I have a new job!

Two months, no blogs– what gives?? Well, here’s the story…

We recently received an unexpected inheritance from Jon’s grandfather, George, who died about a decade ago. George had wisely invested in Denver real estate way back when, and fortuitously, by waiting this long to sell his property, his three kids made a bunch of money, which they generously decided to share with all the grandkids, too. We wanted to honor this gift by investing it wisely, and, convinced by a very business-minded friend who owns two condos in Keystone, we decided to invest in a ski condo which we could manage as a vacation rental and also use ourselves.

Why Keystone? It’s close to Denver, we’ve enjoyed visiting there, and it is a little less pricey than some other ski areas, real-estate wise. I will say it felt surreal to be looking at ski condos that cost more than our actual home in Denver, but we felt pretty confident, thanks to our friend’s experience, that were making a good choice.

This is where I’ve been lately: shopping for, buying, and planning a renovation of our new ski condo. Since I’m a stay-at-home parent, it makes sense for me to be the primary manager of our vacation rental, so I’ve been researching and reading and pinning and shopping and generally obsessing with this condo. Part of the big plan is we want our place to look FANTASTIC in online listing photos, so I have been channeling my inner Joanna Gaines, and reminding Jon that he’s my Chip. I HAVE A VISION, OK?

My goal is to make our condo a stylish, rustic/industrial (no cliche lodge furniture or generic decor for us!), family-friendly destination. Because I know what it’s like to travel with little kids, I especially want to make it the number one unit people want to rent when bringing kids to Keystone. We will have pack and plays, high chairs, night lights, baby monitors, bouncy seats, toys, books, and more to prevent families from having to schlep so much gear. Also, our condo has a private pool not shared with any other buildings, and our unit is on the quiet slope-side of the building with no neighbors above. We also chose a unit close to the playground and skating rink/putt putt course, with the Kidtopia headquarters in the same building. Kidtopia puts on cool kids events and activities– on a recent visit, our girls participated in a strider bike race, and Claire got second place! Our unit has slope views, and you can walk to the lifts.

I figured I would share our “before” photos this week, and next week will be the big reveal of our renovated unit. If you want to go ahead and make a reservation, you can check out our VRBO listing and sign on up!

I am not sure which is more baffling here, the permanent Christmas decor, or the chicken-themed art in a ski condo.

I would describe the “before” aesthetic as “aggressively brown.”

Having both a queen murphy bed and a queen sleeper sofa, plus a third bathroom, means this 2 bedroom condo can sleep a TON of people.

BEARS! DEER! CHEVRON?

Fun fact: tons of Keystone condos have this exact bedding. And wall art. I think it came with the place when it was built in the 90s. Which means tons of folks are happily paying the big bucks to sleep under 20 year old bear comforters. Ew.

Am I the only person who irrationally hates tchochkies on top of cabinets? They just get sad, dusty, and gross.

We are ditching the twin beds for a queen with a lofted twin above it. I’m also turning the skylight nook into a cute play space.

That balcony view, though.

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finally finished: my blue willow inspired dining room

A few years ago, I inherited from my grandmother a collection of blue and white plates, some of which my grandfather had sent home from WWII to his mother. I have loved and treasured them in a cabinet for several years, but knew that the next time we owned a home, I wanted to decorate a room around displaying them. Well, we finally bought a house last summer, and all these months later, I’ve finally (mostly) finished our front/dining room.

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It’s a weird space, because it’s the first room you enter after walking in the front door, and there’s a strange freestanding closet that awkwardly sits in the middle of the room, I’m guessing because there used to be more walls that were removed, but the closet had to stay for structural reasons. I think the weird closet contributed to this house being on the market as long as it was, because it was hard to picture how furniture would go and how the room would be used. For us, it’s more of our formal living area, because there’s a big den in the back of the house where we have our giant sectional and TV and all of the girls’ toys.

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I made pillow covers (using this tutorial) in various blue and white prints to tie the plate wall into the sitting area, and I have plans to reupholster our couch and to recover the dining room chairs. I’m thinking solid colors for those, so let me know if you have ideas. The round table was a Christmas gift from my mother, who gave us her dining table after she heard me say I wanted a round table that expanded– this one has four leaves and can seat 12 with them all in place!

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Another recent project, designed by me and executed entirely by my husband, was the remake of a thrift store end table.

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The real showstopper of the room, though, is the plate wall.

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In case you’d like to do a plate wall yourself, here are my plate wall tips: After asking some friends who had hung some plates, I settled on the metal spring plate hangers. I rolled out some extra wide wrapping paper on the floor and laid out the plates on top of it. Then, my husband and I traced around the plates, photographed the arrangement, removed the plates, and hung the paper on the wall. From there, we nailed hooks into the paper, and then ripped it down, leaving the hooks behind. I then referred to my photos to hang the plates on the hooks.

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I love the way it turned out, and keep finding myself wandering into the dining room just to stare at the wall. It feels like something that belongs in the home of someone way cooler than we are.

Easy DIY: The InstaFridge

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Check out my fridge, covered in pictures of my babies! You, too, can achieve such a cool (ha) fridge!

Here’s the deal: there are companies that will make you magnets out of your Instagrams (and lets be real, the best pictures any of us are taking these days are on Instagram), but they charge $15 bucks for 9 magnets, and they aren’t very big. Meanwhile, I was recently informed by a friend that Walgreens has a cool new app that, among other things, connects directly to your Instagram and prints 4×4 prints at your nearest store for you to pick up in just an hour or two. For 39 cents a pop. So, using my rudimentary math skills (aka a calculator, because I am an English and Poli Sci major, and math makes me cry), that’s $1.27 cheaper than the pre-made magnets per picture. The savings shrinks a tiny bit when you take the added step of turning the prints into DIY magnets, but bear with me:

Supplies:

1 sheet foam board, or, if you’re extra thrifty, 1 cardboard box

A bunch of Instagram prints

Photo Corners (like these, which are less than $5 for 250)

Craft magnets (Amazon sells bazillions for like a nickel each) + glue gun if you don’t get the magnets with adhesive backing

Scissors

Steps:

  1. Affix pictures to cardboard or foam board using photo corners
  2. Cut out squares
  3. Glue and/or affix the magnets to the back of said squares
  4. Stick all over your fridge
  5. Laugh at schmucks paying $1.20 more per magnet for their StickyGrams that look tiny and puny next to your awesome creations

The bonus of using the photo corners as opposed to gluing the pictures directly to the foam/card board is that you can easily change out the pictures and reuse the magnets over and over again! Which will work great for me as my whole fridge is pictures of the Bufflo Gals, and they tend to do this pesky growing up thing, which means I need to update the pictures regularly.

homemade yogurt: one step closer to hippiedom

I know blogging’s been sparse around here lately. I fell off the vegan wagon and the blogging wagon at about the same time. It’s a good thing though: I’m studying feverishly to try and pass the last step between me and an MA in English Literature: the dreaded comps exam. So, expect blogging to resume something resembling regularity sometime after the first week of April, at which point I’m sure I’ll have cute Bufflo Gals’ 1st Birthday photos.

Meanwhile, I’ve got a new routine going in my kitchen, and it involves living organisms.

No, I’m not raising goats or something out in our rented back yard. I started making my own yogurt and now I don’t even know who I am anymore. I distinctly remember a friend saying she made her own yogurt one time, and thinking to myself, “that’s nutty. Just buy the yogurt, ya weirdo.”

But then I got my almost-one-year-olds off formula, discovered they love whole milk, and discovered further that they REALLY REALLY love whole milk yogurt. And that YoBaby shiz ain’t cheap.

Yogurt faces.

Yogurt faces.

Another problem: though Claire loves to be spoon fed (she lives on purees, after all), Little Miss Feeds Herself wants no part of me lovingly spooning yogurt into her mouth. If I let her try to spoon feed herself, every end but the end with the yogurt gets in her mouth, and it’s an epic mess. If I try to feed her myself, it’s an insane battle of waving arms and yelling at me as she tries to grab the spoon while I’m trying to stick it in her mouth. About every 5th bite gets in there, which is nuts.

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So, to solve the “my kids eat 8-16 oz of yogurt per day” problem and the Etta loves yogurt but eating it with her hands is difficult problem, I have discovered two solutions.

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The first, as I mentioned before, is making my own yogurt. I basically follow this process from Annie’s Eats. I heat half a gallon of milk to 180 degrees to denature the proteins in it (which is apparently important). Then, I pour it into a Pyrex glass bowl and cool it to between 110 and 120 degrees. Then I add a couple of tablespoons of yogurt (at this point, I use the last bit of my homemade yogurt, but my first batch used plain Stonyfield Farm whole milk yogurt), and stir. Then, I preheat my oven for one minute (which gets it to about 120 degrees) turn it off, and turn on the light. Meanwhile I put a lid on the Pyrex and swaddle the whole thing with a few kitchen towels.

I leave the Pyrex in the oven with the light on overnight, for about 12 hours. In the morning, when I wake up, I go in, take off the lid, and it’s yogurt. Well, yogurt swimming in whey. So, I line a colander with either a couple layers of cheesecloth or a thin dishtowel like a flour sack towel, and set it in a bowl (you could just do the sink, but I’m saving the whey because I’m crazy and want to try making whey ricotta cheese), and strain the yogurt until it’s nice and thick and creamy. Half a gallon of milk left overnight yields 1.5 quarts of yogurt and 2 cups of whey. Scraping it off the towel with a spatula is really as tough as the work gets here.

What the yogurt looks like when I take it out in the morning, pre-straining.

What the yogurt looks like when I take it out in the morning, pre-straining.

Straining yogurt through a colander lined with a flour sack towel.

Straining yogurt through a colander lined with a flour sack towel.

Resultant strained yogurt and whey.

Resultant strained yogurt and whey.

Taste-wise, the homemade yogurt is just as good as the plain whole milk yogurt I was buying. It works great as a sour cream substitute, too. To serve it to the girls, I usually mix it with some pureed fruit and some oatmeal baby cereal so they get a complete breakfast. For snacks or when they need a little something after dinner, I just stir in a smidge of agave syrup for sweetness (because they can’t have honey yet).

This brings me to: how do I get the yogurt into the girl who won’t be spoon fed?

I had seen on Pinterest some reusable baby food pouches that are basically the same as those Plum baby food pouches, except the spout is on the side and the top is like a Ziploc bag. So, after searching on Amazon and reading some reviews, I decided to go with the Yummi Pouch (consider this a mini-review, I guess) because they were cheaper than the Little Green Pouch, which I was also considering. They are awesome, y’all. I just fill them with 4 oz. of yogurt, zip up the top, hand it to Etta, and she knows exactly how to hold it and suck the yogurt out of the spout, a feat she figured out within seconds of having the first drops squeezed onto her tongue and realizing that sweet yogurty goodness was inside that thing.

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The Yummi Pouches claim to be dishwasher safe, but I’m not sure I trust my dishwasher to hold it open enough to get clean. So, I’ve been washing them by hand using a bottle brush, and drying them on my bottle rack. Works fine. One tip I did read in one of the reviews: the lids are easy to lose, but are the same diameter as the disposable baby food pouches, so if you use those, just save the lids in case you lose the lids to your pouches. I’ve tried the lids from a GoGoSqueez applesauce pouch and they worked just fine!

Overall, my newfound yogurt-making hobby is saving me money– a 32 oz. container of Stonyfield Farm plain whole milk yogurt costs me $4ish, while an entire gallon of milk, which yields 64 oz. of yogurt, costs the same. So the homemade is literally half the price, with none of the trash of the packaging. And since I also mix it with fruit purees, we can compare the cost to the YoBaby yogurt, which would be almost $11 for the amount a gallon of milk yields in homemade yogurt! Maybe I’m not as crazy as I once thought my yogurt-making friend was!

a pinner’s manifesto

I admit it. I was initially resistant to Pinterest. Why do I need one more social network? was generally my perspective. But then I tried it and quickly became hooked. Finally, my folders upon folders of bookmarked recipes were actually useful, because instead of scrolling through filenames, I could browse photographs on a “board” to choose what I wanted to cook, the same way I flip through a cookbook or magazine looking at the pictures. As a sewer and crafter, I could collect inspiration to use later, too, like yellow dresses that became my the spirit of my first yellow sundress that I made for myself. Much as I love Instagram for giving me a greater eye for beauty, Pinterest has helped me see all the world as a source of inspiration for making my spaces and meals a more beautiful place. For every critique I see of Pinterest as a place of envy and lust, I would argue that it’s what you make of it. If you collect pins and follow pinners who only share things you’ll never have, sure, you could easily get down and jealous and start to feel inadequate. But if you follow people with a similar vision for life and the world, you’ll never cease to be inspired. Because I judiciously unfollow thinspiration boards and mostly follow people who pin yummy food and quirky outfits and cute spaces, Pinterest has become a Happy Place for me.

But we can make it better.

Let’s face it, Pinterest’s search kind of sucks. But it’s because of us. Pinterest can only return pins to us if they’re captioned with the kinds of terms we use in our search. If I’m searching for pictures of foxes (which I often do because I’m obsessed and want a pet one), but everyone has captioned their fox pictures “CUTE!”, I’m not going to get many results. For a picture of a fox to show up in the results of my search with the keyword “fox,” the word “fox” needs to appear in the caption. Similarly, if I’m searching for images of toddler bedrooms or shared bedrooms to inspire me in sprucing up the gals’ nursery, only pictures captioned with words like “toddler room,” “shared room,” “twin room,” and “bunk beds” are going to return me the kinds of images I’m looking for, while the ones captioned “cute room!” or “idea for later!” are never going to reach my screen.

So, we have to start doing better. We have to start captioning our pins with actual descriptions of the image. Most people already do this with pins of recipes, captioning them with the name of the actual dish. But we need to do it with everything. I need to do it too. Also: did you know Pinterest has been tagified? Much like on Twitter, where placing a hashtag before a keyword turns the word itself into a clickable search that takes you to a page with all other posts that share that tag, putting “#coconut” on a pin for say, coconut rice turns the word #coconut into an instant search for other pins that share that tag. Click that link and see what I mean.

Here’s an example from one of my own pins. The bad pin has just a space instead of a useful caption, while the good pin has a descriptive caption that makes use of keywords and hashtags.

This is my pledge: In order to make Pinterest more useful to us all, I will henceforth caption all of my pins appropriately, describing what is in the image or the content of the blog post the image links to, and making use of related hashtags to make my pins more search-friendly. Will you pledge to do the same?

P.S. If you would like to follow me on Pinterest, please do! I’d love to make more “friends” there!

time flies: a nursery grows up

It’s been months since I posted. It turns out life with twins as a grad student is a little busy, and then you add in the holidays, and you end up with a bit of a hiatus. I also think I’ve sort of been stuck in this rut where, unless a post is some sort of profound meditation on life and parenthood and whatnot, I don’t post it, and frankly, inspiration isn’t easy to find for the sleep deprived whose days are an endless cycle of feeding, changing, snuggling, and playing with babies. So, I’m going to try to get back into posting with less pressure on myself for every post to be some sort of major epiphany.

I figured I’d start with showing you the girls’ room lately, which has gone from a baby space to a space that better functions as a twin toddlers’ room. We’ve changed it around a lot to meet their needs as they are now very nearly ten months old. I know. Two months away from ONE YEAR. It’s insanity how the time has both crept and flown. (You can find the original nursery reveal here.)

I wanted the girls’ room to be more of a play space as they are now starting to be mobile and into everything, and I wanted them to have a safe space to explore. They got a lot of awesome toys from friends and family for Christmas, so we desperately needed some toy storage. Luckily, my husband is a super handy guy, and he built something amazing after seeing a few of my ideas on Pinterest.

To make space, we took out the futon and put in a secondhand chair. I will say, I am SO GLAD we had the futon for the first 8 months. Just to be able to lie down in there, or to rest the babies on either side of me in Boppies and feed both at the same time, was wonderful. I highly recommend a bed or couch in a nursery.

Anyway, here’s the space now, with before and afters for comparison.

Then:

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Now:

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Then:

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Now:

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Here’s a closeup of the new toy storage, built by my awesome husband!

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The girls can crawl right up and grab blocks and toys out of the bottom bins, and if they’re sitting up, they can reach the shelf. As soon as they’re pulling up, it will be even more accessible. It was important to me that the toys be in view so they could easily see their options and get them for themselves. I had a feeling this would work better than a box or bin, because stuff on the bottom of a bin would be forgotten and never played with.

Then:

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Now:

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Here you can see the bucket we got to store stuffed animals, as well as one of my favorite things in the entire room, the canvas with the Vonnegut quote. It was a gift from a friend I met through Twitter, a “you survived” gift after all I went through getting the gals into the world. It is from a story in which a character is delivering a baptismal speech for twins, so it’s super apt. It says, “Hello babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. On the outside, babies, you’ve got a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies– You’ve got to be kind.” I think it’s a great rule.

Overall, the girls have the best-decorated room in our house, and we still haven’t bought a single new piece of furniture beyond the cribs, which were a gift from their grandparents. As I type, the girls are playing in the floor and I’m sitting in the chair.

necessity is the mother of invention

We’ve been having a rough time with fussy Etta lately. When she is happy, she is very very happy, but when she is bad, she is horrid. After a few nights in a row, I was looking for solutions. She loves to be bounced, HARD, in her bouncy seat. And she loves to be swaddled tightly. But those two things can’t be combined very easily, because the swaddle gets in the way of the seat’s straps.

Enter inspiration. I knew there were folks who make “swaddle straps;” I just didn’t want to pay for a baby straight jacket that seemed simple enough to sew myself. But then, I got an even easier idea: why not just cut the swaddle part of an outgrown sleep sack? A little quick cutting, and I had my very own swaddle strap. It worked great, and it was certainly put to the test last night– Etta was up 3 times instead of her usual 1. The problem wasn’t the swaddle strap so much as that she seems to believe she must be bounced at all times, and, well, I want my sleep. Still, I’ll take drowsy bouncing over unswaddled screaming any day.

Pissy baby knows she’s about to be defeated.

And she’s zonked. Just do. not. ever. stop. bouncing.