Saturday, August 1, 2009

july, in review

july has been the month of new beginnings. i know, i know, january was the month of new beginnings, but really, january through june were a lead up, and july, well, in july, we began life anew. mike and i hit a wall, then hit july hand-in-hand, exactly the way it should be. and that counts for so much, don't you think? i am so lucky to be on this journey with my best friend.

the kitchen aid mixer (again), the bath faucet (again), the stove, the washing machine, and my sewing machine all broke this month. we managed to fix all of them ourselves.

this includes food, health & body, and household items bought this month, but restaurant food comes from another category. this month, we were feeding 4 people.
i went to the cash method with a budget of $400.

here is what it $284.64 got us:
1 large bottle tapatio, 8 gallons milk, 9lb oatmeal, 15 lb black beans, 4lb grape tomatoes (pesticide free), 4lb frozen berries, 5 dozen eggs, 8 loaves natural bread, 12lb bananas, 1lb blue cheese, 4 lb cheddar cheese, 11lb organic carrots, 6 lb cottage cheese, 4lb organic spinach, 1.5 lb sandwich turkey, 2lb? soy flour, 100 pk corn tortillas, 20pk whole wheat flour tortillas, big bottle organic salsa (we are out of homemade now), bunch cilantro (ours went to seed), 8lb reduced price bananas, 1 large organic cucumber, 1 bunch organic celery, 1 pk organic blueberries reduced for quick sale, 1 cantaloupe, 13 organic apples, 5 lb tofu, 1 bottle hoison sauce, 1 onion, 1 head red cabbage, handful yogurt covered raisins (treat for mamma!), tub of hummus (for a party we were attending), 2lb organic whole wheat pasta, 2 package ak-mak crackers, box decaf tea, small container yogurt, 6lb mozzarella, 3lb organic caf coffee, 3lb decaf coffee, 5lb clementines, 4 baskets organic strawberries, 3 organic sweet potatoes, 1.75 qrt ice cream, 2 cans of 100% juice concentrate, 1 pack rice noodles, 1 box dishwasher powder (i make mine, but occasionally run a load with natural store bought. not sure why i do this really. i haven't noticed a difference.), 2 six oz tubes sunblock, 1 box cotton swabs, 1 package paper pull-ups (we are going away and can't do cloth), 2 boxes Os cereal (great for homemade trail snack for the kids), 1 box lasagne noodles. whew.

acquired free/barter/gift:
  • several articles of clothing for me. freecycle, although i traded away this colorful/green mei tai i made. the woman seemed genuinely thrilled. i am glad...i never liked it as much as the first one i made, but i felt a little guilty giving away the carrier i had made especially for finnian. i don't think he'll notice, though! ;)
  • 2 toy trucks; 1 dump truck and 1 metal (fabulous quality) tonka back hoe. my dad snatched these up from a spot next to the dumpster when up in the mountains. and my truck loving girl was thrilled beyond belief.
  • book: animal, vegetable, miracle. thanks, kate and anne!
  • lidded pyrex bowl/container, soy flour, sheets for sewing, school backpack for lala, and embroidery thread. thanks, lisa!
  • small pile of adorable clothes for finnian. thanks, karen!
  • cast iron bench ends and the matching bed to lala's (to make bunk beds). thanks, annie!
  • almost full 5 gallon bucket of primer, 2 rolls painting rosin paper, and 4 new gallons of paint (hello, "new" kitchen and then some!)
  • another backpack for lala (this one new, freecycle, and a bit more suitable*)
  • a dress for lala and a onesie for finn. a cup warmer, videos, and a book. thanks, mom and dad!
  • swim trunks for finn in a bigger size. thanks, annie!
  • a needle felting starter kit from a new, local, crafty friend. thanks, marina!
  • 2 skirts for me and 2 pairs of shorts for finn. thanks, rachel!

*lisa, this one was brand new, so i didn't need to make any repairs. yours will find a good home. thank you!

bought used:
  • air compressor
  • 3 books for bella, which we have checked out of the library 4 times each now. i put them in the "family store" bucket
  • 1 pr pants, 2 shirts, all for me

bought new:
  • 2 stainless steel water bottles. (kate and anne say they have seen them at their thrift stores in seattle. no dice around here!)
  • sport top bottle for kids to use with stainless steel bottles
  • book for a friend
  • tights for me (should have held out for used, although these would be tough to find and mike says they fall in the "underwear" category, making them legal within our rules)
  • car repair book - could not find used
  • small parts and pieces for car and home repair
  • sewing notions (i am now collecting a list of what to stock up on at next year's warehouse sale)
  • kitchen aid parts for repair (again)
you can see most (but not all) were on our "okay to buy new" list. i have been quite good supporting local businesses when i have bought new on everything except home repair items.

Friday, July 31, 2009

settling the unsettled

i had not quite realized what an outlet writing has become for me until i realized that one way of dealing with my frustrations this week has been to write, edit, and rewrite a blog post in my head. now, i am trying to collect these thoughts into a coherent post and i cannot do it. i wrote everything out as one big brain dump and i am saving it as a personal journal entry for myself, but no-one else really needs to hear my frustrated brain babble. (incidentally, following my post earlier this week, i heard another discussion about blogging on NPR this morning.)

my mind is a jumble of frustrations about things i am lucky to have in the first place, which leaves me feeling wrongly ungrateful. does this happen to anyone else?

i have been struggling with some combination of what next? for myself, frustration with mike's job, irritation at all the unfinished projects/repairs on our house (and knowing the list of those needed-but-not-yet-started is very long), my incompetencies as a mamma (lala's normal good behavior only lasted 2 days, despite my mantra), my first obvious realization that there are people out there who actually dislike my big kid, and the desperate need (not want) to get away and have a vacation.

i could blab on about each of these things, but that would make for one long post. (i know, i did and it is the one that is saved for myself!)

as we close in on the weekend, i realize that some of it is simply out of my control. out of my control. and what's left? i find that i need to get organized, say "no," take the easy route (or as mike would say: "shoot it with the money gun"), and simplify.

so, with july being a huge change month for us, it seems fitting to bid it farewell with all of this in mind, and what i can change, then actually...change it. and change is hard.

conversation with lala:
lala: "you could die while i am still a kid."
me: "yes, i could. i hope i don't, but i could."
lala: "you and dada could die when i am still a kid."
me: "yes. everyone dies at some point, but i hope we live to see you grow up and your children grow up."
lala: i might not have kids.
and with a smile, she hopped up and that was it.

kids certainly put things in a different perspective, don't they?

Thursday, July 30, 2009

happy girl

yesterday's corner view post was the best kept secret.

i was trying to be funny, but the more i thought, the more i decided the best kept secret in my life right now is: how to be the best parent i can be.

if i figure out the answer, i will write a manual. or at least a blog post. but i think it would start with love.

after days of challenging behavior, my bug was in happy, fun spirits tuesday, and we had the loveliest day! we haven't had a good day like that in weeks. can you feel my smile?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

corner view: best kept secret

this is the last corner view of the summer. corner view will be on break (for everyone participating) during august.

the topic this week is "best kept secret." i thought long and hard about this one. i talked with my husband. do i post abut a favorite hole in the wall restaurant? outdoor hidden nook we love to explore?

then i thought. if it is a best kept secret and i post about it, then it won't be a best kept secret anymore, will it? and i don't want to be a tattler.

(okay, so my husband didn't think this was as funny as i did. so for anyone needing something other than the above, check out the recipe for fudgies. oh. my. god. these brownies are good!)

happy summer break, everyone. learn all the other secrets here:

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

happy birthday, dad! (and babble on blogging)

today is my dad's birthday. (happy birthday, dad!) we would celebrate with him, but my mom has whisked him off for a mini kayaking, bird-watching get-away. (see where my love of the outdoors spawns from?)
our celebration will have to wait.

in the meantime....

i have been thinking about blogging (again) lately. partly because it is a part of my creative outlet these days, which plays so much into the little parts of nicola i get to enjoy mingled in with the bulk of my day that is mom. can blogging be considered writing? i mean...right now i say "i blog" but could i also say "i write?"

either way, in thinking about the blogging and worrying about my preschooler and fretting about my mothering and hearing about mommy blogging in the news (i don't consider myself one, but mike says i am) and so on, i wandered back through my blog posts and observed a shift.

somewhere along the way, my blogging style shifted slightly and my posting time line changed. (i discovered that i could schedule a post in advance and i switched to a daily post, rather than multiple posts per day. i have less time to blog and no-one needs to read all my babble, anyway. just some of it!)

but perhaps the biggest change has been who reads this blog. i am not quite sure when or why, but i have noticed the bulk of the comments are now from new friends i have made in the blogging universe....people i have not met in person. fewer and fewer of the people in my real life, who once commented often, have continued commenting. some, i know, still read this blog, based on emails or conversations, but some have simply stopped checking in here.

and then...there are those who read but never comment. my paternal grandma follows this blog and emails me when she has something special to share in response. (she sent an email in response to yesterday's dress, telling my about my great-grandparents' creativity!) and mike chats with me in person about my blog posts. he rarely types a comment, but he loves this blog simply because he can click to it at work and feel like he is sharing some part of the day with us.

and that, alone, makes posting here an extra important part of my day.

as for my birthday-celebrating dad? my mom has to tell him to come read my blog.

Monday, July 27, 2009

back button shirt-to-dress tutorial

all of a sudden, lala is interested in dresses. one she has been wearing a lot is a laura ashley dress with a full back of buttons. inspired by this, i decided to try making a back button closure dress out of a men's dress shirt. i have seen other shirt-to-toddler dress tutorials, but none resulting in a back button look like the laura ashley dress i wanted to mock. (you can see the laura ashley dress below, because i used it as a template.)

(sorry for the poor photo quality. my sewing time is at night, after the kids are in bed, so low lighting and flash are all i've got!)

i started with a men's size large dress shirt that was in a bag of clothes i received in barter.

  1. begin by ironing the shirt, then cut the arms off of the dress shirt. save the arms aside for another use.
  2. with the shirt fully buttoned, cut off the collar as close to the collar as possible.
  3. lay the shirt down flat, with the button side down. if you have a dress to model, lay it down on the shirt and cut around it, leaving plenty of room for seam allowance. my model laura ashley dress is generous 4T size. if you don't have a dress you want to mock, see the photo below and use as guidance. your starting shirt might be a different size and you may want your resulting dress to be a different size. as it turns out, the dress i ended with is a roomy, wide shouldered dress that fits my 5T girl and will for a long time to come. to give you a starting point, measure your child's shoulder width and mark the shirt with these measurements, plus seam allowance. do the same for her height, measuring from the nape of her neck to the point on her legs you want the bottom of the dress to hit. as you can see from my photo, i had to make some adjustments to my original cuts, to get rid of those pointed sides you see.
  4. turn the dress inside out and stitch up the sides. don't stitch all the way up or you'll stitch your armholes closed! i stitched up to the back yoke of the men's dress shirt. this back yoke will be the front of my girl's dress. (i didn't do any special seams here. i just stitched with raw edges. before sewing the sides closed, you could plan for a french seam to enclose the raw edges, you could cut with pinking shears, serge instead of sew, or zig zag stitch the edges.)
  5. now you want to stitch closed your neck hole. start by unbuttoning the shirt and removing the shirt label with a stitch ripper. now, with your iron in hand, fold over the neck hole 1/4" and press. fold over again 1/4" and press again. now stitch the length of the neck. do not stitch across the buttons. you want the dress to button and unbutton in back.
  6. repeat step #5 for both armholes.
  7. hem the dress. before you do, remove the spare buttons often found on the inside of the shirt. (save them in your button jar!) make sure the shirt is still unbuttoned before you sew. i did a simple folded hem (like the arm and neck holes, with a larger fold over), but bias tape or a rolled hem would look great, too.
  8. eccola' your shirt is now a dress! add any detail you might like. i added a little bow to the front. pockets on this dress would be cute. (since i used a lined shirt, i would need to make sure the lines on the pocket match up to the lines on the dress.) my dress ended up slightly wide in the shoulders for my daughter. she seems fine with this, but my mom suggested a box pleat in the center front (first removing the bow!) to narrow the width of the dress slightly.

happy clothes recycling!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

happy birthday, annie!

today is my mother in law's birthday. happy birthday, annie!

she was still using a small little point and shoot film camera. have you tried to buy film lately? tough to do. so a month ago, we gave her an early birthday present of an easy to use digital camera.

i made a camera case to go with it. the camera case kicked my butt. (what you see is version #3.) i skimmed several tutorials and in the end sort of pieced together my own version. i lined it with felt, for padding. the lined outer is cotton duck. the combination was so thick, it was tough for me to sew the short lengths and tight corners.

and to wrap it all up, i usually reach for recycled maps.

we are off to celebrate granny annie's birthday with dim sum. happy saturday!

back to is annie with her boys and grandkids!

Friday, July 24, 2009

link round-up

unknown flower in my grandmother's backyard. thought to be dessert bird of paradise. anyone know?

i just wanted to thank you all for your kind comments yesterday (and always)! it is so reassuring to be reminded we parents all struggle through similar issues along the way. one of the things i need to do as a mamma (besides my mantra) is to try to remember the positive. with this in mind, i will make sure my next post about my beautiful girl is one that highlights what a special, nurturing, sweet, loving person she is most of the time.

as for today, i am rounding out the week with a link line-up...
wishing you a very happy weekend!

the delicious wholesome, fresh meal mike made for us the night we returned from arizona

Thursday, July 23, 2009

my mantra

my four-and-three-quarter year old (yes, apparently the specifics are important) has been a feisty one lately. that is my way of saying she has been a challenge. a little different than usual (since i know i have posted challenges before).

one of her favorite meditations: art

perhaps it is age. perhaps it is knowing that kindergarten is just around the corner (!!) and not knowing exactly what that means (other than change), but she has been an upset little person and expressing her angst in atypical ways for her. hitting, biting, kicking, pushing, grabbing, and the angry little voice shouting "no fun!" in combination with the stinkiest face she can muster.

it gets really, really old spending all day with someone who is constantly battling you and constantly angry about things she can't even identify. and who, for perhaps the first time, doesn't want mamma anywhere near her.

i know i shouldn't use the word constant, because it isn't. the days are good, interspersed with unpredictable outbreaks.

a happy moment. invited to sit in the pilot's seat in the cockpit of a 737. photo credit: my mom!

sometimes i am handling it poorly, i admit. but more often than not, i am handling it well.
i have a mantra:
calm. consistent. firm, yet gentle. ignore.
and to this, my mom added: whisper. love.

i am struggling to find the solution, which when used, subdues the anger, calms the upset, gently disciplines, and expresses love, all at the same time. 1-2-3 magic does work for the most part, but i found it difficult to do when traveling. i have also discovered that i have unfortunately allowed myself to become a parent who bribes. now, i actually have nothing against bribing in general, but i allowed it to go too far. i have created a child who now asks regularly for treats and then turns into the devil when the answer is no. how did that happen? i can only hold myself responsible, so i am trying to undo my doings.

calm. consistent. firm, yet gentle. whisper. love. ignore.

taking a photo of a barrel cactus. happy with the camera immediately following a fuss. photo credit: my mom!

and while i often feel as though i am suffering through these stages, i am still for a moment, only to look up and realize, again, just how quickly my little ones are growing. it hurts to realize we cannot relive these moments. i need to soak them all in as she takes two steps away from me and one step back.

perhaps we all just have growing pains.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

corner view: 7:45p, friday, saturday, sunday

i was in arizona through sunday afternoon. i live in california. usa.

friday, 7:45p. margaritas at the hotel. arizona.

saturday, 7:45p, attempting, with my lack of skill and point and shoot camera, to capture lightening from my hotel patio. heat lightening during the start of monsoon season. beautiful, but i didn't catch any of it on the camera. arizona.
sunday, 7:45pm. gratefully, blissfully home again. bedtime stories with dada. california.

for more of what people do with their weekend evenings....

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

the family weekend

as i mentioned previously, the kids, my mom, and i spent 4 very long days visiting family in arizona. the premise of the trip was to go see my grandmother to celebrate her 90th birthday. it turned into an impromptu family reunion (missing a handful of people, particularly those from our immediate family)

i always return from this sort of trip with a confusing assortment of emotions.

i am so glad that we went. my grandmother is now 90 and suffers from some version of dimentia. she still lives alone in her home (not such a good thing), is still mobile, but no longer drives and is clearly craving company.

she does not remember who i am.

if i tell her i am barbara's daughter, she understands, but she doe not know my name. she does not know my children.

but she very clearly enjoyed our company, particularly watching the kids.

this sort of trip brings me closer to my family. sort of. it is too short to really get to know each other. i wonder if all the baggage and history is too great to break through.

and this sort of trip leaves me so very glad to be home again. the kids were pushed beyond tired and held together very well. mostly. there were some meltdowns, and of course they happened at the moments i wished they wouldn't. but lala is old enough now to remember meeting some of her great aunts, uncles, and second cousins we see infrequently.

and the trip had highlights:
  • lightening and thunder storm, two nights in a row. heat lightening combined with monsoon season. amazing, beautiful, and something we don't experience in california in quite the way arizona's big sky country does.
  • lala getting to sit in the pilot's seat in the cockpit of the airplane during our stopover in L.A. (that adorable grinning photo was on my mom's camera)
  • making my grandma smile while watching her great grandchildren.
  • time with my mom.
  • finding beauty in the dessert. big sky. cacti of all sorts. clouds. heat lightening. an afternoon dance in the rain.
  • coming home. to mike. a spotless house. fresh foods. our beds.

Monday, July 20, 2009


we are just back from a very busy, emotional, extremely exhausting impromptu family reunion. a better post might be on its way, as i collect my thoughts and photos, but for now, i hope these start your week with a "peace" of nature...

Thursday, July 16, 2009

frugal household how-to

wow, i really hit a soft spot with this post. thank you for all your kind and thoughtful comments. this blog community truly is amazing!
the kids and i are headed out of town for a few days with my mom, to visit my maternal grandmother for her 90th birthday. i will be back next week. in the meantime, here's a long post with loads of links and food for frugal home thought. be well!

come with me on a tour of my house and see how we are pulling it together as economically as we can...

a frugal household is one that is able to accept free items, sort, store, plan ahead, and organize what one has. when you do this, it is so much easier to save money.

most of what we have was given to us (gifts (wedding included), freecycle, local list, bartering. in turn, we give and we pass along when we are done). we have filled in around the edges with used purchases (antique, thrift store, craigslist), homemade, and honestly, for the rest, IKEA has often filled in the cracks. the dollar amount you see in parentheses next to the room names (below) is the total spent to furnish the room.

i have posted a home tour before, but here is a briefer, updated photo tour, with some tips to go along with them.
  • pick storage solutions that are versatile and compact. although i love baskets, they take a lot of room when not in use. instead, i have come to love large canvas bags and collapsible boxes.
  • don't like it? cover it up! we received a like-new couch (years ago, it is time for couch shopping, actually), but didn't like the faded pattern. now, with kids, i love having a slipcovered couch. (the couch serves double duty as a pull out guest bed, too.) i have made covers for kitchen appliances (added bonus of keeping them kitchen-grease-free) and curtains for open cupboards.
  • less really is more. we just passed our 5th anniversary as homeowners. we bought this home after renting it, so have actually lived here for nearly 9 years. i have spent chunks of time over the past 5 years (once we realized we weren't moving and wouldn't be forced to purge in the process), decluttering, collecting, purging, organizing, and starting the process all over again. i could have happily spent that time doing something else. it is too easy to acquire stuff, so try to be discerning about what you bring into your home. accept what is given to you, but if something better comes along, then pass the first item on immediately. it shocks me to think back on how little we owned when we moved in. now we have too much stuff for our small space!
  • freecycle hints: 1) set your membership to accept individual emails, then set your email box to sort freecycle emails into their own email. this way, you get ALL the freecycle emails, but they aren't mixed in with your regular, personal emails. 2) post offers. people like to give to other people who gives. we have two stokke-style chairs (one handmade by someone else, one original stokke) from freecycle, because the people offering recognized my name out of all the respondents due to all the offers i had made. 3) participate in as many freecycle groups in your area as you are able, but out of courtesy, post to one at a time. participating in several allows you to view more offereds and have a greater pool of people interested in items you have to give. 4) be polite! don't reply to an offer with "i want this." seriously, people do this to me, i laugh, and hit delete. although some people do first come first served, i try and be fair and give enough people a chance to reply, then i pick randomly or i pick the nicest reply. a little niceness goes a long way.
at the top of the post, our dining room ($185). the floor was carpet when we bought it. we ripped it out, matched a missing section of floorboards (a fire damaged the floors before we moved in and is why we still have carpet in the living room), and refinished the floor.

you've seen our entry way ($20), our living room ($70) arranged like the last 2 photos, but now, with no baby gating around the fireplace!), and downstairs "plus" room ($130) now with floor in front of the door and improved sewing nook). our bathroom ($20) has not changed from my original posting, but the kids' room ($120) certainly has. all the furniture you see below was free, with the exception of the crib, which we bought used (and i have since seen free many times over), and the mattress we put in it, which we bought new for health reasons. extras, like the hanging toy holder, baskets, and the rug were all from IKEA ($25). the bed (which has a matching bunk for when the kids are ready), belonged to mike and his brother as kids and was gifted to us by his parents. (the mattress came from my parents.) the quilt was made for lala, by my parents, as a birth present (more on this in a later post). one of my favorite items in their room is the metal cabinet, a curbside find.

our bedroom ($100). you saw our handmade night tables in this post. that colorful dresser is a super cheapie that used to house yarn for my mom's weaving business. it is soon to be moved for storage elsewhere, as mike's mom has a quality shaker-style dresser to give us. it is worn, but then again, she has had it since she was 3! again, a favorite in here is the metal cabinet, this one a thrift shop find. leaning against the wall is a door-turned-mirror. mike replaced the glass with mirror. the kids share a room, so the pack n' play is used daily for naps.

our kitchen ($300 for a fridge i detest) is a bit of an embarrassment, but i am showing it in all of its normal (not cleaned for a photo) glory, because i took these as "before" photos. we finally decided that a kitchen renovation is not financially possible for long enough that painting it would, indeed, be worth the effort to enjoy in the meantime. so here is the before. (the next photos you see will be the same kitchen with a fresh new look...hopefully before new year's!) the second photo below, while dark, shows the portable dishwasher we bought used (best new-mamma present i got, but i have since joined freecycle and seen dozens of these offered up for free), the edge of the stove our neighbor gave us, and a view out to the deck, which was the best unfrugal money we have spent in years. the deck was not cheap, but has vastly expanded and improved our living space.

for those of you wanting more info on economizing, i have labeled all relevant posts with "frugality." i also did a weekly frugal friday series for a couple months last year. additionally, we are trying not to buy anything new, so their are posts with a " no buying new" label as well as each month, in review of how we have done.

have a lovely week's end!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

corner view: revealing myself

edited to add...huge congratulations to my friends kelda and dave, on the arrival last night of their new baby girl, haley jordan!

this week's corner view is "revealing my true self."
a topic that will certainly lead to some interesting and creative corner views! i cannot wait to see the artistic photos of other corner view participants!

i think most friends would say that i wear my heart on my sleeve. what i am willing to share, i share fully. what i am not willing to share, i hold close. i am indecisive and therefore change my mind often. (and somehow, i find my 4 year old's fickleness exasperating?!)

here is more about me.

the photo i am choosing is one i took of my daughter, who was on my knees having an "airplane ride" when i snapped this. she looks so much like i did at her age (only cuter!).

who else better to show a reflection of myself, but one of my children?
they are, in every way, the best parts of myself.

for more corner views...


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