Always, Katie


Thursday, March 8, 2018

Katie's Famous Chocolate Chip Cookies

I know that everybody's (or their mom's) chocolate chip cookie recipe is the best... but mine really is ;-)


I love a slightly puffy cookie with lots and lots of chips, so I combined and tweaked recipes I found online and on chocolate chip packages and finally came up with a winner. These cookies have a bit of a cult following in my area, and I love to make them to go with new mom meals, or for other folks who need a pick-me-up. They whip up quickly and easily, with a minimum of dishes, and are a real crowd-pleaser. 

They're great anytime, but if you can deliver or eat them still warm and gooey from the oven, you will NOT regret it! 


Ingredients:

3/4 C margarine, soft. (I know everyone calls for butter, but let's be real. I use margarine because it's cheap. If you're a butter person, give it a whirl, but the recipe was developed with margarine.)
3/4 C brown sugar
1/4 C sugar
1 egg
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 C all-purpose flour
2 tsp cornstarch
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 C chocolate chips (I like semi-sweet, or a combo of semi-sweet and milk)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350F. Line baking sheets with foil. (I'm a lazy baker, and crumbling up and discarding foil is so much easier than washing baking sheets, haha!)

Cream margarine and both sugars together, in the bowl of a stand mixer, until light and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla and mix. (Quick note - I like to remove the chalaza from my egg before I add it to baked goods. Yeah, they're safe and edible, but chomping into that by surprise can ruin a perfectly good cookie or brownie real fast!)

Add flour, cornstarch, baking soda, baking powder, and salt, and mix until the dough is smooth. Scrape down the sides if you need to in order to get everything incorporated. Gradually add the chips. It's a lot of chips for the amount of dough, so your mixer may struggle if you add them all at once. :-) But the more, the merrier, right?!

I use one of these nifty scoops to drop globs of dough onto the foil - roughly a tablespoon. Bake for 8-10 minutes. The tops will stay pale, but the edges should be starting to get golden. (See photo below.)



I usually get 2-3 dozen cookies per batch, but I am the WORST at consistent batch sizes, so your mileage will vary ;-) 

Enjoy!! If you make these and happen to Instagram them, tag me (@always_katie) and let me know how you like them!


Saturday, March 3, 2018

My Child Wants to do IVF in Barbados!


So your son or daughter just told you that they are considering going to Barbados for IVF treatment, and there's a pit in your stomach. You've decided to scour the internet and figure out how to convince your children that they need to abandon this plan, and this research has brought you here.

I understand your concern. My husband and I did similar research almost four years ago (back in 2014), and I'm now a mom myself. I can think of several reasons why this decision would make a parent nervous. Please allow me the opportunity to respectfully try to calm some of those fears.


"Barbados sounds dangerous."

Barbados is the most developed country in the Caribbean, and the crime rate is low. The citizens - especially near tourist areas like the one in which the clinic is located - are warm and friendly, and everybody speaks English with easy-to-understand accents. The same advice for traveling to any foreign country (or, let's face it, anywhere in the US, too) applies... keep a close eye on your belongings, stick to populated areas, make good choices... but Barbados is absolutely a safe country to visit. One of Barbados's nicknames is "Little England," because it is one of the most popular vacation destinations for British people, and several famous people have homes there. Simon Cowell is a pretty tough critic, and it gets the thumbs-up from him!


"But are those doctors even 'REAL' doctors?"

Dr. Skinner, the medical director and one of the founders, was educated in Ireland, at the famous and prestigious Trinity College. IVF was created in the UK, so her training comes from right by the source! Medical advancements and extremely high-caliber medical training can happen outside the US, I promise. Dr. Skinner has published research in respected medical journals - my husband and I found her articles while we were researching the clinic - and is a world-renowned expert in artificial reproductive technology. Practicing in her beautiful native Barbados only enhances her practice, it does not detract from it.

Dr. Corona is a breathtakingly accomplished doctor who speaks several languages and has studied and worked in more places than I can wrap my brain around! While I have not yet been fortunate enough to meet her in person, I am in awe of her background and have heard wonderful things about her from fellow patients.

As a chronically ill woman, I have had dozens of doctors. Many of them well-respected and at the top of their fields. I've maybe met one or two whose education and experience rival this team's, but to be frank, their bedside manner was NOWHERE near as great as what I experienced from Dr. Skinner and have heard about regarding Dr. Corona. This doctor duo is educated, accomplished, and genuinely kind, in a combination and to a degree that is truly rare. Your adult children could not be in better hands.


"Foreign clinics aren't as clean or safe as American clinics."

Barbados Fertility Centre has earned the prestigious Joint Commission International (JCI) gold seal accreditation continuously since 2007. JCI is an American agency, and accredited clinics must meet or exceed American standards for cleanliness, clinical outcomes, and infection and mortality rates. Every three years when they apply for renewal, BFC opens their doors to incredibly detailed inspection, and they work very hard to be above reproach. It is not an easy or a casual thing to earn JCI accreditation!


"There's a perfectly fine clinic just down the road!"

I'm sure it's a lovely clinic!

However, in my experience, patients at American clinics often feel like numbers on a chart more than like people. Barbados Fertility Centre actively cares about their individual patients as whole people and as couples, and their patient-focused approach has resulted in astronomical success rates. Compare their success rates to the clinics near your child. I think you'll be surprised by how well BFC stacks up!

BFC has a Life Wellness Centre upstairs from the medical clinic. The Centre offers services such as counseling sessions, nutrition counseling, massage, acupuncture, reflexology, and Reiki. This is part of the whole-person approach, where they strive to help their patients be at peak wellness in multiple facets of health.

Cost is also a factor. IVF in the States can run from 2-5x as expensive as a full cycle in Barbados. I live in a relatively-inexpensive area for IVF, and by the time we paid for our flights, hotel, food, entertainment, medications, treatments, and spa services, we still saved a couple thousand dollars compared to what we would have spent on JUST treatment in Ohio. Plus, we got to do it in a beautiful, relaxing, distraction-free place.

Bottom Line

If your child and their spouse are considering IVF in Barbados, they are adults. They have no doubt researched this decision extensively. While they probably value your opinion, this is a decision they will have to make as a couple. At the end of the day, if that's the decision they have made, you need to try to trust that you raised them to make good decisions and that this is one of them. And if they have entrusted you with the details of their fertility struggles and treatment, they need your support and encouragement.

You are about to become a grandparent, and that means your role in your adult child's life is shifting once again. This can be difficult for many parents, but it's a natural, healthy part of raising children. I hope that the information and links I have provided can help you come to peace with their choice. And I wish them (and you!) the very best of luck!

If you (or your child) would like to email me with any other questions, my email address is alwayskatieblog@gmail.com and I am always happy to chat :-)  You can also explore my "IVF in Barbados" tab at the top of my blog page to read more about my own IVF vacation in Barbados.


PS: Follow me on social media (links in my sidebar!) to follow my family's return to Barbados this summer! We'll be introducing our twins to the clinic staff who helped conceive them, and writing about lodging and attractions around the island!


Monday, February 12, 2018

Matthew 22:39 - Bible Art Journaling

And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Matthew 22:39


A counseling session back in April of last year was a turning point for me in many ways, and it gave me a new way of looking at a familiar Bible verse: Matthew 22:39. We've all heard it. It's the one where Jesus tells us that the second most important commandment is to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

The word we overlook far too often in that verse is "as." Love your neighbor AS you love yourself. To do this, you have to actually love yourself. I realized - and I'm sure I'm not alone in this - that I was expending enormous emotional and physical energy loving others, but not honestly loving myself. That's not His plan, and it's not His commandment. His commandment requires loving ourselves.

Pouring from an empty cup

You've probably heard or seen the admonition, "You can't pour from an empty cup." The illustration I painted in my Bible by Matthew 22:39 is of a teapot pouring into a cup. The cup is not tilted to pour out, though. As I told a sweet friend recently, it's not selfish to refill your cup just for you. It doesn't have to be with the sole purpose of pouring it back out.

When you engage in self-care, try to occasionally do it just to simply care for yourself. Not to refill your cup to pour it out for your family, but because you deserve to not be running on empty!

Bible Art Journaling Details

[Some links may be affiliate links. If you click them and then make a purchase, I may make a tiny commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you!]


I prepped the page of my journaling Bible with matte ModPodge and let it dry thoroughly. It felt very plasticized. I sketched the teapot and cup and painted it all with watercolor. I'm very new to watercolor, but I kind of enjoy the unpredictability of the paint on the plasticized paper. I used letter scrapbooking stickers from Michael's, the glitter ones to emphasize "LOVE YOURSELF" in the verse.

Then, and this is my favorite feature of this page, the little card that is taped in like a flap is a lined journaling card from Project Life and Stampin' Up! I taped it in with washi tape so that I could journal about my counseling session and the growth that came from it, while still being able to flip it out of the way and read the whole page. I also like taping sermon notes from my church bulletins like a flap, and then sketching whatever sermon illustration pops out at me. While I have no qualms about covering text with images, I do like being able to keep journaling on flaps and out of the way.

Do you do any Bible Art Journaling? I have a really fun board on Pinterest, you should check it out! Have you ever made flaps like this?

Have you been filling your own cup only with the purpose of pouring it back out? Doesn't it feel like you can just never catch up, like you're always drained? How are you going to commit to leaving a little something in your own cup?


PS: You can  sign up to be alerted when new Illustrated Faith products are released!



Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Guest Post with Allen Michael: 3 Tips to Fast Track Your IVF Savings Plan

I have the distinct pleasure of hosting a guest blogger today. Allen of TheStickVacuums.com has written quite possibly the most comprehensive list of money-saving ideas I have ever seen. And I've read a lot of frugal blog posts! He's here today to share some of the ways he and his wife saved for IVF treatment, but these items and the other on his full list are great ideas for ANYbody looking to reduce expenses and save toward a specific goal or just a more comfortable financial future. Thanks for sharing, Allen!

Always,
Katie


Aside from the emotional and physical toll that the IVF process can take, it is also very financially burdensome. More and more, health insurances are not covering any infertility-related procedures, and this includes the various artificial insemination processes.

For my family, once we determined that IVF was our next step in order to have children, we sat down to look at the finances of the process. And, we realized we were going to face a five-figure bill. The next steps for us were to put together a detailed plan and budget so that we could afford the process.

Several years later, I’m happy to report that we have a beautiful little girl, and were able to pay for the IVF process without going into debt. The entire process for how we saved money every month is outlined, but here are a few specific examples to get you started.


Budget

It sounds obvious, but you need a budget. Not just a general budget either – you need a very detailed budget. It is hard to sit down and put together a detailed budget, but it will serve as your guide through the entire process.


Setting a budget doesn’t mean you need to cut every single thing out of your life, but it does mean you need to plan and allocate for every expense. Knowing where your money is going means that you can begin to control it.

We used an app called Every Dollar to set up our budget. There is a free and paid version, and we opted for the paid version because it automatically synced with our bank account.


Almost immediately, we noticed areas we were wasting money. It was amazing (and shocking), and this is where the rubber meets the road… you’ve got to do something about what you discover. Cut out the areas of waste, and you’ll be saving money for IVF much quicker than you thought possible.



Coupons, Rebates, and Earning Programs

One area we saved and earned money in was through a combination of coupon clipping, using rebates, and participating in several earnings programs.


It is amazing how much money you can save every week by using coupons. We would plan our weekly meals based on what was on sale. This actually had several benefits. Not only did we save a lot of money (chicken on sale for $0.79/pound!), but we had variety in our meals every week.


We also realized there are a lot of rebates available, ranging from energy to water to appliances. Starting looking for rebates you can take advantage of, and then make sure to look into them before making any future purchases.

Lastly, we joined Ebates (<- Katie's husband's affiliate link. Join through our link, earn $10 when you qualify! We'll get a perk, too.) and started getting paid for all of the shopping we were already doing.


Expenses

This is a broad category, but it was probably the single biggest area that we paid for IVF with. I mentioned earlier how we cut out random expenses through our budgeting, but it didn’t stop there. We changed our entire perspective on how we spend money.


It’s funny how setting a goal can invigorate your mindset. For us, setting our goal and then seeing how small changes had big results lit a fire under us. The result was a changed mindset, one that focused on cutting expenses at every turn.


We didn’t just clean up our budget – we changed the entire way we spent money. We stopped going out to eat, and instead opted to cook at home every night… and we enjoyed it. We stopped buying new things, and only bought used… and we enjoyed the game of finding the product. We set up a home gym, got rid of the gym membership, and worked out more frequently as a result.


For me, this speaks to the mindset of saving. My wife and I wanted a child very badly, and we used that to focus our efforts and motivate us to sacrifice. In the end, it almost became a game.


Conclusion


When I saw how much IVF was going to cost us, I almost felt like it was too much to overcome. When we started saving for IVF, we realized that we needed a detailed plan to make it work. In the end, we accomplished our goal a lot sooner than we thought, mainly because we had a dramatic mindset shift. For us, the result was not just a successful IVF campaign, but we now have a financial mindset that will serve our family for decades to come.

Allen Michael is the founder and editor of The Stick Vacuums, a website focused on helping others keep a clean home as efficiently as possible. Allen stumbled onto stick vacuums while trying to help his family keep their home clean with less work, and has since become an expert on saving money and time in your home.


Friday, February 2, 2018

My Keto Valentine: Treats for Your Keto Sweetheart

Valentine's Day is coming up quickly! In past years, I've tended to celebrate my sweet Valentine with decadent desserts, candy treats, and fancy dinner. Valentine's Day can involve a LOT of sugar! Since June, my husband has been losing weight with the ultra low-carb Keto lifestyle. He has lost 85 pounds as of the writing of this post, and I am so proud!! But it did require me to shake up my usual Valentine's Day routine.



Here are a few ideas for ways you can treat your Keto Valentine. (Some links may be affiliate links - if you use them, I may make a small commission at no additional cost to you.)


Breakfast.


If you like to start the day off with breakfast (in bed?), breakfast is the meal of the day when keto really shines! Eggs, meat, and cheese are all keto staples, so scramble, fry, or omelette up some eggs, make some bacon or sausage, get your sweetheart a nice hot cup of coffee just the way they like it (black, bulletproof, or try a nice sugar free syrup), and you're off to a great start! If your Valentine loves bready breakfasts, check out this recipe for "macro pancakes" or this one for "Keto Paleo Almond Flour Waffles" or even this one for cinnamon rolls for a really special treat.

Dinner.


I think a nice homecooked meal, served on real dishes at the dinner table after the kids are in bed is all kinds of romantic! Three of our favorite keto meals that feel luxurious to us are:
  1. Shrimp Scampi. Serve this with a cauliflower mash (make your own here, or purchase pre-made in the freezer section), or low-carb noodles like any of these (here, here, or in the freezer section).
  2. Salmon. I used to think salmon was fancy and tricky. Turns out with an Instant Pot, it just about could NOT be easier! There are a bunch of keto-friendly salmon recipes on Pinterest, but I keep it really easy: Place frozen filets skin side down on the wire rack in the IP, fill clear IP cup about 3/4 of the way with water, top off with lemon juice. Add to the IP. Sprinkle a tiny bit of dried dill weed and a pinch of salt on top of the salmon, add a dash of Old Bay to the liquid in the bottom of the pot. (I don't LOVE the taste of Old Bay, so I just like a hint in the cooking liquid.) Close lid, seal, set to "steam" for 9 minutes.
  3. Parmesan Crusted Chicken with bacon cream sauce. Again, this is great with a cauliflower mash (and maybe some mashed potatoes if one of you is non-keto. Like me, haha.)

Dessert.


My faaaaavorite part of a romantic meal! These all look decadent and so hard to believe that they're keto-approved!
  1. Chocolate Lava Cake. My friend Beth sent me this and I promptly drooled all over my phone screen :-)
  2. Chocolate Mousse
  3. Keto New York Cheesecake.

Candy.

  1. Check out these gummies (above!) I made him last week! I'll probably be getting some more use out of those heart molds before the 14th. :-) (Here's the recipe.)
  2. Lily's Chocolate Bar - These come in several rich varieties, and my husband is a big fan. The Blood Orange and Creamy Milk are his favorites.
  3. Fat Bombs - Some fat bomb varieties I've seen just look UNREASONABLY yummy!! A quick Pinterest search will turn up all sorts of options for you; I'm sure you can find one that will thrill your Valentine!

Stuff.

  1. How about a shirt declaring their love for Keto? Etsy is filled with great options, starting with this one.
  2. A water bottle with a fun Keto saying on it? Hydration is super-important for Keto (and, well, everyone), so help them keep up with this thoughtful and playful gift.
  3. A Keto Box or Keto Krate - monthly curated boxes with full-sized samples of new Keto-friendly snacks and treats. My husband has discovered some really cool products this way!
I hope you have a wonderful Valentine's Day! Let me know if you try any of these, or if you have any other awesome additions to the list! <3


Monday, January 1, 2018

Stuffed Animal Organization: Easy DIY Crib Storage Sling

I've always been a BIG fan of stuffed animals - in fact, I just came across a tub of my childhood stuffed friends in the basement, and my parents sent home a nice big box full of stuffed Sesame Street characters last week. It seems my kids are following in my footsteps, too, picking up new furry friends at each holiday and when I can't resist a sweet plush face grinning at me from a shelf. :-) So, suddenly, it seems we need to figure out some stuffed animal storage solutions!

I had a fairly specific image in mind, but I couldn't find any patterns or tutorials on Pinterest that fit that vision very closely. I love this one from Lemon Squeezy Home, but we don't currently have corners open for them, and I'm not sure whether or not we will in the kids' big kid bedrooms. I also like the idea of using fitted sheets, this one from FaithTap and this from DIY Booster, but the elastic looks a little bit schlumpy to me somehow. 

So I picked up some snuggle flannel and bias tape from Joann Fabrics and combined the ideas into something that I think will work for our family!

{Affiliate links ahead. If you click a link and end up making a purchase, I might make a small commission on the order at no extra cost to you.}

Gather supplies:

1 yard fabric. (I used snuggle flannel, but anything not super-stretchy should be fine. I'd love to see a version in denim/chambray!)
1 package extra wide double-fold bias tape, coordinating or contrasting color
24 inches of ribbon
Thread, coordinating or contrasting
Usual sewing tools: rotary cutter, cutting mat, pins, wonder clips (this is the set I bought in November, LOVE them!) sewing machine, etc.


Pre-wash your fabric. Trim frayed threads, remove selvage, square up edges. When I trimmed my edges square, I lost a few inches, and was working with more like 31 inches than a full yard, but it'll
turn out just fine. This isn't an ultra-precise thing. :-)


Set your machine to the longest straight stitch it can do, and baste along one long edge about an inch in.

Gently, gently tug on the top thread to gather the edge until it measures about 28 inches. If your crib's side is shorter or long, adapt the final length to your preference. 


I tied my top and bottom threads at each side to prevent the gather from slipping.

This project is the first time I ever used bias tape correctly! I followed this tutorial, which I found straightforward and easy. 

Unspool the whole package of bias tape, find the center (1.5 yards in), and cut the tape in half. 

Mark the center of the gathered side of fabric and the center of the cut piece of tape. Align these two marks when attaching the bias tape according to the tutorial I mentioned above. 


The bias tape will secure the gather. Once you've done both steps of sewing the tape down, find the center of your ribbon and the center of the tape, and sew the ribbon to the tape on the "right" side of the fabric. (I sewed mine to the "wrong" side and regretted it.) Gently pick the basting stitches out, they've done their job.

Attach the other half of the package of bias tape to the other long end of the fabric, NOT gathering the fabric beforehand. This means that this long side, the front side of the sling, will be several inches longer than the gathered back side.


Line up the short sides carefully. right sides together. Pin/clip in place, then sew. Stop and backstitch securely just before you reach the bias tape. You do NOT want to sew the tape together! 


Clean up stray threads, clip the bottom corners so that they're sharper when turned out. Turn inside out, tie to crib!



Abbie and Sam each have one of these now, and I think I may also make an extra one or two to hang on the baby fence around our great room. :-) So quick, easy, and useful! I love the way the back stays more or less flat against the side of the crib, but the front bows open slightly to make it easier to get the stuffed animals in and out and makes the sling a little bit roomier. 

Are your kids into stuffed animals? How do your corral the critters? 


Friday, June 23, 2017

Completely Amazing, Super-Easy, 4-Ingredient Chocolate M&M Cookies


I am always on the lookout for a new delicious but quick and easy cookie recipe! They're my favorite type of dessert for taking to meetings, reunions, carry-in meals, etc because they're fixed serving sizes and easy to take in leave-behind containers with no serving utensils to find before leaving. These chocolate M&M cookies definitely fit the bill! I made the original Rolo recipe (from Lolly Jane) for my Trades of Hope launch party, and they were so easy that I decided to play around with them a bit. I'd been craving a good soft M&M cookie for a while, so that was my first adaptation. I made them for Ethan for Father's Day, and I plan to make them again for a family reunion this weekend. 

[This post contains affiliate links. If you click through my link and make a purchase, I will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. I only recommend products I use and love!]

They call for four ingredients, and I don't even use my stand mixer to mix the dough up. It's THAT easy... I use my mixer for everything! ;-) But this comes together quickly and easily in a medium mixing bowl with a silicone spatula.

Go ahead and use a store brand cake mix... you can't tell the difference, I promise. :-) 

Ingredients:

1 Box Devil's Food cake mix
1/2 C oil
2 eggs
M&Ms (to taste)
(Optional: chocolate chips, crushed peanuts to taste.)

Preheat oven to 350*. Prep some cookie sheets (I love these!) with foil. In a medium mixing bowl, mix cake mix, oil, and eggs. (If you're adding chocolate chips and/or peanuts, add those now and incorporate.) Roll dough into one-inch balls (I have this scooper. I'd never seen one like it before, but I think it works really well and is so much easier to me than the usual kind), and place on foil-lined sheets, a few inches apart. The cookies spread quite a bit. :-) Bake for 8-10 minutes. When you remove the cookies from the oven, immediately press M&Ms gently into the tops of them. Work quickly, the M&Ms settle in best when the cookies are still very soft and warm.  

Makes approximately 3 dozen. Ish. :-) 




Sunday, June 18, 2017

Creating a Dynamic Shadow Box (+ 50ish ideas of things to use as fillers)


Not long after the kids were born, I made shadow boxes for each of them and hung them next to the shadow boxes from our wedding and honeymoon. But... I hated the new ones! I finally got around to fixing them to my usual (read: not still post-op and pre-sleeping-through-the-night) standards ;-)

Here's a before and after (although, technically I guess it's an after and before, but that feels super awkward to say. Try it. See?): 


I had included one of the blankets from the hospital (we sent them home with the babies' scent for Charley), the handmade hats they were given in the Special Care Nursery, the buttons the staff gave Ethan (It's a Girl! It's a Boy!), their hospital bracelets, and cord stumps and clamps. Yeah, I'm the mom that held on to those. ;-) I also stuck a post-it note in each one as a placeholder for whenever I got around to printing newborn pics, haha! As you can see, the placeholders were still holding that place two years later! 

I was unsatisfied with the original shadow boxes almost from the beginning, and a big reason why is my first shadow box tip: Use a deep box. I love these that I got from Hobby Lobby, because they have adjustable depths. Even the shallowest is pretty roomy, though, and you're going to want that. See how the baby blanket in the "before" box is all squished up against the glass, and all of the other items are even more squished? It makes it look flat, messy, and somehow unintentional. Like I just threw stuff in and hoped for the best! Which, let's be honest... isn't really incorrect.

Now, once you have your box and before you've touched any of your treasured keepsakes, we need to talk supplies. Please please don't cut corners on this! Make sure any papers, adhesives, embellishments, baggies, etc that you put in that box is archival quality. Should be acid- and lignin-free... almost anything you find in a scrapbook section at a craft store should qualify. But you do NOT want to risk your precious mementos to sub-par materials! Nobody's paying me to say this. I just want what's best for you. ;-)

Next, as you're choosing items to put in the box, dig out everything you can find that's even kind of a candidate to go in it, and take stock of what you have. Sort it by priority... the things that have to be in it or there would kinda be no point in doing the box, the things that you'd really LOVE to have in it, and the things that are cool and would probably be neat fillers. Aim to have some large/dimensional items, some flatter ones, and some items in between sizes. If you don't really have any flatter items, consider using pictures from the event you're commemorating. And either way, I also recommend picking up a few pieces of scrapbook paper that coordinate with the items or the theme of the box to cover what is usually a relatively unsightly background of the box (in my case, black plushy stuff). You can cut that to size and pin it in with straight pins.


Here's the fun/frustrating/satisfying part: test your layout. Test it a lot. Tweak it. Re-tweak it. If you find a layout you think you may like, take a picture of it on your phone, then tweak it to something you may like even better. :-) 

While you're testing your layout, arrange the must-have items first. You can create dimension by clustering larger items together and leaving areas where the flat items or background paper show through. Think of it like decorating a shelf - something deep, something flat, something to bridge the gap. :-) 


For paper items (like my kids' names that were on my door and their bassinet cards), use an archival safe plastic baggie with a little extra room at the top. Secure them to the background with straight pins through the extra plastic, avoiding piercing the paper itself. Baggies are great for small items that you can't or don't want to pin or tape down, too... like my kids' cord stumps. :-)

I pin everything to the backing with straight pins. I try to use them that coordinate with my box (lots of pink pins in Abbie's, blue and white ones in Sam's), just in case they're visible, but whenever possible, I try to conceal them behind either another object, or between layers of the item itself (like clothes or hats). Take a picture of your final version of the layout before you start pinning things down. Then, start at the back and work your way forward! It helps to remove as few items as possible before pinning, though, to preserve the spacing and such that you like.


Okiedokie! So now you know how to build an awesome shadow box! So, um... whatcha gonna put in it? Here are some ideas of things I've done, things I want to do, things I've seen done, or things I really want someone to do so I can see it!

  • Wedding. (Use invitations, programs, boutonniere, table favor if it's small and non-perishable enough, garter, aisle flower petals if they're dried or silk, picture of the bride and groom or the whole wedding party...)
  • Vacation. (Use maps, brochures from excursions or attractions, ticket stubs, receipts (these do fade almost without fail, though), currency if it's an international trip, small items that remind you of a specific way in which the destination was different (from our European honeymoon, I kept an empty can of Coca-Cola Light), trinkets from gift shops, shells or a baggie/bottle of sand from a beach...)
  • Day Trip. (I've done two of these using 5x7 shadow boxes. I use one 5x7 photo as the background, and a small item. For our day trip to the D-Day beaches in Normandy on our honeymoon, I used a picture of Ethan and me, and a small corked jar with sand from the beach in it. I also made one using a picture of my MIL, Ethan, and me; a small corked jar of some of the teeny gemstones, and a few of the larger ones from one of those "mine your own gems" we went to on a trip to Asheville, NC. The boxes are deep enough that they make a ledge at the bottom that the jars and stones can rest on.)
  • Pet. (Either to commemorate baby days - a favorite baby toy, their first collar, first leash, baby pics, baby blanket; or as a memorial to a deceased pet with similar items.)
  • First home. (Picture, impression of key in clay, dried leaf from favorite tree...)
  • Graduation. (Program, ceremony ticket, cap, tassel, confetti from party, dried flower from "congrats" bouquet, year trinket...)
  • Special Party - Anniversary, engagement, promotion, graduation, shower etc. (Invitation, napkins, dried florals, picture, table decor, ribbons from gifts...)
  • Hobby/Extracurricular Activity (Dance shoes, programs, first jersey, game ball, ribbons, varsity letter/s, certificates... I have one of ticket stubs from concerts/etc, and one with the small SWAG from Geocaching...)

I hope this has given you some ideas for your own shadow boxes, and some guidance on how to tackle the project, but of course - rules are made to be broken. ;-) Experiment and see what you love! And then come back here and tell me about it!


Monday, June 12, 2017

Basement on a Budget: Intro, Rationale, Plans

Our kids currently share a nursery, for tons of reasons... including the reason that we only had one bedroom open to stick them in when they were born ;-) Their nurse practitioner warned us at their 18 month well-child appointments that they'd probably start climbing and that they'd most likely be climbing out of their cribs by 3.

We had decided that when we moved them into toddler beds, we wanted to give them their own rooms, too. The problem is: we have four bedrooms upstairs, but they're all currently full. There's the master suite (and I'm not moving out of it!), the current nursery, a guest room, and my craft room (that kind of resembles a Michael's store that's been hit by a tornado). 

The plan is for one twin to stay in what is now the nursery, and for the other to move into the current guest room. But then that leaves the guest room furniture without a home.


We don't entertain overnight guests all THAT often, but it's nice to know it's an option. So we're going to move the guest room across the hall to the smallest of the bedrooms... the one that my craft stuff is currently filling to the brim. :-)

Welllll... that explosion of crafty goodness has to go SOMEwhere! So we turned our attention to our unfinished basement. When we bought the house, the previous owners had started to finish it. so we have a gorgeous, mostly finished bathroom down there, and a little bit of framing, a cable drop, and a fireplace. Because of course. :-) My original vision was to make a little guest apartment/game and TV area down there, with one of the framed-in rooms becoming the guest bedroom and putting a little kitchenette in another little part, then have the biggest framed-in room as a storage room with doors to hide the stuff. But then as Ethan and I are talking through this and walking around our basement daydreaming, we kept coming back to the fact that we just... don't have that many guests! Can we justify a whole mini apartment for the off chance that somebody will want to spend the night once a year or so? DUH! 


So he starts talking about putting my craft room down there, in what was going to be the bedroom. Our basement is a walk-out, so there are windows and a door on one side, with two of those windows in what we were assuming would be the storage room. Seems like a waste of good daylight, and the stuff we're storing in there now doesn't even take up half of the available space, so we decided on this final plan: the basement will have a storage room (in the windowless but framed-in "bedroom"); a little nook with our big freezer, a mini-fridge, some cabinets, and a table for playing games or eating snacks; a sitting area with a TV mounted above the fireplace; my craft room/studio/office with a surprising amount of natural light; and lots of open space for the kids to be kids. :-)

I am BRIMMING OVER with excitement about this project, and I plan to take y'all with me through the whole shebang! We're trying to be very thrifty about the whole thing, without compromising quality, and I have some fun ideas about how to do that that I'm looking forward to sharing. We'll talk finishing, basement-friendly floor coverings, paint swatches, picking palettes, inspiration/mood boards, DIY projects, decor, and clever shopping. Hopefully I'll encounter some great companies along the way that I can tell you all about, too. Yay!

YAYY!!!


Sneak peek: This is the tentative palette I plan to use for my craft room. :-) I picked some Sherwin Williams paint chips up at Lowe's, and have been keeping them handy for motivation and inspiration. And then I made a collage of the same colors using their website and picstitch so I can have my palette at my fingertips on my phone. :-) It feels so bright and cheerful and will allow me to incorporate a few decorative items I've already picked up (because I have weak impulse control when it comes to pink pineapples, apparently). :-) I think that surrounded by lots of white, these happy colors, and inspirational craft supplies, my creative juices will overflow! Yay!


Thursday, May 25, 2017

Honeysuckle and the Wellspring of Life

There’s honeysuckle in my backyard.

Like, a LOT of honeysuckle.

And it smells amazing. Step out of my house and the heady fragrance grabs you by the arm and urges you to skip to the mailbox instead of walking like a grown-up because OMG SPRING!

I love the smell of honeysuckle.

But it’s a killer.

I didn’t realize this until I took a botany class in college and my professor could be derailed into a 45-minute tangent with just the mention of the word honeysuckle. It’s an invasive species, and it grows quickly and selfishly, choking the life out of whatever is unfortunate enough to share its space.
But it’s gorgeous and it smells like happiness. It’s deceptive. Insidious.


I’m a bit of a people-pleaser. I’m not sure that’s a perfectly accurate label, but I do genuinely bend over backwards to make others happy, to make their lives easier, to do the things I “ought” to do. I want to be needed and valued, and in that irrational little part of my brain that is still an insecure teenager, I’m pretty sure that the only way to be needed and valued is to say “yes” to everything.

This has led to some admittedly cool things. This year I was the newsletter editor for my twin mom club, and it was a neat opportunity. I modernized some things and got to work closely with some amazing women I may or may not have gotten to know so well had it not been for my board position. No regrets. It has allowed me to be there for friends in crises. I could never regret being a listening ear for my hurting friends.

It has also led to some unhealthy behaviors, ignoring my own physical and mental health needs to give of myself until it literally hurts.

This nearly compulsive need to serve is the honeysuckle in my life, and my numerous commitments are the sweet-smelling blossoms, springing from the persistent and overwhelming branches. They’re great! Very pleasant, beautiful, not necessarily negative on their own. But their dominance in my life and in my backyard have been ultimately unsafe.

As I was reflecting on how such wonderful things can have such a negative impact, I remembered a verse from Proverbs that is often quoted to young people as encouragement to practice abstinence… “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23 ESV).


I’ve been tired. Pretty much all the time. It’s a physical tired, sure; twin toddlers will do that do a woman. But I’ve also been emotionally, mentally, and spiritually weary. As I’ve turned the honeysuckle and wellspring metaphors over and over in my head, I’ve come to realize that my heart is bruised and cluttered from all of the honeysuckle I’ve allowed to grow in and around it, and it’s affecting the way my life flows. Nobody would argue that the acts of service themselves are bad, but when they stem from a toxic, unrealistic expectation for myself, they are dangerous.

I have been overcommitting myself, pushing myself beyond what I know are my healthy boundaries. I was making myself sick from emotional and physical exhaustion. I have a prescription now for a rescue anxiety drug, because when the occasion comes up where I AM helpless (and feel useless), I have panic attacks.

Guys. This is no way to live. My wellspring has been truly clogged. Think septic tank with roots clogging it. What’s backing up and overflowing from that is not pretty.


It’s a simple fix, but it’s anything but easy. Every day, multiple times a day, I have to remind myself of what my boundaries are and why they stand where they do. Every day (with the help of an increased dose of my main antidepressant) I choose to prune back my need to be needed and my need for approval. As a natural extension of this pruning, I’m letting go of some commitments and placing boundaries around others.

As I enact and fortify these boundaries that guard the wellspring of my life, those who have been able to cross them in the past are faced with a choice. Some respect them. Some don’t understand. Relationships and perspectives are changing. Change is hard. It’s also a process, one that is ongoing and deliberate. I have to choose this new perspective and motivation over and over. But the changes have been positive.

I’m less drained at the end of the day, and when I AM tired, it’s the satisfying burn that comes from a busy and productive day, rather than the dull but crushing ache of the overwhelm and depression. My house is rapidly approaching what I would call “clean.” It’s been a long time since I could say that. I’m laughing more freely, I’m more patient with my toddlers, and I’m able to face small fears with grace. I’m drinking water, cutting back on the caffeine, prioritizing rest (real rest, not depressive lounging), and even started a new small business that I’ve been looking into for a few months… adding another spinning plate, true, but one that is fun and low-pressure, just because I want to! ;-)


Friends, if you feel like your wellspring is clogged, that your life isn’t flowing freely, consider what may be the honeysuckle that is damming up that stream. Do you have unrealistic expectations for yourself? Do you have self-esteem or fear issues that are keeping you from pursuing the things that will make your life flow and your heart sing? Do you need to go to counseling? Back to church? Back to school? How can you uproot these deceptively lovely weeds and clear out your wellspring? I urge you to take stock and make changes! You deserve it! 



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