Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Closet Mini-Makeover and New Job

I don't think I've mentioned it yet, but I recently got a new job! I've very, very excited about it, and just a little bit nervous. It's crazy to think that I have never had a full-time job and a baby. Isn't that nuts?! The last time I was working an office job was before we moved to England--a lifetime ago.

This is an amazing opportunity for me, and something that I have been working very hard to achieve since we returned. However, it will be an enormous lifestyle change. Zahara has already been in an in-home day care for several months and is absolutely thriving. We love it there. But, right now, I do a lot of house-management tasks while Dan does all the heavy-lifting by working full-time and doing all the daycare drop-offs and pick-ups. I do the laundry, pay bills, make dinners and lunches and tidy the house. Obviously, we'll have to re-adjust our responsibilities now that I won't be home during the days. It just means our weekends and evenings will be a lot more packed with chores.

So what does that have to do with a closet makeover? I'm doing everything I can to make my transition back to work as seamless as possible. My friend Dani came over one day and helped me sort through every single item of clothes in my closet to help build my new office attire. When she left, I took the opportunity to organize my side of the closet in a way that will hopefully make getting ready in the morning a breeze. Every little bit helps, right?

Hold on to your hats: here are the super amazing before and afters {slight sarcasm}:




Ok, so it may not be life-changing, but it's the little things that make me happy. Anyone else doing some spring cleaning or organizing?

Monday, April 13, 2015

Treats from Japan

Remember a few weeks ago when I posted my thoughts on Try the World? It's a company that sends you treats from around the world. Well, a friend of mine who used to live in England with me and has since moved to Japan posted a comment saying that there was no need to pay for this service when I have so many friends who live around the world. She then volunteered to send me a fun Japanese treat!

And, here's what I just got in the mail: apple pie flavored Kit Kats! Aren't my friends awesome?

So what do apple pie Kit Kats taste like? Short answer: not bad. They have a bit of a weird fake-apple taste, but I kind of like it. They remind me a lot of those caramel apple pops you get at Halloween. Dan said the Kit Kats remind him of Turkish apple tea. Either way, they are fun. Thanks so much, Kathleen!

Now who wants to help me think of something cool to send her in return?

Friday, April 10, 2015

Measuring Up

I showed you the other day how I made a growth chart for Zahara, and today I'll show you how we use it. We have only officially measured Zahara once, but she loves this ruler so much she asks to "see the numbers" almost every night. She loves standing with her back to the ruler and asking me to "color her." Then it's either my turn or one of her stuffed animals'. I love watching her use her imagination and imitate things we do.

We debated the best way to mark Zahara's height. We wanted it to stand out from the ruler marks, but not be too obnoxious. There are no immediate plans--family, read that first part again--but eventually there might be another family member whose height we'd like to mark. So we wanted something that would be unique for Zahara, with the same color marking her height all the way through. A future sibling could then get another color without causing confusion.

Testing colors

We tested a few colors of permanent marker, plus two different nail polishes on the back of the ruler. The nail polish was actually Dan's idea. You can see that the Sharpie marks are barely visible, but the pink nail polish stands out well. I liked the silver too, Dan voted for pink, so I happily agreed.

March 27, 2015; 21 months

Once we measured Zahara, we used the purple Sharpie to write the date and number of months. We actually debated for a while about what to write and it what format. We chose this format to give the most information in the cleanest form.

I definitely am not trying to rush time, but I can't wait to see her grow along the ruler over the years.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

500th Post!

Guys, this is a big one. A huge milestone. 500 blog posts! It is hard to put into words how much has happened since I started this blog in 2011, but here's a sampling: two transatlantic moves; a career sabbatical; picking up new hobbies; exploring the world; and having a baby, just to name a few.

I hope to continue writing about travel, cooking, DIY projects, and of course my sweet little baby. I'd love to do a visual overhaul of the blog, but that's not my forte. Any graphic designers want to help me create a new banner? I'll pay you in cookies :)

As we always do on these milestone posts, let's look at some of my blog stats.

Once again, I want to know more about you. Can you check a few boxes for me? I'd love to know your thoughts.

Thank you so much for your continued support of this little hobby of mine. Here's to the next 500 posts!

See my other blog milestones:
100 Posts
200 Posts
300 Posts
400 Posts

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

DIY Ruler Growth Chart Tutorial

It is a time-honored tradition to mark a child's growth through the years on a door-frame or wall. And that worked well for my grandparents who still live in the house my mom grew up in, and for my parents who still live in the house I grew up in. But Dan and I are not in our "forever" house. We love it here, but I don't see us staying for the next thirty years.

When I saw a DIY wooden growth chart fashioned like an old-school ruler, I fell in love. I loved everything about the inspiration project on Pinterest: it was cheap, easy to make, portable, and completely adorable. This might be one of my favorite projects of all time.

Here's what you'll need to make your own:
  • 1- 1" x 8" x 6' pine board*
  • 150 grit sandpaper
  • Wood stain (I used Varathane Stain and Poly in Early American semi-gloss)
  • Paint brush
  • Printer and paper (for number stencils)
  • Pencil
  • Yardstick, tape measure or ruler
  • Black Sharpie marker or acrylic paint and brush
I already had most of the supplies; I got the rest Home Depot for less than $25. The pine board was $8.75 and the stain was $13.51. I got the smallest pot they had and still have a ton of stain leftover. I chose to use a stain with a polyurethane in it to avoid having to buy an extra product and complete an extra step. I've seen it done both ways, but this worked well for me.

When picking out your board, try and find one that is straight with little warping, and without too many knots. The knots will get darker with the stain and may obscure your lines and numbers. The board doesn't need to be very high quality since you aren't using it to make furniture or anything load-bearing.

After getting your board home (which can be done in a regular car--carefully!), use the sand paper to gently remove all rough spots and splinters. I put it on a tarp in front of the TV and got the whole thing done in less time than a Scandal episode.

Now your board is ready for stain. I used an old brush to paint two coats of stain on every top, bottom and side of the board. It turned out a little darker than I would have liked, but the coverage is great and the black lines I made later are visible. If I made another one, I might try and find a lighter stain color.

Before you start marking the board, you need to figure out where you want it to hang. We picked a spot outside of Zahara's room and decided it should hang just above the baseboard. Dan held the board in place while I measured from the ground up. The baseboard is 4.5 inches, so my one foot mark is 7.5 inches from the bottom.

Now it is time to start making this board look like a ruler. This part is a bit tedious. You need to measure and mark every inch from top to bottom. To keep it looking like a ruler, I varied my marks for each foot as follows:
  • The 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11 inch marks = 1.5 inches long
  • The 2, 4, 8, 10 inch marks = 2 inches long
  • The 6 inch marks = 2.5 inches long
  • The 12 inch marks = 3 inches long
So, for each foot the pattern was: 
  1. 1.5
  2. 2
  3. 1.5
  4. 2
  5. 1.5
  6. 2.5
  7. 1.5
  8. 2
  9. 1.5
  10. 2
  11. 1.5
  12. 3

I made all my marks with a pencil first and then went back over them with a black Sharpie. You can also use black acrylic paint and a small craft brush if you prefer.

Next, using Microsoft Word (or any other word processing program), print your number stencils. I printed numbers 1-8* using Adobe Myungjo font at 200 points. You can use any font you like, but this one looked the most like an old ruler to me. I separated each number and placed it just below the foot mark (on the 11 inch mark). Then, with the number right-side up, I used a pen to trace the outline of the number onto the board. I pressed pretty hard, resulting in a slightly embossed number. I retraced the number with a pencil to make sure my lines looked good, and then filled it in with my Sharpie.

The final step is hanging the ruler. There are a few ways to go about this, but we decided to just screw it right into the wall. This way, there is no chance of it accidentally falling or wiggling around. It is nice and secure. I was worried about the visibility of the screws, but they are hardly noticeable.

This really might be my favorite project ever. I can't wait to see how Zahara grows through the years!

* My Home Depot only had a 1x6x8 instead of a 1x8x6, so my ruler is a bit taller than my inspiration photo. It worked out OK though because I have tall ceilings and it helps fill the space.

Monday, March 30, 2015

B Too: A Slice of Belgium in DC

This weekend we went with some friends for a fantastic dinner that made me nostalgic for my time in Europe--specifically for Belgium. This place had everything I wanted from a traditional Belgian restaurant: beer, waffles and fries.

B Too is the second restaurant of former Top Chef contestant, and native Belgian, Bart Vandaele. I haven't been to his first restaurant, Belga Cafe, yet, but based on this meal I'll be making a reservation soon.

The drink menu is enormous, featuring every type of (good) beer you can imagine. With a dozen Belgian beers on tap, including one specially brewed for B Too, it was incredibly difficult to narrow it down. I'm a huge fan of Belgian beers for their sweetness and strength, so I knew I'd probably be happy with any of them. I asked the bartender for a recommendation and he gave me one of the best beers I've ever had: Kasteel Rouge. It tastes and smells like Dr. Brown's black cherry soda, but it will get you drunk. Very fun combination.

Belgian fare typically is not vegetarian-friendly, but there were so many fantastic-looking appetizers that we had plenty to choose from. Dan and I shared the pumpkin soup and the wild mushroom waffle. Both were AMAZING! The soup's texture was perfect: bite-sized pieces of butternut squash mixed with a creamy, cheesy pumpkin broth. I couldn't get enough of it. The mushroom waffle was as tasty as it was beautiful. I'm a sucker for mushrooms anyway, and this pairing was just perfect. The savory waffle was just a bit soft, which went nicely with the texture of the mushrooms.

Our friends left me a little jealous of their beet salad. It looked incredibly flavorful and fun, using a variety of cooking techniques to make crumbles, foams and more.

For the main course, Dan and I split the seabass with melted leeks and purple potatoes. It was, of course, perfect. To be honest though, the meat options looked even more appealing. Kim was debating between the venison and duck breast. Listen to the description of the duck: pan seared Hudson valley duck breast with speculoos crunch, savoy cabbage, mushrooms, winter carrots and pomegranate sauce. They had me at speculoos. She went with the venison and regretted nothing.

Dessert was tough. Which waffle should we choose? We went for the fried apple waffle with fresh apple slices, speculoos ice cream and caramel sauce. Our friends had the crème brulee with a bacon waffle. They said the bacon flavor wasn't too prominent, unfortunately. They didn't seem to have a problem finishing the crème brulee though.

Though this evening made me miss Europe desperately, it is reassuring to know that when I'm feeling a bit nostalgic I can pop in to B Too for a great meal.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Dear Zahara: 21 Months

Dear Zahara,

Happy 21-month birthday! I know I say it every month, but I can't get over how much you've changed; you are growing into such a wonderful little girl.

You are talking up a storm! It is so fun for us to hear you constantly singing and talking to yourself. My favorite is when you count and sing the alphabet song. I cannot believe how many letters you know. And you are using three-word sentences a lot more often. I love hearing you say "come on mommy," and "wake up daddy." That's the other thing, I'm mostly mommy now, and not mama. Same goes for daddy. Such a big girl.

We had a lot of firsts this month: first time mummy was away from you for more than one night; first time you went ice skating; and first time you went to the hospital. We could have done without that last one. Thankfully, it was a very minor problem that was easy to fix. You and mummy were playing when you held your arm to your side and said that it hurt. We took you to the emergency room and were told you had nursemaid's elbow. I've never heard of it before, but it is very common and very easy to fix. You handled it like a champ! Seconds after the nurse did a quick maneuver, you were back to your old self.

Thankfully you have outgrown your hitting phase, but now we have entered the very fun selfish phase. Everything is "Zoey's" or "mine." You don't understand that when we say "yes, it is yours," that means the same thing as when you say mine. You get very upset if you think someone is taking your toys or food, or really anything.

You've been on a bath-strike for months now, but one day you just decided that you love them again. You love swimming, playing in the bubbles and pretending to be a fish. You especially love when daddy uses soap to shape your hair into a mohawk.

Every  day brings something new. We can't wait to see what the next month brings! Love you!