Thursday, September 18, 2014

{Part 2} How to let go and let your pre-teen redecorate...and be happy with the results.

In part one, I gave you four tips for letting go and letting your pre-teen redecorate her own room. I'd guess that those tips are applicable to kids of all ages with just a little adjusting for age (and maybe taste).

When we took on the job of redecorating Brynn's room, we knew we didn't want to do a huge overhaul. We'd already done that when she turned 8 and I ripped out her carpet in favor of a wood floor. I also built her a bunch of furniture. This re-do was just meant to be a tweak. A little change in style to suit her more grown-up tastes.

Here are the details.

Paint. Brynn was set on white walls. Her trim was already white (including the wainscoting that goes about 1/3 of the way up her walls), the same white that we use for all of our house trim, The Right White by Restoration Hardware, color matched in Sherwin-Williams paint. The Right White is my favorite trim white and that wasn't negotiable. It's not too warm, not too cool, and keeping it the same in Brynn's room meant one fewer can of paint in the garage and easier touch ups when she (inevitably) scuffs the trim in her room.

In order to work with Brynn's trim, I thought her wall color white should probably be a tad warmer and darker than The Right White, but it really wasn't up to me. Remember, this was our opportunity to let Brynn choose her own design. So, I gave her several white paint swatches from Sherwin-Williams, all of which were acceptable to me. She looked at Extra White, Pure White, Snowbound, and Marshmallow. Marshmallow probably would have been my choice, the warmest and darkest of the four. She, on the other hand, wanted the whitest possible walls. Like, the color of printer paper. She wanted (and actually pointed to) the white that is the border between the paint colors on the color strip. Extra White was the whitest of the options she had, so that is what she chose. It's not a color that most of us would choose, especially not when combined with trim that is a hair darker and warmer. But she's not most of us, and it's not our room.

After Brynn and Scott primed and the paint started to go up on the walls, it was obvious to Scott and me that Extra White was both too cool and too bright. We wondered if Brynn would have second thoughts. Scott even said something like, "I guess I'll be back in here painting with her again tomorrow." She never said a word. I didn't ask her what she thought because I didn't want to make her doubt her decision. Once we got the room put back together, the white faded away, just like she wanted it to. The moral of the story is...don't fuss over paint colors in a kid's room. They're easily pleased.


Desk. You may remember this reading loft/desk combo that I built for Brynn back when she was turning 8. It was awesome...awesome for an 8, 9, or 10 year old. But this summer Brynn was feeling like she'd outgrown the loft. She was starting middle school and expecting her homework load to increase. She wanted a real desk. So, I kept my eyes peeled for one we could re-do, and I found this one on VarageSale, one of my favorite sources for furniture to makeover. Here I am driving home with the new (old) desk.

If Brynn had a bigger budget (remember, she was originally budgeting only $155 for this re-do, which I told her I'd match, bringing us to a total budget of $310), she could have chosen any desk she wanted. But she didn't have a bigger budget, so it was up to me to find one that was in decent shape, sturdy enough to last her until she gets out of high school, and ready for a makeover. She really wanted something modern. And given a bigger budget, we could have dressed this old desk up with modern pulls. I think someday she might buy herself new pulls. But for now, the original pulls add a bit of eclectic elegance to what otherwise could have become a room so modern and contemporary, it felt cold. So...budgets. We love them.

Brynn gave herself a choice of three colors for her desk: yellow, navy, or coral. She chose navy. General Finishes Milk Paint, my go-to paint when I'm painting a piece of furniture and don't want a distressed finish, has a great navy called Coastal Blue. I left Brynn out of the labor for this part (one can only share SO much of the work when one is a control, painting furniture is kind of my thing). My dad and I gave the desk a light sanding, I primed it with dark brown primer that I had on hand, sprayed it with half a quart of the Coastal Blue milk paint, finished the insides of the drawers in a coral color that I mixed up from leftover paints in the garage, and sealed the whole thing with PolyWhey wipe-on in satin.

I soaked the old brass drawer pulls in a vinegar and baking soda solution and then used Brasso to clean them. I think it's pretty caustic stuff, but every once in a while that's what it takes.

If the top of the desk looks a little off to you...that's because it is. I'm doing a little desk blotter experiment. I'll report back once I have some results. 

Bedding. Brynn had her heart set on the yellow and white chevron duvet from the moment she set eyes on it, so I knew it would be the centerpiece of the room. She found a few sets of navy and white sheets at PBTeen, too, but her budget was more of a Target budget. So, off to we went. Together we picked out the navy Threshold sheets to sleep on and the navy and white sheets for her box spring and a pillow.

I've become a pretty serious devotee to the Threshold sheets in recent years. I first started buying them because they were organic cotton. Unfortunately the navy sheets weren't available in organic (I'm thinking that organic in a deep navy dye is pretty hard to achieve) so we ended up with the conventional version. The sheets are made in India which was encouraging -- India leads the world in organic cotton production (although it is falling) and is an established Better Cotton region. So even though these are conventional, I feel okay about supporting India's cotton industry. The quality of the sheets is fantastic and in this latest package there was a bonus...the head and foot of the fitted sheets are labeled! So you put them on the right way the first time! Genius.

For the box spring, we bought the navy and white scribbled-polka dot/ikat-ish sheets, also from Target. I remember once upon a time seeing a box spring cover that just went around the edges of the box spring? And then I remember almost passing out when I saw the price. A fitted bottom sheet seems to work just as well, plus then you've got the top sheet and a pillow case to play with in the room. Best of all, the quality really isn't all that important because the fitted sheet only gets washed every now and then, to get the dust off. It's a fun way to bring in another color or pattern. So that's what we did.

Curtains. This is the design element that Brynn was probably the least involved in. She didn't really seem to care what her curtains looked like (maybe her brain was on design overload). For her closet I suggested white with a blue ribbon trim and she shrugged her shoulders and said okay. Once her navy and white sheets came and we knew that she liked them, I suggested the flat sheet as a non-working curtain just to soften her window and she shrugged again. I took that as a yes. Thankfully, once they were up she was quite enthusiastic. I think there was some squealing and maybe even a little shouting.

This is another project where I took over all the labor. Like the desk, this was something I couldn't really bear to see screwed up. She can move furniture, she can paint walls, and with enough time she could sew a lovely set of curtains. But she's in school all day and I'm here and I knew I could whip them out pretty quickly and a lot less painfully. The white curtains were in the as-is bin at Ikea. I used the same kind here in our living room when my mother-in-law and I created 9ft tall bold striped curtains (which I still love). The panels were only $10 each which is a steal for that much heavy fabric. Brynn's closet has a curtain track system that I special ordered from our local fabric shop and installed back in 2006, I think. It has held up really well. The only problem is that there's no fudge room for your curtain length. I love to just make my curtains whatever length they end up being and then hang the rod in the right spot. You can't do that when you're working with a curtain track, but the clean look is great and it seems to be super durable.

The navy and white curtains around the window are lined with leftover white curtain fabric from our living room curtains, just to give them some extra weight and help them look finished. I like all of my windows to show the same color (white) when you look at them from the outside of the house so I always line my curtains with white, even these ones that you can barely see from outside.

For the curtain rod over the window, I used a 6' wooden rod from Lowe's (probably meant to be a closet rod), a pair of Martha Stewart finials from Home Depot, and some handrail hardware I had hanging around. I painted the rod and finials navy, waxed it to make sure the fabric on the curtains would slide easily, and then hung it with the handrail hardware.

Artwork, lighting, accessories, etc. Brynn already had the gigantic framed poster of Paris from Ikea. It was a birthday gift last year (by the way, artwork makes great gifts for girls this age, I think). She was hoping to put it at the head of her bed, but after discussing the width of her bed versus the width of her ballet barre, she agreed it should go over the ballet barre. The ballet barre has been in her room for a few years now and she uses it at least a few times a week for stretching and barre work. It's just a 1x4 screwed into the wall with a handrail on it. Simple, inexpensive, and a really useful element for her.

The artwork above Brynn's bed is four watercolors she did a few days before we moved back from Mexico when Brynn was seven years old. She sat in the backyard there, looked around at the trees and flowers growing around her, and painted those pieces. While they are really special to me, they make her feel too young, so they will go. I told her I'd surprise her with some replacement art made by me. Yikes. I think I'll also paint the frame coral.

The ballet photo in the corner of her room is one I took during her second year of ballet. It's been in her room for a long time and I'm thrilled that she still loves it as much as I do.

The only piece of artwork I bought was the inspirational canvas. I passed by it at Hobby Lobby and couldn't NOT grab it. I knew she'd love it. It was a fun surprise element to add to her room.

For the message board above Brynn's desk, I used her old cork board, wrapped it in batting that I already had, and then finished it off in the coral and white fabric with yellow ribbons and some sparkly upholstery tacks.

Both of Brynn's lamps and her schoolhouse fixture were already in the room and working well. She was happy with them as they were, so we left those. In truth, the schoolhouse fixture was non-negotiable, but I think she already knew that so she didn't even ask to replace it. Plus...the good old budget would have said no anyway.

One accessory that totally floored Brynn was her new iHome. It was in our kitchen for a few years before Scott installed speakers in our main living area. Since then, it's just been sitting in a closet, along with a first generation iPod Touch. We're not interested in letting Brynn have unlimited internet access or a phone of her own, but the old iPod Touch is great for iTunes, email, weather forecasts, an alarm clock, Pandora, and iTunes. And that's about all she can do with it. Scott disabled or removed everything else. Because while eleven-year-olds may be trustworthy when it comes to design decisions, we know better than to trust her with a super-connected device of her own.

Besides her new desk, all of the furniture in her room was there before the re-do. I did take it all out (cube bookcase, bedside table, and bed) to repaint. I gave them all a light sanding, a coat of clear shellac wherever knots were bleeding through, and a fresh coat of paint with my sprayer. Are your kids super destructive to their furniture? Mine are! Brynn's furniture was in desperate need of a new coat of paint.

For Brynn's furniture and all of the basic white furniture in our house, as well as some of our built-ins, I use the (discontinued) Martha Stewart Glass of Milk white color matched in Sherwin-Williams ProClassic semi-gloss. The color is very similar to General Finishes Milk Paint Antique White. It's a great creamy white, not too yellow, not to dark. I always have a gallon on hand, so I didn't have to buy any paint for those touch-ups.

Since the only accessories we purchased were the small canvas word art plus fabric and ribbon for the message board, our cost in this category was only about $25.

All together, that brings our total cost to $307. Under budget by three dollars!

I'm proud of Brynn for making some great design decisions in her room and for sticking to her budget. When she looks through PBTeen, she kind of salivates a bit. To get the look she saw in a catalog like that without buying everything from the catalog took both maturity and vision. It was so fun to watch her wrestle with her ideas and then work with her as she made decisions.

Now...any guesses as to how soon we'll have to go through this process again? I'm crossing my fingers that we can make it to college. Wishful thinking, I'm sure.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

{Part 1} How to let go and let your pre-teen redecorate...and be happy with the results.

When our 11-year-old daughter, Brynn, made the jump from elementary school to middle school this summer, it seemed like she matured overnight. We were (and are still) a little overwhelmed by how responsible she suddenly is. Does she still make dumb choices? Of course. She's human. But she also empties the dishwasher at 6:45 every morning (without being asked). I want to complain because the noise from the dishes wakes me up, but I don't want to put away the dishes myself so I cover my ears and contemplate whether I should get up and help her. We've given her more freedom and trusted her to take more control over her life. And that included letting her choose how to redecorate her room.

It was tough. I'm not gonna lie. For a mom (and dad) who are a little bit control-freaky, it's hard to give up the reins to a kid. It's my house. I want it the way I want it. That's why I do everything myself.

But this isn't my space. It's hers. And I reserve the right to take it back, but if she can ride her bike to 7:15am swim practice every morning of the summer and get straight A's in school and spend six hours a week at dance and do dishes and take care of her pet mouse and clean out the cat's litter box twice a week? She can handle making some decorating decisions.

Based on our experience, here are our four tips for letting go and letting your pre-teen redecorate:
  1. Help your pre-teen find inspiration. If she's not already using Pinterest, set up a board on your account for her. You can check out Brynn's board here. The times that she's been allowed to access it have been few and far between but, even so, it's fun to see the progression in her inspiration, from what was clearly going to be a turquoise-based room to a navy-based room. Somehow, she also discovered the existence of Pottery Barn Teen. She talked me into signing up to get their catalogs. (We don't, as a general rule, receive catalogs. Patagonia, High Country Gardens, and Ikea are the exceptions.) Her one copy of PBTeen is dog-eared, water-stained and starting to fall apart. She let it be her main guide in finding inspiration.
  2. After your pre-teen has seen what things cost, let her set a budget. Brynn knew that she wanted the yellow and white chevron duvet from PBTeen and she knew that it was going to cost her about $75. (Sidenote: why are duvets so ridiculously expensive? It's two flat sheets sewn together!) Based on that, she thought she could get new sheets and some paint for another $75. To give herself some breathing room, she added an additional $5 and ended up with a budget of $155. Clearly, she forgot a few things. Her new desk, for one, which I'd already bought but still had to refinish. I suppose that was my contribution. Curtains, to name another. So I matched her budget and told her we'd aim for $310 total.
  3. Give your pre-teen a range of choices but not a blank slate. If you're a Love & Logic parent, this will be familiar to you. "Give your child lots of choices, all of which are fine with you." Remember that? Do you want to wear your jacket or carry it? Do you want an orange or a banana? Same goes here. Once I was on board with her decorating inspiration (which included white walls) I gave her 6 white paint swatches from which to make her choice. I didn't care which one she chose, but she had the power to make the final decision. For her desk, she got to choose between navy blue, yellow, and coral (the three colors she'd chosen to build her room around). I didn't care which one, but that's a pretty impactful decision for her to make. I chose the exact hue because the paint I used (General Finishes Milk Paint) comes in a limited range of colors. I did the online shopping for her sheets (she wanted navy sheets) and gave her a few choices. We talked about the thread count, the softness, how well they would wear, whether one had more organic cotton than another, and the price. She decided which sheets to buy. She is, after all, the one who will be sleeping in them.
  4. Involve your pre-teen in the actual work. This is where Scott came in. Repainting a room isn't difficult work, but it is time-consuming and tiring. It's not photoshop. In a world where things seem to just appear on a whim, we wanted to be sure that Brynn knew how much actual work was going on behind the scenes. Day one was clean-out day. She actually took every single non-furniture item out of her room. All of it. She moved most of it into the hallway but also took a bunch to the basement and set up camp down there. She sorted all of her stuff and got rid of about a third of what she had. Scott helped her move the furniture to the center of the room and cover it in drop cloths. Day two was clean and prime day. She and Scott dusted and cleaned her walls and chair rail and then they got to work priming the ceiling and walls. I'm not sure whether Scott knew how hard it would be to let an 11-year-old help him paint a room. I knew -- I let two 10-year-olds and two 8-year-olds paint the inside of the Bunk-alow last fall. Using paint brushes. There is some skill involved in painting a room and it takes time to develop. In Brynn's room, the lack of skill meant that the roller tray got stepped in a few times and paint was dripped on the floor several times. By day three, painting day, Scott actually got up early and tried to start before Brynn woke up. The reality was, priming exhausted her and she didn't have much enthusiasm for painting. She helped with the painting but not quite like she did with priming. Lessons learned (and that was our goal).
I'll be back later this week with more photos of Brynn's new room and a source list. Until then, I'd love to hear your thoughts on your kids' roles in planning their own rooms!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

How to paint your subfloor...a temporary solution for the real world.

We were on the way home from dropping off Callie at summer camp when I decided that THIS week would be a great time to give her the room re-do she's been asking for. It hasn't just been a few weeks of asking for a new room. It's been a few years.

"Mom, you said you'd move me into the office."

"Mom, you said you'd make me a new room with hardwood floors."

"Mom, you said we could paint my room pink."

"Mom, you said I could move into the office so I can have two windows this summer."

"Mom, Brynn got a new room when she was eight. I'm nine."

Even the subtlest nod is taken for agreement when you're a kid who wants something, am I right?

And so without prior planning, without a budget, and without giving myself enough time to second guess it, on that car ride home I realized that I had to do the room NOW.

We have a few animals in our house (two dogs, two cats, two guinea pigs, and a mouse) and we just finished fostering five puppies. All of the animals had taken a toll on the carpet in the room where we were moving Callie, not to mention the kids and their craft projects (glue, glitter, paint...all over the carpet). I knew that tearing out the carpet had to be part of this redo.

The two guinea pigs reside in Callie's room and (I'm not sure if you're familiar with this experience but maybe you can relate) every time I would walk into Callie's room I'd step on stray pine shavings that the pigs had flung out of their cage during one of their daily games of "tag," not to mention guinea pig poops that I'd have to fight the dogs for. Scott initially bought Callie her own shop vac to deal with the mess, but dragging out the shop vac every day was too much for her to deal with. In order to maintain my sanity (what little of it I have left) I had to make it easier for Callie to clean up after her pigs.

So the carpet came out.

I've single-handedly ripped out at least 2000 square feet of carpet from our house over the years. First the dining room, then the family room, the stairs, the basement, Brynn's room. We still have a little more left to go and while I dread ripping it out (sandy, dusty, dirty mess), I can't wait to get rid of it.

But one thing at a time, right?

As I ripped out the carpet I realized it wasn't in good enough shape to put up for free on Craigslist like I've done in the past. I hate putting carpet in the landfill, but this carpet was not going to be reusable (except maybe as a weed barrier, which I've actually heard of people using it for). So Scott bought a Bagster and we tossed the carpet and padding in there.

I pulled out the staples, removed the baseboards, vacuumed ten times, and then started pricing hardwood to match the rest of the hardwood in our house. With no big sales going on, no clearances or any other deals, it was going to cost me about $1000 to lay hardwood in her 10' x 12' room.


I don't have a cool grand sitting around to lay hardwood in Callie's room, especially not knowing that her pigs will be kicking pine shavings and poo onto it for the next 8 years. (How long do guinea pigs live?)

So it was time to get creative. I'm no stranger to painting sub-floors. I did it in our basement and knew I could do it again for Callie to hold her over until we're ready to lay hardwood upstairs. It's not a great permanent solution, but it is a fantastic (and cheap) temporary solution.

Based on my experience painting the basement floor, here's what I did in Callie's room. These are the steps I'd recommend if you get fed up with your carpet and need a temporary solution.
  1. Rip out the carpet and padding.
  2. Pull out every last staple (I love to use an upholstery staple remover like this one to take staples out of the floor).
  3. Pull off the baseboards (which we saved to repaint and reuse until we upgrade the floor).
  4. Vacuum. And then vacuum a few more times.
  5. Fill the biggest gouges/nail holes with wood filler (I swear by Timbermate -- it is by far the best filler I've used).
  6. Sand the dry wood filler.
  7. Prime the floor with Zinsser B-I-N Shellac-based primer (it seals out odors and bleeding better than Kilz). I used a regular wall roller to apply the primer. It took about a third to a half gallon to do one coat on Callie's 10' x 12' floor.
  8. Fill the rest of the holes. (I find that it is easier to see all of the imperfections in the floor after it's all primed. I filled most but not all of the cracks/holes/seams).
  9. Sand (by hand) with 220 paper. Yep, get down on your hands and knees with a sanding block and go to work. The primer will raise the grain a bit/make the floor feel a little rough and a very quick sanding makes a HUGE difference in the final floor texture.
  10. Spot prime any place that it's needed (i.e.: I spot primed all of the newly filled areas and there was a spot where someone barfed/pooed/had the runs/spilled something nasty that required a few more coats of primer).
  11. Paint. Apply using a foam roller for the smoothest texture. I only needed one coat of paint. You might need more. I used our white trim paint rather than a porch/floor specific paint because I had our trim paint on hand and didn't want to buy another gallon of paint just for this floor. When I did our basement floor I used a porch and floor paint. Meh. I wasn't really impressed.
  12. Vacuum.
  13. Faux finish/stencil/add a pattern to draw your eye away from any messes that might accumulate on the floor (or leave it solid -- it's up to you). I used a glaze that I tinted with some creamier white paint and a little bit of stain concentrate in order to get a tone-on-tone look. I rolled it on with a foam roller and then dragged my new faux bois (wood graining) tool through the wet glaze in order to get a wood grain look. There are ways to make the wood grain look more realistic on a floor (i.e.: taping off rectangles to look like wood planks) but I just wanted to give the floor a little bit of contrast to help hide messes and to enhance the natural wood grain texture of the plywood subfloor. Here is a great video so that you can see wood graining (faux bois) in action.
  14. Vacuum.
  15. Apply 2-5 coats of clear sealer, vacuuming in between each. I only did two coats because I was short on time. I used Vermont Natural Coatings PolyWhey floor finish in semi-gloss, applied with a foam roller. It took a little less than half a gallon to do two coats.

Callie's floor has been finished and in use for about a month now. She's tapped on it with her Irish hardshoes, but mostly she walks on it barefoot. It's been easy to keep clean with just a broom and a once-a-week vacuum, along with occasional spot cleaning.  The only downside I've noticed is that it is a bit louder in the room below the new floor (which happens to be our master bedroom). Brynn's room has hardwood and while I can hear her jumping around in her room when I'm below in the garage, Callie's finished subfloor definitely makes more noise than Brynn's hardwood. Do I care? Does it really make a difference? Not to me...but it is something to consider.

What do you think? Is painting a subfloor an in-between flooring solution you would consider?

Sunday, May 25, 2014

{business 101} Five months in

It's the end of May, prime season for lawn care companies, and we're five months into our small business adventure where we are running an organic lawn and yard care business called Whole Yards. Here in Colorado our lawns are finally turning green (if they're not greening up yet, they're not going to be green). I've been at this try-out-being-a-small-business-owner since January and I'm starting to get the hang of it. I'm figuring out what I like and also what I don't like about "controlling my own destiny" (to borrow an overused phrase from the NFL playoff commentators).

Here's what's going well:
  1. I love my customers. They are smart, savvy, kind, caring people. Probably because our lawn business is an organic lawn business, I have some customers who see the world the way I do. Most of them aren't overly concerned about a few weeds here and there. One of them is even happy to leave the dandelions on her lawn for the bees until some other flowers start blooming, so that the bees have a source of nectar in the early spring. These are the kind of people I like to be around and I'm happy to work for.
  2. I am doing something that makes a difference. I'm getting lawns off of conventional fertilizer, I'm educating people about how and why to make the switch to organic. I'm making the world a better, cleaner place. For me, that's almost as good as life gets.
  3. I'm gaining confidence in a random variety of areas. I now feel comfortable around small engines (like the kind that runs our spray pump). I also know how to manage my customers' information in my CRM software. I'm getting better at using spreadsheets (always a weakness of mine). I feel confident in my ability to diagnose most common lawn problems (it's all about the soil, friends). Also, I can figure out how to get in and out of most driveways without getting the truck stuck in reverse (which it is prone to). It's amazing what you learn when you are running every aspect of a business – any business, I'm sure.
Here's what I'm not thrilled about:
  1. In order to make money in this business, I need to triple the number of customers I currently have (or raise the prices so high that I'd be embarrassed to send out an invoice). If I triple my customers, I won't be able to spend as much time as I currently do with each customer and I won't be able to do the thorough job that I think my customers deserve. I'd hire someone to help but, as all business owners know, nobody is going to treat my customers and their lawns the way that I do. Plus there's that part about paying an employee... Some people have encouraged me to find a business partner. It's a great solution, but only if I really love what I'm doing, which brings me to number two.
  2. The amount of time I spend on the lawn business takes away from what I really love – writing and being creative. Working on this dresser a few weeks ago was such a liberating creative release at exactly the time that I needed it. I don't feel like myself without the opportunity to be creative and I'm really missing that.
  3. I'm beginning to think of summers as the only extended time that I'll be able to travel with my kids. They're getting older (Brynn is starting middle school in the fall) and they won't be able to miss school without consequences like they have in the past. Unfortunately, summer is also an important time to be around if you're running a lawn business. I can't be an absentee business owner. I'm too controlling and too much of a perfectionist, and not in ways that I think I need to change. Not in overbearing ways, but in ways that ensure that my customers get what they deserve.
That's where I am for now. Mixed feelings for sure, but learning a lot at the same time. And learning is always something I'm happy to do.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Rise-n-Shine Breakfast Bars

Gluten free. Vegan. No sugar added.

What more could you want? Oh, and also, you can make them without adding oil. And they're full of protein. And fiber.

And they're kid-approved. My kids eat them as a snack between school and dance or while we're skiing. Plus the recipe is super flexible, so you can substitute ingredients as needed.

Ok, now what more could you want?

Right. The recipe.


A few recipe notes:
  • This recipe is baked at low temperature on purpose. The goal is not so much to "bake" the bars as it is to semi-dehydrate them. 
  • When you are buying seeds for this recipe, choose raw and unsalted seeds. They're better for you and taste just fine here. I get mine in the bulk section at Whole Foods.
  • Does the pan really need to be lined with parchment? I don't know – I've never tried it without the liner, but I like lining the pan because then it's easy to get the whole slab of granola out at once. 
  • It's a great idea to let this recipe cool completely (or almost completely) before you cut it into bars. I usually let it cool for 15-20 minutes before I lift it out of the baking dish and onto a cooling rack. I've had best luck cutting the bars using a serrated knife. 
  • Once the bars are cut, they do fine sitting out overnight. I think it even helps them dehydrate and crisp up a tiny bit more (at least in my dry climate it does). Then I either wrap them individually or put them in a sealed container separated by layers of parchment. 
  • At my house these bars don't last longer than a week. I mean, they might taste fine after that, but I wouldn't know because we can't keep them around that long!

And some photos of the process:

Dates and chia soaking. Do this in your blender for one
fewer dirty dish.

Unbaked mixture ready to be pressed into the pan.

Pressing. Cover your mixture with plastic wrap and then press with a smaller
flat-bottomed baking dish.

Baked and cooling, waiting to be cut!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

{business 101} 940 Saturdays.

My elbows were sore. I felt like someone smacked them both with a hammer. It's because I'd been on my computer all day long. On a Saturday. When I'm working, my elbows sit on the desk. It's not ergonomically correct, I know. It hurt.

And it was a reminder of how I'd spent my time that day. Not with my kids, but instead fixing website details and figuring out pricing for our new organic lawn care business, Whole Yards.

I knew going into this learning-on-the-fly-adventure that I'd make sacrifices in order to run a business. I knew that this time of year would be busy, especially this first year. Late winter is when the lawn care industry ramps up for spring. Add to that the fact that I'm slow. I'm overly-detail oriented. I check and double check and triple check. Math takes me a long time. I like things to work properly, like Sir James Dyson.

But ten hours on a Saturday? In front of a computer?

If there's anything I learned from our Advent Adventure this winter, it's that I love setting aside structured time to spend with my kids and husband.

You know the famous Ferris Bueller quote, "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it."

That's not just for high-schoolers. That totally applies to raising kids. Maybe more to raising kids than to anything else.

I'm looking for balance. I'm ready to set some boundaries for myself. When my kids are around, I want to spend most of my time making eye contact with them. I want to know them deeply. I want to laugh with them and dance and hug and get into arguments about whose turn it is to clean out the cat's litter box and why there is trash all over the bathroom floor.

How does a person make that happen?  I'm not one for rules. I can't say, "No weekend work. Ever." Because there will be weekends. And there will be evenings.
But there shouldn't be hustle or ignoring each other or snapping at each other because we're tied up in work.

940 Saturdays from the time my kids are born until they're 18. I'm more than halfway done. I can make a business run 400 Saturdays from now. And maybe I can make it run now. I've got seven more months to figure that out. But my kids come first.

How do you balance your time? What's your strategy?

This post is part of a series called Business 101, where I share my experience taking over a business for 8 months while I figure out whether it's something I want to take on permanently.

Monday, January 27, 2014

{business 101} The beginning, fear of failure, and why passion is a good motivator.

Welcome to the Business 101 series at The Friendly Home! This is not where I teach you about business. Because I don't know anything. Yet. This is where I share my business journey with you. Maybe you teach me, maybe you learn something from me, or maybe we all just laugh and roll our eyes together.

You see, this is all new to me. I've never taken a business course, never read a book about business (until last week, that is), never tried to understand what makes small businesses work.

But as of Saturday, when we registered with the Colorado Secretary of State, we're officially running a business. (Re-reading that sentence makes me kind of want to slap myself.)

I've heard that running a small business comes with some struggles. Here's my first one, my first gripe: when you try to get an EIN (Employer Identification Number) on the IRS website at 10am on a Saturday morning, you'll end up on a "please come back during regular business hours" page.

Really? Isn't this what websites are for?

I'm sure that will be my first of many gripes.

Oh, wait, here's my second one. Small business owners work at 10am on Saturday mornings. And 10pm, too.

Okay, so that's something I already knew. And it was something that held us back a bit when deciding whether or not to take on this new challenge.

Here's how the whole thing went down. Our friend Andrew, who became our friend when we hired him to re-do our backyard, approached us in November about buying his organic lawn care business, Whole Yards. He is moving out of Colorado and had started this business just within the last couple of years. It's very small and he hadn't had time to grow it in the ways he'd planned, but it has a lot of potential and a decent foundation.

I was familiar with Whole Yards because after Andrew did our backyard, we hired him to take care of our lawn and plants last summer. Andrew knew that we were passionate about organic food and non-toxic living. Combined with the fact that I'd just spent two years staring a gigantic school and community garden, and believing that we are relatively tenacious, loyal, stick-to-it kind of people, he thought the business might be a good fit for us.

And if I step outside of myself for a second and try to see it from that perspective, it is a great fit for us. Or, at least for me. It's important to remember that Scott has a full time job working for a big company. So while I will always say "we" run a business, right now it's actually "me" running the business with Scott contributing when he can. Maybe someday it will really be the two of us working together. That's a possibility we tiptoe around a little. Like if we say it out loud too many times or think of it for more than a few seconds, we might jinx it. If we think about it, it becomes an actual goal. If we don't eventually achieve that goal, we'll have failed.


The possibility of failure is what really held me back from saying yes to this opportunity. It wasn't because our market is not very organics-friendly. It wasn't because for the first season I'll be driving a pickup truck with a tank full of compost tea on the back and I'll probably spend days smelling like seaweed. It wasn't because I have no background in lawn or landscape care. What held me back was the idea of failure.

I am afraid of failure. Always. I know it is ridiculous. I know we all fail. I know that failure is one way that we learn. But failure is uncomfortable and embarrassing. And failure as a small business owner is not like failing in your job at a big company. If Scott ever failed to do his job well (which he never does, by the way), his company probably wouldn't feel the effects. His company would adjust and other people would pick up the slack.

If I don't do my job well, it's over. I've failed. Our company has failed.

When I was giving birth to my two girls, the process of labor felt like a long, hard swim practice. I loved it. While I was growing up, I spent enough time on swim team to know how to get through a grueling workout. I know how to put my head down, ignore the pain, and keep counting laps or singing in my head until I get to the end. When I'd get out of the pool and head to class or go home, I'd feel exhausted but triumphant. Like I accomplished something great that day.

This is the lens through which I'm learning to understand what it will take to run a small business. I know how to live in discomfort, but it's been a long time since I chose to do so. It's been a long time since I challenged myself like this, since I purposely put myself in a difficult situation, one where I knew I would feel exhausted and frustrated and scared, but one where I might learn something about myself and about the world. About where I fit into the world and the role I play.

What makes me most scared about this particular business is that I think it is important work. I think that converting people's yards from toxic to healthy is important for us and for our kids. I think that if we don't do it, our kids will continue to grow up sick and our waterways will continue to be polluted. The immediacy and urgency of this task takes the business up a notch for me. Now it's not just, "I'm scared to fail because I'll look silly." It's, "I'm scared to fail because my community needs this change."

And that – the passion that Scott and I feel about this topic – will probably be what keeps us going.

If you're still with me, it's probably because you're looking for some nuts and bolts. Here's what this is going to look like:
  • I will try to continue blogging about home stuff, carpentry, etc. I don't think I'll have a lot of time, though, and so the hobby of blogging about home stuff will move down my priority list while I learn to run the business.
  • We don't officially own the business yet. Andrew was kind enough to give us a trial period. So, while we have transferred the business into our names and we are using all of Andrew's equipment, paying the business expenses, and keeping the profits this season, we have until September to decide whether we want to buy the business. It's nice to work with someone who trusts you and believes in you the way that Andrew trusts and believes in us. It's also nice to have a way out in case we discover that being small business owners is really not for us.
  • The lawn and yard care season in Colorado Springs goes from May or June through September or October, depending on the weather. Until the season ramps up, I'll be spending my time learning more about organic lawn care (here's the manual I'll be using), participating in webinars with BeeSafe Lawn Care, learning how to market a small business, updating our website, setting up systems for tracking customers, talking to past and potential customers on the phone, and visiting potential customers' homes to chat about organic lawn and yard care.
What about you? Are you a small-business owner? Do you have any resources I need to check out? Does failure freak you out as much as it does me?