Stupid Invitations

Ever since I was old enough to help my dad clean a carburetor (age, 5), he told me, “You can be whatever you want in life, you just can’t be stupid.”  I wasn’t expected to become a doctor.  Or even a magician on the side of an infrequently traveled road.  I was given free range to become anything in life, except for stupid.  Speaking from personal experience, that request is harder than it initially sounds.

Me: “Why can’t I be one?”

Dad: “Cause that career has already been taken by too many people.”

Me: “What’s stupid?”

Dad: “Those kids down the street who spend their entire day watching the MTV and painting fake moles above their lips.  That’s stupid.  Pass me my cigarette, will you?  Don’t smoke, either.  That’s stupid, too.”

Like tofu, his definition of ‘stupid’ was never a solid one.  He molded and seasoned it to fit whatever life-learning situation was present.  His recipe for disaster consisted of: 1 part smart and 1 part stupid equals all stupid.  Like SARS, my dad warned us that stupidity was a highly infectious disease that was transmitted when stupid people opened their mouths.

In his eyes, his three children were never stupid.  But some of us toed the line, from time to time, which he was always quick to point out.  In ’96, when I came home crying, because I lost out to a fifth grader at the area spelling bee competition by misspelling ‘insomnia’; he calmly explained to me that the word itself is stupid anyway.  When I had my first serious breakup, he told me the guy was too stupid for us Chhengs and would’ve dumbed down the family line.  And besides, he had stupid looking hair.  But the biggest act of stupidity was paying full price, for anything; especially wedding invitations.

Wedding invitations are a necessary evil.  Little squares and rectangles, usually ranging in price from “too much” to “way too much”; will be stamped, sealed by spit and sent out to wedding-worn guests.  Then into the trash bin, they go. A very popular paper company in Seattle quoted the paper costs for our 50-guest wedding to be in the range of $1,500 to $3,000.  It included Save-the-Dates, invitations with one too many envelopes to lick, RSVP cards that no one ever returns and Thank You cards that the bride and groom dread having to fill and send out.  After fainting from the quote, I realized that what I needed was a No Thank You card to send out to this company.  Like Google Maps, I began searching for alternate routes for invites and other wedding items that involved paper and ink.

For our Save-the-Dates, I was on a time crunch.  The holiday season was fast approaching, and I was having a difficult time locating a living “Dr. Seuss-esque” type Christmas tree for our living room.  We settled on a Nootka cypress, by the way.

Luckily, had a 15% discount for Save-the-Dates.  So, I jumped onto a comfortable spot on the bandwagon and ordered 40 cards for about $55, addressed enveloped included.  The design I ordered was a library card look with an engagement photo shot by Shane Macomber.  It’s my favorite photo of the two of us.


Clockwise, from top: Unlined envelopes from, library card styled Save-The-Dates, pages torn from a book and lichen covered twigs. Not sure why the twigs are there. I collected them, during a walk, and thought they looked Save-the-Date-ish.

The Save-the-Dates came out okay.  I regret not designing it myself, but I did manage to sneak in some personal touches.  I glued lining to each envelope, using pages torn out of old books.  The books I used were from Girl With a Pearl Earring and A Beautiful Mind. The ones I owned were torn already, so it wasn’t a big deal to rip them apart.


Vintage paper-cutter I bought for $8.99, years ago, in anticipation of cutting my own wedding invites. Books to weigh the glued envelopes down, while drying. No bubbling, that way. Coffee to drink and then spill onto said envelopes. Personalized stamps for your envelopes, cause nothing says “I’m getting married” like a $50 stamp from Paper Source. Bird’s nest, for no reason at all.

For our invitations, I spent $35.  I know, I was tempted to marry myself after scoring that deal.  What I did was design my own invites.  I wanted a vintage botanical look.  Simple and pretty.


Drawing of a blueberry sprig. We pick a lot of blueberries. I later added blueberries to my wedding flowers.

For the invitation itself, I started off by sketching a blueberry sprig.  Then I photographed and adjusted it via Lightroom.  After that, I downloaded (for free) Inkscape.  Using Inskcape, I turned the sketch into a vector image.  Then, I added a free font called “Dearest Script” for a handwritten look.  It was finally sent to for printing.


Vector rendered and ready for application.

The invitations were printed on an ivory card, but I wanted a thicker look since nothing screams ‘fancy’ like some 222 pound card stock.  So, I went to Jo-Ann Fabrics and bought a bunch of thick linen-type scrapbook paper in light grey.  I cut the grey paper down to invitation-size and glued it to the back.  While drying, the cards were held down with book stacks, for an even finish.


Thick scrapbook paper (the kind with a rough edge surface, like linen), semi-finished (I guess that’s called unfinished. But semi-finished sounds so much more optimistic, doesn’t it?) invites and paper stamp cutter thing.

I wasn’t going to send out RSVP cards, since no one except unmarried great aunts with multiple poodles, return them anyway.  But after cutting up all of the scrapbook paper, I had a ton left.  So, I made personalized cards with the guests’ names on it.  It’s not useful, but I thought it was cute.  And besides, I had time on my glue-stained hands.  Long ago, I bought a Martha Stewart paper cutout stamp thing from TJMaxx for an amount between pennies and “not much.” I finally put it to good use for the wedding.  I stamped out a bird design on leftover ivory scrapbook paper. Then, I did a backing of grey.  On the grey side, I sketched out ferns and the recipients’ names, with a grey calligraphy pen.


Finished cards, addressed envelopes and invitations.


For the envelopes, I considered outsourcing it to a professional calligrapher and then I thought, “Screw it. I got an A in penmanship, back in the second grade.  I’ll write it out myself.”  So I did.

In all, my Save-the-Dates and invitations totaled a paltry $100.  Pretty good for not being stupid.  Things to make a father proud.







Growing Up With An Original Hipster

Cheap people have the best ideas.  Just ask my mom.  She’s been cheap before it was cool to be cheap.  The cool kids call it “Going Green” now.  But if you were to tell my mom that she was going green, she’d probably think that she had gangrene.

Hand her a plastic bag with a scallion bunch, held together by a rubber band, and she’s in her element.  First, she’ll cut the roots off of each stalk and replant those in her garden. Once cut, she’ll toss the remaining leafy section of the scallions into a pot.  Rubber bands will go into a bag full of others that she’s collected since the Nixon days.  They’re so old, they snap in half when you tug on them.  I think she’s secretly planning on using them to build some sort of rubber band bomb shelter, in the event of a third world war.  And then the plastic bag is used to hold all of the extra money she’s been saving.

She jangles this bag from time to time when she thinks her spendthrift children are exhibiting extravagant spending behavior.  Like buying bottled water and not repurposing the plastic as a planter.  Or not collecting rainwater, to use as irrigation.  Can’t finish your rice?  Use it as an adhesive.  I used to have a pen pal in Africa who received letters from me, sent in homemade envelopes held together by leftover rice.  Some people guilt-trip their children into finishing their meals because there are “starving children in Africa”.  I literally sent my leftovers to Africa.

For most of my childhood, we kept pet chickens.  Well, they were pets until they would inevitably become “missing”.  These suspicious disappearances would often coincide with my mom cheerfully announcing to the family that the “chicken soup is ready!”  This usually happened a few hours after we had called off the search for the missing fowl.  As a child, I often thought that there was a chicknapper in the neighborhood with a voracious appetite for poultry dishes.  It worried me that someone like that was on the loose, and I thought it was my civic responsibility to bring this to the public’s attention.  Instead of posting up pictures of our missing chickens on the side of milk cartons, I suggested to my mom that we have chicken nugget boxes printed with a colored photo of our missing fowl friend, to alert the neighborhood.  She just laughed and told me to finish my chicken soup cause, unlike rice, it’s no good as an adhesive alternative.

Having a pet chicken is only fun in theory.  They poop.  A lot.  They poop while running away from you.  They poop while they eat.  They poop while you’re petting them.  And you can only pet them in one direction, if you want to avoid ruffling their feathers.  Then you feel guilty when you crave chicken nuggets after playing with them.

Besides, no matter how good your pet chicken is, it will always run away from you.  Nothing is more traumatizing than being thirteen years of age, and running down a busy road, trying to unsuccessfully lure your pet chicken home, with a limp piece of lettuce. To make matters worse, our house was near several schools, so if it was during peak traffic hours, your chicken run performance was guaranteed to have a fellow classmate in the audience.  If you’re wondering, chickens don’t respond to its name or commands.  It’s not like searching for a dog and all you have to say is “Hello Pet Dog, are you hungry?  Please come to me if you are.”  Chickens aren’t stupid but they are technically birdbrained.  To catch a chicken on the lam, all you can do is hope that it’ll run into a wall or wide pole so that you can swoop in and carry it home, underneath your shirt.

Fast forward to a year ago.  During a visit to Portland, I came across a booth advertising “urban homesteading” services to the general public.  This phrase was new to me but when I read the bullet points of what constitutes urban homesteading e.g. edible landscaping, pickling, raising farm animals; it was like reading an exalted description of my childhood.

I picked up the phone and called my mom.  “Mom!  Remember how I used to complain about gathering chicken shit to use as fertilizer?  How, every time I drop off the dog with you, I’m a bit surprised that you haven’t attached a yoke and plow to her back and implemented her as a beast of burden?  I take it all back.  You’re cooler than 95% of America now.  The word to describe you is ‘hipster’ and you being cheap is called “urban homesteading’”.  There was a bit of silence on the phone and she finally replied, “You’re speaking with too many English words, I couldn’t understand a word you said.  Are you trying to tell me that I need my hips replaced?”  Oh mom, you’re so cool, you don’t even know it.  And that’s what every hipster strives to be.  That, and have good hair.

So, it probably comes as no surprise that I chose to forage and thrift my way into making bridesmaids gifts.  I even added chicken wire as a sort of tribute to all of my past chicken friends/dinners.  Here’s how I made everything:

Step 1:  Walk outside.  Collect some rocks.  Walk back inside and take a nap.  You’ll need it for your Goodwill trip, later in the day.  I think Goodwill is one of the rare places where you routinely hear, over the intercom, “Will the parents of the two year old, who’s currently filling his basket with toys, please come and claim him before CPS does?”  But that’s where I found the lace (99 cents apiece), blueish grey teacups ($1.99 each) and blank cards + envelopes ($1.99).  I then stopped by Jo-Ann Fabric to see what else I could find. I left with these chicken wire boxes, which were $3 each, after being marked down at 70% off.  I don’t remember how much the scrapbooking paper was but it was probably under 70 cents apiece.


Step 2:  Cut out the scrapbook paper in fancy shapes and glue it onto the blank cards. Write on top of it, let it dry and glue on the lace fabric.  You’ll probably mess up a few times.  I sure did.


Step 3:  Paint the copper colored chicken wire box with off white paint.  I deliberately left some areas “distressed” to make it look like as if it had been pecked at by a bunch of hungry chickens.  Then, line the box, with the rest of the scrapbook paper, to give it that “sophisticated henpecked” look.


Step 4:  While the box dries off, tear out some pages from a book and glue it onto the insides of the envelopes.  I used a book that was falling apart, but you can use whatever book you’re not reading.  Just scan the page before glueing it on.  You don’t want to be sending your grandma steamy scenes from a grocery aisle novel.  Unless she was the one who gave you the book in the first place.  While the glue dries, I took embroidering thread and sewed on a border to my cards.



Step 5:  Put on some pants and go back outside to collect some branches.  I got these off of the beach.  Then I burned the wedding date into each piece.  I also wrote the names of each bridesmaid with white ink because nothing impresses people more than their names written on random objects.


Step 6:  Cut out a piece of sponge and glue it onto the bottom of each teacup.  You’ll want to make sure that the sponge is dry and the teacup is clean, when you adhere the two together.


Step 7:  There’s a lot of moss in Seattle.  It grows everywhere.  Roof tops, abandoned cars, sidewalk cracks.  So, I gathered some while on a walk with the dog.  It was growing on the sidewalk.  I thought about sending a bill for “moss removal services” to the CIty of Seattle but that requires too much effort.  But use whatever is abundant, around you.


Step 8:  Water the moss and fashion some tags out of the scrapbook paper you’ve been cutting off of.  I wrote down the city where the wedding will take place at.


Step 9:  Add something sweet.  I baked some sugar cookies.  Then I ate half.  But six remained.  Oh, I cut them out in the shapes of each bridesmaids’ state of residence.  For some reason, I had a Texas shaped cookie cutter.  For Arizona and New York, I cut the shapes out, freehand.  The first picture is unfrosted and the second is frosted, even though you can barely tell.  I would’ve re-frosted them in a darker color but after eating a dozen of them, it kind of grew on me. So I left them, as is.




A Bride’s Rules of Engagement

Engaged?  Congratulations!  Now, try not to be an asshole.  Everyone was born with one of their own.  No one wants to handle the maintenance and mess of two.  And I’m not even shitting with you.  Nowadays, many brides adopt the mantra of “It’s MY big day and I can do whatever I want [insert foot stomp]”.  Um, no you can’t.  This is not a princess themed birthday party; you are not a tiara wearing 5-year old with bedwetting issues.  And besides, it’s not YOUR big day.  It’s you and your groom’s wedding day.  No matter how hard you try, you can’t marry yourself.  Trust me.  If you want to still have friends, by the time you’re married, you may want to abdicate that velvet lined throne you’re sitting on.

Thirteen months ago, my now-fiancé got down on both knees (I told him one was enough, two was begging) and handed me a diamond ring placed in a dog poop bag (sans poop).  I laughed, I cried, I said “heck yeah!” as snot streams of happiness ran down my chin.  The dog offered her tongue services to lick it off and here I am today, eating wedding cake samples for breakfast and planning our wedding.

Everyone talks about wedding guest etiquette.  How much to spend on a gift.  When to RSVP by.  Don’t wear white.  Don’t sleep with the bride.  Or groom.  But considering how many brides’ shoes have been thrown at wedding dress fittings, I thought it time to introduce a guide to bridal etiquette.

1)   Reality check: You are not the first person in history to become engaged.  But if you act like as if you are, then this probably won’t be the only wedding you’ll be attending, as a bride, in your future.  You’re planning a wedding, not heading the Higgs boson research at CERN.  Your friends really don’t want to spend their dinner hours hearing you vent about the average American wedding cost.

But people sure do love a good love story.  I knew I was in love when my fiancé was able to correctly spell “Segway” and “segue”.  And then use them both in a sentence.  It was love at first spellcheck.  When we announced our engagement, there was a huge outpouring of love and support.  The best compliment was, “I hope to someday have what you guys have”.  Yes, your friends and family love to support the newly engaged but they really don’t want to hear about the grueling task of linen selection.  If they inquire about your planning process, by all means, fill them in on the difference between resin and non-resin chairs.  But my advice?  Spare your friends; start a blog.

2)   Sorry, but your bridesmaids are not your personal servants.  In 2010, the average cost to be a bridesmaid was $1,695.  That was in 2010.  I’d give you an updated number but am unable to do so due to a temporary case of the lazies.  It’s an ailment that comes about when I have to research things.  But $1,695 could potentially finance 1.4 MacBook Airs or two cows, depending on what sort of priorities your friends have.  Or perhaps a cow and two-fifths of a MacBook Air.  Either way, your friends are giving up the opportunity to have a bovine companion and part of a laptop to stand around your wedding, holding a bouquet that’s quickly wilting.  That, is love.  Thank your friends and when you’re finished, thank them again.  They are doing you a huge favor.  If you have a daughter, you should probably tell them that they need one part-time job to pay for college and another to pay for bridesmaid costs.

There’s one bridesmaid experience in particular that I’ve used as a model for “How Not To Treat Your Bridesmaids”.  Four years ago, I was involuntarily drafted to be a bridesmaid at my cousin’s third wedding.  We communicated, on average, once every three years and strictly through text or email.  Keep in mind that I was also a bridesmaid at her first wedding.  I think it safe to assume that I would have been asked to be a bridesmaid at her second wedding if not for their decision to do a standard wedding-number-two-Disneyworld-elopement.  No bridesmaids but plenty of mouse ears.

After the wrap-up for her third wedding, my precious cousin decided to send her bank account depleted bridesmaids an adorable email outlining all of their perceived shortcomings.  Lots of grammatically incorrect sentences involving shouting words like “It’s MY wedding!” “I don’t care if I sound like a bitch”, “even if you helped with some stuff, you didn’t do enough”, “you stopped dancing at 10:30 when you knew the invitation said ‘dancing until midnight!’”.  Apparently, we got princess’ coffee order wrong (she wanted iced, we insulted her by ordering one hot) and this caused her panties to become twisted in an irreversible bunch.  It’s fine.  I just won’t agree to be a bridesmaid at her fourth wedding.

The key takeaways from that wedding debacle? Don’t ask people you’re not close to, to be your bridesmaid.  They’re not going to know how you like your coffee and will surely order the wrong one, resulting in a massive temper tantrum.  The other thing I learned was: these are your friends, not wedding day elves.  The only thing you should expect your bridesmaids to do is to wear a dress and a smile.  Anything extra that they volunteer to do should be graciously accepted.  You may want to consider moving to a Third World Country, with a lack of laws banning indentured servitude, if all you want is someone to boss around for free, on your wedding day.

And it’s always a good idea to ask your bridesmaids and groomsmen to be part of your wedding, in a thoughtful manner.  My fiancé and I sent our friends these boxes.  The first is a chicken wire box for my bridesmaids filled with moss, branches and rocks that I’ve foraged for.  The “Be My Bridesmaid?” card was made by sewing on lace to a plain card. Sugar cookies were baked and iced in the shapes of the state in which they live in.  The groomsmen received tequila as well as a “card” made of wooden blocks sawed off of an antique cargo box.  Their names, event date and location were burnt in using a wood burning tool.



3)   You’re not marrying a wedding planner (and if you are, then consider yourself lucky) so stop harassing your fiancé about his opinion on every tiny wedding day detail.  If a guy uses his shirtsleeve to wipe off the barbeque sauce on his chin, he won’t care if you decide on “Rustic Elegance” linens or “Hamptons Classic”.  I asked my fiancé what he “just has to have” for the wedding.  His answer was “Just you and the dog”.  The main things we discuss are budget, timeline, Dr. Who themed vegan cakes and guest list.  He trusts me with handling everything else.  Which is great, because my OCD wouldn’t want it any other way.

4)   Although a groom may not care about wedding day planning, this is not a free pass for the bride to host an “All me, all the time” occasion.  Remember, a wedding is a celebration of two people.  Nothing is sadder than seeing photos from a wedding with a bride, front and center, and her groom standing awkwardly nearby as an ocean of hot pink satin decoration separates them both.

5)   No, those fake flowers do not look real.  Especially not the ones with the faux water droplets on them.  By all means, if the thought of polyester plants give you happiness, use them.  Just remember, no one is fooled.  This one doesn’t qualify as an asshole move but come one now.  Those flowers don’t even look real enough to fool a dog to lift a leg on it.

6)   Invite people who will support you, without judging, on your wedding day.  Don’t feel obligated to invite people just because they invited you to their wedding.  And don’t be personally insulted if a good friend cannot make it but sends a thoughtful gift instead.  Oftentimes, people simply can’t afford it.  You can’t hold it against your friends for not having an unlimited disposable income.  And if you do, then it’s your fault for not fostering more rich-friend relationships this far in your life.

7)   No, you’re not fat.  Stop asking everyone around you that.  And even if you are, your groom obviously doesn’t care.  He asked you to marry him fat, average, skinny, square, round.  If you do lose some weight?  Good job!  But if you don’t, stop beating yourself and everyone around you about it.  Black and blue are not ideal colors to wear to your own wedding.

When you keep saying things like, “Do I look fat?  I sooo need to lose 20 pounds by my wedding date, in two weeks”, that poor wedding dress attendant doesn’t know what to say.  Sadly, this actually happened.  I had a dress appointment in the room next to another bride. We couldn’t see one another, but her voice carried over to my area.  It was 1.5 hours of awkward sadness.  I almost wanted to go over to her and offer a hug, some self-esteem and a Skinnygirl Margarita.

8)   My fiancé and I are paying for our wedding.  We’re even paying for our parents’ plane tickets and hotel stay, because it’s something we both want to do.  I mean, have you seen the dark circles under the eyes of a new parent?  An exhausted mom trying to soothe a sick baby on a plane?  According to CNN, the average cost of raising a child is $241,080. That means your parents chose you and eye wrinkles over a room filled with a quarter of a million dollars’ worth of coins.  Enough for them to take the occasional coin dive in, a la Scrooge McDuck.  At this point in our lives, we consider it a blessing to be able to afford to pay for our parents’ way to attend our wedding.

If your parents are paying for your wedding, you don’t have much room to complain about them inviting their friends or insisting that you get the chicken dinner versus the steak.  Thank your parents, you lucky S.O.B.  I mean, really.  Put on some pants, unlock the door to your den “apartment” in their house and walk your pampered butt to the kitchen where your parents are paying the bills.  Tell them “thank you”.  Then throw in a hug and kiss for an instant wedding cake upgrade from four-tier to five.  If you want complete control over your wedding, you’ll just have to pay for it yourself.

9)   If you’ve never seen the inside of a craft store before, your wedding is not the time to test out your DIY skills.  Putting stress on oneself like that will only unleash your inner asshole.  And please, no one wants to see that.  Hire a wedding planner.  Then sit back with your case of liquor and relax.  If you can’t afford a planner and have no clue on how a glue gun operates, then I would consider selling plasma for extra income.

Weddings shouldn’t be stressful, but they oftentimes are.  If you can’t handle it, then you can’t.  It’s not the end of the world.  Do yourself a favor and book a trip for two to the south of France, or wherever you consider to be relaxing and romantic.  Have a small ceremony, for just the two of you.  There’s no rule that says you have to have 150 guests at a five-star hotel, to qualify as a wedding.  It’s a special day commemorating the love between two people who promise not to wake up next to anyone else, for the rest of their lives.  Just try not to drive everyone in your life insane, in the meantime.

Thank You For Not Stealing My Baby Name; Here’s A Bookcase

My Facebook Friends List looks suspiciously like a page torn out of a daycare center’s yearbook.  Don’t ask me how my friends look like nowadays.  I wouldn’t be able to pick them out of a police line up. Or at a party in my own home.  It happened overnight, it seems like.  Profile pictures of college students performing keg stands have been slowly replaced by two year olds doing milk chugs.  Friends are always encouraging us to have babies as soon as possible but my response?  “We’re in no rush.  It’s kind of nice to sit back and learn from everyone else’s mistakes”.  At any given moment, my News Feed reads like a CliffsNotes version of What To Expect When You’re Expecting.  Or for some, What To Expect When You’re (Not) Expecting.  I find it all fascinating.  Thanks to social media, I now know what to feed a child for the best abstract diaper art.  Beets and leafy greens for color.  Corn for texture.  But more importantly, I’ve been fully educated on the cutthroat business of choosing a baby name.  And I’m not even expecting.

The age of sixteen was when I first became aware of the stress involved in naming a child. I was working at a Mexican restaurant called Pappasito’s at the time.  There, I met one of the most influential persons in my life.  I can’t recall her name, but that’s not very important. What is important is that her son was named Markweist.  Inexplicably, it is pronounced in the same manner as “Marcus”.  In her defense, she would’ve named her child Marcus but made the mistake of sharing her chosen name with her best friend.  The best friend had a baby before she did and ended up using the name herself.  It was all very tragic.  It was then, while wearing a sombrero and calling out for “Smith, party of two and a half!”, that I realized the importance of choosing a baby name early on and keeping it to oneself.  I mean, you could share but who wants to add on 22 extra letters to a name because your best friend decided to lift yours?  Unacceptable.  If you don’t end up wanting kids, you can always use the name for a dog or a pet alpaca.  Benjamin Theodore Thomas Ferguson III makes for a great alpaca name, I’ve heard.

So when our friends “C” and “O” decided to name their newborn “Baby S”, I was elated. One, the baby is healthy and beautiful.  And two, Baby S was not on my radar of potential baby names.  As a baby shower gift (as well as a Thank You gift for not using my baby name), I decided to go with two items.  One to use and one to amuse.  For the practical side, a Diaper Genie was chosen.  And since some of my favorite memories centered around books and libraries, I decided to make Baby S her very own miniature bookcase. Out of an old jewelry box.  Here’s what I used:

  • Wooden jewelry box.  Get the tall one with the doors.  I got one from Goodwill for $9.99.
  • Paint & paintbrush
  • Scrapbook paper
  • Sandpaper
  • Screwdriver
  • Saw
  • Double stick tape
  • Pencil/felt tipped pen
  • E-6000 glue
  • Scrap pieces of wood.  I had a damaged paint canvas that had a wooden frame.  I used that.


Step 1:  Using a screwdriver, remove the doors, hardware and drawers.  Then strip off the velvet they use to cover it all.  Mine was mauve pink.  Hopefully, yours has festive velvet coloration as well.  Here’s a picture of me peeling away.  Just in case you’re unsure of how to peel.  Sometimes I forget.  Usually after midnight on the weekends.


Step 2:  Next, take a low grit sandpaper and start sanding.  Just enough to get the clear coat off so that your paint will stick.


Step 3:  Brush off the sawdust and wipe it down a few times with a damp cloth.  Then paint it with your choice of paint color.  I chose a Behr color.  I can’t remember what it was called but it had the word “cottage” in it.  Cottage cream or cottage dream.  Who knows. You’ll need a few coats of this stuff though.


Step 4:  Leave that jewelry box alone for a day to dry.  Then take some more low grit sandpaper and lightly sand the edges to give it a distressed look.  Don’t press down too hard or else you’ll end up taking off too much and the whole thing will look more damaged than distressed.


Step 5:  Cut out scrapbook paper to fit the back of the jewelry box.  You might want to measure first.  Then find your stash of pencils.  No one seems to have pencils anymore but you’ll want to track some down for this.


Step 6:  On a purple/grey paper, I used a ruler to measure out half inch lines.  Then I went on Google Fonts and chose a few different styles.  Using some of my favorite quotes from children’s books and poems, I drew them onto the paper freehand.  I left a little area blank in anticipation of the shelf that will go there.


Step 7:  Once that was done, I took a black felt tipped pen and traced the letters.  Then I erased the pencil lines.  It came out quite well.  The quotes I used were written by Roald Dahl, Shel Silverstein, A. A. Milne and Dr. Seuss.  Take the double sided tape and stick these onto the back of the jewelry box.


Step 8:  Locate your scrap wood.  Again, mine was just the wooden frame to a damaged canvas.  I found that the width of each wooden piece was roughly half of the depth of the jewelry box.  So, I could use two to make a shelf.  Measure and cut the wood to size.  You will want a shelf that is the depth and width of your box.  Then, cut out two extra pieces about half a centimeter in square thickness.  The length will be the depth of your box.  This sounds difficult but look at the picture after this one and it makes more sense.  It’s relatively easy.


Step 9:  Paint the wooden pieces in the same color you’ve been using.  Then affix the two small wood pieces onto the jewelry box using the E-6000 glue.  You will want one on either side.  Place it where you’d like to see the shelf sit.  Then place the wooden “shelf” piece on top.


Step 569:  Almost done.  You might want to start making plans to do normal things like pee and shower again.  I found a wooden letter “S”, so I decided to glue that on top.  I would’ve painted it but thought the raw wood was cute.  I’m sure the newborn will approve.


Step 1425:  Buy some books.  This is the fun part.  Children’s books come in all shapes and sizes so I bought the ones that were able to fit into the baby’s bookcase.  “O” and “C” are both in the software industry and plan on teaching their child the programming language, Ruby.  I couldn’t find a small edition of that so I settled for Linux instead.  Along with her Dr. Seuss books.


Step 22.5:  Baby S is also fortunate enough to have parents who are both fluent in Spanish.  So I threw in a little Spanish translator.  It’ll come in handy when she’s nineteen, and in Cancun during spring break, trying to order a beer.  Or find her way to a biblioteca.  While drinking a beer.


And here is the gift for Baby S.  Hopefully, she’ll remember this gift when I’m too old to drive and need a lift to the liquor store, library and bookstore.  All in that order.  Then repeat.


Tin Can-delier: Chandelier Made Of Tin Cans

My fiancé is vegan.  He’s been one since the days of Walkmans and floppy disks.  The urban foraging obsession came much later, though.  I woke up one morning, years ago, to find him consuming what appeared to be houseplants.  “Are you eating our hanging fuchsia?” I ask him.  He stops chewing for a second and tells me, “Yeah.  I found out on Wikipedia that the fruits are edible.  Isn’t that amazing?  It’s like a hanging food source we’ve been unaware of!”.  I quickly assess the situation and respond, “Shall I take you to Home Depot’s garden section for brunch, my love?”.  Honestly, I have no idea what took him so long to make the trek north to Seattle to be with his fellow people.  Maybe he wanted to collect enough plaid shirts to pair up with his Marmot jackets, along the way. Who knows.

The public parks here are like grocery stores to him.  Leave him alone at Discovery Park for thirty seconds, and he’s already knee deep in some wild berry bushes.  Ask him where he is and he’ll respond, “Aisle five!”.  “You mean, the North Beach trailhead?” I yell back. “Same thing,” he tells me.  Once, he came wandering back to me while popping wild blueberries into his mouth.  He tells me that they’re amazingly fresh yet oddly salty.  I looked at him, then the dewy fruit and explain to him, “Um, that’s probably dog pee you’re tasting”.


Life is wonderful for an urban forager, here in Seattle.  When it’s spring, summer or fall, that is.  The fruits, mushrooms and my patio plants are plentiful during those seasons. When it’s wintertime and Discovery Park is no longer offering free food service, my fiancé starts urban foraging through our kitchen cupboards.  He loves finding canned beans.  I am a huge fan of tuna.  During the wintertime, we manage to go through a small pile of canned goods by the end of the week.  These cans are then brought to the recycling area about a hundred yards away.  One day, laziness and creativity were playing particularly well together and I decided to make something out of my stash of tin cans versus walking them to the recycling area.  I decided to make a chandelier made out of tin cans.  Then I named it my “tin-candeiler”.  Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Lampshade with the shade part removed.  So, just the wire frame.  Goodwill has plenty.
  • Wire mesh.  You can get this off of an old window screen.
  • Wire
  • Lightbulb
  • Small chain.  I used old chain necklaces for this.
  • Lamp kit.  Get one at Home Depot or find an old lamp and strip it for its cord/lightbulb socket.
  • Scissors
  • Drill with various sized drill bits
  • Lots and lots of aluminum can tops
  • 2 large aluminum can bodies.  They should both be large enough to fit over your lightbulb.
  • Heavy duty gloves
  • Thin nails and hammer
  • Wooden board


Step 1:  The list of materials calls for a “lampshade with the shade part removed” but I assume most people haven’t done that yet.  So, let’s go ahead and do that, shall we?

Step 2:  Take the wire mesh and cover the entire lampshade frame.  It will look like a very shallow sifter.  Attach the mesh to the frame with wires.  Then, cut a hole in the middle where the center is.  This will be where you thread the lightbulb cord through.  A centimeter in width is what you’re aiming for when cutting that hole.

Step 3:  Once you have that set up, go ahead and poke the lightbulb and cord through. Hang this up to the side somewhere for now.  It’ll probably be lopsided.  Mess with it later.

Step 4:  Take inventory of your aluminum tops.  Then gauge how important your fingers are to you.  This project is a great one for anyone possessing extra phalanges.  You might, in all likelihood, lose a few digits.  So, you’ll want to wear some gloves for this project.  Then divide your goods into three piles.  Half of the tops should go into one pile and the rest should be divided evenly into two piles of 25% each.

Step 5:  For 25% of the tops, you’ll want to trim off…oh, let’s say a half centimeter of material from the edge, all around.  Place this onto a wooden board and nail it down with two nails.  Situate these two nails about two millimeters away from the edge and at polar opposite ends.  This will secure the tops so that you won’t have a dangerous spinning disc when drilling.

Step 6:  Okay, so now you can go ahead and drill some holes.  Use different sized drill bits to make a design of your choice.  I opted for a swirly theme but you can do whatever.

Step 7:  Drilling and cutting aluminum tops for hours can drive you nuts, one tiny drill hole at a time.  Invite some friends over. People love watching craziness bud and blossom.

Step 8:  Move on to the big pile of tops.  Do the same exact thing to this pile.  But when you make that cut around the edge, go for a deeper one.  Take off 1.5 cm this time from the edge.

Step 9:  For the rest of the tops, you’ll want to make them into spirals.  This is pretty easy. Assuming that you still have both of your hands at this point, hold a top in one and a pair of scissors in the other.  Cut in a one centimeter spiral all the way in.  What you’ll get is a spiral that looks like a spiral.  Sorry, my thesaurus sucks.


Step 10:  Remember those holes you nailed in?  And remember those capiz shell lamps you were about to buy but didn’t because they never went on sale and you get buyer’s remorse when you buy full price?  Actually, that probably wasn’t you.  That may have been me.  Well, locate those holes and your chains and string the tops together like those capiz shells.  You can mix and match the sizes.  I sure did.

Step 11:  Attach each string of strung tops to the mesh contraption with more chains. Make sure you attach it to the outermost edge.

Step 12:  Working about an inch away from the edge, put up your spirals with long strands of chains.  I forgot, poke a hole at the top of each spiral first.

Step 13:  Then, take your two aluminum can bodies and drill some festive holes in them. Stack them up on top of one another and attach the two.  Then place it around the lightbulb and string that up as well.

And here is my tin can-delier.  Mother Nature already thanked me for this one.


5 Days, $500, 248 sf NYC Apt…Go!: Final Day (Finally)

I love New York City.  I just outed myself as a non-resident, in calling it by its full USPS-approved name, didn’t I?  How middle America of me.  Ok, “The City”.  It’s where rich people go to feel poor.  Where else could you spend $3,000/month to live in a closet masquerading as an apartment?  Every time I feel like as if I have too much change in my pockets, I book a flight to Manhattan.  Or take a trip to Whole Foods down the road. Whichever one is cheapest.  And let me tell you, Whole Foods does not often win.

Going from Seattle to The City is a jump in many regards, but the two cities have much more in common than you would think.  Anthony Bourdain compares Seattle to “Brooklyn before there was a Brooklyn”.  This is mostly true, but overlooks the fact that Seattleites, well…they’re really not that cool.  And that’s how they like it. The majority of the population here are like a Who’s Who of Doctor Who fans. My fiancé is one such enthusiast.  He’s planning on wearing a celery boutonniere to the wedding.  I’m just hoping that he doesn’t try to eat it halfway through the ceremony. But the main difference between the two cities is the clientele who shop at stores like Goodwill.  NYC has real homeless people in there, The Emerald City largely does not.  In Seattle, that homeless looking guy that you tossed a quarter to?  Probably the CEO of some software company. He’ll gladly take that penny too, and shove it into his fanny pack.  And that fanny pack was, more than likely, purchased at a thrift store during a half off sale.  Because seven figure incomes just doesn’t buy what it used to.

This is why, while in New York, I sometimes forget myself and strike up random conversations with legitimate homeless people, under the misconception that all of their hardwiring is intact.  For example, on the final day of redoing my sister’s apartment, I stepped into the Salvation Army on 3rd Avenue.  Spotting a gorgeous olive green leather chair, I immediately go over to lay my claim by sprawling myself over the armrests. Looking at the price tag, I mutter to myself, “$24.99?  That’s cheaper than stealing it.  Not that I would ever do that, just in case anyone is listening”.  A middle aged man sporting a shirt with more dirt than fabric hears me and spits out, “Ya got crack?  I ain’t gonna steal it from ya…if ya just give it to me”.  This was when I un-sprawled my limbs and made a quick exit, while telling myself not to make eye contact within the four walls of a Salvation Army in NYC ever again.  But it was a steal of a deal, and I went back later that night to buy the chair.  Here it is.


I gave it a good wipe down with a wet towel.  Then I thought better of it and disinfected the entire thing with the strongest anti-bacterial cleanser I could lay my hands on.


The gorgeous detailing in back is definitely more valuable than two Snack Packs and a Fruit Roll-Up in an elementary school playground.  It is a deal like this one that makes thrifting so rewarding.


After Salvation Army, I hopped on over to its cleaner cousin, Goodwill.  There, I found these gallery frames for $7.99 and $10.99.  I initially intended to replace the print with something else, but ended up kinda sorta really liking the simple black and white photography.  A lot, actually.  I arranged them simply grouped on the living area wall.  I had two random wooden curtain rod ends, so I threw those up there as well.  I may or may not have used a level.


Here is what the Living Room Area looked like “Before”.


On Day 5, this is what the Living Room Area looked like “After”.  It’s the same area, just different view, I swear.


Remember the random stuff I was hoarding from different thrift stores?  Giant thread spools large enough to keep two sweat shops in business until 2015?


Here they are, living the retired good life as adornments to the coffee table I had refurbished a few days prior.


And those plaster medallions?  I stuck them on the wall, then realized I measured incorrectly.  So, they were slightly off-center.  In my defense, it was after happy hour. Instead of rehanging everything, I re-centered the entire grouping by adding the wooden spool of leftover twine to the end.  I love it when laziness and creativity come together.


There is an antique ironing board that my sister has, which we picked up in New Hampshire, years ago.  I really liked the board, but found the backside hardware much more interesting that its plain top.  So, I ended up displaying it, backside forward, as a stand alone piece in the living room area.


In its previous life, the ironing board was hanging out with a rope ladder that we had found outside of a Babycakes NYC.  This was years before.  I cut the rope off of the wooden rungs and displayed it in a glass container.


Sitting beside that rope display is the glass lamp base we found at Goodwill.  I placed my sister’s river rock collection under it.  Then I added a lampshade we found on clearance, from Bed Bath & Beyond, for $9.99.


My sister, she is wonderful.  Absolutely darling.  But she’s not someone you would categorize as being of the overly emotional variety.  She avoids hugs at all cost.  Instead, she’ll give you a hand hug, if she likes you.  Fist shake if she doesn’t.  And handshake if she couldn’t care less.  For really special occasions like weddings and funerals, she will also add in a heartfelt thumb nuzzle with that hand hug. This is strangely comforting, I should probably add.  So, it came as quite a shock when I showed her the finished apartment and she was, how do you say it?  Teary eyed.  I asked her, “Um, this hasn’t ever happened before, so I’m not quite sure how to proceed…but um, are you…are you crying?”.  She quickly looked away and muttered, “No, my eyeballs are just sweating. Those corneas, you know how they just love to sweat.  Sometimes I wonder how many calories my pupils burn while dilating, alone.  Hey, you didn’t get rid of my giant 24 pound wheel of cheese, did you?”.  She told me that she loved what her sweaty pupils were seeing.


A few days before, I had found a wine rack at Goodwill.  I then placed two terra cotta planters into the wine rack.  I tilted the planters to make it all fit in.  Then I dabbled on some Behr paint in “River Walk” to add some color.


Home Depot had some plants.  I found one for $3.99 and another for $3.49.  I took them both home with me.  After paying, of course.  Here are the plants in their happy new home.


I then placed the wine rack planter on top of the existing black table.  To change up the entire look, I took out the existing hardware and replaced it with our free Anthropologie dresser knobs.  She had saved those rings of wood from a wedding, years before.


This table was placed at the foot of the bed.  Here is a view of the Bedroom Area “After” I had repainted the walls, added window treatments and redone the bookcases.


It’s kind of a huge jump from the canvas-used-as-window-treatment genre of decor I had witnessed during Day 1.


Another “After” view.


Here is the homeless chair I had found tossed out onto the streets.  I rehabbed it with some spanking new fabric and then paired it up with a sexy side of revamped dresser. Let me know if my choice in adjectives is starting to creep you out.  I’m pretty sure it does.


It’s a rather nice little seating area.  The entire chair/dresser combination is off to the sides a bit, so it’ll be of service to some of my sister’s more socially awkward guests.  If she ever decides to host a dinner party.  But then again, she takes after our dad.  And according to our mom, our dad “cooks, alright.  Your dad cooks from the couch”.  Maybe she’ll have a tuna can opening/eating party.


This 248 sf area of my sister’s apartment was done in five sleepless, flu riddled days.  You may want to scroll through Day 1-4 to see the full renovation, including the kitchen and green dresser area.  I also managed to redo it for far less than our initial $500 budget. Here is the breakdown of the spending:

  • Paints: $51.88
  • Paint Supplies: $14.99
  • Furniture & Furniture Renovating Materials: $99.98
  • Wood: $11.82
  • Plants: $7.48
  • Fabric: $23.00
  • Wall Art: $27.37
  • Decor: $150
  • Miscellaneous: $48.24

Total Cost: $299.76 (Correction: Apparently, I can’t input numbers correctly on my calculator.  The total is $434.76.  Still under budget but much less money left over for drinks.  Thanks to people who pointed this out).

And a final look at the NYC apartment before I flew out the next morning.  It was time to go back to the unshaven and plaid wearing populace of Seattle.  A place where you can say things like, “Yeah, I’m going to have to decline that invite.  There’s a secret mushroom patch I’ve been foraging.  I kind of want to make a final harvest before chanterelle season is over.  I mean, my famous wild mushroom risotto isn’t going to make itself, girlfriend” and people nod with intimate understanding.  Image

The Key(board) To A Computer Nerd’s Heart

You know that Macklemore song in which he sings about a broken keyboard?  Well, not to sound like a total groupie or anything but yeah, I bought a broken keyboard.  For $7.99 at the Ballard location of Goodwill Seattle.  I don’t mind if you’re slightly oh-so jealous.

I am not a tech savvy person, by any stretch of the imagination.  My fiancé, on the other hand, is in the software industry and does stuff like write code/invent new software patents.  He is like the left brain to my right one.  Together, we form a somewhat complete brain, but missing many many (several) key elements.  He is a good man for putting up with all of my technical ineptitudes throughout the years.  Here are some prime examples:

  • I broke my laptop.  He asked me what I was looking for in a new one e.g. storage space, battery life, image quality.  I told him I wanted something with a big flat surface on top, so that I can close it up and use it as a lunch tray when noon rolls around.
  • I once came up with an idea for an invention.  I called it The Lunch Tray Laptop 2.1 EXL with dual cup holder attachments and silverware portals.  This idea did not make it much further than my brain.  The right one.
  • I used a Nokia flip phone for many years, until my sister told me it was embarrassing to see me navigate a phone with a missing #9 button.  I told her I was keeping my vintage phone for as long as it worked.  She bought me a Nexus.  It then sat in its box for a month until my vintage phone with the “perfectly aged peeling paint” crapped out.
  • I rarely watch T.V.  For the occasional dose of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, I call up my fiancé to turn it on.  My favorite T.V. show is the one in which I stare at my reflection off of a blank television set, for thirty minute increments at a time.  No reruns.

So what does a technically handicapped person do with a broken keyboard?  Valentine’s Day gift for my computer lover.  My plan was to make a picture frame composed of keyboard letters/numbers.  Here is what I rounded up: alcohol, broken keyboard, E-6000 glue and a flat faced picture frame.  I bought this frame at an Austin Goodwill for $2.99.  It was made by someone named “Newton”.  Let’s just assume his first name is “Isaac”, shall we?  The alcohol is optional.  It makes for some interesting glueing techniques, so keep it handy.

Step 1:  Pour yourself a drink.  Or two.  You may need a nap if you go beyond three.


Step 2:  Pop out the letters of the keyboard and arrange them on the picture frame.  There will be some spacing in between some of the letters, so use this to your advantage. Arrange the spaces artistically.  Then take the E-6000 glue you’ve been sniffing, and glue everything into place.


Step 3:  I left the frame to dry a bit and figured I should come up with some backing to the frame, if I intend to use it to hold pictures.  Keeping in line with the computer theme, I decided to use the cardboard box that my laptop came in.  I just cut it down to the measurement of the frame.


Since I’m usually behind the camera, we don’t have many family portraits.  Or at least cute ones.  By “family”, I mean my fiancé, the dog and myself.  So I drew one.  On lined paper, since I kind of like the lines.


Here we are.  The drawing’s scale is pretty accurate.


I actually snuck in some words and phrases while I was arranging the letters.  This one reads, “I am John” as you can very well read for yourself.


And then the bottom goes, “Software Guy”.  This one requires a few extra IQ points.


And here is the romantic keyboard picture frame for my Valentine.  I plan to present it to him while whispering sweet Java script in his ear.  Maybe some C++ action.  I don’t know. We’ll see what we have time for after I give him his card made out of beans.