Category Archives: Design/Living

Feeling businessy: New Ventures

It must be spring in the air—Over the last couple weeks I’ve been wanting to launch all sorts of new ventures and start really trying to make a go at doing the things I love.

Venture 1: Straw into Gold

I love decorating, especially when I get to be super creative on a tight budget. I think a lot of people in the post-post-college phase of life are ready to move on from the futons and hand-me-downs but aren’t yet able to plunk down a ton of cash. I can help make spaces pretty, livable and reflective of their occupants, even on a shoestring budget.
(Ben gets credit for the name: We were talking about goals and things we wanted to do a few weeks ago, and he said “What you’re really good at is spinning straw into gold.” I like that.)

Venture 2: Custom paintings

I have painted custom art for friends’ babies for a while now, and I finally got around to listing my services on Etsy. The Herbert boys are recent recipients, and I used the photos from their triptychs for the listing.



Maybe one of those something that could be helpful to you? Let me know if you’re interested!

Feeling nervous,

Woe is me

Domino Magazine is folding? *Weeps*

It seems awfully short-sighted to me, but I shouldn’t be surprised. The rumors have been swirling for months. I do hope Condé Nast keeps the website up, since it’s become a great repository of cool images and home tours, and I love the My Deco Book function.

A real entry will follow soon. About food. And decorating, maybe–I’m helping a neighbor redo his place!

New Year, new goals

This doesn’t have much to do with food.

I’m not one for resolutions; my attention span is far shorter than a year, and Back to School always feels more fresh-startish than January, to me. But I feel like I slipped into a bit of a funk as the year wrapped up, and I am at a bit of a crossroads in terms of work and health and so forth, so I do want to take the New Year as a chance to re-set and try harder.

For the blog: I did much better in December, but during the fall I really let the blog slide, and only posted a handful of times per month. I want to try putting myself on a schedule (I’m a journalist; without deadlines I can procrastinate until the cows come home), posting on Tuesdays and Fridays at a bare minimum. We’ll see how it goes, but it’s worth the effort, right?

I also want to work on the quality of the photography… Enough with letting the terrible kitchen lighting serve as an excuse, I have little studio lights and a lightbox/diffuser thingy, and I just need to be more consistent about taking stuff into the pantry and shooting it. Not sure what can be done about things I’m actively cooking, but I’ll get there. One day.

Finally, I want to be more specific with recipes. I’m lazy and tend to just say “eh, an onion or so, some olive oil, blah blah blah,” but when I think about the blogs I find most useful, they isolate the recipe so it’s easy to follow, in addition to writing about the process.

For me, I mostly want to figure out if I can freelance full-time for a while, or if I need to go back to an office job. I like working from home, but obviously it’s not the most stable thing. If I stay home, I need to make a major effort to, um, leave the house. For exercise, for socialization, for fresh air.

During the fall I took a drawing class at the MFA’s museum school. It was rigorous and challenging and I learned a ton, but I can’t justify doing something like that right now, so I want to make sure I also keep drawing, get back to painting, treat photography more seriously, etc. I am also hoping to help a few people with some interior design advice. Finally, while I write for a living I’d also like to write something different, for pleasure. Fiction, maybe? I doubt it but I’ll try, perhaps.

[For my class, we worked on a final project consisting of a series of studies and drawings on one topic. I chose ballet, and used a couple books of photos of the New York City Ballet as my subjects.]

The greatest lesson I learned in my drawing class was how to relax. At the beginning of the semester all my drawings were in pencil, mostly of interiors, very literal, very precise, not very dynamic or interesting. I never expected to enjoy figure-drawing and I never thought about charcoal one way or the other, but those two things brought me tremendous joy. Charcoal is messy and it didn’t let me stick to my precise lines. I couldn’t really use a ruler. And drawing the figure made me want to explore movement. I want 2009 to be like that. I’m feeling closed in and limited in a few ways, and I want to break out and try things I hadn’t considered, even if it means I have charcoal-stained fingernails.

Or hands that smell like garlic. I’ve never minded that!

Blizzardy blizzardness

I must be some kind of masochist; this afternoon as the snow barely started to fall I thought to myself “Kate, go run 90 errands. It is less than a week before Christmas and they’re saying to stay off the roads, but clearly you must acquire more Pine Mountain logs (like duraflame, but better, and I know we should use real wood but it makes the fireplace smoke, so shh) in order to survive this weekend.” So I got in the car and drove to Everett, where Costco is, and while I was wandering aimlessly in Costco (do those places make anyone else feel like a lost kindergartener?) the harmless drifting snow turned into a pelting blizzardy craziness, but still, instead of heading home I went to three other stores in the complex in order to run lots of other slightly-pointless errands. And then after it took about 40 minutes to drive home, I went to Whole Foods.

The upside is that while the 45 pounds of Pine Mountain Logs remain in the back of the car, I did get the makings for another batch of those meatballs. Posting about them the other day reminded me of how good they were. I also got one of those half-loaves of bread that come slathered in butter and garlic, hurray!

Since this is an aimless sort of post, here is an aimless sort of picture: The wreath I made out of willow twigs I found on a walk after Thanksgiving!

Have a fantastic weekend, everyone, and be careful out there in the snow!

Blackboard results

Oh, for shame, Kate! I swore to myself that I would do some posting while I was home in Oregon (for a very, very lovely wedding, in which I was participating and at which I gave a toast–eep–and ate wonderful food and danced a lot and my feet hurt), but I was too too busy and didn’t. Very briefly, here is the final result of the magnetic blackboard saga. I painted 5 or 6 coats of the magnetic primer, one coat of white primer and one coat (plus touch-ups) of homemade blackboard paint, from Martha Stewart Living per Germi‘s tip. The chalkboard works, but not that well–the wall is just too textured to get a smooth line from the chalk. I love the idea, though, and will definitely use the recipe for future projects–it is super easy and I bet it works great if you have a smooth surface and, um, use matte paint instead of eggshell heavily doctored with regular acrylics. Ahem.


This before picture doesn’t show the blank wall very well–the blank wall where the board went, anyway. But it does show the messy office and how badly I needed to hang art.

Now (The wall color is the same and is more accurate in the before photo!):

Closer look at the board–I had no idea I was on a citrus and orange-colored-things kick until I put up a pile of things I’d been saving in one place. The power of the inspiration board!

In addition to not writing very well on the bumpy surface, the chalk is not well served by my horrible handwriting–I need penmanship classes. There is a girl in my office with the most astonishing handwriting, and I always think back to my friend Margaret’s gorgeous perfect cursive with longing… I am too impatient!

Funny synergy thing: I just caught up on my bloglines from the last 5 days and saw that Mrs. Limestone just did a magnetic blackboard, too. And then I saw blackboard walls all over at The Kitchn today. Odd.

Lovely things for blank walls

There are three things left to do in the kitchen:

-Install a hood
-Replace the lighting over the sink and in the middle of the room
-Hang art

I find the first two things totally overwhelming, but the third I can handle. Looking at the kitchen photos with the new shelf really made me aware of how bare the wall above the sink is, so I want to make that a priority. I have a whole pile of amazing prints and posters I’ve been buying from people like Keep Calm (the tea print), Amy Ross, Renee Garner of Wolfieandthesneak and Kate Bingaman-Burt. It’s an embarrassment of riches and I can’t seem to fit any of it in normal-sized frame (except the Amy Ross Manshroom, which is just languishing in my office waiting to be hung up).

I got the Kate Bingman-Burt and Renee Garner stuff just this week and both ladies sent along lovely little surprises with my purchases. I thought I’d post some photos since I was charmed.

From Kate I bought four of her “Obsessive Consumptiondrawings, of things we like to eat. (The bananas are for Ben only. Yuck.) She is moving to Portland, OR as we speak and was having a moving sale in her Etsy shop. She included two issues of her Zine, which chronicles a purchase every day, each month. The zines are tiny and so fun and charming, I really enjoyed them.

For now I’ve propped the wrapped drawings on the kitchen shelf–once I frame them they may still live in the same place! Or I might try to hang them low under the shelf; not quite sure.

Renee really surpassed herself with darling packaging. I was a doofus and ordered the posters seperately, just far enough apart that she had to send them in two tubes (I’m sorry!). The first poster was the Fungi one I’ve been wanting since before Christmas. She sent it with a magnifying glass!! Plus a “No Plastic is Fantastic” fact card.

The second poster, the “pods” print, came today, and tucked inside was a little sketchbook with some of Renee’s drawings on the front, and an awesome lime green pencil. (Plus a nice note inside the sketchbook.)

(It was hard to photograph the funny pencil, but here’s my best attempt. It says “Wolfie and the Sneak Love You” but WordPress has started cropping my photos for me, so part of it is cut off.)

I can’t express how much I love Etsy; once I get around to framing everything (sigh) my house will be packed with art by people I’ve gotten to interact with, instead of random impersonal stuff. I was on the phone with my brother when I opened the new poster, and he said, “Etsy is sort of the CSA of art, isn’t it?” I think he hit the nail on the head!

More food soon, I promise…

Much delayed kitchen progress

Last time we checked in on the kitchen, I hadn’t bothered to post a photo with knobs up on the cabinets. We did actually take care of that back around Thanksgiving, but since then there has been little progress on the final few things to do in the kitchen. But sparked by I don’t know what last week, Ben and I spent Friday and Saturday gathering the goods and installing the long-awaited shelf above the counter! What better way to spend the Fourth of July than at two Home Depots? And how about a solid 12-hour day of work in the kitchen on a summer Saturday? (It was gray out, actually, which helped.) In addition to building the shelf, installing the brackets and attaching the lighting, we also painted all the trim in the kitchen, including the windows (argh), and I painted that magnetic board in my office.

So here is the kitchen on Friday:

A little more detail on the cluttered, cluttered counter:

To recap the difficulty that had delayed this little endeavor, our walls are 107-year-old horsehair plaster over lathing. They are not in great shape, and of course the plaster/lathing makes it nearly impossible to use an electronic stud-finder to locate the studs. I was worried that we would bring down the whole wall if we did the shelf ourselves. But some (lengthy) internet research on Friday led me to the discovery of old school magnetic stud finders, which are basically a little plastic bubble containing a strong magnet attached to a little plastic rod. You slowly, slowly move the doohickey along the wall, and when it is over a nail (attaching the lathing to the studs!) the magnet straightens out the plastic rod, pointing the way to the stud. We acquired one and over the course of about three laborious hours I mapped out the studs over the counter. It’s a slow process because you aren’t scanning for a nice big chunk of two-by-four (or thicker, one hopes), but instead for a tiny nail somewhere deep in the plaster. I found that we were on about a 16-inch center, and scanned up and down to find at least 4 or 5 nails on each stud, then picked a rough center line through the wavering dots to aim for.

Whew, that was long-winded, but maybe it will be helpful to other old-house owners on the interwebs.

Anyway, we bought an 8-foot pine board, 8 inches deep, for the shelf, and a 2.5 inch deep trim piece (in two pieces) to make a lip to cover the lights. two two-light and two three-light linkable xenon light strips. Three metal brackets and lots of #8 screws. We drilled pilot holes for the first two bracket screws, and Ben started to put the screw in, drilling it into the apparently-petrified stud (which I had accurately located, hurray!). The screw. broke. The drill skipped off the (flat-head; HD didn’t have phillips in the right size of wood screws) screw and into the wall:

Sigh. (But check out all the old paint colors!)

But we remained calm! Ben went to the local hardware store, where they had a much better selection of sturdier screws, and he got a longer drill bit for the pilot holes. From then on it was fairly smooth sailing.

After the first bracket we figured out where the others needed to go to be level:

Brackets up! And sturdy!

We primed, painted and assembled the shelf pieces, and once they were dry we attached the lights to the bottom:

Put the shelf in place and spent a long time messing around to get the lights strongly in place and the wires hidden:

Ta da!!

A little patching/painting action on that ding in the wall; another coat of paint on the shelf and trim, and we’re in business:

I don’t have the right mix of stuff on the shelf, but at least things are off the counter!


Quick question

A quick survey: I have painted a large magnetic-paint board in my office, and am trying to decide whether to paint it over with black chalkboard paint, which would leave it looking roughly as it does now, but w/out messy painters tape, or with paint slightly different from the current shade of the office wall, probably a touch darker. Any opinions?

(Excuse yet another crap photo…)

We spent all day yesterday working around the house–more to come soon! Meanwhile, for Germi, who asked after my little basil plant, last seen after being replanted a couple weeks ago:

It’s thriving–my mom also said to stop watering too much, and it seems very happy….so far!

I’ll take any progress I can get

There will be cooking this week. It’s just been a rough and busy few weeks with lots of late work for one or both of us/meals in the office/travel, etc.

A few weekends ago when we had the three-day weekend all at home (bliss!), we knocked out lots of little tasks that needed doing around the house. The most satisfying (and life-improving) was finally buying a nightstand. I had been using a $6 Ikea tv tray as a nightstand since 2001. I painted the top at one point, but it was mostly unfinished pine, and just…not good. Because there was no drawer it tended to be cluttered with romantic things like eyeshades (our blinds aren’t great), and it just looked horrible all the time. Plus I kept an old magazine container under it, which was always too full and so I’d stack books and magazines on top of the holder, and….yeah, here’s what it looked like:

Wow, classy.

The new nightstand is simple but it lets me tidy things up. I required a shelf and a drawer, and I got both (I also replaced my lampshade):

So much better! Now I can tuck things away and keep the top neat! I have since moved the book to the bottom shelf. One thing that does stay out, and which you can barely see in that picture, is my new friend, who Christy gave me for Christmas: