Friday, January 31, 2014

The Thundershirt

Circe has been great about adjusting to city life for the most part but she's still having trouble with all the noise, especially at night. Our new building has thin walls and we get tons of ambient noise from neighbors and the busy street. Circe is used to a house which is basically silent other than a bit of creaking. Since we moved in she's been sleeping lightly, getting startled awake and then growling whenever she thinks she hears something. If we don't catch her, the growling will progress to barking. It drives me nuts and the only thing that seems to help is actually holding her in your arms. This is sweet but not conducive to any kind of quality sleep. In addition, I'm afraid to leave her alone in the apartment at all, in case she starts barking and our neighbors are stuck listening to her.


I'd read about the Thundershirt but I'm cheap and skeptical so I waited three weeks before the lack of sleep broke me down and I finally ordered one. It is a game changer for us, guys. We followed the instructions carefully, introducing Circe to it with a short wear and a few treats. She seemed more bemused than anything. But the first night she wore it she slept like a log. Barely any movement, no growling, no barking. We kept checking to make sure she was still breathing. We've only been using it for a week, but so far it's amazing. We put it on her every night when it's time to go to bed and if we're going to leave her alone for a few hours during the day we'll put her down for a nap with it. She's still adjusting to it a little bit, and she seems uncertain about walking much in it (maybe because we only put her in it for bed?) but she doesn't mind it.

I guess it's equivalent to swaddling a baby? Side bonus - I find it really fun to "unwrap" her in the morning. She completely comatose in the shirt, then she wakes up and perks up immediately once you take it off.

I researched it obsessively before purchasing, so I can tell you that it seems to work for some dogs and not others. However, since they offer a money back guarantee (as long as you don't get it embroidered!) it's definitely worth a shot. Circe is 22 pounds of compact muscle and the medium fits her well. You can order them directly from the manufacturer or on Amazon and I think some pet stores carry them as well.

circe girl
{circe girl}

It seems silly to have to say this, because I've never done a sponsored post, but I purchased the Thundershirt on my own and the company has no idea who I am. 

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Budgeting thoughts for 2014

It's been almost exactly one year since we started our new budgeting system and I managed to do the revisions to our 2014 budget (gleefully, because our new rent is a little cheaper, which makes the process so much more pleasant than usual, when I'm trying to account for an annual rent increase) on time this year. Anyone who is not endlessly fascinated with budgeting details, back away now.

I seem to have finally hit on the one method that works for both of us because our budget cards were a total success last year (printable versions shared in this post). Except for a short period of time in December when I attempted to hide from the cards because we were in the midst of moving + the holidays and all we were doing was eating out and then going to Ikea to buy things and also drinking more than usual in a vain attempt to make ourselves believe that packing and unpacking boxes could be fun. That was a dark couple of weeks.

We're continuing with the cards this year because they work and I don't have a better idea. I try not to draw attention to them in real life because they make me feel like a dorky third grader. Our friends who are aware of them have teased us a little this year but when I check out our results I feel completely vindicated.

budget trending 1-2-14
{budget trending}

We didn't touch our long term savings despite some temptation. That depressing dip in September was when we were hit with two expensive car repairs within a few weeks of our scheduled vacation. I wish I could bill the city of LA for potholes, but apparently when you hit one and  manage to jam your braking system it is your fault because a pothole is considered a stationary object. True, but somehow it seems unfair. Our short term savings (car repairs, vacations, etc) never got up any steam but our other accounts are headed in the right direction.

I've rejiggered our budget for the coming year to account for changed circumstances. Downsizing to a smaller place gave us some breathing room, some of which will be set aside for Circe. This was the main reason we decided to find a less expensive apartment. Circe is generally healthy but having a dog inevitably means vet bills (or, at a minimum, purchasing dog food and weird anxiety reducing shirts). We set up a savings account that's earmarked for pet expenses and automatically deposit $100 a month. Of course, one serious vet visit can wipe out a year's worth of savings, but at least we'll be cushioned a little for the routine stuff.

I also gave us a little more spending money and increased our short term savings contributions. I clearly hadn't put enough in short term savings last year because we were constantly wiping it out and it was becoming clear that at that level we'd never be able to go on vacation again. I made (very) small increases to our retirement and long term savings. I try to follow the balanced money formula to preserve our quality of life and that means no more than 50% on needs, up to 30% (and no less than 20%) on wants and at least 20% on savings. Our current budget stands at 43/26/30. Depending on how you categorize things I might be overestimating our savings. I lump our student loan payments into savings when I suppose you could call them a need. You have no idea how rich we'll feel when we're finally done paying off student loans. Having the percentages to aim for has been hugely helpful to me when writing our budgets. Left to my own devices I tend to feel guilty about spending money but having a sanctioned 20 - 30% for spending makes it easier for me to justify. Sure, we could save way more if we cut it out but my goal isn't to be filthy rich at 70 years old while having denied us any vacations for 40 years. My goal is to win the lottery and stop budgeting, obviously.

Our first budgeted holiday season left us scrambling a little so for 2014 I set up yet another savings account* that's specifically for Thanksgiving + Christmas expenses. I based the goal amount on how much we spent this year, added a little extra and then broke it into monthly contributions. I'd originally just figured we could use our short term savings but HA! there was definitely no money in there after our unexpectedly expensive September. This extra account will make next year easier.

We're in kind of weird place financially. Not nearly enough savings to consider a house purchase, but enough that maybe we should do something other than let it sit in the bank? I think this year I might try to do some research and figure out what our strategy should be.

Disclaimer - As always, when talking about budgeting, I am fully aware of how lucky we are to be able to stress about self imposed limitations. Not having enough money to eat out as often as we'd like or buy as many nice clothes as we would like is hardly a reason to cue up the tiny violins. I admit that a certain amount of self pitying teeth gnashing sometimes occurs at the end of the month but it's the difference between eating boxed mac and cheese vs. eating Humboldt Fog, and neither one is the same as going hungry. We take our self imposed budget seriously, but knowing we have money in savings is what makes it possible to look at it as a game instead of a constant state of stress.

*All of our mini savings accounts are through CapitolOne, formerly ING. I like how easy it is to set up multiple accounts with automatic deposits and D and I can easily share access.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Around here, lately

Nothing terribly exciting, actually, but it feels nice.


meal prep
{meal prep}

sunday light
{sunday light}


I've been trying to do some advance prep on Sundays so that it's easier to throw meals together during the week (yes, D will be doing more cooking once we're settled in but right now he's pretty much occupied building cabinets and putting in shelves). I get as much chopping done as possible and I'll blend up any sauces or salad dressings we're going to use (still super obsessed with my tiny blender and the lidded cups it comes with).

Our place is coming together, slowly but surely. We put in the rug that used to be in my parents' living room and we've hung some art and we're finally managing to put stuff away and clear off surfaces. It feels really good. There are more projects on the horizon, of course, and we're not nearly finished but we're *this close* to being fully functional.

Annnnd the whining - I was super cranky last week, mostly due to the fact that Circe was being restless at night, which meant we weren't getting much sleep and I still feel like I have sand trapped in my eyelid, a very minor annoyance that somehow manages to drive me completely, irrationally insane. I scratched my cornea last month and instead of getting better it just steadily accumulates more scratches. I've done two rounds of antibiotic eye drops and last week finally progressed to antibiotic eye ointment. Let me tell you, putting ointment directly on your eyeball is neither easy nor pleasant. In addition, I can't wear my contacts or mascara and my right eye is basically useless because it's constantly covered in a blurry film. It will heal and it's hardly a crisis, but I'm mourning my eyelashes - I rarely remember to check my outfit in the mirror after I get dressed, but I almost never leave the house sans mascara. Without it I feel like I'm walking around in my pajamas. Rather than fight it, I've just been wearing yoga pants and running shoes to work and now I'm in a terrible downward spiral of schlub. One more week with the ointment and hopefully I'll be back to normal. I'd like to promise myself eyelash extensions as a reward but I think letting someone without a medical degree mess around with my eyes would just be tempting fate at this point. (I'm still considering it, so I must be crazy)

Just to top it off, after over a decade of working in the lab I've suddenly developed a sensitivity to ALL types of gloves, so my hands are now a lovely shade of red with scaly patches dotted here and there (yes, I'm still wearing gloves, which is why my hands haven't healed. If I have to choose between dermatitis and exposure to hazardous chemicals, I'll live with the rash, thanks). I've ordered some fancy schmancy gloves that should work better but it's been a pain in the butt.

So yes, I'm a bit whiny lately. My eyeball saga is boring even me. My hands are gross. I need to get back into some kind of workout routine (my current excuse is that I hate working out in my glasses, which is true but I probably need to suck it up) so that actual pants are a possibility. The good news is that we found a solution for Circe's nighttime barking and I'm starting to feel human again, petty mascara woes aside. THINGS ARE LOOKING UP.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

New schedule, new meal planner

Our lives have rearranged a bit this year. D now has the shorter commute, so he going to take over most of the grocery shopping and more of the cooking. This is strange for me because I've been doing the majority of the cooking for years and I have a hard time not hovering when someone else is in the kitchen. D is perfectly capable of cooking but he doesn't have the routine down and he was worried about getting stuck when deciding what to make each week.

I wanted our food prep to be simplified this year anyways, so over the holidays I worked on modifying our system a bit. We now only plan for 3 meals a week and the categories are pared down.

meal planning
{meal planning}

I disassembled our enormous recipe binder and pulled out our weeknight standbys and then separated them into the four categories I'd selected (the extra category is for sides, in case we feel like adding them to a meal). The remaining recipes are in a new binder which is more for special occasions or entertaining. Each week we plan for one large salad (something that will hold up in the fridge and make good leftovers), one hearty meal based on lentils/meat/pasta (split into three sections for ease) and one quick meal. I made a list of our usual quick meals and the ingredients we'd need for them, along with basic instructions. I don't use a recipe when I make a frittata, for instance, but that sucks for D, who would prefer to work with instructions. This way we have everything pulled together.

To set up meals for the week we do a quick scan to see if we have partially used ingredients from the week before. Then we just choose one recipe from each category, make the grocery list and we're good to go. Having the sections split up this way makes it much easier.

Past adventures in meal planning -
Cooking every weekday for a month
Developing our own meal planning system

In case you're interested in the updated meal planning sheet I use, here is the PDF after the jump (sorry for the click through, but embedding docs in here makes the main page go totally wonky).

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


The coupe glasses of my dreams.

pomegranate caprihinas
{pomegranate caipirihinas*}

I'd been keeping an eye out for the perfect set for over a year but nothing seemed quite right. I wanted something with just the right proportions, no flare at the lip, a delicate stem, a reasonably sized cup** and I was perfectly willing to wait, especially since it seemed like maybe what I was looking for didn't actually exist and coupe glasses are hardly a necessity. And then I saw these in an antique mall in Palm Springs and they were exactly what I'd pictured and only $10 for the set of 4. BINGO!

They are so thin and delicate that D is convinced we'll break them within a year, but I'll keep my fingers crossed and make the most of them in the meantime.

*Pictured are the pomegranate caipirihinas I made for NYE which I didn't love. A little too sweet, maybe? Not enough brightness, even with the lime? They were greatly improved by a splash of cava but I probably won't make them again. BUT - other people did enjoy them or were possibly being very polite, so take my opinion with a grain of salt.

** A proper cocktail is 4 oz, give or take - I love a drink as much as the next person but I just don't understand why you would have a 12 oz cocktail glass and yet 9 - 12 oz seems to be the most readily available size. There's ice, of course, but drinks that come in coupe glasses are usually shaken with ice and then served without. It's a mystery, guys.

***Prior to my serendipitous discovery I had trolled Ebay, our local bar shop and considered settling for a wholly acceptable and probably much more durable set from Libbey or Anchor Hocking.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Baby steps

Actually, that's unfair. These shelves are the first thing we got done in our new apartment and they were a HUGE step. Our kitchen is adorable but not terribly functional due to a severe lack of cabinet and counter space. The area right next to the kitchen is meant to be a dining room but it's too small for our table so we're going to use it for extra storage and work space instead (we haven't figured out how we'll have people over for dinner yet, but we're working on it).

We already had the adjustable shelving system so we repurposed it. We painted it a dark gray (still a little torn on whether we picked the right color) because the glossy white wasn't going to blend into the wall anyways and we decided we'd rather have something that obviously stands out instead of a failed camouflage situation. We just used six foot boards as the shelves. I thought I'd be able to put out all my glassware, dishes, servingware and vases and then use one shelf for my cookbooks. Clearly, I'm terrible at estimating how much space things will take up and I have a lot of dishes. The cookbooks remain an issue.

shelves up
{shelves up}

new shelves
{new shelves}

glass display
{glass display}

Our plan is to eventually paint the shelves white to match the wall and put in nicer brackets so they're just floating and don't have the rails. But for now, this is a game changer. I'm using the limited cabinet space the kitchen came with to store our actual food and our mixing bowls, salad spinner, etc.

I was worried about open shelving when we live in an earthquake zone but after many, many internet searches for not-too-ugly solutions I decided we'd just take the risk. The main thing everyone points out is that in a major earthquake your cabinet doors are basically pointless anyways, unless you have those terribly annoying earthquake locks installed. But you'll notice I didn't put our wedding china up there.

I'll probably get a few more of the stacking shelves I'm using for the glasses. They aren't the most beautiful solution but it doubles the storage space and I like the multi-layer look.

We're also putting in a small shelf to stack our large pots on and we'll hang our pans right under it. That will go in the tiny kitchen area, right next to the stove.

We have a plan for the other wall of our "dining room" space and I'm hoping we get it put together in the next few weeks. I am SO DONE with the stacks of appliances and that consarned jug of molasses that doesn't fit anywhere else in the entire kitchen.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Constellation pillows

I had the idea for these back in October, which is the only reason I managed to finish them by Christmas.

constellation pillows
{constellation pillows}

I had marked this embroidered table runner tutorial a while ago and thought it would be perfect for my stepmom, who loves the stars. I ended up doing pillows instead, because they seemed more useful for everyday.

I mostly followed the tutorial instructions, which didn't require much embroidery skill once I retaught myself to tie a french knot. I picked up a remnant of navy blue cotton (these would be beyond good in a dark blue linen, but I didn't have time to search it out), a couple skeins of silvery grey embroidery floss and two 20x20" pillow inserts from Ikea (do not get their poly fill pillow inserts because they are terribly depressing - the down inserts are great and inexpensive). I used silver sequins for the stars in the actual constellation and scattered in a few silver beads as well.

I didn't use the actual template from the tutorial because I specifically wanted Sagittarius and Cancer only. I wasn't expecting it to be so difficult to find a definitive image of the constellations! They vary a lot. I ended up using images from this site because it seemed a little more authoritative than the others and the images were nice and clear. To make it easy to print, I opened each image in Illustrator, locked the layer and then added dots wherever the stars were and lines as indicated. Then I deleted the image, which left me with just the black dots and lines. I traced it on the fabric as indicated in the tutorial (using chalk sheets, which I'd never used before - they're handy!).

After I finished embroidering the pillow fronts I made simple envelope pillow cases using this tutorial. I have a zipper foot packed up in my stuff but this was easier than trying to find it. I should probably have added a little button on the back but I didn't.

Sorry - no close ups! I was taking these pictures super last minute before stuffing the pillows in a giant gift bag.

I'm happy with how they turned out and it was a fairly simple project. And now I want to get much, much better at embroidery. I'm thinking needlepoint portraits for next year? I better get started now.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The holidays, briefly

It was a crazy December for us, but we're settling in and it feels good.

christmas baking
{christmas baking}

a rare salad
{a rare salad}

xmas packing
{xmas packing}

wrapped and ready
{wrapped and ready}



sunday morning
{sunday morning}


air kisses
{air kisses}

couch cuddles
{couch cuddles}

I did manage to pull it together and ended up doing a lot more baking than I'd planned. The new kitchen has very, very little counterspace and it was a challenge. We're working on a solution but it's going to take a while to get it installed. I survived.

We'd been eating nothing but take out (moving, hadn't unpacked the kitchen) before we sailed into a holiday diet of cookies for every meal. Needless to say, I only have one pair of pants that currently fit (if you don't count sweatpants). I documented this salad specifically because it's the only one we had in December. I'm trying to get back into a normal eating pattern but my body still thinks it needs a daily sugar infusion. We're currently working on a settlement.

That third picture up there is what it looks like when we pack for Christmas. This was actually a really minimal year, because we didn't buy gifts for the most part. But we go to at least four different events over the two days and we bring food to each one, so it requires some strategizing and careful packing.

And of course, the biggest holiday joy was having Circe with us in our new apartment. She's figured out that it's home and settled in right away. I thought we couldn't love her anymore but having her weird little personality around all day, every day, has proven me wrong. It's kind of embarrassing how obsessed we are.

We still have piles of stuff everywhere (perils of moving into a place where you have to add storage space - things can't get put away until you find time to build said storage space) but it's coming along and I'll show pictures of the apartment as we get things done. It was super discouraging for the first few weeks and then I willed myself to be blind to the mess and now I manage to ignore it most of the time. We'll get there. Soon.

I have posts to write, about our new place and the new year and my usual annual budget dissertation, I just need to find a little time. I'll be back.