Warm wood and white

I hope everyone had a lovely holiday season and New Year! Although it was hectic, Nick and I thoroughly enjoyed the time spent with our families in Wisconsin.

One of my goals for the new year is to simplify, especially our home. While I want to have a cozy and inviting house, I aim to achieve that with the least amount of stuff…but the struggle is real ūüôā

To start the new year off, Nick and I decluttered the small storage and mechanical rooms on our lowest level. We have a tiny attic but no garage, and our finished basement offers very little  storage beyond these two rooms (which hold everything from our suitcases and yard tools to our bikes and sails/textiles for the boat).
Blueprint LL

It felt so good to rid ourselves of the clutter that has been slowly amassing in those two rooms since we moved in five years ago. Since three giant trash bags of junk isn’t visually interesting, I thought I’d share another quick and easy project that we recently tackled.

After creating our colorful wooden tree forest, Nick and I (intentionally) had some leftover pine wood, which I wanted to stain and use as a table top for the small storage unit in my craft room/office that holds my stationary and sewing and craft supplies. If you’ll recall,¬†a few years ago,¬†I sewed a curtain to hide the clutter in the drawers.

This room, like the rest of those in our house, is small. While I love the tranquility of this mostly white space, this corner of the room was feeling a little too white recently with my white desk, storage unit and owl bookends.

Preboard

So I had Nick cut down the remaining pine book to create a topper for my shelving unit. It’s hard to tell in the photo below, but it’s actually two pieces of wood cut to the same size with a small lip overhanging on each side.

While I originally wanted on solid piece of wood on top, our Home Depot only carried 12-inch wide pine that was two-inches thick, which I didn’t think would look good for this project and is too thick for our Dremel Saw-Max to cut. So we bought a 10-inch wide board that was 1-inch thick.

prestain

After Nick cut the pieces to size, I covered them in a few coats of cherry stain to match our hardwood floors and finished them with two coats of poly. Below are the finished pieces, before I taped them together with double-sided tape.

Stained

And here’s the finished result. It’s a really minor change, but the stained wood definitely adds warmth to that corner of the room.

finalafter

Finally, here’s an photo of the room from the doorway. The stained wood¬†top ties in well with the wood floor and makes my owl bookends really standout, when before they were lost in all the white finishes.

*Forgive me for the terrible night photo, but this time of year, I’m rarely at home during daylight hours (and we’ve been away the past few weekends…a post on what we’ve been up to¬†is coming soon!)

Finalstained

What do you think, does my little croffice look cozier than ever?

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The Art of Cooking

I don’t recall exactly when in my adult life I started to enjoy cooking, but over the years it has grown into a passion. Despite the joy I take in preparing meals, I wouldn’t describe myself as a foodie, and I have no desire to make a career out of it, especially since I’m a terrible baker.

Saracooking

Nick and I have very different cooking styles: Nick tends to follow recipes to a T, and I have a tendency to improvise dishes and substitute ingredients, but despite our differences, cooking a meal is something that we¬†really enjoy doing together, especially since we don’t have the pressures of trying to quickly get a meal on the table to feed hungry mouths. For us, preparing a meal together gives us an opportunity to wind down after work and talk with one another about our workday or weekend plans.

I thought I’d share a few tips and tricks we have picked up over the years that help make our meal planning and preparation a little bit easier. We definitely are always learning as we go, so I would love to hear how you make it work for your family!

Meal Planning Inspiration

I’ve mentioned before that I love meal planning for holidays, but I also plan our weekly meals. My first step is to look at the grocery store sales flyer and see what items are on sale the next week.

Once I have a list of sale ingredients in my head, I turn to Pinterest and my cookbooks for recipes using those items. I love Pinterest for finding and storing links to recipes since it’s so visual; I have separate boards for main courses, sides and appetizers, beverages, breakfast and dessert to help make my recipe search easier.

Capture

Typically if I pin a new recipe, I try to make it within a few weeks. If we like it, I keep it on my board, and if we don’t like it, I delete it. This helps keep the number of pins to a minimum, which makes sorting through them for meal planning much easier.

Recipes & Cookbooks

I use Allrecipes.com to create and store all of my family and all-time favorite recipes (I’ve used this site for years and have too many recipes to transfer over to Pinterest).

I also have a couple of go-to cookbooks for recipes, which I page through for inspiration, so we aren’t eating the same meals over and over again. Nick gifted me this Martha Stewart Living One Pot cookbook for my birthday, and it has a variety of simple but really tasty recipes for the stove top, oven, crock pot and pressure cooker. I also really like this Indian cookbook from Madhur Jaffrey (you can read more about our¬†Indian cooking here).

OnepotJaffrey

Buy ingredients for multiple meals

Another tip for making meal planning easier is to select recipes with similar ingredients, so that you can buy and use the same¬†ingredients for multiple recipes.For example, these baked salmon cakes call for only half of a red and yellow pepper. Since I know we’ll have leftover peppers, I’ll plan to make chicken fajitas or shrimp fried rice later in the week to use the rest. This cuts down on our shopping bill and any items going to waste (I just hate throwing away uneaten food items!)

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Meal plan/grocery list

When it comes to planning our weekly meals and grocery list, I rely on a simple template like this one.

Mealplanlist

I print out a few dozen copies and keep them in a kitchen drawer. I start a new sheet every Sunday, and throughout the week, if we run out of an ingredient, we simply write it down on the grocery list. Later in the week (typically Saturday), I sit down to plan our meals for the following week and quickly add any remaining grocery items to the shopping list.

After grocery shopping, I stick the meal plan/grocery list back in our kitchen drawer, so that Nick (who usually gets home from work before me) can reference the meal plan and help get dinner started.

Thanks_Nickstuff

Love your leftovers

While we love to cook, it’s not practical for us to prepare intricate meals every night of the week, so we always prepare enough of a dish so that we can eat it again a second night. We especially like to do this on Sunday; it’s so nice to come home Monday evening and simply reheat our leftovers. This strategy isn’t for anyone not fond of leftovers, but it really saves time and makes our weeknights much easier.

CleanplateCooking Aboard

Nick and I spend nearly every weekend on the boat, and while I wanted meal planning for those weekends to be as stress-free as possible, I wasn’t willing to sustain on sandwiches.¬†So instead, we’ve opted for a subscription meal service; have you heard of Blue Apron?¬†It’s a weekly¬†meal delivery service that provides you with all the fresh ingredients that you need to make three (really delicious!) meals.

**Below are pictures of actual Blue Apron dishes we’ve prepared on the boat!

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Every Thursday, a box of¬†refrigerated¬†ingredients¬†arrives¬†at our¬†doorstep, and it’s so easy for us to plop the whole thing in a cooler and carry it to the boat for the weekend (you choose the delivery day, and they provide every ingredient you need for the three meals – except salt, pepper and olive oil).

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Nick and I subscribe to the 2-person plan, which costs $59 per week. While I originally hesitated about the price, the cost for three meals is cheaper than going out to eat, and we often have leftovers (so we are getting even more meals for the money). And honestly, the convenience is worth every penny!

The company¬†allows you to skip as many weeks as you want and you can cancel anytime, which I’m likely to do once boating season ends. We’ve enjoyed the¬†service¬†so much though, I can’t imagine we won’t resume deliveries next spring.

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Even if you aren’t in the market for a meal subscription service, Blue Apron posts all of the¬†recipes to their weekly meals, and it’s another helpful source of inspiration for meal¬†planning,

I hope this was helpful. Have any tips or tricks of your own?¬†I’d love to hear what works best for your family!

Where we love is home…

…Home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.” – Poet¬†Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

Nick and I have lived in six houses in our 14 years together. At the end of 2015, we will have lived in our house¬†for five years – that’s the longest amount of time we’ve lived in one place since moving out of our childhood homes! That anniversary, along with a comment recently made by my colleague, made me realize that I’m not very good at settling my mind into one place.

My colleague and her husband bought their home in D.C. a few years back and despite its imperfections, they love it so much they can’t imagine ever wanting to move – it’s what I call their forever home. She and I were recently chatting about house projects, when she commented to me that I have such a temporary outlook on our living situation and asked if that ever bothered me.

It really got me thinking. There are definitely things about our home that both Nick and I don’t love, and because of that I’ve never imagined that we’d live there for a long time. To me, our home has simply been our current home. But that short-term way of thinking impacts how I make decisions about projects, and even how Nick and I live in our house. For example, when we¬†replaced the light fixture in our bedroom last year, I asked Nick to¬†box the old light fixture and store it in our attic, because I loved the new light so much and “might want to take it with us when we move.” I realize I have a tendency to say things like that all the time – even my colleague noticed!

Maybe it’s because of my work in real estate, or that I spent my entire childhood¬†in one family home, but I’ve gotten stuck on the idea of someday finding our dream or forever home, leaving me mentally unable to unpack. So I decided recently that I needed to change my way of thinking about our house.

The places where Nick and I will live in the years ahead will also be part of our life’s journey together. So I’m going to stop focusing on the future and the fact that I won’t live at this address forever. From now on I’m choosing to¬†remember that home is a feeling too, and I’m blessed to share this house with someone I love.

So what is home to you?

It’s Electric

Nick and I spent most of our free time last summer and fall focused on planning our trip to Europe and the new boat purchase, and during that time we didn’t tackle a single house project. While I get real enjoyment out of working on our home, after four years of nearly constant do-it-yourself projects, it felt good to just live in our house and focus on something else for awhile. Although, it did feel a little bit strange for me during the holidays when Nick’s and my family asked us about our current house projects, and we didn’t have anything to share! ūüôā

This winter, with a renewed interest in tackling house projects, Nick and I jumped back into DIYing and have been checking some to-do list items off our project list. We also have a couple of larger house projects in the works, which I’m excited to share in a couple of weeks.

First up, in most of the original portions of our 1920s house, we have old cloth covered electrical wiring,¬†the predecessor to modern plastic-coated wiring. Nick is pretty savvy when it comes to electrical work and has no problem with rewiring outlets or installing new light fixtures, but connecting the old wiring (which isn’t grounded) to any new modern connection could cause fires if it isn’t done correctly.

Clothwire

For awhile now, we’ve have a couple of¬†electrical¬†projects we wanted to get done, and a few weeks ago we¬†finally called an electrician to help make it happen. As a¬†side note, being an electrician¬†seems like a great gig: the electrician mostly helped Nick identify the proper wires for the connections, and then he left with a great big check, leaving Nick to do all of the actual work. To be fair, having peace of mind and knowing it has been¬†done correctly¬†is priceless ūüôā

As for our first project, I dislike¬†coming home at night to a dark house, especially in winter, and blindly fumbling for my keys and the door lock. In all of our previous houses, Nick has installed a timer to control the outdoor lights, so they turn on before we get home and off after midnight. We’ve talked about doing this for years, and I’m so glad it’s finally been installed.

Timerlight
Second, our house has an old-school wired buzzer; the extremely loud noise created by it is¬†heart-attack¬†inducing (I’ve actually shouted out in surprise when someone has rang the bell unexpectedly). Thankfully for my heart, the doorbell only works a few weeks out of the year, but that’s not so great for visitors to our house. With some insights into how¬†the buzzer operates and is¬†wired, Nick was able to get it consistently working again.
Doorbell

We also replaced an¬†old spring wound bathroom fan timer with a more modern digital timer (mostly because I cracked the plastic turn switch into two¬†pieces…and apparently there is no money to be made in selling replacement switches over brand new units).¬†

Here’s the old one in my bathroom:

Timer1

And the new one in Nick’s bathroom:

Timer2

The electrician also looked at one of the electrical boxes in our kitchen since it’s bothered us for awhile that the switch plate in the middle was blank on one side. Nick removed the plate cover and found that the area behind the blank¬†plate was wired for an outlet but never finished.¬†Since we already have six¬†electrical outlets on that wall,¬†adding two more seemed excessive, so we had the electrician install a wall USB outlet, which will be really helpful for charging our iPad, which I use to view¬†recipes¬†when I’m cooking and always seems to need charging.¬†

Outletbefore
OutletUSB

Finally, with all that electrical work happening, Nick and I were inspired to replace the builder grade flush-mount light (or boob light as DIYers commonly call them) in our living room, which was installed in nearly all of the rooms in our house (remember when we replaced that same light in our bedroom?).

OldboobWe bought this inexpensive crystal glass fixture from Home Depot.
Lightafter
I love the pattern that the light makes on our ceiling when it’s glowing at night.¬†
Lightdark
So there¬†you have it, things are looking much brighter around here! (See what I did there ūüėČ )