Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Montessori Bar and Mirror

At the six-month mark, Tate began trying to pull up on things, and we knew it was time to install the Montessori bar on our mirror. The bar is installed at chest-height for the baby, which I think is approximately 17 inches. The baby uses it to pull up into a standing position and later practice cruising. 

We had a neighborhood handyman install it the first time, but it pulled right out of the wall! The next time we asked our friend to do it. At our little New Year's Reflection and Resolution-setting party, my friend and I decided that her husband would install our white board and railing for Tate, if we taught her how to cook a soup and had her and her family over for dinner. 

He decided to install it into the wood frame of the mirror because the spacing of the studs was a little off. Installing it onto the frame of the mirror meant that he had to saw a little of the bar off, which seemed to be pretty simple for him. 

The bar is simply a curtain rod from IKEA. You could also think about using some hand railing material from a home improvement store like Home Depot or Lowe's. 

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Monday, January 27, 2014

Baby Food Exchange

We've really been ramping up with Tate's eating, so I decided to put together another baby food making party. I had an amazing time planning and executing one when we lived in Houston when Henry was a baby. It's so much more fun to cook with company!

Seven of us got together in Houston and produced so much food that it essentially lasted from the time Henry was regularly eating solid purees to the time when he could transition to un-pureed food. 

Sadly, it's not as easy with the second baby. One of my friends said her weekends are so packed she would rather cook on a Thursday when she's off from work and schedule a play date to exchange the meals. The other friend was all set to come over on a Sunday and then found out that her husband had to work so she needed to stay home with both kids. 


The current plan is for each of us to plan and make five recipes for a total of 15 different options. My two favorite baby food books are:
I'll be making:
  1. Squash and quinoa pilaf
  2. Split-pea stew
  3. Potato & butternut squash stew
  4. Prune puree
  5. Whipped cauliflower
Baby food is surprisingly easy to make, and I love being able to control all the ingredients. Beyond that, I love how it ends up being chunkier than commercial baby food. I'm guessing that texture is an extremely important part of helping babies become healthy and diverse eaters. 

I particularly appreciate the two books listed above because they advocate for introducing more interesting and complex flavors to babies right from the start. 

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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Closet Organization

I've spent an inordinate amount of my time thinking about closet organization. It started back in our first home in Houston. We needed to maximize the closet space in our tiny bungalow with no garage (hello lawn mower and chicken food right next to the washing machine). I had grand plans to piece together my very own closet system from IKEA pieces, but I never got around to it before we sold our house and moved to Austin. 

I started thinking about closet systems again when were building our house. I brainstormed different options and decided on IKEA. And then I changed my mind and was going to go with Rubbermaid for even more savings. I trekked to Home Depot and stared at the closet system aisle for quite a while trying to figure out what went with what. There were pre-existing kits, but it sometimes seemed cheaper if you bought the pieces separately but then they didn't have all the pieces in the same color and I wasn't sure how to make it fit our dimensions precisely. 

In the meantime, we moved closer to The Container Store and I fell in love with it. There's one part of my brain that bemoans all the plastic and the "made in China" labels, and there's another part of me that goes weak in the knees over the endless organizational possibilities. Dividers to separate your clothes by categories? Yes, please! Spice racks mounted inside your pantry doors to maximize space? Sign me up! 

I started eying the Elfa system and figured it would at least be worth pricing it out since there's an annual 30% off sale. I used their online tool to design some closet spaces. In order to save money, I decided to do half of Henry's close with Elfa and half with standard-size IKEA storage. I was going to follow Young House Love's idea for installing Rubbermaid in our bathroom linen closets, but I was going to have to hire someone to do it since our closets are slightly too small for the standard size. 

I trekked to The Container Store and worked with one of their consultants. The design process was way more efficient in the store, and the configuration she came up with was much better than mine. She designed three closets for us: the master bedroom, Henry's bedroom, and Tate's bedroom. She convinced me that it made a lot more sense to go ahead and install shelves all the way across Henry and Tate's closets rather than do half Elfa and half IKEA. She helped me realize that once the tracks are installed, the system is completely re-configurable and can be changed again and again to meet your family's changing needs. Plus, it only cost about $100-$200 more to add basic shelves across the second half of each closet. I could have easily spent that much at IKEA on supplemental storage solutions that wouldn't have been nearly as seamless. 

I didn't pay for the three closets right away and instead took the renderings home to show Matt and my in-laws. The more I showed it to people, the more I fell in love with the Elfa system. You can start with the most basic wire shelving initially and add more decorative fascia later if you want. It's also an incredibly nuanced product. The consultant asked for my height and Matt's and the system adjusted the bar heights accordingly. 

Matt was thrilled with the three closets and was even more ecstatic to hear that we could have them installed within two business days. We decided that it made sense to go ahead and finish out all our closets, so I went back and designed our coat closet (which we use for our vacuum, broom, etc.) and our outdoor utility closet (since we don't have a garage). 

I ended up giving the design consultant a hug before I left because I was so excited about the prospect of getting all of our closets organized in one fell swoop. As I've mentioned a couple times, when we first moved in, we quickly tried to put everything away, which meant that a ton of stuff landed in the closets. So much stuff, in fact, that one of our closet shelves ended up ripping out of the walls from too much weight. It's been stressful to open up every closet and come face to face with chaos. [Editor's Note: These are not real problems, I know!]. 

The design consultant explained that the installers will come and remove the shelf and bar in every closet, patch up the holes, repaint, and then install the new system. She said that we would start putting stuff back in and wonder where everything went since we would suddenly have so much more storage space. 

I'm eager to make serious strides toward my goals for the year! 

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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

New Meal for the Month

One of my monthly goals was to add a new meal to our rotation. Right now, we have about 20 meals that we rotate through. Meal planning is a cinch with our Excel document. I just use the filter feature to select the five meals we want to make for the week and it automatically generates a grocery list of every ingredient organized by section of the grocery store. 

Although the system works perfectly, I find that we have grown tired of our 20 staples. Time to add more!

Enter: Gluten-free Mexican Macaroni & Cheese

My step-father made it over the holiday, and it was delicious. I'm always up for mac-n-cheese, but I appreciate that this one is a little more substantive with beans. 

Here are the ingredients:
  • 3 C brown rice elbow macaroni
  • 1 C canned black beans (drained and rinsed)
  • 1 tomato, seeded and diced
  • 1/2 avocado, diced
  • 1 T chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 t fresh lime juice
  • 1 T unsalted butter
  • 1 red onion, finely diced
  • 1 T brown rice flour
  • 1.5 C 1% milk
  • 6 oz. queso fresco, shredded (I used cheddar and it worked well, too)
  • 1/2 C plain nonfat yogurt
  1. Cook pasta.
  2. Drain and return to pot. 
  3. Add beans.
  4. In a small bowl, combine tomato, avocado, cilantro, and lime juice.
  5. In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium. Saute the onion until softened, 2-3 minutes.
  6. Add flour and whisk constantly for 1 minute.
  7. Gradually add milk, whisking constantly until thickened (about 3 minutes).
  8. Remove from heat and add queso fresco. Stir until slightly melted (some curds will remain).
  9. Add yogurt and stir to combine. 
  10. Pour over beans and noodles. Stir.
  11. Add to bowls and then add tomato mixture on top.
Do you have any links to simple vegetarian meals? 

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Tuesday, January 14, 2014


When I was filling out my New Year's Reflection form, I decided to make a little calendar of the year to help me keep tabs on the major to-do tasks for the year, like planning Henry's birthday party, making our Halloween costumes, getting Christmas presents, etc. All of those things have to get done, so I might as well start thinking about them in advance instead of stressing out when they absolutely have to get done. For example, my birthday is in early February, which means I should start planning it in January. 

Last year I had an incredibly quiet, solo birthday adventure as I was gearing up to have a second baby and was staring a major deadline in the face (our application for a charter was due to the state at the end of the month). 

This year, I immediately knew what I wanted to do: I want to travel with my family to Houston for a weekend of reconnecting with old friends and favorite places. I started looking for a place to rent on airbnb.com and started making my list:
  • Breakfast at Baby Barnaby's (and pre-breakfast donut holes from Cristy's)
  • Playing at the Menil Park
  • A trip to Stardust Antiques (I'm getting weepy and nostalgic just thinking about it)
  • Eating hot dogs at Happy Fatz (and cupcakes at Crave)
  • Having a play date with my mama friends and our families
  • Running by myself at Memorial Park and walking around the Arboretum
  • Dinner with Andrew and Libby for sure (and maybe bring them back to our place for conversation around a fire pit?)
  • Star Pizza? 
  • Lunch with my mama friends sans kids?
This month marks our two-year anniversary of living in Austin, and, honestly, my heart still aches for Houston. It's hard to explain Houston's appeal to an outsider, but I definitely still miss H-town. 

Part of me wonders if I should make my birthday party about putting down roots in Austin, but I think part of connecting to a new city is maintaining ties to the old one. The more I fill my heart up with Houston love, the more I'll have to give to Austin.

Matt at the Houston Art Car Parade, pre-kids

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Monday, January 13, 2014

Home Organization: The Pantry


I didn't intend to tackle the pantry before a whole host of other projects that are more urgent, but I honestly couldn't take it anymore. We don't have a ton of kitchen space, and our cabinets are deep, so stuff just kind of gets stuffed toward the back. 

Matt and Henry were out for a run and Tate was still sleeping, so I seized the opportunity to pull everything out. I wasn't sure what the plan of action was going to be, so seeing everything on the counter helped me generate next steps. I started grouping like-items and realized that they primarily fell into two categories:
  1. Things to store in a bin together (snacks, vitamins, oils/vinegars, etc.)
  2. Things to store individually in separate containers (brown sugar, chia seeds, etc.)
I made a list of all the containers I needed to get and even took rough measurements of the items sitting together on the counter. I sprinted to The Container Store and stocked up on several different plastic bins, a couple glass jars, and awesome air-tight containers. 

At checkout, the cashier mentioned that she had recently reorganized her pantry using baskets, and it gave me doubts about my choice to go with plastic. However, given that Tate was going to need to eat soon, I didn't have much of an option except to stick with my plastic. 

Part of my pantry reorganization involved moving stuff out of the kitchen that really didn't need to be there. Things like infrequent medicine and even disposable dishware didn't need to take up valuable real estate in the pantry. We have plenty of storage space in the bathroom linen closets for stuff like that. 

I made labels for each of the containers using scrap paper, colored tape, and our label maker. I followed through with plans to use vertical tension rods to create separate compartments for various bakeware items. 

So far, we are in love with the new system! We can easily slide the plastic bins out to reach things that are farther in, and we can take out the bins entirely when we are doing something like making Henry's lunch. Also, I love the airtight containers for brown and white sugar, popcorn, and powered sugar. We use those items rather infrequently, so it makes sense to keep them stored as well as possible.

Slowly but surely this house will come together!

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Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Six Months: Happy Birthday, Tate!

Oh, Tate, we are so lucky to have you in our lives! You are the sweetest, cutest little thing. 

It's been such a big month for you. You army crawled all over the entire house, forearm over forearm. You continue to love all the food we've introduced you to: bananas, apples, avocados, and even bland rice cereal. You honestly can't get enough. You grab whatever we have and pull it straight to your mouth. 

You've started playing with Henry a lot. You crawl over when he's building his tents, and you like to suck on his toys while he's playing with them. You also laugh when the rest of us are laughing. 

This month you went on your second airplane ride, and you did really well again. You are such a happy baby. You love everyone around you, and you are definitely loved by all of us! 

Thank you for being you! 

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Monday, January 6, 2014

New Year's Resolutions

Happy New Year! I hope this Monday morning finds you well. It feels so great to be publishing posts again. Thanks for existing out there.

I read something in passing that only 8% of New Year's resolutions are kept so why bother? 

For me, it's empowering and comforting to commit to do something, make a plan for getting it done, and then to put one foot in front of the other to make it happen. I definitely don't follow through with everything I say I'm going to do (like my Master Plan for Moving which resulted in Matt throwing everything in boxes until 4am the day before we moved while I breastfed newborn Tate through the night). But when I do envision something and make it happen it's one more way to strengthen my courage muscle and build my trust in myself. 

So what do I want to make happen for myself this year?

I want to strengthen my habits of health and wellness: 
  • run at least three times a week and go to yoga once 
  • drink at least 80 ounces of water a day 
  • add new meals to our weekly rotation 
I want to continue to put down roots and connect with those around me: 
  • attend church potlucks 
  • sign up to support people by delivering meals, etc. 
  • regularly invite people over 
  • send birthday cards 
  • completely organize our house 
  • finish our front- and backyard landscaping 
  • do acts of service with Henry 
  • start a garden 
I want to create the kind of school I want to send my own children to.

I threw an impromptu Reflection & Rejuvenation party on New Year's Eve day and two lovely friends came over. I printed out three different reflection forms for them to choose from. We reflected and chatted. After they left, I continued to refine my goals and created a visual representation of the kind of year I want to have. I pasted the collage inside my new notebook, so that I'll see it frequently.

None of my resolutions are particularly daunting or difficult. The main thing I need to do is a) make time every month to set my goals for the month. I did this regularly for half of last year, and once I gave birth to Tate everything flew out the window!

Once I set my goals for the month (that connect directly to my goals for the year), I need to record them in a place that I frequent regularly. A couple places come to mind: my electronic action plan (I'm loathe to use it because I kind of want to keep the personal separate from the professional), the giant whiteboard we're putting on the wall in our kitchen, in my new yellow notebook. Honestly, I think I need to put them in my electronic action plan because I use it all the time.

So what do I want to accomplish in January?
  • Plan Henry's birthday party
  • Plan my birthday party
  • Set up a housecleaner
  • Get a robotic vacuum
  • Join the YMCA
  • Get security system installed
  • Request addresses and birthdays from dear friends
  • Get whiteboard hung
  • Plan dinner party with Diana
  • run at least 12 times and go to yoga or Pilates at least four times 
  • drink at least 80 ounces of water a day 
  • add at least one new meal to our weekly rotation
I'm excited for the month and year ahead! 

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