Thursday, August 28, 2014

Ten

 
A decade is an peculiar amount of time. (I was going to say it's "odd", but it is in fact "even" as luck would have it.) 

In so many ways, it feels like it was just last week.  In other ways, it's remarkable how much can happen and change in ten years.

Ten years.  We spent the first year of marriage anticipating our daughter.  She was born about 3 weeks after our first anniversary (if you've ever known a lady that's 38 weeks pregnant, you can imagine how romantic that first anniversary was!).  Then somehow time went by...we bought a house to bring back to life. We made a ton of fantastic friends. We watched our daughter ride her trike, then her bike through the neighborhood.  We lost a very special dog.  We gained another dog who's pretty daggum cool in her own right.  Oh we got a weird cat too (got to give Emilie a shout out).
Ten years...swine flu, the economic bubble, ice storms, emotional storms.  A lot has happened in ten years, but because we've gone through it, learned and grown together it seems like it was all just yesterday.  Being married is not all fun and games.  It's a decision to love someone every single day, to be a united family front.  Most days, that's an easy decision.  On occasion, it's not. 

But that's the point...all the good and the bad; all the wonderful and the insane...those are the things that you only have in common with your spouse. Only time can create a relationship like that. And if you try to do it right, that's what keeps making the friendship and love deeper over the years.  There's only one person that's in the trenches with you every single day.  Worrying over fevers, celebrating career successes, rinsing dishes, packing lunches.  No one else is quite as "with" you in these moments as your spouse.
I am very much looking forward to the rest of this adventure.  Happy anniversary, Kevin!  Ten years since I married you, nineteen since I met you...it has just flown by.  
 
It's always been you.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Neighborhood Halloween Fun

I have always had a hard time planning for Halloween.  I'm getting better at it though! Living in the Vortex helps. Plus I've figured out that All Hallows Eve is 5 out of 7 times a school night. Funny how that works. So that means a mad rush to get into the costumes that the Littles are so excited to wear, get dinner fixed and eaten, and get to trick-or-treating all before school night bedtime.  It's exhausting, and the children are manic to go through their candy (that they can only have a few pieces of anyway).
Enter Neighborhood Halloween Party!  This is a great way to either skip traditional trick or treating all together (some neighborhoods have very few participating candy giver outers these days) or add some extra time to leisurely be in costume.


I love my neighbors.  Truly.  And this collaborative effort for the kids (and, um, us adults too) was so fun.  Here's the recipe that makes it work:
Friends!
This party is potluck style...spooky treats, prizes, decorations and games provided by several neighbors, friends and family members.

Food!
Halloween can make preparing the food items so fun.  Just look at Tracy's skeleton vegetable tray.  She is the queen of vegetable tray art.



Individual cups of mandarin oranges get made over into Jack O'lanterns.  White paper bags become a ghostly way to hold popcorn or snack mix.  Also check out our (non candy!) favors and prizes in the Jack O'bucket.  Stickers, glow sticks, straws, tattoos, pencils...all good stuff.  None of it leads to maniacal children, so I'm a huge fan.

Hot dogs and crescent rolls make great mummies.  Be sure to make the spiderweb ketchup and mustard for dipping.

And just because there should probably be some form of candy, Reese's cups and pretzel sticks are perfect witches' broomsticks.  

If you want to go the extra step, especially if it's chilly out (you never know here in South Carolina) make a crock pot of soup or chili to serve with some fall ale and cider. 
Games!
If you're working with a group of friends, chances are that you all have some sort of Halloween game somewhere.  The spider web toss,

 a themed twister mat...the things that go on clearance and you impulse buy because it's cute. 



Even if you don't have those store bought games, here are some more fun activities the kids loved:

Toilet paper bowling...put a pumpkin costume on rolls of toilet paper and see if you can knock 'em all down.  You could also use orange solo cups.  Our kids love building and knocking down solo cups.  Best toy I ever bought ;)


Another brilliant idea of Heather's (and I hope you all have a Tracy and a Heather on your street for parties like this...they're the coolest) is marshmallow eating contests!  Heather drew ghoulish ghost faces on marshmallows with a food safe pen, and we strung them from the ol' magnolia tree.  Kids had to try to eat them...no hands!  That really kept 'em busy, let me tell ya.


One more quick and easy idea...chalkboard pumpkins!!  I swear, I will chalkboard paint anything that will sit still long enough.  A can of spray paint goes a long way, so I just picked up the craft pumpkins at Michael's and painted them.  The kids can make all sorts of Jack O'lantern designs on these.  So cute!

Just a few more pictures of all the (non school night, sans candy overload) fun.  I hope you'll think about adding a get together to the Halloween plans this year.


 




Thursday, August 14, 2014

Room swap: Her new room

 Ready, set, room swap!  The first room we tackled was the Homey room.  Two main reasons made this move make sense.  It was time to turn our little kid's room into a big kid room.  And by putting her in a smaller room, we could allow most of her toys and games to relocate to a larger space.  Having sleep and play space combined in just a medium sized bedroom just wasn't working anymore. 

I really did love her little girl room:









Such good memories of cribs and Little People worlds (I swear we had all of those worlds just lining the room).

Now we start new memories of Barbies and Fashion Plates.  Chapter books and diaries.

All of the furniture (mostly family pieces) was reused, the decor just got streamlined and bit more Big Kiddish.  
 As far as cost was concerned, we only bought a gallon of paint, a new quilt ($30 at Marshals), and 3 12 x12 frames (40% off 3 visits to Michael's!) to frame our Barbie fashion art.


Plus a new light fixture ($30 at IKEA). 
 


Most of the fun stuff from her first room just got slightly redone in the new room.




Such a great update for her stuff.  There are still some dolls and such in baskets under her bed, but most toys now have their own happy space down the hall in the new playroom.   And even though it's a smaller room, there is still plenty of space still for organizing fashion magazines with German Shepherds. (Does a child of mine really love fashion...this can be attributed to neither nature nor nurture.)


In the world of room swapping, just remember that now that the Homey room is done, there is an office/playroom living in the Fireplace Room and a master bedroom to move.  No rest for the domestically weary!

Saturday, August 9, 2014

No Rules Decorating

It's no secret that we love our neighborhood.  Think Ozzie and Harriet, Ward and June.  Think Wally and the Beav riding bikes and trick or treating.  It's just charming and friendly here.  The houses are lovely, the lifestyle is perfect for our family.  But the one thing that isn't lovely and perfect can be the layout and space of the houses.  Each one, while full of life and character, poses it's own challenges for using the space and finding storage options.  It's worth my while to figure out how to make it work so that I can continue to call The Vortex home.

A house is more than a series of walls that dictate how we use the space within them.  Depending on the layout and demographics of your home, it's probable that at some points along the way, you want to pull your hair out.  The closet isn't big enough.  The toys won't fit...where on earth do these stuffed animals go?!  My table just won't work with me in this eat-in kitchen.  I don't think families in the 1950s had nearly as many stuffed animals and small appliances as we seem to.

Buy there's nothing demanding that you use the rooms in their traditional sense.  Here's what I mean:

The largest bedroom with direct access to a full bathroom does not necessarily want to be your master bedroom.
 
Your wonky cooking and eating space doesn't have to be so frustrating...it's just asking for a little more thought.

The extra room with no real purpose (our infamous "Fireplace Room") can do double duty and help alleviate some of the problems from those other rooms.

When all your rooms start thumbing their noses at you, it's time to have a conversation with your home-sweet-home.  Start reconsidering how the spaces are being used and how they could translate into easier living.

A word of warning:  If you do think room swapping is in your future, just be ready.  It's a great time to purge and organize (read: it's a hot mess).  It's a perfect opportunity to redecorate (read: you may be repainting every single room).  But it's so worth it in the end.  Just be prepared to work fast because this is just one photo of the during:
Dreadful.

Follow along with the pretty major changes we made, as we swapped the purpose of each bedroom, introduced purpose to the Fireplace Room, and started the journey of figuring out how to best use our kitchen.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Kitchening 101


 I've said this many times, but I think the best way to save money and eat well (in the sense of both taste and nutrition) is to cook mostly at home based on some sort of weekly menu.  That's the first step to making feeding the crew less of chore.  Because that's what it's can easily become, isn't it?  Even if you like cooking with and for your family, if each step is less than convenient the process becomes something you dread.

I love cooking, reading cookbooks like they're a novel, and putting meals together into nice neat little lists.  And I'm the freak that actually enjoys doing housework.  Except unloading the dishwasher.  I hate unloading the dishwasher!  (Although I make a point to thank the dishwasher daily for making such a contribution to our household.  I hate hand-washing dishes more than unloading a dishwasher).  Even weirdos like me who enjoy cooking and cleaning can dread supper time when things aren't quick and easy.



So, here are a few thoughts about avoiding the inconveniences that make cooking a chore.

Know what you're having for dinner.  Hemming and hawing over what to cook might have been fine when I was single, wild, and free.  And it might be fun on a random date night when you choose to stay in.  But day to day,  knowing what you're having saves time and mental energy (things that are not usually in surplus at the end of a busy day).

Know that you have the ingredients on hand.  It's helpful to have your basic meal plan before you make a grocery run.  Make your list accordingly.  Then you are ready to roll when it's time to cook.  There will always be a time that you've missed an ingredient.  It's not a complete fail when you have to run out to the store for something you're out of or text a neighbor to borrow.  Luckily, Tracy is my neighbor so when you need the most exotic of ingredients, she probably has it. Alternatively, know when you can exclude an ingredient.  Sometimes it won't make a huge difference.

Keep your knives sharp.  When your knives are sharp, prepping anything is quick and easy.  When they're not, it's a dreadful mess.

Overcome your obstacles.  I have absolutely no counter space to speak of.  But I do have an oversized cutting board from IKEA.  It easily fits over one side of my (needs to be replaced) sink, and expands my work space.  Everyone's obstacles will be different, but most can be overcome with a little brainstorming.

Finally, have a kitchen that's ready to work in.  Make sure the dishwasher is unloaded before you start working.  Nothing worse than a pile of pots and pans ready to wash when the dishwasher is full.  If you don't have a dishwasher, and I've lived this reality, then make sure your clean dishes are put away.  Hand washing loads of dishes, however, when done as a team, makes some really intimate talk time for man and wife.  Or parent and child.  Make the best of it if you have to. ;)

It's so cliche to say "Work smarter,  not harder", but it's the truth!  These things save me time and fend off frustration during the witching hour when everyone's blood sugar just plummeted.  It's what turns the apron into a super-hero's cape.  Give it a shot.  Since I'm not immune to occasional cooking dread, comment if you have time saving advice to getting food on the table. Keep home-cooked meals fun and instead of something you don't want to touch with a 10 foot pole.  I promise, you'll enjoy it (your budget will too!).


Thursday, July 31, 2014

Pickled Eggs

These are the people in my neighborhood.


Stand still chickens!  We'll get better pictures of them next time, I promise.  Perhaps a poultry pageant of sorts.

Those are actually just a few of the chickens in my neighborhood.  I have the unique opportunity to be "in the city" not so far from downtown, but also directly in the middle of two great neighbor friends with six chicken each.  That means, I have fresh eggs!  Sometimes lots of them if we're chicken sitting. 




 So let's use eggs.  Pickled eggs, just to be different.

Just a quick note:  I love eggs and finding creative ways to use them.  But I do not like hard-boiled eggs, deviled eggs, or anything similar.  This recipe is a favorite of the other 2/3 of the household, though.  We can't all stop because of what I don't eat, right?  Right.

Here's what you need:
Hard boiled eggs, as many as you want to make.  We usually do right at a dozen.
Pickle juice
Maybe a large jar if you're doing a big batch that won't fit in your existing pickle jar.

That's all!


Boiling fresh eggs is a little different.  Boil the water first, then carefully lower your (very well washed) fresh eggs into the water.  Make sure the water is covering the eggs.  Once they're covered and boiling, set a timer for 15 minutes.
 

Prep a bowl of ice, so when your egg timer (Oh wait! Now I get why it's called an egg timer.) goes off, you're ready to go.  Strain your eggs into a colander then put them on ice.  Top off with cold water, and chill.

You can literally go chill while your eggs cool off.  Homey took this opportunity to hop in her pj's...you can totally continue with your evening routine with cooking projects like this.  Why not get your pj's on?





We did this little family activity one evening after dinner, so a lot of these pictures are not the best quality. And eggs and pickle juice aren't very photogenic either, I've decided.  I do, however, include the above picture as an example of how all of us (minus Emilie the cat) manage to squeeze into the same square foot whenever anyone is trying to do something in this tiny kitchen of ours.  All I can do is shake my head, sigh, and resign myself to appreciating that we're all here enjoying time all together.  ALL here, all together. 


 Anyway, once the eggs are cool, just tap them on the edge of the sink and peel away!

To take regular ol' hard boiled eggs to a new level, just pull out those jars of pickle juice that you've saved.  I have more reasons than just pickled eggs to save those, so just hang on to pickle juice going forward, won't you?   For now, just put those eggs in the juice.  Little Homey hands and arms make this an easy task. The eggs need to sit in the fridge for about a week to properly pickle.  But I guarantee if you like any form of hard boiled eggs, you'll like this variation.



The insanity doesn't have to stop there, though. Tracy got us started pickling eggs when she served up some perfectly precious pink "peviled eggs".  She pickles hers in beet juice!  I don't eat those either!  But given the way everyone but me gobbles them down, I'm betting they're good.  Go get wild, and pickle an egg. 



Sunday, July 27, 2014

Weekend 10: Downtown edition

The Weekend 10 is a really great way to pick up your camera and really learn to get better at taking pictures.  I'm thankful to Libby Williams for the idea (follow her blog, use her talent if you're close enough)...whether you're as talented as Libby or just a novice-hobbyist-picture-taker like me, this little challenge is super fun.  I haven't been great about doing this regularly but certainly intend to keep it up.

Welcome to the Downtown Greenville edition.  Yeah, that Greenville.  My little town has gotten so big and popular.  It didn't used to be like this.  When I was little, there was nothing to really do downtown.  Even when I was in college, there were only a few shops, a handful of restaurants, and my groovy coffee hangout.

It's not like that anymore...


So artsy!


So colorful.  Happy hues!

Happy Homey.

Such a wonderful spot for the Littles to cool off.




Art and History co-existing.  I love it.



Liberty Bridge.

Sneak peek of the Shakespeare stage.

What a great afternoon out being a backyard tourist!  We made it home before the afternoon storm.  And time well spent is never wasted, not even on a lazy afternoon with nowhere to be.