First Holiday Season with a Little & the Goal of Less Stuff

It is mid November. Or in our family calendar, the middle of “cake season”. It kicks off with the State Fair gluttony in September, followed quickly by my birthday then Matt’s (hence the cake…lots of birthday cake to eat!), Thanksgiving and Christmas. So much food! And then we always mange to plan a poorly time beach (ie: swimsuit!) vacation for early in the new year. Good motivation to work out I suppose!

This year is our first embarking on the holidays as a family of three. Having a little along really makes every routine, tradition and timing of it all go up for consideration. Naps! Gifts! Time in the car! With both our families living within two hours of us holidays look quite different from how I grew up. We are adjusting our routine to equitably squeeze everyone in while maintaining a sense of balance…or at least that is the goal!

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I have been inspired by some blog posts and stories online about establishing traditions that don’t revolve so much around gifts and a huge Christmas morning. Our little family has been pulling away from acquiring random stuff for some time now. I will admit that I still fall prey to new things (thank you Amazon for making it WAY too easy to get find anything and everything), but I have made a conscious effort in the past two years to a) stop going to stores just to browse and b) getting rid of random stuff in our house.

The first was hard. I drive a lot for work and would have 15 minutes to kill before going to a meeting. Why not pop into Goodwill (I love seeing what “treasures” there are), Marshalls, World Market etc even just to look? The consequence was that I can always find something I like. Even if it is just dish towels. Now with baby clothes the temptation is even greater! And when thrifting etc everything is so cheap and easy to justify. But I came to the realization that this was just an impulse waste of time and money.

So I just have stopped going in. I have even caught myself pulling into the parking lot, and then turning around. If you don’t look, you don’t buy. Period. I spend that extra 15 minutes calling a friend, catching up on my emails, or journaling in the car. And the amount of time, money and stuff I have saved adds up. Which allows me to justify investing in higher quality items of the things that we really do need or want.

Now to purging: this house remodel has been so helpful in helping us really see what we use and what we don’t. All (and by this I mean probably 90%) of our belongings are being stored in the extra bedroom. For two years now. And we have not missed it. We have seriously paired down the random kitchen items, knick knacks, magazines, books, etc that just took up space. We still need to purge our closets and shoe collection, but it really frees up so much physical and metal space to have fewer things in our house. And when we officially move back in, we will be very intentional about what we keep and what gets rehomed.

All that leads me to the holidays. And gifts. We have been thinking hard about how we want to establish traditions with Oakleigh from the start, and expectations around Santa gifts and stockings and all the different Christmases we attend. We have not come to any decisions yet (any suggestions out there? I am all ears!!!) but do like some of the ideas around the 4 gift system from parents, asking for experiences (or specific items rather than random stuff or toys), and this out there idea about a rainy day gift closet. All of these align with our family values of meaningful quality over quantity, and getting back to a life with less stuff. And taking time to pick (both in the making of wish lists and in the giving of) meaningful gifts that will be appreciated for the long haul.

I remember a fun childhood with tons of gifts on Christmas morning, but every year, it is really just one or two gifts that I can still remember. These were the highlight and were something I treasure to recall. My porcelain doll. Tiny tea set. Set of coral encyclopedias. A red hooded pea coat. That single gift from my great-grandmother every year that I knew was super special. And I remember the afternoon outing that we would do as a family. Sailing, or taking a walk. That is the part of Christmas that means the most in my memory, and we would like to focus our time and energy in making that our holiday priority.

This seems to be a common theme. When discussing with a friend the other day, a random woman came up to us and joined our conversation. She was having trouble navigating similar expectations with her daughter and grandkids. She was unsure how to ask what they would want to receive so she would be sure to pick things they wanted and would use. It was fun to have this conversation from multiple generations of perspectives!

Giving gifts and the generosity that comes with it is so touching and appreciated. And I know that everyone loves to spoil a baby! We had a great moment with my grandparents last week when my grandma was inspired to buy Oakleigh some new cloth diaper covers. This offer was SUPER appreciated and she asked some good questions ahead of time to make sure they were “right”. I was able to share with her information about what we used, and what we are needing next. It gave her the ability to help out, and we did not end up with random cloth diapers that we may not have used! Win win!

And with that, we embark on the 2017 holiday season! Wishing you and yours a time of restful, meaningful memories with your loved ones and families!

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DIY Slate Blackboard Countertops – Install

When we embarked on the DIY blackboard slate countertop project we had a general idea of how to do it, but in the end had to make a bunch of decisions, trial and error, research and pure guts.

Step 1: Cleaning the slate

These blackboards were from the 1940s, and had been glued to the wall with who-knows-what adhesive back in the day. Then at some point they had white boards glued on top of them! In other words, a TON of stuff to remove. You can read more about that process here

Step 2: Building the understructure

Just like a tile countertop, we needed to build up a structure for the slate to attach to. This was pretty straightforward (especially after doing the brick fireplace the same way). A sandwich of ¾” plywood, backerboard attached with thinset and screws, and then taping any seams. This flat, level surface then gave us the template for the slate. We took the opportunity to make the new surfaces a half inch further offset from the cabinets below giving the counters a bit more surface area and a more attractive overhang.

The best part of making our our counters is we could experiment as we went, and truly get it exactly how we wanted. If we had ordered them, we may not have been able to look ahead as far to see how we wanted it.

Step 3: Cutting and Installation

We used a borrowed diamond stone cutting saw (like a mini circular saw with a water attachment) to cut the slate. Matt would measure out the pieces we needed, set them up on sawhorses in the driveway and cut away. He scored guide lines with a metal scraper since drawing them on would wash off with the hose water from the saw. He also learned that using a guide was critical. We used a combination of a standard clamp guide from Harbor Freight, and some old trim clamped on with c-clamps to ensure a straight cut. This step required LOTS of patience and attention to detail. There were certain pieces we had picked out for particular areas due to the grain in the stone, so we only had one shot.

Installing the slate was just like large format tile. We used large format thinset and a wide notched trowel. There were some great resources online demonstrating the importance of how you  lay down the thinset and how it impacts the strength of your floor/counters etc.

We set the slate with as minimal of grout lines as possible, starting with the edge pieces. This would ensure that the top pieces would overlap perfectly to create the counter edge. Clamping them in place was critical to ensure they would not slide as the thinset set up.

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Look of pure relief when the island piece was finally  installed. This one had a super unique grain patter  and was a complex series of angles to get it cut just right.

 

Once the sides were installed and cured, we could move on to the top pieces.

Step 4: Finishing

After experimenting with some trial pieces, we decided to slightly sand a bevel into the leading edge of the counters. This smoothed out the look of the stone and also should reduce chipping in the future. To achieve this, we used a belt sander to take off a fine bit of slate. It made all the difference in taking this project to a pro level. Some we sanded once they were set, some we did before.

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Step 5: Sealing

After reading up on options, we decided to just finish our counters with mineral oil. And well, honestly have not done that yet. We still plan to, but they are performing so well just as they are.

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By doing this project ourselves we save a TON of money, got the material we wanted (dark, solid, natural stone), saved materials from the landfill and truly achieved a unique one of a kind feature for our home. We still have a pile of leftover slate so we may do this again for an outdoor kitchen…

Questions? We would be happy to answer them!

Our Life with Cloth Diapers

After we committed to cloth on day 9 of Oakleigh’s life, we have never once looked back or regretted our decision. Cloth is so so easy once you have a routine…and the avoided waste…unbelievable. We have done a week long vacation, multiple overnight trips, and had success 100% in cloth. It took a little planning, and bringing along our own laundry soap, but I am happy to report that is working!

After researching all the options (and there are a TON of them!) we opted for the simple, basic diapering approach of prefolds and covers. We liked that these diapers were a natural fiber (100% cotton), uncomplicated, space efficient and just easy. The website greenmountiandiapers.com was a huge source of information and was where we ended up purchasing our diapers as well.

Two months before Oakleigh arrived, I ordered diapers and covers, and started the prep process. You have to wash these natural fiber diapers 7-9 times to get their absorbency optimized, so I was happy I had done the prep work ahead of her birth! Our first attempt with prefolds was not very skilled, and we were happy we had the workhorses as backup. Look how cute and tiny she was!

We started with:

  • 2 dozen newborn Cloth-eez prefolds (orange)
  • 4 newborn workhorse diapers (these are basically Cloth-eez prefolds that have been modified with elastic for a fitted diaper…we learned these are great in the car and for overnight)
  • 2 dozen cloth wipes (we just use plain water and these to wipe)
  • 4 covers (1 blueberry brand newborn size, the rest were size 1 Thirsties covers)
  • 1 dozen small prefolds (yellow)

This pretty much got us through the first two months. Around the two month mark the diapers were getting pretty small and we sized up to the smalls (yellow) and added another dozen prefolds and 10 workhorses in that size. We knew we were doing lots of overnight trips at this point and the extra workhorses were worth it to keep blowouts to a minimum on long car rides. The newborn cover no longer fits but the other Size 1s will still be going for a few more months.

Note on covers: we love the Thirsties covers! We also trued a Romperooz cover but it leaked where the tag was sewn onto the bum. The only issue we have had with Thirsties is staining on the inner leg gusset from poop. Most of the Thirsties covers have white elastic piping on the legs and this is a poor design from a user perspective. So when we ordered two more we opted for a designs with colored piping and these are now our go tos.

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Our wash routine is every other day (ideal) but we can stretch it to 3 days with this size stash. We wash on hot with biokleen liquid detergent, add an extra rinse cycle and dry for two cycles in the dryer. Zero problems with smell and they are squeaky clean every time! (this was a primary driver of us choosing natural cotton diapers rather than synthetic)

A sale prompted me to buy our next set, mediums. She is going through fewer diapers per day, and so I opted for 2 dozen medium prefolds (was seriously considering just one but decided we preferred the ability to stretch our laundry days), 6 workhorses and a dozen doublers. I am curious about adding Cloth-eez doublers for nighttime to hold her longer as she is sleeping longer stretches. I have heard good things and figured it was worth trying. Building this stash has been a bit of an investment, but the costs are up front, and we only seen a minimal bump in our utility bills from the extra loads of laundry. Plus we plan to use it on more than one kiddo, and as a friend said, we will have rags and cloths for life!

Have questions about our experience? I am happy to share! Cloth diapering has been a huge win for our family (and the planet) and I would love to get more families onboard.

***Our #1 resource with great information and products (no sponsorship…just a hardy recommendation from our experience!): www.greenmountiandiapers.com

DIY Blackboard Kitchen Countertops: An Update

Remember wayyyy back, like over a year now, when I introduced our grand plan to DIY our kitchen countertops? Well, that is still the plan and I am THRILLED to report that we are actually now working on that project.

The house remodel scope significantly morphed, and ended up going far past the kitchen and dining room, so we decided to finish up those other spaces (keeping our kitchen usable) and finally ending with it’s demo…and the long awaited counters!

If you don’t know the story of how we came to choose salvaged solid slate blackboards as our countertops, you can check that out here. These beauties (or rather, diamonds in the rough) have been leaning against our house for the past year, patiently waiting for their turn.

While they have been waiting, so have we. We always a knew that they would work as counters, but were still just assuming that we could successfully get off the old 1940s adhesive that is awkwardly stuck all over the slabs. If we could not get it off cleanly, we were going to have to come up with Plan B for counters…and that was NOT the goal.

After a super rainy start to spring, this week blessed us with some sunshine, and an opening to get outdoors, set up the sawhorses and get to glue removal. I need to keep baby away from all construction fumes, so this is a solo job for my sweet handy husband.

He set out with two main approached: a heat gun (borrowed from our local tool library) and Jasco Premium Paint and Epoxy Remover. Much to our excitement, the heat gun worked like a charm to pull off big blobs of glue and then the residue remaining dissolved with the chemicals…and a significant amount of elbow grease. We are planning to use the “natural” more textured side of these slabs and it is stunning to see them really clean. It is a huge weight off our shoulders to know that we have a solution that works!

Two down, maybe 6 more to go? We have roughly 35 slabs to work with (!) but only need 6 for the kitchen. Extras will be practice for cutting, other projects or maybe passing them along to other inspired DIYers.

The forecast promises more rain this week, but then we hope to get back to our lovely counters, finish glue removal, demo the kitchen and then cut the new counters to fit!

Seaglass for Climate Change Awareness

Last November I launched into a new phase of my artistic career: seaglass mobiles. In January I launched my Etsy shop and in June applied for my first art show.

This past week I was featured in the Museum of Northwest Art’s SURGE Climate Change Awareness show. It was an honor to be a part of this wonderful exhibit both with beauty and a purpose.

My piece was the largest I have made (so far!) 8 feet long and 6 feet tall! That is a lot of glass. For this particular project I crowd sourced seaglass from collectors around the world to further enhance the message of impact. All of us love to collect, and are directly impacted by the rising and changing seas and tides.

Playing in the Dirt

Nothing beats a weekend that feels FULL and rewarding and not rushed! That never seems to happen! After being gone most of the week, I was ready to be home this weekend. Friday night was pretty late for this sleep deprived traveler, but fun none the less. We went to Matt’s parents house for a combined birthday dinner. We had planned to spend the night, but decided that we really just needed to be home and I was pretty excited to sleep in my own bed after a week in hotels.

Saturday morning we slept in till 10:30. As in SLEPT that long! It felt so good to really feel refreshed waking up after a long night at home. We took a quick trip into town for groceries and then came home to cook and clean before our friend’s Benny and Lana arrived for dinner. We had a great meal full of lots of laughter and catching up over rum cake.

Sunday morning we woke up and this time headed to town for birthday treats for Matt. We stopped by Snapdragon for pastries, and then over to the hardware store for the big yellow wheelbarrow his parents got him as a gift. Thank goodness the mini is good at hauling stuff! We had no problem getting our newest homestead addition home on the roof bars.

After breakfast and coffee we trekked out into the yard to finish tearing out the old garden and prep it for winter. We removed at least 10 loads of gravel, a TON of brick boarders, more old plants and FINALLY got it leveled and planted with a winter cover crop. The existing garden layout was so inefficient we just decided to start over. It was a long day of dirty work, but it looks fabulous!

 

I settled in for some homework time while Matt finished in the yard, then we took another break to ease sore muscles in our newly fixed and (thanks to Matt!) immaculately cleaned hot tub!

Ah, what a weekend. Today is Matt’s birthday, and he was hoping to have it off for Veteran’s day but no such luck. I drove him to work this morning (the water taxi does not run on holidays) and so extra time together is at least a small condolence for having to work. It is hard to believe it is almost winter! I feel ready to curl up in the house and snuggle with my little family in front of the fire.

Cat Toilet Training Update: As I mentioned a few weeks back, we are toilet training our cats! This weekend we started the cats on their training potty in the upstairs bathroom and so far so good. We think they were holding it most of Saturday or going outside, but by this morning seem to be pretty comfortable with the new (first step) situation. We will be at this stage for another week or so, but so far no accidents and we still have two happy cats!

Return of the Eggs

I am going to start and end this post with the same statement: I cannot wait to have our own chickens.

I have been on an egg hunt. Organic? Free range? (which is debatable on what that actually means) Vegetarian fed? Normal? White? Brown? Each time I go to the grocery store I am disappointed with what I get. Regardless of the egg I choose, it is usually pretty bland, light colored and just, well, blah.

We had chickens for a few years when I was growing up, and THOSE are the eggs I want. Rich yellow yolks, fresh, multicolored eggs. Just look at this difference!

Farm Fresh vs Conventional Eggs - Side by Side

 We are able to have chickens in the city…our neighbors just got some actually…but Matt and I don’t want to start that project just to move them (hopefully!) later this year to a new house.

So in the meantime I am still on a quest. We needed eggs this week and I choose the organic eggs at Costco. Major disappointment. I will be returning them today. Luckily I do have a friend that brings eggs into the city from her parents farm, so I can pick up 2 dozen this afternoon. Maybe I will start making more of an effort to get to the farmers market too.

I cannot wait to have our own chickens.