Archive for January, 2011

When Shane and I moved into our house nearly four years ago, I was quick to slap some paint on the walls and scatter them with photos and artwork, overjoyed to have a place where we didn’t have to answer to a landlord.  For the most part, we’ve been pretty happy with the decorating decisions we made in the midst of our new-homeowner eagerness.  But now I find myself getting a bit antsy, ready for a refresh.  With very minimal arm-twisting, Shane has jumped on board, and we’ve decided to to tackle our little dining nook.  I no longer love the light green color of the walls, our old rectangular dining table has never fit quite right in the space, and the rug isn’t large enough for four chairs to rest on it.

So we’re doing a wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling update (a belated Christmas gift to each other), with a new table, new chairs, a new rug, new paint, new window coverings, and new artwork.  Whew!  Thankfully, it’s only a 9′ x 9′ space, so this can all be accomplished with relatively minimal time and money.  I’ve been scouring our favorite furniture stores for a round dining table and new chairs, I’ve ordered a slew of rug samples from FLOR, and have tacked several paint chips on the walls.  Here’s what we’re thinkin’…

table: Grace dining table from West Elm;  chairs: Klismos dining chairs from West Elm or Norvald dining chairs from IKEA;  rug: Feelin’ Groovy tiles in Earthen from FLOR;  paint color: October Bronze by Valspar;  accessories: Liquid Organic serving bowl from CB2 and White Wall Clock from West Elm;  artwork: ‘Porto’ by yours truly…

‘After’ photo coming soon!

Holy shamoley, what a week.  Work has been crazy, with a major deadline looming just a few days away, and the long hours at the office have me beat.  I walked in the door tonight after an overwhelming afternoon, snapped at Shane when he tried to offer a few words of encouragement (how dare he?!…), and then marched right upstairs to throw myself into bed, convinced I had just won myself an Oscar for ‘Best Female in a Pouting Role’.  Not my finest moment.  Luckily, I have a husband who pursues me, even when I’m playing the part of the crabby little brat.  He gave me a few minutes, then came upstairs to test the waters, coaxed me into venting/laughing/shedding the week’s stress, and let me settle into the couch while he made me dinner.  I lucked out when this guy said he would take me for better or for worse, ’cause ‘worse’ has been pretty fierce this week.  But the weekend is here, and I’m hoping to tuck my deadline to-do’s away for the next 36 hours.  Cup of tea has been brewed, dark chocolate has been plated and placed at my right hand, and an episode of ‘The Wire’ has been queued up on the TV for some quality veg time.  T.G.I.F., and T.G. for Shane (consider this my Oscar acceptance speech).

Winter-time always brings out the reader in me – rainy Sunday afternoons spent curled up with a good novel are total perfection.  And I just finished up a goody – The Poisonwood Bible is my book club’s January pick, and I will be giving this one a very solid rating, starting out the year on a hard-to-top high note.  If not for last quarter of the book, where the story-line seemed to move away from the family of main characters and more toward what seemed like the author’s political agenda, I would have loved it even more.  Still, underlying agenda or no, it’s a really, really good read, about a missionary family that goes to live in Congo, and must come to terms with what life looks like when the comforts and ideals of a typical American life are stripped away.  The characters are all fictional, but the political turmoil that serves as a backdrop is real, and I love when a made-up story can still give me a general understanding of real-life cultural practices and historical events.

And now that I’m ‘between books’, if only for a few hours, I’ve been spending some time going back over the list of what I read last year, making note of the books I especially loved, and the working on my list of want-to-read’s for 2011.  My top three of 2010:

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See.  As with The Poisonwood Bible, I appreciated the chance to learn about another culture’s history and traditions through totally enthralling fictional characters.  Book-wise, that’s a win-win.

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris.  Not at all educational, or life-changing, but still really, really fun.  Plus, this book invokes memories of the hours I spent reading it on a beach in Mexico.  Bonus.

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen.  I loved this book, but have yet to find anyone that enjoyed it even half as much as I did – it’s become a point of contention with some of my most trusted book-recommenders.  I wish I could articulate clearly what it was about this novel that struck such a cord with me, but I can’t put my finger on it…  And I don’t have to justify or defend my solid two-thumbs-up, so I won’t – I’ll just say that this is one of those rare books that I finished with the wish that there was more of it.

And a few books on my to-read list for 2011:

Books 4, 5, 6, and 7 of Harry Potter.  I powered through the first three toward the end of last year, then got distracted with something else. Admittedly, I don’t love them quite as much as I’d hoped, but I still look forward to reading the rest of the series.  It will be nice to not have to silence people whenever they start to talk about Harry Potter, since I’ve made it this far without knowing what happens at the end.

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo.  I bought this book several years ago, and all 1,400 pages of it taunt me every time I peruse my bookshelf for something new to read.  Yes, the size of it is daunting, but I’m ready.  And hoping it will make my next visit to Place des Vosges (one of my favorite squares in Paris, bordered in one corner by Victor Hugo’s lovely old mansion) that much more special.

The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins.  ‘Cause I heard these books are fantastic and impossible to put down, and I might need a page-turner by the time I make it though Les Mis

We are 22 days into our third annual frugal January, and although we’ve done extremely well in our efforts to live on a shoestring budget, some sacrifices have seemed harder than others.  The lunchtime hour has proven to be tricky – not just because that Chipotle burrito sounds soooo much more appetizing than my peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but because I often rely on lunchtime as my chance to get out of the office and take a breather.  Whether it’s for a bite with the ladies to catch up on office chatter, or for a latte at my favorite cafe to catch up on my reading, there are days when I absolutely need to unchain myself from my desk to recharge.  So…what to do?  Can’t go grab a bite.  Can’t head over to Macy’s to peruse the shoe department (shopping without even the remote possibility of buying is no fun at all).  Can’t even go sit in a cafe.  Ugh.  Luckily, my office is only four blocks away from the Seattle Public Library, which is absolutely free to hang out in, and also happens to be my most favoritest building in the city.  Score!  Yesterday, in need of a break from the pre-deadline stress that’s been buzzing in my head for the past few days, I grabbed my book and headed up the hill to this funky-shaped, diamond-gridded reader’s oasis.  And I tell you, this place blows me away every. single. time.  There is so much I love about this building, from the innovative plan of the book ‘spiral’, to the intense, saturated colors that surprise you around every corner, to the reading rooms flooded with lovely natural light, even on an overcast winter day.  Being able to regularly spend 30 minutes or an hour here almost allows me to let go of my grudge that I can’t buy a latte.  Almost.

One of my goals for 2011 was to stop considering cereal as typical and acceptable dinner fare.  Sure, in a pinch, a bowl of Honey Bunches of Oats is better than say…a wedge of cheese with a side of potato chips (not that I’ve done that), but still, I’m a believer that dinner should be hearty, flavorful, and nutritious.  Shane and I have made great strides in our meal preparation this month, since it is indeed frugal month for us, and we cannot trade in our Cheerios for a yellow curry from our local Thai place, or burritos from our favorite taco stand.  The crock pot we bought the day after Christmas has proved invaluable in helping us prepare simple, delicious, multiple-serving meals.  Today I threw a whole mess of stuff into the crock pot, flipped it on, took care of a bunch of Sunday to-do’s, and come dinner-time, voila!  Vegetable beef stew.  Fabulous.

A couple of crock-pot tips and tricks, based on our limited experience:

-  If you are crock-potting on a weekday and plan on your dinner cooking while you are at work, make sure the crock pot is actually on when you leave the house.  Otherwise, you are due to come home to a pot of raw, devastatingly wasted pork loin.  Lesson learned the hard way.

-  I pulled ingredients from a few different stew recipes today, and threw in a couple of strips of orange zest on a whim.  The subtle tang was a nice addition.

-  Serve stews with a slice a crusty bread, and follow up with a piece of home-made carrot cake.  Your spouse will adore you.

I woke up this morning feeling a little antsy, so I turned to Shane over our breakfast and said, “Let’s have an adventure today.”  Now, considering our January routine of hunkering down inside on the weekends, spending Saturdays napping, reading, and watching football, even a walk around a block could be deemed an ‘adventure’.  It being our month of frugality and all, with no non-essential spending allowed, we haven’t made it out of the house a whole lot.  So we threw around a list of ‘free dates’ and decided to drive 15 minutes south of our house to check out Kubota Garden – a Japanese garden we’ve been meaning to visit since we first heard some friends talk about it a couple of years ago.  I had my thermos of hot tea in hand, my coziest scarf wound around my neck, and we were off!  I was thrilled (seriously, if you knew how many hours I’ve spent on the couch over the last couple of weeks, you would think I had a case of either agoraphobia or mono).  The second we got in the car, it started to rain – bummer…  But I convinced myself that it might not actually be raining 5 miles south of our house, and rain always seems to be falling harder than it really is when you’re driving through it, so we pushed on.  And…we pulled up to the garden entrance and found that it was indeed raining in Renton.  Go figure.  But I was determined to have my adventure, dammit, so I coerced Shane out of the car and we did actually enjoy a pleasant (but wet) stroll through the garden.  I was able to snap a few pictures, breathe some fresh air, and do something out of the ordinary, which was really what the day was all about.  Plus, after our chilly little outdoor bout, my special spot on the couch felt so much warmer, and the hot chocolate I made tasted so much sweeter.  So it was worth it.

Switchin’ it up – some plain old pencil on paper, since I recently rediscovered how much I like the tone and ‘smudginess’ of graphite.  Also loving sticky-back printable transparencies – my new favorite way to incorporate my photos into my drawings.

cabin in the woods (2010.12.05):

section in winter (2011.01.02):

jardin des plantes (2011.01.06):

Tonight I was tasked with taking down our beloved Christmas tree – one of my most un-favorite things about the holiday season.  There are few things sadder than a pile of dried-up pine needles where a fresh, green, well-lit beacon of holiday joy once stood.  But time moves on, and if I have to wait another 11 months for the scent of pine and the glow of twinkle lights to grace our living room, so be it.  ‘Cause this year is showing some definite promise.  Shane and I have been talking a lot lately about things we want to do this year – places we want to go, people we want to see, books that we want to read, etc, etc…  It’s fun to dream and to goal-set and to populate our calendar with things to look forward to.  It’s even more fun to hop on-line and buy plane tickets to far-off places, so I called my mom the other day and asked her if she’d be up for a trip to Florida to visit our family out there and take a mini-break from the Northwest winter.  She hesitated for all of…1 second, then gave me the go-ahead to book it.  So in a couple of months, I’m off to the sunshine state!  Shane and I have a couple of other vacation options up our sleeve for later in the year, and are enjoying a temporary detour into the land of endless possibilities – we’ll see where this little jaunt actually lands us.  Is life about the journey, or about the destination?  Hard to say sometimes…

And here we go: cheers to a brand new year!  We kicked of 2011 at home, with a crock pot of mulled wine, a few of our closest friends, and an X-box dance party that will go down in the books as…laughable.  Our chill little get-together turned into something of a slumber party, and we had a good time making breakfast together this morning and getting out to enjoy a walk in the cold-but-lovely sunshine.

I spent the afternoon putting together our 2011 calendar – one photo from each month of 2010 to welcome us into 2011.  As I sorted through a year’s worth of pictures, I came to two realizations:  1) I have waaaaay too many pictures of Shane skipping stones and hitting rocks with sticks, and 2)  2010 was stuffed with all kinds of awesome.  From our frugal January walks in the park to our May anniversary getaway in Bainbridge Island to the December arrival of my precious niece, the past year was filled with so many simple pleasures, grand adventures, and extra-special moments.  Looking forward to seeing what the next 12 months will hold…