Monday, November 25, 2013

Changing and Rearranging

We have been making big changes in our main living area of the house and now I am finally getting around to sharing some photos of our updates. I think it's really interesting to see how our needs have changed and how the space has developed over time. The first thing I wanted to show off are the awesome built in stairs that Eric made for under our staircase!

This is a project we have been wanting to do since we moved in. The previous space under the stairs was inaccessible and basically unusable and a waste of space.  We had some bookshelves stuck back there but we really couldn't get to them and they didn't give us as much storage as we wanted.  The new built in shelves are very wide and very deep and allow for plenty of storage for our games and extra kitchen goods.

The top section of the shelves will one day be a reading nook for Echo but for now it's a place to hide the cat food so Echo can't eat it (babies love to eat cat food, don't ask me why). 

In order to be able to access the shelves we had to do a little furniture rearrangement and this is the new setup. It is a much cozier arrangement and allows for better conversation and a better spot to sit by the fire since the furniture is closer together now. We even found a nice little nook for Echo's easel and her little rocking chair.

The area by the front window has changed too since we swapped out the round table that was in this corner with the rectangular table that used to be in the dining room. Eric is now using this corner as his work desk for when he works from home. It's great because he has a lovely view out in to the front yard and plenty of light. He also sold his IMac and works exclusively on his new Chrome Book and his Ipad so he doesn't need much room. We almost never use the loft now because we have pretty much stopped watching tv altogether and Echo hates being confined in the small space up there, preferring to have free reign of the whole house. The consequence of this is that we are using our "formal" living room a lot more now and not really spending much time in the the loft. Plans for how to revise the loft space to make it more usable are in the works though.

We got a cool new firewood holder so we can have dry wood inside and it fits nicely with the new furniture arrangement (it needs to be filled up more though!). The house is starting to feel like a greenhouse because I had to move so many plants inside to save them from the freezing weather but it makes everything feel a little fresher and greener so that's nice.

Here is a picture of the new dining room arrangement. I actually think the round table fits better in this space. Unfortunately this area wasn't very clean for this photo, oh well.

I also felt the need to change out the art on the dining room wall so I got a huge poster sized print of one of my photographs and framed it for this wall. I'm loving the updated look. The glass in the frame is a little too reflective though and messes with the photograph, I'm working on a solution to this. I'm moving the art that used to be on this wall up in to the loft where I'm making a gallery wall.

Here is an aerial view of the new downstairs space. Sometimes I think it really helps perk up your spirits to rearrange and redecorate a space. I think this is just what we needed and we are appreciating our house in a whole new way now.

Friday, November 22, 2013

How to Limit Your Holiday Spending

Over the past year Eric and I have gotten pretty good at living a more frugal lifestyle. We are currently spending less than a third of our annual income and the rest goes straight in to our investment and retirement accounts. The holidays are always an expensive time for everyone but there are ways to be creative and cut back.

Now, the Christmas season is really, really important to me and I absolutely don't want to sacrifice my quality holiday experience in order to save money. I do believe however, that if you are smart and plan ahead there are ways you can cut your spending without having to loose any of the joy the season brings. In fact, realizing how much money you saved will make you enjoy it even more. Here are some tricks we use to keep costs down.

I've broken it down in to two sections, decorations and gifts. I know there are other areas to splurge on during the holidays but these are my two biggest areas of spending.

This is a pretty easy one to save some money on. I love having the house gussied up for Christmas and feeling extra festive because of all my holiday accouterments. There are lots of ways to do this without spending much if anything.

-Use what you have.
Personally I use a ton of my leftover wedding supplies for holiday decorations. From the white Christmas lights we used for decorations to the vases that the flowers came in to the tablecloths, plates and glasses. Getting more use out of my wedding supplies makes me feel like I got more bang for my buck and lets me relive my happy wedding memories. Even if you don't have extra wedding gear laying around chances are you have some random supplies that can be repurposed for holiday decorating uses. Look around your house with a creative eye and see what you can come up with.

-Bring in some nature.
I am lucky enough to have a large yard with lots of evergreen plants that grow their naturally. Ever year I cut some things from the yard to make garlands and table arrangements. I have some lovely holly that grows in the front yard which is perfect for holiday decorating. Even if you don't have a big yard chances are you can find some pretty evergreens growing wild if you just take a stroll through your neighborhood.

-Think about getting a smaller tree.
We are doing this this year not really to save money but because it will be easier to keep Echo out of it. If you put a small tree up on a table it has the same effect as a big tree at a much lower cost (plus it's baby proof!).

My mom makes adorable Christmas ornaments out of old wool sweaters that she felts. Use last years Christmas cards to make ornaments or use This years cards to make a banner. Trader Joe's bags can be cut up to make a wreath or garland. Search Pinterest, there are tons of great ideas out there.

I feel you have to be careful about this one. Making gifts is great and special, especially if you have people in your life that appreciate home made goodies. While it seems like making gifts is a great way to save money you really have to watch your cost of materials. Sometimes sewing a cute potholder actually costs a lot more than buying one at Target. if you are smart with your materials however and especially if you already own a lot of the basics you need to make things this can be a really wonderful way to give amazing gifts that are one of a kind. Baked goods or cutting from your Christmas cactus that you have repotted in festive containers (assuming you have a Christmas cactus that grows like crazy like I do) are good low cost options.

-Credit Card Rewards
For all my Amazon shopping this year I was able to use my rewards points from my credit card. i had been saving them up for Christmas since this Summer and was able to get about $90 worth of merchandise for free.

-Bulk Discounts
If you need to buy a lot of something be sure to ask if you can get a discount for ordering a certain amount. My mom did this when buying the beeswax candles she used as favors for my baby shower. They told her they could give her a discount if she bought a certain amount, all she had to do was ask! It may not work but you have nothing to lose by asking.

-Dollar Bins
Good for stocking stuffers and little kids. If your kid is anything like mine they usually prefer the cheap stuff to the beautiful hand made toy that I lovingly selected for them. Lots of stores such as Target and Michael's have good dollar bins.

 -Plan ahead
Start early and strategically buy things when they go on sale. Just be careful that you don't go over board. Often when I start early I just keep finding things I want to buy throughout the year and I end up with way too much stuff! You have to be disciplined if you take this approach.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Brunswick Stew

Being the good Southern girl that I am I love me some brunswick stew! I had actually never had this until I moved to Georgia, I think it must be a South Eastern thing. If you've never had it you are missing out. Traditionally it is made with a variety of meats including squirrel and sometimes rabbit but nowadays most people make it with chicken and pork which is what I did. I'm pretty proud of this recipe since I pretty much made it up on my own (with a tiny bit of help from the internet). i think it rivals any brunswick stew I've had at restaurants. It has the perfect combination of sweet, smokey and spicy, perfect for this cold weather we're having!

1 Tbs butter
1 onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 cup chopped green beans ( you can also use lima beans or edamame which is what I did since it's all I had on hand)
2 cups pulled pork
2 cups shredded chicken ( I used leftover chicken from broth I made earlier in the week)
1 cup frozen corn
4 cups chicken broth
1/3 cup sweet BBQ sauce
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 Tsp black pepper
2 Tbs Worcestershire sauce
1 can diced tomatoes
2 Tbs tomato paste

In a large Dutch oven, saute the onion and celery in butter until tender. Toss in all the other ingredients and simmer for one hour. Optional: top with sour cream, grated cheese or hot sauce. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Updating My Throw Pillows- DIY Pillow Sham

My throw pillows have been around a while and by a while I mean since college (more years ago than I care to remember!). Back then i was going for an eclectic, world traveler vibe in my apartment with a definite tendency towards Asian decore. These days I definitely tend more towards rustic and, well modern themes in my house with a little bit of urban and a little bit of country thrown in (maybe this is what happens when you move to the suburbs). I recently decided that my throw pillows could use an update to reflect my current since of style. Having a toddler around also meant that I wanted them to have removable covers that could easily be washed since she tends to get food on just about everything. 

Being on the cheap side I decided to use fabrics I already had on hand and was able to piece together some scraps from a skirt I made last year to make a new pillow sham. I think it gives the couch a little pick me up and perhaps distracts ever so slightly from the cat scratches at the edges ;-)

I still have the pillow on the right side of the couch to make a new sham for but I haven't decided on fabrics for this one yet, hopefully I can use some leftover fabric scraps again and pull off something that will go ok with the other pillow. I have a whole host of holiday sewing projects in the works so I am in full on crafting mode. Hopefully I'll have more to show soon!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Fire Circle Update

Last Weekend we finally got around to clearing our fire circle (which tends to get totally overgrown in the Summer) and we added some much needed improvements! This year Eric put down weed stopper gardening fabric and gravel around the pit, giving it a much more finished look and hopefully cutting down on the amount of clearing we have to do next year. Here are some pictures of the updated look.

Eric working on spreading gravel

Echo supervises the work

Finished and our first fire of the year!

After these pictures were taken we added more gravel and border bricks. It is already a much more pleasant place to hang out. We have plans to put in benches and fix the death trap of a staircase that leads down to the back yard at some point but that might have to wait until next year. In the mean time it's nice to have the back yard transformed in to a more usable space.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Re-wearing Your Wedding Dress

For our anniversary Date this year I decided I wanted to try to wear my wedding dress again. Now that I've lost all my baby weight it seemed like a good time to break it back out and get at least one more use out of it. I am seriously so in love with this dress, It makes me feel beautiful and comfortable and elegant all at once (which is how all brides should feel in my opinion!).

When I got engaged 4 years ago finding the perfect dress was of course on the top of my to do list. I knew I didn't want a "wedding dress" per se and I absolutely cringed at the thought of going to a bridal salon. I looked in to a number of short options that in the end just didn't feel special enough to me and then I came across my dress at a Nordstroms in the mall. It was perfect, in my price range, beautiful, comfy and fit me like a glove. I snapped it up that day and never looked back. It was also a great shopping experience with no pushy sales people hovering around me, no standing on a pedestal in the middle of the showroom and only my most trusted fashion advisor (my Mom!) was in attendance.

Your wedding dress is probably the most expensive item of clothing you own. For me it certainly is and mine even came in at the bargain price of $360, which is expensive for a dress but a steal for a wedding dress. I always thought it was such a shame to spend so much money on this beautiful, perfect dress that you love and then never get to wear it again. While my dress is definitely formal, found in the evening gown department, I felt like it was simple enough that I could style it in such a way that it would be appropriate for a date night.

For our date we were headed to The Family Dog , a bar in Virginia Highlands for drinks and appetizers, afterward we headed across the street to Rosebud, a more formal restaurant owned by the same people. The whole experience was fairly casual since we aren't really good at being fancy people but it was a nice step up from the kind of places we would normally go out to eat and a nice break from cooking at home which we do 99% of the time. To dress down my wedding gown I paired it with brown leather boots and belt, a denim jacket an owl necklace and a brown feathered headband. You can see how I styled the dress for my actual wedding day in my previous post.

The whole outfit came across as a nice kind of bohemian ensemble and I actually got quite a few compliments on it. It felt great to get to wear the dress again a relive a few of my warm and fuzzy wedding memories as well. I feel inspired now to try to find other ways to re-wear my dress. Have you found a way to wear your wedding dress again? I've had this idea for ages to host a wedding dress party for all my married girl friends where we would all get to wear our dress again. Who wants to do this with me? Come on, it'll be awesome! :-)

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

3 Year Anniversary

The moment we were pronounced man and wife :-)

We started dating 6 years ago after meeting at a swing dance in Buckhead. 4 years ago he surprised me with a proposal in front of a waterfall in the North Georgia mountains. 3 years ago today we stood up in front of friends and family and make our commitment to each other official, legally and emotionally bonded to one another for life.

So much has happened in the 3 years since we married. We bought and fixed up our family home (still a work in progress!) we decide to have our first baby and welcomed her in to the world just over a year ago. We've had adventures together but more importantly we have cared for each other day after day, putting the needs of the other in front of our own and loving one another even on the tough days.

Happy anniversary to my amazing husband. Thank you for helping me build the life I've always wanted and sharing in it with me. 3 years and it just keeps getting better!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Crock Pot Marinara Sauce

Home made sauce with pasta and goat cheese crumbles
A little while ago it occurred to us to look at the list of ingredients on our pasta sauce jar. I can't remember why we were looking at it but what i do remember is that we came away from it feeling shocked by the amount of sugar that was in store bought sauce. It's not that I am against sugar per se (it tastes sooooo good!) but I really don't feel like it has any business being in my pasta sauce. I decided it would be cheaper and healthier to make sauce on my own and this is a recipe I came up with by combining a number of different recipes I found online. It's so easy because you can just put all the ingredients in the crock pot and leave it all day and it has a wonderful fresh taste. I find that the balsamic vinegar gives the sauce just a hint of sweetness without having to add any sugar at all. It should keep for a week or two in the fridge or you can freeze it for later use. This recipe makes the equivalent of  3 jars of store bought sauce.

2 28 oz cans crushed tomatoes
1 6 oz can tomato paste
i onion, chopped
2-4 cloves garlic, diced
1 tbs oregano
2 bay leaves
1 tbs basil
1 tbs balsamic vinegar
fresh ground pepper to taste
1 cube beef bullion

Toss all the ingredients in a crock pot and cook on low for 6 hours. Carefully (it's hot!) transfer to jars and allow to cool before refrigerating or freezing.

Monday, November 4, 2013

October Photos

I think October has been our busiest month in recent history. So much so that I had to do a separate post for photos just from the festivals and events we attended! Here are the rest of the photos from October including a visit from and old friend and a mini road trip!

 First up we had a visit from our good Friend Neil and her baby Isaac! It was such fun to have them with us for the week and for Echo and Isaac to bond. Of course we visited the botanical gardens because we pretty much live there these days :-)

This is just a cute picture of echo passed out on her daddy's lap
 Next we took a short road trip up to DC to visit my brother Logan and do some sightseeing along the way. We stopped in Asheville on the way up and then in Charlottesville on the way back down where we got to visit Neil again.

Logan and Echo got to reconnect which was awesome :-)

Riding the metro

Eastern Market

Eastern Market

Just no

The Navy Yard

Sacked out at the hotel after a day of sightseeing

The children's museum in Charlottesville
 Back in Atlanta we got to socialize with friends and get the babies together for the rest of the month, it wa great seeing all the little ones in their Halloween costumes!

Joanna and Milo

That's it for October. I'm sure we'll have lot's more fun happening in November to share soon :-)

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Beeswax Candles

With the colder weather we've been having I've been getting in to making beeswax candles at home. This is such a great, easy project and it conjures up all kinds of good childhood memories since this is something I did a lot of as a kid. I absolutely love candles and I usually have at least 2 burning in the house on any given day. There were easy and inexpensive to make and the beeswax gives off a lovely, sweet smell.

I purchased my beeswax from the honey people at my local farmers market (much cheaper and better quality than buying it from a craft store) and I ordered the wick from amazon. The glass containers for the candles I picked up at a yard sale, paying $2 for 8 glasses. I melted the beeswax in a double broiler and hung the wicks above the glasses by tying them to a bamboo chopstick which I rested on the top edge of each glass. Then all I had to do was carefully fill each glass with melted wax and allow to cool before trimming the wick. So easy and lovely! This will be a great project to do with Echo when she gets a little older too and I'm thinking these would make wonderful homemade gifts :-)

Friday, November 1, 2013

Happy Halloween!

Things have just gone from Busy to Busier this Fall so I have been really sporadic about posting. Sorry about that! I wanted to make a point to share our Halloween Costumes from yesterday while it was still timely so here it is! Echo went as little red riding hood and Eric and I were the Big Bad Wolf and the Woodsman respectively. First some pictures of Echo in her costume...

 The hood I made from an old Shirt my brother was getting rid of I used a red ribbon to tie it around her neck and embroidered a wolf silhouette on the back (my embroidery skills are improving!). The rest of the outfit was made from clothes we already had or were able to borrow from a friend.

She looked so amazingly cute in this I could just die! She got to wear it 3 times, once for a baby meet up, once for story time at the library and once on actual Halloween. Speaking of actual Halloween...

I made Eric's wolf costume out of old sweater scraps I had leftover from a blanket I made last year. The mask had a paper baking and I just sewed the scraps on top of it. The paws were old sweater sleeves with felt "claws" sewn on. For my costume I just used a flannel shirt, jeans, boots, a belt and hat I already owned. I used eyeliner to draw on a  beard and borrowed a hatchet from the garage to complete my Woodsman ensemble. All of our costumes cost us basically nothing since we had all the pieces already.
It was really fun dressing up as a family and we had a great time taking Echo trick or treating for the first time. We only went to 3 houses but we scored tons of candy and Echo is turning in to a chocoholic already! We are looking forward to the many years of trick or treating we have coming up, having a kid is so much fun!