Best Gift Ever

simple living

Have you ever asked a parent what you can get them for a holiday or birthday when you are planning to visit home? And has your parent ever responded ‘Nothing. You being here is a gift.” Perhaps you were dismayed that the answer didn’t help to steer your holiday shopping or you rejoiced that you would have a little extra change in your pocket. Perhaps those words didn’t ring true until you became a parent yourself or spent quality time with someone dear to you.

In all of this holiday hustle bustle, I can’t help but feel like its the simple things that shine brightest this time of year. As a parent and a partner, I value down time with my little family. There is nothing more valuable than the gift of one’s presence, and no sale or sparkly shiny object can make me think otherwise.
Today, James pointed out to me a little note that came through electronically from our day care provider. It mentioned how Isla, not yet 15 months old, went over to comfort a crying friend at day care. The caregiver mentioned that Isla hugged and gently touched the upset classmate. Reading this note and seeing the accompanying photos made me just burst with joy. What a wonderful reminder of the gifts we can share, not with the money we spend, but with the time that we give.

Chore wheels- they aren’t just for group houses

alexandria, del ray, organization

Remember when you were broke and you lived with 5 other people in a run down group house and squabbled over whose turn it was to clean the bathroom? You had a little wheel that was tacked up onto a cork board in the kitchen, alongside take out menus and posters for the latest save-the-world fundraiser you planned to attend.

Unfortunately, until you get a cleaning person, the problem of daily and weekly chores may follow you well beyond your group house days.  James and I are 7 months into living in our house and nearly 10 months into parenthood and we still can’t figure how on earth to manage our lives.

About a month after my return to work, we got the bottle prep routine somewhat down, which means we normally get our dishes washed in a timely way. However, I feel like I’m standing in front of that dishwasher half of the time I’m home, whether its loading or unloading the dishes. Plus, at any given time, there seem to be stray toys, dog fur, mail items, and mason jars strewn around the house, not to mention a rack of diapers drying, a bag of pump parts to be shuttled to and from work, and towels, bibs, and burp rags hanging from anything loosely resembling a hook. Getting everything back into its home by the end of each day always proves to be problematic. We didn’t want to resort to schedules but each and every Sunday night, we ask ourselves where the weekend went and why we are still trying to get the house in order.

play kitchen

Isla made this mess, but our kitchen looks pretty much the same.

After weeks of rationalizing that full time working parents without cleaning help all have messy houses, we decided we needed an intervention. However, when I time how long it takes to do the dishes or wipe down the bathroom sink, I’m shocked at how few minutes each task takes.  As much as I want to hire a cleaning person and sit on the couch and eat bon bons while someone else cleans up after me, I’m trying to believe that with a little bit of self-imposed organization, we can actually keep the house looking decent.

Enter the chore wheel.

Ok, its a list. James would prefer it look like a wheel but I’ll work on the aesthetics of it another time. Right now, we have a house to clean! Our list is based on the one found here on The Little Green Notebook. A quick online search of chore wheels revealed at least a handful of them are made by parents of very large families and all the children pitch in, just as I did in my youth. Since Isla isn’t too great at cleaning yet, we didn’t assign her any duties on this round.

Our rendition looks like this:


  • Make bed
  • Wipe down bathroom counters and put away loose items
  • Unload dishwasher and prep bottles


  • Load dishwasher and clean and put away pots and pans
  • Wipe kitchen counters
  • Take out trash as needed
  • Quick sweep or vacuum and spot clean floor
  • Pick up living room; all stray items on kitchen table and counter put away
  • Check diaper stash; wash as needed
  • Chore of the day (see below)

Monday: Swing day (see below)

Tuesday: Clean mirrors and windows

Wednesday: Vacuum

Thursday: Mop floors

Friday: Toilets and tub

Saturday: Vacuum (again!)


Swing day:

1st: Wipe furniture and cabinets as needed and laundry (clothes)

2nd: Clean oven, microwave and fridge and laundry (sheets and towels)

3rd: Wipe down all moldings, walls, doors and laundry (clothes)

4th: Spot clean upholstery and rugs and laundry (sheets and towels)


Surely we’ll have to make some modifications if we realize we forgot chores or don’t need to do some of them so frequently. And unlike our failed zero waste adventure, I’m really committed this time. Starting last Sunday, we are giving ourselves a month to see if we can maintain a clean house before we give in and hire a cleaning person.

I don’t really like bon bons anyway.


How about you? Do you work full time and manage to keep your house clean? How do you do it? Or do you prefer to enjoy your time and hire out the help?

Nursery Inspiration-Whites and Brights


I’ll be the first to admit, this whole idea of a nursery is new to me, at least in real life. Nurseries were the stuff of storybooks- magical rooms reserved for children who had fat nannies that wore starched white aprons.

I had never really heard people use the word until I got hooked on the design blogs. Aren’t they just bedrooms? I’m pretty sure no one ever called my childhood bedroom, ‘the nursery.’ Either way, baby rooms are serious business and cost to set up can easily get out of hand when oooohing and ahhhhing over those precious elements that you want your perfect little person to have.

But let’s be honest- aren’t they really for us? We pick the colors and pieces that appeal to us in the hopes our little one will appreciate our taste, or perhaps we completely don’t care if it appeals to them because, hey, its one more room that we get to decorate.

Unfortunately, I did not appreciate my mom’s taste as a child. Three painted pink walls with a fourth wall of pink flowered wallpaper adorned my room for my entire childhood. And sturdy pink wool carpeting that my mom refused to update until I was 17 because apparently anything besides that pink carpet was of the they-don’t-make-them-like-they-used-to variety. Nevermind the fact that I developed an aversion for all things pink and girly very early on. In my last year of high school, when I was almost ready to move away to college, Mom gave in and got me a cream colored carpet that she was sure didn’t measure up to the ancient pink one and we painted the walls in a neutral to match.

I felt liberated.

Keeping in mind my childhood angst over the pink, I’d like to be able to update Isla’s nursery at some point when she has some input. This means keeping costs under control for round one and investing in a few pieces that I hope she won’t outgrow too quickly, as well as keeping in mind simple elements that could be swapped out. In all honesty, we experienced Isla’s first months of life without a nursery, so I’ll be the first to admit most of this is not necessary. In fact, Isla still sleeps in our room, but we do spend a lot of play time in hers.

I had it in my mind that I wanted yellow and white either on the floors or walls before I ever found any inspiration pieces. I also envisioned white and birch furniture and wanted my beloved vintage bird painting in rainbow colors to be an anchor point. From there, I pieced together other elements that kept with the ‘whites and brights’ theme. The wall covering and rug and most every other item I fell in love with were wildly expensive (of course they were) so locating budget-friendly doppelgangers to match my virtual vision took some effort.

Unfortunately, the room has been in progress for months due to to my suggestion that we (ahem, that being James. I hold the baby) replace the icky old baseboards. It turned out to be a massive project pulling baseboards off of old plaster walls and attaching new ones flush to the walls. I won’t bore you with those details now but know that I owe James huge for humoring me on this one.  The remaining problem is that now the sleek baseboards in the nursery look so much better than those in the rest of the house, so um, it only seemed appropriate to replace all of those too.

Now that the baseboard fiasco is over, we are getting closer to being finished with Isla’s room. However, its tough to make time decorating a nursery once you have a baby. My hope is to have this room finally done by her 21st 1st birthday. Its shaping up nicely and is currently my favorite room in the house.


Inspiration pieces, clockwise from left:

vintage bird painting: Modern Mobler

yellow and white rug: Bev Hisey

mobile: Dagmar’s Designs

wallpaper: AphroChic

floating credenza/fauxdenza: The Animal Print Shop. (The credenza was not sold there, but it was the first place that inspired me to make one).

elephant stool: Eames

crib: Oeuf

whale painting: Eli Halpin

rocking chair: NurseryWorks. My original inspiration was actually a vintage teak mid century rocker from Yugoslavia. James discouraged me from purchasing it while we still lived in the studio, and I might just hold it against him forever.

Did you obsess over decorating your baby’s nursery? Spend a lot? Or not give it a second thought?

Minimalist Mama- What You Need For a Newborn


After several  months of raising our little girl, we have a decent handle on what we need and what we don’t. And with a few friends who have first babies on the way, I thought I’d alleviate any worries about startup costs. Babies don’t have to be expensive. In the beginning, all they need are:

1. clothes, and not that many

2. diapers and wipes

3. a place to sleep

4. a way to get nourishment

5. a method to carry your baby

6. personal care products

Wait, no baby bath? No $800 glider? What about play mats and sound machines? Remember, we are talking about essentials. Here’s my humble opinion on what you need to get by if you aren’t planning to spend thousands of dollars to get set up. We’ve been keeping notes so that we can make this an ongoing series every few months to cover what we are using throughout the stages. I’ll write more about what worked for us in three month increments, but for now, here is all we needed to get started in the first days and weeks of life with a newborn.

Depends on how often you wash and your access to laundry inside the home or not. We found about 5 footie PJs to be sufficient for a fall/winter infant. Of course we have clothing coming out of our ears, though, because of generous friends and family. Our little love’s wardrobe is infinitely more stylish than my own so we are trying hard to get her in those clothes more often. I think I can spend an entire post on what clothes to bypass for new infants but for now, I’ll say that we avoided jeans and shoes, anything with a buttons or snaps on the back or neck and chose zippers over snaps when we could.

Diapers and Wipes

You may need to try out a few types before you settle on what works for you and your babe. We are using cloth diapers and I don’t regret the decision. It’s fairly easy, once you get used to washing every second day. We also use flannel wipes and water when she is changed. For us, this decision meant a one time cost. We haven’t done the side by side comparison of electric and water costs when cloth diapering, but we were committed to trying them out and have been extremely happy with Bumgenius one size all-in-ones.  Needless to say, whether you cloth diaper, use disposables, or one of the hybrid varieties, there is no getting around the cost and need for diapers.

Bedding and a Place to Sleep

Whether you decide on a co-sleeper, bassinet, bed-sharing, or crib, a safe place to sleep is essential. We borrowed a mini co sleeper to start. Two sets of sheets worked for us.  Unless your newborn spits up frequently or has diaper blowouts, (in which case you probably want to reevaluate what type of diaper you are using and how many outfits you need) you may not need more than 2 sets of sheets.

Crib bumpers are not only unnecessary, they are not recommended for babies due to safety concerns…blankets are also a no-no. It shocks me how many photos of nurseries show crib bumpers and big blankets hanging from the side of the crib.

A Way to Get Nourishment

Whether boob or bottle, there are very few things that are needed to feed your baby. I’ll be the first to say that breastfeeding is not always free, and in some cases, when factoring in nursing bras, lactation consultants, pumps, milk storage containers, nursing  pillows,  and various other items to soothe your potentially chapped skin, the costs can add up quickly.  In terms of sticking to the basics, formula and bottles; a breast (or two), and/or a pump as needed can get you going.

A Method to Carry Your Baby

After living in Africa, and observing mothers, I imagined one day I would also be able to just strap my baby on to me with a piece of fabric or a towel and go about my day. I was far too nervous to try something that felt so haphazard (even if it wasn’t), so I borrowed a Baby Bjorn. We also received a few Moby wraps as gifts.  James felt a baby carrier fell into the ‘essential’ list, but it was a bit borderline for me in terms of being more of a ‘nice to have’ than an essential item. But if you want to leave the house and have a free hand at some point, a carrier (or stroller) will serve you well.

Personal Care Products

Fortunately for us and our babe, we didn’t have to deal with diaper rash early on and preferred to not buy creams until necessary.  When needed, we used a California Baby rash cream which was given to us by a friend whose baby had good results with it, and we also used a sample size of Butt Paste, but we didn’t need these early on. My humble opinion is to not buy any to start and grab it if you need it. Amazon Prime or Amazon Mom can be a godsend if you can’t get out of the house. Most retailers stock a huge variety of baby lotions and potions, both organic and non, so if you have a local shop you prefer, you can always find one to suit your needs later. I’ve never been fond of chemicals in beauty products so I try to seek out pure products for my babe and try to avoid packaging as well.

What about baby oils and washes?

Newborn babies don’t actually need a bath (only spot cleaning, and water without soap was recommended to us) for a few weeks after birth. No need to wash off the vernix either. It’s good for their skin as they adjust to the outside world. Most babies do not actually need moisturizers either. I’m baffled by the aisles of baby toiletry items in stores. But then this is coming from someone who is equally baffled by the aisles of adult toiletry and beauty items as well so don’t take my word for it. If you are a new parent or expecting and the thought of which baby toiletry items to pick is overwhelming, know that you can probably bypass 99% of it and your little one won’t miss a beat. In terms of what you need in those first weeks, the same wash cloths in your closet will work just fine for your little one. No real need for hooded duck towels, though they are pretty cute.  If needed, a mild soap like Burt’s Bees will work. And a little goes a long way. At 8 months, we are still on the same bottle.

How about baths?

We started out with a hand me down super bulky bubblegum pink bathtub from a friend. Not only was it an eyesore ( my friend knows I’m forever grateful), it took up half of our tiny apartment. Before obtaining it, we looked into options like the Puj tub, but our bathroom sink was too small for it and our kitchen sink was too big. Instead we got a large bath sponge. We read about people using a towel (for leverage) in the sink with an infant, or just holding your baby in the shower or bath. James is good at this and therefore has become the go-to guy for baths. I’m a bit too nervous about squirmy babies made even more slippery with soap! For when our little love is bigger, and because we are passing the massive pink tub back to our pregnant friend, we bought the Prince Lionheart folding bath which we still love.

So that’s it. I realize I’m simplifying things immensely, but I would be curious to hear what others think? Was there anything else you needed in the first weeks after your baby was born? (Besides sleep!) This is about all we used to get started.


Happiness vs. Wholeness


wedding pic

This passage from Hugh MacKay, author of The Good Life, was brought to my attention by Joanna at A Cup of Jo. It resonated with me on so many levels and I wanted to share.

I actually attack the concept of happiness. The idea that—I don’t mind people being happy—but the idea that everything we do is part of the pursuit of happiness seems to me a really dangerous idea and has led to a contemporary disease in Western society, which is fear of sadness. It’s a really odd thing that we’re now seeing people saying “write down three things that made you happy today before you go to sleep” and “cheer up” and “happiness is our birthright” and so on. We’re kind of teaching our kids that happiness is the default position. It’s rubbish. Wholeness is what we ought to be striving for and part of that is sadness, disappointment, frustration, failure; all of those things which make us who we are. Happiness and victory and fulfillment are nice little things that also happen to us, but they don’t teach us much. Everyone says we grow through pain and then as soon as they experience pain they say, “Quick! Move on! Cheer up!” I’d like just for a year to have a moratorium on the word “happiness” and to replace it with the word “wholeness.” Ask yourself, “Is this contributing to my wholeness?” and if you’re having a bad day, it is.

Life today feels wobbly. I don’t know if my job will continue past tomorrow, as our contract is up for renewal yet again. My dear cousin is dying, right now as I write this. For the last month, Isla has had a fear of strangers that makes it unbearable for me to leave her with anyone. Today I may not be happy, yet I am whole. I have a loving, supportive husband who will stay by my side if my job falls through. I take comfort in knowing Isabelle has lived a full life pursuing her dreams with a beautiful abandon. My daughter is healthy and her clinginess is nothing more than a display of her recognition that we are her parents and we provide a love that is second to none.

These are just a few thoughts that come to mind when I read the passage above. What a lovely reminder to reexamine how we measure our days, and a gentle nudge to pursue not just happiness, but wholeness.