Saturday, March 18, 2017

House Tour + Prepping for our Foster Care Homestudy

Can you believe it's been a year and a half since I posted our last house tour video? Can you believe we've made nearly zero changes to our home in that year and a half? Well...believe it, because those are both facts. I wanted to do an updated tour so I watched the last video just to see what changes I should highlight...and...well...there wasn't much. (Fun fact...I actually accidentally wore the same shirt today that I wore in the last video, so literally nothing changes around here. Not even my clothes.)
It's astounding how long half-done projects can sit around, how many things stay on the to-do list untouched, and how much all of that fades to the background with all the happenings of regular life. So if this was purely a decor showcase, you'd all be rightfully underwhelmed.  But, today's tour serves another purpose- we were prepping for our final foster care home study. The home study was actually three in person visits where they interviewed Dustin and I (separately and together) as well as Piper. (Full story on that someday, because it was as hilarious as you would think an interview with a five year old would be). This last installment included a full tour of our house, with the assessor checking to make sure we had everything in order (so many little requirements and checklists) had everything filled out (more forms...always more forms), and were meeting all the safety standards (locks, locks, locks on everything).

So since our house was actually clean, and semi-put together I thought I'd take a quick spin through to document the progress/chaos (the assessment thankfully does not record if there are dot stampers all over the place, or if a certain three year old is in the background crying about receiving the wrong color tie-dye fruit roll up, whhhhhhyyyyyyyy?! Those are bonuses for your viewing pleasure.) 

And because I'm obviously totally on top of my scheduling game, the assessor actually showed up right at 10, rather than 10:30 like I was expecting, so the downstairs was filmed pre-study, and the upstairs was post-study. Spoiler alert: we passed (I'm not even sure it's called that...but we met all the requirements, which feels like a big fat A+ to me!) So now she'll write up our full report, turn in 87 more documents we prepped (exaggerating? maybe by 1 or 2) and the agency will send it all off to the county (or state? government of some kind) for final approval, and we'll officially be licensed.

So now on with the show:

House tour/prepping for our foster care home study from Courtney Bowden on Vimeo.

I'm planning a follow up post with more details on the foster care side of things, as well as some more shots of the changes we've made to the girls' room. So check back in if you're curious about all that. I'm starting to get my blogger groove back (I think...maybe...until I don't...)

P.S. You can see all of our house updates on our "home page", view #houseofbowden pics on IG, or check out the homestead archives. 
And foster care updates are on IG as well: #thebowdensfoster (though those may be few and far between as we continue to take our time and pray about how/when to move forward). 
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Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Year of the Bird

Today is my birthday. Which of course, means I'm pondering the meaning of life, and other gigantic questions like when the heck did I get so OLD? And uncool?
At this stage of my life, I don't even pretend to be cool. I (still) barely how to use Snapchat, I won't rock highwaisted pants with a crop top, and...well, I don't really even know about enough cool things to make a compelling list of the things I don't do. But- I do occasionally hear slang from the whippersnappers (aka: my teenage nieces, and a few adorably young-professional friends) and have picked up a couple things here and there. 

So, have you heard of a Jordan Year

I'll save you the trip to Urban Dictionary and explain: 
The 23rd and best year of your life. Named in reference to Michael Jordan, superhero basketball player, whose jersey number is 23.

Well...clearly that ship has sailed for me. Womp, womp. Guess it's all downhill from here. Actually...guess it was all downhill from 10 years ago? Even wompier womp. It's a shame no one told me that I peaked (or maybe, was supposed to have peaked). If I had known at the time that I was having a Jordan Year...I could have, I don't know, made it a Jordan Year. Just dominating life all over the place, making a name for myself, solidifying a legacy.

(for what it's worth, 23 actually wasn't bad...during my Jordan Year, I completed my thesis in fashion design, graduated summa cum laude, got several job offers, accepted a position in a brand new field, moved to a new city, upgraded to a two bedroom apartment, made some new best friends, celebrated my second wedding anniversary, won my Fantasy Football League, and started this blog. So, yeah, as the kids say: NBD.) 

So maybe I had a Jordan Year after all, without knowing it? But rather than basking in former glory (fear not- there is sooooo much sarcasm to be read there), or wallowing in dreams never realized, it got me thinking about my birthday number this year: 33.

And immediately I thought of an iconic basketball player who donned that number: Number 33, Larry Bird.

As a kid growing up in the 80's/90's I watched a good bit of NBA (thanks, Daddy!), and even played my fair share of Jordan vs. Bird on my SEGA, so Bird is a pretty familiar figure for me. And while he may not get quite the attention given to Air Jordan, he's still a legacy in his own right. (I mean...he did guest star in Space Jam!)

So if my Jordan year has come and gone, taking with it the opportunity to be the best ever, what is it 33 going to be about? Well...maybe it can be my Bird Year.

Because here's the deal...there might be some debate around who's the best to ever play the game, but there is no disputing that Larry Bird was incredible (and could rock short-shorts and tall-socks like nobody's business). But here's the thing I didn't know: Bird is the only man to be named an MVP, Coach of the Year, and Executive of the Year in the NBA.

 That's a pretty sweet trifecta...

And that got me encouraged. Because let's be real. I'm no Michael Jordan. I so, so, so many obvious ways...but really, I'm not the absolute best at much. Or...anything. Don't get me wrong; I'm good at a lot of things. I'm even great at some things. But I'm not the tip-top, mic-drop BEST. EVER.

So a Jordan Year, while a fun idea, seems preeeeeetty much impossible.
But a Bird Year? Being really, really great, at a whole bunch of things? Being individually awesome, but also known for leading others? Being so solid in so many ways that the sum is even bigger than its parts? That feels like something worth chasing.

I'm not going to be the best mom this year. (Or ever. Even if that was a real thing). And I'm not going to be the best client service associate (and if I was, I'd want a snappier title for my trophy). Or wife. Or friend. get it. Nothing. But I can be a pretty dang good one of each. Like, the absolute best I can be at each of them. And then when it all adds up, I could be the only person to be named the top of my game in that specific combo of things...

I could be the only person to ever earn the title of Piper's Best Story Reader, Blondest Worship Singer at North Church, and Funniest Bachelor Commentator on Our Couch.

Or maybe: Miller's Favorite Snuggler, Most Committed to Finishing a Quilt in Under Three Years, and Best Grapefruit Cocktail Mixologist in the 'Burbs.

Ok...maybe my categories need some work. And yes, I realize that Bird didn't need silly qualifiers with all of his titles. He was actually certifiably wonderful at quite a few things. But you know what? So am I. And I've got all year to keep dreaming, keep doing, keep being awesome things.

Yep. I'm pretty sure Bird gonna be an All-Star year.

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Monday, January 16, 2017

Operation: Corral the Chaos

One of my unofficial resolutions for this year (and every year, really) is: Get Rid of All of Our Junk or at Least Organize it, But Actually, Yes, We Should Probably Just Get Rid of All of It

Sound familiar? Yes...for me a need/desire to clear out the clutter has been pretty much constant since...well, probably forever. I'm repeatedly astounded by the amount of stuff we've amassed, and constantly overwhelmed by the need for a better organizational system. And though the abundance of things isn't new news around here, surely the issues have multiplied since we added three children to the mix (no, they actually have nothing to do with most of my pack-rat ways, but they sure do have hoards of their own, so I feel entitled to shift at least some of the blame on them,)

We've gone through all kinds of mini-cleanups over the years, Kon-Mari'ing a closet here and there, purging a pantry or clearing out the garage...But the battle I'm currently losing? Toys. OH the toys. They're everything, and everywhere. Under beds, under furniture, underfoot...

Unfortunately, I didn't take any official "before" shots, but I trust you can imagine what it looks like to have stuff pretty much in shambles. Just in case you need a reference though, here are some throwback pics of some babies that might have grown up way too fast (oh...with some toy nonsense in the background): 

(This gratuitous baby shot illustrates except for how dang cute he was...)

Ok, you get it. We had a bins of toys overflowing with big items shoved behind them, strollers "parked" willy-nilly, and a bin of balls housed in the living room because we'd run out of floor space in the playroom perimeter. Not shown, are my children's beds, which each held approximately 26.4 stuffed animals a piece,

We needed a solution.

The good news is, I had an idea. The space between the wall and the cabinets in our playroom was perfect for our two bins of toys, but we were wasting precious vertical real estate. I thought if we could do some sort of hanging storage, we could take advantage of that space, and free up more room below to shuffle the toys around a bit into a system that made a bit more sense, and allowed a bit more wiggle room in the actual room.

I scoured Pinterest, sure that they'd have the answer, but didn't find anything that matched my vision. I wanted a hammock, but not the traditional triangle net type that I kept finding. I needed something a bit more custom to fit the exact spot we were working with. In my head, I imagined a simple system with rods and fabric, to form a sling. I figured some tension rods and a piece of fabric would do the trick, so after a quick pillowcase prototype assured me this idea was just simple enough to work, I whipped up the read deal. And low and behold, it worked...So now I pass on to you my latest organizational pride and craft joy- a DIY toy hammock:

Genius, yes? 
Ok..if not genius at least satisfyingly effective, right?

Because we had already cleared out as many stuffed "friends" as possible, this holds the core group of BFF's that our kids just couldn't bear to part with. We still have spots in beds reserved for the very special lovies, but this is a spot for the rest of the menagerie. And with them out of the way (but low enough that the girls can still reach them to play, and maybe even put them away!) we had room in the bins below to devote to dolls and balls (and whatever else these kids choose to amass).

And the best part is that the how-to couldn't be easier.
It just requires two tension rods, and one piece of fabric. The size of your fabric will depend on your space, but from side to side, it should be about 1" longer than the width of your space (to allow for hemming on both sides). The depth will vary too, based on where you're placing it, but with our 15" deep bookshelf, 19" of fabric worked well to allow enough swag to form a "pocket" for the animals without being so deep that little guys got lost. Whatever your "depth" is, double that, so you can make it one continuous loop. (so my piece was 39" total- 19"x 2 with an extra inch for seam allowance).

Once you have your piece cut, fold it in half lengthwise, and sew together to form the loop. Then make a 1/2" hem on each end to finish it off. Slide the tension rods in, and fit them to your space, adjusting the placement as needed. Done!

You do need to make sure the tension rods are tight, so the weight from the toys doesn't cause them to slip (this is part of the reason we chose to store stuffed animals here vs. dolls or something heavier). If you wanted to, you could use regular dowel rods with cup-hook brackets on each end, but I liked that this was a flexible solution. We can keep it as long as it works, and adjust it if needed. We could also add one on the other side of the cabinet (and park strollers underneath), or even do another level above this one (for toys they don't need to access constantly, but still can't live without? For top-tier stuffies?)

I don't know that Shark Tank is going to be breaking down my door wanting to finance my display of ingenuity, but I was pumped that a half hour of work and about eight dollars in supplies (the quilt fabric stash keeps on giving!) lead to something that so dramatically improves the function of this space.

And one project tackled means we're one step closer to total organization domination. Or at least one step further from being buried alive by our own possessions. I call that a win. Now...on to the basement. See you all in 3 years...

P.s. Let me know if you attempt a version of your own. While I still work to get our place in order, I'd love to live vicariously through the clean spaces of others!

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Thursday, January 5, 2017

Little Pip-Speaks: Volume 27

Been collecting some quips since the last installment...Recording their sayings this way will never do them justice (the inflection...the hand jestures...the adorable little impediments...!) but I just get such a kick out of these two wackos. And it's good to remind myself how cute they can be, after wanting to throttle both of them at bedtime most days. (Christmas break- best of times, and longest of times, amiright?) On with the show.....

Pip-speak #1:
Piper {with a stuffed animal under her shirt}: The hospital doctor just called me and said that my baby should fall out at any minute. We gotta go!

Pip-speak #2:
Piper: Peyton's birthday was on Christmas but I don't know what day. Like was it the one-th, the two-th, or on the actual day...? 

Pip-speak #3:
Piper {sternly, to a stuffed animal}: Come here. We have to have a nose-to-nose.. 
(after some appears to be similar to a face-to-face, and heart-to-heart)

Pip-speak #4:
Daddy: The neighbors got a puppy for Christmas!
Piper: They did? For Christmas? {confused} their stocking or...? 

Pip-speak #5:
Piper {complaining about getting sick}: And now my arm hurts....From catching my sneezes. 

Pip-speak #6:
Mama {driving to Christmas Eve church}: Ugh! I forgot Miller's bow tie. 
Piper: Well, that's ok. You don't want Miller to be handsomer than the other babies.

Pip-speak #7:
Piper {coming home from preschool with gifts in mid-December}: I can't wait to give Daddy his present. 
Mama: Well, I bet he's going to want to open it on Christmas.
Piper {eyeroll}: Oh you parents

Pip-speak #8:
Piper {during a drive around to see Christmas lights}: When it is very fancy of lights we call it a gingerbread house because it looks like candy. 

Pip-speak #9:
Piper {watching me clean up their accessory drawer}: Mama, we can get rid of the baby bows. 
Mama: How come? 
Piper: Because you're not going to have any more babies. 
Mama: How do you know? 
Piper: Because God came and sent me a message while you were looking for Fin's chapstick. 
Mama: Oh really... 
Piper: Yeah. He and Santa came. It was a very important meeting. 

Pip-speak #10:
Piper: I want mommy to sew a shirt for bla bla (her stuffed sheep) because he's always naked. 
Daddy: How do you know she can do that? 
Piper: Because mama is the best sewer. 
Piper: I mean, she sewed us those quilts, and those were not easy. 

Pip-speak #11:
Piper {to Fin}: Who was born as a baby first? Me. So I get to pick first. Then you comed, so you get to pick next. Then Miller will just get whatever's left. 

Pip-speak #12:
Piper {explaining why she got in trouble earlier for lying}: That day I was cranky and really upset with myself so I said things that really, really, really weren't true. 

Pip-speak #13:
Piper {bringing me a pair of sunglasses}: Mama can we tape these on bear? Because he looks super groovy.

Pip-speak #14:
Piper {seeing a box of Lucky Charms cereal at the grocery store}: Mama, when it's the green day...that leprechaun day...can we please get these?

Pip-speak #15:
{playing the animal guessing game}
Daddy: *makes a sqwuaking noise* 
Piper: Parrot! 
Mama: How did you get that? 
Piper: Oh. I just know my birds. Really well. 

Finnish #1:
{playing the animal guessing game, again.}
Fin: It's purple and pink. 
Mama {stumped}: Ummmm... Is it a unicorn? 
Fin: No.
Mama: Ok...Is it a pegasus? 
Fin: No. 
Mama {being ridiculous}: Is it a....magic bear? 
Fin {matter of factly}: Yes.

Finnish #2:
Fin: I can't zip this. 
Daddy: Do you need a hand? 
Fin: I have two hands.

Finnish #3:
Fin: Mouses does like cheese. But sometimes they eat chocolate chip cookies. 

Finnish #4:
Daddy: You know, someday you'll be too big for me to pick you up. 
Fin: I know. Because I'm going to be Super Man.

Finnish #5:
Fin {feeding snacks to Miller}: He just ate it right out of my hand. 
Mama: Like a little...what kind of animal does that? 
Fin: I think a skunk.

Dynamic Duo:
{watching the Thanksgiving Day parade}
Piper {sees Kermit the frog}: Hey! look at that green guy! 
Fin: Yeah we have him! 
Piper: Yeah! It's hermit the crab! 
{watching more of the parade}
Mama {sees Snoopy}: Look who's leading the parade! 
Fin: Yeah! He's part of snoopydoo! 
{making their own parade, throwing toys around like pretend candy} 
Mama: There are some weird things in this parade... 
Piper: Mama, anything can happen in a parade! 

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Sunday, January 1, 2017

One Second, One Year

I did it! I made it to the end of my 1 Second Every Day project. For one whole year, I faithfully took video, after video, after video...Did I mention it was FOR ONE WHOLE YEAR!?
I'm not sure I've ever managed to keep up with a goal for this long (no matter how good my intentions were, or how fun the goal was) so I'm super proud to have stuck with it.

A year ago I had just heard of the 1SE app, and thought it would be a fun documentary-adventure to try.

I wasn't sure how long I would do it, but I quickly became addicted, to the process and the results. Recording little snippets became part of my daily habit, and though my phone storage is paying the price, I'm pumped to have so many little memories captured over the last year. And uploading each mini-movie into the app each month (or so) was a fun way to soak in all the awesome-ness that was happening around us- just enough distance from it to have perspective, but still in the moment enough to soak it up.

And now, 365 days later (+1 for leap year) I have a finished second from every day in 2016. It's a super-fast, chaotic little montage, which feels about right for our super-fast, chaotic little life. 

The Bowdens 1 Second Every Day: 2016 from Courtney Bowden on Vimeo.

A friend asked me yesterday if I was going to do 1SE again this year...And honestly I hadn't even thought about it. I guess it's become such a constant part of our lives, that I didn't even think about it as a decision. My documentarian streak has taken different turns with varying levels of success over the years (scrapbooking, blogging, photo-a-day-ing), but this format has been such a fun challenge, and in the end, and incredible blessing. I'm already scheming new ways I can use it this year (like our day in the life, and vacation video), and trying to get more friends on the bandwagon so I can watch yours too! (if you have ideas, or give it a try yourself, let me know!)

So, farewell, 2016. I didn't love all 31.5 million+ seconds...but there were more than a few moments of pure perfection in there. Looking forward to all the sweetness 2017 has to second at a time.
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Sunday, December 25, 2016

Merry Christmas!

I wish I could have sent a real life card to all of you real life people in real life (not because we're that cute...but because I LOVE receiving Christmas cards, so I try to pay into the system, playing on the guilt trap of reciprocation.) But...these things ain't cheap (and I am) so to save on postage/printing/the opportunity costs involved with address collecting, I'll share the virtual version of the Bowden 2016 Card with you all.

I didn't write anything this year...somehow summing up our year a single text box seemed impossible. (to quote "our song" there was quite literally: "no combination of words I could put on the back of a postcard" that would do this year justice.) Instead, I went with an adorable shot of our adorable three, and figured people probably got enough of my sappy ramblings in some form or another over the last twelve months. (Don't tell me...)

But if I had found the words to share...they would have included THANKS and LOVE about a million times, because this life is wild and hard but it is OH SO VERY GOOD, and these little people, and our entire supportive, patient, hilarious tribe of extended friends and family (and "framily") is a huge part of why. In fact..maybe next year I'll just send out 200 postcards of me ugly crying, because it's all too good to handle sometimes. (Ok...I promise I won't. But when you see our smiling mugs in your mailbox, you'll know what's in my heart). 

MERRY CHRISTMAS, Internet. You are real, and you are lovely.

P.S. A couple cards from Christmases of yore: 2015, 2013.

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Friday, December 9, 2016

A Christmas (tree) Story

Over the years, our Christmas traditions have been a little spotty. Sometimes we go all out, sometimes we're low key. In theory, I love being that family who always does ______. But the reality is when the Holiday season rolls around, I'm much happier to roll with the needs and moods of our crew in that particular year.

So while I grew up always visiting a tree farm to chop down our own (gigantic) Christmas tree, it hasn't been a tradition that I've been consistent with as an adult. Since Dustin and I have been married, we certainly haven't always cut our own (actually...almost never)...and sometimes we didn't even have a tree! There were years when I was too overwhelmed by all the holiday decorating I had already done at work (#retailproblems), or years when I was too overwhelmed by the newborn we had just welcomed. In those times, getting a tree just wasn't a priority. Or if it was, we kept the focus on the end result of just managing to purchase a tree, rather than worrying too much about when/how/where we got it.

It honestly all blurs together now, so for fun, I took a look back at pics from our tree "excursions" over the years:

2005-2007: Not pictured. Basically it was like the dark ages of cameras, so I tragically have approximately 0 photos from the early days of our marriage. We might have had a tree or two. We might not. Who can say? But fear not, in terms of pictures at least, I'm making up for lost time.

This year actually started one of our more successful traditions called- go to Lowe's and grab a tree as fast as possible, because it's miserably cold, and fine you can take one picture, but get a move on because some of our patience is wearing thin. Ho, ho, humbug.
2009-2010: The dark years (also known as: the midst of my retail career. In terms of festive decorating, these two periods are deeply intertwined).

2011: Skipped it. Having a baby brought enough sap that year.

2012: Back in! We visited a cute little nursery with pre-cut trees (and enough gingerbread cookies to keep Piper happy all afternoon). I was 3 months pregnant with Fin at the time, so a little festive + a lot easy was perrrrrfect.

2013: Welcome back, Lowe's! We also fondly remember this year as the time the tree fell off of our car onto the highway, someone hit it, and the girls and I had to come home empty handed while Dustin went to get a replacement. (Fin slept through the tree selection, but woke up and made sure her voice was heard regarding the length of the drive home. Hint: did not love it).

2014: For our first year in Ohio, decided a Christmas tree lot (at a local church) would be about all our little ones could handle. We were pretty much right:

Though we did tag along with my family the next week as they cut their trees down. Turns out the whole thing is pretty fun if you don't have to actually do any of the work!

2015: We joined in the giant family trek to the farm, and for the first time, actually cut down our own tree as a family (with shockingly good results: with the tree and our spirits!)

 So with a few successes and a few "lived to tells" under our belts, I was excited to go out this year and make another round of memories on the (tree) farm. My extended family was thrilled to continue the tradition (they've been steady cut-your-own folks for years) but between 3 families, an always-shifting weather forecast and a frustrating number of overlapping weekend commitments, it was nearly impossible to find a time to go. It took at least two weeks of calendar reviewing, option weighing, location voting, and group messaging to coordinate the details. But we all kept the dream alive, and when said it just might hold off raining during the exact three hour window we all had available for an outing... WE WENT.

After church we Bowdens all scarfed some PB&J's in the middle school gym, and met up with the rest of our crew to caravan to the farm. In the interest of time, we tried a new spot a little closer to home so by the time anyone was complaining too loud, we were already there. Win!

It wasn't the most beautiful day, but it was at least on the manageable side of cold, so got everyone bundled and headed out for FUN and TREES and MEMORIES.
And we ended up having/finding/making all of those things.

The girls had a blast, if only for the "sleigh" rides.

Miller tolerated our more ambitious plans. (and actually all around loved it, as long as we kept a steady stream of peanut-butter-filled-pretzels coming his way...which we totally did). 

And the rest of us tra-la'ed our way through the rows of pines and spruces (or whatever), happily searching for the world's most perfect tree, or at least the world's most good-enough tree.

(My family kept referring to the trees as "our kill" and requesting photos next to them. You can tell how Miller felt about any pause in the pretzel action.)

Oh- and did I mention we had a special guest this time around? (I mean, in addition to my nieces' dreamy friend Hunter, there on the end).

Yep...this guy:

Ok, wait...THIS guy:

That's better. Yep- Mark joined us to capture the action, and make us another one of his magical memory masterpieces (Mark...that gem is on me. Feel free to trademark it...)

This Summer, Mark made the most precious video of our family, and I knew before we even saw it, that I wanted to have him join us for our Christmas tree outing. Yes, I knew six months ago that I was going to drag our friend (and our children) on a potentially cold, potentially inconvenient, potentially miserable "adventure" because I believed in the simultaneous potential of awesomeness. And I'm so glad he shared my wild spirit and love of documentation. He's a beautiful storyteller, and an even better friend. I love what he was able to capture of our time together, and I know I will forever look back with fondness on this trip, this season, and these fleeting moments of earthly heaven with this family I've been blessed with.

The Bowden Family // Winter 2016 from Mark Batke on Vimeo.
Music: Every Bell On Earth Will Ring by The Oh Hellos

(I can't even handle the preciousness of the audio: "Miller, come join us!" "Ok, hop in the sleigh!" "Papa, can I help you?" "Which way is it going to timber?" And of much giggling...)

So that's the story of our Trees of Christmas Past, and Present. I'm already looking forward to the Future...even we find ourselves back at Lowe's.

Oh, and P.s. It turns out there is one tree tradition we're pretty consistent with, and it's pretty adorable. Did you spot it?

Oh, skinny green baby cords, you might just be what Christmas is all about.

P.S. Check out more of Mark's photo/video/general creative awesomeness: 
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