Friday, January 31, 2014

On accidentally decorating a mantel

Have you noticed that decorating one's mantel is kind of A Thing in the home/design/decorating blogosphere?

I won't point to specific examples because I'm really not trying to knock the practice -- I'm just saying that it seems like everyone is forever decorating and redecorating their mantel.

I've done it myself, though I'll be the first to admit that I'm not very skilled at "styling" and I've never been terribly impressed by the results.

The other day I looked up from my perch on the couch (exactly the spot from which I'm typing this post right now, as it happens), and noticed that I had accidentally decorated the mantel.

I think I like it better than any of my previous efforts in this area.

Here's how it happened. After I put away the Christmas decorations a few weeks ago (which had covered the mantel in a very crowded, linear, shall we say six-year-old-ish, arrangement), the mantel was just about bare except for those two brass candlesticks. (I bought them at a secondhand shop in Stockholm, as a gift for my man back when we were dating.)

Our travel journal postcards were there too -- without giving it too much thought, I'd tucked each one up in that spot as they arrived in the mail.

At some point I added a pot of daffodil bulbs from the grocery store, for a little January cheer. They're rather past their prime in the photo above, but you get the idea.

The Delftware figurine belonged to my grandmother; I put it over here a little bit because I thought it would look nice with the daffodils but mostly because its previous position on the kitchen windowsill was starting to seem precarious to me.

The print above the mantel is a painting by Emily Carr. I've talked about her a bit before, but to recap, my man and I took a road trip to Vancouver soon after we started dating, and the print is from an exhibit we saw at the Vancouver Art Museum. (Ha, remembering this amuses me in light of my previous post -- perhaps I somehow recognized that this trip was going to be significant enough to require more than just a postcard souvenir.) A few months later, he spirited the poster away and had it framed to surprise me for my birthday -- the first and probably only time he has been grateful for my generalized packrattish chaos that enabled him to do this without my suspecting a thing.

Now, I'm not claiming my mantel arrangement is going to win any design awards--it's certainly not. I'm just taking note of the fact that this collection of things makes me happier to look at than other collections that were made with primarily aesthetics in mind. At a time when we're awash in a sea of disembodied inspiration images, it's good to be reminded that often, what pleases the heart is also what pleases the eye.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Postcard travel journal - an inexpensive and meaningful souvenir

Whenever I travel I end up buying a whole bunch of postcards, especially at museums that I visit. I suspect there are postcards I bought on our first trip to Amsterdam 7 years ago that I bought again this last time. I never do anything much with them but I can't seem to help myself!

But this trip I thought I would also do something different, I thought it would be fun to write a postcard each day and send it home.

I tried to get my girl to do this with me, to essentially write a postcard to herself each day. I even offered to do the actual writing, all she had to do was dictate, but as you might imagine this only lasted for one day.

Instead I wrote postcards to her, which was a lot of fun! I liked thinking about details she had connected with over the course of each day and asking "Do you remember" this or that.

I'll even confess that I fell behind at one point and did 4 or 5 postcards at once. It felt a little phony at the time but now I am glad I did it anyhow.

It's sort of like keeping a travel journal -- which I always intend to but never actually do -- but the limited space really takes the pressure off. It only takes 5 or 10 minutes to write a postcard!

By the time the postcards started arriving at our house, I had forgotten what I'd written on them. So the project yielded a surprise for me, too! And of course my girl was delighted to receive mail. We had a nice time reading the postcards together and remembering each day of the trip. I hope she will enjoy reading them and remembering in years to come, too.

If you have a trip coming up and would like to do something similar, it's pretty simple. I recommend finding a post office and purchasing enough postcard stamps for the entire project (plus some for cards to send to others!) as soon as you can after you arrive. (Or, if your trip is within your home country, stock up on postcard stamps beforehand and bring them with you.) Pick up a couple of general touristy postcards, too: I looked for a postcard each day that was somehow relevant to the day's activities, but this did not always materialize (it was surprisingly hard to find a postcard depicting ice skating!), and it was good to have a few backup cards on hand.

I am sure I am not the first person ever to have thought of this but I had to share!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

A cheap yet very effective boot tray

You all know that the "entryways" (or lack thereof) in our house frustrate and flummox me.

I think that one part of the solution to the kitchen entry will have to be removing this tiered shoe rack pictured above. It makes for a very cramped experience getting out the door (I am always dragging coats or bags against it as I try to squeeze past). And shoes on the lower levels of the rack wind up with dirt and hemlock needles inside them from the soles above, so you go to put on your shoes and get a problem to take care of instead.

But if we're not going to store many shoes near the door then we need ample, convenient, and easy to use storage space elsewhere.

I decided to tackle shoe storage in my girl's room first. We went from this:

To this:

(At first, I thought that we maybe didn't need a trash can in her room anymore, after all there are no more dirty diapers/wipes to throw away, but she objected -- which frankly is kind of sensible, you never outgrow Kleenex after all -- so the trash can now lives on the opposite side of the room.)

The boot tray is simply a half-sheet baking pan, I got it right here for less than $10.

At first I was thinking that I would spray paint it to make it look a bit less like a baking sheet. But let's face facts, it would take me at least 6 months to get around to that project, if ever. So I simply put some sticky felt circles on the bottom of the tray to protect the floor and called it done, and you know what?

I think it's just fine.

The dimensions of this tray are 18" x 13", while a typical boot tray is somewhat larger, particularly width-wise: 30" x 13", for example. Only a couple of pairs of adult shoes would fit on a tray this size, but if you need something bigger there are full-sheet pans at  16" x 26", (still at a substantially lower price than official boot trays), and many other sizes besides.

The rule now is only one pair of shoes by the door, all the others stay on the boot tray. I hold myself to this rule too, as I can fit all my shoes in my closet (barely!). My man has a dispensation. For now....

Also, for the record, that's another item crossed off my 101 Things list.

53. Remove trash can from room and add boot tray

Monday, January 20, 2014

101 Things: the first hundred days

As promised in my previous post, an update on the "101 things in 1,001 days" project.

When I first posted this list, my friend E. commented, "Do you have a plan for pacing yourself or setting deadlines within the 1,001 days? I love this idea, but wonder if I'd lose momentum after a while or get sidetracked by other stuff that comes up."

Well, as you could probably gather from my silence this past fall, I did get sidetracked by other stuff that came up. 

But I also did have a plan. A quite pedantic plan, in fact: To accomplish 101 things in 1001 days, you basically have to cross off one item per 10 days, or 10 per 100 days. (Ah...if only all math were so simple.)

As it happens, the first 100 days was up January 2. (So, of course, I have gotten sidetracked from this post, too! I've had this tab open in my browser pretty much since then.)

I had set a reminder for the first 100 days on my calendar in Outlook, and when this popped up about a week beforehand it served as a push to try to knock off a few more items and bring my total to 10.

Below are the items I've accomplished so far, with photo proof.

I'll be the first to admit that many of these items are seriously remedial, unfuck-your-habitat type things.

But I hope that tackling these easy items will create a bit of momentum to help me face the more involved projects. I also hope that being spurred by the list to do some of these easy things might help create a habit of taking care of such tasks in a more timely way, sans list, if that makes sense.

Finally, don't underestimate the improvement that even a seemingly tiny task can create! To no longer have to look at a useless plastic hook in the middle of the bathroom wall, or cringe when I open the bedroom door and it screams like a banshee, is very, very nice.

Blogger Sanae Ishida recently posted about "tolerations," a concept that she borrowed from a friend who borrowed it from a life coach (still with me?). "Tolerations are basically anything that is part of your life that is mildly to moderately annoying," she explains. "Aspects that grate on our nerves but aren’t high priority enough to require immediate attention and so we let them fester. The coach explained (to my friend) that individually, these tolerations aren’t a big deal. But collectively, they drain away your mojo, subconsciously adding to your stress and ultimately, you are less productive and more prone to procrastination."

It struck me that many of the items on my list fit the description of "tolerations," and yes, indeed it does make a difference to cross these seemingly minor items off.

I have posts planned to talk more about a few of the items below, but many of them are pretty self-explanatory so this post will be the record of their completion.

My Man's Ideas
8.     Take the old radio off kiddo’s wall

We bought this stereo when my girl was an infant, and it yielded many months of naptime womb sounds, Caspar Babypants dance parties, and bedtime audiobooks until it finally gave up the ghost last summer. My girl got a new music machine for her birthday; it sits on her (disaster of a) dresser. But did we bother to remove the old, broken one? No, indeed.

Until now.

13.  Lay down weedblock over remainder of front lawn

Bit by bit we have been eradicating our front lawn, with the aim of converting it to a nice landscape of ferns, heathers, and perennials. We took out about one-third of it a year and a half ago, and I tackled killing the remainder this past fall. (This was done in early October, which is why the landscape looks so unwintry.)

The man next door, who is a very kind and generous neighbor but from a different generation and more, shall we say, conventional about landscaping, asked me when we were going to put down soil on top of the weed block I installed. I tried to find some way of telling the truth, which is, "Hmmm, sometime around April if we're lucky," without actually letting him realize that it wouldn't be until April.

23. Oil door hinges

Ah, the sweet, sweet sound of...nothing!

I can take no credit for this, by the way, my man went through the house with a can of WD-40 while I lay in a jet-lagged stupor soon after we returned from our Amsterdam trip. But it's done, and that's what counts!

26. Find a better way to store bags and purses (also, have fewer of them)

I am not sure why, but at some point I developed the habit of hanging my purses (in use and otherwise) over the knob of the office/guestroom door, as well as over the doorknob of the closet in that room. Messy looking and inconvenient for anyone who needs to open and close those doors (and sort of embarrassing, because the closet belongs to my man -- it would be one thing if my bad habit were only inconveniencing me but it's not really fair of me to create "tolerations" that mostly affect him).

So now my purses are hanging on hooks inside my own tiny, tiny closet in the master bedroom.


For the record, I did pare down my collection as well. And miracle of miracles, I'm cultivating a new habit of hanging the purse I'm using in the coat closet along with my coat (rather than piling one or both of those items on the kitchen counter). Sometimes one good habit begets another.

44. get plastic hook off wall

I put this Command hook up on the bathroom wall when my girl was potty-training; we hung one of those little plastic potty seats on it for her to use so she wouldn't fall in. :-) Of course, she stopped needing the plastic seat about three years ago, and I've been (intermittently) warring with the hook ever since. 


It took two spoons, a foot and a half of dental floss, and a butter knife, but to repeat, I WIN.

(Eagle-eyed readers will note that item #44 involved removing a Command hook, while item #26 involved installing two new ones. Call it the definition of insanity, I guess.)

Kid's Room
55. Make and hang up morning/evening routine charts

You've seen these before. I realized when I started writing up this post that we really weren't even using them anymore, but then I came up with the idea of having my girl earn screen time by getting points for doing each item on the lists without a fuss. I won't say our mornings and evenings are totally without strife, but at least it feels like we're on the same team.

Dining Room
79. Figure out how to store and keep track of napkins that are in use.

Living Room
85. Get a better tray for tea set

I thrifted this wicker tray, teapot, and cups when my girl was about to start Kindergarten, with the idea that we could have tea together in the afternoons and do homework/work at the dining room table. But the tray has started to seem a little musty, funky, and hard to clean, so I wanted a better one.

But it occurred to me that honestly, we don't have tea after school all that often. My girl has activities most days after school and it just doesn't happen. Leaving the tea set out resulted in it getting covered with cat hair, and the tray itself had become a clutter magnet, which is obvious from the picture above.

My girl really likes to have tea parties, so I didn't want to get rid of her teapot altogether, but I tucked it away in a cupboard where at least it's likely to stay a bit cleaner.

And the console table in the living room -- far from perfect, but getting a little clearer.

88. Get rid of screen, install curtain rod over cat box and make curtain



94. Clean out corner behind door

Oh, this little corner behind the office door. It just seemed to attract crap.

But now it contains less crap, and what remains is tucked away a bit more tidily, so the cutting mat is less likely to repeatedly fall into the middle of the room. A definite improvement.