A was 1!

Today is a perfect day for this post for two reasons: 1) we’re getting rocked by Hurricane Sandy so I had some time to sort through (and edit!) the pictures I wanted to use for this post and 2) it’s been exactly one month since A’s birthday and birthday party, the main event for showcasing all these fun decorations!  Happy 13 months to my girl!  (That’s my attempt at putting a positive spin on the fact that it’s taken me a month to get this post together…)

So I already posted a sneak peak of her party here, but I didn’t get into any of the details.  That’s where this post comes in.  We didn’t want one of those huge first birthday parties that are overwhelming and absurd, but with two big families (and with one having LOTS of cousins with kids), it’s kind of hard to avoid a larger party.  So we had to host it at my awesome in-laws house, which works better because they have lots of space for kids to run and play, both indoors and out.

To get ready for the party I had several lists going: guest list, food, decor, supplies needed for decor, etc.  At one point I decided that was ridiculous so I consolidated onto one sticky note on my desktop:


Let’s start with food.  A’s party was from 12-2 (her best time of day – smack in the middle of naps), so we served lunch, but we wanted it to be easy so we ordered hoagies for pick-up that morning (it was on a Saturday).  We did PB&J for kids and a salad, a side of mac and cheese since it’s A’s absolute favorite, and chips.  Fruit, cupcakes, and birthday cake rounded out the day.  After settling on the menu I divvied up a few items between A’s ever-helpful grandma’s, and figured out a timetable for everything (what needed to be bought/ordered, when to make things, when to pick up, etc.).

Deciding on what kind of decor I wanted to do was trickier.  I pinned a ton of ideas, but eventually settled on a pink and orange pinwheel theme since A loves watching the pinwheels our neighbors have in their window boxes.  And pink and orange are just super cute colors for a girl’s party.  As for what to make, I decided I really wanted to do something with A’s monthly photos I took all year so a monthly photo banner was definitely a must!  I also thought that with the supplies for that banner, a ‘Happy Birthday’ banner wouldn’t bee too difficult to make as well.  Lastly I wanted to make pinwheel centerpieces for some of the tables and for the food table, and use some of the materials to make pinwheels for hanging/decorating.  Oh – and pom-poms!  I wanted to make those too since they are pretty darn cute.

Here are shots of the 2 banners (with pom-poms on the spark guard!):



For both banners I used scrapbooking card stock as the background/base.  For the photo banner I did add an extra layer of card stock for more contrast before gluing down the pictures.  I downloaded fonts from Scraptivity for the birthday banner, printed them in a very large size and in a fun color and glued them on top.  I punched holes in the two top right corners of each letter/photo, and strung them on satin ribbon picked up from the craft store.

Oh – one additional thing I did for the party, which you can kind of see in the background in the pic above, was make a kids art table.  I covered a folding table with craft paper and since it’s fall we had mini pumpkins (also following the orange theme!), with markers for the kids to decorate them.  Then I bought a few mini boxes of crayons of scattered them around for drawing.  It turned out to be a big hit – with the adults!  Definitely going to be a stable at future parties we have.  Here is a better shot:


For the pom-poms, I used this tutorial, and they were super easy.  Another item that will be a party staple in years to come!  Here they are hanging in the doorway that leads from my in-laws’ den to their dining room and formal living room.  You can see other pom-poms hanging on the fireplace in that room too.


And the focal point of that shot is the centerpiece.  You can see my pinwheels in mason jars, alternating with brightly colored gerber daisies that my mother in law spotted and grabbed for me.  Don’t they match perfectly?!  It was uncanny.  Here is the last shot I have for the party decor, a little closer up of the main table, with the paper goods set out.  The food went all around the other sides of the table.


I got the paper goods from PartyPail.com – they had every color you could possibly want, and free shipping over $50.  I was a little shy of that total with my order, so I was browsing for a $5ish item to toss in (I refuse to pay shipping), and found that cute little felt “1” hat in the background.  Sure I could have made something, but I was running out of time, it wouldn’t have looked as good, and it saved me shipping costs.  Deal.

The centerpieces were probably the most time-consuming of all the decorations so I snapped some shots along the way and will share a separate tutorial.  Depending on if we still have power tomorrow and if A cooperates, I’ll get that post up in the evening.

But these shots should give you a good feel for how things looked.  I was very pleased.  And it really wasn’t expensive or taxing to throw it all together.  With adequate planning, of course.  I was all over supplies early in the month, and then I worked on things slowly here and there at night after work.  And it all came together.  That’s what a good list (or ten) can do for you…


Concrete Jungle Upgrade: Spray Tanning & Spray Painting.

When we last chatted about my nastypants, overgrown, decorated-with-rotting-furniture, concrete patio, we had some newly sanded, tanned stained, and sealed folding lounge chairs, but still had some work to do on the table and folding dining chairs.  Let me remind you again of where we started:

refinishing outdoor furniture before picture 1

Blech.  It’s so hard to even look back at that.  So next up on my to do list was to tackle the table on the left (if you recall the one on the right went straight to the trash – he was crumbling to the touch!), and the folding chairs.  My plan for the table was the same as the folding loungers (so I’ll skip the details since those are posted here).  You can see a pic of my progress on the table below.  And I’m really liking this spray tan analogy, he totally looks sunkissed on the one side.  And the other kinda looks like a giant tan line.  And actually, this kinda resembles the backside of my dear MKY after one day in the sun.  I sincerely hope she’s reading this…


I knew from the beginning that the folding dining chairs weren’t going to be able to follow the same technique.  They have endured way to much of the elements to be sanded and tanned.  My only hope for them was several coats of a good looking spray paint.  So for old time’s sake, here is one last look at the folding chairs pre-paint.


And on a side note, the overly-sensitive Magi was not very pleased that I have led readers to believe that she gave them to me in this condition.  So let me clarify.  When she gave them to me they were beautiful green-ish stained chairs from Smith and Hawken.  They were quite the hand me down.  But with our lack of a basement or garage, they’ve just sat outside and aged over the past few years.  Hence their current pre-paint appearance.

Now with that out of the way, let’s talk chair makeover.  I knew we were going to need serious coverage so I decided I’d prime them first, and chose Valspar Primer from Lowe’s.  (Side note I really liked this spray primer and highly recommend it for future projects!).  I wanted to include this pic because it really gives you a good close up of the chair too.  Blech.  Now you get the purpose of this upgrade.


So first step – prime the chairs.  I went with just a light misting of primer since I knew it had to last for 4 chairs.  Here’s what this guy looked like all primed.


Bonus points for readers who spotted the rotting leg of this one.  I swear he’s the worst offender.  The others are a lot safer.  It’s a game we like to play when we have people over.  The ‘Russian Roulette’ of patio chairs, if you will.

Back to priming.  Here’s a shot of the chairs primed and drying in the sun.  Poor pasty chairs, they don’t have half the color as those loungers.  Kinda like B’s legs in the beginning of the summer.  And we’re back to the tan analogy…


So fast forwarding a little, I followed the same process to spray paint the chairs as with primer.  Slow and steady misting of color, touching up as needed.  I forgot to take a pic of what I used, but it was Valspar Premium Enamel in Thorny Brush, also from Lowe’s.  I picked up the color on a complete whim.  I was thinking I’d use a bright-ish olive-y green, but it wasn’t really doing it for me when I was browsing colors.  In the end I’m very happy with my choice.  It’s a little more neutral, but that means I can add some fun cushions next spring (new project!) that will add a less permanent pop of colort.  Here is a close up of one of the finished chairs.


And here are a few shots of everything all finished.  A complete patio makeover!


This one shows the whole patio.  So much better.


And this one was my attempt at an artsy “after” pic.


Look at that glossy table!  And clean chairs!  And Thai Basil plant!  This patio has come a looong way.  In case you can’t remember, how about a side by side vertical comparison of the before and after?


refinishing outdoor furniture before picture 1



In addition to updating the furniture I had B trim the Ivy and rake the leaves.  All of it makes such a huge difference.  We’ve spent more time out on the patio and it just looks so much more inviting from our back windows.  And the total upgrade cost less than $50 (Free furniture, 1 can wood stain, 1 can sealant, 1 can spray primer, and 3 cans spray paint).  Can’t beat that.

And in case you’re wondering, I fully intend to tarp off all the furniture this year before the weather gets bad.  Considering it took me almost all summer to finish this project, I want to be able to enjoy it next summer!

NYC 26.2: Week 15.

Hal Higdon-NYC 26.2-Marathon Training

Last week was my final push for mileage before starting to taper for the big day.  I can’t believe it’s actually coming up so fast.  I feel like I’ve been training for this race that will just happen “some day” and now it’s less than 3 weeks away.

Unfortunately I still have this extremely annoying side cramp that I’m dealing with.  Ironically it’s really bad at like 2-3 miles in, but then it goes away a few miles later and I’m able to push through for long runs, almost like my body is saying, we’re way too tired to deal with this – we’ve got bigger things to worry about!

Twice I tried to squeeze in 4 miles on the treadmill at work, and both times were painful in my abdominal area where the “cramp” is (I really have no better way to describe it other than that).  So then I let myself rest on Thursday to see if it helped.  I went for 20 on Friday and it was bothering me in the beginning, but I was able to get through and complete the 20 in a decent time.  A little slower than I was hoping because I ran in the ‘burbs and the hills were killer, but I was happy to at least be able to run through my cramp and complete the 20 without stopping.

I rested my legs on Saturday and went for an easy 3 miles on Sunday with A and KP.  Not an easy task, but it was so nice out and I thought it would be good to get my legs moving again after the 20 on Friday.  Now I’m in taper mode, and while I’m happy to be close to the end of all this training, I’m a little sad that it’s coming to an end!  This week’s total: 31 miles vs. goal of 35 (89% attainment).

A Different Kind of Clean.


This is WAY overdue (that seems to be a common theme around here lately huh?), but I wanted to post about my first juice cleanse experience…also because I will be embarking on cleanse #2 starting Monday morning.  Yep, I liked it that much that I’m doing it again!  But now that I’ve spoiled the ending for you, let me rewind back to the beginning…

I love to eat.  I also love to run.  Usually the latter keeps the former in check, but I just don’t feel like the equation works the same post-baby.  So, I’ve kind of been on this never-ending quest for skinniness that I’ve never had to go through before.  Squeezing in runs when I can and bringing salads for lunch helps, but I had such a crazy summer with whacky schedules and work projects that I ate like crappola and was feeling like I needed something to kickstart me into a healthier eating regime.  I was also turning 30 and felt fat and frumpy.  Ok, so the 2nd reason was probably my real motivation.  But still.

Juice cleanses seem to be all the range with cool people these days so I was really curious to try one, but couldn’t do it for a while since I was still nursing (more on that 10 month labor of love here and here).  But in August, just after I stopped pumping and right before my birthday (and much needed vacation), I decided I’d give juicing a try.  Luckily I had 3 other co-workers equally excited about the prospect of instant skinniness, so we did it together.

We decided to go with Pangaea Earth Foods‘ 3-day beginner cleanse – 5 juices a day delivered right to our office!  You can see our juice cleanse takeover of our floor’s fridge in the shot below.  Those dark green bags in the middle are all us.  The ordering process could not have been easier, and Erika, the owner, was great.  She totally prepped us for what we were about to go through, and texted us every day to see how we were doing and keep us motivated.  I highly recommend Pangaea to anyone in the Philly area.  It’s small and local and I found most of the juices to actually taste really good – something I have heard is not the case with some local competitors.


So here’s the drill.  You get 5 juices a day, for 3 days.  (See pic below – look how nice and neatly packaged they are!) The cleanse is really a “raw food diet” in liquid form designed to flush out your system, get rid of toxins, and rejuvenate your whole digestive track.  The theory is we spend a lot of energy breaking down our foods and that makes us sluggish.  Feeling sluggish leads to less exercise and healthy eating, which makes you more sluggish.  And the cycle continues.  So the cleanse kick-starts you out of that.  There are approved raw foods in solid form that you can eat, but we were trying to be hardcore and do juice only.  The approved foods list included things like green veggies, raw seeds and nuts, sashimi, vegetable/miso soup broth, etc.  You can also have as much water as you’d like, and herbal teas too.


The night before we started I was terrified – I was not confident that I’d be able to make it three days without solid foods (my goal was juice only), ESPECIALLY considering we were going to a Phillies game Monday night (and by the way, if you don’t believe that I didn’t cheat – see below – on your left is the delicious “Almond Love’ night cap aka Juice #5, and on your right is B’s Phillies helmet cup of vanilla and chocolate soft serve…). But in reality it wasn’t nearly as hard as I thought, and I felt great 90% of the time I was on the cleanse.  The other 10% is attributable to some bloating I had on the first day from drinking so darn much, and the hunger crankiness I got at a few points during the day.


I found Monday to be tough because my body was in a bit of shock, but I also had adrenaline going and that “it’s the first day – I can’t screw it up now!” thing going.  I weighed myself Tuesday morning and had already lost 5 lbs!  I knew it was just water weight, but seeing numbers come down on the scale was really motivating, and helped me get through Tuesday with a positive attitude.  Which was much needed since I found it to be the hardest day.  Monday’s adrenaline had worn wore off and I was feeling a tad hungry, but wasn’t yet at the halfway point.  By Wednesday I think my body had adapted because I felt great and even contemplating going another few days with just juice.  But I stuck to just 3 days knowing I’d give it a try again sometime later in the fall (which is now tomorrow!).

For me, the mornings and late afternoon’s were the hardest parts of the day.  Ironically dinnertime was the easiest.  I felt very full by the end of the day (you aren’t eating, but you’re drinking a TON) and just sort of ready to be finished with my juices for the day so I could go to bed.  But during the occasional lull of the workday I was hungry and wanted a snack.  It’s amazing how routine eating can be – I’m still not sure if I was actually hungry, or if the time of day was dictating me to feel that way.

So fast forward to the end.  My total weight loss was 6.5 lbs, and 2 months later I’ve been able to keep half of it off.  The few days following the cleanse I craved healthy foods and just felt great – bye bye sluggishness for sure.  Over time that has gone away a bit, but I learned a lot while cleansing, in particular what the body really needs vs. what it thinks it needs.  As someone with a great tendency (and propensity) to over consume, that was a total wake up call.  I also felt super proud of having accomplished what I set out to do, and had this great sense of being in control about things.  It really was a great experience for me and I knew I’d want to do it again.

So here I am, about to start cleanse #2 tomorrow morning to kick start some healthy eating for the next month or so.  Hoping to look and feel good on the beach for JB’s wedding in Puerto Rico!  And even though I’ve just written a mini-novel on how much I enjoyed cleansing the first time, if you can believe it I’m terrified again.  But we do thrive off challenges here at Keep It Neat so we’re going to rise to the occasion and get our juice on.  Wish me luck!

NYC 26.2: Weeks 12, 13, 14.

Hal Higdon-NYC 26.2-Marathon TrainingNot my best 3 weeks, but I’m still hanging in there.  I think on average I hit about 70-75% of my training goal over the past month.  Hopefully my 99% attainment at the end of August will carry me through…

Week 12 recap: I was still recovering from whatever bug hit me the week before, and started to get this side cramp that just will not go away.  So I took Monday and Tuesday off, but got 5 miles in Wednesday morning.  The cramp was seemingly a lot better, but since then it’s gone downhill (read on…).  I was only able to get 1.5mi in on Thursday at lunch, I felt like my insides were going to fall out.  This side cramp is extremely baffling.  It might just be a treadmill issue because then I was able to push through 3.5mi during the day on Friday.  I rested on Saturday, and did 19 on Sunday.  (Had to switch with week 13 b/c knew I couldn’t get that much mileage in with A’s party!).  I actually felt really good on the long run.  The cramp kicked in but wasn’t nearly as bad as earlier in the week.  I was able to run through and feel OK.  Weekly total: 24 vs. goal of 34 (71% attainment).  Not great but feeling good for 19 has helped me keep a positive attitude.

Week 13 recap:  Because of my long run on Sunday, I rested Monday.  I got in 4 miles at lunch on Tuesday (still cramping on the treadmill!) but then ended up resting Wednesday, Thursday and Friday (yikes!).  I was anxious to get some miles in so I got a quick 5 miles in before A’s big party on Saturday, and rounded out the week with 13 miles on Sunday in the ‘burbs near B’s parents.  Suburbs = Hills = very sore calves!  Weekly total: 22 vs. goal of 31 (71% attainment).

Week 14 recap: Rested again on Monday, but got 4 miles in at lunch on both Tuesday and Wednesday.  The cramp is still there but it seems to be getting better and I’m just learning to push through.  I’m thinking it’s actually a strained abdominal muscle, and hoping I can make it through my last long run on 10/13 then really taper and let it rest until 11/4.  I rested Thursday and Friday, then squeezed in a successful 15 miles on Saturday.  I felt slow to start but my pace picked up after about mile 6.  Not where I was hoping I’d be, but with this pesky cramp and a ton going on at work and home, I’m satisfied.  I rested Sunday but do want to note that I did walk 3 miles to/from JB’s shower and Penn Station!  Weekly total: 23 vs. goal of 30 (77% attainment).

On a side note, one of my non-running goals of the month are to get back to weekly recaps; these multi-week novellas are way too boring to read through, even for me!