Nursery Update!

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Friends, I want so badly to be a good blogger and not leave you hanging after a post like this nursery inspiration one.

 photo 20150923_085700_zps9ju595hi.jpg  photo 20150923_090004_zps741i7tad.jpg So, here’s your update! This room’s transformation from home office/junk room to nursery/home office was astounding! Dramatic! Shocking! It really was. Let me encourage you not to put off whatever project you’re considering, or all those repairs and things you might do if you were trying to sell your house, or host a party. Add the extra strand of twinkle lights so you can enjoy it now! Baby boy is not here yet, but already I’ve enjoyed the room so much—my own personal sanctuary and yoga studio—now that it’s brighter and lighter and has furniture that’s appropriate in scale.
 photo 30FA09E2-9B4F-4F97-94C3-85F8A1F2A69F_zpsrh8a43xn.jpgBefore. The room was dark blue. I don’t mind a manly dark den. (Our kitchen is navy!) But the shade wasn’t perfect and it wasn’t the feel we wanted for the nursery in any case. There was a large desk table, as well as a large, very comfortable sofa. Both of those were practical; they served their purpose. But really they were too big for the size of the room and together prevented the room from functioning its best, even though I’m glad the sofa served as a guest bed many times. Rounding out the chaos were a couple random bookshelves that we sold at the neighborhood yard sale. And I sent the large desk table back to Mama Rote’s emporium of household goods and sundries, exchanging it for a smaller wooden desk. But let’s not jump ahead!

One transformational weekend this summer, a group of laborers converged on Nashville (parents, cousins, uncle and aunt), and we/they cleared the heavy pieces from the room, painted, and picked up industrial shelves that I found on Craigslist. It’s all happening. (Name that movie.) photo 7725EDE7-5E07-4BF3-8038-4CA26980B801_zpsucduptsf.jpg

Paint. Thanks to this Emily Henderson advice—Design Mistake #3: Painting a small, dark room white—we chose an off-white neutral. We tested several different paint samples on the wall, and ultimately went with the one that Mom’s friend Beth had suggested. I know you’re supposed to paint samples on the walls to see how different colors actually look in your room, with different light at different times of day, but in the future we’d probably save ourselves grief by immediately going with whatever Beth recommends. I love the way it turned out. (The color is Pearly Gates by United Paint, but they’re out of business. Sherwin Williams looked it up and matched it for us.)

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Those wooden boxes, one that says EVERYTHING, are leftover from my grandaddy’s upholstery shop. 

Shelves. If you want to feel like all the possibilities in the world are open to you, do a Marie Kondo-style purging of books, etc. and buy some big industrial shelves. Gazing at the empty shelves will make your soul feel open and roomy. Mine did. Of course, several weeks later, the shelves are entirely full.

In my initial plan for the room, I wanted some tall shelves, like these from Ikea, fancied up with gold or another metallic. (By the way, as my cousin Nate would point out, painting something is not a “hack.” It’s painting something.) But I put it off, and Ikea shipping is outrageous, and I started looking at other options with a lot of vertical storage and an industrial feel. Lots of good possibilities. Then I lucked into some old school lockers on Craigslist. They looked pretty nasty and I figured we’d need to sand and varnish and paint or something. But when we got our hands on them, we discovered that they were pretty much just dirty. So I hired a crack team of cleaners.
 photo EAC7559A-6C55-441B-A485-C0D60760EBD6_zpspholclls.jpg photo 6D8A2D84-04AA-4B00-9991-730D1D1E65CD_zpscpdwimi5.jpg photo 83C8ADFB-CEC0-4430-907E-09838BB7C081_zpso9n3wej6.jpgThey discovered this pretty color underneath.
 photo 1A63E953-2D23-4BCF-8F86-51E7CE75CB6A_zpswerlwgxe.jpg Isn’t it killer? The color is fairly similar to what we did on these shelves a few years ago, so now it’s like we have masculine and feminine versions. I feel like we’ll use them forever in some capacity. (Check out this inspo from Pinterest!!)

After that major transformation weekend, we’ve been in a slower process of filling out the room, which in technical terms means looting and pillaging the rest of the house. Which means a domino effect of new random house projects. (Long story short, we got a new dining room table!)

 photo 54a90c59-1425-4de1-b894-31f1b1c0a1fc_zpsadxwp8zz.jpgWe’re using the same dresser that served as the girls’ changing pad, and brought the blue rocker from their room (replaced by another chair from my parents’ house) and my favorite pillow from the living room. Please note how the colors going on with this chair look like the one in one of my inspiration images! I like what I like.

I’ve done a good bit of musical chairs with art, too.
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 photo 20150923_085609_zpsrxhvla0k.jpgYou know, I’m one who doesn’t put a lot of stock into worrying about diaper cream and adequate baby supplies. The kid will need a solid sense of self, via the proper placement of a John Wayne poster (stolen from his Uncle John): totally masculine, but black and white and minimal so it’s artsy and not overly-themed.

The rug. You may remember that I wanted something with a lot of character. We were keeping an eye out for something colorful and old and just right, preferably made of wool or other natural fibers. But as the shelves were filled out with books and other items, my penchant for color was already manifesting itself and I conceded that something more neutral could be good. We continued to keep an eye out and I spent way too much time browsing these sites. Patience paid off when Beth (to the rescue! Again!) texted from one of Memphis’ best kept secrets, the Pottery Barn Outlet. She found a steal of a deal on a rug for the girls’ room, so we moved their white wool rug to the nursery.

Again, I’m so happy with the way it turned out.
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Once more. Before:

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After (from the same angle, because I’m keeping it profesh):
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And keeping the styling professional by featuring the chocolate croissant on the desk.

Fun! Thank you to all my design team and work crew!!! (And, oh yes. Come on, baby!)

P.S. I loved all these inspiration images on District of Chic: Southwestern Inspired Nursery Design.

Let the fun begin! Or, baby boy nursery inspiration.



We are expecting another baby—a boy this time! “NO,” I said when the ultrasound technician told us. Disbelief. (You probably aren’t surprised that I had neither the will nor the desire to come up with some kind of clever gender reveal thing.)

To tell you the truth, the utmost issue in my mind re: Bebé Tres—aside from worrying about what in the world little boys wear, and fearing the inevitable urine sprayed in my face—is the nursery. I’ve been having a pretty good time brainstorming and playing [mental] tetris with furniture arrangements.

To get you up to speed: we are in a charming little bungalow in a charming little Nashville neighborhood. The girls are sharing a room, and so we have the office/third bedroom available for the new little dude. I hate to admit that this “home office” has been steadily slip-sliding into junk room status. (Do you have a junk room? Please tell me about it in the comments!)

So I’m excited for a fresh start. Redemption time, baby.

I decided that until we learned the sex of Bebé Tres, I’d be content with gathering ideas and brainstorming (i.e. Pinterest-ing hardcore) before springing into action. (Maybe springing isn’t the most exact term. Plodding into action?) I’ve been following Nashville designer Colleen Locke’s blog, Trot Home, where she opens a window into her process, especially the step of dreaming and scheming before narrowing down your options and deciding on your direction (which she discusses in this post in particular).

In that spirit, I’ll share some of the inspiration images I found.

[The picture at the top of the post is one I’ve had on my Pinterest baby baby board from the beginning, from Abbey Nova’s Upper West Side apartment.]

Here’s one that’s awesome and patriotic (though I’d be in trouble with Mama Rote if I didn’t point out that the flag’s field of blue ought to be on the viewer’s left):

flag baby nurseryWe have a framed Springsteen poster I gave to Israel when we were dating that could be used to similar effect.

I love this clean, white look with the oriental rug:

nursery white walls

A similar feel:

Amber Interiors nurseryBut then I saw this office tour (Sarah Vickers’ and Kiel James Patrick’s shared space):

Sarah Vickers officeSarah Vickers office

I really dig the green, and the layered, collected vibe.

(And I forgot to say that I’d like to keep a small office space in the nursery: at least a small desk for laptop, the printer, small filing cabinet.)

More delicious greens:

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Yum. And so, the time has come (the walrus said), to make decisions.

I scientifically evaluated my Pinterest board, and saw that my two directions were the white and the green, using a rug with character in either scenario. I’ve been reading Montessori stuff about simplifying the kid’s environment (not to mention Marie Kondo!); and considering that it’s wise for me to keep it simple (stupid), I decided to go with the white, clean walls; anchored with some kind of awesome, beautiful rug; natural wood and white furniture. (And I need not tell you, many pops of color.)

I’d love an oriental rug,


or maybe a southwest/Mexican feeling one.


I’m hereby sending this wish into the universe. (The room is about 11×10, in case you have the ideal rug for me.)

Which direction calls to you? Green or white? Perhaps my soul is an old British study, while my inner parent longs to be clean California cool.

I left my heart on Bourbon Street.

maltby + john-nDN8k168795868

A few years ago, we had fun with this post, brainstorming ways to fill in the blank: “I left my heart in ____.”

I was reminded of this after Mom did such a great job gathering, and executing, beautiful and meaningful ideas for John’s rehearsal dinner, which was held at the SweetWater Brewery in Atlanta at the end of January.

All the table names were street signs from places in John’s life, or Maltby’s life, or their life together: the streets they grew up on, South Africa, a ranch in Wyoming, Palo Alto, Athens, NYC, and of course New Orleans where they met. It was a super fun conversation starter, and a small glimpse into their lives which was appropriate for a gathering of family and friends from all over and from all stages of life, who may have only known the bride or the groom before then.

Mom also gathered pictures of the lovely couple as they grew up (we could do a photoessay on the evolution of John’s hair), and she did a phenomenal job with the centerpieces, along with her team of florists and designers (AKA Beth and Aunt Kace). Cotton, magnolia, pine greenery in silver julep cups, stacked on a couple old books for the height they needed.

The actual wedding reception was a gorgeous winter wonderland, and the style Mom and John chose for the rehearsal dinner was much more casual but complemented it nicely. Someone at my table (from Colorado) actually reached out and picked the cotton to see what it was like. Hard work. That’s why the cotton gin was such a big deal, I said.

maltby + john-SXZfD168795512

photo credits: the fantastic Vue Photography

So we know that John left his heart and his SweetWater beer in Athens with a brown-eyed UGA girl . . .

What about you? Where have you left a piece of your heart? And isn’t funny how it takes leaving to realize how much you completely adore someone or something or somewhere? Let’s see . . .

I left my heart in Del Ray (our old neighborhood in Alexandria, VA).

I left my heart at Little Lights.

I left my heart in Paraguay, at Pabla’s storefront home.

I left my heart in Cholula.

I left my heart, or maybe found it, no—my heart was stolen! that’s better—at Nick’s Nightclub, Alexandria’s premiere line dancing institution.

(And, always and forever, I left my heart in Cville, specifically at Take It Away. It’ll probably be right where they stack those little containers of house dressing.)

Your turn! But be careful. My heart is literally hurting right now. Nostalgia, you kill me.

This and that.

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A couple weekends ago with the bruddas. We almost asked an old man to jump in to substitute for Ben, but no one’s hair was white enough. 

We’re gearing up to take the fam to NYC for Thanksgiving, not packing yet, just thinking about it. Let me know if you have great New York City suggestions, especially for little ones! We do have traditions (e.g. taking our rings to Tiffany’s to be cleaned. “I think you’ll find that Tiffany’s is very understanding.” Name that movie. It’s easy.)—but they necessarily evolve with little chickadees, plus there’s always more to see. This year we’re looking forward to the Botanical Gardens with the cousins.

If you don’t have to pack up yourself and two kids—it’s like when grandaddy told Mama Rote, after unloading all the gear for baby Will, that he loved her, but they didn’t take that much stuff when they were storming the beaches at Normandy—maybe you’ll have time to peruse some links:

  • Great news for those of us who aren’t used to maintaining a yard: don’t rake your leaves. Or, “If you’re too persnickety to have a leave-strewn lawn all winter, rake them off the lawn but into your plant and flower beds.”
  • Even easier Thanksgiving tradition. Instead of the gratitude jar that I’ve posted about in years past, follow this advice and write a notecard at the table with everyone. No forethought, except for the person making notecards, and no anger at yourself or a family member who may have forgotten to add anything to the gratitude jar all year. Ahem.
  • Also via MMD, this gem, by folks at Nashville Public Library . . . all the right books in all the right places.

  • From Pinterest, I was fascinated by this list of overnight hairstyles—ways to get great hair by doing something to it at bedtime (tiny braids for crinkly waves, weekly coconut oil conditioner, dry shampoo . . .). Do you have any tricky hair tricks like that?
  • To end on a triumphant note, here’s an idea from Pinterest that I actually executed and enjoyed (you can tell somewhat in the pic at the top).

    Thanks to a Virginia friend with a China connection :) I have a few strands of pearls, but I think my neck is too big for them to look quite right, unless I’m wearing exactly the right thing. Using ribbon provides a longer more flattering length on me, and perhaps takes the seriousness of the pearls down a notch. Try it if you need a festive, unstuffy look for Thanksgiving!

Have a fun, cozy week. May your turkey be yummy and your packing be light!

P.S. Jane Eyre pulp covers, and Jane Eyre for tots.

P.P.S. What a difference a year makes!

Sunday Finest (or, Being a Good Mom for Dummies)


I love talking to other parents and reading blogs and seeing baby pictures and the sweet things people do to record memories. There are tons of great ideas—a line a day journals for baby’s first year, special photo albums, onesies with the months numbered, pictures of baby sitting in the same bucket each month til he’s too big for it, then eventually carrying it around and being precious. This dad’s time lapse video of his daughter from birth til 12 years old  is incredible . . . he wins!

But with all that beautiful creativity comes the inevitable guilt. I should be doing these things! I’m missing the memories! My advice if you want to do something like this is to choose one or two simple items that will be easy for you to do (and remember to do), and then don’t worry about it anymore. You’re not going to out-do the Dutch guy’s time lapse video.

Incredibly, we stumbled upon something that works for us and I think is pretty awesome: Sunday finest. The first few weeks of Mary Tobin’s life, I happened to email or text a “Sunday picture” to the grandmas and aunts, since Mary Tobin was wearing some sweet church dress, or Santa outfit, or at least a huge bow. (That was the time when people were asking for pictures every day, but I’m a slacker, so at least they knew they could count on Sunday.) At some point, Israel and I made a decision that we’d try to get a decent picture to share once a week, on Sunday; and at the end of her first year, we made a photo book for the grandparents.

This simple system works so well and makes me feel like such a good mom, that we continued into year two! And I decided to streamline even further: now all the Sunday pictures are on Instagram, which saves me from trying to organize a folder on my computer, downloading or uploading to the right place, etc. (So, take heart! Whatever family traditions you start can be adjusted, amended, nixed later. Just make it work, people.) Now that Mary Tobin’s cousins have arrived, they’ve been joining in the fun with their own version: #multiplesmonday!

If you follow me on Instagram, you can rely on #sundayfinest, at least for now. When Bebe Dos arrives, should she get something different? Should we try to get both girls in the pic every week? Oh the pressure . . . except the whole point of doing it this way was to take off the pressure . . .

These photos are great triggers for memories, but I do wish I had a better method for writing down snippets of every day life. (Watch out, blog readers—this may affect you!) Do you have any ideas on that score?

Finally, a disclaimer: the above “Ignoring the paparazzi” photo garnered maybe my most “likes” ever on Instagram. I won’t lie, social media affirmation is fun and feels great. But that day we were in the middle of dealing with some kind of sleep regression . . . I’ve blocked out the details . . . all three Ortegas were crabby, to put it mildly, and I remember thinking that I’d sure as heck trade those “likes” for some peace in real life. So remember, Real Life > Online.

Wrapping in Style

LLUM Christmas Store

Last week Mary Tobin and I took a fun outing over to the Little Lights Christmas Store. (I help out at Little Lights Urban Ministries as much as I can now that the princesa is here—which, let’s be honest, has been far less than I expected. As Israel likes to point out, she’s a tough boss.)

The Christmas Store is a new tradition for Little Lights, replacing a big party, which in years past has been held at a church in Maryland with volunteers and donors providing food, gifts, etc. This year all those resources were channeled into smaller celebrations within LLUM’s after-school programs, and then—drumroll—the Family Center was transformed into the Christmas Store for four days.

The parents of Little Lights kids received an invitation to shop (and enjoy Christmas music, cookies, coffee, and hot chocolate) and select a gift for their child from 200+ toys. Video here.

Instead of kids each receiving a gift at our Christmas Party in early December, parents got to choose the gift and save it for Christmas morning, or whenever their family celebration is.

Although the kids always loved the party and went crazy for their gifts (video of the madness here: “A baby alive!!!!”), the Christmas store will return since it’s more empowering for parents and keeps the celebration within the neighborhood.

Parents wrapped their gifts and wrote cards or gift tags, and I got to help with wrapping a little bit, which I love.

Typically, this is how my wrapping goes. I save all gift bags, ribbons, tissue paper, and salvageable gift wrap supplies from any event. I hoard them in my closet, which makes no sense given our place is tiny urban and hip. I also hold on to bags from local stores that could be used for gifts. (Y’all, not Victoria’s Secret bags, but brown ones or solid color ones. Lots of little shops or food places use generic bags without their logo.) I have a roll of brown butcher paper, which I must’ve grudgingly bought at some point. So, my favorite gifts are wrapped in brown paper or a brown bag, then have a bright fun ribbon.

Here are some inspiring images from a quick pinterest search:

Did you spot the awesome household items: newspaper, neon office supply stickers, cup cake wrappers!?

What are your wrapping tricks? Huge ribbon? Comics? Help us out with your wrapping wisdom.

P.S. The Washington Post Magazine ran this little piece a couple weeks ago, about a girl at a shelter who was just so happy she got a gift with her name on it, that didn’t say, “Girl, age 11.” Wow, that was killer. And it reinforced to me the wisdom of updating the Little Lights Christmas traditions. I don’t know what it will mean for you, but it challenges me to think about how our good deeds this Christmas can focus more on filling a real need, rather than fulfilling our own need to do a good deed. What are your thoughts?

OK, guys, sorry this post is schizophrenic. That’s two action items. You don’t have to do both. Wrapping technique? Thoughts about better/more empowering charitable giving?

Advent, part 2

C.S. Lewis Longing

So in that last post I was not trying to be a downer, but being hopeful. This time of year is not about my personal perfection, it’s about my great need. So when I find myself (or you find yourself) trying to be the Queen of Christmas, that means somewhere along the way, priorities have gone—no, careened wildly!—off track.
That said, I’m more than a little proud of our pinterest-inspired Advent calendar.
advent calendar
Inside some of the bags are the animals and figures from the nativity scene, and random other decorations and goodies are in the rest. We read a children’s Advent book after dinner then let Mary Tobin reach into the bags for the next treasure. By now, she gets the drill and starts going bananas when we take the bag down from the ribbon.

Advent 5
Advent 4  Advent 6

Full disclosure, though. This was not my first Advent calendar attempt. My first attempt was inspired by the following image, which I think is charming and low-maintenance (like myself right?):

Unfortunately, this woman’s socks were a lot more charming than mine. When Israel returned home from a trip, I was excited to show him the results of my creative craft time. He liked the idea of the Advent/Christmas countdown, but when he looked at the strand of socks, he asked “Will people think we’re drying laundry or something?” No, no no! It’s cute! It’s like stockings! For Christmas! “Yeah, I like it. Maybe we can hang it in the bedroom. Or in my closet.”

What a Scrooge, am I right? Fortunately, we had brown lunch bags (inspired by this pinterest image) and some red and white craft paper for numbers. I grumbled as I sat and cut and pasted numbers, but as everything came together I was cooing with delight. It looks, approximately, a million times better than my sock ribbon. Also, cutting out numbers and letters is one of my hidden talents.

P.S. My friend and neighbor Shannon’s advent calendar is one of the coolest I’ve seen.

P.P.S. Don’t go nuts, just choose one thing.

Thanksgiving for Dummies


Coming to you from the back of our overpacked car, heading home after a great holiday weekend in NYC.

As a young family there can be a lot of pressure (or maybe it’s just me?) to figure out and establish what your own family traditions will be. You want something meaningful, fun, and, of course, unique, original, camera-ready, and pinterest-worthy!

So the little container in my picture above may not be all those things, but one virtue it certainly has: this was easy, dear reader.

Throughout the year, as good things happened or one of us thought of something we’re grateful for, we would write it on a slip of paper and put it in the canister. (No peeking at the other papers!)

On Thanksgiving, we opened the little treasure trove and read through what we’d written, and remembered blessings large and small.

At a time when I feel stretched thin, talking through what a year it’s been brought a nice sense of renewal. We’re grateful for a daughter’s health and growth, two new in laws, lots of interesting travel, and so many material blessings (including nice cheese from Whole Foods). A running theme: we’re grateful for family who sacrificed time, money, frequent flyer miles, sleep … to visit us and watch Mary Tobin. Seriously there were grandparents/abuelos and/or tias/uncles here at least once a month. They helped us move, allowed us to go to a wedding, go on vacation, meet work obligations. They celebrated MT’s birth, baptism, and birthday. Unbelievable generosity.

The gratitude jar could work for any personality—write a slip dutifully every week, or forget about it for months, remember, then write a bunch. (Can you guess which style we are??) And though the purpose is to intentionally pause and thank God for what He’s done, I imagine the hilarity could shoot through the roof as kids grow and participate. (Laugh lines this year had to do with being grateful for our own Ortega family language, and Al Jazeera.)

Israel heard this idea from a friend last year, so now we share it with you. 2013 Thanksgiving prep: donesky. Except the turkey, food, travel, etc.

P.S. I finished this post at home. Road blogging did not work out.

Can you tell in the photo that the princesa is eating a pack of stationery? We love paper products!