Cheap (or Free!) Ways to Embrace Trends

Be they fashion, decor, technology, or anything else, “trends” can be kind of negative. And, to some extent, I agree. When a few years fly by, we find ourselves laughing or rolling our eyes at what we once thought was “cool.” However, I’ve realized that it’s up to us to decide which trends are worth our time (and money) or not. As with all things in life, we have to be true to ourselves and always go with our own individual interests and tastes in the end. I wholly believe that.

But, it doesn’t mean that we have to completely ignore the world outside our own minds. Some trends help to light a spark inside you that can help freshen up your life, fill you with inspiration, or put a spring in your step. I’ve discovered some of my favorite colors and prints after seeing them used in a really fun, creative way on a blog or store display. As long as it’s not ethically immoral (say, fur or a demeaning message), I’ll always give something new a little consideration. Sometimes I immediately know it’s not for me. Other times, I fall in love.

Says the girl who once adamantly brushed aside the latest fads for Punky Brewster mismatched clothes, a Peter Tork haircut and tie-dyed tees, and a short-lived ’50s James Dean (like, guy clothes) wardrobe. Take what I say with a grain of salt. I’m clearly not a fashionista. (Even that term is outdated.)    

Anyway, even as a girl who considers herself to be pretty eco-friendly and minimalist, I feel greatly that while we purge, we still need to surround ourselves with joy…simply.

So, today I’m sharing a few simple ways to embrace trends without totally breaking the bank and completely overhauling your own uniqueness. (After all, that’s what’s most important in the end.) Some of these ideas are to spruce up your surroundings and others are wardrobe-related. All are just a little inspiration to try to mix up the old with some new-ish styles.

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Cheap Accessories Help Layer in the Fun – This chevron print infinity scarf is a great example of one of my favorite things about trends: they clearly failed history class because they keep repeating it. For only $15 (or on sale if you’re lucky), you can brighten up your bland wardrobe. This is honestly the only chevron print I’ve seen that isn’t overdone (it almost looks like diagonal stripes), so my attention is less on the print and more on the vintage-inspired colors. Oh, and a great pair of sunglasses (I grab mine at TJ Maxx for the cheapest options) helps bring it all together.

Put Some Spring in Your Step with a New Shoe – It may seem subtle, but switching out your usual flip flops for a cute sandal with fringe detail can bring you happily into the warmer seasons. The rest of your outfit may be a slouchy old t-shirt and capris or skinny jeans (yes, I’ve jumped on that bandwagon, too; don’t tell my 15-year-old self), but an inexpensive (this one’s about $20) shoe can help wake it up.

Try a New Style of Pant with Subtle Details – Trying a new style can be downright frightening. (Almost as scary as bathing suit shopping. Eep.) So, if you’re a little shy, try to keep to a solid color. If you’re a touch more daring, try for a very subtle pattern, like this gorgeous colored (they say it’s red but it sways towards my favorite “new” color, coral) with dots. The fact that these pixie ankle pants remind me of Laura on the Dick Van Dyke Show makes me want to run, not walk, to my closest Old Navy. No, seriously. Oh, and I tend not to pay $35 for pants, so I’d suggest waiting for a sale (they’re currently on sale for $30…still iffy, but better).       

Pillows, Pillows, Pillows – One of my favorite ways to include some new trends around the house is with the use of throw pillows. I usually buy mine at TJ Maxx (yes, again), but Target and World Market are great alternatives for inexpensive pillows. I usually pay between $10 – $15, but even upwards of $20 is worth it for a pillow if you fall in love with it. This World Market pillow uses the southwestern/tribal motif while the Target pillows follows more of a geometric, ’80s color vibe. (Okay, who am I kidding? The ’80s are back. Cue clapping and cheering from my husband.)

Do It Yourself – This is one of my favorite ways to get a trend you love without breaking the bank. While I haven’t done any projects lately, I always keep an eye out for super inexpensive (but good quality) pieces to transform. I actually have a couple of super old, super inexpensive (like $20 for both) wooden chairs that need to be stripped, and I’m giving serious consideration into doing the paint-dipped look like Remodelista shows here. 

#1 – Buy Vintage – What’s old is new again! Hit up your local thrift shops and antique stores to see what once-scary item might serve a new purpose.

#2 – Free Printables – Depending in your style, there are free printables available from a ton of blogs and sites. Just Google your taste or check by your favorite blog and see what comes up. I’m loving this calendar from Vintage Revivals that uses the geometric trend wonderfully but in a fun, easy (and free!) way:

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So, what are your favorite trends lately? Do you skew “classic”, “trendy”, or somewhere else? (I’m definitely all over the place, myself!)

(There are actually no affiliate links in today’s post, despite the links. Just wanted to share some thoughts and inspiration. No kick-backs. :-))

Warming Up to Wallpaper

When I was a kid, the idea of wallpaper got us downright irritable. We lived in a gloriously large (by our standards) house that my mother slowly but surely made into a home. I like to romantically liken it to Mary Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” I’m positive it wasn’t actually like that, but sometimes it’s nice to live in our imaginations.

Regardless, I’m not sure if my mother was responsible for it or a previous owner, but our dining room was wallpapered. It had either been applied incorrectly or with an old-fashioned paste that made it damn near impossible to peel off with any efficiency. Instead, whenever we were on the phone (corded, kids), we would sit mindlessly scraping with an old paring knife, one chip of paper at a time. If nothing else, it taught me that, come hell or high water, you must do things the right way. Even if it took years of tedium.

So, when I first started seeing wallpaper come back ‘in’, I raised an eyebrow. There’s so much to hate about it.

But, after seeing it more…and more…and in incredibly modern, bold prints or subtle, classic designs…I warmed up. The fact that all the blog posts I read tout how simple and easy it is to apply (and just as easy to take down) made it less and less scary.

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Okay. So, I won’t be applying the stuff in our current house anytime fast (unless we suddenly decide not to move in the next year), but it gives me thoughts about fixing up places we may consider in the future. But, I have stipulations.

I’m not into papering an entire large room. Even with the most modern of prints, it seems to have an overpowering, almost Victorian style to it. Too busy, I guess. That said, I’m also not an “accent wall” girl; at least, not in a large living area. I also wouldn’t pick any of the styles they carry at, say, Lowe’s. They seem like all the other outdated, flowery options. 

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So, what WOULD I do with modern-day wallpaper? I’m kind of into the idea of papering a closet (especially a bedroom one, emanating inspiration and a mood change every time the door is opened), small bathroom (large prints can actually do wonders in a small space), or maaaaaybe as an accent wall in an office or nursery.

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The other cool trend in wallpaper is the forms that it can take. Traditional adhesive-backed or moveable vinyl or even a stencil used to look like a large pattern, you can customize it to your preferences. Whatever mood you hope to evoke, you’ve got it. Whimsical? Got it. Feminine? Of course. Moody? Sure thing.

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You can shop around online and, luckily, purchase swatches before committing. There are several discount stores, although I could drool over Spoonflower (far from discount) for hours. The coolest part about this site? You can literally custom-make your own. But, really? How can you not want to just pick one of the genius designs they already offer? (This isn’t a sponsored post, BTW. I just like the site.) 

What do you guys think? Is wallpaper a trend you’d rather see go away? Or do you have some that you love in your house? Are you on the fence about it because of the “PITA to put up” factor?

The Real Santa

Isn’t it strange how belief and acceptance can come in phases? It can be applied to much in life, but for today, I’m talking Santa.

My belief in the big guy only lasted until about second grade. I wasn’t out to “find out” about him. I didn’t really question a single bit of it. I was riding merrily along in full belief mode, ignorant of the facts.

But, then I found myself in a storm of constant sickness. One evening, I was resting poorly in my mother’s bed (to avoid getting any siblings sick), flailing around uncomfortably, when I absentmindedly fell out of bed. When what to my eyes did appear but…Teddy Ruxpin.

I furrowed my brow. Huh. Well. Maybe Mom bought him for me instead of Santa since she knew how badly I wanted him. Yeah. That.

So, on Christmas morning, when I opened the gift and noticed that the tag did, indeed, say that the gift was from the jolly man in the red suit, well…I was depressed. The fact that good ol’ Teddy only lasted a week before he started speaking a low, eerie language all his own that even my grandfather couldn’t fix added insult to injury.

Fast forward 25+ years. I’ve been excitedly attending the Candlelight Evening at a local living history museum on and off since I was a teen. At this event, it is always the coldest time you can imagine having on planet Earth, and it is always incredible. There are white bag luminaries and lanterns lit throughout the grounds, where you can visit “local shopkeepers and vendors” like the printer, doctor, pharmacist, tavern, church and more. There’s a working farm with animals that you can greet, and wassail cauldrons over bonfires strewn throughout the space. Delicious comfort food is served (can you say “gingerbread”?) and you can buy handmade goodies (or more touristy stuff) at several shops, all while hearing the sound of carolers and performers wafting with the sound of horse-drawn carriages.

I mean, seriously. What’s more traditionally Christmasy than that? We hear so many songs about jingle bells and horses, sharing cheer and the like, but how often can you see it in person? It’s unimaginable.

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The best part of all, though, is St. Nicholas. My God, guys. It’s the REAL Santa. Seriously. He talks in the schoolhouse about the tradition of St. Nick, as well as telling a story about what preparations were made for Christmas in the 1800s (“saving the best apples in the cellar from the autumn harvest”), before wandering around outside for people to interact with him. When my nephew was younger and in that is-he-or-isn’t-he-real phase, he saw Santa, dropped his jaw, and went up to him to say, “It’s such a pleasure to meet you, sir!!” I mean, good!

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So, of course, after Dave experienced this whole thing for the first time (we even dragged some friends along over the years), we decided that it would be a tradition, barring bad weather, for our family. I honestly don’t recall whether we brought Hadley when he was a baby-baby (I almost think so…?), but last year was his first memorable experience (check it out here and here). It was cold and snowy – terrifyingly so on the ride home – but wonderful. He met Santa, who knew our names (!) and the rest is history. And of course we’ll be visiting this year, although we have a far antsier little toddler on our hands who may or may not allow me to sit and enjoy my gingerbread (an old fashioned peppermint stick bribe may be in order), but as long as we can see THE Santa, we’ll be happy.

But I WILL have my gingerbread. Oh, yes. Make no doubts about that.

I’ve always tried to keep the Santa concept going with my young students, although it used to be awkward and kind of difficult for me. Now that he’s part of our vocabulary, though, I find myself having total dialogues with Dave (or even myself) about what Santa’s life must be like, and how he gauges between a naughty deed and being a truly naughty child, and so forth. As if I’m part of a play that turns incredibly “method”, I have actually started to believe again.

I mean, of course I realize how the whole thing works. Clearly. But, thanks to this little boy (and the help of a few hundred elementary students and one incredibly convincing old-fashioned Santa), the spirit of St. Nicholas is still very much alive and well in my heart.

And, really, isn’t that the idea of Christmas?

So, be honest, guys. Do you believe? Has anyone else had a “rebirth” regarding the issue? Or go ahead and tell us how you found out “the truth”?  

Free (Yes, Free) Holiday Gift Ideas

I’ve requested to Dave that we not only do a pretty sparse budget for each other (or, at least, it’s sparse to me!) this holiday season, but also to give each other one gift that costs nothing.

So, this could mean a lot of things. It could mean that you use something you’ve already got lying around that you haven’t gotten around to giving the person. It could mean making something by hand (whether you’ve got the materials lying around or had to buy them, it’s totally up to your standards of “strict” are). It could mean repurposing something around your house to give. Or, it could just be a huge act of kindness or unforgettable experience. The list goes on, really, but here are a few ideas…

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Artsy Fartsy Stuff

Wall Collage 

This is best if you live with the individual so that you can surprise them with it, already-done. I’ve had a stack of Instagram prints (had a coupon, I almost think they were free or darn near close to it), but don’t we all have SOME picture prints floating around that we don’t know what to do with? Well, I’ve fallen for the personal yet organized look of a wall collage of same-sized prints. Mine just happen to be 4″ x 4″ but even rectangular shots (or pictures cut down to squares) can look awesome grouped sweetly on the wall. You can use that sticky tack stuff or tape (or spend a little money and get Command strips; I won’t tell). 

Handmade Wall Art
Similar to the wall collage, look around and see if you have any art supplies that would help create some wall art. Maybe you have an old canvas (or an ugly one you can paint over). Or maybe you have an old embroidery ring that’s begging for one of those quirky embroidered quotes (or an inside joke!) that you can hang. If you’re stumped, look for simple art ideas on Etsy or Pinterest. You can keep it simple, or if you’re on the artsier side, paint a family portrait or pet portrait for your receiver.

Repurpose an Old T-Shirt
You know that ratty old t-shirt that just won’t go away? Or the perfect vintage shirt with an awesome logo that they can’t wear anymore because they splattered paint on the bottom? Stretch it in a frame or create a quilt, pillow or bag! You’ll not only give it new life, but the giftee will love that they don’t have to say goodbye to it forever.

Knit a Scarf  
Again, this totally depends on your ability level and whether or not you have the materials around the house, but a scarf seems far easier than mittens or a hat, right? Think of the person’s favorite color (or if you know what color their favorite winter coat is, be sure it won’t clash) and get a move on!

Reuse, Reuse, Reuse

Look around and see what doesn’t seem to have a life anymore. It’s perfectly fine to re-gift something, especially if you personalize it a bit first. Like, you have way too many mugs in your life, so that set of white plain ones sit totally unused? Use a Sharpie (or paint pen, if you have one) to draw a design or cute quote, then cure it (may not be dishwasher safe). Or go ahead and spend a buck at the Dollar Store if you want to get new ones; I won’t tell. 😉


Favorite Cookies
You’re probably making a buttload of cookies for the holidays, anyway, right? Grab a large, clean mason jar and fill ‘er up. If you’ve got the time, feel free to add a label with a cute holiday saying (check Pinterest, there are a million), or just tie some burlap or a festive ribbon on and call it a day.

Homemade Granola 
You may already have the makings of this in your cabinet as we speak, so why not make a super big batch to dole out to all your friends and neighbors? No extra shopping needed.

Mmm. Fudge. This pretty much goes hand-in-hand with the cookies, but I just wanted to make everyone aware: fudge. 

Favorite Meal
Make the recipient their absolute favorite meal, just be sure that it’s in your grocery budget (hence, y’know, practically free ;-)). Or, make a “gift certificate” to make the individual their favorite meal after the holidays. 

Chocolate-Dipped Strawberries
Okay, this may not be free, but all it really takes is the purchase of some strawberries (since we all have chocolate in our pantry, right? RIGHT??). And, I tell ya, they’re a show-stopper.

Keep It Simple

Create a “Thankful Jar”
This is a great gift for birthdays, Valentine’s Day, Father’s/Mother’s Day, and more, but I love the idea of gathering together the warm fuzzy feelings you have for a friend or family member and letting them know. I’ve done this for Dave (on Valentine’s Day), filling a mason jar with individual ideas of why he’s awesome and why we’re lucky to have him. You can fill it with 365 “favorite” things about the person for them to pick each day, or 52 (one for each week), or whatever! I just printed them off using Word and cut them out; easy peasy. 

Scavenger Hunt
This could be as simple as an indoor one at your house or as complicated as sending your friend or loved one around an entire city (think: your favorite haunts). The trick is to not make it too lengthy (especially if it involves schlepping all over town in holiday traffic) and to be as witty as your brain can possibly be. Oh, and don’t make the clues too hard or else you’ll get a tearful phone call. Maybe. It’s possible.

Homemade Coupons
This is a classic from our “we don’t earn an income, what can we give to Mom?” days, but you can modernize it for your current needs. Think of what you’re good at and see if you can give a “gift certificate” or book of coupons to help out. If you’re a budding photographer, offer free sessions. If you love organizing, offer up a day of helping to declutter one room. If you’re a cook, offer a free meal of their choosing (just wanted to see if you’re paying attention; this is a repeat from above, mwahaha).

Or, if it’s for someone you’re a bit closer to, make a booklet of kindnesses. If they have a little one at home, make one coupon of a homemade meal, another for an afternoon of babysitting, and still another a coupon for a girls’ (or boys’) night out. This is also your way to spend zero dollars at the holidays but offer a nice gift for later in the year, like taking a friend out to their favorite restaurant or your sweetie out to a movie (and popcorn, of course).

Movie Night at Home
Speaking of movies, this idea would honestly make my husband’s day. Gather together some popcorn (we use the loose organic kernels, so I’d put them in a simple brown paper bag with cute writing on it), a DVD or two that you already own (ours would probably involve “Citizen Kane,” a William Powell flick, or a fun ’80s rom-com), and anything else you like to enjoy at movies. If you drink soda, put a bottle or two in; if you snack on candy (and have some around the house), throw some in. You can bag this all up in a holiday gift bag or basket or popcorn bucket or, heck, whatever!  

Walk Down Memory Lane (Literally)
You can give a card saying that you’ll be (politely) kidnapping them for a day or half a day at the person’s convenience. Take them to some of the spots that have meant the most to you both over the years. For example, if I was going to kidnap my sister, we’d drive by our first home, walk the town, check out the schools, maybe “play” at the playground (although they’ve changed a ton over the years), and grab the makings for lunch at The Village Market (or junk food at the convenient store). For Dave, we’d probably walk around the town he used to live in, waste time at Barnes and Noble (and maybe Target), then I’d take us to lunch at one of the local places we used to eat a lot — like Raspberries Cafe. Or, feel free to do a nature walk or hike, if your giftee is into the outdoors.

The point of going these places is to trigger positive memories and meaningful conversation. So, be ready to chat and keep things upbeat. Our hometown is a bittersweet place, but by keeping the memories realistically light, it could help to reconnect with a shared, fond past.  

What do you guys think? Have any great (free) gift ideas to add? Are any of these doable for you?

The Thankful Post

Happy Thanksgiving Eve, everybody! Things have finally died down here, with the Book Fair complete for another year and a few days off to enjoy the holiday. I get to hang out with the little guy today while Dave works one more day, then tomorrow it’s time to watch the parade (one of my favorite parts of the day! Especially the Broadway performances), eat a big breakfast, then head off to eat with our families for the “big meal” and dessert.

We’ve talked to Monkey about what this special holiday means, and it’s been a great opportunity to open his mind to the idea that we’ve super lucky (and some people aren’t). It looked like I nearly blew his mind when I explained to him that we’re so very lucky to have a house and food, and that some people, even little two-year-old boys, DON’T. *kerpow*

I thought it’d be fun to share a couple of simple, last-minute ideas for the holiday to help friends and family get hands-on sharing their thankfulness this Thanksgiving. This year, we’ll just be having a family talk or two about the things that we’re lucky and happy about, but I can’t wait to try some of these out in the future!

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Some of these are simple enough to throw together in less than fifteen minutes, and will help you and your guests remember – amid the craziness of getting a meal together and trying to pull everything together – that the day is about more than perfecting your recipes and using your best china. And feel free to use these as jumping off points; do whatchya can!

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Thankful Tree

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Brown Paper Thankfulness

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Gratitude Jar (and Chains)
(With free printable! Couldn’t be easier, really.)

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Thankful Chalkboard Wall
(Could also be brown paper on the wall, easy peasy!
And I’d suggest using an old chalkboard if you have one, but that depends on if you’re cooking a turkey and have the time to make one from scratch. ;-))

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Thanksgiving Light
(You could also do this on a white paper bag half-filled with sand. Just insert a candle and light. Luminaries always make me cry, but that’s another story!)

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Frame of Blessings

Or, after discussing your blessings, have a “did you know” session about the history of Thanksgiving. Watch this brief video for a bit of the background. (They didn’t have pumpkin pie or sweetened cranberries due to the lack of sugar in the “new land.”) It’s also a good reminder of the original natives who were trusting enough to help the Puritans settle and successfully plant in their new, treacherous conditions. Anyhoo, we’re weird; we watch a different, lengthier documentary every year (sometimes twice) about Thanksgiving (and Halloween and Christmas, for that matter.) You could turn it into a Trivial Pursuit type game, if your guests are into it!

However you celebrate, whether you’re giving thanks openly (saying “grace” always made me terribly nervous as a kid!) or just using the holiday as an excuse to enjoy a great meal with your favorite people, my family and I wish you the happiest of days!

Falling for Fall

Hey, folks who read stuff online! Today’s frickin’ September 1st. SEPTEMBER, dudes and dudettes. So, while I’m by NO means looking forward to heading back to school (not whining but stating a fact: I am fraught with all sorts of anxiety at the thought of returning; I’ll man-up soon after getting back into the swing of things), the paradox is kinda weird. That’s because I super heart fall.

As long as I can remember, I’ve most loved the sweet but somber smell of decaying leaves, the necessity to throw a denim jacket on while enjoying a walk on the first crisp night, and cranking up the oven to help Mom whip up perfect apple pies or Grandma’s famous soft molasses cookies. It’s a thing of beauty, my friends.

So, of course I’m excited to continue my love affair with autumn, and to spread the love with my family. (Shh. Don’t tell Dave. He thinks autumn and I are “just good friends”, so let’s keep it that way. Although, it’s his fave, too, which is why we got married in October. Huh.)

As Hadman grows, EVERYTHING has become more of a fun, at times unpredictable adventure. Even the experiences he had last year for the first time (the year before, he was a brand new infant) that we all enjoyed giving him will be like new this year.

Here was his first autumn ever…

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Here were a couple of experiences last year…

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What’s better than Vermont and an apple orchard in the fall? I mean, really. Nothing that I can think of.

And, thanks to Pinterest, here are a few of the goals of mine this year. I like to use these as guidelines and reminders of the things we love about the seasons, hopefully reducing the guilt factor when I don’t check off every last one. Although, if I did, it wouldn’t suck.

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Most of these are self explanatory, but a couple need a bit of elaboration. Or maybe you don’t care. But, just in case, here goes:

– I very rarely do lattes or purchased flavored stuff, so when I say pumpkin latte, I mean just one will do the trick. Just one pumpkin spice-flavored cup of caffeine, thanks.
– Pumpkin muffins. Pumpkin pancakes. Pumpkin cookies. Whatev. I’m not picky.
– Fly Creek Cider Mill near Cooperstown is a family tradition for me as long as I can remember. It’s an awesome leaf-peeping trip in itself, but grabbing some overpriced cider and feeding their resident ducks complete the season. Totally.
– Vermont started as our honeymoon spot, but has turned into a fall family road trip. Fun!!
– Okay, a locavore date entails saving up, getting a sitter, and going to one of the few pricy-but-worth-it restaurants that serve locally-sourced gourmet food. We don’t get many dates, so these are super special ones. Plus, fall flavors are incredible, am I right? You know I’m right. Pumpkin risotto? Get out.

Oh, and because I believe strongly in surrounding oneself with the cozy reminders of what makes us happiest, I’m a believer in seasonal decor. If you’re into country kitsch, do it up. Antiques? Go for it. Since I’m the antiques-with-a-modern-twist girl, I’m working on finding a happy medium. Check out a couple of ideas (that still stand true) from last year:

The Fall Inspirations I Totally Heart
What I Attempted Last Year
A Fall Tableau (With Really Crappy Pictures)

What about you guys? What’s your favorite season? Do you go all out? Or do you live it up every day of the year?

Massachusetts Vacation 2014 – Concord, Pt. 1

Surprise! We snuck away for our family vacation last week! I didn’t post about it in advance because we’re those super-private, protective people who don’t like to announce when our home is free for the pickin’. Call us crazy (it’s okay, we’re used to it), but we’re mostly concerned about the kitties. 

Anyhoo, I figured I’d write a few posts on the trip itself (was going to do a quick rundown today, but I’m chatty), then share a post or two about how we kept a toddler happy along the way, how we alleviated some of the “rush here, rush there”ness of a road trip, a few of the sights we enjoyed most, and anything else that pops into my head along the way. Sound good?

Let’s just say from the start, this trip wasn’t a relaxing retreat. It was meant to be a fun family adventure, which usually recharges the adults’ minds, gives the little guy some new, fun experiences, and, though enjoyable, makes us all feel happy and lucky to return home safe and exhausted at the end of it. Check, check, and check! 

We left on Thursday to drive the 4+ hours to Concord, Mass. I picked Concord because I love its history and because the monkey is still way too unpredictable and non-listeny (totally a word… “disobedient” sounds so evil, and it’s not really accuratre) for a big joint like Boston or Philly. We also hoped to fit in some friend-visiting in western Mass, which we did; I, however, still feel guilty over the people that we missed. I’ve gotta get over it, and I know that a toddler is a natural time usurper, but I still feel badly.

So, anyhoo, we left just shy of 8am (later than I’d hoped) on Thursday morning, packed to the gills with clothes, toys, food, a pack ‘n play…pretty much everything in our house sans the cats. I’ve gotta say we lucked out with our monkey on the trip; for the most part, he was an absolute trooper while traveling. Sure, he got cranky once in awhile, but I was generally pleasantly surprised and proud of what a great boy he was for the drive.

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The trip out was long, but not bad. Hadman hadn’t slept well the night before and ended up in bed with us (see above picture; hugely rare these days), so we were all pretty tired; he fell asleep and did a morning nap vs. his usual afternoon nap. It was PERFECT for the drive to-and-from Mass. We took a couple of stops along the way, and we snacked on healthy stuff I’d packed for the road.

When we reached Concord, it was too early to check in, so we took a quick potty break at the visitors’ center (loudest. hand dryers. ever.) then parked on a Walden Street. We scoped out the storefronts for a game plan and decided to grab a meal at the Main Streets Market and Cafe. Again, after a week of terrible two behavior, I was shocked at how well-behaved Hadley was for lunch (for the most part). Oh, and the joint had awesome food. Top-notch, really.

We then hit up the Toy Shop of Concord, which was beyond awesome. It’s an independently-run joint and was super kid-friendly (one would hope), so it gave Hadley a chance to get out of his stroller and engage with other kids and (mostly) toys, toys, and more toys. The funny thing was, I love buying things we’ll use every day while on vacation to remind us of the fun trip we had, so I was fully planning on buying him whatever the heck he wanted…and he picked nothing. He enjoyed certain toys, but then moved on to the next thing, so it was impossible to get him to select something on his own. Eh. We ended up with a Green Toys submarine for some fun in the hotel bathtub that night.

After Dave threw more money in the meter, we hit up my favorite antique shop ever, Thoreauly Antiques. I mean, perfect, right?! The place isn’t very big, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in substance. Their selection is perfectly in-tune to a modern antique-collector. Here are just a few of the things I was eying:

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I seriously almost got one of the lavender sachets (either 3 or 6 for the “3 humans, 3 adults” or “6 altogether”). And the NY Central drove through my hometown, so, yeah.

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Sorry for the fuzzy picture; I had a man with a stroller hot on my heels. 😉 But the vignettes around every corner were just incredible. (That’s a plate of old keys, BTW.)

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Pages of French from the 1800’s. So much could be done with those. Oohh, la la. 

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Old hotel numbers on brass key chains. I started to look for our home number, but *someone* was getting fidgety. Not saying whom…who?…but it wasn’t Dave and it wasn’t me.

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More keys!

Knowing full well how almost-to-capacity our car was already, I didn’t grab a darn thing. We did head a few doors down and purchase a bit of candy (as a “thanks so much” gift for our neighbor and my mom, who watched the house and checked on the cats while we were gone…and as a gift to ourselves for eating such healthy snacks in the car) at Priscilla Candy Shop. In all honesty, the customer service left something to be desired, but the candy was worth it.

Then, we took one final stop at the GORGEOUS Concord Bookshop. My word. I’ve never seen a library or book store in my LIFE that was more impeccable than this one. I assume the shelves were mahogany, and everything built custom for the space. The book selection was insane (the first thing that hits you as you enter is the biography section…they must’ve seen me coming a mile away), and it was quieter than any library you could ever imagine (although it had a good stream of people swimming throughout). We purchased a few books then hit the road.

By the time we checked in and unloaded anything we’d need into our room at the hotel, it was after 5pm. Hadley was still bouncing with energy and I had no idea what to do for dinner. We found a couple of menus for a nearby Italian restaurant, so decided to order in for the night. (Very important tip I’ll dive into further in a future post: Know thyself. If your little one is probably not willing to sit still, going out to dinner — even if you had your hopes set on it — is not a “must” while on vacation.)

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Besides, we could sit back in our comfy clothes, allow him to run around, and watch precious C-A-B-L-E (HGTV FTW!). Plus, when I picked the food up I saw how dressy most of the people eating and working at the restaurant were, so it wouldn’t have suited us much, anyway. One large pizza, a pile of pasta, and two flan-ish desserts later, we were satiated (half the pizza went to waste; Hadley’s appetite was unusually chill). Two bathtimes later (Had’s and mine), Hadley was in the hotel-appointed crib…playing a highly amusing game (to him) called “Hi, Mama! Hi, Dada!” Ahem. Into the bed he came. Within moments, he and Dave were completely zonked. I finished my episode of House Hunters, read some more of my latest favorite book (Marmee & Louisa, highly appropriate to the trip), and went to sleep.

Have I mentioned how much I love the squishiness of sleeping in a hotel bed? Because I do. And, apparently, so does Hadley.

That’s it for today! I’ll stop by this week with the last activity at Concord, then meeting up with our friends back to the west. Yay!

I Blame Louisa, Laura, and Lucy

Lately, I’ve been noticing that a lot of bloggers I casually enjoy seem to have a small running theme. A similarity. A coincidence, perhaps, but a common thread, regardless.

Sure, some blogs share a pioneering spirit, raising chickens and baking their own bread and growing what they eat. Others like getting their hands dirty and DIYing their hearts out. Lots share a life-simplifying philosophy. Many chat about living an earth-friendly life. Most ultimately focus on giving their all to their families.

Just drop the name “Anne” (with an “e”) on Facebook and the chatter starts. The same can be said for Laura and, to a lesser extent, Jo.

I blame the ladies. Those independent lady authors who came before us and created such true-to-life characters (characters who often reflected their own independent streaks) that still resonate with readers and fans a hundred plus years later.

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Like many who grew up in the late ’70s and ’80s, I watched quite a bit of “Little House on the Prairie” and then, after watching my sister read the crap out of the series, swiped them from her book shelf when I was old enough to read a chapter book. During a time that could be construed as a bit terrifying (high child mortality rate, taking huge risks traveling to a new, dangerous territory to raise one’s family, relying on one’s own hands to provide food and shelter), Laura and her family faced challenges but grew together with warmth and even some fun. “Half-Pint” was allowed to be her own individualistic, at-times outspoken self.

I still think of her when I smell lemon verbena or see it at Bath & Body Works.

Laura was my gateway girl. Sweet and readable, I longed to eat biscuits with jam, grow my own garden, pull taffy, wear calico dresses with braids, and pretty much build a time machine to go join Laura in any one of her family’s cabins. It was definitely one of the things that sparked my history obsession.

Next, thanks to the impeccably-produced “Avonlea” TV series, which my mother and I watched religiously each week, I became interested in the books of Lucy Maud Montgomery. I took one or two of her original Chronicles of Avonlea books from the library, but got absolutely hooked when I met Anne.

I loved Lucy’s Sarah Stanley, but Anne was timeless. Between Megan Follows’ performance in the miniseries and finally reading a handful of the Anne books (namely, Anne of Green Gables) when I was old enough to comprehend the flowery language (very Victorian), I lurved her. Anne (with an “e”) Shirley was handed a pretty unlucky hand. Orphaned. Passed from one unfriendly family to the next. She finally landed in Prince Edward Island with strict, sensible Marilla Cuthbert and her silent, sweet brother, Matthew.

Her spunk, spirit, independence, and intelligence always inspired me. Aside from her disdain for her red hair, she never seemed to feel sorry for her lot in life. It helped me to recognize that, throughout history, lives have been hard. Damn hard. Far harder than mine, even growing up without my father. It taught me to suck it up and find the joys in life.

And, then, there was my all-time favorite author and character.

I watched the movie first — the good one, the 1994 one. (I love Katharine Hepburn, but hers is only second place of the five — yes, FIVE — versions.) It became a family classic. My sister and I will still throw in the DVD on those “off” days we need the comfort of the story and the friends within. Then, in about 8th grade, I got my very own copy of Little Women for Christmas (which, considering the first chapter’s theme, was perfect). Since then, I’ve read it piecemeal every year, or a different LMA work or biography. I have a new copy, but kept the old one. Of course. My dream is to own a first edition (two volumes).

Jo, the second oldest of four March girls, is the epitome of a feisty chick. She feels incredible highs when she’s able to read, write, and act with her sisters and friend-next-door Laurie (um, a guy), and incredible lows when she feels a great urge to be able to do greater things during the Civil War and in her own life, a tad bitter that she wasn’t born a boy with the rights they were afforded. She’d rather run, use slang, and speak her mind than be quiet or prim and proper. She’s a modern woman if ever there was one. I like to think she (in the form of Louisa May Alcott, her alter-ego) would have very much enjoyed and embraced the independence that women have gained, and it makes me appreciate the education and choices I’ve been afforded. Even if I have chosen to get married and have kids. *wink, wink*

Little Women and LMA is one of the reasons that we like to travel to Concord from time to time. I’ve been through her house once (and, honestly, felt like I was meeting a celebrity the whole time) and have learned about transcendentalism, her famous family friends and acquaintances, and every year seem to find out more deeply interesting facts about her family and past. The fact that it’s the site of the shot heard ’round the world…well, for a history freak like me, that’s the icing on the cake. Nom nom.

I think it’s only natural that so many of the independent female writers of today who may see any of these writers or their timeless girls as idols have taken to the interwebs to write their own hearts. The women of yore were romantic but realistic. True to themselves and independent. Hard workers to support their families. Strong as hell in the face of adversity. They helped show us a world outside our tiny little girl lives, inspired us to dream, and taught us to try what we want and work hard at it.

Write away, girls. Write away.

Flashing What We Know

I recently mentioned falling in love with a few homemade birthday presents for our monkey. Thank you, dear friend Pinterest. I call her “Pinny” and she looks remarkably like Kaley Cuoco (whatever her married last name is, I can’t be bothered to Google) in my head. Pinny’s my new enabling BFF.

Anyhoo, one of the super easy projects I just HAD to stay up past midnight working on was the toddler flashcards. See, the kid’s a toddler genius (but what mom doesn’t think that, really?) who is starting to pick words out (for real), LOVES reading, and knows tons of letters, numbers, and animal sounds. Kid’s got it goin’ on, thanks to his Grandma’s diligent work with him daily. So, I don’t want all her hard work to go down the toilet while he’s lazing about spending intellectually stimulating summer days with me.

So, I spent some time on PicMonkey making and saving a few sets of flashcards. Here are a few wicked easy samples (not the whole sets, that’d be cray-cray):


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(Boring as all get-out with the gray, but didn’t want to detract.
Side note: I did a rhombus AND separate diamond. We’ll throw the spaghetti on the wall and see which one sticks. Child-led learning. ;-))

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Matching Game!
(Printing an extra set of the above shapes, he has to match them to the “real life” objects; moon goes with “crescent”, by the way. I’m tricky. I would accept star there, too, though.)

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Now, to print, *evenly* cut, and laminate them! Actually…first, to head to my mom’s basement to track down my tiny old laminator. *wink, wink*

By the way, I’m still thinking of making up a few cards for matching with colors as well as a set of friends ‘n family ones with pictures and names (especially to learn the folks who love us who happen to live far away, or whom we just don’t get to see often).

I am wondering, though — the game ones I’m obviously going to keep loose for matching purposes, but the others I’m thinking of putting on a metal ring. Whatchya think? Loose or ready-for-car-use?

More Homemade Birthday Ideas

Okay. It’s June, folks. In our neck of the woods, that means a couple of things.

1) Inventory in the library. (Also see — “I don’t care, I’m wearing flip flops and yucky clothes everyday. Try and test me.”)

2) School’s going to be done…sooner rather than later. Side note: Where the HECK did this year go?!

3) Hadley’s birthday will be upon us like *snap* THAT. Seriously, the more work I have to get done at school, the faster the time goes. That’s a written law in the time-space continuum.

So, of course I’ve been hunting down some stuff for the big day. Well. Kind of.

More like…gifts. On Pinterest.

Wait, what? Gifts on Pinterest?? What the…how?

See, I know the Hadman gets a lot of…stuff…for his big day. I’m quite sure Dave and I will have a mini shopping spree for a couple of outfits and a book or two, and I think we’ve already sneaked a couple of toys on a trip to Toys ‘R Us. We’re normal, after all. *bugs out eyes, sticks out tongue*

But, after I realized I wanted to get him some felt play food (that plastic stuff’s okay, but this is a tad cooler…and a touch more earth friendly), and maybe some letters and/or numbers and/or shapes while we were at it…well, of course my attention turned to Pinterest and that old stand-by search term: “DIY.” Here’s the “Kid Fun” board I’ve been pinning to.

A few days later, I found myself in possession of a stack of cheap, CHEAP felt (made from recycled bottles, nonetheless!) with dreams of these inspiration images dancing in my head:

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Sorry, no source available!
(Please let me know if this was your idea, I’d like to give credit!)

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(So simple, so genius!)
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(My fave!)
Awesome ideas, right?? I’m holding off on making a pretend kitchen until he shows more interest (and we have a bigger space for it).

The next inspiration came from the FABULOUS job my mother-in-law has been doing with teaching Hadley his letters and numbers. She uses flashcards as well as alphabet books, so I figured it’d be useful to have some around the house this summer. Enter Pinterest, once again.

It’s funny. PicMonkey is my favorite blogging tool for images lately. You’d think I would’ve connected the dots in my mind to say, “Doy! You should use that to make some flashcards for the Hadman!” Der dee der! Silly me. But, this site right here figured it out for me. Thanks, Mommy’s Craft Obsession!

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The inspiration from this site also lead me to think about making “friends and family” flash cards. Y’know, with family members’ faces and names so he can learn about all the people who love him…and to realize that the only “Bill” in his life isn’t the weather man. (Sorry, Uncle Bill!) In his defense, “Mr. Bill” is a family friend.

The other cool thing here is that I purchased a small laminator back in the day (in my elementary ed. days) that will help these suckers last for any possible future kids that come down the line. Look at me working smarter, not harder!

The last handmade thing I’m thinking about would probably be a “sometime this summer” rather than “for your birthday” idea.

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Couldn’t you just DIE?! I LOVE how she made these — right down to the color and use of lima beans (instead of sand, which we all KNOW will end up EVERYWHERE)! I could totally see these living on our back porch. Plus, since they’re made with a couple of Rubbermaid containers, you can easily put a top on them to keep them safe from the elements. *swoon*

Now, let’s see if I can handle that project.

And the invitations. Yeah, I probably should get on those, huh?

(If you’d like to know what we’re planning for the monkey, check out my post announcing our second birthday theme.)