28 June 2007

Summer Fun

I was searching around the internet for some inspiration for today's post, and I came across a bunch of fun items for summer. So here is a bit of inspiration for your next summer gathering:

First, a fun set of spiral skewers from Uncommon Goods. So much more fun then the boring straight ones and they fit on your plate better too.

Next, one of the kitchen tools I would most like to own, the OXO salad spinner. Summer is definitley a time for all kinds of salads and what better way to get your greens ready then this hypnotizing little gadget. Serve up a round for all of your guests in these beautiful, summery glasses from Anthropologie.

Set the stage for your next gathering with a few of these wonderful lanterns from West Elm.

Finally, something that is breathtakingly lovely and catches all of those nasty wasps that try to spoil your fun. A Bee Catcher from a fun, new find At West End. Thanks to the happy living blog!

For your next barbeque , grab one of these silicone basting brushes, from Crate and Barrel. No more stray brush hairs in your marinade.

Finally, have some fun and eat it too, with the UCO Play and Freeze Ice Cream Maker. Simply fill it with your favorite ingredients, seal the leak-proof lid and then toss it and shake it with all of your guests. Finish with delicious fresh ice cream.

Happy summer everyone!

Ode to Orange

When I was a kid, we moved into this massive, beautiful turn-of-the-century house that my parents remodeled up until they sold it a few years ago. It was a great house to grow up in because we each had our own rooms and there were even extra rooms that we didn't use. There were also tons of trunk closets and other nooks that were great for playing in, building forts in, etc. Now my parents are not color people, especially when it comes to painting a house. Every room in every house I can remember was painted Navajo White. Which may be the most popular paint color in the history of the world. Do a google search on it and see what I mean...there is even a wikipedia page on it. Weird. Anyway, back to houses and stuff. So, everything was white...except me. I was not into white, at all. So I brought the first color to the Esp household. There was a small trunk closet off of my bedroom that was kind of my personal space. I decided that it needed some zing, so I grabbed small cans of primary colors and closed the door behind me. I proceeded to splatter the paint colors all over the inside of the closet (how very 80s) by flinging my brush around. Well, needless to say, when my dad saw it, he about died, but that closet remained in all its splattery goodness until the day they sold the house.

So all of this is a very long intro to let you know that I love COLOR! I think part of it is years of pent up rebellion to the Navojo White of my youth and the primer white of my rental days. But as soon as we closed on our little abode, we were at Lowes picking up stacks of paint swatches in every color of the rainbow. Now, I had wrongly assumed that my husband was more of a neutrals kind of guy and had picked out a nice oatmeal color for the living room. But when I showed him my ideas, his response was, 'How about orange?" What!?! An orange living room, I love it... So we grabbed swatches in every shade of orange we could find and taped them all over our wall, slowly eliminating the ones that didn't really work until finally we settled on nice pumpkin pie shade. So, to follow the theme from Decor8's Color of the Month, here are a few pictures in my own Ode to Orange.

Oh, and I wanted to add this great pillow that I found at West Elm. I think I might grab one for the brown chair in the top picture. Enjoy!

27 June 2007

My closet

Here are two pictures of our own closet (yes, we share). Not nearly pretty enough for a magazine, but functional none the less. Yes folks, this is reality, small, cramped and a little disfunctional, but we are working on it. The shelves and baskets allowed us to get rid of both of the dressers in our room, which in turn, allowed us to move our desk out of the living room into the bedroom. Let me know if you have any brilliant closet organization ideas of your own.

Closet organization for the rest of us (CAUTION: Excessive Ranting)

Why is that whenever you find a magazine article or HGTV episode on closet makeovers, the closet is about the size of my living room and the owner still “has a hard time making it all fit”? OH… MY… GOSH! People who have 400 sq. ft. closets should not need help with organizing. If they can’t make it work, maybe what they really need is help for their shopping problem. My little house, as I have mentioned, has very little closet space as it is and the closets we do have are very small. What I really want is help for the average person. The person who has one of those horribly designed, standard single-rod closets. Heck, how about the people that have to share one of those. I know it is not as fun, it doesn’t look as fabulous in a magazine spread, but it is the reality that most of us live in. Come on people!

And who decided that our current standard closet design was a good idea: one rod, with a shelf above it that seems to be able to hold a ton, except you can’t actually fit anything up there because the doors aren’t tall enough to provide access to that part of the closet. Honestly, does this make sense to a-n-y-o-n-e. Wow, I am on a roll today.

So, I have designed my own closet shelving that is working okay, ( I will post pictures tomorrow) but could use some tweaking. I also raised the shelf and rod in order to minimize the unused space above it. However, at 5’2”, I can only go so high. My final plan is to build rolling under the bed drawers for seasonal items and shoes. I have also started looking at more Modern/Minimalist design or European design to find realistic ideas. Dwell magazine has some useable ideas and great inspiration. Another resource is Apartment Therapy. A lot of the featured homes are small urban apartments where storage has to be creative. The other thing that I do to channel my frustration; I keep a list of all of the things I would do differently if I could build/design my own closet or hopefully, home. Someday…

26 June 2007

My little kitchen window

I was finally able to finish the curtain that I have been trying to make for my kitchen window for the past few weeks. The first attempt was too long so, I ripped out the seam and shortened it again, but I kind of want to shorten it a little bit more. The latch for the window sticks out on the bottom and it makes the curtain look uneven. We’ll see, but I wanted to get it posted, so here it is. I really like how the patchwork top turned out, but it was much more challenging then I thought it would be. I am not at all methodical about these sorts of projects, nor do I ever follow a pattern or anything, so I am pretty happy with the finished product. Oh, and I am making a wooden rod, but I had this one laying around for the photo shoot. Yes, it's a bit bent. Next up, shades for the bedroom windows…

24 June 2007

This weekend's big score!

Another great garage sale weekend for me. Some useful things, so fun things, all fabulous deals!

I hit several sales in my neighborhood, and probably could have kept going for a few more hours, but I had hit my threshold and needed to get some actual projects done. Here is what I found.

- A set of 3 stackable bins for my recycling ($.75)

- 2 small storage boxes for the office I will have someday ($2)

- A set of 4 curtain long panels in khaki silk, perfect for our bedroom ($4)

- A large antique casserole dish in a chocolate brown glaze ($1)

- A small terracotta pot with peeling yellow paint ($.25)

- 2 cute little enamel pots (the red and blue on the top, not sure what they are for, but couldn’t resist) ($4)

- 2 CDs, Shawn Colvin and Meredith Brooks ($2)

- An old sugar mold, turned candle holder ($5)

I also got a few things for James that aren’t pictured: 2 Playstation controllers, 3 memory cards and a Tetris game for Playstation. He was very happy.

On a sad note, I did miss out on one mega deal, a solid wood craftsman-style door with a leaded glass window, $15. It was sold when I got there and I almost cried when I saw it. So sad. I might actually drive by the house and see if the buyer ever came by to pick it up.

But my thrifting spirit was again buoyed when I visited Home Resource our local recycled building materials warehouse. They had just received a bunch of new interior and exterior doors and I was able to find doors to replace all of our interior doors (boring flat panel hollow core) with new matching 6-panel hollow core doors. For a total of 4 doors, $24. Not too shabby. And I found vintage chrome knobs to match some pulls I picked up about a year ago. 11 knobs for $4. Someday I will find new used cabinets for our kitchen and the knobs and pulls will be put to use. Look for pictures of the doors, pre and post installation, as well as our other weekend projects, later this week!

22 June 2007

Life after...30?

I know that some of you who will be reading this looked at the title and thought, “What the heck is she talking about, of course there is life after 30. Stupid kids!” But hear me out before you delete my blog from your virtual memory.

I have been feeling some angst lately, balancing all of the pieces of my life, still trying to figure out what I want to be when I “grow up”, fearing that I may be missing out on something or that I might never do some of the things on my “Things to do before I die” list. Then, as I started to talk about it, I realized that I’m not on my own in this. I am surrounding by women in their early 30s that are in a million different life spaces right now, but all feeling similarly unsettled somehow. So I went looking for insight and hopefully some reassurance and I found it in an unlikely place.

My name is Amy and I am a Library Junkie. I currently have 21 books from my local library in various corners of my house, along with 12 other holds that I am waiting for. I am there once a week, combing my favorite sections and the “new release” shelves. I LOVE the library!

I was in there about a month ago, cruising the cookbook aisle, looking for some inspiration and I found this book, Julie & Julia. Having my own copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking languishing in my cupboard, it piqued my interest. I took it home, expecting to find recipes, suggestions, etc, but instead I found inspiration and a strong sense of relief.

The story is funny, poignant and at times a bit crass, but it is honest. Honest about losing dreams, getting stuck, trying something totally crazy and finding a new path. In a nut shell, our author, Julie Powell, when faced with a boring day job and personal crisis decides she is going to cook through every recipe in Julia Child’s book over the course of a year. She thinks she is crazy, her friends and family agree, but she knows she has to shake it up before she totally looses it. Not only did she make me laugh and feel a bit of sisterly camaraderie, she introduced me to Julia Child, who was not who I expected at all. Did you know that Julie did not start cooking until she was 39 year old? Didn’t marry until she was 37? Worked for the OSS during WWII?

So, there not only is life after 30, it is rich and crazy and it will most likely not be what we expected when we were teenagers. I still feel some angst, but it is less pressing and I know that I still have time to sort it all out…

If you have your own inspirations, please share.

21 June 2007

In the garden

When I was growing up my mom always had a huge, vibrant flower garden that wrapped around our front porch. It was one of my favorite things as a kid. I would pick the flowers for my dolls or even make little flower fairy dolls out of the hollyhocks. It was always colorful and chaotic and I loved everything about it.

Now, I am doing some gardening of my own. My gardens are all in shade, so I have been learning a lot about some new plants. The one thing I miss about the sun loving plants is all of their riotous color. However, the subtle, sort of antique beauty of the shade plants is starting to grow on me. This foxglove is one of my favorites.

I have am also trying my hand at herbs and tomatoes this year. I have never grown anything other then flowers and the process has been a little intimidating and a lot exciting. I feel like I am six again with my dixie cup seedlings from camp. I check the tomatoes everyday and yesterday I found these cute little tomatoes starting to grow.

I get a lot of inspiration from Nici, In My Kitchen Garden, from the great You Grow Girl site and book. Maybe next year I will branch out more and try some beans and lettuce…

20 June 2007

Find your inspiration

If you are looking for a little inspiration for your next home decorating project, check out the Amy Bulter Inspiration Board contest over at Decor8.

There is a lot of fun stuff and you can even weigh in on your 4 favorites until Friday. Enjoy! Here are my top four choices in no particular order:

Getting my act together...

I have somehow managed to fool a lot of my friends into believing that I am organized. I am not. I will admit that when I am working on a project at work or with a group, I am can be organized and effective. However, in the dark recesses of my personal life, chaos tends to be queen. It doesn’t help that I have a tiny house with minimal storage. If I had a giant garage, I would just chuck all of the crap out there.

Despite the fact that I tend to be a disaster at home, I really WANT to be neat and organized. The clutter and chaos is overwhelming at times. So, I have been working hard at getting my act together and becoming an organized housekeeper.

I have been reading books, at one time I had about seven organizing books next to my couch. Smart Organizing, How to Organize Just About Everything, Martha’s Good Things for Organizing, The Organized Home, A Place for Everything and a couple of others that weren’t that helpful. I really want to get the Real Simple: The Organized Home, but my local library doesn’t carry it. Now to be fair, I don’t “read” all these books, I skim. Looking for ideas and solutions I can use. Some of them are crazy-over-the-top, Martha-is-a-slacker ideas, like arranging your sock drawer by color. But I have found some great tools, my favorite being the 15 Minute Lists.

Smart Organizing suggested something similar to this and I adapted it for myself. I created a list for each room in the house that included about 5-8 tasks that could all be completed in about 15 minutes. I taped each list in the appropriate room in an out of the way, but accessible spot. For example, in the kitchen, it is taped inside one of the cupboard doors. Then, every other night or so, I make a quick pass through the house and go through as many of the lists that I can. Now that I am keeping up on things, some of my lists only take about 5-10 minutes instead of 15. Here are my lists.

I have also been inspired by some of my favorite blogs and some other spots on the web lately. Over at Two Straight Lines, she went on an organization overhaul and used some beautiful, creative solutions. The Lazy Organizer has some great flickr pics of all of her organizing projects. And of course, my favorite magazine Domino, has a great piece about installing a peg board wall in your kitchen. I don't know if I would ever do this in my kitchen, but if I ever have a walk in pantry, I think it is the perfect idea.

18 June 2007

This weekend's big score!

One of my favorite threads on the digsmagazine boards, is the Score! thread. Anyone can flaunt their amazing deal for everyone else to ooh and aah over. So, in the spirit of that thread and to give me an outlet for my garage sale/thrift store habit. I am going to start doing my own regular posting, "This weekend's big score!".

So, here is this weekend's big score! My friends Nici and Nelly hosted a garage sale this weekend. They are two of my favorite women anyway, and I love garage sales, so I spent most of Saturday morning hanging with them, being a garage sale groupie. Now of course between pastries and strong morning coffee, I had to peruse the goods. Here is all the sweet stuff I found:

- Set of 8 beautiful stemless wine glasses ($2)
- 2 gorgeous silk scarves (I think from Nelly's Thailand trip) ($1)
- 3 back issues of Everyday Food and a copy of Real Simple Food (FREE!!)
- a roll of paper, white with black chandeliers ($.25)
- 3 books, one for my friend Jessica (Go Girl, finding adventure whereever the road leads) ($3)
- a stack of cool stationary and random cards (I need to write more letters) ($1)
- a wallet ($1)
- a cute black bench ($2)
- and finally, my most exciting purchase, a label maker, with an extra cartridge. ($1)

As you can see, it was a good garage sale weekend!

17 June 2007

Test Driving a ... kitten?

My husband called me on Friday at work, "Do we want a kitten? They're pretty cute..." I had visions of a cute little fluff ball being batted around by our sweet, well intentioned, but way too excited dog. "Can we try it out for the weekend? I am not totally sure this is the best idea." So on Friday night he pulled up with a teeny tiny black fluff ball who had just pooped on his car seats. Not the best start, but the cuteness made up for it. He had also brought home some print outs with titles like "how to introduce your new pet to your old pets' or something like that.

So, we followed all of the steps, pets meet on either side of a door, pets eat together, pets wander around the same room, while the crazy energetic one is securely on her leash. Then we put them nose to nose... and the dog promptly gave the kitten a mild concussion by thwacking it on the head with her paw in an effort to play. Kitten was done with that. We spent the rest of the weekend keeping them conveniently separated, with segregated playtimes and snuggles.

The dog has been mostly curious and excited, but she is also a typical only child and has been a bit jealous as well. At one point, while we were playing with the kitten on the living room rug, she had planted herself firmly in the middle of the flower garden she knows is off limits. And, she firmly held her ground, even when she saw me coming. So, we will not become cat owners, at least not for now. Maybe we just need to find a big old Tom cat that can stand up to our bully dog!

15 June 2007

Very Cherry

Last night my friend Nici hosted a girl’s grill and salad gathering. She has a fabulous garden overflowing with salad greens right now, so she wanted to share the wealth. As guests, all we needed to bring was something to throw on the grill. The problem was that I had these cherries sitting in my fridge giving me the overripe evil eye. What kind of delectable treat could I make with them for the party? Then I remembered a recipe from my latest issue of Everyday Food, a fresh cherry tart that had made my mouth water.

Now, lucky for me, it required no bake time, because it was of course, the last minute. (6:15 for a 6:30 party) So, I tossed the dog in the car and raced to the store with my recipe in hand. Now, the original recipe has you make and bake a graham cracker crust. I had no time for that, so I grabbed the pre-made graham crust. When I got home, this was crumbled into the bottom of a cute little serving piece and then I started in on the filling.

It is also important to note that I have limited patience and a tendency to skim directions. This has been known to sabotage my efforts at times, but for some reason I keep on operating that way. This time, everything seemed to work out, despite my improvisations: I used the entire 8oz block of cream cheese rather then the recipes 6oz; bought a pint of heavy cream and just used the whole thing, rather then measure out the ¾ cup that was called for; and finally, my jar of vanilla just would not open, no matter how much I banged it on the counter, begged or pried. So, I skipped the vanilla and forged ahead.

I quickly poured it over the crust, popped the cherries on top and drizzled the jam glaze over everything. It didn’t look quite as fabulous as Martha’s, but it looked pretty good for a 15 minute baking sprint. I grabbed my bag and headed out the door, walking the 4 blocks to Nici’s house to arrive only 20 minutes late and just in time for some good wine.

We ended up having a really wonderful night, perfect weather, great conversation, lots of yummy food. And the tart pan was practically licked clean.. I am definitely going to put this in my stash of great party recipes. Martha comes through again!

13 June 2007

What's in a name?

As I thought about doing this blog, I tossed around several names, letting them roll around in my head for a few days before discarding them. None of them seemed to fit. Then I remembered one of my favorite crafty projects to date: The Hip Homemaker Kit.

I have always loved giving the gift of a kit or set. Not just a singular object, but a themed assortment of goodies. A couple of years ago, I came up with these kits as holiday gifts for my closest girl friends. The summer before we had all taken some pretty big life steps; marriage, moving away, buying a house, etc. and I thought that this would inspire each of them in their new adventures. Plus I am mildly obsessive about good old-fashioned housekeeping, reading Martha Stewart’s Homekeeping Handbook like it was a juicy novel. It was the perfect idea!

At first I wanted to find cute little vintage aprons, but obviously someone else had the same idea because every thrift and antique store I visited, it was the same line, “We had a bunch of those last week, but someone came in and bought them all up the other day.” The little old ladies would smile apologetically and then suggest a couple of other spots, that I had of course already tried. So, not to be put out, I decided to make my own. Now, I had sewn a little bit off and on, mostly repairing seems or loose buttons, but this was a whole new ball of wax. And of course, using a pattern would be too easy. No, I was going to wing it. How hard could it be?

And miraculously, it worked. I made 8 kits that year, each with their own unique apron, made to match their new owners. The kits also included:

-A cover sheet, outlining the contents of the kit and offering some kitschy inspiration

-BHG’s “Making a Home” (I found used copies of the book on Alibris for about $4 each)

-A perpetual calendar to fill in birthdays, anniversaries and other important dates that we all forget

-A list of my favorite useful homekeeping websites, many of which are book marked on this site.

-A hand knit dish cloth, my first foray into knitting

The kits were a huge hit and one of my favorite projects. I have been thinking that this year, I will do a follow-up kit, with some more fun additions. Potholders, kitchen gadgets, maybe a cookbook (since they are my current obsession). Hmmm… the wheels of creativity are turning. Maybe I will get a head start on my holiday gifts.

So, that project has become the inspiration for this new endeavor, my blog. Hopefully it will be as big of a hit as its namesake.

11 June 2007

Take the first step

"Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness...The moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too."

I had a short list of things that I wanted to do before I launched this blog: get a camera, make my own blog header, get the format right, add in all of my links and lists. But I can't wait for everything to fall into place, to be just so. I need to start it NOW. I will be in the middle of a project and think, “Oh, this would be perfect for a blog post.” Or “Get some good photos of this for the blog.” I have so many thoughts, ideas, inspirations floating around in my brain and I need to share them. So forget the list, things will fall into place as we go. So, we are off!

This blog will be a place for me to share my latest projects, posts photos of the progress and hold myself accountable for moving forward on becoming the hip homemaker that I want to be. Welcome and enjoy!

Here is our little house about 1 month before we closed on it. Our friends and family came over to "ooo" and "aahh" over it. You will see current pictures soon.