Our Dining Room Renovation

Thursday, August 31, 2017
We are slowly but surely working our way through renovating our 1940's charmer, and so I thought I'd share some updates with you all that we've accomplished over the course of the past few months or so. Up today - the dining room!

Here's the before photo (my apologies for the quality - it was a quick pic done during our final walk through as the carpet was torn up the next day): 

And the after photo (in it's true authentic form with my child's high chair and garbage bag cushion cover front and center):

Quite the difference, eh? The best part is it really didn't cost us all that much to do it. Nearly everything we DIYed, repurposed or thrifted. So here are the deets on our new dining digs.

First things first, as soon as we closed on our house (but seriously, immediately following), the hubs and father-in-law went in and ripped up all that carpet. We knew we had original hardwood under their and were just hoping it was in decent condition. With a few imperfections here and there (which I think just add to its charm), we lucked out with floors throughout our house that just needed some staples removed and a good cleaning and they were pretty much good to go.

The next thing we did was tackled that brass chandelier. I came across this idea from Simply Salvage as my inspiration. A few coats of white chalk spray paint, some twine and hot glue and new light bulbs completely transformed our lighting into one of my favorite pieces in the room. (And did I mention it cost us less than $10 to do!)

For the windows we pulled down the curtain, the blinds and that awkward looking white window box lining the top and went with a super simple DIY burlap curtain. Tutorial can be found at 11MagnoliaLane. The wreath was one I was able to find for 50% off at JoAnne Fabric, and I have another one that I put up for winter as well to add a little seasonal pizzazz to the space.

The built ins were one of my favorite parts of the house when we saw it for the first time, and I didn't feel like they needed much as they were already so charming. We just gave them a fresh coat of paint and then spray painted the original hardware which was more of a white/gold color to the gray you see here. Our built ins are full of mostly items I have collected from various thrift stores over the course of the last year or two. One of my favorite aisles to peruse is always the dinnerware section. 

For the walls, we decided to ditch that beautiful green wallpaper and go with more of a creamy color on top, and then while my husband couldn't believe I actually had the nerve to ask him to put up new wallpaper, I convinced him with the one you see pictured on the bottom half of our wall. Yes, that's wallpaper! Crazy right! It is made to look like beadboard, which I love the look of, but more affordable. Plus the wallpaper we purchased came pre-pasted and ready to go so all that was needed was water (and some husband patience & skill). You can find the beadboard wallpaper here

Our dining room table was another labor of love. We were lucky enough to inherit our table from my in-laws, and size-wise it fit perfectly in our space. But I just wasn't digging the original finish. It had black legs and a darker finished wood top. I had seen a variety of blog posts on how similar tables had been redone with a little paint and effort, so I figured we'd give it a go. We had already redone our living room coffee table utilizing this tutorial from Nifty Thrifty Momma, so to have consistency running through our space, we followed the same steps to redo our dining room table just selected 1 x 6" pieces of pine instead of 1 X 4" since the space to cover was significantly larger.

The chalkboard and plates you see pictured on our wall, I adore. I have been able to purposefully use and change the text on the chalkboard (from Hobby Lobby) to fit a variety of events and occasions, and the plates were a cheap Goodwill purchase that I think add dimension to the space. (Now my husband would tell you they add a flare of Grandma Ethel, so to each their own - I love them!)

Finally, our wine rack I have had for years. Instead of spending money on new, we just decided to repurpose it and give it a once over with chalk paint so that it matched the space a bit better. The cute sign above is from Hobby Lobby as well, in case you were wondering. 

So there you have it. It's a cozy little space, that's for sure, but I feel like we have made the most of it, and it just feels so much homier and brighter to me now than it did when we first moved in. I love our little mealtime nook, and it is definitely a place where many a memory is made!


10 Ways to Prepare your Child for School from the Start

Sunday, August 13, 2017

While it feels like my little guy is far from that first day of Kindergarten, I know it will be here in the blink of an eye <insert mega mom tears here>. I also know that while it may still be a ways off, there are things that we can do to be proactive as his parents in ensuring that he is as prepared as possible for the day when it comes. Being a teacher, myself, I have come to learn that there are certain skills and experiences that, if they come in having knowledge of them, fosters students' success right from the get go. And it may come as a surprise to you, that many of them have little to do with all the facts and figures they know.

That being said, please note that I am by no means an expert on this subject. Just a fellow teacher mama, navigating life with a toddler day-by-day and hoping that maybe, just maybe, by the time he reaches his first day of school he will make it through with two shoes on and his papers actually in the folder in his backpack.

So how can you prepare your child for school from the start?

1) Read to your child. I know this one is like, "duh", to most of you, but I can't express enough the value of daily reading. Reading to your child gives them the opportunity to hear a fluent reader, to experience what good expression sounds like as you make all those crazy character voices and to see basic skills like page turning and reading the pictures modeled. Not to mention, children's language and vocabulary skills develop ten-fold by listening to texts read aloud. Seriously, read. And read a lot.

2) Take them on "field trips". My favorite thing to do with my little guy throughout the week is to experience new places with him. Museums, farms, pools, parks, you name it. But not even just that, we also love the grocery store, the mall, the library, and Target (or as my child has grown to know it "the most magical place on earth"). Honestly, just about anything is a "field trip" to your little one as there is so much they can soak up from the world around them as this age. We talk about the animals we see or the foods we are buying, and we name them all. We talk about what we will see and do before we go and his favorite part after (even if I make it up for him at this age), because previewing and summarizing are skills that even the littlest friends can begin to understand. These experiences we provide our kids are so valuable in building up their background knowledge and laying the foundation for understanding so many concepts that will come their way when they hit school age.

3) Provide time to socialize with other kids. While being a full time working mama was certainly tough this past year, I will admit that in some ways it was great for my little guy to be in daycare because he learned so much from being around the other kids. Kids pick up so much from each other. Case in point, we just had a group of friends over a few weeks back with littles around the same age as Asher. This kid seriously has had little to no interest in walking or even standing by himself until he saw his "peers" doing it, and wouldn't you know it he just stood up right there in the middle of the toddler chaos like it was no big deal. Say what! I about peed my pants - but at the same time, thought, what a beautiful reminder of the power of littles in community. Whether your child is in daycare, preschool or you stay home, find a way to provide time for your child to socialize with kids his/her age.

4) Teach them that mistakes are opportunities for learning. Our kids are going to make mistakes. My child has already made more than I can count. From losing his balance and bumping his head, to knocking over cups of water, to purposely tossing his food; mistakes happen in our household on a daily basis, as I am sure they do yours too. As adults, we made mistakes as kids, and we continue to make them today. Ensuring that you utilize each of your child's mistakes as an opportunity for learning for him/her and modeling the same of yourself, sets them up to understand that a)none of us are perfect and b)making mistakes and even failing at something sometimes is not the end of the world, but rather an opportunity to grow and move forward.

5) Help them to develop a growth mindset. (This one goes hand-in-hand with #4.) There are said to be two predominant mindsets a person may possess - a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. A fixed mindset is one in which one believes their intelligence is just that- fixed. Kids with a fixed mindset may tend to avoid challenges and give up easily, and thus, not ultimately reach their full potential. However, kids with a growth mindset believe that intelligence can be fostered and, thus, tend to embrace challenges and even setbacks which ultimately leads them to reach higher levels of achievement. Obviously, we want our children to lean toward the latter. One simple way to begin to help your child develop a growth mindset attitude is by helping them to shift their thinking in certain situations. For instance, if you hear your child saying "I can't do this.", help them to reframe the thought into "I'm going to have to practice this." Or reframe "I give up." to "I'll try it a different way." or "I'll take a break and come back to it". Belief in one's own ability to grow and achieve is often the biggest piece of the puzzle in actually succeeding at it.

6) Teach them to speak up for themselves and others. Sometimes kids can be mean, even in Kindergarten. But if we can teach our children from a young age how to speak up for themselves and even for others when these situations arise, it has the potential of shifting a negative experience into a learning (or even positive) experience for all. One thing I worked a great deal on with my students was using something called their "big voice". The "big voice" empowers children. It is a voice they can use in order to communicate to someone how a certain action or statement makes them feel and what they would like to happen next. A "big voice" statement may sound something like this "I don't like it when you (insert whatever it may be that is bothering you here), please stop". Or if a child is able to make it a bit more complex, it could be "I don't like it when you _______. It make's me feel ________. Please stop".  Either way, it's simple, and to the point (which is key for the little guys). And can really be tweaked for any situation.

7) Encourage kids to ask questions. Don't be a question stifler. While we haven't gotten to the "why?" phase yet with our little guy, I know it's a comin'. But I think it is important to note, that when a child is asking "why?", more often than not, it's not because they want to drive you bonkers (while that may be the case), but because they are actually interested in "why?". Questioning is how kids learn about the world around them, and there is unfortunately a ton of research out there that shows as kids grow, the amount of questions they ask fades. It disheartens me to say this, but I think it may be our fault grownups. Questioning is part of that growth mindset I talked about above, and curiosity is key to engagement in new learning. So instead of giving your child that quick "just because" response, take than extra moment to explain why. Encourage inquiry. And if you don't know the answer, then heck, take it as an opportunity to learn why together!

8) Provide opportunities to experience and talk about diversity. This one is a little bit of a combo pack of #3 (socialize) and #7 (question), and one that in being a bilingual teacher is near and dear to my heart. I am not going to sugar coat it - we live in a world where unfortunately, racism, sexism, and hate toward specific groups of people is real and evident throughout our society. Now trust me, it is my first instinct to shelter my child from all of this, especially at such a young age, but there are many families and kids that don't have that luxury because they are living this as their reality and preparing their children for this reality day-in-day-out. That's why I think it is important to work to ensure that my child begins to develop an age appropriate understanding of his privilege as a white male from a middle class family, and at the same time develop an understanding that this doesn't make him better or more worthy than any other. It is my goal to provide him with experiences during these formative years to interact with families and children that may come from a different culture than his own, who have different family structures where two dads are parenting or who's skin color or religion may be different so that he not only sees this as part of his world, but also so that he can ask questions and we can talk about these differences amongst people together in a positive, productive and open way. If we desire a more peaceful, accepting world for our kids friends, we've got to sow the seeds to create one.

9) Create a predictable environment at home. In setting up expectations and structure at home, you are not only creating an environment that feels safe and stable for your child, but preparing them for the routines and rules that come along with a school setting. Know that these expectations may shift and change over time as your little one grows to understand more and develops more skillsets, but anything you can do to set the stage from the get go is helpful. For example, currently, I sing the "clean up" song as we pick up our toys and I model for Asher how to put toys back in their container. As time goes on, however, I hope that we will sing the "clean up" song together, and I will expect him to be able to clean up his things more and more independently. This is just one example and other ways this can be done may be through bedtime routines, mealtime routines, getting ready routines, etc., as well as ensuring your child knows what his/her boundaries are under your care. And while it can be hard sometimes, make sure that if you put something in place, you follow through with it consistently. This is key.

10) Love on them with all you've got. Honestly, one of the biggest predictors of a child's success in school is a loving support system and a champion routing for them behind the scenes. So above all, love on your child and support them day-in-day-out. Spend time investing in them. And most importantly, seek to get to know them. Take the time to learn their talents, passions, strengths and struggles and assist them in molding them into all that God intended for them to be.

And with that, happy school year 2017, folks!

And, Kindergarten teachers, watch out, ready or not we'll be coming for ya in four short years!


Lessons from my Breastfeeding Journey

Sunday, August 6, 2017
Nearly 15 months. That's how long it has been since starting this breastfeeding and life journey together with this little man of mine. It has been a journey that has had me in awe and in tears and from a place of nearly giving up to never wanting it to end. In honor of World Breastfeeding Week, I thought I would take a moment to share my breastfeeding journey with you all. Maybe you will relate to it, maybe you won't. Maybe you will learn something from it, maybe you won't. Maybe you can even teach me a thing or two or three. In all honesty, my reasons for writing it down is as much to share with the world as it is for me to document our little journey for myself while it is still fresh in my mind.

I think with your first child, you never really know what to expect. I knew it was my goal to breastfeed as long as I could/he wanted, but you don't really know how your body will handle it and even what it will all be like, feel like, etc. until you are in the middle of it. That being said, seeing that our little guy decided to arrive 6 weeks early, via c-section nonetheless, it certainly started our journey off on an even more unexpected path. I will admit, it completely and utterly broke my heart when I didn't have that "picture perfect" moment of cuddling him on my chest for those first few moments of his life and letting him immediately make that connection I so badly wanted for him. Instead he was whisked away to NICU, and I was left to pump as a post surgery parting gift - and so began our "breastfeeding" journey.

Now I will admit, I was incredibly lucky in that I was actually able to pump quite a significant amount right from the start. I would pump every 2-3 hours for those first few days in the hospital and the nurses would then bring my milk to Asher where he would have it "delivered" via a feeding tube. Finally on his 4th day of life, I got to try to breastfeed him. It was all sorts of awkward and unsuccessful on both our parts, but it was a start. And slowly but surely we both started to get the hang of it.

In order for us to go home from the NICU, Asher had to be able to drink 50 ml on his own. I remember for awhile putting so much pressure on every breastfeeding session and almost getting mad at this beautiful little soul of ours when he wouldn't get close or seem to regress at times with this goal. Before and after every feeding we would have to do a weigh in and when results were lackluster, I felt such discouragement. With each passing day, he was able to gradually take more and more, but in order to get him home more quickly the nurses suggested we also introduce a bottle as  many preemies are better able to drink a more adequate amount this way. I struggled with this for awhile as I wanted to "exclusively" breastfeed. But wanting to bring our little boy home, coupled with the knowledge that eventually I would be going back to work and he would need to learn to drink from one anyway, led me to the decision to give it a go. I know some will say that this can interfere with babies wanting to actually breastfeed, and it very well could have. Luckily though, for us at least, Asher was more than happy and willing to go for either - the kid just wanted to drink.

Once we finally made it home from the NICU, we seemed to get into more of a rhythm (and I will admit there were many times I was glad he learned how to use a bottle right away, as daddy could come in for the assist at times when I needed some serious zzzz...). I figured out what positions worked the best for us and Ash seemed to be growing like a weed. Then, enter, the dreaded reflux. Somehow, we avoided it all together in NICU. But a few weeks after heading home, this kid was gassy and spitting up like it was his job. As I said previously, I was blessed with a pretty good supply from the start, and I think quite often it was too good - especially for such a tiny babe. So we had a double whammy on our hands and frankly, I think my oversupply contributed to the problem. So we quickly learned the art of sitting him upright to feed, sitting him upright after feeding and bringing 10 burp cloths with us wherever we went. After many a chat with our doctor as well - we eventually ended up resounding ourselves to the fact that he was a "happy spitter" (as he was continuing to gain weight  - although many days I wondered how with the amount that seemed to end up on my floor, hair and everywhere in between), and we got him on a good probiotic and seeing a wonderful chiropractor (yes, they can help with infant reflux!). Honestly, he still has the occasional spit up here and there, and I am still hopeful it's something he will grow completely out of eventually.

I returned to work, when Asher was a little over three months old, it was another huge transition for us. This meant that I would no longer be able to feed him every time he wanted/needed, but rather he would need to be on more of a schedule. I'll admit after finally being able to quit pumping and just feed my child, I had no desire to go back to it (like AT ALL), but I also knew that with working full time it was the only way that we could continue on this journey together. My little pumping closet filled with cabinets and school science kits was not even close to glorious or motivating, but I made it my home for the duration of the school year. And I will admit that while I would much rather just nurse my little, I oddly came to find my pumping time each day to be a bit of an escape and time where I could take a deep breath and refresh a bit from all the busy of the day. I won't lie and say it was all rainbow and unicorns, as being a nursing and working mama is a tough job. You do have to advocate for your time and, in doing so, advocate for your babe. There were many a day when I had to leave meetings early, skip out on lunches with colleagues, etc. All that aside, I look back though and am so stinking' proud of myself for making it through the entire school year, and give mad props to all mamas who work and do the pump thing as well. It's not for the faint of heart.

Once we got the hang of this new normal, we cruised along with very few bumps in the road until Asher was about 8 months old. The more he began to sleep through the night, the more I began to develop some serious clogged ducts. I guess me and the zzzz train were just not meant to be an item. Not to mention it was around this time that he also discovered his gums (we were toothless thank goodness until age 1).  However, he used those puppies to chomp down like it was the last meal he'd ever have. Enter milk blisters, which only perpetuated my clogged duct issue. Quickly my pumping sessions at work became a stressful nightmare as I ruthlessly tried to unclog myself all the while praying for no trace of mastitis. I would come home at night and take hot showers and try and use every position under the sun with little man and the pump to try and get the clogs out. This went on for nearly two months where basically the moment I would get one unclogged, within a day it would reappear. Pure torture. I went to see a lactation consultant. I had one come to our house and work with us both. I was desperate and so wanted to continue our journey, but knew if this continued I just wasn't sure how long I could hang on. I got to a point where I felt like I was trying to be the best mom I could be in nursing him as long as he desired, but in spending so much time fixated on trying to fix my nursing problem, I wasn't sure I was actually being the best mom I could be. As a last resort, my lactation consultant suggested I check with a chiropractor she knew that could do cold laser therapy. I guess it is a new alternative to ultrasound therapy which they have sometimes used for moms with similar issues in the past. I was blown away. After one session of therapy combined with a serious kinesiology tape job on my boobs, my clogs were gone. And not just for a day, but for a few, and then a week and here I am 5 months later, clog free ever since. I guess the combo of breaking things up from the laser combined with lifting the skin just a little with the tape, gave my body just the relief it needed to heal and do it's thing effectively again. Morale of the story - seek help. Lots of it.

And now here we are. Nearly 15 months later and we are still on this crazy, boob grabbing, pinching, pulling, staring, and sucking train. I am learning to navigate the throes of nursing a toddler now which brings with it, its own slew of challenges and frankly, quite comical moments (you've seen these pictures right?). But despite the crazy, I am still loving this little journey of ours. I love that my body can still nourish my babe. I love that my milk is made just for him. I love that we have this special time to connect. But what I love most of all is that it is something that in the end, makes us both happy. And happy babies and happy mamas are what really matters. In all honesty, whether you breastfeed or not, keeping a human a live is no small feat - and every mama deserves mad props for that! Gives yourself a round of applause ladies - you are doing it...and doing it well.