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Sunday, May 22, 2011

If These Walls Could Talk

Let’s talk a little more about wall decor. It can be the single easiest way to express yourself as a young nester. Furniture may be hand-me-down from family or friends or chosen for the price rather than the style, and wall colors may be unalterable per the terms of one’s lease. However,  the things we put on our walls are wholly up to us and say a lot about who we are.
Growing up, I went through all the usual phases. Photos of horses and Ice Capades posters gave way to posters of my favorite soccer players (Tony Meola, be still my heart...I don’t care how old we get, I’m still smitten), which gave way to band playbills and movie posters. I’m in an “art” stage now. I’ve ditched posters in favor of framed art and enjoy mixing pieces from a variety of cultures. My most prominent pieces are several framed papyri from Egypt, my own photos from my travels, and a reproduction of Paul Gauguin’s 1893 Tahitian Landscape

However, I don’t think wall art should be restricted to traditional, framed items. Decorative paper fans, colorful masks, decorative tiles and greeting cards can also make fun, unexpected wall decor. 

Can't wait to make a frame for this little guy!
Vintage fans add color and dimension.
Indonesian wood carving. Love the bird and their headdresses!

I recently found a sassy little greeting card at the store that I’m going to hang by my closet as inspiration. I love the re-popularization of black and white photography and thank Ann Taintor for the sparking the "sassy lady" phenomenon. Using decorative paper and some mosaic tiles I created a makeshift frame for it. I think it pretty much captures my philosophy on life in general:

It reads: "Always dressing in understated good taste is the same as playing dead." Wish I could wear bows like that in my hair!
Also, cleaning out my mom’s garage I found some old finger paintings I made in pre-school that are really cool (it I don’t say so myself). I’m thinking about making a little “modern art” gallery with them. 
I think wall art should be fun. It should be about putting up little pieces of yourself...stepping outside the box to creating art from everyday items. Let's put ourselves on display and allow our walls to reflect who we are.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Making Your At-Home Music Studio “Student Proof” by Danielle Gomez

Today we have a guest piece from my ex-roommate and close friend, Danielle. She purchased her first solo apartment almost a year ago and has been happily nesting ever since. Complicating matters is the fact she runs a successful business from her home. I asked her to talk a little about the way working from home affects her nesting habits and how she balances her private and public spaces:

I am a self-employed private violin instructor that teaches from home.  I love my job and adore every single one of my students.  Plus, I must admit, the short commute to work is quite nice.

But teaching from home is definitely not for the faint of heart.  The strict lines between “personal” and “work” space have a tendency to become grey as your students become more comfortable with you (their teacher) and environment.  This requires a bit of creativity in order to make a space that is both attractive and practical. Defining your space becomes essential.  

One major war zone that I had to “student proof” was the bathroom.  Accepting the fact that I would have thirty families using my bathroom every week, everything I put in there is sturdy.  In an effort to add color to an otherwise stark environment, I have embraced the concept of candles.  Candles are fun no matter where you put them and it’s not a major tragedy if one of them “accidentally” ends up on the floor. Personally, I like splurging on wax candles; they smell wonderful when burning.  But this is a personal preference and you can certainly find cute candles out there that are very reasonably priced.

Spending a few dollars on some cheap, plastic glasses is also a really good idea.  Inevitably, you’re going to have someone who’s thirsty or coughing up a lung.  As a music teacher, you don’t have to feel obligated toward providing refreshments.  But you do have to be ready for when the situation calls for it.  How comfortable are you with a young student handling one of your glass cups?

Finally, we get to the actual teaching studio.  When looking for apartments, one of my major requirements was being able to have a separate room to teach in.  While this seems like a superfluous expenditure at first glance, I think that most seasoned teachers will agree that this is critical.  Students, especially young ones, need to know where their space is.  

Having a room or set area completely devoted to music makes your job as a teacher that much easier.  As soon as the student walks into that room, they know that you mean business.  This means that there must be an open space to teach and all of your teaching supplies should be at-hand in this space.  It also doesn’t hurt to have a musical atmosphere by hanging instruments you already own on the wall or investing in a tasteful picture or two.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Escaping the Blah Factor

I was talking to a friend this morning who recently moved into an apartment with his fiance. They were telling me how "blah" their apartment is, with the usual white-beige walls, carpet and window blinds. They plan to put up curtains with some color an pattern in them, but seem resigned to the carpet and walls, as they are unable to paint anything per their lease.

So must we be resigned to a drab, lifeless home when painting is not an option? Even the most colorful wall art can seem like it's drowning in an endless sea of industrial off-white if it's not large enough. It's almost as though you have to paper your walls completely in posters and photos.

Some of my favorite photos are framed prints I've taken throughout my travels. I usually create a gallery on one wall...a parade of my favorite images from Peru, Egypt, Spain, Wales, Serbia and many other places. This seems to work well, but when you're hanging just one picture it can sometimes lack visual impact. My solution was to put a decorative piece of mid-weight paper behind the photo. Any craft store will have sets of this type of paper. I avoid origami paper because it can look too flimsy. This, for me solved some of my problem and my friend and his fiance are going to try it as well.

Another option is to buy wall decals. I have never used them, as I haven't found any yet that suit my style, but I hear they are easy to use and add texture and depth to a room. These are sold at several places, including Pier 1 and Walmart and come in a variety of colors and styles. I think they would be perfect for a little kid's room, particularly since their interests are always changing. Little Suzy is into flowers this year? *peel, stick, voila* Now she likes birds? No problem.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Fool Me Once...

Every girl knows there are certain things you just don't buy the cheapest version of. My list includes toilet paper, tampons, eyeliner, tape, wine openers, champagne and cream cheese. I am now adding another item to the list: lint rollers.

I currently live with three cats, so lint rollers are a necessary part of my "getting ready" routine. I generally buy the good kind (at Costco, of course...bulk is key here), but last week I discovered that my brother had used up the last roller earlier that morning. Jerk. So I swung by Target on my way to work and picked one up from my beloved $1 section. Other $1 Target section items have been fantastic, including their mini flower pots. Besides, a sticky sheet on a roller is a sticky sheet on a roller, right?

WRONG. There is nothing worse than being locked in an epic struggle with your lint roller. Cheap lint rollers are like cheap tape: they shred and bunch up and get stuck to EVERYTHING and end up a total mess. I must have peeled through 3/4 of the roll before I finally got to a decent, whole sheet. As a result, less than a week later I needed a new lint roller. I still hadn't had time to go to Costco, so I went to Target again. I walked huffily past the $1 section to the "good" roller section.

There they were: a whole section of lovely, good quality rollers. Good quality EXPENSIVE rollers. Being used to the Costco multi-pack, I just couldn't bring myself to spend that much on a single lint roller. So I slunk back to the $1 section. Maybe that first roller was just a fluke. Maybe it was part of a bad batch.

Maybe I'm an idiot. Needless to say, that second roller was every bit as frustrating as the first. Never again will I go for the cheap lint roller. I will make the time to go to Costco and, when absolutely necessary, shell out the exorbitant price for a single, good quality roller.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

They Had Me At "Champagne"

I’m not a fan of overwrought cuisine. I never understood the “molecular gastronomy” fad or the flavored “foam” fad.  Why would anyone think this would appeal to human beings?

Along with the food fads have also come drink fads, namely the appearance of “mixologists.” Can you imagine the pretentiousness of adding “ologist” to other, non-PhD type professions? Like, “I need a plumbologist to come fix my toilet.” Or, “Can you ask our servologist to bring us the dessert menu?” It’s ridiculous. No offense to you mixologists out there, but to make a drink you put booze and ice in a glass. If you want to get fancy you add an olive or slice of lemon. It’s not rocket science.
However, I have to admit that some good things have come out of the mixologist fad. They have produced some refreshing twists on old favorites, most notably the introduction of the increasingly popular herbal cocktail. 

I’ve been thinking about cocktails a lot lately. After a miserably cold early spring, Kansas City has suddenly rocketed into the 90s. Dignity and our stubborn midwest nature prevents many of us from turning on the air conditioning before June, so it has been HOT. 

Enough with the ceiling fans Mom...let's get some A/C.

In an effort to cool off, I’ve decided to go beyond the infusion of vodka into heretofore unknown territory: I’ve been experimenting herb-infused cocktails, with surprisingly good and refreshing results (just call me a refreshologist). I was especially inspired after discovering a recipe for lavender infused champagne, a concoction that combines two of my very favorite things in life! Oh mixologists, you’ve found my weakness. I give in to your ridiculous title (don’t hold your breath molecular gastronomists).
Of the one’s I’ve subjected my friends and family to thus far, these three have been the favorites. Some of the recipes require advanced preparation (like popping grapes in the freezer before work) but none of them are complicated. The ingredients are all easy to find and inexpensive (no rare extracts of mung bean or anything). Enjoy!!
Blackberry Mint Julep (serves 4)
1/2 cup packed fresh mint leaves
1 pint blackberries
6 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup bourbon
4 cups small ice cubes
4 sprigs mint, for garnishing
1. Roughly chop mint leaves.
2. Puree the mint, blackberries, and sugar in a blender. Press through a fine sieve into a bowl; discard         seeds.
3. Rinse blender, then return puree to blender, and add bourbon and small ice cubes; blend until smooth. Divide mixture among 4 glasses. Garnish each with a mint sprig.
Lavender Champagne (serves 4-6)
1/8 cup sugar
1/4 tablespoon dried lavender
1 bottles (750 mL) dry Champagne or sparkling wine, chilled
Fresh lavender sprigs, for garnish
1. Bring sugar and 1/2 cup water to a boil in a saucepan, stirring to dissolve sugar. Stir in dried lavender. Remove from heat. Let cool completely. Strain out lavender. Refrigerate syrup until ready to serve (up to 1 month).
2. Pour about 6 ounces Champagne and 1 1/2 teaspoons syrup into each flute. Garnish each with a lavender sprig.

Biano with Frozen Grapes (serves 4-6)
1/2 lb. grapes, preferably a large, seedless variety such as Red Globe, plucked from the stems
1  3-inch sprig fresh rosemary
1  3-inch sprig fresh mint
1  bottle (750ml) Sauvignon Blanc wine
1  3-inch strip lemon zest (pared with a vegetable peeler)
1. Rinse the grapes and pat them dry. Spread on a rimmed baking sheet and freeze until solid, for several hours or overnight.
2. Rinse the herbs well. Open the wine bottles, stuff the rosemary and mint springs and the strip of lemon zest into the bottle, recork, and refrigerate for 6 hours, or overnight.
3. To serve, set out glasses, put 3 to 5 frozen grapes (depending on size) in each glass, and pour in the chilled bianco.

My little laboratory
Mum's burgeoning herb garden

If this leap into the world of herbal cocktailing seems like too much all at once, I suggest taking baby steps. An easy way to do this is to start infusing your on vodka. A few months ago my mom and I started doing this. Compliments of a few Costco bottles of Skyy vodka, we have experimented with pear, ginger, cucumber, lemon, basil and thyme infusions. As a result, ginger and basil vodkas are now permanent fixtures in our household. 

Be creative. Be bold. Find your inner mixologist.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Coming of Age

I’ve finally gotten to that point in my life where the beanbag and milk crate bookshelf decor of my college days is a thing of the past (though a milk crate filing cabinet is, of course, still appropriate). 
The apartment my roommates and I shared in college was filled with Wal-Mart’s best, along with items of dubious cleanliness provided by the university. My first post-college apartment was decorated on the budget of a graduate student, so a snazzy new couch and coffee table from Pier 1 were snuggled in next to a card table and cheap bookshelves. But this next apartment...that one will be my first real “big kid” place, furnished on a true adult’s wage. I can’t wait.
In fact, I’m so excited that I’m already picking out the furnishings I want. “But Eliza,” you might be thinking, “what’s the point when you have no idea what the layout of your new apartment will be like?” AH HA!! I’m way ahead of you. I’m planning for all contingencies. I’ve researched common apartment floorplans and have picked out furnishing that will fit in with all of them. Studio apartment? No problem! 2 bedroom with a detached bath? Let me sort through my nesting file and find the appropriate decor sub-file!That’s right...I said sub-file. (And for those who are wondering, yes I do have a full time job, boyfriend and wide variety of social activities. I do not spend all my time making files.)
Despite my obscene preparedness, there is a catch. Like most people, I go through phases. Being young, my style is still developing and I find myself with a very eclectic collection of things. The challenge now is finding pieces to meld where I’ve been with where I want to go. How do I pull my collection of white, blue and yellow Modern French Country pieces together into a coherent look with my red and black Asian inspired pieces? How do I find the perfect balance between my modern items and my antiques?
Last weekend I purchased a photograph at an art fair that may be the answer to my problem. The photo was taken in China, but it looks like it could be anywhere. A brilliant blue and yellow bird is caught mid-flight, wings extended up over its head, surrounded by the tendrils of a weeping willow tree. The branches hanging down in vertical lines that look almost like columns of of text, the small green leaves mimicking the individual pen strokes of cuneiform writing. It is an extraordinary piece, and I have decided to make it the inspiration for my future apartment’s decor. With its blue-green-yellow color palate and subtle Asian influence, it’s the perfect example of how to balance my current and future decor. It could pull together something like this:

Obviously these are just ideas, but it’s a start. My future apartment is still just a glimmer in my eye, but I have my inspiration and I have my nesting file of floorplans and ideas. If I get restless enough, I could even resort to making to-scale shoebox panoramas...which would also give me an excuse to buy more shoes. Now wouldn’t that be fun? 

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Memo Project

Let’s talk organization. The other night I caught part of a new reality tv show called “Extreme Couponing.” I found myself riveted, mouth hanging open, as I watched people obsess over planning their weekly shopping trip. 
While I only use coupons occasionally, have to say I was impressed by the organization of the people on this show. They spend countless hours finding, clipping and filing coupons into neat little notebooks. This seems like kind of a waste of time to me since I have neither the desire nor the space to store 40 tubs of cheese puffs or 90 Snickers bars (according to the show, junk food can be practically free if you buy in bulk and use coupons). If it was wine we were talking about, I might change my tune. 
However, all this got me thinking about my own coupon filing system. Right now, I just put them all in an envelope or stick them haphazardly to the fridge with a magnet. But how many times have I gotten to the store and realized I’d left my coupons at home, or that they had expired?  I knew there had to be a better way.
So “my little grey cells” got to work on the issue of coupon storage (Poirot, anyone?). I figured I’d need something that would catch my eye and sort the coupons out in some way to make them more useable. Finally, I decided to make a combination storage/chalkboard/memo device. I’m a big fan of those picture/memo holders with the curlicue clips, o I thought I’d use that as inspiration.:

I found some spare wood in the garage, then went to the craft store and bought chalkboard paint and some circular wire paper clips. (*Tip: I’ve found using the pots of chalkboard paint wastes less paint than the spray kind*) Using pliers, I unfurled the paper clips so they had a stem, then pushed the loops out a bit so they were more 3D, like this:

A little sawing, a little wood glue, a little paint and voila! The tiles are these beautiful little mosaic pieces, though it proved hard to capture their iridescence on camera.

I’m most excited about the labeling options the chalkboard provides. I can file things by category, expiration date, location...OH THE POSSIBILITIES!!

I put a magnet strip on the back so it can go on the fridge, but I could also add a leather strap or yarn loop to it so it can hang on the wall. I think it could also be useful as a family memo board. If you have a note to leave someone, just put it in their section, like this!

I’m pretty excited about my creation here. Now my life will not only be more organized, but a little bit snazzier as well. And what girl doesn’t need more of both those things??

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Alas Poor Octavio...

Spring has sprung and it’s time to start getting our gardens in order. So let’s talk about the difficulties of gardening for those of us who don’t have any outdoor space. 
Last year I decided to start an indoor garden. I wanted to save some grocery money by growing my own organic produce, so I researched small space gardening and was delighted to find that it is not only possible, but increasingly popular, to grow herbs and even produce entirely indoors. I had a spacious office with plenty of sunlight, so I decided to put my garden there. I bought some large planters, good quality soil, an adorable little watering can and a variety of seeds. I planned to grow plum tomatoes, miniature bell peppers, mini lettuces and a variety of herbs. Having been successful in the past at growing these things outside, I was confident I could pull off an indoor garden. 
There was one factor, however, that I hadn’t counted on. My cat, Pilar. At this time she was about four months old and absolutely adorable. She plays fetch, burrows under the covers at night to be close to me, and follows me everywhere I go. She is perfect. She is also a plant killer. 

Don't be fooled by the adorable mustache...she's a killer.

I should have seen the warning signs. Two months earlier, Pilar had murdered the beautiful mini cactus my boyfriend had gotten me as a housewarming gift for my new apartment. I came home from class one day to find my beloved cactus, which I had named Octavio, lying on the floor and Pilar sleeping happily in the now empty planter.  This was to be only the beginning

Her next victims would be my tomato seedlings. Six days after they had sprouted I came home from class to find dirt and seedlings flung across the far reaches of my apartment and a very filthy, very happy kitten snoozing in the planter. Determined to save the rest of my garden, I sprang into action. I researched everything I could about keeping pets out of plants. I tried tin foil barriers, bitter smelling cat-repellent sprays, covering the soil with river rocks, chicken wire covers...all to no avail. I had a little archaeologist cat on my hands. One by one, she dug up and killed all my plants and took over the pots as her own little dirt-filled nests.
Since this disaster in gardening, I have been researching Pilar-proof alternatives to indoor horticulture that are both stylish and affordable. I think I’ve found an easy solution for herbs: small pots like these:

or these, from

placed along a floating wall shelf. Of course, I could buy one pre-finished for upwards of $30, but I think it would be more fun to go to a craft store and buy an unfinished one for $9 or $10 and paint, stain or tile it myself. 
As for fruits and vegetables, the website shows these fantastically modern hanging indoor planters, which would be perfect for mini lettuces and such. 

I also LOVE these hanging terrariums from West Elm, which are quite affordable as well.
All in all, I am feeling hopeful for my future apartment’s indoor garden. I hope this has given some of you fellow nesters a few ideas of your own. Let me know what you think!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Take #1: Testing, Testing...

Okay. This is it...I’ve decided to come out of the closet. I am a modern, career driven woman who loves her muddy work boots, camping and a good beer. I also love to nest. In humans, this term is generally used to describe pregnant women who feel the urge to clean, organize and decorate every inch of their home in preparation for baby. I have no baby (other than my beloved cat, Pilar). For me, the desire to nest is a natural state of being. I love to clean and cook and decorate. I enjoy making centerpieces a la Martha Stewart. I spend a lot of time creating fun, functional art out of found objects, and I practically LIVE for the seasonal rotation of my wardrobe. There is nothing more satisfying than a well organized closet. 
After six years of living out on my own, last year I moved back home to live with my mother and brother while I job hunted. With all my stuff in storage and no place to really call my own except my bedroom, I had to channel my predilections somehow. So I started a new file folder in the filing cabinet (aka hot pink milk crate) I keep in my closet. I call it my nesting folder. In it I keep fabric swatches and paint chips, magazine clippings of furniture and decor, craft ideas, recipes and other things I’ve collected to satisfy my need to nest. 
I’ve started this blog in the hope of sharing my love for all things domestic. And so, my nesting folder is coming out of the pink milk crate! Whether you’re a cook, an interior design buff, a crafter, a gardener, or a fellow beer loving, work boot wearing kind of girl...I hope you can glean some inspiration (or at least a chuckle) from what I have to offer here. 
So it’s official...I am out of the closet. Welcome to The Pink Milk Crate!