trains, balloons & sugar: a simple birthday

I can’t tell you how freeing it felt to take it easy on the birthday thing this year. Hopefully, we started some traditions that will be great memories, but this year, I took the stress of a huge party out of the equation. We kept it relatively simple and this 4-year-old was probably more excited than he was at his last big party.

If you know me, you know that I don’t keep birthday celebrations to just one day… We kicked off “birthday week” by hitting up Henry’s favorite restaurant, 2Toots, over the weekend. Once we were sure that we weren’t running late getting out of the house, we decided to stop at the train station, so daddy and the birthday boy could hop on the Metra.  “MOMMY! DADDY! We’re at the TRAIN STATION!!!” Baby G and I drove there, so we could leave whenever we needed to, without being beholden to the train schedule.



So. Excited.

We probably could have stopped there, because he was so excited to take the Metra – something that is so simple and mundane, but he was thrilled. We rendezvoused after his 20 minute train ride and headed for lunch. What 4-year-old wouldn’t love to have a train bring their grilled cheese and split a root beer float with mommy? Can’t forget to mention the special birthday song and cupcake delivered via train.


That brings us to the night before the actual big day. We put the kiddos to bed and then blew up 30 balloons while we watched The Bachelor. {The hubs pretends like he doesn’t want to watch it with me, but really, I think he secretly enjoys it so he can provide snarky commentary! Why else would he make sure that I pause it when he goes to the kitchen?}


I knew I wanted to hang balloons in his bedroom doorway, as a fun way to start the day, but I wasn’t sure what to do with the rest. We ended up just hanging them in different entry spaces around our house. It was a HUGE hit! Next year, I think I’m going to add some crate paper to his doorway as well – pulled taut, so that he has to bust through it like a football team at homecoming.



The balloons were a hit! No helium required.

Henry woke up that morning with balloons floating into his room when we opened the door and he jumped up with a huge grin on his face. The look on his face will be one of those moments that is seared into my memory forever. We went downstairs for a birthday morning tradition that we’ve carried over from my hubby’s days as a kid – a stack of donuts topped with a candle for breakfast. I love this tradition, because it’s one of the hubby’s favorite childhood memories and, who am I kidding, I’m on board for any tradition that involves donuts.


The rest of the day was just kind of a sugar and balloon free-for-all. He opened a few gifts with breakfast and some close friends who live nearby stopped over to help us make cupcakes. Last year, I made his cake and frosting from scratch. This year, I went with a box of rainbow chip cake mix and coordinating frosting. Done and done.


Full Disclosure: I took this photo from above because the cupcake papers weren’t as cute after the baking.


By the end of the day, The H Man was fried from skipping his nap and our house was less-than-photo-ready, but I took that to be a sign of a fun day. I might not always think such glowing thoughts about seeing our house such a mess, but that day I felt appreciative looking at the remnants of chaos. It looked like laughter and joy; and really, most days that’s all you need. xoxo


The aftermath.


decompress: the power of a good shower

Last weekend, it dawned on me that I neglected a very important aspect in my boundaries post. With our nonstop to-do lists, the thing that routinely gets pushed to the bottom of that list is making time for ourselves. Amiright??

I hate the phrase “me time.” It makes it sound like something we should feel guilty about. When I’m a hot frazzled mess, it doesn’t serve anyone well. So, in addition to setting boundaries, we need to acknowledge the importance of making time for ourselves. And then we need to not feel guilty about it!! It’s just another piece of the puzzle to maintain or regain sanity, so we can be our best at work and at home. One of my friends calls it hitting her reset button. When things work out perfectly, the reset button might be dinner out with girlfriends, a mani/pedi or an elusive spa appointment. When things are less than perfect, we might chill by ourselves with a giant dish of pasta or something else carby and a bottle glass of wine, followed by something chocolate. Worst case scenario, has anyone else pretended they needed to be in the bathroom longer than necessary, just to be in a quiet room?

Last weekend, I was reminded not to underestimate the power of a good shower. We installed a new shower head, so I promptly locked myself in the bathroom for an hour or so. When I came back out, I felt surprisingly refreshed. I’m a total product junkie so I started thinking about my must haves for a little shower escape.



1 – I’ve never loved our bathroom; in fact, it was almost a deal breaker. This new shower head has changed the game for us, until we can renovate our master. Note: some extender arms come with a little rubber flow restrictor, so you’ll probably want to remove that so it doesn’t turn your rain shower into a drizzle shower.

2 – My favorite face masks are by GLAMGLOW. You might be familiar with the original GLAMGLOW mask, SUPERMUD. It pulls all of the icky stuff from your pores and gets better the more you use it because it keeps your pores from clogging.

3 – More from GLAMGLOW! One of their new masks, FLASHMUD has become my new fave. It’s claim to fame is that it brightens while also exfoliating. I notice a huge difference in my skin tone on days I use this bad boy.

4 – One more face mask. I love love love Fresh products and the Rose Face Mask is a staple. You can use it daily, in place of a traditional toner.

5 – Speaking of masks, they are great for hair too. I regularly use the Phytocitrus Color Protect Radiance Mask to help protect my highlights. A friend of mine is a big fan of the Neutrogena Triple Moisture Hair Recovery Mask and she always has shiny, amazing hair, so I am definitely snagging some on my next Target run.

6 – I love bubble baths, but our current master bath is shower only, so I’m living vicariously on this one. My friend swears by Laura Mercier Honey Bath and it sounds like it’s fab enough to make taking a bath in the kids bathroom worth it. I love that it comes with a cute little honey stick!

7 – Essential oils are definitely having a moment. Another friend suggested adding a few drops of lavender oil to coconut oil or an unscented lotion. A few drops would be perfect in the shower for aromatherapy.

8 & 9 – Exfoliate, exfoliate, exfoliate!!! If you aren’t on the exfoliation bandwagon, you need to be. Splurge. Save.

10 – Especially in the winter, it’s key to keep lips exfoliated too. I love this yummy sugar scrub by Sara Happ.

11 – Hydrating is huge for me because I have crazy dry skin. Right after I turn off the shower, I apply shea & coco butter baby oil. Then I do lotion on top of that – especially in the winter. My usual system is shower, baby oil, bathrobe, face mask, lotion.

12 – I am always on the look out for new lotions or body butters that don’t feel greasy. Right now, I’m swapping between this one by L’Occitane and this one by a small company from Indiana called Bass Farms. My mom gave me the Bass Farms goat milk body butter in Mandarin. The citrus scent really helps to beat the winter blahs.

What other must haves do you swear by? If a trip to the nail salon isn’t in your plans this weekend, hopefully you can at least get yourself to the shower and go off the grid for a while to decompress and hit your reset button. xoxo

building an addition: the unglamorous

As I think back on the process of building an addition onto our home, there was a lot of waiting before we got to any of the pretty stuff. It was fun watching all of the different pieces come together, but sometimes I really wanted to have a fast forward button and watch it all in quick snapshots.

I would’ve been much more anxious with every week that ticked by if it had rendered more than just our garage and driveway unusable. I’m sure living construction adjacent is much different than living in a construction site. This experience might have been a helpful warm up for future home renovation projects that would be a giant imposition – hello kitchen and second floor dream plans!

Part of wanting it to move faster surely came from excitement to just have it done. However, the original estimate was 6-8 weeks and, being newbies to construction, we took that at face value. People told us that we should plan for it to take longer than estimated, but what did we know? Maybe a couple of extra weeks? Try DOUBLE. There are so many moving pieces and things that are out of the contractor’s control. For any future projects, I’m going to go into it expecting double the estimated time.

One might think we are actually still under construction, because our contractor’s sign is still in our yard. Really, we’re just waiting for 2 exterior light fixtures that we had to keep sending back for broken glass. So technically, I guess we’re still in process…


The plan.


My fab sketch illustrating that I wanted a door instead of a window. I should be an artist.


The framing of the two new garage spaces. 


Starting to look like something! 


The garage space closest to the house was commandeered to become the mudroom.


Lots of garage spaces, old and new.


Super exciting: Mudroom insulation and ductwork.


Slowly but surely… mudroom taking shape!


Entry into the kitchen and lots of future storage.


My door and little window! Much better than the sketch.

The original plan was to keep an existing door to access the mudroom from the side of the front porch, but it just didn’t seem functional. The whole point of this project is function, after all. I was also worried about the idea of having a “side entrance” on front of the house. Now that it’s done, I am SO happy about the decision! When we repainted the whole house after the construction was complete, we chose to paint this door the same color as the siding, so it sets it apart from the main entrance. {Complete before/after photos to come!} I’m still a little sad that we didn’t do a dutch door, but turns out those aren’t the smartest choice when you consider winters in Illinois.

I remember coming home from work on a Friday in September and seeing this door and being so excited. It was like the kick off to the fun part and it was the point when the finished product seemed within reach.

suburban problems: project mudroom

Our house is a 1965 work in progress. Parts of it are updated for modern life and other spaces need some love.

We jumped into a major renovation project over the summer, but since I wasn’t blogging then, I’m going to rewind and go through our process now. We are not DIY-ers. We love to take on some small things, but we don’t have the time or the knowhow to jump into anything major on our own. We knew we needed to bring in the professional expertise of a trusted contractor. However, we did not use a designer or architect, so that’s where things get kind of interesting!


Entry from the garage into the kitchen. Dining room to your left, refrigerator to your right. Nowhere to unload shoes or bags.

The Problem: Coming from a two bedroom condo in the city, the hubs and I were thrilled to have an attached garage and didn’t think about much when it came to the logistics of said garage. The entrance into the house from the garage is really the primary entrance and the space was just not functional, no matter how we tried. You would enter the house from the garage and land in the most awkward space, without a single square foot to kick off your shoes or drop a bag. When we first moved in, it wasn’t a big deal, but add Chicago winters, a toddler and a baby into that mix, and you end up with a constant track of snowy, salty, dirty footprints and what-have-you all over the counters in the kitchen, before you even make it to the entry on other side of the house, where you can unload. We quickly figured out, we needed a mudroom.

The Decision Process: We talked about it a lot. Could we reimagine our current kitchen/dining room layout to accommodate all of our stuff? Could we carve out space in the existing garage for a bench and hooks? Do we need to add to our home’s footprint? Or do we just move, now that we know better? We talked about these options all the time; to each other, to our neighbors, to our family and friends {sorry guys – one of us *ahem* may have been borderline obsessive}. Eventually we landed on the concept of building an addition.

Initial Planning: The first plan was something we imagined would be the most cost effective, out of the three potential ways we could expand upon the existing garage. HA! Is there such a thing as “cost effective” when it comes to building an addition onto your home?? The original plan was about double the cost of what we had initially ball-parked. Granted, to come up with that number, we used the super precise method of completely pulling a number out of our asses. After all, we were just taking the 10 feet at the back of the garage and converting it to a mudroom/laundry room and then adding 10 feet of space to the front of the garage. That plan would have altered the whole roofline, without adding any additional livable space on the second floor.

Change of Plans: We thought about scrapping the project all together after seeing the estimate, but we decided to re-work the plans so we could get a little more for our money. The investment made more sense if we weren’t putting so much money into roofwork that was purely aesthetic. We learned that a large part of the cost is getting the workers to your house in the first place, so if we were going to be putting that kind of money into our home then we needed to get more bang for our buck.


A snapshot of our revised plans, going into the project.


Pulling the Trigger: By extending the garage out to the side, rather than forward, we were able to fit a third garage space in addition to the mudroom/laundry, and a better “side” entrance. So now we’re talking about the mudroom/laundry of our dreams + an extra garage, instead of a different roofline. The snow blower needs it’s own space, after all. Hello, first world suburban problems! We started the process with our contractor again, with our revised vision, a process that took a few months, after you factor in the time to for him to price out each specific subcontractor and to secure permits. I acted as the designer and he told me what would logistically work and what wouldn’t. The project evolved a bit as we went, but now we’re done, after 16 weeks of a 6-8 week project.


Boots & more finally have a home. Having a mudroom is a game changer!

It’s already one of the hardest working spaces in our home – getting almost as much action as the kitchen. It’s a mudroom, a laundry room, the pantry that I’ve always dreamed of and extra storage for days. I don’t think we realized how much of a difference it would make in our daily lives and in our ability to stay organized and sane. It’s been a game changer, even without a major built-in that we plan to add down the road. Now I get to relive the process of getting to the finish line. #stcmudroom 


scheduling balance


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Pretty things and organization! I heart Rifle Paper.

I am OBSESSED with my new Rifle Paper Co. calendar that just arrived today! Pretty things that also facilitate organization… I mean! Heart eyes for days (literally days, because we’re talking about a calendar).  I’m sometimes a little too type A for my own good and for the good of the people who have to deal with me… I’m sure the hubs could write his own post on this topic. But, I digress.

Scheduling can be super stressful, so having a great place to keep track of everything is essential. Bonus points for the fact that it’s designed by one of my favorites and the artwork makes me happy. This will hang in the space between our kitchen and our new mudroom (more on that later!) and it will be our base of operations. Though I love my electronic calendar for specific appointments throughout the day, we need something that functions as a basic overview for each day, at a glance. I love this layout because it allows plenty of space for just that.


Is it weird that fresh calendar pages make me happy?? This baby will be full of details in no time.

We take our schedule week by week and it’s constantly changing, so that’s why having this central hub is so important in keeping us sane. There are days I’m in the city, days that I’m working from home, days that my hubby is traveling for work, preschool, doctor’s appointments, etc. You get the idea. Lately, we’ve fallen into a pretty solid system that works for us.

I set my days each week that I’ll be in the city based around when my clients can meet and other events or happenings. Usually this works out to be about 1-2 days per week, but sometimes it’s more. City days require a serious childcare plan. Depending on what my meetings look like, the childcare plan will play out in one of a few ways:

  1. I bring them with me and drop them off with our “city sitter” turned auntie/super close friend. She hangs with the boys while I’m working and then we all rendezvous at the end of the day and find a yummy spot for a family dinner out. This is super fun, but used to be way easier when Henry was flying solo. Now with two kiddos, it’s imperative that we have them changed into their jammies and in the car by 7:00. Theoretically, the baby falls asleep in the car and transfers into his crib and we’re home in time for Henry’s regularly schedule bedtime. So, as fun as this option is, we don’t do it very often because having it all work perfectly is kind of a crap shoot and we’re usually all fried by the end of the day.
  2. My mother-in-law comes over. This is an awesome option, because it gives the boys quality time with their grandma and the obvious… free childcare! But, Nina has 7 grandchildren and we’re not the only ones who think this is a great idea. So, we try to be careful not to ask her to come over too frequently and we certainly don’t want to take advantage.
  3. Our AMAZING nanny! We hit the jackpot through this fall when we met Young Mary Poppins. The boys and I adore her and she is totally comfortable doing preschool drop off and/or pick up if needed. We don’t do a full-time nanny schedule because she’s in grad school and also, we like having the flexibility for me to have days where I’m just solo with the boys or having a grandma or auntie get some quality time with them.

Once a month or so, it works out where the boys are at our house in the burbs and I don’t have an evening meeting or event, so the hubs and I are able to grab dinner and have adult conversation and pretend like we haven’t actually moved 42 miles from the city.

The phrase, no two days are ever the same, has never been more true. It is a constant juggle to make sure we don’t lose our minds and sometimes we do. Just as I think we’ve got the hang of balancing everything, something changes and then we have to find a new system again. For us, the only thing that is constant is change… and the need to stay organized and flexible!