Monday, December 28, 2009

End-of-the-Year Exfoliation and Celebration

I have the week off from work and hope to do productive things like hit the gym to kickstart the oh-so-typical-but-much-needed resolution to get back in shape; walk the dogs; grocery shopping, and boring grown-up errands that I'm currently avoiding.

Also on my to-do list for this week is an end-of-the-year exfoliation to purge extraneous stuff from the apartment. There is no better time than just after the holidays, when we are flush with new gifts and must do a bit of "out with the old, in with the new" to make room for it all, to consider what things we really need and what is just cluttering our lives. Inspired by Jess over at Makeunder My Life, who diligently improves her life with weekly exfoliations, I have been lazily collecting various odds and ends over the past several months and hiding them away in the junk cabinet until I have time to properly figure out what to do with them. Even though we got rid of a lot of stuff before we moved six months ago, the process of packing and unpacking endless boxes only further drove home the benefit of having less to move next time around.

There are so many ways for your trash to become someone else's treasure that there is no excuse for your "trash" to actually end up in a landfill:
* offer unwanted items to friends and family
* or use it as an excuse to throw a party and invite your friends over for a clothing swap
* sell or give things away on craigslist and freecycle
* sell clothing to consignment shops like Buffalo Exchange and Beacon's Closet here in Brooklyn
* donate unwanted clothing to organizations like Salvation Army
* repurpose old clothing as cleaning rags or material to patch jeans
* bring worn-out clothing, bedding, and shoes to textile recycling drop-off sites - now available at many farmers markets here in NYC!
* if all else fails, put on your stoop with a "take me" sign

But right now I am lazily enjoying just sitting in my pjs sipping tea and dreaming about what foods I should make for our New Years extravaganza. I am renting a house in the Hamptons with a group for the whole weekend, and I want to take advantage of the huge kitchen. So far I am thinking of making focaccia and pumpkin cinnamon rolls and crackers to go with cheese and beyond that, the possibilities are endlesss, so I can't decide. Steak or seafood or an easy roast or an array of cute finger foods for New Years Eve? Maybe a hearty yet healthy vegetarian chili for New Years day?

Do you have any favorite New Years Eve food traditions? Can you suggest any great dinner party ideas? What will you be doing to ring in the New Year?

via kingpomba flickr stream

Sunday, December 20, 2009

In the Silvery Polar Night

Last night found me walking three quarters of a mile uphill through the snow at 3am. After a full and merry night at a friend's holiday holiday party in the south slope, back to the north slope we had to go. No cabs were running; we didn't trust clumsy buses on the slippery roads, so there we were. My new waterproof boots holding up their end of the job, I felt invincible and alive and keenly aware of my breathing and pounding heart that propelled me forward for much-needed exercise. I couldn't help but keep walking and walking, looking back every so often at my partner lagging nearly a block behind.

In the unusual stillness of the night, I wasn't in New York City as I know it, where I have never seen such a thick layer of fresh clean snow, but rather in the magical New York City depicted in Mark Helprin's Winter's Tale.

People were thrilled by the sudden onset of so great and (they thought) so unprecedented a winter. Even those who feared and hated cold weather and snow were quickly seduced by the silvery polar nights, and joined in a medieval pageant of sledding, gatherings about the fire, and evenings under the stars. It was as if the occasional joyful paralysis that winter sometimes lays at the foot of Christmas had come for good. Layers of clothing made the flesh more mysterious and enticing than it had been in many a year, a certain courtliness was restored, and the struggle against the elements reduced everyone in scale just enough for people to realize that one of the fundamental qualities of humanity was and would always be its delicacy. The entranced citizens did not go to so many places or work as hard as they usually did, but they lived far better than they had ever lived.
- Winter's Tale, Mark Helprin, page 600**

And today I never left the apartment, but stayed inside all day to bake Christmas cookies. In fuzzy socks and a fleece bathrobe because I don't think the heat turned on once today (wtf). I hope you all enjoyed our snowy weekend.

** It is an EPIC tale of love, morality, fantasy, and New York City from one turn of the century to the next. I still don't really understand everything that happened, but it features truly beautiful prose.

via themikebot flickr stream

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Greening My Holiday Decor

Every year I think about getting a Christmas tree but then...don't. Mainly because the cost of a tree plus a stand seems unnecessary for a small apartment, especially when I'm already spending left and right on gifts during the holidays, and also because we always unwrap presents from beneath my parents' tree on Christmas morn.

This year I had my heart set on a little potted fir tree, thinking I could keep it alive ever after in the yard. Thus solving the environmentalist's condundrum of whether a live tree that is chopped down and thrown out is better than a fake tree made out of plastic but used year after year. However, I was disappointed that the tree vendors at the farmers market near me are only selling cut trees. I've seen some potted trees for sale at the usual sidewalk setups, but I'd rather not support them since they probably use pesticides and probably racked up carbon miles by bringing the trees from Canada.

So no tree it is. But over the past few days I've created a warm holiday feel in the apartment through other decorations, incorporating reusable or recycled materials.

* A fake evergreen garland and ornaments bought on sale years ago. Easy to store in a small apartment and we bring them out every year. The lights were donated by my parents - I think it was an extra string they had lying around. Unfortunately I don't think they are LED lights, so I am trying to remember to turn off some of our regular lamps to plug in these lights instead during the few hours each evening I am home.

* I was excited to hang stockings from my new mantel, until I realized they would be within reach of the puppy's grasp and possibly shredded within a day. So I hung them from the window instead with the garland, which looks great.

The stockings are from etsy seller The Little Green Bean, who makes stockings out of recycled coffeebean bags and old sweaters, and I just saw she has a whole bunch of other cute holiday things for sale. I'm excited to exchange little stocking gifts the night before Christmas eve, before heading to my parents' house for the holidays! Possibly with champagne (or maybe hot chocolate and peppermint schnapps) and cookies? Can I make this a new tradition?

* Inspired by hanging stars made from kraft paper at bigBANG studio's Thanksgiving, I cut stars out of cardboard boxes leftover from a birthday gift. I jazzed them up with some gold paint I found sitting in my craft drawer and then strung them up with yarn, fishing wire, and tape .

* I have a tradition of hanging paper snowflakes and leaving them up all winter for continual cheer. I thought I saved last years's to rehang, but I couldn't find them, so I cut this year's out of repurposed white wrapping paper (as I've said before, collecting bags and gift wrap in my craft drawer is oh so handy). Click here for a basic how-to on paper snowflakes - from there I like to just use my imagination to cut out designs!

Tell me about your decorations this year. Did you get a tree? Are you making any fun crafts? Are you trying to incorporate sustainable materials? Here are a few more ideas from other bloggers to spark your decorating:

* LifeUnscripted's Old Fashioned Tree Garland
* EcoYogini's Green Holiday Decorating Complete with Eco-Recon
* Green Phone Booth's I'm Dreaming of a Green Christmas

Friday, December 4, 2009

Dogs and Couch Lust

I imagine most of you come home from a long day of work and are able to plop into a big comfy couch for some relaxing.  Sounds nice. Have a glass of wine, a fuzzy blanket, and cozy up for a movie. Not in this household.

In our last apartment, we had a futon instead of a couch because no couch could have fit through the hallway into our home. The futon was perpetually covered in dog hair because we never trained Spencer to stay off it. So I'd have to change into my pajamas if I wanted to sit on it, so as to not ruin my clothing. Looking back, the situation wasn't so bad. In fact I'd love to go back to those relatively peaceful one-dog days. But futons are not especially comfy; it still did not fill my void for a soft place to crash.

Then we got the puppy and moved into a new apartment. We could definitely fit a couch in here. However, it would be a serious waste of money because the puppy is a serious force of destruction. Back before Milo was housebroken, he had the habit of peeing on the futon every now and then. Okay, we thought, we'll get a new mattress and cover it with a plastic mattress protector and cover THAT with a sheet so that the mattress itself doesn't get ruined and we can just swap out the dog-haired sheet for a new clean sheet every now and then. Sounds like a genius plan right?

Well we went through three mattress protectors - the dogs tore through each one while we were at work. They also tore through the sheets and started chewing holes in the foam mattress. Oh how Milo loves foam.

Here's what we've worked out now: we keep the mattress itself stored away in a closed room most of the time and only put it out when we have company or want to watch a movie with the full HDTV-huge-speakers experience instead of the laptop-on-the-bed experience. I have yet to patch the holes in it. Our living room is dominated by the empty futon frame.

Funny thing is, Spencer is so in love with lounging at an elevated height, he now uses the coffeetable as his "couch." What does he think he is, a mountain goat?

Of course, when the mattress is down and we don't happen to be sitting on it, the dogs go to town. Silly humans, this isn't for you - this is our playground! Spencer was never trained to stay off furniture, so it was impossible to train Milo to stay off too.

As a result, I have some serious couch lust and drool over the comfortable clean lines of your lovely sofas, like Maria's over at Vintage Simple. But sadly I don't see it being possible until I have enough space for a dog-free living room someday. What home features do you lust after despite their impossibility?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

My Life With Dogs

Milo (seven month old golden retriever/german shepherd/husky puppy)

Spencer (five? year old pitbull/terrier shelter dog)

I'm putting together a series of posts about how my dogs ruin my life. I know a lot of you out there think you want a dog. Because they're cute and cuddly and friendly and great companions that keep you safe and especially cute with babies. All true. But it's really important to consider how your life as you know it will change, and not necessarily all for the better. I have plenty of cautionary tales testament to this. Tales that explain why I'm so jealous when I read about your cute little (comparably) easy cats.

We have two not-so-well behaved dogs, and you're probably thinking, but I would train mine right. Well, that's what I thought before we got a second puppy. It's not always possible. It depends on the dog's temperament and its past experiences (in the case of a shelter dog), and it's hard to raise a big dog in a small space and be able to give it the attention and exercise it needs, AND it's hard to work with other household members to consistently stick to proper training to keep the dog in check. After all, I'm not the only one struggling to live with their dog. I've written before about my frustration at not being able to have a normal life with dogs like other people, but things have not gotten any better since then. So please bear with my woes, and any words of advice will be much appreciated.