November 29, 2011

DIY Christmas Trees

The Christmas season is finally here! I am kicking it off by joining a link party over at Hi Sugarplum! to share my first 2011 Christmas craft with you. I'll hopefully be linking up with everyone for the "Christmas Cheer in the Blogosphere" link parties the rest of the month as well. If you have some fun Christmas ideas to share, you should consider joining these fun link parties!

Just realized that I need to get my Christmas tree set up by December 8th... okay, better get on that!

The Christmas craft that I'm going to share with you is how to make cute little Christmas trees for a tabletop or mantle. I was brainstorming on what I could use to decorate our buffet table in the dining room, and I've seen so many unique Christmas tree ideas (here and here) that I thought it would be fun to try making some of my own.

I like shabby chic, but I don't think it's my style when it comes to Christmas decor. I wanted something fun and colorful, so I decided to hunt for bright red and green scrapbook paper or wrapping paper. At Michael's I could only find shiny wrapping paper (I wanted a matte finish) and no patterns that I liked. I then found a few sheets of scrapbook paper I liked (4/$1 sale - score!) and picked up a few other supplies I would need:

I bought 3 Styrofoam cones (9", 12", and 15"), scrapbook paper, spray adhesive, and star buttons. I debated about bells, ornaments, and glittery stickers for the toppers and decorations but went with these stars, which I'm very happy about.

I basically just started measuring by wrapping the paper around the cones to see how much I would need.

Once I got the paper where I wanted, I drew a line around the bottom as I held it tight on the cone (no gluing yet). I then took the paper off the cone and cut along the line. I didn't do this on the first one, and it was so much easier this way.

I didn't provide a full on tutorial because it was a lot of trial and error cutting, sizing, and gluing. The spray adhesive actually didn't turn out to work well at all. I think it is meant for bigger projects because the sprayer was very powerful and it was hard to be precise and get into tiny spaces. I pulled out my trusty ol' glue gun, and that worked great. Just had to watch my fingers since the heat goes straight through the paper!

After the paper was secured on the cones, I glued the star buttons on top. And here is the final result! The whole process took me about an hour.

Only the largest cone needed to sheets of scrapbook paper. I used double-sided scrapbook adhesive tabs and matched up the stripes way before I started cutting. You can see it up close here, but from far away it looks perfect.

If you have a fun Christmas craft to share, be sure to link up with Cassie today over at Hi Sugarplum! Or you can join in on the fun throughout the rest of the Christmas season!

November 27, 2011

Photo shoot!

While we were at home for Thanksgiving, we had the opportunity to take some photos with my friend Blythe, who is aspiring to build her brand in photography. I wanted to give her some more experience, and also get some good photos of my husband and me for our 2011 Christmas card. I know this is kind of spoiling our card, but Blythe did such a good job I just had to share! (Be sure to get a good laugh at my model face... yeah definitely don't have "the look" down yet.) I am so happy with these - it will be hard to pick one. I am excited to have some quality photos to frame around the house as well. I never loved the engagement pictures we did back in 2009, so these totally make up for those!! Thank you Blythe, you are wonderful!

Be sure to check out Blythe's blog to see her amazing photography skills!

November 23, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

Today I am headed home for the first time since July. This trip home is long overdue, and will actually be our longest visit at home since we've been married. To say I'm excited is an understatement! I think was about 8 in this photo, and yes, those are all of my siblings. This is one of my favorite pictures to look at when I get down. I am the oldest, and these guys mean the world to me. I can't believe how things have changed, seemingly so fast. I am so excited to see each and every one of them!

I thought I'd share what I'm thankful for this year, and I think that I definitely ought to make this an annual tradition.

Thankful for in 2011...

My family. (didn't see that one comin, did ya!) I love them all so much and I would be such a different person without them. As much as I've hated them at times, I've loved them 10,000 times more at others.

My loving husband. He takes care of me, makes me feel safe, and makes me laugh. He listens to me. He loves me when I'm being a brat, and he never lets me stay mad at him. I could go on.

God's provision. He really has a funny way of working things out. Just when I think I can do it on my own, He reminds me that I can't. And when I think I'm at my wits end, He reminds me that it's His job to take care of me. And He does - way better than I would have myself.

New friendships. At this time last year, I felt alone and I missed my college friends like crazy. Since then, God has allowed deeper friendships to form with our small group, and brought other people into my life. A tangible community is slowly starting to form, and I don't know where I would be without that!

A warm bed to sleep in and food in my fridge. It seems obvious and cliche, but lately I've really been struck with the fact that I am so much more fortunate than most of the world. Because I own a car, have a mediocre-paying job (by American standards), and can count on my next meal, I am in the top 5% of the world. Crazy.

Prayer. I get to talk to God directly - and He hears me!

The internet. Particularly the blogging world. I have learned so many things this past year from the blogs I follow and from Pinterest! It has been so fun!

Sweaters. Mugs filled with warm drinks. Trying new recipes. All things pumpkin. Warm showers. Fun earrings. Target. Old friends who know me. Newborn babies.

Think of what you're thankful for - it is a wonderful way to get your heart in a good place.
I hope you all have a warm & cozy Thanksgiving tomorrow!

November 15, 2011

Chicken Taco Chili

via Skinny Taste

I have never really loved chicken chili. I think it's because I have only tried White Chicken Chili, and I always feel like there is something to be desired after I finish eating it. I just love the traditional rich tomato-based chili sauce so much, and the white chicken-broth sauce really doesn't quite satisfy me. When I found Gina's recipe, I was excited that it was a red meat alternative to traditional chili and would hopefully still have the same delicious flavor. And I was not disappointed! This is one of the best chilis I've ever had. It's loaded with beans, corn, and that rich spicy flavor my tastebuds crave. I served it over instant brown rice with shredded colby jack cheese and a dollop of low-fat sour cream. I left out the cilantro to save money, but I'm sure that would make it even more amazing. The best part is that the leftovers taste just as great! We served this for four and after already eating some leftovers, we still have more.

Chicken Taco Chili

1 onion, chopped
1 16-oz can black beans
1 16-oz can kidney beans
1 8-oz can tomato sauce
1 can corn, drained
2 14.5-oz cans diced tomatoes w/chilies (I used Rotel)
1 packet taco seasoning
1 tbsp cumin
1 tbsp chili powder, or to taste
24 oz (3-4) boneless skinless chicken breasts
any desired toppings - sour cream, cheese, cilantro, rice

Combine everything in slow cooker except for chicken; mix well. Lay chicken on top (cut breasts into fours if you want it to cook faster) and cover. Cook on high for 6 hours, or low for 10 hours. Half an hour before cook time is over, remove chicken to shred, and then stir back in.

adapted from Skinny Taste.

November 14, 2011

Cabinet reorganization

So I had a problem with my glasses/mugs/cups cabinet. There were no shelves that fit the height of our water bottles and travel mugs, the top shelf was too hard to reach to even think about keeping it organized, and it all was just cluttered. A couple weeks ago I got fed up and started brainstorming.

I like having the glasses right next to the fridge and sink, and also having the coffee mugs above the coffee maker. So moving anything in this cabinet wasn't an option for the way this kitchen is set up. After living with this for over a year, trying to figure out a solution, I suddenly realized something. Renting does not mean customization is not allowed! I found out how the shelves were clipped in, and simply moved the clips down a few notches: 1 notch down for the middle shelf, and 2 notches down for the top shelf (I measured the height of the travel mugs to figure out how much space the top shelf would need first).

And, voila!

I got rid of the useless space above the glasses, and did away with stacking the mugs. It is so nice that I can actually reach the travel mugs and that we have some plastic cups that are easier to get to. It's pretty obvious that I got rid of a few mugs, too. The chipped ones and that free blood drive one had to go anyway, so this little project helped me get that accomplished as well! Hopefully on my trip to Goodwill I'll find something good to DIY. I'm in the mood for a project, and there is still a lot to do in the office.

I love my newly-organized cabinet. It's also inspiring me to find out what else in my kitchen could be organized better, like my tupperware cabinet or my pantry. Hmm, not sure if I'm ready to tackle those yet...

November 11, 2011

Modernly Retro

Lately I've noticed so many ads and products are going seriously retro. Mostly in the '50s era, but sometimes they are a combination of that decade with the '60s, '70s, and '80s. I realize the whole it's-cool-to-be-thrifty-and-wear-your-parents'-clothes-from-college thing has been going on for a while now, but lately I think the advertising and design world has been catching onto those ideas. Take a look:

Vera Bradley's fall ad - how old school is that station wagon??

De'Longhi kMix coffee maker

Pottery Barn Kids pink retro kitchen - I actually think this is super cute!

Pepsi & Mountain Dew throwback series
Shabby Apple's vintage Madison Avenue dress
(the new online boutique you see ads for on like every single blog)

...and I'm sure AMC's hit show Mad Men has something to do with the trend

What's your take on the "new" retro style? Do you like the idea of redesigning an old style or do you think it lacks originality? What other things have you noticed that have "gone retro?"

November 9, 2011

Zucchini and Black Bean Skillet

Do you ever feel like cooking is therapeutic? There's something about taking a bunch of ingredients and then creating something that smells and tastes delicious. Tonight was a night where I wanted to cook. I went straight to Harris Teeter from work so I could get the ingredients for this recipe I saw on Pinterest (right now I'm on a veggie kick, and you know my love for black beans). I finally got home and cleared out my kitchen to prepare for cooking, only to find out I bought a CUCUMBER instead of a ZUCCHINI. Wow, my brain really must have been somewhere else while I was shopping. I ended up going back to HT for my zucchini, because I was determined to cook tonight. (This extra trip actually worked in my favor because I picked up a bottle of wine that I also forgot, of which I'm now  enjoying a glass!) I'm so glad I went back for the zucchini, because this recipe was delicioso! I also needed that stress-relieving time in the kitchen. So much that after dinner I baked some more chocolate chip pumpkin muffins. It turned out to be a good night after all :)

Zucchini and Black Bean Skillet

1 tablespoon olive oil (or canola)
1-2 zucchinis, chopped
1/2 green pepper, diced
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can fire-roasted diced tomatoes with garlic
3/4 cup water
1 cup instant brown rice
1/2 cup Cheddar and Monterey Jack cheese blend

Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add zucchini and green pepper, saute for 5 minutes. Add black beans, undrained tomatoes, and water. Increase and bring to a boil. Add rice, stir well.

Cover and let stand for 8-10 minutes (until water is absorbed). Sprinkle with cheese and serve!

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Source: Ready Set Eat

This post is featured in Alderberry Hill's "Make the Scene Monday" and Dittle Dattle's "Amaze Me Monday" Link parties

First day on the job :)

Doesn't my hubby look great? This is his first week starting in a pharmaceutical sales position, promoting some new drugs in the Raleigh/Durham area. With so many specialized doctors, incredible facilities, and guaranteed pharmaceutical competition, there is a lot going on in the healthcare industry here. Think about it - Duke, Chapel Hill, WakeMed... talk about intimidating! I know Michael will do just great as he grows this business and promotes his drugs in the new market. He is already working so hard to do his best and put himself out there. I am so proud of him and so excited to see all that he is going to accomplish in this position and in his career! More than anything, we are so grateful God has given him this opportunity. If you think about him, send a little prayer his way as he embarks on this scary and exciting new journey.

I love you, sweetie!

November 7, 2011

Using Kitchen Cabinet Dead Space

If you have a kitchen with that empty space above the cabinets, you know what I'm talking about. It really is "dead space," and it's hard to know what to do with it. It would be awesome if we could just throw our boxes of Christmas decorations up there, or use it for extra pantry space. But both of those options would be terrible because it is open and visible! And that dead space is one of the first things your eyes see when you walk into a kitchen! Renovating your kitchen may not always be an option if you're renting your home or even if you own it because a kitchen-reno is super expensive. Because I am renting and there's nothing I can really change about my kitchen, I have found some fun things to top my cabinets with, as well as make it useful.

My solution: I use this space to house my vases, pitchers, and decorative serveware.

It's hard to know how to store your vases anyway, since they can't be stacked in a precarious place and they are usually unique shapes and sizes. Different-sized glass and ceramic items are so pretty grouped together, so I arranged all of my pitchers and vases in a semi-spread-out cluster. They are not things I use everyday (like pots and pans, dishes, and baking bowls), so I don't mind climbing up there to get them down on the occasional days I need to use one. I added a couple inexpensive colorful vases that I got at HomeGoods (seriously, less than $10 each) to the other end to balance out the overall look and tie in my kitchen colors.

I also have placed some serving items, like that Wilton platter and the silver Pottery Barn Chancellor Bowl, both of which were wedding presents. It is fun to have those on display, rather than locked away in a cabinet or closet somewhere.

I placed my glass cake dome on the other side of the kitchen - another big, weirdly-shaped item that is awkward to store but looks pretty on display!

I have also seen people decorate their kitchen cabinets with collected wine bottles, baskets, or some type of garland or ivy. How do you fill the dead space above your kitchen cabinets? What are some other ways you store awkwardly shaped items?

Don't forget to like the new Facebook page! :)

November 4, 2011

Office Project: Futon & Pillows

So, do you remember our futon?

Directly to the right of this sits the newly painted bookshelf. Yeah... not really working together. I knew once I started this project that something was going to have to change about that futon. My family had it for years. Then I brought it to my house in college, and it that whole time it still had the same black cover (I washed it periodically, don't worry!). Overall, I was going for a bright, crisp look in this room so I wanted something much lighter. It may seem dumb to you to pick the color white for a futon cover (since it will inevitably get dirty), but this is what I decided and what I became set on. Bright white was my color.

I searched all over for a white white futon cover, but no such luck! They sell every color you can imagine, including "natural,"  which is basically off-white and totally would look bad with my color scheme. But no white white! There were some on Amazon that I could have paid $80+ for but those may have just been "natural," too. I even started looking at duvet covers, but some of those can be just as expensive, and I really didn't want to pay more than $30 since that's what futon covers go for. So I was mentioning this dilemma to Michael's family, and his mom said she thought she might have a duvet cover to give me. It was actually an off-white/yellowish color, but I figured it was free and I could try bleaching it. So I took it home and it fit!

The width was perfect, but there was a lot of extra fabric that hung off the back:

I made sure it was pulled tight in the front (so there was no loose fabric hanging off the edge where your knees go. which would look tacky), and then tucked the excess fabric behind the back of the futon mattress. I also tucked in the front corners so they didn't stick out like points.

To make it the white that I wanted, I bleached it twice - two times I let it soak overnight in bleach water. And it worked great! It's hard to tell the difference in this picture, but you could really tell if you were actually looking at it. The awesome part about it was that it was F-R-E-E!

Whoops, I ruined the surprise of the pillows! Well, those also go along with the futon update I guess :) Here are some more pictures of the finished futon:

I picked out fabric for these pillows at Johann's, and then took it over to a friend's house to use her machine (thanks Leslie!). I loved that I could make them how I wanted - I'm really loving the white and gray ones with the yellow on back. They look good flipped either way!

There's still a lot more I want to do in this room to make it more cohesive. We actually need a new desk (on the left) because Michael will need a good workspace for his new job, and ours is very small. So I'll be on the hunt on Craigslist over the next few weeks. I also want to:

figure out some curtains
paint the shelf or do something completely different on that wall
paint the legs of the TV stand white
maybe paint the end table as well

We'll see how long all of that takes me! :) Changes on beds and couches really make a room feel different, because they are usually the biggest piece in the room. So for now, at least the overall feel of the room is so much better!

[To give them credit, a lot of inspiration for the colors in this room came from Young House Love's office. While it is turning out totally different than their office, their colors really were the start of my inspiration for these projects.]

I added this post to the Polish The Stars link party.

November 3, 2011

Now that it's chilly...

...I am excited to wear some of these fun colder weather accessories!

Boots & Sweaters
via Forever21

via Amazon (I own these and love them!)

Fun tights


Blue/Pink Grid Lines Scarf | World Market
via World Market  
via Anthropologie
Pea Coats

Ruffle Trim Double Breasted Coat
via Loft

What are your go-to chilly weather staples?

November 1, 2011

Office Project: Bookshelf

So here is what our office bookshelf used to look like....

...and here is what it looks like now!

I still need to rearrange some things on the shelf, as well as find some baskets I like, but so far I think it's turned out great! I love the crisp light feel it has (and I wish my books were prettier - AKA matched the room). This bookshelf was a hand-me-down from Michael's parents when we moved into our apartment, so all I had to buy was the primer and paint!

First thing I did was sand the entire thing - outside, inside, and shelves. It took a lot of work but the paint would not have stuck to it if I didn't. As I sanded I realized it was particle board... which I found out after finishing the project that it really didn't matter! It still turned out great, and when it's painted you can't even tell it's particle board.

I wiped it down with a damp rag to get all the sawdust off before spray painting the primer on. I probably did about 2 coats on all the surfaces. I also sanded in between coats and before painting to keep it smooth.

I highly recommend spray painting your primer! It is a huge time saver, money saver, and brush saver. I went through 2 cans, at only about $3 each (I probably could have actually used 1 more can to thicken the coat, but I didn't feel like going back to the store).

While I painted, this is what one corner of our office looked like:

Because the bugs were eating me alive while I painted in the evening, I moved it inside to the only non-carpet space that was big enough - the kitchen. We lived with this for about a week (not cool, but worth it).

Once I started painting the gray on the outside, I realized that it wasn't quite as dark as I hoped. I ended up having to go back to the store to get them to add some more color.

The white took the longest to paint, because the wood kept soaking up the paint and leaving streaks. This is why in the future I will probably spray paint more primer on before beginning to paint.

All finished!

For the frames I used a swatch of fabric in the one on the left from the fabric I made pillows with - those are coming soon! I got the idea from my yellow umbrella, a great DIY blog I follow. The art on the right is one that I painted with basic acrylics on white paper. The silk flowers are from Michael's, and sit in a <$2 glass vase.

I love my new bookshelf! I'm so glad that I took the time to fix it up and do something different than the traditional wood. I'm hoping to bring these colors into the rest of the room's furniture soon.

What do you all think?? Do you like the gray and white two-tone idea?