Thursday, September 18, 2014

Wacky Wall Lighting - Need Ideas!

My studio apartment has some amazing natural light - during the day, anyway! But it lacks overhead lights of any kind in the main room. I currently have three lamps that do a good job of keeping most of the apartment well-lit. But as we are getting closer to darkness descending at 5 pm and not 7 or 8 pm, I need to find a solution to having very little light in this section of the apartment:
See - no lamps in sight!
I don't want the bulk of a floor lamp, nor do I want a huge wall sconce. So I'm thinking outside the box on this one and exploring some wacky wall lighting! Here are a few of my ideas:

Have you come across any lighting techniques that might solve my problem? Space-saving is key, of course!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Project to End All Projects

Call me crazy, but I want matching hangers. But I don't want to go out and buy them. Instead, I want to make them. Why would anyone in their right mind do that? Well, sometimes I'm not in my right mind. Ha ha!

Or....I just want a brainless project that won't take a lot of skill, but it will take a lot of time. Why? Because it involves making crocheted covers for all of my wire hangers! Let's just visualize this. I'm going to turn this:

Into something resembling this:
You can buy these on Etsy.

And almost 70 times!

But what else am I going to do at 9 pm on a dark and cold winter weeknight? Nothing, except watch an episode of some TV show on Netflix. Might as well be semi-productive as I wind down for the night.

I call this the "project to end all projects" because it will finally take this mess and make it pretty:

For the record, I'll be using all wire hangers and navy blue yarn. This matches the color scheme I've got going on in the closet quite nicely.

I'll get back to you all in several months when the hangers are done!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

2014 Goals Update

A few weeks ago I gave you all an update on my 2014 financial goals, but not on the other goals I've set for myself this year.

Let's refresh our memory:

Health Goals

1. Swim twice a week. Swimming is my new love. I've been good about swimming once a week, but would really like to get to the pool twice a week. 

2. Do yoga twice a week. At least once a week at a yoga studio. I know, I know…I've touted the "you don't need to pay to do yoga" thing a lot on this blog. But I really have missed yoga classes with an instructor. Now that I'm out of debt, I've decided it is worth it to me to put some money into going to actual classes.

3. Learn to cook more veggie-based meals. I ate so much meat over the holidays that all I can think about is eating veggies for the rest of time! But seriously, I need to learn how to make more soups and veggie-based dishes. My rice-plus-veggie staple is getting a bit old.

How am I doing with these? Not too shabby, but not as good as I wanted.

Swimming. I've stopped swimming in favor of outdoor activities like biking, walking, and running. I'll go back to swimming when it gets colder. That sounds strange, I'm sure, but since I swim at an indoor pool I'd rather spend the warm months exercising outdoors and the cold months exercising indoors.

Yoga. Doing well here, but only going to class once a week, on average.

Veggie Meals. I've been trying lots of new recipes, thank you Pinterest! My favorite veggie right now is eggplant. Some great varieties at the farmer's market these days.

Random Goals

1. Improve my guitar skills. Putting this on the list again for 2014 because I just really love playing the guitar!

2. Solve my closet problem. My closet isn't a mess, but it just looks so "ugh." Especially since you have to walk through it to get to the bathroom. Time to tackle this one.

3. Can or preserve seasonal fruits or vegetables once a month. I recently got a canner and food processor. I'm ready to start making jams, salsa, and maybe even sauerkraut!

Guitar. Getting better slowly but surely. I've learned a few new songs since December, and my latest goal is to learn some finger-picking styles so I can play more songs.

Closet. Again, slowly but surely getting there. I've used some wallpaper to make my craft drawer look better and I've added in matching baskets on the top shelf to keep me more organized and hide random items. Next up: solve the hanger issue!

Can/Preserve. I haven't done this every month, but I have canned or frozen beets, jam, and tomato sauce. One item a month was probably way too ambitious to begin with.

There it is - progress!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

You Say Tomato...

I say I have too many tomatoes!

Last week I went to my local farmer's market and bought this huge box of plum and heirloom tomatoes:

At $12 a box, this was a bargain. Especially since I knew exactly what I wanted to do with it, which did not involved eating them all before they went bad. I decided to make and freeze tomato sauce!

I really had no idea what I was getting myself into. I figured it would take me an hour or two to get everything done. Nope. It took the better part of a day. 8 hours over two days when all was said and done.

First, I washed the tomatoes.

Then I cut off the bad parts and stuck the good parts of the tomatoes in the food processor. This took what seemed like forever, and my hands, feet, arms, and floor were covered in tomato juice.

After blending all the tomatoes, the next step was to cook the sauce for about an hour on the stove.

I had so much sauce that I couldn't do it all in one pot! In addition to the batch on the stove, I had these two containers full of blended tomatoes: 

It also didn't take an hour to cook the sauce. It took two! I wanted to get the sauce to a sort-of thick consistency, which I don't think I really achieved in the end, but oh well.

After the first batch was cooked I had no idea what to do with it, since I needed the pot to continue cooking the second batch. My solution was to pull out my canning pot and pour the cooked sauce into it to cool. Then I put the second batch on and cooked that for two hours. I let it cool, then poured it into the canning pot along with the first batch.

I stuck the canning pot into the fridge over night and the next morning I bagged the sauce and placed the bags in the freezer. Now I have 8 bags (quart size) of tomato sauce in the freezer, plus one mason jar-full in the fridge!

That is a lot of tomato sauce! It took me from 3 pm - 9 pm on a Saturday to do all of this. The most time-consuming part was cutting out the rotten parts of the tomatoes, slicing, and processing. The cooking part wasn't so bad. I let the sauce simmer and went about doing other things around the apartment.

I'm not sure if I would do this again. But I really won't have to, because I'll have tomato sauce for what seems like eternity!

Monday, August 18, 2014

How Does Your Garden Grow?

"Mary, Mary, quite contrary..."

My garden is growing!

Last weekend I picked up some sage and rosemary to add to my window garden:

Sage and Rosemary in the pots.

I love that I have fresh herbs available to me all the time! Hopefully, these new ones survive as well as my lemon balm and lemon thyme have. Crossing fingers!

Anyone have great recipes using sage and rosemary? I'm always looking for new suggestions.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Update: Kitchen Garden

I've been meaning to write a post about this for about a month! I finally bought some plants for my kitchen garden back in June and I can say this endeavor has been a success so far!

You might remember that I intended to do an Ikea run and get some pots and hooks from the Fintorp series:

And you also might remember that I wanted to do something like this:
Via Pinterest

Well folks, I did it! I only have two plants in the window right now. But hey, they aren't dead, so this is already a success!

On the left is lemon balm and on the right is lemon thyme. The lemon balm is delicious in water and the lemon thyme has been a wonderful addition to various dishes I've made. I'm hoping to get a few more plants before the summer is over. Maybe some basil or oregano? Yum!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Homemade Products: Laundry Detergent

As I've mentioned several times, I've been replacing some store-bought items with homemade versions. My latest homemade product attempt is laundry detergent. I followed a recipe from the blog Steph Makes Stuff almost exactly. Her recipe calls for Downy Unstoppables, but I didn't see the point in adding those in, so I skipped that ingredient. Here are the ingredients that I used:

2 cups borax
2 cups washing soda
2 bars fels naptha soap
Drops of essential oil (optional)

The whole thing took me about 15 minutes to put together, and that was because I had to grate the two bars of soap. I followed Steph's instructions to only use two teaspoons, and after my first load of laundry, that amount seemed to do the trick. I might add a tiny bit more, but no more than a few tablespoons at the most. This laundry detergent packs a big punch in small quantities!

I have also made hair gel recently, which has turned out well. That will likely be my next "homemade product" update, and perhaps another foray into homemade shampoo and conditioner eventually. The first one I tried made my hair very greasy!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Room for Wine

I would love my very own wine cellar. But since I don't even have a basement, I take what I can get! The "what I can get" is a small wine rack on my kitchen buffet. I haven't been making full use of it, though. As you can see, the wine rack houses one bottle plus lots of other stuff:

A few weeks ago I saw this photo from Apartment Therapy, which was the first time I encountered a photo of my exact buffet!
Via Apartment Therapy
I inherited the buffet from someone when they moved out of an apartment, so I still have no idea where it came from. I knew you could adjust the shelves, but I was too scared to do it myself. Until I saw this picture and became majorly motivated to use the wine rack in all its glory.

It really was easy. I thought I'd have to take the whole thing apart, which was not appealing. Before I started, though, I consulted my dad, the master carpenter and Solver of All Building-Related Problems. He said I could just hammer the shelves loose, move the friction-fit pieces that hold the shelves in place, and then hammer the shelves into their new settings. That's exactly what I did. Moving the shelves took all of five minutes. Cleaning them took much longer, so the project turned out to take about an hour. Check out my full wine rack now! The sun was quite bright when I took this picture - I'll have to get a better shot some other time.

It might seem like a tiny project, but I'm very proud of myself. And happy that now I can display my lovely wines in their proper place!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Pre-Tax Savings is Awesome (And Other Financial Updates)’s been a while. Hello again! June was an unusually busy month. But busy in a good way. I’ve been living life, which means I’ve been doing things that don’t involve sitting at a computer and writing blog entries. And that’s okay :)

But now that things have calmed down a bit, I want to get back to blogging. Maybe not as often as I was in my peak - I’m aiming for once a week right now as opposed to 2-3 times a week. Why is that? Well, for starters, I don’t have that many projects lined up for my apartment. I like the way it is now, and aside from a few tweaks here and there, I don’t have any major projects planned.

That doesn’t mean I’ve shied away from my goals, I’ve just been focusing on my financial goals for a while. I started off 2014 with a post about my goals, and the financial ones I laid out for myself were as follows:

  1. Get my emergency fund up to 6 months worth of expenses. By my calculations, I need to save about $9,000 more than I currently have saved up.
  2. Increase my 403b retirement contributions. I'm currently contributing 10% of my salary to this account (pre-tax) every month. My employer also contributes a very nice 12%! After I meet my first goal, I'm going to shoot for increasing my contribution to 15% by the end of 2014.
  3. Contribute to my Roth IRA or start saving for home down payment. I put these two together because I'm not sure if I'll get to them this year. If it looks like I will, then I'll start researching which is the best course of action.

And wouldn't you know it, I’ve met ALL THREE and it is only July! I even exceeded some! Holy crappola!

I filled the emergency fund last month, which led to a chain reaction. It allowed me to stop using post-tax money from my paycheck and instead gave me the ability to send roughly the same amount I was contributing to the e-fund into my pre-tax work retirement account (403b). When I did the math, I discovered that I could actually contribute 20% of my paycheck instead of the 15% I thought I would do. Amazing! And when I went from 10% to 20%, I saw a reduction in take-home pay of about $350/month. Now that I don’t need the post-tax money to put in my emergency fund, I get to pay less taxes because I have less take-home pay. Ah, the beauty of pre-tax investing!

My third goal of the year was to contribute to my Roth IRA or start saving for a down payment. I’ve already done both! Thanks to a windfall, I was able to max out my Roth IRA for the first time EVER. Boy, does that feel good.

So...with all of the above out of the way, I figured it was a perfect time to start saving for a down payment. I decided to go for it notwithstanding the following: I live in a high cost of living area, thus housing prices are high; it is a renters market here; and based on the amount I can currently put towards this goal, I might not be able to buy for another 5-7 years. Those were all reasons for me to say “no, don’t start this account.” But in the end, I figured that I have to start somewhere, and if in 5 years I have $30,000 saved up and I decide not to buy a place, then I can either keep on saving or take some out of the account to max out some retirement accounts. Saving money is never a bad decision.

Next came the question of where to put this money. Luckily, I found a decent online savings account for this purpose: Barclay’s ‘Dream Fund.’ What enticed me to this particular account is that it has a decently high interest rate (0.95%) and comes with a few bonus interest deals as long as you make consistent payments and don’t withdraw money for a certain amount of time. I don’t plan on touching this fund for at least 5 years, so no problem there! I will also be making regular contributions every month, set up in the form of an online transfer that happens automatically.

Financially, I’ve never been in better shape! Barring any major disaster, my financial situation is only going to get better. Even if there is a disaster, I have all my ducks in a row so I know I’ll be able to weather the storm, come what may. What a change compared to when I started this blog two years ago: in debt and hardly any savings to speak of.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Vote! Apartment Therapy's Small Cool Contest

Do you all wonder where I've been? Busy with work and travel, of course. But wow, do I have a great returning post for you all!

I entered Apartment Therapy's Small Cool Contest and was selected! If you are unfamiliar with the way this contest works, all entries are categorized based on square footage. Mine, at over 400 feet but under 600 feet, made it into the "Tiny" division. The others are: Teeny Tiny (under 400 sq. ft.), Little (under 600 sq. ft.), Small (under 1,000 sq. ft.) and International (under 1,000 sq. ft.). Apartment Therapy posts the entries during the course of a few weeks and let's readers select their favorites. The ones "favorited" the most go on to the actual round of judging by the Apartment Therapy panel.

I'm so excited to be featured in this year's contest! I've been wanting to enter the last two years, but just didn't feel my apartment was up to snuff. Of course, there are still projects and things to be done, but I'm happy with how my place is right now and I'm glad it is being featured at this stage.

Check out my entry and add it to your favorites. If I get enough "favorites" I move on to the final round!

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Best of the Blogosphere: 5/17/14 Edition

Every Saturday I feature a blog post in the following categories: Simple Living, Financial, DIY, Before & After, and Random. Here are this week's picks:

Best Simple Living: My solution to organizing my Twitter account is simply not having an account. But I do have to tweet for work, sadly, so I can't opt out all the time. This article from Unclutterer offers some helpful tips on organizing your Twitter feed.

Best Financial: Get Rich Slowly asked its readers what their most pressing financial issues are this year. The answers remind me that we are all working towards something, so not to stress too much that I'm not done with my current goal of fully-funding my emergency fund yet. I've come a long way from being massively in debt!

Best DIY: I love my pseudo-canopy in the bedroom, and here's a tutorial on how to do another version! Via Design Sponge.

Best Before & After: This is such a great house flip! Via Better After.

Best Random: It is time for us small-space dwellers to enter Apartment Therapy's Small Cool Contest. I might even do it this year. Who's with me?

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Kitchen Garden

As I mentioned in my last post, I'm moving my herb garden. My poor herbs weren't getting enough light in the wall garden, sadly. I was upset about it, of course, but sometimes experiments don't go as planned! I'm hopeful that my next idea will be more successful.

And on to the new idea! You'll notice that in this picture of my kitchen, you can see there is a window with no curtains.
Slightly outdated photo - the microwave is gone now!

I've been debating for a while on what I should do with the window. At first I thought I would buy a curtain to match the kitchen color scheme. I even had my dad hang the curtain rod when I moved in, just in case I wanted to get a curtain. It's been well over a year since he did that and still no curtain. As these things normally go, an idea struck me as I was browsing various DIY and design websites: create a hanging window garden using rods and attachable hanging pots!
Via RyE McE on Pinterest
What a fantastic idea, and it seems pretty straightforward as well! All I need to do is get the right equipment and hang another rod or two across the window. I think this will work because I don't close the blinds, so they can remain open and allow sun to hit the herbs full-on for a good 6-7 hours a day. Plus, the blinds are hidden away by the window sill, meaning they won't get in the way of hanging anything across the framing. This window also does not serve as any sort of fire escape, so I'm not violating code by hang a few bars over it. The windows in the next room function the same way and if push comes to shove I could crawl out those (wow, let's hope I never have to do that!).

Here's some of the equipment that can make this happen, all part of the Fintorp series at Ikea.

I'm planning an Ikea trip this weekend, so I could possibly have this done in a week's time! My one concern is that the bars won't be long enough to stretch across my window. I'll have to take measurements. But even if they don't work, I like this idea enough that I'll find a way to make it work! Wish me luck!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Sprucing Up for Spring!

Spring fever has hit! That means it is time for some sprucing up around the apartment. A perfect place to do this is my small dining room table. You might recall that around Christmas it looked like this:

Then after the holidays it looked like this:

The bland browns of the corks and pine cones are a tad too depressing for spring, so on a recent trip to the farmer's market, I bought some beautiful flowers and rearranged the whole ensemble:

I love the flowers, which are called "bachelor's buttons" (I think!). I was quite satisfied with this arrangement and had no plans to change anything. As luck would have it, though, I went on a fun outing last weekend to an art studio. It is the kind of place open to the public, where you paint whatever you want on a small canvas while enjoying music, friends, and some adult beverages. I created a work that turned out decent, and when I finished it I thought that it might go really well sitting next to the flowers. I was right!

Can you spot the other tiny change in this picture? See it? The frame on the wall has moved to the right!

Yep, I decided to remove my wall herb garden (sad face) because the plants weren't getting enough light. Don't worry, I have plans for a future herb garden! Stay tuned for more on that in the coming weeks.

As you can see, I moved the door series frame to the right and now there is a ton of space (and some nails) above the table. I'm thinking of getting some sort of lamp to hang there, but I'm open to other suggestions!

After a pretty long winter, I'm so happy to be bringing in some spring to my place!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Homemade Products: Shampoo & Conditioner

Last fall I decided to try making deodorant. Over the past year, I've been reading up on all the chemicals that enter my body, either topically or via ingesting food, and have decided it is worth it to try and "go natural" in as many ways as I can. My first real foray was deodorant. I was scared at first, but now I am so happy I made the effort. The deodorant works great and has lasted quite a while, too. I estimate I'll have to make a batch of it every 10-12 months or so. Whether this averages out to be more cost effective in the long run, I don't know. What I do know is that I'm not wasting the packaging of store-bought deodorant, nor am I putting crazy chemicals whose names I can't even pronounce in my body. All good things!

Since the homemade deodorant experiment went well, I was ready to give the homemade thing another shot. This time I've tackled my hair products. First up, shampoo and conditioner.

First the shampoo. Here is the recipe, which I got from my cousin:
4/5 coconut milk
1/5 castille soap
Shake together in a reusable bottle. THAT IS ALL. Super-simple.

All mixed together!

Next the conditioner, which is actually a conditioning rinse.
2 cups water or cooled tea (tea optional)
3 tblsp. raw apple cider vinegar (Bragg's)
A few drops of essential oil (optional)

If you are using the tea option, which I did, then boil the 2 cups water and let it steep for 20 minutes with 2 black tea bags and 2 rooibos bags. 

I have dark hair, so the rooibos tea will give it a red tint, apparently. If you have light hair, go with a chamomile tea. I ended up making a double batch so that I would enough to last me a while.

After letting it steep and cool, I poured it into the empty bottle and that was it! Easy!

I've used this shampoo and conditioner for the last few days, and there is definitely a difference. My hair appears to be a bit greasier as well as a tad lighter. I'm going to give it time and let my hair adjust to the new routine.

Next, I'll try making a conditioning treatment (a must for anyone in a four-season climate) and styling gel. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Closet Craft Project

Remember a few weeks ago I talked about decorating this little white set of drawers in my closet?

Well, I did!

I decided on this print:
Chasing Paper

Here is how I did it. These were the drawers at the beginning:

First, I had to wash them. This took forever. I have come to really despise labels. After a solid hour of elbow grease, I finally had a clean surface to work with:
Next, I took measurements of the surfaces I wanted to cover and began tracing the patterns on the back of the wallpaper:
Then I carefully cut out each piece. Here are the front and top pieces:
After that part was done, I adhered the wallpaper to the surface of the drawers. This took a while as I had to make sure I got out all the air bubbles that accumulated between the wallpaper and the surface. But it was worth it! Here is the finished product:

And now, in its spot in the closet:


Much improved!