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Out Tri-Level Split: The Upstairs Built-In

Though Split Levels come with the drawback of small closets and bedrooms, ours has a hidden gem.

On the top level, we have a built-in with multiple shelves that can store a surprisingly large amount of necessities. I’m not certain if this is original to the 1992 construction, but my suspicions align with that possibility since the cabinet doors are identical to the kitchen’s. 

Here is an in-progress shot of the hallway. The kids’ bedrooms are on this level – with Landen’s straight ahead and Madelyn’s to the right. The bathroom door is to the left (taken before we started on the bathroom remodel). You can see how much of a space-saver the built-in is, and how well the empty space was utilized for storage.

(The doors were removed so I could refinish them. See what I mean about how
much stuff I can store in there? It's so useful!)

That tone of wood was originally carried throughout the house – doors, trim, cabinetry. It seemed to really date the home. It dimmed the sunlight that came in through the windows too. 

Going from dark to crisp white was a challenge, as it required the use of a liquid stripper to remove the sheen and prep the surface for paint. Four coats of paint later, I was still struggling to achieve even coverage. I used a Rustoleum enamel with a finish that would match our baseboards, however the tone of the hardwood was just too dark and it became quite the job.

I finally achieved the coverage I was aiming for. Then, I had to apply it to the cabinet surround. Considering how long the doors took, I was not looking forward to this process.

I let it dry and set for an hour, then started painting. This actually covered a lot better than the doors, and went on a lot smoother and easier. 

We hung the doors with the new hinges but screwed in the original handles, and I shut the door on this two-weekend project.

And a fun before/after picture:
Cue the margaritas.

Our Tri-Level Split: The Upstairs Bathroom

I am taken aback by the “shock and awe” less than 50-square feet can inspire in someone.

Unfortunately, I could not find a lot of the “before” photos I had taken of our upstairs bathroom.

Before, the bathroom was completely functional and the layout was convenient. Somewhere in the home’s history, an additional doorway was added to allow access from the Master bedroom. Because it can be marketed as an “en suite,” Nick and I aimed to give this bathroom a serene, spa-like appeal.

We did nothing to change the bathroom’s footprint. We utilized its strengths by keeping the original tub surround, large mirror and vanity. The vanity hardware and doorknobs were reused as well.

The largest impact came from the new paint. We carried the same gray-and-white color scheme, and thanks to the skylight, natural light fills the room and reflects off the surfaces. During the day, we do not even have to turn on the light.

I refinished the vanity using a Rustoleum Furniture Kit (color is Espresso). But mostly, my main contribution to the renovation was chasing parts for my husband.

Because this is a reflection of his skill, his patience and his handiwork. He laid the flooring, installed the new countertop, cut the holes for the new sink and faucet, added the new toilet and put up the baseboards and trim. I cannot get over the impact the vessel sink and contemporary faucet has on this bathroom, which were his suggestion, and one I completely agreed with.

The sweat equity kept our renovation total to less than $1,000. The flooring purchase was our largest expense, but we bought enough to install it in our kitchen, stairs and basement landing.

When we showed the kids the result, Landen’s expression spoke volumes. “It feels like the bathroom of a mansion!”

I don't think I could love it more.

Just a Teaspoon of Insulin Helps the Carbs Go Down

It was Site Change Day, and it’s a routine that has become so second nature to me.

(The best friends a girl could have ...)

Every 3 days, Madelyn requires a fresh cannula and insulin reservoir in order to ensure proper blood sugar management. 

Think of the cannula like an IV, where a needle is used to insert a thin plastic catheter under the skin or into a vein. For Madelyn, her cannula is inserted just under her skin so she doesn’t have to contend with the pain of an intravenous insertion.

With the exception of showers, swim class and moments like this, Madelyn is tethered to her insulin pump by a thin tube. 

Her insulin pump is approximately the size of a credit card and runs on a single AAA battery. This small device fills in where her pancreas cannot. It is technology I am exceedingly grateful for and blessed that we were able to provide. Though it doesn’t completely eliminate the need, it has dramatically decreased the number of times Madelyn is poked with a needle. For a 6-year-old who has lived with Type 1 Diabetes for already half her life, this is a really big deal.

I fill her reservoir with less than a teaspoon of insulin. That is all that is needed to help her body digest her carbs, control her blood sugars and keep her healthy for three days. As she grows, this dose will change. But for now, this is it.

Less than a teaspoon is the difference between an active child and a hospital stay.

I load it into her pump, which signals Madelyn its time to place it. This has become a routine for her as well, as she runs up the stairs to her bedroom. I follow with her battery-powered pancreas set to report for duty.

“Ready?” I ask.

I watch as she squeezes a stuffed animal to brace for the needle. “Ready.”

I release the pod and the cannula is instantly inserted under her skin. A push of the button begins her continuous drip of background insulin, and we put the pump in her fanny pack that she wears 24/7 – even as she sleeps.

“I didn’t even feel that, Mom,” she says, puffing out her chest.

I smile, before sending her off to resume her childhood – playing outside, riding her bike, wrestling with her brother. Nick and I have shouldered as much of the burden of diabetes as possible because right now, this is her only job. The tools and technology we utilize to manage her diabetes allows her to focus on just being a kid.

Using Ghost Tours to Explore a Historic City - Savannah, GA

(Staircases in Savannah take on a new level of creepiness,
especially when they descend into the basement.)
When Nick and I traveled to Savannah a few years ago, I booked a couple of ghost tours.
Now I know what you're thinking ...
But the main reason why: access. The tours gave us access to areas of historical buildings typically off-limits to the public. I was curious. I wanted to see as much as possible. I hated being cordoned off by 'No Trespassing' signs or barricades. These tours allowed us to bypass all of it without threat of being ticketed.
(Moon River Brewery is reportedly the site of a makeshift hospital for children suffering during a yellow fever outbreak. This creepy old staircase lead to the third floor, but it was physically unsafe for us to ascend.)

(Just look at the craftsmanship of the era. This room was on the second floor of Moon River,
where employees are often too fearful to go due to a vengeful ghost.)

Whatever beliefs you may hold regarding the paranormal, I do not think ghost tours ought to be completely discredited. They can provide a wonderful insight into the city's history, the prominent figures, and stories that have turned into city legends that may explain why or how the place came to be. They are a great exposure to the past, an era folded into the passages of time, and one very different than the one you live in.

(The tree-lined path on the historic Wormsloe Plantation site was hauntingly beautiful.)

Of course, one of the tours was filled with such far-fetched claims of ghost activity, to which I responded negatively, and our tour guide was not happy to find a skeptic on HIS tour. (Side note: I'm what I call an Optimistic Skeptic - I keep an open mind, but try to find an explanation.)

The second tour was much more respectful to the fact that a claim is a claim. There is often little to no documented proof to back it up, however - there are dozens of witnesses who felt or saw the same thing. After the tour guide tells the story, she asked the crowd, what's your takeaway? The tour was an intriguing blend of history with these stories, and we were allowed to linger or explore a certain area to make our own determination.

Even Nick, who is very logical, was interested in what was discussed as we stood on the property; especially when the focus was the Revolutionary or Civil War.
(The basement of Moon River Brewery.)

... Which I think is where such tours can find their success. Get people talking about the history, what you know to be fact, show them the location, but leave it for them to decide. It all points to the notion that life is not always black and white. What lies within the gray area, is still a mystery to explain.

Especially in a city like Savannah.

Kitchen Cravings Beyond Food

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I’ve never considered myself extraordinary in the kitchen.

My desire to improve my cooking dimmed considerably with a couple of food-related diagnoses within my family. I don’t intend to assign blame or anything like that for it is no one’s fault, but it is a fact. Preparing meals became utilitarian – an end to a means, merely. With a list of ingredients and foods memorized that I needed to keep clear of, while also memorizing how much insulin would be required to cover what we do eat – my kitchen had become quite cold, quite quickly.

Combine this with our overscheduled lifestyle, and cooking was always an afterthought. It was always the last thing I wanted to do after a day spent at work. I learned a few quick dinner recipes that required minimal effort and negotiating, and fell head first into a routine that has become painfully dull.

The truth is, I want to get excited about cooking again.
I want my kitchen to be an extension of my affections to my husband and our kids.
I want to learn, and explore, and cook my way through a cookbook, and let the experience change me both as a cook and as a person.
I want to explore food photography, and learn how to best pair wines or bourbons with it.
I want to create beautiful plates that rival the techniques of the chefs on Food Network, and in world class restaurants.

I’m not looking to revolutionize the culinary arts here. I just want to make it fun again.

Unfortunately, I have been all talk and no action lately.

It was months ago that I received Chrissy Teigen’s cookbook – my excitement over it was genuine, but it wasn’t enough for me to write an ingredient list and get started.

I have a Mexico cookbook on my wish list. Nick and I are quite fond of the cuisine, but I haven’t brought it home.

I also have a vintage cocktails recipe book saved. I’m not looking to find fancy ways to get drunk, but I do believe a world is capable of opening up over a cocktail and a good story.

Yet, instead of experiences to share, I only have excuses. “Someday …” I say. “I’ll purchase with my next paycheck.” Or, as I put away the same groceries as I did the week before, “I’ll try again next week.” There is nothing wrong with getting stuck in a rut, but the key is pulling yourself back out.

Step 1: Hit publish to spread the word so the Internet holds you accountable …

To be continued.

Find of the Week: The Straw Tote

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Some trends I overlook; others I latch on to. Last summer, I fell down the rabbit hole that was the straw tote trend. I knew immediately how I would use it:

(See? We hadn't even painted our home's interior yet!)

Though this is a highly seasonal bag, I am glad I purchased one.

It's huge - I've packed it for outdoor lacrosse games and tournaments, and our trips to the lake. It's carried beach toys, towels, water shoes, sunscreen, snacks, water bottles and of course, Madelyn's kit. It was very convenient, and as we prepare for another summer of lacrosse and lakeside fun; I guarantee I will be relying on this tote.

Because of it's construction, I wasn't worried about it getting wet or getting sand on it. This bag had both form and function, even though it's styling was only appropriate for summer.

Though the market is saturated with a wide selection of styles, designers and price points, I purchased Target's version. I paid less than $25, which considering it's size and durability, was a bargain. I would be too scared to carry around the higher-priced designer versions.

It is put on such frequent rotation in the summer that it's cost-per-wear is justified. We can debate the "investing in the quality" of the Mar Y Sol straw tote, but I can assure you my Target bag stood up every demand I put it through.

Unfortunately, this exact bag is no longer available. Target released a new version for 2017, and I made sure to include the variety of price points I mentioned before.

What do you think? Will you be carrying a straw tote on your summer adventures?

How a Pair of Clogs Changed My Life

Once upon a time, a pair of handmade Swedish clogs came into my life and opened up a world of possibility.

I do not remember the "when," likely because it feels like it has always been there. I've met extraordinary people - people I consider to be my close friends. I've experienced incredible opportunities as well, from writing copy for the company, to modeling their products, to representing them at trade shows, to seeing firsthand how they are made in Sweden.

It's true, the old saying - a pair of shoes can change your life.

Sandgrens Clogs has a longstanding history of creating its iconic styles in the passed-down tradition of forging each pair by hand.

For this reason, each pair is unique. They are comfortable, versatile and incredibly durable - shoes that withstand the revolving door of fashion trends, and regular wear. In fact, I wore a pair of clog heels to my sister's wedding, and last the full day in them. I just cannot say that about a pair of pumps or stilettos.

And I'm grateful for it all, not only for the bump in my shoe collection. I learned a lot about myself, about time management, about perspective. I've learned to jump in headfirst the moment I feel myself being pulled, and never look back. It's improved my confidence, helped me grow as a creative writer, expanded my personal communication skills, and taught me to always consider the potential. Though the vehicle came in the form of fashion, the function of such lessons has benefited so many facets of who I am today. And it continues to inspire me.

Beautiful things start happening when you step outside your comfort zone.

What inspires you?