Saturday, January 31, 2015

Sweet Baby Bowls: SKT Ceramics


We've had quite a few new babies in our world lately. Some of my favorite gifts when the boys were born were of the keepsake variety; useful but also special.

I have been keeping my eye on these sweet custom baby bowls by SKT Ceramics. They have lots of charming animal illustrations to choose from, and you can customize your bowl with the name of the new baby in your life.

The fawn, elephant and of course, the chickadee, are among my favorites:
Personalized Custom Baby Bowl | Strolby – Foxy and Winston  Made in Williamsburg, Brooklyn by SKT Ceramics
Porcelain Chickadee Illustration Bowl: Small Silkscreened, High-Fired Porcelain Bowl- Handmade Pottery by SKT Ceramics on Etsy
Aren't they beautiful? And conveniently for new moms and dads, they are dishwasher and microwave safe. A wonderful "welcome to the world" gift.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Embracing Chaos: Step2 Up and Down Roller Coaster

Oh man. I can't wait to tell you about the Step2 Up and Down Roller Coaster. This was seriously one of the best gifts ever.

When Zach and I were trying to figure out what to get the boys for Christmas, we knew we wanted something big waiting for them under the tree, Something that would make their eyes light up and be totally exciting. This led me to the Step2 Up and Down Roller Coaster- a 10 foot long roller coaster that looked like so much fun. It seemed perfect. But I did have a few reservations. Chief among them was the fact that the only room in our house that had space for this toy was our livingroom. So I knew that by buying it, I was committing to having a giant plastic toy in the livingroom for the foreseeable future. Given how much I try to keep the boys' stuff from taking over our communal living spaces, this was not ideal. But when it went on sale (for less than $100!), I couldn't resist.

On Christmas Eve, I put it together (it was a snap and took less than 5 minutes) and put a big bow on it. Christmas morning was just how I imagined- the boys LOVED it! I wondered if it would lose its appeal, like so many new toys, but folks, it has not.

Not at all, in fact.

The boys still love it. They play with it every day. It serves as not only a fun ride for both boys (they ride it alone and together, and it somehow manages to be perfect for both of them despite their different ages) but also a perfect track for car races (they line their cars up at the top and zoom them down the track), a fun belly-scooting track, a bowling alley (bottles are lined up at the end and balls are rolled down the track), and much, much more. It has been loud and chaotic and it has seemed to fulfill every desire in the heart of my boys. I am so happy that we went for it.

If you're looking for a gift that will light up your boys, consider this one. It is really great (and if you have a playroom, even better!)

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Monday, January 26, 2015

A Big Move: Weather

I took this photo from our porch right after I got home from work today- bracing for the big storm hitting the East coast tonight. Isn't it moody? We're preparing ourselves for 20"-24" over the next 24 hours. Work and school has already been canceled, there is a travel ban across the entire state that goes into effect at midnight (literally no travel allowed!), and we're getting robo-calls about things like not using a generator indoors if we lose power. I can't help it- I have a strange sense of anticipation. It's nice to feel cozy and make plans with Tate that involve popcorn, movies and hot cocoa. I am less enthused about the fact that I will actually spend my entire day tomorrow shoveling our driveway.

Which brings me to my first Big Move post- weather. You guys, weather is a game-changer. I had virtually no idea of how much of an impact it has on everything (literally everything) you do until I was in a new climate. So here are some lessons learned:

  • Don't fall into the trap of thinking that seasons will be the same. While we were well-prepared for the harsh winters from a mental and emotional standpoint, I think we were not prepared (and therefore shocked) by the differences in spring, summer and fall. We have had to learn how to deal with humidity and insects, new allergies, static cling, and even differences in gardening (trust me, it is much harder to grow a vegetable garden in Massachusetts than Oregon). Although I think most people would expect winter to be the hardest season for us, in many ways, I think it's summer, in large part because we have had to make an adjustment we weren't expecting. Which leads me to...
  • Don't have expectations about weather in the first year. Assume you know nothing, and approach every new season with a sense of curiosity. Go to Home Depot, explain you are new to the region, and ask if there is anything important you should know about the upcoming season. Doing this would have saved us a lot of frustration. And don't forget to ask about tools and equipment! We had never heard of a snow-blower or a roof rake before we moved here, and the fact that all snow shovels are not created equal was something we learned the hard way. 
  • Similarly, do the same thing at your favorite clothing stores. Before I moved here, I didn't own a pair of slippers. I thought Uggs were something you wore in an ironic way with a pair of shorts a tank top, and a scarf, a la the sorority girls at my SoCal college. I did not know about the importance of wool socks; or silk long underwear; or boots to walk the dog in. 
  • Consider your car. For example, I remember sitting in sunny Los Angeles watching commercials about remote start and thinking to myself "What kind of lazy, spoiled person can't even walk outside and turn on their own car?" Ditto about things like heated steering wheels. And then I moved here. And now I realize that these aren't ridiculous luxuries- that these are necessities when it is -15 outside and you have two toddlers and your purse and three lunchboxes and permission slips and and and to get in the car... We bought a new car when we moved here and I wish I had considered some of these things when we did it.
  • Buying clothes for a true four-season climate is very expensive. I still haven't been able to invest in a true winter wardrobe, so this means I go through the entire winter feeling sort of drab and not appropriate. Be prepared to buy new clothes that align with your new climate.
  • Be ready to feel like an idiot. Case in point- our first winter here, I went out and bought myself a snow scraper/brush for my car. And the first snow day, I proudly used it to dust off my car, then put it in the garage and drove away. IT NEVER EVEN OCCURRED TO ME THAT IT MIGHT SNOW WHILE I WAS AT WORK. So I came outside after a full day of work, and my car was covered- literally covered- in about a foot of snow. I had no mittens. And no brush/scraper, since I had left mine in the garage at home. Solution? I wrapped my hands in Tate's diapers (which are conveniently warm and waterproof) and used my diapered hands to scrape off my car. In my work parking lot. And you know what? I survived.
Sometimes I think I was SUCH an idiot not to know these kinds of things, but then I think about the fact that I was never exposed to any of it, and you really can't know what you don't know. You know?
Which, in any case, is probably the most important Big Move lesson of all. Places are different. Weather is different. You are an explorer in a new country. And that's ok. 

Sunday, January 25, 2015

So this storm happened...

You might have heard about a little Nor'Easter here on the East Coast?

We got 7 inches of snow yesterday. Seven inches! Given Zach's broken arm (poor guy broke his arm on Christmas Eve, a painful inconvenience that means I am the snow shoveler of the house for another 3 weeks, along with the Christmas-Eve-toy-put-togetherer and carseat-buckler and various other miscellaneous duties) I spent most of the day shoveling. My Hunters got a lot of use.

But the highlight of the snow day was definitely this. Three years in Massachusetts and we finally built our first snowman!

Update: Did you hear the news? Possible blizzard conditions on Tuesday? More snow (and -sigh- shoveling) coming our way.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Love Rocks

I know that many new moms experience moments of panic. The constant checking to make sure the baby is breathing. The way that stairs become suddenly terrifying when you're holding a newborn. These were fears that, for whatever reason, I didn't experience when Tate was born. But it was a different story with Ames. Throughout my pregnancy with him, and since he's been born, I have been plagued by this never-ending unease, a sometimes crippling fear that something will happen to one of my boys (Zach included). I am not sure what led to this, but I find myself having to willfully turn off certain news stories so as to not feed my paranoia. 

Even still, some stories inevitably leak through and although many of them haunt me, some have the power to uplift, to inspire, and to remind to be grateful every day.

One such story belongs to my friend, Susan Dieter-Robinson. About a year and a half ago, her two girls were celebrating fall by playing in a pile of leaves. Meanwhile, a young (only 17 years old) driver swerved into a large pile of leaves while driving with her boyfriend, not realizing that Susan's girls, Anna and Abby, were hidden in the pile. Susan lost both her girls that day. You can read more about Susan's story here.

When I learned about what happened to Susan's girls, I couldn't stop thinking about it. I spent days crying. I couldn't sleep. At the time, I was pregnant with Ames and I would feel simultaneously overwhelmed with worry and so, so grateful for my healthy boys. My mind would race into overdrive as I tried to imagine what Susan must be experiencing, and just thinking about it was so paralyzing and terrifying that I would find myself up at 2:00 in the morning shaking, heart racing. 

Unbelievably, what got me through this was Susan herself. Trust me, I realize the irony that the person who was experiencing the greatest suffering was also the one who helped me gain much-needed perspective, but that speaks to the power of who Susan is and the power of her choices in the wake of her loss. 

As Susan puts it on her blog, she and her husband Tom view their life with their girls as the ultimate love story. And in honor of those girls, Susan began creating "love rocks"- rocks modge-podged with fabric hearts just like the ones the girls had created for her and Tom's wedding. And now Susan leaves those rocks everywhere, as signs of love and celebrating love, all in honor of her girls.

So many of us who love Susan and her girls and who believe deeply in loving in the face of tragedy are making love rocks, inspired by Susan, her bravery, and her girls. I took Love Rocks to Tate's pre-school this year, and had so much fun teaching the kids how to make them! It was so therapeutic and it was a really easy set-up.

I cut out all the hearts in advance, and each child got to pick 3 rocks. The teachers and I supervised and helped the kids glue the hearts to the rocks. While they dried, I told the kids about how they could leave their love rocks anywhere they wanted, and I left all the parents a note in their cubbies about the meaning behind Love Rocks. We had such a great day!

Susan's story and incredible grace and love while coping with such tremendous loss is an inspiration to me. Her relentless focus on love helped me find a way to appreciate each moment I have with my boys instead of wasting those moments worrying about what might happen in the future. I can't say that the crippling fear isn't still there, that I don't have moments where I inexplicably feel a sense of dread, but in those moments, I think of Susan, I think of Love Rocks, and I squeeze my boys a little closer and amazingly, the love wins out.

P.S. Want to make your own Love Rocks? Buy a kit here.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Making a Home: Come at Evening

For the last year, I have been focused on making our house (which we rent) feel more like our home. There were so many reasons I felt this needed to be a priority. It all started about a  year and a half into living here, when we were driving home and Tate saw our house, pointed at it, and in a happy voice exclaimed "There's our home!". 

I started crying in my driveway.

The idea that Tate thought of this house as his home, not the house in Oregon that I loved and had painted and felt like us, was, for whatever reason, devastating to me. Combined with the realization that I was reluctant to invite people over because I was afraid they would think that I had actually hung those terrible floral curtains or chosen that horrible baby-poop colored wall paint, and it became crystal-clear that our space was negatively impacting not only our quality of life but also my own sense of contentment here.

So began the great home investment of 2014. We painted. Hung wallpaper. Bought furniture. And put up art.
One of the most important pieces that we hung was the piece hanging in the window in our entryway. Here's the story.

There is an amazing store called Pinch Gallery about 30 minutes from our house. I love Pinch so, so much. And I walked in one day, just a few months after we moved here, and saw the piece above. I immediately loved it. But when I went back to buy it, it was sold out. Lo and behold, about 2 months after I decided that I was going to try- to really, really try- to make our home our own, I was at Pinch and they had it back in stock. It was meant to be. I bought it that day.

In so many ways, I feel like this is an aspirational piece for me. A reminder of what I value, the kind of home I want to have here. It makes me so happy.
If you're looking for art, be sure to check out Pinch Gallery. I find their stock simultaneously funny and sweet and beautiful... definitely worth exploring.

Monday, January 19, 2015

A Big Move: Introducing the Series

By Janelle. Photo by Jill.

I've been thinking a lot about how hard our move was and how much I wish I had known before embarking on it. Don't get me wrong- the move was the right decision. But I was (and frankly, continue to be) amazed at how many things would feel hard, and how long it would take us to adjust. I believe that there were some things that, if I had known them before the Big Move, would have helped us feel settled much more quickly.

As I reflected on this, I realized how many amazing women in my life have gone through big moves of their own. And that collectively, we have some amazing knowledge about what it takes to make a big move happen- from the logistics (seriously, how does one move a 130 lb. dog across the country?!) to tips on how to make friends, and decorate your space, and find a place of peace and contentment while you're wondering if you did the right thing.

So I am excited to introduce what I hope will become a weekly series here at O Chickadee, all circling around the themes of big moves (whatever that means). I'll be taking on the first few (I have a lot of thoughts on this topic) but I am hopeful that over time, this series will also become a space for other women to share how they've made big moves work. 

Fingers crossed that over time, all the "lessons learned" will help make someone else's future Big Move that much easier.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

From the O Chickadee Mailbag

Our entryway before wallpaper installation.
I never get mail. So I was delighted to get this email last week:

Dear O Chickadee,

I would love to see a post on wallpaper.  My husband and I recently moved to a new place and want to try some fun things to make our space feel more like us.  We like the idea of using wallpaper on one of the walls in the kitchen, but our building is a bit older and the walls are textured and fairly uneven. Is wallpaper impossible?  Would a bright bold paint color work better?  I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Lindy, I am happy you asked and happy to chime in. As you know, this year we spent a lot of time painting walls and hanging wallpaper, a refresh to our home that made me feel so much happier in our space. I am sure that it would do the same for you!

A few logistics- we rent our house, so I used renter's wallpaper, or removable wallpaper, from Spoonflower (Dawn introduced me to Spoonflower wallpaper way back when). This wallpaper (we used what they call "Smooth Wallpaper") has an adhesive backing activated by water, and you can take it off easily (this has been proven by Ames, who decided to peel a piece off about three weeks after installation. Sigh. Life with toddlers.)

The great thing about Spoonflower is that they have so many designs to choose from. At first I felt overwhelmed by the choices, so I requested swatches of the designs I liked best. Ultimately, I went with this one, a design called Farmers Market. Part of the reason that I chose it (and frankly, what is driving a lot of my design decisions these days) is that it was bright and made me feel so, so happy. There were other designs that might have been more sophisticated or more in keeping with the style of our home, but because this house lacks a lot of natural light, I wanted to choose things that were bright, cheerful and made me smile. This wallpaper did exactly that.

Anyway, I found the entire process of working with Spoonflower and hanging the wallpaper totally doable although it took a long time. Here were a few of the pitfalls we experienced:
  • We wasted a lot of wallpaper due to the fact that we were wallpapering around four (!) doorways. This project would have been much simpler (and cheaper) if we had just done a flat wall.
  • Many of the wallpapers tools we bought were unnecessary, but this smoothing tool was absolutely critical. You will also need a really sharp x-acto knife. Other than that, I found hand towels to be critical but all the other recommended tools (the seam roller, etc) were not needed.
  • It was not cheap. This was exacerbated by the aforementioned fact that we were working around a lot of doors, but I think most people would be shocked that I spent about $500 on wallpapering the entryway in a house we don't even own. I think it was totally worth it though, in that it was an immediate transformation that made our space feel more like ours and it makes me happy every time I walk by.
  • You will need two people. My mom and I did it together when she was visiting.
  • Make sure you unroll the wallpaper and determine if you need to hang it from left-to-right or from right-to-left to get a smooth repeat of your design. We did not do this and hung it in the wrong direction, so on some parts of our wall, the design is off. Happily, our wallpaper is busy enough you don't really notice, but with another pattern, we would have had to start over.
  • I found this tutorial on Spoonflower super-helpful
Ok. Now that you have the basics, let's tackle some of the questions in your specific situation.

I think it would be very, very difficult to wallpaper textured and uneven walls. My first thought was to wallpaper some large pieces of plywood and simply attach those to the walls you want wallpapered. Is that a possibility? If not, paint might be a better option, although it doesn't do as much heavy-lifting as wallpaper from a design impact perspective. 

Another option might be to paint your walls and then frame large squares of wallpaper- I can imagine different size square frames of wallpaper hung close together, giving a kind of patchwork quilt effect.

If your walls are only lightly textured, I would recommend ordering the swatches from Spoonflower and actually trying to install them. Even with the small swatch, you should get a feeling right away on if the wallpaper would work in your space.

After dipping in the water, waiting for the adhesive to activate.

Before trimming, Why don't my boys ever wear pants?
Hope this helps. Whichever way you go, I think the investment of time and money on making your space a reflection of you will be well worth it.
Happy boys with my mom following our successful installation.

A Blanket Solution

When you have a giant dog, dog hair is a constant issue. Mesa sheds so, so much. I remember when she was a puppy and someone came up to us once asking if she was a Newfoundland. When we said yes, she said "I used to have a newfie! He died 10 years ago and I still find his hair around the house!" At the time, I thought this was gross. What kind of woman was this? Did she never clean?

And then Mesa grew up and now I totally, completely understand. Her. hair. is. everywhere. It is a constant chore to keep up with it, and it infiltrates everything in our home.

Especially blankets.

One of our favorite things to do as a family is cuddle up on the sofa. But inevitably, our throws, which I would like to think would always be causally and attractively tossed over the sofa, ended up on the floor, turned into a tent, and generally mistreated. The byproduct being they were always covered in dog hair.

I needed a solution that kept the blankets off the floor but still kept them close by and accessible for snuggling. I wanted the kids to be able to reach them. And I wanted the solution to be attractive.

Cue the pipes. Stealing a page out of the Anthro design playbook, I asked Zach to buy steel pipes and flanges to create hanging rods for our throws. They are right next to the sofa. They keep our blankets in great shape because, unlike hooks, they are wide enough that the weight of the blanket hanging doesn't stretch the blankets out of shape. And I like the industrial quality they bring to the living.

What do you think? Too much for an actual house? Or interesting design element? Would you ever introduce something so industrial to your space?

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

A is for Ames

Birthdays have been on my mind. Tate's fifth birthday is coming up in a few months and he has been vacillating between a dinosaur party, a space party, a ghost party (?!?!?) and a trip to the zoo. I feel like I have to plan ahead because spring around the Holmboe household is a virtual gauntlet of celebrations. It all starts with Valentine's Day, which is one of my favorite holidays (I know, I know, but I just can't help it!) Shortly after that I start thinking dyed eggs and Easter baskets. Five days after Easter is Tate's birthday. Next comes Mother's Day. Ames' birthday is a few weeks later, with mine following less than a week after that. Zach's birthday is 18 days after mine, with Father's Day conveniently located just two days earlier.


If I don't start planning early, I feel like I get caught off guard, and I want to feel like I have the bandwidth to focus as much on the events at the end as I do at the beginning (poor Zach always gets the short end of the stick). So I am trying to start thinking early.

Predictably, I am thinking cake.

We celebrated Ames' first birthday last year and I had so much fun with his cake. It featured a super (super super super!) easy and cheap cake topper. A big letter "A" made out of wood from Michael's. White glue. Lots of sprinkles. Skewers. Piles of whipped cream and fresh strawberries.

I think it was really high impact without taking a ton of planning, and it felt so happy to me. Much like Ames himself, really.

I am having so much fun trying to decide what the cakes will be like this year! I love finding ways to make birthdays extra-special. How should the cakes do that this year? Any ideas? 

Monday, January 12, 2015

On Technology

I have such a complicated relationship with technology. In many ways, I am a Luddite. Zach still doesn't have a cell phone and I am known to go days without charging mine. Ask anyone who texts me and they will tell you I am unlikely to text back. And yet I love what technology does for our creative communities. I love that I can read (and write) blog posts, and Pin, and Skype with my mom and dad all the way in California, and that technology helps our world feel so much more connected. 

But sometimes it feels like technology makes us feel so much less connected, doesn't it? 

I experienced that while traveling this weekend. Due to weather, I missed my connection and had a few hours to kill in the airport. The restaurant I had breakfast at had two iPads installed at every table, and those iPads were used for every part of my dining experience- ordering, paying (I swiped my own credit card at my table), sending myself a receipt via email, and staying up-to-date about my flight status.

There were some things about this that were awesome. I got to give my preference for half-and-half in my coffee instead of milk. I don't have to worry about not losing my receipt for my expense report for work. I wasn't forced to chit-chat with my server.


I couldn't help but feel like all this convenience came at a cost, and one that I'm not sure I am completely comfortable with. Here's the thing- the iPads were positioned in such a way that if I had been having breakfast with Zach, it would have been difficult to see over them to have a conversation. And if the boys had been there, the iPads would have been impossibly tempting; it would have been tantrum-inducing for us to try to enforce our "no screens at the table" family rule. And as I looked around, it was clear that the iPads were contributing to an overly hushed quality among the diners, where people weren't talking to each other or even the servers. In some ways, it felt like the technology was intruding on the dining experience. And the even sadder fact was that the restaurant-supplied iPads clearly had no impact on whether or not diners were still accessing their own technology devices; most of the other diners, even those with traveling companions, were also scrolling through their own phones or devices. 

What are your thoughts on all the ways technology is creeping into our lives? Are you an early adopter, with your emails pinging in on your watch? Or have you rejected technology completely? I like to think that we are pretty balanced, but I struggle with what that balance looks like. I want the boys to be exposed to and enjoy what technology can do for us. I love watching Tate ask Zach to pull up Google Earth. At the same time, I want them to know how to linger leisurely over a cup of coffee if you miss your flight, reading a good book or having an unexpected conversation with your friend or waiter. How do you strike this balance in your life and family? Any tips?

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Freezing (literally)

By Janelle.

Today was so cold. -20 degrees when we woke up. I think I spent less than 10 minutes total outside today. Needless to say, Mesa was the only one who truly enjoyed it.

That said, the boys were pretty adorable too.

We started the day with a 2-hour delay for Zach, hot coffee, and warm (but messy!) oatmeal for the boys.

Bundling up was absolutely necessary.

Coincidentally, I leave tomorrow for Florida for a conference. So strange to be packing warm-weather clothes in the midst of an arctic blast.