Monday, January 30, 2012

February's Favorite Things

When life gets overwhelmingly busy and I don't have time actually do anything I intend to do, I tend to curl up on the couch with a magazine full of inspiration and great ideas. Since this is definitely one of those weeks, I'm inviting you to virtually share the fun of my favorite February magazines...

It was the first edition of a super cool Christmas gift from my sister - I had no idea how great this magazine is! To start with, there's this contest to win a $25,000 makeover sweepstakes. How would I spend this? Let me count the can enter daily, if you have time to be that obsessive. Visit for more information.

If you know me at all, you already know my strong anti-Valentine's Day sentiment. But this is awesome and can be used for all different things: DIY scratch-off cards! (There are lots of other great craft ideas, for those less inclined to ignore the pink-and-red-ridden meaning of February 14.)

Margherita pizza at home AND I get to use the basil I actually can grow in my not-yet-in-existence garden?! Yes please. The pictures don't do it justice...find more mouth-watering details for yourself here.

Now that you're starving and ready to call the nearest pizza place, let's move onto my next favorite magazine...Sunset!

I'm completely crazy about this faux Murphy bed/headboard idea - the architectural style and extra storage even makes up for the need to dust more often!

Real Simple adds more great ideas to my list of good intentions. The article about the upholsterer caused quite a stir in my family - even my dad, the world's best upholsterer, approved of this article!

They provide lovely advice about providing the correct amount of water and sunlight for houseplants, but I didn't even read the never works in Arizona. This, however, I could do: multiple plants in one container to make it look more full and alive than it may actually be.

And though I rarely like the recipes in Real Simple (too few include french fries), this chicken and mushroom pot pie actually made me stop thinking about that pizza I mentioned earlier. For just a minute.

And last but definitely not least, I am a little mushy over AZ Magazine's list of "100 Reasons We Heart Arizona." Though I hate the long, hot summers that kill everything, this is home...and I love the list of great reasons it's a good one. The article isn't online yet, but here are some of my favorites:

#1: When all the orange trees blossom at once and driving up Central Avenue with the windows rolled down

#4: Irrigation canals (here they are, as seen from the air in my plane ride two weeks ago)

#12: Knowing where you are by the mountains (now if only I could remember which was which!)

#32: Citrus trees with white trunks

#43: Gabrielle Giffords (now I know these aren't in order - she's higher than that!)

#53: The patient, surefooted mules at the Grand Canyon

#68: Prescott's Courthouse Square (more proof that these are not ranked - that's on my top five list!)

#86: From desert to snow in two hours

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Adding by Subtracting...A Lot

The term "misery loves company" is definitely overused, but it seems to apply perfectly to what people say when they're encouraging you to buy a house. "The tax benefits are great," they say, ignoring the fact that you've just taken on a 30-year load of debt that makes the tax refund look nonexistent even when compared to the amount of interest paid, much less money borrowed. In spite of my recognition of reality, however, I was excited to do my taxes this year so I could see if the money I'm wasting on interest payments really did come back at least a little.

First realization: the tax software for homeowners costs more than the one I used as a renter. $10 that's one strike against the Homeowner Tax Win argument. Though I did get a thrill of buying the one that says "homeowner" on it!

Armed with calculators and piles of paperwork, I delved in. (I was oh so grateful to my awesome realtors for sending me another copy of my settlement papers - I didn't even ask! If that's one of the courtesies they do for clients at least I'm not the only one who must be searching frantically for all those important documents that signed my life away to the mortgage company...!)

The process of doing taxes is boring even to those doing it, so I'll cut to the end. After entering the amount of interest paid on my house this year plus digging through those papers to find the extra interest paid while I was handing over my life savings...

I got to see the "refund" number at the top do magical things. The house helped me receive a $1,350 refund! Granted, that's less than a third of the interest I paid...but wow, that is still very cool. Thank you, house o' dreams!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Matching Paint Title with A Room

Fact: it's even easier to be motivated about house projects when you're avoiding other work you should be doing.

Take this weekend, for example. I had hours of work to do on the MLK holiday, but suddenly decided the most important thing in the world was painting my kitchen. This is the kitchen that has been prepped for painting for months now - I've become somewhat attached to the paint tape that's been present ever since I created that blue accent wall.

I wasn't even sure what color I wanted to paint it...I'd alternated between a crisp white, icy blue or light grey, and I had the paint swatches on the wall to prove it.

I accidentally deleted the first kitchen photograph that inspired me even before I moved into the house (THIS is the kind of disaster that occurs pre-Pinterest!) but I collected countless paint samples to try to match it. It was a barely-blue wall that looked more blue against gorgeous white cabinets. I had numerous failures as I tried out samples of different blues (you can share some of my sorrows here), so I gave up and just tried the same simple grey I used in my guest bathroom. This is the perfect grey because it's entirely black and white - no other tones thrown in. And the title is destined for the perfect kitchen: it's actually called "silverware."

It was a little hard to paint because when the paint is wet it doesn't stand out from the white paint already on the wall...I took this picture to prove to myself that I really was making a difference.

When everything was dry it was obvious I'll eventually need another coat of paint, but it was also obvious the paint had provided a lovely update to the room where I spend a lot of time even though I never cook. I love it! It looks blue most of the time but doesn't compete with the oh-so-blue accent wall, and it looks slightly grey in contrast to the white ceiling and shutters. (Can't wait until I have time to paint the cabinets white!)

(Yeah, those are dishes in the became another thing I avoided when the painting inspiration struck!)

I achieved my goal of tying the kitchen into the overall updated look so now when I sit on the couch, all the newly-painted rooms blend together well.

Next project: hanging the IKEA knife rack I've hoarded for months while waiting for the kitchen to be painted!

Monday, January 16, 2012

I'm A Pushover for Green

If you've read this blog for any amount of time, you know about my excitement over having grass in the front yard. It really does change the whole look on the house, and my neighbors are definitely more friendly now that it's not just a dirt yard anymore. At the risk of making you roll your eyes at yet another post about grass, here's a quick update.

I love my lawn. It's a ridiculous amount of work and it's more finicky than a movie star, but I love it anyway.

My lawn treatment has evolved through several major steps. Step one was, as you already know, coming to terms with the need to mow it since apparently I'm the only one who appreciates the pasture-like look.

Step two was ruining large chunks of the lawn before I realized that the electric lawnower I'd been given was even more ineffective than cutting the lawn with scissors.

Step three was relying on kind neighbors to offer the use of their own nice lawnmowers - and even accepting the overwhelming kindness of one neighbor who mowed the lawn FOR ME before I came home from work. Now that's true generosity.

Step four was ignoring what everyone told me I should do and doing what I wanted to do: I bought a push mower. No engine, no bag to catch the grass, no fancy extras or recharging batteries. Just a push mower that brings to mind old movies. And here's the thing...I LOVE IT!

I'll spare you the details and will just state that I am now a well-researched expert on the many sizes, brands and types of push mowers available...still more useless knowledge that makes me a boring conversationalist at parties. Here's the beauty I brought home:

I have to mow twice a week but I actually look forward to the days that I get to mow. It's the best stress relief around, and it's a quick, quiet process that is interrupted only by curious neighbors who want to see if they should be using one as well. (Answer: YES.) And then there's the horrible neighbor who repeatedly shakes his finger at me for working in my yard - according to his open-minded view of the world, apparently being outside is "a husband's job." But aside from those interruptions, the push mower process if rewarding and wonderful.

So there you have it - now you don't have to wonder if my obsession with grass had faded because I'd failed miserably and the lawn had reverted to desert dust and tumbleweeds.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Clutter Calendar, Weeks One and Two

Most blogs I follow because I like the people or the ideas that are shared on the website. Others I follow just to torture myself because I'll never, ever be one of Those People who are constantly organized, happy and encouraging all at the same time. But since it's January and reality hasn't caused me to give up yet, I have great intentions of using this Declutter and Organize Calendar. It seems like boot camp for the disorganized.

So far, I'm already behind schedule.

I did semi-accomplish some of the daily tasks, though. January 2 I was commanded to create a "donation station," an organized spot to sort the items that have some other place to be someday - library books, Goodwill donations, etc. After tripping over a bag of Goodwill donations I left in my hallway for a week, I designated the storage area inside my entry bench as my almost-organized donation station.

January 3 and 4 I was supposed to declutter the top of cabinets and dust. I didn't do it because 1)I didn't want to and 2)I'm getting over a cold and I know the allergic reactions I always get when I dust would only complicate my recovery.

January 5, however, I was back on track. The instruction was to discard old, expired spices - easy, because I just started collecting spices and they're all fresh. Many are unused but since The Calendar didn't say to actually OPEN them I can still consider that day an organizational accomplishment. (Don't judge the clutter - The Calendar didn't say I'm supposed to make them organized yet!)

January 6 was designated as Can Day. I didn't put all the cans together on a shelf but I did open the pantry to verify that they're all on two very disorganized shelves. I ate a ridiculously large amount of goldfish crackers to celebrate.

January 7 was Freezer Day, so I followed the instructions and threw out all of the freezer burned food. (There go last January's good intentions of learning to use telapia every day.)

January 9 I was supposed to declutter a nightstand drawer. I could have ignored this since I don't have nightstand drawers, but instead I sorted through all the books piled on my nightstand/bookshelf and put the ones that needed to be there in these pretty magazine holders that will match the stencil I'll do someday. (The magazine holders were only $1 at Target!) Plus, January 10 was designated as the day to clear off the top of a nightstand, so I got two days with one task. Cheers!

Today's task is to clean out under the bed...I'll have to get back to you on how that one goes.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Making Time Matter

I'm not feeling very focused on house tasks today as I remember the anniversary of a heartbreaking day of violence so close to home. I can't believe that it has only been a year since my family huddled around the computer, anxiously awaiting news of the Tucson shooting victims as well as family members who live only blocks away from the event. But I do want to share a project I successfully completed, and it's one that is meaningful enough for today.

My sister/best friend's birthday is at the top of that long chain of Important January Dates, so this weekend I started a project I'd planned for awhile. I fell in love with these photo clocks as soon as I saw them on Pinterest, and the instructions from Rosy Red Buttons didn't seem too unattainable.

I already had MDF board on hand because (for once!) I'd planned ahead - the Home Depot Saw Man cut the board into 12x12 squares for me. So all that was left was to become completely addicted to have I not wasted more of my life on that amazing website? It's amazing - it took an already great photo and made it even better.

I didn't follow the instructions on the number placement, and I think I'm just lucky they weren't totally off-center. The project directions say to use an overlay of a clock but since I'm a Picnik novice I had no idea how to do that...I just guessed where they should go and hoped for the best.

Then came the Mod Podge. Of course I've heard of it since it is a regular guest on every DIYer's blog, but I've never used it myself. The first layer of Mod Podge was no problem - the edges of the board were painted black (because they matched the photo, not because that's a great song) and were thoroughly dry, and the photo was trimmed to almost-perfectly line up with the edges of the board. I used wax paper to protect the photo while I smothed out bubbles under the photo but it was much easier than I'd feared.

Painting over the photo, however, was terrifying. It's goopy and it's white and my brush strokes weren't very smooth. And then there's the issue with painting over one of the most beautiful pictures you've ever seen with GLUE.

In spite of my worries, it came out beautifully - I let it dry overnight just to be sure. I do need to get better about smooth brush strokes, but the Mod Podge did a nice job of filling in areas I thought would be too bumpy on the face of the photo.

Now if I thought the glue-over-the-photo step was bad, I was in for a shock when I realized I had to drill a hole through the middle of the picture. If I do this again, I'll drill from the back of the was mentally traumatic to drill into my nephew's photo! I used way too many drill bits because I wanted to use the smallest one possible...four (FOUR!) steps later I had drilled the right size hole for the clock parts.

The genius bloggers who originally shared this project found a great deal on clock parts at Hobby Lobby, but of course I don't have anything that convenient in downtown Phoenix. Michael's wanted $8 for them, and I didn't have a 40% off coupon (of course). So I found a clock at Target for $2.99 and took it apart to use the parts I needed. (I saved the rest of the clock to make cool circular photo frames for my future gallery wall.)

So in went the clock parts (the hardest part was remembering where I put the AA batteries when I organized) and voila! one of the most amazing projects I've ever completed.

Anna loved it, too, which made me happy. Xavier was enthralled both with his photograph and the clock this gift will stay in Anna's office to keep it safe.

How does this project tie into the anniversary of January 8, you ask? It reminds me that time matters, and that time with those we love should never be taken for granted even on the busiest of days.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Step One in 2012

Organization seems to be in the air - most of the blogs I follow are filled with dramatic before-and-after tales of clutter to clean. As I mentioned in an earlier post, New Year's Day is always a happy and productive day for me because I don't celebrate New Year's Eve...I'm asleep ridiculously early so the next day I actually have energy. (Note: I learned that you feel much less lame if you compare your early-to-bed habits to your two-year-old nephew, who only stays up a little later than I do. :)

So this January 1 I was determined to get rid of some of the clutter in my life. I don't have the time or energy to tackle big projects like the garage - those who work with me will understand my short-term goals since January 9 is The Day My Free Time Ends. This weekend I pledged to be able to see the floors and find things in my guest room and hallway.

I forgot to take "before" pictures of these areas - I'm pretty sure I subconsciously never wanted anyone to see them. They weren't hoarder-type cluttered, but they had become the official collecting place for all homeless was an ever-growing pile of paint cans, craft supplies, small tools and those countless other things I might need "someday."

I've collected many great organization ideas on Pinterest but for this project I didn't even need them - I just threw a lot of things away and used the storage space I have now.

Least Interesting: The Cabinets

I'd tried organizing these before but got discouraged since I started with unreasonable goals (*ahem Martha Stewart*). Over time, this area had shifted into chaos. I started by listing all the things I could think of that needed a place to live in my house, then used the super cool graphing notepad my parents gave me for Christmas (oh yes, I am a PARTY PERSON you can tell) to map out what went where.

Things still aren't perfect but they're much better! And I even have an empty shelf that you won't appreciate unless you're as obsessed with Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project as I am. I think I've read it three or four times now.

Note: for truly inspiring closet progress, check out all the success stories at the Show Me Your Closet! party at

More Interesting: The Guest Room

Again, without "before" pictures this won't mean much to this part is mostly just for my parents, who have had to tap dance around clutter in order to enjoy their time in the guest room. Now there's room for your clothes in the closet, the suitcases are neatly awaiting anything you may need to store in them, and I threw in AMAZING old cigar boxes (thank you, Amy Love!) to add to the travel theme. (Side note: the Hemingway one reminded me - have any of you read The Paris Wife? I'm not going to finish it because I don't want to read the sad part of their lives...but I really enjoyed the first half.)

Most Useful to ME: The Office

Here's proof that small changes make a big difference. I didn't expand my office space or even change it that much...I just organized it. I cleaned out the huge U-Haul moving box that had been full of office odds and ends and kept only what I needed - a huge box of pens went to my office at work, and if anyone needs office supplies you should head to our local Goodwill because I'm donating a bunch of them!

I dug out some metal mesh organizers I bought at the Dollar Tree months ago, and bought one $7 set of small plastic drawers...and voila! I now have a designated space for small things like paper clips and post-its, and I used nails to hang the metal paper organizer into the side of my IKEA bookshelf. (I made sure to nail it into the permanent shelf, so the others can still be changed to any height I may need in the future.

So there you have it - official documentation of my new room to breathe.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Christmas Gifts, Pinterest Style

Each year, I pledge to remember the birthdays, anniversaries and Otherwise Important Dates of those I love. Each year I keep new calendars lying on the desk until I have time to transfer those Important Dates from the old know, the one from 2007 where I actually wrote down Important Dates. Instead, I have a stack of unused calendars and lots of Important Dates that went wooshing past when I wasn't paying attention.

So you can imagine my delight when I found this on Pinterest:

I gleefully followed the link to the Etsy page, only to discover this sad illustration that always reminds me of my own knitting fiasco(s):

By now, though, I was determined. I showed the Pinterest photo to creative people which was helpful but created the Creative Chaos that occurs when you have too many good possibilities. The board itself was an easy solution - I visited Home Depot's cull wood bin and found two pieces for 51 cents each. I could make two gifts out of each board so for those of you who keep track of these things, I'm pretty sure a 25.5 cent foundation for a gift may set new world records.

I'd estimated I needed the boards to be about 15 inches long but wasn't certain so I avoided having the nice Home Depot Saw Man cut them for me...good thing I did, because when I started laying out the stencils I needed the boards to be about 21 inches long. Then came the part that made me pledge to learn to use a "real" saw in 2012...

It was a rough cut but isn't that what sand paper is for? A ridiculously long time later, the boards were cut and sanded and ready to join their cardboard friends in my Christmas painting center in the back yard. (Isn't that an impressive collection of odds and ends? It was a windy day so I grabbed everything I could find to keep the papers from escaping.)

I used three different stencil fonts...partly because I needed three sizes, and partly because I liked the diversity of fonts. The hardest part was getting them properly spaced and took a lot of eraser on the first one, but I had it down by the time I did the third! (And yes, my fingernails are blue. This project came after the Great Christmas Dye Failure.)

Once the stencils were penciled in place, I used leftover wall paint samples to paint them. Bonus: the colors match or blend with the home colors of my mom and sister, who would receive the gifts!

The hardest part of this project was finding something to use for the dates that hang off the bottom. I considered jewelry supplies but all I could find at Michael's were beautiful little shells that would have cost something like $50 per gift...not acceptable, even if Michael's ever gave you 40% off coupons that were valid when you needed them to be.

So I turned to Pinterest again, and found a bold soul who had already tackled this project. Her brilliant success: key tags for the dates!

In hindsight, I should have purchased them at Costco...I now know they're about half price compared to Staples. But since I had neither patience nor a Costco card, Staples was a lifesaver. I considered the white key tags but liked the little bit of variety the colors added. I used the tiniest drill bit I could find to make holes for the tiniest eyelets I could find, and they became the perfect hangers for the key tags!

There's still work to be done because I haven't yet added all sides of the family or close friends...and of course there are still more January birthdays to be added because my family is very lopsided on birthday coverage. But I'm pretty thrilled with the result - and fortunately, mom and Anna were too!

The gift version has a picture frame hanger on the back so they're ready to go on any wall...I ran out of time so for now, mine sits happily on the kitchen counter!

P.S. I had another great Pinterest victory for Christmas gifts: peppermint foot scrub! Incredibly easy and inexpensive, since the not-quite-cheap peppermint oil lasts forever. I added a loofah and candle to make the pedicure experience even more fun.

P.S. Wow, I just realized that this is my 100th post! If I were a TV series I would now be legen...wait for it...DARY!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

It Just Makes Cents

Happy new year!

I'll be back with more details about what I like to think of as My Most Productive Day of the Year, but first I wanted to make sure you notice the new feature on the right side of the page.

When one of my favorite bloggers suggested a "swap sponsorship," I jumped at the chance to show off Andrea's brilliance on my own blog. The box at the right will give you the chance to check out her blog, Decorating Cents.

My favorite thing about Decorating Cents is that it never seems larger than life. Andrea shares details and ideas that I can relate to, and she has the ability to communicate the humor of home life, which not all bloggers can do!

Here are a few of my favorite projects featured on Decorating Cents:

A DIY window decor that provides privacy (must try this in my kitchen!)

A simple and lovely fall table

And I can't get enough of this gorgeous stencilled wall!

Thank you to Andrea for featuring my blog on her own, and welcome to any fellow Decorating Cents fans who wandered my way!