Happy Holidays

 

our tree

mantle

tiny village

sweet words

The holidays are officially here everybody, and I’m sure you’ve waited for me to tell you before you figured it out. JUST KIDDING.

This is officially the FIRST Christmas we are actually enjoying over here at our itty bitty house. Last year we were technically moved in by Christmas but were still in a whirlwind of post-renovation frenzy. It was fun, but this year, we put up our tree on time, and savored the decorating. It’s been really nice.

Even though I do say savoring, we are still crazy busy getting lost in the holiday frenzy. We’re keeping to yearly traditions and starting new ones. And believe me when I tell you I am SO behind because I still have all the presents to wrap! Shame shame!

I did want to take a moment and pop in though to wish you all a very very very wonderful and happy holiday season. Regardless of how you celebrate, this is really a time of coming together and being grateful for all the good things in your life, and all the crappy things that make you REALLY appreciate those good things. I am so lucky to have the family and friends that I do and even though sometimes it can be easy to take people for granted, or maybe not keep in touch as much as you should, I know I have the type of people in my life that just pick up where we left off, and that’s really nice.

Thanks, also, for being a part of this little, inconsistent, and often blabby blog o’ mine. You have all been so kind. Thank you.

 

Niki

Real Resolutions—The Journey to a Better Life

At the end of every year we gather our notebooks and pens—or maybe if Santa was good to us, iPads—and jot down the same set of resolutions. Lose weight, save money, be kinder, take up a new hobby, etc. Or at least I do. Every year the same liturgy, and although I’m a bit hesitant to admit it, the same outcome.

Confession: I have never lost those ten pounds and although not in dire financial straits, I never did put away 50% of my income. I’m still just as impatient as always and that handmade blanket is still in the early stages of being an infant’s scarf.

So this year as I pondered new, exceptionally unattainable goals to set myself up for failure this year, I decided that the entire idea of New Year’s resolutions is a trap. How can you possibly transform your entire self based on a few scribbles on December 31st? Sure, it’s easy to say you’ll become vegan while in a post-turkey coma, but what power does that declaration hold halfway through February when you’re halfway through the drive-thru?

Why don’t we—in an effort to just be a little kinder to ourselves—opt to test-drive those resolutions before making the dreaded yearlong commitment? Isn’t there some sort of cliché like “You can do anything for an hour?” Well, if that’s true, I’d like to think that as mature adults we can do anything for one month.

That’s my resolution. In 2014 I’d like to take on one resolution at a time for a trial-period of one month. Four weeks is long enough to see change, but short enough that any reasonable person can blunder through it. And after one month, if the ordeal is completely terrible and impossible, well, on to the next one!

I’m not a psychologist or lifestyle guru. (The term ‘guru’ by the way, is completely misused nowadays anyway.) I’m just a regular person trying to achieve a better life. And although maybe I’m looking for the easier way out, I’d also like to, maybe just this year, not feel like a complete failure a couple weeks into January.

 

January Resolution: Take A Financial Inventory

I often like to say I’m terrible at math but I’m great with money. This unsubstantiated claim is a product of my own ego. I am very much not great with money. The weekly drive to my bank is always a moment of intense personal scrutiny. I despise that judgmental printed description of my fiscal health. To be honest, I’d much prefer to idle by in ignorance, thinking that if I work hard I truly deserve those $300 shoes. I earned them.

I’ve been told, however, that at some point in your life you have to come to terms with what you have and more importantly, what you don’t. Unfortunately, I don’t have a trust fund that tops off my checking account every month yet those pesky bills still have to get paid. And if it does come down to electricity or a pair of shoes—deserved or no—the electricity has to win.

Here’s what I’m going to do this month, and what I recommend you do. If nothing else, take an inventory of your personal finances. There is a budgeting term I’ve heard thrown around called “Zero Sum Budgeting.” I first read about it on Get Rich Slowly, a website that describes itself as “Personal Finance that Makes Cents,” you can visit it at getrichslowly.org. Always a lover of puns, the website gripped me immediately. A Zero Sum budget is basically a monthly inventory of your income and expenses. You apply this method by taking whatever is left over of your money and stuffing it into your savings. It is, I believe, the easiest way to budget and save when you have absolutely no money smarts and need to pay your rent on time. I officially declare it as my adopted budgeting method of choice.

For all those who prefer a little hand-holding, here’s the basics of what you do:

Launching a new spreadsheet, enter in all your income for the month at the very top. (You could use paper, too. See above where I mention I’m terrible at math.) Don’t put in imaginary income, or as professionals refer to it, gross income. We’re working with net income here. Whatever you pop into your bank account or store under your mattress or spend on self-help medication known as wine. (Side note: stop doing that so much! I would explain how but that’s for another month. Now quit dawdling and top off this Chardonnay.)

Once you’ve entered your income, make a list of all your fixed expenses. Yes, fixed expenses include your cell phone and cable bill. Even Netflix. If it’s checking out of your income the same way every month, it’s fixed.

Below your itemized fixed income, enter what I like to call your variable fixed expenses. This is what you spend on things you buy every month but the costs aren’t always the same. Think groceries and gas.

Now add that all up (or program your spreadsheet to do it) and reduce it from your net income. If you have money left over, good job! Skip over to the next paragraph. If you don’t, savor that last bit of Chardonnay because you can’t afford it. This is where we get real. You have some serious cutting back to do. This can include reducing your fixed expenses by getting rid of some altogether, or cutting back to more modest plans, or for the love of God lower that thermostat and shut off a light once in a while!

The positive sum that’s left over from your income and expenses is the amount of money you have for both saving and enjoyment, as well as any emergency expenses you encounter throughout the month. Your first inclination would probably be to nix fun stuff altogether in the name of financial harmony and save it all. I would advise against that—you’ll set yourself up for failure. You do need some money to enjoy life. You will eventually want to watch a movie, or buy a drink, or get take out. It’s OK, be kind to yourself. My preferred tactic is to divide the initial sum in half and assign one half for fun and the other half to savings. It may not be what real money professionals recommend but this has caused me to save money when I otherwise wouldn’t have, and I think that constitutes as a success.

Also, the unsung hero of this method is awareness. Once you are aware of where your money is actually going you will be more inclined to not waste all of it. Awareness is often a terrible shock of reality at first, but trust me when I say knowing is always better than not knowing.

So, let’s wrap it up. January’s mission is to take an inventory of your finances. Calculate how much of your income is left over after fixed expenses and save half of that money. If you have an even amount of income to expenses, or a negative amount of income left over, you’re first priority is to get back into the black.

This mission won’t cost you any money and can potentially save your life. You’re welcome. You can thank me after you get over how expensive your Starbucks habit really is.

Are you inspired to take up the sword—erm, challenge—and join me for a better year? Let me know in the comments! A support system is a key to success, right??

 

Niki

Laid Out

Patio Progress

You know that patio project I keep complaining about??

IT’S FREAKING DONE, EVERYBODY!

Here’s a little preview of the process. There are more involved notes to come, but we’ll be spending some time grilling, drinking, fire-burning, and relaxing for a bit first. Because that’s the whole point of the project, and apparently according to Target fall is already on its way.

1…2…3…4…I don’t want to cement no more…

Slow It Down

Xris (it’s ‘Chris’ but when I’m lazy I just type ‘Xris’, and this explanation is kind of unnecessary but there it is.) and I do things really fast. We kind of pride ourselves on super speed projects. “What did you do this weekend? Mow the lawn? Well I mowed FOUR lawns and put up a light fixture and built a house, tore it down, and rebuilt it!! Now what??”

Anyway, we’re the kind of people that feel restless when we’re not doing something all the time. Movie marathon? Sure! Let’s be lazy and watch movies all day! But why don’t we go for a walk first? And I’ll just load the dishwasher.

What I’m saying is that we’re guilty of moving through life pretty quickly. We can’t complain about it because we choose to be that way. But sometimes it’s exhausting. We both work in jobs with harsh deadlines so we’re forced to always be looking forward. It’s mid-July, which means summer is practically over, and then the fall is the shortest season, so realistically it’s like Christmas.

Are you this way? Are you  guilty of just flying by without looking back, or do you take time to savor moments? That’s the thing I want to think about today. Just slowing it down, just a bit. Not coming to a complete stop, but just making sure I remember moments rather than years.

If not for the long haul, then just today. Slow it down, will you? Take an inventory on yourself.

I Want

White Faux Taxidermy, The Templeton, http://www.whitefauxtaxidermy.com

White Faux Taxidermy, The Templeton, http://www.whitefauxtaxidermy.com

When I was in middle school, my class took a trip to the Museum of Science in Boston, Mass., and in the stairwell of that museum were moose, deer, and antelope heads mounted on the walls. I was so freaked out I had to hold a friend’s hand and go up the stairs with my head down.

I’m not a fan of taxidermy. I don’t know what it is. I think it could be the dead, glassy eyes, or maybe because I’m not very involved in nature and I’ve never seen animals real close up and the scale of them (I know, ridiculous) scares me. Either way, the idea of a real animal head on my wall freaks me out.

Yet somehow, in a twist of fate only the universe could supply, I’m really into these sculpted, solid color replicas of animal heads. There’s just something about them that I’m kind of obsessing over. I think it’s knowing that it’s just pretend and that I can enjoy the company of the animal without the guilt of knowing it died to be a trophy on my wall. Or that the scale isn’t the same. Or the organic, sinuous lines of the form. Whatever.

I find these busts really beautiful and interesting and I really want one to add to the gallery wall I’m trying to build in my living room. The one above is from White Faux Taxidermy, and I’m considering it, but really if I found something ceramic and cheesy at a yard sale I may just hit it with paint and call it a day.

9664f58a608d5160760a50ced5e8a65c

What do you think? Chris likes the classic cow skull, which I’m not opposed to either (somehow, although it’s still dead, I’m not as freaked out by just the skeleton, plus, it’s in 221B from Sherlock (above) so points there, obviously.) but something about the painted sculpture feels a bit more feminine and modern to me. Faux, skull, or none at all? Guess we’re going to have to whip out a 3-sided die.

Niki

So Life Is Pretty Awesome

I'm featured on Tulio Market!

And so is Angela from Tulio Market.

She reached out to feature a short interview about this here ol’ blog on hers (willingly! I know, I don’t believe it either).

So please head over and visit Tulio Market and make sure to follow it! It’s full of creative ideas, Angela’s impeccable taste, and her (and now my) new favorite salad. I’m just going to hang back and keep freaking out about how awesome this is.

A Coat of Paint Can Cure Most Ills

Or, maybe not, exactly. But it’s miraculous usually. I should really start a series like “what did we paint today?” because that’s how often we solve problems by painting.

Hey, as long as they’re solved…right?

patio chairs before after

On the left we have a hand-me-down patio set that was generously given to us by my in-laws (they’ve seriously furnished our entire outdoor space, thanks!!!) and although the overall shape was nice, they needed some sprucing up.

Materials you need: a rag, water, dawn, and paint. If you’re going the extra mile, you may want to hit the cleaned chair with some sandpaper, but our chairs were in pretty decent condition once we got them cleaned up. We used Rustoleum’s Hammered Spray Paint in the black, and while the effect wasn’t exactly what I would call “hammered,” the unhammered finish was great. There’s a real depth to the color that makes them black, but also sometimes bronze-y and sparkly. I am in love with them.

The process? Once your surface is clean and dry, apply paint by spraying in short bursts, moving a consistent distance from the surface. A tip when doing chairs: paint the bottoms first, then flip the chair over to do the top. We got away with a full coat and a touch-up coat, but we were doing dark on dark. Go, explore, play, repaint!

Perfect Pizza Dough

Pizza dough? What? Is that an analogy for the consistency of joint compound when you mix it in with dry mortar?

No. Relax. This is a pizza dough recipe.

“But whyyyy? The internet has so many pizza dough recipes already, jeez, when are you going to redo the breezeway and mudroom, already!???” You whine at me.

Why? Because I’ve tried 487,654,324 pizza dough recipes and this. is. the. one. It doesn’t take 5 minutes. It’s not super convenient. But it’s like, real, pizza dough. The only way you could make it more real would be to stick it on the grill, which I totally plan on doing, once our cement patio is done enough for grilling, which I hope is soon.

I digress. Take the time and make this. And don’t just use it for pizza. Use it for calzones, use it for flatbreads, use it for breadsticks…go WILD!

Screen Shot 2013-06-19 at 12.33.49 PMPerfect Pizza Dough
Adapted from Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen

Here’s the thing, this takes some effort to make, but once you get it done, you can keep it in the fridge for days. So next time you’re bored on a weekend, whip up a double batch that can take you through the week. I just like to let this rest at room temp so that it is a bit easier to roll out.

1 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 cup warm water (110 degrees F)
3 cups all-purpose flour, and more as needed
1½ teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for coating the bowl
1 tablespoon sugar

Mix together the yeast, warm water, sugar and 1 tablespoon olive oil until dissolved. Set aside. Combine the flour and salt in a large bowl, creating a well in the center. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the yeast mixture until your dough comes together. Turn it out onto a floured surface and knead 5-10 minutes, adding flour as needed to prevent sticking, until the dough is smooth and elastic. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with a clean, damp cloth. Set the bowl in a warm, draft-free spot (I like to keep it in the oven with just the oven light turned on) until it doubles in volume, about 1 1/2 hours.

Punch down the dough and divide into the number of portions you need. Place the dough balls on a lightly oiled baking sheet and cover with a piece of plastic wrap pressed directly against the dough. Refrigerate until the dough is roughly doubled in bulk. This can take from 12 to 24 hours. Punch down the dough, knead it slightly, and continue with the recipe.

Recently Pinned

This is the stuff I’m obsessing over on Pinterest right now. If you want to see everything I’m pinning, follow me!

My favorite thing is going out for a cup of really great coffee. Source

We’re working outside, and even though we probably won’t get to it this year, I’m already dreaming about a cozy porch. Source

Our patio is (almost) done and I’m hoping that surrounding plants will just sprout up to feel like this. Source

Not related to home renovation at all, but Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill) is playing the guitar like a cool hipster kid and that’s noteworthy. Source

Frances Bacon on the wall, all big and wonderfully framed. Oh and gorgeous couches, too. Source

Don’t need to tell me twice! Source

Something Super Cool is Happening

But I’m going to keep it a surprise. I want to keep you in suspense. If this isn’t enough suspense for you, go out and watch World War Z. That movie should really be called Anxiety because that’s what I felt throughout the whole thing. But I’m just being chatty.

 

kitchen

Here’s a preview of something cool that’s going to be happening. Was this shot in a billionaire’s resort in Turks & Caicos?? No, it’s just my kitchen, silly. But you’re so sweet to think that! (Note: I’m only this arrogant for your amusement, but I am really proud of my itty bitty kitchen.) Also, I obviously really love cutting boards.

-Niki