...because home doesn't happen overnight.
02.02.16 / A Great Gift Idea

blue apron jan 4

Want to know what I gifted nearly all the adults in our lives over the holidays? Yep, Blue Apron. If you’re a long-time reader, you’ve heard me tout the food delivery service in the past. (Keep reading further though because I’m not simply regurgitating all the things I’ve mentioned before.) If you’re new here, let me fill you in briefly.

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Blue Apron delivers fresh ingredients in a refrigerated box right to your doorstep. The ingredients arrive in the exact proportions along with a recipe card and detailed instructions which include photographs of steps to give even novices in the kitchen the confidence to churn out a delicious meal. Typically, the cost is less expensive than dining out or ordering takeout. Simply sign up online for weekly orders. You can skip or cancel deliveries at any time! An online “cookbook” is free to anyone so you can replicate meals at home with ingredients from your local grocery if desired. (We recently tried the cajun fried catfish with collard greens and mashed sweet potatoes. It was a hit!)

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I’ve been subscribing to Blue Apron going on two years now ever since our friends in Nashville recommended it. I especially love to use the service during weeks that Steve is out of town (this week!) and also while on vacation. In fact, I had a delivery sent to our vacation rental in Asheville this past fall. I was a little worried because our location was nearly off the grid and tricky to find – especially after dark. After we arrived at the cabin, I called Blue Apron to relay better directions and they were super helpful about forwarding the information on to UPS. Even with the new directions, our food arrived after 9:00 p.m. the day of delivery so my account was automatically credited for the full amount. Nothing was wrong with the food (it was still fresh and we ate it) but the company was great about upholding its promises of timely delivery and quality ingredients. And I talked to a real live person on the phone who was super nice, easy to understand and not reading from a script!

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In the last year alone, there have been several improvements made to increase customer satisfaction. You can now view weekly menus weeks in advance of ordering and select which meals you would like to try. There is also a new recycling program available and plenty of tips and ideas for reusing the packaging. (We have reused the ice packs for picnics and packing coolers for road trips.) The company is working to provide more sustainable food by working directly with farmers. I would like to see organic produce offered, but overall I am impressed by the company’s efforts to listen to and address customer feedback by implementing change.

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At the end of 2015, I was surprised to discover that I had accrued free meals which I gifted to some friends and family members at no cost to me. I also purchased some meals to gift. Blue Apron is a great gift idea!

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If you’re a Blue Apron virgin, you can score two free meals on your first order by clicking here. Offer is only good for the first 50 readers so act fast!

*This post sponsored in part by Blue Apron. In order to remain transparent, I would like to mention that I pay out of pocket for my own subscription. Blue Apron provided the meal seen in this post. Thank you for supporting the brands that support this blog!

images: Dana Miller for House*Tweaking

02.01.16 / Liked & Linked

mild winter

kid free target shopping

How was your weekend? The highlights for me included some epic kite flying at the park (sixty degrees in January?!) and a date night with Steve that ended with toilet paper shopping at Target. #sohot I had the absolute best meal of my entire life at Hawthorn Grill, a local chef-owned restaurant. If you’re ever in Dayton, Ohio, you must give their pan-seared walleye a try. It’s to die for.

Mine and Steve’s only resolution this year was to go on more date nights. We’re actually following through with it! We found a great sitter (one of the many advantages of living in a college town) at the beginning of the year, and she’s watched the kids TWICE for us in the last month. The kids adore her. Last week when we told them she was coming Saturday evening they were all, “WHAT?! You guys just went on a date!” They aren’t used to seeing us do the date night thing more than a few times per year so twice in one month is pure craziness. But it’s awesome. Our motto for 2016 is date nights > divorce ;) Seriously, they’re cheaper. Toilet paper included.

A few more awesome things…

*The leather teardrop earrings I wore for date night. They’re oversize but super lightweight!

*My favorite $5 carafe with cork stopper.

*I’m trying not to want this leather + kilim laptop bag but…

*A vintage rug in a killer kitchen.

lived in home

lived in home

lived in home

*Loving the lived-in vibe of this family home.

*A dreamy kitchen makeover featuring IKEA cabinets. (Bravo, Anna!)

*Triple bunk beds and some very honest words on parenting.

*I finished reading this magical book over the weekend and I think it deserves an entire blog post. To be continued…

Happy one month closer to spring!

images: 1 & 2) Dana Miller for House*Tweaking 3-5) Lauren Kolyn for Apartment Therapy

01.26.16 / Living With Toys

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If you have kids then you have kid stuff. Chances are you’re constantly trying to strike a balance between their stuff and your sanity. I’m a tidy person by nature. Clutter – whether messy or overly decorated – makes me a little twitchy. I live, work and sleep better in uncluttered spaces. With three kids, it’s challenging but not impossible. When people visit our home virtually or in real life, they want to know where all the toys are. I thought I’d share a behind-the-scenes look at the kid stuff in our home along with my thoughts on toys. I snapped some pics last week when the kids were at school and the house was tidy, but they are not styled shots. This is what our home looks like when everything is in its place…and the kids aren’t around ;)

Honestly, it would make my life so much easier if people would just stop giving my kids stuff (no more stickers at the grocery store! no more party favors! no more things just because the calendar says it’s a holiday and the stores say buy something to celebrate!) but that’s not my decision to make. Preserving my sanity is my decision though. Here’s how I do it…

Less is more. Honestly, we don’t have many toys to begin with and what we do have is mostly corralled out of plain sight in a bin or basket. But it’s here! We don’t have a ton of room for toys but even if we had more space it’s likely we wouldn’t fill it with toys. As a parent, I don’t believe it’s my job to buy all. the. toys. We maybe buy each kid 2-3 toys annually and that includes birthdays and holidays. There are no impulse buys at Target or the grocery store and the kids know it. If they ask for a toy at the store my response is, “Sorry, that’s not on our list today. Why don’t you put it on your wish list?”

I don’t think my kids need a bunch of toys to keep them entertained. In fact, they focus better with fewer toys. When they tell me they’re bored my response is, “That’s your fault, not mine.” I usually follow up with a verbal list of things they could do. The next few minutes are sometimes dicey as they whine, but eventually they always find something to do.

Having minimal toys keeps our house mostly clutter-free, saves us money and makes it easier to pick up at the end of each day.

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Quality > quantity. We would rather own a few quality toys that can be used long-term, passed on to siblings or other relatives or even sold, than a slew of meh stuff. Think wood > plastic, non-themed > themed and gender neutral. Hape is one of my favorite toy brands.

I think the biggest misconception is that buying quality toys equates to spending more money. But it’s quite the opposite. Sure, one single quality toy might cost more than one single plastic toy, but if that quality toy is the only toy you buy for 6-12 months, you aren’t spending as much in the long run. The grandparents are slowly catching on to this as well. They like knowing a toy they gifted made it past the one month mark unscathed.

Inevitably, toys will be seen and strewn about the house but they look less obnoxious when they aren’t all primary-colored plastic.

Toys are stored within reach and in areas where they are used most. Making toys accessible encourages independence. My height isn’t required to pull something down from a shelf or to put it back later.

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Three baskets on a low shelf in our living room hold a train set, Perplexus mazes and kitchen/grocery toys.

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Mabrey’s play kitchen sits out in the open because she likes to pretend she’s serving people in the living room.

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The fridge was a Santa gift after Mabrey requested it several times over the past year. I, um, I mean those nice elves used leftover paint, wood putty and two new handles to tweak it to match the sink cabinet. The mini ice dispenser drops wooden “ice cubes” and is Mabrey’s favorite feature.

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Board games are kept in one of the fauxdenza cabinets near the dining table where family game nights take place.

Give grandparents specific gift ideas. I think we can all agree that grandparents mean well, but their gifting can be excessive at times. Over the years, Steve’s parents and my parents have realized that we really don’t want a bunch of toys in the house. They’ve gradually cut back on buying toys which we’re extremely happy about, but when they insist on getting something, we’ve learned that it helps to be specific. Instead of saying general things like, “Mabrey likes playing grocery store” and ending up with all kinds of toy grocery paraphernalia, we specifically tell them we think she would really enjoy a cash register and, per their request, send a quick email containing a link to a specific item. That’s exactly how this wooden toy register came to be hers. She loves it!

Experience-based gifts, please! If given a choice, most of the time our kids will choose a fun activity over a thing. For their birthdays, we’ll often ask if they want that toy or if they would like to choose dining out, watching a movie, going to an indoor trampoline park, playing laser tag, visiting a museum, etc. If they do choose a thing, we encourage them to think about how they will use it and for how long.

Recently, Layne asked for a mandolin and Everett asked for a scooter to replace his wrecked one. While these are things, they provide experiences and learning opportunities that the kids will remember for years to come. At least, that’s my hope.

We also give experience-based gift ideas to family when asked. Over the last year, grandparents have gifted our kids tennis lessons, a trampoline, gymnastics classes, movie tickets, online music lessons (seriously, the best gift ever – no driving involved!), ballet classes, these awesome electronic snap circuits (the kids LOVE them) and tickets to see The Art of the Brick. My sister gave Layne airline tickets to visit her in Washington DC as a combo Christmas/birthday gift. He goes in a few weeks and is stoked. (I’ll probably be a hot mess watching his plane take off.) These gifts are so appreciated! The best part is that family members are able to experience the gifts with the kids if they want, watching them play an instrument or master a plié and greeting them after their first solo plane ride.

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Layne’s mandolin bag hangs on a hook in his bedroom closet (along with a Swoop bag full of Legos). He practices in his room so it makes sense to keep it in there.

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All the books! One area where we’re a little more lenient on quantity is books. My kids love to read and I want to fuel that fire as much as possible. We visit our local library almost weekly and the kids have many books of their own, too. I will periodically buy them books throughout the year. They read and reread them and share them with each other. I recently had to replace our eleven-year-old copy of Goodnight Moon because it had literally fallen apart and was illegible.

Get creative. We always have markers, crayons, pencils, watercolor paints and paper on hand to feed their creativity. Everett is in his happy place when he’s drawing. (In fact, I’ll often encourage him to draw when he’s having meltdowns. It helps him calm down.) Layne is on an origami kick so we have origami paper and a few origami books. He’ll also watch origami tutorial videos on You Tube for ideas. All these supplies are kept in cabinets in the office area of the kitchen so the kids can spread out on the island and make creative messes.

Frequent purging. Besides not bringing many toys into our home, we’re also adamant about getting rid of things that are broken or unused or things the kids have simply outgrown or lost interest in. I keep a laundry basket in Mabrey’s closet just for these items. As we go about normal daily life, we toss said items (toys and clothing) in the basket. Oh, look, there’s a hole in this shirt. Put it in the basket. Hey, this costume is way too small for you. Put it in the basket. This car is missing three wheels. Put it in the basket. When’s the last time you played with this? Put it in the basket. You get the idea…put it in the basket!

When the basket is full, I sort the items and deal with them accordingly. Items to be donated are put in the car right away so I have no excuse for not dropping them off the next time I pass Goodwill. (Also, the kids can’t suddenly decide they need that toy they haven’t played with in months.) Currently, I have three bags of kid stuff in the back of my car waiting to be donated. This is an ongoing process that will continue as long as my kids keep acquiring stuff. I find this method to be more efficient than big purges that consume an entire day or weekend, although I do make an effort to do a quick toy inventory check just before the holidays to make room for new stuff.

How do you keep toys in check at your house? Do you have any good non-toy gift ideas for kids? How do you handle overzealous grandparents?

P.S. – A dollhouse for Mabrey. Some toy favorites.

images: Dana Miller for House*Tweaking