Friday, September 27, 2013

Fall mantle

The days are getting shorter and colder, and as much as I try to deny it, we've really settled into fall. (Note: I actually love fall weather, but it never seems to last long enough before the winter kicks in so I always treat it more like a precursor to my least favorite season rather than a nice time of year in its own right...I should probably work on that.) I was kind of obsessed with the mantle arrangement I did over the summer so I was procrastinating on changing it, but on a recent day off of school I was doing some seasonal things like putting the down comforter on the bed, and it finally felt like time to break out the fall decor.

Here's what I had going on over the summer:

So much blue and turquoise, my favorite. The small tulips are ceramic candle holders from Michael's, and the birdcage is also from Michael's. The small metal birds were given to us by Sam's mom as a Christmas gift -- she gave one to all the siblings and stepsiblings, and they're supposed to bring good luck. The print is from one of my favorite vendors on Etsy -- it says "Today will be the best day ever." The framed photo is one that Sam's brother took several seconds after we got engaged, and the blue vases are from Goodwill.

I was sad to change things out because I just love the colors so much, but it's time to embrace fall and all the wonderful things it has to offer like mulled apple cider, cooler running weather, warm socks, the weight of the down comforter on the bed, flannel pajamas, and not showing up to school drenched in sweat.

So here's a fall mantle to celebrate the changing of the seasons:

My usual approach to this kind of decorating is the following:

1) Use a few things that I keep on hand in my craft closet for each season. For instance, the foliage print (which is a photo of my hometown in the autumn that my family gave me after I moved to Boston) comes out every fall.

2) Wander around the apartment grabbing things that have been living elsewhere. For example, the smaller frame is a silk print that Sam brought home from China that I had in the dining nook. I saw the colors and thought it would be perfect for the fall color scheme, and then I realized that it was two birds and it made me think of geese migrating south which is always one of the most familiar sights/sounds of autumn (I think they're actually cranes, but whatever). The small red/orange/blue bowl (originally from Michael's) was also commandeered from elsewhere in the apartment -- it was on the built-in bar holding wine corks -- and I filled it with potpourri that had been in yet another container on the shelves in the study. The large white vase with faux craspedia (which I made out of orange felt a few years ago) was sitting on the turquoise dresser in the study.

3) Buy a few new things as needed. For this mantle I just grabbed a few tiny pumpkins/gourds at the grocery store on my way home from work. So all told, the new mantle arrangement cost me $3.50.

Then there are a few items that I tend to keep on the mantle no matter what, like the glass barometer that we found for $15 at Goodwill like 5 years ago and the photo of me and Sam getting engaged.

So there you have it, a mantle to help me get into the fall spirit.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Testing my luck

As expected, the frequency of my blogging has plummeted precipitously since I started school earlier this month (has it been less than a month??). I haven't found much time to fit in apartment projects, though I have had the pleasure of helping my friend Zoe with a few things -- painting and miscellaneous home improvement -- in the new apartment she moved into. I also had the pleasure of accompanying her to IKEA to pick up some things for her new place, where I ended up making an unexpected purchase: a kitchen cart.

To be fair, it wasn't totally out of the blue. As part of the kitchen makeover, I'd been wanting a kitchen cart, but they're so darn expensive and I couldn't find one that felt quite worth the investment. I wanted to use it to replace the table we have, which is great as a table but is uncomfortably low for being used as additional counterspace (which is essentially what we do with it except when we are using it to host a large group each year for Thanksgiving).

As we wrapped up our odyssey through the IKEA showroom and marketplace, I suggested we take a look at the "as-is" section where sometimes you can find good deals on things that aren't quite to quality standards or are missing a piece or something. That's when I spotted this:

The Stenstorp (just rolls off the tongue), marked down from $199 to $99. I inspected it closely, and couldn't figure out exactly why it was so deeply discounted -- maybe a little discoloration on the top (solid oak), but nothing beyond that. I hemmed and hawed since $99 is still more than the $0 it costs to keep our current table in place, but ultimately I reasoned that I was likely to cave at some point down the road so I may as well snag something so high quality while it was on sale (IKEA does sell other kitchen carts for less than $100 full price, but they have always seemed a bit too small or flimsy for me -- this one is a solid oak top with stainless steel shelves).

The next challenge was trying to figure out if it would fit in Zoe's car. As-is items are non-returnable, so if we wheeled it out to the parking lot and it didn't fit, we'd just have to abandon it or something. Or maybe sell it in the parking lot? It's like I've learned nothing in business school.... Of course I hadn't brought my measuring tape since I didn't expect to be buying anything, so I used a highly precise system where I measured the various dimensions using the length of my legs (ie, it's waist high and mid-thigh long), then went out to the car -- while Zoe waited in line -- and contorted my legs all over the various dimensions of the car to see if we could squeeze it through the back door or trunk. It seemed like it would be close, but doable. I was a little apprehensive because I have this habit of buying things that fit within an inch or two of whatever vehicle I happen to have (usually a zipcar), and I wasn't sure if my luck would continue or this would be the time it would finally run out.

Turns out my luck held, but this was the closest call yet -- 1/8th of an inch larger and this would not have fit through the back door. Even so, when we got it home we couldn't get it out one side and had to maneuver it out the side we originally put it in through -- so close a call that a minor discrepancy between the doors on the left vs right side of the car made the difference. Zoe was awesome and a good sport...after all, we'd gone there to get some things for her and ended up lugging home a piece of furniture for me (she also found some of the things she needed, though).

Here's the table we had in place previously:

It's a great table, and we just moved it to the basement for now so we can bring it out when we host large groups and use it in a future home when we have space to use it as a table (as opposed to the current setup where it serves as extra counter space because we can't fit chairs around it).

And here's the cart in its place:

It fits pretty perfectly between the two windows, and is just the right height for food prep. I'm pretty pleased with my IKEA luck!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Bonesteel's and Bokie's

While in upstate New York in August visiting with Sam's family, his mom took us to Bonesteel's -- a local gardening center. In addition to plants, though, the establishment has barn after barn full of salvaged furniture, machinery, odds and ends, and other totally random items. Some of it seems like precious antiques, some of it like total junk...and I'm not well-versed enough in these things to distinguish between the two all the time. We only had time to see a small fraction of what they have, but I snapped some photos of some of my favorite things. I thought you might enjoy too.

A very cool chandelier, though the backlighting makes it a bit hard to photograph...

A large type tray/letterpress tray, as high as my waist. Only $25.

Dozens of old lanterns hanging from the ceiling, and hundreds of old bottles lining the shelves (only a few of them in this photo).

A business machine. Frankly I feel a little guilty that I don't know how to use this given that I am a student of business, Harvard what have you been failing to teach me?

I have no idea what this is, can you identify it for me?

One of a pair of matching greek key lamps, both for $25.

One of the many buildings filled with endless odds and ends. They wouldn't let Sam buy the golf clubs because the patriarch wasn't on the premises and he couldn't estimate by phone how much to charge for them. So back into the pile they went....

In the back of this particular greenhouse was this. In case you can't tell, it's a huge log surrounded by thousands of onions. I'm as baffled as you are.

Here's the corner of the store where they kept thousands of live bees. Like you do.

We also visited my favorite establishment in Malone, NY several times: Bokie's. It's a drive-in diner that has amazing retro decor and, most importantly, amazing soft serve ice cream. As you may have heard me rant about in the past, I love soft serve ice cream and it's impossible to find in Boston except at Fenway Park (frozen yogurt is not the same thing, though it's definitely good). For some reason, rural areas (like where I grew up) seem to excel at having huge quantities of soft serve, whereas urban locations are obsessed with trendy things like Berryline and you can't find normal soft serve ice cream to save your life. If I could live in Bokie's, I would be a very happy (and ice-cream-filled) woman.

(NOT in Michigan, don't know what that sign is all about)

Bonesteel's and Bokie's: two establishments that speak to my rural roots and remind me that for all the amenities of urban life, there are some things you just can't get in the city.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

How much DIY art is too much?

For some finishing touches on the kitchen, I wanted to rearrange our appliances to open up the counter space a bit as well as add some new art. First, I relocated the microwave from the counter next to the sink to a small table next to the stove, and the toaster oven from sitting on top of the microwave to the kitchen table. It isn't an ideal location, but it does help add a fair amount of counter space and showcase the backsplash more, so it seems worth it.

Then I wanted to move the wine glass rack that was above the kitchen table. Here's a grainy iphone picture from last year that I dug up showing the rack:

We actually use stemless wine glasses on a day-to-day basis that we keep in the cabinets, so the additional wineglasses only get used when we have company. I decided we didn't need to have them take up space out in the open anymore, but our cabinets are pretty full so I relocated the wine glass rack to the built-in bar in the study. It makes more sense to keep wine glasses there anyway. I had a rack for wine bottles on the bottom shelf previously, but we didn't use it much because we usually only buy one bottle of wine at a time and then we drink no need for wine storage. The wine glass rack was a natural light wood color, but I decided to paint it using the same gray paint I used on the built-in bar just to help it blend in more, then screwed it into the wall at the back of the bar. Here it is now:

Then for above the kitchen table, I bought a canvas on sale at Michael's to paint. My recent painting projects have all been somewhat abstract because I don't have the strongest art skills, but I decided to try something a little different for the kitchen. A lot of kitchen art strikes me as kind of corny, but I searched for inspiration online and found some prints of the Cathrineholm line of kitchenware that I really liked...simple and midcentury (to tie into my retro color scheme), not too cutesy.

(from the Etsy shop handz)

I decided to try my hand at painting a single piece of kitchenware using just a few colors and a dark gray background to make it pop against the light blue walls. I also painted the edge of the canvas black to give it a more finished look. Here's what I ended up with:

Okay so it's not exactly a masterpiece, but I actually like it quite a lot for the space. Here it is in place above the kitchen table:

I've done more painting in the last few months than anytime in the past ~18 years (I used to take art classes as a child, but my skills didn't exactly progress). It's been a lot of fun albeit a challenge for my fine motor skills and creativity.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The end of summer

Though the official end to summer isn't until the autumnal equinox on September 22nd, Labor Day always feels more like the end of summer to me, especially with school starting back up again this coming week. I'm excited to be returning to the classroom and seeing many friends who I haven't seen since May, but I know it will be a busy time with school, some significant extracurricular commitments, and the job search which I've already begun to make sure I have something lined up for when I graduate this spring. So though I've really focused on blog content this summer, I know posts are going to get fewer and further between very soon. I have a few lined up for the coming week or two, but I'm sorry in advance if I go MIA for a bit! DIY remains an important part of my life and I'm committed to keeping balance between school and the other things I care about, but I know this final year is a special time and I want to be sure I'm taking advantage of it as it flies by.

So, I decided to mark September 1st with a little review of the summer -- from DIY to life more generally. It's been a busy one!

On the DIY front, I had 19 posts between June 1 and September 1. That's the same exact number as last summer when I was totally unemployed (this summer I had a full-time job), so not too shabby! In terms of projects, I took on the following things:


  Painted the bathroom Robin's Egg Blue                     DIY art for the bathroom                            Magnets featuring art by my brother-in-law

          DIY art for the built-in bar                    Gallery wall of photos from races              Strawberry shortcake from scratch

           Hanging planter                                        Word art

                           Painted the kitchen                       Tiled a backsplash in the kitchen               Made a chalkboard wall in the kitchen

I also shot some before-and-afters of a few of the rooms in the apartment.

Living Room:

Front Hall:


 (No before)

On the personal front, I traveled to Philly, Vermont, and upstate New York:

Braves-Phillies game with my brother, Sam, and Sam's dad, brother, and sister (Philadelphia)

Soft serve ice cream (aka creemees) at my hometown creemee stand (Middlebury, VT)

A visit to the waterfall where a year ago Sam and I got engaged (Mountain View, NY)

I also spent a week sailing with my mom and stepdad aboard their new home, SV Aviva ("Sailing Vessel Aviva"). While with them, I adopted my mom's new mantra, from Eleanor Roosevelt: Do one thing every day that scares you. The day we spent hours in dense fog without sight of land probably tops the list, and the entire trip was full of very special moments and learning opportunities about sailing, myself, and my relationships with those I love.

I ran a Tough Mudder with Sam and our friend Shannon, pushing myself to some new physical limits and having a lot of fun in the process:

One of 20+ obstacles, the wounded warrior carry

The final obstacle, navigating through a pit of lives wires and mud. I think I developed a better strategy than the guy getting electrocuted behind me....

In preparation for my first full marathon this November, I ran over 200 miles between June 1 and September 1. And I have the tan lines to prove it:

I also worked full-time for Harvard Business School (where I'm also a student), working for three departments and getting the chance to meet some awesome and dedicated people who are responsible for my wonderful student experience and also a very fulfilling summer.

(photocredit to my friend and sectionmate Mitchell Ji)

So that's a little recap of the summer, now it's time to throw myself headlong into the semester!