Tuesday, November 24, 2015

DIY Home (Ballet) Studio/Guest Room/Office/Playroom Combo

When we bought a house, one of my most exciting endeavors was to create a space for ballet.
Not only was I completely smitten with the idea of a room for me to plie/chasse/jete all day, but I wanted an area where I could begin teaching children ballet in our home. Kind of a way to make back some of the money I've invested into learning the art, as well as fulfill my dream of "discovering" a Prima ;)
Anyway, our house is no mansion and to dedicate an entire room to ballet seemed a bit selfish. We also needed a guest room. And a playroom- our basement is definitely not child friendly. And an office also would be nice.
Since we rarely have overnight guests, it seemed like a great idea to combine all four. That way we could make use of our space wisely and have a room that is daily being used rather than once per month or even less.
And thus a dream was born.
If you follow me on IG (@aunak), you've probably seen a million pictures of this studio. Hopefully there are still a few fresh angles :)
 In order to actually dance, I need wide open space to move across the room. That means that anything else in there has to be compact, leaving only one tiny corner for an office area. I recovered that tiny IKEA DESK from years ago and made it match the color scheme of the room. Stripes are a theme throughout our house, repeated on walls, pillows, blankets and rugs. The walls are filled with lots of happy images, with more room to grow up the side of my desk. Due to all the jumping, every picture is also secured with 3M squares.
In the bookshelf, I have a box of sewing gear, a space for pointe and soft shoes, an i-home (because you can't dance without music...) and some books/journals.
Underneath the desk is a trashcan, an IKEA shelving unit (with stamps, cards, stickers... everything I need for writing letters) and the THREAD HOLDER John's mom gave me.
The chair was inherited from my grandma's house and I'm still deciding if I want to paint it or leave as is. A very small desk area- but from here I can craft, pay bills and work on specialized diets and plans for patients. Did you know I'm a nutrition coach by day?
The extra floor space is also awesome for crafting, I have tons of room to spread everything out and create!
 We have three floor to ceiling bookshelves in our home and then another two in our "kids room" (which only contain children's books... I have a sickness). But I wanted to make sure that all of my ballet references, home decor and a few other "specialty" books were close at hand. Since there's a very small area for books, I rotate in what I'm currently using.
 Here you can see a bit of my across the floor space, my portable barre and some mirror action.
When we first moved in, I bought actual studio mirrors to hang on the walls. Unfortunately, the lath and plaster wasn't strong enough to hold them, and I didn't have enough space behind the walls for the necessary anchors.
The mirror situation is absolutely not what I wanted, but it works. I bought a few packs of MIRRORS  from ikea that use 3M stickers to hang on the walls. They're surprisingly sturdy and in the several months they've been up, they've never come loose. I may add more, but while it doesn't seem like much, it actually gives a good view already.
You can also see a set of fairy wings on the wall next to the mirrors.
 I was inspired by this art installment and decided the studio HAD to have fairy wings. They're so whimsical and fun for a playroom as well as the children I'll have in class.
 I cut open a paper bag and taped it to some extra advertisements. Two brown paper bags would be better, but I only had one. The best way to do it is to cut off the very bottom and then it rolls out into a flat sheet.
 I freehanded a set of fairy wings (about four times) before finding one I liked. Once I had it, I cut them out.
 And attached the single wing to the wall using poster putty. I traced the wing and then flipped it over for the other side, ensuring less cutting and perfect symmetry.
 Then I went over the light pencil in white paint and let it dry.
At this point, I started trying to fill in designs with pencil. I hated all of them. So major erasing occurred. I still haven't filled them in, and I may never.
Another view of the mirrors. I thought they would be very distracting with all of the lines, but they work really well considering.
 On the opposite side of the room, I have several portable mirrors and one hanging on a door. This helps me to rearrange the barre and mirrors so that I can see what I'm doing from multiple angles and correct my form quickly.
You can see we have a very boring, flush mount light fixture. Originally this house had a fan in the room, but we removed it. I'm a strong jumper, and the fan was a death sentence for my arms. In the hot summers, this is the one thing I regret most about this room aside from the mirrors. But two setbacks aren't bad!
One final shot of the room.
We've seen it as an office and a studio. I haven't gotten a chance to use it as a playroom aside from with nieces and former charges. But there's a nice closet that stores all of my ballet gear and craft supplies. It also has plenty of room for toys. When the day comes, I may add some bins and a roll up rug to complete the playroom aspect.
As for a guest room, we purchased a few double tall air mattresses similar to THIS ONE. They're actually super comfortable, we've used them many times ourselves. The trick is to pad them with tons of blankets underneath the sleeper. This keeps it much more warm and cozy. When we have visitors, we just blow up the mattress (and since it's double tall, it looks like a real bed), remove the extra mirrors and portable barre (basement) and it's ready to rock!
Like my $600 KITCHEN, there's more to do in this room, including but not limited to this excerpt from Bazaar I want to hang. But perhaps no room is every truly finished?
Hopefully you're inspired to create your own combo-rooms and make better use of an extra room rather than letting it sit and be wasted. I know this has been so helpful for us, and makes our home feel so functional and loved.
All the best, and as always, thanks for reading!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

A Case for Adopting Adult Dogs

Last September we bought a house, which we have been frantically working on ever since- trying to make it a home. Two weeks later- at the very beginning of October, we adopted a dog.
If you've ever wondered about adopting an adult dog from a rescue shelter- this post is for you. To be totally honest- it was NOT a fairy tale from the beginning. And if we didn't have help, we would have given up. I had some unrealistic expectations walking into pet adoption that are worth addressing.
I have only had purebred dogs which we purchased from breeders as puppies. My grandma bred bouviers. Our family loves them. We LOVE them. Therefore, all of my dogs growing up were bouviers. While I thought my dog experience was vast- it was actually quite limited.
John grew up in a pet-free home. I think he had a couple of turtles, but that would be extent of his foray into pet-life. Oh- and he had never been fond of dogs.
Like ever.
So when I started campaigning for a dog about 6 years ago, it didn't go over very well. But eventually John understood my need for a dog and said that once we bought a house, I could have one. So basically as SOON AS we had a closing date set,  I started checking out the pet adoption sites. While John didn't like dogs in general, he did have a silver lab in his life at one point that he actually thought was good company. This gave him a bit of a soft spot for labradors, so when a lab showed up on one of the boards, it seemed like a perfect fit.
#1: Adopt from a reputable shelter
This is a picture last fall, right after we brought Winston home. We were expecting (based on the description),  a slim, well mannered, purebred chocolate lab. What we got? A wild, obese, mixed breed lab.
When we started looking at dogs, I was annoyed how many shelters required applications and personal interviews in order to adopt their dogs. I figured they should be glad that someone wanted  to care for a dog.
Therefore- I thought it was awesome that the place housing Winston required NO application and allowed same day pick up. You could literally waltz in and just take the dog home. Perfect.
You want to adopt from a place that has rules and regulations. A rescue that cares about WHO is adopting their animals will also be honest about the condition of the animal you're adopting and whether or not that animal is a good fit for your home.
To be totally honest- we were not ready for Winston. He probably wasn't a good "first time" adopters dog. He had a bunch of health issues, he was massively obese and he just had zero training. Plus, he was so spastic the first few weeks that we had him home, John - who actually is extremely calm- couldn't handle it.
When I contacted the shelter to talk to them about some issues we were seeing in Winston, the owner's advice was to have him euthanized.
I'm still so angry about that.
Do your homework- adopt from a place you can trust- and who will have resources for you if you need assistance. A quick google search of the rescue we got Winston from showed just how terrible they were. They had a couple of sites even trying to shut them down.
#2: Hire a qualified trainer 
After the advice from his rescue, I realized that was a dead end and we were on our own. Euthanizing Winston was NOT an option. He had done nothing worthy of that! Through a roundabout way, we were put in contact with a fantastic certified trainer who specialized in rescue dogs. Jenn was very quickly able to put our minds at ease and also get Winston into a much more pleasant condition. After the very first hour-long session with her, I already felt 100 times better about our adoption and our ability to keep him. He ended up having one or two more sessions (a very worthwhile investment) and then a round of adult 101 classes.
I've come to the conclusion that unless you're absolutely brilliant with dogs, it's just a good idea to at least invest in one session with a professional. I haven't met many "perfect" dogs, and it's incredible how quickly a good trainer can modify behavior. I often recommend our trainer to people who have had their dogs for years and still deal with an issue. It seems like everyone has a dog who counter surfs, or barks uncontrollably, won't walk on a leash or come when called. Winston had ALL of those things. Jenn helped.
Call a trainer.
This is especially important for anyone who has a dog with aggressive tendencies. Don't try to fix it on your own. The safest thing for your family AND the dog is to have a professional evaluate the situation and come up with a personalized plan.
You can read more about that HERE if you're looking for a certified trainer or help for your dog.
#3: Have realistic expectations 
Dogs really do need an adjustment period after being adopted. It took about 6 weeks to really feel comfortable and in a groove with Winston. He did calm way down after that and learn how our household is run- and we learned his quirks and how to work with him. He was also being trained by that point which helped significantly. If you expect to bring home a perfect dog (like I did) you will be disappointed and frustrated.
Similarly- don't be surprised when issues do arise. The human society lists the inexpensiveness of an adopted dog as a reason to adopt instead of getting a puppy.
If you're thinking of the money you will save- think again! Winston has cost us more in healthcare over the last year than any other dog I've had growing up. That may even be the real reason he was surrendered. Who knows?
To me, adopting a dog because it's cheaper is like becoming a teacher for the summer vacations. The work you put in is not worth that bonus if that is your only motivation.
Be realistic about your adoption and it will go much easier for you when the surprises do pop up!
#4 Have fun!
This isn't advice- I just wanted to say how much we love our dog. I didn't realize we could love an adopted adult dog before we actually did it. He has added so much joy to our lives- not to mention the security of having him.  I really do love dogs and believe they're man's best friend. He is everything I thought he would be and so much more. He's our adventurous buddy and we love having him around for the ride. Our quality of life has gone so far up. My very favorite moments generally occur while John and I are taking Winston for a walk. The time alone, away from phones, to get some exercise and conversation time in alone is so beneficial.
So- if you're thinking of adopting a dog for the first time- GO FOR IT! It may be a bumpy ride at first, but with the proper expectations and resources for help, it will be well worth the rough start.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

DIY Kitchen Makeover on a Budget

We are in the process of updating a very old house. I absolutely love the character and layout of this wonderfully old home, but so much of it was outdated- especially the kitchen.
When we bought this house, we had to move fast. Homes in our area sell quickly- in less than 24 hours often. Our incredible neighbors put their home up for sale and sold it in about 12 hours (to one of my oldest friends, but whatever...). When we were looking at houses, it wasn't uncommon for us to find out that the home was already pending offers by the time we arrived for our showing. It was crazy!
So when we saw this house go up on the market we moved quickly, we were on our way to visit John's family out of state and stopped here first, spending a total of 15 minutes in the house before asking our buyer's agent to make an offer for us. And even then, we almost lost it in a short bidding war.
Anyway- by the time we actually closed 2 months later,  I couldn't even remember what the house looked like! And after we got those keys and jetted over to see it, I was totally floored by the kitchen.
And not in a good way.
The kitchen and the main floor bathroom were just so outdated, dark and seemingly unfinished. I can't explain it, but everything came off as mismatched. In the kitchen (we'll talk about the bathroom another day), it seemed like someone had just slammed down random pieces of cabinetry here and there and nothing was cohesive. It was extremely disjointed. And some of the counter was warped and falling in.
I was so flustered that I didn't even take before pictures. These are from our walk through, and I don't even have a picture of the stove side, sadly.
The kitchen is an important room in any home, but especially for us. We spend a lot of time cooking and creating there and I wanted it to be a place that was beautiful and where I *enjoyed* spending time. This wasn't it.
Immediately, we painted the cabinets before even moving in. My friend Natalie stayed with me and put about 12 hours into them! Three coats of Valspar reserve (which I maintain is THE BEST paint ever) and they were bright white and gorgeous. We also updated the hardware.
I saw this as a temporary fix originally and we didn't sand or prime because I figured if it didn't work I would replace them and it wasn't worth sinking a ton of time into. They turned out beautifully in spite of that and what was originally a temporary fix made me decide to do a budget DIY kitchen instead.
So let's get started!
The kitchen isn't 100% done, but it could be another year or so before all the details are in order, so we will just update then. The lions share is ready! I also want to mention that the entire project cost less than $600. That's including paint, counter tops and all furniture.
A big part of the problem was the lack of cohesion. There were giant expanses of space next to sparse cabinetry that needed to be filled in AND put to use. The lack of cabinets meant a lack of storage and  we don't like a bunch of junk on our counters. For the first open area, I painted an old IKEA wire shelf in a bright metallic silver and used it for bigger appliances that we use often and some pretty decor from our old kitchen.

Another problem area was filled in by creating a breakfast nook. A little table and a couple of chairs provide easy in-kitchen eating and wonderful Saturday morning respites. We use this area to eat about 5 times as often as our actual dining room table. It was a fantastic addition, and worth all the square footage. A friend of mine found that awesome movie poster for me and it really helps keep the kitchen from looking too country- something I was really scared would happen when we choose butcher block counters.
The last large expanse was filled with a kitchen cart. This actually can be rolled out and used as an island, but spends most of it's time against the wall here. More food prep area and storage is always welcomed! We really use our kitchen, making three full meals per day during the weekend and dinner every night. So that space is used!
 This door was a MAJOR eyesore in the now increasingly bright kitchen. A couple coats of paint knocked the brown out.
I also painted the knobs using my standby Rust-Oleum ultra cover. New black knobs were $30 at the store... um, no thanks. This $3.99 can has lasted me forever and made appearances in so many other posts! (like my CHANDELIER and SCONCES). The knobs have held up really well.
Next we installed new counter tops on the old (painted) cabinets. This was a huge project and my cousin came in and did it for us in about a day. I used butcher block from IKEA and thought it was a pretty big mistake. It chips/dents easily and when it was being cut, there was a defect in it that caused the saw to jump and split a massive section. Thankfully my cousin was once a custom cabinet builder and was able to save the counter top by using that ruined portion where the sink is and transplanting a piece of counter from another section to cover the rest. Thanks, Gabe :) If we had a do-over, I would invest in more expensive counters, but generally we have great experiences with IKEA and I didn't think this would be any different. I should also mention that we reached out to several people at the company and only *one* was helpful. Most of them brushed us off. Again- we usually have great customer service experiences but this time it was lacking.
When we took the old counters off, I hadn't realized what a mess they would leave on the wall behind their lipped back splash. Isn't that nasty? So I had to cover it with tile- because we were having a BRIDAL SHOWER at our home that weekend!
But I'd never tiled before...
 It ended up being really easy! The wonderfully helpful associate at Home Depot recommended a product called SimpleMat that sticks on to the wall, and then tile goes directly on to it. I was unconvinced that it would be strong enough to hold the tile up, but it really is. It made the entire project a lot easier and quicker.
 I also bought a tile cutter for about $20 that was very easy to use. Still, that was the hardest part of the project and you'll need to plan on breaking/ruining at least a few tiles when you're purchasing supplies.
Once your tile is up, just grout and let it dry for a few hours.
After that you'll need to remove your haze, caulk the edge and then you're done! I tiled the kitchen in less than a day. Maybe 6 hours? I haven't found the bull nose that's perfect yet, and I want to add some more above the stove- so technically it isn't finished. I'll update when it is.
A few other notes: I updated many of the light switch covers using some from my grandparents' house. I always think that makes a big difference. There is still a lot I want to do- more tile work, a spice ledge above the stove, new floors, more artwork and a new ceiling fan-- but that's how homes are! Is it every really finished?
I wouldn't call this my dream kitchen, but for $600 it has been greatly improved and I enjoy hanging out in the space. I also think it helped our resale value and has made the home more appealing in general.
We seem to be working on the rooms in a round robin, so I have no idea which one will be ready next. If you have any great kitchen DIY tips to share, feel free to add them in the comments below!
All the best, and as always, thanks for reading.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

DIY Bridal Shower

My oldest friend is getting married soon to her perfect match. I have lots of acquaintances but very few real friends, and Sarah is one of the best a girl could ask for. She was in my wedding and has been part of so many huge milestones aside from our marriage that it's hard to list them all. We met when we went to Germany together for the very first time in our young teens and have been friends ever since. Recently we moved into the same city (and actually- she just bought the house next door!) and I wanted to do something to really show her how much I have appreciated her 15 years of friendship. A shower seemed appropriate, right?
At my family shower 6 years ago, Sarah made the 2 hour trek to all of my showers! 
But the truth is- parties aren't my thing.
Like at all.
I know a lot of people in my life who are wonderful event planners, but I struggle. I've thrown a bridal shower once before and it didn't go very well, so this time I tried to pay attention. And DIY it. And here we are!
running our first 5k!
As always, things didn't go 100% the way I wanted them too. I had lots of beautiful hanging decorations to go above the main food table (pictured above), but the morning of we couldn't hang them! My co-host and I were too short and we don't own a ladder. I hadn't taken into account how tall our ceilings are.
My cousin (who is an interior designer and AMAZING event planner) had already warned me that not everything would be perfect, but this was a very annoying blow. I had visions of that table being a show stopping focal point since it would be the first thing guests saw as they entered. BUT, it is what it is. So if you have something that you feel is non-negotiable, make sure it's ready the night before, that way you have time to trouble shoot.
Two other things I want to mention...
1. Games
Right out of the gate, let me make something clear. We didn't play games. I realize they are a huge staple of every shower, but in our case we just felt it wasn't necessary. My co-host and I couldn't find anything new that we loved, and when we asked the bride she confessed that she doesn't even *like* shower games. I announced at the beginning that there wouldn't be any games and the entire group erupted in clapping and shouts of joy.
Maybe it's time to end the games.
I will say that the majority of the group knew each other. I was the odd man out, but the rest were friends. Far from being boring without games- our scheduled 11a- 1p party went til after 3!
In lieu of games I made a prize table. If a guest found a gold star on one of her items (plates, cups, etc.) then she could go pick something off the table. Also, I didn't wrap anything because it's more fun to choose your prize, right? Instead everything got a coordinated bow.
2. Scent
The other thing I'd like to mention before diving in is that we don't use candles. What? Crazy, right? But we have a little bird and apparently candles (except 100% pure beeswax) are deadly to her. Instead I fill a little pot with water and add some drops of cinnamon essential oil, then boil it on the stove for a few hours. I swear, it smells amazing. Most of the guests commented on it upon entering and I heard one say to another that she was obsessed with it! I had more questions about the scent of our house than anything else, so if you'd like to save some cash on expensive candles, that's my recommendation!
Now some DIY's!
I saw these little "love is brewing" cups on Pinterest  and snapped them up for our party. They were exceptionally easy to make, and since there was only a picture and no tutorial, allow me to provide a short one.
I just whipped up these little circles on my computer (practically any program will do, including powerpoint!), first creating one, grouping the elements, and then copy/pasting until we had enough. They're printed on standard paper, and standard hot beverage party cups were used. You can make any shape you want, obviously, and completely customize these for any special event. I think they're fun all around.
Cut your tags out and attach them with 3M spray. I used this craft bond because I was out of 3M and really regretted it. They came out translucent and the pink cup showed through, which is something that never happens with 3M. The spray is more even and it applies better. Allow them to dry for at least 24 hours before stacking. Sorry for the photo quality. I made these at like midnight the weekend before.
We decided to make full use of our coffee bar rather than tear it down for the event, since so many of Sarah's friends love coffee.
I added a little runner in the color theme and a few extras. The white pieces (2 small creamers and large gravy boat) were from World Market. I think they were $2-4 each and easily marked with a gold sharpie (which washes off in the dishwasher). Our milk frother would take forever and hold up the line, so I just kept hot milk going on the stove and refilled the gravy boat for lattes. Whipped cream, syrups, a selection of teas and a carafe of hot water rounded it out. We also used both of our french presses (filled ahead of time) for coffee and put our pour over out. It was enough to service about 15, but any more than that and we would have needed a standard coffee maker.
 As I said- parties aren't my thing, so even though food prep is something I enjoy, we decided to eschew it and only use pre-made items in order to make the morning of go more smoothly. IKEA's princess cakes are perfect for a shower (vanilla cake, marzipan, raspberry and almond paste) and can be frozen until the event. They're relatively inexpensive per serving and look lovely. We also picked up a Costco cheesecake and embellished it with chocolate chips and caramel syrup to differentiate it even more from the fruity dessert option.
 I didn't have time to pick up cheese markers- something I love, but don't own due to a dairy allergy and lack of cheese in our lives. Impromptu markers were made using thick scrapbook paper and toothpicks! Cheese varieties were written out in gold sharpie and coordinating duct tape (not silver!) was used to attach the toothpicks. If I had more time, I would have sandwiched the tooth picks in between two hearts cut in identical sizes with glue.
Table tents were printed off the computer on cardstock, cut and folded. The more ornate tents were made from the same thick cardstock as the cheese markers. I used 3M to bond on coordinating scrapbook paper and the menu item name. Again, any program will do.
For the salad, I used a Costco base salad and added more lettuce, bacon, and hard boiled eggs to beef it up for 15 servings.
This kale and quinoa salad was AMAZING and also came from Costco. I have no words- just go buy it. Sarah requested lighter fare at the shower and this perfectly fit the bill. It's delicious and light, but very filling.
Sarah's friend, Kaity, was deemed the official photographer for the shower and took some lovely photos. Originally, we made a piece of art from our lipstick kisses for Sarah as a keepsake from the shower.
It was horrible.
Definitely a pinterest fail.
Instead,  I think it's perfectly wonderful to create a photo album for the bride. I used SHUTTERFLY to create two wedding albums for ourselves as well as one for each set of parents and thought it was easy to use, affordable and brilliant quality. If I could do it again, I'd forget the lipstick art and make Sarah a sweet album of either just this shower or a collaboration of all three.
Here some of the remaining guests at the very end. Definitely cropped myself out- but to be fair, the angle was so bizarre that my own husband didn't recognize me in it! When it was posted to facebook, John couldn't find me in the picture. So don't judge. Sorry Sarah :)
It was so fun to celebrate Sarah and for the first time ever, throwing a party (though still daunting) was super fun! If you have any great bridal shower tips, feel free to share them in the comments below!
All the best, and as always, thanks for reading.