Sunday, January 31, 2016

I'm about to blow your mind

I posted several times on my other blog about how much I dreaded grocery shopping.

Who's with me??

First you have to come up with a menu. Then you have to make a grocery list. Then you have to go do the actual grocery shopping, either with several very bored children or in the evening when The Bachelor is on. Then you have to lug everything inside. Then you have to put it all away.

What if I told you that I have not set foot in the grocery store since Halloween?

Yet we are still eating :)

Did you know that Walmart offers a free grocery pickup service?!?

Here's how it works: you log on to Walmart's grocery website and select your store and a two hour pickup window. Then you fill your cart--you can search for products or browse departments. They don't carry everything that they have in stores, but nearly, and they add more products all the time. 

When you're done, you check out and receive a confirmation email. 
You can pick up any time during your selected two hour window. Once you get to Walmart, you just follow the signs in the parking lot for "Grocery Pickup" (mine is on one side of the store towards the back) and then call the pickup number to let them know you're ready for pickup. They'll bring your groceries right out and even load them up for you!

Let me tell you all the reasons I LOVE this:
1: First, the obvious. I do my grocery shopping from my couch, usually while watching epsidoes of Portlandia, and don't have to drag my children into the store.
2. It's so fast! If you click on the little hearts on the upper right hand corner of each item, it saves it to your favorites list. So when I'm making my grocery list, it's super easy to just scroll through my favorites and add whatever I'm out of. It only takes about 15 minutes to add everything I need to my cart.
3. There's a running total, so I can see when I get close to my budget and add/delete things as needed. Also, since I'm not wandering around the stores, I'm not tempted by all the random things on the shelves.
4. The produce is SO GOOD. I know some people are skeeved out by grocery shopping at Walmart--I've done my shopping there for years and had better luck with their produce than other grocery stores. But the produce when I do pickup service is amazing! I am pretty sure that they pull all the produce from the warehouse instead of rummaging around in the bins like all the other shoppers. Everything I've gotten is so fresh and good. The manager told me that the produce is inspected three times as it's being selected for each order and that if I'm ever unhappy with what I get, I can bring it back and exchange it. So far, it's all been great!
5. Occasionally after you select something, they will run out and have to substitute items (you can unclick a box for any items that you don't want substitutions for). The manager told me that they only ever substitute up in quality--but they always charge you the lowest price! That means that I often end up with name brand items, but still only have to pay the store brand price.

Trust me, this is a life changer. If you're interested in trying it, click here to get $10 off your first order!

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Harmony Haven 2k15 (or Allan family shenanigans)

My family has spent the last three Thanksgivings at a ranch house that we rent (thanks VRBO) in New Harmony, Utah (near Cedar City--which is near St. George). All five of the Allan siblings live in Utah, while my parents live in Tennessee, so it just makes sense for them to come out here to spend the holidays with us. 

Out of all the amazing places we've traveled together (Stinson Beach CA, Moab, cruises, Washington DC), Harmony Haven is everyone's favorite. We look forward to it and talk about it all year long. What's so special? It's a super kitschy ranch house on a working ranch (the owners live in the bunkhouse so they can rent out the main house). The house is filled with taxidermy, shag carpet, funny wallpaper, uncomfortable furniture, and cowboy memoribilia. It's definitely not the most impressive place we've ever stayed, but we have the most fun at Harmony Haven.
This year we decided to make our Thanksgiving trip our first official Allan family reunion, now that nearly all of us are married. 

Here are some of the things we did for our reunion:

1. T-shirts: Nothing says family reunion more than matching t-shirts! My brother and his wife were in charge of the design this year and they turned out fabulous.

The shirts say Allan Family 2k15 with a picture of a cat wearing sunglasses on the front and all of our names on the back.

2. Food: since it was Thanksgiving, there was no shortage of food. One of our traditions is to have all the appetizers on the night before Thanksgiving--this way you can enjoy all the yummy dips, balls, puffs, and rolls without filling up before the big meal. Everyone contributes something so we have a huge spread. Then of course we have a delicious Thanksgiving dinner and tons of pies on the day itself.

3. Talent show: We didn't do a full talent show this year, but Jason and I did a great stand up comedy routine together and my brother and his wife sang a song together.

4. Service: We put together craft kits for Primary Children's Hospital (gallon size ziplock bags filled with everything needed for a simple craft to be distributed by my neighbor who is a child life specialist). I was in charge of this this year. I brought cardboard masks and everyone else brought things to decorate them with--sequins, feathers, crayons, gems, etc.

5. Family awards: My parents gathered up a bunch of my brothers' old trophies and came up with a special award for each of us. We had a little award show where they gave them all out and then we spent the afternoon posing with our trophies. Such a fun tradition!

6. Turkey Bowl: We get together with my cousin and his kids who live in New Harmony and have a Thanksgiving football game before dinner.

7. Other traditions: The Allan family's favorite game to play is Bartender. Yes, a bunch of non-drinkers love to pretend that we are at a bar. I have never laughed as hard as when we play Bartender--it may sound weird and not fun, but every family has that game that no one else gets. We also love watching movies together (the dumbest Syfy original we can find), coloring, and playing games together.

We have so much fun at our little reunion spot! 
What fun traditions do you do with your family?

Thursday, November 12, 2015

a *real* small house

For a Christmas gift for my two oldest daughters, I'm giving my childhood dollhouse a little makeover.
Did I say little? I mean huge.
It's so much fun and is complete instant gratification because instead of saving up for new stuff in my own house, I can basically remodel a whole "house" for pennies.
I got the dollhouse for Christmas when I was about nine. It was a nineteenth century farmhouse for me, but I wanted something more modern for my girls. I didn't take any pictures before I started, but here are some pictures of my progress so far!

For the living room walls, I used some fun floral scrapbook paper to wallpaper two walls and painted the third a pale yellow. The "hardwood" floors are made out of laminate flooring samples from Home Depot that I cut into planks and then used spray adhesive to glue into place.

I made a fireplace out of a 5x7 picture frame that I cut in half. The cute bike print is from an old wedding invitation. 

The rolltop desk was one of the pieces of furniture that I had as a child--I'm painting it white to update it for my kids. The picture of our little family is from a wedding photobooth a few years ago!

Here is the little kitchen! I used more laminate floor samples to make the tile floor. The counters are from an old dollhouse bookshelf I had as a child that I cut down and painted white. I used beadboard wallpaper for the walls and made a drum light fixture by wrapping scrapbook paper around a paper towel tube trimmed to size.

The exterior of the house is completely transformed! When I got it out of storage, it was painted with white primer, scribbled on all over, and very dingy and dirty. I painted it mustard yellow and drew scallops onto the roof to mimic shingles, I added trim painted in olive green for shutters and around the door. The windowboxes are kitchen cabinet drawer pulls turned upside down. The "glass" in the upstairs windows (that the wreaths are glued to) is just thick plastic packaging that I had around the house and cut to size.

The house is deocrated for Christmas with a Christmas tree, wreaths, and battery-operated star lights strung along the eaves. I can't wait to see their faces on Christmas morning!

So far, I think I've only spent about $10 on this dollhouse. Nearly everything was either free samples or things I had around the house. The upstairs of the dollhouse is still a disaster, but I am not going to do anything to it because I think part of the fun of the gift is working on it together :)

PS No one tell my kids, please!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Treehouse of Horror

This blog thing isn't really happening. I used to be so good at it!
Anyway, I surprised my kids with this fun treehouse makeover at the beginning of the month. I had been planning it for a while but they had no idea until they came home from school and Blackberry Bramble had been transformed into the Treehouse of Horror.

The Treehouse of Horror is a great place to read our collection of Halloween picture books and it transforms into a haunted house for Beanie Books just perfectly.

I started with this giant spider web made out of clothesline and lots of knots. Hopefully I will be able to keep it in one piece and save it for next year. And there's our little friend Aragog/Spidey/Charlotte (we never really chose a good name).

But the best part of the Treehouse of Horror is probably our signpost. I made these signs using the planks of decking from the original backyard treehouse--I love that a little part of that treehouse is represented here! I used a combination of the printer ink transfer method and the sharpie tracing method to make these--fun, easy, and free!! Didn't they turn out great? You can see just one little bat hanging down--there are several tied on fishing line to the branches above the platform.

And of course, the Treehouse of Horror is the perfect place to cuddle up with blankets and watch a classic Simpsons Halloween episode!

Happy Halloween! How are you decorating this year?

Thursday, September 17, 2015

a rainy day

7 am: Alarm goes off. Cuddle a little deeper under the down comforter (soooo cozy) and then roll out of bed. Rush downstairs and half-heartedly do jumping jacks, burpees, sit-ups, and bicycle crunches. Decide against a second round and half-heartedly do some easy yoga instead. Juno comes down halfway through sun salutation and tries to sit under me while I'm in downward facing dog. Fall on top of her, yell at her, and then go upstairs to wake up Tempe and Helena.
7:30: Cajole Tempe and Helena out of bed by promising to feed them breakfast before doing their hair. Dish up toast and granola, toast and oatmeal, and toast. And then some granola. And then milk. And then two glasses of orange juice. Make them promise to unload the dishwasher when they are done eating.
7:45: Kiss Jason goodbye and have a quick family prayer. Go upstairs and get dressed and make the bed. Look, the master bedroom magically looks neat and tidy now.
8 am: Call down to the girls to see if they're done eating/unloading the dishwasher yet. Find that Tempe and Helena are both sitting on the couch reading. Remind them that I'm not going to drive them to school if they're running late.
8:10: Brush Tempe's hair. Brush Helena's hair (lots of screaming). Brush Juno's hair. 
8:20: Tell Tempe and Helena to get their socks, shoes, and jackets on. Look out the window and realize it's raining harder than I've ever seen before. Promise to drive them to school after all.
8:30: Wake Pearl up. Hover on the covered front steps with Tempe, Helena, Juno, Pearl, and Dylan (next door neighbor) for a few minutes, trying to decide if the rain will slow at all in the next few minutes. Dash out to the car. Get soaked while trying to buckle Juno and Pearl into their carseats.
8:35: Drive the kids to school. Come home. Get soaked while unbuckling Juno and Pearl.
8:40: Taylor arrives.
8:45: Feed Pearl breakfast. Do the breakfast dishes while she's eating. Give Juno and Taylor washable markers and let them draw on the glass french doors in the kitchen. Scarf down a piece of peanut butter toast. Share the crust with Pearl.
9 am: Give Juno and Taylor each a letters worksheet with watercolor paints and stickers. Make bread dough. Make granola while bread dough is rising. Wipe watercolor paint off the counters.
9:20: Read stack of library books on the couch. Allow Pearl to carry the crust of the toast around the house to keep her happy. 
9:40: Start the craft I've planned for the day: four seasons trees using the kids' hands as the trees. Trace around Juno and Taylor's hands four times each. Give them gluesticks, construction paper, and tissue paper to decorate the trees for each season. Give Pearl a cracker to keep her from crying about not getting a gluestick. Bravely sprinkle sugar over the glue on the winter trees. Spill some on the floor. 
9:30: Vacuum the living room and great room. Remember the bread dough and go to the kitchen to shape it. While I'm in the kitchen, remember the granola in the oven and get it out before it burns (whew).
10 am: Take the kids upstairs and tell them they can jump on the couch in my room while I do the laundry. Start first of three loads of laundry. Put the bread in the oven.
10:15: Bundle all three kids up in socks, rainboots, and raincoats and give them umbrellas. Open the garage and let them play in the rain while I sit on an old chair that I meant to take to DI a year ago. Hey, this old chair is kind of nice to have in the garage. Maybe I'll keep it after all.
10:30: Rush into the house to take the bread out of the oven just in the nick of time.
11 am: After 45 minutes of playing in the rain/fixing their bikes with my tools, we finally come inside. Turn on fire and read more library books.
11:20: Let's have lunch! Give everyone lunch and run upstairs to switch the laundry. 
11:40: Lunch is over. Vacuum the living room and great room.
11:45: Hand out toys from the playroom. Try to put one away and accidentally pull the entire shelving unit off the wall. All the toys in the playroom are now on the floor of the playroom. Close the door so no one can get into it. Break up fight between Juno and Taylor over their toys.
12 pm: Break up fight between Juno and Taylor over their toys.
12:15: Put Pearl down for an early nap.
12:30: Break up fight between Juno and Taylor over their toys.
12:40: Rousing game of Uno with Juno and Taylor. Force Juno to practice her speech sounds every time she plays a number card. Find that allowing her, nay, encouraging her to say "poop" and "peepee" is a great way to get her to practice the p sound.
1 pm: Read more library books.
1:15: Taylor's mom is here. Bye, Taylor! See you tomorrow! Remember to find her cup and art project, but forget to send her lunchbox home.
1:20: Turn on the tv for Juno. Scarf down a quick PB&H sandwich and a handful of peanuts.
1:30: Settle down on the couch with the computer. I'm going to find a recipe for an ice cream cake for Tempe's birthday, find some great Christmas gift ideas for the kids, and do some travel research for a trip I'm planning.
1:40: Binge watch 2 1/2 episodes of Parenthood instead.
3:25: Tell Juno to turn off the tv and switch the laundry. Realize that it is once again raining and school just got out. Wake up Pearl and get soaked trying to buckle Juno and Pearl into their carseats.
3:30: Park half a block from school and wait for Tempe and Helena. And wait. And wait. And wait. Finally see them. Helena throws backpack in car and asks to go to friend's house. I say yes.
3:50: Offer each child a graham cracker for an after school snack. Allow Pearl to wander around the house with hers to keep her happy.
3:55: Send Tempe to Activity Days. Remind her to take her umbrella. 
4 pm: Start dinner (creamy chicken and wild rice soup). Hold Pearl, who is very fussy, on my lap while I talk to my mom on the phone for 15 minutes. Pearl simultaneously wants to be held and to sit with the cat and is very upset she can't do both.
4:45: Tempe comes home. Tell her to start her homework. Switch the laundry. Do more dinner stuff while Pearl holds on to my legs, crying. Give her a cracker to keep her happy.
5 pm: Helena arrives home mad because she had to walk (it wasn't raining this time). Allow her to change into her pajamas and lay in her bed for 15 minutes.
5:15: Convince Helena to come downstairs and start her homework. Allow Tempe to type her spelling words and count it for both spelling practice and typing practice. Wrap a present for my niece. Package up some bread and soup for my next door neighbors.
5:30: It's raining again. Get soaked while taking dinner next door. Jason arrives home. Put him in charge of Pearl (crying again). Vacuum the living room and great room.
5:45: Eat dinner. Tell Tempe she can't hide a book on her lap because we want to be able to talk to each other as a family. Only one thing spills tonight!
6:10: Clean up dinner. Tell Tempe, Helena, and Juno to get shoes and jackets on. Pearl also tries to put her shoes on and cries when I won't help.
6:20: Take Tempe, Helena, and Juno to my niece's birthday party. Pearl cries when she can't come (she has a cold).
6:30-7:30: Tell Tempe, Helena, and Juno that they can only have one piece of cake, not to jump on their aunt and uncle's furniture, they can't go outside in the rain, ok fine, they can go outside in the rain but they can't come back in, ok fine, they can come back in if they take off their shoes, etc.
7:45: Get home and start bedtime. Put Juno to bed on the couch in my room because Pearl is already asleep. Jason reads Percy Jackson to Tempe and Helena while I help them pick out clothes.
8 pm: Go downstairs to make lunch. There's still one serving of soup in the pot on the stove but no tupperware containers. Perfect, I can put it in Tempe's thermos and send it to school for her. Hear a giant crash and run upstairs to discover Juno fell off the toilet in the bathroom. Put her back to bed on the couch in my room and sit in the hallway reading Harry Potter.
8:25: Go back downstairs to finish packing lunches. Put Tempe's homework folder in her backpack. Put Helena's homework folder in her backpack. 
8:30: Binge watch The Mindy Project. Send some texts concerning Tempe's family birthday party re: when to have it?
10 pm: Get ready for bed and read Harry Potter under the down comforter (sooooo cozy). 
10:40: Fall asleep listening to the rain on the roof. Not a bad day.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

disasters in marriage

We've been married for 10 years.

And we have four kids.
And we have not had a successful couple only getaway in all that time.
Notice I say successful?
We have gone away for the weekend three times in ten years.
Each time worse than the time before.

Attempt #1: A few months before our fifth anniversary. I scored a room at the Anniversary Inn in Salt Lake for super cheap, so we decided to celebrate early. We had limited means and so we decided to skip dinner at a nice restauraunt. Instead we went to McDonalds, the worst of the worst. After "dinner", we went back to the hotel and enjoyed our room. It was kitschy. It was fun. It was different. The bed seemed relatively comfortable.
About an hour after we fell asleep, something woke us up. The people in the room next door were also enjoying their bed... loudly. Yeah, that's understandable at a place like the Anniversary Inn. But it went on.... and on.... and on.... and on. So. Loud. We actually ended up leaving at three in the morning. 

Attempt #2: Jason's sweet parents felt so bad for us about our first getaway that they gave us a night at a hotel later that year. Being procrastinators, we didn't get around to using it until right before it expired, at which point we had a six month old baby in a body cast. I was a zombie during Juno's time in her body cast because she woke up every hour on the hour of every night of the entire six weeks she was in her cast. Our night at the hotel was no different, so I spent much of the night struggling to nurse a pink block of cement while also trying to keep her from crying constantly and disturbing the other hotel guests. Not terrible, but really the furthest thing from a relaxing night without kids.

Attempt #3: Earlier this year we celebrated our 10th anniversary. Plans were made. A restaurant was chosen (an expensive restaurant). I was again a zombie because I again had a baby that was a terrible sleeper (this time it was 11 month old Pearl, who still woke up 2-3 times a night). I wanted nothing more than a solid night's sleep with a leisurely morning spent lounging in bed, watching tv, and eating a delicious breakfast delivered right to our door. What could go wrong?
Dinner tasted good. The restaurant was fun. The hotel was nice. 
But later, after we fell asleep, one of us got sick and was up for several hours... and the other couldn't fall back asleep until after four in the morning. Then breakfast was delivered at 8:30. So I ended up with even less sleep on my kid-free getaway than I did at home.

After our 10th annniversary disaster, we promised ourselves a do-over. Nothing fancy this time--low pressure--just the two of us, relaxing and spending time together. Dare we make a fourth attempt??

Monday, August 31, 2015

Backyard treehouse

I grew up on the east coast (North Carolina until I was 16, then Pennsylvania; now my parents live in Tennessee) so trees are important to me. Like, really important.

I spent my childhood playing in the woods behind my house. I had my own little tree fort that I built with scraps of plywood and nails I stole from my dad and I loved playing and reading in it.

 When we were house hunting, I knew that I needed to find a yard with trees in it--easier said than done in Utah! One of the things that made me fall in love with not only our house but our whole neighborhood is how many mature trees there are on our street. We have seven large, shady, beautiful trees in our backyard and one of the very first things we did after moving in was hang a couple of swings from one. We've spent many happy hours on those swings!
A few years after we moved in, I built a little platform in the trees with a slide coming down from it. 

It was fine for reading or maybe eating lunch...

Tempe and Helena in 2011 at the original enchanted treehouse
But it was small. Like, one kid at a time small. We talked about enlarging it for years but it was just too big a project for me to take on by myself. 

I love the look and idea of natural playgrounds and playscapes. I think kids are already drawn to incorporating natural elements into their play--rocks, treestumps, logs and such. I also love how charming natural playspaces are and how easily they can blend into existing landscaping. So when my dad came out for business last week and asked what project I wanted him to do while he was here, we jumped on the chance to get our dream treehouse built!

We built the treehouse frame out of redwood 2x6s and 2x8s, attached to the trees with lag bolts and redwood 4x4 posts. Just like the original, there's a narrow platform between the cluster of five trees where the slide comes down, and then there's a larger platform off to the side. It's about 6 ft square--plenty of room for lots of friends to play together!

I splurged and used Veranda composite decking for the deck and I'm so glad I did. It's so nice that I don't have to worry about kids getting splinters or any upkeep! Definitely worth the extra $40 (yeah--it was only $40 more than using lumber. So not even much of a splurge!)

The three wooden pennants have been in Tempe and Helena's bedroom for a few years, but they are perfect in the treehouse instead. I found a string of solar lanterns at Wal-Mart to hang in the trees. Treehouse + lanterns softly twinkling at night = perfection.

Let this be my public proclamation of THANKS to Grandpa K, aka Big Kahuna for his 12+ hours of work to get this thing framed for us. We love you!