Put a Rug On It

In all honesty, I’m a little amazed at how closely Shaun’s and my views line up on almost everything. From child-rearing to politics to food preferences, we are rather freakishly similar on pretty much all topics, both momentous and mundane.

However.

We veer wildly apart on the topic of throw pillows. I love them. He just stares and frowns. And then throws them on the ground or bunches them up under his head for a nap.

We’re not quite as intensely disparate on the topic of rugs, but he definitely doesn’t get nearly as jazzed as I do about the prospect of the perfect rug for the perfect space. (But really, if he did, could I respect him like I do? Probably not). His only criterion is a significant level of softness so that, when he and the kids roll around on it, he doesn’t get rug burn.

Suffice it to say that, when he sees this post, he will probably groan and roll his eyes a little…especially since my favorite rug from this entire post is a jute one (read: not soft at ALL).

Even so, I felt like I would be doing my fellow rug-lovers a huge disservice if I didn’t let you know that Rugs USA (no, this is not a sponsored post; I just like their stuff) is having a huge 75% off sale right now, and they have some seriously great rugs for seriously great prices.

Rugs like these:

rugscollage

From left to right: 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 / 6 / 7 / 8 / 9 /10 /11 /12

I don’t guess anyone is too terribly surprised (at least if you’ve been reading a while) that a lot of these are bright/colorful/pattern-heavy, but I can assure you that, while these are my cup of tea, I looked through over 50 pages of options (hello, mindless activity while I feed Theo), and there were LOTS of options for neutral-lovers as well.

Oh! And in answer to those of you who have wondered where my living room rug is from…

myrugpic

Yup. It’s from Rugs USA too. This one, specifically.

Oh, and since I’m so sure you’re dying to know…my favorites from this post are the top four, and I’m seriously considering buying that first one. It’s the rough jute one my husband will wrinkle his nose at, but it’s soooo purdy, and it’s a really good deal, and I plan on putting it under a table where the texture won’t matter so…

Hashtag justification.

What are your favorites? Are you guys fans of rugs and throw pillows too? I feel like they’re kind of “room jewelry,” and a space just isn’t complete without them.

Mama Life Hacks {#10}: The Magical Stroller Ledge

I don’t remember using a stroller that much with my first three kids. Weird, right? I mean, I’m sure I used one when I went to the mall (no shopping carts) or to the park, but I sure didn’t keep mine stashed in the back of my van like I do these days.

A single stroller just seemed like a lot of trouble to haul out and unfold/refold all the time for just one kid. And a double stroller seemed like a whole other level of inconvenient to me.

That is, until I had the twins. At which point, I bought a like-new Graco double-stroller from Craigslist and never looked back.

And by “never looked back,” I mean that I used that bad boy ALL. THE. TIME.

Our gym has an incredibly awkward entrance (think: 3 flights of stairs up to the main door and then 2 more to get back down to the area where you exercise). But there is a ground level entrance that the staff will let you into if you buzz them (worth the hassle for sure, and these days I just get one of the boys to open it for me), but it’s a little awkward too because it winds through the dark cinema room, and really, what mama wants her babies wandering through the dark when she can’t see what’s going on?

So…why the gym tangent? Well, it was/is the #1 place that my kids and I consistently go, so when the twins were old enough to come to the gym nursery, my new BFF–the double stroller–and I were suddenly suuuuper tight. Because as much as I like working on my fitness, hauling a car seat on each arm up 3 flights of stairs while herding three other little kids is a little extreme, even for me (not that I didn’t do it a time or 50).

Problem was, Della was only 2 when the twins were born, which meant that, most of the time, I had to figured out how to carry her and steer a monster stroller at the same time.

Which is when I discovered the magic of that little ledge near the handle of almost every stroller.

Wait, what ledge?

stroller1watermark

THAT one.

On practically every stroller I’ve owned, it’s the perfect size to perch a small child so that you can add a “seat” to your stroller without actually having to size up.

That little ledge saved me, since it allowed me to haul all three of my little girls in and out of the gym (and plenty of other places), quickly and conveniently.

And now for a little disclaimer.

My husband warned me when I mentioned writing this post that I might get some flack from the safety-police, and I acknowledged that I had already thought of that.

So, please understand that I do NOT recommend this if a) you plan on placing your child on the ledge of your stroller without anything to weight the lower portion or b) you plan on leaving them unattended or c) you’re letting a child do the pushing or d) insert any other unsafe behavior that a conscientious mama just wouldn’t do.

If, however, you need a fast, easy, safe way to transport your toddler without adding a seat to your current stroller, take it from a mama who couldn’t believe she didn’t figure this one out sooner and has been happily using it for the last 2 1/2 years: this one’s golden.

Of course, sometimes, the little girls get tired of walking, and we get even more creative and turn a single stroller into a triple.   stroller1

{Obviously, this wouldn’t work with bigger kids, but reclining the stroller back and stacking little girls in the seat works pretty well in a pinch}

It works great for street fairs…

stroller

{Anybody else think the photo-bombing dude in the trucker hat has his head cocked like that because he just counted all the kids in this picture?}

It EVEN works for hikes up a mountain.

stroller2

My girls are so used to it by this point that it’s just understood that, when we pull out the stroller, at least one of them will be sitting pretty on the stroller ledge (just as often, Theo is in the main part in his car seat, one twin is riding on the ledge, and the other is perched on the foot-rest, holding onto Theo’s car seat handle. We’re all about the stroller hacks around here).

What about you guys? Are you big stroller-buffs? Have you also discovered the “magic ledge?”

P.S. In case you’re wondering about the rather fantastic backdrop in that last picture, I’ll be sharing more about it soon. :)

A Summer Dress {3 Ways}

Yesterday, I posted this dressing room pic to Instagram and Facebook, asking opinions on whether I should buy this Madewell dress.

white dress6

I’ve never bought anything from Madewell–mostly because I can’t justify their prices and also because there aren’t too many in my area (I think I’d maybe set foot inside one once before yesterday?).

But they had an extra 30% off of sale items deal going on, and, while most of the items were still too pricey for me, when that white dress caught my eye, I couldn’t believe it was only $19.99 (not including the extra discount, which brought it down to $15).

Almost everybody on social media loved it, and it was so comfy that I brought it home with me. Shaun gave it a thumbs up too…which is good, since it was a final sale and couldn’t be returned.

It’s such a fun blank-canvas piece that I thought it would be a good one to style 3 different ways.

So, I did! (If only my follow-through were quite so immediate when I think about cleaning out my craft room).

First up, we have: white dress watermark

The silhouette of this dress is really relaxed. Even though I bought a size at the lower end of my range, it was still a little loose. But I kind of love the slightly boxy, while still structured, feel of it and think it lends itself to a super casual/cute look like layering it over cuffed, skinny jeans and white Chucks.

white dress1

This certainly isn’t my normal look, but it would work great for a play date when you want to look put together while still having the ability to bend/move without flashing anybody. (How you’re going to keep the PB&J fingers off of the white? That’s another story).

Next up, we have:

white dress2watermark

Throw on a few bright accessories and a jeans jacket, and this dress is the perfect piece to wear for a dinner out with girlfriends–especially since it’s plenty roomy enough to accommodate copious guac and chips consumption. If you’re anything like me, all you’ll have to worry about it doing your best not to drip salsa down your front.

white dress3

And finally, we have:

white dress4watermark

I love how, with a belt to cinch in the waistline and a pair of shimmery wedges, this dress immediately goes from casual to date night ready.

white dress5

And there you have it! One white dress. 3 ways to wear it.

If you’re just dying for something to help you procrastinate on whatever it is you should be doing, you can also take a gander at my other styled-3-ways posts here: pink pants, floral shirt, white dress.

What do you think of my Madewell score? Do you have a favorite of the three?

My Best Tips for Running Errands with Kids

Yesterday, I posted this picture to Instagram of me and my crew in an aisle full of breakables at Home Goods with a caption that went something like, “Some might call me brave. Some crazy. But we all know what Nola thinks.” (She’s the one sitting down in the basket).

kidshopping

I’ve noticed that every time I post a picture of me with my kiddos out and about, the response is almost always, “Holy cow! I only have one, and I feel like I’m going to lose my mind!” or “Going anywhere with my four feels like torture.”

And I get that. I do.

My kids are NOT calm, quiet little beings. They are–ahem–FULL of personality and energy. Which can translate to some pretty disastrous outings.

But here’s the thing: we live 30 minutes from a town of any appreciable size, and I’m not one for: a) making multiple trips just to avoid having the “inconvenience” of kids with me (okay, there are no quotations necessary; it is inconvenient. I’m just loathe to use that word in relation to my children) or b) shopping at 10 PM just so I can go alone. (Although, I know plenty of mamas that are down with both of these things, and if that works for you, rock on!)

Plus, since I teach fitness classes in said 30-minute-away town, I like to combine my trips as much as possible, which means that I’m often spending several hours at a time out and about with 6 kids in tow.

Sounds exhausting, yes?

Yes.

MOST of the time, though, it’s really not that bad. Certainly, we have our share of bad attitudes (mine’s usually the worst), toddler meltdowns, diaper blowouts, and the other usual casualties of hauling small children out in public and then requiring them to behave while doing boring things like grocery shopping or returns.

But we also have–dare I say it–fun during our outings. (I can hardly believe I just typed that). I’ve been dragging kids along with me on errands for 9 years now, so I thought I might share my best tips for making the experience as manageable and even marginally pleasant as possible.

Feel free to skip them if you’ve already got your routine down pat, but if they can help even one person, I figure it’s worth posting.

1. Pray

I don’t always remember to do this, but when I do say a quick prayer in the car before we head out on our missions, things always seem to go more smoothly, if for no other reason than that my attitude tends to be better.

It also helps hold me accountable, since my kids have just heard me asking the Lord to give us “patience and kindness.”

2. Convey Clear Expectations

So, you’ve prayed about “patience and kindness” and all that, but kids can always use a little positive reinforcement and specific instruction, so I like to take a second in the car to remind my kids to “be a blessing” everywhere we go and let them know how they can do that (i.e. opening doors for the stroller or other people, carrying packages into the post office, entertaining their little sisters, etc.).

Note: I know how tempting it is to threaten your kids within an inch of their lives with exactly how. much. trouble they’ll be in if they misbehave. I’ve done it plenty of times. But you know what? Kids respond so much better to praise than threats. So, I try to remind my kids of the logical consequences if they act wild and then follow it up with, “But I know you guys will do great because y’all are awesome, and I’ve seen how good you are at being a blessing to others.” (They ALWAYS beam and nod enthusiastically when I say that…which always makes me feel ashamed that I don’t say it more often).

OH, and this is a somewhat recent development for us, but in the past year or so, my three oldest (ages 4-9) have definitely developed strong cases of the “Gimmes” anytime we go anywhere with toys. Or gum. Or drinks. Or…anything. At first, it was a bit of a shock for me because I’m not in the habit of buying my kids “bribes” just to go shopping with me, and I wanted my kids to just quit being such materialistic hedonists, for the love! But then, I came back to planet earth and remembered that I’m mothering little sinners just like me, and I like to buy new things too.

So, I’ve explained to them that, unless I’ve told them ahead of time that this is a day when they are allowed to buy something with their allowances, then they shouldn’t even ask. Does it work perfectly? Nope. They still badger sometimes. But it has definitely curbed the constant requests for “Just this little thing, Mama,” or “ONE pack of gum, plllleeeeeease?”

3. Give Them an Itinerary

My older kids loooooooove it when I tell them exactly how many errands we’re going to do and in what order.

I, on the other hand, despise it.

Because if, as often happens, we need to change up our game plan, at least one of them will inevitably say, “But, Mama, I thought you said THREE errands in THIS order!” (Insert: sudden spike in my blood pressure).

Even so, things usually go better when they have an idea of how long they’ll need to “keep it together” and in what kinds of environments.

So, I usually say something like: “We have two errands to run–the post office and the grocery store–before the gym. IF we have time. If we don’t, please don’t correct Mama or worry about it. We’ll get them done another time.” (Because, yes, children sometimes complain, even when you do fewer errands than you warned them about).

4. Channel Your Inner Boy Scout

Seriously, the difference between a failed errand and a successful one can usually be traced back to how prepared I was.

Oh, good grief, Abbie. Are you seriously suggesting that I make a game plan for a trip to Walmart? That’s way too much work.

Not quite. But if you know you’ll need to do multiple errands in a row–especially with really little kids–having an arsenal of distractions and time-stretchers is pretty key to not losing your ever-loving mind.

I haven’t taken regular trips to Goodwill in a while, but I did take 5 kids with me pretty frequently when the twins were younger. And I knew we were going to be there for a minimum of 2 hours each time, so I would plan ahead with levels of distractions.

For example, I’d make sure to stash the following in my purse:

Crackers

Juice cups

Stuffed animals

Fruit snacks

Suckers

Phone

I really think the key to keeping your toddler from losing it during a longish errand is degrees of distractions.

Here’s what I mean: when you first enter a store, a little kid will probably be interested in surveying his surroundings and might not need anything else to keep him happy. This could last anywhere from 5-30 minutes, but I usually get about 15, if I’m lucky.

When the natives start getting restless, I’ll pull out a snack like pretzels or graham crackers. This buys me another 10-15 minutes.

And then, of course, when they’re done with their snack, they’ll be thirsty, so I whip out the juice cups. We don’t drink much juice at home, so even watered down grape juice seems like a big treat and keeps them occupied for a while.

Usually, by this point, they’re pretty content to go back to observing for a while since their bellies are full and happy.

When, as inevitably happens, the whining starts up, I’ll pull out their favorite portable toy, which almost always swings their moods back in the right direction.

Fruit snacks are a big treat around our house and take a while to chew through, so they might make an appearance if necessary somewhere around this point.

Depending on how much time we’ve got left and how desperate the situation is looking, I’ll pull out the big guns. SUCKERS. You can do organic or sugar-free or whatever you need to to assuage your mama-guilt, but honestly, we eat these SO rarely that I’m okay with my kids having a Dum-Dum every once in a blue moon.

Of course, the genius of suckers is that they take a long time to eat.

Last AND least, if we absolutely have to stretch it just a liiiiiiiiiittle bit longer, I’ll pull out my phone and let them zone out to Peppa Pig or play a couple of rounds of Angry Birds. I’m not a fan of using portable screens to subdue my children, so this is definitely a last–but sometimes necessary–resort for me.

While this may sound more complicated than it’s worth, I promise that the whole process is much more organic (while still intentional) than it sounds. The main thing I’ve discovered is that spooling out the treats and distractions buys you SO much more “happy time” than simply loading your toddler up with his favorite eats, drinks, toys, and games all at once. He has no idea how to pace himself and will usually spend about a minute on each and then throw them all out of the stroller and be ready to roam.

5. Reward Them When They Do Well

I’m a BIG proponent of teaching kids to do right because it IS right, not because they expect something in return. Even so, it’s always a good idea to show your kids how much you appreciate their help and good attitudes, instead of simply taking both for granted.

If we’ve had a week full of errands and “boring” outings, and the kids have been helpful and patient, then I try to plan a trip to the park or the pool or Sonic as a reward for being awesome.

Sure, we do those things anyway, but I try to point out the reason for a particular treat so that my kids know that their sweetness was noticed.

Perfect example: in the pic at the beginning of the post, we had already been inside a T. J. Maxx/Home Goods combo store for an hour, but my kids were still hanging in there because a) they’ve had a LOT of practice with this at this point and b) they knew our next stop was Pet Smart to check out all the fun animals IF they made good choices.

Did I have to remind them of this fact a time or two? Yes, but only a time or two. Which is fine by me. I’m not expecting perfection. Just progress.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, we have an errand to run (and a picnic afterwards to pack for).

Any tips you’d like to add? I definitely don’t claim to have it all figured out, but I can honestly say that the things in this post have saved many a trip out in public with my children and that–while I would prefer to grocery shop at my leisure any day of the week–I don’t dread going out with my children and genuinely enjoy seeing them grow in responsibility and kindness towards their siblings and others. They’re pretty rad little humans, if I do say so myself.

 

 

Mama Life Hacks {Tip #9}: The Double Diaper Trick

I don’t remember where I first heard this clever little Mama Life Hack (I think it was from Mandy?), but I do know this: I have used it. A LOT.

So, what is it?

Well, first of all, let’s take a look at the conundrum that makes this hack necessary.

diaper3

Ever had this happen? You’re wrestling with your 9-month-old, trying to fit that laaaaaast size 3 diaper around his obviously size 4 girth, all the while that he flops around like a beached dolphin…and riiiiiiiip. There goes the diaper tab.

Honestly, it kind of feels insulting. Like, really? I just chunked between 17 and 50 cents in the trash while attempting to contain my child’s poop? Whomp whomp.

But wait! No you dih-in’t

diaper

Instead of throwing the torn diaper away, just grab another one, layer it over the first, then fasten it up like normal.

diaper1

{Double-diapered and not mad about it one bit}

Then, when it’s time for a diaper change, simply undo the top diaper, slip the torn, soiled diaper off, clean up your baby’s tushy, and RE-fasten the top (and now only) diaper back up.

And then smirk a little about the fact that you live in a day and age when diaper tabs can be reused.

diaper5

I know a lot of you mamas are past the diapering stage (lucky ducks…although…no diapers means no more chunky baby thighs so…never mind), but I guarantee that your mama-friends with babies will love you forever for sharing this one.

BONUS: If you’re heading out somewhere for a quick trip and don’t want to carry a bulky bag, you can do the double diaper trick, even without the broken tab. That way, you’ll have an extra diaper with you (and already on your baby’s bottom, no less), and you can throw a pack of wipes in your purse and be good to go!

P.S. Why, yes, I did intentionally rip a tab off of a perfectly good diaper and then double-diaper Theo just to take pictures to show you guys. Good thing this hack works so well.

P.P.S. Don’t forget to tag your own #mamalifehacks using that hashtag on social media!

What goes around…

I don’t believe in karma, and yet, as a mother, it’s impossible to deny that similar behaviors ripple throughout multiple members of our family, popping up when you least expect them and feeling, at times, a whole lot like poetic justice.

simondellaevy

Case in point:

Della (the queen/empress/duchess and high priestess of saying, “Mama” multiple times and then following it up with either silence and/or repeating, “Uh, um, mmm, uh, um,” until you feel your soul shriveling up and dying a bit): “Mama?”

Me: “Hm?”

Della: “What’s that swirly water thing for?” (pointing at the whirlpool tub in our gym’s women’s locker room).

Me (distracted by the equally soul-shriveling process of trying to prevent a toddler from putting both legs in the same hole of her swimsuit…for the 12th time): “Uh.”

Della: “Mama?”

Me (while tugging spandex up over chubby toddler knees): “Hm?”

Della: “What’s the swirly water thing for?”

Me: “Um…” (still tugging and attempting to keep half-dressed toddler and myself from toppling over onto the potty in the miniscule stall that is the stage for our antics, while avoiding crushing toddler’s twin sister).

Della: “Mama!” Starting to sound annoyed. “I need to know. WHAT is the the swirly water thing for??”

Me (sanity hanging by a thread as I attempt to peel sticky toddler hands off one leg while balancing on the other leg and doing my best to drag a pudgy, sticky toddler hand through the correct bathing suit strap configuration while avoiding a dip in the toilet): “Um, well, ah. It’s… Um…”

Della (with a sigh of resignation): “Mama, you have too many ‘Um’s.’”

Hashtag: welcome to my world, Daughter.

dellabraid

And then there was that time when…

Simon–in a soothing tone to Della after she fell and rather spectacularly scraped and bloodied her knee: “Della. I did this one time, and Mama told me I had to take deep, calming breaths, and it would be better. And you know what? I did, and it was.”

(Funny, I don’t remember its happening quite like that)

Della, in high-pitched, machine gun yelps: “I can’t, I CAN’T, I CA-AAAAAAN’T. There’s bloooooooooood!!!!”

Simon, in a maddening, patronizing tone: “Just don’t think about it. It will get better. Take deeeeeeeep breaths, in through your nose and out through your mouth. There you go. Just like Mama when she has to get a baby out.”

Me:

simondimples

Ever feel like what goes around comes right back around in your house too?

Favorite Things Gift Basket for Father’s Day

Hey guys! This is a repost from a couple of years ago, but I’ve had several people asking me for last minute Father’s Day gift ideas, and this is still one of my favorite kinds of gifts to give my husband since I can easily customize it to his current tastes and interests. Hope this helps you out if you’re stumped for a Dad’s Day gift idea.

I am well aware that there are comprehensive lists floating around blog-world that provide oodles of inventive, just-right gift ideas for Father’s Day. Some of them are even broken down into categories—sporty dad! nerdy dad! likesnothingbetterthansittingonthecouchwatchinggolf dad!

So, I’d hardly be adding anything new if I made my own.

I did, however, want to share an idea that I came up with for Shaun for our anniversary, which was such a hit that I’ll be reprising it again for his Father’s Day present (and, yes, he has been warned to stay away from this post until next Monday, upon pain of no home-cooked dinner for the rest of eternity).

I’m calling it a “Favorite Things Basket”—a concept which you can probably grasp from the title alone.

Let’s face it: men are hard to buy for. Which means that I always struggle to come up with bigger items that will appeal to Shaun that he hasn’t actually bought for himself already. (Grrr…)

The smaller stuff, though, that’s much easier—which is why I decided to combine a bunch of different small things that I know he loves into one big basket:

. daddybasket

Thar she blows—a basket full of goodies for the father of my children.

Now, obviously, you can adapt this idea for your father or grandfather too, but as I said before, this basket was actually an anniversary present, so I just reworked some of the items and snapped a few photos to help get your creative juices flowing.

So, what did I include?

daddybasket3

FOOD: strawberry fruit leather, dulce de leche Haagen Dazs ice cream, Koop’s horseradish mustard (the man is obsessed with both mustard and horseradish, so it seemed like a no-brainer), onion-cheese dip, milk chocolate Hershey nuggets with almonds and toffee, and maple almond granola.

*I just realized that I forgot to add his drink (his faves are root beer and cream soda, of which there is an abundance of specialty varieties).

FUN: two different “man” magazines—one with a handy man theme and the other with a work shop theme, shooting range passes (one for him and one for a friend…because he might never go if I only bought them for him), Superman ball cap (he’ll be a little mortified since wearing logos, especially the kind that make a big deal out of him, is totally not his thing, but I’ll just tell him he can wear it around the house because we all know he’s Superman), Klipsch ear buds (he’s an audio-book junkie; I actually gave him these last year, but I took a picture of them in the basket to give you more ideas)

PERSONAL: I made him a little chalkboard sign that says, “You are my favorite thing; here are some of yours.” (Obviously, you might need to reword this if you’re making the basket for your dad, or your husband might get offended :) ).

daddybasket4

I also made him an “I Love You Because…” mug using various colored Sharpies. Then I baked it in the oven for 30 minutes (there are tons of tutorials for this on Pinterest; it’s super-easy) to set the ink.

daddybasket5

Note to self: wait to write the word “hot” until the kids aren’t watching.

I thought Ezra and Simon would never stop asking me: “Mama, why did you write, ‘hot?’ What do you mean, Daddy’s ‘hot?’”

The last thing I did was to add a playful little nod to the hackneyed classic “Father’s Day Tie” gift tradition.

daddybasket2

It’s just a bow-tie made from some scrap fabric and a little hot glue, but I thought it was a nice finishing touch. Besides, what’s manlier than orange lumberjack flannel, right?

Here’s another round of close-ups of the whole kit and caboodle.

daddybasketcollage

When I gave him his anniversary version, Shaun was a huge fan and seemed really touched that I had gone to the trouble to track down so many different things that I knew he loved. And, even though he’s already seen a version of it, I bet he’ll be just as thrilled this time around.

The best part is that most of these items are regularly available at your local grocery store or Walmart. Plus, you can take it as far as your imagination leads you. I can already picture all kinds of fun, themed versions for movie enthusiasts, NASCAR-lovers, bookworms, and so many more!

So, what about you guys?

Do you have your Father’s Day gifts all lined out yet?

And is it just me, or are men really that much harder to buy for than women?

Kitchen dreaming

This past weekend, Shaun and I managed a date night, and just like the DIY/house/design loving nerds we are, we spent it touring houses at our annual Parade of Homes (where new, custom homes are open to public viewing for a limited period of time).

parade

{Taking selfies in bathrooms that we could drive our cars through}

And THEN, we went back for round two on Sunday afternoon and spent a bit of our afternoon driving around, taking turns running in to do whirlwind tours while the other waited in the car with the kids (thank goodness for our van’s DVD player).

parade1

{The design on this particular house wasn’t fancy, but the decor was super cute}

Honestly, the predominant home aesthetic here in East Texas does very little for me. Whereas I love light, airy, and colorful, the style here tends to be dark, heavy, and monochrome. Still, it was fun to see some of the more elevated elements like hot water pot fillers attached to the backsplash behind the range, Carrara marble countertops,  gorgeous freestanding tubs, and maaasssive walk-in closets.

Like this one.

parade2

(And that’s only half of it!)

That closet actually belonged to our favorite home (by far) of the tour. In fact, we loved it so much that we circled back for a second look on our way out of the neighborhood.

When we built our house from scratch, our predominant consideration was budget, since we were using cash to build it without debt. We knew we wanted a custom home with certain design details, but we forewent some of the fancier elements for the sake of staying within our budget. The goal was style we loved at a price we could stomach.

And honestly? I’m happy with our results. I’ve never particularly missed having granite countertops. And while our engineered hardwood floors aren’t quite as nice as the real deals, they certainly do the trick. And our custom/bartered cabinets look pretty in deep teal AND white.

Still…there’s at least a chance that we’ll build again some day. And even if we don’t, a girl can dream, right? I don’t get on Pinterest very often, but if you noticed my flurry of pins this past weekend, then just know that I was busy doing “research” and that almost all of it centered around the best room in the entire house.

Which is, of COURSE, the kitchen. I mean, where else can you combine so many fun, sparkly, fancy, useful things in one room?

Things like…

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Shiny, shiny lights, vent hoods, and countertops. Honestly, this kitchen is a little too white for me (although, I love the playful touch of those aqua knobs), but it’s hard to argue with the sparkling clean effect.

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There are several things I love about this space, but if you’ve been reading for a while, then you probably know what immediately caught my eye. Hint: it starts with “st” and ends in “ls.”

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Exposed brick, lots o’ white, silver, ship lap, open shelving, and an overall industrial vibe?

Somehow, I think Joanna Gaines would approve. Meeeeee too.

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I love so many things about this kitchen–the backsplash, that ladder, the hanging aqua cups. But what slays me is that antique buffet doubling as an island. So stinkin’ clever and gorgeous to boot.

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This is not my dream kitchen, but those chunky exposed beams, the moody green cabinet color, and that 60″ range sure do make my heart go pitter-patter.

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There are so many cool pendant lights out there these days that it’s almost impossible to decide. But for me, nothing quite tops the old-school glamour of a full-on crystal chandy over a rustic wood island (if it just so happens to be paired with checkerboard floors and cloudy gray cabinetry, I won’t complain).

If I were to make a dream list of kitchen design “essentials,” I think I’d have to go with:

  • wood floors
  • stone countertops (not sure which direction I would go, but marble’s definitely out because even in the dream version, I would still have lots of kids)
  • furniture-style island big enough to seat our entire crew
  • fun bar stools
  • killer range/oven
  • farmhouse sink
  • sparkly backsplash (call me a trend-lover, but I’ve fallen for white subway tile)
  • exposed shelving
  • color somewhere (I’d be tempted to do my lower cabinets in a shade of my beloved blue-green while keeping the uppers white).
  • massive windows for tons of natural light
  • gorgeous lighting

So, yeah. I’m not picky at all. Ahem.

What would YOUR “perfect” kitchen look like? (Honestly, I’ve got my perfect kitchen. It heats things it should, cools others, and works great for our family. NO complaints!)

When we travel, we do NOT eat clean (but we do eat delicious)

In case you’re wondering, I have, in general, been sticking with the clean eating regimen that I established back when I did my 10 day cleanse.

Yes, I indulge in the occasional treat. I have had an Icee…or three (not at once, of course). I have added some dairy back into my diet (I had Greek yogurt this morning for breakfast…for the first time in for-evah), and I do eat bread eeeeeevery now and then.

Still. In general, I’m sticking with proteins and veggies and fruits.

EXCEPT.

When I’m on vacation.

Suffice it to say that, on our recent anniversary trip to California, we did not eat clean. We sure did eat gooooood, though.

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I wouldn’t necessarily say that we’re super-adventurous sorts when it comes to food. We don’t go in for the squid or the fried alligator. But we still like a fair bit of variety, and we do a collective happy dance (choreographed, of course; I’ll have to video it for you sometime) when we find a unique, well-rated, delicious little place that serves not-completely-conventional food.

When I posted about some of our food adventures on Instagram, I immediately got asked the same question multiple times: “How do you find these places?”

And the answer is easy: Yelp.

That’s right, you just cup your hands around your mouth and emit a high-pitched noise, and the restaurants, they just appear. food5

No, but seriously, if you’re into really good food while you travel (or even if you just want to find the best places in your hometown), download the Yelp app and get to browsing. You can narrow your search by all kinds of factors including price, whether the restaurant’s open during your search time (good for those times when you pull into town at 10 PM, and everything looks dead), and food genre.

TripAdvisor is great too, but Yelp is just really nice for an uncluttered, streamlined restaurant rec app. Plus, I find the reviews to be more accurate and consistent than those on UrbanSpoon or Google. (Where it’s not uncommon to encounter: “BEST. FOOD. EVAH.” right on the tails of: “Total dump. Never go here. I think I’ll bomb this place.”)

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{That ho-cho tasted as good as it looked. Mmmmm}

ANYhoo, we ate like kings, beginning with a dang good falafel. Our trip basically started with our muscling our way through San Fran traffic on a Friday afternoon (I highly recommend it…if you want to be late to wherever you’re going…and then to whatever you might have planned after that too).

As we crawled (inched?) along, we both noticed an Olive Garden on our left, and (discovered later that) we both thought, “Ooooooh. Salad and breadsticks. I could really go for that right now.” But we were both too embarrassed to admit that we wanted to start out our 10 year anniversary trip at a chain restaurant just because we were too hungry to wait for the good stuff. By the time we figured out our mutual bourgeois-ness, it was too late. Because while parking spots are about as common tripled-winged unicorns, NO U TURN + NO LEFT TURN signs abound. And making 14 right turns (don’t even do that math) to fight our way back for lukewarm bread + soggy salad (see how our perspectives changed the millisecond we passed it?) just didn’t seem worth it.

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So, I hopped on Yelp, and we found a falafel shop with rave!! reviews that was only 1.3 miles away…and then proceeded to spend the next 45 minutes getting there. Turns out, our location wasn’t accurate when it gave us our initial arrival estimation. So, friendly note there. Make sure your actual location is entered before you attempt to hit up that 5 star gourmet burger joint “just around the corner.”

Anyhoo, by the time we found ourselves on Market street in downtown San Francisco and realized that parking was nonexistent, we were too hungry and too determined to get us some falafel to care. Shaun dropped me off and circled the block until he found a temporary spot to squat (before being shooed off by a police car) and then circled some more while I waited in line for 5 minutes and then another 15ish for our food.

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At one point, a lady stomped up to enter the door right next to the falafel stand (the Flying Falafel, in case you’re wondering), and, fixing all of us with a glare, spat: “I don’t know if you know this or not, but this door is not associated with the falafel shop. Which means that you all are loitering outside a private door. And you need to move…over THERE.” Flaps hands dramatically.

Me and my small-town Texas self uneasily inched away from the door, even though I was standing the farthest away from it and in no way blocking it.

Everybody else?

Just glanced at her and then resumed their conversations.

So, Miss Indignant made a big show of shouldering her way through the “crowd” (it really wasn’t that bad, and no one was truly in her way) and huffed into her building. And then turned around to face us and hollered, “I’m talking to YOU PEOPLE,” through the glass door, while making all-encompassing circles with her arms.

I was still trying to appease her by taking a few more steps back (any farther, and I’d have been in the street). But this time, no one else even looked up.

And that, my friends, is how you spot a native San Franciscan. They eat their falafels with a side of crazy and don’t even blink.

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Speaking of the falafels, they were worth every last stomach growl and moment of Southern girl people-pleasing discomfort.

Seriously, yo. As hungry and tired and annoyed at traffic as we were, Shaun got halfway through his, and was like, “I am so glad we didn’t stop at Olive Garden. This is amazing,” and I was all: “Um hum, mmm hum, ggmmmmm.” Which is me agreeing with a really full mouth.

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Just as satisfying was the Thai food that we ate and the farm-to-table brunch with the to-die-for Eggs Benedict and $4.50 drop biscuits (yes, EACH) and the gourmet pizza joint with the crazy-nice owner who made us a delicious pie at 10 PM. Oh, and we can’t forget the yummy Greek food, and the mouth-watering almond croissants, and the prettiest hot chocolate you ever did see… and.. and… and

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{This cute little place in Santa Rosa was fantastic. My bangs in this picture? Not so much}

Oh man, my stomach is rumbling just thinking about all of the goodness we consumed.

But maybe our favorite place on the entire trip–both for the food and the experience–was Crepes of Brittany on the Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterey.

It’s a good thing that place is nowhere near my house because I might be leave my husband and children to set up camp outside its door. If you read my European food recap from last year’s trip, then you know how deeply Shaun and I fell in love with both the crepes (sweet) and the galettes (savory) that we ate in Paris, but I kid you not when I say that these were at least as good. Maybe better.

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{A buckwheat galette with tomatoes, egg, and cheese = heaven}

Mostly because the guy who runs it–a stocky, middle-aged dude with tattoos all up his arms, closed-buzzed hair, and twinkly blue eyes–was born in France and still uses his mother’s crepe recipe, even though he hasn’t actually been back in 35 years.

The coolest thing, though, wasn’t the crepes, even as amazing as they were. It was his story. From the moment we walked in, there was just something about him–the way he met your eye, the way he expressed himself–that just shone, and it totally belied his tough guy look.

And then, while we were eating, I noticed that Christian worship music was playing in the background, and I was really surprised. In East Texas, I wouldn’t blink an eye. Probably 1/3 of the stores I shop in play Christian music. But in California? It definitely jumped out at me because it was so unexpected.

He came to our table to ask us how we liked our food (we gushed, of course), and I told him, “Oh, by the way. We love your music.” And he just fixed those bright blue eyes on me, smiled gently and said, “Thank you.”

When we got our dessert crepes, he brought us out a complimentary one (both were–oh man–soooooo good), and then he stayed a bit to tell us how he had been a contractor for 25 years, never known his dad, grown up rough and tumble and uneducated. He only made it through 8th grade, and reading gave him so much anxiety that he would pass his contracting company bills straight to his accountant, so he wouldn’t have to decipher them. (I would neverhave guessed this, considering how well he expressed himself).

But then, through a series of totally unsought after events, he ended up with this little crepe shop, and then one day, he came in contact with a Christian guy who gave him a Bible verse to read. So, he took it home and painfully worked it out. Then, the guy gave him another one. And another. And Terry (the crepe shop owner) said that by the third one, he had such a hunger to know more that he couldn’t wait for the guy to give him the fourth. He attended a Bible study with the man, and the Lord just ignited a ravenous need to know more of his Word and his ways in the pit of Terry’s soul, and he’s never looked back.

Y’all.

I know this post is supposed to be about food. But that moment honestly made the trip for both of us, I think.

To see the pure gratitude and joy that shone from this man’s eyes as he talked about how his growing relationship with the Lord has given him a completely different life–how he has learned to love his wife (because he never had a model of marriage to follow before) and his kids, how his life now has purpose and how he is able to see the way that God pursued him, even in the midst of his sin and self-seeking lifestyle (his description). How he’s going to take his entire family to meet his father for the first time in France this summer…

It was just awesome, and it did the heart of this girl who has known Jesus for over a quarter century and can get complacent all-too-easily some serious good.

I can’t express clearly enough how visibly the light of Jesus shone out of this man’s eyes, but it did. He wasn’t wild or ranting or jumping up and down and dancing. He was just at peace and full of joy. We told him we had noticed something different about him almost immediately, and he smiled and said, “I noticed it in y’all too. I don’t know why or how, but that’s why I came over.”

So stinkin’ cool.

Oh, and his crepes were amaze-balls. So, there’s that.

So, what about you guys? Are you fellow Yelpers? Any other recommendations for ways to find good food? We’re taking a family vacation soon, and, even though we’re mostly going to be cooking (good food loses its flavor right quick when there’s a side of screaming toddler) we’ll definitely be scoping out some of the local eats too.

A 10th Anniversary Trip–Coastal Style

Pretty much every time we’ve gotten back from a trip in the last two years, Shaun and I have looked at each other and said, “Welp. That was fun. But it’s never happening again. At least not until we’re old, and the kids are grown. I mean. How could it? We have ___________ of the little critters, for crying out loud.” (Funny how that number’s not getting any smaller).

And then, a year or so goes by, and we get the itch to get a few days to ourselves, and we start thinking, maaaaayyybe we can talk those nice parents of ours into keeping our kids yet again.

Oh-so-graciously, we both have super-obliging parents who not only love their grandchildren but are sweet enough to watch them for days at a time so we can get away. (I suppose it doesn’t hurt that both sets live 30 minutes to an hour-ish away).

We usually do a split deal, since the twins–at not-quite-3–are what might be generously termed a “handful” (assuming you have God-sized hands) on their own.

So, with the older 3 off at my mom’s house, and the twins at his, we winged our way to California for a 5-day road trip down the Pacific Coast Highway.

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Here is #Theodorbs himself, ready to charm an entire airplane. But for reals. He did great and spent pretty much the entire flight climbing between Shaun’s and my laps, alternating between nursing, napping, and grinning his sweet-cheeked little face off.

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{Dude in the background clearly had no clue how lucky he was to have a crinkly-eyed, smiley baby next to him, and his wife–AKA, the black lump you see behind Theo’s head, slumped forward with her face resting on the tray table–slept through every effort at cuteness that he attempted. And that was just fine by me}

We began our journey here:

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Foggy bridges are cool. Foggy bridge traffic? Not so much.

From San Francisco, we made our way down the 1 to Santa Rosa, where we had booked a VRBO rental room at a cute little mini-farm, complete with ducks, dogs, cats, chickens, a peacock, and a donkey.

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The weather, after weeks upon weeks of rain and mugginess in East Texas, was glorious. Crisp and cool and sunny. Neither Shaun nor I got more than an hour 1/2 of sleep the night before our flight due to various factors including the fact that our hop-over flight to Dallas got canceled (at midnight!) due to weather, and we ended up having to leave at 3:30 in the morning to make it on time for our flight. Shaun did all the driving, and I got to sleep in the car on the drive down from San Fran, so while he caught a quick Z or two in our room, I plugged my earphones in with an Audible book (The Kitchen House…it was pretty good, especially since the readers were excellent. I don’t think I would have liked it as much as a traditional read), and Theo and I roamed the farm property, checking out the critters and taking sun flare selfies.

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{I really should stop starving this child; his double-chin is clearly suffering}

After a fun (chilly) wander to the cute little downtown square that evening + a tasty dinner, we spent the next morning eating even more good food (don’t worry; I plan to torture treat you with a post all about our eats very soon) and stumbling upon a happy discovery.

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That would be the Santa Rosa Farmer’s Market. Very few things make our skirts fly up more than scoping out local vendors/shops/markets, etc. In fact, if those boysenberries (their flavor is part raspberry, part blackberry, and ALL yummy) don’t prove our willingness to buy local, then take a gander at my handmade leather sandals from Greece that I’m still wearing (and loving) a year later.

From Santa Rosa, we began our many hour meander down the coast, taking our time and catching our breath at views like this one:

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and this one:

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I know. Our lives are rough.

But before you hate us too much, I will report that Theo ended up with a (relatively mild) case of Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease, which meant that I ended up sleeping through a fair bit of the views after spending my nights up with him doing my level best to get him to nurse and sleep for fitful spurts at a time. Shaun was a champ, driving the entire time, even though he wasn’t exactly getting tons of sleep himself.

Happily, Theo’s worst nights happened in Santa Barbara, where we stayed at another rental (Airbnb this time), which happened to be inside a lady’s home. At first, I was stressed about bothering her with all of our late night walking sessions and fussing, but it turned out that Gayla (our host) was one of the nicest human beings I have ever met. She was completely understanding about Theo’s sad state (she was a retired nurse) and went out of her way to do anything she could to make our stay more pleasant. She was such a lively, fun personality too, that whenever we were home at the same time and she tried to sneak off so that she “wouldn’t be in our way,” we did our best to convince her to stay so we could chat.

The rest of the time, we spent at the Monterey Aquarium (which was, quite possibly, the best I’ve ever been to, and I’ve seen some of the best in the world. I’m looking at you, Sydney), doing the 17 mile drive, and hanging out in the picturesque town of Carmel-By-The-Sea, where everything (including the Shell gas station) looks like it’s straight off the pages of a storybook.

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Our last night in Santa Barbara, we snuggled up to the fire on Gayla’s gorgeous back patio and made s’mores (with fixings that she provided…seriously, she was THEE best).

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And then, just like that, it was our last day, and we found ourselves here…

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…and not even a little bit sad about it.

Really, the best word I can use to describe The Mission Inn is: Magic.

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It’s the 3rd time we’ve gotten to stay here (including our babymoon when I was pregnant with the twins and our trip at Christmastime), and I’m starting to feel like this is “our place”–the one we’ll always come back to every chance we get. I don’t ever just love it that Shaun travels, but I can’t complain too much when his work keeps bringing him back to Riverside, California. (Even if it means that he was gone 20 out of 33 days from May 5-June 6–gulp!).

We even got the room that we stayed in on our original visit–the one with the high, high ceilings and the four-poster bed.

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{Theo tried to convince me to let him sleep all sprawled out on the pristine white sheets while I took the hotel crib, but I didn’t bite}

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Speaking of bites, Theo also did his best to charm me into giving him a taste of my Casey’s Cupcakes red velvet masterpiece. (Nice try, cuteness, but your Mama’s got a hard, hard heart).

The Mission Inn is such a decadent experience already that Shaun and I couldn’t help but just laugh when they sent up a bottle of chilled sparkling wine after they found out it was our anniversary. 10anni12

Neither of us are drinkers, but we both sampled a bit of it just so it wouldn’t go to waste. I genuinely dislike pretty much all forms of alcohol that I’ve tried, but I managed to down a (tiny) glass of this one without feeling like I had just imbibed mouthwash, so I’m calling it a win.

Before I could really even wrap my brain around it, it was time for Theo and I to hop back on the plane for Texas. If you follow along on social media, you know that I asked for prayer because I was a little nervous that Theo would have a bad flight after not feeling 100% for several days. And wouldn’t you know it? The very night that y’all prayed, he finally latched voluntarily (I had been doing a combo method of, well, many different things to get him to eat…none of which were kosher on a plane) and slept so much better than he had in the last 3 nights combined. 10anni7

This DFW bathroom selfie comes to you courtesy of a very happy mama whose 5-month-old spent the entire ride back being ridiculously sweet (even if we did hang out in the bathroom/back of the plane as much as we could get away with just in case).

I was really ready to see the rest of my chitlins by the time I got home, but I was also so, so happy to have had some time away with my man (especially since I hadn’t seen him for longer than 72 hours at a time in a month).

And there you have it. More pictures and words about our anniversary trip than I’m sure you were ever hoping/thinking/expecting to receive (who are we kidding? If you’re a long-time reader, then you knew there were going to be words and pics aplenty).

But never fear! I will bombard you with yet more in the very near future.

I know. The suspense. It’s practically unbearable.

Hasta pronto, friends!