Our Finished Dining Room

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I can with 100% certainty say that our dining room is FINISHED! Ah… it feels so good to say. It feels even better to know there is an entire room in our new house that is completely styled to our satisfaction. I liked the warmth of the farmhouse, but also wanted to incorporate the cool industrial look into our space since we live in the Steel Valley! In fact, our town is quite the juxtaposition being equal distance from cozy, family farms and steel mills. Speaking of contrast, I just can’t get over the before & after pictures of this space:

I like the actual place I’m living in to contain elements from what the area is notorious for. In San Diego it was pretty obvious: beach. My room had walls coated in a sand-like texture with the smallest flecks of gold, and I usually kept seashells on my dresser. This is starkly different from my usual beachy vibes, but this style feels earned. I really had to embrace not just Ohio, but this particular valley, and now I display it like a badge of honor in my home.

 

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The chairs are definitely what tied this whole room together for me. Despite them being a cold metal, which is some thing J was concerned about, they are actually quite comfortable and easy to clean. Even my curvy self sits comfortably in these chairs!

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These awesome chairs can be found here and are fairly affordable. The nice people at Anji Modern Furniture offered me a discount for reviewing these beauties on Amazon for them, as well as offering a little shoutout here, up on my blog. The truth is though, that I had already made up my mind that these were the chairs for us before we officially purchased them.

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Our Favorite Books

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Right now we have a few, solid, favorite books that we enjoy rotating through every day. Now that we’ve transitioned Sophie into her big girl bed [don’t be impressed, it is still a nightly battle…] she asks for a whole  stack of books to be read to her every night. The English Major inside me is excited, the exhausted mama in me is usually annoyed, either way: reading books is good for children.

Sophie’s 2 favorites right now include the beloved Daniel Tiger, and an Eric Carl classic, “The Very Hungry Caterpillar”

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I like the Daniel Tiger book as well, because this one is based on one of my favorite Daniel Tiger songs: “I like you just the way you are.” Sophie and I sing this to each other often. While it is a good, body positive song, the story that goes with it is cute too. Plus, Sophie is really into O the owl, who is a main character. Perhaps it has to do with his love of books? Also, most children enjoy the caterpillar book. It is silly, and they recognize many of their own favorite foods throughout the story. I like it because it is not a particularly long book. DSC_4023

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This author wasn’t familiar to me when I first had Sophie, but I received many of her books as shower gifts. The writing is quirky, calming, and creative. The sleep book is particularly relaxing to read, so I usually save it for last if we are reading bed time stories.

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This potty training books is extremely popular right now! It is short, simple, and educational. Sophie identified with it pretty well, then she pretty much memorized it, which was adorable because she often recites it while sitting on the potty. I’d highly recommend it for anyone trying to potty train.

Those are our favorite book choices as of right now. In a few months that will probably change as Sophie’s tastes usually evolve with her developmental stages. Hopefully they will be books Cora will come to love too.

 

Steak Secrets

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Now that we’re heading into summer, I feel like cooking some steaks out on the grill will become more common place. I prefer to cook mine in a skillet though, and while J has said time and time again that he doesn’t really care for steak, he has given me the highest compliments the last few times I’ve prepared it for him. Steak is one of my favorite foods (yes, my parents would take me to Black Angus on my birthday…) and as I’ve grown older, my techniques have become a little more involved, but they are still simple enough for the novice to pick up and create a delicious meal with.

My obsession with the Food network actually became useful. I never thought about letting the meat “rest” and when Bobby Flay told “Worst Cooks in America” contestant that you’re supposed to just leave the steak alone while it cooks, I was shocked. Anyway, as silly as it sounds I have adopted some of these techniques and they have improved my cooking. Now, here’s what you need:

-A good, quality steak. I’ve become a little more choosey when it comes to steak shopping. I usually go for organic grass fed beef that doesn’t have a ton of fat that will need to be rendered down.
-a meat thermometer. I used to just go off of time (ex. 3 minutes on each side) but the meat thermometer ensures that the meat is cooked without hacking it into little pieces.
quality spices. sea salt or [my personal fave] black truffle salt are great alternatives to traditional table salt.
– letting the meat rest. I usually take my steak out of the fridge, pat off the extra juices, season it with salt and pepper, and ten leave it to rest for 30 mins before cooking it. this helps take the chill from the refrigerator off of the meat. After I’m done cooking, I let the meat rest in the pan for 10 minutes before serving it. To me, this makes for a more tender and juicy steak.

Here’s how I normally cook:
Sprinkle salt and pepper evenly over steaks, then heat a large  skillet over high heat. Add some olive oil to the pan; swirl to coat. Add steaks to pan; cook 3 minutes on each side or until browned, checking with the thermometer to see if they’ve reached 155 degrees. Reduce heat to medium-low; add butter and garlic (maybe 1 clove) to pan. Carefully grasp pan handle using an oven mitt or folded dish towel. Tilt pan toward you so butter pools; cook 1 1/2 minutes, basting steaks with butter constantly. Remove steaks from pan; cover loosely with foil. Let stand 10 minutes.

What are your cooking secrets?

{image source: aminerecipes.com}

Movin’ on Up

Some of you may have heard, J and I are house hunting! I now have an excuse for binge watching anything HGTV related! In all seriousness, we live in a more depressed area, and while the town itself is working on revitalization, the homeowners in the area haven’t been. Many of the homes, while beautifully built in the early 1900’s haven’t been updated since the 70’s [if you’re lucky] and have other damage, whether it be water, electrical, foundation, etc.

90% of the options in our price range are “fixer uppers” which has sent me straight to Pinterest. As much as I’d love to go totally modern in our new house, I have to try to be realistic with the furniture and things we already own. If we have to shell out money on re-wiring a house, then I can’t blow money on trendy furniture. Right now we have furniture in neutral colors such as brown and cream, but we also have darker jewel tones like emerald and sapphire blue chairs. Eventually, we can exchange those items, but for our first few years in a new house, we’ll have to work with them. Here are my current inspirations for our potential new home:

 

For the kitchen, I’m drawn to crisp white cabinets. As much as J had been trying to talk me out of it on account of our children and their filthy hands, we recently looked at a house with a newly renovated kitchen white white cabinetry and he couldn’t deny how nice it looked. One house we had our eye on also had granite counter tops [which is pretty rare for this area, but the previous owner was said to have been a doctor]. The granite is dark, which is another reason I’d lighten that kitchen up with white cabinets. If we were doing a remodel, I’d like to have lighter colored quartz counter tops with grey cabinets, but that would be a huge expense.

The bathrooms have to be the first thing we remodel. They have not been updated or had anything replaced since the 1950’s. Yes, that’s right, THE FIFTIES. Imagine pink and mint tile. Even in the other homes we’ve seen, the bathrooms usually have fixtures from the 70’s and 80’s. For a half bath, I’d do some thing clean and simple. like the picture above with the gorgeous mirrors and chocolate vanity. If we’re lucky enough to get a house with a master bathroom, I’d like it to have a little more personality, like a dip-dyed shower curtain.

The bedrooms I’d like to keep fairly plain and simple, only because I imagine us rearranging our future children in and out of various rooms. Maybe we need a nursery for 5 years, but then can it be a play room? A formal guest room? An office? We have girls right now, but can I transform the place for a boy with minimal effort? The color grey is surprisingly versatile.

For some reason I’m really drawn to having a navy blue dining room. I feel like it sets a more formal tone while still tying into the scheme of the rest of the house.

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As far as the family room goes, we have a lot of mismatched furniture, but I want to try and make that work for us. We have a matching couch and love seat, as well as coffee and end tables that are all a dark brown. That should be a solid foundation for the room that I can mix and match other quirky pieces with. As for paint, we have brown walls in our current house and I am tired of the brown-on-brown darkness it creates. I’d like to lighten up a living room with a light blue that ties into the rest of the house while balancing the other dark furniture. If I can find a cute navy rug [like the one pictured above] as a nod to the navy dining room, even better!

Maybe it’s too much blue, maybe these smaller updates are still more than we can afford… but I have to have some thing to look forward to and imagine in my mind as we look through all these houses. I’m trying not to get discouraged, as this whole process is really overwhelming for a first-time buyer, but keeping inspiration like this in the back of my mind helps to keep me feeling positive about the whole experience.

 

[all photos were found via Pinterest]

Blessing Bags

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When I was in Religious Ed [the Catholic version of Sunday school, only it was on Monday nights and lasted way longer than a class on Sunday probably would have…] we would make little Blessing Bags for the homeless of San Diego during the holidays. We would fill brown paper bags with things our parents donated such as socks, some holiday candy, prayer cards, personal hygiene products, etc. We would make hundreds of these bags and then they would be shipped off to a shelter downtown for distribution. People I grew up with, from that same parish, would keep food and water bottles in their car to pass out to homeless they might see while driving. You’ve probably seen people begging at stop lights or near on ramps when there is a lot of traffic, I know I have, so when I started driving, I carried on this tradition of keeping food in my car so I didn’t feel pressured to give money.

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Ok, honestly? I actually don’t mind giving money to the homeless. Yes, I’m aware some oft hem have addictions, and may choose to use the funds to support their addictions. Some of them though, just want to call a friend on a pay phone, or get a few things off the dollar menu. I used to serve the Pittsburgh homeless, and even the most strung out addicts would want a hot meal. So I do give money from time to time, because I believe that my generosity can never be a sin. What they might use the money on may be sinful, but on the other hand it may not be either, and you should never be afraid to be charitable based on a prejudice of the homeless.

Anyway, now that I’ve got that out of my system… I keep food and supplies in my car because I don’t always have cash on me. In fact, I rarely have cash on me unless we’re headed to church [its for the collection basket]. In San Diego, you can get by with having food and water to distribute, but when you live near the Steel City, this thing called winter happens, and the homeless are in need of much more than just food and water. When I did homeless ministry they would often ask for socks, hats, mittens, change for the pay phone, tissues, and the list goes on…

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So, I went to the dollar store and REALLY stocked up my bags. Here’s what we put in them:

-$1.50 in change
-tooth brush and tooth paste
-tea bags and a packet of sweetener [most fast food places provide hot water for free]
-band aids
-Tylenol
-deodorant
-tissues
-socks
– a pen and some paper
-wipes
– nuts
– gum
– granola bars [that don’t expire for several months]
– soap or hand sanitizer
– lip balm
– lollipops
– cough drops
– a prayer card

I also bought 4 hats, but the bags were already pretty full, so I stuck them in my car, just in case I see some one who needs one, but if not, then they will make it into my next batch of bags. I made 4 of these bags, 2 to keep in our mini van, and 2 to keep n my husband’s car. The past few times we’ve been out, we have seen homeless standing at intersections begging, and have had nothing to give them, so I am happy that we are both armed with some supplies for the next time we’re up in Pittsburgh or just around town! When we give away a bag, I’ll restock when I get home. A lot of these things, are items you probably have around the house. I can’t wait for my kids to be apart of this when they are a little older and eager to “help.” It is a great teaching moment about charity and taking care of other humans!

[tip: you can also make smaller versions of these bags with Ziplock sandwich bags. I made 3 for our recent trip to New York, so I could carry them around in my backpack and hand them out while we were walking. It was a big success and every one we gave one to was very appreciative!]

Baby Pouch DIY

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I don’t think there is anything wrong with buying pre-made baby food from the store. In fact, there are a lot of organic options nowadays for baby food. Like most other organic things, it’s usually more expensive. Luckily for my baby, my husband and I are slow produce eaters. Yes, we buy the finest organic produce, but we’re human, we’re going to grab for the bacon before we grab for some fruit in the morning. That being said, I really needed to find a way to get my babe to eat more leafy green AND use up all the produce we buy before it spoils.

You can buy reusable pouches online, but some of them come with some kind of filling contraption in order to get the food into the tiny hole at the top of the pouch. If that works for you, great, but I for one rarely use appliances that have more than 2 pieces, so I knew if this was some thing I was going to commit to doing on a weekly basis, it was going to have to be easy.

Hubs and I found these pouches that actually have a wide opening on the bottom of the pouch, so you can easily pour or scoop a puree into them. If you don’t want pouches that open at the bottom [I’ll admit I was skeptical at first] you can always use an icing/piping bag to fill your pouches with puree.

In any case, here’s what you need:
-reusable pouches
-food processor
-2 apples, peeled and chopped
-1.5 cups of spinach
-.25 cup of organic yogurt
-1 Tbs of ground flax [optional]

In a skillet over medium heat, cook the apples and spinach until both are tender. Add to food processor with remaining ingredients, and pulse until everything is smooth. Pour into pouches and refrigerate.

Did I mention the pouches we got can also be stored in the freezer? Like I said…. it’s a solution to using up produce before it goes bad!

Weaning

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I debated whether or not to make this apart of my “Motherhood Misconceptions” series, then made the final decision that this deserved a post, all on its own. However, this can still go on the “crap no one tells you when you have a baby” list. Yes, we pretty much are all aware that weaning a babe from the breast is a sad time for THEM. What no one tells you is that it is a very sad time for you.

I know you’re thinking Awe yes, its sad for the mom because she misses the bonding too! No. Its sad for the mom because she gets to be in excruciating pain for 1-2 weeks while her milk dries up. And if you’re lucky enough to have a darling daughter like my own, your weaning babe will hit and punch your water-balloon breasts in protest, only adding to the suffering.

Part of the reason we took this lovely week long hiatus from writing was A) because we left my camera charging cord in our hotel room last weekend and I couldn’t bare to publish my writing unaccompanied by any of my photography and B) because I’ve been so sick and full of milk, I haven’t been able to do much besides binge watch Netflix. Did I mention our baby has also been sick this week? Yeah, its been a fun one.

Instead of using the rest of this post to complain, I thought I’d share with you other poor weaning souls what has helped me through this process, now that I’m on day 6 and pretty much dry.

  1. Being distracted. The first 3 days, Hubs and I went away for the weekend to this really nice resort. They had a walking trail, pool, and gorgeous surroundings for me to photograph. This really helped me not to focus on the pain during the day. Of course, coming home to a 1 year old is plenty distracting also, so “being distracted” helped even when we came home from our short retreat.
  2. Cabbage. Yes, I’m sure you’ve heard this tip and written it off as a wive’s tale, but its REAL! Buy a big head of organic cabbage [don’t want nasty pesticides on your breasts!] and put one leaf in each cup of your bra. I bought Lanolin brand ice packs made for engorgement, but it was too cold for me. The cabbage is cool enough to add relief, then eventually warms up to body temperature. There is also some science behind it. .
  3. Peppermint. This is another thing I thought to be a wive’s tale. Consuming peppermint is supposed to have an effect on how much milk you produce. I bought a box of peppermint tea out of desperation but I SWEAR to you, by the end of the day I did not feel as full. Since I’m still battling 1st trimester nausea, the peppermint was soothing for me in that area as well.
  4. Hand expressing. This is not to be done often. If you milk yourself too much, your body will make more milk. By the end of day 2, I was hurting pretty bad. I also didn’t want to leak breast-milk all over the bed during the night, so I went into the bathroom and hand expressed some of the milk away. At first I thought of bringing my pump, but I wouldn’t recommend that for the same reason I wouldn’t hand express often. You don’t want to risk your body thinking it needs to produce more milk. I did it just enough to feel relief in the small milk ducts that were likely to cause leaking. I was still sore, but not quite as engorged.

By day 5 I felt full, but it was a normal full,not engorged, and the pain had subsided. We’re on day 6  now and I think by the weekend this process should be over! It helps to be pregnant during this process, because I think those hormones take over and help your body do most of the work. We’ve been lucky enough to have Sugar Plum take her bottles easily, so that transition wasn’t difficult for her. If your little one has been exclusively breastfed and isn’t familiar with a bottle, try having dad introduce a bottle for a few feedings in the month leading up to when you want to wean. Our little girl was partial to tommee tippee bottles and Advent’s natural flow. These are great bottles for baby’s transitioning off of the  breast.

Good luck Mamas!

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