I tell you what: There’s something about seeing how the other half lives.

This week, I’m working in my company’s San Francisco office. Instead of shelling out a zillion dollars on a hotel, I took a friend’s suggestion and opted for a much more affordable airbnb. I had never done airbnb before, but so far, I’m a fan. (As is my company’s finance department, I’m sure.)

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Let me tell you a little bit about the apartment. It’s a one-bedroom in San Fran’s South of Market neighborhood. The entire south wall is windows. The living room is HUGE and opens up to the kitchen and a dining area, plus a desk nook. It has two gigantic closets. (The bedroom closet is a walk-in.) There’s a washer and dryer in the unit. It has a dishwasher and a sink disposal. The bathroom has the world’s largest tub.

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Basically, I’m never leaving.

Because I dare to dream, last night I decided to look up the building to see if it was even in the realm of possibility that I could live there some day.

Spoiler alert: It’s not.

A 1-bedroom runs at least $3,700. And the most devastating part? This isn’t even the owner’s primary home.

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They actually live in Palo Alto, but the wife works a couple of days a month in the city designing stores for Anthropologie, and traffic is such a bother. So they bought a little pied-à-terre that they can let their kids use or stay in when they want to go to a restaurant in the city and not worry about driving home.

Life is hard, right?

So, bad news, I will never live here. Good news: I DO FOR NOW.

How often do you cook at home each week?

When the hubs and I first got hitched, I cooked often. Joey hadn’t get discovered his love of the culinary, which meant it was either eggs every night or I take on most of the cooking duties. But while I enjoy cooking, I found myself often making pretty much the same thing every night. (This was a weekly staple.)

Fast-forward almost four (!) years later, and the roles have almost entirely reversed. And while I love (LOVE) how often and well Joey cooks, sometimes I miss it. But, to be totally honest, cooking had started to bore me. My veggie-loaded pastas were good, but not that exciting. And while I was pinning new recipes all the time, I rarely had the motivation to seek out new ingredients and learn new techniques.

I guess Joey must have been feeling stuck in a rut too, because a few weeks ago, we started using Blue Apron.

Blue Apron ingredients come prepackaged and proportioned and even labeled -- so you really can't mess this up.

Blue Apron ingredients come prepackaged and proportioned and even labeled — so you really can’t mess this up.

 

If you’re not familiar, Blue Apron is a service you can sign up for that will send you perfectly portioned ingredients and recipes so you can cook at home. We signed up to get three meals a week, and personally, I immediately loved the process. Every Wednesday night, we receive a shipment of super fresh produce, spices, and seafood (we didn’t want chicken, so that eliminated other meats from our plan as well), along with the recipes cards — complete with step-by-step photos — we need to create the meal. Of course, there have been a couple of recipes we weren’t as crazy about, but for the most part we’ve been pretty pleased with everything.

The best part for me? I’m cooking again — AND I’m learning new things all the time. I’ve cooked Thai food, Vietnamese food, and pot pies, I’ve experimented with new kinds of seafood (I’m making catfish this week!), and I’ve learned so much more about working with fresh spices. I’ve pickled my own raisins. I’ve grated my own horseradish. I’ve become an expert chopper. And I’ve kept all the recipes we loved, so I can create them again any time I want. It’s also surprisingly affordable — we’re not spending any more on groceries than we were before.

I didn’t really realize how much of an effect Blue Apron had had on my cooking until this past weekend. We took a trip to Vermont with a few friends, and I offered to cook dinner and lunch two of the days. My plan was to make venison chili with cornbread quiche for dinner and venison cutlets the next day for lunch. I had never cooked venison before, and I’m always nervous about cooking meat after the Meatloaf Disaster of 2011. But after reading over a couple of possible recipes, I realized that the skills I had picked up over the last two weeks would translate pretty easily.

And you know what? That venison turned out pretty darn good.

So, I’m curious: How do all of y’all learn new recipes? Do you tend to cook the same things over and over? Have you tried Blue Apron? What did you think?

(I feel obligated to clarify that this isn’t a sponsored post — I just wanted to share my opinion about a new service we’ve been trying!)

Hi hi hi hi HI!

Have you missed me? I’ve missed you all.

You probably already noticed, but I took a bit of a break from the interwebs over the last two weeks. (Except what I needed to do for work.) Instead, I really threw myself into organizing our apartment and updating a few decor things.

We decided last year that this would be our final year in our current place, meaning we’ll be ready to move come April. Before then, though, I wanted to get rid of as much as I could to make packing and moving less of a headache.

Meaning it was time to tackle the really messy areas of our apartment.

Here were my main goals:

1. Organize the linen closet.
2. Organize the file cabinet.
3. Rearrange the desk area.
4. Replace our (seriously beat UP) living room rug.
5. Sell and replace our green upholstered chair in the living room.
6. Organize the kitchen cabinets and pantry.
7. Rearrange our picture frames.
8. Organize under the bathroom sink.

I had also hoped to get some organizing done in the bedroom, but that’s a task for another day. It’s mostly Joey’s stuff that needs a more efficient storage system. (Sorry, babe. I promise, you’ll like it better when everything has a place!)

Here are a few before-and-afters…because who doesn’t love a makeover story?

Let’s start in the kitchen. Here is the pantry before:

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And here is the pantry after:

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I don’t know about you, but those sweetly labeled food containers just warm my heart.

Up next, the linen closet before:

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And now the linen closet currently:

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Yup, more chalkboard label goodness.

Next up, I rearranged some furniture around our desk. Here’s what it looked like before:

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And here’s what we’re looking at now:

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For the living room itself, here’s where we started:

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And here’s the updated version:

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A little lighter, brighter, and a lot more colorful, non?

I also did organize the kitchen cabinets, under the bathroom sink, our file cabinet, and I even threw in the tupperware and baking sheet cabinets for kicks. (It was a very busy couple of weeks.) I’m still waiting for our new upholstered chair to arrive, but then I’ll be sure to post an update.

So there you have it! How did everyone else spend their break?

 

It’s time for that other favorite year-end blog tradition: the top 10 most visited posts of 2014! (Here’s last year’s for reference.)

Due to the wonders of SEO, pretty much every post on the list this year (and most of last year’s) is a how-to. But, hey, if it helped you, I’m happy. Let’s get into it, shalllll we?

10. I Almost Got Hit by a Car Today

So…I really don’t know why this one was so popular. Unless you all actually wish me dead and I just haven’t figured it out yet. The thing is, a LOT of people search the words “almost got hit by car.” So…apparently this is more common than I thought and it’s more of a miracle that it hadn’t happened sooner.

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9. Three Ways to Style a Top Knot

You know what people loved this year? Top knots. NeverMIND the fact that it’s called a bun and has been around for centuries. The only thing people love more than knots on their heads is multiple ways to create them. Apparently.

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8. What Guys Should Wear for Pictures

The only thing that concerned ladies more than how to style their hair this year? What their fella was going to wear for their engagement pictures. I gotchu.

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7. What to Wear to a Concert

This post, born out of my own uncoolness, continues to dominate. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, but the biggest reassurance here is that I’m not the only one who has NO IDEA what to wear to concerts.

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6. How to Write the Perfect Thank-You Note

I’m actually quite pleased this one has risen in the ranks — this is knowledge people need to know!

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5. How to Plan a Kate Spade Party

You know what life needs sometimes? An elaborately themed, super girly party. This one will definitely fit the bill.

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4. How to: Healthy Banana Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

If I’m speaking my truth here, this isn’t even one of my favorite recipes I’ve ever made. And the photos are terrible. But these cookies ARE pretty dang nutritious, and I’m glad you all enjoyed them.

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3. How to Plan a Mad Men Party

Our themed housewarming shindig remains one of my most successful parties to date, so I’m glad it’s still getting a lot of traffic. Feel free to steal any and all of these ideas.

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2. How to Skip Washing Your Hair for Six Days

It got bumped from the first place spot this year, but “how to be grubby without people noticing” is still a popular topic with y’all. My pain is your gain.

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1. How to Paint a Metal Filing Cabinet

This simple little post has been climbing the ranks for the last couple of years, but it finally made it to the top. I decided to include a photo of it present-day to prove that this tutorial actually does hold up. Pretty neat, huh?

SO there you have it. Did your favorite post make the cut?

There is simply no non-cliche way to say, “golly, can you believe the year is almost over?!” So I’m just going to avoid it all together. But you get the sentiment.

2014 was a really good year for me. As my Facebook feed starts to fill with the social network’s latest look-back campaign, I paused to actually think about all I had accomplished this year.

I started the year in the cold, training for my first ever full marathon. It wasn’t always great, but in the end I accomplished my goal.

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Besides the race itself, Joey and I also took our second trip to Paris, which, like the race, was full of terrible and wonderful moments. I like the think the wonderful (mostly) outweighed the bad, though.

Monet's garden.

Monet’s garden.

2014 was also the year of weddings. And weddings. And more weddings. After watching five of our dear friends tie the knot, I was reminded of two things: 1) It’s a good thing I really love weddings. 2) I am so glad Joey and I got that out of the way years ago. Turns out there’s less stress about scheduling when you get hitched young.

One of the best things that happened to me this year? This fuzzy face.

Sleep on alllll the pillows...

Sleep on alllll the pillows…

Yes, after years of dreaming, hoping, wishing, and all the other verbs you can pack into a ’50s doo-wop song, we finally got a dog of our own. Anyone who spends even a few minutes with me knows how much I love that little dog — Joey and I say all the time we can’t imagine not having him. He has certainly been a highlight of the year.

I didn’t make it back to the Midwest this year (le siiiiigh), but I did get to see my family for my parents’ 30th anniversary. The planning was a bit stressful, but the part itself turned out exactly how I had hoped it would. (And, honestly, how often can you say that?)

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lurrrve

The most exciting thing that happened this fall was our trip to California, when I finally did the drive down the West Coast I’ve always wanted to do.

That's a happy girl right there.

That’s a happy girl right there.

After months spent planning that trip, it also went off without a hitch. Which, if you know me, NEVER happens to me. But it was so lovely getting to see my brothers, sisters-in-law, nieces, nephews, and a bunch of friends as we made our way south. And, you guys? That weather? I honestly don’t understand why people live anywhere else.

Other than the California trip, our fall/winter has been pretty quiet so far as we’ve gotten more serious about paying off debts and saving money. #adulthood, dude. Besides a long weekend in Vermont in January, we don’t really have any other trips planned for a while. (Besides Iowa next summer…it has been way too long.) Fortunately, my parents are visiting in February to temper some of my Midwest homesickness.

Like I said, a pretty good year all around. For old time’s sake, here is my sixth annual Year-End Sum-Uppance. (Here’s last year’s, for reference.)

Age: 27, but I still need to wear makeup to get taken seriously in meetings. And I finally grew out the little-girl bangs, which helped.

Location: New York City

Occupation: Social Media Strategy Manager.

New favorite food: Some of you may remember that last year I adjust this to be a shout-out to a food I realized I loved in the last year. The winner for 2014? Grilled octopus. Those Astoria Greeks know what they’re doing.

TV shows I’m watching: This year I got SUPER into Parks & Rec (I’m not emotionally ready for the series finale in 2015), and I’ve started rewatching Gilmore Girls. Up next, I think I want to get into The West Wing. (Obviously these sentences brought to you by Netflix.)

Book I’m reading: Life of Pi

What’s my hair doing right now: Sort of a joke, but also sort of serious since I talk about it often enough on this blog. Still blonde and super long at the moment. Getting a haircut the first week of January. But I think I’m done with bangs. (FOR NOW.)

How I did on my goals from last year: Just to remind you, these were last year’s goals, along with how I did:

1. Travel more.
Check! One international trip and one cross-country vacation definitely qualify.

2. Run a marathon.
Another check!

3. Finally get a dog.
You guys. I killed it this year.

4. Pick up at least 20 freelance assignments.
I think it was actually closer to 15, but I still feel good about that. I have a pretty regular gig at a local magazine, which has been a nice creative outlet.

5. Get closer to figuring out where we want to settle.
We’ll be in New York for at least another year, but I think our California trip narrowed things down for me. Guess we’ll see!

Goals for next year: Completely pay off our debts, build up a savings account, pioneer at least five times, and find a new apartment in April (still in Queens).

In general, I feel like 2014 was a semi-pivotal year for me. I feel so much more secure with who I am and my relationship with so many people in my life than I ever have before. I feel like maybe I’m getting better at this whole life thing.

How was your year?

I like to believe I have a lot of control over my own happiness. Sometimes I think this is good. Other times, I think it is naive.

It’s good because I don’t think there is anything wrong with being a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” kind of gal. I also think truly believing that I can pull myself through the dark times is instrumental in actually making it happen.

It’s naive because…well…sometimes I can’t.

Because obviously there are a lot of things that happen to a person that are outside of our control. And there are a lot of things that happen inside of a person’s head that can negatively affect happiness beyond the limits of our control.

And when I fail at controlling and activating my own happiness, then there’s an added layer of, “Well, why can’t you just fix it?”

You know how people with severe depression always comment on how pushy relatives or well-meaning folks will tell them to “just get over it,” but they really truly can’t and telling them to try just makes things worse? Sometimes I think I am my own pushy relative.

Anyway. That was a long way of saying that, while I feel fine now (promise!), recently I was in a low place. And in an effort to pull myself out of it, I started making a list of all the things I could do to make my life better.

BECAUSE OF COURSE I DID.

And, what LUCK, I also have about a week of working from home ahead of me, so I will have more time to tackle projects. Hooray! Here’s brief recap to keep me accountable:

1. Streamline!
We’re planning to move apartments in April. To help simplify the process, I want to start whittling down our belongings now. I’m planning to clean out (and properly organize):

– The linen closet
– The front closet
– The trunk at the foot of the bed
– The file cabinet

I truly believe that getting rid of tangible clutter helps me clear my mind. Is that weird?

2. Finish decor projects
A few weeks ago, I purchased a new rug for the living room (because my roommates have destroyed the cream and brown rug we have now). I’m also planning to sell our green accent chair and get a navy one, plus rearrange the frames on the walls. I might also rearrange some furniture. Who knows? Things are getting crazy!

3. SECRET SIDE PROJECT.
More on this later. Because I’m a terrible tease.

Anyone else planning on crossing a few things off the to-do list over the holidays? Am I the only one who derives deep personal satisfaction from crossing things off to-do lists?