Friday, September 2, 2016

One year later

We're going into Labor Day weekend, which may always remind me of that time we dragged 13 bags and 2 kids through airports in 3 countries over 6 time zones, crammed everything in my parents' car, and spent the next few days getting school physicals, buying a minivan, moving our stuff out of storage and hours away into a rental house in a new town, meeting Olivia's teacher while still a little jet-lagged, and beginning the next chapter of our lives.  I cried a lot.

A year ago the friends I was current with were from far-off places like Australia, South Africa, and England.
A year ago I had to use the GPS to find the grocery store, and I was still calling it the sat nav.
A year ago we were surrounded by boxes, only to unpack and then move again when we bought a house six months later.
A year ago we started visiting new churches, and nothing felt quite like home.

This year we are in a house we love, with wonderful neighbors.  We liked our neighbors in the rental house, too, and even our neighbor playing guitar in the apartment above us in Sweden, but ultimately we love being in a home of our own again.

This year the kids will go to the same schools they attended last year.  I haven't been able to say that for a while.  Today we went to the park with another family we met through Bowen's preschool, and tonight after Olivia met her teacher we met and hung out with other school families.  (She transferred to the new school in March when we moved, but we didn't meet anyone from there until this summer). School starts next week and the kids are excited.

This year we have found a wonderful church home and we're excited to be part of what is going on there.

This year we have met a bunch of people in our new community, and every single one of them is kind and friendly and normal.  I realize that everyone is normal until you get to know them, but the people around here are inclusive and genuinely nice.  In the expat community in Sweden we made fast friends with incredible people, but I knew that was unique and I had guarded expectations in our new town.  It takes a little longer here, but I think I'm finding my people.

This year the kids learned to swim.  Swim lessons are hard to come by in Sweden.  One of my only complaints about living abroad was that I felt like we were holding the kids back, delaying aspects of their childhood that people take for granted in the States.  But now they can ride bikes in our driveway, play soccer/t-ball/gymnastics with kids who speak English, and go to the pool.  Last year we took them to Spain, Amsterdam, Germany, France, Norway, and Sweden. This year we took them camping, kayaking, roller skating, and to a baseball game.  They got to see grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.  They got to eat corn on the cob and pork chops fresh off the grill.

It has been a year since we left Sweden, and in some ways it feels like so long ago. We loved our time there, the people we were with, seeing so many new places and learning about other cultures. The original plan was to be in Sweden through the end of this year, and that just blows my mind right now.  Plans changed and we rolled with it, and now we're in a different great place.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Nautical bathroom

I love being by the water, any water.  Kayaking on Deep Creek Lake, watching the boats by the marina at Saltholmen, listening to waves crash on a beach, crabbing on Urbanna Creek, fishing with my aunt on her pontoon boat, canoeing on the pond at camp, I love it all.  We dream about having a place that overlooks the water, pulling a tube behind our ski boat, watching sunsets out on the dock.

That was my inspiration for updating the kids' bathroom.  This is how it looked when we bought this house.  Not bad, but certain elements started annoying me: the checkerboard floor, bleach-spotted Formica, flat-panel drawer fronts, teal and navy accent tile, towel bars that look like plastic...
Part of me wanted to rip it out down to the studs, but I'm too practical.  Most of it was in good shape so I just tweaked the surfaces.  Here is how it looks now.

It's hard to pick my favorite part, but I think the flooring made a big difference.  Since the existing tile was in good shape I was able to lay peel & stick vinyl planks over the top.  Score it with a knife and snap it off, or use shears to cut rounded edges - pretty easy.

Another big difference was neutralizing the navy and teal accent tiles with Rust-oleum Tub & Tile epoxy paint.  Those are now whiter than the other white tiles on the wall, but they no longer scream for attention.  I also rolled this paint on the edges of the vanity cabinet doors and drawers, covering the yellowed melamine edging.  (Originally I was planning to add 2" trim strips to each door/drawer for Shaker style, but the cabinet already projects as far forward as the vanity top so I didn't want to give it an underbite).

Weathered wood is popular right now, so in addition to having great flooring options I also found pre-stained rustic dimensional lumber to frame out the mirror.  A scrap piece became a towel rack along with galvanized dock cleats.  I'm hoping the kids have an easier time hanging up their towels now.

I also added an anchor-shaped towel hook to the left of the sink.  How did this house go 19 years without a place to hang a hand towel by the sink?  Or knobs to open the drawers?  Here are the knobs I chose -- chrome like the faucet, with a rope detail as a subtle nautical element.  Other sources...

Shower curtain - HomeGoods
Countertop paint - Valspar Smoky Pitch (with polyurethane over top)
Walls - Valspar Shark Loop
Art, anchor hook - Hobby Lobby
Vanity light fixture - Lowe's
Sign on the door - eBay

Monday, May 9, 2016

Aussie Bites

I was doing fine without a Costco membership (nothing against them, but I tend to overspend when I go there) until I visited my parents recently and tried Aussie Bites.  They're kind of like muffins, but much more nutrient-dense.  They're about $10 for a box of 32, so I asked Google if mere mortals could make these at home.  The first recipe I tried turned out great, but after reading comments I did soak the chia seeds in water before adding them to the bowl. They took a bit longer to bake but held together well.  I also substituted sweetened flaked coconut and salted sunflower seeds, and added kosher salt because of how it makes these oatmeal cookies amazing.  Most of the ingredients I had on hand and I found the rest at Aldi, so now we can make them whenever we want.  Also my kids like them and they don't contain nuts, so that's two additional points. (Gluten free, too, and can be dairy free if you sub coconut oil for butter). DIY Aussie Bites for the win!  Thank you, Rachel Farnsworth, for working out the original recipe.  Here is my version...

Aussie Bites

Yield: 24

1¾ cup rolled oats
¼ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup dried apricots
¼ cup raisins
¼ cup ground flaxseed
¼ cup sunflower seeds
¼ cup shredded coconut
¼ cup quinoa
2 tablespoons chia seeds
1 tsp kosher salt
¼ tsp baking soda
¼ cup honey
¼ cup unsalted butter, melted
¼ cup canola oil
½ tsp vanilla extract


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a 24-count mini-muffin pan.
  2. In a small bowl combine chia seeds and 1/4 cup water while chanting "Cha-cha-cha-chia" with your 4-year-old. Set seeds aside. Chia seeds will absorb water to make a gel-like exterior with super powers.
  3. Pour 1 cup of rolled oats into a food processor. Process for about 1 minute until oats are pulverized.
  4. Add in the remaining ¾ cup rolled oats, sugar, dried apricots, raisins, flax seed, sunflower seeds, coconut, quinoa, chia seeds (minus any excess water), and baking soda. Pulse until apricots and raisins are in small bits.
  5. Pour in honey, melted butter, canola oil, and vanilla extract. Pulse just until combined.
  6. Divide batter among the prepared muffin cups.
  7. Bake in the preheated oven for 15-18 minutes until golden brown.
  8. Remove pan from oven and let cool in pan on a wire cooling rack for 10 minutes. Remove muffins from tin and let cool completely on the wire rack.
  9. Once completely cooled, store in an airtight container for 4 to 5 days.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Chalk painting dining chairs

While we were living in Sweden I developed an obsession with painted furniture, specifically chalk paint with dark wax.  I love the look and couldn't wait to transform some of our many brown pieces of furniture.  My friend Debora let me use her chalk paint, wax, and brushes while we were home for a visit, and I was hooked.  When we moved back to the States one of the first places I found was my local Annie Sloan (ASCP) stockist, but I didn't buy any right away.  While we were renting I mulled and planned and thought about different colors and furniture pieces.  It wasn't until we bought a house that I could actually visualize a plan for wall color and furniture.  And until we move all I can work on is furniture.  Back in our previous house (before Sweden) we used our dining room as an office, so we sold our dining table and chairs.  I'm happy that we'll have a central (read: utilized) dining room in the new house, especially since it gave me an excuse to scour Craigslist for dining furniture.  I scored this set of eight shield-back chairs and a table, marking the first time I was truly thankful for getting a minivan.

Our full garage at the rental house
And when we had a warm day February 1st I was excited to get outside and paint!  Rather than add brown furniture to our brown dining area I wanted to paint them a color that would look good with both fall tones and beachy blues.  Green is my favorite color, but the Annie Sloan greens didn't look like what I had in mind, so I gathered green things from around the house and matched them to colors on a fan deck.

And then I had a very helpful conversation with Debora, where she sent me this picture of her chair painted ASCP Olive (with Primer Red accents, for the record). 

This looked much better there than on the paint chip or even the sample on the wall at the stockist (although I love it with the peacock-y Aubusson Blue).

Debora reminded me that chalk painting is a heckofalot easier than traditional sand/prime/latex painting.  So I bought a can of Olive and got to work.  Bowen (age 4) was so tickled to watch me paint.  He kept saying things like, "Mom, you're so GOOD at this!"  It was the encouragement I needed; bless him.

70 degrees a week after a foot of snow
And I loved it!  But then I had to decide if I'm going to wax or use another type of topcoat.  Wax gets into the porous surface of the chalk paint, creating a durable bond.  I have read a lot in the past year, including complaints about getting a consistent finish (too much, too little), showing fingerprints, having to be rewaxed.  But I also like the look of dark wax in the recesses, giving an antique looking patina.  (I'm aware of the irony of painting antique chairs to look antique, kinda like blow-straightening hair before curling it).  I decided to try General Finishes High Performance water-based top coat because I could just brush it on and be done, and we finally live in a location where I can just drive to Woodcraft to buy it (joy!).  But it goes on drippy and after two coats the satin was a little shinier than I was going for, so I took the plunge and bought the Annie Sloan wax and brush.  Even if you're dark waxing you apply clear wax first, so after we moved into the house we bought (!) I spent the first mild weekend doing nothing but painting and then waxing the remaining chairs.  After all, we had company coming and I needed those chairs.  Waxing was okay, not awesome but not that difficult.  I worked in the sunshine so that kept it soft and workable.  I was going to buff them later to give a little more sheen, but never got around to it.  I'm happy with how they turned out.  Here they are in our dining room at night, so it's not even obvious that they are green.  So much for having a pop of color.  Apparently I really like neutrals.

The far chair on the left side of the table is the one with poly

We actually eat dinner in this room every night, which makes me happy since I didn't want to have a room that was only used a few times a year.  I also wanted comfortable seating at the table, so these seats have new 3" foam pieces wrapped in batting and covered faux leather (read: wipeable).

Yes, yes I did buy brown and olive chairs and spent countless hours transforming them into brown and olive chairs.  But I like them so much better this way.  Whatever keeps me off the streets, right?

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Fall crafting

The view from my studio
I don't even know where to begin.  I have yet to write about the rest of our England trip in July and left off when we were getting ready to leave Sweden at the end of August, and here it's November already. People ask me how our cultural reentry went, and I think it got upstaged by moving to a new part of Virginia, which has been more challenging (making new friends, finding a new church, and remembering how to get to the stores). The kids (ages 4 and 6 now) started school and are enjoying playing soccer, riding their bikes, and running around the yard.  We're thankful to be in a house again, although the one we're renting is smaller than the one we had before Sweden, so we still have many boxes that will just stay packed for now.  We have wonderful neighbors who are quick to lend a hand (or caulk gun or set of cake pans).  We're church-shopping a few weeks at a time, which is a long process.  Steve is enjoying his new job (although learning the ins and outs of a new company is like moving to a new community as well), and we have explored the area enough that we're planning to house hunt soon.  It still feels like we're in transition (ever since we moved out of our other house near Winchester), so it will be a welcome hurdle to move again and start putting down roots again once we get our own place.

Tooth pillow
I really missed having a studio in Sweden, and even before we moved back to the States I was planning a new line of jewelry and redesigning my website.  I used Olivia's school bazaar as a deadline and that was helpful to get things going.  My studio is tiny and I don't have space for my sewing and craft stuff, and even with the change of seasons I haven't really felt like making anything, which feels really strange for me.  I usually have a list of project ideas, and in Sweden Pinterest let me craft vicariously, but when we moved back I was rusty and had to remind myself that I could go and get cheap ingredients at Michael's and actually make something.  Once the bazaar was over my creative juices started flowing and I dug out supplies to make a tooth pillow for Olivia.  She started losing teeth in Sweden, but I put this project off until I was reunited with my fabric stash and sewing machine.  Her second front tooth has been loose for months, but the day after Halloween it finally gave up the ghost.  So Olivia helped me stuff and observed me pinning and sewing with the machine and trimming corners and ironing, so it was a good sewing lesson.

Sweater pumpkin
And yesterday while she was at school I took Bowen to Goodwill in search of sweaters for pumpkins (tutorial here).  Yes, part of the adjustment back to life in these United States is having a little sidekick again.  Bowen was in preschool the same hours that Olivia was in kindergarten in Sweden (M-F 8:30-2:30), so that meant I had plenty of kidless time to do the walking group, tennis lessons, fika, grocery shopping, etc.  But here in Virginia the preschools have 3-year-olds three mornings a week.  It took me a while to realize that Bowen is pretty good at the stores so I don't have to spend my sacred kidless time on grocery shopping.  Plus he earned money raking leaves last week, so after the thrift store and craft store and Chick-fil-A he bought a mini monster truck at the dollar store.  And after we got home he helped me stuff and wrap this sweater pumpkin.

So our lives are getting back to normal, or I guess we're adjusting to the "new normal," and so far so good.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Crab Cakes

We are moving back to the States soon, this time near Richmond, Virginia, and one of the many things I look forward to in our new city is eating Chesapeake Bay blue crabs.  I love a good crab pickin' but a more efficient way to eat them is to buy lump crab meat and make it into crab cakes.  I just got this recipe from a friend and couldn't find it online to pin, so I'm putting it here for future reference.

Maryland Crab Cakes

Back in the 1970s, there was a restaurant in Baltimore called Thompson’s Sea Girt House. This recipe is reported to come directly from their kitchen, and since the Sea Girt House has been out of business for many years, I think I’m safe in sharing it. Enjoy!

Yield: 6 crab cakes

1 egg, beaten
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
½ tsp. dry mustard
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
Dash pepper
12-15 saltine crackers, crushed
1 pound of your favorite crab meat; lump is best but a lump/claw mixture also works well

In a small bowl, combine egg, mayo, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, and pepper. Mix well.

In a separate bowl, mix crab and crushed saltines, then add the egg mixture and turn gently, being careful not to break up the crab.

Form into cakes or balls and refrigerate at least an hour. Fry or broil up to 5 minutes on each side until golden brown. If frying, drain on paper towels.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015


We started our England trip with a weekend in London...
Portobello Market (Note: come back without kids)
So many cute porches in Notting Hill
We can always sniff out a playground
Brunch at Raoul's

July 4 Oreo ice cream sandwich because 'Merica
Kensington Gardens
Natural History Museum

This was incredible!  And now we like to see glimpses of it during Andy's Dinosaur Adventures.
We could watch Wimbledon from our hotel window!

The next morning... London drizzle
Tower of London
St. Dunstan in the East

Tower Bridge
Cream Tea at Borough Market

...and hot chocolate

St. Paul's Cathedral

The sun came out!

Elizabeth Tower (wait... what?)

Elizabeth's house

I loved seeing fuchsias everywhere

And ALL the roses!  Sigh.