Thursday, August 9, 2012

Chalking It Up

"Back to School" is as much its own season nowadays as Christmas, and there's nothing that evokes the notion of kids again spending their days in the classroom as much as chalkboards do.  The zen-like ability to write something and have it be easily erased is one that's been easy to take home now for some time, a la chalkboard paint.  While fun for children's spaces, chalkboard paint is also useful and appropriate for numerous adult pieces and places.  Now is the perfect time of year to get reintroduced to this simple paint that can transition any surface!

If you're the type to go big or go home even AT home, consider painting an entire wall and using it as a blank canvas for chalk drawings:

Photos via Design Conundrum

Should obsessive organizing be more your fetish, consider chalkboard paint for your cabinet doors, so no one will ever again need to wonder what is in any given cabinet.  And heaven forbid someone tries to put something in a space where it clearly doesn't belong!  Now, you don't even have to do the work of letting them know something was put away incorrectly, because your cabinet will tell them first.  What a win-win.
Photo from

Photo via

Is just labeling your cabinets not enough?  Can clarity of what goes where and belongs to whom go even further?  Yes!  Yes, it can, and these are two examples of where chalkboard paint may have actually gone TOO far:
Photo from

Photo via

Hopefully, it's safe to assume that neither you nor your offspring need quite that much direction in the bathroom, so we will now leave you with a few more normal, but still creative, uses.  Like, for example, painting over a globe, because we all know geography is totally thrilling... and the only way to make geography even more enticing would be to paint over your home globe and try to sketch it out in chalk yourself!  But you know what's really funny?  It's pretty impossible to find a globe done over in paint that anyone has drawn the world back on to!  Apparently, this is the ideal spot for random notes and messages.
Photo from Hoot Designs

Photo via Today's Mama

And now for the winner of Most Interesting Use of Chalkboard Paint: Mad in Crafts Blog has redone a pair of shoes with it, and if nothing else, they are unique!  

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Leave Your Allergies at the Door

August is upon us, and that doesn't just mean it's the hottest month of the year for most states; it also means that allergy season is at its peak.  From humid days that make mold breed like bunnies to bee stings that could send you straight to the ER, the list of allergens is varied and long.  We've found some coping mechanisms for the allergens that ail you:

Bug bites are miserable whether or not you're allergic to them, and nowadays biting and stinging bugs tend to be particularly dangerous, as they carry diseases like Lyme and West Nile.  You could spray yourself down with toxic insect repellants, but rather than poison yourself, you could try Mosquito No Bite.  It's a vitamin B patch that you place on a discreet part of your body, and it successfully repels pretty much all bugs, even in swampy humid weather, for 36 hours.  The downside: these patches get absorbed through the skin, and make one smell a bit like a bottle of vitamins.

For indoor allergens, air purifiers are a great choice.  Apartment Therapy recommends this Honeywell purifier, which retails for around $200.  Air purifiers help year round with everything from  dust to pollen, so they're an investment that will continue to be worthwhile even after the change of seasons.

Allergens are at their lowest during and right after rain, so take advantage of that time for outdoor activities if you or your kids are sensitive to pollen.  You can take walks in bathing suits and galoshes, make mud pies on the lawn, or just let the little ones splash around in puddles.

Organic, raw local honey can actually reduce allergies when consumed regularly. It's a very tasty way to build up a tolerance for allergens, but you can't just buy regular grocery store honey-- it will only be effective if you're eating the product of local bees, who are pollinating flowers in your area.  Buckwheat honey is the highest antioxidant choice, but flower honeys like orange and clover have a milder and lighter flavor.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Beyond Burgers

Barbeques are the quintessential summertime gathering, and with good reason: nearly everything good tastes better when you hit it with some fire and smoke.  Granted, your soon-to-be-smoky clothes and hair might not agree with that, but even they should concur that the odor left is well worth it to bite into something delectable and charred.  Though hamburgers and hot dogs are still the first things that most of us think of when it comes to barbequeing and grilling, like most other aspects of life, times have changed for bbq, and many other options now abound.

To address first the hamburgers-and-hot-dogs paradigm, factory farmed products are thankfully taking a back burner to organic and humanely raised ones.  Grass fed ground beef is available at all health food stores, and  some mainstream groceries too.  You work with it the same way you would the grain-fed tragic type, only because it tends to be leaner, it shouldn't be cooked for quite as long.  Grass fed steaks are also readily available, and the same cooking techniques hold true for them: err on the rarer side to avoid toughness.  As for hot dogs, there are several brands now of humanely raised, antibiotic and hormone free, grass fed dogs.  Applegate Farms is the standard go-to, and they're very good.  This brand, slightly more boutique (though still available at large chains like Whole Foods), are even more heavenly:

They also have other size options: 

Now, let's move on from the standards-- and we hope your standards are of the raised, humane variety-- into some foods you may not realize are just perfect for charring up.  

Skewered alone or stuffed with goat cheese, figs should be grilled just until they begin to ooze and split. Both the darker black mission and their green Adriatic cousins are equally delicious this way and will compliment entrees of fish or meat.  Alternately, chop them up, add some honey and vinegar, and serve them on toast.   (Photo from Blimpy Girl)

Peaches and nectarines:
You can grill them sliced or halved, and can even use peaches and nectarines that are under ripe provided you bathe them briefly in some simple syrup.  Once done, these make a good salad topper as is, side dish with a vinaigrette, or chop them up and add some onion and fresh herbs for an unusual salsa.  (Photo from  Becky and the Beanstalk)


There's a reason you've been seeing grilled octopus on the menus of cutting-edge restaurants like Michael Voltaggio's Ink LA: it tastes incredible.  Unfortunately, octopus is going to make you work a little bit before the bbq.  You'll need to both tenderize it and marinate it, if not also boil it first.  (Photo from KRRB)

Caeser salad becomes a different dish completely when served with romaine lettuce that's been charred.  If Caeser dressing isn't your style, try sprinkling the cooked veggie with some blue cheese and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.  (Photo from Slashfood)

Pound cake:

Sometimes the best grilled meal can only end with more of the same.  When you just can't get enough of everything being blackened, bust out the pound cake!  Slice it thick-- one inch slices are ideal-- and grill or bbq briefly on both sides.  Top with berries and ice cream and serve, then sit back and enjoy being the talk of barbeque town for days to come.  

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Home is Where the Factory Was

Recently we watched "You Live in What?" on HGTV, a show about people who have made homes out of what used to be commercial buildings.  From former factories, to spaces too small for most to even consider dwelling in, we were inspired to take a further look at the notion that a "home" does not need to actually be made out of a house.  These are some of our off-the-wall finds:

In Barcelona, Ricardo Bofill turned a cement factory into a house.

On the English countryside, what was once a church is now a luxurious family dwelling.

It's hard to believe that this was once an 18th century schoolhouse.  Near Denver, CO, the remodel was done by Faleide Architects.

An old fire station gets new windows and more with this makeover in Australia.

What was once a dairy barn is now an eco-friendly home near Seattle thanks to architect Don Frothingham.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Days of (an Eco-Friendly) Summer

If you don't have kids, all summer really means is warmer weather and the ability to wear a fabulous array of sandals.  If you do have kids, summer means playing constant entertainer, unless you're fortunate enough for your children to have faired so poorly in school that they've been asked back for a hot-season encore.  Since that is fortuitous for you but not the youth you are trying so hard to raise well, let's instead assume you've got a bunch of little ones on the prowl for activities to keep them busy until the bright yellow school bus of the future is back in September and you can weep a few covert tears of joy.

Late July is the perfect time to wonder, will this season ever end?  By now, you've made trips to a pool, you've run the sprinkler, you've given in and let them stare vacantly for hours on end at the television while questioning your parenting skills, not to mention your sanity.  Thus, we thought it'd be the perfect time to revisit the notion of, "What in the world ELSE can I do with my kids so I'm not facilitating their transition to mindless tv zombies who will be completely unfit to rule the nation when I'm elderly?" Below are a few tips for eco-friendly ways to spruce up the season.

1. Make popsicles!  Yes, that sounds totally trite and silly, but it's a project, and a tasty AND healthy one, too.  Did you know you need basically nothing but dixie-ish cups and some popsicle sticks?  Should you wanna get fancy with things, BPA-free popsicle trays are less than $10 online, and they even come with the sticks... enough that while you're all eating popsicles, you can make houses out of them, or picture frames, or whatever other popsicle stick art from the 80's is currently back in vogue.  
You can either blend fresh fruit with a little juice, or use straight fruit juice itself.  Better yet, you can pay attention to that picture that just refuses to stop floating around everywhere on the internet and stick whole chunks of fruit into molds, with lemonade or coconut water or other light liquid around them.  I'm talking about this:

 There are also these, equally delicious-looking and simple to make:
Seriously, just put some fruit pieces in a mold, add a little clear liquid, and in less eight or less you'll be a superhero creator of gorgeous foodstuffs sure to delight kids the world over.  If you want to get further complex, mix some yogurt in for a creamier treat.

2. Build a summer home.  You don't have to be a carpenter-- or a contractor, or an architect, or anything else-- to build a house out of cereal boxes.  Why would you want to do that?  Because children love playhouses, and you love recycling, of course!  It's green, it'll take a whole afternoon, and when it's done, you don't have to buy anyone a new toy (except maybe yourself).  The tutorial is here: Cereal Box Houses

3. Host a clothing swap.  Back to school usually implies back to the shopping mall, an annual task that will have to be repeated next year because good lord, those kids just refuse to stop growing until they move out. Since trends tend to stick for a couple years at a time, why not take advantage of the fact that your friends and neighbors are all in the same clothing boat together, and see who has what that the others might be able to use?  Whatever doesn't get claimed can be donated, making it both a charitable affair and a solid reason to clean out the closets.  Kids will be entertained trying on clothes and playing with one another, you'll save a fortune, and there is no rule ANYWHERE against parents having cocktails during a clothing swap.

4. Make a tire swing.  Good times will abound when you jump outside of the pre-fab jungle gym box and construct your own paragon of back-and-forth happiness.  These things have been cool for as long as cool has been cool and not... what came before cool?  Swell?  They may have been around since the times of swell, too!  Tire swings are totally green, righteously retro, and seriously fun.  All you need is a tire and some hardware-ish doohicky thingies.  The whole thing is explained thoroughly here: Tire Swing Tutorial

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Colors of Summer Are Hotter Than Ever

Unless you're color blind-- and, honestly, even if you are, because this stuff is too bright to miss-- you've surely noticed that neon, that glowing color palette a la 1985, is BACK this season.  Not only is it prominent in summer and fall clothes from gazillions of designers, it has infiltrated its glowing way into the design scene, too.  From paints to appliances, the neon trend is everywhere, and it's making so loud a statement, you'd think it was the brightest color scheme on the planet, which is probably because, well... it is.

The number one thing to keep in mind if you find yourself drinking the neon Kool-Aid is that of all the trends out there, this one (along with everyone's eyeballs) begs you to stick with the less-is-more concept.  It's a great accent to all your neutral pieces, but it'd be unwise to go replacing your tasteful couch with one that hurts a little to look at.  That said, here are some neon accent ideas to spruce up your space.

"The Aestate" refers to this door as part of a "highlighter home." suggests painting porcelain dishware white, then adding your own neon accent tips.

Sania Pell buys cutlery at thrift stores and spray paints them herself.

Modern meets the 1960's on this vintage pillow cover from Etsy.

For those who knit or crochet, Caron makes an entire line of "Simply Soft Brites" colors.

Star by Julien Macdonald combines leopard print with neon in this linen set.

Made of eco-friendly bamboo, the Kontextur Blosson Shower Curtain utilizes repurposed PVC for the pink embroidery, making it a truly green ( green?) choice.  

Thursday, July 19, 2012


It's no secret that cell phones have changed modern culture, and it's even less of a secret that the iPhone took over our changed culture.  It's an age of technology at all times, in which we rarely go more than half an hour without checking SOMETHING on our phones.  Whether looking at the weather, a word game, email, or any of the hundreds of apps we use, studies all over all telling us what we already know: we're addicted.
Does all this technological dependence make you feel a little out of touch with the actual world?  If so, we have an easy way to reconnect-- ensconce your iPhone in a handmade case of natural materials.  Etsy, always the powerhouse of DIY-everything, has a huge variety of beautiful cases.

Made of black walnut, this case made by seller "TWoodzing" is a popular choice.  It's about as plain as a case can be, and dark enough to not show any dirt.

Hearts, flowers, and... bamboo?  Seller "happybuying" combines those elements delicately.

Cuteness meets more cuteness in this case by seller "extrafinecreations." If you're concerned about the white factor, fear not: adorable options abound in other colors, too.

Can't decide between leather and felted wool?  Seller "TheNavis" has got you covered on both fronts.

A feminine touch meets a hippie aesthetic in this one-stop-shop of cell phone case/credit card holder/glasses case made of leather by seller "Chymiera."

Seller "TLCPouches" utilizes an assortment of linens in their handmade cases, also usable for iPods, money, or any other small portable items.