Posted in Blog

Striking the Right Mood In Our Alternative to the “Formal Living Room”

I’m a huge fan of making mood boards or vision boards for rooms before I redecorate. I’d like to say it’s for some sophisticated reason, but the truth is that I need to “see” something before I know whether it works or not. Since we’re in the process of redecorating around here, I’m sharing the mood board for our den that I made in a PowerPoint slide.

This room is technically supposed to be the “formal living room,” but seeing as we’re not really entertaining right now and these types of formal spaces are out of vogue anyway, we are going with a den. To me, a den is a space to unwind with family or maybe even escape to get away from others for a while. I want to use this room to play games and do puzzles with the kids, grab a book from the shelf and read in relative quiet, or escape to have a drink with friends. There’s no TV, but rather cozy places to chill out without a screen.

Okay, so I want this room to be all the things.

We’ll see what we can make happen.

Before we got serious about painting the room, the space was the kids’ playroom. It worked well for many years because the toys were largely contained, and I could easily keep my eyes and ears on them. This was a great solution with early walkers and destructive toddlers.

One of our original playroom setups

Now that the boys are 5 and 7 years old, though, I don’t need to hear and see them constantly. Honestly, I could go for a lot less noise and fewer LEGO pieces underfoot on the regular. Moving the playroom to an upstairs bedroom (with a door!) has given us this space.

My husband graciously agreed to support this redesign and move of rooms, thank goodness! We’re currently in the middle of the project having moved the playroom and painted the den. Now we’re waiting for furniture to be delivered, and then I’ll add the finishing touches. Now we’re getting to the fun part of the project! I’m sure I’ll share photos when we’re all done.

Posted in Blog

Friday Fav: Costco Bookcase

It’s January, which means it’s that time of year again that Costco removes the Christmas trees and replaces the floor space with furniture. I spotted my Friday Fav there again this year: the Bayside Furnishings room divider/bookcase. And, it’s been on sale (in store only) for $99.99 rather than its older price of $129.99!!

I know, it’s a piece of furniture. I shouldn’t be so excited, but I just love it! It is hefty, versatile, and provides larger storage bins than those I see often at Ikea or Target.

We originally bought it for our townhouse to store baby toys in the living room. When we were staging the house to move, I took out the storage bins and turned it into a nifty dining room buffet table.

It moved to the playroom when we moved to our house, and I picked up an extra one that year to use as a credenza in my office. Now, both of them are flanking the TV in the kids’ playroom.

If you are in the market for additional storage, then check it out at Costco warehouses. It will likely be unavailable and out of stock by the end of the month.

Happy Friday!

Posted in Blog

My Kids Share a Bedroom and I Don’t Feel Guilty About It

We live in a neighborhood where many families have three to five bedrooms and enough space for each child to have their own room. Even though we are lucky enough to have four bedrooms plus our not-technically-a-bedroom, guest room space in our basement, we have our boys sharing a room. When people learn this tidbit, I sense their surprise or curiosity about why we’d make this choice when we have the space for separate children’s rooms.

Well, there are several reasons. First, when my boys were little – maybe two and four years old – they wanted to share a room. Well, let me rephrase, the four-year-old munchkin was adamant that he not be left alone.

As I pulled the younger son’s crib into the room, I explained. “Here, kid. I made you a brother. You are no longer alone.”

My older son was happy, my husband and I were happy, the two-year-old didn’t care, and we all slept well each night. All was right with the world.

A second reason we made this change is because I was a fool. I worked from home 5 days a week and somehow thought it would be a good idea to share my workspace with the family space on the main level. The kids were in daycare or school all day, so I could work without them underfoot. It would be fine…until I had to work an evening or weekend or the boys decided to pull out every item in my desk drawers. Oh, what a naïve and silly woman I was!

That’s when I converted one of the bedrooms into my office. If you’re keeping track at home, that means one bedroom for the boys, one for my office, another is the master for my husband and me, plus the guest room in the basement. That leaves one more bedroom, which we recently turned into a playroom. I love it! We had the playroom in the “formal living room” space, and I was tired of it always being a mess and noisy. Now that the playroom is in a bedroom upstairs, when the playroom is a mess, I can just close the door.

I’m sure there are still some out there thinking, “But, why, Stephanie, would you force your kids to share a bedroom? Surely you could make something else work.”

Yeah, I could and maybe I will in the future when my kids are older. I refuse to feel guilty about this choice for several reasons.

First and foremost, everyone in my household is happy about our living situation.

Plus, I have to share a bedroom (and a bed, mind you!) so my children can share a room too.

There is also great learning to be had when you need to learn to compromise and share a space. I remember the struggle I saw in myself and others freshman year of college when people who were forced to share a dorm after living in their own rooms for so long at home. I have no problem with my children working through this life experience before they leave the nest. There are certainly a significant number of children, now adults, who shared their bedrooms with one or more family members and turned out just fine. No one is being hurt or emotionally scarred here.

Additionally, I absolutely love having my office (with a door!) where I can have my own private space. This is something I’ve learned that I need to maintain some semblance of sanity. It has the added benefit of helping to create boundaries with my work-from-home situation. When I leave my office, I’m off the clock. When I’m in the office, everyone knows I’m in work mode (and they mostly respect that).

Ultimately, I live by the philosophy that everyone needs to make choices that work best for them and their family. I certainly won’t be judging anyone else’s choices. You do you, don’t hurt others along the way, and all will be well. I’ll do the same.

Posted in Blog

Christmas Cookie Recipes

One tradition my family loves to partake in during the holidays is cookie baking. Who are we kidding though. I’m the baker, and my family taste tests. These cookies become desserts for the month and gifts for family and friends. Here are links to the recipes for the cookies I made this year.

Chewy Peanut Butter Cookies – These are a classic cookie and one of my husband’s favorites. They always make it into the yearly rotation.

Grinch Cookies – These cookies are delicious and extremely easy to make! I love their presentation too. I found the heart sprinkles at Walmart when I couldn’t spot them in my local grocery store.

Nestle’s Chocolate Chip Cookies – This is the standard issue recipe that’s one of my favorite cookies year round. I love them warm and right out of the oven, and I like them chilled right out of the refrigerator.

Oreo Truffles – These are a fan favorite, even if they aren’t technically still in cookie form. Over the years I’ve learned a few tricks for making these truffle candies. For instance, you can also add flavor the the Oreo filling by adding a teaspoon of vanilla or an extract like peppermint. Hershey’s chocolate bars melt best. I have a Little Dipper warmer that came with my crockpot that is PERFECT for melting the Hershey bars before dipping the Oreo filling. I end up making three batches of this deliciousness to share every year.

Whoville Cookies – These pinwheel sugar cookies remind me of reading Dr. Suess’s The Grinch with the kids. The red and green don’t have to be equally distributed or a perfect pinwheel. Actually, the more off they are the better!

Cream Cheese Butterflies – Butterflies aren’t Christmasy to me, but they are a Christmas cookie my husband grew up with and always loved. Here’s a close recipe to the one I use, though I substitute the lemon zest for orange zest and use a bit of red food coloring to make them pink.

Reindeer Bellybuttons – These are the easiest “cookies” to make that only require pretzels, Hershey’s kisses, and M&Ms. I usually grab a bag of kisses from Costco plus two bags of mini pretzels and a large bag of M&Ms from the grocery store. I have learned the hard way though that you need to read the pretzel bag closely. Don’t get the unsalted pretzels for this treat!! You need the salt to play against the sweetness of the chocolate.

Dipped Gingersnaps – Every year I have to add and try a new cookie, just to change it up a bit and see if I can find a new classic. This year I made the dipped gingersnaps. They are….okay. I think I would have liked them better if I used a different oil that the canola oil it calls for here. I’m also not personally a huge fan of white chocolate. They were worth a shot, but I won’t be making them again.

That’s it! Though that’s a lot! Eight different cookies was a commitment, but I spaced it out this year doing one cookie a day and then dedicating one weekend day to making the remaining.

Happy baking!

Posted in Blog

Gift Wrapping Hacks

As much as I like to give my husband a hard time about the fact that I do all of the wrapping for every gift our family gives each year while he only has to wrap mine, I secretly kind of love it. I squirrel myself away in the basement, watch cheesy Christmas movies, and spend time alone. These days, that feels like an even more special treat!

Over the years, I’ve devised a few hacks for wrapping gifts. I share them here not to convince you to adopt any of them, but rather just to share some ideas. I recognize that most people are significantly more laid back than I am and don’t see the need for these tricks, and that’s totally cool. You do you!

  • Once I wrap a gift, I completely forget what’s in it. This gets dangerous when wrapping gifts for our parents because my husband and I refer to both sets of parents as mom and dad. Our labels can get confusing quickly! My trick? If my husband’s name comes first in the From section, it’s a gift for his parents. If my name is listed first, then it’s a gift for my parents.
  • We have the common Christmas tradition to give our kids new pajamas every Christmas Eve. To not lose these gifts among the others, I put a star on the To/From label.
  • Santa still visits our home every year, and he always seems to have different wrapping paper than we use. He must be a bit egocentric because his wrapping paper always has pictures of himself on it. He also makes sure to always write in capitalize letters than look completely different from anyone’s handwriting in our house.
  • This year we won’t be spending the holidays with family like we normally do. Our families have been generous and mailed gifts to our house instead. I’m hoping we can video call with them on Christmas day to virtually celebrate instead. So as I wrap gifts, I make sure to use different wrapping paper for each family. This way I’ll know at a glance on Christmas morning that all of the gifts with snowmen paper should be saved to open when we can connect with the grandparents.
  • Hands down the best, reasonably priced wrapping paper that I’ve found is at Costco. It takes years to use it all, and the paper is thick.
  • Tags, ribbons, bows, gift bags, etc. are all picked up at Walmart Dec 26th when all of their Christmas stock is at least 50%. I pick up everything I need for about $10. I then store it away until the next year. I like buying everything at once because I can coordinate items and pick products that will match my wrapping paper.
  • Have you ever been in the situation that you don’t have enough wrapping paper to completely cover a gift? Try the diagonal wrapping method! For that trick and others, see this video from But First, Coffee.
  • Never trust the box of any gift you open from me. I reuse them every year. Shoe boxes are great for stashing awkwardly shaped items like socks and underwear (staple Christmas gifts in our house).

Some other traditions I’ve learned from others sound fun too. I know others from large families use a different wrapping paper for each family member. Others may want to rally all of the adults on Christmas Eve to wrap and drink wine together once the children are nestled all snug in their beds. I also like the notion that Santa leaves his gift out of the box and unwrapped by the tree with stockings at the foot of the children’s beds to find early Christmas morning.

Whatever you do, I hope you enjoy the magic of the season and the joy of giving. We could use a little more of both in 2020.

Posted in Blog

Friday Fav: Benefits to Staying Home During the Pandemic

It’s been an off week for me. I’m not feeling this routine anymore.

I have to admit that I’m tired.

I’m tired of being home so frequently. I’m tired of everyone else being home with me so frequently. I’m tired of only working two-hour shifts at a time so my husband and I can trade off watching the kids. I’m tired of virtual school. I’m tired of making everyone three meals a day. I’m tired of it all.

I have been trying not to complain because I fully recognize how lucky we are here. My husband and I are each able to work from home and maintain our incomes. We have access to food so I can make us three meals a day. The weather is nice, so we can get outside and do things around town and in the neighborhood. We are all healthy, and the kids actually seem to be mostly thriving in this new normal. We have it good.

The days aren’t hard, really, just the same day on repeat – a perpetual Groundhog’s Day.

My husband has kindly suggested taking some time off of work, and I see where he is coming from. Honestly, I don’t want time off of work. I want to be able to focus on my work tasks for more than 2 hours at a time. I would like to 100% focus on something for a significant chunk of time (and not have to be up at 6am to do it). I miss silence. I would like a little more separation between work and life, but that’s not in the cards for now.

So, instead, I’m going to reground myself and focus on the benefits and my favorite parts of being home so much now:

  • Our afternoons, evenings, and weekends are a lot less hectic without a ton of after-school activities.
  • I can give my kids hugs when they want them, even in the middle of a school day.
  • My husband can make dinners more frequently since he’s not commuting.
  • I always get to go shopping alone while my husband stays home with the kids.
  • I’ve far surpassed my reading goals for the year.
  • The weather has been nice since the pandemic started.
  • At least the neighborhood pool was open this summer so we had somewhere to cool off outside in the heat.
  • The kids reading levels have improved with more one-on-one attention.
  • I’ve gotten the chance to deeply explore how my children learn best, where their strengths are, and their areas for development.
  • We have been able to have more family time playing outside, watching the Great British Baking Show, and reading Harry Potter. (We’re up to Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which may take us a few months to finish.)
  • Mr. 7-Year-Old learned to ride his bike. Mr.-Then-4-Year-Old finally got the courage to regularly ride his big-boy bike rather than a tricycle.
  • We tackled home projects we’d been putting off because we finally had the time to focus on them together.
  • I have been on SO MANY walks.
  • Our house has been cold and illness free since March.
  • The boys are having playdates outside exploring creeks, playing on swings, and generally running around together rather than inside playing video games.
  • My house is now REEEALLY organized.
  • I haven’t felt the need to buy the boys new clothes. Jean got a hole in the knees? Oh well, we’re not going anywhere.
  • Our senior pup and my husband are closer than ever. She’s basically become his shadow.
  • But…we spend so much time at home now that the dog doesn’t sleep at the foot of our bed anymore. She stays downstairs, I presume, to get away from us for at least part of the day. I have room to stretch my feet out now, until about 5am when she strolls upstairs to join us.
  • We’ve all become a bit more resilient in times of uncertainty and change.

Just the act of writing out the upsides makes me feel a bit better. I still miss silence and being able to write without being interrupted fifteen times. But, the only thing constant is change. I will get silence again someday, and then I’m sure I’ll lament about the absence of regular commotion. It’s best to enjoy what you have and while you have it.

Photo by Chris Ross Harris on Unsplash