Friday, June 29, 2012

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Third Summer

The first summer was an extension of my maternity leave, an ongoing cycle of eating, playing, and sleeping that now leaves me remembering that time primarily as a joyous hibernation.  I started this blog that summer to help me take it all in.

Last summer we had one-year-old walkers.  With official toddlers on our hands, we played outside more, became brave enough to vacation, and worked to transition out of breastfeeding and down to one nap

When they return to their child care center in late August, Michael and Sophie will likely go into a transitional (gulp) preschool classroom. Seriously, that made me take a deep breath.  As they continue to grow from toddlers to little kids, there are a couple changes that we will embark upon in the remaining eight weeks or so of this third summer: potty training and ditching the pacifiers. 

I know it's getting way past time to have tossed the paci's already (they're two--26 months old), but since the kids only use them for sleeping, it just hasn't seemed worth the trouble of upsetting bedtimes just to meet some expectation of what is "normal."  Still, I do have the goal of getting rid of those suckers (pun sort of intended) before late August.

As far as the potty issue, we have two matching potty seats that the kids have sat on a few times without diapers but that are mostly stacked, unstacked, and stood on when Micheal and Sophie come to the bathroom with me.  We also have a toilet seat with a little one on the inside on the real toilet.  Michael has sat happily on there as well, but Sophie is not a fan.  Throw in the collapsable step stools (love those) that we currently use for brusha-brusha time, and we're...almost prepared.  We need some training pants, eventually big-boy and big-girl undies that I plan to have Michael and Sophie pick out, and maybe a chart and stickers.  But even once we have all the stuff, are we all reeeeeally ready?

Based on this article from the Mayo Clinic, Michael and Sophie are pretty much there.  However, I have yet to have seen a dry diaper in the morning, and there have been a few poopy ones recently.  I feel like I should wait for that before I give this a real go.

I'm also not certain of my method.  Will we just go to training pants and set a timer for every thirty minutes?  I've heard one mom say calling the timer the "potty fairy" worked pretty well since then it's not just mommy saying it's time to put down the toys and sit on the potty...again.  Maybe we should do that 3-day naked weekend potty training thing?

I don't know.  I do want to start this summer since I'm home with the kids, and playing outside makes accidents less of a thing, but obviously I still have some homework to do.

If you have any advice, as always, feel free to share!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

And what a Great Lake it was.

My last day of work for the school year was on a Friday. On Saturday morning I woke up miles away to the sound of Lake Michigan's waves just steps below the lake house we rented.

My parents, Mike, the kids, and I spent a week on Michigan's west coast.  The house itself was just what I needed--slightly rustic (one-lane dirt roads, no cable, wide plank wood floors, a stone hearth on the fireplace) but also luxurious (gourmet kitchen, master suite, enormous windows, lots of space). 

The best part of this place, without a doubt, was the private beach.  Look straight out to the west, look north, look south--all the eye can see is lake.  The water was clear and cool but nothing we Michiganders couldn't handle. The beach itself was like many on that side of the state that tend to land on "best beaches in the world" lists like this one in Travel and Leisure

We felt very, very spoiled.  Surely we could have roughed it a bit, but we figured the cost of this rental was equivalent to two quality hotel rooms and most meals out at restaurants for a week.  We went that route last year for a long weekend.  This year's vacation was far more rejuvenating than any trip of that sort that I've taken.

The kids' favorite parts of our accomodations, aside from the beach--a word they can now say without sounding inappropriate--would probably be the "round-and-rounds" and the owl.  Every bedroom had a ceiling fan that amused them.  Coupled with the lake breezes, the "round-and-rounds" also made the a/c only necessary when a couple of storms rolled in and forced us to lock up.  But what an amazing experience storms are in that environment!  I almost wanted more.

Yes, I did mention an owl.  Ok, there wasn't a real owl.  There wasn't really a fake one either, but there was this fella:

Michael spotted him out the landing windows halfway down the main staircase after his first nap.  Every morning after that we would hold hands and count nine stairs down, say hi to "Owoll," and then count the remaining nine steps to breakfast.  We did the reverse at nap and bedtime, of course.  So yeah, we greeted that stump well over 25 times.  I kind of miss our watchful buddy...and the deck, and the occasional boats, and the mudroom.  Oh, how I would love a mudroom.

This trip was slightly disorienting for my parents who spent much of their lives on the Michigan's east coast, but after watching the sun set magnificently into the lake a couple of times, I think they got their bearings.  I have to say, I've never seen my dad--a man who has spent his adulthood in Army and now security guard uniforms--look so dang relaxed. 

I mean, who is this man?

Who was that man who said the cold water of Lake Michigan felt good, swam out into it, and returned with a smile?  Was that the guy who spent another chunk of his life living in Georgia and has always longed to return to balmier weather?  Was that my dad? Well, no, not exactly. 

That was Sophie and Michael's Grandpa.

Like grandkids tend to do, Michael and Sophie seem to have given their grandpa a slightly different demeanor these days.  It's been a joy to witness.

It was also wonderful have my mom, essentially one of the kids' child care providers, with us on this trip.  She knows them and they know her in a way that allowed Mike and me to let our guards down.  When we're on our own with one kid per parent, that's not so easy.  Mom also made stuffed cabbage and Hungarian chicken (chicken paprikash to the rest of the world), which made that lake house really feel like ours for a time.  On this trip, we were able to reeeelaaaaxx. 


We did leave this beautiful home a few times to visit nearby towns.  We had a nice dinner in Pentwater on Tuesday night on the deck of Gull Landing and grabbed some sloppy soft-serve before heading back for the night. 

On Thursday morning in Ludington we avoided some rain by exploring Sandcastles, a children's museum (kind of a mini version of the one in Grand Rapids).  The kids were very patient later as we perused various antique stores, and I enjoyed the best brewery lunch I've ever had, a beef tenderloin wrap at Jamesport Brewing Company.  It's making me salivate thinking of it.  The beer was good, too.

On Friday afternoon in Grand Haven we checked out the shops and ate lunch on the patio at Porto Bello.  We could see kids playing in a fountain by the water and decided to let Michael and Sophie do the same.  It was well past nap time when we suited the kids up, but they enjoyed getting their feet and their parents all wet before we hit the road for home.  The real one.  The one without his and hers vanities in the master bathroom.  Or a master bathroom. Oh, how I would love one of those in real life.

My one regret for this trip was not making a stronger effort to bring more family along.  Maybe next year!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Kitchen Update: The floor is done!

Below is how the kitchen looks today after the first phase of our fix-up which included painting the walls and replacing the vinyl flooring with porcelain tile. 

This is our kitchen as it had looked since we moved in seven years ago:

Notice the vinyl flooring, celery green walls, laminate countertops, black and stainless appliances, black light fixtures, and worn cherry cabinets.  All of those details are ones we would love to change, but to do it all would be too costly of an investment.  In the next year or so we plan to rent this home out and buy another slightly larger house to live in.  In the meantime we do want to make the home appealing to renters, durable for the long term, and more pleasant for ourselves.

It's not obvious in the before pictures, but the vinyl flooring was discolored, peeling up on some edges, and had holes. Seven years ago, we put replacing that floor on "the list," and it finally reached the top.

Although he had never done tile before, Mike did an incredible job with this project and reminded me of his offspring with his "I do it myself" approach.  Aside from making design decisions, my role was just to keep the kids out of the way and prepare meals without stepping on wet grout.  Mike enjoys this kind of work, hopes to do more of it in the future, and wants to get the full experience of each new project.

When the removal of all the previous layers of flooring took much longer than anticipated, complete with a hazmat scare (I'll explain below), we embraced the fact that this fix-up was going to take weeks rather than a long weekend--weeks of Mike still working full time and then some, parenting twin two-year-olds, and a vacation in the middle of it all. 

Below is a picture Mike took that reveals several of the layers he had to pull up.  After spending hours and hours and hours pulling up vinyl and plywood and vinyl and plywood in order to get to the subfloor, he was faced with a layer of black foamy goo.  Under that was a layer of harder tile.  He was about 2/3 of the way through the black goo and hard tile layer when I looked out into the kitchen and recognized the tile as the kind you see in schools and basements built in the 1950's, the kind that often contains asbestos and that is best to leave alone.

In a panic, we Googled like maniacs and found that we were right to be concerned.  We bought an air cleaner, plastic sheeting to cover the doorways to the kitchen, a full-body jumpsuit for Mike, and an air mask that looked like it would protect him on a World War I battlefield, all just before Home Depot closed for the night.  Mike worked until with wee hours of morning ridding our house of the remaining flooring of doom. 

Still, we were terrified for our family's health, and following the hugely precautious advice we found online, we took samples of our tile and that black goo to a lab for testing.  To our relief, there was no asbestos in the material.  The home improvement lesson we learned from this was if the floor was put down before the mid-1980's, get a small sample tested before you begin any removal.  Although it wasn't part of our project, we also learned that popcorn ceilings and insulation are even more potentially hazardous than tile and should also be tested and probably removed by professionals only.  There are laws about this that we could have been breaking had our material tested positive. This kind of thing is apparently a common mistake, but that didn't make us feel much better.  Happily, that is all behind us now.

There are certainly more projects to complete in this kitchen fix-up, but as of this morning, the floor is officially done!


After (with other phases on the way):

Still on the kitchen fix-up to-do list:

replace crown and floor molding
gel stain the cabinets darker
replace cabinet handles and drawer pulls
paint an old round kitchen table and small cabinet for the eating area
decorate with midcentury-modern and aqua details
sew patio cushion covers

The floor was really the only improvement to the kitchen that we felt we must do, but while we're at it we figured we would do a few other things.  The poorly installed molding that had been in the kitchen has always bugged Mike, and I love a chance to pretend I'm the next HGTV Design Star.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Summer is here!

With the closing of the school year, our continuing kitchen fix-up project, and a family get-away all coinciding, the last couple of weeks have slipped by without much time to reflect.

And since my life is going to continue to look like this for a little while yet...

...not much more will be said here today.  

However, with all that's been keeping us busy, you can be sure I will have quite a bit to share when the time comes!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Laundry Helpers

I never know how it's going to go, folding laundry in the presence of two toddlers.  Will they try to help by putting piles of folded laundry back in the basket in a crumpled heap, or will they have no interest whatsoever in my chore?

On Saturday Michael and Sophie were actually pretty helpful. Sophie followed instructions on how to fold a washcloth and did quite well...and boy was she proud!  They both helped to determine whose clothes were whose (it was a load of their laundry) and what color each item was--obviously a diversion, but in their minds they helped.  They even listened very well when I asked them to leave the folded laundry where it was. 

For a while afterward they wanted to play in the basket, Michael pretending to drive the car, both bringing various stuffed toys along for the ride.  When it was time for their nap, Sophie followed me into their room, and when I went back out to find Michael, he was pretending to snore, all curled up at the bottom of the basket, giggling when I snatched him out for his real snooze time!

Monday, June 4, 2012

No-bake Yummies

Speaking of living in the during phase of a home improvement project and going to a MoMs picnic, I realized on Saturday that I was not going to be able to make those brownies I signed up to bring to this year.  Our oven is currently disconnected on the opposite side of the kitchen from the gas line and will be out of commission until Monday night at the earliest.

So I improvised and made these instead:

If, like myself until Saturday, you've never attempted to make chocoloate covered strawberries, I strongly encourage you to do so.  They are well worth the minimal effort they require.

You can search Pinterest or just Google "chocolate covered strawberries" to find plenty of recipes, but here's what I did--a combination of a few ideas such as this one.

2 lbs of washed and dried strawberries
2 cups milk chocolate chips
2 tbsp vegetable shortening
1/2 cup white chocolate chips

microwavable bowl (cereal sized)
microwavable gravy boat or just another bowl
ziplock bag
cookie sheet
wax paper

Melt the chocolate chips and shortnening in the bowl for thirty seconds at a time, stirring in between, stopping when creamy.  Hold the strawberries by their stems, dip them in the chocolate, and rest them on the wax paper on a cookie sheet.  Refrigerate until solid.

Melt the white chocolate chips in the gravy boat using the same method as before.  Pour it into the ziplock bag, and cut off a tiny bit of one corner.  Drizzle the white chocolate over the already dipped berries.  Refrigerate again.

If you serve the strawberries cold, the chocolate will be crunchy.  If you leave at room temperature, the chocolate gets somewhat creamy.

I think I know what Mike will be getting for Valentine's Day 2013...perhaps dark chocoloate this time, maybe some nuts.  On second thought, maybe I should make these for our anniversary in July.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Swinging Again

Last year Sophie and Michael loved swinging at my MoMs club's family picnic.  It looked like this.

Here's the difference a year makes.

Ok, let's all say it together.  "They grow up so fast."

Friday, June 1, 2012

Living in During

Last weekend Mike and I began a kitchen fix-up project much like other home improvements we've made since moving into our house sevenish years ago. It's not a full-blown renovation or remodel. Like our other work, we considered what we could do to update the space for the least amount of money but with a significant, quality impact. Reno or not, it's still likely to take another week or two to finish.

I'm obviously choosing not to go into much detail about the project itself until it's done. It's just more satisfying that way, isn't it? 

In the meantime Mike, the kids, and I are living in the during phase, no longer in the before, and a ways away from after.  Honestly, though, I don't mind.  I'm a fan of a work in progress.  My anxiety usually comes in the final stretch as loose ends slowly get tied up.  Right now the final stretch is well in the distance, and therefore I'm still my easy-going, chaos embracing self...for now.

With fix-ups on the brain, I thought I'd share some before and after photos from the past.  While I hope anyone who visits this blog will enjoy this glimpse into our home's transformations, there's one reader in particular who might benefit from this post.  It just might help keep his spirits up as he transforms that kitchen.


This is our living room when we moved in back in 2005, before refinishing the hardwood floors, repainting, and generally redecorating:



This is the basement living area in progress with studs for a new wall and before adding a drop ceiling, painting, adding carpet, and hanging up some honeymoon photos:



Here's the back deck before removing the sunbursts, repairing old wood, painting everything that was gray including the gutters, and adding some perennials:



This is Mike taking a picture of his bathroom within days of moving in.  For some reason Oberon likes to be photographed in bathrooms.


In both bathrooms I painted the vanities white.  


Here's my bathroom before the same fix, and there's kitty again:


We've also fixed up our laundry room and organized our storage space in the basement.  We just never took before pictures of those.  This was actually the last project we finished before Michael and Sophie arrived, hence the stacks of diapers from our shower in the laundry room!

Laundry pantries and drying station:

More laundry (and I swear we only have one cat):

Over the last seven years or so there have been a number of other transformations, but you get the idea.  We like to fix spaces up.

After spending two years surviving twins and just keeping our home livable, we're up to it again! 

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