Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A view I could get used to

We spent Christmas this year in Amsterdam.

I love that sentence. I'm not even sure what to say next, I'm just going to sit and gaze at those words for a while.

The trip was difficult, thrilling, not exactly what I'd expected, and something I'd really like to do again.

Something about the physical environment of that city really speaks to me. Below is the view from the front room of our vacation apartment -- a view I could get used to.

But it wasn't just the exterior view. I keep struggling to explain to myself what I found so compelling about the image below. 

Partly, it's the spareness of it -- the idea of having just the physical objects that you immediately need, and not much more.

But I'm not about to become some minimalist, don't worry. I think it's also about having the time and taking the care to appreciate those quotidian objects, which somehow can be easier to do when you're released from, well, quotidian obligations.

(And, I have to tell you, the high ceilings, tall windows, and wide-plank wood floors just out of frame of that photo probably heightened my appreciation too.)

Of course, real life is messy. Nobody's everyday life is actually like my fantasy of living abroad in my favorite* city.

But how to get closer**. That's the question.

*My favorite city? I don't know, that sounds horribly pretentious, to declare a place my favorite when I've spent a grand total of less than two weeks there, on two visits seven years apart. But there is something about the place. And the heart wants what it wants, you know?

**Speaking of getting closer, I haven't forgotten about my 101 Things project. In fact, I'll have an update on that in a couple of days.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

101 Things in 1,001 Days: Home Edition

As planned, the list has been emailed to my partner in crime. I've heard no objections, so I'm posting it here. Plus, I thought I'd better get on it and throw the list up here on the Internet, because we've actually been crossing some things off! No one is more surprised than I am. More on those exciting developments shortly.

I'm going to use this post as a way of tracking our progress. Each time we complete an item, I'll cross it off here, and link to any blog post that I've made about the project. I'll try to do at least a brief post for each item, just for the sake of completeness. I realize that many of the items below do not sound all that exciting or creative (and some of them probably don't make any sense; hang in there, there will be pictures eventually), but the point of this exercise is to improve our lives, not to win the Internets.

You'll notice below that one item is already crossed off and you've even seen the results: the morning/evening schedule charts that I introduced in my previous post. It's true, I started working on some of these items before I even officially finished making the list. So this is basically like writing down something you've done just so that you will get to cross it off, which any fan of lists knows is totally, totally legitimate behavior.

But just so I'm not giving myself too much of a head start, I'll start the clock ticking on my 1,001 days as of September 24, the date of my previous post. That gives me until Tuesday, June 21, 2016 to complete the list. Ready? Go!

My Man’s Ideas
1.     Prep and paint the trim surrounding the slider
2.     Prep and paint the inside of the front door
3.     Prep and paint the patch in the bathroom wall
4.     Prep and repaint the trim on the bathroom window
5.     Trim and seal the bottom of the back door
6.     Wash the windows (inside and out)
7.     Get the moss off the roof
8.     Take the old radio off kiddo’s wall (here)
9.     Repair and paint the holes in kiddo’s wall from where the radio was
10. Get rid of extra bikes in shed
11. Get rid of furniture we don’t want from shed
12. Make a dump run with stuff from shed
13. Lay down weedblock over remainder of front lawn (here)
14. Weed the parking strip

15. Purchase & install wall sconces for bedside lights
16. Organize my “bedside table”
17. Put up framed prints (the ones sitting on top of the cedar chest)
18. Clean up/refresh finish on cedar chest
19. Put up curtain across clothing shelf
20. Find a way to keep jewelry organized/accessible/tidy
21. Clean out top of closet
22. Put something solid over shelf unit in closet, or get new ones
23. Oil door hinges (here)
24. Find a place to put workout gear (mine and husband’s) that is not just on the floor shoved behind the door
25. Sell clothes
26. Find a better way to store bags and purses (also, have fewer of them) (here)
27. Get an effective light in the closet

28. Hang seahorse on wall
29. Clean out all drawers
30. Clean out cupboard
31. Find a different way to store shampoo/soap/etc. that will make it less precarious sitting on ledges and also easier to quickly clean tub/shower – stainless shower caddy
32. Find a place/way to store bathroom cleaning products in the bathroom
33. Replace toilet seat
34. Soap/lotion/hand sanitizer pumps
35. Use trays/ etc. to corral items on bathroom counter and make them look nicer: the idea is to create an actual place for everything that stays out on the counter, so that these things aren’t randomly strewn all over – tray for tooth stuff on left; lotion/hand sanitizer/cotton balls/qtips on right
36. Perfection sampler
37. Jellyfish/anemone or seascape for wall above towel rack
38. Hang hooks behind door for towels (guest and kid)
39. 2 new hand towels
40. add twill tape for hanging towels + hook under counter
41. get stains off toilet
42. get stains off sink caulk
43. get stains off shower caulk
44. get plastic hook off wall (here)

45. Remove door from laundry nook and hang curtain instead
46. Find a better storage system for stuff on bottom shelf of linen closet (art supplies/craft kits get out of control fast, tape/tools are all jumbled up and I can never find anything)
47. Find better storage system for stuff on top shelf of coat closet (laundry stuff needs to be more easily accessible, there is probably a bunch of very rarely used stuff that could be less accessible)

Kid’s room
48. Organize hair stuff & tchotchkes in purple baskets
49. Reorganize dresser top
50. Improve function of bedside table/book storage
51. Find a better way to store stuffies
52. Hang up hooks for backpack, coats, etc.
53. Remove trash can from room and add boot tray (here)
54. Add a magnetic canvas on the wall for her art
55. Make and hang up morning/evening routine charts (here)

56. Clean out all drawers and cupboards (5/25)
57. Improve function of drawer under microwave (mail supplies, outbox, stuff we need when going out the door – not just another junk drawer)
58. Magnetic paint on wall in entry
59. Chalkboard paint on wall in entry
60. Replace shoe rack with boot tray
61. Find or make rug for entry to cover entire area
62. Find or make mat for sink that can be cleaned and will stay in one place
63. Add pump bottles for lotion/hand sanitizer, add sink-side sponge holders
64. Get stuff off counters
65. Hooks on wall in entry
66. Holder for chalk, frame for menus, other pics on wall in entry
67. Paint “Post” pouch and hang on entry wall
68. Find a tray for mail
69. Decorate cat food canister

Dining room
70. Find a way to keep kiddo desk neat(er)
71. Put white paint on canvas and hang lower so she can reach it
72. Make magnets for canvases
73. Fix embroidered clock and hang somewhere
74. Hang up gleaners print
75. Get better trays for cat dishes
76. Figure out what to do about rug
77. Get chairs, place settings, and table space to serve 10 people for dinner
78. Get a nice tablecloth that is the right size for the table
79. Figure out how to store and keep track of napkins that are in use (here)
80. Make something for the center of the table
81. Clean up/refresh finish on table & chairs

Living room
82. Get a rug for “entryway”
83. Boot tray
84. Put up hooks, art, etc. near entry
85. Get a better tray for tea set (here)
86. Make cover for midcentury chair
87. Make felt bins for console table
88. Get rid of screen, install curtain rod over cat box and make curtain (here)
89. Get extra crap off bookshelves
90. Repot plants on top of bookshelves
91. Find out about getting a slipcover made for the couch
92. Replace knobs on sideboard
93. Clean up/refresh finish on sideboard

94. Clean out corner behind door (here)
95. Reorganize desk drawers in a sustainable way
96. Clean out corner between desk and shelf
97. Reorganize bookshelves (0/5)
98. Clean out office supply trunk
99. Frame whale/iceberg print and hang
100.                Make frame gallery above desk
101.                Hang thread rack on wall and reorganize top of barrister bookcase

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

An unshakeable faith in lists

Well hello there! Long time no blog, I know.

This past summer...well, let's just say that it contained fewer hours than I expected it to, somehow. And we'll leave it at that.

We're back in the swing of the school year now. Above you see a couple of lists that I typed up to try and make things go a little more smoothly.

They work. You know, pretty well. When we actually use them.

Somehow, for example, the "pick out clothes for tomorrow" step never seems to happen in the evening. And then I find myself in the morning saying things like, "FINE. I don't care what you wear, just put something on," and walking to the bus stop with a girl wearing pink velour sweatpants that are about 6 inches too long for her on the rainiest day of the year.

(Whatever, FINE.)

Still, I retain an unshakeable faith in lists.

For me they are so soothing to make. So motivating to contemplate. So satisfying to cross things off on.

And so, perhaps inevitably, I've been thinking about how a list might help me make my house better.

It is probably obvious after even a cursory read here that even though I've named this blog after my aspirations for my home, I have a hard time actually making progress on my space. Remember when I was thinking about how to make our non-entryways more functional? Yeah, that was almost two years ago and I have done fuck-all on that project.

And yet, it's not as though I have changed my mind about any of it. I still really like the ideas that I came up with! I just don't seem to be able to carry them out.

That's a common theme with me: tons of ideas, no follow through. (So...how is a list going to help? Isn't that destined to be just one more way of making plans that I don't follow through on? Well, touché. But stick with me for a minute or two here.)

I think there are probably a few reasons for that. I have more ideas than time, for one. And I get distracted, I'll own up to that -- the "making plans" stage of a project is way more fun than the "actually having do do shit" stage. I also tend to get overwhelmed -- if there are twelve things to do sometimes I have trouble picking one to focus on.

And, though I say that I can come up with ideas that I like, I do lack a certain confidence about them. I don't have a ton of experience coming up with decorating ideas, carrying them out, and then thinking: yeah, that totally turned out like I was expecting! (And I have had some fails, for sure.) So, I talk myself out of things.

Finally, I have written a little bit about the difficulty my man and I have making aesthetic decisions together. That's a big barrier, too.

When I was growing up, my dad was the one who made pretty much all of the decisions about home decorating. I don't get the sense that my mom had no opinions about it or no aesthetic sense of her own, it was just -- he was in charge.

So, I don't have much of a model for how partners can compromise in this area or, better yet, develop a shared vision. I've noticed that when we're making decisions about the house I tend to feel pissed off when I don't get my way and anxious when I do. Often it is less uncomfortable to just do nothing.

There's little guidance to be gleaned from the Internets, either. Most home decoration/design blogs are helmed by women who seem to be exclusively in charge of making the aesthetic decisions. No one writes much about their partner's input into the aesthetics of a space; generally, the dudes get a honey-do list, a bench full of power tools, and praise for being "handy."

One exception might be the couple who run Young House Love, who have said that they don't bring anything into their house that they don't both love. Which sounds like a worthy goal, but seriously, HOW? What is the process?

I know this is a lot of navel-gazing, but decorating a house isn't just about picking out a rug and deciding which model of sofa to buy. That isn't even the main part of it, you know?

The point is, I've been thinking about how I could use my penchant for list-making to overcome some of these barriers.

Have you heard of the 101 Things in 1,0001 Days project? It's just what it sounds like -- you make a list of 101 things you want to do and then you have 1,001 days to accomplish them. Usually, people make lists that are a combination of fun and self-improvement, and that's what I've done in the past.

But this time, I decided to make a list focused on home projects. The idea is that having everything written down will make it easier to Just Pick Something and do it, rather than getting distracted by everything else that needs doing.

I've also tried to make the items very small, discrete steps rather than big projects, as I know that makes to-do lists work a lot better for me in general. As a result, this is not a list that is going to completely transform or "finish" our home, but I'm hoping it will help create some momentum.

Also, I asked my man to write a list of 10 or so home improvement projects that he would like to see get done. He sent me his list and I thought: awesome, these are on MY list, too! I've broken those out into a separate section of the 101 Things list and I'm hoping to tackle at least a few of them early on. It was nice to find that we actually do have a shared vision, at least in part, and I'd like to build on that.

Finally, I'm planning to send the whole list to him so that he can read it over and tell me if there are any items that strike him as crazy or off the wall. Okay, to be more precise, he can tell me which items are crazy or off the wall. But this is, in essence, his veto point. My hope is that if I can feel like he is on board in general, then I can have the confidence to proceed with projects in a bit more experimental way. (Instead of feeling like he's skeptical, and then I don't want to do anything and risk being wrong.)

And after that, I'll post the list here and we can get started! I've been procrastinating on sending the list to him, are you surprised?

Monday, July 15, 2013


My man had to work all day Saturday, so my girl and I tried to keep ourselves occupied and out of trouble.

At the playground, she climbed.

While I stitched.

Back home for a hybrid pretend/real picnic.

Cafe visit.

A little more (rather frantic) stitching.

Wrapping up with Monday morning snuggles once again. Believe it or not, this photo is newsworthy. (That cat on the right, Daisy, haaaaates other cats.)

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Dillpotatis (Swedish Potato Salad)

This is a dish that I first made for our Midsummer party, where it was very popular. My man asked me to make it again for the 4th of July, and when my brother-in-law arrived that day he said he was really excited to see it on the table again.

With that kind of endorsement I thought I shouldn't keep the recipe to myself.

The instructions below might seem overly specific, but I think it's helpful to toss the potatoes with the dressing while they are quite warm, to help the dressing soak in. Then, you want the potatoes to be cooler when you add the herbs, so that they stay nice and bright green rather than getting cooked just from the contact with the hot potatoes.

Dillpotatis: Swedish Potato Salad with Dill

Adapted from Scandinavian Cooking via Hemslojd.com

1 lb. new potatoes such as Yukon golds or banana fingerlings
2 Tbsp. white wine vinegar
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground white pepper
6 Tbsp. vegetable oil
Fresh herbs: chives, parsley, dill

Wash the potatoes and cut them in quarters or, if they are very small, in half. Place them in a saucepan and cover with water. Cover, bring the water to a boil, and then turn down the heat and simmer until they are cooked through, about 15 minutes.

Drain the potatoes and let them cool slightly while you make the dressing: whisk the vinegar, salt, pepper, and oil together in a small bowl.

Place the potatoes in a serving bowl and pour the dressing over them. Toss gently so that all the potatoes are covered with the dressing.

Now set the potatoes aside to cool a little further and let the dressing soak in, while you chop the herbs. No need for exact measurements here, but I'd suggest about 2-3 Tbsp. finely sliced chives, 2 Tbsp. finely chopped parsley, and 1 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh dill.

Finally, fold the herbs into the salad. Chill for an hour or two and then serve.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Holiday weekending

No need to get too fancy, we're all family here.

Swedish potato salad, a new favorite. I'll get you the recipe later in the week.

Another (very carefully constructed) picnic.

Don't try to claim I'm not patriotic.

Backyard foliage.

Low tide.

Lakeshore idyll.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

OMG, shorts, you all!

Oh, don't mind me, I'm just hanging out here by my favorite geranium in my shorts. That I made.

My favorite photographer is not available tonight, so that's the best I could do for now in terms of modeling them. But I learned a ton from this project, and I'm pretty proud of some of the workmanship here, so indulge me a bit.

So this is the result of all my futzing with the Pleasant Pathways shorts pattern, made up in Field Study linen by Anna Maria Horner.

Muslin #2 revealed that I had gone a little overboard with the pattern alterations. So I added an inch back to the center front:

and I took 1/2 inch off at the hems (not pictured.)

Widening the legs took out the darts (not a problem for me, I haven't much of a booty), so I had to straighten out the back waistline.

OK, enough pattern alterations. Let's talk construction.

Have you seen my invisible zipper? (Ha!)

(I just bought an invisible zipper foot for my machine, and it is awesome.)

To finish the inside seams, I used the tutorials in this post by Made By Rae.

For the front and back seams, fold over seam allowances and topstitch:

For the inseams, flat-felled seams. Yeah, flat-felled seams. I went there!

On the outside:

For the side seams, I just fake overlock-stitched each fabric edge, then pressed to the back of the garment and topstitched. I couldn't figure out any other way to deal with the zipper:

Finally, I edgestitched along the top edge of the waist and the bottom edge of the leg openings, to keep the facings from showing on the outside:

And topstitched along the lower edge of the waist facing, to give the shorts a bit more  structure--a kind of a faux waistband:

Let us now begin the litany of things I will try to do differently/better next time:

First of all, the leg facings. I don't even know. I have a lot to learn about drafting facings, let's just leave it at that. (Attaching the waistband facings gave me some trouble too, but I think I mostly pulled it off.)

You can see in one of the pictures up at the top of the post that the waistband dips down at the center back. I'm not sure why that happened--maybe the grainline got messed up when I made the other alterations to the pattern?

Also, I feel like there's extra fabric at the inside of the legs. In retrospect, I think a better strategy for widening the leg openings might have been to just try to draw the outside edges of the legs straight down from the hips (you can see in the pics of the pattern pieces above that the outer edge of the leg curves inwards), rather than adding fulness in the middle of the leg by slashing the pattern piece.

All that said, I'm looking forward to wearing these tomorrow.

And I'm submitting this project to the "Shorts on the Line" contest, apparently just under the wire before the deadline. Mostly I am grateful to the bloggers behind Imagine Gnats and Small + Friendly for organizing this event, and motivating me to finish a project for myself!

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Math, I can handle


--it's pants that are hard.

I've been working on making a pair of shorts for myself. I started out with the Pleasant Pathways shorts, a free pattern designed by Anna Maria Horner. The operative word here is "free"--I've been tempted by a couple of shorts patterns that have come out recently (the Iris shorts by Colette Patterns and the Maritime shorts by Grainline look especially nice), but didn't want to invest in a pattern that might be cut totally wrong for me. Like just about every other woman on the planet, I have a hard time finding ready-to-wear pants that fit right.

(In particular, I'm short, very short waisted, and prefer to wear pants pretty low on my waist--so I like pants with what others would consider a ridiculously low rise. Both the Iris and Maritime shorts are described as "mid-rise," which I read as code for "waistband will surely hit at my ribcage if not higher.")

But I figured, free pattern + thrift-store muslin fabric = let's give it a whirl.

The first muslin turned out...unfortunate, to say the least. That's a photo up above. I'll spare you (or rather, spare myself) posting a picture of me actually wearing them.

I think they fit, but they didn't fit at all like I wanted them to. I wanted the rise to be about three inches lower, the inseam about three inches longer, and the leg opening about three inches wider.

I could have predicted this--in fact, I did. Here's a pair of ready-to-wear shorts that fits me fairly well laid on top of the pattern. Pretty different, right?

I know what you're thinking: girl, you need a different pattern. (And yeah, you might be right. But again, I'm not confident that there is one, or that I could preemptively identify one, that would be just right out of the envelope.)

Or, you might be thinking: why not just go up a size or two? That would enable me to wear the shorts lower on the waist, which will also make the hems longer, and probably give wider leg openings too.

Well, true, but that would also give me slouchy shorts. I didn't want to sacrifice the otherwise good fit, I wanted to change the cut.

So--adventures in pattern alterations.

First, I lopped two inches off the back rise, and three inches off the center front rise tapering to two inches at the side seam. Yup, just lopped it straight off, based on this advice. The fact that these shorts don't have a separate waistband greatly simplifies things here.

Then, I lengthened the shorts according to this method. It's interesting to see that this also widens the legs a bit.

Step three, add width to the legs according to this tutorial from Threads magazine.

Checking my work: the side seams match up.

And the crotch curve is still true.

Oops, the inseams aren't quite right. (I fixed this by cutting off the excess of the longer piece, tapering out to nothing at the side seam since that was already the right length.)

Then I compared to the original pattern sheet again. You can see that what I've arrived at isn't just a larger size, it is indeed a different cut. Hopefully the right one.


Muslin #2 is on the docket for tomorrow, and if that turns out well I'll draft new waistband and leg facings according to this tutorial from The Coletterie.

What do you think? Anyone out there have experience with altering pants or shorts patterns? Any predictions about what I've done wrong or right? Suggestions of good how-to's for making pattern alterations?

(And yes, I guess this is an odd post for July 4, but let's just say that I'm celebrating my freedom to get in over my head with fabric.)