Fall front porch

My DIY wreath, which had such potential to change with the seasons and be a happy, holiday-appropriate fixture of our front door, is finally living up to its potential! Last year I attempted to update it for fall and then for Christmas, but both were fairly sad attempts. I am pleased with this round though.

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Our entire front porch got a tiny bit festive for fall.

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See the neighborhood watchman?

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I just tucked some fake leaves behind fall-colored felt flowers that are attached with bobbi pins.

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Our previous doormat lasted five years — and by lasted I mean it lay there for five years. It probably should have been replaced much sooner, but this find was worth the wait. It ties our blue door trim in with the fall colors.

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Corban helped us pick our family of pumpkins from Cozy Nook Farm’s pumpkin patch. They aren’t quite to scale.

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We learned the hard way that mums apparently require sunlight. Or at least that’s why I’m guessing ours died and our neighbors’ across the street are thriving.

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Happy fall! Although now it’s pretty much time to change over to Christmas decor. I’ll share that as soon as I get it up!

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Easy closet makeover

Inspired by the first month’s “Happier at Home” challenge to cultivate “shrines” (places you spend a lot of time) and by my mom’s and sister’s recent closet makeovers, I decided to tackle my own closet. The goal: make it easier and more pleasant to get ready each morning. I made a few simple changes to accomplish that goal.

Here’s a look at my closet before. Apologies for the cringe-inducing photo quality.

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(Yes, I own four Snuggies. One is Peter’s actually. But apparently I look like a person who enjoys a good blanket with sleeves, because I’ve received more than one as a gift.)

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Pretty stuffed with clothes, and haphazardly storing towels, purses and miscellaneous junk.

Here’a a look at the closet after my little makeover:

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Not just less cluttered, but smarter! I thought about my daily routine and considered what I could change about my closet to make it assist me in that routine.

First up: the shelves. Here are my top two shelves before — storing bath towels, hand towels and washcloths (along with old journals).

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The towels had to go. I moved them into our bathroom, where I just stacked them next to the jacuzzi tub. It was space unused by anyone except Basil, who liked to chase her tail in that corner. I think she’s moved on, though, and I’ve cleared out a shelf!

I moved sweaters up to that shelf, leaving a few select towels and pillow cases on the top shelf with the journals.

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Here is what my middle two shelves looked like before:

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The upper of those two shelves was cleared when I moved some sweaters up, so I then had a free shelf to work with.

I decided to move all my jewelry into the closet. I had been keeping it on my bathroom counter, but it made more sense to keep accessories in the space that I use to get dressed, rather than on valuable bathroom counter space.

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I used this jewelry organizer my mom was getting rid of to keep my earrings in view for easy access.

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And to complete the jewelry transition and organization, I hung 3M Command hooks on the opposite (previously blank) wall for my necklaces.

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I hung a $5 mirror from Michael’s above it. It was a little small, so I found a larger one at the dollar store that has since replaced it. Wonderful $1 upgrade!

I absolutely love having my necklaces hung like that. It makes getting ready so much easier, and it encourages me to wear more of my jewelry since I can easily see it all.

Moving on… here are the bottom two shelves before:

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Qué disastre!

I moved those colorful towels into the basement linen closet. I only really use them for hot yoga, which I haven’t been to in about two years. They’re good as extra guest towels though.

My next breakthrough move was to store my underwear and bras in the closet. Why didn’t I think of this sooner? I had been keeping them in my dresser out in the bedroom, which is out of the way when showering and getting dressed. Two brown bins from Target did the trick.

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And that bottom shelf got a good cleaning out and straightening up. I must admit, however, that Corban crawls in every morning and takes each purse out one by one, so it usually doesn’t look that neat. Whatever keeps him entertained though…

I don’t have a good before photo of this part of the closet, but it was pretty unruly with scarves, skirts and jackets protruding into my personal space every time I stood in there. Here it is now:

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I took the hangers that I was using for scarves and moved belts onto them.

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That took the belts off their previously overflowing hanger and gave them some better visibility for me. The scarves moved to a hanger outfitted with shower hooks and hung nicely on a hook on the wall behind the closet door.

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They key here is to use a velvety/textured hanger. I tried it on a regular plastic hanger and the shower curtain hooks all slid to one corner.

This floor space got some straightening up, too. I got rid of some bags I never use and took the area from this:

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To this:

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It’s amazing how much more functional my closet is now, thanks to these few simple upgrades. The total cost was probably about $25, for hooks, a mirror and cloth bins. Everything else was made possible by just reorganizing or repurposing things.

Before and after:

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If you have any closet-related organization tips, please share!

 

The Nursery: Personal touches

Since I finally got around to showing you Corban’s nursery (I was so not one of those moms who rocked peacefully in the glider of the finished nursery while anticipating the arrival of her beloved baby – our nursery was a wreck when C was born and we still don’t even have a glider), I want to share a few personal touches we added to the room. I’m not talking about DIY things – which, yes, are personal, and are in our nursery – but rather sentimental items.

STUFFED BEAR

My parents brought this stuffed bear to the hospital with them when they came to visit the day after Corban was born. It goes along with the book “On the Night You Were Born,” which they also gave us. It took me two weeks to work up the courage to read the book, because I knew it would make me sob in my overly emotional, hormonal, post-partum state. And sob I did. Corban has lots of stuffed animals from mine and Peter’s childhoods (and gifts) in the closet, but this bear gets a special spot because it reminds me of the night he was born.

SHOWER “GUESTBOOK”

Next to the bear sits a framed photo of Corban as a newborn surrounded by a matte signed by all the ladies at the baby shower my sister threw for me. It’s so fun to remember the anticipation we all felt that day (and the entire pregnancy) and look back on everyone’s joy and excitement. Someday maybe it will be fun for Corban to see how excited my friends and family were for his arrival (but I’m not counting on it, haha).

HOOK SOUVENIR

Our trip to Tucson last August was the last big vacation Peter and I took together before becoming parents (if you consider him tagging along with me to a journalism conference a vacation). We stayed a couple extra days to celebrate our anniversary at the resort where the conference was held and I also considered it our “babymoon.” One day we went into town to do some shopping and came upon an adorable store full of handmade and vintage items, including quite a few baby things. I wanted to get something for our baby, so I picked out this hook for the nursery. It aptly fits the decor and is useful for hanging towels to dry, but most of all I love the memory it holds.

FOOTPRINT

His tiny foot at one week old. This one is pretty self-explanatory. Oh, and remember how special that photo is?

STUFFED LAMB

The only stuffed animal aside from the bear that gets to live out in the open at this point is a stuffed lamb that Peter’s mom gave us when Corban was born. It has lavender in it, which is supposed to be calming. When Corban was only a few weeks old I started setting the lamb in my lap while I would read to him and get him calmed down for bed, and now the lamb sits in our nursing chair at all times.

ELEPHANT FIGURINE

My mom gave me this little doo-dad a few years ago, and it’s been in the nursery since back when it was a guest bedroom. I love elephants. They’re my “thing.” And this little figurine I’ve loved from the start fits the nursery decor perfectly.

It’s such a comfort having little sentimental items like this around us in the nursery. If you’re a parent, what kinds of personal touches did you add to your child’s nursery?

How to make yarn balloon pendants

In tomorrow’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, in honor of Mother’s Day, I have a short story on how Corban’s nursery came together. Look, it’s posted online right now if you want to read it!

So, there it is. The nursery:

I’ll write more about it in a few upcoming posts, but right now I want to share how to make the yarn balloon pendants hanging over the crib. If you remember from my inspiration board, I loved the idea of hanging paper lanterns over the crib. Then I saw balloon-shaped yarn party decorations on Pinterest, and realized they would fit perfectly with the print of an elephant being whisked away by balloons that I had already hung.

They seemed easy enough to make, so I decided to go for it. Here’s what I did:

STEP 1: Stir together an approximately 50/50 mixture of glue and water. Regular old Elmer’s works fine. You can also get by with a little more water than glue. No real need to measure it.

STEP 2: Cut about 30 to 40 3- to 5-foot pieces of yarn.

STEP 3: Blow up a balloon to your desired size and suspend it somewhere where you can get a little messy. I found that the easiest way to suspend the balloon was to pierce through the tip with a wire hanger and hang it on a rack in the laundry room.

Looking back, it might have been easier to use a safety pin instead of a wire hanger. You will also want to put some newspaper or a dropcloth underneath to catch drips.

STEP 4: Dip a piece of yarn entirely into the glue mixture. Wring it between your fingers to remove excess glue as you lift it out. Hold one end of the string at the the tip of the balloon and carefully wrap the yarn around the balloon in a random pattern. Tuck the other end of the yarn under or around itself to keep it on the balloon.

Repeat with remainder of yarn pieces until you have reached your desired coverage of your balloon (like the one below on the left).

STEP 5: Let the yarn dry for at least 24 hours. I think I gave mine a good two days, or until it was completely dry on the bottom.

STEP 6: Carefully – carefully – poke your fingers between the holes of the yarn and push the balloon away from it. You’ll hear a crunching noise as the yarn becomes unglued from the balloon. Do this all over, in every nook and cranny, until you don’t hear much of the crunching noise anymore. You don’t want the yarn to stick to the balloon in this next step (I learned this the hard way when my first yarn sculpture completely collapsed in step 7. So sad!)

STEP 7: Use a thumbtack or pin to pop the balloon. Carefully extract the balloon pieces from the center of the yarn ball and remove it from the hanger.

STEP 8: Tie a piece of yarn tightly around the top of the balloon and hang it up!

I didn’t want to put holes in the ceiling so I used some 3M Command hooks to hang mine. The pendants haven’t come crashing down yet so I consider it a success (they’re super light so even if they did, they wouldn’t hurt Baby C!)

Unfortunately, my dark blue balloon suffered some damage from curious cat explorations when they were first hung. The cats have since lost interest, and I’ve lost motivation to re-do it, but there’s always the possibility that someday I’ll replace it. I’m also considering adding another couple to fill out the area a bit.

This project wasn’t too challenging, but it was a bit mundane wrapping string after string around the balloons. In the end, it was worth it since it works so perfectly in our nursery, but as you can tell I’m not overly enthusiastic about repeating the process anytime soon.

Stay tuned for some more nursery tidbits and DIY projects in the coming week.

From house to home, and a Valentine’s Day wreath

Of all the things that have changed since we brought Corban home from the hospital, perhaps the most unexpected is my relationship with our house.

In the almost three and a half years that we’ve lived here, I don’t think I ever truly took pleasure in our home until I started spending a lot more time in it while on maternity leave.

For 3+ years, I woke up every weekday morning, scrambled to get out the door to work, rushed to the gym or another activity after work, perhaps making a brief stop at home to cobble together some sort of dinner, and then came home to crash in bed and repeat it again the next day. On the weekends, I spent most of my time at home undertaking cleaning or yardwork tasks — clearing piles of clutter, dishes, laundry, papers, etc. that had accumulated during the week.

That’s an exaggeration, but the truth of it is that my time at home was more often than not a pit stop between time spent elsewhere, which made our house a dumping ground, and therefore a battleground on which I constantly struggled to undo the mess that inevitably creeps up when your home is more a storage facility than a sanctuary.

In theory, I cared about making our home the place I wanted it to be — painting various rooms, decorating for different holidays, updating a few things — but in reality, it didn’t bother me on a daily basis that it wasn’t. I didn’t spend enough time there to care if there were pictures on the walls, curtains on the windows or even a Christmas tree.

When my pregnancy-induced nesting instinct kicked in, I finally checked a few things off my to-do list of home improvements. You may have read about some of them. But I still was rushing around — more than ever, actually — and home was the place where I slept more than anything else.

But now that I’m not working, everything seems different.

My job is to feed a hungry little boy who at times ties me to the couch for seemingly hours on end (this is getting better, finally), and I’m finding that I finally have time to get joy out of our physical home. I spend time just being here, and I look around and remember why we bought this house. I delight in the lovely open floor plan with lots of light. I look at the pictures I finally placed in the frames hanging in our family room, and I think, “how nice!” I start to get crazy thoughts about decorating for Valentine’s Day. I have a whole new perspective now that I spend most of my time here.

Sure, I still struggle with laundry piles and dirty dishes and the like (and I admit I have an ongoing battle with clearing the clutter), but those war zones aren’t my focus all the time now. I must say, it feels really nice to get pleasure out of our home instead of battle it.

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On that note, I did actually do a tiny bit of Valentine’s Day decorating. I was shocked that I even had the urge, but I guess this nesting thing is no joke, and it continues well after the baby is born.

Inspired once again by Pinterest and saddened that our door was bare after finally taking down our Christmas wreath, I decided our front door could use a wreath for all seasons. I had a hankering to make one of those yarn wreaths that seem to be all the rage on the Internet these days, but create it in a way that I could update it for various holidays by switching out different colored felt flowers.

It’s a good thing I started this project mid-January, because wrapping yarn around an entire wreath is a time-consuming endeavor, and large chunks of free time are just not a part of my life right now. With spare minutes spent here and there wrapping, wrapping, wrapping white yarn around a wood wreath (still in the packaging — important to note!), I finished up last night. You could probably finish it while watching one or two episodes of “The Bachelor” if you don’t watch “The Bachelor” while nursing your infant.

My plain, white yarn wreath is a blank canvas for festive flowers. And festive felt flowers, as it turns out, are way easy to make!

I used this tutorial to make the roses, this one for the layered, bright pink flowers (except I cut circles instead of flower shapes) and this one for the fringy ones like the big red one. The bright pink ones were the most time consuming, but the roses and the fringy flowers (not sure how else to describe them) were a cinch. All you need is felt (24 cents a sheet a Michaels), scissors and a hot glue gun.

To make the flowers detachable, I used old bobbie pins (from my wedding day hairstyle, which had over 100 pins in it! I knew I was saving them for something) like this:

I bent the pins in two places for the small flowers and one for the larger flowers. The goal was to have a U-shape to hot glue onto the back of the flowers, with a tighter U-shape or simply the straight pin hovering slightly from the base. Pictures describe it better than words:

Then you can arrange the flowers on the wreath without gluing them permanently on. Just poke the bobbie pins through the yarn.

I hung it on our front door using ribbon…

…and tying the ribbon to a hook that was already on the back side of the door to hang holiday wreaths. A bow gives the inside of the door a little decoration and hides the hook.

I’m excited to make more felt flowers and transform the wreath for various seasons throughout the year. At least for a few days we’ll have some Valentine’s Day festivity though.

I ended up making a few too many roses, so the candles on our mantle got some dressing up for the season too.

Working folks, I’m curious to know, how much pleasure do you get out of your home? Are you like I was before maternity leave forced me to slow down? If so, how can you change that? That’s one thing I’ll be thinking about when I go back to work!

Getting organized, one small step at a time

Time – the kind of time you have to spend without regard for the clock – has become a luxury I no longer have in my life.

It’s weird because now I have time to do things I never had time for before Corban arrived, like read on my Kindle while he nurses and take walks and runs during the day, but I can never quite relax and take my time with anything anymore.

It’s all about Corban and his needs, so when he goes down for a nap or sits contentedly in his Boppy or in Daddy’s arms, the clock starts ticking and if I want to eat breakfast I’d better do it as quickly as possible because there’s no telling when he’ll need me again (we are still on a fairly very unpredictable schedule).

My nesting instinct has kicked in majorly over the past couple weeks, which means my to-do list has multiplied in length. But I don’t have a free afternoon to tackle a big declutter like I would like to, so each item must be broken down into small, manageable tasks, otherwise there’s no guarantee Corban will give me the time to finish it.

This is actually working out really well for me. By focusing on one little thing at a time I actually accomplish some of them in a day. The other day I rearranged our kitchen counter so it doesn’t look as cluttered. Yesterday I cleaned out one shelf in our pantry. I took on a single drawer in my nightstand. I may not be able to do a sweeping reorganization of the house, but these little 15-minute tasks will add up in time.

Before Corban was born, I spent less time at home but somehow had the idea that I could tackle huge tasks around the house on a Tuesday night. I inevitably would fail and then stress out about it. This method would have been smarter then, too.

What’s one little thing you can accomplish today to help you feel more organized? Do it! (But first write it down on a list somewhere so you can check it off when you’re done. That’s the best part.)

My first contraction

Er… maybe this post should be titled “My first contraction (I think).” I still am a little bit confused as to what a contraction actually feels like.

But let’s talk about that (possibly) first one.

Two weeks ago, Peter and I were discussing what needed to be done house-wise that weekend. His top priority: painting doors for the basement. My top priority: the nursery! Specifically, moving the guest bed out of the nursery so I could finally start arranging and organizing things.

Peter thought moving the bed should wait until the basement is done so we could move it straight down there. I thought (knew) the baby would be here before the basement was done. He thought that didn’t matter and we could finish the nursery after the baby arrives (he/she will sleep in our room at first).

And eventually it turned into an emotional (on my part) and heated argument that involved me telling (yelling at) him that stress causes preterm labor and not finishing setting up the nursery soon would bring me lots of stress and you don’t want the baby to be born premature, do you???

And then, as I stormed off to get a glass of water, I felt it. At exactly the perfect moment I needed to make my point. My abs involuntarily flexed and my stomach felt tight and hard.

“Peter…” I called. “I think I’m having a contraction.”

It didn’t hurt. And of course I knew if it were indeed a contraction, it was harmless. But it was just so perfect!

“Do you see what the stress of this argument is doing to me?! I’m having my first contraction! We NEED to move the bed this weekend.”

The End.

Epilogue

We did move the bed that weekend. I don’t think it had anything to do with my unstable emotional state and questionable persuasive skills from the incident described above. But ever since the bed made its exit I’ve felt much more calm and relaxed.

‘A piece of history’

A few weeks ago, a company-wide email went out offering Journal Sentinel employees “a piece of history.”

I, of course, jumped at this opportunity. Let me explain.

Built in 1924 and designed by Chicago architect Frank D. Chase, a stone frieze depicting the history of communication long adorned the top of the Journal Sentinel building.

(Photo from my colleague Mary Louise Schumacher’s Art City blog)

Last year, it was inspected and deemed unsafe after sustaining years of damage. Restoring or preserving it was cost prohibitive, so this summer I watched the frieze get torn off the building every morning as I walked in to work. Read more about the history and tearing down of it in this great Art City blog post.

Most of the frieze was torn up as it came down, but a few larger stones came off intact. Those are going to the Milwaukee Historic Society.

The rest of the pieces were set out in the parking lot one afternoon, when that “piece of history” email was sent, and offered to anyone who was willing to haul gigantic hunks of broken stone home.

I scored a decent piece that had some art on it. Although I’m not sure “scored” is the appropriate word.

The only problem: it weighs 300 pounds. Hmmm. What do you do with a 300-pound rock?

A few men from building management were able to load the giant stone into the back of Peter’s minivan (work vehicle – we’re not planning that far ahead!). Amazingly, Peter somehow managed to get it out of the van, with very little help from me (two-by-fours and gravity did the trick).

But there was no way we could carry it anywhere. Going up or down stairs would be nearly impossible, and even if we could get it in the house (I originally – before learning how heavy it was – envisioned it propped up next to our fireplace or in the soon-to-be-finished basement somewhere. Ha!) it would be too heavy to hang or prop up against anything. We couldn’t even really prop it up outside or next to the front door without damaging the house.

So, it’s staying where we unloaded it.

At least for now.

I’m not fully convinced it looks OK just hanging out in our flower bed, but that’s pretty much the only spot for it at this point. Peter thinks it looks good there, and claims a friend of ours agreed when he was over the other day. I’ll have to see if it grows on me or we come up with an alternative.

But I guess it’s still pretty cool to have an 87-year-old piece of the Journal Sentinel building displayed on our property. Any ideas on what else we could do with it?

The nursery: Inspiration board and new rug

I left you yesterday with the before pictures of the nursery (a.k.a. current guest bedroom). Oh, the suspense! 😉

The one thing I knew about the nursery from the beginning was I didn’t want to paint the walls. They are a very pale blue color that I think is pretty and relaxing. No need to mess with that. So the next step in my mind was finding a pretty rug that I could use as the base for the room’s accessories (and to cover up some of the burber carpet that isn’t very cozy).

I looked at just about every rug on Wayfair and Home Decorators and in a rare moment of decisiveness, picked one out. That was the base of my inspiration board on Olioboard (great site for collecting design ideas for a room).

The idea is to keep the changes simple. We’re just sprucing up the room for Baby.

I kept being drawn to turquoise, and decided that it would be a fun accent color. We already have a bookshelf almost exactly like that one in the room, and it would be easy to paint it. I picked up two mirrors at Target that we can paint the same shade of turquoise.

The first step, though, was buying the rug. Once I knew just how it looked in person, it’d be easier to plan.

Let me just preface this series of photos by saying Biggles really likes this rug. It has a new-car smell to it and it’s really soft, so after I rolled it out he proceeded to rub his body over every square inch of it.

Basil was a little more cautious about it.

My thoughts: it’s actually a different color than I was expecting. The photo on Wayfair looked gray with yellow designs. In reality, it’s more like light blue with tan designs. But I still really like it and think it will work in the room. It’s also very thick and soft. I kind of don’t blame Biggles for wanting to roll all over it.

So that’s progress, people! We have a rug.

Of course, after the shower, the room just looks like this:

I actually sort of attempted to pile things by category as I unpacked them, but there’s definitely still a lot of organizing to do.

I’d love to know, where do you go for design inspiration? I usually start with a rug (which can take years for me to pick out – I’ll tell you about that later) or browse Young House Love and other blogs. This was my first time using Olioboard, and now that I have a computer that isn’t super slow, I love it!

The nursery: Before

I have been increasingly thinking about – AND actually taking action for! – the nursery. But before I tell you all about how I want it to look, let’s take a look at some before shots.

Here’s what the nursery looked like a couple weeks ago:

That’s right, a guest bedroom! We even had guests stay in it a couple weeks ago.

The wall color in the above two photos is highly deceptive. It’s not green, but more of a very pale blue. Below it looks slightly more true to color.

Not a whole lot of progress has been made since then, but I have made a couple purchases that I will share with you later today or tomorrow. I’ll also give you a peek at my inspiration board and the few changes I plan to make to the room. It’s not much, but I’m really excited about it.

Stay tuned…