Create / Enjoy

Monday, October 20, 2014

The DIY "weekend" sweatshirt makeover, and How to Wear DIY

Last winter I got creative with three plain grey sweatshirts, and did three different embellishments on them. Since then I've found one big problem with the sweatshirts I used. I always knew the fit wasn't great (they were pretty cheap and never super flattering), but the arms were just triangularly shaped and really tight at the wrists, so no room to scrunch them up and do anything interesting with them. And hard to layer.

But, I still liked the color and embellished-ness of them, and I altered this one with a simple fix!

Yep, I cut them off!

Rather than hem them, I cuffed them under 1/2" then 1/2" again and pressed them carefully, then tacked them down with some tiny handsewing stitches at the center outside and under seam of the sleeve.

Now it's more comfortable but also perfect for layering! Like I did over the weekend in this outfit I wore to a friend's 1-year-old's birthday.

Yes, it's after Labor Day, but it's still partly sunny and in the 60's, so I'll wear white jeans if I want to, thankyouverymuch. With flannel.
Jacket: J.Crew (similar). Shirt: Gap (similar/similar). Jeans: Lucky Brand. Flats: Target. (ALL via Goodwill)
Necklace: c/o Lucky Brand. Bag: Old Navy (similar). Sweatshirt: DIY, here! Then modified.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Overwhelmed: Inspired thoughts about work, love, and play in a busy life

I don't remember where I first heard about this book, but I put it on my library holds list as soon as I did. So of course when it was finally my turn to check it out, I wasn't as excited about it as I was originally, but it was an audiobook and I've been tired of the radio a lot lately, so I started listening (ironically, you'll see why) on my drives to work.

I immediately got excited about it again.

The book is Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time. If you're anything like me (woman in 2014 with a job, smartphone, family, hobbies, and no support staff!), you may be sympathetic to the title. While I'm much better than I used to be, I often feel like there just isn't enough time to do everything I want to do, and that I have to make "progress" on my to-do list before I can relax, have fun, and enjoy my life in the moment.

Throughout the book, which covers a lot of ground, multiple sections spoke to me, and I felt inspired by the research the author examined and motivated not to fall prey to the common dilemmas she presented. She covers a lot of topics that affect my everyday life - being surrounded by technology, feeling physical impacts of a busy life, feeling internal or external pressure to be the "ideal worker" at work, struggling with the division of labor in modern households, and (while it's not an issue for us yet, it may be in the future) dealing with the pressure and desire to be the "ideal mother" while working outside the home. It came out earlier this year, so it feels very current and relevant.

As I listened, I thought about my mother, who taught me to be productive and create things rather than only passively consume. I thought about my close friend, whose husband is resistant to help at all around the house even though they both work. I thought about another friend, who somehow juggles a full-time job, toddler with behavioral problems, small business on the side, and doing all the food prep and cooking for her family. I thought about my future self, and wondered if my husband and I will be able to create a supportive, low-stress household for ourselves and our family as we grow in number and responsibilities.

And I learned from the families and researchers the author speaks to for the book. I've seriously been thinking about this book a lot since/while reading it (it's come up naturally in conversation several times!), and I'd love to tell you some of the pieces that stuck out for me.

(You can hear the author interviewed on Fresh Air here or read about the book here.)

Suzannah's Cliff's Notes: Highlights

The "Time Confetti" Section

The book starts as as an examination of time. The author visits a time researcher who's found over many years of research that women today have an average of 30 hours of "leisure time" per week. This is apparently more time than they had in the 1960's even though more women work outside the home, but still less than men. The author keeps a time journal to track her time, and the time researcher highlights every task/time he considers "leisure." Unfortunately, he includes all kinds of tasks "leisure" that probably did not feel leisurely at the time - reading the paper to research a story for work; waiting in the car for the tow truck; doing a yoga DVD silently in the bedroom at 6:00 AM before the spouse wakes up. And what about all the times we're doing more than one thing at once? This measurement of "leisure" does not seem very helpful for the everyday woman.

A leisure scholar the author speaks to sees "leisure" more narrowly. He makes time every day for a walk with his wife, enjoying music, or attending an evening singing group. When the author tells him she feels too busy to make time for leisure tasks she enjoys, he says sympathetically, busyness is one of the seven deadly sins.

"In the Middle Ages, the sin of sloth had two forms. One was paralysis, the inability to do anything--what we would see as lazy. But the other was something called acedia--running about frantically. The sense that, 'There's no real place I'm going, but by God, I'm making great time getting there.'"

Isn't that interesting? I do know the feeling of running around frantically, being busy to no huge, definitive end.

The author finds that being in an almost-constant state of busyness is not unique to the upper-middle class, or to full-time workers. And, it's not something many people feel they can put an end to by choice. Some may not even want to. Another researcher she spoke to has saved Christmas letters dating back to the 1960's, examining them for common language. She noticed terms like "time-starved," "strapped for time," "hectic," "whirlwind," "constantly on the go," and of course, "busy" were used commonly and almost as a brag. Cards with "We've had an action-packed year!" or details of a trip where the mother boasted driving a hundred miles a day, or a sarcastic letter that joked about accepting a Nobel Prize, building start-ups into Fortune 500 companies, sailing around the world, etc.

The researcher realized people were actually competing about being busy, as if to show status. Like, if you're busy, you're important, leading a full and worthy life. (Of course, they don't mention the downsides of busyness, like the laundry piling up or the frequent take-out instead of healthier homecooked meals, but they still demonstrate status symbols rather than just yearly updates.) I thought that was a big revelation, too.

Oh, and this constant busyness? It's apparently measurably not good for us. Not only is sleep deprivation and constant movement throughout the day shuffling from one activity to the next unpleasant, it's also moved from a moderate, healthy level of stress to what scientists call "allostatic overload." Behavioral medicine researchers have found that high levels of stress weaken the immune system, of course making us more susceptible to inflammation, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, arthritis, osteoporosis, obesity, Alzheimer's disease, cancer, and more. Depression and anxiety, too, which women are twice as prone too as men (men's brains produce 52% more serotonin than women's). A psychiatrist the author spoke with at the Yale Stress Center has research that prolonged stress can actually lead to the shrinking of our grey matter, specifically in four distinct areas of the brain that control decision-making, attention, emotions, moods, appetites, impulsiveness, and sleep. Volunteers with the most stressful experiences had, on average, 20% less gray matter brain volume than did subjects who had less stressful lives. Crazy.

The "Work" and "Love" Sections

The next part of the book is about the pressures we feel to work better and longer, despite responsibilities we have at home. Of course a lot of these pressures and challenges come from having children at home; the author talks about gender discrimination and parent discrimination found in workplaces in many fields. She talks to several complainants of the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, some very scary stories about people not being offered promotions or raises, or being fired for unclear reasons after taking parental leave.

She also talks about the challenge of finding quality childcare for an affordable price. Some more scary stories there, of course hopefully the minority, and she does talk about some bright spots of couples that have found a balance or alternating work schedules. Some employers who provide childcare or loose hours, making it easier to have kids at home, etc. She does a good job of sharing both good and bad stories.

This section leads into "The Cult of Intensive Motherhood" a lot has changed since women started working more outside the home, and some things haven't changed as much - i.e. studies show we still spend far more time on household tasks than men, even if both have full-time jobs. She talks about the pressures we now have to throw extravagant birthday parties and get our kids into good schools and colleges, as well as the guilt we may feel for not being the "ideal mother" spending lots of time at home with the kids. She puts in some personal experience in this section, too. I find it all very interesting, but since I don't have kids yet, I'm not sure how I'll feel when I'm faced with some of these choices.

The Play Section

Remember how she found in the first part of the book that many people don't value or spend leisure time? This section of the book, about "play," was a happy opposite of that. She starts the section by visiting Denmark, because a prominent sociologist who does time studies found that Danish mothers have more leisure time than mothers in any other country she studied: 6 hours, 12 minutes per day--as much as an hour more per day than mothers in the US, Australia, and France. Denmark also has one of the highest maternal employment rates in the world (more than 80% of mothers with children under 15 in the workforce).

What the author finds in her visit to Denmark is huge cultural differences and values compared to what we have in the US, reflected in government policies (6 weeks paid vacation per year, plus 12 public holidays, childcare days and sick leave) and in the opinions of families she visits. The first family she stays with has two parents that both work until 4:24 PM every day (a 37 hour work week), and trade off child care so the mom can go to the gym after picking up the kids. They have a simple, small apartment with not too much clutter in it, and they leave all their work tasks at the office. Evidently Danish employers see people who put in long hours and constantly check email at home as inefficient, rather than as ideal worker warriors. One mother she spoke to was surprised that some Americans are afraid to leave their children at daycare during the day--the way she saw it, how will your child be challenged if he's home with you all day instead of in a child-friendly learning environment?

Obviously there are some negative impacts of the Danish cultural viewpoints, too... the author mentions "occupational sex segregation," because originally the generous family leave policies (52 paid weeks at 80-100% of one's usual salary) were for women only; this led to women tending to work the lower-paying, less-pressure government jobs while men climbed the ladders in more prestigious private jobs. There are some other weird social effects, too. But, looking at the Danish norm does present a really interesting and different perspective of goals of everyday life.

Back in the US, the author also speaks to some groups like one in NYC of moms who get together regularly for playtime. Trapeze class, wine tasting, painting their toenails a crazy color - these are things many of us would put off until we've accomplished more of the daily to-dos. But it's inspiring to hear about people leaving the work alone to enjoy time and feel refreshed for the responsibilities.

Highlights Over.

As you can see, I've had a lot of thoughts while reading this book! I can't summarize it all. And the paper copy (I checked it out too and am flipping through it as I write this) is due back at the library. I'm sure I'll think of more, but this post is long enough!

A few complaints

Also, most of the book was about defining the problems for many modern people, and delving into specific cultural and practical problems for women, mothers, wealthy people, working class people, and men. The "how to" part mentioned in the title was actually a small portion of the book, fit into the last section, with ideas for how to make one manageable change to improve the work, love, and play portions of your life.

(Actually, I could tell from the second chapter or so that it might be that kind of book, where you don't actually get to the solution until it's almost an afterthought.) But after I read the author's tips and lifestyle changes, I realized one positive side of the book's main focus on problems rather than solutions is, it allowed me to come up with some ideas of my own possible solutions based on which issues seemed most problematic to me--and which ones applied most to my life.

Also, whoever read the audiobook had such a formal, actress-ey voice, it kind of got to me. Especially whenever she said "neuron" or anything you can say hyper-correctly.

But really, thumbs up

But really, those are minor complaints compared to how much I got from this book. I really can't recommend Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time enough to anyone else like me, aiming to keep low stress and happiness in a busy life.

If you read it, let me know--we can try some of the action steps together!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Funky vintage school chair makeover

It's been a while since I did a simple funky furniture makeover project. I've done a lot with chairs in the past, actually. But it was to the point where I actually needed a chair now, so when I came across this one and turned it into a project, it wasn't just the creative bug making me do it. I now have a new sewing chair!

But it took me a while to get motivated to do this project, cause I thought it would be a lot of work. Which it was. Although, now that I've done the sand/stain/finish thing, I can tell you, I think it's easier than painting!!

You'll see why.

I picked it up (at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore, that place is so cool) because it had potential. And all the furniture was half off that day so it was $4. But I wasn't sure at first what to do with it--I needed a vision for it to help it realize its potential. I wasn't sure if I wanted to paint it a fun, bright color, or stick to my usual white or black, and what kind of fabric should I use for the seat??! A bold print? A simple, chic stripe? I couldn't picture any combinations totally meshing for me.

But then I saw this midcentury chair with the dark finish and serape blanket seat--
And remembered this funky DIY bench project.

Now, I do have a very cool Guatamalan-style bright blanket, but I didn't want to cut into it to cover a chair seat. But I had another cool wool cloth thing, thrifted, and turns out I had some ancient super dark Minwax stain. The project came together at last.

Vintage School Chair Makeover

So here's the before. Simple little chair, not too interesting wood color (peeling varnish, too, up close), scuffs, and icky green vinyl seat cover.

Part 1: Sand.

First, I removed the seat and sanded the chair down. That took some elbow grease and made a lot of dust.

Part 2: Stain and Finish.

Once it was sanded, I stained it with this little container of this Dark Walnut Minwax finish. I couldn't believe how good the first coat looked!! SO dark, even with only one coat, and actually pretty even. I guess I did an okay job sanding. I let it sit 10 or so minutes, then wiped it off and let it dry for more than 24 hours. It looked great.

Unfortunately it all went downhill from there. When I put the second coat on it sort of stuck to the first coat and took stripes of it off, kind of like when you write on top of dry erase marker letters with another dry erase marker and it just wipes it off like a tiny felt eraser? Then, when it was time to rub off the second coat, it was like it had dried too much or too fast or too thick, so the rag sort of stuck to it rather than gently wipe off the top layer...

So I recommend only one coat of stain if you can get the color you want!

I think a little more of the color came off when I put on the some polyurethane to seal it. I did two coats of polyurethane, and it has a nice smooth secure finish now.

Here it is after two coats of stain and two coats of polyurethane, before I put the seat back on.

Part 3: Seat.

The grossest part of this project was taking apart the seat cover. Here's the bottom, once I removed the staples and rubbery seat cover and washed off the mildew on the wood. Bleh. But cool to know that it was once in a music department!

I thought about quilt batting or other lightweight fluff like the original seat had, but I also had this green foam (1" I think). I pieced it and attached it to the top side of the seat wood with spray adhesive.

I pulled out my cool wool woven thing (strangely shaped piece of fabric (or rug?) I got at Goodwill once but have never done anything with)--and cut a piece about the right size. Then: staple gun!!

And screwed the seat back on.


I'm very happy with it!

And because I already had all the materials except the chair... total project cost: $4. Even if you throw in the other stuff, probably still less than $15. And it gives new life to a formerly cast-aside chair.

Friday, October 10, 2014

A simple fall meal for a peaceful weekend

"Omigod, I made THE BEST Brussels sprouts the other day!" is not a common phrase. I feel a little weird saying it, actually, but it's true!

I never minded Brussels sprouts in the past, but when I was a kid my mom always made them steamed, like broccoli, and served them with butter and salt. Simple, not too interesting. And the boiling/steaming definitely gives them a slightly different flavor than roasting them or sauteing them.

But I've been so drawn to them this week, along with the fun types of squash we've been getting in our CSA this early fall season. I was inspired to put together a delicious, almost entirely locally sourced meal!

I was just inspired by these pretty veggies this week!

I do a lot of cooking on Sundays. Some food prep for the week (I make a batch of these egg breakfast "muffins"!), making sure we have "leftovers" for lunches, etc. But it's also nice to put together a special dinner just for us. I really like trying new recipes and new flavors. So last weekend I did some Googling for interesting Brussels sprouts recipes, using ingredients I had on hand, and found several new ones with something in common: slightly spicy, maybe slightly sweet, baked or fried.

Fried Brussels sprouts?!? I had never heard of such a thing. I wasn't feeling up to it, but I combined some of the flavors in this crispy fried Brussels sprouts recipe with this one, sprouts fried with honey and sriracha, plus this way-too-many-steps-as-usual,-Martha Martha Stewart recipe. I came up with a super simple, delicious, almost entirely locally sourced ingredient recipe that paired perfectly with some of those lovely Sweet Dumpling squash!

Not pictured: fresh cilantro. But the garlic, peppers, cilantro, and Brussels all came from our CSA!!

Slightly Spicy Roasted Brussels Sprouts


  • 1-1.5 lbs Brussels sprouts
  • 1-2 spicy peppers (I used 2 since mine weren't very hot at all)
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/4 cup sesame oil
  • Juice of 1/2 lime
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce
  • Salt


    1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
    2. Chop Brussels sprouts how you like. I cut off the ends and the very outer layer, but I keep most of the outer pieces since they crisp up nicely.
    3. Mince peppers and garlic. Chop fresh cilantro.
    4. Combine all ingredients in large bowl and toss till sprouts are covered. Pour into baking dish.
    5. Bake for 30 minutes or until sprouts are a little crispy and roasted on the outside.

    It's really very simple, as recipes go, but it is a few more steps than I sometimes put into weeknight veggies for dinner. But those extras (fresh lime juice, fresh minced garlic, ya know) really made a difference for some amazing, unique flavors.

    They turned out sooooo good!

    And I mentioned they paired well with roasted Sweet Dumpling squash (just roasted with some water in the oven, then served with plenty of grassfed butter, sea salt, and pepper), and simple roasted chicken.

    A must-try for a tasty, special seasonal fall meal!

    Tuesday, October 7, 2014

    Feeling very thrifty and crafty: jeans-mending and destroying

    I repair jeans. I don't rip them. And yet--I'm feeling very crafty and thrifty with this project that went outside my comfort zone!

    This project was close to the cheapest I've ever done, but is so trend-inspired I'm surprised it took me this long to try it.

    Now, let me sound like a grandpa for a moment (or like Danny in this Mindy Project episode--"Did you know people are buying jeans with holes already ripped in them?") and say that I am not a big ripped jeans wearer, not because I don't think they look okay on other people, but because a) I do kind of feel like a grandpa and not like buying things that will already make my knees feel cold, and b) I can't wear them to work on Fridays. That's like their one dress code policy--no ripped clothing. And I don't wear jeans in the summer, and wouldn't want holes in my clothes when it's too cold out, so my window for wearing torn jeans is limited to moderate weather weekends.

    So, I've never invested in a pair, and since perfecting my essential jeans-mending method a few years back, I've always repaired holes when they pop up. (I modified it here for jeans knees.)

    But, I recently came across the perfect pair to try out a DIY distressing method on! I still don't feel right buying ripped jeans, but I might not mind making my own. But this particular pair needed some repair first.

    First some ripped jeans inspiration...

    Hm. Note to self. Next time I wear ripped jeans, animal print or pointy toed shoes are a must. ;)

    Inspired, but still never buying or wearing ripped jeans

    But still a DIYer at heart, I wasn't opposed to distressing my own. So when the opportunity struck, I figured I ought to try it out! I bought these jeans for $0.50 at an estate sale. Weird, right? They were on the table with the rest of the jeans, which were all $1, but when I asked about the massive rip in the crotch, they took the price down to $0.50. (It's shocking how cheap stuff is at estate sales sometimes.)

    So I tried the basic jeans-distressing method!
    It's funny, when you Google "how to distress jeans" almost all the posts are exactly the same method. Sand, cut two horizontal lines, pick the blue threads between the cuts. Here's a good photo tutorial.

    Seems ironic, but here's what I did!

    And this pair with the big crotch hole was perfect for my original jeans-mending tutorial. Here it is, with the follow-up!

    ESSENTIAL jeans-mending method

    Jeans-mending method: holes in knees

    Friday, October 3, 2014

    Belated anniversary! Plus some seriously proud moments for DIYing

    This post makes me so happy! I love 1) beautiful photos, 2) enjoying things I've made, and 3) love. I love love. My dear husband. **List of things not in order and not all-inclusive.

    A few weeks ago, we were so lucky to have the chance to do an anniversary shoot with our wedding photographer at our wedding venue, McMenamins Edgefield in Troutdale, Oregon. I am so happy to have these amazing photos documenting this special time celebrating 3 years of marriage, each one better than the last! We had a totally DIY wedding, and I got super lucky finding Becky (Studio 623 Photography) to capture it and understand my vision. So it was perfect that I got to show off some other DIYs - dresses I've made - and revisit our special location once more. And this time, way less stress of course since not planning a wedding, but also, I had my makeup done by Brooke Morse. Such a treat to spend time sitting comfortably while someone with far more capable hands does my hair and makeup. I connected with Brooke through some mysterious Portland Bloggers connection (we're not quite sure how but we know some of the same people) and she was just great to work with!

    So this was a very positive shoot experience, and I will treasure these photos forever. (Think it's time to update the frames around the house, and...maybe Christmas cards?!) I really can't speak highly enough of Becky, we love her so much! Even my husband who is quite reluctant to do photo shoots has fun working with her, and has been asking when we get to see the photos. She does a TON of weddings and babies, so if you're having either of those and live in Oregon, check her out. She's absolutely the sweetest. (Website/Facebook.)

    So the photos. I don't know if there's a convention for 3-year anniversary photos, but it felt like it had been too long since we visited our venue, so it was a great location!

    I got married in a pale grey/warm light pink/ivory dress, so I felt quite bridal in the pale pink lace shift dress I made earlier this year.

    It was really magical to visit the same beautiful enclosed patio where we walked down the "aisle," but this time with no people besides us there.

    We even sat on the porch of the house where we got ready, and took the carrying-through-the-hearth shot.

    And, a serious favorite photo spot, we revisited the amazing sunset scene of this pocket of wild grasses on the edge of the campus. We got some awesome photos there back on our wedding day, while the guests were dancing... it's beautiful, but it's hard to walk through! Molehills and things.

    And, check this out. One of our other favorite photo spots was at the edge of the small vineyard they have there. We walked up and down the rows on our wedding day and got some photos I love, and we did it again this time - but in much more comfortable clothes!

    I seriously love these photos. Infusing some of our current, more everyday personality into the beautiful wedding photo locations with some playful poses! (Recognize my new fave bright blue halter dress?)

    I seriously love them. Think I need to order some prints to frame STAT. I love the lifting-kissing vineyard ones!!

    And what a cool way to show off DIYs, amiright? Two dresses I made and am proud of, looking their best in these great photos!

    Thanks again to Becky and Brooke for making our anniversary shoot so great!

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