Saturday, March 24, 2012

DIY Egg Garland

Yesterday I shared our Easter decorations and today I'm going to show you how Noelle and I made this simple egg garland for the fireplace mantel. Dyeing eggs is an Easter tradition of ours. In the past, we've always boiled the eggs and kept them for a week or so, but this year I created a way to keep them for much longer and display them prominently. 

First thing to do is blow the egg out of the shell. I gathered the supplies:
Sewing Needle
Infant Nose Aspirator

I carefully poked a hole at each end of the egg with the sewing needle - shown here (with my assistant Noelle as the videographer):

You'll need to make the hole a little bigger if you are going to use the eggs for a garland. If you just want hollow eggs for decorations, keep the holes small.

Then I used the aspirator to blow the egg out of the shell by sealing the hole on one side of the egg with the tip of the aspirator and squeezing the air into the egg (don't suck the egg into the aspirator). It usually takes about four squeezes to get the egg completely out of the shell. 

Rinse the eggs and allow them to dry. Then the fun begins! 
Dye, paint, cover with glitter, etc. Noelle decided to dye the eggs. It used to be hard letting go of projects and giving her the chance to be creative - you may recall the paint-your-own Piggy Bank disaster. Now it's not only easy to allow her to create on her own, I prefer it. Her personal touch makes things so much more special than if I did it. Sure, the eggs would have probably been evenly coated, but hers are perfectly imperfect. 

When the eggs are dry, string one egg through the ribbon. 
Trick: Keep stuffing the egg with ribbon until you can see it through the other end and fish it out with the needle. 
Once the egg is through and in your desired spot, tie a knot on one end and secure the egg in place by dabbing hot glue on the knot and pressing the egg against it.
Continue one egg at a time until you reach your desired length. 

Tie securely or you'll end up walking on egg shells...


Friday, March 23, 2012

Spring has Sprung at the Gardner House

"Is the Spring coming?" he said. "What's it like?"
"It is the sun shining on the rain and the rain falling on the sunshine."
--The Secret Garden

Fresh spring blossoms are in full bloom which means Easter is just around the corner.  At first it seemed too early to dye eggs and decorate with pastels and tulips, but as it turns out, the ceramic birds are perched on the fireplace mantel just in time. Easter is less than three weeks away.

Noelle and I dyed eggs this week and used them to create this garland for the mantel. A garland is a fun way to display those precious eggs decorated by your little one!

I found this banner at Target on clearance for less than a dollar. It was originally a birthday-themed banner, but I cut out the cupcake pennants and hot glued the pieces together - keeping only the pink and white pennants - then painted on the blue letters. 

We celebrate the life, death, burial and most importantly the resurrection of Christ during Easter. Just as with Santa for Christmas, during Easter we include but don't emphasize the Easter bunny, egg hunts and Easter baskets. We are dutiful in communicating the true importance of the holiday but we aren't concerned that the message is being lost because we strive to include Christ in their lives each and every day. Noelle, at age 3, knows from Bible stories and conversations that Jesus died on the cross to save us from our sins and that he rose from the dead just as he said he would. 
"He is not here, he is risen!" Luke 24:6

At the beginning of each season, I find myself thinking, this is my favorite season of them all. But it's not the changing of the weather or excitement for the next holiday that excites me, it's the opportunities and memories ahead that fill my heart with joy and anticipation. 

I borrowed the green bird cage that hangs from the ceiling in Noelle's room and the garden basket that sits on the dresser in the Master bedroom for the living room sofa table. And nothing says, "SPRING!" like a little girl in a sun dress holding a yellow daisy.

 I'm still looking for a suitable spring table runner. If you find a colorful-but-not-bright one, let me know.

A few of Noelle's dyed eggs sit on brown paper crinkle on the bird bath pedestal (from Michael's). 

This spring I want to make the most of the outdoors before the scorching summer heat confines us to mall playgrounds. I want to enjoy early morning walks and have a picnic every afternoon. I want to watch the kids run in damp grass and play outside as the sun sets. Margaret Atwood said it best, "In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt."


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Gardner Grub - Slow Cooker Meatballs (or Stroganoff)

This easy meatball recipe is my favorite way to serve balls to a crowd. The same recipe can be used to make a scrumptious Stroganoff-style dinner when served over egg noodles. This is my version of a popular recipe on The original recipe calls for Cream of Celery soup - which contains MSG. I substitute Cream of Celery for Healthy Request Cream of Chicken and use All Natural Caramelized French Onion Soup. 

2 lb. frozen Italian Style Meatballs
16 oz Sour Cream
1 can of Cream of Chicken Soup (2 if you are going to serve over noodles)
1 can Select Harvest Caramelized French Onion Soup (or any French Onion soup you can find)

Add the soup and sour cream to the slow cooker and mix together. Then stir in the meatballs. Cook on LOW for 6 hours or HIGH for 3 hours.

If you plan on serving it over noodles, you can also add fresh sliced mushrooms and one chopped onion. Oh sooooo good!


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

from the archives: Peep Sushi and "To My Peeps" treats

An inexpensive way to put a smile on my face is easily done by handing me a pack of yellow Peeps. Last year we combined a couple of my favorite things - Peeps and Sushi to create these darling little bites of deliciousness. 
Check out more pictures and simple how-to instructions HERE

I used a free printable from Eighteen25 to make these little treats for my small group. To see how I put them together go HERE.


Monday, March 19, 2012

Our Family Code

Is what we're calling the new artwork in the dining room. Visitors look at it puzzled and eventually ask, "what's this all about?" It's our family code.

(Custom signs available on my Etsy shop Amanda G Designs)

I saw a printed design using dates on Pinterest and made a mental note to attempt it for our Master bedroom. But the dining room was in need of something fresh, so I changed my method of execution and decided on using wood boards to display our birth dates and anniversary. 
At Lowe's, I purchased two 5-inch wide cedar boards and one .75x1.5x96-inch stick. Mr. G cut the boards down to five 24-inch strips and then I gave them one coat of Dark Walnut stain. After allowing the stain to dry over night, Mr. G cut the long piece into two 20-inch sticks and used them to secure the wood together.

I have a love/hate relationship with stencils. I've seen several tutorials with people expertly using them and when I have a go at the same technique, my results are usually less than perfect. So instead of chancing disaster with the stencil, I decided to trace the numbers directly onto the wood and trust my steady hand to paint the numbers.

I measured three inches from the sides and traced our anniversary (in the middle) first and used those numbers as a guide for the other four dates. None of the months have double-digits, so it worked out evenly. 

We tested out a few shades of stain before deciding on the darkest one. The lighter stains blended into the wall. Dark Walnut stood out and goes nicely with the brown inside the bay window (and the other accent wall in the living room). 
What a difference a day makes.

It was an easy project that makes a big statement and the total cost was only about $10.


Friday, March 16, 2012

Noah - 13 months of fun

A quick recap of Noah's first month as a one year old. 

His walking skills have come a long way over the past couple of weeks. He now walks confidently without falling. 
Here is a short clip of him walking at the park this afternoon.

Just after his birthday, Noah got (another) cold and refused to nurse for two days. I was this close to quitting cold turkey but I decided to tough it out. We lost the first nap of the day nursing session which I was bummed about until the time change hit and he stopped taking a morning nap all together. Noah now just nurses when he wakes up, before his afternoon nap, and before bed. 
All of his other meals are going great. He has recently become interested in using a spoon to feed himself. I feed him yogurt for breakfast and let him use the spoon for the last few bites. 

New words this month - Dada and dog. And at the park yesterday, he started to repeat me and point at the ducks saying, "duh." He still says "uh-oh" and "mama."

I'm probably won't think it's adorable for very long, but Noah shakes his head no at me. It's usually when I'm trying to wrestle him down to change his diaper. I say, "Noah, lay still" and he shakes his head repeatedly. I have to turn and look the other way so he doesn't see me laughing. 
In this video Noah was trying to get cousin Evan's banana but Evan said "No, Noah!" So Noah started shaking his head back at Evan. 

Noah no longer cries only when he is tired or hurt, he also uses it to communicate to me that he really wants something. He'll stand by the front or back door and cry because the kid wants to be outside all day long. He cries when his juice cup is empty, when he can't get a toy to cooperate, and when he wants something that is out of his reach. I try to use these times to talk to him about what he wants. For example I'll say, "More juice, please!" then when I hand it to him I'll say, "Noah, say thank you." He'll repeat, "Ta!" 

Noah gives the sweetest kisses. These aren't slobbery, open-mouth baby kisses. These are lips puckered, eyes closed, melt my (and Grandma's) heart kisses. 

{Play time}
Noah loves playing Peek-A-Boo Barn on my phone and flipping through the pictures. He learned that crayons aren't for chewing on and now holds them tightly enough to color on paper.  He also enjoys stacking blocks and playing with this toy:

I'm desperately trying to hold on to any part of him that is still baby because most of him is now a busy toddler. I love the little boy he has grown to be but it came too fast. Once in a while he'll let me wrap him up in a blanket and sing him to sleep. I wish I did more of that when he wasn't so heavy! 

Happy 13th Month, little guy.


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

remember when

Noelle has an impeccable memory. Actually I'm not certain that it's extraordinary for a three year old to remember things that happened when she was one, but to me it's remarkable. Out of the blue she'll surprise me with, "Mom, remember when...". She often talks about the giraffe that licked her hand at the zoo (when she was 1), when mommy and daddy were Ken and Barbie for Vacation Bible Adventure (just before she turned 2), and meeting Elmo and Abby at Sea World (age 2). 

It's delightful when she shares her perspective of these memories. I want her childhood to be filled with noteworthy moments. And lately I haven't done my best at making the most out of the weekdays. Our schedule has become mundane: schoolwork, chores, grocery shopping, park, naps, and if we want to go crazy we'll throw bubble blowing and sidewalk chalk in there. I can do better.

After breakfast this morning, instead of our usually routine, I packed snacks and we ventured out. The destination was a park Noelle and I went to when I was pregnant with Noah. It took a while to find it again but when we arrived, I saw her perk up in the rear view mirror and announce, "I remember this place!" Of course she did.

But the last time we visited this park, she was terrified of the skyscraping slides. Today, she fearlessly charged them.

Time sure did pick up once we had kids. I wonder why that is. Perhaps it's because I'm no longer responsible for just myself. Now I have two little humans who rely on me for almost everything. There is rarely down time or spontaneity. For me, at least. For the kids everything is spontaneous. At the top of the slide Noelle spotted a bridge and was soon running towards it.

Noah watched his sister skip on the bridge and after grasping my hand, he stepped out to follow her.

A few sturdy steps later, he shook his hand free from mine and off he went. 

There was much to explore at the park. 

And brother was never far behind. 

A reason for choosing this park today was to see the ducks that occupy a little nearby pond. I stuffed a few slices of bread in the snack bag to feed them with.
Noelle remembered feeding the ducks at the zoo but she forgot to throw the bread. Before I could get to her a feisty duck swooped in and snatched a piece right out of her hand. I waited to see how she would react before I examined her fingers and thankfully she laughed it off.

This little guy was patient.

Noah loved the ducks...a little too much. He chased the poor things until they found refuge in the pond. 

After the park I did something I would usually not dare to do alone...take the kids out to eat. It was only Panera Bread (a casual dining restaurant), but it was noon and nearly nap time. Noelle politely asked me for yogurt and mac n cheese and I didn't have the heart to turn her down today.

We were surrounded by business people, I was the only one with kids there, but I'm glad we went. Although I could do without the real estate agent who apparently soaks his clothes in cologne. The smell was literally burning my nose. I could hardly taste my baked potato soup.

My weather app showed rain today but there wasn't a grey cloud in the sky. I think summer decided to sneak in and show us some love. Thanks, summer. We're looking forward to your sunshine. In fact, Noelle insisted she take advantage of the warm weather and go swimming. I dropped her off with Mr. G at his pool (he coaches swimming and water polo) and she thoroughly enjoyed her first swim lesson of the year.  

After dinner we took a walk around our neighborhood, talking, laughing, and praying, until darkness settled around us. 

I know that it isn't possible to make every day exceptional, but I can work at making it less ordinary. I learned today that it's easy to break out of a dreary routine and it doesn't take much to make "remember when" moments. 


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

{eleven things}

There is a fun little "eleven things" questionnaire of sorts floating around blogland. I've gotten a few "Hey, I tagged you" messages but I haven't followed through with them (sorry!). I was tagged again recently by the lovely Katie at Love, Latte's and Lullabies. Katie and I were pregnant at the same time and had fun discussing all of our pregnancy quirks. Her little man, Colin, was born about a month before Noah. It has been a treat watching Colin grow through the adorable pictures and sweet anecdotes she posts. So here is what I've been challenged to accomplish:

1. Post the rules
2. Post a photo of yourself & 11 random things.
3. Answer the questions set for you in the original post.
4. Create 11 new questions and tag people to answer them.
5. Go to their blog/twitter/facebook and tell them that you've tagged them.

Eleven Random Things:
  • This time change is the bomb. The kids slept until 8:30am!! I got two solid hours of cleaning and alone time in before they woke up. Although, it's also a bomb (in a bad way) because since Noah woke up so late, he lost his morning nap. C'est la vie.
  • I prefer not to have my toe nails painted, but I paint them in the summer so my bare nails don't get the side eye from strangers. I can hear their thoughts, "Tsk tsk. Girlfriend is wearing flip flops and doesn't have her toes painted!" Also, I bite my finger nails. 
  • I quote Home Alone on a daily basis. Noelle does too. I love when I say, "I believe you" and she finishes with, "But my Tommy Gun don't!" It's drop-to-your-knees hilarious.
  • I've never been on Twitter. 
  • I have been getting lazy with meal planning lately. Our menu has consisted of the the same 4-5 meals each week. I need a great recipe to shake things up.
  • A few pet peeves about taking kids out. 1. Dress your kid appropriately. A shirt and diaper is not acceptable shopping attire. 2. Why on earth would you let your child run around Target barefoot? Put shoes on your kid. 3. Would you walk around with snot running down your face? No. So wipe your kid's nose. 
  • I often wonder who you are (yep, you reading this!). Do I know you, are you a regular reader or did you just stumble upon Growing Up Gardner somehow? I know you're out there!
  • If you catch me on my phone, I'm likely on Instagram.
  • I love the idea of co-sleeping but it would never work for me. I dislike anyone touching me when I sleep. Cuddling is out of the question. The best sleep I get is the hour I have the bed to myself after Aaron gets up for work. 
  • I don't drink coffee, but I love an ice cold soda pop in the afternoon to wake me up.
  • I have a slight obsession with colored jeans. Green, blue, yellow, white. I love them all.
  • Noah John Gardner was almost named Knox William Gardner. 
Questions from Katie

1. What's your favorite breakfast food?
I'm not a big fan of "breakfast food." I usually have yogurt and a banana because I want to be a good influence for Noelle. She is always watching and if I don't eat, she thinks she doesn't have to either. But if she wasn't around I'd probably have something sweet like a couple of Oreos and a glass of milk.

2. What's playing on your iPod right now?
Adele. I can't relate to the songs, but I love her voice. I really like the song "I Found a Boy." 

3. What are you wearing right now? 
Jeans and a striped t-shirt.

4. What is your biggest fear?
I am terrified of the ocean. I love the beach but the thought of getting in the water is absolutely paralyzing. 

5. Chocolate or vanilla?

6. If you could have dinner with one famous person, dead or alive, who would it be? What would you say to them or ask them?
I would have dinner with Christiane Amanpour and ask her a million questions about her life as a journalist. 

7. What's the most rewarding thing about your chosen profession?
Currently as a SAHM, the most rewarding thing is being able to spend every day with my babies. Teaching them, loving them and taking care of them. 

8. Name three good things that happened to you this week.
On Sunday, my husband threw me a surprise birthday party. I was able to 1. hang out with my family and best friends 2. eat delicious food 3. not do the dishes!

9. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
My hair. Only in my dreams will I ever have glorious, long hair. 

10. You get a free roundtrip ticket to go anywhere in the world. Where do you go?
I would spend a week in Nassau with Aaron. We stayed at the Sandal's Resort in the Bahamas for our honeymoon and it was incredible. I'd go back in an instant. 

11. If you could have one superpower, which one would you choose? 

Super strength so I won't have to wait for Aaron to get home to get stuff done - like open jars and move furniture. 

Questions for those I'm tagging:

1. Have you ever been to Disneyland? If so, what is your favorite thing to do there? If not, do you plan on going in the near future?
2. Ocean or Mountains?
3. A memory from your childhood.
4. Your favorite piece of furniture in your home.
5. A picture that you treasure.
6. An evening with no plans would be spent:
7. Camp fire or fireplace? Why?
8. Something you wish you could buy at half price (either a one time purchase or something you have to buy often).
9. You get to go back to high school and re-live one day. What day would it be?
10. You're at your favorite restaurant. What do you order?
11. Mama always said:

I tag:
Jennifer at 25 and Enjoying Life
Aliesha at She Calls Me Mama Liesha
Heather at Us {Doing Things}
Marcus at Life and Leadership
Monica at The Scherman Family Four

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Saying Goodbye to my 20's

Today is my birthday. But not just any birthday, the one that ends the life chapter titled, "My 20's." The past decade flew by quicker than I could have ever imagined. It's like passing a familiar scent, finding the source and bringing it close to your nose. You close your eyes and take a deep breath, smiling while inhaling all of the memories that correlate with the smell. That moment, the inhale, is how fast it feels the last 10 years have gone by. It's like I closed my eyes, took a breath and these events flashed by:

21 - I celebrated my birthday with my sister in Las Vegas. I got a tattoo that day - my biggest regret (thus far).
22 - I started flying the friendly skies. I was so young. I made mistakes, learned valuable life lessons and matured seemingly overnight.
On April 13th, overlooking the Pacific ocean, the man of my dreams got down on one knee and asked me to be his wife. How did I get so lucky?
23 - Two weeks after my 23rd birthday my dad took my arm and walked me down the aisle. I married my childhood crush and we moved into our first place, a 900 square foot house a few miles away from the beach.
24 - There were far more burnt dinners than edible ones that year. But after many hours watching the Food Network and practicing, I became a pretty decent cook. I also learned to manage our finances and discovered a love for DIY projects. Aaron and I took several vacations using my flight benefits and enjoyed being newlyweds.
25 - Working a full time job and taking 20+ units every quarter at Cal Poly paid off. I received a Bachelor's degree in Journalism.
Soon after graduating, we moved closer to our families and purchased our first house. Walking in with the keys was terrifying and thrilling. It smelled like fresh paint and saw dust. I couldn't wait to make our new house a home.
26 - "You can start pushing, Amanda." A few minutes later I was holding my precious baby girl. I became a mom. June 12, 2008 was by far the most momentous day of my life.
27 - My first year as a stay at home mom. I never saw myself as a SAHM but I couldn't imagine going back to work and leaving Noelle. It was a tough year financially but God provided, as He always does.
28 - February 15th at 5am I waddled to the bathroom and my water broke. I was relaxed, calm, and held Noelle as tight as I could. She had no idea how much her life was about to change.
At 5:13pm I met my son. He had dark, wavy hair and when I looked into his eyes it felt like I'd known him my whole life.
29 - Just a month after becoming a mom of two, I turned 29. Juggling the kids, the house, wifely duties and friendships has been challenging but by far the most rewarding year of my life. It has been my favorite year of all.

Which leads me to today. My thoughts on this birthday during the past few weeks have been negative. Thirty? How? I was just 21 a minute ago. A deep inhale ago. Then I look back at all I have accomplished and I'm proud. It could have turned out...differently, but God took favor upon me and blessed me with these memories. I'm immensely grateful.

On Sunday, my sister, Tina, hosted a little family party for me and her sister-in-law, Jessica. Our birthday's are exactly two weeks apart. I remember celebrating our 10th birthday together at Chuck E. Cheese's! My sister and her husband, Sean, have been together since the 7th grade so although they are technically Tina's in-laws, I claim them as my own as well. It doesn't matter how we are connected, family is family.

My best friends, Kim and Megan, took me out to dinner on Monday night. We usually get together Monday evenings to watch The Bachelor but we skipped the Women Tell All episode to enjoy pasta and great conversation. Mostly them telling me how old I am (oldest by 7 months) and discussing the plans for Megan's upcoming nuptials to Kim's brother-in-law - which will make them sister-in-laws - and how excited we are to meet Kim's little love, due to arrive on April 9th!

We have been best friends for over 20 years. Here we are celebrating my 21st birthday.
Oh how time flies.

Turning thirty is frightening because it's the number that takes away your youth. Thirty is adult. Serious adult. Kim and I agree that my birthday is the true reason behind my insane organizing spree and new clutter-free life style. Because 30-year-olds have clean cabinets, labeled pantries and closets organized by color.

Last night Mr. G and Noelle surprised me with cake and ice cream.

I think I've eaten more dessert this week than I have had in the past 6 months.
Worth it.

Mr. G took work off today to show me how much he loves and appreciates me. I didn't know what he had planned for the day but I was excited to get out of the house with him. Before we left, I opened a few presents. I'm in love with my new Coach purse from my parents and the nude pumps from my sister! I rocked both at dinner tonight.

My incredible mom came over to watch the kids for the day. I love her so much!

We kissed the kids goodbye and headed out of town. I was pleasantly surprised when we arrived at a day spa!

Right when we got there I was handed a mimosa and whisked away to change into a robe. Soon I was laying face down on a massage bed, listening to hypnotizing music and fighting the urge to fall into a deep sleep. It was heavenly. 

After the spa, we needed two things: food and water. We ended up at a seafood restaurant and discovered the best clam chowder evah! It's a mixture of New England style clam chowder and a spicier tomato-based chowder.

Then we did some shopping and went home just in time to meet up with my mom and the kids at the park. I remember when my mom was in her 30's. Not 30 exactly, but in her 30's. I wonder if Noelle will remember me at this age. I certainly will never forgot her sweet face.

On Monday, Noelle and I were browsing around the mall for an outfit for my 30th birthday dinner. I stopped to admire a red dress and Noelle exclaimed "I LOVE IT!" I don't own a single red item of clothing. Red is out of my comfort zone. It screams "look at me" and I'm not a "look at me" kind of girl. In the dressing room I slipped it on and Noelle said I looked like a princess. I bought the dress.

After a brief visit with Noelle and Noah, we left for dinner at a fancy steak house. I glanced at the menu and jokingly told Mr. G that I was going to order the steak and lobster. "Go for it!" he said. So I did. I'm noticing a pattern here. Perhaps turning 30 instantly made me more adventurous...or easily persuaded.

I worked at restaurants in my early 20's and I was totally cool with people sending food back that wasn't satisfactory. The lobster was seriously overcooked so back it went.

The chef sent his apology and 15 minutes later I had the juiciest lobster tail in all of California. 

Which left no room for dessert....but we still ordered creme brulee and peanut butter brownies to-go. Then ate them in bed an hour after getting home. 
It was a pretty amazing day.

I didn't have any goals for my 20's. I didn't think about the future much back then. Thirty seemed so far away and I honestly didn't have high expectations for myself. If I could send a letter to 20-year-old Amanda it would read something like this.

God is going to richly bless you beyond your dreams. Seek Him with all of your heart. Listen to your parents. Be smart with your money. Take time to talk to your grandparents. Be patient with children. You've been given the blessing of incredible friendships, cherish them.
(Also, your stomach hurts all the time because you're allergic to MSG)

So long, 20's. This is where we say goodbye.