Lifestyle Blogs

July 22, 2014

I’m a bit confused by lifestyle blogs/curated shopping blogs in a similar way that memoirs by “average” people confuse me. I think Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop is the most famous and probably most ridiculed lifestyle blog, but Blake Lively just launched Preserve and Heidi Swanson, whose recipes I love has one called Quitokeeto.  The general idea behind these blogs is you like me/my life, so you’ll like what insanely expensive things I tell you to buy and I’ll make money when you buy a $58 jar of honey or a $495 skateboard.  I guess they make more money if you buy more expensive things, but wouldn’t more people buy more things if they weren’t insanely expensive?  Probably if you’re really wealthy, you just want someone to tell you what to buy, but then wouldn’t you have a personal shopper?  See, it’s very confusing!  (My comparison to memoirs is when people write about their average lives without demonstrating any particular insight.  I don’t understand why these memoirs get published!)

Any way, I was joking with some friends about starting my own lifestyle blog and then I thought it would actually be funny to make the “normal” person version of it, so here’s my first curated list of must haves for July 22:

  1. Nutella – You eat kale and quinoa, but sometimes you want a creamy, chocolately, hazelnuty treat and you know what, it’s okay to consume palm oil and lecithin once in a while.  Nutella is especially delicious in a sandwich with peanut butter and bananas.  Delicious!
  2. Leahco Back ‘N Belly pregnancy pillow – Are you pregnant?  You need this.  You can suffer on without it, but once you try it, you’ll be hooked.  It’s amazing, though be prepared – it takes up 70% of the width of your bed, but it’s worth it.  Toddlers also love laying in it.
  3. Reef Flip Flops – They’re the best.  I wear the men’s ones even though I’m not a man.  They’re awesome.  You can walk in them for days.
  4. Costco croissants – Seriously, they are good straight out of the package, but even better when toasted and they’re made with real ingredients like butter and flour.  Plus, they are SO affordable.  Flaky deliciousness.  You could refi your house and get some $58 honey to spread on these.  That would be heavenly.
  5. Mayordomo Chocolate – Okay, this is a little bougie, but only because it’s hard to buy in the US, but seriously, Mexican hot chocolate made with Mayordomo chocolate is SO good.
  6. Craigslist Free Section – I know, technically, you can’t buy this, but if you’ve ever read my blog before, you know I love CL.

Stay tuned for more plebian curated shopping lists in my next lifestyle post.




DIY Upholstering Armchairs

July 10, 2014

I’ll admit that I’ve been wanting to tackle a chair upholstery project for a while, but didn’t really want to spend money on a chair when I wasn’t sure if it would turn out well.  (That is pretty much my MO when it comes to upholstery!)  I actually almost bought a wingback recliner for $40, but got cold feet.  So, imagine how excited I was to get two armchairs for free from someone on Craigslist.  It looks like they gave up on the same upholstering project I was about to undertake.


It doesn’t actually look too bad in this photo, but the fabric wasn’t securely attached anywhere and the upholstery tacks were also loose.

2013-10-22 22.04.02

Under that was this gorgeous fabric that I think a professional “installed”.

And under that was the original fabulous floral fabric.  Who knows how long that’s been there?!





There are lots of great how to’s online, including this one and  this one, but I couldn’t find any that really explained how to do the seat deck (the part under the cushion) that attaches to the lip (material in front on the bottom), so I found this posting to be helpful in understanding and visualizing what I was working with.

The general consensus on the internet is that upholstery isn’t particularly hard, but takes a ton of time and patience.  The general attack plan, taking pictures all the while, is take the chair apart, keep and label all the pieces, use them as patterns, reassemble in the reverse order.  Many people say an electric staple gun is really helpful, but I didn’t mind using my manual one.

My chairs had 3 layers of fabric and I think that a professional upholstered the chair before the person I got it from because it seemed like that material was attached between wood, indicating the whole chair had been taken apart, not just the fabric being removed.  I decided that I would just remove 2 layers and leave the original floral fabric.

Materials (for each chair)

  • 3 1/2 to 4 yards of fabric – I think I would have made it with 3 1/2, but I got 4 to be safe.
  • Tack remover
  • Staple gun
  • Upholstery staples – size dependent on your chair
  • 1 1/2 yards of Pli-Grip (I didn’t use all 1 1/2 yards.  You don’t need this if your existing pieces are reusable.)
  • Hot glue gun and glue

Step 1: Deconstruction

I took a million pictures while deconstructing the chair to increase the chance I’d be able to put it back together.  Here are some to give you an idea of how tedious it was.  I think it took 6-8 hours.


2013-11-04 21.05.11  2013-11-04 21.33.25 2014-01-04 14.21

2013-11-05 21.50.322013-11-10 19.59.55 2013-11-10 19.59.37

I labeled the fabric pieces as I went so that I could use them as pattern pieces and also kept a running list of what I took off in order so that I could reverse it when it came time to reassemble.  Here’s the list for reassembly:

  1. Seat Deck (requires sewing)
  2. Inside Arms
  3. Front Back
  4. Outside Arms
  5. Back Back
  6. Front of arms (4 pieces)
  7. Underchair fabric
  8. Cushion cover (requires sewing)

I purchased this tack remover, which is optional, but for $2.40 ($3.99 with 40% off), it’s not really optional at all.  I was surprised that very few sites I looked at re DIY upholstery mentioned this tool or anything like it.  This saved me hours and hours and a lot of emotional stress.


These were some areas that made me nervous about reconstructing:

  • The arm parts had this weird metal thing sticking out and I wasn’t sure how it worked.  (I ended up hammering it down and not using it.)
  • The parts with tacks looked like medieval torture devices and some of the metal tines got stuck in the chair, so I thought I might have to replace them.  (I was able to reuse some and replace some with pli-grip.)
  • The layered cardboard that attaches to the arm areas was cracked and I didn’t know where to get a replacement. (I got chipboard from an art store.  It worked great.)

The lesson here is don’t be scared.  You’ll figure it out.  Also, if you get stuck, there is this amazingly generous guy in Cape Cod who is a profession upholsterer who answers questions!

Step 2: Reconstruction

I wanted to reassemble the chair as soon as I could so I wouldn’t forget how it all went together.  Also, it seemed that after taking it apart, putting it together would be much faster, more fun, and more satisfying.  It’s kind of like moving.  Packing all your stuff up sucks, but it’s pretty fun to unpack and find new places for everything in your new house.  Though I had the best of intentions, this project dragged on for a while.  I did the first chair and wasn’t that thrilled with the navy blue fabric I picked.  So then it took me a while to pick a new fabric and get started on the 2nd chair.  The good news is that the 2nd chair was way faster because I knew what I was doing.  I feel really to tackle that wingback recliner now!  (Sorry T :P)

Make sure you move the batting so you can pull the fabric through and staple it to the wood frame.  Use new batting if necessary to provide a smooth base under the fabric.  It was easy enough to get the main pieces down, but the front arm areas were challenging because I wasn’t planning on using nailhead trim to cover up my staples, so I had to be very careful about staple placement.

When it came to the original metal tines, I tried it and it seemed tight enough even with a couple missing pieces.  There were some that didn’t have enough tines left, so I used Pli-Grip (google it for instructions).  I didn’t love it because it was hard to staple properly, but it did the trick.

I ended up using chipboard instead of the original front arm cardboard.  I cut two pieces of the same shape in a thinner and thicker piece of chipboard.  I put nails through the thin piece, then glued the thicker piece on top with hot glue.  Then I glue the fabric over that.  You can also use staples if your use shorter staples, but I didn’t want to buy a whole package of staples just for this.  The hot glue worked great.  Then I carefully hammered the nails into the chair.  The thicker chipboard kept the nails from poking through the fabric.  You can also use some hot glue to help hold the edges in place.

Here are some pictures of the navy chair (1st one) and then one of the gray polka dot chair (2nd one), which is way cuter.  I might redo the navy one so that they match because apparently I like to makeover my furniture twice (evidence)!

2014-01-04 14.19.052014-01-04 14.20.08 2014-01-04 15.11.25

2014-01-04 15.50.13 2014-01-04 15.11.322014-01-04 15.50.20


 Step 3: Seat Cushion

The seat cushions are filled with down, which I was super stoked about.  I washed them in my washing machine before sewing the cover them because who doesn’t love clean, fluffy down?  The cushions are soooooooooooooooooooo luxuriously comfortable.  I love them!

Whoever tackled this project before me gave up before finishing the cushion cover, so I didn’t have a perfect guide, but I improvised by looking at the general shape of the inside cover holding the down in.  There were 3 pieces: top, bottom, 1 side piece.  I traced half of the top piece to made a paper pattern so that both sides would be symmetrical as I flipped it over.  I also added a long zipper to make the cover removable for cleaning, which turned out to be a great idea as one of my kids smashed raspberries in it the day after I finished!

(The cushion looks a little too big in this picture, but that’s just because it was a bit smooshed from being sat on.  When fluffed, it fits perfectly.)

Budget (per chair)

  • Fabric (Premier Prints Polka Dots Twill Storm) – $24
  • Tack remover – $2.40 (40% off $3.99)
  • Upholstery staples – $3.50
  • Pli-Grip – $3.70
  • Zipper – $3
  • Staple gun, thread, hot glue gun, glue – I had these already.

TOTAL: less than $40!

DIY Toddler Backpacks

June 16, 2014

I made backpacks for C&R!  It was the first thing I ever made with a pattern and it was shockingly easy.  Patterns are great!  I used this Made by Rae pattern and followed the directions almost exactly.

Since she sells her patterns, I won’t do a step by step here, but it really was very simple (other than the brief sewing machine torture I endured and wrote about here).



(And here are two not great photos of the lining – I couldn’t figure out how to photograph them unscrunchy.  Sorry!)

20140616_211629  20140616_211648

Two tips:

1. If you’re doing an applique, do it before you assemble the backpack.  I didn’t do that because I didn’t think about it beforehand and it was a pain in the butt.

2. When/if you sew the lining, measure your actual zipper area – don’t just follow the pattern.  For whatever reason, mine turned out a bit shorter than in the pattern, so I had to add a couple pieces of fabric after the fact to the lining to cover up the zipper area.  It’s barely noticeable, but save yourself the hassle.

Next time

I would add pockets with elastic on each side and also at least one on the inside.  I don’t think it would be hard to do, I just forgot to do it and didn’t want to disassemble the backpacks just to add the pockets.  Instead, I’m going to make a few small pouches for snacks, art supplies, etc for our upcoming trip.  I’ll post about those soon.


Even though I’d make some changes, I think these turned out pretty great for a first attempt and my boys seem to love them, especially R!



Splurging for Mental Sanity

June 16, 2014

I hate paying more for something than I have to.  I guess you could call it cheap or frugal, but that’s not exactly right.  If I think I need something that is expensive, I will buy it as long as there is no workable, less expensive substitute, but I am definitely not one to get a Mercedes when a Honda will do.

For the last 5 years, I’ve been using/cursing/struggling with an entry level sewing machine.  I break it out once or twice a year and my projects often involve some machine-generated frustration.  Since I don’t really know much about sewing, I never know if it’s my technique or the machine that is to blame and since I sew so infrequently, it hardly seems worth it to get a really fancy one.  I am generally able to struggle through and finish my projects, so I never truly considered investing 3xs as much on a better one until last week.

I’ve been sewing backpacks for my toddlers and decided to sew an applique on the front of each one.  Sewing the backpacks actually went amazingly well, but when it came time to applique, I almost lost my mind.  I mean, really, really, almost just started the backpacks all over without the applique.  I was ready to post on Craigslist for someone I could pay to finish the appliques.  Then, upon the kind, supportive suggestion of a friend, I got a new sewing machine and I cannot tell you how much of a relief it was to turn that sucker on and have it just work.  I still am no expert sewer, but this thing is so empowering that I am pretty sure I will use it more often.  I feel ready to tackle any project now and know that I will not spend 50% of my project time googling youtube videos for why my stitches are bunchy or backwards.

I have found sewing machine peace.

I’m Breaking Up With Amazon

May 7, 2014

Remember when Amazon meant good customer service and prime meant two day shipping? Those were the days.

My latest frustrating experience (see this post for others) with Amazon was trying to order stay dry carseat pads for my potty-training-in-progress boys. I ordered them Friday and they should have been delivered by Monday.  Today (Wednesday), I got an email saying there’s a problem and they are not available.  “We’re writing about the order you placed on May 02, 2014 … Unfortunately, we are unable to ship the item(s) as soon as we expected and need to provide you with a new estimate of when the item(s) may be delivered … We’ll make every effort to get the delayed item(s) to you as soon as possible.”  The email didn’t have an estimated delivery date, but when I logged into my account, the estimate was almost 2 weeks after I ordered, which won’t work because we’re going on a road trip and need these before we leave.

I initiated an Amazon customer service chat to figure out whether the estimated delivery date was an overestimate and was told the seat protectors are actually 2-4 months away!  I don’t actually know which estimate was correct, but obviously I had to cancel my order. Now I have to find somewhere else to order from and will probably have to pay for rushed shipping. Ugh.

Ordering from Amazon has become akin to playing russian roulette.  Ok, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but seriously, you never know when/whether your items will arrive. It’s usually fine, but sometimes it’s very inconveniently not fine at all.  The prices aren’t always cheaper than other places and even when they are, it’s not by much.  Plus, in situations like this one, you might end up paying even more when Amazon doesn’t actually deliver the items.  It’s no longer assuredly more convenient and reliable than ordering from somewhere else.  I think it’s time for me to move on from this relationship.  I must admit, though, like with many long term relationships, I have a little hope that this one can be saved, but my logical self says it’s time to move on.

Pouf Update – Baffle Box Cushion

May 2, 2014

I’m a Craigslist junkie.  I seriously might have some kind of diagnosable FOMA related, deal finding, need-to-upgrade disorder.  Someone was giving away a huge amount of down feathers and I couldn’t resist getting them to stuff my poufs with.  I originally used blankets and pillows and they were fine, but would get a bit lumpy and needed to be rearranged from time to time.

I was concerned the down would shift too much if I just sewed one big stuffing cushion, so I thought I would either need to sew multiple small cushions or figure out how to sew baffles.  I decided to do that latter because small cushions might shift just like one big cushion.

Disclaimer: I am NO expert.  I didn’t even know what baffles were when I first got the feathers.  I have no idea if this is how you sew them since I couldn’t find any clear directions online, but I thought this post might be helpful to other DIYers trying to wing it.  The general idea is to do the same thing you do to make the pouf with two additional vertical pieces to create baffles to keep the feathers in place.  I changed the order that I attached the pieces so that I’d have less fabric in the way while I sewed, but I think there are lots of different ways you can do this.  My one big tip is to make sure you’re sewing the right seams together.  I made a couple mistakes born out of overenthusiasm and had to rely on my trusty seam ripper to make it right.

I used Roc-lon Feather-Guard Ticking, which is specifically meant to keep your feathers from poking out through your fabric.  Since my poufs are 26″x26″x10″, I decided to make the stuffing cushion 25.5″x25.5″x9.5″.  (Please note: After I was done I realized I should have make the inner cushion slightly bigger than the outside.  Sigh!)

I tried to take during pictures, but I couldn’t because I needed multiple arms to hold it in a way to show anything helpful and I’m not an octopus.  Sorry!  I did try to break down what I did in detail so you could follow along and I’m happy to answer questions.  Also, here’s a drawing that might be helpful to visualize what you’re trying to do:


Step 1: Cut fabric pieces

For each cushion, cut (includes 1/2″ seam allowance)

  • 2 – 26.5″x26.5″ – top and bottom
  • 4 – 26.5″x10.5″– rectangular sides (Since the fabric I was using was 44″ wide, I cut 4 pieces to minimize waste.  If you are using wider fabric or making smaller poufs, you can cut 2 longer pieces.  That’s what I did for the poufs.)
  • 2 – 26.5″x10.5″ – baffles that are sewn parallel to the sides and perpendicular to the top/bottom

A, B = top/bottom

C, D = sides

E, F – baffles

Step 2: Sew baffles (E, F) to top (A) and bottom (B)

Since your top and bottom are 26.5″ wide, you want to sew your baffles 9″ from each side.  Measure and use a sewing marker (ink disappears) to mark where this is.  Iron a 1/2″ seam on your baffles and pin them to the lines you drew on the top.  Sew these.  Do the same thing to sew the baffles to the bottom.

Step 3: Sew sides of sides (C, D)

Iron your seams so that your side is 25.5″ plus the 1/2″ seams.  Mark 9″ from each side on two of the sides and draw a line with a sewing marker like you did in step 2.  You should have drawn 4 lines total.  Pin and sew the four sides together so you have a continuous loop.  Make sure that you alternate the ones with the lines and the ones without.

Step 4: Sew baffles (E, F) to sides (C, D)

Sew the short sides of your baffles to the 4 lines you drew in steps 3.

Step 5: Sew sides (C, D) to top (A)

Sew the sides to the top.  When you get to the end of each side, just leave your needle in, turn your fabric and keep sewing.  There’s no need to do each side separately.

Step 6: Sew sides (C, D) to 3 sides of bottom (B)

Sew 3 sides of the bottom to the sides (C, D) leaving open one side where you can see into the baffles.

baffle box

Step 7: Stuff and sew 4th side to bottom (B)

Feathers are hard to work with.  They stick to everything and they fly everywhere.  If you can do this outside, do.  I did this out of the trunk of my car and it looked like I had slaughtered a chicken.  Fill the 3 baffles with feathers to your desired firmness and then sew the last side shut, keeping the feathers in as best you can.  You can also fill one at a time and sew each section closed before stuffing the next, which is what I did, though I’m not sure it actually made a difference in reducing the number of feathers flying around.  It did help in that it’s harder to sew when more baffles are full and in the way, but you can do it!

baffle box

Step 9: Stuff, fluff, and admire

Put your inner cushion inside your pouf, zip it up, fluff it up, and admire your work!  (and vacuum up  the stray feathers!)

stuffed pouf

As noted earlier, I realized after stuffing that I should have made the inner cushion slightly bigger than the cover so that it would be full.  Oh well.  I used a couple small down blankets to fill the space, so it doesn’t look that weird (and certainly not as lumpy as it was when it was filled with blankets and pillows), but it was a bit of a buzzkill.



Adventures in Berkeley Building Permits (aka Hell)

April 22, 2014

We want to build a deck in the back of our house.  The four people we got estimates from, all who have done a lot of work in Berkeley for many years, have said we don’t need a permit if the deck is 30″ or less, but because I am very law abiding, I emailed the City of Berkeley Permit Department just to make sure.  An architect there told me that I need a permit because the deck will be bigger than 120 sq ft.

I’ve heard that the permit process can be terrible in Berkeley, but this is a low to the ground, rectangular structure that plenty of people build themselves.  How hard could the process be?  So, I dutifully made an appointment during my lunch hour to talk to the architect who assured me it was a simple process.

I arrived at 12:20PM for my 12:30PM appointment, which the architect told me to make so I wouldn’t have to wait.  I check in and am told that the architect will be right with me.  I wait for 25 minutes, so 15 minutes after my schedule appointment, and check back at the counter to see if there is a problem.  The person says, “Oh, I’ll tell him you’re here.  He hasn’t come out yet?”  Did he not tell the architect that I was there?  It’s unclear.  I sit back down.  A few minutes later, the check in person says, he was eating his lunch, he’ll be right out.  What?  Why would you make an appointment during your lunch?  A few minutes later, the architect comes out – no apologies or explanations for being 25 minutes late.  Oh well, he’s going to explain this simple process to me, so I can pay my city some money and be law abiding even though I’m pretty sure most people would not go through this process for a simple deck like the one we’re planning.

He starts explaining all the drawings I am going to have to submit, but assures me I can just draw them myself on pieces of 11″ x 17″ paper.  He’s using words like ledger, joist, anchorage, tension ties that aren’t exactly common terms for someone who isn’t an architect or contractor.  I am starting to get overwhelmed, so want to revisit the size of deck that doesn’t require a permit.  He poo poos this and doesn’t want to discuss it at all.  He suggests I might want to hire someone to draw up the plans.

I ask about Simpson anchors and what the rules are around using them and tells me to just do it with concrete piers.  It seems like he doesn’t really understand what the requirements would be to allow the use of the anchors, which seems odd considering he is the city’s architect in the permit department.  When I ask how much the permit will cost, he conveniently “doesn’t deal with the fees” and tells me I can “ask over there”.

I go “over there” and wait a few minutes behind a man filling out some paperwork.  I say, “excuse me” and ask the woman behind the counter if this is where I can find out about fees.  She brusquely tells me that yes, after she helps this other person (who is still filling out a form), she can talk to me.  She’s acting as if I was trying to cut ahead, which I clearly was not.  When it is my turn, I ask her how to determine the cost of fees and she gives me a chart that is based on the amount you pay to build the deck.  I then ask what you do if you are building some or all of it yourself and she laughs rudely and tells me I need to get a contractor’s estimate.  Well, seeing as I have now gotten four estimates that vary widely, by a factor of 3, I am not entirely sure how to provide this information.  Do I just give her the cheapest one?  She doesn’t seem to understand how or why this might be confusing.

Then she says, “these are only the permit fees.  There could be other fees like zoning or other things.”  So I ask how I am supposed to determine what those other fees might be or whether I will have to pay them since I am not going to build a deck if I have to pay $1,000 in fees.  She says she can’t tell me until I submit my plans (the 11″ x 17″ ones that will be “so simple” for me to draw up).  I tell her what my plans are will depend on how much it will cost since we don’t have an unlimited budget, so I ask if there is any way to estimate the fees before I make the plans.  I understand it might not be 100% accurate, but I want some idea – are we talking hundreds, thousands, what?

She keeps repeating what she’s already told me and then obviously notices for the first time that I am near tears, so she tells me to go back to the check in desk and get a number.  Excuse me, what?!  There is no one else waiting to be helped.  I have been here now for over an hour and have gotten very little information and now she wants me to get a number so she can call it and I will come back to this same desk to speak to this same woman?  I’ve had enough and walk out the door.

I immediately called my partner exasperated to explain what happened.  I decided being law abiding was not worth the risk of trauma that I would almost surely be exposed to trying to go through this process, especially since I’m pregnant and the stress is probably not good for my child.  My partner tries to convince me otherwise because he is also very law abiding.  I will probably just let him deal with it.

I can’t even imagine what this process will look like when we eventually renovate our kitchen.  Ugh, it feels like moving would be easier than dealing with the permit office again!