Monday, July 29, 2013

DIY hanging planter

Sam and I spent the weekend in Vermont visiting my family, and while there we acquired a lot of new greenery for our apartment. Usually we take the bus but this time we rented a car, which afforded us the rare opportunity to cart home a veritable bounty. From my dad we received a host of veggies, fruits, and herbs from his amazing garden -- string beans, snap peas, hot peppers (three varieties), rosemary, basil, cherry tomatoes, onions, a zucchini, two peaches, carrots...and I'm probably forgetting things.

From my mom we received several house plants. She and my stepdad are in the process of preparing their house to rent out in the medium term while they live aboard a sail boat and travel the seas for a few years, so paring down their possessions is a must. The timing couldn't have been more perfect, since there are a few places in the apartment where I've recently been thinking that some greenery would be a nice addition. In one case, I've decided that a hanging planter would add some height and help balance out the space -- the empty corner above the bookshelf in the study:

So with three new plants, I figured the time was ripe for a DIY hanging planter project. As usual, I found inspiration by googling around, and came across some simple macrame designs that I liked:

(from Refinery 29)

I decided to go with the simple knotting approach used in the second photo above, which happened to have a pretty clear tutorial posted alongside it. The only difference is that I used white yarn for my project and was a little concerned about strength so I used 16 pieces of yarn instead of 8 in order to double up every strand (so every piece of cord in the photo above was two pieces of yarn in my version).

After cutting 16 4-foot pieces of white yarn, my first step was to knot them all together at one end:

Then I just followed the knotting instructions from Refinery 29 with everything laid out on the floor like so:

(look at the Refinery 29 tutorial for full instructions, I just wanted to show how I doubled up all the strands)

And with a few simple knots and approximately 5 minutes, I had a handy new device to hang my chosen plant! Then I simply drilled a hole in the ceiling where I wanted it to hang, installed a simple white hook meant to hang plants and such from drywall ceilings, and voila!

I still have to figure out a permanent home for the other two plants (right now they're just hanging out on the pedestal table in the study), but it felt good to get one of them settled so quickly!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

DIY strawberry shortcake

Everyone who knows me is well aware that I'm not much of a cook. It's more that I don't particularly enjoy it than that I'm terrible, but because I don't enjoy it I definitely don't have much of a repertoire. One of my close friends and I try to get together for dinner at one of our homes every week or two, and whenever it's my turn to host I feel terrible cooking the same old thing because she's such an amazing cook and baker and always makes something new and tasty. It's usually the only time I cook, since the rest of the time I rely on Sam to feed me (sorry ladies, he's already mine). Usually I succumb to one of my old standbys like lasagna, pasta with pesto, wait, I think those are the only two standbys I have. But sometimes I'm feeling more adventurous and/or like I can't possibly serve the same thing again, and I try something different.

The last two weeks it was sooooooo hot in Boston, in the mid-90s every day. I know there are plenty of parts of the country that are hotter, but many of those places have more AC than we northeasterners do, which makes a big difference. We have a window unit in our bedroom but the rest of the apartment relies on open windows and fans, and it was sweltering.

Anyway, suffice it to say that I did not feel like cooking anything elaborate. But I did want to try something new, and to make me feel a little less cranky about the weather I thought about all the summer foods I love. Top of the list: strawberry shortcake. When I was growing up, my mom would always bring home these amazing shortcake biscuits from a local fruit market and make strawberry shortcake. I got so spoiled thinking that you can just go find shortcake biscuits anywhere in the summer, but not so. They are nowhere to be found at my local supermarket, at least.

So I tried my hand at homemade biscuits, though in general baking terrifies me because it seems like such an exact science where the smallest mismeasurement could cause epic failure. The recipe I used was from Simply Recipes (linked here), and it turned out to be fairly easy to make the shortbread, prepare the strawberries, and whip the cream.

Mmmmmmm. (And don't worry -- we didn't only eat strawberry shortcake for dinner, I served some couscous and pesto pasta as well. I felt better about the repeat entree given that I'd attempted something new for the dessert.)

Monday, July 22, 2013

Triumph Alley

When I revamped the corner of the study to create a small built-in bar, it meant displacing the running-related items I was displaying there -- some photos, race bibs, medals, etc. I knew I wanted to relocate them somewhere eventually, but wasn't sure exactly where. I also knew we needed to update them, because the photos we had up were from Sam's full marathon (which my dad and I ran part of as a relay team) and his first half marathon, and since then I've run my first two half marathons (one of them with Sam and my dad), and we did a Tough Mudder in June. We got some great photos from some of these, so I wanted to be sure to incorporate those.

Awhile ago I picked up some frames on sale at Michael's, and this weekend finally got my act together. I decided to put together a small gallery wall in the narrow wall space that leads from the kitchen to study. It seemed like the best option where we could put up some photos we really like (and find inspirational, which I need right now as I train for my first full marathon, which Sam will likely do too), but not dominate one of our main living spaces since frankly pictures of us crowing triumphantly while sweating profusely aren't exactly what I want any given room to focus on (and given window placement and the art we already have, we don't actually have a lot of extra wall space).

I picked some of my favorite photos, and printed them at CVS in a mix of 4x6s and 5x7s to match the frames I had (plus the two shadowboxes I already had on hand). Then I laid out all my frames on the floor and matched photos to them (you can see that I also threw in a smattering of race bibs):

Then it was a simple matter of popping them into the frames and getting ready to hang them. A handful of the frames were only meant to be tabletop frames, so didn't have hangers for the wall. I picked up some sawtooth hangers along with the frames, and then just attached them to all the tabletop frames as needed. I was sure to remove the glass etc from the frame and hammer on a soft surface -- seems self-evident, but I've accidentally damaged frames before not thinking.

The other small prep piece for tabletop frames is that I usually like to rip off the portion of the frame that makes it stand up, since that will cause it to hang unevenly on the wall.

They're usually pretty easy to just yank off, either by hand or with pliers.

Then I stood in front of my two walls and basically eyeballed an arrangement that I thought looked good and that I thought I could add to over time. Here's where we ended:

(the first wall, looking in toward the study/living room) 

(the second wall, opposite the first, looking toward the kitchen;
ignore that gross light switch, the kitchen walls need some help)

I like it quite a lot -- I tried to pick photos that made good photos in their own right, so while it's running-themed hopefully it isn't too over the top. Sam and I have nicknamed it "Triumph Alley."

In case you're curious, below are the photos that are up there (except for one, from Sam's first half marathon, which we don't have in digital form, and for the three bibs that I also framed).

(Sam, me, and my dad walking to the start line for Sam's marathon, which my dad and I each ran 6-mile legs of)

(Me and Sam starting the last 6 miles of his marathon)

(Crossing the marathon finish line. Somehow Sam manages to look better than me despite the fact that he's run 26.2 miles and I've only run 6.)

(Sam, me, and my dad after the marathon/relay)

(I don't think it's real gold)

(Me during my first half marathon, in lovely Vermont)

(Crossing the finish line of my first half marathon)

(Sam, me, and my dad after finishing the BAA half marathon in Boston -- my dad's first!)

(Me and Sam before starting the Tough Mudder)

(Me and Sam emerging from a dumpster of ice water, one of the Tough Mudder obstacles)

(Sam carrying me for one of the Tough Mudder obstacles that involved carrying a team member)

(Me, Sam, and our teammate Shannon just over the Tough Mudder finish line)

Friday, July 19, 2013

Before and after: Bedroom

Continuing with my "Before and After" series (last week was the front hall, and the week before was the living room), this week I give you: the bedroom. This is a relatively small space that we've crammed a lot of furniture into, so it still isn't as optimal as I'd like. But I still think it's come a long way from where we started, and it's a place that I'm happy to fall asleep and wake up in every day.

Here's a shot of the bedroom from the door to the room as it used to be:

And now the same shot as things stand today:

And here's a better look at the side wall that's partially visible in the right of the above photo (to the left of the bed is a wall with another window):

(things are a bit cramped, but we're doing what we can with what we've got)

Projects included:
Painting the bedroom -- one yellow accent wall, the other three walls light gray
Moving around the furniture so that the armoire is on the opposite wall (pictures below) and the dressers are along the side wall
Finding matching lamps (over the course of several years) and painting them white
Making art out of vintage doilies to hang on either side of the bed
Removing the ceiling fan blades and installing a new drum shade
Painting the table lamp my stepdad gave me gold (was originally black)
Making a starburst mirror out of paint stirrers
Making moroccan lanterns out of pasta sauce jars

And here's the opposite wall as it was right before we painted the room (ignore me looking terrible in the mirror reflection...this is right as we were starting to prep the room for painting...):

And now:

Projects included:
Painting and stenciling the armoire that used to be next to the bed
Painting the small jewelry armoire (and adding colorful contact paper inside)
Making a frame to hold my earrings out of a corkboard and chicken wire
Making a gallery wall by slowly adding things over time (here, here, here) using white frames (often painted)

Given the space constraints, I think we're doing a decent job and it definitely feels like a huge improvement over what it used to be!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Family arts and crafts

Shortly after my experiment with DIY art for the bathroom, we visited Sam's family in Philadelphia. And when we arrived, lo and behold his mother had gathered art supplies for us all to continue the fun. I was tickled pink that someone actually saw that project and thought, "I want to give that a try!" Blog goals accomplished, I guess I can shut it down now.

Anyway, we had lots of fun experimenting with the paint + chevron outlines technique (and by "technique," I mean "random workaround that I made up in order to mimic something amazing and professional"...though I guess that's kind of the whole idea of DIY).

Here's one that Sam's mom did:

And one from his sister:

I'm kind of obsessed with both of them. Also both of his stepsisters made some, but I totally forgot to snap photos since it was after our first round of experimentation. Such a ridiculously talented family.

I got in on the action as well. Here's masterpiece #2, hanging out on the built-in bar:

I didn't have any location in mind when I painted it, but I actually think it fits in pretty well here!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Before and After: Front Hall

As mentioned last week, I'm planning to share some "before and after" posts from around the apartment once a week for the next few weeks. Last week was the living room, this week is the front hall. This is a small space with an absurd number of doors/doorways (seven) that I decided to start making over about a year ago.

As it used to be, looking from the front door toward the kitchen:

And looking back toward the front door:

And now:

Projects included:
Installing board-and-batten and painting the walls Robin's Egg Blue
Installing hooks on the closet door for hanging purses, etc (visible in the first photo)
Making a chandelier out of popsicle sticks
Adding a shoe cabinet
Sewing new curtains for the front door window (which is totally blown out in these photos, sorry)
Stripping layers of paint off of the old brass door stop (bottom photo) by soaking it in boiling water
Purchasing four prints from a favorite artist on Etsy and putting them in frames I painted white

It's so much cheerier now, a much better space to see first thing when you enter and last thing when you leave.

Monday, July 8, 2013

First world (animal) problems

Let me just start by saying that I love fridge magnets, they're one of the few random paraphernalia/souvenirs/mementos that actually seem to be quite useful and never feel like clutter (unlike, for instance, snow globes, figurines, and other similar tchotchkes). And yet we never seem to have enough to hold up the various photos, menus, postcards, etc that adorn our fridge. So when I found out that I could get some new much-needed magnets, use a 25% off coupon that came in the by email, AND support the artistry of my future brother-in-law Isaac, I jumped at the chance.

Let's back up a second. Isaac is Sam's younger brother, and is a tremendously talented artist, filmmaker, screenwriter, etc. Like many artsy types, it seems like his mind is always bursting with creative ideas that mere mortals like myself could never dream of. One such manifestation is a recent series of drawings called "Misfortunate Animals," which is a hilarious and quirky collection of animals experiencing quotidian (but human) challenges unique to their species. For instance, this drawing entitled "Olivia always loses one sock in the dryer."

Or this one, created in front of my very eyes while we were hanging out in PA this weekend:

A little while ago, Isaac submitted some of the drawings to Cafe Press, which is an online website that takes existing art and prints it on apparel and an assortment of other things like mugs, post-its, bags, etc. The artist receives a small commission every time someone purchases an item with their art on it, but they don't have to deal with any of the merchandising hassle themselves (like they would if they wanted to sell things on Etsy, for instance).

Anyway, I recently got an email offering a 25% of coupon at Cafe Press via some random runners newsletter I'm signed up for, and I remembered that I'd been meaning to buy some of Isaac's work. So I went to his "shop" on Cafe Press, which is where all of his artwork is aggregated: Then I picked out a few of my favorite drawings, and ordered them as magnets. Without further ado, I give you Harriet, Freddie, and Terence:

Isaac has many more that aren't yet on Cafe Press, and is always taking suggestions for new animals that people would like to see memorialized in a drawing. So if you have a favorite animal, let me know and I can share it with him!

Friday, July 5, 2013

Before and After: Living Room

We're in Pennsylvania right now enjoying the holiday weekend with Sam's family, but over the next few weeks I thought I would share some "Before and afters" of various spaces in the apartment, starting today with the living room. Taking a step back to look at how far things have come helps motivate me to tackle the bigger projects I still have on my list that I find daunting but I know will make a huge difference. Plus everyone loves before and after pictures, admit it you know it's true.

So without further ado....

This is the living room about four months after we moved in:

And the same shot, today:

Projects included:
Installing new curtains to make the windows look much bigger
Adding a large area rug (which my mom snagged for us at a carpet store that sells large remnants for a fraction of the normal price for a rug)
Getting a new sofa, and replacing the generic IKEA legs with ones I stained myself
Making a faux roman shade for the stained glass window
Fixing the bottom of the loveseat after the straps all broke
Making a new coffee table
Sewing new throw pillows

On the opposite side of the living room is our faux fireplace, pocket doors leading to the study, and TV. Here's what that all looked like before:

And now:

Projects included:
Buying a large mirror off craigslist and painting the frame "metallic champagne" (one of the first things I did after moving into the apartment, so it's already present in the "before" photo))
Painting the fireplace with chalkboard paint and drawing in a fire
Painting the pocket doors and door to the front hallway black with white accents
Painting an old dresser and turning it into a TV stand (plus upgrading the TV)

I'm always making tweaks, but I'm pretty pleased with where things stand in the living room right now! The single biggest change was adding the curtains, but every little project makes a difference.

In any case, I'll keep sharing one "before and after" a week for the next few weeks, if you're curious!