DIY Furniture Makeovers

Today, I come bearing gifts: the outcome of four furniture refinishing projects completed over the course of a few months. The process introduced me to skills (and muscles) that I didn’t know I had; apparently, they were lying dormant, only to be revealed when my need for attractive home furnishings became too much to bear.

First on the project list was this cherry-colored mirror, which I thought would look more modern in a darker mahogany stain.


Little did I know that tackling this project might break me before I’d really gotten started. Unfortunately, the process of sanding and staining is much more onerous than sanding, priming and painting. When you’re getting ready to paint a piece of furniture, you just need to sand it enough to rough up the surface for proper paint adhesion. When you want to stain a piece of furniture, however, you need to sand it first to the bare wood (see below). And that process, my friends, is no walk in the park.

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New Friends and Field Trips

Happy Friday, my friends! I’d like to celebrate the impending weekend with some end-of-fall photos—a perfect segue into winter, I guess, as we Chicagoans celebrated our first snowflakes of the season yesterday.

But the story behind these photos, I think, is even nicer than the results themselves. A few weeks back, I met up with the extremely talented Jacqui of Happy Jack Eats; we wanted to capture Morton Arboretum, in all its autumnal glory, on film. I took the train out to meet her, through new-to-me villages with sweet storefronts, and ended up having a blast. (I sincerely believe that the best part of moving to a new place has to do with the new relationships that follow. Between meeting lovely people like Jacqui and Maggie in person, hanging out with my hilarious coworkers, and reconnecting with high school and college friends, my heart has been quite full lately. So has my social calendar, but that’s something I can learn to live with.) We talked about photography and our futures, got ourselves just a little bit lost, ran into a troupe of zombie-actors, and had an extremely satisfying meal at Honey Cafe. Basically, there was no room for improvement.

So enjoy these snapshots (Portra 400 for the win!), then call up a friend. You know, just to chat. They make the transition from autumn into winter just a little bit less bittersweet.

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Upside Down, and Right Side Up

It feels good to have my own space again. My belongings are finally unpacked (well, most of them, anyway) and put away in closets, cabinets and atop shelves—a sure sign of permanence in a housing situation.

There’s a supreme comfort in having your possessions accessible to you, isn’t there? As soon as I unpacked my cookbooks, which had remained sealed in storage since leaving Virginia, I couldn’t stop tearing them from the bookshelves and rifling through their photos and recipes. I was ravenous not for the food, but for the return of a sense of ownership. Even if I wasn’t planning on making anything—and for awhile, the fridge and pantry were too barren to raid for ingredients—it was still nice to know that Ina Garten’s Tuscan Lemon Chicken was there, just in case my eyes (or my soul) got hungry.

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The Safest Investment

The one downside of paying off my student loans? When I emerged debt-free on the other side, I had to figure out a new set of motivations for my financial life. Not that I have much money to throw around, mind you, but I’m a very intention-driven person: with one goal gone, another must follow.

With a sizable chunk of my paycheck back in my pocket, safe again from the grubby fingers of Sallie Mae, I started to mull over what I wanted my money to do for me. And I wasn’t content to consider the question as a false dichotomy (splurge on luxuries with the excess, or hoard it for a rainy day?). After much thought, I came up with a mission statement for my money: I was going to invest in myself.

One aspect of investing in yourself is, of course, making sure you have enough for emergencies and retirement. But honestly, I think the other kind of investment in yourself—the kind where you figure out what you’re passionate about and educate the hell out of yourself to make yourself proficient in it—that’s the hardest one. That’s harder than determining a proper 401(k) investment allocation, or setting up automatic deposits to your savings account. It requires you to dig down deep in yourself, ask some difficult and painful questions about why you’re here on this earth, and then believe in the answers—even, or especially, if they scare you. Most importantly, it then requires you to become the first investor in an (unproven) venture based on that dream.

But if you do it right, I think you could be the safest investment you ever made.

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A Clean Slate | The New Apartment Tour!

Moving day came and went—my fourth move in two and a half years!—and now I’m steadily building a nest, twig by twig, in Chicago’s lakeside Edgewater neighborhood. I still look around slack-jawed on a daily basis, unable to believe that all this high-ceilinged glory is mine. I don’t have nearly enough stuff to fill up the myriad closets and cabinets (three cheers for storage space!) and highly doubt that I ever will, given my minimalist tendencies. And while half of my belongings have yet to be unpacked, and the walls need a fresh coat of paint—Benjamin Moore’s Moonshine, if you were wondering—I already feel quite at home.

Want to take a look around?

I’ll lead you around from front to back. Above is the dining nook, with its big south-facing windows.

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