Alarmingly Handy: Our Home Security System

When we moved into our house, one of the first things we did was install an alarm system.  At that time, the hubby was traveling a lot for work so I thought the alarm would give me peace of mind when I came home alone at night (fortunately those days are over!).  We didn't know our neighbors yet, but we knew the neighborhood was not a high crime area.  It was more about our peace of mind.  I clearly remember an older neighbor asking me why were having it installed because he had never heard of any break-ins on our street for the past 20 years that he has lived here.  I just told him it was for my own peace of mind and that I fully understood that it was a nice neighborhood or we would not have moved here

Our house as it looked in 2002 when we bought it.

Fast forward 7 years later and we were renovating our house.  We call our alarm company, Brinks, which we had been loyal to for the past 7 years and faithfully paying the $30 per month or whatever it was.  We tell them we want to expand the system and include fire/carbon monoxide detection and water bugs (sensors that detect water on the floor) in the basement.  They then quoted us $1500 (!) to expand the system and then told us that our monthly rate would go up to $35!  Ummm....let me think about that....NO.

So, we asked around and got some recommendations for other companies.  We called Slomins Shield and they could rewire our entire house, including two key pads, glass break sensors, door sensors, water bugs near our sump pump in the basement, and smoke and carbon monoxide detectors for about $600 (the cost of the supplies).  And the monthly fee was about $26 and was guaranteed to NEVER go up.  Score!  Bonus was that they could come the next day which was great since the drywall was going up in about 3 days.  Bye-bye Brinks!

Although I think the burglar alarm is a useful thing, the same deterrence factor could likely be achieved with some well-placed faux alarm company window stickers, the smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and the water bugs are probably even more valuable.  The water bug sensor has already prevented one malfunctioning sump pump from flooding our basement. 

Although we did not opt for this feature, many companies also offer low temperature alarms.  If you live in an area with frequent long stretches of below freezing temps, this feature could save your house.  If your furnace breaks down in below freezing temperatures, you are likely to come home to frozen pipes and a huge mess in your house.  If you have the low temperature sensor, the alarm company is notified if the temperature in your house (or at the sensor) drops below a designated temperature. 

Another bonus is that most insurance companies offer discounts on your home owners insurance for alarm systems, particularly those with smoke detectors.  Be sure to ask your agent when you are installing the system.

If you are thinking about buying an alarm system, think beyond the anti-burglary benefits and consider what other features you would provide you peace of mind when you are both away from home or snug in your own bed.  


High Chair vs. Booster Seat

Everyone knows that baby gear is generally not the most beautiful thing in the world.  Of course there are exceptions but the standard stuff is really pretty hideous.  I love my kids, but their stuff is just not pretty.  Fortunately, my kids are past the baby swing, bouncer, baby gym stage but we're definitely still in the big ugly toy stage with Alex.  (I'll post at some other point about our toy storage issues.)  So, of course, we try to hide as much stuff as possible, but some things are unavoidable.

I have a thing against high chairs.  I just don't like them.  My apologies to all of the high chair lovers out there.  I have to admit though, that I have been fascinated by the Stokke Trip Trapp but I feel it's something we should have invested in with my daughter when she was young, instead of now when Alex is 15 months already.  It is so cool and versatile though. 

But, I digress.

Instead of a high chair, we chose to go the booster seat route.  We have had the Fisher Price Healthy Care Booster Seat since Elizabeth was born.  This was a good route for us because our dining room was pretty small before the renovation and that was our only eating space.  Now, we have a relatively small eating space in our kitchen and family room so space is still at a premium.  Here is one of our seats in the eating area now. 

Here's Alex enjoying some watermelon in his seat.

We actually have one on the screen porch too (pasta night).  What a face!

I love that the chair is easy to clean - the white top tray is dishwasher safe.  The rest of the chair can be scrubbed completely.  I have been known to take it out to the driveway and hose it down after a particularly messy sauce night (such as in the above picture)!  There is no padding to crack or get crummy.  After 4 years of use, it looks as good as new.

It's also easy to travel with.  We can fit into the car seat travel bag along with Alex's car seat.

To protect the chair it sits on, I use a piece of an old shower curtain.  You can buy chair protectors but I really think that's unnecessary when you can get a shower curtain at the dollar store.

At the counter, we have a Phil & Ted's Me Too Chair which we love.  Alex loves to be right in the middle of the action when I'm cooking or Elizabeth is eating lunch there. 

I would love to hear about your own short cuts with kid gear!


Opposites Attract: Boy/Girl Bedroom Options

Having kids share a room is an often debated topic among many of my parent friends.  Some people think it is a great way for kids to learn to share space and live in close quarters with someone else.  Others think that it's best for kids to have their own room so they can decorate it however they want and have their own space for quiet time. And, for some it's not a choice but a necessity - small house or apartment, only 2 bedrooms upstairs, etc.  It's not hard to find a theme for a same sex room, but what about a room for children of the opposite sex?
This is the dilemma my friends David and Sarah may face when their second child is born next month.  They have a 2 year old daughter, Amelia, but chose not to find out the sex of the new baby (great choice in my opinion!).  They live in a Cape Code style house with only 2 bedrooms upstairs so the kids will likely share a room for the foreseeable future.  Although, I think they are leaning towards separate themes for each child if the second child is a boy, I am encouraging them to try a more united theme which will suit both kids for many years to come - regardless of whether Amelia gets a baby brother or sister.

Although I have a lot of ideas for what would work well for both kids, I really love the idea of a beach-inspired theme.  Although totally beach themed rooms more than 5 miles from an actual beach make me a little crazy, a loose beach theme could really work well.  And Dave and Sarah got married on the coast of Massachusetts so it seems fitting for them.

So, here's what I came up with for big sister Amelia and her new baby sister or brother.

Here's the breakdown -

1.  Wall Color - Benjamin Moore Turqoise Powder 2057-50.
I love this color and it works great with lots of pinks, yellows, greens, deep blues, oranges, etc.  Whatever you like.  If the baby is a boy, they could lean towards yellows and oranges with splashes of pink for Amelia.  If it's a girl - bring on the pink and yellow!

2.  Duvet Cover - Pottery Barn Kids.
I think Amelia will love this duvet cover.  Duvet covers are especially great for little kids because they are poofy, cozy, and fun to lay on, but also can be easily washed.

3.  Convertible Crib - Young America
This is Amelia's current crib which will become the baby's crib in a few short months.

4.  Bed - Young America
I am still hemming and hawing with myself over what the best "big girl" bed would be for big sister Amelia.  This one is very practical and Sarah and Dave could buy another one and bunk them down the road if they needed to.  Kids LOVE bunk beds (just ask them).  Another alternative which I also love is this great headboard from JC Penney, or you could make one like I did (read more about that here).  Dave is really handy (and an engineer) so I know he could handle the challenge (haha). 

Several great fabric options but I think I like these two the best:

5.  Breathable Crib bumper from Toys R Us
Although I have always used a traditional crib bumper, there has been a big movement towards the breathable variety.  I think they still look good and they have an airy look which in this room would look especially nice - particularly since the furniture is dark. 

6.  Bolster Pillow - Little MissMatched from JC Penney
I just love this little accent pillow which could be used on a chair or on the bed.

7.  Bureau - Young America.
Dave and Sarah already own this as well as a dresser in the same style.  I hope they can fit all of this furniture in the room with a crib and bed as well!

8.  Jeep Print - momsblankies on Etsy
Found this adorable little print on Etsy.  Definitely adds a bit of whimsy and a little bit more of a masculine touch in case the little one is a boy. David is all about trains, planes, boats and automobiles!

9.  Customized Surf Board Wall Art - Sunday Treasures on Etsy
These little surf boards are just adorable and would add a great personalized touch to the kids' room.

10. Upcycled Lamp - Eden Cove Treasures on Etsy
This makes me want to run out to Goodwill this afternoon and find a great base lamp and paint it up.   LOVE this!
11.  White Curtains - Target
Simple, easy, very inexpensive.  These curtains will work in the room for many, many years to come.  They could be customized by adding some simple turquoise trim or seam binding tape to the edges.

12.  Crib Sheet - 2 options - Multi Dot or Large Dot
If you are having a baby, here's a tip - don't buy a crib quilt unless you want to use it for something other than the crib - on the chair, wall, etc.  You will NEVER use it and you'll pay a bunch for it (or someone else will).  Just get a crib bumper, and some cute sheets, and call it a day.  These sheets are just two of many possibilities.  I have several different crib sheets although most of them are plain old white since our nursery is quite busy.

13.  Rug - Target
The simple graphic pattern and the turquoise and yellow colors make it the perfect addition to this room.  If you are looking for a fun new rug, now is the time to look with all of the dorm stuff available for super cheap!

Hope you enjoyed this.  I would love to hear your ideas for other great room ideas for shared rooms!


We're Back!

It seems that everyone has left the DC area to enjoy the last bits of summer.  We just got back from Ocean City, NJ where we have vacationed with my family for over 25 years.  I'll be back with some regular blog posts shortly but here's an indirect sunset shot that I took the other night on the way down the boardwalk with my family on our last night. 

I'm looking forward to enjoying every last minute of summer!


Thrifty Longevity: Friday Flowers!

Alstromeria are one of my favorite grocery store flowers.  I think they are technically in the lily family (read more about them here).  Although I ocassionally cut them short and put them in a small square vase, I usually just take the plastic off and pop them in a long tall vase from Crate and Barrel that our friend Abi gave us for our wedding 10 years ago - I still love that vase!.  I usually grab two bunches for around $5 each at Safeway - generally all one color but sometimes I mix them - purple and yellow or pink and yellow are my favorite combinations.

I really love alstromeria because they seem to last forever - 2 weeks easily if you change the water a few times.  I do not add anything to the flower water but I know a lot of people supposedly have tricks for prolonging the life of flowers (particularly roses).  I just do not have time!

If you want to make your grocery store flowers a little more special, here are some great ideas for flower arranging from Real Simple.  It's hard to believe that grocery store flowers could look this good!
Via Real Simple

Happy Friday!  Enjoy the weekend!


Chairs for Sale: Inspiration Free!

Well.... I have these chairs which I used around a table on our screen porch for several years.  My grandmother bought them for me at yard sale before we moved into our "new" house in 2002.  I put the new fabric on them immediately and I loved them.  I think they are cute and Jim thinks they are completely hideous.  Here's what they look like now.  A great "before" picture.

This year, I got new dining chairs for my porch because I really wanted something weatherproof and stackable. Found: Pier 1.  But, now I am left with these cute chair which need some help.

If I had a place for them, I would spray paint them red and put a cute patterned oil cloth on the seat.  I couldn't find anything remotely similar online but I did find these as a little bit of inspiration.

via Pieces
But, I just don't have the energy.  $50 for the set and they are all yours.   No, I am not going to ship them.  Email me if you want to come and get them otherwise they go on Craigslist this weekend.... again.

Come and get 'em!


Support Your Budding Artist:: Kids' Art Supply Storage

My daughter loves to do art projects both at school and at home.  My dad built her a great table for her art work to go with some chairs I found on Craigslist a long time ago.  My mom painted them in a great finish which has an antique look but which is super durable.  We still keep a lot of supplies in clear plastic boxes but I like to keep a few things easily accessible on the table. 

In the office section at HomeGoods, I found this paper organizer and a pen caddy which both worked perfectly for storing the often used art supplies.  The paper organizer even has a place for pictures in the front.  Eventually, I'll convince Elizabeth (or Alex) to make her own pictures to put in there but for now these are the photos she chose to display.

On a side note, the crayons in the red plastic box are made by Melissa and Doug and we love them - incredibly durable! 

How do you keep your own or your kids' art supplies organized? 


Drum Roll Please.... Updated Blog Roll!

I finally got a chance to update my blog roll.  There are several blogs which I read religiously and those are the ones that I have included here.  I pretty frequently add and remove blogs from my reading list but I am much, much slower about updating my blog rolls.  I particularly like blogs that feature a lot of projects that people are doing in their house.  I have been reading some blogs so religiously I feel like I know the authors! 

So here's the new list!  

Hopefully you'll find a new one to add to your daily reading list! 


Let There be Privacy: Sheers in the Family Room

I absolutely love all of the windows in our family room.  It is so bright and sunny during the day which is the opposite of what our living room was before the renovation.  At night, though, I feel like we need a little more privacy and pulling the curtains really does not look good.  When I purchased the curtains (JC Penney), I had always intended there to be sheers behind them for a layered look.  I even bought double rods with that thought in mind.  Unfortunately, the right sheers were not super easy to find.  I bought and returned several options.  I didn't want anything too formal or too plain.  The one impediment to finding something at Target or somewhere similar, is that they needed to be at 94-95" long.  This was not a critical item in the decor so I just kept my eyes out for a good option at a great price. 

One year after moving into the house (almost to the day), I found a great 95" sheer at Target!  It has a woven look which makes it a bit more casual but not plain.  And they are on sale for $17.99.  Of course, I am still looking for one last panel so I may have to travel to another Target beyond the three that I usually frequent.  It's always something, isn't it?

Here's how it looked before.

And here's how it looks now with the new sheers.

Now a huge change but enough to give the room a more finished look.  I am still considering some woven bamboo cordless blinds behind the sheers which I think would add another layer of dimension but for now, I am really happy with this look. For now.

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Friday Flowers!

It's Friday again, and here are my weekly flowers - sunflowers - which I LOVE.  These were actually a gift from a new neighbor.  I may try to grow some in my hot baked yard next year! 

Can you tell I am loving my new DSLR camera, the Canon T1i!?!

Hope this also serves as a reminder to pick up some flowers today so you can enjoy them all weekend!

Have a great weekend!


Happy Anniversary!

Today, Jim and I are celebrating our 10th wedding anniversary.  I am looking forward to another 50 years of house projects with you!  We're just hoping to get a nice, quiet dinner out over the weekend.

As an anniversary present, we got ourselves our first DSLR camera, the Canon T1i.   LOVE! 
We got to do some sightseeing with my in-laws a couple of weekends ago and visited several of the monuments in DC at night which we haven't done in a while.  Such a great thing to do on a warm summer night.  Here is one of my favorite pictures from that adventure!

Washington Monument from the steps of the Jefferson Memorial


Heating up the BBQ! Summer Entertaining Essentials

Although most people have probably already hosted at least one summer BBQ (I think we're on #10 or something!), I thought I would give a quick rundown of my summer BBQ serving essentials.  Most stores have all of their summer stuff on clearance, so now is a great time to stock up for the rest of this summer and many summers in the future.

All of my outdoor duty pieces are plastic of some sort for the durability.  I replaced most of my pieces this year after 7 or 8 years with the last set.  I bought more neutral pieces this time because I feel they'll have more longevity.  I found most of these pieces at HomeGoods fairly early in the season when everything was "full" price but they had a good selection. 

Here are some of my other favorite pieces.

Here's quick rundown of what's in the picture above - 
  1. Large white melamine tray - an absolute essential for carrying condiments, plates, silverware, etc. from inside the house to the screen porch, patio, or grill. (HomeGoods)
  2. Plastic plates (8) - much greener than disposable plates, more durable (holds a lot of corn on the cob) (Target)  -  Note:  I actually have 10 other plastic plates for larger parties.  I use recyclable disposable plates if we have more than 20 guests - my dishwasher isn't big enough!
  3. Large bowls (3) - great for 10 lbs of potato salad, green salads, or bags of chips. (HomeGoods)
  4. Small bowls (2) - perfect for dips, goldfish crackers for the kiddies, or condiments and sauces. (HomeGoods)
  5. Platters (2) - serve up burgers, hot dogs, grilled chicken, corn on the cob, or brownies. (Christmas Tree Shops - eons ago!)
  6. Ice bucket - critical for cold drinks on hot days! (Target)
  7. Other interesting pieces - the divided dish pictured above works really well for crackers, cheese, condiments, etc.; the elongated bowl platter holds chips, watermelon slices, or a huge pile of cookies! (HomeGoods)
  8. Serving utensils (pictured below) - Not a necessity for outside but really fun and I even use them inside sometimes.  

I also have an assortment of boring clear plastic cups, margarita glasses, and pitchers which are great to have on hand but not very fun to photograph!

What are your favorite outdoor serving pieces?


Tis the Season! Dining Room Centerpieces

I was walking through AC Moore the other day in search of a great frame (found!) and the sales staff was putting out the autumn themed items.  Yikes.  Then I turned a corner and there were... POINSETTIAS!  Seriously?!  It's August, at least leave it until after you take down the back to school gear (which also gives me the shakes).  But, this got me thinking about centerpieces again.  I just cannot stop thinking about the limitless options for my underused dining room.  Here's my most recent iteration - more on that here.

I thought I would share my friend Amie's awesome summer dining room centerpiece for additional inspiration.

I love that table runner and the wicker chargers, but the shells make the table.  I have a feeling that the shells we have collected this summer won't be as pretty as this Pottery Barn collection, but we will have the memories.

What do you do with the shells or other vacation mementos that you collect on your travels?


Lighting Things Up: Easy Chandelier Upgrade

I truly love our chandelier which my mom found years ago in a used furniture store for us.  But as I started working on updating our dining room, I started having second thoughts about the fit in our new dining room.  Also, the bare lightbulbs seemed too harsh and inconsistent.  I am also considering getting some CFL chandelier bulbs and they would look really bad bare and exposed. 

I like the look of these types of fixtures and I have seen several DIY versions in the blogosphere, but I just didn't think it was the right fit for our house - too contemporary... maybe.  Definitely not ruling out the idea in the longer term. 

So, the interim solution was just to find some chandelier shades.  I needed 8 shades so I did not want to spend $10 per shade and that seemed to be the going rate.  I shopped the discount stores (of course) but most didn't have any or they had really ugly ones.  I wanted plain cream or maybe chocolate brown (or even a pattern).

After several weeks of on and off looking, I stopped in at Tuesday Morning last week and found these great cream shades for $3.99 each!  Woohoo!

Here's the result -

I love it - much softer and inviting.  Also, covering the bare lightbulbs make the room feel warmer.  

What do you think?  Stay tuned for the full before and after in our dining room!


Roomba - How I love thee!

I HATE vacuuming and pretty much all cleaning for that matter.  So, I do absolutely anything I can to avoid it - which is pretty hard with two kids and a dog.  Also, I worry about the hardwood finish when I don't vacuum or sweep regularly (or at least more often than my cleaning service comes).  So, other than handing my 4 year old a Swiffer and telling her to have fun (she does actually love that), my next best alternative is the iRobot Roomba.  Although I always thought it was just a gadgety thing that didn't really do much, we went for it when we found a refurb on Woot about a year ago.  I don't buy much on Woot but they do have some cool things occasionally which I'll jump at.

I seriously love this thing.  Right now, I'm blogging and vacuuming which would just not be possible otherwise!

Almost everyone who sees ours says they have thought about getting one.  So, in case you are on the fence, here are the awesome things about it:
  • Goes under beds, couches, tables, etc. where a regular vacuum cannot easily go.
  • Senses ledges so you don't have to worry about stairs.  
  • Goes back to it's charging station on its own.
  • If it gets caught on something, it will stop.
  • Does not get caught on rug fringe.
  • Takes about 30 seconds to empty the dust bin and clean the brushes.
  • Comes with a separate piece that stops it from going into rooms that you don't want to vacuum.
  • Picks up a lot of dog hair.
So, if you're thinking about it, jump on it - even a refurbished one.  And no, iRobot did not pay me to write this (although maybe they should!) - I just love this crazy gadget!

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Welcome to the Neighborhood!

We are so happy to welcome several new families to our neighborhood.  One family just moved in next door by way of Washington state - they are slowly adjusting to the temperature differential!  Another family just bought a house across the street.  We are really looking forward to getting to know them.

Although I usually bake something for new neighbors, I have finally realized that baking is not a skill I was blessed with (fortunately, Jim is an excellent baker).   I switched to something more my speed - cooking.  

To welcome our new neighbors, I used some of the basil from my crazy huge plants in my herb gardens to make some great super fresh pesto.

I love the Cook's Illustrated recipe for pesto and it takes about 20 minutes to make.  It's a great way to use some excess basil and parsley, and you can easily double or triple the recipe depending on how large your basil grew in the July heat.  The basil will keep in the fridge for at least 5 days (maybe even a week).  Be sure to cover it with plastic and then put a lid on the container to keep it from turning brown. 

I wrapped up some gourmet dried pasta and a bottle of red wine for a quick and easy dinner.  I'm sure I could have found a better container for the basil but these disposable varieties are a good option and can be reused again and again, and the gift bag was really cute.

For our newly transplanted west coast neighbors, I also put together a list of local doctors, dentists, parks, favorite restaurants, shopping areas, etc. so they have a starting point as they prepare for back-to-school appointments and finding a good pizza delivery spot while they get their kitchen unpacked.

If you want me to make you some fresh pesto, buy this house in our neighborhood.

What's your favorite new neighbor gift either to give or receive?

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