Saturday, December 28, 2019

Adventures in Parenting: Toddler Meal Prep.

Earlier this year, Lil' Man's daycare noted that they were going to be discontinuing serving meals in 2020.  We were a little frustrated in the moment, but eventually got on board--the director noted that it was the only way they could afford to give their teachers competitive wage increases to go along with state minimum wage increases without raising tuition.  And honestly, they're great teachers who deserve to be paid well, and the tuition cost is already competitive or lower than most of the other schools in the area.  So, we can deal with learning to pack lunches.

I got pretty good at family meal planning within the last year, and after talking with one of the moms in my church group (a single mom of two), realized that streamlining would be the best way to go.  Make a schedule and stick with it.

Can I just say...whoever out there who is in charge of coming up with a monthly menu for schools and daycares... y'all are rockstars.  This is NOT easy.  You want them to have variety, but also give them things they'll eat readily without prodding in a limited lunch period.  You want it to be balanced and hit the food groups, but not end up with food waste.  You want quick & convenient options, but not too processed.  

Then there's also the challenge of finding things they'll eat cold, when they've gotten used to hot lunches every day, without defaulting to a PB&J every day (even though it's REALLY tempting). I spent a bunch of time searching for things like "sneaking veggies into foods" and taking pics of pre-packaged foods at the store so I could compare prices.

Anyway, we came up with a plan.  We have yet to IMPLEMENT the plan, since it doesn't start until January 2, 2020, but I'll try to remember to follow up in a month or so and report back in as to whether it was a failure or success.

First, we made a list of things we know he'll eat, divided up by proteins, veggies, and fruits.  Fruits are no problem in our house, but he'll only eat 2 raw veggies:  carrots and broccoli.  Both ONLY with some sort of dip.  

Then, we came up with a schedule (the school will provide snacks for $1.50/day, but we have SO much snack stuff at home right now):
This might shift a bit over time, and depending on what things come home with him at the end of the day, but it's a starting point.

Next:  Lil' Man needs a lunchbox.  Thankfully, his Nana hooked him up for Christmas with this awesome dino box from Bentology.

Nana also loaded him down at Christmas with a poop-load of gummi snacks, rice krispy treats, crackers, and pouches...because she's a Nana, and that's her job. :)

Which is awesome...but it also means we have to find a place for it all in our tiny pantry and get organized.  So I guess it's a good thing the Hubs picked up a bunch of these plastic baskets at Menards over Black Friday (free after online rebate).  
We also picked up these plastic containers at Wal-Mart (Black Friday deal), which fit in his lunch box and also work for meal-prepping for myself and The Hubs' lunches as well.
I've been trying to lean toward Mediterranean diet-type options...more successful some days than others.
So we'll see how it goes. If you have any tips to share, please leave them in the comments!

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Bathroom Remodels!

Over the past 6 months, we've been doing some updating to the bathrooms in our house. Now that everything's wrapped up it seemed like a good time to share!

Guest Bathroom:
This bathroom has a really nice jetted tub (not shown)--no improvements needed there, except that the overflow drain is a little low and doesn't let the tub fill up enough to really soak, so we bought this drain cover to fix that problem.  Wall and trim paint were already great too, very beachy.

But it had NO storage.  Granted, it's a guest bath, but you still need SOMETHING for towels, toiletries, a bathroom bag, etc.  And the pedestal sink didn't leave much space for setting things out either.

So we pulled out the pedestal sink (sold it in a garage sale), and replaced it with this cabinet style sink.  The faucet was good, just needed a vinegar soak to get rid of some calcium buildup.  We also added a small shelf in the corner.

The paint on the mirror was chipping, so I got this gorgeous mirror at Hobby Lobby for 50% off (waited for Decor to be on sale).  And we replaced the light fixture with one from a set we got at Menards on Black Friday (the matching towel bar, toilet paper holder, and hand towel hook went upstairs in the master bath). Added a beachy turtle painting from a V.I.Paint class I went to a couple years ago.

Total Cost: $190

Master Bathroom (aka The Hubs' Bathroom):
Yes, we have separate bathrooms. It's the secret to a happy marriage, I promise you. of the secrets, along with open communication and trust.

Here, we liked light fixture...but that's about it.  The molded solid surface countertop had a gouge and a crack in it, and the room really needed an update.  We looked into just swapping out the countertops, but since the sink isn't centered, we were going to have to have something custom-cut.  We went down to the Home Show to get ideas...and that's where we met Brandy & Jared with Over The Top Resurfacing.  If not for going to that event, we would never have even realized that this is a thing!  Did you know?  They cover your existing counters with a durable spray-on porcelain enamel. Five year warranty.  And there are SO. MANY. COLORS.   That was literally the hardest part--picking the colors.  They did a free estimate, and the winner was obvious:

Manufactured Quartz $2600 (2 sinks)
Cultured Granite $660 (one sink)
Corian Solid Surface $500 (one sink)
Resurfacing $1300 (both countertops AND showers)

Doing something with the showers hadn't really even been on our radar. But once we realized we could get it ALL done for half the price of quartz, it seemed too perfect. My shower was in OK condition, but The Hubs' had some staining on the floor that we couldn't get rid of.
We opted for Latte on the countertops, and Cappucino in the showers.  I would have loved to do the Latte in the showers as well, but the lighting in our showers isn't great, so a dark wall color just doesn't work, unless you like not being able to see while you shave.
It was a 2 day process, and they took care of everything.  We just removed the faucets and cleaned the counters the night before.  I worked from home so I could be here if they needed anything.  It's a 3 stage process--a base color first, then they do the speckled part that makes it look like stone, and then a clear sealant on top.  48 hours of cure time (so we used the downstairs guest bathroom during that time).  
Then we swapped out the faucet, and the wall hardware (towel bar, etc.) so that it would match the bronze light fixture.
And The Hubs painted the cabinets, and added knobs that matched the bronze fixture and wall hardware. (I helped pick out the paint color.  I was useless after that.)
Last, The Hubs bought some wood trim and painted it the same color as the cabinets, glued it to the mirror & clamped it on until dry.  It really helped elevate the look of the mirror.

Total Cost: $780

My Bathroom

My bathroom is pretty small (it's the main floor hall bathroom) and I share it with the kiddo.  But it works just fine.  
Panorama Shot from Before.

As mentioned above, we got the counter and the shower resurfaced, and The Hubs repainted the cabinet and added the mirror trim in this bathroom as well. 

Totally looks like stone. I love it.

Lighting: The vanity light above the sink was gorgeous so no updates needed there, and it has a window so there's some nice natural light if needed.  The bathroom had a fan, but no overhead light, so we replaced the fan with a fan/light combo.  Also, we swapped out the bulbs in the vanity light from 40W soft whites to 60W clear bulbs, which made it a lot brighter.

Shower: Before these updates, it was SO DARK in my shower.  I had a navy blue shower curtain and a patterned plastic liner, so no light was penetrating.  But then...the kiddo managed to rip a hole in the shower curtain, so I figured a more sheer update would allow more light to get in. We also swapped out the shower head with a wide-head detachable model (because the detachable comes in handy for when we need to rinse the kiddo off quickly, or when we had our pup for giving him baths). 
Hardware: We swapped out the faucet, and the wall hardware, so that they were brushed nickel like the lighting fixture instead of chrome, and added cabinet pulls to the vanity doors.

Cost for this room: $860

Total cost for 3 bathrooms:  $1,830 ($1300 of which was the resurfacing of the counters and showers)

It's amazing how such small changes can make a huge difference! 

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Victorian Hat & Costume DIY - A Wild West Murder Mystery Party

Our friend Amy hosts a murder mystery party every year for her birthday (which is right around Halloween).  Over the years, I've been a 1950's housewife, a 1920's flapper mob daughter, a Governor's daughter surrounded by pirates (a la Elizabeth Swann), a "Downton Abbey" style housekeeper, a fairy princess, and a 1980's prom-goer.  Coming up with a costume for the party is literally one of my favorite times of the year.
So this year's theme is "Murder at the Deadwood Saloon", set in the Wild West of 1874.  And my character was "Holly Hickock", a Southern belle / professional poker player.  The character description called for "fancy dress"... I guess not selling this old bridesmaid's dress in our recent garage sale was a blessing in disguise! I spent some time Googling "Western Victorian era women's outfits" and eventually settled on a plan:

I had the dress, some black lace leftover from my prom outfit the previous year, a choker style necklace, and tall pointy boots that could pass for Victorian era.   I ordered black lace fingerless gloves from Ebay, along with a black lace fan (not shown in the drawing).

I found this video for how to make a quick "no sew" bustle to make the dress poof out a bit in the back, and bought a bag at the thrift store that would work for $3.50. Stuffed it with some lightweight material (a poofy underskirt from last year's prom outfit).  Pinned the black lace to the dress to make shoulder straps (since strapless dresses weren't common for the period, and it added some accents to the dress).

But the hair accessory...what to do?  I knew I could easily get a feathered hairpiece from Ebay, or a fascinator....but I kinda wanted to MAKE something.  I absolutely love the hats the ladies wear in the movie Tombstone, particularly the character of Josie:

...but finding something inexpensive was proving difficult:  ready made period-piece hats were $50-80, and most DIY hat sites were still using relatively professional tools and supplies that I knew would add up quick.  Other DIY sites recommended using a child's size hat so that it would sit on top of the head (rather than fitting around the crown), as is typical of the period's style.  But even then--the base for the hat was going to be $8-9, plus the cost of trimmings.

Finally, I found one website that shared something that appeared pretty easy--just some fabric, ribbon, and flowers over a cheap hat frame.  But then I couldn't find a link to the hat she'd used.  And at some point, The Hubs looked over and said, "I think you could make that with a Cool Whip container and some cardboard"...And I realized he was right.

Small Tupperware bowl (or Cool Whip container)
Thick cardboard from a small box (I used an empty diaper box)
Tape measure
Real or makeshift protractor
Box cutter or Exacto knife
Hot glue gun
Double-sided tape
flowers/feathers/baubles for decoration

DIRECTIONS: Trim up one side of the box, and then use the tape measure to draw a line from corner to corner--this shows the center of the box.  Then use your protractor to draw a circle around this central point (this made about a 9 inch circle for me).  Double check with the tape measure to confirm it's about the same distance around--retrace in areas if you need.  Then trim off the outside edges.  This will make the brim of the hat.
Next, place your container on the cardboard, and use the tape measure to make sure you're centered.  Hold the bowl down firmly, and trace around the outside edge.  
Use the Exacto knife to trim out the central circle (do this on a cutting board so you're not gouging into a table or countertop). As shown above, this created about a 2 inch brim for the hat.
Add the bowl, and voila--you have your hat frame, for $0!
Next, you'll need fabric to cover it.  Find something that matches your outfit--in this instance, since I'm using an existing dress I don't have any "leftover" fabric to use, but I do want a sash for my dress, so I can make the sash and the hat out of the same fabric in order to tie the two together.
I've had this orange & gold shot silk in my craft room for years--made a vest out of it for The Hubs' costume during the Pirate murder mystery party.  I love the colors so much, and the dress is neutral enough that I can make it work.  
Perfect for a fancy Southern gal, don't you think?
I started by putting a couple bands of double-sided tape around the outside of the bowl, and then laid the fabric over that, allowing for plenty of extra (which could later be trimmed or tucked up inside the hat).  Then I tightly tied the ribbon around the the bowl portion.  The ribbon and double-sided tape will both help the fabric to adhere to the top portion of the hat.

Then, because my bowl has a lip on it, I used hot glue to adhere the fabric to the top of that lip to help tack it in place (more than likely, I'm going to want to use this bowl again in the future, so I chose hot glue, rather than something like spray adhesive.)

Then I started wrapping the fabric around the brim of the hat, creating some pretty folds/pleats as I went, and secured that fabric to the bottom of the cardboard brim with hot glue.  I used safety pins to help hold the pleats in place so I could come back through later and sew them down. 
After sewing, I used some additional hot glue on the inside of the bowl to help hold that fabric inside. (In retrospect, I should have saved the inner cardboard circle from making the brim--I could have pushed it into the bowl to help keep the fabric taut.  Live & learn...)

Then the question became..."How the heck to I make this thing stay on my head???"  Especially since I wanted it to sit forward on my head a bit, like the picture of Josie above.  The answer?  Hair combs!  I picked up a pack and then stitched two onto opposite sides of the interior of the hat, so I could push them into my hair, toward each other, and keep the hat secure.

Once I felt confident I could get this beast to stay on my head, I flipped it back over and busted out my trusty glue gun--we need some flowers up in hurr!!!

I found a nice fall bouquet at Hobby Lobby--I picked a bunch with a nice array of different flowers so I could take them home and see what worked--and then still have a really nice fall decoration for our kitchen table.

Since the hat is small, there was only room for a couple flowers...I mean really, I probably could have gone nuts having seen some of the crazy hats that were around during that time....but I decided to keep it a little subtle. Then I sewed the extra ribbon from the band into a bow at the back, and voila!
The sash for this was also quite a project.  If I would have JUST made a sash, it probably would have been way simpler...but I had quite a bit of this gorgeous fabric leftover...and it was fairly common for gals of the time to have lots of layers and frills and ruffles.  So...I decided to add some EXTRA to this dress.

I knew the weight of the extra fabric in the back would pull at the sash, so I wanted to make sure it would hold up well throughout a party.  It occurred to me that using an existing belt would work well.  So, I wrapped the fabric around this elastic belt (pinned it until I was ready to sew).
For the back ruffle, I laid the fabric out flat on the floor, and the started folding pleats along the top, and pinning them together as I went.  Then I pinned the ruffle to the sash.
I ironed the sash portion to get a good seam along the top and bottom edge, then sewed the bustle to the bottom flap of the sash.
Then used hem tape to adhere the sash to itself around the belt.  Finally, I hemmed the edge of the bustle to hide the rough edge, and voila!

All the pieces came together to make a lovely old-timey fashionista southern belle....who was not terribly integral to the story of the evening.  
I mean...when your "big secret" that you have to hide from everyone is that you're not *really* from the South... You're probably not going to play a huge role in the evening's performance.  That's OK though.  We had a blast, and the Hubs won Best Dressed for the evening!