Friday, December 27, 2013

DIY Christmas 2013. Part 4.

The past two posts I've been explaining what I've done for my DIY gifts this Christmas. I wanted to spend time on creating gifts this year instead of spending money on something meaningless.

My Brother and his new Wife:
My brother got married in November. I was designing his wedding invitations with his soon to be wife and she would pin things on Pinterest for my inspiration. She really liked these emblem looking things. So I designed one for them. It was the hero image on their website

So for Christmas I decided to take this emblem and create a stamp for them. I had an internship at a design agency about 2 years ago. They have a laser printer. So I contacted my boss there to see if I could use his machine to make a stamp for my brother and sister-in-law's Christmas present. Once the rubber was printed, I superglued the stamp to a wood back and wrapped it for them with a black stamp pad. Ashley's face on Christmas morning was so surprised. It was a pretty simple gift but a gift that meant a lot.

I find it extremely hard to get grandparents anything. Especially the grandmother on my dad's side. She really just loves her grandchildren and would like to see them more. Last year I gave my grandma a picture frame with pictures of me and her throughout the years. She started crying in the middle of the Christmas party. It was hard for me not to tear up either. 

This year my siblings and I got a photo album and each wrote a short letter to our grandmother sharing our favorite memory of her and telling her how much we love her. Unfortunately, we weren't able to snap of pictures of the book before we gave it to her. 

The book started out with a letter from out youngest sister. Then next page was the most recent picture of that sister. Then next pages were letters from the rest of us, youngest to oldest. My grandmother started reading them out loud. Once she got to my 17 year old sister's letter, her voice got really high and shaky. She started to cry. She couldn't read the rest of the letters out loud so she read them silently. We watched as she smiled and we could see her taking those walks down memory lane with us. When she read the last letter, she closed the book and looked at all of us with tears in her eyes. She pulled the book close to her chest as said "This is going in my casket." 

Classic Grandma. Always the comic relief.

DIY Christmas 2013. Part 3.

The past two posts I've been explaining what I've done for my DIY gifts this Christmas. I wanted to spend time on creating gifts this year instead of spending money on something meaningless.

So I have 3 teenage sisters. Three. I can remember my teenage years like they were yesterday but for some reason, it was really hard to find something to make for these sisters. Honestly, all they want is clothing. I thought about giving them cash and then taking them shopping and to lunch one day. Instead of making them something, I would just spend time with them. Once I got home I realized that these girls were social butterflies and while I had made room on my schedule to spend time with them I started to get the feeling that they wouldn't do the same. I didn't want to just give them cash. I wanted to do something meaningful. So I hoped onto Pinterest and typed in "DIY Teen Gifts." I combined a few different ideas and got some new ideas based on other projects people had posted to Pinterest.

For Sarah: Duck Tape Tablet Case
My 12 year old sister Sarah has a tablet that has no case so consequently it has cracks all over in the screen. And for some reason kids this age are completely obsessed with Duck Tape. This girl has a whole stash of Duck Tape. I don't get it but she likes that kind of stuff. So I took upon myself the task of creating a case out of Duck Tape. I didn't have a pattern or a tutorial. I just bought some Duck Tape, sat down at the table with Sarah's tablet and started experimenting with ways to make the case. I cut 2 equal sized pieces out of a cereal box. I covered those in duck tape. I connected the pieces with Duck Tape that would serve as the spine. I then put pieces of tape on each corner to hold the tablet in place. To be honest, it turned out a lot better than I thought it would have.

For Kaitlin: Painted Hoodie
My almost 14 year old sister Kaitlin is your typical 14 year old. She hangs out with friends, she's pretty good in school, she is amazing at gymnastics, and SnapChats me like 4 times a day. I wasn't sure what I could make her. I started paying attention to the kind of clothing she wears. She's a fan of the basics. You know, tees, tanks, jeans, leggings, hoodies... those kinds of things except her basics have really fun patterns on them. I'm not sure if this is cheating but I went a bought her a hoodie and created a design on it with fabric paint. This project is ridiculously straight forward.

For Kim: Sharpie Shoes
So my 17 year old sister Kim is a senior in high school and she likes to hang out with friend 24/7. And she talks a lot about long boarding. I saw something on Pinterest where someone took a Sharpie to a pear of white sneakers. Yeah, that sounded easy. So I bought a pair of white sneakers and hit the Sharpie aisle to find some awesome colors. I went home and started sketching ideas. Then I started on the shoes. Let me tell you, it took like an hour for each shoe. I thought it would have taken a lot longer. But it was worth it. These shoes are awesome and no one else will have them!!

DIY Christmas 2013 Part 2.

In the previous post I explained that I wanted to give DIY gifts this year for Christmas. I love giving gifts because I love the challenge of trying to find gifts that are meaningful.

This post talks about the present that I gave my mom. She works as a nurse on the over night shift. During the day she watches my 5 year old sister , works on sewing projects, and sells Tupperware. A few months ago she asked me to help create her business cards and a label to put on her catalogs. Since her first order of these I know she has ran out of stock so I decided to reorder her cards and labels.

In November I stayed at my parents' house for my brother's wedding. I noticed that my mom's Tupperware business was taking off and she had no storage for all her inventory. Her piano room, that is somewhat of a sanctuary for my mom, had suddenly been taken over by plastic casserole dishes and Tupperware branded boxes. If my mom needed anything for Christmas it was some place for her to conduct business.

My brother and I put our heads and money together to create a craft/hobby room for my mother. She loves to sew and is always working on new projects. This could also serve as a place to store her Tupperware inventory as well as her catalogs, invoices, business cards, and other business things. In our parent's basement there is an slightly unfinished, cluttered storage room. We knew that this would probably be the best place for us to create a place that is only designated for our mom and her hobbies. Here is what we started with:

My brother and I recruited some of our other siblings, including our extremely pregnant sister (pictured above) to help clean out and organize the room. We got rid of a few broken pieces of furniture, empty cardboard boxes, and put boxes that were storing items into another, slightly more organized storage room in the house. We then organized all the sewing scraps, sewing patterns, and Tupperware.

After the organization was complete we went shopping. We purchased a comfy chair, a colorful rug, Rubbermade storage drawer, industrial shelves, a small ironing board, a clothing rod, and a small table for our 5 year old sister to play at while my mom is working on projects.

It was hard trying to keep this project a secret from our mom. She knew something was going on in the basement but we told her that she couldn't go in that room because we were hiding her Christmas present in there. Knowing my mom, she totally peaked.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

DIY Christmas 2013. Part 1.

This year I decided to do a DIY Christmas, which means I've been extremely busy turning my apartment into Santa's workshop. Now, there are many reasons to do a DIY Christmas. One of the reasons being that it's relatively inexpensive. While I'm sure some people can make that happen, I've realized that this year's line up of homemade gifts has actually cost the same, if not more than gifts I have purchased in previous years. But I'm not doing a DIY Christmas to save some money. I'm doing a DIY Christmas because making something means more than buying a meaningless gift.

Here's how I look at it. In previous years, I hadn't really made a lot of money. I was in college or trying to land my first full time job. Cash was something I had very little of. So when I would save my money to buy people in my life presents, that was actually a sacrifice. Now, I'm not saying I'm made of money, but this is the first year I've had a full time salary job. My financial situation has made it easier for me to spend money. Therefore, buying gifs for loved ones isn't much of a sacrifice. Although my paychecks have gotten larger, the amount of free time I have has gotten smaller. Making gifts is time consuming and requires me to sacrifice my free time. I think that the ultimate way to show someone you care about them is to give them something you don't have a lot of.

I wanted to start blogging about all my projects weeks ago but seeing that these projects are Christmas gifts, I had to wait until the recipients unwrapped them before I could share. This week I was able to give the children of families I babysit their gifts, so,  here is part one of DIY Christmas 2013!

Fort in a Bag:

This year my roommate's cousin and her 3 kids moved to Chicago. They invite us over every Sunday for dinner. I babysit their kids every once and while. They've become almost like my Chicago family. So last week, we invited their family over for a Christmas party. We made Graham Cracker houses, drank eggnog and sparkling cider. Someone turned on the record player and we danced to ABBA for about an hour. They have three kids. Deputy (7), Lincoln (5), and Odin (3). I wanted to make them something that they could do as a family. Something that they could all share. These kids are little geniuses so I wanted to give them something that could spark their creativity.

So, I purchased a few full size flat sheets, clothes pins, suction-cup hooks, and glow sticks. I threw them all in a bag and sewed a label on it saying "Fort in a Bag." In order to make the sheets the ultimate fort building sheets, I sewed ribbons along the edges so the kids could tie the sheets together or tie them to furniture or hooks in their home. I also took a couple colored sharpies and drew patterns on the clothes pins in order to make the boring wood a bit more fun.

Lincoln and Odin making their first fort!


So I met Sarah and Natalie 5 years ago when I taught them swim lessons. I started babysitting for them and their family soon became my family. I've seen these girls change from toddlers to preteens. But one thing they've always loved doing, is baking. When ever I come over they have some baking project that they want to do with me. So this year I decided to give them their own baking kit. I made them each aprons and gave them their own kid sized spatula and wisk and a cake pop kit.

I basically made the pattern myself. I took some butcher paper and cut out the shape I needed. 

Sewed a pocket on the front and the ties around the neck and the waist.

Here are the girls modeling for me!

Well, those are the first 2 projects! Stay tuned for more...

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Sustainably Convenient

It's no secret to those who know me that I want to live in Europe. I've been trying to find ways to move there. I've been feeling frustrated with the amount of laws, taxes, and other rules that make moving there really hard. It's still one of my goals but I've decided to be a bit more patient and wait until I get a few years working in the industry.

In the mean time I have been thinking about why I want to move their so bad and not just stay in the states. I made a mental list of all the things Europe is better at than the US.

  • Tougher rules on chemicals in food
  • People rely more on bikes, public transit, and walking instead of cars
  • There is a greater appreciation for history, architecture, and art
  • Smaller living spaces = fewer material possessions
  • Easy access to travel
  • Exposure to so many different languages and cultures
After a little bit of self reflection, I realized that all of these things can happen in the United States. It's still a little frustrating because these things aren't recognized as the norm. Our country doesn't have a wide population living this way because we have established habits that are convenient. We all acknowledge that driving is bad for our environment. We all know that our foods have incredibly high amounts of hormones. But this is the way we've been living for so long.

Right after World War II, Americans started getting accustom to this easy, care free life style. For the first time families had washing machines, dryers, dish washers, cars and televisions. Drive-Ins started the fast food craze that lead to quick meals, disposable food containers, and less than nutritious food options.

When our country started recognizing problems like obesity, ocean garbage patches and global warming, experts came out and told us that we needed to exercise, recycle and stop driving our cars. Instead of stopping our bad habits, we just pat each other on the back when we do something good. There have been talks of punishing people for driving, smoking, not recycling. This is called the annoyance tax. I think this is a phenomenal idea. If you do something that is bothersome and has a negative effect on those around you, you should have to pay for it.

But I think the reason people aren't changing their habits is because this country has made it very easy to make up excuses. Let's reference my list of why I love Europe and how Americans are making up excuses as to why we can't do these things.

  • Tougher rules on chemicals in food
    • Chemicals make foods cheaper to produce therefore more affordable
  • People rely more on bikes, public transit, and walking instead of cars
    • Unless you live in a metro city, there is very little public transit. Many small American cities are so spread out that it would take an unbarable amount of time to trek on foot or bike. Cars are also good for groceries, chauffering kids, etc.
  • There is a greater appreciation for history, architecture, and art
    • America is very young. A majority of buildings in Europe are older than our country. However, Americans are very proud about their film and music industry. Our history is so short compared to other histories of the world.
  • Smaller living spaces = fewer material possessions
    • But we have all this space! We also live in a culture that always wants more.
  • Easy access to travel
    • America is huge. A majority of our states are larger than most countries in Europe. Airfare is extremely expensive compared to Europe. I bought a one-way flight from Berlin to Paris for $40. From Chicago to NYC it would be about $100. And they are about the same distance. Our national train system is inefficient and more expensive than flying.
  • Exposure to so many different languages and cultures
    • While we may be the melting pot, we shun those who are different. We aren't very accepting of other cultures. People believe that if you come to America you should become American. 

Last year I decided that I don't have to live the habits of everyone else. I can try to live sustainably in Chicago. I've always thought about being more conscious about the way I live but have always used the above excuses. I started changing a few things here and there. At first, I thought it would be really hard but I knew that it would eventually become a habit. But what I found was that not only did these new ideas become habits, these ideas made it easier to live. Here are a few examples:

Commute by bike
At first I thought the cold/hot weather made my commutes unbearable. I couldn't get groceries on my way home from work. But then I started fixing these problems. I wore more appropriate clothing for the weather. I got a basket on my bike. Then biking became way more convenient than taking the bus. I cut my commute from 30 minutes to 7 minutes!!! I no longer had to wait forever for a crowded bus. I wasn't getting annoyed by the other sardines that had to squish onto the subway. I started loosing weight. I was getting into better shape. I became a part of the bikers club at work and got to make new friends. I zoom past all the traffic during rush hour. I get to be outside riding a bike. It's seriously one of the most therapeutic experiences.

Reusable Grocery Bags
It took me a while to hop onto this trend. It's just so much more convenient to use the plastic bags at the store instead of hauling fabric bags everywhere. But then I started to realized that plastic bags were actually the worst! Remember, I don't have a car. I have to walk or use public transit. So if I bought a few things at the store, I'd have to shove them into as few bags as possible and carry the heavy bags home. The bags tear into your poor fingers or the bags can even rip. Fabric bags don't do any of this. They aren't as rough on the hands and they can even sit on your shoulder. In addition, they can fit twice as much stuff as a plastic bag can.

Eating Local 
I am fortunate enough to live in an amazing city that have so many local restaurants. I use to be that person who would hit up McDonalds or other cheap fast food places. Yes, local restaurants are a bit more expensive but they are so much better for you and the local economy. They bring character to your neighborhood and they are usually ran by a family that relies on that business for income. They typically use better, healthier ingredients than Chili's or TGIF. You also get better customer service because these businesses rely on repeat customers. They are also real people who just want to serve great food to real people.

Less is More
In my last post you can read about the weekend I went crazy and purged my house of everything I don't use anymore. Not only did I get rid of things I don't need but I made a commitment to not buy things I don't need. It's also made me think about the gifts I give to people. Should I really get them that humorous gag gift that costs like $40? Or would it be more beneficial to take my friend out to dinner. It's that time of year again where we start making Christmas wish lists. I was talking with a friend at work and we were discussing how Christmas wish lists are terrible in your twenties. If you want something, you go get it. If it's something you can't afford or don't want to spend that much money on, we don't feel right asking our parents or loved ones for it. So instead every year we get gifts that end up cluttering our house like the newest scent collection from Bath and Body Works, a new tie and cuff links that we will never wear, some gadget that was from the "as seen on TV" aisle.

It's tradition in my house to draw names of family members and get them a gift. Last year, my mom decided that we all had enough presents and that we should just stop this tradition. Instead we put the money into buying presents for a family who needed it. Not only did we make some young kids very happy but we also made ourselves feel the Christmas spirit.

These are just a few examples of how I'm trying to live more sustainably. Living sustainably has always been seen as an inconvenience but I'm learning that changing our habits can not only make life more convenient but it can preserve our world and it's resources.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Downsizing and finding happiness.

The word downsizing has a negative connotation to it. Downsize is defined as "to reduce in number or size." Those of you who know me, know that I am pretty spontaneous. I do things like pack a suitcase and move to Chicago. I take solo trips to Europe. I do these things because I like change. I really enjoy it. However, right now my life feels relatively stale. I say stale because I am happy with my life. There are very few things I would change if I had the power to. However, I haven't had a big change in a  while. During school you get a fresh start every 15 weeks! My first year after school I was jumping around internships and freelance gigs. I'm currently on month 8 of my first full time job, which I love, but I haven't been in a routine environment this long ever. I'm also on year 2 of my lease for my apartment, which I love, but that's the longest I've ever lived anywhere (outside of my childhood home.) 

When I returned home from a vacation/conference in San Francisco this year, I felt I needed a change. I wanted to do something responsible and something I wouldn't regret. A few years ago I got my heart broken and I chopped off 11 inches of hair and donated it. I thought that was the change I needed. No. That's was stupid. Never do that. Ok, so we all do stupid things, which is fine, as long as we learn from them. But don't cut your hair off. It's stupid.

ANYWAY, when I got home I felt like my house was so cluttered. It's not but I felt like it was. There were so many books I didn't read. So many boxes that were full of things I never used. I live in a fairly small apartment so these few things might not be lot but when they're shoved into my apartment it feels claustrophobic.

So I decided that I was going to purge my house of all the things that didn't need to be there. Here's a look at some before shots:

This is my extremely full closet. Once upon a time, I worked retail and obtained a shopping addiction. Thankfully, since I've stopped working in retail (and gained a few pounds) I have lost the desire to shop for clothing. But clearly, I still have more than I need. My closet is literally bursting at the seams.
This is the closet purge. I thought about taking my clothes and shoes to sell at a consignment store but when I've done it previous times, they don't take everything and all the rejects get thrown back into my closet. This time around I dropped everything off at the Salvation Army.
This is what my closet looks like now. It's organized and a lot less crowded.

 In high school I started collecting DVDs. I love movies! I was so into movies that I even loved the cases. Since Netflix became my most used App on my iPad, I never use my dvds anymore. This whole shelf was full of dvds. Look in the corner. That desk is a mess too! In addition to the desk, I have 4 boxes of "design suplies."

Instead of getting rid of all my dvds, I bought a dvd book that could hold all of my dvds and then I recycled the covers. Well, all of them except The Social Network because that case is just awesome.

We still had some books, photo albums, and board games after all the dvds were put into a book. So I sold our huge bookshelf for $100 (bought it for $75 so I made a profit) and turned around a bought a smaller book shelf. I put it on the other side of the living room because it's a smaller wall. The large wall is getting a new larger sofa delivered next week.

Remember all that "design stuff" I had near my desk? Well, I found another box of it in my closet. Here's a list crazy stuff I found in those boxes"

  • Paper scraps from print jobs
  • Left over bulk paper
  • Bad, and embarrassing, design projects
  • Envelopes
  • Shipping labels
  • USPS shipping boxes
  • My graduation announcements
  • Old and irrelevant invoices and receipts
  • completely used sketch books
  • Old conference names badges
  • Running badges (yeah not design related!)
  • A bottle of spilt india ink
  • 2 Ghiradelli Chocolate Bars
  • 3 different Moo boxes of my business card (not the same designs)
  • 1 Moo box of my roommate's business cards

Paper samples
Promotional notebooks

Some personal brand promotion. The smallest quantity of custom chap stick you could buy was 100. I still have about 50. I wander how many of them are rolling around the bottom drawers of Leo Burnett recruiters.
Lightly used art supplies from that one class I had to take in college.

Yeah. I have no idea where these came from and why I have them. I don't even think I know how to use these.
So I didn't tell you but, when I was cleaning out my closet I also found a rolling storage bin full of clothes under my bed. I had forgotten about those clothes completely so I donated all of them. With the empty storage bin, I curated all my "design stuff" and neatly threw it in the storage bin and rolled it under my bed. Out of sight. Out of mind. Until I need a paper sample.

So... now I can breathe. I don't feel so bogged down. I think it's important to downsize your belongings. Sometimes I think we give material objects more value than they are worth. We create special connections with objects that have little to do with our happiness.

At the beginning of this post, I talked about how happy I am. And I am. I am really happy. I am the happiest and most comfortable I think I have ever been in my life. I remember back to my college days when I was dirt poor. I thought that once I graduated I would be able to live in a huge apartment with all these really cool belongings and things that I couldn't afford while living in college. Now that I can afford things, I don't want them. I personally believe things are more valuable once they are earned. Maybe that's why material objects don't do it for me anymore. They are easily obtainable for me, giving them little value.

The things that are most valuable to me now are spending time with my family, traveling, and being around people who are interesting to talk to and elevate me to be a better person.

I think these things are valuable to me because they have become harder for me to obtain. All my family lives in Utah. I see them about twice a year. Traveling is one of the most expensive things to do but every time it is more than worth it. Within the past year I have seen many of my close friends move away. Whether it be to the suburbs, the other side of the country, or the other side of the world. It's been hard trying to find new people who share the same values and ambitions as I do. Sometimes it's really hard to find people who can be as good of a friend to you as you are to them. But I think that is a part of growing up. Being able to decipher the good and important people from the poisonous and toxic people.

So whatever you're looking for, whether it be happiness or change, remember what really makes you happy and decide if it can provide temporary happiness or long lasting happiness.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Macaroons: Revisited

One thing you have to know about me is that I never give up. Once I put my mind to something, I don't stop until I reach my goal. Two blogposts ago I attempted to make macaroons. I felt utterly defeated. I then took on the challenge of defeating the temperamental recipe. For a little over the past month, I have used the same Martha Stewart Recipe to make 5 new batches and slowly, slowly I've made my macaroons!!!

Attempt 1: Buttercream Filling
You all saw this mishap already.

Attempt 2: Buttercream Filling
The same thing happened this time except they were blue.

Attempt 3: Nutella Filling
Then I made these! They looked super professional and totally awesome. Then I bit into them and they were hollow! A hallow shell! It was like eating air. What a tease. At this point I bought a real sifter and beat the eggs for about 10 minutes in stead of the 8 minutes I had previously tried.

Attempt 4: Chocolate Filling
These ones were also hallow and I think I made them too small. And I think they spent too much time in the oven. However, my roommate's family was over and managed to eat a majority of the cookies before I could even put in the filling. At this point, I bought a thicker cookie sheet. I think that has helped a little bit.

Attempt 5: Apricot Filling
Like the recipe suggests, after 5 minutes of baking, I rotated the pan. When I did that I was so excited because these babies were looking absolutely perfect. When they were finished I opened the oven and they had totally bottomed out! They were also hollow. I think the problem here was that I didn't let the dough sit for 15 minutes after I had piped the dough onto the baking sheet.

Attempt 6: Raspberry Filing!
I made these babies yesterday! I took them out of the oven and bit into a warm cookie. They were prefect!!! Not hollow at all! This time I decided to not add any food coloring, thinking that the food coloring might be hurting the recipe. I also tried a new brand of almond milch. I decided to try Trader Joe's Almnod Milch and I think it worked better. They also tasted a lot better. The other brand I use to use was Bob's Red Mill. Trader Joe's is also a lot cheaper than Bob's Red Mill so I think I will be sticking to my new almond milch.

I put a few in the freezer and tried them this morning. There were really good a little frozen too. I then set them out on the table. They had thawed a little and they tasted even better than straight out of the oven. I still think these ones need to be a little bigger but I'll totally be making these again and trying other fillings.