Archive of 'Home & Garden'

Monday, February 4th, 2013

How to Throw a Valentine’s Day Tea Party for Grown-Up Little Girls

It’s easy to have mixed feelings about Valentine’s Day. For a holiday that is purportedly all about love, it sure puts a lot of pressure on you: pressure to feel bad if you don’t have a boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse, pressure to come up with some great gift or date idea if you do, pressure to eat sugar.

But despite it all, I am unashamed to say that I love Valentine’s Day. I have found my forever Valentine (plus a Valentine doggy for good measure), but truth be told romance is not even what I love about Valentine’s Day. What I love about it is exactly what I’ve loved about it since I was a little girl, and it can pretty much be summed up in three words: Pink, White, & Red.


And you thought loving Christmas for shopping was shallow… I love Valentine’s Day for it’s decor! But it’s true. I can’t help it. Something about the heart-shaped cookies, paper cutouts, and gorgeous tone-on-tone color scheme speaks to me every single year. What other holiday is so singular in its aesthetic focus?

Last year, I decided that I wanted to revisit the Valentine’s Day get-togethers I loved as a child, and I decided to host a grown-up girls’ Valentine’s tea party at my home. Because we lived, then, in a teeny-tiny house and were (okay, still are) operating on a teeny-tiny budget, I had to get creative with my space-planning, decor, and menu.


I set up the main gathering space in our little living room (also our library, as you can see). A white tablecloth instantly elevated our round coffee table, and inexpensive fabric and paper decorations helped fill the space with that pink, white, and red I love so much. (It didn’t hurt that we had a red couch, either.)

2012-02-12 14.07.58

I followed this YouTube tutorial to make the tissue paper flowers that hung above the mantle and dangled from the ceiling around the coffee table.

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The most expensive part of the decor was probably fresh flowers; but they make such a difference. These tulips in Ball-jars on the windowsill and the bunch of roses in a white pitcher on the table were some of my favorite decorations.

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A friend lent me the pink damask fabric that I used on the couch cushions and the gorgeous pink square serving plates (pictured above, with sugar cookies on them). Having generous friends is a great way to help your budget, too!


  • Tea, of course, both black and Rooibos.
  • Sparkling Pomegranate Juice and Sparkling Blood Orange Juice.
  • Frosted Heart Sugar Cookies. I used this gluten-free recipe, and they were AMAZING. Honestly, non gluten-free friends were telling me that they were some of the best sugar cookies they had ever had.
  • Chocolate-covered Strawberries. (Out of season, I know, but for some reason I always want to make chocolate-covered strawberries this time of year.)
  • Brie & Pomegranate Bites. The same friend who lent me the serving dishes suggested this hors d’oeuvre to me, and they were so delicious–the perfect proteinous/salty counterpoint to all the sweets. (Need help with that pomegranate? I’ll tell you a secret, though; for this occasion, I bought the seeds pre-extracted.)


After tea and refreshments, we cleared the table and broke out paper, scissors, glue, and stickers and made Valentine’s cards. How fun is that? It took me straight back to being nine years old.

All in all, it was a lovely afternoon, it was incredibly fun to plan and execute. But… it was also a lot of work! So I’m not hosting a tea this year, but I’m sure I’ll find some way to bring the pink, white, and red into my life.

Oh, and quality time with my Valentine(s). I guess that would be good too. ;)


Wednesday, January 30th, 2013

Attempting Organization: Visual Strategizing for Our Home Office

When I decided to take on this project, “Attempting Organization,” I pictured that every week I would tackle a whole room in my home, and every week I would be able to put up a “Before and After” post allowing you to revel with me in the glory of pure, sweet, organization.

Guess what? Life had other ideas.

I’ve watched week after week, and “weekend” (or at least my days off from work) after weekend slide by without the scale seeming to tip one iota towards the side of organization. I took this photo a few weeks ago, but this is, by and large, what our home office still looks like today:


Ouch. It pains me a little to share this with you, but I’m hoping that public shaming will help me get my rear in gear on this project.

Part of the problem is that even after reading Ms. Morgenstern’s sage advice, I insist on trying to jump right into the MIDDLE of an organizing project without giving the PREPARATORY work the attention it deserves.

So instead of getting discouraged with the fact that I seem to not be making any progress on this beast of an office mess, I’ve decided to step back and re-envision how I’d like the space to function.

As you can see, there are at least three distinct areas (or should be) of the office (and this is just the side of the room you can see in this picture): My desk, the computer table, and Gil’s desk (he gets the small one because he doesn’t actually want a desk to sit at, just a landing spot for his incoming items).

In the spirit of putting an oxygen mask on yourself before putting one on those beside you, I’m starting with my own desk.

Here, after weeks and weeks of thinking about what items I’m always looking for or needing by my side when I work, is my VISION for my finished desk:


Intrigued? Me too. I’m not going to go into detail about any aspects of this yet, but stay tuned. I plan to look carefully at each aspect of this project as I go along, but for the time being I’m just happy that I have come up with a plan for where I’m headed–I’m confident it will help me get there.

Thursday, January 24th, 2013

Shopping, Scheming, Cooking, Walking – Typical Thursday Fare

Despite the fact that I never (ever) get done everything that I want to on my days off from work, the rare day does roll along where I do so much (or at least enjoy what I’m doing so much) that I don’t care.

Today has been one of those days.

Here’s a bit of what I’ve been up to:

- Organizing Scheming

Although I didn’t make any real headway into any one organizing project today, I did continue my thought process on all of the various areas I’m dealing with. I set out today looking for two very particular items; one, I found:


Well, okay, I wasn’t looking for exactly this. But I was looking for some way to hold 4-5 binders neatly on my desk. This will definitely do the trick, and I found it for $8 at a local recycling center. Also, I think it looks pretty cool. (And it’s not dirty, just wet. That’s a trick of the light. I will still probably give it a good cleaning, though.)

The other item was a clear plastic shoe organizer, but not one that I intended to use for shoes… I’ve ended up deciding that may not be exactly what I’m actually looking for, but I have other ideas. Stay tuned.

- DIY Makeup Scheming

Have you noticed how expensive makeup is? If you wear it, and you buy good makeup, you probably have. Have you also noticed how many scary ingredients are in it, even (and perhaps especially) the so-called “natural” mineral makeup brands? I have noticed both, for some time now, but felt like there was nothing I could do about it unless I wanted to stop wearing makeup altogether (which, silly as it is, I don’t).

Anyway, I did some furious googling today, and several hours later have pieced together what I hope will be a workable recipe for foundation; I’m going to try it out in a couple of weeks and let you know how it goes.

- Walking the dog

So this actually isn’t normal Thursday fare, which is why it’s noteworthy. I’m ashamed to say that I do not walk Otis with the frequency he deserves, and that’s a topic for a whole other post really, but suffice to say: today we went on a walk. Hooray!


- Cooking

Among other things, tonight we are making this coconut milk ice cream recipe, and if you have an ice cream maker, you should too! We tried it last week and it was simply wonderful.

Hope all of you had a good Thursday as well!

Monday, January 21st, 2013

Attempting Organization: Our Master Bedroom Clothes Closet

Good morning! Happy Monday. As you know, I have recently made it my goal to get organized (or at least more organized) in as many arenas of my life as I can. A lofty goal—and one which, I realize, may not be entirely possible—but one worth striving for.

For whatever reason, I decided to start with our closet. Well, I know the reason, actually: it’s because every single day, getting ready for work was turning into progressively more and more of a nightmare. Where are my work clothes? Are they even clean? Is this basket full of clean clothes or dirty clothes? Were these clothes that were on the floor clean before Otis lay on them and chewed them?

In the past, I may have attacked a problem like this by maniacally shoving everything that was on the floor into some spot or other, getting rid of as many things as possible along the way because obviously I had “too much stuff.” (I may have also shed tears of frustration at not knowing which clothes were clean and which were dirty and so washing them all over again.)

I also, in the past, would have entirely blamed myself for this situation. “Your closet keeps getting messy because you are lazy, and don’t want to put things away. And that’s that.”

This is only partly true. I am lazy sometimes—or more truly, I am busy, and tired, and preoccupied with other matters. But as I have learned more about organizing, especially through multiple readings of Organizing from the Inside Out, I have realized how important it is to tailor your space to your specific way of dealing with busy, tired, and preoccupied—because those facts of life aren’t going away, and it actually is possible for your space to help rather than hinder you.

Closet, Before

The first step I took in this re-organization project was actually not an action at all: I observed. For about a week, I kept a mental tally of all the things I was looking for that I couldn’t find and tried to keep my finger on the pulse of why exactly I was so resistant to put away clean clothes after I washed them.

The answer turned out to be surprisingly simple (for both Gil’s clothes and mine): either A) Items were stored in a space that was not the right size for them or difficult for us to get to, or B) Items had no home at all.

For example: Gil’s T-shirts and shorts were haphazardly thrown into that hanging organizer on the right side of the closet, but they didn’t fit well in those compartments. My T-shirts and blouses, on the other hand, were hung on a high rod on the left side of the closet (see below), a poor choice for two reasons: 1) I prefer folding to hanging and 2) I never wanted to reach so far above my head to retrieve or put things away. (Silly, I know, but remember we’re trying to create the path of least resistance.) You’ll see the solution to this problem in a moment.

Closet, Before

So, after analyzing what was wrong with the closet and coming up with a plan for how to fix it, we went into action. We spent a day taking all our clothes out of the closet, folding and sorting them into categories that made sense to us (I did three loads of laundry to make sure that we had everything in front of us).

Then we purged. We spent a lot of time focusing on Gil’s clothes, because I tend to purge clothes frequently throughout the year and didn’t have a ton extra to get rid of. His clothes also take up a lot more space than mine, so it was extra important that he not have ill-fitting or old, ratty clothes weighing him down!

Sort, then Purge

After all that (Phew!), it was time to bring everything back into the closet, according to the plan and observations we had already made.

One adjustment we made (which illustrates the point that organization is not all about aesthetics) was removing the canvas boxes from the top shelf in the closet. (You can see them in the first photo above.) They were beautiful, yes, but they held memorabilia and cards—not anything we needed to access on a daily basis and certainly not in our clothes closet. What we really needed was a home for our shoes where they were easy to put away and the dog couldn’t eat them, and that top shelf turned out to be perfect.

Closet, After

To solve the clothing placement dilemma I mentioned above, we simply swapped the two sets of clothing! Now Gil’s folding clothes are in large wire cubicles on the left side of the closet, right above his hanging clothes… (not everything was clean when I took this picture, hence the emptiness of those top cubicles)

Closet, After

… and my folding clothes are in the organizer on the right side of the closet, with dresses hanging on one side and short hanging storage on the other.

Closet, After

I also created a home for the scarves that always seemed to be all over the place:

Closet, After

And I made sure that specialty items like skirts had the kind of hangers that they needed… because nothing is as frustrating as not having the right tools to put something away.

Closet, After

So, all in all, I would call this closet re-organization a success. It took longer than I wanted it to (and I didn’t finish some parts of it yet—like the vanity top, and the corner shelves which I didn’t even take a picture of), but it has truly helped my peace of mind in the morning. I actually enjoy putting clothes away (did I really say that?!), because they all have a specific place to go. Who would’ve thought?

(Oh, and I’d like to take a moment to say I know how spoiled I am to have a walk-in closet WITH A WINDOW. That light and space do make things much easier, but I am positive that this same process of analysis and problem-solving could apply to a closet of any size.)

I hope this inspires you to take on whatever problem spot in your house is putting the most friction in your day—it’s worth it, I promise.

Friday, January 18th, 2013

Little Loves: Ceramic Owl Measuring Spoons

Little Loves: A series highlighting in images the little things in my life that are beautiful, useful, or otherwise bring me joy.


Gil gave me these little owl measuring spoons in my stocking this year. Aren’t they just darling?


Happy Friday!