Monday, October 20, 2014

Fall Flowers from Leaves

Have you seen these pretty flowers made from leaves by Nicole Duke via Sisters Know Best?

My version. Photos taken by my wife.

A pretty project that's free and takes just a few minutes was exactly what I had time for this weekend, so I gave them a try. I didn't watch the video instructions, so I made mine by just looking at the pictures. It came out nicely and was the easiest thing I've made in years.

Photos and project by Nicole Duke via Sisters know best.

I really love the way her flower in the final picture uses gradation to make the leaves look even more like a rose. My rose is a bit more random in color, which I like, but it might also be fun to make a few roses, each in a different color. The most colorful leaves are best for this as they bend more easily without breaking.

I used the pictures as a rough guideline for the process. I started by folding the first leaf's top point down, with the pretty side on the outside of the fold, as shown. But instead of continuing to fold it, I just rolled it from one side to the other, keeping the flat fold as the top. I folded a second leaf the same way, and rolled it around the first leaf, and repeated again with a third and forth leaf. These first four became the tight center.

After creating a center to the rose, I tucked other leaves around the center with the colored side facing the center of the rose. As I added each leaf, I turned it on a slight angle so that two of the three points would show as petals and the third wrapped around the rose.

I didn't happen to have floral tape available, so I used what I could reach to tie all the stems together. With the help of another pair of pinching fingers holding the stems in place, I tied a knot as close to the top of the stems as I could. I used a hair elastic (solely because that was the closest thing in reach), but string would work even better. After this photo was taken, I decided to braid the leaves' stems to create a single rose stem instead of attaching a small twig or wrapping the stems as shown in the pictures.

This was a fun and quick little project. Because they're easy to make, I could see a bunch of them on a table for Thanksgiving, or a single one pinned to a jacket as a corsage. And with Halloween coming up, I could even see them tucked into loosely curled hair as a great addition to a woodland fairy or Mother Nature costume, couldn't you? What a pretty way to decorate for fall.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Silly Travel Tip

I love tiny things, and travel size versions of favorite toiletries are no exception. Not only are they cute, but they certainly do they save space and weight in a bag when compared to full-size versions. Sometimes favorite products are available in travel sizes, but many are not, which makes bottling them up at home necessary.

Buying small empty bottles for this purpose has always struck me as a poor use of money -- those small bottles are rather expensive to be empty, don't you think? I've bought one here or there for shampoo or mouthwash, but I've really tried to repurpose my small containers instead. For years I've saved small empty bottles of products like lip balm and eye cream because they often make perfect travel-size containers for other products like moisturizer or face wash.

However, as smart as this plan may be, I kept running into problems. Mainly, I would constantly forget what was inside. Writing the names of products often required more space than the top of the container would allow, so I usually chose to leave it label-less, certain I'd remember, and always forgot. If a white cream is discovered in an old lip balm container, there is no good way to know what the cream might be. Sometimes the consistency of the cream helps eliminate options, but often trying to be a product detective is more trouble than it's worth.

As is my habit, I overthought it... I considered buying pre-made labels, but that seemed silly. Then I tried writing on the bottles with a Sharpie, but it would often rub off. And when it didn't rub off, that small container became more difficult to re-fill with something else because it now had a name. When I stopped using Oil of Olay, for instance, the perfect tiny container still displayed the name, so I was forced to remember what new cream was inside.

Now I've got a new method to repurpose those little containers for travel, and it's working well enough that I think it might be worth sharing: Super simplistic "labels."

Using a sharpie, a tiny scrap of paper from the recycling bin gets a name, and is then attached to the bottle by being fully covered in scotch tape. The tape helps prevent the ink from rubbing off, and the labels themselves are simplistic versions of themselves: "Conditioner" becomes "Hair 2" because it's the second thing to go into the hair. Likewise, "Face 1" is face wash, and "Body 1" is body wash. Here are some examples I use...

Face 1 = face wash
Face 2 = moisturizer
Body 1 = body wash
Body 2 = body mosturizer
Hair 1 = shampoo
Hair 2 = conditioner
Hair 3 = the cream I never remember to put into my hair when drying it

Besides the shorter words fitting onto the small bottles more easily, if a container's contents needs to be added to, it doesn't mater what brand is added. Obviously the order for the numbers are all best when adapted to the person who uses them, but I've found this system to be useful for travel -- both for the pool and for weekends away. It's one of those tiny, silly things that seems to make my life just a little easier. Do you have a great way to organize your travel items? I think we're all constantly looking for better ways to travel, don't you?

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Reward Points

While I'm a pro at using the free loyalty cards many stores provide, I am just beginning to learn more about all the rewards points and options out there for various credit cards. Credit card reward points are great because they feel like free money -- and if one is using a credit card anyway, why not get something back for it? As long as it doesn't encourage more spending on the card, and the card isn't costing a high interest rate, it's a nice little bonus.

I want to know more because it's important to know the options -- if used to their best advantage, they can really help cut down on things like air travel for vacations. Even so, it certainly is a lot of work to figure out which credit cards are the ones to open for which rewards, while also weighing the importance of not having too many credit cards and the interest rates or annual fees each card will require, against the types of purchases that will incur the highest number of points.

In the meantime, the credit card I've had for years has been racking up points. It is a pretty simple point system with most purchases working as one point for one dollar, but because I haven't touched the points for a while, they started to accumulate. There are lots and lots of options for redeeming them, from using them to pay bills, to donating to charity, to purchasing train or plane tickets, to getting cash, to trading for items of all kinds from kitchen appliances to jewelry.

After looking around at the different options, it becomes clear that some options have a higher return per point. Thanks to the various prices available for hotel rooms and flights, it's tough to figure out if they are the best deal, but simple things like paying bills, getting gift cards, and buying electronics are easier to figure out the breakdown. Here's how a few options break down for my card...

-Apple iPod Nano, 16gb, 7th Generation lists at about $152.00 at the store (including the average sales tax). Through my rewards, it costs 18,400 points, which means that the rate for this item is about $1.00 = 120 points.
-A $100 gift card to a restaurant or store is 10,000 points, or $1.00 = 100 points.
-Paying bills breaks down to about $1.00 = 154 point.

Honestly, the numbers are close enough that I may not have noticed if my wife hadn't done the math and pointed it out to me. But now that I know, using my points for gift cards is the only way I redeem them. It might be nearly free money, but it's still worth making the most of it.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Make it Better: Serving Pieces Cover DIY

In celebration of our wedding anniversary this weekend, I thought I'd share a DIY that has been used in our home to protect some of the wonderful wedding gifts we received.

When my wife and I were newlyweds, we kept many of the serving pieces we received as wedding gifts stacked in a closet, in the boxes each gift had arrived in. It wasn't that we didn't love them -- it was that we feared we would break them in our small kitchen. When we had guests over, we would pull out the boxes one by one and open the ones containing items we wanted to use, returning the empty boxes to the closet. After our guests left, we again pulled out the boxes, and returned each item to its home. This practice took up a lot of space in our closet, and took up a lot of time when we wanted to use anything.

After several months of this, I became determined to figure out a way to make our lovely serving pieces more accessible, while still being safely stored. A hutch would be ideal for storing our china and serving trays, and we eventually plan to have one, but it's a good thing we didn't hold our breath -- it turns out that years after our wedding we are still looking for the perfect one that we can both agree on!

In the meantime, we needed another solution. We had some space in a lower cabinet in the kitchen, but not quite enough to fit everything in its protective box. They all fit nicely side by side lined up like books on a bookshelf, but that didn't seem very safe. So, using some thick fabric, I created very easy cases for each of the trays, platters, cake dishes, and cheese boards that needed a home. This allowed the items to live next to one another in protections smaller than their boxes would allow.

This is a super easy and fast project -- folding the fabric in the right direction is the most confusing part. Once folded correctly, just two quick seams complete the project.

Figuring out the measurements for some of these pieces, such as this Nambe curved tray, can be as simple as estimating, which makes this an easy project that doesn't require great sewing skills. If one doesn't even want to even measure, she doesn't need to.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The New Ralph Lauren Flagship at 711 Fifth Avenue

Ralph Lauren Flagship at 711 Fifth Avenue
Until now, men have had all the fun at Ralph Lauren stores in NYC. Well, maybe not always, but since the addition of the new mansion on Madison Avenue, which houses the women's collections, the men's lines have had the old mansion across the street all to themselves -- there was even a rumor that a whiskey bar would be added in, which certainly would not be out of place among the mostly dark wood walls. Meanwhile, the new mansion on Madison Avenue, which houses the women's lines, is light, and elegant and grand. It is a beautiful store full of new grandeur and extreme elegance. There is a magical quality to the way the collections are laid out, and I find myself admiring dresses on mannequins from a respectful distance as if in a museum. The fourth floor, with its wonderful housewares department, is full of little vignettes set up so perfectly that for a moment one can pretend to live in each of the perfectly silent stories.

While I appreciate the impressive beauty of the new mansion, the grand rooms and marble do make me miss the familiarity of the old mansion across the street. Across the street there are old wooden floors, old rugs, and an overall feel of history to the building. Both mansions are beautiful, but there is something so cozy and inviting about the way the old mansion is laid out with each of its many rooms offering new delights to be discovered around each corner.

Having become very accustomed to both of the mansions on Madison Avenue, it was a fun departure to attend as my mother's guest at a recent event celebrating the opening of the brand new Ralph Lauren Flagship store at 711 Fifth Avenue. After being greeted at the door with champagne, we made our way into the new space and had a wonderful time exploring each of the floors. With an appreciation of the two styles of mansions in mind, I was genuinely pleased to see the new flagship. 711 is a true mix of both mansions on Madison Avenue, but with a younger vibe added in. I should have expected it -- each of Ralph Lauren's stores are well-suited to the area and the clothing line they carry, and this is the store that will show off the new Polo line for women, as well as play host to a Ralph Lauren coffee shop on the second floor and a Ralph Lauren restaurant, just like in Paris and Chicago.

Women have been wearing Ralph Lauren polo shirts for decades, so it may come as a surprise that the Polo line itself has always been dedicated to menswear. With the launch of a brand new Polo line for women, 711 will be the showcase for the brand, and the stage is set perfectly. The line carries