Crystal Madrilejos

Design & Creative

Oh, hey there! Meet our new garden addition. As I mentioned in my last post, chipmunks have been using our garden as their own personal nut repository. So I got this guy in hopes that he would scare the bejeezus out of those little guys so I don’t have to resort to drastic measures. Just look at those crazy eyes, and his head moves too!

But the big question is, does it actually work? I think it’s still too early to tell. We haven’t had an ideal set up yet. The first day we got him, the chipmunks still went to town on our beds, but I don’t think we placed the decoy in a good spot. He was sitting on our porch and sort of lower down than I think is normal for owls?  So, I’m going to put him up on a pole to, you know, simulate real owl life. The past few days, I’ve been putting him in more prominent spots around the garden and it seems to help the beds that are in direct line of the owl’s sight. Hopefully, having him up in the air will help.

Scare tactics aside, Quil seems to like him and moves him around the garden for the fun of it. So we’ve got that going for us.


I’ve been doing a little bit of research into low-light houseplants.

After buying a handful of succulents over the past year, I’m realizing that we just don’t have enough light to really get them to thrive. I have a few that are doing okay, but they are stretching and getting leggy due to the lack of light, even in our south-facing window (due to two beautiful, but huge, maple trees.)

Here’s a photo of part of my current succulent collection that I moved out onto the porch for more sun. See how long and leggy that middle one is? And you can see the Echeveria at the top, how the center is stretching. Poor guys.

I came across this great post on Martha Stewart (of course) on how to measure what type of light you have and what plants are appropriate for your light levels. I don’t think I’m going to do the entire light test with the camera that they suggest, but it did give me some ideas for plants to look out for. Here are two of my favorites:

Crested Leopard Plant (Farfugium Japonicum ‘Crispatum’)

Prayer plant (Maranta leuconeura)

I don’t know what I’m going to do with all these succulents come fall – right now they are on the porch which gets a bit more sun, but come winter they will have to come back indoors. I looked into using plant grow lights, but those have a tendency to be an eyesore. We still have a grow light hanging in our kitchen from our seed starts and it just screams “illegal activity” to me. But it may be my only choice if I want to keep them.

Anyone have any low-light houseplant they like and recommend?

What’s new on the homestead? Harvested some ramps from a friends property (pictured above – ramps as far as the eye can see), garden is underway, pond stocking is in progress, potatoes are sprouted, the reclaimed wood for the compost bin is nail free, a couple more raised beds have been built, and deer fence is almost up. Now, we just need the weather to cooperate! It’s been up and down the past couple weeks and I guess that’s why we have “last frost dates” – but man, am I itching to just get going with the warm weather already!

Today we started putting up the new deer fencing that was my gift to myself last year when I got a bonus at work. Who buys deer fence with their bonus? I do. It’s that important to me. With our past experience, it’s just not worth it to garden in our area if you don’t have either a dog or a deer fence. We don’t want a dog, so we went with the fence. I’m really, really hoping this does the trick because I love having a garden but the stress of the deer almost makes it not worth it.

I wish I had more pictures for you from the past few weeks, but I’m too lazy to upload them right now.

So here is a picture of one of our raised beds before we installed it last fall. You can see the basic construction in this photo. The outside rails are attached to four posts that will go into the ground so the bottom board sits flush on the ground.

After installing them, we put a layer of black weed blocking fabric, followed by a few layers of cardboard, a layer of leaves, a layer of alpaca manure, then another layer of leaves. This then sat for the past six months to kill the weeds and grass and also create the nutrient rich base for a layer of composted soil that went on top last week. If you can do this in the fall, it will save you a lot of work come spring (and summer, since it will save you lots of time weeding.)

Okay, so I know some of you are wondering why we used pine when it’s going to be outside and will eventually rot. Ideally, cedar would be the wood of choice since it’s naturally rot resistant. But Cedar is many dollars. We figured if we can get a few years out of these beds before they rot, it will have been worth the price we paid for the wood. I think down the line, we’re open to trying different things. We just don’t have the money for cedar ones at this point. One bed can run upwards of $200 – which is double what we paid to make ALL our beds.

We also didn’t seal the wood. And the reason being, we don’t want any toxic materials touching the soil that will be growing the food we’ll be eating. This is also the reason we didn’t use pressure treated wood, which again is rot resistant but also treated with chemicals. Here is Quil helping Andrew with the beds last fall. And by helping I mean, running around like a maniac. I just got him during a moment of stillness in this shot.

I will post more current photos of our progress soon, I promise!


Ever since Ellis arrived, it’s been non-stop craziness. Not in a bad way. Just really, really busy. Andrew and I always wonder what we did with all our free time before we had kids. We were productive, for sure. But, I can’t even fathom that much free time anymore. My perception of free time has forever been altered. If I can offer any advice to any person who doesn’t have kids yet (and plans on having them in the future), it would be: Don’t waste time. We did a lot before we had kids. We traveled, we played music, we built things, we renovated a house. Many of these things we still do now, but with much less frequency and a lot less spontaneity, and I STILL feel like we didn’t take advantage of our kid-free days!

Becoming a parent has been one of the most fulfilling and joyful experiences I’ve had thus far in life. And I wouldn’t want to be this busy for anything other than my two babies and Andrew. It’s just a fact that our lives are busier now that we are a family of four.

How does a family balance work, keep the house under control, spend time with the kiddos, not to mention the spouse, and still do things that make one feel whole (for me, that means gardening, crafts, making stuff and having eternal side projects)? It’s a challenge, to say the least. But somehow with the million things that have to be done everyday, we manage.

I admit that we have a unique situation; a situation that in recent years probably became less unique due to the recession. I’m a working Mama and Andrew is a stay-at-home Papa. It was an arrangement that we would have never imagined, but has turned out to be a true blessing. Andrew is an, honest-to-goodness, domestic genius. He somehow manages to take care of the kids, take care of our home, cook, clean, do laundry, grocery shop, check the mail, take out the garbage and compost, mail our packages, pay our bills, bake bread on a regular basis, and still do freelance work on the side. I don’t know how he does it! I work 40+ hours a week as Creative Director at a start-up, and can barely manage regular bathing. Also, a one-income household is no joke in this day and age. So, there are a lot of things that we go without because of this choice we made. But having one of us home to help keep our lives intact is well worth the monetary sacrifices we make.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about specific things we have found that help balance work and life. This is what I came up with:

1. Sharing the load
Neither of us is above doing anything that helps keep our family sane and happy. Andrew may not work a traditional 9-5, but he does so much at home that I don’t have to worry about working at the office AND at home. But I also realize that Andrew has a tough job too, so I try to keep my mess to a minimum and give him a break from the kids as often as I can.

2. Not owning a television
We haven’t owned a TV in years. Not because we don’t like television or think it’s evil or something. There are lots of television shows that we enjoy. We just prefer to watch TV shows when a series is over and we can get every season on DVD (Six Feet Under box set, yes please!) There are just a lot of other things we would rather be doing than watching TV.

*One note for the sake of transparency, we do have multiple computers AND a movie projector for watching Netflix or DVDs. Andrew watches documentaries and movies at night before bed on an iPad and Q loves watching movies and Yo Gabba Gabba. Also, Andrew loves sports. So, we aren’t completely screen-free. I watch hardly anything at all, but I also sit in front of a computer all day at work and the last thing I want to do when I get home is sit in front of another one.

3. The hours between 6am to 8am and  9pm to Midnight
These are the only hours we have to ourselves to do the things we need/want to do, without relying on each other to watch the kids. AKA the time to get stuff done (AKA showering.)

4. Accepting that our free time is limited for the next few years
This was a hard one for me. After Andrew telling me this over and over, and me being in denial, it finally sunk in after Ellis was born. Time has sped up double time these past 7 months and this made me see that Quil and Ellis will only be babies for such a short period of time! It makes me and Andrew both a little misty eyed to think that they are growing up so fast, and this makes it a much easier to devote every waking minute to them. Because we know we only have so much time with them before they grow up and don’t need us like they do now. Also, whenever I complain about not having time to do “stuff I want to do,” Andrew reminds me “that’s what retirement’s for.” Thanks, honey :P

5. Waking up early
This is just par for the parenting course. We don’t even set an alarm anymore. It’s amazing how much you can get done before 9am.

6. Talk to one another
We struggle with this one still, and it’s probably the most important. We lean heavily on one another and the last thing we want is for any resentment to build up between us. Sometimes our lives can get so chaotic that it’s like we are in the same room but we can’t see each other. And that’s never good. It can lead to feeling unappreciated and overwhelmed, with each person feeling like they are going it alone. Sometimes, we just have to step back and breath and remind each other that we’re a team.

7. Give up control
If we’re going to expect each other to make decisions for the family, we have to trust each others judgement and not try to control everything. This was another thing that was hard for me because I’m a slight control freak and I like to do things my way (who doesn’t?!) But just like Andrew wouldn’t come to my work and tell me how to do my job, I’m not going to come home and complain about how he does things, even if he doesn’t do things the way I would do them. He has our family’s best interest in mind, and that’s good enough for me.

How do you guys keep balance in your family life? We always welcome new ideas and suggestions because we don’t have it all figured out! Does anyone really?


P.S. Here is a great series that ran on A Cup of Jo on work/family life balance.

I posted this photo of a dish Andrew made on Instagram (come follow me!) a little while back and had some requests for the recipe. Granted, I wasn’t the one who prepared it, just the one who ate it, so I’m sort of just playing messenger here. Hopefully, one day he’ll get around to posting on here again.

Anyway! Andrew is the cook/chef/baker in our household. I know my way around a kitchen, and I do enjoy cooking. But since he is the main care-giver/stay-at-home-parent, it usually falls on him to prepare meals.

On to the recipe! You can find the original recipe on the site Cooking Quinoa and it’s pretty simple. It calls for:

  • 1 ½ cups frozen edamame, cooked according to package directions
  • 2 cups red cabbage, shredded
  • 2 cups cooked quinoa
  • 1 red pepper, seeded and diced small
  • 3/4 cup diced pineapple
  • ¼ cup raisins
  • 2 teaspoons almonds, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil OR 2 tablespoons water + ¾ teaspoon chia seeds
  • 1 teaspoon coconut palm sugar
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced

A couple things to note: Andrew used about half that amount of red cabbage, olive oil rather than the chia seed, and regular organic sugar instead of the coconut palm sugar.


I mentioned in my last post that I’d post about the Totoro party, so here I am making good on that! The party, overall, was a success. Considering how little planning I did and just sort of threw some things together at the last minute, I was pretty happy with how the decorations turned out. If you aren’t familiar with the movie “My Neighbor Totoro,” you should check it out. Quil loves it (obviously,) as do Andrew and I
Also, BIG THANKS to my sister Maria for hosting and helping with decorating and making food and baking the mini-cakes. She is the best planner and most organized person I know. No family holiday or event could take place without her. The members of our family would all be arriving at different locations at different times and there’d be no food if she didn’t wrangle us all together! She really is “the glue” in our family.
Here are various photos of the different details. Totoro is a forest spirit so a lot of the theme was basically nature related. 
The table center piece consisted of faux-plants, dried moss, grapevines, fabric flowers, and flower stickers. I hot-glued dried moss to wooden boxes from the dollar aisle at Target, we then used as risers for the cakes. 
These wooden acorns were made from mini-wooden eggs found at the local craft store that I stained and painted to look like the acorns the Mei collects in the film. It’s hard to see in this photo, but they have a clear coat of gloss spray on them as well. 
Here is a wider view of the table with all the mini-cakes (there were five birthdays being celebrated. We have a big family!) All the faux-plants were purchased from a local craft and hobby store. 
In place of party hats, we had a few leaf hats based on the scene from the movie where Totoro has a leaf on his head to protect from the rain. These were pieces of felt cut in the shape of a leaf, with a little extra piece for the stem, hot glued to brown headbands.
We happened by this outfit for Ellis at Target randomly. It’s supposed to be a rabbit, but I thought it looked close enough to a Totoro costume to warrant its purchase. Plus, it’s just super cute. Target has that ability to lure you in with their low-prices and high-cuteness-factor. It’s a dangerous situation to go into when shopping last minute for a party!
This paper cut mobile was supposed to have three tiers, with Totoro at the top and then the two smaller Totoros (the blue and the white ones) hanging below. However, the pieces for the smaller Totoros were so tiny, there was no way I was going to be able to cut them out within a reasonable amount of time. Mind you, I was working on this around 10pm the night before the party (because I’m nuts.) So I decided to forgo the smaller guys even though the OCD/perfectionist in my brain was giving me hard time. In the end, it still turned out fine.

And a few more shots of the mini-cakes my sister made. You can see some Soot Sprites peeking out here and there. For these, we bought black pompoms and stick-on googly eyes. They were so simple, my 4-year-old niece was able to make them. We had her churning out Soot Sprites at maximum speed! The little pink, orange and aqua flowers are from the dollar aisle in Target. They came as long ribbons, but I just snipped a few strands apart and sprinkled them around. They actually reminded me of the candy the Soot Sprites eat in Spirited Away.

So, that was our joint-birthday Totoro Party, in a nutshell! I can relax for another 5 months until Ellis has her FIRST BIRTHDAY. Yikes. Hers should be extra nuts because she’s a summer birthday! I’ll be sure to “over-do” like I always do, according to Andrew.
Whew! This past month has been a whirlwind. I just wanted to pop in and say “hi!” because I know I’ve been absent here lately. Work has been super busy and, as per usual, I’ve got my plate full of other fun side projects which haven’t left me with any free minutes to just sit and type. My blog RSS reader is up to over 1000 unread items because I haven’t had time to catch up on my regular reads. First world problems, I know.
The intense work days that start early and end late combined with a lack of sleep have finally caught up to me. Ellis is transitioning into going all night without nursing. She has cried for about 20 minutes somewhere around the hours of 2 or 3am for the past few nights. And Quil is in this terrible phase of only wanting to sleep in our bed and he’s an awful bed mate, forever tossing and turning and kicking. It’s been extra hard since Quil and Ellis share a room and we haven’t yet found a balance of them co-existing in that space without one waking the other. I slept horribly last night and when I did sleep I had nightmares of work projects gone awry. Ugh. So, today I felt rundown and just plain exhausted. 
So, tonight I’ve finally able to just (sort of) relax and write this post and work on a little crafty project: Wood Acorns for our Totoro-themed party this Saturday! Q turned 3-years-old last weekend but this Saturday we’re celebrating all the February/March birthdays in my family – there are five.
I found some little wood eggs at the local craft store that I stained to look like the acorns from Totoro. They still need a few finishing touches, but I’ll post finished pictures when they are done.
If you’ve never seen My Neighbor Totoro, I highly recommend it. Quil loves it, as do Andrew and I.

We’re taking a leap and have decided to try creating a sustainable food source for our family by raising our own fish. This spring we will be populating Andrew’s parents pond with a combination of Large Mouth Bass, Blue Gill, Red Ear Sunfish, & White Amur. White Amur or Grass Carp is not for eating, but for keeping the plant growth under control – sometimes people use chemicals to keep their plant growth in check, but we definitely don’t want any chemicals in our pond since this is one of the reasons we want to raise our own food – to avoid chemicals!

This is an idea that Andrew and I have been tossing about for some time now. But finally, today Andrew spoke to a local fish propagator who said we can have our fish delivered sometime between April and May. Since we are starting with full-grown fish that are ready to spawn instead of fingerlings, it will only be a year before the population gets stable enough for us to start fishing. Fingerlings are cheaper, but they take a long time to grow and you risk them getting eaten by other things that live in and around the pond (turtles, other fish, blue heron, etc.) since our pond is already established.
Of course, I don’t expect that the fish will just be jumping into our nets. Especially since Andrew and I are no expert fishermen. So, I’m fully expecting to rely on all my family members (namely, my Dad) and friends who know waaaay more about fishing than we do to help us figure this one out. I don’t even know how to clean a fish properly! No better time than now to learn, I guess.
Here’s to trying new things!

On Being, Uncategorized


I’m exhausted right now, so I’m going to try to keep this brief. Nike Training Camp kicked my butt tonight and my legs are like jello (as is my brain, so bear with me!)

Been trying to get back into a routine of regular physical activity. Here’s what I’ve been up to on the days that I can muster up the energy to get in a workout:
Started running on a treadmill in Andrew’s parent’s garage (when the weather isn’t too cold.) Any of you who have been following this blog for awhile, may remember my previous foray into running
I’ve done a couple P90X videos, though I haven’t felt the desire to commit to the entire program like last time. I like the P90X yoga video, but it’s so damn long. I only have so much free time to do this stuff. I know it’s important but I have very limited time to spare. I’m happy if I can get in 30-45 minutes in without cutting into other important things, like loving on my babies! I can’t be spending an hour and 45 minutes doing yoga with Tony Horton. Maybe once Ellis is a little older and is getting to bed at a more consistent time, I can plan for longer workouts. However, two P90X videos that are great if you are in a time crunch are Cardio and Ab Ripper – both are relatively short at 30 minutes and 15 minutes, respectively.
Also, I downloaded the Nike Training Camp app, which is great. It has different levels and programs oriented around different results you are trying to achieve. Right now, I’m mainly focused on doing cardio since my current goal is to just get my heart rate up and get my body used to regular activity again. None of the workouts I do on the app require any sort of equipment, which is another plus and it has workouts in the 30-45 minute range. Get the app here.
Somedays I just do some Sun Salutations and some basic yoga poses. Anything to have some level of physical activity after sitting behind a desk for 8 hours a day. Though, I am seriously considering a stand up desk at work.
Here are some previous posts about working out that made me laugh when I went back and re-read them:

Thanks to all of you who have been inspiring me to get back to it! If you’re looking for some inspiration check out these wonderful people:

I’m a working Mama. I’m also nursing a 5-month old baby, so that means I have to pump while at work. When I went back to work in November after my maternity leave, my co-workers gave me a potted Amaryllis bulb as a “Welcome Back” gift. Turns out, this is the PERFECT gift for a pumping Mama!

Pumping isn’t the most glamorous or the most fun thing to do with one’s time. It’s a lot of just sitting there (thank goodness for smart phones and this bra.) And you look and feel like a milking machine with tubes and bottles and plastic breast shields. It’s quite a sight.

However, I’m fortunate to at least have a pumping room at my office with a lot of natural light. When they gave me this potted Amaryllis bulb I decided, rather than put it at my desk, I’d put it in my pumping room. These past two months I’ve been back at work I’ve been able to watch my plant grow and it’s been absolutely fascinating, calming, and peaceful. Since Amaryllis are very fast growing it gives me something to look forward to every time I have to pump. This week, it bloomed (as you can see in the photo above.) Here is a rough time-lapse from the past two months:

This could be a great gift for a non-working Mama as well. It’s easy to care for and has a big impact when it blooms.

Any working Mama’s out there who pump during their workday? How do you pass your time while pumping?