Building Our Nest

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One year. That’s how long it’s been since I’ve held the keys to my first ever home. A place, a space, a nook that belongs to me. No more leases, no more landlords, no more restrictions. A property that’s all mine.

Owning had been a dream of mine for years but something that always seemed just out of reach. No matter how much I planned and saved I couldn’t scrap enough together. So when my parents offered to have us move in to save money for a nest egg I eagerly said “yes.”

After six months of saving and house hunting I found a beautiful condo nestled on a quiet street just outside of Chicago proper. It had everything I could dream of: vintage charm, solid bones, ample parking, and was within walking distance of public transit, a playground, beach, shops, cafés and a library. And the best part? A view of the lake! I could envision August running up and down the shore, scurrying off to the beach or running around the park with newfound friends. It was my dream come true.

The unit was just big enough for our little family and just under my budget. The night of the viewing was the night I made an offer. I couldn’t risk it getting away from me. After a fervent prayer and a couple of calls – my offer was pitched and by the next day – accepted.

The building, which August refers to as “the castle,” is a historic landmark built in the roaring 20s. A large collection of units are strung together across three floors and two courtyards along the lakefront. Our block is bookended by a park, complete with playground, and a beach. The listing for my unit described it as “the perfect site for your vacation home.” Except ours would be a 365 day home. Perfect.

Once the keys were mine I jumped into action. I started to measure, plot and plan. First we sanded, caulked and painted. We decided on a neutral cool palette to offset the elaborate moulding and to highlight the tall ceilings. We refreshed the fireplace and upgraded hardware and light fixtures. We completely demolished and rebuilt the kitchen on our own – transforming a crowded, outdated space into a bright, cheery gathering place for cooking and eating. We collected furniture from a variety of places: some vintage, some rehabbed and some fresh from Ikea. Oh IKEA – I do love you.

One of the joys of owning our home is knowing we’ll be here for some time – which means we can customize furniture for our unique layout without fear of having to do it all over again in just a year or two. Knowing that we’re rooting down means busting out all my favorite DIY tricks.

I’ve repainted furniture, like a pair of heavy wooden chairs that I scored for $18 at Salvation Army and then smothered in matte mint paint. I jerry rigged two ball baskets by spray painting them gold, then flipping them over and attaching wooden tops to create bedside tables.

We’ve put up some of David’s smaller paintings and popped family photos into mismatched frames in a hallway. We threw some chalkboard paint onto August’s walls in the shape of mountains and glow in the dark stars onto the ceiling. We also created a painting nook on one side of his bedroom with a wall-mounted paper dispenser so he can create on a whim. I inverted jewelry boxes to display David’s fossil collection and drilled them straight into the wall. We’ve done so so much more as owners than we could ever do as renters. And the most beautiful part? It’s ours, it’s all ours, so we can do even more.

I’d describe the overall feel of our place as hygge meets modern vintage – with a dash of whimsy. Our gray palette is cheered up with bits of bold color. There are many wood pieces we’ve left raw to add a bit of coziness to an otherwise cool-toned space. Many of the accent pieces were foraged from thrift stores, hobby shops and a handful were purchased new from World Market and Target (I’m looking at you animal busts). We’ve filled empty nooks with velvety cushions and lush green plants. We added geometric accents like mirrors and candle holders as well as pops of color in unexpected places.

A splash of paint here, some new hardware there, and we’ve transformed our 1927-built home into our very own. And we’re not done yet! We have some new projects planned for the coming year (wallpapering, refinishing the windows, glazing the tub, adding barnyard doors) and can’t wait to roll up our sleeves to get them started. What an amazing blessing to have this beautiful space that we can call our own.

Happy anniversary to our nest!

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A Very Confetti Birthday

I have a 4 year old. Repeat. I have a 4 year old! There is a child in my house who is potty trained, can speak in full sentences, knows how to operate light machinery and can recite the planets to me in order. 4 years old!

Hitting this milestone was a cause for celebration. With August sharing his birthday with an epic holiday (cough Valentine’s Day cough) we knew we’d have to plan early. So way back in December I asked August, “What kind of birthday would you like?” I was expecting an answer along the lines of dinosaurs, legos, robots, animals or space. But not August. He’s always thinking a bit outside the box and of that I’m always proud. “Confetti” he replied. Really? I had to ask him a second time to make sure I understood. “Confetti?” He nodded yes. Alright then! Confetti it would be!

As soon as he confirmed his vision I started collecting goodies for the party. There were tons of New Year’s Eve decorations on store shelves and lots of sparkly colorful knick knacks that would lend themselves to our little celebration. I already have an arsenal of party decor that I reuse from event to event – so that was on the docket too. My kitchen cabinets are loaded with colorful cake stands, bright plates, customizable message banners, fun paper straws and colorful napkins. Perfect! I also knew I had a sizable stack of construction paper that I could tap for a homemade element. I ended up cutting out hundreds of confetti circles and sewing through them with my machine. Voila! Instant party decor.

When planning food for kid parties handhelds are always best. The goal is to keep things nice and simple so the kids can self serve, leaving the adults to have a chance to connect.  Trader Joe’s is always my go-to for party food. The prices are great, the products are delicious AND there are no creepy chemicals lurking about. That’s right! No synthetic additives, gmos or high fructose nonsense.Even the color additives are natural. I’ll take beet and carrot derived hues over red 40 any day! The final party spread included organic low-sugar juice for the kids, coffee, sparkling water and hard cider for the adults, fresh jumbo pretzels, cheese sticks and wheels, cheddar popcorn, peanut butter banana shish kabobs (thanks Pinterest!), grapes, a vegan veggie platter, and of course, cake. The best part? The cake, also from Trader Joes, was covered in confetti sprinkles. Love!

So there you have it. Our take on a very confetti birthday. Happy birthday little August!

Biodegradable Leaf Wreath

I don’t know about you, but come autumn I’m always itching for some new home decor. It’s not like Christmas, where I want to collect objects for nostalgia’s sake. I want something new each fall and I’m also always eager to concoct a new visage in my nest. But then the flower child within convicts me. How can I justify buying or making something new to add to the pile of stuff already cluttering my apartment, my life, and the planet?

What to do, what to do? Ah-ha! The solution! A biodegradable craft!

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Fall foliage. It’s the thing that makes it a thing, is it not? Without the changing leaves, the sweet smell of decay filling the air, we might as well be approaching spring. Seeing the changing canopies of the city’s trees is what makes me feel electric, feel renewed, feel distracted from the foreboding threat of winter. So why not capture that feeling by collecting the very thing that gives the season its mark: leaves.

For this project all you’ll need is some non-toxic glue, a pair of scissors, recycled cardboard, and some freshly pressed leaves. A pair of hyper helper hands, should you have a toddler waddling about, is good too!

First things first, you’ll need to cut a semi-accurate circle out of your cardboard. This is the part best saved for those of us old enough to wield a sharp object. Once the main circle has been cut out, shave out an inner circle so you’re left with a big “o.” That’s your wreath. Now, dab on glue around the cardboard, placing your first layer of leaves around the perimeter. Next, you’ll repeat this step, but pop the glue on the leaves. I find that three layers works best.

If you’re a strategic sort you can place the bigger leaves at the base and alternate colors so you have a more aesthetically appealing display. Once complete, allow your wreath at least 24 hours to dry before hanging it up. We took our little creation and hung it on August’s bedroom door using some doubled up washi tape. That lasted all of a single afternoon as he insisted that the door remain as-is. Oh toddlers. So we’re now enjoying it as part of our table centerpiece.

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There you have it! A simple, festively fall, biodegradable wreath that’s easy enough that even a kid, or an overly exuberant pumpkin-spice-latted-up adult, can do it.

Enjoy!

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Color Blocked Vintage Bookcase

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of pre-owned goods. Not only does buying second hand mean that I’m diverting an item from the waste stream, and therefore preventing another from being made, it also means I’m inheriting something with a history. An object with a soul, if you will.

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When we moved into our current place I found that something major was lacking from the living room: a bookcase. My previous apartment had built-ins, and the place before that did too. That’s why I ventured to one of my favorite vintage furniture shops, Good Deal Garage, in Chicago’s Andersonville neighborhood. Jam packed with loads of pre-loved furniture and decor, this is my go-to place whenever I need something with character for my little nest. So off I went to GDG and I found it. A very simple, but sturdy, wooden bookcase toward the back of the shop. It was filled with all manner of tchotchke but I could visualize it all cleaned up. Sold!

Fast forward half a year later. This wooden addition to my living room was doing its job, but feeling a bit too heavy for my current mood. An easy solution? Whitewash it! And I don’t mean the sociological use of the term, I mean good ‘ole grab a paint brush and get moving!

I was torn on whether or not to douse the whole piece in paint, if I should just clean up the interior, or if color blocking was the way to go. Because I have a variety of white and dark toned goodies to display, I went with the latter. So with a paintbrush in one hand, and my handy dandy masking tape in the other, I spent a toddler nap period painting the shelving unit. That equals 3 hours for two coats of paint, some time spent snacking and doing laundry, and then sitting and reading. So a very loose 3 hours indeed.

And the result? Awesome says I! I love how the white brought some life to the piece while allowing me to still showcase the rich woodsy material in one small strip. It ended up making my entire living room feel more airy and put together.

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Is there a furniture piece in your home that you think could do with a bit of freshening up? Or is there a recent project you finished to add some nuance to your space? If so, share below!

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The Real Deal Baby List

19 months! How can it be that it’s been so long since the birth of Augustine?! The last year and a half have flown by, and with that countless of onesies, shoes, and rattles. Edging ever closer to two, I’m now thinking back at all of the good things, and useless things, I acquired in preparation for my little bundle.

When August was first  born we were living in a spacious one bedroom, complete with three rescue pets. Fast forward 19 months later. Now the five of us (August, Peanut, Butter, Tomato, and I) live in a vintage 2 bedroom with way more leg room, and yet, we’ve actually down-sized since adding square footage. I’ve found that the adage “less is more” truly is the way to go. Less stuff means less to wash, clean, trip over, and, the most important thing, it means less clutter. So with that context in mind, here are my favorite “I can’t live without you” items that I’d recommend to any urban parent, as well as a few things I’d urge you to leave off your list.

Must-Haves

Sniglar Crib: When looking at cribs I was overwhelmed by the clunkiness of even the most modern of designs. Many people advised against getting a crib – saying to use a pack and play or  to co-sleep. But with my brood of critters, and need to keep the design of my space flowing, I decided that a crib it would be. I was hoping to find something sleek, simple, affordable, and small enough to fit into my bedroom alongside my queen size bed and vintage dresser. And then I found it. August’s Singlar crib, from the mother of all square-foot-savvy design houses: Ikea! Not only was it sleek and lovely to gaze upon, the space conscious design allowed me to squeeze it into my bedroom without any problems. It also has that gorgeous sanded beech wood that I knew I could pop some color on in a snap. I can’t praise the design (and value!) of this piece enough. Plus – since it’s Swedish – you don’t have to worry about the materials being comprised of toxic chemicals like flame retardants. Yuck! And once he’s old enough for a bed – this beauty will convert. Can you see just how in love I am with this thing? Go get one or put it on your registry!

A Rocking Chair: This is something I didn’t have, didn’t think I’d need, and now that I do, I wish I had scored it sooner. Having a designated nursing and “let’s get ready for sleep” spot has significantly helped with August’s routine. And the reason I recommend going retro with a rocking chair instead of a glider is that it will take up less space and with all the milk sprays of the early days of nursing, you don’t have to worry about the upholstery soaking up all those wayward liquids, so keep that in mind should you be considering a glider. Our rocking chair was scored second hand from my apartment’s previous inhabitants. I found a cushy pillow and seat cushion to strap on it and it works like a dream. I find that it puts me to sleep just as easily as August!

Vintage Dresser: My vintage dresser is one of my all-time favorite furniture pieces, both pre and post baby. Picked up from a Craigslist add, this classic piece has six sets of drawers, a nice wide surface, and a detachable mirror. Once pregnant I knew that I’d need a place to change the babe, but didn’t want to buy something new. So the dresser it was! Adding a foam changing pad to the top, and emptying the drawers of my stuff to make way for the baby’s, this furniture piece provided the perfect place for flipping diapers, clothes, or just having a coo fest in the mirror. I also love knowing that further down the line, once he’s potty trained, I can reclaim it for use in my own bedroom. So it’s an item that will far outlive the early infant years.

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Green Living: Eating Clean On a Budget

Eating clean – it’s the best and most clear cut way to describe what it means to limit your intake of pesticides. There seems to be an ongoing debate in mainstream media whether eating organic food actually makes a difference. A highly referenced 2012 Stanford study claims that there are no obvious health benefits to eating produce labelled organic. Can that really be so? Has history not taught us that ingesting insecticides, among other chemicals, causes increased risk of cancer, birth defects, and other health issues?

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Beautiful beets grown on a friend’s “beyond organic” farm in rural Pennsylvania.

If you’re anything like me you too are skeptical of recent headlines counterclaiming the benefits of eating organic. If you’re also like me, you know that choosing the big O also means paying significantly more for your fresh greens and fruits. So what’s a budget conscious health savvy vegetarian to do?!

Let me introduce you to the saving grace of shopping organic: The dirty dozen and clean fifteen. If you’re anything beyond a green living novice, these two lists are probably already part of your shopping arsenal. But if they’re not – be ready to take screenshots of the graphic below.

So what are these lists? Each year the EWG, aka Environmental Working Group, puts out a list of the 12 crops that have tested highest on the pesticide scale, as well as the 15 that are lowest. Continue reading

DIY: Eco-Friendly Handmade Gifts

DIY upcycled sweater stockings

Are your fingers feeling itchy to craft? Then get those digits to work!

To get your creative juices flowing, I’ve assembled my all-time most popular DIY tutorials for you to peruse through. Click on any of the photos below to read the full set of instructions on how to make these practical and design-savvy eco-friendly gifts for the holidays.

After all, nothing’s more festive and heartfelt than something that’s handmade with love!

dit printed eco gift wrap

diy orange spice face scrub face scrub

diy upcylced sweater leg warmers

homemade cheek and lip stain

embellished heart elbow patch sweater

diy sweater bracelets