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!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Try The World

I came across an interesting ad on my Facebook page the other day. I don't usually pay much attention to them, but this one stuck out. It was for a company called Try the World. Have you heard of it before?

Try the World is a subscription service in which the customer receives a new box every two months filled with culinary delights from specific location. For example, one month is Paris, and you may get macarons, Dijon mustard and salted caramels. The Venice box may contain truffle oil and limoncello bars. Each box also has movie and music recommendations, as well as a card with product descriptions and culture factoids.


I love this idea because it combines two of my favorite things: eating and traveling. One of the first things that Dan and I always do when in a new country is check out grocery stores and farmers markets. It is fun discovering new products (Speculoos spread!) or even familiar products marketed in a completely new way (green tea KitKats).


A really fun way to use this subscription would be to host a bi-monthly themed party with music, drinks, and whatever is in the box. I am tempted to try this subscription, but a few things are holding me back. Firstly, it is pretty expensive at $39 per box. Secondly, you can't customize the boxes for dietary restrictions or allergies. I would hate to pay that much money only to find I can't eat three of the seven items. And finally, the reviews haven't been great. People who received the boxes for free seem to have gotten much better, and faster service than the general public. The company is fairly new, so maybe I'll let them work out some of their growing pains before diving in.

I do think it's a promising idea though and could be a fun gift for someone who loves to eat and travel (hint, hint). What do you think? Have you heard of Try the World? Have you done anything similar? Let me know!

Company: Try the World
Cost: $39/month, every 2 months
Product: Includes 7-10 locally made/grown gourmet treats as well as cultural information and recommendations

Monday, March 23, 2015

Dallas Highlights

A few weeks ago Dan and I took a mini-vacation, sans kid, to Dallas. I grew up in a suburb of Dallas and my parents still live there today, but I haven't spent too much time downtown. This experience almost felt like Dan and I traveled to a new city.

We dropped Zahara off at my parents and prepared for my first time away from her (other than this 18 hour date). Our agenda: eat, sleep and drink. We had three nights to do whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted. I realize that sentence sounds ridiculous if you don't have kids. If you do though, you know exactly what I mean. I felt like Mel Gibson in Braveheart...FREEDOM!!!

Here are some highlights from our trip. As a sidenote, Dallas has a ton of wonderful museums and sights. We didn't see any of them.

Best Drinks:
We went to two fantastic cocktail bars. My favorite was the Midnight Rambler. This "craft cocktail salon" is nestled inside the trendy Joule hotel. The charm to places like these is that the bartenders (known as mixologists) can create custom drinks based on your preferences, using ingredients like egg whites, homemade bitters and exotic liquors. The Midnight Rambler has an extensive menu categorized by drink profile--I preferred sour while Dan enjoyed aromatic.

Midnight Rambler

I definitely recommend sitting at the bar and getting to know the mixologist. Ours, Zach, was incredibly professional and passionate about his craft. He is a trained lawyer who gave up law to pursue his passion. I started with a drink off the menu (the Savory Hunter*, which I highly recommend!), and then Zach custom made drinks based on my preferences. He had as much fun experimenting as I did. I discovered I love drinks with cucumber and a clear alcohol (vodka or gin).

Another fun cocktail bar was the small, difficult to find Parliament. I loved the dark, speakeasy atmosphere, but I wasn't as successful with my drinks here. I think it just came down to personal taste differences with the bartender. Dan loved it though, and it was fantastic people-watching.


Best Food:
By far the best meal we had in Dallas was at Mesomaya. I grew up with Mexican food, and this was as good as it gets. We ordered cheese enchiladas and a roasted beet salad. First of all, who would think of beet salad as a traditional Mexican meal? But it worked! The beets were sweet, the cotija cheese was salty, and the lime dressing was perfectly acidic. The cheese enchiladas were fresh and not at all greasy. Dan enjoyed his avocado margarita. I could eat here every day.

Mesomaya avocado margarita

Best Spa:
Ok, so we only went to one, but I can't imagine a better spa experience than the Ritz Carlton. Sure, it's pricey, but you get what you pay for. It was such a luxurious, relaxing experience. The Ritz has all of the features you'd expect from a high-end spa; a whirlpool, a steam room, a sauna, a relaxation room. Upon arrival you are given a mimosa, along with a terrycloth robe and slippers. They also have a huge bowl of gummy bears! The facility is segregated by gender, so Dan and I spent most of our time apart but shared a couples massage. It was glorious.

Best Hangout Spot:
The weather was not great. It was cold, rainy and very windy. We tried to make the best of it and headed out to the Farmer's Market. I have fond memories of this place as a kid, but it's currently under construction and was a big let-down. On the way back to our hotel, we just wanted to sit, read and drink tea. The Weekend at the Joule was the perfect spot. It's in the lobby of the hotel (just a floor up from the Midnight Rambler) and is filled with artfully placed couches and chairs. We sat for more than three hours drinking chai tea, chatting with hotel guests and generally enjoying a baby-free lifestyle. It was amazing. And be sure to check out the unique book store, the Taschen. The 3D "Big Book of Breasts" was quite interesting.

Since my parents live in Dallas, this is definitely something we can do again. Any favorite spots we missed? Let me know!

* The Savory Hunter: lemongrass and kafir infused gin, lime, coconut, cilantro, thai chili

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

First Time on the Ice

We celebrated our neighbor's fifth birthday this weekend with Zahara's first trip to the ice skating rink. Once again, her natural daredevil attitude took over and she showed no fear. She LOVED it! 

Dan and I were more nervous than she was. We haven't been skating in years and we were a little unsteady on our feet. Zahara did great though. She was laughing and saying "more ice skating!" over and over. It was a real struggle to get her off the ice.

She couldn't quite skate on her own yet, but I think if we went back a few more times she would be zooming around the rink. We saw a few kids her age who were in the middle of a lesson. It is so awesome to see what kids can do. Without question they were better than I am.

This was also Zahara's first big-kid birthday party. We've made the rounds last year for all of the first birthdays, but this was the first with lots of big kids. As a special treat, we let Zahara have some pizza and cake. Who is surprised that she loves it? Oh right, no one.

What a fun day! I love my fearless baby!

Monday, March 2, 2015

Dear Zahara: 20 Months

Dear Zahara,

Happy 20 months! What fun we've had! Your imagination and thirst to interact with the world astound us. A favorite game of ours now is to play shop where I pretend to be a customer at your store. You'll tell me what you sell--apples, bananas and bread, for example--and I'll ask to buy them. Sometimes you'll sell them to me, but sometimes you crack us up by saying, "no, gone." Apparently your store is in communist Russia. Or maybe in DC during a snow storm.

You also love to cook. We have a step stool that you love dragging out of the pantry and pushing to the counter. You climb the stairs and "help" me cut by holding my hand while we chop. Shaking spices into a bowl, pouring that bowl into a pot and then stirring the pot is one of your favorite activities.

Another example of your amazing imagination is your new "ship." We had a large cardboard pallet from our last trip to Costco sitting out for recycling. You pulled it into the living room, climbed inside and declared that it was a ship. We drew windows on the inside and you narrated what you saw through them: fish, turtles and water. So clever!

Painting Valentine's cards

I know I'm just bragging now, but it's my right as a parent to do so. You can count to 10! It is so fun to listen to you count everything. And, you know a lot of your letters too. The other day we were walking in a parking garage and you stopped and pointed out an "O" and a "P." They were spelling out the word "stop" on the ground.

Not only do you have an ever-increasing vocabulary, but you are starting to form two- and three-word sentences more frequently. You really have the imperative command down: get up, sit down, find me, have it... You're pretty bossy, actually. Who can refuse you when you're so darn cute though?

You are just an absolute joy and we love watching you grow into such a funny, smart and engaging toddler. Happy 20-months!