September Highlights

Sunday, September 30, 2018
Life is seriously good.

This season is like no other. The turning leaves, the perfect blue skies. The buzz of students returning to school, fall tv starting and football. Everything feels fresh and new. Gone is the oppressive humidity and scorching heat and in it's place is a cool, crisp air beckoning us to go out and explore. The way autumn treats us brings enough joy alone that every other pleasure seems trivial. But like icing on a pumpkin spice cake, the delights of this season aren't all I've been fortunate enough to enjoy this month.

The absolute highlight of the month was attending one of my closest friend's wedding. This group of friends has been causing mischief together since early high school and we've grown into our own little family. We all got to spend the weekend together at Hotel Deco in Omaha doing everything from consuming as much caffeine as possible to primping before the ceremony to watching the Huskers take a beatdown from Michigan while eating a healthy meal of crackers and cheap wine.

Everything about the weekend was perfect. Rehearsal dinner was made from scratch lasagna that the groom's mother home cooked herself, and was followed with an amazing Lithuanian torte cake. We all watched our breath in the cold evening air, stood around a fire and tried to wrap our heads around the coming day. On the day of the ceremony the whole bridal party enjoyed hot coffees, scones and macarons from Sweet Magnolias while getting our hair done at Victor Victoria Salon. Our small group of friends ditched the rest of the bridal party and returned to the hotel room to do our makeup, and it was a perfect last moment before the ceremony.

The ceremony itself went off without too many hitches (who needs a veil or flower girl bouquets in the long run anyway?). The weather was beautiful, the bride was gorgeous and no one cried too much. After photos we got to return to the hotel again to snack and have a drink, and then headed off to the reception at Sokol, where cocktails and appetizers greeted us. We dined, we danced and then we enjoyed probably one of my favorite concerts of all time -- The Faint played the reception!! This band was a staple of our friend group when we were younger and even the groom's side loved them as well. We've all got their third album practically memorized. Technically, The Faint are responsible for the whole wedding, because the bride and groom met at one of their shows! It was so so loud, so energetic and the absolute epitome of the couple. No reception probably ever top it. Sitting at brunch the next day with these friends I've known over half my life was surreal. I'm incredibly grateful for their friendship, all the laughs and even the bad times. I look forward to many more moments like this one.

Of course this momentous occasion was supported by a whole multitude of other small highlights throughout the month. One of the most grounding things was a return of a daily yoga practice. There's nothing like a Yoga With Adriene free series to get you back into the groove of things and her most recent free series Yoga For All with Commune did just that. We just completed the 14-day series and I've really been enjoying coming to the mat each day, getting back in tune with my body and my mind and learning so much from her, as always. As if the universe knew we were craving more yoga, we also got to do some free rooftop yoga on top of my work building and it was completely serene. The sky was clear and blue, the sun was shining and it was a perfect 72 degrees. At one point we were all on our backs watching a flock of birds far up above us, listening to the music and doing some deep breathing practice and in that moment, everything was so easy and carefree and beautiful.

Lastly, more materialistically, I'm also really riding the high of finally starting to clear out my office. I've donated home goods and bedding to refugee resettlement groups, I've sold off some old clothing and I've lined up a good cause to donate the rest to. I've got organized piles. I can see the floor again and walk from one side to the other. John gets all the credit for making this happen because my avoidance game is strong, but man am I happy to have the room back and not to feel guilt every time I walk past the closed door. Once I wrap that up (October goal), I'm finally ready to go full steam ahead on other interior projects around my house. I can already tell this will be a winter of interior design and I'm all about it!

I hope you've found many small moments to smile this month and feel like you're loving life. If you haven't, I hope you're finding the support you need and that soon you'll be laughing again.

My Bridesmaid Beauty Prep Routine

Sunday, September 23, 2018
This weekend one of my oldest friends is tying the knot! We've been running around together since high school, making questionable decisions, dancing, eating our way through every restaurant in town and slowly turning into real grownups. Our friend group has now seems less like just friendship, and more just like family. It's fantastic to see my friend settle down with a man that shares so many of her interests and is incredibly kind, helpful and fun, just like her!

But weddings aren't something you just show up to, especially when you're a bridesmaid. First there's the obvious prep work -- picking out a bridesmaid dress, coordinating shoes, bridal showers and bachelorette parties galore -- but that's all planned out with a group, most likely in a really large group chat that has your phone's battery life at 45% by 10am. The less obvious prepping is done on your own at home in the weeks prior to the wedding -- the bridesmaid's beauty plan. There are hairs to be banished, skin to be toned and fake-tanned (so as not to blind unsuspecting family members) and nails to be shaped and polished. And getting everything whipped into shape in a timely fashion requires a master's degree in scheduling. Fear not, I'm hear to share my plan!

3 Weeks Out

The calm before the storm. You're not in full-on prep mode yet, but all the pre-wedding parties have died down, you've (hopefully) grabbed something good off the registry for your gift and you've booked your hotel rooms.

Now's the time to schedule yourself in for a hair refresh. Whether that means a full cut and color, some simple color touchups or just a trim, doing this a few weeks out gives your hair time to grown into the cut a little so it doesn't have that new haircut severeness to it, but it still looks nice and fresh.

This is also a good time to pick up some teeth whitening strips if that's your jam. I'm not particularly concerned about my teeth on a day-to-day basis, but it's nice to have them looking extra pearly when you know there will be a million eyes and cameras on your smile.

2 Weeks Out

With a couple weeks left to go, make sure your skincare routine is on point. Do not, I repeat, do not think this is a good time to mix things up. You don't want your skin reacting to some new serum you decided to break out last minute thinking it'll cure everything when really you're just left with a bunch of acne or a weird red rash! Stick to the classics, but just be a bit more regimented about it. In general I recommend a good exfoliation routine for awhile to make sure your makeup on the big day goes on nice and smooth, wear your sunscreen religiously and mask a few times a week for that dewy glow. If you have an acne spots, I highly recommend these pimple patches!

You should also be thinking about your makeup plan for the day. Go through your makeup stash, plan out your look and make sure you've got everything you need. The last thing you want is to be out of your favorite product and not have enough time to restock! Take inventory, test out the look and, if necessary, get yourself down to the nearest makeup counter. Here's what I'll be using for this wedding: BECCA First Light Priming Filter mixed with Too Faced Hangover primer, Giorgio Armani Luminous Silk Foundation, NARS Soft Matte Complete Concealer, Urban Decay eyeshadow primer, MAC Pro Longwear Paint Pot in Groundwork, Glossier Boy Brown in Brown, Glossier Lash Slick mascara base and Urban Decay Perversion mascara for an added boost, Glossier Cloud Paint in Dusk or NARS Orgasm blush, BECCA Shimmering Skin Perfecter in Moonstone and finally, NARS Satin Lip Pencil in Rikugien.

1 Week Out

By this point we're really just working on the finishing touches. We've laid a good foundation already, we just need to tie it all together.

The biggest thing for me is fake tanning. I am pale. So so pale. Blinding. About a week before I'm required to display my casper-like legs to anyone, I like to hit the gradual tanner. I start with an exfoliating moisturizer and dry brushing during the first days of the week to get a good canvas. Then I apply self-tanner every day for about 3 or 4 days before the event to make sure you can't see my veins anymore but I'm not too dark either. I keep up with the dry brushing after I've started tanning to make sure things are evened out nicely, but I switch from an exfoliating moisturizer to a normal one to make sure my skin is quenched. If you want some good tips for self-tanning, check out Jules Von Hep's instagram highlights!

This week I also tackle any tweezing that needs to be done. I'll clean up my eyebrows a bit to make sure I don't have any rogue hairs, but still leave them looking really natural. This way you've got a clean look but you don't have any danger of puffy red caterpillars above your eyes on the big day.

Day Before

It's game time.

Start your day with a nice relaxing shower. Wash your hair, scrub down and use all those fancy shower oils you've been stashing away for special occasions. Break out that razor and clean up whatever it is you like to clean up.

Next up, grab your nail file and polish. I'm a bit of a beauty minimalist these days so I just like to opt for a clear polish on my fingernails and maybe, just maybe, a classic red on my toes. Whatever you choose, just even out your nails, get all the dirt out from under your nails and make 'em shine.

Now all that's left is packing up and hitting the rehearsal. Good luck!

Simple Food Recipes To Reduce Plastic Consumption

Sunday, September 16, 2018
As I've been embarking on my own journey to reduce the plastic waste I consume, I've been noticing more and more which food items tend to be harder to find without plastic packaging. Not that it's totally impossible to find them in plastic-alternatives or with no packaging at all, just that these kind of items require going to specific grocery stores or are frequently out of stock, etc. After awhile, okay, maybe a very short while, hunting down the plastic-free options every weekend gets annoying. I want to enjoy my weekend, not spend it running errands! I began to wonder if all this running to and fro this was doing more harm than good (hello vehicle emissions) and if it was even sustainable for me, yet alone for the rest of the people in this world without access to as many stores, all this time, or the money. In fact, this is what got me thinking about how generations prior lived and shopped for food, and then suddenly the answer seemed so obvious. I need to do what our grandmothers did -- make things for myself!

To be frank, making things from scratch isn't something I just started doing, it's simply something I just realized I was already doing accidentally, and something that I started doing more consciously recently. I haven't started making anything elaborate here; just simple swaps for particular foods I found to be hard to find without packaging. In most of these cases, there's the added bonus of consuming less sugar, fewer preservatives and much simpler ingredients as well, so yay us! So without further ado, here's a quick list of "recipes" (some you can barely call that) that will help you save a ton of plastic each week.

homemade cold brew coffee plastic free zero waste easy recipe mesh colander cheesecloth

homemade cold brew coffee plastic free zero waste easy recipe glass pitch minimal cork zero waste

Cold Brew Coffee: Saves 1 non-recyclable plastic coffee stay-fresh bag, 1 coffee filter or 1 plastic-lined cup

We've got a lot of food prep coming up. We better be wide awake and ready to tackle it. Coffee to the rescue! Now of course you can eliminate your plastic waste a lot of different ways when it comes to coffee, and this is just one of them. I like having coffee at home so I don't want to rely on getting coffee with a reusable cup at a coffee shop, and I definitely don't dare drink the office coffee. Instead I just whip up a batch each night when I come home and it's ready to go in the morning!

1 part bulk coffee, coarsely ground (I use about 1/2 cup)
7 parts water (I use about 3 1/2 cups)

1. Add the coffee grounds to the water. Stir to combine.
2. Let sit overnight.
3. Strain coffee into another container. (I use a mesh strainer covered with a cheesecloth, folded over a few times.)


Peanut Butter: Saves 1 plastic jar and 20 minutes of trying to clean the jar before recycling it

Peanuts - can be roasted, raw, salted or unsalted

1. Throw peanuts into a blender or food processor and blend for 10 whole minutes.

homemade bread bake zero waste easy recipe food plastic free crusty loaf french bread quick

Bread: Saves 1 non-recyclable plastic bag, 1 plastic twist tie

I always thought bread sounded hard to make, but turns out it's not hard at all. I've been using a recipe from Life As A Strawberry and it's turned out great each time. Goes great with some peanut butter. 😉

2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast
1 tsp sugar
1 1/4 cups warm water
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 1/2 cups All-Purpose flour, plus extra for dusting

1. Add yeast, sugar and water to a bowl. Let sit for about 5 minutes or until it looks foamy.
2. Add salt to mixture.
3. Add flour, slowly, bit by bit. You're looking for a smooth dough that pulls away from the sides of the bowl. You may need more flour if it's humid outside. I've had to add extra flour every time I've made this recipe.
4. Flour the dough ball to prevent sticking and place in a floured bowl. Cover with a tea towel and let rise for 1 hour.
5. Dump the dough out onto a flat surface and flour the top. Shape into a round ball. Don't be too rough -- you want to keep the air bubble in tact! Place the dough seam side down into a bowl again and let rise for another 30 minutes.
6. While the dough is proofing, place a dutch oven into the over and preheat to 460 degrees. I use a Le Creuset with a plastic lid handle and so far I've not had any issues.
7. After the proofing is done, place the dough into the hot dutch oven (be careful!), cover with the lid and bake for 30 minutes. You can place the dough on parchment paper if you want to.
8. Take the lid off and bake for about 10-12 minutes more, until golden brown.

plastic free zero waste oat milk homemade easy recipe vegan

Oat Milk: Saves 1 non-recyclable tetrapak

The previous three food items are not entirely impossible to find without plastic packaging, but this one I've never seen without plastic packaging. Lucky for us, it's also ridiculously simple.

1 cup oats
3 cups water, plus extra for soaking
pinch of sea salt
1 date or 1 tsp honey (optional)
1/8 tsp vanilla (optional)

1. Soak the oats in enough water to cover for at least 30 minutes.
2. Drain the oats and rinse.
3. Add oats, water, salt and optional sweeteners to a blender and blend for 2 minutes.
4. Strain using a cheesecloth, nut bag or really any clean thin fabric, like an old cotton t-shirt.

Bonus: You can use the leftover oat fiber to whip up a couple oat cookies!

Vinaigrette: Saves 1 oily and impossible to clean plastic bottle

Salad dressings are the worst. They cost a lot, they never actually taste very good, and most of them come in plastic bottles. Never again.

1 part vinegar - can be red, white, balsamic, etc
3 parts neutral flavored oil, like olive or grapeseed oil
pinch of salt
pinch of pepper

1. Whisk vinegar into oil.
2. Add seasonings.

That's all I've got so far, but I'll certainly be adding to my list of recipes as I make more and more swaps. I hope you've found at least something that tempts you! Thanks for reading!

Designing My Living Room: Modsy Review

Sunday, September 9, 2018
Ever since moving into my house I've been telling myself that I'd do a living room refresh. I get a constant reminder every time I walk into the room and I'm met with a cobbled-together collection of ugly furniture and decor items from garage sales, hand-me-downs and Craigslist, and yet for some reason I still hadn't gotten around to actually doing it. There's design decisions to be made, items to source, old furniture to be sold. It's all just a lot of work that I was happily procrastinating doing, for years on end.

About a month ago I decided it was time. If I had to see my 5 gooseneck light floor lamp with yellowed plastic light shades one more time I was going to lose it. I'm a newly minted 30 year old for god-sake and yet I've been living in a room still furnished with dorm room staples! Time to be a grownup. 

As if Instagram was reading my mind (and it probably was somehow...) I started getting ads for  Modsy, an online interior design service. Something that's tailored to me, but doesn't involve me leaving the house or talking to a human? Sign me up!

So how does it work? Modsy starts by having you take a style quiz, which is actually freely available right here. I did this before I even decided to use the service and I was pretty impressed by how accurate the results were. I definitely wouldn't have come up with the term "Atomic Industrial" on my own, but hey, whatever it is actually represents what I like!

Once you've decided to start a project, you upload your room measurements and at least 8 pictures of the room you want to work on -- one from each corner and edge of the room. Yes, my pictures featured cats in the background staring at me like I was crazy. They ask some questions about your project, like budget, what you're looking to accomplish, and if you want to design around any existing pieces, etc. They then take those photos and create a photo-realistic 3D rendering of your room, have a designer style your room using items from their affiliate retailers so it's all available to buy immediately and with a discount and then send you back two designs! You can see rendered images from every angle and explore the room with a 3D walkthrough. Best part is, you can even make tweaks to those designs yourself by rearranging, adding or removing pieces, or you can request changes from your designer!



When I was first looking into this, I was pretty impressed with the concept but I was certain it would be pricey. A 3D rendering from your photos, two different designs tailored to your style and needs and the ability to play around with that rendering yourself? For the editable 3D rendering alone I would have paid $40, yet alone thinking about how much I'd pay someone to style it! Surprisingly, Modsy is actually really reasonably priced for their base package: $59 dollars for a room. They offer another package, with a dedicated designer and live consultations, which is considerably more expensive at $149 a room. (Prices from here at the time of writing). What tipped me over the edge was that after completing the style quiz which, unsurprisingly, requires you to create a free account before giving you your results, they emailed me a discount code for a summer sale. 20% off! A hair over $46 dollars seems pretty reasonable to me when I'm considering making some major purchases!

For my living room, I submitted the minimum requirement of 8 photos and a picture of a sketch of the layout of my room. I gave them my budget, told them how I use the room and some requirements (pet friendly, practical, ability to seat at least 6 on occasion). I submitted my project on a Thursday and got my designs back exactly two Thursdays later, about 2 hours after they emailed me apologizing for the delay and assuring me I'd have my designs within 24 hours.

Design 1
Design 1
Design 1
Design 1
Design 2
Design 2
Design 2
Design 2

Of the two designs I received, I definitely liked one more than the other. The first design was more neutral and featured a wireframe chair which I absolutely love the look of. The second design had less furniture, which I liked, but was a lot more colorful. I just wasn't as much of a fan of the combinations of color and pattern that they used. Luckily, their 3D editor let me tweak my designs, so I took a little inspiration from design 2's layout and modified somethings in design 1. I definitely got a little absorbed in making my own tweaks -- I experimented with layout changes, removing furniture, adding new furniture, swapping things out. I even set it up so I could see what things would look like if I kept some existing pieces. I couldn't find any of my exact furniture on there since it's all old at this point, but Modsy's library is big enough that I could easily find similar items. You can still tell this company and product is still relatively new because there were times when the tools were a bit glitchy, but usually saving, exiting and reloading fixed the issues. But beware, if you enter the 3D editor world, you'll probably loose at least a few hours of your day toying with all the different possibilities!

Some of my own design tweaks with items similar to my secondhand finds and items I already own
All in all, I thought my Modsy experience was a great one. I thought the project initiation was really simple, and the designs I got back were stylish and met my specifications. The ability to visualize what the ideas I had in the back of my head would look like in real life was worth the cost alone. As part of my efforts to be a little more environmentally friendly I want to try to source things secondhand first, buy from "slow design" artists or even try to build things like bookshelves myself (little does John know yet...), so being able to pop similar items into the 3D editor has made me so much more confident to actually start buying things. I've been scouring local secondhand sites since getting my designs back and I've already found a really nice and really cheap grey modern couch, a piece I'd been dreading buying, and a cool vintage leather wood-frame arm chair for only ten bucks!

For now, my living room is still definitely a work in progress, but thanks to Modsy, it's a project I'm actually excited to be working on! And don't worry, I'll be sure to keep you all updated as everything progresses!

August Highlights

Sunday, September 2, 2018
Happy Labor Day weekend to all my fellow American friends! September's finally here, so it's time for an August wrap-up. I had a bit more downtime this past month compared to my busy July but I still got to do some pretty fun things!

Earth Wind & Fire concert funk big band brass vocal guitar show

Probably the most fun, loud and certainly most-sequined night I had this past month was a Tuesday evening. My dad is a huge Earth, Wind & Fire fan so when they announced a show here, my whole family bought tickets right away. Even though the three remaining members are nearly 70, they still put on a ridiculously energetic, fun, impressive show. In fact, I think their bassist might be my new favorite old man. Go watch some videos of him performing and you won't be disappointed! The new members of the band, including one of the original members' son, were equally talented and even brought a little something new to the band's sound and production value (it's as much a visual show as an audio one with these guys!). We danced, we sang, we mimed playing backup brass -- family full of musicians here, much? -- and we left ready to go crank their albums in the car ride home.

Another definite highlight from the month was both a happy and sad one. My grandma's sister, Bonnie, passed away in May, but her memorial wasn't held until this month. Our family is a little unique because my grandma's sister married my grandpa's brother, so we all share the same extended family. A lot of my family came for the memorial so it was fantastic getting so to see them for the weekend, but it was also really touching and interesting to hear about Bonnie's life when she and my grandma were young girls and as they grew up, married into the same family and started their own families. Be sure to treasure those stories you hear from your parents and grandparents when you can!

tomatoes zucchini cantaloupe veggies vegetables garden organic home grown

cantaloupe growing leaves green garden home grown organic

On a lighter note, another thing I enjoyed this August was all the produce from my garden. It's peak produce time and I love being able to concoct whole meals from things I grew myself with only maybe one or two things I had to get at the store. It makes me feel accomplished, close to nature and appreciative of what a tiny little patch of land can give to us lowly humans. My body certainly loves eating all these veggies too.

paint house home improvement exterior trim renovation upgrade modern cream blue
From navy blue, cream and orangey-red...
paint house home improvement exterior trim renovation upgrade modern grey charcoal
...To light grey, charcoal and a red that's perfectly matched to the brick!
Lastly, the longest running home improvement project is finally done! I started painting my house last year, and I did all that I could on the first two floors, but I just wasn't up for scraping and painting my soffits as well as the attic dormers and trim. A year later the handyman my family has always worked with has finally recovered from the shoulder surgery he had last year and has wrapped up all the painting and repairs here! I finally have trim board that's all one color! I'm sure my neighbors probably appreciate this just as much as I do.

Now it's time for football and volleyball season, apple picking and falling leaves! Enjoy the start of your September everyone! Until next week...