Thursday, February 26, 2015

Telling Time: TOKYOBay

You know what I really hate? The fact that people are more likely to check the time on their phones than their watch (if they even have a watch, that is). And that now, some watches are just as likely to have emails on them as the time. What happened to the good ole' days when a watch was just a watch? In my opinion, there is something really stylish and (dare I say?) timeless about a good-looking watch.

Which is why I was so delighted when Zach bought me a new watch from TOKYOBay for Christmas. Have you heard of this company? They have totally stylish and totally reasonably priced watches for men and women, and I love them. The leather for the bands is soft, the colors are great, and the company describes their aesthetic as a "unique fusion of Japanese minimalism and fashion-focused sensibilities". Doesn't that sound like exactly what you want to wear?

Zach bought me the Isla in brown. It's really feminine and goes with everything. I love it. But there are so many others too. Here are just a few of my faves:

Tokyobay lily watch
Ink | TOKYObay Mens Watch in Orange.
Duet | TOKYObay
Jet | TOKYObay  TOKYObay is killing me with their selection of watches. The yellow face
They also make some really great leather accessories. My favorites are what they call "stack ups", collections of leather bracelets that you stack on top of each other.  

More good news- they are having a Winter Sale right now- a whole 30% off! Happy shopping!

top photo taken by me wearing my Isla watch. others via here and here and here and here.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Unexpected Art

I love having art on the walls. Art and color. But sometimes, I run out of wall space or can't find the perfect spot for a particular piece. Such was the case with the sweet Petit Prince print my sister bought Tate. I knew I wanted it in the boys' room, but I just couldn't find the right spot. It floated around for awhile. But this weekend, it finally found an (unexpected) home!

In the end, I decided to hang it on the door to the boys' room. And I love it! The sentiment is so over-arching, I love the idea that it is what greets you first when you walk towards the boys room. And as I head up the stairs or down the hall, it makes me smile.

I love the idea of extending your wallspace by using bedroom doors. And no need to worry about nail-holes. I used these Command picture hanging strips and they worked great! 

Do you hang art in any unexpected places? Tell me about it! I'd love to hear your good ideas!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Function Over Form: My Keepsake Portfolio from Lakeshore Learning

Today I am doing something I rarely do. I am going to advocate bringing something into your life that is not that visually appealing to me but that does a remarkable (dare I say perfect?) job of solving a problem in my life that has gone unsolved for quite some time. I know. Function over form? So unlike me. But trust me, if you too have kids that get sent home with reams (and reams and reams!) of artwork, you too will appreciate the My Keepsake Portfolio from Lakeshore Learning.

So here's the thing. Tate and Ames each create tons of art at pre-school/daycare. And they are attached to it and don't want it thrown away. And it inevitably clutters up my car when I grab it from the cubby during pick-up. And some of it is so adorable, I want to keep it.

But there was just nowhere to keep it.
Until I found the Keepsake Portfolio at Lakeshore Learning. Ok, I admit it. It's a little garish. But it is also totally functional. Durable, heavy-duty cardboard. Large handles. Nine pockets (think accordion-file with nine dividers) so you can keep track of art by year. Perfect size to fit papers big and small. Personalized (with basic stick-on letters, but still) so that I know quickly and easily which one belongs to which boy. And did I mention it is super cheap? As in less than $20? I know, right?
I keep the boys' portfolio's in the trunk of my car so I can toss things in when its convenient (added bonus is that this helps keep my car clean). I also toss things in that I want to keep for posterity- the tickets to the Bronx zoo from Tate's 4th birthday, or stubs from Tate's first movie. It is so handy.

I love that I have a vehicle for easily keeping track of important kid-related documents. Trust me- in this case, function over form is totally worth it.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Last Firsts

I was struck this weekend at how quickly Ames is growing up. Despite the fact that Tate still calls him "our baby", it is becoming clearer every day that the sweet baby days are quickly becoming the raucous and silly days of toddler-hood, and soon after that, a rough-and-tumble little boy will emerge.

I am finding all of Ames' "firsts" particularly bittersweet because, for Zach and I, they are our last firsts. We know that Ames will be our last child, a decision that I feel at peace with, but that felt quite fraught at the time we made it. There were many factors we considered, but I think what was most difficult for me at the time was the fact that resources (or lack thereof) seemed to be the most compelling. We kept asking ourselves- could we afford another child? Did we have enough space for another child? Did we have sufficient energy for another child? And while all these things were so practical, it felt wrong somehow to make a decision of the heart so much with our heads.

I finally had an "aha" moment when Zach and I started discussing all the things that Ames had brought to us, what he had brought to our family, with his arrival. He made Tate a brother. Can you imagine that? Making someone a brother? He fulfilled the dreams that Zach and I had of looking over two little heads in front of the Christmas tree. Whereas Tate brought the tender, Ames brought the silly. Two boys are exponentially louder than one, and our house is now filled all the way to the rafters with pounding feet and Ames' guffaws and all the craziness that our two "Holm-bros" bring. When I started to imagine what was missing- what we didn't have yet that a third child would bring- I came up empty. 

Now, please know I'm not saying third (or fourth! of fifth!) children don't bring anything to their families, or that, if we had a third child, that child wouldn't enrich us in ways I can't even imagine. But. When I took a step back, and I took money and time and the number of bedrooms in our house out of the equation, I realized that we were done. Complete. The Holmboe's. Just the four of us. And that was ok. In fact, that was great.

So. That bring us back to last firsts. Because every one of Ames' firsts is the last time that Zach and I will ever experience that first with one of our children. 

Case in point: Ames had his first haircut recently. And have I mentioned how much I love Ames' hair? It curls adorably around his little ears, fulfilling my lifelong dream of curly hair. He was born with the smoothest cap of dark hair, which shines red in the sun. So cutting it... oh my. I was so emotional throughout the entire cut.
Oh. Sweet Ames, he looks so grown up here, doesn't he? So self-assured, so calm. And at the end, with a few curls tucked in my purse, I said a little more of a good-bye to the baby he was, and I got to say hello to a little bigger glimpse of the boy to come.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Be Amazing: Children Inspire Design

Growing up, I had a friend named Ginny, and in her house, on the way down the stairs, her parents had painted this: "6'1, duck or bump."

You guys. I loved that. It was so fun, wasn't it? I always thought that if I had a stairwell, I would put something fun above it to read on the way down. So when we moved to Western Mass, and moved into our 2-story home, I knew that this was it. Time to put something fun going down the stairs.

But what?

When I saw this print from Children Inspire Design, I knew I had found exactly what I was looking for. What an awesome message, right? That no matter what our day held for us, we would be amazing in it?

Once I bought the print, I framed it with a black frame from Michael's. I painted the wall it  hung on (above the stairs) the bright raspberry sorbet color of the dining room, which really helps draw your attention to it. And I think it looks so great above the wallpaper in the entryway.
This print makes me feel so happy everyday. It has sparked some great conversations with Tate about what it means to be amazing and about putting our best into our day no matter what it holds for us.

There are so many other prints at Children Inspire Design that I love. Ones that ask questions like What if I fall?  Or that tell us we're amazing. Or that let us personalize messages that resonate with our families. I also love their wood frame kits- a good looking way to hang prints no matter your decor.

One of the best thing about Children Inspire Design? They are a buy/give organization, which means that every time you buy something, they try to give something. Inspiring, right? For example, they donate 10% of their proceeds to global woman and children focused initiatives. So great, right? Maybe even (dare I say it?) amazing?

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Easy "Happy Birthday" Sign

Last summer, my niece Margot (remember her adorable baby shower?) was visiting a week or two before her birthday (I know, I can't believe how fast time flies either). I wanted to put together a sweet and simple celebration for her. With my sister's help, we made this easy happy birthday sign, which set the perfect tone.

All it took was two pieces of poster-sized black cardstock, some freelance cursive, and a little patient cutting. It couldn't be easier! With a small stack of presents underneath and a few balloons nearby, it set the perfect tone.

My sister took the sign home to San Diego with her- I love the idea that it just might grace Margot's birthdays from here on out. Maybe this year above her bed?

And of course, no party would be complete without a slumpy, delicious, whipped-cream-filled chocolate cake.
Sparkler included, of course.

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Swoop Bag

I am really excited to share the Swoop bag with you because it solves a problem that I feel like all parents have: namely how do you wrangle all the tiny Legos that inevitably take over your house? They are not only painful to step on, but they also seem to infiltrate every corner of the house. And yet, I love the imaginative play they inspire, so we put up with them.

Lo and behold, my mom and sister got us the Swoop bag for Christmas, and it is amazing!  A good-looking solution to this common problem. Here's how it works:

You load up all the Legos (and other small toys) into the Swoop bag. When it's open, it is a great playmat (in fact, the boys are using it as a playmat this very moment):

The boys build their towers right on the Swoop, and then, when it is ready to clean up, we fold it over, pull the handles, and swoop up the entire mess. Voila!
The Swoop bag fits perfectly in the drawers underneath the train table, and you can also hang it and get it off the floor if that works better for you. It's good-looking enough that I feel totally comfortable having it out even when people come over, and it makes bringing some toys to someone's house a cinch.

There are a few other reasons I love our Swoop.
  • It is heavy duty. It is made out of a really durable canvas and the ropes are strong too. I feel like it will stand up to the abuse the boys throw at it.
  • I mentioned it's really good-looking, right? They have ten bright colors to choose from. 
  • It makes clean-up really easy. Even little Ames can help by tossing the blocks into the bag,
I think the Swoop bag is a great gift for any parent and I will definitely be buying more in the future, both for myself and others.

P.S. If you've been watching the news, you know that the relentless East coast winter continues. We have reached new levels of cabin fever, in which the boys entertain themselves by pretending the typewriter is a rocket ship control panel, and use the output fan from our hand vacuum to blow their hair. Ha!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Making a Home: Simple Pleasures

Confession. I drink a lot of coffee. A lot. It is such a satisfying part of my life. And yet, a year or two ago found Zach and I standing around the kitchen, coffee mugs in hand, discussing how much we both hated (hated!) our coffee mugs. I wish I had a picture of them to show you. They had been given to us my grandmother with the best intentions, but they were not only ugly (sorry grandma), but they lacked that most important quality in a mug- holdability. You know what I mean, right? How coffee always tastes so much better when it is in a beautiful cup and the cup is comfortable to hold?

So I had a conversation with myself that went something like this. "Janelle, drinking coffee is a small part of your day, but it is a significant part of your day. Isn't it worth investing in coffee mugs that you love? And that feel good to hold?" And so began the great mug collecting, a venture which continues to this very day.

These are just some of our new, happy-making mugs. Some were given to us as gifts by friends and family with great taste. Some we bought on our own (after testing them out for holdability, of course). And can I tell you? They make such a big difference in my morning. Every single morning.
In the harried morning rush of getting myself and the boys and the lunches and the dog all taken care of, the three minutes when I grab one of my mugs and take a sip of my coffee is so satisfying. Like soul-level satisfying. Because I think about that time Zach and I chose the mug I am drinking from, or how loved we are that Dawn would buy us a mug from all the countries she's visited, or about what incredible taste my sister has... And this small moment in my day takes on such happy significance.

I think that this is a good reminder of how important it is that our everyday functional items are also beautiful and bring us joy and reflect who we are. It's amazing that something so routine can be part of making my day start from a happy and positive perspective.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Sweet Pajamas: Plum Pretty Sugar

Image 1
If you looked closely at my Valentine's Gift Guides, you might have noticed a pair of pretty pajamas. I wanted to share more about them because I think this is such a perfect gift (for yourself, your best friend, your sister, your bridesmaids, your mom...) Plum Pretty Sugar makes the sweetest pajamas in all sorts of modern styles including rompers, crop tops, adorable side-tie pants...

Image 1
I like them so much I bought a pair for my sister for Christmas, along with a completely adorable matching kimono-style robe for my niece Margot.
Image 1
I think they are really affordable for the quality, and the cotton is lightweight and soft. I love the patterns, which are so feminine, and I love that they offer plus sizes, maternity sets, and that you can "bulk order" for your bridesmaids (I mean, come on, can you imagine how gorgeous those "getting ready" photos would be if all your bridesmaids were in these pajamas?). I also love that you can mix-and-match.

Do yourself a favor. Go buy yourself a pair. You won't regret it.

P.S. One thing I learned buying the set for my sister was that the packaging leaves- well, a little to be desired. Based on how pretty they are, I had expected some beautiful packaging. In reality, not so much. They come wrapped in plastic bags (no pretty brown paper or bows here), and are flat- like flat flat flat. I found that to give them as a gift, I needed to take them out of the bag, fluff them up, fold them, and box them myself. Be prepared to do a little fluffing if you order some.

All images from here.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Honeycomb Brittle: A Quick Hostess Gift

So here's the situation. It was 11:00 in the morning on a Saturday. I was still in my pajamas. The boys  (including Zach) were still in their pajamas. We had virtually no food in the house and I was contemplating a lunch of Goldfish and scrambled eggs.

And then. A friend (or, more accurately, a potential friend) that I had been trying to become closer to over the past few months, texted me, inviting our whole family over to their house for dinner. Before I could even think it through, I said yes. I was so excited about the chance to get out of the house and hopefully get to make some new friends. Exciting!

But here is what stood between me and dinner.
  • Getting myself showered and dressed.
  • Getting the boys bathed and dressed.
  • Naptime.
  • Coming up with some kind of last-minute hostess gift.
Now, I know 6 hours seems like plenty of time to accomplish all of the above. But trust me- getting two boys both down for their naps and cleaned and dressed for dinner is easily an afternoon's work. So I knew I had to come up with a quick hostess gift that I could finish, soup-to-nuts, during naptime.

Did I mention that there was no real food in the house?

All my go-to's were off the table. We didn't have any bottles of wine. We had run out of our homemade jam. I didn't have any cookie dough in the freezer. So I turned to Nancy Silverton and whipped up a batch of honeycomb brittle.

You guys. This recipe only has 5 ingredients. Four if you don't count the water (yep, that's right. One of the ingredients is water. I told you it was easy). And you don't even have to dip it in chocolate, which means the only things you really need are sugar, corn syrup and baking soda. 

The result is this immensely and deliciously crunchy and airy brittle. It's gorgeous. And if you've never made candy before, worry not- this is totally doable.
And it's even prettier draped in dark chocolate.
As we were rushing out the door, I was wrangling Ames and trying to come up with some pretty packaging. I didn't have any cellophane bags or pretty boxes, so into a jelly jar it went. Topped off with a red ribbon and a tag written by Tate (a perfect distraction while I chased a naked, post-bath Ames around the house), and I think it was a total success.

P.S. Oh. You wanted the recipe too? Here you go.

1/2 cup water
1 1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1 tablespoon baking soda, sifted
dark chocolate

In a deep, heavy-duty medium-sized saucepan, stir togetehr the water, sugar and corn syrup. If you have a candy thermometer, great! Use it by clipping it to the side of the pan. If not, no fear. Go by color. 

Over medium-high heat, bring the mixture to a boil without stirring. Using a pastry-brush dipped in water, brush down the sides of the pan to dissolve any sugar granules. Continue cooking until the sugar reached 300 degrees or turns a pale straw color. Remove from the heat.

Working quickly, add the baking soda and whisk thoroughly for a few seconds. The liquid will bubble up and become foamy. In one movement, pour out onto a baking sheet. Iy will spread out, puff up a little, and get a slightly shiny, porous surface. 

Allow to harden and cool completely, without touching (be patient! touching messes it up). Using the point of a knife, break it into chunks.

Then dip in chocolate and take to your new friends. Trust me- they'll invite you back.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Blog Redesign!

Ok. So much of the last year has been about making our home feel more our own. So you can imagine how thrilled I am that the idea of great design and beauty and reflection of self is being extended to my space here at O Chickadee.

Behind the scenes, we've been busily working on a blog redesign- one that will better reflect my design aesthetic and what I do in this space. I am thrilled to have the help of an expert blog-redesigner (if you want her name, just email me), and things are starting to come together. I can't wait to share it with you! Stay tuned. I know you'll love it.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Beginner Oil Painting

There was a reason I brought up Hillary Butler's beautiful oil paintings yesterday, and mentioned that I had spent months gazing at them. There was something so impactful to me about her paintings, so much so that (drumroll please!) I enrolled myself in a beginner oil painting class.
You guys, this felt like such a big deal! I was simultaneously excited and nervous. I bought my supplies and packed them all up for the first day. Small jars and tubes of paint and long-handled brushes... in my anxiousness, I got there too early and had to wait in the car. And then I walked into Studio 1.

A couple cool things about my class: it is small! Only four students. So we get a lot of hands-on support and help. Also it is offered at our local Fine Art museum. Isn't that great? I love getting to walk through a museum to go to class. This is the first class I've taken since I graduated from my MBA program, and I forgot how much I love the feeling of learning something new and getting to know classmates and asking questions. There is so much to learn. It is 2.5 hours/week.
I learned a lot in just my first class. The importance of brushes and the rich color of oil paints, the uses for Liquin and how tired your back can get working in front of an easel. But mostly I was reminded of how hard it is to learn something new. It takes so much focus and concentration. It takes practice. You have to learn how to crawl before you can run. Because as much as I wanted to dive right in and start creating "real" paintings, we spent the entire class learning how to blend yellow and red. An exercise that allowed me to begin to get a feel for the paints and the brushes and the process. And that reminded me that discipline is important, and baby steps are important. This was a timely life lesson because it helps me to consider all that the boys are being expected to learn every day, and how hard it must be.
When I got home, Tate asked me what I had painted. I told him the truth- that after almost 3 hours, I had successfully painted only 8 lines (but beautifully blended lines, right?):
You know what he said to me? He told me that meant that next time, I could paint a rainbow. Sweet boy.

I am really glad that I took this leap and registered for the class. There were about a million reasons why I almost didn't. It's expensive. It's not convenient. It's time away from the family. But it was so clear to me when I got to class that learning new things is something I love, and I was glad to be back in a classroom.