Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Tuesday Lovin': Portland, Oregon

T and I went on a girls' only road trip to Portland, Oregon this weekend.  On a good day it's an easy 3 hour drive along I-5.  On Friday afternoon, we hit rush hour in Seattle, Tacoma and Olympia, so it took us 5.5 hours.  Sigh.

I've found that since having a kid, vacations are hit or miss.  They usually end up being MORE work because the place we're staying isn't set up the way we've got things at home.  I don't get to sleep in or lounge around by the pool with a fruity beverage anymore.  My friend J calls it "same shit, different place".

So I had low expectations but was still excited.  And man, was it ever amazing.  It was a dream vacation (except for the traffic).  Seriously.  We did not have a SINGLE meltdown by either one of us, despite our schedule being all out of whack.  We had FUN.  T wants to go back already.

A lot of the awesomeness was provided by our fine host city.  I worked in Portland for a month or so back in my consulting days, and have been there maybe once or twice since, but we really haven't spent much time exploring the city.

It is a city after my own heart, a cleaner, yummier, friendlier version of Seattle.  T and I ate our way through Portland last weekend:  Slappy Cakes. Afternoon tea at The HeathmanOld Spaghetti Factory. VooDoo Doughnut.

Every single place was friendly and gracious.  No evil eye for bringing a toddler to fancy afternoon tea.  Not even from our fellow patrons.  Amazing. 

No problem showing up at the Old Spaghetti Factory on a Saturday night at 6:45pm without a reservation - we were seated right away, and served promptly. 

Not a single issue with T's allergy - soy milk was available everywhere including in the hot chocolate at afternoon tea, VooDoo doughnuts had an incredible selection of vegan donuts, and Slappy Cakes had Earth Balance soy margarine instead of butter.  I think I'm in love.

Scratch that, I KNOW I'm in love.  People were super nice to us.  They gave up their seats on the  crowded street car so T and I could sit.  This rarely happens on the bus in Seattle. 

Some very nice ladies (who happened to be teachers) at the streetcar stop were talking to us and telling me how T is well on her way to reading because she noticed two of them were carrying Whole Foods bags.  (Yes, I know, we're raising a yuppie hipster.  She also recognizes Target and Starbucks logos...)

Even at the Crafty Wonderland store, the staff was friendly despite T's desire to touch everything and her need to be reminded to "look with your eyes, not with your hands" every 30 seconds.

The high point of our trip was the two round trips we took on the Portland Aerial Tram, which we nicknamed the Vamoosh since it looks just like Pocoyo's spaceship/undersea vehicle.  I accidentally paid for her, not knowing kids under 7 are free, so they just let us ride it twice, offered to take a photo of us together, and even gave us both stickers.

I've been a lot of places which *tolerated* kids, but nowhere as kid-friendly as Portland. We'll totally go back.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Project Life: The Fabulous Month of June and a Giveaway!

I've actually been done with June's Project Life for a few weeks since I never got behind on those.  I didn't want to post those pages before I posted May's because I have this thing about being in order.  June was pretty mellow but full of fun things like a Caspar Babypants show, the awesome birthday crown T and TJ made for me, and T's first summer treats like ice cream (non-dairy of course) and a popsicle.  Also, more cupcakes.  The 3x4 cute hexagon card and the "every day" and "father's day" cards are FREE printables from Smitha Katti's blog.

Click on each photo to see a bigger version.

May 28- Jun 3: Caspar Babypants show, my new craft room, and grandparents!

Jun 4-10: Picking a color and sticking with it, not an exciting week :)

Jun 11-17: Cupcakes and friends, Father's Day @ The Keg, Baby X' ultrasound

Jun 18-24: T's first school concert, first ice cream cone, work photo shoot

Jun 25- Jul 1: my birthday, first mini album made, T's first popsicle

And now for the fun part!  I've never done a giveaway on my blog before, so I'm excited about this :)  While organizing my extensive collection of washi and "washi-like" tape, I found a few duplicates and ones I'm just not going to use.  One lucky winner will get 3 new rolls of paper tape: light purple washi tape from Japan, a roll of red solid tape, and a roll of checkered tape from the Todd Oldham line at Target.

How to enter:

Leave me a comment, and include an email address where I can reach you.  One entry per person, plus one extra if you share my link on Twitter or Facebook.  Just leave me the URL to your tweet or status update in your second comment and I'll put your name in the drawing twice.

Entries close by noon Pacific time on Tuesday July 31, 2012. BabyT will help me pick a random winner that evening and I'll notify the winner to get a mailing address, and soon after that one lucky person will be able to stick washi tape on everything his or her heart desires.  Hooray!

Update:  See here for the winner!  Thanks everyone for entering.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Dove Visible Care Creme Body Wash Review, Coupon and Contest

I'm a leisurely shower kind of girl. In fact, I like the shower as a place to think and work out things that are bothering me. It's too bad I'm not one of those people who does that while running - I'd be a lot thinner, for sure...

T, me, and BabyX'
When T was a newborn, aside from the lack of sleep, it was the lack of time to take a leisurely shower that was a hard adjustment to new mama-hood. Invariably, Miss Baby would start wailing for a feeding 5 minutes after I stepped in the shower. Not to mention all the times in the shower I'd hear phantom baby crying, jump out in a hurry, only to find her fast asleep still. Hormones will do that to you, I guess.

Now that we're long past that stage, and haven't embarked on it just yet with Baby X', I jumped at the chance to review a new premium body wash by Dove. I'm not a mass-market bar soap kind of girl. I don't wear perfume, so I like my bath products to smell good, and they also need to keep my dry skin moisturized.

I used to have a *thing* about buying bath products and I still have trouble resisting cute packaging and yummy scents. So when the box from BlogHer showed up, revealing a full size bottle of Dove Visible Care Renewing Creme Body Wash, I was pretty stoked to try it out. (There's something cool about getting free stuff delivered to my door!)

After using it for a week, my skin feels good. I'm huge and pregnant and getting lotion on my swollen legs and feet isn't as easy as it used to be. I can actually skip it and do just fine with this Dove body wash only, so thumbs up for that. The scent is a nice floral that's not overpowering, and I'm super picky about scents. The feel of the body wash is nice and creamy without being weirdly greasy. It rinses off easily and doesn't leave any residue on my skin. There are no parabens listed in the ingredients. I'm a fan.

Thanks to the BlogHer review program, you can get $1 off your next purchase via the coupon below *and* also register to win a $500 SpaFinder gift certificate.

That would be one heck of a spa day, for sure. I'd use part of that to get the usual stuff: haircut, color and eyebrow waxing, but would also try to sneak in a massage and a mani/pedi as well. And maybe a facial.

What would you do with $500 of free spa goodness? Inquiring minds want to know.

Visit Dove® VisibleCare® to get a coupon for $1 off!

Enter to win one of two $500 Spafinder gift certificates!
You may receive (2) total entries by selecting from the following entry methods:
a) Follow this link, and provide your email address and your response to the Promotion prompt
b) Tweet (public message) about this promotion; including exactly the following unique term in your tweet message: "#SweepstakesEntry"; and then visit this link to provide your email address and the URL to that Tweet.
c) Blog about this promotion, including a disclosure that you are receiving a sweepstakes entry in exchange for writing the blog post, and then visit this link to provide your email address and the URL to that post.
This giveaway is open to US Residents age 18 or older. Winners will be selected via random draw, and will be notified by e-mail. Winners will have 72 hours to claim the prize, or an alternative winner will be selected.
The Official Rules are available here.
This sweepstakes runs from 7/18/2012 - 8/22/2012
Be sure to visit the Dove® VisibleCare™ Crème Body Wash brand page on BlogHer.com where you can read other bloggers’ reviews and find more chances to win!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Tuesday Lovin': Washi Tape

I spent $20 on tape at Target last week. Yes, tape.  In my defense, it was really cute.  When I told TJ this, he just gave me the "why is my wife so crazy?" look.
Target "washi" tape

Target has adorable little sets of 4 rolls of tape that approximate washi tape.  Each pack is only $4 and I found red/pink, orange/yellow, green, and blue/violet versions.  I'd love to know if there are others!

Real washi tape is from Japan, made of rice paper, and is quite expensive - it's hard to find it for less than $3 a roll.  If you order it from Japan, you also have to pay A LOT for shipping.  But the real stuff from Japan is dreamy.

What's the big deal about this tape?  Well, for one thing, it's made of paper, either in solid colors or nifty patterns.  It can be a bit translucent so if you stick it on patterned paper, some of the design underneath shows through.  Since it's paper, it tears easily, or can be cut more precisely with scissors.  You can write on it with most pens, though some washi-like tapes have coatings on them that make this more challenging.  It is great for wrapping gifts, because you don't have to worry about hiding the tape, since it's cute and decorative.

The adhesive is removable, so the tape can be repositioned, though some of the more delicate ones need to be handled carefully to avoid tearing it.  It doesn't leave a sticky residue on things.  What's not to love?

Even better, washi tape reminds me of the Fisher Scientific tape we'd use in lab to label, well, everything.  Reagent bottles.  Our belongings.  Lab notebooks.  If you used a Sharpie to write on the label, the stuff was resistant to most chemicals.  Unless you were having misadventures with alcohol or something really caustic.  In which case you probably had more important things to worry about than your labels becoming unreadable.

My tape collection is somewhat out of control - I bought a new tray to hold it and I have about 50 different rolls.  I'm not allowed to buy any more.

Washi tape is super-trendy in scrapbooking and card making these days. A friend of mine makes really cool flowers out of washi tape as scrapbook embellishments, and has promised to show me how over Skype. How cool is that?

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Enjoying maternity clothes?!

I've been wearing maternity clothes for about 3 months now and it was a gradual transition from mostly my regular clothes and a few maternity pieces to nearly all maternity stuff now.  Last time I was disappointed by my shrinking wardrobe options, but I'm seeing some definite benefits right now.

Luckily I got pregnant at the exact same time this year as I did a few years ago, so my clothes are all in the right season.  Well, to be honest, this summer is a lot cooler than that last one so I haven't busted out the summer pieces as much.  There's still hope, right?

What I did this time, though, was weed out everything that didn't fit right or I just plain didn't like.  I had a momentary pang of "oh, it's only for a few months, so I should just deal with it" but I realized that when I already feel like I'm inhabiting someone else's swelling body, I should at least *like* what I'm wearing.  So out went the horrible synthetic fabric dress pants, the misshapen tunics and the one pair of jeans that was tight in all the wrong places.

Though this is likely the last time I'll be pregnant, I allowed myself to buy a couple of new things, and kept away from Old Navy and Target, which are cheap and have lots of sizes, but whose stuff never quite fits right or wears well over time.  As a reformed cheapie clothes shopper (volume over quality) this is a big step for me.

I bit the bullet and upgraded to Gap's maternity options, which are fewer but much better quality.  I got a pair of jeans which will work for at least a couple more weeks, and post-partum, but likely will get too uncomfortable for the last month or so.  I can feel the pinch already, sadly. 

I am in absolute and total love with their Pure Body T-shirts and tanks and bought 3 of those, even though I have plenty of other shirts (both maternity and not) I can still wear.  They are nice cotton shirts with a lot of stretch in vibrant colors.  They fit snugly, which I like in a T-shirt and are super soft and keep their shape after multiple washes.  I wish I had discovered them last time!

So my entire wardrobe right now is fairly limited - 5 tank tops, 10 t-shirts (short and long sleeved), 2 pairs of jeans, 2 pairs of yoga pants/sweats, 1 hoodie, 1 pair of shorts and 1 pair of capris barely hanging in there.

Apple pie
Photo by Elvira-Ciboulette
Oddly, I love it.  It's easy to find something to wear, because it all fits right and I like it.  I've removed everything from my closet that doesn't fit right now to a couple of bins so I don't have to look at them or play the trying-on game every morning.

I'm looking forward to the time when I can go back to my regular clothes after we're done nursing 100x a day and I've regained some semblance of my pre-baby body.  I have a much better idea of what I really *need* and can spend the cash to buy nicer options that I *want* to wear.

In the meantime, I'm going to revel in the brilliance behind pants with an elastic waist.  And maybe eat some more pie.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

I just wanna be loved by you

This is apparently a Weekend of Introspection.  Or something. 

Comments on my previous post got snarky.  This is pretty unusual for my blog since I generally tend not to write things that piss people off. Or if I do, no one's reading them.

I hate conflict, which is probably surprising since I'm so opinionated.  I think it's hardwired into my personality.  I dwell on stuff for days until it gets sorted out, or (worse!) slowly fades away.  It makes me unsettled and unhappy - that same feeling I got as a kid just before I got into trouble for something.

I've written before that I have low tolerance for people who bitch and moan about their problems but refuse to do anything about it.  (Which is funny because if you ask my husband I have a few of these where the solution is patently obvious to him.)  The judgmental comments I made on my last post are specifically in relation to this. 

Maybe if I were a better person, I wouldn't judge anyone or anything and leave it to the Great Hereafter or whatever.  But I can't.  If multiple people (who are not my BFFs) are going to bring their (similar) issues to me looking for validation on something I can't get on board with, I can't help but be irritated.

My first thought was to delete the thread or at the very least, my own comments to stem any further disagreement/disapproval.  But that doesn't really fix anything, as I still *feel* that way.

Life is too short to worry about what anonymous folks on the Internet think of me.  So what if they don't "like" me, as much as one can not "like" someone they've never met.  I do the same thing when I read a blog on something I vehemently disagree with and feel moved to comment on.

I'm starting to realize (and hate) that one of the things I'm getting from social networking, blogging, etc. is this sort of "validation" - this "yes, we agree, because you're like us".  Being part of a group and fitting in (however anonymously).  Of course this has been one of the themes of my life.  As much as I talk a good game, I'm not comfortable rocking the boat, being the non-conformist or *gasp*, having people "yell" at me.

This is part of the reason I stopped commenting entirely on political things on Facebook.  It was raising my blood pressure, and totally depleting any entertainment value or "fun" I was getting out of being on Facebook.  I'm not a person who enjoys a good argument.

I'm not sure what the solution is, besides practice, practice, practice at getting comfortable with conflict.  I can only imagine it will help me in sticky situations, since I'm long past being a kid who needs to worry about "good behavior". 

I guess it's a good lesson on cost-benefit analysis too.  Is my need to write about X or say Y big enough to withstand Z that I might hear as a result?  Sometimes yes, sometimes no.  I often employ this at work and keep quiet as a result, though inside I'm raging at what people are saying.

In the end, I think it comes down to the specifics.  I think I get very wound up on hypothetical, philosophical discussions that are not serving me well. 

The real topic at hand is not the State of Maternity Leave in the US and whether Marissa Mayer's Personal Choices will affect it in any way.  That may be the new form of armchair entertainment in the blogosphere but in the end I'm not sure if it's useful.

What matters to me is whether my request for leave will be approved and whether I'll still have a job when I return.  And maybe keeping other people from sucking up my emotional bandwidth.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Ditching the "what's next" mindset

I cannot remember a time growing up where I wasn't being exhorted to prepare for the future. 
Seriously, in elementary school, our teachers said things like "In second grade, you won't be able to do x anymore, your teachers will expect you to do y."  Towards the end of elementary school they focused on what would be expected of us in middle school.  And of course in middle school, it was all about what we'd need to do in high school, and in high school what we needed for college.  In college, it still wasn't over - our professors and mentors talked about what PhD programs would expect or what we needed to put on our resumes to get a good job.

My parents were similar, but took a longer term view - for them it was all about education and getting into a good college and course of study, which would enable me to find a good job and be successful.

It's a natural thing to do, of course, since school has such a natural progression and both parents and teachers are shepherding kids through the growing-up-process to become contributing, well-adjusted adults.

But after hearing that for so many years, it's hard to break out of that mindset.  I work for a company that has a lot of smart and motivated people, and it seems to have led to an "up or out" culture, where you constantly need to "do more with less" and strive for that next promotion.

Our peers "trade up" all the time - new cars, new houses, new jobs where they make more money.  It's natural to want more, I guess.

But a few years ago I realized, to my great surprise, that I'm happy exactly where I am. 

I don't want a newer, more fancy house (though I wouldn't mind making some alterations to optimize our space).  I love our house, and we will likely live here until we move out of this state.

I love my car, which is nearly 7 years old now (and has just 40,000 miles on it!).  It might be nice to get the all wheel drive version, but otherwise, it's still great.

Job-wise, I'm satisfied, though nervous about how long I'll be "allowed" to work part-time.  But if I could, I'd do it indefinitely.  It works so well for us right now.  I don't need gobs more money, though of course, I wouldn't turn it down if it knocked on my door.

It took me a long time to accept this happiness and contentment for what it is.  I still struggle with it. 

When people ask me how old T is, my automatic response is "almost 3".  Which is true, but really, I'm not honoring where she is right now by saying that.  She's 2.  She'll be 2 for a few more months, and I won't get 2 back (though in some ways, hell, I don't want it back!).  So I remind myself that she is just 2, right now.  There's time for 3 later.

I spent a lot of time when I was a kid and a teenager wishing I was older.  I wasn't very happy, and wanted to fast-forward to a time when I would hopefully be happy.   I used to think things like "When I'm skinny, I'll be happier", or "When I get married I'll be happy".  Both of which were sort of true, but only because they catalyzed other changes in my life.  And now I'm most definitely not skinny, and the happiest I've ever been.  Who knew?

So I've arrived at Happiness and Contentment, and I'm cool to let things be.  To experience time as it goes by, without expectations or speeding up to the Next Big Thing.  10 more weeks as a mama of 1 - I'll take it, gladly.   Realizing I'll probably never go back to school and get that PhD?  Just fine with me.   Knowing I'll never be the CEO of any company with more than one employee?  Okee-dokee.

This isn't to say I don't have goals or things I want to work on.  But I'm not constantly watching and pursuing them, ignoring what's in front of me right now.

Life has gotten much better since I stopped keeping one eye on my next move forward.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Why we should choose our role models carefully

I wasn't going to write about Marissa Mayer's appointment to be CEO of Yahoo, figuring many of my fellow bloggers (ones I read, even!) would discuss it.

But as an also-7-months-pregnant woman in the tech industry, I can't let it go.  I don't think it's Mayer's responsibility to *do* anything differently than she plans to do - she needs to live her life the way she wants to, and clearly she is ambitious, successful, and kickass.  Go her.

What I do take issue with is so many women, and women's affinity groups hailing this as a great leap forward for us.  Yes, it's awesome that another large, well known company has a female CEO.  I get it.  Even better that her pregnancy didn't prevent them from choosing her.  (Talk to me sometime about job searching when one is pregnant - super fun.)

But, her statement about working through her few weeks of maternity leave is what gets me.  I don't know what Yahoo's mat leave policy is, but I suspect it's at least 12 weeks, and possibly more.   If the CEO isn't planning to take the leave, what does that say about the rank-and-file who think they need it?  Especially those who feel more "replaceable"?  Should we all hurry back to work?

I'm sure I'm not the only one whose male and/or child-free coworkers have made comments envious of my "5 months of vacation" coming up.  (Clearly these people have not spent 24/7 with a hungry newborn.)

Yes, I get 20 weeks, and yes, that's extremely generous for an American company.  But honestly it's still not enough. 

At 20 weeks last time, T was still waking 1-2x per night to eat.  She was getting all her nutrition from me, which meant I had to pump a couple of extra times per day for those 5 months, in addition to feeding her directly, in order to have any chance of enough of a milk stash when I went back to work because I knew I couldn't pump enough in a work day to feed her while I was gone.

In my ideal world, I would have been on leave through 9 months or so, when T started eating significant amounts of "real food" and started sleeping better.  Sure there are people rolling their eyes at this, and sure it's *possible* to go back to work as soon as your medical issues are sorted out.  But I think we as a country need to do better than that. 

I'm not recommending that Mayer do anything differently.  But I do think we need to be careful who we're holding up as our shining examples, because they might end up shooting us in the foot.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Chaperone: BlogHer Book Club Review

I almost didn't sign up to review The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty, and that would have been a shame.  When I read the synopsis, it totally wasn't my kind of thing - historical fiction, set in 1920s New York (mostly).  But then I realized that the Book Club as yet hasn't steered me wrong - there has not been a single book that I disliked or felt was totally not worth the time.

So I took a chance and started reading this one on my Kindle.  The formatting had some quirks around chapter headings but nothing too distracting, and the story and characters were so compelling I finished this in less than a week.  

The main character is Cora, a married woman in Kansas who agrees to chaperone a teenager who will attend dance classes in New York for a summer.   The story held so many surprises, none of which I saw coming, though I bet on second reading the author alludes to some of them beforehand.  I love that in a book - each time I thought "OMG!" and had to keep reading.

There's a part towards the end where Cora takes a huge bold step towards arranging her life the way *she* wants it, after living under societal constraints for so long.  I loved it - it was unconventional and surprising.  It was one of those things where I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, and it never did.   I liked that subtle message of "you can get the life you want, and you don't have to worry it's all going to come crashing down any minute now".

This was definitely a novel with great attention to historical details about how people lived their lives in the 20s, but it also managed to make the characters timeless and relatable in the current day, which is rare.  I'm glad to have this one on my Kindle to revisit later and I definitely recommend it if you're looking for a good novel to get lost in.
I'd love to hear from anyone else who's read it!
I was compensated for this review by BlogHer Book Club but the opinions expressed are totally my own.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Facebook: I can't quit you, babe

this is me on Facebook
When I took my Facebook hiatus back in April, I realized pretty quickly how much time I was spending on it.  In fact, it was staggering how much "free" time I felt like I had when I didn't veg out in front of Facebook for a couple of hours each evening, plus quick checks on my phone and at work during the day.

It should have been easy for me to give it up, but as with the the siren call of simple carbs, I keep going back to Facebook.  Here's why:

1.  Better friendships

I know there are lots of detractors out there who say "conversing" via status updates and the occasional chat is not real friendship, and stalking reading other people's daily minutiae isn't building relationships either.  But those people are usually extroverts.  For my introvert self, who HATES talking on the phone, Facebook allows me to choose when I want to be social and outgoing.  As my geek hubby calls it, "asynchronous communication" rocks.

I've gotten back in touch with long lost high school friends, become better friends with folks from previous jobs or college who were just acquaintainces, and also get to keep tabs on my local friends a lot more often than I would now that everyone is so busy with life/kids/whatnot.  I might only see some of them once a month, but I have a pretty good idea of what's going on in their day to day lives if they use Facebook somewhat regularly.

2.  Educational value

I don't read the news online anymore because most of it is either depressing or inane, and lord knows we don't get an actual newspaper or watch TV news (because we no longer have TV).   But if something big happens, guaranteed I'll find out about it via my Facebook feed.  That's pretty sad, but it's kept me relatively well-informed.  If something grabs my attention, then I'll look it up online to read more.  Sometimes it's real news like a natural disaster, sometimes it's politics, which I mostly try to avoid, and of course I get my celebrity gossip this way too.  Quick and easy.

What's even better, though are the interesting links my friends tend to ferret out - TED talks, thought provoking editorials and blog posts.  I don't spend tons of time browsing the Internet on my own so this is a quick way to learn something new.

3.  The Mama Network

This is my favorite and the hardest for me to quit.  I have MANY mama friends on Facebook, and they are nothing short of amazing.   When T was born and I was having a hard time with breastfeeding, several friends reached out to me with support.  What was even more astonishing was that a few of them were people I hadn't seen since high school and we hadn't kept in touch.  It was a giant kumbayah moment, like I was being welcomed into the Mama Club.  As I sat in that rocker, gritting my teeth and nursing my babe through those first difficult weeks, it was so helpful to hear from these faraway friends.

It's still true.  When we have rough days, there are a lot of parents in my feed to commiserate.  Getting that kind of support on these busy days when I just want to veg out in my PJs and not actually *talk* to anyone, is priceless.

I'm sure most of this is due to my personality type, and the fact that after a day at work and/or a day with a chatty toddler, I am mostly done talking.  IM is fine, email is fine, but I just want to sit quietly.  But I still want to connect with people and catch up with friends, without having to dress up and go somewhere, or make small talk on the phone.

What I struggle with is how to keep these activities in a little timebound box so I'm not "stealing time" from the other things I want to do.  Setting a timer doesn't work for me - it just makes me belligerent.  So I'm still working that out and would love some suggestions from the Peanut Gallery out there :)

What about you? Do you love Facebook?  Hate it?  Both?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Project Life: Back to Reality Edition and Finally Caught Up!

For the past several weeks, I've been working hard on my Project Life scrapbook pages for both the previous week, and an "old" week from April/May.  Since it's a chronological scrapbook, with a two-page spread for every week, my anal-retentive project manager self needed to make sure I got "caught up" and accounted for every week.  Because the sky would fall if I skipped a week or two, you know :)

Kidding aside, it was actually fun, once I let go of the guilt and stress about being "behind".  I thought about it as a big chunk of FUN and an easy way to spend time being crafty, without the hassle of having to come up with a new project from scratch.

And flipping through the completed pages - more than half a year's worth - is really rewarding.  Not only do I get to remember all of the "everyday" bits I would have forgotten otherwise, I have an amazing way to see how much T has changed in just 6 short months.    Not to mention a huge sense of accomplishment for getting all those pages completed.

I'm also getting better at the "crafty" bits and things look a little more pulled together in my recent pages, instead of delightfully random and mismatched.  I haven't been paper crafting long enough to have a signature "look" but I love trying out different things and refining what my aesthetic might be.

OK, that's a little pretentious.  Really, I just love glitter, glue, paper and stickers.  A lot.

Here are the pages I've done for the weeks after we returned from Ireland, from late April to Memorial Day weekend.  This officially gets me caught up, which warms my little heart.  Now I can just focus on getting each week done!

As always, click the photo to see a larger version.

April 21-29: getting over jet lag, washing the car, and loving Instagram

April 30- May 6: Seattle Children's Museum, felt board and having fun with washi tape and die cutting

May 7-13: Our 7th anniversary zoo trip, making pizza, and picking an actual color scheme this time!

May 14-20: Hangin' at home, cake pop and lots of crafty filler since I had so few photos

May 21-27: Crafty goodness and more car washing

On this last spread, my lack of spatial abilities resulted in me having to redesign the first page.  Each week's page starts on the *back* of the 2nd page of the previous week.  I forgot about this, and did the May 14-20 spread on two pages, like I usually do, forgetting that the 2nd page should actually be on the *front* of the already-done May 21-27 spread.  (This is the problem with getting behind and skipping ahead.)

Luckily it was an easy fix and I could convert the original Page 1 of May 21-27 into what you see above in a matter of minutes, without losing much.  It forced me to edit out a few photos that were not remarkably different.

I love that this project is making me *use* all those wondrous supplies I've been hoarding and collecting.  And each weekly spread is simple enough that I can usually finish it in an hour or so, but can spend more time if I want to get all crafty with it.

The other unexpected result is that all this time being crafty is helping me arrange my new craft room in an optimal way for me to actually see what I have and use all of my tools.  I've gotten a lot more use out of my Silhouette machine and my Cuttlebug embossing machine due to where I've put them on my work table.

Thoughts?  Tips for me?

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Know when to walk away, know when to run

I saw this amazing cake and was smitten.  Head over heels, completely in love.  I knew it would be the perfect thing to bake for T's upcoming birthday.  She had expressed the desire for a "real cake" instead of cupcakes after seeing her friend H's fabulous Cars-themed cake at a party a few weeks ago.

Purple Ombré Sprinkles Cake
Purple Ombre Cake by raspberri cupcakes

I mean seriously, isn't it AMAZING? Rapturous? Beautiful? Dreamy? Perfect for a 3 year old's birthday party?

(Cue Richard Marx's crappy song from the 80s "Shoulda Known Better...")

I knew I'd need practice.  While I enjoy baking occasionally, I have never baked a layer cake and frosted it.  I figured I could practice a few times before September and figure out how to do this.  I'm a former chemist, and I'm good at following precise lab procedures, so this isn't much different, right?

The first indication of disaster up ahead was the fact that the only round cake pan I have is 10 inches, which is 2 inches bigger than the one the recipe recommends.  But since I was making fewer layers (only 3 instead of 5) I figured this might be ok.

But for each layer there wasn't enough batter to fill up the pan, so they ended up being lopsided flat pancakes once baked.  Sigh.  Also the second and third layers weren't different enough color-wise after baking (though the batters looked different going into the oven!).

I still figured I could practice on the layering and frosting parts so I kept going.  This took me all day.  And I chose the one day it hit 80 degrees.  Not very smart, huh? 

I bought a local brand of raspberry jam for spreading between the layers and that was pretty amazing - no big blobs of raspberries and easy to spread. 

The vegan chocolate "buttercream" frosting was off in texture, possibly because of the heat.  T is still allergic to dairy unless it's been baked, so frostings need to be made dairy-free for her.  I had great luck a few weeks ago with the plain vegan buttercream, but not so much with today's chocolate version which was sort of grainy and wouldn't get smooth or fluffy despite lots of mixing and playing around with the ingredients.

The end product looked, well, homemade.  Respectable for a first try, and the almost-ombre layers did look pretty cool when I cut into the cake.  But the cake was super-sweet and super-dense, probably due to the thin cake layers and all that jam and frosting.  (And I don't have much of a sweet tooth to start with.)

I think a birthday cake should look magical (like the original!).  I want my birthday girl's eyes to light up when she sees it, knowing that gorgeous cake was made just for her.  I get that when she's 30, she'll be grateful that her mama went to the trouble of making a homemade cake, but that's not how it works when you're 3.  You want the pretty one.

So without regrets, we'll go to Whole Foods and talk to them about cake options.  Sometimes it's better to leave important things to the professionals.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Feels like the first time

aka, Cutting Adhesive Vinyl in the Silhouette machine.

My crafty eyes are bigger than my stomach.  Even my huge almost-7 months-pregnant stomach.  So I tend to buy the supplies for projects I intend to do *sometime* in the future, and they sit for weeks, or months.  Or maybe even a year.

When I bought my (beloved) Silhouette SD die cutting machine back in 2010, I figured I'd mostly use it to cut paper - letters, shapes, etc for card making.  But it also cuts vinyl, which you can use to make iron-on T shirt transfers, or adhesive stickers for signs, laptops, and cars.

So I bought a pack of assorted colors of adhesive vinyl sheets to try it out.  And that vinyl sat and mocked me in my craft room.  I'd see it, get excited about using it, then realize I had a million other things to work on.

My Dream Lab class gave me the kick in the pants I needed.  One of the class "challenges" was to "Go Big", and put up some kind of message or sign out in the world for people to see.  I didn't want to hang something up on someone else's property, but one of the suggestions was to put a sign on your car.

And I realized this would be the perfect opportunity to try out a vinyl decal.  I'm pleased with how it turned out:

My first thought was to put up something short and sweet to the effect of "get happy" or "find joy" or something, but that sounded too much like a command and sort of annoying.  So I figured maybe this would just get people thinking.  And probably wondering what the heck it means or what I'm trying to sell them...  TJ, of course, thinks it's odd, so I guess I've succeeded.

But the project was surprisingly easy and quick.  Here's how I did it:

Supplies and Tools
  1. Using the Silhouette Studio software, I set up the page so it was 6x12 on the cutting mat, then chose a sans serif font with thick lines (in this case Franklin Gothic Heavy, conveniently included with Windows 7.) 
  2. I created one document for the "what makes you" portion, and sized the font to be as large as could fit on the 6x12 sheet (spread over two lines).  It ended up being 156 pt.  I created a second document for "happy?" because I wanted it in a different color and also larger - 204 pt.
  3. I test cut the design on a 6x12 piece of cardstock just to get a feel for how big the letters would actually be and whether they were readable from a distance.  Since I had only 1 piece of vinyl in each color I wanted to use, I wanted to be sure it was right before cutting into it.
  1. I set the Silhouette machine's Cut Settings to 'Silhouette vinyl" (even though it was a different brand), a cut speed of 9 and a thickness setting of 7, and used the blue cap (0.1mm) and made sure the 'use cutting mat' box was checked as well. 
  2. I stuck the white vinyl sheet to the cutting mat (short end in) and loaded it into the machine.  I clicked Cut and held my breath, and fortunately it cut just fine.  I repeated the process for the yellow vinyl sheet.
  3. I should have taken a photo at this point, but didn't realize I was going to write this up.  Basically, the Silhouette just makes the cuts, so the substrate (fancy word for paper or vinyl) just has faint cut lines in it, but doesn't look like the end product.   
The "fun" part is removing all the bits of paper around the design very carefully, so you're just left with the part you want.  This is called "weeding" the vinyl (see Steps 3-6 of this excellent tutorial).
  1. First I removed the cut vinyl sheet from the cutting mat and used my paper trimmer to trim the portions that weren't cut, so I could reuse the vinyl for small designs.
  2. I carefully peeled off the outer part of the vinyl (ie, not the letters), very slowly, and cut away portions as I went, careful to leave the letters intact on the backing sheet.  The adhesive is very sticky and can mar the letters if a piece gets stuck to itself. 
  3. I used the Exacto blade on a few parts of the letters where they didn't get cut completely.  I carefully peeled out the center portions of letters like 'a' and 'o' to get the little blibbets out.  (no, that's not the technical term).
  4. I then stuck the phrase together by taping the back of the backing paper in the exact orientation and spacing I wanted it on my car.
  1. I cut a piece of transfer tape to cover the entire phrase and peeled off the backing, after wrestling with it to uncurl it.  Those more patient than me would benefit from flattening out the cut piece before proceeding.
  2. I laid the transfer tape over the design, and smoothed it out with the handy popsicle stick provided.  You can use a squeegee, credit card, brayer, or any sort of smoothing implement to do this.  Make sure it's stuck on there really, really well, and all bubbles are squeezed out.
  3. I carefully peeled away the backing from the original vinyl sheet.  The letters should be adhered backwards onto the transfer tape.  Go very, very slowly and smooth down the transfer tape as needed if the letters aren't coming with it. 
  4. Hooray!  Now you have a piece of transfer tape with your phrase in the right spacing, and the sticky sides of the letters facing out.  Be careful and don't accidentally bump into things with this, or your letters will get stuck onto something.
Installation (aka sticking your sticker)
  1. Since I was putting this on my car, I used a couple of baby wipes and a paper towel to clean off the windshield and dry it before putting on the sticker.
  2. I carefully placed the transfer tape with letters facing down where I wanted it, and used the same popsicle stick from the previous Step 2 to smooth it down and get rid of all bubbles.
  3. I carefully peeled off the transfer tape, and VOILA! the sticker was stuck on the car.  Hooray!
  • The vinyl I used is not rated for outdoor use, so I'm not sure how long it'll last.  But the outdoor vinyl's adhesive is very strong, and I wasn't sure I wanted to use something that hardy on my car anyway.
  • Thicker letters and designs are much easier to work with than delicate thin ones with a lot of detail.  For words and phrases, thicker ones are easier to read at a distance, too.
  • Check out this awesome blog post for more info about cutting vinyl, colors and brands, especially for indoor wall decals.
  • I have the older Silhouette (SD) which is limited to 8.5" wide substrates, but the new Cameo can cut things up to 12" wide, which is pretty awesome.  I can't justify upgrading, though.

If you read this far, you deserve a jellybean.  Now I'm itching to cut more vinyl stickers for journals, my laptop, picture frames etc.  I'm also trying to figure out something I can cut for BabyX's new room.  Maybe a pennant banner, since I'm totally in love with those.

So, do you have a Fabulous Cutting Machine?  Have you made any vinyl designs?  Tell me!

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

So let's raise a glass

I'm enrolled in the online Mondo Beyondo Dream Lab class right now. It started about 2 weeks ago and I'm woefully behind on most of the "assignments". As I was scurrying around trying to get "caught up" today, I realized the ridiculousness of the situation.

Dream Lab 2012 is all about inviting play, rest, and kindness into our lives, things that are often overlooked in our nonstop action-packed lives.

This essay called "The Busy Trap" by Tim Kreider is well worth a read. I especially love this line:
More and more people in this country no longer make or do anything tangible; if your job wasn’t performed by a cat or a boa constrictor in a Richard Scarry book I’m not sure I believe it’s necessary.
I can't cram 2 weeks of self-care and self-awareness into one morning.  So I'm giving myself permission to stay "behind" and be ok with that.  Maybe I'll "catch up".  Maybe I won't.  But I promise to make time for myself, to savor the lessons and enjoy them as they are meant to be done.

Last night I started putting together my "play kit", which is a box of stuff that invites me to slow down and have fun.  Not surprisingly, a lot of the items were pilfered from the extra stash of stuff I have to entertain T.  Because nearly everything she owns is part of her "play kit"!

My play kit - Mondo Beyondo Dream Lab
fun in a box

What's in it?
  • A jar of bubble solution
  • Reese's mini PB cups
  • Bubble gum (I remember how to blow a bubble!!!)
  • A brand-new Hello Kitty coloring book
  • Brand-new 24 pack of Crayola crayons (only 50 cents at Target, no joke!)
  • A brand new kelly green notebook
  • Markers
  • Awesome Pilot G2 black pen
  • 2 packs of Lego minifigures (don't know what you get until you open them!)
  • Cool patterned tape by Todd Oldham's new line at Target (thanks Peck Life for the tip!)
  • My fabulous birthday crown
  • Colored Post-It Notes
  • Cute envelopes
  • Play-Doh
  • Little slips of paper with different "rest" and "play" activity suggestions
Sounds fun already, right?  It makes me happy to look in this bright red bin and see a bunch of completely non-utilitarian, fun things. 

This morning, one of the assignments I read was to pick out something from the box and have a little fun, letting go of my stresses and mental load.  So I built this little guy:

 I'm pretty stoked about this class, and have "rebooted" my brain from "OMG another obligation" to "hey, look, a chance to have fun".  Because THAT is what life is all about.

And also, my life is going to get much harder come October so I am going to play NOW.  If anyone has a good way to fast forward through say, the first 4-5 weeks of having a newborn, please let me know :)

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Tuesday Lovin': Castle Logix

When we went to Ireland in April, I wanted to buy one new toy for T that could hold her attention for a while so we didn't have to drag her whole toybox with us.

I've written about my toy pickiness previously, so you know I didn't want anything that makes noises or lights up, or is drowning in pink plastic and/or "just for girls".  I thought we might bring it out on the plane, so I didn't want a lot of tiny pieces either.

I decided to buy her a puzzle game called Castle Logix which I learned about from Cloud's blog.   It's made of sturdy wood, has just a few large-ish pieces, and best of all, helps kids work on their spatial skills, something I am *sorely* lacking. 

Once I took a horrific engineering aptitude test which had a bunch of pictures of exploded 3-D shapes and I had to choose what they would look like when assembled.  Torture, I tell you.  I'm not sure I got a single one correct.

Castle Logix puzzle in action with a toddler
Castle Logix in action.  In Ireland!
The recommended age range is 3 - 8 years old.  And in fact, we adults had fun with it too.  It's a one-player puzzle, where you look at a photo and combine the blocks and towers to make a castle that looks like the one in the photo.  The puzzles range from easy to 'expert'.  On the expert level, the colors of the blocks aren't specified, only the outlines, so it's even challenging for adults.

I wasn't sure if T was ready for it, and she knocked my socks off.  After a few tries and some coaxing (my girl likes to get things right the first time - something else we need to work on!), she was off and running.  She would play with this toy for 45 minutes straight, a major bonus for any parent with a toddler, right?

Three months later, she still likes it, and will work on it by herself at home.  She is very methodical about the order in which she does the puzzles, and can do most of the ones in the first two sections of the book.  (Starter and Junior levels, I think.) 

It's definitely helping her spatial skills - yesterday we made an American flag out of construction paper and I printed out a photo so she could see what it looked like.  I asked her to tell me where the blue rectangle went, and where the stars and stripes went, and she could place them correctly on her paper based on the photo.  Very cool.  I had no idea a 2 year old could do that!

CastleLogix setI also love that this toy will grow with her, and be challenging for more than a few months (as long as she doesn't get sick of it!).  We do rotate the toys we leave out, so after some time "in hiding" it's new again.  Tricky parents!

I love that I found a toy that's educational and fits all my crunchy granola parameters, that T actually likes and plays with.  That's no small feat.

Smart Games is the company that makes it, and they have a TON of other logic games like these, at different age ranges, so I can't wait to explore more of them as T gets older.  A few are already marked for her wish list!

Have you played with this?  What do you think?

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