Thursday, December 31, 2015

a look back on 2015

Happy New Year! Here's a look back at some of our most notable moments from 2015.

cozy birdhouse | a look back on 2015

Top Row (left to right): A sad goodbye to our baby boy Nolan; our first trip to the state of Texas for Katherine and Dave's wedding; Joe and Roshni's Hindu/Catholic wedding extravaganza in Orlando; and a visit to Universal Studios with Dan's family

Middle Row: A week in Wales for work; my first (and probably only) half marathon; a relaxing time at Lake George with my grandparents; and a late-summer vacation to the beach with Dan's family

Bottom Row: A visit to Colorado and the Rocky Mountains for Paul and Colleen's wedding; our three year anniversary gift; our annual visit to the symphony's Christmas show; and our baby girl!

Sunday, December 27, 2015

knit gifts

I love giving (and receiving!) handmade gifts. At first I was a little disappointed that I only managed to make two presents this Christmas, but then I realized that even two was a major accomplishment on top of everything else we've been doing: traveling, preparing for Christmas, and even working on home improvement projects. (Why did I attempt a big project in December?? Never again!)

First I made this knit pillow for my friend Kathy, who develops a computer program at work which is affectionately nicknamed "The Pink Icon" for its distinctive bright color. Since she is also an avid knitter, I knew she'd enjoy this knit replica of the pink icon. We are such nerds. Project details are available on my Ravelry page.

cozy birdhouse | knit pink icon pillow

Side note: Isn't this little knit bird she made as part of my Christmas gift adorable??

cozy birdhouse | knit bird ornament

Although I finished the pillow back in November, I didn't even start the second gift (for Dan's cousin Sean) until the week of Christmas! These are the "Trigger Gloves" from a set of patterns published by the National Defense Program under the title "Knit for Defense" in 1941. I made a few small modifications which I listed on my Ravelry page. Also, thanks to Dan for being my hand model!

cozy birdhouse | fingerless trigger gloves

I was a little worried about finishing these gloves with only a few days left until Christmas. But, after two cancelled flights on the 23rd, we gave up on air travel and decided to drive to visit Dan's family instead. Instead of 90 minutes on a plane, I had 9 hours in a car to knit! The gloves were finished, blocked, and dry with plenty of time left before the big family Christmas party!

cozy birdhouse | family photo 2015

Friday, December 25, 2015

tidings of comfort and joy!

Merry Christmas! Let's play a fun little game for the holiday. Can you count the number of people in our family Christmas photo below? Just a warning... it might be a little trickier than you think!

cozy birdhouse | family christmas photo 2015

Okay, did you guess eight? Try again.
Nine?? Nope!
Ten??? Yes!!

Need help finding those last two? Take a closer look at both me and Emily... and you might need the help of an ultrasound machine. That's right! Dan and I will be welcoming a baby girl into our family in mid-May, and Emily and Christopher are expecting a baby in mid-June! Little cousins just a month apart.

I am officially 20 weeks along as of today. I've been feeling well, and I'm definitely starting to show! Here's an ultrasound photo of our little girl from earlier this week.

cozy birdhouse | our baby girl!

Just wanted to share our exciting news with everyone! Wishing you all a wonderful Christmas!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

gingerbread droids

Don't worry, this post is spoiler-free!

The Star Wars hype in our house peaked Thursday when Dan and I went to see the new movie ("The Force Awakens"). The excitement had been mounting since early November when we purchased our tickets for opening night. The event was a perfect excuse to break out my Star Wars cookie cutter set, which Dan bought me as a Christmas gift a few years ago. Instead of making traditional cut-out cookies with elaborate decorative icing like the box suggests, I decided to make gingerbread cookies. Less complicated and very appropriate for the holiday season!

cozy birdhouse | gingerbread droids

May the force be with you.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

hermione hat

This little project combines two of my favorite things: knitting and Harry Potter. The pattern is Hermione Hearts Ron and is based on the hat worn by Hermione Granger in "Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince." I included a photo from the movie promos below, just in case you were having trouble telling me apart from Emma Watson.

cozy birdhouse | hermione's cable and eyelet hat

 hermione's cable and eyelet hat

The yarn is Knit Picks Andean Treasure in colorway Fog Heather, which is super soft and drapey ("drapey" is totally a word in knitting jargon). This is my first time ordering from Knit Picks after drooling over the catalogues for many months. They have a full-color, two-page centerfold spread... of just yarn! It's wonderful. More project details are available on my Ravelry page.

You'd think I'd have learned my lesson by now, but I am a creature of habit: knit something once too big, undo and reknit on smaller needles for a perfect fit. Happens (almost) every time! Fortunately, reknitting a hat only takes a few days. I completed this one just in time for our annual Girls' Weekend in Chicago. We celebrated with all our favorite traditions: lunch at the Walnut Room in Macy's, dinner at Grand Lux, lots of shopping, and a sleep over at my cousin Courtney's condo. I even bought a few gifts! Now it really feels like the Christmas season.

cozy birdhouse | chicago girls weekend

Friday, December 11, 2015

guernsey blanket

Note: I wrote this post after finishing this blanket over a year ago in November 2014, but didn't edit it until now. This blanket is getting plenty of use on the couch and still looks great!

I think I got a little over-ambitious after finishing my Sweatshirt Sweater. I mean, it IS quite an accomplishment to knit a whole sweater (even if it did take two attempts to get the fit right), but that pattern is not terribly difficult. It's mostly just plain knitting with an occasional fancy stitch. I guess I started to think, "If I can knit A sweater, I can knit ANY sweater." False. For my next project, I had chosen the Monte Rosa cardigan. It's just so pretty with its cables and lace and accent color! It turns out, I am just not cut out for projects where each row has multiple cable charts involved. It took me SO LONG to work one row because I had to keep looking between the project and multiple pattern pages. It felt like a chore every time I picked it up... that's not how hobbies are supposed to make you feel! Finally, weeks into the project but only half way through my first skein, I cut my losses (literally) and decided to use the yarn for a different project.

Enter the Guernsey Blanket. I modified the design for the gorgeous Guernsey Wrap to make a throw-sized blanket. This project was everything I needed after struggling through that cardigan for way too long. The pattern changes every few rows to keep it interesting, but it was simple enough that I could watch TV or chat while working on it. I finished the whole blanket in just a month, even though it's the biggest project (most yardage) I've ever worked!

cozy birdhouse | guernsey blanket

cozy birdhouse | guernsey blanket

It's perfect for staying cozy on the couch during chilly evenings, and it's so pretty! Additional details on my Ravelry page.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

simply charming

Of my many little collections (I promise I'm not a hoarder), my favorite is my silver bracelet charms. I started collecting these in 1999 when my grandparents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary by taking our whole family on a Caribbean cruise. I bought a charm at each island and one from our ship's gift shop. When we returned home, I had them attached to an inexpensive silver bracelet. I slowly added to the bracelet, buying a charm whenever we traveled to a new place. Eventually the bracelet became quite heavy and jangly, and I was too afraid of losing it to ever wear it. Instead of keeping my little souvenirs tucked away in a jewelry case, I removed the charms from the bracelet and gave each its own hook and label in a display box which hangs on the wall in our bedroom. Since then, I've added charms from Europe, Canada, and all over the United States (California to Maine!).

If you hold your mouse pointer over each of the photos below (or click if you're on a smartphone), you can view one of my photos from that trip! Some of the boxes don't have a specific year listed, if it's somewhere we traveled frequently and I couldn't remember during which specific trip I purchased the charm.

Silver charms used to be ubiquitous in gift shops, but now they're a bit harder to find (and more expensive). I have the best luck with small jewelry stores and huge souvenir shops, so I usually try to scope out a few possibilities before I travel somewhere. On our trips, I always breathe a small sigh of relief when I find a charm and can stop the search. I have room for 5 more charms in this display box, so I'll have to plan a few more vacations soon!

Friday, November 27, 2015


Remember those Springbok circular jigsaw puzzles I mentioned from my post about visiting my grandparents at Lake George? Well, I'm a little obsessed. There's so much I love about them: the vintage look, the variety of artwork, the unique circular boxes, and all of the wonderful memories of working on these with my family while on vacation. These circular box designs were only produced from around 1964-1975, though Springbok continues to produce puzzles today.

cozy birdhouse | springbok circular puzzles

I was thrilled to discover a thriving market for these puzzles on eBay. They sell for around $20-$40, depending on condition and whether they are missing any pieces. I found a website that catalogues all the circular puzzles (almost 100 different designs) and kept an eye on eBay for my favorites. The first one I bought was Familiar Birds (of course), which I purchased using my iPhone while sitting on my grandparents' couch. Since then, I've bought 4 others. I was especially excited to find "Silver Blaze" which depicts scenes from the Sherlock Holmes story of the same name. I have already assembled both of these plus "Garden Flowers" and "Treasure Hunt" (always a favorite at Lake George because of it's bright colors). I am currently working on "Famous London Scenes," which actually came sealed in its original cellophane!

cozy birdhouse | springbok circular puzzles

When I finish, I'll leave it on the table for a while to be admired and then pack it away in the box. I'm looking forward to more hours of puzzling some upcoming wintry weekend!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

cozy birdhouses

Here is a perfect little "cozy birdhouse" project: decorative birdhouses! I first made one of these as a cake topper for a baby shower a few years ago, and finally made some for myself last year. I'm sharing photos now that they've found a permanent place in our home, decorating the top of our kitchen cabinets.

cozy birdhouse | decoupaged wooden birdhouses

These wooden birdhouses come in lots of styles and usually cost around $1 at a craft supply store. Each of my five houses has a slightly different design. I started each with a light sanding and two coats of craft paint. Then I painstakingly measured and cut coordinating pieces of scrapbook paper to fit each surface. This was the time-consuming part and involved a lot of measuring, calculating, sketching, and even a bit of trigonometry. Square shapes were easy but the hexagons and cones were particularly challenging. (This could just as easily be accomplished by cutting pieces a bit large and trimming for a good fit, but I'm a math-loving perfectionist.) I attached the paper pieces to the painted house with a coat of matte finish Mod Podge (a decoupage medium) and then sealed everything with another coat.

cozy birdhouse | decoupaged wooden birdhouses

I'd love to make a set of these as seasonal decorations... little haunted Halloween birdhouses or a little village of Christmas birdhouses. They'd also make a neat hanging mobile, maybe combined with some handcrafted birds. Add it to my ever-growing list of project ideas!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

glass anniversary

Note: One of my pet peeves is "before and after" photos (for anything: makeovers, weight loss, home improvement, etc) where the before photo is poorly lit, grainy, and taken from an unflattering angle. Of course the "after" photo looks better when the "before" looks terrible! If you also experience this pet peeve, be warned: I am about to do exactly that.

Dan and I celebrated our third wedding anniversary back in September. The traditional gift for 3 years is either glass or leather. We could have exchanged vases and wallets, but I was looking for something a little more creative. So, we put in a stained glass window!

Most of the homes in our area (including ours) are Craftsman style, built in the early 1900s. Many of these homes feature beautiful stained glass windows which add so much personality and character. I've been a little jealous, so for our "glass anniversary" we thought, "Hey... Let's put one in!" We even had the perfect spot, a wide window high on the wall in our front room. The window itself was old, damaged, dirty, and full of bugs and leaves. Here's the crummy "before" photo.

cozy birdhouse | replacing an ugly old window

We started by contacting a local stained glass shop to get an estimate and discuss design options. I was pleasantly surprised by our amount of involvement in the process. I expected to provide some styles or examples and receive a sketch or two back to choose, but I was actually able to sketch the design myself! I based the design on early 20th century prairie style. It's at least period-appropriate for our house, even if it doesn't perfectly match our architecture.

cozy birdhouse | my design for our custom prairie-style stained glass window

I liked this style for its geometric designs and earthy tones. Dan and I picked out the glass colors from a box of samples at the glass studio. We chose a relatively neutral color palette of gold and light greens, which were fitting for this design and will look okay if we (or a future owner of our home) decide to redecorate. Finally, here is my "after" photo:

cozy birdhouse | our custom prairie-style stained glass window

I still have to do a little touch-up painting on the window moulding, but I absolutely love the finished window. The colors change depending on the lighting, looking paler in bright sun and more saturated on cloudy days or in the evenings. It's a beautiful focal point for this room, and one of the first things I notice every day when I walk through the front door. It's also a great reminder of our three wonderful years of marriage!

cozy birdhouse | our custom prairie-style stained glass window

Sunday, November 1, 2015

a sweater in one week

Last week I shared photos of a sweater that took me a little over six months to knit. Now I have one to share that I finished in just seven days! I received an invitation for my cousin's baby "sprinkle" (like a baby shower, but a bit lower key for a second or third child usually) a few weeks ago. I knew I wanted to knit something, but the date came up on me a bit faster than I expected and I knew I wouldn't have time for anything elaborate. This pattern, the Baby Tea Leaves cardigan looked simple enough and only required one skein of yarn. Perfect!

cozy birdhouse | hand knit baby tea leaves cardigan

I researched/procrastinated buying the yarn until it was too late for timely shipment of an online purchase, so I swung by my local yarn shop last Thursday. I was looking for madelinetosh pashmina as specified by the pattern but instead found this lovely Wonderland Mad Hatter yarn in a pretty colorway called Tea Tray. The gray should be a good neutral to pair with all her new little pink outfits! I knit the 6-12 month size, but if she takes after her older brother, it will be too small already!

cozy birdhouse | hand knit baby tea leaves cardigan

Here's what knitting a baby cardigan in a week looks like:

Thursday: Yarn purchased. Lady at the store offered to wind it. Yes! Time is of the essence... this saves having to dig out the winder and swift from the closet at home! Cast on and knit a few rows.
Friday: Yoke finished (that's the part from the neck to the arm holes).
Saturday: Took a break to visit with family. Spent 5 hours at IKEA and stuffed a U-Haul completely full of furniture for my brother's new house! Then stuffed ourselves full of pretzels and spätzle at Hofbrauhaus.
Sunday: Ah, so rejuvenated from my break... Body, button bands, and one sleeve completed!
Monday: Finished the second sleeve... knitting complete! Hand washed and laid out flat to dry.
Tuesday: Buttons purchased. Could have attached them too but feeling a little lazy. Watched an Australian mystery show and fell asleep on the couch instead.
Wednesday: Buttons securely attached, sweater photographed. DONE! Sweater in 7 days.

More details are available on My Ravelry page.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

a sweater in six months

I started knitting this sweater almost exactly six months ago. The yarn was purchased with a gift card from my friend Kathy during one of my first excursions from the house back in February. It even received a little mention in this blog post. I'm sure everyone has been on the edge of their seats since then, waiting to see the final product (ha ha).

cozy birdhouse | handknit breakwater sweater

I chose this pattern, Breakwater, because of the pretty woven stitch detail around the wide neckline. I also selected the yarn, madelinetosh tosh sock, because the variegated color shows off the woven stitch and adds interest to the hours and hours of plain knitting while working on the body and sleeves. I absolutely love the little bits of emerald, gold, rust, and teal dotting this colorway called Shire (Shire! Hobbits!). Before I worked the sleeves, this sweater was a somewhat shapeless green tunic and was very hobbit-worthy indeed. Dan said I looked like a Celtic warrior when I tried it on.

cozy birdhouse | handknit breakwater sweater

I made a few small modifications to the pattern, including full length sleeves instead of three-quarter and a longer torso. The sleeves lengthened quite a bit after the sweater's first trip through the wash, so I actually undid a few inches and reknit the cuffs to a more reasonable length. The longer sleeves should make this sweater wearable longer into the winter, despite the relatively thin fabric.

cozy birdhouse | handknit breakwater sweater

More project details are available on my Ravelry page.

Friday, October 23, 2015

mile(s) high

I really can't complain about having to travel half way across the country for a wedding when it gives me an excuse to visit beautiful Colorado! Earlier in October we flew to Denver for the wedding of one of Dan's college friends. On Friday, we met up with his friends in Boulder and explored the town until the rehearsal dinner at the gorgeous Chautauqua Dining Hall. Instead of staying in Boulder with most of the other wedding guests, we booked a hotel in Estes Park for easier access to Rocky Mountain National Park Saturday and Sunday. I'm not going all the way to Colorado without doing some hiking!

Saturday morning we drove into the park and followed Trail Ridge Road all the way up to the peak, stopping many times at the scenic overlooks to take in the purple mountain majesties and snap a few photos. From the Alpine Visitors Center near the top, we walked up a steep stone staircase (panting heavily from the altitude, not just because we are out of shape) to 12,005 feet above sea level!

cozy birdhouse | 12,005 feet up on trail ridge road in rocky mountain national park

cozy birdhouse | 12,005 feet up on trail ridge road in rocky mountain national park

We continued along the road a short way to the Continental Divide, the invisible line where water to the east drains to the Atlantic and water to the west drains to the Pacific.

cozy birdhouse | at the continental divide in rocky mountain national park

On our way back to Estes Park to get dressed for the wedding, we stopped again to photograph the beautiful Aspens in their golden autumn glory. The fall colors of the park are actually surprisingly limited as most of the trees are conifers.

cozy birdhouse | beautiful fall foliage on the aspens at rocky mountain national park

Although the scenery was incredibly beautiful, I did leave the park slightly disappointed Saturday afternoon because we saw NO ELK. I was promised elk!

Saturday evening we attended Paul and Colleen's beautiful outdoor wedding ceremony. After dinner under a white canopy, we danced outside, illuminated by stars, campfire, and globe lights strung from the trees.

cozy birdhouse | paul and colleen's wedding

Sunday morning, we woke up early for a day of hiking at the park (and determined to see some elk). Less than a mile past the entrance... BAM! Elk! We hopped out of the car to see a hulking male elk herding his harem along next to the road. He was quite vocal with funny trumpeting sounds when the ladies weren't moving fast enough for his liking. As they walked away through the trees, we joked that we could just turn around and go home, since I'd accomplished my main goal of elk sighting.

cozy birdhouse | elk at rocky mountain national park

We continued our drive along to the Bear Lake trailhead and started with a relatively strenuous (for us) hike to Emerald Lake, also passing by Nymph Lake and Dream Lake. It was incredibly windy, but we stayed warm enough when protected by the trees. We saw lots of little chipmunks and a curious little Stellar's Jay who came so close I could almost pet him!

cozy birdhouse | hiking at rocky mountain national park

cozy birdhouse | emerald lake at rocky mountain national park

cozy birdhouse | stellar's jay at rocky mountain national park

After our morning hike, we lunched on PB&J sandwiches (which we had to guard carefully from aggressive chipmunks) and then walked around Bear Lake. Finally, we finished the afternoon with a short trek to Alberta Falls where I finally caught a nice photo of a Gray Jay after many unsuccessful attempts on our morning hike. (These birds are also known as Whiskey Jacks, which I much prefer to the boring name Gray Jay.)

cozy birdhouse | gray jay at rocky mountain national park

Monday morning drove to the airport for our flight back home. On our way out of Estes Park, we saw a lone male elk out for a casual morning stroll along the sidewalk... a hilarious farewell for a great mini-vacation. I have to point out a downside of this trip though: Dan has now gained a state on me, since I had already been to Colorado but he hadn't!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

pigskins, puns, and planes

Just a quick update about some fun weekend activities! Two weeks ago we drove to Notre Dame stadium to see the Fighting Irish steamroll the University of Massachusetts. We arrived a little early so we could watch Kelsey's tennis match at St. Mary's before heading to campus for tailgating with Julie, Dave, Phil, Bethany, and Justin.

cozy birdhouse | visiting kelsey

The game was good... the win was better... but the best part was seeing Officer Tim McCarthy's final appearance. Every game since 1960, his voice booms over the loud speaker at the end of the 3rd quarter: "This is Officer Tim McCarthy with the Indiana State Police..." The whole stadium quickly hushes as we listen to his reminder to drive safely after the game, followed by a pun about the dangers of drinking and driving. Officer McCarthy announced his retirement last April, but returned for this final live appearance. In honor of his 55 years as an icon of Notre Dame stadium, he repeated the pun from his first announcement ever: "Remember, the automobile may have replaced the horse, but the driver should stay on the wagon!" The entire crowd erupted into an amused groan, as always. Officer Tim McCarthy will be dearly missed by all! (Side note: my favorite pun was, "Remember, if you have one more for the road, you may end up with a cop as your chaser!")

cozy birdhouse | notre dame game

Finally, last weekend we went to a small air show organized by my group at work. I love watching little stunt planes, and the weather could not have been more beautiful. We are certainly enjoying the slightly cooler autumn days!

cozy birdhouse | air show

Saturday, October 3, 2015

jeopardy! exclusive interview

In honor of the one year anniversary of Dan's appearance on Jeopardy!, I have obtained an exclusive interview with him! The episode aired originally on Friday, October 3, 2014. Dan finished in 2nd place, bringing home $2000 which covered our travel expenses. We ended up with a once-in-a-lifetime experience and a free trip to California... Yay! Read on for our exciting interview:

cozy birdhouse | jeopardy, alex trebek and dan!

In a general sense, what is it the day like when you’re a contestant on Jeopardy?
It’s a very long, very stressful day that passes by in a complete blur. You start out by taking a shuttle to the studio from the hotel with the rest of the contestants at about 7am. Once at the studio, the next several hours are taken up with filling out a lot of forms, meeting the production staff, and getting some time to practice on the actual stage, with the actual buzzers. After that, they randomly pick contestants for the first game and the rest get to sit up in a sequestered area of the audience and watch. I was a bit surprised that I was allowed to watch all of the games that were filmed before mine, it was certainly preferable to just sitting nervously in a green room! Each episode goes by incredibly fast (they film pretty much in real time), and they manage to film five episodes in a day (my game was the last of the day). It’s a pretty exhausting and nerve-wracking experience, but it’s definitely worth it.

Is there anything funny or interesting that happened during filming that you’d like to share?
By far the most memorable thing that happened while I was there is something that unfortunately the audience at home will never get to see. In the first game of the day, during the interview portion, Alex asked one of the contestants about a time they fell asleep in the Tower of London. She then proceeded to tell a story about a time when she bribed a guard to let her and a friend sleep overnight in Anne Boleyn’s cell. When he then moved on to the next contestant, he realized that he had gotten the information cards swapped and asked the wrong question to the wrong contestant about the Tower of London! She had decided to just roll with it, and completely made up a story on the spot that turned out to be more exciting than the real one (which involved some jet lag and a nap during a tour). They had to go back, reset, and reshoot the interview for the show. Later on, that contestant actually got a question with the answer of Anne Boleyn; the entire audience in the studio laughed, and those watching at home had no idea why.

Tell us about watching yourself on TV. Was it weird?
It was incredibly weird (mainly because I’ve never liked the way that my voice sounds when I hear a recording of it), but also very fun. We were able to have a large watch party at the bar where we used to play trivia and joined by a large group of friends. They were great; cheering any time I got a question right, booing when my competition did, and overall being pretty proud of me. In all, it served as a great way to cap off the whole experience.

I think every Jeopardy! contestant walks away kicking himself about some error or misspoken answer. Your episode was rife with these from all three contestants. Now that you've had a year to reflect, what still sticks in your mind?
A year later, I’m still kicking myself over the two big mistakes that I made in my appearance: accidentally pluralizing the title of Sunday (not Sundays) In The Park With George and the flub over the acronym “DNA”. In both cases, it’s painful since they were questions that I clearly knew the answer to, but messed up either a tiny detail, or just didn’t fully understand the question.

Everyone who knows you even a little bit, knows how much you love television and pop culture. Our heads almost exploded when we saw your Final Jeopardy category "TV in the 2000s." What was going through your mind?
GAH! WHY AM NOT IN THE LEAD!!! Haha. It was pretty exciting to get a category where I was incredibly confident in my knowledge. I had hoped that they question would be an incredibly obscure one, but wasn’t too disappointed to at least get one that I was absolutely sure I knew the answer to. Having been able to talk the contestants throughout the day, I knew that the other competitor, Sam, did not that much about recent pop-culture and would likely answer incorrectly. My only hope was the Shawn had been too busy studying for law school to know too much about TV, but being around the same age as me, he was unfortunately familiar with How I Met Your Mother. Still, it was a nice relief to be able to put down a very confident wager for Final Jeopardy (much better than if the category has been anything poetry related).

We had fun looking for social media reactions to your Jeopardy! appearance. My favorite was seeing you on the "Jeopardy Hotties" Tumblr. What was your favorite?

cozy birdhouse | dan on jeopardy hotties

While it as certainly an honor to make an appearance on the “Jeopardy Hotties” Tumblr, I think that this might be my favorite:

cozy birdhouse | social media coverage of dan's jeopardy! appearance

In all honesty, I should have gotten that Provincetown question! My brother goes there for vacation in the summer! Other than that, it was nice seeing that other people thought I got a little bit hosed on the question about DNA.

Overall, how was the experience? Would you do it again?
I would absolutely do it again…unfortunately I can’t, at least not while Alex Trebek is the host! Sadly, one of the many forms that you sign as a contestant states that you can’t make a return appearance on the show as long as the host remains the same. Still, it was a really fun time, and I would encourage anyone to try out. What do you have to lose?

Thursday, September 24, 2015

ikea hacking

Our house has a total of two closets: one attached to our master bathroom and one in the guest bedroom. We have no closets on the main floor... no coat closet, no linen closet, no pantry. Because we have limited options for storage, I am constantly battling against the accumulation of STUFF. Our house is "at capacity," which means that I try to maintain an equilibrium between the amount of stuff coming in vs. going out. I do a pretty good job with most things; the Goodwill near our house is reguarly restocked with DVDs, clothes, and shoes from our shelves. However, I have completely lost the battle in one area: books. This became even more apparent after our trip to the Public Library book sale this summer. The stacks were piling up on top of our already overstuffed bookshelf, and I couldn't convince myself or Dan to toss even one old paperback to free up some space. When Dan referenced the oft-cited study that books in the home mean smarter kids, I knew the battle was over. Time to retreat, regroup, and come back with a different strategy: Instead of less books, we needed smarter storage.

Designing our new bookcase, I had a few goals: shelves to hold all our current books, deep enough space to hold my giant scrapbooks, and spacious hidden storage for things like games and DVDs. Oh, and it had to look pretty, too. I searched high and low for something to fit my requirements and finally settled on a customized (or "hacked") IKEA BESTÅ unit. After mounting two shelf units on top of a TV stand, we added IKEA STUBBARP legs, HANVIKEN doors, FÅGLAVIK handles, and FLODHÄST hinges (I only made one of those up, but you have to figure out which one). For a slightly more custom look, we attached crown molding at the top. I filled the gaps with caulk and wood putty and applied a couple coats of color-matched paint. Finally, I filled in the front row of holes for the adjustable shelves with a tiny bit of light-weight spackle to make them less noticeable (but still easy to drill out if we decided to change the shelf positions in the future). We mounted the whole thing to the wall for safety, especially since our floors are so uneven. The adjustable legs were also very helpful to ensure a stable base.

cozy birdhouse | ikea hacking: our customized ikea besta bookshelf

The new bookcase holds all our board games and most of our DVDs. I plan to rescue our stash of hats and gloves from the Spider Hotel (a.k.a. basement) and store them in the now-empty drawer space in the entry way table.

cozy birdhouse | ikea hacking: our customized ikea besta bookshelf

We moved the old shelf into the family room to replace a boxy IKEA EXPEDIT, which served us well for many years but was too deep for the space. I'll take my time arranging my little treasures and ornaments in my new-old shelf until I'm happy with it. We'll re-home the EXPEDIT in keeping with my "stuff equilibrium" theory: one bookshelf comes in, one bookshelf goes out.

This project only resulted in one late-night meltdown of frustration on my part, while attempting to install the door hinges. I finally took my tear-streaked face to bed, while Dan struggled a bit longer and eventually gave up for the night. The next day, which happened to be our 3-year anniversary, I came home from work, ready but reluctant to have another go at the hinges. Dan greeted me with a huge smile and invited me into the living room, where he had successfully installed the doors and hidden a vase of flowers inside. Best anniversary gift he could have given me!

Now pardon me, I'm going to admire my pretty bookshelf.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

felt birds

Ahhh... That feeling when you finish a project that's been shelved for over six months. Wonderful.

cozy birdhouse | felt birds

I started on this back in February while on leave from work. It was the only thing getting me out of bed some days. I'd wake up, trudge downstairs, settle on the couch, and stitch these birds while watching Lie to Me on Netflix for hours. I finished them quickly, but the little felt flock sat in my project basket for months while I pondered how to display them. The birch branch came home with me from Michael's in late March and waited in the living room corner for inspiration to strike. All summer, I mulled over various layouts in my head. Finally settling on the design and method of construction, I whipped it all together over the course of a week. The creative process simply cannot be rushed (is what all great procrastinators say).

cozy birdhouse | felt birds

The bird designs are all available (for free!) from Downeast Thunder Farm. There are dozens of patterns available, but I selected my 9 favorites, which I resized on the computer, printed and traced onto freezer paper, ironed onto wool-blend felt sheets, and cut out. After assembling and embroidering, I attached a shiny black bead eye, stuffed lightly, and attached a loop of embroidery floss for hanging. I sawed the birch branch into three sections which I mounted together with eye hooks and jewelry chain.

This project was fun and therapeutic, and I absolutely love how it turned out. It's currently hanging next to the door in our front hallway and will probably stay there until the Christmas wreath goes up!

Sunday, September 13, 2015

sun, sand, seagulls

Usually we visit Dan's parents at their beach house much earlier in the summer, but I'm pretty sold on switching to a late August vacation from now on! Every day we spent the cool mornings relaxing at the house, the afternoons splashing in the warm waves, and the evenings sipping cocktails while trying to get water out of our ears.

cozy birdhouse | brigantine beach

We enjoyed a few days with Dan's parents, then his siblings joined us for the weekend. We lounged on the beach, went for walks, and boogie boarded on the waves (my first time!). I even caught a little crab who was scuttling across the sand near a jetty. I scooped it out of the shallow water (careful not to get pinched!) and gave it to a kid to hold in his beach pail.

cozy birdhouse | at the beach

Ok, time for some bird photos!

cozy birdhouse | seagull, on the rocks (not a drink)

We saw no sandpipers during last year's visit, so I was thrilled to find flocks of them up and down the beach this year. I think that most were Sanderlings (the cutest sandpiper in my opinion), but I also saw a few loners with dark bands across their necks (perhaps the Semipalmated Plover?).

cozy birdhouse | sandpipers

cozy birdhouse | sandpiper

This little guy managed to snag a squishy little sea critter and was prepared to defend his catch at all costs. This reminded me so much of the seagulls from Finding Nemo who shout, "mine! mine! mine!"

cozy birdhouse | sandpipers

Finally on our last day, we took one of my favorite group selfies ever... See you again soon, family!

cozy birdhouse | family selfie