Friday, July 31, 2009

DM's Gift Guide: New Baby

This is probably the most "I'm-repeating-myself" post of the gift guide series, but that was awhile ago so I'm back at it. Seriously, someone's having a baby - and I know LOTS of people having babies - and I almost always go to one of these! Sometimes I mix it up by adding a DVD/toy for an older sibling or Babyproofing Your Marriage if I know them well enough to be frank. My spreadsheet newborn gift list is actually more than three times this long, but I rarely move beyond these few items. This is one topic I know a little about.

1. Zutano booties, size 0-6 mos, $15-20 - The fact is that tiny shoes and socks are super cute but what's the point when they don't stay on those flimsy little infant feet? I'm a Robeez fan but newborns' feet are like wet noodles and I can't even get a Robeez on a 0-6 month old, much less get it to stay. That's why I love, love, love these booties. With the soft cotton, double-snap elastic ankle, they're not going anywhere but they are also super cute and non-pinchy. (These are perfect for new babies; the bottoms are not grippy so as soon as they are pulling up to stand it's time to move on.)

2. The Baby Book, $14 + The Happiest Baby on the Block DVD, $20 - My absolute top two best baby references, these have answered almost every problem or question I've had with new babies. I like to give one or both of these especially to first-time parents.

3. Miracle Blanket, $30 - If you're a swaddler, and I swear by it, this is the best blanket I've found. A huge square blanket is great if you've got a tight technique down but for those that don't, this baby does it for you. Worth every penny, and if it's for yourself and not a gift, there are always used ones on Ebay - save a buck and just wash them well.

4. Ugly Doll, $10 - Uh-dorable, funny, modern twist on dolls and stuffed animals. Who says a lovey has to have two eyes?
5. Food Smock, $35 - Most of you know my friend Corey makes these. I was present for the idea-to-business process; I LOVE this product! Genius and cool, these have got you covered during that super messy learning-to-eat-by-oneself stage, and the blooming artist stage that comes next. Free shipping code: DISCO MOM.
6. Swallow or other Flensted mobile, $26-38 - We've had a couple of dumb mobiles in our parenthood so far, but if we have another baby I'm upgrading to one of these! Who wouldn't love to watch a train or flock of swallows soaring above?
7. Any toy by Haba or Kathe Kruse - Simple, classy and fun for little ones. Hard to go wrong with one of these.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

DM's Gift Guide: Wedding

A note on wedding gifts: I'm a bit out of practice - most of my friends are married and we don't go to 100 weddings each summer like we used to. But a few things I do know and remember - stay away from home decor items unless they're on the registry - don't go choosing the happy couple's towels, sheets, clocks, art or anything colorful for them. TRUST ME, it's annoying. Sticking to the registry is always a safe and much-appreciated way to go.

But if you feel like branching out, these ought to be winners:

1. Penzey's Spice Gift Box, any budget - Penzeys is just the best, and anyone would, and should, love to get a gift box. You can spend from $14.49 to $219.99, and if you live near a store you can go in and make your own gift box. Seriously, when you have no idea what to get someone - for any occasion - you cannot go wrong with spices.

2. Pampered Chef Classic Batter Bowl, $15 + Small Batter Bowl, $11.50 - These are in the tippy-top of my "use-the-most" kitchen items, and they are a STEAL at these prices. Easily worth twice that. The small bowl is good for beating eggs, measuring cream, etc. The classic bowl gets used for everything I need to pour, from leftover homemade stock and soup to pancake and waffle batter. And you can even use it to cook a cake in for the skirt of a doll cake, or half-ball (like baseball or soccer cake), though I haven't tried it myself yet.

3. Martha Stewart's Homekeeping Guide: The Essential Guide to Caring for Everything in Your Home, $30 - This could double as a great housewarming gift as well. It's the ultimate reference for all homekeeping, a room-by-room exhaustive guide to caring for everything and keeping it clean and comfortable. I've given it as a gift twice but still don't own it myself. And frankly, I could use it. I don't know if my entry floor is granite, marble or something else, and I certainly don't know how to care for it. And that's just the tip of the pathetic iceburg of my new home-ownership status. Wait, is this post about me?

4. Slow Cooker, prices vary - Speaking of me, I LOVE the slow cooker. Mine broke the week before we moved so I'm working with a loaner and dreaming of a new one, but I can definitely attest to every household needing one. A bunch of set-and-forget meals is a great way to start your new life together.

5. Collection of kitchen gadgets (metal measuring spoons/cups, rubber spatula, egg timer, brown sugar bear, garlic press, vegetable peeler, ice cream scoop, juicer, etc.), any budget

6. Dutch Oven, $80+ - There is actually a long list of kitchen staples a new family needs, but a good dutch oven stands out. It goes from stove to oven and you can cook almost anything in it. I know this particular one goes against my don't-pick-their-colors-for-them rule, but you can get a plain dark one or figure out what goes with their kitchen stuff. A smart couple would never balk at a good Dutch oven.

7. Cookbooks - Like with the spices, you can't go wrong with a cookbook, and they are all so much fun! OK so I am biased and maybe not everyone loves to cook as much as I do, but it's fun to do together - a practical, cheap shared activity. Throw in a couple of matching aprons, tasting spoons or Santoku knives and it's even cuter! A few suggestions:

Disco Mom Takes on Christmas Cookies (shameless self-promotion), $26-39
Rachael Ray's 365: No Repeats, $13
The New Best Recipe, $23
Better Homes and Gardens New Plaid Cookbook, $20
Vegetarian Planet, $16
Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery that Revolutionizes Home Baking, $18
Intercourses: An Aphrodisiac Cookbook, $20

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

DM's Gift Guide: Graduation

1. 101 Things to do with Ramen Noodles, $10 - Is it too cliche? I just can't help it - what an awesome book for a college student! I have 101 Things to do with a Slow Cooker and I've seen Zucchini. There's also treasures like 101 Things to do with Yogurt, Mac and Cheese, a Potato, etc.

2. Going Solo in the Kitchen, $12 - Plus a cute saucepan or skillet, and they are good to go!

3. Gift cards - Bed Bath and Beyond, iTunes, bookstore

4. Swiss Tech 9-in-1 Tool with USB Flash Drive, $32-45 - Swiss Army Knife meets flash drive. Love it. Everything you need - pliers, wire cutter, wire stripper, sheet shear (uh, whatever that is), Phillips and flat screwdrivers, 1/4" rule markings and USB memory stick. Have Tool, will travel!

5. Livescribe Smartpen, $146.30 - Normally I don't spend this much on a gift but ever since I found this thing I've been kind of obsessed with it. Makes me realize how antiquated my college days are now, and makes me wonder if this actually works as awesomely as it seems. Just watch this video and join me in awe. Even if you have no interest whatsoever, watch the video - it is hilarious.

6. Computer stuff like flash drives, Hub Man, Wi-Fi HotSpot finder keychain, etc.

7. Tune Lamp, $32 - It's a lamp, it's an ipod dock, it's a desk organizer. One of the best gifts I received for my high school graduation was a desk lamp/organizer much like this (minus the dock), and I used it for all four years of college and most of grad school. This is the updated version - the perfect graduation gift for a new generation.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Disco Mom's Gift Guide

I can never remember my gift ideas for the right occasion at the right time. Father's Day, and all I can think of are baby gifts. Wedding time, and I can only think of some awesome random gadget I'm getting my brother for his birthday. Then I go to a baby shower and get all these new cool ideas.

I may have mentioned before I keep a spreadsheet of gift ideas for children at each age. Because as soon as my kids are past an age my mind goes blank and I can't for the life of me remember what a 1-year-old likes. So with each birthday I make a list of things they like at this age, so I have ideas when other birthdays and birthday parties come up. Then there's the teacher gifts each year. And the occasional relative's wedding. Birthdays and anniversaries come around EVERY YEAR, too! It's harsh.

Gifting is DEFINITELY one of my love languages. I love magazine gift guide spreads - they often pop up near Christmas and in the spring when it's graduation and wedding season. LOVE gift guides. Even though I rarely need to use the suggestions, I love having suggestions to choose from when I do need them. I'll do another post with my kids gift guide sometime, though I only have it up to 4 years old.

So for the next week, starting tomorrow, I'll post seven gift guides of seven of my current go-to's for New Grads, Newlyweds, New Babies, New House, Teachers, Women and Men. Some of them you've seen before; I'm not that creative. Read them and weigh in. 'Cause we all need help.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

My Awesome House: Office

Excuse me, it's actually the office/sewing/art studio. Officially the "second master bedroom" because it has a walk-in closet (storage, laaaaah!) and private bathroom, we opted to NOT put the girls in here because it's directly above our bedroom. And with hardwood floors, you hear every little sound and we knew we'd regret it. So the girls are sharing a smaller bedroom and this corner of the house has become my haven.

First, we had to paint it. It was a light orange that I couldn't live with. Nothing a little Benjamin Moore "Patriotic White" couldn't fix. Now it's a lovely serene light blue.Next, the IKEA unit. I love these pieces from the EXPEDIT line. An afternoon of assembly, and several evenings in front of the TV putting the drawers together has given us this masterpiece:
It's a dream come true; after years of poring and drooling over organization spreads in Real Simple, I finally have all my office, sewing and arts & crafts supplies in ONE place! And sometimes I can even remember where I put everything.

Here is where the kids can play. Drawing, playdoh, and games are kept up here. Notice the area rug separates Mommy's area from the kids'. This is awesome because when I'm on the computer and the girls want to be near me they can do something this table instead of trying to climb on my lap. Not that they don't still, but there are other options to offer them now. And the window nook is the perfect size to stow the easel when it's not being used. Did you see the magnetic paint above the kids' table? It's magnetic primer. It smells foul, splatters like crazy, and it took about 5 coats to get a weak hold. Regular magnets still slid off so I got these mega strong magnets from Amazon to do the trick. It was a fun experiment but I'm not sure I'd do it again.
So now as you read, you can picture me blogging at my desk while the girls roll playdoh or play Memory in our sweet office suite in MY AWESOME HOUSE.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Welcome Phinn

Phineas Archer Younce
July 20, 3:36 am
Harrogate, England

Sure to be as cute as these guys -


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

My Awesome House: Downstairs Paint Job

Huh. The summer seems to be getting away from me, on so many fronts. The house is just one of them. But it's a big one. And it's not just the all-consuming painting and unpacking anymore; now that we've been here about 6 weeks it's also trying to keep the monster clean, and trying to find things again once I've found a place for them. Takes all my time.

Painting the downstairs was down on the priority list, after painting several other rooms and getting some things fixed. But I spend most of my time downstairs in the kitchen/dining/living room, and the colors were getting to me. The dining room has a chair rail trim - above was crayon orange, below was tan with white frame trim. The living room was a peachy peach that was so-so in the daytime but really offensive at night with the lights on.

I had no idea what palette to choose. Warm? Cool? Blues? Golds? I'm not down with red, and I was tired of orange. My default is to lean towards earthy stuff - brown? Green? I'll spare you the tortuous play-by-play of the decision process, but after about seven or eight samples and still no progress, my sister Maren marched me over to Home Depot where she efficiently walked me through to a decision, and it was done. Here's what I did last week.

Dining Room
BEFORE (with samples)

Trim being painted


AFTER (with furniture, with light on and off)

Big change, whaddaya think? On top is Desert Moss, bottom is Willow Herb, both Behr colors. (Two different people with good taste told me it's tacky to paint trim in a room like this a different color - the entire lower half should all be one color - so I did the frames the same as the Willow Herb wall. I left the baseboard and chair rail white because the big window frame is white; not sure if I'll leave them or paint them.) I like it; I have a thing currently for yellowy greens. But this exercise showed me how easy the dining room is to paint, so I expect I'll change it again whenever I want.

The kitchen is in the middle - didn't do anything there yet. The living room is in the back of the house, and I went with the same colors.

Living Room
BEFORE (with samples)


Back wall behind couch is Desert Moss; other two walls are Willow Herb. The wall to the right in the above picture is a built-in bookshelf and all brick to the kitchen so there's nothing to paint there.

We're having about 100 people to a housewarming party this weekend so I wanted to get it painted before that. I think pictures on the walls, new curtains and for that matter new furniture would complete the look, but one thing at a time. For now I'm enjoying the paint.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

End of School Teacher Gifts Follow-Up

Thank you for all the ideas and suggestions. This year, with the new house purchase, I was looking for something with a small price tag (the parents' group gave the teachers a large restaurant gift certificate from our fundraiser treasury.) In the end, I figured, can you ever go wrong with a book? Granted, there's always the chance they've already read it, but that has rarely happened to me, so I think it's worth the risk.

I gave each of Hazel's teachers a thank-you card, a small stack of homemade cookies, and one of my favorite books I read last year, Three Cups of Tea. It's a great way to go because there are always new books coming out and every year I'm sure to have a favorite or two, so it's never the same gift twice. By the way, I'm in a good run of books right now - it's very exciting. First, The Inimitable Jeeves. Then Guernsey, and now The Book Thief.

Very. Exciting.
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