Elements of Home, Elements of Style, Favorite Places, Favorite Things

Mommy HQ Makeover: Sika Design Sofie Side Bistro Chair

I’m always looking for new ways to add style to our new home and chairs are one of the simple things that can really change the look and feel of a space. I love chairs. A fabulous chair can really change the whole ambiance of a room or area. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out which chairs I wanted for our new kitchen. We decided on the French Tolix chairs…I love the industrial modern look they have, and they are actually comfortable and extremely well made. I was using one at my kitchen desk for awhile (also known as Mommy HQ) until my husband brought this bistro chair home and I fell in love. It’s pretty, right? Not just pretty, it’s just lovely, and it completes “my” area. It’s comfortable, unique, extremely well made and stylish. It’s like a little piece of French Cafe right in my kitchen. I mean, I down about 3 lattes sitting here, so it makes sense. Oh how I long to go back to Paris…pain au chocolat, espresso, red wine…Sorry, side note.

Here is the story behind this chair. My husband is the US distributor for Sika Design. Not only is the furniture beautiful, but it’s handmade, sustainable and made of the highest quality materials. Originally, my husband brought home the chair for me to see, and photograph, with no intention of letting me keep it…but once I placed the chair in front of my desk, I knew I had to have it. I mean, if I’m taking the photo and showing the world how much I love it…shouldn’t I get SOMETHING out of it? I basically told him I was keeping the chair and he’d have to take me with if he was going to take it away from me.

This particular chair is the Sofie Side Bistro Chair in Grey with white dots. I’m sort of in love with the green with white dots and the purple is pretty amazing too…but our kitchen is grey and white and this one blended in perfectly with our current decor.


Elements of Calm, Elements of Home, Elements of Style, Favorite Places, Favorite Things

Spaces: Mommy HQ

Every mom needs a space to call her own. A place that’s off limits to little hands and even husbands πŸ™‚ A little bit of calm and organization in what is otherwise a chaotic household run by a toddler. I call this place Mommy Headquarters, or Mommy HQ. We moved into our new house about a week ago, and I have to say one of my most favorite places in the whole house is the kitchen. Not because of my love of cooking (well, that’s part of it) But also because it contains MY area. An area where my computer can sit without being harassed by a 1 year old, where my iPhone can stay docked and not hidden in a couch cushion or tucked behind a pillow, where I can always find my Burt’s Bees, keys and post it notes. I have always loved having a desk. When I was a child, I always had a desk in my room that had fully organized drawers full of markers in rainbow order, stationary, notepads and of course my diary (with the little key that locks it) When I worked in advertising, I’m pretty sure I had the most organized desk out of the whole company. It’s rare to find a creative mind that is also organized…Also rare to find a adult who still keeps a pack of markers at her desk as well as the full color assortment of Sharpies πŸ™‚ For color coding of course!

In our old house, my husband and I shared a desk and it was a complete disaster. A CEO and a stay at home mom need their own spaces to stay organized and sane. In our new house, my husband has his own office, with an actual door, where Marielle can’t pull out all of his important documents, pull his keyboard off the desk and hide his mouse. Ahhhh…luxury. I grew up with a built in desk in our kitchen and I loved it. I have great memories of my mom sitting there with her sewing machine, or calculator and work she brought home. It was where the family computer was…back in the day when there was just one computer in a house. It was a home to school pictures, the family calendar, office supplies and the money cubby that was always full of $20s that me and my siblings would “borrow” and somehow never return with change…weird?!Β  So you can imagine how thrilled I was when we first toured this house because it had one as well. According to my parent’s interior decorator, people are starting to get away from putting the desk in the kitchen, because they simply use their laptops in the living room, bedroom, dining room, etc. I think that’s a problem. We take our technology everywhere. Laptops do not belong in our bedroom. The kitchen is the heart of the home, and I love being in the center of that. I find that with my own workspace, that technology stays in it’s own place, and my focus is Marielle throughout the day…not the dings and rings that my computer and phone provide. I love coming to sit here during her naps, catch up on my blog, email, Google the occasional toddler problem, enjoy my espresso and of course every stay at home mom’s guilty pleasure…Pinterest and Facebook. Once baby boy McCarthy arrives, I know I’m going to appreciate this little piece of calm and quiet time even more…even if I only have 5 minutes of free time a day πŸ™‚


Elements of Baby, Favorite Things

Baby Merlin’s Magic Sleep Suit

I was going through some of my old posts from awhile ago, and I came across this one. I never published it. I’m not sure why, but, I think it could help a lot of mamas out there who are struggling with the transition from swaddle to sleep sack!

When Marielle was about 3.5 months old, she decided that it was a really fun game to break out of her swaddle in the middle of the night, so she could chew on her hands. She had also mastered rolling over in her swaddle. Not good. As cute as she looked on the video monitor with her tiny hand poking out of the top of her swaddle, I knew that the time had come to stop swaddling her, and allow her to sleep in her big girl sleep sacks. We did a couple of nights with Marielle wearing a Swaddle Designs zzZipMe and the first couple nights went great. She fell asleep and slept through the entire night. I think this was just plain lucky. Not long after, Marielle was waking herself up by flailing her little hands all over the place, and rolling on to her tummy. While the pediatrician said it’s okay for her to do this since she was strong enough to lift her head, she still became quite frustrated because she was not quite as good at rolling back over onto her back. I was starting to become sleep deprived and had Marielle attached to my hip all day, because naps were no longer than 25 minutes without her swaddle. Clearly, she needed something. So did I.

I brought up my concerns at my ECFE class, and I got a unanimous response from other mamas that I needed to try something called Baby Merlin’s Magic Sleep Suit.

I’m sorry, what?

They warned me she would look ridiculous, but that it really does work. I went home, immediately Googled this “magical” suit and bust out laughing when I saw images of babies looking like marshmallow peeps and space travelers. Apparently, the thick material prevents their arms from flailing so much that they wake themselves up, but can move enough to suck their thumb to comfort themselves back to sleep. They also cannot roll onto their tummy.

I was skeptical. Two days later, at Marielle’s 4 month appointment, I brought up the sleep regression issue with her pediatrician. “Have you heard of Baby Merlin’s Magic Sleep Suit?” She asked. I guess everyone else knows about this thing but me. I went home and I Amazon Primed a Sleep Suit overnight to our house. This thing is ridiculous. It better work.

That night, Brendan and I put Marielle to sleep in her Magic Sleep Suit. At 4:30am, I woke up because I hadn’t heard Marielle on the monitor and my mommy instincts automatically woke me up to check on her. I pressed view on her monitor, and there she was, sound asleep. Looking silly. I smiled and went back to sleep. It worked. Marielle was back to sleeping through the night. The real test was going to be the next day. Would she nap in this thing? She did. 2 hour naps, and woke up with a huge smile on her face.

She was happy.

Brendan and I were happy.

One big happy family.

So, if your little one is transitioning out of the swaddle, but still needs a little comfort, I absolutely recommend the Sleep Suit. Mamas to be…this is one for the registry!

You can absolutely be sure that I will be using this with Baby #2!

photo 1

Elements of Home, Favorite Things

Holiday Window Box

I love my window box. It’s the one element on the outside of our house that in my opinion, changes the whole feeling of the exterior of the home. Window boxes are cozy, inviting and beautiful, and add instant curb appeal to your home. I was especially excited to do my window box this year because we recently painted the exterior of our home a new color and I was excited to see how my window box would look this year! My spring window box took a bit of a beating with all the rain we had this spring…it was moved around when we had the house painted and was a bit neglected during that time. Therefore, I’m just going to show you how my holiday window box turned out, which is my secret favorite anyways πŸ™‚ I pretty much do the same thing every year, which makes it easy. Half of it is reusable, the other half I buy fresh every year. My window box includes:

  • Spruce tips, cedar and mixed pine branches (new each year)
  • Magnolia leaves (new each year)
  • Dried pods both natural and glittery for the holidays (can be reused)
  • Pine cones (can be reused)
  • Large, gold shatterproof ornaments (available at Target and most large garden centers during the holidays, can be reused)
  • Warm white LED lights

The best thing about winter window boxes is that they are maintenance free! No watering, no trimming, nothing. Just lovely color throughout the winter. When the holidays are over, I simply remove the lights, ornaments and anything glittery, and leave the greens and natural decor in for the rest of the winter.

Holiday window box

Elements of Baby, Favorite Things

Things We Love: gDiapers

When it comes to the one thing that your baby wears every single day, you better love it and make sure that baby is comfy and dry. Yes, I’m talking about diapers. I have to say, choosing a diaper for Marielle was extremely tricky. There are so many options, brands and types. When she was first born, we ended up using Pampers Swaddlers because that’s what our hospital used, and they were the softest with the best fit. They did work well. However, as with most disposable diapers, they had a light fragrance that I wasn’t crazy about and I was shocked at the amount of diapers she could go through! I had contemplated cloth diapering with Marielle but knew it might be a lot to take on as a first time mama. I myself was a cloth diaper baby and the way my mom described the washing process seemed quite tedious and time consuming. I did a little research on cloth diapers and came across gDiapers, which are hybrid cloth diapers. The perfect combination of reusable and disposable! Unlike most disposable diapers, gDiaper’s disposable inserts are 100% biodegradable. They are 100% fragrance free. No inks or dyes. No polypropylene. No perfumes. No elemental chlorine. I can definitely feel good about that. gDiapers are available with cloth inserts if you are interested in fully cloth diapering. For me, semi cloth diapering was perfect for us.

How They Work:

Choose a gPant (available in tons of adorable colors and patterns) and tuck an insert (either disposable or cloth) into the pouch and there you go! It’s just as simple as using disposable diapers, except gDiapers are incredibly breathable keeping diaper rashes away and baby comfy and dry. Once we switched to gDiapers, I found her diaper rashes were SO much better! I also found that the gDiaper inserts hold a lot more than a traditional disposable diaper as well, meaning no leaks and less diaper changes.

When it comes to diaper changes, simply remove the soiled insert and toss, compost (wet ones only!) or flush! Yes, that’s right you can flush them down your toilet. Simply tear off each side of the insert, allowing the absorbent inner core to fall out, break down and flush away. How’s that for getting rid of your diaper pail? Now, if you have older plumbing or plumbing that may be filled with tree roots, etc…just toss them in your diaper pail like you would a regular diaper, but feel good that they are environmentally friendly.

You only need to wash the gPant when it gets dirty. I change the waterproof, nylon snap in pouch if it gets soiled and after each day, and both can be machine washed and dried.

I love that Marielle can wear just a gDiaper and a cute shirt and that’s her outfit for the day if we’re hanging out at the house. Perfect for warm summer days, easy diaper changes and a happy, dry baby. She’s on the move and gDiapers allow her to move around comfortably. There are only two sizes of inserts, so once your baby hits the M/L/XL size, you don’t have to worry about what size diaper you need to buy ever again! The gPant sizing is amazing too…Marielle wears a Medium at 7 months and will continue to wear that size until she is 28 pounds. We’re so happy we found gDiapers!



gdiaper nylon pouch

gdiaper with insert

gdiaper outfit



Elements of Baby, Favorite Things

Things I Love: BabyGanics

There is so much learning that goes on in the first few months of motherhood, and there is nothing I love more than when I find a product that makes my life, and Marielle’s better. I had been washing Marielle’s bottles, pacifiers and my pump parts in an all natural dish soap, thinking I was doing something good by not using harsh chemicals and soaps. However, the brand of soap I was using (no need to name names, they are a great company, just maybe not for baby supplies!) was leaving behind a pretty strong scent on her bottles and my pump parts. I have no idea if it was affecting the way her bottles tasted, but I can only imagine it did at least a little. So off I went, in search for a fragrance free, baby safe, natural soap that I can use on her things. I came across a brand called Babyganics. Babyganics is a brand of non toxic, plant based cleaning and baby products dedicated to being 100% safe for baby, no bleach, SLS, phosphates, phthalates, sulfates, fragrances or dyes. I purchased the Dish and Bottle Soap and while I was at it, decided to try the Multi Surface Wipes that can be used on her toys and any surfaces she touches and the alcohol free Foaming Hand Sanitizer. I couldn’t be happier with my purchases. The Dish and Bottle Soap is amazing. It doesn’t leave behind residue and most importantly, no fragrance. No longer do I worry about her bottles tasting like cucumber. My days of using Clorox wipes and rinsing with water after use to be safe are over. I’m pretty sure she also enjoys the fact that her sensitive nose doesn’t have to tolerate Purell on my hands after diaper changes, plus it leaves my hands soft as opposed to that dry feeling you get from alcohol based sanitizers. I am so happy I found this brand and highly recommend it to any new mamas! Check out their website here for a full range of products safe for baby and you. How cute is their packaging?



Elements of Baby, Favorite Things

New Baby Must Haves

There is no arguing that there are a LOT of baby products out there, and it can be difficult to decipher which ones are actually necessary, helpful or just plain useless. Especially as a first time mama who feels the need to purchase EVERYTHING for her new baby girl. I’m pretty lucky to have an older sister with 3 kids who is a seasoned mother with lots of experience in the baby product world, as well as friends who are new mothers who have tried out some of the more “trendy” products. I spent a lot of time researching the major baby products I was interested in before actually buying. I spent tons of time on baby blogs, product review sites and my own in store research before taking the plunge on some of the more expensive items. I have created a list of my top 10 products that have made my life easier with our baby girl. From something as simple as the JJ Cole BundleMe for my January baby, to the more extravagant UppaBaby Vista stroller and Mesa car seat.

Ashley’s Must Haves

1) JJ Cole BundleMe – Baby, it’s cold outside! Especially here in Minneapolis. I was given the BundleMe by some friends of ours and it’s the best way to keep your little one warm and cozy and protected from the elements, without having to dress them in a puffy snowsuit, hat and mittens. It’s fuzzy inside and flap that covers the whole car seat make the transition from inside to outside easy, all while keeping baby safe and warm. It also works in our stroller perfectly.

JJ cole bundleme

2) 4moms MamaRoo Plush – At first I told myself I didn’t want any excess baby equipment, big swings, unnecessary bouncy chairs, etc. I already had a Baby Bjorn Bouncer and figured that would be enough…until I kept seeing this thing at every new mom’s house I went to. Marielle LOVES her MamaRoo. She takes 4 hour naps during the day, swinging away listening to Baby Einstein on the built in MP3 player. Honestly, it doesn’t take up that much space. It’s really lightweight, the cover is super soft and washable and most of all, it allows me to get things done during the day while keeping a close eye on my baby girl.

mamaroo plush

3) Aden and Anais Burpy Bib cloths – I have 12 of these. I started out with 2 and realized I couldn’t get through a day without them. There aren’t a lot of burp clothes on the market that are big enough, soft enough and absorbent enough. The shape of these fit perfectly on your shoulder while protecting both your front and back. Plus, Marielle loves to snuggle her face into the soft cloth. The more you wash them, the softer they become. Plus, they come in lots of adorable prints.

aden and anais burpy bibs

4) Halo SleepSack Swaddles – I’m all about the swaddle. Those newborn flailing arms and hands tend to keep Marielle awake, and this way she feels calm and comforted while dreaming away. I feel so much better using these because they stay secure with velcro, as opposed to a traditional swaddle blanket which can easily come unwrapped while she’s sleeping. Plus, once she’s grown out of being swaddled, these allow for the arms to be free as well while still keeping her cozy. We bought them in both microfleece and lightweight cotton. Best to have more than one on hand for those middle of the night blowouts!

sleepsack swaddle

5) Boppy Nursing Pillow – Honestly I didn’t use mine until Marielle was 2.5 months, she was such a tiny peanut she kinda fell right through the center and it wasn’t helpful for nursing at all. Now that she’s a bit bigger, I love it. It saves my arms and supports her head, and she often falls asleep for a little cat nap on it afterwards. I splurged on this adorable, super soft cover from Pottery Barn Kids…it’s amazing, I often contemplate taking my own nap on it.



6) Skip Hop Activity Gym – Also known as…The Best Way To Keep Baby Occupied So Mommy Can Shower, Eat Lunch, Throw in Laundry or Make a Phone Call πŸ™‚ Marielle learned how to roll over on her activity mat.

skip hop activity gym

7) Carlson Vitamin D Drops – According to our Pediatrician, babies aren’t getting enough Vitamin D naturally, and therefore require a Vitamin D supplement. There are lots on the market, but most of them are filled with artificial colors and flavors. Plus, they require giving your baby a full dropper full of liquid, which most babies will not tolerate. Marielle hated those! Carlson Vitamin D drops are two natural ingredients, and only require a single drop once a day to get the full daily value. You can even put the drop on a pacifier to make it easier. Plus, a whole bottle lasts an entire year…

carlson vitamin d drops

8) Aden and Anais Swaddle Blankets – Although I don’t use these for swaddling, I love them for tummy time, stroller and carseat use, as a nursing shawl if I don’t have my BeBe Au Lait handy, and throwing in the diaper bag. They are lightweight and cozy, breathable and work great for blocking sun and anywhere you need a soft, snuggle surface for baby.

aden and anais swaddle blankets

9) Baby Bjorn Active Carrier – Unfortunately they are discontinuing the Active model, not sure why…but I would recommend any Baby Bjorn carrier. They are versatile, can be used with baby facing forward or towards you and work as they get older. As cute as the fabric slings are, they are really only for when they are teeny, and I didn’t feel they offered the same back support as a full carrier, which was really important to me since I have a weak lower back. The Baby Bjorn carrier allows baby to look around and see the world. They offer additional neck support that can be folded down once baby is strong enough to hold her head up. Look how happy we look! πŸ™‚ Plus, my husband can use it as well. It also comes in handy around the house when Marielle has her, “please hold me all day long” days πŸ™‚


10) UppaBaby Vista Stroller and Mesa Carseat System – All I can say is that this is truly the best stroller and car seat system ever. Let’s start out with the stroller. I knew I wanted a stroller with a bassinet option, as well as a regular toddler seat and attachable car seat option. I researched all the brands that had this option, and it came down to Bugaboo vs. UppaBaby. UppaBaby won me over hands down. Not only is the stroller lightweight, portable and easy to collapse, I love the fact the matching car seat (sold separately) latches on without crazy adapters. It features an extended sunshade with SPF 50 that keeps my baby out of the sun, and has a fully reclining seat that allows Marielle to take naps while strolling the outdoors. The storage basket at the bottom is huge…it fits everything we need. When it comes to strollers, the wheels on the Vista are pretty much all terrain. Our Vista has been through snow, sand, cobblestones and puddles of water, flawlessly. Purchase the Vista travel bag, and your stroller is fully insured if anything happens to it during travel.

The car seat. There isn’t a car seat with a base that installs more effortlessly than this one. Simply buckle into two car anchors, press the base down until it clicks and you’re done. 10 seconds! It has all the latest safety features. The insert in the seat keeps Marielle cozy and protected, and worked perfectly when she was just a 6 pound 12 ounce newborn. This car seat fits a baby as small as 4 pounds up to 35 pounds. A lot of car seats aren’t made to work with smaller babies. It latches into the Vista frame and releases with a single button. We’ve been really happy with the whole UppaBaby system.

uppababy_jakemesa jake carseat

Elements of Food, Favorite Things

Favorite Things: Porketta

If you’re not Italian, or, you didn’t grow up in my family, you probably have no idea what Porketta is. Well, I will tell you! In Italy, Porchetta is a whole pig that is deboned, stuffed with herbs, and then slow-roasted until it simply falls apart. Porketta, prepared the Northern Minnesota way,Β  is simply a rolled pork roast drenched, and I mean, absolutely COVERED in incredible herbs, spices and garlic, slow cooked for 10 hours, pulled apart and eaten on soft rolls. My parents both grew up in Northern Minnesota, and moved to Minneapolis after they graduated from college. A few things came with them…Porketta, Pasties and Potica and some day, when I have enough time…and enough skill, I will show you how to make Potica.

Want to know more about Iron Range cuisine? Yes. cuisine. The Iron Range is home to a few of my favorite things including Pasties and Potica. This is amazing stuff…don’t believe me? I’m pretty sure Cooks Illustrated & Cooks Country wouldn’t be writing about it if it wasn’t!

Sunday is typically slow cooker day for me and my husband, and today is no exception…I’ve got a fabulous Porketta slow cooking away in my kitchen, making our whole house fragrant with the scent of fennel and garlic. No, I don’t make this one myself. I had it made at Village Meats in Wayzata. The second I walked in and ordered a Porketta he asked, “are you Diane’s daughter?” I guess our family is the only family to special order these roasts πŸ™‚ It’s one of the easiest meals to prepare…simply place the Porketta in the slow cooker on high for 5 hours and then on low for 4-5 additional hours. No need to add any liquid while cooking. Once the roast easily falls apart, shred the pork and mix in the juices from the slow cooker. We serve it on rolls or hamburger buns. My husband likes to put LOTS of BBQ sauce on his, but it has enough flavor on its own too!

Slow Cooked Porketta

Elements of Food, Favorite Things

Roasted Beet Salad with Goat Cheese, Walnuts and Dijon Vinaigrette

My sister in law was cooking dinner for her husband and her parents last weekend. Her mom is eating a lot of vegetarian dishes, and she wanted to make something flavorful and satisfying. I LOVE beet salads and I think they are the perfect addition to any meal. Not to mention, they are a beautiful vegetable. This recipe was giving to me by my mom. She has made it on several occasions including holidays. It’s the perfect holiday side. It’s quite easy, actually. I admit I was very intimidated about roasting beets for the first time, but once I learned how easy it was, I don’t hesitate to do it again. I have made this a few times, and it gets rave reviews every time…and you won’t believe how easy it actually is.

One tip: Invest in kitchen grade gloves. Peeling beets can turn your hands bright pinkish red and wearing kitchen gloves will allow you to return to dinner beet red free! Tiffany sent me her photos from her cooking excursion and I’m featuring them on this post. Thanks Tiff! So happy it turned out well!

Beet salad ingredients


For the Beets
1 bunch medium beets (about 3)
1 tablespoon olive oil

For the Salad
10 ounces mixed greens (I like a blend of frisee, radicchio and mesclun)
3 ounces goat cheese
Β½ cup walnuts, coarsely chopped

For the Vinaigrette
2 tablespoons honey
1Β½ tablespoons Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar (best quality, such as Pompeian Gourmet)
1Β½ tablespoons minced shallots
Β½ teaspoon salt
ΒΌ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
6 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil


For the beets:
Preheat oven to 425Β°F. Wipe or scrub beets clean then trim stems down to one-inch (leave “tails” on). Place beets on a large piece of foil; drizzle with olive oil, then wrap foil around them to form a neat packet. Roast directly on rack in middle of oven until tender, about 1 hour. Test for doneness by piercing the largest beet with a knife. If it enters easily, it’s done. Unwrap beets and let sit until cool enough to handle. Use your hands or a paring knife to peel skin, then cut into Β½-inch dice (I usually do this right on the aluminum foil but you can also use a stain-proof cutting board or plate). Set aside.


Beets in foil for roasting

Roasted Beets
For the vinaigrette:
In a small bowl, whisk together the honey, Dijon mustard, red wine vinegar, shallots, salt and pepper. Whisking constantly, slowly add the oil in a steady stream. (Alternatively, add all your ingredients to a jar, cover with lid, and shake vigorously to blend.) Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.

For the salad:
Place the greens in a large bowl, drizzle with about half of the vinaigrette and toss to combine. Add as much of the remaining vinaigrette as desired and toss again. Divide greens onto plates, then sprinkle with beets, walnuts and goat cheese. (The reason you don’t just mix it all together in a salad bowl is that the beets would cause the whole salad to turn pink.) Serve immediately.