I've always looked forward to my birthday with anticipation and even delight but this year... not so much. I've also always scoffed at people who dreaded their birthdays or were reluctant to reveal their age but the closer the big 3-0 starts to loom in the distance, the more I start to get it. Anyway, since I am definitely still a birthday person in that I want the day to be about me (insert angel emoji) I thought I'd share some fun (?) facts/feelings and hopefully distract myself from the fact that my twenties are almost over. 

My most recent/decent picture. #thisis28

1. My eyes are green and that's probably my (only) favorite physical feature (since I have so many great ones. #hystericallaughter) I like that they're unusual and not that common! Also I guess I like my hair- I'd cut it off because #Texas #hot but short hair, as I regrettably learned in 2009, is not a good look for me. Plus, like Jo March, it is "my one beauty." 

2. I tend to remember the year things happened and also really specific details about events, which I usually have to keep to myself lest people think I'm a creepy stalker. I'm sorry, I really can't help knowing what you wore to a baseball game in 2004. I just do

3. Speaking of baseball, I was a fanatical baseball follower for many years. Need a Mariners stat from the early 2000s? Step right up. (I've fallen way off that wagon, but go Braves! #chopchop)

4. I didn't get my driver's license until I was 21. So knowing me as a fairly spastic driver now makes more sense when you realize I've had a five-year handicap. So embarrassing.

5. HOWEVER, even the full decade+ of driving practice I should have wouldn't have prepared me for driving in Texas, specifically Houston. I refuse to drive on the highway past a certain point toward the city. It absolutely scares me to death and really if I can put off an errand until Jonathan can drive, I do. #noshame

6. I'm super affected by the weather. My attitude, spirit, whatever you want to call it... if it's terribly hot or the weather is seasonally inappropriate I hate it. Probably should have thought about that before moving to the surface of the sun, but you know. 

7. I firmly believe that Tangled is better than Frozen in every way. Yeah, I said it.

8. Singing in front of people makes me really nervous and I have to hold a microphone with two hands so no one can see me shaking. (Thanks for that tip, Melissa! It has served me well.) 

9. I worked at Chick-fil-A in high school and college. Those truly were the best and worst of times, but they left me with SO many good stories and I'm pretty sure I could step into a busy drive-through situation and handle it from memory. Plus I have a deep appreciation for quick-service employees (and a disdain for those who do it wrong.) 

10. Aaaand speaking of Chick-fil-A, I am still making up for not having access to it for the first 15 years of my life. I repay that debt by eating there as many times a week as possible both financially and healthfully (and by that I mean the health of my marriage. #sorrybabe)

11. Things that make me feel warm and fuzzy? People who call me Ash, any time someone says something nice about about my blog, hearing from my dearly beloved former students, and the genius of Lin-Manuel Miranda. 

12. If I don't text you back right away, I'm more than likely looking for the perfect gif. Or meme. But seriously, the gif keyboard has improved my quality of life. 

13. Reading this book two years ago and learning that there's actually a name for my personality type (ambiverts unite!) has made me feel a whole lot less crazy. Do I feel energized or terrified by other people? It depends on the day. =)

14. Dream jobs: personal shopper, author, editor, college English professor but with an assistant to grade papers, stylist/WNTW contributor, ghost writer for Angela Lansbury's personal memoir. (Come on, Ang. Let's make magic together!) 

15. I have a secret (eh...not-so-secret) dream to perform on some kind of stage. Community theater, Broadway... who's to say?? =) But my crippling stage fright kind of derailed that (see #8) so Alice is my best hope. The stereotypical stage mom living out her dreams through her kid? That will be me. 

16. Speaking of the stage... I love, love, love musicals of all kinds (obviously Disney is at the top!) and it makes me SO happy that Alice seems to be loving them too. I have no greater joy than to know that my children walk in truth... and have committed the complete works of Rodgers and Hammerstein to memory. 

17. I believe that skinny fries are the best fries. McDonald's, Smithfield's, Freddy's, Whataburger... I'm looking at you. Steak fries and whatever other garbage you people are serving? Go home. (Except for you, Chick-fil-A, waffle fries. I'll love you forever.) 

18. For whatever reason, people tend to confide in me, which I find ironic because i don't consider myself a great listener. (This stems from a childhood of basically never shutting up.) But maybe it's that I'm a middle child and thus (according to all the research) a born reconciler. I don't know, but people tell me stuff. But don't worry... you're secret's safe with me.

19. ...when I say I can keep a secret, clearly that means I will tell my sisters. I mean, duh. It's the sister code. 

20. Favorite foods in order or nutritional value: green beans, tomatoes, pineapple, breadsticks (or just bread), chips and salsa, mint chocolate chip ice cream. #thatescalatedquickly

21. I took piano lessons for over a decade but you wouldn't know it. (My sister weeps in her shame of my wasted talent. hahaha) But I also briefly attempted to teach myself the guitar and given my lack of natural ability and also the fact that I thought my fingertips would fall off I quit. I can play like 3 songs.

22. I'm 100%, embarrassingly obsessed with my baby. Even though she's 18 months old, I'm still staying up at night looking at her pictures and freaking out over how adorable she is. I guess every mom is like that but yeah, when it comes to Alice I have no chill.

23. After being well-known for my love of Mountain Dew for most of my life, I regret to inform you that I hardly ever drink it anymore. I feel like I've lost a part of my identity but gained a healthier liver. #balance

24. How did I break up with Mountain Dew, you may ask? Well, it certainly wasn't at the pleading of my many dentists who have said to please stop drinking acid. (Not really but kind of.) No, I started Weight Watchers for the ______th time last summer and finally kicked my MD habit (and also lost 30 pounds. Woop woop!) Now I just need to do the same thing but with Dr Pepper. Ugh.

25. After basically being anti-exercise/a couch potato for almost my entire adult life, no one is more shocked than I am that I now work out at least 6 days a week. (Currently 7- curse you 30-Day Shred!) If there is something you think you can't do, picture me huffing and puffing in 99% Texas humidity and know that you absolutely can. 

26. In fits of humiliation, I have thrown away/destroyed most of my teenage journals, but thanks to my obnoxious memory I can still recall passages from them verbatim and am occasionally haunted by the stupidity of what I wrote. On the other hand, one day when I write my fascinating memoir/tell all, I'll probably regret not having access to my 8th grade thoughts. Or not. 

27. If I could combine my family's traits to create my own Super Ashley, I'd use my mom's ease in front of a crowd (or really any stranger), my dad's laid-back nature and gift with words, Amanda's universally likable personality and musical skills, April's beauty and uproarious humor, Amy's apathy towards the opinion of others and lip-syncing ability (plus her hair), and my in-laws' organizational talents (minus possibly Rebecca... but I'll take your wardrobe. =). Plus the combined adorableness of my nieces and nephews. Unstoppable!

28. Even though I roll my eyes when people point out how lucky I am to be married to Jonathan (and they do), it's true. I know and appreciate that I really do have the best husband and married way up and the fact that he knows all these things about me and loves me anyway is truly miraculous. #awwwwokaythatsgrossstopit. I love my little family and our Texas life, heat and all. =)

There you go. I'm going to celebrate today by eating chicken minis for breakfast and at least one chocolate dessert... maybe more. I'm praying this year is full of new creative opportunities, memories with my girl, and the start of my best-seller, "The Wisdom and Insights of a First-Time Mother Living a Very Uneventful Life." Copies will fly off the shelves. 

Happy Friday, everyone! And happy birthday to meeeee! Cake for everyone! (Or banana pudding which is better.)

First Quarter Reading

First Quarter Reading

For some reason, this quarter felt like I fell way off the reading wagon, but when I compared my numbers I had beat 3 out of 4 quarters last year, so what do I know? I guess it was because March was really busy and I did read quite a bit less than in January and February. (This is all very interesting to you, I know.) I don't want to be obnoxious about numbers either, so I'll just keep that to myself. (If you really want to know, I'll tell you. #fakeintrigue) 

Anyway, I don't know what it's been about the past few months but I feel like I have been in a bit of a reading lull in terms of quality. I'm still getting recommendations from my same favorite sources and sticking to tried and true favorite authors, genres, etc. But for whatever reason I feel like a book that really wows me is the exception rather than the rule these days, which makes the following books even more notable. They only represent a small fraction of the books I read this quarter and there's a whopping list of three sooo... maybe I should find some new and better titles? (Also I'm 27 and should probably stop slogging through books I don't enjoy, but it's not time to unpack that side of my personality right now. =) 

I don't look this cute while reading but then no one does. =)

-Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart. Normally a book with this plot would totally freak me out and send my HSP tendencies into a panic, but given the heavy/scary subject matter, it was surprisingly fun. This is based on the true story of the first female deputy in America, and, like I said, I was prepared to be freaked out. (Part of the story is that Constance and her sisters are terrorized by a local thug and his gang... which leads to her involvement with the sheriff and eventual deputization.) But the sarcastic, quirky relationship among the three sisters made me laugh and kept what could have been a scary story really light and fun (for the most part.) There is a subplot that I found a little troubling, at least in a couple of spots, but other than that I *really* enjoyed this and have recommended it probably half a dozen times since I read it. And you should definitely read the sequel, Lady Cop Makes Trouble. I hope there are more Kopp Sisters books on the way!

-The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart. I loved this and couldn't put it down! Reynie is a 12-year-old orphan who is "different," aka extremely intelligent. His tutor takes him to a test that was advertised for gifted children and he is one of only four who pass. They find themselves in the middle of a plot to save the world from the underlying evil forces that are working to destroy civilization... and if that sounds dramatic, it's also really fun. I love a book with word play or puzzles and this is full of them. It's a little like a cautionary tale with a bit of a dystopian feel, and even though it's over 400 pages I flew through it to see what would happen. This would be fun to read with your kids, I think. It's a great middle grade book!

-First Women by Kate Andersen Brower. This was SO good. I also read her book The Residence and enjoyed it but this one was my favorite. It doesn't just "dish" on the First Ladies (although I did love those parts!) but it really portrays them as human which is sometimes hard or even impossible to do given their high-profile lives and practically nonexistent margin for error while living in the public eye. I also enjoyed the way she revealed the relationships among the First Ladies. There is so much interesting information here- their personalities, the way they worked with their husbands and the staff, their political and social activities, parenting techniques, decorating and fashion tastes.... ah! This is like a dream come true for a history loving bonus features junkie like myself. I also thought t was very even-handed between Democrat and Republican First Ladies and based on facts rather than opinions. Highly recommend! (P.S. I've read a lot of books about the White House and my favorite is still this one. So good.) 

There you have it! I know, I usually have at least 10 and have to force myself to narrow things down but yeah, it's been a dry spell. If you've read anything good/great lately, do share! I am definitely looking for new titles! And as always if you have read or choose to read any of the ones I just mentioned, let me know so we can have a virtual book club. =)

Alice Juliet- 18 Months

Alice Juliet- 18 Months

Am I celebrating my baby's half birthday? Yes. Am I spoiling her and probably setting her up to be an adult who subjects her friends to an entire "birthday month" and expects gifts for weeks at a time? Maybe. Am I sorry about this? A little, but I'm doing it anyway. =) 

My sister told me that I can't keep doing this half birthday thing because I'm raising her to be an insufferable person (perhaps) and of course I won't do this forever but I am unapologetically celebrating her 18-month "unbirthday" because I feel like this is such a milestone between ages 1 and 2. She has changed SO much since her first birthday and I want to have a record of all her growth and development at this age (plus, you know, I'm obsessed with her and I love sharing her adorable pictures. =)

Weight and Length- she's about 28" long and only 21 pounds (she's weighed around the same for several months.) She'll be long and lean like her daddy, apparently! =) And she doesn't have the same chunkiness that she did as a little baby but she is definitely still a squish! I love it. 

Nicknames- Al, Ali Cat, Jolly Holiday, Princess Pie, Lucky (thanks to her movie obsession), Fatsy Patsy, Chunkers, Alice from the Palace

This is why we call her Lucky. =)

Sleep- 12 hours a night (I know, you can hate me. I don't deserve such a gift.) And her napping is still spotty at best but we're beginning to try one nap so hopefully she'll consolidate all her little cat naps into one good long one. Fingers crossed! 

Eating- she's eating almost everything we do (except spicy food of course, and very few sweets) but she loves sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, string cheese (EVERY day), yogurt, oatmeal, green beans, etc. She isn't really picky! The only thing she just refuses to eat right now is oranges. And (I share this shamefacedly) she would eat french fries every single day if I let her. But, who wouldn't? 

Clothing- she's in almost exclusively 18 month stuff. Some 12-18 and some 18-24. I'm pretty much done with onesies (getting them snapped while holding her down could be an MMA category) and she's in dresses most of the time anyway because they're just so easy. And adorable. =) 

Mood- she definitely has a stubborn streak and likes to, shall we say, express her displeasure when she is not allowed to do something like chew up paper or eat indefinitely or toss my coasters around the living room. But she remains one of the jolliest babies I've ever seen. She's super friendly (but only from a distance- don't expect her to willingly let you hold her!) and loves to wave at anyone and everyone. She is so sweet and happy almost all the time. (Almost. =)

What a time to be alive!

So happy to be swinging

Amused by the big kids at Chick-fil-A

"Alice, let's brush your teeth!" 

Loves- playing outside

musicals (this makes me so very happy)
Mickey House Clubhouse
Mickey and the Roadster Racers
eating string cheese
eating, period
drinking with a straw
waving at strangers
being tickled
bath time
playing/wrestling with her daddy
reading books
the Moana soundtrack 
being scared (I jump out and startle her all the time and she thinks it's hilarious.)
brushing her teeth
Doesn't Love- naps (whyyyyy)

being in her car seat or stroller for long
being away from me (at least initially)
her pediatrician (he's the sweetest man but she weeps at the sight of him. ha!)
FaceTime (she's into it for like two seconds and that's about it)
being restricted (aka being kept safe, since apparently it's her number one goal to pursue danger)
crowds/being surrounded by too many people 
getting out of the bathtub. She would turn into a raisin if I let her. 
not being able to express herself. (Go ahead and learn more words, babe!)

For the doubters who wonder if she's ever grumpy... um, yes. =)

What I Want to Remember/Milestones- ugh, so many things! She finally has most of her teeth (if you remember, she didn't get any until right before her birthday and only had that one and a couple more for a long time.) She started walking in December and has never looked back- she's practically running now! #terrifying One of my favorite things is that she absolutely LOVES musicals. Her two favorites are Singin' in the Rain and The Music Man. Judge away, but having those downloaded on my phone has saved many a shopping trip from going completely off the rails. (#sorrynotsorry) And it's always fun to explain to strangers that yes, my baby is glued to a movie made in 1952. =) Also, the CUTEST thing she's doing these days is waving at the screen when a movie is over. Stop it. So adorable. And her favorite word, besides Mama, is definitely "book." Everything is "book." And when we tell her that it's time to brush her teeth, she immediately gets a huge grin on her face and then opens her mouth super wide and sticks her tongue out. Weirdo. =)

Driving each other crazy at the mall =)

What I'm Looking Forward To- Easter, her baby dedication, and definitely Auntie Amy's wedding so she can meet so many more aunts, uncles, and cousins! I'm also really looking forward to her talking and being able to communicate more. I may regret those words but for now it's true. =)

Me- I'm feeling really good, at least personally. Losing weight and keeping it off and also maintaining a consistent workout routine for the past several months has made a night and day difference in my energy level and even mindset for taking care of her during the day. I'm more active, more likely to play with her, more likely to swing her around or have an impromptu tap dance party while watching Singin in the Rain for the millionth time. =) I actually saw a video from this time last year where I was jumping up and down in front of her crib to make her laugh and I could hear myself gasping for breath between each jump. So embarrassing! Ha! But I am grateful that I've been able to keep up this new lifestyle since it makes me a much more fun mom. =) And, you know, modeling good healthy choices and all that jazz.

Otherwise, I'm turning a corner into a new "era" with Al and it's challenging. I've learned that being a mom means learning a new skill set, getting good at it, and then leaving it behind when your baby goes on to the next stage, rendering your previous skills useless. =) We're in that early toddler stage where she's big enough to make messes and get hurt but not quite old enough to understand all of my instructions (and definitely not able to express herself clearly to me.) As she develops verbally that will improve, I'm sure, but for now I'm just trying to consistently discipline her (as age-appropriately as I know how) in the major areas that I'm concerned with at the moment (aka obedience and also, you know, not screaming like a pterodactyl. #facepalm) 

But even with the toddler years well underway (yikes!) I am loving so much of this age. I love watching her get excited about new things, and seeing her laugh her head off at the silliest things, and agreeing with the many, many people a week who tell me how pretty she is. =) 

Those baby headphones? Stop it. 

Sassy pants.

Mama's girl <3

I can't believe my baby is a year and a half old. I just can't believe it. It's flown by but I also can't really remember what I did with myself before she was born. (Alone time? What's that?) She's just the best, sweetest, funniest, prettiest, cuddliest little squish and we love her more than anything. A very merry unbirthday to you, Alice from the Palace! 

These Happy Golden Years

These Happy Golden Years

One of my favorite things that I do with Alice is our bedtime reading. After she gets her pajamas on and we brush her teeth and pray, I rock her in the big pink chair in her room and read a chapter of whatever book we're on. We've gone through several series and just finished the Little House on the Prairie books.

 (Disclaimer: yes, they're "over her head" and no, I don't think she's actually understanding them. Chill, folks. We read plenty of age-appropriate picture books, but I choose chapter books for night time because the chapters usually take just the right amount of time to read and I can read them in the dark off my Kindle app. Plus the benefits of reading aloud, etc. Anyway.) 

As you probably know, These Happy Golden Years is the title of the second to last book in the series and it's mostly about Laura's final years at home before her marriage to Almanzo. (#spoileralert, yes she marries "the Wilder boy." Is it a spoiler alert for a 75-year-old book?) I'll be honest- I loved these books but about halfway through The Long Winter I was ready to burn the book to keep warm- that's how sick I was of reading about yet another blizzard. Holy cow. Anyway, this one might have been my very favorite. And in it, Pa sings a song to Laura: 

"Happy years are passing by,
Happy, happy golden years.
Passing on the wings of time,
These happy golden years.

Call them back as they go by,
Sweet their memories are.
Oh, improve them as they fly,
These happy golden years."

Well, like the sap that I am I totally started crying while reading those words to my baby. And I immediately wrote them down and also asked my friend Sara to turn them into a printable for me (which she did and which is currently in my kitchen.) 

I love these words so much. And I love them even more on the days when I am in need of them, if you know what I mean. Days like this whole week when Alice has skipped her naps (heaven help us all.) Or days when I just need to run errands and she is fussy in the car seat or stroller or cart or whatever and is screaming in Target and I'm now that mom who can't make her kid zip it and I want to hide under a pile of bath towels. Or days when I'm in a t-shirt and yoga pants and my hair's wet (again, THAT mom going out with my wet hair up like that's hiding the fact that I look like a drowned rat) and I'm definitely not my best self or anyone's #momgoals by any stretch of the imagination. 

Yes, all those days. 

One thing I've learned so far as an adult is that as young people we tend to pine for the future and as older people we tend to pine for the past. Well, I have no idea what the Lord has in store for me or my family, but I know that these are my happy golden years.

A chubby little baby hand holding my hair. (Or yanking. But still.)

That same chubby hand waving frantically at anyone and everyone who will look her way.

The world's CUTEST baby whose bright blue eyes get comments everywhere we go.

Watching musicals with my toddler. What toddler loves Singin in the Rain and The Music Man- on repeat?? Mine, that's who. 

Pushing the stroller through the neighborhood. Or Hobby Lobby. Same thing. 

Getting big belly laughs with the silliest faces.

Watching Alice light up when her daddy gets home from work. 

String cheese. Green beans. Scrambled eggs. 

Books, books, books. (Everything is "book.") 

Alllll the snuggles. 

And the thing is, I know that fun times are ahead- talking! Independence! Kindergarten! (Wait, did I say fun things?) The fact is, it's easy for me to get overwhelmed by the changes that will happen with Alice in the next few years or even months. Parenting is no joke and the idea that I'm responsible for shaping this girl into a decent human being is mildly terrifying to say the least. 

So even though watching her become her own little person is exciting, I know that (nap strike notwithstanding) these days with my one baby definitely qualify as "happy golden years." 

Whether you're single or engaged or a newlywed or waiting for a baby or wrangling your third, or you're planning your baby's wedding or middle school graduation party... these can be your happy golden years. It may not feel that way, but we can all handle a reminder now and then to savor each season of life. There's good and bad in each one, but they can all be enjoyed to some degree.

And if you ever feel like you are about to lose it, remember that the Ingalls family survived basically nine straight months of blinding snowstorms and near starvation and didn't kill each other. Our lives are definitely happy and golden by comparison. 

P.S. If you want to the file to print this poem for yourself, I'll be happy to email it you. Just let me know. =) 

Thank You Note Friday

Thank You Note Friday

Here we are at the end of another week... as usual, the week itself has gone by fairly quickly while each day tends to drag a bit (given that my darling child is giving a reprisal performance of the Great Nap Strike of June 2016. Perhaps she's attempting to form a union. Should I raise her pay? Improve her working conditions? Oh wait. She doesn't work and neither of us get paid. Win/win.)

Moving on...

Thank you, IKEA, for basically being the Pied Piper of retail stores. "Oh, we'll just look around..." You're probably snickering in Swedish at all of us suckers who come in with the best of intentions and leave having spent ten trillion dollars on potted plants and furniture WE HAVE TO ASSEMBLE OURSELVES. "Man, Americans are really dumb. They're practically paying us to make them work." (*Evil laugh, eats more meatballs.*) But seriously, thank you for your insanely cheap picture frames and magical AS IS section where I purchased a perfectly good boxwood wreath for a whopping $5. All the praise hands.

Thank you, my dear cousin Charity, for alerting me to the amazing, glorious wonder that is this Alice in Wonderland bedding collection from The Land of Nod. Be right back... just gonna go sell some plasma really quick. (Oh my word!) Here's the thing... I'll never be able to NOT buy (or at least be tempted by) all the Alice things because everyone sends them to me! All my friends are like, "I think of you every time I see something Alice," and I'm like, "I know! I can't escape temptation!" My next child is going to have a non-literary/Disney name, for sure. (#notpregnant)

Thank you, Cadbury Eggs, for simultaneously bringing me joy and also being my annual springtime nemesis. You may be mini, but with the way I consume you, I certainly will not be.

Thank you, all the brave and committed souls who made it through my InstaStory book review this week (and who commented! Yay!) I know that those posts are really long (and some people don't love me enough- cough Amy cough-) to watch to the end but if you did and you enjoyed it, I'm so grateful that you were mildly entertained. And if you're really anxious for me to offer my daily routine in a hair and makeup tutorial, I may just be generous enough to oblige one of these days. (#hahajk #thatwouldberich)

I know... that's a lot of dots. In the words of another cousin, "My thumb is sore from swiping through your story." Also, please don't be intimated by my beauty. (#nofilter.) 

Thank you, Gymboree, for making the cutest baby sneakers I've ever seen. Also for marking them down to $7. Now let's make those available for adults because I would most definitely wear those bad boys every single day.

I mean, come on!

Thank you, people on buy/sell/trade pages, for trying to talk down the price of a $10 mirror while trying to charge $450 for a Kleenex you found in your pocket. (Slight exaggeration but really.) ALSO thank you for reserving an item for sale, agreeing upon a time and place to meet, and then not showing up and apparently tossing your phone into the toilet in order to avoid answering any messages. (Happened to me twice this week- two different people.) May I speak for all of us when I say- you are literally the worst.

Thank you, Target in Magnolia (yes, that specific one... the one I could walk to from our apartment, may it rest in peace) for having THE best dollar section in the land. I mean, that's not necessarily a good thing (pesky budget! pesky bills!) but when I need a wooden tray or a fake succulent, you do not disappoint. Now give dollar section lessons to the Target by my house.

Thank you, Alice, for not only somehow possessing a Go-go-Gadget type superpower, but also using it to reach an inexplicable distance across the bathroom counter and break my adorable, custom-made coffee mug. It's a good thing you're cute because I don't know anyone else I would be able to forgive for such a devastating incident. (Am I being melodramatic? Oh, I don't know... my mug said, "I'm silently correcting your grammar," so yes, it was the best mug ever and my sweet friend Emma made it and I'm still upset, okay? Give me time to grieve.)


Thank you, TimeHop, for gems like this one. Our Psych-watching/loving society was and is near and dear to my heart. And apparently we all had to have dark brown hair and bangs to secure membership. Oh, Psych. How I miss your pineapple goodness. (And Rory and Claire. Not Amy, because she won't watch my book reviews.)

And there it is. Happy Friday, my friends! Go forth into the weekend with a smile (unlike me... starting a soda fast today. Send prayers.)

Five Decorating Tricks for Dummies (Like Me)

Five Decorating Tricks for Dummies (Like Me)

Whenever I write about some area in which I'm clearly no expert, I think of Mike Greenberg (Greeny of ESPN's Mike and Mike) and his Twitter bio: "The world's foremost authority on all matters." Ha! Cleary he's joking (I think) and so am I... there's no question that practically any other lifestyle blog is going to have better information about decorating your house. HOWEVER, I always like to write the type of posts that I would enjoy reading, so that's what I'm doing. In the past year as I've decorated our house (and am now in the process of re-decorating a few spaces), I have picked up a few tips that I wish I had had at the beginning of this whole process. Given my benevolent nature, I decided to share them here. =)

Best decorating tip: have a cute baby and everything in your house will look adorable. =)

1. Shop your house. Before you head out to spend a fafillion dollars at Hobby Lobby (and if you do, no judgment here), look around (look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now. Sorry, Broadway break) at what you already have. Obviously if you're starting from scratch, this won't work, but if I'm looking to refresh a side table or shelf setup, I find it best to look at my own stuff (including unexpected areas. I'm not too proud to steal stuff from Alice's room... there's currently a super adorable plush Bambi on one of my shelves. It won't stay there forever but I kinda love it.) And this kinda goes without saying but having a general color scheme throughout the house (rather than very divided themes from room to room) means that you can really move things around easily without trying to merge a nautical room with, say, a hunting theme. (What?! I don't know your life!) For me right now, that means anything with white, gold, gray, light pink, or turquoise is going to match nearly every room in my house. Good to know when I'm shopping and good when I'm shopping from room to room and moving things back and forth.

One of the million M's in my house. =)

2. Find bang for your buck/use things in unexpected ways. This could take on many forms... a pretty yet functional basket (I'm a huge fan of baskets or anything that hides stuff, really), a big mason jar that can be used as a vase or to hold holiday decor (I have one I fill with acorns and pinecones in the fall and ornaments at Christmas and it's currently holding some tulips), or something totally different. For example, last year I found a set of prints (the kind you usually find on Pinterest) at Hobby Lobby. It looked like a book of scrapbook paper but actually held nearly 40 of these prints, ranging from 4x6 to 9x13. They were all on thick card stock and were super high quality, and I have used that purchase a TON. There are probably 15 different places in my house where I've used those prints, and I got the book of them for about $8 with a coupon. Individually purchased, they would have cost WAY more than that. If you find something like that and know that you can use it in multiple ways, snatch it up!

All of the prints on the bottom row are from the same collection I bought at once. 

And as far as using things in an unexpected way... you can use a plate as a tray (or a book as a tray), frame sheet music, put flowers in a glass Coke bottle, or you can just choose to display things you really like. I have bought two gorgeous Disney ornaments this past Christmas and couldn't bear to pack them away. So the Beauty and the Beast one is sitting on my piano and the Alice in Wonderland one (what else?) is resting on a stack of books. Both of them make me happy every time I see them and it would be a tragedy for them to be wrapped up in a box for most of the year. (Also the Beauty and the Beast one plays a song and Alice gets SO excited whenever we push the button. Money well spent right there.) My sister just salvaged a pew from their church's renovation and is using it as a bench for her dining room table. SO cool. I'm jealous.

Also, a word on quality. Do I want my house to say, "Dollar Section Chic"? Not really. And there have been plenty of cheap impulsive purchases from that Bermuda Triangle of money that haven't lasted. But some of my favorite things are from the Dollar Section and are still holding up well. If it's made of wood or ceramic or glass, it has usually lasted for me. Anything plastic-y tends to warp over time. And, let's be honest, none of it is necessarily heirloom-for-Alice material, but getting a few good years of use out of it is fine with me, especially for a $3 basket.

3. Add greenery. And by this I mean (mostly) fake greenery. =) I am not a plant person... and by that I mean keeping flowers alive for more than a week seems like a feat to me. But the basic leafy plants and succulents (yes, I'm so trendy. My house is basically a Pinner's dream #lol) that I've bought in the past year or so have been some of my favorite and most useful purchases. They're super cheap at IKEA and brighten up just about any empty space, and you can put them in all kinds of cool containers to match your rooms. Plus they don't die and make you feel like a plant murderer, so there's that. But if you DO want to murder some plants (or if you're a better adult than me and can keep them alive) hit up your Trader Joe's every couple weeks for the cheapest, prettiest fresh flowers that $3.99 can buy.

If you didn't Instagram your Trader Joe's bouquet, did it really happen?

4. When in doubt, add a monogram (or any signature filler.) My dad is a dad and therefore likes to make dad jokes, so when he comes to my house he likes to say, "Hey Ashley, what's your last name? You might forget!" (Haha.) It's because we have different "M's" all over our house. As in, probably close to ten decorative M shapes. And I'm not ashamed! You know why? Because when in doubt, I add an M. They're easy to find, come in a million cool materials (or you can decorate your own) and aren't that expensive. My other signature filler is books. I use books for decoration all over my house. One trick is to use pretty books (my Puffin In Bloom and Baby Lit are some of my favorites, but I've recently used my Dear America series, and I've had a matching set of classic paperbacks from the Target dollar section on a shelf for over a year now.) Use whatever works. Old hardbacks, your collection of favorites... it doesn't matter. I've proudly displayed my Nancy Drew books as an adult, too. Work it.

My piano (plus pumpkins.)

5. In your house, as in life, be yourself. Looking at Pinterest, Instagram, and Fixer Upper (of course!) are all great. Get ideas, get inspired, etc. But in the end, it's totally find to buck certain trends in favor of what you love. For example, one of my greatest inspirations for decorating has always been my best friend, Brook. Her house is gorgeous and looks like a magazine, she can DIY anything, and she has always decorated on a very doable budget. But over the years, her style has really steered mostly toward neutrals, with lots of texture. I could copy her and make everything in my house white, but it wouldn't work for me. You know why? Because I love color! I've fought it but come back to it every time. That doesn't mean that every room in my house is going to look like Rainbow Road on Mario Karts (wasn't that the worst??) but it does mean  that while I find neutral rooms beautiful and I use neutrals to tone down my brighter pieces, I'm going to have bright colors in my house. It's just a fact of life.

(Bonus tip, speaking of color: don't underestimate the power of paint! It's cheap and such an easy way to change a room. My white piano is literally my favorite thing in my house- thank you BFF Sara!- and I've never regretted my decision to paint a wall in our bedroom blush pink.)

An M and more greenery! (And more beloved fall decor)

Now, does every piece in my house have to reflect my personality and three-point mission statement for my life and family? As we've discussed recently, no it does not. But I also don't have to feel intimidated or unsophisticated in comparison to someone with a different style vibe than mine. It's all good and beauty can be found wherever, even in a stack of Nancy Drew books.

Or, dare I say, especially in a stack of Nancy Drew books. =)

Happy Tuesday, everyone!

I'm Okay, You're Okay... the Word Curate Is not Okay

I'm Okay, You're Okay... the Word Curate Is not Okay

I recently read a book that a bunch of people have recommended over the past several months. It's called The Curated Closet and I found it to be helpful and practical. (I mean, I've been reading fashion blogs for about five years so it wasn't like it was all brand-new information but still.) I could even forgiven the use of the word curated in the title, since curated is on my list of Overused Internet Words and Phrases. ("Intentional," I'm looking at you.)

The book highly recommends ruthlessly purging your closet, getting rid of anything you don't (or shouldn't) wear, and, over time, carefully curating (there's that word again) a wardrobe full of clothes that are high quality, fit well, and that represent you and your personality all while seamlessly mixing and matching for a multitude of outfit options.

That's the basic concept for capsule wardrobes, which have been all the rage for the past couple of years. And I definitely am crawling out of a years-long habit of buying clothes just because they're on clearance, paying little attention to their quality or even how much I really like them. (So dumb. I know. I'm judging myself so you don't have to.) I've been giving this whole idea a lot of thought, so last week I went through my closet for what felt like the thousandth time (I tend to purge every few months, to the delight of my sisters) and pulled out all that I could justifiably get rid of. (Shameless plug for my closet sale on Facebook. =) I can honestly say that at this point I really do like just about everything in my closet. It's not all designer quality (ha!) and I'm not thrilled with the fit of every piece, but I'm getting there and being a lot more selective. I've even developed (loosely) a color palette based on what I already have and what I like and hope to shop more within those guidelines in the future.

Here's a picture of an outfit that actually really did feel like me. Not just teacher me, or mom me, but just Ashley. Not weirdly specific to any one stage of my life- minus the flats because these feet haven't seen heels in a while. (Dress is Target, cardigan is Loft, necklace is The Jones Market, and shoes are Belk.)


This can put a lot of pressure on me (some of it probably needed, but still) while I'm shopping or even looking at the clothes I already own. "Does this fit in my palette?' "Will I wear this in three years?" "Can I mix it with several other pieces?" "Does it represent WHO I AM?"

Good grief. Does every single piece of clothing have to tell the world that I'm a former teacher, a first-time mom, a Disney and musical fanatic, or a slightly obsessive bookworm? Do my clothes all need to portray that I grew up on the West coast but have now spent almost half my life on the East coast? Or that I'm a former tomboy who still loves baseball? That's, um, a little much to ask of a pair of workout pants or a button-down shirt.

Not to mention that there's a fairly big disconnect between my past life (teaching, working in a professional environment, getting dressed up every day) and my present life (stay at home mom, chasing a crazy child everywhere, trying to strike a balance between real clothes and comfortable, walk around the neighborhood with a stroller/lunge across the room to snatch something dangerous from Alice clothes.) So should I throw out my dressy clothes knowing I'll only wear them a few days a month? Or purchase only athleisure until Alice goes to kindergarten?

I was/am getting stressed out just thinking about this.

Then in the midst of my mental angst, I was listening to a podcast episode from The Lazy Genius (one of my favorites, go check her out immediately) and it was like they had been eavesdropping on my thoughts (disconcerting but also reassuring that I'm not crazy.) Kendra, the host, made the statement, "Everything doesn't have to mean something."

Well, yes! Exactly! Not every single piece of clothing has to reflect my personality just like every single item in my home doesn't have to flow in perfect cohesion with every other corner of the house (I'm no Joanna Gaines, although who wouldn't want to be if for no other reason than to have her gorgeous hair) and not every decision is a reflection of the indefinable This Is Me, Everybody that we're all struggling to present to the world. (I died when she mentioned that choosing- on purpose- to eat an apple instead of a sleeve of Oreos has prompted her to call herself a wannabe hippie and total fraud.) I know the feeling. "You're buying an Under Armor shirt? What are you now, some kind of gym rat?" Me, meekly, to myself: "Well, uh, it's a good deal and I need some dri-fit shirts for running, but yeah I guess that's kind of pretentious. My bad."

I know. Ridiculous.

Anyway, this has all been a roundabout way to say that while I'm working to make more thoughtful (and therefore fewer) clothing purchases and I really do want a cute, functional wardrobe, it's okay to have a few things that are outside the box. It's okay to own an Old Navy graphic tee that isn't exactly my "aesthetic." (Well, is loving coffee an aesthetic?) And it's okay if, after all the curating and purging and planning, to still sometimes stand in my closet and feel like I have nothing to wear. I think all that just makes me human, not a mindless consumer. (I mean, I can mindlessly consume with the best of them, but you get the idea.)

So maybe today if you want to make a decision that falls slightly outside what you think you should do or who you think you are, I promise it's okay. You can be a healthy person and have a Snickers (in fact, I encourage you to have one) or you can hate exercise and still go for a run (and even wear Under Armor, you pretentious thing you.) But the world will continue to turn and it will all be fine. Don't system yourself to death and then feel totally restricted by your own system. It's like building a robot to do your dishes who ultimately chokes you with its little iron claw hands.

This is one of my favorite things in my house because it's such a needed reminder. (You can find it here.) 

Wow, a bit dramatic. Apparently clothing is an emotionally charged subject- ask anyone who watched What not to Wear. (Moment of silence please for the one and only reality television show I have ever and will ever watch.)

You do you, friend- curated or not. You're okay. Now go listen to my two-year-old niece's favorite song on repeat. You won't be as cute as she is singing, but it's still great. =)

My Overdue and Super Cheap Laundry Closet Makeover

My Overdue and Super Cheap Laundry Closet Makeover

When we bought our house last year and I took on the task of decorating a space much bigger than any we'd had before, I felt pretty overwhelmed throughout the process but also found that I was really enjoying myself. I've come a loooong way from our embarrassingly bare first apartment or the "I don't love this look but it was on clearance so here we are" collection from about 2012-2015. I had a pretty clear picture of the direction I wanted to go with the house, but because I'm not a gazillionaire I couldn't just toss out all my old stuff and start from scratch (even though that was tempting.) I kept quite a bit but also sold a bunch of stuff online and started buying things here and there on sale as I found them. (I also was SUPER lucky that at the time, Target had amazing clearance prices on things I really liked and needed... stuff that's usually super expensive like curtains and bedding.) Anyway, there were areas that I arranged exactly how I wanted them, a few areas where things were okay but I was kind of just "making do," and then one place I neglected entirely.

That one place was my laundry closet. "Closet?" you might ask. Um, yes. I love my house but the placement of a laundry closet- not even a room- is oddly located in the dining area, meaning I can't have a cute laundry bin setup or anything because, well, that's where we eat and I prefer not to mix meal times with dirty clothes. #awkward. So while I was putting my other rooms together piece by piece, I (for the time being) just kind of washed (tee hee) my hands of the space and decided I would deal with it later, if at all.

Finally (as in 10 months later), and after the prompting of a couple of laundry room makeover posts I saw on Facebook, I took a good long look at the closet, got an idea of what I wanted, and put the whole thing together in pretty much one Saturday afternoon. (Minus the baskets, which we'll get to in a minute.)

I don't have a before picture, but there was nothing on the wall, and the shelves contained some white plastic Dollar Tree bins and a bunch of junk. So my first step was just to clear all the stuff off the shelves (a lot of it I just threw away- it had been sitting there untouched since we moved in) and wipe them all down. Then I hit up Hobby Lobby (and the rest of my house) for some pictures to hang.

I knew I wanted a laundry sign, but most of the ones I saw (no offense to anyone who has them) were super cheesy. Sorry, I don't want to advertise for lost socks or make jokes about how rarely I iron (although that's laughable to be sure.) I just wanted something simple. After a quick text to my two best friends/design gurus, I went with the white. Simple and neutral in case I ever want to switch the other colors out. I also fell in love with the "bless your heart" sign a few weeks ago; if I hadn't put it here I probably would have found a spot for it in my kitchen.

And the best sign of all is the hand-painted Beauty and the Beast picture that April made for me.

RIP Psych. Three years later and I'm still mourning. 

Belle is my favorite princess and Belle's Reprise is my favorite song in the movie, so... perfect. I've searched high and low for a place of honor in my house and this is it!

I guess this works as a pep talk while I'm surrounded by laundry. =) 

Now.... the baskets. I got the closet cleaned out and the pictures hung in an afternoon but left the baskets alone for a couple more weeks. I mentioned the other day that I searched high and low for baskets and that they're insanely expensive. I mean, why should a piece of wicker that only holds like three board books cost more than a new sweater from Old Navy? Anyway, there's a store close by called At Home (apparently they're all over the place but I had never heard of it until we moved here) and it is MASSIVE. Like, a Costco for home decor. (Not quite, but you get the idea.) It can be pretty overwhelming but I decided to look at the clearance and I finally found some baskets that didn't require the sale of any internal organs or my firstborn child. 

They actually had about seven different colors but I settled on the light blue (Jonathan says Carolina blue) and the kelly green, which I have a soft spot for since it was a main color in my wedding. (My sister recently told me that she couldn't see me doing my same wedding colors now and she was totally right, but I loved them at the time and they're still pretty. Raise your hand if you're the victim of a pre-Pinterest wedding. Ha!) 

The light is weird but the blue is slightly darker than it seems here. I had the wooden M languishing in a closet waiting to find its purpose in life and bought the little succulent at Walmart (which reminds me that a trip to IKEA for new greenery is in order.)

I had the plain wicker basket already and left it up there because I just wanted a little something different in that corner, and the "take it easy" sign was a dollar spot find that I bought for my classroom many moons ago. I still love it. =) 

Y'all, the lighting is awful here. Like, worse than it looks even on my phone. Part of the reason is that while there's plenty of natural light in the dining room, the overhang of the actual closet doorframe makes a weird shadow and I'm not a photographer and blah blah blah I know it's terrible. Anyway, here's what it looks like all together. (Underneath is just the washer and dryer. Not very interesting.) My shame may lead me to attempt a better picture and upload it later. 

So, that's it. I only spent about $30 on everything (obviously because I already had several of the pieces) but I like each and every part of it. The bright and cheerful colors (balanced by the white) and the fact that it's CLEAN (seriously, such an eyesore before) both make me super happy and now I don't have to cringe every time I open these doors. I mean, I'll still dread the laundry, because... laundry. But having a pretty space to do it helps... at least until Alice is old enough to start doing it. What are kids for?? (kidding. but not kidding.) 

Happy Monday... even if it includes laundry.