Thursday, May 31, 2012

Grown-up beanbag.

To be honest, I'm not sure what made me feel that I so strongly needed to make a beanbag for myself. I've concluded that it must've been my unfulfilled wish as a child to have a beanbag chair. I did have an inflatable chair and a beaded curtain, though. The seventies was alive and well in the nineties.

I also wanted to prove to myself that I could sew in a circle. And I have an affinity for piping and after my first solo reupholstery attempt, I've had my eye out for other projects. So i guess there are more reasons than my missing childhood beanbag. I can't turn down an opportunity for fabric, either. And you've guessed it: enter Pinterest.

I followed this fantastic tutorial and upped my measurements for a larger, 25-inch diameter pom.

First, I taped together sheets of printed paper and made a circle with my makeshift compass, which was a string on a stick in the center and a pen to draw the diameter.

Are there better ways to make a circle? I surely hope. But this did the trick.

Next I cut out two circles and pieced together a strip for the middle. Then I pinned the cording and sewed it around the two circles.

I was incredibly proud of myself at this point. I thought sewing in a circle was going to be impossible, much less with thick cording. Seal clapping ensued.

The rest is pretty boring and is better described by the tutorial. I sewed the middle piece to one circle, pinned it to the other circle, and sewed it on that side. In the middle there I also added a zipper.

Then I stuffed the pom with 2.5 bags of polyfill that I had on hand.

I am literally in love. The realization hit when it was finished that I don't really know why I felt so compelled to make it. It does great in holding my clothes.

And in just looking good. Ignore the blah and too-short curtains in that statement. I'm looking for the perfect fabric and trying to live with what I have until then.

I'm thinking I might move into making giant floor pillows after this. It's be the same thing, only square. My grandma has these awesome pillows that we love to lay on when we visit and I have to find something as large or as solid for myself. Plus, it'd be another excuse to buy fabric.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Desk diligence.

The minute this desk was delivered via my dad to my apartment, I knew it was temporary. It was that ugly. But my previous desk was roughly six feet long, three feet wide, and a million tons. I sat behind it signing important presidential letters. Or studying for the CPA exams. Regardless, it would never fit in my current apartment, so it had to go when I moved. But that's not the desk we're talking about. We're talking about the one that replaced the beast - the one I knew I'd get rid of - this one:

This is not how the desk always looked. This is how the desk looked mid-I-can't-live-with-this-any-longer tirade. Sometimes that happens. Mid-destruction, I forgot that I didn't have a picture of the before.

The hideous shape of this desk wasn't even the worst. The worst was that this desk wouldn't be cleaned. I scrubbed and scrubbed but every week there was this weird black film that would appear and wouldn't easily come off with a Clorox wipe or scrubbing with a cloth. I was sure I was breathing arsenic.

I knew what I wanted: a simple desk, straight lines, symmetrical, and a drawer for pens and small things. It just took about ten months to find. came through for me with this. To me, it was an exact replica to the West Elm version I'd been lusting over, but differed on an important factor: the price.

The reviews said that the desk wasn't shiny enough, and in my intense excitement, I ran out, bought a can of glossy spray paint, and waited at the door like a loon. That's an exaggeration. I only stalked the delivery man.

And you know what? I think the finish is fine. At least, fine enough that I didn't want to commit to any spray painting. And it's been a month. And as Cat said, there's a fine line between lacquered white furniture and shiny white kid furniture.

Notice any other changes? The giant daffodil perhaps? For Christmas, my sisters got my a gift card to my favorite photo-to-canvas printing place: Canvas Pop. I'm not paid or perked by them to throw out their name. I'm just obsessed with my personal artwork and after trying a few places with Groupon and Living Social offers, I like their pictures and process best. After much deliberation and a few mock-ups, I chose this picture taken from the Kuekenhof Gardens in Amsterdam. I've always had an affinity for daffodils, solidified by their status as the March flower (and my birthday month). I wasn't sure I was a flower person, but it's a cheery welcome in the morning. It helps that it's 30x20 inches, and I can make it out and I stumble toward my alarm clock without my glasses.

I also added the brown leather ottoman from Target. I was browsing for storage solutions and stumbled on this guy when he was on sale ($15 off!) for reasons I don't know. I do know that he was the only one left and I snatched him up and dodged carts in my dash to the checkout. It was such a rush that I left Cat in the store and had to call her after I had safely secured the ottoman in the car. I couldn't trust setting down the guy and calling her beforehand. I may have issues.

I was pleasantly surprised by his ability to store EVERYTHING from my previous desk. I'm still in love.

As for the previous pictures? They're next to my dresser now.

This is the view from my doorway. It's horribly framed and the sizes of things are all skewed (the daffodil is BIG), but you get the idea. And my curtains are too short. And the lighting in my room is still horrible. The desk needs a lamp, and maybe even the dresser. It's been on the list, and probably will be for another ten months.

But let's not focus on that.

I've got a new desk with a new canvas and I don't think I'm breathing diseases anymore. Huge upgrade though, right?! Oh, happy day!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Orange you glad.

I couldn't resist. There's no banana in this recipe though. Just orange brownies. ORANGE BROWNIES, PEOPLE. Can you even handle it?! But there's no chocolate in this recipe. It would more accurately be referred to as orange cake-like square desserts, but what do you call something of the brownie density and variety that's not a brownie? I have no idea.

So Orange Brownies.

Like most great ideas, this started with a romp on Pinterest and an upcoming cookout. This recipe had me at 'zest.' I will use any excuse to break out the zester, something I'm sure my dad and his impulsive Ikea purchases is proud of.

Orange Brownies
adapted from here

- 1 1/2 c. flour
- 2 c. sugar
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 c. unsalted butter, softened
- 4 eggs
- 4 tsp. orange juice (I used Simply Orange: Lots of Pulp)
- 1 tsp. orange zest (zest of small orange)


- 2 c. confectioners sugar
- 1/4 c. orange juice (you can use the oranges you zest, but zest first, than squeeze)
- zest of small orange

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray a glass 9x13 pan with non-stick cooking spray.

In a large bowl, stir together flour, sugar, and salt.  Add butter, eggs, orange juice and zest.  Combine until all the ingredients are incorporated together and you have a nice thick batter.

Pour or scoop batter into prepared pan and evenly distribute into the pan using your spatula. Just because I could, I squeezed some of the juice from the orange that I zested on top.

Place in the oven and bake for 30 minutes.  Remove from oven and let cool.

Make glaze by whisking all glaze ingredients in a small bowl.  Pour glaze evenly over the top, using a spatula as need to distribute glaze evenly.  Place pan on wire rack and let cool before cutting and serving.

I got rave review for the refreshing factor of these on a hot day. ENJOY!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Mother's Day and card-cessories.

I'm a little behind the times on this, but I'm pretty excited about my Mother's Day card to my mum (still).

It appears that my roommate's year-long mission to get me more into scrapbooking it finally paying off. I got into Michael's and JoAnn's and want to hit the papercrafting aisles now. A whole new danger world has been opened. It's like Mario - you open a new world and the obsession hits.

I really need to set up my Wii again.

This is quickly spinning out of my control. So let's talk card-cessories (see what I did there?). 

My newest and toughest to master tool is the double-loop punch around the card. The thing looks so good, but I can't tell you how many cards died in the process. In fact, Mum's card had to be mounted on the green piece of paper so I could fake it on some of the loops. That's still a secret.

I fared better in making a wedding card for a friend though.

And after completion, I promptly cried of exhaustion. That's what the double-loop punch does to you. Or at least to me. I think we're frenemies now though.

Other new favorite tools: Fiskars Paper Edgers scissors in Deckle. I used them to edge two other wedding cards.

On the insides, I played around with the double loop again (I was mastering it that day) and with layering fancy papers on the other.

Are you seeing a third theme in these cards? STICKERS. There are multiple aisles of stickers in the scrapbooking section, and if you're there on any other day, it seems that there's a sale. I love both the sunflower and wedding cake stickers. They're both so intricate and with a sale, run about $1-2 a pack. Not bad when making that baby wedding cake myself would involve a full-out meltdown.

A last theme? Glitter. I'm full out obsessed. I like using Sparkly Glitter Glue in Silver for bigger productions, like this giant 24.

Obviously this card it's fully finished.

For more refined glitter, I use the Sakura Quickie Glue Roller Pen. I used it for the writing on Mum's card up top. The glue pen goes on thinly, which is great with my tiny writing, but sufficiently, as there aren't any gaps in my letters. After writing in the glue pen, I quickly dumped on some glitter, which in the case of Mum's card was Martha Stewart's Crafts Glitter. Martha's glitter is tiny and best for writing, I've found. I use chunkier glitter on larger areas that have no chance of trying to be legible (i.e. I love making glitter stars).

I never thought this post would happen. I never thought I'd make more than one card a year that I liked. Here we are, making cards and scrapbooking though. I hope it's more than just a fad for me, too. It must be - I'm trolling Pinterest.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Twinkling Trifecta.

Does that title sound creepy? If I have to ask the question, it probably does.

This is totally innocent and about candles though. I was thinking twinkling like 'twinkle twinkle little star' because a light (lighted?) candle is like a little star.

I got this three-way candle votive holder/melter thing at Yankee Candle last winter. I haven't used it much because I am inundated with candles. There's a candle/tart warmer/something smelling and burning in every room. After getting my new desk and doing some organization, I broke this baby back out and it's really a fantastic thing. First of all, it holds votive candles. Not one, but three. Votive candles have never been worth it to me - they're baby-sized and I want a candle to last for a while. But votive candles are perfect for discovering if you like new scents. Secondly, it holds three votive candles, and when you light all three, they melt together and their smells combine into some of the most fabulous things. Thirdly, it's white, simple, ceramic, and a great variation to a candle with a label plastered over it. Am I the only one that ever gets sick of staring at those?

I've tried a few variations and have a few on the shelf for the next round.

Does anyone else out there have this little thing along with some favorite combinations? Do share!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Nail Stamps: foiled for now.

My friend, currently living the island life, sent up a fabulous birthday present: nail art paraphernalia. She found this nail art stamp kit from Konad (the pink scraper and pink stamper) and stamp plates (the blue circle deals, from I don't know where).

The idea is that you put some nail polish on the blue stamp plate, specifically over the design you want, scrape off the excess with the scraper, then stamp the decal with the stamper from the plate to your nail. Kay and I are the same person - it recommends that you use a special Konad polish, but that's not our style. We want to make it work with what we have.

We've been foiled, Kay. I tried all my nail polish. All scraped right off the plate with the scraper, leaving me nothing to stamp.

I couldn't let my hopes of nail art be spoiled though, so I broke out a bottle of Sinful Colors Nail Art polish in yellow. That's not the exact name of the shade, but it's true yellow. I'm realizing now that I could have tried this on the nail stamper. So I lied just above. Sorry!

Moving on. The stamper failed so I broke out this skinny bottle of Sinful Colors. These skinny bottles have a super skinny brush that allow for some extra detail. I freehanded a heart on the ring finger of each hand (and didn't bother cleaning up around the nail before posting, obviously). The skinny brushes are nice because you can see drops of polish falling down the brush and real quick pull it off your finger before messing up your precarious art, too. I'm quite liking them.

I need to stop chewing my cuticles, too. And probably try the Sinful Colors with the stamper. I tried OPI, China Glaze, and Zoya to no avail. But this isn't over, nail stamper. That little anchor will get on my nail whether you like it or not.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

5K Fridays.

I may or may not have said it before, but one of my resolutions this year is say 'yes' more. With that in mind, two days after returning from a two-week trip in the UK (and all the fried-fatty food and overindulgence in Cadbury chocolates that goes with that) I agreed to run a 5K. That Friday. In four days.

I have a love/hate relationship with exercise. I'll be dedicated for two weeks, then I'll get busy with other things, then I'll mope. Repeat. I've started the Couch to 5K workout I don't know how many times. There was no time for any of that this time. I just had to do it.

As for the race? It sucked. I ran the first mile way too fast to sustain and did a combination of running and walking for the rest. My final time was 00:30:52. Afterward, I felt fabulous. I still feel pretty fabulous about this, about three weeks later. I'm still riding those endorphins.

As for if I'll do it again, I don't know. My manager now wants me to do the Army 10-miler here in DC. That's some commitment, and I'm still on the fence. I am stalking the Color 5K (rumored for September) and I'm all down for that though, and maybe even improving my time.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Planting Tile.

This is random. Real random.

A little bit ago, I thought I should start an urban herb garden. Not really. I just wanted to say urban and herb together. Really, I thought I needed a tomato plant to supplement the vast quantities of tomatoes I eat, and I read that basil was a great accompaniment to tomatoes. I've grown basil in the past and have found it finicky and really a bit too high maintenance for my taste, but I do love me some fresh basil and if my tomato plant wants a friend, I'm willing to oblige. None of that is really relevant though.

When planning out where to put my tomato plant and debating the merits of a topsy turvy thingamajig, I settled on a pot that currently held my dwarf umbrella tree. At least, that's what I've decided it is. I had a smaller pot that the umbrella would fit in, but per my research, the tomato didn't want to ever be in the smaller pot.

So I dug up the umbrella man to switch him out. I got this guy from my grandma, who got it from her mom (my great-grandma). I haven't asked Gram about it (I can hardly get a word in edgewise on the phone - her house is a revolving mass of people and chaos), and I haven't had much luck on Google, but does anyone know the merits of planting tiles in the pot of the plant?

In the pot, I found two of these tiles:

They weren't lining the bottom as a sort of drainage. They were right in there with the dirt. Middle of the pot. And they're pretty and from Spain.

I'm using one as my shampoo tray in the shower and just holding on to the other for now.

Those are two dehydrated shampoos from Lush. I fell in love with that store and it's eco-friendly and all-natural ways while over in Derby, England. Those two cakes are each equivalent to about 60 hair washes. All you do is rub the cake in your hand while in the shower, it'll lather up, the you wash as normal. Fantastic way to continue to decrease your plastic usage and be better to the environment.

I'll get off my soap box. The root of the matter here is the tiles - do they have some higher value or do you think great-grandma was throwing everything and anything in the pot? She wasn't a loopy lady so I'm pretty convinced there's a reason they're in there, I just can't figure it out.

Are these puns killing you? I think I'm sick of myself just about now.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Scrub a dub dub.

It may start off innocent, but this post is a lot of overshare. About my bathroom. I don't even want to claim it fully - the bathroom in my apartment that I rent and have used for almost a year. My temporary bathroom that I have no control over sewage-wise, water-wise, or anything beyond the functions that I can see. So we're clear?

As I mentioned before, I was out for two weeks gallivanting around the UK (there's another out for you). I cleaned and scrubbed the apartment before I left, as that's a ritual instilled in me from my mother. Upon my return, however, not all was still sparkling. But that was fine. I expected some dust and whatever spinning around in the air to rest on my side tables.

I was not ready for my toilet. And I didn't take a picture of it because that's gross. I'll just detail it for ya. I opened the lid (I keep it shut after my  third-grade teacher told us a rat climbed up his water pipes and appeared in his toilet in the morning - no idea if it's true, but it's induced nightmares and there will be no rat visitations on my watch) and okay. Stopping that sentence before it's five lines by itself. So I opened the lid to my toilet to the grossest water. It was like sulfur water - that clear orangey tint, the smell (though not total rotten eggs, but not the smell of nothing that I expect with a toilet) and rings of the orangey color. The water in the bowl was way low so the rings suggest that the water had been varying on its own - disconcerting enough.

But stop right there. There was nothing in the toilet when I left. Nothing. It was scrubbed clean. I know this for a fact because I've returned from shorter vacations to this same toilet strangeness. Those times I thought, 'Maybe I didn't fully flush (you do have the hold the handle down for longer than the standard).' But I assure you that was not the case.

Regardless, at this point, I had a gross toilet and I had to clean it. But starting this post with how I cleaned a gross toilet would be gross because you would assume it was my gross toilet. I want you to know that it was the toilet's own shady doings that made it gross. The toilet (or more likely, the sewer system) is shady and gross. Not me.

But I had to deal with it. I didn't deal with it right away though. First I scrubbed the tub.

Nice, smooth transition, no? Yeah, I know that's a no.

Moving along into another aside. I made my own laundry detergent about a year ago. It was sparked by Pinterest, the exorbitant price of Tide, and the fact that my allergies were so nutso that I was breaking out in hives after a casual walk down the street some days. The latter point was the most influential. I thought that it might help my system to have the items that surround it most closely (my clothes) be as chemical and stimulant-free as possible. So I made my own laundry soap following this recipe.

Short story of that short story? I had some leftover borax and Pinterest told me that I could wash the tub with it. So I threw some soap in the tub, turned the tap on lightly, and used a stiff scrub brush to scrub.

The results don't read too well in pictures, but the tub is cleaner. These pictures were taken on the same setting, before and after washing (so within a 30-minute window), in the same poor lighting of my bathroom, from the same angle. No editing.

I don't know if I can tell a difference between the two because I saw the difference in real life or if I'm pushing the idea.

I was happy with the borax, and even happier to have a use for the stuff since it's been sitting on the shelf for months. Before I put it away, I browsed through the slew of uses for borax that it illustrated on the back. Lo and behold, toilet cleaner was one of them. I was so happy with the tub that it was worth the shot. I poured in my estimation of 1/4 cup of borax into the toilet, swished it around with the toilet brush, then let it sit overnight. In the morning, I flushed, and THE TOILET WAS SPARKLING. At this point, I was kicking myself for not taking a before picture. It would've been gross, but the after would have been soooooo worth it.

Now I'm ecstatic. I threw out the chemical-based toilet cleaner immediately, which made the striving-to-live-green-and-natural girl in me quite excited. I'm a total convert and am excited for the next miracle borax will work.

I'm sorry that was so long and wordy. I really debated this post because, well, toilets are gross. I was so impressed that I couldn't not share, though. The proof is in the pudding though - what've you go to lose?!

Is that the expression? Do I have to show a before and after picture for their to be pudding? I'm trying to say, 'Give it a shot!' in my non-borax endorsed opinion.

Any green living tips that totally won you over? I'll admit, I'm kind of wishy-washy. I'm totally green and natural in some areas, then not so much in others. I'm trying to be more environmentally friendly every day and in every way though. Baby steps.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Day Trippin'.

The second week of our UK adventure was full of day trips - some spontaneous, some planned in advance. Check out the overnight trips to London and Scotland.

First up: Dover. Specifically, the white cliffs.

We traipsed around on the [chilly] beach, drew on the cement with some of the chalk pieces that had fallen off, then drove to the top of the cliffs and pretended we were in Pride and Prejudice, hiking the moors enjoyed the views down the steep cliffs and across the channel to the border of France.

After Dover, we drove to Canterbury. We had quite possibly the most fantastic lunch at a place I can't remember, took even better pastries to-go after, and strolled the incredibly cute college down.

Canterbury Cathedral over the town rooftops.

After lunch, we were close enough to Leeds Castle that we thought we might make a stop. That, and Mum recently read about it on Britain's Top Ten Castles listing. We're suckers for the travel channel. We only had an hour, but the power tour of the castle was fabulous. It was the end of the day so we avoided crowds and got to walk down the hall said to be haunted by Catherine of Aragon. The history and allure of the castle - from Henry VIII to that of a socialite, was incredible and overwhelming to my wish-I-could've-been-there sense. I was in shock and awe at every turn, and especially at the library.

And then there were the grounds: immaculate! And the moat: awesome! And the animals: a white peacock!

And the next day: Amsterdam. We bought plane tickets for a day (leaving at 6:45 AM and flying home at 7:00 PM) and set our sights on the tulips. From the airport, we went to Kuekenhof. Kuekenhof is sort of like an amusement park, but it's just plants and flowers. Acres and acres of tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, and varieties and varieties of each. It was gorgeous. And the smell! Incredible.

Seriously, we have a million pictures from our day in the park. We never made it into Amsterdam (so I missed the canals, the bikes, and Anne Frank's), but we had a beautiful day (after the forecast called for a 70% chance of rain - not a drop) and used it to get our fill of beautiful nature.

And behind that windmill, the fuzzy strips of color? Those are tulips in the field, growing like we would grow corn. It was incredible.

The next day: day trip to Hampton Court just outside of London. Continuing with the Henry VIII obsession, we spent the morning and afternoon exploring the INSANELY large palace. It was absolutely unreal to see how he lived and how the place changed with his wives. In almost every room there's some relic from a former wife that was overlooked when he ordered her memory erased.

That night, we were back in Derby and had the best Indian food ever with my dad's work mates. Seriously. Best dinner ever.

Our last day was spent in Derby, along with a couple other days between our trip to London and Scotland. My dad's flat is within walking distance to the mall, some fantastic dessert shops (like Birds), the freshest bread and nicest wait staff ever (Jackrabbits), and super cute shops in between. In other words, Derby was extremely dangerous. I probably shopped and ate way too much. I definitely did. I'm still not regretting it.

I still can't believe it all happened. It was such a fantastic trip that I'm so nervous I'm forgetting to tell you something fabulous. As if you're trying to repeat my trip exactly. But that would be creepy. I mean, it's a great trip, but maybe mix it up a bit. Maybe do Scotland from Glasgow to Edinburgh instead of Edinburgh to Glasgow. Or maybe see anything of Glasgow.

OH! I KNOW. This is unrelated to any day trip but it was my biggest slip-up of the trip. After our day of rambling in the highlands, we arrived at our hotel in Glasgow at 9 PM. We were just crashing there for the night before hitting Douglas in the morning and heading back to Derby. It was Easter Sunday, 9 PM, and the dinner cards were against us. We walked in two restaurants only to be told that they were just closing. We walked in the third to be told we had a 45-minute wait. We couldn't do that. We walked in the fourth, a Mexican restaurant with the heat blasting so high in the lobby that the door handle was hot to touch, and were seal clapping when the waiter told us they were still serving.

We were ravenous. I ordered some sort of salad and wanted a side of guacamole. Being so hungry and kind of tired, this was the exchange:
Me: 'Can I also get a side of guac with that?'
Waiter: 'I'm sorry?'
Me: 'A side of guacamole. I'm sorry. Like a little bowl of guacamole and chips.'
Waiter: 'Oh, yes yes, we can do that.'
Me: 'Awesome. Thanks!'

Fast forward twenty minutes to our food. I get my salad, guac, and french fries. Mmm? TOTALLY FORGOT that chips = french fries, crisps = potato chips, and tortillas = tortilla chips. It had to happen once.

So there you have it. Two weeks, three countries, too many sights to count. Fantastic pictures, fabulous memories. I can't wait to get back.

 Check out the London and Scotland part of the trip!

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