DIY Wall Art

If you'd have asked me a few years ago, I would have told you that you hang pictures in frames on the wall.  That is wall art.  Period.  Over the years and with the help of Pinterest, I've broadened my horizons a little bit.

As we've been trying to fill the walls of a two-story house with the wall art we had from a small two bedroom apartment, we've been scrambling to find things, especially things that are large enough for our large walls.

1. Money from countries the hubs has visited.  He spent a lot of time on cargo ships roaming the globe, and we have lots of souvenirs to show for it.  One frame + paper money = wall art.

2. Scored a shadow box frame at the dump a few weeks ago, citing "just because".  We put a hummingbird's nest in it that the hubs found in the yard about a year ago that's been sitting in the basement.  It fits nicely on the right side of the bookcases.  It's so small you can put a quarter in it.  Wall art.

3. Our lovely bookcases arrived strapped to a double pallet.

Hubs: Can we do anything with this pallet?
Me: People make stuff on Pinterest with pallets all the time.
Hubs: Like what?
Me: Like furniture!
Hubs: (stares)
Me: I'll get the computer.

And we found this, which we thought would be neat in the living room over the couches:

We cleaned the pallet, hubs moved some boards around and added a little stain to make it rustic (We lost the original"rustic" when we cleaned it.  Apparently, rustic is caused by dirt). But then we just couldn't do it.  It just wasn't what we were doing with the space.  But we just couldn't throw it out.  Dilemma!!

Bottom of the basement stairs!  Framed photos + knick-knacks = wall art.

4. Gallery wall.  This was a thrilling result.  Hubs suggested using all black and white photos, so after editing a bunch, sending them off to Walmart 1-hour photo online, spray painting all of our odd frames black, and buying dark brown frames, we had a project on our hands.  It took three lists for me to be able to figure out what we had and what we needed.  I left hubs to do the hanging since he's more methodical than me.

Each one we chose was someone or something important to us that would also look good in black and white.  We're so happy with it.

We also have tennis rackets on one wall in the basement, and we'd like to do vintage board games on another, though that's another project for another day.

What have you been hanging on your walls lately?

A Completed Space

Other than one lamp still on order from Pottery Barn, our living room is finally finished.  It has been a long journey to get to the cozy, comfortable living space we envisioned.  Because we have a television in the basement living space, we decided to go sans television up here: we don't have cable and don't spend any time watching it, so why bother?  We wanted to have a space to sit and relax with the kids and have ample seating if we have company.  And if we have company, we're not going to have the television on anyway.

So, popcorn scraping, grass cloth removing, and wall painting later, here we are:

Sorry about the lamp glare on the after pictures- it's a darker room and it was pouring, and I had to share.  But you get the idea.  We're so happy with the result.

Now we're going to focus on the entryway, getting the half bath and mudroom complete.  Have you accomplished a big project lately?


On Friday, I told you our bookcases for the living room were finally here, painted, and in the house.  They are now screwed into the wall so little hands can't pull them down and loaded with stuff.  I'm so excited to share!!

Let me step back a minute, though, to early April, when we ordered our first set of bookcases.  We decided to go to the local unfinished furniture store to order something custom so we could get them just how we wanted, and we figured we'd paint them since we wanted them to be white anyway.  We put in our order, and with a 6-8 week delivery promise, hoped we'd at least have them by the time we went to Florida at the end of May.  Well, the Florida trip came and went, and we called.  Well, they've been running behind.  And we called again.  They're on the truck but we can't find them.  We called again.  They're in a town nearby but they just haven't made it here.  We demanded our deposit back.  And thankfully we did, as they are out of business as of a few weeks ago.  Tell me about it.

Once we got that money back, we found a natural wood bookcase manufacturer online and placed our order with a 3-5 week production time and another week or two for delivery.  Here we go again.  We placed that order at the end of July and they were here within a month.  Woo hoo!

So, back on track for finally finishing our living room 4 months later, I primed them that night, painted them the next day and we had them in the day after that.  The hubs worked his magic over the weekend and now the big reveal!

Remember, this was the wall before:

Oh, look at the grass cloth!  And the toys!  And after:

We are so thrilled with how it came out.  It actually didn't take too long to get it just how we wanted it.  Some of the elements:

 Wall art free from feed your soul (thanks, Dana, for the pin!)

Felted bookworm from nodsu

Felted bowls from missyandme

 Mason jar from the dump! (90% of the books, too)

Giraffes from hubs's travels to Africa

We put a bunch of photos on the top shelf, which is lighted with Ikea under-cabinet lighting, and we put a few mementos, like the pewter engraved cups the kids were given when they were born.

We spent a good portion of the weekend unpacking photo frames and knick-knacks for the living room.  Hubs said it was like we were moving in this weekend, as we were pawing through boxes still packed from when we moved in almost three years ago.  We had figured, why unpack when we're just going to have to put it all away when we re-do the room?

What did you do this weekend?

Happiness Is

It's Friday, friends!  Time for a little end of the week happiness- a reflection on all the good little things.

Before I start I do have one lingering question for this week on the food front- how do you shop?  I generally do one big grocery store shopping to get what I need for the week, though it has happened where I've had to run in for a few things in between.  But I know there are people who stop in every few days to pick up what they need for a meal and get things fresh.  I don't know if I can manage that with two small kids, but I like the idea of eating fresh broccoli rather than the broccoli that's been in my fridge for a week, although I suppose broccoli is broccoli.  So, how do you shop?  Do you make a big trip like me?  Small trips?  Load up at the farmer's market (I'd love to do this!!)?  Stick to the main grocery or go to a market like Whole Foods?  Do tell!

Alright, here we go!  Happiness is...

...bookcases!  I'll have a post next week and an interesting story on why it's taken almost 5 months to get bookcases into our living room, but they are here, they are painted, and they are in the house and almost attached to the wall.  Time to fill them with all these books I've been grabbing from the dump! at Pottery Barn.  Swoon.  Please don't be too jealous- it was only lamps.  But still, the hubs allowed me into the holy grail after two failed attempts at purchasing lamps online.  It is a magical, magical place.

...having an entire fleet to do every job imaginable (and he knows what they all do, too).

...having the hubs home on vacation next week!  Ok, vacation means him continuing to build the bathroom in the entryway, but still- it will be nice to have him around all week.

...a new tiny slow cooker.  I love my regular one so much, when I saw this one at Walmart (for $9.97, no less) I grabbed it.  I think it will be great for beans or that overnight oatmeal, and it will be nice if I want to make beans while also slow cooking meat.  Score!

I hope you all have a great weekend!  What's making you happy this week?

Carb Research and a Yogurt Question

Thanks so much for all the great comments you've been leaving!  It's really inspiring to me that so many of you have made food switches and can offer hints and tips on what works and what doesn't.  I was particularly interested in so many comments talking about cereal and bread products.  Both of those are a huge weakness for me.  I could absolutely live on bread, and cereal is my go-to I'm-still-hungry-after-supper snack.  So while in the store doing my grocery shopping yesterday, I decided to take a look and see what I could find out.  (P.S. My shopping took so long because I was reading labels.  Research now, autonomy later.)

"Boring" cereals (all of which are in my cabinet)- Rice Krispies, Corn Flakes, Shredded Wheat (plain)- are all pretty decent, though most contain some kind of sugar or malt.  Cheerios, one of my all-time favorites, was actually pretty disappointing, having some additives in them.  I ended up buying Grape Nuts, which I haven't had in the longest time, and plain oats and steel-cut oats for oatmeal.

Grape Nuts

Homemade oatmeal seems to be the best choice as far as knowing what goes into it, though I am glad to have some ready-made choices for Gus.  I suppose I could make my own cereal blend of loose flakes, oats, nuts, and dried fruit- a homemade Great Grains of sorts.  It's just hard to know what's baked into those flakes!

I did find a great slow cooker recipe for oatmeal using the steel cut oats, which take a longer time to cook.  You cook this one overnight so it's ready for you in the morning.  (What genius thought of cooking while you're sleeping?  I would never think outside the box like that.)  It is a little bland as it stands but a little drizzle of maple syrup helps immensely.  Read it here.

Speaking of syrup, even though I said I wasn't going to waste food, I did pitch the rest of the fake syrup because the label was just so bad.  I also bought a bag of this sugar which is less processed than regular white sugar.  It's sort of like Sugar in the Raw but much, much finer.  For the price, I probably won't use it for baking, but I drink a lot of tea and I like to put in a small spoonful of sugar.

For other carb sources, I pinned several recipes for crackers that I want to try and I've been pondering a bread machine.  (Maybe for Christmas?)  I love homemade bread but I don't always have the time to do all the prep work it takes.

I'm also curious on the readers' opinion about yogurt.  Every yogurt I've picked up has natural flavor in it so I'm not sure where to go on that.  I know yogurt is good for you and the kids love it so I don't want to take that away from them.  Lately I've been buying mostly Chobani and Yoplait Simplait, the latter of which is delicious and has only 6 ingredients.  Those of you who have cut out the weird ingredients, do you still eat yogurt?  Is there a better brand?  Should we just continue to eat it anyway?

Guest Post: One Loopy Knitter

While I was reading all those scary articles last week, I was of course keeping up with my blog roll, and I was so surprised and thrilled to see this awesome post from Nancy of One Loopy Knitter talking about rules to eat by. I was reading it going, yes, I want to do that, and that, and that. It was like she wrote my blog post for me without even knowing it! So instead of reinventing the already well-written post, I asked Nancy if she'd like to guest post and I'm so thrilled she said yes because she is full of information on the subject!

Hi, I'm Nancy, the blogger behind One Loopy Knitter and A Little Etsy Love.  I was truly honored when Kristen asked me to guest blog today on a subject I am madly in love with and very passionate about: food.
In the last few decades, American culture has broken away from mom's home cooking and the use of real ingredients and whole foods and, guided by American Industry, has been forced into a box.  Well, quite a few of them actually.  Enter any grocery store and you will notice right away that the shelves are filled with them: boxes that is.  Real food is much harder to find amongst all of our marketed modern convenience "foods." The danger here is harder to see: what is actually in those boxes?  What mystery chemicals, corn byproducts, and other horrors are use to make this "food?" In the following post, I will reveal what I've come to believe in terms of food: what drives my purchasing, cooking, and eating choices.
My 5 rules to Eat by: 
Principles I've come to trust in, live by, and rarely break.
  1. Can't pronounce the ingredients?  Don't eat it.  Buy mostly whole foods that require no food labels because they are 1 single ingredient.  If there's no getting around it, stick to 5 or less ingredients that are also identifiable on the label.  Buy the "real" version of foods.  I.E. butter, rather than low fat promising products (margarine and the like).  Read the ingredient labels of both and you will notice a big difference here.

2. From scratch cooking: Make it if it can be made.  This allows me to control what goes into the food I eat.  It's also fresher and tastes better this way too.  We make all of our own bread and buns, jams, baked goods, ice cream, pizza dough, you name it!  This is the first year I plan to make and can enough pasta sauce to get us through the winter.  I've even made mayonnaise from time to time.  Sound like a lot of work?  Well, it is!  But I'd rather spend my time in the kitchen than filling prescriptions or waiting a the Dr's office to check up on a myriad of diseases.

3. Eat a Rainbow:  Sometimes I get stuck in a rut eating the same foods over and over again.  I believe that the more diverse species of plants you can put into your body the more health benefits you'll reap.  Plus, colorful foods contain nutrients.  That's just plain science. :)

4. Eat all meals and snacks save dinner vegetarian.  Additionally, 1 meal/ day should be vegan.  I believe in the power of plants.  So it's important for me to make sure that I'm making them the star of my day, and no way was better for me than to cut out all animal products whatever in an entire meal (usually lunch).

5. My Personal Meat Rules-  I love meat, I really do.  Sometimes biting into a steak is something I just drool over thinking about.  While I do still eat meat, and think there is value in humans eating it, I do not think we need it in as much quantity as Americans have come accustomed to.  And don't even get me started on industrial meat production.

That aside, here are my typical meat-eating habits:  I don't eat it at all (save smoked salmon or bacon on occasion) for breakfast or lunch.  Dinner- I eat vegetarian dinners about twice a week, we eat fish at least twice a week, so that leaves 3 dinners/ week where I'm eating poultry, pork, or beef.  I'd like to say I only eat farmer's market meat, but that's not always the case.  Room for improvement here.

Question: Do you have any rules that guide your eating habits?

You can catch up with Nancy on her blog, One Loopy Knittertwitter, or facebook.

Easy Switching

Thank you to all of you who commented yesterday!  It's definitely great to know that so many of you have made the switch to a more natural diet and are happy about that choice.  I know for us it will be a slow process.  First of all, I am not going to completely waste large amounts of food; I just plan on not replacing them when they run out.  Second, I need to find more recipes to make with fresher foods, like rice, to avoid using a premixed seasoning packet.  Third, I want to try and figure out what is feasible to make on my own, like salad dressing, or bread or crackers.  (Anyone ever make their own crackers?)  Over the winter I'd like to read about canning and preserving.  It's actually something I've wanted to try but haven't even attempted it.  For now I'm trying to make some quick and easy switches.

The butter product was the first and quickest to be replaced after the diacetyl article.  I've been using Smart Balance Organic for awhile.  Touted as having beneficial properties for your heart and being better than butter, it seemed like a good option, and the organic version actually melted and tasted like butter.  But then I looked at the label, and I wasn't overly happy with what I saw, and since we couldn't figure out if the "natural flavor" in the Smart Balance was diacetyl, we decided it had to go.  In its place, Kate's butter, which is actually about half the price of the Smart Balance, and comes in salted and unsalted.  I got both, and the ingredient list is a lot better.

Honestly, for the amount of butter we use, I'm not too worried about it being terribly bad for us.  I most often cook with olive oil, but it's nice to have butter to put on bread or a little pat on veggies, and I keep sticks in the freezer for baking.

Another one to go: fake maple syrup.  I have both real and fake in the fridge: real was a gift, fake was my own thrifty purchase.  But after checking out the back, I think I'll be ok with paying $10 a bottle for the real stuff (and again, for as much as we use it).

Overall I just don't think you can go wrong with trying to get something as close to natural as possible.  Maybe not having preservatives will encourage us to eat our fresh foods so they don't go bad.  Snacks are going to be the hardest thing for me because I love a good prepackaged snack.  I'm sure that I'll be able to find some good healthier alternatives, though.  For the popcorn lovers who were hugely disappointed with the whole buttered-popcorn problem, there is this fabulous alternative:

We usually pop our own for a treat, but for an easy snack on the go, this tastes so good, and look at that awesome ingredient list.  Find it at

Snacks are going to be my biggest downfall.  What healthy snacks do you go for, packaged or fresh?  What other easy product swaps can I make?  And seriously, has anyone ever made crackers?

Food Concerns

So I accidentally gave myself a week's bloggy vacation last week!  We were quite busy with house projects and trying to cross little things off the to-do list that have been ignored.  Recently added:

As you can see, our slider blinds are no longer lost!  Well, actually, they are, but the company rush-ordered a new set to us, so in just under two weeks we had them and got them up.  Much better than the dusty fabric vertical blind that was hanging there before.  So kudos to for rushing our order and giving us a discount for the mishap, and to Yellow Freight for not losing the package this time.

Anyway, in my absence, I did some reading online and have come across a few disturbing articles about food.  We all know the general hoopla about not eating too much fat, sugar, carbs, meat, and on and on.  But there have been stories circulating that talk about a recent study linking the artificial butter flavoring you find on microwave popcorn with triggering Alzheimer's disease.  CBS News has this story, which basically says that the butter flavoring chemical (known as diacetyl or DA), which is also found in many other foods that have butter flavoring including margarine, candy, and baked goods, acts the same way as the protein that causes Alzheimer's, creating clumping on nerve cells.  (Additionally, if you breathe the stuff in, it has been shown to have ill effects on the lungs.)

Then there was this article from NBC News (thanks, Jen from itty bitty bag for tweeting this!) questioning what is "natural flavoring", which is found in loads of foods, including those labeled organic.  Natural flavoring can be a natural element like an essential oil, but it can be bonded with a synthetic one to produce a certain flavor.  I'm not sure what's organic about that.  (P.S. Diacetyl is sometimes be labeled as natural flavoring.)

So after being slightly horrified from these two articles, I decided to take a look through my refrigerator and pantry, just to see what I could see.  From the top: Smart Balance organic, Stonefire Naan, V8, Great Value Apple Juice, Quaker rice cakes, Cabot cheese, GoGo Squeeze applesauce, Blue Diamond pecan nut thins.

See that pesky "natural flavor" show up a few times?  I also found it in every single brand of yogurt we had, which really bugged me because we eat a lot of yogurt.

Anyway, this got me thinking about what we eat and what exactly is in the foods we eat.  I like to think that we eat pretty well.  Most of the meals we eat are homemade, but I am definitely a snacker, and I do buy some packaged snacks, though I try to go for "healthier" versions if I can.  And still, apparently, there's junk in them (see the rice cakes above, which are always said to be a decent snack).

Between the butter flavor study and the natural flavoring explanation, some chatting with the hubs about it, and really thinking this past week about what we eat, I've decided that I want to make some changes to what my family eats.  I want to buy more things with fewer ingredients, and ingredients that I can pronounce and understand what they are.  I want to attempt to make whatever I can by hand and not resort to (as many) prepackaged foods.  This week I hope to share some of the small changes I've already made, and I'm hoping to have an excellent guest post on the subject as well.

I'd love for you to share thoughts on this subject!  How do you eat?  Are you a packaged food eater, or do you stick to whole foods?  Are you trying to eat healthier?  Are you concerned with additives put into food?