Welp, I did it. I painted my fireplace. In my mid-century modern home (lots of pics from before we moved in here). This is fairly controversial, especially in a period home like mine, but I did it. I now have a painted brick fireplace. What do you think? Before I went ahead with the painted brick fireplace, I did check with a few experts to see if it was important period masonry (it wasn’t) or if the brick was valuable (it’s not). This was boring red brick that wasn’t aged or interesting, but was dirty and I felt like it was dragging the living room down. The carpet also contributes to that, but one thing at a time. One day it just came over me, that it had to be done. I used a masonry primer, then several coats of white paint (the same white as my walls), then some caulking to fill in holes between the brick and the wall. I have to say I’m happy with it. Of course, now I just want to remove the drop ceiling and tear up the carpet, but I’m taking it month by month. Sometimes I wonder if I did the right thing, I’d like your opinion. Here are the before and after shots…
Before: After: What do you think?
We don’t go crazy with back-to-school shopping, especially since we have summer weather here until November. Instead, I let everyone pick out just a few special items to kick off the new school year. This year we partnered with AllPosters.com to select a couple of goodies for each of the kids. I was expecting to find some cute posters to give each reading/homework space a refresh but discovered, holy moly, AllPosters.com has so much more than just posters. We found hats and sweatshirts, a blanket, a sweet calendar, and also, yes, a million amazing posters. Each kid was able to find treats that perfectly suit their #SavageNotAverage personalities.
My middle kiddo, Quinn, is my trendy girl. At the moment, she is obsessed with llamas (and alpacas.) How cute is this collection of llama goodies that Quinn picked out? At these prices, her love of llamas doesn’t have to last through the years. (more…)
I don’t know how it happened, but we ended up being that family that has all the pets. It’s a good thing. I don’t mind cleaning up after them, they all bring their own little slice of learning and joy to our household (for the most part), and my only child feels like she has some little siblings of sorts around the house. BUT some of these pets are just a pain in the behind. I’m gonna walk you through my unscientific but totally accurate and undeniable ranking of pets. Feel free to hate on all of this, or learn from my mistakes. So here goes, in order from worst pet to best pet. Onward…
8. Hamsters Hamsters are the literal worst. OMG. She begged for dwarf robo-hamsters, because she had seen them on youtube. Her other pets had just died horrible deaths (details later in this list), so we felt inclined to give them a try. Names: Crackers and Ellie. They seemed reasonably easy to care for, and they are. We went to our local pet store and consulted with the small animal expert who warned us that this particular breed of hamster is very active, and therefore would be hard to hold and not very cuddly. We were also advised to get two of them, so they could bond and play with each other. This seemed like not that much more work so we went for it. Which was great, until I found one hamster EATING THE OTHER HAMSTER. Hamsters are cannibals. I had to clean up hamster entrails, it was very unpleasant. Scarlet cried, I gagged, life went on. Then this morning I was making my coffee at 5:30 a.m. and saw a mouse scurry across the ground. I yelped and jumped, then took a closer look and was like go****it that’s Crackers. Crackers the hamster then ran under the door into the garage where I am assuming it will live until it dies and starts to smell, at which point I will be able to find it. I did set a hamster trap on advice of a prudent mama on our Facebook page, so I will report back if it works. Also, we are now left with the amazing hamster world pictured above that we built in her room. This is pretty cool but virtually impossible to clean. Kid take: Hamsters are cute but they aren’t that fun and they smell a little bad and you have to feed them and clean them and changing the water is hard.
7. Snails Scarlet came home from school at the end of last year with three snails. Names: Rainbow, Sugar, and Cranky. I don’t know how she determined that one of the snails was cranky. These snails were class pets, and the children did some sort of raffle to determine who got to bring what animals home. I guess I should be glad we didn’t get the crawfish? I don’t know how to care for a crawfish? I also don’t know how to care for snails. They are terribly disgusting. We had an empty aquarium so I put them in there. Within two hours it was coated in slime. I have to give them water and salad and sometimes they get stuck on the walls and Scarlet has to moisten them. One of them is surely dead but Scarlet insists it is still alive. I keep wanting to set them free in the yard, but Scarlet assures me this is akin to snail murder. The snails are so disgusting, I had a hard time wanting to show you a picture, but this is reality people. Kid take: What’s wrong with snails? Snails are interesting.
6. Horse That is not our horse, that’s just a good picture of me and a horse. I love horses. When my mom died, she left me her horse. Name: Bacardi. But Scarlet was only 7 years old, and the stable was far away, and I didn’t have the space in my heart or time in my day to take care of this horse the way a horse needs to be taken care of. Scarlet wanted the horse, but we weren’t in a place where we could become horsewomen, so I gave the horse to the stable, where it is now used for lessons and is well provided for. Of course, now, two years later, Scarlet is taking horseback riding lessons and wishes she had a horse of her own. All in all, I think horses are amazing tools for teaching children responsibility, but they are entirely too expensive (at least in the city) and time consuming to make my list of top pets. They do, however, outrank snails and hamsters. I would rather spend all of my money in perpetuity on a horse then get another hamster. Kid take: Why did you give away my horse?
5. Chickens Chickens are pretty great. I adored our chickens. Names: Queen Singalong Ice Cream, Love Traveler, Lemon, Zebra, Fluffy, Marble, and Pippi. But they come with issues when you live in the city, the biggest one being that they attract rodents. So we had a rat problem that took some creative trap setting to solve. Then we moved to a new house, still in the city but in an area with more animals, namely possums, raccoons and the occasional coyote. These animals want nothing more than to eat your chickens. I don’t know what animal it was that broke into our coop and disemboweled two of our seven chickens, but it was very unpleasant. We aren’t vegetarians, but these particular chickens were our pets and to fish one of their heads out of our pool and gather their bloody wings into bags was awful. We ended up realizing the rest of our chickens weren’t safe, so we sent the last five to a rescue farm (this is a real thing: Farm Sanctuary), where they are living out the rest of their lives in peace. We even went to visit them on the Northern California farm last November, and they remembered us (pictures from our visit to the farm here)! We miss them, but know that they are better off. The very best part of our three years of chicken ownership was hatching a chick ourselves, which we will never forget. Chickens are a lot of work, however, they are the only pet that gives you something you can use, which is eggs. I miss their eggs the most. Kid take: I miss my chickens a lot, but they are happier on a farm.
4. Cat We had a cat. He was a good cat, as far as cats go. I found him in a basement and took him to the vet, and the vet was like, this kitten will probably die in a shelter if you don’t take it, so I did. It was orange and cute. Name: Hammy. I know some people are really into cats (ahem, Jacinda), but for me the scratched-up furniture, horrible pee smell, lack of cuddliness, and general spreading of hair onto all of my belongings just make me not that into them. I know this is controversial. I am glad you love your cat. I loved my cat too, but I am not rushing to get another one. Scarlet is asking for another kitten, sometimes I consider it (they are so cute), but then I think about all the afore-mentioned things, and the number of other pets we already have, and I decline. But if another cat should find me, like my first one did, I would call it fate and take it in. Kid take: I want a kitten. (Me: “I know, but a kitten grows into a cat, rather quickly.” Kid: “I want a kitten.” Repeat.)
3. Fish Scarlet decided that she wanted a fish more than anything on this earth. We felt we had enough pets, but I am pretty down with animals so I told her I would think about it. I made it clear that if we did get a fish would be HER fish not MY fish, and I was concerned that she didn’t know enough about caring for a fish and wouldn’t be responsible for it. Cut to three days later, when she puts me in my place by sitting me down and presenting me with a homemade 9-page research document detailing the intricacies of fish-ownership and declaring that she could and would take responsibility for her fish. She also declared that she would pay for the fish and all of its equipment from her own savings. How could I say no? So off to the fish store we went, and came home with a beautiful beta fish. Name: Gemma. It’s a pretty gorgeous fish. They make all sorts of great filtered beta tanks now that don’t need to be emptied and cleaned on a weekly basis, and light up with LED colored light shows and the like. Gemma’s tank got some algae in it, so we got a pleco to eat the algae. That died within two days (I think it had ick from the fish store), so we replaced it with a few zebra and tiger snails. They ate all the algae, but then they were hungry so now we have to give them algae disks a couple of times a week. But all in all, the fish has been fun to have, doesn’t smell, doesn’t run away, doesn’t attract pests, and is very relaxing to look at. Most importantly, Scarlet has taken care of her fish pretty much on her own, which is a win for responsibility. All in all the fish experiment has been a winner. Kid take: Fish are so pretty and relaxing to watch. They aren’t super fun but they’re really neat.
2. Turtle We have a box turtle. Name: Pickle. I gave this turtle to my husband on his 30th birthday. My husband is now 41. This turtle will probably outlive us, and Scarlet is already talking about how her future children will love him. He’s awesome. He lives in a tortoise house outdoors, he eats salad and live worms, and he digs little holes and stares up at us. He doesn’t really like to play too much, but he’ll run about and entertain us with his worm eating. He only needs to eat once a week or so, so we can go on vacation without requiring a turtle sitter. He doesn’t smell, he doesn’t ruin anything, and he’s pretty adorable. He’s about doubled in size in 11 years, but is still small and cute. We love pickle. Turtles get a 98% in my book as kid pets, they are easy to care for, teach responsibility, and are fun to interact with. But they don’t snuggle, so minus 2%. Kid take: Turtles are awesome! They aren’t very cuddly but they are still cute.
1. Dog Dogs are the world’s best pets, hands down. They make messes and bark and all kinds of stuff, but it’s all worth it for the love and snuggles and friendship. My dog died when Scarlet was four. We were devastated. After about 9 months of mourning, we decided we were ready for a new dog. We went to the West LA animal shelter and told Scarlet she could pick any dog she wanted. She found this little cutie and fell in love. This dog had mange and pneumonia, but a few vet visits and she was all fixed up. Name: Princess Cheese. P Cheese is a delight. She has a job, which is to wake Scarlet up for school every morning. She does it well, with jumps and licks and snuggles. She is a friend to Scarlet, and puts up with a lot of shenanigans, like games of dress up. Dogs require the most work of all the pets, but are 100% without a doubt the most rewarding. She doesn’t make eggs, just poops we have to clean, but she makes us smile every. single. day. Dogs are love made real. DOGS FOREVER. Kid take: Princess Cheese is the best pet in the whole world dogs are awesome I always feel bad for kids who don’t have a dog I love my dog soooooooo much she is the best in the whole wide world. (Side note: This is the bulletin board in Scarlet’s room above her desk, that she decorated herself.)
Pretty much says it all. Think I’m nuts? Love snails? Think every kid should have a hamster (seriously doubt this, like 85% of the people I know have a hamster cannibalism tale to tell)? Is there an amazing pet we haven’t tried yet? Do we need a parakeet or a chameleon? Let me have it in the comments.
Scarlet and I spent most of summer on the road, so we didn’t do too much shopping, but we did find that we had a few little scores that we fell in love with. Here’s our totally random list of favorite stuff of summer 2017…
I have found the best sunscreen of all. I keep one by my sink and put it on after moisturizer/before makeup every morning, and I carry another one in my purse for re-application in the afternoon. It goes on sort of like a primer – not slimy or sticky (so Scarlet loves it) and it dries immediately. At it’s also a lot less expensive than other high-end facial sunblocks (though it’s still not “cheap”). It’s the best. Glossier Invisible Shield SPF 35 (I also love Glossier boy brow and milky jelly cleanser, but the rest of it – and I’ve tried it all – are not my faves).
I’m obsessed with these shoes. They’re flat, slip-on, and washable. They don’t have arch support (so don’t wear them to a 12-hour day clomping around the county fair), but they are like a slightly more dressed-up option when what you really want to wear are flip flops. They are called “the point”, $145 from Rothy’s.
This little change-able sign we got in the mail is the funnest. Scarlet likes to leave me notes on it. Currently ours says “Stay Strong”, which she wrote right before leaving for sleep-away camp because she had some butterflies about it. $39.99 from My Cinema Lightbox or on Amazon here: The Original My Cinema Lightbox.
OMG. Gus’s Fried Chicken!! One just opened near my house. It’s mouthwateringly amazing. I threw a big birthday party for my husband and his twin brother (no kids! night swimming!) and ordered catering – it would be an understatement to declare it a smash hit. The chicken is memphis-style, with a spicy kick. It’s served on a slice of bread to soak up the oil, and the fried pickles and okra (unusual in LA) were redonk. Hopefully there is one near you. Find out here: Gus’s Fried Chicken Locations.
There is this small area of my backyard with concrete pavers. Everything I plant there dies. Literally everything. I’ve been documenting it for a year. I think I found a solution, but I am going to give it a few months before I do a full post on the whole project, just to be sure. But I am feeling really good about this sedum sod that I planted about a month ago. It’s amazing! I’ve been traveling since I planted it, only home for a day here and there, and it seems to be thriving even in the 90-100+ valley summer temps. It comes in palettes that you lay down sort of like regular grass sod, but they are basically a bunch of tiny succulents woven together on a backing of coconut husks. It is easy to plant, but requires much less water than grass or creeping thyme or most other ground covers. I found mine at my local Lowe’s. If you have a patch of grass or area of your garden that needs a plant that can survive a hot summer or you live in a drought area, check it out. Though if you can buy it at Home Depot, I would do that, since they have that 100% money back guarantee if it does die. I wish I had thought of that before I planted! Hopefully I won’t need it and won’t have any regrets.
The Goldfinch!! I know I am seriously late to the game with this one, but I finally finished this book while laying on the beach of Cayman Brac yesterday! It was life-alteringly beautiful. I am so glad I finally find the time to power through it. Nothing like sleep-away camp to let mama finish a worthy book. And post about some stuff she bought that she likes, ha.
When Amazon Kids asked us to come up with a fun project to share for the debut of their new Original series, Lost in Oz, now available on Prime Video, my mind went straight to our recently discovered passion for letterboxing. Are you letterboxing? You need to be letterboxing! It’s so much fun and it’s the perfect hobby for kids who are adventurous problem solvers just like Dorothy.
When Dorothy finds her mother’s magic travel journal, she is transported to Oz. In order to return home, she must find every element on Oz’s Periodic Table of Magic. Check it out…
Dorothy’s story reminds me of the adventures we have had letterboxing this summer. Letterboxing has been around for almost 20 years but somehow I’ve managed to miss out on all the fun until now. If you loved the rock painting/hiding/finding craze that took over this year, then this takes that to the next level.
Basically you use clues to search for hidden weatherproof boxes containing special rubber stamps. Once you find one, you add a stamp to your own letterbox journal to grow your collection. It’s the perfect way to get active and “search for magic” in your own world.
Scarlet and I have been having an amazing summer. She’s nine (!) so we’re halfway done with summer breaks. Gah! I try to make every minute count… until I’m exhausted, and then I sleep. Then I wake up and remember: Only 8 more summers to go! This line of thinking keeps me inspired to spend as much time together as possible with the little love of my life, Scarlet. So a few weeks ago we flew down to Puerto Vallarta (only 2.5 hours from LA), rented a car, and hit the road to drive up the coast of Nayarit. You may be thinking “Driving through Mexico?!? Isn’t that dangerous??” You may be right, but it’s not as scary as you think. We had a 98% awesome experience driving through Nayarit, with one pretty serious bump in the road. I’ll tell you about it when we get to that point. So here’s what we did on our adventure: I would do it all over again, and Scarlet agrees.
If you’re looking for a unique perspective on how to travel to and experience Riviera Nayarit – getting outside of the resorts and getting a taste of actual Mexico – you’ve come to the right place. I’m not gonna sugar coat it for you – there are plusses and minuses to doing it this way, but I have to say I would rather do it this way or not do it at all, despite everything that happened.
Get the full scoop on driving through Nayarit after the jump… (more…)
AHHHH! Tomato season is here!!!! So much fresh garden bounty! Gather it up and make this fresh tomato soup recipe… It’s a beautiful thing, right? Holding those bright red babies in your hands? I’m just chomping at the bit for tomato recipes as all of my varieties start giving up their sweet fruit. Of course you can save your tomatoes for later in the year by canning them – just head over to our ever-popular post on How to Can Tomatoes (Without a Canner).
If you aren’t feeling up to all the work (it’s easy, but time consuming), go ahead and make this fresh tomato soup recipe. Most recipes call for canned tomatoes, and that’s great, but why not make some cozy delicious tomato soup with fresh tomatoes? It’s easy and extra tasty, I promise, but the technique is a little different. I made this recipe for soup from fresh tomatoes for my in-laws, nieces, and nephews with some grilled cheese paninis last weekend and they all told me I should start selling the soup. I feel like selling soup is hard, but making soup is easy. So here’s my recipe for Tomato Soup from Fresh Tomatoes. Mess around with it as you will, to suit your tastes, but this is a good basic starting point and just the way my family likes it. (more…)
Joshua Tree is a magical place. You hear that, and you believe it, but then you go there and you really feel it. It’s one part nature, one part outer space, and some third indefinable part that seems to come from the dry desert air or the general hippy vibe. It’s a place where kids can really feel that they’re standing on Earth, and that the Earth beneath their feet stretches out in every direction, encompassing a wondrous and mysterious planet. So let’s go over what to do in Joshua Tree with kids.
So I took my kid out to Joshua Tree, where we met some friends and their kids who came from Los Angeles like us, and some other friends who came all the way from Chicago, and we made some new friends who traveled all the way across the pond from London. We had a truly fantastic time. Here’s what to do when you take your kids to Joshua Tree.
First things first, be prepared with WATER. So much water. So much more than you think you will need. Even getting in and out of the car will dry you out, the air is dry, the weather is hot, and you will always need more water than you think you will. The rule of the desert is TURN AROUND when your water is half gone. This is SO KEY. People die in the desert all the time. The number of people we saw on the trails without water was astounding. So take note and bring so much water.
Where to Stay:
You can air bnb a lot of really cool homes. You can camp in the park (make your reservation months and months in advance!). Spin and Margie’s Desert Hideaway is pretty cool. But for a group of kids, I recommend Hicksville Trailer Palace. I can’t give you the address (they keep it a secret until right before your trip), but it’s close enough to the park entrance to allow you easy enough access and far enough into the desert to feel perfect isolation.
It’s a collection of trailers surrounding a pool. Bring your own food to grill and firewood, and of course some wine and beer. There’s mini golf, ping pong, and some arcade games for the kids too. They’ve got a tee-pee you can light a fire in, and a library full of books for the kids. Also bb guns and archery, which was a blast.
We stayed in the trailer called the Fifi, because we call Scarlet “Fifi.” Don’t ask me why, I don’t know. We just started calling her that and it stuck. This is our trailer… And this is my Fifi.
What to Do:
In Joshua Tree, you should stop by the Noah Purifoy Outdoor Museum, which is where I took the photo at the top of this post. You can just park and walk right in, there’s no tickets or anyone working there. Keep a close eye on the kids because all of the installations are rickety (they’ve been out in the elements for about 50 years) and potentially dangerous for climbing on, but just wild and fun to explore. Give yourself about 45 minutes to run around and check things out. Ask the kids what they think each installation is, imagine it all as spaceships or homes of old pirates. Again, bring water, there’s no water here.
If you are there on the right days, and you make a reservation in advance, you should schedule a sound bath for you and the kids at the Integratron. Kids can only go with advance private reservations, but it will be worth it.
You can also head out to Pioneertown, which is pretty cool but not something you can spend a whole day doing. It was created as a tourist attraction in the 1940’s, that never really caught on, but was used as a set in many amazing westerns. It’s having a renaissance now, and is home to Pappy and Harriet’s, where you can see some amazing music shows. Kids may or may not be into that (mine wasn’t), but you adults will definitely enjoy it. Don’t make it the priority of your visit, that should definitely be Joshua Tree National Park.
In the Park:
When you are ready to head into the park (and you can’t skip the park – you CAN NOT), start at the Joshua Tree Visitor Center. You’ll need to buy yourself a pass to enter the park if you don’t already have a national park pass. Here you can also grab a map, and ask for the (free) Jr. Park Ranger booklet (which also comes with a pencil). The kids will learn a lot from this, LOVE filling it out, and if they complete the whole thing, they will get a badge at the end of your trip. You can also pick up sunscreen, extra water, etc. at the visitor center.
Now you can drive from the Joshua Tree Visitor Center to the other end of the park, the Oasis Visitor Center, in about 60 minutes. You’ll get to experience two deserts, the Mojave and the Colorado, and the unique features of each. But of course you will want to stop. The best spots for doing an easy hike with kids are Hidden Valley and Barker Dam. I like Hidden Valley for its space-like rock formations, but be warned that your kids will want to climb all over them. The whole loop is about a mile and mostly flat, except for the piles of rocks they will definitely want to scramble up.
The drive up to Keys View is worth it and really only about 20 minutes out of your way (round trip) if you are doing the loop. From here you can see the whole Coachella Valley, all the way to Palm Springs and the San Jacinto mountain range. What’s most interesting is that it is the only place where you can actually visually observe the San Andreas fault. It’s that ridge running right down the middle of the valley. Also note the snow on the mountain tops.
Stop in a few turnouts to marvel at the Joshua trees. Kids will be as amazed by them as you are.
If you keep going, you can check out Jumbo Rocks or go all the way to the Cholla Cactus Garden (FYI it’s pronounced “choya”- I had to ask about that one). Our kids were wiped out from excessive rock climbing so we headed back to town for ice cream and a swim.
Then they put on a nighttime talent show for us on the little stage at Hicksville, before we made s’mores, soaked in the rooftop hottub and headed back to our trailers. That’s one happy kid.
Make your way to Joshua Tree with your family, and if you’ve already been, tell me what I’ve missed. We will be heading back in the fall, as soon as the weather cools down a bit. Happy travels, friends!