Upstairs bathroom renovation: the plans

27 August 2020

Is renovation the right word to use here? It’s probably a bit too strong. But since we’ve done literally NOTHING to this bathroom since moving in besides hanging a shower curtain and changing lightbulbs occasionally, it feels appropriate! This project is already underway (exciting!!), so I thought I’d share a bit about our plans today!

Here’s the before. (Yikes, bathrooms are so hard to photograph!)

This bathroom it is the only one upstairs in our home. Though our children’s bedrooms are upstairs, it’s mostly used by guests right now (our current routines mean our kids bathe and brush their teeth in the downstairs master bath 99% of the time – more on that here). I’m assuming at some point in the future, though, our kids will use it more, so as I thought about design options, I wanted something that felt appealing for both kids and adults, and for both boys and girls.

Almost immediately, I zeroed in on Julia Rothman’s Daydream wallpaper from Hygge & West. I have loved it since at least 2014, when Jenny Komenda used it on the ceiling of her playroom! John, however, was NOT excited about the idea of wallpaper, so I compromised by agreeing to use the removable version. If the future wallpaper catastrophe he’s imagining ever materializes (?), we will have options.

I ordered samples of the yellow and green colorways, and as I waited, I put together this little board:

The samples arrived, and interestingly the clouds are different shades of blue, which is hard to tell online: the clouds in the yellow colorway are French blue, and the clouds in the green colorway are almost gray. In addition to preferring the French blue, I thought the yellow would pick up some of the creamier tones in the floor tile (which we aren’t planning to change) and the countertop (also not changing), so we went with the sunshine colorway!

That decision made, I revised my board to the current plan:

It makes me so happy! Here’s where I am in the project and what’s left to do:

Paint the vanity. We went with Benjamin Moore Palatial Skies and so far I’ve done two coats of primer and the first coat of color! I feel like I am worse than the average person at choosing paint colors, so I have my fingers crossed. Waiting to see whether we need new hardware (probably something simple like this) until the paint is finished. The blue vanity above is from a room by LEB Interiors, but I’m not sure what color she used!

Remove the builder-grade mirror, repair the drywall underneath, and paint the walls. I was originally planning to remove the mirror myself but Youtube videos intimidated me, so I think I will hire this out along with the wall painting to our favorite handyman. We’ll use Benjamin Moore Chantilly Lace for the walls.

Wallpaper the wall above the sink. It’s just a rectangle, so I’m going to tackle this myself! Probably with some begrudging help from John :)

Change out the light fixtures. Thinking these ones. (Is this the right order? Should I replace them before or after hanging the wallpaper?)

Hang mirrors over each sink. These ones.

Switch out towel bars for hooks. I think hooks are better for guests and often easier for kids to use!

Hang a new shower curtain. I haven’t seen it in person yet, but to bring the blue color into the shower room, I’m hoping this one will be the right shade. The white waffle weave I considered earlier in the process is here.

Add rugs, art, step stools, and any other decorative accents. I’m so looking forward to adding a little personality to this space! The step stool in the board is so beautiful but also $$$, so I will probably hunt for one at Home Goods :)

So there you have it! While I’ve made good progress this week on the vanity, things will slow down a bit from here as we wait on our handyman – we are on his schedule for late September. I’ll be back to share the finished result once everything is in place!

Friends, I’d love to hear: have you ever used removable wallpaper? Will it get the best of me? Any tips to share?

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Em’s guide to photo organization, part two: digital photos

25 August 2020

Part One: Physical Photo Organization

If I had to guess, I imagine most of the people who’ve messaged me over the years asking for help with their photos were interested in this part of the process: digital photo organization. It’s awfully overwhelming, isn’t it? We take SO! MANY! PHOTOS! these days! It’s kind of shocking to compare the number of photos I took ten or even five years ago and the number I take now. (For example, we have 1,000 photos backed up from 2014, and 6,000 from 2019!) Of course, I had two adorable children in that time, which certainly doesn’t help.

I do feel like I’ve gotten my arms around the situation, though, and I’m happy to lay things out for you today. The good news? It’s not hard! You can totally get your photos organized, and set up a system to keep them organized going forward. The bad news? In my experience, it’s a looooooooong, tedious process. Little by little, though, you’ll get there!

Here are the steps I took to get our digital photos under control.

Step 1 | Choose a photo back-up system.
Though the actual organization of our photos has been great, this first step of backing them up was by far the most important to me. If you do nothing else while reading these posts, take this action! After considering various options, we chose to back up our photos with Amazon Photos. Unlimited photo storage is included with your Prime membership; we chose to pay $20 more a year to get 100 GB of video storage, as well.

The system is super easy: download the Amazon Photos app, and every night you’re connected to Wi-Fi it will automatically upload your photos to your Amazon account. You can view them in the app or on a desktop through your Amazon account.

A really wonderful aspect of this solution is that both my and John’s phone photos back-up to the same account, so all of our photos are consolidated in one place.

Though Amazon gives you various options to organize your photos (folders, etc.), we don’t bother with any of that. I consider Amazon our “peace of mind” back-up, so I pretty much just let it run in the background and do its thing, knowing that my photos are secure no matter what happens to my phone. Hallelujah!

Step 2 | Order an external hard drive for secondary back-up
For precious photos, one back-up isn’t enough! Next, I put in place a system to make sure our favorite photos were narrowed down and neatly organized. Whereas Amazon is storing the outtakes, random photos the kids take, and all 158 angles of back-to-school photos, the hard drive is reserved for the favorite and best. Now, if in a few years I’m looking for the best photos from, say, June’s first soccer season, I’ll know right where to go!

We chose the Seagate 2TB External Hard Drive (and this handy case for it). It’s about the size of my hand and has been great so far!

Step 3 | Create a hierarchy for your hard drive
This is your standard system to keep things organized. Mine is Personal Photos -> Year –> Month –> Event. An event is any occasion with more than 1-3 photos – it could be as momentous as a birthday party or as small as a weekend hike. Some months have 1-2 events and others have 8-10. If there are stand-alone photos from the month that don’t belong in any event, I’ll give them a descriptive file name so I can find them easily when scanning folders later.

This is what it looks like in practice:

And here’s what it looks like inside a month and an event:

Step 4 | Centralize all “random” digital photos onto new hard drive
This step may or may not apply to you, but I had a few older external hard drives, folders on my computer, and CDs/USBs with photos that I needed to consolidate into my new system. This included sorting them into the right event folders and editing/culling them as necessary.

Step 5 | Month by month, sort, cull, and edit photos into hard drive system
Ah yes, the step that took me two years :) Oh so slowly, I went month by month through 14 years of photos, using a Google doc to keep track of my progress. (It went on like this for 170 lines!)

For each month, these are the steps I took:
— Download the photos from that month from Amazon Photos
— Sort photos into events, creating new event folders as necessary
— Go through each event folder and delete outtakes, unimportant photos, and multiples until I’m left with the best and favorite photos from that event.
— Edit remaining photos as needed (using either Photoshop on my computer, or PicTapGo on my phone)
— Name any stand-alone photos
— Manually delete the photos from my phone

Whew!! It’s simple — but depending on your backlog, it can be a lengthy process. Each month, I’d tackle a year or two (the later years took MUCH longer). Now that my backlog is complete, I sit down every quarter or so to sort, cull, and edit the photos from the past few months.

Organizing my digital photos teed me up for the final step in my photo organization project: creating photo albums! That’s what I’ll cover in the final post in this series.

Friends, I’d love to hear: was this helpful? If you have a system for organizing your digital photos, is it similar to mine? Or do you do something even more brilliant? :)

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Quarantine reflections

21 August 2020

At the end of March, I wrote a reflection on our first two weeks of quarantine. It was the beginning of spring and the beginning of an alternate reality that, though we didn’t know it at the time, would still largely be our reality many months later.

And here we are, many months later. While so many aspects of our life remain in that shifted state – masks on, sanitizer at the ready – a significant milestone took place this week when our kids returned to preschool after five and a half months at home. With that, an acute season of our life closed, and I wanted to record a few more reflections here.

I’ve often said that one of my least favorite things in life is trying to work when my children are around. I hate it. It leaves me exhausted and irritable, feeling like I failed at being both a parent and an employee, and since becoming a mom I have put structures in place to avoid it whenever possible. I like to think I’m not a distracted parent, and perhaps that’s why trying to do focused work on my computer while my children are clamoring for my attention feels so icky and alien to everything I try to cultivate in our family life.

Even aside from my life as a parent, I think it’s the Enneagram 5 in me that makes me highly value compartmentalizing my work life and my personal life, and wrapping things up cleanly before I transition from one to the other. (Trying to do something for work on my phone while my kiddos are in the room is literally the stuff of nightmares for me.)

Anyway. All that to say that after our preschool closed, John and I knew attempting to juggle two (almost) full-time jobs with no childcare was simply not an option for us – something in our work would have had to give if we couldn’t have come up with a childcare solution. Thankfully, we did. For five months, we welcomed two of our favorite high school neighborhood babysitters into our home from 9-noon almost every weekday morning. Angels, both.

Was it a risk? Absolutely. Was it a risk that was personally worth taking for our family? Absolutely. We took all the precautions we could and we are so thankful that everyone stayed healthy throughout. The kids had great mornings (mostly going in the backyard splash pad or playing camping/sleepover/pet school :)), we ate lunch together as a family, then nap time/Big Girl Quiet Hour got us through most of the rest of my work day.

(That last hour, of course, was often the worst, as I battled feelings of not having gotten enough done during the day while attempting to wrap things up and meet the needs of kiddos who had spent the day in proximity to us but often not gotten the attention they wanted from us.)

Still, many (MANY) had it much harder than us. Still, we found the sweetness.

Before it got too hot, we ate lunch in our backyard every day – a revelation to eat as a family in the middle of the week! June snuggled up next to me and colored on a few Zoom calls. John no longer had a commute, buying us back an hour of every day.

Outside of work, we did many of the things we are accustomed to doing – backyard s’mores, back-of-the-car picnics, hikes in the woods, neighborhood walks, Saturday morning chocolate croissants – but they were all suddenly imbued with a certain nobility and solidarity: these things are keeping other people safe! We’re doing our part in an awful situation!

We tried new things. I don’t think the male members of my family will ever go back to getting their hair cut professionally. (I certainly will, ha!)

We became closer to other school parents as we texted updates, commiserated, and set up Zoom playdates. This felt like a really big step forward in these relationships, and one that would have been unlikely to happen otherwise.

We indulged in curbside pick-up at basically every business we frequented – what felt like a special luxury as a parent juggling multiple car seats.

We took on a new agency in our faith lives without some of our traditions to rely on, like listening to podcast sermons, writing the Word, and reading the Gospels together.

We were more intentional to connect with our far-flung family, like sending little snippets of life at home through Marco Polo with the Thomas crew.

We made our own celebrations and everyday magic when fun got canceled. We camped in the backyard, made a giant Easter egg tree, and hosted a movie premier party.

We connected with friends in new ways: trading book stacks when the libraries closed, Zooming with high school friends across the country, and signing on for virtual game nights.

And in a revelation that might be one of the longest-lasting, we discovered the beauty of taking ordinary days off from work. Early on, John and I thought we’d help cover childcare until preschool resumed by taking alternating Fridays off (lol to that). These ordinary days of having little adventures together, one parent and two kids, were so sweet. Traditionally, my vacation days have been reserved for travel and big events, but I’m looking forward to scheduling more of these days going forward.

So: week one of preschool in a pandemic — complete. While I never really understood the memes that circulated this spring about suddenly appreciating teachers so much more (maybe it’s having grown up with two teachers, but I already knew exactly how much teachers should be appreciated!!), I am SO thankful that our kids are able to be back in school. (And of course, as grateful as ever for their wonderful teachers.) Sending all my best wishes and compassion to those who are facing harder falls, for whatever reason. xoxo

Everyday magic, Octonauts edition

17 August 2020

I wasn’t planning to write a post about this weekend’s festivities, but it was such fun to bring y’all along on Instagram Stories that I figured I’d record this little slice of everyday magic here, too! (If you’d like to catch up on Stories, you can do that in this highlight!)

For those just joining in, Friday was the premier of an Octonauts Netflix special – Octonauts and the Cave of Sac Actun. Since Netflix’s algorithm can surely tell that our family has a predilection toward Octonauts viewing, they let us know it was “coming soon” a few weeks ago. We mentioned it to June, and started talking about how we were going to watch it together as a family – a movie premier party!

Buoyed by her excitement, things quickly ballooned from there, ha! The timing lined up perfectly with the kids’ last weekend before the first day of preschool, and we figured it would be a fun way to close out this particular season of our lives (especially in a year when a lot of fun has been canceled).

So, I added two boxes of blue jello and a bag of Swedish fish to my grocery list and picked up a blue plastic tablecloth, green streamers, and shell plates at Target. (June was SO EXCITED about the blue jello that she pulled it out of our pantry to show our babysitters every day last week.)

I had already planned to take Friday off as a last summer hurrah, so June and I had plenty of time that afternoon to prep the jello, make some Octonauts place cards (after I explained to her what place cards are, she agreed that every fancy dinner party needs them), and set the table with our “kelp forest” and plenty of sea creatures.

John’s contribution? Fishza: takeout pizza cut into the shape of a fish :) We rounded it out with cut veggies and dip and “ocean water” (blueberry lemonade). After dinner by candlelight, baths, and jams, we dug into the jello back at the table (verdict: after a few hours in the fridge, the Swedish fish are more for looks than taste, ha!).

And then, of course, it was time to snuggle up and watch the main event!

Except, of course, I probably don’t need to tell you that the main event had already happened… though the movie was just fine, the real magic was in the excitement and lead-up to the big day. I’m telling you, June literally couldn’t have been more excited if we had been going to Disney World – the perfect reminder that sometimes it’s just really fun to indulge your children’s quirky interests (truly one of the best parts of parenting, I think!) and that “going big” can mean a few dollars of Target party supplies and – most importantly – a few hours of quality time with mama and daddy. It was kind of painfully adorable how the whole family setting aside time to celebrate one of her favorite activities was just thrilling to her little heart.

Friends, I hope this encourages you to indulge in some at-home, everyday magic this fall! And if you’ve ever had an experience like ours, I’d love to hear about it! :)