ode to an old kitchen

The first time we walked through this old house of ours two summers ago --the first time we realized that this was the little house for us-- we were sure that once we moved in, the kitchen would be the first thing to go. All the other rooms were outdated and in need of a coat or two of paint, but they weren't nearly as unfavorable to us as the kitchen was.

I'm sure some of those feelings were intensified by the fact that a baby was about to be born, and the thought of bringing him home to a dismal kitchen full of chipping paint and old grimy floors was depressing, to say the least. I hated just about everything about my little kitchen, from the dried drips of paint stuck on every surface thanks to all the previous sloppy paint jobs, to the way the cupboard doors wiggled on their hinges. I hated the grey rubber kick plate that lined the floor, and I hated the yellow and brown tie-dyed pattern of the linoleum even more. It all had to go, the sooner the better.

Of course, things didn't go as planned. Do they ever? Ralph was born, and between house payments and hospital bills and school loans, money was tighter than ever. We couldn't afford to do a darn thing to the kitchen, and I was stuck living with it exactly the way it was.

A house doesn't feel like a home until it has a little bit of your own dirt in it, is what I remember my dad repeating to me over and over the first few months of living here. And he was right. There came a time when I had washed the floor enough to know that it was just our own dirt I was scrubbing, and the crumbs I wiped out of the fridge were from our own food.  The way Ralph's spilled cheerios disappeared into the pattern of the linoleum, not to be found again until you happened to step on one, grinding it into a fine powder underfoot, became sort of a (sad, annoying) joke. I grew used to the yellow-ness of it all. I started to notice the things I did like about the room. I loved the way the east-facing window let in all of the morning sun light.

The old lady that lived here before us was named Ruth, and the longer I live in this house, the more I think that she was a lot like me. I first noticed it last Spring, when the snow melted and everything in the backyard started to poke out of the brown earth. First a few daffodils sprouted behind the garage, and then some rhubarb showed up next to them. Not long after that, a row of lily of the valley came up by the back door. Then came the peonies, and the black eyed susans, and the cone flowers. So many of my favorites showed up one by one, and I was so delighted by them and by the woman who had planted them years ago. A while back, Ruth's daughter showed up at our front door asking to take a peek at what we'd done with the house she had grown up in. We chatted as she walked around and snapped pictures on her phone-- she was going to show them to Ruth, who had moved out of our place and into a nursing home. She was so kind, and when she left she gave me a hug, kissed Ralphie on the cheek, and made it very clear that our house had been filled with happy families since the beginning.

Ryan and I started working on the kitchen last weekend. We have enough money saved up to tackle it, just a little bit at a time. I finally took down the white and yellow curtains with the lace trim-- I'm sure Ruth sewed them up herself-- they're thin and threadbare from many runs through the washing machine. I'm going to peel off the pretty, flowered contact paper that lines the cupboard shelves (the ceramic goose towel holder is staying, of course.) We're going to paint everything white, although I'll admit that I kind of like the yellow walls now. My mom's kitchen was yellow for a time when I was growing up, and as much as I love to hate the banana split color of this kitchen, it has always reminded me a little bit of home. We're going to sand down the cupboard doors, replace the chipping counter tops, and put in a new white sink. We're going to take this old, yellow kitchen that someone else loved, make it our own, and create a giant mess in the process. But that's okay, because a house doesn't feel like a home until it has a little bit of your own dirt in it.


at home | pictures from the past week

Spring is coming! Can you feel it? There's still a thick layer of snow on the ground here in Milwaukee, and this week's forecast is bleak-- I don't think we'll even reach 20 degrees in the next seven days-- but Spring is on its way, I just know it. There's still a smidge of sunlight left in the sky when Ryan comes home from work. Bunches of fresh asparagus have been $1.99 a pound at the grocery store for three weeks in a row. Gardening books have been ordered and are on their way to my front door right now, and I made a long list of flowers I hope to plant in the garden this summer. I'm taking great pleasure in filling the house up with tulips and finding pretty supplies to scrub things with, because when it comes to Spring cleaning, I'm on the same level with Danny Tanner. I can't help myself. I love Spring.

Last week the temps hit a glorious almost-50 degrees. It was pleasant enough to draw everyone in the neighborhood out of their houses to feel the warm sun on their face and shout things like, What a beautiful day! I wish it would last! Are you surviving the winter? across their yards and over their fences. And for the first time ever, I willingly let Ralph skip a nap just so we could walk to the park and jump in some puddles. We stayed long enough for him to get thoroughly soaked, and when his teeth started to chatter, I hauled him home through the slush while he screamed in protest the whole way. And then he had a nice warm bath while the sunlight poured through the window.

When Ryan and I went out for Valentine's Day last week, Ralph went to my sister's house to play with his older cousins, and he returned home with a new love for tools. He carries around his little tool box all day long, hammering on furniture and pretending to plug little nails into holes. He especially likes to press his screw driver into various screws around the house and make a loud errrrrrrrr sound. It's so fun to see his imagination start to take shape. Ryan and I are constantly looking at each other asking, Did you teach him that? And then we shrug, because nope, neither of us did. At least, not on purpose. He is a tiny sponge right now, and I love it.

Ryan turned 26 last Thursday. We didn't do a whole lot to celebrate, because I think I married the most easy-to-please man on the planet. All he asked for was a cheesecake, and I was happy to oblige. (I made this one, and it was definitely the easiest and tastiest I've ever made. Try it!) I also got him what turned out to be the manliest assortment of gifts ever-- a new baseball cap, a pack of beer, a beer brewing book, and a chainsaw. If I had all the money in the world I'd have him retire and then make him spend his days building things and brewing beer and maybe going fishing every once in a while. I'm pretty sure that's all he ever wants anyway, besides some slices of fresh bread with butter for supper every night. Ryan is just a good, goofy, happy dude and I sure do love having him around.

Also, here's the post I wrote on Ryan's birthday last year, just because it's a fun one.


be mine


Ryan and I went on a mid-morning date over the weekend. We dropped Ralph off at my sister's house, scooted away when he wasn't looking, and drove off just the two of us. It's only the third or fourth time Ralph has been alone without either of us around, and of course I cried a little bit over it, because I'm a big old sentimental wuss. I kept saying, What if he starts to look for me and I'm not there? And Ryan was like, Cool it woman, this is supposed to be fun.

We got brunch at a little place that reminded me of the cute bagel shop I worked at in high school. We sat at a small table decorated with flowers and stringed lights by the front window, and sipped coffee from mismatched mugs. Ryan ordered a french toast sandwich with ham and honey nut cream cheese-- the absolute last thing off the menu I would have expected him to choose-- which, I guess, proves that I don't know as much about the man as I thought. Ham and honey nut cream cheese? Total curve ball, Ryan. Who are you?

After brunch we took a drive down by the lake, the old standby in times of romance. We decided to walk down to the beach, but ended up just running around like fools because it was windy and freezing. Ryan got too close to the churning, icy waters and I scolded him from a safe distance because, though he might switch things up a bit here and there, I'll always be set in my wussy ways. I finally coaxed him back and trapped him into taking some pictures with me. There's totally one of us kissing, but I'll spare you that shot.

When our fingers and toes were nice and numb we headed back to the car, drove through downtown and back to our baby. He hardly missed us, as far as I could tell.

And, I don't know. We had our fun, but I'll always like it best when the three of us are together.


create, love, wear, kiss | 03

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{i switched up this week's want, need, wear, read for valentine's day, for love-related reasons. and because i can.}

create: a valentine's day garland. two dozen spray roses, a needle, and thread. and a few photos from your grandma's old photo album from 1945, if you happen to be lucky enough to have that. instant romance for your walls.

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love: this old, slightly rusty cookie cutter, because i've used it to make ryan heart-shaped toast every valentine's day since we've been married. and this year i got to use it for my tiny valentine, too.

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wear: rose-scented soap. because if there were ever a perfect time for rose-scented anything, today's the day.

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kiss: the soft, pillow-y cheeks of this cherub, who'd rather eat the crayons and stickers than use them for his dad's valentine's day card. oh well.

here's to hoping you have a happy, love-filled day. ryan and i are celebrating tomorrow, with our first, real, booked a babysitter and everything date since ralph has been around. i could not be more excited! happy valentines day!


ralph robert at 15 months

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I think I've been a mother long enough now to understand that there's a certain sort of ebb and flow when it comes to a little baby's life. There are the hard times-- the phases of teething, or growth spurts, or nap strikes, or mysterious low-grade fevers and general fussiness. The times where life feels frustrating and confusing and the days are long for both momma and baby.

In between those tricky few weeks are these wonderful sweet spots. Happy days. Easy nights. Everything clicks.

And my friends, we are in the middle of a very long, very marvelous sweet spot. Right at this very moment, Ralph and his toddlerness are everything wonderful there is and ever could be in the world.

Ralph at 15 months has a tiny voice and a glorious lisp. He still can only say a handful of words very clearly, but he talks non-stop in a language all his own, and is surely telling me all sorts of very important things when he speaks, often with his pointer finger wagging in the air for emphasis. He takes two naps a day, and when I open the door to get him when he wakes up, he makes sure to hand me his blanket first. Only when the blanket is draped over my shoulder will he lift his arms to be picked up, and then he buries his head into it and pats my back with his chubby hand, happy to be awake again.

We're still nursing a few times a day-- always before bed or naps, and always first thing in the morning. And pretty much whenever he feels like it during the day. It's become a bit of a habit and source of comfort for him. His pediatrician suggested weaning him soon, before he gets pushy about it, but it's already too late for that. He loves it, and I love providing that little bit of comfort and warmth for him. We're in no rush.

Right now Ralph's favorite foods are blueberries, pineapple, pears, toast, and pretzels. He will not choke down an avocado if you paid him in a billion packs of fruit snacks. His favorite toys are not toys, but kitchen utensils. My salad spinner and tea kettle are getting a lot of action these days, and I usually have to wash my pots and pans again before using them because they've been dragged around the house all day long.

Ralph loves episodes of Baby Einstein and Thomas and Friends, but only during the music parts. He leaves a trail of cheerios wherever he goes. He can fold his hands to pray, and tries to say thank you ("ttthhh!") Some of his favorite songs are I am Jesus' Little Lamb, La La Lu from Lady and the Tramp, and the good morning song I sing when he wakes up, the one I remember my Grandma singing to me. I'm also pretty sure he loves every Katy Perry song he's ever heard.

He's a funny little guy, and has perfected a loud fake laugh. If your attention is not completely focused on him when he's performing that fake laugh, he'll keep laughing and get his face as close to yours as possible until you acknowledge it. He loves music and will sing to himself all day long. I've seen him pretending to play a horn with both an empty cardboard tube and my watering can. He loves to kick balls and stack things and run around the dining room table. He loves trains and his bath and when Ryan comes home from work. Changing his diaper is like wrestling a piglet. His fluffy hair smells like honey and curls up at the slightest bit of moisture.

He is such a little buddy. I want him to stay this way forever. He won't, of course, which is why I have to write it all down now.


handmade | herbes de provence

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Have you ever tried cooking with herbes de provence? My sister put a jar of it in my Christmas stocking a few years ago, and I quickly became hooked on the delicious and fragrant blend of herbs. I love to use it with chicken and potato dishes, but I've found that it goes especially well with beef (beef stew. pot roast. oh man.) And I'll admit, I pretty much just toss it into any soup or casserole or savory dish I happen to be cooking up, because I love it that much. I'm no chef.

I've cooked my way through a few jars of it since that first one from my sister, and when my last jar bit the dust a few weeks ago, I did a bit of research to see exactly what goes into that tasty blend of herbs and try making my own. Turns out there are a lot of versions out there-- some are simple and more authentically French, and others are more Americanized. No matter what you like best, the good news is they're all pretty easy to make.

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After reading through a number of versions, I came up with a blend that I thought I'd like best, based on what I've had before. I found all but a few ingredients at my grocery store, and the rest at World Market. If you're interested in making your own, be sure to buy in bulk so you don't have to pay for extra packaging! Here's how to do it:

Herbes de Provence (makes 1 cup)

2 tablespoons dried rosemary
1 tablespoon fennel seed
2 tablespoons dried thyme
2 tablespoons dried basil
2 tablespoons dried marjoram
2 tablespoons dried parsley
2 tablespoons dried lavender flower
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried tarragon
1 tablespoon coarse salt

Grind rosemary and fennel seed with a mortar and pestle until slightly crushed; transfer to a bowl. Add thyme, basil, marjoram, parsley, lavender flower, oregano, tarragon, and coarse salt. Stir to combine. Store in an airtight container.

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I ended up doubling the recipe in order to have enough to give away as Valentine's day gifts. I put 1/2 cup of the mixture in a jar, made a label, and tied it up with twine. Super easy! Really, the hardest part of all of this is going to be deciding how to pronounce herbes de provence when I present the gifts to their recipients. Do I say it with an obnoxious French accent? Or do I say it normally with my Wisconsin accent, which is equally obnoxious? Wish me luck.


handmade | an herb bouquet

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Valentine's Day is just around the corner! Have you all sent your significant others a sly, nonchalant message to their work email containing a link to exactly what you're hoping to receive on the 14th? Just me? Cool.

But okay, as much as I want this necklace, I'd be perfectly pleased with a bouquet of fresh something. Make that bouquet of fresh something pretty and useful, and I'm even happier. If you're the homemade gift-giving type and are hoping to pass out a few Valentines yourself this year, allow me to assist you. This week on the blog I intend to share a few handmade gift ideas that have all the came-straight-from-your-heart charm, and are pretty inexpensive (and easy) to make.

First up, a fresh herb bouquet-- a gift that's as friendly as a bouquet of flowers, but definitely more useful. Because you get to eat it. Start by buying an assortment of fresh herbs next time you're at the grocery store, or pluck them from your own backyard (you lucky duck.) I used oregano, rosemary, sage, and marjoram. Next, bundle the herbs together to form a bouquet, arranging them just as you would a bouquet of flowers (think texture, height, and a little bit of wild imperfection, because that's pretty.) Secure with twine. Then, wrap them up in some brown paper, because that's also pretty and makes it look like you just grabbed them from the market in Paris. Oui, oui! Ooh la la! Etc.

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For a little extra touch, you can add a small spice jar, some extra twine for hanging, and instructions on how to dry the herbs. Tuck in a tiny love note, and you're golden.