Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A Sepia-Toned Bathroom

This post is my entry for

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Here are some cheap, easy things I did to improve the ambiance (do I dare say that about a bathroom?) of a small powder room in our house.  I made no changes to the existing wall color or fixtures, because that would have taken more time and money than I had available for this project.  Instead, I worked with what I had to add visual interest to the bare walls of this small space.  My total cost?  About $40. 

Since we moved into our house five years ago, it has been easy for me to jump into big projects:  landscaping, built-in cabinetry, new lighting, finishing the basement.  Big projects don't scare the Bionic Man and I.  However, it has been far harder for me to tackle the little, detail-oriented projects like hanging pictures on the walls and putting up curtains.  The decorating is so much harder for me than the constructionAs I mentioned earlier, I've decided that has to change.  And my little Sepia-Toned Bathroom was where I decided to start.

First, I decided that instead of being paralyzed by the thought of how much work it would be to strip all the wallpaper in the room sand down the walls, and repaint, I would work with what I had.  Even though the wallpaper was put on the wall before we moved in, it actually kind of works with the direction I've taken in the rest of the house.  Once I was able to see that, I could move forward with the detail work.
The caramel and antique white in the wallpaper, along with the oil-rubbed bronze fixtures in this bathroom made me think of vintage, sepia-toned photos.  That gave me an idea--and the name for this project!

I went through my files and found some black and white pictures I had taken of my children a couple of years ago, while they were playing outside in the water.
 I downloaded them onto my favorite website, Picnik, and had some fun cropping, editing, playing with lighting, and finally turning them into vintage-like sepia portraits.
I added in one of the family dog, and sent my files off to be printed at Sam's Club.  Funny story:  when I went to pick up my prints at Sam's Club, the photo area associate pulled out my pictures, looked at something written on the package, and said grumpily, "Ma'am, you've violated copyright law with these pictures.  I can't give them to you until I have written permission from the photographer to do so."  It took a little while to explain that I was the photographer.  I had to sign three legal documents and withstand heated questioning.  I was too flattered to be angry!!!  That's why Picnik is my favorite website!

Next, I went around my house looking for 8x10 frames.  Despite the lack of decor on my walls, I have a surprising number of frames and mattes stashed around the house.  So many that I didn't need to purchase any frames, and I only bought three mattes.  I picked up some spray paint at Home Depot and sprayed down all those mismatched frames.  I was able to find a can of spray paint that created a dark brown, metallic finish--similar to the oil-rubbed bronze fixtures in this bathroom and elsewhere in my home.
 I filled in the frames with my pictures, and arranged them on the wall.  I didn't like the first arrangement.  Too choppy.  I stuck some ribbon on a couple of the frames, and that made a huge difference!
Again, this is how that wall looked before I added the photos:
And this is how it looks now, after adding the framed photos:

I don't know if you've ever tried to take photos of a small, windowless powder room, but it isn't easy.....I'm pretty sure Sam's Club won't flag any of these photos for a copyright violation!

These two photos, of Justone and Superkid, are my favorites of the bunch.  I love the way they look in sepia!

I also discovered the vinyl for this bath sign when I was looking through my various stashes for frames.  The vinyl had to be at least three years old, and I'd never used it!  I quickly cut, painted, and sanded a board, and put the vinyl sign on it.  It was a little tricky to get the vinyl to come off the application adhesive, but it still stuck to the board!  So, in case you've ever wondered, you can still use that old vinyl sign!
The towels were one of the only new things I purchased for this room re-do.  I had to add in some light silver sage to coordinate with the wallpaper!
Here's my cost breakdown:
- Spray paint for frames        $10
- Brown satin ribbon                 2
- Photo prints                            3
- Photo mattes                           5
- Extra frame from Goodwill    5
- Hand towels                          15
                               TOTAL  $40

I'm really thrilled to have a finished space!  Looking at the pictures though, I'm kind of tempted to take the two frames with the ribbons, re-paint them to look like the other three frames, and re-hang them.  What do you think?

Join us Saturdays at tatertotsandjello.com for the weekend wrap up party!

Moving In

Last week, I decided that it was time to finish moving in to my house.  It's about time:  we bought it five years ago this summer.  It's not as if I never unpacked.  All the boxes were gone long ago.  And it isn't as if the rooms have sat, empty.  Every room is furnished.  It's just....I haven't really done any of the little things that really make a house a home.  

Like hang pictures on the walls.  Or buy towels that match the bathroom.  Or put up curtains.  

Don't get me wrong....we've done plenty of big things to our house.  We updated almost all of the hardware and lighting.  We put built-ins in the den.  We landscaped like crazy.  We painted (almost) every wall.  My husband built his dream playscape.  We've recarpeted.  

But.....there are only blinds on the windows.  The pictures I have sit propped on shelves, they don't hang nicely on the wall.  There is just a lack of the simple, homey touches that we tend to take for granted.  My home lacks personality and warmth because I haven't put down permanent roots, here, when it comes to decor.

I could delve into all the deep psychological issues manifest by my seeming inability to do these things, but that would take a lot of time that would be better spent sewing curtains.  Or I could consider all the things our family has been through in the past few years, and cut myself some slack.  Instead, I've decided to focus on making my current home be the welcoming, serene, and home-like place that it was meant to be.  

I'm casting aside the excuses I've been using as crutches to limp along as a homemaker and I'm challenging myself to do better, despite the odds.

 - Not enough money to do what I really want to do?  Exercise more creativity!
 - Can't decide on a color scheme until I've done _________ to the space?  Get it done or pick neutrals.
 - Paralyzed by the thought that someday I'm going to move and all this work will be for naught?  Get over it.  Stuff is temporary, anyway.  My family deserves a fresh, welcoming, comfortable, and beautiful space where we can all enjoy spending time together.

With that in mind, I spruced up the powder room this weekend.  This particular room was pretty much the only room in the house when we first moved in that didn't have glaring wall issues.  (And by glaring wall issues, I mean a color on the wall that made us cringe every time we walked past.)  It was actually pretty nice.  I'm not a big fan of wallpaper, but the wallpaper in this room happened to be fairly subtle.  The colors worked well.  

The last couple of years, though, every time I spend a moment in that bathroom, I think to myself, "This wallpaper has got to go.  Wallpaper is soooo 1990.  I'm not a wallpaper person.  I have to peel all this off, sand the walls, and start over."  Those thoughts then lead to, "How in the heck am I supposed to get the wallpaper off the walls without completely unplumbing the toilet and sink?"  At which point I become totally overwhelmed, flush, wash my hands, and slam the bathroom door behind me as I make a hasty exit.  

It's a vicious cycle, but it definitely prevents constipation.

But this past week, as I contemplated what color I should paint the bathroom, I was shocked to discover that the bathroom was....fine.  Absolutely fine.  Sure, wallpaper is soooooo 1990, but this wallpaper wasn't climbing with ivy and it didn't feature cigars or golfers (unlike wallpaper in other parts of the house that we already removed.)  In fact, the neutral tans with hints of red and aqua are exactly what I've been incorporating all over the rest of the house.  So, why not beautify what I already have, using what I already have?
Stay tuned for the big reveal!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

My Latest Remodeling Project

The outside of my nose has served me well over the years.  But the inside....well, let's just say I've had a sinus infection to go along with pretty much every major life event.  First date?  Check.  First leading role on stage?  Check.  Graduation from college?  Check.  Wedding Day?  Check.  Honeymoon?  Check.  Birth of children?  Check, check, check, and check. 

Since my mother, brother, and two sisters have all had to have the inside of their nasal passages surgically repaired, I had some idea that I needed to have the same thing done.  In high school, my mom took me to see an Ear, Nose, and Throat Specialist (ENT) about my recurring sinus infections.  He looked inside my nose and said I was fine.  When we lived in Connecticut, I went to see another ENT about my recurring sinus infections.  Again, he looked inside myn nose and said I was fine. 

This fall, I went to see a third ENT about my recurring sinus infections.  Dr. Gutt didn't just look inside my nose, he did a CT scan.  And then he said I was not fine.  He said that I needed a major sinus remodeling job.  Dr. Gutt promised that his remodeling project would remain true to the existing footprint of my nose, but would really open up the interior spaces.  (Haha!  Can you tell I love to read home improvement magazines?)

This week, Dr. Gutt went in and really knocked some walls down inside my nose.  Thanks to the guided imagery he used during surgery, I now have before and after pictures for my blog! 

Are you ready for this?  If you have a sensitive stomach, you might want to scroll past quickly!

Pretty crazy, huh? 

Surgery went well, and I'm happy to report that the recovery hasn't been nearly as bad as I thought it would be.  I'm really stuffed up right now from the swelling, but that's about it.  I can't wait to see what it feels like to go running with all that room for breathing!  I have to admit, I'm kind of horrified to see the evidence of what I've been putting up with for all these years.  (If you really want to know, what I was putting up with was a deviated septum and hyper-enlarged turbinades.)  The good news is, the outside of my nose looks just like it always has.  Moral of the story:  if you keep having recurring sinus infections, find a good ENT.

Thanks, Dr. Gutt!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Summer in Holland

It's been a long-standing tradition of ours to have several appointments each summer for Superkid with specialists at the children's hospital.  Contrary to what you might think, Justone and Endeavor love to tag along.

Our children's hospital is soooooo good to all the children who enter it's doors.  It's not just the patients who are treated like royalty:  their siblings are always, always offered special prizes and opportunities with every procedure, as well.  I can't tell you how grateful I am that we have hospital that recognizes how difficult one child's health problems can be for an entire family and works hard to provide the entire family with care.  Since Superkid was born, I've spent time at three other children's medical centers; Riley Hospital far surpasses the others in this aspect.  I love this place.

Funny story: a few months ago I promised a friend I would watch her little girls one day.  I had forgotten when I promised that we had an appointment for Superkid up at the hospital that same day.  Since I'm used to having kids tag-along with me to doctors' offices, I decided to just take my extra charges along with us, instead of cancelling either obligation.  They loved it!  They were treated to special toys and prizes and given lots of attention, too.  The three year old asked when she could come again!

I have yet to leave any appointment at the hospital without an armful of stickers, toys, games, and other special prizes.  You will not believe what children are willing to put up with if they know that they can select whatever they want from the prize box when they are finished.  There is a time and a place for bribery, and I'm all for it when you are having any type of medical procedure.  I've been through a few gynecological procedures that would have been much easier to tolerate if I'd known I'd get a prize afterward.  I'm going to suggest to my OB/GYN that he needs to offer more prizes.  (Spa gift certificates would be totally fine.  I wouldn't have a problem with shoes or purses, either.  I'd even settle for chocolate.)

Recently, we made a trip to our children's hospital to see some of Superkid's doctor friends. 

Our cardiologist told us that--unfortunately for him--he won't need to see Superkid for another year.  That is a big deal for a heart kid.  It means Superkid's heart is in good shape, right now.  See you next summer, Dr. Ebenroth!

After reviewing how things had been over the winter (many school absences, four cases of pneumonia, lots of migraines), our metabolic specialist was ready to make a diagnosis.  While he can't pinpoint a specific variety without doing very invasive testing (which we are opting not to do at this time), Dr. Hainline can say that he is 99% positive that Superkid has a mild form of mitochondrial disease, with metabolic and neuromuscular ramifications.

Quite a mouthful, eh?  The very simplified explanation is this:

Mitochondria are like the power plants of the body's cells.  They take fuel and process it so that it becomes the forms of energy our cells need to function properly.  Superkid's mitochondria don't work the way they should.  They have difficulty metabolizing fuel into different forms of energy needed for her cells.  

If you look up mitochondrial disease on the internet, you'll be alarmed.  Remember, Superkid has a mild form.  But knowing that she has a form of mitochondrial disease explains a lot of things, including Superkid's migraines and her "squishy" muscles.  

It also explains why Superkid is such a picky, frequent eater.  Dr. Hainline's team of nutritionists met with us, to help us understand the form of hypoglycemia that Superkid has as a result of the metabolic side of this coin.  (Ketonic Hypoglycemia.)  We don't have to make any significant changes to her diet, just make sure that she has frequent meals.  At home, we've given her a little box of snacks that she can keep by her bed, so that if she wakes up hungry during the night, she has something right there to eat, immediately.  Dr. Hainline is sending a letter to Superkid's school, to let them know they need to follow my instructions for feeding Superkid during the school day. 
We don't know, at this point, what the long-term issues with this diagnosis will be.  At the moment, I'm content just to figure out how too keep Superkid from having ketonic episodes and migraines.  I'm also grateful to be able to know that some of her food issues aren't just personality quirks.  And I feel incredibly justified in knowing that I was right, five years ago, when I tried to convince some of our original (Connecticut) specialists that there had to be something more going on with my baby than a heart condition--I was convinced that something larger was affecting her muscular system.  I hate to be right, in this case, but it just goes to show that mother's intuition is the real deal.  Trust yourself when you receive inspiration about your children.  I can't help but be astonished by the road that led us to these answers:  visits with multiple specialists, several incomplete or wrong diagnoses, even the brief life of our daughter Lily--we may never have met Dr. Hainline had it not been for Lily.

I'm so grateful for the tender mercies of a loving Father in Heaven, who has given me the opportunity to take care of Superkid, until her mission here on earth is complete.  It is always an amazing experience to accompany her on her journey.  And I'm so, so thankful for the wonderful people at Riley Hospital who continue to provide so much care and support for our family.

By the way, my latest giveaway is still open!  Make sure you enter to win a free Picnik subscription.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Lake

Today, probably while you are reading this, I will be getting my sinuses roto-rootered.

That is, if all the stars and planets are properly aligned, Dr. Gutt's wife doesn't go into labor, the Bionic Man doesn't have any meetings he can't get out of, my laundry gets done, and I don't get cold feet.

This is the third time I've been scheduled for this operation.  I'm totally kidding about the stars and planets, but I'm very serious about the rest.  Except for maybe Dr. Gutt's wife--she already gave birth the first time I had this scheduled.  It's about time my deviated septum got on the straight and narrow, and I'm kind of looking forward to being able to breathe.  I'm NOT excited about recovering from this....I've heard sotries.....so I prepared a number of blog posts in advance for you, this week.  Enjoy!

In honor of my little trip to Lala Land today via general anesthesia, I am going to show you pictures of our recent trip to Dale Hollow Reservoir in Tennessee. 
The setting was breathtaking, the atmosphere peaceful and relaxing.

We shared a houseboat with Ben's sister and her family, AKA Dustin and his A-Team.   Don't ask me to explain how a vacation spent on an aging houseboat with five children and two dogs could be relaxing.  You kind of had to be there, so you could see things like this
and this
and I'm sure it helped that there weren't any nearby cell phone towers on these hills.
We felt completely removed from the world.

There is something so satisfying about being able to tell your children that yes, they can go swimming at 8 o'clock in the morning, if they want to.  Or at 8 o'clock in the evening.  Or all day long!
We ended up having way more video than picture files of this trip.  I can't find any pictures of my sweet toddler niece or Dustin, her dad.  (You can see some funny ones here, though.)  I have some absolutely fabulous pictures of Angela shaving her legs in the lake.  But because I'm sure Angela has some equally stunning photos of me that she could share, I'm just going to keep those pics to myself. 

The Bionic Man and Justone had a great time fishing together in the early mornings and evenings.
The fish the Bionic Man is holding is known as a muskee, and that particular muskee was too small to keep.  This is the first in a series of muskee shots on my camera.  The picture below, is the last of the series, showing the other end of the fishing boat.
"It's going to eat us!"  Note the position Hunter the dog has taken in front of the three little girls.  It would be nice if that was a defensive position.  But it's not.  He's looking for a way to get out of the boat.  Turns out that we might have given Hunter the wrong name.  At least we didn't name him Swimmer.  We found out on this trip that our dog HATES the water.

Hope everyone is enjoying the pleasures of summer!  And don't forget to enter my latest giveaway!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Summer School

When I was a little girl, my parents made an effort to make sure I kept learning during the summer months. 

My mother, a former elementary teacher, was passionate about keeping up the skills I'd learned during the school year.  Summer school with my mom involved a chalkboard with math problems, reading work books, handwriting practice, and trips to the library.  Some summers, it involved 4-H groups led by my mom, too, when I learned basic cooking skills and how to be a babysitter.

My dad taught high school physics.  He was home during the summers, the time that he worked on special projects and grew an enormous vegetable garden.  He usually had several side projects that he worked on to bring in additional income.  My dad's summer school lessons were less formal than my mom's, but he definitely used his time at home to keep me learning.  I don't remember being as involved in the gardening as my older siblings were, but I do remember helping him craft plexiglass educational tools in his basement shop, accompanying him to his classroom to play with all his incredibly cool physics toys, and learning about different birds, wildflowers, and fossils when he took me hiking in the mountains near our home.

Now that I'm a mother, I tend to enjoy the freedom of summer a little more than I probably should.  For years now, I've been trying to come up with a system that gives our little crew a chance to enjoy the freedoms of summer, yet offers some consistency and routine.  (Two of my children crave routine, just like their dad, one of them is much more free spirited, like me.)  I used to put a lot of pressure on myself to do summertime learning activities, too.  This summer, I think I've been able to meet everyone's needs and take some of the pressure off of myself to run a full-blown summer school.

It took some advance preparation, but our summer routine is now up and running, and hopefully it will serve us well.

I started with these notebooks, which I picked up at Target for less than $2. 
The notebooks are smaller than a typical 8x11 notebook.  Which means they fit perfectly into these handy little basket/organizer things that I found in Target's dollar section.
I purchased a notebook and basket for each child.  I filled the baskets with supplies that we already had on hand: crayons, scissors, etc.  I'm keeping them on our kitchen table, right now, since we are eating many of our meals outside on the picnic table.

On the inside of each notebook, I have a schedule that the older kids can look at as a reference for what we'll be doing on any given day.
I chose to use clips to keep those schedules attached, since we have a few weeks where our schedule is going to vary a little because of swimming lessons or sports camps.

For each day that we'll be at home this summer, I printed out a page that had two columns:  one to list the things (chores, piano practice, etc.) the children need to get done that day, and one to list tasks for our "summer school."  I used a different color of paper to represent each of the five weekdays.  I folded these in half, then glued them into the notebook, leaving extra sheets of notebook paper between each page of assignments.
Superkid's assignment pages have room for me to draw pictures that will offer clues about her tasks, since she is still learning to read.
This is what a blank page looks like.  I try to fill these out first thing in the morning, before my kids wake up.
 The notebooks have a folder in them.  I use these to hold writing samples, flashcards, math worksheets, or other items they'll need to complete special assignments.
Earlier this summer, I spent some time at our local library and found some good books to use as part of our summer school curriculum.
I'm far from an expert on this.  There may be some really phenomenal materials out there.  But things like these books about story problems served my purposes for this summer, just fine.

Libraries are fabulous.  I have a day each week when we visit the library during the summer.  We're all signed up for our library's summer reading program.  All of my kids LOVE to read, so getting them to pick up a book during the summer is not an issue, thank goodness!  Actually, our issue is about getting them to put down those books for a few minutes every day.  They come by it honestly--I love to read, too!  

Since my older two are excellent readers, we're focusing more on handwriting and math skills for them.  Superkid's assignments this summer focus more on letter recognition and phonics.

This is the first week I implemented the notebooks.  My children--especially Endeavor--really seemed to love the idea that they could reference what was happening each day, and didn't have wait for me to tell them.  Justone figured out that he could get more free time each day if he did some jobs ahead of time.  Superkid loves checking things off in her notebook as she completes tasks--I think she'd take that notebook to bed with her, if I let her.  

On day one of our summer school, I was in the middle of painting the kitchen when it was time for school to start.  Thanks to the notebooks, the children were able to independently work on their assignments, with very little direction from me.  I was nearby to answer questions, but they seemed to take some pride in being able to handle their assignments themselves.  I finished painting while the kids worked on math and handwriting.  It worked really well!

I'm curious to know if anyone else has a way of keeping their kids on track during the summer.  What works for you?  What doesn't?