Thursday, February 27, 2014

Oliver's Treasure Chest

After my dad did laundry, Oliver spotted a few dollar coins that had fallen out of a pocket. He wanted to know what they were. My dad told him he could have them, and they could be like treasure. Oliver was so excited to have this coins. So, I decided he needed a treasure chest to put them in!

I used an empty dryer sheet box and wrapped it in brown paper.

I wrapped the box like a present, except I cut around the lid opening before wrapping so the lid would open & close.

Ta da! There's Oliver's treasure. He also added a quarter to it later, so he has "silver" and "gold!"

Here's a little clip of him enjoying the treasure chest:

He also likes it when I hide the treasure chest. He counts to 15 and then goes and finds it!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Crochet Throw Pillow

I've been excited to start personalizing our new house, even though we haven't even closed on it yet! I like natural colors, especially greens, so I want to add green accessories to our future living room. I decided to make a throw pillow, and I wanted something with a simple chevron stitch, which is the popular zig-zag pattern for many afghans. I couldn't find a pattern that seemed just right, so I based mine off of this cute (and free) "bacon and eggs" crochet pillow pattern on Moogly. Instead of doing random-sized stripes, I made each stripe two rows wide and then switched colors by bringing my yarn up the side. I chose Vanna's Choice yarn in colors dusty green and linen. I needed two balls of each.

The pattern calls for you to chain 82 stitches with an H hook for a 16" wide pillow. Mine was 14" wide, so I chained 76. It worked perfectly. I followed the pattern, alternating stripes every 2 rows, until I got close to enough length of my 14" tall pillow (the pattern works for any height. Theirs was 12" tall).

I folded the bottom of the pillow up about 6". I kept the right sides together because I didn't want the seam on the outside of my pillow. If you want the seems on the outside of your pillow (like the "bacon and eggs" pillow), then put the wrong-sides together and have the right-sides facing you. I don't like hand sewing very much, so I just did a single crochet stitch up both sides of the pillow for about 6 inches, like this:

Then, I flipped it right-sides out, so the edging was on the inside, almost invisible. If you want the edging visible, then don't flip it. As you can see, I tried to keep the stripes together, so a green stripe on one side matched with a green stripe on the other.

Here's what might looks like at this step without the pillow form in it:

From there, I folded over the top to see how much more length I needed for my pillow. As you can see, you just keep going until it's the right size. That's why this pattern works for any height.

Once my throw pillow cover was long enough, I stitched together the two sides for the top part of the pillow, exactly like I did the bottom two sides. I did a single crochet up the sides, right-sides together, and then flipped it right-sides out so the seam was on the inside (just as before). I hand-stitched the two halves together in a few places in the front and added some buttons.

Here's a picture of what it looks like in the back.

I'm happy! Now I want to make a floormat using these same colors!

Monday, February 24, 2014

We're Moving! Iowa.

We're packing our things and moving to Iowa!

If you are like most of our friends and family, you're squinting your eyes at the screen and thinking, "What?! Iowa? Why Iowa? What's in Iowa? Corn?"

We have had this conversation countless times over the past year. Let me tell you, this isn't just on a whim. This is a thoroughly researched and calculated decision that Andrew and I have worked on for years now. All of our research and work has led us to the next chapter of our family's life... in Des Moines, Iowa.

If you've never spent time in Iowa, you probably are picturing silos and corn. Lots of corn.

In reality, there are a lot of amazing things about Iowa and, specifically, Des Moines. For example, did you know Des Moines, Iowa is the wealthiest metropolitan area in the entire country? It's true. When you compare cost of living to the average salary in cities across the United States, Des Moines is numero uno. This has played out true for us. For tens of thousands of dollars less that what we paid for our town home, we can get a single family home in Des Moines. Yet, Andrew's position in tech support actually pays more in Iowa. Make more, spend less!

Of course, Des Moines isn't the only city with lower cost of living, and that was one of the main factors we took into account when making our decision to move. We actually created a list of about 30 cities with lower cost of living in places we would be open to moving to. The cities we included were in states like North Carolina, Texas, Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. We based our information off of a cost of living index. If you've never used a cost of living index before, 100 is the national average. If a city's score is over 100, then it's over the national average. If it's under 100, then it costs less than the national average. You can find a city's score based on housing costs, health care costs, food costs, and more.

After creating our list of affordable cities, we started to look into other information that mattered to us. Colorado, as you might imagine, has some of the highest rates of drug use in the country. Even when marijuana is not included in the statistic, drug use rates in Colorado are near the top. If it was just Andrew and me, that wouldn't matter. The prevailing attitude in Colorado is that the government should have a small role to play and not police what people do to their bodies. Well, I suppose that's fine & dandy for some, but the lax drug laws and attitude are not the environment we want our kids raised in. Sure, there are drugs everywhere. We get that. Yet, there's a difference between a place where only 3% of the people use drugs regularly and a place where over 15% of people do. And guess what? Iowa is tied for the lowest rates of drug use in the entire country.

So, we started to think about Iowa fairly seriously. Des Moines is the wealthiest city in the country (income vs cost of living), and Iowa has the lowest rates of drug use. We had pages and pages of data we sorted through. We looked at firearms death rates. I know many people don't share the same attitude as me in regards to guns. I don't like them. I grew up in Chicago and never even had to see a gun until I moved to Colorado. Here, people we know keep an arsenal of weapons in their homes. Friends have conceal carry permits and weapons, and some sleep with loaded guns under their pillows. I'm afraid of what it will be like as our kids get older and start going to homes like those. We researched the firearms death rate in each state. You can see a list of death rates per 100,000 people at this link. The national average is 10.1 firearms deaths per 100,000 people. Colorado is over the national average (11.5). So is Texas (11.1) and North Carolina (11.7). States we had on our list with lower firearms deaths were Iowa (6.3), Nebraska (7.3), Minnesota (6.2), and Wisconsin (7.9). Iowa was looking pretty good, once again.

I actually started to rank each city on our list according to each criteria. Over and over again, Iowa had the best or close to the best numbers of the criteria that mattered to us. It wasn't even close. Des Moines, Iowa outranked every other city on our list.

People from Iowa have a lot of pride in their state. When we started to be more open about the possible decision to move to Iowa, we had two basic reactions from the people we told. People who never spent time in Iowa thought we were crazy. However, people who live in Iowa had nothing but glowing reviews. I have an aunt and uncle who have lived in the same house in western Iowa for decades. I told them we were starting to seriously think about moving to Iowa. My uncle told me there are a lot of jobs available in Des Moines. It's the number one insurance city in the country (third in the world). He also told me the tech industry is booming there, and everyone is in need of people trained in the IT field. In fact, billions of dollars are currently being invested in Iowa from companies like Facebook and Google. My uncle added, "And did you know that Des Moines was chosen by Forbes Magazine as the best city to raise children?"

I researched it, and it's true. In 2010, Forbes Magazine created a top 10 list of cities to raise a family. Starting from number 10, the list is: Buffalo, NY; Albany, NY; Knoxville, TN; Pittsburgh, PA; Ogden, UT; Provo, UT; Syracuse, NY; Rochester, NY; Harrisburg, PA; and Des Moines, IA as number one.

We visit Des Moines every so often because my brother lives in Des Moines. My sister lives in Nebraska, so we often just meet there instead of driving the extra few hours to Iowa. Still, we love visiting Des Moines. Yes, Iowa is known for farming, but that's because they have fertile land. Now imagine what that means for neighborhoods. Everything is so green and lush. My brother almost never waters his lawn. There's thick, moist grass that you can walk on barefoot. The trees are dense, and ivy grows over everything. The nights have the sound of my childhood: crickets and frogs. Everything is so alive! When we were there last time, we went to the large farmer's market the city hosts every Saturday morning the late spring, summer, and early fall. The Huffington Post has a list of nine can't-miss farmer's markets, and the Des Moines Farmer's Market is on the list. We also went to the Des Moines Arts Festival, which is consistently ranked in the top 10 art festivals in the country. Basically, the city hosts events and festivals that are worth seeing! Iowa is far from being a hick state. Remember that they were the fourth state to allow gay marriage, and they are very active politically (Iowa is a swing state, and they are usually the first state to vote in a caucus to determine Presidential candidates). When we were last there, Andrew and I sat out on the patio together. We listened to the nighttime and watched the lightning bugs. He said, "Becky, I could definitely move here."

Months and months later, we were still nailing down our decision. We are planners and wanted to cover every angle. We were still considering other cities, even Green Bay, Wisconsin! In the end, Andrew said he wanted to be a 1 day's drive from Denver so we can easily go back to visit friends and family. I agreed. It really helped make our final decision: We were going to move to Des Moines, Iowa!

We've been pretty hush-hush about our decision and progress made toward the move. We spoke to my brother first--about a year ago now--to make sure it would be OK with him. A few months later, there was a housing boom in Colorado. We decided to take advantage of the seller's market to sell our town home, and, so, we broke the news to the rest of our friends and family. We weren't yet ready to make the move, but we thought it was best to sell our house when the timing was good. That's why we've been staying with family for the last few months! Now, Andrew has a really great job offer, and we've worked at getting a single family house lined up. We should be settled in before too long!

We expect many aspects of the move to be difficult. We will have to make new friends, get used to new routines, and not have our parents nearby. That will be hard, but we hope to be happy with our decision in time. We're very excited about the increase in quality of life--being able to afford and live in a single family home, being able to walk to school & businesses, and enjoying a short commute to work. Wish us luck on this next big adventure!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Oma, my great-grandma, had a chair that she got shortly after immigrating to America. My mom said she had it for as long as she can remember. It was reupholstered sometime in the 60s. After that, my Grandma Jo used the chair in her room and reupholstered it pink. Now, the chair is being passed to me. By "passed" to me, I mean my mom and her siblings all chose the items they wanted from my Grandma's condo, and this was left behind. It was going to be donated, but I asked to keep it. I recently got some new curtains from IKEA for $3 that I'm shortening, so I used the extra fabric to reupholster the chair again.

I flipped the chair upside-down and loosened the screws. Oliver was able to finish unscrewing it himself! I stretched the new fabric over the top and used a staple gun to secure it on the underside. The project was really easy, minus the fact that I was a little afraid of the staple gun. After that, I got Oliver to help me screw the seat back onto the chair. I think the finished product is pretty cute!

You can see the layers of fabric here. I'm not sure what the original fabric was.

Here's Oliver, working hard!

And here is our new chair!

Here's a video of Oliver working so hard to screw the seat back onto the chair. It was easier taking it off!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Preschool Activity: Learning to Sew Mittens

My cousin has a son who is about the same age as Oliver. He was born two months earlier, but they are separated by a grade in school due to the cut-off. She posted about an activity he did recently to learn how to sew. I decided to test it out with Oliver!

For this activity, you need paper, scissors, a hole punch, yarn, and a yarn needle. You can also get out stickers & crayons to decorate the finished product.

I cut out the outline of a mitten on two sheets of paper. Then, I used a hole punch and punched holes along the edges of the mitten for Oliver to sew along. I started the first stitch so I could knot it myself. Then, I taught him to sew by going over and under with his needle. He picked it up quickly!

The mitten wasn't big enough for his hand, so we put it on his stuffed animals. He was very proud of himself.

Here's the finished product, decorated with Minnie Mouse stickers:

I also have a video of Oliver sewing. He's very chatty these days.