Tutorial: Dress-Up Closet (IKEA Hack)

As I mentioned in my last post, Gemma has a well-stocked dress-up collection. On any given day she can transform from a precocious baby girl into a fireman, cowgirl, pirate, princess, doctor, chef, Red Riding Hood, ballerina, mailman, fairy or train conductor.

All of these character changes require some serious playroom organization. Initially, we let these costumes live in a basket when not in use, however the stash outgrew the basket, and I knew we needed a space to keep things clean. The key was creating an area where all or most of the storage was at Gemma’s level, so cleaning up her playroom could be a realistic chore. Hence, I made my thrice yearly trek to IKEA (Charlotte is our closest store, a little over 2 hours away). I had an idea in mind but wasn’t quite sure if it would work.

It took a few hours of wandering the store to soak up all my options but I finally settled on a few pieces of the TROFAST bin storage solution from the children’s department. This system is great because there are several frames from which to choose (finishes, sizes) and the bins are interchangeable and can be configured in a variety of ways.

Here are some pics of the end result.



Now I’ll walk you through how we organized the space.

Dress Up “Closet”


This was the first TROFAST frame I purchased ($50). Instead of filling it with bins, I opted to make it a pseudo-hanging closet for the less bulky dress up clothing. First, I painted it (using some leftover paint from a previous project; not Annie Sloan, btw), then I simply installed the smallest tension rod I could find ($3). On the left side of the closet you can see a three-pocket organizer, the PYSSLINGAR wall pocket ($5), which stores beads, necklaces and other dress-up accessories.

tension rod

IKEA also sells these cute, colorful hangers ($1.49/8 pack).


Princess Corner: I painted a simple peg coat rack (like this one, $9) with a thin coat of Annie Sloan Chalk Paint (Old White) and hung it to store the bulky princess dresses and fairy wings. The dress-up mirror is from IKEA (though it appears they no longer sell this version), and I made the tuffet at a “Tuffet in a Day” class a few years ago at a local fabric store (Thimble Pleasures, Chapel Hill).



White Dress Up and Toy Bins: This is the second TROFAST storage solution I purchased ($90/frame plus cost of desired bins, $3-5/each). I gave the pine frame a whitewash using Annie Sloan Chalk Paint, Old White and then organized Gemma’s dress up accessories and other toys inside each bin. The bins easily store her small musical instruments, Legos, Play-doh, smaller dolls and cars, purses and other bags, etc. On the top of the unit, there is a set of three white/tassel PYSSLINGAR small fabric storage bins ($8/set of three) to catch CDs, feather boas and other small toys.


Ideally, we’d have built-in storage (something I’ve put on my wish list should we ever build a house) but for the mean time, this solution works great for us.  It’s easily accessible for Gemma, we can rearrange the pieces as her play interests change, and it can grow with us (thankfully IKEA offers several pieces in this line). I hope you enjoyed this tour of the little dress-up nook in Gemma’s play space and are inspired to create an affordable space for your own kiddos!

Special Note:

  • IKEA Hackers is fabulous site to find creative ways to repurpose IKEA products. I can get lost for hours just looking at the hundreds of ways people have transformed simple products into amazing solutions. It’s a must see!!

Fostering Girl Power

I was 15 years old in 1992 when Teen Talk Barbie made headlines for saying “math class is tough”. What a blow that was to the feminist movement.

Back then I aspired to be an astronaut. Seriously. No one ever told me I couldn’t pursue my dream, so why not? In fact, my parents encouraged my interest and allowed me to attend Space Academy not once, but twice…once in 8th grade and again during spring break my senior year in high school. Those two weeks will forever rank high on my list of great childhood memories.


Team Wounded Duck, Space Academy, April 1995


Space Academy grounds, Huntsville, AL, 1995


Incredible “behind the scenes” tour of Kennedy Space Center, Launch Pad B, with astronaut Joe Tanner (Danville, IL native), 1996

Ultimately, when I got to college I realized while I had enjoyed making rockets with my team of fellow “nerds”, scuba diving in the underwater astronaut trainer tank, and managing my post as a mission control or payload specialist, what I really enjoyed was the stimulation, interaction and “play” of it all. Translation…I wasn’t willing to do the work, put in the years or make the sacrifices necessary to achieve the dream. So I became a communications major (insert chuckle here).

My choice to abandon my dream had nothing to do with Teen Talk Barbie. At the time, the American Association of University Women took issue with the careless words of this tween toy and demanded Mattel remove them from Barbie’s vocab (which Mattel did). The AAUW cited a report which concluded girls were being short-changed in schools. Maybe those words discouraged some girls from pursuing fields of science or math? Probably not. [I attribute my detour to merely growing up and being aware of my strengths and power of choice. Oh, and I’ll give Lynn Moody credit, too. She was a top-notch communications prof during my freshman year in college (shout out to Danville Area Community College), who inspired and motivated me to study the psychology of how and why people interact and socialize, and ultimately find my degree in public relations.]

Fast forward 20 years (wow, really?) and gender lines are still drawn. Becoming a parent puts this fact in clear view – beginning with the tiny hat bestowed on baby’s head in the hospital and ending at the current 19% earnings gap between women and men. While I have the ability to filter and the confidence to strive beyond stereotypes, my impressionable 4-year-old daughter, Gemma, is a sponge.

I see the gender lines drawn down every toy, athletic and clothing aisle in department stores. G is a princess through and through. And I must admit I fell into the trap early on…pink, pink, pink (well her room is blue but only because I saw a lot of pink in her future). We’ve got a playroom full of sparkles and crowns; princess dresses for each day of the week; “my first purse”; a play kitchen; Strawberry Shortcakes, Disney princesses and My Little Ponies galore. We’re pretty balanced, though, with matchbox cars, a train set, balls, Legos (albeit the Friends line which boasts a horse stable and pink convertible for little girl Lego-people), fireman and train engineer dress up clothes, Play-doh, and building blocks. And thank goodness the female characters in Gemma’s books offer strong role models and teach sharing, manners, healthy lifestyle and friendly behaviors. I’m not sure I remember a moral message from my favorite cartoon of yesteryear, Jem (and the Holograms).

As her parents, Ben and I embrace her glittery personality and realize it’s our job to encourage her to reach beyond the “pink” and instill a solid foundation in reading, math and science.

Almost daily, I encourage Gemma’s help in the kitchen, which may seem gender-biased, I know, but it’s clear she’s learning so much more than just “mommy cooks dinner”. She’s learning how to measure, seeing how ingredients react to heat (in the oven and on the stove) or air (with mixing or whipping), learning to count and tell time, expanding her palate to ensure a healthy lifestyle and lay a foundation for the desire to (hopefully) travel the world and experience places and people beyond my own imagination.


Gemma (1.5 years old) shucking corn.

We treat her as an equal member of the household (within boundaries, of course); a tiny human with valid opinions and the same rights and responsibilities as her father and I…we require manners, respect, contributions of chores, etc.

As a family, we play card games such as UNO or BLINK to reinforce shapes, colors, numbers and critical thinking. She’s quite good…I’d estimate a .650 winning percentage. Dominos is another favorite. Ben and Gemma’s favorite activities are building with blocks and creating incredible train track designs. That said, we work on a lot of puzzles, memory games and recently picked up Magnetic SuperMind, which really challenges the player to use their spacial judgement to organize various shapes to create the pictures provided on the game cards. (Thankfully, these game sets are primary colors and not gender-specific.) I’m fascinated watching Gemma work with the shapes, seeing her determination and satisfaction when she’s able to complete a card on her own.




The only thing clear in our quest to raise a smart, confident and strong young woman is we’re winging it. Going on gut instinct. Taking lessons from our mothers and fathers and those influential members of our little community of friends and family, implementing what has shaped and inspired us. Teaching her good morals and giving her the tools to succeed. Letting her fall once in a while because it will keep her grounded and might just motivate her to reach higher or try something new. Encouraging her to dream, and, ahem, letting her know it’s okay to change your dreams along the way.

Oh, and I don’t think there’s any harm in agreeing with her if she comes home from school and tells me “math class is tough”.

Nautical Nightstands

In April 2012, Ben and I (and another couple), purchased Island Paradise, a beach house on beautiful Topsail Island (NC), as an investment property. While the property had great bones, it was in desperate need of a complete cosmetic makeover (imagine a cheaply decorated tiki-jungle-safari theme). Luckily, we had two handy and well-organized husbands managing the budget and contractors, while the two design-savvy and stylish wives led the interior overhaul and shopping requirements (we had years of practice between the two of us).

We did the best we could to repurpose a lot of the furniture but almost all of the accessories had to be donated, consigned or recycled out to make room for a new aesthetic. Shopping for bedding, lamps and other accessories was super fun! (What women don’t love shopping…especially when starting with a clean slate?!) Within a matter of weeks, the house was easily transformed from its previous state into a serene, coastal vacation retreat, ready for a fully booked season of summer renters.

During our appraisal of the furnishings over the last year, we knew there were some critical pieces missing from some of the rooms. To give a few of the king suites a more finished look, we needed solid night stands (as opposed to the random rattan and odd pieces the previous owner threw together). Over the winter off-season last year, I scoured Craigslist almost daily and finally found two pairs of solid wood (made in the USA) matching beside tables in a honey wood finish and knew they had potential.


Having discovered Annie Sloan Chalk Paint (ASCP) the year prior, I knew these night stands could easily transform with some light paint and new hardware, so I set to work. The first step was giving them a good washing.


Next I removed the hardware and taped off where I wanted to paint. I selected ASCP Old White (a rich, creamy white) for the main color. However, for practical reasons, the house being a rental, I wanted the pieces to be durable and not show wear, so I opted to leave the top panel the original, sealed wood (to avoid chipping and marks from phones, books, shoes, cups, sunscreen or whatever else the renters decided to drop down).


I thinned out the paint with a few drops of water and gave the tables 3 coats of Old White. In between each coat, I lightly sanded the (dry) painted surfaces with 220 grit sandpaper. This step is quick (a “2-second” sanding is plenty) and helps to smooth out any brush strokes (assuming your goal is a smooth surface and not a rustic finish).


After the paint was dry, I gave them another 2-second sand with 220 grit sandpaper and then a finishing sand with 600 grit sandpaper to give them an ultra-smooth finish. Finally, I applied one coat of ASCP Clear Wax and buffed it out.

With the painting complete, I needed to figure out the hardware situation. I knew I couldn’t put the leaf/vine pulls back on the drawers. I looked locally at Lowe’s and Home Depot but everything was too generic or commercial. I checked out my favorite online hardware market (House of Antique Hardware) but couldn’t decide. Then, as I was working with Gemma on a craft project, I came across my big ball of twine and thought maybe I could create a DIY knotted drawer pull. A few snips of twine and knots later, I had the pulls installed.



I love the light, two-tone finish and think they compliment the beach house decor quite well. I’m keeping my eyes peeled for more small items we can add to the house to keep it feeling fresh, clean and visually appealing for our summer renters next season!


(After the fact, I found a few rope drawer pulls at Anthropologie that sell for $12-14/each. I’m pleased to report our new pulls cost us $0!!!! And honestly, if I do another dresser or side table, I’ll likely try to DIY the bottom right drawer pull by wrapping rope around some of those commercial/generic drawer pulls I found at Lowe’s and Home Depot.)


Reading on Overdrive

As a kid I hovered under the covers for hours with a flashlight to read my Baby-sitters Club and Ramona books well after my parents called, “Lights out!” This rogue behavior was the most redeeming fault a parent could probably hope for from a tween, right? As I aged, my pleasure reading was replaced with assigned readings for classes and work. Now as a stay-at-home mom, I have rediscovered my love of books and reading has become a happy place, a chance to live vicariously, learn ferociously and just plain lose myself for the sake of “me time”.

Last Christmas Ben gifted me an iPad mini; its become my favorite device for traveling about town and beyond (you know, to keep me busy during ballet class, swim class, preschool pick-up, etc.). After initially buying several books to read, I did some research and found Overdrive Media Console, a handy little free app which allows me to log into my local library (using my library account number and password) to borrow eReader or audio books. I downloaded the app on my iPad for eReader books and my iPhone for audiobooks (mostly to listen during workouts or long drives/air travel when Gemma is playing on her iPad with headphones).


Overdrive Media Console is compatible with iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch, Kindle, Android, Blackberry, Nook and Mac or Windows computers. You can find your local participating library on the Overdrive website or via search within the app. Before you can log into your library to download books, you must make sure you have 1) a valid library account/card, and 2) create a profile within the Overdrive app. You can request the app to remember your library and password for easy access to your library’s collection of titles.

Once you’ve downloaded titles, you can customize your e-reading experience to your liking – alter the font size, screen brightness and page format. You can close and reopen the app and it will remember your place or you can bookmark your place for reference. For audio books, the app also remembers when you left off, and you can adjust settings to have the audio playback 15, 30 or more seconds to recap the last few sentences from your previous listening session. You can also adjust the audio speed.

The app links to Goodreads so you can search book titles and reviews, bookmark titles you want to read, rate and write reviews on books, and share your favorite picks with friends on Facebook or blogs.

I’m so happy to be back in the pages digital files, soaking up knowledge, exercising my brain, and losing myself in some great stories!

Special Notes:

  • Download Overdrive Media Console.
  • Join Goodreads.
  • Not all libraries participate in the Overdrive digital library service. Do a quick search online to see if your library is part of the Overdrive collection.
  • It’s helpful to watch the short tutorial video (found within the app) to learn how to use the system/app and adjust settings.
  • The app limits you to four (4) items checked out at a time (combined…i.e. 2 titles on your iPad plus 2 titles on your iPhone equals the 4 title max).
  • You can set your preferences for a 7 or 14 day checkout period.
  • It doesn’t seem there are not a lot of young reader books available; possibly more for the tween set (vs toddlers).

8 Years and Counting…

Ben and I celebrated 8 years of marriage yesterday. We were lucky to spend the whole day together, just the two of us, being a couple, doing all of our favorite things…eating, relaxing, talking. It was the perfect way to celebrate, and I’m so happy we both still enjoy being together.


So much has changed in the last 8 years. I think back to our wedding weekend and swell with love and pride. We have the best friends and family a couple could ask for; they came from far and wide to spend the most beautiful October day with us in the Lowcountry of South Carolina. Over time, we’ve lost family members and gained new ones, grown apart from some and welcomed new friends into our lives.

One priceless element of our wedding day was the completion of our wedding certificate…a handmade piece of art on which our family and friends committed themselves to us, to assisting us in our journey of marriage and friendship, to guide us on a path which never promises to be easy or smooth or even charted, for that matter. I pass by this promise every day, as it hangs in our dining room, in plain sight to all who enter our home…it’s a wonderful reminder of our day, our commitment and the support system which keeps us strong.

In honor of our anniversary, I’d like to share with you our wedding certificate and it’s words…


Blessed by family and friends on this fifteenth day of October in the year two thousand and five

Jill Marie Bratland, daughter of Leo and Deborah Bratland and Benjamin Joel Weinberger, son of Donald and Linda Weinberger

were united in marriage on Dataw Island, Beaufort, South Carolina.

With love that deepens through the years may we better learn its mysteries, truly one in sharing ourselves with one another, yet remaining two in our uniqueness.

May our home be a place of happiness for all who enter it, a place where old and young are renewed in each others company, a place for growth, music, and laughter. And when shadows fall within its rooms may it still be a place of hope and strength for all entrusted to our care.

May our family be enriched by the beauty and energy of our love of each for one another.

As family and friends we celebrate the love that has brought Jill and Ben to this day.



The certificate was custom-made (by Susan Miller, Pennsylvania) to include artwork with personal images which reflect our character and relationship…the strong oaks draped in Spanish moss to represent the Lowcountry, where we were engaged and married; a Saluki dog to honor our alma mater, the place we first met; music notes for our love of live music and concerts; a sweet grey kitty for my boy Apollo; and grape vines for our affection for wine and early dates at Southern Illinois wine festivals/wineries. There are several other small images hidden throughout the artwork but those are the major elements. It really is such a special piece, my most treasured piece of art!!


Miss Hannah signing her name, October 2005

My Baseline Mammogram at 36

Today was the day of my baseline mammogram. With my family history in mind, I scheduled it so I’ll have a good picture of what my breast tissue looks like now to best address possible changes in the future.

I was a bit nervous having heard stories of women saying it’s very uncomfortable and can be painful. Luckily, it wasn’t as bad as I expected! In fact, I think having a Pap smear is more invasive (duh) and “painful” or irritating than my mammogram was today.

We are so lucky to have a state-of-the-art comprehensive cancer center on the campus of UNC.

unc cancer center 2

unc cancer center

The building was completed a few years ago, and I recall watching its progress next door, from the upper story of the building I worked in at UNC’s information technology department. The reception and various department waiting areas are elegantly designed and comforting ; the check-in process is very efficient.

unc mammography dept

Getting a mammogram at such a large institution feels somewhat like a cattle call. Women being shuffled in and out of a private waiting lounge for scans, reviews and more scans, as was my case. The only real downside was my scans took just over two hours so I had to reschedule my appointment with the oncologist to discuss my options for genetic testing (for abnormal BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 genes).

For those younger gals, like me, who are having their first baseline mammogram, the process is pretty comprehensive…expect 3-4 scans per breast. And then possibly a few follow-up scans and/or an ultrasound if the radiologist finds an area to explore more. I’m not sure why but they keep it sort chilly in the radiology lap…you’d think they’d up the thermostat a bit knowing dozens of women each day are exposing their nips (when they’re supposed to be relaxed). It doesn’t help to wear a thin, drafty, one-size-fits-all gown. Brrrr!

hospital gown

The mammogram itself was not painful. It’s slightly uncomfortable standing in a strange position (hips/chest straight, head/neck turned to the side and pressed against the top of the machine) while each breast is pressed (i.e. after a stranger has positioned your girls like chicken cutlets) between two acrylic molds, and you’re told to breathe in, hold your breath and stand very still while the image is taken. Aside from that, I was expecting real pain – shooting, high-pressure, something, however the only thing I felt was awkward and relieved it wasn’t worse. In all honesty, I was really happy the device didn’t look like a human-sized metal vice (which is, of course, what I imagined).

My scans were clean (woo-hoo!), so I’m instructed to come back at age 40 (a mere 4 years from now…um, wha??!! Where does the time go??!!). I’m feeling relieved now this step is complete. I knew I was anxious when last night I dreamt they found a lump and I needed a biopsy right away. Luckily, that was just nerves.

On a side note, I’m praying for my mom this week because she’s starting her first round of chemotherapy. Each patient can respond differently to treatment. Will she be tired? Will she be nauseated? Will she lose her hair? If so, how long until she starts to lose it? She’s been so strong through this process thus far, and I know she’s committed to keeping a positive attitude throughout the chemo treatment. She’s got a lot of people pulling for her so I hope that helps during the rough days ahead.

I can’t wait to see my mom at Thanksgiving when my husband, daughter and I will join my parents in Illinois to give thanks for what has turned out to be an unexpected year. My brother and his wife will also be there, and we (kids) are in charge of the turkey dinner and entertainment. Should be a fun visit with great memories!! (Many of which I’m sure will find their way to this blog!)

Rainy Day Photojournal

The rain this week has me completely uninspired. At least that’s my excuse for taking the lazy way out with today’s post. Here are some pics from our Sunday fun-day at the museum and a sweet birthday party for our neighbor, Ella.

What’s more fun than a double-date? A family double-date! Loved our afternoon with the Bishop fam at the Pumpkin Patch at the Museum of Life and Science in Durham. The girls had a great time riding the train, decorating pumpkins and playing around the museum’s dinosaur trail. As predicted, the dads enjoyed the pumpkin sling shot!













Later in the afternoon, we helped celebrate Ella’s 2nd birthday. Her parents, our dear friends and next door neighbors, hosted the sweetest party complete with a ladybug release (3,000 of them!) and the best face painter (who was so good, we’ve booked her to adorn our kids’ faces for Halloween night). The kids had a blast releasing (and catching) the ladybugs…and letting them crawl all over their arms and legs. The parents got quite a kick out of the whole spectacle!