Monday, September 23, 2013

On Creating Your Own Cocoon...

Interior decorating is a small passion of mine. However, I have been hesitant to share my interest on this blog because, basically, I have no impressive home of my own to show you. In fact, I don't even have my own space. What I do have is a room. One bedroom that I share with my boyfriend in a house filled with other people, including the owner, which means I have almost no say in the house's appearance.

While James and I do plan on moving out within a year, it is really important to me that I create a space where I feel at home--a cocoon where I can retreat from the world and feel comfortable and at ease. For me this means that my room be true to me (and to James since the poor guy has to share a space with me). While this isn't always easy when most of your furniture was given to you for free and your decorating budget is minuscule, I have found that it is possible. Of course there are things that I would love to add or change, but for right now, I am waiting until I have my own place and choosing to find solace in the comfortable nest I have created. Here's how I created a room that feels less like someone else's house and more like me:

1. Painted walls. Now I understand that this is not always an option for most renters, especially when they are only renting one room. However, I am really lucky because the owner (James' cousin) was going to paint over the horrible paint job in that room anyway and he let us choose the color. Keeping in mind James' more masculine and simple taste, I chose Benjamin Moore's Coventry Gray for the room. It is a medium gray that actually looks like it has blue undertones in natural light, and it is perfect for making our room feel like a sanctuary. Not only does is separate our room from the off-white color of the rest of the house, it is also a soothing color that helps make our bedroom cozier without being too dark.

2. Small details. Something that a young renter might not think to do is change out the light switch plates and socket plates with ones that suit your taste. James and I chose these simple, metal plates. They didn't cost that much and took very little time to change out. Now doesn't that look so much better than plain, plastic ones? (And yes, that red paint on the switch is from the previous paint job. I told you it was horrible.) We also added simple hooks underneath the switch for hanging our keys. There are prettier ones available, but we were already spending a lot of money when we first moved in. 

3. Real art. While posters and popular prints were my style choice back in college, for my post-college life, I have opted to save my walls for real, framed art, a framed photograph, and my jewelry collection. I don't think anything offers the chance for you to make a room more sophisticated or more you than art. If you feel that buying original art is a little out of your price range, consider making your own like I did or buying prints of artists you like. I would avoid Van Gogh's Starry Night or anything else so well-known as it tends to be overdone. Here is the chance to make your own statement. Etsy is a great source for art and allows you to support an artist while decorating your room. In my room I hung my own original watercolors, which cost me only as much as materials and the frame (Target). The painting over my dresser is one I did in my intermediate class in college, while the others are from my trip to Venice, which make them some of my best souvenirs. 

4. Plants. I feel that plants are really important for creating a space that you can be comfortable in. Not only do they bring life, literally, to a room, but as humans, we crave nature, and being surrounded by plants or other natural elements soothes us and relieves stress. I lived in Arizona for only a few months before I began to crave the comfort of green plants around me, and I have learned that nothing completes a room like something alive. In my room, I have an orchid, an air cactus, and some other green, leafy plants that I bought at a grocery store.

5. Candle. This one is pretty simple. If you can control the scent of your room, you will be able to block out the chaos for the rest of the house and feel more at ease in your personal space. 

6. Bulletin board collage. While I try to make sure that everything in my room is truly me, from my books, to the small tchotchkes on my dresser, to my furniture and bedding, my bulletin board is a way to showcase my interests, photographs, souvenirs and other trinkets in an artistic way. The items that fill this board are things that I might not find ways to display otherwise in my room. While the blanket I choose to display on my bed is high-impact and important for creating the tone of my room (I chose my quilt made by my grandmother and a fuzzy throw over a graphic duvet cover from Target), my bulletin board adds depth and a much more personal touch than those items. In a way it is a treasure chest of memories displayed for me to see at any times, and it helps me feel that the space is mine more than a paint color or anything else. 

Thursday, September 5, 2013

On the Fast-approaching Fall...

While my friends in California have been begging for the beginning of autumn, I have spent the entire month of August basically dreading the fall. I felt like I hadn't gotten enough summer time in yet. I mean, I haven't used my bathing suit once! However, now that it's September (and last week was blazing hot), I'm actually starting to get excited for fall. It has always been my favorite season, and I always felt that it started way too late in California (Arizona doesn't really have a fall. It goes from summer to winter in about two weeks). I'm really excited to see what the season is like here in Chicagoland (while I visited during Thanksgiving last year, I missed the time when all the leaves were changing. It looked like winter instead, even if it didn't feel like it yet).

Now I'm looking forward to wearing scarves and jackets and cute outfits without sweating. Here's to fall! And I hope it's a long one because the thought of winter coming is scaring me.

Monday, August 26, 2013

On Good Reads...

As I mentioned last post, I am not only an avid reader, but I also work at Barnes & Noble, which means that I probably should be recommending some books to you guys.

Right now I'm reading the Martian Trilogy by Edgar Rice Burroughs, but Sci-fi is not my usual genre. Normally I stick to women's fiction, magical realism, or historical fiction, although I do like to take on different genres every once in a while. For example, I'm really into the Chew graphic novel series. It is so funny and great. I definitely recommend it. Another great read is The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker. It is a great book for those who are into magical realism. Fans of the Night Circus seem  to like this one.

But I'm not going to talk about those books today. The one I want to recommend to anyone and everyone is Juliet by Anne Fortier, which I actually read two years ago.

My well-loved copy
Containing all the beauty of Tuscany, the thrill of a good mystery, and the romance of Shakespeare's most famous tragedy, Anne Fortier's novel takes you behind the legend that inspired the tale of star-crossed lovers and into a world where "the plague on both your houses" may still be in effect. A thrilling romance that incorporates history and dazzling storytelling, I would call Juliet a must read for all different types of readers.

This is the description on back of the book:
When Julie Jacobs inherits a key to a safety-deposit box in Siena, Italy, she is told that it will lead her to an old family treasure. Soon she is launched on a winding and perilous journey into the history of her ancestor Giulietta, whose legendary love for a young man named Romeo rocked the foundations of medieval Siena. As Julie crosses paths with the descendants of the families immortalized in Shakespeare’s unforgettable blood feud, she begins to realize that the notorious curse—“A plague on both your houses!”—is still at work, and that she is the next target. It seems that the only one who can save Julie from her fate is Romeo—but where is he?
I've only read this book once, but I definitely want to read it again. Picked up on a whim at an airport while traveling for my first post-college job, this book caught me by surprise and served to fill the loneliness I was feeling during this period in my life. And when I finished, I felt ready to fall in love (I met my current boyfriend the following month, which might be entirely coincidental). It's a book that I feel deserves to be recommended because I'm afraid you may never hear of it otherwise. And if you're not a big fan of Shakespeare's story don't worry. While I liked the play, I felt that Romeo and Juliet were two reckless teenagers. However, in this book, my feelings were different, and yours will be too.

If you're looking for a good book to read right now, consider this one, and head down to your local Barnes & Noble today ;)

Friday, August 23, 2013

On Work...

OK, so we ended up not going to the beach last Sunday. I received a lot of work last minute over the weekend, which really ruined our plans. I feel like today is the first day I've truly relaxed in two weeks. But I don't want to complain that I had work because it helped me buy a new shirt today ;)

I don't think I've actually mentioned what I've been doing work wise lately. I've been working part-time as a transcriber for an educational company, transcribing online course videos for the hearing impaired. I also work as a bookseller at Barnes & Noble to supplement that income.

When I'm not working, I have, unfortunately, not been painting as I promised I would. I've mostly been cooking and watching movies, while ignoring the blank canvas sitting next to me on my desk.

My books have also been neglected lately, which is a shame because I'm having a hard time not using my employee discount at Barnes & Noble. My nightstand/bookshelf is being taken over. And the pile just keeps growing.

I've also been trying to cook. I bought the Test Kitchen's Pasta Revolution, and I've already made two dishes. The ravioli tonight was DELISH!

Friday, August 16, 2013

On Hiking, Natural Beauty and Starved Rock...

James and the purple light
This past weekend James and I, along with a group of friends, made the trek to Starved Rock State Park to hike and enjoy the general splendor of nature. It was a nice change of scenery. We got to escape the flatland that Illinois and the Midwest are known for and hike up the bluffs at Starved Rock. It was really beautiful, and all that stunning greenery kept us shaded and cool during our exercise. And exercise it was. I think we ended up hiking eight miles total in four hours, with intermittent sprints when we were being chased by a very determined horse fly.

I'm really glad we got to go. It was nice seeing a little bit more of my new home state, and being around that much nature was really refreshing.

This Sunday: the beach near Navy Pier in Chicago!
Andrew hiking up the incline

Saturday, July 27, 2013

On Cooking... after living 23 years and saying I hate cooking for many of turns out that I may actually like it. I was craving some good food last week and decided to make a dish that my roommate used to make a lot in college, and I was so proud of myself when I was actually able to make it. It felt like such an accomplishment, and it was delicious to boot! So later in the week I made another pasta, and I have more recipes waiting for me to try :)

I was so excited about cooking that I made my own recipe books with an old binder, tape, and calligraphy.
So here are the recipes in case you're in the mood for delicious food. The first one is by Giada de Laurentiis of the Food Network.

Ignore the ugly, green counter
Creamy Orzo

1 pound orzo (rice-shaped pasta)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large shallot, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, juices drained
1 1/4 cups whipping cream
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Bring a heavy large saucepan of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the orzo and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring often, about 8 minutes. Drain, reserving 1 cup of the cooking liquid.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a heavy large frying pan over medium heat. Add the shallot and garlic, and saute until tender, about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook until they are tender, about 8 minutes. Stir in the cream and peas. Add the orzo and toss to coat. Remove the skillet from the heat. Add the Parmesan to the pasta mixture and toss to coat. Stir the pasta mixture until the sauce coats the pasta thickly, adding enough reserved cooking liquid to maintain a creamy consistency. Season the orzo with salt and pepper, and serve.

Garlic Parmesan Cream Sauce Over Pasta

1 lb pasta
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon chopped garlic (or minced)
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk
1 cup chicken broth
1 -1 1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese (grated will not work well, shredded works best!)
salt and pepper
4 -5 scallions (green onions, diced with scissors)

Cook pasta according to directions.
When pasta is half way done, start with cream sauce in separate pot.
Add butter, olive oil and garlic and saute on med-low heat until butter is melted, then add red pepper flakes and saute.
Mix in flour until combined.
Add milk and chicken broth, bring to a boil, lower heat and stir until thickened.
Add parmesan and stir until melted.
Serve over pasta, and top with green onions.
Option: Add cooked, diced chicken.

On this one, I decided to not to add the scallions and added peas instead, which were delicious! I think I'll make a pea pesto pasta later in the week! And I might just have to get myself a good cookbook soon.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Happiness Project: Make More Art

Watercolor of my friend Liane and her bf in front of Mt. Fuji in Japan
My goal for this month is to paint more. Unfortunately I don't really know what to paint, but I want to find something to do at least every couple days...even if I'm painting pictures of mugs and stuff from my cupboard.

I'm learning a lot about my art style, but I'm frustrated with my lack of improvement. I want to be great already!! But the only way to truly get better is to experiment and paint, paint, paint. So this month I want to actually do it! I'm going to be painting a similar scene to this one on canvas this month for my friend Liane. I like canvas so much more than rough watercolor paper, which the one above is on. Canvas is smoother ans more forgiving. Paper won't let you blend something out or try to remove the paint if you mess up. I also have a couple large sheets of cold press watercolor paper that I need to use. That paper is also smoother than rough, but I don't want to waste it on anything trivial. I'm too poor to afford more supplies right now. I need to get out there and take some pictures, so I'll have something to paint. So I guess I'm returning to that other goal; I need to take more pictures!

Sorry if this post was rambly...I am writing it at 1:45 in the morning.