On Leaving Las Vegas

When I left Iowa City, the long hilly drive down Dubuque Street felt like a loss. I mourned the beautiful and wild years I spent there. The many sunrises and promises. Memories from every street, and the gravity of my leaving forced me to pull the car over. My ugly-crying was impairing my vision, and I wondered if the person who named “BJaysville” did so to cheer up sobbing graduates closing their most formative chapters. One last chuckle before venturing into the unknown.

I thought I would feel that way when I left Las Vegas. I thought the nostalgia would hit me on the long drive down the I-15 past the Strip. I waited for the onslaught of memories, of fond farewells to familiar places. I was prepared to pull over for the hot tears, but they never came.

It wasn’t grief or fear I felt as I drove past the sun-soaked billboards lining the Strip. It was fresh, calm relief.

Less urgent than “Get me out of here,” my thought was, “I’m glad that’s behind us.”

Vegas is harsh. If the weather doesn’t kill you, the drunk drivers will. Your vices will find you. Your friends will leave, your plants will die. It is not a city for the faint of heart. I could go on about its lack of culture, about the “Santa’s Village” feel of a place that represents something imaginary to millions of tourists. A scavenger hunt for the craziest story, the biggest win, the most hilarious loss.

But I won’t. Leave that to the pros.

When you venture outside of the debauchery, it is a city of people who wish they would have left, but feel it is too late. It is for the jaded tough. For the stubborn.

When you move there, locals will ask “Have you survived your first summer yet?”

What they are really asking is “How tough are you?”

And if you pass their test, they will welcome you, no matter who you are or what you’ve done. They will show you things and share insight for survival. They will teach you about where they’re from (and no one is from Vegas) and make you feel a little less homesick. The people are beautiful, weird and scrappy and their knowing smiles will save you.

You will not get to look at a sky full of stars, but you will see more nudity than you ever thought possible. You will start to feel like 100 degrees is cool enough for a jacket. You will win, but mostly you will lose, and you will learn not to waste money.

And maybe, little by little, Vegas will become your home. Or maybe it will give you perspective on where your heart truly is.

That is the gift Vegas gave to us.

Vegas, I would liken you to a drill sergeant. You whipped us into shape and made us stronger. For that, I thank you. I didn’t always like you, but I am grateful to you.



Goodnight to the city that never shuts down.


What Can I Make With Burlap Coffee Bags?

About a year ago, Z and I were in Omaha at a lovely little roastery called A Hill of Beans who not only roast delicious beans, but sell the leftover bags for something like $3 apiece.

Having known each other most of our lives, Z doesn’t bother arguing with me when I buy craft supplies that I have no immediate plan to implement. It’s a wasted effort. Even if I use it a year from now, mark my words, I’m gonna use it. Probably.

Rather than keep the poor bags in storage, I decided it was finally time to do something with them, but what? I took to the Internets for inspiration.

I decided the easiest thing to implement (read: without having to go buy a sewing machine) would be similar to Meg’s beautifully simple wall-hanging method (from her blog Radical Possibility), so I got started on flattening my own coffee bags in order to iron. And then this happened.


Moxie doesn’t always fall in love with something I’m working on, but when he does, it’s adorable. He spent an entire afternoon lying on these, so I decided I needed to gift him one. I grabbed some jute and an insanely large decorating needle (used for upholstery, these are no joke). And yes, I already had all of these things, because crafts.

tools coffeebags

Despite how things look when  people post tutorials online, working with jute and burlap isn’t what I’d classify as easy. You have to be able to apply your basic home-ec sewing skills, and you have to pull really, really hard sometimes. After Moxie chose his favorite, I got to work stitching up the open end of the bag, then folding over the excess to stitch it down. Knot the jute however you deem acceptable. It doesn’t have to be perfect, because it’ll be flipped in the end.

process coffee bags

My little dude loves his new bed. I love that I can use the coffee bags as an example when I need to justify a “Maybe I’ll use this someday” crafting purchase to myself.

final product

A Very Special Golden Birthday

My golden birthday was when I was eight years old. I may have peed my pants at the Roller-Rena. This is why I no longer roller skate.

So when I found out my sister was coming to town for hers, I wanted to make it special and have her remember it for the right reasons. After all, she only gets one of these!

Included in this post are lots of little gilded touches and a little DIY. No roller skates required.

I got to work making a pennant out of some leftover scrapbook paper (remember the coin/seed envelopes?), a shopping bag (nice, firm paper) and tape.  Then I used a roll of craft paper to make a dotted table runner.


I painted little golden circles across the paper runner and pennants, using paint that I already had in the ol’ supply box.


For the tablescape, I wanted to feature little splashes of gold, and this took some serious planning ahead. The napkins, owl candle, and confetti stars are actually leftover Christmas party items that I bought from the sale rack at Anthropologie back in February. Always a good idea to look for things out of season.


Add some fresh flowers and a few presents, and you’ve got yourself a tablescape!

I’m also going to maintain the illusion that this setup didn’t end up covered in spilled liquor and chip crumbs. It is, after all, a celebration.

And on a serious note, Miss Rachel, I’m so glad to be spending your Golden Birthday Weekend with you. I’m so lucky to have such a thoughtful and beautiful person as my sister. Thank you for being in my life and for teaching me so many lessons in positivity, kindness, and joy. And for the time you turned the shower knob the wrong way and made me laugh so hard I almost died.





Make a (Huge) Watercolor Tapestry for $20

I pinned this picture from Photowall and vowed to come back to it when I felt like spending the money to order an insanely huge wall mural and have it shipped from the UK.



It’s been a year.  I finally had to admit that I would never feel like it. But then the DIY Gods spoke, and I saw an artist named Tate creating this beautiful canvas at Anthropologie.

I asked him what he was working with, and he said it was just a canvas dropcloth that he picked up at a hardware store, along with some fabric dye. I thought, “I could do that,” and so I did. Here’s how.

I grabbed fabric dye at Wal Mart for something like $2 per package, and a canvas dropcloth at Ace for about $10 (note, you should place a plastic dropcloth underneath so as not to stain the floor) and got to work.

Using one color at a time (mixed in a 7-11 Big Gulp cup) I made a loose pattern with the dye, and was sure to spill frequently (I wanted some of the color to run together).

I let it dry in the sun, and here in the desert that took about 10 minutes. Then I took it inside, ironed it (though not all of the wrinkles wanted to come out of this thick canvas) and flipped it over to hang it over the bed.

I loved the reverse side of the canvas with its subtle, unintentional look. Plus, the muted colors complement our (gross) beige walls better than the dyed side.


And of course, Moxie approved.

This project is one of those “I can’t believe I waited so long to try it” types, and at just under $20 and an hour of work, I love the simple nautical touch it adds to our room.
(Note: we are not people who make the bed, except for this picture. You have just witnessed something very, very rare.)


It’s seriously cheap and just as easy as it looks. Give it a whirl!



Can I Paint A Grill?

My rule about Craigslist finds: If I can clean it, paint it, or put it outside, it’s okay get it from Craigslist. If it’s fabric, alive, or requires the use of a crane, I cannot get it from Craigslist.


Do a lot of people have cranes? I just have a hatchback.

I don’t haunt the free section of Craigslist, but occasionally I take a peek and look for my next re-purposing project. When I saw the curb alert with my future grill, I immediately jumped in the car and picked it up. Crazy? Yes. Necessary? Yes.

Parked in the suburbs and wheeling a filthy grill into my car, I had no idea if I could actually clean or paint it. I assumed I could, but I felt really creepy standing in front of a stranger’s house while I tried to Google it, so I took it home and hoped for the best.


The good news is that everything (though dirty) seemed to be intact.


All of the fixtures worked, the hardware seemed relatively new, and there were no unintentional holes.Still, this was one of those projects that made Z narrow his eyes and wonder if he married a crazy person. “How did you get it in the car?” he asked.


Very quickly and very awkwardly.

Sanity in question, we began the cleaning process.


Whether we could make this part work was the deciding factor for continuing, and with lots of soap we deemed that yes, this grill could in fact be sanitary enough to prepare food.

Though it actually looked really nice once we got all of the dirt off, I still wanted to paint it. We walked into Ace and as it turns out, people actually paint grills all the time. My question was not a new one, and the attendant looked at me like I was asking if fish could swim.

One can of the black heat-resistant paint covered our whole grill (and we had some leftover).

With spray paint, it’s better to do a few thin layers than one gloppy, runny layer, so have patience if you attempt this at home.

You want a nice, even finish so it appears shiny, especially if you have to photograph it for your blog.


And if your neighbors wonder why you’re taking pictures of your grill, just stare right back at them with a creepy grin on your face. That’ll teach them to leave you alone.



We love sitting on our patio and firing up the grill, and it’s even better knowing that we didn’t have to spend $80 on a comparable one. Always, always look at what things could be (not just what they are) and be willing to get your hands a little dirty. You can get all kinds of things for (almost) free this way.

Total project cost: $6 for paint
Total time investment: 2 hours

Can you paint a grill? Absolutely. And it will be glorious.

(If you can’t wait for porch weather, it’s beautiful in Vegas right now. Just sayin’.)





An (Indoor) Early Start For Your Garden

Most people think about gardening after the farmer’s market opens, and really they just buy some natural soap and realize it’s way too late to grow shit. My lettuce will never be that lush, but this soap is gluten-free.

It’s freezing in most of the country right now, but luckily there is indoor prep so your plants will actually be worth a damn by the time you want to eat them, and your planters will be decorative and ready to implement.



First things first: start your seedlings now. This gives them time to grow into a real garden by summer. If you’re the type that kills a lot of plants, I recommend the “salad bowl” method, where you grow multiple types of lettuce, which will eventually grow in a large container (I went with whiskey barrels). Container gardens work at any altitude, you don’t need much space, and lettuce doesn’t have a lot of demands. You can cut the lettuce leaves and they grow back all summer. Not bad for a few $1 packs of seeds! (Note: if you’re in the Midwest, try tomatoes, potatoes and carrots for other low-maintenance plants)



(Picture is from three months of growth) If I had my life to live over, I would not have grown Swiss chard when we were in Colorado. It gets huge and you can’t possibly eat it fast enough. The spring mix was amazing, considering one container of organic mixed greens is $7 at Whole Foods. Growing your own pays for itself a dozen times over.

Second, pretty up your planters. Nice pots can run you in the $50-$100 range, so I found a way to make mine more appealing without defeating the cost-effectiveness of growing my own food (we bought flowers from a nursery, then saved the free pots. They even gave us extras to start our other seedlings). I took Mod Podge, some Ikea fabric, and a touch of twine and ribbon.



I’m so happy with the way these turned out that I’m hesitant to ever buy fancy pots ever again. I love the canvas-wrapped look, and that I can change them as my tastes change.


The total cost of this project was about $10 (about a yard and a half of fabric, and I always have Mod Podge on hand).


Spring is just around the corner, and these indoor projects can give you hope until it finally arrives. I should also note that you can reuse these pots every year, or keep them indoors during cold months for continuous growth. Show me your pictures on Instagram when you start yours!