become more consistent.

Baby Bargains also devotes a section of its book to detailing the differences among various stores' baby registries. Some stores truly have horrific return policies, which for me seems like a big reason to stay away. With all the knowledge in our arsenal, we ultimately decided to register at Buy Buy Baby.

Disclaimer: I almost did not register here because I absolutely despise the store's name. Seriously? Mass consumerism at its worst. But, despite its horrible name, here's why it's awesome.

1) Although Buy Buy Baby does not have a ton of locations (I want to say there are approximately 40 nationwide), it does have one in Springfield, Va. and one in Rockville, Md., both of which are in the D.C. area.

2) It has an extensive website which also includes items not carried in the brick and mortar stores.

3) It carries every single brand we were looking for, which cannot be said for any other registry option that also includes brick and mortar stores. (Yes, we could register at Amazon, but we wanted a physical store as well as a good online presence.)

4) STORE COUPONS! Buy Buy Baby is owned by Bed Bath and Beyond. You know how much I love and stockpile Bed Bath and Beyond coupons, as do most people I know. You can use any non-expired Bed Bath and Beyond coupon at Buy Buy Baby. There are Buy Buy Baby coupons as well, though so far in my experience those have just been $5 off $15 or more. There are, of course, exclusions. You cannot apply coupons when purchasing certain high-end brands, but these particular brands change depending upon exactly what the fine print says on that particular coupon. So, for example, one coupon might exclude Ergo Baby, but another coupon might not. Confusing, but worth the investigation. The one caveat: store coupons can always be used in store, but they cannot be used online. They can, however, be used when ordering over the phone, so phone orders seem like a great way to go.

5) COMPETITORS' COUPONS! Buy Buy Baby will take virtually any coupon under the sun. Obvious competitors' coupons include stores such as Babies R Us. But, if you want to buy baby clothes at Buy Buy Baby and you bring in a Macy's coupon they'll take it because Macy's sells baby clothes.

6) PRICE MATCHING! Again, Buy Buy Baby will match prices from any other competitor. But here's where Buy Buy Baby absolutely destroys the competition: they'll even price match Amazon and Costco. Insane, right? So, for example, the Graco Kensley Pack N' Play on our Buy Buy Baby registry costs $69.99. On Amazon the list price is $79.99, but they're selling it for $62. Matt and I don't quite get how or why Buy Buy Baby price matches Amazon or Costco and still stays in business, but we do plan on taking full advantage of this registry feature.

7) A hassle-free returns policy.

Although our registry is still a work in progress, it is mostly complete now that we've had plenty of time to gather information this summer. We tried to follow the classic registry "rules" and have a variety of big and small ticket items from diverse price ranges. Ultimately, though, of the slightly more than 100 items on our registry, the about 70 percent are under $50, and a good portion of those are even under $10. We know that infants only need so much stuff, but we tried to think of the registry in terms of the baby's first year of life and the items we are most likely going to use during that time.

Besides the typical stroller, car seat, baby carrier items you'll find on our registry, we also added:

-Basic white clothing items, like long sleeve side-snap undershirts to keep the baby warm during its winter arrival

-Kiddopotamus swaddle wraps and a Halo Micro-Fleece Sleep Sack for when the baby is no longer cool with swaddling.

-Multiple crib mattress pads, Pack N' Play mattress pads and changing table pad covers, because one thing everyone we know can agree on is the fact that those will get soaked and you'll need extras at 3 a.m. Our current plan is to try out the Pack N' Play as a bassinet during the baby's first few weeks of life next to our bed.

-A diaper bag that doesn't look like a diaper bag, plus an all-in-one diaper carrier and portable changing pad for those times when we don't need an entire diaper bag (or when Matt's flying solo)
 -An extra car seat base so that one can go in Matt's car

-The Lamaze Space Symphony Motion Gym that we absolutely adored during our time in Argentina. Our friends' baby was so mesmerized by this, plus it plays cute Super Mario Brothers-esque music, so we can dig it.

-BOOKS! I think about 12 of the 100 items on our registry are books, but I guess that's to be expected for a baby born to two teachers. In reality, though, books are some of my go-to baby gifts, but I always shy away from buying classics, figuring the parents already own them. So, I put some classics like Goodnight Moon and Pat the Bunny on there to help eliminate any duplicate book worries for anyone who happens to be like me!

-BumGenius cloth diapers with snap closures. Yes, we're going to do cloth diapering, and no we are not insane, nor do we care if you choose to cloth diaper your baby or not. We're doing this more for economic reasons than environmental reasons, too. (When the baby is first born, it will likely be too small to fit into the cloth diapers for a couple weeks, so we'll use disposables at first. And when we travel we plan to use disposables.) We've known enough people who have done this successfully, and with the time I'm planning to take off work this seems feasible. To help make this process easier, we're also planning to get the BumGenius Diaper Sprayer to attach to our upstairs hallway bathroom toilet.
 -Our "wishful thinking" big-ticket registry splurge is the Stokke Tripp Trapp high chair, which we absolutely love aesthetically in addition to the fact that it grows with the child. We know our house will have lots of plastic baby items in it soon, but this is one item we would like to keep around our dining room table for all our future family meals.
Here are the items you won't find on our registry:
-Aden and Anais bamboo swaddle blankets -- we've already been gifted these in an adorable print (that even matches the nursery color scheme...way cool), and they are awesomely soft.

-Baby quilts/blankets -- I have three hand-made quilts from when I was a baby that my mom recently passed along to me. Plus, less than a year before she passed away Matt's grandmother knitted us a beautiful blanket which she gave us at my bridal shower. We've been saving it for a baby, and we are so touched to have this sentimental item to give Baby girl Awesomerod from her great grandma.

-Diaper pail -- we have a secure trash can with a removable pail that will do the trick.

-Baby girl clothes -- we hope to borrow as much as possible from generous friends who've already offered. Plus, we figure people (ourselves included) will enjoy buying reasonable girl clothing.

-A baby swing -- if we decide to use one, we will borrow one.

-Infant bathtub -- ditto to the swing.

-Items that to us seem unnecessary, like a bottle sterilizer or wipe warmer

-Breast pump -- I would like to breast feed, but I know it doesn't work for everyone, and I know that even when it works women change their minds all the time about how long they'll do it for. Since I don't have to worry about pumping at work, I'm going to hold off on a pump and see where my life takes me. If needed, we can always rent one from the hospital. Breast feeding is the great unknown right now (well, there are a lot of unknowns, but that seems like a significant one).

So, while I still feel overwhelmed at times by all the baby gear on the market, I feel like we've made a dent in sorting it all out.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Week 20: Sex reveal

I know it's all de la moda to throw a gender reveal party with a blue or pink internally frosted cake to share the news of the baby's sex. But I think my email to some friends today and this blog post are sufficient.

So, without further ado, we're having a girl!

This news comes one day before I hit the big 3-0. Happy early 30th birthday to me!

Today I also hit 20 weeks, and when I asked Matt to take the above 20-week photo, he said, "Aren't you becoming what you hate?" Sorry if tying a pink ribbon around my stomach makes you loathe me. For the record, last night as I was further rearranging some items in our home, namely vases that I'll show you some other time, I took a long royal blue ribbon sitting elsewhere in our house and put it next to the desk in preparation for today's ultrasound. I was really prepared for a boy.

Of course, I am not going to lie: I have been hoping for most of my life that this day would come and I would get to have a girl. I've been worried because boys seem to run in Matt's family, and since his genes determine the baby's sex, I've been mentally preparing for the fact that we would probably only have boys in this house. I told Matt last night that if this baby is a boy that we need to at least make sure our future dogs are female because otherwise it's me against the boys. It's not that I don't want boys -- I very much do. Instead, it's that I've been convinced I would never have a chance to have one girl.

Today when the ultrasound technician said, "It's a....girl," I swear that was the longest sentence of my life. My immediate reaction was, "How sure are you?" to which she replied, "Oh, very sure, there are the labia." (Bet you didn't think labia would show up in an organizing surprise!) OK, I'm convinced.

Most importantly, as the ultrasound continued (and the little lady was not being very cooperative so we were there a long time) we got to see all the important body parts and learn that for the moment everything is A-OK.

Knowing that Baby Awesomerod is a girl doesn't change much for us in a practical baby-preparation sense. One thing that's set is the name. We had a girl first and middle name, but no boy names we could agree on. We'll reveal the name after the baby arrives (ohhh, a secret!). I still want a gender-neutral nursery (with a couple gender-specific removable touches I was going to add in for good measure regardless of the baby's sex). I also tend to loathe the "princess" motif (and I'm not big into butterflies or cupcakes either, which seem to be everywhere on little girls' clothing). I like girly, but I don't want to drown in a sea of pink (just like I didn't want to be buried under a pile of blue, either). I did, however, add a few girl items to our baby registry, and I'll share the registry decision making process with you in my next post.

All in all, today is right on up there with one of the best days of my life, and I feel so incredibly lucky to be at this stage. Finding out the baby is a girl is the icing on my non-existent 30th birthday cake.

$4 cord solution

I left off with our new office space telling you that it was almost complete, minus one small problem: cords. In abundance. That needed to be contained. What I anticipated could be a tricky issue to solve wound up being a pretty easy fix, thanks to a visit to Home Depot and a knowledgeable, friendly salesman.

Our salesman told us he always uses mounting bases and 8 inch mounting ties to contain his cords. The ones we bought from Home Depot are made by a company called Commercial Electric, and a pack of 10 mounting bases costs $1.99, as does a pack of 10 mounting ties. Although I can't find the exact replica of the mounting base on the Home Depot website, these mounting bases give you the same idea.

First, I had to tightly bundle the computer cords at the source in the back of the computer.

Then I had to space out the mounting bases along the back of the desk and loop the mounting ties through each base. The mounting bases have an adhesive back, and the mounting ties loop through the holes in the bases. The bases are also convenient because the ties can go through either vertically or horizontally, which is great for moving around corners on furniture or walls.
The bigger question I faced, though, once I got started was what to do with the power cord and the bottoms of all the cords when I got to the end.  I had picked up some cute red containers at Home Goods last weekend, and I was planning to use one for this purpose, but the design of the container made the cords still look messy. So, I did what I've increasingly learned to do lately and got resourceful "shopping" my own home. I picked up a basket, one of three housed underneath our living room coffee table, and discovered that it's the perfect size. Plus, its lid, its holes on the sides that serve as handles and its loose weave make it ideal for housing something electric without posing a fire hazard.

Twenty minutes and four dollars later, I was really satisfied with the results.

Granted, it's only been less than a week, but so far I am loving having my work station in the living room. It makes us more of a cozy little family.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Recipe tip: Spicy Coconut Shrimp with Mango-Basil Salsa

It's been a while since I shared a favorite recipe, probably because for a decent portion of the spring I was dealing with severe food aversions and not eating normal-people food, and our summer travel schedule got in the way of having many home-cooked meals more recently. But, after entertaining our neighbors Paul and Mimi last night, Matt and I remembered how much we love this recipe from the Food Network Favorites book.

This recipe calls for most of my favorite flavors: lime, basil, coconut milk, ginger, mango, garlic, jalapenos. (I also hope Baby Awesomerod will remember these awesome flavors from his/her time in utero, much like this NPR story suggests is possible.) The recipe, therefore, also allowed us to use up more of our basil, which continues to be out of control.

Matt, as you know, is the chef of the household, so all credit for this dish goes to him. I am merely along for the ride. I can't say Matt made any major modifications to this recipe, so here is a link to Dave Lieberman's Spicy Coconut Shrimp with Mango-Basil Salsa and Lime Jasmine Rice, with the promise that this is one of our favorite recipes of all time, and it's not terribly complicated, either.

One strategy Matt employs while making this dish is breaking out our Cuisinart rice cooker, which is right up there with our favorite wedding gifts of all time (thanks, Ted!). So, when he gets to the Lime Jasmine Rice portion of the recipe, Matt puts all those ingredients in the rice cooker and lets it do its thing. It comes out perfect every time.

And here's a bonus recipe. Because Mimi is also pregnant, I thought last night would be the perfect time to test out some mocktini skills. In my recipe notebook, I'd saved three pages of drink recipes from an old issue of Everyday Food when it featured alcoholic summer drinks. I decided to adapt one called Blackberry Crush for last night's festivities. I am proud of myself for going "off recipe" with this one, since I am really good at following directions but really bad at experimenting when it comes to food. Going with the philosophy that drinks are difficult to mess up, I blazed ahead and I'm happy with the results.

Blackberry Crush
Inspired by Everyday Food

1 cup water
1 cup sugar
16 blackberries
4 sprigs of mint
3 lemons
1 liter seltzer water

1. Heat water and sugar together to form a simple syrup. Allow to partially cool.

2. In a (pretty) pitcher, muddle blackberries and most of the mint.

3. Add the juice of the lemons, simple syrup and bottle of seltzer water. Serve over a glass of ice and garnish with the remaining mint. Should yield 4-5 glasses. (And, if you feel it's not flavorful enough, go ahead and squeeze another lemon into the pitcher and you should be satisfied. If you're not pregnant, you should add vodka to this drink.)

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Breaking even

The Craigslist plan for selling the old desk and chair worked! This afternoon a mother and son stopped by to pick up the two items, and they handed over $100 in exchange. We spent $100 on the new Target desk, and we are using a different chair we already owned as our current desk chair, so call us Even Stevens. It's awesome when things work out so easily. I'm thrilled about the fact that we can view the new desk as "free," especially because this is apparently the Summer of Spending Money.

You served me well from 2003-2011, old friends.

Selling the desk and chair was just one more task to check off my summer bucket list. Here's an update on the summer's progress thus far, with about two and a half weeks to go before I have to report back to work full time. You may recall our list was divided into two parts: stuff professionals are doing for us, and stuff we can do ourselves.

Stuff professionals are doing for us:
1) Add lighting and mirrors to master bathroom. (You can see the finished product here.)
2) Add a backyard patio. (This post is a work in progress -- check back soon!)
3) Fix the toilet in the lower level. (This got taken care of the day our master bathroom overhaul was completed.)
4) Fix wobbly ceiling fans. (Yay, I figured it out! And I did it when our AC was shut off for three days during patio installation, so perhaps I just needed some motivation.)
5) Get carpets cleaned throughout the house. (Found a reputable company with a good deal, so this is happening next week.)

Stuff we can do ourselves:
1) Empty backyard shed and transfer contents to garage. (And I learned a little bit about hazardous waste disposal in the process.)
2) Buy actual bed frame for master bedroom. (We have a contender, but we still need to check out some more stores. We may hold off on making the purchase until the fall [see: Summer of Spending Money].)
3) Buy/make dark curtains for master bedroom. (I think I want red curtains, but I'm going to see how making nursery curtains goes first before taking this plunge. This may be a fall activity.)
4) Buy smaller desk and sell old desk. (YES!)
5) Move bookcase from office to lower level. (We may be calling on some assistance from a family member of perhaps a neighbor....Paul??? :)
6) Move table and chairs in living room to garage. (Actually, we fit the four chairs and table into our crawl space, thus saving precious garage real estate.)
7) Move contents of office closet to guest room closet. (I wrote about this here and here, and I am glad it is over. It really tested my ability to downsize even further and find new storage solutions.)
8) Complete steps 4-7 before taking the additional steps to convert the office to the nursery. [Start by coming up with a general color scheme/style.] (I decided on gray walls with red, orange and yellow accent colors.)
And here are a few more I didn't mention in June:
1) Recaulk bathrooms. (It's that time again, not so much to redo the bathtubs and showers as much as the caulk around the bottom of the floors.)
2) Repot indoor plants. (They're looking a little cramped.)
3) Figure out a new filing system. (Done!)
4) Contact my human resources department with really specific maternity leave questions.
5) Reorganize crawl space. (A little bit on that here. This mostly involved taking everything out, throwing out/recycling a lot, and learning how to pack everything back in well.)
6) Buy patio furniture. (This I'll share with you once I get that patio post up.)
7) Register for hospital tour. (I have two hospital options. I think we've established which one is the better choice, now we just need to see it in person. We're scheduled for a tour in early October.)
8) Register for baby-ready pet class. (My neighbor alerted me to this free class that we'll be attending, and I'll tell you about that more soon.)
9) Organize scrapbook memorabilia. (I have a couple bags of stuff I need to sift through.)
10) Nursery: make no-sew curtains. (At least I have the fabric, and today I bought the rest of the supplies.)
11) Nursery: Paint.
12) Nursery: Add shelf/patch holes in closet.
13) Nursery: Buy dresser. (It may still be sitting in our garage, but at least we have it!)
14) Nursery: Refinish dresser.
15) Nursery: Buy crib. (We know which one we want, we just need to get it. But I think we'll hold off until this credit card billing cycle is complete so that my head does not explode...yikes.)
16) Buy maternity jeans. (So far I have held out on making much in the way of maternity clothing purchases, but I think that now as I am almost at the halfway point I could use one nice pair of jeans to get me through the upcoming 20 plus weeks. I'm not planning to buy anything else for the time being.)

Wow, that was therapeutic! We've made some great progress this summer, and we still have some time to tick a few more items off the list.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

IKEA desk attempt abandoned, Target wins!

Back in mid-July I told you we had settled on the IKEA Leksvik small desk for our living-room-turned-office-space revamp. It was the perfect size and a good style for our space, but after nearly a month of it being out of stock at the three area IKEA stores, I was getting antsy, and the large desk in our soon-to-be nursery space was the one thing standing in the way of making nursery progress.

So, during my shopping with Lindsay Sunday extravaganza I spotted a small espresso colored desk at Target, saw the $100 price tag, which is $30 less than that for the similar IKEA desk, and within an hour Matt and I returned to Target so he could check it out, too. Not surprisingly, he was immediately on board, as his motto with all things home decor related is, "If you think it's good, I defer to you." This works for our relationship.

We brought home the Carson Anywhere Desk in Espresso finish, and Matt assembled it by himself while I ate a (heavy) mid-afternoon snack and read the entire birth story post series over at OhApostrophe, the latest blog I've started reading.

Here's the new desk in its new living room home...

If you have a keen eye, you've no doubt picked out my greatest pet peeve present in that photo. That's right, out of control cords. We don't even have that many cords, but they are all quite visible, and as the desk is one of the first items you see when you arrive on our second (and main) floor, these need to be contained. We have a few ideas for hiding them, but I'd love any of your suggestions.

The old table that used to be in the living room has been separated from its legs and is now taking up the remaining area in our crawl space, and we're crossing our fingers that someone will want both our old desk and old chair we're advertising on Craigslist (and would love to make $100 total to mean we could possibly break even with the new desk purchase). Now the living room is much more open (even with the addition of another new-to-us piece of childhood toy box that we picked up from my parents this weekend).


After (though still quite a work-in-progress)

Picture the open space occupied with a playmat, quilt with some toys (and a baby!) and maybe even an Exersaucer to boot, and you might have a preview of our future. For now, we're loving the open space and the fact that I can basically never leave the second floor of our house and be totally content.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Early nursery musings

Last week when we returned from our trip to Argentina (which I realize I need to write about....there is so much to write about these days!) I strolled around the newish Jo-Ann Fabrics store near our house. Although I love to DIY and decorate, you may recall that I know nothing about sewing. Still, I am determined to make curtains for the nursery.

After only about five minutes of searching last week I found EXACTLY the fabric I was looking for. It could not have been more perfectly suited to my vision even if I had designed it myself. Today my friend Lindsay and I ran a bunch of baby-preparation (for me)/house-buying (for Linds) errands, and one of our stops included returning to Jo-Ann Fabrics where I planned to use my 50 percent off fabric coupon that went into effect today. I was even more thrilled when a sign next to my expensive choice of fabric advertised the 60 percent off deal for this particular line of fabrics, a special that ended today. Done and done.

Of course, I had picked the most expensive fabric possible at $40 per yard, but the 60 percent off deal brought it down to $16 per yard, which seems much more reasonable (for someone who knows nothing about fabric). We went with 6 yards of fabric for the two curtains, which thanks to Lindsay's recent homeowner expertise should be more than enough for the 84" curtains I plan to craft through a no-sew project. I was ready to buy another 6 yards to have on hand to make matching curtains for the closet, whose doors have a high probability of being removed once we get all the furniture items for the nursery purchased and set up. But perhaps the fact that the store only had about 7.5 yards of the fabric in stock was the sign that I should sleep on that decision.

Right now I am simply thrilled to be the proud owner of this...

I've had visions of a gray-walled nursery running through my head for about two months now, so I figure it's an idea that I like (and apparently one that is en vogue these days, at least according to this aptly timed post about gray nurseries over at With Two Cats). These curtains have a small amount of gray in the leaves. I love the idea of red, orange and yellow accents to brighten up the space, and such additional colors should help quell Matt's fears of us designing a drab nursery. I also like birds as a decorative element, and while I do not want a "themed" nursery, the abstract birds on the curtains should be a cute touch to the space. Most importantly, though, I want to create a gender neutral and not overly babyish nursery, and these curtains should be a good inspiration for the rest of the space following suit. Heck, when we no longer have a need for a nursery however many years down the line I can see us using these curtains in another part of the house.

I won't be making the curtains immediately as I want to practice this art on some less important fabric first, but I'm glad I bought the materials for what is sure to become the centerpiece of the nursery.

In the meantime, two questions I'd love answers to:
1) Do you have any advice for making DIY no-sew curtains? I'll be following these tutorials from Young House Love and Project Nursery, but I'd appreciate any more first-hand experiences.

2) Do you have any recommendations for a no or low-VOC paint? We would like to try out a gray color of this type of paint, and we figure the nursery is the place to use it.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Crawl space discoveries

Unlike Tuesday's post which I wrote from an 88 degree office, today's post comes from a comfortable 76 degree office. After over 72 hours without AC it finally got hooked back up today, which was a welcome relief. We could get our AC reinstalled because the patio installation also officially ended today when the workers returned to seal the concrete. The patio installation should have ended on Wednesday, but some Wednesday rain set us back another day. All in all, the process went much more smoothly than I anticipated, despite being without AC during a Washington area humid August. So, I'll share how we settled on a concrete patio and post some patio pics once we can walk on the patio and put our new furniture out there, which won't be for another week.

The patio installation and subsequent AC switch off meant that the lower level of our house has been the most refreshing level for the past few days, so I spent the better part of yesterday being productive in our crawl space. I should also add that since Sunday morning I had completely lost my voice, so I was looking for a talk-free activity to take on while sweating it out in our house. Fortunately, my voice return in full by Wednesday night, and the crawl space reorganization was a fun success by the end of the night as well. In the process of sorting through everything in there I came across some fun discoveries packed away inside the crawl space.

We are fortunate that the home's previous owners put in a door for a crawl space under our entryway stairs. We access the crawl space through a small door in our coat closet. (Apologies for the bad picture!)

The crawl space has been a great place to store those items we don't access all that often. Now that we are trying to reshuffle our house and use all our storage space to the max, it was time to take everything out of the crawl space, throw stuff out, consolidate boxes, and reorganize everything as it went back in so that we could hopefully double the amount of stuff housed in the crawl space. If all goes according to plan, we'll even be storing a table and chairs in there when we transform part of the living room into the office/play area. I'm so pleased with the amount of storage inside the crawl space. Here is the after shot; as usual I forgot to take a before shot. But there is definitely plenty of space to fill as this is only about 2/3 of the crawl space, and even this portion still has space to spare.

You might notice that right now, besides the obvious chair that is waiting for its three friends to join it shortly, there are a few plastic bins in there and one milk crate that rather clearly holds a slew of stuffed animals. About half of the contents of the crawl space in its current iteration are items saved from my childhood. One clear plastic box is my catch-all container for all Stephanie memorabilia, including yearbooks, letters, school papers, childhood art, awards, play and event programs, newspaper clippings, and other sentimental objects. The yellow plastic container closer to the front contains items I specifically saved for future children, including some clothes, dolls, toys, books, and dress-up items. I would like to point out that I started assembling these boxes when I was rather young; I started the memorabilia box when I was about 8 and the items for future children I started putting aside when I was about 10. This organizational bone has been strong and virtually innate.

Yesterday was the day when I thanked my 8-year-old self for my foresight in setting aside these items. I hadn't looked through them in years, so it was super exciting to dig through these two bins yesterday as I uncovered objects that I started looking at in a new light now that the time to pass along some items to my own children is getting closer. I'm only now starting to think more seriously about a design for the nursery, so those plans are still being drawn up, and we find out the baby's sex in a week and a half. But no matter what, I know that the nursery will be gender neutral and I'd like it to contain on display a few of my childhood items (and I'd love to get my hands on some of Matt's childhood items to throw into the mix).

So, without further ado, here are some favorites:

Sheep stuffed animal -- this boy sat on the tall dresser in my childhood room until I was about 15 and decided I had enough.

Snoopy music box -- This is most definitely from the 70s as it was my older brother's toy before I inherited it. The pop-up Snoopy has seen better days, but I guess that's part of the "charm," right?

Caterpillar pull toy -- I think I knew to save this one because my mom made such a big deal when I was younger about how this was a special imported wooden toy from somewhere like Germany. It's still pretty appropriately funky.

Bank and nightlight -- I am not the type to buy a baby piggy bank, but somehow I grew up with this weird little plastic "Baby's Nest Egg" bank. It looks like it's from 1955 instead of 1981, so I'm not really sure of its origins, but it's quite familiar to me as I would look at it daily on a shelf in my room. The doggie nightlight is also a familiar presence. I had (well, still have) a healthy fear of the dark, so this little guy burned bright every night of my childhood probably right until I left for college.

Wooden milk truck/tic-tac-toe game -- This is another one my mom said I should keep, so I did, and I'm glad I did. Wooden toys are so 2011, right?

I realize few, if any, of these items are intended for newborns, and I do not plan on turning them into my own kid's toys, at least until he/she is old enough to treat them well. But I like the visions that are floating through my head of these goodies decorating the nursery. So, thank you, 8-year-old Stephanie, for making this possible.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Anti-bug juice: Skin So Soft

Today's short post is brought to you from my steamy office where temps are up to 88 degrees, thanks to the fact that our AC is disconnected. Of course, the reason our AC is disconnected is a good one: our concrete patio is being poured as I write this! So, I'll be thrilled when we not only have an awesome new patio to enjoy, but also when we have some temperature control in our home. This is one item from the summer bucket list!

So, I'll be making my way back downstairs in front of the fan in approximately 5 minutes before I melt, but I thought I would share this simple product appreciation post.

During the late spring I started thinking about bug spray and how I would rather not spray myself with true bug spray in an effort to avoid unnecessary chemicals, especially during pregnancy. I remembered back in the day when my Aunt Sandra was an Avon lady and she would give me Skin So Soft (I was 8) and tell me it's also a perfect bug repellent. Back then I didn't particularly care, but the lesson stuck. This also appears to be a lesson many ladies have learned from their southern female relatives, and I definitely have plenty of southern females in my family.

So when I passed the little Avon kiosk at our mall in early June I knew I needed to buy a bottle of the original spray formula. I'm so glad I did. So far this summer I have not gotten any bug bites (knock on wood). This is apparently quite a feat given the supposed fact that pregnant skin is more sensitive and more likely to appeal to bugs. For $6 it has been worth it.